It was strange really for the two of them to be friends.
A solider, raised in the old ways of the west and a diplomat who had overthrown her own government. They should have been natural enemies, both so set in their own ways that they couldn't help but bicker and fight.
But they weren't, they were the closets of friends.
Newkirk had been intrigued by the audacious woman who, when she first met him, almost throw him from a balcony. That would be the last time he attempted to dance with a girl before being properly introduced. The confidence with which she carried herself was infectious making Newkirk feel as if he too could have piloted a walker against the sultan's giant elephants.
Lilit had been drawn to him by his general awkwardness. Even as a man of nearly twenty years old, Newkirk was still clumsy and uninformed about the rest of the world. He had never been in a clanker city other than Istanbul, nor had he ever given a thought to the rights of women. Evidence of the new era rushing forth had all but escaped him, this boy who had only seen the world through the military. Lilit felt the both the need to keep her distance from Newkirk and to have him made a secretary of sorts for her to keep watch over.
In this manner they had begun to become acquainted. Each was a foreigner to the other, someone completely alien and different.
Unintentionally they had grown closer to one another. Newkirk was very quickly charmed by Lilit's unabashed politics. She spoke without any hesitation, expressing her opinion and never once tried to compromise. She had developed a soft spot for his purity of heart. The European soldier had been quick to learn about the struggle of the east. He wasn't simply ignorant of the world and content to carry on in such a way, he wanted to change. Every story or idea that Lilit shared he listened to, he began to understand exactly what had driven her country to revolution, and the struggle of women. Slowly he became more worldly, and she learned that it would take more than fighting to change the world.
The two slowly but surely became friends and Newkirk had decided to make a home in the city.
"I don't have anywhere else to be really," he said. "Here's just as good as anywhere else."
And he eventually took up a job in a café serving tea to visiting English officers. It was simple work, requiring very little of him and leaving enough free time for him to visit Lilit at the central building of parliament. He would assist her by running errands to the library or being a companion for an evening among other diplomats. In the nine months he had lived in the city Newkirk had proven himself an indispensable assistant.
But more than that he was a friend.
Newkirk had been there to offer his council and advice. He weighed in on what to do about two American ships entered the harbor of Istanbul breaking its neutrality. Somehow the issue had fallen to Lilit and the other ambassadors to the United States. She had agonized over what to do, not wanting to cause conflict with the captains- and by extent the government officials – of the US . But if she didn't so anything then others who had been turned away would be angry.
"They want you to worry about a bloody ship?" Newkirk asked as he set two steaming mugs of tea on the desk. "Was there really no one else who could do it?"
"This is a very delicate topic Eugene," Lilit said. "You can't simply make a decision one way or the other, you must use diplomacy."
"They aren't supposed to be in the harbor in the first place right?"
"Well, of course not. But we can't simply-"
"Then they shouldn't get their knickers in a knot over being asked to leave then should they?" He gave her a look that dared her to argue.
She was so stunned that she had actually taken his advice in a moment of weakness. The Americans complied, not putting up any sort of fight.
Yes the two of them were close friends and they had planned to remain by each other's side.
Until the day Newkirk was summoned back to England to serve in the military again.
One day he simply appeared in her office holding a scrap of paper and gave her the news that he was leaving. It was a shock, to have her friend taken away over something as trivial as brewing political unrest. Would the countries of the world ever find peace?
"I promise I'll be back by Christmas," Newkirk said, his officer's jacket draped over one shoulder in the warm summer weather. "Then I'll finally get around to organizing that messy office of yours."
Lilit had nodded, unable to imagine him being absent from her everyday life. Her best friend was going to be in harm's way again.
"Just come back safely," she patted his shoulder. "You still have to help me with all that paperwork."
And he left that day. The summer turned into fall and the fall became colder. Lilit waited the days out until Newkirk had promised to return. It was funny how she suddenly felt alone, without her friend near things had lost some of their appeal.
He wasn't dead, why did she feel this way? Why did she feel an absence in her life?
They weren't able to exchange letters, until a true war broke out the military didn't want any of its enlisted men to give away any details. As far as the officers knew the Ottoman empire could become Great Britain's enemy in the course of a day. How would the other soldiers react if they knew one of their own was friends with a government official from a foreign country? She would just have to wait for Christmas and his return.
Until then Lilit did everything she prevent a war for breaking out. She spent months trying to make peace with the few diplomats she was allowed contact with, sometimes even going so far as to find diplomats that she wasn't supposed to make contact with. She bargained; offering what little she could as a bribe, threatening with an army that the government had no knowledge about. Funny how revolutionaries could make deals so easily.
Except for China, she could never bring herself close to a politician from that country. Maybe that was why they attacked British troops stationed in Wenzhou.
It came as a shock to everyone, yes there was political unrest and turbulence, but an attack was beyond imagination. Everyone was on edge wondering what would happen next, England could retaliate and drag other countries into war. If that were to happen would Lilit and Newkirk end up on opposing sides? Britain could sit by, but that would be seen as acting weak and would invite China to take advantage of them again.
Everyone in the government was holding their breath. A war would weigh heavily on them, the ultimate test against the new leaders. Of course they were prepared with a military and fighting walkers, there were soldiers and commanding officers at the ready and enough money to sustain the country through the course of a war. But the government was still young, things could fall apart if they truly weren't ready.
But that wasn't what Lilit worried about. She wondered which ship had been attacked, a list of the casualties hadn't been released. Newkirk had no means by which to inform her about the attack, she was completely left in the dark.
Two weeks after the news, in early December she received a letter. The envelope had the insignia of the royal air navy, could it possibly be from her lost friend? Happily she torn open the letter and read the message inside.
Soldier Eugene. W. Newkirk is officially missing in action as of November 29th 1921. Believed to be either dead or held captive from an attack of the shores of Wenzhou at 18:31 hours from which there are no survivors. All captives are believed to be unreachable and will not be perused.
The world shattered that day, shattered beyond repair. Another person Lilit cared about was gone, first her mother, her father, grandmother, and finally her closest friend. The man who had offered her both advice and friendship was dead, killed for a political gain.
Another person might have given up, left politics and assumed an ordinary life. Lilit was no ordinary person, she had worked too hard for her position and lost too many people for her country. Giving up on her life would be an insult to everything who made sacrifices in order for her to be where she was.
So she began fighting harder. Any political figure who offered even the remotest chance of peace became the target of her bargains. If she couldn't save Newkirk she could at least prevent more people from experiencing the same loss that she had felt.
And Lilit did feel loss. She could ignore the dull ache in her heart when she was among other politicians or keeping herself busy. But when she was alone, or happened across something that reminded her of Newkirk the melancholy returned.
Christmas approached and Lilit found herself in lower spirits than before. It was the day Newkirk had promised to return by, what would she be doing if he had lived to this day? She could have told him everything that she had meant to say the day he left. That he was her best friend and that she valued having him by her side, the things that she had taken for granted now seemed like the most important things in her life.
That morning as she sat down, feeling sorry for herself and missing Newkirk more than ever, a secretary had appeared with a message. A Christmas party was going to be held for all the diplomats visiting from Europe, as a way for the Ottoman government to offer a touch of home for their Christian guests. Everyone from parliament was encouraged to attend, which was a thinly veiled way of requiring anyone involved in international relations to come and improve the empire's standing with other countries.
Of course Lilit fell under the category of those who would be expected there. Regardless of how depressed she felt over Newkirk's death she would have to persevere and go, not only for the sake of the government but for her own personal mission as well.
Without Newkirk to act as an escort Lilit had asked an assistant to accompany her to the party. Normally she would have gone alone but tonight she felt like she had to have someone there, or else she doubted her ability to control herself and her grief.
She sat at her mirror combing her hair and braiding it loosely down her back. It wasn't that elegant but Newkirk told her that people very rarely dressed up for something like a Christmas party. Lilit sighed, wishing that it was Newkirk coming with her that night. He could have helped her bridge the gap between her and the European men that would be there. Her eyes stung suddenly and her throat tightened up. No, no tears, not now. She couldn't appear sad on such an important evening.
There was a knock on the door and the assistant poked her head in. "Ma'am-"
"I'll be ready in a little while," Lilit said wiping a stray tear from her eyes.
"It's not that ma'am there's someone here to see you."
A tall frame limped in the doorway. A mop of messy brown hair and green eyes appeared.
"It's been a while hasn't it?" Newkirk asked.
"Just a few months," and a lifetime or two.
"Well I'm back now." He shrugged his shoulders.
"Yes," her voice broke "You are."
Lilit threw her arms around Newkirk hugging her best friend close. She held him tightly like he might slip away if she were to let go. He patted her on the back, returning her hug.
"Y-you were dead though. They told me you were dead!" She pulled away unable to believe that he was real.
"Aye about that." He Pulled away looking a bit sheepish. "I ran off, the night they blew us all up I ran off. I couldn't handle the thought of never seeing you again, they must have only realized after-"
Lilit squeezed him tighter, not wanting to hear the gruesome details. Newkirk was alive, her best friend was alive, that was enough for her. But he had disappeared before the attack, the ruled of the military hadn't kept him from contacting her.
"You're an insensitive fool you know that? You could have written me at least, do you know how much I worried?!"
"I know you did, and I'm sorry. I wanted to write you but I was trying so hard to stay alive, to get back to you. I barely had time to rest let alone find a way to contact you. It's not easy for Darwinists in China right now." He leaned awkwardly on his left foot wincing as he settled on his feet.
"You're hurt," she said. But what else could she expect, he was a deserter. He had probably injured himself stowing away on some ship.
She forced him to sit down on her vanity chair and tell her everything.
"It's nothing really, I just banged myself up trying to hide from a few jingcha in Shanghai is all. I'm okay, you don't need to cry, I'm fine. I was able to hide out in a jewelry shop, which reminds me-" He dug into his coat pocket . "That reminds me, I got this for you."
He held out a long and delicate pin, a little jade bead bobbing with the slightest movement of his hand. She took it not understanding anything. Newkirk was safe, having run away from the military and becoming a deserter, somehow he made it back to Istanbul and he was acting as if he had been on holiday.
"It goes in your hair, like this." He slid it into place and had her look in the mirror. "There I knew it would be perfect."
Lilit looked at her reflection in the mirror and at Newkirk's beaming face behind her. She noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the fading scratches on his now-gaunt face. But what else could she have expected him to look like after running away from the military and struggling to find his way back to Istanbul he was here? No doubt the journey had been difficult, he had to have faced things that he would never fully recover from. Despite all of it, he was here trying his best to be cheerful for her sake.
"You did all this for me?" She didn't mean just the hair pin, but everything. Becoming her friend, running away and risking his life to return and be by her side once again, and yes even his small gift had all been for her.
"It's not much, but it is the season and all." He patted her shoulder. "Merry Christmas Lilit."
She embraced her friend again, her heart brimming with emotion. "Merry Christmas Eugene."