Fallen angels at my feet
Whispered voices at my ear
Death before my eyes
Lying next to me I fear
She beckons me
Shall I give in?
Upon my end shall I begin?
From the song Whisper (the Fallen album), by Evanescence
I don't remember what happened immediately after that, apart from the madness.
Mai told me that I'd pressed my lips against Shizuru's, and covered her face with kisses, and coaxed her ever so gently yet insistently to wake up. She told me that Solomon had arrived shortly after, and had tried desperately to make me let go of her body. She told me that it had taken Solomon, Yuuichi and Reito to make me let go, and that I had screamed and cursed and railed at them, while she had wept upon seeing me in that state, understanding for the first time what I had really felt for Shizuru.
She told me that Solomon had taken her body; that he had carried her out himself. They had allowed him to attend to her, being her fiancé. Also, they had needed to devote all their energies to restraining and calming me. Mai told me that after I'd fallen silent, I'd gone as still and limp as a rag doll - that I'd retreated somewhere inside myself where none of them could reach.
She had taken me home, and for the next three days, she and Mikoto had watched me in turns as I lay on my bed: not sleeping, not eating, not drinking, not moving, trying to approximate for myself what my Shizuru was doing, which was neither sleeping, nor eating, nor drinking, nor moving, because she was dead, and the dead did nothing, and I wanted so so so badly and desperately to be in that nothingness with her. And the whole time that I lay there, Mai told me that my tears never stopped. It was only when she told me, with much hesitation and much sadness, that they would be holding Shizuru's wake, that I finally moved, finally lifted my head, finally sat up. Sat up and collapsed immediately from exhaustion, hunger, thirst and grief.
It was their compassion and their concern that kept me alive. Most of the former Hime knew what it felt like to have the person most important to them taken. Only Yukariko, Shizuru and I had been spared the experience, as we had died immediately in the arms of the persons we held dearest. Mai knew it especially, having suffered it twice with the deaths of Takumi and Yuuichi.
They gathered around me without having agreed on it. They offered no advice. They uttered no platitudes. They simply took turns staying with me and caring for me.
Then one day, nearly two weeks after Shizuru's funeral, Solomon Goldsmith came to see me.
"I'm sorry for disturbing you like this," he said quietly. "I know you would prefer not having to see me. But I think Shizuru would have wanted you to have this." He held a locket in his hand. "Shizuru wore it for as long as I'd known her."
I opened it. It was a picture of me and Shizuru, with Shizuru standing behind me, her chin on my shoulder, her arms around my waist. We were both smiling. At the sight of it, the ache in my heart, always so close to the surface those days, began to throb.
Solomon watched me silently. I returned his grief-filled gaze with one of my own. While Shizuru had been alive, he had been a rival. Now that she was gone...he was a comrade. He was the only other one I knew with whom Shizuru had been close. He would understand not just the general pain of losing a dearly beloved, but the more specific anguish of losing Shizuru. He would be the only other one who could truly, completely comprehend how mind-boggling and soul-crushing the loss of Shizuru was to the world.
"What...what was Shizuru to you?"
I knew he understood what I meant. He looked away for a long time. When he spoke, it was with tremendous sadness. "She was...she was an equal. A mirror. A compatriot. A friend. A fellow sufferer. She was the only other one I knew in this world who held nothing back when it came to love. For love, she gave everything. She was, quite simply, the most magnificent human being I'd ever met."
"A strange eulogy..." I said softly, "coming from a fiancé."
He smiled sadly. "If I say more, it will only cause you more grief."
"The pain is all I have left of her," I told him, "So let me indulge in what little I have left."
He fell silent for a while. "Shizuru and I were genuinely fond of each other, but we weren't in love with each other. We were both in love with people we couldn't have. And the only way we could show that love was by...staying away. She agreed to marry me because her father would have needed to marry her off anyway. At least with me she knew that she was safe. With her I knew that I was safe. Neither of us expected to be each other's spouse in the full sense of the word. But I did love her. She was the only one who ever understood me."
He was right. It was suddenly, infinitely more painful than I could bear.
"So you were with her this whole time? These past two years?" Much as it relieved me to hear that he and Shizuru had not been lovers, it hurt me to think that he'd been the one she'd spent most of her last months on earth with.
He shook his head. "To be honest, I only knew her for a year before we came here. Before I asked her father for her hand, she was living in a monastery near Tokyo."
The startled look on my face prompted him to explain. "She didn't talk much about it. She just told me that she wanted to atone for her sins...that she wanted to at least deserve to be the friend of the one she loved the most. I think she would have stayed there indefinitely, if my proposal hadn't made her father force her to leave."
I couldn't help it - couldn't help the tears that streamed down my cheeks yet again. Shizuru, my Shizuru...How much pain had she borne alone in those last years of her life? Was that how she had seen herself in those final months? As a weed that had stood in the way of my blossoming? Somehow, that made the fact of her death even more insupportable...because I couldn't make it up to her, couldn't explain to her that she had been wrong, and that I had been wrong.
Solomon watched me weep quietly. "I'm so sorry, Kuga-san. More sorry than I can ever express or than I can ever explain." His green eyes contained such sorrow and such understanding. He stood up to make his leave. At the doorway, he paused and looked at me. "Someday, I hope you can forgive me."
I looked up, confused by my pain and my grief. "For what? For nearly taking Shizuru away from me?"
He paused, reflecting on my words. "That's close enough, though I think nothing will ever take Shizuru away from you. Not even death."
"Not even death..." I repeated tonelessly. Had he read my mind somehow? Did he know how often I had contemplated that final recourse over the last several days?
His gaze hardened. "Don't stoop that low, Kuga-san. Would you mock Shizuru's death with your own?"
I stared at him bitterly. "After all I've lost and been through in my life, she was the most important reason I had left for living."
"Then find out why she had to die, Kuga-san. Those monsters had to come from somewhere. They will probably come again."
And with that challenge, Solomon Goldsmith left. I wouldn't see him again for a very long time.
And that's why, six months after Shizuru's death, I found myself working as a part-time lab technician in the Fuka Crime Lab. It was an irregularity given that I was still a university student, but I had made enough connections during my work as a Hime to secure the favor. It rankled some of my colleagues in the department no end, but I wasn't there to make friends.
It would have been a lonely life, only I still had Mai and Mikoto and the rest of the former Hime. And of course, there was the ghost of my beloved...
Shizuru, my Shizuru, haunt me until I can find who did this to you. And then, once that's done, I can join you.