THE URN OF THE AGES
Chapter 1: "A Pleasant Memory"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2013 by Naoko Takeuchi and are used withoutpermission, but with respect. Story is (c)2013 by Bill K.
It was 1995. She, like Usagi and the others, was fifteen. And she was so sure of herself at fifteen.
They had met on a Sunday to just hang out because the five of them enjoyed each others company. There was a bond between the five of them, forged from the adversity they seemed to face on a regular basis anymore. But it was also forged from the fact that each one of them had gaps in their souls that the others filled. As the five friends walked along the street in the commercial district, Rei Hino glanced at her friends, laughing and trading gossip and aspirations, and thought that there was honestly no other place she would rather be at that moment.
"Anybody up to some lunch?" Minako suggested. "We're close enough to a McDonalds that I can hear the fries calling to me."
"Don't we have a better choice?" Ami grimaced.
"Please," sighed Minako. "No lectures on nutrition and high cholesterol."
"How about a lecture on how the people in there wouldn't know good food if they were slapped with it?" Makoto offered. "It's bad enough we eat at the Crown."
"I'm sure they try their best," Ami said sympathetically.
"I made mud pies when I was two that tasted better than that stuff," Makoto smirked.
"SACRILEGE!" howled Minako. "Their fries are like manholes from the gods!"
"That's 'manna'," Ami scowled.
"What about you, Usagi?" Rei asked, turning to their always ebullient friend. "I figured you'd already have a place in line at the mere mention of food."
Usagi grimaced and it was clear to everyone that she was embarrassed about something. Knowing her as long as they had, it wasn't difficult to figure out why she was embarrassed.
"Are you out of money again?" Rei demanded with exasperation.
"Well," Usagi replied, shrinking into herself.
"What did you blow it on this time?" chuckled Minako.
Usagi only grimaced again. She could feel Rei's withering glare without looking.
"Usagi, you really must learn to manage your finances more efficiently," Ami said, her frustration with her friend creeping into her voice. "This could become a dangerous habit if you allow it to continue into adulthood."
"Well, I figure by then I'll have married Mamo-Chan and he'll be a rich doctor by then," Usagi began, then shied. "And then it - - won't matter so much."
"Provided he doesn't wise up and realize what a little scatter-brain you are," Rei scowled.
"DON'T EVEN THINK THAT, REI HINO!" bellowed Usagi.
"Hon', you gotta learn some self-control," Makoto counseled. "You can't just give in to every whim like that."
"Well, I thought it was a good idea at the time," Usagi whimpered.
Ami sighed. "Come on, Usagi. I'll treat you. I wouldn't want you to die of starvation."
"Like that'll happen," Rei snickered. Usagi shot her tongue at the Miko.
"Hey, I blew all my money, too," Minako said suddenly. "You want to treat me?"
"Nice try, Blondie," Makoto smirked and cuffed the blonde in the back of the head.
As the five girls entered the fast food restaurant, a man was coming out the other door. He was shabbily dressed and had several days growth of beard. Each of them could tell to some degree that he was probably one of Tokyo's less fortunate, living on the street due to some misfortune of life or some personal demon that had conquered him. Reflexively they all looked away, except for Usagi, and reflexively he looked them over, trying to judge if a handout could be had. When he spotted Usagi, however, his face lit up.
"Young Miss!" he exclaimed and began bowing profusely to her, clutching the bag of food in one hand as he pressed them to his forehead.
"I thought that was you," Usagi smiled. This drew curious stares from her companions. Did she know this unfortunate? "Got your meal, huh?"
"Yes!" he nodded, waves of gratitude rolling from him. "I know it's not much, Young Miss, but thank you again! I was in really desperate straits. I hadn't eaten in a while and I'd had a really bad run of luck. I-I didn't know what I was going to do. And when you offered to help me, well," and the man paused a moment, emotion getting the better of his capacity for speech, "well I think maybe my luck's about to change."
"Maybe it is," beamed Usagi.
"And even if it isn't," he sniffed, "it's - - reassuring to know that there are still some kind people in the world."
He bowed to her one more time and then turned and left, cradling the bag of food against his abdomen like it was life itself. Usagi watched him go, waving and smiling, then turned to her friends. She found them all looking dumbfounded at her.
"That's what you blew your money on?" Minako whispered, amazed. "You gave it all to him?"
"He looked like he needed help," Usagi shrugged innocently.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't want to seem like I was bragging."
"Hon'," Makoto began, reeling from what she'd just witnessed. "The way we were all ragging on you. Hon', I-I'm sorry."
"You didn't know," Usagi replied cheerfully. "And you're right. I do need to have more self-control."
"Still, we did jump to some very harsh conclusions," Ami said contritely. "We should have had more faith in you."
"Well it's not like I haven't given you reasons," Usagi offered.
"No," Rei interjected. She was very upset, with herself and the others. "We SHOULD have had more faith."
"Rei, it's all right," Usagi told her. "You were all just trying to make me a better person in your own ways. I understand. Friends do that."
"I wish you'd stop being so nice about this and just smack me," frowned Minako. "You're just making me feel worse this way." Then she smirked cynically. "Unless that was your master plan."
Usagi began to sputter.
"Blondie!" growled Makoto. "Don't pay any attention to her. She's addled."
"We are all very, truly sorry, Usagi," Ami summed up.
"Truly sorry," Rei added.
"OK," Usagi smiled. Then her eyes lit up. "If you really want to make it up to me, there's this beautiful dress I saw in this shop."
Her four friends looked at each other. They exchanged a silent communication.
"Well, I guess we're going hungry until dinner," Minako grinned in surrender.
"I WAS KIDDING!" howled Usagi, aghast.
Rei shook herself and looked to the voice. Usagi was staring at her, perplexed. It was 2012, not 1995, and they were all at the shrine. Ami and Makoto were looking at her with mild concern, while Minako as usual was smirking like a hyena.
"Sorry," Rei mumbled, still searching her thoughts for why she had drifted away. "I got lost in a memory."
"Last time you were out with Derek?" Minako suggested lewdly. Usagi flushed while Ami's eyes sought the ceiling.
"Classing up the room again, eh Blondie?" Makoto quipped.
"Ignore her," Rei sighed. "I was thinking about that time Usagi gave her allowance to some homeless guy so he could get a hot meal."
"Oh yeah," Makoto grinned nostalgically. "What made you think of that?"
"I don't know," Rei whispered. "I hope it's not a premonition."
"Well you need to concentrate!" Usagi said impatiently. "We've got a wedding to plan!"
"Look who's talking," muttered Rei.
"Usagi," sighed Ami. "Hayami and I just want a simple ceremony. The union is the important thing here, not the trappings."
"Amiiiiiiiiii!" wailed Usagi. "You're getting married! Haven't you dreamed about this your entire life?"
"No," Ami replied.
Usagi stared at her like she was an alien.
"Usagi, Hayami and I would be perfectly content being married at the license bureau. The only reason I'm having a ceremony at all is out of courtesy toward you and Rei."
"I can see it now," Minako chuckled. "Do you, Mr. Boring, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?"
"Who said I was doing a Western ceremony?" Rei demanded with mock seriousness.
"Hayami is NOT BORING!" Ami bristled.
"Blondie, don't make me put you in the corner," Makoto added.
"NONE OF YOU ARE TAKING THIS SERIOUSLY!" screeched Usagi. "Ami, we've got to get you a gown, and we've got to hire a place for the reception and . . ." Usagi's cell phone went off, interrupting her train of thought. "Hello? Hey, Shingo. What's up?"
"I knew we should have eloped," Ami scowled.
"Well if you're going to have the ceremony, you might as well have the formal kimono and hood," Rei suggested. "You did want traditional, didn't you?"
"Frankly, I didn't want anything," Ami admitted. "But if you're more comfortable with a traditional ceremony, we'll do that."
"Ames," Makoto said, astonished, "I know you don't want a fuss, but you're allowed a little extravagance. After all, you only get married once."
"Twice," muttered Minako.
"She's not you," Rei jabbed. "If you don't want a traditional ceremony, I can do Western."
"Yeah?" Minako quipped. "Do it, Ami. I really want to hear her say 'Dearly Beloved' through clenched teeth."
"No, traditional is fine," Ami replied. "As I said, I only want what's easiest for everybody. The fact that I'm marrying Hayami is the important thing."
"Well if it's going to be traditional, remember: Only apple juice for Usagi," Minako suggested.
Everyone else nodded gravely.
"I'm sorry!" Usagi pleaded as she closed her cell phone. "I've got to run. Shingo's got some emergency and he needs my help." Then she looked straight at Ami and pointed. "But I WILL make time to go gown shopping with you."
"We're going traditional ceremony, Usagi," Rei informed her. "No gown."
Usagi turned to her friend with a stricken look.
"No gown, Usagi," Ami shrugged.
"Oh, Ami!" Usagi wailed. "Where did I go wrong?"
Myoga Harada folded his arms over his chest and momentarily huddled against the side of a building to escape the chill of the blowing wind. His coat, though old and threadbare, still gave him enough protection to survive Asahikawa in February. But it didn't give him much comfort.
"Face it, Myoga," the tall, gaunt, shabby man mumbled to himself as he waited out the gust of wind. "You should have gone south a lot sooner than this. Winter wouldn't be nearly as bad in Kobe or Yokahama, or even Tokyo. It was just bad luck you got picked up on that shoplifting rap."
Harada spotted someone passing by and moved from shelter to intercept him, to ask for any charity the man could spare. But the man just quickened his pace and Harada knew there was no help to be had from him.
"I admit the city jail is a lot warmer than this," Harada mused as he pressed forward down the street, searching for possibilities. "But it's risky, too. Too many criminals."
The next street found a restaurant nestled in with some other businesses. Harada felt in the pocket of his well-worn, grubby pants to the few yen he'd managed to scrape together. For a moment he thought about going in and spending those few yen on something to eat, a course his stomach readily endorsed.
"No," he shook his head. "You need to save them. You need to get enough to get transportation south, and soon. If you stay in this cold much longer, you're going to die here."
Cautiously venturing to the back of the restaurant, Harada lifted the lid of the dumpster and peeked inside. He had traveled north to Asahikawa back in June to escape the summer heat of Tokyo. That had been hard enough with the transportation routes still unreliable due to the earthquake and tsunami of the spring. And he had taken extra caution to avoid the Fukushima area. None of that radiation he'd heard about was going to get him. But the economy in Asahikawa was depressed, suffering the effects of the disaster, and pickings had been slimmer than usual. And then the police had nabbed him when in a moment of desperation and lack of caution he'd tried to steal a package of instant rice from a market. It had all conspired to leave him stranded in the north during the winter, something he was usually able to avoid during all of his years on the streets.
"Wouldn't mind seeing Tokyo at this time of year," Harada thought as he munched on the remains of a discarded entree. "Tokyo has always been lucky for me. Kind people live in Tokyo. Angels." And he thought back once again to the one particular angel he'd met fifteen or so years ago with the bluest eyes and the most wonderful, uplifting, charitable smile. Other people had treated him to a meal over the years, but she was the only one who had ever filled him with hope.
Some sense, probably honed from decades on the streets, told Harada that he was no longer alone in that alley behind the restaurant. Turning, he found a woman standing about fifteen feet from him. She was young, with long black hair the fell straight down her back and blew with the wintry gusts. Her skin was milky white and smooth as a snow drift. She was so pale that, save for penetrating emerald green eyes framed by deep black lashes, and lips so red that they seemed unearthly, it was almost like she was invisible. The woman wore a long, flowing dress and a simple shawl around her shoulders, held to her bosom by slender milky white hands.
Embarrassed and reluctant to be caught up in a confrontation, Harada turned and began to steal away.
"Don't go," the woman requested of him.
Harada didn't want to stop. An inner voice told him that nothing good would come of stopping, that the safest course was to put as much distance between him and this situation as he could. While there were angels in the world, there were devils, too. Devils that betrayed your trust, that took the greatest you had to offer and then abandoned you. Harada relied upon himself because he could trust himself. He only relied on other people when he had to, for money or protection. And he got burned over the years more often than he cared to remember.
But he stopped. And he turned back to this woman. She was closer now and she seemed even more unearthly than before. Harada didn't think it was possible for anyone to be as utterly beautiful as this woman was, but there she was. It couldn't be real. That had to be it. He had been overcome by the cold, or else the food he'd scavenged had been tainted in some way. He was lying in the alley, sick and delirious and dreaming of this inhumanly beautiful woman.
Then her hand reached out and caressed his stubbly cheek. Harada swallowed. It was so light, so soft. His skin tingled where she touched him. The woman eased up against him and he could feel her chest give against his. Her eyes, her lips were hypnotic. He had known women before, back when he was part of society. But this was like no woman he had ever felt, ever seen, ever experienced. Her lips parted ever so slightly, inviting him.
And it had been so long.
Her lips pressed to his and Harada felt a passion swell that he hadn't felt in - - ever. His focus became solely this woman. The feel of her against him, her arms folded around him, sent a spike to his pulse. There was a passion to her kiss that belied the serene manner she had previously exhibited. It was a ravenous kiss, a kiss of desire long denied and finally given expression. Her scent filled his nostrils, intoxicating him. Emboldened, Harada began to kiss back. Why she wanted him, he couldn't fathom. She was as close to perfection as he could ever imagine and he was a broken man wearing his years on the street like a coat he could never take off. But she wanted him, that much he could feel, and as her mouth lingered on his, the question became less and less important.
It was all so exciting, so wonderful. And then, in an instant, it was different. Harada could sense himself slipping away. Confusion caused his passions to crash. He didn't understand for a moment, and then he did. She was doing it. She was draining him, sucking the life out of him. He could feel himself fading, like he was washing down a drain. With the strength he had remaining, he tried to push her away. Instead she clung more tightly, locking her arms around his neck and upper shoulders. And all the while her lips pressed to his.
Panic ensued. Harada struggled to escape from this mystery woman, but she was locked onto him with a grip of iron. Convulsions took control of him. His senses swam. It all became too much to even focus on what he wanted to do, let alone do it. Who was he? What was he? Why was he here? Why was it so cold?
Was this the end?
Asahikawa had been a string of bad luck from the moment he'd gotten there. He should have heeded the warnings and gotten out sooner. But he didn't, and now he was going to die here.
Continued in Chapter 2