Disclaimer:  The characters from Saint Tail are the creative brain child of the talented Tachiwaka Megumi and are the property of Kodansha, and TMS.  It was a pleasure to borrow them for this piece, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Positive feed back is always welcome.

                                                                                                                                 Stirling Twilight

 

 

 

It's Done With Mirrors

 

    Asuka Jr.’s hand rested like feathers on her shoulder. The point of contact was burning and satin all at once. Her back presented itself to him and she felt him take a step closer.

    "Why don’t you run?" he whispered with a note of surprise.

    Her body reacted to the sound of his voice, becoming leaden and heavy. Her eyes closed of their own volition. What to say? He was right, she should flee….

    His free hand rose to caress her other shoulder and she sighed at the touch. He took another step, closing the small gap between them. The air between them became warm from the heat of their bodies. She leaned back slightly, until she could feel the material of his shirt and tie against her skin. Again he shifted, moving until he could feel her weight against his chest. Closing his eyes, he lowered his face into her hair. Drawing in a deep breath, he slowly exhaled, "Meimi."

    The hands on her shoulders began a gradual descent that drew the long, satin gloves she wore off as they went. His touch burned her skin, and the now exposed flesh of her arms shivered. Reaching her wrists, he gave her a gentle hug.

    "You’re cold."

    His voice was deeper than she remembered and his breath on her ear was a welcome caress. He rubbed his forehead against her ponytail, breathing deeply the scent of the red, silky strands. She pressed against him where she could, trying to let him know his attentions were very welcome. But he needed no encouragement as he reached across her body with one arm and with his other hand placed his fingertips on her face. Descending with agonizing slowness, he brushed her closed eyelids, traced the shape of her nose, and down to her mouth. His fingers gently parted her lips, drawing her full, soft, bottom lip down. She felt him stiffen, waiting, expectant. Her head lolled against his.

    The piercing shouts of the alarm jarred Asuka Jr. back to reality. Sitting up, cursing, he cast baleful eyes at the clock and groaned. As he reached to turn it off, he fought a desire to throw it against the far wall.

 

    Putting the dream behind him, Asuka Jr. pushed open the door to his homeroom, and froze.

   Haneoka stood, framed within her circle of friends, as one of them lifted her hair into a ponytail. It wasn’t set high on her head like Saint Tail’s, but it was enough to wrap a steel band around his heart. Gasping, he whirled and practically fell from the room, back into the hall. Several people glanced at him, but he hardly noticed as he raced for the men’s room. He needed to collect his thoughts, and quickly.

    Splashing cold water on his face only made his head pound. As he blindly reached for a towel, one was pressed into his hand. Wiping his face, he looked up into the smiling face of Sawatari. The two young men regarded each other for several moments in silence. It was the tall photographer who finally broke the silence.

    "You looked like you’ve just seen a ghost."

    Asuka Jr. was taken aback by his tone. Sawatari was doing nothing to antagonize him, and it puzzled him exceedingly.

    "Umm," Asuka Jr. replied hesitantly.

    Sawatari looked at himself in the mirror and went on without looking at his classmate again.

    "Did you know the F Museum will be having a new exhibit, starting this weekend?" His tone suggested he knew the answer. "There will be a treasure there," he paused for effect, "exactly the sort of thing Saint Tail goes in for."

    Asuka Jr. felt affronted by this seeming familiarity and made a derisive snort in response. Sawatari shrugged and left him alone with his thoughts. Asuka Jr. stood another minute and then glanced at himself in the mirror. What was wrong with him he wondered?

 

    Sister’s voice became a sort of mantra as she strove to make the new theorem simple enough for the class to understand. Asuka Jr. understood it in the first few moments, but most of the class was going to need more time. He allowed his mind to relax, listening to the cadence of the speakers voice. Slowly, he slipped into a dream state.

    Her hand was stretched out behind her as she ran and his next stride allowed him to catch it. He planted his feet and pulled her back.

    She didn’t resist.

    In the next second he was surprised to find his arms full of the little thief. His shock and amazement were unlike anything he had ever experienced before. She kept her face turned away and said nothing. The second became a minute, then two…then three.

    Asuka Jr. didn’t move. In fact, he didn’t know what to do. All the signals were wrong, or at least, not what he expected. He felt as she slowly relaxed, her gloved hands coming up to touch him. Gently, hesitatingly she stroked the back of his hand. Asuka Jr. became aware of the warmth of the girl he held, the perfume of her skin, the gentle rise and fall of her breathing.

    "Why?" he whispered in disbelief. His eyes closed and his mind was reeling. "Why?"

    "I wanted you to touch me," was the soft reply. "You haven’t caught me, and I haven’t given myself up, I just couldn’t stand the thought of being away from you again. I don’t know when I’ll see you next and I wanted you to hold me, to touch me, be near me. I’ve wanted it for so long."

    Asuka Jr. dropped his head onto her shoulder as her arms rose to encircle him. She drew him closer, pressing herself back against him. She was small, delicate and his heart soared at the contact.

    "I can’t," he whispered, gently squeezing her. "I can’t let you get away, I’m sorry, I can’t." Even as he spoke he was cursing himself, and as the last words left his mouth she melted from his arms. Startled he looked around, and sat up with a jerk.

    Haneoka Meimi sat beside him, watching, with a concerned expression on her face. He looked around, saw that class was over and that they were alone in the classroom. Blushing hotly, he turned back to her, words of explanation rising to his lips, but she leaned toward him and laid a slim hand on his arm with a smile. The touch drew his attention, it was familiar somehow and he stared as his brain labored in confusion.

    "It’s ok," Haneoka said quickly. "Sister thought you had been out late last night, chasing Saint Tail. She checked your notes and saw that you understood what she was explaining and let you sleep."

    The relief on his face made her smile grow warmer and she chuckled. "She gave you extra homework for sleeping, but that was all."

    Asuka Jr. couldn’t believe his good luck and said as much. Haneoka beamed at him then rose. He looked up at her, puzzled, as she bent and met his lips in a kiss. He was frozen for a second, shock robbing him of speech, and then he woke up.

 

    It was after class and Asuka Jr. was walking home. Takamiya had questioned him about the exhibit at the museum, but he had no more information for her than he had had for Sawatari. Inwardly, he cursed himself for not being more up on things, and for not being more alert. Why was he so wooly-minded all of a sudden? This wasn’t like him!

    The dreams that were leaking into his life were beginning to worry him, too. That he should dream of Saint Tail seemed natural, she was so much a part of his life, but that Haneoka Meimi should be part of the dreams too gave him pause.

    A black flash caught his attention. He looked up in time to see a familiar booted leg disappear around the corner. Breaking into a run, Asuka Jr. went in pursuit.

    Turning the corner, Asuka Jr. entered the park that surrounded Museum F. Ahead of him ran Saint Tail, her ponytail sailing out behind her. Asuka Jr. called for her to stop, amazed that she was here, in broad daylight.

    Taking the steps two at a time, he entered the museum, only to hesitate once inside, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark interior. Yells of surprise reached his ears from a gallery on the right and he quickly ran in that direction.

    The room was devoid of people. Asuka Jr. slid to a stop, suddenly wary. He had heard voices, he was positive of it. Yet, he was alone. A faint scent, lavender? reached him and he looked around.

    The new exhibit was the contents of a recently deceased woman’s jewelry collection. Ropes of pearls, creamy cameos, gaudy rings, and twinkling diamond pins spilled from boxes like pirate treasure. Asuka Jr. stopped to look in a case, and saw a splash of movement reflected in the glass. Whirling he saw…nothing.

    "I need sleep," he groused, shaking his head. He headed for the doors and found them closed. Surprised, he reached to push them open and heard a sound behind him.

    "Stop!" Saint Tail cried. Asuka Jr. did, and began to turn toward the voice.

    "No! Don’t move, please, don’t look at me." He did as she said and waited. In the next second he felt her arms go around his shoulders, hugging him from behind. His brain labored to understand what was happening, but nothing managed to penetrate.

    "I’m sorry...please forgive me, but I can’t stand it anymore. I want to touch you so badly, please forgive me." She felt him jerk at her words, and she pressed her forehead against his back. "I’m sorry." Slowly she began to draw away, and he caught her arms and held them. Her surprise at the action was equal to what his had been. He pulled gently at her arms, drawing her close again.

    "I understand," he whispered. "But Saint Tail…I’m dreaming this. None of this is real. I’m sorry."

    She stiffened at this declaration, but hadn’t drawn away.

    "Why do you think that?"

    "Because this is easily the 12th time I’m had a dream just like this, and in every dream we touch, and then you melt away."

    "I’m not melting now," she whispered, squeezing him.

    Asuka Jr.’s eyes closed and he leaned backward, hugging her with his back. "But you will, and I’ll wake up and wonder why I’m having these dreams."

    "How can I convince you I’m real?"

    Asuka Jr. paused. This was a new twist on the dream he thought and for a second began to doubt. But then an answer to her question, and his problem, flashed into his mind.

    "You can’t Takamiya-san."

    She released him, and as he turned he found that he was indeed facing the young woman he had named. She was dressed as Saint Tail, but she was not Takamiya’s height. He smiled down at her.

    "You see, this is a dream. I know who Saint Tail is, and she’s not you."

    Takamiya began to fade and Asuka Jr. was inwardly relieved. Shaking himself, he woke up.

 

    "You just wouldn’t believe the dreams I’ve been having," he said, placing a dinner plate at his father’s place at the table. The kitchen smelled of cooking pork and as Asuka Jr. finished setting the table, he went to his father to see what progress the older detective had made with the meal.

    "What sort of dreams?"

    Asuka Jr. peered over his father’s shoulder as the older man turned to place the noodles in the colander. "Well, if anyone else had told me about them I would think they were harboring a lot of suppressed feelings, but--"

    Asuka Keiji began laughing as he shook the noodles dry. "But you don’t think you suffer from such a fate?"

    Asuka Jr. scowled and silently helped place the rest of the food on the table. They continued in silence until Asuka Keiji had half finished his meal.

    "What’s she like?"

    "Eh?" Asuka Jr. was momentarily unsure he had heard the question.

    "What’s she like?"

    "Saint Tail?"

    "Umm."

    The young man felt annoyed by the question. "Are you asking me what I like about her?"

    "I’m just wondering why you keep chasing her."

    "Because the mayor--"

    "Not that reason. I know that reason. What I want to know is what about her keeps you jumping through hoops, and generally risking life and limb. You know she only steals for a good cause, and that her breaking and entering charges are a joke at best."

    Asuka Jr. blushed. "Are you asking if I’m obsessed with her?"

    "No, I’m asking why you’re obsessed with her."

    The following pause lasted until dinner was finished and Asuka Keiji was relaxing at the table with a cup of coffee. Asuka Jr. finished clearing the dishes and sank back into his chair. He felt his color rising even as he formed the question.

    "Why do you want to know?"

    "Because I’m interested in you and I want to understand you better."

    "And you think this will help?"

    His father chuckled. "I’m counting on it. So, what’s she like?"

    Asuka Jr. focused on a middle distance, looking inward. "What first caught my attention--other than the stealing part--was the reason for the theft."

    "Reason?"

    "Yes, there was always a good reason, like you said. She wouldn’t steal a diamond just to have money. She’s not like a common thief. She steals for a worthy cause. The sort of cause you would pray to God for help with."

    "So you think she’s noble? Like a modern day Robin Hood?"

    "Umm, yes, but there’s more to it than that."

    "Like what?"

    "She’s charming in a way. Like a "gentleman thief" in the movies. She’s never mean; she’s surprisingly helpful…I don’t know. I guess it’s hard to put into words. It’s more like a feeling you get from her. Like she’s in on the joke, and you’re not. I’d love to spend some time just talking to her. She must be fascinating."

    "So you find her fascinating...fascinating in a romantic way?"

    "I don’t understand why you’re asking me these questions!" the young man almost yelled, blushing again. "Sure it’s romantic chasing some mysterious girl, but I have a job to do. I’m not out there to write a romance novel, I’m out there to catch her."

    His father leaned forward, his elbows on the table, his tone sober. "And then what?"

    "What do you mean?"

    "I mean what will you do when you catch her?"

    Asuka Jr. looked inward once again, and found he had no answer for his father. The older detective then rose, taking his coffee, and said he would be in his office for the rest of the night, typing reports. Asuka Jr. watched him go, and recalled the question to his mind. What would he do if he actually caught her? The chase would be over and his life would be as it had been before she entered it.

    His head dropped onto the table with a thump. A worse fate he couldn’t imagine.

    Climbing the stairs to his room, balancing his books in one hand, two mugs of hot coffee in the other, Asuka Jr. decided to relax with a book before bed. He had finished his homework in class and was free for the rest of the evening. Depositing one of the mugs beside his father, he went to his room and set his things down. The light on his answering machine was flashing and he debated whether he should answer it or not. With a sigh he pushed the button and took a mouthful of coffee.

    As Haneoka began speaking, he almost sprayed the room with the scalding liquid. Instead he swallowed hard, feeling the burning liquid going down his throat like a baseball. He barely heard what she was saying as he raced for the save button on the machine.

    Almost half an hour later he lay on his bed, staring at the phone. The  silence steeped for almost a full minute before he pressed the button again. A girl’s piping voice began after a few seconds delay.

    "Hello Asuka Jr.! It’s Haneoka! I’m sorry I missed you, I just wanted to thank you for the help today with the math homework. I hate doing it, or maybe I’m just to dumb, but I can never get it without help. It was nice of you to stop, I mean the park can be a boring place sometimes, if you’re alone." She giggled nervously and then went on; "I’m sorry, I seem to be talking and I can’t stop." There was a slight pause, and when she continued her tone was more sober. "I am sorry I missed you, and I really am glad you helped me, thank you, Asuka Jr., very much. I’ll see you tomorrow!" she finished brightly.

    There were no lights on in the room. Rolling onto his back, he allowed his mind’s eye to focus on their meeting in the park.

    He had found her, near to tears, struggling with the homework. His offer of help had slipped from his lips even before the thought had taken form in his mind. She had sniffed, looked glum, but made room for him at the table. He smiled at the thought.

    Once he had figured out where her problem with the equation was he amended her notes and watched as she mastered the exercise. Her delight with each correct answer had an infectious quality about it. He found himself leaning over her, watching each stroke of the pencil, afraid that any mistake would shadow her world. Unconsciously, he had leaned so close that when she turned toward him, for his approval on one particularly hard question, they had almost bumped noses. In that second he could smell her hair, and he felt her breath on his face. Blushing, he had sunk back, and now, here alone, the memory made him blush again.

    Closing his eyes he saw her again, and for the first time he actually wished for a dream.

  

    Standing within the crowd of his classmates, Asuka Jr. listened with only half his attention, half of his mind was watching Haneoka. She had an odd look on her face and too late he realized why, his brain coming to the forefront to hear the climax of the story.

    Meimi did the only thing a girl her age could be expected to do…she fainted. Asuka Jr. leapt forward, catching her as she sank toward the floor. He lifted her into his arms and hurried to the sofa.

    Even as he rushed forward, she was coming around. The buzz of conversation faded as he lowered her onto the cushions.

    "Asuka Jr."

    "Shhh," he replied, shaking his head. "Don’t talk, just relax." She looked around, her eyes wild, and saw they were removed from the crowd. With a sigh she sank back and pressed a hand to her forehead.

    "I think I over reacted," she moaned.

    Again he shook his head. "No, you were right," he said, looking over his shoulder at the thinning crowd. "They went to far." He turned back to face her, his eyes soft with concern. "I’m just sorry I didn’t take you away sooner."

    The hand she used to brush back her hair shook and Asuka Jr. felt his anger rising again, but he didn’t leave her side as she fought to compose herself. When her color had returned to a more normal state, she smiled weakly at him and sought to rise. Asuka Jr. laid a hand on her arm, gently restraining her.

    "Wait, please," he said with as little inflection as she had ever heard from him. She lay back and said nothing, waiting. Leaning forward he moved toward her, his eyes intent on her face. She showed no signs of concern as he moved close enough to kiss her. Her lips were warm and soft, and she kissed him back as if she were used to the exercise. Sitting back, he sighed. "I thought so."

    "You thought what?"

    "I thought this was a dream, and it is."

    Meimi cocked her head. "Is it?"

    He smiled at her. "Haneoka, I just kissed you and you acted like I do it everyday…trust me, this is a dream." Meimi blushed and dropped her eyes. Asuka Jr. quickly caught up her hand. "I’m sorry," he added hastily, "I didn’t mean to upset you."

    She stared at him in disbelief and then giggled. "Are you seriously apologizing to me in your dream?"

    He looked surprised, and then they both burst out laughing.

    When she had calmed down a bit, Meimi sat up and made room for him on the sofa. "This is your dream," she said, tucking her feet under herself. "What happens next?"

    He rose and took the offered seat. "We make-out for hours?"

    Meimi smiled wryly at him. "While I’m sure I would enjoy that as much as you would, I think there must be a more urgent reason for my being here."

    Asuka Jr. nodded his agreement, though he had the grace to look disappointed.

    "Tell me what has been happening."

    He leaned forward and studied his hands. "I’m not sure where to begin."

    "Tell me what you remember."

    He thought about this statement and decided it was a valid beginning. Frowning, he considered. "The last thing I remember clearly was a challenge from you, about Rosemary."

    "That was days ago, my love," she whispered soothingly, as if he were losing his mind and she was trying to break it to him gently.

    He looked surprised. "Was it really?"

    Beside him on the sofa sat Saint Tail, feet tucked under her, nodding at him in agreement. He sighed, looked away and looked back. Haneoka was as she had been before, watching him expectantly.

    "What just happened?" she asked suspiciously.

    He smiled and shook his head. "I couldn’t explain it."

 

    Asuka Jr. smiled as he recalled a funny line he had in his last dream. The dreams were no longer bothering him, not now that it seemed he could control them, or at least parts of them. His offer of making out with Haneoka tickled his funny bone and he once again chuckled to himself.

    He was walking home from school and the weather had turned from a misting rain to just plain fog. Asuka Jr. had his book bag swung over his shoulder and was mentally reliving some of the more memorable dreams of the past weeks. He seemed to be spending more and more time in the dreams kissing Haneoka and the thought brought a smile to his lips.

    When he looked up, he saw a form in the fog before him, walking in his direction. He stepped aside, making more room on the sidewalk, but the figure stopped. He paused, looking into the grey swirls before him, that parted to reveal the waiting figure.

    Meimi stood facing her classmate. She was dressed in a variation of a Saint Tail costume that was at once suggestive and school uniform like. The concern on her face spoke volumes.

    "Where are you Asuka Jr.?" Fear and anxiety mingling in her voice. Her hands were balled into fists, which she held clasped tightly across her breasts. She took a step forward, straining toward him. "Where are you?"

    He reached out and she hastily caught his hand, moving closer to him, yet she seemed far away, fading into mist. Asuka Jr. was sure he felt her warmth, but he knew, in his heart, she was not present. He shook his head, looking at his feet. "I don’t know," was the faint admission. When he raised his eyes she was in her usual school uniform. "I don’t know," he whispered again. "I’m sorry, Haneoka."

    Meimi hugged his hand to her chest as tears spilled from her eyes. Asuka Jr. quickly stepped closer and wrapped his arm around the small redhead. Meimi moved into his embrace, clinging to him, suddenly sobbing uncontrollably. For a fleeting moment he felt like joining her but then he smiled and squeezed her.

    "Haneoka," he whispered, chuckling softly. "It’s ok. Really. Don’t cry. My father will find me. I promise."

    Meimi continued to cry, clutching him as if she wanted to become part of him. "I’m scared," she moaned, "it’s been four days, four days! I’ve been looking and looking and I still can’t find you. No one can." She raised streaming eyes to meet his. "Please, Asuka Jr., please, please be alright."

    "I’m alright, I promise." He gently pulled her away and bent to meet her eyes. He smiled crookedly at her and she tried to smile back. He thought a change of subject would help. "Tell me," he said glancing around, "how did you get here? Did you use magic?" he meant the last to be a joke, but as he turned his eyes back on her, he gasped.

    Dressed in the same evening gown he had seen her in when she had been engaged to Ryutaro-kun, Meimi stood before him, a satin top hat in hand. With a flourish she drove her hand into the hat and pulled out the small stuffed hedgehog music box he had seen her with, only this time the toy was real. Just like the one with the Polar Tear.

    "Here?" she repeated, pushing the animal back into the hat. "No, not magic. You brought me here." The hat disappeared from her hand.

    "So you know this is a dream?"

    She gestured to the dress and tried to laugh, but a sob escaped her and she flew at him, her arms wide. He saw the flash of tears from her eyes as her arms encircled him and once again she was crying as if her heart were breaking.

    He tried to smile encouragingly but found he didn’t have the strength. "I’m scared too, Meimi."

    A gently tinkling sound reached his ears and he turned away from her, looking into the fog.

    "Do you hear that?"

    Looking up at him, Meimi wrapped her hands in his shirt and hung on.

    "No! No, please, please Asuka Jr. please don’t go!"

    He turned to look at her, a gentle smile on his lips. "I have too," he whispered, loosening her hands from his clothing. Meimi dropped to her knees, sobbing, pleading with him to stay. He looked down at her, puzzled. The tinkling grew louder, then became manifest in tiny, falling sparkles. Asuka Jr. took a step toward the waterfall of light followed by the howling of his classmate. She clung to his leg, holding on for dear life but the draw of the light was more than he could stand. Bending, Asuka Jr. carefully raised Meimi to her feet.

    "What is it?" he asked, unable to tear his eyes away. The small redhead sagged in his arms and he adjusted his grip to keep her upright.

    "It’s jade dust," she whispered, "It’s controlling you and keeping me from finding you, Asuka Jr. Please don’t go." She continued to plead, knowing it was hopeless. Slowly he began to fade from her arms and she screamed for him in her desperation.

    Asuka Jr. rolled to his side and sat up, the ringing of her cry still echoing in his ears. He looked around, seeing little and comprehending nothing. The room, unfurnished as it was, was unchanged and there was food in the same place it had been the previous mornings. Rising, he moved with an unsteady gate to the window to look out, but his eyes couldn’t focus enough and he sank to the floor again. At that moment, part of the floor seemingly rose and a head appeared.

    "So you’re awake," it said with no emotion. He nodded, unable not to. "Eat your breakfast and go back to sleep."

    He did as Rosemary said, wrapped in the scent of lavender, and dreaming of his ideal.

 

 

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