This is a side story in my American Dream series. It covers more than a decade, and contains some spoilers if you haven't read American Dream and Under Black Wings.
Sarah was seven months old before she suffered her first cold, coming with her first teeth. Usagi was so worried about her that she took her to an emergency room one night. Her father Kenji came with her, but Ikuko stayed home with Shingo, who was suffering through the same cold.
It was some distance away--there was a strike by hospital workers that had closed down the closest ER, which was in a private hospital. So, they went to Highland Hospital in Oakland. Usagi would become very familiar indeed with this place in later years, but this was the first time she had come to this place since her daughter was born, and the first time she saw the Emergency Room. It was not a pleasant place.
They had to wait a long time to be seen. There had been an accident, and a shooting, and there were several street people who could have just about anything wrong with them, but who were probably just there to get out of the cold for awhile.
While Usagi and her father Kenji waited for a doctor with enough authority to either admit Sarah or send her home with medicine, policeman and ambulance people brought in a young woman on a gurney. Her face was badly hurt; one of her eyes was hidden by swelling. Her arm was in one of the inflatable splints Usagi had been taught how to use in a First Aid course she had taken in Japan. The policemen were asking her questions, but all she said was, "I don’t know" and "I don’t remember."
They stopped the gurney a little ways from where Usagi was waiting, and the girl was left alone for a moment while the policeman, the attendants, and someone from the hospital went off and argued. The bloodied girl started to get up. This was such a bad idea that even Usagi was compelled to get up, take a few steps to the girl, and say to her, "Lie down. You need help." Usagi realized she was using her command power only after she had done it. The girl gave her a questioning look, but lay back down. Then, before her father caught up with her, Usagi asked the girl, "Who beat you?"
The girl did not speak, but Usagi heard the words she was forming in her mind, and glimpsed images of the beating as the girl remembered, and a bit more.
That was all that passed between them, because the policemen and the ambulance people came back, and Usagi’s father gently pulled her away, saying in Japanese, "This is not our affair, Usako."
"Perhaps not, otousan." But Usagi did not forget about the girl . . .
It was bittersweet for Makoto, because Motoki had taken some of the comfort she had offered Motoki while Reika had been away. She said nothing of it, of course; Mako never offered her love with strings attached.
Motoki and Reika also brought a fresh ache to Usagi’s heart, because they reminded her what she had given up with Mamoru. There was also the extra awkwardness of not being able to tell them the real reason she could not marry her dearest love. Still, it was good that two of her old friends from Japan had found happiness with each other. And, in that spirit, she and Mako took Motoki and Reika out to see the sights on their side of the Bay. Ikuko persuaded Usagi to leave Sarah with her at home. It was the very first time Usagi went anywhere without her child.
As the afternoon waned and the "evening" commute traffic started to appear, they got onto "surface streets" to avoid a tie-up on the freeway. Usagi kept looking at her watch. She had made so many calls home on her cellphone, the batteries were run down. Makoto, who was driving, gamely pointed out the landmarks on the long street they were on. Traffic was dense; they were seldom making it past more than one light before having to stop again.
Reika whispered something to Motoki, and Usagi couldn’t help but to use her power to hear the thoughts she was expressing. She answered Reika’s question. "Yes, that woman is probably a prostitute." Usagi pointed to the woman talking through the windows of a car a little bit ahead of her.
"You have good hearing, Usagi," Reika remarked, miffed.
"I am sorry . . . It is too good for my own good sometimes." Usagi felt her face burning; she knew she must be blushing with shame.
"She is not very pretty," said Motoki. "But she is young. Much too young."
"They do not stay young long," said Mako. "I have talked with a few who have gone to the shelter where Minako sometimes works."
"Yes," added Usagi. "Most of them work for men who take most of their money. They are beaten--"
"Tsukino-san?" asked Motoki. "What are you doing?"
Usagi got out of the car and walked up to the woman--really a girl. She was the same girl Usagi had seen so badly beaten in the Emergency room. Usagi was sure of that, because the girl’s voice, and the voice in her mind, was the same.
The girl noticed her, and straightened up. "Hey, this is my business."
Usagi ignored her for the moment. She jogged up to the car the girl had been talking into, stuck her head down, and (for once) deliberately fracturing her English, said, "Mr. Poriceman, am rost. Can you terr me how find Sorono Avenue? I need to get home to my baby."
"Policeman? I’m not a cop."
"You get fired? I remember see you . . ." Usagi probed into his mind and found a memory she could use. " . . . at big accident down by Corisseum."
"Oh . . . Christ!" The girl was backing off. The policeman was about to say something mean.
Usagi cut him off by saying, "Maybe you get fired for picking up prostitute arr the time?"
Cars behind were beginning to honk their horns. The vice cop drove away without really saying anything more, although Usagi heard some American curses that were novel to her.
Turning back to the girl, Usagi found she had backed off a little, but had stopped. "Uh . . . Thanks," the girl said uncertainly. "Do I know you from somewhere?"
"Hospital. When you were beat up. I brought my baby in."
The girl squinted, and then took out some glasses from her fanny pack. "Yeah. I remember you . . . I do."
There was a lot of honking and cursing now, and Usagi realized that some of the voices shouting at her were Makoto and Motoki and Reika--Usagi had never heard Reika shout before.
"I really must get home to my baby. Come with us? I think more policemen will come soon."
"Thanks . . . but I’ll take care of myself." The girl turned and swiftly walked away, slipping into the gap between two buildings a little further down the block.
Reika had good hearing, or perhaps a touch of Usagi’s power, because a few moments after they left the scene of the encounter with the young prostitute, she said, "Did you mean it when you asked her to come with us?"
"That was foolish. How much do you know about that girl? She looks like a drug addict to me."
"She is," said Usagi. "And she would probably steal to buy drugs. But she has a good heart."
"How do you know that?"
"I just know, Reika. Aren’t there things that you just know?"
"What?" asked Motoki.
"Oh, nothing, said Usagi, using a touch of her command power. It seemed to work, because Reika did not realize they had spoken in the Old Language, the one Reika had spoken as a Shadow Warrior and Usagi had spoken as an Imperial Princess in their former lives. Usagi wondered if Reika would ever awaken her powers again. Later, Usagi prayed that Reika would live out her life normally, and that she would never again have to pay the price that came with her powers. And she also prayed for the young prostitute, though she did not think she would ever see the girl again.
Even though she sometimes dressed quite daringly, Rei was really the most physically modest of her friends, so Usagi waited outside during the most intimate parts of her appointment. Sarah began picking at Usagi’s shirt. Knowing what this meant, Usagi made a shawl of her jacket to cover herself, and began to nurse her child. Some people stared at her as she did this, but none of them could meet Usagi’s eyes for long--until Usagi saw a too-thin young woman. It took a moment, but she realized the woman was the young prostitute she had encountered twice before. The girl did not look well at all.
At a loss for what to say, Usagi simply extended a hand for a moment, and motioned for the girl to approach.
Sarah sensed someone was approaching and pushed the jacket down so she could see. Usagi’s breast was revealed for an instant, but this she did not allow this to bother her. She kept her eyes on the girl as she drew close.
"Hi," said the girl as she drew up.
"Hello. Here, sit down."
"Sit down, please," insisted Usagi, as she cleared her things from the chair next to her."
The girl took the seat. Sarah--or Chibi-Usa, for it was now very apparent that she was going to look exactly like the girl from the future Usagi had learned to love so well--buried herself in Usagi’s chest, then peered out from there at the stranger.
"Hello, little girl. Can you say ‘hello?’"
Chibi-Usa retreated between Usagi’s bosoms again.
"She is shy around strangers now," explained Usagi, shifting herself to partially face the girl.
"Does she talk?"
"Some, but she mixes English and Japanese together. But she is shy now. I am sure she will grow out of it." Very sure, of that. Chibi-Usa peeked out at the stranger again.
"She’s very pretty."
"Very pretty . . . beautiful. You are going to break a lot of hearts, little girl."
Chibi-Usa began to straighten up. "I think she is beginning to like you . . . would you like to hold her?"
"I’d better not," answered the girl, actually sliding a little further away in her chair. "I . . . I have AIDS."
The girl made a smile, somehow. "I can handle it. Not like I have such a great life to live . . . so, are you here with your husband?"
"I am not married. Sarah is a love-child."
"Really? I wouldn’t have guessed. You seem so . . . well, you don’t seem like you would do something like that. Were you raped or something?"
"No. Jimi-chan was a very good person. But he died. He did not know Chi--he did not know Sarah was coming." Usagi ran her fingers through her daughter’s strawberry-blonde hair, hanging loose today. "She has his hair, and his mother’s eyes."
"Jimi-chan? Jimmy? I have a Jimmy."
"He was the one who beat you so badly, wasn’t he?"
"Yes . . . maybe the one who gave me AIDS, but I can’t be sure. How did you guess?"
"I have a gift for that kind of thing, sometimes . . . I think you should get away from your Jimmy."
"I guess I should." The girl shook her head. "He’s in prison now, so I guess I don’t have to worry."
Usagi knew from her thoughts that the girl was still involved with the worthless man, but she did not say more about it. "Do you have any children?"
"I had a little girl . . . "
"Did the police take her away from you?"
"No . . . No, she lives with my sister. She’s almost five now."
"You miss her."
"Yes . . . " The girl wiped the corners of her eyes. "But she’s better off not knowing me. She thinks Diane is her mom."
"She will want to know someday . . ." said Usagi, thinking of the day she would have to explain Jimmy to Chibi-Usa. Instead of saying more about the hard things in their lives, she handed Chibi-Usa over to the girl, and let her hold her until it was time to take Rei-chan home.
"Uh, I don’t know what you said," answered a voice that was not Makoto’s.
Usagi turned her head as far as she could, and saw a stranger come into view. Instinctively, she reached out to read the thoughts of the stranger--and found she wasn’t quite a stranger. "Oh . . . it is you . . . I never knew your name."
"Brenda," said the woman. She was the prostitute Usagi had last seen at Stanford Hospital, when Rei-chan had been pregnant with Deja.
"You look better. Did it turn out that you did not have AIDS after all?"
"No. But the drugs are holding it off, for now . . . I saw your picture on TV, and I looked for you. Who would want to shoot you?"
"I don’t know . . . I don’t know who did it." That was technically true.
"They haven’t told me anything. Are you . . . going to be all right?"
"I will live. But I will be paralyzed. I cannot feel anything below . . . It may get a little better . . . Thank you for remembering me, Brenda."
They did not speak any more about the bad things. Brenda kept Usagi company as they watched TV together and talked about more pleasant things. Brenda saw her daughter often now; her name was Ashley. Usagi told her about her second daughter Kimberly--"We usually call her ‘Kimi-chan’" and Usagi explained a little about the suffixes one used in Japanese. They spoke of other, pleasant, inconsequential things, until the late news had started. Usagi found that Brenda was riveted by a story . . .
In front of a graphic that showed dark silhouettes of flying things that could be angels or demons, the anchor was saying, "Another victim of the latest so-called ‘angel’ incident was pronounced dead at 7:18 tonight. The identity of the young man is being withheld until family members can be notified. The only remaining survivor is now 18-year-old Kevin Lavar Jones, who is listed in guarded condition . . . "
"Do you believe in the angel girl stories?" Usagi asked, hoping to distract Brenda.
"I think some of them are true. I saw them once."
"You saw angel girls?"
"Yeah, really." Brenda turned away from the TV directly toward Usagi. "I saw them flying once."
"You are sure?"
"Yes. I was hooking, but I wasn’t on anything."
"I believe you . . . what did you see?"
"I saw enough . . . No fireballs or anything, but I saw two of them. I guess they were just looking around."
"I guess . . ."
"I saw them pretty well . . . one of them had white wings, and one of them had black wings."
"Black wings, you say . . . "
Makoto came back a few minutes later, and Brenda left. She was gone before Usagi thought that she hadn’t gotten her full name.
Brenda turned, and saw a pair of dark-haired, blue-eyed girls--very Asian, except for the color of their eyes, and very pretty. Behind, there were three more people: a girl, who looked a little younger than Ashley, also Asian but with light brown eyes and strawberry-blond hair, and two blondes, with blue eyes--but Asian, too. She recognized one.
"You . . . It’s you. I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name, but . . . "
The cop who was minding her stepped up, and asked the newcomers to leave. "I’m sorry, you are not on--"
"Your list?" asked the blond woman in the wheelchair. "I’m sure we are. Why don’t you go check?"
The police officer left the room, without a glance back.
"Well . . . You still have the voice of authority, I guess."
"Yes, I still have that," answered Usagi.
"You’d better leave soon. She’ll be back."
"No, she won’t," said the girl with the strawberry blond hair. "She will go to a restroom and fall asleep in a stall. She will not remember us."
"No, she won’t," replied the woman in the wheelchair with a tone of absolute certainty.
Brenda squinted, and then put on her glasses. "Oh, my. You have grown so much!"
"She is older than she should be," said Usagi, "and so am I."
Now that Brenda could see the faces clearly, she saw there was deep concern on all of them, even the small girls. But that was appropriate. "I guess you heard it on the news," she said, turning away, and extending her hand to cover Ashley’ unfeeling brow again.
"She is not in pain," said one of the little girls.
"No," said Brenda. "Ashley won’t wake up. They wouldn’t let me come in time . . . " Brenda lowered her head, and squeezed her eyes shut, and could say nothing.
After what seemed a very long time, and some low conversation in a language she did not understand, Brenda heard the door close, and lock. She looked up, and said, "You shouldn’t do that . . . who are you, anyway? I remember you must be ‘Sarah,’ right?"
"I am Sarah . . . I don’t remember you, I was too little."
"And my name is Usagi," said the woman in the wheelchair, "And this is Minako."
"Where are the little ones?"The dark-haired girls were gone.
"Outside, watching out for people who might try to come in."
"I’ve never met you," Brenda said to Minako. "Are you sisters?"
"No . . . not in these lifetimes," said the one who looked more like the woman in the wheelchair than Brenda had ever looked like her sister Diane. She smiled, for just a moment, as she added, "But you have seen me before, Usagi has told me."
"Really . . . Thank you for coming. You are going to get in trouble, but . . . thank you."
"We have been in trouble before," said the not-sister. And then she became an angel.
Brenda gasped. "Have you come to take Ashley?"
"She is not the Angel of Death, Brenda," said the woman in the wheelchair. And then she floated up from it, growing great black wings. "I am called the Angel of Death." And she looked the part, with jewel-eyed skulls in her hair, hanging from her ears, and at her throat.
"Please . . . take me, instead."
"Okasan--" blurted the girl somehow become Ashley’s age; who had somehow now become a smaller version of the beautiful Destroyer.
"We cannot save your daughter. But we can help you save her." A jewel emerged from the black-winged, black-clad vision, glowing, floating between her palms. "This is the ginzuishou. It can do anything, if you are truly willing to pay the price."
"If you want to save your daughter, you must be willing to give your life." She said something to the others, and they put hands on her outstretched arms.
The jewel floated toward Brenda, a thing of perfect, terrible beauty. Within it its everchanging facets, she saw Ashley being lowered into a grave . . . and graduating, and holding a baby . . . Brenda reached out, with both hands, and joined those of the Angel of Death . . .
There was a squeaking, and a lady in a wheelchair came in. She dimmed the lights, and used a remote to switch on the projector and focus it. Then she wrote on a pad in her lap, and her writing was reproduced on the screen:
Chiba Usagi . . .