The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate

by Crawlspace

 

~ Chapter 8:  Upside Down and Sideways ~

 

 

            Mamoru stretched and let one of his legs fall from the edge of the couch as he carefully redistributed the weight of the blonde who was curled peacefully on top of him.  Before he could get completely resettled, Usagi’s head lifted.  The smile she gave him was sleepy and gentle.  Mamoru smiled back.  Kami, it was good to be home again.

 

 

            Usagi’s hand reached up and cupped his cheek.  “You’re thinking about it again,” she said.

 

            Yeah, he was thinking about it again.  He was thinking about all of it.  Yet, the more he tried to reason it out, the more chaotic it all seemed to become.  Mamoru blamed this on the jet lag.  He’d been home half a day and his body couldn’t decide if it should be waking up or going to sleep.  Then again, this was all just so crazy.

 

            “Mamo-chan,” started Usagi, the beginnings of a puppy dog pout on her features, “are you mad at me for not telling you?”

 

            “No, Usako, I’m not mad,” answered Mamoru.  His hand played with one of her ponytails.  “I’m just feeling a bit thrown off by it all.”

 

            Thrown off was an understatement.  They had all been together having dinner when the conversation started going over his head.  Rei mentioned her grandfather going away next weekend, which made Minako giggle and Ami blush.  Then Usagi brought up the Christmas party at Haruka’s on the last day of classes.  That led to the girls saying they needed to go shopping for something to wear, at which point Makoto made a sour face.  She commented that nothing fit right anymore and that she was getting tired of using rubberbands to tie her jeans closed.  Minako said that was exactly why they needed to go shopping at the same time Ami interjected that even though Makoto was complaining about it, she still didn’t think the other girl had gained enough weight.

 

            Ami’s comment confused Mamoru.  He knew Makoto had been sick; Usagi had mentioned it in a letter and once or twice in phone calls.  He thought it might be that she had lost some weight early on, but from what he could tell, Makoto had gained it all back plus some.  Not that he would ever say that.

 

            Oblivious to his confusion, the girls went on.  Makoto said the doctor told her that her weight was fine.  Usagi remembered something at that point and became extremely excited, asking Makoto if she had gotten a picture when she went yesterday.  Makoto smiled at this, and so did Ami, though hers was a bit quieter.  Then Makoto reached into her pocket and took out a yellow note card.  Minako, Usagi, and Rei huddled together in the booth to get a look.  And just as Makoto informed them all that it was a boy, all the things that had been flying over Mamoru’s head came crashing down on him.

 

            “None of you seem too surprised,” he heard Makoto say over the ringing in his ears.

 

            Before the girls could get out any sort of excuses or explanations, Chibi-usa pointed to him.  “Mamo-chan is,” she’d said.  “You can tell by the look on his face.”

 

            Mamoru was certain his expression was pretty comical at that point, if the way Rei and Minako were trying not to laugh at him was any indication.  Usagi, though, was looking just a bit nervous.

 

            His mouth finally catching up with his brain, Mamoru blurted out what was now obvious.  “You’re pregnant?!”

 

            The volume had brought stares from some of the other patrons.  Rei finally let out the laugh she’d been holding in, and Ami slid down in her seat just enough to make her embarrassment obvious.

 

            “Yeah,” answered Makoto.  “I thought Usagi would have told you.”  Makoto smiled at him as Mamoru shook his head.  “Oh well.  I guess I was just getting used to people finding out some way other then me.  Ya know, even my doctor knew before I ever called him.”

 

            “How’d that happen?” asked Minako.

 

            Ami slid further down in her seat.

 

            “Referral from Ami’s mom,” answered Makoto.  “She talked to him first to make sure he could take me on.”

 

            “How’d Ami’s mom find out?”

 

            “I told her,” came Ami’s quiet reply.

 

            “We sort of got caught in a lie,” explained Makoto.  “Telling her the truth was easier than trying to think of another lie.”

 

            Minako seemed to put something together at that moment.  Mamoru couldn’t keep up with her reasoning as she rambled on about the day they all found out, how Ami’s mom must have known before the rest of them, and how this lie would have been caught around the time Ami wasn’t coming to the study meetings.  If this had been a comic strip, a light bulb would have appeared over Minako’s head.

 

            In an astonished voice, Minako announced, “You got grounded!”

 

            If Ami had slid any further down in her seat she would have been on the floor.  Mamoru, feeling completely forgotten himself, felt kind of sorry for the girl.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rei offer her a sympathetic smile.  She then turned that smile to him.  For a moment, Mamoru thought someone was taking pity on him and his confusion.  Then Rei’s smile turned devilish.

 

            “Usagi,” said Rei in a tone that left Mamoru with a sinking feeling, “is there anything else you haven’t told him?”

 

            “Um, well,” stammered Usagi.  Then in a rush, she said, “I didn’t think I was supposed to.  It’s not like you actually told us or anything, and well…”

 

            “Don’t worry about it, Usagi,” reassured Rei.  She looked over at Mamoru, winked, then grabbed the front of Minako’s shirt and pulled the girl into a hard kiss.

 

            Mamoru’s world tilted as Minako returned the kiss with vigor.  He had just enough cognizance left to notice that Chibi-usa was staring at them wide-eyed, and that Ami was hiding her face behind her hand and shaking her head.  Makoto laughed, and he felt Usagi beside him once again.  She put a finger under his chin and pushed up.

 

            “You’re catching flies, Mamo-chan,” said the blonde.  He couldn’t figure out if the smile she was giving him then was apologetic or sympathetic.

 

            Now here he was, several hours later, and the world still wasn’t totally right side up.  At least not for him.

 

            Usagi’s fingers traced a path over his cheekbone and around his eyes.  “I’m sorry I didn’t warn you.  I just wasn’t sure if I was allowed to tell or not.”

 

            Mamoru relaxed under her touch.  “I just need a little time to get used to it all,” he said.  “I was only gone for half a year…”

 

            “Seven months and 20 days,” interrupted Usagi.  “That’s more than half a year.”

 

            “Okay, just over half a year,” corrected Mamoru.  “But with as busy as I was, even when I was missing you, it didn’t seem like that long.  Then I come home for a visit and everything’s changed.  I feel like the world’s been turned upside down and sideways, and I’m stuck floating in the middle somewhere.”

 

            “Not everything is different,” said Usagi softly.  She scooted forward so she could place a kiss lightly on his lips.  “I still love you, Mamo-chan.”

 

            The feeling those words left him with was indescribably wonderful.  “I love you, too, Usako.”  Mamoru lifted a hand up to scrub at his tired eyes.  “I still can’t believe it.  Makoto’s pregnant and there isn’t a guy in sight.  Ami’s getting grounded.  Rei and Minako are a couple.”  He sighed heavily.

 

            Usagi sat up, straddling his waist in the process.  “Does it bother you?  That they’re together?” she asked.

 

            Mamoru looked at her through one eye.  “No.  Not in the way you’re suggesting, anyway.”

 

            “Then what kind of way?”

 

            Mamoru sighed again.  Usagi was looking pretty perturbed at him at the moment.  His brain wasn’t functioning enough for him to think of anything better than the truth, so that’s what he gave her.

 

            “Because, Usako,” said Mamoru wearily, “it does absolutely nothing for a guy’s ego to find out that after dating him, his ex decides she’d rather be gay.”

 

            Usagi bit her lip to try and stop her giggles.  A few still managed to escape, and Mamoru rolled his eyes at her.

 

            Awww,” teased the blonde.  “Poor Mamo-chan’s ego, feeling all small and bruised.  Do you need me to stroke it for you?”

 

            Mamoru’s eyes bugged out in surprise as Usagi’s bottom wriggled against his lap.  “Usako!”

 

            Usagi laughed at him and slapped his chest playfully.  “Oh, Mamo-chan, you take everything so seriously.  Rei and Minako are happy together.  And Rei…”  She leaned in and placed a kiss against his chin, “Deciding she likes girls…”  A kiss to his left cheek, “Has nothing…”  One on his right cheek, “To do…”  Then the tip of his nose, “With you.”  Her lips landed softly against his and remained there, the kiss deepening.

 

            Had he mentioned how good it was to be home?  As Usagi’s kiss lingered and her body stretched out more fully over his, Mamoru thought the sentiment bore repeating.

 

            Kami, it was good to be home again.

 

 

*            *            *

 

 

            Makoto sat on the floor tapping her pencil against her lips.  She stared at the textbook in front of her on the coffee table, attempting unsuccessfully to decipher the equations.  The book might as well have been written in another language for all she understood it.

 

            More than a little frustrated, Makoto’s attention wandered back over to the ultrasound image beside her notebook.  She kept glancing at it, trying to make out the blurry image.  Her finger traced along an edge.  Here was his head and his nose.  Further down was an arm, then a hand with four fingers and a thumb.  The curve of his body led to a leg, to his foot, to his toes.  All of it together was the almost overwhelming realization that this was her son.

 

            “Are you terribly disappointed?” asked Ami.

 

            Makoto looked up to see Ami watching her.  The girl was sitting sideways in the desk chair, her chin resting against her arms on the back of the chair.  Makoto wondered how long Ami had been like that.

 

            With a self-depreciating grin, Makoto asked, “How many Bad Mommy points do I get if I say just a little?”

 

            Ami shook her head.  “None.  I know you wanted a girl.”

 

            “It’s not like I don’t want him because he’s a boy,” replied Makoto.  “I just liked the idea of a little girl.  And it would have been easier.  I would have known how to take care of a girl.  But a boy…”  Her sentence trailed into silence for a second, then she said, “I haven’t even thought of any boy names.  And I’m going to have to do the nursery differently than I’d planned.  I don’t care what decade it is or how being gender specific is supposed to be out, I am not putting my son in anything with lace or ruffles.”

 

            Ami laughed quietly.  Makoto hadn’t taken this as badly as she had feared she would.  Though she’d been quiet about it since they found out yesterday, Makoto had obviously been thinking about it and more.  Before now she hadn’t mentioned anything about names or where the baby was going to sleep.

 

            Makoto tugged at the waistband of her pajama pants.  There was an uncomfortable indent forming were the elastic met her skin.  She blew air through her lips, making an annoyed noise.  “Bigger,” she said quietly.  Then more loudly to Ami, “I need to get a bigger uniform.  This week.  I’m going to have to tell them this week.”

 

            “It won’t be so bad,” said Ami gently.

 

            “Only if they try and insist on a transfer,” replied Makoto.  She looked away from Ami and around her living room.  “Did you know this was the first apartment I picked out all by myself?”

 

            “No,” answered Ami.  “You never told me that.”

 

            “Yep.  I moved in here the week before I started at the junior high.  Everything changed so much and so quickly back then.  But everything changes, whether we want it to or not.  Isn’t that right, Little Bug?” said Makoto, patting a hand against her belly.

 

            “Little Bug?” asked Ami.  “I haven’t heard that before.”

 

            Makoto shrugged.  “He needs a nickname.  I’m tired of calling him ‘the baby’ all the time.”

 

            Smiling, Ami asked, “What would you have called him if he was a girl?”

 

            “Don’t know,” answered Makoto honestly.  “Bug just sort of happened.  Anyway, what I was getting at before is that I’m going to need a bigger apartment.  I’ve always had my own room and I want Bug to have his, too.  Besides, I want to decorate.”

 

            “Everyone’s going to want to help with that, you know,” said Ami, remembering the presents hidden away for the baby shower.

 

            “That’s fine,” said Makoto.  “Since everyone already seemed to know it was going to be a boy, they’ve probably got more ideas than me, anyway.”

 

            Ami ducked her eyes away from the amused look Makoto shot her.  “Any idea of when you’d like to start looking for another place?” she asked, hoping Makoto wouldn’t question her about just how it was everyone had known.

 

            “I already did,” answered Makoto.  “Someone once told me the best solutions are found closest to home.  So I talked to my landlord.  The people in 304 are moving out next month.  It’s two bedrooms and I can move in mid-February.”

 

            “I guess you didn’t need me this time,” said Ami, feeling oddly disappointed.

 

            “I thought I’d save your talents for something else.”

 

            Ami raised her eyebrows in question

 

            Makoto picked up her textbook and turned it for Ami to see.  “I hate the Romans,” she said.

 

            Ami smiled widely.  “You have to blame the Greek for this particular problem.”

 

            Ami moved over to sit on the floor beside Makoto.  This was a familiar position for her, sitting close enough to Makoto to feel her without actually touching.  After years of study sessions, Ami knew just how long she could stay this way before needing to put some distance between them.  She judged her limit tonight to be 20 minutes.

 

            “I’ll be right back,” said Makoto before they got started.  “I want to get changed.  These are getting uncomfortable.”

 

            Makoto stood and walked out of the room.  While she was gone, Ami glanced down at the picture lying on the table.  Little Bug, she grinned to herself.  I’m glad your mommy isn’t unhappy about you.

 

            Looking over to the open notebook, Ami skimmed over Makoto’s homework.  Just a cursory glance let her know Makoto didn’t understand this assignment at all.  And this was going to take more than 20 minutes.

 

 

            Makoto came back into the living room and stopped, the confusion plain on her face.  “Where’d Ami go?” she questioned the empty room.

 

            A brief search found Ami and their books at the kitchen table.  “Why did you move?” asked Makoto.

 

            “I didn’t think sitting on the living room floor in front of the television was conducive to studying,” answered Ami without looking up from the area she was arranging.

 

            “Oh.  Okay.”  Makoto shrugged and went over to the seat across from Ami that had been set up for her.

 

            This was no fun, thought Makoto.  Studying was the only time she could get really close to Ami.  It was an indulgence she allowed herself only because Ami was always too involved with the work to notice how close they were and it was easy to explain away if she did.

 

            Makoto sighed.  She didn’t want to do this anymore.  Maybe she could talk Ami into getting a snack instead.  She looked up about to suggest that and saw how totally concentrated Ami was on her Trigonometry task.

 

            Then again, maybe not, thought Makoto glumly.

 

            With that, she settled in for some boring homework.

 

 

*            *            *

 

            “I’m ready, Daddy,” said Minako as she came into the room.

 

            Minako’s father looked away from the TV and smiled.  “Well, don’t you look pretty.

 

            Minako made a show of spinning around to show off her new dress so her father could fuss over how nice she looked and how grown-up she was.  “You’re going to turn a few heads at Tenoh’s party tonight,” he said as he reached for his coat and car keys.

 

            Minako’s mother just couldn’t let the chance pass.  “Just be careful whose head it is you’re turning,” said the woman.  “Honestly, Minako, I wish you wouldn’t hang around those two girls as much as you do.  It just doesn’t look right.”

 

            Minako tried not to roll her eyes at the old argument.  “It’s just close friends tonight, Mom.  No strange company or press to worry about.”

 

            “That’s just the problem,” returned her mother.  “It’s one thing for you to be seen shaking hands with them at a concert or art exhibit.  It’s something entirely different for you to be socializing with them privately.  People will find out and start talking.”

 

            “Yeah,” said Minako, just about at the end of her rope with all of this.  “We wouldn’t want the society pages finding out I’m gay.  What would the neighbors think?”

 

            Minako’s mother shot her a withering glare.  “Don’t take that kind of tone with me, young lady.  And watch your phrasing.  You don’t want anyone thinking anything of the sort, regardless of who you call your friends.”

 

            “Your mother’s right, Minako,” added her father.  “You need to watch what you say and who you say it to.  People will have no problem misconstruing your words.  The last thing you want is to start out your adult life with those sorts of rumors following you around.”

 

            Minako sighed and gave up.  “All right, Daddy.  I’m sorry, and I’ll be more careful with what I say from now on.”

 

            “That’s my girl,” said her father as he patted the top of her head.  “Now let’s go pick up your friend.  You don’t want to be late for the party.”

 

 

*            *           *

 

            The car pulled to a stop in front of the house, and all three passengers sat and stared in stunned silence.

 

            It was Minako’s father who broke their trance.  “Well, it certainly is… festive,” he said, the look on his face giving away what he really thought of all the lights and decorations.

 

            Suddenly, Minako yelped and pushed back against Rei, clutching the girl’s arm.  “Did you see that?” she asked in a panicked voice.

 

            “See what?” asked Rei.

 

            “There’s something in the tree.  I swear its eyes were glowing,” answered Minako.

 

            “Maybe it’s a bat or some such,” said Minako’s father, sounding a bit worried.  “Or it could be a stray.  I should probably have a look.”

 

            “Hold on,” said Rei, stopping him.  “I think it’s coming back out.”

 

            They watched as three tiny points of light emerged from the tree branches and started moving across the air to the other tree.  In the glow from the Christmas lights, a small body could just be made out, the arms partially outstretched and its head oversized with some sort of hump on its back.

 

            Minako’s father started to laugh.  Personally, Minako didn’t think it was all that funny that there was some strange, hideously deformed creature in Haruka’s front yard, and she said as much.

 

            “It’s an elf,” her father said.

 

            The girls stared at him.

 

            “I saw them on display somewhere last week,” he explained further.  “There’s a wire strung between the trees and the elf runs on a wheel over it.  It’s supposed to be cute, holding a candle with a bag of presents over its back.  I just thought they were ugly little gremlins.”

 

            “Glowing eyes are always a bad thing,” muttered Minako as she released Rei’s arm from the death grip she held it in.

 

            “You’re sure you don’t need me to pick you up,” asked Minako’s father as the girls got out of the car.

 

            “Yes,” answered Rei.  “My grandpa said he’d come get us.  Thank you for the ride here,” said Rei as she offered a polite bow.  “And thank you for allowing Minako to spend the night at my home.”

 

            “You’re welcome,” answered Minako’s father.  “You girls have fun.”  With a wave, he pulled away from the curb.

 

            Rei turned and smiled at Minako.  “See?  Your dad likes me.”

 

            “Yeah,” said Minako sarcastically.  “And he’d love you lots more if he knew we were sleeping together.”

 

            When they were halfway to the door, Hotaru came rushing out to greet them.  The flash from her camera would have blinded them if their pupils weren’t already dilated from the multitude of decorative lights.

 

            Haruka followed right behind her daughter.  “Well, what do you think?” she asked, indicating the house and front yard.

 

            Rei took in the running lights on the house, the reindeer and Santa Claus cutouts spotlighted in the yard, and the snowman family beside a small pine tree which was covered in white lights and icicles.  It wasn’t gaudy, per say, if one looked past those creepy elves.  It was all just very bright.

 

            “I bet your neighbors love it,” answered Rei.

 

            The mischief in Haruka’s smile was reflected in her eyes.  “They do.  Especially Natoro-san.  She’s been telling us everyday for the last week just how much she loves it.”

 

            “Honestly, Haruka,” chided Michiru as she walked up to the little group, “I don’t know why you insist on antagonizing that woman.  It only makes things worse.”

 

            “She already hates us,” defended Haruka.  “Nothing I do is going to make it any worse.”

 

            “She dislikes everyone,” returned Michiru.  “I’ve heard it said enough times that she thinks anyone under 40 is a nuisance and that children should be leashed, so of course we annoy her.  I’d still rather you ignore her instead of doing all this.”  Michiru then pointed to the trees.  “And especially those.  They’re just so…”  She hesitated, at a loss for the proper word.

 

            “Demonic?” supplied Minako.

 

            Michiru nodded.  “Yes, that’s exactly it.  Thank you, Minako.”

 

            “I like my elves,” said Haruka as one passed slowly over her head.

 

            “I like them, too,” chimed in Hotaru.

 

            Michiru smiled at the little girl.  “That’s the only reason they’re still up.  Because I love you and your papa too much to make you take them down.  But Christmas will be over tomorrow,” she said to Haruka.  “And those things are the first decorations you’re taking down.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            The decorations inside the house were much subtler than those outside.  The Christmas tree glowed softly, and a slow, familiar tune played on the stereo.  Hotaru had pulled Setsuna into a clumsy waltz.  The little girl laughed gleefully as her mama twirled her around, the skirt of her party dress flaring out around her.  Mamoru, after several minutes of arguing between Usagi and Chibi-usa over whose turn it was to dance with him, had settled into the awkward position of trying to dance with both of them at the same time.  Minako and Rei were pressed together, lost in their own little world and oblivious to the others around them.

 

            In her own world as well, but not so oblivious, Haruka held Michiru close.  The other girl’s head rested against her chest as they swayed gently to the music.  As they danced, Haruka kept glancing over Michiru’s head.  Ami was standing and watching the others as they danced.  Makoto was close to her.  For the last three songs, Makoto had settled into a pattern of moving slightly closer to the smaller girl, leaning in just a bit as if to ask a question, and then pulling back before the question was asked.  Haruka was getting frustrated just watching it.

 

            “Come on,” Haruka muttered to herself.  “Do it already.”

 

            Michiru grinned into Haruka’s sweater.  Quietly she said, “I would, but there are children present.”

 

            Haruka looked down at her girlfriend, the slightest bit of color in her cheeks.  The smile on Michiru’s face reflected quiet laughter the way it always did when she knew she’d one-upped Haruka.

 

            Wanting to shift Michiru’s attention, Haruka turned them so she could see Ami and Makoto.  “Look over there,” she said.  “Forget who they are for a minute and tell me what you see.”

 

            Michiru watched the two girls for a moment.  Then with a grin said, “I see one young woman who would like to be asked to dance and another who would like to ask her, but can’t seem to work up the nerve.  I’d guess they both think they’re not being obvious and are a bit nervous, and… Oh dear.”

 

            “What?”

 

            “It looks like someone found a dance partner,” answered Michiru.  “And someone else is looking none to pleased about that.”

 

            Haruka turned them quickly so she could see what Michiru was talking about.  Mamoru was moving off with Ami, leaving behind an obviously unhappy Makoto.  Haruka swore under her breath.  “That idiot.  Makoto was almost there.  And she looks like she wants to take his head off for it, too.”  Haruka chuckled.  “Lucky for him he’s Usagi’s boyfriend.”

 

            “I’ve always thought so,” said Usagi, whose sudden appearance beside them startled the older girls.  The smaller blonde smiled at them.  “Mind if I cut in?”

 

            Haruka and Michiru looked at each other.  Michiru raised an eyebrow to which Haruka shrugged.  Moving apart from each other, they turned back to Usagi.  “Only for you, Odango,” smiled Haruka.

 

            Usagi smiled back.  Then she did something that surprised both of them.  Rather than turning to Haruka, she faced Michiru.  “Would you mind leading?” she asked, holding out a hand to the girl.  “I know I asked, but Mamo-chan always leads, and I’m afraid I’ll step on your feet if I try.”

 

            “I don’t mind at all,” answered Michiru as she tried not to laugh at the look on Haruka’s face.

 

            “Great,” replied Usagi happily.  Once settled in place with Michiru, Usagi said to Haruka, “You know, Mako-chan is a really good dancer.”

 

            Haruka gave Usagi a suspicious look.  “Just what are you up to, Odango?”

 

            Usagi put on her please-just-for-me face.  “Just go dance with her.  Please?” she asked sweetly.

 

            Haruka couldn’t argue with her.  Instead, she took on a lightly flirting air and went over to Makoto.  “You’re looking a bit lonely over here.  Care to dance?”

 

            Makoto accepted the invitation with a smile.

 

            When the younger girl relaxed into the rhythm Haruka set, the blonde asked, “That wasn’t so hard, was it?  Me asking you to dance?”

 

            “Well, no,” answered Makoto.  “Why?”

 

            “Because you’re making it look like the hardest thing in the world,” replied Haruka.  “Just ask her, Mako-chan.”

 

            A slight blush crept onto Makoto’s cheeks.  “Was I that obvious?”

 

            “Yeah,” answered Haruka. 

 

            “I was going to do it, you know,” said Makoto almost defensively.  “But it’s different with her, and I‘m guessing you know why.  Things aren’t always so easy.”

 

            “Why?” asked Haruka.  “It’s just a friend asking something simple from another friend.  Or are you afraid of another ‘misunderstanding’?”

 

            “No,” answered Makoto quickly.  Then more calmly, “No, it isn’t that.  Not this time.  I’ve danced with Ami before, but it wasn’t slow and she was the one who asked.  She felt bad for me because no one wanted to dance with me.  I didn’t care why she was doing it, though.  And I was too happy she asked to think twice about it.”  Makoto sighed.  “That’s the problem now.  I want to ask her, but I keep thinking what if it embarrasses her because it’s a slow dance.  You know how Ami is about these things.  I don’t want to make her uncomfortable.  Or what if someone’s watching?  How is it going to look, us together like that?”

 

            “It’s going to look like two friends having a good time together,” answered Haruka.  “Besides, we all know each other here.  You don’t need to worry about other people tonight.  Everyone in this room is your friend, Mako-chan.  None of them are going to judge you.”

 

            Makoto smirked at that.  Her voice held just a bit of bitterness as she replied, “They already have.”  Haruka started to say something, but Makoto stopped her.  Uhn uhn.  I don’t want to talk about this now.  This is a party and we are having fun.”

 

            For a moment Makoto forced the lead and spun the two of them around.  She laughed lightly and smiled at Haruka.  The smile on her face didn’t match her tone, however, when she said, “There was one other thing I already knew that was reinforced that time I danced with Ami.  When you’re in a situation where you know if you don’t find a way to laugh you’re certain you’ll start to cry, the people around you appreciate it a lot more if you laugh.  And if you laugh long enough, you just might be able to convince yourself that the cold, empty feeling will go away.”

 

            Haruka frowned down at Makoto.  “Mako-chan…”

 

            “Don’t worry, Haruka,” she said.  “I don’t feel like that right now.”  This time the smile she offered was genuine.

 

            Haruka returned the smile with one of her own.  Her usual sexy flirt was starting to filter back through when she heard a light cough behind her back.

 

            “You two are getting along rather well,” said Michiru, who now stood beside them.  Somewhere along the way she had traded in Usagi for Ami.

 

            Haruka pulled Makoto a little closer to her.  “As a matter of fact, we are.  Jealous?”

 

            “Of course not,” said Michiru in a couldn’t-care-less manner.  “I have someone else to keep me company.”

 

            Ami blushed as Michiru said that.  Her eyes ducked down from the older girl’s teasing smile.

 

            Before Michiru could fully refocus on Ami, a hand came down on her shoulder.  Michiru turned back to Haruka, the look in the blonde’s eyes saying it all.  “Mako-chan,” said Michiru sweetly, “would you mind taking over for me?  I think Ami would be better suited to someone other than me.”

 

            “Sure,” answered Makoto.  “If Ami doesn’t mind?”

 

            Ami offered a shy smile to her friend.  “I don’t mind at all.”

 

            Makoto nodded.  Then she took Ami loosely in her arms.

 

            Haruka did the same to Michiru, only her grip on the girl was decidedly more firm.  She looked down when she heard Michiru’s soft giggle.  “What’s so funny?” she asked.

 

            “You are,” said Michiru fondly.  “And Usagi.”

 

            “Usagi?”

 

            Mmm hmm.  Haven’t you noticed,” asked Michiru, “that this song is running quite a bit longer than it usually does?”

 

            She hadn’t, Haruka admitted.  But now that Michiru mentioned it…  It was then that Haruka looked over and noticed Setsuna standing by the stereo.  Next to her were two quietly giggling little girls.  Haruka grinned as her opinion of her princess went up another notch.  “Usagi set them up, didn’t she?” she said to Michiru.

 

            Rather than answer, Michiru put a hand to the back of Haruka’s neck and pulled her down into a kiss.  Their lips parted after several seconds, but they remained with their foreheads pressed to one another.  Bodies moving slowly together, Michiru whispered, “Merry Christmas, Haruka.”