“Love is not holding on…….it’s letting go.”
Her crimson hair blew in the wind, flying around her like red hot flames. She made no attempt to tie it up nor did she try to stop her hands from trembling. Her light sleeveless white cotton dress billowed around her in the fierce wind. Her body was cold. Her hands were trembling. Her eyes were tearing up at the thought of what she was going to do next.
She was going to demolish it with her own hands. She was going to break down with her own hands, all that she had tried to desperately build up over the last few years.
She was going to put to waste all her hard work, sleepless nights, daydreams and sacrifices. All because she realized the one thing that she should have realized all those years ago.
She had realized that she couldn’t love him. Not anymore. This love brought her too much pain. But it had given her so much happiness as well.
But now, it just didn’t feel right.
So she was going to make all those happy memories of theirs bitter tonight. She had decided that she was going to stop loving him. But she had no clue how she would go about doing that.
But she was sure of one thing… He would never love her back. Not in this life.
Today, she had also realized something else.
She had boundaries. There was a limit to the pain that she could handle. A limit to the suffering that she could tolerate. But apparently, there was no limit to the amount of love she could feel for one person.
The one person that she had entrusted her heart to had crushed it. He had been crushing it for years now and it took all she had not to break down into tears.
She didn’t know what it was that made her finally break. Maybe it was the fact that six years had passed. Or maybe it was the fact that Yukari was happily married and Nanase was already engaged. It was at Yukari’s wedding that she had finally understood it. When she saw her best friend walk down the aisle, happy and full of love and expectation, that was when she realized that she too wanted that happy moment. She wanted to have her happily ever after as well. But then it hit her like a ton of rocks.
The person that she wanted her happy ending with had no intention what so ever to be with her. And suddenly, when she looked around her, she saw that everyone had changed. Everything had changed. Except for him and except for her.
They stood where they had all those years ago, close yet far, loving yet distant. She felt as if they were in a frozen movie, where everything around them had moved and changed except his heart and her love.
The distance between their minds and bodies had lessened, but their hearts were still the same. His, painfully shut off and hers, faithfully loyal. And Ayano finally came to the decision that she had had enough.
She had had enough of the painful, tormenting and rough one sided love that she had. She had enough of holding him tight when she so desperately wanted for him to do the same. She had enough of his teasing lies, suggestive looks and false promises. She had had enough.
She had always been loyal and loving, faithful and caring, truthful and steady. She had always just been there.
Silently supportive, the small push and tug that he needed and the warmth that he desired. She had traveled the world with him, held his hand, understood his silences and respected his space. She told herself that it was for him. That it was to ease his pain. But she now knew that in the back of her mind, it was always her selfish desire for him to reciprocate that drove her crazy and senseless.
It bit at her insides, burning her, scathing her and tormenting her. The feelings that she had pushed to the back of her mind were haunting her and begging to be let free.
But that was just it. She couldn’t. Because she knew that he understood. He felt her love for him, he felt her loyalty and her trust… but he didn’t feel her pain or her longing.
After years of loving him and making her feelings as clear as day, her heart had finally given in to her mind and her exhaustion.
Her heart was tired. She was tired.
She was tired of chasing him, tired of holding him and… tired of loving him.
It was all over.
The city stretched below her as she stood on one of the many high rises in the city. The sun was just setting, bathing the city in a warm orange glow. This was where it began. And this was where she intended to finish it once and for all.
The wind shifted and she felt his presence before he appeared… just as always. And it hurt for a reason she couldn’t put her finger on. Just as always.
His feet landed softly on the terrace floor.
“So, Princess, are you all ready for tomorrow? Or do you want me to come along with you?”His teasing voice filled the cold air. If she was her normal self, Ayano would have tried to defend herself. She would have gotten angry and frustrated. But today, she felt none of that. His voice was the same. His teasing was the same. He was the same.
But she wasn’t.
She turned around, her resolve strengthened and her mind set.
When she saw his handsome face shadowed by the sunset, it took all her strength not to back down. Was she really willing to trash all that they had between them?
But then she thought… There was nothing to trash.
Because there was no ‘them’.
She could tell that her tear stained face startled him. He stepped forward cautiously, suddenly on his guard.
“Ayano, what’s wrong?’ His voice was concerned and his reddish-brown eyes were worried as he took another step forward.
Her voice came out a broken whisper but the wind carried it to him nonetheless and he stopped in his tracks, all serious. His playful mood was gone as was his teasing tone.
“Are you having second thoughts? It’s not too late to reconsider. We can still–” Her voice interrupted him. This time it was loud and frustrated.
“Damn it! Don’t you understand the meaning of stop!?” It was not her usual childish anger and she knew that he sensed that.
“Stop what?” His voice was cool and cold as his dark eyes looked at her.
“Stop everything. Stop being my partner. Stop being my bodyguard. Stop being my friend. Stop giving me false hope. Stop… please.” Her voice was calmer than she expected. She was surprised at her controlled tone. But the tears streaming down her face were an indication of her weakness.
“Why?” His voice was as emotionless as always.
“Because I can’t take it anymore!” Her voice cracked at the end, and it seemed that a dam broke inside her. Suddenly, she didn’t give a damn of what he thought. All she could think of was letting go of those feelings and telling him everything. So finally, after all the 6 years that they spent together, she allowed herself to break down in front of him.
“I tried, Kazuma. I really did.” Her broken voice was the only thing that filled the air between them.
“I tried to make it alright. I tried to make you alright. But I can’t do it anymore. I can’t continue to give and get nothing in return.” Her shoulders shook violently and she didn’t bother to wipe away or hide her tears.
He stood there silently, not saying a word – just staring.
“You know, after all this time, I thought that something had changed. I thought that, only if it was a little, I had managed to cure your heart. I always believed that if I tried, it would all be all right. If I stood up each time, then it would all be fine.” She took a step closer to him, looking into those dark eyes that she had always dreamed of.
“But I was wrong.” They were both looking at each other, their eyes never wavering. The wind blew around them. But all she could see were those eyes and her broken dreams.
“Please, let me finish while I can.” He seemed to understand her plea and his mouth snapped shut.
“I have always loved you.” She paused. “And you have always known.” He didn’t correct or stop her, so she decided to continue.
“I saw your pain. I felt it. And it hurt me as much as it hurt you. I just wanted it to go away. I wanted everything to just go away… I wanted to make you happy.” Her crimson eyes were glazed and her fists were clenched so hard, that her knuckles had turned white and her nails dug into her palm.
“We fought together. We protected each other. We finished Bernhardt. We destroyed Belial. We did all of that together. But there was one thing that we didn’t do together. You didn’t help me, even though I desperately wanted you to.” His eyes hardened and she could see that he was trying his best not to speak.
“I killed Lapis. I did it all by myself. Even when I called for your help, you didn’t come… You chose not to.” Her crimson eyes darkened with anger.
“I thought you would come. I thought that after all that we had been through, you would stand by me to defeat that one remaining person. But you didn’t come… You didn’t help, even as she almost stabbed me!” Her voice rose.
“You didn’t come… because you couldn’t kill her. Because even after all these years that woman is still more important to you than me and my life.” She took a deep breath. “I have stayed by your side through it all. Even as you broke, I held you to ease your pain, ignoring my own, telling myself that it would all be alright. We have protected each other – fought by each other, held each other – but Kazuma… we have never opened our hearts to each other.”
“I left myself vulnerable to you all these years, hoping and trying so that one day you would tell me what’s in your heart. Waiting for that one day when I can see inside your heart after peeling off all the layers… But that day has never come. You have never opened up to me, to Ren or to Kirika. You’ve always been a closed shell, and now…” She paused, holding her breath and saying the words that she had thought about for the past few days.
“I’m giving up on you.” The fateful words were out in the open. They had been said. This was it. It was finally over now.
Her hair flew wildly around her, her dress fluttered in the wind. Her breath was hitched in her throat and she looked at his face to see his response. The tears spilled down her face and she held her hands behind her back, giving him one last smile.
Hoping that he would never forget her.
He stepped forward, his bangs covering his eyes and gently pulled her to his chest.
“I’m sorry.” He whispered in her ear over and over and the tears didn’t stop as she allowed herself to bury her face in his shirt and breathe the smell of him. He smelled of cinnamon. She etched the smell and feel of him into her mind and heart, imprinting it there so she never forgot.
The arms that held her were strong, protective and comforting – but they weren’t loving. And she finally understood that.
His soft chocolate brown strands tickled her ear, and she snuggled her head into his collarbone and breathed him in deeply one final time. And he didn’t stop her.
They stood there in that same position for a long time; and through his embrace, she could feel his pain, care, sadness and regret.
She slowly pulled back and let go of him, and his large, surprisingly warm hands, tenderly brushed her tears away.
And when she looked into his eyes, she knew that he would never forget.
He would always remember this night, these words and this moment. She would forever be etched into his mind and heart. He would always remember her, standing there in her white dress with her gentle smile.
And that was enough for her. It had to be.
“I love you.” She allowed herself to say one last time before she turned and vowed to never look back.
She stood at the Narita International Airport, hugging her friends.
Yukari hugged her tight, whispering in her ear, “Do your best! It’s all gonna be just fine.” And for the first time in her life, Ayano actually believed her.
She then went on to hug Nanase, who just stared into her eyes before giving her a firm and reassuring nod. No words were uttered between them. It had all been said and done.
Next, she went to hug Ren. Well, actually the other way around, because he now towered well over her, dangerously close to his brother’s height. Kanon stood beside him and smiled sweetly at Ayano while she comfortingly rubbed his back as he slowly sobbed.
When she looked at the young blond teenager before her eyes, she still saw the innocent and wonderful younger brother that she loved with all her heart and it brought tears to her crimson eyes. She held his face in her hands and looked into his tear filled emerald green eyes.
“Ren, you know I have to go, right?” He nodded his head.
“I’ll keep calling you. We’ll even video chat. You know I love you.” He wiped his tears.
“I’ll miss you nee-sama. But I’ll say goodbye to you with a smile.” And he gave her one of those innocent smiles of his that made her heart melt and made her want to hug him all over again . But she restrained herself, knowing that if she did, her heart would break all over again. She smiled tenderly back, her own eyes filling with tears.
She had already said goodbye to her Father. And it was the first time in her life that she actually saw him cry. He had hugged her to his chest and given her his blessing, before silently watching her leave, knowing that she had to do what she had decided on doing.
Uncle Genma had given her a rough nod of goodbye and she would have thought that he didn’t care, but she saw his clenched fists and understood his silence, before giving him a nod of her own. Now, as she walked towards Kirika, she finally realized what the blond beauty saw in her uncle.
Kirika gave her a smile and hugged her. It was a motherly hug, mixed with a hint of the friendship that Ayano knew they shared. After she pulled away, Kirika held both her shoulders and her violet eyes stared into her crimson ones.
“You did the right thing.” Kirika’s voice was firm, comforting and final and it was all the reassurance that Ayano needed.
“I’m going to crush you the next time we meet, so you better keep in touch!” Catherine’s clear voice said with a hint of softness. She turned her head towards the blond.
“You bet I will!” And their promise was sealed.
With her huge suitcase dragging behind her, she turned towards the glass sliding doors of the airport and walked through them without looking back.
He hadn’t come. She hadn’t expected him to.
As the plane took off into the sky 2 hours later, Ayano saw the city she loved far below her bidding her farewell. As she watched, cherry blossoms flew past her window.
And she knew.
This was his goodbye