Title: Without a Flame
Author: Vesper (Regina)
Warnings: none
Category: Angst
Characters: Yukawa Manabu/Utsumi Kaoru, Kusanagi Shunpei
Summary: "It isn't suffering we fear but loss." Some revelations aren't strictly science-related. 463 words.
Archival: If you wish to archive, please link to my website. Please keep all my headers intact.
Notes: Title and quote in summary from "Moth" by Over the Rhine.

This is...

He takes a deep breath. The weight of her in his arms shouldn't be this heavy.

This is not...

Ah. He understands now.

"Talk to me." Her breathing is labored. He bends closer to hear her speak, her voice too soft. Her breath as she inhales whistles and gurgles, the sound faint, ever so faint, barely there.

"They'll be here soon, Kaoru."

Where are they? She needs them. She needs them. Now.

"Talk to...talk to me, Professor."

"What should I say?"

He leaves her, uncurls his hand from the slackness of hers, carefully places it at her side. She doesn't wake, her medication keeping her under. He stands at the door, watching her for a long moment.

He doesn't see Kusanagi until his name is called and he turns. Kusanagi motions past the door of Utsumi's room.

"How is she?" he asks.

Yukawa swallows before answering, unsure of his voice. "The doctors say she'll be all right."

"She'd be happy to know you were here."

Yukawa nods. "Yes, she would be."

Kusanagi looks at him, the muscles around his eyes tightening for a moment. "You don't want her to know."

"That's not true."

Kusanagi frowns. "What is it, old friend?"

"She--" he stops and starts again, "It could have been me, but it was her."

"And now you regret it."

He nods, looks away, back into the room, where he can see her sleeping, black hair against the white of the pillow.

"I'm sorry," says Kusanagi. "What will you do?"

He has no answer. Kusanagi sighs, and walks past him, resting a hand on his shoulder for just a moment.

She visits him at the lab and thanks him for being there. He just nods and tries not to pull her to him and wrap his arms around her. That kind of...she'd think he'd gone insane.

Instead, he examines her face. It's not his imagination that she looks different. Age is imperceptible over a short period of time, but her eyes are older, the way she looks at him is wiser...he wishes it wasn't so.

She adjusts her grip on her purse, preparation for leaving. He stops her as she turns, by placing a hand over hers, as it clutches the strap of her purse, resting it there for a second only. It's enough to make her freeze, look up at him, puzzled.

He understands. He hasn't made it clear to her, and he can't find any words, except for, "Take care of yourself, Kaoru."

She blinks in response, and the muscles in her face ease into something closer to peace. She nods. He watches her go, navigating past all the equipment.

He goes back to his desk and sits. He opens his laptop, but only gazes at the screen, unseeing.


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