THE PATH TO REDEMPTION
Chapter 12: "Redeemed"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
"Why would you quit?" Makoto gasped, as if Ami had just slapped her across the face.
Ami winced, stung by the tone in Makoto's voice, and Makoto realized that she was taking the news a lot more personally than either she or Ami expected. And though Ami was a lot more assertive and sure of herself as an adult, there was still that shy girl from high school inside that shrank from criticism and avoided conflict.
"Sorry," Makoto offered as Ami avoided her glance. "It's your life, I guess. You must know what you're doing. It just seems like a waste, you know, after all the work you put in."
"Well, I didn't say I was going to stop being a doctor," Ami assured her, still avoiding her glance. "I'm just not going to be a doctor at that hospital. The working atmosphere has become too poisonous for my comfort." Finally she turned and looked at Makoto. "And I can't in good conscience work for a company whose only concern seems to be appearance and convenience, ahead of the truth and the welfare of the patients. The only reason they took Dr. Yamaguchi off of rounds was because the Atasi family could have chosen to sue them if they didn't. And then they make it seem like a reward to save face and protect their image with the public. If the Atasi family hadn't spoken up, the situation would have gone on and they would have done nothing about it. Who knows how many other patients may have needlessly suffered or even died before Dr. Yamaguchi realized his skills have deteriorated and he shouldn't practice any longer? So he gets rewarded with a status position, they save their reputation - - while I'm reprimanded for telling the Atasi family the truth and an outcast for reporting Dr. Yamaguchi in the first place."
Makoto noticed Ami's jaw quiver ever so slightly.
"And I'm frankly tired of being the outcast," Ami said, a small quaver in her voice at the end. "All through my life, my intellect has distanced me from people. Now my honesty has done the same. I won't have it. I won't."
Makoto got up and enveloped Ami in her arms. Reluctantly the doctor surrendered to it.
"Well, good riddance to them then," Makoto told her softly. "And if I'm ever dumb enough to get pregnant again, I'm having my baby at whatever hospital you land at."
"Thank you," Ami whispered, embarrassed now by her display of emotion. The fact that Makoto gave her that knowing grin when she released her hug was the only thing that eased the mortification. Ami picked up her tea. "But I'm not certain I'm going to go to another hospital after this."
The doctor got a quizzical look from her friend.
"Mamoru has offered to take me into his private practice several times," Ami informed her. "Maybe it's time to make the move. I can still provide for people who need medical assistance. I just won't have to deal with corporate rules or workplace politics."
"That sounds like a plan," Makoto told her. "I bet you and Mamoru would work real well together. Just don't try to seduce him behind Usagi's back."
"Makoto, as if I would," clucked Ami, her cheeks reddening. That brought a wide grin to Makoto's face. Her smile dimmed, though, as she thought of Usagi.
"I wonder when she's going to get back," Makoto mused. "I hope she's OK."
"Yes, it's been a while since her last communication," Ami agreed. "I can't help but be concerned.
At that point, Akiko entered the kitchen.
"Mommy!" she declared loudly. "Can we get a pony? Daddy said it was OK!"
"Oh, he did, huh?" Makoto replied with an arched eyebrow.
"Yes, he really did!" Akiko reiterated with much animation.
"OK, Missy, I'm going to go into the next room and check with your father," Makoto informed her, calmly but with an undercurrent of authority. "And if he tells me something different, I'm going to come back and blister your backside. Now, you want to try again?"
"Boy, you're tough," scowled Akiko. She walked away in defeat while Ami and Makoto exchanged bemused glances.
Her head in the refrigerator, Minako searched for something to appease the vague craving she had - - something that wasn't chocolate. The show was in the middle of taping and she had to keep her weight consistent. And suddenly the thought of food made her think of Usagi.
"I hope she's OK," Minako mumbled to herself, absently shutting the refrigerator door. "Knowing and not being able to help is the worst, but not knowing is a close second."
"Did you say something?" Artemis asked. He was on the window sill of the kitchen, catching the morning sun while it was coming through that window.
"Just wondering about Usagi," Minako told him. Artemis gave her a sympathetic look.
"Minako!" Toshihiro called out, his hand over the phone. "It's your agent!"
Minako sauntered into the living room wearing nothing more than jogging shorts and a rumbled t-shirt with a logo for "Spy Girls Three" on it. "Spy Girls Three" had been one of the more forgettable films she'd done in her career, a project she hustled while on hiatus from the game show she'd modeled on a few years back. The shirt itself looked like it hadn't been laundered in a while, something not out of the ordinary for the slovenly Minako Aino-Manabe. Toshihiro handed her the phone, then glanced admiringly at her bottom while she spoke.
"What's the word?" Minako asked. "They did? And the reaction?" She listened with new-found attention to the reply. "So we're OK now? They're not going to fire me or anything?" Again she paused for the response. "Well, what can I say? I am magnificent."
An echo of Artemis's derisive laugh came from the other room.
"And there's no problem with the movie producers? Really? Maybe I really should pose nude." She smirked at her agent's response. "Just kidding. So the only hold up is money? Well wring as much out of them as you can, but don't lose me this part. Toshi thinks it's a good one and I trust his judgment. Bye, guy."
"Thanks for trusting my judgment," Toshihiro smiled cynically.
"Hey, you picked me. You must know what you're doing," she chuckled and pecked him on the lips.
"So what IS the word?" he persisted.
"The producers of the show were happy with the way I handled the interview," Minako explained. "They got advance copies and thought it went well. Any controversy over those shopped photos will die down and everything is peachy now." She scowled slightly. "Well, Kentaro Oburi is probably still doing a burn over them. Then again, he's the type who'd get upset if I was in a kimono and somebody saw my ankles. At least I've still got a job."
"I told you they wouldn't fire you," Toshihiro reminded her.
"Yes you did, and I bow to your infinite wisdom once again," Minako said. She folded her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his lips.
"Appointment with the marketing firm at eleven," came Artemis's voice from the other room.
"OK, OK!" shouted Minako. "Duty calls. I've got to dole out more of magnificent me to my clamoring public." She pressed her lips to his and then smiled when she pulled back. "Promise I'll save the best part for you, Toshi."
"Can't wait," he replied and kissed her again.
At the shrine on Sendai Hill, Akira-Sensei stepped out onto the walk from the main entrance. Looking to his left, he found Hino-Sensei sitting on a bench near the oldest tree on the property. She was looking up into the sky pensively, as if waiting for something - - or someone. Perched on her shoulder was one of the two crows she kept as pets - - or perhaps more accurately, confidants. The bird looked up into the sky just like she did. Perched next to her on the bench was the other crow. That bird stared up into the sky as well. It was an unusual sight even for someone like him, who had been at the shrine for a while now and was used to such unusual behavior. To a stranger, it must have been a strange tableau indeed.
Akira walked over calmly. When he got within a certain distance, the crow on Rei's shoulder flew into the tree branches. That, Akira concluded, must be the one Rei referred to as Deimos, since it mistrusted humans. The other crow remained in place - - as Akira was a human that Rei had accepted, it accepted him as well. Alerted by Deimos' motion, Rei turned to him, then turned away. He perceived she was embarrassed at being caught doing what she was doing.
"It's a fine day," Akira commented. "One so fine that it's quite easy to lose yourself in the beauty of the sky."
"I hadn't noticed," Rei murmured.
"Hino-Sensei," Akira began, "the sage says we are not responsible for things we have no control over. Therefore, any guilt over the occurrence of said thing is a drain upon the spirit and a hindrance to the advancement of same."
"And an obligation that remains unfulfilled should take precedence over more mundane thoughts," Rei countered.
"Also true," Akira nodded. "But if the obligation can't be fulfilled, isn't industry more in keeping with the more noble pursuits of the spirit than simply waiting? Nothing is accomplished by simply waiting for her return."
"Her?" Rei frowned, turning to him.
"You're clearly waiting for someone. Since you look to the sky, I assume it's not your friend Usagi you wait for. Therefore I assumed it was Sailor Moon. I have learned, through my own clumsy intrusiveness, that you and Sailor Moon are connected."
"About that," Rei began.
"You don't need to divulge anything to me," Akira assured her. "I've known since shortly after I met you that you possess a spirit far beyond that of a normal priest, and that certain gifts come with that spirit. Throughout our history, those with greater spiritual awareness have been aides and advisors to emperors, shoguns and great warriors. It isn't surprising that a great champion like Sailor Moon would seek you out and make use of your gifts for the greater good. And it isn't unusual for such relationships to develop into friendships. Having met Sailor Moon, I know she's quite easy to admire and even easier to like."
"You're very perceptive yourself," Rei said, looking out over the gardens of the shrine. "In some ways, you're like my grandfather."
"I'm honored," Akira nodded. "I'm aware of your grandfather's reputation."
"And you've been very patient and understanding with me," Rei continued. "You're a very patient and understanding person."
"I think my two children could give you an argument over that," Akira told her. Rei lowered her head to hide her smile. "I'm not trying to direct your behavior. I just think sitting here waiting and wondering - - and worrying - - isn't helping her. And it's certainly not helping you."
"I guess you're right," Rei scowled, pushing herself up off the bench. Phobos took that as a sign and flew up into the trees to join Deimos. "I'm not doing anyone any good by staring up into the sky and wondering. I suppose I should start pulling my weight around here."
Despite her statement, Rei glanced up into the sky once again.
"I just can't help wondering," she confessed, "how she's doing."
Usagi sat on a large rock she found in the fields of flowing - - well, it wasn't quite grass and it wasn't quite wheat, but more something in between. Her legs were pulled up to her chin and her arms curled around them. Her mood was blue, not so much for her predicament, but for the fact that she was alone. Usagi hated to be alone.
A presence suddenly seemed to tickle at the back of her brain. Uncurling from the rock, Usagi looked behind her. Standing behind her was Senenthia Om, her hands clasped behind her and an almost childlike naughty grin on her face. She leaned in toward Usagi inquiringly.
"Senenthia!" exclaimed Usagi.
"Did you think I'd forgotten you, Usagi?" Senenthia asked, struggling not to giggle.
"No! Not at all!" Usagi gasped.
"Really?" Senenthia inquired. Usagi's face scrunched up in a grimace.
"Well," Usagi winced, "maybe just a little. I figured you'd remember me eventually."
"You could have gone home on your own," Senenthia suggested.
"I'm not that powerful!" Usagi exclaimed.
"Just give it a few cycles," Senenthia advised her. "You'll be the wonderment of the universe."
"Everybody keeps saying that," Usagi looked away, embarrassed.
"Maybe everybody knows something you don't."
"Everybody knows a lot of things I don't," Usagi responded ruefully. That elicited a laugh from Senenthia. It was warm and joyous and Usagi couldn't help but reflect on how favorably it compared to the harsh, cutting laugh she remembered Sailor Galaxia making.
"OK, I have to admit, I did get a little caught up in getting Sailor Valiant settled," the flame-tressed woman said. "After I deliver you home, I'm returning to rehabilitate her planet's environment and make sure she's in the best possible situation." Senenthia paused, in awe of what she was thinking. "I still can't believe the courage and purpose she's displaying in doing this. It's certainly more than I'm doing. Even if she can only bring back a fraction of her people in human form, it's a miraculous undertaking. Perhaps she deserved the title of the strongest senshi in the universe and not me."
"Senenthia," Usagi intervened. "I wish you'd stop being so hard on yourself and forgive yourself."
"Don't feel bad for me, Usagi," Senenthia said, awash in melancholy. "I dug this hole for myself. I'm the one who has to fill it in. Maybe then I can think about forgiving myself." She turned and smiled at Usagi, though it was a sad smile. "The fact that you forgive me is enough to sustain me for now. And, for all the deprivation and hardship I may encounter in my mission to reclaim my soul, it's at least better than the hell I was born into. You may pity me now, Usagi, but I'm far better off than what I was."
Holding her hands over Usagi's head to either side, Senenthia conjured up a golden bubble of energy that surrounded her charge. The bubble began to slowly levitate off of the ground.
"Kiss that man of yours when you get home," Senenthia told her. "And tell him how sorry I am that I caused him so much pain."
With a sweeping gesture, Senenthia Om sent the golden energy bubble up and into space. She lingered planet-side, watching the bubble disappear into the heavens.
"Good-bye, Usagi, my savior and my friend," Senenthia murmured happily. "I hope I'll have the chance to see you after you've ascended. I bet it will be a wondrous thing indeed."
Turning away, Senenthia surrounded herself with another golden bubble and rocketed off, leaving the planet Mau to evolve of its own accord.
In Tokyo, in the apartment she shared with Usagi and Mamoru, Luna stood and watched Mamoru sit on the sofa and brood helplessly. His head was bowed and his hand draped over the back of his neck. He'd been in that position for over an hour. Slowly, over the course of Usagi's absence, his courage and spirit had withered a little more each day. Luna hated watching it, but he hadn't responded to any encouragements she'd offered. If only Usagi would return, for all their sakes - - but for his most of all.
Suddenly, Mamoru jumped to his feet. Instantly Luna was at attention. His head cocked as if he were sensing something. There was a flash of golden light in the center of the room. They turned to it.
"Hi," Usagi said, inexplicably just there. "I'm home."
In a blur of motion, Usagi was suddenly swept up into Mamoru's arms. He bent forward, pressing his mouth to hers, pouring his pent up longing and passion into her. Usagi was startled at first, but warmed quickly to the kiss and folded her arms around his neck. The embrace lingered, radiating warmth throughout the room. Luna smiled, allowing herself a kittenish shiver as she vicariously enjoyed it. Finally they parted, Mamoru staring at Usagi, drinking her in.
"Wow!" Usagi giggled breathlessly, wide-eyed and flustered. "I should leave more often!"
"Are you all right?" Mamoru asked, almost pleaded to know.
"I'm wonderful!" Usagi cackled. "Let's do that again!"
"Usagi!" Luna interjected sternly, though secretly she was as giddy as Usagi was. "Indulge us by acting your age, if only for a little while."
That brought them back to earth. Usagi folded in against her husband's chest and Mamoru held her close.
"I'm all right," she assured them both. "I'm sorry I worried you both. And I promise I'll tell you everything that happened. But could you just hold me for a while, Mamo-Chan? I think that's what I missed most of all."
Mamoru complied happily. As Usagi snuggled in her comfort zone, she considered the lives Senenthia Om and Sailor Valiant had come from and the roads they each were traveling toward their own visions of redemption. And she concluded that she was a very, very lucky woman indeed to have the family she did, the friends she did and the life she did. Perhaps if they'd had what she had, they wouldn't be on the paths they were on now. Perhaps, if she'd suffered through what they'd suffered . . .
No. Usagi didn't even want to go there - - not even in "what if".
The phone rang. Mamoru and Usagi, in the midst of a passionate embrace in bed, sighed in mutual frustration. Usagi began to reach for it.
"Don't answer it," Mamoru whispered, nuzzling her neck.
"It might be important," Usagi argued.
"More important than this?" he asked and nibbled on her.
"Stop that!" Usagi giggled. "If I don't get it, Luna will."
"Good. It gives her a reason to stay here," Mamoru replied and nibbled again. Usagi giggled again and picked up the phone.
"Hi, Princess," her father said over the phone. Reflexively Usagi clenched the sheets up to her chest, even though he couldn't see her.
"Hi, Daddy!" Usagi squeaked in surprise. Mamoru stopped nibbling.
"You sound strange, Princess. Did I interrupt something?"
"No!" Usagi gasped. Mamoru grinned devilishly and began nibbling again. "Stop that!" she hissed.
"Is someone with you?" Kenji inquired.
"Just Mamo-Chan," Usagi responded too quickly.
"Oh," Kenji said. He paused a moment. "Ohhhhh! I'm sorry, Princess. I'll call back."
"No, Daddy, it's OK. What did you need?"
"I just wanted to give you the good news. I've got a new job."
"You do? With," Usagi began to blurt out. Quickly Mamoru covered her mouth.
"With a marketing firm that handles publicity for celebrities," Kenji informed her. "I've already gotten to photograph Sailor Moon and the Senshi. They even tell me she recommended me to them."
"Well, she must have liked your pictures in Tokyo Shimbun," Usagi said coyly. Mamoru smirked at her.
"I guess," Kenji responded. "And the firm liked my work enough to offer me a position. It's more money, less stress and a lot more creative."
"You see, Daddy, it all worked out," Usagi told him.
"Yes it did," Kenji replied. "It amazes me how lucky I've been in my life. Well, I'll let you get back to, um, your husband. Let us know if you two want to stop over on Sunday. Your mother will fix up something special."
"It's a date," she beamed and hung up.
"Making dates with strange men?" Mamoru asked.
"That was Daddy," Usagi told him, forgetting he already knew. "He got the job with the firm that represents the senshi."
"And all because of you," Mamoru smiled. "Once more, you're everybody's hero." Lightly he stroked her throat with his hand. "I think the hero deserves a reward."
"Oh boy, I'm going to like this!" Usagi squealed as Mamoru leaned in to kiss her. Then their bodies molded and the world and all its troubles were forgotten.