Part One: Raimi
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that is a new world is born.
Things do not change immediately. The world does not know peace at once, men do not lay down their arms immediately, and nations cannot completely forget hundreds of years of grudges.
But they are willing to change. Raimi watches as countries begin peace talks that would have seemed impossible before. They are willing to work for something that they had a taste of, an illuminating joy so overwhelming that even those who believed it was not possible for the world to be at peace, now know in their hearts one day it may happen.
Shandala's sacrifice, it seems, was not in vain. Everyone, it seems, want to hang on to what they felt.
Raimi, too, hangs on to those emotions, but he also hangs on to the codes. He's hopeful, but he's not an idiot. Given enough time, people can screw up the best things they've got going in their lives.
He should know.
Chief Tui invites them to stay on the island for as long as they wish, but in the end, they stay for only a few days. Raimi wants to live in that sort of paradise, but someone's got to keep their eye on the world so that paradise can continue to exist.
He doesn't know why Oran follows him back, but if his closest friend (brother, ally, something more – Raimi's nervous to define it for a reason he chooses not to think too close about) wants to leave with him, he's certainly not going to stop him.
And then Oran disappears from their shared cheap motel room in Suva days later, and Raimi thinks, well, fuck.
How'd you screw it up now, Raimi?
Raimi's not going to hang out forever in Fiji, however, no matter how gorgeous it is. And Coast City's out of the question, for obvious “hey your life sort of exploded here” reasons.
Canada, however? Well, there's no place like home, Toto.
Raimi buys a new apartment in Vancouver – but away from anyone he knows, anyone who knows him. Since he's spent most of his life being anti-social, it's not a hard stretch. He sets up his own security – his paranoia is definitely justified by oh, his entire life, and just because people are filled with love and joy these days, it's still no reason not to keep your back to the door and an eye on things.
Make that, several telescoping electronic ones.
He keeps it simple. He has a computer, a bed, a fridge (a medical one again – you never know when you might have to share it with a giant Muslim soldier. Raimi's always believed in preparation).
And if it looks like he's waiting for something, well, he's not.
He's just regrouping while he figures out what to do next.
Because life goes on after all. You wake up in the morning, you brush your teeth, eat some crap, check the mail, get a card from Oran...
Well, that's new.
Now that he's heard from him, he can't stop seeing him.
First, there's the cards, which seem to arrive on the days when Raimi's missing the bastard most – prints and photographs of art and artifacts of all types. His blank white walls are an illustrated collage of ukiyo-e prints, tatanua masks, bangwa statues. There's never anything written on them but his address – Raimi has no idea how Oran got it, let alone how Oran's travelling the world, but another thing he's learned is that the universe has a funny way of making things work.
And if there's a message to be found, it might be the thing that terrifies you the most.
Stop hiding from answers, Raimi. They'll find you soon enough.
And he finds Oran everywhere. He looks online and he's in a crowd of revelers in Mumbai. He's under a tree with a couple in Jönköping. He's walking down a street in São Paulo.
Across, the world, the images are all the same – there is rejoicing, there is happiness, there is the sense that what looked unattainable was really just a hand's reach away. And there is Oran standing in the midst of it all, a solemn statue.
If Oran's looking for his own bit of happiness, he hasn't found it yet, Raimi thinks.
Of course, neither has he, and that's what's so damn funny. After all the bliss, the transcendence they experienced in Shandala's presence, after Kamimura's wisdom and the broadcast that changed everything – there's still something missing.
It's right after that revelation that the cards stop coming.
And Oran's nowhere to be found.
Part Two: Oran
I say I'm in love with her. What does that mean? It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius, she is ignorant of what she does.
Oran wakes up in Lomalagi, shaking, sweating, with the knowledge that he has just dreamt of something he should remember but can't. It is not of one his black nightmarish visions, a thing of fire and anger and utter destruction. No, it's a revelation he missed.
It is sand falling through his hands that he cannot catch.
Beside him, Raimi snores and Oran briefly thinks he should wake him, ask him if he, too, shares the same vision, perhaps remembers or recognizes what he cannot. But the moment passes, Raimi turns on his side, and Oran lets his loss go.
Perhaps he will dream again. He will remember.
In the morning, however, all is forgotten again and Oran knows that whatever his destiny has been so far, it is still leading him down a path he cannot see. Raimi tells him of what the world is experiencing, the fervent beliefs and cries for higher powers. Zeal turned towards peace instead of war, towards unity instead of division.
He does not feel that passion, but then he can hardly have faith in himself as a deity. (The saint cannot believe in himself – he can only believe in another saint. Oran believes in Raimi. He knows he always will.)
There is pain in his missing hand – a phantom that tells him he should be able to hold what cannot. He finds himself grasping at nothing. The mind tells him he can reach it; the body holds him back.
He is disquieted when everything should be still. He is empty when he should be full of the love that Shandala gave them all. He is searching when he should be at peace.
“I'm going to get out of here,” Raimi says the next day, and Oran nods. He's leaving, too.
He sends the first card from a gallery in Mandaluyong. He doesn't know what prompts him to do it – a desire for connection with a brother, perhaps. Or a need to reach across a void he doesn't wish to fall into again. He wants Raimi to know that he still thinks of him, always feels his presence beside him.
Oran does not write on the card, however. Raimi will know what he is saying even without words.
As he travels, he falls into the habit of sending him a card from everywhere he travels. He tries to convey what he sees – the instant bond forming between people, connections arising where none exist, like a tapestry with individual threads that cannot be unraveled without everything falling apart.
All are together; those that are alone need only to reach their hand out and they will brush against the world, which touches back and says, I'm here, I'm here, we're here, everyone cares.
He feels as if he can reach his fingers out to touch Raimi and he will know his dearest friend down to his core. That such a thing is possible terrifies him. He knows he will see the same fear in Raimi, but the same joy at the possibility that such a thing can be shared when in oather world, another place, it would have never been even a dream he could have had.
Though he does not know it at the time, he sends the last card in Tarsus – a drawing of a winged horse soaring to the sky. He flies along with it.
Then he sits down, breathes in deeply, and prays.
He has always known where Raimi is – as if a voice had whispered it to him in a dream, a hand scrawled it upon the wall. For all that Raimi does to hide himself in the past, he is laid bare to Oran as a text.
It is only now that he understands what he was reading – the truth behind the words. He speaks a new language to go along with the new world, and though what he can say is limited, it is not a language that requires a number of words.
There is only one that matters in it.
Oran knocks on the door. Raimi opens it.
“I love you,” he says.
“You took your time, you asshole.” Raimi is furious, but-- “I love you, too.”
And as Raimi kisses him, he feels complete.
Part Three: Oraimi
Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more.
Most love stories start with a kiss, but they rarely end with one.
Raimi and Oran move from kissing to undressing, from undressing to embracing, from embracing to touching to everything they feared, dreamed of, longed for, secretly read about and wondered if it was possible for themselves.
It is not an invasion, for Raimi welcomes him in, tells him that he can take whatever Oran wants to give. It is not violence for Oran, for even though there is pain, there is also pleasure, there is a desire to love more than hurt, to comfort more than destroy.
They may both find anger, but it is a clean anger, a passion that says whatever strength you think is yours alone, it is also mine. Whatever love you have is mine as well. Whatever pain, whatever grief, whatever secrets and sorrows you bear, I will bear them too.
I am you. You are me.
(In this world, true joining is like this: the two coming together, a melding of two elements creating something new every time, a hand reaching out to hold another, a breath shared that keeps both alive, a warmth that keeps the chill of winter out, a flying up to the sky, past the clouds, past the atmosphere until they reach the point where they look down upon the earth and see the blueness of it all and in that moment all is one, nothing is lost, and everyone finds the love they were looking for right in front of them).
In the morning, Raimi wakes and says to Oran, “Are you staying?” He is huddled next to Oran for warmth, as they were in the fridge, when Raimi awoke from certain death to the knowledge that whatever life he had, it was over now. With Oran at his side now, it's more than a fair trade.
Fuck that. It's the best thing that ever happened to them both.
Oran nods. His hand no longer aches, having found what it was trying to grasp. It is at peace and for the moment, so is he.
(Everything will always be in the last place you look for it, for once you find it, there is no need anymore for the searching. And yet if you hadn't gone through the process of finding, of discovering new things along the way, of discarding what is false and unnecessary for what is true and needed, you would have never learned what is truly valuable.)
Things will not stay serene forever. Raimi and Oran are creatures of the storm, not of the calm, and though they wish the world to find peace, there is no guarantee that their souls will quiet. There will be disagreements and arguments that passion provokes (and often solves at the same time).
Everyone will need reminding, from time to time, of what is at stake.
But on this winter morning, as Raimi scrambles to find something edible in a fridge notably bare of food, and Oran begins to settle in, unpacking a well-travelled bag, there is love.
That does not change.