End of Innocence v2.0
By Dixxy Mouri
Chapter Fourteen: Missing Comrades
I felt a lump hit my stomach as Sehkment pulled into Mia's driveway.
"You all right?" asked Sehkment, pulling the car into park and turning off the engine. He looked at the front door. "Y'know. . . you're gonna have to face them sometime, but I'm gonna tell you now – your friends are not doing so well right now – especially Ryo, Rowen, and Kento."
I nodded, and Ariel squeezed my hand. "It's okay, Daddy," she said.
I closed my eyes and winced. Introducing the guys to Ariel was NOT going to be easy – how was I going to explain what happened in front of Ariel? She didn't need to know that – at least, not now – but my friends deserved SOME kind of explanation. I just needed to figure out HOW to give that explanation.
Sehkment, meanwhile, had opened the door next to my seat. "We have arrived, sir," he said, giving me a mock bow. I narrowed my eyes at him as Ariel giggled. Of course a five year old would find it hilarious that one of her father's friends was teasing him, but I wasn't as amused by it as I got out of the car.
As soon as I had closed the car door, the front door burst open and Kayura – now looking a little older (and a little more attractive) burst out in anger. "SEHKMENT! WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN? YOU SON OF A BITCH I SWEAR I'M GOING TO RIP YOUR HEAD OFF MYSELF! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?!"
Sehkment raised a hand and placed it over her mouth. "Kid," he said, gesturing to Ariel (who smiled and waved at Kayura despite her tyrade). "Watch the potty mouth, Kayura, or else her dad's gonna be pretty pissed off at you and he just Super Wave Smashed an ogre from the back of my car a little while ago, so I'd think it would be best not to anger him."
Kayura slowly turned her eyes to me, and they widened in surprise. I swallowed hard, unsure of what to say, but Ariel immediately went up to Lady Kayura. "You're a pretty lady! Do you know my daddy and Mr. Sehkment? My daddy's like Sailor Moon because he can make a magic armor appear and beat up monsters!"
I laughed nervously and shrugged. "Kids – what are you gonna do?"
Sehkment removed his hand from Kayura's mouth, allowing her to speak. "Cye," she said. She turned back to Sehkment for an explanation, who just smiled and shrugged. She turned back to me, then looked down at my daughter, and back up at me. "So. . . I think I understand why you've been absent these past few years."
I nodded. "I think I owe you all an explanation," I said. "I was hoping to have a friend of mine watch her for a few days, but as Ariel and Sehkment pointed out, we had a slight ogre problem that changed our plans at the last minute, although I suppose she's safer here than she would be elsewhere."
"That's probably true," said Kayura. She knelt down and smiled at Ariel. "So your name is Ariel, huh? My name is Kayura, and your father is a friend of mine." Ariel nodded enthusiastically. "Well, let's head inside, all right? There's a big friendly tiger in there and maybe you can play with him for a little, all right?"
Ariel froze. "Don't they eat little kids?"
"This one doesn't," said Kayura. "His name is White Blaze and he's very good with children. We'll go find him so you two can play while the adults talk, all right? He's basically just a very big kitty cat and he's incredibly sweet when he needs to be. I'm sure you'll be fine with him, okay?"
I nodded. "If you'd like we can make sure Mr. Sehkment stays with you," I said.
"Okay. . ." said Ariel.
"I take it you've explained things to Sehkment already?" asked Kayura.
"Yes – Ariel and I were at a park playing outside for a bit when Ariel's ball hit Sehkment while he was trying to take a nap in the grass – I must say I was a bit surprised to see him after all this time, and he looked quite shocked to see me," I said. I looked at Sehkment. "As for watching Ariel for me, would you do it, please? Or would that be too much to ask?"
Sehkment sighed. "Whatever, Cye. I'm turning into your freakin' babysitter, sheesh," he said. He looked at Ariel, who had a funny look on her face, and rolled his eyes. "C'mon – let's go play with the kitty," he said, taking her hand and leading her into the house.
"They'll be fine," said Kayura. "If not, he'll answer to me."
"Is that a bad thing?" I asked.
She grinned darkly at me. "They have a healthy amount of fear."
I laughed. "You can't scare me – I have a kid."
Kayura returned the chuckle. "What's so scary about her?"
"You won't understand until you have them," I said.
We walked into the house, and I felt a pit in my stomach. It was so familiar, so welcoming. . . and yet so very frightening at the same time. The furniture, the paint on the walls, the decor. . . it was like I was suddenly sixteen again for a moment. I froze a few feet in, and Kayura had to drag my hand.
"The others are upstairs in the library – well, some of them."
"Some?" I asked.
Kayura frowned. "Ryo, Rowen, and Kento have disappeared."
The last Ancient sighed. "We don't know what happened."
As we started up the stairs, Kayura explained the basic situation to me. Ogres similar to the one Sehkment and I saw showed up at the Koji manor – by the time things settled down, only Sage was left. The other Warlords came over as soon as they could, and they were discussing the matter when Sehkment and I showed up.
When we arrived outside the room, I was almost immediately greeted by an angry Cale. "You dumbass! We've got a full blown emergency and you're off – huh?" The former Warlord of Darkness, Corruption, and Decay just stared at me with his jaw dropped. "What the – where the hell did YOU come from?!"
Dais was the next one to emerg. Unlike Cale, he wasn't yelling. He raised an eyebrow, but then smiled. "Well, it's good to see you're in good health," he said. He pushed Cale out of the way and gave me a rather unexpected bear hug. "Even though I told Sehkment NOT to go looking for you it's good to see that you've finally come back to us!"
Apparently that was a trigger for Mia and Sage to skid out of the room. Both looked a little older, though many things remained the same. Sage still had the same haircut and the same mature air about him – it was just a little more developed. Even so, he still seemed very worried about something. Mia had cut her hair and her features seemed to also be a bit more attractive. Both of them, however, wore matching looks of shock on their faces.
"Cye?!" Sage asked. He stepped forward, eyes wide and his jaw dropped. "What the. . . how? Just, just HOW!?" The warrior of Halo stopped in front of me, unsure of what to do. "Cye. . . when did you come back? We've. . . it's been five years and. . . we were afraid something terrible had happened and. . ."
Kayura put a hand on Sage's shoulder. "Sehkment and Cye ran into each other while our favorite Ronin of Autumn was in Tokyo," she said calmly. "That is, he ran into Cye and someone else of extreme interest – which, if you don't mind, I think we'd all like to hear a full explanation."
"Full explanation of what?" asked Mia.
Kayura smiled. "Where his daughter came from."
I looked down. "Her name is Ariel."
Sage promptly sat down on the floor where he was, staring up at me in silence. Dais helped him back to his feet, leading him back into the temporary meeting room. Cale looked a bit unreadable, and Mia looked somewhat uncomfortable as she slowly walked back into the room. I turned to Kayura with a slightly annoyed and angry look on my face.
"Go on – explain yourself."
To make a long story short, I did.
Needless to say, the reaction I got was a bit mixed. Cale seemed ready to make a snide remark about the rape, but both Kayura and Dais were quick to shut him up with a smack on the head and an elbow to the gut (which pretty much kept him quiet for the rest of my time in the very much unwanted spotlight). Sage was awfully quiet, his head in his hands. Even though he wasn't saying anything, his body was trembling – he was angry. Mia and Kayura (well, once she was done hitting Cale) both immediately hugged me. Kayura apologized for being so blunt about Ariel (though admitted Sehkment's bluntness gave her no reason to think she should tip-toe around the issue).
"Cye, you should have told someone about what that girl did to you," said Dais. He folded his arms and crossed his legs, looking at me somewhat kindly and sympathetically. "The other Ronins are your friends – they would have helped you. Especially with the little girl – speaking of which, where is she?"
"Sehkment's watching her while she plays with White Blaze," said Kayura.
"She's only five years old – I don't want her knowing about her conception yet," I said. "I know I need to tell her something eventually, but I don't want her to grow up feeling guilty or anything. I love her to pieces and even though it's been tough I wouldn't give her up for anything. . . but as much as I want to be honest with her, I can't about this."
"Cye, keeping this from your child is understandable," said Mia, rubbing my back. "But I really wish you hadn't kept this from us – we could have done something. We would have helped you raise Ariel. It's a good thing Kojiro helped you but the two of you didn't have to do that alone."
Sage finally looked up and sighed. "Well, at least you're all right – are you?"
I sighed. "I still go to a support group."
Cale scoffed (and Dais elbowed him in a slightly more southern region).
"I was afraid," I said. "I still have nightmares about what happened and even though it's years later, it sometimes feels like it just happened. When it first hapepned I guess I didn't want you guys to know because I was afraid it would change how everyone treated me. I thought you guys would never let me leave the house by myself, or that my mother would force me back to England, or God knows what else."
Sage sighed. "I. . . guess I can't promise you none of that would have happened," he said. "I don't know if Sehkment told you, but the others have been a mess since you left and it's been terrible trying to take care of them sometimes. And no, I don't feel like I'm treating them the same way I used to but at times I feel like I don't have a choice."
"And based on that you're pretty sure you'd treat a rape victim the same way," said Kayura.
"Yeah, I guess," said Sage.
"Speaking of whom, we need to find them," said Dais. "But first let's find Sehkment and the little one she Sehkment can get filled in on what's going on – then we'll plan a strategy from there. We may be down three armor bearers, but we just found Cye again and I don't think Cye would have come here if he wasn't willing to fight."
"According to Sehkment, Cye Super Wave Smashed an ogre from the back of his car," said Kayura. She grinned as she stepped out of the room, turning back to wink at us and continued to talk as she moved down the hallway. "While it was moving. And the attack in question was at point blank distance, too."
Cale had a distant look in his eyes before they widened. "THAT'S AWESOME!"
I volunteered to cook dinner that night – the Warlords and Kayura had heard things about my cooking but never experienced it, and Mia and Sage offered no objections to my cooking. Ariel just wanted to make sure there were no green beans (yet she likes spinach, carrots, and peas – go figure). Yuli, I was informed, was studying in America for month and was not due back for another week.
With me watching (and Kayura explaining things to Sehkment in another room), the others introduced themselves to Ariel. My daughter, who was riding White Blaze like Ryo and Yuli and Mia had done many times before, smiled sweetly at them all and asked Cale where his big "boo-boo" had come from. Dais found this hilarious, and once he made sure Ariel wasn't looking, Cale flipped him the bird.
Mia in particular was very fond of Ariel, and Ariel seemed to like Mia in return. The woman who helped us so much during our battle gently took my daughter by the hand and asked if she would like it if she was read a story. Ariel nodded and followed me, White Blaze in tow (though the cat did stop long enough to rub up against me and give me a friendly snort hello – I scratched him behind his ears).
Satisfied that she'd be okay on her own for a little bit, I started making a simple pasta and sauce dish – good, from scratch, and satisfying, but not overly complicated to make. It was one of Kento's favorites, and reminding myself of that made me worry as I started stirring the sauce.
Sehkment had pointed out that although Sage was starting to come undone, Ryo, Rowen, and Kento were already undone with a loss of emotions, over dedication to work, and alcoholism. None of it seemed good. Kento was slowly poisoning himself, Rowen was either going to starve or tire himself to death and who knew what would happen with Ryo if that kept up? And the thought of the three of them missing was worrying.
"Um. . . do you need help with anything?"
I turned away from the sauce I was stirring to see Sage had come into the kitchen. I widened my eyes – Sage didn't usually offer me help before, but then again, right now we were the only two elemental armor bearers with known locations – plus I HAD been away for five years – so I smiled and asked Sage to make a salad.
"I. . . know I probably should have called more often than I did," I said.
Sage shook his head as he washed the lettuce "It's okay."
"I guess so." He put the head of lettuce on the counter and looked at me. "We really missed you, you know. It was like a big part of all of us was missing. We aren't the usual sort, but we were. . . we ARE a family, aren't we?" I took a moment to think about it, and then I nodded. Sage smiled. "I'm glad you see it that way, too."
"Well, we all went through something fierce and stuck together for a while afterwards," I said. I laughed. "After all that's happened today, I can't figure out why I thought running away and not telling you all what happened was the right answer."
"So. . . why tell Kojiro?" asked Sage.
"Because after I got away from Sheila, I was almost hit by a truck," I said.
"You. . . tried to kill yourself?"
I shook my head. "I don't think so – I think I was just so upset over what happened that I was a little. . . numb. Kojiro happened to be walking by and pushed me out of the way and started to yell at me. But eventually he figured out something was wrong, brought me back to his place, and figured things out." I sighed. "I know he's not one of us, but he's been a major support for me these past few years."
"I thought he up and disappeared, too."
"Dumb luck that we found each other in Tokyo," I said. "We could have ended up at different shelters or Kojiro could have left before I got there or I might have never run into her that night with the baby and. . . as I said, it was completely dumb luck we ran into each other."
"Why did Kojiro ran away?"
"His stepfather was a jerk."
I looked at Sage, who was absently slicing the lettuce – in the same place – and I knew there was something else on his mind. "Sage?" I asked.
"There's another reason you-"
"I can't go through with my arranged marriage."
I blinked. "Um. . . do you not love her?"
"No! No I don't! I've never even met her! How can I LOVE her?" said Sage, shaking his head. He looked at me with desperate eyes. "You see. . . I. . ." He looked around, then closed the door to the kitchen, leaving us alone in the room. "I haven't told anyone about this yet. . . and I think you're the only one who can help me with this."
"Um. . . all right?"
"For the past four years. . . Mia and I have had a little. . Thing."
My eyes widened as I realized what Sage was implying when he said "thing". I almost dropped the spoon I was holding and couldn't believe my ears. "You mean. . . all this time. . . you and Mia. . . you. . . Mia. . . our Mia. . . you've been sleeping with -MMMPH!"
Sage put his hand over my mouth and a finger to his lips as he nodded. "It didn't start out that way!" he said. "The two of us were watching the others fall apart around us and one night about two and a half years ago. . . that's when it started, and at first that's where we thought it would end but it didn't, and then one evening I realized I was in love with Mia and she felt the same way."
My first thought was something like this: Mia and SAGE!? How long has this been going on? I mean, yes, Sage might be the best looking of us all and the most collected and I guess I was a little unavailable and the others have problems but good Lord I wasn't expecting that! Mia and SAGE!? Sage and MIA!? MIA!? SAGE!?
And then my thoughts shifted. What the hell, Sage!? We've got three friends missing, we're basically under attack by some unknown enemy and suddenly you want to talk about your love life? Come on, Sage, I thought you of all people would be able to keep your priorities straight! Can't we worry about this AFTER we get this situation resolved!?
"But it's not just that," he said. "I've been freaking out as of late because. . ."
"Because what?" I asked.
Sage looked ashamed. "Things have been really intense for a while. . . it wasn't always this serious but we think one of the condoms broke but we didn't notice it and we couldn't do anything about it but then. . ." Sage gulped, and I knew what he was about to say. "Mia's kinda. . . pregnant."
I dropped the spoon on the floor. Mia's gonna have a baby?! And Sage is the father?! That explains why Sage has lost his head! Bloody hell he's going to be a father! I inwardly frowned. And to a woman he's not allowed to marry because he parents want him to marry someone else – maybe even a complete stranger. No wonder he wants – no, NEEDS – to talk about this now! He can't fight like this!
Sage sighed. "That's why I'm freaking out. My parents don't know about Mia and want me to marry someone else, but I want to marry Mia and do the right thing – and, you know, I love the woman, too. Then this happens and makes things worse – what if these things go after Mia because of my involvement with her, or if they find out she'd pregnant with my child? I mean, didn't it already go after Ariel?"
Now Sage approaching me specifically was beginning to make a little more sense. Ah. There's the connection. I'm the only experienced parent in this house right now that he knows about and the only one with a situation even remotely close to his – Mia could be in as much trouble as Ariel might be. "That's why you want my advice," I said slowly.
Sage leaned up against the counter. "I don't know what I should do. Now that I'm going to be a father, it makes things a lot harder," he said. "A few months ago I would have been able to go into battle without much of a problem – it feels like it would have been one thing to leave Mia behind if I got killed. She's smart and strong and she could take care of herself and she understands the armors – I feel like she'd understand. I mean, she's MIA. She knew more about the armors than we did the first time we fought Talpa. She's the reason we were able to rescue each other after Talpa scattered us. Believe me I don't want to leave her like that but she and I made it clear to each other in the beginning that if something came up and I needed to fight again that she would not hold me back from doing what I had to do."
I nodded. "Sounds like something Mia would do."
Sage closed his eyes and put his fist to his mouth. "But I don't want to leave her knowing she'd be pregnant and then raising a baby by herself. I know you did it – raised a kid on your own, I mean – but we never talked about what would happen if a baby was involved. Me making that promise to Mia is one thing, but the baby? That scares me."
I folded my arms. "The thought that I might die and and leave Ariel scares me as well," I said. "I can't say I understand what it's like to be in your shoes as an expecting father since I didn't know about her until after she was born, but she's the most important thing in the world to me right now. She's my daughter, and everything changed when Sheila told me she'd gotten pregnant and had the baby."
"What do we do?" asked Sage.
"As much as it sucks, we don't have much choice but to fight," I said. "If we don't do anything, whatever it is we're dealing with might destroy the world – we have to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen. Even if Ariel and your unborn child have to live without us. . . at least they'd be living. It's not an ideal situation, but it's better than Ariel getting hurt or your child never taking a breath of their own."
"Or we get killed and there's nothing to protect them."
"Well, Mia would understand you didn't die without a fight – Ariel might not."
I raised an eyebrow. "Because she's five?"
Sage turned around. "It never occurred to me we'd have to deal with this."
I placed my hand on his shoulder, and Sage turned his head. "I'll protect you."
"You watch my back so I can get back to Ariel," I said. "I'll watch yours so you can marry Mia and live to see your child born." I smiled. "But. . . you might want to let everyone else know what's going on – including your parents. If they love you, they'll understand that even if they wanted you to marry some pure-bred upper class girl who's probably spent most of her life training to be someone's wife, you need to be with Mia – even if it's just for the baby in their eyes."
Sage nodded. "Seems like an awkward thing to bring up."
"Well you can always catch them while they're cooking dinner."
Just then, Dais came into the kitchen. Sage seemed a little nervous that maybe he'd heard something, but the look on his face told me his mind was elsewhere. Still, he'd barged in on what was definitely a private conversation between Sage and me. I frowned at him. "Could you have knocked?"
Dais scratched his head. "In the kitchen?"
I sighed. "Never mind – what is it?"
"Have you guys seen Cale?"
Sage and I exchanged a look – we both shrugged. "No," said Sage. "Why?"
"I can't find him and he's not answering his cell phone," said Dais. He looked very worried. "I know Cale's not the nicest guy in the world but he's still my friend and I know him. He takes off sometimes but I don't think he'd do it now that we're in the middle of a crisis! I think whatever got the others might have gotten Cale, too!"
DUN, DUN, DUUUNNNNNN!!!!
This story just seems to be a lot better with the Warlords involved. Still, the humor probably needs to get toned down a LITTLE bit, but I'm glad Sage and Mia's affair is in the open – at least to Cye.