A Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.


Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2003 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2003 by Bill Kropfhauser.

As always, for those only familiar with the English dub:











Ryo Urawa=Greg

Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.


Makoto, Usagi, Minako and Ami sat at a table on the school grounds eating their lunches. By now each girl knew to keep her hands clear of Usagi's mouth as she shoveled her food in. As Makoto ate, she noticed Ami picking at her food.

"If you don't like your lunch, you can have some of mine," Makoto offered.

"No, this is fine," Ami smiled. "Thank you, though."

"I'll take it," Usagi said, rice dripping from her mouth.

"Where would you put it?" Minako goggled. "Do you have an auxiliary stomach?" Usagi stuck out her tongue, which had a few kernels of rice on it.

"I guess I'm just lost in thought," Ami alibied.

"Devastated because it's the last day of the term?" Minako gently mocked. "Going through test withdrawal already?"

"No," Ami said, embarrassed.

Usagi put down her chopsticks.

"Ami?" she asked, concerned.

"It's nothing you have to worry about," Ami said, putting on a pleasant face.

"You know what she needs?" Minako asked. She turned to Usagi and in unison they replied, "Shopping trip!" Makoto grinned and rolled her eyes.

"We'll meet first thing tomorrow morning and spend the day cruising the retail district," squealed Usagi. "Of course, we'll need Rei . . ."

"I can't," Ami interrupted. "I'm going out of town tomorrow."

"You're going to cram schools in other cities now?" goggled Minako, horrified. "Don't you think that's a LITTLE obsessive?"

"Said the girl who went to Osaka for dance lessons," smirked Makoto.


"Actually I'm traveling to Lake Biwa. I'm going to be spending some time with my father," Ami admitted.

"Ami, that's great!" Usagi beamed.

"I admit I'm a little nervous. This is the first time I've spent any length of time with him since he and my mother divorced."

"Really?" gaped Makoto.

"We've gotten together on holidays," Ami said reluctantly, "when he can get away. He and Mother still don't get along that well and he tends to stay away."

"Well then this is good for you," Usagi smiled, filled with anticipation. "It'll give him a chance to see how much his little girl has grown up. That's important to dads, you know." Usagi smirked proudly. "Especially my dad."

Ami smiled self-consciously. "I also have to tell him about - - Sailor Mercury." Sensing the sudden tension in the others, Ami continued hurriedly. "It's only fair I tell him. Mother knows, so he should know, too."

"Hey, whatever you decide is all right with us," Makoto reassured her. "How long are you going to be gone?"

"Three weeks," Ami said. "I'd love to stay longer, but, um - - well, cram school starts on the thirtieth."

Ami flushed as her friends sighed in unison.

* * * *

From the train station, Ami caught a bus to the remote wooded area by the lake. Walking through the woods from the bus stop on the highway, a suitcase in one hand and a backpack that contained a calculus text, a biology text and a spiral notebook in the other, Ami headed toward her father's cabin. She ignored the weight of the bags by marveling at the untouched beauty of the woods. It was a tiny part of Japan that had escaped the developer's bulldozer. Birds sang, the sun filtered through leaves and cast the ground in a kaleidoscope pattern and the air smelled so fresh and clean. As she walked, Ami was sorry she'd worn her black jeans instead of a short skirt. Jeans were the sensible choice, but the natural surroundings were making it harder and harder for her to feel sensible.

After a twenty-minute walk, Ami spotted the cabin. It was a modest one-story house built near the lakefront. Ami felt elation swelling in her and headed for the building. As she neared it, though, she noticed the front yard littered with discarded paper, empty tubes of paint and a broken easel. Stacked haphazardly on the porch were dozens of reference books, empty food containers and piles of newspapers. She recalled her mother often criticizing her father for being slovenly.

"Obviously without her around to keep after him, the problem has only gotten worse," Ami mused.

Setting her bags down, Ami knocked on the door. No answer came. She knocked again.

"Dad?" she inquired loudly. "It's Ami." No answer came.

Concerned, Ami moved to the side, hoping to see him through the window. There seemed to be no sign of life inside. The place was as disheveled as the outside and obviously lived in. Turning, she looked down a path next to a huge tree. It led to the lake shore. Sitting there painting was her father. Ami smiled to herself and ventured down the path.

Her father seemed a little rougher around the edges than she remembered. His face was decorated with a stubbly beard and his clothes looked several days old. Apparently cleaning up himself was as low a priority to him as cleaning up the house. He was a sturdy man, five foot eight and one hundred ninety pounds that was beginning to expand some around the waist. He still had his thick light colored hair, straight solid jaw and round frame glasses over piercing eyes that seemed to gather in everything. Before him was a canvas on an easel, an image of the sun beginning to set over the right shoulder of the mountain that guarded the far bank of the lake. Her father was in deep concentration, working orange strokes into the maroon that was already on the canvas.

"Hello, Dad," Ami smiled.

"Hi, Ami," her father replied distantly, his eyes never leaving the canvas. "I'm glad you made it safely. I'll be just a few minutes here."

Ami's gaze dropped to the ground with disappointment.

"I'll wait for you at the house," she whispered. She knew her father. When he was concentrating on capturing an image, he didn't want to be disturbed. Nothing else mattered - - particularly her. Ami turned to go.

"That's good," he mumbled, glancing from canvas to sunset and back. "I'll be up in a few minutes."

Once she made the yard again, Ami stooped down and began gathering up the discarded items littering the lawn. It wasn't that he didn't love her. She knew better. It was just that she was second to his art. Everything was second to his art. He and her mother used to get into huge arguments. She always wanted him to focus on their family. He didn't have to give up his art, just compartmentalize it. She was also after him to take a job with an advertising firm and make some money off of his considerable skill. At the time she wasn't as successful a pediatrician as she was now. Money was tight and he wasn't earning his fair share. She felt he was hiding from adulthood, hiding behind his art.

To him, though, she was asking him to sell out, to auction his talent and his artistic vision to the whims of the highest bidder. He had a need to show the world his view of it, a need to move people, to provoke emotions and reactions in them. She didn't understand that. She wouldn't understand it, refused to understand anything except money and success and conforming. She wanted him to compromise his artistic integrity and he wouldn't.

She also didn't understand that his need to paint was a consuming one that he had to answer. He loved them - - she should know that and not demand he demonstrate it constantly.

And while they argued, a timid little girl hid in her room and listened to the two people who meant the most to her go to war with each other. As they battled, she prayed they wouldn't make her choose between them. She prayed they would stop being angry with each other and just love each other and love her and be a secure family again.

"Goodness, Ami, you're seventeen now," the girl sniffed, wiping a tear from her eyes after dumping a load of refuse into a bag. "I thought you'd accepted what happened a long time ago."

Ninety minutes later the door slid open. Yoji Mizuno found his home clean and the scent of cooking food coming from the kitchen. He softly walked in and found his darling daughter cooking.

"It smells good," he offered.

"From the looks of it, I doubt you've had anything besides pre-packaged food for a while now," Ami replied, trying to keep up a pleasant front. "You know, Dad, subsisting on Ramen isn't very healthy."

"I accepted the fact that I'm a lousy cook a long time ago," he said, approaching her. Yoji embraced his daughter and felt her tense up in his arms. "I'm sorry. I probably don't smell all that good. Let me get cleaned up."

Ami continued cooking as Yoji moved to the bathroom. Before entering, he turned to her.

"I'm really glad to see you again," he said. "I can't believe how much you've grown."

Ami lowered her gaze, a shy smile creeping onto her lips. Yoji disappeared into the bathroom.

Both people ate dinner relatively quietly at first. Yoji began to realize there was a gulf between him and his daughter, one that had formed over time from the divorce to now. Ami had suspected it for some time.

"Are you still planning to be a doctor?" Yoji ventured. "I-I remember you telling me about that a while back."

"Yes, Dad," Ami replied politely. "I've already been accepted into several universities. It's just a question of which one I go to. I don't know which one to choose, but I still have time to decide."

"Well that's wonderful," he smiled. "Which ones?"

"Well, Tokyo University, for one. And there's Harvard, Oxford, The Sorbonne, Heidleberg," Ami rattled off. "Oh, and I just received an acceptance from Stanford and Johns Hopkins a few days ago. I'm still waiting to hear from Duke and Cambridge."

"R-Really," her father stammered, amazed. "You must be getting very good grades!"

Ami looked down. "I placed number one in all of Tokyo in the last round of tests."

"You should have written me."

"I did."

"Well I certainly would have remembered that. I guess I didn't get the letter." Seeing his daughter's disappointment, Yoji quickly scooped up some food and put it in his mouth. "This is very good, Ami."

"Thank you," she replied quietly.

"You've certainly grown up to be a multi-talented young woman."

"I picked up a few cooking tips from Makoto," Ami shrugged modestly.

"Yes, that's one of those friends you mentioned once - - the one you said was a good cook. I remember you writing about them, too. There was, um - - I'm sorry, Ami, you know how bad I am with names. There was the girl who was the miko and the one with the funny name."

"Rei is the miko," Ami said. "The one with the funny name is Usagi. And there's also Minako, the one who wants to be an idol."

"They must be good friends," her father smiled.

"They're the best friends I've ever had," she told him. "Life without them would be - - very depressing."

"I can tell. The twinkle in your eyes when you talk about them gives you away." Ami looked down, embarrassed. "I'm glad for you, Ami. We go through life and make a great many acquaintances. Friends, however, are a gift from the gods and it sounds like you've been well blessed."

"Yes, Dad, I have," Ami replied with pride.

"And how about that boy I remember you mentioning?" he asked, encouraged. "Are things getting serious between you two? What was his name - - Urawa?"

Ami sighed. "I'm - - not involved with Ryo any longer, Dad."

"You're not seeing him anymore?" he asked. Ami shook her head. "When did this happen?"

"Two years ago," Ami grimaced. She noticed her father stiffen.

"This is very good," he said quickly, taking another bite of dinner.

That night, Ami lay on her father's futon, her calculus text lying open across her chest. Her father had insisted she use his bed while he made other arrangements. His bedroom was as messy and cluttered as the rest of the house had been. She didn't have the energy to clean it tonight, but resolved to tackle it in the morning. Her hope to get some studying in had ended in failure. Despite every effort, her thoughts kept drifting back to their awkward reunion.

"I'm almost like a stranger to him," Ami mused privately. "We've drifted so far apart from each other since he left. I guess he still loves me. He may only do it out of obligation to a daughter, though. Clearly I'm not the most important thing in his life. I probably never was."

She gazed up in the low light at the paintings on the wall. The room was filled with art. Tranquil forest scenes intermingled with scenes of sunsets and mountain peaks that glowed vibrant and alive in the dimness due to the forceful reds and oranges that made up the pictures. Occasionally a portrait would pop up like a dandelion in grass. It was never anyone she recognized.

They were all splendid pieces. There was one thing Ami could never argue and that was her father's talent. He didn't just capture a landscape in oil, he seemed to improve on nature's work. You could study one of his paintings for hours and just when you thought you had it memorized, something new would catch your eye. Ami knew why. Each painting had passion. Her father left a little piece of himself in every work he displayed.

That's probably why there was never anything left for her.

"I'm not the most important think in his life," she whispered into the darkness. "They are."

The paintings gave no response.

"Well after all, Ami, this shouldn't be surprising behavior," she told herself, turning over. "Locking himself away from the world and devoting himself to his greatest passion isn't behavior you have room to criticize. I wonder if Mother or Usagi feels this way when I have my nose in a book and won't come out."

It was a legitimate rationalization. But it didn't do anything to ease the ache in her heart.

* * * *

Ami rose to a clatter in the kitchen. Getting up to investigate, she found her father scurrying around frantically. He was dressed in the same clothes he wore yesterday and was wolfing down a bowl of dry cereal. Once the bowl was finished, he let it drop into a pan loaded with other dishes and fished out a quart of milk from the refrigerator. Drinking directly from the carton, Yoji took a swallow. Pulling the carton away and making a face, he spat out the spoiled milk and tossed the carton in an overflowing trash can.

Hurriedly he grabbed his box of paints and brushes, seized his canvas and easel and ran out the door. If he noticed Ami at all standing in the doorway, he didn't acknowledge her.

Ami sighed. She headed for the bathroom to clean up, then changed and returned to the empty kitchen. Three weeks was suddenly looking like a long, long time.

"Oh, Dad," she frowned, surveying the messy kitchen. "Apparently you need a housekeeper more than you need a daughter."

She began pouring soap and water into the pan of dirty dishes. As it filled, she picked up a cloth and, not finding any ammonia or scouring powder, spread some dish soap over the counter. As she wiped, she contemplated her plans.

"Maybe I shouldn't burden him with knowing I'm Sailor Mercury," she thought. "All he seems to care about is his painting. Maybe he wouldn't want to know."

Once she was finished with the dishes, Ami paused long enough to eat breakfast. It was hard for her to find anything nutritious in his pantry, but she did the best she could. After she finished eating, Ami moved to straighten up the living room.

"How does he exist like this?" she wondered as she picked up piles of sketchbooks and reference material that were stacked on the floor. "He's never been neat, but it's like he's completely let responsibility go since the divorce. Doesn't he even care about himself?"

After she removed a stack of file folders from a table, Ami opened one. Inside were scribbled bills of sale, receipts and haphazardly kept financial records. Curious, Ami scanned them.

"This is almost incomprehensible," Ami thought. "It's hard to even know what he's making from sales of his art! I hope he's not being cheated." She looked out at nothing in particular, feeling helpless. "Maybe I can try to give him a few pointers on accounting."

Storing the financial records safely away in a desk, Ami returned to the table. Underneath the folders was a pile of mail. Fearing she would find past due bills, Ami quickly sorted through it. The entire stack contained only advertisements, subscription solicitations from art magazines, and one surprise.

"My letter," Ami whispered. She felt tears welling. "He didn't even open it. It's probably been in this stack for months, forgotten. No wonder he didn't know about my grades."

That evening, Ami looked up from the dinner she was cooking and saw her father enter. He seemed tight-lipped and irritable. She recognized the signs from childhood. His painting hadn't gone well. He always became frustrated and short when that happened. He wasn't very good conversation when that happened.

That was OK, though. She didn't feel much like talking herself.

He ate heartily, but silently. Ami began wishing the three weeks were over and immediately hated herself for it. He was her father and she did love him - - but he was making it so very hard.

"Thank you for cooking dinner," Yoji finally said contritely. "It's a lot better than what I'm used to. I-I'm . . .I'm sorry for leaving you alone so much. It's just . . ."

"You want to work on your painting," Ami said softly. "I understand. It isn't new behavior."

"Yeah, I tend to obsess, I guess. Drove your mother crazy. But when I get inspiration, I have to get it down on canvas. It's just something I need to do. You know that, don't you?"

Ami nodded. "I did some cleaning and straightening. I hope you don't mind."

Yoji looked around, noticing the room for the first time.

"Goodness, I hardly recognize the place. I hope I can find things when I need them." He glanced at his daughter and smiled awkwardly. "Then again, I could never find anything before, so it probably doesn't matter."

"I happened to notice some of your financial records," Ami ventured. "If you'd like, I can show you a few simple accounting procedures to help you keep better track of your money."

"I do well enough," he shrugged. "Besides, I doubt I'd remember them." He noticed Ami's spirits fall. "But thank you. It was kind of you to offer." Taking a drink of milk, Yoji suddenly noticed what was in the glass. "I thought the milk was bad."

"I went to the market in the village," Ami said softly. "Got some groceries. It was an invigorating hike."

"Isn't it," her father smiled, jumping up. He scurried over to the desk and pulled open a drawer. Sticking his hand in, he came out with a fist full of money. "Here, let me pay you back for your expense."

Ami, eyes wide, came over to the drawer. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of crumpled yen notes of all denominations stuffed in the drawer. Her mouth agape, Ami looked up at her father.

"You keep your money stuffed in a drawer?" Ami gasped.

"It's handy," he shrugged. Ami shook her head. "You know, Ami, I think you've been around your mother too long. You're beginning to get some of the same expressions she always got."

Ami looked up at him, helpless to respond. Yoji just smiled, gripped her by her arms and kissed the top of her head.

"You've done enough work around here," he smiled. "I'll do the dishes."

That evening, Ami was sitting on the porch, looking up at the stars. The intrinsic beauty of the area made her forget her troubles. In a way it was easy to understand why her father chose to live here. There was a gentle tranquillity to the place that eased a person's mind. She didn't know if she could take a steady diet of it, but it was good to get away from the pressures of having to succeed and just exist once in a while.

The sudden sense of a presence made her turn. Her father was standing on the porch, leaning against the side of the building. A sketchbook was in one hand and he was busily drawing in it with a pencil. Ami looked at him curiously.

"Are you drawing me?" she asked.

Her father shrugged, his eyes never leaving the page. "I've always been inspired by beauty."

Ami shrunk with embarrassment. Yoji stopped.

"Why do you always do that?" he asked.

"What?" Ami asked.

"Get embarrassed when I tell you that you're beautiful."

"Well," Ami offered lamely, suddenly uncomfortable.

"Don't you believe it?"

Shame kept her tongue still.

"Ami," her father said, walking over to her, "you can believe it. I don't say something's beautiful when it isn't. When I first saw you yesterday, there was something about you that was different, but that I recognized. It took me a while to figure out." He caressed her hair. "Ami, you look so much like your mother did when she was your age. Sure, your hair is different, but it's startling how closely you resemble her." Her father got a wistful smile. "And your mother was the most beautiful woman the gods ever created."

"T-Thank you," Ami said with a very small voice.

"You're so much like your mother in so many ways, and not just physical," he mused. "You've got her keen mind and her drive. You're going to be a very successful person - - but you have to believe in all of your assets, like she does. There are few things in this world that your mother doesn't think she can accomplish, and she's probably right. You need to have that confidence in yourself, too."

Embarrassed again, Ami looked down.

"But you seem to have more compassion than she does," Yoji continued. "Your mother has high standards and little patience for people who don't measure up." Ami felt herself nod. "Oh, you've felt it, too? She means well, but she gets a little too impatient with the failings of others. If she were here, she'd already be hounding me and criticizing my mistakes - - not that I wouldn't deserve it. But you haven't said anything, even though I've probably been a thoughtless host and a poor excuse for a father. Don't lose that quality."

"I-I'll try," Ami replied.

"And don't stop writing poetry," he smiled. "It's one of the few gifts you got from me and I'd hate to see you abandon it."

"How did you know I write poetry?"

Her father's smile grew self-conscious. "Well, your mother told me. We can be civil on occasion - - usually when we're talking about you. She mentioned she found a diary of poems in your room when she was checking your homework." Ami blushed beet red. "There you go again. Don't be ashamed of them. She said they were pretty good, and if you managed to impress her then they must be pretty good."

Without speaking, Ami slid her hand over and caught her father's hand. She gave it a grateful squeeze.

* * * *

When Ami woke up, her father was already gone. She knew he had stopped to eat, because there was spilled cereal all over the counter next to the sink and a used bowl inside. The girl sighed in resignation and cleaned it up.

"Dad, what am I going to do with you?" she wondered as she ate breakfast alone. "Every time I think you're not as bad as Mother says you are, you do something like this - - and every time I begin to believe you're worse, you surprise me with how caring and loving you really are." She brought a bit of food to her mouth. "I guess you're just one of those people who refuses to be pigeon-holed."

By now Ami had her day regimented. After breakfast, she spent two hours studying. After that, a mid-morning break for some fruit, then she would clean until lunch. It seemed like a lot of time to focus on cleaning, but her father was a man who focused on painting when he was inspired and ignored everything else around him that wasn't as important. Housekeeping and laundry were two such things, so there was a lot to clean.

Family obligations were another.

Ami shook herself. She told herself she wouldn't get into the blame game. It was counter-productive. Last night proved that her father had feelings for her. If he loved something else more than her, there was nothing she could do about that. She'd also seen what vindictive feelings toward a parent had done to Rei, Minako and Haruka and she was determined not to fall into that same trap.

After lunch, she would resume housekeeping for two hours. Two more hours in the afternoon would be reserved for study, then an hour for walking through the woods and exploring the wonderful natural surroundings of the house before she started dinner. Those walks gave her more and more access to her father. She was able to connect with him just a little more because she was coming to understand why he loved nature so much.

As Ami was stacking sketch pads on a shelf - - it seemed her father had thousands of them, all filled from cover to cover with drawings - - she came across one in particular that seemed quite old. Ami hadn't been above leafing through some of the pads at random as her curiosity got the better of her. Sitting on the floor, she put the pad on her lap and opened it up.

"My goodness!" Ami gasped to herself. "I-Is this me?"

On the first page of the pad was a freehand sketch of a young woman in her late teens. She had short black hair, large inquisitive eyes and a small, almost timid mouth. Something about the eyes, though, said that she was deeply in love.

Ami glanced at the bottom of the page. Yoji's kanji was there, a date next to it.

"That date's before I was born," Ami reasoned. "It must be Mother." Ami stared at the portrait in wonder. "Goodness, she was beautiful even then!"

Turning the page, Ami found that the next sketch was of the same subject. The entire sketch pad was of her mother, from about age sixteen up to about age twenty according to the dates on the sketches. She was in every conceivable pose, from thoughtful to pensive, from stern to loving. There were portraits, medium shots, and full figure poses from every angle possible. There was even one very unexpected, very explicit figure shot that caused Ami's cheeks to flush and her hand to quickly turn the page.

"It's obvious he was obsessed with her for a long time," Ami concluded. "Knowing him as I do, he wouldn't expend this much effort on a subject he wasn't passionate about. He must have been deeply in love with her. It's so romantic." She sighed happily. "I wonder if there are more sketches?"

Putting that pad aside, Ami leafed through several more. She found only wildlife studies.

Then she came across another pad. The first page held a sketch of an infant. She glanced at the date next to the kanji.

"That's the year I was born," Ami thought. She swallowed. "Is this me?"

The next page was a portrait of a woman, clearly her mother, holding the infant adoringly in her arms. Ami felt a lump form in her throat. She studied the drawing for the longest time. Finally she moved to the next work. It was another drawing of the infant. As she sifted through the pages of the pad, the child began to grow. Ami was watching herself grow up before her very eyes. As she looked at a drawing, she noted the loving care with which each one had been rendered. She also noted the pages had worn spots on the edges, where they had been held and thumbed - - over and over again.

Seeing herself captured on paper at different stages of her life was a glimpse into her father's soul that she hadn't seen before. She'd seen much of his work when they lived together - - he wasn't secretive about it. But she'd never seen this sketch pad or the one on her mother. It must be very personal to him. Her chest seemed to swell imperceptibly as she went from sketch to sketch, reliving her life through her father's eyes.

"Oh my goodness! Where did the day go?" Ami gasped to herself when she finally noticed the time and that she was behind schedule. She put the sketch pad away and started for the kitchen. Then she stopped and glanced back at it with a small, timid smile.

Ami finished cooking just when she anticipated her father returning. Scanning the area, she saw no sign of him.

"He must really be absorbed with his painting," Ami thought.

Time passed. Occasionally she would wander over to the window and peer out, but see no sign of him. The meal was taken off simmer so it wouldn't overcook. There was still no sign of him. Ami grew more worried. Finally she checked her watch and found seventy-five minutes had passed.

"I guess I have to remind him to eat," Ami sighed and trudged down the path.

On the lake shore, she found her father. He sat in front of his canvas, staring at his work without seeming to see it. Sensing something amiss, Ami walked over.

"Dad?" she inquired, putting her hand on his shoulder.

"Hi, Ami," he whispered, his eyes seeking the ground.

She glanced at the painting. "It doesn't look like you've done much to it since I saw it last."

"I haven't," he replied hoarsely. "I haven't painted a stroke since you got here."

Ami stared at him, shocked.

"I can't," he continued, his voice in agony. "I'm blocked. I can't get the spirit to paint a stroke." He swallowed roughly. "All I can do is stare at it and think about how it's come between us - - about how poorly I've treated you."

Ami's arms folded around her father's neck from behind. She leaned in and hugged him.

"When you first arrived, I was struck by how much you resemble your mother," he continued. "But over the last few days, I've come to realize just how much of your life I've missed. There are probably whole chapters of your life that I'm completely ignorant of. There are probably dozens of times that you needed me and I wasn't there. I know there were times I needed you - - and all I had were some letters and some out of date sketches."

Tears poured down Ami's cheeks.

"And it's all because of this!" he said, shaking the brush in his fist. "Because I'm an addict! It's like a drug, Ami. Perfectly capturing beauty on paper is such a rush. I wish I could make you understand just how it makes me feel."

He shifted in her arms, turning his face up to hers. Ami saw he was crying as well.

"And now I can't seem to do it because I feel so guilty about what I've done to you! It's the most important thing in my life - - and you should be!"

Ami brought his head to her chest, resting her cheek on the top of his head. She felt his arm fold around her waist.

"We're only human, Dad," she said softly. "We can only be as strong as we are. I found your sketch pad of me and the one you did of Mother. I could see the passion in your sketches, so I know you love us. That makes it easier to forgive. I guess I don't have to be the most important thing in your life - - as long as I know I'm important."

"You are," he whispered, kissing the palm of her hand. "The hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life was leave you in your mother's care. The only way I could do it was because I knew that she was better equipped to raise you than I was. Thank the gods I was right to think that."

Ami kissed him on the top of his head.

"Come on, Dad," she said. "Come eat dinner. There's no sense in butting your head against a wall. You can try again tomorrow."

Yoji nodded and got up. Ami waited for him to collect his materials, then walked him up to the house.

* * * *

"Bishop to knight two," Yoji said, moving the chess piece to the designated square. It was nearly nine at night and this match was in its second hour.

"Rook to king three," Ami replied almost immediately, moving the chess piece.

"You've gotten a lot faster since the last time I played you," Yoji said, an eyebrow raised and an ironic smirk on his lips. "You could at least do me the honor of pausing for a few seconds before you counter my well-thought out move."

"I've," Ami said, her cheeks coloring as her mouth curled, "been competing in some chess tournaments since we last played."

"It shows. You're a lot more decisive now."

"Well, I've also had some other experience with planning strategy on the fly."

"Have you won any of those tournaments?"

"One or two," Ami smiled self-consciously.

"OK," Yoji said, extending his hand to a chess piece. "Queen to bishop five. Check."

"King to queen one," Ami replied calmly. Her father studied her. He could see she was trying hard to win the game, but that she wasn't frantic about it - - as if she'd faced the same type of situation with much more at stake.

"Bishop to knight five," he smiled. Let's see how she reacts to that.

"Queen to king six. Queen takes pawn," Ami replied, then looked at him with a twinkle in her eye that she tried to conceal. "Checkmate," she offered apologetically.

Yoji scowled, staring at the board.

"You are VERY good," he said.

"Well, that's something else that you've given me," she told him affectionately. "I might have eventually taken up chess, but I wouldn't be as good as I am now if you hadn't taught it to me when you did."

Her father stared at her wistfully. For a moment Ami feared she'd upset him. Then his mouth began to curl.

"In case I haven't made this perfectly clear," he said, the slightest hint of emotion in his voice, "you've done a fantastic job of growing up. I'm not sure I deserve a daughter as perfect and as wonderful as you."

"You do," Ami said modestly, her eyes seeking the floor. Then her features clouded. "And there's something you deserve to know. It's one of the reasons I came down here to see you."

Her father tensed, but said nothing. Ami glanced at him and found his full attention focused on her.

"Are you aware of," she began tentatively, "of the Sailor Senshi?"

"Yes," he nodded. "I keep up with the newspapers from Tokyo - - and my agent has told me a couple of stories, too."

Ami took a deep breath, then stood up. Without looking at her father, she extended her hand from her side. To his amazement, a henshin stick appeared from thin air.

"Mercury," she said hoarsely, "Crystal Power Make Up."

Her father stared up at her, his mouth open.

"I'm Sailor Mercury," Mercury whispered.

* * * *

"It certainly is a bright morning," Ami commented. She looked up from the porch of the house at the white clouds that dotted the blue sky.

"We'll get rain later," her father said absently, his concentration on the furious strokes of his brush across the canvas.

"Did the weather report say that?"

"Didn't listen to it. I can smell it in the air. You can do that if you've been in the wilderness long enough."

"Interesting," Ami said, studying her father's face to see if he was kidding. It wasn't likely. When he was in a zone like this, kidding didn't occur to him. "Thank you for understanding about Sailor Mercury."

"Thank you for telling me," he mumbled. "You didn't have to."

"You're my father. If Mother knew, you deserved to know."

"I've forfeited my rights to a lot of things over the years. You would have been perfectly justified if you chose not to share it with me."

"Then I would have been depriving myself of feeling a father's pride in his daughter," Ami told him, a small smile on her face. "I've done without that for far too long."

"Perfectly rational," Yoji said, looking up from his painting. "You are your mother's daughter."

"I'm my father's daughter, too," Ami grinned. "You just have to dig a little deeper."

"Well, I've done as much damage to this as I can," Yoji declared, putting his brush in a jar and pouring turpentine in it.

"You're done already?" gasped Ami. She scurried over and looked over his shoulder.

"Well, I work fast," Yoji told her as Ami smiled in wonder at the vivid portrait of herself, "when I'm passionate about the subject."

"Oh, Dad," cooed Ami. "It's remarkable!"

"It's yours, honey."

"But Dad!"

"Please accept it. It isn't a fraction of a fraction of what I owe you, but it's a small down-payment."

Ami considered for a moment.

"I'll accept it on one condition," Ami told him. "That you make a print for yourself first. I want you to have something to update your sketch book."

Her father smiled and it made Ami's heart soar.

"Deal," he said, grasping the hand she dangled over his shoulder and kissing it. "I'll bring it to you the next time I'm in Tokyo."

"When will that be?"

"Three months tops," he declared. "I've got paintings in Tokyo galleries that I haven't looked at since I sold them - - and a daughter that's gone without me for far too long, too. It's about time I stopped hiding."

Ami curled her forearms around her father's chest and kissed him on the cheek.