The Typical Fan-Fiction Disclaimer: I do not own +Anima or any related characters, the +Anima series is owned by Natsumi Mukai, Tokyopop, and various other parties that have to do with the creation and publishing of the series. As I probably don't need to say, this is purely a fan work.
Well…it's been a few months since Crossed Hearts reached completion, and having missed working with the series and its characters, along with seeing the +Anima category's currently sad state of consisting largely of unrelated litter, I've decided to go ahead and start something new :D
This probably won't be as long as my last fic, but it should still be a fun, hopefully somewhat unique, romp. This also isn't related to it in any way whatsoever, so don't worry about being confused if you haven't read CH.
First off, the basic idea for this fic was suggested to me by Moofy-Fan, who originally came up with the awesome theory that Astaria and Sailand actually belong to a post-apocalyptic world. Being a big fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, I couldn't resist doing something with that premise. So credit and thanks to her for the original idea!
Note that the characters here are much younger than they were in CH, and that this fic is set within the canon universe - it takes place very shortly after the end of the final manga volume. That said, also note this fic contains major spoilers for the whole series. As always, a bigger summary of this fic is located on my profile for anyone wanting a more detailed idea of where this is headed.
The young boy crawled his way through the internal tunnels and veins of the old building on his hands and knees. In a few years time, the passages, constructed mostly for air and delivery, might be too small for him, but for now they fit him perfectly, as long as he kept his wings held tightly against his back.
That was one thing he loved about his wings; they allowed him access to all sorts of places that many other people wouldn't even notice.
As he came to a familiar exit – nothing more than a hole in the bottom of the tunnel that overlooked an underground room through its ceiling – he took a last look below to make sure that no one else was around and jumped down, quickly extending his wings and using them to bring himself to a soft, safe landing on the hard ground beneath him.
The child carefully made his way though desks, stray books, exotic plants, and strange devices that he'd never understood; the thing he was looking for was in the back of Mr. Fly's laboratory.
Positioned in the far end, amongst many loose research papers and reports, was a strange, clear tube. It glistened and bubbled, filled with a lively, unidentifiable fluid. But what caught the boy's attention was the shape submerged and contained within: the woman behind the glass.
A smile spread its way across his face at the familiar sight of the winged figure. Even his six year old mind could understand that she was almost unworldly beautiful. Her wings were a pure, crisp white – so unlike his – and it was feathers, not hair, that framed her face. Her features were sharp but fine, her skin was unblemished and pale, and her silhouette was petit but perfectly carved. Yet somehow…it looked…unnatural.
Mr. Fly had told him that she was an 'angel', but to him…she'd always looked more like a doll.
And that wasn't just because of her porcelain beauty – there was an unnatural distance and passiveness surrounding her, as if her very existence was lifeless or ephemeral.
But the boy quickly wiped away the small frown that had formed on his face; none of that mattered to him.
She was also the only person who understood him. And despite how unusual she seemed even to his young mind, she was actually the one who was most like him, as well.
"Hey Blanca!" The boy greeted eagerly, a smile returning to his lips as the words left them.
The volume of his small voice was amplified almost eerily by the soundlessness of the room. Yet Blanca never opened her eternally closed eyes nor moved her motionless tongue. She remained as always; suspended by the strange liquid surrounding her. The boy, however, hadn't expected anything different – he still heard her answer.
"Hello once more, Cooro. It is good to see you."
Cooro's smile widened; she even spoke strangely, but the sound of her airy voice had come to be one of comfort. Well…perhaps 'spoke' isn't quite the right word, he realized. Her mouth was as still as ever, but her words still reached his mind. It was a voice that none of the rest of them could hear; not Mr. Fly, not the other researchers, not the Sister's, and not the other kids. He felt a strange sense of pride.
She'd explained it once…she'd said something about his anima being deeply ingrained within him… He didn't quite understand nor remember, but it didn't matter – what mattered was that he could hear her voice, something that could only be shared with him alone. A friend that was only his. No matter how much Mr. Fly and the others researched, they'd never once hear her like he could.
He nodded happily. "I was feeling lonely, so I thought I'd have lunch down here with you!"
Cautious not to disturb any books or reports, the boy set himself down on Mr. Fly's workbench. As he did so, he reached into the bag around his belt and pulled out an apple and a sandwich. Apples weren't something that the church usually gave him – the Sisters said that fruit was expensive – but he'd just recently come about some through Mr. Fly as part of a deal. Determined to enjoy them as much as possible, the child was about to bite into the red, round shape, when Blanca spoke.
"…Lonely? What brings you here, Cooro? Are the other children not eating lunch inside the church upstairs?"
The boy blinked, then found his gaze falling downcast in the direction of his muddy shoes. He never knew how Blanca knew these things, but she was always right. "They're all mad at me. They say I ruined their game by flying away with the ball…" They'd been playing some form of keep-away in the church courtyard, but, unable to resist, he'd flown up when the ball had fallen into his hands, keeping it out of reach of the others. He'd only been met though, with cries of 'cheater', 'unfair', and 'freak'. He clenched his teeth.
"I don't know why I did it… I know I'm not supposed to, but I…! I couldn't help it!" His voice resonated with frustration, its shakiness giving away the fact that he was teetering on the verge of tears. He didn't understand why he did these things, himself. It wasn't that he wanted to cheat…he almost did them without thinking about it, all of his instincts crying out to fly.
He knew he'd never be quite like them, the other children he called his siblings. For the most part, everyone at the orphanage was kind to him, yet there was still a distance that could never be breached. Even if they didn't voice it, he knew what they thought of him. Some of them were jealous, others looked down on him, and almost all of them were afraid of him on some level. The scavenger. The monster. The messenger of death. The child was unable to hold back all the tears welling up behind his gaze, a few stray drops escaping down his cheeks.
"Do not cry, child. Being a +anima is not a curse. Your anima is very bonded within you; that is why you feel its instincts as much as your own."
Blanca's voice was as level and straight as always, but its tone was soft and gentle. It wasn't enough to ease the boy's confused emotions, though, his fingernails digging into his palms. "But why! Why did I have to be a +anima? Why can't I just be like them?" He'd stopped his tears, but his words were still strained.
"Cooro… Your anima is something to be treasured. Never forget that. There may come a day when it will leave you, but until then, you must cherish it as a precious gift."
Cooro looked up at her motionless figure, but didn't say anything. The small frown remaining on his lips showed that he wasn't convinced.
"Just because you have been a +anima all your life…does not mean that you do not have a human heart."
A human heart… Just what was that really, anyway?
…And a day that his anima might leave him. Her words repeated in his head as the boy bit his lip. The 'might' was more certain than that.
A memory drifted through his mind. It was just recently… He'd just recently made a promise to Mr. Fly…the agreement that he'd gotten the apples from. The man had asked him to give him his wings one day when he was older… Mr. Fly would take them away, and the boy would become completely human for the first time. That was okay…wasn't it? But… Somehow now, talking to Blanca…he suddenly felt like he'd done something he shouldn't have.
"I…think I did something bad…" The young boy worried aloud, beneath his breath. He kept speaking before Blanca had a chance to interject – he didn't want to explain his promise to her. "Hey Blanca… If I ever do become a human…will I still be able to talk to you?"
"No…I am afraid not." The woman behind the glass answered honestly. "These times together are another thing that we must treasure while we can."
Cooro felt a pang of sorrow. He didn't want to be without Blanca again… He visited her often; since the day Mr. Fly had first taken him down the laboratory, he returned almost daily to visit the angelic figure.
"Do not despair. Do not waste the present by dreading the future."
She was right… She was right. He knew that, but…
"…Would you like another story to take your mind off your troubles?"
Finally, the boy gave a small smile again, along with an eager nod.
He loved Blanca's stories.
They painted the picture of an Astaria very different from the one he lived in, yet she swore they were all true.
They were strange tales…
She told him about big machines that used to carry people from place to place, including ones that made regular humans able to fly. She told him about strange boxes that used to tell stories and show moving pictures. She told him about an object that could carry ones voice thousands of miles away to someone else holding a similar one. She told him about an object that could capture a perfect image of anyone or anything on paper with the click of a button. She told him about objects that played music even when no was there to create it. She told him about small, glass objects that made light. She told him about huge, metal buildings tall enough to scrape the sky…
She spoke of a world that had cement pathways paved into it like veins. She spoke of a world run by pipes, by steam, and by a thing called 'electricity' that made all these feats possible…something that no one knew how to use anymore.
Her tales never failed to fill his young mind with wonder.
But…why? Were the stories really true? They seemed so much like fantasy, so hard to imagine…yet he knew that the white angel would never lie. Even though he was a child, she wouldn't make things up and tell him they were real if they weren't.
…if the world was once like this, why was it so different now? How come the things she spoke of didn't exist anymore? How come everyone had forgotten how to use 'electricity' and all these strange machines?
It wasn't fair at all!
Even if some of the things she told him of sounded a bit frightening, he would have loved to have seen them.
"Is there a particular story you would like to hear about today?"
The boy thought for a moment. After biting his lip, he spoke up with slight hesitation. "…Can you tell me about what happened? About why the things in your stories don't exist anymore?" His curiosity had gotten the best of him.
"…I am sorry, Cooro. I do not believe I should tell you that story yet. Perhaps one day, when you are grown."
Cooro's chest fell when she finally answered, even though he'd somehow expected her words. "You sound just like all the Sisters…" He pouted. "I'm six years old now! I'm not a little kid anymore!"
"You still have much to learn, and will change far more, before you become an adult. And even then…it is not a story that is pleasant to talk about. Even if you were grown…I am afraid that I would not feel up to talking about this story today…"
The boy bit his lip once more, frustrated. Still…if she didn't want to talk about it, he wasn't going to push it. After all, he didn't want to upset his friend.
But…there was something else that bothered him. Blanca's voice was usually a soft but straight monotone…yet there was something different in it, this time. She sounded…tired, somehow. And she seemed…sad. He doubted it was just about the story. "Blanca…is something wrong?"
"No, it is nothing. I do not wish to trouble you, child."
She insisted, the tone in her voice not changing despite her attempt to cover it up. Cooro frowned. "Don't worry about that. I come to you with all my problems, don't I?" It was true – most of the time, the boy hid his sorrows behind a smile, but there was something about being with Blanca that made him feel he could finally give them voice. It was only fair if he listened to her worries, too.
The woman hesitated a moment longer before she finally spoke, admitting what was on her mind.
"…I do not understand why Master Greena and the others hurt me so."
Cooro didn't know what to say to that. The young child didn't fully understand just what Mr. Fly and the others did to the girl trapped inside the tube.
But… He'd seen the way Mr. Fly looked at her. It was completely different from the way he looked at anyone else, and completely different than the gazes the other researchers gave Blanca, too.
He liked her…a lot.
So…why would he hurt her? He didn't know the answer to that question, either.
"I…don't know." He admitted. "But…I do know that Mr. Fly really likes you. I'm sure that everything he does must be to help you, somehow…"
"You put well too much faith in Master Greena, Cooro…"
There was a pain in her voice…a hurt he'd never heard there before.
In spite of her words, he knew she liked him a lot, too. No one else could make such a sorrow appear in her calm words. "Blanca…why do you care about Mr. Fly so much?"
"He reminds me of Father."
"…Father?" Cooro blinked, then all at once brought his face up. His expression gave away his surprise. "You mean…you have a dad?" He'd never heard anything about this before.
"He is dead. He passed away long ago…"
Dead. For a six year old child, he understood that word far too well.
He was a 'messenger of death', after all.
"Oh…I'm sorry…" The young boy looked down. "D…don't feel sad! My mom and dad are probably dead, too!" He commented, trying to comfort her.
Well…if he'd even had a mother and father. No one had ever told him why he lived at the orphanage, and he'd never asked. Asking such a thing felt…taboo, somehow.
Blanca was strangely quiet for a moment, an unusual hesitance in her voice when she finally spoke once more.
"Cooro…would you like to know what happened to your family?"
The boy instantly tensed, her words catching him off-guard. …What…happened…?
He felt a shiver creep up his spine.
"I can tell you, if you wish it. I met your mother once, while you were still growing inside of her."
Cooro said nothing, but turned to face the winged figure with wide, almost disbelieving eyes. His mouth moved, but his tongue suddenly felt dry – no words came out.
…And then a door opened with a loud clank.
Their conversation disturbed, Cooro quickly whipped around to face a very startled, angry looking Fly Greena Aight.
That was the last time he'd ever spoken to Blanca.
Fly had been absolutely furious, not having expected him to sneak in. For a man who was usually so straight-laced, he could sure be frightening when he was angry. After a particularly harsh scolding and a few lost meals, the researchers found his secret entrance to the laboratory and sealed it off for good.
The eleven year old Cooro let out a somber sigh, the memories playing absently in his mind as he flicked away a few dead feathers.
All it'd been was just over a couple of weeks since they'd left Kilter… He wasn't sure why, but sometimes he felt like his mind was still somewhere up in the clouds. His thoughts would wander aimlessly, old memories haunting him in moments of sleep and stillness.
Fly and Blanca… They were gone…weren't they?
He hadn't been there, but from what he'd heard Fly had taken off to the skies with the white angel while the boy's own wings had been fused to his back…after the fulfillment of that old promise years ago.
But neither of them had been seen since…and after a few days of searching, it had been concluded that Fly was likely dead.
Cooro knew that he was.
How? The boy distractedly ran a finger down the tip of his wing. These were the same wings he'd always had – the anima Fly had taken from him had returned. His left wing still had that same scar hidden below its bottom-right feathers, and even its presence felt familiar.
He could feel the anima there inside his body along with his own spirit, tingling at the edges of his senses and at the back of his mind. It was like an old friend…
It was strange…he'd never been without his anima, so he hadn't noticed before, but now that it'd been separate for a while, he realized he could feel its memories independently from his own.
He could see Fly soaring with Blanca…and he could see the man fall as it left while he was still airborne. He could see the image of the researcher beginning to plummet, he and Blanca in each other's arms as she started to disperse as if she'd been nothing but a porcelain dream. The memories cut off at the moment the anima instead found its way back to him, but he was still left with the haunting image. They were both gone.
The boy felt a lump in his throat as he once again saw their final, contented smiles.
She'd come to him once during the night as a wandering shadow – a discontent soul moving separately from a restrained body – but he'd never gotten the chance to truly talk to her again. He would've loved to have seen his old friend even once more, but at least she wasn't inside that horrible tube anymore… She could finally be free.
Cooro glanced towards the midnight sky. Everyone else was fast asleep, leaving an eerie silence as both the ground and the horizon stretched out below him from Harden's rooftop. The atmosphere was clear, and the moon was round, golden and full. It truly was a beautiful spring night…the countless stars above him twinkling as if they were restless spirits, themselves.
…Were Fly and Blanca in Heaven now…just like the Sister's had always explained when he'd been growing up?
Even after everything, the boy still couldn't find it in himself to resent Fly. Anger was an emotion he hardly even understood.
He just hoped they were both happy, wherever they were.
But his bittersweet smile slowly curved its way into a frown as he gazed up at the endless expanse of stars.
It was odd, really. He barely remembered the brief period of time he'd spent without his anima; the only hours of his life when he'd truly been human. In a way, the anima's memories of that time were stronger than his own.
All that he recalled was a horrible feeling of nakedness and a dull, lonely sorrow of which he didn't know the origin. He hadn't felt whole, as if 'Cooro' had died and he'd been left in his place as a halfhearted replica. Someone had been calling him…a warm, comforting voice calling down to him from the heavens. In those moments of utter helplessness, all he'd wanted to do was follow that voice and rest in its owner's arms.
The young boy swallowed down another lump as it formed and ached in the back of his lungs.
Even if his mind didn't know who the voice had belonged to, his heart understood. Fly had told him that he had no mother…but he was sure now that he'd been lying. Besides, Blanca had once spoken otherwise.
"I met your mother once, while you were still growing inside of her."
…He never had gotten to hear the ending to Blanca's stories. Nor what she'd been going to tell him about his family. And now he never would.
Cooro just gave his head a dismissive shake.
Maybe that was just as well… Truth be told, he'd never really wanted to know. He wanted to enjoy the happiness of the present, not dwell on the sorrows of the past.
Trying to push his thoughts away, he turned back to his outstretched wings.
The crow +anima was on the roof of the blacksmith's shop, just above the window of the spare bedroom where he and his companions slept. Feeling restless, he'd decided to spend some time fixing up his wings; he was currently molting, something not even +anima were immune to, and unless he kept a handle on it, switching into his +anima always resulted in a feathery mess this time of year.
He, Husky, Senri, and Nana had all just arrived at Harden's a few days ago. It'd taken them awhile to agree on what they wanted to do next…but in the end they'd made the decision to end their journeys for the time being and finally find somewhere to settle.
They'd been looking for a place where they could truly belong; a secure home where they could be with people who loved and accepted them for who and what they were.
But…if there was one thing they'd discovered through their travels, it was that they already had those things. They had found what they'd originally set out to look for, just not in the way that they'd expected.
They'd learned so much about each other…and they'd slowly transformed from a group of wanderers with a common goal into a family.
And home wasn't so much where you were as it was who you were with. As long as they were together, they'd always be home.
In that sense their journey had already been completed.
Remembering Harden's and Margaret's kindness, they'd decided to return to the two of them and see if they could find shelter there. And as fortune would have it, Harden hadn't minded the idea of their presence at all; he'd told them they could stay for as long as they wanted and needed. In fact, they could grow up here, if they wished.
Life was going to be very different from now on.
It wasn't just that they had a place to stay, now. Despite having gained so much, Cooro knew that he'd also lost something.
The ability to hide behind his fake smiles.
For so long now, the boy had always hid his true feelings behind a mask built on a shaky foundation of lies, denial, and forced grins.
But now that security blanket was gone; his companion's had seen what laid behind it, and now knew that the mask wasn't his true face. He could no longer fool them with his disguise. …And he no longer needed to try; they'd proved that to him when they'd saved him that day on that funeral rock.
It didn't matter if he cried. It didn't matter if he voiced his own desires. They still loved him. As hard as he found it to truly believe or understand that, it was that thought that had given him the strength to remain in this world.
But…was he ready to stop trying to fool himself?
Pausing in his efforts to clean his wings, Cooro was still for a moment, just letting his legs dangle from the edge of the rooftop.
The crow +anima had always thought that Blanca had seemed like a doll…but maybe it was actually him who was made of porcelain and wood.
He'd never lived for himself. He lived by following and fulfilling the desires and needs of others, like a puppet controlled by strings. Or like a sinner trying to find forgiveness for their crimes. In reality, the goal he'd started his travels with hadn't even been companionship…he'd just been fulfilling another of Fly's needs. It'd started off as nothing but another lie…one he'd told for the sake of someone else.
"Tell us what you want for once! You owe us that much!"
The words Husky had cried out to him that day just over two weeks ago repeated through his memory.
…What did he really want?
He'd truly fallen into his role as they boy who always smiled. It'd been so long now that he had a hard time taking that mask off. Sometimes, even he didn't know himself which smiles were genuine and which were merely remnants of a disguise that he was struggling to take off. Which feelings were really his, and which were those of the fake persona he'd assembled?
…Who was he, anyway? …Who was 'Cooro' really?
He didn't know. He truly didn't know. And in the moments that he actually stopped to think about it, that was terrifying.
His thoughts wandered again back to the hours he'd spent with his anima – his grounding identity, in some ways – stripped away. He remembered the feeling its absence had left…the empty, naked helplessness of a doll who'd had its pieces torn off, and a shiver rolled down his spine.
…Wait. That shiver wasn't just from his thoughts, was it…?
The cold sensation suddenly spread without warning, whipping violently through his body in a single, sharp burst before quickly disappearing, as if it'd never been there. It was already gone by the time a startled, bewildered whelp left the boy's mouth.
Cooro blinked, bewildered as his heartbeat returned to normal. …What the…?
But he didn't have time to dwell on that uncertainty.
The house beneath him was shaking, he all at once realized, as were the trees surrounding it and the very ground below.
Instinctively, he leapt from the rooftop with wings spread wide. In an event like this, he would be better of hovering in a safe place in the air. Here, he couldn't even feel the vibration, much less have to worry about anything collapsing.
…But what was that sound?
There was a strange, high-pitched rumble coming from somewhere below. It wasn't the usual roar of an earthquake…he could hear that, too, but this strange sound was distinctively its own.
It wasn't quite like anything he'd ever heard before; cold, creaky, hollow, and constant, sputtering on without so much as a pause as the earthquake continued. It was…hard to describe, but it made the back of his hair stand on end.
…The earthquake was lasting a good while, too.
From somewhere beneath him, he heard the voices of his companions join the cacophony through the open window, though the rumbling obscured their words.
And then, just as suddenly as it'd begun, it stopped.
It gave a last, loud roar, making the +anima flinch and almost loose his hold on the air, and then it faded. The world all at once became as silent and still as it'd been when he'd first took his place on the rooftop.
"…What in the hell…?"
"Did it finally stop?"
"Seems like it…I think my ears are still ringing."
"Is everyone alri – …Hey, where's Cooro?"
With the rumbling gone, the words of his friends were audible again, but Cooro barely heard them.
He felt numb, his fluttering heartbeat refusing to calm down. Even though it'd fallen silent, the vibration echoed eerily in his mind and a small, chilled shiver still lingered at the edge of his spine.
For a while, he just stayed there, staring at nothing.
It was Senri's familiar, monotone voice that brought the boy back to reality. "…Huh?"
Cooro glanced downwards, only to find the bear +anima gazing at him with his head leaned outside the window and a finger pointed upwards.
It wasn't long before Husky and Nana joined him. "Ah, Cooro! There you are! What do you think you're doing outside at this time of night?" The girl questioned, crossing her arms as she stared up at him. She looked irritated.
Ever since the incident in Kilter, when they'd stopped him from flying away to somewhere he'd never be able to return from, it was as if his companions didn't want him to wander off by himself. They would get nervous whenever he'd leave, as if they worried he wouldn't come back…
"Oh…" Snapping his thoughts away from the earthquake and back to the situation at hand, Cooro lowered himself onto the roof once more. He peered down at his friends from over the edge. "I learned a long time ago that the safest place to be during an earthquake is in the air, so I came out here. I did it without even thinking about it, really." He lied, not wanting to trouble them further. At least he was still good at some things.
Husky didn't quite seem to buy it, though, the fish +anima raising an eyebrow. "I never noticed you leave. Actually, I didn't notice you at all."
Cooro forced a bewildered blink. "Really? Well, it was pretty noisy. I couldn't really hear what everyone else was doing, either." He put on a smile, though his relief was genuine. "I'm glad everyone's alright!"
The silver haired boy just stared, still not seeming convinced.
"Hey…what was that, anyway?" But thankfully his words had been enough to shift the conversation. Nana had spoken up again, her fingers fiddling anxiously with the lacey hem of her nightgown. "…I don't think I've ever heard anything like that before…"
"How should I know?" Husky barked, giving an exasperated groan. At least he seemed to have dropped the subject of Cooro's absence for now.
"…I didn't like it, it was…scary. And it made my head ache." The girl continued, still seeming nervous.
"Well, guess what? I didn't like it either." Husky just shook his head now. "But whatever it was, it's over, now. We can ask Harden and Margaret if they know what it was tomorrow, but for now I just want to go back to sleep." He complained, before looking back up at the crow +anima again. "Cooro, you come in, too. We need to get some rest."
"Right." The dark-haired boy simply nodded, his original goal of cleaning his wings forgotten.
He used the feathered limbs to flutter down to the windowsill before putting them away, withdrawing them into the twin spiral markings on his shoulders.
But he remained a last moment, stopping and turning his gaze back towards the midnight world outside.
…What was that? The others seemed to have shrugged it off until morning at least, but that question repeated itself over and over again in his mind.
There was an uneasiness in his chest that wouldn't go away.
"Hmm…Cooro? Is something wrong?"
"Ah…no, nothing." The boy turned back towards the others at the sound of Nana's voice. "I'm just a bit sleepy."
Well…maybe that wasn't really a lie after all. Maybe he really did just need sleep. Despite his tense muscles, he did feel tired, now that he thought about it.
With that, he walked over towards his sleeping bag and settled himself beneath the blankets. No matter how much he thought about it, he knew he wouldn't be able to turn up any answers on his own, anyway.
He had to force his gaze shut, but once he did, it stayed closed, slumber overpowering his wandering consciousness.
Well, that's it for the prologue - thanks for reading. I'm hoping there's still a +Anima audience around here amongst all the unrelated fics crowding this section.
As always, please review and stay tuned!