The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate

by Crawlspace

 

~ Chapter 16:  Fairy Tales for the Modern Girl, part 1 ~

           

 

            Taking a few steps back, Rei surveyed her handiwork with a critical eye.  After a moment’s contemplation, she smiled and nodded to herself in approval.  With the low table in her room set exactly the way she wanted it, she set about putting on the finishing touches.

 

            As she placed a few candles at odd places around the room, she ran through the list of things she still needed to do before Minako arrived.  Everything was pretty much done, with the exception of getting ready herself.

 

            A few  little touches and adjustments, followed by a quick look around, and Rei was satisfied.  This was going to be a good Valentine’s Day all around.

 

            She grabbed the things she needed and headed for the shower.  If the afternoon had gone according to plan, Minako would be shopping with Usagi right at that moment.  This part of the plan accomplished two things at once.  One, it would keep Usagi occupied and hopefully from feeling lonely while the love of her life spent the holiday on the other side of the ocean.  Two, it would keep Minako busy long enough for her to set things up for the evening.

 

            Rei turned on the water and let it heat up as she undressed.  As she did, she took a moment to wonder how Ami and Makoto were doing.  With the move tomorrow, the entire apartment had been boxed up and stripped down to the bones.  But Rei was certain they were planning something to celebrate their first Valentine’s Day together.  With a grin, she wondered if Makoto would ever find out it was indirectly because of her that she and Minako even had something to celebrate.

 

            If someone were to ask Minako, she would probably give a different answer for when it had all started for them.  Rei knew, though, the exact moment when she’d begun to see Minako just a bit differently...

 

 

            That night a few years ago, the study group had broken up later than usual.  As the others said goodbye and filtered out of the shrine, Minako had lingered behind.  Rei knew why the blonde was there, too.  She wanted to talk about “it” again.

 

            It had been weeks since “it” – the incident with Makoto and Haruka – had happened.  Usagi had lost interest and moved on to newer and better gossip.  Ami… Well, Ami was another matter, and one not to be discussed.  Rei, herself, was perfectly happy to let the subject drop, especially since Makoto seemed to be back to her normal self.  Minako, though, just couldn’t seem to let it go.

 

            “Not again, Minako,” complained Rei as she fell back onto her bed.  She stared at the ceiling rather than the blonde seated on her floor.  “If you want to talk about Mako-chan then talk about that ballplayer she was stalking all last Saturday.  Better yet, let’s not talk about her at all, because if she ever catches us gossiping about her, she’ll kill us.”

 

            “But…” tried Minako once again, only to be cut off by Rei.

 

            “No,” said Rei with a sharp wave of her hand.  She sat up on her bed.  “What makes you still think it was a crush, anyway?  I thought we decided it was just a flukie thing, or some strange alignment of the stars, or something.  And anyway, Mako-chan’s the most boy-centric person I know.  Well, except for maybe you,” she added with a smirk.

 

            Minako, ignoring that last comment as well as the smirk on Rei’s face, waved a hand dismissively at her friend.  “I never said Mako-chan wasn’t.  But it still could have been a crush like the ones she always gets.  It is possible, you know, to find a girl attractive and still like boys.  For example, I think you’re attractive.  That doesn’t mean I’m going to swear off boys for the rest of my life.”

 

            Caught off guard by that, Rei blinked in surprise.  “You… you think I’m attractive?” she questioned.

 

            “Yeah,” answered Minako with a shrug.  “Come on, Rei, it’s not like you have any image issues.  You know you look good.”

 

            “Sure,” replied Rei.  “I just wasn’t expecting you to say it, that’s all.”

 

            Minako tilted her head and looked pointedly at Rei.  “You’re not going to go all weird on me now just because I said you were pretty, are you?”

 

            Rei shook her head and laughed.  “Course not.”  Then, after a moment’s thought, “I’ve got something I want to show you.”

 

            As Rei got up off the bed and went over to her closet, she smiled both at Minako’s happy curiosity and the pleasantness she suddenly felt at having the girl there with her.  And it all came from one innocent comment on Minako’s part.

 

            She could count on one hand the number of people who had told her she was pretty and honestly meant it.  Cut that in half, and you had the ones who’d said it without expecting anything in return.  Minako could now be counted as one of those precious few, and while it had been said off-handedly, with nothing expected back, Rei felt she wanted to reciprocate somehow.

 

            She was half inside her closet, moving things aside and out of her way, when she decided to amend her decision to show these things to Minako.  Leaning back so she could look out around the doorway, Rei said, “Before I show this to you, you have to swear on your life that you won’t tell anyone about it.  If you do, you’re toast.”

 

            Minako grinned and traced an X over her heart.  “Cross my heart.  Now hurry up and show me,” she said as she bounced excitedly in her seat.

 

            “Patience,” said Rei.  “I’ve got this stuff buried so far back in here not even Usagi can find it.  Ah ha!” came a triumphant shout from the back of the closet.  She carefully emerged holding two binders and a clear, plastic shoebox.  “You can’t laugh at me either,” she warned as she set the objects down in front of Minako.

 

            “Okay, okay, just gimme,” said Minako as she took what was placed in front of her.

 

            Getting a clear view of the binders, Minako’s eyes lit up in amusement as she recognized the pictures on the front.  One was Sailor V winking and doing her trademark pose.  The other was a copy of one of the Sailor V game posters.  A grin tugged at the corners of her mouth as she opened the first binder and turned the pages, seeing all the Sailor V trading cards.  When Rei opened the shoebox and dumped out all its contents, including key chains, pencil boards, and stickers all with various Sailor V images, Minako bit her lip hard.  But then she saw the little figure lying on its side.  Rei righted the figure and tapped its oversized head, setting it to bob up and down and sideways.  That was when Minako lost it.

 

            The blonde let loose with an amused burst of laughter.  Tears leaking from her eyes, she clutched her sides as the mini Sailor V grinned and bobbed its head at her.  She laughed even harder when Rei shot her an unhappy scowl.

 

            Rei picked up one of the smaller pillows from the floor and threw it at her soon-to-be-former friend.  Hmph, see if I ever show you anything ever again.”

 

            Minako calmed a bit and wiped at her eyes.  “I’m sorry,” she managed to get out between giggles.  “But all of this… wow!  I don’t even have half of this stuff.  Where did you get it all?”

 

            Rei grinned as she opened the second binder.  Inside were manga safely sealed away in protective covers.  “I started collecting most of this before I found out I was Mars.  Sailor V was the big thing, and the book store at the mall was having a free autograph session to advertise the new manga.  I’ve just been picking stuff up here and there ever since then.  You’d be amazed at how much some of this stuff is actually worth,” she said as she turned to the last plastic page in the binder and showed it to Minako.

 

            Minako took the binder and stared in amazement at what she saw.  “An autographed, limited edition, first print?  How?”

 

            “I have my ways,” said Rei with a self satisfied grin.

 

            “But they only released these in England,” said Minako.  “I had everyone I knew combing every shop from Soho to Berkshire and we couldn’t find even one, let alone being able to get an autograph.”  She started to lift the flap on the cover only to have it snatched away by Rei.

 

            “Oh, no, you don’t,” said Rei as she held the binder protectively to her.  “I was only able to get one copy this time, and it cost me almost a month’s allowance to have it imported.  This one is for safe storage only.  If you want to look at one, take one of the ‘look at’ copies from the shoebox.”

 

            Minako smiled and went back to the trading cards.  “I never knew you were such a big fan,” she said teasingly as she flipped through a few pages of foils and hologram cards.

 

            Rei’s cheeks reddened just a little.  Ignoring the heat she felt in her face and the cute-but-annoying grin on Minako’s, she said, “I’m only missing three cards from that set.  I lost interest for a while after we started fighting youma for real.  Then you showed up, and, after a while, I realized you were just one of us.  Now all the pictures go up there,” she said as she pointed to a photo album on her desk shelf.  Then she picked up a key chain of Sailor V blowing a kiss and twirled it on her finger.  “But I wouldn’t be a proper fangirl if I’d lost interest altogether.  Besides, some of this stuff is just too cute.  But I suppose you’d say that with a model as cute as you, how could it not be?”

 

            Rei started to laugh, but was stunned into silence as Minako leaned forward.  She froze completely as Minako’s lips touched gently against her cheek.  It was a light touch, brief and barely there.

 

            “For my number one fan,” said Minako softly against Rei’s cheek, her breath brushing the spot her lips had just abandoned.  Then she sat back and laughed quietly as she pulled the binder of trading cards back into her lap.

 

 

            It had been such a simple thing on the surface, Rei thought as she focused back on the present and her rapidly cooling shower.  She shut off the water and stepped out, wrapping herself in a towel as she did.

 

            Minako had gone home a few hours later that night, after some more teasing about Rei’s newfound status as a Sailor V fangirl.  She had kept her word and not said anything about the collection of paraphernalia, other than the occasional private joke.  As for the kiss, well, it was just a kiss, nothing more and nothing less.  And while there were a few moments when Rei’s imagination would call up the feeling it had inspired in her, she never honestly imagined anything more would come of it.

 

            In the months following, their lives had gone on the way they always did.  One enemy was defeated and, before they’d had any time to catch their breaths from that battle, a new one had appeared.  But, looking back, Rei couldn’t find it in herself to complain about that particular enemy too harshly.  After all, it was those two idiots from the Dead Moon Circus and their involvement with Minako that had led to their very first date...

 

 

            “All different kinds of experiences” was what Minako had said to them back then as she assured her friends she was okay.  There was something in her eyes, though, that made Rei doubt the smile and overly cheerful voice.  She wondered if the others could see it as well, or if Minako had the mask so firmly in place no one could see around it.

 

            These thoughts were nagging her still, two days later, as she ran at a steady clip along the jogging path at the park.  Granted, Minako had set herself up for a fall this time by two-timing them, but it just didn’t seem fair that the only dates she had been asked out on in months were little more than excuses to get at her dream mirror.  To make matters worse, she had really seemed to like them both on some level.  Rei wondered if those two had felt anything for Minako at all.  But then, how could they not?

 

            Minako was a beautiful person, Rei mused, and not just on the surface.  Admittedly, she could be trying on the patience at times, but her intentions were always good.  If her friends were ever sick or sad, Minako would be the first one there trying to help them or make them feel better.  Rei grimaced as she remembered some of those disastrous attempts to help.  But at least the girl had tried.  It was about time someone did the same for her.

 

            Not two minutes later, Rei stopped and stared across the pond.  She nearly laughed at the timing and coincidence of it all, because there was Minako.  She was sitting on a bench by the pond, idly tossing in pebbles and watching as the ripples spread and dissipated.  Even from a distance, Rei could see the slight frown and quiet melancholy that surrounded the girl.  That was when the idea first struck.

 

            Well, thought Rei, when you know something needs to be done, do it yourself rather than pushing it onto someone else and complaining because it doesn’t get done right.

 

            She made her way around the pond, staying on the jogging path as long as she could.  It surprised her to realize how much she was liking this idea of hers.  It surprised her as well to realize how nervous the thought of it was making her feel.

 

            Quietly coming up behind Minako, Rei rested her arms against the back of the bench and asked, “Hey, Beautiful.  What’s a pretty girl like you doing all alone in the park on a Sunday afternoon?”

 

            Minako startled at the sudden intrusion on her thoughts.  She turned, an unhappy look on her face.  Then, when she saw who it was, her frown was replaced with a curious smile.  Geez, Rei, you scared me sneaking up like that.  And what’s with the pick-up line?  You practicing for the next time you see Yuichiro?” she teased.

 

            Rei smirked as she answered, “Like I’d even have to practice for that.”

 

            Minako giggled, and Rei felt her courage go up a notch.

 

            Effecting as casual an air as she could considering how fast her heart was beating and how sweaty her palms suddenly felt, Rei said, “Actually, I was hoping that line would work without any practice.  But since that doesn’t seem to be the case…”  She looked down, searching the ground until she spotted a small cluster of brightly colored flowers.  She leaned down and picked one from the bunch, holding it out to Minako.  “Aino Minako, I would like it very much if you would join me for dinner tonight.”

 

            Minako’s face first showed surprise as her eyes went wide.  Then those same blue eyes went all dewy as she smiled and took the flower.  “How did you know?  Did Artemis tell you?” she asked.

 

            That wasn’t the response Rei was expecting.  “Um… know what?  I haven’t seen Artemis in a few days.”

 

            Still smiling, Minako shook her head.  “Never mind.  It’s not important.  Are you really asking me out, like on a date?”

 

            Rei nodded.  “Yeah.  So, how about it?  Would you like to go out with me tonight?”

 

            Minako’s smile got even wider.  “How could I refuse a request from my number one fan?  What time are you going to pick me up?”

 

            Rei laughed lightly.  “How about three hours from now?  That should give us enough time to get ready.”

 

            Minako nodded in agreement, then leaned forward and placed a quick kiss on Rei’s cheek before rising from the bench.  “I’ll see you in a bit,” she said as she started to walk away.  She’d taken about ten steps when she stopped and turned back to Rei.  “Where are we going?  I need to know what to wear.”

 

            Rei actually look chagrined as she admitted, “I actually haven’t thought that far ahead.  But I think I have an idea.  Wear that blue dress.  The pale one with the short sleeves.  That’ll be perfect.”

 

            With a nod and a wave, Minako hurried back on her way, leaving behind a now very happy Rei.

 

           

            Pulling from her closet the little black dress she’d selected for their Valentine’s dinner, Rei thought ‘happy’ was way too inadequate a word to describe how she felt at having Minako share her life the way she now did. 

 

            The peach colored rose sitting in a vase on the table caught her attention as she began to dress.  She had shown up on Minako’s doorstep with one nestled in baby’s breath and tied with a thin, red ribbon the night of their first date.  She remembered with warm fondness the way Minako had smiled at her for it…

 

 

            That happy smile had lasted all night as they ate and talked.  As the hours passed, Rei saw that unhappy ‘something’ in Minako’s eyes fade away to be replaced by a sparkle that was closer to her true self.  When Minako laughed, it sounded natural and genuine rather than forced the way it had been the last few days.

 

            As they walked home together, Minako had reached over and laced their fingers together.  The miko could still remember the jolt she’d felt at that contact, and she was certain that move was what gave her the push to do what she had twenty minutes later as the two stood outside Minako’s apartment building.

 

            “I’m not going to be able to do this when we get upstairs,” said Rei as they stood outside the main entrance. 

 

            No one was around, the only light coming from a dim globe on the wall of the building.  In that pale, sulfurous glow, Rei could see Minako looking at her with curiosity.  Taking a deep breath, she leaned in slowly and caught Minako’s lips with her own.  She felt Minako startle, then quickly relax into the touch.  Minako’s hands came to rest on Rei’s hips as she returned the kiss, her lips parting slightly to allow Rei greater access to her mouth.  Her fingers began to rhythmically grip against Rei as their tongues met and caressed, exploring each other’s taste and feel.

 

            After a few minutes, Rei pulled back from the kiss with a gentle tug to Minako’s bottom lip.  She noted with some small amusement how Minako’s mouth tried to follow her own rather than allow it to break the kiss.

 

            When Minako opened her eyes, they were just a bit dazed.  Rei could relate, and she raised her fingers to stroke Minako’s soft cheek.  “Come on.  Let’s get you inside before your parents start to worry.”

 

            Minako nodded and followed Rei into the building.  Rei walked her to her door and said goodnight to Minako’s parents before leaving.  And that had been that.  Or so she had thought.

 

 

            Over the course of time, Minako would tell her how she had tossed and turned that night, unable to sleep for all the confusion she felt.  She would also be told how Minako had run through every possibility and scenario her brain could think of for the events of that date and the emotions they were bringing to the surface.  And she would be told, with a pleased smile, of the determination Minako had felt as she came to the conclusion that if she was going to figure any of it out, she was going to have to go to the source for an answer…

 

 

            It was nearly three in the morning when Minako showed up on Rei’s doorstep.  “Did you mean it?” she demanded of a half asleep Rei.

 

            “Mean what?” asked Rei as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

 

            “The date,” answered Minako.  “And the kiss.  Especially the kiss.  Did you mean it, or did you do it all because you felt sorry for me?”

 

            One corner of Rei’s mouth turned up as she leaned against the doorframe.  “I meant it.”

 

            Rei nearly fell over as Minako threw her arms around Rei’s neck in a furious hug.  When she recovered, she put her arms around the blonde and stood for several minutes just holding her.

 

            “Thank you,” whispered Minako right before she let go of Rei.  Then she grinned and started to walk away.

 

            “Hey,” Rei called after her.  “Where are you going?”

 

            Minako turned, but kept walking slowly backwards.  “I have to get home.  Artemis was worried about me when I left and looked like he was on the verge of following me.  Besides, my parents have no idea I’m gone.  If they find out I snuck out, I’ll be grounded for a month.  I can’t have that happen now that I have a date for Saturday night.”  With that, Minako blew a kiss to Rei, then turned and hurried away.

 

 

            A few turns in front of the mirror just to make sure she was well in place, and Rei was happily satisfied with what she saw.  She went over to her dresser and took out the little black box she had hidden inside a locked trinket box in her bottom drawer.  Plans were going smoothly this time, unlike the last time she’d tried to give Minako this gift.  But then, the way they often planned things was rarely how it ever turned out.

 

            Telling their friends about their relationship was a prime example of plans gone horribly askew, thought Rei.  She and Minako hadn’t intended to keep it a secret for as long as they had.  At first, it was just about being sure.  Things were going to change, and they had wanted to be certain of themselves before they presented the relationship to anyone else.  Then, once they were sure they wanted more than just friendship and never wanted to go back to the way things had been before, it became a matter of timing.  And somewhere during all of it, hiding had turned into something of a game.  One they should have realized they were losing the day Artemis caught them snuggling in a closer-than-friends kind of way.

 

            Rei chuckled to herself.  The white furball had taken it pretty well once he’d calmed down.  He’d even agreed to keep quiet about it until they were ready to tell everyone else.  She suspected it was mostly because he was just glad Minako had found someone who wouldn’t hurt or leave her.  Though he did often lecture them on just how long the telling of it was taking.

 

            Looking back, Rei was amazed they’d managed to keep it a secret for over a year.  Maybe it was because for most of that time everyone had been wrapped up in saving the world from this threat or that evil.  Then, with the defeat of Galaxia behind them, things had suddenly gone normal.

 

            Normalcy.  It was a strange thing for all the girls, Rei knew, and was shown in the amount of time they were spending together.  She remembered it feeling something like if they didn’t stay joined at the hip, the five of them would somehow drift apart.  The feeling eased as the months passed, but the togetherness didn’t, especially once Mamoru left for the States.  Usagi felt easier about him being gone this time, with him having called and written, but she still missed him.  The combined need to make Usagi smile and the feeling of wanting to be with their friends was making it difficult for she and Minako to find any time alone.

 

            It was on one of those rare occasions of just-for-them together time when Fate decided they had been in the closet long enough, and it was now going to take matters into its own hands…

 

 

            Soft fingers moving lightly against her neck woke Rei from her sleep.  Her eyes remained closed, and she could feel her hair being brushed aside just before lips pressed gently against the newly exposed skin.

 

            Those lips moved up close to her ear, then whispered, “Rei?  Are you awake yet?”

 

            “What time is it?” asked Rei sleepily.

 

            “Just after seven,” answered Minako.  She placed a kiss just under Rei’s ear as her hand wandered down to rest on Rei’s hip.  “We still have a few hours before we have to get up.”

 

            Rei grinned as a warmth began to spread through her at having Minako so close.  But she couldn’t help teasing just a little.  “Go back to sleep, then, if we still have time.  Kami knows you didn’t get much last night.”

 

            “I don’t wanna go back to sleep,” said Minako, and Rei could imagine the playful pout on the blonde’s face to match her voice.  Then Minako’s fingers started trailing slowly up along Rei’s side.  Reaching their destination, they skimmed over the top of her breast before cupping it fully.  “And neither do you,” purred Minako as she gave a little squeeze.

 

            Rei turned onto her back and smiled at the girl above her.  Reaching forward, she tangled one hand in Minako’s hair and pulled her down into a slow kiss.  Without releasing the kiss, Rei rolled them so Minako was beneath her.  She pulled back slightly to take a breath, then a bit more as Minako’s eyes opened and stared into hers.

 

            “I love you,” said Rei quietly, a finger moving to trace over Minako’s lips.  “My Mina.”

 

            Minako smiled at the endearment, and her lips parted just enough for the tip of Rei’s finger to enter.  Her teeth nipped playfully before her tongue laved against it, bringing more of Rei’s finger into her mouth.  Minako’s tongue caressed against it, then released the digit with a slight pop.

 

            Rei smirked at the saucy grin on Minako’s face.  She then trailed her finger over Minako’s chin and down along her throat.  The finger continued its path across the blonde’s chest and over the slope of her left breast.  Cool, damp circles were drawn around the areola, the circumference of each rotation tightening until the finger reached its final target.

 

            Minako’s eyes closed and a heavy sigh escaped her throat as Rei’s fingers played over her nipple.  Her hands gripped the sheets as Rei’s thumb and forefinger closed around the hardened nub and began a gentle roll.  A little pinch was given for emphasis before the fingers were removed, but before Minako could grieve their loss, she felt Rei’s lips hovering just close enough to feel without actually touching.  She whimpered as much from need as anticipation.

 

            Rei’s lips moved minutely closer, just barely brushing against Minako’s nipple.  After several light passes, her tongue reached out and teased as her left hand came down and rested against Minako’s other breast, offering it some attention of its own before Rei devoted her mouth fully to its task.

 

            Minako’s legs began to shift restlessly against Rei’s.  Rei grinned against Minako’s skin, knowing full well what the girl wanted.

 

            Moving just a bit to change her center of balance, Rei brought her right hand to lie on Minako’s belly.  She began a steady stroking along her lover’s midsection, enjoying the warmth and softness under her palm.  Then, moving her body down further, Rei laid a trail of kisses in the path behind her hand.  When her lips reached Minako’s bellybutton, she stopped.

 

            Rei’s hand played against Minako’s thigh as she said slowly, “I wonder what it is my Mina wants?  Hmmm?”

 

            Rei’s fingers moved in small circles against the inside of Minako’s thigh as her lips came down over the blonde’s bellybutton.  Her tongue circled slowly around the tiny indent as her hand moved lazily up Minako’s leg.

 

            Minako’s back arched as she felt Rei brush against her.  Nimble fingers parted her and slowly teased.  Rei’s mouth began a languid descent, laying kisses against Minako’s abdomen, her hip and thigh.  Rei’s grin became devilish as she heard Minako’s soft moan.

 

            And then a voice that very clearly was not Minako’s slammed into her like a runaway freight train. 

 

            “Oh.  My.  God.”  The voice belonged to Makoto, and the image of her standing in the doorway with Usagi and Ami right beside her was permanently burned into Rei’s brain. 

 

            Ami stood with her back turned and her face buried in her hands, her face no doubt as red as her ears.  Usagi was staring bug-eyed, her mouth hanging open, as she beheld the sight before her.  Makoto seemed mostly shell shocked, looking for the world like she’d forgotten how to move even though she dearly wanted to.

 

            That frozen moment was abruptly kicked back into gear as Minako almost pushed Rei off the bed in her haste to make a grab for the sheet bunched around Rei’s legs.  Trying to save herself, and in so doing remembering she was sitting naked in front of her three closest friends, Rei also wound up making a play for the sheet.  The two of them wound up falling over each other, pulling at limbs and the bedsheet in an effort to regain some of their lost dignity.  And in the midst of it all, Rei heard another voice ring out.

 

            Managing to sit back up and keep a section of the sheet in front of her, Rei paused and watched as Usagi doubled over in laughter.  She felt Minako move around to hide behind her and noticed Makoto still staring at them, not having so much as blinked in the last 60 seconds of the hell that had suddenly become her life.

 

            Not having a clue what to say, Rei finally barked out, “Don’t any of you know how to knock?!  And you could at least turn around and stop staring!”

 

            Her voice seemed to snap Makoto out of the trance she was in.  The girl then did one better than Rei’s request.  She grabbed Usagi and Ami by the backs of their shirts and hauled them out the door with her, closing it in the process.

 

            Rei closed her eyes and released a huge breath.  Minako collapsed on the bed behind her.  When Rei opened her eyes after a slow count to 100, she looked around under her arm to see Minako looking up at her, a worried smile on her face.

 

            “She laughed, Rei,” said the blonde quietly.  “Like she thought it was funny.  Do you think?”

 

            “I don’t know,” answered Rei.  “Could be.  Or maybe we just short circuited her brain and that was what Usagi meltdown sounds like.  But whatever it was, we’ll find out soon enough,” she said with a nod towards the door.  “The other two also.  And just what are they doing here so early anyway?  We aren’t supposed to leave until 10:30.”

 

            Minako reached over and picked up the alarm clock.  She frowned at it, shook it a few times, held it to her ear, and then sighed.  “I think it’s dead,” she said as she tossed it to the floor.  Another sigh, this one more wistful.  “That would have been a good one, too.”

 

            Rei couldn’t help a small chuckle at that.  “I’ll make it up to you later,” she said to her girlfriend.  “Right now we have to get dressed.  Can’t put this off any longer than we already have.”

 

 

            The ten minutes they took to collect themselves that morning had seemed to Rei like the longest and shortest of her life.  When she and Minako opened the door to face their friends, more emotions than she could describe ran through her, the strongest of those being fear of what she would see, and hope that they would understand.

 

            The fear had been unfounded, Rei now knew.  Usagi, in between fits of laughter, had told them she was happy for them.  She’d put her arms around both of them and held all three of them together for several seconds before being overcome by another round of giggles, this time joined by Minako.

 

            During all of that, Rei had noticed Makoto leaning against one of the porch posts, chewing her lip and watching them.  Rei wondered at the time what was going on in the girl’s mind, though now she had a better understanding of it.  Because for a moment there, those green eyes had been stormy and confused, but when Makoto spoke, her initial words were kind.  Then she’d laid down what was the first of many jokes about just how obviously “happy” the two of them were together.

 

            Ami was another matter to Rei, though.  She had given a confidence and not been given one in return.  It took several days for Rei to find a comfortable moment for the two of them to speak.  To her relief, Ami had smiled shyly at her, even if the girl hadn’t quite been able to meet her eyes.  Ami then said she understood why they had kept it a secret and was glad she had someone to share her own secrets with.  She wasn’t upset at all, though she was still a bit embarrassed for having so casually walked in on such an intimate moment.  She admitted, as well, that she was just a touch envious that Rei had found the courage she herself lacked.

 

            Rei smiled at the memory of that conversation.  It had been eight months since all of that had happened.  Now, Ami was getting her own happily ever after with Makoto.  And tonight, Rei was going to make sure she and Minako got theirs as well.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Minako grinned madly, bouncing in her seat ever so slightly, as Rei slowly opened the box Minako had handed her.  The miko was being entirely too careful with the packaging, thought Minako, while it was taking all the willpower she had not to tear into the gold ribboned, red box that sat so temptingly in front of her with a  peach rose resting comfortably over its top.

 

            The lid to the large box was finally opened, and paper was carefully pushed aside.  By this point, Minako was certain Rei was doing this just to tease and torment her.  The small, mischievous grin the miko wore was testament enough to that fact.  Then, Rei’s grin widened, and Minako knew the girl had found her gift.

 

            With a laugh, Rei pulled the stuffed penguin from his box.  He had a white bow dotted with red hearts around his neck to match the heart shaped candy box he held.

 

            “He’s cute, Mina,” she said as she leaned in for a quick kiss.  “Thank you.”

 

            “You’re welcome,” answered Minako.  Then she clapped her hands together.  “My turn!” she announced.

 

            The blonde turned her attention to the package sitting on the table, knowing there was candy in the box and hoping it was the raspberry creams she liked so much.  She picked up the rose and began to lift it to her nose, wondering why Rei suddenly looked so nervous.  Then she noticed the weight of the rose and how much heavier it was than it should have been.

 

            Minako turned her attention completely to the flower in front of her.  When she saw it, her heart almost stopped.  There, tied around the stem by a thin, red ribbon, was a gold band.  A free finger came up to trace around the edge, feeling the etching of the vine and leaf pattern against her skin.  Very carefully, Minako untied the ribbon, as if the whole thing could shatter at a careless touch.  The ring now resting in her palm, Minako turned a watery and questioning gaze on Rei.

 

            Rei took a deep breath, then dove in with both feet.  “You’re a part of me now, Mina.  I wanted a way to tell you that.  A way to let you know that, no matter where you are or what’s going on, you’re connected to someone, heart and soul.  I’ll be yours for as long as you want me.  And I’d like for you to be mine.”  Rei smiled nervously as Minako stared at her in dewy-eyed wonder.  “L… look at the inside.  Can you see?”

 

            “Hmm?” Minako asked, feeling herself on the verge of tears.  She quickly glanced down at the ring, searching.  Her eyes caught the engraving on the inside, and she frowned slightly.  Kanji.  It took a moment for her brain to find the proper meaning, but when she did, she lifted her eyes back to Rei.  “Home?”

 

            Rei nodded.  “Grandpa says each of us has a path we’re meant to follow in life.  Some will travel close to the place they were born.  Others will travel far.  And some will walk a road that will take them in circles, leading them to places far away, but always bringing them back home.  You’ll always have a home with me, Mina.  No matter where we are in life, wherever I am, you’ll always have someplace to come back to.  And there will always be someone who loves you waiting for you to come back home.”  Rei’s eyes dropped quickly to the floor, her hands playing anxiously in her lap.  “Jeez, that sounds corny.  I sup… oomph,” Rei was cut off, the wind knocked out of her as she was tackle hugged by Minako.

 

            The blonde rained kisses down upon the miko’s face, each one punctuated by an ‘I love you.’  After several minutes, Minako lifted herself so she could look down at Rei and smiled at her through happy tears.  “You’ll be part of me forever and ever, Rei,” she said quietly.  “But… I don’t have one for you.”

 

            Rei sat up carefully, keeping Minako in her lap and holding her against her chest.  “That’s okay.  We know.  That’s what really matters.  Now, here, let me see,” said Rei as she held out her hand.

 

            Minako laid the ring in Rei’s palm, then held out her hand as directed.  “For always, Mina,” said Rei as she gently slid the ring onto Minako’s finger, greatly relieved that it went on easily and held in a near perfect fit.  Then she lowered her lips to Minako’s and sealed her promise with a kiss.

 

            When the kiss broke, Minako leaned back against Rei’s chest as the other girl’s arms wrapped around her.  “For always,” repeated the blonde, letting out a contented sigh as she held her hand out in front of her and admired the band around her finger.

 

            “I have a chain for it,” said Rei softly.  “I know there are some people who shouldn’t see it yet.  That way you can wear it if you want to and no one will ask any uncomfortable questions.”

 

            “You really did think of everything, didn’t you?” said Minako as she cuddled closer to Rei.

 

            “Well,” said Rei, “I’ve had enough time to refine the original plan.  Remember when you were getting all those roses during the school play?” asked Rei when Minako looked up at her questioningly.  “Did you notice that you had eleven?  I was going to surprise you with the twelfth, and the ring, on closing night.  You know, a dozen roses?  But then it all went to hell with that cat girl and Makoto.”

 

            “You’ve been planning it for that long?” asked Minako in amazement.  “I had no idea.”

 

            “I know,” answered Rei, feeling very proud of herself.  That pride showed in her grin as she said, “And you know what the best part of that is?  I get to tell all our friends that I beat the Senshi of Love at her own game.”

 

            “Oh, you,” said Minako as she slapped playfully at Rei.  Then she grinned, the seductress in her coming to the forefront.  She turned so she was straddling Rei’s lap, her arms draped over the dark haired girl’s shoulders.  “And you shouldn’t count yourself the winner just yet, Hino Rei,” said Minako, her face moving closer to Rei’s until they were only millimeters apart.  “Because the night isn’t over yet.”

 

            As Minako’s lips descended on hers, Rei allowed herself to be led by the blonde.  As she lay back against the cushions on the floor, Rei doubted very strongly there was any way she would come out a loser in this game tonight.