hermiones: (nanowrimo)
Cat ([personal profile] hermiones) wrote2010-03-06 11:43 am
Entry tags:

"Southend" (3)

Title: Southend (3)
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




Southend
Part Three



Jin's never wanted not to see the sun before. The problem with being exposed to too much of anything is that you eventually get tired of it. You grow weary of things – people, food, love, everything. Beside him, Reio is quiet. With every step they take the less clear things seem. Jin feels as though his brain matter is slowly ebbing away.

“Keep talking,” Reio says, eventually.

“There's nothing more to talk about,” Jin says. “I can't remember if what I'm saying is true – I can't remember whether any of it is real or not. I feel like things are changing. That in the process of bringing them to mind they're warping. Nothing is solid anymore.”

“You know who Emiko is,” Reio says. “Things like that don't change. They don't – that's static. That's permanent. Memories change but people don't. You still know who she is.”

“She had long hair,” Jin says.

“She has long hair,” Reio corrects him.

“She was tall,” Jin says. “Taller than me.”

“What about her personality?” Reio asks.

Jin is silent, for a few moments. “She was stubborn,” he says.

“Stubborn,” Reio says. “Okay.”

“The letter she sent me, the one we found - do you want to read it?”

“Okay,” Reio says. “Let me see.”

Jin hands it to him. Reio reads it without much facial expression as he scans the lines. When done, he whistles under his breath.

“Huh,” he says. “That's either selfish or ballsy or both.”

“It was right,” Jin says. “When she told me to turn back, I should've turned back. I should've known she'd be right. No sense in dying for a dying country, adding to the dead weight. I could've had a life with her.”

“She put you above her country,” Reio says.

“Yeah,” Jin says. “I should've done the same.”

“Stubborn,” Reio says. “Was she always that stubborn?”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “She wanted to learn, to go to school. Her father said she couldn't. Why would he say she couldn't?”

“Women don't go to school,” Reio says. “Do they? There were hardly any at our school. Her father probably wants what's best for her – women need to learn other things, not like men. It wouldn't do her any good to learn science when she really needs to know how to cook, to clean, to raise children.”

“It's wrong,” Jin says. “It's all wrong. We're expected to know one thing, women another. We carve out little segments of life and exclude each other from them.”

“Do you want a woman's role?” Reio scoffs. “Who the hell wants that role?”

“She wanted to go to school,” Jin continues. “If I can go to school then why not her? That's the problem. We only educate certain people. We only promote certain people. Japan's finest are all men and Japan's finest props get no credit.”

“Is this Emiko talking or you?” Reio asks. “Maybe I should've asked you to tell me about somebody else. Ryo, maybe.”

“I think Ryo's dead,” Jin says, quietly. “He didn't turn around. I wasn't followed out of there. We talked about it but I was never sure whether he'd go through with it or not. Looks like he gave in.”

“He had nothing to live for?”

“He had a girl,” Jin says. “I can't remember her name. He had a girl and he didn't chase her. He gave up on her. She's engaged to another man.”

Reio thinks on this. “Hey,” he says. “I'm dead and you're talking to me. Death is a pretty weird concept to me right now. You can't assume anything.”

“What if you're not dead?” Jin asks. “Maybe neither of us are dead. We're just in the middle-ground. In the between. Maybe when this is all over, we'll get to go back. When the grass grows again, when the wind blows, when the birds sing.”

“I don't think that's going to happen here,” Reio says. “The world is flat, the ground is dry. There aren't any mountains to catch and keep a wind and there are no clouds to make it rain. Nothing is going to grow here. There aren't any animals. We're the only people.”

“You think nothing's ever going to grow?” Jin says. “Never? That...fuck. If we can't get out of here, then there's nothing left for us. We can't go back, we can't move on. Where are we going, what are we looking for?”

“Stop freaking out,” Reio says. “I've been here months. You think I don't know all this? I believe in things being meant to be. I've been here and had no luck finding anything, until you turned up. Which makes me think maybe I'm here because you need me. Maybe the reason I've never found anything is because I was waiting for you. And now that you're here, we're going to find whatever it is we need to find.”

“I wish we knew what we had to find, that's all,” Jin says.

“Me too,” Reio says. “But we don't.”

“So we have to work with what we do have,” Jin says.

“Which is what?” Reio asks.

“Stubborn pride,” Jin says.




---





“Where do you think we're supposed to go?” Emiko asks. They've been walking for longer that she can quantify and Jin's face is solid and forlorn. They've both run out of ideas and the novelty of their adventure is wearing thin. “What do you think we're supposed to be looking for?”

“God knows,” Jin says. “I wish it would get light, that's for sure. If it got light we'd be able to see where we're headed. We'd know more.”

“I don't think there's anything to see,” Emiko says. “I think we're heading in the right direction. I have a feeling that things are going to be alright. I can't explain it, it's just a sense of...purpose. I feel like I've spent such a long time drifting that being here with you isn't scary. I'm scared of what's around me but there's nobody else I'd rather be with.”

“Me too,” Jin says. “It's weird – we don't even know each other.”

“I've told you more than most people know about me, period,” she says. “Even my mother.”

“Fuck,” he says. “That's a whole lot of trust. I thought you said you didn't trust people?”

“I didn't say it,” she says. “But it's true, moreorless. I don't trust most people. For some reason, you're different. You and Reio, you both felt different. Like there was already a connection. I didn't have to try and be anything but myself with you.”

“What's your greatest ambition?” Jin asks, suddenly. His hand is warm around hers, a little ball of sunlight between them as they walk forward through the night. “What do you want to do before you die?”

She likes that he's still using present tense.

“Mm,” she says. “I was trying to set up a debating society. In Tokyo. For women – unisex ones exist but the men overpower the women and, well. I thought if I populated a society with women then men would be less keen to join.”

“Some men would be moreso,” Jin says, with a laugh.

“True,” she says. “But those types would be too distracted to debate. They'd get marginalized quickly.”

“Hm,” he says. “You really are on a crusade for women.”

“I am,” she says. “I think we're an incredible species. All of us, not just the men. We should be celebrating our existence, not withholding rights, power, things from one another. When I think about what a glorious thing it is, that we just exist, that somehow the cosmos swirled itself together and brought us into being – isn't it sad that now all we do is squabble? What a waste of potential.”

“It is sad,” he says. “But it makes me happy to hear it from somebody who wanted to give up on life not so long ago.”

“Being out here clarifies things,” she says. “Take the world away and somehow, I see it. I understand it. Isn't that strange?”

“No,” he says. “I agree. Take everything away and you'd expect me to be miserable. I'm not. I'm here with you and I'm content. I don't know much about you but I know that being here – that being here now, talking to you, I'm happy. I don't need anything else the world could provide. And that's incredible to me.”

“We probably shouldn't talk like this,” she says.

“Why?” Jin says. “Because it's inappropriate? Too forward?”

“No,” she says. “Because soon enough, we'll talk each other out of going back home.”

“I almost don't know why it'd be so bad if we didn't go home,” he says. “You know? I know we can't stay but imagine if we could – this place, it doesn't have cruelty. It doesn't have noise. It has space and quiet and it's beautiful, in its own way. Isn't it?”

“It doesn't have music,” she says. “It doesn't have hearts, it doesn't have love.”

“It has us,” he says. “Isn't that enough?”

She looks at him as their hands break apart. She tilts her chin downwards and admonishes him with her gaze. They keep walking. He buries his hands in his pockets and looks up at the dark sky.

“Alright,” he says. “It's not. I know it's not. I just – I've never felt this content. I'm not used to it. I can't – I don't want to lose you.”

“You're not losing me,” she says.

“You don't know that,” he says. “What if, at the end of all this, you have to choose between life back home and life here with me?”

“Why would you want to stay here?” she asks. “When you could go home?”

“I've tried to escape so many things before,” he says. “Here, I don't have to face any of them. We don't have to face the financial meltdown or the loneliness or our lack of purpose. Japan's crazy rat-race. I could just sit and play my guitar.”

“You'd get lonely,” she says. “And feel completely purposeless.”

“Eh,” he says. “I wouldn't be poor.”

“You wouldn't feel anything,” she says. “You don't feel tired or hungry here, have you noticed? It's not normal. I don't want to stay here. We're not going to stay here. We're going to find out way out and then we're going home.”

“Promise me,” he says.

“Yes,” she says. “Now pull yourself together.”

“Yes ma'am,” he says.




---






“Tell me your strongest memory,” Reio says. “Of Emiko. We're here to get you back home. That's how we do it – we keep the thought strong in your head. You used to write her poetry. Read me your poetry. I'll even pretend to appreciate it.”

“I wish it was dark,” Jin says. “I could follow the stars – I know the stars. I wanted to be an astronaut. What happened to that? What happened to our dreams, Reio?”

“Jin,” Reio says. “Concentrate.”

“I could navigate if it were night,” he says.

“Stars wouldn't help you,” Reio says, tonelessly. “This place isn't logical. It's not like earth. It's not Japan. You're not here on a geography field trip, fuck. You won't find Emiko using the stars. You have to use your own head. Bring her to mind. Your strongest memory of her, go.”

Jin pauses. “I feel like all the memories have been hosed down with water,” he says. “I feel like everything is duller and diluted.”

“Try,” Reio says.

“The wedding,” Jin manages, eventually. “We got married in Okinawa. Seems crazy that I ended up defending it – failing to defend it. It was May or so. Not that warm yet. The sun came out at intervals. It was a simple ceremony because of us being dirt poor and not wanting it to be brash. Nobody wants to be boastful during war, it doesn't make sense.”

“What were you wearing?” Reio asks. “I can't see you in traditional dress. I just can't.”

“People still did go for tradition,” Jin says. “Plenty of guys I flew with had had ceremonies that were proper. No, we didn't. Emiko in tsuno kakushi? To hide her fucking horns, to symbolise her obedience to me? That was never going to happen. I'm glad she didn't – she didn't obey me after the wedding and had I obeyed her, I wouldn't be in this mess. I should have sworn my obedience to her, not the other way around. She wore a kimono and her hair tied up and it was beautiful.”

“What colour was the kimono?”

“Blue,” Jin says. “It was her mother's. It was the colour of the sky with white flowers. Pale white flowers. We spent time in the flower fields and they reminded me of it – the blue sky, the flowers and her skin.”

“This was after the wedding?”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “Everything is a series of loose images to me. I see a kimono and then I see the flower fields. They gave us cornflowers to toss over the sides of the planes as we flew past Kikajima. I wonder if she would've seen them falling to earth and known it was me. Maybe. I wonder if she ever got half my letters.”

“You said that Father smiled,” Reio says. “During the ceremony.”

“He did,” Jin says. “He liked her, Emiko. I think mother might've been...I don't know. I think our mother might have been like her. He knew how to handle Emiko and he never fought against the things that she wanted. Like a non-traditional ceremony. If I'd have suggested she not wear the wedding hood he'd have argued with me – but Emiko's suggestion was fine by him.”

“I don't remember our mother at all,” Reio says. “But I like to think that she was strong.”

“Me too,” Jin says.

“Is that the strongest memory?” Reio asks. “Of Emiko?”

“One of,” Jin says. “The strongest is the wedding night. And I don't want to tell you about that in detail – you're still a kid.”

Reio laughs. “I'm less of a kid than you think,” he says. “I went to bars, Jin. Servicemen went to bars. I've seen things even you haven't seen, I'm willing to bet.”

Jin looks at him. “I don't want to think about you screwing girls, not at your age.”

Reio just grins.

“Fuck,” Jin says. “I don't want to know that.”

“Tell me about the wedding night,” Reio says. “I'm dead, anyway. You'll get out of here and you won't have to face me. You won't even have to remember that you told me terrible things.”

“I think you're just being perverted,” Jin says. “You don't care about me finding Emiko, you just want to live vicariously through me.”

“Maybe,” Reio says. “I'm willing to concede that.”

“Ryo used to do that,” Jin says. “Not you. You never would've wanted to know.”

“Maybe things change,” Reio says. “Maybe they change too much.”





He carries her into their room. Some of the films he's seen depict man and woman in this ridiculous embrace and Emiko laughs full and loud when he does it. It never occurs to him at the time, the irony of imitating American bravado. Only months later the Americans will take the land he stands on. At the time, all Jin can think about is Emiko in his arms. She wears a thin silk robe he can feel the heat of her skin through. Her hair spindles down beyond her body, like a creature in a fairy story.

He lies her down on the bed. She lies quite still with her robe loosened, just looking at him. Just fixing him to the ground with her stare. Her face speaks of confrontation and challenge and looking back at her, Jin wonders how he'll ever leave her, if his pilot training comes off. Wonders how he'll ever be able to love her less, so that he can breathe. So that he can think. Or whether it'll always be this way, trying to squash in life beside his love for her.

“You're being poetic,” she says. “I can hear you inside your head.”

He laughs. “Yeah,” he says. “I was thinking, when will I be able to breathe again? When will space clear up so I can think about something other than you, other than the crazy feelings I have for you?”

She just looks at him. “You're very silly,” she says.

“I know,” he says. “You want me to get on with it.”

She laughs. “You know what I want?” she says. “I want to see what you can do. I know what to do with me – do you? Maybe it's your turn to watch and learn.”

He grins at her. “A girl once told me that that's the best way to progress,” he says. “That sometimes, if we do it, we can develop new ways of thinking. Challenge the old ways. Be better than the old ways.”

She raises an eyebrow. “Smart girl,” she says.

“Yeah,” Jin says. “She is.”

He leans down onto the bed and her body moves up a little to meet his. He kisses her mouth fully clothed and through his shirt he feels the silk fall away. Her skin is so hot beneath the cotton of his clothes and when he flicks his eyes downwards he has to breathe in so hard.

She doesn't need to ask him to touch her. He starts with her hair, as if brushing with his fingers. He strokes her chin and the spot she loves, just behind her ear. He strokes that until she sinks into the bed, her eyes lidded. He strokes the underneath of her skull and her neck, her shoulders, down her back. Up and around – her collarbone, teasing down to her breasts. She rises up, again, so that the mere touch he started with becomes a grab and he grunts. She too, as his fingers meet the hard press of nipples.

“Fuck,” he says. “Fuck.”

“Is this the first time you've-”

“No,” he says, embarrassed that she got that impression. “Don't say anything. Just-”

“I'm not,” she says, and she isn't.

“Okay,” he says, and then leans his mouth down to her nipples. A groan escapes her mouth, then, and she presses forward and forward and forward, taking his hair between her fingers. His free hand strokes down her stomach, between her thighs, where the skin gets warmer and warmer. She shifts slightly with gunfire breathing until her thighs slowly part and everything becomes as hot as hell. He sinks his hand between her legs, where it's wet, where it's hot and wet and delicious and where she begins to rock against him, making noises he's never heard in his life before.

She isn't loud but she is determined. The noises aren't what he expected – they're not feminine or pretty. They're just honest and guttural and true and he can't get enough of them. He waits, suckling, until she's pushing up so hard against him that his fingers hurt. And then when she begs he moves between her legs and guides himself into her – his thumb where she likes it, rubbing in hard circles. As he pushes inside, slow and tantalizing and torturous, she begins to beat hard circles around him. He looks down and her eyes are dark and her body is shaking water onto the sheets.





“You were a bit of a genius,” Reio says. “I couldn't get that to happen for me.”

“I shouldn't have told you,” Jin says. “You're going to mock. If you get out of here, you can't tell her I told you.”

“I won't,” Reio says. “But fuck, man. I just couldn't get a girl to-”

“She just knew what she wanted,” Jin says. “She always did. She knew she wanted to marry me before I knew I wanted to marry her. She knew when to get married, she knew what kind of ceremony. Where to go afterwards. She knew more about sex than I did.”

“They say women are uneducated,” Reio says. “I'm not sure.”

“They know more than men do,” Jin says. “Uneducated or not. I don't know how she knew so much. She knew how she liked to be touched. She had a vociferous appetite for being touched. For everything, really. She knew what to do when I was flying, when I was questioning myself. She knew that I shouldn't have done it. She told me to turn back.”

“Well,” Reio says. “If you have faith in her, and I have faith in her, she'll lead us the right way. We went the right way, going North. Don't you think?”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “I think we made the right choice. I think it's what she would've done. She never was afraid to turn back, to go back, if it was the right choice. She was never afraid to make a mistake. That's how you learn, Jin, she'd say. Or maybe that was mother...”




---






Jin looks at Emiko as they walk along. There's something about her that seems familiar, beyond the strangeness of their current predicament. There's something else, has been for a while.

“Do you think we knew each other in a past life?” he laughs. “It would explain why we're so comfortable with each other.”

She looks at him. “I don't believe in all that,” she says. “Come on, science tells us that's unlikely at best. It's not logical for people to retain their souls, come back to earth to live again. What a waste of energy and time – it'd be cheaper just to let humans breed, just to populate the earth that way. Where would you store all the people who wanted to come back, while they made up their minds?”

“You're ruining the fun of the idea,” Jin says. “Just so you know.”

She laughs. “I'm sorry,” she says. “Are you harboring ideas of being Julius Caesar?”

“Maybe I was,” he says. “I could've been some great hero and I'll never know because of skeptics like you. I think you must have been some sort of pessimist in a past life. You would have rejected everything with your cross little mouth.”

“I do not have a cross little mouth,” she says. “Anyway, I'd prefer to be a cynic than somebody who believes everything they hear.”

“I'd prefer to be gullible,” Jin says. “I mean – before today, would you have ever believed in something like this? A world like this?”

“No,” she says.

“Then there you go – it exists and yet you wouldn't have believed it. What else could exist that you don't know about right now?”

She looks at him. “Don't you have an off button?”

“I don't know,” he says. “I've never found one but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.”

She glares at him and they walk in silence for some time. She's become used to the fact that nothing changes in the endless spread of dark quiet before her. It no longer frightens her but she knows that when they do get out it'll be like walking out of a dark cinema back into the light.

“If I were reincarnated,” she says. “I'd want to have been a strong woman in a past life.”

“I think you're a strong woman now,” he says. “In a past life, you should've been different. A meek woman or something. A cowardly one.”

“Hm,” she says. “You think when you return you have to be the opposite of what you were before?”

“Maybe,” he says. “It'd explain why in a past life I might've been a hero. Now I'm just...”

“You're heroic enough for me,” she says, gently. “You got off the train. You didn't want to do that and you did. You were here for me when I needed you.”

“You asked for Reio,” he says.

“I knew him better then,” she says. “Than I knew you. When you came...I'm glad it was you. I don't want anybody else. Nobody is a bigger hero than you, right now, to me.”

He grins. “Thanks,” he says. “I wish I could get us out of here. I wish I could read the stars. Maybe if I could I could navigate, get us somewhere.”

“I don't know how to do it, either,” she says. “I should've known. In the old days, they would have known. Now, it's like we only know how to cope with technology. Not the natural world. Isn't that funny?”

“We deal with what's around us,” Jin says. “Whether that's technology or nature. In the old days, they didn't have Gameboys. If they had, well, we wouldn't be as advanced as we are. People would've got distracted and stopped evolving.”

“And I'm the pessimist?”

“Hey,” Jin says. “I say that as somebody who really likes Gameboys. Maybe I wouldn't have been bothered about evolution, as long as I had a good game to play.”

She looks at him.

“Ah, alright,” he says. “Look, we'll try. The stars, look at the stars. Recognise anything?”

They look up as they keep walking, into the blanket of the sky. The stars blink back down, almost accusingly.

“They all look the same,” she says, after a pause.

“No constellations,” he says, blinking. “Okay. That doesn't make sense.”

“As opposed to everything else, which is so logical,” she laughs. “Okay, so maybe we're not supposed to use the stars.”

“What are we supposed to use,” Jin muses. “There must be something we're missing.”

“I think we're supposed to just keep going,” she says. “I don't think there are any answers. I mean, look at everything around us. There's nothing. I think we just have to persevere. Like a rat race. At least it's cool. If it were day and it were hot, that'd be awful.”

“Okay,” he says. “I can do that. If we keep talking. Tell me about the time we met. In the park, when you looked at me. Did you lose time there? I lost time there.”

“I did,” she says. “It was strange. Our entire history has been strange, hasn't it? We've only known each other for a few hours and yet we've had all this weirdness. And now we're here. Somebody's got it in for us.”

“Did you like the song?” he laughs. She looks at him, surprised – to go from talking about existential matter to the simplicity of a song has startled her.

“I've an ego problem,” he explains. “You'll have to put up with it.”

“It was alright,” she teases. “I guess.”

“Oh, you guess, fine,” he says. “I won't sing any more for you then.”

She smiles. “It was beautiful and you know it,” she says. “I've never...music has never done that to me before. When I heard it I had images of things, all sorts of things. You made me see planes and the sky and things that felt so strong they were almost like memories. I didn't know that music could do that.”

He grins, a mile wide. “Music has only ever done that for me before,” he says. “I've never known anybody else who's felt that way. Most people, music is just...it's pretty, in the background, it doesn't pull the heartstrings too much. It's always made me think of things, made images come to life for me. I'm really glad I was able to do that for you.”

“You seem really committed,” she says. “And you guys are good. Ryo seems a bit scary, but-”

“Ah, he just looks it,” he says. “Music is a big deal to him, too. Probably to us both more than the rest of the band. It's funny, though, he doesn't get this way about music – he doesn't see images. He writes songs, like me, but he doesn't...music is more abstract to him. It's a construct, it's a form of expression for him. It isn't nostalgic. For me, it's about mood. Not so much me telling a girl how I feel but talking about the experience of being in love. Generally, you know.”

“Mm,” she says. “It's not my thing, poetry. I mean, music is a form of poetry, I think. Or good songwriting is, anyway. I think I prefer truth.”

“Music is truth,” he says. “It's no less true than fucking, I think. Love and sex, both of them can be pretty loose and grotesque, awkward. But we romanticize both because we want it all to mean something. It's important to us as human beings.”

“I guess so,” she says. “I think sometimes we get them confused, too.”

“Probably,” he says. “Ryo doesn't believe in love. He believes in need and in giving and taking, in compromise, but he says that love is just something we've learnt to fake to make our time here seem useful.”

“That's pretty bleak,” she says.

“He is pretty bleak,” Jin says. “I don't know why. He just seems to think that love is too convenient. We get put on earth and we scurry around for a while, working and struggling to pay the bills. And it's so plainly unpleasant that we choose somebody and love them to make time go by quicker.”

“What about people who enjoy their lives?”

“I guess he'd say they're single,” Jin laughs. “He got cut up by a girl pretty bad. Now he just cheats. It's a pretty sad state of affairs.”

“You can go off love pretty quick when it burns you,” she says. “It's hard to keep being an optimist. Like a war wound – if somebody shoots your leg off you stop wanting to go into battle. There's nothing worth fighting for. And even if you did, you'd struggle to fight off-balance. It just seems easier not to bother.”

“You sound like him, now,” he says.

“I believe in love,” she says. “But I think we force it. It is too convenient – there's not somebody out there for everyone. Most of us compromise ourselves to find somebody to fit with. All these special, unique individuals cut off bits of themselves in order to be accepted by another person. As individuals, we're so strange on our own that we're not going to fit exactly as a pair. The idea of soulmates is kind of laughable.”

“What about people who accept strangeness?” he asks. “I accept people as they are.”

“Lots of people think they do but I don't know,” she says. “People have a limit to what they're able to accept. They think they'll accept a person just as they are but soon enough, they're making changes. People don't like change and when they see it, they mould it to better fit their perception of things. Relationships are full of compromise. We weren't put here to fall in love – we were put here to fuck.”

“I'm pretty accepting,” he says. “I've accepted a lot of things in people. I've dated a lot of strange girls. I like strangeness – makes me feel I'm not alone. It's girls that try to change me.”

“Girls are particularly bad at accepting change,” she concedes. “We're brought up on fairytales. One true prince, that kind of thing. I used to believe in being swept off my feet by a knight.”

“I used to believe in saving girls from dragons or from high towers,” he laughs. “Only when you grow up, all the girls want to save themselves. It's a tough world.”

“Ah,” she says. “Girls want to save themselves but sometimes, dragons need to be fought in pairs. Fighting a dragon all by yourself is lonely, is difficult. It's convenience, again. If you have dragons in your life, best find somebody to help you slay them.”

“Is that true for you?”

“Do I have dragons? Sure. Everybody does, I guess. I've been fighting them all my life.”

“Don't you want somebody to help you?”

She thinks about this.

“It's not a weakness,” he says. “To admit that you need help. You just said girls want to be independent but they need somebody, that everybody needs somebody at some point.”

“It's hard for me to admit to it,” she says. “I want to be strong, so strong. I don't want to need anybody. To rely on anybody. To owe anybody. I want to have my own power, to wield my own sword. I'm scared of being manipulated.”

“You've been out with some bad dragon slayers,” he says. “Who abandoned you, let you get eaten.”

She laughs. “Oh yeah,” she says. “Haven't we all?”

“Yeah,” he says. “But we're not all like that.”

“I know,” she says. “I just. I don't want to be saved. I don't want a knight anymore. I want somebody who'll keep me company. Who I can talk to, who respects me. Not a knight, more a friend.”

“A friend,” he says. “Okay.”

“Girls don't want to know you're trying to save them,” she says. “Is I guess what I'm saying. They just want to know that you're there.”

“Hey,” he says. “Look at us right here. You're the one pulling me together. I wouldn't dare try to save you from anything. If a dragon appears, I'm pushing you forward.”

“Deal,” she says. “You've got a deal.”




---






Jin and Reio start to make up stories about their mother. The insanity of it increases as Reio gets more and more involved – his imagination was always stranger than Jin's and, well. He has no memory of his mother at all. His attachment is basic and it allows him creative freedom. For Jin there are the odd echoes of feeling, of memory, that he can't quite shake. The older he gets, the more he wishes he'd known her.

Reio is laughing so hard he can't walk and Jin wants the moment to go on forever, to always be with his brother. He's leaning on Jin and Jin laughs too, trying to support him, keep him upright. He cherishes these moments, knowing that soon enough they too may be committed to his memory. Losing Reio so suddenly was a shock. To know that he may feel it again is heartbreaking.

Before long, a dot appears on the horizon.

“Fuck,” Jin says. “There's something there, look. Can you see it?”

“Maybe it's our mother,” Reio laughs. “She's dead, too – maybe she's here. I'd like to talk to her.”

“Me too,” Jin says. “But it's too small to be our mother. Look, it's – fuck, it's paper. It's more paper. A letter?”

They rush over to the spot and Jin feels heat on his back for the first time in what feels like days. There's no warmth here, no sun, but his body responds to the day as if the weather is normal. He doesn't get that but he's realised that here, he doesn't have to understand anything. Understanding doesn't change it. When they arrive at the spot Jin knows that he can't stop, so he quickly ducks down and picks up the white piece of paper. It's half-buried in the ground so as he leans down, his ankles are pulled, a sudden jerk that frightens him. Reio is close behind and grabs his shoulders, for which he's grateful.

The paper in his hand, they keep walking.

“What do you think would happen if we allowed ourselves to sink down?” Jin asks.

“I don't know,” Reio says. “Wouldn't like to try it. I think it's what happens when you give up. It stopped when we found Emiko's letter and started again when we headed North. It's to stop you from stopping. At least this way we're progressing, you know? When you stop wanting to progress, you just...drown.”

“Mm,” Jin says. “You could be onto something.”

He unfolds the paper and scans it. It is another letter, but not from Emiko. Not to him, either. It's a letter he doesn't recognise.

“What is it?” Reio asks.

“To Ami,” Jin reads. Slowly, things begin to dawn on him. First, it's a tickle in his brain. Then, lights start to shoot across his eyelids and it's as though his synapses are on fire.

Fuck,” he says. “It's a letter. From Ryo, to Ami. That was the girl. The girl he was in love with. She was engaged to somebody else and he signed up for her, hoping she'd see him as a hero. We lay in bunks and he was beneath me and we talked about love and sex and we talked in the hangers about not doing this. He had dark hair and he was short and he called Emiko a smart girl – the way I called her a smart girl. Fuck, Reio, what is this life? What is this – why do these things go away, how do they come back?”

He's aware that he's babbling but he can't stop.

“He was beaten, they beat him, the superiors – they tried to teach him a lesson because once he turned around and came back. It was the wrong thing to do to turn around and come back, to be a coward, so they beat sense into him. And I did the same, I turned the plane around and came back. And now we're turning around and coming back. And maybe we're being beaten too, for this – for being a coward. I'm going to walk here forever because I'm a coward.”

Reio looks slightly startled when he stops talking. Jin closes his eyes and breathes, hard.

“Read the letter,” Reio says. “It was left there for a reason.”

“Okay,” Jin says. “Okay. Sorry. I-”

“It's okay,” Reio says. “I think remembering is good.”

“To Ami,” Jin says. “This is a dream I can't wake up from. Since I met you all I've done is dream. At first, this was fine – I dreamt of good things. I dreamt of you. And I couldn't have you so dreaming of you was okay by me. I took what I could get. We met and we fucked and maybe I dreamt that too. I think the entire time I've known you, I've been dreaming.

Now I can't wake up. Dreaming of you led me here and I've lost the ability to pinch myself, to push myself out of here. I'm stuck. I'm stuck with dreaming. Reality just went away. I want you to be here with me. In my dream, in my life, whichever. I no longer care which it is. If you have a heart left that feels anything for me, wake me up. Please. Promise me that if I can dream myself back to you, you'll stay with me.

Today they beat me. I keep coming back for you, trying to wake up. Trying to get out of this. They slammed something into my face and they cried, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

I can't wake up until I'm with you. Write to me and tell me you want me with you.

If not – well. Know that dreaming got me this far. Know that I'll go into a field of dreams, and it won't hurt a bit. Know that I'll be waiting for you in whatever comes next. In case you change your mind.

Please change your mind.

Ryo.”

“He sounds like he was a crazy guy,” Reio says.

“He was, a bit,” Jin muses. “He didn't know how to write poetry, so he just wrote about his feelings. I don't know what he meant by this. Maybe Ami didn't, either. I don't know that he even sent it – he always told me that they just wrote sexy things to each other.”

“I think she'd have been scared to death by this,” Reio says. “I would've been. Maybe he didn't send it.”

“Mm,” Jin says. “Probably. I think his intensity scared a lot of people. He always pretended to be nonchalant but he wasn't. I knew that he wasn't. Anybody with the balls to turn around-”

“More to the point,” Reio says. “Why is it here? The letter – why is it here?”

Jin muses on that. He can't push the thought out of his head that Ryo must have died. He would have turned around with Jin had Ami wrote back, had she agreed to save him. And if he never sent the letter in the first place, why didn't he tell Jin that he'd decided to die? It would have been the kind thing to do. He wonders whether Ryo is happy now, wherever he is. Whether it was hard, in the end, to give up. Jin's heart aches for him. He can't imagine leaving Emiko behind. He hopes that at the end of this, he won't have to make the same decision.

“I don't know,” he says. “I really don't know.”

“There's gotta be a reason,” Reio says. “It's a sign. We found Emiko's letter, which told you to turn back. So we turned back. And now we've found another letter, which proves that we made the right decision.”

“We don't know that,” Jin says. “We don't even know that much. Had we continued walking on, there might've been another letter, telling us something else.”

“So what does this tell us?” Reio asks. “If we can decipher this, we'll know whether it says we were right. We'll know whether we made the right turning.”

Jin looks at the letter. “It's about dreaming,” he says. “Ryo wanted her to know that she gave him dreams. That falling in love is like falling asleep, only he...was sleepwalking. And he ended up walking into a nightmare.”

“In order to make her love him back?”

Jin shrugs. “She was engaged,” he says. “They were having an affair. He thought if he were a hero she'd fall in love with him.”

“Okay,” Reio says. “So he walked into a nightmare and he couldn't wake up.”

“And he wanted her to know that she could wake him up, by promising to be with him,” Jin says. “That he'd walk through the nightmare if she'd say that. That if she could promise him, he'd dream his way back to her and they'd wake up together.”

“So he wanted to wake up,” Reio says.

“He wanted to wake up, but not there,” Jin says. “They beat him half to bits. He didn't want to live with that reality. Not the reality of impending death. He wanted to wake up with her. And she couldn't promise him anything, so he chose to stay asleep. To go into...a field of dreams.”

“She alone had the power to wake him,” Reio says. “Fuck, it's like Sleeping Beauty. Only twisted.”

“He was twisted,” Jin says. “He said that war made you generous in looking at girls. Only I think what he meant was that it made you look at girls with stupid eyes. He did stupid things for a girl who didn't love him. Because he was afraid. War turns men into little boys.”

“He died for somebody who didn't love him enough,” Reio says.

“Yeah,” Jin says. “I miss him. I really miss him.”

“I'm sorry,” Reio says. “But this letter – it means something.”

“It means something,” Jin says, dully. Then, a lightbulb.

“Reio,” he says, urgently, grabbing his sleeve. He almost stops but Reio's motion pulls him on.

“What?” Reio asks.

“This is the field of dreams,” Jin says, his voice dark and low. “This is the field Ryo was talking about. That's why we found the letter. This world – somebody wants us to know that this is the field of dreams. Right here.”

“So we need to wake up,” Reio says. “You need to wake up. She needs to help you wake up?”

“Does that mean Ryo could still be alive?”

“I don't know,” Reio says. “But you need to stop dreaming. That's how you get out of here.”

“How do I wake up?” Jin asks. “Fuck, how do I wake up?”

“That's what Ryo wanted from Ami,” Reio says. “We need to find her reply. She must have replied – that's why the letter is here. Come on. We need to speed up.”




---





“Isn't it weird that we don't get tired?” Jin says. “I could just walk here forever. I like walking, but not this much.”

“I feel uneasy,” Emiko says. “Not as though there are dragons ahead, but...uneasy. I'd just stopped feeling that way and now it's back.”

“Like nausea,” Jin says.

“Mm,” she says. “We haven't found anything. That's what it is. We've just walked and walked and seen nothing different in the landscape. We could be going around in circles. How do we know we're not going around in circles?”

“We don't,” Jin says. “It's just faith, isn't it. I'm not religious, but it's about faith. And hell, what else can we do? If we stop, we sink in this ground. Not much of a choice.”

She nods and gnaws on her lip. Reaching out her hand, she grabs his own. “Sing for me,” she says. “Anything. I don't care what. It'll make me feel better.”

“I've been working on a song recently,” he says. “In my head. Started when I saw you the first time.”

“How romantic,” she laughs.

“It's a good song,” he says. “I'll sing it for you.”

“Thanks,” she says. “I'd like that.”

“What colour will the new world turn to, under the sun that we're wishing for?
Despite the guilt I want us to be wrapped up the way we were that day
How many times have I dreamt this dream? I thought I heard you calling to wake me up
Before I knew it I'd dreamt too far, into a time that can't return
That distant light still shines on us both, we can't seem to say goodbye
I think of excuses with you beside me saying sadly, 'don't leave'
The large maze turns onwards and sways my emotions
I pass by the crowds and I look beyond, I'll say it again and again
We were there, walking in the time that can't return
There are words I cannot say so I swallow them – it makes my heart ache
But in aching it shines all the more
Without knowing love, we were cut off
I'll say it again and again
We were there, in the time that can't return
A faded page, light of that beloved day - we cannot say goodbye.”

She pauses to consider this, nodding. “It's poetry,” she says. “It's beautiful poetry.”

“Hm,” he says, laughing. “Is it too carefully considered?”

“A bit,” she smiles. “It's very nice, though.”

“It fits our current situation, I think,” he says. “Maybe I am a bit psychic, after all.”

“Well, yes,” she says. “Only you made it sound a lot more poignant than it is! It's not a faded page and there are no lights – it's all darkness.”

“You make it light here,” he says. “Even though there's no light. I'd rather have you than the sun. I'm not just saying that.”

She looks across at him and the smile widens. He smiles back, his eyes sheepish, growing confident with her looking at him. He's beautiful. She's aware of it but each look clarifies it. The hard line of his nose and the warmth of his eyes. The way he doesn't have expectations, the way he accepts things as he sees them. The way he turns dragons into butterflies.

“What's the song called?” she asks.

“Southend,” he says, without thinking about it. He'd never titled it until that moment. And then-

Things move in a rush, all without warning. It's all she can do to keep hold of his hands. Images flood through her eyes so fast it's like opening them in a waterfall. It hurts and she opens her mouth to cry out but no sound emerges. She can no longer see Jin. All she can see is little capsules of memory – the website, the strange things she did in the dark. The desperation not to slide in the rankings, not to go to Southend, not to be one of the girls who'd sold everything for absolutely nothing. And beyond that, little curls of light bursting in her pupils – Southend, Southend, Southend, it means something. A word on the ground, a thought in her mind.

Turn back, turn back, turn back.

She can't turn back. Turning back isn't the answer. She knows that it isn't but why is the thought in her head? She can feel Jin squeezing her hand and when she reaches out for something with her other hand, she can feel silk on her skin. Her hair down her back. Tears in her eyes and letters in her hand. Okinawa. A wedding, a marriage, a love so great it kicked her heart black and blue. A love with boots that pushed open spaces inside her until she couldn't breathe for the kicking. And death. So much death.

Planes overhead. The roar of her soul and the scream of engines. Flowers falling to earth.

Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.

She's not asleep. This isn't a dream. This is the music and the words are rummaging around down inside her. With electricity running down her back she touches the images. Reaching down into herself, she can feel her wet thighs and Jin above her, his hair longer and his face more worn but still the same man with the same heart. And the pain of him inside her and the pleasure of him inside her – before the planes and the roaring and the death. And the fields full of flowers, turning within them, carving out a dream.

A brother who was killed. A man above her sobbing with grief. A bicycle and a bell and Jin's decision – to human bombs and ships and to Americans everywhere. To news on the radio, to her mother's words, to stitching and stitching and stitching the fabric on the flag. Stitching the world together. Stitching the bands the men wore to get all bloody as their heads smashed to bits. The sound in the city of gunfire and ruin and her father telling her to run when she saw lights.

Now she's seeing lights. She's seeing lights and fear and she needs to run, because her kneecaps aren't broken like her father's were and because there's nothing holding her back. And so without another thought she feels her feet move, she feels herself running from the light and the fire. Her hand doesn't tug on Jin's so she knows that he's running, too.




---





Jin and Reio walk for what feels like another two hours. Time doesn't move the same way here but Jin misses being able to account for his movements. He never liked to waste his own time. This place feels like a giant waste of his life – if only because he loses time at the same rate that he loses memories. He can't afford to squander either.

“The only way Ami could have woken him up,” Reio says. “Was to agree to wait for him. Break off her engagement and wait for a man almost certain to die. Would any woman do that?”

“I never knew him,” Jin says. “I thought I did – I thought he was all about sex, all about...comedy. He didn't tell me he loved her. He spoke of fucking and of looking at her with kind eyes. And all the time, he was...infatuated. He continued living for her. He turned around for her.”

“Like you did for Emiko,” Reio says.

“Emiko was always mine,” Jin says. “From the moment I met her, she was mine. I couldn't look at any other girl. There was never going to be anybody else, if it took me my entire life. If she'd been engaged to somebody else, I'd have been destroyed. I turned around because I had hope and a woman who was going to be there for me.”

“You think Ami turned him down?”

“I think if she had said yes, he would have followed me out. He didn't follow me out. If he turned around once thinking that Ami would wait, he would have done it again and again and again. She turned him down and he couldn't turn around and go back to nothing.”

“You don't know what he did. You don't know he didn't turn around.”

“I don't,” Jin says. “I don't know what happened. But he wasn't there. I flew out and he wasn't there. I looked for him. I kept looking for him.”

“So we're back to whether she knew or not.”

“Yeah,” Jin says. “We're back to that. Fuck, I just want a sign. I just want to know. I feel like my memories of him aren't solid. I see him as this guy who lied and who held things back, who held all these twisted thoughts inside himself. He had a veneer of confidence, of being relaxed and content within himself and yet all the while...”

“People aren't always who they appear to be,” Reio says. “You know that.”

“I know,” Jin says. “I just – we've walked for weeks, it feels like. This doesn't ever end, does it? We don't know anything. We're piecing together lives, here. We're trying to read between the lines of life. This is screwing with everything I believed I knew and I can't take that, Reio, I-”

“That's what you said you had to do,” Reio says. “For Emiko. When I met you you said you'd do anything. Everything you're giving up now is leading you back to her. So take it. That's what men do. We fight dragons to save girls. Like we used to do as kids in the fields. You're fighting a dragon right now. So shut up and draw your sword and kill the bastard so you can go home.”

“What colour is the dragon?” Jin laughs.

“Red,” Reio says. “I'm sure it's Emiko's most hated colour. I'm sure she's terrified of this big hulking dragon and you're all she's got. So slay the fucking thing, alright?”

“And she'll be there when I wake up?”

“She'll be there when you wake up.”

“You're certain?”

“I'm dead,” Reio laughs. “If I don't know everything, who does?”




---





They keep running until they can't breathe anymore, until the horizon is just a blur of movement, until the stars dance into each other above their heads. Slowly the memories become a blur too and Emiko is able to look across at Jin. He wears life on his face and it's pale, at that. She recognises immediately that he's living somewhere else, too.

“I heard gunfire,” he manages. “I felt gunfire through the wings and I turned around. I turned around because I was scared of dying. Of losing you. I turned the plane around. It took the shot to make me do it – before then I was nowhere, thinking...still thinking I'd honour you. And then the bastards shot at me. And then I turned around.”

“Southend meant something,” she says. “It's in my head but I can't piece it together, I can't – it meant something. Why did it mean something? It was written on the ground and we didn't see it, I see it now, I see-”

“It was the name of the station,” Jin says, slowly. The sign materialising in his mind. Was the word there all along? He stops and the ground tugs but he doesn't care. “We got off at Southend station. That was where the train stopped.”

“I thought it was about me and that website,” she says.

He looks at her and for a moment, she feels as though he sees right through her. There's a flicker of something in his eyes and she can't breathe – maybe he knows, more than he should ever have known. Her worst fear, realised. But he says nothing more about it. The flicker is gone as soon as it appears.

“It was the station,” he says. “It was a location. I didn't see it. I see it now. What does that mean? Have we come North?”

“I think so,” she says. She puts her hand on his arm. “Jin,” she says. “We're not sinking anymore.”

He looks at the ground and then around at the world. “It's still dark,” he says. “Everything is the same but we're not sinking anymore.”

She comes closer to him, following his gaze. “It feels good just to stop,” she whispers.

“Yeah,” he says. And then, his body stiffens.

“Emiko,” he says.

“A dragon?” she asks.

“No,” he says, as she turns around. “A plane. Look – a plane. Where the fuck did that come from?”

They stand and take in the sight of the plane. It's buried into the black ground, a sight of wrecked metal and colour. She takes a tentative step towards it. The right wing is blown to pieces and the nose is crinkled with impact. The ground is deep and dark from the collision point outwards, in small circles of destruction. Inside the plane, the compass and gauges are all broken. He joins her, back behind her, warm and reassuring.

“A plane,” he says. “I saw a plane and here, a plane.”

She nods, slowly. “Jin,” she says. “There are letters inside.”

“Take them,” he says. “Take them. We need them. This is what we're here to find.”

She reaches into the plane with his hold, his hands around her waist. She grabs the nearest one and when he lifts her down, she turns to him and they stand heart to heart. She can feel his warmth through her clothing. With shaking hands, she unfolds the first letter.

“To Ryo,” she reads. “Ryo? Your Ryo?”

Jin looks thoughtful, horrified, wracked with disbelief. “No,” he says. “That doesn't make sense.”

“To Ryo,” she repeats. “Dreams are meant to happen at night. Not during the day. If you're dreaming during the day then you're wasting your life. If you dream all day then what do you have left to get you through the night?

You must wake up. But I can't be the person who does this for you. I can't turn day into night. I can't turn light into dark. I can't be the one you need. I love you terribly and for this reason and this reason alone I must write to you and tell you so.

We dreamt a lot of things together, but now it's time to live. Not in the dark, not in the wonderland we've created – but life. Real and true.

If you come back to me in this life, then I'll know you've awoken from whatever it is possesses you. It isn't love but fear and obsession. You're preoccupied with your own fate, not with your love for me. If you come back to me, I will live and love with you in the daylight. Otherwise, I sorrowfully let you go to forge your way in the darkness.

A field of dreams is no match for a field of life.

Ami.”




When she opens her eyes, Jin is gone. When she opens her mouth to speak, her voice is gone. She covers her mouth with her hand as she slumps by the cold side of the plane. The world is dark, the stars are dangerous and she's bitterly, bitterly alone.




“Now do you see why love isn't worth bothering with?” Ryo says.

“Where is Emiko?” Jin says, turning around and around.

“Sometimes love asks more of you than you're prepared to give,” Ryo says. “I wasn't prepared to give more than I could. It didn't hurt. It didn't hurt at all. It didn't mean anything. I hope she's happy. I hope she got her life.”

“Emiko,” Jin says. “Ryo, stop fucking around – what are you talking about? You don't love Ami. You're cheating on Ami. You talk about her like she's nothing to you and-”

“I'm a coward,” Ryo says. “I've always been a coward. I was a coward then and it seems I'm still one now.”

“What does it all mean?” Jin asks. “Why are you here? Why are you here with me? I was with Emiko. We got on a train and we ended up here – how did you get here? Is this the music? Is that what did this?”

“You didn't get here on a train,” Ryo says. “You got here by plane. I shot you down, you idiot. I shot your wing apart. So you'd turn around. You still had it in you. I didn't. And I watched as you turned away and I thought – thank God. At least one of us can wake up. At least one of us can stop dreaming. It was always going to be you.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Jin says, desperately. “I don't know what you mean. It wasn't a plane, it was a train. Where is Emiko?”

“Listen to him,” Reio says. “Jin, listen to him.”

“Reio?” Jin asks. “What the fuck are you doing here? I was with Emiko – I met her on a train. You're supposed to be back in my apartment. At school. Somewhere, not here. I'm dreaming. I must be dreaming. But it was so real-”

“It was a plane,” Reio says. “You crashed into the cliff-face. You turned around for Emiko and she needs you back. Listen to Ryo.”

Jin looks at Ryo, his face wet and his throat burning. “This isn't real,” he says.

“The train isn't real,” Ryo says. “The guitars and the music and the girl who showed you her body, none of it is real. You got here by plane. You need to get out again. Emiko is waiting for you. You married her and she's waiting for you.”

“Emiko is here,” Jin says. “She's waiting by the plane.”

“That's not real,” Ryo says. “You have to leave that behind.”

“This is my life,” Jin says. “That is my whole life. How do you just leave that behind?”

“It isn't your life,” Ryo says. “You have to believe that. Your life is beyond this. This is a dream. This is a field of dreams. Beyond it, there's life. That's what Ami meant.”

“But this is all I know,” Jin says.

“Jin,” Reio says. “He's right. Ryo is right. You have to go back to Emiko. The Emiko here isn't real – you've got to know the remnants of her. The person who lost you and now can't love. The one who doesn't understand her place in the world. Neither of you know who or where you are, and that's because you don't belong here. You have to go back.”

“We're not real?”

“Not as you know it,” Ryo says. “Go back, Jin. Wake up. You have to wake up. Wake up, wake up. She needs you.”

“I can't,” Jin says, panic-stricken. “I can't. This is my life. You can't just give up on your life.”

“Yeah, you can,” Ryo says. “That's what we signed up for, isn't it? We signed up to be pilots, to be gods. To give up our lives so that others could live forever. And you came so fucking close, you can do this now. You have to trust me. This isn't like the war. This isn't a game. It's real.”

“Emiko needs you,” Reio says.

Jin thinks about the sunrise and the mornings, about the girl in the field who sat and stared, the girl who cried when they met that day by the water. The girl on the screen, the girl who walked past him and whose music he saw in her eyes. The woman he met on the train and the girl cowering by the plane. The flowers he kissed and threw down to earth for her. The woman whose eyes looked up at him, whose body took him in and who shook that day he told her he was going to die for her.

“The morning,” he says. “I told her she was the sunrise. The morning. The daylight. Emiko-”

Ryo is gone. Reio is gone. And when Jin looks around him the world is no longer dark. The stars are no longer out. The horizon stretches before him and the ground is pale. The sky is blue. The air is clean. There's a breeze. And in the corner of the world, the crack of the earth is unfolding and the sun is starting to squeeze through. The first sun he's seen in such a long time. The first life he's seen in such a long time.

He turns to look at the plane. It isn't buried in the ground. The ground is a brilliant white and the nose isn't crinkled. It isn't black, there are no black circles in the earth where the collision happened. The plane is shining in the morning light. He can see the sun shining on it.

When he looks at it, it isn't the sun at all. Emiko turns to him. She's wearing a pale blue robe with white flowers on it. Her hair is loose around her big dark eyes. When she turns to him, her eyes are wet with tears.

“I told you that you were the sunrise,” he says. “I told you that you were the morning.”

“And I told you,” she says. “That a better world was coming.”

“You told me to turn back,” he says.

“And you did,” she says. “So what now?”

“We go home,” he says. “Now, we go home.”

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