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

 

Please read first:  In the body of the text are two further options for the ending of this story.  Which ending you choose is totally up to you.  Which you believe is... well......... you decide.
            ST

 

Truth or Dare

Meimi pushed her way into the crowd and strained to see the note Asuka Jr. clutched in his hand. His announcement of a challenge by Saint Tail motivated her to be almost rude as she reached for the slip of paper. Sawatari, however, was faster. Snatching it from Asuka Jr.’s startled grasp he held the note to eye level and re-read the message aloud.

"Tomorrow night I will have the pleasure of taking the Silvermoon Diamond from the home of Aki Sayata" he said, loud enough for the room to hear. Asuka Jr. reached for the note, cursing softly. Sawatari allowed him to recover it, just as Meimi made a grab for it. She quickly studied the note, front and back, before handing it back to her classmate.

"How did this arrive?" she asked, trying very hard of sound casual. Asuka Jr. frowned and looked at the small card with its pink satin ribbon.

"Why do you ask?" he said, slipping the paper into his pocket.

Meimi laughed nervously, and glancing in Seira’s direction, managed to exchange a knowing glance with the young nun.

"Are you sure it’s genuine?" the dark haired girl asked, smiling disarmingly.

Asuka Jr. suffered a second of doubt before he smiled back and turned to his seat.  "It’s no different than any other challenge from Saint Tail," he said over his shoulder as he moved off.

Meimi’s brow furrowed as she watched him go. He was wrong, it was different… it was a fake.

 

"It’s not the first time he’s received a challenge that didn’t come from Saint Tail," Sister Seira said as she adjusted her wimple. To Meimi’s eyes the nun looked particularly unconcerned, but for some reason she couldn’t shake her feeling of foreboding.

"The question is," Seira went on, "is Saint Tail actually going to show?"

Meimi bit her lower lip and turned away. Seira smiled.

 

Sawatari rushed towards Meimi as she made her way towards school the next morning. Asuka Jr. stepped aside as the tall blond rushed past him.

"Haneoka-san!" Sawatari yelled with delight. Meimi paused, and it was all the opening he needed to catch her hand and drag her forward.

"Haneoka-san," he went on, once he was assured of her attention, "I’m going to the house of Aki-san tonight to capture Saint Tail with my camera." He stopped for effect and raked his fingers through his hair. "I would love to have you along," he went on breathlessly, "it could be a date!"

Meimi’s eyes went wide and she sucked in her breath in surprise, but the next voice to speak belonged to Asuka Jr.

"Are you insane?" he barked into the silence.

Sawatari rounded on the speaker. "Why are you always under foot? I’m talking to Haneoka-san, not to you!"

"If Saint Tail is about to perpetrate a crime it’s hardly the occasion for a date!" was the shouted reply.

Sawatari drew himself up to his full height. Smiling down on Asuka Jr. he leaned closer to his classmate’s ear and whispered, "If you can’t get up enough nerve to ask Haneoka-san out, don’t stand in my way."

It was now Asuka Jr.’s eyes that went wide in shock. Sawatari didn’t wait, but recaptured Meimi’s arm and began dragging her forward. They’re voices faded as Asuka Jr. stood stunned.

 

It was lunchtime when the Meimi found herself once again the center of Sawatari’s attention. Seira sat beside her, smiling blandly as Meimi’s eyes raced around the room, desperately searching for Asuka Jr. He usually managed to scare Sawatari off long enough for her to collect her thoughts, and she needed him now!

She found him, a little ways to her left, standing in a cluster of friends, but watching the proceedings with interest. Meimi sent him a pleading glance. He met her eyes and with no sign of recognition turned back to his friends. Meimi felt the wind leave her lungs. She sat still for a long moment while Sawatari’s voice moved like waves over her.

"Yes," she murmured, "… yes."

Seira turned towards her with a gasp. Meimi’s eyes were wide and unseeing. Sawatari, however, pounced on the affirmative and practically danced from the room. Seira watched him go before turning back to the redhead beside her.

"Meimi-chan?" she whispered, but received no response. Meimi collected her bento box into its napkin and rose. Without another word she left the room.

 

As Seira and Meimi slowly strolled home Seira saw Sawatari, at a distance, coming towards them. She whispered a warning to Meimi, who may or may not have heard, as she made no acknowledgement that Seira had spoken. The look of concern that clouded the nun’s face remained fixed in place as Sawatari arrived. With his usual booming presence he confirmed a time with Meimi, preened, and left them alone. After a moment they continued walking in silence.

When they reached the fork where Seira would turn towards the chapel the young nun stopped and laid a hand on Meimi’s arm.

"What happened Meimi-chan?" she asked softly.

Meimi said nothing, but raised her head, and gasped softly. Seira looked at her face then followed her gaze.

Asuka Jr. stood, still as stone, on the path before them. That he had seen them was evident, that he was taken aback was also very plain. He blushed, turned his head aside and walked rapidly away. Meimi watched him go with a pained look, said nothing to Seira, and turned towards home. Seira let her go.

*******

As Sawatari helped Meimi up onto a tree limb they both became aware of the voice of Asuka Jr. giving directions. Meimi couldn’t help but feel odd, not being the one he was after. The young detective seemed unaware of their presence, and Meimi said as much.

"He couldn’t find his head with both hands," Sawatari hissed in annoyance, "why would you expect him to find us?"

Meimi said nothing but returned her gaze to the activity before her.

The tree hideout was well chosen. From where they sat they could see almost all of the front lawn. Trucks with searchlights mounted to their backs faced the house and everywhere policemen moved like swarming bees. It all suddenly seemed absurd, this whole cat and mouse game. The lengths he went to, time after time, and for nothing! In effect Sawatari was right, but Meimi blushed at the thought. Asuka Jr. was smart, he was clever… and she knew it better than anyone. Yet here he was, once again making a fool of himself. Her color rose and she turned towards Sawatari, only to find him inches from her face.

"Meimi-chan…" he whispered, leaning towards her. Meimi drew back in alarm, lost her balance, and began to fall from the tree. Sawatari reached for her, caught her neatly around the waist and pulled her back to the relative safety of his arms. Meimi was crushed to his chest, and she took a second to catch her breath before protestations began to rise to her lips. Sawatari suddenly clamped a hand over her mouth and she saw him look past her towards the house. It seemed something was happening.

"Good evening!" came a feminine voice. Meimi gave a muffled gasp. Not just a feminine voice… but her voice! Leaning forward she strained to see better, but Sawatari, now focused on the proceedings, held her tight, his hand still on her lips.

Asuka Jr. yelled something and lights blazed on. Sawatari dropped from the tree, Meimi tucked neatly under one arm, his camera in his free hand and began jogging closer for a better view. Meimi finally managed to slip from his grip. He glanced back at her, but kept moving. After a second she followed.

Asuka Jr. was pointing, shouting and running towards the house as they came close. Through all of it Meimi had eyes only for the bogus Saint Tail.

She stood, unmoving, on the peak of the roof. Her costume was that of Saint Tail, though her height looked to be off. In her hand she held an object that reflected the searchlights in a million tiny rainbows. She must have the diamond, Meimi thought. In the next second she saw Asuka Jr. on the roof, stealthily moving towards the ponytailed villain. The fake Saint Tail didn’t move, and seemed quite unaware of her present danger. Meimi could see that Asuka Jr. was speaking, but couldn’t hear anything for the pounding of her heart.

As realization dawned on her Meimi screamed a warning. Heedless of any onlookers conjured her wand and threw down a blanket of balloons. Asuka Jr. leapt at the form, passed through it and with a shout hung in space for a second before falling to the brightly colored safety net below.

Meimi sagged, weak with relief as the wand puffed from her hand. An arm went around her, supporting her. In surprise she turned to find herself in Seira’s arms. The nun gestured her to silence and together they ran from the scene.

 

Once in the safety of the chapel Seira and Meimi sat down and tried to relax. It was Meimi who came to herself first and she rounded on her friend.

"What just happened? That Saint Tail had my voice!"

Seira sighed and shook her head in agreement. "It was a recording, and luckily you guessed the image was projected. It was all very neat. And yes, they got away with the diamond."

A silence settled over the two women and then Meimi’s head dropped back, her mind quickly grasping the implications. "Someone has decided that Saint Tail is an excellent cover for real thefts," she said with a groan. She heard again Sawatari berating Asuka Jr. and realized it was indeed the perfect cover. Stealing, while the police are in plain sight. Asuka Jr. was too interested in catching Saint Tail then in the actual robbery. And it was her fault.

"No." Seira said firmly, as Meimi’s tearful eyes met hers. "You are not to blame," she insisted before Meimi could say anything. Meimi studied her friend for a moment, and then flung herself into the young nun’s arms. Seira held her tightly until the worst was over. As Meimi sat back she tried to smile.

"Why don’t you go to him?" Seira suggested softly. "Let Saint Tail tell him what is happening."

Meimi nodded, amid a new flood of tears. "Thank you," she whispered before raising to her feet and lacing her fingers together.

"Forgive me, for I am without tricks or deceptions."

 

Asuka Jr. lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Why had she agreed to see him, he wondered for the millionth time? He had tried to think about what had happened with Saint Tail… but his mind returned to Haneoka with every deviation. Did she really like Sawatari? Had he been wrong about that?

The tap at the glass of his window brought him quickly to his feet. Drawing aside the curtain he saw the silhouetted form of Saint Tail in the tree just outside his room. He quickly opened the window, her name rising angrily to his lips. But even as he drew in breath to yell at her, she sat down on the limb with her back to him. Obviously she was in no hurry. Any protestations died in his throat. "Saint Tail," was all he could manage in his surprise.

"Asuka Jr." was the soft reply.

He paused, unsure. But as he stood there he felt his anger flee.

"I didn’t send you that challenge," she said into the silence, "It wasn’t me who stole that diamond tonight…. I wanted to tell you, I wanted you to know… because… I don’t want you to get hurt."

The young man smiled fondly, "You were there, weren’t you?" he asked, taking a seat in the window. "You put the balloons under me."

Saint Tail presented her profile to him and nodded.

"Thank you."

She dropped her head and nodded again. He sat, galvanized, watching her. He wondered how long he could stay here, with her, like this. He looked her over, from her small feet dangling below the branch to her bright red ponytail. He took his time, trying to memorize every inch of her. A lifetime he told himself, he could sit here for a lifetime.

It was Saint Tail that broke the silence between them, bringing him quickly back to reality. "Asuka Jr. I believe someone is trying to use me…" she faltered. "To use both of us."

He nodded, making a soft noise of agreement. "What do you suggest we do?"

Her soft gasp of surprise pleased him. Now she knew.

"I think I can’t send you any challenges until you catch the fake Saint Tail," she said simply.

He nodded his agreement, "That would be the first step."

"You have another suggestion?" she asked.

"Come back tomorrow at the same time and I’ll tell you about it," he said rising. He rested his hands on the windowsill, preparing to close it when he noticed she hadn’t moved.

"What is it?" he asked softly.

She hung her head for a long moment and then looked over her shoulder again, "Are you real?"

Now he gasped in surprise.

"I sometimes wonder," she went on, turning away again, "if you’re real, or if I imaged you." She looked down, and swung her legs nervously, "You trust me, you respect me… you’re a good, kind soul, and still you put up with my tricks. Why?" She glanced back at him, "Why Asuka Jr.?"

He sat down again, surprised, but after a moment he smiled and looked up into the dark sky. "For the same reason you steal things Saint Tail, because you believe it’s the right thing to do. You’re right, I do respect you, and your reasons are usually valid, even if your methods are unorthodox.

"Sometimes I wish we were on the same side," he said brushing his hair back against the same gentle wind that swung her ponytail. "You seem to have a knowledge of some cases I lack." He laughed softly, shaking his head, "It’s funny though, sometimes I think I’ve imaged you too."

Saint Tail chuckled softly and turned away from him again. "This time, Asuka Jr.," she finished gravely, "we are on the same side."

Pushing herself off the branch she fell into the night, and disappeared.

Asuka Jr. sat on the sill until the chilly night air drove him in. As he closed the window he heard his words again, promising another phase to their plan. With a wry smile he told himself he had better come up with something before she came back.

 

The next challenge arrived a week later. Asuka Jr. was retrieving his shoes, preparing to go home, when a small ball floated from his locker and exploded in a shower of confetti and streamers. He caught the paper, glanced at it, and placed it in his pocket. Several of his friends questioned him, but he only smiled.

When he had met Saint Tail the night after she had come to him they had agreed that he would inform her of the next challenge. Saint Tail had left him several small capsules, explained how to use them, and promised to return when he used one. Asuka Jr. now headed to a quiet part of the park where he could discover, in private, the nature of the capsule, now that he needed one.

The capsule expanded when broken into several silver balloons that quickly caught the gentle breath of wind and rose, flashing blindingly in the afternoon sun. There was little doubt that she would miss this marker if she knew to look for it. He glanced down at the spent capsule and found a note amid the remains.

"I will be at your house this evening, at the same time."

He smiled at the note and placed it with the fake challenge in his pocket.

 

She sat in the tree, listening to him sort through the many papers he had with him. His father had been very interested in the challenge and had willingly lent him the information he had collected on the item in question. Asuka Jr. had looked through it before their appointment, hoping to be able to answer her questions.

"It says that they are going to steal the Fuji Venus. It was recently sold at auction." He paused, "It looks more like a Saint Tail theft this way," he added thoughtfully. She questioned him on this point and he blushed. "You tend to steal things that have recently changed hands. I assume that they’ve changed hands owing to some deception, but I seldom prove that point." She smiled into the darkness and said nothing. He waited, hoping for confirmation of this fact, but when none appeared forthcoming he cleared his throat and went on.

"The new owner is leaving for a tour of Europe the day after tomorrow, and they planned on taking the Venus with them," he shrugged, "I guess to show friends. Rich people do some very strange things." She giggled at the image and he looked up, surprised, but then smiled.

"Do you believe the challenge?" she asked.

Asuka Jr. cocked his head, marshalling his thoughts. "What do you mean? Do you think it’s a blind?"

"If we were to add up all the thefts I’ve purportedly committed, in actually money…"

"Two hundred million, seven hundred and eighty six thousand, three hundred and ninety seven yen," he interrupted her.

She paused, surprised, then laughed, "Ok, fine, but the point is that what they are after isn’t, in theory, worth the set up. One theft was enough to establish them as me. The longer they are me, the longer they are at risk of being caught. The next theft will be the real reason for the set up, and the challenge will serve to direct the police away from the real crime. That is what I think."

The following pause stretched out, until finally she was tempted to glance over her shoulder at him. She heard him gather the papers into a pile, bang them square, and replace them in the folder. "You’re right," he said at last, "I hadn’t thought of it like that." He sat down on the sill and reflected on the problem from this new angle. He was inwardly surprised that this hadn’t occurred to him before, and he said as much.

"You have a blind spot Asuka Jr. that I’m afraid that I am the cause of. You have eyes only for me, unless something is said specifically to you. Please believe that I am flattered, but it can be your undoing. The night that the Silvermoon Diamond was stolen you were so interested in me that the diamond slipped away unobserved, and for that I am sorry.

"The real skill behind the kind of magic I do is to make the audience look where I want, while I make them believe something else. Something they weren’t expecting. The people, or person, who is going around using my name understands this, and has gone even one step further. They are relying on my being there as a secondary distraction… and I fell for it. My position is no less enviable than yours. A magician taken in by another magician." She shook her head, "I really messed up."

"We both did," he said soothingly, "Let’s put it behind us and figure out what they could possibly be after."

Her back stiffened, and she quickly glanced back at him, "The treasure at the F Museum of course." Her tone carried her surprise back to him, and he felt the full force of his stupidity. He hung his head, a soft chuckle escaping his lips, "I really do have a blind spot," he laughed. "Do you have a plan?"

"Well," she said studying her feet, "If it were me, I would want one other diversion since it would be such a big job. The police in one place with you, something else… like a warehouse fire across town, and me at the museum."

"Wait, wait a minute," he interrupted, "you’re suggesting we don’t just lock up the treasure, you think we should just leave it out for them to take?"

"If you want to catch them, then yes, you need them to believe that they’ve not been discovered."

"But in the confusion where will you and I be?"

"You’ll be guarding the treasure, I’ll be catching the fake Saint Tail."

"I can’t let you do that," he said flatly. Her back stiffened again, but he quickly went on, "It’s too dangerous. We know nothing about this fake Saint Tail, and she was willing to let me fall to my death at the Aki house, what’s to stop her from hurting you? No, I won’t risk it."

She rose to her feet in one fluid motion. "Asuka Jr. I haven’t come here for you to tell me what to do. I am very able to take care of myself and I won’t allow you to treat me like one of your officers." There was no anger in her voice, but there was a touch of sadness. Stepping off the branch she disappeared even as he shouted for her to wait.

 

It wasn’t a warehouse fire, but it was close. The abandoned factory, across town from the museum was called in as on fire around 9 that night. Asuka Jr. had placed what he felt was a good amount of men at the new home of the Venus, to make it look like he was there to protect the statue, while he, and as many spare officers as he could round up were at the museum, in hiding. He had been beating himself up mentally since Saint Tail had left him the night before and he wanted desperately to talk to her, so he chose the roof to hide on.

When the alarms went off he ran for the door to the stairs, cursing himself for having guessed wrong. He was used to Saint Tail, not a cheap copy. The Saint Tail he knew favored a rooftop entrance, it was his blind spot again he mused sourly.

The young detective pounded into the lobby, followed closely by the officers at this level. All eyes were on the fleet form of Saint Tail. Asuka Jr. yelled at her to stop but she didn’t pause. Running from the building Saint Tail headed for the small park that adjoined the museum lawn. With a sudden burst of speed he threw himself at her and managed to catch the thief around the knees, dragging her to the ground. Instantly she rose, but he was just as fast, catching her around the waist and grabbing a wrist.

She twisted her head to the side, doing an admirable job of keeping him from seeing her face. Her struggles didn’t eased for a second and he was amazed at her strength. Several times he had almost lost his grip on her as her ponytail whipped him in the face.

"Stop fighting," he yelled in frustration, "You’ve been caught!" But she didn’t stop. Gathering his strength he began dragging her back towards the waiting cluster of policemen.

"Wait!"

They both stopped at the command. Saint Tail relaxed and stood upright, no longer fighting. Asuka Jr. turned towards the source of the voice.

Emerging from the small tangle of trees a man pushed a figure before him into the dim light. Asuka Jr. gasped… it was Haneoka Meimi. Remaining within the shelter of the trees the featureless form roughly shoved Haneoka forward another step. One hand was clamped over her mouth, silencing any protest, the other held both her arms behind her back. Her eyes spoke volumes as she begged for his forgiveness across the small space that separated them. Grinding his teeth Asuka Jr. faced the shadowy figure.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, "Let her go!"

A grumbling laugh boiled from within the trees, "In exchange for Saint Tail I will."

Haneoka wildly fought her captor, shaking her head free of his hand she managed to scream no in protest before the man jerked her backwards again.

"Do it before I have too hurt her!" the man bellowed, tightening his grip on Asuka Jr.’s classmate.

Asuka Jr.’s eyes never left Haneoka as she struggled in the man’s grasp. And reading there her wishes he pulled Saint Tail back.

"No deal!"

The look of relief that filled Haneoka’s eyes made him smile as he again dragged Saint Tail towards the police. Haneoka shot a glance upwards, and Asuka Jr. followed her eyes to a silhouetted form in the tree above her. With an inward smile he began shouting orders for the assembled policemen to surround the lawn, to not allow the man to escape, and to protect Haneoka as best as possible. Saint Tail renewed her struggles, more fiercely than before, screaming her frustration at Asuka Jr., calling him all sorts of names. But the more she struggled the more convinced he was she was not really Saint Tail. Her height, voice, mannerisms, none of them were those of the Saint Tail he had been chasing. What Haneoka had in mind he couldn’t imagine, but he trusted her, and his officers. No harm would come to her.

Several officers rushed up to help him, and he felt handcuffs being placed on the bogus Saint Tail. Now freed from her the young detective turned and ran for the trees where the man had held Haneoka, and where Saint Tail had been in the tree waiting.

 

The park wasn’t large and as Asuka Jr. ran into the darkness of the trees he could hear men shouting orders, and the sounds of fighting just ahead. His only thought was Haneoka. He wondered why she was there, and if she was all right.

The clearing that the forest gave way to was full of people. Several streetlights gave the opening a yellowish cast. Asuka Jr. instantly saw the retreating form of Saint Tail, the would-be kidnapper under a pile of policemen, and Haneoka Meimi sitting off to the side. He rushed to her, dropping to his knees before her. "Are you alright?" he demanded, frantic in his fear, his eyes wildly going over her for any wounds.

She stared for a long moment then nodded and turned smiling eyes on him. "Thank you for catching Saint Tail," she said, "I don’t know how I would have lived with myself if you had let her go on my account."

Asuka J. felt the air leave his lungs and he sat down heavily. His head suddenly felt like lead and he pressed both hands against his forehead to keep himself upright. Behind him he could hear the officers arresting the man, and taking him away. The young detective sat in silence for another moment, mute in his amazement.

"You could have be hurt, really hurt, and you were worried about me?" he finally whispered gently.

"I was never really afraid," she went on brightly, "Saint Tail was with me the whole time, right above me in the trees. I know you trust her, so I felt I could too. Was I wrong?"

Asuka Jr. gave a short laugh and shook his head in disbelief. "What happened, tell me everything."

Meimi curled her legs under herself and regarded her classmate. "Don’t you have to go with that Saint Tail?"

Asuka Jr. glanced over his shoulder towards the museum and sighed. Blushing, he slowly met her eyes. "Yes."

Haneoka smiled at him and together they rose and returned to the museum.

 

Meimi sat between Seira and Asuka Jr. while Sawatari went in search of a juice machine. The events of the night before hadn’t been discussed yet, and Meimi decided the absence of the photographer made for the perfect opening. Turning to face him better Meimi twisted towards Asuka Jr.

"About last night," she began, and he quickly sat up, becoming more alert and nodded for her to go on. "I had been at the chapel with Seira, talking about a problem I’ve been having, and I finally left there around 9. Once I was outside I stopped to look at the moon, and saw Saint Tail running along the rooftop of the house beside the chapel. I was surprised to say the least, and decided to follow her." She blushed and didn’t meet his eyes, "You’re not the only one who’s curious about her you know." He smiled at her, but said nothing.

"After running for a while we came to the museum, and it was at about this point that I decided that chasing her wasn’t the smartest thing I had ever done and I went to leave, only that man saw me and grabbed me." Her voice trailed off and she pulled her jacket sleeve back to display a very bruised wrist. Asuka Jr. started and cursed but Meimi smiled at him, "Don’t worry, I’m fine, really. Well, that actually is the end of it, you saw the rest. Though I do want to say Asuka Jr. I am so sorry that I was in the way. I didn’t mean to be…"

He leaned forward and smiled, "I’m sorry too, but I’m sorry you were hurt."

Meimi beamed at him, "It was exciting though, is it always like that?"

Asuka Jr. smiled crookedly at her, "Sometimes."

Sawatari arrived then, drinks in hand. The conversation turned to school and the mundane. Meimi cast a glance at Seira. It wasn’t the first time the nun-in–training had passed for Saint Tail and Meimi smiled warmly at the thought.

 

Asuka Jr. sat in the park, at the same secluded spot he had used when last he had sent Saint Tail the silver balloon alert. He had bought a single pink rose for her, assuming she would come to the tree again tonight. It was all he could think of giving her by way of an apology.

He sat for a moment looking at the two remaining capsules. The last two times he could talk to her he thought as he broke one of the small capsules in his hand. The feather light balloons rapidly rose on the slight breeze and there was a strange weight on his heart as Asuka Jr. watched them go.

He sat for a long moment before he remembered the note that had been in the last capsule. The same small paper was again amid the confetti.

"I’m behind you, don’t turn around," he read aloud in shock.

A soft laugh reached his ears and it took all his powers to not turn and look.

"Hello Asuka Jr.," she said brightly.

Asuka Jr. couldn’t stop the crooked smile that spread across his face, "You did that on purpose didn’t you?"

"I knew you would remember eventually, so I waited. Is there something I can do for you?"

His head dropped for a moment and then he sat up, "Yes, you can allow me to apologize. I didn’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t think you could take care of yourself. I know you, probably better than anyone else. It’s just that the thought of putting someone, anyone, in harms way…."

"Asuka Jr.," she interrupted sharply, "You didn’t put me anywhere. I went willingly where I wanted to. If I thought I would have been out of my depth I wouldn’t have suggested my plan."

He nodded thoughtfully, allowing the silence to draw itself out then he seemed to come to a decision, "Talking to someone in this fashion is odd," he laughed.

Saint Tail also chuckled, "You get used to it," she replied.

Asuka Jr. rose and turned sideways, not looking at her, but letting her see more of him. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Letting me work with you this time. It was fun."

"Umm," she agreed.

The silence descended on them once again until Saint Tail’s light laughter could be heard again. "Break the other capsule Asuka Jr." she giggled, and with a rustle of leaves he knew he was alone.

Reaching into his pocket he pulled the last capsule out, looked at it with a sigh and broke it. No balloons rose from this one, there was just a note this time.

"Look under the table," it read.

Moving to the picnic table he bent down, looked at the ground, and saw nothing. Glancing at the bottom of the tabletop he saw a small box taped there. Removing it he opened the velvet jewelers box to reveal the Silvermoon Diamond. With a wry smile he snapped closed the box and pocketed the gem. They hadn’t really worked together he told himself. She had allowed him to be part of her evenings, that was all. But even that was enough he decided as he headed for the police station to turn in the diamond.

Collecting his books his eyes fell on the pink rose. He had forgotten it.

Turning, books in hand, he found himself facing Haneoka Meimi. He gasped in surprise and blushed, wondering how long she had been standing there.

"Who is the rose from?" she asked, her voice as cheerful as ever.

"It’s not from anyone," he stammered, and then smiled, "It’s for you."

He stepped forward and proffered the flower. Her hand rose reflexively and she accepted it with whispered thanks. There was a shy smile on her lips as she met his eyes.

"Who were you talking to?"

Asuka Jr. blanched, then blushed. "What did you hear?"

"Nothing really, just your voice, so I…" she trailed off, blushing hotly. "I’m sorry," she whispered.

He smiled at her and shook his head. "It was nothing, don’t worry about it." Turning he moved to leave, and she followed. After several minutes he glanced at her, to find her holding the rose to her nose, smiling in pleasure. He smiled too and worked up his courage.

"Haneoka," he began, and she looked up at him expectantly. "I wanted to say how sorry I am that you got hurt."

"Asuka Jr., you had nothing to do with it, and no control over the situation. Don’t worry yourself about it."

"But…"

"No ‘buts’," she interrupted, "I was in the wrong place at that wrong time, no one but myself is to blame. The next time Sawatari wants to meet to capture Saint Tail I’ll make sure I’m far from the scene, and I promise to never follow her again."

They went on in silence for a few more minutes before Asuka Jr. worked up his courage again. He planned how he would ask her and turning to face her opened his mouth to speak…

"Do you like Sawatari?"

The look of horror on his face made Meimi giggle. She could see that that was hardly how he had wanted to ask her, even if it was the actual question. Flower in hand she skipped ahead of him and turned in a swirl of skirt to face him.

"What do you think?" she asked, a shy smile on her lips. He stopped, unsure. Dropping her books Meimi held the rose before her and began passing her free hand over  it. Asuka Jr. frowned, confusion plain on his face. Meimi finally gestured sharply at the rose, turning it from pink to a deep red. With a flick of her wrist she sent the rose sailing towards him. Asuka Jr. watched the roses’ path, reached up to catch it, and looking down, found himself alone. He looked at the rose, hoped he was right, and once again headed for the police station.

 

 

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