Theme: "Ashes and Wine" by A Fine Frenzy
Don't let him see
That would show you, that would make you hurt like me
When she kissed him, she knew that she had persuaded him. She could tell by the way he suddenly put his arms around her and whispered her name, over and over, like a prayer. She let him hold her and knew that she was not going to be alone any more; that finally, finally something in her life was starting to go right.
“Be mine, Rei-chan,” he whispered.
It felt so easy, felt so right to say ‘yes’.
He waited for her at the school gates and carried her bags. Her father did not do anything so crass as come between them. He simply withdrew. She never heard from him after they announced their engagement. Kaidou did not see him because he had stopped working at the office, having decided to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Her father became a ghost in their relationship, present but easy to ignore. She stopped reading the tarot cards and the fire. She already knew what the future held, and she was pleased.
Everything progressed smoothly, apart from a few months in her fourteenth year, when she thought she was being stalked by a black cat. The cat had a strange shape on its forehead but she could never get close enough to see what. Phobos and Deimos made sure that the cat kept away from the shrine grounds, anyway, and that was all that mattered.
When she was sixteen, a magazine started accepting Kaidou’s stories, which were praised for their marriage of “emotional truth” and “angry fantasy”, whatever that meant. They decided to get married after she graduated: Rei didn’t want to go to university, that cost money, and she needed to stay and look after the shrine. Kaidou frowned when she said this, but said that if she really wanted to do that, he would support her. Rei felt a small twinge in her stomach.
That night, for the first time in years, she took out the tarot cards and asked them what the future held. Her stomach rolled over as she looked at the spread and saw the Knight of Swords. It signified a trouble maker with a sharp tongue, the bringer of war, who left conflict in his wake; but also someone who cut through to the heart of the matter. Kaidou did not match any of those descriptions.
“It means nothing,” she whispered, and swept her hand over the cards, scattering and flipping them.
She did not dare ask the fire what was going to happen, a decision she regretted when she saw Kaidou walking up the steps that weekend with another man, a younger man. He was dressed in bike leathers and his blond hair was not smooth like Kaidou’s, but ruffled by the wind, a little longer than the fashion. Rei felt as if the world had slowed down. Her blood thickened and her mouth grew dry as they reached the top and came over. She looked up into hot blue eyes and felt the floor disappear.
“Rei-chan, this is my half-brother, Katsurou,” said Kaidou proudly. “He’s finally graduated. Katsu, this is my Rei-chan.”
They both bowed. Rei hoped he couldn’t hearing her heart pounding. Why was she acting like this? He was just Kaidou’s brother, she’d heard about him for years, he wasn’t anything special.
When he straightened, Katsurou raised both eyebrows. “So this is the famous Hino Rei-san,” he said, his voice light and dry. “The woman who made my brother give up everything.”
A spark shot down Rei’s spine. “I didn’t make him do anything!” she snapped. “It was his choice!”
And from then on, she fought with him every time they met, which was far more often than she wanted, because Kaidou wanted him to be his best man at the wedding. ‘Best man’, even the words were ridiculous, they were having a Shinto ceremony, he knew that! Yet he still stuck around, with that annoying half-smirk on his face. He watched her all the time and even when he wasn’t there, she felt his eyes, imprinted on her skin. They followed her in her dreams.
“Tell me how to make him go away,” she said to the cards as she shuffled the pack. “Tell me what he wants.”
A card slipped out of the pack and she picked it up quickly, turning it over. The Lovers. Rei felt her blood freeze and then burn. For a moment, she had seen herself and Katsurou in the card. “No,” she said softly, and then louder, “no, I won’t, I won’t!” She threw them down and ran outside and there he was, again.
“Woah, tiger,” he said softly, catching her by the shoulders. “Where are you running to?”
“Don’t touch me!” she spat, throwing his hands off. “I don’t want you near me, do you understand?”
“Yeah, you made that pretty clear,” he told her, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Don’t know what I’ve done to offend you-”
She almost laughed, except that it wasn’t funny, it wasn’t funny at all. How could he even say that? Wasn’t it obvious? “What you’ve done? How about everything? Your eyes, it’s the cards-”
“Cards?” His eyes widened with interest and amusement. “You do tarot? My brother wouldn’t like that... he’s pretty narrow-minded for a writer in that way, I think. So what did they tell you?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Rei turned from him, shoulders sharp and hard in her uniform. “I’m going to marry him no matter what. I made a promise. I always keep my promises.” She clenched her hands into fists.
“Yes,” he said quietly, “I know you do.”
Startled, she looked at him, and it felt as if the world had slowed down again, as if there was nothing else but him. The wind blew across the hill and danced strands of her hair around them. He reached up and touched one.
“How do you take care of it...?” he said. “It always looks like silk.”
She took a step towards him, and another. She wasn’t sure where she was or who she was, just of the man in front of her. She knew him. It didn’t matter what his name was, she knew him; that was all that mattered.
His hands came up and touched her shoulders. She closed her eyes, pliant, liquid inside.
“You made a promise,” he whispered.
She opened her eyes again, looked at him. Her heart cried out: a terrible, final shriek. “Yes,” she agreed, “I did.”
She stepped back and his hands dropped away. No more chances.
“I’ll see you at the wedding,” he said, turned and went down the steps. She watched him recede, the echoes of the scream dying away inside her mind.
Shut it out
I've got no claim on you now
Not allowed to wear your freedom down
Sometimes when Kaidou met her after school, he would have his half-brother with him, Katsurou. Katsurou was a year older than her and very proud of the fact. Rei thought he was a brat and told him so. He thought she was a snob and was equally honest. Kaidou told them that fighting so much meant they cared about each other deeply. They both pretended to retch.
Still, Rei grew used to having him around. It was like having another brother, only more annoying. Yet, in some ways, she liked Katsurou better than Kaidou. He had more energy and more curiosity. He researched as much as he could about Hiroshima and Nagasaki for his history project, and got a good mark for it, too. Rei couldn’t help but admire his boldness though she would rather have walked into the sacred fire than admit it. He often turned up at the shrine on Sundays and in the holidays, bugging her grandfather for work. They barely paid him but he didn’t seem to mind. And it was a way for her to find out what Kaidou was doing.
“I think nii-san has a girlfriend,” Katsurou said to her one day as he swept the yard and she made charms.
Rei felt her heart freeze for a moment. “How do you know?”
“I looked in his wallet and found her picture.” Katsurou smirked at her. “So there!”
She felt like stabbing her paintbrush through his eye. “It’s probably nothing.”
“I’ll ask him next time I see him.” Katsurou clasped the broom to his chest and pretended to waltz with it. “ ‘Oh Katsu, she’s wonderful, she’s marvellous!’ Hey, how come you don’t call me Katsu?” he suddenly asked.
She was used to the abrupt changes of subject, but the previous topic had upset her more than she wanted to admit. “What?”
“We’ve known each other for years and you’re still calling me ‘Katsurou-san’. You can call me ‘Katsu’, you know. Everybody else does.”
Rei wrinkled her nose. “I’m not everybody,” she informed him loftily.
“Well, I know that,” he retorted. “Just thought you might like to be part of the crowd for once.”
“Katsurou is your real name and I won’t shorten it just because you want me to fit in with other people!” she said, standing up.
“I bet you’d call nii-san ‘Kai-kun’ if he asked,” Katsurou said slyly.
“No, I wouldn’t,” she snapped. “And you missed a bit, right there!” She pointed, as imperious as a princess, and walked inside, trembling. It couldn’t be true. Kaidou wouldn’t have a girlfriend. He was hers! He’d said that he felt the same way as her, thought the same things. She clung to these words as fiercely as she’d once clung to her mother’s hand.
She should have known better. Clinging to something never did any good. The next time she saw him, he was walking with a girl. She had blonde hair and a pretty smile and he was looking at her as if she were something precious. He had never looked like that at her. Her heart cracked right down the centre, and she turned and ran all the way home.
Katsurou was waiting there, of course. He stared at her as she came over the brow of the hill.
“Rei-san, what happened?”
“You were right,” she said, brushing past him. “He has a girlfriend. Happy?”
His hand closed over her arm, stronger than she expected, pulling her back to face him. “You saw them?”
One look at his face told her everything. “You knew!” She fought to free herself. “You knew about them and you didn’t say anything-!”
“Because I knew how you’d react!” he shouted, startling her. “I knew you’d be hurt, I... I know how you feel about him.” His hand dropped but he did not let go of her. “I know you love him.”
Rei stuttered with shock, feeling her cheeks burn red. “I... I don’t...”
“Of course you do,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you? He’s the only guy who ever paid you any attention and you don’t want to lose that.” He looked up and his eyes were so blue, so intense that she couldn’t look away. “But he doesn’t feel the same way, Rei-san.”
“Let me go,” she muttered, pulling at him, trying to prise his fingers off. “Let me go right now.”
“No, not until you hear me!” He pulled her even closer, his grip bruising her now, but he didn’t care. Katsurou had always been a little rough, never holding back just because she was a girl. Even now, he showed no mercy. “He thinks of you as a little sister, he’s always thought of you as a little sister.”
He shook her in frustration. “He doesn’t have any idea of how you feel about him, he’s never seen you as anything but a little girl! He’s never looked at you. But I have.”
She stopped struggling and stared at him. “What?”
He glared at her. “You never noticed, did you? You were always looking at him... while I was looking at you.”
Her eyes widened – his head was coming closer – no, she didn’t want this – but he didn’t care. The kiss was awkward, lips pushed together, but that didn’t diminish the passion, or the sudden leap of desire in her stomach, new and unexpected. She made a small noise and he turned his head slightly, so their lips matched, letting go of her arm and sliding his hands into her hair. Oh yes, this was more like it, she thought, as her body softened and she grabbed his shoulders to keep him there. This was what she wanted, Katsurou finally at her mercy...
The harsh scream made them both jump back. Phobos and Deimos had landed on the torii gate and were watching them. Rei could almost feel them glaring at her. She looked away and took a deep breath.
“I don’t want a boyfriend,” she said, breathless.
“Right, that’s why you just kissed me back!” he retorted.
“If Kaidou-san isn’t interested, then I’m not interested,” she repeated, stepping back. “We fight all the time, it wouldn’t work.”
“What, you haven’t heard of unresolved sexual tension?” he mocked.
“Sexual?” She tried to laugh. “There is nothing... sexual between us!”
“Oh yeah?” He looked at her with dark eyes and she felt that movement in her stomach again. No, it wasn’t in her stomach, it was lower down, in the pit of her belly. A contraction, an ache that grew stronger when she looked at him.
“I don’t want a boyfriend, and I don’t want to get married,” she added, stepping back. “Men only let you down. Even Kaidou-san...” She shrugged, pretending carelessness. “Well, it’s better I learn the lesson early.”
Katsurou made a noise of disgust. “You always were stubborn.” He turned away. “Let me know if you change your mind and actually want to take a risk.”
“Where are you going?” she demanded, shocked.
“I’m not going to work here and look here and drive myself crazy with forbidden fruit,” he replied, walking towards the steps. “If you want to talk, you know where I am.”
Rei pressed her lips together, frustrated, furious and not knowing why. How dare he walk away from her? It just showed that he didn’t care, that the kiss meant nothing to him. Well, she didn’t need him and she certainly didn’t need Kaidou. She could cope without both of them.
Kaidou sent her an invitation to his marriage but she declined. Their relationship remained cordial, but she didn’t see Katsurou again until high school graduation, when he turned up at the school gates, unannounced, his shoulders and hair dusted with sakura petals. Rei felt her heart stop when she saw him. He was taller, broader in the shoulders, and she felt her belly contract again, a sweet ache in her stomach.
“It’s been a long time,” she said when she reached him.
He nodded, watching her face. “I heard you weren’t going to college.”
“Grandfather needs me at the shrine,” she said. “Now I’m out of school, otou-sama won’t be sending money any more. We can’t afford the fees.”
“So that’s it? You’re going to live at the shrine for the rest of your life?”
The disbelief in his voice stung her. “I’m going to become a priestess!”
“And live alone?”
“I don’t need anyone,” she replied with a shrug. “I like my freedom.”
He stared at her, lips pressed together tight, forehead wrinkled in a slight frown. A shiver travelled down her spine and she found it hard to meet his gaze. Words crowded behind her lips, stupid and senseless. Kiss me. Run away with me. Stay with me.
Finally, after a long silence, he nodded, and before she could stop him, he bent down and kissed her again. But this was an older Katsurou and the kiss was older too, slow and sure, awakening a fire that raced through her blood and made her gasp. He pulled back and nodded with a satisfaction that deserved a slap, except she couldn’t seem to make her arms move because her muscles had turned to liquid.
“You know where I am,” he said.
“Don’t come near me again,” she whispered.
“Oh, I won’t. You only get one chance, Rei-san. But I’ll be waiting for your call... no matter how long it takes.” He smiled, turned and walked down the street. She watched him to the corner, heart beating fast, eyes hot with frustration, then hurried home.
She never saw him again.
Is there a chance?
A fragment of light at the end of the tunnel?
A reason to fight?
Is there a chance you may change your mind?
She had hoped it would never happen. That they would have to stand here, again, and be introduced to them. She didn't need an introduction: she already knew who they were. Traitors. Filth. She didn't need to know their names to know them.
"We're going to assign you each a partner," Serenity explained. "That way the shitennou can see how the palace works and you can build trust."
Her words echoed in the room. Mars wanted to laugh and scream at the same time. Know how the palace works? Could there be anything more dangerous? She opened her mouth, but Venus jumped in, anticipating her. "May I assign the partners?"
Endymion cleared his throat. "Of course, we're not forcing any of you to do this..."
"Oh really?" Mars said sarcastically. "Because that's exactly what it seems like to me!"
She felt Mercury tense beside her. Jupiter folded her arms and shook her head, equally displeased. Venus rolled her eyes.
"I'll take her."
They all looked in surprise at the men sitting across from them. It was the curly-haired one... what was his name? Jadeite. He was smiling slightly, his blue eyes sharp and interested. He pointed. "I'll take her," he said, a declaration of intent, looking at Mars as if she were an interesting experiment. She reddened and glared back at him, which only seemed to please him more.
Venus blinked and then smiled slowly, a plotting smile. Mars felt a chill of forboding and began to say something but Venus had already said "Done!" and leaned over to shake the man's hand in the Western fashion.
"Excellent," said Serenity, clapping her hands and looking suspiciously satisfied. "Why don't you start now?"
Mars stared at her and then at Venus, who nodded. "I think that's a great idea," she said, and beamed at Mars. "Don't you?"
Mars thought it best not to respond or she would have said something inappropriate. She pushed herself back from the table, stood up, bowed to her king and queen, and marched out without even looking at Jadeite. But he managed to follow her anyway, which was even more irritating. And was he humming?
She stopped and turned. Why did the man have to be so tall? It was difficult to be intimidating when your head only came up to his collarbone. She looked up and narrowed her eyes. “Let’s get one thing clear.”
She could hear the smile in his voice, though it wasn't on his face, and hated him for it. “I don’t want to work with you. I am only doing this because they asked me and if it was up to me-”
“I know, you’d barbecue me again and happily scatter my ashes in a grave, then bury the ashes.” He sounded almost bored. “Now we’ve got that out of the way, can we get on with the tour?”
His tone made her wish that she could indeed burn him to death and wipe that smirk off his face. “Jadeite-”
“Katsurou,” he corrected. “My name is Subeta Katsurou. Most people call me ‘Katsu’,” he added lightly. “But I’m guessing you won’t be one of them, right?”
She pressed her lips together, praying for patience. He nodded, as if she’d actually spoken. “That’s okay. I can be patient, Hino-san. I can wait for weeks... or months... or years. However long it takes,” he added.
Mars swallowed. She’d prepared herself for anything, anything but a vow of devotion and patience. She knew that was what he’d made, she was no fool. And she couldn’t understand it. She’d shown him nothing but hostility and he was telling her he’d wait for her?
“Baka,” she said, but her voice was softer.
“Only for you,” he promised, equally soft. “Shall we go?”
She nodded and they carried on walking, together now, down the corridor. Neither pointed out that they were in step, but both noted it. It was good to be in step again, Rei thought, though she would never admit it. At least... not yet.
Title: the looking glass world vol. 4
Parts One, Two, Three are here
I thought when we left the apartment building, I'd be able to orientate myself a little bit better, but no such luck. As soon as we stepped onto the pavement, I had a massive coughing fit. So twentieth century Tokyo was one of the cleanest cities on the planet, but our standard of clean was way above theirs. I could smell the tarmac, the horrible taste of petrol tarred my throat. Everything was concrete and glass.
I couldn't feel the earth.
I couldn't feel the earth at all.
There was a burning in my chest. My throat tightened. I couldn't breathe. I sank to my knees on the unforgiving stone and fought for breath. I needed the earth. I needed plants: trees, bushes, nature, they were my lifeline, kept me going. But there was nothing here. I could feel nothing, except my body fighting to survive this place.
"Haruna-san! Haruna-san, what's wrong?!" Yori's hands tugged at my arms, my shoulders, his helpless face hovered over me. "Tell me what to do!"
"Park," I croaked. "Trees... nature..."
I felt his arms come round me and picked me up. I was being held, being carried by a man, by Yori-san, and I couldn't appreciate it. He was so close but I felt like I was dying, I couldn't appreciate it in any way. Even when I look back now, I can only remember images: the slant of his chin, the gold tint of his skin, how thick his eyelashes looked from below. It's so frustrating. I don't know how long he carried me but I knew the moment we entered the park because my chest suddenly opened and I could breathe again.
He was so panicked that he barely noticed until he found a tree and propped me against it. He was sweating and pale. I stared at him, reached out and touched his face. I hadn't realised I'd freaked him out so much, although I had almost died, so I shouldn't have been surprised.
"Are you... all right?" he panted, sitting down and wiping his forehead.
I nodded. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," I whispered. "But the Tokyo I come from... there's so much more bare earth. It's not covered over like it is here. My power... is linked to that."
He nodded and let out a sigh. "At least you're all right now. But I don't think we'll make it to Juuban Junior High for a while if that's how you react to the city."
I folded my arms, too worn out from near death to be much upset. "Okay..."
"Um, excuse me," said a soft voice that almost made me jump out of my skin, it was so familiar, "are you all right? Can I help you?"
I turned my head. A girl, shorter than me, a cute round face, big blue eyes and long, long blonde hair in that distinctive style which only the royal family wore, oh thank GOD -
I smiled at her. "Yes," I said, "I think you can."
Title: the looking glass world vol. 5
Version: AU (based on manga)
She knelt down in front of me, her eyes wide with concern. I took her hand and she squeezed it, completely unfazed by my lack of formality. I looked at Yori, who was staring at her suspiciously. Now all I needed to do was get him to go away.
"Could you please get me some water, Yori-san?" I asked, making my voice even fainter and croakier than it was, which wasn't difficult. "I think that would help."
He nodded slowly, while the Queen reached out and put her hand against my forehead. "You poor thing, was it an allergic reaction?" she asked softly, while Luna poked her head out of her satchel and waited until Yori-san's back was turned before emerging.
"You might call it that," I said, sitting up and brushing myself down. "Listen, I don't have a lot of time, so please don't freak out. I know who you are, Tsukino Usagi-san."
She started back, looking scared. "How do you know my name?"
"Please don't freak out on me, I'm not an enemy, I swear. Look." I touched a daisy with the tip of my finger and she put her hands over her mouth as it grew taller and larger, spreading its petals towards the sun. "Would an enemy do that?"
"Who are you?" Luna demanded, obviously deciding that things had gone too far to keep up her 'dumb cat' act. She pushed her face towards me, which was still intimidating, even in another world and time. I shrank back, my voice small.
Usagi gasped. For a moment I thought she was going to scream. Instead, she did something worse, which was throw her arms around me and almost choke me with a hug. "I knew it! I knew that there must be good senshi in the world! Oh, this is so wonderful, isn't it, Luna? I've finally got someone to help, we can work together, this is amazing-!"
I wheezed and gasped. Apparently Small Lady had inherited her death grip from her mother. I really appreciated the gesture but it wasn't doing me much good at the moment. "Usagi... san," I croaked. "Can't... breathe."
"Whoops!" She pulled back, still beaming that unforgettable smile which reminded me so much of my princess. "Sorry, I'm just so happy to see you! The others..." She looked down.
"I know," I said, rubbing my throat. "They're evil. The shitennou and Tuxedo Kamen told me that." Just saying the word 'evil' depressed me.
"Tuxedo Kamen?!" The next thing I knew, she'd grabbed me by the shoulders and shoved me against the tree trunk, her eyes boring into my face. "You saw him without the mask?"
I gaped at her, unable to say anything.
"Did you see him without the mask?" she begged. "Do you know who he is, do you know his name?"
Oh my God, when Venus had said they were crazy about each other, I hadn't realised she meant literally crazy. Fortunately, Luna hissed at that moment because she saw that Yori was coming back, so Usagi let go of me, although her eyes told me that she wasn't about to let this go. And that was fine, I wasn't about to let go of her, either. I needed her, she was the only person who could save the senshi and maybe get me back to my world.
"I'll tell you everything," I whispered, "but later."
She nodded solemnly and then smiled sweetly at Yori as he arrived. I could only slump against the trunk and wonder if I was doing the right thing.