Title: The Girl With the Red Shoes
Fandom: Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon | Pretty Soldier Sailormoon (manga)
Rating: U
Summary: On a well-travelled street in the middle of Azabu Juuban, there is a statue of a young girl wearing a pair of red shoes.
Notes: Written for [archiveofourown.org profile] inklesspen for Rarewomen 2013. (Also on AO3.) This story operates on the manga canon timeline, in which Setsuna is a physics student at K.O. University during the Infinity arc (Sailormoon S), having been reincarnated following her death as Sailor Pluto at the end of the Black Moon arc (Sailormoon R). Reika is introduced as a fellow science student at the university -- and as Motoki's girlfriend -- around the same time. Additional notes are at the end.


The Girl With the Red Shoes

On a well-travelled street in the middle of Azabu Juuban, there is a statue of a young girl wearing a pair of red shoes.

It's an oddly shaped statute. The girl's Western-style dress looks more like a bell than an article of clothing, a peculiar design that leaves her hands and forearms only barely visible against the smooth curve of the stone. Her face is more realistic-looking, with a calm but distant expression and two stubbly pigtails pulled back sharply from her cheeks. A small box with an open slit sits next to her feet, ready to accept coins from passers-by.

There are any number of more famous statues in the city, from the mounted samurai who stands guard over the Imperial Palace to Shibuya's beloved, faithful Hachiko. In comparison, the little girl is often unnoticed, seldom a part of anyone's sightseeing tour. The occasional tourist will take a picture of her and quickly move on; locals mostly ignore her, except when she serves as a possible meeting point for couples or groups of friends planning an evening out.

Of the millions of people who live in Tokyo, perhaps only one of them regularly spares more than a second thought for the statue of the young girl with the red shoes.

***

The life of a university student gave Setsuna more free time than she had ever expected. There were lectures and lab work, days where she seldom ventured much further from the university offices than the nearest vending machine, but more often than not she could take advantage of the finer days to be anywhere but indoors. There was also the excuse of her duty -- to investigate the growing threat to the Princess and the Earth, she cannot spend all of her time within the confines of the physics department -- and yet her duty had given her a new appreciation for the moments she could spare to wander the city, untethered by anything but a student's timetable.

The shopping district was pleasant enough on a warm early afternoon. The shops and cafés had quieted down after the lunch hour, the office workers were back at their desks, and most of the mothers had taken their younger children home for naps before their elder siblings returned from school. It was one of the few times of day when Tokyo did not feel quite so...crowded, in Setsuna's mind. The morning rush, the lunchtime rush, the after-school rush, the evening rush, the rush for the last train -- people were always rushing in this city, this world, this lifetime. They were always in a hurry, pressing up against each other in their haste to leave one place and already thinking of the next place they must be, always conscious of the time.

There was only one person in the place who did not seem to care so much about the time. And Setsuna, for reasons that she had never tried to name, was drawn to her once again.

Even before she had reawakened to her power, and understood the true nature of her connection to Time, her steps had often slowed as she walked down the street where the little statue stood. After the first few times had seen her fumbling through her purse for change, she had learned to always have a coin or two ready -- a hundred-yen coin at the very least -- for the collection box at the base. The sign on the box said that all the donations would go to a children's charity, and she liked to think that even her small offering could put food in a hungry belly or treat a bad fever or provide some other kind of comfort for a needy child. Possibly even for a little girl with stubbly pigtails just like the statue's. Another little girl, standing alone, looking out across a sea of ever-changing faces --

'Meiou-san?' The voice that cut into her thoughts was cheerful but uncertain. 'Meiou Setsuna-san?'

Setsuna turned, fingers briefly tightening around the coins in her hand, but she forced herself to relax her sharp expression at the sight of the young woman who was smiling at her with hopeful politeness. Long hair, a kind and intelligent face, young and happy and pleased with life. The girl that Setsuna might have been, in a world more ordinary than this one.

'Good afternoon, Nishimura Reika-san,' she said, effortlessly plucking the name from her memory. 'From the mineralogy department, I believe?' It had been nice to meet another woman in the sciences, especially one around her age. There was no reason why they should not be better friends...except that the whole concept of making friends felt strangely alien to her now. Like something that she had known how to do once, but had forgotten for lack of practice.

'Yes, that's right.' Nishimura-san looked relieved to have been recognised, and her relief took the form of enthusiastic conversation. 'I thought it was you, from behind, but I couldn't be sure, because everyone looks so different when they're not wearing a labcoat, don't they?' She waved a hand down the street, back in the direction of the main shopping area. 'I was having lunch with my boyfriend -- you remember him, the boy who stopped by to see me the other day? -- and I'm just on my way back to campus now. Are you heading there as well?'

Setsuna had to wait for a moment until she was certain that Nishimura-san had finished speaking. 'I will be, yes,' she said. 'I thought that I would take a walk before my afternoon lecture, on a fine day like this.'

'I hear you,' Nishimura-san said, nodding. 'It's not exactly the kind of day that I'd want to be spending inside with my rocks, either.' She paused, suddenly self-conscious, as she caught sight of Setsuna's open purse and the coins in her hand. 'Oh, but don't let me interrupt you! Come to think of it, I should give something, too. I never remember it when I'm just passing by, but I think I have some change from earlier....' Almost embarrassed into action, she took out her own purse and started to rummage inside it, mumbling to herself as she looked for a suitable amount to give.

Setsuna turned back to the statue, and bent to drop her coins in the box. There might have been a faint clink as her hundred-yen pieces joined the other donations, but the buzzing roar of a motorscooter zipping down a nearby street drowned out the sound.

'Ah, that'll do!' Nishimura-san hurried forward just as Setsuna straightened up, and tipped her hand to pour a cluster of coins -- mainly tens, with at least one fifty-yen coin standing out in bright silver among the copper -- into the slot. 'There now,' she said, dusting off her hand as she turned to smile at Setsuna. 'One good deed a day, right? Even if I ought to be making up for more than a few of them by this point. This statue's been up since before I started high school, and I can't think of how often I've walked by without giving something.'

High school. The words fell heavily on Setsuna's ears. Had she ever really been a high school student, once? The memories of her past life -- her human life, up until her reawakening -- had started to elude her when she tried to think too closely about them, dissolving into a blur like ink on a water-stained page. Some days, she could not remember what it had been like to sit for her entrance exams, even though it had been only a matter of months since studying for those exams had consumed her every waking moment. And her memories from further back often were even more fragmented. In spite of how often she had passed by the little statue, she could not fully recall if she remembered it being placed on this spot, as Nishimura-san did.

Her thoughts had made her fall silent once more, and Nishimura-san's interruption was more hesitant this time. 'Meiou-san? Is something wrong?'

'Forgive me. I was...just trying to remember something.' If she could not trust her own memories, then perhaps she could trust another's. 'Do you know anything about this statue, Nishimura-san?'

Nishimura-san blinked. 'What about it?' She looked over at the statue, sitting on its plinth. 'I mean, the plaque tells most of the story. It's where that old "Red Shoes" song comes from, the one about a little girl who was adopted by a missionary couple and taken to live with them in America.' She chuckled to herself, and her smile turned fond and nostalgic. 'I know the whole thing by heart, actually. I had to learn it for a school concert when I was little. Me and a half-dozen other girls, droning away on those awful plastic recorders we all had to learn to play...how anyone managed to stay and listen to the whole thing, I'll never know.'

A group of young children, seated at their classroom desks. Smooth plastic warm in their hands, small fingers and thumbs fumbling to find the right holes. Rows of music notes on a much-photocopied page. A teacher's voice, raised to be heard above the sound of her hands clapping out the time. Setsuna wanted to believe in such memories, but they were overlaid with the lingering weight of a tall staff resting in her palms and the cool dampness of an impenetrable mist on her skin. The more she tried to reach out and hold those moments close, the more quickly they slipped away from her.

'I mostly thought it was a depressing song to have to play, but I didn't know the half of it then,' Nishimura-san continued, too caught up in thoughts of her own school days to see how thin and tight Setsuna's expression had become. 'It doesn't mention that the real story didn't actually work out that way in the end.'

'Because the little girl was ill.' That much, Setsuna knew without a doubt. She had the words on the plaque in front of her to confirm it.

'She had tuberculosis, I think,' Nishimura-san said. Her smile faded, the light in her eyes turning wistful. 'And the missionaries who wanted to adopt her couldn't bring her back to America. So she went to live in an orphanage instead, and she died there. The orphanage isn't around anymore, but I think it was pretty close to here, so that's why they put the statue here a few years ago.' She sighed, and leaned over to brush a fallen leaf away from the collection box. 'Poor little thing. Taken from her mother, sick and scared among strangers...she became famous for something she never even got to do, and even now, everyone mostly forgets about her.'

'Perhaps,' Setsuna murmured, only half-hearing the words. 'But then again, perhaps it is not so bad to be mostly forgotten.'

Nishimura-san's purse had slipped down her arm when she bent over, but at Setsuna's words she paused in the act of pushing it back up to rest on her shoulder. 'What do you mean?'

'The people who care will come to her, because they want to come.' Of all the memories that had been restored to her, the one she cherished most was that of another little girl with short pigtails, and a smile that could brighten even the loneliest heart. Of course she would come back to that statue, to the little girl who needed her so much, the little princess for whom she would defy the laws of Time itself. 'And she will be waiting for them, when they do -- but until then, she can be at peace.'

Nishimura-san said nothing for a long moment, gazing at the statue as if she were seeing it for the first time. 'I'd like to think that she is,' she said at last, slowly, her fingers toying with the clasp of her purse. 'At peace, I mean. If anyone deserves it, she does. But for the rest of it...what makes you say that about her, Meiou-san?'

Setsuna opened her mouth, then closed it again. She looked over at Nishimura-san, who was trying very hard to not look as uncomfortable as she clearly felt. And in that thick, strained silence, she felt the city gradually begin to reassert itself around her. Piece by piece, like an artist adding bits of shape and colour to a blank canvas -- the rumble of traffic noises, the flicker of neon signs, the rustle of wings from a pigeon flying overhead -- the bright and busy Tokyo that she knew fell back into place. The statue was still there, of course, but it seemed smaller now, and far less important in her mind than it had been a few heartbeats ago.

In much the same way, Setsuna felt herself fall back into place within her own body. She was aware now, as she had not been a moment ago, of how her left shoe was just starting to pinch her big toe, and how the narrow strap of her bag was digging into her collarbone. The sensations of being alive, of occupying a single point in Time instead of all of them, or none of them.

Of being human.

Shaking her head a little, as if to clear it, she gave Nishimura-san a small, apologetic smile. 'I hardly know what I meant there myself,' she said wryly, shrugging her purse into a more comfortable position. 'I suppose I was thinking that she reminds me of someone I once knew, though I was having a difficult time remembering who it was. The whole thing made me feel sentimental, somehow -- I apologise, for being so vague.'

Nishimura-san grinned, and once again her relief came out in a rush of words. 'Oh, please, don't worry about it! You almost had me going there as well, thinking about the song and the story and all of that. Though now I'm never going to be able to that tune out of my head.' She hummed the melody through her nose, nasal and sharp, as if imitating the sound of a recorder playing, and then sang the song's final words in a similarly nasal-sounding voice, 'Every time I see red shoes, I think of her. / And every time I meet a foreigner, I think of her.' She paused, and added teasingly, 'And every time you come by this way and see her statue, Meiou-san, you'll probably end up thinking of what I must've looked like as a little girl, honking away on a plastic recorder.'

With a bit of effort, Setsuna widened her smile until it was something closer to normal. 'I'm sure I will, Nishimura-san.' It would be one more memory to carry with her, as she passed by the statue -- and one, perhaps, that would help keep her firmly planted in the here and now.


Notes

The Azabu Juuban statue made to commemorate Iwasaki Kimi, the little girl of the song Akai Kutsu ('Red Shoes'), has a cameo or two in the background of the Sailor Moon anime. The plaque at the statue's base gives some of the story behind it.

I have often felt that Setsuna, in the manga especially, would have a much more difficult time coping with her past and present lives than canon might indicate. The weight of the memories of her long life and her 'backwards' reincarnation -- dying in the future to be reborn in the past -- would cast a long shadow over the normal life she had led up until her powers as Sailor Pluto were returned to her, and in this instance I imagined it might take the form of a wavery sense of her place in Time. There's a much longer story to be told about her ability to adjust to present-day life with the other senshi, and I hope to have the chance to tell more of it someday.


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