“How does it feel to come back to your homelands?” SaRa asked, linking her arm around Kudako’s arm.
She never knew how he felt about her forced interaction, but he never pulled away from her. She always marveled at the feeling of his raw strength under her touch. It made her feel safe and protected, though she rarely had the chance to spend time in the Dragon’s protection anymore.
“It is strange,” Kudako answered with his charming sort of honesty. At least, she thought it was charming. It was even more charming that he didn’t even realize it.
He leaned forward, both palms planted on the stone railing that ran along the edge of the platform at the top of the stairs of Lion’s Keep. His golden eyes were sharp as they surveyed the Spiral lands stretching in every direction. His lips were pinched, a sign of some sort of emotion, though one he couldn’t figure out for himself.
“Does it make you sad?” SaRa asked him.
Questions, she found, were the key to guiding conversation with the Dragon. He was quiet, often, because he didn’t know what to say next.
“Sad? I’m not sure it’s sadness,” he told her. “I never missed this place since I chose to leave and go into the service for Lord Zemi. That does not mean I wish ill on the Spiral or the people. I simply do not feel as if…”
“As if…?” she tilted her head, encouraging.
“Perhaps I don’t feel this is so much a place to call home, despite the technicality of being born in this land,” the Dragon finished. He dipped his head, wild hair falling into his face. His ears twitched at the tips as if reconsidering what he just said. “Is that a bad thing to feel?”
“No,” SaRa told him, hugging his arm tighter. “Not with all the bad memories that you have here, and all the bad things that some people did to you.”
“Bad things sometimes happen,” Kudako told her gently. “Holding on to them gives them power over your life. I choose not to let them have that power.”
“That’s why you’re strong,” she said aloud, not realizing she’d spoken the words until he responded.
“I mean,” SaRa straightened a bit, trying to cover her sudden awkwardness. “You’re a strong warrior. One of Zemi’s best. You always have been.”
Kudako looked at her with an arched eyebrow.
“Anyone who could knock some sense into Zento has to be,” she added quickly. This seemed to work.
“Well, Zento was certainly not who I expected to find when Lord Zemi sent me to train a warrior at the Host Gate,” the Dragon smiled just a hint, a look of memory in his eyes.
“No, I guess neither of us was exactly what you were hoping for,” SaRa answered quietly. She leaned her cheek against his arm, just as she used to as a young girl. She felt the giddy flutters in her chest as she did, even if she was getting too old for girlish fluttering.
“It wasn’t at first. Of all places I have been to in my time, that was the one place that was most like home to me,” Kudako told her.
She turned and peered up with a surprised look. It was always unusual to hear the Dragon speak sentimentally.
She must have looked so surprised that that he felt he had to add more, “You asked about home?”
“Yes, I did,” SaRa nodded slowly. “So, you were happy there?”
“I learned what it meant to be happy there,” Kudako answered. He paused for a moment, lips pursed together before speaking again. “You may argue, but I feel that you and Zento taught me more about how to live than I ever taught either of you.”
SaRa smiled softly. “Kudako, that was a beautiful thing to say, you know?”
“Was it?” he asked, seeming a little puzzled.
“Yes. Even more so because I know that if you said it, then you meant it.”
There were some things in life that one couldn’t always count on. Things were always changing, often not for the better, she knew. Kudako was one of those things that never changed, not at the core of his being. Time helped him to learn to feel and appreciate life in different ways. But time and trouble did not take away his steadfastness, no matter the situation that he faced.
And now, they faced the most difficult of any situation. With battles and darkness and the fall of their homelands. The fear of Zerom’s Chaos and the loss of TsuYa. So many terrible, terrible things.
Yet, Kudako stood resolute. SaRa knew, as she knew for so long, that she held more than just admiration for his strength. She didn’t know if he realized this.
“Kudako,” she began, hesitating. She heard the shift in her own voice. The hint that something important and dangerous was about to be said.
She couldn’t help it. Battle after battle, the Dragon went out to fight. Any one could be his last. He would be lost, and she never told him.
Kudako turned, fin-ears perked in her direction. His golden eyes gazed down at her with the calm, stoic expression that he always had. All the while, she fought to keep him from feeling the way her heart began to beat, almost out of her chest.
Dragons, she knew, sensed things like that.
“You are someone very special to me,” SaRa plunged forward, trying to keep her voice level, and failing to sound any better than a silly grade-school child.
“You are someone very special to me, too,” Kudako answered.
It was so hard. It was so hard to tell how he was responding. If he was responding at all, or if he was just reading and imitating her cues. Even after all these years, she didn’t know if he had any feelings for her beyond his duty of chivalrous protection.
“No, Kudako,” SaRa forced her voice into firmness. Then she reached out and pulled his hands up with both of her own, forcing him to turn and look her in the eye. “I mean that you are someone very special to me.”
For a long moment, he just stared down at her, at a loss as to how to respond. She held her breath. She was accustomed to the Dragon’s silence, but this was a silence of a different sort.
When he finally answered, there was a strange glimmer in the depths of his golden eyes. “Yes. And you are someone veryspecial to me, too.”
SaRa’s eyes widened, breath whooshing in a gasp. She didn’t realize her hands were shaking until he steadied them in his solid grasp.
“Then… why?” she began to ask, not really knowing what she meant to say.
Why didn’t you tell me sooner? Why do we pretend it doesn’t exist? Why don’t we do something about it? It could have been one of many, many “whys.”
Kudako simply lowered his head, answering without the question to guide him, “Because I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Hurt?” she asked.
“Because I am what I am. A warrior whose first duty is to fight at the orders of Lord Zemi Dreigiau. I am only here because I was given the chance to serve,” the Dragon told her. “My duty is important to me. And because I am a warrior, I don’t know if I would ever be proper and good enough for you.”
“Kudako,” her voice sounded slightly broken. “I’ve known you since I was very young. I understand your dedication to your duty and I’ve always respected it. I’ve always been willing to accept that’s part of who you are… if you were ever to allow me to be… a part of your life.”
He watched her for a long moment, weighing the importance of his answer, “Things are dangerous right now. There will be a lot of fighting coming up. I will have to think upon it, once things become quiet again.”
SaRa straightened, green eyes reflecting up at him, “Does that mean that you’re willing to give things a shot once we get all of this sorted out?”
“It is a strong possibility,” he told her.
She swallowed, knowing that those words, while not a “yes,” were the best that she could hear from him right now. They certainly wren’t a “no.” Her face must have been flushed at that point because Kudako reached down and touched her cheek lightly.
“I’m happy then,” SaRa smiled for him, laying her cheek against his palm.
He gave a faint smile in return. A smile that, for once, touched his eyes.
They stood together for a long time in complete silence. The world around them passed from day into the twilight, the sky spreading color for them in a quiet celebration. Quiet was the way it always was between them, and perhaps, even unspoken, things had always been.
SaRa couldn’t have been happier than she was then. Sharing the time with Kudako, as they used to when they were both younger. Before there was a Nefol, before Zento took up the robes of the High Guide. When things were far simpler and the world breathed in peace.
It was theirs again, for that moment.
Until the world called them back from their shared serenity.
“Aunt SaRa! Aunt SaRa… I need to talk to you!”
The winged woman took a short step away from Kudako, turning to see who was calling her name. Concern marred her features as she called back, “Lucci? What’s wrong?”
The young Sygnus raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His silver eyes were wide with the hint of panic. His breath heaved in shivers as he stopped to stand before them. It was the first time Aunt SaRa realized how tall he had become.
“Aunt SaRa,” he choked out her name again. “I had a dream.”
“A dream?” she echoed, taking a few steps towards him. She reached up and pulled him down, cupping his fevered face in both hands. His skin was clammy and sickly feeling. “What kind of dream, Lucci?”
She saw this all before, back when TsuYa suffered from terrible nightmares of Nefol. Nightmares that became all too real, leaving him injured upon awakening, and eventually leading to his capture by the Chaotic forces of Zerom.
Dreams were serious things to her. The thought that Lucci was having them now, too, was absolutely terrifying.
“Don’t get mad at me,” the young Sygnus began, face pleading. He was just as afraid.
“No, of course not. I want to hear. I won’t get angry,” SaRa stroked the boy’s hair out of his eyes.
Lucci swallowed a few times, his throat working as he began to describe the images in his dream. The Marked armies of Zerom, coming across the Passage. How they were following TsuYa, the new Marked Champion. And how Lucci believed that Zerom was using TsuYa’s previous connection to Zemi to activate the Passage to get them across.
When he finally finished describing it all, it was hard for them all to breathe.
“I don’t know if it’s real or not, Aunt SaRa,” Lucci warned, looking concerned. “I don’t want to call a false alarm. But if it is real…”
“You did the right thing,” Kudako grunted.
“You believe me?” the young Sygnus looked up, questioningly.
The Dragon didn’t explain. He just reached for his staff and made his way across the platform.
“What are you doing?” SaRa called after him.
“I’m going to talk to ShinRe. I’m going to start gathering the Spiral warriors together to brace for an attack. We’ll scout. I want us to be mobilized. There’s no need to take any chances,” Kudako answered gruffly.
“Please, be careful,” she said.
The Dragon peered at her with a silent nod. Then he turned and rushed off, vanishing into the colors of twilight.