Chapter 2.5: The Longest Night

Saburo jerked awake, the sound of the phone ringing rousing him from his uneasy slumber. He scrambled to his feet and fumbled around until he found a lamp to turn on. The sudden bright light stung his eyes, but he didn't care, grabbing the phone and bringing it to his ear.

"Takara, is that you?" he asked, not bothering with the usual pleasantries. "Where are you? Are you okay?"

On the other end of the line, someone let out what sounded like a sob. Saburo's grip on the phone tightened. "Takara?"

"N-No, it's Miyuki," his daughter's best friend said after a long pause. Her voice was strained, barely holding back tears. "Takara-chan…uh…she…had a…had a heart attack."

"No…" Saburo's knees buckled underneath him, and he grabbed the edge of the table to steady himself. "Is she okay? I mean…"

"Um, she's alive…she's alive…but…"

"What hospital is she at, Miyuki-chan?" he asked, reaching for a pen.

With shaking fingers, Saburo wrote down the information Miyuki gave him in between sniffles and promised he would be there as soon as he could. As it was after one in the morning, the trains had already stopped running, but if he hurried, he might make the next night bus in time.

He had never changed out of his priest robes, having fallen asleep while waiting for Takara to return home, so he just ripped the page with the hospital's name off the pad and stuffed it in his pocket, along with his wallet. He then glanced around the room, trying to remember if there was anything else he might need when he noticed a folded piece of stationary laying on the floor near where he had been sleeping. On top of it was Takara's necklace, the one she wore almost every single day.

"She came home?" Saburo murmured, picking up the paper and necklace. But he never noticed…

No, he did have vague memories of briefly waking. He saw her, but in his groggy state, he had mistaken her for his late wife, Noriko, since she had been wearing Noriko's wedding kimono and red jade earrings. "Oh, Takara…"

There was no time to waste reading the letter, so he slipped the items in his other pocket and rushed out of the shrine.


In the waiting room of Tokyo General Hospital, Keitaro stared blankly ahead, his body numb and his ears deaf. Beside him, his best friend Minoru kept trying to assure him that Takara would be okay, that her doctors were among the best in Japan, but none of his words sunk in, his voice like white noise in the background.

How could Takara not tell him how critical her heart problems were? He always suspected that her dizzy spells were a symptom of something more serious, but she always insisted she was just anemic and would promise to add more iron to her diet. If he had known…

"Keitaro-san, I called Kondo-sama," Miyuki said upon returning to the waiting room. "He'll be here as soon as he can."

Keitaro finally looked up, wincing when he saw Miyuki's blotchy face and red-rimmed eyes. As Takara's husband, he should have been the one to call his new father-in-law to tell him what happened, but he had been afraid Mr. Kondo would hang up on him the moment he answered, leaving it up to Miyuki to break the news.

"Thank you, Miyuki-san. I appreciate it," he said in a hoarse voice.

"Has there been any news since I've been gone?"

"No, not yet," Minoru answered for Keitaro. "We're still waiting." Standing up from the plastic chair, he pulled Miyuki into comforting embrace. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm so scared, Minoru-kun." She buried her face in his shirt, her tears beginning anew. "I've never seen Takara-chan like that before. She looked like she was in so much pain, and –"

Minoru softly shushed her, rubbing his hand in soothing circles on her back. "It's going to be okay. Takara-san will make it through this; I know she will. We just have to have faith, okay?"

Faith…

Keitaro's hand reached for the crucifix he wore around his neck, his thumb brushing against the tiny figure of Christ carved in silver. In times of hardship, the symbol of his faith usually gave him comfort, but the cross provided him little consolation this time, remembering that it was Takara's father's disapproval of his Catholic faith and desire to marry her off to a Shinto boy that led to his impulsive decision to ask Takara to elope with him. He sighed, releasing his hold on the necklace and sitting back in his chair.

"Keitaro-san, do you need anything else?" Miyuki asked, taking a seat in the chair to the right of him. She seemed to have calm down some, thanks to Minoru. "Do you want some coffee? Or maybe something to eat? The cafeteria is closed, but I can probably find a vending machine..."

"No, I'm fine," he said. "You don't have to stay, Miyuki-san. It's getting late, and I'm sure your parents are wondering where you are. I'll call you when there's any news." He looked over at Minoru. "You, too, Minoru-kun. You should go back to the apartment and get some sleep. Don't you have a job interview tomorrow afternoon?"

"Screw it," Minoru said. He plopped down in the chair on the other side of Keitaro, running a hand through his unruly hair. "I was never going to get the job, anyway. I'm not leaving you until we know that Takara-san is going to be okay."

Miyuki nodded. "Me, neither. I already called my parents and let them know what happened. They said I can stay for as long as I need to."

"Thanks," Keitaro said, appreciating their support. He was going to need it when Saburo arrived.

He only hoped they had good news to share by then.

Threading his fingers together, Keitaro closed his eyes and prayed.

Please, please let Takara be okay.


The first person Saburo saw when he entered the ER waiting room of Tokyo General was Takara's best friend, Miyuki. The blonde was pacing the floors, chewing on her thumbnail as was her habit whenever she was nervous or anxious, but she stopped mid-step when she noticed his presence and rushed over to hug him.

"Oh, Kondo-sama, I'm so glad you made it," she said, sniffling.

"How is Takara?" he asked. "Has there been any news?"

Miyuki shook her head. "I think they're still running tests. We haven't heard anything else since she was admitted." Her hold on him tightened. "I'm so sorry, Kondo-sama. When Takara-chan called me, I should have contacted you right away and told you what she was planning. Maybe if I had…"

"It's not your fault, Miyuki-chan."

Looking over her shoulder, he searched the room for the person he felt was truly to blame. Saburo considered himself a reasonable, peace-loving man, but after reading Takara's goodbye letter on the bus ride to the hospital, he began to understand how some people could be driven to violence. Anger again coursed through his veins when his eyes finally landed on Takara's boyfriend, sitting with his head hung low, eyes focused downward at the linoleum floors and hands folded as if in prayer.

"You!" He pulled away from Miyuki and stomped over to confront him. "You're the reason this happened! You're the reason she almost died!"

Startled, Keitaro jumped to his feet, a redheaded man who Saburo vaguely recognized as one of his friends throwing a protective arm in front of him. "I'm so sorry, Kondo-sama. I had no—"

"I don't want to hear your apologies!" Saburo shouted, waving Takara's crumpled letter in front of Keitaro's face. He was making a scene – several nurses and visitors had turned to watch – but he didn't care. "What the hell were you two thinking? Running away in the middle of the night to elope? I thought you were a good man, Hino, but tonight you've shown your true colors. How dare you try to manipulate my daughter into marrying you! The only bright spot about what happened is that it stopped Takara from making the worst mista—"

"Kondo-sama?" Beside him, Miyuki placed a hand on his arm, stopping him mid-rant. "The doctor's here."

Saburo spun around, his wrath for the moment forgotten. Instead, his heart began to pound against his chest, and he reached for Miyuki's hand, squeezing her slender fingers.

Dr. Sakamoto, Takara's cardiologist since childhood, cleared his throat and looked down at the clipboard in his hands as everyone present gathered around him. "I apologize for the interruption, but I have the results of the tests we performed when Hino-san arrived at the hospital," the doctor announced. "It appears she did suffer a mild heart attack. She won't require surgery this time around, but we have started her on an aggressive drug regimen, and as long as she takes it easy for the next few weeks, I expect her to make a full recovery."

Closing his tear-filled eyes, Saburo said a quick prayer of gratitude to the kami. If his precious Takara had died… "Thank you, Sakamoto-sensei," he said as Miyuki pulled him into another hug. "When can I see her?"

"In the morning. Hino-san is sleeping at the moment, and I would like her to get some rest. It's well after visiting hours, anyway."

Saburo frowned. "Why do you keep referring to her as Hino-san? You know very well my daughter's name is Kondo Ta…kara…"

His voice trailed off as he looked back over at Hino Keitaro, and he shook his head, refusing to believe it was true. He'd assumed – or perhaps, hoped – that Takara had her heart attack before they were able to go through with it, but…

"You're married?"

Keitaro nodded.

"I'm sorry, Kondo-sama, but Takara is my wife."


After the good news came of Takara's condition, Keitaro had insisted that Minoru and Miyuki finally go home and get some rest. Minoru wasn't happy about it, especially since it meant leaving Keitaro to deal with Takara's angry father on his own, but there was nothing they could really do, anyway, so he had offered to drive Miyuki home.

Though he normally would have been happy to have a chance to spend some alone time with his not-so-secret crush, there was little joy to be had under such terrible circumstances.

"Where do you live?" he asked upon coming to a stop at the first red light.

"What?" Miyuki, who had been staring blankly out the rain-spattered window, sat back up. "Oh, um, not too far from Hikawa. My house is on the same street."

Minoru nodded his understanding, making a left turn toward the shrine when the light turned green. "So, you and Takara-san must have grown up together," he said, attempting to make conversation in order to stay awake. It was already well after two in the morning, and he struggled to keep his eyes open, despite having drunk several cups of bad coffee while they had waited for news on Takara.

"Yes, I've known her all my life. Her mother and my mother were good friends, so we always had playdates together," Miyuki said, pausing for a moment before asking, "How long have you known Keitaro-san?"

"Since first grade, when we got assigned to the same class. Keitaro-kun was the quiet sort and kept to himself, so I guess you could say I kind of took him under my wing, showed him the ropes…"

"Got him in trouble?"

Minoru cracked a smile, glad to see Miyuki acting a little more like her usual self. "Every once in a while. He usually managed to talk me out of my more hare-brained ideas, though."

Sighing, she crossed her arms over her chest. "I wish you would have talked him out this idea of eloping with Takara-chan," she muttered, the brief moment of levity between them coming to an end.

"Yeah." Minoru ran a hand through his hair. "But they really love each other," he said, feeling the need to defend his best friend. "Keitaro-kun had no idea something like this would happen. All they wanted was to be together – is that so horrible?"

"No…" Leaning her forehead against the window, she again stared out at the rain. When they had left the hospital, it had only been sprinkling, but the storm from earlier had resumed in earnest, rumbles of thunder in the distance. "No, but… I don't know. I just wish things could have been different. Takara-chan's wedding should have been a happy, joyous occasion, but now every anniversary will just be a reminder that we almost lost her. And I'm worried how their marriage is going to affect Takara's relationship with Kondo-sama."

Minoru frowned, remembering the angry tirade Takara's father went on when he first saw Keitaro at the hospital. The few times Minoru had met the priest before, he'd always seemed like a pretty easy-going guy, so to see him so furious had been unnerving. "Does he hate Keitaro-kun that much? Most parents would consider him quite the catch for their daughter."

"I don't think he hates Keitaro-san as a person. It's more that he hates what he represents."

"His daughter growing up and making her own decisions?"

She nodded. "Kondo-sama is…overprotective of Takara-chan because of her heart issues. I guess I have been, too, but Takara-chan has always tried to be an obedient daughter. She was supposed to marry to a Shinto man to help her care of Hikawa, so her eloping with a Catholic was not exactly the future he planned for her."

"But they will reconcile, won't they?" He knew from personal experience what it was like to live with demanding parents, but his mom and dad were never as unreasonable as Kondo Saburo seemed to be. "I mean, I understand why Kondo-sama is angry, but he can't stay mad forever, can he? Once he sees how much they love each other, he'll have to accept their marriage."

"I don't know. I hope you're right…"

The rest of the drive was spent in silence, Minoru concentrating on keeping his car on the road despite the rain making it even harder to see at night. He was a bit of a speed demon normally, but the last thing anyone needed was for them to end up in the hospital as well, so he kept under the speed limit, slowing down even more when he turned down the street leading to the Hikawa shrine so that he wouldn't miss Miyuki's house.

"That's it," she said, pointing to a two-story house just a little past the shrine.

He pulled over and parked on the curb in front of the house, Miyuki reaching for the door handle to get out. Just as she opened the door, however, she slapped her forehead and let out a loud groan.

"Oh, no, I forgot my umbrella at the hospital. I can't believe I did that!"

"Wait." Minoru stretched his arm behind the seat, feeling around for the umbrella he had tossed in the back earlier. "Here, you can take mine."

"Don't be silly. You're going to need it, too. Besides, my house is right there. I'll just make a run for it."

"How about I walk you to the door?" he suggested. "Would that be a suitable compromise?"

She took a moment to consider the idea before nodding.

Minoru opened the driver's side door and unfurled the umbrella before stepping out into the rain. He then hurried over to Miyuki's side, careful to keep the umbrella over her head as he helped her out of the car. The umbrella wasn't very large, so they had to huddle close together as they made their way to the front door. A light blush colored Miyuki's cheeks at their proximity, but he pretended not to see, realizing it was hardly the time to make a move.

Luckily, an awning covered the threshold, giving them some shelter from the rain once they made it to the door. Minoru closed the umbrella and shook off the excess water, only then becoming aware that most of his right sleeve was damp due to trying to keep Miyuki out of the rain.

Miyuki noticed as well. "Oh, look at you!" Ever the mother hen, she dug her handkerchief out of her pocket and tried to dry him off, although it wasn't much use. "You should have told me you were getting wet."

He shrugged. "A little water won't kill me. It's fine."

"Still… Why don't you come inside and let me throw it in the dryer for a couple of minutes?"

"Somehow, I doubt your parents would be happy with you inviting some strange man inside their house in the middle of the night," he said, Miyuki blushing again at the implication. "Really, I'm okay."

"If you say so… But make sure to dry off and change into some pajamas the moment you get home. It would be terrible if you caught a cold."

"Yes, Miyuki-mama," he teased, earning him a swat on the arm.

"Anyway, um, thanks for driving me home and walking me to the door," she said, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear before standing on her tiptoes to kiss him chastely on the cheek. "Also, for just being there for everyone tonight. You really are a good friend, Minoru-san."

Minoru brought a hand to his cheek. A good friend, huh? It seemed that was all he would ever be to Miyuki, but that was okay.

"Good night, Miyuki-san," he said, opening his umbrella once again and racing back to his car.


Keitaro couldn't sleep.

He shifted his position in the hard plastic chair for what seemed like the hundredth time, but it was no use. Such chairs were simply not make for sleeping, although Takara's father managed to nod off for a few minutes here and there. He must have had a lot of practice over the years.

Sighing, Keitaro looked over at his napping father-in-law, who sat on the opposite side of the waiting room. They had barely said ten words to each other after Saburo had learned of his marriage to Takara. He should have been grateful, considering how the priest had reacted when he first arrived at the hospital, but Keitaro almost wished he would start yelling at him again.

After all, he deserved it.

Giving up on trying to rest, Keitaro grabbed a random out-of-date magazine from the stack on a nearby end table and started to read an interview from some up-and-coming idol singer he knew nothing about, although he vaguely remembered Takara mentioning her before. His eyes scanned the page, but the characters were like a jumbled mess, his vision going blurry from a lack of sleep. After attempting to read the first page several times with little success, he tossed the magazine aside and took off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.

"Here."

Keitaro glanced up. A white Styrofoam cup floated in front of his face.

"It's coffee," Saburo said. "Well, at least it's supposed to be." The priest took a drink from an identical cup in his other hand and made a face. "Tastes terrible, but you look like you could use some caffeine."

"T-Thank you." After sliding his glasses back on, Keitaro accepted the offered cup and took a small sip. The bitter taste coated his tongue, but he supposed it was better than nothing. "I haven't been able to sleep."

Sighing, Saburo took a seat in the chair to the left of Keitaro. "I wasn't either, the first time."

"Was Takara often in the hospital?"

"Occasionally, yes, but I was talking about my wife, Noriko. She had a weak constitution and frequently needed to be hospitalized."

"Takara told me her mother died when she was young. I'm sorry."

"It was a long time ago," Saburo said in a flat voice, taking another swig of his coffee.

Another silence fell over them, but Keitaro didn't mind it as much as before.

"Hino-san, I want to…apologize for the way I reacted when I arrived," Saburo said after a while. "I shouldn't have yelled at you like that."

"No, I don't blame you for being angry." He stared down at his mostly untouched coffee, twirling the cup in between his hands. "Takara and I did rush into things. I don't know what I was thinking," he said, sighing. "No, I wasn't thinking. Takara was so upset, and I didn't want to lose her…"

"It's not too late. You can annul the marriage, pretend it never happened."

"And then you'll be free to marry her off to Mizuki Hisoka-san?" Keitaro asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He had done his best to be polite and civil toward Saburo, knowing how justifiably upset he was by what had happened, but he couldn't hide his anger at the reminder of why they had rushed into marriage in the first place.

Taken aback, Saburo didn't say anything for a long moment. "Mizuki-san was perhaps not the best match in hindsight," he finally admitted. "But you are not a good match for her either."

He noticed Saburo staring at the crucifix he had forgotten to tuck back into his collar. "Because I'm Catholic."

"Yes." The priest set his empty coffee cup on the end table. "I want you to understand, Hino-san," he said. "It's not that I have anything against Christians, but the Kondo family has cared for the Hikawa shrine for many generations. If it is to remain in the family, Takara must marry a Shinto boy."

"But what about what Takara wants?"

"That is what she wanted," he said sharply, fingers gripping the arms of his chair, "until she met you." Saburo exhaled, sitting back in his chair and resting his head against the wall behind them. In a softer voice, he continued, "Please, Hino-san, if you care for my daughter at all, then let her go. You know this marriage was a mistake. You've as much as admitted it yourself, so get the annulment and forget about Takara. It's what is best, for everyone involved."

Keitaro brought the Styrofoam cup to his lips, gulping down the remaining coffee as he thought about what Saburo said. Maybe getting an annulment was the right decision. He understood Saburo's desire to keep Hikawa in the family, and Takara probably would be happier with somebody who shared her religious beliefs.

He wasn't even sure if he could handle dealing with her medical issues. Though he had vowed to love her "in sickness and in health", he hadn't known what he was getting into when he made those vows. Takara had survived this time, but there was no guarantee she would the next time. If she died…

A nurse walked up to them, interrupting Keitaro's thoughts. "Visiting hours have just begun, if you would like to see your loved ones," she announced.

"Oh, thank you, miss." Saburo started to stand, but at the last moment, he sat back down. "You can go first, Hino-san," he said, surprising Keitaro.

"I don't mind waiting." After everything that had happened, he knew Saburo must be anxious to see his daughter again.

A sad smile crossed the priest's lips. "I have a feeling she would much rather see you than me at the moment," he said, waving his hand. "Go, go, before I change my mind."

Keitaro hesitated for a moment longer before standing up, reaching for the arrangement of red roses he had bought from the gift shop earlier. "Thank you, Kondo-sama," he said, bowing to his father-in-law in gratitude before turning his attention to the nurse. "What is Hino Takara's room number?"

"It looks like Hino-san is in Room 215," she said, taking a quick look down at her clipboard. "Come, I'll show you the way."


After her husband left her room to get some breakfast, Takara stared down at her left hand and smiled as she admired her ruby wedding ring. Her husband… Oh, how she loved the sound of that! She couldn't wait to be released from the hospital and begin her new life at the Hino manor as Keitaro's wife.

She especially looked forward to the day when they would finally be able to consummate their marriage. Feeling her cheeks burn as she imagined what it would be like to make love to Keitaro, Takara giggled to herself until she remembered Dr. Sakamoto's stern warning.

No children.

A pregnancy would put too much strain on her already weakened heart, potentially leading to her death.

Takara brought her hand to her stomach. She would never be able to feel the miracle of a new life growing inside her, never be able to give birth to Keitaro's child… After Dr. Sakamoto left, Keitaro told her it didn't matter to him, that all he cared about was her health, but it had always been her dream to be a mom, ever since she was a little girl and had lost her own mother. The two of them had shared a very close relationship, and Takara had looked forward to doing the same with her own children.

A tear started to run down her cheek, but she wiped it away with her hospital gown when she heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in!" she called out, forcing a smile on her face.

Rather than Miyuki, as she assumed, it was her father who entered the room.

"Otou-san…" Takara's smile faltered, and she folded her hands on her lap, hiding her wedding ring from view.

"Takara." Her father brushed a hand across his cheek and walked over to the bed, kissing her on the forehead. "How are you feeling, sweetheart?" he asked. "You gave me such a fright!"

"I'm so sorry…"

A faint, but somewhat sad, smile crossed his lips. "Forget about it. I'm just so happy you're going to be okay."

Pulling the chair that Keitaro vacated closer to the bed, he sat down and reached for her left hand. His smile disappeared as he stared down at the ruby ring on her finger.

"Um, there's something I should tell you…" she said, pulling her hand back.

He sighed. "I already know," he admitted, sitting back in his chair. "I suppose Hino-san didn't mention anything to you."

"About what?"

"About…" He shook his head. "No, never mind. We can discuss it later. I don't want to upset you."

Takara frowned, having a feeling she knew what her father wanted to talk about. "Otou-san, I know you must be angry, but I love Keitaro."

"You barely know him, Takara."

"I know him better than Hisoka-kun," she pointed out.

"Yes, well…" He wrung his hands. "I shouldn't have agreed to the proposal without asking you."

"No, you shouldn't have…"

"But that doesn't make it okay for you to run off and get married without telling me."

"You didn't give us any choice!" Ashamed by her outburst, Takara looked down at her lap, gripping the blanket with her fists. She didn't want to fight with her father anymore. All she wanted was for him to accept and respect her decision. "I'm sorry," she said in a softer, calmer voice. "But Keitaro is my husband now, otou-san."

"He doesn't have to be." Her father rose from his chair and took a seat on the edge of her hospital bed. Reaching for both of her hands, he inhaled deeply and looked her straight in the eye before saying, "Takara, I want you to get an annulment."

"What?" She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Did he hate Keitaro that much? "An annulment?"

"I understand that you think you love Hino-san, but the two of you rushed into this marriage without thinking things through – a flight of youthful whimsy."

Yanking her hands out of his grasp, Takara crossed her arms over her chest. "I don't 'think' I love Keitaro; I know I do," she said. "Yes, maybe things did move a little fast between us, and there is still a lot we don't know about each other, but I don't regret marrying him."

"Maybe not right at this moment, but…"

"Otou-san, stop. It's my life. I'm tired of you making all my decisions for me," she said, tears welling up in her eyes. "It's not just the engagement with Hisoka-san. All my life, you've told me what to do. What high school to apply to, what club to join –"

"Are you still mad that I forbade you to join the archery club?" he interrupted. "Takara, you know your body couldn't handle the rigors of an athletics club."

"Archery is hardly the same as track or soccer. Even Dr. Sakamoto said it would be okay for me to participate as long as I didn't put too much stress on myself, but you wanted me to join the calligraphy club with Miyuki-chan instead."

"I thought you liked calligraphy! You always make such lovely charms for the shrine."

"I do like it, but –" She shook her head. They were getting nowhere. "The point is, I didn't really want to join the calligraphy club. I wanted to try something new and different, but you wouldn't let me. It's always been like that."

"I was just trying to protect you. After you mother passed… I just couldn't bear the thought of losing you, too," he said, pressing his hand against her cheek.

"I know." Her voice cracked, unable to hold back the tears any longer. That was what made it so hard. She knew her father just wanted what was best for her, but it was time she started living the life she wanted – a life with Keitaro. "But I can't keep living my life just for you, otou-san. I want to be with Keitaro. Can't you understand that?"

"Fine." Sighing, he dropped his hand and slid off the bed. "If a life with Hino-san is what you truly want, then fine."

"Really?" Smiling, Takara wiped away her tears with the palms of her hands. "I know you didn't get off on the right foot, but once you get to know Keitaro a little bet—"

"Takara, you misunderstand," her father said, cutting her off. "If you insist on remaining married to Hino-san, then I will no longer consider you my daughter."

"What? But –"

"You want to make your own decisions? Then go ahead and choose: me or him."

"Otou-san, that isn't fair," she said. "I love both of you. I couldn't possibly choose between you two. Why are you doing this?"

"Because it's the only way I can think of to make you see reason!" he said, balling his shaking hands into fists at his side. "Takara, you and Hino-san don't belong together. You belong at Hikawa, the home of your ancestors."

"That isn't your decision to make!"

"No, it's yours, and it sounds like you've already made it."

"Otou-san…" She reached out for him, but her father stepped away, shaking his head.

"I'm not your father anymore, Hino-san," he said, Takara flinching at his use of her new married name as if she was some random stranger. "You're Hino-san's wife now. I hope he makes you very happy."

With those final words, he turned around and left the room, the door slamming shut behind him.

More than anything, Takara wanted to jump out of bed and run after him, to convince him that he was wrong, but with her body connected to so many machines, that was impossible. Bringing a hand to her mouth, she let out a sob, rocking herself back and forth as the tears poured out of her.

Takara wasn't sure how long she cried, but eventually a pair of arms wrapped around her, pulling her into a warm, comforting embrace. Recognizing the faint scent of Keitaro's cologne, she buried her face into his shirt, her sobs quieting as he tenderly rubbed her back.

"Takara, what's wrong?" he asked once she had calmed down. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to her. "You know it's not good for your recovery to get worked up like that."

"I know, but otou-san…otou-san…" Takara couldn't get the words out, another round of tears threatening to burst through.

Keitaro sighed. "This is about the annulment, isn't it?

Her eyes widened. "You know?" she asked, using his handkerchief to wipe her wet cheeks. "But how?"

"He already talked to me about it, while you were sleeping." Keitaro took a seat on the edge on the mattress. "Maybe it's something we should consider," he said, avoiding her eyes. Instead, he fiddled with the ring on her slender finger, just as he had done during his visit earlier. "We did rush into things, and there's so –"

"You don't want to be married to me?" With her free hand, Takara clutched at the front of her hospital gown. "You don't love me?"

His head jerked up. "Of course I love you," he said, reaching up to caress her cheek. "I love you so much that it scares me, but –"

"Is it about what Dr. Sakamoto said earlier, about how it would be dangerous for me to get pregnant?" Her hand traveled downward to her stomach. "I know you must want a child of your own…"

"I already told you, I don't care if we never have children. It's never been a huge desire of mine."

"Then why?" She couldn't understand.

"Takara, listen to me." Keitaro reached for her hands, giving them a soft squeeze. "Just because we get an annulment doesn't mean we have to stop seeing each other. I know it will be difficult, but maybe if we give your father what he wants, he will come around to the idea of us getting married in the future. Then we can have a proper wedding, surrounded by friends and family –"

Takara shook her head. "Otou-san will never come around to the idea of our marriage, Keitaro," she said, sighing as she pulled her hands out of his grasp and placed them on her lap. "He disowned me."

"What?"

"H-He gave me an ultimatum: get an annulment or I-I was no longer his daughter."

"Oh, Takara…"

A fresh batch of tears began streaming down her face as Keitaro pulled her closer, kissing the top of her head. "I'm so, so sorry," he whispered into her hair. "I never wanted to cause problems between you and you father."

"It's…not…your fault," Takara said, grasping the back of his shirt as she cried on his shoulder. "He's the one…who can't see…how happy…you…make me…"

"Kondo-sama is angry. You almost died last night, and he blames me because of it. He may have said some things in the heat of the moment, but maybe once he has a few days to cool down…"

Takara appreciated Keitaro trying to make her feel better, but she knew her father. He could be incredibly stubborn when he wanted to be. The only way he would forgive her was if she agreed to the annulment, but that wasn't an option she was willing to consider. She wanted to remain Keitaro's wife more than anything.

Even if it meant cutting her father out of her life forever.

Pulling back, Takara swiped her arm over her eyes. "It's okay, Keitaro," she said, forcing herself to smile. "As long as we're together, I'll be happy."

"Are you sure?"

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, her smile becoming more genuine.

"Positive."

DISCLAIMER: Sailor Moon is the property of Naoko Takeuchi.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: I hope you enjoyed this "missing" chapter of Spirit of Fire!