THE CHILDREN OF SARJALIM

by Angela

Author's note: When I wrote this story, I had limited knowledge of the manga, as it had not yet been translated into English and I was unable to find adequate translations for my Japanese tankoubon. Because of this, my story is based mostly on the animated OAV, and takes place about a year after Rin's adventure at the Tokyo Tower. I've done my best to keep them in character, which was particularly tricky given some of the situations. You'll meet some new characters, whom I've given flower names, in Hiwatari's tradition.

Nadeshiko dianthus (fascination/womanly love)

Ayame iris (faith/wisdom/hope)

Hinagiku daisy (innocence/ purity)

Kiku chrysanthemum (slighted love/truth)

I hope you enjoy my story.

----

Monday, Day One

Enju . . . we are coming . . . watch for us . . . .

Issei woke slowly, his dream fading even as his eyes fluttered open. "Nadeshiko?" he whispered groggily, rubbing his forehead with one hand. Sunlight streaming through the cracks of his blinds washed out the last memory, leaving him with just the name. "Nadeshiko," he repeated, shaking his head. He couldn't think of anyone with that name, not in this life or the previous . . . .

The telephone's harsh ringing broke his concentration. He glanced at the clock. Already past ten. No one else would be around to answer the phone. He slid from beneath the sheets, shoving his feet into his slippers. He had planned to spend that Sunday lounging around in bed.

Issei picked up the phone in the hall, squinting against the bright sunshine that shone aggressively from the windows. "Hello?" he asked cautiously.

"Ten rings!" A shrill voice yelled from the other end of the line. "Really, Issei, don't you have a phone right outside your room?"

He smiled. "Good morning, Sakura."

In a moment her scolding was forgotten. Blaming the beautiful weather for her excess energy, Sakura wanted to know if he wanted to spend the day with her at the zoo. Issei could think of worse ways to spend an afternoon. "Sounds good," he agreed. He hadn't been to the zoo in months, since that long-ago day with Jinpachi.

"Great!" Sakura's enthusiasm was contagious. "Meet me by the front gate in two hours!"

He hung up the phone, indulging in a long stretch. Two hours was plenty of time to get dressed, have breakfast, and catch a train to the zoo. Issei double-checked the time. If he hurried, he could sneak in fifteen more minutes of sleep. Dragging his feet, he walked the two meters to his room and flopped onto the bed. Fifteen minutes sounded perfect.

Haruhiko glanced at his watch again. It was already ten past eleven; Tamura was late. He sipped his water nervously. It wasn't like him to be anything less than prompt. Maybe he should've called to verify that they were still meeting that day. Haru bit his lip--he hoped he hadn't been forgotten.

The thought was too ridiculous to consider. Tamura was never that inconsiderate. Haruhiko scolded himself for being so untrusting.

It had happened a lot lately. For no real reason, he'd found himself unsure and insecure about things and people that usually put him at ease. He'd also found himself worrying about the base on the moon, about its strategic position and the vulnerability of the Earth, should any hostile aliens find it. Shion had failed to destroy it the year before, and somehow his old, seemingly forgotten concern had lodged itself into Haru. He secretly longed to tell someone in the government about the research station, to unburden himself of the responsibility of knowing.

But that was crazy. No one would believe him. For that matter, there were no hostile aliens.

He hadn't been this uneasy just two weeks before. He wondered what had changed.

Haru looked at his watch again. Eleven-fifteen.

He was just about to walk to a pay telephone to try calling him, when Tamura's voice boomed across the outdoor cafe. "Hey Haru! Sorry I'm late!" He was rushing across the busy street, smiling happily and waving.

Haruhiko jumped to his feet, relieved. "Tamura!"

"Sorry I'm late, kid." The older man slid into the chair across from Haru, signaling to the waitress as he took off his hat. "My shopping took longer than I expected."

"I-it's okay," Haru stammered, his face flushed from the embarrassment of being so concerned. "I hardly noticed."

Gulping down the glass of water brought to him, Tamura picked up the menu. "I'm starved! What are you having?"

They ordered their lunch and while waiting, caught up on everything missed in the months that Tamura had spent in Kyoto. "It's good to be home. Now that Master Takashi is back in his old school, it looks like I'll be able to stay in Tokyo at least another year."

Mastudaira Takashi had just begun his last year of high school. Haruhiko wondered what would happen when he graduated. Would Tamura be free of his duties? "But--but what then?" he asked, unable to keep the anxiety from his voice. "Will you follow him to the university, too?"

Tamura laughed, a deep sound that made Haru smile. "I doubt the young master has any plans for higher education. No, I'll probably settle down here and do whatever Mr. Mastudaira has planned for me. It'll be nice to have my own place and a nine-to-five job, assuming that's what he has in mind." He grinned, making Haruhiko blush. "I'm kind of hoping that's what's going to happen."

Haru was surprised that Tamura would want to be away from his charge. He'd always seemed pretty devoted to the boy. "Won't you miss him? Takashi, I mean."

"Well," Tamura scratched his head as though deep in thought. "I suppose I'll miss him a little, but I'm sure I'll find plenty of things to keep myself busy." He smiled at the waitress as she refilled his tea. "And what about you? You keeping too busy to see our good friend Mikuro?"

Haruhiko looked down, afraid to tell Tamura that he'd been avoiding Mikuro intentionally. He didn't want to be reminded of the trouble with Shion. He didn't want to be Shukkaido anymore. "I--uh--I've got a lot of schoolwork to keep up with, now that I'm in high school."

Tamura nodded, taking a bite of his lunch. "But don't let it be too much of a strain," he warned. "You need to take some time to relax, and now that Mikuro's living in Tokyo, I don't see why the three of us can't catch a movie or something."

Haru knew that his friend was just watching out for him. He'd probably asked Mikuro to keep an eye on things, to make sure that Shion didn't cause any more trouble. But Haru didn't need protection. The past was over--no one would come looking for him now.

Suddenly his food somehow tasted too strong; he pushed it around with his chopsticks a while before glancing back up at Tamura. He looked happy. Really happy. The tiniest bit of a smile curved his lips upward and his eyes sparkled in a way Haruhiko had never seen before.

Before he could ask why, Tamura leaned close. "Can I tell you a secret, Haru?" He barely waited for the answering nod before continuing. "My shopping--it wasn't just any old shopping. I was buying something for Ayako." He pulled a tiny box from his jacket, flipping open the lid to reveal a stunning diamond ring. "Do you s'pose she'll take it?"

No words came to Haru's mind. He stared at the ring, shocked. "You--you're getting married?" he asked finally. Tamura suddenly seemed very grown up, very far away. Panic flared in Haruhiko's chest as he imagined his friend married, maybe with children of his own. How would he possibly find time to see him? "Congratulations," he choked.

Tamura grinned, snapping the lid shut and putting the velvet box back into his pocket. "Well, first let's see if the lady says yes."

Even though they were going to spend the afternoon together, Haru felt very lonely.

Sakura was beginning to wish she had suggested someplace--anyplace--other than the zoo. They'd been there less than an hour when Ogura Jinpachi, conveniently bringing a package to his brother, fell into step beside them. The look on Issei's face, that mixture of confusion and delight, made her sick to her stomach. Some people never learn.

So far they'd discussed nothing but their upcoming school trip--a week in Hokkaido. Sakura hated trips like that. Not really, but she hated being left out of the conversation on her own date.

They stopped for snow cones. Issei ordered hers without having to ask what flavor she wanted. Sakura took the lemon-lime snow cone from his hands, glaring up at Issei's friend. At least Issei knew her favorite flavors--had Jinpachi ever warranted such attention? Obviously not. She sighed as they sat on a bench near the zebras. It was stupid to get so competitive; Jinpachi didn't even care. She ate the ice idly, staring at the zebras through the wire fence as she half-listened to the boys' conversation.

"So, have you had any more of those weird dreams?" Jinpachi asked suddenly.

Issei nodded. "This morning." He ate a spoonful of his snow cone. "Like the others, it disappeared before I could remember much."

Jinpachi nodded, serious. "Anything new?"

"Her name is Nadeshiko," Issei answered, nodding. "All I know is that she calls me Enju and says that someone's coming."

"Nadeshiko?" Jinpachi scratched his chin. "I don't remember anyone with that name."

Sakura stared at them, amazed. Issei was having new moon dreams and he hadn't told her? "What?" she cried, almost dumping her ice onto the pavement. "Who is Nadeshiko? Why haven't I heard about this?"

The boys smiled nervously at her. "It's no big deal," Issei assured her. "I don't even remember anything, really."

"Do you remember anyone named Nadeshiko? From the--" Jinpachi dropped his voice to a whisper. "From the mother planet?"

Sakura shook her head. She remembered a lot, but never any woman with that name. "Was she a scientist?"

A shrug was Issei's answer. "I can't remember anything about these dreams, except that Nadeshiko says she's coming, and that I should watch for her."

Stabbing at her snow cone with her spoon, Sakura twisted this new information around in her head. She didn't like it one bit that Jinpachi knew all about this before she did, but the idea that someone from the mother planet, possibly someone they'd known, might still be alive and searching for them--that could be very interesting.

Alice's mother came into the kitchen just as she was tying a scarf around the bento boxes. The homemade lunch, along with a thermos full of tea and a bundle of cookies, would be the perfect food for her picnic with Rin.

"Really, Alice! Do you have to encourage that child so much?" Her mother's tone was harsh, making Alice flinch. "He came to his senses a year ago--why on earth do you continue to indulge him? It's not good to tease boys, even when they're only eight!"

Nine, Alice corrected silently. Would she ever stop nagging? "It's only a picnic, mother, not an elopement." Alice kept her tone even and almost demure--it would just upset her if she urged her mother into yelling.

"So you're not planning to run away with him?" Hajime poked his head into the kitchen. "Could've fooled me. I've never seen a kid so irritatingly smitten!"

"Hajime!" His words made Alice flush a deep shade of red. "Rin and I are friends. Can't you leave it at that?"

"Maybe," he said slowly, "when you start going out with guys your own age!"

He leaned against the wall, crossing his arms stubbornly and waiting for her to answer. Alice didn't have anything to say about that--there were no boys her own age that she was interested in. Just Shion.

"He has a point, Alice," her mother scolded. "Before long, people will be talking!"

Alice picked up the lunch and grabbed her jacket and picnic blanket. "Let them talk," she muttered to herself, yanking the door open. Her face was burning and her eyes stung, but she was determined not to let them bully her.

"Alice!" Rin's cheerful voice caught her as soon as she closed the door. He was leaning on the wall across the hall. "Ready to go, Alice?" He smiled at her and her frustration disappeared. Someday they might understand, she hoped.

As they walked to the park, Rin talked excitedly about his upcoming school camping trip. "We're gonna sleep in tents and cook our food over a campfire! And the best thing is that it's the same week as your school trip to Hokkaido, so we won't have to miss each other!" he chirped. Alice missed elementary school trips, which were more recreational than educational. Her school trip almost certainly would be followed by a project or paper on what she'd learned.

By the time they reached a grassy area away from the playground, Rin had fallen silent. Alice didn't mind; sometimes she wondered if she could really keep up with him. He helped her spread out the blanket, his eyes meeting hers across the expanse of yellow cotton.

"Alice?" he began, untying the knot holding the bundle of cookies. "Have you felt anything strange lately?"

She was mortified to find herself blushing. Rin had endured a huge growth spurt the past few months--now his head reached her chin and his limbs were lean and strong. Her feelings for him were as muddled as ever, but now and then she got hints of the man he would grow into, and that sent her mind reeling into even more confusion. "Wha--what do you mean?"

He seemed oblivious to her embarrassment. "Not as Alice, exactly, but Mokuren. Have you felt anything strange as her?"

"You mean from the moon?"

He smiled at her simple terms. "Kind of. Any premonitions, weird sensations?"

Alice thought about it. None of the confusion from before had returned to her. Since her awakening, her past life had felt very matter-of-fact to her--not mystical at all. She shook her head. "Why?"

Rin took a bite of onigiri, chewing for a long time before answering. "I just have this eerie feeling that there's more." While he unscrewed the cap of the thermos and poured himself a cup of tea, Alice had time to think about his words.

"More?" She was puzzled. "But everyone from the mother planet died. The seven of us died. What more could there be?" She nibbled anxiously on a cookie. The last time Shion surfaced to take control of his past life, Rin ended up in the hospital. For that reason alone, she hoped that his premonitions were just a result of his overactive imagination.

"I don't know, Alice. I just have this feeling . . . . I feel like someone, somewhere, is watching us."

The moon sure was bright. Sakura stared out her bedroom window at it, half-wishing that when she looked up she could see a rabbit, like everyone else. Instead, the moon made her think of Enju; lately the image of Issei replaced the woman's lovely face.

Their date that afternoon had been a total bust.

She sighed. It wasn't Issei's fault. It wasn't really Jinpachi's fault either. Neither of them had known it was a date. She was such a coward.

But how could she tell him? How could she just spit it out and confess her feelings when she knew she'd be rejected? If Jinpachi weren't always hanging around, maybe she'd have a chance to change Issei's feelings. Damn him for following in Enju's footsteps! Sakura wasn't able to feel justifiably angry for too long. After all, could she say she wasn't in love with Issei just because of Shusuran's feelings for Enju?

"Damn!" Kicking a pillow across her room, Sakura flung herself onto her bed. Obviously this was going to take longer--a lot longer--than she'd thought.

"Sakura?" A light knock on her bedroom door interrupted her musings. Her mother opened it slightly, squinting in the darkness. "Have you gone to bed already? Anyway, you got some mail, sweetheart. I'll leave it right here on your dresser."

Mail? She perked up. Who on earth would be sending her a letter? "Thanks, Mom," she called out. "G'night!"

Her mother closed the door as Sakura bounded up from the bed. Flicking the light on, she grabbed the letter. It was a postcard; the picture was of a cheesy rural scene. She flipped it over.

Shusuran--just wanted to drop you a line from my new school. I'm doing well and have been studying hard for my exams. Say hello to everyone for me. Hiiragi, aka Daisuke.

His letter-type-perfect handwriting made her smile. Doing well? He was probably the first in his class. He always had been when he attended her school. It was strange not having him around all the time.

She frowned, wondering what he'd think about Issei's latest dreams.

He blinked, the glow from the lights too bright for his sensitive eyes. Where was he? Why was he lying down?

"Shukkaido?" Her voice was sweet. Young. "Are you waking up, Shukkaido?"

"A--Ayame?" he asked groggily. Her face swam into view--pretty, with short dark hair and bright violet eyes. What happened to me?

She grinned. "You passed out. You forgot to ventilate your suit properly, so you didn't get enough oxygen. She ran a hand over his face, pushing his hair from his eyes. "For a moment there, I thought I'd lost you."

It was stumbling back to him, a moment at a time. They'd been practicing the use of the artificial environment systems built into the space suits they'd be using on their missions. By wearing them in an oxygen-free chamber, the doctors could demonstrate their ability to perform in real space. Apparently Shukkaido hadn't done so well.

"Am I in trouble?" he asked cautiously. He'd only just met Ayame at the beginning of this training program, but they'd developed a camaraderie that made them trusted friends. He knew she'd watch out for him, if she could.

She shook her head, her black hair bouncing over her forehead. "I got you out of your suit before they could check it out. You plugged in the hoses backwards."

Sitting up, Shukkaido glanced around him. He was on a soft bed, and gentle music played from speakers nearby. This wasn't his room, but it wasn't one of the sterile medic chambers either. "Where are we?"

The young woman blushed, her cheeks staining pink as she glanced away. "I had them bring you to my room." She giggled softly. "I told them you'd blacked out from claustrophobia, so they wouldn't send you to a medic chamber."

"Claustrophobia?" Shukkaido was outraged. "Why on earth would a doctor leave something like that untreated if he were planning to go to space? You've made me look like a complete idiot!"

She laughed. "Ah, but this way, I get to 'treat' you; by tomorrow, you'll be fine!" Since the discovery of drugs even stronger than hypnotic suggestion, the treatment of phobias had become a simple thing. "If I said it was a medical condition, rather than a psychological one, they would've thrown you out of the research program!"

She had a point. Ayame was easily the brightest doctor working in the space program. She'd graduated medical school at nineteen, and now, just two years later, she was working in a position thousands of doctors would give their teeth for. Shukkaido looked up to her and respected her medical opinions--he'd been surprised to find that she was as beautiful as intelligent, not to mention friendly and cheerful to boot.

"Well, I'm fine now," he declared, hopping off the bed. A wave of dizziness almost sent him crashing back down, but she grabbed his shoulders, steadying him.

"Easy! We don't want you to lose consciousness again!"

He took a few deep breaths until he felt more stable, then walked slowly around the room. "Nice place--it's a lot better than mine."

"The best thing about being female in this profession--you usually don't end up sharing a room. You're with the other two men, right?" There were four doctors training for off-planet research. Shukkaido and the other men were assigned jobs at observation bases, but Ayame's job was a little different.

"So you're going to be stationed on a ship with a genetics lab?" he asked, sitting on the couch and motioning for her to join him. Are you working on artificial colonization, or what?"

She sat, shaking her head. "I'm not really authorized to say," she apologized. "All I can tell you is that if the planet your crew is observing is the most suitable for our purposes, we'll be working together again one day."

He looked at her intently, wondering if he'd ever meet anyone he could feel so at-ease with. "That'd be nice," he said huskily. Suddenly realizing that he was staring at her, he looked away. "Ayame . . . " he began, embarrassed.

She reached over covering his hands with hers. "Shukkaido," she said softly, smiling at him gently. "I'd like that, too"