The room slowly came into focus, and the first thing Ami saw was a pair of concerned green eyes.
"Mako-chan? Where am I?"
"You're in an employee lounge at the airport," Makoto told her gently. "You collapsed right before you got on the plane. They let us bring you in here so you could lie down for a while."
Ami groaned and sat up, her memory returning. "That's right. I… I was fired."
Her friends stared in disbelief. "You? How? Why?"
"I don't know. Dr. Ueda called and accused me of trying to show a dirty movie to my class."
"Well, did you?" Minako asked. Rei kicked her and she yelped. "What, I was just asking!"
"I don't understand. It seems almost unreal," Ami murmured, rubbing her head.
Two seconds later, Nephrite and Jadeite burst into the room. "Mizuno-san! You've got the wrong DVD!"
Ami blinked several times, then suddenly tensed as everything fell into place. "You two!" she cried indignantly.
"It was an accident!" Jadeite protested.
"I lost my job!"
Nephrite and Jadeite's reactions were as shocked as the others' had been. "But… it wasn't your fault," Jadeite stammered.
Ami clutched at her hair. "She didn't give me a chance to explain. Oh, what am I going to do?" she moaned. She tried to calm herself with a deep breath. "Maybe if the three of us go down to the university and talk to her, I can beg for mercy. Maybe she won't fire me."
"And then what?" Nephrite asked with righteous indignation. "Wait until she gives you the axe for something else equally petty and stupid? Why would you want to work for a witch like her anyway? I'm you, I call the doctor in Europe and explain to him that my boss is a narrow-minded cretin who misunderstood a classic and culturally important film which is clearly satirizing the confused Thanatos instincts of a generation who were about to be sent off to their deaths by an imperialist government. And that I hope he'll be more of a progressive thinker than that if he wants the honor of my presence at the lecture series."
Ami frowned thoughtfully. "I never looked at it that way before." After a minute or so of turning the idea over in her mind, she lifted her head with renewed determination. A new thought was coming to her, as liberating as it was frightening: she had nothing left to lose. "I think… Maybe I won't use those exact words, but I think I'll do that. Thank you, Nephrite."
With that short phrase, he felt as if a great weight were lifted, for contained within was not only Ami's gratitude, but her acknowledgement, and that long-sought absolution that made him more than just Makoto's husband. It made him one of them.
"Ami!" a breathless voice called. Zoisite stumbled up to them, panting hard. Kunzite followed him at a more dignified pace.
"I'm so glad you haven't left yet!" Zoisite exclaimed.
"She would've been on a plane to Liechtenstein by now if she hadn't passed out," Rei informed him pointedly.
Zoisite's eyes widened. "Oh my goodness! You fainted? Are you ill?" In a flash he was at her side, putting a hand to her forehead as if to take her temperature.
She pushed his arm away. "I'm fine now, really."
"Are you sure?"
He beamed. "Great! In that case… there's something I want to talk to you about." He knelt beside her and cradled one of her hands between his. Ami's cheeks reddened and she wobbled. For a second, the others worried she might faint again.
Zoisite glanced at the rest of the group. "Alone, if I may?"
Kunzite nodded and clapped a hand on Zoisite's shoulder. "Good luck," he whispered, before he and Makoto herded their gawking friends out of the room.
It was not long before the door opened again.
"Everyone, we have an announcement to make," Zoisite proclaimed.
Minako literally leaped into the air, unable to contain her excitement. "You guys are getting married!" she squealed, loud enough for the whole terminal to hear.
"Yes we are!" Zoisite declared, equally exuberant (if a little better at controlling his volume.)
"How did you guess?" Ami asked.
Makoto felt her eyes grow misty as she swept her friend up in a bear hug. "Oh Ami-chan, I'm so happy for you!"
Minako checked her wristwatch with an exaggerated flourish. "Annnd it has been ten months, seven days, and three hours since the betting commenced… with a guess of nine months, the winner is Mako-chan! Pay up, everybody!"
"You were betting on us?" Ami and Zoisite exclaimed, with identical annoyed expressions.
"Let's just say we had faith in you," Kunzite rationalized. "But apparently I had a little too much faith. I said six months."
"Et tu, Kunzite?"
Makoto laughed. "Hold on, now," she said with a wink at Rei. "I don't think I can accept this money. You see… word has it that Ami-chan's not the only one getting hitched."
Seven pairs of eyes followed her gaze to stare at Rei, who shyly drew her left hand out of her pocket to reveal a delicate silver engagement ring. The group let out gasps of mixed delight and disbelief—a little more of the latter. It wasn't that they thought the two were incompatible, but after nearly five years of on-again-off-again, to see them actually make a commitment was astonishing.
"What? When?" Nephrite demanded, looking at them as if they were possessed.
"Last night," said Rei. "And largely thanks to you, I might add."
He blinked owlishly, trying to get used to the idea. Beside him, Zoisite and Kunzite were doing the same.
"Like a bolt of lightning," Makoto marveled, with a knowing smile at Minako. The self-proclaimed Love Expert nodded in agreement, looking smug at how accurate her predictions had proven.
"So, did he get down on one knee?" Minako asked Rei.
"He didn't propose. I did."
Everyone but Minako goggled at her. It had always been Jadeite chasing Rei. He was always the one who fell too hard, was wounded too easily, apologized too late. Nephrite and Kunzite had speculated, in their more cynical moments, that a poorly-timed proposal and swift rebuff would be the end of things. Makoto always told them that Rei was not quite so cold, nor was Jadeite so completely out of touch with her feelings as they thought. But even she had never expected Rei to take that step, to make herself vulnerable.
Zoisite's brow wrinkled in thought. "But... Rei has a ring."
The others turned to stare at Jadeite, who flushed and cleared his throat. "I, uh..."
"How long?" Minako asked.
"A little under three years," Jadeite admitted.
"Seriously? You carried the ring around for three years and couldn't work up the nerve?"
"It wasn't a matter of nerve, it was a matter of opportunity." He gave Rei a sheepish look. "Remember that vacation we took for our anniversary? I was going to pop the question at dinner on that last night. But we got in a fight and you dumped me."
Rei did a double take. "You mean that time in Okinawa?"
"Different anniversary. I dumped you in Okinawa. You dumped me in Paris."
Minako frowned. "Wait, you broke up with her on your anniversary?"
"I'm pretty sure Paris was for my birthday."
Minako rounded on Rei. "You broke up with him after he took you to Paris for your birthday?"
"It was mutual. Mostly."
"You set my shirt on fire."
"No, that was on our ski trip in Switzerland."
Zoisite nodded in agreement. "It's why my mother won't let you guys stay at their place anymore."
"You know," said Rei, "it was actually an accident but I was so angry at you I decided to run with it."
Jadeite smiled. "I know."
"It's true after all. 'Life is short and love is a battle,'" Kunzite sighed.
Nephrite gave him a puzzled look. "I don't think that's how it goes."
"It's how I say it."
"I believe," said Makoto when they had calmed down a little, "that this is clear evidence that Hell has frozen over, which would make Rei-chan the winner."
Jadeite pretended to be affronted while the others laughed.
Minako pressed the money into Makoto's palm. "Keep it, Mako-chan. You'll need it more than anyone else, when the baby comes." Makoto frantically motioned for her to be quiet, but it was too late.
Nephrite blanched. "What? B-baby?!"
Makoto exhaled sharply. "Darn it, Minako! I haven't told him yet!"
"I'm sorry!" she wailed, ducking behind her arms in feigned embarrassment (and trying to hide a huge smile.) "It just kind of slipped out!"
"Way to steal our thunder, guys. Thanks," Zoisite muttered under his breath. Ami, for her part, looked glad to have the spotlight off of them as everyone gathered around the two soon-to-be parents.
Kunzite, Jadeite, and Rei swarmed Makoto, their words tumbling over one another. "About two months along… Yes, Neph is the father, very funny… They think it's a boy, though they aren't sure yet," Makoto was saying in response to their steady stream of questions.
Jadeite winked at her. "Well, when he gets to be about two, I have a jacket for him."
Ten minutes later, the eight of them plus Artemis were squeezed into a plastic booth at the Crown Arcade. Zoisite was in a celebratory mood and bought drinks for the whole restaurant (which at this late hour consisted only of themselves, a couple of college kids, and an aging Taoist priest who turned down the offer.) Motoki brought them a plate of hot wings, exchanged gossip, and ooh-ed and ah-ed over Ami and Rei's rings for a while until he had to leave to serve another customer. Makoto had decided to keep mum about the baby for the moment, because when Motoki and Unazuki found out there was no way they were going to get any work done for the rest of the night.
"And to think," Ami mused as they ate. "I would have missed all of this if I hadn't gotten fired."
Jadeite nudged her playfully. "Which wouldn't have happened if we hadn't gotten you in trouble by showing a porn flick to your class." Ami winced, the wounds of that embarrassment still fresh, but she supposed he was right.
"Which wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been at the laundry to get the DVDs mixed up," Nephrite pointed out. "And it's not porn, it's an erotic historical drama," he added, attempting unsuccessfully to mock Jadeite's voice.
"One argument at a time," Jadeite shot back.
Makoto laughed, finding it all rather funny in hindsight. "And that wouldn't have happened if Neph hadn't dropped a pizza on Jadeite-kun's jacket."
"Or if Ami-chan hadn't spilled ink all over her clothes," Rei added.
Ami raised her glass. "To serendipity," she toasted.
"To the whimsy of fate," Minako joined in.
"And the certainty of true love," Artemis added. Minako rolled her eyes at the corny comment and lifted his glass for him.
"To old friends and new," said Makoto.
"To promises made," said Rei.
"To promises kept," said Kunzite.
"To the future!" said Zoisite.
"To drinking our damn beer already," was Jadeite's input.
Nephrite grinned and clinked his glass against theirs. "To a camaraderie of errors."
AN: If you're wondering where Luna has been all story, the official explanation is that she went with Usagi and Mamoru on their honeymoon to make sure they were safe. I might write a companion fic about that in the future…
Thanks for reading!