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

 

The Magic Words

Meimi’s eyes grew wide in shocked surprise, and then narrowed. Asuka Jr. saw a stormcloud form over her face as she angrily turned away. Rina smiled smugly and, turning toward him, the tall blonde altered her smile to a warmer temperature. Asuka Jr. felt annoyance building within himself. Who was she that she could treat her classmate so poorly? He wondered how she treated her friends...and if she had any. He could feel his anger growing, but retained control over himself. Gathering his books, he moved to follow the red-head. Rina’s mouth dropped open in astonishment.

"Where are you going?" she demanded, a note of displeasure in her voice.

Asuka Jr. gave her a dark look; "I’m go to walking Haneoka home," he replied. Turning away from her sputtering protestations, he went after Meimi.

***

He found her on the swing set outside the campus chapel. She had her back to him so she didn’t see his approach. Her books were off to the side, and she hung rather listlessly in the seat. Even from the back she appeared the image of misery. He felt a pang as he drew closer, knowing he was in some way to blame for her mood.

Dropping his books onto hers, Asuka Jr. stood before her. Meimi weakly smiled up at him. With a curt bow he indicated the empty swing beside her.

"Is this seat taken?"

The corners of her lips curled and a giggle escaped her. He took this for a negative and sat down.

They sat in silence for several minutes before Meimi leaned back and pushed off. Asuka Jr. watched as she flashed by; one smooth, sleek line. Her toes were pointed and her skirt fluttered in the wind. With a sudden warmth in his heart he joined her. They moved together, the only sound coming from the creaking chains of the swing set. He watched as her head drop back, her arc growing, and he marveled at her. She had an effortless ease about her that he could only envy. He thought about his own life, and the formality he had willingly grafted onto himself. He couldn’t deny that he liked it, but at the same time he felt sorry for himself for not having the ability to let go. He dragged his feet to stop and twisted in the swing to watch as Meimi swung higher. Her hair sailed out behind her and he could see she was smiling, her eyes fixed on something only she could see. But in the next moment she noticed he had stopped and slowed herself.

"No, please don’t stop," he called, hoping it didn’t sound as pleading as he thought it must. "You’re nice to watch," he finished to himself. Meimi smiled and resumed her pace.

"Seira was with someone, so there was no one I could talk to," Meimi said as she glided by.

Asuka Jr. fought his amazement and answered her with an affirmative noise. Was she actually confiding in him? He held his breath to see if she would continue. It was several passes later that Meimi continued.

"I was feeling hurt, after Takamiya-san’s comments, and", she laid back, sweeping higher, "and I needed to talk to someone."

He watched as his classmate swung back, her feet tucked under her. Her hair parted in the breeze, obscuring her face. Meimi suddenly put her feet down and came to a hopping stop. She twisted to face him, but her head was down, her eyes hidden behind a veil of hair. He felt his heart straining toward her, waiting, aching. When she did look up, she was smiling.

"Bet I can go higher than you," Meimi whispered shyly.

Without waiting for an answer she jumped, swung, and began to climb. Asuka Jr. watched her for a second and then joined her.

When Seira came out a few minutes later it was to the sounds of laughter. It lightened her heart to hear it, after the story she had just been told, and the young sister-in-training smiled. She stood where she could see the couple. They were arguing, as usual. Meimi was saying she was higher and Asuka Jr. was trying his best to convince her she was right, though anyone could see that he was. He had to be, Seira thought, he out weighed her.

Suddenly Meimi flew off her swing, arching into the sky in a graceful layout. She spun with the ease that came from years of practice, but it was still an incredible sight. Asuka Jr. cried out in alarm, but then choked in wonder. He stopped his swing, coming off at a run, but Meimi didn’t need his help as she lightly touched down. It was a perfect landing. Asuka Jr. was at her side in a second, his momentum causing him to catch her around the waist to stop himself.

"Are you crazy?" he bellowed as he ran into her.

Meimi put a steadying hand out to stop him, her smile even broader. "I told you I would go higher."

His mouth fell open, and his face was pale as he gazed at her, but gradually his panting slowed and he sagged in relief. "What do I owe you?"

Meimi giggled. "Do I have to chose now, or can I think about it?"

Asuka Jr. smiled, shaking is head in disbelief, and collected his books. "I’ll owe you," he agreed, and nodding to Seira, left the girls alone. Seira watched Meimi as the small redhead’s gaze followed Asuka Jr.’s retreating form. Inwardly she smiled and then turned back to the chapel.

***

Meimi scooped up her books and caught up with the nun. "Who was with you?" she asked, hugging her books.

Seira sighed. "I’ll explain when we get inside."

On the altar lay an arrow. Seira picked it up, and the soft tinkle of bells reached Meimi’s ears. The young nun placed the shaft carefully in her friend’s hands and stepped back.

Meimi lifted the arrow into the light to study it. It was a thing of beauty. The smooth polished wood was a deep, rich purple, the fletching a shimmering green and the bells of a goldish metal.

"The shaft is made of a wood called purpleheart, and the bells are solid gold," Seira explained as Meimi examined the object.

When Meimi looked up, she said the first thing that came to mind. "It’s magnificent!"

Seira smiled and sighed. "That’s what I thought," she paused for effect, "it’s also stolen."

Meimi glanced back at the arrow, and then at her friend, confusion evident on her face. Seira sank down into a pew and Meimi settled in beside her to listen.

***

When Asuka Jr. turned the corner to his house he saw Rina leaning against the wall, obviously waiting for him. He paused in surprise, but then continued. Rina saw him a second later and ran toward him, calling his name and waving wildly. Asuka Jr. had a momentary desire to ignore her, but he squelched that plan and slowed his pace.

"You left so quickly I didn’t have a chance to talk to you," she declared, smiling at him. Asuka Jr. was surprised by this, had she not heard him earlier? He made a non-committal noise and continued walking. Rina turned and followed him to the gate of the house.

"Asuka," she whined, "Why won’t you talk to me?"

Asuka Jr. straightened and turned to face her. "Talk to you? Don’t you think you should apologise first?"

Rina’s smile warmed. "I’m sorry," she chirped brightly.

Asuka Jr. couldn’t help the groan that escaped him. "Not me! Haneoka!"

"Haneoka?" Rina's brow contracted.

"Look, Takamiya-san," the young detective sighed, "I’m tired and I’m going home now. I just think you should consider being nicer to your classmates, that’s all." He let himself into the yard, said good bye to her and went in.

Rina stood where he left her for a few minutes, his words still in her ears. She continued to believe, deep in her heart, that Saint Tail and Haneoka Meimi were one and the same, and that Asuka Jr. liked them both. She knew that if she was going to get him, she had to impress him with the same brand of uniqueness that Haneoka displayed. A plan began to form in her mind and with a smile she turned and headed home.

***

In homeroom the next morning, Rina waited beside Meimi’s desk. She had her apology all planned out, and when the object of her mortification came in, carried it off before a shocked audience. Asuka Jr. smiled when Rina finished. It was nice, he thought, to know that she could turn over a new leaf. Meimi, for her part, was speechless for a few minutes, and then smiled her acceptance. Sister came in at that point and Meimi was spared having to respond.

When class stopped for lunch, Rina was again at Meimi’s desk, pleading to be allowed to join Seira and herself. Meimi was unsure of how to reply to this request, but Seira graciously slid her chair over, making room. Inwardly Meimi sighed. She needed to plant a challenge on Asuka Jr., but then she brightened, Rina was just as easily deceived and it wasn’t ten minutes later that there was a shower of confetti around her tablemate. Rina sat back, wide eyed. Asuka Jr. was there in a second, catching the small note that fluttered slowly downward. Rina brushed at the small colored bits that peppered her uniform as her classmates began to gather. Meimi watched her out of the corner of her eye. It was obvious what Rina was trying to do and Meimi began toying with the idea of allowing her to think she was obtaining her end.

Asuka Jr. looked at the note as the curious crowd pressed closer and he read aloud:

Tonight I will come for the Winged Amethyst     Saint Tail

Asuka Jr. looked up, clearly puzzled by this challenge. It was Rina who explained to the group of on lookers that the Winged Amethyst was the trophy awarded in the national archery competition. It was a very old arrow, all done up in gold and rare items. She didn’t know much more than that. Asuka Jr. stood a little removed from his classmates and pondered this information. He didn’t recall the name, or hearing from his father that it was missing. Such an item wouldn’t escape his father’s notice.

"Do you know who would have it now?" he asked the tall blonde.

Rina frowned, deep in thought, finally she said she didn’t but would find out. Asuka Jr. nodded in agreement and returned to his lunch. Meimi looked at Seira, they both shrugged and began cleaning confetti off their food.

***

Saint Tail stood on the street light before the home of Tatsu Yuki. Below her prowled several dozen police officers. Asuka Jr. could plainly be see, and heard, within the walls of the yard, arguing with both Takamiya and Sawatari. One wanted to come along, the other wanted to photograph the action. Saint Tail smiled and leapt lightly from the lamp, to a tree, and onto the roof of the house. From the rooftop she could see the many spotlights Asuka Jr. had brought. It all fit in well with her plan.

"Good evening!" she called, waving at the crowd. Asuka Jr. cursed loudly and ordered the lights to be trained on her dark silhouette.

In the white beams of light Saint Tail stood, then appeared to bend a clear, shimmering bow. Like an earthly Diana she sank to one knee. Asuka Jr. felt his chin drop as he gaped at the theif; she was magnificent. Her head was back, her ponytail swinging free, as she strained to bend the barely visible bow. Aiming straight up from where she knelt, she let out a shout as she loosed the ghost arrow. A shower of white sparks shot from the arrow's tail, making it look like a small comet racing for the heavens. A murmur of appreciation went up, and as the arrow reached its zenith, it exploded in a chrysanthemum of golden sparkles. There was a smattering of applause and coos from the on-lookers.

When everyone remembered to look down at Saint Tail, she was gone.

A cry went up and people began running in every direction. Asuka Jr. ran for the house, followed closely by Sawatari. Neither noticed that Takamiya was nowhere in sight.

The house was huge and traditional Japanese. Pounding through halls in their stocking feet, Asuka Jr. and Sawatari raced for the heart of the house. Highly polished floors reflected back their ghostly forms. All was quiet here in the interior, and the sounds from without faded as they ran.

As they rounded a corner, both young men came to a sliding stop. Takamiya knelt on the floor before an open door. Asuka Jr. stared, puzzled.

"Takamiya-san?"

Takamiya looked like she was barely suppressing her anger, and silently gestured for them to enter. After recovering themselves, the three students went in together.

Saint Tail knelt with her back to them, before a middle-aged man who knelt, facing her. He held up a hand, stopping the newcomers where they stood. Silently he indicated they should kneel as well. Asuka Jr. opened his mouth to protest, looked at Saint Tail, and dropped to his knees.

"Good evening, Asuka Jr." the man murmured, with a slight bow. Asuka Jr. returned the salute and the man gave Sawatari the same greeting.

"This young woman has done a great service this evening," he went on, gesturing to Saint Tail. "I understand from Takamiya-san the rivalry between you both and to that end I will not allow you, or anyone else, to lay a hand on her in this house."

Bowing in response, Asuka Jr. fought to modulate his voice. "She is a wanted criminal--" he began, but stopped when Saint Tail’s back stiffened. Thinking quickly he went on, "She is wanted by the police and it is my sworn duty to arrest her."

"But not in my house," the man repeated mildly. His tone and authority were absolute.

Without another word the man produced the Winged Amethyst, holding it where they could all see. Asuka Jr. gasped in surprise and he could hear Sawatari mumbling about his camera.

"This arrow was stolen from my dojo several nights ago by members of a rival school. They sought to discredit my school...and me. Someone in that school suffered a bout of conscious and the arrow was placed in the care of Saint Tail. It was never made public that the arrow was gone, in the hopes that common sense would prevail…and it has. With no blemish to either school the damage has been reversed and only a select few know of any of this. We owe our thanks to Saint Tail for her quick response." He turned to face her more squarely and, placing his fists on the floor, bowed low. Saint Tail placed the fingertips of one hand on the hard wood and bowed as low.

"I can not thank you enough, Saint Tail. My school and my person are at your disposal should you ever have need."

He sat up, rose smoothly to his feet and left the room, the Winged Amethyst held lightly in his fingertips. Three pairs of eyes watched him go, and then returned to Saint Tail.

She was gone.

With a howl, Sawatari and Takamiya rose and raced back through the house.

Asuka Jr. listened to them with an indulgent smile on his face. Rising up, he leaned forward and touched the place where Saint Tail had knelt. The golden wood was warm under his fingers.

"Asuka Jr."

Looking up at the sound, Asuka Jr. saw the outline of Saint Tail, a shadow on of the rice paper wall. She knelt, her features in profile, her hand still poised near the floor. He sank back onto his heels with a sigh.

"Saint Tail," he whispered. Her hand came up and gently touched the paper wall. After a second he pressed his fingers tips against hers. Neither one moved for several minutes. Asuka Jr. studied her, and was surprised to find his thoughts drifting to Haneoka. He saw her, in his mind’s eye, as she flashed by on the swing.

"Thank you," the thief breathed.

He jerked in surprised, "What for?"

"For your friendship," was the faint reply. With sudden realization he slid the door open. A single candle and a small paper cut out of her form, casting her shadow on the wall, where the only things in the room. Asuka Jr. smiled and blew the candle out.

***

Sawatari and Takamiya stood on the porch of the house, waiting for him. As Asuka Jr. passed through the doors, the owner joined the trio.

"Takamiya-san," the older man began, turning to face her, "Thank you for your quick actions tonight. I am sorry to have forestalled you plans of capturing Saint Tail."

Takamiya’s eyes went wide and she blushed, casting a nervous glance at Asuka Jr.

"I’m sure," Tatsu-san went on, "that you will make a great policewoman some day, just like Asuka Jr. will be a fine detective." He turned to face the young man as he spoke his name. "Asuka Jr., I am sure that you know Saint Tail is not a common thief, but I think you need to remember that more often than you do. She is acting for a reason, even if the meaning is obscure."

Asuka Jr. nodded his agreement then bowed. "I’m sorry to have intruded upon your home, please forgive me." Turning he began directing the remaining policemen to pack up and return to headquarters.

Takamiya watched him move off and when she was sure he was out of hearing range stamped her foot in aggravation. "I had her! I knew if I was there when the next challenge came I would have the upper hand…and I would have caught her tonight! I could have finally impressed him!"

Sawatari looked at her and smiled. "I hardly think catching her would make him happy. He wants that honor."

The blonde stamped again and pouted.

***

Asuka Jr. stood in the path, waiting for her to pass. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but he really didn’t care all that much. He had been thinking of her, almost constantly, since the afternoon on the swings, and he had been pondering what he could give her as payment for the bet.

So lost was he in these thoughts that he didn’t notice that she now stood before him, a sunny smile on her face. As he refocused, coming back into the present, the detective returned Meimi's smile.

"I was just heading for the swings beside the chapel," Meimi announced. The cheerfulness of her demeanor warmed his soul.

"Funny, so was I," he admitted and together they turned for the chapel.

"I was thinking," she went on, "you could have a chance to win back your bet, double or nothing."

Raising a hand in protest, he laughed, "No, thank you. The thought of throwing myself off a swing just isn’t for me."

Meimi laughed at the image and glanced up at him. "Then as payment for the bet I would like to spend some time with you on the swings beside the chapel."

"When?" he asked, pleased at the prospect.

"Is now ok?"

Asuka Jr. smiled and shook his head. "I have plans to met a friend. We’re meeting at the swings and eventually going for ice cream. I'm sorry, but I can’t keep her waiting.  It’ll have to be another time."

Meimi giggled. "It’s not nice to keep a lady waiting. You let me know when and I’ll met you there... like your other lady friend."

 

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