Thump. Thump. Thump. "Ami!", cried out Minako desperately for the umpteenth time. Her arm was aching, her fists were sore, and her voice was cracking. She refused to give up. This refusal to back down was the characteristic of a good leader and an annoying friend. Minako had this trait in abundance, which made her an excellent leader and a very annoying friend, when she set her mind to it. The other girls were sitting on the floor in various positions, clustered around the bedroom door. This was to ensure that any possible escape routes through the hallway were blocked. They meant business. Only Rei was standing, arms crossed, with a scowl on her face. She was up next. They had decided to take turns pounding at the white door in attempt to cajole Ami from her room. So far, their efforts had gone to waste.
Makoto frowned as she twisted the blue fibers of the carpet. She was lying on her belly with her chin in the crook of her elbow as she waited for Minako to finish. She glanced over at Usagi, who had her legs crossed at the ankles and up against the wall. She was humming a song as she lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling. Her blond hair spilled out behind her on the carpet and she rolled her head over and glanced at Makoto.
"What time is it?", asked Makoto pointing at Usagi's watch. She raised her wrist and held it up for Makoto to see. The brown haired senshi frowned and glanced at Ami's door. Ami was their problem solver and she had a problem. She wanted to get home as quickly as possible; the Food Channel was showcasing a recipe that she wanted to try for Grocery Day and she was going to miss it. It was garlic mashed potatoes and…wait a minute. Grocery Day. Suddenly, Makoto looked up from studying the blue carpeting, a light of comprehension dawning upon her face, as Minako and Rei switched places. She slowly sat up, her ponytail sliding off her shoulder.
"Isn't today Saturday?", she asked out loud. Rei paused, her delicate hand poised to knock. She frowned in thought and then smiled evilly.
"Why yes, Makoto. I believe it is", she replied lowering her hand. Usagi slowly sat up and began to echo Rei's smile. Minako gleefully rubbed her hands together as Makoto got up and cracked her knuckles smiling. She had neatly solved the problem.
Saturdays were Grocery Days. Throughout the hectic lull of peace, college, graduate school, and jobs, they barely saw each other. And so Saturdays were the designated Grocery Days. The basic premise was that at 4:00 pm (or 4:15 if you were Usagi), they'd go grocery shopping together and make dinner at someone's house. This was set in stone and nothing short of an apocalypse could disrupt this tradition. Of course, the standing joke was that even if the apocalypse did come on a Saturday they'd transform, fight, and have Grocery Day in the ruins of Tokyo, Japan. Ami's acquirement of a boyfriend/hunk/asshole/possible axe murderer/whatever else they made up did not change a single thing, which is why Minako and the others left her apartment exactly twenty minutes later. Their fists were tired. Today was Grocery Day. She could not run. She could not hide. It was Tradition.
Just in case she decided not to show up, the girls left a note on her fridge and stole everything that wasn't nailed down. Her fridge and cupboards were bare save for a lone box of Arm & Hammer baking soda. Even that had been debated over. However, Makoto eased their fears. A nutritious meal could not be made out of baking soda.
"If anyone could do it though, Ami would be the one", declared Rei with an air of authority. Usagi eyed the box greedily.
"Come on, you guys", said Makoto shutting the fridge in an act of mercy. And so they left the apartment with the spoils of their defeat and petty revenge. They trooped down the stairs laying their plans of revenge.
"We should get her the moment she walks in the grocery store", declared Rei. In her head, the image of them pouncing on Ami the moment she walked in the door gave her great satisfaction.
"But she's always at least ten minutes early!" Rei frowned as she was snapped out of her delicious daydream.
"Then maybe you should make an effort to be on time, Meatball Head!", snapped Rei as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Makoto held open the door as they walked through the lobby.
"I think that might be a little too much to ask for", she said grinning at their hapless friend. Usagi rolled her eyes and blushed.
Minako eyed the door and gave a hard, bright smile and said through her teeth, "The doorman is watching us. Don't look too suspicious"
Makoto scowled as she remembered the trouble the man gave them when they had tried to get in Ami's apartment. He flatly refused to let them in even when Minako had turned on her full charm. After he had kicked them out, Minako had loudly declared him a dried-up, old, twig of a man. By the look he was giving them now, it seemed that he had heard her comment. Thanks to his emphatic demands for IDs, background checks, and a phone call of confirmation from Ami, they had to transform and take the balcony. Unfortunately, Usagi still had her klutz attacks and had overshot the balcony, landing instead on the glass door. This had made a splendid crashing sounding, that woke up several of Ami's neighbors. Luckily, they had gone back to bed.
Now, they were faced by the same sour-faced doorman. Minako being the natural leader fell first in line with Rei following after her as second-in-command. Usagi was placed between Rei and Makoto in case they had to make a run for it. Makoto ran through an elaborate plan that she had made up, which involved punching the doorman, picking up the princess, and running like hell. Minako shot this down by turning on her full power and smiling at him.
"Good afternoon!", she said smiling brightly. She reached the glass door and opened it. Just then, a brilliant shaft of sunlight hit her hair and she glowed cheerful and golden, a child of Venus. Her cheeks were flushed from her enthusiastic door pounding exercise and her hair was slightly mussed. This however did nothing to alter her loveliness and she purposely increased her aura as she held the door open for her friends. Quickly, while the old white-haired man was struck by her aura, the others slipped by, breathing a sigh of relief, when they reached the pavement. Mina closed the door and gleefully skipped as best as she could with her stolen property to Makoto's car.
Usagi squealed happily as Mina made it to the car.
"You were amazing, Mina!", she cried out, happy to escape unscathed.
"I don't see why you couldn't do that last night, genius", said Rei buckling in, as she placed her share of the stolen goods in front of her.
"The moon is Usagi's area of expertise. I only do sunlight, love", she replied smoothly as the car started.
"Besides Usagi was too scared by the old twig to do anything clever", she added mischievously in order to get a rise of out her hapless companion. It worked. Usagi's indignant squawk filled the car and a mock argument exploded in the car.
Makoto hurriedly dropped everyone off and as Mina got out, she called out, "It's your turn today".
Mina watched as the car shot away. After a moment of silent contemplation of what in the world her words meant, delayed panic set in.
"Shit!" She ran up four flights of stairs to her apartment. She fumbled for her keys and cursed as she dropped them twice. Finally, she wrenched the door opened and stared wide-eyed at her apartment. It was a disaster area. Clothes and crumbs were strewn everywhere. Plates, cups, soda cans, and empty boxes of Pocky and pizza were stacked up randomly.
"Oh my God! Artemis!", she screamed and slammed the door. Her cat and sometimes man, her other half, her best friend and mentor came streaking through the living room.
"What is it! An attack? Let's go!", he shouted seeing the panicked look on her face. His tail was straight as a rod and his fur was standing on end as he leapt onto the back of the black couch, claws extended and eager for action.
"No Art! Today is Grocery Day and it's happening at my apartment. Look at it! It's a mess and I only have barely three hours to clean it!", she said panicking as she surveyed the damage.
"Oh… well…In that case, I'm going back to sleep", he said licking his paw and smoothing out his white fur. Nonchalantly, he hopped off the couch and strolled back to her bedroom.
"No, you dumb cat! You're going to help me! You're the one who orders pizza while I'm away. Whose soda and Pocky do you think this is? I can't eat this crap! I'm a model for crying out loud! Where are you going?", she screamed. While she had been ranting, Artemis had changed to his man form. He was slightly choking on the stretchy cat collar that couldn't quite stretch to encompass his neck. Frantically, he opened the window, changed back to his cat form and scrambled down the emergency fire escape as fast as he could. For as long as she had known him, Artemis had a phobia of cleaning anything. He was still stuck in Silver Millennium mode as Minako disdainfully termed his syndrome. In other words, he was still expecting a servant to clean up after him and his habits. Unfortunately, Minako had a small touch of this symptom as well. The result was disastrous. Her strewn clothing, plus his empty boxes of random food and ramen bowls would pile up in different areas of the house to be cleaned only on the third Saturday of the month, when it was her turn to host Grocery Day. The only thing that forced her to clean was Makoto's scream of dismay at the state of her kitchen and apartment, Rei's scornful sniff, Ami's fastidiousness and germ phobia, and Usagi's cries of "Eww!", as she accidentally would sit in a pizza box. If Minako had her way, she would live in the mess until it got so bad she would have to move. She was a closet slob and due to her firm and stubborn adoration of her friends, she would clean, but only for them. And of course during her mother's "surprise" visits.
"You dumb cat!", yelled Minako, poking her head out the window, "I hate you, you coward! You are so dead when you come back!" She glared at his retreating form for a moment, thinking of ways that she could kill him. Death by strangulation seemed best; skinning him would be too messy. Sighing, she poked her head back in and again surveyed the disaster.
"Okay, V-babe. You can do this!", she said encouragingly. She entered her gold and white bedroom and changed into her you-can-do-it-V-babe clothes, basically her volleyball outfit, which consisted of her old team shirt, bikini shorts and sneakers. She had done great things in these clothes. She thought back to the time when she had broken the window at Rei's school and the evil spirit that she had banished. Those were the days, she thought sighing as she placed her slept in clothing in the clothes bin. She glanced at the time and began a renewed panic attack. She dashed to the kitchen and grabbed trash bags and began picking up the mess.
Two hours and forty-five minutes into the fray, the phone rang. She looked up and stared at the innocuous, white phone as it shrilly rang again. Her sixth trash bag fell limply to the floor. Something wasn't right. She could feel it. It was a churning in the pit of her stomach and her instinct was screaming at her, telling her to act and act quickly. Was it the princess? Slowly, she walked to the phone, her dread increasing, and picked it up on its fifth and final ring.
"Hello?", she said breathing heavily as if she had run 3 miles.
"Aino Minako?", said a deep, soothing voice. She swallowed deeply. Maybe she was mistaken. Bad news usually didn't come in the form of a sexy, manly voice on the phone. That was reserved for good news. Yet the feeling still hadn't gone away.
"Yes", she said softly cradling the phone with her hands. She trembled and the sick feeling grew. There was a heavy silence.
"My name is Shikoku Kunzite. I'm down at the animal hospital. Your cat", he said pausing as if he wasn't sure how to continue. Her cornflower blue eyes widened and she had to sit in order to steady her shaking legs. She placed her hand over her heart in order to calm its frantic beating.
"Artemis", she said her voice wavering. Her chest tightened and it became hard to breathe. Her nose started prickling and her eyes began to water. She sniffed slightly to stem the flow of tears. Unable to hold them back, she let them fall, rolling down her flushed cheeks to land on her carpet.
"Right", he said hesitantly, "I was driving and… he ran across the street"
"You hit him", she finished as she started to cry.
"Yes", he replied uneasily. She choked back a sob and struggled for breath, her breathing hot and ragged. Oh God, no. Please, not Art, she thought, trembling violently.
"Is he…?" She couldn't finish. Without Artemis, she couldn't continue as a Senshi, he was her mentor. He had helped her attain her power level when they fought the Dead Moon Circus. Was this the work of the enemy, she thought bitterly.
"No, but he's badly hurt", he said apologetically.
"Where are you?", she said forcing her voice to become steadier. She had to be strong for him. She couldn't lose her head. She roughly rubbed her tears away with the palm of her hand.
"Shinobu Animal Hospital. Do you know, where...?"
"Yes, that's where I take him to get his check ups. I'll be right there", she said urgently hanging up. She blindly grabbed her keys and cell phone and dashed out the door without changing or grabbing a coat. She ran down the flights of stairs at breakneck speed, falling and bruising her knee and skinning her elbow. She kept going. Artemis was in trouble. He needed her. He was hurt. She ignored the blast of cold air that chilled her skin and whipped her golden hair around her. Hurriedly, she got in her car and did 100 getting out of the parking lot. The hospital was fifteen minutes away and for the first time, she was going to make it in five. Blindly, she ran a red light and began to weave in and out of two lane traffic. Buildings and people all blurred as she sped by. She couldn't tell if it was her blinding tears or the fact that she was pushing 105 on the speedometer.
On any other day she would have been exhilarated, grinning madly and shrieking in sheer delight. Haruka had once proudly told that she was a natural born racer. She had the courage for it. Although, she was quick to smugly add that Minako would never be as good as her. And it was now that Haruka was proved wrong. Minako was better than her. She had to be… for Artemis. She whipped around curves, swerving and taking up two lanes. The dips in the road had her heart in her throat and she had one too many close calls. One bad pothole had her flying through the air and it was only her ability to think on her feet and her self-preservation that had her land back on the road.
It was on the corner of Goku and Atama that the first squad car spotted her. She noticed the sirens wailing in her rearview mirror and went faster. She had to get there. She picked up five more cars headed her way. She made a sharp right turn that left long skid marks and a smell of burnt rubber; still, she kept going. She made another left turn and glanced in the rearview mirror. Eight police cars. She made two sharp right turns and she lost them for two minutes. That was all the time she needed. She was at the hospital.
She stopped her car at the hospital's entrance and grabbed her cell phone and keys. She fumbled with the lock, the sound of police sirens making her panic. Finally, she opened the door and ran for the hospital entrance. She tripped on the curb and fell. Trembling, she stood up and ran inside. The automatic doors slid open and she dashed inside, her golden hair awry and blown about by the chilling wind. She blindly stood in the waiting room, shivering in fear.
Her eyes were red from crying and her nose was running. She whipped her head about looking for anyone, who looked slightly guilty. A warm hand closed over her shoulder and she whirled around and smacked it roughly away. Adrenaline and anger coursed through her veins as her blue eyes narrowed accusingly. She met his silver gray eyes and step back slightly in order to assess him. He was taller than her, gorgeous, and muscular. On any day she would have hesitated to take him on. It seemed that today there would be an exception. His looks only served to enrage her further. Just because he was pretty did not give him the right to run over her cat. She could just imagine him hitting the gas, mouth curled up into a sneer, the crunch of bones…She took a deep, shuddering breath and spoke.
"Did you run over my cat?", she hissed, chest heaving. Anger tightened in her chest and she balled her fists. She crackled with barely controlled rage and the waiting room had gone dead quiet. Two or three people sat waiting for their pets and watched the scene unfold. She struck out without waiting for his answer. She caught his cheek as he grabbed her hands as twisted them behind her back.
"It was an accident", he growled angry at her having hit him. She fought wildly against his grasp, freezing only when she heard the sirens reach the hospital. They were right outside.
"Let me go", she said quiet desperation in her voice. Her body tensed and strained against his tight hold.
"Are you going to behave?", he asked her calmly, as he gritted his teeth against the pain. Apparently, she had a mean right hook.
"Yes", she ground out between clenched teeth. He released her aching wrists and reached into his pocket as she rubbed her wrists. He pulled out a scrap of paper and handed it to her. She snatched it from his hand without allowing him to speak and quickly strode to the bathroom. She opened the door and hopped onto the counter, dialing Rei's number. It rang once before Rei picked it up.
"Minako! Where are you? You're late! Kami, what's wrong! I can sense it coming off of you in waves!", she said her voice turning quiet and gentle. Tears coursed down Mina's cheeks.
"Art—Artemis was hit by a car, Rei-chan. I'm down at the animal hospital near where you are and I ran all these red lights and the police are looking for me. Rei, you have to come get me and Art out of here! They can't operate on him! He's not even a cat!", she said sobbing lightly. She took a deep breath to steady herself. Not yet. She couldn't break down yet. She wasn't safe here.
"Don't worry we'll be there in two. Stay hidden. I'll tell the others", she said urgently.
"Rei, hurry", said Minako as she hung up. She took several deep breaths in order to calm herself. Everything was going to be fine. Artemis couldn't die because Diana wouldn't have been born or be born…or whatever. The point was that he wasn't going to die. He was going to live. She stared at the scrap of paper fisted tightly in her hand. What in the world did he give me? she thought. Unfolding it, she stared at the tiny scrap. On it, in neat hand writing was his name and phone number. Bastard, I hope you die miserably. The angry thought hissed and skittered through her mind. She crumpled up the piece of paper, her hand about to throw it away, when she stopped. She was going to need it later. She was planning to stick him with the hospital bill. She smiled bitterly. Who knows, she just might put Artemis in a pet hotel. A very expensive pet hotel. Poor Art he was going to need it. Her mood wilted visibly as her eyes began to burn.
She heard voices at the door and she stiffened as it swung outward. "Mina!", said Usagi running towards her. Minako slipped down from the counter and into Usagi's waiting arms. She broke down again and cried as her princess held her tightly and rubbed her back. She looked up and saw everyone's worried and grieving faces. Usagi's comfort was replaced by Makoto's mothering.
"Don't worry", whispered Makoto hugging her tightly, "we're getting you both out of here." Her face was red from crying and a determined, angry look made her green eyes blaze with righteous frustration. Ami placed a hand on Minako's arm and her reddened azure eyes met Minako's grief-stricken ones.
"We called the Outers they're meeting us at your apartment. Hotaru should be able to heal him. We just have to get you out first", she pulled out Usagi's disguise pen.
"Rei's in the car, keeping it running. Use this to change yourself into a nurse. We'll be waiting by the door. Just walk out carrying Artemis and don't make any eye contact with anyone", explained Ami as she handed over the pen. Minako's hand closed the pen and a new wave of courage came over her. She pulled herself out of Makoto's embrace and nodded in understanding. She brushed away her tears.
"I'll need a distraction", she said pulling her hair back out of her face. Usagi frowned and bit her bottom lip.
"What if I trip or something?", she suggested. The image of her tripping and knocking over the fish tank in the waiting room danced in their heads. Tempting.
"No, that won't work. It'll bring too much attention to you. Pull the fire alarm on your way in to get him.", Ami instructed, "We'll leave in the chaos."
Minako nodded and held the pen aloft whispering the necessary words. She felt the power embrace and cradle her gently like a mother, as it slowly lifted her into the air. She felt it running through her veins like fire and it sang to her softly. She asked it to give her form and shape her into someone brave; she asked it to turn her into a nurse. Sensible shoes appeared on her feet, along with white stockings. A lab coat enveloped her frame and a clipboard appeared in her hands with a flash. Her hair was but into a simple bun and with a flourish, she was set on her feet. Her blue eyes snapped opened and she dashed out the door.
"Good luck", whispered Usagi after Minako. The bathroom door thumped close in response.