A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2007 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2007 by Bill K.
September 26, 2009: Usagi Chiba trudged up the steps of Hikawa Shrine with as little relish as she always had for them. If she didn't know the thought was preposterous, Usagi would swear that Rei was adding steps in the middle of the night. Her growing fatigue and aching knees couldn't possibly be because she was old and out of shape. She was only thirty! Thank goodness the days were beginning to cool.
"Maybe Mamo-chan's right," gasped the young blonde as she made the final step. "Maybe I do need to exercise. If only exercise wasn't so much work!"
After taking a few moments to catch her breath, Usagi headed off for the main building of the shrine where she expected to find Rei. As she walked, she noticed that there were several worshipers at the shrine. Seeing worshipers at Hikawa was a good sign. After Rei's grandfather had died, attendance had fallen off at Hikawa. Some felt the loss of "Grandpa" keenly and drifted away from the place, while others were reluctant to trust Rei as the new priest, either because she was a woman or because she had a hair-trigger temper. The specter of her second sight, which often saw more than some people were comfortable with, hindered attendance as well. Seeing people here again was a good thing. It meant that the years of perseverance Rei had put in keeping the shrine afloat often through sheer force of will hadn't been in vain.
Rei's latest Miko, Yomi, was selling fortunes to some locals. Yomi was fifteen, with long brown hair and glasses and a very intelligent face. It was that intelligence that made her industrious and allowed her to avoid the Head Priest's ire. Usagi remembered Rei confiding in her that Yomi was the best Miko she'd ever had and that she dreaded the day when the girl would head off to college.
"Rei?" Usagi called out, poking her head into the main building. It was odd, now that she thought of it, that Rei wouldn't be out working the crowd, since they did actually have people there for a change. Guilelessly, she headed for the room where Rei usually entertained important guests - - although most of the time the "important guests" were the senshi. "Rei, are you . . " she asked, sliding back the door.
Rei was in there, with a man. They sat across a table, drinking tea, and had been in conversation. The priest turned toward the door, her annoyance as usual unconcealed.
"DO YOU MIND?" she snarled.
Usagi whipped the door shut and pressed against it. The fact that Rei snapped at her hadn't startled her. It was Rei, after all. What startled her was that Rei was entertaining a man.
And what a man. The corners of Usagi's mouth curled up. Thick soft black hair crowned a handsome, gentle face reminiscent of an idol or a movie star. From the way he sat, he seemed tall and athletic, yet there was an air of calm and serenity to him. Usagi always had a weakness for a handsome man and he qualified.
Against all common sense, Usagi parted the door a crack and peeked in again. Rei was engaged in conversation with him, leaning forward energetically. Though Usagi couldn't make out what they were saying, she was amazed by the manner in which Rei was acting. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled like few times Usagi could remember her doing. She could only assume that Rei must think this man was as attractive as Usagi did.
"Oh my goodness," Usagi whispered to herself, her hand covering her mouth to further stifle her words.
Seized by inspiration, Usagi got out her cell phone. The cell had a camera attachment and, if she could remember how to work it and do it without being caught, Usagi intended to snap a photo of the man. Several tense seconds later, Usagi was reasonably confident she'd succeeded. Cautiously she eased the door closed and crept away. As silently as possible, Usagi eased out of the shrine and sat down on one of the benches outside. Her expression was by now pure glee.
"She's finally done it!" Usagi marveled to herself. "She's finally met a guy she likes!" Abruptly Usagi squealed, kicking out her heels as she sat on the bench. "Oh, Rei, I'm so happy for you! And he was worth the wait, too! Oh, he's gorgeous! And he seems so nice and gentle." Usagi's eyes narrowed with conspiratorial glee. "I wonder if she needs me to nudge things along."
Forty minutes later, Rei emerged from the shrine and walked over to where Usagi was still sitting. For her part, Usagi had been making wedding plans for Rei and this mysterious man for the better part of her wait. She only noticed Rei when the priest, in her traditional robes, was nearly on top of her. She gave her friend an ear to ear grin.
"Do you ever knock?" Rei asked, an eyebrow cocked.
"Sorry for interrupting," Usagi replied with a knowing smirk. Rei stared at her, trying to read her and getting back only mixed signals.
"Is there trouble?" Rei asked with thinning patience. "Or did you get confused again and think it was festival?"
"Who was that guy you were with?" Usagi asked with exaggerated animation.
"None of your business," Rei replied stonily.
Usagi giggled like she knew something.
"Did you come here for something or did you just come to show me you've finally flipped?" Rei asked.
"DON'T BE MEAN, REI!" Usagi huffed. "I just came down to ask you a few things about the feudal era. I need to check some facts about the Fire Princess Rika story I'm doing. And I figured since you know a lot about tradition and feudal Japan, you might be able to help me." Then she leaned in conspiratorially. "But that was before I found out you were 'otherwise occupied'."
And she giggled again.
"Usagi . . ." Rei began, hopelessly confused now.
"No, no! I'll go ask Ami. If she can't help me, she can get on the net and find something that can. I don't want you to keep your," and Usagi leaned in with a leer, "guest waiting."
And off she went, bounding toward the steps leading to the street with a bounce in her step reminiscent of the woman's younger days. Rei put her hand to her temple.
"Sometimes I think she acts like this just to annoy me," Rei muttered to herself.
So wrapped up with her newly-found discovery was she, Usagi managed to miss the bus. Shrugging her shoulders, the woman began walking. It wasn't too far from the shrine to Ami's apartment. She even heard Luna's voice in her mind, telling her the walk would do her good. Giving Luna's voice a mental raspberry - - and neglecting to call ahead to see if Ami was home at this hour - - Usagi forged ahead. Along the way, though, she ran into an unexpected treat. Turning a corner, Usagi found Makoto walking down the street with her two children in tow. Two year old Ichiro sat placidly in his stroller while four year old Akiko bounded from one side of the walk to the other side finding one wonder after another. Over her white dress dotted with pink flowers, the girl wore a body harness. Attached to the harness was a mesh leash that Makoto held in one hand while she guided the stroller.
"OH, THERE'S MY FAVORITE NIECE AND NEPHEW!" squealed Usagi.
"Hi, Kiddo," Makoto smiled. The woman wore jeans and a gray sweatshirt.
"AUNTIE USAGI!" Akiko squealed back. She made a bee-line for the woman until she reached the end of her tether, then reached for her until Usagi closed the gap.
"Anny-Sagi!" Ichiro beamed and reached out from his stroller. Usagi knelt down and hugged both children.
"Oh, you two just get cuter every time I see you!" Usagi said. Releasing the children, she brought up her purse. "And I think I've got something for you both."
"Usagi, will you stop giving my kids candy," Makoto groaned.
"Oh, it's not going to hurt them!" Usagi huffed, then presented each child with a piece. Then she popped a third in her own mouth. "You want some?"
"No. That would just mean I'd have to jog an extra half mile and frankly I don't have the time," Makoto replied. She glanced at her kids. "So what do you say?"
"More, please!" Akiko chirped, holding out her hand. That earned her a swat on the head from her mother.
"Stop that!" fumed Makoto. "You say 'thank you'!"
Akiko glared at her mother.
"T'ank you," Ichiro responded, imitating his mother.
"Thank you, Auntie Usagi," Akiko added, chastened. Usagi gently stroked her cheek.
"So why are you all the way out here?" Usagi asked.
"Well, I have to get this one new shoes," and she pointed to Ichiro, "AGAIN, and if I leave THIS one alone for more than five minutes, she'll have the apartment burned down," and she nodded to Akiko with a wry smile. Akiko responded with an angelic expression. "So what about you?"
"Oh, I was headed over to Ami's," Usagi replied. Then the grin sprouted.
"I," Usagi said evasively, her grin undimmed, "just have to ask her a few things."
"About what? You look like you're about to pop. Did you get some good news?"
"Great news!" Usagi squealed.
"What kind of great news?"
"Absolutely the best news anyone could ever get!"
"So, spill," Makoto urged while Akiko tugged at her leash.
Usagi nearly spoke, then changed her mind. "No. No, I better not jinx it. But believe me, Mako-chan, it is the absolutely best news you could ever imagine!" Suddenly a thought seized Usagi. "Oh, I better get over to Ami's! I still have pages to ink!"
With a joyous wave, Usagi bounded away. Makoto watched her head down the street.
"Um, but isn't Ami at her office this time of day?" Makoto called after her when she realized Usagi was headed for Ami's apartment. "Didn't hear me. Oh well, some folks have to find out the hard way."
"Where's Auntie Usagi going, Mommy?" Akiko wondered aloud.
"To visit your Aunt Ami," Makoto replied. Then she began to ponder. "Ask her some questions? Great news? The best news anyone could ever get?"
A startling conclusion dawned silently upon Makoto's face.
"Oh my goodness," Makoto gasped. "Is Usagi pregnant"
After finding that Ami wasn't home - - and remembering her office hours - - Usagi headed for the family practice offices that Ami shared with Mamoru. After three years of hospital work, Ami had finally taken Mamoru up on his standing offer of going into private practice with him. Mamoru had a small but growing practice going for two years now. Usagi recalled sharing her husband's private relief that Ami had finally accepted his offer. The practice had grown to the point where Mamoru had begun to turn away patients from lack of time to see them. Ami was a godsend to him and quickly became popular with all the new patients they could suddenly take. In just four months Ami nearly had a full calendar, something it had taken Mamoru sixteen months to achieve.
She found Ami discussing some things with the medical technician on staff.
"Usagi!" Ami gasped happily. "You're early. Mamoru won't be done with his patients until at least five."
"Actually I came to see you," Usagi replied.
"Well you certainly seem happy. Did you get good news?"
"Just the best!"
"Well, what is it?"
Usagi grimaced. "I don't want to jinx it."
"Usagi, there are no such things as jinxes. That's pure superstition."
"You're sure?" Usagi asked. Ami nodded with confidence. "OK then, I have to show you something!"
Proudly Usagi engaged the picture recall on her cell phone and handed it to Ami.
"It's a picture of a thumb," Ami replied.
"WHAT?" gasped Usagi. She snatched the phone away and began scrolling through the memory. A few moments later she handed the phone back to Ami.
"Oh my," Ami said, which was in itself amazing because Ami rarely allowed her admiration for a handsome man to go public. "Who is he?"
"He's Rei's new BOYFRIEND!" Usagi squealed. "Isn't he just dreamy!"
"He is quite handsome," Ami nodded. "Where did Rei meet him?"
"She won't tell me," pouted Usagi. "You know Rei. You could hold a hot poker to her feet and she won't talk if she doesn't want to."
"Are you certain they're romantically involved, then?" Ami eyed her friend warily.
"Ami, they were sitting in the shrine having tea. And you could see by the look on Rei's face that he was the answer to her dreams! Oh, and I'm so happy for her! Ever since Yuuichiro left and her grandfather died, it's just been her in that shrine all by herself. It's not healthy."
"I'll grant you that," Ami nodded. "Rei's lack of trust of strangers, particularly men, isn't a healthy social response. I'm glad she's finally gotten past it. I hope he's good to her." Ami glanced at her watch. "Was that all you wanted, Usagi? Because I really should see my next patient."
"Well," Usagi grimaced.
"There was something else?"
"I, uh, kind of need to find out a few things about Japanese feudal society - - for my Rika story."
Ami seemed uncertain as to what to do. On the one hand, she wanted to help Usagi - - particularly since she was giving Ami the puppy dog eyes - - but she had patients to help, too. Just then, Mamoru emerged from one of the exam rooms. He caught sight of Usagi and ambled over.
"Oh! There's Mamoru!" Ami said with exaggerated vigor. She turned Usagi around and nearly pushed her toward her husband. "I'm sure he'll be able to answer whatever questions you have!"
And instantly Ami headed for the nearest exam room with a waiting patient.
"Oh, Ami, you're such a chicken sometimes," the doctor muttered to herself.
"Hello?" Minako said into the cell phone. "Makoto?"
"Minako!" roared the director from the other end of the set. "We're trying to tape here!"
"Sorry!" Minako squealed back just as dramatically. "I'll be out in the hall if you need me!" Adjourning to the hall outside the sound stage where season three of "Island Princess" was being taped, Minako brought her phone back to her ear. "I'm back, Makoto. Is there trouble?"
"No," Makoto replied. "Sorry for calling you at work. I figured you'd be done by now."
"Ha!" Minako exclaimed. "How little you know about show business!"
"It's six at night!"
"And we've got air dates to meet," Minako told her. "That means you have a certain number of scenes that have to be taped each day and you have to stay until they're all taped. Hell, we were here until ten thirty yesterday and I had to come in again at seven this morning!" Minako batted her eyes. "Fortunately I don't have to spend very much time in make-up."
"It must be a curse being you," Makoto jabbed.
"Somebody has to do it," Minako grinned on the other end of the communication. "So what's up?"
"Have you talked with Ami or Usagi lately?"
"Well," Makoto hesitated, "I was just wondering if either of them have mentioned anything recently about, um, . . ."
"Um . . . what?"
"Somebody being pregnant?"
"Somebody's pregnant? It can't be me! We're not finished taping this season yet!"
"I wish you were in reach right now," sighed Makoto.
"So who is it?"
"Well, I really don't want to say until I know for sure," Makoto began.
"MINAKO!" a voice boomed down the hall. "WE'RE READY FOR SET-UP NUMBER TWENTY-SIX!"
"COMING!" Minako bellowed back. "Gotta go, Makoto. But we WILL talk later about this!"
Before Makoto could respond, Minako ended the call. As she hurried down the hall to the sound stage, she couldn't keep the knowing grin off of her face.
"So Makoto's pregnant again," Minako smiled to herself. "Man, we're going to have to get Sanjuro another hobby"
After finishing at the office, Ami leisurely walked home. She had a car, but her apartment was only a twelve minute walk from her office and ever-practical Ami figured there was no point in driving that short a distance. She noted the evenings were getting their first hint of coolness after the summer heat.
"A bit early this year," Ami judged. "I hope that doesn't mean an early winter."
Waiting at a corner, Ami's eye was caught by a man across the street. He seemed to be waiting for someone. Ami's eye lingered, and not just because he was a handsome man.
"That man seems familiar," Ami scowled, searching her mighty brain. "Oh, of course! The picture Usagi showed me earlier today! That's the man! So that's the man Rei's supposed to be enamored with. Well, I sincerely hope it works out. Rei could use the love and support of someone. She hides behind that wall of hers far too much."
Just then a car pulled up to the curb in front of the man. As he walked up to it, his expression changed to one of recognition and joy. A woman, in her early twenties and stylishly pretty, got out of the car. She and the man embraced warmly with an affection borne of years of intimacy. Ami stared, her mouth agape and her eyes bulging. Then two children, pre-schoolers as far as Ami could tell, got out of the car and hugged the man's legs. After greetings and hugs were sufficiently exchanged, the four people climbed into the car and it drove off. Ami's gaze followed it until it was out of sight.
"Oh my goodness," Ami grimaced. "This is the LAST thing Rei needs"
The candles were being stored away for the evening. Oddly enough, Rei was the one doing it. Normally that was a job for her miko, but Yomi was selling fortunes to some stragglers. Rei didn't mind doing it. Yomi seemed to excel with the public and sales were up. Her fellow high school students always came by and that meant more contributions and more futures to be divined, for when teens had money, they seemed compelled to spend it and Yomi's presence meant they spent it at Hikawa. Plus she was a nice girl and willing to do her part. Rei knew she was lucky to have her and if it meant storing away candles to allow the girl to get home at a reasonable hour and do her homework, Rei was willing to do it.
Plus she was feeling much more charitable these days. Yomi was part of why she felt that way. But so was Fukuoka-San.
Rei paused and smiled. He was the one. After all the time she'd spent searching, waiting, hoping that someone like him would come along, her patience proved not to be in vain. He was everything she could want: Bright, sensitive, compassionate. He had an interest in Japanese history, particularly its religious evolution, that rivaled her own and was willing to settle in to the quiet little shrine without complaint or ambition.
And the fact that he was adorably handsome was the cherry on top.
"Yo, Rei!" boomed the voice that could only belong to Minako. Rei turned and found the blonde leaning in the room through the partially open door. "How's it hanging?"
"Do you even know what that expression means?" Rei asked pointedly, though without the characteristic annoyance she usually had.
"Should I?" Minako asked, wandering in. She was adopting her "dumb blonde" personna in an attempt to get a rise out of the priest. Rei recognized it, but couldn't seem to muster any annoyance. Minako noticed quickly. "What's with you?"
Rei expelled a little sigh. "Things are going well."
"And that's all you need to know."
Minako scowled. "Well, some things never change. All right, be cryptic. I'll find out sooner or later. Meanwhile, you can sell me another charm. The word on renewals is coming next week and I'd LIKE for 'Island Princess' to finish this season."
"Yomi go home?" Rei asked. She followed Minako out to the building where the charms and fortunes were sold.
"Didn't notice," Minako shrugged. "You know I always go to the top dog for my charms. That way they have the most powerful mojo."
"Of course," Rei replied, trying to conceal her grin. They walked down the path.
"Since you don't want to spring with any juicy gossip, I guess I'll have to do the dishing as usual," Minako ventured. Rei leaned in, despite her high-minded ideals. "Guess who's pregnant again."
"Makoto?" Rei gasped. Minako nodded, pleased with herself. "Goodness! Ichiro's barely two years old! At least they waited that long. What's she feeding Sanjuro?"
"I don't know, but I'd like to find out," Minako added, "so I can avoid giving it to Toshi-
"And the world thanks you for not procreating," Rei jabbed. Minako's eyes narrowed.
"At least I've got someone to procreate with," Minako shot back. "I just don't want kids - - you know, for my career."
"Suuuuuuuure," Rei smirked, reaching for a charm. The priest took the charm and pressed it to her forehead, softly whispering a prayer - - something Yomi never did and she rarely did. To Minako, it almost seemed to glow for a second. But when the charm hit her hand, it seemed to be an ordinary charm again. Still, her hand closed around it.
"Thanks, Rei," Minako grinned happily, pushing the money over to the priest. "You're the bestest of the bestest."
"If you want, I can give you a two-for-one deal," Rei said, pulling out another charm. "This one works to improve the singing voice."
Minako's only reply was to pull down her eyelid. With a parting smirk, the woman exited the shrine at a jaunty pace. Rei leaned onto the counter and watched her go. A smile of her own bloomed again, as it did more and more often recently. Life was definitely looking up.
If only she could figure out what Usagi was so amped about.
The phone rang in Ami's quiet apartment. The sound stirred Ami out of the contemplative melancholy she'd been in for most of the evening. Reaching for a bookmark, Ami marked her place and closed the book on nuclear physics she'd been trying to read "just to pass the time" and picked up the phone.
"Hello?" she inquired.
"Hi, Ami. It's Minako," came the voice on the other end. "What's the big idea holding out on us?"
"Well, it's good that you're sorry. You should be sorry. And don't use that whole 'Doctor/patient' thing as an excuse. Good gossip transcends these things."
"Minako, I don't understand."
"You are still Makoto's doctor, aren't you?"
"Well, then . . ."
Ami didn't respond. She wasn't sure she knew how to.
"You OK? You sound kind of down."
"Well," Ami sighed, "I did discover something that will be very bad news for someone we know."
"Minako . . ."
"You know I'll get it out of you."
Ami sighed. "One of our friends is being cheated on."
"Well, that means we can eliminate Toshi-chan," Minako sighed with relief. Then she squeaked, "can't we?"
"I wouldn't have phrased my statement that way if it were Toshihiro," Ami fussed.
"So," Minako spoke as she thought, "oh, it's not Sanjuro, is it? It better not be, in her condition!"
"It's not Sanjuro," Ami sighed. "What condition?"
Just then, there was an electronic beep on the line.
"Please excuse me, Minako. That's my call-waiting. It might be a patient."
She put Minako on hold, then picked up the new call.
"Good evening, Mrs. Taguchi," Ami said. "He is? Did you take him to the hospital?" She listened to the response. "The doctors are very good there, Mrs. Taguchi." Another response. "Very well, I'll come over. No, it can't be helped, I guess. Good-bye."
Ami expelled a frustrated sigh. Then she picked up Minako again.
"I'm sorry, Minako. I have to go," Ami reported. "I've got to see one of my patients."
"No problem," Minako replied distantly.
Minako listened to the click in her ear, but hardly heard it.
"Mamoru?" she mumbled to herself. "Cheating on Usagi? I-I can't believe it"
At her board, Usagi struggled to keep the ruler straight as she ruled an ink line on the pagoda roof in panel one. This was the bad part about being a manga artist: backgrounds. Well,that and lettering - - and researching stories - - and proofreading.
Still, it beat having a real job.
"Luna!" Usagi howled, trying to keep the ruler straight amid the front door buzzing. "Could you get that?"
"I suppose I'm your doorman now," Luna sniffed haughtily.
"Very well," the cat sighed. Moments later the door was open.
"Hey, Luna, either of them in?" Minako asked. Luna observed the blonde was unusually serious.
"Usagi is in her studio," Luna told her. "Please be brief. She's behind schedule for the next issue."
"Yeah, and the sun comes up in the east," Minako smirked half-heartedly. She wandered into the studio and found Usagi inking the details on an ornate pagoda. "How's things, Usagi?"
"I SWEAR, ONE OF THESE DAYS I'M GOING TO HIRE A BACKGROUND ARTIST!" Usagi cried. Her shoulders slumped and she looked up at her friend. "How've you been, Mina-chan? The series is going great! I watch it every week! And I play your soundtrack CD all the time."
"Thanks," Minako offered with a forced smile. She locked eyes with Usagi and saw Usagi was staring at her.
"What's wrong?" Usagi asked.
"Um," Minako wavered, because suddenly she couldn't bear the thought of telling this wonderful spirit what she'd heard. She shrugged unconvincingly. "So where's Mamoru?"
"He had to go out," Usagi shrugged.
"Is that all the story he gave?" Minako murmured to herself. Unexpectedly, Usagi reached out and touched Minako's hand.
"Whatever it is, maybe I can help."
Feeling herself waver, Minako dived behind one of her many masks.
"Ah, I'm just tired," she said. "Long day at the studio. Besides, I'm sweating out whether 'Island Princess' will get renewed."
"It will!" beamed Usagi. "It's one of the most popular shows on television! And your CD is selling like crazy! Of course they'll renew it!"
Minako basked for a few seconds in Usagi's warmth. "Thanks. Always nice to hear feedback from the fans."
"And you want to hear something else wonderful?" Usagi squealed. "Rei's got a boyfriend!"
"So that's what she was being so cryptic about!" Minako gasped. "He must have the patience of a saint."
"Mina-chan!" fumed Usagi.
"I'm sorry," Minako grinned devilishly. "He's probably after her for her body anyway."
"I have to take them when they're THAT easy," Minako smirked. The edges of Usagi's mouth curled. "Well here's some wonderful right back - - Makoto's got another one in the oven."
"Is it cinnamon rolls? I love her cinnamon rolls!" Usagi exclaimed.
Minako giggled. "Baby number three, Usagi."
Usagi's scream was so piercing that Luna jumped three feet in the air.
"This is so wonderful!" Usagi gasped. "Everybody's life is just working out perfectly!"
"Yeah," Minako said, trying to cover her pang of guilt. "Hey, I gotta go. Need my beauty sleep after all. But since tomorrow's Saturday, how about we go down to the shrine and double-team Rei. Between the two of us, she can't keep the details of this boyfriend hidden forever."
"It's a date!" Usagi nodded.
"And your deadlines?" Luna warned, glaring menacingly.
"Oh, would you stop being an old drudge!" Usagi fired back.
Minako headed for the door. Exiting, she met Mamoru coming down the hall. Her eyebrow arched and her demeanor went frigid.
"Hello, Minako," Mamoru nodded.
"Do anything to hurt her," she murmured, leaning in close, "and I will make you pay."
Minako sauntered off, Mamoru's confused expression following her down the hall. Shrugging, he entered the apartment.
"Usako, I'm back!" he called out. Usagi popped her head into the room, eyeing him hungrily. He responded by raising a plastic handle bag. "The restaurant was a little crowded, but I managed to get dinner"
That Saturday morning, Ami briskly exited her apartment. Though she didn't want to be the one to deliver bad news, her time as a doctor had given her experience in what to say and how to say it to soften the blow as much as possible. Turning after locking her door, Ami found a surprise waiting for her.
"Makoto?" Ami remarked upon seeing the tall woman coming down the hall. "Were you coming to visit me?"
"Don't know anybody else here," Makoto grinned. The woman was dressed typically casual in jeans and a beige turtleneck, opposed to Ami's blue skirt and white blouse. "But don't let me keep you if you've got an appointment to keep."
"Come along if you'd like," Ami said, brightening some in the presence of her friend. "I'm just headed down to Hikawa Shrine. There's something I have to tell Rei that she's not going to like hearing. You can lend some moral support. The support of two friends instead of one can only benefit her." Unspoken, Ami hoped the strong presence of Makoto could help her keep her courage up long enough to do this dirty job.
"Sure, no problem," Makoto replied, startled by the grim nature of Ami's words. "What's happened?"
"Well," Ami sighed. "Have you heard that Rei is seeing someone?"
"Yeah, Blondie told me last night. Woke me out of a sound sleep, too. I swear, that girl doesn't crash until midnight."
"Well, I believe the man she's seeing is married," Ami confessed, "with children."
"Ohhh boy," Makoto scowled. "No chance you're mistaken?"
"I saw him myself. He was the man in the picture Usagi showed me."
"This is going to put her off men forever," Makoto sighed. "How does one woman get THIS unlucky in love?"
"Has this happened to her before?" Ami asked.
"You never heard the story? Back before she met us, Rei's father sent one of his assistants to romance her. He thought he was doing Rei a favor, but she found out the guy was only seeing her as a favor to her father. It really tore her up." Ami stared up at Makoto in surprise. "She doesn't like talking about it, I guess. We were talking one day and she let it slip out."
"Oh my," Ami grimaced. "Now I'm beginning to wonder if this is a good idea. A recurrence of a traumatic event could do severe emotional damage to her."
"Ames," Makoto said, her hand gently closing around Ami's wrist, "if you don't tell her, you're as guilty as he is. Believe me, nothing good ever came out of a lie, and hiding the truth is the same as a lie in my book. Sure, it's going to be a body blow to her, and yes it's going to hurt her. But Rei's a strong person. She's had to be for a long time. She can take it. She won't like it, but she can take it."
"I suppose you're right," Ami nodded. "Everything you say is very logical."
The two women continued to walk down the street headed for Sendai Hill.
"So has Mamoru told you yet?" Makoto asked.
"Told me what?" Ami asked.
"About Usagi being pregnant."
"Usagi's pregnant? Where did you hear this?"
"Well, I didn't hear it exactly," Makoto admitted. "But I was talking to Usagi yesterday and she dropped enough hints to make me think it's true."
"Mamoru hasn't said anything to me about it," Ami assured her. "And since he's her physician, he would know if she knew. Unless they're waiting to surprise us."
"Maybe we can ask Rei," Makoto offered. "With that 'sight' of hers, she might have known before Usagi did."
"It might give her something to think about," Ami nodded, "other than her troubles."
Ami and Makoto arrived at Hikawa Shrine shortly after. They found a shrine bustling with Saturday patrons. Wandering through the grounds, they chanced upon Usagi and Minako, finding the women waiting near the main building.
"Uh oh," Makoto grinned devilishly as they approached the two blondes, "somebody alert Civil Defense. The 'Tornado Twins' have their heads together. That can only be bad news."
"You've been taking lessons from Rei!" Usagi fumed playfully and stuck her tongue out. Ami and Minako enjoyed a laugh.
"Are you waiting to see Rei?" Ami inquired.
"Yeah, she's busy fortune-telling right now," Usagi replied.
"Business is up around here," Makoto said, nodding to the people on the grounds.
"And I'm so glad!" Usagi sighed and the others nodded. "Rei's been struggling for so long with this place. It's about time she got some good in her life!"
Ami grimaced with guilt.
"Ami?" Usagi inquired, noticing it immediately. "What is it?"
"I," she began hesitantly, "I have some bad news for someone - - and she isn't going to like it." That got Minako into a melancholy mood while Makoto looked at Ami with sympathy.
Before Usagi could inquire further, Rei emerged from the building.
"Hi, everybody!"Rei beamed. Then she sobered. "There isn't trouble, is there?"
"Why do you always ask that when we all show up here?" fussed Usagi. "Can't you just be happy to see us? Can't we just want to visit a friend?"
"Can't you walk a straight line without tripping?" Rei shot back and the two grown women exchanged tongues.
"We just stopped to visit," Makoto said, then glanced around, "if you can spare the time."
"I'll make time," Rei smiled. "We've got to catch up on a few things."
Rei led the four women inside the shrine. They settled comfortably in their private room and Rei returned soon after with tea and snacks. Usagi's hand shot for the snacks and received a smack from the priest.
"Um, Rei," Ami began reluctantly. "Before we begin, I have something that needs to get out in the open first."
"Do you really think this is the best time for that?" Minako inquired, horrified.
"It needs to come out," Ami countered. "The longer it festers, the worse it will be."
Minako stared at her helplessly. Then she turned to Usagi.
"OK. Usagi, this is going to hurt a lot," she said, gripping the mystified woman by the arms, "but just remember, we're here for you, whatever you need, whenever you need us." She turned back to Ami. "Go on, Ami."
Everyone stared at Minako, dumbfounded.
"What are you talking about?" Ami asked.
"The bad news," Minako prompted, "about Mamoru."
"Mamo-chan!" Usagi gasped. "Is something wrong? Is he hurt? Is he sick? He was fine this morning?"
"Usagi, he's," Minako said grimly, "he's cheating on you."
"WHAT?" Usagi cried.
"Where did you hear that?" Rei demanded.
"From her!" Minako replied, pointing at Ami.
"I never said such a thing!" gasped Ami.
"Blondie, how could you say something like that to her?" Makoto fumed. "Especially in her condition!"
"What condition?" Rei howled.
"She's pregnant, Rei," Makoto added.
"WHO'S PREGNANT?" Usagi roared.
"Well you are," Makoto gaped, "aren't you?"
"I'm not pregnant!" Usagi countered. "You're the one who's pregnant!"
"I'm not pregnant!" Makoto countered back. "Where'd you hear that?"
Immediately, they both turned to Minako with evil looks.
"Oh sure, kill the messenger!" Minako fumed. "All I did was pass along what you guys told me!"
"It seems to me that you only passed along fragments of what everyone told you," Ami scowled.
"OK, OK, let me get this straight!" Rei said, waving them quiet. "You're not pregnant," she asked, pointing to Usagi.
Usagi shook her head.
"And YOU'RE not pregnant?" she asked Makoto.
Makoto shook her head.
"And Mamoru isn't cheating on her?" Rei asked Ami.
Ami shook her head. Then she grasped Rei's hands.
"I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this," Ami said. "Your boyfriend - - is cheating on you."
Rei sat, stunned. Instantly Usagi dove for her and wrapped the priest in a bear hug.
"OH, REI, I'M SO SORRY! IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD! WE'LL GET YOU THROUGH THIS!"
"What?" Rei mumbled, still stunned.
"He's married," Ami told her. "I saw him with his wife and children."
Rei just stared wordlessly.
"Rei, it'll be all right! Please, Rei!" sobbed Usagi.
"Who said I had a boyfriend?" the priest fumed.
"What?" gasped Ami, the blood draining from her and Makoto's faces.
"WHO SAID I HAD A BOYFRIEND?" Rei roared. Immediately she turned to Minako.
"Uh uh, not this time," Minako replied quickly and pointed to Usagi.
"What makes you think I have a boyfriend?" Rei snarled.
"I took his picture," Usagi sniffed, stuffing her cell phone in Rei's face.
"THAT'S A PICTURE OF A THUMB!"
"OH, BLAST IT!" Usagi growled. She snatched the phone and scrolled down to the picture of the man she shot in that very room yesterday. "This one!"
Rei looked at the picture on the cell phone screen.
"Rei, we'll get you through this! You don't have to pretend! It's not your fault!"
"This," Rei stammered, staring at the photo, "this is Fukuoka-sensei!"
"Sensei?" Makoto exclaimed. "You're dating another priest?"
Rei sighed in fatigue. "Akira Fukuoka is a Shinto priest who has agreed to practice with this shrine." She turned to Usagi. "AND HE'S NOT MY BOYFRIEND, BUBBLEHEAD!"
"Why not?" Usagi asked, chagrined. "He is kind of cute."
Makoto lurched over and held Rei back as the priest's hands sought Usagi's throat.
"He's also married, Usagi," Ami sighed.
"Oh," Usagi squeaked.
"It's always been all I could do to keep this place going," Rei continued, "what with - - well, other interests - - and senshi obligations, of course. And with the recent increase in attendance, I've barely been able to keep my head above water. So I put the word out that I was looking for a second priest who might like to practice here. And Fukuoka-sensei agreed to come on here. He'll probably just use this as a stepping stone to a bigger situation," Rei shrugged, "but I'll take all I can get from him. I really like the vibe I get from him and I think we can work well together." Then she leaned over and glared at Usagi. "IN A PURELY PLATONIC AND BUSINESSLIKE FASHION!"
"It's not my fault cute guys aren't attracted to you," Usagi pouted. Rei was about to lunge again, but they all suddenly noticed Minako giggling.
"What are you giggling about?" Rei snapped.
"You know, I did a script a lot like this on the show last season," chuckled Minako. "I told the producer then that it was too unrealistic and nobody would believe that could happen in real life."
"OH, I remember that episode!" gasped Usagi.
"I do, too," smiled Makoto. "You're right, it was a lot like what just happened here. I guess we all jumped to a few too many conclusions, huh?"
"I'd say so," Ami nodded, her mouth turned up.
"'course some of us jumped a little further than others," Makoto added, eyeing Minako.
"Snitch," Minako jabbed back with a smirk.
"Oh, Rei," Usagi grimaced. "I'm sorry. I just - - when I thought you had a boyfriend, I was just so happy for you! I just want you to have all the happiness in the world and, well, I guess I let my wanting it get the better of me."
Rei's features softened into a smile of her own. "Well, it's nice that you're happy for me, I suppose." The two leaned over and hugged. "And just wait until you all meet Fukuoka-sensei. You'll all love him!"
"In a strictly platonic and businesslike fashion, of course," Minako added slyly. The others tried to hold it in, but the warm and genuine laughter of five close friends refused to be repressed for long.