The Tangled Web We Weave
It had been a good idea to try and get some sleep, but it hadn’t really worked. Makoto finished taping Miki’s diaper and pulled a pair of shorts up over it. The baby burbled at her, wanting to play now that he’d been fed and changed.
She walked back over to the bed and climbed in beside Ami, laying Miki between them on the pillows. Ami smiled at him and shook a plush rattle just out of his grasp before allowing him to grab it and pull it into his mouth.
Makoto shut her eyes, fighting the urge to get up and barricade the door.
“It’ll be okay.”
The words were as soft and gentle as the hand that touched her cheek. She opened her eyes, seeing her own fears reflected back at her mixed with a need to find peace and give comfort. Both of those things eluded her right now, and she knew she would have already gone insane if not for the person beside her.
Her hand covered Ami’s and brought it around to her lips. The kiss lingered, and Makoto kept her hold on Ami’s hand when it ended, playing their fingers together as she said, “Thank you. You amaze me, you know.”
Ami smiled, her cheeks tingeing a soft pink.
“I’ll do better once we leave,” went on Makoto. “I promise.”
“I know,” answered Ami. “I feel the same way, myself. Right now, though, I think I’m most amazed by my mother. She’s holding things together remarkably well.”
“Yeah, that food poisoning excuse was genius,” replied Makoto as she picked Miki up and laid him on her outstretched legs. “I’m sorry they’re all sick, though.”
Ami nodded, guilt creeping through in the form of a frown. Slowly, she stood and moved to the dresser. “We need to get dressed and make sure everything is packed. Mom’s going to want to leave as soon as she’s certain no one is suffering anything more than a headache and an upset stomach.”
* * *
Seijuurou moaned and hugged the toilet bowl, pressing his cheek against the cool porcelain. “I’m dying,” he groaned, a foul acidic taste lingering in his mouth. “I haven’t been this hung over since college.”
“You aren’t dying, and you aren’t hung over,” said Shouko quietly as she placed a damp washcloth around his neck. Her own head pounding, she stood up slowly. “Do you want to stay in here or come back to bed?”
“Here,” mumbled Seijuurou pitifully.
Shouko patted his head gently, then went back into the bedroom to lay down. Seiji was passed out on the floor in his sleeping bag, the medicine she’d given him working to its fullest. Kara, though…
Dressed in a mismatched shirt and shorts, her pigtails all but falling out, the little girl smiled at her mother as Shouko sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. “Did Daddy hang over toilets a lot when he was in college?” she asked, very curious about it.
“Yes, sweetheart, he did,” answered Shouko. “But this time it’s food poisoning. That’s why everyone is sick.”
“I’m not sick,” answered Kara happily.
Her mother grinned at her. “That’s because you’re very lucky.”
“Can I go play?” asked the child, her unspent energy showing as she began to bounce on the balls of her feet.
Shouko hesitated. Sudden illnesses aside, something didn’t feel right in the house this morning. Seijuurou seemed oddly content to blame his blackout on a night of binge drinking and a bottle of cheap wine even though they both knew perfectly well it wasn’t true. Kyo was more fidgety than normal, and Kaya… Kaya just wasn’t herself. Shouko no longer felt safe or comfortable here, and she wished they were all well enough to leave on Kaya’s coattails.
“Kara,” began Shouko slowly as she made a half-hearted attempt to straighten her daughter’s hair, “who put you to bed last night? Me or Daddy?”
Kara beamed at her mother. “Sailor Mars.”
Shouko closed her eyes and sighed. She should have known better than to ask.
“It’s true!” insisted Kara, her smile falling into a frown. “She gave me my doll!”
The rise in decibel shot through Shouko’s head like a spear and she cringed, her stomach turning.
“Rei will believe me,” muttered Kara petulantly.
“I’m sure she will,” answered her mother. “All right, you can go play. Just be mindful of those who don’t feel well, including Rei and Ami.”
“Okay,” chirruped Kara. Then she reached out and patted her mother’s knee. “I hope you don’t feel bad for too long.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. Now go on,” answered Shouko, gently shooing her away.
Kara nodded, then bounded out of the room. She’d had to have breakfast alone in the kitchen with Hikari this morning because almost everyone else was sick and hung over the toilet like her daddy. It was their last day of vacation, and they were all supposed to have breakfast together. But because they couldn’t, she wanted to at least be able to play a little before they all left.
She didn’t get very far, though, before running into her grandfather and Uncle Kyo. Both of them stood in the hallway, dark circles under their eyes, staring into one of the bedrooms. Her grandfather had his arms crossed and an unhappy scowl on his face. As Kara walked up to them, she could see why. “Wow, that’s a big hole,” she said, her eyes wide. “What happened?”
“That’s what I want to know,” grumbled her grandfather.
Kyo looked sheepish as he scratched the back of his head. Then he answered quietly, “Bad night at the hospital. Sorry.”
“Hmmph,” gruffed Rin. Then, “I expect you’ll see to getting it fixed. And consider finding better ways of dealing with such moments.”
“Yes, sir,” muttered Kyo.
Rin nodded and immediately regretted the action. “I’m going to lay down. Someone tell me before Kaya leaves, but don’t disturb your mother.”
“Okay,” replied Kyo. As his father walked away, he reached down and picked up Kara. “And how are you this morning, munchkin?”
“I’m okay,” answered Kara. “I wanted to see if Chibi-usa and Hotaru want to play before they leave. And I want to see Rei. I got a secret to tell her.”
“Not right now,” said Kyo, feeling bad at how that disappointed her. “How about you stay with me for now, and we’ll say good-bye to everyone before they leave.”
“Because they don’t feel good?”
“All right,” relented Kara, though her disappointment remained obvious. But as he set her down and took her hand, she smiled just a little. “If you want me to, I can tell you my secret,” she whispered loudly. “I bet you can’t guess who put me to bed last night…”
* * *
Usagi waited beside Mamoru as he lifted their bags into the trunk. Chibi-usa and Hotaru had already climbed into the back seat, and not too far away, Luna and Artemis lingered discreetly. Usagi wondered if they were trying to figure out who would be the better traveling companion – her or Rei.
She couldn’t hear the words, but she could see Rei’s lips moving in a grumbly fashion as Rei quickly and haphazardly threw things into her trunk. She wished she could tease Rei, or laugh at her and get that vein in her temple to bulge. Usagi knew how that scene would normally play out. Rei would snap at her, call her a spoiled princess and tell her she was going to leave her there. Usagi would call Rei mean, and Rei would confirm that right before telling her to hurry up and get in the car. Because Rei was her best friend and most loyal guardian, and Rei would never leave her behind.
She wished she could tease her friend, but since today wasn’t a day for that… “Mamo-chan,” said Usagi, causing him to stop mid-lift, “would you mind too much if I rode home with Rei?”
Mamoru smiled at her. “No, not if that’s what you want. And since I’ll have the extra space, tell Luna and Artemis they can ride with me.”
Usagi grinned, then stepped over so she could kiss him on the cheek. Then she giggled in surprise as his arm hooked around her waist and pulled her a little closer. For the ride home, she thought as his lips gently lingered against hers.
* * *
The tension outside was worse than inside. Rei hemmed and hawed beside her open car door as the last of the luggage was loaded up. The sunlight was an almost painful thing against her tired eyes, and she felt jumpy. The peacefulness of this place had retreated, leaving it with an aura of trepidation.
“Your ghosts are just as unhappy as you are,” she said when Minako came up behind her.
“Did we scare them?” asked Minako, genuinely sorry that their problems had affected this household so deeply.
“No, that damn catgirl did,” returned Rei, getting even more restless as Ami’s grandfather shuffled out of the house to see them off.
Kaya and Kyo stood beside him, and Rei could pick up just enough of the conversation to know he was trying to persuade Ami’s mother to stay a little longer, until everyone felt better. Rei didn’t even have time to mutter under her breath, because Ami’s mom apparently felt the same about staying as she did. Kaya quickly and gently declined, shooed her father back into the house to rest, and hustled herself over to the driver’s side of the SUV.
“Finally,” sighed Rei. “All right, anyone going with me, get in. We’re leaving. Now.”
Minako coughed lightly.
“What?” demanded Rei.
Minako pointed over to the side where Setsuna and Kyo stood. They looked like they should be talking, but they were taking their own sweet time about getting started.
“Oh, for the love of…” snapped Rei quietly.
Minako grinned and patted her back. “Come on. By the time we’re all settled and comfortable, they’ll be done.”
Grumbling, Rei ducked down into the car, not even registering any surprise as Usagi scooted in around Minako to dive into the back seat.
“Rei! Don’t leave yet!”
The call startled her, and she couldn’t help grinning as Kara came charging down the driveway, one shoe on her foot and the other in her hand. She got to the car and doubled over, breathing dramatically hard.
“I thought you were gonna get away,” huffed the child.
“I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry if I’d known you were coming to see me off,” answered Rei as she leaned out the window. “You look like you’re feeling okay this morning.”
Kara nodded. “I’m not sick. Mama says I’m lucky like that.”
“Yeah, you are,” agreed Rei.
Kara smiled widely and leaned in against the car door so she could whisper up to Rei. “Guess what. I’ve got secret.”
Rei leaned further through the car window so she would be whisper height with the child. “Is it a good secret?” she asked conspiratorially.
“Yep! And I bet it’ll make you jealous, too,” added Kara with a giggle.
“Oh, really,” replied Rei as Minako closed the passenger side door. She could sense the blonde’s eyes on her and played into that curiosity. “So what is this really great secret you’re going to tell just me?”
Kara hesitated for a second. “Um… well… I told my mom and Uncle Kyo, too. But only because I wasn’t allowed to bother you until it was time to leave! I wanted to tell you first!”
Minako smirked around a silent chuckle as Rei reassured the girl it was okay. “But I still don’t know what it is.”
“Guess who put me to bed last night,” said Kara excitedly.
Rei froze, and Minako and Usagi were suddenly paying a lot more attention than they had been.
“Hmmm, let me think,” drug out Rei as she ran through all the different possibilities Kara could throw at her. And why the hell hadn’t Kyo warned her? “Your mom,” she guessed.
Kara shook her head, her haphazard pigtails loosening with the motion.
“Your dad? Or your grandfather,” tried Rei as her mind traced back over carrying the child upstairs and putting her in her sleeping bag. Kara had been dead weight the whole time and hadn’t so much as twitched…
“It was Sailor Mars!” announced the girl happily, the concept of a secret all but abandoned as everyone within earshot stopped for a moment to stare at her over the outburst.
Rei found herself in the uncommon position of being speechless, and her hesitation had an immediate effect on Kara’s enthusiasm.
“You don’t believe me,” said the child, watching Rei closely.
“No, no, I do!” answered Rei quickly. “I’m just… really, really surprised. Sailor Mars, huh? That’s pretty neat.”
Kara smiled widely again. “I fell asleep under the table and she came to get me after everybody else went to sleep. She put me in my sleeping bag and said she knew she was my favorite so she was gonna protect me extra special.”
“That’s so sweet!” chimed in Usagi as she stuck her head between the driver’s seat and the window. “I’m jealous!”
Kara beamed proudly as Rei’s cheeks tinged red.
“No kidding,” added Minako as she leaned further into the conversation. “You must be one of her favorite people for her to do that.”
Kara nodded, and then her blue eyes got wide with the reflection of a new idea. “I bet I know who she was going to protect me from. It was the people who poisoned our food!”
Minako’s mouth dropped open and Usagi blinked, completely lost.
“Someone poisoned the food?” asked Rei.
“Uh huh, my mama said so,” answered Kara. “That’s why everyone’s sick and Daddy’s hanging over the toilet.” The little girl giggled. “He used to hang over a lot of toilets when he was in college.”
Not really understanding that last part, but knowing instinctively that it was more information than she wanted, Rei just nodded. “Well, I hope she got ‘em.”
“She did,” answered Kara, completely confident in her answer.
Rei smiled, initial embarrassment giving way to the ego boosting of her young fan. “You’re right, I’m sure she did.”
* * *
They were amassing an audience – an obviously impatient audience. Kyo shrugged mentally. Saying good-bye to a beautiful woman was not something to be rushed, no matter what the circumstances. Well, these circumstances, anyway. There were times when he was willing to make an exception to that rule.
“I’m sorry your trip wasn’t a better one, Meioh-san,” he said finally. “Though I do hope it won’t keep you from visiting again.”
Setsuna smiled. “The invitation is appreciated, though I’m a bit surprised you’d want us to come back.”
Kyo smirked. “What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment and a sucker for a pretty face.” He felt his cheeks start to warm at the amused quirk of her lips, and he glanced away. When he did, his eyes caught sight of Hotaru watching them intently from behind the car window, and he let out a puff of breath. “You know, I think I understand her, and I’m even a bit fascinated by her,” he said quietly. “But I’d be lying if I said part of me isn’t still terrified by her.”
“You aren’t the first,” answered Setsuna much more kindly than he would have if it were his child. “You won’t be the last.” Then she inclined her head to him. “Until next time, Ishida-san.”
Kyo returned the gesture. “Until then, Meioh-san.”
* * *
Kaya climbed into the SUV and closed the door as gently as she could. Nonetheless, it made Ken winch. His face paler than normal beneath morning stubble, he hid his eyes behind the darkest sunglasses he could find and tried not to look completely miserable in front of the girls.
Kaya laid a hand lightly on his arm, then reached up to adjust the rearview mirror. In the mirror’s reflection, she caught Ami’s eyes watching her. Tired, worried, apologetic, the blue just a touch duller, her little girl’s eyes said so much to her.
It was time to go home.
As Kaya put the car into gear and pulled away leading the procession, her soul searched futilely for the relief she thought would be waiting for her at the gate. But as they drove past and the gate closed behind them, her hope faded. The peace she sought rested with resolution to the events of the last 12 hours, and the journey to reach that resolution had only just begun.