Author's Note: This idea actually came to me in the morning lying in bed, between the twilight period of sleep and awake, where you know you're sleeping, but you mind is completely active and aware. I believe I have Mr. Ray Bradbury to thank for this technique. At any rate, because of the dreamlike nature of the original concept, this story is kind of strange, and much is left unsaid, leaving most of the plotline to be found in the questions rather than in the answers.
I cannot guarantee that this story will be continued.
Disclaimer: I do not own Sailormoon or any of its characters and trademark concepts. However, the original stuff, being original, is technically mine. Ask before using. Thank you! -
Everything had become so different since Mamoru died.
The future she had expected and come to love was gone, fading away into a black expanse, leaving her only with numbness.
Five months is long in the course of a lifetime. From death's perspective, it's not quite long enough. So when her friend Minako called her up, asking her to accompany their friends to a party, she wasn't quite sure she was up for it.
"It might be fun," Minako's warm, encouraging voice embraced her over the line. "Come for just a bit. Please, Usagi-chan? If you decide you don't like it, then we can leave right away."
So in the end she agreed.
The "by invitation only" party was at a posh hotel in Tokyo. The host, some big-wig record guy with whom Minako had distant connections, had rented out the reception room, and the entire lobby, balconies, and gardens were brimming with exquisitely dressed, beautiful people. Usagi felt out of place right away.
"I don't know, Minako," she murmured in her friend's ear, her hair swirling around her in two beams of sunlight. "You're used to mingling with these types of people, but I'm not."
"Don't worry so much, Usagi-chan," Minako grinned fabulously. "I mean, just look at how well Rai fits it." The young up-and-coming actress tossed her gorgeous blonde locks over her shoulder, indicating.
Laughing charmingly with a group of people over by the punch bowl was a slender raven-haired beauty. She met the eyes of the two blonde women watching her and smiled brightly, waving.
Minako cupped her friends chin in a playful gesture. "Let's see our old Usagi, hm? You love parties. Why, I can hardly believe that right now you're just stepping down and letting Rai have all the attention! Are you going to settle for that?"
Usagi turned and offered Minako a weak smile. "Okay, Minako. Okay. You go have fun. I'll be all right."
"You sure?" Minako eyed the smaller woman suspiciously.
"Yes." Usagi's smile broadened, and Minako recognized that it was genuine.
Usagi stood still and contemplative, as she watched Minako wander into the crowd, hesitantly at first, and then with greater and greater ease, until she was out of sight. Usagi smoothed her elegant, plain black gown and turned a little half-circle. The reception room was lit with high, sparkling chandeliers that bounced light from off of tall, French doors. These she wandered out of, meandering slowly, without any specific purpose, taking in the sights. Outside, there were less people, moving about in groups of twos and threes, and even less in the gardens below, where a warm breeze moved up over the grass to meet her. The blinding lights of the city blocked out most of the stars, but the moon was round and full tonight, and it smiled its warmth down on her. All at once, Usagi felt the overwhelming sense of loss . . . .
A burst of high-society laughter caught her attention abruptly to her left. She saw a group of people, elegant ladies and tall gentlemen, in a little huddle near the smooth stone railing overlooking the gardens. This sight might not have interested her if a red-headed woman at that moment hadn't shifted her stance, moving aside so that Usagi could see someone at the center of the group. It was a tall formally dressed man, and there was something at once very strange about him. It was his hair – his hair was pure white.
A strange feeling of déjà vu accosted her. She had seen this man before. There was something to him, besides just his hair, something in the way he moved, the way he lifted his head to speak, the sound of his voice, low and steady, rising over the laughter and conversation of his apparent admirers, the way he gestured when he spoke. She watched him with increasing interest. The white-haired man nodded politely to the group of people surrounding him, and sidled out between two people, who were obviously disappointed to see him go. He moved toward the entrance into the reception room and had almost reached the door when a second group of people caught sight of him. They moved around him, gliding, but in a way that made Usagi feel that his man was very important, and that everyone wanted to talk to him. The tall man seemed almost reluctant to stop and talk at first, but eventually, settling, he recalled the calm, refined smile and graceful mannerisms he had used before.
Usagi forgot that she was staring. If she had realized it, she might have stopped at once, knowing that it was rude, or (which was more likely) knowing the uncanny ability of the stare to compel the attention of the one being stared at. The man nodded to a short woman to his right, said something. Then, in an instant, as if guided by some invisible line of fate, he glanced up. His eyes immediately, without faltering, rested on her. His gaze met hers.
Usagi gasped. She knew at that moment who he was.
This all recognition happened in an instant. Before two beats of the heart had passed, the man's gaze had left her, and he continued in gentle, elegant discourse with the short woman, took the firm handshake of a middle-aged business man.
Usagi was unnerved. But the reaction she might have expected, had one told her about the incident before hand, was not what happened. She continued to stare at him. And when he excused himself from this second crowd, walking deliberately into the high-ceilinged reception room, she followed him.
He strode away fast, weaving in and out among people. Usagi followed as best she could, but her short legs could not keep up with his long strides. He became harder and harder to see, until she nearly lost sight of him. She began to panic. She ran. Her heart beat ever faster, she stopped turned around quickly – too quickly. She felt the room was spinning. The bright lights and elevator music and gay voices rose up and rushed upon her, though now everything was distorted, like normal things made ghastly by the mirrors of a fun house.
She began to fall, tilting into a passing server, carrying punch. The waiter, spilled his burden but fortunately was able to break his fall. Usagi, completely dizzy and disoriented, put out her arms to break her fall, although she was not even sure of which way she was falling. But she never hit the ground. She landed into something firm and warm and was pulled back up onto her feet and stabled. When she finally composed herself and looked up, she was horrified. It was him.
He was looking at her quizzically, holding her upper arms as if not sure she could stand on her own.
"Are you all right?" he asked. His face was smooth and the emotion in them muted, yet his voice was not without concern.
"Yes – I'm – yes, I'm fine," she stuttered, embarrassed. Her skin felt strangely hot, while her insides were freezing. Usagi thought vaguely, in some functioning corner of her brain, that this must be what if felt like to be microwaved.
"Are you sure," he persisted, eyebrows furrowing. His eyes were the strangest hue of clear lavender. His skin was fair, so fair, but it was missing something – a mark, a black mark between the eyebrows.
"I – I'm fine!" she insisted, shrugging him away, and leaning backwards.
He seemed to be studying her, unsure of her answer. Then, without another word, he turned back into the crowd and vanished.
"Usagi-chan!" came Minako's worried call. "Oh, Usagi-chan, what happened?" She pushed her way through the crowd, shooing away rude onlookers.
"I'm sorry, Minako. I – I'm such a klutz," Usagi rubbed her arm guiltily. She had pushed him away, and now, out of nowhere, she regretted it.
"Oh, no, I'm sorry," her friend touched her shoulders affectionately. "It's my fault. This was a bad idea. Let's go home."
Usagi felt afterwards that it must have been a daydream.
Makoto had questioned them about the punch incident when Minako took her home, but Usagi didn't wish to speak about it, and like any good friend, Makoto sensed this and let it go. But though she didn't speak of the reason for her accident, Usagi pondered it for the rest of the week.
As she strolled home slowly from the university one afternoon, she turned the thoughts over and over again in her head. It was a long walk, and though she shared a car with her roommate, she had developed a deathly fear of driving. She would go nowhere near the vehicle any more. But she enjoyed walking. It gave her time alone, to think, or to simply be without the fawning but well meaning gestures of other people. Today, her mind was occupied with the memories of a time gone by but a time not yet to be. She had been a great warrior once, and saved her city and perhaps the world from numerous disasters. In one such incident, she had found the man, the white-haired man from the other night, and their meeting had not been an all-together pleasant one.
He had been a bad man then. But what was she thinking? This man couldn't possibly be the same one. And yet, and yet . . . he had looked at her with those same eyes, that same cool, disconcerting gaze.
And if he had come back, then maybe . . . maybe . . . .
As if to answer her questions, Fate dictated that at that moment, the very same man should cross the street in front of her at some distance and enter into a tea shop. Usagi stopped in her tracks. Looked about her with wide, frightened doe-eyes. Was she crazy? Was she dreaming? Was she dead? No, everything still appeared to be normal. The people bustled about her, in a hurry to go about their own business, children shouted and called, the cars beeped and screeched around the curbs. Smells of western and traditional food, and of smoke and pollution crept up her nostrils, strong as ever. The warm, hazy light of a spring late afternoon filtered in between the tall city buildings. This had to be real.
As if jolted by a sudden shock of electricity, her legs reeled forward, carrying her toward the tea shop. She entered through the glass door, alerting the little tinkling bell, glanced around. The aromatic scent of herbal tea rose up and steamed around her. It was warm.
There, standing right before her, was the elusive white-haired man, dressed in a sloppy business suit, a hand in one pocket, and reading a menu.
She stared at him. Again, her stare drew up his gaze. And he looked at her. For ten seconds they watched each other, silently. His eyes betrayed that he recognized her, but either from the night at the party or from much longer ago, she could not tell.
Then, as if possessed, Usagi lurched forward and into him, like a small, frightened child, grabbing round his torso, and holding him as if for dear life.
When she stood back again, and looked at him, he was watching her with the same gaze he had given the night she had fallen; he was not angry, or upset, or embarrassed, only confused and concerned. Then, in a gesture of supreme graciousness and generosity, he breeched the awkward silence and said quietly, "Miss . . . may I buy you a drink?"
Usagi blinked, smiled faintly. She realized he had taken pity on her and was saving her from complete and utter humiliation. "Yes," she said softly. "Yes. I would like that very much."
They sat together at a little corner table near the window where the sunlight could filter through, sipping their herbal tea. They really hadn't spoken, except to introduce themselves.
"What is your name?" he asked politely.
"It's Tsukino. Tsukino Usagi," she offered, still feeling a bit sheepish. "And . . . and – yours?" She said the word yours strangely, as if abruptly halting the flow of words from continuing.
"You mean," he said quietly but with genuine surprise, "you mean you don't know?"
When her eyes widened to the size of quarters, and he thought she might die on the spot, he quickly added, "I'm Yasutake Okura." A look of overwhelming relief washed over her. He continued, "Of the Yasutake family. I thought for sure . . . you haven't heard of me?"
Usagi shook her head somberly. "No. I'm sorry . . . should I have?"
He smiled, relaxed. "Well, no, I simply thought . . . since you were at the social gathering a couple nights ago . . . that was you, wasn't it?"
Usagi nodded, the memory bringing a slight flush to her cheeks. She looked earnestly into her teacup.
Yasutake smiled. "Ah, there – I'm just being paranoid. You see, I happen to be of interest to some people – I've been bothered by reporters and businessmen alike in the recent past. I just assumed since you were there that evening that you were probably someone like that – a newspaper editor, an ambassador's daughter, or somebody of that sort. And since you followed me . . ."
"I was not following you!" the objection came in a rush, an obvious testimony to her guilt.
The corner of his mouth quirked slightly.
Usagi sighed. "I guess . . . I guess I was following you," Usagi admitted, eyes downcast in shame. She added quietly, "I'm sorry. It's simply . . . you remind me of someone, someone I knew once . . . someone who died."
The expression of his face changed subtly. Although Yasutake retained a smooth façade in all his endeavors, Usagi could detect the slight shift from amused interest to concern. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said gently. "Were you very close to him?"
"To him?" she looked surprised. "Well, no . . . I just . . ." she stopped abruptly. What did she want from him? The last time she had seen him, she had held him in her arms as he bled to death, proclaiming with his last breath that he loved her. She had wept for him then. But she had had to rush away so soon, abandoning him. Now the thought occurred to her that she had never been allowed to mourn him properly. She saw the picture of him in her mind's eye so clearly, and she wondered where she had retained such a well-preserved image all these years. She had not known anything about the man, except that what he was doing was wrong. And yet, she couldn't deny that there was a hidden depth to him, a turmoil beneath the tranquility trying to rest its way out and set things right. And she remembered that he'd loved her.
"Yasutake-san, may I ask you something . . . something that might seem strange?"
He drank from his tea, sat back, nodded.
"May I . . . stay in contact with you? I mean, I – I wouldn't bother you, just, simply . . . I'd like it if we didn't make this the last time I ever see you."
He gazed at her, a slight furrow marring his fair brow, but calm – always calm. Presently, the frown smoothed away, and he smiled vaguely. "Yes, Tsukino-san. If it pleases you, I think that can be arranged."
At her desk in her room, Usagi played with the slip of paper in her hand. On the scrap was the name, address, and phone number of the man Yasutake Okura, whom she had met (unofficially) during an accident at a party and (officially) at a tea shop one afternoon in down-town Tokyo. She turned the paper in her hand as she turned the thoughts over in her mind. She didn't know why she had impulsively asked the man to stay in contact with her. Anyone in his right mind would think she was stalking him.
"Usagi-chan, what have you got there?" Makoto asked cheerfully, her long, curling ponytail swinging as she entered.
"It's nothing," she said casually, tucking the slip of paper into a drawer. "Mako-chan, have you ever heard of a man named Yasutake Okura?"
Makoto twitched her head to the side sweetly. "That big business executive? Or, no . . . that's his son. He passed away a few months back, and his son is in charge now. There's a lot of controversy surrounding the inheritance. Some people don't feel he's worthy to take on the company. I mean, apparently, he never has or plans to attend a university."
"He's fairly young then?"
"Yes . . ." Makoto eyed her strangely. "And he has a younger brother. He's studying with some well-known physicists – they say he shows lots of promise, or else his father's ties just got him in the right clique." She added in a low voice, as if telling a secret, "I bet our Ami-chan could do better."
"Makoto, how do you know all this?"
"Well, some people watch the news, Usa-chan!" Makoto teasingly scolded. "Why so curious all of the sudden?"
"I – I believe I saw him at Minako's party last Saturday evening."
"Oh," Makato's face lightened with realization.
"Have you ever . . . seen a picture of Yasutake?"
Makoto looked tentative. "Not that I know of. I've seen plenty of his father, but the son's pretty much avoided publicity as much as possible. Usually stays inside his estate, only coming out when it's necessary."
"Hm." Usagi mentally digested this new information.
"I know," Makoto was absolutely glowing, green-eyes a-sparkle with millions of flecks of tiny light. "You like this guy, don't you! You met him at the party!" Makato nearly choked her friend in an excited yet loving grasp. "Oh, I'm so happy for you, Usa-chan!"
Usagi coughed and wriggled free of her much larger roommate's dangerous embrace. "Mako-chan . . . it's not . . . that," she ended quietly.
Makoto, who had fallen into the desk chair as Usagi jumped out of it, now stilled, long limbs becoming straight. She was really very elegant when she wanted to be. A small, disappointed smile graced her lips. "I see . . . I just thought," she finished in a shrug, rising quickly. "I'll see about dinner. It'll be ready in a half an hour." She started out the door, paused. "How about dessert? Would you like that? I'll make your favorite."
Usagi smiled gratefully. "Thanks."
It was a beautifully bright Saturday morning, and oddly warm, much too warm for this time of year. It felt exquisite.
Usagi stood shading her eyes in front of a large, high-walled estate. The home was deep and tall, with many rooms and windows and floors. It looked to hide all sorts of secrets. Perhaps if the day had been less grand it would have looked ominous. But today, she felt no repulsion whatsoever and confidently approached the black rod-iron gate and buzzed in.
A voice, one she did not recognize, answered on the other end.
Usagi gave her name hesitantly. Perhaps Yasutake told the gate-keeper not to let anyone by the name of Tsukino come inside. Perhaps he had simply forgotten to add her name on the list of acceptable guests. But to her relief, the gats slid open slowly, and she was allowed to walk in.
Inside, a vast green courtyard opened up before the house, complete with a little circular water fountain and nicely groomed rose bushes. Here, Usagi halted, caressing a gentle bud. She fought the instant bout of nostalgia and walked forward.
A man dressed in a three-piece suit met her at the doorway and showed her in. "Right this way, madam."
She followed him into a large, gaping foyer, with an elegant turning staircase and then into a large door in the wall to their right. This was an old-fashioned sitting room, with large bay windows, wooden floor, and a high ceiling. The room was decorated with 17th century western style furniture. Breakables were everywhere. Usagi sat down stiffly on a love seat, afraid that if she breathed too heavily, she might shatter something.
The entire house was like something out of a movie.
The butler left and presently, Usagi heard steady, unhurried steps out in the hallway. As the tall man entered the room, she stood, bowed politely, and he returned the gesture.
"Tsukino-san, how are you this morning?"
"I'm fine," she smiled. "A little tired but fine."
She looked sheepish. "I'm not used to getting up so early; except on special occasions."
He laughed softly. "I'm honored you regard me as a special occasion." He moved forward and leaned against the arm of a loveseat facing her own, crossing his long arms against his chest. Though he was dressed casually, he somehow managed to look regal, even now. She followed his example, sitting. A low, cherry wood coffee table rested between them. "What can I do for you?" he asked politely.
Usagi folded her hands in her lap and studied them intently. "I, um . . . ." She looked up at him, royal blue eyes suddenly saddened. She laughed out loud, a short, cynical laugh, as if she found herself ridiculous. "I don't know . . . I just wanted to see you again, before I convinced myself that you were a dream." She looked up hesitantly, preparing for his reaction.
He watched her, contemplating, unmoving. His eyes flickered down to the floor. "You know, Tsukino-san, I," he looked up, smiled faintly. "Most are . . . a little more . . . subtle in their endeavors. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that . . . I'm not used to being so actively sought after by young women – "
Usagi stiffened immediately. Yasutake caught her reaction and stopped. She recognized once again his generosity in trying to save her from humiliation. She stood abruptly, looking as if she were about to cry. "Oh, no, Yasutake, that – that's not what I'm after at all . . . oh, I'm sorry, I'm . . . I'm terribly sorry to have bothered you. Of course you would think that. I'm so naive! I shouldn't have come. I – I'll just go."
She rigidly turned and paced quickly to the door and was nearly out of the room, when he came between her and her exit. "No, no, don't leave. Tsukino-san, I should be the one apologizing. I was assuming things again! Please stay. I didn't mean to upset you."
He was so tall. She had to crane her neck to look up at him. His calm was never marred but only touched ever-so-slightly with a selfless concern. She smiled weakly. Pressing her lips together; she lowered her head and nodded.
"And this is my favorite," the tall man said, voice smooth but deep. He gestured to a painting on the wall. It was one among many in that room – the art room.
Usagi stepped up close to it, inches away, looked at it. It was a colorful blur before her eyes. "It's . . . it's like . . . euphoria."
Yasutake laughed, took her arm and gently pulled her backwards. "You can't look at it that close!"
They stood back from it by five feet. Side by side, they regarded the painting. As Usagi concentrated on it, the smudges of color bleed together and blended. They became shades of color, then the shades became objects, then finally, the objects became things.
"I see a woman," she noted, "with a hat on and a dress. She's holding a small child."
Yasutake nodded, pleased. He bit his lower lip gently. "Although, perhaps euphoria is not so bad either."
Usagi blushed at her childish remark, but he didn't seem to think it so silly.
"That's an original Renoit." He turned to her, "My father was a collector."
"Yasutake Yutaka . . . maybe you've heard of him. He was a very prominent businessman."
Usagi recalled that Makoto said he was a business executive. She tilted her head at the young man next to her. He was being modest.
Yasutake continued, "He passed away five months ago."
Usagi started. "I'm sorry."
He gazed intently at the painting. "I'm sorry, too." His head lowered and moved to look at her again. "He left me with his business."
"You don't like it?"
He paused thoughtfully, eyes unfocused. "I've – I've never really thought about whether I liked it or not. It was always understood than when he died, I would take over." He laughed shortly but the sound of it was not pleasant. "A lot of people resent me for that. There were many who had their sights set on my father's position – people who have worked harder and know more than I ever could." He breathed in deeply, shoulders lifting, then exhaled, slowly, letting them slump down again. "Ah, well . . . such is the life, hm?"
He started walking toward a set of French doors through which sunlight poured. Usagi followed him, sprinted a few paces to fall in step with him.
She asked, "Why don't you give it to one of them and do what you want to do?"
He looked surprised, as if the thought had never before occurred to him. "It would prove difficult," he admitted. "Besides, I'm not even sure what I want to do. I didn't go to university with the rest of my classmates. I've been out of school for a few years now, so I don't know if that would be good for me. I could travel and see the world, but in the end – what would I come home to?" Usagi gathered this was a rhetorical question, so did not answer him. "And what about you? What do you want?" he said sincerely, as he opened the doors and led them outside into the bright, late morning sunshine.
Usagi furrowed her eyebrows. "I thought I knew, once. Now – I'm not exactly sure, either."
He smiled at her. "Then . . . we are in the same boat."
"The same boat?"
He half-laughed at her. "It's a western expression."
They appeared to be in a small courtyard. Twisting vines overgrew the walls and imitation Greek statues. He came into the center of it, and did something strange. He stomped on the ground, then sat down on his legs and lifted something. It was a wooden door in the ground, and it revealed stone steps leading down into darkness. He went down a ways and flipped a switch. The cellar was automatically lit with false light.
"Come on," he urged pleasantly, and she followed.
As they descended, it grew cooler, until the refreshing element of the cellar left and it became simply chilly. At the bottom of the long stairs, a large chamber opened up, revealing wrack upon metal wrack of dusty green bottles.
"Where are we?"
"The wine cellar . . . do you drink?"
She shrugged. "Every now and then . . . but not really. I know nothing about good wines."
He moved down an aisle, trailing his hand along the bottles lovingly. "I love wine. It used to be my father's hobby, but by the time I turned fourteen, I had practically taken over." He turned the corner and came the opposite direction around another aisle, Usagi on his heels. "Here." He stopped and pulled out a bottle, grasping it by the neck, and resumed walking. "We'll try some of this."
Back in the warmth outside and above ground, Yasutake guided them to a little outside pavilion. He sat his guest at a rod-iron table, and moved to a cupboard she had not noticed before. From here, he procured two large-bottomed wine glasses. Then he proceeded to open the bottle, pouring a fair amount of the crimson liquid in each glass. He set the bottle down and picked up one. Usagi watched him eagerly.
Yasutake held the glass up to his face, swirled it around a couple of times, as if he were drinking the scent itself and not the wine. Then he sipped from it, slowly, relishing the taste. He sat down, and looked at her. She imitated his gestures, and sipped from the glass. The wine slid down her throat, sweet and cool.
Yasutake appeard to be keeping note of her reaction, so she said, "It's strange. I've never had anything like it before. I think I like it."
He raised his glass to her, took another sip. "This wine is probably older than you."
She raised her eyebrows, "I'm twenty-two."
"Yes," he grinned, although the word grin was much too simple to describe how elegantly he pulled it off. "This wine is definitely older than you are."
She liked this game. "But is it older than you?"
"Now that would be the question, wouldn't it?" he teased and lifted the glass to his lips again. When he lowered it this time, his eyes were fixed intently on it, studying. "A feminine and gracious wine, almost gentle in the aftertaste; a '71, a good year."
"I know," Usagi mused aloud. "You ought to be a professional connoisseur."
He held the cool glass against his cheek thoughtfully. "That would be something, wouldn't it? Now we must find a good calling for you."
Usagi drank from her wine again. "I already have something."
He looked vaguely surprised (his emotions never were very readable). "I thought you said you don't know what you want."
"Oh, I know my profession. I love what I do. It's just . . . I had plans; for the future. Plans that involved somebody else." She watched the light shifting on the table. "Then he left . . . died, actually . . . about five months ago." She ended softly. It still pained her to talk about it.
"I see," Yasutake breathed. There was a pause. Then, quietly, "Is he the one I remind you of?"
Usagi smiled ironically. "No. No, that was someone else."
They were silent for a long while after that, sipping contemplatively from their fine glasses. Usagi closed her eyes, wishing to feel the warmth thawing into her skin.
Presently, Yasutake drained his glass, and looked at her. "So what do you do, Tsukino-san?"
Usagi took a deep breath before answering, "I'm a nurse."
There was something about his response that made her breathing shallow. He was looking at her in a knowing way, as if he could see something inside her that was invisible to all other's eyes. She felt as if he had looked at her in that way before, once upon a time. He smiled faintly, approving. "Yes . . . yes, I think that suits you."