Copyright 2000, Stefan Gagne
Quiet noise. It's not a contradiction; noise is unwanted, distracting sounds that make little sense. Quiet means quiet.
In the hospital, there's plenty of quiet noise. The light beeps of machines keeping track of breath rates and pulses, the mumbling chatter of doctors, the clack of clipboards being hung on pegs. The hissing of air hoses, the buzzing of overhead fluorescent lights. Every now and then, an announcement over the PA like 'Paging doctor so and so' cuts through the noise to be understandable... but since 99.99% of the people in the hospital are not doctor so and so, it becomes meaningless noise to them.
Still, the quiet is almost tangible. There's a kind of unpleasant silence in the air... serious matters are afoot in a hospital. Life and death are matters of daily concern. The mild beeping of machines is intimidating to visitors, since you don't want to make sounds above that level for fear of drowning out some little beep which translates to 'help needed immediately.'
No matter how comfortable the beds are, no matter how many pillows are behind your head or how clean the sheets are, it's impossible to be comfortable there. The visitor chairs are padded leather, but if you're sitting at someone's bedside, you will not be comfortable. It's not a place where emotional comfort is available in vast amounts.
In this quietly noisy atmosphere, Himei was lying down. Not resting, not sleeping, just lying down.
She had been lying down in this bed for close to twenty four hours now, but nobody was sure if she was awake or asleep. Her eyes would be open sometimes, closed other times. She made no noise. Tubes fed fresh blood into her arms after the previous day's blood loss. Nutrients and fluids were piped in by a rubber tube coiled around and taped against her arm, ending in a needle-like rubber tube up a vein. She urinated into a similar rubber tube which was painful to insert, but she had made no acknowledgment of the pain when the doctors inserted it. Bandages covered her wrists and stomach, also lining her neck thick enough to resemble a plaster neck brace from afar. They had stopped showing signs of red seepage hours ago, and now were simply there to aid in the clotting processes.
Machines which produced those quiet but oh so important beeps surrounded her. Her eyes stared up at foamy ceiling tiles, dull white slabs marked with thousands of black freckles. Her eyes looked into the glowing light tubes and would blink now and then, a purely involuntary response.
But Himei said not a word in nearly twenty fours hours.
There was also a curtain around her small 'privacy area', in the shape of a U. It hung from curved hooks in a metal rack, so it could be slid open and closed. It was closed. At nearly twenty fours hours after her arrival, it slid open just enough for a single person to enter.
The girl tried to smile at Himei and got no reaction. So, the smile faded.
Aki took a seat in the comfortable leather chair, but felt no comfort from it.
"Himei?" she tried, experimentally. No reaction. Undaunted, she continued. "I just spoke with the doctors, and your parents... I don't know if they told you, but.. you're gonna be okay, they hope."
The young girl found herself pausing for a reaction, a straight line to feed her on despite knowing none would come.
"Um... the cuts will heal since they weren't clean enough," she continued. "They said you weren't really trying to kill yourself, it must have been one of those cry for help things. ...the doctor actually said it that way, 'one of those cry for help things.' I can't believe how cold he was... but... they don't know why she you won't talk. There's nothing wrong with your voice and you're going to heal, but... they're thinking of moving you up to the psyche ward. Um. Do you watch a lot of doctor shows? I saw one last night, and... and I don't think you'd like it there. So you'll talk to me, right?"
The quiet noise of beeping and mumbling and rustling and hissing continued. Aki's grip on the armrests of her comfortable chair tightened.
"The doctor thought that maybe your friends talking to you would help, so... let me tell you about my day," Aki offered. "I was at the library today researching that myth, since Shin and Kotashi were busy with something. And you know, I think that it's good I was there. It was very.. quiet. I didn't get a lot of reading done, but it gave me time to think, and... and.."
Now the silent one was Aki. For nearly a full minute, before she could fight back her sadness long enough to speak. But even if she managed to drag the words out, she couldn't bring herself to look at her friend's eyes...
"I'm sorry, Himei," Aki spoke. "I let you down."
Hospital linen is designed very well for absorbing tears.
Twenty five hours ago, Aki wasn't crying, but she was so lost that she felt like it.
She'd started and re-started this journal entry four times. Pacing around her room didn't help, and neither did resorting her clothes, which used to cure all that ailed her in the past. (Of course it wouldn't help now, she thought. It's meaningless...)
Aki forced herself to sit down at her desk and review her latest revision. Why she was editing her own Shiny Girl Time Diary, she wasn't sure, but she felt the wording was important. Everything was in the wording, and having only returned to her journal writing recently, she was terribly out of practice.
"When Seiki came up to Himei and asked her out on a date, I just faded back into the trees."
Faded. Faded was definitely the right word, Aki thought. Maybe the next words would be also be right.
"I let him talk. He got nervous since Himei got spooked at the idea of being alone with him, and he was about to invite me along. I told him I was going to be really busy. I said that because I wanted them to go on that date. If I wanted them to go on the date, why did I feel jealous when he asked? Why was I jealous???"
Three question marks. Her teacher would have a fit, but it felt right to her. The next part was writing the answer... and that was blank on this revision of the entry. Aki slid out her plastic chair from under her plastic desk, and started. Maybe the words wouldn't be right, but she had to write something. The entry couldn't end there.
"I just don't know who I'm jealous of. I'm jealous of Himei, since she's going on a date not once but twice with the guy who turned me down. Maybe I was just doing it for the Fashion Club, but I had never gone on a date before then and I was really excited about possibly dating Seiki! But then he turned me down. The Club comforted me in my grief, but also told me how mad they were that I didn't do a better job... but I digress."
She had actually written But I Digress. Shaking her head, she tried again, not scratching that out but starting just below it. She had to say what she NEEDED to say, not ramble. She had to say... write... the realization she was afraid she had realized.
"I don't know who I'm jealous of. I thought I was jealous of Himei at first, but... I think I may be jealous of Seiki! Seiki's going to be spending a lot of time with her if I can make this work, and that's good because Himei deserves to be happy, but it means she won't be hanging out with me as much. I won't see her as often. I want to see her a lot. She's my friend and I'm close to her, and the times she's with me, this whole thing seems to make sense. I can help her make sense of it then. But when we're apart... I don't know what to do with myself. I don't know how I feel. Is that selfish? Why would I be jealous of a boy? Why do I want to be with Himei so much?"
She wrote "why" again. And one more time, and underlined it. And added some exclamation marks. Realized that she'd ripped through the paper with that last one, pressing down too hard with her pink ballpoint pen...
When the phone rang, the pen went flying out of her hand. She scrabbled for the phone, scrabbled to compose herself, and answered.
It was him. Oh god it was him...
'Speaking," Aki said formally, keeping a cool tone. Cool and collected. Just like Shin would be. Nothing would get through to her...
'Aki... I want to see you tonight,' Seiki spoke through the line. 'Himei.. she met with me and told me she couldn't see me anymore. Can I talk to you tonight? You could come over to my place. Please? I'm feeling really alone right now...'
"Wh-what?" Aki stammered. "But what about Him--"
'She doesn't want anything to do with me. Aki... I made a mistake. When you asked me out so long ago... maybe it was just because of the Fashion Club, but... I always regretted saying no.'
Aki's heart resumed its normal beat one moment later.
'Please, Aki. Please come over. I have to see you... I don't want to lose out again. I want a second chance with you. Will you come?'
The hottest guy in school. The most popular boy in school. The nicest boy in school who never exploited anyone, never hurt anyone and was admired by all. He wanted another chance. He wanted to be her boyfriend.
"No," Aki told him, much to her own surprise.
"Seiki... Himei likes you. She REALLY likes you," Aki found herself explaining. "She's just afraid she'll.. hurt you. That's why she said that. She doesn't mean it! You can't just give up like this!"
The other end of the line went silent. ...but it wasn't, really. Aki could faintly hear a mumble. Like a quick conversation.
'Aki, this is a second chance,' Seiki said... more firmly. 'Your second chance too. I know you like me. And now, you know I like you. If you want to be with me... come to my place. You remember where it was, you took a taxi there after the thing at Le Chapeau, right? Come over. Please. This may be your only chance.'
And Seiki hung up.
Aki stared at the phone.
Then she stared at her diary.
In seconds, she was hastily locking her diary and jamming it into a coat pocket, while putting on the coat and heading out the door.
However, it wasn't because she wanted to be Seiki's girlfriend. She wanted to talk him out of it. If they met face to face, she could do it. She could get him to love Himei, and then Himei would be truly happy, and if there was one thing Aki wanted most in the world it was to make Himei happy.
"It all went downhill from there," Aki explained, voice low, almost as low as the noises around her. "Dark General Neon had gotten to Seiki earlier that day. When I showed up, Seiki led me into another room... knocked me out, and I woke up handcuffed to a dining room chair. Neon had even taken my diary, smashed the lock and was... entertaining himself by reading it. He got the others the same way, by phoning them up and tricking them all. You were the last one. By the time you showed up, the real Seiki had stopped saying much. I don't think he believed it was really happening. I wished it wasn't really happening..."
Aki's head sunk low, until she was supporting it entirely with her arms, to keep from doubling over.
"I wanted to fight back, but I didn't know how," she protested. "I couldn't get to the lipstick Dusty had enchanted for me. I couldn't turn into a sailor. I wanted to yell or say something but I was scared... you remember when that guy had me at knifepoint? I felt just like that. ...I can't believe what a coward I was. Maybe I could've knocked over my chair, gotten free, done SOMETHING... I don't count my 'rescue' as something. Sure, we were freed and we charged in like heroines and vaporized both Yamiko, but... it was too late. I let you down. I'm sorry. ...please don't hate me. Don't shut me out, don't shut us out like this. Come back to us. I care about you too much, and..."
She glanced up once at her friend, hoping for some reaction. Maybe talking about what had put Himei in the hospital wasn't a good idea, but Aki needed to go over it for her own reasons...
Aki forced herself to sit up. She wanted to say this clearly, in the same way she wished she could've written it clearly the other day.
"Himei, about that journal entry... I.. I did some thinking about that today, when I was supposed to be researching," she said, coming back around. "I know what Neon was trying to say. He read my diary to you and implied... I mean, he wanted me to say that... I was in love with you."
Deep breaths. Forced ones, until she was able to relax.
"I thought a lot about that today," Aki continued, leaning in closer.. "And... I don't think he was right. He was almost right... I love you, Himei. I'll say that. I love you so much -- but it's not the kind of love he was implying. I want you to be happy and I want to do whatever I can to make you happy... maybe more than a friend, maybe more like a sister, like the closest sister someone could ever have. But for THAT kind of love... I shouldn't be the one to love you that way. You've got your heart set on someone else. Maybe you have trouble admitting it, and I've done what I can to help, and maybe after last night it might be impossible, but..."
The words weren't clear enough. She stopped herself before she lost her point, and hung her head.
"I don't know," she admitted. "But at least I know how I feel..."
Aki stood up from her chair, stepped up to Himei's bedside... and leaned over the guardrail, to kiss her on her cheek.
"I'm sorry, Himei," she apologized quietly. "Please come back to us. We love you."
A throat cleared itself over the din of the medical machines.
Aki turned quickly, fingering her transformation lipstick in one pocket... finding out who it was didn't make her any less tense, even if she halted any impulse to strike out with her power. "How... how long...?" she asked.
"Long enough," Shin said, leaning on the steel frame of the bed's footboard. "It's okay, Aki. I understand. Listen... you mind if I talk with her a little? Alone? Visiting hours are gonna be over soon, and I'd have been in earlier, but..."
"Sure... okay. I need to get home, anyway," Aki replied, straightening out the sheets on Himei's bed a little. "You'll message me right away if she comes out of it, right?"
Shin slid past her friend, taking a seat in the comfortable chair. "Roger wilco," she said. "But don't wait up. I say be pessimistic, so when things go well, you're pleasantly surprised. Just focus on getting some rest."
With a silent nod of thanks, Aki brushed her way through the privacy curtain. Shin waited until her footsteps were inaudible, and got up to pull the curtains closed a bit more.
The young journalist evaluated the layout of Himei's room with an appraising eye. A familiar eye.
She walked over to the little remote control wired to the bed, and raised the headboard until Himei was almost sitting up. Shin then wheeled the tray-table over, pushing the obligatory flowers and get well cards the school had sent aside for now. (Nothing school loved than a good teen tragedy to feel bad about, but sending condolences were obligatory rather than voluntary.)
"You've got friends who are willing to break themselves in half for you," Shin commented to the catatonic Himei, as she fished around in her schoolbag. "And you know what? I've got love for you, too. I haven't known you real long, but I've grown a certain appreciation for your situation since I started down this road. There's love there... but I'll warn you, mine's not the comforting kind. You need some of that, and Aki will provide. But you need some of this, too. It's time to eat your vegetables."
She withdrew a thick roll of gray electrical tape from her bag, and dropped it on the tray-table. It landed with a loud thud.
Shin walked over to the headboard, lowering herself to look at the tape from nearly the same vantage point as Himei. "You see that?" she asked, pointing to it. "That's what put me in the condition you're in now."
Pulling the chair over, she had a seat for a nice, long chat. "It's true. I know where you are, Himei. I've been there," Shin stated. "I ran there after my uncle hurt me, and I wasn't sure I wanted to come back. Where you are now is very comfortable because you don't have to feel anything. You can be numb to anything with even the slightest potential of hurting you -- in other words, everything in the world. And until you find the one thing that makes all the pain you've been through and all the pain you'll feel in life worth living through, you won't come back.
"For me, it was the Truth. I found it quickly and I didn't stick around in that numb life more than an hour; not that time means anything there. Since then I've been hurt and I'll still get hurt in days to come, but the Truth lights a fire under my ass and drives me to endure it. And now, maybe I can help you find your fire as well." Shin leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers together. "In the meantime... let me fill you in on what went down the night they broke you. You're never going to believe who we have to thank for the bailout."
Yamiko Seiki didn't want to be interrupted, so he tossed the others into a side room and locked the door. A nice little oubliette, where they could yell and thrash and gnash their teeth all they wanted while he got on with his 'romantic interlude'. All Dark General Neon's suggestion, of course.
Shin was not going to put up with that.
She knew the score. Even before Neon had suggested 'it was time to make Himei yours' to Yamiko Seiki, she had a feeling it would come to this. It always did when the Yamiko were concerned; they only seemed to know three things, which were screwing with your mind, hurting your body, or defiling you...
It took those confirming words to truly set her off, however. She had been gagged previously -- despite figuring she wouldn't be picking the handcuffs anytime soon, Shin refused to cave in and had berated the monsters with language that would make a longshoreman join a monastery. Even the gag couldn't silence her; now she just had to scream the unintelligible words through cloth.
When locked in the oubliette, however, she managed to knock the gag off by repeatedly slamming her head into a wall. Step two was to break down the door by repeatedly slamming her body into it, even if she had to rock around cuffed to the chair to do it. Her eyes were seeing stars and she'd need serious headache medicine later, but she ignored that.
In the other room, they were hurting Himei in the same way she was hurt, and damned if she was going to sit back and let it happen.
"Shin, you're just going to hurt yourself," Kotashi warned... feeling the need to play the cool and together person while Shin wailed away at the door and Aki sat silent in stunned horror. "Stop it. We have to think about this--"
"NO," Shin replied as she smashed the back of her chair into the door, "No way. No FUCKING way am I gonna let that happen to her. NO!"
With the next ram, she heard a sickening crunch. She wouldn't be using that shoulder on the door now; it was dislocated. She tried to adjust the balance of the chair to recover, but ended up falling on her arm. The stars in her eyes light up like a supernova...
Somehow in the haze of pain and wild emotion, she managed to acknowledge the arrival of a figure from the shadows.
"Y-Yamiko!!" Aki recognized immediately, as the man in casual clothes and a white lab coat stepped forward from the darkness of the walls rather than the locked door.
Just because the universe wasn't done screwing with her head, the creature of unrelenting darkness immediately knelt down and popped a small skeleton key into her handcuffs, unlocking them. Freeing her.
"My name is Ohta, and I'm here to help," he said quickly. He grasped Shin's limp arm, bracing a hand behind the shoulder. "This will hurt a moment, but I have to reset this..."
The stars went away and were replaced by purple spots as Ohta snapped her joint back into place. Shin wobbled up to her feet, ignoring the pain, perplexed as the Yamiko set about freeing the other two similarly, before passing Kotashi the key.
"You two girls go and ambush them. You might not be too late," he said. "Transform into your Sailor forms and flood the room, you'll get both of them. Go."
Aki fumbled through her pockets, looking for her lipstick... and paused. "But... but you're--"
A look was exchanged between Kotashi and Shin... a knowing nod. It was time to switch roles. The cool aura of being completely together and indifferent settled over Shin like acid snow. She clicked the ballpoint tip of her transformation pen, letting the sensation of Truth coat that aura with a kind of burning righteousness that could easily be found speaking to a shepherd in the desert. Now she was ready.
She slapped Aki on the shoulder. "Do it," she commanded.
Not waiting for her companion to finish, Shin stormed the hall. Like a raging thunderstorm, she could feel her hatred fill the narrow hallway. It might not be too late. She could stop this madness before Himei had to suffer the same way...
She didn't have to wait for Aki to join her; Sailor Beauty was at her side in no time flat. Running on raw adrenaline, Sailor Truth stepped back, called up her kickboxing talents, and dislocated the door to Seiki's room far more cleanly than her shoulder went.
No attack phrase, but Rude Awakening flooded from her fingertips like high spectrum radiation. The rainbow light of Amazing Grace joined it, all colors of the rainbow including the brightest white ever seen pouring into the room...
Dark General Neon, of course, tried to bolt for the shadows and escape to the Yami-gaia. Instead, he ended up crashing into a wall.
"...I'm blocked?!" he cried out. "That TRAITOR--!"
When the light cleared, Yamiko Seiki and the General had ceased to exist.
We did it, Shin thought. We saved...
Her cool and collected aura turned to ice when she finally allowed herself to accept what she was seeing in the aftermath. Himei's state and that kind of tiny bloodstain on Seiki's sheets only meant one thing.
Aki wasn't as lucky. "H.. himei..." she mumbled, before turning quite green and ducking back down the hallway. Retching sounds echoed off the cheap wallpaper.
Standing rock still, Shin evaluated things while Kotashi ran up. "Did you get him?" Kotashi asked. "Did you-- oh, shit..."
Ice flowed through Shin's veins. "Kotashi... get Seiki out of here," she ordered him. "Handle it."
Moving quickly, Kotashi used the skeleton key to unlock the cuffs on human Seiki's wrists, and tossed it back to Shin. No further instructions were needed for the newspaper editor; there was a kind of unspoken trust between Shin and himself. She could rely on him to handle it. He guided Seiki to his feet... the other boy making no protest, despite being unable to take his eyes off Himei. In moments, both were out the door and gone.
Shin stepped up, unlocking Himei's wrists, checking her for other damages. Aki was in next, although any composure she'd regained was gone the moment she walked back into the room.
"It's over, Himei. It's over, I promise," Shin spoke. Despite the ice, she did her best to be comforting. Himei was sitting up and rubbing her raw wrists... that was a good sign. "Aki, get a towel and a few blankets. We--"
Because a bad situation can always get worse, Himei shoved past both girls, and ran out the door.
Shin took off immediately, but was too far behind to stop what happened next. Himei had ducked into the nearest bathroom, slammed the door shut, and locked it. Another locked door between Shin and disaster about to happen...
She pounded on the door with a fist, pleading. "Not again.. HIMEI! Don't do it! For god's sakes, DON'T DO IT!"
Taking three steps back, she got ready for her kicking practice again. Unfortunately, this door was a bit more firmly in place. The first kick did nothing. The second and third, likewise. She tried picking up an end table with a nice flower vase on it and hurling that at the door, and finally that did the job, forty five seconds after it had slammed shut...
Shin burst into the bathroom to find Himei on the floor, bleeding from multiple cuts. A shaving razor had rattled away underneath the toilet.
The ice in her body went to sub zero as Aki finally managed to look into the room. There's the numbness, Shin thought. That's a familiar numbness. All of this is very familiar...
"Aki, call an ambulance," she said in the most mono of monotones. "Phone in a suicide attempt. Don't say anything else. No details, nothing."
It was best to get Aki out of here and making the call, Shin thought. She'd seen enough. What had to happen next, Shin could the bear burden of herself.
After some hasty bandages for her friend's wrist and neck, Shin snatched a small washcloth off the towel rack, nudged apart Himei's legs, and started methodically removing any evidence that tonight's disaster was more than a simple suicide attempt. There was no need to destroy Seiki's life in the process of saving Himei's, after all.
Keys jangled in the lock. The door squeaked open; they hadn't oiled it in months, mostly out of forgetfulness.
The Journalism Club Room was rarely occupied during school hours. Most members of the club preferred to do their work at home and submit articles electronically; the room was simply there as a computing and research resource room if needed. As a result, it was Kotashi's baby and Shin's hangout dive more or less exclusively... and recently, also Sailor HQ. Teachers and administrators rarely looked in there, since the newspaper got published regularly and all ticked along quite well.
The positive upshot of lack of attention paid to the room was that Shin could skip out on her first period class (homeroom study hall) and nobody would notice or care.
She closed the door behind herself, picked her way across discarded books and papers strewn on the floor in front of the LAN workdesks, then stopped in front of the couch.
Slowly, very slowly, she fell face first onto it.
It was almost comforting, even if she had trouble breathing. Flopped 80% onto the cushions, totally supported, with only one leg dangling over the side. Somehow, though, she gravitated to curling up fetal style on her side. That seemed to fit her mood better...
She jerked her head up at the sound of the door hinges squeaking.
The boy glanced over at her, putting up his hands in surrender. "It's just me," Kotashi announced.
Shin scowled quietly, twisting to sit normally on the couch, if slumped a bit deeply into the ratty cushions. "...don't sneak up on me like that, man. Liable to get your head kicked off your shoulders..."
For some reason, her heart fluttered in a very silly way when he walked over and sat next to her. He did not put an arm around her shoulders, but she was expecting one.
"Should I ask how you're feeling?" he asked. "Or would you rather talk about the newspaper or something?"
Shin unkinked her neck, groaning. "No news is good news. Not feeling up to writing any today."
"You don't have to write if you don't feel like it. How far along are you on the book?"
"A hundred pages or so, your Editorial Highness. I'll chronicle that wonderfully joyous evening later."
'Your Editorial Highness' winced slightly. "...you can call me Kotashi, you know."
"I know. Sorry. I'm just more than a little rattled. I could be the ice bitch ruler of the world last night and get the business done, but... well. Bad dreams after the ice bitch went to bed. How'd it go with Seiki?"
"It went as well as it could," he said, with a shrug. "I figured flimsy excuses wouldn't do it... I spelled it out nice and professional. Sailors, the whole bit. I guess I was taking lead from your example. Ah, about Seiki's part in this, did you...?"
"Yeah, I cleaned Himei up," Shin said, frowning at the memory. "When the hospital dorks got their paws on her, I made up a ridiculous story about how she had a random nervous breakdown during our 'dinner party' and ran off to the bathroom. No mention of Seiki at all."
"They actually bought that?"
"I don't know, but then I played the Trump Card I Hate To Play and they bought that," Shin said, her frown deepening to a raw scowl. "Nothing this country likes more than a powerful relative and a hushed up aura of no questions asked. Hidden shame and guilt, woo, sign us up!"
Kotashi's eyes widened, as he turned to look at Shin's expression. "Wait. You mean told them who your uncle was?"
"Just because I'm not on speaking terms with the asshole doesn't mean they know that," Shin pointed out, leaning back. "It was enough of a threat to keep it silent. They bandaged Himei up, she'll be fine... but she's not speaking. She's not in a coma or anything, she's just not very responsive. I think I know why... I'll visit her tonight and see what I can do, if anything..."
Rather than waiting for him to make a move, Shin made one. She leaned against the boy, resting her head on his shoulder. She felt it was her inalienable right for a little human comfort after recent episodes, and if he protested, she could just punch him.
"On the positive side... that's one Dark General dead," she continued. "On the negative side... that's four to go. I don't think Himei ever thought about actually winning this war and ending it for good... but I think we better end it soon. ...I don't think I can take another night like last night. I don't know how long my patented Ice Bitch routine is gonna be able to handle this."
Kotashi coughed once, clearing his throat; clear nervous gesture.. But then he coupled that with the arm around the shoulders Shin was expecting, which threw her signal-reading way off. "Well... you're not exactly alone in this, Shin. I mean.. Aki seems to respect you now, and... well, you have me, right? And, you know, I don't mean just for proofreading and researching--"
"Dammit dammit DAMMIT," Shin growled, smacking her forehead. "I didn't get a chance to go back to the library and finish researching that blasted myth! Maybe I can duck out at lunchtime or something--"
"It can wait a day. Or we could ask Aki to look into it. If you're not up for writing, I doubt you're up for massive reading."
"...yeah... okay. As much as I hate leaving the important stuff to a research neophyte..."
"You can't do everything by yourself."
"Neither can you, your Edi... Kotashi," Shin adjusted. "You were so gung ho about doing it all yourself the other day..."
(Ah yes, she thought: The Other Day.)
"Err.. sorry for running out the other day, too..." she offered. Shin squirmed a bit on the couch at the thought. "You.. were serious, right?"
"The bit. Where you said you were afraid of losing someone you care about."
Kotashi started squirming too. He deftly made it look like he was shifting around to get more comfortable on the lumpy old couch.
"Well... yeah," he decided. "Of course."
Sitting up straight, Shin decided to go for broke; she preferred being blunt if possible. And you can't be blunt and inquisitive while leaning all over someone. "'Care' how? Care like care packages sent to starving farmers by the government or care as in the Care Bears or care as in 'Dammit, I care about my deadline, where's my column, you talentless journalistic hack' or care as in.... You Care About Me?"
"The.. latter," Kotashi spoke, a little dazed at the interrogation. "Care as in care. What's up, Shin? You're not gonna argue about what the word 'is' is, are you?"
"You care as in Care?"
"That's what I said. ..I care about you. I can't make it plainer than that."
A lot of thoughts had kept her from sleeping the previous night. This one, and the conclusion she came to, were simply one of many. But right now it was the only thought that mattered to her.
"...I kinda Care about you, too," she spoke Truthfully. "In that way."
This is the awkward moment of Truth, Shin had predicted. According to every shoujo anime she'd been able to stomach watching, once that gets admitted, there's the nervous moment right before...
The First Kiss.
She didn't even get the benefit of last moment comedic interruption timing. The door hinges squeaked right away, before they could lean in and make it cliffhangery.
This guy even did the arms in the air, I surrender pose Kotashi had done on entering.
"I'm unarmed and I mean you no harm," Ohta announced.
If looks could kill, Ohta would have had great gouging chunks torn out of his head at supersonic speeds when Shin snapped her head around to glare screaming death upon him. Kotashi also sat upright, ready to spring into action... even if he had no particular actions he could spring into. He did snatch a rusty staple gun from a nearby table, however, to feel like he was doing something to defend her.
"You," Shin identified. Her hand quickly went to a pocket, where she kept her pen. "Don't move. Not an inch. I've gotten better at transforming on the fly and vaporizing you guys without bothering with all that dramatic hooey."
"I'm here to help and I mean no harm," he reiterated, nudging the door closed with his foot, keeping his hands in the air. "I'd suggest against transforming into Sailor Truth and killing me until you hear me out."
"Without confirming or denying anything," Shin said, despite confirming earlier, "How do you know about the Sailors? Short answer form."
Ohta spoke quickly, but to the point. "My master Dark General Cobalt knows about all of you. He's researched your identities based on his findings about Himei, but he means you no ill will. In fact, he wants to help you destroy the Yamiko once and for all. He'd like to speak with you, but he's not able to visit Earth without raising the attention of the other generals--"
"Forget it," Kotashi spoke up. "I think I speak for Shin when I say nobody's going anywhere for a meeting. Hasn't the bastard heard of the written word? He can send a memo."
Ohta pointed towards his coat. "He doesn't need you to go anywhere. Now, I'm going to reach into the pocket of my coat slowly, and take out a cellular phone. You'll be able to talk to him over it. To prove I'm not going for a weapon, if I move quickly enough to actually use a weapon, then I invite you to change into Sailor Truth and vaporize me on the spot. You should be able to do that before I can hurt you. Do you understand?"
Kotashi raised an eyebrow. "Thorough, isn't he?"
"Cobalt believes in professionalism in all dealings," Ohta said, allowing some pride to sneak through his cautious tone.
"What a coincidence, so do I," Shin replied, taking her pen out but not transforming yet. "How do I know the phone's really a phone and not some Yamiko death trap?"
"You don't. I'm afraid there has to be a line drawn between reasonable suspicion and paranoia. If you're unwilling to go through with this I can return and he will write a letter, but you may not have your questions properly answered in that form."
Kotashi frowned, shaking his head. "I don't like this, Shin..."
"I don't either," she admitted. "But... I'll take the gamble. If this guy's telling the Truth, it'll be worth the risk. Now slowly, pal, set the phone down on that table next to you, then step back. And you're staying here until I finish my call, you're our hostage."
"I understand. I'm reaching for the phone now."
One tense moment followed... which played out slowly and proved to have no real 'AHA!' surprise factor attached. Ohta simply pulled out a small blue Nokia phone, set it on the table, and walked away. It began to ring, but he'd taken the precaution of making the ring tone very quiet. Shin kept her pen in front of herself like a shield, and reached over to answer the phone, holding it an inch from her ear.
"Am I speaking to Kongou Shin?" the unfamiliar voice asked.
"That depends. Is this Dark General Cobalt?" she asked, keeping her eyes on the Yamiko underling.
"Then it's Shin. Why did you send your lackey to free us last night?"
"Because I underestimated Neon's ability to get the jump on you guys," Cobalt said... sounding disgusted. Something in his tone suggested he was annoyed at himself, rather than at Shin. "For that, I apologize. Bad tactical planning. I was under the assumption that you could ambush him if I led him right to someone close to you--"
Shin's grip tightened on the phone. "You.. led Neon to Seiki?"
"I doused a folder of information about Seiki with a special powder that would keep Neon from escaping Earth, then had Ohta sneak it to him. I knew he couldn't resist and would be walking right into a Sailor trap."
"That's a big gamble."
"A gamble you lost. Himei's been hurt," she told him, the Ice Bitch taking over. "She's been hurt very badly and that means it's also your fault."
"I know she's been hurt. I kept tabs on the situation and sent Ohta to help you when it was clear things were falling apart."
If her grip got any tighter, the small plastic phone would crumple. "How generous of you. Now give me one reason I shouldn't hang up right now, you bastard."
"Because I want them dead, and so do you. If we work together, we can get this ridiculous war over with by destroying them all. We didn't work together last night, and everything got... it just got totally fucked up. I'd like to avoid that happening again, so I got in direct contact with you. We've got something in common -- we both have our reasons to hate the Yamiko."
"You bet I do. I hate them. And that means I hate you, too."
"It's good that you hate me, Shin. You're going to need that hatred today. You're gonna need a hate so clear it can see for miles. If I'm right, that's exactly the edge you'll need to defeat Xenon."
Shin refused to look at it like a death row inmate waiting for the gallows.
In Japan, the death penalty was a hushed topic. It was shameful to the nation, not openly discussed in any proper setting. Even the prisoners were kept in the dark... literally, in small dark cells on death row, without any knowledge of when their time may come. Prison officials would arrive on the morning of some completely random day ("When the prisoner is spiritually prepared" was the official excuse), haul you out of your cell, and off to the noose you go. Assuming the waiting game doesn't drive you mad first.
At least in America, they'd give you an exact day and time. Of course, there you had to deal with the media circus and all the fun of slow-acting lethal injections that shut down your body one piece at a ti...
...wasn't she REFUSING to look at it from such a morbid position?
Right. The true way to see it was in reverse. SHE was here, stalking outside the cell, ready to pluck her victim out when he least expected it and drop him down the trap. Terminate with extreme prejudice. Amnesty International might actually approve...
Of course, her prey got to pick the time of death.
This aspect did not thrill Kotashi. None of this was particularly pleasing to him, in fact.
"I do NOT like this," he had said. "No. Not in the slightest. This is a bad risk and--"
"It's a gamble I'm willing to take. I think it'll work. And if it does, the rewards are too good to pass up."
"Then at least call in Aki. Get some backup."
"She's wound pretty tight today. I'd rather not bring her in on this. I'm going to handle it."
"You can't do this alone!"
"Then you'll come with me."
And so he did. Not that he could do much of anything, but if it helped his Editorial Highness to squat down in her closet amidst her dirty underwear and peep on her as she got business done, she had no problems with that. She sat in her chair, in front of her computer, back to the door, back to the entire room... totally open to attack. Except, of course, for the webcam she had pointed with a wide angle lens and the small window she had open which her eyes hadn't really left for an hour and a half. Although she did spare a glance at the closet now and then, and a glance at the poster of her spiritual father, Hunter S. Thompson.
He would approve of this. It was like the militant version of gonzo journalism. Get the drop on them while they think they have the drop on you. This had to work. If all went according to plan, it would work. But the bastard was taking his sweet time showing--
A smear of black pixels across the tiny corner of her monitor showed shadows moving in ways shadows do not move.
She forced herself not to react, and prayed Kotashi would do the same rather than blow the whole operation...
Shin fell asleep at the touch of Dark General Xenon.
A dark light show later, and Shin was standing next to herself... but it wasn't Shin. It was a Shin that was grinning with a kind of mad glee, and rubbing her hands together.
"My lady, I greet you," the Dark General said, with a sweeping bow as he returned a similar smile. "I have freed you from the confines of your mind. You are now a monster, pure and true. But we must make haste; our enemies will--"
Yamiko Shin held up a finger, and waggled it. "Not yet. I need to take care of business... wrap loose ends. I want to show her just how much I hate her. Do we have time for that? Can you wake her for me? I want to look into her eyes when I choke the life from her..."
"Do as you please, Kongou Shin," the Yamiko lord spoke... snapping his fingers once.
The human Shin awoke.
She whirled in her rolling office chair, fingering the pen she had kept in her hand prior to falling asleep. No transformation phrase, no time for it, but her somewhat plain Sailor uniform appeared around her before she had rotated ninety degrees. When she made one hundred and eighty, Rude Awakening had already lit up the air before her with the searing light of Truth...
Normally, her attack wouldn't be enough to wipe out a Yamiko who had lived for centuries and grown powerful with age. However, when the Yamiko is A) shocked at your secret identity and B) blocked from leaving thanks to Cobalt's handiwork, they melt away into the air just as easily as a freshly spawned beast.
All that was left of Dark General Xenon was a whiff of soot in the air.
"Pretty pathetic, wasn't he?" Yamiko Shin pointed out, as she opened up the closet to let Kotashi out.
'Sailor Truth' shrugged. "We bushwhacked him. I'd rather have it easy than hard, given the circumstances. He underestimated just how much I hate the Yamiko and all the hurt they represent... just like Cobalt said."
"A hate that even a Yamiko of you would hold true to heart," Yamiko Shin agreed. "Sweet. DAMN sweet. Kotashi, you okay? You look spooked."
Kotashi glanced at the copy-Shin suspiciously. "We may have taken out a General, but I'm still iffy on this," he told his human journalist companion. "Part two, please?"
"Right, right," Shin said, raising her hands. "Sorry, me, but you and I both know there's gotta be only one Shin in this world."
Yamiko Shin laughed. "Understandable. I still remember the plan. Fire away..."
The kick snapped backwards fast enough to make the air go 'whoosh'. Shin's head snapped hard, and her office chair rolled back a full four feet from the impact.
Before Kotashi could protest, Yamiko Shin grabbed him, dipped him low and kissed him directly on the lips. Once she had enough, she dumped him on the floor.
"You have NO idea how much I really wanted to do that," Yamiko Shin explained. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an errand to run that Shin would never have the balls to do. Later, your Editorial Highness!"
The backup plan, if something went wrong, was for Kotashi to leap forth dramatically from the closet and bust some smelling salts open under Shin's nostrils. She'd wake up, kick some ass, and that would be that.
That's why she wasn't too surprised to find herself jerked awake by a powerfully horrible odor and a splitting headache. Her jaw was gonna swell pretty badly and smart for days, she could feel...
"The Yamiko bolted," Kotashi explained, putting the capsule away. "She said something about an errand she had to run which you'd never do..."
Shin growled, and slammed a fist on her computer table (but not hard enough to break anything.) "SHIT. I should have known... NO I-told-you-SOS, your Editorial Highness, unless you want this fist crammed down your..... why are you wearing my lipstick?"
Kotashi swiped his sleeve over his mouth, and continued. "We've got to catch her. Explain on the way. She probably stole your bike, so we'll have to ride mine--"
"What's to explain?" Shin said, getting to her feet, trying to ignore the stars behind her eyes. "She's going to go kill my uncle. And as twisted as the irony may be, we're gonna have to stop her."
Cobalt's plan was simple.
"He'll make a Yamiko of you after I bait him with your folder," he explained. "I'll beef it up with extra things I know he's looking for in his Yamiko. But if you really hate us that much, then you can have some control. Focus on the hate, and when he jumps you... your Yamiko will spawn with that hate intact and willingly help you kill him. A Yamiko isn't an opposite, and not all Yamiko are psychotically destructive. Plus, from what I see in your file, yours won't be too far away from your own mindset since you're already kind of a bitch. Assuming you don't hate yourself more than you hate me and my kind, it'll work out just fine."
Aside from the 'bitch' crack, Shin agreed that it would work, and they set up the trap. She didn't hate herself one iota, and she certainly wouldn't harm Kotashi. All she had to do to get her Yamiko to turn on its maker is to make the connection:
Evil Men Can Do = Hurt People Can Cause = Pain People Feel = Darkness Inside Us All = The Twisted Logic Of Her Uncle = Her Silenced Truth = The Yamiko.
Even if she wore a goatee and hailed from a parallel universe, there was no way she could turn her back to that moral pillar.
The problem was in the one thing she overlooked, and was now (not literally) kicking herself for overlooking: While she may not hate herself and she may not hate Kotashi, there was one person she hated just as much as the Yamiko. And rather than burden her human self with that grudge, she'd quite willingly go off and flay him alive if she wasn't stopped.
Kotashi's feet pumped at the pedals of his bike while his lungs burned for air. He tried to look around Shin, who was sitting on his handlebars in that awkwardly dangerous yet so popular way to get a bike to seat two people. The Yamiko had stolen Shin's bike, and lacking a car, this was the only way to get to East Wazaru Station.
"How... do you know... she'll go for the subway?!" he wheezed.
"It's what I'd do," Shin explained, keeping her balance carefully. "One beeline right for his office downtown. The fastest way is the subway. I know the stop she'll get off on, and I know what guards she can fast-talk her way by to get up to his floor. And if you dump me face first into the pavement and break my neck I swear to god I'm gonna haunt you until the end of days as a vengeful ghost!"
"I'll! Keep that! In mind!!" he grunted, as he rolled uphill... and mercifully stopped at the bike rack in front of the small subway station. He hopped off after Shin had jumped down. "...why didn't you realize this before when you and your Yamiko buddy were cooking up this crazy plan?"
"Don't make me smack you. Even the Truth can be misled," she intoned. She took a deep breath.. and ran down the stairs, into the subway station. She focused on the clean and shiny train already parked at the platform. "C'mon! It's about to go. If we're lucky, that's her train!"
There was something almost comical about this chase, Shin thought as she squeezed into the overpacked subway car, keeping a death grip on her editor's wrist to keep from losing him. It's very Keystone Cops. The wacky bike ride, the wacky sardine-like subway car, wacky kids running in a wacky way across the city while no doubt some highly silly and indeed very wacky music bounced along in the soundtrack...
...except that if she failed, the end would not be wacky.
"We gotta stop her," Shin mumbled to herself, as the train pulled away from the station. "Dammit. Dammit dammit. This is my fault..."
Kotashi pressed up next to her... very close. It would be a romantic comedy moment if not for the weight of the situation, so he kept his sense of humor and libido in check. "So you overlooked something. We can handle it. Keep your cool, Shin. We're gonna solve--"
"It's my fault I hate him so much."
Kotashi closed his fist tightly -- not the hand Shin was holding, but the one out of sight. "You've got a pretty good reason to hate him, Shin. He hurt you. He got away with it. Nobody believed you. It pisses me off just as much when I think about it."
"Except now that hate's out and walking, isn't it?" Shin whispered to him, to keep the conversation out of sensitive ears. "I kept it in check. I should have seen this. She's the antithesis of being in check and now she's gonna kill him."
"Maybe that's not a bad thing, then--"
His fist unclenched when the hand around his wrist squeezed. HARD.
"It is ALWAYS a bad thing," Shin hissed. "Yes, I hate him. I hate him intensely and if he DID drop dead, I'd probably dance a jig and urinate on his grave. Twice. But I'm not gonna be a murderer. If I've truly got a moral core that hates the Yamiko, that means I can't BE LIKE THEM. Two wrongs only make a right in Dilbert. Got it? This is my grudge I never let go of. Maybe I had a right to hold onto it, but it's biting me in the ass now and that doesn't make me freaking HAPPY--"
"Okay, okay," Kotashi said, jerking his hand away. "I know. I wouldn't kill him, either. We'll stop her. Besides, if we don't stop her... you get to go to jail instead of her. Damned if I'll let that happen to someone I l..."
The romantic comedy moment was too strong to remain suppressed. Kotashi was the one who blushed -- and Shin was the one who seethed.
"She kissed you, didn't she?" she asked. "That's why you had my lightly applied, very sensible lipstick smeared on your--"
Silencing the moment, Kotashi took advantage of their close quarters and returned the kiss to the right girl.
Two wrongs may not make a right, but a wrong and a right add up nicely.
Buy. Sell. Trade.
These three words had gotten Kongou-san where he was today -- in a large office with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking the rest of Tokyo. Plush carpeting you can really sink a wingtip into. Tasteful paintings done by famous Japanese artists to gloat about. He even had his own private bathroom, which was useful for when he needed a break from the stress of day to day work. After all, it was perfectly acceptable for businessmen in Japan to keep a few dirty magazines around.
Today he had managed to complete the purchase of his nearest competitor. He wouldn't pinkslip ALL of them, of course; there was still useful talent, and he had humanitarian core which said these men had families which still needed feeding. Yes, they would all fall under the new corporate umbrella and be happy employees. He'd done a wonderful work of good today while establishing his dominant position in the marketplace, and no doubt he'd receive yet more community recognition and awards.
To celebrate, and to work off the tension of the negotiations, he was thumbing through some new pulpy doujinshi involving ten year old girls and rope knots that he had bought on his way to work. His secretary was told to hold all calls for the afternoon.
Instead of his phone ringing, the unmistakable sound of the double oaken doors leading into his office swinging open was heard.
Cursing under his breath, he stowed the manga away under his toilet, and yanked up his pants. He'd have his 'executive assistant', that bitch, sacked for letting someone walk in here...
When he emerged from his bathroom moments later, he found someone he hadn't seen in aeons standing before him.
"You," Kongou-san said, frowning in distaste.
"Uncle, I know we're not on good terms, but I've got to talk to you," Shin said quickly, crossing over to his desk. "You're not safe here. Someone's coming to kill you."
Her uncle walked over to the desk as well.. tapping a button on his phone. "I'm not interested in your fairy tales, Shin," he said. "Security? To my office immediately. ...security?"
His beloved niece held up the frayed end of a phone cord in one hand, and the letter opener she'd snatched off the desk to cut it in the other.
In a flash, Shin was behind him, and pressing the blade of the opener against his throat.
"Just like you to have these things be dagger-sharp," she hissed in his ear. "Never leave a job half done. Wasn't enough to gag me, was it? You had to use one of these to 'remove' my clothes..."
Kongou-san... swallowed. Not very hard, as he felt the blade press against his skin, drawing one droplet of blood. "Shin... don't be hasty. This is a mistake. You'll never get away with--"
"You got away with it, didn't you?" she said, smiling as she poured the verbal venom in his ear. "The media will LOVE me. A poor, tortured soul who didn't know right from wrong after being traumatized by you. Just another shameful national tragedy for the whole country to weep over. Did you know you can publish autobiographies from prison? Of course, I won't be publishing it. I'll be gone, to the Yami-gaia. But she'll take the fall. I almost regret that... but not as much as I'd regret passing up this opportunity--"
As if the day wasn't frighteningly confusion enough, Kongou-san had two more visitors. The young boy closed the doors and locked them. The young girl in the sailor costume...
...was also Shin. It took a moment to make the connection, but somehow, his mind bridged the gap that was telling him he was not looking at his niece.
"I can fry you before you can cut him," Shin said, with one hand upraised. "You know this because I know this. So don't fucking try anything."
The girl behind the businessman frowned. "I'm doing you a FAVOR, Shin. You don't have to get your hands dirty -- I'll do it for you. Then you'll be free. This is the ONLY WAY you'll ever feel safe again, isn't it? To know that he got what he deserved? I know you thought of it! Just spin it with the newspaper people and you can ride it out easy. You could even go on talk shows after they let you out of jail. You could spread the Truth! People need to KNOW!"
The Truth burned inside Shin's muscles, building up like a river dam ready to burst through her fingertips. All that hatred, now directed at the two targets that represented the hate... but the Truth was purifying. It wasn't vengeance. It was liquid justice.
"They'll find out," Shin said, flexing her hands and closing her eyes. "But not this way. Kotashi, cover your eyes NOW-- RUDE AWAKENING!!"
With every ounce of her willpower poured into it, it felt much like the time she vaporized Neon back at Seiki's house. It felt righteous. It felt True. And it flooded the room with a searing Truth that actually caused the wallpaper to turn pale, as if exposed to six years of sunlight...
It made no sound, however. And when it passed, Shin opened her eyes to find herself no longer staring into two faces of evil, but one. One which was clawing at his face, and curling up in pain on the floor.
"MY EYES!!" Kongou-san screamed. "What have you done?! I'm blind!"
A wrong and a right, Shin thought, a smile of sweet satisfaction crossing her lips.
"Oh, it'll fade eventually," she explained, as she transformed back to her normal clothes. "Maybe a week or a month or something, I'm sure. But hey, had to be done, you know? You had a monster about to kill you. I just saved your bacon."
Kongou-san groped at the air, as Shin took a step back. He pushed himself up to his knees, almost growling at the space two feet to the left of her. "You did this to me! I don't know how, but you bitch, you blinded me! I'll have you arrested for--"
"For what?" Shin asked. "Nobody can prove anything. It'd be my word against yours. Would the cops really believe an unarmed, innocent, weak little girl like me was physically capable of this?"
Kotashi cleared his throat, as he stepped up beside her. "I think we should go now, innocent little girl," he mumbled.
"You know, Unc, if you were REALLY a monster, that would've killed you," Shin explained, the Truth dawning on her. "But you're not a real monster. I've seen real monsters. You're just a flawed, wretchedly pathetic human being. You're not worth hating, because in the end, you're nothing. I guess the Truth can be blinding, can't it? Kotashi, let's go. I'm done here."
She left him to his howling rage, and never looked back. There wasn't anything worth looking back on.
"I suppose in the end, I'm a flawed human being too," Shin said, leaning back in the (un)comfortable hospital chair. "Because I got a LOT of satisfaction watching him writhe around helplessly like that. I'm not going to deny that. It felt good. It felt like... maybe not closure, but that I had closed the door enough that I wouldn't have to dwell that much anymore. But I had the spirit to fight against what happened to me, enough spirit that I COULD confront him like that when the opportunity presented itself. I didn't run away; I ran towards the fight."
Shin nodded to herself, satisfied with the tale. She peered into Himei's empty eyes a moment.
"Your goal now, I'd reckon, is to want to come back to the fight," she said. "It's going to hurt. It's going to suck. It's not going to be the cold and comforting numbness you're enjoying right now. But you can't stay like this; eventually you'll die. I was under the impression you wanted to live. Aki told me you were rather adamant about it. I don't know what's going to do it... what's going to light enough of a fire under your ass to get off the stool in the corner and come out swinging. But I will be here every damn day until you do."
In one fluid motion, Shin rose to her feet and snatched the roll of electrical tape from the table. Then she turned to face the curtain.
"You may run like the wind, but you're as stealthy as a typhoon," she said. "Get in here already, I hate lurkers. Visiting hours are almost over, anyway."
The boy peered in through the curtains, unsure.
"I didn't want to interrupt," he replied. "And I couldn't decide if I should even see her until just now..."
"I was just on my way out," Shin said, packing the tape up in her back and tossing the bag over one shoulder. "And we don't need wishy-washiness right now. You're here to tell her about the talk you and Kotashi had, aren't you?"
"...I figured she deserves to know."
"Good. Honesty. I like that. Break her heart and I'll break your leg again," the girl grumbled, glancing down at his two healthy appendages.
Without another word, she pushed by him and departed the 'privacy' area.
It took Seiki a full minute to work up the nerve to approach the bed. He had a seat in the uncomfortable chair, and fidgeted as he knew he probably was going to. The head of Himei's bed had been left upright, allowing her to stare right at him... even if it was an empty stare, it felt horrible in his mind.
Finally, he gave up looking away, and allowed himself a momentary glance at her.
"I failed you," he spoke softly.
Context is everything. Kotashi decided that holding this conversation in the very same house where everything had gone down was a bad idea; they needed to be as far from the house as reasonably possible. Somewhere public, so his friend would feel comfortable, but not IN public where sensitive issues couldn't be discussed.
Fortunately, he knew of just the place. One block from Seiki's house was a public park. During the day, you'd often find children at play on the swingsets and the merry-go-round. Elderly folk would take their morning walks through the park. But at this time of night, it would be abandoned; perfect for his needs.
He led the unprotesting Seiki to the park, wordless. Their pace was quick, but not rushing. One short trip later, away from the inevitable arrival of ambulances and cops and things, Kotashi sat Seiki down on a bench that normally seated three. Seiki gravitated to the farthest position from his friend he could manage, setting his wooden crutch aside.
Kotashi cleared his throat, rubbed his hands for warmth, and turned to face him. "Okay..."
No response. Not that he was expecting one.
"Shin asked me to handle this, so I'm gonna handle it my way rather than a 'Truth above all' way," Kotashi explained. "The way I'm seeing it, you've got two choices here. First, you can walk. You don't have to get mixed up in this, even if things have gotten this bad. You just walk away from this. Write off the whole night as a bad dream--"
"Am I dreaming this?" Seiki asked, speaking without raising his eyes from the ground before him.
"Unfortunately... no," his friend replied. "You aren't actually dreaming. I just figured you might like to write this off so you can live a normal--"
"Was I dreaming when a white haired man showed up behind the school the other day?"
"Tell me the truth, Kotashi. I have to know."
"No, you weren't dreaming. Seiki, you've still got a chance to ignore all this. Red pill and blue pill, you know? I took you to that movie opening night. You commented that you'd probably take the blue pill if faced with it, so I figure... here's your chance. A lot of weird shit has gone down, but if you try to forget all of this and you cut ties to Himei--"
"No," Seiki said... raising his head to meet Kotashi's look. But his body was starting to shake, as he let himself remember the night's events. "I was wrong when I saw that movie. I... I want to know what just happened. I HAVE to know what happened to me. That.. that thing that looked like me... I saw everything he did, he did to her, I... oh, god... Himei....."
Kotashi sighed. Despite it being 'unmanly,' he had no problems sliding over on the bench and giving his longtime friend a hug. It seemed to work; the shaking slowed to a minor rattle.
"You're not alone here, Seiki-kun," Kotashi said, knowing what fear was involved. "I'm here, alright? And I can explain it, if you want me to. But it's not going to be a pleasant explanation. We're talking point of no return, your life likely forever changed explanation. The red pill. Now, are you sure you don't want to at least get a night's rest first? You're shellshocked."
"I don't think I'm going to sleep tonight while Himei's in the hospital, Kotashi," Seiki said honestly, forcing himself to calm down.
"Point taken. Okay. You're a big fan of Magical Princess Sailor Rose Wand, right?"
"Uh... yes, I am. Why?"
"You probably won't be when I finish explaining."
All things considered, Seiki took it pretty well.
He did radiate confusion at the beginning. But once he started seeing the patterns from his favorite animes... even if they were completely twisted by the point they met the cold grip of reality... the confusion passed. Next was a sense of wonder, but that was immediately replaced by horror. Then disgust. A little anger, as much as it was possible for Seiki to get angry. Eventually, though, he sank into a kind of coldly reasonable depression.
It was a bit like Shin's attitude, Kotashi realized. Where you are accepting of everything you hear, because compared to what you've experienced, it makes perfect sense. You hate it, but it makes sense, and you have to deal with it. There's no other choice.
"...so, at Le Chapeau, the monster I thought I only dreamed of was really there," Seiki concluded. "And he busted my leg when I tried to save Himei."
"And yesterday when the guy with white hair appeared and I blacked out, Himei was fighting another Yamiko."
"And tonight, the Dark General made a Yamiko from me, and it... hurt her."
"Yeah That's the Truth, with Shin's capital T," Kotashi said.
"Himei's been fighting this war for years... and nobody's known," Seiki said, with no small amount of disbelief despite his ability to embrace the other nasty realities. "Everybody called her Henmei and made fun of her because she was so sad and tired. They didn't know just how bad it was. Nobody knew... not even me..."
"She hasn't had a very fun life, no," Kotashi agreed, leaning back against the bench and looking up at the sky... frowning to himself and to whatever might be watching from above. "Shin's life has gotten worse since she joined... Aki's been rattled by this a few times. ...I've had an awful time of it, too, even if I lack cosmic fightin' powers. I'm playing the one who stays behind while my samurai warrior princess dives into battle. But other than Himei, they all volunteered to do this after they got sucked into the fray. They could've walked. You could have, too... if not for your busted leg, of course."
"I can't walk from this. Not after what I've done to her--"
"Stop right there," Kotashi warned, looking back at the other boy. "If there's one thing you have to agree to before I'm letting you go, it's that YOU didn't do this. Your Yamiko did."
"It's MY fault, Kotashi," Seiki repeated, voice getting more fevered. "Whatever was in me is what did that. If what you're saying is true, I'm responsible! All because I can't stand being alone anymore, and because I wanted to be with her. Childish little Seiki who cries when he's not around other people got weak! Ever since my parents died you know I've been desperate. Desperate for friends, for attention, to be with people and never be alone... that desperation hurt her, and I can never forgive myself for it. She'll never want to speak to me again, and I don't blame her..."
Now's as good a time as any to drop the bomb, Kotashi thought. The part of the story I didn't relate to him earlier.
"My Yamiko almost did the same thing to Shin," he said.
"Same deal. A Dark General -- it might've been that guy, they all look alike to me -- dropped in on me one night and made a Yamiko. I was asleep for the whole thing, but my Yamiko tried to assault her. Shin avoided me for a day until I finally confronted her -- I didn't know anything about the Yamiko at the time, I didn't know what was going on. Shin asked me 'Have you ever thought about that?'. And I had to say yes. I did think about hurting her."
"You.. You can't be serious," Seiki responded, unbelieving. "You thought about.. hurting her? You're one of the most moral people I know! How could you--"
"I'm human, Seiki. Humans have stray thoughts. We have dark thoughts. What makes us human is the ability to control those thoughts that we don't want, to decide between right and wrong. Yamiko can't control themselves. That's why I'D never hurt her... and you'd never hurt Himei. You think I'm a moral pillar? You're a saint compared to me. You'd never hurt anyone, and you'd stick up for those who are being hurt like you did yesterday. From what I've been told, you stood up to your closest friends to do what's right, even if you had to walk on a broken leg to do it. If that doesn't make you a good man, I can't think of what will. I'm not nearly as strong as that."
"If I was that strong... I could've done something tonight. Something to stop that thing..."
"You did what you could," Kotashi said, laying a comforting hand on the other boy's shoulder. "Even if it wasn't much, we all did what we could. I think... I think Himei understands that. She knows you weren't the one that hurt her. She probably understands this madness more than any of us, since she's had to live with it for so long. I don't want to downplay what happened, I don't mean this out of disrespect... but it's like a drop in the bucket for her compared to the posh and happy life the rest of us have led."
Seiki sat in stunned silence. Getting your head around the scope of Himei's miserable existence was something even Kotashi had trouble with. He sat back again, and brought around his closing argument.
"If you don't want to see Himei again, that's okay," Kotashi suggested. "Maybe it'd be better if you got on with your life. You've got a good future ahead of you and this could just be a speed bump on the road. It's like I said, Seiki, you can walk away from this. You've only been involved at the fringes up to this point. There's still room to escape... what?"
Seiki was staring right at him. Right THROUGH him.
"Kotashi... you're not a Sailor. Why are you so involved?" he asked... in a tone that suggested he already knew why.
Kotashi recognized that, but played along anyway. "I'm involved because I've got someone.. someone I love stuck in this, so I'm riding it out to the end. Good or bad, even if I can't do shit to help her fight in the war since I'm a mere mortal, and no matter how frustrating that is... I'm going to be there for her in any other way I can."
"But there is a way you can fight for her."
"I'm not Wind Ninja Editor Kotashi, you know. I couldn't punch my way out of a wet paper bag."
"I think you know what I mean," Seiki said... fetching his crutch, and rising to his foot. "When you were talking about how Shin became a sailor, you paused. I've seen enough magical girls anime to know why."
A cold realization settled in Kotashi's mind.
"You can't be serious," he said. "I can't do that. I told you, I'm not that strong. I don't think I could handle that. I can barely handle the small slice of the pie I was given. You're not really going to try THAT, are you? Himei doesn't WANT others dragged into this by him..."
"I'll just be another I have thing to apologize to her for. If I'm really a strong man... if I'm really a moral man... and if I'm really the kind who will stand up for what's right, then maybe I can be there for Himei that way," Seiki said, adjusting his grip on the crutch. "I won't accept that I've got no blame in this. Yamiko or no Yamiko, it's my flaws that led to this. I'm not going to walk away."
"Dusty's at Himei's house, right? Take me there."
The buzzing of the overhead lights could be heard when Seiki stopped telling his tale.
"There's no way I can make this right again," Seiki explained. "I know that. But there's no way I can turn my back on it. I can't turn my back on you, even if it'd be the easy way out. You don't deserve this kind of pain. I'm partly responsible for it, and I can't stand to see you hurt. ...maybe that's why I was drawn to you. I got hurt once, and I saw that in you. I wanted to help. You didn't want anything from me like the Fashion Club wanted, you didn't care for the prestige of dating the great Seiki... but you agreed to see me anyway..."
Hanging his head, he rubbed his temples, trying to get his headache to go away.
"I'm getting side tracked," he mumbled... reaching into his pocket not for aspirin, but for something else entirely. "I'm no good at this. You'd think after talking to myself so often at home I'd be better at it... but at any rate, it's for all those reasons and more that I went to see Dusty. It's a good thing you left your window open. Kotashi told him what happened... he said he couldn't forgive himself for not being there for you. Maybe that's why he agreed to this..."
He pulled a pen out from his pocket.
He'd forgotten the phrase Dusty told him, but found it didn't matter. Willing himself to change would work just as well.
It wasn't quite the ordinary black school uniform a boy would wear. It wasn't quite a tuxedo, either. It was a weird cross-blend of the two, gray and white rather than black and white... with an ordinary gray mask that didn't do anything to hide his identity. He did not wear a top hat, but a simple elastic headband good for keeping sweat out of your face after a workout.
"I could have run back to my normal life, like Kotashi suggested. But I'd never be able to live with abandoning you, Himei. I'm going to fight," he told her... taking her limp hand into his own. "I'll stand up for what's right... and I'll protect you. I'm going to make as much amends as I can. Dusty said I'd be kind of a 'male sailor' rather than a true Kamen like your last one... and we don't know quite how it happened, but it somehow healed my leg, too. Now I can fight alongside you. You don't have to run away or hide from anything again. I know you didn't want me involved in this, that's why you wanted to break up with me. I'm sorry.. I had to do this. I'm sorry. Please... tell me I messed up. Tell me I did something you didn't want me to do. Get mad at me. Just say something. Please. Please... I'm sorry, Himei... I'm...."
His head sank, as he held onto her hand. Despite his proud declaration of being her knight in shining armor, he wasn't feeling very strong at all.
A hand came around to stroke through his hair. Comforting. Understanding.
"It's okay, Seiki," Himei said, leaning in to hold him. "It's going to be okay."
Fine wine was poured. Glasses were clinked. But after a sip, Cobalt spat out the vile fluid.
He set his glass down on his desk, which was now quite clear of paperwork to handle. "Ohta... you think it's the general aura of corruption and decay of this place that's making this taste like shit, or is it just a lousy bottle?"
"Lousy bottle, sir," Ohta explained. "I couldn't afford anything better. My apologies."
"Eeh, whatever," Cobalt dismissed, relaxing wit his arms behind his head, leaning back in his chair. "The taste of revenge is sweet anyway, bwahaha and all that junk. Neon and Xenon, the generic brothers, down for good. It was a bumpy road getting there, but the results speak for themselves.... hrm. I guess that means Argon's next. He'll be a tougher nut to crack. Any ideas?"
"You're the idea man, sir. I'm the lackey. That's how this works."
"I've always wondered about that, Ohta," Cobalt said, his mind either loosened or knocked silly by the poor quality liquor enough to think about it. "You've never had a single job complaint, no matter what dangerous task I set you to. You've had none of the frothy bile the other Yamiko spew or their impulses. Cool as a cucumber like me. What's your deal? You have a beef against the Yamiko too?"
"...not exactly, sir. I guess you could say I owe her--"
The door to the office swung open, and a monster walked in.
"Xenon is dead," Dark General Argon announced. "He didn't report back after heading to earth for some reason. We believe he was killed by a Sailor."
"It's a damn shame," Cobalt offered, raising his glass anew. "Well then, let's drink a toast to poor Xenon's rotting corpse. Try the wine, it's simply fantastic, you'd love it."
"You're being rather jovial about this, Cobalt," Argon frowned, his mind working. "The others would not approve of your attitude--"
"Good thing they're too dead to notice. Isn't it funny, Argon, feeling like an endangered species? Generals seem to be dropping like flies lately. Are you scared?"
"Not particularly. Neon and Xenon were... rather boring people."
"Ah. We agree on something. Pour the man a glass, Ohta."
"I can't stay, actually," Argon commented.. smiling as he got to the good part. "I was just escorting someone to the palace and figured I'd drop in on your filthy hovel to say hello."
Cobalt raised one eyebrow. "Escorting another human meat toy to your art gallery, Argon?"
The one who walked into his office next was certainly not human. Cobalt's glass slipped from his fingers in shock, shattering on the floor. Red ran symbolically across the cracked floor tiles.
Magnificent Kamen glanced around the office, expressing his usual Disgust with all things.
"We won't be staying long," Argon commented. "The prodigal son, the First of all Generals has returned at long last! The Queen wishes an immediate meeting with us about this Sailor problem. Isn't that right, Dark General Radon?"
Cobalt thought of a word that started with F and carried on for three letters.
"You seem upset, young General," the Yamiko Kamen spoke.
"Fear not. Now that I have healed properly and thought about the issue...
I will be able to dispose of the renegades and their impudent leader once and
PREVIEW OF NEXT EPISODE
This is not going according to plan.
Nothing ever does, man. Get used to it.
He's returned. He's returned, and he still hasn't learned... and I can do nothing else to stop this.
Next time on Sailor Nothing... an old enemy becomes the friend of our enemy and is thus our enemy. Which just goes to show. HEY, when am I gonna get more screen time!?
Be careful what you wish for.
TO BE CONTINUED
nothing copyright 2000 stefan gagne
unauthorized use prohibited