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.  

For whatever reason this fic took a lot out of me. It took a long time to write, and just as long to fine tune. I don't know why!!! ^__^  Please write me and let me know what you think.

                                                                                                                                        Stirling Twilight

 

A Gift from the Sky

 

4:30 PM 12.5 Hours

The rain hadn’t let up for hours. Sakura petals by the millions were being pressed into the wet ground and the gentle patter of the rain was the only sound in the park. No one would willingly venture out on a day like today unless there was an excellent reason, so the silence of the rain was uncompromised in the early twilight.

Liquid pools of gold, cast by streetlights, illuminated the path to the chapel. Asuka Jr. ran along this lane, heedless of the freakish weather. The slap of his feet in the countless puddles disturbed the stillness.

He had abandoned his umbrella when he arrived at the Haneoka’s house and dashed off into the approaching night. Meimi’s parents hadn’t tried to stop him, so great was their concern. That he would find her they had no doubt, but what he would find was their fear.

Asuka Jr. was sure he knew where to look for his future wife. The news that drove her into the storm had come to him shortly before Meimi would have been told. Shock was his initial reaction, and then his thoughts had flown to Meimi and what she must be feeling. Casting his mind back, he couldn’t recall a single detail of his trip to her home…only to arrive and find he was too late.

The pond beside the chapel was swollen with rain and the grass slick from the many rivers of water that ran toward the small body of water. Meimi was there, as he expected, sitting with her back to a tree.

Wrapped in a jacket, she appeared asleep and soaked to the bone. Her hair, matted to her head, bore a sprinkling of sakura petals like a jeweled crown. She made no sound whatsoever as he rushed to her side, her name on his lips.

Dropping to his knees, Asuka Jr. lifted a hand off her lap, trying of get her attention, and found the limb ice cold and limp. Fear gripped his heart as he swept his raincoat off and wrapped it around her shoulders. Bending, he lifted his lifeless girlfriend into his arms and began to retrace his steps.

 

Kicking open the door to his father’s house, Asuka Jr. raced for the bathroom. They were now both soaked to the skin, but Meimi had been out in the storm a full hour before he found her. Gently laying her on the floor, he began pulling her clothes off. When underwear alone remained, he carried her to the shower and turned the water on.

Fully clothed, sitting on the floor with his arms and legs wrapped around her, Asuka Jr. lay Meimi against his chest and trained the water on her. A shudder rippled through her at its first touch, but as he gradually warmed the temperature, she began to moan. The small redhead was dead weight against him, her head lolling onto his shoulder. Carefully, he brushed the hair off her face, picking several of the soggy petals from the dripping strands. Meimi still made no signs of being awake. Her skin was a vivid scarlet but as he ran his hands over her he could feel warmth penetrating her flesh.

Sounds of activity in the house drew Asuka Jr.’s attention. Calling out to his father, he heard the older detective knock once on the door before sliding it open.

Asuka Keiji gasped at the sight that met his eyes. He hastily began to back from the room, sputtering apologies, but Asuka Jr, overrode his father’s embarrassment.

"Start filling the tub," he commanded, trying to slide Meimi’s sodden clothes out of the way, "then get me some towels and blankets. If you would call the Haneoka’s too, please, and let them know she’s here and to come over with dry clothes, that would be great."

Asuka Keiji instantly understood, nodded, and uncovered the tub. Once the water was running, he raced around gathering towels and pulling blankets from the closet. "I’m assuming you heard."

Asuka Jr. nodded without looking up. "Yeah dad…we both did."

Asuka Keiji said nothing more and left them alone.

Asuka Jr. sat for several long moments, staring at the floor, his mind unresponsive. Feeling defeated for some reason he couldn’t express, he dropped his head onto Meimi’s cool shoulder and into the spray of water. As the minutes flowed by, he willed the water to carry this uneasiness away. Something was very wrong; something beyond the facts he already knew…he could feel it.

Bestowing several kisses on her cold skin, Asuka Jr. carefully gathered Meimi back into his arms and lifted the limp girl as he rose. With the same degree of tenderness, he lowered her into the still filling bathtub.

At the first contact with the hot water, Meimi cried out and her eyes flew open. Wildly she looked around, confused as to her surroundings. Asuka Jr. moved to comfort her, practically climbing into the tub as he wrapped her in his arms.

The small redhead clung to him. Her hands were still cold as she wound her fingers into the material of his jacket and, turning toward him, she pressed her face against his chest, muffling the sobs that shook her body. Rocking gently he kissed the top of her head, again and again.

"I swear Meimi, I swear we’ll find her. I promise you."

 

"It’s turning to snow," Genichiro announced as he allowed the curtain to fall back into place. He had stopped his pacing only long enough to look out the window, then began again. He and Eimi had arrived mere moments after Asuka Keiji had called and even now Eimi was with her daughter while Asuka Jr., dressed in dry clothes, waited outside the bathroom door. When the two women emerged a short time later, Asuka Jr. offered his arm to Meimi. Supported between her mother and boyfriend, the small redhead was led into the living room.

Once Meimi was seated on the couch, Eimi went to Genichiro’s side and together they sank onto the sofa opposite their daughter. Meimi slumped against Asuka Jr. and no one said a word. It was Asuka Keiji who finally broke the silence.

"Since kidnapping isn't my field, I can offer nothing more than what was told to me. The facts of the case as were reported are: Mimori Seira was abducted from her room at the abbey early this morning; sometime around 4AM it is believed. The case is termed a kidnapping as all appearances are she did not go willingly." At this, Meimi groaned, drawing everyone’s attention. Asuka Keiji tore his eyes away from her pale face, taking a deep breath and striving to present a calm exterior. "So far no ransom note has been found or sent. There has been no contact from anyone; no demands have been made. In cases like this it is assumed--"

"Dad," Asuka Jr. hissed, shooting the detective a look that made the rest of the sentence die unuttered. Nodding his understanding, Asuka Keiji cleared his throat to continue.

"As Mimori-san’s designated next-of-kin, the police informed Haneoka-san when it was deemed necessary. That is all we have, pending further developments."

Eimi rose suddenly. "I think we should take Meimi home," she declared, casting a hard glance at her husband. Under her gaze, the magician seemed to age before their eyes. As the men watched, Eimi wrapped Meimi in several layers of blankets and made for the door, pausing only long enough to thank the Asukas for their help. Asuka Jr. moved to help, but Meimi’s father caught his arm, stopping him. Confusion was plain on Asuka Jr.’s face as the women left the house.

"I think you should sit down," Genichiro murmured when they were alone. "Both of you."

As bidden, the two Asukas silently sank onto the sofa. Asuka Jr.’s face was as pale as the falling snow. He wanted to shake the truth from Genichiro, who obviously knew what was wrong with Meimi, but the young detective willed himself into stillness.

For his part, the magician was having a hard time meeting the eyes of the men opposite him. When he finally did raise them, his eyes were awash with unshed tears.

"I’m... sorry," he began haltingly, "so sorry to have to be the one but..." He drew in a ragged breath and steeled himself. "But…the fact is, Meimi-chan had a miscarriage when she heard the news."

The two men gasped. Any color that had been lingering in Asuka Jr.’s face disappeared as his eyes glazed over. Asuka Keiji quickly put a hand out to steady his son.

"It seems Meimi-chan had no idea she was pregnant," Genichiro went on after another long, troubled breath. "We’ll be taking her to the doctor," he finished, rising to unsteady legs. Looking down at Asuka Jr., he laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder by way of comfort before letting himself out.

 

The marriage had been arranged and carried out with little to no joy. It was a matter of convenience and nothing more. His family was nouveau riche, and her family name carried a great deal of prestige, even though it had fallen on hard times. The arrangement suited the parents of both sides just fine.

When the announcement of an eminent birth was made there was a modicum more happiness within the conjoined families. After the first ultrasound the news of the baby being a boy engendered actual pleasure, not only in the family but also from the husband for the wife. Her role had been fulfilled.

Nine months passed with high expectations and a great deal of planning on all sides. The husband was loud in his exclamations of pride. He had fathered a son. An heir! All the signs were good for a long and healthy life.

When her water broke the mother-in-law was on hand, a sour look on her face. It was not an auspicious day the older woman had reckoned. The mother-to-be was profuse in her apologies but unable to control nature.

At the least propitious time, on a most inauspicious day, a beautiful, healthy, baby girl came into the world.

When the birth was announced the father, as well as both families, were nowhere to be found. All deals were, seemingly, off.

In a daze, the new mother slipped out of the hospital, carrying her daughter, who she left on the steps of a local nunnery before ending her own life.

 

10:30AM 30.5 Hours

Meimi sat across the desk from the doctor, Asuka Jr. at her side. With a great deal of effort she smiled weakly at them both. The doctor had examined Meimi, told her she was in fine health and that these sorts of things were not uncommon.

"I understand this doesn’t make you feel any better, but Haneoka-san, you’re young, in good health, and obviously surrounded by caring people, let’s focus on that." She then busied herself on the desk for a moment and finally handed a slip of paper to Asuka Jr. "I can’t see a reason for a D&C as we discussed so I’m going to be giving you something to take to help keep your moods on a more even level until things are back to normal, and something for the cramping."

Meimi again tried to smile but gave up the struggle and nodded. She felt like she had been run over by a bus. The doctor explained this was typical and that, other than her rampaging hormones, she would be fine in a week.

"No more walking in the rain," the doctor cautioned as she handed Meimi out of the office. "And," she added, dropping her voice, "I’m sure the police will find your friend soon."

Meimi nodded again and allowed herself to be lead from the office.

Back out in the grey, overcast world, Asuka Jr. quickly bustled her into the car. He heaped blankets onto her lap and tucked them tightly around her hips and back, all the while muttering about the strange weather. When he was assured of her comfort, he slid into the front seat. As he backed the car out of the parking lot he began talking, trying to fill an imagined void.

"I’ve spoken to the mayor and he’s willing to allow me on the case. He’s cleared it with the academy and with the chief of the department. My father will be attached to the case...out of courtesy." He glanced over at the petite redhead and found her nodding.

"I’ll drop the prescriptions at the pharmacy and have them delivered to your house, okay? But I have to get back to the office."

Again Meimi nodded.

Asuka Jr. gripped the wheel and stared straight ahead. "Meimi," he said softly, "You know I love you...I would do anything for you. If there is anything, anything at all..."

"No," she whispered.

He glanced over at her, concern plain on his face.

Meimi recognized his expression for what it was and smiled as best she could. "Its not like I knew and was all excited." Her eyes filled with tears, as her voice became softer. "I think we need to be more careful," her voice broke and she dissolved into quiet crying. Asuka Jr. longed to comfort her, but sitting beside her in the car could offer her nothing more than his hand. Scooping it up, Meimi pressed it to her lips.

"Thank you for finding me," she said, flashing him the first real smile of the last 36 hours, through her tears. Asuka Jr. glanced over at her, and his heart ached in his chest.

"I love you."

 

8:00 PM 40 Hours

Dropping heavily onto his old bed, Asuka Jr. allowed his mind to go as blank as he could...which didn’t last for more than a few seconds. He just had too much to think about.

The kidnapper still hadn’t made a sound and after going over Mimori-san’s room, several times, they still didn’t have a clue as to why this was happening. Asuka pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, trying to contain his frustration. No one had seen a thing, heard a thing...if it wasn’t for the fact that her room had been tossed it would appear that Mimori Seira had simply walked out of the abbey, never to return.

The sounds of someone at the front door drew his attention. Rolling over, he got to his feet, resisting the urge to ignore whoever it was.

The ringing of the doorbell gave way to someone pounding as he made his way downstairs.

"Coming!" he yelled irritably, not caring if his annoyance was audible. Whoever it was was being just as rude. Besides, he hadn’t slept since the storm, which was when...his mind couldn’t recall.

As Asuka Jr. reached for the doorknob it turned. Stepping back he watched as the door swung open a few inches.

"Excuse me!"

It was Sawatari.

Craning his head around the corner of the door, the photographer saw Asuka Jr. turning away, heading for the kitchen. "Sorry," the tall blonde said as he let himself in, "but I really need to talk to you."

Asuka Jr. still said nothing and continued to the kitchen where he busied himself making tea. There was no doubt in his mind that the photographer was there because of the kidnapping. The PR department had been announcing their press release as Asuka Jr. left the office.

"Love one," Sawatari said joining him, a huge smile on his face.

Asuka Jr. scowled and dropped his spoon into the sink. "Since I didn’t offer, make it yourself."

Scowling, Sawatari hunted for a cup. "Long day? Or are all policemen this charming?" 

Asuka Jr. didn’t make a sound in reply. Turning, the surly detective made his way back into the living room and waited for his former classmate to join him. Once they were both seated, Sawatari launched into his reasons for coming.

"You probably never notice, but while we were still in school..."

"You had a thing for Mimori-san?"

Sawatari looked genuinely surprised. "How did you know?"

Asuka Jr. made a face and turned away. "Because you had a thing for every girl in class. What’s your point?"

Sawatari blushed, the wind having been taken out of his sails. He sat in stunned silence for a few seconds before reaching for the capacious bag he had swung over his shoulder. "I don’t want you to get the wrong idea," he said hurriedly, pulling out a folder, which he offered to Asuka Jr. The young detective took the file, placed it on his lap and, sitting back, flipped it open.

It was a dossier on Mimori Seira.

Sputtering tea, Asuka Jr. sat forward. "What the hell is this?" he demanded in shock.

Sawatari snatched up his teacup and made a show of drinking, totally ignoring the question.

"Do you have one of these on every girl in class?"

"Not all," was the soft answer. "Just the ones I really liked."

"Do you have one on Haneoka?!"

Sawatari placed the cup down on the table before him and became serious for a moment. "I understand what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. I really thought of it as practice for later in life. And who knows, it might just help you find Mimori-san."

He said it simply, in his usual guileless manner, and Asuka Jr. was forced to rethink the voyeuristic quality it had at first glance. Dropping his gaze back to the collected papers he began reading.

Neither man made a sound as Asuka Jr. read. An hour stretched into two. Sawatari made them more tea, turned on the room lights against the gathering twilight and patiently waited for the detective to come to the end of the report.

Asuka Jr. was honestly amazed at the amount of information Sawatari had collected on the nun. However, the more he read, the more apparent it became that there was still no reason for the abduction. Mimori-san had no known relatives, no jealous former lovers...nothing that would make her a target for a kidnapping. If anything, this report was making the idea of her just having decided to disappear all the more plausible.

Glancing up from the folder, Asuka Jr. found Sawatari looking at the framed picture on the center of the mantle piece. It was a shadowbox frame containing the badge the Mayor had given him 5 years ago. Mounted in the frame with a picture of a young Asuka Jr. receiving the medal. It was the same picture that had run in the papers when he had been given the honor.

Sawatari turned from the picture and found he was under scrutiny. "How is Haneoka-san?"

Asuka Jr. suddenly had an image of Saint Tail in his mind’s eye and he smiled. "She’s fine."

"I’d have thought she’d be having a hard time dealing with all this."

There was no reason for Sawatari to elaborate, but the thought made Asuka Jr. blanch.

The photographer saw this reaction and immediately regretted asking. "I’m sorry," he whispered quickly, "I mean...I didn’t think."

Asuka Jr. waved a hand, dispersing his protests. "I’m suffering from sleep depravation. Just ignore me."

Seeking to change the subject, Sawatari pointed at the now closed file. "Did you learn anything of interest?"

Asuka Jr. picked up his cup of tea, found it cold, and drank it anyway. "I do have a few questions," he said, opening the folder again and flipping quickly through the pages.

"Why didn’t you pursue finding out who her parents were?"

"I was in junior high," he said simply, "a person in my position, without a detective’s badge from the Mayor, would hardly find doors opening for him."

Asuka Jr. nodded in agreement. "I feel it’s safe to assume you’ve reread this since the announcement."

The blonde nodded.

Asuka Jr. allowed his eyes to return to the page before him. "I really have to complement you, this is amazingly thorough for a junior high student."

"I’ve augmented it over the years," was the faint reply.

Asuka Jr. paused at this and slowly met the eyes of the man across the room from him. As the import of these words penetrated his brain Asuka Jr. dropped his gaze. "I’m sorry," he said softly, "I had just assumed."

"Yeah...so did I." The hard edge to the reply did little to mask the irony of the situation. No wonder the photographer had been so insistent about coming over. This was a turn in his life that Asuka Jr. never would have expected.

"I have a knack," Sawatari went on, "of picking the girls least likely to want me. I seem drawn to the type. Haneoka, Mimori, Takamiya… just a few in a long line of uninterested women. Only, I never got over one of them." He snorted softly. "The one least likely to ever want me.

"I’m sure you didn’t know," he continued, moving to the window, "but I braved it all and approached her. I offered her…" there was a sudden silence.

Asuka Jr. looked across the room, waiting.

"Anyway," the photographer went on briskly, "I added to the file when I thought of it, but it was half hearted."

The shrill cry of the phone put an end to further conversation. Asuka Jr. leapt for the item, snatching it up as if his life depended on it.

Sawatari couldn’t help but listen as the short conversation went on. It seemed Haneoka’s mother was calling to give Asuka Jr. an update on his fiancée’s condition. This both interested and alarmed the tall blonde. He watched his former classmate, trying to be unobtrusive, as the one sided conversation came to an end. He could clearly see Asuka Jr.’s hand shaking as he placed the phone back in its cradle.

The young detective excused himself and headed for the bathroom. It was obvious that he needed to be alone and Sawatari would have done the polite thing and left if this weren’t so important.

When Asuka Jr. emerged a few minutes later he appeared in control of himself. Silently the detective went into the kitchen and began making dinner. Sawatari followed a minute later, folder and cups in hand. Withdrawing to the table, the photographer began flipping through the file, pulling out pages as he went.

"I’ve copied all of this for myself so I’m leaving this with you." He pulled a highlighter from a pocket and began marking pages. For several moments the only sounds were the squeaking of the marker and the scrapping of the frying pan.

"These are the blank areas where I can’t get any information," Sawatari said after a while, not looking up from his work. "Seems I don’t have the clearance. With luck, you do."

Asuka Jr. nodded in agreement. "I’ve been pulled from the academy to work on the case, my instructor though some hands-on couldn’t hurt, and opportunities like this don’t come along every day...thank God. I also have a few friends who owe me favors."

Sawatari smiled. "I love the way you cops work."

Asuka Jr. shrugged. "It’s the same all over." He pulled two plates from a cabinet and slid food onto them. Placing one before Sawatari he grabbed some canned coffee from the refrigerator and dropped into a chair. Raking a hand through his hair, he tried to shake off the bone tired feeling that was becoming harder to ignore.

He picked up his chopsticks and poked at the food on the plate. "What exactly do you want me to find out?" he asked finally pushing the plate away.

Sawatari looked at the detective with something close to sympathy on his face. "Will she be alright?"

Asuka Jr. scrubbed his hands roughly across his face, "The doctor says so, but that’s never a guarantee in a case like this."

"Well, whatever it is," he said gently, "I hope she gets better soon."

Asuka Jr. nodded his thanks and pulled his plate closer. Once again he picked up his chopsticks and pretended to be interested in the food before him.

"I have a feeling," the blonde said, turning the subject back, "all this has something to do with the fact that Mimori-san is turning 18 this year."

Asuka Jr. frowned at this, considering. "You’re thinking she is coming into an inheritance?" The text book reason for pending majority kidnapping.

"I could never get past her missing parents," Sawatari nodded, talking around his food. "I was able to narrow the field down to several hospitals maternity records that were within the range of time that was most likely her birthday." He slipped a piece of paper from the pile and turned it to face his dinner partner but kept talking. "If she were an heiress and someone was after her millions they would need to marry her--"

"Wait a minute!" Asuka Jr. interjected into this explanation, "Are you insane? This fairy tale that you’ve dreamt up is absurd!"

"Not really," Sawatari went on coolly. Obviously he had been ready for this reaction. "We don’t know who her parents are--"

"Which is no reason to assume they are nothing more than two very poor people that couldn’t afford to feed a daughter. I mean, I know it’s horrible, but some cultural customs die harder than others! She could have been a child out of wedlock, or orphaned, there are a thousand different reasons and none of them involve missing millionaire parents!"

"But there is no reason to kidnap a poor family’s daughter!"

"I agree! Which is why we’re looking into this as a possible sex crime."

As soon as the words left his lips Asuka Jr. was sorry. The color drained from the photographer’s face as his chopsticks clattered to the table. After a minute Sawatari’s mouth fell open in horrified disbelief.

 

 

The only home Seira had ever known was St Paulia’s. The idea of an oblate was archaic in the Western world, but the Sisters had taken the baby in with nary a question. Oh, to be sure, an investigation had been made, but no one had searched very hard. The police understood this sort of abandonment was better than exposure in the mountains and left well enough alone.

The quiet, smiling baby was named Seira, owing to her gentle disposition and she grew into the name with a natural grace. Surrounded by the loving care of the Sisters Seira had grown up knowing the hours of the church and going through the offices of the day as soon as she was able to walk. She had taken to life in the nunnery like a fish to water.

 

 

5:00 PM 61 Hours

The room set aside for the investigation was becoming less crowded as the hours wore on. Asuka Jr. couldn’t help but agree with his fellow officers...things were just not looking good for the recovery of the young nun. Unless someone came forward, or the kidnapper contacted them, there was nothing more they could do at present. It wasn’t that he wanted the case to resolve itself, he wanted to help break it, but pulling rabbits from a hat wasn’t his specialty.

He allowed his mind to slip back to Meimi for the briefest second. She was holding up very well, all things considered, and her family was dancing attendance on her. He smiled at the thought, pulling his wallet from his pocket and removing a picture from within its folds. It was one of the ones he had taken of the retreating form of Saint Tail.

"Asuka Jr.!"

Pushing the picture back, the young detective looked up as his superior beckoned him over.

"There’s a newspaper photographer to see you Asuka-san." The older officer paused and locked eyes with his subordinate. "I’m sure I don’t need to remind you," he went on, "about the nature of this case and the need to keep things quiet."

"The photographer, Sawatari-san," Asuka Jr. explained, "is a former classmate and friend of Mimori-san. He’s worried, that’s all."

The officer nodded and gestured toward the interview rooms. "He’s in 3."

Asuka Jr. nodded and made his way through the press of people to the small room.

Sawatari was there, pacing. As soon as he saw Asuka Jr. he made his apologies then explained he couldn’t wait any longer. He needed to know! But the look on the detective’s face spoke volumes. Asuka Jr. mutely closed the door and locked it. Moving woodenly he crossed to the table and dropped heavily into a chair. After a few seconds of silence the young man lowered his forehead onto the table. Closing his eyes he willed himself to relax.

"The airports, depots, taxis, and ports have come back with nothing; canvassing has come back with nothing," he said into the tabletop. "No hospital, no morgue, has taken in someone matching Mimori-san’s description. Our next step will be the television stations and newspapers. Who knows, if you hang out long enough you might just get a scoop."

"When was the last time you slept?"

Asuka Jr. twisted his head to the side, took a breath and considered. "What’s the date?"

"Why don’t you go home?"

"Because my shift’s not over?"

Sawatari made a rude noise, "It’s pretty obvious I was way off with my little pipe dream so there’s no reason for you to candy coat this for me anymore. What’s really happening?"

Asuka Jr. looked up, a sour expression on his face. "What is happening is I’m beginning to think your pipe dream might not be far from the truth!"

 

11:40PM 67 Hours

Even as Asuka Jr. lay back on her bed, he was fast asleep. Meimi looked down at him with a sad smile on her lips. Moving carefully she slipped out from under his arm, bestowed a heart-felt kiss on his cheek and made for the door. Her mother was there, linens in hand, obviously on her way in.

"He’s asleep," Meimi whispered taking the sheets from her mother’s arms.

"Did he eat?"

Meimi shook her head. "Honestly, I think he was too tired to."

Eimi nodded, and took the sheets back. "Go back in there and stay with him."

Meimi looked startled, but her mother smiled. "You’re right, I would never allow you to sleep with him before, but at the moment you need each other more than you need my rules." As Meimi opened her mouth, seemingly in protest, her mother began talking again. "I’ll call and let them know where he is, don’t worry. And besides," she nodded toward the closed door, "he’s probably still got his pager, cell phone and who knows what else on him in there. Now go!"

Putting a hand on her daughter’s back, Eimi gently shoved her toward the door. Meimi resisted only long enough to kiss her mother on the cheek.

Slipping back into the dark room, Meimi crawled back into bed, curled herself into the crook of his arm, and was soon fast asleep.

 

3:20AM 71 Hours

When Asuka Jr. awoke it was to the sounds of someone softly knocking. For a second he was confused to his surroundings but a glance at the sleeping girl in his arms dispelled these thoughts. Bestowing a quick kiss on her head, he extricated himself from the bed, snatched up his jacket, and made for the door.

In the hall he found Genichiro waiting for him. "Your father is downstairs, it seems you’re needed."

A flash of something like panic brought Asuka Jr. into the present. Together the two men headed for the front door.

Asuka Keiji was there, Eimi as well. It was apparent that no time was being wasted, as the front door was still open and several police cars, with lights flashing, waiting without.

"Her habit was found, in a dumpster on the edge of town," his father said as Asuka Jr. put his shoes on. "There was no sign of blood, or any rips to the material."

"Are you sure it’s hers?" Eimi asked, reaching for her husband’s hand.

"It’s being taken to the Mother Superior for a positive ID, but from all outward appearances it’s hers."

Asuka Jr. looked at the collected parents. "Please don’t say anything to Meimi-chan...until we know for sure."

Listening at the top of the stairs Meimi hastily slipped back into her room.

 

It was never the actual plan for the abandoned child to become a nun. If she been a boy the Sisters would have raised him no differently. But that she had the Calling was the secret desire of a good many of the Sisters who had come to love and depend on her.

In little Seira’s mind the natural progression seemed obvious. You were born in a nunnery, raised to be the Bride of Jesus and when the time was right you stated your vows. What more was there in life?

When she had reached junior high her time became more evenly split between schoolwork and the Offices of the church, but her view never wavered. Then, one day, a man came to the chapel with a truly horrific problem. He had confessed to her, thinking she was a nun, and Seira, unsure what to think had promised him that God would make sure everything was all right.

But how this was going to come about Seira couldn’t say for sure. Something like this would take a miracle, and the time of Saints was obviously past.

It was during this period that she conceived a plan, or a fancy if you will. It was going to need a helper, and Seira knew exactly who that person could be. And so, from the confessional at St Paulia’s chapel, a new Saint emerged.

 

 

6:45AM 74 Hours

"Forensics has gone over it already," Asuka Jr. said into the phone while rummage around for the report on his desk. After several seconds he abandoned the search and just spoke from memory. "They found the degree of detergent still in the fabric, as well as the absence of bodily fluids, specifically sweat, proved that this habit had been taken clean from a draw. In other words, it had gone unnoticed as we searched Mimori-san’s room. The inspector has asked the Sisters to go over the room for anything else that might be missing...what? How should I know? Maybe a bible is missing...I have no idea."

This information given, he hastily got off the phone, but only long enough to pull his cell phone from his jacket. Moving quickly through the programmed numbers he found the one he wanted and waited while it rang.

"I’d been wondering when you were going call," was the greeting he received when his former classmate answered the phone.

"So you’re willing to help me?"

"I’m hurt you haven’t asked before," was the sharp reply.

Takamiya hadn’t changed Asuka Jr. thought with a wry smile. "I’ll need you to help look up dates and hospital reports. It’s a long shot, like you can’t image, but I’m getting desperate."

"Should I quote Sherlock Holmes?"

He laughed into the phone, "It is about as unlikely as it gets," he finally found the forensic report and stood up. "Just promise me you won’t laugh. Meet me at the Hall of Records at noon."

 

12:00 80 Hours

It was just before noon when Asuka Jr. parked his car in the restricted area of the Town Hall garage. As he gathered his attaché and headed for the building the too familiar blonde hair of Sawatari could be seen moving his way. With a mental groan he moved to intersect the photographer.

"So you’re buying into my pipe dream," the blonde said as they turned and made their way toward the stairs.

"Takamiya-san’s inside," Asuka Jr. said with no preamble. "If you can spare the time to help we could use your eyes."

"I’d love to," was the too quick reply.

Asuka Jr. stopped and looked hard at the photographer. "We’re here to find Mimori-san...nothing else, do you understand?"

Sawatari looked hurt. "Of course."

 

As the limo drove smoothly along the hill before the house, the car phone rang, summoning the family to the hospital. His mother said to collect her en route, but the soon to be new mother was already in an ambulance, speeding toward her new life. He stopped only long enough to make his father get into the car and then they were retracing their path toward town.

When the car stopped to pick up his mother she stood beside a priest and a single attendant. It seemed she was very serious about this being a bad day to be born and was taking no chances. The priest would be there if there were nothing the doctors could do to prolong the pregnancy. Once arranged in the car, she instructed the driver to waste no time in getting them all to the hospital.

Later police reports would label this accident, involving a gas tanker and a limousine, as one of the worst many had seen, ever. It was a mercy no one survived the newspapers said the next day, as most of the party had to be identified through dental records. Some of them, however, went to the grave unknown, while across town a baby girl was trying out her new lungs.

 

"I think I found something," Rina said, holding aloft a picture of the most horrific automobile accident in Seiko City’s history.

The two men in the room with her glanced up, displaying red-rimmed eyes. They had been at it for six hours without interruption. Asuka Jr. was afraid that things were becoming one big blur so he welcomed the break.

"That old chestnut!" Sawatari snorted, leaning closer to gaze at the picture. "You’d love to be the one to crack that case, huh?" His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Asuka Jr., however, was looking at the dates and scanning the article for body counts. "No, actually," he reached across the desk and pulled a pile of papers toward himself, "she’s right." He quickly began pulling papers from the pile and together the three researchers moved to a free desk.

Spreading out several piles, Asuka Jr. began arranging reports in a chronology that suited him.

"If we compare dates…" he mumbled, reaching for his cell phone. Pushing a few buttons, he distractedly began talking into the phone, requesting forensic reports from an incredulous friend in that department.

"Yes...yes, I know what it sounds like...yes, I know, I know..."

The sounds of the one sided conversation faded as Asuka Jr. left the room, intent on collecting the reports as soon as possible.

Sawatari and Takamiya watched him go before glancing at each other.

"What’s your idea," the photographer asked raking a hand through his hair. "He," the blonde gestured to the now closed door, "seemed to have picked up on it just fine, but you missed me."

"You know the story of this accident," she began, pointing to the photo.

"Who doesn’t?"

"Well what if this was connected with Mimori-san?"

"Her missing millionaire parents?"

"Or parents-in-law...the dates work out very close to our range of dates," Takamiya said indicating the pile of papers Asuka Jr. had arranged on the table. "What we’re missing is a possible marriage date--"

"Wasn’t one on the victims in the crash voted the most eligible bachelor like 20 years ago?"

Takamiya looked up, surprise evident on her face. "Are you serious?"

Now it was Sawatari’s turn to reach for his phone. The policewoman watched this with an amused looked on her face, then pulled out a phone of her own. Swiftly dialing she smiled at the man beside her.

"Who’re you calling?" he asked puzzled.

"The local take out," she said with a grin. "I’m starving!"

The couriers arrived after the food did. As the three former classmates sat on the floor of the entrance hall, eating Chinese food, the forensic department report arrived. With food in one hand, and the file on his knees, Asuka Jr. began his search. Takamiya leaned over at one point to see what he was looking at but instantly rocked back in horror.

"Uh! How can you look at that and eat at the same time?"

Asuka Jr. shrugged and turned the page without comment.

The society column file arrived next, and it was several boxes worth of folders. Carrying it back to the desks they were currently occupying the two blondes took the massive package and divided it between them. Silence returned as the three busied themselves over their various projects.

It was close to midnight when Asuka Jr.’s phone rang. Excusing himself he moved from the room after glancing at the number of the person calling. It was Meimi.

Once alone Sawatari looked at Takamiya, "Something is up with Haneoka-san. I overheard a conversation when her mother called to let Asuka Jr. know how she was doing. I have a feeling the shock of the kidnapping really upset her."

The sounds of shouting from the hall drew their attention. Moving quickly to the door, intent on eavesdropping, Sawatari only managed to get hit with the item as Asuka Jr. exploded back into the room.

The detective paused long enough to grab his jacket before heading for the door again. "Haneoka is missing," he said running from the room. The collective gasp didn’t slow him down. "Keep looking," he called as he ran, "I’m counting on you both!"

And he was gone.

 

11:50PM 91.5 Hours

The doctor hadn’t exaggerated when she said that her emotions would range all over the scale. Tears were pouring from her eyes as Meimi ran into the night. She had actually toyed with the idea of becoming Saint Tail, but only for a moment. She was pretty sure he would never forgive her if she were to once again don the costume she had hid behind for a year. And what a year it had been! All because of Seira.

With a soft sob Meimi quickened her pace. How could this have happened? Who would want to harm such a sweet, kind, and gentle person as Seira? Meimi knew she owed Seira so much and the idea that the young nun was somewhere waiting to be rescued had been driving Meimi wild for the last three and a half days. But Meimi hadn’t been thinking clearly and didn’t know what to do. And then there had been the actual condition of her body. Weak as a kitten was being kind. The doctor had said she would recover, but Meimi just couldn’t wait for that to happen. She had to help, now.

The fact that Seira’s habit had been removed whole suggested several things in Meimi’s mind. The nun would be unlikely to remove it willingly, but doubtless her kidnapper felt it was conspicuous. This was understandable. So Seira had removed it. Of this Meimi had no doubt. If the kidnapper had wanted it off, and gotten resistance, there would have been rends or tears in the material but Asuka Keiji had said there were none of these. Seira had been convinced to remove it herself. At gunpoint? Meimi shuddered at the image.

What Seira couldn’t know was that the habit had been disposed of. Meimi was as sure of Seira’s being ignorant of this fact as she was of Seira having removed it with her own hands. Seira would have never agreed had she known the fate of the uniform. This meant that whoever got rid of it did it as far from Seira’s view as possible. So while the police were canvassing the area near the dumpster, Meimi headed for the opposite side of town.

 

The room that Seira had been living in for the past 3 days was a small, windowless, cinderblock cube. She had a bathroom and a bed, nothing else. Her request for a Bible had been ignored so she had shrugged and let it go. Food was brought to her 3 times a day so that other than the worrisome feeling, and overwhelming boredom, she was content. That Meimi was looking for her she had no doubt, but how long it would take...

The only voice that she had heard in the past hours was that of a man. He had told her not to worry, that no one was going to harm her, and other things meant to comfort her. She had accepted these assurances at face value and said nothing more. It was plainly pointless to question this person so she passed her time in prayer.

On the fourth day the voice was at the door again, explaining why she was there. Seira listened with mute disbelief. It was suddenly clear that this person was insane and for the first time she began to be afraid. Her prayers took on a more fevered pitch as she longed for the sound of Meimi’s voice.

That night her evening meal tasted slightly off, and too late she realized she had been drugged. As she began to drift off to sleep she could see a man in a mask standing over her. He was saying that they needed to move, that ‘that friend of yours’ had been in the area and it was no longer safe here. The rest of his words were lost to Seira as she drifted off to sleep with images of Meimi in her mind.

 

1AM 92.5 Hours

When Meimi entered the small cell an hour later the realization that she was too late made her light-headed. Moving woodenly, she just managed to reach the bed before her body betrayed her. Dropping limply onto it, her energy spent, the petite redhead scooped up the sheets and pillow and buried her face in them, breathing in Seira’s scent. With a soul-rending howl, Meimi began to cry.

 

Asuka Jr. stood on one side of the door, his partner on the opposite side. Both were poised, ready to face whatever was within. Tugging his Kevlar vest away from his throat once again he rose onto the balls of his feet and began to bounce...one...two...three…

Kicking in the door with a shout, the two men burst into the small room.

Within, the only person they found was Haneoka Meimi.

Obviously sobbing, Meimi was on her knees, her face pressed against the pillow she clutched against her thighs. Her hair was a scarlet blanket spilling over her legs and spreading out on the floor. One glance around the tiny room confirmed that she was alone. Asuka Jr. quickly went to her side, being careful not to touch anything.

"Meimi," he whispered, laying a hand on her shoulder. He dropped to his knee next to her and gently urged her to rise. He explained that the police needed the room to search for clues, but he could clearly see she was not listening. Bending, he pulled the pillow from her clawed hands and tossed it onto the bed. That done, Asuka Jr. scooped Meimi into his arms and carried her from the room. Without a word he made for the exit, allowing the in-rush of officers to flood the small cell.

Once outside the warehouse, Asuka Jr. headed for a squad car and indicated to a nearby officer that he would be back. He settled Meimi in the passenger’s seat and hurriedly got behind the wheel. He felt a need to put as much space as possible between Meimi and the warehouse.

As he drove, Asuka Jr. realized he was caught somewhere between rage and pity. After a moment of frantic thought he decided his best course of action was to remain silent. Yet inside his head he was shouting at her. Fear made him want to shake her, relief made him want to take her in his arms and somehow draw the pain from her heart.

And suddenly it was all too much.

Asuka Jr. pulled the car onto the side of the road and turned it off. Dropping his forehead onto the steering wheel he felt a howling pain in his heart that he would not, could not, allow out. His hands, as they clutched the steering wheel, were strained and burning, as if he were holding onto the only thing that was real in his life. He struggled with his emotions, feeling hot tears on his face and then...a hand gently on his thigh. Startled he looked up, and found Meimi gazing at him with a look of the deepest concern and pity he had ever seen. Angrily he drew away. He didn’t want pity, least of all from her! He had never felt like this before; the overwhelming anger, self-loathing and a sweeping undercurrent of hopelessness. The battle with his own frustrations suddenly rounded on the young woman beside him and, seeing the look on his face, Meimi’s eyes closed as if she were awaiting the coming blow.

Horrified, Asuka Jr.’s emotional flood drain away.

Relinquishing his death grip on the wheel the young detective reached out and caught up his real safety line; pulling Meimi to his chest in a bone-crushing embrace.

For a second she was stiff, as if unsure, but then she pressed against him. She felt so solid and warm. It was a warmth that penetrated to his heart and silenced the keening of his soul. Slowly his free hand rose and stroked her hair as he wearily allowed the rest of his burning tears out.

"I’m not clean," Meimi said softly from her place against his shoulder.

He knew exactly what she meant and hugged her harder. "I don’t care, now or ever."

Meimi closed her eyes, abandoning any remaining defenses, and weakly melted against her love.

 

1:10AM 92.5 Hours

"I heard you...when the police arrived last night, that Seira's habit had been found. I knew, I knew...Seira wouldn't take it off if she knew the kidnapper would throw it out. Seira would never stand for that. The kidnapper had to be trying to lead the police away, far away, from where he was keeping her. He must have had to move her." She dropped her gaze. "I was seen. I must have been. I mean, if you found me so easily then clearly he saw me too."

Asuka Jr. nodded.

"I'm out of practice," she concluded, glancing up with a feeble smile.

He nodded again.

"The habit was taken to forensics," he explained, hoping to distract them both. "It was determined that Mimori-san hadn't worn it, that it was taken clean from her closet, or whatever, because of the amount of detergent in the material and..."

"What did you say?" Meimi hissed.

Asuka Jr. looked up. "About the detergent?"

"There was detergent in it?"

"Yes, why?"

"Because the Sisters do the laundry themselves. They use soap because several of the older Sisters have delicate skin. That has to mean that that habit came new from the maker..."

Asuka Jr. was already reaching for his cell phone. He asked for a report on all stolen and un-recovered commercial vehicles and for a list of venders that frequent the abbey. Starting the car he turned out onto the road.

"Promise me," Meimi said, catching his hand as he reached for the strobe lights, "that I can stay with you."

Asuka Jr. looked over and smiled, giving her hand a quick squeeze, "...'til death do us part’."

 

4AM 96 Hours

Asuka Jr. and Mother Superior sat in the turnout room, comparing their lists. The best lead they had so far was a missing van from the uniform company that supplied the abbey. While no deliveries had been made in the last 3 months, they all agreed that the van would be very unnoticeable park in front of the abbey.

"So we know how he got away," Mother Superior said, folding her hands on the table before her.

"I've renewed the APB on the missing van," Asuka Keiji said, putting a cup of coffee down before the older nun. "We're checking their personnel records for any recent hires, but it seems unlikely that he would go to that extreme."

The head of the investigation nodded and glanced at Takamiya for her report.

"Following a possible lead from an outside source we were able to postulate a motive for the abduction," she began, removing a handful of papers from a folder and handing copies to the people assembled. "Many of the points of interest in this case are closely echoed in the Mimori-san abduction, however--"

Mother Superior looked up after scanning the top page of the report. "None of this is true," she began sharply.

Takamiya nodded her agreement.

"We've always known who Mimori-san's mother was," the nun went on, looking anxiously from one face to another.

"We were able to come to that conclusion ourselves, after far too many hours at the Hall of Records."

"Why didn't you just ask?" Mother Superior demanded.

Takamiya looked sadly at the older woman. "The details before you, though ultimately meaningless, did lead us to several conclusions. And while yes, it had occurred to us to ask you, had we, we would have missed a great deal. The most important fact being, our kidnapper had done similar research two years ago."

Asuka Jr. then took up the narrative. "The kidnapper appears to believe this story. Believing that Mimori-san is the heir to the fortune he abducted her, and we can only assume will force her to marry him. How long we can expect Mimori-san to survive after that time we can hardly guess at."

"What could possibly be the reason for this person to have come to this conclusion?" Meimi asked shaking her head in disbelief.

Takamiya turned to the last page of her report. "The theory we have at the moment is, that our kidnapper, whose name we believe to be Okabe Makoto, is the illegitimate son of Shiraishi Ota, who died in the most horrific car crash in Seiko City's history, almost 18 years ago. Unable to prove his parentage and claim his family's fortune Okabe sought out the person he believed to be the legitimate heir; Mimori Seira."

Mother Superior looked up, her face pale. "If Mimori-san slips, if she says anything that would suggest she's not who he thinks she is..."

Asuka Keiji nodded. "And so we have to find her before he learns the truth."

 

7AM 99 Hours

Asuka Jr. turned on his side, wrapped his arm around Meimi, and began to snore. Meimi looked up into his sleeping face and smiled. The Department Head had ordered his off duty for at least the next 6 hours and so to save time he had driven Meimi home, and gone straight to her room to sleep. Meimi had taken some time to fill her parent in on what was happening before going to bed as well.

At the station house several things were now in the works to find the missing nun. A background check was being run on Okabe as well as profiling on his character. In the muster room that morning the details, as they were currently known, were explained to the assembled officers, who were then given their assignments.

When Meimi awoke, 2 hours later, it was to the sounds of Asuka Jr. getting dressed. Apparently his father had stopped by with some necessities, including a change of clothes. He was just finishing his tie as Meimi sat up. She tried to smile but found she couldn’t.

"I’m leaving this for you," the young detective said, pulling a cell phone from his pocket and placing it on her desk. "I know you won’t listen to me if I tell you not to leave the house, and I’ll feel better knowing I can get in touch with you if I need, or if you need me." He glanced at her, hard, then looked away. "It’s set to not ring, just in case." Asuka Jr. picked up his jacket and sat down on the edge of the bed, his face a mask of composure.

"Meimi, my love," he began softly, clearly he had practiced this speech, "I know...I know this is hardest on you...but you have to remember, it’s hard on us all." He drew in a long breath as if steeling himself. "You just can’t pretend you’re Saint Tail and you’re going to be the one to save her. This is real life, not petty theft. If you go looking for her, and he sees you again, he might get really scared and do Mimori-san some serious harm."

With a deep sigh Asuka Jr. raked his fingers through his damp hair. It appeared he had been up for longer than Meimi realized.

"I’ve already been in touch with the station and nothing new has happened since muster this morning, so there’s nothing for you to do but wait like the rest of us. I’m asking you to please, please, not interfere. I don’t think you’ll listen to me, but I wish you would."

Meimi had been staring at the wall through most of this speech and she didn’t meet his gaze when he was done. Nodding she dropped back under the blankets and said nothing.

"You do realize being married to an officer will be like this, a lot," he went on softly.

Meimi threw herself onto her side and remained silent. Asuka Jr. decided he had had enough and left the room without another word. Meimi listened for the door to close, then jumped onto her knees and piece by piece silently hurled the bed linens after her fiancée in frustration.

 

9PM 113 Hours

Mother Superior rose smoothly to her feet as her visitor was announced.

"Haneoka-san!" she said, moving around her desk, a hand extended. Meimi took the Director’s hand as the Sister who had ushered her in left.

Once the sound of the latch was heard Meimi locked eyes with the Mother Superior. Without a sound the older woman laced her fingers together as if in prayer.

Meimi followed her lead and softly intoned, "Lord, forgive me, for I am without tricks or deceptions."

 

The impact of Asuka Jr.'s fist to the tabletop made the plates jump. Glancing up from his report, Asuka Keiji looked askance at his son. Immediately he saw that the young man as staring fixedly at a small piece of paper with a pink ribbon jutting out from one corner.

"A challenge from Saint Tail?" the detective asked, bewilderment evident in his tone. "I thought we were through with all that."

Asuka Jr. growled his agreement as he rose and reached for his jacket.

"What is she thinking?" Asuka Jr. hissed as he backed the car out of the driveway. Turning onto the main road, he drove faster than the speed limit allowed, his anger growing with the car's speed. "You promised," he whispered over and over.

 

Mother Superior took the gloved hand in her own and pressed a slip of paper firmly into it. Saint Tail took a second to glance at it, and saw it was an address in town.

"Bring her back, Saint Tail," the older nun whispered, her voice heavy with unshed tears. "Bring her home. No one but you should ever touch her. Our gift from the sky. Our Seira."

Saint Tail paused only long enough to send a challenge. It was a foolish thing for her to do, only several levels, but currently none of that mattered. Seira alone mattered.

 

The apartment was in what was once a wealthy part of town. After the economic bubble had burst people had moved on, no longer being able to afford the inflated rents, and now many of the builds were leased to the less than desirable crowd. It was into one of these building that Saint Tail slipped, silent and unseen from the rooftop door. The small thief felt in her pocket for the slim vial of sleeping potion she had used in the past and quickened her pace.

Asuka Jr. yanked open the apartment building door and raced for the elevator. Seemingly none of the four of them were in good working order so he found the stairs and began to climb.

It wasn’t many floors before he could hear the muffled cries of someone struggling. With a burst of speed he leapt up the stairs, his heart suddenly in this throat.

Reaching the final landing the young detective came to a panting stop. He instantly saw there was no longer any reason to hurry and he bent at the waist to recover his breath.

Straightening with a smile, Asuka Jr. stepped over the rope-enshrouded form of Okabe, who was now sleeping peacefully. Before him stood Saint Tail, her arm firmly clamped around a relieved, if tired, Seira. The nun didn’t hesitate but threw herself into his arms, hugging him with as much strength as she could muster. For the briefest second he permitted himself to gently squeeze her back, for that one moment allowing relief to flood his body.

"I should call in," he said, gently extracting himself from her grasp.

Seira nodded and stepped back into the waiting arms of Saint Tail. Clearly neither one was prepared to leave the other. Asuka Jr. looked puzzled from one to the other, but was forestalled from questioning them by the urgent vibrations of his phone. Reaching for it he moved off leaving the two women alone for a moment.

"I’m so very sorry Seira," Saint Tail began again, but Seira quickly placed a finger against her best friend’s lips.

"You came as soon as you could, of that I have no doubt, I need nothing more Meimi-chan."

When Asuka Jr. turned to face them again he was surprised to find himself gazing not at Saint Tail, but Meimi. She still clung to the young nun’s waist, loath to move, and would not meet his eyes. He could see her eyes were bright with tears and her chest was heaving in her effort to not cry. Asuka Jr. mentally sighed. He was currently unwilling to force her to do anything, so said nothing. There would be time enough to question her later.

Less than five minutes later the three were surrounded by several dozen police officers. It seemed the call he had received was his department looking for an update on his whereabouts and the situation. Alerted by Asuka Keiji, they had known to call him and Asuka Jr. had been only too happy to provide them with the address. It would be easier to just turn the current affair over to more capable hands, but the department head would hear none of that. It was Asuka Jr.’s show and there was no escaping it.

Asuka Jr. was being hailed as a hero, and though he fought to be seen as part of the team, no one, especially Seira, would allow it. As tired and drawn as she was, Seira praised him, over and over, to anyone who would listen.

 

Day 6

"Yes, she has refused to press charges. Yes, I know the state will take over, but it’s her wish that he be treated as mentally unstable. Happily she has suffered nothing more than a lack of food and with bed rest will be back to herself in a matter of days."

Sawatari had been saying the same thing for several hours now and not for the first time he wondered why he had imagined having a scoop would be a good thing. This was too much like work. But his editor beamed at him every few minutes so he tried to focus on that aspect of the recent events. He might even get a raise out of it all.

Asuka Keiji returned to his office, checked for recent developments in his smuggling case, saw little to nothing had been done while he was on the Mimori case, and sighed.

Asuka Jr. hadn’t seen Meimi since the rescue. The fact that every newspaper wanted a piece of him didn’t help, or that there were about 50 reports that he now needed to file, as well as superiors to talk too. His direct superior tried to run interference for him, but he still was being pulled in every direction.

Yet inwardly, he smiled. This was all Seira’s doing. She had placed all the credit firmly on his shoulders and had done it knowing it would put distance between him and Meimi. It would allow him the time he needed to forgive her for breaking her promise. But there was still a nagging fear in the back of his mind...would she ever forgive him?

 

One Week Later

It was over a week before Asuka Jr. was able to actually leave the office at a normal hour. He stepped out to ordinary street sounds. No reporters, no cameramen, no Sawatari, no nothing. Just him and the traffic...it was wonderful.

Turning for his car he was surprised to see something lying on the hood. As he neared he could see it was a red rose. There was no note, just the rose. Bemused he picked it up, got in the car, and moved out into traffic.

About a mile down the road he saw another rose, tied to a street sign. Frowning, he pulled over and collected this one as well. There was still no note. They had to be from Meimi he concluded, but where was she and why the trail? However the next thought that flashed across his mind made him laugh aloud. What did it matter? He raced for the car and the nearest florist.

 

Meimi sat beside the pond, relaxing. Seira, who was in excellent health, had left her a few minutes ago, saying she had duties to attend to. Meimi had promised her mother to return home in time for dinner, but for the moment was content to just sit and rest. It had been the worst week of her life, bar none, and the usual flow of time was a welcome comfort she basked in. When the church clock finally chimed the hour, Meimi reluctantly rose and turned for home.

Standing on the edge of the glade was Asuka Jr., a large bouquet of roses in his hand.

Meimi immediately felt the color rise to her cheeks and all thoughts of speech left her. She looked at her feet, unsure of what to do, say, think.

Suddenly she was crushed in his arms, her face pressed against his chest. The next breath she took was heavy with the scent of roses and her lover. For a moment Meimi was too shocked to move, but then she gently placed a hand against his chest and pushed him away.

Asuka Jr. didn’t resist. He couldn’t. The petite redhead dropped her arm and took a step away from him. Clearly she was willing to listen to him, and he was immediately thankful for that. Steeling himself, his free hand clenching into a fist, Asuka Jr. attempted to mend his life.

"I’ll do anything," he whispered, staring fixedly at her downcast eyes, "I’ll say anything, anything you want Meimi, if you’ll only say you forgive me."

The softest sob escaped Meimi before she was able to press a fist against her mouth. Asuka Jr. almost took a step forward, desperate to comfort her, to comfort them both, but he managed to stand his ground.

"I didn’t trust you enough," he went on, "and for that I’ll never forgive myself. But worst of all," he drew in a pained breath, "I forced you to make a choice, and I’m sorry, so very sorry. I was arrogant and shortsighted and I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Meimi."

He took a small, experimental step toward her. Meimi leaned away, but remained rooted where she stood.

"The fact is," he went on, gathering strength, "I would be nothing without you, and I mean that literally. You, and Saint Tail, have created a detective from a schoolboy and I owe you, so much, for that alone. But for all that I repaid you with…" his voice trailed away. Clearly he was unable to complete the thought. For a long minute there was an uncomfortable silence between them.

Bending he placed the flowers on the ground before her. "When you’re ready to talk--"

"I promised…" Meimi cut in, her voice a faltering whisper, "I promised to be home for dinner."

"Can I drive you?" was the automatic reply.

Meimi finally raised her eyes to his; they were awash with tears and beseeched him to understand.

"Don’t leave me," she whispered. Her hands came together over her heart and she swayed as if she would have fallen to her knees. Asuka Jr. sprang forward, ready to catch her, and Meimi slipped into his arms. "Don’t leave me please," she pleaded pressing her face against his chest, her small body wracked with sobs. "I’m so scared...I’m so scared. Please don’t hate me--"

"I could never hate you Meimi," he whispered hugging her hard, "I love you. I’ll never leave you, I promise, I’m so sorry."

"You didn’t call, or come to the house," Meimi went on hastily, forcing the words out between hiccuping sobs, "so I was sure you were never going to forgive me. I know I went back on my promise but I had to save Seira, and then, and then...you wouldn’t look at me--" The words were tumbling from her as if a dam in her heart had broken.

But Asuka Jr. pressed his lips against her forehead and silenced her. "I was sure," he began with a sad smile, "you would never forgive me for making you choose. I felt like I had no right to look at you. Everything I did on this case was a waste, and then you found her in mere seconds. I was so wrong, so stupid to not trust you. You had every right to think the worst of me so I didn’t try to see you because I was afraid you would send me away. It was somehow better just living in doubt."

Meimi pressed against him, to weak with relief to say more. He retrieved the roses, gathered her in his arms, and steered her toward the car.

"I’ll drive you home," he whispered, kissing her damp cheek.

"And you’ll stay?" she insisted softly.

"I’ll do anything you want, I mean it."

Meimi smiled and took the roses from him.

 

Later that Year

A week had passed since graduation and Asuka Keiji canceled all of his meetings in favor of a late night dinner with his son. It was no surprise to the older detective that Asuka Jr. had graduated top of his class. He was sure that the department would be making Asuka Jr. an offer, and he was also sure his son would turn them down. He sighed and shook his head.

"What’s wrong?" Asuka Jr. asked putting his menu down. He looked across the table at his father, concern clearly written on his face.

The older detective removed the unlit cigarette from his lips, ground it into the ashtray on the table and pulled a fresh one from the pack in his pocket. "What’s wrong," he said sagely, "is that you have something to tell me and you think that all this," he gestured at the posh rooftop resturant, "will make it easier on us both."

The young man dropped his head, hiding a smile.

"I’m sure that if you took a minute to think about it," the older man went on, "you’d realize I only want what would make you happy, no matter what it was."

Asuka Jr. looked up. "Thanks, Dad."

"Have you discussed this with Haneoka-san?" Asuka Keiji asked, and then gestured to the waiter. His son’s response waited while they placed their order.

"Her answer," Asuka Jr. said, tearing into a roll, "was the same as yours."

A wry smile split the detective’s face. "You’ve picked a good one," he said with a fond chuckle.

"You have no idea," Asuka Jr. breathed.

"I’ll drink to that," his father laughed, scooping up his glass of beer and saluting the absent lady. Asuka Jr. returned the toast with uncharacteristic glee.

With that happy thought the two men directed their attention to the meal before them and the conversation turned. It wasn’t until coffee had been served that Asuka Jr. broached the subject again.

"Should I explain my reasons?"

"I’m sure they’re logical and valid, but if you want to share, I’m happy to listen."

And so the young detective explained his reasons for not becoming a police officer and for choosing a career as a private investigator. Asuka Keiji listened without interrupting, only nodding when he thought he should. Through it all he found it amusing that the fact that Asuka Jr.’s reputation as the one who brought down Saint Tail was never mentioned.

The truth was, as a private detective he would be highly sought after for that very fact alone. But when taken in the same light as the Mayor’s recommendation, and the recent kidnapping, he would be a fool to not capitalize on it. And then there was the secret identity of Saint Tail to consider. Asuka Keiji was sure that if his son knew that he knew who Saint Tail was the embarrassment would be of the terminal variety. The older detective could easily imagine, however, that having a ‘gentleman thief’ as a wife would be an incredible asset in the field of private detection and he felt himself smiling.

"What?" Asuka Jr. asked, mistaking the meaning of the smile.

"I was just thinking" the detective lied, "that when I retire you can hire me as a consultant. We’ll be like a law firm, ‘Asuka and Asuka, Detective Agency’."

The young man snorted. "Like you’ll ever retire!"

 

Meimi smiled at her guest as he entered the dinning room. She was laying down napkins and generally straightening the table in preparation for dinner. Her parents had planned a nice meal for the four of them when they heard he had an announcement to make.

"I’m thinking they guessed wrong," Meimi whispered, knowing it was nothing more than the same topic Asuka Jr. had discussed with his father the night before. She accepted the flowers he had brought with a radiant smile and turned to fetch a vase, but Asuka Jr. caught her arm and held her for a second.

"I also brought you these," he held out a small glass jar full of dried rose petals. "I thought you might like them back."

Meimi looked at the jar, confusion clearly written on her face.

"They’re the roses you left for me to find when I met you at the pond."

Meimi slowly shook her head, indicating she had not been the one to leave the roses.

Asuka Jr. frowned, puzzled, "Then...who?"

"Meimi!"

Her mother’s voice made them both jump in surprise.

"Seira-chan is on the phone," the older woman said, slipping back into the kitchen.

The young couple’s eyes met, and slowly they both smiled.

"She thought of everything didn’t she?" Asuka Jr. said softly.

Meimi lifted the jar from his hand. "She always does."

 

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