Disclaimer: "Sailor Moon" and all associated characters are the property of Naoko Takeuchi and an assortment of media corporations. Any original characters are mine, but who really cares about that, honestly?

"As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly..."

Part One of Two

Being a Holiday Story in Several Parts, in which Tsukino Usagi and Chiba Mamoru undergo a serious threat to their Miracle Romance, Criminal Elements make themselves known, Sailor Pluto meddles with the flow of Time and History, a new Villain is unleashed, and various characters undergo Trials and Tribulations of diverse kinds.

by Sophia Prester

Rated PG-13 for suggestive language and duct tape.

Foreword: Culinary Conventions

In comic stories concerning the preparation of a turkey, one of the characters almost always ends up with an arm firmly lodged inside the cavity of the uncooked bird. For some reason, it is always harder to get the arm ~out~ than ~in~. In cases involving sufficiently large birds (twenty pounds and up), chances are that some poor soul will wind up staggering around the kitchen like an extra from 'Night of the Living Dead' with his or her head jammed into a raw, bacteria-laden tom-turkey.

For some reason, many people find this sort of thing humorous.

Nothing of that sort happens in this story. Fate had other, far grimmer things ordained for the preparation of this bird.

Another thing readers may also notice about stories about cooking--holiday cooking in particular--is that the majority of them lack a certain element of suspense. Stories about holiday cooking traditionally extol the values of hearth, home, and family tradition. They produce in the reader a warm, fuzzy, and nostalgic feeling. Families reunite, mothers hug their children, people sing sentimental old songs and commit random acts of baking, epiphanies break out right and left, and everyone realizes that the strange old man who lives in the creepy house down the street is simply misunderstood and lonely, and not the wanted-in-five-states serial-killer who was recently profiled on "America's Most Wanted."

In short, there is little about cooking a holiday turkey that can induce fear, dread, angst, and panic.*

Therefore, let me take a moment to reassure the reader that this story ~will~ contain genuine suspense. For example:

Around three o' clock on the day the majority of this story takes place, Usagi and Mamoru will find themselves trussed up not unlike a pair of turkeys, appropriately enough. They have been tied to a pair of metal chairs that have then been securely lashed back to back. As far as they can tell, they are somewhere on the upper floor of an abandoned warehouse. Smoke is rising up through the floorboards. The fire on the lower floors has made the place excruciatingly hot, and it is growing hotter still. Our two heroes will have spent the past hour or so trying to figure out a way to escape. None of these ways will have proven successful. A few have proven downright painful.

By the way--the reader may wish to note that at that particular point, Usagi and Mamoru both have approximately only five minutes left to live.

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*Unless your mother-in-law is coming to dinner.

Part One: Recipe for Disaster

During one of her regular forays to the Gates of Time*, Sailor Pluto caught a glimpse of this probable future. She blinked a few times and rubbed her eyes, but the image was still hanging there in the open gate, less than a foot from the right door-jamb. If she was interpreting things correctly, all of this would occur in less than twenty-four hours.

She sighed and replayed the sequence several times, watching as Usagi and Mamoru come to an unpleasant and fiery end.

This was ~not~ good. Either Usagi or Mamoru (and preferably both) had to survive to found Crystal Tokyo (or Crystal Shanghai, or Crystal Kyoto, or Crystal Vancouver or...) and make sure that at least a remnant of the human race survived into the next millennium.

Something had to be done.

Oh, the others objected to her meddling whenever they found out about it. They would go on and on about free will and freedom of choice and the importance of learning from one's own mistakes, blah, blah, blah. Pluto would always apologize sincerely and promise never to do it again. So far, none of the others had noticed that she kept one set of fingers firmly crossed behind her back. She felt a little guilty about it, but there was no other way, really.

There were billions of possible futures. Out of those, the number of futures that ~didn't~ end with Earth as a toxic heap of space-slag by the year 2025 was in the low double digits and growing smaller all the time.

Most people, if confronted with statistics like these, would bid a fond farewell to freedom of choice and sign up for the slag-free retirement plan.

Still, as Pluto recognized, there was something in the human psyche that liked to think it was capable of making intelligent decisions. The only problem with that was that few humans had the kind of perspective needed to make truly ~long-term~ plans.

She reached out and put one hand in the fiery image while placing the other at the point in the gate that represented the Eternal Now. Silver threads flashed between her hands, looping around each other in an elaborate cat's cradle of cause and effect. Pulling on one string moved a host of others in surprising ways. By studying these patterns, Pluto could figure out how to manipulate things to ensure that a certain future did or did not happen.

The simplest and most logical thing to do would be to call Minako and tell her not to pull the lever, but when Pluto tested the consequences of that action, the threads shifted and threw the world into a completely unacceptable future. Hmm.

Pluto continued to twitch her fingers, moving one thread of events here, then there, then over to somewhere else. Her face grew grim. Solution after solution either fell through or only made things worse. Others sent the potential future spiraling into unreadable chaos.

She tried everything she could think of, and even threw in some random changes just in case one of those set off a chain reaction of events. In each and every case, something completely random cropped up that snapped the other threads back into place, leading right back to the scenario in the burning warehouse.

The only difference she could safely effect was that in one possible future, Mamoru was wearing a green shirt, and in another, a purple shirt. The pants were a lost cause. Pluto made note of this, even though it had no bearing on the more crucial issue, i.e. dead or not dead. Assuming that he survived the next twenty-four hours, someone would have to take that boy aside and test him for color blindness.

She tried a few more combinations of causes and effects and shook her head in disbelief. She had checked the gates just yesterday! There wasn't even the slightest hint of a disaster like this one. How could things have changed so quickly? Unless...

Pluto's stomach lurched and heaved, and not because of the questionable sushi she'd had for lunch. Cautiously, she brushed aside all the silver threads, not minding the havoc that this caused in the image of the potential future. She was looking for something specific, and desperately hoping not to find it. The queasy feeling started to fade as she moved through the web, seeing no sign of her quarry. Then, she pulled away one last clump of threads.

"Oh, bother..."

The questionable sushi executed a triple gainer, and nearly reached escape velocity.

There it was. The Cord of Inevitability.

One golden thread had been tucked away among the silver. Other threads wrapped and curved around it, but the golden cord itself remained straight as a ruler. She sighed. The damned things never showed up until the not so proverbial Last Minute. The last time she'd seen one of the little bastards was right before the fall of the Silver Millennium. It meant that nothing but nothing could change the outcome she'd seen. Any attempt to divert the Cord itself would only make things worse.

If there was one thing Pluto wasn't, oddly enough, it was a fatalist. She would find a loophole, or make one if push came to shove. Time travel was extremely risky and the side effects were often worse than the cure, but in this case the risk might be justifiable. She slid one hand upstream from the Eternal Now.

No. No matter how hard she pushed, the Cord of Inevitability forced her hand back to the Now. There was no way she could keep Usagi and Mamoru from winding up in that warehouse without leading to even greater calamity.

Wait a minute... She looked more closely at where the Cord of Inevitability ended. It was so tiny that she'd almost missed it, but there was a tiny gap between the end of the Cord and the bit where Usagi and Mamoru actually expired. That tiny gap represented a window of opportunity that was probably no wider than five minutes. Five minutes would give her enough time to stage a dramatic rescue, wouldn't it?

She moved her hand further down the timestream to check the repercussions of such a rescue, and her eyes flew open in shock.

There was only one intricately wrought chain of events that wouldn't end in disaster. It would be nearly impossible to pull it off, but if she did...

If she could get it ~just~ right...

The number of positive futures, which had dwindled so frighteningly over the past century, practically exploded. She followed the lines of possibility even further into the future and watched in awe as the number of positive--no, paradisiacal--futures grew exponentially.

She had never been given another opportunity so golden as this! Now all she had to do was find out how to re-create the specific conditions that would allow this future. She looked at the threads carefully, testing each cause, studying each effect, trying to figure out what had to be done. Ah... There it was! All she had to do was...

"You have ~got~ to be kidding me!"

She checked, double-checked, stepped away from the timestream and poured herself a stiff drink, then checked one last time. The results were exactly the same.

She shrugged. Well, if that's what had to be done, that's what had to be done. She slipped back into the world of Linear Time, and transformed back to Meiou Setsuna, graduate student. As soon as she transformed, she grabbed her purse, pulled on her winter coat, and headed out. She had a very full twenty-two and a half hours ahead of her.

First stop, the arcade. She had only fifteen minutes to get there, or all would be lost before she even got started.

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*Along with the usual checking up on the due progress of history, being Guardian of the Gates of Time also involved a fair amount of dusting and the occasional application of WD40 to the hinges.

Part Two: A Dinner Invitation

Christmas was only five days away. Even though it was a Western holiday, it had become quite popular in Japan as an excuse to decorate anything that stood still, to give and get presents, and to eat oneself silly.

Earlier that week, the four Senshi who went to Juuban High had learned some traditional Christmas recipes in Home Ec. Usagi and Minako had struggled through the lesson, only barely managing to produce something edible.* Ami did everything according to directions, and got an 'A' for the class, which surprised no one.

Makoto not only did a fabulous job as usual, she'd also been struck with inspiration. When the five Inner Senshi got together at the arcade after school, she told them of her idea. To her great surprise, her suggestion was not met with cries of enthusiasm.

"Come on, guys! You all were just whining about not having any plans for tomorrow night!"

For some reason, the other four were uncomfortable with Makoto's suggestion. This discomfort was made worse by the fact that they didn't know why they felt uncomfortable in the first place.**

Makoto, too, felt a sense of unidentifiable dread, but it had been covered up by her excitement over the possibility of having her 'family' over for a nice traditional meal, even if it was a tradition from another country. Now, the dread returned, and she almost said 'never mind' to the whole thing, but no! This was now a matter of culinary pride! Of principle! Would Escoffier have backed down? Julia Child? Emeril? Chairman Kaga? No, they would not!

"You guys don't have any problem with celebrating Christmas, do you? Come on! Where's that good old holiday spirit?"

The other four exchanged glances, each one hoping that someone else would be the one to voice an objection before they were all roped in to something they'd rather not do.

Just before things reached the point where things would be said and feelings would be hurt, Ami looked up as if she'd spotted someone.

She greeted their savior joyfully. "Hello, Setsuna! What brings you here?"

"Oh, I just thought I'd stop by and see if you were here," Setsuna said breezily. "I hope I didn't interrupt anything."

"We're just talking about having an American-style Christmas dinner," Makoto said, eager for ~someone~ to tell her that her idea was a good one. "I was thinking tomorrow night, since it's the weekend and everyone already has plans for Christmas Eve."

"That sounds lovely," Setsuna said. "Do let me know if you need any help."

Makoto smiled. At least Setsuna appreciated her brilliant idea. "Well, we haven't exactly decided if we're doing anything yet," she said, giving the stink-eye to the others, "but if we do, you and the others are definitely invited."

Or, perhaps, she could just ditch the other four and go hang out with the Outer Senshi. They were all about the cool, anyhow.

"Thank you," Setsuna said, as unshakably calm and smiling as ever. "Personally, I think it sounds like a wonderful idea. Just call us and let us know the details. By the way, do any of you know of a sporting-goods store in the area? I've got some last-minute shopping to do."

Rei blinked in surprise. "Last minute? You've got five days left until Christmas."

"It's always later than you think," Setsuna said grimly.

Minako told Setsuna how to get to one of the larger stores in the area. Setsuna thanked her graciously, and made her farewells.

Makoto gave the rest of the group one last pleading look. "C'mon guys! It'll be fun. I'll do most of the cooking."

They all thought about it for a moment. Despite Setsuna's enthusiasm, they still felt a strange resistance to the idea, as they might feel a strange resistance to going skinny-dipping in the jellyfish exhibit at the aquarium. But it was ~Christmas~, each of them told herself. It was a ~party~! It was free food, for goodness' sake!

"Oh, why not?"


"I'm in!"

"You're always in when it's free food, Usagi! It sounds fun, though. Let's do it!"

Makoto smiled blissfully. There was nothing she liked better than cooking for her dearest friends. Then, precisely fifteen minutes after Setsuna had left her house to rush to the arcade, the girls gathered up their things, said their goodbyes, and went their separate ways.

Well, the die has been cast, ladies and gentlemen. The Rubicon has been crossed, the first ball is in play, the cat is out of the bag and peeing on the couch, the clock has started ticking, Elvis has left the building.

There are only twenty-two hours left in which to avert Doomsday.

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*This was not entirely their fault. Their group had been assigned the traditional American holiday dish of 'green-bean-casserole with crunchy onions and cream of fill-in-the-blank,' which would stretch the boundaries of 'edible' even if prepared by Jacques Pepin.

**Although Rei was the only true psychic in the group, literary convention allows any or all major characters to receive vague presentiments of doom when things are about to start circling the drain.

Part Three: The Seafood Course

Setsuna had little knowledge of fish other than what she had seen in an aquarium or in the middle of a sushi roll. This made buying a fishing net a somewhat difficult situation.

The clerk at the sporting-goods store wasn't making the situation any easier.

"You want a net that can hold a ten-kilo fish?" he asked with a 'lady-are- you-kidding-me' drawl in his voice.

"Let's say twelve kilo, just to be safe. Twelve kilos and...and a real fighter."

He looked her over nice and slowly, finally making eye contact a good twelve inches below her actual eye level. "What kind of fish are we talking about, exactly?"

Um... Fishy fish? She hadn't come here expecting an exam! She thought back to last night's dinner. "Sea bass?"

"Sea bass?" He raised one eyebrow in a way that made her want to Dead Scream him into a grease spot on the wall.

"~Irritable~ sea bass," she snapped.

The clerk looked up and he saw in her eyes the promise of a world of utter darkness and despair, a world where the ruling class would make your average Fascist look like St. Francis of Assisi on an ecstasy buzz. It was a look that told him that the world was strapped into a hand basket, poised on the starting blocks and ready to sprint straight down the good intention paved road into Hell. If this happened, the look said to the clerk, it would be All His Fault.

When it looked as if he was about to pass out, Setsuna sighed and looked away. "Just sell me the damn net, okay?"

Part Four: Leftovers

Mamoru looked at the calendar, but no matter how hard he stared, it would not change. Only five days left until Christmas, and then there was New Year's, lying in wait just around the corner with a lead pipe hidden behind its back. Two big, unavoidable, expectation-laden days were coming straight for him.

It was the end of his world as he knew it*.

If he didn't propose to Usa-ko sometime during the holiday season, he was a dead man**.

The problem was, he had already proposed to Usa-ko--sort of. Technically, he hadn't, but everyone knew that's what he was trying to do when everything went completely pear-shaped.

Galaxia couldn't have had worse timing if she'd planned it that way.

He'd meant for it to be a sweet, romantic proposal: he was going away for a whole year and Usa-ko was taking the parting hard. As for him, he wasn't ~quite~ ready to be engaged, but he figured that hey, a year should be plenty of time for him to get used to the whole idea. Bumping up the timing of the engagement wouldn't hurt him, and it would definitely help Usa-ko. It would give her something to hang onto while he was gone. He'd run through the whole scenario several times in his head, and each time he rehearsed the proposal, he'd been even more convinced that he was doing the right thing.

At first, everything had gone according to plan. Right before saying goodbye, he kissed her and slipped a ring onto the appropriate finger. He took a moment to compose his thoughts before speaking.

(So long, and by the way, here's an engagement ring so you don't get nervous and paranoid because I'm going to be gone for an entire year and no doubt accosted by beautiful American coeds.)

He'd never cheat on Usagi (at least, he had not been presented with anything close to sufficient temptation up to that point). He also knew that ~she~ knew that--most of the time. With any luck the presence of that ring on her finger would remind her that a) he loved her, b) he loved her enough to file tax returns with her for the rest of their natural lives, and c) that due to the fact that they were officially engaged, Makoto would gladly hunt him down and carve out his lungs with a melon-baller should he stray.

Finally, he gathered his courage and uttered the words:

"Usa-ko, will you..."


After that it was all over except for the evil laughter, an epic battle, and a convenient resurrection.

Needless to say, things were a bit more traumatic than romantic. Plus, there was that infernal "Usa-ko, will you..." just hanging in the air between them. The ring could have been just another random gift of jewelry.

"Usa-ko, will you water my plants while I'm gone?"

"Usa-ko, will you be too upset if I start dating every eligible girl I can find?"

"Usa-ko, will you duck into this supply closet with me for a quickie because I've got twenty minutes before I have to go to my gate?"

Not that he would have said anything along those lines (although item No. 3 was certainly lurking in the more primitive parts of his brain), but Usagi was not exactly a champion at 'fill in the blanks.'

She most likely ~assumed~ it was a proposal, but she didn't ~know~, and that was what was driving them both crazy.

It wasn't like they ~weren't~ going to get married. After all, it was pretty much foreordained.

As he hung the calendar back on the wall, he thought about that. Maybe that was the problem. He knew that he would be married, become king, have a child, be encased in ice for a bit, and live for thousands of years.

It was enough to drive even the most commitment-phobic male round the bend with despair.

Maybe, he thought, he could put the proposal off for a little while longer. Usagi's birthday was a little over six months away. If he dropped a few hints to Ami or one of the others that he planned to wait until she was eighteen (and why not twenty-one?) to propose, then he could by himself a little more time to get used to the idea.

In the meantime, he'd just have to live with those three little words hanging over his head.

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* Later on, he would come to appreciate the irony of this statement in a nervous laughter, eye-twitching sort of way.

** Not literally. Pluto wouldn't have permitted it. She would, however, allow a generous amount of maiming.

Part Five: Make Sure that All Ingredients Are Fresh

In the wee hours of the morning, Setsuna snuck out of the house and headed back to the ruins of the Delta area where they'd battled Pharaoh 90. Most of the land had been reclaimed and cleared out. The steel frameworks of future office and apartment buildings stood out only slightly darker than the night sky behind them, but the plot of land that once held Mugen Academy was eerily empty.

The official story was that gallons of unidentified toxins and biohazardous waste from Tomoe's lab had left much of that section too dangerous to build on. The truth of the matter was that after a few unpleasant backhoe incidents, developers rightly figured that tenants would object to things like their hair dryers and rice cookers suddenly coming to life and trying to extract their pure hearts.

A quick trip to the Gates had allowed her to replay the events of that last battle in detail. She now knew ~exactly~ where to find what she was looking for. She used the Time Staff to pry away some chunks of concrete, and after that it was the work of a minute to exhume the object and scoop it into an empty film canister.

Once she was done, she left as quickly as she could. This place gave her the screaming heebie-jeebies.

Part Six: Planning the Menu

Early Saturday morning, Makoto made an unfortunate discovery. She had an extensive menu already laid out--cranberry sauce with nuts, cranberry sauce without nuts, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, three kinds of pie, dinner rolls, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, sweet potatoes without marshmallows, and, of course, the turkey*. She had what had to have been the largest, plumpest turkey in all of Tokyo taking up the entire lower half of her refrigerator.

What she also had was precisely ~one~ oven. To make matters worse, it was an oven that was considered to be an appropriate size for a one-bedroom apartment. In other words, even if she could figure out some way to time the cooking of all the dishes, the only way she could get the turkey in there was with the application of a crowbar and some grease.

She thought over her problem for a moment. If she timed things correctly, she could get all of the desserts and side-dishes ready using just her oven, microwave, and cooktop.

That just left the turkey. Unless she wanted to do it up as a stir-fry, there was no way she could cook the thing in her apartment.

Maybe it was the Cord of Inevitability working its will, but something reminded Makoto that Minako's parents were out of town for the weekend. Since Minako's own cooking skills didn't go much past 'peel back film and heat on HIGH for five minutes,' chances were that the oven at the Aino household would be unoccupied long enough to cook a turkey.

It took a moment or two to convince Minako that this was a good, or even workable idea. Makoto had to explain that she would come over there with the turkey all ready to go in the oven. It was a just a matter of putting the thing in the oven and ~leaving it alone~ for a few hours. Makoto explained that she would come over periodically to check on the bird and perform a few operations involving a baster and other complicated culinary equipment. There was absolutely no chance that Minako would get her arm or head stuck inside the turkey.

"There's nothing to it!" she exclaimed. "What on earth could possibly go wrong?"

If an unusually prescient historian had been present in Makoto's kitchen just then, those words would have gone down in history alongside other phrases as "God Himself could not sink the Titanic," and "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist-"

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*Although Makoto wanted this meal to be as traditional as possible, she drew a firm line** at orange gelatin 'salad' with raisins and grated carrots.

**More like a trench, actually. With concertina wire and mines.

Part Seven: Kitchen Supplies

At around the same time Makoto had discovered her deficiency of ovens, Haruka was just sitting down to breakfast and a newspaper. The sound of Michiru's violin filtered into the dining room. The relaxed atmosphere was ruined, however, by the frantic sound of kitchen drawers and cabinets being opened and shut in frustration.

"Need any help, Setsuna?" Haruka asked. Setsuna was now rummaging through the pantry, and muttering darkly to herself.

"Don't we have any duct tape around here? I could have sworn I saw some the other day."

Haruka flipped to the next page of her newspaper. "It should be in my nightstand, if you need to borrow some," she called out.

"Thanks." Setsuna walked out of the kitchen, but two seconds later, poked her head back in.

"Haruka," she asked, "why do you keep the duct tape in your bedroom?"

Haruka made a valiant attempt to hide behind her newspaper.

"On second thought, don't answer that question. I think I'd be much better off not knowing," Setsuna said.

Part Eight: Bake in a Moderate Oven Until Done

Makoto looked around her little kitchen with a well-earned sense of pride. The pies were in the oven, the sweet potato casseroles were all assembled and ready to bake, the dough for the home-made dinner rolls was tucked away for its first rising, and all of the veggies were peeled, chopped, and ready to cook.

The turkey was now safely ensconced in the oven at Minako's house. It had been cooking for nearly an hour, and in a few minutes, Makoto would leave to go check on her prize poultry and lovingly bathe it in its own juices.

The worst of the day's work was over. Aside from mashing the potatoes and checking on the turkey, and a few last-minute things she needed to pick up from the grocery store, there was little else to do but relax and get ready to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

Of course, thanks to Murphy's Law of Narrative Irony, that's when the phone rang. Makoto picked it up. "Hello?"

"Uh, Mako-chan..."

It was Minako, and her voice had a guilty-as-hell quaver to it that chilled Makoto to the very depths of her soul.

"Do I really want to know what happened?" she asked, her voice barely rising above a whisper.

"I think the oven's broken," Minako said, nearly giggling with nervousness. "At least, there's lots of smoke coming up from the burners, and--okay, I'm not all that good in the kitchen, but even ~I~ know that's not normal."

Makoto frantically told herself that the most likely explanation was that the smoke was coming from something that had spilled on the oven floor. Even so, she knew she'd better go check things out for herself.

Ten minutes later, she was at Minako's house, standing in the middle of a haze-filled kitchen, trying to get a grip on the true horror of the situation.

Minako opened a window and tried to shoo out the smoke, while Makoto continued to stare at the oven in disbelief.

"You pulled the lever," she said in a monotone.

Minako looked at her as if she was crazy. "You've said that like eighteen times now. What's the big deal?"

"You pulled the lever." Monotone was quickly giving way to shrill and hysterical. Makoto pointed at the knob at the upper left corner of the oven door. Normally, it should have been at the upper ~right~ corner of the door.

"Well, duh!" Minako said, mildly offended. "That's what you're supposed to do, right? I mean, that's what you do when you start the dishwasher. I didn't want anything to fall out of the oven while the turkey was cooking."

"You. Pulled. The. Lever." Makoto said through clenched teeth. Hysterical had now been roughly shoved out of the way by seriously pissed-off.

Self-cleaning ovens are, in theory, a wonderful thing. Instead of requiring the use of elbow grease and toxic chemicals, the oven simply burns away any spills and splatters that may have marred its insides. The way this is accomplished is quite simple: once the owner uses the switch to lock the oven closed, the oven heats itself to a temperature of anywhere from 800 to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

It then remains at that temperature for approximately four hours.

With the simple flip of a switch, Minako had transformed her mother's new oven into a handy home crematorium*.

Once Makoto calmed down enough, she and Minako launched a frantic rescue attempt. Blasting open the oven with a Supreme Thunder Dragon was out of the question--Minako's parents had just remodeled the kitchen.

They jiggled the lever, pulled on the door, thumped mightily on the top of the range, cursed at the thing, tried sneaking up on the oven to see if they could take it by surprise, but nothing they tried could get the oven to unlock. Eventually, they called Ami. If anyone could solve their problem, she could.

They explained the situation to her, and there was a tense silence on the other end of the line that was only broken by the faint wheezing sound of someone trying to contain hysterical laughter.

"Did you check the owner's manual?" Ami finally asked. To her credit, she did not let slip so much as a single giggle. Minako thanked her then went out to the garage to root through the trash until she found the manual.

The owner's manual told them that even if they unplugged the oven, the door would not open until the oven had reached a more moderate temperature. According to the owner's manual, this was something along the lines of 540 degrees.

"Can't you come over here and blast it with a Shabon Spray Freezing?" Makoto whined.

Ami then launched into a description of what would happen if something that hot was suddenly super-cooled, and Minako emphatically vetoed the whole idea. She would much rather deal with an enraged Makoto than a mother who came home to find a pile of warped and twisted metal where her brand-new oven used to be.

The two girls knelt in front of the stove, helplessly watching as thick, greasy smoke boiled off the remains of the turkey. Some of the bones had started to incandesce.

"Can't you just tell everyone it's Cajun blackened turkey?" Minako asked.

"That's not what 'blackened' means!" Makoto growled. "Besides, by the time the oven cools down, it won't be 'blackened.' It'll be a turkey briquette!"

"Aren't those the little dumpling things with gravy, 'cause if so, that doesn't sound too bad..."

"Those are ~cro~quettes!" Makoto said, thumping her head repeatedly against the oven door. Fortunately, her bangs kept her from getting any serious contact burns.

"I don't suppose we could just scrape away the burnt bits..."

Makoto looked through the oven window. The tips of the drumsticks had just burst into flame.

"It's ~all~ burnt bits," she said gloomily.

For a moment, she thought about canceling the whole thing, but then what would she do with all of the food back at her apartment?

"You stay here and make sure your house doesn't burn down," she told Minako after a while. "Meanwhile, I've got to get hold of another turkey and find a way to cook it."

She called the butcher's shop to reserve a turkey, then tried to think of who she could call to go pick it up for her.

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*As noted earlier, Setsuna could have called Minako and explained the bit about levers and self-cleaning ovens, but there would have been consequences. Namely, that through a series of circumstances too complicated to explain here, this would have led to Usagi and Haruka running away together to the United States and founding Crystal Detroit. Their rule would be more than a little chaotic, and a fair amount of rap music was involved. For a variety of reasons, Setsuna did not consider this an acceptable outcome.

Part Nine: Stuffing

Mamoru and Usagi walked down the street together, Usagi's hand resting in the crook of Mamoru's arm. She had talked him into going out for a walk that day anyway, and somehow running errands for Makoto had gotten added to the mix. Usagi was prattling on and on about this wonderful dinner Makoto had planned for them while Mamoru was paying rapt attention to a piece of paper he held in his left hand. Directions to the butcher's shop were written out on it in Usagi's loopy handwriting.

Fortunately, Usagi was so entranced by her monologue and by all the decorations in Juuban's shopping district that she didn't notice that her boyfriend/fiance/predestined love was deliberately not looking at her.

If Mamoru looked at her too often, he couldn't help but notice the anxious hope in her eyes, and the devilish sparkle in the is-it-or-isn't-it-an- engagement ring that she continued to wear on the third finger of her left hand. It was the hand that currently rested on his arm, and the diamond threw up glints of strangely colored light that reminded him that if he looked up too often, things would only be worse.

Every storefront in Juuban was decorated to the point where flying buttresses and guy wires would be needed to maintain structural integrity if even one more wreath or glowing Santa face was hung. Flashing lights in every color outlined the architectural lines of the buildings. It ~should~ have been pretty and festive, but as each shopkeeper had been responsible for his or her own lights, the colors of all the different lights didn't always match. A store decked out in flickering pink and gold might be right next to a store outlined in pulsating ultra-blue lights that were more suited to a less-than-legal rave party than Santa-san's Holiday Village.

Even worse, all of the flashing lights were ever-so-slightly out of synch with each other, so that anyone who looked at them too directly would be in danger of going into seizures.

Maybe, if he was lucky, they'd be attacked by another snow demon bent on world domination. It was as good a way as any to distract oneself from the holiday cheer that everyone was bound and determined to cram down his throat.

"I think we're supposed to turn left at the next corner," Usagi said. "Makoto said to keep an eye out for the toy store."

Mamoru knew exactly where the toy store was, as he had stopped by there on his way to class to stare in horrified fascination. The store's entire display window was occupied by an animatronic display of doe-eyed children in 'native costumes' from throughout the world. Mamoru sincerely doubted that any Little Dutch Boy dressed like that any more, not unless his parents ~wanted~ him to get the crap beat out of him on the playground. The animatronic children lurched from side to side in some sort of rhythm while a tinny song about the virtues of world peace and buying lots of toys was piped from their ever-smiling mouths.

As usual, he paused to gaze in wonder at the sheer atrocity of the whole display. After a moment of indulging his fascination, he forced himself to turn away and keep walking. If he looked at the Multi-Ethnic Children of the Damned too long, he tended to get seasick.

"Are you having a nice Christmas, Mamo-chan?" Usagi asked, worry evident in her voice. She must have noticed the way he'd stopped to stare slack-jawed at the store window and jumped to a completely wrong conclusion.

He looked down at her, smiling desperately. "Of course I am," he lied through clenched teeth. "Why wouldn't I be?"

Commitment and relationship worries aside, he'd come to dread Christmas like no other holiday on the calendar.

Thanks to writers like Charles Bloody Dickens and the host of saccharine Christmas specials that had invaded like a plague from the West, Usagi and the others had come to think of Christmas as a time when ~everyone~ should get together with friends and family to sing songs, drink wassail (whatever the hell that was), and be merry, whether they wanted to or not.

Mamoru had few close friends, but that was simply because he was one of nature's introverts. Being an orphan, he obviously had no family. Somehow, his friends had gotten into their heads that Little Orphan Mamoru must have had unspeakably miserable Christmases growing up, and they were bound and determined to set things right. They quite obviously pictured him shivering alone in an attic to which he had been confined for not scrubbing his nails properly, or only having a second helping of cold gruel with an extra pinch of salt as a special Christmas treat, and receiving as his only present a new set of rags to replace the old set he'd worn since the last Christmas.

He'd tried to explain that aside from having to deal with roommates and communal bathrooms, life at the orphanage was actually rather pleasant. Still, the others couldn't let go of the concept that feeding time at the orphanage consisted of bulldog-faced matrons hurling old soup-bones, wilted cabbage, and stale pumpernickel into a crowd of snarling, feral children.

To the contrary, one head cook at the orphanage could have given Makoto a run for her money, and had later gone on to head up the restaurant at a local four-star hotel. Mamoru had actually gained ten pounds the year that cook was in residence.

Also, orphanage Christmases were far from miserable. On any given year, the boys could count on tickets to sold-out shows or concerts, an extra-special dinner with prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes, and literal truckloads of toys donated by kind-hearted people from across the country. In short, he had made out like a bandit.

To be honest, there were times when he really missed the place. Nothing was expected of him except a few politely worded thank-you notes. No one was so desperate for him to have a good time that they nearly suffocated him in the process.

He felt Usagi lean her head against his arm, and he couldn't help smiling down at her warmly. He always felt a pleasant sort of ache in his heart whenever he thought about how much she trusted him. Maybe if he didn't feel like everyone was expecting him to be madly in love with her, he could let go of this last shred of resistance he felt towards letting her into his life. Maybe if he wasn't staring down the barrel of a thousand years of blessed togetherness...

He shook his head to rid himself of those thoughts. Pluto had said that the future was not set in stone, and that he really shouldn't take things for granted. Still, he'd met his future daughter and seen Crystal Tokyo with his own eyes. Things looked pretty darned definite from this end.

Just when he'd gotten to the truly melancholy part of his musings, he felt a sharp tug on his arm.

"We're here, Mamo-chan," Usagi said a little more sharply than he would have expected. She must have been trying to get his attention for a while.

He made a show of studying the piece of paper. "Oh, yes. I suppose we are."

"Mamo-chan, is everything all right? You seem awfully distracted."

Damn. She probably thought he was planning something. Like a formal engagement. "Um... Sorry about that." He yawned ostentatiously. "I didn't sleep well last night."

"Uh-huh." Clearly she wasn't buying that excuse.

"Well, let's go on in. You said that Makoto called ahead for us?"

Usagi nodded, and walked into the shop as he held the door for her. Somehow in the past three minutes she had gone from concerned to slightly peeved. Had she said anything to him while he was wallowing in his own thoughts?

He sighed. If she had, and he had somehow offended her, chances were she was going to make him figure out the nature of his transgression on his own.

Merry Christmas, Mamo-chan, he thought bleakly.

The shop was empty of other customers, but two men stood behind the glass showcase, arguing in hushed tones. One man looked convincingly like a butcher, what with the blood-stained white apron and jaunty paper hat. The other man wore a leather jacket and a silk shirt. He was also wearing enough gold chains around his neck to be a definite hazard if he got too close to the meat grinder. When the two men heard the door close behind Mamoru, they turned to glare at him in unison.

"Can we help you?" the man in the butcher's apron snapped. From the tone of his voice, he could just as well have been saying "would you please go step in front of a moving bus?"

"Yes," said Usagi. She seemed completely oblivious to the hostility radiating from the two men. "We're here to pick up a turkey. Kino Makoto called ahead to order it for us."

The two of them just stared at Mamoru and Usagi through narrowed eyes. Mamoru fought the urge to take a giant step back. Clearly these two had not received the memo that the theme of the season was Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.

Finally, the man in the leather jacket grunted something impolite, then reached into the case and grabbed a frighteningly large turkey. The butcher continued to stare at Mamoru as if trying to drill holes through him. Instead of returning the man's gaze, Mamoru kept a wary eye on the cleavers and boning knives that lay oh-so-conveniently within the man's reach.

Leather-jacket hoisted the turkey up to the counter, and as he did so the man in the butcher's apron lunged for him.

"Not that one, you idiot!" he yelled. With that, he tried to grab the turkey. All he ended up doing was knocking the turkey from Leather-jacket's hands. The turkey flew over the counter and hit the floor with such force that the paper bag of giblets shot out of the bird's ass as if from a cannon. The bag struck Usagi's feet and burst wide open.

Mamoru couldn't be certain, but he didn't think that turkey guts were supposed to be that sparkly.

Usagi looked at the mixture of diamonds, emeralds, and gizzards that had spilled all over her new shoes.

Then she looked up at Mamoru. "Jewelry is romantic," she said coldly. "Raw meat is not."

The two men behind the counter were frozen in shock by what had just happened, but only for a second. The looks on their faces shifted to something more ominous, and Mamoru became even more aware of the array of cutlery at their disposal.

"You're smuggling jewels!" Usagi cried out, for once connecting the dots and coming up with a coherent picture. "How dare you use people's Christmas turkeys to commit felonious acts!" she exclaimed, launching into one of her traditional speeches before even starting her transformation.

Her hand went to her brooch and Mamoru came up with a snatch of verse suited to the situation as he briefly contemplated doing something heroic, but before either one could suit action to thought, the two of them were knocked unconscious*.

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* A frozen leg of lamb makes a surprisingly effective cudgel. It is also tasty when cooked with garlic and served with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon.

Part Ten: Setting the Table

According to Setsuna's projections, things were now happening in earnest. She hoped everything was together, or at least, together enough. Setsuna looked over her list one more time.

-Wash good china. Check.

-Extra chairs. Check.

-Polish silverware. Check.

-Aspirin. Check.

-Cloth napkins. In the laundry.

-Tablecloth. Ditto.

-Cake plate. Check.

-Make sure there are enough glasses. Check.

-Weak broth and crackers on hand for tomorrow. Check.

-New candles in candlesticks. Check.

-Holiday music in CD player. Check.

-Preheat oven. Check.

-Chloroform. Check.

So far, everything seemed to be in order. The rest was a matter of strategy and timing. First off, she had to make a couple of deliveries...

Part Eleven: Last Minute Shopping

"You know, I thought Usagi was getting better about this kind of thing," Makoto griped to Ami. "Why'd she have to choose today to flake out on us again?" The promised turkey had not arrived, and a call to the butcher shop indicated that the bird had never been picked up. Fortunately, Ami had agreed to pick up the bird and help Makoto run a few last-minute errands.

"It's the holidays. She probably got distracted by a shop display or something, and decided to buy us all Christmas presents. You know how she is around shiny objects," Ami said, trying to put Makoto at ease. "At least you had to go to the grocery store anyway."

"I guess," Makoto grumbled. At least Usagi was good about apologizing for things like this. It did occur to Makoto that she should be a little worried, but at the moment, all she could think about was the fact that she had to get this stupid turkey to the Outers' house right away if it was going to be cooked in time for dinner.

Thank goodness Michiru had been so amenable about letting her using the kitchen at the Outers' house. She'd even offered to let them have the dinner party at their house. It was bigger than Makoto's place, after all, and by some odd stroke of luck, Setsuna hadn't been able to sleep last night, and had washed all of the good china and polished all the silver just for the heck of it.

First Minako had cremated one turkey. Then, Usagi had decided to go all airheaded on them with the second. The third time had ~better~ be the charm, thought Makoto. What else could possibly go wrong?*

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* Unfortunately, Makoto had not been paying attention in Literature class on the day the concept of dramatic irony was taught. Otherwise, she would have known better.

Part Twelve: Season Well

The sidewalks were mobbed with holiday shoppers, so it was easy enough to approach Makoto and Ami unnoticed.

Setsuna watched carefully. Each girl held a shopping bag. Ami hugged hers to her chest, which could present a problem. Makoto, on the other hand, held hers by the handles so that it swung freely alongside her right leg. Setsuna looked more closely and nearly sagged in relief when she noticed that the contents of that bag were large and turkey-shaped. She pulled the hood of her coat up to shadow her face, and came up almost alongside the two girls.

She took the film canister she'd filled the other night and tipped its contents into Makoto's shopping bag. Then, she simply faded back into the crowd.

One dirty deed done, two left to go.


# # #

Author's Notes: I'm sorry to be posting this in two parts, but I wanted to get at least part of this up before the holidays were over. The rest of this is about 3/4 written and still needs to be beta-read. If all goes well, I'll have it up this weekend or shortly thereafter.

The bit with the self-cleaning oven is based on two actual incidents. In one, a domestically challenged husband made the same oven/dishwasher assumption that incinerated the turkey in this story. In the other, a graduate student in engineering(!) attempted to speed-cook a chicken.

The title of this story is taken from an episode of "WKRP in Cincinnati." Basically, someone at the station thought that dropping live turkeys from the station helicopter would be a festive thing to do for Thanksgiving. The results, as you can imagine, were not what this person expected.

Feedback is greatly appreciated. In fact, if you're in a feedback-giving sort of mood, you could even give feedback on my other stories as well. Yes, I am begging. I may as well be open and up front about it.