Grief is hollowing. It digs itself into a man until he is nothing but the shell of what he once was; it wedges itself like wood in the crevice of his entirety and splits him in two. This feeling begins as a looming shadow, a shadow left neglected to become an abyss, dark and deep and uncertain. This became the man Akihiko Sanada never knew to be in the likeness of another so that he may understand, or begin to in some way, what he feels and give it meaning and weight in words.
“You’re too severe.”
A familiar weight settles next to him, and with that familiar weight came a familiar voice. It settled on him like dust on wood, the sound of it nestling deep in the hollows of his bones where dust gathered on ancient altars made in her reverence. He is a burial ground haunted by the ghost of her, be it her words, her scripture, her essence. He lifts his head from where it settled in the curve of hands to look ahead of him. He feels old, impossibly old, yet he is on the cusp of his youth despite what his feelings entail. The weight is familiar indeed, a weight he feels heavy on his heart that knows nothing of the innocence and youth it once beheld, now aged and grey with indifference as if it were a stranger.
She is anything but a stranger to him, though.
“Look at you. You’re a wreck… Have you not been sleeping well?”
Minako Arisato could never be a stranger to him, not with the way her fingers trail along the tender skin beneath his eyes, grey and bruised with lack of sleep, her touch cool where he is sensitive, where he is warm. He sighs. You already know the answer, he wants to say, yet he appears to lack the strength to say anything, let alone acknowledge her with anything more than feeble sounds. She understands well enough, though, and doesn’t press the issue any further if only to give him a moment’s reprieve. She knows a haunted dwelling when she sees one, a home that knows no light with the exception of the ethereal glow of the presence it keeps. She thinks she knows what Akihiko is going through--- it’s never an easy thing, to accept what has happened, however impossible it may be.
“Things will be okay,” she whispers, her hand settling atop his own that sat clenched around the ball of his knee, his fingers digging into the fabric there in a claw-like cinch. “Things get easier. It’s… well… at least you’re not alone, y’know?” Her sympathy embeds itself in her words with a sharp edge of accusation, a cruelty he knew to be softened with her intonation for his consideration. “No burden you bear needs to be done alone.”
He shifts, and she thinks the world moves with him. His hands are folded beneath his chin, his thumbs settled on either side of his jaw. The one thing that doesn’t shift is his gaze, seemingly forever cemented into one spot alike a statue. She observes that his gaze is piercing nonetheless.
“We all have our ways of grieving,” she continues, “but that doesn’t mean you can just wander off and do things alone. I mean, you don’t have to… you have people here to support you.”
She knows not of what he deemed necessary to be apologetic for, and it momentarily startles her. She supposes it’s not uncommon of one claimed victim by the hands of tragedy to take blame for all that unfolds, be it past or present. She closes her eyes and smiles grimly for a fleeting moment, something else unnoticed by him just as her words and kindness before. It’s okay--- she understands, after all.
Silence became a close companion amongst their company, just as tragedy replaced each other in their hearts where they kept the other close, and allowed loneliness to fill the void that became one another. She knows nothingness better than she knows herself; better than she knows the soul so deeply troubled next to her, alone in his own world, made to carry the weight of it simply because he refused to allow anyone else to join him, or get close enough to.
She sighs, and the strength of it is enough to blow a strand of silver hair across the tip of his ear as if it had been a sharp gust of wind. One might have half a mind to think her exhale was enough to cause the blades of grass and tree tops to bend to her will, though she is no force of nature or close to becoming one with it to do such a thing. The gesture succeeded in gaining his attention, though--- she sees a hurt greater than any she once knew in her life in those eyes, and she’s dealt with her fair share of it. A single tear falls from his eye, and she moves to wipe it away--- it refused to leave with her ministrations, stubborn in its descent to the point of his chin. She swoops low to place a kiss to his jaw, and yet when she pulls away, she is still faced with a man hollowed and haunted with his sorrow.
“Me too,” she whispers, standing to take her leave of him, something equally agonising and disheartening as the first time. She walks away from him and past the object selfishly claiming all of his attention; he watches the apparition of his agony disappear beyond the headstone bearing her name, her body dissipating with a sharp gust of wind into a swarm of blue butterflies swathed with an ethereal glow, a glow that scatters like fireflies in the wind.
All that remains is a man hollowed by his grief, disembodied by it, claimed by it, and yet haunted by it all the same, if it meant he could keep some part of her with him at all times. He watches the butterfly and its glow fade to nothing, and wonders if it was ever there to begin with, if it was nothing more than a faded apparition he endeavored to believe existed due to his desperation of wanting to believe she was, and forever and always will be, by his side.