Alpha/Omega: The end of the beginning
Kamina Haruka stirred from yet another wakeful and restless sleep. Her lids felt heavy and the thoughts inside her head were still muddled due to the shortage of proper rest and the punishment that her body had endured because of this. At least, this night had been one she had at managed to sleep three solid hours straight. Unlike previous nights though, she had awoken in a more relaxed and serene state and she knew exactly the reason why.
It had been a month since Haruka and her husband Kamina Ayato had chosen to leave behind Tokyo and the hospital where he had been treated during the last two months to fight the strange illness that slowly but steadily was ravaging him. The couple had decided to instead take their chances in the comfort of Haruka's family vacation home at the warm and soothing environment of Nirai. The current tenant, her uncle and famed archaeologist Rikudoh Shougo had okayed their stay since he was away at Central America at a site excavation for the remainder of the year. Even with the vehement disapproval of his doctors, they felt it was better to take their chances in a place that made him more comfortable than the sterile and cold environment of a 21st century state of the art hospital. It didn't make much of a difference anyway in terms of the treatment as the doctors reluctantly admitted while they signed the release waiver. Haruka knew Ayato enough to notice he was getting very irritated with the fact that he was being observed and researched by the hospital staff like a guinea pig and that was starting to worsen his condition, both physical and emotional. Kamina's illness was so rare that Tokyo's best doctors and researchers poured over his vitals and blood samples on a daily basis in an effort to understand why a 29 year old man who had always led a healthy life was suddenly experiencing a unexplained condition that made the once active art professor and professional artist to tire as he were 89. It had been as if his 29th birthday marked an unexpected past due deadline to his life as he had known it until then.
Haruka smiled as she let her fingers run through his hair. It was obvious he was in dire need of a haircut, his fashionably and well groomed longish hair now getting slightly out of control. The bangs menaced to cover almost half of his face. Her dark hair was also slightly longer than usual, but not as long as she had used to wear it back when she was just a teenager filled with hopes and dreams. College and later in life a career proved it was more convenient for her to favor the shorter styling.
In the silence of the quiet morning, Haruka could hear his husband's concerned voice back in the reel of her mind as he let out yet another long-winded reprimand about her lack of rest. "Haruka-chan, I really appreciate what you're doing but I can't stand to see you lose your precious sleep because of me" he would say almost in a plea. She could also picture the slight disappointment in the blue eyes while she nodded attentively and replied with a mumbled "hai" to everything he said, just to have the same pattern repeat itself all over again the next day. At the sight of the dark circles underneath her auburn eyes he would sigh loudly and gesture with his hands as if in defeat before proceeding to pick up his pencils and sketchbook to draw ideas for paintings. When they arrived at Nirai, Ayato had hoped to take their bikes and travel the island in search of landscapes to paint as they used to in countless other times since he had fallen in love with the paradisiacal waters and clear blue sky. It had been possible for a few days but one morning he had found himself so fatigued that in the end, he opted to sit at their house's porch and place his easel and paints there, taking advantage of the privileged and envied position of the house that allowed them to enjoy a majestic view of the ocean.
Fortunately, in a couple of days they expected Haruka's younger sister Megumi to drop by. The girl had always managed to amuse and cheer Ayato up and she was more than glad to be of help and escape her mother's household for a while. The fact that the 14th year old red-head seemed to have developed a crush on her brother-in-law gave Haruka enough ammunition to poke fun at his embarrassed husband, who tried his earnest to avoid doing anything that could be interpreted as something other than brotherly love towards his sister-in-law. She was glad for the visit because she hoped that Megu's presence and youthful exuberance could help distill some of the aloofness his husband had been sunk into the last few days. Kamina had taken lately of spending long hours in silence, perusing their photo albums, drafting strange drawings of a what it appeared to be a winged titan breaking out of an egg and scribbling in a notebook, which was odd for a man who had never kept a diary in his life. Haruka was becoming more distraught with this behavior and she couldn't dare to think that the reason he did so was he might have been jutting down his last will…
"No' Haruka heard herself affirm as her heart beat faster, a cold shiver running down her spine. "We will make it through this and our lives will go back to normal!" The mere thought of losing her husband chilled Haruka to the bone and she had opted to stubbornly refuse to even admit the possibility of his demise. That was the other reason they had left the hospital. It reminded her too much of death, of emptiness, of pain. But even her refusal to accept death as likelihood hadn't shielded her from the subtle yet obvious signs that evidenced the fact her husband's lifeforce was indeed slowly diminishing. His energy dimmed every day that passed. He would sleep for hours on end and tire easily, each day more than the previous. He had become more withdrawn and silent, spending part of his waking hours meditating with a very serious stance. Her Ayato was painfully, slowly fading before her eyes and Haruka was unable to stop it.
Letting out a contented sigh, she observed the steady rise and fall of his chest. She wondered what he could be dreaming as she grinned mischievously remembering what she had dreamed, obviously influenced by the events that developed last night.
It had been an average evening. She had found him reading her worn copy of "Through the looking glass" as a smile illuminated his handsome face. Between the yellowish pages of the book there was a picture of themselves. It was one of those pictures taken on one of those ubiquitous photo booths they had found on their way to their first but not last visit together to the Temple at New Year's back in 2013. The small picture hadn't taken too well the pass of time but the faces of two cute, nervous 14 year olds with a slight blush tinting their cheeks could still be distinguished well.
"That's us at Zoioji Temple, right?" she commented, maneuvering around the chair as her hand reached the book, pointing at the picture.
"Yes, I believe that was our first date. I remember that day well."
"I remember it too. We should go back to Tokyo for the next New Year's celebration, don't you think? I can always fly us there" she remarked, noting the advantages of owning your own personal aircraft. In Haruka's case, it was a blue single engine Cessna that allowed her to indulge in her love of flying she had been cultivating since she had a chance to man the controls while at college. The small yet sturdy plane proved to be quite convenient in more than one occasion and situation, particularly when Ayato searched for a particular landscape that would prove difficult to access by more conventional means. At least he was sure his own personal Amelia Earhart had no intentions whatsoever to roam the globe in search for adventures.
Ayato nodded, offering her a small smile but his eyes had a glimpse of a disquieting melancholy. She bent to give him a chaste kiss on the forehead but he tilted his head up and the kiss landed on his lips. Pulling her arm, Ayato maneuvered her downwards gently until she ended up sitting on his lap.
"You shouldn't strain yourself" she chided him with a stern look.
"I'm not going to break you know although you sometimes treat me as if I were to. Besides, I like holding you like this." His arms circled around her waist.
Haruka leaned over his shoulder, reveling on the rare opportunity. She hated to admit it but because of his sickness, the physical part of their relationship had suffered considerably. It wasn't that the will or the emotions had dimmed over the course of the years of marriage, quite the contrary, but due to her worries over his health, not to mention her own lack of rest, romance had taken the back burner. She knew he regretted it badly and it seemed that tonight he was fed up and wasn't going to take any more of it.
"You've been avoiding me. Don't do that."
"I'm not avoiding you."
"You've always been a lousy liar, Haruka. I believe I can spare some of my strength to please my own wife and I would really appreciate that you would stop acting as if you could kill me just by kissing me. I'm aware of my limits but I still miss you and I'm not going to let this situation deprive me of me being with you."
"I'm sorry. I wasn't aware I've been acting like that. I don't seem to act or think straight lately."
"I've kind of noticed it" he replied with a smirk. "Besides, you have been negligent in your duties with your patient."
"Huh?" Haruka lifted her head and stared at him with curious eyes.
"Didn't you know that medical research has proven that kissing on a regular basis can be of benefit to one's health? It liberates endorphins and it can even soothe a bad headache."
"Now when did you made that up?"
"It's true. Go ahead and ask the doctors, but you still owe me" Ayato said with a grin.
"Is that so? I'd better try to make up for time lost then before you find yourself a better nurse" she quipped with a wink as she leaned to kiss him.
The playful banter had then lead to a more intense exchange, one that had been sorely missed by both. Fears and anxieties were left forgotten as they allowed themselves to be swept away by desire. Much later, as their shared passion had been fulfilled, Haruka had held on to him tightly, as she prayed he wouldn't ever part her side.
"If I was to part this world tomorrow, I would do so without regrets because I loved you" he had murmured before falling asleep. Such a comment would have sunk her in despair before but his serene, honest words had unexplainably granted her a sense of peace and acceptance that she believed she wouldn't had developed otherwise. At last, she understood that there was no point in trying to fight fate. Maybe their time together was closing to an end but their love and what they'd lived would forever live on through the memories, through each remembrance they had created, cherished and treasured. However, she would have never imagined his departure would have arrived so soon…
"You look lovely this morning" the voice of Ayato brought Haruka back from her reverie. His hand caught a strand of her disheveled locks.
"Thank you. You don't so bad yourself. Maybe you were right about the treatment" she replied, suddenly noticing his face looked paler than usual.
"Perhaps." All of a sudden, Kamina took one of her hands and placed it over his chest as he sat up. She could sense the steady drum of his heartbeat at her fingertips.
"Haruka, I want you to be strong for what I'm about to tell you." His face suddenly sobered. Haruka felt her breath catch on her throat. There was a solemn nuance she perceived in the tone of his voice she found very disquieting.
"Ayato, why so serious all of a sudden?"
Kamina inhaled deeply. "Don't ask me how, but I know I will not last longer. The time of the awakening has finally arrived. He's come for me and I must go."
"He? Who's he? What are you talking about?" Haruka replied as panic began to seep through her voice.
"I'm not sure myself but I know that if I don't it will mean your life and I cannot let that happen. Haruka, I must go. My true fate has caught up with me. You have to let me go." His blue eyes began to shimmer with tears as he watched her with wrenched heart. If only there had been an easier way to do this…
She sat up to face him. "Don't…don't ask me something like that. Anything but that…!"She grabbed his hands tightly as long tear escaped her eyes.
"I want to protect you and I'm afraid this is the only way" he replied, the words coming with more difficulty from his mouth.
"Don't Ayato, please don't leave me…!"she pleaded.
"I will never leave you because I'll live through your memories. As long as you remember me, I'll always be by your side."
"Aishiteru, Haruka…" he whispered, the blue of his eyes dimming until no light shimmered in them. His body began to lean slowly forward. Haruka managed to catch him as she placed his head to rest over her lap. Her eyes welled with a thousand tears as she realized the beating of his heart had finally stopped. Kamina was gone. In his left hand he held firmly the storybook that conjured so many remembrances of them.
"Ayato…! Ayatooo…!"Haruka cried in despair as she felt she was sinking into a void. A flood of light suddenly invaded the room and golden eyes embedded in a colossal winged head stared right at them. And then she heard it, the singing. White feathers flooded the room as a pure, white light blinded her. And then she heard the roar of engines and static on her ears…
"Alice, Alice, come in! TERRA control to Alice, do you read? Collision with Mu aircraft imminent if present course is not altered immediately. Alice, can you copy, over? Please respond captain Shitow!"
The crackle that accompanied the frantic voice of the operator startled Shitow Haruka. Over her head she caught a glimpse of the sky crisscrossed by fighter jets and gigantic robots as she felt a pull that glued her to the seat. Flickering lights and several screens blinked in front of her as she realized her hands manned the controls of what she sensed it was an airplane. The bright light was then engulfed by a long shadow. As she searched for the source of the shadow, she was shocked to see statues in marble and towers of edifices rose from what it could only be described as a city suspended in mid-air rising from the clouds. A flash of recognition jumpstarted the gears of her mind.
Haruka's instincts suddenly took over and by an act of pure reflexes and intuition, she commanded the plane into an sharp evasive turn that barely missed the impending collision with the Mulian craft.
The fact that she could see the blue aircraft in front of her house through the window of her room evidenced that she had somehow managed to land the Aliel back home and return in safety, at least in the physical sense. She wondered how she had dragged herself to her room but both the fact that the plane was outside and not at the TERRA air base and that she woke up in yesterday's clothes dispelled the belief that she had dreamt these events. The TERRA officer was still trying to make sense out of the turmoil her mind and heart were sunk into. Countless scenes flooded her brain and they all confirmed the same outcome: Ayato had boarded the RahXephon one last time and now he was gone. Haruka sensed a sharp pain tug inside her chest, as if her heart had truly been ripped in half.
The world outside was rising to face a new day, a world in which the human race was still alive. A world in which she could live on as Ayato had wished and willed. A world suffused in harmonious sounds and devoid of the dissonance it had suffered for so long.
The short-haired captain rose from her bed. Something round and glimmering dangled from her neck. Her head lowered and her fingers reached for the necklace she was sure she wasn't wearing yesterday. It was a simple yet delicate gold chain but what dangled from it made her eyebrows rise in disbelief. She rolled the object, a ring, between her thumb and forefinger. The exquisite band had an inscription engraved inside; it was the kanji for the name "Kamina Ayato" as he used to write it. Something pulled her to lower her glance to her left hand. A similar yet smaller ring with a single diamond embedded rested on her ring finger. A lump formed inside her throat as she lifted her hand and felt the ring. Haruka gasped loudly, sprinting upward as she searched her room frantically. Her eyes found the ornate, colorful cover of her copy of "Through the looking glass" resting inside one of her drawers. As if compelled by unknown forces, her fingers flipped through the pages until a small picture worn by time fell from the book. When she lifted it up, she felt her legs almost giving in. Tears fell to the floor as she let the sobs that rushed to her throat escape.
The picture was dated "January 4, 2013." As Haruka looked enraptured at the picture through moist eyes, one memory that felt it had been suppressed until now finally flowed freely from the confines of her mind. It had been true then! She had truly been given the memories of what should have been, what should had happened had the Absolute Barrier not intervened. As she observed the picture with nostalgia and longing, a story, their story, began to unfold.
January 4th, 2013
The day seemed to have gone by like a blur to Kamina Ayato, wondering why his day had gone by so fast while he glanced at his female companion. It had begun quite early actually; the proverbial butterflies in the stomach had rendered him with a restless sleep the night before and he had even woken up before the alarm had a chance to blare. Today was January 4th, 2013. The date had been marked on his calendar with a bright yellow highlighter. It was the day he had agreed to meet with Mishima to visit together the temple about a week ago. He knew she must have already done the visit with her family as he did with his mother on the 1st but it wasn't so much the destination as the person he was going with that made the day special. In fact, it was their first formal outing together since they had started dating.
Now, as they drank the remains of their cold sodas, his mind made a quick recap on the events of the day. They had met early at the train station and from there had left towards Tokyo's Zojoiji Temple. Kamina chose this particular temple not because it housed the remains of six Tokugawa clan shoguns or the calm and relaxing green grounds of adjacent Shiba park, but because it also offered the opportunity to visit the Tokyo Tower. It was quite the sight having two contrasting landmarks so close one with the other, the majestic Edo period temple and the steel structure that spoke of the modern. Of course that didn't meant they hadn't enjoyed visiting the temple grounds even with the expected crowds that gathered to make their shogatsu visits. Mishima had been quite impressed by the countless Jizo statues lined at one of the fences and when they found out the reason of them being there, Mishima had almost burst out in tears and offered a small prayer for the souls of the infants. Kamina had been visibly touched by this gesture, realizing all of a sudden how sentimental Mishima could really be.
After the temple, they headed towards Tokyo Tower and stood awestruck as they watched together the outline of Mt Fuji at the distance. Kamina had been surprised to realize that Mishima wasn't afraid at all of the heights as some of the girls were as they clung firmly to their male companion's arms. It was quite the contrary as she rushed fearlessly towards the top. It seemed she relished every second she could be closer to the sky. Kamina learned then that one of her ambitions was to be able to learn to fly her own aircraft one day so she could be in communion with the sky. Kamina smiled as he promised he would someday paint her beside her airplane as one of those old pictures of early 20th century that depicted aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart as long as she promised she wouldn't disappear as the famed aviator did a century ago.
"I would never disappear like that Kamina-kun, because that would mean I wouldn't be able to see you again."
Kamina had blushed visibly by her earnest answer and his blush complemented hers when she suddenly realized what she had said.
"Is there something wrong Kamina-kun?" Kamina woke up from his reverie to notice that the pair of auburn eyes that looked at him with a worried expression.
"No. Gomen, I was just lost in thought for a second. Did you enjoy your day Mishima?"
"Unhum!" The dark-haired girl nodded in affirmative emphatically.
"I'm glad you made it. I really had a nice time today."
"Me too. I'm glad you invited me out."
An awkward silence ensued. Kamina cursed the instants his mind couldn't come out with any words to reply. It wasn't that didn't had things he wished to share with her but sometimes just being like this, so close to her would sometimes paralyze the thoughts inside his brain and freeze the words on the tip of his tongue. For how long he would react this way? He wondered if there would be a time he wouldn't feel so overwhelmed by his feelings that it seemed they overran the rest of his cognitive processes.
Fortunately, his brain managed to find a way out of this momentary mental lapse and right after they'd paid their meal, they headed towards the train station to take the ride back home. Kamina was lamenting inwardly the fact that his very special day with Mishima was about to end when he suddenly sensed her hand tugging at his sleeve.
"What do you think Kamina-kun?"
Mishima was referring to a photo booth close to the train station. Of course, a picture to immortalize their day! Why he didn't thought of that before?
"It is a great idea Mishima. Now we can always remember this day" he replied with a grin as they entered the booth.
The young couple closed the curtain as they readied their best smiles for the picture. As the first flash flickered, Kamina reached for Mishima's hand and held it tightly as he leaned towards her. The second flash illuminated the booth as the picture captured the bright red coloring that spread over Mishima's cheeks in that precise instant. Her face was about to blush even more as the third flash captured the instant Kamina placed a kiss over Mishima's lips.
"Kamina-kun!" the girl muttered flustered as she stared at a very embarrassed Kamina.
"I…I'm sorry about what happened back at the school. I really wanted to do this but…you're not angry, are you? I shouldn't have surprised you like this" he mumbled nervously. "Why I had to be so impulsive? She must be mad at me now!" Kamina thought.
"Kamina-kun, it's alright. I'm really happy we could be together like this today. It has been really special to me." Her voice sounded bright and pleasant. She wasn't angry, she was…pleased! Kamina's confidence suddenly rose from the depths it had sunk seconds ago.
"I'm really happy for that. I would really like to do this next year too."
"It's a date then. Now, I think we should get going before we miss our train."
"Kamina-kun…" Now it was Mishima who was acting nervously.
Kamina turned his head towards the girl but before he could answer, she kissed him back. Kamina's face blushed beet red but it wasn't embarrassment. It was sheer elation.
Sheepishly, Mishima murmured: "I…I really wanted to do this too."
Taking her hand between his, the boy replied with a wide smile: "and I'm glad you did, Haruka-chan."
Just wanted to comment that from this point onward, scenes in italics will refer to those that are product of Haruka's newly gained memories of what her life with Ayato should have been, unless stated otherwise. Nihongo words will be limited to those of the more general knowledge but if there's any term you need translated, please feel free to let me know.
Comments, reviews and/or feedback will be greatly welcomed and appreciated. Until the next episode!