You used to captivate me
With your resonating light
Now I'm bound by the life you left behind
Your face it haunts
My once pleasant dreams
Your voice it chased away
All the sanity in me...
From the song My Immortal (the Fallen album), by Evanescence
I'm not sure how it happened. It's possible that it had happened a long time beforehand, only I hadn't paid enough attention. The first few weeks she was gone went by easily enough. It was the start of my second year in high school after all, and I was determined to finally enjoy a normal teenager's life.
Only I hadn't anticipated what actually constituted the normal life of people my age. When I took a good hard look at the "normal" teenagers around me, it occurred to me that adolescence was almost entirely about...intimacy. Suddenly I was surrounded by couples: Mai Tokiha and Yuuichi Tate, Akane Higurashi and Kazuya Kurauchi, even Chie Harada and Aoi Senou.
And if the peer demonstrations weren't enough, there was also the fact that boys and girls at school began to pursue me in earnest. Mai told me that with Shizuru and Reito Kanzaki gone, they had all needed a new object at which to target their affections.
It was all enough to start me thinking, for the first time in my life, about the subject of relationships. And on that subject, I found that my mind tended to fixate on a single object: Shizuru Fujino.
She had quite simply, and without my ever realizing it, become the standard against which I would measure all admirers. And not a single one of them even came close, whether male or female. I saw and heard countless declarations of love and countless demonstrations of lust, but all I could think of in reaction was a pair of crimson eyes that blended both effortlessly in a look of utterly tender desire.
It infuriated me at the same time that it confused me. When I'd told Shizuru weeks earlier that I couldn't love her back the way she loved me, I knew I hadn't lied. I couldn't understand how I could feel so differently in so little time.
It disturbed me enough that I decided to talk to Mai.
I ambushed her one evening at her desk.
"Mai..." I asked hesitantly. "How did you figure out that, you know, you liked Tate after all?"
She stared at me dumbfounded. "Where did that come from, all of a sudden?"
I sighed, "Just answer the question, Mai." She raised an eyebrow at me. "Please?"
"Well..." she paused to consider her answer. "I guess I always kind of knew; only there was so much that I had to deal with. Like taking care of Takumi, juggling school and a part-time job, getting used to being a Hime...And then there was all that baggage with Shiho-chan, and possibly getting my Child and Yuuichi killed on top of it all."
I frowned. "So what you're saying is that you really liked him all along, and it wasn't that you went from disliking him to liking him overnight?"
She leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "If you ask me, I don't think people's feelings can change all of a sudden. They're either just ignoring them, or denying them, or misinterpreting them." She looked at me then and giggled. "It's kind of like you, Natsuki. I swear you're so out of touch with yourself sometimes."
"What does that mean?" I looked at her in genuine bewilderment.
She patted my hand affectionately. "I worry about you sometimes, you know. I mean, I don't think you've ever really been a teenager - or even a kid for that matter. Your whole life's been devoted to getting back at the First District for killing your mother. I just worry that all of those childhood and adolescent things that you never paid attention to or cared about before will catch up with you someday."
I snorted. "You're one to talk, Miss I-Raised-My-Brother-All-By-Myself-Since-I-Was-In-Kindergarten."
She shook her head firmly at my interruption. "Yeah, but I've never shut out the possibility or given up an opportunity to have a normal life, Natsuki. I mean, fine, a lot of my time went to taking care of Takumi, but I did try to go to school and I did try to make friends. But you were so different. You were just so...single-minded about your crusade. It was like you didn't have time for anything or anyone else...including yourself."
I closed my eyes in frustration. What Mai was saying made sense. It also meant that I was, quite possibly, the biggest fool in the world for having let the one object of my affection slip away unnoticed and underappreciated.
"So," Mai leaned forward. "Can you please finally tell me what this is all about?" Her eyes suddenly widened. "It's not...it's not about a boy is it? Oh my God...this isn't about Takeda-san, right?"
"Don't be an idiot," I said crossly. "I may be psychologically stunted, but I'm not a complete moron." And to prevent her from prying any further, I added, "In any case, you'd better start cooking dinner really soon, or Mikoto's going to make trouble."
She was out of the room before I even managed to slide off her desk.
After I'd begun to think of Shizuru that way, I couldn't get her out of my mind. It had been several weeks since I'd last seen her or talked to her. In all the time we had known each other, I was almost always the one who approached her first.
Only this time, my approaches ended in failure. Calls to her mobile phone, then to her house, then to the different universities of Fuka yielded nothing. Her phone was disconnected, her servants simply said she was away, and the university registers didn't have anyone listed by the name of Shizuru Fujino. I went as far as using my contacts in the underground to find her, but she had completely and utterly vanished.
I nearly went mad those first few days. My initial panic eventually yielded to anger - anger that she hadn't told me, that she hadn't warned me, that she'd left no word at all about what she had planned to do. Then as the weeks passed, anger gave way to despair. And then finally, as the months dragged on in continued silence, despair gave way to a numbed longing.
I missed her. I missed her intensely and desperately. I missed her chestnut hair, her crimson eyes, the musical lilt of her voice, the playful curve of her lips, the graceful way she carried herself. I relived the brief moments we had spent together: times, I realized with shamed hindsight, which consisted mostly of my asking her a favor, then abandoning her once my request had been granted.
I suddenly wished that I'd been awake when she had kissed me. I suddenly wished that I'd been awake when she had lain naked beside me. Thinking of her that way - imagining her lips, and the tongue that lay behind, and the body that lay beneath caused me countless sleepless nights. It was only then that I'd realized what it was that had revolted me. It wasn't the idea of her touching me. It never had been. (I even vaguely recall the flush of pleasure I'd felt when I'd woken up that night, believing I had dreamt her kiss.) I'd simply felt betrayed that she had touched me without asking - that she had invaded that most private of spaces without permission.
I badly wanted to give her that permission. And she was nowhere to be found.