Tile: First Truths
Author: Lilac Summers
This was written WAY back in . . . holy smokes was it really 1999?! Then it took about 3 yrs to finish. One of my claims to fame, if you will, and I've decided to post it here because I've had a few requests to do so. And heck, why not revise the thing while I'm at it? No major changes (mainly some word choices that make me cringe now, but didn't then), so if you've read it before, it's all the same old-school Sailor Moon. So keep in mind, a few of the clichés weren't clichés at the time. ;) If you've never read it before, tell me what you think. If you have read it before and nostalgia has you re-reading, I'll welcome comments from you as well!
"Cad," she countered.
"Brat," he returned.
"Conceited . . ."
"Childish . . . .!"
"Ooh! I just can't stand you!!" Running out of suitable insults for the man before her, Tsukino Usagi reverted to the tried and true method of stomping her foot and glaring at him, instead. Chiba Mamoru, for his part, merely sneered at her in that superior manner he had. "Oh, I'm truly hurt. Spare my heart," he deadpanned.
Usagi could feel the steam rising from her ears. She stepped forward and up on tiptoes, which still brought her only to his jaw but she'd take any advantage she could get, and poked one finger into his chest. "Just you wait, Chiba Mamoru. One day . . . One day you're gonna wish you'd been nicer to me, and then I'll make you beg for forgiveness!"
Mamoru's mouth twisted into a chiseled smile and he bent down until they were nose to nose. "That day, Tsukino Usagi, will be the day you ace a math exam." So saying, he turned on his heel and tossed a crumpled piece of paper over his shoulder, whistling in a maddening way.
Usagi caught the paper reflexively, staring daggers at his broad, retreating back and wishing cheerfully that he'd go to hell. Then she dismissed the somewhat usual encounter from her mind and looked down at the paper in her hand. Slowly she smoothed it out and grimly surveyed the colorful array of red "x's" and scratches, a large red "45" scrawled boldly along the top.
All the red made it almost festive, she mused. And hey, no matter what he said, it was still 10 points higher than her last score! But somehow she doubted that would appease her mother.
She sighed, remembering the upperclassman's cold remark. As if her day wasn't going bad enough!
"My mom is gonna kill me."
The girl was insufferable. He didn't know how she did it, but she managed to crawl under his skin on a regular basis. The day could be going well enough, but the minute he saw her it was as if all his frustrations honed in on her as a suitable outlet. And she didn't make it very hard acting as a target, with her always assaulting him with failed tests and flying shoes.
As though his day wasn't bad enough! He had a million and one term papers to write if he wanted to get into a prestigious college. He had a part-time job that was turning out to be a huge pain in the ass . . . and if that wasn't enough, he'd had to dodge venomous spit from a grotesque youma. All in one day.
He supposed he shouldn't have been so hard on her. She must have been sad enough about her grade without him rubbing it in. Of course, he couldn't see how she hadn't become used to awful grades, judging from the sample that hit him on the head regularly. Still, her cornflower-blue eyes had been huge and teary when she had lobbed the test; then they'd turned fiery with righteous anger when he had called her Meatball Head . . . again.
Oh well, no use feeling bad about it now. He most definitely was NOT going to apologize, not when she thought his head was a trashcan. He had made the mistake of pointing that out to her once, and she had just gotten a fiendish glee in her eye and announced:
"If you can prove to me the difference between your head and a trashcan, I might stop treating it like one."
That battle had gone to her, of course. He had been so angry that it had taken all his strength of will to not grab that slim neck and just squeeze . . .
Remembering the incident made him quite sure that the one who had to apologize, if anything, was she. Anyway, the girl probably had no troubles in her life except for spectacularly bad grades. He could just imagine her average day: wake up late, go to school (where she no doubt enjoyed all the privileges popularity brought) to gossip with her friends. She'd joke about some fluff-haired crush or make fun of the poor boy she had turned down after he'd tried his luck in asking her out on a date. After school she'd spend a carefree hour wasting her generous allowance at the arcade, to finally go home to a loving family, and fall asleep with no troubles to mar her sleep.
While he . . . well, he doubted she would even be able to comprehend the complexity of his life.
He stopped in front of a take-out place, pondering whether he felt like cooking a solitary meal. In the end he stepped inside and came out minutes later with a meal for one. Time to go home for dinner.
Usagi could smell dinner as it wafted through the open windows. It was baked lamb, she was sure of it. In the time-honored tradition that her mother had established since that first failed test long ago, Usagi was locked out of the house as the rest of the family partook of dinner. Her mother had taken one look at her test and booted her out the door. Now she sat on the doorstep, salivating, as her annoying little brother made exaggerated yummy noises, knowing she could hear through the open window. Speaking of the open window. . . she had tried to climb through, but the dense bushes planted beneath them had not only impeded her progress but also scraped her knee and tangled her hair.
Her stomach growled. She felt weak from not eating. She'd forgotten her lunch that morning--had battled a youma during lunch, actually. She'd failed another test. She had had to stay after class for arriving late after the lunch period ended. And, last but not least, had once again been made to feel like a total idiot by Chiba Mamoru. Like she needed reminding that she sucked at school.
Usagi drew up her knees and rested her forehead on them. Above all, she was tired. She didn't like not being good at school. She didn't mean to fall asleep during class. She definitely hated having to fight monsters. She didn't want the responsibility of having to be the champion of love and justice, Sailor Moon. Damn it, she was a pacifist!!
She just wanted to be a normal girl, and have normal conversations about normal boys. She wanted to try on pretty clothes without wondering if she would ever live long enough to wear them.
She felt silent tears sneak past her closed eyes to run their course down her face. Great, she wasn't only a klutz; she was a crybaby, to boot!
And that cursed Chiba Mamoru loved reminding her of all her shortcomings, without ever having a clue of how hard she tried to do better, be better. But what did he know? A brain like that never had to worry if his parents were going to let him eat dinner next time he brought home a test. He probably had girls throwing themselves at him, and the only hard choices he had to make were whether to take out the brunette or the redhead to dinner, and where to take them to. He . . .
He had never had to kill.
The tears were coming in earnest now. Because it was easier to wail childishly than to give in to true anguish, Usagi started to make a scene and pound on the door.
Eventually her mother opened the door, sighing with exasperation as Usagi thundered past, grabbing a lamb chop on her way to her room. Truth was, Usagi wasn't hungry anymore.
The call came at exactly 3:30 am. For some odd reason, Usagi awoke before the communicator had a chance to do it for her. But then, she always seemed to know when an attack was going on.
She fumbled with the buttons on the tiny communicator until it popped on, revealing a miniscule screen and Rei's, or Sailor Mar's, face.
"Hey, Meatball Brains. Attack at the park. You know the drill," she said, running a weary hand through raven hair.
"Okay, Mars. I'll be right there," Usagi answered. The connection broke and Usagi shared a look with her cat, Luna.
"Here we go again, Luna."
The black cat's eyes sparkled eerily, as cat's eyes tend to do. "As always, Usagi-chan. Day or night, rain or sleet! The Sailor Senshi--"
"Luna, we're not the postal service. We, unlike them, do not get paid," grouched Usagi.
Luna gave her a disdainful glance and jumped out the window, fully expecting Usagi to follow.
Usagi grabbed her transformation brooch and headed for the window, pausing only long enough to look once more at the clock. 3:35. Yet another fitful sleep interrupted. Yet another night of fighting faceless monsters, both in her dreams and in her life.
Yes, she knew the drill.
If later asked to describe it, Mamoru would have to say that it was neither a pain nor an emotion. It was hard to put into words. It was more like a burst of awareness, if anything. And almost. . . voyeuristic.
Yes, voyeuristic. Perhaps that was a weird word to use, but it honestly did feel as if he were spying on someone else's feelings. It was usually the distinct pinch of fear, though adrenaline was also blatantly present. Yet, he knew that these feelings weren't his, but were passed on to him.
What woke him that night felt sharper than it usually did. He felt fear, adrenaline, and . . . despair. Weariness. It was sharp enough to have him heave out of bed, panting. Of course, it only took him a moment to figure out what it was: somewhere out there Sailor Moon needed him, and needed him badly.
He didn't know why, of all the people in the world, the superhero Sailor Moon needed him, Chiba Mamoru. But that's the way it was and past experience had taught him that to fight the summons only brought him pain. He didn't want to fight it, anyway. He loved fighting at her side. It felt right somehow. Naturally, he had no clue why they should share that connection, but he would enjoy the feeling of belonging for as long as he could. And, if she could somehow lead him to his dream princess, then all the better! Maybe then his inexplicable dreams of a beautiful princess beseeching him for help would fade.
Of course, the fact that Sailor Moon was gorgeous and had legs up to her neck made the fighting a bit more bearable.
Still, he had school early tomorrow morning--an exam at 8:30 am. Glancing at the glowing digits of his bedside alarm, he was more than sure that he would get no more than three more hours of sleep that night, if that. It was 3:40 am.
With an oath he swung out of his warm bed and moved towards the large balcony across the room. It seemed as if a red rose appeared out of thin air in his hand. In a flash he was clothed in a formal black tuxedo, complete with red-lined cape. It wouldn't have been his first or even thirty-seventh choice for a costume, but he apparently was the recepient of some bad karma and had no say in the matter.
Tuxedo Mask jumped agilely from the balcony, spanning the distance to the next rooftop easily as he cut a dashing figure across the glowing face of the moon.
Again, he would never know how to explain how he always knew where to find her. Perhaps like a thread connected right to his soul, and he simply reeled himself in. Whatever one would wish to describe it as, he followed this connection unerringly.
He knew the drill.
It was another ugly one; they usually were. You know, the whole youma bit: fangs and fur and claws and stuff. Gooey, slimy gunk dripping from massive jaws, and all packaged in an incongruous feminine form. Sailor Moon always wondered why most of them seemed female. Ah, well.
She dodged one claw right, only to jump left again as Mar's burst of flame came uncomfortably close to searing her eyebrows.
"Mars!" she growled, "a little precision, please?"
Mars dashed past her and leapt to the leafy branch of a nearby tree. "You just concentrate on watching out for those ridiculous ponytails of yours!" she shouted back.
Sailor Moon huffed, then "eeked!" as needle-sharp fur flew by her nose.
The darned thing wouldn't stop moving, so she couldn't get a fix with her wand. Meanwhile, the other Senshi were trying to stun it long enough, or damage it enough, for it to stop moving. Right now, none of their attacks seemed to be even hitting the demon.
She swung around, frustrated, as the beast ran circles around them. It alternately clawed and shot razor-sharp fur at them, too quick to ever stay in one place for too long. The Senshi sported various cuts and scrapes from where they had been a little too slow to get out of the way, had thought a move out too much. Hesitation was a real killer in this line of business.
And Sailor Moon sure did tend to hesitate a lot.
"OUCH!" The youma had just let loose a sonic bark, which had sent Moon flying backwards to skid painfully to a halt on her butt. She stood and rubbed the offended area, glaring at the drooling monster. "That one really hurt, you know. And could someone please offer this thing a breath mint?"
"Get out of the way, stupid! And stop joking around!!" Rei shouted from a nearby tree. "Can't you take anything seriously?"
Sailor Moon's saucy smile slipped a notch, but she forced it back on. She'd rather die than admit that the only way for her to get past the fear was to make jokes. And because she was so scared at the moment that her knees shook, she stopped right in the middle of the field for the express purpose of thumbing her nose in Mar's direction. "You just keep the fire going, Pyro!"
"Ahem! Excuse me, but do you two think you might be able to fit fighting this thing into your schedules?" Jupiter kept Sailor Moon from being slobbered on by throwing a lightning bolt at the advancing brute. "And Mercury, dear, can you hurry up with that analysis?!"
"I'm trying!" shouted a harried Sailor Mercury. "If it would just . . . stand . . . still!" she added through her teeth.
"Okay, I'm going in for a try." Though Sailor Venus was relatively new to the group, she had easily fallen into their rhythm as if she had been fighting alongside them for years. She could even find amusement in Mars'and Moon's ringside fights, provided they didn't get themselves killed. She jumped down lightly and shot out a golden chain, seemingly out of thin air. At the very instant when they all thought the chain would wrap around the youma successfully the monster leapt over the links and remained unbound.
"Ah, shoot! If it had stood still just a second, I woulda had her!"
"If it's a second you need . . ." The harsh, disembodied voice startled the girls enough to have Mars lose her footing on the tree branch to land somewhat comically with a thud in a bush. At the same time, a flash of red pierced the ground before the youma and exploded into blinding white light.
In a second the white light had faded and the beast stood with a slightly perplexed look on its face just long enough for Venus to send out her chain once more. As the enchanted links wrapped around the monster Sailor Moon began to chant the words of her attack, and the area was washed in light once more, a painfully human-sounding scream erupting from the monster.
He'd been watching them fight from the nearby cover of a tree for close to fifteen minutes now. The warriors had thrown a multitude of attacks the youma's way and he could see that they had begun to tire. For his part, he analyzed the fight from every angle and tried to find the way that he would be of most use to them. Primarily, though, he kept an eye out for Sailor Moon, guarding her safety above all else.
Tuxedo Mask had already been on the point of spiriting her out of harm's way more than once during this fight, only to clench his fists and fight off the overwhelming urge to just take her far, far away from the battle. He knew she was the only one with enough power to utterly destroy the monster, so he kept his unexplainable protective instincts in check.
Instead, he watched her fumble around the battlefield, marveling at her ability to stay light-hearted in the face of her fear. Because she was afraid, terribly so. No matter how teasing her comments or how brave her smile, he could feel her fear as if it were his own.
He had also noticed, by observing her during various battles, that what seemed like sheer, foolish luck was not what had her stumbling out of harm's way more often than not. Whereas the other Senshi's moves were graceful and honed, the innate training of those who had been born to protect and defend, Sailor Moon seemed only to trip and flounder her way out of danger and, ironically, closer to the monster. He doubted any of the others, along with Sailor Moon herself, had noticed that Sailor Moon's seemingly disjointed movements were as much a part of her warrior instincts as theirs. Her objective was always to get as close to the monster as possible to kill it, while the Senshi made sure she got there in one piece.
But, barring those strategically timed klutz-attacks that served Sailor Moon's purpose more often than not, he could not understand the heedless risks she took in battle. He wanted to scream at her, to just grab her and shake sense into her when she advanced recklessly. It was as if he were watching two different entities: the warrior and the child. The warrior wielded power beyond comprehension, and the child had the power to destroy the warrior in one moment of carelessness. It simply made him furious!
And, the truth was, it scared him witless when he saw her take such risks. Some part of him, one he didn't fully wish to look into, knew that losing that link with her would be more painful than all his past miseries combined.
So it was with that jarring note of anger in his voice that he called down to the warriors, promising to give them the time they needed to attack. He threw a rose before the monster and willed it to stun, then watched the battle proceed from there.
When nothing remained but a scattered pile of ashes, he jumped down from his hiding place and looked toward the group of girls that had congregated in the middle of the field. Usually, he would disappear again, thus avoiding any uncomfortable questions and also avoiding the power that drew him unerringly to the warrior Sailor Moon. Tonight, his anger was too raw, his fear too fresh, to walk away.
He gave up to the link that lured him to her and began to stride across the field.
to be continued
I'll be posting the other chapters in a very timely manner. Since all the written work is done for me, no need to wait 3 years for an update! I'll just be taking the time to edit them slightly before I post.