hermiones: (nanowrimo)
Cat ([personal profile] hermiones) wrote2010-03-06 11:33 am
Entry tags:

"Southend" (1) / Part Two.

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

(1), Part One.




There hadn't been a proper funeral. The military wouldn't release the body and without it, the service couldn't take place. Instead, Jin's father had held a ceremony, a celebration of Reio's small contribution to life. It had been sombre and piecemeal due to financial restriction but not lacking in heart. Jin's father had cried for the first time in over a decade. Jin had been unable to. It hadn't sunk in yet.

They'd drank until the early hours, he and the other men. His father, uncles, friends. Everybody has become so drunk on Reio's memory that he had struggled to find his way back to Emiko in the end. The stories on his mind as he'd swaggered through the door and bashed his head against the light fixture. Emiko had pretended to be asleep – he'd been faintly aware of it. He'd thrown water down his back and over his face and collapsed into bed.

He'd tried to initiate sex, out of fury and out of pain and out of drunkenness. He'd turned Emiko over and looked at her in the dim light and she'd reached out and stroked his face. She hadn't been asleep.

“Don't,” he'd said. “I don't need-”

She'd understood the pain rolling down his head and his shoulders, pooling in his eyes. Like paint, viscose and trembling. She'd busied her hand but nothing had worked – he was too drunk. And he'd lidded his eyes and he'd chewed his lip until it bled, cursing himself.

“What if it never happens again,” he'd snapped.

“It will,” she'd said, her voice factly in the darkness. “Of course it will.”

“He used to ride his bicycle through the village,” he'd said. “Ringing that bell for everything it was worth. My mother had died years before but my dad still made him ring that bell wherever he went. As if to taunt the gods: you can't take me away, I'm too loud, I'm too alive – nothing can take me down. Nothing can take me down.”

She'd stroked his shoulder and his face, saying nothing. Her body had been warm beneath his.

“How is he gone,” he'd stuttered. “How could they take something like that? A kid who'd just wanted to ride a bicycle through the town. A kid who just liked to make noise, to announce himself, to – how could they take a kid like that? He didn't want to die. He just wanted to be a man like my father. He just wanted to save his country. He didn't understand what he was doing. How do they get to take a kid like that?”

She'd lowered his face down onto her breastbone. And as he shook, she'd whispered things in his ear – poetic things and things that tipped the universe over and over. And he'd closed his eyes as the waves of her words had lapped at him, until he felt dizzy and still. And then he'd fallen asleep.





The next afternoon, they'd had tea. Many couples they knew still preserved the Sunday tradition of the tea ceremony. Emiko didn't like it – she felt trapped by it. Unable to express her feelings whilst she had to concentrate so much on her body. She'd sat on the futon in her thin robe with her hair down her back. He'd stood by the window, looking out at the sunlight in disbelief.

Her face had been round and her eyes had retained their way of holding a gaze. She was looking at him. She'd been looking solidly at him for over fifteen minutes. Her face showed no evidence of shock but her eyes were trying to understand.

“I just,” he'd said, the flailing reasoning used by those without justification for their actions. “I can't sit around doing nothing. I can't watch Reio go out and-”

“Reio is gone,” she'd said, tilting tea to her mouth. “But that doesn't mean you have to-”

“Of course it does,” he'd snapped. “What else does it mean? What else can I do – you think it's okay for him to die for a cause and for me to scoff at that cause?”

“Dying yourself doesn't honour him,” she'd said. “If you don't believe in his cause then you'd be doing something you didn't believe in, making a mockery of what he stood for. He wouldn't want that.”

“It's not that I don't believe,” he'd said. “I believe in this country not being invaded by scum. I believe in preserving what's ours. I believe in freedom and dignity – everything Reio thought he was fighting for. It's that-”

“You don't believe in killing people to attain personal freedom,” she'd said.

“Yes,” he'd said. “I don't believe that we can acquire our freedom by murdering people. It doesn't make sense to me. But if it's that or we let the Americans take us...”

Emiko had always sat, still and thoughtful and quiet when he talked about his dreams and ambitions. She had the generosity of a good, non-judgmental spirit and he appreciated it. He really did. But at the same time, once she had taken the time made up her mind, it was difficult to get her to alter it.

“You have too much talent,” she'd said, bluntly. “Reio had some combat training but it wasn't enough. He died because of incapability, not because of honour. You'd be a body – a number. You can't do this, Jin.”

“I'm not talking about being a soldier,” Jin had said. “I'm not talking about doing what Reio did. What he did was brave. Was honourable. I'm talking about something bigger, something better. Look. The papers, the radio, it's been all over them. I could give myself to this cause. I could sink ships, I could be...I could be something. At the moment, I'm nothing. I'm just sitting here. I'm deadwood. Dead weight. I trained as a pilot and I'm not using it. They're only hiring pilots to do this – to sink ships.”

“You're talking about death,” she'd said, dully. “You're talking about becoming a human bomb.”

“Yes,” he'd said.

She'd been silent for a long time, finishing her tea. Every swallow was tough, hard, angry. Outside, the sun had been setting, casting the main room into vaster and vaster darkness.

“There are so many things you could do instead that don't involve the certainty of you never coming home,” she'd said.

“All I know how to do is fly,” he'd said. “I don't know how to shoot, or how to dodge. I'm no medic, I'm not a soldier. I can't sit here and do nothing but I can fly.”

“You wouldn't be flying,” she'd said. “You'd be crashing.”

He'd frowned, folding his arms. She was right but it wasn't the point. He understood her lack of comprehension – he was talking about a sort of honour that wasn't available to her.

“Why do you want to do this?” she'd asked.

“I've never honoured you,” he'd said. “I would do it to-”

“I don't need you to honour me,” she'd said. “Any more than you already have by marrying me.”

“My brother-”

“You want to honour your family?”

“I want to be better than I am,” he'd said, weakly. “My father before me, my brother. I'm sitting around as the country burns and I can't do it anymore. How can you stand it?”

“It's not expected of me to interfere,” she'd said. “I don't want you to do this.”

“It'll be over before I'm sent out.”

“Then why go?”

“Emiko,” he'd said. “I can't sit here and let this happen. I have to do my part. I have to be better than I am. That may not have been what it was growing up but it's how it is now and I have a duty to fulfill. I understand that you're upset-”

“Don't treat me this way,” she'd said. “As though I'm incapable of reasoning. I'm perfectly calm. I'm not hysterical. I'm just not about to roll over and give in to you when you're talking like this.”

“You don't understand,” he'd said. “The pressure-”

“I do understand,” she'd said. “You think I don't wish I could be more than a seamstress? I've stitched headbands for these pilots. Miles of cloth that'll never see daylight again. Miles of cloth that young men died wearing because they believed it was their duty. How can you serve a country that wishes for your death?”

“It's not my death,” Jin had said. “That matters. It's the death of the country that matters.”

“And you're single-handedly going to stop that from happening?”

“Are you more important than this country?” he'd demanded.

She'd looked at him, hard and strong and terrifying. “Am I?” she'd asked.





Emiko gets the letters one by one. There's a ritual to it that she keeps to. Slowly closing the door on the outside world and sitting down at her desk. Straightening her hair beneath her palms. Slicing open the envelope with a small worn letter-opener. Sliding out the paper inside with a caution never deployed on any other task. She opens the paper with shaking hands and reads each word aloud. Sometimes, she pauses. Sighs and moves on.

It's the very picture of somebody reverent and true – she's seen her mother give her brother's letters the same respect. Only she doesn't feel faithful. Or loving. Or anything befitting of her role. She reads the words and the distance rings true. The hollow heartbeat of miles and miles of time and space between each line of beautiful, crafted text. All she can think about when she reads Jin's letters is that each might be his last. It's so hard to write back when she knows that she may never receive another word.

She'd feel as though she'd caused it, by writing back. By loving too much. By saying too much.

She feels angry. Angry and sad and weary of the world. How nice it would be to go somewhere else and be somebody else – only everywhere in the world is being torn apart. There's no place that could welcome her. Instead of a dignified resignation she feels a tumbling sense of absolute rage. Sometimes, she worries it comes across in her letters. Only sometimes, because Jin never seems to care what she writes, just that she does. She opens the drawer full of unsent letters and places his latest among them. Steeling her hands on the desk she takes a few more deep breaths and then, slowly, she rises to her feet.

Moving over to the window, she looks out into the street. Hardly anybody goes out nowadays, not when the sun is bright and the sky is clear. It's spring-time – the most beautiful time on the calendar and yet all anybody can think about is the occupation. Most countries would welcome the nearing end of a war (if, indeed, her father is right about that) but here, it's different. The end means defeat, means retreat, means giving in. The men who stand around drinking, too old or frail or hurt to offer their services, their grim smiles tell many tales. The dead sons and husbands and kids, they tell tales, too.

For all that the government talk of victory and everlasting peace – for all that they call the soldiers gods, Emiko knows that the world is going to change. That soon, all of them will have to face the inevitable. That one more soldier, one more god doesn't make the slightest bit of difference.

She doesn't say as much to Jin. It's best not to. Even he wouldn't enjoy that sort of letter.

She stitches on afternoons like this one. She and her mother Naoko do, listening to the sounds of rocketry far away. Like living on a planet and hearing the stars crash into one another. Her father says that when they're close enough to see lights, that's when they should run. Her father with the broken kneecaps, who couldn't run if he wanted to.

“You've heard from Jin,” her mother says.

“Yes,” she says. With every letter, a fragment of him reignites in her memory. Today, she's thinking about the curve of his neck. Those strong muscles, so tough you'd never think he could die. Strong muscles to carry the weight of a strong voice. A strong kiss.

“How is he?”

“He's struggling,” she says. “With the weight of this assignment.”

“Only the youth seem to have that indulgence,” Naoko says.

“It's not an indulgence,” she says. “I think it could be a truth. So many people have swallowed that truth in the past. Only now we're choking on it.”

“Your father swallowed that truth,” Naoko says. “You should be grateful for it – it guaranteed your security. You grew up in a world without war. The first war was fought miles away. Only now-”

“At some point,” Emiko says. “At some point, it'll stop. It has to. We can't keep doing this every decade or so. Can we? Nobody has that amount of money or people. Something will stop this.”

“You're hoping that it happens before he has to fly.”

“Yes,” Emiko says. “I'm going to tell him to keep turning back. The limit is nine times – that's what Kiko told me. After that they can shoot for you insubordination but until then...”

“Emiko,” Naoko chides. “You live in a dream world. I'm appalled that you would think-”

“That I want to protect him?”

“That you put yourself above the Emperor,” Naoko continues. “Above god. I didn't raise you to put yourself above people who know better. Above your country.”

“It's not myself I place above my country,” Emiko says. “It's him. You don't ever want to say that to Kenji? When you think about him out there, alone?”

Naoko folds her fabric into her lap and takes a long, hard breath. “Of course I do,” she says, a rush of air, as if the government are listening in and taking notes on her treachery. “Of course I want to save your brother from this. But that isn't the world I was born into.”

Emiko sighs. The world her mother was born into is the world she raised Emiko in – Naoko hasn't moved with the times. Barely aware of them moving at all. She doesn't believe that it's her right to interfere with the decisions made by men. Emiko has always believed it her right to offer her opinion, whether asked for or not. When she met Jin, she began to challenge him, didn't stop when he went into flight training, didn't stop when he decided to pull forward the wedding. Didn't stop when he decided to leave her and take up a position in the tokkotai.

The only thing is, none of her opinions seem to have done any good, had any effect, initiated any change. It's one thing to have the right to express an opinion but people taking it seriously, that seems to be the sticking point.

She puts down her sewing and rises to her feet. Her mother tilts her head and watches her leave the room.

“Emiko,” she says, but her voice fades quickly.




Jin, she writes.

Turn back. You don't have to do this. I don't know how it works – I don't understand the politics and the dangers. It's not my life in my hands but understand that your life means as much to me. I wouldn't make this decision carelessly.

But come home. You don't want to do this and I don't want you to. If you have to turn back nine times, turn back nine times. Anything you have to do.

Your country wants you to fight for freedom, but pay for it with your own. That isn't right. A better world is around the corner. I can feel it. I can taste it.

Please, come home.

Emiko.




Emiko,

We're setting out for Okinawa this week. We're not sure when. I don't want to give you a date, just in case.

I haven't heard from you. I think I have to do this. I don't know how to do otherwise. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Know that I love you – and that a better world is coming.

Jin.





Jin doesn't sleep that night. Ryo doesn't, either – Jin can hear him shifting about in the bunk below. The other men sleep soundly but then they've spent the day in silence. The night bothers them less.

He thinks of Emiko. He hasn't heard back from her – he hasn't heard what she thinks he should do. In his mind, everything is swirling. Two choices, both heavy and valid and bitter. Only one can win out. Brother versus wife, country versus heart. He wonders whether Reio's decision would have been different if he'd had a wife. If he'd had anybody. If their mother hadn't died.

When the alarm sounds, they dress in silence.

“I've heard that it's bombed to fuck,” Ryo says, under his breath. “Okinawa. The Americans are tearing it apart.”

Jin just looks at him, unsure of what to say. Whether it makes any difference, then, sending the bombers out there. Whether one man and one heart can really have any impact at all.

“What are you thinking,” he says. “About-”

Ryo just shakes his head.

Jin doesn't check the post. Nobody does. Nobody thinks about anything but the morning ahead. That by the evening, there may be no night to follow. Just darkness of a different kind. He promises himself that by the time he's behind the yoke, by the time his hands are steady and his vision is full of blue sky, he'll know. He'll know.

The rituals make little impression on him. They are given trinkets that are supposed to honour and encourage them on their day of reckoning. He takes his ensign and his eyes pass over the stitched words on the cloth. Kame holds his as if he's never seen it before. Ryo barely looks. His eyes hurt to see. Jin wonders who he can send the pistol to – he doesn't want it. Doesn't know anybody who would. Everybody he knows is sick of killing machines.

They drink sake and toast the day. On no sleep and no food and no rest and no calm it makes him feel sicker than ever. A poem is read as they drink, full of ridiculous patriotism. Jin thinks back to Emiko's words about religion. About the mindless following of passion and principles. About the danger in that. He wishes he'd been old enough in his nine years to see that she was right.

The others have letters from their families which they want to put in their cockpits. Medals are freely given away, baubles that might pass to children and grandchildren in loving memory of a person they never knew. A person they will see as a great and brave man who gave his life for his country and had no thoughts of his own. Emiko will run her hand over the smooth metal and never understand the raging beast in Jin's heart that cried out as he received it.

He doesn't have a prayer from Emiko. She isn't the type. He's considered taking her letters into the cockpit. Before he leaves, he leaves them in his suitcase under the bed. It doesn't feel right. She might want them, in years to come. As he walks out to the hanger he passes by the post, picks up the three brown envelopes that are his, postmarks from days and weeks ago. Stuffs them into his back pocket. He's about to open them when he arrives in the hanger, when the Admiral comes around with their senninbari.

“A thousand stitches by a thousand women,” he says.

“I heard that numbers are dropping,” Jin says. It's quiet but not quiet enough.

“Not at all,” Ugaki says. “Whoever told you that is a liar. You should reject that sort of talk – you are on a higher plane. The numbers of women who want to stitch the headbands of heroes increases by the day.”

Jin closes his mouth and says nothing.

Before climbing into their planes, some of the pilots raise their hands to their mouths and press down on the flanks. Jin doesn't. He's never liked rituals, preferring to rely on skill than luck. He climbs in with heavy steps and the nausea starts to recede. Everything is familiar. He sits down and everything is starchy with the paper in his back pocket so he throws the envelopes down to the floor. Takes a deep breath and looks around him. The band is tight around his head and warm where he thinks Emiko's stitches might be. He looks to Ryo's plane, thinking that this will be the last time he ever sees it.

At the last minute, Ugaki comes around and throws blue bundles into the cockpits. He doesn't look at each man's face when he does this and nobody questions it. They reach their feet forward and the press on, regardless. Nobody thinks. Nobody challenges. Nobody does anything.

As the plane pans out he glances to the floor and Emiko's writing glares back up at him amongst a bunch of fresh cornflowers. They are as blue as the sky, as clear as the wind, as soft as the trees. He wants to touch them, more than anything, to press them against his face and savour their life and their smell. He thinks of Okinawa's cornflower fields and Emiko's body turning through them. Of her dress pressed with bright blue and her wide eyes. How little readiness he has to leave it all behind.

As the engine starts up, he reaches down and strokes one sole petal. The pilots no longer wear gloves – financially pointless. The flower is timid under his touch and it shatters, falling under his feet. He understands that. They line up out of the hanger and onto the runway, the sky over their heads so blue and so clear. Jin closes his eyes as the world around him speeds up. His stomach drops as he lifts up, which hasn't ever happened before. He doesn't like it.

The others are behind him and in front of him. In a minute or so they clear the base and there's nothing around them but fields and sea. Out of the corner of his eye he watches the others toss their flowers overboard. He isn't tall enough to look over the side to see cornflowers raining down to earth. He wishes he could. He hopes that Emiko will look outside and see them – see a blue rain over a wonderful world and have, for the briefest moment, a sense of hope.

He kisses the bundle and tosses it over the side of the plane.





All of Jin's training hasn't prepared him for it. In a strange way he expected to be unprepared, but not to this extent. All of the science swirls before his eyes – he knows the task he has to complete. Their targets are the giant US warships off the coast of Okinawa, the bases from which the Americans attack. They are to drop their bombs and then to slam their planes into the ships. They are not to blink. They are not to doubt. They are to spend their last second of life shouting something suitably honourable.

It all makes sense, it just doesn't make sense.

They fly over fields and homes and life – life that would be lost without the war effort. Life that would be safe had there been no war at all. And when in the distance Jin sees the sea, nothing feels any clearer. He wishes he could see Ryo's plane. All around him is a swarm of bees, faceless insects he feels nothing for or with. This is a kind of serenity but not the one he needs. In the distance, huge iron beasts raise upwards. American ships, busy with activity. Busy with planning horror. Jin tries to imagine that without his interference, these men will kill his people. Maybe even Emiko.

They separate at this stage and he flies alone, low and quiet. They'll be spotted but it will be too late. He's able to skid along underneath the clouds until he can almost see the scattering faces of the US marines. Then the firing starts and the world becomes noisier and noisier. The gunfire seems to shake, the noise rattles. It isn't consistent. He turns this way and that to avoid the shots setting off the bomb but the vibrations only rattle his teeth. The plane waves from side to side, pregnant with cargo. And as he ducks and dives, he thinks about Emiko for the last time.

The last time before he left for base, her hair was long and her back was long, bowed over him. She had big red lips and her eyes were damp. She was beautiful to him. He'd only ever had one women before her and she'd been pretty and bashful and awkward. Emiko's gracelessness was confidently executed. She paid no attention to the grotesqueness of sex, to the slip and the slide, to the hawking grunt of bodies together. And in her way, it was beautiful. She gave her body for him. Her entire life, sacrificed to the whims and the pleasure of men.

Her letter lies at his feet, recent and unopened, probably with her decision inside. He'd asked for her opinion and he's sure she'll have given it, succinctly so. Just a shame he didn't receive it until it was too late. He reaches for it and stuffs it into his shirt. He makes no move to read it. A part of him knows that it's too late.

They had lain afterwards, breathing hard. She'd held her hand against her stomach. Suddenly, a part of him understands. What he wants, the life he wants – the life he can't give up on. He feels a little like Ryo said – the sudden recognition that he isn't ready to give up on life. Isn't ready to give up on the chance of it. Of living in peace and raising children, of watching them run around in the paddy fields like little fireflies. Of having girls and educating them. Of watching Emiko break the cycle of daughters in her family, the way only Emiko could. Of watching her grow round and happy and older and older.

The right wing lowers hard and sudden, the jerk rising up through his neck. No time to consider the pain, he looks to the side and the shot is a clear-through, so quick the smoke rises with shock. Emiko's words close to his heart. The gunfire beneath. The ship looms below, belly-black and full of smoke. Around him, his peers give their lives. If he could look over the side, he'd see their outstretched faces, full of patriotism and full of fear.

He can't see Ryo.

“I can't do this,” he says, to Ryo. For Emiko. For Reio. For himself. “Fuck, I can't-”

Taking a huge breath, he pulls and yanks at the yoke. Slowly, the plane begins to turn around. There's only enough fuel for one journey and he knows it, he knows that he could beaten or even killed if he's captured – but better then. Better to have a chance than to be certain. Always better to hope than to know. All of the training hasn't prepared him for death but instead given him a passion for life. He flies away and the sky opens up and nothing has ever looked so beautiful. The sun beats down on his face and he sees the mountain ahead, the mountain they're supposed to salute a goodbye to. A hello feels so much better.

He flies until the sound of gunfire is a tickle. The plane bobs, unsteady and sickly, and he prays. Prays for the fuel to hold, prays for the plane to stay afloat. He starts to wonder whether the gods wants him to succeed – whether that's why he's been able to escape. He's never really believed, not until now. He believed in things he could see. In Emiko, in love, in his brother. Never anything higher than that. There was nothing higher than that.

In the distance, he can see land. The plane's engine ticks over, slower and slower each time. The yoke is shaking in his hands. Swallowing, he checks the gauge, one hand over his heart. He's still breathing hard. His heart is racing. His mind is full of Emiko's face and he wants to cry out to her. He wishes he could tell her what he's done. All of the moments of muddy thought and the terrible fears in the night, all leading up to this decision. Desertion feels so much better than submission. Maybe that's how she felt, too, rejecting the ideas of the women around her. She would understand this moment.

As land approaches, green and full and beautiful in the sunlight, the plane begins to slide downwards. Jin feels himself rising in his seat, hoping against hope, trying to pull the plane back upwards. His heart is full of feeling and he tries to push it out, just in case, just in case. Get rid of what you have to get rid of. Unnecessary weight must go. Only nothing works and the plane continues to fall. The wing has stopped smoking but the metal is tearing away with the wind, now against him. Maybe the gods aren't so keen, after all. He should've known better than to bring the gods into it. Than to place Emiko above them, above the Emperor.

“Shit,” he says, beginning to panic. Ryo never told him about this. How did Ryo get back? Sheer hope alone? He pulls up on the yoke but nothing helps – the air shooting through the wing drags him downwards. There's not enough force under the left wing to keep him upright. Before him, land is sweeping and hard-edged and he knows that if he hits it, he won't see it again. Won't see anything again. In desperation, he yanks on the yoke, again and again and again.

“Please,” he says. “Please, please, please, please-”

When the curve of the cliff-face approaches, he closes his eyes. The world creeping closer to a cliff-edge. His life creeping closer. Only he isn't about to fall. He's about to crash. Everything goes dark and he drops his hands. The whole world is dark rock. The nose of the plane doesn't touch stars but it still splinters and the world goes as black as space.





Emiko sits in the middle of the futon, where she's been for days. Jin's letter spills out onto the sheets, its characters a mess. She sits with her hair and her robe hanging loose and tears in her eyes, her mouth open. Her mother stands in the doorway and doesn't correct her on her total lack of dignity.

Okinawa. And the postmark, a week ago. Late. He could've flown by now. He could've been dead a week and she had no idea. Before today, people would have told her that if Jin died she would know. Now that he might be, they'll coo at her. “You couldn't have known,” they'll say. She couldn't have known. People often say that when your lover dies, you know – she didn't know. That hurts, almost more than the realisation. Almost more than the loss.

“The latest is that planes have been out to Okinawa all week and this week, too,” her mother says. “So Kiko says. Some bad conditions, too, so it's impossible to know when...”

Every other day there have been a wave of planes crossing the island but she never made the connection with Okinawa. Every plane that passes could be Jin, she has always understood that. He told her not to watch every one. He's always told her not to assume things like that. That she would only go mad, putting her heart into every plane that crossed the sky. He told her he would tell her when he received his mission. So that she could say goodbye.

She wishes she had been able to say goodbye – or that she knew she still has time to. She wishes she knew for certain. She wants to catch a last glimpse, to give her some memory to hang onto. She wishes that when she'd seen the blue flowers raining down to earth, she'd known what it all meant.

She wonders whether her letter to him arrived before he flew out, or whether he could be reading it now. Whether he could be alive, having deserted them after all. Whether in no time, he'll turn up at the door and if so – what they'll do then.

She hasn't eaten for days.

In her mind, she drafts letters. Considers sending them, just in case.


Jin,

If you're still alive, let me know where you go and I will come and find you. If I have to walk there, I will. Just send a postcard with the word on. Nothing else. I don't need anything else.

Please, be alive. And be well.

And if not and this letter has nowhere to go – know that I love you, despite your stupid decisions and your misplaced sense of honour. I will always love you.

Emiko.






“You have to eat,” her mother says.

“I will when I know,” she says. “One way or the other.”

“You won't know,” her mother says. “This is war, you must understand. They won't chase ghosts for you. You must understand that Jin has sacrificed himself for a greater cause. He has put aside his heart and you must do the same. To give his memory the dignity he has given your legacy.”

“What if he deserted them? I told him to turn back-”

“No,” her mother says. “No man would turn back because a woman told him to. You don't understand how they train them. He wouldn't dishonour you that way. You must eat.”

“I understand Jin,” she says. “Mother, I understand him.”

“Emiko,” her mother says. “It's time to let go.”

“I'll write to the Admiral,” Emiko says, as if she hasn't heard. “Ask him if Jin flew out. When. If he hasn't, yet – I'll ask-”

“They won't tell you anything,” her mother says. “Emiko. It could be intercepted, anything. This is war. Do you understand that?”

“No,” Emiko says. “I don't understand war. I don't understand why a man would choose death. Why a man would willingly go out to die without fighting first. Crashing into a ship isn't fighting. It isn't anything. How many arrows do they need? They'll never have enough arrows. Those shields are stronger than our planes and what those men do is senseless. It's barbaric. It makes no sense.”

“War isn't logical,” her mother says. “You look at things too literally.”

“Better than not enough,” she says. “I'm going to write to them.”

“As long as you eat,” her mother says. “And get up, and go back to your stitching. You can write to who you like. Let us pick you up. You must move forward. It isn't dignified-”

“Nothing is dignified,” Emiko says, but she rises to her feet. “Nothing we've done for five years is dignified. Why start now?”




---





When he opens his eyes, he expects to see a twisted wreck of charred metal and flesh. His imprint on a cliff-face. Only when he opens his eyes, the sky is bright and burning hot. He has to close them again, just as fast. His other senses start to kick in. He doesn't feel pain, which doesn't make sense. When he extends his arms and legs, nothing aches, not even his back from sleeping poorly. That seems to settle it. He must be dead. The heat means that he's in hell and-

When he opens his eyes, there is nothing. Nothing except the bright blue sky and the pale white ground. No clouds, no buildings, no trees. No people. If this is hell, it's disappointing. He looks around and the plane is a ruin behind him. Only the barest framework remains. Half of it is underground, burrowed so deep into the earth he'd never get it out again if he wanted to fly away from this place. Wherever this is.

He can stand. He can turn in circles and nothing hurts. And yet the plane is in pieces. Dark and thick and black in the earth, like a tree struck by lightning. When he looks up, the world is bright and cool. This can't be hell. Everything smells fresh and clear and clean. It can't be heaven, either – there are no pearly gates. No tests, nobody else around. And yet it isn't Japan. It isn't America. It isn't anywhere Jin might recognise. He takes a cautious step and then another. The ground supports him. He looks down at his feet, which are unharmed. His clothes aren't torn. There isn't a scratch on him.

He could still be dead.

He walks in one direction for two minutes then turns, retraces his steps back to the starting point. Leaning into the cockpit of the plane, he finds that his radio is broken and his compass smashed. No information. He wishes there were something to break up the landscape. Something other than plane-carcass. He walks in the opposite direction, always checking over his shoulder for the plane behind him. No matter how far he walks, the white ground extends. It is ever-lasting, like one of the paddy fields near his home. He wants to feel panicked or stricken or upset but he feels none of these things. Only numb and lost. Lonely.

He's used to things not making much sense. Used to dealing with bizarre situations in front of him. Ryo's beating, sermons about the honour of suicide, flying a plane with a stomach full of sake and hundreds of insects crawling beneath him. Under the plane, under his skin. Itchy blood. Itchy mind.

He wonders if he'll see Ryo here.

“Hello?” he asks, to nobody in particular. No echo. Barely any sound. The voice seems to disappear into the vast wilderness.

“Fuck,” he says. “Emiko?”

Emiko would know what to do with this. She always knew what to do with things, even if it meant watching somebody else put her theories to the test. She didn't accept the strangeness around her, she challenged it as much as she was able to. Even if it meant not getting the credit for her thoughts, that never stopped her having them. Jin finally understands the importance of women – the ongoing struggle to get their voices heard when the world wants to snub them out. The urge to keep shouting in a vacuum. All those men who went along with what they were told to do and all the women who screamed out against it. He wonders whether things would be different if all the politicians, soldiers and pilots in the world were women.

It doesn't do any good to think of Emiko. A part of gut twists when he does, at the sudden recognition that he might never see her again. That in deserting the war for her he may be about to die all the same. Putting it out of his mind, he turns back around and tries to take in the panorama, the vast scape of nothingness. All he can see for miles and miles is white ground and blue sky. The plane can be a starting point, he decides. If he walks for long enough, he'll find something. It's not possible for the land to go on forever – Japan isn't big enough for that sort of dream. Nowhere is big enough. He's confident that if he has perseverance, he'll find something. It's better, after all, than still being in the middle of the conflict.

And his heart, full of feeling and love and relief, will lead him back to Emiko. It has to. That's what he has to believe in now. He takes a long step and then another, and another, and another. And all the while, his mind starts to clear of feelings, of memories, of everything.





The plane vanishes into the distance. As Jin walks, he finds himself less and less able to stop walking. It becomes a pattern, like a heartbeat, like breathing. If he stopped, he'd just collapse. As he walks, the images in his mind seem to fade, as if sucked into the air. The thoughts of Emiko become less and less clear with each step. She has large eyes and a forceful way of holding her mouth but somehow, he can't picture exactly how the two go together. The exact arrangement of her face which only yesterday was as clear as day. That can't be good, he doesn't think.

As he walks, he writes a letter aloud. The only way to keep her alive. The only way to keep his mind focused on what's important. On the goal.

“Emiko,” he says. “I decided. I don't know what you advised me to do but I decided. I want to see you again. I want to breathe. To touch the sand and the sea and the wind. To walk in flower fields. To taste things – food, you, life.

I once asked you if any man could give up life, could give up all he knows for a cause he doesn't truly understand. I once asked you if you could. Because all my life, I've seen you like a man. You act like a man. With your guts and your forthright attitude. Please don't be offended by that. I love you because you're a woman, because you're everything that I need in life. Fresh and beautiful and soft. And like the morning. Did I ever tell you how like the morning sunrise you are?

You hate poetry, though, don't you? So I'll go on. I'm now realising that you're not like a man at all. At least, if I'm a man. If all those men I flew with are men. We're all a bunch of cowards. Of sheep. We believed in something that doesn't exist. Some of us died for it. Some of us – some of us are lost for it. When I asked you if any man could give up life, I should've asked: could any woman? Would any woman?

You wouldn't. Women wouldn't. Would they? You've always known better. Is that because you're a woman or because you're you?

You'd say you had listened to the men in your life. That instead of going for your dreams you'd remained a seamstress. That we all suffer under occupation and that sometimes we don't have an exit. That sometimes, we can't escape. It isn't the right time. We don't have the skills or the voices.

I turned my plane around because I believe I found my voice. I wish I could give you that feeling, too. Maybe if I get out of here I'll help you. I will get out of here. I need to see you again, the way after a long night we all need the morning.

You are the sunrise. This place has no sun and so I know, when I see the light of dawn on the horizon – that I am moving closer to you. I will find you. I promise, Emiko. You have seen a weak man all these years, a frightened man. A man scared by himself. And now, you shall see a strong man. A man who will trek miles to find you again. Please wait for me.

Jin.”





He takes a deep breath, wanting to fold the words up in his heart so that he might come back to him. For as long as he talks and as deeply as he feels, the memories are fading, as if his eyes are failing. He can no longer picture Emiko in his mind. He must rely on what's inside of him. He must rely on his legs. He must keep going.

“Reio,” he says. “I wish I had seen the things I've seen earlier. I wish I could have told you all the things I know now. But tell me – if you have been here, walked this path, I need a sign. I need help. I need the words of wisdom I couldn't give you. I need you to be big brother now. Can you do that?”

Nothing. Not a whisper of breath on a wind.

He keeps walking. Nothing changes. The ground still as white, the sky still as blue. The world remains the same but for his mighty bootprints, continuing on into the vastness.

As he walks, he speaks aloud. Writes down the memories, as if hearing him speak them will make them stick. Will make them real.

“When I first saw you, you were just a kid,” he says. “Knobbly knees and your stupid stare, I didn't like you at all. All my life I expected to marry some dainty thing who wouldn't speak very much. That's what women were. I like to think that my mother was different, but only because I met you. And understood that women could be different and that different was what I wanted.

We grew up and we learnt from each other. Went down to the bay, climbed trees in the woods. We wanted to walk up mountains together. I wish we had – you knew the things I could never have known. What to pay attention to. What I was missing out on in life. And in return, you listened to me talk of things you couldn't know. I wish we had climbed mountains. When I think of all the things we might have taught each other.

You grew into something I couldn't understand. Tall and brazen and headstrong. Like me only bigger, bolder. My father didn't know what to make of it all. Still doesn't. But when he watches you he isn't afraid, he isn't unsettled – I think my mother might have been the same way. He knows how to understand you in a way that I don't. In a way I hoped I soon would. I wanted to grow to understand you. To trace you the way we would've traced a mountain. Some big discovery.

The day I told him I was going to marry you was the first day I'd seen him smile in so long. With Reio gone in a war he couldn't fight – it was a moment that made him forget. Forgetting is important in life, just as much as remembering. I'm only sorry it didn't last longer. That the day we shared couldn't have gone on forever. I remember you with the flowers in your hair and the stars in your eyes and any dreams I had, they appeared in you. Everything I owned and experienced, everything I'd ever felt became you.

I felt like I'd waited my entire life for it and there you were. And yet when I look back, I asked for nothing like you. I asked for everything different. Maybe somebody knew better. Maybe some higher force understood better than I could have what was right for me.

With a meeker woman, I'd have been dead. Maybe I still will – maybe that's what awaits me at the end of this. But at least it'll be on my terms, not theirs. You taught me that. All through my life, you taught me that. I want to keep learning. Let's keep learning.”





“Jin,” the voice says. For a moment he thinks he's conjured it himself, just by reliving memories. The voice isn't instantly recognisable and so when he opens his eyes, he's shocked to see Reio standing there.

“Fuck,” he whispers. “Fuck, Reio. Is that – are you really here? Am I...I...fuck. I'd forgotten you. I'd forgotten that your face looked like-”

“Shut up,” Reio says. “Don't stop walking. I made that mistake.”

Unable to hug him, Jin just takes his hand, trying to breathe. “Mistake,” he repeats. “What mistake?”

“The ground draws you down if you stop,” Reio says. “You're not meant to stop.”

Jin just nods, nods until he can begin to process things. He isn't sure that Reio is really here – they say that in the desert, you see things you're desperate to see. And if Reio is really here then Jin must be dead, and Emiko-

“Am I dead?” Jin asks.

“No,” Reio says. “I don't think so.”

“Then you're not dead, either?”

“I don't know,” Reio says. “I'm not too clear on this, any more than you are. I just know you're not meant to stop.”

“Why aren't you meant to stop?”

“Because,” Reio says. “You're looking for something. I've been looking for something, too. That's what I figure.”

“How long have you been walking here?”

“I don't know,” Reio says. “How long have I been dead?”

“Months,” Jin says. His voice starts to heave in his throat. “Fuck, Reio-”

“Okay,” Reio says. “Months, then. Keep going. You asked me to be big brother – keep moving.”

“I'm walking,” Jin says. “I just – it's been a long time. I've missed you. I never thought I'd see you again.”

“It doesn't feel like months,” Reio says. “Time moves differently here. Doesn't feel like two, three, four months. It could've been years.”

“I need to get back to Emiko,” Jin says. “Do you think she's here?”

“Is she dead?” Reio says.

“No,” Jin says. “No, she's – no. I don't think so.”

“What were you doing, before you got here? How did you get here?”

“I was flying,” Jin says. “Crashing. I took up with the tokkotai.”

“Fuck,” Reio says. “Because of me?”

“Maybe,” Jin says. “Grief. I don't know. It was a weird time. Things feel less complicated here.”

“The sky has no clouds,” Reio says. “That's why. Skies are like minds – lots of clouds, lots of thoughts. Clouds catch the thoughts. This sky is blank. Everything here is blank. It makes you blank, too, if you're not careful. You don't want to lose yourself here.”

“No,” Jin says. “I don't. I'm losing memories. I can feel things fading.”

“Keep them in your head,” Reio says. “What were you doing – crashing into a ship? We heard about the tokkotai. Everybody thought when Okinawa fell, they'd be needed.”

“I was flying towards Okinawa,” Jin says. “And I turned back. Just after a shot pierced the wing. I tried to fly back to land but crashed into the cliff-face.”

“Maybe we are both dead,” Reio says.

“I don't think this is the afterlife,” Jin says.

“Why not?” Reio says. “It could be.”

“Because you died a hero and I died a traitor. We wouldn't end up in the same place.”

“I guess so,” Reio says. “I can't believe you turned back.”

“I'm sorry,” Jin says.

“Don't be,” Reio says. “We were all wrong. Wars – they're all wrong. They're never what you think they are. They never do any good. I believed I was doing it for a good reason but when it happened, I barely had time to blink. I wasn't good enough to fight. And they let me go out there to get torn apart. I was just a body, a number. A human shield.”

“A human bomb,” Jin says.

“Yeah,” Reio says. “I hope they don't take us, though. The Americans.”

“I need to find Emiko,” Jin says.

Reio says nothing. They keep walking and Reio doesn't let go of his hand. Jin feels the slightest tug with each step, something he didn't notice before. The sinking feeling. His legs aren't tired, which doesn't make sense. He wonders how much time has passed.

“Do you have anything belonging to her?” Reio says. “It might help. Keep the images alive. Whatever we're looking for, I've not found it. We could be here forever.”

“I left letters in the plane,” Jin says. “Fuck, I left- we can't go back, can we?”

“Fuck, no,” Reio says. “I'm not going back. You have to go forward. Things change when you go back. Moving in any direction, it saps your memories, saps your thoughts. If you go back again, something gets rewritten. It writes over the blank spaces. Makes you think things that weren't there. Don't go backwards.”

Jin feels down his clothes, feeling his stomach crumble. He can't believe it. He's sure he put it there and yet. Yet. It doesn't make sense. There has to be something-

“Reio,” he says. “I took out her letter and put it in my shirt. I put it there and it's gone.”

Reio looks at him. “Are you sure?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Jin says. “Just before the crash.”

“Strange things happen here,” Reio says. “Okay. Tell me about her. It'll keep things alive.”

“You know her,” Jin says.

“I knew her,” Reio says. “Memory's fuzzy, remember? I don't remember what she looks like. Whether you married her. What the wedding was like, if you did. I don't...I can't recall. So tell me.”

“She used to play with us, in the fields,” Jin says. “She was a kid. A silly kid. She copied me, liked the way I did things. And she grew up and we kept feeding her books and our homework, because she'd do them. She'd do anything that involved learning and we were...”

“Deviants,” Reio says. “Little horrible children.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “We were lazy bastards. She didn't mind. She did all of our homework and her brothers', too. That's how we all ended up with good grades. I owe so much to her for that. Flight training needed good grades and I didn't care for anything back then but flying.”

“She had a stare,” Reio says. “And really long hair. You used to pull it.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “Still does. All three.”

“You married her?”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “We were eighteen. You weren't at the wedding – you'd been drafted. We wrote to you and told you about it. I don't know if you got the letter. You were...we got the news you had died two weeks later. In Okinawa.”

“Letter was probably late,” Reio says. “Postal service isn't very patriotic in wartime. I never got your letter. I bet you didn't get mine until late. I think I could've been dead before the wedding.”

“I wish things had been different,” Jin says. “That the war never happened. That you could've seen the day. Everything was bright blue and she wore flowers in her hair. Father smiled.”

“He did, huh?”

“He did.”

“I wish things had been different, too,” Reio says. “Maybe they still will be. Let's keep walking and hope. It's all we can do.”

“Was there never a girl for you?” Jin asks, impishly. “Never any nurses, or- the war makes people look back at girls with kind eyes. My friend Ryo said that. Said love was reliant on circumstances.”

Reio just laughs. “Yeah, there was a girl,” he says. “There were always girls. Ryo was right.”

“Nobody serious?”

“No,” Reio says. “I didn't want to be serious. You were the one who wanted to settle down. I just wanted to explore my options a bit.”

“And did you?”

“Not as much as I wanted to,” Reio says. “Unfortunately. The war could've provided us with leave for that sort of thing. It would've improved morale no end.”

“I wish I hadn't left her.”

“You didn't leave her,” Reio says. “You wanted better for her. She'll understand that.”

Jin thinks about Emiko, where she is now, how old, how things are. Whether Japan lives under US occupation or whether things went their way after all. Whether he has time enough to change things. He realises now that his mistake is huge – to put his sick country above his healthy wife. To put anything above the love of his life. It's whether he'll get a chance to change it. To make good on it.

“Does this thing ever end?” Jin says. “You walked in the same direction for two months?”

“And only caught up to you,” Reio says. “No, it never ends. I don't think.”

“Fuck,” Jin says. “I should've brought food.”

“You don't get hungry here,” Reio says. “Or thirsty.”

“Not at all?”

“Never,” Reio says. “You don't sleep. This isn't living. It isn't dying. It's something in-between. When I said I didn't know anything...neither will you. This isn't something we can know. We just have to keep going.”




They walk and walk and walk and slowly, the conversation filters out. The nuances of Reio's face become less and less familiar and when Jin tries to think of Emiko, there's a tug in his heart, a feeling behind the eyes, but nothing clear. It's hard to picture her. Hard to remember what her touch felt like.

“Maybe we're not looking for anything,” Jin says, eventually. “Maybe that's just a lie. Like the war was a lie. Who told you we were looking for something?”

Reio shrugs. “I assumed,” he says. “That there had to be a point. I've made that mistake before, right?”

“Right,” Jin says.

“When did you become a pessimist?”

“When Japan started shooting its own stars out of the sky,” Jin says.

“I think we're looking for something,” Reio says. “Or we wouldn't have found each other.”

Jin nods, because he can't refute that. He's not sure he wants to. And almost as soon as Reio says it, his eyes focus, become silver and hard.

“Reio,” he says. “What's that?”

About ten feet away there is a sheet of paper. It doesn't blow in the breeze but it isn't fastened down. It just lies, like a ghost. Jin jogs up to it and bends down to touch it. The moment he does, the tugging sensation in his heels stops. Reio walks slowly up to him.

“We can stop walking,” Jin says. “We're not sinking anymore. We found it.”

“What is it?” Reio asks.

Jin looks. “It's a letter,” he says, picking it up. “Reio,” he says. “It's Emiko's letter. It's been opened. The one I put in my jacket – it's been opened and ended up here. How does that work?”

Reio isn't looking at Jin. He isn't looking at the letter. His eyes are hard on the white ground. Jin looks around him, the great horizon and then this one patch of ground. When he looks down in the direction of Reio's gaze he sees very clearly why his brother is staring.

In the ground is carved a word in red, as though they stand on a map of the world, as though you'd mark down a country or a pole. As though it's a location but without co-ordinates or directions or anything useful at all.

Southend.


“What does it mean?” Jin asks.

“I don't know,” Reio says.

Jin crouches down on his haunches and strokes over the word, thinking it carved in red dust. It doesn't shift when his fingertips brush it but seems to be imprinted into the world. Looking around him, Jin can't see anything else that would provide clues. All around is just endless nothingness. And Reio, with his furrowed brow and excitement in his eyes.

Jin turns over the letter and looks at it. He can't find anything on it that would help. A part of him wants to believe that it's a message from Emiko. It would seem too convenient, too hopeful – but why otherwise would her letter appear here? Why else would it have been taken from his jacket?

“I think we need to go south,” Reio says. “If we're to take it literally.”

“No other way to take it,” Jin says, starting to read the letter. It makes water rise in his throat, thick with emotion. He misses Emiko. Wished he'd listened to her in the first place. Wished he could now come home.

“How do we go south?” Reio says. “We don't know which direction we've been walking in. We can't go backwards. You don't have a compass, do you?”

“No,” Jin says. “What about the stars? I could use the stars, Reio, I always-”

“There are no stars here,” Reio says. “Only sky. Blue sky. The weather never changes.”

That depresses Jin more than he knows what to do with.

“Right,” he says. “Okay, we found this here for a reason. We walked in this direction and found this. Surely if we continue on, we must be going on the right track? If we'd been walking north, we'd never have found the letter or that marking. We must be going south.”

“Unless it's a test,” Reio says. “We shouldn't walk backwards, but it might be the only way out of here. It might be a challenge.”

Jin is quiet, for a moment. “Fuck, Emiko,” he says. “I wish you were here.”

“What does the letter say?”

“It says to turn back,” Jin says. “And come home. I asked her what I should do. Whether I should bail on the mission. She told me to come back nine times if I had to.”

“Then...” Reio says. “We have to turn back. That's why the letter is here. To tell us to turn back.”

“You said turning back meant that things get rewritten.”

“It does,” Reio says. “But I wouldn't say it if I weren't sure. I've been here longer. I know how this thing works.”

“So we risk it?”

“We risk it,” Reio says. “Come on. That's what we always did. We always risked it. It'll be alright. We're together. We were always together, right? We can do this.”

Jin stands and looks at him, feeling like a child again. He remembers running around in the dusk-light with Reio, playing catch, laughing until they cried. Plane engines in little voices.

“Okay,” he says. “Let's go.”


Continue to (2), Part One.

Post a comment in response:

From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.