The Finish Line
Her eyes were closed and she had a smile on her face. It was a smile of happiness and contentment. If one could only have seen her face, you would assume she was laying on her lover's lap in a peaceful meadow on a summer's day. However, her actual surroundings were a stark contrast. A long, black box surrounded by the heart of the dimly lit cathedral. The climate of the room, however, didn't carry the same sense of dread as the dreary building. Although everyone was in mourning, and shed tears, there was also a great sense of gratitude. Not only had she saved them and the entire earth from being enslaved and transformed into hideous, mechanized sports demons, but each attendant at the funeral had gained something from their short time with Akari. Akari had shown Ayla that she had the ability to connect with others. Ling-Pha, even though she was not yet cured of her rampant selfishness and egomania, had begun learning how to make friends and so had Anna. Lahrri, after observance of Akari in competition, had reconnected with her emotions after casting them away to better herself as an athlete. Tomoe found it awkward and sometimes entertaining being the teenage mother of another teenager, but she had learned what it was like to unconditionally love a child. On top of the sadness of loosing her daughter, she was also feeling some guilt that the Nerilians had cured her of the genetic defect that had caused Akari and the original Tomoe's demise. Even, Jessie, who had still insisted on claiming to hate her to her face, now admitted freely that she was only being stubborn. Akari's kindness in the face of Jessie's coldness, and her ability to always improve herself to exceed expectations, had shown her a lot.
Two figures sitting next to each other crying in the front pew, however, were in a much deeper state of mourning. Not only had they lost the most important person in their lives, but Akari's sudden passing had turned their lives upside down. Both had only considered a future in which they would each be individually walking hand in hand with Akari. A future without her seemed bleak and unimaginable. Ichino Yanagida was snapped out of her train of thoughts of Akari when two figures approached her, Ayla and Sergai Garenstein, who was carrying their daughter Jessie.
Ayla put her hands on Kris Christopher and Ichino's shoulders respectively, "I know things must seem really hard for both of you right now. We're all going to miss Akari. No one will be able to ever replace her. She was a wonderful, miraculous person. But you should remember that what Akari would've wanted most was for you was to be happy. You have to find a way to move on with your lives without her, but you'll always have your memories."
Sergai some what surprised by her partner's remark added, "If you ever need anything, please don't be afraid to ask."
Ichino managed to let out "Thank you very much." Kris on the other hand being much more despondent was only able to nod her head slightly.
After the burial, Ichino entered the back of the hover-car. She felt like bawling her eyes out again, but she looked over across her seat and saw Kris looking utterly pathetic whimpering into her lap. At that moment, Ichino built up the courage to tell herself to be strong for Kris's sake. She reached over and gripped Kris's hand tenderly. The blue-hair girl looked up with tears streaking down her cheeks. She suddenly grabbed onto Ichino's waist and buried her face into her shoulder, continuing to whimper. Still gripping her hand, Ichino moved her other arm to hold the back of her head. They remained so the rest of the trip.
After flying over much scenic, Hokkaido countryside, the car landed in front of the Kanzaki house hold. Ichino opened the door and helped out Kris. Kris, still completely overtaken by emotion, latched onto the much shorter Itchan, not able or wanting to walk on her own. Ichino put her head under her left shoulder to hoist her up.
"Do you need any help?" asked Dizaemon Kanzaki formerly Mr. Miracle.
"No, I think I can handle it." Itchan continued carrying Kris the length of the car to the house.
"Damn Kris, you're heavy. Maybe you should start fasting again." Kris didn't laugh at the joke.
They entered the house and walked through the hallway into Kris's bedroom. Itchan helped Kris lay down on the bed and propped up a pillow behind her head. Tears kept rolling down her cheeks.
"Kris you need to get a hold of yourself. I don't like seeing you like this." Itchan grabbed a tissue from the dresser and started dabbing the streaks of tears from her face.
"I'm sorry," Kris said.
"Sorry for what? There's nothing to be sorry about."
"I'm sorry for trying to stop you and Akari from being together."
"Oh that. Come on now. You never stopped anything. Akari loved us both equally. I think. Even if she loved one of us more, she was such a saint, she didn't want to choose between us. She was just too much of a sweet-heart." Ichino's eyes started to water up again.
"Yes, I think you're right," Kris said. "I could always tell she loved you. She always talked about you so fondly. Even at the satellite she carried your picture around with her everywhere."
"It was obvious she loved you too. You two always understood each other really well, maybe more than I did. I admit, I was a bit jealous of that. Although you were pushing it with always grabbing her and stuff. That used to really piss me off. But I guess I somehow got used to it. And now that I think about it, I'm glad you did that stuff. I don't know if without you there to push me, if I would've ever told Akari I loved her before she died. I'm not mad at you about it at all." She stopped for a brief moment and continued, "Besides, I think when we weren't fighting over Akari, we got along pretty well. We became good friends, right?"
Kris sat up and hugged Ichino, squeezing her tightly causing her to blush. "Oh, Itchan. Yes, you're my friend! I'm not mad at you either. It was fate that we both loved Akari. It couldn't be helped. Although, I guess it was also fate that she was going to leave us so early. I don't know what I'm going to do without her."
"You remember what Ayla said. The thing Akari would've wanted most for you is to be happy. You should try to find someone else. It shouldn't take you very long."
Kris looked into Ichino's auburn eyes. "Do you really mean it?"
"Yes. And when you do, I want us to stay in touch. We should always be friends."
Kris looked back down suddenly feeling very disappointed.
Itchan stood up and broke off the hug but put her hands on Kris's shoulders, "Goodnight, Kris, I'm going to sleep. Please, try to cheer up." She turned around to walk away.
"Wait! I have to tell you something!"
"Tell me what?" Ichino gave her a puzzled look.
"I have to... Ummm... Uh…… It's nothing."
"Are you sure? You can tell me."
"It's nothing…. Really."
"Ok, then. See you in the morning."
"Yea, sure. Good night, Ichino."
Itchan left the room, but for some reason she didn't feel right. She found the look on Kris's face during the last part of their conversation worrying. Plus she felt she really wanted to say something more to Kris, but she didn't understand exactly what. It was still bugging her when she entered her room and took off the clothes she wore to the funeral. She then slipped on her Osaka Tigers jersey she wore as a nightie. Getting into bed she started thinking about Akari again. She thought about all the fun times they had at the Antarctica training school. How Akari started out very shy and unconfident, but eventually grew enough to win Cosmo Beauty, and then defeat her own mother, history's greatest athlete. Than she thought about the fun times they had along with Kris at the Kanzaki household afterwards. Even the times when she was bickering fiercely with Kris over an embarrassed Akari seemed dear to her now. Finally she remembered the time after the triathlon, when they made their vow and carved it into that tree trunk.
"I just wanted to keep my promise to you Akari. That's all I wanted."
Somehow she finally managed to drift off the sleep.
When Ichino opened her eyes again, she felt the sensation of moving her legs and arms forward. She was running. She could see the track beneath her feet as she glided over it. What track she didn't know. The surroundings were very dark and foggy, all except for the track in front of her that some how remained visible and clear. She figured she was in some kind of race, so she kept up her pace running forward. Then she saw her out of the corner of her eye to the side. Before she could turn to look at her, she had already pulled ahead of Ichino. She could see the outline of her body, and the two brunette "bunny ears" flopping over the back of her head. She was wearing her Antarctica training uniform.
She didn't listen, pulling further ahead, moving at an unbelievable speed.
"Wait, don't leave me!"
Ichino tried her damnedest to catch up. Sprinting as hard as she possibly could, pushing her body and her lungs to their maximum. She eventually began to inch closer to Akari. It was no use however, since Akari sped up even more. She was so fast. It seemed impossible to catch up. Then she saw it ahead of her. It was a finish line, one that shone brightly at the other side. She saw Akari pass it. Finally, she thought she would be able to meet her at the other end. However, as she continued to sprint, the finish line moved in an opposite direction only getting farther away. The more and harder she ran only seemed to push it off further ahead of her. Eventually, she couldn't see it at all and was only left with the track and darkness all around her. She then collapsed from pure exhaustion, falling to her hands and knees.
"Akari, why did you leave me? Where did you go?"
"I'm right behind you, Itchan," a familiar voice said.
Ichino turned around. There was Akari in the flesh wearing her overalls outfit, a favorite of hers at home, and smiling warmly.
Ichino ran and grabbed a hold of Akari and buried her head into her chest crying. "Why did you have to leave me? I've missed you so much, Akari!"
"Its all right, I'm here, Itchan. I've missed you too." Akari put a hand on Ichino's back and slid her other hand through her dark hair lovingly.
"I want to keep my promise to you, Akari. I want us to be together forever. I never want us to be apart again. I can't stand to be without you."
"We will one day, I promise. But you have to be patient for me, Itchan. It's not going to be for a long time. Until then, I want you to find someone else to be with. I promise I won't be jealous."
Ichino sniffled, "I'll try."
"Can I ask you something else?"
"I want you to try to help Kris, Itchan. I'm afraid of what might happen to her, if you don't."
Akari then lifted Ichino's chin up and looked into her eyes. "I have to go now. Good bye, Itchan. I'll always love you." She planted her lips against Ichino's, and at that moment everything seemed to slip into darkness.
click, click, click
Emerging from sleep immediately, Ichino swiftly reached over and pressed the top of her red, octopus alarm clock, turning off the alarm.
"Ughhhh... That wasn't the best night's sleep I've ever had." She groggily pulled her covers off herself, got up, and made her bed. She then walked through the hallway over to the door to Kris's room.
"Hey Kris you up yet? How about we make everyone breakfast?"
She saw the door was already slightly ajar, so she pushed it open a little bit further and peeked inside. Kris was no where to be seen and her bed was neatly made.
"Guess she's up already." Upon closer inspection she saw the room was bare of Kris's belongings. Curious and concerned, she walked inside. She noticed a piece of paper lying on top of the dresser. "What's this?" She picked it up and read it:
I'm sorry, I didn't tell you earlier, but I left for the moon today. As a Beginner, it's my duty to attend a special ceremony. I probably won't be coming back. Thanks for being my friend. You mean a lot to me.
Ichino crushed the paper in her hand. "Why? Why did you have to leave me too, Kris?" she asked herself. "You didn't even say good bye."
She realized she was crying, and wiped the tears from her face with her hand. "What the hell is wrong with me?"
Then the dream started coming back into her consciousness. Akari's voice re-entered her head, "I want you to try to help Kris, Itchan. I'm afraid of what might happen to her if you don't."
"Something's not right about this. Something's wrong." She walked back into her own room and looked at her clock. It read 7:07.
"Its still early maybe I can make it to the shuttle-port in time."
It was the usual scene at the Sapporo shuttle-port. Everyone in the expansive yet crowded building was either moving around frantically trying to get to their flight on time or sat around bored for hours. One thing stuck out today though. A number people gawked at the white, with black spots Holstein dairy cow standing in one of the waiting areas. The cow was accompanied by a tall, slim, blue-haired girl dressed in the traditional Beginner's style attire. The girl didn't feel too well. Not because of the attention and not because she got no sleep the night earlier. Mostly she felt numb inside because she knew what waited for her at home.
The loud speaker sounded off across the shuttle-port, "The shuttle to the Moon will be departing momentarily. All passengers must proceed to platform 27 and board the shuttle at this time."
Kris Christopher took one more hopeful look around the crowd trying to spot out someone she knew. That person was no where to be seen. "Well Gyubei, it looks like you're the only one I still have left."
"I love you too, Gyubei," she said while petting the cow's head. "Come on, let's catch our flight." The girl and the cow walked through a doorway and into the loading platform.
Several minutes later, a yellow taxi flew in through the sky and hovered down to land in front of the shuttle-port.
"Keep the change," Ichino Yanagida said as she whipped open the car door and jumped down, the taxi still being twelve feet from the ground. She landed gracefully, stood back up, and began to sprint over the asphalt towards the building. She swung the door open, and kept running inside, having to dodge around people, luggage, and other obstacles in her path. She then reached the up escalator and ran up it excitedly, pushing a lot of people out of the way. She was suddenly reminded of how Akari had done the same thing for her when she left without notice because of a broken ankle, and that made her feel happy inside. Once she had quickly climbed to the top of the escalator, she made a sharp left, zig zagged around some more bystanders, hurdled over a large pile of suit cases, and when she saw to the left of her an electronic banner reading "To: The Moon", she dropped to her butt with her right leg extended performing a baseball slide she did so often back home. Once her momentum had stopped, she stood up and looked around at the several people remaining in the waiting area. Kris was no where to be seen. She then rushed towards the door to the loading platform. Two stocky guards stood in front of the door.
As she approached them, one of the guards said, "I'm sorry, Miss. This flight was already boarded. You're going to have to wait for the next one."
"Outta my way!" She pushed her way through them, but stopped when she heard a thunderous sound. She turned to look through the window. The shuttle craft's engines had started spitting fire, launching it into the air on course to the moon.
"God-DAMN IT!" she yelled shaking a clenched fist in the air. "I'm not giving up on you yet! You hear me, Kris!" People in the vicinity looked at her like she had nine heads.
She then stormed over to one of the ticket counters. There was a long line of at least 40 people, but she went right to the front of it, pushing a grown man in a business suit out of the way knocking him clean to the ground. The man wisely picked himself up and backed away slowly.
"Uhhhhhh... Um.. ma.. may I help you?" the female clerk asked nervously after observing what had just occurred.
"When's the next flight to the moon?"
The clerk glanced over at her computer for a few seconds. "The next flight to the Moon launches in two hours. Would you like to purchase a ticket?"
"What do you think, MORON!"
Now sweating, she nervously looked back at her computer. "Uh... You're lucky. That flight still has two empty seats."
Ichino grabbed her wallet from the back pocket of her shorts and pulled out her 1st Bank of Osaka debit card. She handed it to the clerk. After a short transaction, she got her ticket and then proceeded to walk back to the waiting area and sit down. One thing she didn't like was waiting. However, it did give her time to think, and she did have a lot to think about.
"I can't believe this," Kris yelled. "You know what I've had to go through this week!"
She was inside the living room of a nice, but modest home located near the center of the Beginner's colony on the moon. The yelling was directed at an older blue-haired woman and a brunette haired man with glasses, Kris's parents. They both had very concerned looks on their faces.
"We know, Kris," the man said. "We met with the holy council three times over this. They won't listen. If it was up to me I wouldn't force you to do anything, but I'm not the one who makes the rules."
"I can't!" Kris retorted.
"Honey, you still have time," the older woman said. "The preparatory ceremonies don't start until tomorrow morning."
"You know I don't have anyone else!"
"We're sorry, Kris," the man said.
"I don't believe you," Kris spat back. She then ran out the room and through the door. Her parents tried to follow her, but it was in vain. She was just too fast. She ran as hard as she could through the darkened streets of the Beginner's colony. She ran so fast her tears flew into the air right as they were made by her tear ducts. She didn't know where she was running to, and frankly she didn't care anymore.
"God, this place is worse than Hokkaido!"
Pointing her flash light through the darkness, Ichino looked over the vast, hilly, grass-covered landscape with occasional, jagged outcroppings of gray rock that was the terraformed surface of the Beginner's territory of the moon.
"Nice view though," she said marveling at the Earth which covered most of the sky line, looking beautifully majestic.
Getting back to the task at hand, "But its just great I don't even know where she lives. I really should've thought this out better."
She looked at her electronic map. "I guess I should head towards that big cluster of settlements. I hope these hippies know what a hotel is."
She pointed her flashlight in the direction of the settlement, and began hiking up the steep hill in front of her. As she was nearing the top, a glowing sphere of blue light the size of a baseball floated from the other side and stopped right in front of her face.
"Gahhhhh! What the hell is that!" She lost her footing, and fell backwards, rolling all the way back down the hill.
Finally at the foot of the hill, she stopped rolling and laid on her back trying to catch her breath and calm herself down. The sphere of light appeared back over the top of her head.
"Awahhhhhhh!" She jumped back about six feet. The sphere of blue light stayed still this time and Ichino stared at it.
"What do you want... whatever you are?" she yelled at it. The sphere floated forward some distance in the opposite direction Ichino had been hiking. It then stopped and came back to hover where it was before.
"Do you want me to follow you?" The sphere moved up and down slightly, as if shaking its head.
"Okaaaayyyyy," Ichino said half-believing what she was seeing. The sphere then began floating in the direction it was headed before. Ichino trekked behind it.
"Well, this day just got even weirder. Now, I'm talking to and taking directions from flying balls." The sphere suddenly stopped as if offended by her comment.
"Heh, heh," she laughed nervously. "Sorry about that." The sphere then started floating forward again, and Ichino continued pursuing it.
Kris stopped running. It seemed like she had been running forever. In reality, it had been a few hours. The reason she stopped was because there was no where else to run to. She had reached the southern border of the Beginner's territory of the moon. The border was physically marked by a huge gorge that was miles long, a hundred feet wide, and a thousand feet deep. She would've probably ran over the ravine and fell to her death if the sun hadn't started to creep over the top of the Earth minutes ago. She walked up to the edge of the cliff and looked down. The wall of gray rocks descended downwards until it was nothing more than a deep, black abyss. Her despair suddenly engulfed her again. What she should do to cure it seemed clear to her now. She closed her eyes and clasped her hands in front of her chest.
"Akari," she said talking to her dead love. "I know you wouldn't want me to do this. But, I'm not even going to have my religion anymore. You have to understand. I just want to be back by your side again, Akari. I hope you can forgive me, when I meet you again soon." She started to move her right foot forward.
"Don't do it!" screamed a rough, Osakan accent.
Kris turned around, completely shocked.
"I should knock you out for even thinking about that!" Ichino shouted at her.
"Ichino! Why are you here!" Kris said still not quite believing it.
"I'm here because I love you, you IDIOT!" Those words even though spoken in a tone that sounded half angry and half annoyed were enough to instantly snap Kris out of her depression.
"Oh, Itchan!" Kris ran to her arms open and tackled her, pinning her to the ground.
With her face a few inches above Itchan's she asked, "Do you mean what you said, do you really love me?"
"More than a friend?"
Ichino moved her lips but no words came out.
"What are you trying to say to me Itchan?"
"Oh sorry," Kris said as she rolled off of her. Ichino gasped for air, but was also blushing brightly at the same time. "Did you really come all the way here just for me?"
She turned to Kris and answered, "No, I was just passing through the neighborhood, what do you think?" Getting a bit more serious she continued, "But yeah, I came here for you. I guess I didn't understand how I felt until you left me yesterday. When you said in the note that you weren't coming back, I realized how much you meant to me," Ichino grabbed her arm, "You don't need to jump off a cliff, Kris. I care about you."
"I love you too, Itchan. I've loved you for a long time."
"Yes. At first I hated you for coming between me and Akari. But after we fought the Nerilians, and we went to live at Akari's house together, I got to really know what a good person you are. When I saw the love you and Akari shared for each other, I guess I started loving you too."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I liked bickering with you. It was a lot of fun. Although, I tried dropping hints. Remember that wrestling match we had over Akari?" Kris said with a mischievous smile.
"Wow, I guess I can be really dense sometimes."
"It's all right. I like you that way." She continued in a more saddened tone, "Although I wish you, me, and Akari could've all been together."
Ichino grabbed her hand, "I know we both still hurt over Akari, but maybe it'll be easier if we heal together."
"Yes, I think you're right."
"Say Kris, do you have a house or something we can go to. It's been a really long night."
"Yeah, come on. I'll take you there." She helped Itchan up with the hand she was still holding. They began walking together in the direction of the settlement.
"Itchan, can I ask you a question?"
"Yea sure, go ahead."
Kris got down on one knee, "Will you marry me?"
"Whaaaaaaaa!" Ichino fell over backwards from pure shock. She sat back up and yelled, "Don't you think it's a bit early for THAT! Are you out of your FREAKING MIND!"
"I'm sorry, Itchan. I didn't want to do this to you, but I have no choice. The ceremony I came back to the moon for was my wedding. Since I didn't get to become a priestess, it's my duty as a Beginner to get married. If I can't choose someone to marry myself, the holy council will choose for me. I was going to ask Akari, but she died before I got to. If I don't get married this week, the council has threatened to ex-communicate from the Beginners."
"Who do they want you to marry?" Ichino asked in a more concerned tone, no longer angry.
"Some guy I barely know."
Ichino stood there and thought hard for a minute. She had never considered getting married, especially this early in her life. She knew now though that she did love Kris and she knew how important her religion was to her. She glanced back towards the gorge for a second. Than she decided that she would be willing to take that much of a risk for her.
"I think your religion has some really stupid rules and this may be the dumbest thing I've ever done, but I'm going to say yes."
"I'm so happpppyyyyyy!"
Kris tackled the unsuspecting Itchan pinning her to the ground again in the same position they were before.
"Would you stop doing that?"
"Sure thing," Kris said with a look of pure joy on her face. But before she got off, she planted a rather wet kiss on Ichino's brightly blushing cheek. Helping her back up she said, "Come on. I have to present you to my parents." They started walking again with Kris holding Ichino's arm snugly.
"You think they'll like me?"
"Only one way to find out."
"I know Ishimatsu is going to get a real kick out of this."
"If you're brother is as cute as you are, maybe I should marry him instead," she said with mischievous grin.
"Don't even joke about that, Kris."
Six days later:
Gyubei the cow walked through dirt streets of the Beginner's colony. He looked quite ridiculous having multi-colored streamers taped all over his body. He also made a lot of noise trudging along, because of the empty cans and bells that were tied to his tail. Two girls rode on top of him. Kris sat in front, and Ichino sat behind her with her arms wrapped tightly around Kris's waist. They both wore colorful Beginner's ceremonial wedding gowns. The cow stopped at some point along the path some distance in front of a small cabin. The cabin was used by the Beginners to house newly weds. Kris got off and then helped Itchan down. She then scooped her up from behind and held her in both arms.
"But I wanted I carry you over the threshold."
"Itchan, you're just going to have to accept the fact that God made you the short one."
"But I love you just the way you are."
"Well wasn't that cheesy, but lucky for you it worked." Itchan then reached her head up to kiss her and Kris turned her head to meet her, and their lips slid together.
Kris and Ichino fell over into a pile on the ground after colliding with the front door. They both got a good laugh out of it.
"You moron," Ichino said in a playful tone. "Now pick me back up."
She did pick her back up, and she carried her through the doorway and into their new life together.