The old woman's words echoed in his mind like a toll of doom. "Regrettably . . . there is no way to become an ordinary man again."
Yuta looked down at the coastal city and was stunned to find he was fighting back tears. 'I thought I'd forgotten how to cry,' he thought bleakly, 'after all this time.
'But it hurts – why does it have to hurt so much? I knew it was a long shot when I set out… so long ago…'
Well, he had known – but he'd been younger then. Disappointment had not been the bosom friend he knew now, loneliness was just a word, pain had been something to fear and avoid rather than an integral part of his day-to-day life. And sometime during that long search, belief had slipped in. He'd honestly believed that he'd find his cure.
Five hundred years of hoping, believing, searching – destroyed in an instant with nothing to show for them. There was no cure. Five hundred years of his life, wasted.
He laughed bitterly, inside. Five years or five hundred – what did the length of time matter? Subtract either from eternity, and you still had eternity.
'But all the things I could have done with that time!' a part inside him cried, the youth he'd been Before. 'All those acquaintances who offered their hands - friendships I could have made…'
And then what? He'd just have to watch them die, like everyone else – except for him.
'Loves I might have found…'
Ditto to that.
'Homes I could have made…'
But never stayed. How long could he live in one place before someone noticed he didn't age? How long before someone realized he healed instantaneously, and wanted to know why? It was better, he knew with painful experience, to stay a drifter, never staying in one place long enough to feel the pain of leaving it.
'I can't live anywhere,' he thought, sighing. 'All I can do is just live.' The eternal lament of all immortals.
He turned away from the sight of the city below to look at Mana. She was sitting in the grass, curling and stretching her legs. They'd decided to rest here before entering town, to let Mana rest her still sore and weak legs and to give Yuta a chance to change out of and clean his perforated and blood-drenched clothing. 'Hmmm. I'm down to my last set. Time to get another job. Mana needs real clothes, too.'
"So now I'm immortal," the girl said, her face set and solemn, though less haughty than when he'd first met her. "Wonderful."
Yuta didn't find her unsettling anymore, now that he knew her story. Now, at least, she seemed human – a determined, stubborn, beautiful human girl thrown out of her sheltered childhood violently. Maybe she didn't understand grief or joy from her life of bereft emotion, but he knew she had emotions – they'd blazed in her eyes during their flight from the mermaids and the ensuing battle. But her caregiver's parting words seemed to have rattled her badly.
"This was the only place this old wretch could hope to live. Along with the mermaids. Without any joy. Without any laughter or tears. Just living."
To Yuta, the words were not so unsettling. He'd viewed life that way so often… But there was food for thought there.
'…without laughter or tears… No, I can't accept that. This world has more in store for its children – even the immortal ones.' He crouched next to Mana, his eyes staring into the distance as he looked inside himself. 'Mana – and I, too – we're young still; even I am, and there are grown trees younger than me. I've even planted some of them. We have time; we have strength, youth, and living spirit. We aren't ready to give in.
'There's more in life for us than lifeless existence!'
"Life can be fun sometimes, too," he said quietly, only half-aware he was speaking aloud. Then his lips quirked in the wry half-smile that was the only kind of smile he'd worn in decades – maybe centuries. "Of course, a life this long isn't exactly what you'd call a 'life'."
'Am I telling her this – or myself?'
Mana put a tentative hand on his leg. He covered it with one of his own and looked at her. Mana had lost much of her spoiled-princess act; the eyes that looked into his had unshielded even further, showing worry, and uncertainty – and a faint sadness, as though she understood how he was feeling, as though she knew the thoughts going through his mind.
"Is it hard, too?" she asked.
"Sometimes," he admitted, still trying to decide which of the two of them he was really trying to convince.
Suddenly, he grinned – a real, eighteen-year-old-without-a-care grin he'd never worn before. It was a grin that felt out of place (but wonderful!) on his centuries-old face. Standing, he offered her a hand up. As she accepted the offer, he said, "But, you know…"
'And this is for both of us to remember, always.'
"…Seeing how long you can live before you get completely sick of it…." He looked into her eyes, and was rewarded by a tiny smile – Mana's first.
"…isn't such a bad thing."
Okay, now for the drill. The Mermaid Saga, Yuta, Mana, and most of the dialogue are copyrighted to Rumiko Takahashi and associated press and publishers. This fanfiction is copyrighted to Cally Steussy a.k.a. Kryal, and I'm a b***h if people steal (not that anyone would want to), so if you want to show this, ask me. Read and review.