As this is a sequel, please read my other story, First Sight, before starting this one. Story notes can be found on my blog.
A Melody to Forget
The room swam into focus slowly as he opened his eyes. He blearily became aware that he was staring at his own hands; they seemed foreign and detached under his gaze. The ground was hard beneath his knees. When he tried to shift his focus, the floor seemed to lurch nauseatingly up to greet him.
He closed his eyes again, laying as still as he could manage, waiting for the dizziness to subside. Slowly, the world seemed to grind to a halt, and coherent thoughts started to creep back to him. Where am I? was quickly followed by the slightly more disconcerting, Who am I?
Suddenly, the memory hit him with the impact of a high-speed train. "Minako!" He sat up abruptly, then put a hand to his head as the dizziness returned. "I was supposed to meet her..." He trailed off as that memory led into the next. "She... she's Sailor V..."
That was the last thing he could remember. How had he gotten from Yamada-san's store to this place? And what exactly was this place? It was dark, and he could hear water dripping somewhere nearby. A cave?
"Who the hell are you?" a male voice interrupted his thoughts. He looked up and saw a tall young man, close to his own age, storming towards him. The newcomer wore a black t-shirt and beat-up looking jeans, and he was scowling deeply. "Don't tell me. The bitch is trying to pull in another one, huh?"
"What are you talking about?"
The tall one leveled a glare at him. "Before I answer that, you tell me something—do you even remember your own name?"
"Of course I do." He blinked for a moment, trying to think. "It's Shiroi," he answered at length.
The tall one considered this, before finally nodding. "All right, Shiroi," he said. "But you'd better come with me before she or her little minion track you down."
He yanked Shiroi to his feet and down a long corridor. Shiroi swayed a bit as he followed, still not entirely steady on his feet. "Wait a minute," he protested as his addled mind caught up with him. "What's going on here? Who are you?"
The tall one paused at the corner and turned to face him. "The name's Akai," he said. "Don't let that bitch tell you otherwise." Akai glanced ahead for a minute, as if to ensure that the coast was clear; then he sprinted across a cobbled courtyard and up a set of stairs through the doors of a tall building. Shiroi watched him, gazing up at the building and realizing, in wonderment, that it was a Western-style castle.
A castle... underground?
Akai was gesturing wildly at him, so Shiroi hurried to follow. Once inside, Akai shut the door and seemed to relax. "We should be safe here for now. That bitch may call herself a queen, but I've never seen her come this way. That worm of hers, though—Jadeite—he might be another story. Keep on your toes."
"Are you planing on telling me what's going on here?" Shiroi snapped. His head was feeling more clear now, and his patience had worn thin.
Akai glared at him. "Look, you. I don't know much more than you. One second I'm out on the streets of Tokyo, and then I blink and bam, I'm here. Wherever the hell 'here' is. And I've got this bitch who calls herself 'Queen Beryl' telling me that she's brought me here to be her servant. I'm assuming she brought you here for the same reason. She's planning on turning us into some kind of super-human freaks to b her own personal army." Akai smirked. "I'm not going to complain about the super powers. I like the idea of being able to take what I want for once." He clenched his fist, looking down at it as if he could see something there that Shiroi couldn't. Then Akai whirled on him. "But if that bitch thinks that I'm going to drop everything to serve her, she can think again. I'm not serving anyone but myself."
Shiroi was staring at him in shock. "But... hang on a minute... why us? I mean..." He spluttered in confusion and dismay. "Why does she need us to be her servants, of all people?"
"Who knows?" Akai said with an exasperated shrug. "That bitch is so cryptic. She said something like, 'Your souls still belong to me. The debt from the past has not been paid.'"
"What debt?" Shiroi demanded. "I've never even heard of this Beryl woman before!"
"Me either," Akai agreed. "And believe me, I'd remember someone who looked like her. I've never seen anyone with... assets like hers."
Shiroi stared at Akai in disbelief. How did I manage to get trapped here with someone like this? He rubbed his forehead for a moment, overwhelmed. "Anyway," he said through gritted teeth. "How do we get out of here?"
"I don't know," Akai admitted. "I've been searching, but I can't find a way out."
Shiroi felt like he was standing on a precipice, about to go toppling off the edge. This must have been apparent in his face, because Akai seemed to soften a bit. "Don't worry," he told Shiroi. "I'm going to keep looking. But in the meantime," his voice grew grave, "watch your step. If you want to stay who you are, you'd better be prepared to fight for it. Her powers are weak for now, but they're getting stronger."
"What do you mean?" Shiroi asked.
"As far as I know, there's only one other person here—some kid who calls himself Jadeite. I don't know who he used to be; by the time I got here, he was too far gone." He looked at Shiroi somberly. "She's got him wrapped around her little finger. He doesn't even remember that he ever used to be human. As far as he's concerned he lives for Beryl. To serve her, to kill for her, to die for her. And that's all there is to it."
Shiroi felt a cold sweat break out all over his body. Akai nodded grimly, then turned away. "So keep out of their way," he said. "I'll come find you if I find anything." With that, the tall youth strode away, fading quickly into the shadows.
Shiroi's heart was pounding in his ears. Even though Akai was abrasive, Shiroi suddenly found himself wishing that he hadn't left. Alone in this place... he needed to get away. Find somewhere to hide. He took a few steps down the dim corridor with shaking knees, and suddenly realized that this wasn't just nerves. He felt cold all over; his ears were ringing. The world was spinning. He pitched forward as everything went black.
His dreams were fevered, a strange blur of even stranger images. A young man with blond hair; a foreboding woman with a crown atop her red curls. Outside his own body, he could see himself kneeling before her. But that wasn't him, was it? Long, silvery white hair; bizarrely pale blue eyes, like ice; white clothes, white gloves...
"WHO AM I?"
His eyes flew open. His head felt like it was going to explode. He sat up, looking at his hands in a panic. No gloves. No military uniform. He was still wearing his street clothes, the clothes he'd changed into for his...
Frantically, hearing Akai's warning echoing through his ears, he wracked his mind to remember. You can't forget! he thought in a panic. Remember! Grandpa, Yamada-san, Minako...
The memory of Minako was like a splash of cold water; he snapped alert at once. Looking around, he realized he was no longer in the corridor where Akai had left him. This was a square room—on the far end was a fireplace; a grand piano sat in the middle of the room.
Before he'd even consciously thought of it, Shiroi had crossed the room and was sinking down on the piano bench. How did he get there? Did this mean that the dream... hadn't really been a dream?
His head was pounding. He couldn't concentrate. Already, the things he'd remembered were starting to fade, drifting into the distance. Was this Queen Beryl's power? Erasing his memory little by little?
He began to play a piece on the piano that his grandfather had taught him, trying to force his memories to stay clear. But his mind wandered, and the memory of teaching Minako to play the scales sprang to the forefront.
He was going to teach her more the next day... but he wasn't there when she got there.
No... he was.
Minako is Sailor V.
But that day, she hadn't been fighting a jewel thief, like they always said in the paper.
It was something else.
It made his ears ring and his head pound.
Was it me?
Did I fight Minako?
Did I hurt her?
Preoccupied as he was, Shiroi didn't realize that his fingers were still drifting across the keys until he felt his body drop out from under him. Distantly, he could still sense his body sitting at the piano; but when he opened his eyes, he was no longer in the square room.
He was standing in the shadows on the roof of a tall building in Tokyo; a short distance away, he heard two voices arguing. He could only see one of the parties, but he recognized her, and his heart caught in his throat.
It was Sailor V.
"I don't understand why you didn't just tell me from the beginning, Artemis," she was saying.
"I wanted to wait until you were ready," the other voice—Artemis?—responded. "It's such a big thing... you had so much on your plate already, I didn't want to drop it on you all at once."
"I'll say it's big," Minako replied, but she didn't sound angry. More like stunned, and slightly wistful; her voice shook a minuscule amount, though she was making a clear effort to keep it steady. "It doesn't just change the mission, it changes everything. My life... my whole reason for being. The reason I was born."
"Minako," Artemis said, his voice filled with concern.
Minako was silent for a long while. Then, "So, this past life... he was there, too?"
There was an uncomfortable pause before Artemis finally answered, "Yes."
Minako drew a ragged breath. "Do you think he remembers it?"
"I doubt it," Artemis replied. "Queen Beryl—the enemy—would never allow it." That caught Shiroi's attention; he found himself leaning forward slightly to hear, while still trying to remain hidden. Artemis was continuing, "He won't know who you are... or who you were. It won't stop him from—"
"Who I was?" Minako repeated, cutting Artemis off. "You mean... he and I... back then...?"
Artemis let out an exasperated breath. "It doesn't matter, Minako. You'll understand when you get your memories back. It didn't end happily for you then, and it won't now, either. It's destiny, Minako. That's why you were reborn. You have to keep history from repeating itself. Do you see now why I tried to keep you away from him?"
Shiroi thought he heard a muffled sob, but when Minako spoke again, her voice was completely even. "You were right, Artemis," she said. "It was stupid of me, anyway. Even if he wasn't who he is, and even without the mission... we wouldn't have had much time together, anyway. He just would have gotten hurt."
"Minako," Artemis argued. "That's not—You don't know that! The doctors said—"
"I don't have time to believe in fairytales, Artemis!" Minako snapped, her composure shattered. There was a long moment of silence, and then she added, "I'm sorry, Artemis. Can I just have some time?"
A long silence followed. Shiroi assumed Artemis must have left, although he hadn't seen him. He was just wondering what he should do—try to approach Minako? Go back? He wasn't sure how, although he could still feel his body firmly rooted back in the piano room—when Minako suddenly spoke again. "What's the point?" she whispered. "Why was I even born? My life..." She broke off, her voice choked with sobs. "I only exist for the mission. That's the only point of my life. No matter what, that's always going to come first. There's no room for love in the life of a soldier."
Shiroi couldn't bear to stand by and do nothing while she was clearly in so much pain. He stepped forward to approach her...
"I wish I'd never met him."
He heard the words she spoke as clear as day, but he was suddenly frozen in his tracks. Something was pulling him back. He thought he saw Minako start to turn to face him; then he was lurching backwards, and everything went dark.
When he opened his eyes, he was laying prostrate on a cold cavern floor. He looked up; standing over him was the coldly beautiful woman from his dream. Was this Queen Beryl?
"Jadeite tells me that you've learned how to use Soul Flight. That's very clever of you," she said condescendingly. "But I'm afraid that those sorts of powers are a bit out of your league in this form, Zoisite."
Shiroi snarled at her. "My name is Zero Shiroi," he corrected her. "And I am not your servant."
"Oh?" Beryl said in amusement. She snapped a finger, and suddenly his body convulsed in pain. "The Great Evil's powers might not be fully restored yet, but I certainly have enough energy to keep the likes of you in check," her cold voice rang out over his screams of agony.
"Now," she continued after he fell silent, crooking a finger and drawing him involuntarily towards her. "I've almost got you cracked, but something about you is holding on." Her voice hardened. "Tell me, 'Zero Shiroi.' Who did you go to see with your Soul Flight? The princess?"
He managed a chuckle. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Beryl inhaled sharply, but otherwise maintained her cool. "You're a fool to resist me," she said. "After all... there's no room for love in the life of a soldier." She beckoned to someone in the shadows; the gold-haired young man stepped forward. He had something in his hand... a box? Shiroi couldn't tell for sure because in an instant the queen had opened the lid, and everything disappeared in a flash of light.
Remember only me. Love only me. Serve only me. Everything you do, do it for my sake.
"For Lady Beryl's sake..."
"Wake up, dammit!"
Shiroi's eyes flew open. He felt so disoriented, like he'd been asleep for weeks. His side also hurt, as if someone had been kicking him. He looked up to see Akai standing over him and realized it had been just that.
"I really thought the bitch had you this time. You were the other guy for so long, but you started to come back once I got this away from her." He tossed something into Shiroi's lap. It was a silver music box.
"What's this?" Shiroi asked.
"It's what she's been using to erase your memories," Akai explained. "I figured it out—she uses stuff that we like to get inside our heads. You like music? I'm assuming so, since the only time you've seemed halfway normal this week has been when you've been attached to that piano."
"It's been a week?" Shiroi asked weakly. His mind felt disjointed and confused, full of fevered dreams about someone in a silver cape. He was having trouble remembering the last time he'd been awake, the last time he'd even been...
What was his name again?
"Shiroi!" Akai shouted. Shiroi looked at him. "You have to snap out of it! You have to fight her! If she gets you... I'll be the only one left. And I don't think I can get out of here on my own."
Shiroi looked at him in despair. His ears were starting to ring again. "Akai," he said. "What about you? What's she using on you?"
Akai scoffed. "Like I'd tell you. But don't worry, I'm going to get it away from her. I'm not going to let that bitch erase me." He started to turn to leave, then paused. "You have to remember, okay?" he said, his voice suddenly sounding weary. "You can't forget. Because I have this feeling that if we forget... we'll never remember again. Zero Shiroi, Naito Akai... we'll be gone. Like we never existed. And how will that make your girl feel?"
"My... girl...?" Shiroi repeated in confusion. A voice deep inside him was screaming to be heard, but he couldn't recall what it was trying to say.
"You said her name a few times when you were unconscious," Akai said, sounding uncomfortable. "Minako."
Minako. The name crashed over him like a tidal wave, bringing a flood of memories with it. It was like remembering her was the only way he could remember himself; like everything that was Zero Shiroi was tied to her name.
"See?" Akai said, with a smirk at Shiroi's expression. "Don't forget her. Fight." His face was slightly red when he turned and strode away, and Shiroi wondered distantly whether Akai had a girl of his own to remember.
Then he gazed down at the music box in his hand. He wanted to believe Akai's words of reassurance, that now that it was out of Beryl's hands, he'd be safe; but he knew that was too good to be true. The ringing in his ears grew to a roar and he knew he was lost.
Someone was screaming. He opened his eyes. Bodies were strewn all over the ground at his feet. His stomach clenched in revulsion. He looked down at his gloved hands; then to his right, where Jadeite stood. The blond man's arms opened wide to accept the glowing light energy that was pouring into them from the unconscious people. He looked up. Someone was running towards them. A girl with golden hair and a mask. She looked familiar.
Why should she look familiar? He didn't know her...
She stopped dead in her tracks, and when his eyes met her, they shone in sheer agony.
"I've seen enough of your handiwork for today, Jadeite," he said in a voice that was not his.
There was a melody playing. He slowly bobbed through the waves of consciousness, gradually realizing that it was coming from a piano, and that his own gloved fingers were running over the keys.
The world rushed past him; he blinked, and he was standing in the backyard of a small suburban home. He looked up; there she was, silhouetted in an upstairs window. He stepped forward, but a small voice from the shadows stopped him.
"What are you doing here?" Artemis asked.
"I don't know," he replied honestly. "I was worried about her. About... Minako. How is she?"
A moment of silence. "She's lost her focus since she met you," Artemis replied, apparently deciding to be honest himself. "She's putting on a brave front, but..."
He looked into the darkness, trying to see Minako's mysterious guardian. But Artemis remained hidden to him. At last, he sighed and went on. "I'm fighting. I'm trying to beat this. But..." He swallowed, trying not to choke on the words. "I don't think I can. Deep down... I know that it's too late. I'm already lost." He began to pace anxiously. "Tell me... If she had to... if there was no turning me back... would she kill me?"
Artemis' voice was somber. "She already has. But she's a different person now. Now... I'm not so sure."
He nodded grimly, a wisp of silvery-white hair falling into his eyes. "I wish there was some way I could help her."
"The only way you can help her is to let her forget."
The conversation was over. He blinked; the rushing sensation returned, and he was back at the piano. Somewhere along the line, it seemed he'd learned to master Soul Flight.
His ears were ringing. He covered his ears as if to drown it out. "You are Zero Shiroi," he said out loud. He repeated it over and over, like a chant, like a prayer. "You are Zero Shiroi. You're 18 years old, you're a senior in high school, you want to be a concert pianist. Your grandfather's name was Masahiro Shiroi, and he was the greatest man you've ever known. Your best friend is a crotchety old music shop owner, and you're..." His voice broke. "You're in love with Minako Aino. You only knew her for two days, but you're in love with her. You can't forget. You are Zero Shiroi!"
There was a sheet of music on the piano. The ink was not yet dry; it read, "A Melody to Forget."
The doorbell rang, and, as he'd hoped, she opened it. "You!" she gasped. Her face was guarded, but he could see the surprise—and hope—in her eyes. He could hardly blame her; after all, the last person she'd expected to see standing before her was the boy from Yamada's shop; she'd thought the only one she'd ever see again was the cold white-haired general. He hoped she couldn't see the effort it took for him to maintain his human form.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I have a simple question for you," he replied, fighting to keep his voice steady. "If I asked you to drop everything right now and run away with me... would you?"
Her guard was still up. "You know I couldn't," she replied flatly. "I have a mission... and so do you. We serve different masters."
He smiled hollowly. "Then what if I asked you to kill me, here and now?"
She froze, staring up at him in horror, and he knew Artemis had been right. He swallowed, stepped forward, and pulled her into his arms.
"What are you—?" she gasped, but broke off when the melody reached her ears. With his last shred of resistance, he'd worked, reforming the notes of the music box to the melody she needed to hear.
He held her tight as the music played; her eyes stared glassily ahead, but he felt the dampness of her tears soak through his shirt and touch his skin.
"I'm letting you forget," he whispered.
Those memories seemed a million years ago, part of someone else's lifetime. He could barely recall them now, hard as he tried. At this point, he found that he couldn't even tell where that boy named Zero Shiroi had ended and he began. But the ache was there, still; and the automatic pull he felt whenever he heard her name.
She was doing better—that much he knew. He'd watched her; he saw that her focus had returned. "Artemis," she'd said the last time, smiling, blissfully unaware that she was being watched. "I remember now. The princess... my mission... my true name." She'd seemed content; he was happy for her.
But the ache was still there, constant, like a hole in his heart. Hours upon hours he'd listened to that music box, but it never faded.
"Zoisite," a voice broke through his disjointed thoughts. There was a man in red standing in the doorway.
A man in red...
He must have said it out loud, because Nephrite scoffed derisively. "I don't have time for your riddles," he said. "Lady Beryl wants to see you. Now."
That's right. Akai was gone. He'd been erased.
"She can come to me," Zoisite said nonchalantly.
"She won't like that," Nephrite warned, but Zoisite ignored him. He reached for the silver box numbly, opening the lid and letting the familiar melody wash over him. The ache remained.
"It won't work if you try to use it on yourself." Zoisite looked up and saw Queen Beryl standing before him. This was a change; she'd never come to him before. He couldn't recall that he'd ever actually seen her in this part of the Dark Kingdom.
"The spell won't work if your heart is guarded," Beryl was continuing. She smiled strangely at him; he thought she almost looked sympathetic. "My poor Zoisite." She lifted a hand to his forehead. "Never let it be said that I did nothing for my precious Shitennou."
There was a flash of light. Zero Shiroi was no more.