Yui hugged her knees against her chest, but nothing seemed to be able to chase away the chill she felt in her body. The chill sat heavy in her chest, like a block of ice that would never thaw. Even the hot tea she had moments ago couldn’t touch it. Neither did wrapping herself in blankets or turning up the heater.
Sitting on the bench seat at the workshop, she rested her head against the window, gazing outside in silence. The street light flickered as large snowflakes fell from the sky, landing upon the empty alleyway, covering it in pure white.
Staring at the bare branches of the ginkgo trees lining the main streets not too far away, hung low with the weight of the snow, Yui wondered if Spring would ever come again. She wondered if the flowers from these trees would ever bloom again, if the vivid green leaves would ever grow into lush foliage again and if the leaves would ever turn into the vibrant yellows that danced so gracefully in the wind.
Like she often did since she came to this dimension, she unconsciously stroked the small ginkgo leaf on the bracelet. She would have never imagined that this tiny gift from Gavin would one day become the only evidence of their love for each other.
Parting her lips, she blew a breath on the cold glass forming a small cloud of fog. Raising her hand, she wrote Gavin’s name on her window. She stared at it in a daze until it slowly faded.
She sighed. Who was she kidding?
Even if she marked it as his special “door” like they did for each other that time that they made Pearly’s new whistle, it wouldn’t bring her Gavin home.
No, her Gavin didn’t exist in this dimension. The dull throb on her sprained ankle served as a reminder of what happened today. She shivered.
After all that had happened since she came to this dimension, some shameless part of her still yearned to meet him again. Even though she knew she didn’t have the right to, she yearned to have his gaze on her, to have him talk to her, to feel his warmth beside her. She knew he wasn’t her Gavin, but even if he didn’t remember her, she thought his simple presence would still be of some comfort.
But ever since the night she was drunk on the roof, she had stopped her obsessive tracking of him. She was too ashamed of herself to do so, too afraid to face Gavin after what she had done.
So when Gavin rescued her today, even though she should have known that he would be one of the first responders to arrive on the scene, she was surprised to see him. And for a minute, their moment together was everything she wanted.
He held her in his embrace as he saved her from the dangers of when she was shoved into oncoming traffic while running from the explosion at the bridge and the attack from the unknown enemy. He protected her just like he always did.
She clung closely to him, afraid that he would disappear, greedy for the momentary warmth, enveloped by his familiar, clean scent.
But the familiar comfort lasted only briefly before she realized how wrong she was. How presumptuous she was.
It was true that he protected her from harm, but it was simply out of a sense of duty. This Gavin held none of the tenderness she had grown so familiar with since their first reunion as adults.
The memories of the cold distant look and detached emotionless tones he gave her today sent chills down her spine. She hugged her knees even tighter against her chest, but her body didn’t seem to want to retain any warmth.
Yui stared at her own reflection in the window. It was a pathetic sight, her eyes hollow, her lips pale and quivering.
She knew it was for the better that they did not meet. She knew that this Gavin, who did not know her, would treat her as nothing but a stranger. And yet, she dared to dream that an encounter with him would give her comfort.
For the brief moment that it did, however, it was heaven. When she fell into his hard embrace, she was overwhelmed by happiness. It was as if she finally woke up in Gavin’s arms and the last ten months were nothing but a terrible nightmare. It was as if things went back to the way they were. The way they should have been.
But her momentary happiness served only as a gateway for her to fall deeper in the never-ending depths of hell when he mercilessly dodged her unconsciously reaching hands.
Her Gavin had never refused her touch; he always welcomed her with open arms.
The rejection felt like an invisible hand, shoved into her chest, ripping out her beating, bleeding heart from her rib cage. She felt as if her blood wouldn’t stop dripping out from her hollowed chest, taking all the warmth from her body with it drop by drop.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she leaned her head against the window again.
No, the person who saved her today was not her Gavin.
The murderous look he gave her, with storms in his eyes, did not belong to her Gavin, nor did the painful, hateful, bitter expression he shot her when she accidentally used her evol on him.
Her Gavin simply did not exist in this dimension. Their meeting today was just a cruel reminder for her that she had no one to lean on in this world.
She was all alone.
Yui trembled even harder at the thought as her chest tightened and her heart throbbed in a never-ending pain.
She thought she had a handle on the loneliness and emptiness that had been growing inside her ever since she came to this dimension. She thought she had it under control, imagining that nothing had changed, and that Gavin was simply out on a mission and that he would come back to her soon.
But seeing Gavin again today had been a cruel awakening. His mocking tones and murderous looks dragged her back to reality and since then, her loneliness and emptiness had grown exponentially, threatening to swallow her whole.
She felt like a person who was drowning in the middle of an ocean with nobody around to hear her screams.
And she was so tired from the screaming and the struggling she had to do just to stay afloat, only to be engulfed by waves and dragged underwater over and over again.
Was she ready to give up? Yui asked herself.
No, she was too stubborn to do that. Even just to keep her promises to herself and Gavin, she would fight until her last breath for what was right and for justice. She was still determined to stop tragedies like the attack in her neighborhood several months ago and the explosion at the bridge today from happening again.
But how could she go on when even the simple action of breathing felt so exhausting?
She desperately needed a shelter, a refuge where she could rest and take a breath before continuing this difficult journey. But no matter how hard she reached out, all that was waiting for her was the cold nothingness.
Shivering uncontrollably, she clutched the blanket even tighter around herself. She closed her eyes as more tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Why didn’t you turn the lights on?”
Yui jumped at the sudden voice in the room as the light came on. Turning her head away from the person who appeared without warning, she quickly wiped her tears away with the back of her hand.
Ever since Gavin’s birthday, Shaw had been dropping by the workshop even more often than before. She had almost expected his sudden presence.
“What the hell? It’s like a sauna in here,” he complained, as he kicked off his boots, strolling over to the thermostat and turning it down to a more acceptable level.
Normally, she would have objected to him doing whatever he wanted without asking her first, but today, she didn’t have the energy.
“I bought fried chicken,” he said as he placed a few plastic bags of takeouts on the coffee table and plopped down on the sofa. “You want some?”
“No,” she quietly cleared her throat.
“What? Too tired from running away from your kidnappers today?” His tone mocked. “Told you not to head southeast.”
She didn’t reply. She didn’t have the strength to deal with him.
“It’s from the store you like.” Opening the bags, he laid out the boxes of food, one after another. He paused for a second before adding, “I was passing by.”
One would think that after an experience of running from her kidnappers only to arrive at the scene of an explosion, then pushed into oncoming traffic and attacked by unknowns that she would be starving by now, especially when she hadn’t had anything since breakfast. But she wasn’t.
She didn’t feel hunger. In fact, she couldn’t feel anything at all other than the freezing cold.
“I’m not hungry,” she refused again as she continued to gaze outside the window. The heavy snow continued to fall, the streets now entirely covered in a thick blanket of white.
The rustling of plastic bags stopped abruptly followed by a small click of the tongue and the sound of soft footsteps.
A paper cup was suddenly shoved into her hands. She whipped her head around to face the man who was now standing right beside her.
“Hot milk tea,” he jerked his chin towards the drink in her hands. “More milk, less sugar.”
He knew her usual order by heart?
Bemused, Yui stared at him as the warmth from the hot tea slowly spread to her fingers and palm.
“What? You don’t know what to do with milk tea now?” Shaw gave out a small huff after a long moment of silence between them. “Drink it.”
Of course, she knew she was supposed to drink the tea he placed in her hands, but for some reason, she couldn’t look away from this person standing in front of her. Unconsciously, she clutched the paper cup in her hands.
How could it be that he always showed up when she was at her worst?
She felt her eyes sting and before she knew it, her vision blurred and tears rolled down her cheeks anew.
Shaw froze in surprise.
Yui had never cried in front of him, in front of “Shaw”, the man she had been trying so hard to hide her vulnerabilities from. The only times he had seen her tears were when she thought she was alone or that time when she had mistaken him for Gavin.
She had always put up a strong front of him no matter how much she was hurting inside. He knew she saw Gavin after the kidnapping today, but he was still stunned that it had rendered her so defenseless even in front of him.
Embarrassed, she began to turn away in an attempt to hide her tears, when she felt Shaw’s knuckles on her cheek. His warm and unexpectedly gentle fingers softly caressed her, wiping away her spilling tears. His familiar mockeries she’d grown to expect never came. Instead, warmth lingered on the skin he touched, slowly spreading within her.
She wanted to ask him how. How was it possible that his simple touch could make her stop shivering when nothing else did? But she was too afraid to speak, too afraid that if she even moved a fraction, this momentary warmth would be gone and she would descend back to the cold empty place that was tearing her apart from the inside.
He moved his hand to her chin, tilting her head up with a curled finger. Gazing at the molten gold of his eyes, Yui saw him bend towards her.
Slowly, he closed the distance between them, until she could feel his body heat and his hot breath upon her lips.
He paused for a moment, and when she didn’t pull away, he tilted his head, leaning in again, he captured her lips.