Swan Song

Mar 21st, 2019
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  1. The first streaks of light scatter in the bedroom of your apartment, slowly waking you despite the early hour. It’s hard to sleep in with your regular schedule. Today though it’s a blessing. You know you need to spend as much time as you can with Alita. She murmurs something in her sleep and rolls on to her side. You take a moment to admire the intricate twists of the berserker superstructure which melds with the deep purple of her muscle strands. You brush your fingertips across the ridges of her back, and you hear a sleepy hum in response. Your heart soars and you shuffle up to her, draping an arm across her shoulder as she cuddles in to you. Subconsciously she entwines her legs with yours while she slowly wakes up. Her eyes are blurry with sleep, and she yawns deeply. You hug her tighter and gently speak.
  3. “Morning Ali.”
  5. “Mmmmh five more minutes.” Her response is lazy, and she shifts under the covers before closing her eyes again. You chuckle and kiss her hair.
  7. “Always, but we do have a big day today.” There is an edge of sadness threatening to splinter your words, but you push it away as she smiles, content in your arms.
  9. -///-
  11. “So where are we going?” Her voice is curious and excited. Even now after more than a year in Iron City she’s still constantly looking forward to new things. The two of you walk hand-in-hand through the hectic crowd, dodging people and vehicles alike as you make your way to your breakfast locale.
  13. “There’s a little hole in the wall which a friend of mine showed me- you’ll love it.” She squeezes your hand in response and after a few more cuts through the crowd, you find yourselves down one of Iron City’s many alleyways. Even in the morning light, shadows play across the cobblestones, leaving the path ahead indistinct. She looks at you expectantly, and you point towards a plain door, partially hidden behind a chipped structural pillar. The door leads to an old wooden staircase; the varnish long-since faded and the handrails alternatively missing and broken. Alita’s face shows a growing concern, but she follows along behind you and after two flights of climbing, you eventually arrive at a much newer looking door. A small blue bird is carved in to the door with flowing script underneath indicating the name of the place: The Aviary.
  15. You step through the low frame, ducking underneath and Alita follows, her excitement returning in full force. Inside is a tiny little café. It looks like it would seat no more than eight people, on handcrafted wooden tables and chairs. The walls are adorned with paintings of birds; dozens of them across the walls and ceiling. More types of birds than you thought possible. You turn to her an watch as she spins around the room, mouth agape.
  17. “This place is beautiful!” Her voice is bright and sparkling.
  19. “Go have a look up close. I’ll get breakfast going.”
  21. She beams and rushes to the far wall, where a bird outlined in orange-red flame spreads its wings. A little line of golden script underneath entitles it: “Phoenix”. While she examines the painting, you discreetly step through another door and greet the owner and chef: Alfonse. He shakes your hand with his cybernetic limb and after a few hushed words begins to work on the meal you previously arranged. You step back out in to the sitting area, where Alita has climbed on to one of the tables to look at the detail of a snow-white heron splashed across the ceiling. You grab a water bottle and two glasses as you pull up a chair at the table next to the one she’s on. She turns back to you and with a little chagrined smile steps down and takes a seat opposite.
  23. “I probably shouldn’t do that, huh?”
  25. You laugh softly before responding.
  27. “I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.”
  29. She winks at you and nods in agreement. There’s a beat of silence before she gestures around again and continues the conversation.
  31. “So, what is this place? Who painted all the birds?”
  33. “You’ll get to meet the owner soon. His name is Alfonse. From what I know, he found a book on birds when he was young and fell in love with them.” You take a moment before continuing. “Just like I fell in love with you.”
  35. She smiles abashedly and taps your arm. The blush is worth the lame comment though, and you feel warmth spreading through your soul. The two of you sit there, hands held across the table and enjoy the old wood smell of the café. Sun reaches in through skylights, giving room a soft glow. Before long you hear footsteps and out steps Alfonse. He carries two plates in his human left hand, and presents a tray with four glasses on it in the cybernetic right. Alita claps her hands together in delight and then waves at him as he makes his way to your table. He pauses for just a second as surprise flashes across his face, and then continues until he carefully places a plate in front of you each. The dishes in front of you are steaming, fluffy pancakes. Cream, chocolate syrup, all the trappings meld in to an incredible smell. Alita looks at the stack in awe. Alfonse places the glasses down- an orange juice and coffee each; an unfathomably rare drink in Iron City. He steps back and addresses you both.
  37. “Welcome to The Aviary. I hope you enjoy the fare.” He turns to speak to Alita directly. “I note that your esteemed companion here had neglected to inform me that our Final Champion would be visiting my little establishment today.” The mock-affront is clear in his words.
  39. Final Champion.
  41. The words send a spike of sorrow down your spine, but you simply grin and profusely apologise for the slight as Alfonse waves you off. He finishes his speech by shaking Alita’s hand, and wishing her good luck. She’s graceful about it smiling when he does, promising to represent the people of Iron City well. She’s learned so much about how to interact with fans over the last year. You feel the pride grow in your heart. What an impressive champion she is. With Alfonse departing, you turn to the plate before you. Alita doesn’t seem to know where to start, still awestruck at the food in front of her, so you take the initiative and explain what it is.
  43. “I thought you’d probably like pancakes- start there so the coffee can cool down a bit.”
  45. She nods gratefully and takes the first bite of the pancake stack. Her eyes widen and then roll in pleasure.
  47. “This is amazing! They’re so light and fluffy! I never knew breakfast could be so good.”
  49. She eats quickly, and you too dig in to the food. Alfonse certainly knows his cooking, and you find yourself ravenous as you eat. Still, you spend the time watching her as she savours every mouthful. She has such an expressive face, and you know she doesn’t lie. She finishes eating before you, and you suggest that she try the coffee. Though she smells it, making a face as she does, she gives it a sip. You taste your own and enjoy the bitterness of the fresh brew. It’s an unusual flavour here in Iron City. She keeps a surprisingly straight face as she mulls over the taste.
  51. “What do you think?”
  53. “Hmmm- it’s a special flavour. Not my favourite but thanks for showing me.” She has a little smirk now, and she steps out of her seat to walk towards you. Your surprise must have shown because she puts a finger across her lips and sits down on your lap. Her body is warm, even through the jeans and top she’s wearing. She leans in close to your face and you feel your heart beat faster. You stare in to her eyes as she whispers to you.
  55. “Not as much as I like the taste of you.” Alita gives you a kiss, but as you lean in to it she breaks off and skips back to her seat. You stifle a grunt and she winks at you.
  57. “Besides, we have to finish our drinks!” You know the innocent eyelid batting is false, but your heart flutters nevertheless and you sit back, sipping your coffee, smiling slightly. The ethereal beauty of the situation settles on you; it feels like time doesn’t exist outside of this bubble. Still, eventually Alfonse comes to collect your plates and drinks, and after a quick argument where he resolutely refuses to take any payment for the food, you set out back down the stairs to the outside world. Together you hold hands, and together you step in to the alley and the midday sun, on to the next step in your adventure.
  59. -///-
  61. There is a special place; a place that you’ve never shown anyone before. It’s buried a few levels down in the undercity. The ladders down to it are harsh steel, and you carefully guide Alita through the piles of rubble and waste, before eventually your journey levels out. You both know that she’s strong enough to make her own way through, but the little touches here and there spark fire and love. She’s so graceful, moving through the debris here.
  63. Eventually you reach a hatch, set in to the ground in a shadowy corner of the third level. Water drips somewhere, and as you fiddle with the lock, Alita stands casual guard, eyeing off the shadows in the area while humming a soft tune. This is the safest you’ve ever felt coming here. You’re always safe with her. The lock pops open and with a triumphant heave, you pull the hatch. You gesture to Alita to climb down the steel ladder first, and she deftly does so. The curiosity in her eyes in unmistakeable, and you silently pray that everything works. As you climb down and close the hatch behind you, you flip the switch for the lights and after an agonizing second, warm yellow light bathes the tiny room below. You hear Alita gasp, and you step down in to your little sanctuary. The place isn’t much bigger than your living room. An old, beat up couch takes up most of the floor space, while a tiny fridge sits in the corner humming softly. Posters adorn the walls; from Motoball games of past, from the scrapyard, and some with designs pre-Fall. The thing that has caught Alita’s attention though is the bookshelf opposite the couch. It takes up most of the wall, and it’s packed to the brim with all kinds of books. You smile as she stares in wonder. Ever since you were little you’ve been collecting. She steps over to the shelf and gently strokes one of the spines.
  65. “I didn’t know this many books even existed.” Her wonder is beautiful, and you walk to meet her, grabbing her in a hug, the kind which has come to feel so comfortable.
  67. “I’ve been collecting them for a while. There’s some beautiful ones here.” She leans her head on your shoulder before responding.
  69. “These must be worth millions.” You rub the back of your head.
  71. “I’ve thought of selling them sometimes- when money was tight.”
  73. “You couldn’t! This place is amazing.” She’s so earnest that you just nod and kiss her head. She turns back to the shelf and asks. “What’s a good one?”
  75. You muse for a moment before reaching over to find a dusty old copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The illustrations have faded slightly with age, but the words are as clear as ever. Alita gently takes the book and together you move towards the couch. The two of you fall in to it, immediately settling in to your usual cuddle. It feels so right, and warm, and soft. The only sound is the beating of your hearts together, and the soft breaths you share. Alita’s face is a beacon of kindness and wonder, and you can’t help but softly run your hands across her cheeks. She smiles, and then opens the book up to the first page. The drawing of the Hare With No Time provides a backdrop for the book’s title, and as she flips the page, you hear her voice, quiet and caring.
  77. “Can you read it to me? I love hearing your voice.”
  79. “I’d love to.”
  81. So you begin, stroking her hair with your free hand and turning the pages with the other. You bring the words to life; Alita gasps and laughs and worries and you feel simply peace. You know you should keep track of the time, given the evening ahead, but for now, thoughts like this have no place in this sanctuary. Here there is just you and her, in a moment which lasts forever.
  83. -///-
  85. You stand in the harsh locker rooms of the Motorball arena and watch as she prepares the last touches of her outfit. The gleaming purple suits her so well. She has taken the war paint to heart, replacing the red with silvery streaks across and down her cheeks. More so than ever she’s the battle angel. Everything is in place, and it’s time for her to step out to the adoring crowd. She’s their Final Champion. Somehow you always knew she would make it. It doesn’t make this any easier though. She steps over to you and grabs you tight. She fits in to your arms so well. You do your very best to keep a level voice.
  87. “Good luck up there.”
  89. Her response is muffled in the way you’ve come love. You feel her words your very soul.
  91. “I’ll do what I have to and then I’ll be right back here. I promise.” You hear the determination; the steel in her words. And the softness underneath. You feel tears start to come, unbidden.
  93. “What if- what if you don’t come back?” Your words are shaky.
  95. “I will.”
  97. “But what if you don’t?” You know it’s pathetic, but the question tumbles out of you. The tears are flowing freely, and as she looks up at you her own eyes are glistening. Her voice is strong though, and you feel the affection and care behind every word.
  99. “If I don’t come back then you have to promise me something.” You nod, not trusting yourself to speak. “Promise that you’ll keep going with your life. I want you to be happy.”
  101. You wipe the tears from your face as best you can. Her face is close to yours so you kiss her, desperate and loving. She matches you, across moments and forever.
  103. “I love you so much.” Your words are hoarse.
  105. She smiles and gently takes your hand.
  107. “Here, I want to show you something.” You watch as she reaches towards her chest, and as the mechanical parts separate you see her heart, beating strong and steady. She carefully takes it out of its home and places it in your joined hands. You stifle a sob.
  108. “I once said I would give someone my heart. I now understand that I can’t give you this though, because you’re already here.” You feel the heart beat in your hands. “No matter what happens to me you’ll always be in here. It’s ok to let go. Nothing can ever touch what we’ve shared.”
  110. With every beat you feel the love and sorrow and warmth flow through you and all you can do is nod as the tears flow again. Her face is as beautiful as ever, and you can see the affection reflected in her wet eyes. She touches the heart to your own chest as she speaks one last time.
  112. “Even though everything has to end, I will always love you. And that’s all there ever needs to be.”
  114. She replaces the heart in her chest, and with one final deep kiss, she steps out to the tunnel leading to the Champion’s platform.
  115. You wave to her as she leaves, and slowly walk back to your spot in the crowd to watch the ceremony. And though the sorrow drapes across your shoulders, you feel underneath it the love you share. And you know that it can never be taken away from you. One day you may need to let go, to move on. As painful as that sounds, with the warmth of spirit and soul through the times you’ve shared, it might just be ok.
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