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[Fiction] Message in a Bottle


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In order to find Sakurako, ronin had been forced to call in a favor from an old friend, one he had hoped -- for their mutual safety and security -- he would never have cause to speak to again.

It was an awkward reunion, to say the least. ronin had a lot of explaining to do, and there was much to be caught up on. And it was still awkward. ronin had promised his old compatriot that he'd return shortly to get reacquainted, just as soon as he had finished his immediate business. Angry but satisfied, ronin's old colleague gave in. For the sake of friendship.

And when your best friend in the world happens to be a living entity which exists within every digital device in heaven and earth, picking up on something like transmission coordinates is made much, much easier.

At 1342 local, a very tired, very unbathed Sakurako Hino was completing her latest transmission to the world-at-large from the OpNet terminal located in her life raft. She tapped the final few keys in with a cathartic resolve, ending her latest missive with a contented sigh. Time for more of...well...not much of anything. She looked around her pod furtively and tapped a pen absently on the control panel. Hino inhaled deeply again with mute boredom. Another day of drifting.

Just as she had resigned herself to another sixteen hours of meditation and self-introspection, she felt something rock her small capsule. Unlike the other occassional jars and slams brought by the ocean currents or deep sea inhabitants, this sudden surge was more forceful, and it came from...above?

Sakurako prepared herself for possible attack. Rescue? Visit? Just what the hell was going on here, anyway? Backing against the terminal with cautious hesitance, she steeled herself for assault as she stretched her senses outside the bubble, searching for the cause of the disturbance.

But before she could find the answer, her answer came to her. As if melting through space, a familiar -- but nearly forgotten -- figure sifted down through the roof of her dwelling like he had opened a hole right through it. Drifting to the floor below, he closed the rift behind him as he landed with a dull, clattering noise. Beneath the brim of his hat, Sakurako couldn't see his face or make out his features, but she knew who it was, without a doubt.

"ronin...", she said both in address to to confirm it to herself.

Without a word, ronin removed his immense-brimmed hat and let it slough to the floor beneath him. Eyes downcast, he pulled up and removed the ancient shroud which encased him, letting it, too, drop unceremoniously on the floor below.

Underneath, all that remained was a young man, the one Sakurako recognized as having taken her to dinner so many years ago. Just a simple young man, wearing a shirt and tie, simple slacks and shoes and a basic, black overcoat. His neat, short-cropped black hair looked matted with sweat. His eyes were downcast, his expression dour. With cautious optimism, he turned his gaze towards the pink-and-white clad angel before him and smiled, albeit weakly.

"I've missed you, Saku-chan."

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  • 2 weeks later...

"ronin...", Saku said in disbelief, more for her own benefit than his. Catching herself, she amended, "Henry?"

It occurred to her that she might not have remembered his name at all, were she not possessed of one of the most brilliant minds in existence.

And then she realized that -- no. No, she would have remembered. She couldn't have forgotten Henry, not if she tried.

With a somewhat reckless abandon, she fairly well leapt forward into ronin's arms, hesitance only crossing her mind as she was crossing the space between their two bodies. A million thoughts crossed her mind.

Why was he here? Here for me? Does he still want to see me? Still like me? Is he angry? Upset? Did he really miss me?

She realized how dumb she was being in that same instant. Naturally, she didn't need ronin's or anyone's validation. She had grown strong in her time away, and she had become secure and wise. But still...


Any hesitance melted as Henry's hopelessly baseline features wrapped around hers. He was dormed down, she could tell, but she couldn't tell why. She didn't care. He embraced her as warmly as he possibly could, holding her like they had been apart for lifetimes. And for her, that was more true than not.

Sakurako sighed, partially out of happiness and partially out of dread at the impending -- and doubtlessly difficult -- discussion. So much time had passed for her. She wasn't even the same person. ronin couldn't possibly understand --

"It took me forty-three years to find you, Saku-chan."

Endeavor's train of thought derailed.

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Endeavor's eyes become as wide as saucers, as she stops in her tracks, standing on the flotation skirt keeping both Sakurako and Ronin, plus the pod, on the surface of the great Pacific Ocean. Seemingly mirroring the space and time they both had traveled...

"Forty three years... How did he? That much time? Just for me... It took me 25 years to give up on the world I left... And return to a place more... balanced... Why did he search for so long for me?

"It took me so much effort just to get back to this time... This place... How did he do it? And how was he able to return here? I wasn't aware he... Wha?!?"

Sakurako stumbles, while absently in thought, carelessly careening off the edge of the pod. Just before she falls off, Ronin manages to warp twice. Once to catch her, the other to safely teleport her to a more stable section of the pod.

"You seem to have been lost in thought... What's on your mind?"

"You should know, Henry... That sort of thought..."

Sakurako giggles a bit...

"You should have been able to read them..."

"Why do I need to be peering in your mind without your permission?"

"That's fair of you... You know, Henry... you..."

Sakurako sighs...

"...You're so different from Walker... Jager... Those I've met... You seem to be so... Unique. Different from other Novas..."

"Well, Saku-chan... I'm just one of those types that don't want to give up..."

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Sakurako righted herself. "I've...noticed." There was a conflict going on her head. She wasn't sure which issue to address first. So much to talk about...so much to tell. She was mildly afraid of what the answers might be. Going with the safer of options for the moment, she diverted away from her emotion and went the logical route. "Ronin...how? I mean...forty-three years? And you...you're so young... And I was only away for twenty-five years...and it's still the present, right? I mean, it's still just right after I left, isn't it?"

"You've known there was something odd about me for a long time, right?" Henry was resigned, and somewhat relieved. He'd been sitting on this for a long time. "Yes, Saku. Everything is just as you thought. No time passed." He sighed. "It's a long story."

"I've got all day", she replied uncharacteristically coyly. "Please, ronin...tell me all about it. I think we've both got a lot to catch up on." For a moment, memories of all her time away overcame her better judgement, and she had become so full of emotion it almost spilled over the side where ronin could see. Stubbornly, she contained it.

ronin stared at the floor, mute.

Then, he grabbed her shoulders, pulled her close, lifted up her chin and kissed her.

It had been a long time coming.

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Sakurako is taken by surprise by the sudden kiss, but only for a moment. Then, her true feelings flood through. Feelings she had to ignore for 25 years. What she had been through changed her views on the world, but when it came to Ronin... Her love for him has only grown stronger.

Sakurako blushes as she thinks to herself; "He is so... warm... I've never been this... intimate..."

She steps back from his embrace, gently. Her blush still shows.

Ronin takes a shallow breath, wondering what Sakurako was going to say. Was she upset from the sudden show of affection? After all, it seemed the right thing to do.

Sakurako leaps towards Ronin. Tears in her eyes, starting to stream down her cheeks.


She returns his kiss with one of her own. She knows now she has indeed returned to the place she belongs. It didn't matter how long she was away. She knew somewhere in her heart, that she would return to this place, and find Ronin once again.

Ronin realizes to himself; "She did miss me. All the years between us, must make this moment worthwhile..."

Sakurako and Ronin share an embrace. The warm sun, beating down on the two, is ignored, as well as the passage of time. All that matters is the moment, the here and now.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The embrace lasts for what could have been eternity. The world around them dissolved into a blanket of azure above and below, a meaningless setting without form or function that served no purpose and bore no weight upon the moment at hand.

And yet, when at least Endeavor's lips dislodged from ronin's, the world had not in fact gone away. It was right where they left it, right there, all around them, in every direction. Existence may have stood still for them, but it almost came as a disappointment to the two to find that when their moment had passed, there was more to the whole of creation than the two of them.

Although, here on the open sea, ronin and Endeavor both could think of no place on earth that it would be more true.

Henry cradled Sakurako's tear-streaked face in his hand, gently running his fingers the length of her jaw down to her chin. He lifted her chin, looked into her eyes and spoke to her words she had longed to hear for half a lifetime;

"I love you, Sakurako."

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sakurako rests her head on Ronin's chest. His previous words ring through Sakurako's mind. A sensation she had missed throughout the entire journey she had taken. She had feared, on several occasions, that she would never see his face again. There were other times she had resigned herself to the fact she may not even be able to return to this time... this place...

She knew his words rung true. Behind those words, laid a depth. A history of a quest, a search of longing. Ronin wondered different thoughts.

He thought of how long she must have endured her own longing and wanting. He wondered how many times she looked up longingly at another Earth's sky, at a moon that was not hers. How much of a journey did she go on before returning home?

Sakurako breaks the thoughts being ruminated by both parties.

"Tell me Ronin... Over the time you had searched, did you think you'd ever find me?"

Sakurako figured his answer would be No... After all, temporal mechanics are a very strange and unpredictable thing. Now combine that with trans-dimensional mechanics, and you have a proverbial needle in a haystack situation...

But then again, Ronin has surprised her on more than one occasion.

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ronin sighed, furrowing his brow somewhat. There was no easy way to answer that question truthfully. There had been many times he DID, in fact, give up. But never for longer than a week, sometimes two. A decade or so of constant searching would wear down the resolve of even a centuries-old crusader, and ronin occassionally sought respite in the past.

In fact, it was only because he had given up searching -- having recently left earth circa 2120 -- that he had found her at all. Upon returning from his latest expedition, he returned to his "Anchor", the moment and place in space-time that he called his own, and felt a presence he had sought for two score in years. Sakurako's quantum signature, like the scent of her sweat-drenched body in his shroud, was unmistakable, and he could follow it unto the ends of the earth.

Instead of explaining all that to her at the risk of ruining the moment, he simply hugged her closer and told her that "Whether I ever thought I would find you or not is irrelevant, Saku. I had all the time in the world to search." The statement was heavy with innuendo.

Endeavor knew that something wasn't altogether right with ronin's chronology for awhile. She was a brilliant girl, and it wasn't a great mental leap to notice certain tiny inconsistancies in his bearing. The way he would walk was reminiscent of martial artists who have been dead for centuries. That sword she had noticed once, the one he had meant to show her before which he claimed belonged to Musashi. Speech patterns that spoke more of Sparta than Seattle. And...forty-three years?

The realization hit her like a brick. Her curiosity demanded satiation.

"ronin...?" She looked up at him sternly, almost horrified, concern etched into her features. "How...?" She melted back into his arms, hugging him tightly. Had he really spent all that time looking for her...?

"I suppose I have a lot of explaining to do, Saku-chan." ronin hugged her tightly and kissed her on the forehead, reassuringly.

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ronin was afraid, he admitted to himself. There was a lot that Endeavor was about to find out about him that not many other people knew. He could count those few on one hand, and still have a couple left over. And those people were different... Old colleagues, interested third parties, enemies. Not romantic interests. Not someone he loved. He gulped, hard.

Every relationship came to a point of stress, and would ultimately fracture and shatter or prove its strength. ronin supposed that time was now.

"Alright...", he began. Gently pushing himself away from Endeavor so he could look her in the eye, he sat on an unseen surface, crossing one leg over the other. Thinking for a moment, as if organizing his thoughts, he steepled his fingers, looking intently as Sakurako, as if staring through her. Endeavor was reminded of when he made a similar gesture in the restaurant that had been the setting of their first date.

"My name is Henry, as you know. I was born in California in 1981. I am presently over five hundred years old. My chrono-spatial Anchor -- the time and place that I hail from -- is over a hundred years from this moment." Like a rock splashing into a still pond.

Sakurako was stunned. What ronin -- Henry -- put forth was near-impossible, even in the nova age. The world had become used to the idea of hyper-muscular men in spandex shooting beams of concentrated kinetic energy and sucking up missile fire, women who could travel the world and be home within minutes, men who could terraform countries... But hopping around the timestream like people would hope trains was still well beyond the ken of even the most accomplished novas. At least...that's what she had thought...

"You...um...you mean..." Endeavor couldn't dismiss him out-of-hand. He'd never given her any reason not to believe him before. She advanced, cautiously, not sure how to address the issue. For the most part, she just hoped ronin would continue of his own accord.

"I travel time."

Endeavor could tell that ronin felt like a goof saying it.

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  • 6 months later...
  • 3 months later...

ronin -- Henry -- glanced around somewhat furtively, evasive of the matter-at-hand. His breath strained, a reflexive but altogether unnecessary pfil. He waited for some reaction, some sign, some indication of where to go from here. He expected questions, of course, and with Sakurako, perhaps an exaggerated reaction, but instead...nothing. With doe-like eyes filled with muted concern, she just looked back at him, as if trying to puzzle him out.

In truth, Sakurako's expression wasn't half so much as ronin perceived. She was just happy to see him again after a hear-breaking span of years apart, and the details concerned her very little at that precise moment. What struck her as odd was the coy, even boyish way in which he revealed this revelation to her, as if he was telling her he'd broken her favorite toy. Maybe ronin-kun underestimates my coping skills, she thought to herself. After all, considering what she'd just been through, hearing "I travel time" just didn't have the same jaw-dropping lustre it might have had fifty years earlier.

Both fumbled over their emotions for a moment, unable to clearly speak their minds. ronin seemed tied up in the enormity of his confession, which, to be fair, was a considerable one, taking into account the breadth of years and the scope of existence represented in those few simple words. Sakurako, on the other hand, groped for a way to adequately express to ronin that no matter how far away or how much time may have passed, it was okay, it was going to be okay, and it was especially okay now that they were in each others' arms again.

ronin froze, his body tensing. Something even greater and more immense than his reunion with his lost love gripped him, and for the briefest of moments, he panicked. Every nerve locked, his eyes and ears extending their reach for the threat he felt imminently drawing closer. He looked to Sakurako for reassurance, but she stood as cold and as stoic as stone, an ashen reflection locked in a moment of time that no longer existed. ronin's eyes and teeth clenched bitterly. Sadness washed over him as the realization of his situation at last dawned upon him.

There was a price to be paid, and the collector had at last caught up to him.

Sakurako looked to the floor for a moment with a blush in a sweet, girlish gesture. She would say no words, she resolved, she would simply wrap her arms around her beloved and embrace him and tell him what she knew in her heart, that it really was all going to be okay.

But when she reached for him, there was nothing there.

The reality of the situation didn't strike her for a moment, as for the first few seconds she desperately expected Henry to return. But he didn't. And as that stark realization finally hit her, she began to cry.

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