A/N: Well, this was a (difficult) challenge from Hatori's-flower. I hope it fits the challenge standards…
Disclaimer: Don't own, not making any money!
Main Characters: Take a guess…
Additional Notes: This was so hard. It was a challenge to write a AayaXTori fic based on the song "Travelin' Soldier" by the Dixie Chicks. The lyrics really never show up…but I tried.
She sighed; it was hot. Sickly hot, and she hated it. And I don't even get off for another rotten hour, she thought with a groan. Her golden eyes scanned the restaurant's booths, looking for anyone she hadn't waited on already. It was a moment before she spotted the young man, eighteen or so by her guess, sitting in the last booth on the left. He was wearing an army uniform, his big black boots still clean but for the dust from the street outside. A new recruit. Ayako plastered a smile on her face, as though she was happier than duck in a pound to be serving someone else, and walked over. "Hello sir," she said and winced as her accent somehow jumbled the words. She blushed, dropping her head a little to look down at the steno pad in her hands.
The young man blinked. "Japanese?" he asked and she nodded sheepishly. "Well, may I have a burger?"
She nodded and turned to leave after giving the soldier a wide a smile as she could manage after such an embarrassing first encounter. However, a hand on her elbow stopped her—she looked back. "Sir?"
The soldier glanced away, just as sheepish as she was. "You…you wouldn't mind sitting down and talking with me for a while—would you, ma'am?" He sighed, releasing her elbow. "I guess I'm feeling a little down."
Ayako smiled again, this time for real. "Of course—I'm off in about an hour, and there's a nice spot I know of. We can go there if you want."
An hour later, Ayako found herself sitting next to the solider as her legs dangled from the pier. She glanced over at Hiroshi—which the young man had said, laughing, was a result of his mother's obsession with Ayako's culture. He smiled out at the water. "So, are you going back?" he asked quietly. "To Japan, I mean." Somewhere, a bird called and was answered.
She nodded happily, smiling. "Yes. We're moving back once the war ends—Otou-san was worried the war would spread to Japan, so he moved us to America."
Hiroshi nodded. "I see."
It was quiet for a moment and Ayako swallowed, deciding not to mention the war again. "So," she said, attempting to change the subject, "Your mother is interested in Japan?"
"Was," corrected Hiroshi, brushing a hand through his jet black hair. "She died a week after my little sister was born—now it's my sister, Sora, who loves Japan. She swears that she's going to live over there."
Ayako giggled. "I hope she does."
Again, silence fell and Hiroshi turned to study Ayako, his green eyes piercing. Suddenly he reached out and fingered a lock of her hair. "Interesting color," he muttered. "I've never seen such light blonde hair before."
Ayako blushed, noticing his proximity to her lips. "My family's always been…ah…cursed with strange hair colors, you could say."
Hiroshi shrugged. "It's pretty—and I like the bow."
The girl felt the bow with her fingers—she'd forgotten she'd worn it today. The old azure bow she'd brought from Japan with her; it was an old family heirloom. "Thank you."
The soldier sighed, though there was a small smile on his lips. "Hey," he said softly, his mellow voice dipping nearly an octave. "Is it all right…if I send my letters to you?"
"Eeh?" Golden eyes were wide as Ayako stared at Hiroshi. "Me? B-but what about your sister? And…and your father?"
The young man laughed quietly. "Yeah, well, my father and I aren't exactly on good terms." Ayako frowned, confused, as she leaned closer to him. "He's completely against the war," continued Hiroshi. "He wouldn't even say goodbye."
Ayako only looked down at her hands. "Oh…"
There was a snort from Hiroshi and Ayako looked up, startled. "Don't worry about it! You had nothing to do with it, Ayako."
"I guess." She smiled like she never had in all of her seventeen years, just to try and make up for it. "But I'd be honored to receive your letters for as long as you'll send them."
The smile that curled Hiroshi's lips was genuine and beautiful, Ayako thought. He brushed a strand of silvery hair behind her ear. "I'd be honored to send them to you."
Another blush spread itself across her face and she inwardly cursed herself for blushing so much. He must think I look like a little school girl! Get a grip, Ayako! Thy sat there after that, content to watch the fish swim inches from the surface of the gently pulsing water. The atmosphere was broken, however, when Hiroshi's emerald eyes caught the sight of the army bus slowly rumbling toward the bus stop. He sighed. "I guess it's time to go."
Ayako watched him start back down the pier and something tightened in her chest. It was silly, but she couldn't just let him leave like that. "Wait!" she called, getting to her feet and racing after him. "Hiroshi!"
He turned, blinking, and waited until she caught up to him. "Ayako?"
"Wait," she breathed. Her golden eyes darted around, looking for something and widening when they spotted the man with the Polaroid camera. She held up a finger to Hiroshi and jogged over to the man. "Excuse me sir," she said, using her most polite hostess voice from work, "Can you please take a picture of us?"
Hiroshi blinked again and glanced at the bus, before smiling. The man took the picture and they thanked him. She smiled and gave the still-developing picture to her soldier. "Something to remember me by."
He only smiled and kissed her forehead quickly before boarding the bus. She, however, stared after the bus until the dust seemed to sweep it away in a tornado created by the restless wind, a smile on her lips. Standing alone, she watched her soldier leave.'
"What's with you?" asked her older brother, Katsuo, that night after dinner.
She grinned. "I met someone," she said quickly. "I met a boy—oh, Suo-chan, he was so kind!"
Katsuo snorted, his dark bangs falling into his eyes like they always did. "And who is he? What's his name and where'd you meet him?"
"I met him at the café," answered Ayako happily. "His name's Hiroshi and he's a solider."
Katsuo's playful chocolate eyes darken suddenly. "A solider?" Ayako nodded and he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Aya! You know better than to get mixed up with a soldier—you're too young for that."
"Hey!" she snapped, glaring at her sibling. "I'm seventeen—just barely a year younger than you! Besides, I can do what I want."
Sighing, Katsuo pulled the angry Ayako into his lap and hugged her, burying his face in her soft hair. "Just be careful Ayako," he whispered. "I don't want to see you get hurt."
It was only a week and half before the letters began to arrive. The first came from a small town in California, and then soon enough from Vietnam itself. Ayako waited impatiently and anxiously for every letter. Her favorite was the one he'd signed with "love Hiroshi", though Katsuo swore that it was probably no more that an accident. She sighed as she read it again, and, though it had been nearly three months, she could still remember the sound of his mellow voice.
War isn't what I thought it'd be. It isn't like some fight for glory—it's especially not like in the theatres. There are people here that scream in their sleep, the one's that have been to the front lines. Their eyes look either blank or terrified, and they hardly smile.
Every night I sleep either in a cot that smells like manure or on the ground itself, which smells no better. I wonder if I'll ever get to see the next day, or if we'll be ambushed during the night. But then I think of you, of your smile, and I can sleep in peace. Some days it's so hard here; we march constantly and the only thing that gives me and comfort is the memory of that day by the pier with you. God, I think I love you, Ayako. It's only been three months, but I swear it's the only word that fits. I love you, and your beautiful smile—I keep that picture with me even when I fight.
I love you.
A boy from her high school asked her out and, due mostly to Katsuo's urgings, Ayako went. She talked with the boy—Jake or Jason or James—she couldn't remember—but it wasn't the same. Hiroshi's face was all she saw and his voice was all she heard echoing in her ears. All she wanted was her solider and his precious kiss. She longed for him. Soon after, another letter arrived and Ayako raced to her room to read it.
Dear Ayako, love,
It's been getting worse here, but I'm all right. I think about you nearly every day—in fact, I've folded and unfolded the picture so many times I'm afraid it might rip. I hope this letter finds you well and that you're as happy as I am just thinking about you.
Good news! The sergeant just told us that we're going to be sent back at the end of this month! I'll get to see you again in a little over a month, Ayako! My troop only has one more mission and then we get to leave. I probably won't be able to write for a while though. Everything will be fine. Don't worry, it's only routine.
She felt her heart skip a beat as she reread the letter. He's coming home! He's coming home! Her grin stretched across her face and she squealed. When Katsuo came home from work later that night he found Ayako dancing around her room, a dreamy smile on her lips, humming.
"What is it this time," he asked with a raised eyebrow.
Ayako didn't answer him, instead putting words to the tune she was humming. "Our love will never end, waitin' for my solider to come back again. Never more to be alone, when the letter says, a soldier's coming home!"
Katsuo laughed a little as Ayako caught his hands and began to dance with him, twirling around the room. "Coming back, now, is he? I'll finally get to meet this soldier that has stolen my beloved sister's heart." Ayako laughed, nearly crying as she hugged her brother.
Weeks past. Hours without news, days without word from Hiroshi, and Ayako grew more and more worried. "Relax," Katsuo had said, pushing his glasses back on the bridge of his nose as he looked up from his book. "Didn't he say he would be able to write for a while?" Ayako had only nodded. "Then don't worry so much."
But she couldn't help but worry. She watched for the mailman, staring out the window for hours. Katsuo couldn't stand seeing her that way. "You know, Aya, maybe he just forgot to send his letters."
"No," she answered firmly. "He wouldn't do that. He loves me."
He sighed. "At least come with me Aya; there's a football game tonight—it'll help you take your mind off Hiroshi for a while." She looked ready to argue but at her brother's sharp look she grudgingly said yes. The football game was crowded; the band was short one and drafted Ayako, who was apparently the only piccolo player present, to play the part. They release her from duty once the anthem ended and she retreated under the stands to pack away her instrument. By the time she found a spot, the PA crackled to life.
"Folks, would you bow your heads for a list of local Vietnam, dead." Ayako's heart paused its beating and she held her breath as time seemed to slow to an appalling crawl as she waited for the name. It seemed too many were said, and then it came.
She dropped her piccolo in the dust, her golden eyes wide as tears brimmed on her mascara-ed lashes. "No," she whispered, pleading, "Not Hiroshi, not my soldier…"
There was cheering from above as the game started; she stayed beneath the stands, letting her tears bleed her mascara—that was how Katsuo found her thirty minutes later.
Ayame woke with a start, panting as though he'd run a marathon, his eyes wide as he looked around the room. He was home, he realized with a rush of relief. It'd been a dream, though it had seemed so real. He was, however, a man and in his own room, in his own bed, and not a girl crying under the stands at a football game. He swallowed, shaking as he got to his feet and made his way down the hall—he didn't think as he ran across the cold estate grounds to the house Hatori owned. Even if it was only a dream, even if it wasn't real, I still have to see him…
It was two in the morning, by Ayame's guess, but there was no answer. He didn't stop knocking and soon he became more frantic as his fear began to grow. "Tori-san!" he screamed. "Please! Open the door—Tori-san!"
"Stop yelling Ayame," came a voice from behind him. "I'm right here."
Ayame spun and nearly fell into Hatori's startled arms. "Tori-san! Thank goodness, you're all right!" HE clutched at his cousin's shirt, gripping it as though he might disappear. "I was so worried."
Hatori blinked. "Ayame? Oh course I'm all right; I had to attend to Akito, that's all." Ayame shuddered in his arms and he sighed. "What are you doing here this late? And in such a thin yukata—you're going to freeze to death if you stay out here wearing that." Ayame only pressed closer, refusing to let go. "C'mon, let's get you inside." Ayame nodded numbly, and allowed Hatori to lead him inside to the kotatsu. He sat there, shivering, as Hatori prepared tea. Once he'd calmed down enough he began to look around, noticing the pictures on the old shelves for the first time. However, one in particular caught his eyes and he froze, staring.
"Ayame, what were you doing trying to break down my door at two in the morning?" asked Hatori as he sat down with a tray of hot tea; chamomile, Ayame's favorite. Ayame, though, didn't answer as he stared at the photo. "Ayame? What's wrong?"
"Who," he whispered, hi voice trembling and softer that Hatori had ever heard it, "Is that?"
Hatori frowned and followed the younger man's gaze to the shelf. "Which one? The black and white one?" Ayame nodded. "That was my great grandmother's—it's a picture of her brother."
Ayame swallowed. "How did he die?"
"Vietnam." Hatori sighed, giving his friend a critical look. "My mother's side came from America before marrying into the Souma. Oddly enough, had Hiroshi—that was her brother's name—had he returned, there's a good chance we would have married in sooner. The girl in the picture is Souma Ayako. Her family moved to America during the war."
Ayame's golden eyes were wide, and he'd gone pale. Hiroshi? Ayako? I-it's them! The ones from my dream—He was shaking now, his breaths coming in short gasps. No, not a dream…a memory. They're us. "Oh gods…"
"Ayame?" Hatori was beginning to worry; Ayame hadn't said anything in nearly ten minutes. "Please, what's wrong?"
Somehow, Hatori's voice seemed to snap Ayame to reality and those golden eyes focused on his emerald ones. "Tori-san," he whispered, crawling to his side, cuddling up to the other man. Hatori's face twisted in both concern and confusion, but he let his friend climb into his lap and rest his head on his chest.
His friend sighed, feeling safe in Hatori's arms. "Tori-san, please promise you won't ever leave. I couldn't take it if you left again…"
"Again?" he echoed. "I haven't left at all—what are you talking about?"
Ayame only sniffed, burying his face in Hatori's cotton shirt. "Just promise me."
Hatori sighed, wrapping his arms around his friend's waist. "I won't Ayame; calm down. I'm not going to leave." A small smile curled Ayame's lips and a tune came to his mind, sung by a silver-haired girl with a bow, dancing about her bedroom with her beloved brother.
Never more to be alone, when the letter said a soldier's coming home…
A/N: There. All done! I hope you liked it, Hatori's-flower. And you're right; it was hard to write! Please, review!