I didn’t plan to update so soon, but here it is. The chapter is a bit longer, and I’m not sure the ending will please everyone.
Just don’t forget to keep faith!
Next chapter will be up next week end, probably on Sunday.
I want to thank again everyone who reads and comments my fanfic.
It's the final clap of season 4. Jurina and a few other SKE members are celebrating the end of the shooting at the restaurant, but the girl is not really in the mood. These last days have been quite hectic and between her tight schedule and the long days of shooting, she didn't have time to talk to Rena. Now the older Matsui is gone, having work to do with Nogizaka46, and Jurina is left to contemplate her plate, barely eating her food. She still feels terribly bad about the way she talked to her the other day, and not even the joyful Churi sitting next to her can cheer her up.
She sighs for the tenth time, not listening to the conversations around her and checking the time every five minutes. She finally chuckles mentally, finding her situation quite ironic. When Rena is around her, she avoids her at all costs, but when she's not here, she misses her badly. What a girl full of contradictions.
When a laughter erupts, Jurina stands up, not feeling at her place. Everyone is chilling and having fun, except her. She quickly excuses herself, getting a few surprised looks on her way out of the restaurant. She welcomes the fresh air with gratitude after the heavy warmth of the restaurant. Just as she's about to call a cab, she feels a hand circling her right arm, and a worried Churi looks at her.
"Hey. Why are you leaving so early?"
Jurina is about to answer when Churi interrupts her.
"And don't tell me you are tired. You're not."
The younger Matsui chuckles at the girl who's rolling her eyes. After a few seconds of silence, Churi tightens her hold on Jurina, more serious.
"It's about Rena, isn't it? You wish you could have talked to her before she left?"
Jurina is taken aback by her friend's perceptiveness.
"I have no secrets for you, do I?" she jokes, and Churi shakes her head a little.
"Of course you do, but I can sense Rena is a sensitive subject nowadays."
Jurina is at a loss for words. After that day outside of the hotel, she never talked about their fight to Churi again, or mentioned the girl altogether. Churi seeing how confused the girl is, interrupts her train of thoughts, an amused smile on her lips.
"Plus, you talk during your sleep."
"And one name comes up every night."
Jurina is now averting her gaze, really embarrassed. She tries to disentangle herself from Churi, but the girl is holding tight.
"You want to know which one?"
Jurina makes a noise of discomfort, trying to hide her face with her free hand. Now Churi is laughing, and the young Matsui wishes she could be anywhere else but here.
"I can't believe I'm seeing you so nervous. That's a first."
"Stop teasing me."
"And even blushing a little."
Churi stops laughing and moves forward, gently kissing the girl on the cheek.
"I do like this new side of yours."
Jurina turns to Churi and they both lock eyes for a minute. The younger girl suddenly feels very emotional and hugs her warmly.
"I'm so grateful to have such a friend."
Churi is taken aback by Jurina's sincere words and after reflecting upon them, affectionately pats her head. Each day she spends with the girl, she discovers new things about her, and learns to like her more and more. She's not just a childish and funny girl, she's also sensitive and caring, and she loves that about her.
They stay like this for a while, not speaking and just enjoying each other's presence and warmth. Finally, Churi reluctantly disentangles herself from Jurina and motions to the restaurant.
"Do you want to go back inside?"
"I really don't, but go on. I'll call a cab to go to the hotel."
Churi shakes her head, and slips her hand into hers.
"Then the hotel it is."
When Rena is back at work with the SKE group, it's to rehearse their next concert. It's already been a month since her fight with Jurina, and the older Matsui looks forward to seeing the girl when she arrives this Friday afternoon at the Nagoya Dome. It's already 2 PM, and a few girls are trying costumes in the dressing room. When Rena comes in, she's a bit disappointed to not find the younger Matsui. Sure it's still early, but she kind of hoped to catch her before the beginning of the rehearsal to have a talk with her. She spots Churi who's busy reading a sheet in a corner of the room, and goes to sit next to her. The girl sensing movement next to her raises her eyes, surprised.
"Hello Rena! It's been a long time."
"Hi Akane. Yes, these last few weeks have been hectic."
"I can't imagine being in a concurrent group. I don't know how you do it."
Rena nods but doesn't say anything, never one to complain. Of course, she would sometimes prefer a lighter schedule, the trips back and forth between Tokyo and Nagoya quite tiring, but she can't really do anything about it. What can she say? She loves her work: it's what makes her get up every morning with a smile on her face.
The concert's tracklist is laying on the table in front of her and she goes through it, while taking her coat off. Another tiring three hours gig awaits them.
"By the way, you're quite early today," Churi remarks.
"Well, you know me. I always need more time to rehearse."
Churi chuckles at Rena's embarrassed smile. The older Matsui then turns to her in surprise.
"What are you doing here so early? You're one of the best dancers."
Churi waves her hand, embarrassed by the compliment.
"I'm not, but thank you. Speaking of early, Jurina was the first one to arrive," Churi winces.
"Jurina is here?"
Rena looks around, surprised she missed her. Churi follows her gaze and sighs.
"Already on stage."
"Really?" Rena's voice pitches up in shock.
"I planned to arrive later, but I felt bad leaving her to rehearse alone. She's been acting strange lately."
Churi notices Rena's confused gaze on her, and she stops what she's doing. She didn't mean to voice this last part out loud, but maybe it's time to confide in someone. Especially when she senses the older Matsui is in a way responsible for Jurina's current mood swings. She knew her friend felt bad about her fight with Rena, but somehow, she believed there was more to it that she wasn't telling her.
"Could you please talk to her when you have a minute?" Churi asks, admitting her helplessness.
Rena notices Churi's worried look and nods. At first, she was planning to talk to the girl about Jurina, but seeing how she seemed to be as clueless as her, she knew she had to go straight to the source.
Jurina, wearing a large tee-shirt and sweatpants, is rehearsing one of the songs' choreography. The concert is due in six hours, and she wants everything to be perfect for tonight. Between the 30 songs, the MCs and all the costumes she has to wear, she has a lot of things to think about and right now, her mind is exploding. Being Center may be fun at first, but in reality, it's much more complicated than that. She can feel the weight of her responsibility on her shoulders as everyone is expecting a lot from her. The will to not disappoint is higher day after day. As the light is almost always on her, she knows she can't make any mistake.
Her voice is a bit hoarse when she starts to sing, but she's not really worried about it. It's always like that at first. A bottle of water is standing at her feet and she kneels to take a sip. Her eyes scan the area of empty chairs, and she can't help but by amazed by the view. It's not the first time the group is performing in this stadium, but Jurina still feels very small on the stage. And she knows it will be worse once the dome will be full of people. However, no matter how many seats there are, whether she's performing in the SKE theater in front of 300 people or in a large venue in front of 40 000 people, every concert is important to her. Her goal is always the same: to give her best and make an impact.
Her vision blurs a little for a minute, but the girl doesn't pay much attention to it. Maybe it's just the tension building up. Leaving the water aside, she gets up and continues doing vocal exercises. Some technicians are starting to adjust the light on the stage and Jurina closes her eyes to focus. Even if the amount of work to do is sometimes overwhelming, she'll be ready on time, as always.
An hour later, all the SKE members are now rehearsing the concert on stage. Last adjustments are made to their costumes, the choreographies are repeated again until they are fully mastered, and technicians check that everything is working properly, from the lights to the moving stages and sets.
Rena is currently trying a pink dress on when Jurina comes in the dressing room. The older Matsui turns to her, noticing how much she's sweating. She shoots her a surprised look, while the girl changes into her Blue Rose
outfit. After her conversation with Churi an hour ago, Rena had gone to look for the girl and had found her rehearsing vigorously on stage. She knew it was best to postpone their talk after the concert. After all, she had waited a whole month for it, she could wait a few more hours. Now, seeing the girl so exhausted even though the concert hasn't even began, worried her. She was clearly overdoing herself, and Rena even wondered if she had eaten properly today. It would not be the first time the girl skipped meals. She wants to go to her, but staff members are working on her dress, and she can't really move. Their eyes suddenly meet, and Rena notices how the young girl looks so pale. Clearly, something is wrong. She's about to ask when Jurina averts her gaze and turns her back to her to sit down and put her black boots on. As soon as it's done, she's already out of the room and heading to the stage again, leaving a concerned Rena behind.
As soon as she's free, Rena follows Jurina's footsteps. After seeing her in such a weak state, she can't get out of her head the feeling that something is wrong. Unconsciously, she starts to speed up a little in the corridor leading to the stage, getting a few surprised looks on her way. Not paying attention to it, she takes the last turn, and sees Jurina at the top of the large stairs. She's starting to get down the stairs, her microphone in hand, and Rena can't help but notice how unsteady she is. This situation has a lingering sense of déjà vu, but the older Matsui can't manage to put her finger on it.
Jurina starts to sing and Rena grips the barrier, not liking one bit what she's seeing. She ponders whether to go and talk to the girl, but hesitates. Maybe it's just her imagination and Jurina is just tired. Rena doesn't want to make a fool of herself by interrupting her for no reason. She tries to shake the bad feeling she's having, but when Jurina almost misses a step, she knows she's right to be afraid. She can't stand here doing nothing. If Jurina falls, it's from fifteen stairs.
Rena takes the small stairs that lead to the stage ones, and looks at Jurina's back. The girl hasn't noticed her presence and Rena shouts her name, in vain, the music covering her voice. Jurina is continuing her descent and Rena follows, finally reaching her. The younger girl stops to sing when she feels a hand on her shoulder, and turns surprised to Rena.
"Rena, what are you doing here?"
"What's going on, Jurina? Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Why?"
The younger girl suddenly feels dizzy and everything starts spinning around her. Rena grips her right arm firmly, and tries to get a look at the girl whose head is now buried in her hands.
"You need to rest, Jurina. If you keep on, you won't last the whole concert. Have you eaten today?"
Jurina tries to wave her hand to reassure the girl, but it only makes her steps more unsteady.
"I'm fine," she says in a confident voice. Despite it, Rena can sense the uneasiness behind it and she tightens her hold.
"Please Jurina, let's go downstairs."
Jurina raises her eyes in surprise at the girl's begging tone, and finally complies. Both girls slowly get down the stairs, Rena noticing how unbalanced the girl is. When their feet finally touch the stage, Jurina turns to Rena, smiling weakly.
"See? Everything's fine. You worry too much."
Rena reluctantly lets go of Jurina's arm, watching the girl carefully, not entirely convinced by her words. Just as she's about to question her again, the younger girl suddenly closes her eyes and collapses. Rena quickly moves forward and barely has time to catch her before she hits the floor. She stares in shock at the girl in her arms who's not reacting anymore, and cries for help.
When Jurina opens her eyes again, she's laying in bed in a small dark room. Her head is spinning madly, and she groans, putting her hands on each side, trying to make it stop. She sits up with difficulty, wondering what she's doing here. Progressively gaining her senses back, she tilts her head to the alarm-clock on her left, and lets out a shocked sound at the time: it's 10 PM. She should be on stage right now. Panicking, she starts to get out of bed when the door opens and a woman in a white blouse appears.
"What are you doing? You can't get out of bed."
The woman scolding her quickly approaches and Jurina finally understands where she is.
"Why am I at the hospital?"
"You don't remember?"
Jurina shakes her head and stares at the nurse who's taking her pulse. The last thing she remembers, she was on stage rehearsing for the SKE concert. What happened next? It's all just a blur, and the girl decides to retrace her day.
She didn't sleep that well and woke up early. So stressed out about the SKE concert, she couldn't eat at all, and directly aimed for the Nagoya Dome. She rehearsed all morning and ate a very light lunch, not wanting to stop too long. She had a lot on her mind that day, and also a lot of work to do. She vaguely remembers answering to Churi's text, and telling her she was already in rehearsal. If she has to admit, she hasn't been feeling well for a few days now, and the pressure of the concert was just the icing on the cake. Jurina fast forwards her day, before seeing and hearing a worried Rena. Then it clicks. She stares wide-eyed at the nurse who is giving her an injection.
The woman slowly nods and Jurina lays her head back on the pillow, defeated.
"I missed the whole concert."
"You should more worry about your health."
Jurina turns to the nurse, about to retort that she worked very hard all day long to be ready for the concert, but the woman is already turning on her heels and heading to the door.
"You should rest. You're not going anywhere anytime soon."
Jurina is about to ask why when she feels suddenly sleepy and her eyelids start to close. She tries to fight it, but her body relaxes and she quickly falls in a slumber.
When she wakes up again, Jurina slowly opens her eyes, half expecting the room to spin again. However, it's not the case anymore, and the girl sighs in relief. When she turns to look at the time, she notices two bouquet of flowers on the small table. Sitting down, she stretches her hand when she sees small cards attached to them. While the first one, a bouquet of lilies, is from Mayu and Yuki, the second, a bouquet of tulips, is from Churi. Even if she's touched by her friends' attention, she frowns a little. She only collapsed, and it was just yesterday, so why sending flowers as if she had badly injured herself?
The door suddenly opens and she immediately recognizes the nurse.
"Hello Jurina. How are you feeling today?"
The nurse nods and goes to check on the girl, who's staring again at the flowers. The woman notices it and smiles.
"Your friends have been coming everyday to see you."
"Every day? How long have I been here?"
"What?" Jurina's voice pitches up in shock. "I don't remember."
"You've been dozing off most of the time."
Jurina feels tired, and her eyelids are starting to close again.
"Why am I so sleepy?"
"We gave you something to help you sleep. You'll be back to normal in a few hours."
"I don't want to sleep again," mumbles an annoyed Jurina, and the nurse smiles at the girl's stubbornness.
When she turns to look at her, Jurina is already sound asleep.
The 28 year old short-haired girl watches Jurina who's sleeping peacefully. When she heard the news about the young Matsui, she had rushed to the hospital, only receiving the order to come back later, the girl being in observation and not allowed to receive visits. Now, four days later, she was sitting near her bed, caressing slowly the girl's hand, and waiting for her to wake up. Despite the fact that she knew the girl was not seriously injured, it still worried her to see her in such a weak state.
The sun is starting to get down, and the girl ponders if it's best to come back tomorrow. Apparently, the young Matsui has no intention to wake up anytime soon. She's about to get up when she feels someone squeezing her hand and she turns to see Jurina slowly opening her eyes.
"You're finally waking up, sleepyhead," she states in amusement.
Jurina stares wide-eyed when she recognizes her and quickly tries to sit up.
"Take it easy. I'm not going anyway," the older girl chuckles.
"What are you doing here?"
Mariko rolls her eyes and Jurina nods.
"Right, you heard."
"Of course I did. I couldn't believe it when they told me you fainted. What about our promise? You said it would never happen again. You were supposed to take better care of yourself."
Jurina averts her eyes at Mariko's scolding tone, feeling a bit ashamed.
"I know. I'm sorry."
Both girls stay quiet for a while before Mariko rubs her hand a little.
"At least, you didn't injure yourself this time, but you need to take it easy."
Jurina laughs, surprising the other girl.
"I don't see how I can do that. My schedule is getting worse and worse. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but I can't really slow down."
"There's always a way. Ask for a few days off."
Jurina doesn't say anything and sighs a little. Mariko looks at her carefully, wondering if it's the best time to ask her what's been bugging her for a while now.
"How is it going on with Rena?"
Jurina turns to her in surprise not grasping the meaning of the question.
"Fine. Why?" she answers slowly, hesitant.
"Are you really telling me the truth?"
Mariko's piercing eyes unsettle her. It's almost as if they could see right through her. Jurina stays quiet for a while, avoiding her questioning gaze. She always had such a good relationship with the older girl. When she had a problem or any doubt, she would be the one she would turn to. Now that she had graduated, she saw her less than before, and it had pained her to lose such a trusty friend and confident. Of course, they still saw each other from time to time, but it was not the same without her anymore.
Jurina finally shakes her head, and Mariko sighs.
"I knew it. You have feelings for her."
Jurina turns dumbstruck to the older girl, who's slowly nodding.
"I never said that," Jurina stutters, losing her composure. How can the older girl draw such a conclusion? She's about to deny it again - in a more convincing way this time - but Mariko interrupts her.
"I always knew you had a crush on her. People always believed you were just fooling around, but somehow, I sensed there was more to it."
Jurina can't believe what she's hearing, but doesn't try to contradict the girl.
"You never said anything."
"No, because you were just a kid then, and I thought it would go away, but it has gotten worse, hasn't it?"
Jurina carefully thinks about her words and decides to be fully honest with her. No more beating around the bushes.
"I honestly wasn't aware of it then. As you said, I was just a child who was having fun. I only started to think about it recently."
"I think you should tell her."
Jurina frowns and shakes her head.
"What's the point? She doesn't see me the same way."
"You don't know that."
"I'm pretty sure."
Mariko groans at Jurina's stubbornness and raises her voice.
"You can't keep on like that. I'm sure it's killing you inside, and look where you are? Don't tell me it's just because of work. I won't believe it!"
Jurina is taken aback by Mariko's irritation and sighs, defeated.
Both girls then turn around when someone knocks at the door, and Jurina widens her eyes at the sight of the older Matsui who's slightly bowing.
"I'm sorry to interrupt. I didn't know there was already someone here. I'll come back later."
Rena is retreating back when Mariko quickly gets up.
"It's fine, I was about to leave."
The older girl turns to Jurina and reaches over to kiss her on the cheek, slipping a few words in her ear in a very serious tone, "You have to tell her".
Jurina nods at Mariko who's now smiling and ruffling her hair like nothing happened. Mariko turns to Rena and moves to her, waving on her way at Jurina.
"I'm counting on you Rena to take good care of Jurina."
Rena nods, not seeing the amused look Mariko is shooting at Jurina. When the older girl is gone, both Matsui lock eyes, and Jurina lets out a soft sigh, mentally preparing herself for the following conversation.
Rena smiles a little and moves forward to sit near the bed, where Mariko previously was. Her eyes scan Jurina's body, looking worriedly for any injury.
"I'm fine. I just collapsed," Jurina jokes, only getting a scolding look from Rena in return.
The girl gets up and stretches her hand to pull the cover, not fully believing the girl.
"I promise, I'm not injured," Jurina quickly says, grasping Rena's wrist.
The girl stops her movement and for a few seconds seems to ponder Jurina's words carefully, before sitting back in her chair. Jurina is about to retract her hand when Rena swiftly grabs it.
"You scared me."
The sudden action surprises Jurina, who then notices Rena's pained eyes.
"I know, I'm sorry. And I'm sorry about the fight. I didn't mean what I said. You have to believe me Rena, you did nothing wrong."
The older Matsui smiles at the girl's heartwarming words and intertwines their fingers together.
"I don't know what's happening between us lately, but I don't want you to hide anything from me anymore. You used to tell me when something was bothering you. What's going on?"
Mariko's words echo in Jurina's head, and the girl knows where this conversation is leading to. Of course she's scared, but it's not like she can go anyway. She's stuck in bed, facing a very decided Rena, who's holding her hand as if she's expecting her to try and flee at anytime.
A few minutes pass without any of them saying anything, Jurina carefully choosing her words and Rena patiently waiting beside her. The younger Matsui knows it's time to be honest: she can't hide behind her fear anymore. Of course, there's the risk of rejection. In fact, Jurina is pretty sure that's what's going to happen. She can almost imagine Rena's shocked face, not speaking for a while at first, before saying, in a sorry tone, that she can't return her feelings. It would lead to months of awkwardness between them, before, hopefully, Jurina would get over her heartbreak and everything would be back to normal.
That's clearly not the best outcome, but it's a possibility. A big one. Despite knowing that, Jurina can't help but listen to that tiny voice inside her telling her there's still a chance. The girl raises her eyes, decided. She's going to tell the truth. Just as she's about to open her mouth, Rena speaks, and her next words shatter the last shred of hope she still had.
"Jurina, it breaks my heart to see you like that. You know you're like a little sister to me."
Rena's words were meant to be comforting, but the older Matsui doesn't see the devastating impact they have on the other girl. Jurina nods slightly, realizing she knew all along what the girl was going to say.
"I know," she murmurs. Her voice is weak, and she struggles to not tremble. "I'm feeling a bit tired, Rena. Could we talk about it another time?"
She knows there won't be another time, but tries to be as convincing as possible. She holds Rena's gaze as much as possible, trying hard not to show her emotions. When the girl doesn't make a move, she thinks she has failed to convince her. However, Rena finally gets up and moves forward to kiss her forehead. When she backs away, she smiles a little.
"Please take care of yourself. We'll talk again soon."
Jurina follows the girl's retreating form, and fakes a smile when she turns around a last time to wave at her. When she's off, the young Matsui grasps the sheet under her tightly, and a few tears start to fall.
TO BE CONTINUED