Reflections of Song, Love, and Light

Yamato - -26 - -13 - 0

    It's August 25 and evening is approaching in the mountains of Eas. It was said that the area around the castle would be part of a particular special ceremony dedicated to the Firefly Festival. For the first time in centuries, Eas shall take part in a ritual to remember the loved ones who have fallen and inspire all gathered there to look ahead on the many joys that lie ahead.

    Thinking of little Yui, their Taka, Asuna passed on news of this to Klein and asked if they might all go together. From what she heard, the best view of all would be from the lake itself. And so Asuna not only asked to go, but to get a boat they might use for the occasion. Considering how hard it has been for Asuna to focus on anything but cooking a hundred different versions of pasta and pizza, this marks a rare moment of true lucidity.

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When Asuna started really experiment with trying to recreate Italian cooking, it was a happy day for Klein. After all, being the boyfriend of the person who's suddenly having the cooking bug is a good thing, right? He had his suspicions on what was actually going on, and after nearly a week of yet a slightly new experiment of pasta, that answered that in his mind. So, instead of helping take care of one, he was taking care of both important women in his life. He had to make sure someone wasn't spending all night sipping a new kind of sauce, after all.

So when Asuna asked to go see the special ceremony at Eas, Klein dropped everything he could to make sure everything was needed. Plenty of others were also hoping to do the same thing and there was a shortage of boats, however.

So Klein made one himself just for the three of them the day before.

Playfully bowing and motioning to the sturdy rowboat he had built on the lake shore, Klein made a show of being the perfect gentleman. "Please, ladies first!"
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    Of course one needs to dress for the occasion. Which in Eas in summer means comfortable and cool with flowy skirts and soft blouses. It's all decorated with the roses known in the area, though it seems that crows are also finding their way into things. Taka was rather taken with a blue skirt with a ring of acrobatic crows performing along the hem.

    "It's so busy tonight. I can't believe you were able to get us such a nice boat to use!" Asuna is, well, a bit out of sorts. Strange mood does it to all adventurers from time to time. Fortunately she has not lost her focus in a way that impacted Taka. More fortunately yet, she has Klein to help her through all this.

    Taka climbs into the boat with some help, following her mother. "I like your boat! It's very good!" she exclaims. She doesn't jump in it, but she does shift on her feet, testing how steady it is. Okay, then she jumps on it. But just once!

    "Is it true, though? They are going to make fire light fly tonight?"

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Grinning happily to himself, Klein starts to slowly push the rowboat into the lake, being careful not to tip his mighty vessel. His iconic headband in place like always contrasts the white flowing shirt. No need to change his pants to be comfortable here, though, the black baggy pair of pants fit him just as well for casual wear.

Hopping into the rowboat just as it leaves the shore, Klein takes his seat and starts to slowly row outwards on the beautiful lake, making sure not to disturb the surface too much. "Actually, I had to come up here yesterday and build my own boat. There's no way I was just going to have us watch from the shore!"

Klein had attended such a festival back in the real world once. He didn't remember too much of that night except the finale, and a part of him was looking forward to it as well. "Yep! Basically, hot air rises from a fire, so the lanterns are going to drift away after they're let go. I see something under your seat, Taka?"

No, Klein didn't build his daughter her own lantern and hid it on the boat. What do you think he is, a caring father?
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    Asuna is happy to focus on the sights and leave the rowing to Klein. She has never done that before. Not in the real world and never in the game, either. She will keep an arm around Taka as the boat drifts out towards the middle of the lake. It's a wide expanse and surprisingly still, this far from the falls.

    As they arrive, the sun sets. The clouds, thin all day, are almost gone. The few that remain are on the western horizon, where they briefly blaze in a rose colored sunset, then golden glow, before fading away.

    Taka, of course, takes the time to look under her seat and spies a lantern. She can barely contain her excitement. "We get to set a light into the sky!"

    But in addition to that excitement is memory. What the festival is about, and those who used to take her to small festivals back in Eastel. It doesn't bring tears, but it does blunt her enthusiasm with a sobering understanding of what happened before, and what this is all about. The result is that she trails into silence.

    "When the time comes, we will set the lantern into the sky together," Asuna says gently, pressing a soft kiss to her daughter's hair.

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Several years ago, Klein never rowed a boat a day in his life. Never stepped on one either, but ETO has been a learning experience for everyone. As time went, learning how to row properly became a useful skill, and being able to do so silently helped out a few times. Never say that getting trapped in a virtual world doesn't give you something!

Thankfully, the weather working perfectly with the plans for the evening, with not a rain cloud in sight to treaten the festive mood. As the reflective surface of the lake mirror the last rays of the day, it strikes Klein once more just how beautiful nature is. At times when you are completely caught up in the busy life of an Adventurer, sometimes you just need to step away for a moment and reflect.

The realization hitting Taka all at once has him reaching over and gently ruffling her raven locks, playful yet understanding all in the same gesture. "And we're always here for you if you need it. Okay?" Letting go, that same hand rests on Asuna's shoulder and gives her a quick squeeze. They were here for their daughter.
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    Take bobs her head slightly in a nod. "Always. You promise?" Her voice is tentative. She's never quite asked this before, but she's always giving little hints of her nervousness each time that she's dropped off at the Links for her school and day care.

    Asuna shares a smile with Klein, lifting a hand to touch his. She looks into his eyes, thinking about that question. Always. It's the short words that have a way of being so very profound.

    Asuna's response, "Eien ni," or 'eternally', is gently said. As an adventurer, it has a great power behind it. What sends others away forever merely delays them for a day.

    There is time to reflect in the gentle quiet that follows. A silence in which the light grows less and less. The moons are new, allowing the stars to gleam. Along the beaches, a few torches are lit, but the lanterns are shuttered. The castle goes dark. The village follows. Only the pale gleam of the great pumeria shape that is the concert hall remains largely visible, perched as it is on the edge of the lake.

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Ask Klein several years ago if he would be in this exactly situation, and he would had confidently said no with no hesitation. He'll have to be lucky enough to find a woman he loves before he even thinks of having a kid, and he would have said that was impossible. But now, in such a short amount of time, he has both. And even now he still wonders just how lucky he is to be here now.

Sharing a look with Asuna, eyes shining at the joy they have found, he huffs as if he was offended that Taka even had to ask. Of course she did, she had to know without a shadow of a doubt, but he never questioned it. "With all my love."

Sitting down on the rowboat again next to Asuna, he wraps an arm around her waist. The silence that follows after those words are almost opressive, holding a weight that doesn't seem possible to break. It's as if, at this moment, the world itself is holding it's breath as it waits for something to follow.
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    There's a hush that settles over the area. Even the chatter of birds falls silent as the darkness settles in. Then it starts: music softly flows from around the lake. So many voices raised in a wordless song. It's the kind of music that manages to avoid being happy or sad. The notes blend and hold, so that for a time, there is no silence.

    In this moment of peace, Asuna leans into Klein's embrace. Taka watches the adventurers for a time, and then moves to settle herself in Klein's lap.

    Shortly after, the gasps of hundreds of people along the shore joins the song. What has captured their attention is easy to see. Along the walls of the castle, hundreds of lanterns are set free. The time now being at hand, the same thing begins on the shore line to the east, and then in smaller numbers in other directions. Hundreds of lanterns are lit and gently begin their ascent into the night.

    Knowing it is time, Asuna picks up the lantern and holds it up, so that Klein can help Taka light it. The Flash looks at the lantern and whispers, "I... heard that part of the lantern lighting is to share a story of the fallen. And, that it is okay to cry."

    She draws in a jagged breath and lets it go. She's struggling. The emotions threaten to overwhelm her.

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Klein was not expecting music to be played, especially this far out on the lake. It is a fusion of both the number of musicians and the lack of any other sound that allow it to be heard so clearly. Listening to the music, he doesn't even react too much as Taka take a seat in his lap. No, he just follows his instincts and wrap his other arm around his little girl to keep her safe.

And then the lanterns are released, their brillance rivaling the stars in the sky above. Quietly, he materalizes a simple wax candle out of his inventory. With the ease of practice, he flicks out a finger and a small open flame comes to life, lighting the candle. He then offers it to Taka, placing it gently in her hands before lifting up the lantern steady for her to light.

In many ways, Klein is a fortunate man. The friends that he is sure he left behind are waiting for him back home. He had no deaths to mourn, no family that wasn't already there with him here. So he stays silent as he watches the lantern be lit by Taka before letting it go, to join the other newly born stars in the sky.
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    Taka focuses carefully on the lighting of the lantern. She knows that candles need to be handled with great care.

    "Papa taught me that it's important to be careful with fire," she says quietly. "He used to make candles." Her eyes take on a distant look into them as the lantern is lit. Softly its light flickers inside the lantern.

    "Mama had to remind him not to work too late. She would scold him so when he was not at the table for dinner!" She lets out a little giggle. "But her heart was never in it. All he had to do was smile."

    Asuna reaches out to put out the candle and to collect it from Taka. The lantern warms up, and is soon ready to be released. Its ascent is slow, the weight on it designed to ascend, but at a very easy pace.

    Taka watches the lantern. A silvery tear slides first from the right eye, and then the left. "I miss their smiles so much. I miss their voices so much." She trembles in Klein's lap and the tears come in earnest.

    Asuna smiles sadly, stroking Taka's hair, her fingers combing through the little girl's locks. She finds her vision growing blurry from tears of her own.

    "T-the.. the last thing they said to me was the same. I remember it." Taka's voice is barely a whisper now, just audible as close as she is to her new family. "They said 'I'm always at your side.' They-they both said it. And then..." Finally it comes out. In one flood of tears. A voice sobbing in pain.

    "... they were gone."

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Nothing is said as Taka speaks, as he listens to the little girl with raven hair speak about her birth parents. He doesn't want to say anything too early, in case it might block the stream of her words. It wasn't a pain Klein himself has felt, not yet, but it's one that shouldn't be felt by one so young. He even smiles as she mentions her workaholic of a father, how it reminds him of his own.

Despite that, a single tear of his own slide down his cheeks as Taka lets it out, and he wraps both of his arms around the small child. "We're not them." It sounds almost cruel but Klein is quick to add on. "Me and Asuna, we're not replacing your birth parents, nor do I mean to. The memories you have of them, their smiles, their tears, the warmth of their hugs saying goodnight to you? Cherish them and try to never let them go."

Gingerly, Klein wipes his hand along Taka's cheeks, doing what he can to clean her face. "But...we want to continue being here for you, if you let us. The short time you been in my life has been some of the happiest days in my life. I want to continue being there for you, so your dad can rest easy. Okay?"

It's a lot to ask for someone Taka's age. She might even say no, but...Klein doesn't have any doubt in his body on this.
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    Taka watches the lantern slowly float upwards. She listens to what Klein says carefully. Her little face turns to study his. It's hard to make out the emotion there, in the fading light of the little lantern. Landers, especially children, are rarely like Taka is. Thoughtful, emotional, and aware of the emotions of Adventurers.

    "The Firefly Festival is not only about looking back."

    It's strange for Asuna, to hear her voice so steady, when her tears are flowing down her cheeks. A smile is curving her lips. Bittersweet, but also calm, strong, and certain.

    "It is about looking ahead. About appreciating how those who moved on, the ones we still love, remain part of our lives. We feel their love forever. And we are grateful for what they have done for us. What they continue to do for us, so long as we remember."

    Asuna gently rubs Taka's back, now turned to her as the child continues to look up at Klein.

    "We'll never forget them, Taka. And like Klein said, we are always here for you."

    Taka looks over to Asuna, and then back to Klein. She's not really debating what to do. She's finding the right words. They are difficult to find. What word fits what she feels? The little girl needs time.

    "Papa? Will you be my new papa?"

Yamato - -26 - -13 - 0

The duo of Asuna and Klein work perfectly here, explaining both aspects of the Firefly Festival. Too often does someone focus entirely on the past or into the future, becoming prisoners to the deeds that can't be changed or what may never come. It's by keeping both in perspective that allows someone to walk forward, head held high and heart clear. He can be proud that he has helped Taka heal, even if only a little.

Then Taka asks her question. Such a simple one, and one he clearly never expected to hear. Shock, awe and disbelief are clear to see as he looks down at the little girl sitting in his lap. Then, one of his famous grins appears on Klein's face, even as tears threaten to fall from his eyes.

He really has to be one of the luckiest guys ever.

"...of course. Of course i'll be your papa!"

If any of the guys of Fuurinkazan were here...well, Klein knows they would be so jealous of him right now.
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    The question comes as a surprise. But a welcome one. Of course, there's also a sudden knot in Asuna's stomach. She's nervous, expectant, feeling a glut of emotions, some, quite frankly, not terribly fair. One as close to her as Klein is can probably guess that Asuna's 'not good enough' engine is currently telling her why she's not worthy of the same treatment.

    But that engine is just plain wrong.

    Taka throws her arms around Klein's neck and hugs tight. But she's a gentle girl, and as excited as she is, she knows enough to understand how Asuna is feeling.

    The face, wet with tears of joy now, turns to look back at the nervous woman sitting near. Asuna's hands are both on her skirt, clutching it in a trembling grip. There's an uncertainty in Taka's gaze, as if she somehow doubts that Asuna will answer like Klein did.

    And yet it has to be asked before Asuna can agree. The struggle is harder. It took all her courage to ask papa. She hasn't enough left to do it again. So with all Taka has left, she says softly, "Mama?"

    The Flash does not move swiftly. She's trembling. She's held the child so many times before. But never quite as her mother. Never quite like this.

    The hug winds around Klein and Taka both. Asuna can't stop crying. It's harder for her to answer, even if the answer is obvious. It's always been there. An ache she didn't even know existed, at last relieved.

    "A-always! You're our daughter, our precious Taka."