“The Ghosts of Dreams We Left Behind”





“Down the ancient corridors

And through the gates of time

Run the ghosts of dreams

That we left behind”

---Dan Fogelberg, ‘The Innocent Age’



Author’s Note: After a long hiatus, here is the 5th story in the Fate series.  It will pick up right where Tangled Web left off.  There are some characters from the Silver Millennium series that will be the prequel to the Fate series mentioned here, so I’ve included a cast list at the end of this chapter to help identify them. 



Chapter One: Fretful Horizons


            A warm, sunny morning had given way to a dreary and humid afternoon.  The air conditioner in the classroom sputtered and coughed, threatening to end its unhappy existence right here and now.  Not that it had been doing much good anyway.


            Masanori sighed and blew at his sweaty bangs.  He wished now that he had heeded his instructor’s advice and left with the rest of the class.  But the figure in the clay had called to him, her siren’s song too sweet to ignore.


            The boy smiled.  The clay beneath his hands now resembled the image in his dreams, and soon he would be able to share that vision with others.  Another day or two of detail work and she would be ready.


            Thunder rumbled lightly, drawing Masanori’s attention to the darkening sky.  Perhaps now was the time to leave, though the thought pained him.  But if he was going to catch the bus on its next circuit passed the university, he would need to go.  His lady would be here waiting for him tomorrow.


            Reluctantly, Masanori cleaned his work area and put up his sculpture for the evening.  He’d made it nearly to the bus stop when the first drop of rain touched the curve of his ear.  He stopped and looked up only to be rewarded by a second drop landing squarely in his eye.  He didn’t even have time to blink before the bottom dropped out, and he started to run even though it was a hopeless effort.


            Standing in the glass confine of the bus shelter, the boy grumbled unhappily as he tried to wring out his soaking wet clothes.  His backpack was equally drenched, and he dreaded opening it, afraid he would find little more than ruined sketches and charcoal gray muck.


            “You look like you could use some help.”


            Masanori jumped and let out an embarrassingly high pitched yelp.  He hadn’t even heard her walk up he’d been so lost in his own predicament.  “Oh, yeah,” he stammered as she smiled at him from beneath a large umbrella.


            She held out a handkerchief which he gratefully accepted, and she giggled lightly.  “You see,” she went on with a grin.  “You should always listen to your sensei.”




            The rain pelting against the office window made the night seem even darker and lonelier than it already was.  It seemed her beloved mistress had abandoned her, frustrated by her silence and indecision.


With a pen seesawing quickly between her fingers, Kaya stared at the name and phone number she had scribbled on her notepad.  He was a friend and a consummate professional who just happened to possess an eternally curious soul.  For him, each challenge was a glorious adventure and she was almost certain he would agree to her terms to be part of this particular challenge.  But could she really trust him?


            The pen faltered in its movements and she let it fall to the desk.  A sigh passed her lips and she pinched the bridge of her nose beneath her glasses.  Why was she even considering this?  Her eyes lifted to a picture of Ami smiling at her from the bookshelf.


            That smile.  That was why.  She needed to know.


            It was just around dinnertime in Germany.  Kaya picked up her cell phone and hoped Lisel would forgive her for disturbing their meal and likely taking Fredrick away from her for the rest of the evening.  She was about to pique his curiosity and offer him a new adventure, which meant this was going to be one very long phone call.




            Rei stretched and yawned and grunted, not at all surprised to find herself alone considering how late she’d slept in.  But it was Saturday, the shrine didn’t need her for anything of importance, and after a week of broken and restless sleep, she was going to take whatever real rest she could get.


            She sat up slowly, taking part of her quilt with her, and swung her legs over the side of the bed.  The rain had finally stopped, she noted as she blinked groggily into filtered daylight.  She scratched at the back of her head and wondered where Minako had gotten to.


            After a few seconds of blindly searching with her toes for her slippers, she padded over to her robe and went in search of her wife.  And maybe some breakfast, too, she thought with a grin.


            Food became a distant idea, though, as the scent of bleach assaulted her nostrils.  She cocked an eyebrow as her steps became more tentative.  “Minako?” she called, almost afraid to get an answer.


            She rounded a corner, then stopped in her tracks.  Making an unhappy yet resigned sort of sigh, Rei brought a hand up to rub at her temple.  She didn’t really need to ask who had caused the disaster in front of her.  The wash bucket, bottles of cleaner, and dust rags haphazardly littering the hallway fairly screamed “Minako,” as did the sponges and puddles of soapy water gleaming at her from behind a half closed bathroom door.  She stepped over the mop that had been abandoned in the hallway, but as she bent to pick up one of the rags, a twitch of movement from the corner of her eye stopped her.




            Artemis did as commanded and stopped still as a white furry statue mid-escape.


            Rei stepped over to him and knelt down.  “Okay, where is Minako and what,” she waved a hand at the explosion of cleaning supplies, “is all this?”


            “She went to see Setsuna,” answered Artemis as he sat back on his haunches.


            “And…” prompted Rei.


            Artemis cringed.  He had told Minako it was a bad idea before she’d even finished the thought.  “She used to know someone who would clean every square centimeter of available surface when she had something she needed to work through.  Minako wanted to give it a try.”


            “Obviously not her thing,” replied Rei with a smirk.  She reached out and lightly scratched between the cat’s ears.  “But since she’s going to see Setsuna, does that mean she worked some of it out?”


            Artemis shook his head.  “She felt like she needed to go even if she didn’t have a complete answer.”


            “She’ll be okay,” said Rei as she stood.  “We don’t give her enough credit sometimes.”  She stretched her arms up over her head trying to look more casual and confident than she felt.  “C’mon, let’s get something to eat.  She’ll want to go check on Ami and Makoto when she gets back, and I promised Usagi she could go with us today.”




            The scent of damp earth and concrete in the afternoon sun lingered over the patio.  Minako poked at the orange slice in her lemonade, acutely aware of the patient smile Setsuna wore as the older woman watched her in amusement.


            “I’m stalling,” Minako muttered into her glass.


            “I know,” answered Setsuna, taking a slow sip from her glass.


            Hmph.  Well,” went on Minako, sitting up straight and looking very determined, “no more stalling.”


            Setsuna grinned widely and set down her glass.  “Does this mean I’m finally going to discover why you came to see me?”


            Minako feigned hurt.  “I could have just stopped by to see a friend, you know.  I don’t have to have a specific reason.”


            “That’s true,” said Setsuna, but then she shook her head.  “But not today.  You’ve been entirely too quiet for a social call.”


            “Can’t really argue with that,” replied Minako with a nod, acknowledging her Senshi’s superior deductive reasoning.


            Setsuna leaned forward and gave Minako a hard stare across the short expanse of tabletop.  “You’re still stalling.”


            Minako froze mid nod, then sighed.  “Yeah, I am.”  She set her glass down and looked across at Setsuna.  “So here’s the thing.  I know you guys like to keep yourselves kinda separate from the rest of us, and that’s been okay up to now.  If I’m being honest, we’ve even encouraged it a little with a bit of hero worship.”


            Setsuna chuckled at that, and Minako felt a tinge of self-consciousness creep in.  She cleared her throat and scratched at her ear, then continued.  “Anyway, I think lately you guys have been just a little too separate.”


            “Really?” answered Setsuna seeming genuinely surprised by the idea.  “Things seem to me the way they’ve always been.”


            Minako smirked.  “Define ‘always.’”  Leaning forward, she crossed her arms on the tabletop.  “I know you, Uranus, and Neptune have always had these Super Secret Serenity Orders that I’m not supposed to ask about, but even with those orders, you were part of the group.  And when you were given orders, you followed them.”


            The teasing and playfulness left her features to be replaced by a rare seriousness.  “They didn’t follow orders, Setsuna.  I take responsibility for that.  I’m not their leader yet, but I need to find a way to be because I won’t have that kind of chaos follow us into another battle.”


            Setsuna suddenly found herself lost within the intensity of Minako’s gaze.  For just a moment, the leader she had seen glimmerings of – the one Aria had said slept within the tiny child from Venus – emerged, though she stood there beside uncertainty and doubt.


            “Have you decided how you want to approach them?” asked Setsuna.


            Minako fell back into her chair, her intensity fading.  “No, not yet.  I mean, it’s not like I’ve given up on beating Haruka at Gran Turismo.  I just need to get there without her treating me like I’m her adorable ten-year-old idiot.”  Then she grinned.  “I tried channeling Kita this morning, to see if I could figure out what to do.”


            This earned her a hardy laugh as Setsuna remembered the former Mars and the frantic cleaning that followed any crisis, no matter how minor.  “Did that work well for you?”


            “Not at all,” admitted Minako ruefully.  “I hope Rei doesn’t get too upset over the mess I left her.”  Then she took on a very thoughtful look and tapped her index finger against her lips.  “Maybe I should try Aria’s way of…”


            “Perhaps,” interrupted Setsuna, not at all certain the girl actually knew her mentor’s methods, but firmly believing some things were best left in the past.  “Perhaps you would be better served to find your own way.”


            Minako shrugged.  “I guess.”  Once again she found a great deal of interest in her glass and the shifting of melting ice cubes, and silence fell over them.  Her lips pursed as she thought about another subject and whether or not she should bring it up.


            “Minako?” said Setsuna gently.


            The blond startled.  Hm?  What?”


            The Time Senshi raised an eyebrow.


            “Well, you see, when we were away,” started Minako, deciding it was best to just go ahead and bite the barn door before the horse got out and trampled all over her and her fleeting courage.  So, she just blurted it out, closing her eyes like she expected to be hit.  “Rei and I are still bonded.”


            “I know,” answered Setsuna.


            Minako peered at her senshi through slitted eyes.  “What do you mean you know?”


            “I know,” repeated Setsuna.  “I’m sorry, Minako, I didn’t realize you didn’t.  It’s why we were cautioned so strongly before entering into a bond.  ‘Eternal’ was more than just a point in the ceremony.  In our case it was meant quite literally.”


            With a huff, Minako crossed her arms.  “First off, I wasn’t ‘cautioned’ about anything until after the fact, and even then it was mostly just Kita freaking out and wanting to know why we couldn’t have waited until after she was gone so she wouldn’t have to know about it.  And B, we died!  More than once!  I didn’t know, Setsuna, and I haven’t told Rei about any of it.”


            “Oh, I see,” replied Setsuna, now understanding the blonde’s predicament.


            “Yeah,” returned Minako.  “And I haven’t figured out what to do about that, either.”


            “I would have told you if I had realized you didn’t know,” said Setsuna apologetically.


            “I know.  Same with Artemis.  But it’s been so long now…” Minako trailed off, silently revisiting the list of reasons she had for not telling Rei.


            “You’re afraid she won’t understand,” picked up Setsuna.  “That you’ve waited to tell her or that the bonding happened in the first place?”


            “Both,” answered Minako with a sigh.  “You know how she is about things like fate or her life somehow being manipulated.”


            “She loves you.”


            “I know that!” shot back Minako more defensively than she’d intended.  “And that just scares me more because I don’t know why she loves me.  She just does.  I don’t want her to question it, not now that I have her back.”


            Setsuna nodded, not agreeing but understanding.


            “Um…” went on Minako, curious now that the subject had come up, “Haruka and Michiru?”


            “I don’t know,” answered Setsuna.  “I’ve never asked – then or now.  And they’ve never felt a need to question me about it.”


            Minako laughed.  “I didn’t have a need to question Kita about it, either, but that didn’t keep her from finding out.”  Her eyes narrowed at the tiny, amused smile on Setsuna’s lips.  “You know, don’t you?”


            “I have an idea,” replied Setsuna, finding she enjoyed teasing her young friend just a bit.  “But it is only speculation and it wouldn’t do to start a rumor without being certain of the truth behind it.”


            “Oh, come on!” pleaded Minako as she rolled her eyes in disbelief.  “I spent centuries trying to figure out who ratted on me!  You have to tell me!  I know it wasn’t Makoto.  Was it Usagi?  Or Neisei?  She always hated me, and it would have been just like her to go running to Kita with it if she found out.”


            Setsuna smiled, but stayed silent by taking a long draught from her glass.


            Realizing she wasn’t going to get anywhere, Minako leaned back and picked up her glass.  “Fine,” she said petulantly, then took a quick gulp.  “If you’re going to be like that, then I also won’t start a rumor about where I was hiding and who I was hiding with when a certain Time Senshi was told she was being too uptight and made her queen go squee just to prove her wrong.”


            Setsuna’s glass slammed to the table as she sputtered and choked on her lemonade.  “You…” she gasped between breaths.  “You… and Usagi… actually saw…”


            Minako laughed merrily.  “Now, now, no starting rumors.  Besides,” she added, wagging a finger at Setsuna, “I never said it was Usagi.  But don’t worry.  If it was her I would have covered her eyes.  Koto would have killed me otherwise.”


            “That’s not the point,” rasped Setsuna, her cheeks dark with embarrassment.


            Minako just smiled.  She emptied her glass and crunched on an ice cube, then stood.     “Thank you,” she said.  “I’ve enjoyed this.  And I’ll get things figured out before too long.  I know I will.  And I can just see the look Haruka’s gonna give me when I do.”


            Setsuna smirked at the dower look Minako made in imitation of the racer.  “I think that’s a fairly apt representation, I’m afraid.”


            Minako nodded, then turned to leave.


            “Oh, and Minako,” called Setsuna, stopping the girl.  “Remember, no rumors.”


            Minako grinned ear to ear.  “Right, no rumors.”




            “How much longer is she going to be?” questioned Makoto as she dangled a shiny bauble above Miki as he lay beside her on the couch.


            “I don’t know,” answered Ami, her tone short as she futzed with some papers on her desk, then walked over to fall wearily into an empty chair.  Through tired eyes she watched Miki give his full attention to the object that swung lazily across his vision.


            The baby hadn’t been more than a few feet from either of them in the week that they’d been back, and neither of them had thought it needed to be any different.  Ami had even gone back on the one thing she swore she never would and suggested they move his crib into their room.  In truth the crib had been a compromise, because she didn’t want to sleep without her partner and if Miki wasn’t there, Makoto wouldn’t be, either.


            Not that any of them were really getting much sleep regardless.  Things that went bump in the night now bore an entirely new threat, and getting cryptic messages from her mother wasn’t helping their already frayed nerves.


            “And she didn’t say anything about why she was coming,” asked Makoto for the forth time as if the answer may have changed between now and the last time she asked.


            “No,” answered Ami before she got up and moved back over to her desk.


            “Well are you sure…”


            “Yes!” bit out Ami.  Then she stopped herself, took a deep breath, and walked calmly to the bookshelf with a thick tome in her hands.  As she reached up to find a spot for the book, she went on in a quieter manner.  “Yes.  She was too formal, too curt.  She has something very specific on her mind and she knows we aren’t going to be pleased by it.”


            Makoto frowned and Miki’s playfulness stopped as her body unconsciously tensed, preparing for a fight.  “I won’t let her take you away,” she said, a frightening resolve underlying the words.  Miki let out a plaintive cry and she picked him up to lay on her shoulder as she went on, “I’m not rich, but I’m not poor, either.  If it comes down to it, I’ll pack up you, Miki, and Usagi and take us so far away not even Luna will be able to find us.”


            Ami found no comfort in those words or the protectiveness of the one she loved.  The total lack of exaggeration scared her, and until her mother showed her hand, she had no idea how to argue against it. 


            She went back to her chair and sat on the edge, her hands folded tersely on her knee.  For a moment her eyes closed and she wished desperately that her mother would hurry so they could just get this – whatever it was – over with.




            In the parking lot, Kaya tapped her fingers against the steering wheel, regretting that she had drug things out the way she had.  Her uncertainties had delayed her, though, and as she sat here she still wasn’t sure just how much she was going to tell them.  She had painted the picture of her proposal in broad strokes to Fredrick with the intention of giving him slightly more detail when he was standing in front of her on Japanese soil.  He’d actually laughed at her when she told him she wanted full genetic breakdowns on roughly a dozen anonymous subjects.  Three hours and a friends’ agreement to keep this off the books later, he had flight information but nothing more.


            Kaya sighed and let her head fall back against the headrest.  The secrecy of it all had only engaged Fredrick more readily.  She doubted very much she would get the same merry response from her daughter.  Her eyes lifted up to the apartment complex.  She wasn’t going to lie to them, she reminded herself.  She was just going to leave out some of the details.  It was for the best of everyone involved.  She nodded, mentally preparing herself.  This was for the best.


            Her resolve wavered, though, once she was actually inside.  For just a moment, she almost changed her mind.  It was because of how tired they looked and how wary of her they seemed as they watched her.  However, she had come this far and it was too late to back down now, regardless of how much Makoto may glare at her.


            “It’s not that particularly complicated,” she went on as she sat in the living room across from the girls.  She held a warm cup of tea in her hands almost as desperately as Makoto held Miki and tried to make them understand her reasons.  “A physical, some basic blood work.  All of it anonymous, of course.  And of course, all of you.  Especially you, Makoto, and the children.  No matter what you say, there is a difference now, and I need to know how to take care of all of you if I ever find you in my emergency room.”


            “Mom,” began Ami cautiously, because no matter how reasonable this may seem on the surface, to let it proceed could open a Pandora’s Box of problems none of them needed to deal right now.  “I understand what you’re trying to do, but it really isn’t necessary.  I’ve already…”


            Kaya held up a hand to stop her, then set her cup on the sidetable.  “A choice isn’t being given, Ami.  Considering everything I’ve accepted up to this point, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable.”  She waited a beat for a dissenting opinion, and when she got none, she continued.  “I know you need time to think this through and to speak with your friends.  We’ll talk again after you do to get everything set up.”


            “Like hell!” Makoto spat out suddenly.  The baby whimpered and fidgeted at her outburst, but the cord holding her back had finally snapped.  “Ami may be your daughter, but I’m not, and you have no right to come in here and start ordering anything, and on top of that…”


            “Stop, Mako-chan,” said Ami, her voice firm but quiet as a hand rested on Makoto’s knee.  It had the desired affect, but Makoto’s jaw clenched so tight it looked like it would break as Ami turned back to her mother.  “You know I’ll do what you ask, but I can’t promise about the others.  I will talk with them, though.  I’ll just need a few days.”


            Kaya nodded, fighting the urge to cry.  She stood and turned to leave.  “I’ll call if I don’t hear from you,” she said, then showed herself out.


            Ami took a deep breath and braced herself.  It took a few seconds, but finally Makoto handed the baby to her and walked to the other side of the room.  She cradled Miki close, placing a hand over his exposed ear.


            “What the hell!” shouted Makoto loudly enough that is was sure to catch the neighbors’ attention.  “You don’t care at all, do you, that she comes in here and starts making demands like that!  And I don’t care how much she thinks she’s let you do, she doesn’t have the right!  This is my home, damn it!”  Then she laughed bitterly.  “And I’d love to see her tell Haruka she has to do anything.  That would be priceless!”


            “You don’t understand,” said Ami softly.


            “She’s a control freak,” threw back Makoto.  “What about that don’t I understand?”


            Ami shook her head.  “That’s not it.  That’s not the real problem.”


            “Yeah, it is.”


            “No.”  She stood suddenly, kissed Miki’s forehead, then handed him back to Makoto.  “I’ll be back.  I have to talk to Minako.”


            “What?  Why?” asked Makoto, her confusion almost comical as Ami turned and walked to the door.


            “I just do,” answered Ami absently.  She struggled with her shoelaces for a moment, then opened the door and said again, “I’ll be back.”


            The door closed, rattling in the doorframe as Ami hurried away.  Makoto stood, fuming.  “Damn it,” she muttered.  “Damn it all.”




            Each step she took carried a basic determination.  The visit to see Minako had a very clearly defined purpose and could be laid out clearly and concisely using what was now a very practiced mental script. 


            That script, however, hadn’t accounted for the variable of an absent Minako.


            The smile Rei had greeted her with turned into an annoyed frown.  “Don’t know why, but she ran off to see Setsuna,” the miko said as she gave the neglected donation box a shake.  “You should see the mess she left behind, too.”  Rei snickered.  “I’ve preserved it just as she left it in anticipation of her return.”


            “Oh,” answered Ami flatly.  Her mind struggled to come up with a contingent plan, but found only blank spaces.


            Rei’s mirth turned to concern at the unexpected confusion that showed on Ami’s face.  Those blue eyes had gone distant, and the way she was wringing her hands made her seem way more nervous than anything good could account for.  “Hey,” said Rei as she reached out and laid a hand lightly on Ami’s arm.  “What’s going on?  Why’d you come out here by yourself?”


            “My mother,” answered Ami vaguely.  “I need to talk to Minako.”


            “Okay, I got the Minako part.”  She moved them to sit on the steps of the charm booth.  “But what happened with your mom?”


            Ami shook her head, though it was more to organize her thoughts than a refusal to answer.  “She came by to see us this morning, with a request.  Though it came out more as a demand.”


            “Oh, no,” sighed Rei, immediately anticipating another crisis.


            “It shouldn’t be that bad,” assured Ami quickly, though the words lacked confidence.  “It probably won’t be, but there are some details…”


            “There always seems to be,” smirked Rei.  “So what’s Makoto think about all of this – whatever it is?”


            Ami’s shoulders slumped.  “Had it been worded differently, I don’t think she’d be nearly as upset as she is.  She was actually expecting much worse.  But my mother… they don’t understand each other.  However,” and here Ami shifted a bit uncomfortably, “my mother’s request involved more than just me and Makoto.  It’s been extended to all of you, as well.”


            Color rose in Rei’s face much as it had in Makoto’s.  “Ah, well, I’m happy she didn’t exclude me,” she said sarcastically.  “So just what is it I’m being ‘requested’ to do?”


            “A medical exam.”


            Rei blinked, her indignation stalling.  “A check-up?  That’s it?”


            Ami nodded.  “Though I think there’s a bit more to it than that.  She used the words ‘simple’ and ‘routine’ too many times for it to truly be either.”  Ami looked away from Rei and stared out over the courtyard.  “I hate to say this, but I don’t trust my mother.  She’s not telling me something, and that something could potentially be very problematic.”


            Letting out a deep breath, Rei leaned forward on her knees.  “Ami, I gotta admit that you telling me your mom lied to you is kinda scary.”


            “I didn’t say she lied,” returned Ami defensively.  “Just that she left something out.”


            Rei’s eyes cut over to Ami and she smirked.  “Same difference.”


            “I know,” admitted Ami reluctantly.  “But the way I said it sounds better.”  She leaned back and let her head fall so she was staring up into frame of the wooden overhang.  “I need to talk to Minako,” she repeated.


            “You have such a one-track mind,” said Rei teasingly, and Ami couldn’t help but smile just a bit.  “Don’t worry, she shouldn’t be too much longer.  You’ll just have to put up with me until she gets back.”




            “Is she there?”


            “Is who where?” asked Minako.  She stared hard at her communicator and tried to figure out why Makoto was throwing cryptic questions at her in such an agitated state.


            “Ami.  Is she there?” repeated Makoto as she hefted Miki onto her shoulder so she could waggle a finger into the viewscreen.  “And I don’t care what she told you to say, don’t you dare tell me she isn’t if she is.”


            Minako’s mouth opened and closed like a fish desperate for water.  “Um, she’s really not here, Mako-chan, but I’m not home.  Was she going to the shrine?”


            “Of course she was!” returned Makoto, and Minako could see the background shift as Miki was put into his stroller.  The parking lot appeared as Makoto went on, “Where else would she go if she was looking for you.  She said she had to talk to you, then left.”


            “Oh,” answered Minako.  Mentally she was screaming ‘now what’ and slamming her head against an invisible wall, but with genuine concern she asked, “What happened?  I’ll be home in just a few minutes if she waited for me.  Are you guys okay?”

            “Yeah, we’re fine,” said Makoto as she stopped at a corner and waited impatiently for the light to change.  She didn’t care who might see her talking into her communicator.  In fact, she decided if anyone asked she would send them to Shibuya in search of their own just to get them out of her conversation.  “But Ami’s mom came to visit us this morning demanding we do exactly as she says, how she says, when she says.  Boy are you gonna love this when you hear it…”




            Minako stared at the steps in front of her and bit her lip.  Realistically, she had no idea just how bad this new nugget of information really was.  By the time they’d finished their brief conversation, Makoto was ready to amass an army to stop the evil mad scientist from performing Machiavellian experiments on all of them.  But this was Makoto, and an upset Makoto at that.  Minako could accept that maybe there was a bit of exaggeration in it all.  Ami, though… She wished she had been able to talk to Ami first without Makoto having muddied the waters.


            “Better not to know what’s coming at you than to walk into it with an angry Jupiter at your heels,” she muttered as she slowly ascended the steps.  She wondered what she would find and had firmly convinced herself by the last step that Ami would be in tears, crumpled in Rei’s arms, a mass of despondency.  She would be strong, the leader she’d told Setsuna she wanted to be.  And she would have Makoto and their army to back her up.


            Then she heard Ami laugh.


            The scenario that now involved a tank and a really big flag waving majestically in the sun crumpled contentedly away as Minako grinned at her own foolishness.  She saw Ami and Rei sitting on the steps of the charm booth, Usagi having joined them sometime while she was gone.  The blonde gestured wildly as she spoke, finally reaching to tug at one crooked ponytail.  A hair disaster, Minako deduced as Rei rolled her eyes.


            “Hey, guys,” called Minako as she stepped up to them.  “What’d I miss?”


            Usagi barely had time to suck in a breath to start her story over before Rei blurted out, “Ami wants to talk to you.”  She gave the girl a nudge, then grinned widely.  “She was pretty insistent and almost left when she found out you weren’t here.  Have I mentioned I’m the jealous type?”


            Minako giggled, then reached for Ami and tugged her up.  Linking their arms, she smiled back over her shoulder at Rei.  “I like your jealous streak,” she teased before putting some distance between them.


            “I’m not always sure when she’s playing,” commented Ami as they stopped beneath a large tree at the far end of the courtyard.


            Minako leaned against the tree, bending one knee so her foot rested against the trunk.  “Neither am I, but I think we’re okay this time.”  Ami’s nervous fidgeting made her second guess that statement.  “Or are we?  What’s going on?”


            “I believe we – or most of us, at least – will be okay,” began Ami.  She explained in broad strokes the conversation she had had with her mother and what had been asked of them.


            “You know,” Minako said as Ami concluded, “you don’t make it sound nearly as bad as Makoto did.”


            Ami startled.  “You talked to Makoto.”


            Minako nodded.  “Yeah.  She called me looking for you when I was on my way home.  I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, but I wanted to hear things from you first, without her in the mix.  She’s on her way over, by the way.”


            “It’s okay, and I’m not surprised,” answered Ami.  “But there is a bit more.  The potentially problematic part of all of this.”  Her mini-computer materialized in her hands and she moved to stand beside Minako, holding the screen so they could both see.  “Can you read any of this?”


            The blonde shook her head as she watched two lines – one green and one yellow – scroll across ¾ of the screen.  A slim chart on the left side displayed a series of characters that continuously changed, and above that the symbol for Venus glowed orange beside text that was as foreign to her as Rei’s French textbook.  “I recognize me,” she said pointing to the symbol, “but that’s it.”


            “It’s easy enough for me to explain,” went on Ami, her voice becoming that of a teacher trying to explain a troublesome math problem.  “This particular screen is specific to us, Serenity’s guard.  Your name is here beside your planetary symbol.  Beneath it is your birthday and blood type.  I put those in for easy reference.”


            If Ami noticed Minako grin she didn’t acknowledge it.  Instead, she ran a finger along the steady green line that ran across the screen on a graph.  “This line represents the amount of magical power we use.  It will remain flat while you’re in civilian form, but when you transform into Venus, it will track your power output.”  Then she traced along the gently rolling yellow line below the green one.  “I’m not completely certain about this one, but I believe it represents potential power.  It remains fairly constant regardless of what form we’re in.  This is one of two screens I use to track our well-being when we go into battle.  This is the second.”  She tapped an icon and the information on the screen changed.


            Minako stared hard at the screen as though she might finally be able to glean some information on her own.  There was a small heart, and from the way it pulsed gently she assumed that would be the pulse rate or blood pressure, but that was about all she could decipher.


            “These are our vitals,” went on Ami.  “Information from past scans is stored for cross-reference.  Height, weight, gender, race, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature – all of that is listed here, as well as personal information if it’s available, up here.”  She lightly touched a square of information in the top left corner.  “This is you – Aino Minako, female, Earthian.  And the others,” again the screen changed at her command, “Hino Rei, female, Earthian.  Kino Makoto, female, Earthian.  Kino Miki, male, Earthian.”  A few more screens passed in quick succession as she read off the information for their friends until she stopped and licked her lips nervously.  “Meioh Setsuna, female, Plutonian.  Tomoe Hotaru, female, Saturian.”


            “Oh.  Um, well…” frowned Minako, believing she saw the problem but not having any idea how to respond.


            “I have a theory,” volunteered Ami.


            “Please,” answered Minako gratefully.  “Because this isn’t something I ever even thought to think about.”


            “I wouldn’t have either if the information hadn’t handed itself to me,” replied Ami.  “But in thinking about it, I’ve come to theorize that when the queen sent us forward – all of us, including Saturn, and I’ll get back to that in a moment – she sent us to be reborn.  Except for Pluto, who was sent to the Gates.  While we were reborn as humans to human parents, Pluto was not.  She is who she has always been.”


            Minako sighed.  “Yeah, that makes sense.  But what about Saturn.  You think she was sent forward with us but…”  She cut herself off, not sure how to explain that it was impossible.


            “I do believe she was,” picked up Ami.  She scrolled through several more screens in an attempt to illustrate her point.  “I had the opportunity to scan her once, not long after Chibi-usa first met her.  It was after one of her seizures, done to monitor her health rather than out of curiosity, and only that once.  She scanned as an unidentified human female.  It wasn’t until they returned with her that she began to register as something other than human.  With her, I theorize the event with Pharaoh 90 caused a second rebirth, eliminating the human Hotaru and returning her to the Saturn we knew in the past.  On a cursory level, though, we are all the same.  Both she and Setsuna would be indistinguishable from other humans, unless…”


            “Unless what?” asked Minako, disliking this conversation more with every passing second.


            “I don’t know how they would read on a genetic level,” admitted Ami.  “I don’t know what current technology would try to label them as or even if it could.  But my mother isn’t a geneticist.  There’s not really anything she could do on her own besides a battery of basic medical tests.”  She turned from Minako then and shut down her computer.  As it disappeared into her subspace pocket, she said quietly, “However, when we were away, she said she felt like she didn’t know who I was anymore.  While this contradicts my belief that she wouldn’t put any of us in harms way, I do fear how far she would go to get an answer to that question.”


            “And I suppose just talking to you wouldn’t solve that for her?”


            Ami shook her head.


            “Well,” sighed Minako, stretching her arms up over her head, “I guess it’s a good thing Setsuna said I could come over any time I wanted.  Have you ever said anything to her, or maybe Michiru?”


            “No.  It was a private matter, and until now it hasn’t impacted our situation.”


            “Maybe it still won’t,” returned Minako optimistically.  “Come on, I think Makoto’s here.”


            Ami followed her back up the courtyard, a reluctant step behind.  Makoto was indeed there, and when their eyes met, there was an angry distance she wasn’t used to.  Usagi, though, saved her from an uncomfortable moment.


            The blonde pulled herself away from Miki and hurried over to Ami.  Grasping her hands dramatically, she said with heartfelt conviction, “Don’t worry, Ami, we’ll do whatever it is you need us to.  Even though I really don’t like needles, but I’m sure you’ll give me some kind of sweet to help with the agony and torture your mom’s gonna put us through.  But I’d do it even if you didn’t, we all will, won’t we,” she rambled out, turning bright blue eyes to her friends for confirmation.


            Rei sighed and scratched at the back of her neck.  “I guess that’s that.”


            “Yeah, it is,” replied Minako.  She gently extricated Usagi from Ami, saying, “Come on.  We’re going to visit Haruka, and I want you to do that same thing you just did.”


            “What thing?” asked Usagi, blinking in confusion.


            “Don’t worry, you’ll know when we get there.”


            “Hey,” interjected Rei before they could go anywhere.  “You just got home.  When do I get to find out why you left to begin with.


            “When I get back, I promise,” said Minako apologetically.  “Oh, and that other stuff…”


            “When you get home,” said Rei with a soft grin.  Then she tacked on as a light warning, “But don’t take a long time cause you think I’ll forget or let it go until tomorrow.  I won’t.”


            Minako smiled back, grateful.  Then she gave Usagi a slight tug and headed forward to one more conversation she didn’t want to have.




            The day had ended quietly – perhaps too quietly.  Little to nothing had been said between them on the walk home or as Makoto laid out a small dinner neither of them did much more than pick at.  Even Miki seemed more subdued than normal as he was fed and bathed.


            And all Ami wanted to do was crawl into a dark corner to cry.  As it was, her bed had to do.


            Beneath the covers, she listened as Makoto put Miki in his crib.  Soft words tapered into almost silent steps, then the bed shifted under Makoto’s weight as she sat on the edge of the bed and fussed with the covers.  When she settled, she lay on her side turned away from Ami.  Her breathing never fell into the easy pattern of sleep, though, so Ami waited.  It took a bit longer than she’d thought it would, but finally Makoto’s voice broke the heavy silence that was hanging over them.


            “You walked out,” she said softly.  “We were in the middle of something important and you just left.”


            “I had to talk to Minako,” answered Ami weakly.


            Makoto turned over and glared at her.  “Yeah, you said that.  A lot.  But that was all you said.  And then you walked out,” repeated Makoto, putting emphasis on the part that was bugging her the most.


            “I’m sorry,” said Ami apologetically.  “I couldn’t think of anything else to do at that point.”


            “So are you ever gonna tell me just what it was that sent you running like that?”


            Ami hesitated just a little too long.


            “Fine,” bit out Makoto.  She started to turn away, but was stopped by a hand grasping her nightshirt.


            “Don’t, Mako-chan, please,” began Ami.  She scooted over until they were touching and she pressed her face between the pillow and Makoto’s shoulder.  “I don’t know what to say, or what I can say.”


            “Just tell me why you left in the middle of our conversation,” said Makoto pointedly.  “It’s not that difficult to answer.”


            “You were yelling,” murmured Ami.


            “I always yell!” returned Makoto in a frustratedly loud whisper.  “Was that it?”


            “No.”  Ami turned her head so she could see Makoto’s face.  “But we weren’t having a conversation, and what my mother had presented was creating a potential problem that I needed to deal with.”


            “You’re not going to tell me what that problem is, are you?”


            Ami shook her head.  “I can’t.  It’s not my place.”


            “Does it involve us or Miki?”


            Again, Ami shook her head.


            “Okay, I can accept that, then.  But next time tell me that much before you go running off.”  Makoto reached around and pulled Ami more comfortably against her.  “I’m still angry at your mother, and I’m going to be for awhile.  I just don’t like that she came in here the way she did or the way she spoke down to us, and I’m only going along with this because Usagi said we would.  But you know all that, right?”


            “Yes,” answered Ami as she hugged Makoto tightly.  “I don’t want things like this Mako-chan.  I don’t want any of this.”


            “Me, neither.  But your mom will get what she wants, and I still like her, so eventually I’ll stop being angry.”  Makoto sighed.  “Eventually, everything’s going to go back to normal.”


            Ami snuggled in and let the quiet wrap around them.  Everything back to normal.  She didn’t believe it for a second.