Dressed in a strict formal attire, Usami Akihiko stepped out of his car and gave his keys to the man in front of the hotel entrance. The glimmering lobby with golden chandeliers above the high ceilings and the red carpet hurt his eyes. It was these kind of events he hated. But it was something he didn't have much choice but to attend to; the Naomori Awardings night, where he was a nominee.
He walked in, smiling here and there and bowing slightly at the smiling faces of people he barely knew. Suddenly he had a feeling of looking back at the glamorous entrance of the hotel, wanting to leave. He had this gut feeling that something was about to happen. And he didn't like it.
The entire time Usami sat in the dark hall waiting for the winners to be called, the man only had one thing in mind; get out of the building and drive away fast.
Blinking as if called back into reality, Usami looked to his left and met the eyes of an old woman smiling at him.
"Congratulations Usami-san. You got it!"
"Ha?" I got what?
"We once again call Usami Akihiko to the stage to receive the Naomori Award..."
The man narrowed his eyes and looked around him, only realizing then what was going on and why he was there. When he stood up, the entire hall became filled with clapping and the blinding flashes of the cameras around took nonstop photos of the youngest Naomori Awards recipient.
Looking down on his feet, Usami had the urge to knit his brows. "Was that just my imagination?"
He brushed the slight dizzying sensation he felt and headed on the stage to get the award which in reality didn't make him any happier.
After what seemed like eternity of smiling, Usami splashed cold water on his face inside the deserted men's room. The water dripping to the tip of his nose, he looked into his bored expression through the mirror.
"Guess I don't have to come to the after party anymore right? I just want to sleep..."
Then it happened again. That feeling of dizziness like he was about to collapse. Usami gripped hard on the sink and looked around. And in that instant, the dizzying feeling was replaced by a growing tremor under his feet. And before he knew it, the doors to the cubicles were slamming on its own. The floor under his feet wasn't steady. And the faint sound of classical music that he could hear changed into ear-piercing screams.
"Please calm down and head to the exit orderly!"
" Calm down my ass!"
Crying women, crying children and angry men's voice prevailed. When a human was faced into a death and life situations, there was no pose or class, rich or poor, educated or whatnot. All that was left would be the want and the selfishness to live.
Human instinct kicking in, the novelist ran out of the men's room and was met by people running in one direction. However, the man held on to the walls and tried to walk the other way, avoiding the stampede that would likely to happen.
Usami grinned inspite of the situation he was in. "All that Earthquake drills yet when it comes down to it, it's useless..."
He looked behind and noticed he was already alone. Ahead of from him was a figure that seeemed to be running towards him. His temples started to ache at the blinking lights above his head. Soon there would be a blackout, then what?
A huge explosion rendered Usami paralyzed to where he was standing. He felt a strong force pass right through him. Eyelids that he closed by reflex moved wide open, only to see a wall collapsing towards him and in an instant there was nothing.
There was a sound of a dropping water from somewhere that reached Usami's ears. He opened his eyes but even have to question if they were really open. It was pitch black. Nothing, not a glimpse of light could be seen.
When he tried to get up, he hit his head against a hard surface.
Lifting his hands, he then realized that the wall before had indeed collapsed on him. Just a sheer luck that it didn't completely squash him under.
He wiggled his feet and tried to pull his knees up, only to grunt in pain.
"Ah damn it...that hurts...argh...I think I broke a bone or something..."
"Hello?" a small voice cut through Usami's thoughts.
The author seized to move to listen. He wasn't really sure if he was hearing right so he directed his senses to the faint sound he heard.
"He-hello?" came the voice that sounded on the verge of sobbing. "Hello?"
Usami turned to his left for the sound seemed to be coming that way. Blindly, he reached for it but felt a hard, rough surface instead. Some remnants of a fallen debris caged him under the wall.
"I'm here...are you okay?"
The sound of a young voice sighed a heartfelt sigh of relief, however, it still ended up crying.
Usami drew a deep breath, wanting to laugh for some reason. Earlier he was wanting to get some sleep. Now he was there laying on a hard floor with not knowing if he would still be able to get out of it alive. Talk about life being so absurd.
Everything was eerily quiet except for the voice's sobs near him and since there was nothing he could see, Usami's other senses were sharp.
"You know...I had a feeling that something bad was about to happen earlier. I wanted to get out of this building..."
The hiccuping stopped and Usami heard some stones rolling. By way of things, perhaps the person owning the voice was just by the other side of the debris.
"You did?" the voice asked, curious. Or perhaps, just a way to remove their minds from the grave situation they were in, they decided to talk. "Why didn't you leave then?"
Usami smirked. "Don't know. I wanted to, but at the same time, I felt like not wanting as well..."
The voice softly laughed. "That's weird."
They fell silent. Only the sound of pained breathing on both sides could be heard. Usami turned back to his left and glared at the darkness.
"I wonder what time it is..." the author asked particularly to no one. "My watch stopped working...and I left my damn phone in my car..."
A sound of uncomfortable rustling was the sound that came to Usami. The voice sounding like it belonged to a teenager shrugged like he had just given up trying to escape whatever was above him.
"Sorry...I dropped my phone due to the sudden explosion...and I got trapped in here for trying to pick it up...don't know where it is now..."
"You don't have to apologize..." Usami started laughing. "I write stuff like this...never had I imagined to be in this kind of novel-like setting. It's like I am being made fun of."
"You write...?" the teenager's voice paused as if thinking. "...then...in your stories... do they get away alive?"
Usami's laughing stopped and was replaced by yet another deafening silence. In truth, Usami liked to kill his characters more often than not. But at a situation they were in, Usami decided to just keep it to himself.
Seconds turned to minutes and more minutes passed. The older man's ears perked up. There was something he heard like a wind blowing from somewhere.
Trying to listen and feel for that gush of wind, Usami once more rested his hand against the cold debris on his left and ran his palm on it. He felt for it and examined it with his skin when his hand sank into something.
"An opening?" Usami mumbled a little excitedly. He pushed his hand deeper into it when he poked something soft.
"Oww...that's my side...I think I broke a rib or two..." the voice mumbled tiredly.
"Sorry...ah but what's this...this opening is so small it's just the arms that can fit..."
To Usami's surprise, his hand that he placed inside the opening felt warm fingers lacing into his own. Even if he wanted to pull away, the desperation he felt from the boy at the touch of their skin made Usami decide to just let the other person hold onto him.
"I'm sorry..." the voice mumbled squeezing Usami's hand. "It's just that...I am scared to be in this darkness..."
The older man found himself squeezing back as if assuring the boy. It was so out of his character to do that. But maybe, he just had to. "It's normal to be afraid at a time like this."
By the time Usami realized it, the hand inside his palm had already felt like an extension of his body. They had been holding hands like that for what seemed like eternity without letting go. Usami could even tell if the person on the other side had fallen asleep already or had just woken up. Nevertheless, they kept their hands locked.
The warmth they get from each other was the only proof of them both still being alive. When one is inside a place of darkness and silence, the brain moves on it own, interpreting things on its own. Turning the thoughts of fright into nightmares. Their hands together was the anchor pulling them both to sanity.
Usami sighed. "Me too..."
How long has it been? One day? Two days? They had lost track of time it was frustrating. In there, it felt like the entire day was night.
"Mister, what if no one's coming? What if there's another Earthquake? Wha-"
"I used to own rabbits when I was younger. But they never liked me for some reason..." Usami dived into the thoughts of the boy, distracting the boy's depression with his nonsense. "Soon I earned 'Usagi' as a nickname...do you have a nickname?"
"Nickname..." the voice repeated, sounding a little livelier compared to earlier. "Ah...I don't...just my brother calls me in my first name and nothing else..."
Usami cleared his throat. He smiled inspite of himself for that was the first time he had the longest conversation with a stranger.
"Hi. I am 'Usagi'-san, nice to meet you."
The teen laughed, grasping Usami's hand tighter while doing a handshake through the small hole, as if they just met in person for the first time.
"Nice to meet you too Usagi-san. My name's Misaki."
"'Misaki' huh? You have a sweet sounding name for a guy."
About three days passed. Drained, hungry, thirsty and tired, both males stared into the darkness. Their intertwined fingers had already become numb for the lack of movement just like any other parts in their bodies.
"You know Usagi-san, I once saw in a newsreport this guy who got trapped under a building too..."
"He was trapped for a week and he said he drank his own urine to get by..."
"No way..." Usami replied grimacing at the thought.
"It doesn't seem so bad," the boy named Misaki joked. "I'm so...thirsty..."
Usami closed his eyes. It didn't matter anyway whether he have them closed or not for both just offered utter darkness. It was even an adult's responsibility to care for the younger ones, but he was as helpless as the teen. He felt useless somehow to be left just listening to the ragged breathing of his companion.
Usami awoke to a weird sound. Something clattering, something grinding. The man hurriedly pushed himself closer to the debris that separated him from Misaki. He squeezed the boy's hand very tightly.
Finally realizing that the clattering he was hearing was the boy's teeth clashing, Usami felt alarmed all of a sudden. "Hey, Misaki...what's wrong?" His hand...freaking cold...
A succession of coughing was the reply the author got. It sounded bad. It sounded like it hurt.
"Usagi-san...? You don't have to hide it to me anymore that your character in your stories dies..." came the raspy voice from the darkness.
"Huh?" the older man felt like someone had just stabbed him from behind. "What are you..."
"When I asked you before, you didn't answer...because they died right?"
If only Usami could just miraculously pass through that small opening where their hands were joined, he could at least wrap the boy in his arms and offer warmth.
"This and that aren't connected with each other kid. I'm sure the rescue team is near..." Usami paused, trying to mask his own wavering. "We're in the lower floors so I guess..."
The boy just coughed hard and loud.
"Misaki..." the man was surprised at the sound of his own voice. Desperate, like on the verge of crying. "...after we get out of here...what do you plan on doing? Tell me?" he asked, so as to make the boy think of happy things.
"I'll eat a lot," the boy replied laughing a little. "I'll cook for Nii-chan then...then maybe we can invite you over."
What's this...? Usami asked himself raising his free hand to the side of his face. It was surprisingly wet. Then he realized they were from his eyes.
Usami swallowed the lump in his throat and instead forced a laugh that ended like a croak. "That would be nice. Let's...let's do that."
"Yeah...I'm sure that would be fun...Usagi-san?"
"Hmmm?" Usami felt the weak squeeze in his hand and he squeezed back right away. His own chest drumming violently the silence made it louder, pounding against his skull. "What?"
"Thank you," Misaki breathed. "I'm glad I'm not alone."
"Idiot. You say that now?"
"I guess this happened so I could meet you...right?"
He laced his long fingers tighter into the smaller ones as Usami felt the strong trembling from the boy's body. "I'd tape your mouth if I could. Don't talk like you're..."
Usami quieted and listened closely. He thought his heart had stopped when the heavy breathing on the other side calmed down. He sighed a very deep sigh of relief realizing that the boy had just fallen asleep.
His lavender eyes that looked like black orbs in the midst of darkness searched the blank wall above him. For the very first time in a long while, Usami Akihiko closed his eyes in earnest prayer. Praying, asking, begging into the heavens, that the hand he was holding would stop growing cold.
Just a small light, a small dot of light above Usami's head pierced his eyes. His brain wasn't working anymore. He just stared.
"Misaki..." he whispered, his throat felt like there were sand in it. Squeezing the hand that was still in his, he felt something warm on his face. "They're here...they're here..." The stone hand he was holding didn't respond or anything. "Didn't I tell you they'd come...? Hang on there..."
Closing his eyes once more as the dust from the debris above them kept on falling, Usami gritted his teeth.
"Hey! There are people under this wall!"
"Are they alive?"
It wouldn't matter if he did that, but Usami pushed the wall above him with his free hand while his other one was clinging to someone whom he didn't even know. The urgency rushing to his every cell was so strong.
It has been so long since the small hand squeezed back. So long since the voice last talked. And more than being buried alive, Usami realized he was more scared to lose this hand in his. Unexplainable, unthinkable, it was past beyond what words could explain. He just want the boy who literally held hand with him in the times of darkness live.
"Please..." Usami croaked. "Take him first ...Take him first..."
Brightness drowned Usami. He couldn't see past through his tears and the light. He turned to his left to check his companion whom had the coldest hand ever. The only thing he saw was dusty brown hair before he had succumed to a world of silence, his consciousness leaving him.
"This many?" Usami Akihiko asked.
The reception with busy nurses running around was messy. Piles of papers and empty cups of coffee scattered on the counter and on the floor.
"I'm sorry sir...the survivors from the hotel keep on coming even until now..."
He scanned his lavender eyes towards the long list of names. Twelve 'Misakis' were already in the morgue. Thirty-seven other Misaki's were scattered around the huge hospital recovering.
It has been two days since the author regained consciousness. He had lost a considerable weight and he looked like he could still use some rest. But he just couldn't thinking where 'that' Misaki could be.
They said the both of them got separated in the ambulance. That they had a hard time removing their hands holding each other together. And that the boy was begging the rescuers to check on Usami first.
"The Earthquake with a 6.9 magnitude that happened a week ago had caused trillions of yens of damages and lives sacrificed. The governme..."
Usami removed his gaze from the hanging TV at the corner where other patients were watching. He couldn't even care less what happened to the nation. He walked away, hands inside his cotton trousers.
Just as Usami turned at a left hallway back to his room, a boy with a crutch appeared right where Usami stood earlier.
"Mou...you again?" the chubby nurse sighed, pushing her eyeglasses to her nose. "I've already checked the list a couple of times kiddo...there is no 'Usagi-san' there. Give me a proper name kid, then we'll talk."
"But...I don't know his real name..." the boy with green eyes mumbled, knitting his brows at the piles of papers before him.
Misaki walked away with the help of his crunch. His eyes not at the floor or the way ahead but on his hand that could still feel the warm sensation of a stronger hand holding his. It was that sensation that enabled him to last that long despite being buried alive.
"I doubt...I would last a day if I was alone there..." the boy whispered, smiling bitterly.
Usami splashed water on his face. He had removed the hospital clothes and changed into something more presentable. The doctors asked him to stay for other tests so despite him totally feeling better than before, he stayed there. Besides...he wanted to see him.
Drying his hands with a paper towel, he heard something from outside the men's room. He almost tripped at the silver-metal by the door way. Usami's eyes then caught a glimpse of a bandaged foot, the hem of the hospital gown just above the knees.
"Sorry...my hand slipped..." the boy mumbled, head bowed as he was trying to pick up his crutch.
Usami sighed and bended. With one swift movement, he had the crutch in his hand. He lifted the metal to the owner, and when their eyes met, something inside Usami pulsed. That was the first time he experienced having the 'breath got stuck in one's throat' despite writing about it in his novels. Like a stone inside his throat he couldn't even gulp.
The boy's face was equally surprised. As if they were seeing through each other.
Without talking or anything, they just looked at each other. In the dark, they couldn't see each other. Why did it feel like they've known each other since forever? Without even touching, they could feel the familiar sensation of having a part of their body return to them. It was so strong. Like the blood in their veins was rushing in celebration for the second meeting.
Thinking then, the first meeting was an accident. But the second one was inevitable.
"There are so many Misakis..." Usami thought.
"I don't know you're real name..." Misaki thought.
The whole world, the economy, the tragedy, they all disappeared for a moment and eveything turned into a slow motion. Just them. Just the two of them in that space.
"But I could tell, it's you whom I've been searching for..." the both of them thought, silent agreement forming.
A slight smile formed on Misaki's lips, his cheeks suddenly taking a different color. Usami's eyes smiled, his lips forming a real smile, a smile so different from all the fake ones he had mastered to do.
The older man reached for the boy's hand and gently squeezed it. The boy did the same.
"You won't be needing this crutch anymore," Usami announced, waving the metal before them. He raised their hands and wiggled his fingers locked with Misaki's. "This is enough right?"
"I guess so...Usagi-san."
At the mention of the name, Usami's chest swelled with a feeling he couldn't explain. "Now I know why I didn't leave despite feeling something would happen..."
They started walking into the hallway, holding hands together like they did to survive. Walking into the real battle ahead of them.
"To be your support, Misaki."
chapter end notes:
uwah..been a while yah people of the world! thanks for reading my oneshots and other stories! domo!