The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate

by Crawlspace

 

~ Chapter 21: Family, part 1 ~

 

 

            The small crowd of onlookers began to dissipate once the car was out of sight.  As the students made their way from the scene, Rei was spotted by Usagi.

 

            “Rei, what are you doing here?” asked the blonde when she and her friends made their way over to Rei.  In a mix of confusion and alarm, Usagi’s questions tumbled out and over each other.  “Did you see what happened?  Why did they do that?  What’s going on?”

 

            “It’s in the paper,” answered Rei.  She ran a hand through her hair, her anxiousness showing through in the gesture.  “Someone took a picture of us together and put it in the paper along with a story about how the senator’s daughter is having a scandalous affair.  Minako’s parents must have seen it this morning after she left.  Damn it!” she yelled as she took a few agitated steps around her friends.

 

            “But how did anyone find out to begin with?” asked Makoto.  “You know what it took just for us to find out about it.”

 

            “The man Hotaru saw,” answered Ami after several moments of thought.  “The one who was taking our picture.  It makes sense and explains what his interest in us was.”

 

            “It wasn’t a recent picture,” replied Rei.  “If it was him, he’s been watching us for a hell of a long time.”

 

            “What are we going to do?” asked Usagi.  “And what about Minako?”

 

            “We can’t do anything about Minako right now.  There’s no way her parents will let us anywhere near her,” answered Rei.  Her eyes flashed, first a small spark of anguish, then a bright flare of anger.  “But I can tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to go find this reporter, and then I’m going to let him know exactly what I think of his article.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            No words were spoken.  None needed to be.  Her father was furious, Minako could see it in his rigid posture and the way he gripped the steering wheel as if he were trying to strangle the life out of it.  She could see her mother’s reflection in the rearview mirror.  The older woman’s expression was cold, her mouth drawn into a tight frown.  They knew about her and Rei.  It couldn’t be anything else, because she hadn’t done anything else.  The only question Minako had now was how her parents had found out.  That, and what they were going to do about it.

 

            The tense weight in Minako’s stomach tightened as they pulled into the apartment complex.  She walked between her parents up to the apartment and stared down at her shoes as her father unlocked the door.  Ushered quickly inside, Minako was directed to the couch, where she sat as her parents stood before her.

 

            Her father was the one to break the silence that had fallen over them.  The newspaper landed roughly on the table in front of Minako, the photo of her and Rei jumping out at her and giving final confirmation to her fears.  “Do you even have an excuse for this?” her father asked.

 

            Minako stared in shock at the picture.  “Daddy, I…” she started, only to be rolled over by her mother’s voice.

 

            “Do you have any idea how embarrassing all this is?” asked her mother, her voice nearing the edge of shrill.  “It’s bad enough that you would even get involved in something like this, but to do it so openly, where anyone could see you…”

 

            Her father folded his arms across his chest and looked down at her sternly.  “I’m not hearing any denials from you.”

 

            Minako swallowed hard, then looked up at her parents.  She sat up just a bit straighter, calling on the courage she’d long ago discovered she possessed.  “That’s because I don’t have anything to deny,” she answered, her voice quiet, yet firm.  “I’ve been seeing her for almost two years.  I love her.”

 

            Her mother rolled her eyes at that, her hands moving to do half her talking for her.  “Oh, for the love of…”

 

            “Quiet!” ordered Minako’s father, cutting off her mother before she could even start her tirade.  He ignored the indignant glare his wife shot him as he addressed his daughter.  “Never have I or your mother given you any indication that this sort of behavior is acceptable, regardless of who we allowed you to socialize with.  We have, in fact, told you on more than one occasion it was beyond unacceptable.  That you would openly defy us is intolerable, and now you have to pay the consequences for your actions.

 

            “To begin with,” he went on, “you will have nothing more to do with that Hino girl.  Further, you won’t have any more contact with Tenoh or her people.  As for the rest of your friends, we haven’t made any decisions yet, but, for the time being, you aren’t to speak with them, either.  No phone, no computer, and no leaving the apartment.”

 

            “That isn’t fair!”

 

            “Neither is the situation you’ve forced me into.  Now, go to your room.  We’ll discuss this more later, after your mother and I have had a chance to think things through.”

 

            “But…”

 

            “No ‘buts,’ Minako.  Go.”

 

            “Or what?” she asked boldly, almost daring her father to do something more.

 

            Her father’s jaw clenched and unclenched.  His voice was low and measured, his patience clearly at its breaking point.  “You seem to think you’re being given some type of options here.  You aren’t, because there are none.  I am your father, and you will do as I tell you.  Period.  Do not make me repeat myself.”

 

            Minako bit back the defiance she felt building inside her.  She could see Artemis hiding himself behind a corner and watching her with worry in his eyes.  Backing down, Minako bowed to her father’s words and went quietly to her room, closing the door behind her.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            After a quick stop back at TA to retrieve Rei’s regular shoes without getting caught by any teachers, Makoto now sat beside Rei at the bus stop as they waited for the bus that would take them to The Daily’s main office.  Rei had wanted to walk, but there was no way Makoto could go that distance or even keep up with Rei in the state she was in.  This was something she regretted greatly at this point, because, if they’d been able to walk, Rei might have been able to burn off some of her anger before they got there.  As it was, the miko’s constant fidgeting and restlessness was making Makoto crazy.

 

            Standing up to stretch and put some distance between herself and Rei’s tapping foot, Makoto brushed off a query to her state of comfort from Rei.  Rei nodded and went back to blowing air through her lips and drumming her foot against the sidewalk.

 

            Not long after Minako had been pulled away from them, the girls had heard the chiming of the school’s warning bell.  It was obvious Rei wasn’t concerned with getting herself to class on time.  Promptness had become a low priority for all of them that morning as they stood there trying to figure out what to do next.  It wound up being Makoto who suggested the path they’d wound up following.

 

            Rei couldn’t and shouldn’t be left alone.  They’d reached that decision by unspoken consensus.  However, all four of them skipping school wasn’t going to solve any of their immediate problems.  So, rather than chance causing any trouble with the school or various parents, Makoto had volunteered to stay with Rei while Usagi and Ami went on to class.  After all, she had the best excuse for missing a day and no parents to explain it to later.

 

            Makoto had expected objections.  Usagi wasn’t the type to leave a friend when she was in need.  Neither was Ami, but she was also one to put logic and reason behind her opposition.  Actually, it had been a bit amusing for Makoto to watch her girlfriend stumble over words in an attempt to find a polite way of saying that sending the two with the worst tempers off alone together might not be such a good idea.  But Makoto had stopped her before she’d even gotten halfway there.

 

            “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her,” assured Makoto.  “And I promise I won’t let her hurt him.  Much.”  Makoto grinned at the expression that crossed Ami’s face just before she ushered her friends on their way.

 

            Now, here she was with Rei, waiting to help disassemble one Kojima Ishata.  Makoto looked down at the paper they’d picked up and frowned at the name in the byline.  She’d skimmed the article on their way here and found it only annoyed her more for all its assumptions and accusations.

 

            A few minutes later, the bus pulled up.  The ride was quiet and left them off a block from The Daily.  Makoto followed Rei up the steps and through the front doors into the lobby.  She tried to keep pace with her friend as Rei went up to the reception desk and demanded to speak with Kojima.  And she stood and waited as Rei took out some of her frustrations on the hapless receptionist, who kept insisting that Kojima-san was a busy man who wasn’t seeing anyone, no matter who she might be.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            A nameplate bearing the inscription ‘Kojima Ishata’ seesawed on the edge of the desk for several seconds before surrendering to gravity and hitting the floor with a dull thud.  Ishata, himself, looked up from the mess of papers he was shuffling through and frowned around the blueberry muffin between his teeth.  When the nameplate went over the edge, that meant it was time to clean the desk again.  Damn.

 

            His name being called across the room made Ishata look up from his disaster area of a desk.  He took the muffin from his mouth and called back, “Yo, Yoshi!  What’s up?”

 

            Yoshi smirked as he answered, “I just came from downstairs.  Your headline’s down in the lobby arguing with Jana.”

 

            Ishata’s eyebrows rose in surprise.  “The Hino kid?  Really?”  After a nod from Yoshi, Ishata laughed.  “Well, there’s one thing I’ll say about the Hino’s – they certainly are a prompt lot.  Not even 9:30 yet, and we’ve already got a response from both of them.  I guess I should save Jana from her.  Thanks, Yoshi.”

 

            After falling into his chair, Ishata leaned forward and brushed aside the wrappers from his breakfast to find the phone.  A moment later, he was connected to the frazzled sounding woman downstairs.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Rent, concert tickets, car payment, concert tickets, food, concert tickets…

 

            Jana continued to mentally run through all the reasons she needed this job.  The job which required her to stand here, smile politely, and say once again, “Miss, as I said, Kojima-san isn’t seeing anyone this morning without an appointment.  If you’d like to leave your name and a number…”

 

            Rei grabbed the paper Makoto was holding and slammed it down in front of the woman.  “Look here, lady.  You see this?  This gives me the right to speak with that rat whether I have an appointment or not.  So you either tell me where I can find him, or I will go through this entire building inch by square inch until I find him myself!”

 

            Jana managed to sigh in exasperation and maintain her polite smile both at the same time.  Just as she was about to repeat the phrase she’d been using since this girl and her friend arrived, the phone on her desk began to ring.  “Just one moment,” she said to Rei, then reached to pick up the phone.  “Reception.  Jana speaking.  Oh, hi, Ishi,” she replied, the smile on her face becoming more genuine.  “Yes, there’s a pair of young women here who would like to see you.”  A slight nod, then she answered back.  “All right.  Bye.”  Then Jana looked back at Rei.  “Kojima-san would be happy to speak with you.  Take that elevator over there up to the second floor.  He’s waiting for you there.”

 

            Without offering any sort of reply, Rei stalked off towards the elevator, Makoto close behind her.  Her finger jabbed at the up button until the doors slid open.

 

            Jana waited until the two unwanted visitors were on the elevator and gone before releasing a huge breath and falling back into her chair.  Ishi really needed to start warning her about these people.  Another sigh and a glance towards the security camera accompanied a muttered, rueful, “God is watching.”  And with that, Jana went back to looking busy and waiting for the next irate article to walk through the door.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            The elevator dinged and opened the doors to the second floor.  Rei and Makoto stepped out into a short hallway, immediately seeing the only individual standing there and presumably waiting for them.  Upon seeing him, there was a moment of surprise, because this wasn’t the face they were expecting.

 

            Kojima stepped up to the girls with a grin on his face, keeping the distance previous lessons had taught him would avoid a hit should one of them take a swing.  “Kojima Ishata.  I’m pleased to meet you in person, Hino-san.  And your friend?” he queried as he turned and greeted Makoto, not showing the disappointment he felt because she wasn’t the blonde from the photos.

 

            “Kino Makoto,” answered Makoto, bowing slightly out of habit to the greeting he’d given her.

 

            “If the two of you would follow me,” said Kojima as he began to walk.  “We’ll go someplace we can talk privately.”

 

            The girls followed him into a small conference room.  Each took a seat at the rectangular table in the center of the room, Kojima sitting across from them.

 

            His hands folded casually in front of him, Kojima smiled at the girls.  He’d just opened his mouth to speak when Rei suddenly shot up, her hands hitting the table hard enough to make both Kojima and Makoto jump.

 

            “You son of a bitch!” yelled Rei.  “How dare you come crawling into my life like this?  Just because my father’s personal life may interest some people doesn’t mean my life is an open source of entertainment for the public.  Someone I love has been hurt by all of this, not to mention how on edge all of my friends have been since we saw that sleaze you have following us.”

 

            Kojima sat back in his chair calmly.  He waited for several seconds for Rei to sit, and when she didn’t, he said, “I sympathize, Hino-san, but you’re wrong when you say you aren’t an open source for the public.  You are the daughter of a very powerful and respected statesman.  Every aspect of his life, including you, is going to come under scrutiny from time to time.  Right now, you just happen to be the most interesting and newsworthy aspect of his life.

 

            “You see,” went on Kojima, leaning forward in an almost challenging way, “the world around us is changing.  We aren’t living in the same world our parents did.  Modernization, Westernization, whatever you want to call it, it’s something that’s on everyone’s minds.  Crime, divorce, teen pregnancy,” he said with a gesture towards Makoto which earned him a sharp glare from the girl, “all are on the rise.  Traditional family and the values that went along with it are on the decline, and there isn’t a politician on the trail that isn’t trying to find a way to capitalize on that, your father included.”

 

            “What does any of that have to do with me?”

 

            Kojima laughed.  “With the way the Senator’s been pushing a return to the traditional family in the last few months, you, kid, are the perfect example of hypocritical politics.  I only wish I could take all the credit for the idea, cause it seems like such an obvious angle for a story now, it’s almost sad.  I’m not the one who had you followed, though.  Whoever you saw, he had no connections to me.”

 

            “If he wasn’t connected to you,” asked Makoto, “then how did you get the photo and the story?”

 

            Kojima shrugged.  “An anonymous source, most likely one of the Senator’s rivals.  All I know is a package with all the info and photos was delivered without a return address.  There was a note saying I could do or not do whatever I wanted with them.  I also got the impression I wasn’t the only one receiving it, I just happen to be the first one to get it out.  So don’t be too surprised if some of the less than flattering pictures I saw turn up in other places.”  Pulling a small tape recorder from his pocket, Kojima set it on the table between him and Rei.  “You know, your father’s already scheduled a press conference for 12:30 this afternoon to get in his say.  What about you?  Care to offer a rebuttal?”

 

            Rei glared at the man across from her.  Her hands, which had remained flat against the table, curled into fists.  “I’ll give you a rebuttal,” she hissed out as all her tension finally snapped.

 

            One fist knocked the recorder out of the way as Rei launched herself across the table towards Kojima.  Kojima reacted quickly, the wheels on his chair rolling him out of Rei’s reach as Makoto scrambled to grab some part of Rei and stop her.  Rei made it almost all the way across the table before Makoto managed to get a hold of the skirt of her uniform and slow her down.

 

            Kojima put his hands up in a gesture of mock surrender.  “I’ll take that as a ‘no comment.’”

 

            Rei practically growled at him as Makoto gave her a hard tug.  “He’s an idiot, Rei.  Let it go for now.”

 

            Rei backed up slowly.  Giving the man across from her a hard stare, she said, “Stay out of my life and leave my girlfriend alone.  She’s no one’s business but mine.”  Then she turned on her heel and marched out of the conference room without looking back.

 

            Kojima smiled to himself as he watched the Hino kid and her friend leave.  For several minutes, he thought about what she had said, turned the words over in his head until they all fell into place.  “The Words of an Angry Daughter,” he said quietly.  He chuckled to himself as he got up and headed back to his desk to start work on tomorrow’s follow-up article.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            When you couldn’t take it out on a person, the next best thing was to take it out on your food.  Then feed your friends, and maybe you’d all start to feel a little better.  This was the philosophy Makoto was applying as she cracked another egg over her mixing bowl and then proceeded to beat the mixture as if it had done her a personal wrong.

 

            She was feeling more than a little helpless and just a bit useless at the moment.  Makoto wasn’t used to those feelings, and they were annoying her to no end.  For her, it had begun as Rei’s mood got quieter and quieter on their way back to the apartment.  Other than staying with her, Makoto didn’t know what to do.  That just didn’t seem like enough, though she was sure someone would tell her the company was helping Rei more than Makoto realized.  But it still felt inadequate.  So, when Rei had asked to use the phone, Makoto had retreated to the kitchen to both give Rei some privacy and make them lunch.  At least by making lunch, Makoto felt like she was actually doing something.

 

            Preparing lunch was a fairly quick affair.  Figuring Rei had likely had enough time to speak with her grandfather, Makoto picked up the tray she’d prepared and went back into the livingroom.  She slowly eased open the door, pausing for a moment to listen for Rei’s voice so she wouldn’t be interrupting.  When she didn’t hear anything, she went the rest of the way into the room.

 

            Makoto walked over to the coffee table and set down the tray after noticing Rei had moved out onto the balcony.  She went out to join her, sitting down and propping her feet on the small table that matched the set of chairs they were using.  A small sigh escaped her as she realized she hadn’t noticed how much her feet were beginning to ache until she’d finally gotten off of them.  For a moment, she let her eyes close and just enjoyed the mild warmth of the sun against her face.

 

            When she opened her eyes, Rei was grinning at her.  Makoto grinned back and asked, “How are you doing?”

 

            “I was just about to ask you that,” answered Rei.  “You look tired.  I hope you didn’t go to too much trouble out there.”

 

            “Hey,” said Makoto.  “I’m supposed to be worrying about you today, not the other way around.”

 

            Rei nodded, her eyes falling back down to her lap and her communicator, which was held loosely in her hands.  “I tried calling her cell phone,” said Rei.  “She must have it turned off, because I got kicked right into her voicemail.  There’s no point in trying to call directly, and I’m afraid to try this in case she’s still with her parents.”

 

            “What about your grandfather?”

 

            “He wasn’t home,” answered Rei.  “I talked to Yuichiro.  He said the school called.  That’s where Grandpa went.  Plus, there’s a mess of reporters outside who all want some kind of statement.”  She looked at her watch suddenly.  “What time was my dad supposed to have his press conference?”

 

            “I think 12:30.”

 

            “We’ve still got some time.”  Rei took a deep breath, sinking further into her chair.  “I hope he’s not too angry.  I wanted the first time he met Minako to leave a good impression, and I know he can’t be liking this at all.”  Rei straightened up in her seat, then stood.  She turned to Makoto and held out a hand.  With a smirk, she said, “Here, let me help.  Cause I know what a long and exhausting walk it is back inside.”

 

            “Very funny,” retorted Makoto even as she took the hand Rei was offering.  A light tug, and she was back on her feet and heading inside.

 

            They were halfway through their lunch when the anchor on the news channel Rei had turned on announced Senator Hino would be addressing the press.  The girls watched as the camera cut to a room labeled as a general meeting room of the Tokyo Bay Intercontinental Hotel.

 

            “He’s already in town,” said Rei quietly as the people on the screen settled down in anticipation of the senator’s arrival.  “I didn’t think he’d be in until next week.”

 

            Before Makoto could think of something to respond with, a woman stepped up to the podium and addressed the small crowd around her.  “Good afternoon.  For those who don’t know, my name is Yoshimura Kimiko.  I am Senator Hino’s personal assistant.  This afternoon, the Senator will issue a brief statement and then answer a few select questions from the press.”

 

            His assistant stepped aside as Rei’s father took his place at the podium.  His expression was somber as his dark eyes looked out over those gathered.  When he spoke, his voice was even with a level of authoritativeness underlying his words.

 

            “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the press.  To begin with, I’d like to say what a low tactic I believe this has been, to drag an innocent, young girl into a public forum, especially over such a sensitive issue.  My daughter has a right to her privacy, regardless of her relationship to me.  It saddens me greatly that anyone would stoop to the level of harming her name and reputation in an attempt to tarnish my own.

 

            “It has been suggested by the individual who published this story that my stance on family and personal ethics is somewhat hypocritical.  I can see how he, or anyone, would come to that conclusion with the skewed view he has presented.  I can defend myself only by saying it is because of my daughter that I have taken the position I have.

 

            “As most of you know, my daughter, Rei, was raised by my late wife’s father.  The decision to leave my daughter with her grandparents, both of whom were alive at the time, was a difficult one, and primarily influenced by my wife’s death, as well as a work schedule I believed would make it impossible for me, as a single father, to properly care for Rei.  I wanted only for her to have a stable home.  I also wanted to grant her mother’s wish that Rei know her family and be raised with the traditions and beliefs she was.  I thought I could still be a father to my child, even with distance between us.  I was, unfortunately, mistaken.

 

            “A family separated has a difficult time surviving.  Lines of communication break down as the physical distance becomes emotional distance.  This was proven to me this morning when I opened the paper to find this disgraceful excuse for journalism.  You see, I was just as surprised to find out about my child’s relationship as everyone else.  Rei, because of the emotional distance between us, has never confided in me about any of her personal affairs.

 

            “I now take this situation as a wake-up call and a lesson.  I tried to give my daughter a home like the one I grew up in.  A home with the love of her parents and the wisdom and strength of her grandparents.  I, however, defeated my own purpose by almost completely removing myself from the situation because of working obligations.  It’s possibly too late for me to repair the damage done to my own family.  All I can do now is hope that my child will find it in herself to forgive me and hope that others will learn from my mistakes.  This is a hope and a message I will continue to carry throughout my remaining term in office, as well as any campaign I embark on in the future.

 

            “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your time.  Now, as my assistant said, I’m open to any further questions you may have.”

 

            Rei turned off the TV without waiting for the question and answer session to begin.  She knew enough to be aware he hadn’t written that speech himself.  Still, he had delivered it, and those words just weren’t sitting right with her.  Perhaps it was the detail inaccuracies, because she knew her past as well as anyone, and to hear it twisted just so bothered her.  But then, it wouldn’t do for her father to admit he’d left his dying wife and their child long before he’d used work as an excuse not to come back.  Or maybe it was because she hadn’t found the answers she was seeking in all the things he’d said.  Upset with the press for putting a wrinkle in his perfect life?  Yes.  Angry with her?  Or just flat out against what she was doing?  She still didn’t know.  Leaning back against the couch and lost in her thoughts, Rei wondered if she’d have the chance to get an answer from him in person this time.  It never occurred to her to wonder why she still cared.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            The only light in the room came from a small accent lamp on the dresser.  Minako sat on the floor leaning against her bed.  On this side, she was hidden from the door in case it should open suddenly, as her mother no longer felt compelled to knock before entering.  Hopefully, though, with Artemis standing guard on the other side of the bed, if her mother did come back for some reason, they’d have enough warning to end communications.

 

            Minako activated her communicator, and a moment later, Rei’s tired and worried image appeared.  “Hey, Rei,” she said softly.

 

            “Hi, Mina.  I’m glad you were finally able to get back to me.  Are you okay?  I saw what happened with your parents this morning.”

 

            Minako unconsciously lifted a hand to her cheek, still able to feel a ghost of the sting.  “I’ve had better days, but I’m okay.  How about you?  I guess you’ve seen the paper by now.”

 

            Rei nodded.  “Yeah, along with everyone else.  I was at Makoto’s until about two hours ago.  There was a crush of reporters outside the shrine all wanting something.  They finally left, most of them anyway, and Yuichiro came to get me.”

 

            “We’ve been having the same problem here,” said Minako.  “Mom got so sick of the phone ringing, she finally just turned it off after Daddy left for work.  He was here long enough to forbid me from leaving the apartment, though.  And after he and Mom got through yelling at me, they spent the rest of the morning arguing about whose fault it is.  Mom blames Daddy because he was the one who said it was okay for me to be around ‘those people.’  Then Daddy said it was just as much her fault because she’s my mother and since she’s home with me all the time, how could she not notice?”  Minako sighed.  “Daddy slammed the door pretty hard on his way out, and the only time Mom’s talked to me was to tell me dinner was ready.  Plus a bunch of spot checks she keeps doing to make sure I’m not in contact with the outside world.”

 

            “I’m sorry you got caught up in all of this,” said Rei somberly.  “It’s because of me and my father, and they shouldn’t have drug your name into it.  You don’t deserve to be treated this way.”

 

            Minako shook her head.  “It’s not your fault Rei.  You don’t deserve any of this either.”  She hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Have you heard from your dad yet?”

 

            “No,” answered Rei.  “He’s in town, though.  He gave a press conference this afternoon.  I know he’s not happy about all the attention this is causing, and I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to say to him if he does call or come here.”  Rei took a deep breath and released it a bit shakily.  “I miss you, Mina.  So much it feels like it’s been more like a year instead of just a day.”

 

            Minako’s chest tightened at those words.  She felt the same way, the desperate need to connect with her love after everything that had happened only compounded by the forced separation.  “I miss you, too.  It scared me, you know, when I saw you there this morning.  That was how I knew for certain what had happened.  You didn’t get into too much trouble at school, I hope.  Did you try going back at all?”

 

            “I couldn’t have even if I’d wanted to,” said Rei, her words tinged with annoyance.  “I’ve been barred from campus until further notice.”

 

            “What?  Why?”

 

            Rei shrugged.  “When I didn’t go back this morning, they called Grandpa.  They weren’t too concerned about my skipping, though.  Actually, I think they were glad I didn’t show up.  It’s a Catholic school, Mina, and they’ve got certain rules about the conduct of their students.  I’ve managed to very publicly break what would be the one about inappropriate and lewd behavior.  They’re having a board meeting Wednesday to decide how to handle it, and until then, I’ve been suspended.”

 

            “Oh, Rei, that isn’t fair.  They shouldn’t be allowed to do that to you.”

 

            “They can do anything they want, fair or not,” replied Rei.  “Besides, I don’t think I could find a way out to get there anyway, with these damn reporters everywhere.  Talking to one of them was bad enough.  I don’t want to have to deal with any more.”

 

            “You spoke to one of them?”

 

            “Sort of,” answered Rei, her free hand pulling absently at covers around her.  “It’s nothing you need to worry about.  But I found out the guy who wrote the article got all the stuff about us anonymously.  He swears he doesn’t know anything about who sent it to him.”

 

            Not wanting to get into exactly how Rei had found that out right this moment, Minako instead jumped in with, “Artemis and I talked about that some.  We were thinking it might have been the guy we saw at Makoto’s.”

 

            Rei nodded her agreement.  “We were thinking the same thing.”

 

            “Mina!” whispered Artemis as loudly as he dared as he suddenly jumped up on her bed.

 

            Without saying anything else, Minako shoved her communicator under the bed just as a slight rap against her door preceded it being opened.

 

            Her father slowly opened the door enough to stick his head in the room.  When he saw her, he asked, “What are you doing down on the floor?  I expected you’d be in bed at this hour.”

 

            A frantic few seconds of looking around her, and Minako found a book to grab and hold up.  “I was just catching up on some reading.  I’ll go to bed soon.  Did you just get home?”

 

            “Yes,” answered her father, the weariness of a long day evident in his voice.  “There was a lot of work to catch up on at the office.  Well, if you’re going to keep reading, turn on another light.  It’s too dark for that in here.  And don’t stay up too much later.”

 

            “Okay,” answered Minako.  Then, cautiously, “Goodnight, Daddy.”

 

            Giving her a curt nod in response, Minako’s father started to close the door, but paused.  Opening it again, he seemed to hesitate for several moments before asking uncomfortably, “You don’t have any extra blankets in here, do you?”

 

            Minako shook her head.  “But I think Mom keeps some in the linen closet.”

 

            “So did I,” mumbled her father.  Then he sighed.  “Never mind.  I’ll see you in the morning,” he said before leaving the room.

 

            After waiting a few moments to be certain he wouldn’t come back, Minako reached under her bed to find her communicator.  “Still there, Rei?”

 

            “Yeah,” answered Rei.  “What happened?”

 

            “My dad came home,” said Minako.  “He was just looking for something he couldn’t find.”

 

            They talked for a while longer, lapsing into a companionable silence when everything that could be discussed had.  “I love you,” said Rei finally.  “And try not to worry.  We’ll figure things out.  We’ve gotten out of worse than this, after all.”

 

            Minako tried to smile at the brave face Rei was showing her.  “Yeah,” she replied softly.  “I love you, too, Rei.  For always, no matter what.”

 

            “Sweet dreams, Mina,” said Rei, obviously reluctant to let go just yet.

 

            “Night, Rei,” answered Minako.  She shut down a second later, but stayed in her spot on the floor, holding on to her darkened communicator.

 

            Artemis jumped down beside his mistress and gently nudged her leg with his head.  She looked at him with teary eyes, then set aside her communicator to lift him up and hold him to her.

 

            Doing his best to imitate a hug, Artemis said as soothingly as he could, “It’ll be all right, Mina.  Things will work out in the end.”

 

            Minako squeezed him a little tighter, trying to hold back her tears.  “She told me everything happens for a reason,” she said, her voice shaking just a bit.  “That everything is fair and the way it’s supposed to be.  Rei is supposed to be my bit of fair.  They can’t take her away from me, not after I just got her.  They can’t.”