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Gatchaman R: "Constant in the Darkness"

CONSTANT IN THE DARKNESS

Emby Quinn (savageredhead@aol.com)

A bolt of intense, indescribable, white-hot agony lanced into her back and tore through her chest, followed by a slow, spreading numbness that made her limbs useless. Somehow she was on the ground, and Joe was on his knees beside her, but she couldn't hear what he was saying to her, even though he seemed to be screaming. She tried to tell him it wasn't his fault, that she'd brought this on herself, but she couldn't get any breath. She moved her lips around the shape of his name, fixing her eyes on his anguished face. She wondered why she couldn't feel her heartbeat, not realizing that there was a gaping fist-sized hole full of shredded tissue and shattered bone where her heart used to be.

She raged silently against the encroaching void, fighting back death with every ounce of will she possessed.

It wasn't enough.

With the last of her fading strength, she reached up to touch the face of the man she had loved for so long, her fingertips barely brushing against his full mouth--

The last glimmer of light faded from her eyes. Miyae Washio was dead before her limp hand fell to her side.

The darkness was everywhere, and she seemed to be floating in its midst. At first she was confused--how had it gotten so dark, so fast? Where was the thing wearing Nambu's body, calling itself Omega? Where were the Science Ninja? Where was Joe?

Where was the bloody mountain!?

Then she remembered the pain...falling...Joe screaming but not making a sound--or maybe she just couldn't hear him...

And the fading. Slipping away. The whole world slipping away from her, her own life running out like sand between clenched fingers. She had died in Joe's arms.

"No!" she screamed into the dark. "No, oh God, no no no!" It wasn't right, it wasn't fair, it couldn't be, take it back, make it go away, make it never was.

"Joe," she called out, as if he could hear her. "Joe, Giorgio, please, I'm sorry, oh God..." Her voice trailed off into sobs.

Miya had never believed in an afterlife. The survival of a human soul after death was a fairy tale to her, a fantasy with which people comforted themselves, to remove the sting of death's finality. You were born, you lived a little while, and then you died, and all you left behind was a piece of cooling meat and, if you were lucky, good memories in the hearts of those you loved.

Was this darkness, this endless void, the afterlife? Was this Heaven? Was this Hell? Or was she trapped in some mindless limbo, doomed to spend eternity here for her sin of wasted arrogance?

"Miyae."

And then there was light.

Miya looked around, and if she'd still had a heart, it would have stopped. "M-Mother...?"

Sayuri Washio smiled and held her arms out to her daughter. "Miyae."

There was ground, or some solid surface, under her feet. There was light everywhere. With a broken sob, Miya ran into her mother's arms. Somehow she felt like a child again, even though she seemed to be in a grown woman's body. "Mama...Mama, I tried to come home...I did..."

"I know you did, darling. I know." Sayuri stroked the fiery hair softly. "I'm so sorry...for trying to forget you. I never did, you know. And I've been watching you, ever since...ever since." She drew back and studied Miya proudly. "You grew up into such a fine woman."

Miya's chin trembled. "I have to go back, Mama," she quavered. "I can't leave Ken...I can't leave Joe. I have to go back."

Sayuri smiled sadly and shook her head. "I'm sorry, darling."

"Mama--"

"Look who's here." Sayuri held out her hand, and a tall, dark-haired man with a slim moustache stepped into view. He wore a red flightsuit, and his eyes were a familiar shade of deep sky-blue.

He smiled and put a hand on Miya's shoulder. "Musume."

Miya only recognized him from photographs she'd seen. "Father...?"

Kentaro Washio kissed her forehead, the way Ken so often had. "It's good to see you. I wish the circumstances had been better..."

"Father...I can't...I can't stay..." Miya looked back over her shoulder, as if she might find an exit there. She could see only light, and warmth, and comfort. "It's not right, it's not fair, I'm not ready to be dead!"

"No one ever is," Kentaro said quietly. "I'm truly sorry, Miyae, but you can't go back. It isn't possible. That life is over for you now."

"No!!" Miya broke free of her parents' gentle embrace and ran off, tears blinding her, searching desperately for something...some way to get back to where she should be. Not here. Not now.

Her father appeared in front of her and took firm hold of her shoulders. "Miyae. Stop this. You're upsetting your mother."

"Father..." Miya shook her head violently. "I can't be dead. Ken--he and Jun just got married...and Joe...I can't leave Joe. After everything we've been through, all the time we've been apart--I loved him for so long, and we've been without each other longer than we've been together! I can't die now. I know I have to someday...but all I want is a little more time with him...just a little more time..."

"More time...a second chance at life...it's what everyone wants." Kentaro rested his forehead against Miya's. "Miyae, I know how you feel. Truly, I do. But you're here now, and there's nothing you can do but accept it."

"But where is 'here'? Is this Heaven? Hell? Some other place? Father, I don't understand."

"Those words don't mean much here, Miyae. We--" Kentaro stopped, looked up. His eyes widened. "Masaka..."

"Father? What is it?" Miya wiped the tears from her eyes and followed her father's line of sight.

Something--a portal, a doorway, a passage of some sort--was opening in the midst of the gentle golden warmth around them. Darkness lay beyond, and it chilled Miya's heart.

Sayuri came to her husband's side and laid a hand on his arm. "Kentaro...?"

"I don't understand." He looked down at his daughter. "Miyae...Miyae, what's happening?"

She tried to answer, but he seemed to be fading, along with her mother. Something was pulling at her, tugging insistently, dragging her away from them.

No! She fought against being dragged into the dark again, but it was useless. Her parents vanished like smoke as the vortex swallowed her up, and the worst part of it was she couldn't even scream.

And then she opened her eyes.

Joe's face was above her, filling her field of vision. He was still in BirdStyle, but he wasn't wearing his helmet, and his long dark-caramel hair tumbled around his face in unruly waves. His blue-grey eyes were wide, almost frantic, and he was talking, and she could hear him, but she couldn't understand him because she still didn't speak Sicilian.

The ground was hard under her back--her bare back; she was naked. And freezing cold. She shivered.

"Ji--Joe...?"

With a choked sob he crushed her against himself and buried her face against her shoulder. She could feel his whole body trembling.

She heard other voices--Ken and Jun, Jinpei and Ryu--and, impossbily, Nambu--but she couldn't look around. All her attention was commanded by the presence of the man who was cradling her in his strong, solid arms. The feel of his body, lean-muscled and hard underneath his leathers. The scent of him. The sound of his breath. The taste of his skin as she kissed the side of his face.

He sat up and tugged at the cowl at his neck. His winged cape spilled free of his shoulders, and he wrapped her in it. He got to his feet, pulling her with him, holding her close.

She looked up into his eyes. They were wide, almost crazed, and he was looking at her as though expecting her to vanish if he dared look away. She put her hand on his chest and felt the pounding of his heart.

She felt the need to explain to him what had happened to her--where she had been, what she had seen...that she had been wrong about there not being an afterlife. There was, and she'd been there. She couldn't marshal her thoughts, and her words came out in a shaking rush, and were not what she'd intended to say at all.

"I tried," Miya gasped, her voice trembling. "I tried so hard, I tried to hang on, I fought with all my strength and I couldn't stop it. I felt the life slipping away from me like sand--Joe, I died..."

Blue-gloved fingers stilled her lips. "Calmo, calmo. Hush now." Joe's eyes glimmered behind his dark blond bangs. "Don't talk about it. Not another word. You're alive, you're here with me, and that's what matters." He held her close against him and wouldn't let her say anything more. He guided her across the blasted ground to where Ken and Jun were helping Nambu to his feet.


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