The Tangled Web We Weave

by Crawlspace

 

~ Day 4 ~

~ Tuesday ~

 

            Makoto hesitated and looked down at Miki.  He was too busy trying to eat one of the buttons off the shirt that hung open over her bathing suit to notice they were talking about him.  “I don’t know.  I feel like I’m imposing, leaving him with you so much.”

 

            “You’re not imposing at all,” offered Hana from the couch where she sat watching them.  “Kaya offered.  You should take advantage of that for as long as it lasts.”

 

            Kaya smiled reassuringly at her.  “I wouldn’t have offered if I felt he was any kind of imposition.  I haven’t gotten to spend very much time with him at home, and once we get back, I doubt I’ll find myself with any extra free time.  I’m making up for some of that here.  Now, just go and have some fun with Ami and your friends.”  She held out her arms to take him.  “We’ll be fine.”

 

            Makoto nodded, then handed the baby to Kaya.  She tapped the tip of his nose with her index finger.  “Be good for your Nana, and I’ll be back in a few hours.”  She took a step back, and almost changed her mind when he reached out to her.  But as Kaya tried to distract him, she allowed herself to let go for awhile and went to find Ami.

 

            Miki, however, wasn’t going for the distraction.  As his mommy walked away and took his button with her, his face crumbled.  Whimpery sounding mewls issued from him as he watched her turn and disappear into the hallway.

 

            “She’ll be back soon,” soothed Kaya softly as she shifted him upright against her shoulder.  She patted his back and rocked him a bit, moving over to the small mirror that hung on the wall.  “Look at that,” she said, her voice just a touch higher.  “Who’s that boy?”

 

            Miki sniffled and blinked, then stared in wide-eyed curiosity at his teary reflection.

 

            “That’s right,” said Kaya, carefully wiping the tears from under his eyes.  “That’s Miki.”

 

            Hana laid aside her needlepoint, tucking the odds and ends into the basket at her feet.  “Bring him over here, dear.”

 

            Kaya walked over and sat beside her grandmother.  She sat Miki in her lap so he could lean against her, while Hana smiled widely and fussed over him.  After a few minutes, Miki started to smile back and laughed as his tummy was tickled.

 

            “I must say,” Kaya interjected into their game, “that you have handled all of this remarkably well.”

 

            Hana’s smile softened.  “Well, Ami always was a bit different.  And it’s like I’ve always told you, times may change, but people don’t.  Just because we didn’t talk openly about certain things when I was young, doesn’t mean they weren’t happening.  We just understood discretion better back then.  These days, no one cares who knows what.  Though, it would have been much better if someone had told me clearly so I wouldn’t have seemed so foolish when they were introduced.”  She let the baby grab onto her fingers and pull them into his mouth.  As he began his drooly gnawing, she added, “Besides, it would have been difficult finding a suitable husband for her.  Most men of accomplishment can’t handle being overshadowed by their wives, and Ami would have been unhappy if she was forced to be less than she is.  This way, she is as respected as she is loved, she has her family, and she has a healthy son to take care of her in her old age.  It’s all worked out very well for her.  Now, we just have to deal with you.”

 

            Kaya smirked as playful blue eyes peered up at her through thick lenses.  “Don’t forget Kyo.  He has yet to marry and reproduce.”

 

            “I’ve given up on the boy,” said Hana dismissively.  “A woman wants a husband, not an overgrown child.  He’s a good boy; he takes care of his parents and works hard.  He just isn’t proper marrying material.”

 

            “If I recall, you said the same about me,” returned Kaya.  Then she handed the baby to Hana and got up to retrieve his bag.

 

            Hana bounced the baby on her lap until Kaya came back, and as the younger woman wiped the spit from Miki’s chin, she went on, You don’t make a proper wife.  That hasn’t changed.  But this man doesn’t seem to be looking for someone to keep his house and bare his children.”

 

            “It’s a good thing, too,” chuckled Kaya.  “Or he’d be looking somewhere else.”

 

            “So why aren’t you married yet?  Or is that why you’re here?”

 

            Kaya sighed at the almost hopeful tone in her grandmother’s voice.  “Why does everyone just assume I want to marry him?”

 

            “Because this is exactly what you did the last time,” answered Hana.  “You never bring anyone home.  Even when you were young, it was a challenge just for us to meet your friends.  Your parents still think you were a chaste and studious teenager.  But you brought this man home, all on your own, so there must be something that compelled you to do it.  What else do you expect us to think?”

 

            Kaya opened her mouth to answer, then closed it and shrugged.  Even Miki seemed to be looking at her expectantly, waiting for her answer.  “I just wanted to,” she said finally.  “There isn’t any more to it than that.  Things work well right now the way they are, and I’m not in a hurry to change them.”

 

            “Is that so?” said Hana.  Then she nodded.  “All right.  As long as you’re happy.  But you know what they say about a man and his cow, don’t you?  If you keep giving it to him for free, he will become lazy, complacent, and bloated, and will go looking for a new udder when yours runs dry.”

 

            Kaya’s jaw dropped.  She blinked, incredulous, then stuttered out, “Gram, I… I don’t have any idea how to respond to that.”

 

            “It doesn’t require a response, dear,” answered Hana.  “You just think about it.”

 

            “I don’t think I want to,” she responded, her nose wrinkling.

 

            “What a silly girl,” chuckled Hana.  “And don’t think I don’t know where you’ve been sleeping every night.  You always make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  By the way, where is your young man right now?”

 

            “With Father,” answered Kaya.  She reached out and fiddled with the front of Miki’s shirt.  “They started talking about some research or other the hospital is involved with.  As my input wasn’t sought, I didn’t see a point in following them up to the office.”

 

            Hana smiled and patted Kaya’s cheek.  “Rin just wants to get to know him better.  That’s all.  This is the only way he knows how to do it.”

 

            Kaya muttered a noncommittal sound, still obviously less than pleased.

 

            “Enough of that for right now,” instructed Hana.  “Go get your camera and take a few pictures of me and my great-great-grandson.  I need some to show off to the ladies the next time they come for tea.  Oh, they’re going to be so jealous!”  Hana went back to cooing at the baby, making him laugh as she told him what a handsome boy he was.

 

            Kaya smiled, then let out a sigh.  Don’t look for trouble where there is none, she told herself.  And you can grill Ken about it all later.  With that thought, she went to get her camera, hesitating only slightly as she walked passed the office door.

 

*            *            *

 

            Ami drifted to a stop, coming up beside Michiru in the deep end of the pool.  She took a few deep breaths, feeling the steady beat of her heart after the warm-up laps.  As she slowly exhaled, she looked around.  Her exhale turned to a sigh when all she saw was a lightly dozing Haruka.

 

            Smiling gently, Michiru said, “One race.  If she’s not here by then, you can go look for her.”

 

            Ami smiled back at her, a bit embarrassed for being so obvious.  “All right,” she answered, then started to move forward only to be stopped by Michiru.

 

            “We’re playing a game, Haruka and I,” said Michiru quietly.  “Pay attention, and I’ll explain in a few moments.”

 

            Ami nodded and allowed the older girl to move ahead of her.  She watched curiously as Michiru’s movements shifted from casual to something more deliberate and precise as she climbed slowly from the pool.  However, it was deliberateness in a way no one would have noticed.  They would only notice her, and the perfect grace and sensuality she exuded would give her complete command over any room.  All simply because she wanted it to be so.  She could just as easily go completely unnoticed if that was her mood, which at this moment was obviously not the point to her game.

 

            Her grin wide, Ami followed Michiru out of the pool.  “She’s not asleep,” she said in quiet amusement as they meandered near the diving board.

 

            Michiru laughed softly.  “No.”

 

            “Does she realize you know that?”

 

            “I expect so.  But that’s all part of the game, pretending you don’t notice.  And she fancies herself to be very good at it.”  Michiru’s smile turned mischievous.  “Have you ever played before?”

 

            Ami chuckled and shook her head.  “No.  We’re not really comfortable with public displays, and I can always tell when Makoto’s watching.  She isn’t very good at being subtle, nor does she ever really try to be.”

 

            “I must say, then, that you’ve been doing very well for a novice,” replied Michiru.  She could see the momentary confusion in the way Ami’s shy smile faltered and the way her head tilted as if she were about to ask for clarification.  She didn’t give the girl a chance, though, as she faced the water and prepared to dive.  “Ready?”

 

            Ami hesitated for a moment, but followed suit.  Her questions were forgotten as she cut swiftly through the water, her focus divided evenly between her opponent and their goal.

 

 

            If he had really started to cry, she wouldn’t have left him.  But he didn’t, and after a few moments, Makoto moved out of earshot of the sitting room and headed for the pool.

 

            Ami, Haruka, and Michiru were already outside, pretty much settled into their activities.  Makoto’s eyes caught Ami first, the girl standing beside Michiru at the far end of the pool.  Whatever Michiru said, it made Ami giggle.  Then she shook her head, and Michiru smiled almost slyly before changing her stance for a dive.  Ami seemed confused for a moment, but followed suit, and as Makoto sat in the lounge chair beside the one Haruka occupied, the girls dove in.

 

            Haruka’s grin grew wide right at that moment, giving her a “cat that ate the canary” look.  Stretched out comfortably on the lounger, her yellow bathing suit covered by white cotton shorts and an open, sleeveless white shirt, Haruka seemed completely at ease with the world.  Her arms were folded behind her head, and her sunglasses rested low on her nose, just enough for her half-lidded eyes to see over the edge.

 

            Turning her grin to Makoto, she said, “I was wondering when you’d show up.  I was afraid you’d miss the whole show.  Sit back and relax, Mako-chan.  And don’t stare,” she added, reaching forward to tip down the sunglasses resting on the top of Makoto’s head.

 

 

            The race was over almost as soon as it started, and Ami was aware of the fraction of a second that passed between Michiru touching the wall and when her own fingers brushed against it.  She smiled as she stood in the shallow end of the pool, though, not only because of the exhilaration from the challenge, but because Makoto was there and smiling right back at her.  She raised her hand to return Makoto’s wave, but Michiru’s fingers hooking into the waistband of her bikini bottoms very effectively pulled her attention away from her partner.

 

            Ignoring the comically wide, surprised eyes Ami turned on her, Michiru, looking completely nonchalant, gave her a hard tug before letting go and swimming away.  Ami followed after her, if for no other reason than to find out just why she had done that.

 

            Michiru stopped a few feet from the ladder, and Ami swam up somewhat cautiously beside her.  All she had to do was raise her eyebrows.

 

            “The rules,” reminded Michiru with great amusement.  “Makoto is a bit off on her game, but that’s no excuse for you to fall behind.”

 

            Ami’s suspicious posture relaxed, and she grinned.  “Is that what you meant when you said I was doing well for a novice?  You saw her coming?”  She giggled softly.  “But neither of us knew we were playing, so it doesn’t really count.”

 

            “Not quite,” answered Michiru, that mischievous smile reappearing.  “You’ve been playing, and you’ve played this game many times before.  You aren’t thirteen anymore, Mizuno Ami.  And Makoto isn’t the only one who’s noticed.”

 

            The natural pink of Ami’s cheeks quickly turned to a fire engine red as Michiru’s words clicked in her brain.  She barely heard the musical chime of Michiru’s laughter as she dunked herself under water.

 

 

            Makoto adjusted the sunglasses after they fell onto her nose, and looked over just in time to see the race end.  It was too close to call a winner, and Ami smiled happily as she stood in the water.  She waved to Makoto when she saw her, and Makoto had just enough time to wave back before Michiru tugged Ami’s attention back to her.

 

            Pulling her glasses down to match Haruka’s, Makoto grinned and silently acknowledged the older girl’s wisdom as she watched Ami’s lithe, bikini-clad body move slowly through the water.  This was, indeed, a very nice show.

 

            Michiru stopped a few feet from the ladder at the deep end, and Ami swam up beside her.  As the two treaded water, Makoto could see them talking, but they were too far away for her to hear their voices.  Then that slyish smile reappeared on Michiru’s lips, and Ami’s cheeks flushed right before she ducked abruptly under the water.

 

            Makoto’s eyebrows rose in curiosity, and she glanced over at Haruka.  If the blonde had noticed anything odd, she wasn’t showing it.  Still stretched out and relaxed, anyone would have been hard pressed to notice she was even watching the pool rather than dozing in the sun.

 

            With a small shrug, Makoto let it go and laid back in her chair.  Just as she was stretching out her toes, she heard Haruka’s low voice say in amusement, “Keep watching.  This is the best part.”

 

            Makoto kept her attention on the pool, wondering what Haruka meant.  After all, there had been lots of times when she’d seen Michiru climb out… of… oh.

 

            Eyes wide as they peered over the top of her sunglasses, Makoto watched in awe as Michiru slowly emerged from the water, and wondered why she had never noticed it quite this way before.  That perfect swimmer’s body moved with a slow, subtle grace, her toned arms pulling her up the ladder.  The water seemed to hug her body as she rose, tiny streams gleaming in the sunlight as they cascaded down the curves covered by her black bathing suit.

 

            Makoto swallowed hard and wondered how long it would be before she was hit by a blunt object for ogling like this.  And which of three directions that object would be coming from.

 

            Michiru, apparently oblivious to her staring, stepped from the pool to solid ground.  As she reached up to adjust the loose tie that held back her hair, her bathing suit moved with her.  Tiny droplets of water shimmered and disappeared into the teasing amount of cleavage that was revealed.

 

            Makoto chanced a glance over at Haruka, certain she was going to get an evil glare for staring in a way the blonde hadn’t intended.  But Haruka’s grin said it all. 

 

            She’s mine.  Envy me.

 

            With a smirk, Makoto shook her head and let her eyes drift back to the pool.  Yeah, Michiru was gorgeous without trying, and there was a lot to envy there.  But, she thought, her smile growing, she had her own gorgeous water nymph.  And it was her turn to get out of the pool.

 

 

            Ami watched Michiru’s legs as they slowly climbed the ladder and disappeared from beneath the water.  Hesitantly, she rose up and broke the surface just enough so she could breathe.  She watched Michiru for a moment, those same subtly seductive movements again on display, then glanced over to see what effect it was having on the other players in this game.

 

            Haruka was grinning in a possessively proud manner, but if Ami hadn’t been told, she still wouldn’t be able to tell she had been watching them.  Makoto, on the other hand, was sitting there with her mouth hanging open and her eyes big as saucers behind the sunglasses that were almost falling off her nose.  The only thing missing was the drool.  Ami grinned widely.  No, subtly was not part of Makoto’s basic make-up.

 

            Then Makoto seemed to compose herself a bit, and her gaze shifted to Ami as an expectant smile formed on her lips.

 

            Sorry, Mako-chan, thought Ami as she started to swim back toward the shallow end.  We’ve already lost this game, and pretty badly at that.  Perhaps we can try again later, when I’ve had a bit more time to go over all the rules.

 

            When she reached the edge of the pool, Makoto was waiting there for her.  “Was everything okay inside?” she asked.

 

            “Yeah,” answered Makoto.  “Though I do feel kind of guilty for leaving the baby with your mom so much.  But anyway, are you two going to race again?”

 

            Ami bit back a grin at the eagerness she heard in Makoto’s question.  “Not right now.”

 

            “Oh,” said Makoto, obviously disappointed.

 

            “Later,” replied Ami, knowing Makoto didn’t really understand what it was she was promising.  “You should come in with me.  Bring one of the rafts, before the kids come out and claim them.”

 

            Makoto nodded.  Glancing back at the house, she said, “They’re all taking their own sweet time this morning.  I wonder what’s holding them up?  Then she shrugged and slid off her shirt, laying it across the chair she’d vacated.  It took a moment for her to find a raft that was big enough to hold them both, because she had no intention of floating around alone.  With a grin, she plunked it and herself into the water beside Ami.  Okay, so she wasn’t going to get any more show from Ami for now.  But that meant neither was Haruka, and she was perfectly happy with that and the cuddle she was about to get.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

            Dressed in shorts and her bathing suit, a few poolside necessities tucked under her arm, Setsuna wondered what was taking the girls so long.  She was certain they would have been ready by now and trying to knock down her door with entreaties for her to hurry.  Instead, she was going to them.

 

            Stopping outside the bedroom that was supposed to be for Usagi and Chibi-usa, Setsuna knocked lightly.  After an extended pause, Hotaru opened the door just enough to poke her head out.  Behind the girl, Setsuna could hear hushed giggles.

 

            “Are you two ready yet?” asked Setsuna.

 

            Hotaru smiled up at her.  “Actually, we kind of got caught up in something.  You can go out without us.  We’ll be down in a little while.”

 

            Setsuna smiled curiously back at her.  “And just what is it you two have gotten caught up in?”

 

            Hotaru’s smile widened, but before she could answer, Kara called out from behind the door, “It’s a surprise!”

 

            Hotaru sighed and shook her head, and Setsuna heard Seiji shush his little sister’s enthusiasm.  Then Hotaru looked back up at her mother with a crooked grin.  “What she said.”

 

            “All right,” replied Setsuna.  “You know where the rest of us will be when you’re done.”

 

            Hotaru nodded, then quickly closed the door

 

            Setsuna chuckled, glad the children were getting along and enjoying themselves, but terribly curious as to what it was they were up to.  She was certain she would find out soon enough, though.  In the meantime, she was going to enjoy her morning by the pool.

 

            Starting down the hallway, she saw Minako coming around the corner.  Her eyebrows rose when she saw the pink and white box the blonde was carrying.

 

            They stopped in front of each other, and Minako smiled sheepishly.  She gave the box a little shake, shifting the dolls into further disarray.  “I saw them sitting out after breakfast, and didn’t think anyone would mind if I borrowed them for a while.  There’s a few things I want to…”

 

            Setsuna held up a hand to stop any further explanation.  “There’s no need to go into detail.  Recall who it is I live with.”

 

            The serious expression on Setsuna’s face set Minako into a fit of giggles.  “Who could forget?  Rei and I won’t be too long.”

 

            Setsuna nodded and graced her with an almost playful smile.  “Enjoy yourselves.”

 

            “We will,” grinned back Minako.

 

            They parted ways, and Minako headed back to the bedroom.  She opened the door to an increasingly impatient Rei.  Sitting on the bed with her arms crossed and her foot tapping against the floor, Rei asked, “Where did you disappear to?  And what’s that?”

 

            Minako smiled impishly.  “I went downstairs.  This is for my amusement and to help save your good name.  Now scoot up on the bed.”

 

            Rei smirked and did as asked, pulling the brightly colored sarong that matched her bikini up over her crossed legs.  She chuckled silently as Minako put great effort into setting up the dolls, and laughed outright when Tuxedo Kamen wound up under the plastic sword of the supposedly reformed Master Zorlog.

 

            “Here we go,” said Minako when she was ready.  “Kara got a few things exceptionally wrong.  I’ll forgive her, though, since she’s just a little kid, and it’s not her fault we don’t have proper media exposure.  Plus, her adoration of you helps balance out her really bad fashion sense,” she added with a grimace, picking up the Venus doll.  “But for our sakes, I need to set a few things right.”

 

            Minako set aside her poor, maligned mini-self and picked up Sailor Moon.  In a dramatically stressed voice that was supposed to be Usagi’s, she called out, “Zorlog!  I thought you had turned away from your evil ways!”

 

            She then picked up Zorlog, giving Tuxedo Kamen a temporary reprieve.  Laughing menacingly, she cackled out, “You simple fool.  Did you really think I’d give up my plans for world domination for something as stupid as love?  And now with Tuxedo Kamen about to be destroyed, the rest of you will follow, falling like dominos, and I will prevail!”

 

            Zorlog started to laugh like the evil maniac he was, when Minako suddenly picked up Jupiter and rammed her head first into his back, cutting him off and knocking him down with an ‘oomph’.  Jupiter then proceeded to stomp all over his evil plastic self with her bare, pointed toes.

 

            Minako giggled at her antics as Jupiter, standing on top of the beaten Zorlog, raised her arms over her head like a boxer who had just won a match.  Then she reached over for Mercury.  Since the doll couldn’t do it herself, Minako batted her eyelashes adoringly at the miniature Jupiter.  “My hero!” was declared, and then the two mini senshi embraced.

 

            Leaving them entwined, Minako set them aside and started to reach for Sailor Moon again, but paused.  “Oh yeah,” she said to Rei, remembering something.  “You’re over there tied up because you were with Tux Boy when he got caught.”

 

            “Was I?” said Rei sarcastically.

 

            Minako nodded.  “And that’s what you get.  Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled battle!”

 

            She picked up Sailor Moon and immediately had her hovering over a prone Tuxedo Kamen.  “How could I have been so wrong?” lamented Sailor Moon.  “And now I’ve lost my dear Mamo-chan, not to death, but to another’s heart.  Sob, sob.”

 

            “Usako?” Tuxedo Kamen asked weakly, his voice unusually high pitched, no doubt because of the stress of the situation.  He sat up, his black pants hiking halfway up his shins.  “Usako?  Did you come to save me?  Even after I called you an infatuation and ran off with one of your best friends?”

 

            “Oh, Mamo-chan,” cried Sailor Moon.  “I had to.  I… I still love you.  I was so stupid to think what I felt for Zorlog was the true love I feel for you.”

 

            “Then you’ll forgive me?  And I’ll forgive you?” asked Tuxedo Kamen hopefully.

 

            “Of course!” answered Sailor Moon as she flung herself at him, knocking them both over.

 

            Minako was going to pick up Venus next, but changed her mind.  Instead, she reached around for Uranus.  With a smirk, she chuckled out, “You guys all need to get a room.”  Then Uranus joined arms with Neptune and the two of them strolled off the bed and hopped into the box.

 

            Then, finally, she went for Venus.

 

            “It’s about time,” said Rei, crossing her arms and trying to look indignant.  “Now hurry and go rescue me.”

 

            Minako grinned at her and slowly worked her way over to where Mars sat all alone and neglected.  “Mars?  You alive?” asked Venus as she poked at her with a toe.

 

            “Untie me, damn it!” grumped out Minako in a very good impression of a trapped and unhappy Mars.

 

            Venus jumped up and down a few times, apparently happy Mars was still alive and able to yell at her.  She made the motions to untie her, and they stood beside each other staring at Moon and Tuxedo Kamen.

 

            “Uh, sorry about that,” said Venus uncomfortably.

 

            Mars titled to the side in what was supposed to be a shrug.  “It’s not a big deal.  We were only dating to make her jealous after she ran off with that freak, Zorlog.”

 

             “Oh,” replied Venus, surprised.

 

            “Yeah,” answered Mars.  “And, um, I was sort of hoping it might make you a little jealous, too.”

 

            “Really?” asked Venus, Minako’s grin wide.  “Does that mean you like me?”

 

            “What do you think?” snapped out Mars.

 

            “She’s a little embarrassed,” pointed out Minako as Mars turned her back on Venus.  “Because her heart is a whole lot gentler than she ever wants anyone to know.”

 

            Getting back into character and smiling at the light blush that touched Rei’s cheeks, Minako had Venus lean over Mars’ shoulder.  “Aw, I think that’s sweet,” said Venus softly.  “And I like you, too.  A lot.”

 

            “You do?” asked Mars, turning back to her.

 

            “I do.  I have for the longest time,” confessed Venus.

 

            “Since the first time you saw me?” teased Mars.  “Are you going to tell me it was love at first sight?”

 

            “No, it wasn’t the first time I saw you,” said Minako.  Her voice softened, and her eyes became distant, no longer focusing on the dolls she was speaking for.  “But I know just when it was.  You walked right by me without really seeing me at all, but I noticed every detail of you.  The confidence in your steps, the excitement in those beautifully exotic eyes, the way your hair flowed in a perfect, dark wave around your shoulders, the lilt of your voice when you spoke.  In that moment, you stole my breath and stopped my heart.”

 

            Rei reached out and touched Minako’s cheek, startling the girl.  Minako’s lips formed a crooked grin.  “I think we’ve pretty much fixed everything that needed fixing in this universe.  Though I’m still not sure how to explain Diana’s gender swap and the star on her forehead.”

 

            Rei smiled at her and chuckled.  Then she leaned in and touched their lips together in a gentle kiss, causing the heaviness that had started to settle over Minako’s heart to lift.  “I love you,” whispered Rei.  “And I think I fell in love over either the comic books or the bobble head.  One of those.”

 

            Minako laughed, then grabbed Rei in a tight hug.

 

            A knock at the door interrupted them, and Minako kissed Rei’s cheek before quickly grabbing up the dolls and hiding them in their box.  Rei gave her a few extra seconds to get the box out of sight before opening the door.

 

            Hotaru, dressed in dark blue denim shorts, a white t-shirt, and red suspenders greeted Rei with a smile.  “I’m glad I caught you before you two left.  I was wondering if I could ask a favor?

 

            Five minutes later, Hotaru was trotting back down the hallway with the baseball cap she’d barrowed from Minako.  She got back to the bedroom, knocked three times in quick succession, then went in.

 

            “Okay,” she announced.  “I got the cap and gave Rei the camera.  We’re all set.  How’s the invitation?”

 

            Kyo grinned at his accomplice.  “You tell me.  Will your mama like it?”

 

            Hotaru took the cream-colored note card and studied the calligraphy print, being careful not to smudge the still drying ink.  You are cordially invited to a private lunch this afternoon at 1pm, to be hosted by Ishida Kyo.  An escort will be dispatched to pick you up at your bedroom door at 12:45 pm.  Live entertainment will be provided.  The little girl nodded.  “Perfect.”

 

            “How much longer until it’s completely dry?” asked Chibi-usa as she stood beside Hotaru and read over her arm.

 

            “Just a little longer,” answered Kyo.  “I’m sure the extra help we just commandeered will keep her put until it’s ready.  In the meantime, let’s get to work on that live entertainment.”

 

*            *            *

 

            Sitting at an umbrellaed table across from Mamoru and beside the chairs Usagi and Michiru had left vacant, Haruka pushed a few shreds of cheese over next to her tomato.  With the tip of her fork, she wrapped them up in a few leaves of lettuce, then speared the lot of them in something akin to maniacal glee.  As she chewed contentedly on it, enjoying the fresh crunch, she wished she had grabbed some of those boiled eggs she’d seen in the refrigerator.  But Hotaru and her crew had banished them quickly and completely from the kitchen, and she hadn’t thought about it until after they were all out here on the patio.

 

            Haruka grinned widely.  She did hope Setsuna was having a good time, even if she hadn’t been able to get her boiled eggs.

 

            Girly cooing and another exclamation of ‘how cute!’ pulled her attention from her lunch to the scene Michiru had abandoned her for.  Minako was holding the baby in her lap, giving Makoto the 15 minutes she needed to eat her own lunch before her son demanded more of her attention.  Not that it really looked like he needed any more from her, because Michiru and Usagi were fussing over him like they’d never seen a baby before.

 

            Miki, for his part, was loving the attention.  The boy seemed to know full well that he had them wrapped around his tiny little pinky, and just what he had to do to keep them there.  A bubbly grin formed on his face as Michiru smiled at him, and he grabbed onto the finger she held out for him.  More cooing ensued, and the baby laughed happily, not seeming to mind at all that the word ‘cute’ was being tossed around like a tennis ball.

 

            Haruka, on the other hand…

 

            She shoved another forkful of lettuce into her mouth and stood.  Still chewing, she waved her hand at the girls in an effort to get them to stop.  As she stood over them, they all looked up at her in question, wondering what it was she was trying to get out.  Even Miki looked at her in some confusion, seeming to wonder why she was stopping his fun.

 

            Finally, she swallowed and said, “I’ve heard the word ‘cute’ five times in the last two minutes.  I can’t take it anymore.  Here, give him to me.  It’s my turn to play with him.”

 

            She took Miki from Minako, which earned her pouts from the two blondes and a smirk from Michiru.  “You’ve got the right idea, Miki-kun,” she said quietly to him as she grabbed the small diaper bag from beside Makoto.  “But there have to be some limits to how much you let them do to you.”

 

            Sitting back at the table, she held Miki in one arm while rummaging around in his bag with the other.  As he watched her in wide-eyed curiosity, she pulled out a double-ringed, cloth covered rattle.  Haruka frowned at it, set it on the table, then started digging around in the bag again.  Coming up with nothing better than a clean diaper, she sighed.

 

            “We really need to get you some cooler toys,” she said, tossing the diaper onto the table.  “Can you say Porsche?  Porsche.”

 

            “After everything I went through to bring him into this world,” interjected Makoto from the table where she was sitting with Ami, “the first thing he says better be ‘mama.’”

 

            Haruka smirked and repeated, “Porsche.”  Then she chuckled at herself and picked up the rattle.

 

            Miki gurgled and reached out for it, taking one of the rings in both hands and pulling it into his mouth.  

 

            Haruka’s eyes narrowed as she watched the baby chew on the black and white checked rattle.  She glanced over at the diaper as the idea slowly started to form in her mind.  Then, suddenly, she smiled widely.

 

            First, she opened the diaper and set it up on its ends, so it formed a triangular archway.  Then, she folded her paper napkin into a tight square and set her fork on it, creating a ramp.  She ignored the look Mamoru gave her as she swiped his soda glass, along with the other three on the table, and set them up in a zigzag pattern.

 

            Turning her smile down onto the baby, she gently coaxed the rattle away from him.  Giving it a shake, she said, “We’re going to play a new game, Miki-kun.  This isn’t a rattle anymore.  It’s a motorcycle.  The motorcycle goes ‘vroom, vroom.’”

 

            Miki was a tad bit upset with her at first for taking his rattle away from him.  But his displeasure turned to curiosity when she set it on the table and started making all sorts of odd sounds.  She rolled it back and forth, making a sound she called ‘revving its engine,’ and then off it went!  The rattle rolled all over, with his Uncle Haruka helping it.  Under the diaper and in between the glasses, never hitting one.  Then it rolled up onto the fork and went sailing through the air.

 

            Miki’s eyes went wide as it flew over his head.  He reached up for it, laughing at the silly sounds he could hear.  Then it landed on the table with a thud and stood on one of its rings.

 

            “And he wins first place!” called out Haruka.  She set the rattle down and took both of Miki’s hands between hers, gently clapping them together.  Yay!”

 

            The baby bubbled and bounced in excitement.

 

            “Where’s Hotaru with her video camera when you need her?” commented Michiru through a smile.

 

            Usagi giggled.  Then she laughed even harder as Mamoru slowly sidled over closer to Haruka. 

 

            Mamoru looked inside the baby bag and came up with a bottle of powder.  “Race ya,” he said to Haruka in challenge.

 

            Haruka’s eyes gleamed, and she picked up the rattle.

 

            Usagi looked around quickly, then remembered she had left her camera upstairs.  “We need pictures of this.  Don’t let them stop playing until I come back.”

 

            As she stood, Ami said quickly, “I’ll walk up with you.  There’s something I’d like to get, also.”

 

            Walking up the stairs to the bedrooms, Ami looked over at Usagi.  “I actually have an ulterior motive for coming up here with you.  I’d like to ask for your help with something.”

 

            “What kind of something?” asked Usagi.

 

            “There’s something I’d like to do tonight,” answered Ami.  “I’m not quite certain just how I’m going to do it yet, but I’ll need help with Makoto.  I’m also going to need a babysitter.”

 

            Usagi smiled widely, a conspiratorial glimmer in her eyes.  Ooo, this sounds like it might be fun.  So, what are we planning?”

 

            Ami smiled just a bit shyly.  “Well, I was thinking something like this…”

 

 

*          *          *

 

            Seiji straightened his tie nervously, then took a deep breath and knocked on the bedroom door.  A moment later, Setsuna opened the door, and his cheeks went bright red as she smiled down at him.

 

            She wore a simple black dress, and her hair flowed softly passed her shoulders and down her back.  Three small pearls accented the thin, gold chain around her neck, and matched the hoops in her ears.

 

            Seiji shyly returned the smile she gave him and held out his arm.  With only the tiniest squeak on his first word, he said, “I’ve come to escort you to lunch, ma’am.”

 

            Setsuna nodded and took his arm.  “Thank you, young sir,” she answered politely, indulging in the formal mood he seemed to be trying so hard to project.  “May I say that you look very handsome this afternoon.

 

            That shy smile grew into one of quiet pride.  “Thank you.  And you look very pretty.”

 

            Setsuna thanked him, and when they arrived at the sitting room, Seiji led her over to the small table that had been set up for her lunch date.  He pulled the chair out for her, then bowed and excused himself, saying her host would join her shortly.

 

            A few minutes passed, then she heard socked feet padding up slowly behind her.  She saw the colorful bouquet of wildflowers that was held out to her just before she saw the man holding them.

 

            Kyo stood before her smiling widely, a playful glimmer in his blue eyes.  His suit and tie gave him a more proper appearance than she would have associated with what she knew of him, and his hair was brushed in a tidier manner than she’d previously seen.  He cleaned up nicely, she did admit, and she wondered how much of that was simply surface image over the mischievous boy underneath.

 

            Taking the flowers, she inclined her head.  “Thank you, Ishida-san.  They’re very lovely.”

 

            Kyo nodded in return.  “You’re very welcome, Meioh-san.  But as lovely as they are, they don’t do you justice.”  He stepped over to the piano and picked up the empty vase that was sitting there.  “As luck would have it, there’s a conveniently placed vase here that we can put them in until our meal is finished.”

 

            Setsuna smirked as Kyo took the flowers and put them in the vase.  Then he took the seat across from her.

 

            “Thank you for accepting my invitation,” he said, sounding truly genuine.  “I hope you’ll find some enjoyment in this.  And, to get us started…”  He picked up a small, porcelain bell and gave it a quick ring.

 

            The chime summoned Chibi-usa and Kara.  They both wore their party dresses and were grinning madly as they walked into the room.  Chibi-usa carried with her a bottle of wine, held firmly in both hands, and Kara pushed a serving tray she could barely see over.

 

            Chibi-usa bowed to Kyo first, and presented the bottle of wine for his inspection.  Kyo spent several seconds examining the label, then nodded in approval.  “Very good,” he said.  “An excellent choice on the part of my young wine expert.  Does the lady approve?”

 

            Chibi-usa took the bottle back and walked around to Setsuna.  The little girl’s eyes twinkled as they met Setsuna’s, and she bit her lip to keep from giggling.

 

            Setsuna smiled and took the bottle, playing along with their game.  She read the label and actually found herself impressed by the vintage.  Her host obviously wasn’t planning to cut any corners in his efforts.  “I do approve, very much so,” she answered.  She set the bottle in his reach so he could open it, as she assumed he wanted to do by the corkscrew he now held, then looked over to Kara.  “And what’s all this?”

 

            “I’ll show you,” answered Kara excitedly.  She moved quickly to pull the silver lids off the two small plates the way Kyo had shown her during practice.  “Tada!  Appetizers!”

 

            “Very nice!” commented Setsuna, more for Kara than the shrimp cocktail, though it did look rather good.

 

            The little girl smiled widely at her.

 

            Kyo set the open wine bottle aside to breathe, then started to reach for the plates on the tray, having decided earlier that Kara was just a bit too unsteady to do it herself.  His fingers had just touched the first one when a high pitched beep made him freeze.  His face fell, the boyish glee immediately gone.  With a sigh, he pulled his beeper from his belt and frowned at it.

 

            “Sorry.  Just give me a few seconds,” he said, then pulled out his cell phone.  “Ishida.  What’s going on?”

 

            Setsuna watched as his frown deepened and his color rose.  “She’s my patient.  Why is he getting involved?” he said into the phone, taking out whatever was happening on the messenger.  “No, absolutely not.”

 

            He rose from the table then, and started towards the door without even a glance backward.  “I’ll be there soon.  Don’t let him anywhere near her or her parents until I get there.  No…  Don’t you dare let him…

 

            Kyo’s voice slowly faded out as Setsuna watched the empty doorway.  “Well.  That was unexpected,” she muttered quietly.

 

            “What happened?” asked Chibi-usa as she stared in confusion at Kyo’s empty chair.

 

            Kara looked at her and shrugged.  “Work,” she answered simply.  “Daddy does it all the time.”

 

            A moment later, Hotaru and Seiji stuck their heads around the doorframe.  “We saw Uncle Kyo leaving,” said Hotaru, pulling a bit at the bowtie she wore.  “He looked like he was in a hurry.”

 

            “I presume the hospital needed him,” answered Setsuna.  “He wasn’t very clear on things.”

 

            “It was the hospital, then,” said Seiji quietly as they both stepped fully into the room.  “Sorry.  Did he forget to say goodbye, too?”

 

            Kara nodded her head quickly, then said to Setsuna, “Mama always makes Daddy sleep on the couch when he does that.  Are you going to make Uncle Kyo sleep on the couch?”

 

            Setsuna chuckled softly at the idea.  “That would be a fitting punishment for him.  I’m not certain what I’m going to do, though, and it’s not something any of you need to concern yourselves with.”  Then she turned her gaze to Hotaru and smiled at the way she was dressed.  Her black jeans were held up by the red suspenders she’d worn this morning, and her white blouse was accented by a black bowtie.  “What was your role this afternoon?”

 

            Hotaru grinned and stood up straight.  “I’m your head waiter, ma’am,” she answered.  “Or I was, anyway.”

 

            “Has lunch already been prepared?” asked Setsuna.

 

            Hotaru nodded.  “Hikari’s been helping us.  It’s almost done.”

 

            “All right, then,” said Setsuna as she stood.  “There’s no reason to let things go to waste.  We’ll gather what’s already been fixed, and put together enough that we can all have a good meal.  I believe there was also mention of entertainment?”

 

            “That was me,” answered Seiji as they started out of the room.  “Do you still want me to play for you?”

 

            “I think that would be very nice,” said Setsuna, earning a happy smile from the boy.

 

            On her other side, she felt a small hand slip into hers.  She looked over to see Hotaru offering her an apologetic look.  She grinned back, saying silently that it couldn’t be helped.  “We make the best of what we’re given.”

 

            Hotaru frowned, but didn’t say anything.  Instead, she held her mother’s hand until they were in the kitchen, then joined in the almost chaotic shuffle of the children arranging their unscheduled lunch date with Setsuna.

 

*          *         *

 

            With Usagi giving her a push to hurry her along, Makoto sighed and looked back over her shoulder.  “Are you even going to give me a hint?”

 

            That same, ‘I’ve got a secret’ smile she’d been wearing on and off all afternoon firmly in place, Usagi answered, “Not until we get into the bedroom.  Go faster, and you’ll get your hint faster.  Actually, you’ll get two.”

 

            The blonde giggled, and Makoto grinned.  She’d known something was up, what with all the glances Usagi and Ami kept throwing back and forth.  She’d caught them with their heads together right before dinner, whispering about something that was immediately hushed when they saw her coming.  She wondered if she should tell them that while they were very good at being cryptic, they were pretty bad at being secretive.

 

            Finally, though, she seemed to be closer to getting some kind of answer.  They had all wound up in the sitting room together for the evening.  Ami had excused herself a short time ago, but not before tossing another meaningful glance to Usagi, which set her future queen into a staring contest with the clock on the mantel.  Makoto chuckled.  She had never seen Usagi eye a clock so hard outside of a classroom.

 

            “What’s so funny?” asked Usagi as they trooped down the hall.

 

            “I’ll tell you when you tell me,” replied Makoto with a smirk.

 

            Usagi pushed harder on her back, quickening their pace.  A few seconds later, they were in the bedroom.  Usagi shut the door behind them, and grinning widely, she ordered Makoto to sit.

 

            Makoto sat on the edge of the bed and waited.

 

            “Okay, you get two hints about what’s going on tonight,” started Usagi in happy excitement.  “One, Ami’s in the pool room.  And two…”  She walked over to the dresser and opened the drawers until she found the one she was looking for.  Pulling out the pieces to Makoto’s green bikini and dangling them on her fingers, she continued, “She wants you to wear this.”

 

            Makoto’s eyebrows rose, and she grinned.  “A private pool party maybe?”

 

            Usagi’s smile widened.  “Possibly.  But you won’t find out until you get there.  She says to come down as soon as you’re ready.  I’m babysitting for tonight, so you don’t have to worry about Miki.  Now here,” she added, tossing the bikini to Makoto.  “Hurry up.  You don’t want to keep her waiting.”

 

            Indeed, she did not want to keep Ami waiting.  So after getting changed and thanking Usagi for helping Ami with setting this up and offering to take care of Miki for the night, she went down to find out what was waiting for her.

 

            The shades had been drawn on the double doors leading into the pool room, and the room itself seemed to be dark.  She had followed Ami’s instructions, though, so Makoto shrugged at the oddity and proceeded forward.

 

            Stepping into the room, a grin slowly spread across her face.  The main lights had indeed been left off.  The interior lights in the pool and hot tub, however, provided a warm, bluish glow that allowed her to see without interfering with the view of the night sky through the large, open skylight.

 

            And what a view she had.

 

            Ami sat on the far edge of the pool, her feet dangling in the water.  The soft light from the pool gave her pale skin an almost ethereal glow, contrasting it nicely with the dark blue of her bikini.  Her eyes drifted up lazily from the shadowed ripples in the pool, a soft smile on her lips as she caught and held Makoto’s gaze.

 

            Closing the doors, Makoto sighed and leaned back against them, turning the lock as she did.

 

            The click of the lock was unusually loud in the quiet room, and Ami giggled at its slight echo.  Reaching up, she pushed the sides of her damp hair behind her ears.  “I was going to ask you to do that,” she said around a grin.

 

            Makoto nodded.  “I figured.”  Pushing away from the door, and untying her robe as she went, she meandered over to the edge opposite Ami.  “So… was there anything else you wanted to ask me?” she drew out, a hint of mischievousness in her voice.  “Since you called me down here and all.”

 

            “Perhaps there was,” returned Ami.  She stood slowly, then reached behind her back and hooked her fingers.  “Or perhaps I just thought you would enjoy a swim.”

 

            “A swim sounds like a good idea,” answered Makoto as her robe hit the ground.  Her eyes traveled the length of Ami’s body, mesmerized by the light sheen of water and tiny beads of reflected light that slid languorously down her belly.

 

            Ami’s smile turned shy, and her eyes fell to her suddenly fidgeting toes.  She must be blushing, Makoto thought, but it was too dark for her to tell from this distance.  Then Ami’s fidgeting stopped, and she looked back up before turning towards the deeper end of the pool.  Her pace was slow and easy as Makoto watched her step up to the pool’s edge.  Her arms stretched out languidly in front of her, then over her head and back down again, before she changed her stance and dove into the water.

 

            She broke the surface a few feet from where she’d entered, her form a dark shadow in the water.  Makoto sat on the edge and let her feet slide into the water as Ami’s strokes brought her closer.  The nearer she got, the easier it became to make out her features.  Ripples of light twined around sculpted arms and legs, and played over the smooth skin of her back, highlighting curves that were hidden only enough to tease.

 

            The distance between them closed, and Makoto leaned forward when Ami stopped in front of her.  Delicate fingers traced a feathery path up her legs, until they came to rest on her knees.  Ami grinned up at her as her fingers began to draw tiny circles against her skin.  Expecting Ami to meet her, Makoto started to lean further forward.  But instead of reaching up for the kiss, Ami abruptly pushed away.

 

            With several feet suddenly between them, Makoto’s eyebrows rose in surprise.  Still grinning, Ami treaded water for several seconds, then started to slowly back away.

 

            “So that’s how it is,” murmured Makoto in amusement.  “Okay, then.”

 

            With a sudden predatory air, Makoto slid into the water.  Ami closely watched her pursuer, her giggle and leisurely pace taunting.  Makoto smirked… then lunged after her full force.

 

            Ami’s delighted laughter touched Makoto’s ears as she pushed forward in an unwieldy fashion.  Ami’s small, lithe frame moved through the water easily, her size and skill giving her the advantage.  But that advantage was, by design, short lived, and Makoto’s fingers brushed against her ankle.

 

            Her struggle was nonexistent as Makoto fully grabbed her ankle and quickly tugged her close.  Ami’s back pressed against her front, the warmth welcome contrast to the cool water that surrounded them, and she could feel silent laughter as she wrapped her arms around her.

 

            Leaning in close to Ami’s ear as they floated in the center of the pool, Makoto whispered, “Gottcha.”

 

            “So it seems,” replied Ami.  She turned in Makoto’s embrace, so they were facing each other, her cheeks flushed and her smile playful.

 

            Makoto’s body hummed as she fell into those deep blue eyes.  Ami’s arms rested on her shoulders, bringing her that much closer, and Makoto tilted her head to close the distance.

 

            The kiss was soft and gentle.  They lingered, in no real hurry, letting the slight ebb and pull of the water carry them where it would.  Ami found the end of her ponytail, and she felt the tiny tug as she curled it around her fingers.  Her own fingers traced a path along Ami’s spine, drawing random patterns over the soft skin. 

 

            A quiet sigh was breathed against her lips as her fingers followed the edge of Ami’s bikini top.  The arm she had around Ami’s waist tightened, and the touch of her kiss changed at the invitation in that sigh.  Ami’s legs tangled more into hers, knocking her balance off just enough to be distracting.

 

            Makoto let out a rueful chuckle.  “Hold on a sec,” she whispered against Ami’s ear, giving it a light nip for good measure.  With one hand and a little help, she paddled them over to the side, then moved along until she had just enough solid ground beneath her.

 

            Still not able to touch, Ami’s legs stayed wrapped around hers, and her back rested against the side of the pool.  Makoto smiled down at her, then traced a finger over the curve of her ear, trailing it further to caress the blush of her cheek.  Ami’s eyes slid closed as she turned into that touch, and her hands slid into the water to play at Makoto’s sides.

 

            As Ami’s fingers glided over her ribs and teased at the edge of her top, Makoto leaned in and let her lips follow the path her finger had taken.  Her hands reached around behind Ami’s neck, and as Ami’s lips parted under hers, she slowly undid the sapphire knot.

 

            When she pulled back, Ami smiled up at her with a sleepy expression.  And as Makoto slid aside the material that had taunted her so, she whispered playfully, “Tease.”

 

*           *           *

 

            Minako took a deep breath, held it for ten seconds, then released it in short puffs, each one making a small popping sound as it passed her lips.  Lying on the couch with her head in Rei’s lap, she moved her manga down enough to look up and see if her bored fidgeting was having any kind of effect.  She frowned and let out a loud sigh when she realized that, no, it wasn’t.  Again, Rei didn’t so much as budge from the magazine she was reading.

 

            Rather than continue to fruitlessly poke at Rei, she laid her open book on her stomach and gazed around the room to see if anything had changed in the last 15 minutes.  Everything appeared to be exactly as she’d last seen it, though.

 

            Luna and Artemis were curled up comfortably at Setsuna’s feet, while Setsuna indulged in a well-worn paperback.  Usagi was still on the loveseat beside Mamoru, the baby asleep in her arms.  Her attention was fully devoted to Miki tonight, proud of the responsibility Ami had left her with.  She wasn’t quite sure what Mamoru was doing, but whatever it was, it involved the notebook balanced on his lap, a folder that’s contents were spread out as well as he could get them considering where he was sitting, and a thick tome that was too textbook-like to have been brought along on vacation.

 

            Minako stretched her toes out and strained to see over the arm of the couch.  Hotaru and Chibi-usa had pulled Haruka and Michiru into a game of cards.  It seemed to be getting pretty lively, Minako thought, as Michiru tossed a card into the growing pile on the floor and Hotaru made a grab for it.

 

            ‘I should have played with them,’ she thought ruefully, glancing one more time at an oblivious Rei.

 

            That was when she felt those eyes on her.  She turned to see Setsuna grinning at her and looking as though she were trying not to laugh.  Her cheeks tinged a shade darker, and she itched at her nose.  Well, she figured, at least she was getting some attention.  Even if it wasn’t the attention she wanted.

 

            Movement caught her eye, and Minako leaned her head back to better see what Usagi was up to.  The blonde was handing Miki to Mamoru, and being very careful not to wake him in the process.

 

            “We could lay him in his stroller for a while,” suggested Mamoru softly.

 

            Usagi shook her head.  “I like holding him.  And he likes it, too,” she added as she readjusted her legs and stretched out her arms.  “That’s why he’s sleeping so soundly.  He feels happy and safe.  My mom always said the same thing about me.  And that I was disagreeable if she tried to put me down before I fell asleep.”

 

            Haruka peered over the cards in her hands and smirked.  “I can see that.”

 

            Usagi stuck out her tongue, then reached back for the baby.  She cooed quietly at him as she resettled him, before addressing Haruka’s comment.  “Shingo was worse than me.  And I bet when I was a princess, I didn’t cry at all.  Right, Setsuna?”

 

            Setsuna looked at Usagi in surprise, and then chuckled.  “I’m afraid you did.  Rather often, and rather loudly.”

 

            Haruka laughed as she threw another card into the pile.

 

            Usagi frowned at the revelation, making Setsuna feel just a touch bad for her.  So she elaborated, “You liked being with others, and always wanted to be held.  You weren’t happy when we left you alone, and you had no issues letting us know that.  It was all right, though,” she consoled, her voice becoming softer, “because your mother enjoyed holding you.  Your temperament gave her the excuse she needed, and kept her from the merciless teasing she would have been subjected to by those she called friends because of how often she carried you around the palace with her.  So you were really a very good baby, and you did something exceptional for your mother.”

 

            That half formed pout of Usagi’s turned into a wide, vindicated smile.  Minako grinned in amusement, partly because she remembered all that crying with considerably less fondness than Setsuna obviously did.

 

            Then Usagi turned her attention back to the baby, and Setsuna went back to her novel.  Minako bit her lip for a moment before sitting up, crossing her arms over her chest and staring hard at Rei.  Seconds ticked by with no more of a response than her other efforts, so she came to a decision, because she was tired of being bored.

 

            “Tell me a story.”

 

            That got Rei’s attention.  The magazine slowly slid down, and she looked down at Minako as if she had lost her mind.  “How old are you?  Five?  You can read a book yourself.”

 

            Minako’s eyes went wide and dewy.  “Please,” she drew out.

 

            Rei rolled her eyes, then sighed as that puppy-dog stare didn’t let up.  “All right,” she gave in, trying to sound put out by the whole thing.  She closed her magazine and tucked it beside her.  “What story do you want me to read to you?”

 

            “Make one up,” answered Minako, a playful sparkle now in her eyes.

 

            “Make… Can’t I just read you something?” returned Rei, very aware of several pairs of amused eyes watching her.

 

            “It’ll be better if you make it up.  C’mon, Rei.  It’ll be good,” said Minako, her demeanor becoming bouncy like that of an excited child.

 

            Silently admitting defeat, Rei acquiesced and sank down further into the couch cushions.  “Okay, let’s see… I suppose we start with ‘once upon a time.’  So… Once upon a time, there was a princess who lived in a castle on a hill, overlooking a small village.  The princess was the oldest daughter of the king and queen, and very popular with the villagers.”

 

            “What was her name?” interrupted Chibi-usa as she and Hotaru abandoned their card game to sit on the floor in front of Rei.

 

            Rei tapped her finger against her lips, then grinned.  “Her name was Minako,” she answered, and beside her, the real Minako smiled widely.

 

            “The princess was very beautiful, with long blonde hair and bright, blue eyes,” continued Rei.  “She had also been blessed with a voice that was as beautiful as she was.  These things, along with her lineage, had made her very well known outside the village.  As a result, many admirers came to the castle, hoping to catch the princess’ eye.  But the princess, in her father’s opinion, was very stubborn and overly choosey.  None of the heroes who had come to prove their worth could catch her attention.  As you can imagine, this was making her father very frustrated.”

 

            Rei took a breath and glanced around the room, looking until she had the next piece of her story.  “As it goes, on what would become a most fateful day for the Princess Minako, she was summoned by King Artemis and Queen Luna to appear before another hero.  This hero was much like all the others:  tall, handsome, of impressive means… and full of hot air.”

 

            The girls giggled, and Luna lifted her head from her paws.  “I hope the queen, at least, wasn’t taken in by him.”

 

            Rei shook her head.  “Nope, she was, as was the king.  They were both very impressed with his trophies from battle and tales of adventure in the dragon infested Shadow Mountains.  Adventures that no simple mortal would have ever dared attempt, let alone been able to survive.  However, while the king and queen were dually impressed, Minako’s youngest sister, Usagi, was only slightly more impressed than her older sister.”

 

            “Who wasn’t impressed at all,” supplied Minako.

 

            “No, she wasn’t,” answered Rei.  She tapped the end of Minako’s nose.  “And remember which one of us it is that’s supposed to be telling the story, ‘princess.’”

 

            Minako grinned and nodded, and Rei continued.

 

            “The princess’ lack of awe, or even like, greatly annoyed her parents, which had the added effect of putting the princess in a bad mood.  So when she went up to her room that evening, she couldn’t sleep.  Instead, the princess paced and muttered her displeasure to herself, well after everyone else had gone to sleep.

 

            “’Why do I always have to listen to these egotistical, wannabe crusaders?’ grumped the princess to the reflection in her mirror.  She sat, and picked up her brush, continuing to talk as she ran it through her long hair.  ‘After all, it’s not like I’m the only princess in this family.  Sigh.  I wish one of those dragons he kept talking about would swoop down and swallow me, just to spare me from any more of this.  Or better yet, swoop down and swallow him.’

 

            “Princess Minako giggled at her own humor and the image she’d conjured of a dragon using this latest hero as a toothpick.  But then, a shadowy movement at the corner of her reflection caught her eye, and she turned slowly.  Her brush dropped from her suddenly numb fingers, and she screamed as loudly as she ever had before in her life as a giant eyeball blinked at her through the open window.”

 

            Rei grinned evilly and looked down at the children.  “You’ve heard the saying, ‘be careful what you wish for?’”

 

            The girls, Minako, and Usagi all nodded in response.

 

            “Well,” said Rei, “the Princess Minako hadn’t.  She was, however, about to be introduced to it in a very big way...”

 

*       *       *

 

            Warm water bubbled gently around them in the hot tub, adding to the pleasant lethargy Ami felt.  Makoto’s arms held her in a loose hug, and she rested her arms on Makoto’s shoulders as soft kisses were placed against her neck.  Then she heard a low sigh, and Makoto’s fingers began to trace lazily against her back.

 

            Pulling back just a bit, Makoto said more than a bit regretfully, “We’re going to have to start heading back soon.”  Then she smirked and tossed a glance over to the pool and the bikini top floating in the shallow end.  “And it might take us a bit of doing to get ourselves to where we can walk through the house and still maintain our dignity.”

 

            A grin around a giggle lit up Ami’s flushed face.

 

            Makoto chuckled and pulled her closer.  “Thank you for my surprise,” she said, giving her a squeeze.

 

            Ami sat back and smiled at her.  Running her fingers over Makoto’s damp, wavy hair, she answered quietly, “You’re welcome.  I’m glad you enjoyed it.  And I must say you’ve thanked me very adequately.”

 

            Makoto cringed.  “’Adequately.’  There’s just something about that word and this situation that I really don’t like.”

 

            “Well,” drew out Ami, her finger gliding along Makoto’s collarbone, “perhaps after we put the baby to bed, we could search for a word you find more pleasing.”

 

            A devilish grin touched Makoto’s lips.  “You know, if you keep this up, we really will be walking funny in the morning.  Not that I’d mind,” she added, wagging her eyebrows.

 

            Ami laughed, then slid slowly from her lap to the seat beside them.  With a sigh, she closed her eyes and sank down into the warm water, stretching out as far as she could.  She could feel the heat of Makoto’s gaze over the calmer warmth of the hot tub, and she smiled without opening her eyes.  Then she wiggled her toes one last time before moving to rise from the water.

 

            Makoto followed after her, and they lingered a bit as they collected themselves before going to find Usagi.

 

            A little searching led them to the family room.  Makoto leaned against the doorframe and looked in curiosity at the group Rei held spellbound.

 

            Speaking with great flare, Rei reached the conclusion of her fairytale.  “’We’ll make the announcement immediately,’ declared King Artemis.  Then he leaned down and whispered to his servant, ‘Before she has a chance to change her mind.’”

 

            The girls giggled, and Ami looked up at Makoto in question.  “King Artemis?” she mouthed, amusement in her eyes.

 

            Makoto shrugged as Rei announced everyone in the kingdom to live happily ever after.  This pronouncement was followed by a round of applause for the storyteller, and Rei grinned widely, obviously proud of herself.

 

            “Sounds like we missed something good,” said Makoto as she and Ami walked fully into the room.

 

            Minako nodded.  “You did.  I’m a princess,” she said, smiling broadly.  “And I was kidnapped by an evil wizard and a dragon.  But you saved me, and we all lived happily ever after, so it’s all good.”

 

            “Wow.  And I saved you?” said Makoto in surprise, not that she was really following all of this that well.  But that being the hero part she got, and she grinned.  “Go me.”

 

            “I’m impressed Mako-chan,” replied Ami.  “And it sounds like it must have involved a great deal of danger.”

 

            Hotaru looked over at her parents and giggled.  “Yeah, there was danger all right.”

 

            Ami nodded.  “But I wonder about the living happily ever after part, since it’s usually the princess and the hero who saves her who go about being happy together.”

 

            Ooo... feeling a bit jealous?” teased Makoto.

 

            “Don’t worry, Ami,” said Usagi as she somewhat reluctantly handed Miki to Makoto.  “This wasn’t your typical fairytale.  And Makoto wasn’t the hero.”

 

            Makoto’s teasing grin fell just a bit.  “I wasn’t?  Well, at least I saved her.”

 

            Rei smirked.  “Sort of.”

 

            “Okay, now I really want to hear this,” said Makoto as she found a free spot to sit in.  “You know you’re going to have to tell me the whole thing at some point before this vacation is over.”

 

            “I’m curious to hear it myself,” said Ami, wondering if she fit into this tale anywhere.

 

            “I think I can be persuaded to do a repeat performance,” said Rei, looking as though she were giving it a great deal of thought.  “We’ve got a few days left.”

 

            Minako grinned at her.  Even if you took the princess away from Mars, she’d still have that irrepressible Martian soul that delighted in an eager audience for her quick and very agile imagination.  An attribute known only to a very special few.  She let her eyes wander over all of them, and her smile grew wider.  There were a few additions to their family now, and most of their memories were still lost in a hazy fog, but some things hadn’t really changed at all.