It took a couple of seconds for him to realise the class was filing into the hall. He joined the back of the pack, in time to see her autumn-brown hair disappear into the hall, flicking over her shoulder as she turned quickly to avoid meeting his gaze again. He noted carefully where she sat, seeing her eyes dart subtly over the crowd, looking for him and hoping she had been mistaken in the hall. Knowing she had seen him, today of all days. Torn between wanting him there and wanting him gone. He could see the battle in her eyes, the tourture there as he slipped into a seat two rows up, a little to the right of her, while she scanned the crowd below her still. He saw the slight slump in her shoulders as she gave up, turning to talk to her neighbour. It gave him a strange feeling, to watch her as she searched for him. He couldn't place it, couldn't name it. Partly, like a creep or criminal. But also, a strange thrill. A shiver of electricity that he had eluded her.
He barely paid attention to the lecture, the information slipping around him in a stream of nonsense babble. His eyes never left her. His mind was consumed by that one look, that one eternal moment. Her gaze had seared itself into his retinas, forcing him to analyze every tiny detail. The exact shade of her eyes, that storm blue that seemed to swirl, like thunderclouds before a summer cloudburst. The emotions that had finally taken down the wall she had carefull constructed over the year and she was exposed. The minute signs had been there, he had seen them. The refusal to remove the bracelet, the ring he had given her on a silver chain, nestled in her cleavage. The music he had introduced her to sometimes audiable from her window. He had carefully catalogued each indication. Treasured each sign that she still thought of him. Cautiously hoped for some sign, some contact from her. Today, his patience had been rewarded.
His attention snapped to the present as people started to pack away around him. He muttered a swift curse to himself as he saw she had already made it to the door. He swept his belongings unceremoniously into his bag, weaving through the crowd so as not to lose sight of her. He caught a flash of red vanish down a corridor and persued it, the exact shade of her shirt unique to him, calling him to her-an irrisistable demand. She took a quieter shortcut to the next lecture, avoiding the throngs of students. She was alone, a rarity these days. He decided to catch up to her when he came into earshot. It was then he heard her breathless sobs. Behind her, he could not see her face, but he knew the expression on her face. It had left a brand on his very soul, that stormy summer day exactly one year ago.
Her name caught in his throat, choking him. It burned there, leaving him unable to call out to her, just like on that day. She had stopped walking, her head hanging low, shoulders shaking with the suppressed force of her emotions. He could see her taking deep, shaky breaths, fighting for control. He was the deer in the headlights, trapped. the corridor was deserted, they were alone. He could not go back, away from her. He could not move forward, his path blocked by her presence. His limbs ached with the desire to take her in his arms, to comfort her like he used to. Like he should have done before. His mind was a racing blank and for the first time, he had no idea as to what he should do.
He took a step and in the quiet of the corridor, cursing when his foot slapped down again. A reflexive move, caused by the lace of one shoe getting caught, unnoticed, under the other. Startled, she span to face him, lifting her chin defiantly. He caught his balance, facing her. Even with the tears glittering on her cheeks, she was beautiful. Those storm blue eyes flashed lightening at him, her head held proudly, no longer slave to her emotions. She was like a dagger, powerful and dangerous, beautiful. She hid the gentle poet's heart beneath a vaneer of control. She kept her gentle nature carefully guarded behind her studded belts and indimidating prowess in martial arts.
For the first time, he looked at her and saw all her finely balanced flaws and perfection. He saw the persona she presented, appreciated her beauty and saw the gentle soul behind the mask she put on for the world. In that moment, he saw her in her humble glory, for the first time, he appreciated her strength and vulnerablilty, her aching beauty and her flaws that made her perfectly human. He saw and understood her now, in all her vibrant, brilliant complexity and he loved her then.
The realisation stole his breath with its power.
Her hair completed its journey, swinging forward over one shoulder, almost in slow motion. Her sculpted lips parted and for the first time in a year, she addressed him directly.
He shook his head, unable to speak when faced directly with her fury and her pain. She had not shouted, but her softly spoken accusation had been infintely more difficult to bear. He stepped forward, his hand reaching for her involuntarily. Her name slipped from his lips, a prayer for forgiveness he never believed he deserved.
"I'm sorry." A year too late, the words finally found their way to her.
She closed her eyes, turning away from him. A gesture he knew as initmately as all her movements. He had hurt her. His hand fell, never bridging the abyss between them, coming within a hairs breadth of her skin.
Without another word, she turned and left him in the corridor, the sounds of her footsteps and the echo of their words all there was to keep him company. Finally, he let the single tear fall. The sense of deja vu, coupled with the realisation of everything he had truly lost and he had come undone. Quickly, he gathered himself. For once, he did not follow her, knowing she would be aware, alert for him. If she wanted to be found, she would make herself known.
His thoughts consumed him on the walk back to where he made his home. Memories assailed him of walking with her down this stretch of road. Here, she had hidden once, jumping out at him to surprise him with laughing storm blue eyes. Here, he had pulled her against the wall, kissing her fiercely. She had pulled away with love burning in every line of her body. Every step of the way, the ghost of her hand twinned itself with his. Scent-memories of her perfume persued him, while the image of her eyes, those storm blue diamonds, never left him.
He opened the door, carrying all the memories of her through the door. A second passed before he realised that the scent wasn't a memory. She was waiting for him in the living room.
She looked fragile in the midday light from his window. It struck her hair as it fell either side of her face, framing it in burning gold of all shades. She could have been an statue or a mirage, standing perfectly still, the perfect image of a wounded angel.
Her eyes silently conveyed the message in crystal clarity. They asked all the questions she had been unable to answer for this time. They begged him for comfort and closure, for an explination that meant the past year could make some kind of sense. They accused and seared him with the pure, honest emotions-which even he could not entirely fathom.
The muscles around her lips tightened minutely, trembling for a second before the tears fell. This time, his muscles unlocked, allowing him to move forward. She initially took a half-step backwards, reflexively, like opposite poles repelling. She raised her arms as though to sheild herself from a blow, but he was undeterred and he pulled her close to his chest. after a moment, her arms found themselved wrapped around him tightly, like a lifeline. He closed his eyes, feeling her sobs wrench through his own body in sympathy. The rush of homecoming, feeling her form fit perfectly in the contours of his own body, left him breathless, heady, drunk on the sensations of the moment.
"I missed you." her voice was a slip of silk on the breeze, winding its way around his heart, burning where her words touched.
"I'm sorry." His cheek lay along the side of her head, his lips by her ear. "I'm so sorry."
He could feel her tears soaking through the fabric covering his chest. It was uncomfortable, but more than worth it to feel her in his arms again.
She pulled away, stepping out of his reach.
"I need you to explain." Their storm blue beseeched him, more than the tone of her voice. "A whole year, nothing. Why nothing? Why only now do you apologise? Why can't you let me go? Why did you do it?!" Her voice rose on the last question, cracking with tears.
Still, she was beautiful. Still he ached to hold her, until her tears dried. Until this year was erased, until what happened exactly one year ago, in this very room, could be forgotten.
Her name, a prayer for forgiveness. A prayer left unanswered still.
"You still can't answer me. After everything." The hurt in her voice could not be ignored. It was clear for all to see. "I should never have come."
She flipped the curtain of autumn brown, a wall between her and the world. She stepped out of the light, lifting the dark grey satchel to her shoulder. He was frozen, trapped in the memory. It was happening again, she was leaving. He had to let her go. He couldn't.
His voice was not a command, it was not a plea. It was a request, from the heart.
"Please." He added softly, meeting her eyes as she turned to face him. He saw his desperation reflected back at him.
There was a long moment, as he watched her internal debate. She saw the same choice as he did. If she walked out, nothing would change. They would go on as they had this past year. If she stayed, things would change. For better or for worse.
Without comment, she slipped the bag from her shoulder with innate grace and took a chair in a fluid motion.
He mirrored her, a clumsy parody of her movements, sitting in the chair beside her, facing her as he should have done a long time ago. Finally, with the afternoon sun turning golden, setting her hair ablaze with colour, the explination of that fateful day spilled from his lips. When it was done, there was silence in the darkening room. He looked up to her pained expression.
"I have to go."
This time, he did not stop her, watching her leave, feeling as though a poison had been removed from his system. It was done. There was nothing more to be said.
That chapter was finally over.