An unexpected gift
A RahXephon fanfiction by regie27
Standard disclaimers apply
Spoiler Alert: Although this story takes place chronologically between Episodes 9 and 10, for those who haven't seen the whole series, it does contain some major spoilers.
"The one you'll love in the future is right here,
though you don't know it."
Katun no Sadame by Ichiko Hashimoto
February 14, 2012
The boy stood nervously at the corner of the door that led to the music classroom, his ears capturing the voices of the giggling girls who had stayed back to catch up on the day's events. A distinctive laughter stood out amid the myriad of female voices, a laughter he felt he would never get tired of, the one that filled his heart with warmth and joy.
Kamina Ayato inhaled deeply, gathering his breath as well as his courage while his mind rehearsed through his plan for this special day. In his clammy hands he held the card he had prepared for her for this St. Valentine's Day as carefully as he could, taking extreme measures as not to smear the pencil-colored illustration. He acknowledged the fact the fact that he would never be one of those boys who could impress the opposite sex with clever words or with a cool demeanor but he hoped the painstakingly detailed drawing and the dedicatory plastered in his simple handwriting could honestly convey the depth and truth of his feelings.
Peeking at the classroom, he managed to get a glimpse of the smiling girl with the long hair and bright auburn eyes. They had known each other for almost three years now yet but it had been only recently that they'd realized they regarded each other as more than just friends. He didn't know why it had been that way. After the fateful day they had met at Neriya for the very first time, he found himself uncharacteristically eager to see the girl in the yellow dress again, his sketch a constant reminder that she had been real and not a fixture of his imagination. He had almost given up on the hopes of meeting her again but the fates had something else in store for him. Kamina smiled to himself as his mind took him back to the first day of Middle School and how his day had brightened upon realizing that Mishima had also been transferred to the same school. From that day on, the duo had become practically inseparable. So immersed he was in his recollections that he failed to notice that one of Mishima's friends had caught a glimpse of him leaning at the door's frame. He gulped as he quickly tried to hide but it hadn't been fast enough as he found out when the grinning girl that now stood right before him offered him a knowing look.
"Hi Kamina-kun. You're waiting for Haruka-chan, right."
"Yes, I mean no, I mean…" Kamina struggled to find the correct words to justify his presence as he hid the card behind his back but it seemed that nothing could escape the girls' inquisitive gaze.
"Is that a card for Haruka-chan?" the dark-haired girl asked.
"Silly, why you didn't tell us? Don't worry, leave it all to me. This is so romantic! I wish I could have a boyfriend like you Kamina-kun!"
A deep blush crossed Kamina's face as his eyes followed the girl as she returned to the classroom. He wondered what or how Suzaku-chan did it, but whatever it had been worked like a charm because the group quickly dissolved, leaving Mishima Haruka behind. The girl observed her friends leave with what she could swear were conspiratorial looks in their faces but she decided to shrug the rather awkward sensation away and resolved to kill some time by practicing the tune she had learned today in the small piano at the corner of the room. The sun began to set, its long tendrils filtered through the windows with warm hues of oranges and yellows. Her nimble fingers began to draw a simple yet sweet melody out of the old piano, a heartfelt tune that spoke of a love meant to last forever. Suddenly, she felt an insistent yet comforting stare lingering over her. Her heart began to beat faster as she sensed that someone was approaching her. She glanced up and a big smile lit up her pretty face:
February 13, 2027
The distinctive scent of freshly brewed coffee guided Haruka to the kitchen. Maneuvering the dossier she had been browsing to her left hand, she poured some of the steaming brew into a cup while reading the contents of the week's schedule simultaneously. Her eyes managed to catch a glimpse of a speeding Buchi just in time to avoid tripping with him, observing the feline amused as he played enthusiastically with a red rubber ball that bounced erratically out of his reach. More morning smells intermingled with the distinctive salty scent carried by the seabreeze to the house as she keep moving towards the dining room were all the four dwellers of the house met each morning to share breakfast and the day's plans.
"Good morning" she mumbled as she knelt down in front of the low dinning table putting the cup of coffee down while still reading intently the contents of the dossier.
"So early and already working niece? Looks like a hectic week is upon you."
"Yeah" she replied as she bit a piece of buttered toast without lifting her sight off the documents. "We'll be out for training on the Lilia Litvyak for a couple of days. The RahXephon and the Alpha Squadron will be practicing joint maneuvers over the Pacific while we gather more data on the Xephon and its new abilities. The fact that we haven't seen MU attacks recently doesn't mean we can just sit back and relax."
Rikudoh Shougo nodded as he sipped on his tea. "Good reasoning. The best offense is always a good defense. Too bad the house will feel awfully empty with all of you away."
Haruka looked at her uncle sympathetically. It seemed he didn't regret a bit the fact that he had opened his house and his life to three people within a five year span. The retired archaeologist who didn't have children of his own had become a father figure for the three of them. Coincidentally, they all shared the fact of either never meeting their progenitors as it was the case with Megumi and Ayato or having to experience losing one due to tragic circumstances, as it had happened to a teenage Haruka. For lacking any experience, Rikudoh-san was doing a good job in maintaining harmony in their household and behaving in a manner that could easily be regarded as fatherly.
"Good morning oji-san, Haruka-san."
Ayato's bright voice pulled Haruka's attention from her paperwork. When she glanced up, she found him looking back at her with a quizzical expression in his face.
"Is there something wrong Ayato-kun?"
The young instrumentalist blushed slightly. Instead of her TERRA uniform, the captain was wearing that morning a leather jacket and pant combination similar to that of the Alpha Squadron members but in shades of blue, and just like with pretty much everything she wore, he had to admit to himself she looked quite attractive in it.
"It's just that I hadn't seen you in that uniform before. Are you transferring to another department again?" His voice let out a subtle lilt of disappointment. He had already gotten used to her encouraging presence at the C & C post while he was away during missions.
"Baka Ayato" Megumi's voice interjected as she entered the room. "You've forgotten about this week's training, haven't you? To think that you are the pilot of our most powerful weapon and humanity's last hope…" Megumi sighted loudly as she sat down while glaring at Ayato.
"Hey, I know about the training but that doesn't explain Haruka-san's new uniform!" the boy defended himself from Megumi's early morning salvo.
"You two, it's too early to start arguing" Haruka intervened. "And to answer Ayato-kun's question, I'm not transferring from Tactical, I just rescued this and my flight suit from the closet because I'll be taking this deployment to update the training hours I require to maintain my flying status. In other words, for the next couple of days I'll be one of Elvy's troops."
"Did you forget that Haruka is a pilot also?" the younger Shitow sibling added, wondering how he could be so dense and forget about something so obvious.
Ayato's memory jogged several months back to the day he had found himself strapped to a strange looking aircraft. The woman who had basically sequestered him fought frantically to regain control of the craft in mid-air while they were led by unknown forces to what they later learned was the Shrine of Xephon hidden in the bowels of Tokyo, unbeknown to all but a selected few high ranking Mulians.
"I had almost forgotten. Will you be using the two-seater you piloted in Tokyo Jupiter?"
"A similar model. Remember that the one I flew was left behind as a souvenir for the MU but luckily it turned out we didn't need it to escape because we hitched a ride out in that winged colossus of yours. HQ wasn't too happy about me leaving an expensive aircraft back there but my butt was spared when they saw what I had brought along in its place. That reminds me; are the two of you packed and ready? We'll be leaving in half an hour."
"Megumi's coming too?"
"You have any problems with that?" the red-headed girl replied while downing the contents of her bowl while bestowing the boy at her side an icy look.
"Of course not, but I thought you were assigned to the HQ C & C room."
"I am but my onee-chan will need a co-pilot and that'll be me."
"Well, it's not that I need one but Megumi has always wanted to come along to one of my trips to find out if she likes it enough to request admittance to the Air Forces academy, so I guessed this would be a good opportunity for her to do so. Colonel Kunugi greenlighted the idea and besides, Major Yagumo will be around as our CO to oversee the whole operation."
At the mention of the name of TERRA's First Officer, Megumi's eyes brightened.
"The major's coming too? Why didn't you tell me that sooner Haruka? This trip has just gotten even more interesting. Eeep, I'd better pack the gift!"
In a leap, Megumi was back on her feet and to the astonished looks of her uncle, sister and guest, she practically sprinted back to her room, almost running Buchi over in the process.
"Well, that sure woke her up. She mentioned something about a gift. Is it the Major's birthday or something?" asked Ayato as his ears still rang due to Megumi's somewhat enthusiastic shrieking.
"I believe she meant a gift for St Valentine's Day. I had completely forgotten about that but by looking at the calendar, I just realized it coincides with our training schedule. Well, at least someone in our household keeps track of those dates because I surely don't."
"How about you Haruka-san? Don't you celebrate St Valentine's?" Ayato carefully ventured to inquire. He was sure she had garnered enough admirers at TERRA with her easygoing personality and good looks to guarantee her the date of her choosing. In fact, it seemed Dr. Kisaragi Itsuki was one of the more obvious suitors, but for reasons he couldn't pinpoint, he wasn't too pleased with the fact. If only he were her age, he would've surely asked her out long ago.
Haruka smiled as she fought to hold back the moisture that began to form in her eyes. If he only knew his mere presence was already making the upcoming February 14 her best one in the last 15 years. Gathering her breath, thanking in silence for the discipline she had been instilled in TERRA, she feigned her best cool and aloof stance and replied: "Nah, I'm too old for that silliness. Besides, as it is I'll be quite busy with the training and babysitting you guys."
"Hey, I don't need to be babysat!"
"I know Ayato-kun I'm just messing with you. You are all grown up, aren't you? Besides, you have the RahXephon to take care of or is it the other way around?"
Ayato didn't immediately reply, letting his indignant silence be his answer instead. He sometimes wished the adults around him would treat him with less condescendence and regarded him more as an equal. The last few months had made him realize he really hated to be manipulated and he found himself loathing having information held off from him even more. Haruka quickly understood his silence and rigid stare and decided to let the subject drop but she admitted to herself that she did enjoy jesting with him because he looked quite attractive when angered. Displaying her best apologetic smile, she replied:
"Alright, let me check if Megu's ready. We need to get to the ferry ASAP. The Lilia Litvyak will be departing port at 1100 hours sharp so we'd better start moving out."
The captain was about to turn around towards her younger sister's room when Ayato added:
"Haruka-san, I just wanted to let you know that I'm very glad you and Megumi-chan will be coming along with us. I wasn't too thrilled with the prospect of shipping out even if it was for a few days but now it will be like having a little piece of home with me while we're away."
"I'm glad that you are finally feeling yourself at home here with us. Now hurry up before we need the RahXephon to deliver all of us to the deck of the Lilia Litvyak."
"Roger." Smiling, the boy began his way towards his room.
Haruka stood still until she made sure that she couldn't hear Ayato's footsteps. When she turned around, she whispered under her breath as she quickly caught a tear from escaping her eyes:
"As long as you wish it, this will always be your home."
Mid February was behaving in a rare warm and sunny demeanor for a winter month even for Nirai-Kanai and its denizens were thanking the kami for such an unexpected gift very dilligently. Their gratitude was demonstrated by throwing themselves in troves to the white sands and sapphire blue warm waters that blessed their island as a way to show their heartfelt appreciation. Such fine weather had allowed excellent cruising conditions for the sophisticated aircraft carrier that was leaving the TERRA repair dry dock for the first time in months since a Dolem attack had almost sunk it as it had done with its companion submarines. That day's losses had been massive for the small force and the brass had deemed imperative to have the ship back into operational status as soon as it was possible. The fresh coat of paint could still be smelled and the polished surface of the landing deck lay yet unblemished by the skid marks that evidence the constant departure and landing of planes. The crew was eager to stretch their sea legs and to get back in business and if given the chance, get even with the MU for the losses they had sustained. Like a phoenix, the Lilia Litvyak was alive and kicking once again, ready to make of the vast sea its home and dominion. With the collaborating climate and serene waves, the crewmembers soon found themselves on their slated destiny somewhere close the international waters that bordered those of Japan.
Idleness was the last thing the sailors had in mind. Orders were quickly barked from the ship's officers and in a matter of minutes, the deck became alive with a flurry of activity and multicolored shirts as crewmen prepared to go through the motions and launch the ever impressive RahXephon and the Alpha Squadron airplanes. The hours passed in a blink of an eye as the sky came alive with the intricate ballet of carefully choreographed mock battles. Imaginary foes were vanquished and tall columns of foaming seawater rose by the impact of .50 cal guns and state-of-the art missiles over the surface of the deep blue ocean. The atmosphere was charged with kinetic energy and adrenaline, with the smell of gunpowder and engine fuel, and the sky lit with the red flash of the laser beams borne out of the RahXephon palms. It was an amazing display of lethal power, of the prowess of technology and the passion of mankind, of engineering skill and sheer willpower and anybody who had the opportunity to witness it conceded that it was a breathtaking sight to see. Even the precise execution of the mechanics of war was able to create its own maddening aesthetic, its own deadly beauty.
Amidst the controlled chaos above, a blue aircraft moved away from the formation and descended towards the deck, making a flawless albeit rushed vertical landing. As the crew gave the pilots their thumbs up, the maintainer drones hurried to secure the craft as instructions were relied from the command post in a flash. Just mere seconds after the canopy opened, the pilot practically leaped out of the aircraft, hurrying to check out the occupant at the co-pilot's chair.
"Can you make it out or should I call the medics? Goodness, I've never seen you like this Megu" the pilot gushed as she assessed her companion's status. The red-haired occupant at the rear chair was sweating profusely as she fought to somehow control the accelerate rate of her heartbeats. Her face displayed an unhealthy ashen appearance and a slight greenish hue covered her cheeks. Her breathing was somewhat shallow and a pungent stench evidenced that the passenger's stomach hadn't taken too well to the aerial maneuvers.
"Are we finally over something somewhat solid onee-chan?" the girl managed to ask with a slight tremble in her voice.
"Yes, we're back. Here, lend me your hand."
The reply from the wobbly co-pilot was engulfed by the roar of the fighter that flew just overhead them in that instant. A crimson plane quickly made its way to the landing strip, soon to be followed by three more aircraft of similar styling. The last to approach the carrier was the majestic mechanical god, appearing even more ethereal as it descended bathed in the dimming hues of the approaching sunset. As each plane effortlessly grabbed on to the hook that secured them to the deck, the short-haired aviator from the Aliel finally brought out her ailing passenger. Holding her younger sister by the waist, Haruka knew exactly how Megumi felt as a wistful smile crossed her face; she had been in that same state on her first training flights back at the academy. Their flight instructor was notorious for possessing a decidedly sadistic streak and he thoroughly enjoyed making the would be fliers think twice about their choice of career and the breakfast that was about to forcefully pushed out of their stomachs after a couple of abrupt dives and sharp turns. At least she also knew that fortunately, it was just her pride and not her health that was going to be ailing the longer. Her thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the presence of the red-clad Alpha Squadron commander.
"Shitow, is your sister alright? She didn't sound too good up there. I think that last scissor maneuver was too much for her."
"She'll live Elvy but I really doubt she'll volunteer for another ride, at least for the time being. I thought she was going to be fine because she had done so well in the simulator. Guess I'll have to cruise alone tomorrow, right Megu?"
"You've got that right, that last drop was a killer. I don't know how you guys can endure it. Not even the toughest rollercoaster can compare to this. Oooh, my poor stomach."
"Well, you're formulating coherent sentences so that means you'll be fine in no time. You should be proud of yourself, at least you didn't go "red-out" like someone I know" Elvy said with a saucy grin and a knowing glance.
"I went "red-out" because you went all berserk up there and I was just still a baby flier wet behind the ears" Haruka replied slightly rattled.
"You should have seen that. Your tough big sis here was gone just like that" the Squadron leader said, snapping her fingers for emphasis.
"As if Major Ivan 'the Terrible' Korchev hadn't made you plead to land in one of your tests…"
"Who told you that?" the tall pilot replied livid, the cocky smile vanishing and instantly being replaced by a frown that brought her long eyebrows together in a long, rigid line that crossed her forehead.
"Hey, an Intel operative never reveals her sources, you know…" Now it was Haruka's turn to flash a sly smile. Megumi stared at them both wishing for her inner organs to stop their somersaulting and for the acrid taste in her mouth to disappear. The salty air of the ocean seemed to slowly invigorate her but her weakened state made Megumi too aware of the slight yet constant movement of the waves beneath the ship's bow. She couldn't wait to throw herself into her bunk but the sight of the rest of the Alpha Squadron approaching them squashed her hopes. At least she would have a really interesting tale to share with Kim back at TERRA.
"Is that true boss? And here I was thinking it was just an urban legend. How was it? Did he menace to let the plane freefall at low altitude?"
"What the hell are you doing here Cathy and why are you snooping on a private conversation?"
"Erm, we come for debriefing and because we were worried about the captain's kid sister."
"Thank you for your concern Lieutenant Mac Mahon. Megumi feels better now. She just needs some rest. I'll meet you all later on the conference room for the debriefing" replied Haruka calmly.
"Meanwhile, I'm sure you'll be quite entertained with Lt Hadhiyat's experiences as a trainee pilot back at the Academy, isn't that right Lieutenant?"
"You'll pay for this one Shitow" Elvy growled under her breath while her squadron comrades took the unusual opportunity to snicker behind her back. Hearing the barely concealed chuckle, Elvy turned around bestowing upon her fellow airmen a menacing glare that foreshadowed a long and arduous week for them.
"Guess that Valentine's party's off then" Donny whispered to Cathy's ear.
"Bummer!" replied in despair the younger Alpha Squadron ace.
"Next dinner's on me then Elvy and don't worry, I'll remember to bring a bottle of absinthe along" Haruka replied with a wink as she moved away with Megumi on tow. She was about to open the door towards the crew quarters when she was intercepted by Major Yagumo and Ayato. Upon realizing that the handsome TERRA commander had arrived, Megumi's pride wrestled with her ailing state as she forced herself to an upright position to regain her footing and prayed her face wasn't looking as bad as she feared it did.
"Is it bad Haruka?"
"Nothing that a good meal and a good night's sleep won't shake off but thanks to both of you for your concern. In fact, she's already looking better."
"I'm already feeling better, sir. See?" Upon saying this, the younger Shitow broke away from her sister's grasp and began to tentatively walk on her own. She was looking well until her irritated stomach called upon her attention with annoying insistence, forcing her body to lean at the waist.
"Not again" she cried in despair as she brought a hand to her mouth and fled from the small group, speeding towards the nearest bathroom.
"Haruka, perhaps it would be better if she takes the rest of the training off. I'll send the medic to her room."
The short-haired officer nodded. "As soon as I deal with Megu, we'll go through the collected data. Now if you excuse me, I'd better make sure she's alright and doesn't end up in the engine room. By the way, nice moves up there Ayato, don't you think Yagumo-kun?"
"The captain's right, Ayato. You sure have improved since you first arrived here. I'm glad to see you're feeling more confident in your skills and it showed in your performance today" the major added.
"I was able to see it up front and it looked really good. At this rate, the pilots will all be soon without a job but I guess that means less people that'll be at risk, right?"
"I…I guess so."
"Make sure you get plenty of rest okay? Gotta go. I'll see you guys later."
The captain disappeared behind the door as her words kept running through Kamina's brain. If this ability meant saving lives of brave young men and women, it was a huge responsibility but one that he was willing to accept unconditionally. Besides, it was the first time in a while he felt that he was really an indispensable part of the team that was TERRA. He had something of his own, something that was very important for a lot of people. Something that only he was able to could do.
"Well, ready for your after flight checkup?" the young Commander inquired. Ayato shook his head in affirmative and followed Yagumo's lead, a smile glowing in his handsome face as he basked happily in the pleasant feeling of pride that washed over him.
"Ready to launch Haruka?"
Megumi's voice chirped over Capt Shitow's right ear. The pilot assessed her instruments one last time. The engine was warmed up and her fuel tank wasn't completely filled as planned, since today's flight plan also included a rendezvous with a tanker to do air refueling.
"Ready, and from now on remember to call me by my sign name, alright?"
Haruka smirked. She was truly glad her younger sibling was feeling well enough to man the C & C bridge assisting Major Yagumo but because of yesterday's incident, she had been left without a flying partner and felt somewhat crabby for having to do the training by herself. Letting out a long sigh, she glanced at her wristwatch. It was already time for takeoff. She fixed her earpiece in a more comfortable position and checked her instruments one last time. The crew hands had already taken the parking blocks off her Aliel and the deck was clear for takeoff.
"Well, gotta run."
"Hold that thought for a second Capt Shitow. You don't plan to leave without a co-pilot?" the Assistant CO said, a trace of complicity in his voice.
"Co-pilot? But Elvy and her team are on another sortie and we both know Megu is unavailable, major."
"We've found you a last minute replacement. In fact, I believe he's there right now."
One of the deck shirts signaled Haruka to open the canopy. Instants later, she felt the plane slightly dip with the added weight of another person. When she glanced back, she found Ayato in his flightsuit as he strapped himself to the rear seat and donned an earpiece.
"Hi Haruka-san" he waved. "I hope you don't mind the last minute change."
Haruka was so stunned by the unexpected gesture that for a brief moment she couldn't conjure any words to come out of her mouth. In other circumstances, she would have been mildly annoyed for such a last minute change of plans. Instead, the added tasks of re-computing the fuel estimates to include her new companion's weight, the change of ETA with the tanker and other adjustments to her flight plan seemed like a small price to pay to in return for the pleasant opportunity of spending alone time with Ayato, even if it was in the cramped confines of an airborne plane.
"Welcome to my ride, Ayato-kun" the TERRA operative finally replied with a wide smile and a sparkle in her eyes. "Well, let's get this baby in motion, shall we?"
Ayato anxiously peered outside as his sight scanned the horizon for the bright orange orb that cloaked the city of Tokyo. From their position, the MU landmark looked as if the planet Jupiter had plummeted from space and embedded itself into the Earth. The instrumentalist wondered if his request would get the captain in trouble for straying off their scheduled itinerary but he needed to see again what had been his home. His hopes that the barrier had somehow faded away vanished in thin air. It had been a silly hope but hope was all he had left.
"Tokyo Jupiter…" he murmured.
"I'm sorry Ayato-kun but we need to return to the carrier" Haruka's voice reminded him through the radio.
"Don't worry. We'll figure out away to defeat the MU and free Tokyo."
"Someday…I'll return home" he commented absentmindedly.
"I truly wish that I could do so, that I could take you back home" the captain replied. Ayato remained in silence, intrigued by the somewhat dejected tone that had engulfed her words.
The outline of the Lilia Litvyak was soon spotted and the azure Aliel descended gently over its reserved spot at the deck. The Alpha Squadron planes were already secured so it meant that Elvy had already returned. When both occupants vacated the plane, they were greeted by Donny and Cathy who seemed eager to share something with them.
"About time you guys returned" Cathy said. "The cute major managed to convince our boss of letting us organize our little party and the only ones that are missing are you two." The blonde lieutenant couldn't hide her elation.
"We'd better hurry back or Jean and the commander will drink all the good liquor!" said Donny.
"Sheesh, you're right. Those two can outdrink anyone under the table although I've heard the captain here can also handle her liquor pretty well" replied Cathy winking at Haruka.
Haruka shrugged. "Just silly rumors. I just know my limits, unlike your fearless leader I might add. So Souichi-kun managed to get to Elvy's soft spot? The major does have a knack for nice yet shrew negotiation. Congratulations, you got your party after all but I guess is not a bad idea. We ca all can use some R & R to unwind a bit."
As the pilots dashed back towards the celebration, Haruka glanced at Ayato and commented with a grin:
"Well Ayato-kun, guess we'll be celebrating Valentine's Day after all."
"Happy St. Valentine's Day Mishima!"
Mishima Haruka felt a warm blush spreading over her cheeks as she extended her hand to hold the card Kamina was offering. It was a hand-drawn illustration depicting a white beach flanked by turquoise and blue waters at dusk, just like the one they had been to the day they met at Neriya. Her glance lifted from the card to the boy's face. His cheeks also reflected a soft blush and his eyes glanced back at her expectantly.
"Kamina-kun, this is so beautiful. This is the best Valentine's gift I've ever received. Did you find the chocolates I left in your locker?"
Kamina nodded, liberating the breath he had been holding and a grin came to adorn his face mimicking hers. Suddenly, as if she had realized something was amiss, she withdrew her gaze from his and hung her head. Kamina watched in disbelief, trying to figure out what had happened. She lifted her head again and the boy noticed that her eyes were moist. Without second thoughts, he placed his hands reassuringly over her shoulders.
"Are you okay Mishima?"
"Uh-hum, it's…it's just that your card is so lovely and the one that I gave you can't compare to it. I tried to do something special but I'm so clumsy…I really wanted to give you something special!"
Kamina was so moved by the vehement and honest tone in her words that all he could think to do to make her feel better was to draw her in his arms in a gentle embrace. His ears caught her shocked gasp but sensed her arms returning the gesture as they moved around his waist. The young couple stood like this for a wonderful moment, reveling in each other's comforting company. After a while, he slowly released her and was rewarded with a tender smile that replaced the pout in her lips and the sad look in her eyes.
"You know, I really liked the song you were playing."
Her eyes gleamed and her whole face lit up as she gasped. "I've got it! I think I have the perfect gift for you" Mishima exclaimed as she returned to the piano. Her hands approached the ivories and as the music began to echo in the room, Kamina's face brightened as he moved to sit beside the girl.
"Is that…?" he asked, barely able to contain his excitement.
"A-ha, I just learned how to play 'Katun no Sadame.' Wanna hear it?"
The boy shook his head in affirmative as he readied himself to receive his gift, humming the familiar tone, delighting in the soft cadence of her voice that came to accompany the tune. Her voice was soon joined by his, as both began to sing the song that had quickly become their favorite. Her eyes would lift from time to time from the keys to watch his blue gaze gleaming happily. As they kept singing, he shifted closer watching her enraptured, gathering the valor he required for what he wished to do next.
The music faded and two very nervous 14th year olds were left staring at each other in expectant silence, knowing that something was about to happen yet neither one knew how or who would take the first step. Kamina reached for her hand and dared to break the awkward silence:
"Thank you for my gift Mishima. I really liked it very much."
The girl nodded. Timidly yet resolved, she leaned closer as her hand reassuringly tightened around his. Brushing away indecision and shyness, feeling the skin of their cheeks heating with a lingering blush, their heads lowered in an unspoken cue. Their lips quivered in anticipation as their eyelids began to close. Kamina felt his heart almost leap out of his chest when he suddenly sensed Mishima's warm lips gently brush over his in their very first kiss. Elated, he returned the caress with all the love that filled his young heart, vowing in silence that this moment would forever remain branded in his memory.
When Haruka arrived, the party was well into motion. There was plenty of food and the sailors were patiently taking turns to ask the few female crewmembers to dance. She hoped she could remain below the radar because the long flight had drained most of her energy and stamina and a dance marathon was the last thing her body needed. Besides, some of the subdued mood that had engulfed the last hour of her flight with Ayato still lingered over her.
At the opposite side of the room, Megumi was chatting amiably with Major Yagumo. Poor Souichi. He had pretty much indulged Megumi's fancy throughout the trip and he had behaved as the perfect embodiment of what an officer and a gentleman should be. She hoped that what she had heard at HQ about Yagumo secretly dating Kim wasn't true, not because she didn't like the notion of the two of them together, but because it would surely crush Megumi's heart.
"Excuse me ma'am" a sailor addressed Haruka. "I believe these are for you." In his hands the sailor held a bouquet of fresh red and white roses. Haruka blinked.
"Who sent this?"
"I believe there's a note with the flowers ma'am." Upon saying this, the sailor turned and left a stunned Haruka holding the unexpected Valentine's gift.
"I wonder if…" Haruka found the small, white envelope that was attached and her memory recognized instantly the elegant handwriting on the note.
"Itsuki…I wonder how you managed to pull this one off" murmured Haruka as she observed the exquisite bouquet with sadness. "Guess the two of us do have something in common these days after all: the fact that we're both unable to let go of the past."
Looking to dispel some of the melancholy that had just seeped inside her heart, the TERRA captain searched for a quiet spot amidst the noise and the crowd. Realizing that the boisterous and loud mood prevailing in the room obviously clashed with the quieter environment she craved at the moment, she decided to instead go for a walk, making a brief stop in her quarters to leave her gift.
The gallery deck was deserted and only the personnel on standby would be seen from time to time crossing the long halls towards their posts. Haruka inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with the invigorating air of the vast ocean at night, letting the breeze caress her face and hair. The clashing of the waves against the bow and the rhythm of the tides created music of their own, one that seemed to cleanse the souls and heal wounded hearts. The sound of steps approaching her brought her out of the trance-like state. She had expected to see a sailor looking for some clean air after a case of drinking one too many. Instead of an inebriated seaman, Haruka found a blushing Ayato walking towards her. When she turned around to acknowledge his presence, his blush seemed to intensify by the second.
"I'm sorry if I've disturbed you Haruka-san. Perhaps I can talk to you another time if you wish."
"It's okay, you're not disturbing me. There's plenty of railing here as you can see. Besides, I was relieved it was you and not a drunken sailor about to spill his guts to the sea. Tired of the party already?"
"It was fine but I think it got a little too loud for my taste."
"I know what you mean. Sailors can be a rowdy crowd."
"Actually, I believe Elvy-san and her crew managed to out do them."
"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me in the least. Here, take a look of how serene the ocean looks tonight" she commented as she recovered her previous pose, allowing her gaze to focus once more in the vastness of the sea painted with silver highlights from the moonlight. Ayato hesitantly moved closer as he searched the inner pocket of his jacket.
"Here" the young Xephon pilot coughed nervously as he handed a white envelope to the short-haired woman. "It's not much and I wished I had more time to come with something better but…"
Haruka stared at Ayato with a bewildered look in her face. The captain was at a loss for words and she only managed to reach and pick the card from the boy's hands.
"You didn't have to. I mean, why...?"
Ayato fidgeted, looking for the correct words. "I just wanted to show my gratitude for what you, uncle Rikudoh and Megumi have done for me in the past months. I know I'm not always easy to be around with but you've received me into your home with no conditions. I'm sorry if I made you think earlier that I'm not happy here. It wasn't my intention to make you feel responsible or guilty of what has happened to me. I know you did what you had to do for humanity's sake and I really wish I could someday return the favor."
The TERRA captain sensed a lump rising to her throat as her glance went to the card and back to the boy's face, her brown eyes shimmering with emotion and a grateful smile perched on her lips. The full moon hovered high in the sky and its pale light washed over them with an almost pure, angelic light. She couldn't be sure if she was dreaming or not at this precise instant because suddenly everything around took an ethereal quality. "If only you could remember about us, love…"
The mystic mood was abruptly interrupted by a rushing crowd of singing sailors who looked decidedly smashed and seemed to be unable to keep their balance as the zigzagged through the narrow corridor as if the carrier was braving a storm. The compact mass had almost passed them when one of the sailors lost his footing, colliding with the captain in the process and forcefully pushing her forward. Haruka yelped as she braced herself for the impact against the hard floor when a pair of strong arms managed to capture her in mid-air.
"I've got you."
Haruka managed to latch on to the lapels of Ayato's jacket as she fought to recover her balance. When she tilted her head up, she found a pair of blue eyes staring at her intently, his arms still holding her close to himself. None of them seemed to be able to let go of the other as they stayed in this embrace as the world around them seem to be fading out. Haruka could sense Ayato's steady heartbeat against her chest as she steeled herself for the instant he would finally let go of her. He didn't. Instead, his head began to slowly descend towards hers. Haruka stood as she was paralyzed, unable to react, wishing that time could be stopped so this moment could last forever. He was now so close she could feel his warm breath against her face and Haruka resolved to indulge in the fantasy as her eyes began to close and her head approached his.
A loud, wolf-like whistle traveled through Haruka's eardrums shattering her priceless opportunity in the process. Ayato blinked as if he had been under a spell and as soon as he realized his compromising position and the unexpected audience, he moved away from Haruka as his face lit up in deep crimson.
"Man, this kid sure knows how to put some moves! Since when you'd been eyeing the captain Romeo?" said Donny to his companion while downing the remains of a beer.
"And it seems the lady doesn't mind the attention at all. Wonder if she has a thing for younger men…" the blonde in the cowboy hat replied loudly. Suddenly, the broad and menacing figure of Lt Jean-Patrick Shapplin materialized behind his teammates. His large hands fell over their shoulders making they turn their heads and gasp loudly in unison.
"My apologies for the disrespectful behavior of these two rascals, captain. I'll see that this event does not happen again" the tall officer affirmed sternly.
"If their commander doesn't have any problems, I would like to choose a fitting punishment, something along the lines of helping the crew mop the flight deck, perhaps."
Ayato didn't have any time to feel embarrassed because was too busy staring at the woman who had been in his arms a few instants ago and the abrupt change he had just witnessed. Her features had hardened considerably and the sharp tone of her voice had a very threatening edge. It was obvious she was quite mad. It was the first time he had seen her truly angered.
"Do you know where your Squadron Leader is?"
Jean blinked twice before replying. "Ma'am, I'm afraid the commander is unwell at the moment and is unable to properly deal with the situation."
Upon saying this, the pilot pointed to the woman in the red jacket that slept peacefully albeit loudly in the floor. It seemed that Elvy had also led her team in partying. Evidently, it also seemed of all her teammates she had partied the hardest.
"I see. I'll deal with the situation in the morning then. Just make sure she gets a strong cup of black coffee. That should have her up and running in no time."
"Will do ma'am."
"And Jean, can I count with your discretion regarding this?"
"Captain Shitow, I absolutely have no idea of what you're talking about. I just know my two teammates began to act obnoxiously while you were having a conversation with the RahXephon pilot." Jean gave Haruka a reassuring glance. She let out a long breath. She didn't mind being the topic of saucy gossip but she'd rather not see Ayato suffer through the same fate. He was going through a lot already to have that added up to his load.
"Thank you lieutenant."
Jean saluted in return and proceeded to drag his very intoxicated teammates away and pick up his sleeping CO to deliver her to her quarters. He hoped he didn't have to resort to the ice-cold bucket of water to stir her up in the morning.
"Haruka-san" Ayato broke the uncomfortable silence that had befallen after Jean left. "I really don't know what got into me. I didn't mean to…"
His words were abruptly blocked by her index finger over his lips. Her mouth curved into an enigmatic smile.
"Some things aren't meant to be understood Ayato-kun. Let's just say that we got sort carried away by the beautiful night and the mystique of the whole Valentine's Day celebration. I mean, even the most mean spirited would have fallen for it. Maybe Cupid was somewhere bored to his skull and decided it would be amusing to play a little prank on us. At least it sure beats waking up with a splitting migraine like Elvy and the others, don't you think?"
"I guess so." Ayato lifted an eyebrow at the rather fantastic logic the captain had arrived to. "Better that than to admit she could actually fall for someone like me" he thought to himself somewhat despaired at the lengths she went in the attempt to explain what had happened. However, there was something in the way her eyes sparkled that hinted of something more.
Haruka glanced at her wristwatch and gasped. "Wow, look at the time! Megumi must be going crazy looking for me unless..." Her eyebrows rose as her mind unraveled with a thought. Suddenly, her face paled for an instant and her jaw dropped. "Megumi!" she exclaimed. "She never told me what her gift to Yagumo was!" Ayato suddenly understood and glanced back at Haruka with a similar concerned expression.
"Bye Ayato-kun" the TERRA officer mumbled. "I'm going to rescue Yagumo-kun from Megumi. Wish me luck!"
Ayato couldn't help but chuckle under his breath as he watched the captain disappear with a hurried pace. One thought lingered in his mind. Perhaps Haruka was right after all and there had been indeed something mystical in the star-speckled night's atmosphere that had stirred to the surface feelings that they didn't knew existed or had been forced into oblivion until then. One thing he knew for sure; he secretly admitted he wouldn't mind another shot to finish what had been regrettably abruptly interrupted against his will.
"Until the next magical night then, Haruka-san."
Excerpts from the TERRA in-flight communications
"Bunga Mawar, Bunga Mawar, this is Alice, over."
"This is Bunga Mawar, copy you loud and clear Alice, over."
"Bunga Mawar, I need to break from the formation and land before the established ETA, over."
"Does your aircraft have any mechanical problems, over."
"No but I'm afraid my co-pilot does, over."
"Maybe your co-pilot wasn't made to be to be a flier like her elder sister, over."
"No, I guess not…Megumi are you still alive back there?"
"If you land this thing now I think I might be. Oh, oh, excuse me…!"
"Remember to use the…nevermind. Kami-sama, what a mess! Now the whole cockpit will reek now. And would you please stop laughing Elvy…this is not funny!"
"Keep radio discipline Alice, over." (chuckles)
"Radio discipline my… (loud sigh) Copy that Bunga Mawar. Over out."
Nothing much to say except Happy St Val's to all and I hope you've enjoyed this little (well, not that little) Rah Valentine's Day themed fic. FYI, Bunga Mawar is Elvy's call sign and Alice was Haruka's code name in the Rah movie. Now I wonder if Haruka made it on time to rescue Sou...