She awoke utterly disoriented, as she was prone to do even under normal circumstances, let alone when her brain was exhausted from decoding and organizing vast amounts of information that had just been shoved out of her subconscious. The first moment after waking was marked by an unsettling feeling, the opposite of déjà vu: everything seemed foreign, unfamiliar.
But the face above her, she knew. His presence soothed away the momentary panic.
He was like a landmark to a lost traveler. Slowly, she began to piece together her current reality – or at least to think that she was.
Waking up in a strange room, wearing her peridot sleeveless blouse and white skirt, reeking of blood, gripped by the lingering ache and exhaustion of an intense battle, Haji leaning over her, calm but clearly concerned, wearing the same suit he had since the mid sixties, no sign of anyone else…
Nothing was out of place in terms of a one-year period of her life during the early twenty-first century.
Only, she was not right.
"Haji, let's go."
At one time, those words had been roughly equivalent to good morning (or evening as the case often was), though generally without the good. The manner with which she said it, that flat, determined inflection, was enough to clue him in that she wasn't suggesting they make their way back to Kai's house, but rather that she was ready for another night's hunt in London, Paris or some such place.
She's lost the now.
Haji was entirely aware of what was happening, that her memory had returned during the night and that she was probably confused as to where, and when she was at the moment. That was how it had gone in 1916 and 1962 – a brief, mid-battle psychotic episode, followed by a fitful few hours of sleep, ending with a very discombobulated morning. He couldn't explain why events thirty years ago had been so different, so incremental, but he supposed it could have to do with her sleep having been interrupted, or perhaps her going without his blood for a whole year, or any number of unknown biological factors.
At this time, the mechanism and purpose of hibernation was still a mystery to both of them, but they would be informed of the truth soon enough.
Mechanically, Saya reached to the right of her mat, grasping her sword and pulling it close, as a child would do to their guardian blanket.
As she rose to her feet in the center of the thin futon, sword in hand, the nostalgic dream that might have otherwise been forgotten came to mind. Having dreamt of the past in such detail didn't surprise her at all, nor did the subsequent vague recollection of that symbolist nightmare that had preceded it – both such types of dreams often invaded her slumber in the past.
But, for some reason, she had an uncertain, but persistent feeling that there had been another dream at one point during the night.
Yes, something about Okinawa – Kai with gray hair. Saya smirked inwardly, - and he was married to Mao… they had a boy named George, and their daughters were twins with eyes just like me and Diva – we all went to school together – Kaori was my gym teacher… and Haji… oh god! I think I had a crush on him!
…What a strange dream… strange… but nice…
The notion that it could have been real didn't even cross her mind at that time. Losing the now was compounded by not believing it.
She shook her head, as if to banish these pleasant, but distracting thoughts.
… just a dream… I have no time left for dreams…
But that was when Saya's gaze fell upon the morning sky through the window.
"Why didn't you wake me?!" she frantically demanded of her companion. "Why did you let me sleep all night? It's already dawn, Haji you know that the roars stop during the day, it'll be impossible to find them -"
As Saya's eyes searched the room for a clock, she saw something that certainly didn't belong in some European hole-in-the-wall.
A little tawny-spotted, knobby-toed reptile scurried in a squiggly line across the wall.
She glanced out the window again, and noticed the palm frond swaying on the other side of the glass.
"W-where are we?"
"Okinawa ci- Koza."
It took her a moment to form her next question.
"W-what year is it?"
Of course, Haji still didn't recognize Solomon's claim on Saya as his Queen, but he could see that Solomon was obviously no longer Diva's Chevalier either.
"Then - it's – it's over?"
Saya sank to her knees under the immense weight of this concept.
But he didn't answer this time.
"No. It's not over," Saya murmured to herself, recollecting something of the previous evening. "Those were chiropterans that attacked us last night."
It might have seemed that she should have been saddened by this, and she was, but at the same time there was also a strange, yet profound comfort in the knowledge that her mission hadn't ended.
Everything was as it was, as it should be. Familiar.
There are chiropterans to be killed, and Haji is with me.
That was when her mind retrieved one particularly crucial memory, she slowly looked up at her companion, now kneeling beside her, his form briefly superimposed by an image of him disappearing under several tons of rubble, followed by a distant view of an enormous fireball, the roar of the explosion combined with a second agonized utterance of his name while she made another frantic attempt to break away from Kai's dogged grip on her arm.
"C'mon Saya, he's even more indestructible than David, he'll be okay."
Hot wind suddenly flew into her face and through her hair.
"Saya, you go back in there, and I'm going with ya, like it or not!"
Without realizing it, she had already started running again, she and Kai quickly catching up to the group.
He'll be alright he'll be alright he'll be alright he'll be alright…
"You're alive," she murmured tentatively, as if she doubted the truth of the statement.
Saya scooted closer to her companion, eagerly seizing his hands.
"You're alive!" she finally exclaimed.
She virtually dove at him, throwing her arms around him and covering his cheeks and forehead with a frenzy of kisses, a rapid succession on his left cheek, then leaping over his nose to the right. In that moment, there was none of the bashfulness of a modern teenage girl or the self-denying frigidity of a single-minded warrior or the prudishness of a Victorian maiden.
That wasn't to say that it was truly an act of romantic passion either, simply an expression of unmitigated emotion and a type of love that couldn't quite be defined. Haji seemed to recognize this, his only action, or reaction, was an irrepressible smile.
For the most part, they were the quick, chaste but zealous pecks a child might give to their mother after a fretted-upon absence. But the concluding kiss, whether by accident or design or some combination of the two, landed squarely on his lips, lingering there well into the ambiguous seconds that separate a brief show of affection between friends or family and a display that would have obviously labeled them as lovers. Such had been their relationship for quite some time.
Her lips left his half a heartbeat before he would have given himself permission to really kiss her back, to kiss her in a way only slightly less inappropriate now than it would have been at the Met, deeply, recklessly, lustfully, the way he'd wanted to when he felt her swallow around his blood-dripping tongue that first night at her school or when she shivered in his arms during that flirtatious cello lesson three weeks ago or a thousand other times.
That simple sound ended her momentary lapse into mania, bringing her to a more characteristic expression of her current feelings.
She knelt, half cradled in his embrace, sobbing into his shoulder for a few more seconds before she finally brought herself to speak in a tearful, yet still somehow frantic tone.
"I knew you were alive, I knew it, I knew it. I knew it." She sunk down a few inches, until she was literally crying into his heart, "But god, by the end, I was starting to get really worried, what took you so long?!"
"I was trapped, I was unable to get out until some of the debris was cleared. I am sorry."
She finally raised her eyes to his, her lips slightly parted. "You're sorry?! God Haji! How can you say that when I left you behind! I should have stayed with you, I should have been there with you, and I didn't want to leave New York without you, but David said we had to leave the country right away and – I'm sorry, oh god, it should have been me in there, or at least I should have been there with you, I should have stayed with you."
"I am glad you didn't."
"But I should have!" she exclaimed, looking up at him questioningly. "Would you have left me behind?!"
"No." The answer was so obvious to both of them that a lie in that case wouldn't have protected her feelings. "But that's not the same. I have sworn to protect you, to stay by your side."
"But what about you?!" She almost found herself blurting out the thought that instantaneously followed.
Why haven't I sworn to stay by your side, Haji?
…Wait. Why haven't I?
For whatever reason, that small reflection seemed to make her regain her self-consciousness. Though she was still too happy to be truly embarrassed, she did feel compelled to change the subject to something a little less romantically charged.
"Look at me," she said, smiling as she reached into his pocket for his handkerchief, "I even cry when I'm happy."
As if on cue, a car could be heard, screeching to a halt just outside, followed by the sound of a van door rolling open. Saya and Haji exchanged glances. Somehow, neither felt it necessary to peer out the window at the approaching footsteps.
The visitors gave a cursory knock, and then clearly attempted to turn the doorknob, to no avail. Haji didn't unlock the door until Saya had given a listless a nod of approval.
The first thing Saya thought was – who are these old guys?
Then it hit her.
David and Lewis.
Not recognizing them had just as much to do with their age as it did with other changes in their appearance, Lewis, though not at all thin, had lost a great deal of weight, and David seemed to have acquired the inevitable tan of a long-time resident of Okinawa. However they had changed, the two men were still clearly a study in opposites, David was the sort of person who could end a party with a look, Lewis was the sort of person who could start one, though he did seem to be in serious mode at the moment.
Just behind them stood Kai and Mao, both with the shadowed eyes and slightly tousled look of someone who'd been up all night.
True to form, David got straight to the point.
"A brief investigation of the incident last night has allowed us to verify that the corpse corps were shipped to Kadena by way of Hickam Airforce Base, in Honolulu. We have a jet on standby at Naha, there will be enough time for you to stop a the Miyagusuku-Jahana residence to pick up your things, but we hope to be underway within the hour."
"If that's okay with you," Kai interjected. "You don't have to do this if you don't want to. No one's gonna make you fight."
David looked slightly annoyed at his subordinate 's interference. To him, Saya's participation was a matter of course.
Saya glanced at the faces of the group. This was a familiar feeling, everyone in the room staring at her expectantly. She made no response, and didn't quite know why she was hesitating.
"I assume that you will be joining us too, Haji," said Lewis, trying to push Saya with a little more subtlety.
"I will do only what Saya wishes."
A small gasp slid between Saya's lips at the sound of those words.
The sensation that she'd been unable to explain two weeks ago, the feeling of hot tears and cool lips on her face, suddenly made sense as she recalled yet another pivotal moment, just prior to the one that had triggered her giddy display of affection a few minutes earlier. For some reason, the phrase that stuck out in her mind was not his plea for her life…
"I have always loved you, Saya…"
Her head snapped to the side, staring at the man who had said those words.
He… said that he loved me.
What a bizarre concept. Just yesterday, he'd been a desirable older man whom she didn't have a chance with. Excepting the guilt over a century and a half of bloodshed and the responsibility to end it, she'd just found herself in a teenage girl's dream.
She flushed noticeably, recalling, with no small amount of embarrassment, some of the thoughts she'd entertained over the past few weeks, particularly the steamy girlish fantasies of which he had been the star.
God, what was wrong with me? I should be ashamed of myself, thinking that about Haji! He's like family!
Was anything wrong with me?
Girls always seem to like Haji… maybe I was just being normal… for once…
Kai always had a talent for snapping her out of her reveries.
The commanding call to action was meant just as much for herself as the rest of the party.
…There are things I must do. People I must protect…
The only view afforded by the window seat was an endless ocean pressed up against an orange sky, as the plane had overtaken the sunrise.
"Hey Saya." Mao leaned back over her seat. "It's pretty boring, isn't it?"
"The future. I mean, I'd always thought we'd have either world peace or a nuclear holocaust by now, and – you know, flying cars, guns that shoot lasers, a cure for every disease, an American military-free Okinawa - it's pretty disappointing isn't it?"
"I didn't really think about it. But I guess it is kind of the same – you're all the same."
Mao laughed, "Yeah, 'cept with saggy boobs and more wrinkles than I'd like."
"You look nice! I like your new hairdo!"
"Oh, this?" Mao tossed her head, ruffling her short, now red-tinged hair. "I've had it like this for years – I get more respect at work with it this way. Excepting him," Mao gestured to Haji, "I've never met a man who liked taking orders from a woman, but for some reason, the more you look and act like a man, the more they treat you like an equal. Funny how that works."
Saya nodded in agreement. She had learned that lesson long ago, particularly during the early days of the Red Shied when it's leaders had an infuriating habit of completely ignoring any and every idea she contributed. Interestingly, when she cut her hair and started wearing men's clothes, both for symbolic and practical reasons, they seemed to attend her a little better.
"Saya, you remember when we went shopping with my sister a few weeks ago, right?
"Yeah," she answered, a little confused as to why that had just come up.
"Don't you get it, Otonashi?" Mao held up her pinky finger and laughed. "You kept your New York promise after all, and didn't even know it."
A little smile spread across Saya's lips. "Yeah, I guess I did."
Mao sat back down in her seat, leaning over to whisper to her husband, the roar of the plane engine more than loud enough to keep the conversation private.
"I don't get it."
"Don't get what?"
"If Saya's remembered all that screwed up stuff from her past, then why does she seem like she's in an even better mood than she was in yesterday. I mean, why isn't she freaking out, rocking back and forth, curled up in the fetal position?"
"That's Saya for you," Kai said, his tone an odd combination of pity and admiration.
"Well, I don't get it."
Kai thought for a moment. "I think you do, though. You take your job seriously – do you let yourself get overwhelmed by personal shit when you have work to do?"
In general, Kai was absolutely right, but at the moment, there was a little something extra keeping Saya's mind away from dark thoughts, it had returned to it's subject from earlier that morning.
She had been debating whether she should put her hand on Haji's for the past hour.
He said that he loved me. Twice actually.
… but did he only say that to keep me from killing myself? And then to make me feel better about leaving him behind?
Maybe he didn't mean that kind of love, I mean I guess it's obvious that he loves me in some way, as a friend or even as a... sister…
Even if he meant it that way, does he still mean it? It's been thirty years. He could have married and had kids by now, for all I know.
Somehow, that seemed a little too far-fetched.
… but I guess he still could have changed his mind, realized that I'm not worth -
She turned to her companion.
"The roses," she spoke quietly enough for the question to be heard only by him, "was that you?"
He looked genuinely confused for a moment. During his many visits to the Miyagusuku-Jahana household, Haji had noticed the enormous bouquet of red roses displayed proudly on the mantle, but hadn't paid it any mind beyond a plausible assumption that it must have been a gift for Mao from someone trying to curry favor with the mob-boss. Naturally, Haji wasn't so nosy as to go looking for the card, which Saya had removed and hidden in her pillowcase shortly after receiving it, anyway.
Having no idea that she might have been referring to the aforementioned bouquet, Haji quickly came to the conclusion that somehow, she must know about the roses he had been periodically leaving at the tomb over the past few decades. Perhaps she had overheard someone talking about them and not known what to make of it until now, or maybe she actually remembered seeing one during those first few minutes after emerging from the tomb.
Of course, Haji never would have intentionally taken credit for someone else's gift, let alone Solomon's. Much as he wished for the failure of Solomon's suit, Haji would have rather died than be in anyway implicated in the efforts of a man he despised so much.
"Oh." She finally gained the courage to place her hand on his. "You're sweet."
So it was him… but… I guess that still doesn't really mean anything. Haji's been giving me flowers since he was a little boy.
But that card…
"Please consider this a token of my eternal devotion."
Hmm, it doesn't seem like Haji to write that in a card that everyone could read. I guess that's why it was anonymous.
Saya was never very good at interpreting romantic gestures.
What a romantic thing to say… but…
…No, eternal devotion… that's just part of being a Chevalier, isn't it?
That's just how they are. He probably just stays with me, protects me because his blood tells him to.
It was only a moment before she recalled a rather glaring anomaly in that theory.
"It is beyond blood."
Visual reality was abruptly overtaken by the apparition of green eyes that seemed to see right through her, that sharp sidelong glance that made her question the unquestionable, that soft, head-on stare that made her believe the unbelievable.
God, I'd almost forgotten about him.
In truth, she had hardly even thought of him during those final short weeks after the Met, she had been too preoccupied with trying not to think about Diva and trying not to worry about Haji.
She would have never admitted it, but in the weeks prior to that, her thoughts on Solomon had bordered on obsession. She often engaged prolonged contemplation of his character and motives, such thoughts often peppered by brief, but strangely intrusive erotic ideation. That fixation, that habit of pondering Diva's charming, treacherous Chevalier abruptly returned to her as she sat on the plane that morning.
The man was a consummate enigma to her. He was either the least, or the most evil of Diva's Chevaliers, and that distinction depended entirely on one thing – if he was telling the truth.
On one hand, it seemed entirely likely that his professions of love and loyalty were just an unthinkably manipulative extension of his attempt to win her over to Diva's side that day at the Zoo, in which case he was even more despicably insidious than Amshel.
But if he was telling the truth – then he really had left Diva, surrendering his allegiance to her minions…
Or did that even exonerate him from evil? He didn't abandon his family out of moral principal, he had said that he did it to be free to live the life he wanted.
What a seductive concept, to someone like Saya.
To cast of the chains of destiny – was that an act of weakness – or of strength? To leave everything from the past far, far behind – was that cowardice – or courage?
The truth was that, in Solomon's case, the answer was – both.
Everything about Solomon confused her, not just in her view of him, but her view of herself, her past…
…and her future.
I wonder… if he might still –
Haji's voice echoed in her mind, a moment in that brief conversation just before slipping backstage at the Met, when she had learned of Solomon's fate.
"I saw him get cut by your sword."
Her whole body seemed to sink down into the seat.
He's dead. He has to be.
Solomon is dead.
There's no way Diva's Chevaliers would save him, a traitor, like they did with James.
And I killed him.
Her throat and lower lip tensed with a soft gulp.
I killed him, just as surely as if I ran him through myself. My fault.
He gave up everything for me, and I killed him. He died for me.
He didn't deserve to die, least of all by my hand.
Her eyes closed, as if to hold in the tears.
Could he have really loved me?
Could I have…
All of her previous doubts about his character and sincerity seemed obsolete at the moment. After all, a person's flaws and misdeeds have a way of becoming trivial while mourning their death.
All those pretty words he'd said that night on the rooftop or while defending her from James began running through her head as ceaselessly as an infectious melody, and illustrated by fanciful images of what might have been. A future where the past had been left far, far behind, the chains of destiny cast off without regret or remorse, with a man who made no secret of adoring her, who seemed to understand and wish to indulge this shameful, secret desire for freedom, a man who would carry her off into a dream, instead of drag her back into a nightmare…
Her chest heaved with stifled sobs.
Saya had absolutely no idea that, at that very moment, a few rows behind her, one of the passengers was on the phone with the man over whose death she was now grieving so passionately.
"Nathan? You're actually calling me? You usually just show up on my living room couch whenever you have something to say."
"Well, the thing is, I'm kind of on a plane. Everyone is."
"What do you mean, everyone? The Red Shield? Is Saya with you?"
"Has her memory returned?" Solomon asked eagerly.
Nathan leaned to the side in his seat and glanced at the Queen in question.
"Hmm, well, she is weeping in Haji's arms at the moment, so I think it's safe to assume – yes."
That mental image wouldn't have bothered Solomon nearly so much if he had known that by an odd coincidence, she happened to be crying on his account.
"Aka and Ruka are with you?"
Solomon sighed. "And they promised they'd call me as soon as her memories -"
"Oh give them a break, will you?! They had about ten minutes to pack and god forbid they'd take saving the world more seriously than your love life!"
"Wait. Nathan, how in the hell did you get the Red Shield to bring you along?"
"You know as well as anyone that I'm pretty good at getting people to do whatever I want."
"Hmm, why didn't they ask me? They have before," Solomon wondered aloud.
"Well, now that they've got Saya and Haji back, I'd imagine they're no longer so desperate as to solicit the help of someone known to have a questionable sense of loyalty."
Solomon ignored the comment.
"Where are you all headed?"
"Hawaii? What could make the Red Shield interested in Hawaii? I don't suppose it's a company retreat."
"Can't say any more over the phone, Lewis says there's a good chance they're bugged." Nathan paused. "Well, I assume that you'll be on the next flight out, shouldn't be too hard if price is no object, and it rarely is with you, as a matter of fact, if you get on one of those newfangled planes, you might just beat us here. So here's the deal, I'll meet you under the Iolani banyan at eight p.m., by then I'll have some more information with which you can plan your climactic entrance – I must say, you really are fabulous at revealing yourself at the most dramatic moment, waiting until the situation is so dire that she can't refuse your help - is that intentional? Oh well, gotta go. Tah, or should I say, Aloha."
A manicured finger hit the red button, and the phone slipped back into his pocket.
"It's getting close," Nathan whispered to his imaginary audience, his gaze shifting toward the clouds just outside the window. "Soon my love, soon."
He grinned to himself as he donned a pair of headphones and sought out one of the few non-classical playlists, singing obnoxiously to himself before the song even began.
End of Blood of Awakening
Continued in Where Black Met Gold. Check my profile to find it, if you so desire.
For those of you who didn't read Where Black Met Gold first (if you skipped/ignored that memo about this being a prequel), I should note that the first chapter there of was originally a oneshot, and one of the first bits of fiction I ever did in my life. Therefore, if the style is different (crappier) compared to what you've just read, than please just give it a few chapters, it actually should get remotely interesting.
And no rats were harmed in the writing of this story.
Oh, and I will take this oppertunity to announce that a Where Black Met Gold sequel will probably appear sometime later this summer.
And of course, I would absolutely LOVE it if you reviewed!
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed so far, and an extra special thank you to Lullabyes for the invaluable input and editing!