Her clothes were soaked and she could still taste salt in her mouth if she focused hard enough. Takina should have been annoyed, would have been annoyed if Chisato had suplexed her into the sea months ago, but now only contentment nestled into her heart as she stared at Chisato. Chisato who was alive, breathing, and fighting with her apartment door.
"This...stupid...lock!" Chisato grunted as she turned the key in the resistant lock. A click drew a triumphant yell from her and she threw the door open. "Finally!"
Takina pursed her lips at the rusty hinges of the door and the broken lightbulb in the hallway. The apartment building didn't look safe at all as compared to Chisato's previous safehouses. Peering past her shoulder, she winced at the small living space and the usual mess of snacks scattered around.
"This is where you have been living?"
"Yep! The owner of the restaurant I work in rented it out to me," Chisato gestured her in. "I didn't take a lot of money with me so I had to make do."
Takina bit back the many words rising in her throat, the ones that swirled over and over in her mind during the past few months Chisato was gone. Instead, she removed her boots and followed Chisato in, who didn't seem to care that she was dripping water everywhere.
"Here," Chisato draped a fluffy towel over her hair, tousling it until Takina grumbled at her. As usual, her partner only smiled wider at her reaction and poked at her cheek. "Takina, you should see what you look like now. Your hair's like a rooster."
"And whose fault is that?" Takina gripped the ends of the towel, ready to take her revenge, but Chisato escaped into her room before she could.
"I'll go get some clothes for you!"
Her back disappeared out of sight, leaving only streaks of water droplets in her wake. An instinctual worry swelled in her, propelling her feet forward before she forced herself to stop.
There is nothing to fear anymore, she reminded herself, Chisato is here. Majima is dead. Yoshimatsu isn't a concern anymore. Yet, as she dried herself with the towel, her attention remained fixed on the room. Listening to hangers clanging as Chisato rummaged for clothes.
The last time she stepped away from Chisato was at the hospital after her heart surgery. She had left for the first time in days to redress her shoulder wound, only to come back to an empty bed.
Would she have left if Takina had stayed?
When Chisato returned, she averted her eyes, busying herself with the towel. Her clothes were still damp but at least she wasn't trekking water everywhere like Chisato was.
"Ta-dah!" Chisato presented an oversized shirt to her. A familiar dog was printed on it, wearing its usual red scarf and dorky expression. "Look, I bought this because it reminded me of you."
Her breath hitched then, an indescribable warmth at the sight of a silly dog character. "I still have your keychain and bag with me."
Chisato's eyes shone brighter at her words. "Really? Whew, I thought it was gone in all that mess. I'll take it from you when we go home."
When we go home.
"Okay," was the only word Takina managed to say. The alternative was a desperate plea of you are coming back, right? And staying?
Chisato shooed her into the bathroom, calling her to take a shower because she smelled like salt. She moved on instinct as she showered quickly, the familiar sweet scent of Chisato's shampoo relaxing the tension in her shoulders.
Chisato really is here.
It was strange. How they could fall easily into the days before of back-and-forth bantering. How Takina could take one look at Chisato's smile, her gentle ones, her cheeky ones, and the noise in her mind would calm.
"Hey, hey, Takina," Chisato was settled next to her on the sofa, her legs splayed across her lap. The action-flick she put on murmured in the background, which neither of them were really paying attention to.
"Can I see your shoulder?" Chisato's voice grew softer, and it coaxed Takina to look at her. Her red eyes were focused on her left shoulder. "You have a scar there...Is it from Enkuboku? When you saved me?"
Her shirt was oversized and had slipped off to show the scar peeking out. That was more than enough for Chisato to see it.
"Yes," she said, and it drew a reaction from Chisato, who shifted closer to her until she was completely on her lap. Her hands fumbled for a place to settle that wasn't Chisato, before she gave in and rested it on her waist. "What are you doing?"
"Can I see it?" Chisato repeated, her gaze still drawn to her scar like it was her target. "Please?"
Her fingers curled into soft skin beneath. It was rare for Chisato to drop the constant smiles she hid behind when something was troubling her. That something was Takina's scar and that wouldn't do. She tugged her sleeve down, pulling her shirt low enough for the scar to show fully. It had taken weeks for her scar to stop twinging and itching, but it had never bothered her much. To her, it was a small price to pay for Chisato's life. Takina would pay whatever price it took for Chisato to live.
Chisato's hand hovered over her scar, hesitant and tentative. "Does it still hurt?"
"It doesn't hurt at all." It was hard to read Chisato's countenance, but Takina felt like she knew what she needed. "You can touch it if you want."
Her fingers was feather-light and gentle as it traced around the reddened skin. While it didn't hurt, she was still sensitive to Chisato's touch and she was beginning to realise how warm Chisato was on her lap.
"I never got to thank you," Chisato's quiet voice drew her back, "For saving me so many times. And I never got to apologise, that you had hurt yourself doing so."
"You don't have to. It's not your fault," she wrapped her arm around Chisato's waist and held her close, because Chisato was getting further and further away again.
Chisato nestled her head against her shoulder, the one that was unwounded. Her other hand continued to ghost around her scar, always fleeting and fearful. Takina didn't dare breathe, sinking into her warmth as she tried to guess what Chisato was thinking.
The silence dragged between them, filled only by the low booms of the movie. Chisato was still against her body except for the traces around her skin and the rise and fall of her chest. Takina followed her rhythm, breathing in tandem with her, but before long it became sproadic as a soft sob broke the silence.
"Chisato?" She tried to pull Chisato away to get a good look at her. Chisato only buried her face deeper into her shirt. The choked sobs muffled into her shoulder and the wetness against her skin was enough to shock her - she was crying. Her heart ached with every wheeze she made, her voice filled with panic she thought she left behind months ago. "What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry I left," Chisato breathed out, so strained and heavy, "I thought I was going to die. I knew it was wrong. I knew I should have stayed or said something before I left. But I was so scared."
Why did you leave? Takina had ruminated countlessly, yet she had never reached an answer. The one Chisato had told her earlier in the day was one she had never expected.
Chisato had wanted to die alone.
Her gut twisted and Takina forced herself to speak. "Scared of what?"
Chisato finally pulled away then, shifting around in Takina's tight hold to look at her. Her eyes were wet as she held her tears back. Takina wished Chisato would just let herself fall and trust her to catch her. That she didn't need to act strong around her. Her hand rose to wipe away her tears, slowly and gently. When she moved it away, Chisato caught it and held it in her own.
"All my life, I thought I wouldn't live past eighteen. Maybe twenty, if my heart held out," Chisato said. "I was fine with that. I lived out the life I was given to the fullest and I didn't need more. I wasn't scared of dying because I had accepted it since I was seven."
"When you showed up at Enkuboku, I was terrified. The tower was going to blow up in a minute. Majima was going to kill me, and he would have went after you next. I couldn't stop the timer and all I could think about was that you were there too," Chisato's breath shuddered as she leaned her cheek against their clasped hands. "I was afraid of losing you."
Her lips pursed in confusion. "But you didn't. Everything turned out fine, so why did you run away?"
"For the first time in my life, I wanted to live longer, Takina," Chisato whispered, like a sinful admittance. "I wanted to spend my days with you. I wanted to go on missions with you, on dates with you, anywhere with you. But it was something I thought I could never have. Not without killing Yoshi-san for the heart."
"Dying was easy if I was alone."
The words once again pulled at her heart. If they hadn't transplanted the heart right after the Enkuboku incident, would Takina have lost her then? Not knowing where and when she died? Not even getting another second with her?
"You can't just leave," she pleaded, "Don't ever do that again. I can't lose you either, Chisato." She curled her fingers tighter around the ones around her own, rough calluses beneath her palm and a reminder that Chisato was alive.
"I won't," Chisato slumped into her hold, squeezing her back. "I won't do that ever again. I promise."
Takina closed her eyes, breathing in the sweet scent of Chisato's ever familiar shampoo and feeling the warmth against her own. Chisato may not have a heartbeat, but the cadence of her chest rising and falling was a beat of its own.
Chisato was here. And she was here to stay.