Ever After

Takeru doesn't return until a month later. It is fortunate that he is a popular writer. Otherwise it would be hard to defend his decision to remain in Nagoya, when he hasn't even made a pretense of working remotely.

His absence makes your own life rather difficult as well. Indeed, in addition to fielding phone calls and emails from his editors, you also have to field many questions from friends and family as to what happened over the holidays. You don't even attempt to explain the convoluted truth, instead opting for a simple if not completely honest, "His brother and sister-in-law haven't seen him in a long time and want him to stay longer."

You and Yoshiro greet him at the airport. For some reason, you expect him to look completely changed, although he looks pretty much the same, aside from the dark circles underneath his eyes. After he hugs both of you, you lead the way to the garage, where your car is parked.

"How is Aunt Hikari?" Yoshiro asks, because in his innocent mind that is all his father's absence entails.

"She's doing well," Takeru says. He slides into the back passenger seat after putting his bag away. "She's home from the hospital now and Aunt Sora is taking good care of her."

"And Kazuki?"

"He's very good," Takeru says. "He hopes that you will see you again soon."

Yoshiro perks up visibly. "I hope so," he says. "I liked him very much but we only got to play together once."

As you meet Takeru's eyes through the rearview mirror, you feel the guilt twisting in your stomach. Kazuki has gone through quite a bit himself that horrible week, between being kidnapped and almost losing his mother. Yet, in your anxiety over your own family, you spared him little consideration. Now you wish that you have taken more time to really get to know Hikari's son, that you have done more to take care of him when his mother is in the hospital.

The drive home is relatively silent, occasionally interrupted by Yoshiro. But even he seems to sense that something is amiss, so he asks to be dropped off at a friend's house. It is just as well, because it gives you the privacy you need to broach a topic that you have been thinking about.

"Takeru," you say, once you have given him enough time to shower and unpack, "could we talk about something?"

He is sitting on the couch staring at his laptop, where he has presumably been catching up on work emails. His brows are furrowed as he glances up. "What did you want to talk about?"

The words are difficult to say, though you have practiced them in your mind many times. "I want a divorce."

Your announcement is met by a brief, tense silence. He sighs heavily and runs a hand through his hair before he looks at you, his blue eyes solemn. "Why?"

You sit down beside him, though you are careful to keep some distance away. "Are you really surprised?"

Takeru narrows his eyes as if he is trying to battle through a particularly stubborn writer's block. "Is this because of Hikari?" he asks eventually. He sounds genuinely curious.

"Yes…and no," you say, knowing that the two of you owe each other to be honest. "Hikari isn't the only reason."

He frowns. "What do you mean?"

"Takeru," you say, very gently, "do you notice that you haven't protested the divorce itself?"

He is quiet as he digests your words. Then he rubs his face and laughs self-deprecatingly. "I never intended to head down this road. I've always hated that my parents were divorced, do you know that?" You nod, even though he has never told you directly before. "I hated the fact that I couldn't see my father whenever I wanted to and resented my mother for moving so far away. And now you're asking me to put Yoshiro through the same thing."

"I'm a playwright, Takeru, or I was once upon a time," you remind him. "When I was scripting out our perfect life together, divorce was not intended to be part of the plotline either."

You can tell he is genuinely puzzled. "Then why are you doing this?"

"Because you never loved me."

The accusation slips out without warning. You haven't even allowed yourself to entertain the idea that he never loved you. Your husband's eyes widen in shock, and you wonder if he too is recalling all the happy times you once shared. The notes passed during French class. The ride on Pegasmon. The hotel resort where he proposed. All these moments that date before Hikari entered his life. No, not entered. Before she returned to claim the spot that has always belonged to her.

"When I asked you to marry me, I really did believe that I loved you and that we would be happy together." His voice is very soft. He bows his head in acquiescence and then reaches out for your hand. "I'm sorry."

You let him take it. "It's my fault too," you admit with a sigh. "The warning signs were there. It was so obvious how much you care about her, but I wanted so much to believe that you were the one. The prince I always dreamed of. The prince I always write about in all of my plays."

He smiles slightly. "I'm not?"

"You are," you say, smiling back. "Except your princess is someone else."

He stops smiling as he takes in the full impact of your words. "I'm sorry," he says again. "I'm really, truly sorry."

"No, please don't be," you say, because no amount of apologies can roll back the years and piece together the shattered remains of your girlhood fantasies. You will never again be the love struck nineteen-year-old who awaits the future with bright eyes. Maybe I am too old for fairy tales, you think, before you realize from his expression that you have spoken out loud.

"Do you remember the first time we met?" he asks. You nod, because how could you not? "We were both on our way to Madame Dubois' French class. I remember watching you from behind and thinking to myself, she lives in a place that's far more interesting than mine, maybe she could give me a tour sometime."

"And then I tripped," you supply. The memory still mortifies you.

"Yes, and then you tripped," he agrees, eyes crinkling as he starts to smile again, "and I was glad for the opportunity to help you and meet you." He looks thoughtful. "We met at an interesting time in my life. My identity had always been so tightly intertwined with being a Chosen Child. College was supposed to be a time of reinvention, but during the first year I had Hikari, and with her I never needed to think about who I was. When she left, it was as if she also took that part of my life with her." His eyes darken briefly, as if recalling an unwelcome memory. "When we got together, I thought we could find our way together, you and me."

"Do you regret marrying me instead of her?" You meet him in the eye. "Knowing what you do now, that Hikari was going to come back, would you still have married me?"

"I will never regret meeting you, or starting this family," he replies, answering a different question. You know that that's all the answer you will get on the subject, because he doesn't want to hurt you.

"At our wedding, when Taichi left," you say, remembering something else, "you said you broke a promise. What was it?"

"You've read my books," he says. "When we were in the Digital World the first time, we were in the desert and Hikari became very sick. Before Taichi went out to get medicine for her –"

"You asked to go along, but he asked you to take care of her instead," you finish, frowning. "That's a lot to ask of an eight-year-old."

"It doesn't matter though," Takeru says. "The promise was always just an excuse. I would've protected her anyway. I want to protect her forever, in whichever way she allows me to."

Even if it means destroying your own family, your own life.

"This, all of this, has been a lie, hasn't it?" you ask, gesturing around the room. You have to blink a few times to discourage the tears that are threatening to fall. "You couldn't have gone on fooling yourself forever."

"I really did believe that I had moved on." His eyes seek out yours, imploring you to understand, to believe. "Hikari and I didn't keep close contact over the years. We each have our own families and only see each other during reunions. I could've gone on without her if I know that she was happy, that someone she loves was taking good care of her. She never gave me any indication to think otherwise. But then when I saw the painting in her apartment, I knew that she had been in danger all along, only she didn't tell me. And when she was lying on the beach, when I thought I lost her forever…"

His voice hitches and he is unable to continue. You raise your hand and trace the outline of his cheek, memorizing the face of the man you fell in love with, the man who is everything you have ever wanted your husband to be, and the man who unfortunately never had room in his heart for you.

"But you didn't lose her," you say gently, despite your own pain, "and now I'm finally setting you free."

It would be a lie to say that the divorce is smooth and painless. The day you pull off your wedding ring, you spend the rest of the afternoon crying in the bathroom. Then you proceed to take down every picture of you and Takeru together, put away every anniversary and birthday gift exchanged over the years, although you cannot bring yourself to throw any of them anyway. Instead you pack them carefully away, packing the boxes with tissues in case one day, when the pain has dulled, you might want to look back upon happier days.

Then there's the fact that the divorce affects more than just the two of you. Yoshiro reacts terribly and, for a few weeks, refuses to speak to either of you. Both your families are confused and hurt, especially your parents, who have come to see Takeru as one of their own and couldn't understand why you would want to leave him. Friends do not make the decision easier. You are peppered with calls, especially from Aya and Sora, and very soon you stop answering the phone altogether.

Even Takeru wavers at one point and asks whether you would like to reconsider. "It might for the best for everyone if we could just work things out," he suggests.

Those are words that you want desperately to hear, and words that you know you cannot trust. Somehow, you find the willpower to hold your ground. After all, you can only delay the inevitable for so long.

Relations are somewhat strained between everyone involved in the immediate aftermath of the divorce. You and Takeru share joint custody of your son, although Yoshiro stays with you until Takeru finds more permanent housing. You decline your mother and Aya's offer to stay with you, and become somewhat of a recluse outside of work. On the weekends, when Yoshiro is out with his father or with his friends, you prefer typing away at your computer, working on cheesy plays that nobody would ever read.

You make your one exception for Hikari, who makes the five-hour drive up to Tokyo to meet you in a small coffee shop. It's the first time you've seen Hikari since you left Nagoya, and you are relieved to see that she looks much better than before, although she is still very pale and thin. You know that she is here for your forgiveness, that she is sincerely sorry for what happened. You know that she has tried to convince Takeru otherwise while the divorce proceedings were still underway, and that she has not contacted him since the divorce was finalized.

However, you are not there to hear her apologies. Instead, you hand a piece of paper with Takeru's new address and practically shove her into her car after coffee.

That night, Takeru calls you and thanks you. For the first time since the divorce, you realize that everything will be all right.

Time heals all wounds, and fortunately it makes no exception this time.

Takeru and Hikari get married, to nobody's surprise, a year after the divorce. There's no wedding, no reception, only a small dinner with close friends, and you are honored to have been invited. Throughout the evening, they have eyes only for each other. Takeru, especially, looks at her as if he's afraid that she would disappear again. You cannot begrudge them that; they have waited too long for this moment.

You find someone too, as surprising as it may sound. You are in a bookstore when you both reach for the same Shakespearean play. He looks nothing like Takeru, nothing like the prince you have always dreamed of, but when he smiles at you, he reminds you of that morning long ago when the golden-haired boy picked up your scattered books.

These days, you no longer find counterparts to the events in your life in fairy tales. Not that you have stopped believing in them, however. Someday, when you are tucking your grandchildren to bed, you will tell them the tale of a prince with shiny golden hair and a princess with soft brown eyes, and how they overcome all odds, including a sea monster and an ensnaring witch, to live happily ever after.

Writing the ending was really hard and I hope it turned out realistic. I originally wanted to end the story at the last chapter so I don't have to write the divorce scene, not so soon after Perhaps Love, but I think Takeru's wife deserved a resolution.

Thank you everyone for staying with me to the end. I've been writing the Perhaps Universe for so long that it feels a little bittersweet to have wrapped it up, at least for now. But it was really a pleasure to share my stories with other Takari fans who love the characters as much as I do, and who also disliked the canon epilogue.

I'm going to take a break for now, not from writing, just from inundating everyone with my stories. But I love this fandom, so I hope to see you around again soon!