The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate
~ Chapter 2: Coming Home ~
Time never did speed up when she wanted it to. But it was just as well, all things considered.
Lunch with Satoshi that day had been a nice distraction. He’d had an easy sense of humor and talked to Makoto like they were old friends. When he’d left her at the door to her apartment, he’d handed her a piece of paper with a phone number on it.
“It’s my cell number,” he’d said. “So you can call any time you want.”
Now, two weeks later, that little piece of paper landed with perfect precision in Makoto’s trashcan.
“Three points,” the girl muttered to herself, proud of her aim if nothing else. She stood for a second, then mentally kicked herself. “Hurry up. Rei and Minako should have Usagi ready by now, and you don’t want to be late for Ami’s plane.”
* * *
The girls hurried through the airport, bags and beach towels in tow. The plan was simple: 1) Ambush Ami as soon as she got off the plane, 2) beg her mother to let them have her for their last 20 hours of freedom, 3) drag Ami to the beach and force her to have normal, 16-year-old fun. Now if they could only find gate twelve, everything would be perfect.
“We’re going in circles,” said Minako as they stopped in front of a gift store they had passed twice already. “Somebody needs to ask directions.”
“Stupid, Usagi. If you hadn’t overslept, we wouldn’t be having this problem,” yelled Chibi-usa.
“There’s no way you can blame us being lost on me being late,” yelled back Usagi.
Makoto smiled at the small argument as Rei tried to stop it.
Chibi-usa had surprised them all when she hopped out of the car the day Usagi’s family had come home. Usagi said the girl had been waiting for her when they got to her father’s family home. When it came time to leave, Chibi-usa was put in the back seat along with Usagi and Shingo without anyone but Usagi giving it a second thought.
When asked, all the little girl would say was, “Mama said now would be a good opportunity for a visit.”
Usagi, on the other hand, had a lot more to say on the matter. She had spent a good two hours complaining about the pink-haired girl and how her vacation was ruined because of her.
Rei had gotten into it at that point, saying that no one could have had a worse vacation than she had, seeing as how she didn’t get one. And then there was the real reason behind her grandfather sending her to the other shrine – the shrine elder’s grandson.
“Grandpa must be having a harder time dealing with me and Minako than I thought,” Rei had said. “But that boy sure didn’t have any problems with it. When I hinted I was already involved – and with another girl - he suggested I invite her for a visit so the three of us could ‘get to know each other better.’”
laughed at the suggestion, but for a moment Makoto had wondered if the blonde
would seriously consider such a thing.
The thought was lost, however, as Minako
reiterated once again how great a time she’d had in
Sailor V was still a popular figure in her own right, especially in her home country. This was proven by the gifts and souvenirs Minako brought back for her friends. T-shirts, playing cards, posters, all with the Senshi of Love’s former alter ego on them were laid out before Makoto, who was the only one home at the time, and therefore the first to see it all. There was even a bumper sticker with “V save the Queen” on it. Makoto’s favorite thing, however, was something she suspected she wasn’t supposed to
see. Minako had blushed furiously when Makoto pulled it from the bag.
“Um… those are for Rei,” Minako had stammered, quickly grabbing the article from her friend and hiding it back in the bag.
Makoto had only laughed. There was something terribly girlish and innocent, yet very ecchi about those little pink panties with Sailor V blowing hearts and kisses on them.
“Ami!” squealed Usagi. Her argument with Chibi-usa forgotten, Usagi launched herself at Ami. “We didn’t think we’d ever find you!”
It took Ami a second to recover from Usagi’s sudden impact. When she did, and Usagi had loosened her grip enough for Ami to breathe, she said, “The gate’s right over there, Usagi. And the airport isn’t too crowded, so I’m sure you would have spotted me if you hadn’t been otherwise occupied.
“Hello, Chibi-usa,” said Ami, smiling down at the girl. “I’m surprised to see you here.”
Before the girl could respond, Minako broke in with, “What do you mean the gate’s right over there? We’ve been by this spot at least three times, and there is no gate twelve!”
Ami pointed over her shoulder and to the left.
The girls followed her finger, then moaned a collective sigh of defeat.
Minako turned and glared at Rei. “You are never leading us anywhere ever again.”
“Hello, girls,” said Ami’s mother, stepping up to the group. Taking note of all the bags they carried, she asked, “Are you going someplace?”
“We’re going to the beach,” answered Chibi-usa. Turning to Ami, she added, “Hotaru and the others are coming, too.”
“It’s a sort of get together for the last day of summer,” explained Makoto. “We’re
hoping you’ll let Ami come with us.”
Mizuno Kaya smiled. “Of course,” she said. Then to Ami, “Go, have fun. But be home at a respectable hour. You need to get unpacked and have things ready for school in the morning.”
“Thank you, Mom.”
“Yeah, thanks Mizuno-san!” said Usagi. She grabbed Ami’s arm and started pulling her away. “Come on, Ami. We only have…”
“Nineteen hours, twenty-eight minutes,” answered Minako on cue.
“…of vacation left. And you’re the only one who can find the exit to this place.”
“Hey, I resent that,” said Rei.
Minako giggled and put an arm around Rei. “It’s okay, Rei. I still love you, even if you can’t find your way out of a clear plastic bag.”
“You know,” frowned Ami, “I’m not really dressed for the beach. And I don’t have a swimsuit. Maybe I should go home first.”
“Oh, no,” said Makoto. “We’ve lost enough time as it is. Besides, we came prepared.”
Rei held up a yellow duffle bag. “You’ll be borrowing some of Usagi’s clothes today. We’ve got shorts, a t-shirt, and a bathing suit complete with matching towel.” She smirked at her friend. “No excuses, Ami. You are coming with us now, and you are going to have fun, whether you like it or not.”
Ami blushed slightly and quietly said, “Thank you. For coming here and everything.”
“You’re welcome,” answered Makoto. “And now that we’re all back together we can really enjoy ourselves. You have no idea just how boring it’s been without you.”
Rei noted to herself that the smile on Ami’s face right that moment was bright enough to light the darkest of rooms. She also wondered how the person it was aimed at could be so blind not to see it.
Kaya watched as Ami and her friends disappeared into the airport. For so many years Ami had been a loner, spending all of her time reading or studying. She fondly remembered the faint shock she’d felt the first time Ami had asked if she could go to the arcade with her friend, Usagi, after school. That shock was nothing compared to the joy she’d felt for Ami when, several months later, the girl nervously told her about the sleepover Usagi and the others had invited her to – at fourteen, her first ever. The want and happiness in her little girl’s eyes had been so clear then, just as it was today when she saw her friends waiting for her. One friend in particular, Kaya thought.
“Whatever makes you happy, my little Ami,” whispered Kaya to her daughter’s retreating form.
* * *
Ami sat in the library waiting for the others to finish whatever after-school activities they had. Her books were set neatly around her, her biology book open to today’s assignment. She wanted to finish as much of her own homework as possible before heading over to Rei’s, because she was sure her time this afternoon would be devoted entirely to Usagi and her English homework. Only two weeks into the new term, and Ami was certain this would be Usagi’s worst subject.
A sudden loud laugh broke her concentration. The sound was quickly muffled, but several glares still found their way to the aisle behind her.
She didn’t bother turning around. Ami had seen the three boys come in together. Two of them she recognized from her own class. The third she didn’t know. And in the silence of the library all three were being annoyingly loud.
Trying to ignore the conversation, Ami turned back to her textbook.
“That’s nothing,” loudly whispered the boy Ami didn’t recognize. “Besides, Juri’s easier than…”
Ami cringed at the crude language she couldn’t block out.
“He’s right, Taro.” One of her classmates this time. “Now the one I got…”
“Come on, Satoshi. You’ve been teasing us for days with this. We’ve told you about ours. So give.”
Ami could imagine the self-satisfied smirk on the boy’s face as he strung his friends along. Finally he answered, “Kino.”
Ami’s heart stopped.
“Kino? The amazon from class three? Why?”
“Because I could. And I thought she’d be more of a challenge. But a nice smile and a few sweet words were all it took. She had to have been the easiest lay since…”
A chair scratching across the floor disturbed the conversation and brought unhappy stares from the people across the library.
“Geez, Mizuno, could you be any louder?” Yuu called to the embarrassed girl.
Ami ignored him and quickly gathered her books together. Concerned only with escaping the library, Ami shoved her notes and books into her bag and made a hasty retreat. She could hear the boys laughing at her as she hurried away.
Once outside, Ami leaned against a tree and let her bag fall from her numb fingers to the ground. It took a great amount of effort for her not to join it.
* * *
Ami cut through the water at a moderate pace. She reached the end of the pool, turned her body, and pushed off the wall. One more lap and maybe it would all start to make sense.
Whether she had the right or not, what she’d heard in the library bothered her. From the day they’d met, Makoto had chased boys. But it had never gone any further than the chase. It hurt just a bit thinking this time it might have. And of all people, why Yuu?
Ami turned and pushed off the wall with more force than the last pass, gaining speed as her mind pitched questions at a faster pace.
Maybe it hadn’t happened. It wasn’t really like Makoto to indulge in a one-night stand, was it? Plus, she hadn’t said anything about meeting anyone. But if it had gone badly she would probably keep it to herself.
Ami had watched the girl for some sign that her heart had been broken yet again. Nothing seemed different, though. So Ami began to believe Yuu was just talking with no facts behind his words. She would have been perfectly happy believing this forever.
Her shoulders and back were beginning to ache, but Ami didn’t slow her pace through the water. Her mind finally hit on the part that had brought her to this place.
At the last study meeting, Ami had looked up from a book she hadn’t been reading to find herself alone at the table. Looking around, she saw Usagi lying on the floor not even trying to hide her manga anymore. Rei had gone off to print her report and never come back. She didn’t know where Minako had gotten to. Later she was told Minako had gone to help with the printer when Rei called for help and Ami didn’t so much as blink.
And Makoto? She wasn’t there because she’d skipped this meeting just like she’d skipped every other meeting this week. It wasn’t just the study meetings, either. For several days, Makoto had run late and missed walking to school with them. At lunch, she would disappear, saying she had something she had to do. Suddenly, she was finding excuses to be anywhere but with her friends. At first, Ami thought she might be trying to hide Yuu from them. But she had seen him alone too many times when he should have been with Makoto for that to be true.
Ami stopped at the pool wall, holding on to the edge and breathing hard. She found her way over to the ladder and climbed out. Picking up her towel, she began to dry her face and arms.
She’s avoiding us, thought Ami. Why?
With a sigh, Ami dropped her towel and moved back to the edge of the pool. After a few deep breathes, she dove back in.
Yuu had a big mouth. If he had gone about spreading rumors, that might explain Makoto’s behavior. Ami didn’t travel in the gossip circles, that was more Minako’s territory. The blonde might have heard something, but likely wouldn’t bring something like that up in the group. Maybe she had said something to Makoto or Rei. Which meant Rei might know, but there was no way to ask her without telling her what had happened.
Why would Makoto run from a rumor, though? She was more likely to fight back than try and hide. Unless it was true.
Ami’s arms hit the water hard, pulling her at a steady pace. She came to the wall and pushed off for another lap.
A sudden splash and flash of dark hair let her know she was no longer alone. Ami slowed her pace to accommodate her new partner.
Three more laps and the two girls came to a rest. Ami folded her arms and rested her head on them. After several minutes had passed, she turned to her friend. “What are you doing here, Rei?”
“Well,” answered Rei while still trying to catch her breath, “when neither you or Makoto showed up to the meeting, we got a little worried.”
“But the meeting isn’t until seven.”
Rei held her arm so Ami could see her watch. 8:03 pm.
“Oh, Rei, I’m so sorry,” apologized Ami. “I lost track of the time, I guess.” Then she frowned. “Makoto didn’t come again. Did she say why?”
“No, because she didn’t call. When we called her apartment, there was no answer. Same thing with her communicator.” Rei smirked, “We had the same problem with you.
“Anyway,” continued Rei, “Minako and I split up to look for you. Usagi went to check on Makoto. Usagi called in just before I got here and said Makoto’s pretty sick. She fell asleep after she got home and wasn’t even thinking about the meeting.”
Ami shook her head. “It’s not like her to just forget.”
“No, it’s not,” said Rei. “It’s not like you, either. You’ve both been acting distracted and distant lately. What’s going on?”
Ami turned away from Rei and rested her chin on her arms. “I don’t know,” she said quietly.
“Did you tell her?”
Ami closed her eyes. “No.”
Rei’s hand rested on Ami’s arm. When the blue-haired girl looked at her, Rei said, “You can’t keep running from your feelings forever.”
Ami grinned. “You know, she said something very similar to me once. Except she was talking about me and Ryo. I told her we were just friends, but Makoto was certain I was afraid of being in love and using friendship as an excuse to hide from it.”
Rei smiled. “She hit it right on the nail, didn’t she?” Ignoring the bright blush on Ami’s cheeks, she continued, “And to be honest, back then we all thought you had feelings for Urawa.”
“He was a nice boy and he did care for me. But, well,” Ami sighed, trying to find the best way to describe her feelings. The thought came to her and was out of her mouth before she could think enough to stop it. “It was never Ryo I wanted to scratch behind my ears.”
Rei just stared at Ami in shock. For a while now, she had been after Ami to talk about her feelings for Makoto. The girl was usually so shy about it all that this statement completely floored her. “All right, Ami, forget what I said about not being pushy on this matter. You have got to explain that one to me.”
“Do you remember when we first met Mako-chan?”
“I was holding Luna. Mako-chan saw her and smiled one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen on her. When she came over to pet her, my mind completely blanked out. All I remember thinking was ‘I wish she’d do that to me.’ It’s the only time I’ve ever envied Luna her position.”
“Wow, Ami. I never would have thought you had it in you.”
Suddenly feeling very shy, Ami looked away and across the empty poolroom. “Do you need to call Minako?” she asked, remembering the other girl was also looking for her.
“No, I called her as soon as I realized you were here.” Rei reached around and took Ami’s hand. Examining it, she said, “You’re all pruney. Ready to go?”
Ami nodded, and the two girls moved to the ladder and climbed out of the pool.
Rei picked up her pool-issue white towel and put it around her shoulders. “What?” she asked when she noticed Ami staring at her wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Ami couldn’t find the words, instead gesturing at Rei with her hands.
“Oh, come on, Ami. We’re the only ones here. Besides,” Rei looked down at the purple bra and panties she wore, “I’ve had bikinis that covered less than these do.”
“I… I guess,” answered Ami. “Still, it wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“I wasn’t expecting to go for a swim, or I would have brought a suit.”
Rei headed for the locker room with Ami close by her. The girls changed, Rei using the hand dryer to dry her undergarments as best she could before redressing. Together they left the sports center.
Ami thanked Rei for walking her home as they parted at Ami’s door. As she moved through her house, she decided she would stop and check on Makoto before going to school the next morning. Makoto had probably been feeling poorly all week, which could explain why she didn’t want to be social. And now that it had finally caught up to her, she’d need someone to take care of her.
* * *
Ami shifted her school bag to the same hand as the small grocery bag she carried. With her free hand she knocked lightly on Makoto’s door. No answer.
She’s probably still asleep, thought Ami.
Ami put her bags down and stood on tiptoe to reach along the top of the doorframe. She frowned when her fingers encountered nothing but dust.
Makoto always kept a spare key out here, Ami knew. There were too many times when she was in a rush to get to school or hurrying to answer a Senshi call. After being locked out once because she’d forgotten to bring her keys to the youma battle, Makoto had started hiding a key. Amy had just assumed it would be over the doorframe, no matter how predictable and careless it was.
Ami looked around her. There was no mat under her feet. No number plate or ornaments to hide a key in either. So where would it be?
A smile came to Ami’s face as she noticed the potted tree at the end of the entry landing. Going to it and kneeling down, Ami picked up several of the stones decorating the pot until she found one light enough to be hollow. She turned it over and slid aside the little trap door.
I hope this is yours, Mako-chan, she thought as the key fell into her palm.
The lock on the door clicked open, and Ami opened the apartment door. “Mako-chan, it’s Ami,” she called quietly into the living room.
Receiving no answer, Ami removed her shoes and moved further into the room. When she got far enough into the room to see down the hall, Ami saw that the door to Makoto’s bedroom was open and there was a light coming from under the closed bathroom door.
Ami set her school bag against the couch and took the grocery bag into the kitchen. She set the bag on the counter and removed its contents.
The Tylenol Cold Ami left on the counter. Most likely Makoto would keep it in the medicine cabinet over the bathroom sink. She set the 1-liter of gingerale on the floor next to the refrigerator. Clichéd maybe, but it was still the best cure for an upset stomach.
As she opened the refrigerator to put away the orange juice and vanilla pudding, she noticed the ‘Hello Kitty’ calendar hanging on the front. She wondered what was so important about September 5th. That day was circled, and each day after until yesterday, the 18th, had been x-ed off in red marker.
Her tasks in the kitchen complete, Ami went back to the living room and sat on the couch. She felt strange being in Makoto’s apartment without permission. Making matters worse was that the other girl was right down the hall and had no idea Ami was there. Good intentions aside, she began to feel guilty for intruding.
After five minutes and a lot of hand wringing, Ami decided to try and make her presence known. She moved quietly down the hall, hoping she wouldn’t scare Makoto.
“Mako-chan,” she said as she knocked on the bathroom door.
The door inched open as Ami’s hand made contact. Apparently it hadn’t been closed tightly. Hearing no protest, and feeling it wasn’t possible to intrude any more than she already had, she pushed the door open the rest of the way.
Makoto was sitting on the floor, her back against the bathtub, knees pulled up to her chest. She was wiping her eyes on her pajama sleeve when the door fully opened.
“Ami?” she said as she tried to focus on the girl. “How did you get in here?”
“I found the key you keep outside,” answered Ami as she hurried over to her friend. She knelt down beside Makoto, her hand automatically going to Makoto’s forehead to feel for a fever. “What’s wrong, Mako-chan? Usagi said you weren’t feeling well. Is it very bad?”
Makoto’s short laugh was devoid of any humor. “I suppose you could say it is.”
Makoto’s eyes moved past Ami’s shoulder. Ami followed her friend’s line of vision to the sink. Sitting on the edge was a white piece of plastic, the bright blue plus sign almost glaring at them.
All the color drained from Ami’s face.
“Yeah. I had the same reaction,” said Makoto, a few more tears running down her cheeks.