Notes and Disclaimers:  The following is an original work by me, freely using the creative genius of Tachiwaka Megumi, to whom I am indebted.   The characters of Saint Tail, Asuka Jr., et al are owned by Kodansha and TMS.  

By Stirling Twilight

 

 

Disappearing Act

 

When Meimi opened the door, her father stood before her, waiting, a smirk on his face. Meimi recoiled, smiling apprehensively at him.

"I'm home?" she ventured with a hint of nervousness.

His hand came up, and she could see a small, crystal ball on a gold chain swinging from it. "One, two, three…" he counted.

Meimi opened the door to find her father waiting there, a smile on his face.

"I'm home!" she cheerfully sang out. Stepping up, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and went into the lounge, shedding her coat as she went. As she moved, she chatted animatedly to him about her day, the snow, about classes and her talk with Seira after school. He continued to grin at her, nodding, and making soft noises of agreement. When she paused for breath, he held up a hand to forestall her.

"Tinsel."

Meimi’s eyes rolled closed and she shook her head, momentarily bemused. As her eyes fluttered open, a smile blossomed on her face.

"It worked!" she cried. "I remember!" Rushing to her father, she threw her arms around his neck, hugging him enthusiastically. "I remember coming in," she went on breathlessly, "and you told me to go back outside, I remember it all! Teach me! Please, you have to show me how it works!"

Smiling at his daughter, he produced the ball on its chain and pressed it into her hand. "Just don’t forget the key word," he cautioned and, settling himself on the sofa, began to show her how the trick was done.

***

The snow was coming down more thickly with each passing moment and the wind had picked up as Saint Tail ran along the rooftop. Her left arm was before her face like a shield and her right hand tightly clutched a small painting. The biting snow was blanketing her path and she was almost sorry she had chosen this night for the theft. As usual, Seira had been insistent, citing some urgent reason, and so it was that Saint Tail found herself doing what she loved to do best. Below her, trailing slightly, raced Asuka Jr., doing what he loved to do best. Saint Tail smiled with a warm fondness at the thought.

Asuka Jr. had stopped yelling at her to wait and seemed to be concentrating on keeping his balance on the slippery road. They had long since out stripped the police, and in this snow-covered world, they silently raced alone.

When Saint Tail slipped, it all happened so fast Asuka Jr. barely had time to think, he just reacted.

Saint Tail gave a yelp of surprise as her feet flew out from under her. She fell hard onto her back, with a loud expulsion of air, and began sliding inexorably toward the edge of the roof. Clutching the picture to her chest, the thief tried to conjure her wand, but too late. As she reached the eave, her head caught the metal drainpipe with enough force to make her blackout. Asuka Jr., seeing the shower of snow from the roof, threw his arms out, and arrived just in time to catch her as she fell. The girl was dead weight in his arms and together--amid a miniature avalanche--they crashed to the sidewalk.

Sitting up, sputtering snow, Asuka Jr. leaned forward and wrapped his arms around the small thief in his lap.

"You’re under arrest, Saint Tail!" he cried with pleasure. When she made no reply, he paused, then gasped as realization dawned. Gently, he turned her limp body to face him. Her head was down and she was covered with snow. Placing a trembling hand under her chin, he lifted the thief's head up into the dim light of a street lamp. It was with a great deal of apprehension that he finally raised his eyes to look at her face.

The breath went out of Asuka Jr. like he had been kicked in the chest. "Haneoka," he whispered in awed disbelief.

Somehow he had known. In fact, he had known for months. And now it was over. With a howl of despair he threw his arms around the thief and hugged her hard to his chest. Saint Tail lay limp and unaware in his arms.

 

Asuka Jr. carried Saint Tail to the nearest phone booth and called Sister Seira. He quickly explained what had happened and what he was about to do. Seira listened and promised to do as he asked. Asuka Jr. set the phone down and sank to his knees next to the unconscious girl. Stripping off his jacket, he carefully wrapped it around her, pulling it tight across her shoulders. He attempted to brush the snow from her, to straighten her hair, to return her to the Saint Tail he had longed to capture. After a minute he realized he was staring at her blankly. Her hair, her features.  They were all so familiar, why hadn’t he allowed himself to know?

"Why?" he whispered, shaking his head. "Why Haneoka?" He hugged himself against the cold and tearing his eyes from her pale face, noticed the picture still clutched in her hands. Carefully, he pried it from her cold fingers. For a long moment he regarding the piece of art, loathing everything about it. Somewhere deep inside himself was a raging battle between anger and sorrow. It took every ounce of his remaining strength to not smash the picture against the phone booth wall.

Seira arrived a short time later, clothes in hand. While Asuka Jr. waited outside the booth, Seira dressed Meimi in a spare school uniform and rearranged her hair. When she called him back, the young nun silently handed the detective his jacket. Asuka Jr. then placed a call to the nearest hospital.

"What are you going to tell them?" Seira asked, not looking at him. Asuka Jr. watched as she wrapped Meimi in a coat and shrugged. Seira looked up at him then and saw he looked totally defeated. The nun-in-training felt for him, but she knew what needed to be done and she didn’t shrink from her responsibility.

Drawing herself up straight, Sister Seira faced him. "I believe it would be best if you left, Asuka Jr.," she insisted as firmly as he had ever heard her speak, "I’ll take over from here, thank you."

The young detective looked down at the still unconscious thief and at the crumpled Saint Tail costume in the corner of the booth. His shoulders sagged. Nodding, he picked up the picture and left without another word.

He didn’t go far though. Once out of sight of the booth, he stopped in a doorway, and turning back, watched for the ambulance.

Loud noises and bright lights heralded its arrival. From his position, Asuka Jr. saw everything that happened. Meimi was lifted onto a gurney, Seira climbed into the ambulance behind the crew and settled herself. As the screaming vehicle pulled away, his heart momentarily slowed. Tears moistened his face and they didn't surprise him. He was feeling sorry for himself in a big way and didn’t care to hide it, here, alone on the snow-covered street. This was not the ending he had imagined, or wanted. In fact, it was so far from it, it hurt.

He went back to the phone booth and, surveying the carnage of the scene, sunk down onto its floor. Dumbly he looked around himself and felt shock creeping up on him.

***

Meimi sat up and looked around in confusion. Seira instantly rose to meet her gaze. The two young women smiled at one another.

"Do you know where you are?" Seira asked softly, concern evident in her tone.

Meimi looked around herself. "I would hazard a guess and say a hospital," she replied, still smiling.

Seira’s smile faded a bit. "Yes, you are."

Meimi touched her friends arm. "It’s ok," she soothed, "I feel perfectly fine."

Seira looked puzzled. This was hardly the reaction she had expected.

"Have I been here long?" Meimi went on, with no hint of distress.

"Only a few hours...since late last night," Seira replied. "Your parents have only just now gone to get some breakfast. I told them I would sit with you while they were gone."

"Don’t trouble them," Meimi insisted, leaning closer to Seira, almost conspiratorially. "Let them eat."

"Meimi-chan?" Seira whispered, finally giving her confusion full rein.

"Hmm?"

"Are you all right?"

Meimi’s face reflected her taking an internal inventory, and then she looked back at Seira. "I really feel fine, really," she concluded with conviction.

"What do you remember about last night?"

The small redhead looked thoughtful. "I remember doing the homework, I remember practicing a new trick with my father..."

"And the painting?"

Meimi frowned at her friend. "Painting? What painting?"

Seira sank back into the chair, suddenly feeling weak. "The one Saint Tail recovered."

Meimi shook her head, bemused. "I have no idea what you’re talking about."

 

When Meimi’s parents returned, Seira made her farewells and silently slipped from the room. The happy bustle was best left to the family, and things being what they were, Seira had a lot to think about. First, there was the loss of memory. The biggest problem being that fact that no one could know about the missing facts. It wasn’t like she could tell Meimi’s parents, or a doctor. She imagined the conversation:

"Doctor, you have to help her, she doesn't remember she's a thief!"

"A thief you say? Maybe she’s better off not remembering!"

Would the memories come back on their own? And what if they never did?

Then there was Asuka Jr. to consider. What to do about him? Seira’s hand rose to her face and she bit down on a knuckle. Would he arrest Meimi? Or would he allow Saint Tail to simply fade from the public eye? It was with a great deal of personal agony that she sought out the chapel in the hospital.

When Sister Seira pushed open the heavy doors of the small chapel she found Asuka Jr. sitting in a pew, staring blankly. Hearing her approach, the detective turned to face her, dipping his head by way of a greeting. At first glance, she could see he hadn’t slept, his face was draw and pale, his eyes hollow. Not a spark of warmth moved on him anywhere.

"I assumed you would come eventually," he admitted with no emotion in his voice. Seira took a seat next to him with a soulful sigh. They sat, unmoving and silent, for several minutes. When he finally turned to her the mute question on his face tore her heart.

"It’s bad," she managed to whisper before a soft sob escaped her. Asuka Jr. placed an arm around her shaking shoulders and with a groan Seira twisted to bury her face against his chest. Her hands balled into fists and she weakly pounded against him. He could just hear her softly blaming herself, over and over. The small nun cried as if her heart were breaking.

Seira’s break down was intense, but brief. Sitting back, she seemed to recover herself and gratefully smiled up at him, wiping her face and apologizing. He withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and held it out to her.

"Thank you," she breathed and accepted his offering. Asuka Jr. returned his gaze to the far wall and waited.

Seira sought to compose herself and began haltingly, "She is perfectly fine, her body I mean, but her memory…" and again she felt tears threatening. "Oh, Asuka Jr., she doesn’t remember!" she wailed, fighting her rising sorrow. The words came tumbling out. "She doesn’t remember being Saint Tail and there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t tell anyone. I can’t help her! It’s…it’s as if Saint Tail never existed…just disappeared." She looked up at him, her young mind straining for his understanding, but then she gasped.

It was as if she had run into a wall.

Asuka Jr. sat, as immovable as stone, while silent tears bathed his cheeks.

"Asuka Jr." she whispered in shock. She reached out and picked up his hand. It was limp and cold in her own. Neither one moved, neither spoke, so lost were they in their shared suffering.

 

When Asuka Jr. rose to leave, Seira was sleeping. Belatedly he realized she too must have been up all night, sitting with Haneoka. He smiled sadly at her and made his way back to Haneoka’s room. Through the course of the evening he had stopped by several times, but hadn’t had the courage to actually enter. Now he felt he could.

The room was swathed in a profound silence. Meimi was alone and asleep, looking for all the world at peace. There was a chair beside her head, and like a man moving in his sleep, Asuka Jr. folded into it.

Behind him, unobserved and silent, Seira slipped into the room.

The young detective sat for a few minutes, studying her profile. "Haneoka," he whispered, leaning toward her. He waited, and Seira could see he was struggling to control himself. She felt tears threatening again as her heart went out to him.

Asuka Jr. tried again, as he seemingly searched for the right words to address his classmate with.

"Meimi-san?"

But this didn’t appear to suit him any better. As Seira watched his hand reach toward the sleeping girl, and it trembled as he moved. When he finally touched the back of her hand, the walls crumbled.

"Meimi," he moaned thickly, his voice choked with the sobs he fought to suppress "Meimi please, please remember." He searched her face for a reaction, but she remained implacable. "I know you can do it...please, please remember. You have to." His lips pulled back in a grimace as he fought to control himself, "Meimi...please." His head dropped down onto the sleeping girl’s hand. Seira could just make out his hoarse whisper.

"Please...Meimi, please, don’t make me say it."

Seira strained forward, her breath held against the sound. Asuka Jr. lay unmoving and continued to murmur, "Please don’t make me say it". Seira wondered which admission he was so loath to make; that she was Saint Tail, or that he was in love with her?

 

After a time it almost seemed he had fallen asleep. Seira slipped silently from the room, and then nosily reentered. She acted surprised to find him and he, blushing, did his best to compose himself. They regarded each other for a several moments.

"Isn’t it funny?" he asked, his eyes rising to the ceiling.

Seira waited, but he didn’t continue. Finally she asked, "Isn’t what funny?"

Asuka Jr. shrugged and rose. "Nothing, I’m sorry." He turned and made a hasty exit. Puzzled, Seira watched him go.

 

It was later that day, well after school had ended, that Asuka Jr. again sought Seira. He found her praying in the campus chapel. When she smiled up at him, he halted, pushing his hands deep into his pockets. Once again he could not meet her eyes and he blushed. Seira waited.

"I went to see her," he confessed, looking nervous. "She was looking at the sky, out of her window." He paused, his eyes moving toward the colored glass windows, and then he sighed. "She was looking at the sky as if it was talking to her. She looked so, so...she was so unconcerned, so carefree. And I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t a good thing that she doesn’t remember. Would it be right to try to return her to a life of crime?" His hands gestured expansively, "I mean, can’t Saint Tail just disappear?"

Seira meshed her fingers together and bent her head over them. "Would she be Meimi-chan if we allowed that?"

Asuka Jr. smiled weakly and shook his head.

***

Meimi stared out of the window. She was going home today. After several days of observation the doctors had said that she was well enough to be discharged, and to return to school. She smiled at the thought, and turned that smile on her parents when they came to collect her. Seira was with them, and together the happy party left the hospital.

Once home, Meimi was greeted with the warmth of a house dressed for Christmas. Her mother had prepared her favorite meal, and everyone tried their best to make her feel at ease. She good natureredly laughed at their attempts at cheering her. She reassured them she was fine and turned her attention to the decorations around the house, trying to change the subject. Her father noticed her gaze and began recounting the preparations that had gone into making the place beautiful for her return. And as he went on, Meimi suddenly fainted.

 

Meimi sat up in her bed, looking at Seira. Her parents had called the doctor, been reassured of her eventual recovery, and had left the girls alone. Meimi watched them go and waited until she was sure they were gone. She smiled then and leaned toward Seira.

"It’s ok," she cooed, "I remember."

Seira gasped. "You...remember?!"

Meimi giggled and, twisting to the nightstand, produced her phone.

"Would you please call Asuka Jr.? I need to see him."

Confused, Seira dialed the phone, requested his presence, and set the phone down. She turned to Meimi, puzzlement like a sign on her face. "How is it that you remember now? What’s changed?"

Meimi held up her hand, palm out. "Wait," was the only reply.

When Asuka Jr. arrived, he was covered with snow and panting as if he had run the whole way. The look of concern and confusion on his face made Seira feel better, somehow less alone.

Seira showed him into Meimi’s room and brought another chair for him. As he sank into it, Meimi’s hand came up. Swinging from it was a small crystal ball. Quickly she counted to three, and his eyes closed. Meimi lowered her hand and turned to her friend.

"My father taught me this trick the evening of the accident. The key word he used was tinsel. He used it again this evening as he told me about the decorations. That was when I fainted. It was at that moment that I remembered." She smiled with pleasure, "I remembered it all."

She looked at Asuka Jr. His eyes were closed and he sat limply, waiting for her input. Meimi turned her gaze to Seira. "I’m going to tell him to forget that he knows who I am, that you know who I am, and to forget the last theft."

Seira, suppressing her many questions, took a moment to think. "You really can’t ask him to forget the theft, someone is bound to mention it. He did return the painting to its rightful owner. Maybe you should make him forget you, I mean Saint Tail, and nothing else. He’ll be like everyone else...he’ll know you fell that snowy night. You can return to your normal life as if nothing happened." She laughed at that last bit, relief making her giddy.

Meimi nodded, and then looked up. "What should I use as a key word?"

Seira considered, then shrugged. "Perhaps an unusual sound? Something that is unlikely to ever come up again?"

Meimi nodded. "Maybe you should go to the kitchen for a drink?" Seira smiled at the hint and left the room.

Meimi looked at the still form on the seat beside her. The fact that he came, told her that he cared. He cared a great deal. She could now hear his shout of glee as he thought to arrest her, and his quiet crying at her bedside. Leaning forward she pressed her hand to his cold cheek, and after a moment, she replaced her hand with her lips.

"I love you best, Asuka Jr." she whispered with a shy smile.

Sitting back, she told him that he, and Seira, didn’t know who Saint Tail was, and that he was still chasing her. She then strung together a random group of words, writing them down as she went. When she was satisfied, Meimi snapped her fingers.

Asuka Jr. blinked and looked around.

Meimi smiled warmly at him. "It’s so nice of you to visit me, Asuka Jr. Thank you."

He blushed and chuckled. "I was worried..."

Seira arrived then, carrying a tray of drinks. "I thought a toast would be nice," she offered, handing around steaming cups of cocoa.

Asuka Jr. smiled and raised his glass. "To Haneoka’s good health. I hope she’s learned to not run in the snow."

Meimi’s smile faded. "What about you?!" she cried with indignation. "You were chasing Saint Tail! You can run, but I can’t?!"

"I didn’t fall and end up in the hospital!" he shot back, lowering his hand.

"Yes, and you didn’t catch St Tail either."

"What do you mean by that?!"

Meimi turned her shoulder toward him, "Nothing," she purred and sipped her cocoa. Seira giggled and sipped hers as well. Asuka Jr. looked annoyed but then shrugged and drank.

 

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