I remember the day my life started again in earnest. It was the day she came for me.
She'd stood in the shadows, a chestnut-haired, blue-eyed angel with the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen. My mind didn't recognize her, but the rest of me did. I could feel it in how I wanted to touch her, could sense it on the answering smile on my lips. It felt as if I'd been waiting for her ever since the day I'd woken up - waiting for her to claim me, or perhaps, reclaim me.
I greeted her with the only word that I carried from my vanished past.
That first day, when she'd seen me, she'd looked as if she were about to cry.
Vanessa, she'd said, over and over again, like an incantation, a spell, a word of blessing. She had reached out to touch me, but had pulled back instead. (Later she had told me, I was frightened of frightening you. I had stroked her cheek, smiling. Idiot. You could never frighten me, whether in this life or another.)
On that day I'd only said: You know me. You know of my past. That name you just called me, is it my real name?
She'd nodded and said it again. Vanessa. A single tear had run down her cheek. On an impulse, I'd leaned forward and brushed it away. She'd smiled then, flashing that beautiful, heart-breaking, soul-wrenching smile. You're still you, Vanessa Rene. I'm so glad.
They told me that villagers had found me; that I'd lain comatose for weeks. I'd woken up without a name, a past, or a memory - just a single word that seemed to mean nothing, but contained...everything. I'd said it to myself, over and over again, like an incantation, a spell, a word of blessing. It was all that I had. And in those first few months, it was all that I'd needed.
During rehabilitation I discovered that I had a talent with computers, an asset that eventually saved me. In a country just recovering from civil war, skills mattered more than identities. My first job had been in the hospital, but even then I'd had a goal. My past lay somewhere in the tattered remains of the country's bloody history. And so it was, that three years after waking up, I'd worked my way into the Gazth-Sonikan Intelligence Agency, a low-ranking officer in the Clandestine Services division, but one with unparalleled access to the country's information databases.
In a lot of ways, the job had been a perfect fit.
But it was the only thing that fit. There was still a hole in my life, and it had a shape, and I knew its shape the day she came for me.
I'd found her profile in the War Criminals Database, her name an innocuous-sounding heading to a long list of obituaries. She was a legend in the underground, amongst the police and the military. I thought then that perhaps she had tried to kill me, and that was why her name had been on my waking lips. She was the key to my past, the obsession of my present, and - if the day came that I finally found her - perhaps the forfeiter of my future. I didn't care. I needed to know.
(Later, when I'd told her that, she'd smiled and said. You were always a reckless fool, Vanessa Rene. But reckless fools I've never hated.)
So I looked for her but didn't find her. Then one day, she came and found me.
We'd sat across each other in some nondescript café. She had stared at me then smiled.
When SSS told me that someone in the GSIA was looking for me, I never, ever thought it would turn out to be you, Vanessa Rene.
She'd looked as if she would cry again, but had continued instead with her train of thought.
When Margaret told me about the wishes she'd made at the Door of Truth, when she'd encountered her three desires...I never thought they would come true like this. Which means...and she had whispered to herself then...that somewhere in this world, Elenore Baker and Carrossea Doon are alive...Oh! Margaret will be ecstatic!
Then she'd remembered that I was sitting there, had apologized and smiled. But that can wait. You're here, Vanessa Rene. And for myself, at least, that's all that matters.
I'd still known nothing of her then - except the fact that she was deadly and wanted and possibly my "murderer". I'd also been confused by her strange ramblings. But I'd felt so safe with her, had been so entranced by her chestnut hair and her kindly blue eyes, that my fears and my questions had lain forgotten. She'd looked at me then and nodded her head. I'm sure you have questions; things you need to ask. Do you want to have dinner with me tonight?
I'd love to, I'd said simply. She had blushed and looked away. Later then, she'd told me - then added with a smile, until then, Vanessa Rene, please don't die okay?
It had been a strange thing to say; only I found myself replying with an even stranger response. It's a promise then...and one I'll keep this time.
She'd knocked at my door, and the sight of her had taken my breath away. She wore a white dress that ended at her knees and gave me a bouquet of flowers. They're helianthus flowers, she'd said, and added with a grin, their name is supposed to carry the word "temptation".
Like you? I'd teased, staring boldly at her in her dress. She'd laughed and shaken her head. Do you always flirt with strangers, Vanessa Rene?
I never flirt, I'd told her (and it had been the honest truth). And besides, I'd added, I...know you're not a stranger.
She'd looked at me with tenderness. You're beautiful, Vanessa Rene. I wish I'd told you that before. She'd spoken the words like a caress and I shivered in spite of the warmth.
We'd had dinner at an expensive restaurant. For some reason, I'd known we would order pasta. She'd asked me about my life - when I'd woken up, what I could remember, the things I'd been doing since then. She'd asked me if I had a lover, and had seemed pleased when I'd said no.
She'd taken me back to her apartment. It'll be easier to tell you everything there. And then she'd told me a fantastic story - a story so preposterous I knew it had to be true. When she'd finished, all my questions had been answered. All my questions except for one: what had we been to each other that she had wept when recounting my death, and I had wept when I had seen her pain? But I'd said nothing and had stared, wondering, at her instead.
What's wrong? She'd asked me. Do you feel sad?
Yes, I'd nodded. But not for the reasons you believe. I feel sad for her...the old Vanessa Rene.
She'd looked puzzled and asked me why. Because, I'd said hesitating, because she met you...so late in her life.
And the way she'd looked at me then, the way she'd smiled as a tear fell down her cheek, the way she'd taken me in her arms and kissed me, and the rest of the tender violence that had followed - all of those had answered my question.
She had me in all the ways we could think of, on all the surfaces we could find: on my back, on my knees, above her, below her, over the counter, under the table, between her sheets, against the wall.
Hours later I had asked her: Did we make love like this before?
She'd paused for a while then smiled: I think you only went as far as holding me, and it only happened once.
I'd laid my head against her shoulder: I must have been a fool.
She'd laughed then, but I had meant it. I couldn't imagine being close to her and not wanting to touch her skin; couldn't imagine just holding her and simply stroking her hair. Even then, after hours of making love, my hands already wanted to repossess her. I wanted my taste on her lips; I wanted her taste on mine. I was already living my second life - I didn't want to waste any more time.
We'd started living together after that. One day soon, she told me, we'll visit Margaret and Laetitia. But right now Margaret is busy, trying to find someone she's lost. We help Margaret as much as we can - Madlax searching through her contacts, me searching through my databases. We still haven't found Elenore or Carrossea, but someday soon we will. Until then we won't give up.