Thicker Than Water
by Naia Zifu

"Moshi moshi," our eight-year-old daughter, Nami, answered the
phone that Saturday afternoon. "Oh, Ami-san, hi! I'm glad you called!
We're about to go on a picnic. Wanna come? Huh? Yeah, she's right
here. Hold on." She covered the receiver and shouted across the room,
"Mama, telephone! It's Ami-san. I think she's calling from the
hospital."
Maybe it was Nami's casual tone, or the fact that Ami is often
found at the hospital, but the words set off no alarms in my head.
"This is Michiru," I took the phone calmly.
But on the other end, Ami was distraught.
"Michiru-san, you'll have to come down right away," Ami said.
"It's an emergency!"
"What's wrong?" I asked.
My family were all accounted for, I thought. Maybe one of the
other Senshi had an accident?
"Michiru-san, your father's had a stroke," she replied. "The
doctors don't know if he'll make it, or what quality of life he'll have
if he does."
"A stroke?" I repeated, in shock. "But he's so young. . ."
Nami began tugging at my skirt, asking, "Mama, what's a
'stroke?' Is somebody sick?"
"It's not about age," Ami said. "Your father's a heavy smoker
and an unhealthy eater, both of which may have contributed to his
stroke."
"Isn't there anything the doctors can do?" I asked.
"They've given him the standard clot busters, but that's about
all they can do. Now it's just a question of wait and see."
"Who is it, Mama?" Nami asked. "Who's sick? Is it somebody
we know?"
"The rest of the family will be there for him," I said. "We've
been estranged so long, he probably doesn't even want me there."
"Is it something about your family?" Nami asked.
For a moment I snapped.
"This doesn't concern you!" I shouted, and shoved her away so
roughly she fell down.
I was horrified by my own actions! I had never laid a hand on
our daughter, and knowing her past history of abuse I never would have,
not even for a spanking.
But Nami didn't cry or act frightened. She didn't even seem
surprised. I'd just given her the "punishment" she expected, and her
shining green eyes thanked me for it.
I dropped the phone and rushed to her side immediately. Then I
gathered her up in my arms and cried enough tears for both of us.
"Michiru, is everything all right?" Haruka asked as the
commotion brought her running to the room. "What happened?"
"Ami-san's on the phone from the hospital," Nami reported. "I
think someone's sick in Mama's family."
Haruka picked the phone up from the floor.
"Ami-chan, are you still there?" she asked. "Yeah, I think
everything's all right here. What about there? I hear something's up
with Michiru's family. Stroked out, huh? But he's not even fifty; I
thought those only happen to old people! Yeah, of course we'll be
there. She's just worried 'cause her family ties've been strained
these past few years. But they wouldn't try to stop her seeing her own
sick father, would they? Oh, that's different, then. I'll be sure to
tell her. We'll be there as soon as we can. Ja."
Haruka knelt to put her arm around me, and nuzzled my hair.
"My father's sick, Haruka," I said.
"I know, hon," she cooed, "I know. You wanna go see him?"
I nodded. "I want to; I just don't think he'll want to see
me."
"Yes he does. Ami-chan said he specifically asked for you."
"He must be losing his memory."
Haruka laughed a bit. "Then let's hurry and go before someone
reminds him."
I waited until she'd left to inform the others before bringing
up my outburst with our daughter.
"Nami-chan, honey, are you all right?" I asked while checking
her for bruises. "Gomen ne, you know I'd never intentionally hurt you!
Can you forgive me?"
"It's okay," she said with a shrug, "I'm not hurt. It's my
fault anyway; I shouldn't bother you when you're upset. I'm glad just
pushing me down is all you did!"
"I shouldn't have even done that!" I said. "I should have more
control than that. I usually have more control."
"I won't bother you when you're upset next time," Nami said.
"It'll be okay."
"I shouldn't have acted that way, regardless. And I shouldn't
have said it was none of your business, either; my family is your
family, too. Ask me anything you want."
"Your papa's sick, isn't he, Mama?" she asked. I nodded.
"Is he gonna die?"
"Maybe," I admitted. "Do you want to go see him in the
hospital with me?"
"Can I, Mama?"
"Of course you can, sweetie," I replied. "He's your
grandfather!"
Haruka poked her head in to ask, "Ready to go?"
Nami took her crayons and pad of paper from the table. She
knew better than any of us how boring hospitals can be, and needed
something to keep her busy.
Ami met us in the hospital lobby, but it took a moment to
recognise the girl with her as my little sister, Shihobu.
Shihobu was twelve last time I saw her, all spindly arms and
legs, with a mouthful of braces. She should be in high school now, I
thought, and had grown into her body amazingly well. But by the looks
of it, my sister was going through a rebellious phase; she wore python-
print leather pants, black combat boots, and a halter top that exposed
her pierced navel. Her short black hair was now streaked bright green
and looked like she hadn't combed it in days. The dozen gleaming gold
studs in her left ear matched the one in her nose, and I had no doubt
the gargoyle tattoo on her upper right arm was real. Not an unusual
look for Western teens, but I wondered how she got past strict Japanese
school dress codes looking like that.
"Hey, big sis!" Shihobu said in thickly-accented English.
"Long time, no see!"
"I just wish it were under better circumstances," I said,
hugging her tightly. "It's good to see you again, Imouto-chan."
Nami stared at my sister with huge, sparkling eyes.
"Hi, I'm Nami!" she said in near-perfect English. "You're so
cool! I like your. . .everything!"
"Good English!" Shihobu said. "Better than mine, I'm ashamed
to say, and I just got back from a year studying abroad!"
"Nami-chan, this is my little sister, Shihobu. Shi-chan, this
is our daughter, Nami," I introduced them, "and you already know my
wife, Haruka."
"Nice to meet you, Shihobu-san," Nami said. "Wanna be
friends?"
Shihobu laughed. "Well, I am your aunt, aren't I? Of course
we'll be friends! But you don't have to call me 'Shihobu-san,' " my
sister said. "You can just call me 'Shi-chan.' All my friends do!"
But Nami seldom "-chan"s anyone. I think it's her subtle way
of keeping her distance, so she won't be hurt again by someone she
loves.
"How about 'Shihobu-auntie?' instead?" she asked.
"Oh, all right," my sister said, "but not in public! I have a
reputation to uphold!"
"Okay," Nami said with a giggle, "Shihobu-auntie!"
My sister feigned anger and tickle-attacked Nami until she
begged for mercy.
I smiled, glad to see them bonding so well, so soon. That was
really rare for Nami! I could only hope Shihobu's influence wouldn't
have our daughter wanting her own tattoos and piercings any time in the
foreseeable future. . .
"Is it all right to go up and see him yet?" I asked Ami.
"Not all at once," she replied. "He's still in ICU, so he's
only allowed two visitors at a time."
"Mama's in with him now," Shihobu said. "You go on in; I'll
get to know this kawaii little kid of yours in the meantime."
"I get to stay and play with Shihobu-auntie? Sugoi!" Nami
cried, and dragged my sister to a table in the corner to draw with her.
Haruka turned to follow, but I stopped her.
"Nami-chan will be fine here with my sister," I said. "I'd
feel better if you went up with me for moral support."
I rested my head on Haruka's shoulder as we rode the elevator
up in silence. She seemed so unworried for such a delicate situation!
I, on the other hand, hadn't been so afraid to see my parents since the
day I introduced them to Haruka. . .

I never discussed my love life at home, but my parents knew I
was dating, and soon insisted I bring "him" around to meet them. I
made excuses as long as I could. As good as my Haruka is at passing
for a man, I didn't want to chance my conservative parents finding out
I was dating a girl. But soon they stopped believing my excuses, and I
had no other choice. I had to bring my girlfriend around as a boy, and
hope my parents wouldn't catch on.
I must've annoyed her that day, how I insisted she bind her
chest and stuff her pants to look more convincingly male, but Haruka
would hear none of it. Her only preparations for the meeting were to
buy a conservative suit and have her hair trimmed a bit shorter than
usual. I couldn't imagine how she'd fool them like that!
My hand shook so I could hardly get the key in the door, when
suddenly the knob turned in my hand and my younger sister flung the
door open for me.
"Is this him?" Shihobu asked, hearts in her eyes. "Suteki!"
Haruka chuckled and gave me a "told you so" look, but I knew
the test was far from over. Children are easily fooled, but cautious
parents are another thing entirely!
"Haruka, this is my little sister, Shihobu," I introduced them.
"Shi-chan, I'd like you to meet Ten'ou Haruka, my, um, special person."
" 'Haruka?' " my sister repeated. "Better not let Mama and
Papa hear you call him that or you'll be in trouble!"
She was right; I'd have to be more careful next time. If my
parents even _thought_ we had that kind of relationship they'd--
"Aren't you going to introduce us to your handsome young man as
well?" my mother asked as she and my father entered the room.
"I, uh, yes, of course," I stammered. "Papa, Mama, this is
my. . . date, Ten'ou Haruka. Haruka-san, these are my parents, Hideyo
and Umi."
Haruka shook my father's hand.
"Pleased to meet you," she said in a voice only slightly deeper
than normal.
"What are your intentions towards my daughter?" my father
demanded.
"Papa!" I scolded.
I couldn't believe he'd even ask that!
But Haruka answered calmly, "Only the best, I assure you. A
girl this delicate and lovely should be treasured, not taken advantage
of."
My father smiled. "My thoughts exactly!" he said. "I can see
we're going to get along just fine!"
"So, Ten'ou-san," my mother began, "what does your family do
for a living?"
"My father's an ad exec at Sony," Haruka replied. "My mother
used to work in a law firm, but once she had me she tried to become a
housewife instead."
"Well, that's a wise decision!"
"But she got bored with that, and now runs a small law practise
out of the home," she finished with a sheepish grin.
"Oh," my mother said, sounding disappointed. "Well, at least
she's working at home, so you'll always know where to find her. I
guess that's something!"
"Yeah, I guess so," Haruka replied with a nervous laugh, wisely
neglecting to mention she'd recently moved out of her parents' house
and supported herself racing underage.

My mother still made Haruka nervous; she wouldn't even show me
to the ICU doors for fear of running into her! Instead Haruka stayed
in the waiting area while Ami took me in to see my father.
I recoiled at the sight of him lying there, eyes closed, face
ashen, with all those tubes running in and out of his body.
My father had always been a robust, sturdy-looking man with
soulful brown eyes, a head of bushy black hair, and a belly that shook
with every hearty laugh. His hair was so thin and grey now, and his
body had wasted away to practically nothing.
My mother, too, was a mere shadow of her former self. I
remembered her as an elegant, high-born lady with only the barest touch
of age at the corners of her blue eyes and hardly a strand of grey in
her flowing aquamarine hair. Now she wore a life's worth of baggage
under those eyes, her swimmer's body had fallen out of tone, and her
grey-streaked hair was pulled back in a matronly bun. But when our
eyes met and she smiled, the years just seemed to melt away.
"I didn't think you'd come," my mother said quietly.
"I didn't think you'd want me to," I replied. "How is he?"
"He drifts in and out of consciousness, but even when he's
awake I don't know how much he understands. Your name is about the
only coherent word he's been able to form."
I sat beside my father's hospital bed and held his hand.
"If I talk to him, will he at least hear me?" I asked.
"I think so," my mother said, and Ami nodded agreement.
I leaned close to his ear and said, "Papa? It's me, Michiru.
Can you hear me?"
His eyes fluttered open and he looked right at me. I couldn't
tell if he recognised me or not, but just knowing he could see me was
enough for the moment.
"I came to visit you, just like you asked."
"Michiru?" he said slowly, and for a moment I thought I saw the
spark of recognition in his eyes.
"I'm here, Papa," I said, smiling through tears. "Haruka's
here, too, in the waiting room. You remember her, right, Papa? We
even brought our little girl, Nami-chan. She's downstairs now, playing
with Shi-chan. Would you like to meet her?"
But as suddenly as the spark appeared, my father's eyes went
blank again.
"Da?" my father said. "Yumi sasa ga no. . .ga no detta."
My smile fell. All I could do was caress his hand to my face
and cry.
"He's been like this all day," my mother said. "It's the
stroke. He tries, but he just can't form coherent sentences."
"Isn't there anything more they can do?" I pleaded. "I have to
talk to him! He can't stay like this; there's too much left
unresolved!"
"They've done all they can already, Michi-chan," my mother
said. "He's in God's hands now."
But I'd long since grown past believing in God. My church
attendance stopped once I accepted myself as a lesbian. My parents'
church was firm in the belief that all gays go to Hell, and I couldn't
put faith in any God who would punish me for something I never even
chose to be.
Becoming a Senshi pushed me farther from God, ironically. Even
as I searched for the Messiah who would deliver the world from
darkness, the grim reality of the mission-- that some innocents had to
die to save the world at large-- convinced me once and for all there
was no God or Heaven, or at least not for me.
"I know it's hard seeing him like this, Michiru-san," Ami said.
"Maybe you should take a few minutes to calm down and come back later."
I looked at my father again. He'd stopped babbling, and just
stared at me with a blank expression. I averted my eyes and nodded.
Ami led my mother and me back to the waiting room, where
Haruka tried to beat a cup of coffee out of a stubborn vending machine.
Ami walked over nonchalantly, gave the machine a bop on the upper right
corner, and a paper cup fell into place. Then she jiggled the "coffee"
button until the machine got the message and poured.
"Arigato," Haruka said sheepishly.
Ami shrugged. "You've just got to know how to talk to these
things."
But Haruka almost spilled her hard-won coffee when she turned
around and saw my mother standing there.
"M-Mrs. Kaiou, it's, uh, good to see you again," she stammered.
"Sorry about your, um, you know, husband."
"Arigato, Ten'ou-san," my mother replied. "We've still got our
hopes up for a full recovery, God willing."
"Uh, yeah, sure, I. . .guess so," Haruka said with a shrug.
A long, awkward silence followed. Haruka never had been
comfortable with religion.
Haruka's family never believed in God. They taught her every-
thing she needed was inside her already, and if she believed in the
power of her own human spirit, she could do anything. That's how she
accomplished so much at such a young age; piano prodigy, track star,
champion Motocross and junior auto racer. . . Nothing could hold her
back, not even age or gender restrictions.
A girl like her couldn't possibly have problems, I thought.
She was perfect.
Only after I approached her about our mission did I see how
empty she was inside. Racing was all she had in life. It was all she
cared about, and outside of that she was virtually dead inside. Was it
her avoidance of the mission that made her feel that way, or was some-
thing else missing from her life?
Haruka took a seat at the far end of the sofa, as far from my
mother as the room's seating would allow. She avoided further
conversation, and even eye contact, with my mother. Instead she
concentrated on her coffee cup, while her free hand toyed with her
necklace.
She wore it often, that unadorned cross of 10kt gold on a
sturdy chain. It was inexpensive and not much to look at, but it meant
a lot to Haruka. Not because of the symbolism-- the cross itself meant
nothing to her-- but because of the circumstances under which it was
given.

It was about a week before Haruka was to meet my parents, when
I arrived at her door with a bag bearing the emblem of a Christian
bookstore.
"This bodes," Haruka said. "I thought you were over that
whole religion thing."
"I am," I replied, "but my parents aren't, and they don't trust
Atheists." I gave her a small, leather-bound Bible and ordered, "Read
this before you meet them, and don't just skim it, either, Haruka, or
I'll know! There will be a quiz on all this later!"
Haruka examined the book suspiciously, and made a sour face.
"Don't they make Cliff Notes for this thing?" she asked.
"Funny," I said. "Just read it, and if you have any questions,
ask and I'll explain it to you."
"All right, all right." Haruka sighed and set the book on her
coffee table. "You're just lucky I love you so much," she said, and
gave me a kiss that reminded me how lucky I am.
"I have one more thing for you," I said. "Meo tojite."
Haruka obediently closed her eyes. I took the simple gold
cross from its box and fastened the chain around her neck.
"Okay, you can look now," I said. As she examined it I
babbled, "I know you don't like crosses, but don't be mad! I'm not
asking you to wear it every day, just long enough to meet my parents.
I'll even give you the receipt to return it right afterwards. I just
thought--"
Haruka put a finger to my lips to silence me.
"Throw away the receipt. I'm not returning it, because you're
the most important person in my world, and this is the first piece of
jewellery you've given me." Haruka thanked me with a kiss and
promised, "I'll treasure it always."
So that's what was missing from her life-- and mine as well--
all that time; that one true love. Even the grim task of hunting pure
hearts was bearable with her at my side. And, though I didn't know it
at the time, our love would prove more important than any mission, more
powerful than any religion. Our love could see us through any crisis.
What more could I ever possibly need?

Ami dropped a few coins into the machine and coaxed it to fill
another cup, which she offered to me.
"No thanks, not right now, I'm edgy enough without caffeine," I
said as I paced nervously.
"I know," she replied. "It's just warm milk; I thought it
might help calm you."
I accepted the milk and sat beside my wife. But I continued my
nervous act, rocking back and forth, until Haruka put an arm around me
to stop me. She didn't even have to ask what was wrong.
"I know you wanted this to be different," Haruka said. "You
wanted to work things through with him, rebuild that father-daughter
bond. But, honey, your father's just had a stroke. What'd you think
he'd be like?"
"When I heard he asked for me, I thought he wanted to work
things out," I said. "And for a moment he seemed to know me-- he even
said my name! But when he tried to talk it came out nonsense. Then he
didn't even know me anymore!" I set the milk down and put my head on
her shoulder. "My own father didn't know me, Haruka! He stared right
through me. It was the scariest thing I've seen in my life!"
"Yeah, but he didn't mean it, Michiru. It was the stroke."
"I don't think I can go back in there," I said through tears.
"I can't stand seeing him like this."
"But you have to," she protested. "If you avoid him now and he
dies, you'll feel guilty the rest of your life!"
"I know."
"You can still tell him everything you wanted, even if he can't
answer you."
"I know."
"And you should still let Nami-chan meet her grandpa, in case
she doesn't get another chance," Haruka said.
I sat bolt upright and shot her an angry look.
"Out of the question! She's too young! Seeing him like that,
hooked up to tubes and machines and acting incoherent, it would scare
her!"
"More than watching her own mother die in a hospital, or nearly
dying in one herself?" she pointed out. "At the very least, you should
tell her what to expect and let her decide if she wants to see him or
not."
"Nami-chan," my mother said, "now I know where I've heard that
name! Wasn't she the little blonde girl you used to dream about?"
"The very same one, Mama," I said. "She's real, and Haruka and
I adopted her."
"But how?"
"We've got influential friends," Haruka said, "one of whom
put our paperwork through without question and expedited the adoption
process."
But what my mother meant was, she thought Nami was just a
dream, and wondered how she could be real.
"She's a miracle," I replied simply, "our little miracle."
That was explanation enough for my mother.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," she said, smiling. "You
know, I still have the painting you did of her. It's been in your old
room all this time."
I gasped and fairly leapt out of my chair.
"May I have it back, please?" I asked. "I'd like to give it to
her."
"No," she replied, and paused for my disappointed reaction
before adding, "I'd like to give it to her myself, if you'd let me."
"Of course."
Haruka had no idea what we were talking about.
"Nami-chan painting?" she asked. "I never knew there was one."
"Oh, you've seen it!" I replied. "It's that little blonde girl
in the field of daisies!"
Haruka tried to recall the one I meant before saying, "Doesn't
look like the Nami-chan I know!"
"Well, she _was_ only three years old at the time!"
"But doesn't that painting have blue eyes?" Haruka asked. "The
real Nami-chan's got--"
"Green, I know, but I didn't have a model at the time," I said.
"She was a dream; you can forgive me some artistic license!"
"After hearing your dreams, I feel like I know her already," my
mother said. "May I meet her now?"
"You're her grandmother; of course you can meet her!" I said.
"But I should warn you, she's been through a lot since last you heard.
She's got a lot of scars, both physical and emotional, and she's not
good with strangers. I hope you won't be disappointed."
"Whatever it is, I'm sure I can handle it," my mother said.
"After raising you and your sister, nothing surprises me anymore!"
It was hard to reconcile this new, more lenient attitude with
the rough treatment I'd received from her last time. . .

I got home an hour past curfew after another long, fruitless
day Talisman hunting, expecting a short lecture on my tardiness, a long
soak in the bath, then off to bed for some much-needed sleep. But my
sister met me at the door with a panicked look.
"Mama and Papa are on the warpath," she said. "They've been
through your room, Michi-chan; they know everything!"
I dropped everything and ran to my bedroom. All the drawers
were pulled out, the closet emptied, the chair overturned, clothing and
books were strewn about the floor; it looked like a cyclone hit it!
But it was what I _didn't_ see that made my heart sink. My photo
albums were missing, as well as all my sketchbooks, the scrapbook I'd
kept on Haruka since the day I first saw her, and even my diary, for
which I found only the broken lock. I wrote down every thought, every
feeling, every experience of every day in that book! The thought of my
parents breaking into and reading it nauseated me.
I turned to leave the room, to demand answers, only to find a
plain white bra dangled in front of my face.
"White cotton, front hook, no ruffles or lace," my mother said,
"not quite your style, is it? The size looks a little small, too.
Care to try it on and see?"
I swallowed over a lump in my throat.
"Where did you get that?"
"I came in this afternoon to get your laundry, when I saw it
sticking out under your bed. Your sister tried to claim it, but when
she couldn't fill it out, your father and I had a look around your
room. You'll never guess what we found out about your 'boyfriend!' "
My mother took out my diary, opened it to the latest page, and read,
" 'Haruka came for dinner again tonight. Mama's so impressed at what a
'fine Christian boy' I've found for myself, and Papa loves talking
sports with her, especially track, which he was also a star at once,
back in high school. I've got to hand it to Haruka, she's really good
at passing for a boy! I would never have thought she could fool them
this long!' Well, the secret's out now, isn't it? What do you have to
say for yourself?"
What _could_ I say? If she'd read even part of my diary, she
knew far too much already. So I just shrugged and stared at my feet,
tears forming at the corners of my eyes.
"What happened to you, Michi-chan?" my mother asked, her voice
cracking. "You're so talented, ladylike, and beautiful, oh so
beautiful! You could have any man in the world you want, so why choose
her?"
"That's just it, Mama, I don't want any man," I answered. "I
love Haruka."
"You weren't raised that way," she said. "We tried to raise
you right. We did the best we could."
"You raised me well, Mama," I replied. "It's not about that.
This is just me, it's just the way I was born."
"To lay down with women? I didn't give birth to that!"
"She was just posing for me, Mama. Nothing happened. I'm
still a virgin, for God's sake!"
My mother glared at me. "Like you care anything about God
anymore?" she retorted. "I can't stand the sight of you anymore! Get
out of my house!"
"But, Mama, I--"
"Don't 'Mama' me-- you're not my daughter!" she snapped. "No
daughter of mine would ever lay down with a woman!"
"But I didn't--"
"You've got twenty minutes. Now pack a suitcase and go before
I call the police and have them escort you out!" my mother ordered.
That was the last I saw of her before today.

Nami still sat with my sister, crayons and half-finished
drawings on the table, when we returned to the lobby. The paper
sketches were abandoned, however, as Shihobu drew a Fushigidane on
Nami's hand with a marker.
"I don't care if real tattoos hurt, I want one anyway," I heard
Nami say. "Pain doesn't bother me; I'm used to it!"
With her other hand she raised her shirt to show the multitude
of scars on her small body, and her most recent wounds, the near-fatal
cuts she got saving Yuka. Only a few days old, they were nonetheless
almost healed, thanks to Ami's henshin therapy.
Shihobu blanched and dropped her marker.
"Oh my god," my sister said, "what happened to you?"
"Most of them don't hurt anymore. Those are the ones my old
papa did. But this one still hurts a little," Nami said of her newest
wounds. "I got that saving my best friend from a zombie bird."
"You poor thing!" my mother cried. "You really _have_ been
through a lot, haven't you? I had no idea!"
Nami looked up with a start, but seemed to notice this
stranger's resemblance to me immediately.
"Are you my obaa-san?" she asked. "I thought you never wanted
to meet me! Mama said--"
"I was angry with your mother for a long time," my mother said.
"Just 'cause Papa's a girl?"
"The way I was raised, it's girls and boys who go together,"
she replied. "That's why I got mad when I found out."
"Papa's better than a boy," Nami said. "Boys are meanies!"
"But your new papa's kind to you, isn't she, Nami-chan?" my
mother asked.
"All the time!" she replied. "To Mama, too. She'd never hurt
me like my old papa did."
"I'm sure she won't," my mother said. "She seems like a very
caring person."
"Please don't hate them anymore, Obaa-san," Nami pleaded.
"They're in love and they make each other so happy!"
"That's what I'm trying to understand," my mother said, and I
believed her.
Nami slipped out of her chair and ran into my mother's
outstretched arms, and both began crying as she smothered the little
girl in hugs and kisses.
"Now this is how it should've been all along," Haruka said
wistfully.
I nodded. "There's just one family member she's yet to meet.
Nami-chan, do you want to go visit your grandfather now?"
Her little head popped up immediately, tears still shining in
her big green eyes.
"Can I?"
"If you'd like. But I'll have to warn you, it might be a
little scary. They've got him hooked up to lots of tubes and machines
up there," I said, "and because of the stroke he can't carry on
conversation."
"What's a 'stroke?' " Nami asked.
"A stroke is when someone's blood has a clot that gets loose in
the blood stream. Eventually it might get caught somewhere, like in
the brain, where it can keep part of the body from getting the blood it
needs. Then that part of the body might start to die."
"Is Ojii-san's brain dead, Mama?" Nami asked. "Is that why he
can't talk?"
"Not his whole brain, of course, or else _he'd_ be dead. But
the stroke damaged part of his brain," I replied, "so if he tries to
talk, it doesn't come out right."
"But he'll understand if I talk to him, won't he?" she asked.
"I think so."
"And if I show him his get-well card, can he read it?"
"Get-well card?" I repeated.
Nami retrieved a folded sheet of paper from the table. On the
front of her handmade card was a drawing of herself holding a big bunch
of balloons, while the inside read, "Ojii-san, You never meet me, but I
love you anyway. I hope you get better soon so we can play! Love,
Nami."
"I don't know if he can read it himself," I said, "but if you
read it aloud, he might like that. Let's go see."
Nami held onto me tightly as I showed her the room where my
father was being kept. Then slowly, cautiously, she approached his
bedside, get-well card in hand.
"Ojii-san?" she called in a shy, squeaky voice.
His eyes popped wide open!
Nami screamed and hid behind my skirt. Her card fell from her
hand and landed just under the bed.
Ami ran in and looked at all the monitors to see what was
wrong, but nothing had changed.
"It's all right, Ami-chan," I said, "he just startled her a
bit."
Ami nodded. "I thought that might happen," she said, and
picked up Nami's card for her. "Would you like me to stay and hold
your hand so you won't be scared?"
Nami nodded, and latched onto Ami's leg so hard her knuckles
went white.
I thought if I could just get some sort of recognition from
him, she might not be so frightened.
"Papa? It's me again; it's Michiru," I said. He looked at me
with what seemed a look of recognition. I had to hurry and make the
introductions before it left again! "I brought someone to meet you;
it's your granddaughter, Nami-chan. Would you like to see her?"
"Na?" my father said.
Nami looked up. "That's right, Ojii-san, I'm Nami."
He looked right at her, and she slowly crept over to his bed-
side. I put my arm around Nami to help her feel safe in case he went
scary again.
"I told you about her before, remember?" I asked. "She's
Haruka's and my daughter."
"I made a card for you. See? This is me bringing balloons to
you," she said. "Can you read the inside?"
Nami held the card in front of his face, but he just stared
blankly, so she read it for him. My father tried to smile, but only
one corner of his mouth raised, and only a little. Nami seemed pleased
enough with that.
"I think he likes it," she said, beaming. "I'll leave it right
here by the bed so he can look at it later."
A nurse came in and said, "I'm afraid you'll have to go now;
ICU visiting hours are over."
"Can't they stay just a bit longer?" Ami asked. "Michiru-san
hasn't seen her father in years!"
"I wish I could, Ami-chan, but Kenji-san's on tonight and you
know how strict he is about the rules!"
"It's okay, Ami-chan," I said. "We can come back tomorrow."
"I have to go now, Ojii-san," Nami said, patting his hand, "but
I hope you feel better soon. It was good to meet you."
I leaned in and kissed my father on the cheek.
"I'll stop in tomorrow after my opening, all right?" I told my
father, and asked Ami, "Let me know if there's any change."
Ami nodded, and we all turned to go, when my father called my
name. I was back at his bedside in an instant.
"Michiru," he repeated softly, "suki."
"I love you, too, Papa," I replied, and gave him another kiss
on the cheek.
"Michi gomi sukoda ga ba mire," my father babbled.
I was devastated! Did he even say what I thought at all, or
was it just babble that sounded like it? For my own peace of mind I
had to believe the former; it was easier than believing what he said
last time we talked.

"Moshi moshi," a deep masculine voice answered the phone that
evening, just a few short months ago.
"Papa? It's me, Michiru."
My own father promptly hung up on me.
I called back, and when he answered I said quickly, "Don't hang
up, Papa, this is important!"
"What, are you dying?" he asked casually.
"No!"
"Ah. More's the pity."
I couldn't believe he said that! Part of me wanted to hang up
and forget telling him the news, but at the same time I was hopeful
once he found out, his attitude towards me would change.
"Papa, Haruka and I are getting married!" I announced.
"You mean she's a real boy now?" he said with a laugh. "I
guess she finally saved up for that operation!"
"No, she's still a girl," I said. "The marriage is more
symbolic than anything. Now that we're getting a child, we wanted to
make our family seem more official."
"A baby?" my father asked. "I know she didn't knock you up, so
who was it?"
"Not a baby, Papa, a seven-year-old girl," I said. "We're
adopting."
"They let people like you adopt?" he asked. "Is that wise?"
"It's not like we're going to 'turn her gay' or anything; it's
something you're either born with or you're not."
"Is that what you tell yourself to try to justify your
lifestyle?"
"This was a mistake," I realised. "I shouldn't have called."
"No, you shouldn't have," he agreed. "You thought you'd call
and brag about pretending to marry that girl and bringing an innocent
child into your sinful life, and we're supposed to forgive you and take
you back, just like that? It doesn't work that way."
"I'm not asking your forgiveness," I said. "I've done nothing
requiring it! All I want from you is participation."
"Well, you'll get neither from me!" my father said.
"Not even for your new granddaughter?"
"I feel nothing but sympathy for any child raised by you!"
"All right," I sobbed, "if that's how you feel, I won't call
again."
"Good," my father said. "See that you don't."
And with that, he hung up.

Nami was too young to understand. She ran back to the waiting
room beaming, and bragged, "Papa! Papa, I met my ojii-san!"
"You did?" Haruka asked. "What was he like?"
"He tried to talk, but it came out all funny," she replied,
and admitted in a whisper, "I almost laughed, but I didn't. I know
it's just because he's sick."
"Yeah," she agreed, picking our daughter up, "strokes'll do
that sometimes."
"He couldn't smile well when I showed him his card, either. Is
that from the stroke, too, Papa?"
"Probably. Sometimes when people have strokes, they can't move
one side of their body well."
"You know a lot about strokes, Haruka-san," Ami said.
"My great-uncle, Shiro, had one last year; couldn't talk or
move the left side of his body for months!" Haruka replied.
"But he got better, didn't he, Papa?" Nami asked.
"He's getting better, yeah."
Nami seemed relieved at that. "That means Ojii-san will get
better, too!"
"I hope so," I said. "There's still too much unresolved for
him to die now!"
"And I just met him today," Nami said. "I want to play games
and take trips and show him my room!"
"You can show me your room," my sister said.
"Ooh! Can Shihobu-auntie come home with us and spend the
night?"
"Fine with me," Haruka said, "but you'd better ask her mother
first."
"Can she?" Nami asked my mother.
"Yes, but on one condition," she said, "that you come over and
stay the night with us next weekend."
"Okay!" Nami cried. "If it's all right with Mama and Papa, I
mean."
"I. . .guess so," I replied.
I'd spent so long on bad terms with my parents, it was hard to
imagine leaving my daughter there overnight. What happened to change
my mother so completely in so short a time?
"It started two weeks ago," my sister said on the ride home,
"when I came back from my year in America. When Mama and Papa saw how
I look, they hit the roof! I got two hours on everything from the
evils of tattoos, to how I'm supposedly disgracing them by not dressing
like a lady. I was like, 'So what're you gonna do, throw me out like
you did my sister?' Boy, was that a mistake! Papa damned near broke
my nose, and Mama just cried, wondering where she went wrong in raising
us. So I was like, 'Hello? Not everything in this world is about you!
I gotta do what works for me, just like Michi-chan does what works for
her.' I said if they kept pushing their own kids away, there'd come a
time when they'd need us and we wouldn't be around anymore."
"And that's what changed their minds?" I asked.
"They threw me out anyway!" Shihobu said. "I spent two nights
in a capsule hotel before a friend offered to let me live with her for
a while."
"Then it took a tragedy like this to make them realise what's
important?"
"Pretty much," my sister said. "Though I'm a bit luckier than
you; they called me yesterday, when Papa had his first stroke."
"You mean he's had more than one?"
"They didn't know what it was at the time," Shihobu said.
"They were sitting down to dinner, when Papa complained of numbness in
his right side. Then he had trouble finding the words for things.
Mama panicked and phoned me, but by the time I got there it seemed to
have stopped. I stayed over just in case, and he seemed fine until
this morning. Then it started again, even worse than before. I called
for help immediately! I tried to call you, too, but your number's
unlisted. Lucky that med student knew you or we might've never gotten
in touch with you!"
I frowned. "Two strokes in as many days? That's a bad omen.
I hope he'll be all right."
"Don't worry, sis, he's a tough old bird," my sister said.
"He'll outlast us all, you'll see!"
Setsuna and Hotaru were waiting with hugs and sympathy when we
arrived.
"If there's anything I can do, just let me know." Setsuna
offered.
"I guess turning back time's out of the question?" I asked,
only half joking.
"Anything short of that," she amended, but I already knew that
was against the rules.
"Just wishful thinking."
"I know having a sick father's hard," Hotaru said.
Her own father still needed assistance; his mind never fully
recovered from the daimon possession. His mentality was equivalent to
a twelve-year-old's, and he required daily home care visits to maintain
any degree of independence. He couldn't fully care for himself, much
less Hotaru, so she remained with us and visited her father every other
weekend.
"Hey," Hotaru said, looking over the strange girl we'd brought
back with us, "who's she?"
"My little sister, Shihobu," I replied. "She's come to spend
the night with us."
"She's cool!" Nami announced.
"Shi-chan, I'd like you to meet our friend Meiou Setsuna, and
our surrogate daughter Tomoe Hotaru."
"I like your tattoo," Hotaru said. "You must really like
gargoyles to have one put on for life!"
"Gargoyle? Is that what that is?" my sister joked. "Nah, just
kidding. I love gargoyles! They're so beautiful and majestic!"
"I like gargoyles, too," Nami said, "like Lexington and
Brooklyn and Goliath!"
"I love that show!" my sister said. "I watched it all the time
in America! Who's your favourite?"
"Lexington, 'cause he's little and smart like me," she replied.
"Let's go play it! I call Lex!"
"I'm Elisa!" Hotaru cried.
"Dibs on Demona!" my sister called.
And as the three ran off to play, I swear my sister could've
been twelve again! No matter how she'd changed on the outside, she was
the same sweet, cheerful Shihobu deep down inside.
We'd finally gotten them all to bed after a long night playing
"Gargoyles" and video games, and were just getting to sleep ourselves,
when the phone rang at three-thirty in the morning. I had to climb
over Haruka, who'd already fallen fast asleep, to answer it.
"Moshi moshi?"
"May I speak to Michiru-san?" asked a voice I didn't recognise.
"I'm Michiru," I replied. "Who is this?"
"This is Naomi, a night nurse at Juuban Hospital," she said.
"Ami-chan gave me this number to call if there was any change in your
father's condition."
I was overcome with a feeling of dread. Hospitals don't call
at that time of morning for good news!
"What happened?" I asked urgently. "Is he. . ."
A moment of silence on the other side, and then, "Yes, ma'am,
I'm afraid he is."
"Oh my god. . . How? When?"
"Quite suddenly, about half an hour ago," the nurse replied.
"He burst an artery in his brain; there wasn't much we could do.
Please accept my deepest sympathies on your loss."
Tears streamed down my face.
"I have to go see him," I sobbed. "May I see him?"
"Yes, of course. Your mother's on her way already."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," I said.
Haruka was sound asleep, with a kawaii, dopey expression on her
face, and drooling a bit from one corner of her mouth. It seemed a
shame to wake her, but if ever there was a time I needed her to hold
me, this was it!
"Haruka, honey, wake up," I said, shaking her gently. "The
hospital just called about Papa."
"Hmm?" she asked, eyes fluttering open. "What happened?"
"An artery burst in his brain," I replied. "He's gone."
Haruka sat up and wrapped her arms around me.
"I'm so sorry, hon," she said, and kissed the top of my head.
"Are you all right?"
I shook my head. "This whole thing's got me shaken up," I
said. "I wasn't ready for this; not his stroke, not his dying, none of
it. It's just not enough time! There was so much I had to work out
with him, but now he's gone and it's too late!"
"I know, love," Haruka said. "I know you wanted to patch
things up with him. You think you've got all the time in the world,
until you run out. Then it was never enough. It's all so--"
"Pointless?"
"I was going to say 'trivial,' but 'pointless' works, too," she
said with a shrug. "When your family's destroyed by little things like
your preference or your sister's tattoos, there's obviously a deeper
problem."
"I know. But what can I do about it now? My father's gone!"
"It's too late to fix things with him," Haruka said, "but
you've got a second chance with the others. By making peace with your
mother, and accepting your sister as she is, you're off to a good
start."
"I'll go wake Shi-chan and tell her the news," I said. "I'm
going back to the hospital now; I should ask her if she wants to go."
"I can go, too, if you want," she offered. "Give me five
minutes to get dressed and--"
"I'd rather you didn't this time," I said. "No offence; it's
kind of a family moment, and I want to keep it just between us."
Haruka nodded. "I understand. If you need me for anything,
you know where to find me."
"Yeah," I teased, "back home in our warm bed, drooling on your
pillow!"
Mama was pacing the lobby when my sister and I arrived,
wringing her hands, her eyes red and swollen from crying.
"He didn't even leave a will!" she said. "I don't know what he
wanted to leave to whom, where he wanted to be buried, or even _if_ he
wanted a burial! We never discussed death; he never told me whether to
bury or cremate him or anything!"
"It's okay, Mama," I said, "we're here for you. We'll help you
figure out everything, I promise."
"Have you been up to see him yet?" my sister asked.
My mother shook her head. "The thought of seeing him like
that, I don't think I can do it alone."
"You're not alone, Mama," I said. "We'll be with you the whole
time."
"Yeah," Shihobu agreed, "and if you need someone to cry on, cry
on me."
We went to the ICU, where last we saw him, but instead found an
elderly woman in his bed.
"Visiting hours are over," a voice behind us said. "You ladies
will have to come back tomorrow."
"I was called here about my husband," my mother said. "I'm
told he just. . .he. . ." She started crying so hard she couldn't
complete the sentence.
"We're here to claim a body," I spoke up.
"Name?"
"Kaiou," I said. "Kaiou Hideyo."
The nurse consulted her chart and said, "Oh, we needed the bed,
so he's been moved into the hall. Follow me." She led us past a
couple of covered gurneys. Then she stopped at one and pulled back the
sheet. "Is this him?"
My mother just covered her face and bawled.
I nodded, on the verge of tears again myself.
"That's him," I said. "May we have a moment alone with him,
please?"
"Of course," the nurse said, and returned to her duties.
The tubes and machines were all gone now. My father just lay
there, eerily still, his eyes open and staring emptily into space.
His left hand clutched Nami's handmade get-well card. Had he picked it
up himself, or did someone place it there? And if so, was that before
or after his death?
My mother choked out a prayer between sobs, while my sister
just stared in a mix of shock and morbid fascination. Neither would
get close enough to touch him.
I didn't want to, either, but his dead eyes, once so full of
life and soul, unnerved me so much I overcame my fears. I closed his
eyes, and stroked his face with the back of my hand; his skin was still
soft and just beginning to cool.
There was so much left unresolved between us, and no time left
to work it out. I guess there was just one thing left to say.
I leaned in to kiss his cheek and whispered, "Good-bye, Papa."



©2001 Naia Zifu, all rights reserved.
Unabara Nami, Kaiou Hideyo, Umi, and Shihobu are my own original
characters, but the Outer Senshi and Ami are SM characters that I don't
own rights to. As always, I'm not trying to make money off anyone
else's ideas.
This fic has really drained me emotionally! I wrote it mostly on
stream of consciousness, at a time someone I knew well IRL really was
dying in a hospital. After I finished, it sat around for a week or two
untouched because I didn't know if I could face it for typing and
edits, but eventually friends' anxiety to see it won out. And I swear
I've spent as much time typing and revising it as it took to write!
I can only hope, through all this trouble, I did the subject justice!