AN: So this is the last bit. Thanks a lot to all my reviewers--I hope to hear what you think of the completed piece. I also hope not to disappoint.^_^
Sora no Kami
Haruka's fingers danced skillfully across the piano keys. When she closed her eyes, she could almost hear Shinyuuki humming along to the notes. And she smiled like she had when she was a child. So lost was she in her own realm, she did not even register the sound of the front door.
Moments later, a hand grabbed Haruka's shirt from behind and dragged her backward off the piano bench. Her eyes snapped open in surprise just before she fell hard to the floor. Mieru slammed the cover down over the keys before glaring down at Haruka. "I told you, I don't want you in this room. Now get out, you little shit!"
Haruka did not even bother to argue back. She simply took her opportunity and fled to the safety of her own room with the door shut firmly behind her as quickly as possible. God, what have I become? the girl thought to herself as her face burned in shame. She did not even stand up for herself against Mieru anymore.
Shouting could be heard throughout the apartment for hours following. Mieru was bitching about the piano again, the one battle so far she'd been unable to win. And she'd been throwing every curve available to her, some lower than Haruka would have ever dared.
The bottom line, quite frankly, was jealousy. Mieru was jealous of a woman who'd been dead for a half dozen years.
"Even after all this time, you still won't get rid of that damn piano! No one ever uses it except that little dipshit…"
"You leave Haruka out of this!" Haruka could tell by Hashira's voice that, for once, he was actually sober. It was hard to tell yet if that would make things better or worse.
"You're still clinging to it, Hashira! You still haven't forgotten her, have you? Have you?"
Haruka felt her breath catch in her throat as she waited for her father's response, time seeming to slow as if deliberately to keep her hanging over the precipice. "No, I haven't! Are you happy?" the man yelled.
Haruka's jaw dropped. She found herself caught somewhere between disbelief and reality, which for a rare moment were not on the same side. It had always seemed to her before as if Hashira had forgotten about Shinyuuki before she was even gone. All this time… what had he really been feeling?
"I can't believe it — you can't get over a woman that's been dead for years, Hashira! You weren't even sober for her funeral!"
"Shut the hell up!"
"Do you still love her?"
"Yes! I always have!"
As she listened, Haruka's heart nearly stopped. It's not that I didn't care about your mother…. We were just never meant to be together. She slid down her bedroom door silently, dropping her head to her knees. Now she knew. But… why, then? Why had he done the things that he'd done? It made no sense to Haruka. In truth, she almost wished she didn't know. Whenever she learned more about her father's real feelings, it only brought her more pain.
Mieru sounded as if she might burst into tears at any moment. Haruka thought she might throw up. "Well, if that's the case, Shujinkou, maybe I should just leave."
"Dammit, don't do that, Mie. Yuuki's dead — what more do you want? She's not in my life anymore — you are."
"If you really thought that, that piano would have been gone long ago."
"Fine! If it's that important to you, I'll sell the damn piano!"
Haruka burst from her room. "No! Papa, you can't! Back off, bitch!"
"What did you call me, you little asswipe?" Mieru hissed at the girl.
"Haruka-chan, go back to your room," Hashira said firmly.
"No! I want you" — she glared menacingly at Mieru — "to get out of my home!"
Mieru's icy eyes promised death. "This may have been your home, but now you answer to me."
"I don't have to answer to anyone! Especially not you. It's not like you're my mother or anything!"
"Any woman would be ashamed to be your mother." Though Mieru could never have known it, the words cut deep. Most things she said never made a scrap of difference to Haruka really, but with one statement she had voiced the girl's deepest fears and regrets. She'd always believed she could never be good enough for someone so pure and perfect as Shinyuuki, so she hadn't tried. But to think of how her mother would actually see her now if she were still alive…
Haruka did not hear the words that Mieru spat at her like venom. She felt a hand shove her chest, and a moment later her numb body struck the ground. Still, she had no desire to get up. Even the sound of Mieru laughing at her was not enough incentive to make her angry. She would as soon just have died right there. Until, somewhere in the distance, she heard the woman say, "I suppose little girls really do take after their mothers."
With an unintelligible cry, Haruka sprang forward like an animal. She wanted to beat Mieru until the woman could cry no more. She wanted to kill her. As far as she was concerned, Mieru had gone too far. Haruka didn't give a damn what shots the bitch took at her. But she would die to defend Shinyuuki.
However, before Haruka could reach her target, a strong arm reached across her shoulders, holding her back. She tried to duck under it, but Hashira gripped her sleeve tightly so that she could not get away. Her face etched with rage, Mieru walked forward and drew back her hand to strike Haruka. The girl closed her eyes and waited for the blow, which she would take without crying out — she would never give Mieru that sort of satisfaction — but it never came. Surprised, she opened her eyes again.
Mieru wore a look of shock on her face as she stared at Hashira. The man had caught her wrist before she could complete her swing and now held her arm tightly. "If you touch her again, I'll give you bruises like you've never had before." His voice was steady, his eyes promising the words he'd spoken. Both Haruka and Mieru were left speechless.
Closing her mouth tightly, Mieru jerked her hand free and stormed out of the apartment. Without looking at Haruka, who was still at a loss for words, Hashira walked into his bedroom and shut the door. He did not come out for the rest of the night.
Haruka went to bed after she'd had time to recover from the shock of the night's events, but she could not sleep. She kept remembering her father's words. He'd said so many things that night that had shaken all she'd previously believed about him. And then… he'd protected her.
Haruka thought about the bookbag tucked entirely unknown under her bed. Perhaps she would not have to use it after all. She thought of the man who had been revealed to her that night, a man she was finally beginning to see as the father she'd grown up without. Smiling, she closed her eyes, allowing a peaceful sleep to drift up to take her.
* * * * *
When Haruka woke, she found her father gone. That was not strange — he worked seven days a week. Since it was Sunday, he would get off earlier, but to him that just meant more time to spend at the bars. Haruka, however, had the entire day off to do as she pleased. And considering the events of the previous day, she was in a particularly good mood that morning.
After getting dressed, Haruka sat down on the couch and flipped on the television.
The wind outside blew softly, just enough to tousle hair and send a few light pieces of trash tumbling through the street. Haruka looked up at the sun overhead. It was barely early afternoon.
Without a particular direction, Haruka began running. She usually ran to get away from reality, to disappear into the wind, to leave behind anything and everything. But now she ran because she felt like it. Because she wanted to. Just for the hell of it.
It was mid-afternoon when Haruka leaned casually over the railing of the bridge. She'd been there so many times before. The wind was always good in that particular spot. And it was… peaceful somehow. As if it were isolated from the rest of the world, and in this place, nothing else could exist. For an instant, she almost felt once again as though she could fly away.
Haruka still remembered the day she'd been at this very bridge with her mother when she was only five years old. She remembered it as if it had been yesterday. Slowly, she allowed a smile to break across her face, cracking the bitterness stored in her heart. Maybe she really could just let it all go. She was still only twelve years old — plenty of time to start over.
The girl blinked in surprise as the boy ran up to her. "Keiji-kun, konnichi wa. What are you doing here?"
"Just taking a walk, and I saw you out here. What about you?"
"Went out for a run, ended up here. I like this place. I like the wind."
Keiji blinked. "Why?"
"Why do you like wind?"
Haruka paused, pondering the idea. "I don't know. It's always made me feel better, made me feel at home. No matter what. Almost like it can understand me… and I can understand it." She laughed. "It sounds crazy, but I used to believe I could fly."
"Yeah. That the wind would carry me away to paradise. And there'd be no more pain." Haruka swallowed as she looked down at her feet, stepping away from the railing. "I'd better go."
As she started walking away, Keiji called after her, "Sayonara, Haruka-san."
Stopping, Haruka looked back over her shoulder. "You know what, Keiji-kun? I think I changed my mind."
"You can call me Haruka-chan if you want. Ja." Turning, she walked toward her home without looking back again.
* * * * *
Haruka allowed the door to swing shut behind her as she walked into the apartment. But she stopped dead as soon as she saw who was sitting on the couch. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Now, that's an odd question, child," Mieru said with an amused, somewhat sadistic laugh. "I practically live here."
Haruka backed up a few steps, shaking her head. "P… Papa?"
"Shut up your whinin', Haruka-chan," Hashira growled as he staggered out of the bedroom. His speech was slurred. It was obvious that he'd had quite a bit to drink already, even though he was home fairly early. Haruka knew that could not be good.
"We finally came to an arrangement about that damn piano of your mother's." There was just a bit too much joy in Mieru's voice. Haruka could hardly stand it.
"You bitch! I'm gonna…" The girl launched herself forward, fully prepared to strangle Mieru until the woman stopped breathing, but Hashira caught her shirt collar and tossed her back against the wall. With a grunt, Haruka fell to the floor.
"That's no way to speak to your new mother," the man scolded.
Haruka growled under her breath, glaring up at the two adults. "What the hell?"
Mieru grinned mockingly at the girl and held up her left hand. Adorning it was a brand new ring. The ring was not expensive or anything special, but that was beyond the point. Haruka had to resist the urge to spat on it. "You'll never be my new mother, you hussy baisu!"
"That's not the point," the woman replied, casually casting off the evil glares she received from her future stepdaughter. "But anyway, I'll be a better wife than your precious Yuuki. Then again, she wouldn't be hard to top in anything."
Screaming in rage, Haruka leapt at Mieru, decking her hard across the face before anyone could even react. The woman cried out. Haruka pulled back her fist to strike again and again, but despite how drunk her father was, he was still unexpectedly fast. Grabbing the girl's arm, he hauled her over the back of the couch, throwing her to the floor. He then kicked her hard in the ribs. She gritted her teeth to keep from crying out.
Hashira backed off, leaving Haruka where she lay on the floor, clutching her side. The girl gasped for breath, trying to fight down the pain. Still, she managed to glare angrily up at Mieru and to choke out the words: "Go to hell, bitch!"
Mieru merely laughed. "Hell? You sicken me, child. Hashira, let's show her what hell is." Haruka did not know that look in Mieru's eye, but she was instantly afraid.
The girl tried to get away before she got caught in whatever this hell of Mieru's might be, but her father grabbed her around the shoulders and pulled her back.
"No! Let go of me! Kuso!" Haruka might have been able to beat up anyone in her school, and she could certainly make Seirai Mieru sorry she had been born. But after all these years, Hashira was still stronger, and Haruka knew that she never stood a chance in either heaven or hell, much less in reality.
As she struggled to escape, Haruka noticed her father's fiancé sitting casually on the couch, reading a magazine of some sort. The bitch wasn't even at all concerned with what was happening. Haruka would almost think she was enjoying it.
Haruka hit the floor hard with a cry. Already she was bleeding from her nose and her mouth, and a wracking cough added yet another spat of blood to the growing list. She was sure that the bruises she'd have later would be like nothing she had felt before. Grabbing her by the waist of her pants, Hashira hauled the girl to her feet again. She had not seen him so angry in years. And the alcohol certainly did not help a bit….
Hashira lowered his face to her ear, softly whispering, "This is what happens to bad little girls who don't have respect for their parents." He grabbed the back of her shirt with both hands, ripping the cloth clear from her body. Haruka fell to her knees. She tried to throw a punch at her father, but he avoided the blow and backhanded her across the face. He grabbed the girl by the hair on the back of her head and hauled her to her feet again, pulling her close to him despite her efforts to fight her way free. It was then that she felt his strong hands shove down into her pants and between her legs. Haruka cried out. The red of pain filled her vision. She felt almost as if she might pass out. In that instant she knew absolutely that she could not take any more — not ever. Ever again.
Wrenching her head around, Haruka clamped her father's arm between her teeth and bit down as hard as she could. Never had she fought so low and dirty in all her life, but at that point, she did not give a damn. Hashira yelled and pulled his arm away. It was then that Haruka saw her chance. Bringing back her fist, she let fly a punch more powerful than any she'd dealt before. Mieru cried out as Hashira fell to the floor, dizzy from the blow and the alcohol. Haruka started kicking as hard as she could into his ribs, never pausing for an instant. Before this could go on very long, however, Mieru seized the girl's arm and jerked her away from the man before dropping worriedly to his side. Rather than fighting back, Haruka turned and ran to her bedroom.
Dropping to her knees by her bed, the girl quickly pulled the bookbag she had packed for just such a situation from underneath it.
So she had finally reached the moment she'd been anticipating… and, in truth, dreading.
Hashira was on his feet again and angrier than ever by the time Haruka bolted back out of her bedroom. He tried to catch her, but she was too quick for him. Within seconds, she was out of the apartment and running for all she was worth. She'd left the door open behind her, but never once did she look back to see if anyone gave pursuit.
By the time she reached the street, Haruka could feel the dizziness resulting from pain intensify. She dropped to her knees unwillingly as the world around her began to spin. Still, she willed herself to remain conscious and even managed to force herself back to her feet. As her vision cleared, Haruka recognized the basketball court she had played on since childhood. Someone had even left a ball behind. They must have forgotten it.
Anger welling inside of her, Haruka kicked the basketball as hard as she could. It bounced off a brick wall, the sound echoing throughout the street. But Haruka was already running again, running as fast and as far as her weak legs would take her. Running for her life and her sanity — everything. Running with no intention of turning back.
Haruka had run clear out of the city before she finally collapsed. She did not know where she was. She didn't give a shit. As long as she was as far away as possible. As long as she could not be found — ever. As long as…
Darkness swirled around the girl, threatening to take hold. Eventually, she could resist its thrall no longer, and she passed out.
* * * * *
Haruka woke with a pounding headache. At first, she did not know where she was or how she had gotten there. The road was only meters away, and she found herself lying under a grove of trees lining the side of it. It was then that she remembered everything. A jolt of pain seized her body. Every hit, every kick, every hurt… she felt it all afresh again, as if Hashira were right there, dealing the blows for a second time, only all at once.
The girl nearly passed out again, but she managed to hold on to consciousness by a thread. When she came to her senses enough to focus her vision once more, she saw her bookbag lying next to her. Sitting up, she opened it and pulled out a T-shirt. Having run out so fast the night before, she had not taken the time to stop and put a shirt on to replace the one her father had ripped off. Sliding the shirt over her head, she winced as her bruises seared in protest.
Lying down on the ground again, Haruka willed her head to stop spinning. She had not been so out of it since her sixth birthday….
Haruka jumped as a car whipped by on the highway. With so many other things occupying her mind, she had given no thought to where she was.
At that moment, Haruka found herself in a dilemma. She obviously could not go home, and even if she could, she would never return to that place again. She was past the point of returning out of obligation or habit or anything else. She would not go back. So that meant leaving Kyoto for good, leaving the place she'd grown up in and the only place she'd ever known. Not that she was about to cling to the sentiment of the situation. The unknown loomed over her, and she had no idea what was in store. But it had come time for her to move on.
The question then presented itself of where to go. And what to do next. Before she could go anywhere, she needed to take a step.
Shaking her head to try to clear some of the dizziness, Haruka sat up again, picking up her bookbag and pawing through it. Pulling out a snack bar, she munched on it absently as she thought about her next move. Did it really matter, so long as she simply did not look back? Concluding that thinking was getting her absolutely nowhere, she got up and walked to the edge of the road. Looking up and down the highway, she carefully tried to figure out exactly where she might be. Kyoto lay to her right, which, judging roughly by the sun, was west. The road she was next to, for as far as she could see, stretched directly east to west. That meant there was only one way to go.
Squinting down the road toward Kyoto, Haruka watched for cars coming from the city. Whenever one passed by, she would hold up her thumb, hoping someone would stop. It was nearly an hour before anyone did.
Haruka slumped down in the back seat of the '82 Levin. In front of her sat a middle-aged man with a funny haircut, which she expected was some kind of failed attempt to disguise his receding hairline. But she did not really care, so long as he got her away from her home.
"Where you headin', son?" the man asked good-naturedly, glancing back at Haruka in the rearview mirror.
The girl shrugged, only half listening to him. Despite how long she'd been out, she could feel her body urging her to sleep. Closing her eyes, she suppressed a yawn as she replied, "Don't care. Just as long as you drop me off before you make a u-turn back toward Kyoto."
The man laughed. "Before a u-turn, eh? Well, you won't have to worry about that. I'm planning on heading straight all the way to Tokyo."
Tokyo, huh? Haruka thought as she felt sleep creep up on her. Doesn't sound like too bad an idea. With a tiny smile, she let go of consciousness, welcoming the black willingly.
* * * * *
"Nothin' here," Genki said, kicking the trash bag aside. The boy was one of Haruka's comrades who she occasionally teamed up with out on the streets of Tokyo. Sometimes it was easier for a group of kids to stay alive and out of official custody when they were together. But when it came down to survival of the fittest, they were all on their own. Few held any real loyalties to each other, and Haruka knew better than to trust her life in anyone else's hands. "Find anything, Haruka-kun?" The girl shook her head in response as she ripped open another trash bag.
Just then, out of nowhere, Noku, another one of their companions, came tearing around a corner. "Run, guys! There's at least two cops right on my tail!" Everyone in the alleyway, the total amounting to Haruka and four boys, immediately dropped everything and took off. Most scattered in different directions, everyone for himself.
Noku ended up just behind Haruka. "What'd you do this time?" she yelled angrily over her shoulder. The boy looked pale and frankly terrified. Haruka was afraid he might be sick.
"I got caught trying to steal some lady's wallet," he groaned in response.
"Dammit, if you're going to pickpocket, either learn how to do it better or run in a direction that's away from the rest of us!"
"I'm sorry, Haruka-kun! I'd like to see you do better!"
"Nah, I'm not much of a pickpocket, but I can sure as hell run faster than you." With that, she swiftly pulled away from the boy, leaving him screaming in her dust.
"Hey, you can't just leave me here!"
"I almost hope they do catch you!"
"You can't be serious!" he wailed.
Noku was still shouting after her as she disappeared from sight. He sounded as if he might be crying. Haruka rolled her eyes in disgust. What seemed like far too long later — Noku really was slow — the boy came running around a corner. Haruka snagged him by the collar of his jacket and yanked him through the open doorway, quickly shutting it behind them. Cutting through the old abandoned building, they reversed their direction, which would hopefully throw off the cops' search.
"How close were they?" Haruka asked when they had come out on the other side of the building and had already started running again.
"I don't know exactly. Couldn't've been far at all. They were right behind me!"
"They should've passed right after I got you inside. Hopefully it'll take long enough for them to realize they lost you that we'll be in the clear."
Haruka stood casually against a wall as Noku tried desperately to catch his breath. "Haruka-kun," he finally gasped when he had recovered enough to speak. "Why did you help me?"
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to. You're more of a wuss than I thought."
Noku smiled despite the insult. "Well, thanks anyway. You're a hell of a guy." Haruka nearly laughed at the statement. Even her friends — she supposed that was a good enough word to call them by — were unaware of her sexual identity. It was not that she minded being a girl — she never had and still did not. But it would not have taken a genius to know that it was easier to be a young boy than a young girl on the streets any day.
Haruka never regretted running away from her home in Kyoto. She'd rather be living alone on the street in the cold with too little food and danger around ever corner than be back with Hashira, Mieru's bridle directing him any way she wished. Here, she needed fear nothing, and life depended on only one factor — herself. She'd been in Tokyo little more than a month, and from where she found herself, there was nowhere to go but up.
* * * * *
The night sky was black, brightened only by the lights of the city. Virtually no stars could be seen, only a full moon shining down tauntingly on the Earth below. Haruka could have laughed at it.
A cold wind blew throughout the street. It was actually comforting to Haruka. The wind always was. She'd never understood why. She probably never would. It made her feel more at home — whatever that word might mean — despite its sub-freezing temperature. She'd quite frankly gotten used to the cold. The streets of Tokyo were always cold at night. And the depths of winter were approaching — it would only get worse.
"Tasukete! Somebody!" Haruka looked up as a small boy came tearing through the alleyway. "Help us! Please!"
"Matte!" Haruka stepped into the boy's path, holding out her arm to catch him by the shoulders. On instinct, the boy put his arms up to block her and ended up bouncing off her arm, falling to the ground with a cry. Haruka knelt down to help him to his feet again. "What's the matter, kid?"
The boy was trembling as he pointed down the street behind him. "M… my sister…"
Haruka heard a scream from nearby and immediately started toward it. "You stay there!" She could hear the boy crying behind her, but she ignored him. She had bigger problems to worry about at the moment.
There were three men, all twice Haruka's size at least. One was holding on to a teenage girl's sweater as she screamed and struggled to get away. She swung her purse at him, but he wrestled it away from her without much effort.
Of course, none of them ever saw Haruka coming. She was outnumbered and at an obvious physical disadvantage, but she was a good fighter. Running up on the first guy, she slammed her fist into the side of his skull before anyone had even turned to react to her swiftly approaching footsteps. As the first thug fell, the second quickly moved to avenge his comrade, while the third, still holding on to the frightened girl's sweater, just stood gaping at the child who had felled one of his companions and was engaged in a heated fistfight with the other.
Haruka ducked a swipe and brought her fist up into the man's ribs. As he cried out in pain, she kneed him in the gut and finished the fight with a flat-out punch to the face.
The third man, now thoroughly pissed off, let go of the teenager and menacingly approached Haruka, pulling a switchblade from his jacket pocket. The girl the thugs had been assaulting was too petrified to move, so she stood staring as Haruka and her last opponent circled each other.
The man lunged with the knife, swiping at Haruka so abruptly that she barely had time to move. The tomboy threw a swift roundhouse kick, using the momentum of her dodge to her advantage, and landed it on one side of his back. But with little more than a grunt of pain, the man whirled to face her and began circling again. It became obvious quite quickly that he was going to be much harder to take down than the other two had been, which was not encouraging considering that Haruka had had the element of surprise on her side at that time.
The man swore as he lunged again. This time, Haruka sidestepped, grabbing his wrist as she did so and wrenching his arm around hard. With a cry, his grip loosened, and the switchblade clattered to the ground. Haruka wasted no time in snatching it up and holding it offensively out in front of her. Unwilling to take the chance, the last thug ran off, and Haruka shook her head as she closed the switchblade and tossed it off to the side of the alleyway, where she heard it collide with a wall before she lost it in the shadows.
Sighing, Haruka turned back to the still trembling teenager, who appeared to be just regaining her wits. Not a bad looking girl, the tomboy noted subconsciously. "Are you all right?"
The girl nodded, swallowing hard to try to clear her throat. "Are… are you? I… You saved m… Arigatou."
"I told your brother to wait where I left him. We should probably go get him." The girl nodded silently and followed Haruka. They found the small boy curled up into a fetal position and crying like a baby. As soon as he saw his sister, he launched himself at her, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist as though he might never let go.
"What were you two doing out here, anyway?" Haruka asked after the excitement of the reunion had tapered down a bit. "Don't you know how dangerous it can be at night?"
"We hadn't planned on being here at all," the teenager answered. "Our car broke down, and my boyfriend was trying to fix it when those guys tried to mug us. They knocked him out, and we were trying to get away when we ran in this direction."
"I don't think that was all they were trying to do," Haruka muttered. "Where's your car? I'll try and fix it for you."
Not long later, Haruka closed the hood of the car, wiping her hands on her blue jeans. "Thank you," the girl said happily, her face beaming. They had moved her unconscious boyfriend into the backseat a while ago, before Haruka had started working.
Haruka ignored the girl's thanks. "Do you know how to drive?" she asked bluntly.
The teenager shook her head. "I'm only fifteen."
Sighing, Haruka rubbed her forehead. "Do you know your way home from here?" She received a nod in response. At least the girl was not totally incompetent. "Good. Get in — I'll give you a ride home."
The teenager blinked. "But… you can't be more than thirteen years old. How can you know how to drive already?"
"Do you want to go home?" Haruka asked irritably. She received a subdued nod in response. "Then get in." The girl did as she was told. Fishing the keys out of her boyfriend's pocket, she gave them to Haruka and watched as the child started the car.
"By the way, I never asked your name," Haruka said softly as she drove toward the two siblings' home. She had to admit it felt incredibly refreshing to be driving again, even if she couldn't go anywhere near the speeds she was used to.
"Arata Ame," the girl replied. Her brother had fallen asleep a while ago. She introduced him as Shugi. Then, turning to look at Haruka, she smiled. "And you must be Wonderboy."
Haruka laughed. "No, not me. Just a punk kid off the streets who happens to know a thing or two about fistfights and cars."
"And who happens to have a good, pure heart," Ame said softly.
You've got to be kidding me, Haruka thought to herself. Of all people who were pure-hearted in the world… Who would ever be dumb enough to think she fell into that category? "I don't think so."
The girl turned back to the window, staring out as Haruka drove in silence. "Will you at least tell me your name?"
"What, no last name?"
"Don't need one."
Ame laughed. "Well, no, not if you plan on being a bum for the rest of your life. If you want to actually be somebody, you're going to need a last name."
When Haruka woke up the next morning, she still heard Ame's words echoing in her mind. If you actually want to be somebody… Had she fallen so far that she had forgotten her ambitions?
"Get back here, you little punk!" Haruka's special talent for running had come in handy many times since she'd arrived in Tokyo. Especially when it involved obtaining food and other such necessities. No one — people she stole from, authorities, thugs, anybody — none of them could never catch her, no matter how fast they ran. And so she managed to stay alive.
"Wonderboy" the girl Arata Ame had called her. Aside from confusing her gender, which Haruka was long since used to, the teenager's words still bothered the young tomboy. She did not deserve them. So she had done one good deed. Big whoop. She had helped someone. It did not change who she was inside, nor could it, and there was nothing good there for her to brag about. But she did still have the dream.
Haruka could not get the feeling of the wheel under hands, the pedals beneath her feet, the sound of the engine pulsing all around her out of her head. It was like a drug. She missed driving. Everything in her life had been about motor sports up until recently, when it had all become survival. Perhaps it about was time to get a grip on her ambitions once again.
Putting the extra food into her backpack, Haruka continued walking until she came to a park she was not familiar with. The sun was already setting — it was getting late. "Too late…" she whispered to herself.
Suddenly, Haruka snapped back into reality. Where had that come from? She did not know why she'd said it… it had just been this feeling…. Haruka suddenly began to wonder if she was going crazy.
A small bridge extended over one of the pathways in the park. The girl made herself comfortable underneath it, prepared to sleep for the night. As she was drifting away from consciousness, she noted to herself how nice it was in the park. She had grown accustomed to sleeping in doorways and narrow alleys and abandoned buildings. Here she could smell grass and flowers and hear the sound of water trickling through a nearby stream. And the wind was sweeter here… like a poem.
Kaze ni nari tai…
One day, Haruka thought to herself under that bridge as she drifted halfway between dreams and reality, she would stop running forever. She would find a place where even the wind could stop and simply smile. One day… her past would no longer matter, and on that day she would be free. Free to be who she was destined to become. Whoever she chose. Whatever she chose. And no one would tell her to do or be anything else. No barriers, no higher authority, no memories would hold her down. One day… the wind truly would carry her away.
* * * * *
A good dozen children and young teenagers huddled under the overhang, trying to keep out of the cold rain. Haruka stayed closer to the edge than the others. She didn't mind the storm. They needed the sheltered space more than she did.
A small boy no older than seven sat curled up in a ball behind Haruka, leaning against her for warmth. Still, no matter how he tried, he still shivered uncontrollably. Haruka barely knew the boy. Aside from his name — Sousuke — she did not know a thing about him.
"Haruka-kun," Sousuke whispered softly. "Do you ever get… homesick?"
"Iie," the girl answered honestly. It was obvious even without the boy's question that he badly wanted to go home, wherever that might have been. He might not have had a home anymore. One could never tell. Acquaintances on the streets came from all over and all kinds of different backgrounds.
"I miss my daddy," he whimpered softly.
"Where is he?"
"I don't know. He went out driving one day and never came back. Do you think he went to heaven with my mommy and baby brother?" Haruka did not answer. "The policeman said they hadn't heard anything about him and never found our car, so they don't know. But he wouldn't just… leave me like that. Right?"
Haruka hesitated. She did not want to hurt the boy, but neither did she want to lie to him. "I never knew your father," Haruka replied finally, the best answer she could come up with. "Mine probably would have never thought twice about leaving and never coming back. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd just disappeared one day. But I disappeared first."
"Do you think he went looking for you?"
"Not likely. In fact, I would have been shocked if he did."
"Doesn't that make you sad?"
"No, it doesn't," she replied honestly. "We're probably both better off this way." The girl paused for a moment, the sound of the pattering rain filling the silence. "I'm sorry about your dad."
"I wish I could go back to like things were before. It's too cold out here. And I'm hungry. I don't think I'll ever be not hungry again."
Haruka remained silent. Her breath appeared before her as a white cloud of mist before dissipating into nothing to be followed by another. She could hear some of the children crying. Others slept. Some could do nothing but shiver from cold.
"What will you do when you get older, Haruka-kun?" Sousuke asked. "I don't want to be on the street for the rest of my life."
"I'm going to be a racer. The fastest ever. I'm even going to be faster than the wind."
"I don't think anyone can be faster than the wind."
"I will be. If you don't believe me, you'll have to come see me race sometime. When you get off the streets, come and find me, and I'll take you driving in my car sometime."
"Honto?" The boy sounded so hopeful, even excited. It was easy to forget how young one really was in a world such as they lived in.
"Sure. Promise. But you've got to get yourself on your feet first and be somebody."
"I will. I won't be here forever. I want to go to college and be something really great."
"I don't know yet. Maybe I'll be a doctor or an astronaut. Yeah! That's it! I'll be an astronaut and pilot a space shuttle. You think I can do it, right?"
"I think you can do anything as long as you're willing to bust your ass for it."
"I will. And then I'll come back to Japan so I can ride in your car and see you race." Slowly, the boy slipped off to sleep, and Haruka was left to listen to the rain as it fell and watch terrific bolts of lightning streak across the sky.
Two weeks later Haruka heard that Sousuke was dead. He'd been sleeping underneath a truck for shelter. The ignorant driver hadn't thought anything was out of the ordinary when he'd started the engine, and the boy was not able to get out in time.
* * * * *
"The silence is approaching…." Haruka turned toward the voice. Chaos reigned over the world around her. It seemed that nothing could survive the destruction. Perhaps that was the point.
As the young tomboy turned to see who had spoken, everything suddenly vanished in a flash of light.
Haruka opened her eyes, blinking in the morning sun. Still… she still could not see the girl clearly. But the dream was becoming more vivid, as if slowly revealing itself to her. She was not sure she wanted to know… wanted to see the end… But she did want to see the girl. If even just once, even if she was only a dream.
Pushing herself to her feet, Haruka slung her bookbag over her shoulder. No one was around, but she could hear cars on the roads nearby and other sounds that betrayed the vast number of living beings that dwelled in Japan's capital.
Haruka started off alone, going nowhere simply to end up nowhere and begin again the next day. More and more she was alone as time went on. The group of homeless children that had gravitated together to form a makeshift version of security in numbers was changing rapidly. Many teamed up with older teenagers, more experienced in the ways of the streets, less desperate, and more a part of the underworld that Haruka's companions had thus far merely gotten a glimpse of. As the group evolved more and more into what might classify as a gang, Haruka found she wanted less to do with some of their common activities. Slowly, she had started to drift away. Still, she had not fully isolated herself from them and so was still affected by if not effectively caught in the whirlpool of events and consequences brought about by the change.
One day, seemingly not special, early in the month of February, Haruka had temporarily dropped her loner attitude, bred deeply within her from childhood, and allowed herself to become one within the group once again. She still remained aloof, as always. None could ever claim having a close relationship with her or even knew anything about her. She'd just as soon have it that way. They needed know nothing but what they already did. She had no desire to develop strong bonds of friendship with anyone. It was a lonely existence, but it was all she knew.
"Haruka-kun!" A young boy about Haruka's age by the name of Jittai ran up from behind her, clapping her hard on the shoulder. Haruka barely glanced at his grinning face as he slowed to her pace and walked along beside her. "Haruka-kun, you're a good fighter, right?"
"What's it to you?"
"Come on, we're all friends here, right?"
Haruka nearly snorted at the word "friends," but she replied anyway, "I can hold my own."
"Good. Then you'll help us on Sunday."
"Well you see, a bunch of dickheads from the western side of Juuban challenged us the other day, so we're gonna have a rumble on Sunday at eleven. You're in, right?"
Haruka shrugged his hand off her shoulder. "It's your own business who you wanna fight. I've got nothing to do with it."
"Ah, come on! We could use you on our side! Besides, we're like family. Out here, each other's all we got. What d'ya say?"
"No. You pick a fight, you finish it. Someone else picks a fight, you walk away or defend your pride — it's your choice. But I don't fight other people's battles for something as stupid as pride. Fight them yourself."
Jittai shook his head in disgust. "You're a punk, you know that? Don't you even have the guts to stick up for you friends?"
"If I ever find friends, I'll be happy to stick up for them."
"That's it!" Jittai, fully enraged, took a swing at Haruka's head. Haruka ducked easily and brought her own fist up into his ribs. The boy grunted in pain and doubled over.
"Take the clue, baka. I don't want to have to beat up a wimpy-ass punk like you."
"Kuso! Have you no loyalty?"
"Not to you." Suddenly, there came shouting from somewhere around the corner.
Straightening painfully, Jittai started running toward the noises. "That sounds like Shio!"
Haruka took off after him, easily passing him and making the scene first. Sure enough, Shio and several more of their companions, some of whom Haruka knew by name and others she did not, were the ones causing the commotion.
The man did not look like a pushover. Haruka doubted he'd ever worried about mugging. But against so many, some well into their teen years, he'd found himself at a disadvantage.
"Hey! Here comes more backup!" one of the older boys laughed. Haruka did not know him particularly well. He was at least sixteen and was looked up to by most of the younger children and teenagers. Any way around, Haruka was not about to stand by and watch, "friends" or not.
The man the others had been mugging was unconscious by the time Haruka's fist connected with the teenager's face. He'd never even seen her coming. "Watch your back, guys!" Jittai yelled. "Haruka's off his head!" The rest of the boys were stunned at first but reacted swiftly.
In the middle of the fight, no one noticed the running steps approaching. Haruka did not realize anything was wrong until several of the boys on the outside of the group started shouting to run. It was then that they noticed the cops who had managed to sweep in unknown while they were so preoccupied. Everyone immediately forgot everything else and made a break for it. Haruka was no exception. But her luck was bad that day.
Being in the center of the fight, Haruka had the hardest time finding a clear path to run. She was swiftly intercepted by a police officer. Shouting and cursing at her captivators, Haruka fought wildly to break free. Soon, though, the cops had her pinned to the ground. It took three of them to hold her down as a fourth cuffed her wrists behind her back.
Haruka swore under her breath, cursing her luck. Only fate could tell what would happen to her next.
After the cops had taken Haruka to a local jail, her wrists had been unbound, and she'd been told she could make one phone call. Call… Who did she have to call? And what would happen if she had no one to get her out?
With only one thin string of hope in mind, Haruka dug through the pockets of her jeans. She had almost given up when she found a small, crumpled slip of paper. "If you ever need any help, Wonderboy, I'd be honored to return the favor." Drawing a slow breath, Haruka dialed the number.
* * * * *
Haruka sat in silence in the back seat of the car, Ame and her uncle, a young man by the name of Kameda Teashi, sitting up front. Hardly a word had been spoken since they'd arrived to pick her up. "Thank you," Haruka finally said softly, "for helping me."
Ame turned to smile back warmly over the seat. "It was the least I could do. We're going to meet Shugi and my boyfriend at the arcade. Would you like to come along?"
Haruka did not understand why she found herself answering yes — but she figured it could hardly hurt. After Ame and her uncle had come to her aid without so much as inquiring into why she found herself behind bars, she could at the very least behave courteously.
Shugi was concentrating diligently on an Initial D racing game when the three walked in. Ame's boyfriend moved to kiss her lightly on the lips before saying a friendly hello to her uncle. He then looked down at Haruka.
"You two weren't very well introduced last time we met," Ame said with a smirk. "Haruka-san, this is my boyfriend, Tsure. Tsure-kun, this is Wonderboy." Her eyes glittered playfully. For a brief moment, Haruka was content to be there. For some unknown reason, she felt…
"Haruka-san!" Shugi's face was beaming. "Haruka-san, come race me! Ne? Will you?"
"I'd love to, but…"
"Here." Tsure held out several silver coins to Haruka. "One race."
Mumbling thanks, Haruka took the money and sat down in the seat next to Shugi's, sliding the coins in the appropriate slot. Numbers began to count down on the screen. As soon as the word "Go" flashed, Shugi slammed his foot down on the gas petal. His car took off, tearing down the track.
"You know, that means you're supposed to start driving now," the siblings' uncle Kameda whispered down to Haruka. She simply stared ahead at the screen.
"I know, it's just…" The young teenager slid her hands over the wheel and the gearshift. They were nothing like those in a real car, but they still brought back memories. "It's just been so long." Tightening her grip, she finally brought her foot down on the accelerator, and her virtual car took off after Shugi's, gaining rapidly. She took corners without losing speed, applying techniques she'd learned long ago in a real driver's seat.
If Shugi was surprised when Haruka passed him the first time, he freaked when she lapped him. He immediately threw all the power the car had into trying to catch up, but for all his efforts, it was a futile attempt. Haruka laughed when the race ended and reached over to tousle the boy's hair. "Good race. You're not too bad."
"That was some impressive driving," Kameda Teashi said to Haruka later as the two sat in a booth off to the side. "Ame told me you actually know how to drive, too. Kind of odd for a kid your age, isn't it?"
Haruka shrugged. "I always wanted to race cars. My whole life."
Kameda smiled secretively. "You know, I have a dream too, ever since I was a kid. I always wanted to be a mechanic. My goal is to become such a great mechanic that I can work on the best cars for the best drivers."
The young teenager's eyes lit up just a bit, almost unnoticeably to someone who did not know how to look. "You work with cars, you mean?"
"Yep. In fact, I just finished on a car for a new racer. The guy's pretty green — not sure he even knows what he's got under his fingertips when he's in that car. Would you like to come down to the circuit with me so I can test it out? Need to make sure everything's working all right before I give it back."
Haruka blinked in surprise. "Honto?"
Kameda nodded. "These kids'll be fine on their own. Ame doesn't need a babysitter anymore." After telling the others where they were going, Kameda and Haruka left the arcade. Haruka hadn't felt so excited in years. It felt almost as if her life had fallen right back into her lap, and she had not been ready for it. But this was just one day. Things would go back to normal soon enough. Or maybe it was not just a day. Haruka could not ignore the small but nagging thought in the back of her mind that perhaps this might be her opportunity to seize the future, the chance she'd been waiting for.
Almost everyone at the racetrack already knew Kameda. Because she was with him, no one questioned the reasons for Haruka's presence. It was an incredible feeling of elation just being there — Haruka could actually see and hear the cars on the track. For once in her life, she felt like she was home, like she belonged.
Kameda unlocked one of the garages, and Haruka followed him inside. "There she is. Just brought her back here from the shop this morning. Hasn't been taken out for a test drive yet." Haruka's face lit up. She could not remember having been so excited ever. "Why don't you go take a look?"
The girl did not hesitate an instant. Kameda opened the hood for her, prepared to go over all the specificities of the car, but she gave him no time to speak. She knew everything already, rattling off the specs as if she'd designed it herself.
Kameda laughed as he sat off to the side while Haruka continued to study every aspect of the racecar and make suggestions on how to make it faster under specific conditions. What truly impressed him was that most of her suggestions he would agree with. "You sure know a lot about cars, kid."
"My uncle was a mechanic when I was little. I started learning from him. Besides, if I seriously plan to race, I have to at least know what it is I'm driving."
"Good point," the man laughed. "Come on, let's get her out on the track. I'll show you how it's operated."
At the starting line, Kameda went over all the driver's controls — unsurprised to find that she already knew those as well — and let Haruka sit in the driver's seat for effect. The girl wiggled about in the seat. "It's a bit big for me."
He laughed. "Well you're a bit small, even for a driver." A sly grin split the man's face, and he leaned closer to her. "How would you like to test drive it for me?"
Haruka's gaze immediately snapped from the controls to Kameda's face, wondering if he could possibly be serious. "What? You can't… me?"
"Think you can't do it?"
"No, it's not that…. It's just…"
"You've driven real cars before. I'd wager at high speeds."
"Well, yeah, but…"
Kameda shrugged. "Then what?"
Haruka paused, weighing her words. "Why the hell would you let a kid drive a professional racecar? Seems like a damn high gamble to me."
Straightening his posture, the man held his hands up. "Hey, offer's going. Take it or not."
Slowly, Haruka smiled. "You're really serious." It was more of a statement than a question. Kameda held out a racing helmet for her.
A wide smile dominated the young man's face as he watched the girl tear around the track. Her driving had proven not to be a disappointment. It seemed to him that he'd won the gamble… and discovered a buried treasure for the world of car racing.
"Isn't that Tokusei Shinji's car?" Yomite Yoru, the young racer's manager, asked as he joined Kameda down by the track.
"Yep. That would be it."
"Who's that driving? Not Shinji. Is he one of ours?"
"Nope. Just a kid off the street."
Yomite's attention snapped back to the man next to him. He was stunned to see that Kameda was not joking. "Are you insane?"
"Apparently not. Look at her drive."
"Her? That's a girl in that car?"
"Yep. Don't be fooled by appearances. My nephew and niece both mistook her gender."
"How old's this kid?"
"No more than thirteen, I'd say."
"You can't be serious!"
Kameda smiled as Haruka pulled to a staggeringly quick stop before them, the tires squealing from the friction. "You can see for yourself. She just finished her last lap."
Haruka leapt from the car, jerking off the helmet with a beaming smile on her face. "Incredible, Kameda-san! It handles like a dream!"
"I'd like you to meet my friend, Yomite Yoru," Kameda said, motioning to his companion. "He's a manager for racers. Always looking for new prospects."
Haruka stared at the man, stunned. So much in one day… But Yomite appeared to be almost more excited than she was about their meeting. He shook her hand enthusiastically. "Pleased to meet you. Would you possibly be interested in driving professionally?" Haruka nodded mutely. The man grinned. "Well, in that case, I'm sure our sponsors would be happy to sign a contract with such a promising young driver. Er… I'm sorry, I never caught your name."
Slowly, the girl managed to find her voice as everything in her life began to fall into place. Maybe for good. In any case, Haruka lived only for the present. And in her present moment, she felt the sky open up before her, ready to carry her away on its timeless, gravity-defying wind. "My name… is Ten'ou Haruka."
* * * * *
I wish I could be like the wind. Just like the simple wind, escaping the force of gravity and disappearing into the sky…
Everything from that moment forward had gone just as Haruka had always hoped since she was old enough to understand how to dream. She'd signed a contract to become a professional racer. With her career underway, she had given some attention to completing her education. After studying in preparation, she'd tested to be accepted into a prominent junior high and had been placed in the proper class. She was surprised to find she did not need to make up any grades after having been out of school for months on end. She had gotten an apartment and become involved in school sports, and so her life had come together. Almost as if nothing else had ever happened beforehand. So she forgot about the past, let her memories slip away into the dream land where she never ventured.
Leaning over the railing of the bridge, the wind blowing lightly at her sandy, boyish hair, the teenager allowed the aluminum can, still half-full of the beverage within, to slip from her grasp. It fell through the air to crash into the waves below, its contents causing a momentary discoloration in the deep blue water before dissipating into nothingness.
"You shouldn't do that," came an angelic voice from behind. Haruka knew without turning whose it was. "You'll pollute the water."
Straightening, Ten'ou Haruka turned to scowl at Kaiou Michiru. The girl tried her best to hide the hurt she felt at Haruka's cold treatment. Her charming smile hardly wavered at all.
Haruka's nightmare had grown worse as she grew older. She'd finally seen the girl, heard her voice speak clearly. And then she'd met her and now stood staring her steadily in the face. The most beautiful young woman she'd ever seen in her life. A person she would very much like to get to know… But Michiru brought with her a million factors that Haruka would rather not consider. Responsibilities… destiny… Haruka wanted none of that. To accept Michiru — to accept her duty, her true identity — she would have to let go of everything. And that was something she was not prepared to do.
"Give the fish my apology," Haruka said brusquely as she brushed past Michiru, ignoring the look of pain on the young woman's face.
Michiru raised her face toward the sky. "I can feel its pain. Just like you can hear the whispers of the wind."
Haruka hesitated. But in the end, no matter what the girl said, it changed nothing. The wind would not catch her. "Then you understand pain. I suppose you're actually human after all and not just the world's savior."
"Haruka-san…" Michiru took a step forward. Her voice was firm, serious, but there was a depth behind it that somehow called to the tomboyish, hard-hearted teenager. But Haruka did not allow her the opportunity to speak. Without another word, she walked away, not looking over her shoulder to see Michiru's sad expression. Once again, she chose to walk away, leaving everyone behind her in the dust without allowing herself to mourn or regret. Once again, she found herself running away from the world. Just like the wind…
AN: I've had some comment about this last scene, in terms of canon--from the series, some time passes between when Haruka and Michiru first meet and when Haruka finally becomes Sailor Uranus. Assume this takes place in that interval.^_^
Thanks, all, for reading