Version: Manga (Exiles timeline)
Some people live with the fear of a touch
And the anger of having been a fool.
They will not listen to anyone
So nobody tells them a lie.
I’m not above doing anything to restore your faith if I can.
— Billy Joel, An Innocent Man
Through this world I’ve stumbled,
So many times betrayed,
Trying to find an honest word, to find
The truth enslaved.
Oh, you speak to me in riddles and
You speak to me in rhymes
My body aches to breathe your breath…
— Sarah McLachlan, Possession
The candle flickered as if someone had breathed on it. Rei stopped for a moment, holding her breath. She knew that there were spirits in this place, Xavier and Isamu had been quite open about it. They had also insisted that the spirits would never hurt any of the guests. She could sense them watching her: curious, intrigued, but not hostile. She knew exactly how hostile spirits felt. No, this was truly a family home. It creaked and sighed and the spirits were comfortable within its walls.
Then she heard it again, a piano, striking out, low and bitter like a river in flood. It was that song, that song Isamu had written:
All of the world standing at her door,
She don’t even care what they’re waiting for.
And every mistake that I ever made,
Every little sin is on her display…
The notes broke off in the middle of the phrase. Rei bit her lip. She didn’t need to be told that song was about her: the words said it all. It made her feel uncomfortable yet strangely hot. She didn’t like the sensation. The music changed, turning from a river into raindrops, gently falling on her ears. She knew this one: Für Elise. A piano staple, even people who didn’t play could attempt the first few bars. The familiarity reassured her and she moved forward again, the candle bending and swaying, dancing to an invisible beat. Up the small steps, where the door was pulled back just slightly so the light spilled out into the corridor, a thin band. She trod quietly. She didn’t want the pianist to hear her and stop. She waited outside the door for a moment before sliding it back a little more to see who was playing. Her heart stopped for a moment.
She hadn’t known that Isamu played the piano. She’d only ever seen him with a guitar but of course, most children started out on the piano. He was not as good as Xavier but he could certainly put passion into his playing. She felt her skin prickle just listening. The music swirled around her, yearning, begging to be heard, and she closed her eyes, aching with it. Then it faded, dropping back to the original theme, wistful and gentle. She let out a sigh as it ended, too loud. He turned his head, looking straight into her eyes.
“Did I wake you?”
For a moment, Rei wondered why he was asking that. Then she remembered it was the middle of the night and she was standing at his door with a candle. “No. I couldn’t sleep… it’s restless tonight.”
Isamu glanced around, nodding. “Yes, that happens… the summer storms often make things interesting here. We think it’s the electricity in the air.” He looked back at her. “Come in.”
Rei stepped inside and slid the door closed. She set her candle down on the table beside the door, since Isamu had already lit one candelabra and put it on the piano. When she came closer, however, Rei saw that there was no music on the stand. “You played that out of memory,” she said.
He nodded. “I’ve memorised a lot of pieces. I’m sure you have, as well. Am I right?” His blue eyes were as clear and piercing as ever, despite the hour.
Rei ran her hand along the curve of the piano. “What else do you know?” she asked.
“I’ll show you, but only if you give me a piece in return. And you have to sit beside me.” He played three notes, speaking for each word. “A fair exchange.”
Rei swallowed and nodded. “Very well.”
“Excellent.” He moved up the stool and she sat beside him, keeping her eyes focused on the piano keys. He thought for a moment and then placed his hands, ready to begin. “Tell me if you recognise this.” He began to play a soft theme in C sharp and Rei recognised it immediately but she didn’t say anything for a while because she loved it so much, had done ever since she was a little girl.
“Beethoven,” she said eventually. “The Moonlight Sonata.”
“Moonlight and love songs, never out of date,” he said softly, making her catch her breath. “Your turn.”
Rei already knew what she was going to play before her fingers touched the keys. An old song, wistful and slow. She could see that Isamu had recognised her piece just as quickly but he didn’t state the name, he began to sing along instead.
“Old dream maker, you heartbreaker, wherever you’re going, I’m going your way…”
Rei continued playing, accompanying him, feeling strangely content. Neither of them were drifters but perhaps they were after the same rainbow’s end, she thought. At moments like this, when he wasn’t baiting her, teasing her or fighting her, it seemed possible. She stopped after the first verse and tried to smile but found she couldn’t.
“I always thought that was a sad song,” Isamu remarked, as if he hadn’t noticed her discomfort. “Xavier and I were obsessed with it one summer… I think we were ten. We discovered that Dad had a Henry Mancini LP and we played the thing over and over… I think we wore it out.” He smiled a bit. “We were always getting obsessed with songs. Moon River... Bohemian Rhapsody… Wuthering Heights…”
“There’s a song called Wuthering Heights?” Rei asked, surprised. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“It’s by an English girl… Kate Bush… but she sings so high that you’d think she was Japanese. It’s based on the book, of course.”
“Play it,” Rei said, and then coughed at how dictatorial that sounded. “Please.”
“All right, but I’ll have to sing it in a lower register. It’s not really a piano song… it’s better on guitar, it has one of the best solos ever. Still, since you ask.” Isamu lifted his hands and played a high and lilting intro, just like a breeze rustling some wind chimes. When he sang, he sang low, almost husky and Rei felt a jolt somewhere inside her. She was so used to Isamu’s clear, strong tenor that she hadn’t even wondered whether he could sing differently.
“Out on the winding, windy moors, we’d roll and fall in green,
You had a temper, like my jealousy, too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me when I needed to possess you?
I hated you, I loved you, too.”
He paused and glanced at her. “The song is written from Cathy’s point of view, she’s speaking to Heathcliff. Though I suppose either of them could speak that first verse… they both think the other left them.”
Rei nodded. “Go on,” she said, but the words had struck a chord inside her, and it was still vibrating. How could you leave me…? I hated you, I loved you. They were so familiar. They smelled of roses and regret. They were connected to this man beside her, this man who said he was Isamu, but he had a different name. She glanced at him as he began to play again. What was his real name?
“It gets dark, it gets lonely on the other side from you.
I pine a lot, I find the lot falls through without you.
I’m coming back, love, cruel Heathcliff,
My one dream, my only master.
Too long I roam in the night,
I’m coming back to his side to put it right…”
He stopped. “Well, after that it’s just the chorus and then that solo. I’d play it for you on the guitar, but I’d wake everyone up and that wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“I can’t see Cathy calling Heathcliff her ‘master’ in any sense of the word,” Rei said, pressing down the F sharp key. “They were equal… even though she tried to deny it, they were equal.”
“She preferred to have a subordinate to an equal,” Isamu answered, also looking at the keyboard. “Some women do.”
“So do some men!” she retorted.
“Yes, but men aren’t afraid to admit it.” He suddenly began to play a theme high on the piano. “There… that’s the solo… it’s not half as good like that, but at least you have some idea.”
“So why don’t you admit it?” Rei demanded, refusing to let the subject drop. “That’s what you want, isn’t it? Someone who will just do what you want and never argue?”
“If I wanted that, I’d still be going out with Minako-chan.”
The words struck so swift and hard that she couldn’t speak. She had to swallow three times before her voice would work. “Minako-chan isn’t like that.”
“She was with me,” he replied, looking at her now, the blue eyes so steady and cool. “She was so eager to please that she always agreed with me. She disappeared, she literally buried herself in my shadow. It’s difficult to have a relationship with a shadow.”
“I don’t want to hear this,” Rei said, turning from him.
“Yes, you do. You’ve been wanting to know why we broke up for a long time. You needed to know, you needed to believe it was all my fault.” He began to play again, a tune she didn’t know, a minor key. “Are you happy now?”
Rei told herself to move, to leave the room, but she stayed rooted to the piano stool while the tune turned into a song and Isamu sang the words in that new, low voice of his.
“Tell me, does it take a long time to outgrow love?
And when you do, do you put it in a box and away in a drawer?
And years go by, do you take it out and say
‘Gee, look at what we used to wear,
It was beautiful and rare, and it smelt so sweet,
And it felt so soft: maybe that was love…’”
He was talking to her, she knew it. He was asking her why she was this way and she couldn’t answer him, so the song went on, the words striking more chords inside her. Oh, there was a time when my heart felt so bright it would burst in me, oh, I think that might have been love. Yes. She could just remember it. Back, back into the hazy brightness of that first life. She could remember that feeling, her heart swelling, the joy of finding an equal, someone that she would now call a kindred spirit.
Suddenly the song key changed, becoming brighter and Isamu’s voice became stronger, more like his normal one.
“You’ll never tell me that you could have been,
And you should have been and you might have been,
You know that I’ll never tell you that I could have been,
And I should have been and I must have been
Could have been, should have been, might have been. Rei could taste the bitterness of missed possibilities in her mouth, an old taste. She hadn’t thought that life blighted by anything like this. She associated regret with Earth, not the Silver Millennium. Why was that happy feeling linked with the taste of ashes? Ashes for penitence, ashes for mourning. She thought of the girls at her school during March, with the small dark crosses on their foreheads. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Guilt and blame. You needed to believe it was all my fault.
The music had stopped. He was looking at her but his gaze was softer now. “You should get to bed,” he said. “You don’t look well.”
She shook her head, turned back to the keyboard and began to play him a piece in reply, driven and passionate. Isamu always seemed to stir up feelings and thoughts she’d thought dead and buried. She remembered learning this piece and dismissing it as ‘too emotional’ but now she understood the torment underneath the notes, the need to keep moving away from the source of pain. She could feel him watching her face but she didn’t look at him, she couldn’t. If she did, then she just might remember it all, the joy and the sorrow, the anger and the guilt, and she wasn’t ready for that. When she finished, she found that she was breathing heavily, almost panting.
“The Heart Asks Pleasure,” Isamu said slowly. “Yes. It’s not much to ask for, is it? Pleasure. Happiness. But so often it’s impossible.” He touched middle C. “So often we’re denied even a chance at pleasure.”
“Why do we regret things?” Rei asked, the words forcing themselves out of her throat. “I mean, we can’t change the past… so why this feeling?”
“Because we’re human, not machines. Because maybe regret is sometimes the only reason we do something differently. It’s a powerful emotion, one of the most powerful, maybe. Along with guilt, its close cousin.” He played a few notes and suddenly sang:
“Some people say they will never believe
Another promise they hear in the dark,
Because they only remember too well
They heard somebody tell them before…”
His eyes met hers and he sang, lower and more intimate, “Some people sleep all alone every night, instead of taking a lover to bed; some people find that it’s easier
to hate than to wait anymore…”
Rei jerked back, finally managing to stand up. “You don’t know me,” she said. She wanted to scream it at him but she found she was whispering, trying to control the trembling in her voice. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” He turned to her, still seated. “I know that your father never calls you, never even writes to you. I know that you only see him once or twice a year. And I know that you once had an older brother who seems to have disappeared from your life even more effectively than your father.” His eyes darkened. “I know that you have a lot of rage inside of you, and that’s understandable, because you’ve been hurt by the one man who should have looked after you. But while it’s understandable, it’s not right for you to decide that because one man has hurt you, all men are therefore unreliable, selfish and cold. That’s sexism. And sexism in a woman is just as bad as sexism in a man. Worse, in a way, because a man can’t fight against it.”
Rei glared at him, her eyes hot. She felt as if he had coolly stripped her while she wasn’t looking. “Who told you that?”
“Your grandfather. He seemed to think it was important that I know these things.” He sighed and played another phrase, a different key, a different song. “Fathers, be good to your daughters; daughters will love like you do…”
“What?” He looked at her, daring her to complete the sentence. “I’m what? Why don’t you just let go for once and say what you’re thinking?”
“I don’t know what I think!” she burst out. “I can’t think when I’m around you!”
He smiled. He actually smiled and nodded. “Good,” he said. “That’s a start.”
Rei stared. Isamu turned back to the keyboard. “Shall I play you a lullaby?”
She swallowed, realising that he was giving her a respite. She didn’t know why and she wasn’t going to ask. She just sat down again. “Do you know one?”
“Mm. Well, technically it’s not a lullaby but it’s soft and gentle and it always got Angela to sleep.”
Rei nodded, clasping her hands in her lap to show that she was ready to listen. Isamu took a breath and began to play. It was a gentle song, as he’d said, a song about capturing time in bottles and spending eternity with the person you loved. Rei could see why Angela loved it. She thought Usagi would love it, too. It made her ache inside even as her heartbeat slowed and she felt a yawn building up in her throat.
“You’ll be okay going back on your own?” Isamu asked as she slowly rose and took her candle.
Rei lifted her head, trying to ignore the fact her eyelids were slipping. “I’m not afraid of the dark. Who do you think I am? Usagi?”
“I could never mistake you for anybody else,” Isamu said and something in his expression made Rei feel a little dizzy. She swayed and he jumped up and put an arm around her waist, saying her name.
“I’m fine,” she muttered. “Just… tired.” He was surprisingly warm and solid. She was very tempted to lean against him. In fact, she was leaning against him. How had that happened?
“I’m taking you back to your room,” he said, his voice washing around her. “You can argue about it in the morning.”
Rei didn’t say anything. She was too busy enjoying the warmth of his arm around her waist and the confident way he held her close, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. She was vaguely aware that she should be pushing him away and walking on her own but this was just so nice, it couldn’t do any harm. Nobody would see them, after all. She even found herself leaning her head against him as they walked back.
“Here we are.” Isamu turned her slightly and she found herself facing a door. “Your room. The door slides.”
“I know that,” Rei protested, thinking that she didn’t sound angry enough. She reached out and pulled the door aside, then turned. “Thank you… for… walking me back, I suppose.”
“You’re welcome.” The candle lit the planes of his face , emphasising the high cheekbones and the strong jawline. Rei leaned against the doorframe, resting her head against the cool wood.
“You remind me of someone,” she said. “Tell me who.”
Something twitched in Isamu’s face. “Maybe you’ll dream the answer,” he said. “Good night.” And he turned and vanished into the shadows. Rei stared at the empty space where he’d been for a moment, then pushed the door shut, wondering.
When he heard the door slide closed, Isamu breathed a sigh of relief and then smiled at himself, a little bitter.
“Some people run from a possible fight, some people think that they can never win; and although this is a fight I can lose, the accused is an innocent man,” he murmured and went back to the piano.
There would be no sleep for him tonight.
The first set of lyrics comes from the song "She's Got My Number" by Semisonic.
Moon River belongs to Henry Mancini
Wuthering Heights belongs to Kate Bush
The second set of lyrics comes from the song "Mourning Dove" by Margot Wagner
The Heart Asks Pleasure can be found on the soundtrack for the film The Piano
The third set of lyrics comes from the song "Innocent Man" by Billy Joel. (This song could have been written for Isamu, it fits him so exactly.)