Makoto and Saki got up from their table when they saw Patricia come up the stairs. “Paati-chan!” Makoto met her with a hug as she stepped onto the private floor of the restaurant. “I’m so glad you could make it!”
“Me too!” Patricia angled the briefcase in her hand away from Makoto’s back as she returned her embrace.
They smiled at each other chuckled as they stood apart. Patricia couldn’t help but look at them all. Makoto still wore the same ponytail. It had darkened, but still seemed like a plume of flame. Stray curls hung about her ears and temples. In her light pink skirt, she looked as if they were back in high school.
Patricia brushed a cloud of her dark mane from her wide spectacles. “My God, you’ve hardly aged.”
From her seat, Saki gave them her usual tight-lipped grin, shaking her head. Makoto laughed and hugged her again as if in thanks. Patricia was close enough to see the laugh lines at the corners of her friend’s mouth and eyes. Saki’s hair had grown longer and pale, a subdued platinum hue from the European side of her family. They were well, as well as anyone else over the last 15 years, but no better. Patricia rewarded her insight with a double-barrel blast of guilt and malicious relief.
Makoto ushered her to the table and served her a cup of tea. “Please sit down! It must’ve been a long trip.”
“Yes,” Patricia said, accepting her cup with a bow of her head, “but Centauri liners treat their passengers very well. Like one of their household gods!”
“So things have been going well in the diplomatic corps, neh?” Saki said.
“Busy. I don’t know about well!”
“Please excuse me, Paati-chan.” After an apologetic bow, Makoto rolled in a tray loaded with ceramic pots, towels, and dining utensils. “Would you like some oroshi soba? I made some just for us.”
“Ooh, yes, please. That sounds good right now. Thank you, Makoto-chan. I’m certainly getting a lot of work, but these days, it’s not easy.”
Saki’s grin turned sour. “I thought the new Alliance was supposed to make things better.”
“Based on what I’ve heard, I’d say yes. It would, if enough people let it. Everyone was supposed to turn over a new leaf, but too many things are still the same. Some people in Earthdome still don’t trust Sheridan–”
“The ones who were with Clark?”
“Exactly,” Patricia sighed. “That attitude is reflected in our relations with Marsgov. I have to complete a trade deal between the new government there and the Centauri, but unless my people give Mars more support, there are no channels for me to work through. And the Centauri definitely want to do business.”
“Earth, Mars, aliens,” Saki muttered. “It’s all ridiculous. Earthgov was a mess even before Clark and Sheridan changed everything.”
While serving Patricia chopsticks and a chilled bowl, Makoto glanced a wordless warning at Saki.
“No disrespect to what you do, Paati-chan,” Saki added quickly. “You work very hard.”
“In fact it’s one of the few things you’ve ever been serious about.”
Patricia beamed with a mischievous smile. “I see your temper has not improved, young lady.”
“It’s gotten better,” Makoto offered. Saki took and kissed her hand softly by way of thanks.
Patricia grinned, turning her attention to her bowl of chilled noodles. “Sorry, nothing but work seems to fill my head. I’m trying to get the Centauri agreement settled as soon as I can. I heard from…a reliable source. I don’t think I have much time.”
“Reliable source? You sound so mysterious,” Makoto teased her.
She chuckled. “That’s ironic. Considering who it is.”
“Is it someone we know?”
“Of course. Tommy-chan.”
Makoto’s face went blank.
Saki glanced back and forth between them, her face burning red when she turned to Makoto. “Darquin? What does he know?”
Patricia gaped at her, confused. “You act like he’s a stranger, Saki-chan.”
“Well, I meant…the last time I saw him, he was a pilot, not intelligence. And he didn’t like being in Earthforce to begin with.”
“So you’ve heard from him?” Makoto chimed in.
“Yes, we’ve only just starting writing each other again,” Patricia said. “He sent me a Stellarcom message in January, but I didn’t know how to reach him. When I called the embassy on Minbar, they ran a background check. On me!”
Saki and Makoto said nothing, apparently distracted by their own soba noodles.
“Well, I thought it was impressive. It takes a lot to scare the Minbari.”
“What happened after that?” Makoto asked softly.
“They transferred me to a comm relay far from the capital. In Tuzanor. I couldn’t trace it after that.” Her raised eyebrow escaped the chrome rims of her glasses. “Tuzanor? The Rangers?”
She waited, but couldn’t stand the delay. All the activity today had obviously worn them out. She nudged her bowl aside. “I thought it was obvious. He’s with them now! Can you believe it? Tommy-chan, a Ranger? Anyway, I found him. Good thing. You two are going to be too busy running this place to send letters, neh?”
“So…what did he say?” Saki said.
“What he could, from his intelligence reports. It doesn’t look good for the Centauri. There are rumors of Centauri ships attacking freighters, and they’ve already lost much of their standing as it is.”
Patricia sighed. “You follow the news, right?”
“Universe Today,” Saki said, folding her arms over her chest.
“Reset your account to the Grid Epsilon feed. You’ll hear more. Anyway, a year ago there was a major war between the alien governments, and they’re still–”
“What war? No one reported about that.”
“Well, I am!” Patricia stuck her tongue out at her. “It happened, believe me. I’ve had to deal with all these problems. So have the Rangers, Tommy-chan included. They were in the middle of it.”
“Is he all right?” Makoto said.
“I think so. In his last message, he looked tired…like an old man in a young man’s body. But he said he’ll get some rest soon. He’s going back to Minbar.”
Saki stroked Makoto’s hand as it lay on the table. “No need to worry. Darquin-san is happiest when he’s up to his old tricks.”
“What does that mean?” Patricia said.
“Oh, you know him.” Grinning she brushed a curtain of white gold from her ear. “As long as he can fly and chase girls, he’s fine.”
“Just a minute, that’s no way to talk about a friend.” She frowned as she nudged her wide-rimmed glasses further up the bridge of her nose. “I thought you and Tomasu settled everything a long time ago. I mean, you’re not–”
Makoto looked away, muttering.
Saki bolted around the table and sat beside her, holding her hand. “You shouldn’t have mentioned him.”
“Why not? He’s one of our oldest friends. He would have been here with us…if you had told him.”
Saki turned away. Makoto bit her lip and held back tears.
“I told him I was coming here, but he didn’t know.” Patricia glowered at Saki whose eyes were focused on the other side of the private dining room. “I did my best to make my trip sound like a casual thing. I didn’t have the heart to tell him. But I think he knew.”
“He did,” Saki muttered.
Makoto sat up when she saw the puzzled look on Patricia’s face. “He was here, when he was visiting…family.” The word seemed to stick in her throat.
“He must have joined the Rangers by then.” Patricia glared at Saki. “I don’t believe it. You saw him and said all those….Wait. He said he was on Earth around New Year’s.”
“He was,” Makoto said.
“He came to see me.”
Patricia put her hand over her mouth until she had the courage to speak. “What did he…?”
Makoto stared at the table. “Nothing. For a long time, he couldn’t say anything.”
“He did say…one thing,” Saki added. “‘It’s okay, you’re both in good hands.’ And he walked away.”
“But the look on his face. Empty, naked. The same face he made…” Tears were rolling down her face, her resolve and her voice failing at last. “When I gave his ring back to him.”
Saki embraced her quickly, cradling her head on her shoulder as she patted her quivering back.
Patricia tried to raise her tea cup. She gave up as soon as the weight of it reached her brain. All of them, even she, had been keeping silent for the others’ sake. Now it was all gone.
She touched Makoto’s back. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring back painful memories. This is my fault.”
Looking past Makoto, Saki shook her head slowly, a forlorn cast tinging her steel-blue eyes, as she rocked her like a mother with child. As Saki stroked her crimson hair, Makoto tried to speak through her sobbing and panting.
“Mako-chan?” Patricia lay her hand on her back. “Don’t be sad. Please. This is supposed to be a festive day for your family. You found your happiness.” She exchanged a look with Saki, testing the waters. “That’s what Tommy-chan would want for you. He said so.”
“When?” Saki asked.
“In the last call we had,” Patricia said. “It’s what made me…concerned. He said, ‘As long as you’re all happy, that’s what matters.'”
A hundred light-years away, Tomás Darquin was finishing the cup of tea Yoshino had poured for him, the last one for the night. After he wiped oil from his fingers, he bowed deeply to her and bid her good night. He left her quarters, waving goodbye to her as he stepped out into the corridor. As the door slid shut behind him, he realized he wasn’t sure which way to go.
Off-duty joyrides were out. Besides, the Phoenix had refits and fresh supplies waiting on Minbar. Several pilots had been reassigned to the Abbai system, to maintain a regular patrol which the Abbai could trust. No pilots or fighters could be spared.
He wasn’t angry, at least not with anyone except himself. The past was behind him. Leave it there–that’s what grown men do, he told himself.
As usual his heart wasn’t listening. It was still back in Tokyo, spread thin over the span of 15 years. Savoring Makoto’s kiss. Getting the news from her and Saki. Hating the pain. Wishing he felt nothing. Shutting off his Starfury’s proximity warnings with a scream. Skimming the sea.
As he walked into the lift and wiped his eyes, he berated himself. This was stupid. They’d made their choice. It made them happy. They belonged to this Third Age as much as he did.
He sighed, a bitter taste in his mouth. Some Third Age…twice bitten, thrice shy.
Wandering the corridors of the Phoenix, he found himself studying the stainless walls and sculpted bulkheads, contemplating the forces that made it all possible. In the end, the First Ones knew when to leave well enough alone. He laughed to himself. The hint was big and clear even for him.
Darquin continued to roam the halls with no clue where he was going, what he’d do once he got there, or who he might bump into. It didn’t matter. For a change, he didn’t want it to.
Once you had a love and you let it go Now you know what matters Once you had a dream that you realized But do you know what matters To leave your feelings in the past Part of it is you know you can't go back for free – Matthew Sweet "What Matters" (P) and © 1999
Phoenix–“What Matters” © 2002 Joe Medina
Babylon 5 tm and © 2002 Warner Bros.