A Child, and an Absence

He hated seeing her again, hated catching sight of that same passive expression she wore, the grace with which she descended the stairs down to greet him whenever he made his presence known.

With a grunt of displeasure, he hefted up the massive sword once more, its blackened blade tearing through the snowstorm, cold sweat upon his brow. Such hollow motions, he thought with disgust. There was no amount of training that would bring Sora back, no amount of honing his skill that would return his son to his arms now that the boy had been spirited away into that other world.

Before Sora had been born, Ogami Ryo had expressed no interest in being a father. At that time, he had cared only for the blade, only for the pursuit of perfection when it came to his skills. He had passed from adolescence into adulthood, and the only passion he had known had been that he possessed for his art. There had been those who had proved to be momentary distractions, of course, women and men who he had loved for the brevity of a season or two, but his only true love had been the sword—the sword, and the Æon, Sophia, his mistress with her heady magics and potent storytelling. All that had changed when first he had met Nadeshiko.

Nadeshiko had been beautiful and graceful, a flower radiating kindness and gentleness. He had been 29-years-old when they met, and she had been 17, and they had fallen in love instantly, their hearts entwined from the moment they first each other's gaze. Their relationship had not met with universal approval, of course, least of all from the Æon in whose service he was pledged, who had warned against growing attached to others who might become victims in the war, others who could be used to hurt them in their struggle. Ogami Ryo had not listened, had seen no need to listen. She was jealous, he told himself, as men who have not known love before often do; she was jealous that she would no longer have the benefit of his company, that they would no longer spend passionless nights together working out the desires of their bodies, a war of attrition against yearning.

Two years later, Sora, had been born; two years later, Nadeshiko had died.

It wasn't anyone's fault, they had told him; these things just happened, they told him, and he had stood there alone in the hospital, the sheet lifted up to cover her face, his hands tightened into fists, suddenly a father, suddenly alone.

It would have been easier if she had died in any other way, he had thought; it would have been easier if he could have blamed the Mamono, if he could have blamed the Roidmudes that had run rampant throughout the world at that time, but it wasn't anyone's fault, they had told him; these things just happened, they told him. Every time he heard those words, his face twisted more and more with grief, with rage.

The first year of Sora's life had been rough for them both. Sora had been the name Nadeshiko had insisted they should call their child, boy, girl, or otherwise, and though he had protested, she had refused to back down. Grieving the loss of his love, trying to keep himself together for the sake of his son, Ogami had struggled during the early years, uncertain how to relate to the child with his cooing, crying needs, and his gentle, fragile form. He had refused help from others at first, alienating his mother, who had cried herself to sleep, so she told him later, when she thought of the pain he was in. Yet the years had passed, and slowly, little by little, he had begun to let others in once again.

He never would have recovered had it not been for Sora, had it been for the way the boy smiled, the way he looked up at him. Every day was an obstacle he would overcome for the sake of his son, a battle he would win on behalf of the boy. In those dark days, Sora had been the light that had guided him; in those dark days, Sora had been the reason he had carried on living.

With exhaustion, he lowered the great weight of his buster sword, the snow piling up on his shoulders, in his hair, his breath ragged, uncertain.

There had to be a way, he thought, there had to be a way to win Sora back, to reclaim his son from whatever mire he had sunk into.

From the back pocket of his jeans, he reached in and pulled out a single Wonder Ride Book, looking down at the cover of pastel pink and baby blue. He had promised himself that he would never ask her, promised that he would never summon her, yet in the falling snow of the northern wastes, the book he held in his hand now was his only connexion with the boy, his only connexion with the past.

Forcing his hand to move, he slammed it down into the sword's second book slot, the pages flipping open instantly upon contact.

'Lolita,' the hilt of the sword proclaimed in its deep, familiar voice. 'A story of loss and regret, stolen dreams and bitter youth.'

Light coalesced before him, a shape in the falling snow, waves of dark hair the colour of charcoal, sad eyes the rich hazel of autumn, her face full of worry, her face full of concern. He felt his heart stir to see her again, he felt his heart break anew. It was her, just as she had been, just as she was when first they had met.

"Nadeshiko," he whispered, "tell me what I should do."

Around him, the howling wind was his only reply. The ghost of Nadeshiko smiled, tears in her eyes.