I wasn't new to nightmares. I was a veteran in that particular subject, as a matter of fact. Dreams of my dad, my mom and Mayu. Dreams of Stellar. Dreams of almost killing Athrun and Meyrin. Those were the things that I awaited me every time I go to sleep. Sometimes, I welcome them. Mainly because that's the only place where I am able to see those that I've lost.
Dreams, as I've learned in Psychology 101, are just a sequence of images that appear involuntarily to the mind of a sleeping person, often a mixture of real and imaginary characters, places and events. To put it bluntly, dreams are just products of the subconscious.
But what separates dreams from nightmares?
Nightmares follow you even when you are awake.
Chapter Eleven - Nocturne
On his way home back from the park, Rey chanced upon a litter of kittens inside a box. They were being watched over by a five year-old boy with his father. A very small crowd had gathered beside it; apparently, the little kitties were being given away. From his position several feet away from them, he could hear the son whining to his father.
"Daddy, why can't we keep Mimi's babies?"
"Mimi is more than enough for us. We have to give them to other kids so that they can be properly taken care of."
Rey watched the scene curiously for a few minutes more until the crowd had cleared out and only one kitten remained. A few more moments passed, yet still there was no one who approached to claim the cat. He suddenly felt a little irked at the situation; he knew how it felt to be left alone. He was still contemplating whether or not to get the cat when someone spoke behind him.
"Why don't you get her?" It was a woman. She stepped beside him and joined him with his cat-watching. Rey glanced at her at the corner of his eye and immediately recognized her. It should've been pretty obvious. Only one person had that soft, motherly voice.
He gave her a wan smile, not caring at the slightest if she could see it or not. "Good morning, Talia." Then, remembering her question, "I don't think Gil will like it if I bring back a cat to his house."
"No, I think he'll like it," Talia answered.
Rey turned to look at her fully and finally noticed her flat belly. He looked at it curiously, realization finally dawning on him. Talia caught the look in his eyes and smiled. "You can see him some time, if you like."
"Yes, maybe some time," he answered quietly. Why was Talia acting like that? Acting as if she had never left in the first place? Acting as if she had been there all this time? It was confusing. The feeling was not at all unpleasant, just a bit different. He liked Talia. But what about Gil? Didn't Talia leave Gil? Just as Rau had left him?
Talia left his side and approached the kitten. She talked to the father, but her voice was too soft for him to hear. Finally, the boy gave her the black kitten. She waved at them and went back to him. "Here," she said once she was in front of him. She raised the kitten to his eye level and flashed him an encouraging smile. "They said he's a Bombay. Bombay cats are very affectionate and cuddly. Take care of him."
He stared at the cat looking up at him with large, round, amber eyes. It mewed softly at him and Rey's eyes softened.
He had someone to take care of.
"A cat," Gilbert said with eyebrows raised. Somehow, he made that two words sound ominous and challenging all at once.
Rey nodded. "A cat," he echoed softly. If he were to judge by Gilbert's actions, his poker-faced guardian didn't seem to be too fond of the black kitten. He sighed softly. "I'll take him back."
"Now, why would you do that?" Gilbert asked, amusement now evident in his voice.
Rey looked up at tilted his head to the side. "You don't seem to like it that much."
Gilbert shook his head. "No, no. It's not like that." He stared at the kitten in Rey's arms. "Can I look at him?" Rey wordlessly handed him the kitten. He stared at the black ball of fur for a moment, the aforementioned black ball of fur looking back at him.
Amber met amber.
Gilbert let out a small chuckle – almost mirthless, but Rey was too pre-occupied to notice. He handed back the kitten carefully. "Of course, you can keep him."
Rey immediately broke into a genuine smile. "Thank you."
The numbers were waiting to be solved, but Gilbert was too busy with more pressing matters. He seemed to be poring over his notebook, but in reality, he was watching Rey play with the kitten.
He didn't know if Talia knew about it, but his trained eye told him that the kitten was a frail one. No wonder it got left behind when its much stronger littermates were taken away by their so-called masters.
The cat looked a bit like him, with its sleek, black fur and scrutinizing saffron eyes. Who knows? It could be as cunning as Gilbert himself someday. That is, if the cat should live past that day. The kitten was weak. One fever would be all it took to kill it.
But why did he let Rey have the kitten if it was going to die?
It's about time Rey met someone called 'Death.'
"Dullindal. What do you want?"
"Le Creuset… how is he doing?"
"He still hasn't reported in, but I heard that the man is still alive. You need not worry for your friend."
"Oh, I'm not particularly worried. It's just that I'm currently taking care of something for him."
"Well, that isn't any of my business. Any more questions? I'm quite busy, as you can clearly see."
"Yes, sir. This will only take a minute. I want to refer someone to the military."
"And this is coming from the man who gave me Rau Le Creuset. Is he any good?"
"No. I'm actually thinking he's much better."
"Playing with that kitten again?"
Rey looked up, surprised. He hadn't been expecting Gilbert to be home so early. He glanced at his half-forgotten books littered on the coffee table. He was playing with the cat when he should've been studying. "Sorry," he apologized sheepishly.
Gilbert brushed his apology with an elegant wave of his hand. "It's quite alright."
The kitten, not liking being ignored, nudged Rey with its head and the teen complied by scratching it behind the ears. The kitten gave a soft purr of contentment.
"You're home early," Rey commented.
"I've got good news for you. I just submitted your application to the Chairman himself."
Rey's eyes grew wide. "Really?"
"With a recommendation from him, I'm sure they'll accept you into the military, no questions asked."
"That's…" Rey searched for an appropriate word. "…Nice," he finished, somewhat lamely.
Gilbert noticed the immediate mood change. "Something wrong?"
Rey shrugged, but the anxiety was clearly visible in his eyes. "What about the medical examination? Wouldn't they find out that there's something wrong with me."
"You forget that Rau passed it," Gilbert said amusedly. "You need not worry about it. I'll take care of it. Just worry about the qualifying exam," he finished with a pointed look at the books.
Rey smiled. "Of course."
Gilbert gave the cat one a curious look. "Did you find a name for it?"
"You're so picky. It's been here for a month, and you still haven't gotten a name for it?" Gilbert commented in disbelief, shaking his head for emphasis. Then, a thoughtful look crossed his face. "But I guess it's alright."
"Why is that?" Rey asked curiously.
"Cats have a tendency to leave once they've gotten what they want."
Looking at himself in the mirror had become somewhat of a morning routine for Rey. Aside from the seizures that plagued him from time to time, his reflection was one of the things that told him how fast he was growing. Everyday, maybe it was his imagination or not, he could swear he was growing older.
He narrowed his eyes at his reflection, irritated by the fact that he had more questions than answers at hand.
Something furry brushed past his leg and he lowered his gaze to look at it. The cat was mewling softly at him, practically begging to be petted. He kneeled and automatically reached for the spot where most cats liked to be scratched – behind the ears – making the cat purr contently.
"You know, I still haven't found a name for you."
The cat meowed in agreement.
Rey immediately looked up to see the source of the voice and saw Rau – mask in place, as always – standing lazily by the doorway. His eyes widened in surprise and he immediately stood up, almost knocking the kitten in the process. "R-Rau!" he blurted out.
"Nice to know you still recognize me," Rau commented with a dry smile. He gave the room a quick once-over. He stared at the mirror for a moment, poker-faced, before he returned his gaze to the two occupants in the room. He moved away from the doorway and smiled. "Breakfast's ready."
Rey finally regained his composure, but instead of welcoming Rau as was proper, he brushed imaginary dirt off his sleeves and asked in a casual voice, "What are you doing here?"
"Gilbert was my friend long before I adopted you," Rau answered flatly.
Rey shrugged and Rau rolled his eyes behind his mask – not that Rey could tell anyway – before leading the way to the dining room downstairs. They walked in silence. The halls seemed to go on forever and Rey briefly wondered whether or not he would see the end of it.
"Why do you follow me?" Rau asked.
Rey blinked at the sudden question and shrugged. "Because I want to," he answered simply.
"Do you know where I'm going?"
"And it does not bother you." It wasn't a question, but a mere observation from Rau's part.
Rau sighed, a bone-weary, tired sound that spoke volumes. "You follow me, not because you want to, but because you haven't found any paths to follow. You want to be like me and because of that, I try so hard to force you to be someone else."
Rey frowned at the bluntness of Rau's words. "Is it so bad to dream of becoming like you someday? Most children wish to be like their parents."
"I'm not your father," Rau muttered.
Blue eyes flashed in anger and Rey growled. "I know that. You don't have to shove it in my face. Sometimes, I wonder why you took me away from that god-forsaken place only to leave me alone. Those times, I wonder if I really want to become like you."
"You want to become like me, but do you really know who I am?"
No. Rey did not know who he really was. Wasn't it the reason why he wanted to join the military? To get an idea of who Rau Le Creuset was to the world? Wasn't Gilbert always telling him how much he looked like Rau? Why did he look like Rau? Was he some sort of long-lost relative? Or was he, in fact, his father?
He did not say anything else.
But Rau had more. "You want to know the reason why I left you? I left you because you were starting to remind me of me. And I told you how I hate my face. You want to know why I don't want you to end up like me? Because the life, and I use the term lightly, I lead is hell. This is the last time you will hear me say these words: You are not me. No matter what anybody says, we are not the same."
Those words…he could not understand why Rau discouraged him so much. Rey clenched his fists and felt all the confusion, all the frustration, fight to get to the surface and burst out in front of him. "I have no identity. Because you did not take the time to tell me who I really am. Who are my parents? Why was I left at that place? Why am I sick?" He glared at Rau, but couldn't find it in himself to totally hate the man whom he considered his savior. "I will follow your path. But I will do better than you. I will succeed in the things that you failed in."
With that, he brushed past a poker-faced Rau, and made his way to the end of the hall where the stairs were located.
Rey woke up with a start, lungs heaving and limbs shaking. He reached for the glass of water by his bedside table and drank it greedily, only remembering half-way to take his pills. It took a few minutes of labored breathing for the medication to take effect.
It hadn't been a dream. It wasn't even close to a nightmare. His conversation with Rau that materialized in his sleep was true. In fact, it happened several days ago, and the memory seemed to determined to haunt him forever.
He stared at the wall for a moment, the shadows and the hazy moonlight casting eerie patterns on the normally cream-colored designs. His gaze fell to the strange lump, unmoving, by the floor. His breathing became ragged when he realized what it was. He stood up on shaky legs and slowly began to move towards it.
Kiseki, so ironically named, was dead.
Today was his scheduled interview and qualifying exam for admission into the ZAFT military – technically, his first day in the military. So appropriate that it would be the first day he began to realize what really awaited every living creature in the planet. So ironic, that they live only to die. He had the cat for only a few weeks. Five weeks and two-and-a-half days, to be precise. Was life that fleeting? Wasn't the kitten alive and kicking just a few hours ago? He always knew that the kitten was frail, but for it to die so suddenly… it was a heartbreaking realization of how fragile life really was.
He seemed to move in an automatic fashion, with his brain running on auto-pilot, focused entirely on the events of that morning. Gilbert did not seem shocked, although he looked a tad bit saddened.
"Everything is born…and eventually it all dies."
Gilbert told him that it was something someone he simply labeled as 'a friend' once told him.
It was as simple as that. No need to dwell on it. Life was dispensable.
Rey finished his glass of milk and went back to reading his book.
"What are you watching?"
"News," Rey answered blankly, without looking up from the plasma screen. Video clips about the current situation in space were currently being broadcasted. Not exactly something General-Patronage worthy.
"With everything that's been going on, you'd think they'd have cancelled the qualifying exams," Gilbert muttered, half in jest.
Rey said nothing and continued watching. "Athrun Zala was from Rau's team, right?"
"He's just been declared a traitor by Chairman Zala."
"Ah…" Gilbert shook his head in amusement. "The things that love can do."
Rey turned off the screen after a few more minutes and got up. "Let's go."
Gilbert nodded, but he could see the disappointment in Rey's eyes.
Gilbert watched until Rey's back disappeared into the sea of red uniforms. The child was quick to bounce back from loss. He was wrong. Rey wasn't an adult yet. Not yet. He was still just a child, in so many ways. Just seven years old, if he were to count by ordinary human years.
Just a child. So gullible. So trusting. So easy to manipulate.
He briefly wondered if Rey was ready for the world… Maybe before, he wasn't. But after this morning's events, his doubts soon dispersed, and he drove off without a thought more.
The sound of the phone ringing stole Gilbert's attention away from the sheaf of important-looking papers he was currently attending to. He let it ring twice before moving to answer it.
"Hello?" he said, keeping his voice politely neutral.
He heard a sigh from the other line, as if the person – clearly a woman, he could deduce – was steeling herself. "Gilbert?" a familiar voice answered.
He couldn't keep his eyebrows from rising in surprise. "Talia! What a pleasant surprise," he said truthfully.
"I saw Rey in the academy today. Why is he there?" she asked bluntly - clearly the calm before the storm.
"No reason other than he wanted to join."
Talia couldn't keep her calm any longer. "Why did you let him?" she asked in disbelief.
"He's old enough to know what's good for him."
"Old enough? The boy is barely seven years old!"
Gilbert sighed. "Talia. Rey isn't an ordinary boy. I assure you, he is wise beyond his years."
"Does Rau know?"
"He gave his permission." White lies never did hurt anyone.
"I can't believe you, Gilbert!" and then the line went dead. Talia had obviously been angry. Angry enough to forget about proper phone ethics.
Gilbert glared at the phone. "You're not his mother, Talia," he retorted evenly. He smirked maliciously. "But we can definitely do something to change that."
First, a word of THANKS…
cloudedge, Kageharu Kaco, i Mel-chan i, eda, maDeeneR-, Termony, Blue moon wolf and to my wonderful, ever supportive best friend slash beta reader, Lia lostsmile.
Author's Notes: Kiseki means 'miracle' in Japanese, correct me if I'm wrong. It's also the title of one of Rey's compositions. You can download it at gendou (dot) com.
As proven by my other fic 'Salute!', I am not an expert in ZAFT military organization. So please forgive this poor author and let's credit all inconsistencies to artistic-license.
For any questions, comments, complaints, grievances, rants – positive and/or negative – please don't hesitate to contact me via reviews. I haven't been replying – and I apologize for that! – but I will now.
Nocturne is classified as "dreamy musica musical composition, especially for the piano, that suggests a tranquil, dreamy mood".