The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate

by Crawlspace

 

~ Chapter 24: Consequences, Part 2 ~

 

 

            The house was large, granted, and there were times when Setsuna would come home and have to walk through several rooms before finding someone.  For it to take this long, however, was highly unusual, especially with everyone home and a guest present.  Her curiosity about it all rose significantly when she walked into one of the hallways and found Hotaru crouching on the floor, her ear pressed to a drinking glass against a closed door.  Setsuna crossed her arms over her chest and affected a somewhat sterner countenance.  Then she cleared her throat loudly enough for Hotaru to hear.

 

            The girl jumped and turned around quickly.  “Setsuna-mama,” she stammered out, trying to hide the glass behind her back.  Throwing on her best innocent smile, Hotaru continued rapidly, “You’re home.  Um, Haruka-papa told me to wait for you and tell you to come in here when you got back.  She wants to show you the videotape we got today of the man who was taking our picture at Mako-chan’s.”

 

            Setsuna lost the ‘stern parent’ look and asked with some concern, “You saw him again?”

 

            Hotaru nodded.  “On the TV with Rei’s dad.  Haruka-papa says he works for him, that’s why he was there.  Then they took the tape in the room with them and wouldn’t let me in.  It’s not fair, Setsuna-mama.  I’m the one who saw him first both times, and I’m not some stupid little baby,” complained the child, her irritation at such treatment very obvious.

 

            For a moment, Setsuna considered Hotaru’s complaint.  True, underneath the child was a great deal of power.  However, she was still a little girl, and finding her the way she just had did nothing to change Setsuna’s perception of that.  Granted, Hotaru had more life knowledge than the average nine-year-old, but there were some things one just naturally tried to shield their child from, regardless of what life had already handed them. 

 

            Setsuna walked up to Hotaru and put out her hand for the glass the girl held.  As Hotaru reluctantly handed it over, Setsuna said, “There’s no need for you to be involved in this discussion at the moment.  We’ll all talk about it later tonight, but for now, you need to let us handle it.  Even though I know that annoys you a great deal.”

 

            Hotaru frowned as her mother finished speaking.  “You want me to go do something somewhere else, don’t you?”

 

            “Yes, please.”

 

            “Fine, fine,” answered Hotaru.  She sighed dramatically for effect, and as she walked sulkingly past Setsuna, mumbled to herself, “It’s always wait until later, wait until you’re older, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait...”

 

            Setsuna smiled slightly and shook her head, then reached for the door.  When the door opened, the conversation immediately stopped.  Setsuna walked in and set the glass on a table.  “It’s just me.  And I hear I missed some interesting developments while I was out.”

 

            Haruka indicated the TV screens they had set up and paused on a familiar face.  “It’s definitely the same guy.  He’s part of Senator Hino’s entourage, which would have given him opportunity and easy access to any information he wanted on Rei.  Or anything else that would have caused a scandal for his employer, for that matter.”

 

            “What we’re trying to do now is figure out his motive,” picked up Michiru.  “It would be nice to have a definite why.”

 

            “Money,” guessed Setsuna.  “It seems reasonable, and I’m sure the story was worth a good deal to whoever paid for the information.”

 

            Makoto shook her head.  “Rei and I spoke with the reporter who broke the news.  It’s a long story,” she said at the surprised looks she got.  “But, anyway, he said he got all his information anonymously.  No money ever exchanged hands, and I doubt he was lying about it.”

 

            “He’s working for one of the Senator’s opponents, then,” suggested Michiru.  “Disgrace and scandal can easily shift the people’s vote.”

 

            “Makes sense,” said Haruka.  “But no one’s tried to capitalize on it yet.  The other candidates have all been remarkably quiet on the subject, actually.”

 

            “It’s because Senator Hino’s public rating is so high,” replied Setsuna.  “People are curious about it, but most of them are still backing him.  For one of his opponents to speak out against him or his daughter when they’re already being assaulted by the media could cause a backlash they wouldn’t easily recover from.”

 

            “Well, whatever the reason, I’m going to have to tell Rei,” jumped in Makoto.  “Her dad needs to know about this.  I hate to put more on her, though, with everything that’s going on already.”

 

            Haruka nodded.  “And it would be nice if we had a little more to tell her.”

 

            “What are you thinking?” asked Michiru, though she expected she already knew from the look on Haruka’s face.

 

            “I want to find this fellow and talk to him myself,” answered Haruka.  “So I can very kindly point out to him that I don’t appreciate people sneaking around my family or using my friends for their own gain.”

 

            “’Very kindly,’” repeated Setsuna skeptically.  “That might not be the best approach in this situation.”

 

            “I don’t know,” said Michiru, appearing as if she were giving the idea a great deal of thought.  “Having a few words with him and letting him know our position on this matter could be very helpful.  And if we can convince him to confess on his own, it would take the burden of having to tell her father off of Rei.”

 

            “I’m coming with you,” announced Makoto, the decision to go after the guy as good as made.

 

            Haruka immediately objected.  “The three of us can handle this on our own.”

 

            “Rei is one of my best friends, and I owe her.  Plus, I’ve known her longer than all of you,” argued Makoto.  “It’s my responsibility to tell her about this, and to do that, I have to be there to know what happens.  Besides, I have an advantage you don’t.”

 

            Haruka looked at her dubiously, taking in the way she sat half lying in the chair, one hand resting across a belly that seemed to be getting in the way of everything anymore.  Any advantage Haruka could think of was nonexistent here.  Of course, in civilian form, Makoto was still more threatening than Ami or Usagi, but the threat quotient right now for all three of them wasn’t much higher than that of a bowl of pudding.

 

            “All right, Mako-chan,” replied Haruka.  “I’ll bite.  Just what is this advantage?”

 

            Makoto smiled as she answered, “I already know where he is.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            It was early evening, and the Sunset Lounge of the Intercontinental was slowly filling with those patrons who preferred this room as a showcase for the setting sun.  Haruka and Michiru sat together at a small table by the wall of windows that overlooked Tokyo Bay.  The purple and orange of the real twilight sky flowed smoothly into the painted sky of orange clouds over their heads.  The recently lit Bay Bridge glowed a pale blue against the darkening day outside, and a slow tune was played on a baby grand only a few feet from them, offering the guests here a pleasant cover for their hushed conversations.

 

            Haruka took a sip from her glass, taking a moment to watch Michiru in this setting.  Her natural beauty outshone everything around them, as far as Haruka was concerned, as Michiru appeared to gaze out over the water.  Though Michiru’s focus seemed to be on something beyond the glass, Haruka knew what she was really watching, because she was watching the same thing in the reflection in the glass over Michiru’s shoulder.  Seated in a small cluster of chairs in the center of the room were the Senator and two other men, one of whom was their target.  The three men sat there, relaxing with their drinks and chatting casually, until the Senator’s cell phone began to chirp.

 

            Hino answered the call, listened for several seconds, then replied back.  On his next pause, he covered the phone with his hand and said something quickly to the men with him.  At that point, the one they were after nodded, then got up and left, right before the Senator went back to his conversation.

 

            Standing slowly, Haruka put out a hand for Michiru to take.  Michiru smiled at her and accepted gracefully.  They left the lounge together, discretely following their target.

 

 

            Makoto fidgeted and shifted more to her right side on the hard park bench that sat along one of the more scenic areas of the bay.  They could see the hotel entrance clearly from here, and Setsuna hadn’t taken her eyes off it since they’d arrived.  Complaints aside, Makoto understood she was the most conspicuous of the group, and that she needed to stay out of immediate sight.  She only wished she and Setsuna had found a more comfortable place to wait it out while Haruka and Michiru were inside doing the scout work.

 

            As the streetlights began to flicker on, Makoto wondered if Ami had gotten home yet to get her message.  In a way, she was glad she hadn’t had to explain this to Ami over the phone, because Makoto had a feeling Ami would have put up a bigger fight than Hotaru’s small pouting fit when she was told they were going without her.  At least the promise of a few hours with Chibi-usa had seemed to make up for whatever the girl thought she would be missing with her parents tonight.

 

            Hearing Setsuna’s communicator signal, Makoto stood and walked over to where the woman was leaning against a tree.  “He’s moving,” said Haruka’s image.  “It looks like he’s heading for the entrance.”

 

            “We’re watching,” answered Setsuna.  Then, a few minutes later, “I see him.  He’s moving across to the waterfront.”

 

            Makoto saw Haruka and Michiru exit the hotel and leisurely move off on one side, as she and Setsuna did the same on the other side.  Keeping a reasonable distance, they followed their target until he came upon a woman standing by the railing around the bay.

 

            “I thought you were quitting,” Makoto heard the man say to the woman as she took a drag off her cigarette.

 

            The woman turned to him slowly, looking less than pleased, and blew a puff of smoke in his face.  Then she dropped what was left of it on the ground and crushed it with the toe of her shoe.  “Do you actually want something this time, Seki?  Or is it just bug the hell out of Kimiko night?”

 

            Seki glared at her as she pushed a wave of long, dark blonde hair casually over her shoulder.  “The Senator wants you back inside.  Ukio is on the phone with more problems over the expansion project.”

 

            Not bothering to acknowledge Seki any further, Kimiko headed back to the hotel.

 

            Seki smirked as he leaned back against the concrete railing.  “Bitch,” he muttered, reaching inside his jacket for his own pack of cigarettes.  He took one out of the pack and held his lighter to it, clicking it several times without getting a flame.

 

            “Need a light?”

 

            “Yeah, buddy, tha…”  Seki looked up, his words cutting off and his smile disappearing when he saw Haruka standing there, sans lighter.  Then he noticed the other three loosely surrounding him and that there was no one else in sight.  “You know, never mind about that light.  I need to get back.  My boss is waiting for me.”

 

            Haruka smiled at him in a less than reassuring way.  “I’m sure your boss wouldn’t mind giving you a few minutes to speak with us.  Or perhaps we could all go back inside and speak with him together.  You could go get your camera and take a picture, even, to remember us all by.”

 

            Seki shifted nervously on his feet.  “I really don’t have time for this,” he said as he tried to maneuver passed Haruka.

 

            Haruka moved so she was blocking his path.  She stood an inch lower than Seki, but her presence made her seem more dominating, and Seki swallowed hard as he was forced back against the rail.  “You’ll make the time,” said Haruka.  “Because there’s a number of things we need to discuss, starting with how I don’t like 30-year-old men secretly taking pictures of my 9-year-old daughter and ending somewhere around how unhappy I get when my friends are being used.”

 

            They knew, that was obvious to Seki.  How much they knew was another matter, and he was going to have a little fun finding out.  Seki calmed down and composed himself internally.  Then he said, “I can understand how those things would upset you.  I’m assuming this is all coming from you somehow having seen me keeping tabs on Senator Hino’s daughter.  I can assure that I have no interest in your daughter.  I don’t think she’s in more than two or three photographs, and, if you want, I’d be glad to give you those prints, as well as the negatives.”

 

            That answer threw Haruka off a step.  She’d been expecting more of a denial in there somewhere.  So it was Makoto who picked up for her.  “That doesn’t do anything for what you’ve done to our friends.  We know it was you who gave the story about Rei to the press.”

 

            “I suppose you have some proof of that?” asked Seki calmly.

 

            “Enough,” answered Haruka.  “And I’m sure the Senator will be glad to hear all about it.”

 

            Seki nodded, a smug look on his face.  “I’m sure he will.”

 

            “You don’t seem terribly concerned at the prospect,” said Michiru curiously.

 

            Seki shrugged at her.

 

            “It’s because he isn’t,” answered Setsuna.  “Really look at him,” she continued as the thoughts formed in her head.  “He’s a coward, and a self-serving one at that.  Men of that nature don’t take chances with things that could potentially strip them of their positions and power.  They operate only under those they work for, never on their own.”

 

            “Huh?” asked Makoto.  “What does that mean?”

 

            “It means,” said Michiru, “that the Senator already knows about this, because he was the one who ordered it.”

 

            Seki tilted his head at her, snapping off a two-fingered salute.  “Beautiful and smart.”

 

            Makoto was completely confused by this.  “That doesn’t make any sense.  He couldn’t.  She’s his daughter.”

 

            “She’s a liability,” returned Seki.  “This is politics, young woman, and family does nothing but cause problems and cost you leverage when you need it most.”

 

            “Why bring her out in the open, then?” asked Haruka.  “I’d think you would want this buried as far as you could get it.”

 

            “If that were possible,” answered Seki.  “But nothing gets buried forever.  It was bad enough when she met you two.  You know the old saying, ‘Guilt by association.’  But you’re just a novelty, a sideshow to amuse people.  When they close the newspaper, they forget about you.  Out of sight, out of mind, because your father isn’t sitting in an office somewhere telling them how to live their lives or who they have to let into their neighborhoods, businesses, and schools.  But that’s who Rei is, which is why her father has always had someone watching her.  I took over that job when I started working for him, and when I saw her with that girl the first time, I almost died.  Because I guarantee you, if I could catch them, so could anyone else.  So we made the decision to act on it first.  That way, we knew when the story would break, how it would happen, and we’d have all our answers ready, including one to explain how I leaked the story if that little detail ever got out.  And the worst the kid has to deal with is 15 minutes of fame and the press following her around for a few weeks.  In the end, as long as we play it right, no harm done.”

 

            “That’s insane!” gasped Makoto.

 

            “Maybe,” returned Seki, his smugness growing and leaving no doubt this idea was his baby.  “But it’s all gone exactly as we had planned.”

 

            Haruka’s right hook landed squarely on the side of that insufferable grin.  Seki fell to the ground, cursing in pain as he held his bleeding mouth

 

            “Haruka,” scolded Michiru, though it was barely halfhearted.

 

            “What?  Tell me you didn’t want me to do that,” she said as she pointed down at Seki.  Then Haruka turned her attention back to him.  “You listen to me.  If I ever see you anywhere near any member of my family again, you’ll be in a whole lot more pain than you are right now.  The same goes for Rei and any of her family or friends.  You are done with her, your so called job be damned.”

 

            Seki was in no position to argue, so he just stayed where he was, cowering on the ground, as the girls turned and left.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            Makoto sat quietly, her head resting against the back of the car seat and her eyes closed, as Haruka drove.  They’d dropped the others off at the house, Setsuna tasked with picking Hotaru up from Chibi-usa’s, and were now on their way to Rei’s.

 

            The car came to a halt, and when Haruka turned off the engine, Makoto opened her eyes.  She sat for a moment, staring at her hands, then took a deep breath and reached for the door handle.

 

            “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” asked Haruka as the car door was opened.

 

            Makoto shook her head.  “I need to do this, and I don’t think Rei is going to want an audience.”  Then she asked quietly, “Do you know how to tell when something’s really important to Rei?”

 

            “How?”

 

            “She pretends it’s no big deal and not important at all,” answered Makoto.  “When she was staying with us, she mentioned in passing that her dad was coming to see her this weekend.  She said it like it was just an everyday little thing that happened all the time.  I can’t even imagine how much this is going to hurt her.”  Makoto pulled herself up and out of the car, then turned back to Haruka.  “I’m not sure how long this will take.”

 

            “Don’t worry about it,” answered Haruka.  “I’m in no hurry.  I’ll wait for you here.”

 

            Makoto thanked her, then walked the short distance to the steps of the shrine.  “More steps than the apartment,” she muttered to herself as she slowly ascended, reminded of the other reason she hadn’t been here in so long.

 

            Once she reached the top, Makoto paused to stretch and catch her breath, intentionally stalling for time in the process.  When she was ready, she moved forward towards the main house.  She walked around the porch to Rei’s room, pausing momentarily before knocking.

 

            Rei opened the door and smiled at her through her surprise.  “Hey, Mako-chan.  What’s up?” she asked as she moved aside to let the girl in.

 

            Makoto, however, stood where she was, rather than going inside.  “I need to talk to you for a few minutes.  Hi, Minako,” she said when she saw the blonde sitting at the table with a textbook.

 

            “Heya, Mako-chan,” greeted Minako with a wave.  Then she smiled.  “Thanks for letting me borrow Ami tonight.  I left her off all safe and sound for you.”

 

            “Yeah,” complained Rei.  “And she came home with all these bags, but refuses to tell me what’s in any of them.”

 

            Minako answered by sticking her tongue out and blowing a raspberry.  Rei replied in kind, and Makoto grinned at them for a moment before a fresh stab of guilt hit her.  Her friends had found a way to be happy tonight, and, responsible for the situation or not, she was about to take that away from them.

 

            “Rei, do you mind if we walk a little?” asked Makoto, earning a curious look for it.  “I’m restless, and we can talk out here.”

 

            Rei nodded.  “Sure, if that’s what you want,” she answered, her mood shifting to better match Makoto’s cautious and hesitant one.

 

            Before following Rei away from the room, Makoto paused and said to Minako, “Come and find us in fifteen minutes, okay?”

 

            “Okay,” answered Minako quietly, staring intently after them through the open door as the two walked away together.

 

            They walked a bit, until they were down in the yard.  Rei chose the place where they stopped, turning and resting her back against one of the trees.  Her arms crossed over her chest, and she asked, “So what’s up, Mako-chan?  It must be pretty important for you to come all the way out here by yourself.”

 

            “Yeah, it is,” replied Makoto.  “But I’m not here by myself.  Haruka’s waiting for me down in the car.  Actually, I’ve been with her for most of the night.  There was something we had to do.”

 

            She began to explain then, about what they had seen at Haruka’s, the idea they had come up with to find the man themselves, and how they had gone about it.  As Makoto recounted what had been said, she watched Rei get progressively tenser.  She couldn’t read Rei’s expression as well as she would have liked, and wished Minako would get here quickly.  But she did reach out to her friend as she finished speaking, laying a hand lightly against Rei’s arm.

 

            At the contact, Rei stiffened even more.  “He lied to you,” she said, her voice deathly low.  “It wasn’t the truth.”

 

            “That’s possible, I guess,” offered Makoto.  “But it’s not really likely.  I’m sorry, Rei, but it was your dad.”

 

            “No!” shouted Rei angrily as she shrugged away from Makoto’s touch.  “He lied to you to save himself from getting into any more trouble.  He just didn’t want you to go to my dad.  And you didn’t, did you?  So you don’t really know.”

 

            “No, we didn’t,” admitted Makoto.  “It was different when we thought it was just this one man.”

 

            “It was just him,” said Rei as she shakily ran a hand through her hair, pushing her bangs away from her eyes.  “I know I have a lousy father, but he wouldn’t do that to me,” she went on, her voice beginning to lose some of its firmness.  “He cares about me at least a little.  Why else would he call me to make sure I was okay?  And he wouldn’t sell me out like that, not for all the trouble it would cause us.  No father could do that and just let everything fall apart, no matter how miserable they are.”

 

            “Rei?  What’s going on?” asked Minako softly as she slowly walked up behind Makoto.

 

            Rei looked over into those blue eyes filled with worry over her.  When she saw that, everything she was feeling spilled over.  Angry tears filled her eyes as all the hurt and little betrayals she carried in her heart collided and became a physical thing.  The crushing weight in her chest made it hard to breathe and dulled the sting of her nails digging into her palms as her hands clenched tight.

 

            “Damn him,” she whispered harshly.  “How could he?  Damn him!” she spat out once more as she turned quickly and slammed a fist into the tree behind her.

 

            Makoto winced as Minako moved quickly around her to get to Rei.  Makoto moved more cautiously, wanting to help, but uncertain how much Rei would want from her.  Minako, though, had already wrapped her arms around Rei from behind, trying to calm her and find out what was happening.

 

            Rei’s palms rested against the rough bark of the tree, her body continuing to shake from the emotional release.  “He lied to me again.  And I believed him.  I always believe him.”

 

            “Her father,” elaborated Makoto for Minako as she stepped up to them and laid a hand on Rei’s shoulder.  “He was behind the initial press on you guys.  He was trying to save face by getting to it first.”

 

            “Oh, Rei,” murmured Minako, one hand moving to gently smooth back Rei’s hair.

 

            “I hate him,” bit out Rei, her head bowed and her eyes squeezed closed.  “I’ll never forgive him for this.  He didn’t care at all what would happen to me.  And everything this has done to you…  I hate him so much.”

 

*            *            *

 

            Ami was working at her desk when Makoto came home that night.  She could tell right away that whatever errand Makoto had needed to take care of hadn’t been a pleasant one.  Ami had started to rise, to go to her love and offer some comfort or perhaps talk it out.  But Makoto had put up a hand to stop her, only saying, “Not right now,” before going to their room and closing herself in.

 

            Makoto’s request was respected for precisely 30 minutes.  When Ami still hadn’t heard anything from her at that point, she got up and went to the bedroom.  After knocking softly, she opened the door to find Makoto sitting on the bed, an old photo album opened beside her.

 

            Ami went over and climbed onto the bed.  She looked down at the pictures and smiled at what she saw.  Makoto’s parents, either alone or together, made up the content of the eight pictures.  The scenery behind them was all ocean and touristy exotic.

 

            “Their honeymoon,” said Makoto.  “Dad used to say he was going to take them back there for their fiftieth anniversary.  He would tease mom about doing the geriatric hula.  Mom always hit him for it, but she’d be laughing when she did.  I laughed, too, but it was because I thought geriatric had something to do with jell-o, and…  Well, never mind what I was picturing.  It’s a good memory.  My dad was a good husband and a good father,” she said as she traced her fingers over the image in the photo.  “I needed to remind myself what one looks like.”

 

            Ami reached up and carefully brushed back a few stray strands of hair that had fallen from Makoto’s ponytail.  That task complete, her fingers passed lightly over Makoto’s cheek before she pulled her hand back and asked, “Are you ready to talk about it yet?”

 

            With a sigh, Makoto closed the photo album, then looked over at Ami.  “It was Rei’s father who outted her and Minako to the newspaper.  He set the whole thing up.  And I had to tell her.”

 

            Makoto went on to explain what had happened at Haruka’s and all the things that were said at the Bay and the shrine.  She glossed over the scene at Rei’s, not wanting to think about the hurt and betrayal she’d left one of her dearest friends with.

 

            “Poor Rei,” said Ami quietly.  “How could anyone do that to their child?”

 

            “I don’t know,” answered Makoto.  She closed her eyes for a moment, her hand coming to rest on her stomach.  She stroked the spot absently as she said, “All I know is that it isn’t fair.  We don’t ask to be born and we don’t get to choose our parents.  It’s all just one big cosmic crap shoot.  Some of us are lucky enough to get dads who are there every spare minute they have, and others get ones who just don’t give a damn.  And for some reason, it’s always the rotten ones who get to go on, getting chance after chance, while the good ones get taken away.”

 

            Ami laid her hand atop Makoto’s and smiled gently.  “I think it seems that way because the bad ones cause so much hurt when they’re around, while the good ones just go on living their lives with their families.  And not all the good ones have disappeared.  My mom isn’t perfect, but, even with her faults, I would never trade her for anyone else.”

 

            “Do you miss your dad?”

 

            Ami’s smile faded, and her eyes dropped.  “That’s a bit of a complicated question,” she answered as her fingers began to play nervously with Makoto’s.

 

            Makoto’s fingers wrapped around Ami’s to stop their fidgeting, and she ducked her own eyes down to try and catch Ami’s gaze.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “That was a stupid thing to ask.”

 

            “It’s okay,” replied Ami.  “I just need a moment to think of how to phrase an answer.  Let’s see…  Most of what I remember about him is good, and I miss the memory I have of him and the little things we used to do together.  But that isn’t really him, just the ideal I have wrapped up in a child’s vague memories.  Sometimes, it’s hard to separate what I think I remember and what I know actually happened.  So I suppose I really miss the idea of the man more than I miss the man himself.  But at least I know for all the times I’ve thought about him and wondered, he’s also thought about me,” she added, glancing up to the framed sketch that hung on the wall.  “His squiggles just couldn’t live with my straight lines.”

 

            Your what?”

 

            Ami continued to play with Makoto’s fingers as she explained, “When Papa left, Mom tried to find a way of explaining it to me so I would be able to understand easily.  She said Papa saw the world like one of his canvases.  On that canvas, she was a straight line, always going in one direction, always neat and ordered.  Papa was like squiggles, always moving and all over the place.  And squiggles and straight lines were just too different to live together and share a canvas.  Mom never said it, but I know Papa used to say I was just like her.  So he couldn’t live with me, either,” she concluded with a small, sad shrug.

 

            At that, Makoto made a derisive sound.  “That’s just ridiculous.  You are not a straight line.  I don’t know what you are, because I don’t really know how to think of you like that, but I do know you aren’t that boring.  I don’t think your mom is either.”  She gave a decisive nod, as if her word was final and unchallengeable.

 

            Ami’s smile grew until a small giggle escaped.  “I love you,” she said happily.

 

            “I love you, too,” said Makoto as she reached out and pulled Ami closer so she could kiss her forehead.

 

            When Makoto’s lips left her, Ami resettled against her side.  When they were both comfortable, Ami asked, “Would you like to know what you are on my canvas?”

 

            Makoto looked at her, surprised.  “You’ve actually thought of me like that?”

 

            “Yes.  I’ve thought of all of you in those terms.”  Ami used her fingers to count off her friends as she began.  “Usagi, for instance, is swirls and pinwheels, all in pastels, because she’s soft and calming and chaotic and haphazard all at the same time.  Minako is brightly colored finger paints – bubbly and bright and seemingly childish, though there’s much more to be found under the surface if someone is willing to take the time to look and see the true artwork that she is.  Rei is a bit different, because she’s more like lights, the ones on a stereo or the media player on my computer – always in tune with and moving to the pulse around them, flaring red at the highest peaks and calming to blues and greens when everything is at peace.”

 

            “Huh.  Okay, so what about me?” asked Makoto, giving Ami a teasing poke in the ribs.

 

            “You, Mako-chan, are like watercolors,” said Ami through a joyful grin.  “Gentle and beautiful, the edges not always clearly defined, but always my favorite type of painting.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            The elevator was going too slowly, and Rei was certain that if her father could have manipulated this as well, he would have.  He knew she was coming, that much was a given.  Walking into the hotel at an ungodly hour and very loudly demanding the Senator’s room number hadn’t gotten her very far.  Throwing her name around and threatening the livelihoods of anyone in her way had gotten a quick call up to the suite and an okay from their guest to allow his daughter up. 

 

            Rei tapped her foot impatiently as she watched the numbers rise on the floor indicator.  Finally, it stopped, the doors opening to her floor, and without hesitation, Rei made her way to the suite.  When her father opened the door to her wordlessly, she pushed past him and moved to the center of the room.  She stood with her arms crossed over her chest and stared at him until he closed the door and turned to face her.

 

            For just a moment, when he saw Rei standing there with the deep orange of the rising sun in the windows behind her, the Senator was struck with a profound sense of déjà vu.  But it had been a setting sun that day, and the woman who had stood before him had spoken in a tone of quiet finality.  Even in silence, no part of his daughter was quiet.

 

            “I don’t need to ask why you did this,” said Rei, her voice hard as she glared at her father.  “I don’t even need to ask if it’s true, because I can see it in your eyes.  But how could you?  After all the times I defended you, and all the things I overlooked, how could you do this to me?”

 

            The Senator took a hesitant step towards her and said calmly, “You would have been better off if your friends hadn’t told you about any of this, but I suppose that’s a moot point.  I understand you’re upset, Rei, and though our relationship was the primary factor in all of this, it was never meant to harm you personally or reflect my feelings towards you.  It was simply a matter of business.  You and your friend have suffered some embarrassment, I’m aware, but it will all blow over soon.  In the meantime,” he went on, moving closer to her and tentatively placing a hand on her shoulder, “I’ll make it up to you.  Whatever you want.”

 

            “You have no idea, do you?” asked Rei harshly.  She shoved his hand off of her and moved several steps away.  “You bastard.  You don’t even know what you’ve done to us.  Embarrassment we could have lived with, but Minako’s parents didn’t know, and you have no clue what they’re like.  They hate the idea of us being together, and if we can’t convince a total stranger in a court room that we’re capable enough to live our own lives, her parents are going to send her as far away from me as they can get her.  She ran away from them for me.  She spent nights hiding from everyone, all for me.  She can’t go home again, she can’t even show her face in public, let alone go back to school.  And I don’t even have a school to go back to.  Because of all this, they’ve expelled me.  So not only do I stand a very good chance of losing the one person in this world who means everything to me, I also have to face Grandpa with the shame of Mom’s school hanging over me.  I can live with that, though, but not with losing Minako.  And if I do, you better hope like hell that your people are willing to die for you.”

 

            Pure hatred flashed in Rei’s eyes, and her father saw it clearly.  He swallowed down the sudden fear he felt rising, mentally chastising himself for being afraid of this girl.  Then, pulling up as much bravado as he could, the Senator stared down his daughter.  “I’m sorry for what’s happened to you, but I am still your father.  I will not tolerate you making any kind of threats towards me.”

 

            A bitter laugh escaped Rei’s lips.  “You aren’t my father.  My father wouldn’t have done something like this.”  Then she paused, a sad frown replacing the scowl she wore.  Softly, she added, “My father didn’t.”

 

            A heavy silence hung between them for several moments, broken finally by Rei’s voice.  “Don’t ever come near me again,” she said firmly.  “Don’t try to call me, or follow me, or send me any more gifts with cards signed by your assistant.  I loved you, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why.  Mom loved you, too, even in the end, and I’ll never understand that either.  What I do know is the wrong person died in this story, and from now on, I’m going to live it as close to the way it should have gone as I can.”  Pushing roughly passed her father, Rei walked towards the door and opened it without looking back.

 

            The door slammed hard behind Rei as she left her father standing alone in the middle of the room.  A minute later, Kimiko appeared in the bedroom doorway.  She leaned against the doorframe, hands in the pockets of her slacks, and smirked.  “Well, that could have gone better.”

 

            The Senator shot her a harsh look in return.  “Shut up, Kimiko,” he said as he walked over to the room’s mini bar.  “I’ve had just about all I can stand of you and your ‘I told you so’s.’”

 

            As the Senator dropped two ice cubes into a glass and poured amber liquid over them, Kimiko stood straighter, her smirk disappearing.  “Do not talk to me like I’m Seki or some other lackey of yours.  I’ve got more than a decade of my life wrapped up in your career and just as much riding on you getting reelected as you do.  And just to reiterate, I did tell you something like this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen because apparently I’m too ‘out of touch’ with today’s voters.  It was your little lapdog, Seki, who thought this was brilliant and foolproof, so if you need to take it out on someone, take it out on him.  After all, he’s the one who got caught by a bunch of kids.”  She sighed, her gaze shifting to the closed door.  “You aren’t going to be able to get her back this time.”

 

            The Senator grimaced as he swallowed the last of the glass’ contents.  “I gave up Rei a long time ago, when I lost her mother.  It’s not my problem that it’s taken her this long to realize it.”  He set the glass down hard, the ice clinking against the sides as he did.  “And you do well to remember that you do work for me, just like Seki, no matter how much longer you may have been employed.  Speaking of him, do we have all of that worked out?  Just in case Rei or one of her friends decides to take this to the papers.”

 

            Some of the edge Kimiko had been carrying abated as she switched to professional mode.  “There are a few points that I want you to go back over, just to make sure everything syncs up.  Seki’s already in transit, so that’s one major thing out of our way.  If it comes down to it, we’ll hang him like we’d planned and keep him out of sight so no one can question him.  And the idiot gets an extended vacation, on us.”

 

            A harsh bark of laughter escaped the Senator.  “Almost makes you wonder just who the real idiot is,” he said wryly.  Then, “As soon as it’s an appropriate hour, call the Ainos and tell them there’s been a change in my schedule.  I want to meet with them tomorrow night instead of Friday.  Be as polite as possible, because I want to find out what’s going on there without having to ask.”

 

            “Right,” answered Kimiko.  “Is that it?”

 

            “For now,” answered the Senator.

 

            Kimiko nodded, then set about her routine, getting things organized and ready, leaving the Senator alone to his thoughts.  The Senator, for his part, poured himself another drink, heedless of the early hour and the protesting his stomach would likely do later.  Instead, he collapsed wearily onto the couch, idly wondering to himself just how loyal his people really were.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            In a close to panicked state, Minako finished describing Rei to the desk clerk.  She knew this was where Rei was most likely to come if she hadn’t gotten here already.  Mentally, Minako berated herself once again for falling asleep and not even noticing when Rei left in what was practically the middle of the night.

 

            The desk clerk nodded.  “Yes, she was here.  You don’t forget someone like that easily.  She left a short while ago after visiting with one of our guests.”

 

            “Thank you,” answered Minako.  She moved away from the desk and over to where Grandpa was waiting for her.  “He said she was here, but we missed her,” she said, her voice worried.

 

            Grandpa reached for her hand and patted it gently.  “Try not to worry so much.  We’ll find her,” he said, though his own concern was plain to see.

 

            They were near the entrance, on their way out, when Yuichiro came rushing inside.  “I spotted her.  She’s across the street by the bay,” he said quickly.

 

            That was all Minako needed.  She broke away from them and hurried out of the hotel.

 

            Grandpa sighed quietly, feeling some relief.  “We should wait for them at the car,” he said, to which Yuichiro nodded.

 

            Once she was across the street, Minako found Rei easily.  The miko stood with her arms crossed on the railing, staring out over the water.  Her hair blew gently away from her face as the breeze off the bay picked up a bit.  As she got closer, Minako noticed the shine on Rei’s cheeks, a combination of mist and recent tears mixed together with tension and emotional exhaustion.

 

            Minako approached slowly and carefully laid a hand against Rei’s back.  She stood beside Rei and waited for some response.  When she got none, she said quietly, “I’m sorry I fell asleep on you like that.  You know, it surprised me when I woke up and you weren’t there.  And I think I may have scared Grandpa a bit when I told him I couldn’t find you.  But we thought this was where you would be, so he and Yuichiro brought me to get you.”  She hesitated, biting her lip nervously as Rei did nothing more than stare out across the water.  “I guess you saw him already,” she went on cautiously.  “If you want to talk about it, or maybe there’s something you might want to tell me…”

 

            Minako was cut short as Rei reached for her and pulled her in close, Minako’s back to Rei’s front.  Minako stood facing out where Rei had been staring with Rei’s arms tight around her and pinning her own to her sides.  Then Rei’s cheek brushed against her ear, and Minako felt the warmth and moisture there for just a second before Rei’s chin rested on her shoulder.

 

            Managing to free one of her arms, Minako raised it so she could touch some part of Rei.  “It’ll be all right, Rei,” she said softly as her fingers brushed through dark hair.  “We’ll make everything okay, eventually.  But for now, we should go home.”

 

            Rei’s grip tightened for a moment in answer, and Minako nodded.

 

            “If that’s what you want,” replied the blonde.  “We have a few hours before we have to be anywhere.”

 

            “I didn’t forget about the lawyer,” said Rei, her voice barely above a whisper.  “I would have been there for you.  I always will be.”

 

            “I know,” answered Minako, her free arm coming to rest over top of Rei’s.  “I never doubted that.  I was just worried about you.”

 

            “Where’s Grandpa?” asked Rei.

 

            “I left him by the hotel,” replied Minako, automatically trying to look over her shoulder.  “They might be waiting for us there.  Or maybe they went back to the car.”

 

            Rei nodded against Minako’s shoulder, then loosened her grip and moved Minako so they were standing eye to eye.  Rei brought her hand up and placed it lightly against Minako’s cheek, then slowly let her thumb trace over Minako’s lips.  Carefully, she leaned forward and pressed her lips against Minako’s forehead.  After several seconds, Rei pulled back and took Minako’s hand in hers.

 

            Her voice sounded tired as Rei said, “I’m ready to go home, now.”  Then she started forward, still holding on to Minako’s hand, leaving the bay behind them.