Remember the Joy

By Kadevi

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June 24, 2003

To Akiko on her birthday

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He sat with his back against the small tree, watching the gradual lighting up of the skies. He was alone – at that moment, anyway. The others were asleep, and wouldn't wake for some hours yet. This was the only moment in his day when he would get to celebrate his own birthday. Why would I want to tell them, anyway? They'll make a big deal out of it. They don't need to know, besides; wouldn't care a whit if I told them or not.

So many years... there was actually only once, in his memory, when his birthday had been celebrated. Before that one year, he'd been the outcast of his small village, in some nondescript place in the snowy mountains. After that, the timing had just never been right to celebrate with her – either he was gone or she was called away or they were both just too busy with the annual sickness plaguing Imil to think about birthdays and happiness and fun for a day. And then even after that, there was the incident when he'd met Saturos and Menardi... and then watching over Felix, the two girls, and the old man, and not to mention Saturos and Menardi snapping daily at him...

Well, there wasn't an after yet. But soon there would be. After some time passed, there would be an 'after.'

But for now... he contemplated. And as he thought, his focus shifted from the 'now' to the past...

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He woke up slowly, as usual, letting his muscles accustom themselves to his state of waking before swinging his legs over the edge of the bed and standing to get ready for the new day. First the loose white leggings, then his boots, and after wriggling his violet tunic over his head, Alex tied his white sash around his waist and securely tucked his dagger into it. Healers always had need of a sash, and though it was too bad this one was white, he hadn't found enough time to get one of a different color yet. Belatedly, he reached for his dark blue scarf and wrapped it around his neck. His hair, as always, only needed a little straightening out with his fingers so they wouldn't become a tangled mess by the end of the day.

Even though it was his birthday, Alex wasn't expecting anything. After all, the villagers in his former home hadn't even cared enough to deliver him properly to Imil, instead only dumping him at the steps of the Lighthouse with no food and water. Although that had been in plenty around him.

So he sat down in his little room connected to the Sol Sanctum and ate his breakfast (Peppered Stew and a fresh loaf of bread), preparing himself mentally for another round of healing around Imil, by himself save for Mia. The other children in Imil found him odd and stayed away from him.

It really was no mystery why the others might find him and Mia odd. They were both quiet for their age, with Alex barely twelve and Mia not even, and to the others, spent too much time thinking. That, and the fact that they had special powers to heal people scared them. Contradictorily, those same powers were also envied by them because everyone in the village was so very thankful for Mia and Alex's presence, and the other youngsters in the village wanted that attention as well.

After finishing breakfast, he swept out Sol Sanctum to keep it dust-free in the case that anyone needed to rest inside, and finally he was allowed a moments rest before he had to start his rounds across Imil. Stepping outside, he yawned-

And promptly swallowed a ball of snow. Looking up, he saw the very person who'd thrown the snowball at him.

Enraged, he began shouting. Or attempting to shout. "Whrrtu thoo rha heur, Viha?!"

Mia giggled, amused, at Alex's snow covered face. "I didn't know you could look so fetching dressed in snow, Alex!" She laughed, barely able to stand. He coughed out the rest of snow and stomped towards her, enraged.

"I came out here to rest, not to have snow for lunch!"

She only smiled, cheeks pink from the cold. "Of course you're not having snow for lunch- you are coming with me!" She dragged him with her to the frozen river that separated Imil into two sections (except for the bridge that connected them, of course) and then they slid into the cave easily, fitting a pair of blades to their boots and tying them on securely to use as skates. And though he griped and complained and tried to go back the way he came, his curiosity overcame him and he followed her.

Inside was a much-changed scene. Instead of a floor bare of anything but ice, there was a blanket anchored in the middle by four icy pegs to what floor there was. On that blanket were several plates of food, all Alex's favorite. A delighted smile lit up his face as he stopped by the blanket.

"Happy birthday, Alex!" Mia cried happily, running into him from behind. Seeing as how she had purposely not stopped when he had, they slid into the glowing blue wall of the cave with a crash. But even this was not enough to dampen his spirits.

"We-we're- you're celebrating my birthday?" Alex asked, amazed. He pulled himself off the ice and plopped onto the blanket, blue eyes bright with excitement. No one had ever cared enough about him to celebrate his birthday with him, either...

"Of course!! I already went through our rounds, so now we have all day to celebrate. Isn't that wonderful?" She asked warmly, blue eyes shining as well.

Alex only grinned and began eating with enthusiasm.

"Let's go outside and have a snowball fight!" Mia suggested gaily, once they had finished their most delicious meal. Flavored by happiness as it was, Alex couldn't help but like it, and finished every morsel of his share of the food.

"Oh, come on, Alex! It'll be fun!" Mia insisted. When he shook his head again, Mia sighed reluctantly, "Well, I suppose if that's what you want..." She remarked dubiously. She clambered to her feet, skates already tied to her boots, and left the iced-over cave. Alex rolled his eyes and skated after her.

Right into a sparkling white missile.

Her laughter echoed loudly in the clear winter air. "I never knew you liked eating snowballs that much!" She squealed, spinning happily on the frozen river.

"What are you doing this for?! I already told you I didn't want you throwing anymore things into my face!"

"This is fun!" She tried discreetly to throw a second snowball at him, but he managed to catch it and gave chase, kicking off the skate blades as he went.

"Come back here, Mia!!" He hollered, finally running with complete abandon and not caring who saw them.

"See if you can't catch me first!" Mia shouted, throwing another snowball at Alex and then speeding away through the snow surprisingly quickly towards the Mercury Lighthouse. He dodged the missile and ran after her, eyes sparkling with contained laughter. The door opened automatically for her as she cast Ply, and she leapt through a curtain of sparkles from the spell, Alex following.

The walkway's faintly glowing bricks lit their way, and they raced through several rooms without slowing down a little, climbing stairs with little effort and giggling and laughing with wild exuberance. Finally they reached a room where Mia jumped onto the stone that would lead them up another flight of stairs. However, before she could complete her leap to the other side, Alex jumped onto her from behind and they both tumbled into the water.

"Look! You got my robes all wet!" Mia complained good-naturedly, trying to wring out the cloth without taking it off. She had no luck whatsoever trying to complete her task.

"Well, you're the one who wanted to race in here! Of course we'd get wet!" Alex retorted cheerfully. In reality, neither much cared, only emerging from the water laughing even harder than before. All of a sudden, Mia grinned mischievously, agreeing that 'of course Alex is right.' He watched her, suspicious. When she got that look on her face, it would do nothing good to remain in her presence. And sure enough, just as Alex made to run for the door, Mia splashed a handful of water at him, making him yelp and fall back in the water.

"Mia!" He complained, and soon the water fight ensued with both emerging as designated winners and both dripping wet enough to begin their own lake.

After drying out, they ran back outside, bending down to scoop snowballs now and then to throw at each other. Psynergy was too precious and much-used to use it generously to make snowballs, but they didn't really need it to help them anyway.

Finished with their playing, both unanimously agreed to go back to the lighthouse, this time going all the way to the top so they could watch the fleeing sun and the moon rising in the east. Both of them stood silently, their heads outlined by shadows and the faint light of the stars high above them, beyond the skies.

"Look!" Alex burst out, pointing. "That's a star formation."

"Miss Lenia said they're called comstellamalations!" Mia quipped.

"I think it's constellations, Mia..."

"Oh. Constellations," she stretched out, testing the new word on her tongue. "Which one do you think it is?"

"I'm sure it is Lady Luna. See, if you connect those two up there, and put it to that bright one there, and then go down like that, you have her hair. And see, those two brightest stars are her eyes, and those make her robes, and then her wings around her, see?"

"Wow... I never looked at that before!" Mia exclaimed. "I wish I could have wings! Or no, better yet, I wish I could be an angel of the water, so I could swim so fast and glide like the birds in the sky do in the air! I would be like a fish!" She sighed.

Alex didn't say anything, but his eyes watched her, warming to her like he'd done for no one else. You are already an angel, Mia...

Back at Sol Sanctum, Mia and Alex both stood outside.

"You should go inside first, Mia. I'm going to check around the village to make sure no one else needs healing," Alex told her, voice brooking no argument.

"Well, if you insist..." She pouted. Even after such a long day of wild activities and running around (and that swim in the lighthouse), her long hair remained as straight and beautiful as ever, with not even a knot tangling any single strand. It already reached her waist, a beautiful shining mass that resembled the waterfalls that fell so mysteriously in Mercury Lighthouse.

Alex grinned. "I insist. You already did your share this morning anyway."

An angelic smile graced her lips again, one of the many she'd beamed at him that day. "Well, alright. Happy birthday." At that, Alex nodded his thanks, and turned to begin his walk to the inn. A warm hand grasped his, so he turned around to see what she needed, opening his mouth as he did so to ask the very question even before his thoughts formed the words.

And quite unexpectedly (for him anyway), her mouth met his in a most breathtaking kiss.

For that moment, all time froze for him. All he could feel was the burning sensation of her hands on his neck and hand, her warm lips caressing his not unlike how water felt against his skin on warm days. He was aware that her eyes were closed, but for the life of him couldn't close his own eyes, so wide they were with shock. The snow that was beginning to fall around them only made the scene more breathtaking and unreal than it already was. And even though neither of them were any much experienced at romance because of their young age, Alex could honestly tell himself that this was the most pleasing sensation he'd felt in all his young life.

Finally, time resumed again.

She watched his shock with sapphire-colored eyes that sparkled in the moonlight. Alex felt like he couldn't breathe, he was so amazed at what had just happened. She smiled again, tightening her hold on the hand that she held.

"Good night, Alex," she whispered. "Sweet dreams." She entered Sol Sanctum, closing the door behind her.

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A feather-light touch against his cheek made Alex open his sleepy eyes. I fell asleep... he realized groggily.

The vision that greeted him made his heart stop. Mia? But... she's... who knows where she is, but not here!

"I'm sorry things had to turn out this way between us, but... I won't ever forget you," the vision whispered. Fingers brushed a long strand of hair from his face. Fingers that seemed so real, but held a whisper to them... dreamlike. It probably was a dream. Even Mia, forgiving as she was, would not have forgiven him without an explanation as to why he had broken their sacred vows as members of the Mercury Clan and lit the Lighthouse. Even though it was to help her... and to help all Adepts, eventually. But he so wished that she would say those words to him, in that loving voice. Still he loved her... though he knew he should not, could not. "Happy birthday, Alex."

His eyes fluttered closed even as he battled slumber, and he felt fatigue and exhaustion creep up onto him again, drawing him into the darkness of sleep.

"Alex... Alex! Wake up! What are you doing, sleeping out here? A monster could have attacked you! And Menardi and Saturos would have your hide again for wandering out alone, by yourself," Felix snapped. Jenna and Sheba stood back, watching the Venus Adept with wide eyes. He rarely showed this much emotion at any time. Kraden, meanwhile, was just trudging up the slope in their direction. Evidently, Menardi and Saturos had not yet awakened.

"I wasn't sleeping," Alex remarked tonelessly, brushing the snow off his leggings. "Just thinking." Just remembering the joy. Remembering Mia.

"Well, it's time to get going," Felix said more quietly, mollified by the Mercury Adept's emotionless response. As soon as the two other Mars Adepts joined them, they trudged away, mere shadows against the rising sun that they walked towards.

Discreetly, Alex scanned the white landscape around them. Nothing – only stretching vast plains of grasses and the occasional tree. That could never have been Mia... she hasn't caught up to us yet, and... well... she probably hates me by now, considering what I did.

He sighed and continued, step by step, farther away from the carefree joys of the past, and deeper towards his destined purpose.

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Happy Birthday, Akiko

May all your wishes come true this year

Kadevi