A/N: A bit different than what I usually do, I'll admit. I found this one again when I was digging through my one-shots. I remember my parents were talking about their university's participation in the Tiananmen students' revolt in 1989 (in China) and I suddenly got inspired. I'm not entirely sure if I like what I ended up with; maybe you guys will. :) This is not meant to reflect exactly what China went through; I see it as a made-up land. Pronounce Ein's name as you wish; I pronounce it like you would 'Ian'. As for Girl for Hire, I'm workin' on it, I swear. Uni has started up again, and I'm swamped but I'm truckin' away. Anyway... enjoy!
Ein was my death sentence for myself. Not him, but the fact that I loved him.
I think that I always knew I came in second place, in his eyes. I was dear to him, and beautiful—but his beloved country was dearer to his heart, and ten times more beautiful than I could ever be. I was his Aya, his little tiger—but his country was his mother, his heart, his soul. I swear if he had been born anywhere else he would have found his way back to where we were now and joined in the revolution regardless of if he had ties or not—it was such a part of him.
Twenty years old and already losing out on the game of love to an inanimate object, to a piece of ground filled with soil. To a simple girl who wanted nothing more than her fairytale ending with her knight upon white steed, it devastated. It broke. And it taught.
I met Ein when we were only twelve, and already he was carrying around a little flag in his pocket and spouting national anthems and the misdeeds of the government, the little patriot. He even had his little sister reciting the history of our nation, and Rinna could distinguish between the 'good' laws and the 'bad' ones when she was only three and barely knew what the big words meant at all. I never found out how Ein got all the information in the first place—his parents were like me, gladder about the simple things in life like food, music, and family. They didn't know the first thing about government.
Twelve-year-old Ein was considered too intense and serious by the other children to play with. As for me, I was too caught up in his messy hair and his gray eyes to notice anything else. I became the annoying tag-along, who he was constantly irritated at because I didn't share his passionate views for the need of change, of war. That's what he said, anyway. Personally, I always believed that he was secretly glad of my company so he had an audience to preach at. I only pretended to listen, but it was all the same to him. I wasn't his target audience anyway—he was warming up with me so he could one day face the corrupt nation leaders himself.
Even after Ein sprouted up in size and looks, and had half the neighborhood girls after him, he didn't change. The country in its vastness took up most of his limited love—the leftovers of it only reached to Rinna, his parents, and occasionally me. I think I might have convinced him into some of it—I was constantly telling him that he loved me right after he voiced the contrary.
For the other girls, it didn't work, but for me—it miraculously did. I don't remember the day that, "Aya, shut up and go away" melted into, "Aya, shut up and come a little closer."
I was seventeen then, and our country was at a standstill. Ein was always in a good mood because talk in the horizon said the current leaders were on the verge of being overthrown by the democratic rebels. I should have realized that that was the only reason Ein had time for me—but a part of me is still convinced that he did love me, not my audience—me. I want to believe that it, we, would have happened no matter what, in war or peace.
I want to believe that I am not dreaming of the first night in misled hopes.
September nights were always warm, where we lived. Most complained about the continuous heat, but the Indian summer was one of the many reasons Ein loved our country so much. He always sat out in the park close by his house in one of the ancient oak tree's lower-hanging limbs, stargazing until past midnight. I hoped to see him that night, and brought out my telescope to learn a little more about the constellations in our sky—but he wasn't looking at the sky. Instead, he was leaning against the trunk reading a book by flashlight.
"The New Revolution," I read the title skeptically. "Sounds… exciting."
"It is," he affirmed absentmindedly, and I grew a bit impatient.
"Ein, I thought you were over all of the revolution talk. Our country is so peaceful right now."
"Our country is still led by the same barbarians as it was when we were little, Aya," he told me matter-of-factly. "And there is talk of a coming war soon, a fight. And we will get to be a part of it." His expression melted into one of excitement—while mine grew into one of petulance.
"Joy," I said sarcastically, crossing my skinny arms.
He'd finally looked up from his book with a small grin, focusing his rare attention on me. "Come here, Aya." He held out his arms, tanned from so many days working for the People in the sun, building schools, and going to student-led rallies. Sighing, I flopped down on the grass next to him, feeling his heartbeat against my shoulder.
I looked at him, but he was reading his huge essay in book form again and had quickly became engrossed, sometimes murmuring passages aloud like love songs into my ear. I grew annoyed at his insistent buzz, and slapped my hand down on one of the pages so he couldn't read further. He looked up, quizzical.
"Don't you ever get tired of all these politics?" I asked.
He shrugged. "It is my interest. Don't you ever get tired of following me around?"
I swatted his arm. "Don't make fun."
"Ow!" He complained, rubbing at the place my fist had come down on his bicep. "You may look skinny, but you pack a mean punch."
"Tiger, not pussycat," I reminded him of my dubbed nickname, pulling at his dark hair, and he laughed.
"Right." His eyes flickered back over to the open pages balanced in his lap. "Aya, if only you tried going to a student event at the university… or tried reading this book," he told me. "You would find out that it's not as boring as—"
"As you make it seem?" I joked. He smirked and tapped me on the nose but didn't let me lead him off topic.
"No, it's not as boring as you think it is. The feeling when all of us band together to oppose all this fraudulence and all the lies—the passion—the thought that someday our children might live in a better world than we do, one where they're free to decide what to do or where to go or how to think…"
But I had drifted off on a tangent for a moment and had to clear something up. "Our children?" I raised a curious brow. "Our children as in, you and I, or our children as in, this great nation's antecessors?"
If I didn't know Ein better, I could have sworn he was embarrassed. As it were, a dull pink rose showed through his golden skin. "The antecessor thing," he muttered.
He only was thrown off for a moment before once again raising up his novel. "Here, let me read some of it to you. You'll find it's not that bad." He cleared his throat, then began: "So rise then, brothers, and stop committing the cyclical sins of our fathers. Countries under similar absolute dictatorships found themselves rotting in a scorching pit of hell. We are not to believe that this miserable history will not continue its' ravaging cycle…"
His soft voice that usually had me enraptured now had me horrified. He was right, it wasn't as boring as I thought: it was worse, plus a side of hellfire and brimstone. So I slapped my hand on the page again. Sometimes it took repetition to get a point through a man's head.
He sighed, but before he could reprimand me, I said hastily, putting on my best pout, "Could we please talk about something else? For once?"
If anybody else except Rinna or I had interrupted him when he was in his element, he would have scowled, resisted the urge to kick their face in, and stalked away. With me, he glared playfully for a minute before snapping his book shut.
"What do you suggest?" He leaned forward. As always, that did me in—his gray eyes. I found myself unable to speak before managing to grasp my metal telescope lying by my side.
"Maybe teach me a few stars?" I suggested weakly, but he was already closing his hand around the telescope and putting it back down on the ground.
"Actually, I have a few ideas," he'd whispered. "Let's have a vote." He'd never kissed me before; I was surprised by his sudden ardor. I had given him a few playful kisses on the cheek, but he'd never instigated anything in return. Perhaps it was the autumn moon, but that night Ein was bold, and nuzzled his nose against my cheek before softly brushing his lips once, twice against mine.
"Idea number one," he said lowly. Then, he'd reached up a hand, cupped my cheek, and kissed me again, slow and deliberate. His mouth nudged mine open, his tongue grazed my teeth and lips, and I felt myself shudder.
"Two," he'd continued.
And then, before I knew what was happening, he was wrapping his arms around my thin frame and fiercely kissing me and kissing me until I could not breathe. His hot lips traced a line down my jaw. I felt faint.
"Idea three," he said, voice a little hoarse. "Which one do you vote for?"
Even as I'd said 'three', I had inwardly smiled. Ein, always and forever the democratic patriot.
That was before the revolution he'd always said would come, but which I never believed would. That winter we were twenty-two, and our world had changed practically overnight. We went to bed in a world of muted colors, of snow, and of gray skies; and when we woke up, we were in a sea of red. Red, the color of revolution.
Ein often asked me if I saw red in his eyes, since he was seeing so much of it past the physical color that littered our streets. I always gave in and said yes to make him smile, but I wanted to say no. No, I thought in my head, your eyes are so gray. Gray like the skies, gray like the color of winter when everything is supposed to be quiet and calm. My amber eyes contained more red than his did.
When the university Ein attended started a student activist group, it would have been almost redundant to say that Ein joined almost immediately and, because of his eloquence for motivating students and delivering speeches, was quickly pushed up the ranks and became locally famous. I saw him less and less as he started leading sit-ins, protests, and marches outside the capital offices. Rinna and his parents were concerned for his safety, but I, like the narrow-minded girl I was, was angry with him only because I wanted him back.
To tide me over, fourteen-year-old Rinna told me that she was sure Ein was going to propose soon, when he found the time. "He's been carrying around this square thing in his pocket for a while and goes all funny when he's alone with it," she said to me one February morning when I was ready to smack Ein after he didn't even tell me goodbye before scurrying out the door to yet another demonstration.
She'd hoped it would calm me down, but instead, it stoked my anger and made me furious. I was angry at the ocean of red flags and banners, angry at the government, and angry at the falling country Ein so wanted to save because it was putting off my happily ever after.
Politics had stolen my life from me. I could care less about the state of the country we lived in: we could be under a fascist dictatorship, or we could be free-spirited hippies whose only law was love, like the system I'd heard about in the USA. I just wanted Ein. Sometimes I joined the rallies just so I could scream within a crowd and not be questioned twice about the noise. I was always given a banner I knew not the meaning of to hold, a monotonous mantra to shout, and a tedious song to sing at the top of my lungs. I would see Ein at a distance, his eyes glazed over at the passion all around him, and scream 'down with the tyrants!' at him, which I hoped he knew meant 'I hate you!'
But I always followed him, no matter what. I wanted him to possess that same fervor for me as he did when he was up on a podium speaking, but since that wasn't possible, I settled for being near him when he was that crazed and zealous. I hung onto the hope of the 'square thing' in his pocket, and imagined the day under the tree.
And night after night, I shrieked my fury at him alone under the stars.
Ein's co-worker, fellow Red Student Activist General Quinn, whom I'd met and liked immediately because of his love of witty banter (mostly with me), died on my twenty-third birthday. He was only twenty-five. The news on television reported that he'd been leading a peace march when a stray bullet from a security guard accidentally lodged in his head.
None of us believed that for a second.
A cold winter became colder.
Ein's parents pleaded with him to stop wasting his life away to the revolutionary cause before he was killed too, but Ein refused. He was gaunter now, not as filled out as he used to be because of the fasts he often went on, and his skin was a sallow color. His gray eyes which I loved so much constantly had dark circles marring the skin underneath, and his messy hair became wilder and wilder. He still occasionally flirted with me, and would sometimes poke at my stomach to tickle me. But his interest was fleeting, and people wearing the red armbands were constantly at his door for advice, or to tell him the latest news.
When Rinna appeared one morning wearing a red headscarf, I almost cried. She denied profusely that Ein had anything to do with her decision, but I knew better. Ein was her world just as much as he was mine, and just like our country was his. She didn't care about any type of battle or fight. But like when she was a toddler repeating sounds her big brother taught her, she started spewing phrases and mottos, and making her parents don red too.
Then another student died, then thirteen more, then another twenty-seven—and our government could no longer claim that they weren't purposeful murders.
Ein threw what was left of himself into the clash, the front line.
And I shrieked still.
And then one day, it was September again. The unusually cold summer had blown itself out to reveal a mild autumn. I found myself under the toppled remains of the giant oak in the park, wondering why Ein never came here to look at the heavens anymore. His thoughts were now constantly bent upon the ground beneath, upon his sacred, adored ground.
This particular afternoon, he unusually came to find me.
"You'll be missing your conference," I reminded him, fiddling with the red headband he had given me a while before.
Ein grinned. "I wanted to see you, though."
"I'm not going." I retorted. I sometimes gave in when Ein specifically asked me to accompany him to his events and things. I would pretend to be the good little revolutionary girl, with my flag and my informational pamphlets and my badges and my songs. But today, I was not in the mood.
"You don't have to go. I just want to spend time with my favorite girl."
"Favorite eh," I grumbled. "That's news to me."
Without waiting for invitation, Ein sat himself down on the tree trunk above where I was propped up against on the ground. "Aya, I'm sorry I don't spend as much time with you as I should. You should know…" he stopped and stuck his hand into his right pocket, where I could clearly see from the corners of my eyes the outline of a square… something. He continued, "You should know, that after all this is over, I'll be… I'll be different. I promise. I just want a good life for our children. You know that. Better than anyone."
I furrowed my brows, aggravated that he was speaking of our antecessors again like he was the great founding father of our land. "Our children. Right."
He used a leg to nudge my arm, and I could feel how thin he was through his clothes. "The you and I kind," he said, and I was surprised.
"Really?" My gaze unwittingly fell to the square in his pocket.
Ein's grin grew wider at the look on my face, and he took my hand. "So," he said nonchalantly, "do you vote for one, two, or three?"
We'd used that system ever since the first time, and it had become a kind of code, especially when I was angry with him or when he was under pressure and about to crack. It was to lighten the mood.
But a student, one I didn't recognize, came running up to Ein then, out of breath, and whispered something in his ear that made his eyes round with shock.
"I want three," I told him as the student, clad head to toe in eye-blinding red, ran off again. "I vote idea three."
But he smiled, and said, "I'm afraid it can only be one, this time," and barely grazed my lips with his before he was stepping away. "Do you see red in my eyes?" He asked, and defeated, I halfheartedly nodded yes. And then he was waving goodbye. "I'll make it up to you later," he promised.
I sat back down on the ground, cursing him.
And it was like that that Ein's mother found me, an hour and twenty minutes later, still mumbling under my breath. She was in tears, and I did not immediately get up my guard, for the woman sometimes cried at the easiest and most ridiculous things.
But then she'd said those three words, those three, life-shattering words, and they were like three vicious daggers to my heart.
"Ein is murdered."
Ein is murdered.
And I suddenly was, too.
It was only when I let Ein and Rinna's mother into my room, two weeks later, with an old newspaper that I found out what happened. The conference, which was originally to be held in secret in a basement to decide the students' next move, had been found out. Nine students had been viciously beaten to death by police before Ein showed up at the scene and attempted to do what he did best: persuade the police to leave.
They refused. A mob fight broke out.
Ein, who was trying to separate a police officer from beating Rinna with his night-stick, had been shot three times in the back, two of which splintered his spine, and one that pierced straight through his heart. Rinna died a day later of internal bleeding.
Just like that. It was so simple.
The unmarked graves were placed in a remote cemetery outside the boundaries of the country, with all the other casualties from the war. They did not get a wake. We did not get to see them. Our government did it to mock us, to let the ramshackle graves serve as a reminder to anyone else who might still be against them. Ein, who had fought so hard, harder than anyone else, for the nation, could not even become one with it.
And for the first time ever, I hated our government as much as Ein once had.
The government may have owned us, but the country was Ein's. It always had been, always would. I had a bizarre dream a few nights later that it was Mother Nature herself who gave him his life, who formed him out of her very roots and soil. I was his Aya, his favorite girl, yes. But our country, she was his. I was twenty-four, and I had already lost the love of my life to an invisible girl with a green thumb.
When Ein's mother brought the newspaper, she also brought the square thing that had been in Ein's pocket. It was a small, navy box, and worn at the edges, as if he'd constantly been touching it, been opening it.
"I'm almost positive it was for you," she'd told me. "We wanted you to open it first."
I held my breath. I didn't want to open it. And yet I had to know.
The hinges creaked when I cracked the box open. My fingers were shaking.
I pulled out the small object inside, laid amongst the threadbare velvet, and stared at it, transfixed. It was a small, rolled up flag—a flag from the days of our country's democracy, long ago, which had been banned from the country by our tyrant government when they came into power. The flag was red. Red like the revolution.
I remember Ein's mother's eyes dimming before me in the room. "I thought… I thought…"
I walked out.
I want to say I didn't love Ein after that. I want to say I left him be to the earth. But that would be a lie. I kept the flag in my nightstand, and though my mother tried to persuade me to cast it into the fire, or toss it into the sea, I held onto it. It was the last thing I had of Ein's, and the closest to a ring I would ever receive, and I would never let the earth take it away from me. Sometimes I took it out to brush my finger against the delicate silk fabric, and the cloth felt like Ein underneath my fingers. I imagined him holding onto the box here, grasping the clasp there. I imagined that inside the box was a golden band, that we lived somewhere else, that we were married and I was pregnant and that he doted upon me.
I wanted a happily ever after. Like in the princesses in the fairytales we read about.
But those princesses never had war in their country. Even if they did, their princes were devoted to them and them alone, and every battle they fought were for their girls. Those Prince Charmings always had the thought of their wife burning in the backs of their minds when they went forth to war. Those princes would always preserve themselves as best they could for their family, making sure they would come back alive. Ein, on the other hand, marched forward with abandon into the blazing horizon.
My story, a far cry from any sort of fairytale, placed me, the female lead, in second place. In a strange way, I realize that I wrote my own demise.
But it is my story, it is my reality, and it is my ending. I must accept it.
I condemned myself to death, but because of Ein, I went willingly.