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Bittersweet.

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I stare into the half-empty glass on the glossy table top before me, the liquid inside stares back tauntingly. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, I’ve never been one to drink much, or at all, really. I avoid it like the plague, usually. But then, the situation I’ve found myself in is anything but usual. And so, even though I never liked the bitter taste of beer, nor the burning sting of hard liquor, I lift the glass to my lips and take a mouthful of the amber coloured liquid.

I think it’s whiskey or something similar, I can’t really tell, simply ordered what my companion had when we got here. I roll the liquid around in my mouth before I swallow and find myself unable to distinguish the sharp burning sensation in my throat from the sting almost scalding my tongue. It numbs my taste buds and serves to remind me why I hate alcohol. Besides that, the sour bitterness also reminds me of you. Not because it’s a similar sensation, not even remotely. No, simply because the first time I got really, really drunk, I’m talking three sheets to the wind shitcanned; so utterly smashed that I stole a sandwich you were about to eat, dropped it on the floor, picked it up and still devoured it, all the while having this wide, shit-eating grin on my face -- that was with you. Because of your coaxing, really. I don’t actually remember much of that night, I probably would have forgotten all about it, if these embarrassing photos wouldn’t exist. Photos you keep in your little treasure trove underneath the bed, along with other random shit you deem important, like your old camera.

You and your stupid digi cam. You took selfies before it was cool; I almost want to laugh out loud at the thought. If you were here, and if things were still as they used to be, I’d have said it to your face and we would have laughed together.

But things aren’t as they used to be and I find myself wondering if they ever will again. In my mind I can actually see your grin, can feel you give my shoulder an affectionate little squeeze. But then the illusion shatters and for a moment it feels as though it’s my heart that breaks into a million little pieces. Until I remember that it has stopped beating the moment you left.

I sigh and wince at the mixture of feelings flooding my tired and overworked brain; a jolt of pain shoots up and down my spine as I shift in my seat. I suck in a deep breath as I shift again, the searing sensation travelling along my back once more and it feels as though liquid is running down my skin and soaking into the fabric of my shirt. I wince again and can feel concerned eyes on me, but I don’t react or otherwise let show what I’ve done.

 

These wings of glass you gave me;
I spread them, and I flew. They flapped,
fluttered and then I soared.
High and higher, until I danced across the sky.

But in the frigid cold,
up there above the clouds,
they froze, they turned to ice.

These wings of ice I’m left with;
they couldn’t carry me. They cracked,
shattered and then I fell.
Fast and faster, until I crashed into the ground.

And in the searing heat,
down here inside the earth,
I burned, I turned to ash.

We’re flying, falling, dancing;
a never-ending cycle,
vicious, spinning, spiralling;
Down and down and ever downward.

Through the layers of my failure and your regrets.

 

I snort at my impromptu poesy. Such kitsch. Only you bring this side of me out into the open. You never even had to try. I wrote you sonnets and love poems and you took it with incredible grace. You’d grin at the words I wrote in my little black notebook and when you were done reading them, you’d give my shoulder one of those gentle squeezes, affection and mirth in your lively gaze. It hurts me to know that I will never see your eyes light up like that again when I write you another poem, another song, another whatsofuckingever. The pain is almost unbearable, even when I know that I deserve it.

And truthfully… I don’t care about the pain anymore. I don’t much care about anything anymore. Nothing matters without you. I sigh again into whatever the liquid inside my glass is as I clutch the vessel between my palms. The ice cubes jingle as I move it around in the condensation circle the glass has left on the table. The cuts between my shoulder blades burn and tingle; again it feels as though liquid is running down my back. The sensation is weird, awkward, much like the action was that put these cuts there in the first place; even so, it had been a very particular, calculated move. There had been only one conscious thought stuck on the fore of my mind as I held the mirror shard, studied it and finally, blissfully disgraced my skin with it.

I need to cut off my wings.

Next to me, my friend lights himself a cigarette and I remember once more that I’m not alone. I snort at my own thought. I might not be alone, right now at least, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m lonely. Once again, like so often in the past couple of weeks, my thoughts return to you, your face, your smile, your scent. It all comes back to me, all at once, sensations crash into my consciousness, flood my mind and seem to crush my soul. I can barely keep myself from crying out.

People often say you only realise what you had once you’ve lost it. That’s not the case with me. I know perfectly well how precious you are, how important, and how much I need you. I’ve known it all along. It’s just that I didn’t realise I was about to break everything we’ve worked so hard to build into a million little pieces with nothing more than saying the wrong words at the wrong time. Such a simple action, speaking; so natural, so careless.

Even with all the thinking on it that I’ve done, I still can’t be sure why I said it. Where those words came from. Are they how I really feel?

I huff out a breath. Words. I’ve always been rather particular with them, attached to them in a whole different way than most people are. I don’t simply use them to speak. I draw pictures with them, I pull people into a whole other world through them. It’s a gift, really, and I’ve always been proud of it, treasured it. But I also always, absolutely always, think before I talk. Except, I didn’t. For once, I didn’t, and something poured out that I never even knew was there, that I didn’t know I felt until it was out in the open. Though, when I look back on it, when I start dissecting the situation little by little, like I’ve done over and over and then some in the past couple of weeks, like I’m doing again now, I find myself not believing that I really meant those words. In fact, I know I didn’t. Did I?

My hands clutch the glass tighter, my fingers dig into the surface as though I were trying to break the vessel. I’m not, but I also don’t want to be sure that I won’t. Some angry, bitter part of me, one that I had buried deep down in the back of my mind, under a trap door leading to a dark, dank cellar, with layer upon layer of bricks stacked on top of it, scratches at my insides. I want to scream, want to let the ghost out of the shell. The question is, is it the ghost of you, or me?

The sudden urge to indeed break the glass and use the shards to cut deep, to carve your name into my skin is almost overwhelming in its force. I want to give in so badly. I want to cry and scream and punish myself for being the coward that I am.

All you wanted was for me to meet your family. For me to hold your hand while you would tell them about yourself… about us.

I don’t even know anymore why I was so vehemently against it. I had a reason that I just couldn’t tell you, but no matter how hard I think on it, it evades me. Instead, I said the very worst thing I could ever have. All it took was one sentence, eight little words, that made you turn away from me. I still remember your face when I said them. The shock. Then quiet disbelief. I knew you were trying to hold back tears from the way your eyelids fluttered rapidly. Up and down, up and down, over and over, like a butterfly caught in a spider’s web, struggling for its life.

“This just doesn’t mean that much to me.”

Am I the spider? Have I been the predator, luring you in, only to devour you, heart, mind and soul? It’s been so long, I can’t even remember who came on to whom. Just that it somehow, suddenly… was. You and me. Me and you. Us. We fucked. We laughed. We loved. We rode high on waves of passion and lust, we sank deep into the depths of trust and adoration. We held one another up high and kept each other grounded. For so many years. Was it just force of habit? Then why do I miss you so much? Why do I feel so lost, so lonely without you?

My companion sighs and throws me a concerned look. I don’t need to see it, I feel it. He puts his half-finished cigarette out in my drink and takes the glass out of my hands, slides it over to the other side of the table. “We‘ve been sitting here for over an hour now and you still haven’t said a single word,” he addresses me, his voice deep and warm. I look up into his dark eyes, they’re the colour of death, almost black. I can never read any emotion in them, except when he smiles. But now he’s not smiling, in fact, he’s frowning down at me and for the first time in my life I can see what he feels written clearly across his face. He’s worried for me, he’s worried for you, he’s worried for all of us.

I know you went to him when it was all over. When you had left me. Or have I left you? Wasn’t it me who made the cut, who forced you to retreat?

I know he knows what I did, what I said, how I broke your heart and ripped your soul to shreds. What he doesn’t know is that while I did this, I also tore myself apart. Or does he? Am I the only one who didn’t understand, who couldn’t foresee this would happen to me, that I would break right along with you?

His hand takes mine and squeezes for the briefest of moments. I stare at them, his ink-stained skin covering my own, black scars.

“I miss him,” it suddenly bursts from me before I can stop myself. Tears well up from somewhere deep inside me, even when I thought I had long ago cried myself dry.

Like naturally, his arms come around me, pull me against him as I sob into his shirt. I feel his hand on the back of my head, in my hair, holding me against him, while the other draws tiny, soothing circles between my shoulder blades. It stings where he touches and I cry even harder. “I know,” he whispers against my temple. It’s all I expect him to say, after all, what else is there, but he continues. Words I haven’t expected, words I wasn’t prepared for reach my ears and I almost choke on my tears.

“He misses you, too.”

I push myself off of his chest and stare up at him, even when I can barely see him through the tears in my eyes. I blink them away, can’t believe what I just heard. Did I imagine it?

His deep, deathrot eyes look back at me and there is a sadness in them that I can’t place. But then he offers me a small, barely-there smile and reaches around me. His hand fingers in the back pocket of my jeans for a moment and I’m about to ask him why the hell he’s suddenly molesting me, but when he pulls my phone out, the words die on my tongue.

He unlocks the device, knows my code by heart; after all, it’s the date when you and I first got together and he, well… he’s the one who’s been with us all this time. He’s watched over us, helped our relationship grow from a fling into something meaningful and deep, something beautiful and honest. He’s the one who helped us move in together, too. And now he’s the one you’re staying with while I spend every damn day in this godforsaken shithole I call a life alone in what was once our apartment. I sleep with your shirt pressed to my nose every night, the one you wore last. The scent has long since faded, replaced by my own, but still the action calms me, reminds me of home and love and better times. And at least, while I have something of yours close to me, I can pretend you’re still there with me, my brain conjuring up your scent all by itself until I can actually smell you.

Our mutual friend’s intense eyes find mine and coax me back to reality. I blink a few times in quick succession, shaking the dismal thoughts as best I can, or try to, at least. My gaze wanders from his face to his outstretched hand which holds my phone. My Line messenger app is running, an open conversation staring back at me. My pupils flicker over the last couple of lines I have exchanged with you back when my world was still spinning correctly on its axis, some eternity or two ago now. The last thing you sent me, almost on the dot two months ago, was a smiley and a little heart.

I swallow thickly. Why is he showing me this? I look up at him, frowning, questioning, not comprehending. He simply lifts one of his immaculate, defined brows by way of answering and again I force sticky saliva down my oesophagus. My throat feels dry, like there’s a stone sitting right inside of it and I don’t think I’ll be able to breathe for much longer. My heart is pounding as I reach for the device and pull it close to me. Almost reverently my thumb touches the display, brushes over the little picture of you in the corner of the conversation screen. I’ve hurt you and he wants me to fix it, right here and now. All I have to do is take the first step.

I suck in a deep breath as I pull up the keyboard and simply let my fingers hover over the letters on the screen. It’s not so much that I’m at a loss for words, I know a lot of things I want to say to you, at least three hundred and eighty-six different apologies from the top of my head in at least twelve languages, but I also know that a simple apology, no matter in which language, isn’t going to cut it.

I hurt you, so badly you didn’t show your face at work for the past seven and a half weeks. You’ve been coming to the studio only when you could be sure I wasn’t going to be there. Kaoru, on whose couch you have been residing all this time, told me briefly how you had shown up on his doorstep in the middle of the night, how devastated you had been and that he was trying to fix you. He’d never given me any details. Until now.

“He misses you, too,” his deep voice rings out again, repeats the words that set me on this path of asking forgiveness, possibly by way of encouragement, since I’m still sitting here with the phone between my shaking fingers, otherwise motionless. Sensations run through my veins, memories pull at my nerve endings; I feel as though the very marrow of my bones is being set on fire by bittersweet melancholy.

Realisation dawns on me then, not altogether suddenly, more like a long-suppressed knowledge that has been lingering just out of my reach for the longest time. I can feel it coil around my heart and squeeze until I almost think I’ll faint.

I don’t deserve you.

I never have. You’re out of my league, always have been and I don’t deserve to be with you. I don’t deserve your forgiveness and no matter what I say or do, no matter how much you miss me and I miss you, no matter how much we want to be together, in the end, I’ll end up hurting you again. Somehow, some way. It may take another four years, or maybe just a week. Maybe it’ll be a decade, but I just know that I will, somehow, inevitably, hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you. That simple thought scares me so much, I can’t think of anything else. This fear that grips me, the thought of breaking you beyond repair, is overwhelming in its force; it takes my breath away until I can hardly focus on anything besides my trembling fingers and my slowly withering heart. You deserve so much better than what I have to offer.

The cursor blinks, taunts me and I lower my hands after typing out one short sentence.

It simply reads I miss you. I don’t send it. The cursor keeps blinking angrily.

~

I’m feeling drained when I get home. I don’t even have the energy to unlock my door yet, so I just stand here, my hand on the key that’s already stuck in the lock and my forehead leaning against the cool wood. It’s not so much because I’ve done anything particularly exhausting today. All I did was sit at a bar for one and a half hours with Kyo, watching him disgustedly nip from a glass of whiskey every once in a while and listening to the silence between us.

My heart clenches as I recall how I’ve tried to encourage him to fix this… situation between the two of you. I did all I could in these past seven and a half weeks, I tried fixing you, I tried helping in any way I could. And yet I keep feeling like I could have done more. Tonight is no different. I should have… what? I don’t even know.

An exasperated sigh leaves my lips and I finally turn the key in the lock. It unhitches with a soft clicking sound and I push the door open, trying to be as quiet as possible. It’s late and you might be asleep already. I wouldn’t want to disturb you.

I leave my jacket and shoes in the genkan but I don’t bother with slippers. My bare feet make hardly any noise as I walk across the hardwood floor. I decide to check the bedroom first, the door is slightly ajar but it’s dark inside. I gently push the gap open a little wider and peek into the darkness. You’re not there, but the covers are turned up on the side you have occupied for the past two months.

When I remember that I’ll share my bed with you again tonight I can’t help but feel a little uneasy. Under any other circumstance I would have loved the fact, but ever since you’ve shown up frozen and crying on my doorstep the night you and Kyo broke up I curse the fact that my flat doesn’t have a spare bedroom. Then again, when I offered you my bed and heroically proclaimed I’d sleep on the couch for the time being, you asked me to stay with you instead. You claimed you couldn’t sleep without someone breathing next to you. So, even if I had a guest room, you’d not use it, I’d wager.

It was weird, sleeping next to you in the beginning. I got used to it as time passed by, little by little, but still every night I can’t help the pictures in my mind. The ones where Kyo doesn’t exist, or, at least, hasn’t been your boyfriend for the past four years. The ones in which you’re there because you want to be close to me, not because you miss him so much. The ones where I can take you into my arms and run my hands over your back, not to soothe the tears that still come from time to time, but because you want me to hold you.

I shake myself from the thought only when I hear footsteps behind me. Your voice follows just a few moments later. “Welcome home,” you say in that soft voice you have and wouldn’t I know you as well and for as long as I do, then maybe I wouldn’t be able to hear the sadness still coating your tongue. It’s not really me you want to speak those words to, it’s Kyo. But I’m not him and the fact both relieves me and causes me to feel the searing pain of resentment. Towards whom, I cannot rightly say. Maybe him, for treating you like he did, or maybe myself, for not acting on my feelings before he got a hold of you or maybe even you, for not seeing me in the way I so desperately want you to. Maybe a little bit of all that, or none of it.

I force myself to smile at you as I turn around, sure I look drained and the sympathetic little smile you give me in return confirms it. I sigh and look past you, unable to stand the soft caress of your warm gaze for long, for fear I’d get lost in those deep, sad pools of nutmeg coffee. Or is it syrup? I don’t know, I’m not a writer. Kyo is. You are. One of the things you have in common, whereas I only play guitar for a living. Then again…

I once again pull myself out from my own mind and snort a little as I exhale a breath I only then realise I had been holding in. I barely notice you stepping closer to me; it only registers that you’ve taken my hand when you give it a gentle squeeze. And then you pull slightly and before I know it, I’m mindlessly following you into my living room. You guide me to the sofa and push me down into the cushions before leaving me sitting there as you head off towards the kitchen. I follow you with my eyes until you’re out of sight, listen attentively to you rummaging through my fridge. Even though it feels like an eternity is passing me by you return in a matter of moments, two bottles of Heineken in hand.

You plop down next to me on the couch and I watch your nimble fingers as they uncap one bottle with the crown of the other and hand it to me. I thank you with a lopsided smile and a tiny nod. The bottles clink together after you’ve uncapped yours using the edge of my coffee table and we both take long swigs of the ice cold beverage.

After a while of only sitting there, your hand gently brushes over my shoulder and I instinctively lean into the touch.

“You’re late. Rough day?” you ask and I half expect there to be some form of accusation in your eyes, but when I look up, there isn’t. Of course there isn’t. Why would there be? You wouldn’t have a reason to be… what, jealous? Anxious? Wondering where I’ve been, what I’ve been up to behind your back? I snort at my thoughts and immediately shake my head a little as I see a hint of confusion playing over your features. I’m not sure I should tell you where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’m scared you’ll feel betrayed. And yet, I feel like you have a right to know.

“No, it was okay. It’s just, I, uh…” I trail off before I begin to stutter and look away. I should have thought this through before opening my mouth. Carefully, I start to plan out what I’m going to say in my mind, but you interrupt my thoughts with a sigh.

“You’ve been with Kyo, haven’t you?” your soft voice asks and I can’t tell if there’s hurt in it or if the wavering means something else. Then, surprisingly, you chuckle. “Still trying to fix us?”

I look up, back into your face and am rather shocked when I see an amused glint in your eyes and a tiny grin on your lips. “Give up, Kao,” you tell me gently and brush the knuckles of your hand against my chin, “It’s done. After all, I didn’t really mean that much to him.” The bitterness that should be in your words is curiously absent and I can’t tell if you’re just trying to deceive me or if you’re really not all that hurt anymore.

I suck in a deep breath and hold it. The part of me that’s your friend and wants you to be happy wants to say that it’s not true, that Kyo never meant to say something like that and that he misses you. The bitter part of me, the one that’s desperately in love with you, wants to bite off my tongue instead.

I shake my head slowly and finally release the air from my lungs. “Maybe you should give each other a chance to talk,” I all but whisper, afraid my voice will break if I actually use it. It’s all I can bring myself to say, neither asking you to forgive Kyo, nor to forget him and focus on me instead; a middle-ground, or so I tell myself.

You snort and take a swig from your bottle before placing it on the coffee table. You rub your hands together in a nervous gesture that’s very uniquely you and then you climb behind me onto the couch, your legs on either side of mine and your hands on the back of my neck. I feel your thumbs running soothing circles over the tense muscles between my shoulder blades and can’t help my immediate reaction of leaning back against you just a little.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” you reply after you’ve settled, an air of finality accompanying your words. Then you lean forward, putting a tender sort of vigour into the treatment you’ve single-handedly subjected me to. I can feel your breath ghost over my neck with the words you speak next. You say them so commandingly, even though they’re barely above a whisper that I can’t help but to follow the order. “Now, try and relax.”

Still, my thoughts linger on your and Kyo’s past relationship and I wonder if there will ever come a time where I’ll see the both of you happy once again. I haven’t yet given up hope that maybe you’ll find back together, even when at the same time I know it would break my heart a little more.

Only when your fingers dig deep into a particularly tense knot beneath my skin, all but one bittersweet thought is wiped away as I fully fall into your touch.

I’m not the one who broke your heart. But I’m also not the one it belongs to.

~

My fingers rub at your neck until the skin is pink and positively radiating heat. I squeeze your shoulders one last time, then let go and reach around you for my beer. You’re faster in leaning forward to grab for it. You hand it to me and I nudge your thigh with mine by way of thanks. As I drink, I feel you leaning back against my chest and almost automatically my free arm, the one that’s not holding the bottle, snakes around your middle, pulling you even closer. My hand rests on your belly and I playfully poke a finger into your navel. You snort and swat at my hand in protest. I giggle.

Interestingly, I feel fine. Or maybe that’s just natural. I’ve always felt perfectly at ease when around you, from the first time we met. You’ve always been there for me. And I’ve always been there for you. It’s comforting and comfortable, the position we’re in right now; I lean a little farther back into the cushions, pulling you right along with me until you’re basically laying on me. I nuzzle your hair and inhale your scent. It has always had a calming effect on me, breathing you in; there’s just something in the way you smell that makes me feel right at home.

Initially, I came here for shelter and comfort. Because I felt like I had no other place to go, nowhere else to call home. But I stayed this long because, as time passed, I realised you needed comfort, too. I’m not sure what exactly it is that plagues you, that haunts you, and frankly, I’m too afraid to ask. I could think of a thousand things that could make you this uneasy, that could keep you awake at night and I’m not sure I really want to know. But it doesn’t change the fact that I want to soothe you, ease your mind like you did for me when I was desperate and lonely. This, right here, the position we’re sitting in, basically cuddling -- I don’t know if it really helps you in any meaningful sort of way, or at all, but it’s an attempt. It’s just as much a thank you as it is an I love you. Not the kind of love I’ve held for Kyo, not even remotely on the same plain as that, and yet, if someone were to ask me if I would die for you, I could confidently answer with a yes.

I know you’d do the same. Hell, you’ve been trying to get Kyo and I back together the moment you heard what happened. It’s cute, in a way, how you still cling to something that doesn’t even really affect you personally; how you try to revive the dead remains of my lost relationship. I guess, in another way, it might also be a bit selfish of you. After all, Kyo’s and my break-up has affected the band, we’re not really working together right now, simply because I don’t feel ready to face him yet. Though I sincerely doubt that’s the reason you’re trying to get us to at least talk. I know you well enough to know you do everything in your power to see us happy. To see me happy.

I smile into your hair as you shift against me, a tiny snore leaving you. You actually fell asleep, quite literally on me and it’s adorable. My hand on your belly tightens momentarily, affectionately and I press a kiss to the crown of your head. I can’t help it, you’re just too cute sometimes. And right now, with your body pressed warm and heavy into mine and your even breathing the only thing I can consciously hear, I am genuinely content like I haven’t been in what feels like an eternity.

Too quickly, the moment breaks and you jerk awake with a surprised snort as the doorbell rings. I frown in the direction of the entryway as a dull ache takes up residence in my heart. I know of only a few people who’d come to visit you at this time of night and I have an inkling who it might be. I don’t want to see him and my eyes tell you as much as you glance at me and then disentangle yourself from my embrace to get up and answer the door.

“Hold on,” I hear you say into the intercom. Your footsteps come closer until you’re standing in the doorframe between the hall and the living room. Your look is almost pleading with me, confirming my suspicion that it’s Kyo out there, it couldn’t be anyone else.

I take in a deep, shaky breath and have to suppress spitting out a curse as I bring myself to nod slowly, only once. Somehow, I hope that you don’t catch it, but you turn around and hurry back into the corridor. I envision you picking up the receiver of the intercom as you shakily ask our vocalist if he’s still there. There is a pause in which you probably wait for a reply, then you tell him to come up. I hear the gentle buzzing as you press the button to open the apartment building’s front door for him.

You return, your steps slow and insecure, and once again you remain standing in the doorway. I look at you and I can see you swallow thickly. You run your hands through your hair nervously while I sit here, a sort of reverent calm taking hold of me. You all but jump when Kyo knocks on the door.

For a brief moment, time seems to have stopped; you and I just stare at each other. We share a brief smile that’s both reassuring and pained at once, though I imagine mine being a little more on the indifferent side than yours. I’m not sure why you’re so nervous while I’m so calm. It’s my ex-boyfriend in front of that door, not yours. It’s my broken relationship walking into my safe haven, not yours. And yet, I know that your behaviour reflects the person I was only a few short weeks ago. The person Kyo most probably expects to find here, broken and crying. Well, he’s in for a surprise, I think and it feels like I’m smirking a little. Am I a vindictive person?

I can hear you whisper out there in the hall, the visitor taking off shoes and jacket and accepting a pair of slippers. His footsteps join yours on the way to the living room and then Kyo’s standing in the doorway, you behind him. My eyes barely graze him, instead I’m searching for your gaze over his shoulder. You return it, then look at Kyo and back up at me. You offer a smile that’s more sadness than reassurance, but I return it all the same. Then you give the smaller man in front of you a light shove towards me. He stumbles a bit, glares at you over his shoulder, which you squeeze once before turning around and leaving us alone.

I know I should feel something when I watch Kyo walk a few steps closer to me, but inside of me is nothing but hollow darkness. No sadness, no tears, not even anger pulling at my heartstrings. Only… emptiness.

He stares at me for a long while and I simply return his gaze with what I believe is indifference, but then again, I can’t be sure. Inside of me is still nothing but this cold silence, a feeling that I would describe as the calm before a storm if that were a feeling in the first place.

I can almost taste it on the air, the anxiety raging through Kyo as he stands there, even if I wouldn’t be able to read it so clearly in his eyes. Some sick, twisted, bitter part of me revels in his insecurity, in his fear, in his sadness. Maybe I am a vindictive person after all.

It takes another little while until he finally opens his mouth, but what he says is not what I had expected. “I was wrong,” he says, his voice shaking slightly and I can’t help but raise my brows, “I was wrong in saying what I did, wrong in not supporting you the way you deserve it and wrong in letting you go. Even more in letting you leave like that, without explaining myself to you. Without telling you that…” he trails off, his voice finally breaking. A sob emerges from his throat instead and the sound almost serves to make me sick.

I take a drink from my beer. “Telling me what?” I ask, my voice colder than I’ve ever heard it before. If I could feel anything right now, I’d be shocked, maybe even a little scared of myself. I glance at him, catch a shudder running through him. Maybe I’ve managed to scare him?

He shakes his head slightly and wipes a stray tear from his face. Once again, he manages to surprise me with his next action. Wordlessly, he kneels down, crosses his hands over each other as he presses his palms to the floor and the next moment, he’s bowing deep, his forehead resting on the back of his tattooed hand. “I miss you,” he sobs into the floor, his voice sounding pained, more broken than I could have ever imagined. Something stirs within me, a hint of an emotion, but I can’t place it.

A gasp leaves my lips that I don’t know where it came from; it serves in making him straighten up and look at me from his position on the floor. He looks so vulnerable like this, so shattered and I know I should feel something, anything, at the picture revealing itself in front of my eyes, but as soon as the flicker of emotion comes to me, just as quickly it’s gone again.

His eyes are pleading with me, his whole posture radiating sincerity as he speaks up once more, “I love you, Die. I love you so much.”

All of the sudden, there’s a rush of vindictive anger inside of me, a rage that makes my blood boil within my veins. I sneer at him. “And yet you betrayed me,” I reply, not even recognising my voice as my own. It’s much too calculated, much to indifferent for it to belong to me, and yet, there’s no one else who could have said these words. No one else but me.

He gasps, his expression reflecting shock and incomprehension. “I -- no, I never --” he starts, but I interrupt him, cut his words off with my own as though they were a physical, tangible presence that I could slice his very skin open with. He reacts accordingly, jumping slightly and then shaking like a dying leaf in a stiff autumn breeze.

“Yes, you have,” I all but growl, still not quite believing that it’s me holding the power to hurt him now, when just a few short weeks ago, it was him and his words, slicing my heart open and leaving me to bleed out. “You gave me wings, Kyo, wings on which I soared high and ever higher, right up into the clouds. Only I realised too late that they were made of paper and you sent me flying off into the sun.” I don’t know what makes me talk in this way, almost as though I was reciting a poem. Maybe it’s some form of mockery, maybe there is no deeper meaning to it, but those words are the only tangible feeling inside of me next to the anger that’s still there. They taste like regret.

I watch the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallows, his bottom lip quaking as though he’s about to break down into tears. The thought of him crying makes a wave of sick satisfaction wash over me and I immediately feel a little more calm, a little less frantically vindictive. Yet, I don’t stop myself from uttering my next bitter words. “You made me fall in love with you, made me believe you felt the same, only to then tell me that in reality, I didn’t actually mean all that much to you.”

He shakes his head suddenly, vigorously. “No, that’s not… it’s not true, not what I meant, I swear,” he exclaims, desperately clawing at the hardwood floor. I observe the movements of his fingers and imagine him scratching at his own skin instead until he’s bleeding. Some part of me knows it is what he really wants to be doing, to punish himself. On some level, I even want him to, but not enough to encourage it.

My gaze flickers back to his face just in time to see him blink away tears. I have to close my own eyes at that and inhale a deep, calming breath, for once trying to suppress the anger that still boils beneath the surface. “Then why did you say it?” I ask calmly, but I can’t bring myself to look at him; my lids remain closed and I only focus on his voice, the sincere regret and the pain lingering in his words.

“I don’t know. I never meant for those words to come out of my mouth,” he admits slowly, but clearly.

“And yet you said them.”

I can hear him swallow, then utter a barely suppressed sob. “I never meant to hurt you.”

A stinging sensation in my heart makes me open my eyes and regard him once more. “And yet you did.” He nods, his expression pained as he opens his mouth to respond, but I interrupt him before he can get a single syllable out. I don’t need him to tell me again that he doesn’t know why he said what he did. At this point, I think to myself, it’s safe to assume that those words are what he truly feels, no matter how much he doesn’t mean to. The very idea should anger or at least sadden me, but all it does is bringing back the calm.

“I loved you, Kyo,” I all but whisper, “I have loved you like I haven’t ever loved anyone before, with everything I am, every fibre of my being. But you,” I pause and swallow around a lump in my throat, “You discarded me and my feelings like a broken toy. You hurt me to the core, no matter how much you didn’t mean to do it. You still did.” The realisation of what I’m doing here dawns on me finally, right along with the knowledge that this is how it’s supposed to be. This is how it ends, how it was always meant to end and I should have seen it sooner. Carefully, I watch his reaction, his gaze falling to the floor, his slight nod indicating he heard what I said. I find myself hoping he also understands, fully comprehends the words I speak to him. He’s chewing his bottom lip and still clawing at the hardwood.

My heart feels heavy in my chest, as though a coil of pain and regret has wrapped itself around it, trying to squeeze it to death. I inhale a shaky breath and continue, “With just a few words you shook my whole world apart, broke it into a million little pieces and I need to collect them and put them back together before I can forgive you.”

Slowly, I get up and take the few steps that divide us, even though there’s so much more separating us from one another than just this tiny bit of space. I can feel it as though it were a tangible presence, the discordance between Kyo and myself and I have to inhale a deep breath to keep my sanity. It’s finally catching up to me, a shudder running down my spine that Kyo, thankfully, doesn’t see.

Only when I come to stand in front of him, he looks up at me, his head all the way bent back. Silent tears are streaming down his face and I hold out my hand for him to take. He does after a moment’s consideration and I help him get up onto his feet. He’s wobbling slightly and I assume it’s because he’s been kneeling for too long, has lost the feeling in his legs at least partly. I hold him up by the arms until he’s able to stand on his own again. He’s still crying soundlessly and I can’t help but reach out to stroke a few of the salty droplets from his cheeks.

His eyes close immediately at the tender action and I can see him wanting to arch into my touch, but instead of letting him do so, I simply take his face in between both of my hands and let my thumbs trace the peaks of his cheekbones. He blinks up at me and I manage a gentle smile, albeit a sad one. The look in his eyes tells me he knows what I’m about to say; there’s pain in them, so much pain, but also a quiet understanding, a calm agreement. He nods barely noticeable; in fact, were I not holding his face in my hands I probably would have missed it.

“I’ve loved you, Kyo, I still do, and I promise, someday soon, I will be able to forgive you. I may never forget what happened, but I will not hold it against you. But first, I have to get over you. And you over me.”

Once more I can see him swallow. He casts his gaze down, but immediately looks back up and into my eyes again. His hands come to cover mine, squeeze gently and then he smiles at me through the tears. “I love you,” he all but breathes out and I let my thumbs caress his cheeks once more as I lean down and meet his lips in one last, bittersweet kiss. It’s a little more bitter than it is sweet, but heartfelt all the same.

~

When it’s all over, when all is said and done and Kyo has gone home, Kaoru and Die sit on the leader’s couch, quietly sipping away at fresh bottles of ice-cold Heineken while gentle music is playing in the background.

Only after some time, Kaoru regards his fellow guitarist and sighs. He doesn’t actually need to ask, since Die is already offering a lopsided smile. The former redhead takes another swig from his bottle before answering the unspoken question, his voice carrying a distinct note of carefree happiness, just the way it always used to, before the incident. He feels free, as though a burden has been lifted off his shoulders and he can finally breathe again. He knows it will take some time, but it is now that he can finally start to mend his wounds, that he can really begin to heal instead of feeling sorry for himself.

“It’s better this way,” he says simply and leans his head on Kaoru’s shoulder.

The leader puts a hand on the small of Die’s back and sighs again, but refrains from commenting in any meaningful manner. The slightly younger guitarist turns his head just so, nuzzles the tattooed neck like he is so often want to do. He inhales the familiar scent, doesn’t notice the shiver running through Kaoru at the action and remains blissfully unaware of the longing that makes the leader’s blood tingle in his veins and the butterflies wreaking havoc in his system.