Just Let Go
It was eight in the evening and Shiki had just finished two seasons of one of those mindless reality shows when Neku had almost knocked her door off its hinges trying to get in. She was not at all expecting him today and was certainly not in a presentable enough state to receive guests. Her studio flat was an absolute mess. At least five cups of finished instant-noodles were stacked up beside the sink, university notes and loose designs were scattered across the floors and the messy sofa just in front of her TV did nothing to hide the fact that it had been more used than her bed for the past seven days.
Her residence's appearance aside, she herself was not appropriately dressed to have anyone visiting. She was wearing a white tank top, with mint-green shorts - that part was fine – but her dressing gown was a sky blue and her house-slippers were a dark red and her outfit did not match colours in the slightest. To make things worse, she had terrible bedhead and her hair was sticking up in all sorts of funny angles. Talk about embarrassing.
Given that it was Neku, however, he probably didn't even realise how much of a walking insult to fashion she was at the moment. He seemed more pre-occupied with the aforementioned state of her studio. "You haven't been eating well."
It wasn't a question, those cup-noodles spoke for themselves. Neku had his hands in his pockets and one wouldn't have thought that he had been using those to pound on the doors earlier. His usual demeanour had mostly returned once Shiki had opened the door, but the way his eyebrows were knitted together told her that he was still concerned.
Collapsing back on the refuge that was her sofa, she patted the spot next to her. "So, I'm guessing you're here 'cause Eri's filled you in."
"She texted me saying that you hadn't left your place for a even this sofa." Neku joined her on the said sofa, though instead of sinking into it like Shiki had, his posture remained straight. Sat like that, when he looked down at her, eyes piercing, Shiki felt a bit rattled. "Eri failed to mention why though."
She knew Neku well enough that she could tell that he was more put off from the fact that he found out about her hermit-like situation from a source other than Shiki herself, rather than Eri not telling him the reason. It wasn't because she wanted to hide anything, it was just one of those things that she would go to Eri first about. "It's nothing too bad…I mean, it's bad but not the end of the world or anything, I just…" It was also one of those things that she wasn't quite ready to say out loud without wanting to throw a pillow across the room.
Letting out a deep sigh, Shiki sank a bit further into the sofa and started leaning against Neku. One of the great things about him was that he would never push her to talk, even though she herself would have pestered him endlessly if the situation was reversed. She was sure that he would have probably let her stay like that for the whole time he was here; he might have even left without her telling him what was wrong if she didn't want to talk. Eri was right in sending, Neku though, because having her with him now, headphones hanging around his neck, Shiki found that she did want to speak about it after all.
"I just broke up with my boyfriend." That wasn't completely accurate. "Okay, well more like, he dumped me."
"I mean, it's fine. I'm fine. We weren't dating for that long anyway. It was just a year and a half." It was the longest relationship she had so far. "It wasn't like I was that invested in him, haha." She had bought him a birthday present for next month and that was going to have to be scrapped. "And I mean, at least we didn't break up because he cheated on me or anything." Damn, had her voice always been this high-pitched?
She knew that she was forcing a smile but having Neku look at her with such a solemn expression was making this all too difficult. "Shiki?"
Simply saying her name wasn't a question but - screw this 'Partners' thing - she could tell that he knew that there was more. "He told me that he was starting to have feelings for Eri."
Neku was gone from her side in an instant, and she wanted to demand to know the reason why he had to get up at that particular moment, but he was back almost five seconds later with a tissue box in his hand. It was only when he handed one to her that she occurred to her that she was crying. That's when it turned from quiet tears to a full-blown wail. She never thought of herself as a noisy crier before this break-up but there she was, sobbing until she ended up in a fit of coughs. Neku had handed her about half a box worth of tissues and was rubbing her back wordlessly.
"It's just shit because," she clears her throat, sore from the crying she had done not only just now but sporadically over the past week, "he said he didn't want to hurt me by being with me while he had feelings for someone else because he cared too much about me. Yeah, right. If he ended up liking someone else then he can't have cared that much about me." Shiki blew her nose. "And it had to be Eri of all people. I'm sure he knows I'm pissed because that's my best friend but he doesn't how much that's hurt me because he doesn't, you know, know." She didn't need to explain to her Partner why that was such a blow to her. "It's bad enough when it's some randomer trying to make friends with me to get to Eri, but I'm used to that and I don't put up with it. I haven't told her yet because I know she's just going to feel bad and I don't want that. Besides, he told me that he's not even going to try to ask her out because he doesn't want to make things weird between us. I don't know if that's supposed to be a comfort or not."
Fuck it, she was going to throw stuff after all. A pillow went flying across the room and landed on the floor with a satisfactory thump. Despite that, Neku kept his eyes on her and her voice grew smaller. "It's just worse because he met me first. He didn't even meet Eri until after he asked me out for a date. He stayed with me for a year and a half, Neku. I even…I introduced him to you guys because he wanted to get along with my friends."
Shiki hadn't just introduced him, she had invited him to a few of her get-togethers with her friends from the Game. The only other person that ever joined in with their group in the past six years was Eri. Yet she had allowed him into their world, into the moments that she cherished the most.
"It might have been easier if you guys had hated him, but you all liked him too so I kept bringing him along and now I just feel like a complete idiot for doing that." She felt like she would have thrown another pillow again if Neku hadn't spoken the next moment.
"You're not an idiot, Shiki," Neku said, almost stern. "I get that you're upset. I probably don't understand all of what you're feeling but I know that you shouldn't beat yourself up over trying to connect with someone you care about." She felt Neku squeeze her shoulder. "Someone once told me to let her in, and I don't think I'd even be alive right now if she hadn't done that."
"That someone sounds pretty smart."
"Well, I did say she's not an idiot but I wouldn't say she's smart."
She nudged Neku with her shoulder. "Hey!"
"Oh, I think that's the first real smile I've seen from her today."
She was indeed smiling, and it was like amidst her murky feelings, that was now just a little warmth now. It wasn't just that, she felt like warmth was spreading from the places Neku had touched – or perhaps simply the closeness of Neku's own body heat - encompassing her in comfortable drowsiness. Her eyes felt tired too, having used up too many tears.
"Thanks for listening, Neku," she said, her sentence ending in a yawn.
She felt rather than saw him nod. "What are Partners for?"
…This doesn't feel like my bed.
Shiki awoke, feeling slightly disoriented. Opening her eyes she found herself face to face with Neku and had to stop herself from saying his name in surprise. Remembering that he had come over earlier, she tried to look over his shoulder at the digital clock on the wall behind him. 22: 30 – so it had been four hours and a half since he had arrived. It was a Friday today and Shiki recalled that Neku usually had classes in the afternoons and had maybe come straight here after a tiring day. That was sweet of him.
"Hm?" She looked down and realised that she was clutching Mr. Mew with her right arm, which was beneath her. She swore that she had left Mr. Mew on her bed…She wondered why Neku hadn't carried her to her bed this time, he'd done so beforehand so she knew she wasn't too heavy to be moved. He had even removed her glasses for her so it was strange. It then came to her attention that her other hand was wrapped around Neku's wrist and she let go. She vaguely recalled reaching out to her ex in a dream she must have just had; she must have grabbed Neku's wrist unconsciously. Honestly…Neku wouldn't have wanted to wake her up but she wouldn't have minded. It was still not too late for Neku to make in on the train back home.
Not wanting to give him a sudden start, she called out to him in a whisper. "Neku." There was no response. She tried verbally a few times more but to no avail.
"Geez, you're such a heavy sleeper." She gently shook his shoulder. "Neku, wake up – oh!"
Neku had reached up and grabbed her hand, pulling it down, away from his shoulder, making a muffled sound as he did. His grip was tight and she couldn't quite shake him off. This must have been how it was for Neku earlier too, Shiki thought.
"Neku!" She said a little louder, now that he had shown some movement.
His eyes finally opened. "Shiki." He let go of her hand.
"Yes, it's me. You fell asleep but if you leave soon you can still catch the train –"
Her words left her when he used his hand to move her hair out of her face, letting his hand rest against her cheek.
"Shiki," he said again, only this time he smiled and even though she had seen him smile countless times before, something about this one was softer than usual.
His hand moved from her cheek to the back of her head and she felt herself being slowly pulled forward and her heart rate shot up exceedingly fast and she wasn't sure how to react and was Neku about to -
Oomph! He had pulled her head against his chest and her face was squished up and she couldn't quite breathe. After a bit of a struggle, she managed to reposition her head so that she could breathe, but Neku's hand was still cradling her head.
"Get 'em, Piggy…" he mumbled.
"Thanks for that," she said, even though she figured that he wasn't actually awake and couldn't appreciate her dry comment.
She decided against another attempt to wake him up; it seemed like a lost cause.
Besides, she had to admit, she also didn't mind this arrangement.
Neither one of them commented on their sleeping positions last night, but with the way Neku dodged Shiki's eyes a few times, it was safe to say that he was embarrassed over it. He didn't need to be embarrassed though, Shiki thought, they were comfortable enough to share that kind of space with each other by now. If anything she should be the one embarrassed for clinging onto him in the first place.
That and all the crying she did. It was not one of her best moments.
He had woken up before her and it seemed that he managed to move her around gently enough to not only allow her to carry on sleeping but also to clear some of the mess surrounding them. She could actually see the floor again now. Shiki really had let this get to her - she was usually the tidy one out of the two of them.
Neku set down a mug of tea for her and a coffee for himself. As she rearranged herself to let him sit down again he asked if she was feeling any better.
"Yeah, loads actually." The heavy feeling in her chest hadn't completely dissipated but there was a lot less of it than before last night. "Thanks again, Neku. I think I just needed to let that all out because I couldn't tell Eri the whole picturei. It's not at all her fault but I know that she would feel bad about it if I did."
"You know. Back during the game I called you a sap for this kind of thing," Neku said, candidly, "but now I think that it's one of the best things about you."
Back then, Neku wouldn't have paid her this kind of compliment outright, let alone mean it.
Shiki took a sip of her tea, mulling over what he said. "Is it? I think I might also just be...I don't know...avoiding having to tell her about it. Maybe I'm just scared to. I keep saying I don't want her to feel bad but maybe I just don't want to hear her apologise to me over it."
"Well…" Neku took a pause too. "Whatever it is, you don't have to rush in to tell her. If you need more time to be ready to, then it can't be helped."
And that was one of the best thing about Neku. He didn't try and sugarcoat it and argue that that wasn't the reason. He knew how she was.
Unprompted, a thought of how her ex would have done the opposite bubbled up and she shooed it away quickly.
"Hey, I know we're broken up but...you and Beat made friends with him, right?"
Neku raised an eyebrow at her. "Well. For you."
"No, but you two did genuinely like him. So if you guys still wanted to be friends I understand - "
"Don't know about Beat but I was only on good terms with him for you," he cut in.
Shiki frowned at him; he looked like he was serious.
"Didn't you say you liked him, when I asked if you did?"
"Yeah, and I said yes because I liked him for making you happy," Neku said. "Since he clearly isn't making you happy anymore - I don't like him. We're not friends, so don't worry."
"I don't even have to ask, but you're worrying about me having one less friend, aren't you?" He flicked her forehead. "I do have some friends from my classes, just so you know."
He really did know what she was thinking.
"Please, Shiki. I know you're good at fretting about other people but take care of yourself too, alright?" He stood back up and went to put his mug in the sink. "I can't be cleaning up your flat all the time, you know."
"Hey, you started doing that yourself!"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Someone had to." He picked up his bag from the counter.
"Wait, are you leaving?" she asked.
"Yeah, I haven't had a shower since last night so I'd prefer to do that soon."
That made sense. What didn't make sense was that she wanted to ask him to stay longer. She already unintentionally prevented him from leaving last night after she was clinging to him. There was no reason for him to stay any longer.
She wondered if she still didn't want to be alone or if she just wanted to be around Neku longer.
Getting up, she walked to the door and opened it for him. She wasn't going to be a rude host and not at least see him out (and she was not, she was not going to ask him to stay longer).
Neku was bent down, tying his shoes up. His hoodie was slightly crumpled and she could see that he now had quite a case of bedhead too. She ran her fingers through his hair, trying to fix it. He straightened up quickly after his shoes were tied. He didn't quite swat her hands away but he did roll his eyes. "You can't help yourself from trying to 'fix' my getups, huh?"
"Of course, not." She winked at him, "It's like you said, 'someone has to'."
"Ha, ha," he said, smiling despite his dry tone.
She was smiling back. One because she always felt like returning one of Neku's smiles and two because smiling meant that she couldn't open her mouth and tell him to stay.
Neku adjusted his bag and said a casual 'see you soon' to which she returned with a quiet 'bye'.
He was halfway out the door, before he stopped. Neku turned around completely and peered at her face.
"Shiki - did you not want me to leave?"
The words were louder than intended. She could feel the heat rush to her face immediately. She could not believe that he realised that. He was reading her way too well today. She knew she wasn't fooling anyone by denying it so vehemently. Gods, she was even waving her hands in front of her - she swore she had kicked that habit.
"I mean okay, yes but not because I'm lonely or anything. I swear, I feel a lot better Neku. I don't want to impose on you." He was not looking convinced. "No seriously. I'm fine. You already cheered me up loads."
"You sure you're not just saying that?"
He had cheered her up by a lot.
"Yes, honest, I'm feeling a lot better. I was just feeling a bit nostalgic. You know? 'Cause we used to hang out a lot more before - well, him - and it's been a while." The realisation only came to her when she was speaking the words. So, that's why, huh? "I mean, I still hang out with you guys the most but it's been a while since it's been just the two of us, I mean. It was nice."
Neku was still studying her face and she resisted the urge to hide it. It was true! It's not that her ex-boyfriend said they couldn't hang out but...she did get the feeling that he wasn't too pleased with it. She and Neku hadn't ever talked about it but they did gradually reduce the time they spent alone together. She didn't think too deeply about it before but she supposed that it felt a bit weird to do so whilst she had a boyfriend. Which made no sense, because she and Neku were friends so the two things had nothing to do with each other.
"It was nice," he agreed, after a while. "We can hang out whenever you want. But I do need to go home first."
"Yeah, of course, of course," she said hurriedly.
"My mission this visit was to try and get you off the sofa but I think we do need to get you out of the house, though," he teased. "I'll even let you pick out new clothes for me."
"Yes!" Now, that was something to look forward to. "We haven't done that in ages! Listen, I was in Molco the other day with Eri and saw an outfit that I thought would be perfect for you! So - oh no, I'm about to ramble about it. Okay, okay I get it, I actually have to let you leave Neku but we totally have to go out shopping later. Or tomorrow!" She giggled, already excited about shopping with Neku again. "This is going to be so fun, I totally missed doing that with you!"
"Yeah…" Neku's eyes flickered from her to the floor, then back up. "I missed you, too."
The moment the words were out of his mouth he abruptly turned back around and swiftly walked away. Shiki could only stare at his back as he entered the elevator at the end of the corridor, as the words slowly spun in her head.
...He missed me?
Shiki shut the door.
He 'missed' me?
She plopped back down on her sofa once more.
It wasn't like they never saw each other when she was with her boyfriend. They all hung out together as a group all the time.
But he said he missed me.
And suddenly the moments last night rushed back to her; the soft smile he gave her, the feeling of his hand on her cheek.
They were very much alone last night, weren't they?
But that would mean…
Well, what did it mean?
She wasn't entirely sure yet but what it did mean was that if she wanted to get any sleep tonight, it was definitely going to be from the comfort of her own bed rather than the sofa they had shared last night.
Shiki stood up, not even able to sit still here without starting to blush again. She ran to her room, plopping herself face down onto her bed.
Neku did say his mission was to get her to leave her sofa.
Mission accomplished, huh, Partner?