hermiones: (nanowrimo)
Cat ([personal profile] hermiones) wrote2010-03-06 11:28 am
Entry tags:

"Southend" (1) / Part One.

Title: Southend (1)
Pairing: Jin/OC
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: AU. Sex, history/supernatural, disturbing content.
Summary: I wrote this both for [livejournal.com profile] je_ficgames and Nanowrimo 2008 and have just realised that I never posted it. It's, er, historical AU het Jin fic. Enjoy? XD




Where did it start?

The plane thing. The love of the sky. Destiny.

Jin remembers running around in the paddy fields with his shirt pulled out behind him, pretending to be an plane. Planes don't come out to Kikajima very often and so his impression of their sound isn't particularly accurate. It entertains his brother; younger and sillier he doesn't know what a plane should sound like. He just watches Jin and copies him, hauling his jumper over his shoulders and running, head bowed, vrooooooom.

Sometimes they crash into each other. It makes them laugh and fall down.

Jin had always loved planes but in the end Reio chose differently.

Where it ended.




Southend
Part One





March, 1945


Emiko
, he wants to write. You are flying on a cloudless day. You are tilting at sunlight. You are all I think about and what I least want to.

He writes down the darkest thoughts in his own head. To commit them to paper would be to commit them to memory, to accept them as his own emotions rather than reactions to his daily experiences. It's easy to convince himself of his hysteria when he's witnessing the things he's witnessing. To validate and make true these dark moments – to allow into his life the wet swell of longing and loneliness, would be a greater insanity. Yet sometimes when done with his head, he moves to paper.

Emiko, he writes. Everything continues here as normal. I don't know what's considered normal back at home but I am slowly beginning to embrace this lifestyle. The way my father always said that I would. So please – don't worry. I know that you're worrying, even when you say you're not. Your assurances mean nothing when your scribbles look like shit.

He rolls the thin paper into a ball and slides it along the ground, watching it collect dirt. He sits against one of the air hangers, where the air is cool and it's just possible to feel the breeze. It's not safe to sit in broad daylight, he knows that, but it's the only chance he gets to feel normal. To feel nostalgic – normal has redefined itself since signing up. Leaning against the cold metal tin he has a view of the sunrise, of the grey planes lined up ready and willing. Their flanks are hard and reliable, build by solid patriotic hands. He wishes he could say the same about himself.

Emiko, he tries again. Things here pass as they always do. The pilots think that the time is coming. They have felt this way for some time as you know. This thing that we do isn't a science, for all it involves the sciences. For all its talk of mechanics and angles and the formula for becoming the perfect missile. This thing is all heart. Is all soul. Is all we live and breathe and yet-

Another ball on the ground. It's hard to see the ink in the morning light and so he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Writing to Emiko is harder than anything else he has to do here. Nothing is harder than taking out his pen and scratching down characters on a small piece of paper. Not the flying, not the preparation for death, not the grandiose sermons delivered by his superiors. Not even the beatings. Nothing is harder than to write untruths down into a letter and send it to the person that you love.

In the mornings, he thinks of Emiko most. He associates her with the morning time. Her hair is long and it flows. On a pillow it is a sunrise. It isn't particularly gorgeous, something that his friends would talk about. Not like a movie star or a girl conjured in their minds – nothing like that. Emiko's hair is ordinary except that when it fans out, it is the sunrise. Her cheeks glow like the dawn on apple trees. Rotund and healthy and good enough to eat. Emiko is the morning and so when he snatches these moments of dawn he thinks about her the most.

It makes it harder to write the letters. She wouldn't want poetry – she isn't that sort of person. He tried writing her poetry when they were younger and stupider and she laughed at him. She had the sort of laugh that rustled leaves in his stomach. That took his heart and squeezed it. She never liked his poetry – said it was overblown and too considered. Yet when he stops up the poetry, what he writes instead is clinical.

Emiko, soon it may be my turn to fly. Giving myself for my country is an honour, isn't it? Soon I hope to know that glory. I hope that you are safe and well.

She rarely writes back. He writes more to her than he receives back and he doesn't know what to make of that. Whether it means she loves him less each day or more each hour. Hard to say. The things she writes back aren't responses to his letters. Usually they ramble, a jumble of thoughts she's had in the last hour and squashed together for him. Sometimes when he mumbles her letters aloud he can hear her voice. Those are the worst moments. He wishes he could write to her in the same way – so that she could get the same sort of twisted comfort. Where her words are theism, his are theology (is this line atrocious? I've taken it out and put it back in six times!).

Emiko, he writes, finally. There's a bell in the distance and it's a call to them all for movement. Progress. Nothing moves at a natural pace but like a relentless chugging beast. Some creature none of them can see.

Emiko, I am writing this whilst sitting looking over the air-fields. I know that some day soon I will have to fly into this sky and that it will be the last time I ever see it. I breathe in the freshness of the grass and the wind and the air and to think of losing these things is unbearable. We all know that after death these feelings will no longer plague us, that our sensations will be dulled to all these petty things but to sit as a human being and willingly tell yourself not to breathe, not to think, not to see – can any man do that easily? Am I defective, or is this just as much a struggle for any other man? Could you do it?

I want to be the man that you deserve. I want to be a better man – the man who would embrace this without question. The man who would honour you appropriately. I don't think you want that, deep down. That you would have an honourable man over one whose feelings defied his country. I want to be the man who can put these thoughts out of his head. To be a god – that is what these people offer you and yet I'm not sure I'm ready to leave the earth behind. To be clearer and more honest with you – time is not on my side – it is hard to look on the world and know that soon, this will be no more. To touch the flowers and know that soon, their scent will be a memory.

But it is harder to imagine that soon, I will no longer know you. I have not spent enough time getting to know what I will soon, in a split-second, forget.

How can I forget what I don't know? How can I die before truly understanding what I'll leave behind?

These are the thoughts that keep me from my training. I want you to know that – damn you – you are restricting me from doing my duty for my country. You should be ashamed of yourself. Please write back. Even if this letter upsets you. I need you to put that aside and write back. I need to hear your voice again. I read your letters aloud and I need your voice. Please write.

Jin.





The training is long and difficult. Jin wonders whether the others were as naïve as he was when he joined up. Whether it seemed as beautiful to them as it had to him. He can't sleep at night. During the day, there are long periods of reflection and sometimes he sleeps during these moments. In the dark, he never does. Across the land there are sounds of tumult, sounds he doesn't recognise. He longs for a moment's peace. A moment of calm reflection. Always there is the sound of war or the apprehension of the sound of war – where others have learned to block this out, to live with the white noise, Jin has not.

He lies in his bunk and talks about it with the others that share the sleeping areas. Some of them are his friends, some of them are not. In these conditions even the pettiest problems still matter. Despite an impressive sell by the government, not all the pilots are friends and united by a common goal. Arguments occur often as men struggle over their own losses and loneliness. Over their own sense of purpose.

Ryo is one of Jin's closest friends. He is older than him but not by much and considered a liability. The only pilot on the base to have ever returned from a mission – he cited bad conditions on a cloudless day and is therefore ostracised from the main bunch. Fond of a challenge, Jin befriended him quickly during his induction.

“D'ya think,” he says, quietly, in the dark. “When the time comes, you'll be able to do it?”

Ryo turns over and Jin knows that he's thinking. Ryo moves when he thinks, as if his body controls his brain. Ryo is not a deep thinker but his instincts are strong. Jin respects that.

“I hope so,” he says, eventually. “I reckon that last time was...like an illness. A sudden sickness. A feeling of intense nausea. I had cold sweat running down my back and I knew – the time wasn't right. I hope that next time, when I'm up there, I feel as relaxed as everybody else. The bliss on some of their faces. I mean, fuck.”

Jin thinks back to the previous month. To Inoue and Genji and Hiroshi – all of the men who went out on their planes with expressions Jin had never seen on faces before. Almost post-coital. A kind of satisfaction and knowing, similar to being so inside somebody that you take on their identity and feel complete with being joined. Being joined with life, with the world, with everything. That sort of expression.

“I don't think I have that in me,” he says, slowly. “That kind of bliss. Do you think you can only get it if you don't have it on land?”

Ryo shrugs. “I dunno,” he says. “Maybe. I know it's easier to push thoughts out of your mind if you don't have any good ones to begin with, right? I wish I didn't smoke. All I want is to smoke now that I can't. You have a woman – 'course it's hard for you to adjust to this.”

“Hiroshi was married,” Jin says. “He had a woman.”

“He can't have loved her that much then,” Ryo says, and they laugh. Not because it's appropriate but because it isn't – and they don't know any other way to deal with it.

“Suppose so,” Jin says. “Or maybe he loved her in a way that I can't – you know. Maybe he's just a bigger guy than me.”

Ryo sniggers.

“Not like that,” Jin says. “You pervert.”

“There're different kinds of love,” Ryo says. “Hiroshi was a decade older than us. Maybe he understood honour in a way we don't. To me, it just doesn't make sense, no matter how much I want it to. Maybe it's the same for you.”

“I don't know how it honours her,” Jin says. “Me blowing myself up.”

Ryo thinks for a moment and there's a long heavy pause. “Well,” he says. “Means she made the right choice. Married a hero. She'll have something to be proud of.”

“Do you think that's enough?”

“'Course not,” Ryo says. “Fuck. She loves you. When the person you love dies, nothing's enough. Doesn't matter what they did, whether it was honourable or not – you just want them back. Maybe in time she could be proud of you. That you did what was right for your country and helped shift the scum out of it. That you saved her kids and her kids from a life of occupation. Maybe in the long-run.”

“Fuck,” Jin says. “I don't want to think about her having kids. That's selfish but I don't want her to have a life without me in it.”

“Yeah,” Ryo says. “I turned back when I started thinking about it. Does you no good, thinking. I wish they'd let me smoke. It clears my head. Stops me thinking.”

“If she were here,” Jin says. “What would she tell me?”

“To shut up,” Ryo says. “Come on. Women have needs. If she were here, she wouldn't want you droning on like this. Give it a rest.”

“Ah, fuck you,” Jin says. “I listen to you talk about Ami-”

“That's different,” Ryo says. “It's about sex. You're living vicariously through me.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “So?”

“So,” Ryo says. “I'm dealing with your emotions and shit. Doesn't that sound a whole lot less fun?”

“I guess so,” Jin says. “Think I should write her that kind of letter?”

Ryo shrugs, again. “Ami seems to like it,” he says. “Sometimes I worry about it getting intercepted but I guess they've got bigger things to worry about right now.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “I might do that.”

“Beats all your awful poetry,” Ryo says. “You gotta toughen up. If you're gonna do this. I don't care if you do or don't – but either way, you gotta toughen up. Decide. Don't be like me. In limbo. Don't be there in that moment and cop out. There's nothing worse.”

“Sure there is,” Jin says. “Feeling the fear and still doing it. That'd be worse.”

“How d'ya figure?”

“Fear would be the last thing you'd experience,” Jin says. “It'd be the last thought in your head. That's not what you'd want. It's not what I'd want.”

“This isn't exactly how I want to die, anyway,” Ryo says. “Ideally. Works for some but not for me.”

“How do you want to die?”

Ryo sniggers, again. “There's only one way,” he says.

“Yeah,” Jin says, a smile spreading across his face. The last time before he left for base, for missions, for this. The way Emiko tilted her head back and the gasping rolled out from under her throat. The way his kisses slide through her open mouth and down her bobbing chin. The way her kisses touched his lips and made him shiver inside her. The way they kissed through the shakes – the way he felt as though he might die. He would want to die like that.

“Whatever it is you're thinking about,” Ryo says. “Write about that. When you write to her.”

“Why?” Jin says.

“Because, damnit, Jin – there's all this crap in the world and anything that makes you curl your hands into fists like that, it's gotta be good. Right?”




As a kid, Jin rushed home from school to spend time with his friends and his brother. It was a given for a boy his age. With no memories of the war fought in Europe, Jin thought nothing of staying out until dark in the paddy fields near his house, chasing the other boys. Sometimes they'd come across scraps of metal and they'd play catch. It never occurred to him to think about the history behind it all. Of the planes that did leave Japan to fight, miles and miles beyond their consciousness.

The fields around his home were as long as they were wide – never-ending on any side. Plenty of space to explore, plenty of metal to find. Sometimes, he'd talk about life with his friends, as if anything was possible. He wanted to be an astronaut as a child. To see the stars, to understand secrets beyond the earth. The inadequacy of contemporary mathematics never interfered with this vision. Clear as the stars in the dark sky above, Jin was certain. One day, he would be up there with them.

From time to time they noticed a girl hanging around by the fields. She'd sit on the ground and hang her head on her chin, just watching. She never showed any interest in joining in or in interfering – she just liked to watch. Jin knew enough about women to understand that he shouldn't pay them attention. Very few went to school with him and even fewer still impacted on his life. His mother had died when he was young and his dad showed no interest in replacing her. To Jin, women were transitory figures. Like fireflies – beautiful but not lasting. Once gone, you forgot their existence.

This girl wasn't beautiful. She wasn't anything – very tall or very short, gorgeous or ugly. She was average height with a baleful face and long, long hair. She'd sit and take things in and never speak and that made her seem like another bale of hay. Another tree. Another transitory thing that lived for a time and then wilted away with the changing seasons.

“Hey,” one of his friends had said, after she'd joined them for a fifteenth afternoon. He just couldn't take it anymore, the constant audience. “What do you want?”

She'd shrugged. “It's a free country,” she'd said.

The boys had laughed. “Yeah,” they'd said. “That's funny.”

She'd just kept on looking, as if they hadn't reacted. Jin had been curious. As they continued on without him, he'd gone over, toed her shoe as if she were an animal. Sussing out her humanity. She'd looked at him without comment.

“You're always here,” he'd said. “Don't you get bored?”

“Do you?” she'd asked.

“No,” he'd said, defensively. “But I know how to play. You just sit there. You're not wanted.”

“I like watching,” she'd said. “Isn't that what girls are supposed to do?”

“I dunno,” he'd said. “I don't know any.”

She'd held her eyes to his, tilted her head to one side. He'd pushed his hands into his pockets, shrugged his shoulders. Uncomfortable under her gaze, he'd tried to move away but found himself rooted to the spot. The expression on her face seemed to suggest she'd locked onto him and that was it. She wasn't going to stop until she'd taken what she wanted – not now, not ever.

“What do you want?” he'd asked.

“What's in your pockets?” she'd asked.

He'd pulled his hands out, a scrap of metal in his hand. Rubbed round with the cocoon of his palm, he'd reluctantly held it up to the light. It had come from a plane crash in the area, years back. His father had kept it as a souvenir, given it to Jin when he showed interest in planes. She'd studied it with lidded eyes, showing no apparent interest other than the determination of her stare.

“It's just a metal scrap,” he'd said, self-conscious. As if she was judging him, not the contents of his pockets.

She'd turned her eyes to him. “What do you do with it?” she'd asked.

“Throw it,” he says. “Catch it. Just that.”

“Give me a try,” she'd challenged him. He'd looked down into his hand, out as his friends. Little specks of coloured jumper on the horizon. The setting sun behind – Japan and its colours, its little pretty fireflies.

“Alright,” he'd said. He'd never seen a girl who could throw worth a damn. When he'd handed over the scrap, their fingers had touched. The first time he'd touched a girl's hand wasn't exciting – wasn't anything, really, not anything like he'd expected. Her hand was slightly cold to the touch.

She'd held the metal disc tight in her palm, closed her fingers around it with a kind of reverence. She'd drawn her breath in and with a quick motion of her wrist, sliced the scrap of metal across the field. Her breath out with it, he'd had to jump to the side and watch as it landed some twenty feet away.

“Alright,” he'd said. “So you can throw.”

She'd shrugged. “I just watched you do it. That's all.”

“You can do anything once you've watched it?”

“Not everything, idiot,” she'd said. “But some things. A lot of things. Don't you find that?”

He'd thought about it and thought about it – he'd always been the type to rush into things. Never to consider them first. Never to watch somebody else. An astronaut flies his own craft, he'd always thought. He's nose-up to the stars, nobody else doing it for him.

“No,” he'd said. “I prefer to do things myself.”

She'd nodded. “I understand,” she'd said. “Some of us have to make the discoveries. Others-”

“Just copy,” he'd said.

“No,” she'd said. “Others take their methods and improve on them. Make them better. Like me and your scrap metal – that was better than any of your throws, right?”

He'd stormed off to collect his treasure, unable to come up with a response. Trudging through the grass he'd tried to understand what she was getting at – why she'd even care about beating him at anything. Why it mattered. When he returned, she was still standing in the same place, still watching. Still the same expression on her face.

“You look like you've lived forever, old woman,” he'd retorted. “How can there be anything left for you to watch?”





Ryo's face the next morning is roughly what Jin would describe as painful.

“You got a letter,” he says, dully. “Didn't you?”

“Heh,” Ryo says, shrugging on his clothes. They're supposed to be attending their daily sermon before flight practice. They're late for it – nothing new there. A guy they call Turtle hangs back, disapproving and senior despite being younger than both of them.

“You're not supposed to have your post yet,” Kame says. “Not until the end of the meeting.”

Ryo ignores him, adjusting his jacket. Jin takes hold of one lapel and grabs him in, growling, “was it that kind of letter?”

“Of course,” Ryo grins. “Man, you need to get in on this. Makes me feel all patriotic inside, knowing she's waiting for me and my great big-”

“Alright, alright,” Jin says. “There're kids present.”

“I'm not a kid,” Kame retorts. “And you're late.”

“So,” Ryo says. “How far have you got, kid?”

Kame flushes a bit and starts tucking his shirt into his trousers. Mumbling something about professional advancement and having other things on his mind, he's cut through by Ryo's laugh.

“Jin,” he says. “Seriously, is this one for real? How can you be considering giving up...everything when you haven't even-?”

“There're more things in life,” Kame says, gruffly.

“There's gotta be a girl,” Ryo says. “There's a girl for everybody. Everybody here has a girl – even if you didn't like anybody when you arrived. Time and...this thing...it makes you look back with generous eyes. Plenty of guys fall in love after leaving the girls behind.”

“That's stupid,” Kame says. “Don't you think that's stupid?”

“I don't know,” Ryo says. “They tell me a lot of stupid things are logical, here. Like death. Like welcoming death. Like leaving things behind is a great thing. Don't you think that's stupid?”

“I think it's stupid,” Jin says.

“You guys don't take anything seriously,” Kame says. “Jin did, before he met you.”

“I did,” Jin says. “I'm just realising that I was wrong to.”

“You're like kids playing a game,” Kame says. “Why would you pretend when this is serious? You're gonna die, you know. That's not pretense. That's real. If you're kidding around then...get out of here. Get out of this. We have enough liabilities.”

“Hey,” Ryo says. “We can think it's stupid and still do it. We don't have to be you guys, making everybody sick with your optimism.”

“If you think it's stupid,” Kame says. “Why do it?”

“Sometimes,” Ryo says. “You just give up fighting. You start something because it seems like a good idea – and by the time you realise that it isn't, well. It's too late. I've nothing to go back to, man. I can't keep coming back, coming back. They'll just shoot me. Might as well take control of my fate now that I'm here.”

“You have Ami,” Jin says. “I'll bail if you bail.”

Ryo laughs. “Ami's engaged,” he says. “She's a piece of home. My little scratch of the flag. She's what keeps me going but she's not real. You want something that's real – Ami's not it. You have a woman, I...don't. I don't have anything.”

Kame is silent for some time. “You know,” he says, eventually. “I think you guys are a bad influence. I think if I hung around with you for long enough, I'd start wanting to be a traitor, too. I'd starting turning tail.”

“It's not like that,” Jin says, weirdly stung. “I'm not. I'm not a traitor. I don't want to be that person.”

“What person do you want to be?” Ryo says. “Or don't you care? Me, I'm happy to be the hero if that's what they need. I can do that.”

“Worked so well last time,” Kame says.

“Yeah, well,” Ryo says. “Second time lucky. Don't the good guys deserve second chances, anymore?”

“I heard a guy got nine,” Jin says. “Chances.”

“A real cat,” Ryo says. “Nine lives, just like that. If I get to that point – shoot me. Put me out of my misery.”

“I'll do it,” Kame says. “I wash the flags here. You know that I do laundry? It's because I'm young – I'm the kid, I don't care. I'll play that guy if that's what they need. I keep the flags clean. I keep the colours strong. And you're faded – if you fade out, I'll wash you right out. I'll keep everything clean if I have to. I'm not a kid, I'm not your friend and I don't want your colours on me.”

“Fine,” Ryo says. “I just hope you'll die a hero and not a washerwoman.”




It's easy in moments to feel that this isn't forever. That you're in school or at home with your brothers and the world is just opening up. The fresh joys of sex, the whispered conversation and swapping of tips – the talk of women back home. The boasts and the bravado and the raised eyebrows, the clapping of backs. In moments like that it's easy to get lost. Easy to imagine that soon enough, you'll be going home.

When their superiors talk to them, remembrance is like a hard quick fall. Weeks later, they're summoned to their leader.

“This isn't just about pride in your country,” Admiral Ugaki says. “Or about honouring your families. It isn't even about securing a future for your children. It isn't even about our Emperor. It isn't even about God. It's about having a chance, a precious chance, to be the kind of man that you read about in books. The kind of man your mother told you about when you were a boy. The kind of man who has always been inside of you and who – at this rare opportunity – can finally flourish. Many boys would kill for the chance that has been offered to you. Many men in history have faced this challenge and in overcoming it, have become greatness. Have achieved almightiness. Those who stand together will rain down together like thousands of arrows. This is about honouring yourselves.”

Standing like this makes Jin's thighs itch. It's the fabric of his trousers, starchy and scratchy. He's starting to wonder what Kame's putting in the water. It's not difficult to drift off during these meetings – he hasn't heard a new spin on this mission since he joined the war effort. It gets harder every day to convince him that there's any rightness left in this thing they're doing. That there's any point. Sometimes he looks at the planes and he thinks about Emiko and, well. There's no comparison. None whatsoever.

“You're all keen to put your abilities into practice,” Ugaki goes on. “To know which arena you'll be dominating.”

Jin doesn't dare catch Ryo's eye. It isn't funny, not really, but it's somewhat like being the two lone atheists in a church. Looking around, Kame's eyes are so solidly placed on Ugaki's jacket, his medals, that it takes him back to nine year old Emiko and a field of flowers. Only that was a different kind of respect, of reverence.

“As you all know,” Ugaki says. “The end of this war is coming. We all sense it. Some will tell you that the bitter taste of defeat is on our tongues – they are wrong. Only somebody who turns their back on our country would say such a thing. Only somebody so devoid of patriotism – so devoid of heart would dare utter the words under the sky, under our gods. We can turn the world around. We can turn the wind around. We have before and we will again. Is that understood?”

A murmur of agreement passes around, clipped and hard full of feeling.

“The battle for Okinawa is beginning,” Ugaki says. “This is one of our last strongholds. We cannot let the enemy take Okinawa. We cannot. Your role will be to rid Okinawa of foreign vermin. Will be to sweat them out. We will pour poison over their ships, we will tear their conniving hearts apart. That will be your role. To protect Japanese land, to spill our blood into the soil so that the trees may grow free in years to come.”

There is a long silence. Jin looks around the room, from face to face to face. The colour isn't draining, the way he feels it in his face. The men look more and more soporific with each passing second. The feelings sinking in – the blood rising. The breath comes and goes. Jin wants to scream but there's nothing in his throat to push it forward.

“You will rain down on the American ships,” Ugaki says. “And you will sink them down, down, down until the waters are pure. That is your task. That is your mission. Your day is coming. Your day of glory – your lifetime of godliness.”

They're all given paper slips and pens. They're asked to mark their paper with a cross or a circle to indicate their willingness to accept the mission. Jin doesn't look at Ryo as he scrawls down his mark. They hand over their papers and the waiting begins. Jin looks around the room and tries to work out who might have crossed their papers. Whether any of the people around him could be traitors. They're kept together on purpose – guilt and peer pressure are both good motivators. Surrounded by the comfort of comrades, who would expose himself as a coward?

“Congratulations,” Admiral Ugaki says, folding the papers into his pocket. “I have before me a room full of gods.”




“Shit,” Ryo says, afterwards. They stand in the hangers watching the spring rain come down. “I can't believe it. I crossed my paper.”

“Me too,” Jin says, dully. “I don't think I'm even surprised.”

Ryo says nothing, just stares out at the airfields.

“I never liked Okinawa,” Jin says. “Went there once, with Emiko. It rained the whole time.”

“Hey, man,” Ryo says. “You don't owe Okinawa anything, if it can't just give you a little sunshine. Right?”

“Right,” Jin says, awkwardly.

They stand in silence for a long time, until night falls from the sky in little black pellets on the tarmac.




Lying in bed, Jin wonders about this thing called honour. About the shape of it, the taste of it. Whether it can really be found in the back of the throat in that moment. Bearing down upon an enemy ship, whether honour is in the back of the mouth as the rat-a-tat starts and the heart beats and everything becomes a swirling mass of chaos. A cycle taking you down through the sea to the centre of the earth. Darkness. Whether honour can be found there. Whether anything can be found there.

Emiko, he writes, paper against his knees. I had a dream about you this morning. You were spread out on top of me like the sunrise and I was touching you. And when you smiled you parted the waves, the way the sun does. When I fly over the water and I see the sun on the sea I think of your smile and the way it could turn the waves in a different direction. I miss you. Please write back.





The next day, it's Ryo's turn to be made example of. The beatings have decreased over their time here – leaders slowly recognising that instilling combative spirit isn't done by physical attack. The anger of some of those who were beaten has taught everybody a lesson. Earlier in the year, a man they all know as Kiyoshi (said in a hiss of breath) turned on his own pilots. Shot their planes out of the sky instead of following them into the bowels of the enemy ships. They later found his diaries – scrawls and scrawls of humiliation on every page. The leaders said he'd gone to hell. As if it were okay for the leaders to sentence the men to die, but not Kiyoshi. As if it made them any less dead.

The beatings continue, fewer each month. Each one is a shock to the system, a break in the status quo. Everybody is subservient the first few days afterwards. Everybody checks themselves, brings their thoughts into line. Fear is powerful, potent. Being unable to express doubt and concern makes people believe that they have none.

They know Ryo crossed his paper, no lesson learnt from his first retreat.

Ryo's face looks like hell afterwards. The scene is ugly as it pans out: Ryo in the centre of the room, the medaled jackets around. The chant is solid and slow, with a fervor like Buddhism. Like sex. There are no peaks and troughs, only the persistence of voices. Hard as Emiko's stare.

“Are you going to turn back,” they ask. “Turn back, turn back, turn back.”

And Ryo can only promise not to and hope to be believed.

As if a bloody nose and two black eyes and one slackened jaw can change a man's mind.





Slowly, the kids he played with dropped off, found other places to be. Jin wasn't sure exactly how it happened or why – by then he was more interested in Emiko. Sometimes she would turn up in the same field, sometimes she wouldn't. No pattern to it. When she arrived, they greeted each other with silent nods. They would stand and look at the falling sun for a while, Jin working up the courage to say something. Emiko never did.

Once, she turned up crying. He'd never seen a girl cry – never seen anybody cry. The shock rattled him to his bones. He'd swallowed, scrunched his hands in his pockets and stumbled over, awkward and unsure.

“Uh,” he'd said.

She'd rubbed her face with her sleeve and pointedly, angrily, ignored him. “What do you want to throw today,” she'd said.

“Um,” he'd said. “I thought, uh. We could walk to the bay. Throw stones. You know how to make circles in the water?”

“No,” she'd said. “I'll watch.”

“Okay,” he'd said. They'd taken the path down to the bay, some fifteen minutes away. Feeling like adults as they passed by old men and new cars, Jin had struggled for the right thing to say. Emiko had stopped crying as they'd passed through the town but her face was red and blotchy. He'd never seen a face like that.

“How come you don't go to school?”

He was pretty sure that wasn't the right thing to say.

“My dad doesn't believe in it,” she'd said, matter-of-factly. “Girls don't go to school. My mother didn't and I don't, either.”

“Oh,” Jin had said. “My dad says the same thing.”

“Oh yeah?” she'd said. “What do you think?”

Jin had thought about the girls in his class. They were quiet and studious but didn't seem to contribute much. He hadn't spoken to either of them for long enough to form an opinion. But Emiko's stare demanded a better answer than that.

He shrugged. “I think the girls in my class are alright,” he'd said. “The boys are more talkative. They know more of the answers.”

“They're just more vocal,” Emiko had said. “Boys always are. You're taught that way. Girls are taught to be quiet.”

“My mother died when I was young,” he'd said. “I don't remember if she was cleverer than my dad.”

“I don't think that girls are cleverer, exactly,” she'd said. “Just that they deserve as much of a chance. It makes me really mad that I can't go to school.”

“You seem pretty smart,” he'd said. “I guess.”

“I am,” she'd said. “My brothers teach me what they learn. I use their books and I sometimes do their homework. They're pretty stupid but I do a lot better. I wish I had the chance.”

“Yeah,” Jin had said. “Maybe you could go to my school. Dress up as one of the girls. Tell your dad you're going to Sunday school.”

“You're not religious, are you?” she'd said. “I think this country has enough stupid passion.”

“Enough passion?”

“People do things here without thinking them through. Religion is...just another reason for people to believe in something that can't be proven. It's dangerous. Don't you think?”

“I believe in tons of stuff that hasn't been proven,” he'd said. “Like stars. Like...I want to be an astronaut. I want to go into space. It hasn't been done yet but I believe when I'm older, I'll do it.”

“That's different,” she'd said. They had reached the bay and she'd rolled up her trousers. Her ankles were slight and delicate, not like his own. He'd stared at them and missed what she'd said.

“What?”

“It's different,” she'd said, patiently. “That's science. Science is progressing. It's pretty easy to see that eventually we'll be able to go into space. I don't know how, but science will get there. Religion has no scientific basis. It has no proof and never will. It doesn't progress. It just grows more and more out of control.”

“Oh,” he'd said. “I guess so.”

“What do you like about space?”

“That nobody else has been there,” he'd said. “I want to name my own star.”

“What will you name it?” she'd asked. “After your mother?”

He'd screwed up his face. “Maybe,” he'd said. “I don't really remember her.”

She'd watched him cup a stone in his hand and turn to the water, scrutinising. He'd done this a hundred times with the boys and never felt this pressure to perform. His hand had shaken and he'd tried hard to still it.

“Don't stare,” he'd said, not looking at her.

“How else do I learn?” she'd asked. It had been a fair point.

He'd tossed the stone into the water. It had bottomed out and leapt in soft arches across the water. Each landing had spread water in pretty circles. He smiled, pleased.

“See,” he'd said. “That's how you do it.”

“Okay,” she'd said. “Do it again.”





Jin, Emiko's letter reads.

The day I married you, I married a man. Not a country. Not a principle. A man who I love for himself.

Mother is antsy this morning. She swears that the world feels as though it's creeping towards a cliff-edge. Do you feel like that, too? An edge, or a sudden drop – as if something is about to change. It's difficult to indulge her feelings. She feels this way a lot and let's face it, Japan has been on the edge of something for a long time. It could have happened any day before now.

It's hard just to sit here. We stitch, us women. A thousand stitches made by a thousand women. One headband, wrapped around the head of one of you honourable boys. That's how it started. Only many of the women who started have lost the men they were stitching for and now can't hold a needle to save their lives. That Ryo of yours, who chickened out. Some of us women are chickens, too.

So now, it's more like a thousand stitches made by a hundred women. Isn't that just the war summed up?

I shouldn't complain – it's easy work and the repetition is soothing. I just wish I were doing more. Knowing that you men are holding the future of this country in your hands and the women are merely stitching your headbands, it's hard.

You signed up for this mission with the hope of saving your country. Perhaps you've lost yourself. As a woman I have resigned myself to being at the mercy of your decision but if you came home – I would not be sorry for it. Know that if you came home their traitor, you'd still be my hero.

Emiko.





Going out flying helps. Flying has always cleared his head. He and Ryo practice in the night when there's less chance of being targeted. They don't fly far but it helps to leave their world behind. Looking out, it makes Jin think about the boys in their coloured jumpers dancing before the sun. Makes him think of his brother, crouched to the wind and running at him, crying out engine noise. He and Ryo flying their planes alongside the sun – he wonders how something so soothing could kill him. He wonders how he'll feel when he's flying this plane into the enemy and preparing for the last sensation he'll ever experience.

Ryo is an excellent flier. They both trained with passion and commitment, not knowing what lay in wait for them. Ryo's flying ability is what made his superiors so disgusted with him but Jin understands it. He's too talented to be a human missile. He thinks about the things the Americans are supposedly doing – their utilization of their resources. Nobody else uses human beings as bombs. It doesn't seem right for Ryo to die for his ability to turn a plane. Watching him out of the small window, it's like watching Emiko throw stones – his entire life has been about the deserving not receiving their just chances.

When they land, Jin always sits for a moment, stroking his hands over the yoke. He blames it on the altitude but the truth is, landing again is like being immersed in treacle. The moment he touches down, he can feel the claws wrapping around his wheels, his wings.

“Ryo,” he says, later, as they stand in the hanger. “What made you turn around? What was the concrete thought?”

Ryo tugs down his jacket and looks at him, slowly quirking on eyebrow. “Man,” he says. “I was trying to fly a plane. I don't know what one thought made me turn around. I wasn't exactly tracking them, you know?”

Jin looks at him and his eyes are so full of pleading, he sighs.

“Alright,” he says. “I wanted more out of my life. I didn't want to die a god if I hadn't lived as a mortal. I found it hard to give up on my chance of life. I'm selfish, whatever. That's why I turned around. Kept thinking of Ami. That I'd never fought for her. I could've fought for her.”

“Why the hell did we join up?”

“Because that's what we were taught to do,” Ryo says. “Our fathers did and our brothers did and we can't refuse. Hell, your brother died for this war. And they trained us up to be great pilots. Who could resist that and the hard sell? Then you get here and it isn't the way you think it's gonna be.”

“I didn't think I'd have to die,” Jin says. “Isn't that stupid? I thought it'd all be over before it was our time. I thought I could be a hero by proxy. I thought being here would avenge my brother and somehow, I'd walk away free.”

“A living god,” Ryo chuckles.

“I didn't realise until this morning that this is serious,” Jin continues. “That we really are going to die. I won't avenge my brother. I'll just be joining him. Adding to the numbers.”

“Hey,” Ryo says. “You have nine more lives, if you need them, remember.”

“I don't think I can do it,” Jin says.

“Then turn around,” Ryo says. “By the time you've used up your nine lives, the war will be over. I guarantee it.”

“How many are you planning to use?” Jin says.

“I've got eight more,” Ryo says, with a grin. “Be rude not to use them.”

“You should've fought for Ami,” Jin says. “When you get out of here, you should fight for her.”

“You got a letter from Emiko,” Ryo says. “You're all wet and girly.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “She's bored stupid stitching.”

“Can't say I blame her,” Ryo says. “They're good headbands but I bet she'd rather have her thighs around your head.”

“You're disgusting,” Jin says. “That's my wife you're talking about.”

Ryo just grins at him. “Hey,” he says. “I should be living vicariously through you now. Ami is...Ami. She's not reality, like I said. Time I gave it up. So it's your turn to provide the details. If you don't, I'll make them up. Deal?”

“Guess so,” Jin says. “She called you a chicken.”

“Smart girl,” Ryo says.

“Yeah,” Jin says. “She is.”





Emiko.

I'm losing my faith. Ryo and I keep talking about...well. You know what we keep talking about.

This isn't flying. It's crashing. You said it and I didn't listen.

The flowers are blooming, more and more each day. I think of cornflowers, of Okinawa rain. We're going to be defending Okinawa. I don't know when, or why. They're not giving us much to go on. I don't think you'd want me to defend Okinawa from anything – you'd say that it rained all the time when we were there. That's what Ryo said, too.

I crossed my paper. It means no, it means...I won't do this. I'm being sent out anyway. Isn't that just the war summed up?

Somehow though it feels apt. It feels right to want to protect the place where we loved each other. Every inch of land is steeped in my love for you. I don't want to see it blown to bits.

But I also don't want to die there. To live there, to love there and then to die there.

Tell me what to do. Please, tell me what to do. I need you.

Jin.






He was eighteen when it happened. He had taken time out of his training to get married and they had only been so for two weeks. It had been raining since the wedding day. Okinawa was known for its rain but still it had seemed ridiculous. They had occupied themselves in other ways. Every other day, he would go out and pick flowers for the room they were staying in. Emiko would watch him from the window, pulling his coat over his head in order to pick cornflowers. When she joined him, she went in as few clothes as possible.

“You'll freeze,” he'd said.

“And if you get all your clothes wet, you'll have nothing to wear,” she'd returned.

“I don't intend to wear any clothes,” he'd pointed out.

“I married a pervert,” she'd said. Her hand had brushed over the tops of the flowers in the small fields, knocking dew down to the ground. She wasn't naturally graceful but when she took the time to be slow and thoughtful she had a kind of elegance. He loved to watch her amongst the flowers, turning her head over her shoulder and looking at him with her wide eyes. He'd felt like the luckiest man in the world.

The rain had come down and soaked her to the skin. Her long hair dripped in a coil down the back of her skirt, underneath his hand on the small of her back. She'd turned around to face him, wet face and wet mouth and she'd kissed him with flowers falling out of her hands. And he'd wrapped his arms around her and felt the petals on his feet.

“You married a pervert,” he'd said. “Was that what first attracted you to me? My rugged boyish charm?”

She'd laughed, picking up the stray flowers. Her feet had been filthy but she hadn't cared. She rarely paid attention to her own appearance.

“No,” she'd said. “I don't know what first attracted me to you. You were a stubborn brat.”

“You were rude,” he'd said. “And bossy.”

“Still am,” she'd countered. “You're still stubborn.”

“And a brat?” he'd asked.

“No,” she'd said, after some consideration. “Worse – you're now a man. Twice as stubborn.”

“What first attracted me to you,” he'd said. “I think it was the way you looked at me. You held your gaze on mine. Not many girls I'd ever met did that. It showed me I had to take you seriously. Respect you. And your eyes – when I look at them now, it's like looking at flowers in the rain.”

“Oh, don't start,” she'd laughed. “You and your poetry.”

“I can't help it,” he'd said. “You make me poetic.”

“It's easy to make a man poetic,” she'd said. “Ever noticed that?”

“I wouldn't know,” he'd said. “But you – you'd make any man poetic. You don't know what you do to me. You just don't.”





They'd returned wet and kissing to the inn. The woman at the desk always looked surprised to see them, guests. It wasn't the year for it. It hadn't been for some time.

“Akanishi-san,” she'd said, awkwardly. “I have a telegram for you. It's urgent.”

“Alright,” he'd said, taking it from her and holding it in his palm without looking at it. They had climbed the stairs with the information running down against his wet leg, with him none the wiser. Emiko had gone first, her legs shining white with coldness. And he'd held her hand and laughed, steps springing, hearing her laugh back.

They'd thrown open the door and she'd begun wriggling out of her clothes, heaping them in a bundle on the wall. She'd turned to him, her collarbone wet and her eyes black with dew. Her nipples had been stiff with cold, goose pimples on her stomach.

He'd watched her as he'd taken the telegram out of his pocket. It had been hard to start reading with her standing naked in front of him. At least, it had been until he'd read the first sentence.

Jin, it had read. Reio has been killed in service. Come home.

Father.






Ryo wakes him up the next morning. Jin can't remember the last time he went to sleep here – it hasn't done him any good. His back is in lumps where the mattress wasn't adequately supportive and his skin itches from the fabric. Grouchily, he pulls on his vest and rubs sleep out of his eyes.

“What's happening?” he says.

“The guys reckon we've got a date for when we're going out,” Ryo says.

“Shit,” he mutters. “When?”

“Tomorrow,” Ryo says. “Morning. We've got to spend today in silence. Reflecting. Our last day. That's all they've said. Haven't confirmed anything, but-”

Jin just looks at him, takes a deep breath. “This is it,” he says.

“This is it,” Ryo says.

“Is it raining?”

“No.”

“Then let's spend the day outside. Or in the hangers. Anywhere but here – I can't just sit here all day. I can't. They might be able to – it's easy for them to just be. I can't.”

“Okay,” Ryo says.

They sit in the hangers, their feet extending into the dim sunlight. Jin argues that it'll give them the best view of any sudden attack, not that there's been any so far. The Americans seem more interested in fighting battles on the coasts than going into the air. That's why their leaders think an aerial attack will be so successful. Sink the ships, drown the enemy. They're all probably wishing for a divine wind.

“Why did you decide to become a pilot?” Jin says, eventually, after a period of silence.

Ryo shifts about, getting comfortable, thinking. “It sounds stupid,” he says. “But I thought it'd convince Ami that I was the right guy. Like you, I don't think I thought I'd ever have to die. People have been saying for ages that the war's going to end. I guess I thought it'd come before now.”

“You thought it'd make Ami love you?”

“Ami loves heroes,” Ryo says. “The guy she's engaged to has a kinky hip – he can't do military service. He does a lot to help the war effort but he's not the kind of guy she wants. I figured if I came back a hero, she'd think it was worth telling him where to stick it. That she'd think I was worth taking a chance on.”

“That was your way of fighting for her.”

“Yes.”

“Huh,” Jin says. “I don't think that's all that stupid. I mean – yeah, we've both been stupid, thinking that signing up for a death mission wouldn't involve actually dying. That was pretty stupid. But it's funny what you're prepared to do for somebody.”

“Did you sign up for this for Emiko?”

“No,” Jin says. “I always wanted to fly. Before the war started, even. And when it did and I signed up for flight training, she...didn't want me to do it.”

“Whoa,” Ryo says. Jin's not sure why he's surprised, so he doesn't comment.

“She sounds like Ami,” Ryo continues. “Forthright. I've heard that the Americans think our women are passive – I'd like to them those guys try their luck with our two.”

Jin shrugs. “I think anybody can be passive if the force is strong enough,” he says. “I don't want the Americans to take this country. For all I'm scared of what I'm about to do, I can't bear the idea of this country falling to another. Of Emiko having to live under occupation.”

“She might have to, anyway,” Ryo says. “Who's to say that we're gonna win? Even if we do die.”

“I know,” Jin says. “I know. But there's that. This feeling of fear. I signed up for the tokkotai because of Reio. I signed up to die because of my dead brother. It doesn't even make sense when I say it aloud.”

“Shit,” Ryo says. “It doesn't, does it.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “I couldn't stand it. Knowing that he'd died for something while I was messing around on my honeymoon. While I was running around in flower fields and screwing, he was...I couldn't do it. I couldn't bear it. He was just a kid.”

“Guilt,” Ryo says.

“Yeah,” Jin says. “Probably. I had to do something.”

“He didn't fly planes, did he?”

“No,” Jin says. “I was always the guy who liked planes. He was a soldier. He was sixteen – he wasn't ready. Didn't have the skills. They reckon it was quick, but...fuck.”

Ryo nods, slowly. They sit in silence for a while, letting the mood wash over them. It's hard to confront the death of close ones when their own is closer. Hard to acknowledge that the war is capable of killing anybody – of killing them. Jin hasn't made peace with it. They're encouraged to make peace with it and be positive, to make them better fliers, to make them go through with it. Jin wonders whether he'll carry bad energy with him to the next life if he doesn't make peace with it. His mother used to read him The Tale of Genji as a boy. It was big on people taking demons to the grave.

“It's not going to end,” Ryo says. “The war. Before we do this. We could do it nine times and the war would still go on. Okinawa will take months. We don't have time.”

“I know,” Jin says. “We could run away.”

“We'd be shot before we got too far,” Ryo says.

“I guess so,” Jin says. “I wish this was easy. I wish I were Hiroshi – I wish it all made sense to me. I wish I hadn't done this. That I could face this and not shudder.”

“Just concentrate on the flying,” Ryo says. “On the plane. You always feel calmer when you're in the sky. Just focus on that. Don't think about dying. Dying isn't contemplative, it's not reflective. It just is. That's how you accept it.”

“You haven't accepted it.”

“I've accepted it,” Ryo says. “I'm just not cool about it.”

“Do you think we'll take bad feelings on with us, if we're not at peace with it?”

“What, into the afterlife?”

“Yeah,” Jin says.

“I think the afterlife will be better than this,” Ryo says. “So if I take bad feeling into it, well, at least it can't be worse than having bad feeling here. Right? In the afterlife, Ami will fall in love with me and I'll get to work my bad mood out with sex.”

Jin chuckles. “Hey,” he says. “I have a present for you.”

“What?” Ryo says. “A parting gift?”

“Something like that,” Jin says. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a folded dirty cigarette. Ryo looks at it as though it's made of gold or exemption papers and reaches for his lighter.

“You,” he says, lighting up. “Are the greatest man.”

Jin just laughs.

“No, seriously,” Ryo says. “You deserve a medal for that. Services to poor servicemen. How did you get it?”

“I bartered,” Jin says. “Wrote some poetry for a guy's wife.”

“Hah,” Ryo says. “I think that's called cheating, isn't it?”

Jin shrugs. “Emiko hates my poetry,” he says. “Might as well send it to somebody who appreciates it. It's not like she's gonna know her husband didn't write it.”

“Your poetry stinks,” Ryo says. “I'm surprised he was prepared to give up anything for it. Was he desperate?”

“Something like that,” Jin says. “Want to insult me more? I can take it back.”

“I'm good,” Ryo says, grinning. “Want a bit?”

Jin shakes his head, wrapping his arms around his knees. Smoking doesn't clear his head. Clouds do – but not now. Not today. Not tomorrow. It'll never be the same again.

“I'm so scared,” he says.

Ryo just looks at him, takes a long drag on the cigarette. “Me too,” he says. “Me too.”


Continue to (1), Part Two.

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