As it turns out, life wasn't as filled with miracles as the stories would have you believe.
He sat in the cold, sterile hallway, slumped over in the chair with his face in his hands. He could hear the steady breathing of the woman, the woman he now knew as his mother-in-law, sitting across from him. It did little to calm his ragged nerves. He could still hear his own heartbeat, throbbing through his veins, pounding in his chest, and wondered how she could sit there so calmly when he was so close to the boiling point. Her composure agitated him.
He didn't bother to look at her face, because he knew that seeing the lines of worry and terror etched across her face, no doubt an echo of his own countenance, would only agitate him further.
The hospital was quiet and dark, as usual for such a small town at this hour. Both of them were still in their night clothes, their hair unkempt, dark circles carved under their eyes.
Neither spoke. They suffered together in silence.
When the door finally swung open, both heads turned as if pulled by strings.
Mrs. Akiba knew then and there, almost instinctively. It was a strange sight, the way she seemed to collapse from the inside out. Her knees dropped to the floor, her breaths ragged. Her face contorted in a silent scream.
Yuuichi listened as her sobs pierced the quiet. He slowly looked up into the doctor's face. The man was unfamiliar; Natsume was away, although he couldn't bring himself to remember the reason why at this moment.
The eyes told him what he wanted to know, but he needed to ask anyway. He needed to hear it. Yuuichi opened his mouth to speak, but found that he couldn't produce a single sound. He begged the question with his eyes, instead. My wife… what happened to her?
The doctor shook his head, and with two simple words, his world fell apart. "I'm sorry…"
Scream after scream erupted from the top of the mountain that night, like the cry of some wounded animal.
It had been a normal night, lying on the floor reading books to one another. She laughed at something he said in between novels, her smile causing something to twist inside him pleasantly, and she then promptly teased him over the goofy grin on his face. She kissed his cheek, and he tilted his head slightly to kiss her mouth. They both smiled into the kiss.
She loved fruit; he had just recently been sent on an errand to retrieve some from the grocery store. When they finally pulled away from each other, she ordered him to fetch her some, giving him her most serious face. Her face was still flushed, hair tangled and her eyes glassy with contentment and he simply couldn't help but laugh at her as she glared.
But he went to get her the fruit anyway.
When he returned, she was curled up on the ground in pain. The orange fell from his hand.
And so began his nightmare.
He saw her only one last time before her body was burned to ashes and lost to him forever.
Her face was peaceful.
His mother-in-law cried openly at the funeral, and he touched her shoulder in comfort. The gesture was stiff and awkward, but appreciated, as she leaned into his touch just slightly. She looked up at him, and her face broke his heart. He saw himself there.
He avoided the hospital from then on. Hell, he avoided everything. He closed the door to her room, all of her books and possessions locked away inside. He eventually shut off his cell-phone and unplugged his home-phone, so he wouldn't have to hear the constant ringing anymore. He ignored all visitors, no matter how persistent. His world was dark.
Natsume returned home early upon hearing the news, and he whispered his wife's and his patient's names over and over into his bottle until they mingled into nothingness. The sidewalk was hazy, but he trudged on, somehow sure of his path even in his intoxicated state. At last, he stumbled upon his destination. When banging against the door didn't work, he simply shoved his foot through the window, ignoring the shards of glass that sliced his hands as he crawled inside.
"Ezakiiii, I know you're there," he growled, rubbing his nose as he straightened and looked around.
"What are you doing here."
The voice… Yuuichi's, although hoarse from disuse… but he couldn't identify its origin in his present state. Natsume frowned. "Ezaki. Where are you?"
A quiet grunt. Natsume squinted, and thought he could make out Ezaki's form just in front of him. He ran his fingers through his hair, brain still fuzzy. "Hmmm. You won't answer anyone's calls, won't take any visitors. Your nurse is worried about you, you know."
"… She's not my nurse anymore."
"So you holed yourself up in here, huh?" the doctor mused, ignoring him. "Couldn't take it after all? Even though you always knew, right from the start, what to expect…"
"That time… I lied when I said you could fight fate." A tremor ran through his voice, and hot tears blurred his vision even further. "Worst possible outcome."
"Couldn't even keep her safe," he rambled, voice slurred. His wife's face flashed before his eyes. "Even though you gave up everything…"
A fist connected with his face. Surprised, the doctor staggered backward, head smacking the wall. He cursed, and was too slow to avoid the next punch. He could only tense in preparation for another blow, but the assault ceased as soon as it began. Yuuichi had already fallen back.
The doctor almost laughed. He was still too soft, even now. "What, does reality hurt?" Natsume spat, breathing hard. He stepped forward, a crazed look in his eye, and was satisfied at the sound of flesh meeting flesh. "Does it?"
With each kick, he was awarded a grunt or gasp of pain, and when he tired of the physical abuse, Natsume leaned down to hiss in his ears. "Don't think the world stops turning just because she's gone! You're still here! You're still here, and you have to live with it! You have to live with yourself now! Or was it not worth it to keep her smiling until her very last day?"
He dragged the younger man to his feet, pulling him to the shattered window. He ignored each muffled cry of pain, forcing him to look outside.
"See the moon out there? See how it still lights up the night sky? That's because what you felt didn't disappear the instant she did! It's why you're hurting now! It's because… it's because there's a tomorrow! You just have to find it." He deflated, releasing his hold on Yuuichi. "You just have to find it."
He pressed the bottle to his lips and sank to the floor.
Yuuichi sat in silence, listening as the doctor silently cried on the floor next to him.
He thought of that last smile, before he turned around and came back to find her writhing on the floor, of her laughter, her ruthless demands, her stubbornness, her warmth, her love. So lost in his own sobs, he was surprised when he felt the gentle ruffling of his hair and the hot whiff of alcohol hitting his face.
"Don't become a specialist. There's no tomorrow for someone like that, Ezaki. You just keep moving forward, even if you've lost everything, even if you hate seeing the smiling faces of others because deep down inside you are just like me. Pretend you aren't. Just… just…" his voice trailed off, and eventually, Yuuichi felt his presence disappear completely. Pretend. His head dropped to his knees.
When he finally looked up, the sun was just peeking in through the window.
He couldn't smile. Not yet. But he could stand up, and take a single step forward.
AN: Um. Not sure what I even think of this. Review it I guess. (also sorry to those who wanted another l&f chapter, I am a lazy human being who has no excuses)