Legit wrote most of this in one hour at 11 PM oops.
Trains have a special place in his heart. Even when planes and cars and ships get so advanced that they won't need people to drive them, even when automobiles become tough enough that collisions will barely leave a dent in them, trains will always be his favorite.
He'd never seen anything like it before he left behind his village to burn. At the moment, he was still too shell-shocked to be properly awed by it, but the next time he got the chance to, he was star-struck by the smoke billowing from its front, and the sleek metal surface of the cars, and the rhythmic chugging of the engine, and the steady whirring underneath as it moved over the tracks, and the occasional blaring whistle he heard, and the speed at which the countryside blurred by.
He still loves all those things, really.
The memories attached are equally important, though.
It was on a train that he was given a new chance to live by the man he would come to see as a father. It was on a train that he was able to truly talk to his brother ever since losing him to the vampires—it was not a happy conversation, true, but it was something after years of nothing.
Plus, he gets to talk to people on packed train rides like he doesn't get to otherwise—cars generally aren't really shared by strangers, and people don't usually talk much on planes. He never liked planes or ships much either anyways, and he's liked them less since he became the Ark—getting cornered on a plane over open air or a ship on open water would be disastrous. And there's just something about trains that seems to make people a little more willing to open up.
If he truly wants to protect and connect all worlds, then he needs to learn more about people. After all, each person is sort of their own world, really, with facets of themselves that few others see, intricate pasts with infinite details that are privy to no one but the one who lived them all, and problems they keep to themselves, some of them subconsciously.
And there's something poetic about it too. All of these train tracks, connecting place to place, world to world...Something about that just resonates with him.
It's been several years now. At least ten years, last he checked the date on a newspaper in town. He's been spending a lot of time with the vampires, trying to persuade some of them to join his cause, and vampires don't really keep track of that kind of thing. They're immortal, after all; what's a moment in the face of forever?
He sighs, shivering slightly, and glances out the window. It's winter again.
The name doesn't even register with him for a moment. These days, he's known less for who he is, and more for what he is—the Ark of Sirius. Besides, there were few people who knew his name before anyways, and he would know if he was nearby any of them.
But something deep in the recesses of his memory stirs, poking its head up like a slumbering dog after its name is called.
That's him, he realizes. He's Yuliy.
He looks up, and wide hazel eyes meet his own glacier blue. The train jerks into motion with a light start, and the stranger nearly stumbles, catching herself on the back of the seat quickly. Her hat falls to the floor, though, and he picks it up for her.
Then he remembers, and his eyes widen slightly in surprise as he stares up at Naoe Ryouko.
There's a sort of disconnect in the air. Ryouko looks to be in her late twenties, early thirties. He's her age, but he still looks seventeen. He hasn't seen her since she tossed him her katana and cupped her hands around her mouth and called out to him to tell him to go.
Wordlessly, he hands her hat back to her. She takes it with a tremulous smile, and asks, "Do you mind if I sit here?"
It's not busy today. There are plenty of empty seats. But these days, he won't say no to a well-meaning stranger. He nods, and she sits down gracefully, placing her bags to the side and smoothing down her skirt in her lap, twisting her fingers together a bit.
"Must be fate, running into you randomly like this," she starts abruptly, a faint hint of pink dusting her cheeks.
"Must be," Yuliy agrees, smiling a bit. Under other circumstances, he might be worried that she'd reveal his location inadvertently later. But he can tell that she's grown, like they all have, and he decides that this is okay. "How is everything?"
Her blush intensifies, but her smile becomes more relaxed too. "It's going well. I'm the head of my family now, and our company. I decided to study management after the whole…" She makes a vague hand motion. "Thought I should give my father a break, from having to manage the company by himself, and from worrying about me. Oh, and I officially work with V Shipping now! Your old teammates stop by whenever they're in Japan."
The ache in his heart intensifies abruptly, taking him by surprise at the feeling. He lifts a hand to his chest absently, remembering.
He hasn't seen them since he left, without a word to explain. Of course, he didn't need to explain, but maybe he should've…
It feels like it's been decades. Perhaps he should go see them? But that would only put them in danger.
He knows the world is after him. He knows the Jaegers are after him too—under the pretense of capturing him. If someone were to find out that he went to see them…No, it was better off to not risk it.
"Cold today, huh?" Ryouko asks, mistaking the gesture.
He shrugs, lowering his hand and looking back up at her. "How are they?"
Her gaze is soft and understanding. "They miss you. But they're doing well. Actually, I saw them just a few months ago. Let's see…" Ryouko raises a finger to her chin in thought, as expressive as he remembers her to be. "Oh, they tried cooking. It…" Her hand sinks slightly. "...didn't end well." She winces. "I felt really bad for the maid. They helped clean up, though."
His lips twitch in fond amusement. "Did they blow anything up?"
"Luckily, no. And they tried explaining, but I still don't understand how pancakes ended up glued to the ceiling."
Vague memories of a chaotic afternoon trying to bake gingerbread cookies come to mind. Over ten years, and apparently it's still chaos every time you let them loose in a kitchen.
"You get used to it," he tells her, and she giggles lightly.
"Do you?" she asks dryly, raising an eyebrow.
He hesitates, pursing his lips. "...Not really."
She chuckles again, at ease now.
"Philip's a bit mad that you haven't been to visit," she continues. "Fallon and Dorothea keep him from running off to chase you down, but I can tell they feel the same. Professor Willard doesn't say anything, of course, but I think he misses you the most."
He gaze slides away guiltily. It's for the best, he tells himself.
But, his heart protests plaintively, a few minutes, just a few minutes, couldn't really hurt, right?
Yuliy shuts down that train of thought quickly. Perhaps sensing his mood, Ryouko changes the subject.
"So what have you been up to all this time?" she asks.
"Travelling," he says after a moment. "All over the place. Talking to lots of people."
She surprises him by smirking a little bit at that, and he raises his eyebrows. "What?"
"Nothing. Just…" A light giggle escapes her, and her hazel eyes sparkle. "I distinctly remember you being something of an introvert."
Yuliy huffs out a quiet laugh. "That hasn't changed. But…" He turns to gaze out the window at the world as it flies by. "People are interesting. Everyone is so different, with their unique stories to tell if you're willing to spare the time to listen."
They talk a little more throughout the trip. Nothing about the Ark, or what exactly he's been getting up to recently. Nothing about the impending war on the horizon.
Somehow, there's still a heavy feeling weighing in his chest as they approach the station of the next town, despite the relative insubstantiality of their conversations.
"I'm switching trains here," he tells her as they pull into the station.
"Oh," she says, smiling. She looks slightly disappointed, as is he, but she doesn't say more to that regard. "It was nice to see you. Your Japanese has gotten way better."
He smiles as the train comes to a gentle halt. "It was nice to see you too. Take care, Ryouko."
People all around them stand up, grab their things, and depart. Yuliy's eyes are as bright as Ryouko remembers, and they smile a quiet goodbye as he blends in amongst the crowds, letting the tide carry him away.
Ryouko thinks back to that day when she recklessly chased him from train to train. It was a long time ago. She was just impulsive then, eager for any kind of excitement, a break from her routine.
She's content now. She knows where she's going in life. So she stays there. In her seat. And watches him go.
She thinks he knows where he's going too.
Yuliy exhales a puff of misty condensation, squinting up at the clear blue skies before making his way off of the train.
It was nice, he realizes, to be able to talk to someone who knows who he was before he became the Ark. True, she didn't know him that well, but at least she knew him once as Yuliy and not simply as the Ark. It's not the same with strangers either. It is nice to talk to strangers, especially children, who don't have the faintest clue, but that's also part of the problem.
He misses home. The Jaegers travelled too much to have a real home, per se, and Dogville...isn't really home for him anymore. It hasn't been since that night.
No. The Jaegers were home. Family is home. That's how it's always been.
He won't be able to stay. But maybe he can go home. Just for a little bit.
Will expand on the gingerbread story later :)