Filling Empty Spaces
He closes the gap between their lips, and knows that that was not the only space filled.
Alto and Sheryl on what it means to be alone and finding each other.
A/N: This only took me 5 gazillion years to complete. GAAAH. I started writing this on New Year's Eve and progressed pretty well but somewhere along the way, I got lost and didn't know how to end it. After a month or so of thinking, I got my groove back again and here it is :) I hope you enjoy this anyway, though this is decidedly a lot more emo and angst-y than my first AruSheri. XD
Anyway, I don't own Macross Frontier, and there are spoilers here for episode 22 (kind of an alternate retelling) and the finale – but nothing of significance, i think.
The rooms of the Saotome estate were often wide and empty. His father was a minimalist at heart. His mother was often bed-ridden, too sick to engage in the extravagance of furnishing her own home.
When his mother was still alive, he didn't really notice the silence and the emptiness. There were other things that took up his time, like acting workshops and pleasant afternoons by his mother's side. To be honest, the only things he took note of then were paper planes riding the breeze for flight and his mother's gradually thinning frame.
His mother passed away and the silence he never noticed became almost haunting. He heard every movement he made and noticed that there was rarely anyone in the room with him.
Looking away from the empty space, he would always look at the sky he loved with his mother.
He thought of escape more than once, but knew that in Frontier, even the sky ends.
She almost forgot the existence of color until she caught a glimpse of her reflection on a dull and fractured mirror by the dumpster. The mirror was tarnished and dirty, but she could make out the blue of her eyes with ease.
She didn't know what to make of remembering. There was a dull ache in her heart when she saw the blue against grey. Because somewhere out there, people lived lives full of color when all she had was the endless black and white sea of Galaxy's slums.
She shivered and soon hugged herself for warmth, turning away from the broken glass and trudging forward through the endless plain of desolation.
He grew up and grew used to the silence of being alone and the comfort of empty spaces.
He was once a boy but now he was closer to a man. He told himself that whenever he would spend quiet afternoons on Mihoshi Academy's roof deck, folding paper planes to test the sky's limits. He was closer to a man because now, he managed escape. No longer tied down by his blood and tradition, he could fly.
He enjoyed the silence in the Mihoshi roof deck. Besides, he never really learned how to deal with people outside treating an audience. It was the only thing he learned from his father. And now, too many people sometimes suffocated him.
(He finally made friends, but somehow Michel and Luca kept on mysteriously disappearing at random intervals so he's not sure if that's friendship at all.)
He thought it was a kind of lonely existence, sixteen and a half but always alone.
He pushed the thought aside, knowing he would always have the sky for company.
She built herself and became stronger. She ripped through the monochrome and brought color to her life by force. This is what she tells herself when she looks at herself in the mirror by the vanity.
She's sixteen and a half now, and touring the star system as the galactic fairy.
Her life took a turn when Grace O'Conner found her and told her to sing. She took the opportunity instantly, knowing that there was more to life than wandering around the dark streets of Galaxy, hopingthat her life was more than that. Now, she stood proven right.
She's different from who she used to be. For one thing, she's no longer alone. At least, not as much. There was Grace. There was her crew. There was the audience that paid to watch her every movement, listen to her every song.
Yes, not alone. Not alone.
Every fleet she performed for even provided her the best accommodations – first class hotel rooms to stay in, free 24 hour room service, and enormous private bathrooms with built-in Jacuzzis. Grace, knowing that she enjoyed her privacy, would always leave her to herself until the time for work came.
Sometimes, she would sneak out and experience the fleet's life for herself. Sometimes, she'd take a warm bath on the ever-bubbling Jacuzzis. Sometimes, she would arrive at the studio far too early, eager to impress. But she would always come back to the same thing - the sight of a room far too big and flashy to have been made just for one.
(And looking at the large portions she gets from room service, she knew she could never finish them on her own.)
But she lives with it. Because living is most important.
And besides, silence and empty spaces only took getting used to.
He first heard of Sheryl Nome from an announcement he coincidentally caught on the Frontier News channel. He didn't really pay attention to it then. He was more of an enka type of guy.
When Michel announced that they were performing stunts for her concert, Luca became full of excitement because he had always been a fan of hers. He was excited too, but for an entirely different reason - the corkscrew he was to perform.
Their first contact was when he screwed up and scooped Sheryl in his arms during the concert. His first impression of her was that she was kind of a bitch. There was a measure of awe in him for the way she carried herself, but that was easily eclipsed by his perception that she was kind of frigid.
He couldn't help but think that Luca was something of an idiot for liking this girl.
Despite terrible first impressions, Saotome Alto turned out to be a pretty decent guy. At least, he was the sort of guy that was easy to tease.
This was something a little odd for her. Because among all the fleets she visited, she never really got attached to anything or anyone too much. So it's a little odd that she's constantly seeking his company even when she knows that they end up arguing half the time.
But she thinks it's okay.
She's going home to Galaxy someday soon, and this was far from something serious.
When he's with her, he feels like there's no room to breathe.
She's Sheryl Nome after all. Her presence is almost suffocating, dragging him to this and that. It doesn't help that she never misses a beat, continuing to challenge his every flaw.
He doesn't know why he puts up with her.
(Maybe, it's because when he sees her, he understands that the two of them are the same somehow.)
One day, she finds him asleep in Mihoshi Academy's roof deck. She should've guessed sooner that he would always be in the place closest to his beloved sky.
His dark hair was a curtain over his eyes and the warm orange of Frontier's artificial sunlight bathed him in its glow. He looked beautiful. But there was something about him that always was.
She settles down on the empty space beside him, watching his head nod up and down with his breathing.
The roof deck was quiet, empty aside from the two of them. It was spacious and the breeze blew at full force there. There were days she would cringe of the thought of doing nothing all day. This was not one of those days. (She knows the reason for this is probably Alto, but she would never admit that. Ever.)
She watches him in amusement for good number of minutes and when he wakes up hours later, he's greeted by the sight of Sheryl Nome asleep beside him.
Space is spacious.
When soldiers are lost in space, they would be difficult to find when you don't know where to look. But for some reason, that fact didn't really bother him. Maybe it's because when he first signed up for the SMS, he didn't think he would become a soldier.
Now, there are aliens to kill and Frontier to protect. And he's one of those soldiers that could disappear never to be found again. And still, somehow it doesn't bother him.
He thinks he's okay with not being found but he wants to be remembered.
And some things are worth protecting. (He's not particularly sure why he thinks of an earring he once lost and light hair glimmering in Technicolor at this notion.)
She's not really sure how it happened, but the recent string of events threw all of them into war and into growing up. And somehow, yesterday she was fine and today she was dying. She doesn't really know how to deal with all of that.
And for some strange reason, the first thing she thought of upon getting the news was him - not telling him.
After all, she's lived all of her life relatively alone so she doesn't need to start living it any differently. The last thing she wants to be is to be a burden.
But just when you think that life has run out of surprises, they come charging at you relentlessly. Maybe, she should have seen it coming. After all, Alto and her relationship with him brought nothing but surprises and both welcome and unwelcome revelations to her.
So when he stood with his frame outlined by the silver moonlight and the knowledge of her condition serving as the elephant in the room, she could only watch speechlessly as he offered her words she wanted (but was too afraid) to hear.
"I'll stand by you."
When he hugs her with shaking hands, she realizes that he was not as strong as he was showing himself to be. Despite that, she buried her face into his shoulder because she doesn't know what to do anymore.
She learned and grew used to living alone but since meeting him, that life and the prospect of returning to it became unbearably lonely.
(She didn't know it but somewhere in his mind, the same thoughts were brewing. He just didn't know it yet.)
He gave her all these big words about supporting her decision and being with her until the end when he hugged her but he's not really certain why he did it.
It was the overlapping thoughts in his mind that probably possessed him. Frontier was breaking apart as the scent of death, wax and flowers weighed heavily in the air. Ranka flew away with Brera and the Vajra - something that perplexed him to no end, especially since the Ranka he knew would have shed tears for and do anything to help a broken Frontier. (Now, he thinks maybe he never really knew her at all.) Michel was dead without a body to bury or a grave to mourn on, leaving only a pair of cracked glasses and a grief-stricken Klan. And despite earlier disputes, Michel was his best friend, one of his few friends.
And Klan just told him Sheryl was dying.
He always thought that he held a certain stoicism that would leave him somewhat unfazed by loss. After all, there could be nothing worse than his mother's death. But things were falling apart rather quickly and haphazardly that he realizes the simple fact that he doesn't want to lose anyone anymore.
His mind goes to Sheryl who's right before his eyes, deteriorating slowly but shining more brightly by the second. He looks at her and understands that each person is essentially alone, as people come and go with living and dying. Sheryl will go one day too, maybe soon.
But despite all of those things… Despite the mortality of each and every person…
He's not one to back down, and he never will be.
He kisses her, not because she was dying but because she's alive.
Tomorrow, there is an announcement of a forthcoming assault and she will be singing.
Today, she wakes up to the possibility of dying, Alto's hand on the curve of her hip and his breath tickling the skin on the back of her neck. She knows they're just playing lovers and it was getting more and more painful to continue doing so, but she can't seem to tell him that. Because when she does, it would all be over.
She didn't think it were possible but he looked even more beautiful with moonlight reflected from his porcelain skin and endless dark hair. But she could spot the folds and shadows under his eyes, a testament to the military's almost brutal preparations for war.
Alto would come back tired everyday, his boots thick with dry mud and his scent of rusting Ex-Gears, but he wouldn't show it to her. Instead, he would cook dinner whistling and sometimes, kiss her cheek tenderly. It always broke her heart whenever he did that, because he was too kind and she didn't need the pity. (He made her want it though.)
"I love you." She says in a tone barely above a whisper as the night carried her words away.
There's a silence after she lets the words slip and it was a moment that changed things and at the same time, didn't.
Subconsciously, the slumbering Alto presses himself closer to her body and she lets out a soft gasp of surprise. In the silence of the room, she could almost hear her heart breaking.
The final battle was only a few days away. The fleet was quiet, busy with preparations and pseudo-goodbyes. There were conversations, between parents and children, friends and friends, and men and women.
"Alto, what would your remember best about me?"
Her eyes glimmered with an unfamiliar vulnerability that he couldn't help but feel uncomfortable. "Idiot. Don't talk about things like that."
"I'm serious, Alto. I want to know how you see me, who I am in your eyes."
"… Just go to sleep and get some rest, okay?" He would have liked to leave it at that, but she did not cease with that look in her eye and he saw no choice but to give an answer, "Geez, you really are such a pain sometimes…"
A momentary silence.
"The truth is there are too many things to remember about you. It's too hard to pigeonhole you into just one thing. It's just how you are."
"If you had to pick one thing?" she says in almost a whisper.
"It doesn't matter. I'll remember you. That's what matters." A promise.
"You never give straight answers, Alto. You're always so vague…" she laughs it off, but he can hear in the way her voice trembled that she thought it was the truth.
"Shut up, and go to sleep already. I answered your question."
"Alright. Alright." She turns around and hugs her pillow closer, her frame loosely tangled in the bed sheets. He hears breathing, soft and subdued, and he thinks the only time she is that way is when she's sleeping. From the corner of his eye, he couldn't help but notice the faint glow of the moon and the faint glow of her hair that never seemed to lose its luster. It surprises him when he suddenly finds himself saying…
"It's how everything reminds me of you. That's what I'll remember, probably." A beat.
"That's still not a straight answer." A teary-eyed remark.
"You're supposed to be asleep!"
He wraps the blanket over her with an almost melancholic expression on his face, hoping tomorrow, he wouldn't need to be reminded.
It is hours before take-off and there are many things she wants to tell him, but doesn't.
She tells him, however, that he would never find a woman quite like her again. And he smiles a promise, telling her that he would come back.
She wanted to tell him though, how she thought they were one soul cracked in two; that she can see from the way he speaks so distantly and abrasively his underlying history – a lonely boy whose company was an artificial breeze and paper planes. She wanted to tell him that she was once lonely too, and thought that they were kindred spirits because of the fact that they grew up in the same loneliness, growing used to it to become strong. She wanted to tell him that he was too kind; that she was once satisfied in keeping everything at an arm's length – until she met him.
She wanted to tell him all those things, but was too scared that if she did, she wouldn't be able to fight anymore. (Fight. She must fight the urge to run away – because Sheryl Nome does no running.)
She tells him to say nothing too, because his eyes were speaking volumes and she couldn't bear to hear it.
In war, she sings the words she couldn't say and a part of her wishes he could understand it – and maybe, he did.
Her heart almost stops when she sees a bright explosion amidst the black black expanse. Sagittarius-1 has fallen, and she thinks how she should have told him things in less roundabout ways.
(There are no words to explain the emotions that surged in her when she heard his voice saying he was still alive.)
There's only relief after everything is over.
There is him and the sky, and Sheryl and Ranka standing by a field of flowers - which was something of a perfect picture.
Things have settled – the Vajra were no longer enemies, Frontier had a home, Sheryl was no longer dying, and he kept his promise. He feels like a man whose purpose has been fulfilled, but he knows that things are just beginning.
The night comes in naturally, and he's a bit moved by that fact. Finally, he motions to land on the field, spotting a slumbering Ranka on a doting Sheryl's lap. When he lands, he walks up to them and there are numerous thoughts spinning in his mind. He knows now. He understands now.
There were things that escaped him before this day – but not anymore. He once wondered why it was that so many people are different, and why people are always bound to say their goodbyes. He taught himself to think that living a life of solitude and calmness was all that he needed. He understands now that every person is intrinsically alone – but they don't necessarily need to remain that way. Because there are people out there, who could be the one left wing to your one right wing – and it's only with two that you can really fly.
He thinks she taught him that.
"People are alone. That's the reason we love." He whispers, and knows that it is the closest he can get to a confession without embarrassing himself to death.
Sheryl looks up from the resting girl on her lap and pierces him with wide eyes that were trying to decipher the meaning behind his words. In a few moments, a familiar playful look entered her features and he knew that she was about to poke fun at him again.
He smiles and leans in front of her, placing a finger on top of her lips before she could say anything. He closes the gap between their lips, and knows that that was not the only space filled.
(He looks back on the boy that fixated on the sky because everything else that surrounded him was so quiet and empty and sees that he's flying now. He thinks things have changed – there are songs filling his ears and a girl who, despite obvious clichés, stole his heart.)
When he kisses her - his smile against her lips - in such a carefree way, she knows that it was a moment that signified great change.
Her mind thinks back to a boy and a girl, both alone in places far too wide and empty for them to explore alone. She thinks about the boy and the girl who pretended to be actors, fighters, and even lovers, never understanding that there was no need for labels and names that often seemed to wear too thin. She thinks about the man and the woman who once led half-empty lives but found each other and smiled against each other's lips, seeing life instead, as half-full.
(She once thought the world was only in black and white, but there was so much color now, and more she wanted to uncover.)
There was a song in her lips, waiting to be sang.