"FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2004 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2004 by Bill K.
As always, for those only familiar with the English dub:
Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.
Michiru Kaioh entered the modest two-story home that she shared with, in her opinion, the most wonderful and alluring creature that ever walked the Earth. Haruka, however, was a million miles from her thoughts at the moment. She pushed the door closed with her hip, not wanting to expend anything more than minimum effort on it. The way she felt, if she did she was sure to slam it. With precise, measured steps, she crossed over to the hall closet, doffed her shoes for her sandals and headed for the hall cabinet. The drawer opened with controlled patience, but the hand that shoved her purse into the top drawer did so with a little more vehemence than Michiru wished to display. She stood there for a moment, glaring at the drawer, mentally berating herself for losing the control she so valued.
"Uh oh," came a familiar husky voice. "Somebody had a bad day."
Michiru turned and found Haruka standing in the doorway. Jeans draped her lower body and a t-shirt adorned with her sponsor's logo covered her upper body. The short-cropped thick sandy blonde hair fell almost into twinkling green eyes Her arms were folded over her chest.
And she was wearing that smirk.
Now Haruka was the one joy in her life that Michiru prized above all others, a joy that she would defend to the death or sacrifice her life to preserve. For Haruka was Michiru's muse, her joy, her passion and her rock of strength. She was everything that made life worth living rolled up into one lanky, incredibly sexy package that made Michiru's heart skip a beat every time she looked at her. But whenever Haruka smirked at her like that, teasingly, savoring whatever frustration the controlled, precise woman was experiencing at that moment, Michiru just wanted to beat her - - with a club.
"What's wrong?" Haruka asked, her voice saying that everything would be better, even if it wasn't what Michiru wanted to hear.
"Music industry executives," Michiru hissed out through clenched teeth, her hands gripping the edge of the bureau so they didn't commit violence, "are ARTLESS IDIOTS!"
Haruka knew better than to say anything. She just gathered Michiru into her arms and tried to bleed away the tension she felt in her mate's body.
"This," Michiru sputtered, resisting for a second before easing against Haruka's frame and letting the woman envelope her in a security blanket of love and comfort, "creative pigmy, this soulless moron, this-this wet behind the ears PIPSQUEAK had the audacity to say my next album should be more COMMERCIAL!"
"What did you hit him with?" Haruka asked jokingly.
"I don't care if it's commercial or not!" Michiru continued to rage. "I don't do it to be commercial! If he wants to publish the album, fine! If he doesn't, I don't care! But DON'T ask me to be more commercial!" Then she glanced over her shoulder at Haruka. "And stop smirking about it! It isn't the least bit funny!"
Haruka began to slowly guide Michiru into the living room and toward the sofa.
"It's violin music, for God's sake!" Michiru fumed. "What does he expect me to do, put a dance beat behind it?"
"What did you tell him?" Haruka asked patiently, gently pulling her mate down onto the sofa onto her lap.
"I told him I wouldn't do it. I told him I would submit my music without any changes and that he was free to publish or not publish it as he saw fit."
"And what did he say?" Haruka asked as she nibbled on Michiru's earlobe.
"He started waving my contract in front of my face," Michiru pouted.
"And I told him that I wouldn't make any changes - - that if he tried to make changes I'd withdraw the album and if he tried to print CD's from anything but what I submitted I'd haul him into court."
"You know, you ought to look at it from his side," Haruka murmured as she nibbled.
"Stop that," Michiru grimaced from the growing stimulation she felt. "Whose side are you on?"
"Your side. Your left side at the moment." Michiru glared at her over her shoulder.
"His business is making money. If he puts out an album of arty violin pieces that tanks, he loses money."
"I'm not forcing them to publish my work! They came to me!"
"OK, and you've given them the option of not publishing. That's their out. If they don't take it, they've got no right to complain later. It's just not worth getting upset over."
"They're trying to get me to compromise my artistic . . .!" Michiru began.
She didn't finish. Suddenly Haruka dipped her shoulders and Michiru felt herself falling backwards. The green-tressed artist squealed out loud, then flopped against the sofa cushions, Haruka on top of her. She looked up at the sandy blonde with a mixture of trepidation and exhilaration.
"No more venting," rumbled Haruka. "Happy face."
"Haruka!" Michiru protested.
"Do you love me?" Haruka asked, pressing her nose to Michiru's.
"Haruka, stop being childish," Michiru pleaded.
"Do you love me?" Haruka reiterated. Michiru felt the woman's hand lightly pass along
the ribs of her left side.
"I DO!" she gasped out in alarm. "I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU! JUST-DON'T-TICKLE-ME!"
"All right," Haruka replied with a cheshire grin.
"Brute," Michiru pouted. But it quickly dissolved into a smile.
"What some good news?" Haruka asked.
"I could use some. What is it?" Michiru asked. Then her eyes narrowed and her grin lengthened. "Are you pregnant?"
"Yeah, right," snorted the blonde.
"Then what is . . .?" Michiru began, then stopped when she heard footsteps in the next room.
Just then a woman popped her head into the room. She was forty-nine, blonde and American. She wore a pastel blue blouse, tied at the midriff, and white capri pants that clung to her slim figure very tightly. Her style of dress didn't match her age, but it matched her personality. The blonde hair on her head was thick and shoulder-length, with a long sweeping curl at the shoulders. Despite her age, she had a baby face that was made even more youthful by the artful makeup and the perpetual smile she wore. When she spotted Michiru, the smile seemed to get brighter and warmer, if such a thing was possible.
"Michi-chan!" the woman squealed. "I thought I heard you in here! Oh, I'm so glad your back! Guess who's here to visit you!"
Michiru's eyes grew to saucers. When the woman disappeared back into the other room, she turned to Haruka.
"My mother's here?" Michiru gasped in horror.
"Yeah," shrugged Haruka.
"I thought you said it was good news!"
"Did I?" Haruka asked, then grinned mischievously. "Guess I lied."
She winced in pain when Michiru struck her in the arm.
Two women sat across from one another at the breakfast table in the kitchen. Michiru cradled her cup of tea and watched her mother go on and on about the friends she'd been with, the sights she'd seen and the gossip she'd picked up as an international jet-setter. Apparently she'd flown to Tokyo from Cannes and felt compelled to relate every moment of the trip to her daughter. She was completely oblivious to the fact that Michiru didn't care in the least who was seeing whom in Cannes and why.
Haruka, the coward, had excused herself and was working on her engine, leaving Michiru to face it alone. As the drone of her mother's high-pitched, child-like voice continued, Michiru's patience became like a rock being buffeted by the ocean waves, worn down little by little.
"Mom, why are you here?" Michiru asked at last. The question came out more brittle than Michiru wanted.
"I just wanted to see my little moppet," Constance Grace Kaioh replied. "Do I have to have a reason to visit my only daughter?"
"Well I wouldn't want to keep you from Raoul and the gang," Michiru replied acidly.
"Oh, I can see them anytime," Constance replied, waving her hand dismissively. "So tell me, how are things here? Are you getting along well?"
"Well enough," Michiru replied guardedly. "Haruka placed second in her last race. I had another gallery showing last month."
"Oh, I'm sorry I missed it!" gasped Constance. "You should have told me!"
"What was the point? You never attended the three before that."
"And I apologized for each and every one of them. It was unavoidable, each time. But I was free last month." Constance saw her alibis didn't faze her daughter. "I picked up the coffee table book of your prints. They were exquisite. I showed them to all of my friends and they all ordered copies of their own. You made quite a few conquests on the Riviera."
"Thank you," Michiru replied neutrally.
"So," Constance began hesitantly, "are you and Haruka still lesbians?"
"Mom," Michiru replied with exasperation, her head propped up by her right hand, "I've told you before - - being a lesbian is not like having a cold. You don't 'get over it'."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything. You know I just adore Haruka. She's very bright and wonderful and energetic and masculine - - for a girl. And she obviously loves you. You can't ask for more, I guess." Constance sighed. "Still, she would have made a very attractive man."
"Mom, you're embarrassing yourself again," sighed Michiru.
Constance took a sip of her tea.
"And how is lovely little Hotaru? Is she at school? You know, after all this time, I still can't get used to the Japanese school year."
"Um, Hotaru - - doesn't live with us anymore," Michiru admitted.
How to explain? How do you explain Hotaru having to live permanently in the thirtieth century so she wouldn't disrupt the timeline that made Crystal Tokyo a reality without revealing a lot of things her mother didn't need to know and might not even understand?
"She - - had to leave," Michiru said. She quickly added, "It was a - - family thing."
"Oh, that's too bad," Constance replied. Michiru heard the genuine sympathy and disappointment in her mother's voice. The woman reached out and closed her hand around Michiru's and she was suddenly grateful for it. "I know she meant a lot to you, dear - - probably more than you were aware. Are you coping?"
"Yes," Michiru nodded. "It's hard sometimes - - I'm finding out just how much she really did mean to me. I do miss her."
"I can imagine. She was a very bright, very pretty girl." Constance let a moment of silence pass. "And she was the closest thing I'm ever going to have to a grandchild."
"MOM!" Michiru gasped.
"Well, it's true. Unless you or Haruka have - - reworked your plumbing recently, you're never going to have any of your own."
"Talked to Dad recently?" Michiru replied, abruptly halting the previous line of inquiry.
"No, your father and I don't have much to talk about these days," the woman sighed. "He just sends me my monthly allowance. Do you talk to him?"
"Not often. You know how driven he is."
"Yes, the most successful executive of a multi-national corporation in all of Japan. The fact that he sells fish doesn't seem to deter him from putting in eighty hour weeks - - why should age? What is it about the Japanese that makes them so driven?"
"Mom, I'm Japanese," Michiru commented.
"Only partly, dear," Constance said, stroking Michiru's hair. "And you've got sense enough to know when to stop working and enjoy life."
"I'm not sure how to take that," Michiru replied with a cocked eyebrow.
Just then a cellphone rang. Constance dived into her handbag and pulled it out.
"Hello?" she sang. "Oh, Fabrette! How ever did you track me down? World wide roaming? Sounds terribly strenuous! Oh, I'm just visiting my daughter in Tokyo. You know, one of those 'mother' things I do now and then, just to keep my hand in. Ha ha ha ha ha!"
Feeling a scowl coming on, Michiru eased away from the table and walked out onto the deck. Knowing her mother, the conversation with Fabrette would last a while and by the time she was finished, the conversation they were having would be forgotten.
The first scent of spring was wafting through the air after a cold winter. Green buds were beginning to form on the limbs of the trees. Her eyes sought out the small seedling in the center of the yard. They'd planted that tree just a short year ago, Hotaru and Haruka and her. Michiru could still recall the light in Hotaru's eyes. She'd visited that seedling every day for two weeks, fretting and fussing because it didn't show any sign of life. When the first bud of green appeared, the girl was beside herself.
Refocusing, Michiru locked onto her own 'scent of spring'. The woman's gorgeous bottom was poking out from under the hood of a 280-Z, denim straining to cover it. Was it just eighteen months ago that Haruka was lying in a hospital bed after her wreck on the track? Was it just eighteen months ago that Michiru was once more faced with the prospect of her cherished 'family' slipping through her fingers?
She glanced back inside at Constance, chatting merrily on her phone. How soon until she'd be gone again? How long until her father would miss her and call? How soon until she'd receive another visit from Hotaru in the thirtieth century? What was worse: not having a family, or being taunted with the chance at one, only to have it continually slip through your fingers?
Haruka felt the kiss on her cheek. Startled, she raised up and smacked her head on the car hood. She turned, rubbing the top of her head and found Michiru standing there, as timid and vulnerable as a five-year-old.
"What was that for?" Haruka asked, perplexed.
"Just because," Michiru whispered shyly. Then she turned and ambled back to the house.
Haruka lay in bed in her favorite spot - - behind Michiru, cradling the woman to her body. The residue of the hair dye always mixed with the hair spray she used to give her hair a unique scent. Whenever Haruka caught a whiff, it always brought back so many memories - - of love, of passion, of quiet moments like this, two people secure in the reality that no matter what else they lost or missed out on, they still had each other. They'd been together long enough to sense each other's moods intuitively. That's why Haruka nuzzled her mate just a little closer.
"I don't know why you don't like your mother," Haruka whispered. "I think she's a lot of fun."
"You haven't lived with her as long as I have," Michiru responded. Her voice was flat, drained and just a little needy. "Although given the amount of time she spent raising me, maybe you have." There were a few moments of silence. "At least Dad had a legitimate excuse. He was busy being successful."
"Yeah, but look at what he missed," Haruka noted.
"Well, I may not have liked not having him around, but I can respect what he accomplished. Kunihiko Kaioh is a name that garners a lot of respect in the world of business. He worked hard for it. He didn't come by his wealth easily. Mom, on the other hand, was too busy being a social butterfly. She was always flitting off to a fashion show in Milan, an opening in Melbourne, a party in Los Angeles. And when she was home, she wasn't much use. I think I was more mature at twelve than she was at thirty-six."
"Poor little rich girl," Haruka taunted, her lips against Michiru's ear.
"You know how much I detest that cliche," Michiru bristled. "Yes, being born to privilege gave me certain advantages. I got the best education and it opened doors for me that allowed my creative side to bloom. But you miss what you don't have, Haruka. And sitting alone in a big warm house because your father's working late again and your mother's chasing the high life in Hong Kong doesn't make for a pleasant memory." She glanced over her shoulder at Haruka. "I guess I shouldn't complain. That was about the time you were sleeping in abandon buildings, wasn't it?"
"There's all kinds of rough," Haruka said and held her just a little tighter. "Maybe she wants to make up. She's not getting any younger. Maybe she realizes what she missed and is trying to say she's sorry."
"Maybe it's too late," Michiru whispered, staring out into the dark. "Maybe I don't need her anymore."
The next morning found Haruka on the sofa watching the sports highlights on TV. She had a bowl of frosted corn flakes in her lap and absently fed herself as she stared at the events on the tube. Wearing a baggy sweatshirt big enough to cover the fact that she only had panties on underneath, Haruka remained absorbed by the broadcast.
"Well, Haruka, don't you look darling!" squealed Constance. Surprised, Haruka turned and found the middle-aged woman wearing tight jeans, black high heels and a baby doll blouse. Fortunately she still had the figure for it, though it did nothing to convey any sort of maturity.
"Um," gulped Haruka, setting the bowl down. "S-Sorry, I, um, forgot you were here! I'll go change!"
"Oh, please don't bother," Constance smiled warmly. "I saw women wearing less than that during my days as a dancer. It doesn't scandalize me." She gave Haruka an innocent grin that, for a moment, reminded her of Usagi. "And you kind of remind me of a boy I dated when I was in high school dressed like that. Did Michi-chan leave?"
"Uh, yeah," Haruka replied, tugging at the hem of the sweatshirt. "She wanted to get some photos of sunrise in the park."
"She's so creative," Constance mused, dew-eyed. "It's nice to know she got something from me being her mother. I always wanted to paint or sculpt, but I never had the talent for it. All I could do was dance and be pretty. But I was determined that Michi-chan would get the best lessons at whatever she showed an interest in, whether it was art or music or singing or anything creative." The woman flushed slightly. "Just not dancing. That's not a life."
"Her father was OK with that? He's always seemed kind of stiff and formal to me."
"Kuni-bear was actually all for it," Constance mused. "He was always for something that needed training. He feels that learning a skill imparts discipline and the more discipline a person can pick up, the better off that person will be." Then she grinned impishly. "But you're right. He is kind of stiff."
"You call Michiru's father 'Kuni-bear'?" Haruka marveled.
"Sure! He hated it, of course - - but not when we were in private."
"I've never been able to figure that out," Haruka said, "you being her mother, I mean. Um, not that I mean any disrespect, but I've never been able to figure out how you and he, well . . ."
"How could a very traditional, button-down, over-achieving Japanese man fall in love with a ditzy dancer from Tiverton, Rhode Island? Sometimes I wonder that myself."
"So how did it happen? How'd you two meet?"
"I was touring Japan with a road company of 'A Chorus Line'. Kuni-bear must have been in the audience. After the show he went backstage to try to meet me. Since he had money and status, they let him back." Constance smiled to herself. "It wasn't the first time someone tried to pick up one of the dancers. It happened more than you liked."
"But you went out with him, right?"
"Oh, yes. The moment I laid eyes on him, he seemed to be someone new and exciting - - tall, particularly for a Japanese man, with a sleek, wiry frame and slicked back black hair and these penetrating copper eyes that just hypnotized you. If there's one thing in my life that I've always been a sucker for, it's new and exciting. And Kuni-bear looked like the devil himself in that suit. The company was in town for the week, so I thought I'd ride this exciting new wave as long as I could and then move on." Constance looked down, slightly embarrassed. "But when the company left, I couldn't. The thought of never seeing my Kuni-bear again was more than I could stand."
"So you got married?" Haruka asked.
"No, we fooled around - - a lot. He was thunder and lightning to me and I was his 'gaijan goddess'. We were too busy enjoying each other to think about marriage or the future. Then we suddenly got a reality check."
"I got pregnant," Constance said, looking down with a pained smile, "with Michi-chan. Kuni-bear insisted we get married, even though his family was horrified by the thought of him marrying a gaijan."
"Nice family," scowled Haruka.
"I wasn't too crazy about the idea, either. Not that I didn't love my Kuni-bear, but the thought of marriage and motherhood was just so overwhelming. Then after we were married, Kuni-bear expected me to be a traditional Japanese wife and mother. I tried, but it wasn't what I wanted. So I'd go off on trips, just to get away from the crushing responsibility," and suddenly Constance stopped and flashed Haruka a nervous smile. "I'm sorry. I'm rattling on and on again. Michi-chan always said I didn't know when to shut up. If she were here, she'd probably be beet red with embarrassment."
"Well, she's not here," Haruka replied, patting Constance on the hand, "and I've heard a lot worse in my time."
"You're so nice to say so," Constance beamed. "I can see why Michi-chan is so in love with you. It's a good thing you're in Japan. I know some women in Monte Carlo who'd just try to steal you away."
"I think I know who you're talking about," Haruka smirked. "I raced in the Gran Prix there two years ago. There was a certain 'lady' who did everything but rip her dress off and dance naked in front of me to lure me into bed with her."
"What's her name?" Constance giggled like a schoolgirl.
"What was her name?" mused Haruka. "Um, Contessa de Valentina."
"OH, I WAS RIGHT!" squealed Constance. "Tell me EVERYTHING! Um, unless it involved you being unfaithful to Michi-chan. I DON'T want to hear that."
"I wasn't. I know better than to mess that up. Your daughter's way too important to me." Haruka got a sly grin on her face. "Still, that one had some fine lines and was built for speed."
"You'd better be talking about your car," Michiru said from behind. She lingered in the doorway while both Haruka and Constance sat up rigidly on the sofa.
Sitting in her studio in the Northeast corner of the second floor, Michiru held a strip of negatives up to the light of the window. Looking through a magnifying lens, she was examining which negatives would be worth converting into prints. It was work that didn't have a timetable - - she was under no contractual deadline at the moment to produce any art and they were financially secure enough so she could take her time.
This was therapy as much as anything. Three days had passed and her mother was still there - - and she was still as immature and mercurial as ever, traits that made Michiru grind her teeth. Plus her nemesis from the record company had called just two hours ago, impertinently wondering if Michiru had seen the light and come around to his way of thinking. The artist had kept her temper and diplomatically dug in her heels, conveying as much to the executive with vehement statements wrapped in velvet.
Still, the cutting nature of her closing remark probably drew some blood. So she was examining her work with a super-critical eye, discarding entire strips because they didn't convey precisely the effect she was looking for. If a picture didn't move her, it got discarded. To Hell with what anyone else thought.
"What are you doing, Michi-chan?" her mother chirped.
"Mom," Michiru sighed in frustration, "I have asked you not to call me 'Michi-chan'. I am not a child anymore."
"I know you're not," Constance replied with a pouty voice. She draped her arms around Michiru's neck from behind and kissed the top of the woman's head. "But as long as I have the memory of you in my arms all bundled up in that pink blanket with that little strand of blonde hair peaking out, you'll be Michi-chan to me." She giggled. "Be grateful that your father insisted on 'Michiru'. I wanted to call you 'Farrah' - - or 'Jacqueline'."
"Jackie Kaioh?" Michiru whispered to herself in distress.
"Did you take these?" Constance gushed, fishing a strip of negatives out of the wastebasket.
"Mom!" Michiru scowled.
"Oh, they look pretty!" she cooed. "Why are you throwing them away?"
"They're not good enough."
"I think you're being too hard on yourself, Michi-chan," Constance said.
Michiru's eyes narrowed.
"That's your father coming out in you again. Everything has to be 'just so' or it doesn't measure up."
"Well if you'd been around more, I might not have so much of father in me," Michiru muttered, though it was audible enough to hear if someone was listening.
"Michi-chan, let's go out!" Constance said suddenly, as if she hadn't heard Michiru's reply. "It's a beautiful day, much too beautiful to be cooped up in here! We can go shopping, have a late lunch, see the sights."
"Mother," Michiru sighed.
"Haruka can come, too, if you like. She may act like a man, but I'm sure there's a little girl inside of her that loves shopping."
Michiru turned and glared at her.
"We can go to whatever museum is showing your paintings and look at them. Then maybe catch a show. I always thought that Kabuki stuff was just so adorable!"
"Mother, I'm doing something."
"Oh come on, Michi-chan! It'll be fun! It'll be good for us to get out together for a change."
"No, thank you. But don't let me stop you."
"But Michi-chan," whined the woman, "I don't want to just go off and leave you by yourself."
"It never stopped you before."
The silence that followed made Michiru regret, ever so slightly, the words she said. Turning her head slightly, she could hear the gentle scuff of feet on the floor as Constance retreated from the room. Fixing her gaze out the window, Michiru felt her jaw tighten. Blood drawn twice in two hours - - her wit was certainly sharp today.
"Amazing," Michiru whispered to herself. "After everything she's put me through over the years, she can still manage to make me feel guilty. Hotaru, I pray I never did that to you."
"Well isn't it obvious?" Uranus replied.
Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were combing through the rubble of a house that had spontaneously combusted without any apparent reason. At the behest of Sailor Mars, Sailor Moon had called everyone in to investigate what could be the work of a supernatural demon. Neptune ignored the question and scanned the rubble.
"She's trying to reconnect with you," Uranus said. "She wants that whole 'family' thing again. She's what, almost fifty now?"
"You said that before."
"I guess you weren't listening. Or you don't want to believe it. But that's what she's doing. Even I can see that and I'm as perceptive as these bricks here."
"So one day she decides that she's tired of the international jet-set scene and wants to be my mommy again?" Neptune glanced over at Uranus. "It's too late. I'm already grown. I had to grow up without her and I did."
"And you did a wonderful job. So now you have to punish her for not being there?"
"It wasn't easy!" snapped Neptune. She took a second to compose herself. "I went through a very difficult time, a time when I needed her and she wasn't there. She just can't sweep back into my life as if nothing ever happened. That's so typical of her - - selfish and impulsive."
"OK, I get it," Uranus said. "I know you well enough to know when debts have to be paid. But while you're exacting your price from her, you might want to think about what you might be missing by keeping her at arms' length. It might be some of the stuff you always wanted as a kid and couldn't have."
Using her boot, Uranus kicked over a fallen charred plank. Beneath it was a small green piece of jade fashioned into a shrine.
"Uranus," Neptune said with controlled urgency, "very carefully step away from the object."
Knowing better than to question, Sailor Uranus began to comply. However, two steps was all she got from the figurine before it exploded in a burst of intense flame. Uranus executed a back-flip and landed eight feet away from the flame, which was now shooting up toward the heavens. As she landed, Uranus could see the demon's form within the fire.
"World Shaking!" roared Sailor Uranus. The ball of geo-force exploded from her hand and slammed into the demon with concussive force. The fire surrounding its body flickered, but didn't die out.
"Deep Submerge!" Sailor Neptune called out, the pair working with the precision and timing of a fine Swiss watch. A tidal wave of water washed over the demon. When it dissipated, the demon lay amid the soggy ash on the ground, unmoving.
"Mars," Neptune said into her senshi communicator, "we've got your demon."
In celebration of their victory, Michiru treated Haruka to dinner. The pair ate at an upscale restaurant in the upper retail district, one of the few in Japan that served French cuisine. Due to Michiru's reputation as an artist and favorite of Japan's intellectual elite, the management didn't even insist that Haruka don a jacket and tie. Her mood still revolved around the persistent presence of her mother and the lifetime of frustration the woman had given her as a legacy. Sensing this, Haruka took a fork full of food and extended it out to her love.
"What?" Michiru asked, puzzled.
"Show you a trick," Haruka smiled. It was that predatory smile that Haruka had, the one that always made Michiru instantly wary and secretly weak in the knees.
"What are you going to do?" she grinned. "Make it float?"
"Just look into my eyes," Haruka said with eerie confidence. Michiru complied, drawn by curiosity and by Haruka's magnetic aura of confidence.
"OK?" she asked after a few seconds.
"Now eat the food without taking your eyes off mine."
"What if I miss?"
"Then I'll pay to clean your outfit."
Trusting Haruka, Michiru complied. Her eyes locked on Haruka's, Michiru bent forward. Haruka's hand guided the fork gently into her mouth. Her lips closed around the food and the fork gracefully slid out. Looking at Haruka the entire time, she slowly chewed the food.
"Now what?" Michiru asked.
"Now you do it to me."
Michiru lifted a bite of food up to Haruka's mouth. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Haruka close her mouth around the food, slowly slide it off and begin chewing. Michiru swallowed. The motion of Haruka's mouth as she chewed suddenly seemed incredibly sexy. The couple repeated the process and as they did Michiru noticed that the room seemed to get warmer. Haruka's eyes were like a cobra's, hypnotic, but without any menace. The motion of her lips curling around the fork was suddenly suggestive. There was the instant awareness within her that other people in the restaurant were watching them with keen interest. However, it was a dim awareness, for Haruka's every movement seemed to captivate her attention and memories of her frustration with her mother disappeared. As they finished, Michiru noticed she was breathing faster.
"Haruka," Michiru whispered breathlessly. "Am I supposed to be feeling this way?"
"If the trick worked," Haruka smirked, her aura red hot and crackling with arousal. "How do you feel?"
"Horny as Hell," Michiru replied blankly.
"Then it worked," Haruka smiled devilishly.
A bead of sweat trickled down the side of the artist's face.
"I'll get the check," Michiru whispered anxiously.
Cradled in Haruka's arm when they entered their home, Michiru felt like nothing in the universe could harm her. She hadn't thought it possible that she could be any deeper in love with this woman than she was, but here she was. For a fleeting moment she wondered if she could somehow pull reality in over them and snuggle up together forever, divorce themselves from everyone and everything and just be alone and utterly in love.
Then she entered the living room and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Oh, Michi-chan, you're home!" Constance joyfully exclaimed as she fluffed the throw pillow on the sofa. "You and Haruka were gone such a long time. You weren't doing anything naughty, were you?"
Michiru just stared at the room. Her silence caught Haruka's attention and the woman looked with concern at her mate. Constance, though, seemed oblivious to her daughter's reaction.
"You," Michiru began in a small, stunned voice, "rearranged the furniture."
"I thought it needed a change," Constance shrugged.
" . . .the paintings."
"Michiru," Haruka began warily.
"I liked it the way it was!" Michiru snapped.
"Michi-chan, don't be afraid to try new things," Constance cautioned her.
"Where do you get off rearranging my furniture?" Michiru demanded.
"Hey, calm down," Haruka offered. "It's all right."
"It's not all right!" fumed Michiru. "What gives her the right to just waltz in here and rearrange the furniture in a house that she doesn't even live in! Just who does she think she is?"
"I'm your mother!" Constance replied, aghast.
Constance stared at her, open-mouthed and in shock.
"You think you can just be my mother again because you suddenly got a maternal whim? Because you thought it would be chic to reconnect with the daughter you never knew? Because you thought it would give you something to chat about over lattes in Athens with your worthless, pompous, arrogant international layabout friends?"
"Michiru, don't," Haruka advised, grabbing the woman by the arms.
"Let me go!" Michiru snapped, shaking away from her love. She turned back on Constance. "Where were you when I was six and I had the measles, Constance? You were at Cannes! Where were you when I was thirteen and first realized I was attracted to girls? You were in Aruba! Where were you when I was fourteen and the other girls teased me because I'd dyed my hair green? You were in Rio! Where were you when I was seventeen and I sold my first painting?" Michiru glared, her chest heaving. "You were in Montreal."
"I-I'm sorry," Constance croaked out, on the verge of tears. "I-I know I've been a poor excuse for a mother, Michi-chan. I'm trying to make amends." She turned to pluck a painting off the wall. "I'll put it back the way it was."
"DON'T-TOUCH-ANYTHING!" snarled Michiru. "Just get out!"
Tears burst from the older woman's face. "Oh, please, Michi-chan! Don't be that way! I-I'm trying! I'm trying to make it better! Believe me, I'm trying! I want to make it up to you! I want to make it better between us! Please don't turn your back on me! Please!"
"It's too late, Constance," Michiru replied coldly. "Just go."
"I don't know why you have this sudden interest in motherhood and I really don't care. Maybe that young girl sitting alone in her room with nothing to keep her company but her violin cared. I don't."
"Michi-chan," Constance pleaded.
Michiru turned her back. She could hear the shuddering sobs of the woman who bore her behind her, but refused to be moved.
"Michiru," she heard Haruka plead insistently.
"Michi-chan," Constance said again. It was more of a whimper this time.
Michiru didn't acknowledge it.
"I have cancer."
All sensation drained out of Michiru through her feet.
"I'm sorry I was a bad mother to you," Constance mumbled through her sobs. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I didn't want that. It's just that I couldn't be your mother. I didn't know how. I was young and scared and too immature to take the responsibility for you. I tried to give you everything I could."
"You have cancer?" Michiru asked, turning to her in utter confusion. "You're sure about this?"
"The doctor said it was in my lymph nodes," Constance said, haunted. "She told me about the treatments - - about my chances - - I-I start treatments tomorrow."
"And when exactly was I going to find out about this?" Michiru demanded, her voice raw with emotion. "At your funeral?"
"I," Constance looked down, "didn't want to worry you."
"You didn't want to worry me?" she repeated incredulously. "Does Dad know?"
"No," she squeaked. "I'm out of his life. I didn't want to complicate it." Constance began to quiver. Her features openly reflected the terror she was feeling. "I just - - I'm afraid, Michi-chan! I don't want to die! And-and I don't want to die alone - - with such a distance between us!"
Constance collapsed into Michiru's arms, her voice robbed by her anguish. She assumed, in her naturally presumptive way, that Michiru would automatically catch her. To Michiru's surprise, she did. Her arms went around the woman who only moments ago she'd hated. The hatred wasn't gone, but at the moment it didn't seem to matter. It had been overwhelmed by an encompassing sense of pity. She felt Haruka's hand on her shoulder and it gave her the strength to hold her mother tight until the woman cried herself out.
Haruka paused in the doorway.
"It's almost midnight," she said, clad in her usual sleeping attire of just panties. "Shouldn't you try to get some sleep?"
"I'll be in soon," Michiru replied absently. At that moment she was peering at a web page on her computer.
"You said that two hours ago," Haruka answered. The lanky woman padded across the room and came to a stop behind Michiru. She saw the web page was on lymphoma symptoms and treatments. "You trying for your doctor's degree in one night?"
"I just want to know what I'm facing," Michiru said, then scowled and corrected herself. "What she's facing."
"I thought you didn't care."
Michiru's shoulders slumped.
"I thought I didn't. I thought each day without her had managed to wither any love I might have had for her. But for some reason I do still care. Maybe it's just pity, but I actually do still feel something."
"I don't think you're giving yourself enough credit," Haruka replied.
"And you are an unrepentant optimist in this respect. Just because I feel sorry for her and I don't feel anyone deserves to go through something like this, even her, does not mean I've forgiven her."
"Try it again," Haruka taunted. "This time with a little more conviction."
Michiru glared and noticed Haruka had that smirk she always had when she was teasing someone.
"You," Michiru scowled in good-natured frustration.
"What are her odds?" Haruka inquired.
"Depends on how early they caught it," Michiru sighed. "From everything I've read, lymphoma can't be cured, but it can be sent into remission if they get to it early enough. Once it's in remission, the person can live a normal life."
"See, there's hope," Haruka said, massaging Michiru's shoulders.
"But the path to remission isn't easy. It usually involves radiation or chemotherapy. I've been reading about some of the side-effects. It's not going to be pretty, Haruka. It's a lot for someone to take. I don't know if Constance is strong enough."
"Well, she'll be that much stronger with her daughter by her side. You told your dad yet?"
"No, and it's not something I'm looking forward to."
"How do you think he'll take it?"
"I don't know. He might be crushed. He might be indifferent. They've been separated for a long time and the separation wasn't pleasant. And he may just be angry that this has intruded onto his controlled, orderly life."
"Sounds like someone I know," smirked Haruka.
"Haruka," Michiru replied, trying not to betray a smile, "I do know how to hurt you and not leave a mark."
And just as suddenly her smile dimmed and her eyes began to water. Haruka sensed her mate's emotions threatening to burst. She leaned in, draped her left arm across Michiru's collarbone, and shut down the computer with her right. Michiru watched helplessly, her lower lip quivering.
"Come on. Time for bed," Haruka whispered. "You can cry on my shoulder."
"Don't want to," Michiru sniffed.
"I know," Haruka cooed, kissing Michiru on the cheek. "Do it anyway. It'll be good for you."
Silently Michiru allowed her mate to walk her to their bedroom.
As the two women approached the outpatient clinic, Constance sought out her daughter's hand. Capturing it, she squeezed it hard.
"I don't want to do this," Constance whispered fearfully.
"You have to, Mom," Michiru replied, softening the blunt truth as much as she could; however facts were facts and Michiru wasn't about to let her mother hide from them.
"No, I don't," she countered. "I can turn around and walk away and never look at this place ever again."
"And die," Michiru maintained, "possibly in as little as a year." She felt the strength leave Constance's grip.
"But Michi-chan," whimpered Constance, "the doctor made it sound so horrible."
"It will be horrible, Mom," Michiru told her. "But there's no getting out of it. You just can't close your eyes and wish it away. You have to make a choice between two terrible options. There's no third choice."
"It's just," she said in a small, frail voice, "the last time I had to make a choice like that - - it didn't turn out for the best."
Michiru grasped her by the shoulders and tried her best to be as sympathetic as she could.
"It may not this time, either," she told her mother, "but running away is definitely the wrong choice this time."
Constance looked down, chastened. At length she nodded and the pair entered the clinic. Michiru watched her mother fill out the forms. She helped her with the parts her mother couldn't comprehend. She observed her mother's barely suppressed fright. And through it all, her artist's eye suddenly noticed something. All her life Michiru had wished her mother would stop being frivolous and become a mature, serious adult. Now that she was sober and serious for the first time Michiru could ever recall, it all seemed forced and wrong. It was like hearing Usagi swear or seeing Haruka in a dress. While Constance sat in the waiting room chair and tried valiantly not to dissolve into mortal terror, Michiru suddenly found herself longing for the happy-go-lucky vagabond she'd once looked down upon.
A medical technician entered the waiting room and called Constance's name. Suddenly Michiru felt a vise grip lock around the fingers of her right hand. She looked up and saw Constance on the edge of panic.
"You won't leave, will you?" she asked desperately. "You'll be here - - when I come out?"
"I'll be here," Michiru told her. Constance grew such a look of relief and gratitude, one would think she'd received a reprieve from the Governor. With a rush of newly found strength, she got up and accompanied the technician inside.
The wait was agony. Michiru tried amusing herself with magazines, but the news magazines were all out of date and the papparazzi magazines were an insult to her creative tastes. Laying an open magazine on her lap, Michiru began surreptitiously observing other people in the waiting room. As an artist, the shapes of other people's faces and bodies, the expressions they wore and their posture always fascinated Michiru. It was as if she was studying them, storing them for future use. Art was essentially observing life and recreating it on canvas or paper and Michiru always was on the look out for something to inspire her.
What she found, though, depressed her. There was a man of about forty nervously trying to control his anxiety as he waited for a loved one to finish treatment. He was trying not to think of his loved one dying and leaving him forever. Michiru imagined his expression to be a reflection of her own. She looked away. Off to the side was a woman in her fifties assisting a nurse with a man in his seventies. Michiru studied him as they eased his frail body into a wheelchair. He was thin and gnarled, a shell of a human being, with trembling hands and blotchy skin. His face was sunken and droopy, almost cadaverous. Unbidden, Michiru wondered momentarily how he could go on living like this? Then his eyes locked with hers for a brief second and she saw the same question in them. She saw him silently wishing, longing for death - - anything to stop the pain.
Michiru's eyes dropped to the magazine in her lap and they didn't look up again.
How much time had passed was lost to her. She heard her name and Michiru looked up. The medical technician was in the doorway, escorting Constance. Michiru went to her and, as she took control of the woman from the technician, noticed the listless lack of vigor in the normally bright and bouncy blonde. Constance shuffled rather than walked. She moved as if the air around her hurt when it touched her skin. Her mouth drooped in queasy surrender and her eyes were shuttered half way. Wordlessly Michiru led her to the car and helped her ease in. Only when she was behind the wheel did she gain enough courage to speak.
"How was it?" Michiru probed timidly.
"Terrible," Constance sighed. She lay her head back on the head rest and, were it not for the rise and fall of her chest saying otherwise, seemed to expire then and there. It almost seemed like a vision of the future and Michiru quickly engaged the car.
Constance rested for the rest of the day. She tried to eat dinner with her daughter and "son-in-law", but left the table early. Michiru heard her vomiting in the bathroom and shot Haruka a worried glance.
That night, Michiru lay in bed curled almost into a fetal position. Haruka lay behind her, the woman's arms curled around her waist. She'd wanted to do more, but Michiru resisted. All she could think about were her conflicted feelings toward Constance.
Constance seemed better at breakfast. She was still tired and wrung out, but there was a little bit of the old playful vigor in her again. It was a good sign and even Michiru accepted it as such. In the middle of breakfast the door bell rang and Haruka answered it.
"Kaioh-san," Haruka replied with a start when the door opened.
Kunihiko Kaioh eyed her with disdain as he always did. He didn't approve of her daughter's relationship with "this woman who thinks she's a man" and the nontraditional household they kept. However she made Michiru happy, so Kunihiko kept his objections to himself for the sake of his beloved daughter. However, he didn't mind letting Haruka know in the least.
"You finally got us a wedding present?" Haruka teased, letting him know once more that she didn't care if he didn't approve.
"I'd like to speak with my wife and daughter please," he replied, bowing stiffly. Not returning the bow, Haruka led him into the kitchen.
"Dad?" Michiru gasped, turning as he walked in. But Kunihiko's eyes were locked solely on Constance.
"K-Kuni-bear!" Constance gasped. Her eyes dived to the floor, embarrassed by her appearance and knowing the gulf of ill-will that had pushed them apart for years. Kunihiko just stood there, staring at the haggard approximation of the woman who had once fueled passion in him he never thought himself capable of. The gulf of ill-will kept him in his place, unmoving. Tension filled the room. He seemed as conflicted over her as Michiru, more. Then the gulf seemed to melt away and the wiry man with the thinning black hair and stern, smoldering eyes moved toward her. Constance looked up, unsure and uneasy. But Kunihiko knelt next to her breakfast chair and enveloped the woman in his arms. Crushing her to him, he moved his lips close to her ear.
"I'll pay for everything," he whispered. "It doesn't matter what or where or how, just as long as you get well."
"T-Thank you, Kuni-bear," Constance replied, her trembling lips forming a smile.
"You're still beautiful," Kunihiko said to her, still hugging her. "You probably still haven't learned a thing about discipline, but you'll always be the most beautiful woman on the face of the planet."
"And you'll always be the most amazing, intimidating, exciting man I've ever known," Constance told him.
Haruka glanced at Michiru and saw her mate wearing a five-year-old's grin, oblivious to anything else in the world.
Michiru got up from her seat in front of the blank canvas. She carefully set down the unused graphite on the stand next to her easel. Nothing had been sketched in. She'd tried again to paint, after failing to put down so much as a line three days ago. Two days ago she'd tried recording some music, but put a stop to the session after twenty minutes. Yesterday she went out into the city with her camera, looking for something to inspire her. She returned three hours later, the film unexposed.
Passing by the kitchen, she heard Haruka and Constance laughing loudly at some funny situation one of them had related. Haruka and Constance seemed to have such an easy chemistry with each other. They could relate to each other with little effort and seemed to have common likes.
"Maybe Haruka should have been her daughter," Michiru mused.
It was six days since her first treatment and Constance was almost back to normal. The only sign it was affecting her was her appetite was down. Other than that she was the same frivolous child trapped in a woman's body that so annoyed Michiru. Yet the specter of her cancer and the treatments to come loomed over them both. Constance chose to ignore it and hope it went away. Michiru passed by the kitchen and sat down on the stairs in the back yard.
"And I deal with it by worrying myself sick," Michiru thought, sympathizing with herself.
"I'm totally blocked. I can't paint, I can't take photos worth a damn, I've practically forgotten how to play the violin." Out of frustration, Michiru slammed her fist down on the wooden deck. "I HATE being blocked!"
Then she rubbed her stinging hand.
"Why do I even care? What's she ever been to me but a ghost? She'd flit into my life and drop off a few presents or take me to the amusement park, then flit off again when she got bored. I didn't need a bunch of presents. I needed her!"
The tree in the back yard caught the afternoon sun in just such a way that it threw a shadow on the back fence. The play of variant shadow on white created a pattern that normally would have enticed the artist in Michiru to try to capture it on film or canvas. Today she didn't notice.
"Michi-chan?" Constance inquired. Michiru glanced around and saw both her mother and Haruka standing on the deck behind her. "Looking for inspiration?"
"I guess," Michiru replied neutrally, though inside she winced again at the despised name.
"Aren't you finding any? It's a lovely yard." Constance beamed innocently. "Maybe you could paint it."
"It doesn't speak to me."
"Don't be afraid. You're very good," Constance encouraged. "I think you could create a very lovely painting."
"I'm sure I could," Michiru replied with annoyed precision, "if I wanted to create something that could hang in a motel. But if I'm going to invest my time and effort, I'm going to paint something that I want the world to see - - not what it wants to see."
Constance digested this while Haruka observed them interact.
"So how about kittens?" Constance asked. "They're always so cute."
"Constance," Michiru sighed in annoyance.
"Oh, stop being so serious, Michi-chan," Constance chided her. "Have some fun. I know, let's go to the carnival! They still have them in Tokyo, don't they?"
"No, thank you," scowled Michiru.
"Come on," Haruka prodded. "It sounds like fun."
"I'd rather not."
"Oh, lighten up and go."
"Haruka, I do not want to go to a carnival!" snapped Michiru. Haruka's lips thinned.
"Why? Are you afraid you might enjoy it?" Haruka shot back stiffly. "Can't risk the great artiste enjoying something the common folk like?"
Michiru whirled on them, eyes flaring.
"Now, now," Constance said quickly, rising up between them. "If Michi-chan doesn't want to go, she doesn't have to go. I just thought it would be a nice idea."
Not knowing what else to say, Constance retreated into the house. With the flash of anger dissipated, Haruka and Michiru could see the hurt in each other's eyes. It was still too soon to back down for either of them, but neither had any taste for prolonged battle. Michiru looked back to the yard and Haruka returned to the house.
That night a line of demarcation divided their bed. Haruka awoke to see Michiru dressing. The longing in her heart was finally enough to overcome pride of conviction.
"Michiru," Haruka began.
"I'm sorry for the way I acted yesterday," Michiru said quickly, though contritely, cutting her off. Haruka smiled. She always had to be in control, even when it came to apologies. "Mom has always managed to make me a little crazy, but I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
"Well, I still think you ought to give her another chance," Haruka ventured softly. "Didn't mean I had to get nasty, though." Haruka lay back in bed. "Why so early? Got somewhere you have to be?"
"Mom's second treatment is today."
Michiru eased into the doorway of the room. It had once been Setsuna's room. They used it as a guest room now that Setsuna lived on her own. She found Constance sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at her hands.
"Do you feel like breakfast?" Michiru ventured. "You probably should eat something now. I doubt you'll feel like it later."
Constance didn't move.
"Mom? We're going to be late."
"I'm not going," Constance said fearfully.
"It's too hard," Constance replied, anguish thick in her voice. "Michi-chan, you don't know! It hurts so much. When they put that stuff in me, it feels like my life is draining away! I can't do it, Michi-chan! I just can't!"
A thousand different emotions seemed to flow through Michiru in rapid order, from anger to fear to contempt to desolation and on and on. Just as quickly, though, they drained away. Michiru walked over and put her hand on her mother's shoulder.
"If you don't want to go, you don't have to," Michiru said. She was calm and rational.
"You're an adult and it's your body, so it's your choice. As long as you realize that you'll be exchanging pain now for more pain later when the cancer starts eating away at you, you can choose not to go."
Constance looked down helplessly.
"Oh, Michi-chan, I wish this had never happened to me! I keep asking myself why?" The woman waited, hoping Michiru would make the decision for her. But Michiru held back, refusing to do so. "I don't want to die - - but I don't want to go through this! It's too much!"
"Not if you want to live badly enough." She waited for her mother a little longer.
"You've got to choose, Mom. If you don't want to continue the treatments, I'll - - make you as comfortable as possible. If you do, I'll see you through it."
"Yes. Don't ask me why, because I don't really know - - but I will."
"I'm sorry about this, Michi-chan," Constance offered. "I'm sorry about a lot of things."
"So am I."
Constance went back to staring at her hands.
"Coming or staying?"
"Coming," Constance said with an air of the condemned prisoner.
The bedroom was dark. Michiru had pulled the drapes. Curious, but with the trepidation usually alien to her nature, Haruka peeked into the room. Constance lay in bed, weak and nauseous. Her breath rattled in her chest like breathing itself was a painful chore. Michiru sat next to her, watching her - - and watching over her. She was unmoving, absorbed with her mother's misery.
"How's she doing?" Haruka whispered.
Michiru just shook her head. Haruka padded in softly, barefoot in rolled up jeans and an open shirt. She placed a hand on Michiru's shoulder. Michiru glanced at it gratefully, then took the hand in hers and lovingly kissed the palm. The pair watched Constance struggle to find a peaceful rest. At length, Haruka grew restless and eased toward the door.
"Staying here?" the blonde asked. Michiru nodded. "I'll fix dinner then."
"Thank you," Michiru replied softly. "That's sweet of you."
"Remember you said that when you taste it," Haruka cracked. Michiru smiled and for a moment teetered on an emotional breakdown. She regained control at the last instant. For the longest time there was no movement in the room save for the rise and fall of two chests.
"Michi-chan?" Constance gasped out softly.
Michiru leaned in and was reminded once more of what the darkness had hidden - - of the pallid and lined face, bereft of spirit and energy, that had seemed to age twenty years since this morning.
"I'm here," she answered softly.
Constance smiled weakly. "Thank you. I was worried you might not be."
"I said I would be."
"And you're true to your word," Constance whispered with effort. "You honor your obligation, like a good Japanese. You're like your father in so many ways." Constance swallowed with effort. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you."
Michiru didn't respond. She couldn't and hold her emotions in check.
"It's just," and Constance heaved a sigh denoting her great effort, "I wasn't ready. I've never been ready for responsibility. I've never been able to deal with it. I've always run away."
She turned her eyes up to Michiru and tried to focus.
"But it didn't mean I didn't love you," she continued, urgency lending her energy, "and it didn't mean I didn't miss you every day. I'd come see you when it became too much for me to bear." She looked away. "But I'd always run away again."
Michiru's jaw clenched.
"Kuni-bear said I was a bad influence on you - - and he was right. I could only teach you bad habits if I stayed. So I gave you all the good things I could - - and left before I could do any harm."
"Mom," Michiru began, but Constance wasn't listening.
"Remember the record I left you," Constance asked, "when you were ten?"
"'The Best Of Bluegrass'," Michiru responded. "It always seemed like an odd gift to give to a young Japanese girl."
"I wanted to show you that playing the violin could be fun - - that it could be a means of expressing your soul, not just a way of learning discipline and precision, like your father wanted." Constance smiled wanly. "And it took. You're the greatest violinist the world has ever known because people hear your soul in your music."
Michiru felt her eyes tearing.
"And I found one of your drawings during a visit when you were twelve," her mother continued. "I knew it was your creative side trying to get out again - - the one you got from me. I went to Kuni-bear, and I begged and pleaded with him to send you to get formal art training. And I kept it up until he finally gave in." Constance's eyes began to water. "Because my mother did that for me when she saw how badly I wanted to dance - - and because I wanted you to have something of me in you as well. And you do. Your art is - - stunning. I was just a second rate chorus dancer. But you - - you're so much more."
Constance struggled for breath.
"I'm proud that you're my daughter, Michi-chan," Constance wheezed, "even if you're not proud that I'm your mother."
Tears trickled down Michiru's cheeks.
"Don't blame you," Constance panted as she slipped back into an uneasy sleep. "My fault."
Constance became still, save for the uneven rise and fall of her chest. As such, she didn't hear or see Michiru weeping. After a time, her tears dried. After a time, Haruka peeked in.
"Babe," she whispered. Michiru looked up blankly. "Your dad's here."
Haruka retreated and allowed the two some time to commiserate. Kunihiko came in and, for the first time since she'd graduated into adulthood, Michiru sought out the strength and comfort of his arms.
"She looks so weak," he said into her ear as they hugged. Michiru heard the emotion in his voice despite his efforts to control it. "Is she dying?"
"The doctor said it's a normal reaction to the chemotherapy. She said as bad as this is, allowing the cancer to spread unchecked would ultimately be worse."
"That's hard to believe, looking at her."
"Well, the Americans used to call it 'consumption' for a reason," Michiru said. Her father looked at her, surprised. "I've done some reading."
Kunihiko pulled up a chair and sat next to his wife's bedside. Michiru sat down beside him.
"This must be very hard on you, Blossom," her father said.
"You haven't called me that in years," Michiru replied, amazed.
"I guess not. I guess I'm just becoming nostalgic for the old days."
There was a nervous silence as they watched the sleeping woman.
"Mom told me you said she'd be a bad influence on me," Michiru said.
"It was a heat of the moment thing," her father replied. "We were arguing. Your mother couldn't accept the responsibility that came with being a wife and mother. She didn't want to give up her dancing, her travel, all the adventure and excitement that came with it. It made me angry. It was like she was rejecting our entire culture - - and rejecting me. We could be lovers, but not husband and wife."
Michiru turned and looked at him.
He stopped to gather his thoughts. "You know, I always thought I just couldn't live with her. As alluring and exciting as she was, she was just so flighty and irresponsible that we couldn't make it work. She didn't want to try and I - - I didn't want to compromise. I was young and flush with success, both financially and romantically. Call it arrogance if you like." He shifted in his seat. "Maybe it wouldn't have worked even if I'd bent a little, but I didn't bend. I guess she couldn't, either - - and we all suffered for it, including you."
"You sound like you regret it."
"I'm fifty-two years old, Blossom," he said. "It's been very lonely the last fifteen or twenty years. I've tried to find someone to replace her, but you know as well as I do how unique she is. I can't help thinking that if I had been a little more tolerant of who she was - - if I hadn't tried to make her fit her life to my expectations - - we'd still be a family."
Michiru felt an uneasy familiarity with those words.
"And I look at her now and I wonder if I came to this realization too late." He reached over and grasped her knee, the way he always did when he tried to connect emotionally with her.
"I know you hold a lot of bitterness toward her. Some of that's my fault. I tried to teach you as best I could, but I may have given you some of my bad habits in my zeal to protect you from hers. Accept her for who she is, Blossom. Reprimand her for her faults, but balance that with acknowledgment of her strengths. Balance in all things . . ."
". . . achieves harmony," Michiru repeated from memory with a nostalgic smile. "Haven't heard that one in a while, either."
"I guess I've got to come up with some new nuggets of wisdom," Kunihiko grinned. Michiru snaked her arms around his right arm and rested her head on his shoulder.
Time passed. Haruka poked her head in the room.
"Dinner's ready," Haruka said, "and if you say you're not hungry I'm going to throw you over my shoulder and carry you downstairs." Michiru flushed slightly, uneasy with such intimacy in front of her father. Haruka turned to him. "You're welcomed to eat with us if you'd like."
"I'd prefer to stay here a while longer," Kunihiko said.
Michiru touched his hand, then crossed to Haruka.
"Um, Tenoh-san," he said and both Haruka and Michiru looked back in surprise. The older man walked over to the lanky young woman. "We both know I don't approve of the unfeminine way you act. But maybe it's time I begin to take some of my own advice. I've seen the joy you bring my daughter, joy that can only be inspired by who you are." He squared his shoulders. "I would be honored to have you as a member of the Kaioh family."
Michiru gasped. Haruka was stunned for a moment, then squared her shoulders.
"I would be greatly honored to be a member of your family," Haruka said, "Kaioh-sama."
The two bowed respectfully to each other.
The week passed and Constance began to get better. Michiru noticed, in between her mother's bouts with nausea, constipation, muscle aches and mouth pain, that she wasn't recovering as fast or as much as she had after the first treatment. But by the end of the seven-day period she and Haruka were howling at low brow situation comedies on television again.
For the first time since her mother's admission that she had cancer, Michiru picked up a brush and began painting. She didn't have anything particular in mind. From time to time she would "doodle with a brush", as she called it, until something began to take form. Once she realized what the "painting from her sub-conscious" was, the artist would fill in detail. She'd painted one of her most famous works, "Wind-swept in the Tsunami", in this manner just after realizing she was Sailor Neptune. Painting from the sub-conscious let her disconnect, go on auto-pilot and retreat from the world.
"Babe!" she heard Haruka call up from the first floor. "You going to be up there all day? It's nearly dinner time!"
Michiru glanced at her watch. It was approaching seven p.m. Often, when she was painting from the sub-conscious, she'd lose track of time. That was usually one of the benefits. The woman brushed back her green hair from her ears and concentrated on the odd shapes and colors on the canvas before her. Her mouth drifted open.
"It almost looks like sunrise over a graveyard," Michiru thought to herself. "Or a spirit rising toward heaven." She scowled. "I'm not sure I should finish this one. But at least I was able to get something down on canvas. Maybe my next one will be better."
Michiru joined the others in the kitchen. Since Constance was having so much trouble keeping solid food down consistently, she was taking nutritional drinks to supplement her diet. Her plastic canister of "Double Dutch Chocolate" was before her. Before Haruka was a large white paper bag.
"I didn't feel like cooking," Haruka admitted. "Hope you don't mind take out."
"Must be Thursday," Michiru grinned knowingly and Haruka flushed.
They began eating, but Michiru quickly noticed her mother's lack of enthusiasm.
"Nausea again, Mom?" Michiru asked.
"Not really," Constance admitted. "It's just - - I hate drinking these things."
"You have to keep your strength up, Mom."
"I know - - but Michi-chan, it's like trying to drink oatmeal!"
"Would you like to try solid food?"
"No," Constance shook her head, looking queasy.
"Then you'll have to make do with that. Mom, it's one or the other! You can't miss too many meals! You'll waste away!" Haruka reached out and gently covered Michiru's wrist with her hand. Michiru took the signal and stopped, reluctantly.
"Maybe I can thin it out with a little milk," Haruka offered. "How's that sound?"
"I'm willing to try," Constance offered meekly. "I'm sorry, Michi-chan. I don't mean to be a bother."
Michiru sighed in frustration. "I know."
Morning, the day of the next appointment for treatment - - Michiru dreaded the hour's approach. She feared what might happen, prayed for it not to unfold that way. There was a coldness in her chest that sapped her energy. Forcing herself up, she walked over to her mother's room.
"Mom," Michiru said, hoping against hope the response wouldn't be what she feared it would be. "It's time to get up. We don't want to be late for your appointment."
"I can't," Constance whimpered - - just like Michiru feared she would.
"Mom, we've been through this," Michiru sighed.
"I can't, Michi-chan. You don't understand. You don't know how much it hurts! I can't do it, I can't! I can't go through this anymore!"
"Mom, if you don't take the chemotherapy, you'll die," Michiru told her.
"I don't care," Constance whimpered like a beaten animal. "Let me die. I can't go through this anymore!"
Like a dry twig, it snapped.
"I should have known," Michiru said, her voice husky with repressed emotion. "I did know. I hoped, I prayed, but in the end I knew. I knew you'd run away again." Constance looked up at her from bed. Michiru didn't see. All she saw was her rage. "All you've done your entire life is run away at the first sign that something might be a little tough for you!" Michiru snarled, "without any regard for anyone who might love you and need you, need you to be there! All right, you're in pain! What about Dad? What do you think that's going to do to him if you die? He won't admit it, but it'll cripple him! It might even destroy him, because he still loves you even after all these years and all you've done! And naturally, just when I've begun to get close to you again, just when I've dared to depend on you for something, off you go again! Well fine! Die! I said I'd make you as comfortable as I could and I will! But I won't care!"
Out of the room she stalked. She was downstairs before she even realized it. Michiru exploded into the kitchen and found Haruka standing there, staring at her with what seemed to her silent reproach.
"GO AHEAD!" Michiru roared. "TELL ME HOW MEAN AND HEARTLESS I AM! TELL ME HOW ABSOLUTELY WRETCHED I AM FOR SAYING THOSE THINGS TO A BEDRIDDEN, DYING WOMAN!"
Without comment, Haruka came up to her and gathered Michiru up in her arms. Michiru tried to resist, but she could never match Haruka in a test of strength. At once she stopped resisting. Her face sought Haruka's chest and she began crying, sobbing like the world was coming to an end. Haruka held her and let her cry herself out.
They sat at the breakfast table, Haruka looking on sympathetically while Michiru sniffed and hiccuped and shuddered - - and kept her eyes glued to the floor in shame. The creak of a floorboard told them they were no longer alone. The couple looked up and found Constance dressed and standing in the doorway. She looked at them for a moment and then embarrassment forced her eyes to the floor.
"It's not too late, is it?" she whispered timidly. "To make the appointment, I mean?"
Michiru just sat there for a beat, her own humiliation leaving her inert. Then, wordlessly, she rose from the chair, crossed to a closet and got her purse.
The effects of the chemotherapy were becoming steadily worse on Constance. Her appetite was to the point where Michiru had to force her to eat - - which would usually erupt in an argument. Her doctor gave her iron supplements to combat the anemia brought on by both the disease and the treatment. Mouth pain further strengthened Constance's reluctance to eat. The only time she wasn't moaning or complaining was when she was asleep - - and she slept nearly thirteen hours a day now - - or when her husband visited her. To Michiru's relief, he was visiting every day now, for long stretches of time.
What Michiru hadn't counted on were the effects the disease was having on her. Haruka noticed though - - it was hard not to. Her mate's pretty face was lined with stress and worry. She was short and irritable. It was hard to interest her in anything. She painted occasionally, fiddled aimlessly with her camera. Her violin gathered dust from disuse. And when her lack of focus resulted in a critical error while Sailor Neptune that nearly cost Sailor Venus her life in a fight against a psychotic with state-of-the-art computerized weaponry, Michiru vowed not to transform again until the crisis was over.
Haruka paused in the door of Constance's room. Constance was asleep. Michiru sat next to her, reading in the dim light. Silently the lanky blonde came up behind Michiru. She leaned down and wrapped her long arms around Michiru's neck and shoulders. However, Michiru jumped in surprise before Haruka could peck the top of her head. Instead, she got Michiru's skull slammed against her lip and two front teeth.
"Oh, Haruka, you startled me!" Michiru gasped as Haruka held her throbbing lip. "What
were you trying to do anyway?" she added crossly.
"Give you a little TLC," Haruka protested. "You looked like you could use it."
"I'm sorry," Michiru scowled, then added, "but you shouldn't go sneaking up on people like that!"
"Don't worry. You got me back for it." Smiling with some difficulty, Haruka said, "I'll watch her. Why don't you get away for a few hours."
"I'm all right," Michiru maintained.
"It's not going to hurt anything. Go."
"I said I'm fine."
"No you're not. You're jumpy as a cat. Take a few hours off."
"After all I've said to her about abandoning a loved one in time of need? I'd be a pretty big hypocrite to just go off and leave her now."
"It's just a few hours. You're not abandoning her by getting away for a few hours."
Michiru replied with one of her stone faces, meaning she'd dug in her heels.
"And it's not an admission that you're inadequate or that you've lost control of the situation," Haruka added.
"Haruka, please don't psychoanalyze me," Michiru replied thinly.
"Michi-chan," they heard a low whisper say. "Go ahead."
"I'm sorry we woke you, Constance," Haruka offered.
"It's all right. I sleep too much as it is. Michi-chan, I understand the need to get away every so often - - probably more than a lot of people. I'm not going to blame you for needing to get away. I've been a big burden on you. Please go and do something frivolous for a few hours. I won't mind."
"I don't need to," Michiru maintained.
"Yes, you do," Constance smiled wanly. "You're just too much like your father to admit it." Constance seemed to drift into a memory. "I miss him."
"You heard her," Haruka replied, guiding Michiru to the door. "Go."
"I really don't have to," Michiru began.
"Go," Haruka repeated and whacked Michiru across the bottom with her hand. Michiru gasped, jumped, then turned around with an arched eyebrow and a look of mock outrage.
"You're going to pay for that," she warned, her eyes playfully blazing.
"I know," Haruka leered. "That's half the fun."
Reluctant at first, Michiru went into town and began surveying the latest gallery showing. Faced with something other than personal misery, the artist began losing herself in the works, studying them, criticizing them, filing ideas and techniques away for future use. The urge to paint began to blossom within her again. It was small, but it was there. Looking up, she realized with alarm that her three hour vacation had become five. Entering home, she found Haruka on the couch watching anime.
"Haruka?" she demanded through her amazement. "What are you doing down here? Who's watching Constance?"
"Your Dad," Haruka replied. "He showed up a little after you left. Figured I ought to leave the two lovebirds alone."
Curious, Michiru ascended the stairs. She paused in the doorway and looked. Her mother and father were reminiscing about times past. Kunihiko sat in the chair while Constance lay in bed. He held her hand and she grasped it with all the strength she could muster. Something stirred in Michiru's heart. She felt her eyes mist over, but also the corners of her mouth pull up. If anything good had come from this ordeal, it was seeing this scene.
By the end of the month Constance was spending nearly fourteen hours in bed and she had dropped fifteen pounds from a frame that could ill afford such a loss. But she had also stopped complaining about the constant pain she was in. The frequent low groans hadn't ceased. They were more reflexive than overt complaints - - Constance often didn't realize she was doing it. But she didn't whine anymore, particularly about going to her weekly treatments. Michiru and her father both noted her growing acceptance of the pain she was enduring. The once mercurial Constance Grace O'Shaunessey Kaioh had developed a stoicism about her condition that would do even the most legendary Japanese warrior honor. She didn't know about her dad, but Michiru was impressed.
Another unexpected thing happened. Constance returned to consciousness one day (or was it night - - she couldn't tell anymore) and found Michiru painting. Her easel was in the room and she was concentrating on the canvas, a brush in her left hand and a palette in her right. Constance watched her for a while as she worked, for Constance had never before witnessed her daughter paint. The woman's control was flawless. Her movements were precise and economical. Save for occasionally brushing a strand of green hair off of her forehead and the periodic glance at the woman in bed, Michiru's focus was squarely on the canvas. She wasn't putting pigment on a surface - - it was like she was trying to will an image to appear.
"I'm glad to see you painting again," Constance offered wanly. "You have a light in your eyes when you paint. The only other time I've seen it is when you're flirting with Haruka."
Michiru flushed ever so slightly, but maintained her focus.
"Are you two still lesbians?" Constance asked, trying to get a rise out of her daughter.
"How are you feeling?" Michiru scowled playfully.
"No worse," Constance sighed. "I know one thing, I'm tired of being in this bed."
Michiru started to put her brush and palette down.
"No, please, I don't want to interrupt your painting," Constance told her. "Besides, I want to try to do this myself. I'd like to know I still can."
Casting a worried look at her, Michiru nevertheless let her try. Constance pulled the sheet back slowly. With effort normal people would reserve for lifting heavy equipment, the haggard blonde dug her fists into the mattress and pushed her torso up to a sitting position. The exertion left her breathing hard for a few moments. Agonizingly she swung her legs around over the edge of the bed, then hop-scooted until she could sit comfortably on the edge and her feet could touch the floor.
"Hooray for me," she sighed with fatigue. Digging her feet into slippers, the woman turned to her daughter. "What are you painting, Michi-chan?"
Caught looking at her mother with unease, Michiru turned back to the canvas.
"You," she said at last.
Michiru kept silent, hoping her response would be enough. When she realized it wasn't,she let out a huff.
"Normally I don't paint portraits," Michiru began. "Photography is much better at capturing the subject - - it's more creative and at the same time far more realistic. But I just got an - - urge," and her voice trailed off.
"And you thought you'd better do it while I'm still around," Constance concluded.
"Mom, the doctor is very optimistic," Michiru began, distress in her voice.
"For which I thank God every day," Constance smiled. "But laying in bed for as long as I do, you don't have a lot else to do but contemplate your future. I realize that dying is a distinct possibility, Michi-chan. There's no need to pussyfoot around it." Constance examined her hands for a moment. "If I am destined to - - leave - - I wish I had a way to make up for all the years we missed. All the years I missed with you and all the years I missed with your father seem like a hefty price to pay now for all the parties and booze and gossip and excitement that goes with being one of the international beautiful people. I guess I'm still being selfish, even to the end, but I want those years back. Being with you all this time has made me want more. I can't help feeling left out every time I see how well you grew up and what a fine person you are. And I can't help feeling guilty every time I see a flaw and wonder if I could have corrected it in you if I'd only been around."
Michiru continued to paint. She found it increasingly difficult, though, with the liquid forming around her lower eyelids.
"I want to thank you for all you've done for me," Constance continued. She seemed to fear that if she didn't say it now, she never would. "You've put up with a great deal and I've never given you a reason to do it. Seeing how strong you've been through this has helped inspire me to be strong. The mother learns from the child."
"Don't put me in for sainthood," Michiru commented.
"You didn't have to do it. You didn't owe me anything."
"I know. I've told myself that more than once. But despite knowing that, I felt like I did, deep down. Somehow, my image of you wasn't as poisoned as both of us thought it was. It has to be because of you, because I know it wasn't anything I did. In spite of everything, when it came down to it I just couldn't keep hating you. If you'd been around more, maybe I could have learned some of that charm you have that makes it so difficult to hate you."
"God willing, maybe I'll still have enough time to show you."
The room fell silent as Michiru continued to paint. She stopped only to watch as Constance rose to shaky feet.
"Where are you going?" Michiru asked.
"I want to see the painting," Constance smiled through eyes shot with discomfort.
"No," Michiru replied. Constance sagged.
"But," Constance groused.
"I do not show paintings until they're done."
"And calling me by names I despise is not going to help your argument."
Constance huffed in frustration and flopped back onto the edge of the bed. "You're so strict! I bet dear little Hotaru doesn't miss that!"
Michiru allowed herself a small smirk of triumph.
The waiting room of the doctor's office was by now depressingly familiar. Thus it was easy to push from her mind, because Michiru was too busy wondering about what was to come to mentally redecorate the room. Constance's doctor had brought her in for a test to see how the lymphoma had responded to the chemotherapy. The apprehension in the car had been thick during the drive to the office, though neither woman spoke openly of it. It swirled around Michiru now and she flashed back to the images of the other people waiting the first day she'd been here.
"I wonder if I look as scared as they did?" she wondered.
"Miss Kaioh," the doctor called out softly.
She was poised in the doorway to the inner exam rooms. Her expression seemed grim to Michiru. The prospect of the lymphoma spreading through her mother's body, becoming incurable, flashed her and the strength momentarily drained from her. Like a robot, Michiru followed the woman inside. Her mother was sitting in an exam room. Michiru and Constance glanced at each other and could instantly tell their thoughts were the same. Michiru moved a chair next to her, sat down, and grasped her mother's hand.
"According to my examinations," the doctor began and Michiru felt herself clenching, "the lymphoma is going into remission."
She continued to speak, but Michiru didn't hear her. She was mentally riveted to the previous sentence. The words seemed to take a quiet eternity to register, but they finally did. As she turned to Constance, a burden she hadn't really acknowledged seemed to lift from atop her shoulders. Facing her mother, Michiru saw the joy and relief in the woman's face as she lunged for Michiru. Constance caught her around the neck with an embrace and threatened to squeeze the life from the artist. Michiru responded with one of her own. Then they noticed the doctor had stopped speaking.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," Michiru apologized as she and Constance broke their hug.
"Don't worry about it," the doctor smiled. "I'd much rather see that than some of the scenes I've had to witness." She turned to Constance. "Constance, we're going to have to continue the chemotherapy for about another month. I want to really send this into remission and keep it there. But I don't think we'll have to use as strong a dose as we've been using. I'm sure that will be good news for you."
"I've already gotten the best news I could have gotten," Constance beamed.
"But you need to do me a favor, Constance," the doctor continued. "You need to start eating. I know it's probably hard for you, but you've lost entirely too much weight."
"I will. I promise!" Constance said, giddy with excitement.
"OK then, I'll see you back here next week."
Outside the doctor's office, Constance suddenly turned to her daughter.
"Thank you for standing by me," Constance told her. The look of deep, undiluted gratitude in her face was so strong Michiru wished she had her camera. "Thank you for helping me get through this, Michi-chan - - um, Michiru."
"You're welcomed," Michiru said, misting up again, "Mom."
Four more weeks passed and with them saw the slow return of the old vitality that was Constance. She still needed help to get around and lots of bed rest, due to the effect of the chemotherapy. But her weight was up and some of the deep lines on her face were receding. Most of all, Michiru noted, that child-like smile that had been her trademark was coming back.
But the old energy was now wedded to a new, more mature, more introspective woman. Facing death had given her the means to face life and not run away from things that intimidated her. It was as if the gods had given her this challenge purposefully to make a better woman out of her.
"How utterly melodramatic of you to think that," Michiru mused to herself as she brushed her hair in preparation for going out. Nothing and nobody escaped the critical eye of Michiru Kaioh, least of all herself.
Haruka was out running, so there was only Constance to wake and breakfast to make before their trip to the doctor's office for the last of the treatments. She peeked into the doorway and found her mother already up.
"I used to be able to change costumes in ninety seconds," Constance said ruefully as she struggled to work a pair of hose onto her foot. "Now I can't even put on a pair of hose without straining."
"Want some help?" Michiru offered.
"I'll keep trying," Constance told her. "If I'm not down in a half hour, send up the rescue team." Michiru flashed her a timid smile and left her to her own devices.
Haruka entered to the smell of breakfast.
"Yeah, that's just what the doctor ordered after a good run," Haruka smiled, peering over Michiru's shoulder at the meal she was preparing. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
"Too many times," Michiru kidded. "I'm not sure I believe it anymore. You probably just love my cooking."
Haruka kissed Michiru on the side of the neck. "Constance has her last doctor visit today, right?" Michiru nodded. "Good. Now maybe you two can spend some time together that's not care-related."
"I'm glad you gave her another chance."
"Don't give me the praise," Michiru replied. "She earned another chance."
"Yeah, but you were perceptive enough to notice," Haruka said. She came up behind Michiru and lovingly folded her arms around the woman's waist. "Give yourself credit for that."
"That's sweet," Michiru said. Then her smile turned cynical. "That usually means you want something." She glanced over her shoulder at Haruka and caught the woman leer at her. "Breakfast is almost ready. Go shower up," and she nudged Haruka away with her bottom.
Haruka moved toward the hall.
"And make it a cold one," Michiru needled.
"Oh, you are a cruel and harsh mistress," Haruka shot back, knowing that choice of words would give Michiru a shiver up her spine. As she exited, Constance shuffled in, still unsteady on her feet but stronger than she had been.
"Ah, listening to you two takes me back to when your father and I were carrying on. He was insatiable, too."
"Mom!" gasped Michiru.
"Did you know your father asked me out on a date," Constance said as she eased herself into a chair, "when I'm better?"
"Really?" Michiru gasped happily.
"I think he wants to get back together. I don't know if it'll work. We may still be too different. But he seems to have mellowed a little. And God knows I think I'm finally ready to settle down."
"I hope it works out," Michiru told her.
"You know what I want to do when I'm finally recovered from all of this?" Constance asked her.
"Spend the day doing something utterly fun and frivolous." Michiru scowled at her. "But I want to do it with you. Come on, Michi-chan, after what we've been through, you could use a day of frivolity. We could spend the day at the track watching Haruka race and flirting with all the handsome men - - and pretty women in your case."
Michiru looked at her skeptically.
"Don't worry, I said I'm going to settle down and try to be a wife to your father again and I meant it. And I'm going to be more of a mother to you. I lost a lot of years with you and I can never get them back, but this is the first day of the rest of my life and I'm not going to let our future time together slip away." Constance then gave her daughter a naughty smile. "But you can't expect a leopard to change her spots overnight."
Michiru's skeptical look changed gradually into a wry smile in the face of her mother's charm.
"OK," Michiru replied, then quickly pointed a finger at her mother. "But don't blow it."
"It's a bet, Michi-chan," her mother replied warmly.