Fresh baked bread. Coffee. A sweet, yet pungent, smell that suggested orange marmalade.
Makoto drifted into wakefulness, lulled by the comforting and familiar smells that seemed to fill the house. Reluctant to leave the warmth of the bed after a nearly sleepless night she drowsed, letting her mind drift where it willed. Anywhere but remembering all of the events of the previous day, she thought to herself as her eyes slowly closed. Beside her Motoki grunted in his sleep and half turned over, one of his arms coming to rest across her stomach.
Makoto's eyes snapped open, and she jerked upright. Fresh baked bread? Coffee? She slid out from beneath Motoki's arm, grabbed her robe, and padded barefoot from the bedroom, making her way to the kitchen. She felt somewhat reassured at the lack of a burnt smell, but not enough to want her daughter to continue in the kitchen unsupervised.
"It's okay; I used the dough you made yesterday. Even I can turn on the oven and get the time right to bake a loaf of bread."
Makoto felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I'm not even going to ask how you knew I was there," she said, taking a deep breath and enjoying the aroma of a breakfast that she didn't need to cook. "But I was sure that the intricacies of the coffee maker were beyond you."
Mariko made a sound that was suspiciously like a snort. "I looked the owner's manual up online," she replied, finally turning and facing her mother. "It wasn't exactly hard with the proper instructions."
Makoto nodded and entered the room, slipping into a seat at the table. Her daughter handed her a cup of coffee and grinned. "The marmalade is some that Mizuki brought home from her last trip to England. I've been hoarding it."
"Probably a good idea; if we kept stuff like that always within reach your father would weigh three hundred pounds."
Mariko sat opposite her mother as her grin faded. They ate in silence for a few moments while the atmosphere in the kitchen grew more tense and uncomfortable. She had taken breath, and opened her mouth, to speak on a couple of occasions, but always held back. She wanted to hear what her mother had to say first, before indulging in the orgy of accusations that were whirling in her head.
Makoto was perfectly aware of her daughter's scrutiny, and of what her daughter was hoping she'd say. Her hands were clenched so tightly on the coffee mug that she was afraid it would shatter in her grip, but still she held her tongue until she felt the tiny shift in Mariko's mood; a signal that the younger woman would now listen to what she had to say. She took a deep breath.
"I'm not going to apologize," Makoto began, her eyes fixed on her empty coffee cup. "Because frankly I don't think an apology is possible -"
"We agree on that," Mariko interrupted, a bitter tone in her voice.
Makoto briefly met her daughter's eyes before dropping her gaze again. "I can't apologize or justify keeping this from you for so many years, and I don't think you'd accept my explanation. All we can do is go forward from this point." She looked up again, her expression fierce and her eyes blazing. "But we can only go forward if you accept this."
Mariko just stared at her mother for a long moment, then slowly took the transformation pen out of the pocket of her uniform skirt. She wrapped her fingers around it and held it, counting the seconds that her mother seemed to be holding her breath. Finally she unfolded her hand and laid the pen on the table. "Accept what?" she asked, extending her finger to prod the pen. "The same thing happened last night when I held that thing. Nothing. So what, exactly, do I need to accept?"
Makoto knew that her face was reflecting the shock and surprise that she felt as she stared at her daughter. In all of the years that she had been worried about how this revelation would affect Mariko the one thing she had never considered was this - that Mariko would feel nothing when the time finally came.
Her daughter sighed and stood up. "I can see that this isn't what you thought would happen," she said, clearing the plates and cups from the table. She glanced at her watch. "I'm going to be late for school if I don't get going," she said and started for the door.
Makoto shook herself out of her shocked stupor. "Mariko, wait!" He daughter turned in the doorway, simply repeated that she was going to be late and then left the room. Makoto could hear a brief conversation between her daughter and her husband and then the front door slammed. She was half on her feet, ready to chase after Mariko, when Motoki entered the room. He shook his head.
"Don't," he said, taking the seat beside her and coaxing her back to her chair. "You can't go after her, you're the last person she wants to talk to right now."
"She told you that, did she?" Makoto asked, fighting the tears that were threatening.
Motoki pressed one of her hands between both of his. "She didn't have to, it was written all over her face."
The pair sat in silence for a few moments before Makoto gave her head a quick shake and stood. "You need some breakfast," she said, trying to remove her hand from her husband's grasp. He just held tighter.
"Mako, sit down," he said, giving her hand a slight tug. "Sit down and talk to me." She returned to her seat, and Motoki felt her hand tighten on one of his and saw the tears well in her eyes. He reached out with his other hand and cupped her face, his thumb stroking her cheek. "Tell me," he whispered.
Makoto glanced at where the green and gold pen still lay on the table. Motoki followed her gaze and his mouth dropped in shock. "She shouldn't have left the house without this," he said, releasing his wife's hand to pick it up. "What if something happens?"
The grin that crossed Makoto's face had a wry slant to it. "Nothing's going to happen." She reached out and took the pen away from her husband, then met his eyes squarely. "Nothing," she repeated with special emphasis.
Motoki looked puzzled for a moment as he glanced from her face to the pen in her hand, then understanding dawned. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but no words came. He shook his head slowly and silently. "Yeah, I don't know what to say either," Makoto put in, dropping the pen on the table.
"But. . . You said that Rio. . ." Motoki paused and took a deep breath to start over. "What about Akemi? Do you know anything of her?"
Makoto shook her head. "No, I don't, and I'm certainly not going to call Ami and bother her with this. It's something that Mariko needs to figure out on her own." She stood up again and this time her husband didn't stop her. "I have work to do today," she said and left the room without a backward glance.
Motoki sat for a few minutes longer at the table, turning the pen over in his hand. Then, when he heard the sound of the shower starting, he got up and went to make a phone call.
By late afternoon Motoki was convinced that at least a month had passed, and that he hadn't slept for very much of it. Stress and worry had dogged his every footstep during the day, beginning with his stop at the high school to return the transformation pen to his daughter. Mariko hadn't spoken when he placed it in her hand, but her raised eyebrow and tightly clenched jaw had been eloquent. He had bitten his lip to prevent the spirited defense of her mother that threatened to come out; he knew better than to get in between his wife and daughter on this particular issue.
The sun was high in the sky and glaring in his eyes when he arrived at his final destination for the day. His steps were noticeably slower as he approached the small shrine, and Motoki admitted to himself that this was the last place in the world he wanted to be. It was also, unfortunately, the best place to get the answers to his questions, so with a deep breath he squared his shoulders and passed under the entrance arch.
He found Artemis sitting on the low wall near the koi pond, his eyes closed and a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I managed to convince Luna to be elsewhere," he said before Motoki could speak. "I didn't think you'd talk as freely in front of her, and your phone call this morning suggested that you really need to talk."
Motoki could only sigh in relief; Artemis was completely right in thinking he wouldn't talk in front of Luna. The pair of them had long had an adversarial relationship; Luna disapproved of how much knowledge Motoki possessed of all things related to the Guardians and made no secret of that fact, while Motoki had been instrumental in Makoto's decision to keep her true identity a secret from their daughter. Any time the two of them met was a recipe for disaster, so Motoki smiled his thanks to Artemis as he took a seat alongside the other man.
"You're worried," Artemis said. It wasn't a question.
Motoki looked up at the cloudless sky, trying to gather his thoughts. Even though he knew Artemis could help him it wasn't easy to put all of his concerns into words. "I can't figure out how not to be worried," he finally said, dropping his gaze to the ground.
Artemis nodded. "It's a troubling situation all around," he said. "The Guardians haven't faced a battle like this in years. Luckily the next generation is awakening."
Motoki laughed, a cynical and self-deprecating sound. "Somehow I doubt that," he said, and before he knew it he was spilling the entire story of what had happened that morning, especially how Mariko didn't react at all when she held the Jupiter transformation pen.
Artemis was silent through the entire recitation, although his eyebrows steadily marched closer to his hairline. When Motoki finished he glanced at his companion and almost laughed at the way Artemis opened his mouth as if to speak and then clamped it tight shut again.
"You're speechless," Motoki said. "I came to you for advice that you are now incapable of giving me." He sighed heavily. "This day just keeps getting better and better."
"Not so much speechless as not sure what, exactly, I can say to make this better," Artemis replied, standing up and beginning to pace. "This is certainly a wrinkle that no one could have predicted."
"I keep trying to convince myself that it's not that big a deal," Motoki said. "Like she probably just needs some stressful, emotional kick in the ass and BAM! Sailor Jupiter. But it's more serious than that, correct?"
"It might be," Artemis answered, then gave his head a firm shake. "But thinking like that is nothing but borrowing trouble. These things happen in their own way, and in their own time. Mina's daughter is a perfect example; she knew about her destiny to become Sailor Venus for years before it actually happened." He sighed and smiled. "We just have to be patient; no amount of pressure is going to get Mariko, or Akemi for that matter, to become anything until the time is right."
The sun was pouring through the window when Chibiusa sat up in bed and pushed her hair out of her eyes. There were a few moments of disorientation as she fought to full wakefulness, but when she glanced at the clock she couldn't hold back a gasp of shock. She had been asleep for nearly sixteen hours.
She leapt from the bed and made her way to the bathroom, where a splash of cold water banished the last traces of sleep. She returned to her room and was thinking about getting dressed when she heard a knock so soft that for a moment she thought she imagined it. Then it came again, a little louder, and the door of her bedroom opened a crack, just wide enough for a hand to slip through. When the fingers wiggled she grinned. "You can come in, Seiya," she said.
The crack widened and another hand joined the first. This one was holding a plate with a flavored rice ball, fresh fruit and cubes of cheese. Chibiusa's stomach immediately growled and she laughed, causing Seiya to stick his head around the edge of the door. He was smiling.
"Good to know my instincts were right on this," he said as he set the plate down on the bedside table before sitting on the foot of the bed. "It would have been downright embarrassing, otherwise. Not to mention a waste of time."
Chibiusa sat beside him and reached for the plate. "I think you're giving your instincts too much credit," she commented around a mouthful of rice. "It couldn't have been too difficult to figure out I'd be hungry, considering the time." She glanced again at the clock, and then her head snapped back to her brother. "Why aren't you at school?"
A dull red flush crept up Seiya's cheeks and he looked away. "It's not like I wanted to skip school," he said at last. "I had to. It was the only way I'd find out anything. And I didn't completely skip."
"I went to your school to talk to your gang."
Chibiusa all but choked on the cheese she had just put into her mouth. She gaped at Seiya as she tried to get her breath back. "What do you mean 'my school' and 'my gang'?"
Seiya gave a sheepish grin. "Just what I said; I went to your school to talk to Mizuki, Mariko, et cetera." He stood up and walked to the window, pushing the curtains aside so he could see out. "It wasn't easy, sneaking around and making sure Mom never saw me, but I found out what I needed to know. And learned a few things that you need to hear."
Chibiusa set the now empty plate on the bedside table and slumped back against the wall. "Mom is going to kill me," she said, her voice muffled by the hands she had pressed against her face. "Or maybe she'll kill you and just inflict grievous bodily harm on me. Either way it won't be pleasant."
Her hands were pulled away from her face and she looked up to find her brother peering at her. "How is Mom even going to know?" he asked with a sly smile. "She didn't see me on campus, and I'm certainly not going to tell her I was there. You weren't at school today, so you can easily deny having seen me there. Simple!"
Chibiusa laughed. "You're good," she said with a laugh. "I'm going to have to use you for all my sneaking around tasks." She got out of bed and disappeared into her closet. "So what did you learn that I need to hear?" she asked over the sounds of hangers shifting and clothes rustling.
"I'll get to that," Seiya replied, sitting on the bed and leaning against the wall. "But first I want to hear your version of what happened last night."
Something that sounded suspiciously like a snort came from the closet before Chibiusa emerged fully dressed. She sat on the floor beside her bed, facing Seiya. She stared at him for so long without speaking that he started to shift uncomfortably, dropping his gaze from hers.
"I had a vision last night," Chibiusa finally said, the words coming so suddenly that Seiya had to force himself not to flinch in surprise. "I'm not going to tell you everything, because some of it was. . ." Her voice trailed off and she felt a flush climb her cheeks. Seiya grinned. "The point is that I can neither move forward and become what I am destined to be, nor go back to what I was, until other people make the choices that are confronting them."
Seiya's grin faded as Chibiusa stood and crossed the room to her bedside table. She took her transformation locket out of the drawer and held it against her heart. Her eyes drifted closed as he held his breath. In a matter of moments the locket disappeared as if it had never existed, leaving only the gentle light of the Silver Crystal shining in the room.
Chibiusa opened her eyes and cast an almost wistful glance at the crystal before holding it out to her brother. "Take it," she ordered. "It's already shown that it's meant to be yours." When Seiya still hesitated she took a step closer to him. "You have to make a choice, Seiya," she said, her voice low. "If you don't. . ."
Seiya met his sister's eyes and saw the plea in them before he extended a shaky hand. As he got closer to the crystal its light started to pulse, similar to the way the Golden Crystal had in her vision. Chibiusa stood perfectly still, eyes intent on her brother, all but willing him to move that last inch and take the Silver Crystal from her hand and end the uncertainty.
But he stopped with his hand still hovering above hers. "What if it's not about my choice?" he asked, barely above a whisper.
Chibiusa felt frozen for a brief moment, then a rush of anger took over. "How can it not be about your choice?" she asked. Her hand clenched around the crystal. "The only two people involved with this thing -" she waved the fist that held the crystal "- are you and me! So what the hell are you suggesting?!"
Seiya took a deep breath. "Maybe you should sit down, and I'll tell you what I learned during my visit to your school." He took one of her hands to lead her toward a seat on the bed, realizing too late that it was the hand in which she still held the Silver Crystal.
A brilliant white light, almost blinding in its intensity, erupted from their joined hands. Chibiusa pulled her hand away quickly, as if it had been burned, a moment before a shock wave knocked her off of her feet. The light flared brighter, and she could hear sounds of something shattering and papers shredding; she put her arms up to shield her head from whatever fury had been unleashed in her bedroom.
Then suddenly it was almost painfully quiet. She lowered her arms and opened her eyes, surprised at the snowfall of paper she saw; apparently every book in the room had been torn to pieces. There was a slight clink as the final piece of a broken porcelain figurine struck the floor, and then silence.
Except it wasn't quite silence; she could hear the strained breathing of someone else in the room. Remembering her brother in a rush, and terrified that he was injured, Chibiusa struggled to a sitting position, pushing the remainders of books off of her chest and stomach and blinking away the dust that clouded her eyes. And froze.
Seiya was most definitely still in the room with her, and thankfully not injured. He stood where he had been before, but so altered that it took Chibiusa a moment to recognize him. He was dressed in some sort of leather and padded fabric armor that ranged in color from brilliant white to a soft, dove grey. The sword that hung from his left hip was held in a silver-chased scabbard, and the lining of the grey cloak that hung from his shoulders was a deep midnight blue. A crescent moon symbol shone like gold in the center of his forehead.
"And here you thought it wasn't about you making a choice," Chibiusa managed to say when she recovered her voice.