The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate
~ Chapter 1: Summer Break ~
Rei sat at the Crown with her friends, head buried in her arms on the tabletop. She had been like this for a full five minutes.
Minako, who was sitting closest to her, tapped Rei’s shoulder. “Come on, Rei, tell us what’s wrong.”
A mumbled sentence was all they got.
Minako sighed and leaned close to Rei’s ear. “Try again, Rei. You know you want our sympathy, so out with it. Be coherent this time and Usagi will buy you a milkshake.”
Rei looked up with an evil grin on her face. Then she remembered her predicament. Frowning again, she said, “I’m being traded.”
“What do you mean you’re being traded?” asked Makoto skeptically, stirring the straw in her soda. “People don’t generally trade in their children for newer models.”
“No,” answered Rei, “but shrines do. Grandpa has a friend who wants his apprentice to study under him, so the apprentice is coming here and I’m going there.”
“But why you? I’d think he’d send Yuichiro.”
“I asked the same thing. But Grandpa gave me a stupid speech about me making a better showing for the shrine, blah blah blah. He’s right, but still…”
Usagi looked like she was on the verge of tears. “Are you going away forever?”
“No, Usagi, just for summer break. But it might as well be forever. My whole summer has now officially been shot to hell.” Rei’s head landed back on her arms as she mourned her loss for all it was worth.
Minako laughed at her girlfriend’s overreaction and put an arm around her shoulders. “Poor Rei. Well, I’ll be thinking about you. I’ll even send you a postcard with Buckingham Palace on it.”
“You’re going, then?” asked Ami, a small, pleased smile touching her lips.
Minako leaned back in her seat. “Yeah,” she said quietly. “I didn’t have the heart to tell Katerina I wouldn’t come to her wedding, even though she said she would understand if I didn’t want to. Besides, once I really thought about it, I realized I do want to be there for her.”
“Helps that she said you could be maid of honor,” smirked Makoto.
“That, too,” grinned Minako.
“You and Ami are so lucky,” said Usagi. “I wish I was going to another country. Or at least that we were taking a plane to my grandparent’s place.”
Makoto frowned at the blonde. “I wouldn’t call the plane rides a plus. Those things are overcrowded, under ventilated deathtraps.”
“That’s better than 13 hours in the backseat with Shingo. And then it’s eight more hours to my father’s relatives and another ten to get back home,” lamented Usagi.
“At least you’ll be able to roll down a window,” said Ami.
“Ami,” said Rei, head up and indulging in the chocolate milkshake Usagi would be paying for with the last of her allowance, “do I detect a phobia of planes?”
“It isn’t that, really. It’s just that Germany seems awfully far away, and it’s a long time to be on a plane.” Ami smiled. “But the trip is worth it. Mom’s been planning it for months, and her letting me help with the research on the project more than makes up for any cram school I’ll miss.”
Minako laughed at that. “Ami, you are the only person I know who worries about missing school during summer break.”
Ami’s smile became shy as she cast her eyes down.
Makoto bumped her shoulder gently against Ami. “It’s okay, Ami. One of us needs to keep from going brain dead over break. As long as it makes you happy.”
“What about you Mako-chan?” asked Usagi.
“What about me?”
“Have you made any plans yet? We only have a week of school left.”
“Yep,” smiled Makoto, putting her hands behind her head and leaning back. “I’m going to kick back, relax, and enjoy what’s left of my youth. That’s what summer’s all about you guys.”
“You could come with me.”
Four pairs of eyes turned to stare at Ami.
Ami’s cheeks grew warm under the sudden scrutiny. Embarrassed by her small outburst and almost wishing she could take it back, Ami hurried to stammer out an explanation. “Um, I mean, I’m certain my mother wouldn’t mind if you came with us. So you don’t have to be alone, Mako-chan.”
“Don’t worry about me, Ami,” answered Makoto. “I’ll be fine. You need some time for just you and your mom – we all know that’s the real reason you’re looking forward to this trip so much. And aside from the fact that there isn’t enough Dramamine in all of Japan to get me on that plane, someone needs to be here in case something happens.”
“It’s been quiet for months,” said Rei. “Nothing in my fire readings either. This summer would have been perfect.”
This time Rei’s forehead landed on Minako’s shoulder. Minako stroked Rei’s hair as the blonde murmured baby sympathy words to the miko.
Makoto watched as Usagi leaned over and whispered something to Ami. Ami went wide-eyed and her lips formed a small “o” as Usagi giggled. Rei and Minako were enjoying their game of mourning and comfort, not paying attention to anything but each other for the moment.
Makoto took all this in, but didn’t feel the comfort her friends’ actions usually brought to her. For the first time in three years things were quiet. No youma to fight, no evil plots to foil, no danger posed to her princess or friends. In a week, summer vacation would start. Six whole weeks to sleep in late, be lazy, and enjoy life. Six whole weeks she now knew she would be spending completely alone.
Rei was right, thought Makoto. This summer would have been perfect.
* * *
Hands in her pockets, Makoto walked absently along the sidewalk, kicking the occasional stray pebble. She watched as a pinkish stone bounced off a crack in the pavement, noting that it did absolutely nothing to alleviate her boredom. She was actually wishing a youma would show up and try to kill her just so she would have something to do.
It had been just over three weeks since Makoto and her friends had completed their latest school term. They’d spent that night celebrating both their survival of it all and the temporary freedom they’d been granted.
Ami had begged off early, blaming her plane leaving at three the next morning as the cause. As the blue-haired girl hugged her friends goodbye, Makoto began to feel an unpleasant pressure building in her chest. She felt it again two days later as they all stood at the bus station saying their goodbyes to Rei, Minako’s rather enthusiastic farewell drawing stares, a girlish giggle from Usagi, and mutters of “It’s just a phase” from Rei’s grandfather.
Too soon afterwards, Makoto found herself saying goodbye to both Minako and Usagi. Usagi had been the last of the group to leave, and Makoto had stood there watching as her friend’s car pulled away just after dawn. She had remained there for a time, even though the car was long gone from her sight. The pressure and tightness in her chest was there again, stronger than it had been for a long time.
“You’re being stupid, Makoto,” she’d said to herself. “They’re not leaving you. In a few weeks, they’ll be back. They’re all coming back.”
Since then, she’d done everything she could think of to occupy herself. Makoto’s usually clean apartment was beyond spotless. Every stray dish had been cleaned, every article of clothing washed and pressed. Her kitchen looked like a bakery. She had even finished all of her summer homework, though without Ami there to go over it with her, she couldn’t guarantee its accuracy. All these chores, combined with her daily workout, had kept Makoto’s mind and body sufficiently occupied.
Then, three days ago, she received a postcard from Minako. It was a kind and simple thing; just a note to say hi and let her know she hadn’t been forgotten. Yet it had put Makoto in a slump that she couldn’t quite pull herself out of.
She needed to talk to someone or just see a familiar face. Mamoru was off in America trying to make up the schooling he’d missed during the whole Galaxia affair. Three of the outers were away -- Michiru touring, Haruka and Hotaru along for the ride. She thought about trying to find an excuse to visit Setsuna, regardless of the fact that they didn’t really know each other well enough for casual visits. The Senshi of Time would be grateful for the company, Makoto finally decided. So she’d wrapped up a generous number of cookies and went to the house, only to find it empty.
The birds in the park had liked the cookies, at least, thought Makoto as she worried the little pink stone with the toe of her sneaker.
A metallic crash and the sound of glass breaking nearby grabbed Makoto’s attention away from the pebble she’d been torturing. Her mind automatically switched to battle mode as she headed for the source of the disturbance. Henshin wand in hand, she was two seconds away from transforming when she spotted her youma.
Sprawled on his backside, plates, glasses, and a café table scattered around him, was Umino. Naru, her face bright red, was trying to simultaneously apologize to a waiter who was face down in the mess and help Umino out of it.
Makoto’s shoulders relaxed as she came down from her battle alert. She shook her head and sighed, slightly disappointed at the lack of a fight. Then a small smile came to her lips. She watched as Naru continued to apologize to the waiter, other guests, and owner. The redhead pulled her boyfriend up and let him lean on her as she led him away from the café.
“Love in all forms,” said Makoto quietly.
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”
Startled, Makoto spun around. Smiling at her was a boy just slightly taller than she was. He seemed somewhat familiar, but she couldn’t put his face with a name.
“Kino, right, from class three?” the boy asked.
Makoto nodded, and then, remembering her manners, said, “Kino Makoto, yes. I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to remember your name.”
“Yuu. Yuu Satoshi, class one.” Satoshi extended a hand, which Makoto took in a brief shake. “That little scene was the most exciting thing that’s happened all week. Who would have thought that
Tokyo could be such a boring place?”
Makoto found herself agreeing with him. He continued to talk to her, Makoto answering or adding something when he gave her the chance. His smile was pleasant, she thought. Nothing spectacular, but nice just the same. And the casual familiarity he was showing to her, rather than seeming like a rude turn-off as it usually would, was also somehow pleasing.
“Say, Makoto… It is okay if I call you that, by the way?”
“Sure,” nodded Makoto.
“Great. Then it’s only fair that you call me Satoshi. Anyhow, I was wondering if you had any plans for this afternoon?”
“No, not really. My friends are all out of town, so…”
“Want to have lunch with me?”
Makoto stared at Satoshi in stunned silence. This wasn’t how it usually went.
Satoshi frowned just a bit. “I’m being too forward, aren’t I? I’m sorry about that. It’s just that I thought we were hitting it off pretty well and…”
“It’s okay,” interrupted Makoto. “Actually, I’d like to have lunch with you.”
The smile was back in full force as Satoshi said, “I know this great place on Forth Street.”
She nodded, captivated by that winsome, crooked smile. She felt lighter, glad to have something to do and someone to do it with, even if she had just met the boy. Though some part of her mind niggled at her, reminding her that this wasn’t how things were supposed to work. She was supposed to be chasing after her sempai, but she was never actually supposed to catch him.