Chapter 12: "Two Out, Bottom of the Ninth"

By Bill K.

As Derek drove them aimlessly in and around the Minato-ku region of Tokyo, Rei sat in the seat next to him and willed herself not to get upset. There had to be a good reason for what was happening. She couldn't let herself fly into a rage now and damage what might still be salvageable. Derek was too important.

"Got a call from my agent," Derek began finally. "I've got an offer from an American team - - San Diego. No guarantees beyond going on the forty man roster, but that's pretty good. It's a better situation than I was in two years ago. And the Padres have some openings in their outfield. If I put together a good spring . . ."

"Or you could play here," Rei said, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice and sound rational. "You're loved here," she said, meaning the fans, "by a lot of people," meaning her.

"I could," Derek answered, trying to see her side of it and not sound as callous as he felt he was being, "but - - San Diego's in The Show. It's my chance to play in The Show again. Probably my last chance. If I resign with the Giants, at my age, The Show's not going to come knocking again."

"Well," Rei began, feeling like water was swirling around her up to her nose, "there are other benefits to staying here - - aren't there?"

He glanced earnestly at her for a moment. "Yes there are. And there's a part of me that wants to stay, believe that."

"But it's not as strong as the part that wants to go," Rei added in that eerie way she had. There was hurt in her voice and she wanted to curse herself for throwing guilt at him, but she couldn't bring herself to do it.

"Rei," he began hopelessly.

"Your career is more important to you than I am," Rei said. She felt the anger welling and didn't know if she could keep it down.

"Rei, what can I do?" Derek asked.

"You can stay." There it was, blunt and to the point - - the Rei Hino way.

Derek thought a moment. The fact that he had to think hurt her more.

"And you could come with me," Derek responded.

That stopped Rei in her tracks. The priest hadn't for a moment considered that option. She could go with him.

Except it would mean living in America, an alien culture with an alien language that might never accept her and might make her days torture.

Except it would mean giving up her home in Japan, a home she loved, a culture she loved with a passion she had for few other things.

Except it would mean renouncing the vow she'd made to her grandfather to keep up Hikawa Shrine and the vow she'd made to herself to perpetuate his memory, effectively spitting in the face of her obligation to him, much the way her father had spit in the face of his obligation to his father for the sake of personal expediency.

Except it would mean leaving the senshi, renouncing her vow to aid and protect Usagi with her life if necessary for all her days until Usagi's dream of a paradise known as Crystal Tokyo was established.

She couldn't do that. It would mean giving up everything to be with Derek. It wasn't fair for him to ask that of her.

But, a small voice in her mind that sounded suspiciously like Usagi said, isn't that what you're asking of him? Rei's eyes began to sting.

"I was hoping you'd come with me," Derek said as they pulled into a parking space in a store closed for the night. "But I think I knew what the answer would be. I know you well enough to know what I'd be asking of you. It'd be like taking a rare flower that grows only in Japan and transplanting it into the U.S. It might flourish - - but it might whither and die. I wouldn't want that. Not for anything."

"Thank you," Rei whispered. Her hand reached over and rubbed the top of Derek's hand with her thumb. "It's the same with you, I suppose. You've got that drive to play, to compete. You have to do it. Maybe one day you won't have to anymore. Maybe on that day," and Rei glanced timidly at Derek, "you'll think about coming back."

"I've lived here for two years. There are worse places in the world," he replied. "Anyplace you're not, for example." He sighed with emotional exhaustion. "I really wish there was another way to do this."

"So do I," she said, trying to force a smile. "I've really gotten used to you, Mr. Johnson."

"I don't have to report to Azucareros del Este for two weeks," he reminded her.

"Two more weeks with you would only make me miss you more," Rei told him.

"I understand," he said and moved to start the car. Rei's hand tightened around his wrist.

"That wasn't a 'no'," she said.

As they drove off, Rei knew she'd come to regret this. But it was two weeks less of missing him in her life and right now it seemed worth any price.

Bringing up her arm, Ami managed to ward off the slash of the scalpel. The blade made an incision in the sleeve of her jacket, but Ami was too preoccupied with other things. Makoto and Minako had each given her tips on self-defense techniques, as a means of helping her both as a senshi and in her private life. But physical things never came easily to her. She could visualize the movements in her mind from watching Makoto, but getting her body to repeat them was the difficulty. Makoto always said it was just a matter of practice, but Ami was always too busy exploring some new science or mystery to do it.

And now she was paying for it.

She gripped harder on her henshin stick. Ami concluded that she had no choice but to transform into Sailor Mercury. Mercury had attacks that would give her an advantage over the crazed Haruki Koda. In the woman's present state, Ami Mizuno's chances were significantly less than Sailor Mercury's. Ami raised the stick to chest level, ready to shout her transformation phrase.

But she missed the rebound slash from Koda. Suddenly the blade flashed into her field of vision on a downward stroke. Pain flashed through her right arm. Ami glanced down and saw blood oozing from her right wrist as her henshin stick clattered to the cement floor. The slash had missed the major arteries as well as the tendons that connected her wrist to her thumb, but it still hurt and it was still bad.

"Koda-San!" she cried out. "Why are you doing this?" Ami hoped to distract Haruki long enough to get some ground between them.

"You think you're going to take Chiba-San away from me!" Haruki fumed. She held the scalpel up menacingly, but it allowed Ami to back off a couple of steps. "You think you're going to lure him away from me! I won't let you! I love Chiba-San! I love him!"

"I'm not trying to take anything! That's an illogical assumption!" Ami shouted. Haruki replied with another wild slash, causing Ami to backtrack more. "I have no interest in Mamoru! We're just old friends!"

"Don't lie to me!" Haruki snarled, slashing again. "I know what you're trying to do!"

As she evaded the woman, Ami's mind analyzed her condition. She seemed to be in a delusional state. This was dangerous. Reasoning with a delusional patient was very difficult.

"Is this why you killed the others?" Ami gasped. She'd managed to maneuver so that a support pole was between her and Koda.

"What others?" Haruki screamed. She lunged to one side of the pole and Ami pivoted to the other side.

"Kimiko Hakajima and the others!" Ami responded, studying Koda as she tried to evade the woman. "You killed them all, didn't you?"

"Hakajima is dead?" Haruki asked, stopping short. A chill ran up Ami's spine. Koda was beyond delusional. She was having a schizophrenic episode. Ami experienced an overwhelming urge to study this woman and find out what had caused this condition.

But staying alive was the priority.

Koda sprang into action and lunged around one side of the support. The woman was still between Ami and her henshin stick. Realizing that the support was only temporary protection, Ami turned and bolted in the opposite direction of Koda's lunge. That would take her up the ramp of the parking garage. It was three levels to the street, but if she could gain the street level,
she might be able to find help.

Glancing behind her, she saw Koda chasing her, the scalpel still in her hand. From the echo of the footsteps on the cement, it sounded like Koda was gaining on her. Once again Ami's lack of physical prowess was going to betray her. However, there was no other course of action open to her. The ramp of the parking garage was too narrow for her to safely double back. Koda would reach her before she could get to an elevator. And there was no way she could disarm the woman. But the sounds of the footfalls grew louder behind her. Ami realized that she wouldn't make the street level before Koda caught her.

Then her eye caught a broken, discarded umbrella in one of the trash cans on the second level. Ami veered for it and seized it. She turned and held it out at Haruki Koda. The woman stopped and crouched defensively. Ami could see the wild look on her face.

"Haruki, stop this!" Ami demanded as she held the woman at bay with the umbrella. "I'm not a threat to you! I have no romantic interest in Mamoru!" The umbrella shook in her hand because of the throbbing wound on her right wrist.

"You're lying!" Koda bellowed. "You want to steal him away from me! But I won't let you! I'll kill you first!"

"And after you kill me, then what?" Ami responded. "Are you going to go after his wife next?"

"Wife?" Koda asked and Ami suddenly realized that in this state Koda had no idea Mamoru and Usagi were married. "Chiba-San isn't married. He couldn't be! HE'S IN LOVE WITH ME!"

Ami suddenly lunged at her, jabbing and hacking with the umbrella. She knew she had no hope of disarming her with the flimsy aluminum pole of the umbrella. But Koda retreated far enough under the assault. Ami flung the umbrella at her and then ran back down toward the third level. Her henshin stick was down there. Her henshin stick was her only hope.

Her thighs were burning as she ran. Her chest was on fire. Ami knew she was tiring, that she was running on pure adrenalin and that if she didn't reach her henshin stick she had little left to fight with. Already Koda's footsteps were pounding behind her. Ami rounded the corner and sprinted for the spot where the henshin stick lay. Through pools of light and somber dark surrounding them, Ami ran. And the footsteps of her pursuer echoed behind her, louder and louder. She had to make it. But could she? The strength was leaving her legs. Could she make it?


The garage was lit up with a blue-white light. Electricity arced over Ami's head, causing her short black hair to momentarily stand up. The lightning passed over her and struck Koda's scalpel, then coursed through her body. Ami stumbled to a stop and turned to look, shielding her eyes from the light. Haruki Koda seemed to dance in place, thrashing around as a blue-white aura enveloped her. Then the lightning dissipated and Koda crumpled to the cement, the scalpel clattering off into the darkness. Ami just stared for a moment, her body numb and weak from spent adrenalin. When she was sure that Koda wouldn't get up, Ami turned and looked behind her. An extremely pregnant Sailor Jupiter was waddling up to her.

"Ames, are you all right?" Jupiter asked desperately.

"What," Ami began, "what are you doing here?"

"Stopped by for a visit," Jupiter shrugged. "Brought you some dinner. I don't know. Something told me I should come. But you weren't home, so I came down to get my car. Then I heard the fight. What's going on?"

"She tried to kill me," Ami said, trying to be rational and dispassionate and not completely succeeding. "She's the hospital slasher. Haruki Koda is the hospital slasher."

"Why pick you?"

"She's delusional - - possibly schizophrenic. She thought I was interfering in a relationship she believed she was having with - - with Mamoru. I thought I detected another personality."

"Hey, you're hurt!" Jupiter exclaimed. She whipped the pink ribbon from her bodice and wrapped Ami's wrist. Ami seemed to scarcely notice. "Are you OK?"

"We," Ami stammered, tears welling in her eyes, "need to call the police." She dabbed at her eyes with her right hand, then stared at the pink ribbon wrapped around her wrist. Her lip trembled. "Goodness! This is no time to become emotional!"

Maternally Jupiter gathered Ami in. Braced by Jupiter's arms around her, Ami surrendered to her emotions.

It was way past Gert Tenoh's bedtime. He'd fallen asleep in his easy chair twice that evening while watching the Japanese Baseball League Championship game. His wife had asked him three times to come to bed. But he wouldn't do it. Himeko recognized the Prussian stubbornness coming out in him and finally surrendered. He was going to wait for her - - even if it took all night.

A key turned in the lock on the front door. That didn't wake him. Shoes were doffed in the front hall. That didn't wake him, either. What woke him was the sense of a presence as it entered the room. He looked up, returning to consciousness, and found Junko standing in the doorway. She was surprised to find him waiting for her.

"You're still up?" Junko asked.

"I was waiting for you," Gert said, his voice still heavy with sleep. Using the remote, he switched off the television.

"Oh, yeah. Kaioh-San said you had something to tell me. If it's about Switzerland . . .!"

"We're not moving," Gert told her. That stopped his daughter's righteous indignation in its tracks. It took the girl a moment to recover.

"We're not?" Junko asked. She wasn't expecting surrender. "Why?"

"Because you don't want to go," Gert explained.

"And that's it?"

"Junko, you're my daughter and I love you," Gert continued. There was a sentimental grin on his ruddy German face. "You don't want to go. And I don't want to go without you. It would have been nice to see the old country again. But seeing you is far more important. And your life is here. You said it yourself. I suppose it wouldn't be very fair to take you away from it."

"But what about your health?" Junko asked. She sat down on the ottoman in front of him so they could be eye to eye. "That is what this was all about" and she eyed her father cautiously, "wasn't it?"

"It's not much of a life without you," Gert offered with a contrite expression. "If it means sacrificing a few years in order to see you married with a house full of grandchildren, it's the price I'm willing to pay."

"Yeah, as if," Junko rolled her eyes. She spotted the twinkle in her father's eye that so endeared him to her. "But are you going to be OK here?"

"I just have to be a little more careful about what I eat and what I do," he shrugged. "Maybe you can help me watch my diet, eh?"

"I don't get it. You're doing all this," Junko asked incredulously, "for me?"

"It's the things we do for love," he countered. "Who else should I do it for? You and your mother are the most important things to me."

"Thanks, Dad," Junko said, misting up. Then she grew serious. "What about Haruka?"

Gert's expression soured. "You want to see her. I guess we can't stop that." He looked his daughter directly in the eye. "I guess I have to trust in you to know right from wrong. Don't disappoint me, eh? And be careful. She's not what she seems."

"Dad," Junko sighed with frustration. "If you'd just give her a chance, I know you two could make up."

Gert looked away. "Too many things have happened. You're young, Junko. You don't understand yet. Someday you'll learn that there are some paths in life that you can't travel down any longer." Her father shrugged sheepishly. "That's one of the reasons I made the decision I did. I don't want to lose you, too."

Junko reached over and took her father's hand. "I'm going to keep trying. Haruka belongs in this family, too."

Gert smiled shyly. "What did I ever do to deserve such a stubborn girl?" Junko smiled at the familiarity and affection in that phrase.

Two weeks had passed. Things had settled down in both the Tenoh households. Junko continued to visit Haruka. Michiru and Setsuna had playful discussions as to whom was benefitting more from the visits, Junko or Haruka. The discussions were usually punctuated by some playfully rude gesture from Haruka, drawing amused twitters from the others. Though Junko's (and Haruka's) parents viewed the relationship with dour suspicion, they did nothing to interfere. Though it was particularly hard for Himeko, she abided by her husband's wishes.

Dr. Koda had been arrested and charged, rocking the hospital. Ami had long since regained her rational, dispassionate attitude about the case, and only Makoto knew where the cracks in the mask had been covered over. Minako wanted to hear every juicy detail. Usagi didn't want to hear anything beyond the fact that Ami was all right. At one point, Dr. Mizuno had to throw her out in order to get some peace from Usagi's well-intentioned but incessant hovering. And Rei was grateful that she hadn't lost a friend. After all, she didn't have that many.

And she was already down one. Derek was gone, off to the Dominican Republic to play his little boy's game and chase success and Major League stardom.

Usagi had called for her daily update on how things were going. For a moment, Rei had considered not telling her, but dismissed it as foolish. The news would come out sooner or later. Eighteen minutes later, Usagi was there, comforting her friend and filling her with hopeful pronouncements about her future where love was concerned. For a few moments, Rei wondered which of them was more distraught over this turn of events. At first Rei wanted to bonk her in the head for being saccharin and predictable. By the end of the pep talk, though, she had the urge to kiss her.

The priest blushed ever so slightly at that thought.

After finally shooing Usagi away, Rei entered the part of the Shrine where she lived. The walls seemed to echo with the silence. The ceiling seemed to loom over her where before it hadn't. Despite the furnishings and trappings of the place, some hers, some her grandfather's and some her mother's, there was a sense of emptiness to it.

Though his aura seemed to remain in the room, Derek was gone. He would be off to America for spring training with the San Diego Padres in four short, long months. Rei hoped he would succeed and finally realize his dream of starring in the major leagues. But a little part of her, deep down, hoped he'd fail and have to come back to Japan - - and her. And that part of her soul scared and disappointed the priest.

No longer willing to stand, Rei sat down at her kitchen table. She recognized the hurt she felt. It was that same sense of loss she felt when her mother died - - though not nearly as strong. And when her grandfather died, too, again though not as strong. And when that little bastard who worked for her father broke her heart. And that one morning at the foot of the steps to Hikawa Shrine.

Was love worth this? Rei remembered all the times she wondered that after hearing about Makoto's latest breakup or when she was nursing Usagi through the times Mamoru had pushed her away in search of his fantasy girl. But as she recalled those times, Rei realized they were counterbalanced by Makoto's rebound escapade with her latest crush, Minako's fanatical expositions on the absolute perfection of the male sex and in particular the man she was obsessing on at that moment, or seeing Usagi and Mamoru walk hand in hand, oblivious to everyone but each other. Times like those, her answer was always 'yes'. Times like these, her answer drifted more toward 'no'. And again she recalled all the good times, not just with Derek but with everyone she'd ever loved - - if only for an afternoon. Maybe it was. Maybe it was.

Would she ever know such times again?

Suddenly, Rei reached over to the stove. She picked up a match and struck the head on the rough side of the stove. A small flame burst forth, then settled into a steady burn. Rei brought the match to her and tenderly cupped it.

"Little kami of the flame," she whispered. "Am I ever going to find true love?"

"You already have," the little flame whispered to her.

The flame burned down the match until it came to Rei's fingers, then seemed to extinguish on its own rather than burn her. Rei was oblivious to it. She just stared off at nothing as a deep melancholy crept over her.

"That's what I was afraid of," she whispered to no one.