Sequel to "Bottom of a Phone Booth" and "Yet Again"
Written for the Sailor Moon Monthly Fanfiction Challenge
December Challenge - Day Twenty-Five: Holiday

Submitted for Fanfic100 Venus/Kunzite Claim
Prompt #30 - Death
by Kihin Ranno

There she was, standing at Kunzite's grave – Nakamura Keitaro's grave - trying to atone for an accidental sin. She had helped kill Kunzite and all the Shitennou without ever knowing that before they had been taken by Beryl for the second time, they had been human. She didn't know anything about Nakamura Keitaro beyond his past incarnation. She didn't know if he had any hobbies or if he had ever fallen in love. All she knew was that she had committed murder both terrible and necessary, and she had been regretting it for three long years.

"I wonder if you're ever going to forgive me," she whispered.

"I'm sure he has more important things to worry about."

She shrieked, breaking the sanctity of the cemetery.

Someone chuckled from behind. She whirled, shocked to find someone only vaguely familiar standing there.

"Takehiko-san," she breathed, laying a hand over her heart as if that would do something to calm her down. "You surprised me."

"Apparently," he said, smiling pleasantly.

She felt humiliated. How had this man become so adept at throwing her totally off balance even though they'd only just met? "I'm sorry, I'm not usually this skittish," she said, realizing he had automatically put her on the defensive.

"I don't doubt it." He was still smiling, and she felt her cheeks burn. He walked up beside her and said, "My surname is Kaneda by the way as I should have mentioned on our first meeting."

"Kaneda-san," she said, sounding too relieved for the occasion. She knew he noticed, but she would have to forgive herself for that slip. She had been expecting him to say that his family name was Nakamura, and she was happy to hear that that wasn't the case. It was enough to make her decide not to be nasty to him even though she had promised she would be if she ever saw him again.

She gestured to Keitaro's headstone. "Did you know him?"

Takehiko followed her hand, and she watched as him as he read the gravestone. She couldn't pinpoint any change in his face, but she could have sworn that some short of shadow had passed over his face. That's why she was surprised he when he said, "No. I didn't know him at all."

Minako stared at him for a moment. "Then what are you doing here?"

Takehiko chuckled ruefully. "I haven't made a good impression then."

Minako felt her cheeks burn again. She felt very much like kicking herself. "I didn't mean--"

"I was paying my respects to other family members buried here. I saw you and I thought you looked lonely."

His candor was also not what she expected, and she was beginning to get frustrated. He should not be taking her off guard as much as he was. "You've come to keep me company?"

"Unless you'd rather be alone," he answered.

She thought about telling him to leave. She came up with a perfectly cruel, biting way to tell him that she didn't want his company and that she didn't care if she ever saw him again. She'd probably also throw in something about how nobody carried around handkerchiefs anymore. And that she didn't trust him.

"I hate being alone," she said softly, hating herself for her honesty.

He regarded her for a moment, and she could tell that he hadn't been prepared for her to say that. Even in her irritation, she couldn't help but feel a little satisfied that she had turned the tables on him, even for a moment. He swallowed and turned back to the headstone. "So do I."

Minako smiled. "You seem better equipped to handle it than me."

Takehiko raised an eyebrow. "What makes you say that?"

Minako furrowed her brow a bit. What had made her say that anyway? She felt like it was true, but she had no idea what had prompted her to say it. Was she supposed to say that he seemed more solid than she was? Stronger? Older? Wiser? Better? Could she tell him that she knew all these things after just meeting him - that his capability was so obvious that it made her feel like a fool even when he was trying to be kind?

Eventually, she shrugged. "You're taller."

He laughed, shaking his head as if to say 'I should have known.' "Well, I suppose that explains everything."

Minako looked away so that she could make a face at herself. She was truly the biggest idiot ever created.

"So how did you know him?"

"What?" Minako asked, her hair flying around as she turned back to face him.

He looked at Keitaro's headstone. "Nakamura-san. How did you know him?"

"Oh," Minako said, hoping he hadn't noticed that octave she'd just climbed. "I… didn't actually." She blinked and started to panic. What had she said that for?

"Do you make a habit of visiting stranger's graves, Aino-san?" he asked.

Minako sighed. "No. I don't. It's… complicated."

Takehiko just looked at her, not pressing her for information and not shutting himself off from an explanation if she needed to give it.

So, naturally, she started talking again even though she should have known better. "I never really let myself get to know him. He seemed… horrible. He was horrible." She paused. "But he really wasn't either."

"Nakamura-san is quite the paradox then," Takehiko said quietly.

"In a way," Minako agreed. "But I only saw the obvious, and then he died… When I found out about the rest, I felt guilty. That's why I come."

Takehiko shoved his hands into the pockets of his trench coat, considering her words but still staring out at the headstone. "You shouldn't feel guilty."

Minako closed her eyes and smiled wryly. "So they tell me."

"I mean it," he said, his sincerity startling her enough to open one eye. He was looking directly at her, and she could have sworn he was seeing through her skin. She shivered, but her blood was pleasantly warm. "He should take the blame for what happened. You only did what you thought was right." The set of his shoulders changed. "He doesn't deserve you mourning him."

She met his eyes even though it made her knees feel as though they were melting together. "How do you know that?"

She expected him to blink or look away for a moment, but he didn't. "You're not that malicious."

"You don't know me," she insisted, stepping towards him until they were uncomfortably close. "And you don't know him either. How can you say what he did and didn't deserve? And don't you dare tell me who I should grieve for!"

A lesser man would have backed down. "I'm just trying to spare you, Aino-san."

"Why would you care?" she demanded.

"Because I know what it's like," he said with enough force to drive her back. She made herself stand her ground. "And no one should put themselves through that."

She looked at him for a moment, refusing to blink. There was tension between them, more than should exist between two strangers. Then again, Minako kept forgetting that they hadn't known each other for very long. He could obviously read her as if they had been childhood friends. She felt she knew him as well.

She smiled gently. "You should take your own advice you know."

Finally, she surprised him.

"I--" he started.

"Then again if you're anything like me, you don't tend to follow anyone's advice even if it is your own," she challenged. "Right?"

Takehiko regarded her for a moment, and she wasn't quite sure if she wanted him to stop or never look away. "I thought we didn't know each other."

Minako shrugged. "Can't be right all the time."

He nodded. Then he bowed and said, "If you'll excuse me, Aino-san, I think I've taken up enough of your time."

"Oh," Minako said, unable to hide her disappointment. "Yes, I suppose we both have to be on our way." She returned the bow hastily and said, "Thank you very much for keeping me company, Kaneda-san."

"Anytime," Takehiko said with a bit more gravity than she was expecting. That was his final word. He put his hands back into his pockets and strolled off, leaving Minako alone at Kunzite's – or Keitaro's – gravestone.

She watched him go, and she felt cold in his absence in spite of the summer heat. After awhile, she gathered her things and decided to leave. She did have other errands to run that day, although she had been planning on skipping until she had run into Takehiko.

She considered the strangeness of that: meeting him again made her feel like being more responsible. She rolled her eyes and groaned in frustration.

"Who is that guy?!"