You will die for the woman you love.
Some might have called the old man cruel for telling a child that. For setting his fate in concrete with those words, not protecting him from the cruel truth of the world, of destiny. Maybe they were right; Sorata had never thought about it. It didn't seem cruel to him.
After all, he already knew that his life was written in the stars, had known since he was 3 years old and a small boy watching his mother cry while the monks took him away. To teach him how to save the world, he would think later with some amusement at the thought. But the fact was that Sorata's life had been defined by his destiny for as long as he could remember, he had always known the truth.
Try as you may, your life will always be driven by forces you cannot fight - even (especially?) if you are a Dragon of Heaven.
There was nothing to protect him from. So the old man's words spoke of his fate and how it would end; very well, he would take it as warning and let it be. Dying for a woman sounded quite romantic, really, and there were certainly far worse ways to go. Being run over by a truck, for instance. Messy, unpleasant and pointless. At least he knew his death would protect someone.
At least he knew he would love.
And given that he probably didn't have much time to love, what with his destiny and all, and how fate hadn't exactly been very kind to him so far, he sometimes pointed out in his prayers that the least the gods could do was let him make the most of what he had.
Let her be beautiful, but above all, let me know.
A hidden wish silently tacked on behind his oh-so-flippant request. Don't let me be the hero who spends the whole story being in love with the girl and not realising until the last moment, or it's nearly-too-late. I'm not that hero, my last moment will be my last and it will be too late. At least give me the clarity to know I love her, so that I can treasure what I have, so that I can truly protect her.
It wasn't asking for much, was it?
He didn't let his hopes get up too high though, because you could never be sure. If fate had a sense of humour, he suspected, it would be a sadistic one. Complete with plenty of blood and pink penguins. You never know when it'd hit you, or what it was going to hit you with.
So of course it had to hit him on a rainy afternoon even as he tried to win the trust of an angry boy with, quite literally, the weight of the world on his slim shoulders; on a empty street where he'd expected fighting and chaos and found only a dark-haired girl with calm eyes.
With a girl beautiful not because she was pale and slender and graceful, with eyes that could drown you in their level gaze, but because she was strong and his.
And he knew that his destiny would be bound to hers through this war, for as long as he lived. He knew that he would give his life for her, and it would be with thanks. His destiny stood before him and he saw it as clear as the meanings the old man had read in the stars.
You will die for the woman you love.
At least the gods had given him this much.
She asked him about it, once.
It was one of the rare times, after the first time she'd asked him what he'd meant by saying he'd chosen her, that they'd talked about it.
The whole thing mystified her, he suspected. She didn't know what to think of him, what to think of his seemingly inexplicable willingness to die for her, and most of all, what to do about it, so for most part, it never got mentioned. He would be cheerful and brash, as he always was, and she would be silent and sometimes, irritated, and they continued as they had begun, mismatched and odd.
If the progress his determined onslaught on her heart had made so far was anything to go by, the end of the world would be long past before he had a hope.
But this wasn't about hope, so he didn't really let that get him down (didn't let anything get him down, not even the coming Apocalypse). And one day, she asked.
They'd been in a park or garden somewhere; he remembered standing by a pond, hands in pockets, half meditating because moments of peace like these were so rare now. No earthquakes, no Dragons of Earth in the vicinity (that he knew of, anyway), no grisly deaths. Moments like these had to be savoured.
He'd been barely aware of her presence; when he opened his eyes, she was just there, standing by the pond a short distance away, eyes fixed on the still waters. Above them, the trees whispered in the wind and he let the moment go on, uninterrupted, just stood and watched her.
Her eyes caught his as she glanced at him; he smiled and she swiftly looked away. The quiet collapsed into something almost awkward, and he'd considered speaking, breaking it completely, when she suddenly asked.
A simple question. Why?
He blinked. "Why what?"
"Why..." She seemed to have trouble finding the words, saying them. "Why are you doing all this?"
Sorata considered the question, let his gaze wander. "Do I need a reason?" he asked gently. She gave him a startled look and he grinned. "You don't love someone for just one reason, you love them for more than that." Every reason, and no reason at all. "There's no reason, really."
She stared at him, as if trying to read the meaning of his words in his face, his open smile. "You would give your life to someone... for no reason?" she said slowly.
"Aren't you reason enough?"
Maybe she blushed at that; she looked away too quickly, face hidden in the swirl of her dark hair for him to be sure. Sometimes, he thought he did have a hope, but it was hard to be sure with her. He saw no reason why she shouldn't fall in love with someone as charming as him, but if she didn't, then he wasn't going to push.
After all, he'd told her not to feel bad about his feelings for her. If he could die knowing he'd protected her, he would die happy. If he could die protecting her and knowing she returned his feelings, he would die even happier, but that wasn't necessary (and if he could not die... well, that would be nice too, but this wasn't an option, was it?)
She was reason enough.
"You really don't have to feel bad about it," he said cheerfully when she stayed silent, flapping a hand at her. "After all, I told you, it's my own choice, you had nothing to do with it. Can't argue with fate, right?"
"But what makes you so sure?" The question burst from her. Her real question, the one he'd sensed but she hadn't quite asked. "You barely know me. How can you be so sure?"
"Fate?" She stilled at the word as he continued mildly. "Our lives are bound by our destinies, aren't they? All of us. That's why we're here, now, why I met you at all, why..." Why I will die for you, as opposed to, say, living happily ever after.
Oh well. Take what you can get and make the best of it. What more can you really do?
"I guess I'm lucky, really. Miss is quite the beauty. They must have decided to answer my prayers!" he said, laughing heartily, and she half turned towards him, a twitch at his flippant words.
Suddenly, it occurred to him that after her initial surprise, she'd never accused him of joking about it, no matter how silly he seemed. She gave him that much.
Her eyes were fathoms deep; staring into them, he could never quite make up his mind if they were calm or stormy, it always felt as if they were both at once. As if there was so much of her he would never get to see. "That was all you prayed for?"
No. But how to say it...? He shrugged, slightly sheepish. "I asked for a favour. A small one."
"What was it?"
"... That I know who I would die for. So I would be able to love her, with what time I have."
At least the gods had given him this much.
She turned away then. "Then... maybe I will pray too," she said quietly, even as she began to walk away.
Perhaps she meant him to catch her words, perhaps she spoke only to herself.
"Pray that the Kamui... finds a way to change your fate."
... Was that hope? Hope... for what?
He watched her leave and wondered... which did he wish for? Closed his eyes and laughed, softly. Just when he thought he'd had his destiny all figured out...
Gods, fate was such a strange thing.