Disclaimer: As with a bullion of gold bars, the characters aren't mine.
A/N: Originally part of As Deep as the Sky, but it got too big. The song itself comes from the soundtrack to The Road to El Dorado, which is still one of my favourite films even after all these years.
Someday Out of the Blue
© Scribbler, March 2009.
Someday out of the blue,
In a crowded street or a deserted square,
I'll turn and I'll see you
As if our love were new;
Someday we can start again, someday soon.
-- From Someday Out of the Blue by Elton John.
Tokawa was a quiet little village where you could know everyone on sight by the end of a single week's stay, and where everybody had at least one relative who used to work on the fishing boats. As far as rustic hamlets went, it was one of the better ones. You could go there to forget without being forgotten.
Ever since the big companies moved in and scoured the bays for fish to sell in high-demand supermarkets, the Tokawan boats that used to litter the bay had sat empty and sullen in their docks. Likewise, villagers had sat empty and sullen in their houses. There was a drinking problem that had grown like a cancer and hit hardest amongst older generations of men, and which could still be seen in the mottled skin and red noses of some.
Recently, however, a healthy tourist industry had sprung up to replace the village's main source of income. Now bottles were being thrown in the trash, and boats were being brought out, sanded down and revarnished, so they could take seasick outsiders across to the clutch of islands just visible through the morning mist. Out there people would play in rock pools, hear about the bloody history of the place – which actually hadn't seen worse than a cut finger in over a hundred years, though the tour-guides played down that part – and eat ice-creams before being brought back to the mainland. In Tokawa-proper they'd dine in one of the many restaurants that had emerged as locals learned there was money to be made that way, and then go back to their beach houses on the outskirts, just a stone's throw from both coastline and highway so they could feel like they were getting the true village-life experience while keeping one eye on their escape route back to civilisation.
Valon's house stood at a midway point between the dumpy little houses of villagers and the modern tourist places. It should have made him a pariah to both, but it didn't. He was surprised at that, and for a long time felt like he, too, was keeping one eye on the highway, always calculating how long it would take him to get out of there. It was a year before he stopped checking his bike had enough gas in the tank to take him … his brain stopped that point. He was never quite sure where he'd go if he left. Someplace else.
Perhaps that wads the reason he stayed – not because he liked it in Tokawa, but because there genuinely was nowhere else for him to go. One or twice he thought of Domino City, but that always passed. More than once he thought of Tokyo and the husk of a burned-out church, but he'd been back there before and had seen the new church built over the remains of the old. He'd punched the wall, not answering when Amelda asked why the hell his knuckles were all bloody under his gloves when they met up later. Raphael had just nodded once. He was always pretty good at recognising grief in its many forms, even if he was crap at dealing with the kind that was rotting him from the inside out.
Did he miss that life? Valon would've liked to say, emphatically, no, but he'd learned it was better – healthier – to be honest with yourself. He didn't miss the part about being a zealot, or the responsibility that used to press on his shoulders like a lead weight, but the structure of life with a purpose, not drifting from one day to the next and wondering what the hell he was even for … that part he missed.
He worked as a busboy in Toshiro's Eatery, within walking distance of his home. That surprised him more than anything. Him, former street thug and soldier of the apocalypse, becoming as busboy? But it happened. A lot of stuff in his life just happened without his permission – death, grief, loss, betrayal, fights where he lost teeth and dignity, ending up here in the first place – and this was one of them. In the grand scheme of things it wasn't the worst.
When Mai first dumped him at his safe-house he didn't venture out further than the edge of his own balcony. He'd bought the place as a bolt-hole, though at the time he hadn't been able to explain what for. Raphael used to snort derisively, always frugal with his words. Valon knew he thought the place was ridiculous, since they were planning to remake the world anyway. Yet Valon had still saved the stipend Paradias Holdings had paid out to each of them every month, and bought the beach house, perhaps out of some throwback impulse to have a home, even if he didn't live in it. Growing up on the streets had bred habits in him he couldn't explain, even to himself.
His savings were still considerable, but after a month of hiding in his house, coming to terms with the extent of Dartz's betrayal and his own part in the Oricalchos's sick games, Valon found he craved human contact. The villagers accepted him readily, seeing in him a need to be needed, plus a readiness to work that meant he undertook any task, no matter how disgusting, with the fervour of someone searching for a kind of redemption.
Valon might have laughed. He did sometimes. Redemption at the bottom of a garbage disposal?
Once or twice people asked him what he'd done before he finally moved into the big house that had stood empty all of last year, but he shrugged off their questions and eventually they stopped asking.
Strangely, he found he liked not having any responsibility beyond making sure the trash chute wasn't clogged and the floors weren't sticky. There was satisfaction to be had in doing a simple job well. When he finally learned to open up a little more, he found it was easy to make friends. Tokawa had a history, and it wasn't proud of everything in it, even the stuff beyond its control. By the end of six months the tension in Valon's shoulders had eased, and his back was no longer hunched over as if protecting his heart and vital organs.
He still thought about Doma. How could he not? It had been such a huge part of his life for so long. He'd thought it was his means of avenging his wounded heart. He'd reduced himself from a person to just 'soldier' for Dartz's dream – a number to add to the ranks of others who had come before him. They'd all believed Dartz was on their side. They'd all believed they were working for the greater good. Finding out different … well, it screwed you up. That was the long and short of it. It screwed you up good.
You couldn't just forget about something like that; not in a few months, not even in a few years. Perhaps he never would. Perhaps he never should. Apart from anything else, whenever he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror without his shirt on, he saw the evidence of his past crimes in the stuttered scars interlacing across his chest, stomach and back. Duels for Doma had involved more than just putting his soul on the line. More than once he'd been injured, adding to scars earned in childhood brawls. Each and every vivid mark ensured he could never, ever forget how misguided he'd been, blindly following Dartz's (admittedly charismatic) leadership without questioning what they were doing.
He thought about the people who'd been in Doma, too. They weren't comrades; not really. Workmates, maybe; colleagues, except that the world conjured images of business suits and offices, which was as far from their world as possible. Whenever a tall and broad-shouldered out-of-toner came into the Eatery he did a double-take to make sure it wasn't Raphael. Likewise willowy young men with hollow eyes, or older guys who thought wearing a monocle made them look intellectual.
He never saw anyone who reminded him of Mai, though – not the same way he saw the others. Sometimes he'd see the flash of her rare-as-gold-dust smile in some other woman, or see her shade of blonde, or catch a hint of what he'd always termed her 'stray cat strut', but the parts never cohered upon closer inspection. The total picture was lacking, and destroyed as easily as waving a hand through cigarette smoke when he looked up from mopping long enough to see it wasn't her at all. She was never there for more than an instant, and he knew it mostly in his own mind. He didn't want to see Raphael or Amelda, so he saw them everywhere. He wanted to see Mai so much it hurt, and so she was nowhere.
Gradually he learned to live with the knowledge she wasn't coming back. She'd left a note for him when she brought him here, to the place he'd introduced her to only once when they worked together.
"Is this your home?" she'd asked, and he'd shaken his head. "No, I suppose not," she'd replied to her own question. "We don't have those anymore, do we?"
The note next to him on the pillow was brief, like she was some one-night-stand who's had an attack of the guilts on the way out the door. That should have made him laugh, but it never did. Mai had always rejected him. He could see why, especially now, and especially after hid duel with Jounouchi, but the irony of waking up to her handwriting didn't escape him.
I'm sorry, but I need to get my head together.
She never promised she'd return, but he still hoped. He hoped until he was out on the Eatery porch one day, a drink in his hand and his employer by his side, and he realised that not only was he watching the road without thoughts of leaving, he was also seeing it without envisioning a purple motorcycle roaring along it.
"You okay, kid?" Toshiro asked. "You gots a funny look in yer eye."
"I'm … fine," Valon lied.
"You thinkin' about that girl again?" Toshiro had always suspected Valon was pining for a girl, never guessing at the extent to the rest of his story.
"Ah. You still miss her?"
"Prolly will all yer life, kid." Toshiro blew out a smoke ring. He always had a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other after closing. It was a ritual Valon only half partook of, but it made him feel so much a part of life here that it was worth the bitter aftertaste of home-brew. Toshiro had never become part of Tokawa's shadowy past when the fishing dried up. Valon reckoned it was because you could nurse one of these beers all night and still not finish it. "Every man's got a 'one that got away' story. S'part of a life well-lived."
A life well-lived? Valon would hardly call his that, but … he guessed he could ascribe at least a few bricks in his psyche to Mai Kujaku and the fact he'd probably fallen in love with her when he was too screwed up to be able to tell what was love and what was loneliness.
Maybe that was why she'd really left. Maybe she'd figured out the difference long before he even opened his eyes and realised she'd been paying enough attention to know where his house was without directions.
So when one Summer afternoon, during the busiest part of the day, Toshiro's wife called Valon through to the front to clear up a plate of spilled soup, he really wasn't expecting to find anything more than a plate of spilled soup. He sighed, gripping the mop and not thinking how he could crack open a skull with it if he used it as a staff, or how many teeth he could knock out if he swung the ancient metal bucket into a guy's face.
He froze in the doorway, almost dropping the bucket of soapy water when he saw a woman apologising profusely to Toshiro's wife and sweeping a very particular shade of blonde hair from her face. There was miso soup all over the floor, staining her skirt and shoes. She looked older, definitely more mature around the eyes, and even more elegant than he remembered.
"I'm sorry, it's just … you said 'Valon' and I guess it kind of shocked me. Ridiculous, really, considering I came hoping …" she trailed off.
"You know our Valon?"
"I don't know. I know a Valon. Knew, I mean. Once. Three years ago, now. He used to live around here – or at least he had a vacation house here. But he was a real wanderer. Practically married to the open road, he once told me. I doubt he'd have settled down in one place, especially for so long. It's probably not the same guy I knew. After all, there's more than one Valon in the …" Her eyes focussed over the older woman's head, on the doorway through to the kitchen. "… world."
Valon suddenly felt very self-conscious in his apron and dirty work clothes. His hair was longer now, tied into a ponytail to keep it out of the food. He had on marigold gloves to match his hairnet bunched it up in back, making him look like some racehorse with a docked tail. The ensemble was a far cry from his old biker outfit, and an even further cry from her neat business suit. Gone was the bustier and micro-skirt, though this pencil skirt still showed off a lot of long, long leg. Mai had always dressed for herself, even when she pretended she was dressing for others. Through the large plate-glass window he could see the parking lot, where there was a familiar purple convertible with the top down. It had as much place amidst the station wagons and people carriers as ruby earrings floating in a bowl of baked beans.
Valon swallowed. It seemed to him that the whole room had fallen silent, though in fact only she had stopped speaking. She stared at him. Her eyes no longer seemed half so troubled; her face no longer pinched with anxiety and anger, though there was still something to her gaze that struck a chord deep within himself. He'd always felt like her eyes reflected bits of him long-buried beneath years of bitterness and resentment.
"Hello Mai," he said softly.
"You're here," she said, a note of happiness clearly evident in her voice. He was shocked to hear it. True, his last proper memory of her was the scream she'd let out when Jounouchi beat him, but everything from those last moments was hazy. He'd never been able to figure out if it was a scream of regret or anger that he'd fucked up and offended her. Again. "I thought … I was worried that ... but you're still here."
"Yeah." Valon swallowed. His mouth felt like cotton. "I'm still here."
Toshiro's wife raised an eyebrow and glanced at her husband. "The height of wit an' conversation, ain't he?"
Valon ignored her. He was still processing, like a computer about to shut down because it didn't have the capacity to cope with a task, or a bike with a busted carburettor that had been tied on with tape. Mai was here. She'd come back.
He cleared his throat. "The, uh, soup." It sounded lame and hollow.
Mai took a step back. He came forward, keeping the mop between them. Abruptly he was acutely aware of the differences between them – not just in appearance, but between the way they were before and they were now. Doma loomed between them, casting a shadow that was unavoidable, but so did the three years they'd been apart. Where had she been in all that time? What had she done? Who was she now compared to who she used to be? He'd changed, after all, both inside and out. Suddenly the distance seemed too large, too insurmountable, like a mountain smack in the middle of his path.
When he started cleaning up the mess, however, she grabbed the handle of the mop and forced him to look up at her again. She wasn't wearing any rings, he noted. She just stared at him for the longest moment, not saying anything, though he could see her throat working like the words were there, going up and down without ever making it to her mouth.
"You get your head together?" he asked. He wasn't sure where the question came from. Sometimes things just … happened.
She blinked. "I guess you could say that." She blinked again. Then she smiled.
Yup, rare as gold dust – and, like gold, it could make men raze mountains to the ground to get to what waited on the other side.
"Humph." Toshiro leaned against the counter, ignoring the queue of orders for a moment to read the expression on his employee's face. "I guess she didn't get away after all."
I'll turn and I'll see you
As if we always knew
Someday we would live again, someday soon.
-- From Someday Out of the Blue by Elton John.