The Tangled Web We Weave

by Crawlspace

 

~ Day 6, Part 1 ~

~ Thursday ~

 

 

            The baby crying.  Consciousness, if not wakefulness, coming abruptly.  Soft grumbles on the pillow beside her ear.  The swish of covers.  A whoosh of cool air and the creak of the bed.  Ami shivered as the warmth from the body curled against hers disappeared.

 

            Her eyes still closed, she rolled over and wrapped herself back in the blankets.  Hovering just this side on the edge of sleep, she listened to the sounds of her morning, finding comfort in their familiarity.

 

            Bare feet padding over the floor.  Makoto’s voice gentle and calming, shushing the baby’s cries.  Miki’s unhappy whimpering as he settled into his mother’s arms.  Soft humming, the rustling of the diaper bag, the snick of tape as he was changed.

 

            Ami grinned into her pillow, glad it was Makoto’s turn this morning.

 

            Quiet baby gurgles mixed in with fussy mewls.  The snaps on his onesie.  More humming, Makoto’s voice low.  Feet moving quickly against the floor, and again the bed creaked.  Two pillows thudded dully against the headboard.  The slightest, airy squeak of plastic buttons against cotton thread.  The baby suckling, slowly at first, then in earnest, to prove he really was hungry and justified in waking them all so early in the morning.

 

            One of Ami’s eyes slid open lazily, and her grin widened.  The room was dim, pre-dawn light barely making it in around the shades.  Makoto grinned down at her, a warmness in her sleepy eyes.  Then those green eyes closed, and she tilted her head back against the headboard.

 

            Shifting, Ami slowly scooted up, pulling her pillow behind her.  Her head rested lightly against Makoto’s shoulder as she settled more comfortably against Makoto’s side, and one of her fingers stroked Miki’s tiny fist.  His fingers flexed at the feathery touch, opening to wrap around hers.

 

            Her grin softened into a peaceful smile.

 

            Their breathing.  Their heartbeats.  The familiar sounds of early morning.  Ami closed her eyes, listening.

 

------------------

 

            Kaya let out a long sigh as she stepped under the hot spray of the shower.  The night had been both restless and uncomfortable.  The pull-out loveseat in her grandmother’s room had left her with an achy back, and her mind had barely stopped long enough for her to get any sleep.

 

            Again, she sighed.  This was going to be a bad day.  Every instinct she had told her that.

 

            Putting off facing the world, she stayed in the shower as long as politeness would allow once it was obvious Hana was up and moving around.  Slowly, she dried off and wrapped herself in a thick robe, then opened the bathroom door.

 

            “Good morning, sweetheart,” greeted Hana brightly.  She pulled a blouse from the closet and held it up for Kaya to see.  “What do you think of this one?  Your mother bought it for me last year, but I’ve never worn it.  It caught my eye today for some reason.”

 

            Kaya grinned and stepped over to her.  She held an edge of the shirt closer to Hana and spent several seconds contemplating how it looked.  “I think it’s a good choice,” she answered finally.  “It brings out some of the color in your cheeks.”

 

            Hana laughed.  “And I suppose at my age I can use all the help I can get.”  Smiling at her own humor, she moved over to her dresser to assemble the rest of her morning ensemble.

 

            Catching Hana by surprise, Kaya came up behind her and gently put her arms around her.  “Thank you for not asking me what I did wrong to be sleeping on your couch last night.”

 

            Hana patted her hand.  “I don’t expect that anything you may have done is any of my business.  And I can see you’ve given it a lot of thought already, so you don’t need me to ask.  I’m sure you’ve realized how to correct things by this point.  Especially after finding out just how uncomfortable this couch can be.”

 

            A rye grin touched Kaya’s lips.  “Sleeplessness doesn’t necessarily lead to solutions.”  Kaya chuckled, but Hana’s expectant gaze and steady silence led her to amend, “However, I will take care of it this morning.”

 

            An approving nod was her answer before Hana moved on to get herself ready for breakfast.

 

             Losing track of how many times she’d done it already, Kaya sighed one more time.  She briefly wondered if it was really possible for a person to deflate and float away on a passing breeze if they sighed enough times.  That would truly solve all of her problems.

 

------------------

 

            There was a bright light shining against her closed eyelids, which rather handily disturbed her sleep.  Minako grumbled, then cracked open an eye against a beam of morning sunlight to see what time it was.  However, rather than finding the clock, her gaze wandered over to Rei.

 

            Once again at the window, her hands flat against the coolness of the glass, Rei stared out with her eyes closed, seeing things Minako could only guess at.  The blonde sat up, and for several moments, silently watched her mate.  From this angle, she could see the small, peaceful smile on Rei’s lips, and when that smile quirked just a bit, Minako grinned.

 

            Rising slowly from the bed, she walked over and slid under Rei’s arms, leaning her back against Rei’s front.  Her hands rested on the window beside Rei’s, and almost immediately, without having to look, the miko covered them with her own.

 

            They stood quietly for a moment, then Rei let out a long, warm breath beside Minako’s ear.  Her voice low, she said, “Let’s go down to the lake tonight.  Just us.”

 

            “Okay,” answered Minako softly.  Then she smirked.  “We can say good-bye to your ghosts.”

 

            Rei chuckled and opened her eyes.  Her hands dropped from the window and draped loosely around Minako’s waist.  “Actually, I have something in mind.”

 

            “Oh, really,” drug out Minako playfully.  A fingernail came down to draw light circles against the top of Rei’s hand.  “And just what might that something be, hmm?”

 

            “You’ll find out.  If you’re good,” teased Rei.

 

            Minako giggled and turned in Rei’s embrace.  Her arms came up to rest around Rei’s neck, and she smiled widely, a twinkle in her eyes.  “I’m always good.”

 

            Rei laughed, and shook her head.  Hentai.  Not that I’m disagreeing with you or anything.”

 

            “You’d better not,” threw back Minako, giving Rei’s chest a playful swat.  Then, her curiosity bubbling to the surface, she asked, “Do you really have something in mind, or were you just playing?”

 

            “I do,” answered Rei.  “But I need to think about it a little more.  I’m not quite sure how to go about it yet.”

 

            “I may be a hentai, but you’re a tease,” pointed out Minako.  “Just one of your many fine points,” she added, leaning in to give Rei a quick kiss.

 

            Rei smiled at her, then let her hands fall from Minako’s waist and stepped away before they could get too terribly sidetracked.  “Come on.  We need to get ready for breakfast.”

 

            “I call the shower first!” announced Minako as she darted around a surprised Rei.  The bathroom door slammed behind her, and Rei heard the shower come on full spray.  Then, a moment later, the door eased open just a bit.

 

            “So much for not getting sidetracked,” Rei chuckled.  She grabbed her robe from the end of the bed and made a point to watch the time so they wouldn’t be late for breakfast.

 

------------

 

            They were an odd lot.  Good people, but odd.  Hikari was used to their quirks, though, and she chatted amiably with her mistress during the breakfast preparations.

 

            As they talked, Midori measured out an exact teaspoon of sugar and sprinkled it into a cup filled ¾ of the way with dark coffee.  She chuckled at an old joke Hikari told and poured a precise tablespoon of cream into the cup.  Then she folded a crisp, dark blue napkin into a perfect triangle and laid it down beside the cup.  A spoon was placed on top of the napkin, and a small china plate was added, all of it sitting neatly on a polished silver tray.

 

            The same routine, the exact measurements each time, a complete lack of variation from day to day.  Hikari wondered if her mistress was aware of just how exact it all was.  Perhaps it was her way, intentional or not, of bringing order to all the oddities in their lives.

 

            Midori was just reaching into the cookie jar to add the set number of cookies to the tray when Kaya walked in.  Her greeting was pleasant and casual, but the set of her shoulders spoke of quiet stress.  However, if the mistress had noticed, she was keeping it to herself.

 

            Hikari busied herself and tried to fade away as Midori said happily, “Good morning, sweetheart.”  Then she grinned at the two cookies she pulled from the jar.  “Cinnamon sugar.  That means today will be a good day.”

 

            Kaya smirked as she poured herself a mug of coffee.  “If you say so.”

 

            “You doubt your mother’s cookies?”

 

            Kaya sipped at her coffee.

 

            “Well,” went on Midori.  “You’re entitled to your skepticism.  I’m going to take these up to your father.  When I come back, we can talk a bit.”

 

            There was a moment of uncertainty on Kaya’s part as she watched her mother pick up the tray.  In the few steps it took Midori to leave the kitchen, though, she worked through that uncertainty and came to a quick decision.

 

            Surprised as Kaya called out for her to wait, Midori stopped and turned around in the hallway.

 

            “Let me,” said Kaya, reaching out for the tray.

 

            A small, pleased smile inched onto Midori’s lips.  Without any words, she handed over the tray and walked back to the kitchen.

 

            “Is everything all right?” asked Hikari when Midori came back much sooner than expected.

 

            “I think it will be,” answered Midori.  Then she added, “Will you prepare two plates and a pot of coffee to be taken upstairs.  My daughter and her father will be eating privately in his office this morning.”

 

            Hikari’s eyes widened in surprise.  But she recovered quickly, wondering silently what cataclysm had befallen that her master was being allowed to dine in his office.  And with a full pot of coffee, no less.

 

            As Hikari began to question the good fortune in her mistresses cookies, Kaya was standing alone in the hallway, her feet taking their own good time to start moving forward.  She suddenly questioned the sanity in this hasty plan.  But here she was, holding her father’s coffee and cookies.  Even if she didn’t go through with it, she was going to have to at least go see him.  Otherwise, things would become ugly.

 

            Rallying her courage, she took a deep breath and marched up to his office door.  Balancing the tray awkwardly on one arm, she knocked lightly and waited to be acknowledged.  “Come in,” was called out roughly, and she struggled to get the door open without spilling anything.

 

            This was the routine, Kaya mused, picturing her mother’s movements as she went.  The tray would be set on the desk within her father’s reach without him ever once looking up from his work.  Midori would kiss his cheek, then quietly leave him to his reading, getting only a mumble or a grunt in response.  Her mother was the silent constant, something that would only be noticed in absence.

 

            Feeling small under the weight of this place, Kaya nonetheless moved steadily, ready to face whatever she’d brought upon herself.  She set the tray on the desk and said, “Good morning, Father.”

 

            Rin looked up, mildly startled.  “Good morning,” he responded, subtly leaving it hanging for her to pick up with an explanation for her presence.

 

            “I asked Mother if I could bring you your coffee this morning,” she continued, her voice sounding awkward to her ears.

 

            “Oh,” replied Rin.  “Well… thank you.”

 

            “You’re welcome,” answered Kaya.  She laced her fingers loosely in front of her, the seconds ticking away with a thunderous force.  He only stared at her, waiting for whatever else she was going to say.  She could leave, she realized.  He had what he was expecting.  Perhaps it would be best to go, regroup, and gather her thoughts for another try.

 

            “Sit.”

 

            The command caught her off guard.  “Excuse me?”

 

            Rin frowned at her.  “If you’re going to stay, sit.”

 

            “Yes, sir,” replied Kaya, following the order as Rin reached for his coffee.

 

            Her fingers began to fidget in nervous agitation in her lap, a reaction to slow pace her father was moving at.  A tiny sip was taken from his cup, and though he didn’t smile in pleasure, the set of his shoulders visibly relaxed.  The cup was carefully set back upon its saucer, and with a gleam in his eyes, he picked up one of the cookies.  He took a small nibble, then carefully broke it in half.  With great care, one of those halves was dunked into the coffee, held to a silent count of three, then joyfully devoured in one bite.

 

            Kaya smiled, some of her tension melting away.  Watching him like this was amusing in its own way.

 

            The first cookie was gone and the other halfway there when Rin finally looked back at her.  “You should have brought some for yourself,” he told her, shaking the last of the cookie at her in lieu of wagging a finger.  “I won’t feel guilty for your shortsightedness in the matter.”

 

            Kaya smirked as the last of the cookie was dunked into the coffee.  “I’ll be better prepared next time.”  She stood and walked slowly around the room, glancing at bookshelves and trying to look casual.  A recent medical journal caught her eye, and she held it up for her father to see the cover.  “A new project at the hospital?”

 

            Rin shook his head and took a gulp of coffee.  “No.  Just something that caught Jouku’s attention.  You remember Jouku?”

 

            “Yes, though it’s been many years since I last saw him.”

 

            Rin hurrumphed.  “If you’d come home more often…  But if the old man lives a few more years, we may present it for trials.”  Something seemed to light behind his eyes then, and he quickly gulped down the rest of his coffee.  He waved a hand at Kaya’s chair, the signal for her to once again sit as he stood to retrieve some files.

 

            “I’ve wanted to ask for more details, but haven’t found a chance,” he went on as he pulled out a thick binder and several file folders.  “The Goenburg Project.”

 

            Surprised showed noticeably on her face.  “You know about that?” she asked, though considering how publicized it was she shouldn’t have needed to.  The month she’d spent working on it in Germany had been an incredible experience, and with the international talent associated with the project, there wasn’t a credible scientist who didn’t know about it.

 

            “Of course I do,” he returned sounding almost insulted.  Everything but one file folder was dropped into her lap, and he sat in the chair beside her, pulling it closer to hers.  “It holds a great deal of promise, and I’ve got the hospital approved for when clinical trials begin.”

 

            She looked down at the large blue binder in her lap, the logo of her father’s hospital emblazoned on the cover and a black 5 on a piece of white paper in a pocket on the spine.  Beneath the logo in bold, black marker, “Kaya’s Project” was written neatly. 

 

            “Your latest paper is in there,” continued Rin.  “I only got it a few days before you arrived, so I haven’t had a lot of time to study it.”  He pulled out some notes and a pen, then looked back at her, something akin to excitement in his eyes.

 

            “My project,” she said softly, turning through the pages in the binder.  “You presented it to your board.”

 

            Impatient with her sudden distractedness, Rin grunted.  “Yes, that much should be obvious.  Impressed them when I told them you were my daughter.  Some of them had forgotten because you never come home anymore.”  He reached over and turned the pages to where he wanted her attention.  “Now, look here.  I wanted some clarification on the numbers and how they affect the timetable you projected earlier in the year.”

 

            Papers were put under her eyes, her father’s scratched notations in the margins.  Hand drawn graphs decorated what free space had been left after his notes were made, his own calculations and conclusions beside hers.  She pushed up her glasses and focused, both on the notations and her father’s voice. 

 

            “You want answers from me?” she asked quietly.

 

            “Of course.  It’s your work.  Who else would I ask?” he answered.

 

            She could hear his impatience.  She also heard curiosity, and behind that, confidence that she would give him the answers he sought.  Confidence in her words, simply because they were hers.

 

            She shook her head, clearing the questions and the insecurities.  The doctor took over, the researcher finding herself in her element with a captive audience.  One she thought she’d lost long ago.  So the daughter sat back and listened as two scientists talked, trying to decipher what was really being said.

 

--------------

 

            Coming in from the pool, their laughter followed her into the house.   Setsuna smiled, the gesture reflecting the simple joy she felt at being a part of her Small Lady’s childhood.  However, there were two voices missing in the playfulness of the afternoon.  The noticeable absence of Michiru and Hotaru had brought her inside, ostensibly to pack for tomorrow’s trip home.

 

            Setsuna wondered if they honestly believed they were keeping Hotaru’s behavior a secret from her.  It would have to be discussed, perhaps should have already been.  Though it was a conversation she and Hotaru needed to have alone.  Regardless of that, she did love them for trying to protect her feelings and give her some momentary normalcy.

 

            The quiet of her room stood in stark contrast to the excitement outside.  The peace was welcome, though, giving her a chance to better think things through.  A suitcase, already packed with the things she no longer needed, was laid open on the bed.  She looked around for a moment.  There had to be a few more things ready to go, just to keep her excuse from becoming a lie.

 

            She looked in the closet first, but the only remaining shirt would be needed in the morning, and she really wanted to leave her dress hanging for as long as possible.  There was no reason to check the bathroom.  Everything in there would have at least one more use before it could be packed.  That left only the dresser as her last hope.

 

            Knowing what little she would find, but feeling she should check again anyway, Setsuna reached for the top drawer.  Her fingers brushed the brash pull, but paused as a distraction caught her eyes.  She stood motionless for a moment, then brought her fingers up to lightly brush over the silver hand mirror that matched the decorative brush and comb on top of the dresser.

 

            To see.

 

            The voice echoed in her memories.  Until that moment, she had heard only love in that voice.  Always strong and confident, always gentle even in rebuke.  All those things had been stripped away, that voice now cold with fear and grief as blue eyes that seemed a shade dimmer fell upon her.

 

            And the orb.  So that we may never forget.

 

------------

 

            A small smile hid the uncertainty she felt, a trick she had perfected by the age of twelve to throw off both her critics and her competitors.  The uncertainty remained, however, as Michiru zippered her suitcase and turned that measured smile on Hotaru.

 

            The little girl waited patiently to receive both her mama’s approval for the job she’d done packing and the dismissal of her punishment.  Michiru stepped up to her slowly and fussed a bit with her bangs.  Very little had been said between them during their morning together, none of it about what had brought them here.  It felt wrong to send Hotaru on her way with nothing resolved.  However, trying to force the matter felt equally wrong, and in truth part of her feared what she might discover if she did.  The fear frustrated her more than anything else, even more so than Hotaru’s half answers and shaded words.

 

            “All right,” said Michiru softly.  “You may go play now if you want to.”

 

            Hotaru smiled widely at her.  “Are you coming out to the pool?”

 

            “Not today,” answered Michiru.  “I think I’d like to spend some time in the library.”

 

            Hotaru’s smile fell.  “Are you sure you don’t want to?  Haruka-papa’s out there.  So is everyone else.”

 

            “I’m sure,” answered Michiru, stroking a hand gently over Hotaru’s hair.  “I’m more in an indoor book mood today.”

 

            “Okay,” replied Hotaru.  “If that’s what you really want.”  She reached out and hugged Michiru’s waist, squeezing tightly.

 

            Michiru hugged her back.  Letting her go, she said, “Go on and keep your papa out of trouble.”

 

            Hotaru giggled, then grabbed her flip-flops and trotted out to the pool.

 

            Finding herself in the middle of a mix of calm and chaos, Hotaru realized she was too late to keep her papa out of trouble.  Making up a large part of the chaos, Haruka ran from behind a table to duck behind one of the lounge chairs.  Chibi-usa trailed along behind her, a small watergun clutched tightly in her hands.  Haruka’s much larger canon was quickly propped on the chair and aimed at their opponents.

 

            “Give up now!” called Minako, three lounge chairs now between them.  A large gun similar to Haruka’s was aimed and ready as Usagi stood back-up beside her.

 

            “Or what?” called back Haruka.  “From my point of view, we have the advantage.”

 

            Minako smirked, clearly indicating she didn’t agree.  “And what point of view would that be?”

 

            Haruka returned the smirk and pointed her canon to the occupant of the middle lounger.  Leisurely sunning herself, sunglasses covering her eyes, Rei ignored all of them.

 

            Minako laughed.  “She’s wearing a bathing suit.  A little water won’t hurt her!”

 

            To which a watergun was pulled seemingly from nowhere and pointed directly at Minako.  Rei’s relaxed demeanor didn’t change at all, her aim perfect, without her eyes even so much as blinking.

 

            Minako quickly rethought her position.

 

            Hotaru giggled at it all.  Setsuna probably wasn’t playing with them, but it might be fun to try and coax her into it.  She scanned the rest of the pool, looking for her mama.  Ami was in the water, carefully floating around with Miki.  Mamoru was slowly swimming the perimeter.  She didn’t see Setsuna at all.

 

            On drier land, the little girl focused on Makoto.  Her watergun lying abandoned, she had found greater pleasure in a paperback.

 

            “Mako-chan,” Hotaru called as she jogged over to the lounge chair.

 

            Makoto looked up from her book, a crooked smile lifting one corner of her mouth.  “There you are.  Chibi-usa was wondering how long you’d be.  She didn’t have anyone to defend her from Usagi.”

 

            Hotaru grinned widely.  “Haruka-papa seems to be doing an okay job of that.  But do you know where Setsuna-mama is?”

 

            “She went inside a little while ago,” answered Makoto.  “Said there were some things she wanted to do while she was thinking about it.”

 

            “Oh,” replied Hotaru, her mood falling.  A tiny frown touched her lips, and she stood quietly for a moment.  Finally, she said, “I should see if she needs any help.”

 

            Her feet moved, ready to take her back to the house, when a high-pitched squeal sounded behind her.  Two chubby arms latched onto her waist, and there was Chibi-usa, smiling up at her with eyes sparkling playfully.

 

            “Finally!” laughed out Chibi-usa.  “I thought I was gonna die without you here.”

 

            Hotaru bit her lip, not sure what to do as she stared down at her best friend.  Her eyes lifted back to the house.

 

            Chibi-usa blinked up at her, confused at her reaction.  “What?”

 

            “What about what?” asked Hotaru looking back down at her friend and not at all meaning to sound silly.  But she must have, since Chibi-usa giggled at her.

 

            “Are you gonna save me or not?”

 

            Makoto picked up her watergun and held it out to Hotaru.  “Here.  Go rescue your future princess from the evil that is Minako with a water canon.”

 

            An instant of hesitation, then Hotaru took the gun.  She gave one last, almost sorrowful glance back at the house.  The decision had been made.

 

            “Okay,” she said, a smile coming back to her lips and a playfulness appearing in her voice.  She grabbed Chibi-usa’s hand to lead them back into the fray.  “I’ll save you!”

           

------------

 

            Kyo popped a piece of candy into his mouth, tucked the half empty snack bag into his pocket, then sat on the step beside his nephew.  The boy ignored him, continuing to stare at his Gameboy, so Kyo waited.  He listened to the beep-beep-rrrrr of an electronic spaceship mix with the ticking of the clock.  Still being ignored, he pursed his lips, tapped his foot against the carpet runner, and finally leaned all the way over into Seiji’s personal space as far as he could without actually laying on him.

 

            Whatcha doing?” asked Kyo casually.

 

            Seiji sighed as his ship took a direct hit and exploded.  “Just playing a game,” he answered with a complete lack of enthusiasm.

 

            Kyo raised an eyebrow at the answer, causing the boy to fidget.

 

            “Okay,” added Seiji.  “I’m also avoiding Dad.  He wants to talk about things I don’t.  I know all of it already.  I mean, I’m not the one who doesn’t get why Ami isn’t Miki’s daddy.”

 

            A smirk touched Kyo’s lips, and he shook his head in amusement.  “I bet your mom’s having a lot of fun with that one.”

 

            Seiji grinned as he reached up to straighten his glasses.  “Yeah.”

 

            “I bet your dad is, too,” went on Kyo.  “But here you are, hiding from him.  And after the deal we made.”

 

            Seiji’s grin turned into a guilty frown.  “I know I promised to let him talk to me and pretend you hadn’t told me anything, but it’s embarrassing when Dad does it.  I know about Ami and her friends, and I get it.  I don’t want to talk about it while they’re all actually here.  Especially with Haruka here,” he finished, the last sentenced mumbled out.

 

            Kyo clapped the boy on the back and tried to offer some sympathy.  The kid just need to jump in and get it over with rather than dragging this ordeal out.  So did Jurrou, judging by the stressed look on his face as he hid behind the garage and chain smoked.

 

            “I know it’s embarrassing,” said Kyo with a touch of empathy.  “But it will still be better than what your Dad and I went through with our dad.  Him sitting with that huge desk between us and an encyclopedia sized text book in my hands.  ‘Let’s read together.’”  Kyo chuffed, amused at the memory now that it was long behind him.  “Just let your dad do all the talking, nod in the appropriate places, and promise to read whatever he gives you on your own time.  And if you have any more questions, come to me.  I won’t break out into a cold sweat.”

 

            A lopsided grin appeared on Seiji’s face, and he nodded.  “Okay.  But… do I have to do it now?”

 

            “Yes,” answered Kyo.  “If you can find him.  The two of you have been playing some twisted version of hide and seek all morning long when you should have been out at the pool playing with everyone else.”

 

            Seiji would have sighed and tried to dodge a little longer if he hadn’t been cut off by Kyo’s beeper.  Over his uncle’s sudden unhappy muttering he said, “You have to go again.”

 

            “Yeah, I do,” answered Kyo unhappily as he stood.  “Find someone and tell them for me before you go find your dad.”

 

            “Okay.”  A grin touched Seiji’s lips.  Trying to lighten things up a bit and make Kyo happier, he added, “Uncle Kyo off to save the world, cause a superhero’s job is never done.”

 

            Already lost in his own thoughts as he headed down the stairs, Kyo answered without humor.  “I’m only a superhero when I can save them.”

           

------------

           

            Tired.  That was the best word Kaya had to describe how she felt.  Exhausted would have been overstating the matter, and to claim battled resolution would have been an outright lie.  She had gotten some answers, though.  Now if only she could figure out the questions she might be able to get some of the rest she so dearly felt she needed.

 

            Her solitude after leaving her father hadn’t yielded any results, and now she needed to take care of another matter.  Knocking lightly on the door to Ken’s bedroom, she hoped he would forgive her for avoiding him this afternoon.  He called for her to enter, and she opened the door just enough to poke her head around it.

 

            “Are we speaking again?” she asked in a lightly joking tone.

 

            Ken smiled.  “I suppose so.  How did things go?”

 

            Kaya closed the door behind her and moved to sit on the foot of the bed.  As Ken closed his laptop, she answered, “I’m not sure.”

 

            This response was met with an immediate frown.  She was expecting that, though, and held up a hand to stop him.

 

            “People don’t change overnight,” she went on.  “We talked our way.  He has every piece of work I’ve published and knows them inside out.  But you already know that, don’t you.”

 

            Ken grinned and shrugged.

 

            One corner of Kaya’s lips turned up into a crooked smile.  “He asked questions, but none of them were criticisms.  He studied them not because he thought they were faulted, but because they were mine.  He had faith in the words because they came from me.”

 

            “So now you know that you have his confidence,” said Ken quietly.  “Why are you still confused?”

 

            “Because I don’t know why, for the last 15 years, he’s treated me like an embarrassment,” answered Kaya.  “I don’t know what changed between us, or why it’s suddenly better.  You’re the only thing that’s different, and at least I knew when it was you.  Now I’m just as lost as I was before.”

 

            “You could ask,” he suggested carefully.

 

            Kaya shook her head.  “Mother knows, but I won’t ask her, either.  She’d only tell me to go to Father.  I know why she would, but why did you?  What did you see that I missed?”

 

            “I don’t think you missed anything,” answered Ken.  His hands ran lightly over the cover of his laptop, and he leaned forward just a bit in his chair.  “You and your father are a lot alike, Kaya.  If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t have seen what he was doing quite so easily.  I told you to talk to him because of the way he was talking to me.  Every private conversation I had with him was his roundabout way of quizzing me to make sure I not only knew your work, but that I respected you for it.  He pulled out the Goenburg papers to get things started, only telling me that it was a new project the hospital was interested in.  Sneaky old man,” he added with some admiring affection.

 

            Kaya closed her eyes and held her breath for several seconds.  Releasing it slowly, she tried to clear her mind, open up pathways and connect circuits in a way that would give her a clear picture.  Unfortunately, most of her circuits were on miswired boards, so all she was getting was static.

 

            “I handle things like this much better when they involve anonymous numbers and testable theories,” she muttered ruefully.  “I don’t want to test any more theories tonight.”

 

            “I suppose you’ve done enough for right now,” replied Ken, setting aside his laptop and standing.  “As long as you aren’t taking it out on me anymore.”

 

            Kaya opened her eyes and grinned.  “I promise.”

 

            “Okay,” smiled back Ken.  “It’s almost time for dinner.  We can get ready and then just relax for awhile.  Maybe find out what the girls have planned for the rest of the night.”

 

            She wasn’t certain how much she could really relax, but Kaya found herself nodding regardless.  His idea sounded good, and she wasn’t opposed at all to trying.

           

------------

 

            Rei buttoned her blouse, ignoring the blue eyes burning a hole into her back.

 

            Minako pursed her lips and stared harder.

 

            “I’m not telling you,” said Rei.

 

            Pleeeeeaaaassse,” drew out Minako.  “You’re making me crazy.”

 

            Rei grinned.  “That’s the idea.”

 

            A defeated sigh sounded behind her, and she turned to see Minako’s shoulders slumped and her head bowed.  Then those eyes peered up at her through blonde bangs, and Minako smirked.  “I’ll get you back for this, you know.  For right now, though, let’s just hurry and get to dinner so you can finally tell me what you’re going to do with me tonight.”

 

            A saucy grin touched Rei’s lips and her eyes gleamed.

 

            Arrrgggghhh!” groaned Minako.  Then, as Rei started walking towards the door, “Hey, wait for me!”

           

            “You said you wanted to hurry and get to dinner,” returned Rei.

           

            Minako fell in beside her and stuck out her tongue.  “Tease.”

 

            Rei only smiled.

 

------------

 

            Sitting perfectly still, Ami fought the urge to fidget under her mother’s intense gaze.  Dinner had been awkward, and she still didn’t know what had happened earlier in the day to have her mother be so out of sorts this evening.  When the meal was finished, her mother had pulled her aside and asked if she could take the baby for awhile, ostensibly so she and Makoto could have a little time to themselves.  Makoto hadn’t had any problems with it, had said it might be good for all four of them.  She just needed a few minutes to get the baby ready.

 

            So Ami had been left with her mother, just the two of them in the room Ken was using.  And her mother had looked at her, about to say something.  Five minutes later, the words still hadn’t come and that stare was holding, something significant hanging between them.

 

            “You can tell me anything,” blurted out Kaya finally.

 

            Ami’s eyes widened and her lips formed a small, surprised O.

 

            Kaya took a deep breath, though her eyes never fell from Ami’s.  She tried to find the right words, the struggle obvious to her daughter.  “You always seem to find ways to tell me without words, but I know I’ve missed things.  You can tell me, if you want.  Anything at all.  If you want to.”

 

            “O… Okay,” answered Ami, a small sweat breaking out on the back of her neck.

 

            Kaya nodded and let out a relieved breath.  She appeared as if a great weight had been lifted from her, and Ami tensed even more, completely confused.  Kaya, though, smiled and stood from the edge of the bed where she’d been sitting.  “Well, now that we have that out of the way, let’s go see if Makoto is ready with my boy.  I’m going to miss being able to spend time with him like this after we get back home.”

 

------------

           

            This really was taking much longer than it should.

 

            Usagi let out a puff of breath, blowing her bangs eschew.  Beside her, Chibi-usa did the same thing.  Obviously, the novelty had worn off for her, too.

 

            Mamoru was oblivious to both of them, though, as he stared intently at something under the hood of his car.  Usagi wondered if he really was still checking things over for the ride home or if he’d gotten caught up in an ‘oooo, pretty’ moment.  Perhaps a well kept and shiny car engine was a guy’s equivalent to a ½ karat diamond in an 18 karat gold setting.  She grinned.  From that perspective, she could understand what was taking so long.

 

            Chibi-usa continued to fidget beside her, no doubt wishing she’d gone with Hotaru instead of insisting on coming with them.  That thought made Usagi think of Haruka, and then Rei.  She’d watched both of them under the hood of cars, too.  They’d each had their own unique expressions in those moments.  Rei, completely lost and angry at both her lack of automotive knowledge and her car, unintelligible curses spewing from her mouth at a rate that matched the white smoke spewing from her engine.  Haruka, a twinkle in her eye that spoke of true love and pride, her hands moving over her Porsche in a knowing and gentle way that would make most women jealous.

 

            Compared to them, Mamoru looked like a kid in a candy store.  He knew more about what made a car go than Rei did, and he enjoyed his toy, but he didn’t come close to Haruka’s passion over it all.  Usagi smiled as he rechecked the oil.  It was fun to see him acting like a happy child, even if she was feeling a bit bored and impatient to get back to the house.

 

------------

 

            Alone out back in the gentle warmth of the night, Ami and Makoto rocked slowly in the cradle of the bench where they sat.  Makoto put her arm around Ami’s shoulders and let her cuddle close.

 

            “What’re you thinking?” asked Makoto after a long silence.

 

            “I’m not certain,” answered Ami.

 

            “About what you’re thinking about?” questioned Makoto, sounding dubious.

 

            Mmmm.”  Ami’s eyes turned to look up at her.  “You find that odd?”

 

            “Well, yeah, sort of,” admitted Makoto.  “I mean, even when you’re not thinking about anything, you know what you’re thinking about.”  She contemplated a moment, and scratched at the tip of her nose.  “Though I suppose if you were thinking about a whole bunch of things all at once you might forget some of them or not know exactly which one when I asked.  But your mind doesn’t forget like that.”

 

            Ami chuckled lightly, her mood easing.  “Thank you,” she said.  Then she added, “It’s not so much that I’m uncertain about what I’m thinking.  Rather, I was thinking that I’m uncertain.  Am I reading too much into what my mother said?  Or do you suppose I’m going to have to dodge her the way I have been Uncle Kyo?”

 

            “Your mother is nowhere near as direct as Uncle Kyo,” replied Makoto.  “Even if she does suspect something, she’ll never ask you outright.”

 

            Ami let out a long, tired sigh.  “There is one thing I am certain of right now.  I will be very glad to go home.  This vacation has become exhausting.”

 

            Makoto tightened her hold around Ami and pulled her closer.  She placed a kiss on her forehead, then carefully tilted her chin up.  Their lips met, and they found an easy peace in this moment of solitude.

 

 

------------

 

            The grass tickled at her sandaled feet as they moved along at a leisurely pace.  Minako held Rei’s arm loosely by her side, the night sounds a gentle accompaniment to their evening stroll.  Minako’s eyes wandered from the darkness in front of her to the shadow of Rei’s face.  She had something on her mind, Minako could tell.  She was relaxed, enjoying the walk, but there was an intentness in the violet of her eyes and a concentration in her silence.

 

            Their easy pace slowed even more as they came within sight of the lake.  Small electric lanterns outlined the short pier, the dim lights creating a bright beacon.  Rei frowned just a bit, and Minako wondered if it was because of the artificial light.  Necessary as they were for safety, the lanterns reflected in the water, obscuring the natural view and slightly hampering their night vision.  Whatever had caused Rei’s displeasure, however, was quickly worked through in the quiet of her thoughts.  The frown disappeared, and she led them to a comfortable spot near the water’s edge.

 

            For a moment they stood, Rei staring out as if she could see into the inky darkness.  Then Rei slowly pulled Minako in front of her so they were back to front and wrapped her arms around Minako’s shoulders.  “I want to try something,” she whispered.

 

            Minako smiled and whispered back, “I’ve been waiting all day to find out what that something is.”

 

            She felt Rei grin, and a warm chuckle brushed past her ear.  “Okay.  Have a seat.”

 

            Rei moved first, guiding Minako down with her and settling them in a way she felt would best make this work.  Minako followed Rei’s lead, situating herself in the V of Rei’s legs.  She supported her own weight rather than lean back against Rei, but they were close enough that she could feel the rise and fall of Rei’s breathing and the steady beat of her heart.  Fingers brushed along her forearm, causing goosebumps to rise, then tickled at her palms.

 

            “Like this,” Rei instructed softly, turning Minako’s hands so they were held out, palms down.  “Just rest them on top of mine, and let me know when you’re comfortable.”

 

            A few fidgets and a slight scoot backward, and Rei’s arms were resting on her thighs.  Minako smiled at the warmth, let her arms relax with her hands on top of Rei’s, and said, “Okay, I’m comfy.  Now what are…

 

            “I’m getting to that,” grinned back Rei.  “Let’s see… first you need to close your eyes.  I can’t see you, so I’m going to trust you when you say they’re closed.”

 

            A gentle giggle was her answer.

 

            Rei chuffed.  “I’m going to assume that means they’re closed.  If they are, I’m going to introduce you to my ghosts.”

 

            “What?” asked Minako, her voice unnaturally loud because of the quiet around them.  Her hands fell from Rei’s as she suddenly craned her head around to stare at her partner.

 

            “You heard me,” answered Rei, a smirk on her face.  She took Minako’s shoulders and turned her back around.  She repositioned their hands and tightened her legs against Minako’s.  “You kept bringing them up so often, I thought you might like to say hello.  Or, as you said this morning, good-bye.”

 

            “But… how?” asked Minako, a deep curiosity bubbling up.  “And I thought you said there weren’t really any ghosts.”

 

            “They aren’t ghosts, per se,” replied Rei, slowly trying to think of how to explain this properly.  “But that’s as good a word as any for right now.  As for how… this is something we do all the time.  You wouldn’t notice, nobody does with these kinds of things.  But I want to see how deep it goes, and see if I can use it like I want to for this.”

 

            Minako swallowed hard, an uncomfortable twinge in her chest.  Her fingers curled slightly, lifting her palm up from Rei’s.  She knew she was frowning, and was glad Rei couldn’t see her face.  Hesitancy in her voice, she asked, “What is it you think I haven’t noticed?”

 

            “Don’t worry,” answered Rei.  “It won’t hurt.  It’s… it’s how I see us sometimes when we’re together.  I can show a lot better than I can tell, assuming I can make it work.  Trust me,” she said, a touch of frustration creeping in as she twined her fingers through Minako’s to press their palms back together.

 

            “I trust you,” said Minako, shaking her head.  “I always trust you.  It’s just…”  Her voice trailed off and she took a deep breath, trying to clear aside her uncertain conscience.   Letting her hands relax, she told herself that just this once it would be okay.  “All right.  What do you want me to do?”

 

            She felt Rei sit up straighter and take a deep breath, and imagined those deep eyes closing as she spoke.  “Just relax.  Breathe deeply.  Slow your heart down, no worries or cares, and clear your mind.  Concentrate on me, match my breathing.  It’s just us out here, and we are one.”

 

            Minako flinched.  If Rei noticed, she didn’t say anything, and with just a bit of difficultly, Minako began to relax.  She followed along, slowing her breathing to match the pace Rei was setting.  Slowly, the world around her faded away.  She felt only Rei, heard only the soft whisper of her breathing.  They melted together, one heartbeat, and in that she found comfort and peace.

 

            And in her mind’s eye, she could see it.  Familiar wisps of bright red flitted over and mingled with soft orange.  The two danced together in way that made it impossible to tell where one began and the other stopped.  The orange pulsed brightly for a second, Minako smiling, and the red answered back in kind.  Rei was damned proud of herself, and Minako smiled wider.  It was okay, and she would be careful not to let it go too far. 

 

            Relax.

 

            I am.

 

            You’re thinking too hard.  Stop.

 

            Am not.  But okay.

 

            So she stopped thinking about it and allowed Rei to take control.  When she did, the world that had faded away flowed back in.  This time, though, rather than seeing it, she felt it and heard it’s song.  The warmth of the wind, wrapping softly around her like a living thing, almost as if it was cradling her.  An aurora of colors played out before her, cold blues speckled with prisms, a cacophony of life, high pitched and frantic, but pleasant nonetheless.  Deep greens, tinged with browns and oranges, their sound low and calming.  All of it tied together with the hum of the wind as it flowed, connecting everything, bringing harmony. 

 

            And in all of that, a friendly curiosity.

 

            The soft orange took on a brighter glow, reaching out in equal curiosity.

 

            But then the tune changed.  The brightness of Rei’s aura flared an angry red, and the soft music disappeared, replaced with a silence heavy with malice and fear.  The beautiful colors from Rei’s ‘ghosts’ were overtaken with darkness, and before Minako could even begin to decipher what was happening she was abruptly and roughly pulled out of it.

 

            Confused and dizzy, overwhelmed by a sudden sense of loss coupled with fear, Minako lay in the grass beside Rei.  She slowly lifted her head and looked up, trying to focus.  Rei had pushed her away, she could tell that much.  Her eyes narrowed, watching the miko and feeling no comfort in what she saw.  Rei was still holding on to her vision, and when her eyes opened, Mars’ flame flared brightly within them.

 

            Then, without saying a word, Rei was on her feet and sprinting towards the house, henshin wand in hand.

 

------------

 

            The stars reflected in the surface of the pond, turning it into a mirror of the night sky.  Hotaru knelt down in front of it and touched a finger to the still water.  A slow cascade of ripples radiated outward from her fingertip, disturbing the stillness of the solar system and attracting the attention of one of the tiny fish resting at the bottom.

 

            Hotaru grinned as the fish nipped at her finger.  “Sorry,” she said as she pulled her finger from the water.  The grin she wore grew when she heard Setsuna laugh softly.

 

            Standing, the little girl walked over and sat beside her mother on the bench.  Further ahead of them, she could see Haruka and Michiru strolling through the garden.  Haruka’s arm was draped over Michiru’s shoulders as they enjoyed the quiet pleasantness of their last night here.

 

            Scooting over closer to Setsuna, Hotaru snuggled against her side.  Setsuna put an arm around her, holding her close, and the two of them sat quietly just listening to the night sounds.

 

            After several minutes, with her eyes focused on the moon shimmering in the pond, Hotaru asked softly, “How many times have you been in love?”

 

            Surprised, Setsuna looked down at the little girl.  “That’s an unusual question.  Especially from you.”

 

            Hotaru shrugged.

 

            Looking back out over the garden, Setsuna answered after a long pause, “Twice.”

 

            “So there was another.  But only one?”  What was left of Hotaru’s grin fell away.  “I’m sorry.  For what we did to you with Uncle Kyo.  We didn’t want you to be lonely, but you seem lonelier now than you did before we got here.”

 

            Setsuna reached down and gently tilted the child’s chin up so she could see her eyes.  “I’m not lonely.  The last few days have left me feeling a bit nostalgic, I think, and perhaps that’s what you see.  And Uncle Kyo was not altogether unpleasant.”  She smiled softly, seeing so much in those eyes, and ran a hand lightly over the child’s hair.  “You don’t need to apologize, Hotaru.  I forgave you long ago.”

 

            Hotaru nodded.  Then small fingers reached up and absently began playing with the gold chain around Setsuna’s neck.

 

            “I still have it,” said Setsuna, her voice a whisper.  “I keep it in the music box Inara gave me.”

 

            Hotaru’s fingers stilled, then fell, and she swallowed hard.  “Setsuna, I…”

 

            The beeping of their communicators, coupled with Haruka and Michiru’s, cut them off.  The soldier’s mentality emerged instantly, and they activated the communicators to see a frantic Rei.

 

            “They’re in the house!  They want the baby!”