I knock politely on the door, and wait. Christina is back in the car, and I would bet the chauffeur is getting an ear full of the reasons that she should be accompanying me into this shady apartment complex. Or not, she was a quiet one. Perhaps I just prefer to think of ways she could be different from me. Nobody answers the door, so I knock more firmly. Still nobody comes.
A moment's hesitation.
I turn the knob. Slowly, ever so slowly, I edge open the door. All the while I fight the urge to throw it open, to run in and see the woman that swam through my dreams both waking and asleep for the past twelve years. But I didn't. I opened the door quite deliberately. My first impression was that it was dark, my second impression was the silence, and my third was the musty, dank odor of the room. I take a step inside and blink, adjusting my eyes to the light. I glance around, and it's easy to see that Haruka has apparently fallen into bad habits once more. There are several bottles lying scattered about the room, none of them particularly refined. I find it hard to imagine that drinks can be reduced to such cheap causticity and still remain palatable. Still, I noticed in a strange, detached way that I didn't have any reaction to this. It did not feel real, did not concur with all that I knew of my one and only love. I hear a clatter in the next room. I walk over, and take my first look into the kitchen. I almost immediately wished that I had not, for it was a decidedly… unsanitary place. What catches my eye more than the piles of grimy, food-covered dishes and stained counters, however, was the flash of a foot turning around the corner into the next room, accompanied by heavy footsteps. Having passed through the main room and the kitchen, this had to be the bedroom. I still did not feel any pains, or fears, or sadness. Just a clinical observation of the surroundings. I assumed that I probably had some reasoning somewhere in the back of my mind for this, but I was not too interested in collapsing this bubble of indifference, not if it meant letting in the grief that I should, by all rights, be feeling at this scene. I walk to the bedroom, my footfalls silent, just as they always were when following in the wake of my noisy Haruka.
I hesitate before the door, then banish my fears and open it. I don't knock, don't indecorously announce my name and intention. I merely walk in, and lay eyes on her for the first time in twelve years. I blink. Something feels wrong, inside of me. It feels as though I want to systematically list the identifying characteristics of the woman before me, but I feel a tug somewhere in my chest. It hurts. It hurts badly. I blink again, and my vision swims.
Her beautiful, long, just barely curled golden tresses are hacked short at the shoulder, matted and more than a little dirty. She's garbed in a plain white t-shirt and pair of blue jeans, and is barefoot. Her hands, I see her hands and want to fall to my knees. Her fingernails are chewed to nubs, and a good deal of her hands are swathed in bandages, and where there are no bandages there are cuts in various stages of healing. I look around, and see several broken bottles lying around. Likely it was hard to clean them while inebriated, though she had tried now and again. She has not even noticed my arrival yet, she's sitting in a chair at a small table. Her hand is wrapped around a bottle with clear liquid in it that I can still smell from over here. Her head is bowed, what hair she has left obscuring her face. So then, I know something now. This is not my Haruka-chan. My Haruka-chan is not an alcoholic, she is not a dirty person, she is not one to sit statically, she is not one to ever, ever be defeated like this poor woman I saw before me. None of that fit with Haruka, none of it made sense. If it did not make sense, it was not true. She raised her head.
I took a step back, I could not help it. Violet eyes stared at me, intense but unfocused. But though there may have been some intensity, it was not what I remembered. It was not the bright energy of a new day coursing through her veins, nor the zealous dreams of what she might accomplish giving her purpose. It was the intensity of one who has nothing left but bitterness, and wants nothing more than to be left alone in it. The eyes were dull, the spark gone. I let out a heavy breath, one that I had not realized I'd been holding.
"Who the hell are you?" A voice came out of the room, and I looked around.
"Over here, you, right in front of your pretty little face." I looked back at Haruka, who I now knew was Haruka-- those eyes were one of a kind. Could that low voice, devoid of life and coated with a lifetimes worth of sorrow and pain, could it really be hers? It was. And she had asked me… who I was? She did not recognize me? My hair was a little longer now, as my public relations team had suggested, and I now wore a little bit of make-up, but I did not think that I looked altogether that different. Then again, I wondered if I would have recognized her on the street, not expecting to see her.
"D'you hear me, I said who the hell are you, what are you doing in my place?" The words she spoke, they caused that peculiar painful tug in my chest again. They were the words that should have been coming from some drunken man getting evicted from his apartment for failing to pay his rent, not from my headstrong Haruka-chan facing her best friend from twelve years before.
"Ha… Miss Suzushiro-san, you are Miss Suzushiro Haruka-san, correct?" I said in as officious a tone as possible, not knowing why I did so.
"Yeah, so what? Look, I'll get the rent in a few days, I got another check comin', just lay off will you…" She seemed to forget I was hear after that. I could imagine her saying that to various people, all of whom would look at her piteously, or disgustedly, and then turn around and leave. She surprised me now, though, and started speaking again.
"People always talking about money, like it's important or something. Used to think that was important, used to think a lot of things was important. None of it is, I know that now. Not anything in this world as important as…" She drifted off.
"Nah, can't be thinkin' about that again. Why do I always think of that, it's been too long to still think of that. I got plenty of trouble, why does she keep coming back… but she doesn't, does she? She never came back, I never saw her, never knew why. God I miss her…"
I stood stock still, petrified in the doorway. I know she isn't talking to me, and I wonder how much time she's spent just like this, leaning over a bottle and talking to herself. I wonder if I'm dreaming. Anything can happen in a dream, especially a nightmare. This is easily be one of the worse nightmares I've ever had, it's so real. I can't think of any other reason for this… this person in front of me to exist, but that she does not. But for this to be a nightmare, to explain why the strongest person I ever knew, and thought I ever would know, was this ruin I had come to.
"I miss her… why didn't I know how much I would miss her before? Why couldn't I know that, maybe if I would have told her, she could have told me? Took me long enough to figure it out, and I was supposed to be a good student." I watched, and she reached an unsteady arm out before her, bleary eyes trying to focus on something unseen in front of her, "Yukino…" My shell broke, my icy heart melted under a deluge of hot tears.
"Haruka-chan!" I yell, running towards her. She whirls around in the chair, and I cough slightly as her hand stiffly pushes out into my stomach, and then I feel a vice grip on my wrist. I stand there, too shocked to say anything. She looks up at me again, rage in her eyes.
"DON'T SAY THAT! NOBODY EVER SAYS THAT, NOBODY EVER CALLS ME THAT, EVER EVER EVER!" She rages, and her grip tightens, my hand throbs.
"Nobody… never say that… no one but her… no…" Her grip slackens.
"Yes, Haruka-chan, nobody but her." I say more softly.
"Wha? What are you playing at, didn't I already tell you… rent soon." She shakes her head. As if remembering the bottle in her hand, she picks it up and brings it to her lips. I want to grab it, throw it against the wall, but I hesitate. She tilts it back and bubbles float up through the bottle. My throat burns just from watching her.
"Haruka-chan… please." I don't know what I'm asking for, I don't know anything now.
"Am I dreamin' again?" She asks me, almost cordially, "I never dreamt of Yukino all grown up, wouldn't know what she looked like. I guess I didn't dream too bad, though I really did like her short hair. Too much makeup too. What do you look so sad for, anyway? I'm the one that should be sorry… I never knew exactly what it was that I did, I never got to ask… but I did something to make you go away. Why did you go away?" She took my hand and brought it up to her face, and I didn't know what to think when she gently pressed her lips to the back of my hand, "Why, Yukino…?"
"Because… because I was afraid of you."
"Afraid of me? But Yukino, I would have died for you, wouldn't let anything happen to you. Ever. I wouldn't do anything to you, why would you be scared of me?"
"Because I thought you would never do anything to me, not even love. I wanted you to love me, and I didn't think you could. I loved you, I wanted you, all of you."
"No… no… not even in a dream." Haruka mumbled, "I don't dream like that. I waited too long to find that out about myself, there's no way Yukino loved me too, that whole time. You're lying." She looked back up to me, eyes suspicious and accusing.
"No, no I'm not. I was afraid of what you would do if you found out. I didn't think I could live without you, but I knew for sure that I couldn't live with you like that."
"No… no no…" She started crying, "I want to wake up now. I thought I could live without her. I did, I thought that she was a strong girl, she could go her own way and be a fine woman. I would just go along like I always had, I would be fine too. But I'd always had her with me, going with her was the only way I knew. I always thought of her, of you. But it was too late by the time I found out, I couldn't find her, and she never came to find me. I'm sorry, Yukino. I waited too long."
"No, Haruka-chan, I'm sorry. I waited too long." I leaned down, put my face close to hers.
"But I'm here now, and so are you. We both know, we both want to love. Can we…?" I move my face half-way to hers, then I hesitate. Come on, Haruka-chan, go the rest of the way.
"No… I can't. Look at me, Yukino. You can't love me. You look like you're doing fine for yourself, you can't love some useless scrap of person like me. I can't drag you down…"
"Haruka-chan, I've never stopped thinking about you, please. Please, I want to love you. Let me love you, let yourself love me. You want to, you said so."
"No… no, this is just a dream. I don't deserve Yukino, I shot her away and she's not coming back. You're not real!" She let go of my hand and recoiled from my face as though it burned her, "Get out! Get out and leave me alone! Yukino didn't care about me, she's had a happy life. She's settled down with somebody she loves, she has a family, she has a successful career, she's happy! She's happy! She's happy without me!" She started screaming hysterically, and I backed away. I didn't know what to do. I kept backing away, I turned towards the door with tears in my eyes. I sank to my knees outside the entryway. I sat with my back against the wall, hearing Haruka's sobs through the opening. I shook, I trembled, I wondered what to do now. Inside the room I heard a click, a very familiar, unmistakable click. I knew exactly what I should do, I should run back into the room as fast as I could, should through myself towards her and stop her. I could stop her, she might have been stronger than me, but she was also inebriated and clumsy. All of this flashed instantly into my mind, with the irrevocable knowledge that I should do this right now.
I heard the report of the shot. The sobs in the other room stopped. My own sobs stopped. My own everything stopped, until my protesting lungs forced air in and out again. My breathing came in gasps and bursts. I climbed jerkily to my feet, turned around the corner. There was so much black in there now. I knew that it should be red, but in the dank, unlit room it looked like so much black. I felt as though I were breathing it all in, the blackness rushing down my throat to meet the ball of ice forming in my stomach. Flooding my veins with clammy, slimy cold. Going into my heart, freezing it inside and out. The last source of heat I had in this world was gone. I shivered. I tried to think of leaving. I tried to think of sweet little Christina back out in the car, worrying about me, tried to think of going home. But all of that entailed moving forward. But… Haruka-chan had always pushed me forward, even when I was away from her. Her voice had always been in my mind, her body always in my dreams. Now Haruka-chan wasn't here. I couldn't be pulled along by her around here any more. But... maybe she could where she was now. I picked up the handgun from where it lay, a few feet from where she lay. It felt oddly hot in my hand, though I knew the metal should feel cold. But it was reversed, the metal felt hot and the… the wetness spattered on it, that's what felt cold. I sat down next to the girl that I loved. I cradled her head in my lap, held her still-warm hand. I didn't mind the mess, this blackness was already a part of me, inside and out, what did a little more matter? I formed her fingers around the handle, put the barrel to my head.
"I left you before, but I'm not being apart from you any more. Take me with you, Haruka-chan."