|[CG] "Salt" (Ougi/Villetta, PG)
||[Aug. 23rd, 2008|01:00 am]
The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword
Fandom: Code Geass
Warnings: Spoilers to episode 18 of R2
Word count: 7,000 (!!!!)
Music: "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" by Andrew Bird.
For: tungwene on cg_flashfic, who requested Ougi/Villetta.
Comments: This fic should be better than it is. I have a completed draft of my first concept for the fic, which is where they meet at a restaurant, Villetta is cranky, Ougi is apologetic, they make up, etc., and I was going to post up this fic as an example of why sometimes you want to sit back and think and rewrite. In my head
there's a city at night this fic sounded really good. It was solid and beautiful. What happened? It even has a solid start, and then it just...falls apart. But I've tweaked it endlessly, and the problems aren't resolving themselves, and I sort of want to move on to my psychophonetics C.C.-centric AU plotfic, so I'm afraid this is as good as the fic is going to get. D=
"Lot's Wife," the poem halfway through and then again at the end, belongs to Anna Akhmatova, or maybe her heirs, because she is dead.
Summary: Seventeen years and seventeen miles from where it started, they meet again.
He almost didn't see her, with her clothes and her long, loose hair the same color as the sky before them. She blended in. It was only by the grace of her dark umbrella, tilted against the wind, half-delineating her from the horizon, that he noticed her at all.
"Chigu - " he called, horribly, and then shrank back and for a moment almost turned away, almost too embarrassed by his mistake to face her. But her step faltered, and she half-turned. The dark skin of her angled face seemed to float in mid-air as she stood, still tipped away, her pale eyes just barely grazing him, and he swallowed and jogged forward.
In that moment, though, she started turning away. Almost frantically he called out "Villett - "
"Yes," she interrupted, her voice even, turned away and ten meters from him and even so still perfectly audible.
He stopped three meters from her, nervous and wishing he hadn't jogged because now he was a little out of breath. "Um. Hi," he said.
"Hello," she answered, and turned back to face him once more. She looked the same as she ever did. She was thinner, now, which worried him because she'd started out thin, and there were lines around the corners of her mouth that hadn't been there before, but she still looked the same. She was still just as beautiful.
"Um, wow," he said. "I - didn't, um, expect..."
"Yes," she said.
"Are you here? I mean - " He frowned, scratched at the back of his neck. "Do you, um, live here? In this city?"
She shifted the umbrella into the crook of her arm to brush the hair from her eyes. The gesture almost broke his heart: he remembered it from the time back when she was Chigusa. She'd do it whenever she was uncertain, whenever she wanted to say something but thought that she probably shouldn't. When she was Chigusa, though, that something was often along the lines of I think you should call in sick today. As Villetta, that something was this: "A few blocks from here, yes."
"Wow! And we never ran into each other. Even. Is surprising. That's surprising. Uh." He laughed uncomfortably, went to scratch at his neck again and dropped his hand before it made contact. What could he say here? What was there to say?
"I only just moved here recently." He nearly fell down at this small bit of grace, of generosity, from her. Not leaving him to flounder! "Two months ago, maybe."
"Oh, huh, wow." He grinned at her (rather solicitously, he feared). "Well, the, uh, the falls are better than the summers..."
"I remember that much."
"Right. Right, yeah, um, of course. Wh...at are you, uh, doing...Doing here? Professionally, I mean?"
There was a shadow on her face that might have been a smile, mocking and sardonic but still a smile. "Teaching."
"Oh wow!" She would have been barred from participating in government, of course, and aside from governing all she knew was teaching and war, but it was a surprise that she picked the former over the latter. "What do you teach?"
The shadow deepened and twisted further. "History," she pronounced.
"Huuuh," he said, and nearly winced. "Out at Ashford, or...?"
She shook her head. "It's another school for ex-pats, a little north of here. Everheart, it's called."
Villetta nodded vaguely. "At least it's an improvement over teaching physical education. Nevertheless, I don't find myself well-suited to the subject."
"Uh." She'd said that with enormous significance, but he'd be damned if he had any inkling what it was supposed to signify. "Well, uh...I can't think this is just coincidence." She glanced at him scornfully. "Maybe it's just coincidence." She scoffed. "Uh, well, in any case...We should, um, go out for lunch. Or something."
"Ougi," she said.
"Yes," he replied.
"Why would you say that?"
She was completely unreadable. "Invite you out? Uh. I mean, it's what old..."
Villetta raised her eyebrows. "Old friends? Were you going to say? It's what old friends, old lovers do?" She frowned a little. Frankly, any expression at all was a relief. "What we are is old enemies, and no amount of sentiment on your part will change that."
"Sure," he said softly, looking down.
There was a long moment as she didn't speak. Then, quietly, "It's just a fact."
"All right," she said, but she sounded sort of dissatisfied. He looked up at her, and indeed, there was something in her face - something that gave him the courage to search though his pocket for a pen and tear a bit off the newspaper he was carrying.
"Here." He scribbled down his name and phone number, then realized he'd written it in Japanese and hesitated and looked up at her. "Can you, um, read kanji..."
"I've learned," she said. He smiled and nodded and went back to the task, adding on his address for good measure.
"This is the age of Japan, after all," she said distantly. "Or so they say," she added as he looked up at her and held out the paper.
"Um, here. It's, uh, don't feel obligated, of course, just if you - "
She took the paper and turned away from him and started walking off. The wind had shifted now so that the rain was driving in from the right, and with the umbrella angled in that direction, there was nothing separating her from the gray sky. She faded into nothingness. Kaname raised the newspaper over his head and jogged for shelter.
Two days later, the rain had stopped, so he got back to work.
There were four other people in his squad, and they all deferred to him as their leader. They were young idealists, all of them, and had treated him (older, slower, quiet) with distance bordering on contempt until one of them (Ishikawa, he was fairly certain) realized that the Ougi Kaname of the war shared his face. That contempt had turned into reverence, which left Kaname uncomfortable, but at least they stopped trying to make him talk.
"But he must have such stories," said Lowe, the only Britannian among them. Lowe was the latest arrival. For all that his intentions were good - and they were doubtless good: he'd apparently seen news of the bombing and had immediately started studying the necessary subjects to help the victimized then-Area 11 - the others had accepted the boy warily at best (save Kaname, who'd accepted him mostly wearily) until in a fit of misunderstanding he'd referred to Kaname as "Ougi-sama." The tiny gaffe had been embarrassing enough that the others had accepted him. Kaname was just glad that, however indirectly, he'd helped.
"It's respect," said Nakada. "If he wants to speak, let him speak. I'm sure it hurts him a lot."
"It was a horrible war," said Ishikawa, a small edge in his voice. Ishikawa constantly lamented that he hadn't been born fifteen years earlier. Once he'd even expressed frustration that at five years old he hadn't had the presence of mind to take up arms against the aggressor. He'd compensated for his lack of participation by ensuring that, if the exact same war was fought with the exact same players under the exact same weather conditions, he would know exactly what to do. "You know, just before the first battle of Tokyo - "
"We know," snapped Nakada, who was the only person who could silence Ishikawa when Ishikawa had warmed to his subject. Nakada had been there, at Mt. Fuji. He'd been a baby at the time too. Kaname didn't know for sure what had happened, but eavesdropping on the others' conversations he knew that Nakada had drunkenly confessed something one night, and seeing the shift in how the others treated Nakada and remembering the carnage at the scene Kaname could guess what that was.
"Oh," Ishikawa muttered. "Sorry, Nakada. I didn't mean...Sorry."
They were quiet a while.
"I've been thinking...we should thank Ougi-sama, though - " They'd all started calling him Ougi-sama behind his back, at first ironically. Later, in the nature of all such jokes, they'd forgotten about the irony. "You know, for saving your life and stuff..." Ishikawa said.
"He was doing his duty," said Nakada, still sounding rather miffed. "That's all."
"Oh," Ishikawa said. He sounded genuinely remorseful. "Sure, yeah. Sorry. Um. Sorry. I don't even know why I brought that up..."
There was another silence until Nakada grudgingly spoke. "Do you think he, you know, knew? What was going to happen?"
The others leaped on the opportunity for a discussion. "Of course not," was Lowe's opinion, while "Of course," was Ishikawa's. Suzuki, as always, had no thoughts at all. Kaname had yet to intervene in any of these discussions, instead rather narcissistically listening in, curious what they thought of him when they were inexplicably convinced he'd turned his radio off, but he was tempted, here. He was tempted to tell them that he himself, the faultless war hero, had wanted to join the SAZ - all for the sake of a girl who despised him now.
Instead, he turned off his radio in earnest and walked over to a little niche beneath a half-crumpled building. There, as he suspected, resting like an egg in a nest of concrete and ash, was a silvery rock that lifted the needle of his Geiger counter like a hot and stinking wind. The others, dreamlike in their hazmat suits, came over, and Suzuki reached out with his claw to grasp at the irradiated sakuradite.
It was a nasty job, a dangerous job. The bomb had scattered these throughout the city, tiny bombs in their own right that just sat there, seeping toxins. The first step in the rebuilding of Tokyo was finding these and disposing of them, and that was why the five of them, with some fifty other teams, moved slowly through the gray and twisted plain, searching out poison pellets and pulling them, methodically, from the flesh of what had once been a city.
The others always looked to him to decide when to quit for the day, and though he'd have gone past sunset he knew that the others had better than an empty, silent apartment to come back to. So he let them go early and suffered through having too much time on his hands. He didn't especially like television, and he'd never learned how to play any musical instruments, and Ishikawa had begged him to write his memoirs and he'd tried but he'd had no idea where to start.
So he read, mostly. He went through phases where he avoided the newspaper, worried always that he'd find some warning signs that the government was drifting into totalitarianism, worried that he'd have to care. Usually he didn't. The world wasn't perfect, for sure. Many people were tired of empires or anything that walked like empires, so there were motions to secede within several of the UFN's member nations that had yet to go anywhere. A former Britannian duke had seized power in what had been part of Area 3 and was now Arizona, even though by the letter of the law he was barred from office, but he was ruling justly and well so the UFN couldn't bring itself to remove him from power (yet). A healthy dose of corruption had resulted in gerrymandering several countries in the Middle East to give one the greater share of oil reserves over another, causing both socioeconomic and ethnic tensions. These things happened. Maybe they were even okay, because no longer were there veiled hints of genocide and assassination and repression. The world wasn't good, but maybe it was better.
Even so he mostly read fiction. A lot of classics. He'd worked his way through most of the outstanding examples of Japanese literature - had when he was young - and was moving on, now, to other nations' works. At the moment, he was working his way through some of the great poets, Milton and Eliot and those sorts of
The phone rang. Kaname looked over, startled. It very rarely rang. Sugiyama still stayed in contact, and Kallen, and his brother, and occasionally Tamaki, but they called infrequently, Sugiyama Japan's Secretary of State, Kallen in peacekeeping for the UFN, Mori the principal of his school. (Kaname wasn't sure what Tamaki was doing, even though Tamaki talked only about himself when he called. He generally just tuned him out.)
It was a woman. "Ougi?"
"Oh, Kallen..." he started, and then realized that was wrong. Their voices were the same pitch but an entirely different timbre. Indeed:
Whatever cool points he might have gained by expecting someone else's call went out the window as soon as he opened his mouth. "Oh! My God, I, um. S-sorry. I, um..." Somehow, he managed to restrain himself from talking about how he'd never thought that she would call, even he realizing that that wouldn't sound really good. "How, how are you?"
Maybe she was wondering what she was doing, just as much as he was wondering what she was doing. In any case, she was quiet a while before she said, "I'm all right."
"Good." He cleared his throat. "Good."
"You know, I'm a bit surprised. I had assumed this number would be..."
She trailed off in silence and was showing no indication of continuing. "Would be..." he prompted.
"I was mostly just curious," she said, no answer at all. "I suppose that's all."
"Oh, d-don't do that, don't...hang up," he said, and maybe for once she listened to him or maybe (more likely) she'd had no intention of hanging up from the start, but there was no click, and when he fell silent he heard her clear her throat on the other end of the line. A moment passed.
"Well - " she said finally, her voice low. It almost sounded frustrated. "Do you have something to say, or do you intend for us to simply sit here and breathe at one another?"
"No! No, sorry, I, uh..." He swallowed. "How...was your day?"
A pause. "Fine."
A longer pause. "Yes."
"You like teaching? History?"
The longest pause yet. Finally, she said, "The history I'm teaching isn't the history I learned in school, I have to say."
"Oh, no? Oh, well, that's, um, standard, you know. The perception of history always, uh, changes...You know. Depending on various social factors, who's in power, prevailing attitudes, that sort of thing. I just read a book about this."
Somehow, she didn't scoff at him. Instead, she said, neutrally, "Oh?"
"Yeah, it's a good book. Uh, Lies of My Fathers is the name, which...sounds a little sensationalist, but the book itself isn't that bad."
"Yeah." There was an awkward silence filled only by the soft cell phone white noise. "Uh, but yeah," he said finally. "I know what you mean. I, uh, subbed in for one of my fellow teachers once. That history was different from what I'd learned, too."
"Because that was Britannian history."
"Well, I guess, yeah, that might have had something to do with it." He tried to chuckle. It came out nervous. "That was a tough day, actually. Just, these bureaucrats and these soldiers, it was a Tuesday, they just all marched into our classrooms during prep period, and they gave us a stack of textbooks. I mean, math was unaffected, sure, but my class - I was teaching literature, you remember that, maybe...And science, even, and of course history - they took all our old books and forced the new ones into our hands." That had all sounded bitter, so he quickly added, "But it's always been the victor's prerogative to write history. I mean, if they can't do that, why bother winning at all?"
"Well," she said. "To shape the future."
Had that sounded judgmental? He wished they were speaking face-to-face. Her real thoughts so frequently came through in her expression, even though she was able to mask her voice so well. "Yeah, well, that too. But they're one and the same, aren't they?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well - " He frowned. "I mean, this is just me, here, but writing the past imparts lessons, you know, and teaching the past, and by molding those who study history we mold those who will make decisions." He paused, but she didn't respond. "Uh, if that makes sense."
"It makes sense. The logic is indirect at best, though."
"I know," Kaname said, strangely relieved. She'd sounded so harsh when she'd said that. Up to this point, everything she'd said had been so distant, as gray as she herself had become, but there'd been a hard edge in her voice. Perhaps she hadn't turned into mist but steel.
"Certainly, that's a way you can achieve long-term subversion of the course of the world," she said, still with that refreshing harshness, "but the real point of a seizure of power is the power to make short-term decisions. For example, deciding who can or cannot take part in government."
"Yes," he said, hoping she would stop, fully aware that that was a bitter enough topic, but she continued:
"Or deciding who lives and who dies."
"Yes," he said, quietly. For a moment, they'd been having a real discussion. For once, he'd forgotten how much she loathed him. That had been the nicest minute he'd had in a year.
"Yet somehow," she said, "you've forgotten that part entirely. What if it wasn't a right, but a responsibility? Yet somehow, you, the victor, refused to take action. When asked who should live or who should die, you know what you said?"
He opened his mouth to defend himself, but nothing came out. The silence on the other end of the line was viciously satisfied.
И праведник шел за посланником Бога,
Огромный и светлый, по черной горе.
Но громко жене говорила тревога:
Не поздно, ты можешь еще посмотреть
На красные башни родного Содома,
На площадь, где пела, на двор, где пряла,
На окна пустые высокого дома,
Где милому мужу детей родила.
Взглянула, и, скованы смертною болью,
Глаза ее больше смотреть не могли;
И сделалось тело прозрачною солью,
И быстрые ноги к земле приросли.
Кто женщину эту оплакивать будет,
Не меньшей ли мнится она из утрат?
Лишь сердце мое никогда не забудет
Отдавшую жизнь за единственный взгляд.
-Анна Ахматовa, 1924
"Why do you think he's here?" asked Ishikawa.
"You want to ask him?" said Nakada sardonically.
"Oh God," said Ishikawa, and gave a nervous laugh at the very idea. Kaname remembered the first day he'd met Nakada and Ishikawa, who'd worked clean-up even before he had joined. They'd looked at him (still fit, but gray around the temples, with a face even he recognized as weary), and on their faces had been matching expressions of pitying contempt. They worked harder that first day than they would any subsequent day, just to show him he couldn't keep up.
He wasn't bitter about that. That was just the prerogative of youth.
"What would I even say?" Ishikawa was asking, making a great show of his trembling voice. "How would I ask him that?"
"'Ougi-sama,'" one of them (Lowe, he thought; hard to tell with him imitating Ishikawa's deep voice, but there was a harshness to the vowels that suggested Lowe's faint gutteral accent) suggested, "'why are you here'?"
"And then he'd mock me, probably," said Ishikawa.
Kaname didn't understand why the boy would think that he would. Fortunately, Nakada was with him: "Mock you? Have you ever heard a single unpleasant word out of him?"
"No, see, here's the thing, he's quiet, but he's, when he needs to be, he's fierce, you know. After the bomb went off, I hear he did this. I hear he just marched right up to Zero, removed him from power for incompetence, and then let him prove himself again. Took immediate action. No apologies. He doesn't make apologies."
"He makes apologies all the time," Nakada said.
(He wished he could stop making apologies. Somehow last night the phone call had come to him muttering, "Sorry, sorry," and Villetta had hung up. That was the last thing he'd said to her that day when he'd gone out and then come back to find her gone, no trace of her left behind. "Don't apologize so much," she'd said to him a hundred times, and for several months he thought it was that "sorry" that drove her out the door before he realized there was so much else.)
"That's just to be polite, though," Ishikawa said.
"See, there: he wouldn't just mock you if you asked him," said Nakada. "Even if it was just from politeness."
"I know, but..."
"Coward," accused Nakada.
"Coward," agreed Lowe.
"Shut up," growled Ishikawa. "I don't see you guys asking."
"I'll ask," said Lowe, always eager to endear himself to the others. Sometimes Kaname worried about Lowe. He was so quick to offer himself up as the sacrificial lamb - not only in asking the questions the others didn't want to ask, but also in doing the things the others didn't want to do. He was slight, small, freckled, with a shock of red hair you could see for kilometers, and when he exerted himself (which he did so frequently) their radios were filled with his harsh, asthmatic breath. He would go alone into a crater so that the others could rest, ignore his own safety so that the others would be safer. He was going to kill himself making up for his parents' and grandparents' cruelties.
This time they didn't accept his sacrifice, if only because they weren't done gossiping. "I mean, he could be doing so much. He was in the Diet, you know."
"We know," said Nakada.
(He'd withdrawn from the Diet three days before Villetta had left him. Or maybe she'd left him three days after he'd withdrawn. Regardless.)
"I wonder why he left," Ishikawa.
The others fell silent when Suzuki spoke. They always did. It wasn't that what Suzuki said was particularly profound; his voice was simply rare. They would always listen, as one always turns to look at an endangered species of moth or beetle. "What were they debating at the time?"
"That's probably it, I think," said Nakada. "They were debating executing the royalty."
There was a silence.
(Why had he left? Maybe it was because he'd been uneasy with the debate. His stated reason had been that he believed that this was an issue for the UFN, not for Japan, to decide. But that had just been the stated reason. Why had he left?)
"I could see why he would withdraw," said Lowe, and all the others murmured their agreement. Kaname was glad that they could understand.
He kind of hoped that was the end of the topic, but he'd underestimated Lowe's desire to impress the others. The light on his radio flashed, a request for contact. Kaname looked down, and then made a show of switching his radio on, and then asked, "Yes?"
"Hi. Um. Ougi-sa...san." Somehow, Lowe's apologetic grin was audible in his voice. "Is it all right if I ask you a question?"
"Um," said Kaname. "Sure."
"You're Ougi Kaname." That was evidently a complete thought. "Can I ask why we're lucky enough to work with you?"
"Uh, random assignment, I think."
There was a brief, awkward silence before Nakada chipped in. "I mean, we know why we're here. But you..."
Ishikawa got over his cowardice to ask, "Why are you here?"
He'd been trying to find an answer since they'd raised the question. The best he could manage, even after all this thinking, was, "It's what I have to do."
"Why?" asked Nakada.
"I guess..." Kaname shrugged. "For the sake of the people I knew." He paused and thought a bit. "They're dead now," he clarified.
The phone rang. Still half-asleep, he knocked it out of its cradle towards his head.
There was a pause before a woman asked, "Were you asleep?"
"What?" he mumbled, then cleared his throat. Only then did he realize - "Villetta?"
"If you were asleep."
"I, um, I'm awake now," he said, tilting the clock towards him. It read 9:43. He felt his heart sink a little at that. He wanted her to have called him at three in the morning. "I was napping."
"It doesn't matter."
"No, it matters - " Hoping that she wasn't referring to the fact that he was asleep. He didn't want to insist that his sleep was more important than her. "Uh, what...what's the matter?"
There was a long time when she just breathed. God, when she'd hung up the last time, he thought that was the last time he was going to hear from her. This was...He wanted to be beside her. He wanted to be speaking with her with her head on his shoulder. He wanted to stroke her hair (which always smelled faintly of oranges, while her breath smelled like limes. Her morning breath was terrible, so the first thing she did when she woke up was she sucked a lime-flavored breath mint. The second thing she did was lean over and kiss him, her mouth sweet and sour with the dissolving candy).
"Nothing," she said, then, hesitantly, "I had a bad day."
"Nothing," she said again. She was silent a while. "I'm just...I'm just not good at my job. I don't know. They ask me questions, and all I have is 'I don't know, I don't know.' I don't know." A moment. "Why would you want to hear this."
"I want to hear this." It had been so long since she'd used him for anything. He missed having her use him.
"My principal hates me. He sits in on all my classes and...Not all of them, I suppose. Just the ones where I do the worst." He could picture the way she looked right then, the way her lips would be quirked up in a tiny sneer, the way her eyes would be narrowed so slightly. "And always afterwards, it's the talk about how my way isn't the way of doing things anymore."
"What does he mean by that?"
"He says I'm caught in Britannia. He was born in Iowa. For the record," she said. "But he always talks about how - how the history I'm teaching is the history of the Empire."
"Is it?" Kaname asked neutrally.
She paused. She was always so honest. Harsh, of course - she'd say such cruel things - but she was just as honest about herself as she was about others. "Perhaps it is. It's difficult to evaluate oneself."
"How do your students react?"
"They remain asleep."
"So like students everywhere," Kaname said, trying to sound reassuring. "I was - honestly - I was a good teacher, overall, and they all still were catatonic. Don't, don't worry about that."
Another pause. He might have imagined it, but she sounded a little content when she said, "That's good to hear."
"What about the other teachers? What do they say?"
"Very little." A moment. "They don't like him, either, though."
"Well, you're an easy target. You were a baroness, you were in the war, you're - you're an example of Old Britannia. He thinks," Kaname added quickly. "So he's using you to show how enlightened he is."
A moment. "That's a nice thought."
"Do you want me to sit in on a class?" he asked, and immediately winced. It was a stupid question.
But there was a very long moment, and in the end, somehow, she said, "Maybe." A pause. "I might appreciate that."
"Okay," he said, and she didn't say anything so he let out his breath and said, "Okay." And there was still nothing. "Well, just - just tell me when."
"I will," she said softly. There was a long pause. Kaname pulled the blanket more snugly around him. "Despite all your shortcomings," she finally said, "and mind you there are many - " A moment. "It's always such a comfort to talk to you. It's always such a comfort."
The next day was rainy, so they couldn't work. Rainy days, the water started flowing, picking up radioactive dust as it went and accumulating in the giant, glassy pit where the bomb had bit at the earth. The ground turned muddy and slippery. The risks were too great. Kaname spent rainy days running his errands - buying groceries, paying his bills, picking up new books, and waiting to get tired enough to sleep again.
The day after, too, was rainy. By an odd coincidence, that day he ran into Suzuki at the library.
Suzuki recognized him rather than the other way around. It was only natural. Suzuki had a rather unremarkable face, while Kaname had a famous one. Still, as soon as Suzuki tapped him on the shoulder and muttered "Ougi-san," Kaname recognized him; there was a certain, serene expression in those heavy-lidded eyes, a calm in that thin half-smile.
"Oh!" Kaname smiled nervously and wished that he'd never come here. "Hi. Suzuki, hello."
"How are you?"
"I'm okay. Good, even," he corrected with a nervous laugh. "Just, you know, checking these out," he said, indicating the books the librarian had just pushed towards him. "Thank you," he muttered to the librarian, then smiled at Suzuki. "Well, that's it."
"Will you stay?" asked Suzuki in that soft rare way. "I'd like to speak with you a bit."
"Oh." Kaname paused, swallowed. "Um, all right."
"Thank you." Suzuki was completely silent as Kaname loitered about and the librarian checked out his books. Then he turned crisply to Kaname and nodded. "You need to stop letting us go so early," he said as soon as they'd stepped outside.
"Um," Kaname said. "D-do you walk home, or...?"
"I walk," said Suzuki.
"Which, which way?"
"That way," said Suzuki, pointing down the street in the direction Kaname was going to have to go. Kaname, crestfallen, nodded.
"Forgive me if I make a bit of a speech," Suzuki said, turning and starting to walk, "but I've been thinking about that answer you gave. You're doing this for the memory of your friends. That's fine. This is the sort of job well-suited to seeking atonement.
"But there are problems with using this task to seek that particular end. The greatest among these is that, in doing so, the task need have no end. Atonement is never something achieved; it is forever a process of lessening pain. As such, you're not looking to complete the task. You're merely looking to recapture the past."
He shifted the books in his arms and then dropped them all. Kaname mentally noted that he should probably reassign the task of handling the sakuradite. Still, it wasn't with the least bit of shame that Suzuki squatted down to pick the books up.
"You're not, of course, alone. Ishikawa, Nakada, Lowe - they're all stuck in the past as well. They're content to see this task extend into perpetuity. They have no complaints. Nevertheless, I want to see this task some day completed. I'm looking forward, unlike all of you. I don't want to return to the past - do you understand? I want to see the city restored to the way my father knew it. I want to complete the task before us. So you can't just have us work four hours a day." He stood. "Do you understand?"
"Sure," said Kaname.
Suzuki's serene face looked suddenly exhausted. It was like every syllable was an exertion. "Good."
They were silent a long time. Kaname, finally, had to break the silence. "In a way, though, you're stuck in the past, too..."
It was an argument he didn't especially want to have. Still: "You want it to be like your father..." He shook his head when Suzuki turned a harsh glance towards him. "Nothing."
"We can't keep turning back to the past," said Suzuki after a moment. "We do, and we turn into salt and lose our names. And then we're gone with the first rains."
"Villetta, hey," he greeted. "How - how are you?"
"I'm all right," she said, then took a moment and said, "I'm good, actually. My class went well today."
"The kids were really engaged and lively. You really have good days and bad days, don't you," she said.
"You really do," he agreed.
"I talked to one of the other teachers, too. She sat in on my class, and told me basically that Tucker is full of shit."
"Oh," he said, rather wounded. "Does that, um, mean you don't need me to come in?" He waited for her to respond. When she didn't, he swallowed. "I, um. I hope it doesn't. I want to get together." She still didn't say anything, and he thought about how that sounded. "Oh, God. I don't mean, get together, like that, I just mean to see you. I want to see you."
She was quiet a long time. "I know," she said finally. And he knew that the topic had finally been broached. The hat was over the wall. He winced.
"I'm not like I used to be, you know. I can do whatever you want me to do," he said. He realized how much it sounded like he was begging. "I can run for Parliament, anything."
"I don't think this is a good idea," she said.
"I don't want to get together, is why," she said, but there wasn't that harshness in her voice.
"Was it because of them?"
Villetta was quiet a while, and then, with genuine confusion, she asked, "Who?"
"You know." He grimaced. "Cornelia. And, and Schneizel, and...and Odysseus, and the fact that I...the fact that they died."
"We lost by forty votes. I couldn't have done anything, even if I'd been there."
A pause. "Why do you think I left you?"
He couldn't say it out loud. It sounded awful out loud. It didn't sound awful in his head - somehow, I wouldn't let you play Lady Macbeth didn't sound bad in his head, or I wasn't a good enough tool in your hands, but they sounded awful out loud. So he said, "I thought because of that." He paused. "Maybe I was wrong."
A long time before she spoke. And then: "That day. When we saw each other. On the street. What did you call me?" When he could only swallow: "You called me Chigusa." She waited. "My name is Villetta."
"I, uh...I know it is. I just...You know, I just called you Chigusa for a long time, so I was used to that..."
"I'm not Chigusa. I was never Chigusa." A pause. "That's not true, I guess. I was Chigusa, once. But I'm not that woman now, and I wasn't when I left you. All that time we were living together, you were in love with another woman. You were in love with a dead woman. I had to live with the ghost of her."
"And I thought it would get better. It never did. You never changed. You know, I think all your life you were striving for a single point, a single moment, and ever since you passed that moment you've been turned around, watching the place where it was."
"That's the reason I left you. I've thought about it a long time, and that's the reason why I did it." A pause, then furiously, "God. Say something!"
"I - " He tried to think of something to say, but all he could manage was "I'm sorry."
"No!" There was such an anger in her voice, but all Kaname could feel was sorry that he had caused it. "Say something!"
"You're probably right," was what he said.
"No. Stick up - for - for yourself. God."
From the tension in her voice, he thought she might be crying. "Villetta," he said.
But from the fury in her voice when she next spoke, it was clear that she wasn't. "And even now! You're still stuck in the past! You want to revive what we had, because it reminds you of who I once was. About the woman who once loved you so intensely - You just want to return to when I was devoted to you." She waited and then spat, "Am I wrong?"
"You're half right," he allowed after a moment.
"Half-right," she said, her anger ebbing.
"Sure," he said. "But it was a single moment that I'm thinking of, and ever since that moment I've only been able to look back. But it had nothing to do with Chigusa.
"I think it was the moment in which you, as Villetta, kissed me."
Villetta said, "I see." She said, "Ah." It was a long time before she said, "I...don't know."
"What don't you know?"
"If I can forgive you. For how unhappy I was," she said. "I've just spent too long hating you. I've just spent too long hating you. And I can't forget all that."
"I love you so much," he said.
She didn't say anything. There was just a moment, and then a click, and then silence.
For a week and a half, he thought that was the end of it. The rain stopped, and they went back to work. Suzuki acted like he'd said nothing, and Kaname started keeping them longer, and no one grumbled about it, because he was Ougi Kaname. When it started raining again, he stood out in it and he didn't dissolve. Kallen called once. He picked it up and almost called her Villetta but didn't, and he didn't tell her about Villetta, and in the end they bid each other farewell amiably and he didn't do anything like cry.
But God, he wanted to hear her voice again. Even just to hear her voice again.
"You're looking well," said the woman at the grocery store.
"Are you all right?" asked the librarian.
"Thank you," was his response, and "Thank you for noticing, I'm feeling well." His response was to grab a paper from the impulse-buy rack and take it home and read it. He decided to put all his effort into moving forward. He considered flirting with the girl at the post office and then thought about how old he was. He tried watching TV and got distracted and turned it off and went to go to sleep at 8:30.
But then, a week and a half after that call, he woke up when someone knocked on his door.
The overcast sky was lit from beneath by the yellow streetlights. She was dressed all in black, and looked like the dark buildings silhouetted against the night. Her eyes looked like two points leading to those yellow clouds. Her gray hair spilled over her shoulder, framing her and delineating her from the earth, while the olive skin of her face separated her out from the sky. She looked in that night just barely anchored to this world.
She spoke before he could, her tongue quick and staccato behind her nervous lips. "I don't know what happened," she said, her voice a rush, "but I simply don't know who I am, or what I'm doing here. I found your address in my pocket, and I know your name but I don't know my own. Odd, isn't it."
She glared at him then, challenging him to challenge this miracle. He would never. He could never. All he could do was swallow. Even so, he knew that miracles could only last so long. He knew that he couldn't let her walk on while he glanced behind. So:
"You know, that's, um, that's really funny. I was just...there was this puddle of water on the floor, I think, because I just slipped and fell and woke up, and I don't know my own name or anything." The challenging expression in her eyes slowly faded into astonishment as he kept speaking. "So. Um. I'm assuming this is my apartment - yeah, there we go - " he said, fitting his key into the lock - "and that these are my clothes, but aside from that I don't know anything. Uh. So. I, um, I have some oranges and a juicer in there, and you look like a woman who'd enjoy some fresh orange juice - I'm assuming; I'm assuming; please, God, please correct me if I'm wrong, because I want everything now to be founded on truth and openness, no secrets, no baggage, no history, just, you know, us - so if you'd like a glass of that, um..." He stepped aside and gestured her in.
She looked around and nodded - didn't judge, just nodded. "If you're curious. Your name is Ougi Kaname."
"And you're Villetta Nu," he said.
"It's good to meet you," she said, extending her hand.
He took it, and murmured, "I can't wait to get to know you - " and she, her night-sky eyes so bright, smiled.
The just man strode behind the agent of God,
Grand and shining on the black mountain,
But disquiet rang loudly in his wife's ear:
It's not too late. You can still look
On the red towers of your mother Sodom,
On the square where you sang and spun,
On the barren windows of the home
Where you bore your dear husband children -
Just a quick glance. Then, stricken with deathly pain,
Her eyes could see no more.
Her body became limpid salt.
Her quick legs took root in the ground.
Who will grieve for this woman?
Is this loss not beneath our notice?
Yet my heart will never forget
That life, given up for a single glance.
-Anna Akhmatova, 1924