He didn't know what had possessed him to come.
Standing outside the Tokyo Institute for the Criminally Insane, Hideki stared up at the large, intimidating building, unable to accept the fact that his former girlfriend was a patient in a mental hospital. It still seemed so surreal to him, even after witnessing her crimes first-hand. Yokoyama Yui -- crazed criminal? A little obsessed at times, sure, and more than a bit competitive, but insane?
"Oh, Yui, what happened to you?" he asked aloud, sliding one of his hands out of his pockets to finally open the door.
As he hesitantly entered the hospital's lobby, Hideki was immediately struck by the overall whiteness of the room: white walls, white carpeted floors, white couches, white tables. Even the middle-aged woman sitting at the sign-in desk was decked out in a cream-colored suit and pearls, her once black hair going grayish-white at the roots. Practically the only signs of color were found in the paintings hanging on the walls, but even those were done in muted tones, portraying scenes of peace and serenity.
"May I help you, sir?" the woman asked, looking up as he approached the desk.
"I-I'm here to visit somebody," Hideki said. "Yokoyama Yui-san?"
"Yokoyama-san?" She typed something into her computer. "I'm afraid Yokoyama-san isn't available at the moment. She's in a therapy session with Horaki-sensei, but you're welcome to wait. It shouldn't be much longer."
After writing his name down on the sign-in sheet the woman provided, Hideki took a seat on one of the impossibly white couches and looked over the slim selection of magazines sitting on the small table beside him. It figured that most of them were medical journals and psychology magazines, but he did manage to find yesterday's newspaper at the bottom of the stack. It was better than nothing, so Hideki grabbed the front section and immediately wished he hadn't.
The main headline read "Tokyo University student committed after attempted murder of professor," and underneath was a none-too-flattering picture of Yui at her hearing, being led away in handcuffs. Hideki only scanned the accompanying article, already knowing most of the facts, before setting the paper aside and focusing on what he would say to Yui when he saw her.
They hadn't spoken since that horrible day when Yui stabbed Professor Kitagawa. Hideki had attended the commitment hearing, but he couldn't bring himself to talk to her, not even when she gave him a small, sad smile as she was brought into the courtroom. He wasn't sure he even wanted to speak to her now, but something possessed him to come. Whether it was the need for closure or something else entirely, he did not know.
As promised, it didn't take long before he was called. An older, bearded man led Hideki down the seemingly endless white corridor to Yui's room, introducing himself as Dr. Horaki Masahiro, the psychiatrist put in charge of her case.
"I must say I'm surprised to see you here, Matsuno-san," the doctor remarked, sliding his large black glasses up his nose. "You are Yokoyama-san's boyfriend, correct? The man she claims drove her to do what she did?"
"Ex-boyfriend," Hideki corrected, "and I did not drive her to do anything, no matter what she thinks. I never wanted anything like that to happen."
"Of course. I apologize for my poor choice of words," Dr. Horaki apologized. "Still, your visit is unexpected."
"Is it okay for me to see her?" he asked. "I mean, if my coming here is going to interfere with her therapy…"
"It's quite alright. We've only really begun preliminary testing and evaluations at this point. We won't begin serious treatment for about another week."
"Do you know what caused her to go after Kitagawa-sensei and Mizuno-san yet?"
"No, not at the moment. If you asked me for my professional guess, however, I would say Yokoyama-san suffers from a very extreme case of delusional disorder, as well as a combination of other psychological problems such as low-self esteem, depression, and a possible eating disorder."
Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Hideki sighed. How could he not have noticed what was going on with Yui until it was almost too late? Had his love for her made him blind to her problems? Maybe if he had recognized the warning signs earlier…
Almost as if the psychologist had read his mind, Dr. Horaki said, "Don't blame yourself, Matsuno-san. Yokoyama-san is a very disturbed young woman. What happened to that professor was not your fault."
"But shouldn't I have been able to tell that something was wrong with her? That she was mentally unstable?"
"Sometimes the signs aren't easy to spot unless you have professional training in the area, Matsuno-san."
Finally, they reached Yui's room, which really wasn't as much a room as it was a cell. Bars lined the small window of the gray door, and looking briefly inside, Hideki could see that it was very sparsely furnished. Dr. Horaki pulled out a large set of keys and unlocked the door.
"Yokoyama-san, you have a visitor," he announced, sliding the door open and stepping inside.
Hideki was a bit more hesitant upon seeing his former lover, dressed in clean white pants and matching shirt with her titian-hair pulled back in a no-nonsense braid, sitting on a cot and staring straight ahead. Her face showed absolutely no emotion, and he had to wonder if she even heard Dr. Horaki.
"If it is okay with Matsuno-san, I would like to remain in the room for the duration of his visit," the doctor continued, taking a seat in one of two plastic chairs provided. "Matsuno-san?"
"H-Hai," Hideki stuttered, entering the tiny room and closing the door behind him. "That will be fine, Horaki-sensei."
Actually, he felt a bit safer knowing the doctor would be staying with them. Even if he seriously doubted Yui would try to finish what she had started, the memory of her attempting to kill him was something Hideki would remember for a very long time.
Taking the other chair, Hideki dragged it near the neatly-made bed and took a seat directly in front of Yui, who slowly appeared to be coming out of her trance. Soft blue eyes blinked, and her lips spread into a small smile.
"Hideki…" she said. "You came. I knew you would."
"How are you, Yui-san?" Hideki asked, saying the first thing that popped into his head.
She seemed taken aback at first, but recovered quickly. "I'm fine…Hideki-san," Yui replied, only stumbling a little at the more formal address. "Horaki-sensei has been very kind to me, perhaps more than I deserve." Her eyes glanced over at the doctor, who gave a slight nod of encouragement. "What about you?"
"I'm doing okay, I guess. Kitagawa-sensei decided not to press charges against me for my role in the video scandal, so at least I don't have to worry about it anymore."
"That's great. I'm glad for you. I never should have forced you to help me in the first place. Gomen nasai."
Yui honestly sounded apologetic, but Hideki knew better than to take what she said at face value. He, better than anyone, knew what an actress she could be when it suited her.
"Why?" Hideki asked after a long bout of silence. "Why did you do this?"
"I don't know," she admitted. Crossing her legs Indian-style on the bed, Yui placed her hands in her lap and looked down. "I was just so jealous of Mizuno-san, and then I lost you… I just snapped, I guess."
"Horaki-sensei could explain it better."
"I want you to explain it to me, Yui-san," he said. "I don't want to hear a bunch of medical and psychological explanations. I want to hear what you think happened."
"What do you want to know?" she asked. "I'll tell you anything you want me to."
Her offer took him by surprise, though Hideki didn't really know why it did. He supposed he thought it would be more difficult to get Yui to open up about what had happened. Glancing back at Yui's psychiatrist, he saw Dr. Horaki nod, giving him permission to proceed with the questioning.
"Well…uh…" Hideki had so many questions he wanted to ask, but for some reason, his mind suddenly went blank.
Luckily, the doctor saved him. "Yokoyama-san, why don't you tell Matsuno-san what you told me concerning your jealousy of Mizuno Ami-san?" Dr. Horaki suggested.
"Hai, Horaki-sensei." Closing her eyes, Yui took a few seconds to compose her thoughts before beginning. "I suppose it started my first year of university," she began. "Mizuno-san was in my biology class and always ended up receiving the highest marks, which annoyed me. You see, I wasn't used to being second best. Ever since elementary school, I was always the smartest. It was the thing that made me special, the only thing. I wasn't pretty, or athletic, or artistic, or funny, or anything like that. My intelligence was the only thing of value I possessed."
"Yui-san, you know that isn't tr--"
Yui held up a hand, interrupting his protest. "Please, Hideki-san, let me finish," she said before continuing with her story. "For a while, I was able to deal with it. In fact, I enjoyed our friendly rivalry. Mizuno-san pushed me to study harder than I had ever done before, and occasionally, I would even beat her. It was usually only by a point or two, but it gave me such a sense of satisfaction."
"What changed?" Hideki asked.
Nodding, Yui looked up, looking him straight in the eye. "Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not blaming you for my problems," she assured him. "You were the perfect boyfriend."
"I was far from perfect, Yui-san."
"To me, you were, and that was part of the problem. I started to feel I wasn't good enough for you."
Ashamed, Yui once again looked down. "You had everything I ever wanted in a boyfriend: intelligence, kindness, humor, good looks… I couldn't believe someone like you would ever want to be with someone like me. You could have done so much better, Hideki-san."
Vaguely, Hideki recalled her saying something similar to him before, yet he didn't understand how she could have felt that way. In his opinion, he wasn't really anything special at all. Sure, he knew he was attractive, but not extremely so. Most people would probably describe his looks as slightly above average, but mostly forgettable. And his grades, while good, were the product of studying hard, not a natural genius intelligence like Yui's or Miss Mizuno's, except when it came to computers. In fact, there had been times when Hideki felt intimidated by his girlfriend's obvious brilliance. If anything, he hadn't been good enough for her.
"I don't understand. Why would you even think you weren't good enough for me?" he demanded to know. "Did I do something to make you feel that way? Did I say something? Did I look at other girls? Flirt?"
Yui shook her head. "No, it was me, all me," she said softly. "It was all in my head. You kept telling me how much you liked me, just the way I was, but I wouldn't listen. All I could keep thinking about was that you deserved somebody more like Mizuno-san."
"Mizuno-san? But I barely even know her."
The more he heard, the more confused Hideki felt. Other than that night when they had filmed that disgusting video and he had said Miss Mizuno had a nice body, which in foresight he realized probably hadn't been such a great idea, Hideki never even hinted he had an interest in the blue-haired genius. Why in the world would Yui think he wanted to be with Miss Mizuno instead of her?
"I know," she said. "It was an irrational jealousy, but Mizuno-san was everything I ever wanted to be for you: beautiful and smart."
"You were always those things to me, Yui-san."
"You said I was, but I never believed you. How could I, when it was so obvious that Mizuno-san was prettier and more intelligent than me?"
"So you cooked up the video scheme in order to get rid of your so-called competition, even though I hadn't as much as seen the girl before you dragged me into this mess?"
"In part, yes," she admitted. "I knew there wasn't much I could do about my looks, but I thought with Mizuno-san out of the way, I could reclaim my spot as the number one student and regain the only thing that made me less-than-ordinary. Then I would truly be worthy of your love."
"Yui-san, that is ridiculous!" Abruptly, Hideki stood from his chair, placing a hand on his forehead as he paced around the room. Never in a thousand years had he expected an answer like the one she was telling him. A purely academic rivalry, he might have understood, but Yui was basically telling him he was unintentionally the cause of everything that had happened to Miss Mizuno and Professor Kitagawa. "How many times did I tell you I didn't give a damn about your class ranking?" he asked, practically shouting. "How many times, Yui?"
"I don't know… A lot."
"And you couldn't just believe me? You couldn't just be happy to be with me?"
"I'm sorry, Hideki-san," she apologized, drawing her knees up to her chest. He couldn't be sure, but Hideki thought he saw the beginnings of tears welling in her eyes. "I wanted to believe you, I did, but I couldn't. I had to be the best. You deserved the best."
Hideki sighed, regretting his harshness from before. He needed to remember that Yui had been committed to a mental hospital for a reason. She was seriously ill, and it wasn't fair to blame her for her thoughts, no matter how irrational they sounded to him.
"Look, Yui-san, I'm the one who's sorry," he said, his voice softening as he took a seat on the edge of her bed. By that time, he could hear the titian-haired girl lightly crying, her face buried in the sleeves of her shirt, and he finally realized that she wasn't just acting. "I shouldn't have yelled at you like that."
"No, I deserve it," she insisted. "I know I did some horrible things." Lifting up her head, Yui swiped her arm across her eyes, wiping away some of her tears. "How is Kitagawa-sensei?" she asked.
"Better. They releasing him from the hospital today, and he should be fully recovered by the beginning of the new school year in April."
"I'm glad he's okay. And Mizuno-san?"
"She's fine. I hear she's temporarily moving in with Kitagawa-sensei to help take care of him during his recuperation," Hideki said, unsure if he ought to have mentioned the last part.
Yui, however, took the news rather well. "They really do love each other, don't they?" she sighed. "All this time, I was positive Mizuno-san was only sleeping with him to get good grades, but it turns out they were really in love."
"It seems so."
Out of the corner of his eye, Hideki saw Dr. Horaki glance down at his watch. "I'm afraid your time is up, Matsuno-san," he announced. "Yokoyama-san is scheduled for another round of tests."
"Oh, right." Hideki stood up, putting the chair back where it belonged. "I guess this is it, Yui-san."
"Will you come see me again?" Yui asked.
She looked so optimistic, for one moment, Hideki almost said yes. However, he knew that more visits would only be giving her false hope that they would one day get back together, and that was never going to happen after everything they had gone through. Even if she did eventually get better and was released, they could never go back to the way things were. "I don't think so, Yui-san. I just needed…to see you one last time."
"Oh, I see." Her shoulders slumped. "Goodbye, then, Hideki-san."
Akira awoke the next morning, startled at first when he realized that he was laying in his own bed at his apartment instead of the hospital. The colorful wall scrolls and soft blankets were a welcome change from the bare white walls and starchy sheets he had grown accustomed to during his hospital stay, and Akira smiled as the door creaked open, revealing the figure of his lover carrying a breakfast tray in her hands. He would take her over a nurse any day.
"Breakfast is served," Ami announced, entering the bedroom and closing the door shut with her hip before a barking Mercury could follow her inside. "I'm afraid my cooking isn't up to Mako-chan's standards, but I hope you like it."
Groaning at the pain that still lingered around his abdominal wound, Akira slowly sat up and allowed Ami to set the breakfast tray over his lap. "Ami, you didn't have to do this."
"I wanted to. Besides, you're in no condition to be puttering around in the kitchen," she said, pouring a glass of orange juice before taking a seat on the edge of the bed. A couple of pills of his pain medication were already set down on the tray for him to take. "How did you sleep, Akira?" she asked as he reached for the medication. "Did you feel any discomfort?"
After swallowing the pills down with a large gulp of orange juice, Akira shook his head. "I felt some discomfort, but it wasn't too bad," he said. "I do wish you had been with me, though, instead of sleeping out there on the couch. It was lonely."
"Akira!" Ami blushed brightly. "I can't believe you're even thinking of that in your condition."
Akira playfully sighed, enjoying her embarrassment. Ami really was too cute whenever she was flustered. "I finally get you all to myself, and we can't even do anything. How fair is that?"
"It's only until your wound heals and you get your stitches out. Speaking of which…"
Without telling him what she was doing, Ami stood and headed back to the living room as Akira started on the bowl of oatmeal she made. When she came back a few minutes later, she had a new gauze bandage and some ointment in her hands. "Time to change that bandage," she said, setting the tray over to the side and sitting back down.
Her fingers began to slowly unbutton his blue-and-white striped pajama top. Akira involuntarily sucked in a breath, feeling himself starting to become aroused despite himself. Ami glanced up, probably thinking she had accidentally touched a sore spot, but their eyes only met for a moment before she quickly looked back down again, concentrating on peeling off the old gauze.
Life really wasn't fair.
"It looks to be healing quite nicely," Ami remarked as she carefully cleaned the wound and started to apply the clean bandage. "It shouldn't be much longer. Maybe a week or two."
"My own personal Florence Nightingale," he said, smiling as a rather wicked thought crossed his mind. "Hey, you know what would really make me feel better?"
"Seeing you in one of those 'Sexy Nurse' uniforms. You know, the ones with the super-short skirts and the garter belt…"
"Ecchi!" Playfully, she slapped his arm.
"Hey, no slapping the patient!"
"You deserved it," she huffed, finishing with the bandage. "There. All done."
As Ami stood back up, Akira reached for her hand. "Hey, where do you think you're going, Nurse Ami?"
"I was going to throw this old bandage out and take the tray back to kitchen if you're finished with it."
"Stay with me," he said, not wanting her to leave just yet. Akira carefully scooted over to give her some more room and patted the mattress. "Sit."
She looked down at him, no doubt thinking his demand was less than honorable. "I don't know if I should…" she teased.
"I just want to hold you, Ami," he assured her truthfully. "That's all."
Akira could tell she didn't believe him, but Ami finally laid down beside him, resting her head on his shoulder and placing a hand over his stomach. He grimaced slightly at the pain, causing Ami to jerk her arm away in reflex.
"Gomen nasai, Akira! Did I hurt you?"
Reaching for her hand, Akira shook his head. It had only been a minor ache that had already subsided. "I'm fine," he said, entwining her fingers with his own and bringing her hand to his lips for a kiss. "Thank you for staying and taking care of me, by the way. I really appreciate it."
"It's not a problem. I wanted to be here," Giggling, she added, "Besides, I think Mako-chan is actually happy for the chance to have the apartment all to herself for a couple of weeks."
"How do you think she would like it if it was a permanent arrangement?"
The question was out of his mouth before Akira even had a chance to think about it. Ami partially sat up, her navy blue eyes wide with shock as she looked down at him.
"What?" she exclaimed. "Are you asking me to move in with you, Akira?"
At first, Akira didn't know quite how to answer her. The offer came out of nowhere, yet somehow, it felt right. In fact, it felt more than right. When he had proposed to Maeko, he had been confused about his feelings for her, but there was no doubt when it came to Ami. He loved her, plain and simple, and Akira knew that he wanted to spend the rest of life with her.
"More than that, Ami," he said, smiling. "I want you to marry me."
"M-Marriage?" Ami completely sat up, looking at him as if he had completely lost his mind. "You're proposing to me?"
"Yeah, I suppose I am," he chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. Admittedly, it wasn't the most romantic proposal in the world, but he had done the whole "on bended knee" thing with Maeko and look how that had turned out. "Sorry, I don't happen to have a ring on me at the moment…"
"Akira, wait." Situating herself so that they were facing each other, Ami began rubbing her temple. "This is so unexpected. We haven't even been dating for six months, and I'm still in school," she reminded him. "I never planned to get married and start a family until I at least finished med school. Okaa-san always told me how much she regretted marrying otou-san while she was still in school. She thinks it's one of the reasons why the marriage didn't work out."
"But we aren't your parents, Ami. I understand what your medical training will entail, and I'm 100 supportive of your goals."
"I know that, but--"
"I'm not saying we have to get married right away, either," he said, in hopes it would make her more receptive to the idea. Personally, Akira was hoping for sooner rather than later, but he realized marriage was a huge commitment for a twenty-year-old college student. He'd be willing to wait, although his marriage-obsessed mother more than likely would have a different opinion on the matter. "We can wait a couple of years if you want, see if we can live together first…"
"I don't know," Ami said, shaking her head. "Marriage is a big step, and there are some things you still don't know about…my position."
"Your position? You mean the whole Sailor Mercury thing?" Akira still had trouble believing Ami was actually a super-heroine, although he was doing his best to try to accept it.
"It's…complicated," was all she would say, sighing. "Do you mind if I wait a few days to give you a final answer?" she asked. "I have a lot to think about."
"Oh." Akira couldn't hide his disappointment, though he tried to fake an understanding smile. "Sure, I understand. Take as much time as you need."
"Thanks." After lightly kissing his cheek, Ami slid of the bed and gathered the breakfast tray. "Well, I'm going to take these to the kitchen, then take Mercury out for his walk. Will you be okay until I get back?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Go."
As Ami was led to the sakura tree in front of the apartment building by a rambunctious Mercury, she couldn't stop thinking about Akira's proposal. She definitely had not expected that when she brought him breakfast.
Had he even realized what he was asking? Maybe it had been his pain medication talking. The proposal certainly seemed spontaneous enough. Akira couldn't have possibly given it any serious consideration before asking her to marry him, but he had sounded so sincere…
'What am I thinking?' Ami thought, shaking her head. She loved Akira, but it was much too soon to be talking marriage.
Still, she smiled, thinking of what it would be like to be his wife. She may have been young, but Ami already knew that Akira was the one she wanted to be with for the rest of her life. In that case, why wait, especially considering what she knew of the future? The sooner they got married, the more time they would have together to spend as a normal husband and wife before Crystal Tokyo arrived and she had to resume her duties as Sailor Mercury.
That was another problem, though. The main problem, actually. Akira had no idea about her destiny to become Neo-Queen Serenity's guardian. He thought her life as Sailor Mercury ended in high school; how would he react when he found out that Sailor Mercury would become her permanent job in the future?
"What do you think, Mercury?" she asked, looking down at the Corgi, who had finished doing his business. "What should I do?"
Mercury, unsurprisingly, had no answers. Ami sighed, leading the dog back up to the apartment. What she needed was to talk to one of her friends, but who? Rei and Minako were obviously out of the question. Ami already knew what they would say. Man-hater Rei would tell her she should focus more on her career instead of romance, while Minako, the self-proclaimed goddess of love, would be all for her getting married, despite any logical arguments against it, and would probably start campaigning for maid of honor. Usagi probably would be the best to talk to, considering she was in a similar situation, but she had entrance exams coming up, and Ami didn't want to distract her from her studies. That left Makoto, so as soon as got back to the apartment, she called her roommate and asked her to meet her at the campus coffeehouse for lunch.
"He's asked you to marry him?!"
Across the table, the blue-haired genius blushed brightly as several of the coffeehouse's patrons turned to stare. "Keep your voice down, Mako-chan," Ami whispered. "Everybody's looking at us."
"Oops, sorry," Makoto apologized sheepishly. She hadn't even realized how loud she had been talking, so surprised by the news that her best friend was getting married. When Ami called that morning, asking to meet her at the coffeehouse to discuss something important, the thought of an engagement never even crossed Makoto's mind. "But that's fantastic news, Ami-chan!" she said, bringing her volume down to a more suitable level. "Where's the ring? When's the wedding? Have you picked out a date yet? You know, I can probably get the restaurant to give you a good deal on the catering. Oh, and I know this terrific florist. She makes the most beautiful bouquets--"
"I haven't even said yes, yet, Mako-chan," Ami said, interrupting Makoto in mid-sentence. "I don't know if I will."
"What?" Makoto stared at Ami as if she had suddenly grown a second head. She knew if her boyfriend had asked her to marry him, she wouldn't have even hesitated in saying "yes" to the proposal. "What do you mean you haven't said yes yet?"
"It's a big decision, and he sprung this on me so suddenly…" Sighing, Ami picked up a spoon and started stirring the mug of steaming coffee the waiter had placed in front of her. "I mean, I haven't even started medical school yet. This isn't the time to be planning weddings and starting a family, is it?"
Makoto shrugged. "Usagi-chan and Mamoru-san are doing it, and he's still in school," she reminded the potential bride. "Usagi-chan will be, too, if she manages to pass that entrance exam in a couple of weeks."
"I know, but it's different for them. They already know they're fated to marry and become parents to Chibi-Usa-chan. We don't even know if our future counterparts were married."
"I thought you said the future wasn't set in stone, that we had the power to create our own future," Makoto reminded her.
"I did, didn't I?" she mused, the beginnings of a soft smile on her face. "I almost forgot about that."
"See? So what's keeping you from saying yes?"
"I don't know. It's not that I don't want to marry him, someday. I love him so much, Mako-chan, and I want to be his wife, but…"
Makoto frowned as Ami's voice drifted off, not completing the sentence. She didn't understand. If Ami was in love with Professor Kitagawa Akira and wanted to marry him, then why couldn't she bring herself to say yes to the proposal? There had to be some other reason besides school. Sure, marrying while still in college might lead to some problems, but nothing a couple couldn't handle if they really loved each other. Her own parents married while her father was still in school, and they had a very happy marriage together.
"It's the Mercury thing, isn't it?" Makoto guessed, causing Ami to glance up from her coffee in surprise.
"How did you…?"
"I think all of us at one time or another -- with the possible exception of Rei-chan, of course -- has wondered how we're supposed to balance romance with our duties as senshi," Makoto said. She remembered the dozens of conversations she had with Minako, self-titled Goddess of Love, on that very subject during late night phone calls when they should have been studying. "We know we're destined to become Neo-Queen Serenity's guardians, but does that mean we can't have our own personal lives?"
"What do you think?" Ami asked.
"Me? I can't imagine Usagi-chan denying us the chance for happiness. She's always encouraged us to pursue our dreams. I don't think becoming queen of Earth will change that."
"I suppose you're right." Ami sighed after taking a sip of her coffee. "Still, is it really fair to Akira?" she mused aloud. "He's under the impression that Sailor Mercury is a part of my past. He has absolutely no idea what the future will bring."
"If you're that concerned about it, tell him about Crystal Tokyo and let him decide if he still wants to be with you," Makoto suggested.
"Tell him about the future? Can I really do that?"
Makoto shrugged. She was hardly an expert on time theories -- that honor went to Setsuna, the time guardian herself -- but the way she saw it, they couldn't mess up the timeline much more than they already had. Besides, it wasn't as if Ami would be telling her boyfriend about his own future. If he reacted the same way he did when he discovered Ami was Sailor Mercury, he probably wouldn't even believe her when she told him she had been to the future.
"I don't see a problem with it. I think it'll be okay, as long as you keep it as vague as possible."
"Thanks, Mako-chan," Ami said, smiling as she stood and left some money on the table to pay for her drink. "You've been a big help. I think I might do that."
"Good luck, Ami-chan."
Around mid-afternoon, Dr. Nakajima came by for a visit, letting himself in with a spare key Akira suspected Ami had given the professor so he wouldn't have to get up to answer the door. Akira, bored out of his mind while Ami attended her classes, had just finished watching his third soap opera of the day when his mentor arrived, so he was glad for the distraction. If he had to watch another hour of love triangles, long-lost relatives, and "Who's the daddy?" storylines, Akira might have seriously considered finishing the job Yokoyama Yui started.
"You're looking much better," Dr. Nakajima remarked from the doorway of his bedroom as Akira grabbed the remote off the nightstand and switched off the TV. "You have a little bit of your color back. I'm glad to see it."
"Thanks." Carefully, Akira sat up in bed, feeling a little embarrassed when Dr. Nakajima walked over to prop another pillow behind his back, but grateful for the assistance. "So, what brings you here, Nakajima-sensei?" he asked as he glanced over at the alarm clock. It was just around two. "Don't you have a class right about now?"
"No, I cancelled my afternoon lectures today."
"For me? Oh, you shouldn't have," Akira said, playfully batting his eyelashes.
Dr. Nakajima chuckled, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. "Looks like your sense of humor came through intact, at least. But really, how have you been doing, Akira-kun? Mizuno-san says you're healing nicely, but I'd like to hear it from the patient himself."
"Still a little sore, but I'll live. I should be able to have the stitches removed fairly soon, probably by the end of the month."
"That's good to hear."
Akira grinned. "Yeah. Ami's really been taking good care of me. First-rate. One of these days, she's going to make one helluva doctor."
"She's staying with you now, isn't she?" Dr. Nakajima asked, picking up a discarded bra from off the floor and dangling it from his pointer finger. It must have fallen out of the basket when Ami went downstairs to do a load of laundry before heading to class. "Unless there's something you would like to tell me…"
With a roll of his eyes, Akira snatched the bra away and hid it underneath his blanket. "Ami insisted on staying with me through my recovery, although if I have it my way, it'll be a permanent situation."
"You're moving in together? Congratulations."
"Actually…I asked her to marry me."
"Marriage?!" The older professor's eyes significantly widened at the revelation. "Don't you think you might be moving a little too fast, Akira-kun? How long have you two been dating? About six months?"
"We've been through a lot these last few months," Akira reminded him. "Besides, I dated Maeko for, what, like two years before I popped the question, and that didn't work out."
"Yes, but Mizuno-san is still so young…"
"I know," Akira sighed, thinking back to that morning and the impromptu proposal. "Ami does have some concerns about the fact that she's still in school."
"She's a smart girl, that one. Marriage is hard enough without one of the partners going through the rigors of med school and the subsequent internships and residencies," Dr. Nakajima lectured.
"Are you talking about Mizuno-sensei?"
His mentor coughed a little at the mention of his former student, causing Akira's lips to curl up in a knowing smile. He never did get the chance to question Dr. Nakajima about the suspicions that had arisen at the hearing, but now seemed the perfect time to get some answers.
"You two were close, weren't you? I'm sure she must have confided in you the strain her schooling and career put on her marriage."
"We were friends, yes, if that's what you mean," the professor said somewhat defensively, all but confirming Akira's suspicions in his own mind. "I was aware of the marital problems between Saeko-chan and her husband, but they are hardly the only couple in the history of the world to have broken up due to the stress of pursuing a career in medicine."
"Maybe not, but that doesn't mean that if Ami and I were to marry, our marriage would be doomed to fail."
"No, of course not." Dr. Nakajima's face softened slightly, and he sighed. "I just don't want to see you two rush into something you might not be ready for, that's all. I know your mother's been on your case lately about finding a wife and starting a family, but that's no reason to jump into marriage."
"Nakajima-sensei, this is what I want, not my mother," Akira assured him. "Besides, Ami hasn't even said yes yet. She wanted some time to think it over before making her final decision."
"I think that's a wise move on her part, but I suppose as long as this is something you both want, and you are aware of the possible difficulties, then I'll be happy for you."
Arriving back at Akira's apartment after her classes for the day were over, Ami set the bag of Chinese take-out she had gotten for dinner on the kitchen counter and started unpacking the cartons. The smell of hot food filled the air, but instead of her mouth watering in anticipation, Ami felt sick to her stomach.
Ever since her talk with Makoto at the coffeehouse over her lunch break, Ami had been debating whether or not she should do what her roommate suggested and tell Akira about Crystal Tokyo. Even after she called Setsuna and got the go-ahead (apparently, it wasn't any worse than a legitimate psychic revealing the future), she still wasn't sure if she wanted to go through with it.
Akira just barely accepted the fact that she was Sailor Mercury and possessed magical powers, which he was still positive must have some logical scientific explanation. How would he react when she told him that she traveled to the 30th century and discovered not only was she still alive, but she worked as one of Neo-Queen Serenity's guardians?
Still, if their theoretical marriage had any hope of surviving, Ami knew she couldn't keep her destiny a secret from Akira. It wouldn't be fair to him to just pretend Crystal Tokyo was some unexpected surprise when she knew for a fact it was coming beforehand. Wasn't it better that he found out the truth now, when he still had a chance to leave before things got complicated? Didn't he deserve that choice, even if it meant she might lose him forever?
"Oh, what am I supposed to do?" she moaned, plopping down in a chair and burying her face in her arms on the kitchen table.
"Ami, is that you?"
Hearing her lover's voice, Ami slowly raised her head and looked over at the door leading to the bedroom, where Akira, dressed in pajamas, was leaning against the frame and holding his side.
"Akira, what are you doing out of bed?" she asked, immediately jumping up from her seat. "You know my mother told you to take it easy."
"I'm fine," he assured her as he slowly made his way to the couch and sat down. "You don't want me developing bed sores, do you? Now, what smells so delicious? Chinese?"
Ami nodded, bringing a couple of the cartons and some chopsticks into the living room. She would have preferred it if he had went back to his room, but since he was already out of bed, there was little point in fussing about it. "I went to that little place near the school you like so much."
"Chang's Golden Dragon? Man, it's been forever since I've been there! Did you remember to get the moo goo gai pan?"
"Of course I did," she said, handing him the carton. "How could I forget your favorite?"
Akira expertly snapped apart the chopsticks provided and dug right in, barely managing to get out a "Itadakimasu" before stuffing his face with the stir-fried chicken and mushrooms. Ami giggled, sitting down beside him on the couch with a carton of chow mein, but her laughter was short-lived as she remembered the decision she had to make.
Maybe he would understand. After all, Akira told her that night at the hospital that he would love her no matter what. That had to include finding out that she had traveled to the future and discovered she was destined to become Sailor Mercury once again, right?
"Ami, you're not eating," Akira said a couple of minutes later, interrupting her thoughts. "Is something wrong with the food?"
"Huh?" She had been so distracted, Ami hadn't even realized she stopped eating, only moving the noodles around in the carton with her chopsticks. "Oh, no, it's delicious," she said, setting the carton of half-eaten chow mein aside. "I just have a lot on my mind, that's all."
"Oh? Like what?"
"Like us," she admitted, taking a deep breath to build up her courage. Since she had brought up the subject, it was now or never. "Akira, I think we need to talk."
"Why don't I like the sound of that?" he sighed. "Nothing good ever comes out of a conversation that starts out with 'We need to talk.'"
"It's about something important, something about what we were talking about this morning."
Ami nodded as Akira carefully placed his carton on the coffee table, grimacing a little at the pain, then situated himself so that he was giving her his undivided attention. Green eyes stared at her expectantly, a strange mixture of hope and fear.
"I-I've been thinking -- a lot -- about what we discussed," she began when Akira didn't say anything else. "I've come to a decision, but first, there's something I need to tell you. If you decide you'd rather not marry me after I tell you, that's fine. Just hear me out."
Somewhat relaxing when she said that, Akira laughed. "Ami, come on. You know nothing you tell me could possibly make me change my mind about marrying you."
"Please, Akira. This is important."
"Okay, fine, I'll play along," he agreed, not taking the discussion seriously at all. "What's the other big, bad secret Mizuno Ami has been keeping from me? I already know about you being Sailor Mercury --"
"Actually, it's about that."
"It's about you being Sailor Mercury?" Akira frowned, losing a bit of his playfulness from before. "But you told me that part of your life was over, that other than the day Yokoyama-san tried to kill us, you hadn't used your powers since your first year of high school."
"I haven't, but I never meant that I stopped being Sailor Mercury."
"I don't understand."
Sighing, Ami rose from her seat on the couch and started walking around the room. Her hands shook in nervousness, but Ami clenched them into fists at her sides, determined to go through with the discussion no matter what the outcome might be. Akira had a right to know what kind of life they would share if they decided to get married.
"Ami, you're starting to scare me a little," Akira said. "Look, I know it took me a while to get used to this whole Sailor Senshi thing, but I'm fine with it now. Well, at least I'm trying to be. It's still a bit hard to believe, but I'm coming around, so if you're afraid I'm going to make you stop being friends with the other sens--"
"No, it's not that," she interrupted, stopping and pivoting on her heel so she was facing her lover. "It's…well…I've been to the future, Akira."
"What?" As she suspected would happen, Akira didn't believe her at all, laughing in the same incredulous way he did when she first told him about Sailor Mercury. "Ami, don't be ridiculous! I know there have been plenty of scientific theories concerning time travel, but none of them have been proven. As far as we know, it's impossible to travel to the future."
"I'm not lying. Did I lie when I told you that I was Sailor Mercury and had magical powers?"
"No, but --"
Not giving him the chance to finish, Ami continued with her story. "It happened my second year of middle school. There were these enemies from the future who were attempting to rewrite history by going back to the past, which was then the present."
"Akira, please let me finish," Ami said. "Anyway, one of the enemies managed to kidnap me and held me prisoner on the tenth planet of our solar system, Nemesis."
"Tenth planet? You know of the existence of a tenth planet?"
Ami sighed. As much as she loved Akira's natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge, qualities she also shared, his constant interruptions were not helping. "I know you have a lot of questions, but you're not making this any easier."
"Okay, fine. Go on."
"Mars and Jupiter were also kidnapped and taken to the future. I don't know how long we were there, but eventually we were rescued by Sailor Moon. She managed to travel to the future to rescue us with the help of her future daughter by way of the Gates of Time, guarded by Sailor Pluto. The rest of the story isn't really important, but you have to believe me. It is taboo, but it is possible to travel to the future."
For a long moment after Ami finally finished with her story, Akira didn't say a word. He simply stared at her, none of the expected questions coming out of his mouth. Ami feared that meant he didn't believe her, but just when she was about to tell him to forget she even said anything, Akira spoke, his voice surprisingly awestruck.
"You really went to the future?" he asked. "Ami, do you realize what you're saying? That is amazing! It boggles the mind! Do you know how long scientists have been trying to determine if time travel was possible? To think that not only is it possible, that you've actually experienced it, first hand? It's incredible!"
"That's not what I wanted to tell you, though," Ami said, forcing herself not to smile at the excited look on Akira's face. It was the same look he always wore whenever he discovered something unexpected in the lab during one of his experiments. In hindsight, Ami realized she probably shouldn't have told him about the Gates of Time and Sailor Pluto, since she had a feeling Akira would no doubt want to visit and conduct research, but she would deal with that later.
Ami shook her head. "I wanted to talk to you about what I saw in the future -- Crystal Tokyo, and the role I'll play in it."
"Crystal Tokyo is what this city will become in a few short years, when Usagi-chan and Mamoru-san take the throne as Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion," she explained.
"You mean that blonde with the strange hairstyle and her boyfriend? Tsukino-san and Chiba-san? They're going to become king and queen?"
"Hai. Usagi-chan is the reincarnated princess of a long forgotten kingdom called Silver Millennium, and Mamoru-san was her lover, prince of Earth's Golden Kingdom."
"Wow…" Akira rubbed his forehead, letting the information sink in. "That certainly is a lot to digest, but what does that have to do with us, Ami? You're not going to become Queen of Mercury or something like that, are you? There might have been life forms on Mercury back when that kingdom you were talking about was in power, but as far as we know, the planet's barren of living organisms."
Shaking her head, Ami sat back down on the couch and looked down at her hands, which were clutching at the plaid fabric of her skirt. This was the moment she had dreaded.
"Akira, it is my destiny to become the queen's guardian once again, as it was during the time of Silver Millennium. I saw it in the future."
"We actually don't much about what will entail," Ami continued, still looking down so she couldn't see the look on Akira's face. "I don't know if it will be a full-time job or if I will even get the chance to practice medicine. Mako-chan thinks Usagi-chan would want us to still pursue our dreams, even if we are her guardians, but I don't know… I just don't know."
Before Ami even realized it, tears were streaming down her face. She had no idea where they were coming from, but they wouldn't stop, the rivers flowing down her cheeks.
"Hey, don't cry," Akira said, pulling Ami close despite the pain it must have caused. "It's okay."
"No, it's not. I might not be able to be the kind of wife you want. Don't you see, Akira? We won't be able to have a normal life together."
"I don't care, Ami." Akira kissed the top of her head, tightening his embrace. "We haven't had a conventional relationship so far, so why should the future be any different?"
"I love you, Ami."
"I love you, too, but--"
"Then do me the honor of becoming my wife."
Ami pulled away, wiping her tears away with her hands. Akira was smiling expectantly at her, and at that moment, she knew what answer to give, the only answer she could give.
"Yes. Yes, Akira, I'll be your wife."
DISCLAIMER: "Sailor Moon" is the property of Takeuchi Naoko.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Well, that's the end, folks! As always, I want to thank I Abibde/Samuraiter and Starsea for being such wonderful editors. I'd also like to thank the Fic Bitch, Aglaia, and Krysia for helping me with some of my laboratory and chemistry questions, so I didn't sound like a complete dunce when it came those scenes. (At least, I hope I didn't!) And, most of all, thank you to the fans. I hope you enjoyed the conclusion.
Oh, and check out my profile page for a link to the UFO Awards website, which is now accepting nominations for 2007. Any and all fandoms are accepted, so if you know of a good fic completed this year, then feel free to fill in a nomination.