The Tangled Web We Weave
~ Prologue ~
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we
practice to deceive.”
-- Sir Walter Scott (Marmion, 1808)
Each August inevitably brought with it heavier weekend traffic as parents took advantage of their children’s summer vacation. It was still early enough that the worst of the Saturday morning trek out of the city hadn’t started yet, but Ken still found it taking longer than normal to get from Kaya’s to Ami’s. As he drove, he glanced over at the woman beside him. Kaya was gazing out the window, sitting perfectly still with her hands folded tightly in her lap. Her eyes drooped just a bit, her tiredness the result of her spending half the night pacing in her study. He understood the nervousness she felt, though. After all, it wasn’t every day she took her boyfriend home to meet her family.
Moving steadily through the traffic, he allowed a grin to tug at the corner of his mouth. “You know, this isn’t what I meant.”
Kaya’s attention snapped back from wherever it had been, and she looked at him with slight confusion. “I’m sorry? What was that?”
Ken’s half grin turned into a smile that reflected in his voice so she would know he was, for the most part, teasing. “When I said you had to go away with me, this isn’t what I meant. I’m very happy that you want me to meet your family…”
“Say that again after you’ve met them,” quipped Kaya.
Ken ignored her interruption and went on, “I’m happy, but when I said a vacation, I meant you and me. Not you, me, your daughter, her lover, their child, all of their friends, two of their pets, and the entire clan back on the family homestead.”
“It’s not too late to cancel,” answered Kaya with a smirk.
Ken laughed, then turned his smile fully to her as the SUV slowed to a stop at the apartment’s parking lot. “Oh, no. You’re not getting out of this that easily, Kaya. You’re not getting out of our vacation, either. You are, however, getting an extension on the deadline.”
Kaya smiled back at him, grateful for the unending patience he seemed to have.
Getting out of the SUV, Kaya noticed most of their group meandering around outside. Rei was leaning against the fading red exterior of her new, very used car and talking casually with Setsuna and Michiru. Minako had the trunk open and was rummaging around in it when she suddenly ‘eeped’ and jumped backward. Hotaru called out a quick ‘sorry’ as she came running around her, followed by Chibi-usa and… Kaya blinked, wondering if her lack of sleep was affecting her vision as a double image of a little girl in a yellow sundress and braids with yellow ribbons went chasing after Chibi-usa, laughing as she did.
“I don’t think even their mother can tell them apart anymore,” said Ami amusedly as she and Mamoru walked up beside her mother and set down the duffle bag and car seat they’d brought with them. She laughed softly at the confusion on Kaya’s face. “Those are the Matsumoto twins, Aki and Ruri. Their mother is going to be watching Miki when Mako-chan goes back to school.”
A grin slowly began to form on Kaya’s lips. She laughed at herself and pulled Ami into a hug. “Twins. Of course. Your mother’s getting old, Ami. That has to be it.” When they separated, she turned to Mamoru. “How have you been? Have you adjusted to being back home yet?”
“More or less, yes. Thank you,” answered Mamoru. “Though with everything I missed, I still sometimes feel like I’m floating somewhere in the middle of it all.”
Footsteps caught Ami’s attention, and she said pleasantly, “Saatchi-san, good morning. It’s good to see you again.”
Ken gave her a smile and moved a bit closer to them. “Good morning.”
“You haven’t met Mamoru yet, have you?” went on Ami. “Saatchi Ken, this is Chiba Mamoru. He’s a very good friend of ours, and Usagi’s fiancé.”
Both men bowed and exchanged greetings. Then Mamoru said, “Usagi has mentioned you several times. Miki’s birth was a… memorable experience for her. I’d heard the story more than once before I came home, and more times than that since.”
“I’m honored to have a place in those memories,” replied Ken sincerely. “Now, how about we get the car seat in place while we wait for the others to join us?”
Ami and Mamoru nodded, and Kaya graced Ken with one more small smile before she and Ami moved around to the back of the SUV. As Ami lifted her bag into the back, Kaya asked, “How has everything been since the last time I saw you?”
“Okay,” answered Ami. “Though Miki is still fighting us when we try to give him a bottle. It’s not like we’re trying to force formula on him, but more often than not, he just keeps crying until Mako-chan nurses him. It’s frustrating. Mako-chan says she doesn’t mind having to get up with him all the time, and it’s what she wants anyway. But still…”
“It’s not fair that she gets that time with him and you don’t,” said Kaya sympathetically.
Ami’s cheeks reddened a bit and she looked down at her feet as they shuffled slightly. “Something like that, yes. More than that, though, it’s going to cause problems in a few weeks when she can’t be there all day with him. It’s making her more uneasy about leaving him than she already is.”
“Just give it a little more time,” replied Kaya, giving Ami’s cheek a pat. Then she grinned. “You know, I’m glad you weren’t such a picky baby. When we sat down and discussed how I thought it would be best for both of us if you were a bottle baby, you were very agreeable and accommodating.”
Ami smiled back at her mother. “Perhaps you could have that same conversation with my son?”
Kaya chuckled. “I would if they were here. What’s everyone doing?”
“Just a few last minute necessities.” Ami looked over her mother’s shoulder when she noticed movement on the stairs. “And it looks like they’ve taken care of it all.”
Kaya turned and saw Makoto and the rest of the group coming down into the parking lot. Makoto had the baby resting on one shoulder and his bag over the other. Haruka had taken charge of the two large duffle bags that made up the remainder of their luggage, with the rest of the baby gear divided up among Minako and Usagi.
As the bags were stowed in the back of the SUV, Makoto got in a quick hug from Kaya. When they separated, Kaya smiled at Miki and tickled a finger under his chin. “And how’s my favorite boy doing today?”
The baby giggled and gave his Nana a happy, toothless grin while Makoto answered, “He’s been all fed and changed, and now he’s a happy Little Bug. So we should be safe for a few hours at least.”
“I bet he sleeps through the whole trip,” interjected Minako. She stood behind Makoto and gently played her fingers through the spiky tuft of auburn hair on the top of Miki’s head. “We’ve got a cell phone in every car, right?”
“I’ve got mine,” answered Ami. “Mamoru has one, so that covers him and Usagi.”
“The kids are riding with them,” went on Minako. “I’ve got mine, and Luna and Artemis are going with us. You guys have all of yours?” she directed at Haruka. When the blonde nodded, she smiled. “Then we’re all set in case anyone needs to stop or gets lost.”
“Or breaks down,” smirked Haruka.
“Hey, I heard that,” broke in Rei. She crossed her arms indignantly over her chest and stopped her approach, ready to take up defense of her poor, maligned vehicle. “Just because she doesn’t look pretty doesn’t mean she won’t run perfectly fine.”
Minako giggled and took hold of Rei’s arm, hugging it to her. “Aw, don’t listen to them, Rei.” Then, lowering her voice to a whisper that everyone could hear, she added, “I know how well she runs.”
A touch of color rose in Rei’s cheeks and she coughed nonchalantly. “Yes, well… We should get going.” Quickly, she turned and started walking back in the direction she’d come from with Minako still holding onto her.
A puff of air passed between Mamoru’s lips. He leaned against the car door, an amused smile forming. “Still floating somewhere in between,” he muttered softly to himself. Then he called, “Ready to go, Usako?”
“All ready!” called back Usagi with a wave.
Mamoru turned back and looked over the baby seat to the man on the other side of the vehicle. “We’ll see you there, sir.”
Ken nodded at him. “Have a safe trip.”
With that, Mamoru herded up the remainder of his passengers and directed them toward his car.
At the loss of their newest playmates, Aki and Ruri wandered over to Makoto and Ami. They stood and watched as Makoto settled the baby in his car seat.
After she had Miki securely in place, Makoto looked back around at the twins. “We’ll see you guys next week. Tell your mom I said goodbye, too, okay?”
“We will,” answered the twin on the left.
“Have fun at Ami’s grandma’s,” added the twin on the right.
Makoto smiled and waved to them one more time before climbing in beside the baby and closing the door.
As the cars pulled out of the parking lot with the SUV leading, Aki and Ruri stood on the grass and watched. As the last car pulled away, they were joined rather suddenly by someone new. The twins looked with identical confused expressions at the little girl beside them and the golden retriever puppy she held on a red leash. The girl pushed her dark hair back over her shoulder, while the puppy sat down and scratched at his ear.
“Where are they all going?” asked the girl.
“To visit Ami’s grandparents,” answered Aki a bit hesitantly.
“All of them? The kitten, too?”
Two heads nodded, and Ruri added, “But they don’t have a kitten.”
The girl was about to respond with a remark about the stupidity and simpleness of the majority of the human race, but decided it would be wasted on these two. Instead, she asked, “Do you know when they’re coming back?”
“Next week,” the twins answered in unison.
The girl sighed in annoyance. “Well, what a huge bother.” She gave the leash a tug. “Come on. It looks like we’re going to have to revise our plans.”
The puppy frowned at her. “But you said we were coming here to have some fun and play with the kitten. I don’t want to go home yet.”
“I don’t care,” she answered, frowning right back at him and ignoring the huge stares from the twins right beside her. “Things have changed.” Then, on her command, they disappeared in a flash of white light.
For several moments, the twins just stood there, staring with eyes as big as saucers at the now empty space. It was Ruri who finally blinked first. “Aki?” she asked cautiously.
“Yeah, Ruri,” answered her sister just as slowly.
“Did you see that? The dog talking and…?”
Aki started to nod, then changed her mind. Shaking her head in the negative, she said, “No. No, we didn’t. And I don’t think we should tell anyone, especially mom, that we didn’t see it, either. Understand?”
Ruri nodded in agreement, and her twin nodded back, perfectly happy to forget the whole thing had ever happened.