Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Deconstruction: Minako
By Victoria G.

Part 1

I was walking through a park. On my left, there was a dark forest so overgrown that you couldn't really see more than a few feet in. On my right, there was a desert and if I went toward it, I could feel the dry hot air starting to pull the moisture right out of my skin. I was looking for something, I wasn't sure what, but I was hoping whatever it was didn't take me into either of the two landscapes. I wandered around the grass area I was standing in looking out into both places, not seeing anything, everything around me was silent. I sat down, confused and still with the aching, empty feeling of something lost overwhelming me. Out of the corner of my eye, a new shape caught my attention. It was a tree, a huge tree, far off in the desert and I could see a girl sitting beneath it. The white and red of her uniform were unmistakable…Rei…and I knew suddenly that I was supposed to find her here. I stood up and called to her, but she was too far away to hear me, so I began to walk toward her. After a few minutes, I could tell I was getting closer, but she still couldn't hear me. I began to run toward her, I could see her face, she looked at me, and then I felt the land beneath me shift... sucking backward so fast that everything was a blur and I was back where I started. I ran again, the same thing, and again, but this time she seemed to be pulled away as well, the distance between us growing. I kept trying until I was so tired and frustrated that I fell to the ground.

I woke up still spitting imaginary sand grains out of my mouth. Grabbing the water I always kept by my bedside, I took big gulps, trying to wash the feeling away. I had always been a vivid dreamer. Nightmares or fantasies, they always had details, characters, plots, meanings. I think that's where I banish all my thoughts to… but lately, I have been dreaming about Rei. I would dream that I needed to tell her something, that I could see her, but couldn't get over to her. The closer I would move toward her, the farther away she would get. I would wake up with a strange feeling in my chest like the wind had been knocked out of me. That feeling would keep me up at night, thinking about her, wondering what she was doing, if she was okay. Going over to see her, the questions, it all started because I couldn't sleep.

I'm not a deep thought kinda girl. I have never been. I wonder sometimes what it must be like to have a brain that works that way, Ami's brain maybe, a computer calculating the mathematical possibility of things turning out one way or another. I think that's why I ended up being the Senshi of love. Fire, ice, thunder... those all take control and discipline, but love is gonna happen when it feels like it and where it feels like it. We are the same that way, not very good planners. We work on a more moment to moment basis.

It was always a problem between my parents and I…too impulsive, not focused enough… I can't even really argue with them. It's hard for me to understand why people value restraint so much…why everyone thinks that not eating that piece of candy or hiding your feelings is such an admirable trait. I'm not saying I think everyone should go out gobbling up sweets and crying in public, but I think denying something just to deny it, well, that doesn't make much sense either.

With all that impulsivity and energy, I was never very good at school. I would watch Ami scan over a page once and be able to recall it on command, Makoto working diligently because it never came naturally to her, Usa looking at her books as if they were some Youma ready to attack her, and Rei quietly making her way through. I would look at the same page, read the same thing over and over…but nothing stuck, it was all just letters floating in space or pieces that didn't seem to connect. It was like reading a language you didn't understand phonetically. Were they words and real concepts? Yes. Did they really sink in…almost never. I remembered sitting in a room with my mother when I younger, them telling her there was a problem with my reading. If you asked her, I'm sure she'd say I never tried hard enough… that there was no issue. Either way, I figured out how to get by. I would listen to people talking about the subject and I could understand it, ask people to draw pictures and it would make enough sense for me to barely pass the course. I didn't really try anymore, it was too disappointing and I realized that my only option for success was something different. I was athletic, I could sing. I threw myself into the dream, making it into something I always wanted. I never had to explain my lack of interest in school. Sitting in those study sessions, I knew I would never get as far as most of my friends academically. Usa was the exception. She would marry Mamoru and more than likely forget about college. Ami would become a doctor, Mako would go to culinary school, and Rei she would be a head priestess. Me…well, it was a make or break scenario. I would either end up living my dream or I would work some silly job until crystal Tokyo rolled around.

As it turns out, we ended up exactly as I'd predicted...even me. I work at the arcade serving food, making shakes, posting high scores toward the end of my shift. I made enough to get out of my parents' house and into my own little apartment. I took a class or two here and there. When I got home I would do one of two things. Sometimes I would head over to my neighbor, Hideki's. An aspiring musician, he had converted his tiny office into a rough recording studio. He had a real passion for sad, slow love songs and every once in a while I would humor him and sing something he wrote. I would convince him to sing it for me first, so I could hear the words.

Or two… I would go see Rei. I was beginning to notice a change in her. She was…I don't know…unsettled. We had been best friends for years now and I was used to her being guarded and intensely private, but these dreams and the emotion I could see leaking through her defenses...it was like a constant pressure, slowly squeezing the breath out of me.

Part 2

We were waiting for the others in a park one day. She was staring off into space, and as ever… she was quiet. I had always wondered what kind of psychic powers Rei had. If she was listening to the people in the park, could she hear their secrets…their thoughts? She never really appeared interested in using those abilities. If I had psychic powers I would certainly be finding ways to have fun with them. That's probably why I don't have them actually...

"Rei?"

"Yes?"

"Do you know what I'm thinking?"

"What?"

"I mean…. You're psychic, right? So do you know what I'm thinking right now?"

"Don't be foolish."

I don't really know what kind of answer I was expecting, didn't think about it really. I should have known that she would just blow me off. Rei IS a deep thoughts kind of girl, but she is also an 'I don't want to talk about it' kind of girl. The annoying part about all of that is that I know her well enough to understand that she's thinking something, but she won't tell me what... most of the time she won't even admit that she is thinking anything at all. Her evasiveness didn't stop me from asking more questions. It was like with that one question, I had opened some gate in my head that I couldn't shut. I wondered about everything now, about her daily routines, her faith, the silence, trying to find a reason for the dreams, for the change in her. Another question came to me one day while I was watching her feed the fire she prayed at.

"Rei?"

"Yes?"

"Is that some sort of special fire?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you see things in all fire or only that special fire?"

"It's called a sacred fire."

"You didn't answer my question."

"I have chores to do."

I usually understand people pretty well... I get them. Each time she dodged my questions, I was seeing a bit more of her. I could tell which sorts of things she really didn't want to talk about. What I didn't understand, was why she didn't want to talk about them.

Part 3

We had all gone to a concert together, Haruka and Michiru were performing in town. I noticed when I got there, Rei had taken the aisle seat…I wondered if it was deliberate. She didn't even look my way. I took a seat at the opposite end of our reserved section, as far away as I could, not sure if she was upset with me. I practically had to drag her here, pretty much badgered her into it.

Ruka and Michi were so amazing to watch together, so attuned to each other and so incredibly talented on top of it. You could see how much they loved each other in every move they made and it made my heart ache to watch. There was something beautiful in seeing two people who are absolutely meant to be. I let my thoughts wander where they might and imagined what it would be like to be up on that stage performing myself... if I would ever really get there. I glanced over at Rei and she was listening with her eyes closed. She was clearly moved by the music...it was doing something to her and for no reason I could guess, I found it kinda hard to look away. In my distracted state, I was startled by the applause that broke out after their last number.

I made my way out to the sidewalk, wanting to see if I could get a beat on whether or not Rei was upset with me. I caught sight of her trying to hail a cab. Before I could say anything, the back door of the theatre opened and our two headlining friends snuck out, sharing a quick kiss, hands intertwined.

"Do you think everyone finds that kind of love?"

"What?" I clearly startled her.

"Haruka and Michiru I mean."

"Stop spying. They don't need you watching them."

"I just think it's so beautiful. Don't you?"

I looked back at the building to see if Haruka and Michiru were still there, and I heard a car door slam behind me. When I turned around I saw a cab speeding off. With a deep sigh, I started my walk home, wishing her a peaceful night.

Part 4

We all had gotten together at the shrine. We never seemed to have broken that habit. I found myself stealing glances at her over my magazine to see if I could sense anything from her. Nothing… she was as stone-faced as ever. She never even looked back at me, just chatted with Usa about this and that, congratulated Ami on her most recent article, promised Mako she would taste-test her sushi, but not even a smile in my direction.

I hung back afterward, watching her straightening the talismans and charms on the cart that stood at the shrine's entrance. I knew they were prayers, names of different kami, for protection, luck, happiness…. but I had no idea which was which. I wondered if the kami had a face. So many of the girls I knew in England had been Christian, Rei herself went to a Catholic school, but I couldn't imagine they looked anything like Jesus.

"Rei?"

"Yes?"

"What do they look like?"

"What are you talking about?"

"The kami. You must be able to see them or feel them or something."

"Don't be foolish."

"You used that one already."

"Huh?"

"The 'don't be foolish' thing. You are gonna have to find another way to not answer me. "

"I have chores to do."

"Used that one too! Why don't you want to talk about this stuff?"

"Why are you so nosy?"

"You are going to have to do better than that Hino Rei."

"Why do you want to know?"

"Why do I want to know about what?"

"Why do you care about me being psychic or a Miko? Why all the questions?"

"I've never been friends with a psychic or a Miko before."

"So you thought I'd like to sit around and satisfy your curiosity?"

"No, I was just wondering."

"I wish you would leave me alone."

I could see she was upset...that talking about anything dealing with the shrine or Shinto really did bother her. It was weird to think that something she loved that much was a sensitive issue to her. I knew her defensiveness wasn't personal, but it still cut me a bit. There was so much anger inside her...it was like a mask she wore so well that sometimes I couldn't even recognize her. I let it go, grabbing my backpack and headed off to work.

Part 4

Things carried on like that for a while and I gave her space to breathe, meeting her eyes, giving her a smile, things to peak her curiosity and then I would leave with all the others. I worked on a new song with Hideki, he was adding in guitar lines now. I actually liked the way it was coming out, my voice seemed to fit his lyrics for once. It was called "Nothing is Ever Simple" and I think it was about his last girlfriend. It was a few weeks before I got up the nerve to go to the shrine again. She wasn't as receptive as I hoped, but I couldn't stand not seeing her anymore.

"Rei?"

"I thought I asked you to leave me alone."

"You did."

"So why are you here?"

"Because I don't think that is what you really want."

"Is that so?"

"Yup. I think you want to talk about all that stuff. I think you want me to hang around. We've been friends for too long, I know how you think."

"I told you I don't want you here and I don't want to talk about it. Why would I say that if I wanted you wasting my time with ridiculous questions?"

I moved closer to her, knowing it was a bit of a risk. I wanted her to understand that I saw all this for what it was. "Because you're scared."

She laughed sarcastically, but I think she knew it sounded forced. I lifted my eyebrow and walked away. I honestly wasn't sure whether this was progress or not. Maybe the dream had been a warning, that trying to get close would push her away. I tried not to think about it too much. Before there were so many distractions, battles, and school work, now there was just us. I could tell our conversations made her nervous, but I wanted to know her and I wanted her to know me.

Part 5

I had brought them all a copy of my demo, she said nothing when I handed her one. The only change I could see was that she was now making a show being annoyed by me…trying to drive me away. Even though I knew she was acting, it hurt my feelings. I played the game right back and pretended I didn't notice, smiling when she was curt, laughing when she was insulting. I could feel an itchy sort of frustration building inside me. I wasn't someone who dealt well with unspokens. If there was something that needed talking about, I liked to talk about it, get it out and over with. I hung back again while everyone gathered their things, determined to clear the air.

"Well?"

"Well, what?"

"You don't have anything to say?"

"Should I?

Throwing up my hands, I turned to go. I wanted to be closer to her, we were friends... but this was bordering on masochism.

"It's like warmth…"

"Huh?"

"The kami… they feel like warmth or sometimes like a breeze"

There was something different in her voice, a weakness that made me stop and turn around. I met her eyes and put my bag on the ground, sitting back down.

"…they don't look like anything I can name, just a glow really, different color lights… not like actual objects"

"Do you see them all the time?"

"Always."

"Because you're a priestess?"

"Because I was born that way, like my mother."

"Was she psychic too?"

"A bit, yes."

"So you CAN read my mind."

"Not in the way you think, but yes…if I wanted to."

"Are you reading it right now?"

"No."

"Wow."

"What?"

"I dunno, that's pretty amazing is all."

"I guess."

"No, it is. I better head home! But I'll see you later Rei-chan!" I gave her a kiss on the cheek, I'm not sure why... it just popped into my head to do. I wanted to end the conversation before it got awkward... before she found any reason not to talk like this with me again.

Part 6

I thought maybe things would go smoother if I kept it on her terms. I wanted to see what she did, day-to-day…so I started coming over, helping her with the chores in the morning before I had to work. We swept the walkways, carried wood in for the sacred fire, weeded around the orchard, cleaned the windows, always in silence. I watched her as she worked, every move she made seemed purposeful and practiced, graceful and proper. She was everything she was supposed to be, but I knew there was more hiding somewhere underneath it all. I wondered if she kept herself alone because she hoped no one would notice that she wasn't who she seemed. Someone as beautiful as she was, men noticed her, but she never seemed to pay any attention to them.

"How come you don't have a boyfriend?"

"What?"

"Men are always falling all over themselves for you."

"Well, men are idiots."

"Most girls would kill for that kind of attention."

"They can have it."

I was surprised by the intensity of her reaction. I thought about love all the time, emotional love, romantic love, physical love, it was always buzzing around in there. I thought everyone was like that, but Rei…she reacted to the mention of love, relationships... like we were talking about a food she hated. It was a totally foreign mindset for me. I wondered if she didn't spend her nights thinking about love, watching others fall in love on TV, or listening to a song about love, what was there left?

"So what do you do now?"

"What do you mean?"

"After all your chores are done…what do you do?"

"What do you think I do?"

"I dunno. But it's gotta be something more exciting then what I do."

"Which is?"

"Blech…eat, school work, read comics, watch TV, listen to some music...the usual stuff."

"You don't think I do those kinds of things?"

"You said you hate TV"

"Besides TV."

"I dunno, I guess I picture you doing something more worthwhile with your time."

"Such as?"

"Meditating or reading books I could never understand, stuff like that."

"I meditate in the morning mostly."

"Yeah yeah, 4 am. We're all impressed. Okay, so if I wasn't here, what would you be doing?"

She looked uneasy and I wasn't sure if she was actually going to answer me or not.

"Watching the sunset from the orchard."

"Can I watch it with you?"

"I guess… since you don't seem to take 'no' for an answer."

That was probably the most positive response I would get from her, so I took it. I didn't have to work tonight, so I figured I would stay and see what she liked so much about the sunset.

Part 7

It was a Wednesday night and I didn't have to work. Hideki wasn't home, so I decided to make my way over to the shrine. She was starting to tell me things, whether or not it was by accident I couldn't tell. I knew where she'd be, in that corner of the orchard she told me she used to watch the sunset with her mother. She didn't disappoint and I was happy to see she had saved some food for me, starving artist that I was. I took off my shoes and devoured the leftovers.

I was falling in love with this place, the smell of the cherry trees, the grass between my toes, the view of the city, and Rei where she was the happiest. Seeing her so peaceful made me stare, made my whole body warm. After a while I would have to lay on my back, pretending to watch the sky just to stop looking at her.

"It's so beautiful."

"What is?"

"Being out here. Away from the city."

"You're not away from the city, you're in the middle of it."

"Fine. It feels like I am floating above it then."

And it did. It was so warm, so comfortable that I fell asleep before the sun even made it all the way down. As the moon rose, I dreamt that I was in the park in the center of the city, children running all around me. I saw a little girl scream as she fell from a swing and skinned her knee. It was Usa and I scooped her up, taking her to a nearby bench, putting a bandaid on her knee, drying her tears, and shooing her back to swings. I sat on the bench watching the other children, wondering where their parents were…nervous that I was in charge. I saw Ami and Mako making a castle in the sandbox on my left. I watched as Ami designed and her little brunette friend constructed. Then I saw a little girl off in the distance sitting underneath a tree, watching everyone else. I walked over and looked down at her, crouching to meet her eyes. It was Rei. She looked up at me but said nothing. I felt myself waking up and half-way between the dream and being awake I called to her.

"Rei?"

"Yes?"

I heard her answer, then saw the night sky above me. I had no idea how long I had been asleep for.

"What time is it?"

"Late."

She looked sad again, not like she had before I fell asleep. She was off someplace in that head of hers.

"You okay?"

"Of course I am."

"Of course," I repeated her before I could catch myself. It was so typical of her, a girl who was never really okay, to act as if it was bizarre to even consider that she might not be.

"What does that mean?"

"Nothing. I really should head home. "

I could tell she was slightly hurt, but I didn't know what to say, it was a long walk and I couldn't bring myself to ask her to let me stay.

Part 8

I was back at that playground with all the child versions of my friends. They were in the same places as before, doing the same things as before. I walked over to the tree where Rei was sitting and crouched down again, smiling at her. She smiled back this time.

"Can I sit here?"

"Mmm hmm."

"What are you doing here all by yourself?"

"I'm not by myself, I'm with the flowers"

I noticed all the different color wildflowers growing around the massive tree trunk.

"They're very pretty. Do you want me to pick one for you?"

"No! They're happy in the ground."

"Don't you want to go play with everyone else?"

"I don't know."

"Are you scared?"

"It's not safe."

"Who says?"

She didn't answer me. I watched as she stood up, kicking her feet into place in her shoes, tracing her tiny fingers along the bark of the tree. It sounded almost like she was whispering to it.

"I don't know Rei… it looks pretty fun to me."

I could tell she was thinking, considering her options. I watched her shifting her weight from leg to leg, before finally looking up at me.

"If I go, will you watch the flowers for me?"

"I'll stay right here."

I watched her run off, glancing back at me over her shoulder before joining a game of tag in progress. I watched over them protectively as they bounced around, ducking behind this or that, so carefree. I felt a tiny rumble. I looked around, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. I went back to watching them play when suddenly the ground was shaking violently beneath me, the soil and gravel tumbling through cracks forming everywhere. It all became chaos and screams, while the whole world seemed to collapse. The motion made it impossible to balance myself, and I fell each time I tried to stand. I yelled for them, but I couldn't pick out their voices, there was so much noise. I couldn't even really focus on anything because of the intense motion, but I caught Rei's eyes, wide and full of terror as the earth she was standing on deteriorated beneath her. She tumbled into the blackness that was swallowing everything around me. I lunged for her and felt myself slipping, the ground beneath me falling to pieces and I was surrounded by the darkness. It with thick and I could feel it grabbing at me. I was pulled further down and I could see the only survivor, the tree, and its roots fading from sight.

I woke myself up screaming, sitting bolt upright. The sound echoed off the walls and I tried to catch my breath. I swung my legs over the side of the bed. I hated nightmares, especially now that I lived alone. I fumbled with the light and looked over at the clock. I felt nauseous and shaky at the thought of having to stay in the apartment by myself all night. It was past midnight, but I knew if I stayed here I wouldn't sleep at all.

I slipped on the nearest piece of clothing, my favorite dress, and grabbed my keys, cell phone, and communicator. I walked to the Hikawa Jinja praying Rei wouldn't kill me for waking her up. I couldn't seem to warm myself or stop the trembling in my hands. I kept seeing her eyes and then her little body slipping away into the blackness. I felt like I had to hear her voice, I needed to know she was okay. I dialed her number, panicking a bit when it went to voicemail. As soon as I hung up, the rain started.

I ran in the dark, wet and cold, I ran up the stairs to the shrine, still panting as I made my way to her window. I was working at the edge of terror, adrenaline and fear overriding my logic. I tapped lightly on the glass, called her phone again… no answer. Reluctantly I took out the communicator. When she answered, I felt my heart finally start to beat again.

"Rei?"

"What's going on?"

"I'm outside your window."

"What are you doing outside my window?"

"Let me in, okay?"

"Is something attacking us?"

"No. Just open up."

"Absolutely not."

"Why?"

"It's 2:50 in the morning. Go home."

"Please just let me in."

"I said 'no'"

"Fine. I'll find a way in myself."

I didn't have the words to argue with her, I needed to see her standing in front of me, breathing and alive. I needed to be inside somewhere, not alone in the dark. I didn't care if I was being pushy or rude at the moment. As I pulled at the window, I felt a hand on my shoulder and spun around to find myself face-to-face with her. She had clearly been out somewhere, she was dressed up for it, her hair up in a deliberately messy way. She looked… I couldn't seem to really think with her face so close to mine.

"What do you want?"

"Wow….where were you?"

"None of your business. Why are you here?"

"You look great."

"I asked you a question."

"I… can I stay here tonight?"

"I already answered that, didn't I?"

"Rei…"

She was serious, she wasn't going to let me stay. She was so mad at me, but I couldn't bear the thought of going home, I needed another human near me right now. I was so tired, and her eyes felt like they were tearing me to pieces. I felt stupid, embarrassed, scared, cold, and before I knew it I was crying. I flung myself at her, holding on just so I wouldn't have to see her looking at me like that anymore. I was surprised when she hugged me back. She was solid and real…inches taller than me in her heels. The deep spice-like smell of her perfume and the warmth of her body felt like a blanket around me and I breathed it in as if it could calm me. I spoke my feelings aloud, my mind so disorganized and jumbled that I didn't even think to keep it to myself.

"You smell good."

"Your clothes are wet."

"It was raining."

"How long have you been out here?"

"I dunno… two hours or something."

"Two hours?"

"You didn't answer your phone."

"I didn't take it with me."

"Where did you go?"

"Out."

"You're not going to tell me are you?"

"No. Let's go inside, okay?"

"Sure."

I followed her into the shrine, taking off my muddy sandals, trying to be as quiet as possible. As I shut the screen to her room, I noticed her staring at me. She had a look on her face I couldn't read at all. I watched her watching me until she turned around and started digging in her closet. She tossed me some dry clothes. I pulled off my wet dress immediately, happy at the prospect of being warm again. I turned to face her, almost hypnotized by her appearance. The eyeliner, the shine of her lips, the clothes that fit her so well… she was beautiful in a dangerous sort of way. I pitied the men that must have fumbled terribly trying to strike up a conversation with her tonight.

"Did you do your make-up?"

"Huh?"

"Your makeup. It looks amazing. Did you do it?"

"Yeah, uh yes. I did."

"Oh no…I got your jacket wet."

"Yeah, hopefully I can get it dry cleaned." I wondered if she knew how she sounded... if she was intentionally rude or just insensitive. Either way, it was getting under my skin.

"You're such a jerk."

"Excuse me?"

"How about 'don't worry about it' maybe something that would tell me you cared? "

She was quiet for a minute and I wondered if she would kick me out. I was, after all, intruding on her in the middle of the night, demanding to stay, and having the guts to be offended when she was less than gentle with me. Rei surprised me again.

"Minako…I'm sorry, that was rude."

She grabbed some clothes and headed off to the bathroom without another word. I sat on her bed cautiously, testing it, noticing how much more comfortable it was than mine. I climbed under the covers, closing my eyes, enjoying the subtle smell of that same perfume on her pillow. She didn't say anything when she returned from the bathroom either, just climbed into bed as far to the opposite edge as she could. There was tension radiating off her in waves and it kept me awake, making my skin tingle, my nerves twitch until I had to talk.

"I had a nightmare."

"About what?"

"Us dying. "

"I've dreamt about that too."

"You… all of you… died and I couldn't save you. I couldn't do anything."

"It was just a dream."

"I know." That somehow didn't make it any better for me, but just the fact that she was here helped me sleep.

Part 9

It was a beautiful summer evening and I had been outside all day. Usa and I had met up for ice cream and I listened to her gush over wedding plans. I stirred my dessert, making it into a soup of hot fudge and chocolate ice cream, waiting until the texture was perfect to take my first bite. Usa… maybe the only person I knew who was more open and unrestrained than me. I felt so normal around her and as different as we were, she probably understood me better than anyone else. I never had to try. I hoped things would get to that point between Rei and I.

"What's wrong Mina-chan?"

"Nothing's wrong"

"Are you sure?"

"I haven't been sleeping well."

"Bad dreams again?"

She knew, had known for a while about my nightmares. I never told her what they were except in the vaguest of terms. She frowned at me and gave me her best concerned look. I shrugged the whole thing off and she happily went on about florists and I leaned my opinion on bridesmaid dresses. She left after giving me a rib-crushing hug and I spent an hour or so wandering the city streets, popping into all my favorite shops. After a while I realized I had been slowly making my way toward the shrine. As I turned the corner, a small restaurant I had never noticed before caught my eye and I decided if I was going to show up uninvited, I might as well bring some dinner with me.

I looked around the grounds and orchard, searching all her usual spots, but couldn't find her anywhere.

"She's not home."

I turned around to see Rei's grandfather smiling up at me, broom in his hand.

"Sorry…" I bowed to him. "Would you let her know I brought this for her?" I offered the food.

"Stay. You can help an old man sweep. She'll be home soon."

We cleared the last of the walkways around the shrine together. The whole time, I felt his eyes on me, and I smiled to myself while I imagined Rei's outraged reaction to his less than subtle stares. We put everything away and locked the shed just as I had with Rei before. He thanked me and retreated into the building as Rei came trotting up the stairs. She was wearing a pair of tight black knee length shorts and a tank top. Tiny beads of sweat covered her arms and I found I had a curious reaction to seeing her that way.

"Were you running?"

"Good guess."

"Cranky. I brought you some dinner. Don't worry, I didn't make it."

"Thank you, but I need to take a shower first."

"Can I watch?" I winked at her, curious to see how she would react.

"Ecchi."

Why in the world did I say that? I had a sudden realization as I waited. I might have a bit of a crush on her. That in itself wasn't strange, I had crushes all the time. A crush on another girl was different for me though. I mean, I had thought other girls were beautiful before, admired their hair, their shoes, but never really thought about what it would be like to lick the sweat off their arm. That was a new thing…I giggled a bit. Of all the girls I could possibly have a crush on, it had to be her.

Part 10

"This is good."

"Yeah! It's from this cute little shop down the street on the corner…." She frowned. "What?"

"Nothing…"

"You sure?"

"I listened to your demo today."

"You did?" My stomach turned inside out and I braced myself.

"Yes, …it was good."

"You think so? I haven't sent it anywhere yet."

"What was the point of making it then?"

"Well, I want to send it out…"

"So why don't you?"

"I think I need to maybe get my head out of the clouds, maybe think about going to college fulltime and stuff."

"You hate school."

"Yeah, I know."

"Why go to all the auditions then?"

"I don't know, I do want to do it, I just feel like maybe I'm wasting my time."

"Who told you that?"

"What?"

"Not to send it out."

"…my parents."

"Have they heard it?"

"No."

She had a point, I didn't really know what I was waiting for. I knew two things: if I didn't send it in I would never get to where I wanted, but if I didn't send it in I could never be rejected either.

"Do you think I could do it?"

"Do what?"

"Be a pop star."

"Not if you don't send that tape out."

"Rei."

"Well just because you chase idols, doesn't mean you'll end up one."

"Wow. Thanks."

"I meant you can't expect that it'll happen just like that." I don't think I was ready for tough love quite yet.

"Jeez, nevermind, okay?"

"Don't be so sensitive. You're talented, you're attractive, you just need to actually go for it."

"You think I'm attractive?"

She rolled her eyes at me and I smirked, too happy to be affected by it.

Part 11

It was an insane night at work. When things were this busy, I thought of my job as just another video game. I moved from table to table with points allotted for speed, accuracy, and bonuses for any specials ordered. I was good at it, friendly, flirty…not that I would ever want to do it forever, but I had fun with it. Besides, I was in a great mood today. At the end of the night, after we closed, I pulled up a stool, sipping at the water Motoki had left for me. We always seemed to close together.

"Who is he?"

"What?"

"You're glowing Minako."

"I am not."

"Yes, you are. You have that crush face you get any time some cute guy strolls in."

"I can't just have a good day?" He looked at me, eyebrow raised.

"Okay, okay…you're right." I felt myself biting my lip and was embarrassed by my own giddiness. Over the past few weeks what was a little crush, a stray thought now and then was becoming a monster.

"So."

"Not yet, too soon."

He threw me a dishtowel. "If you're not gonna tell me, at least clean the tables."

I stuck my tongue out at him, and flipped my hair, pretending to walk away in a huff. As I sprayed down the tabletops and put the chairs up, I thought about my brunch tomorrow with Rei, annoyed that I couldn't stop smiling. This was getting dangerous. She was going to notice if I couldn't pull myself together.

Part 12

She had blown me off for breakfast. I was nervous now that I had done something or said something too obvious or too forward. I had let the excitement of something new get in the way, hadn't paid attention to Rei's response to the entire situation. I would have to watch her a bit more closely. It was just a crush, I'd had a million of them. I could ignore it. I wanted to understand her and I wouldn't let this get in the way.

I laid in bed, watching the shadows on the wall. I'd never been so nervous over something like this before, but I'd never really had a crush on anyone who mattered to me either. I didn't want to mess anything up, but I didn't want to walk on eggshells around her either, she'd notice that too. All this thinking was making me sleepy.

That night I dreamt of her again. I was the child this time, at the shrine with my parents…it was some sort of festival. There was music and I was jumping to try and see what everyone was looking at, but I was too small. I ran around the crowds, winding in and out of the people standing, clapping and I finally made my way to the front of the line. Through the short stone pillars and chain that formed a tiny gate, I saw the Mikos doing their ritual dances and a full grown Rei was there with them. It was so beautiful and I felt my heart pounding in my chest. I knew how lucky I was to see this, but I still wanted a better view. I climbed up one of the pillars and as I reached the top, it started to fall. I jumped back and watched helplessly as it knocked over the whole line of them, the chain that connected them pulling each down, one after the other. Deafening metallic clangs filled the air and everyone just stared at me, angry and disgusted.

Part 13

The hike was steeper than I thought it would be...it didn't help that I was only half-awake. She had told me about this spring in the mountains that her family had been hiking to for generations now. She came to it each year, the water in the spring was supposed to purify the spirit and I wondered if it would help me out when we were naked and only a few feet away from each other. I had convinced her to let me come after seeing the look in her eyes when she spoke about this place. It was absolutely gorgeous, like walking through a painting. I could smell the trees and bushes and something else I couldn't place. We must have been close because I could hear the water.

"It's beautiful out here."

"It's one of my favorite places."

"I can't believe it's so quiet. I just can't get over it! It's like the whole world is asleep."

"Was asleep."

"Jerk. Is that it?"

"Yes."

"The water has a smell."

"It's the minerals."

"Is it warm?"

"It's a hot spring, Mina."

"Whatever. What are we waiting for, let's get in."

"Turn around."

"What's wrong Rei-chan? A little shy?"

"Just be quiet and turn around." It was probably for the best I saw as little as possible of her.

She was already in when I turned around. I joined her, surprised by how hot it was, noticing she kept her eyes closed the entire time. I allowed myself to look at her even though I knew it was a mistake. She was resting her head on the rocks at the spring's edge. Her neck was arched back, lips slightly parted, her chest flushed from the heat, and her hair floating all around her. At least the water was cloudy enough to cover everything else. God, she was probably praying right now. I felt ashamed for thinking of such things in a place that was sacred to her and tried to refocus. I wanted to feel whatever she was feeling, I wanted to understand. She deserved to have someone understand her, I didn't want to disrespect something that meant so much to her.

"Rei?"

"Mm?"

"Teach me to meditate?"

"Why?"

"If I'm going to hike all the way to a sacred spring, I want to do it right."

"I'm not meditating right now."

"What are you doing then?"

"Thinking."

"About what?"

"Just thinking"

"Well, what should I be thinking about when I'm here?"

"I don't know."

"Well it would help if I knew what kind of things you are thinking, you know how to do this kind of stuff."

"What kind of stuff?"

"The spiritual kind of stuff. You're a Miko Rei-chan, it's your whole life."

"It's not my whole life."

"You get up every morning at 4 am to meditate, you live at a shrine where you're a shrine maiden and your grandfather is the priest, you talk to fire…."

"Leave it alone."

"All I mean is you're so dedicated, it must be pretty important to you."

"I said leave it alone."

"You're so difficult."

"I'm not difficult. I just don't want everyone knowing my business."

"You think I am going to run around telling strangers on the street what we talk about as soon as we get off this mountain?"

"Who knows with the way you and Usa gossip."

"Is that really what you think of me? That I'm a stupid girl who runs around gossiping to anyone that will listen? I'm not 13 anymore."

I was hurt, hurt by how much she didn't trust me, hurt by the suspicion in her voice. It was never my intention to insult her, she had always wanted to be a head priestess, always loved the shrine. At the same time, I felt sad for her, my heart ached with the possibility that as strong as it was, maybe her faith didn't even give her peace.

Part 14

I had that same dream again, the one on the playground, except this time the darkness had torn her to shreds. I woke up in an absolute panic. I practically sprinted to the shrine, I had to check on her, it wasn't even a question. I couldn't stop crying or shaking, the sweat from running now cold on my skin. Rei didn't talk, she just took me inside, held me and that sick feeling in the pit of stomach slowly began to fade. I never told her the dream, I assumed she thought it was about the 30th century and I let her believe that. She was so warm, always so warm, and I felt like I could sleep forever curled up against her. She didn't ask, but I needed to say it. I turned around so that I was face-to-face with her. I put my hand on her side... as if touching her would convince her how serious I was.

"I had to come over."

"It's okay."

"I was scared."

"I know."

"This one felt real and I was afraid…I…nevermind"

"No what?"

"I had to make sure you are still here. I wake up with this feeling like the inside of me fell out and this picture of you dying stuck in my head and I knew I wouldn't be able to breathe until I know you're okay. I had to come and find you."

The words came rushing out of me, I needed her to know I wasn't crazy. We were staring at each other, neither of us knowing what to say and I thought for a minute she was going to kiss me. Instead, she pulled me close again, my head beneath her chin, and I nuzzled into her neck. I wondered if it was possible she was feeling even a little of what I was.

Part 15

I couldn't believe it! How could she have done this? How did manage to do it without me knowing? It was sneaky, but at the same time incredibly sweet. I was angry, grateful, but mostly scared. This was a real letter, from a real label, and they wanted to have a real meeting with me. I marched up the stairs to the shrine, seeing her at the top, still clutching the letter in my hand. I held it up to her and she snatched it away, rolling her eyes.

"How?"

"How what?"

"How did you do this? This is a major label!"

"I asked Michiru to listen to your demo, her agent had contacts."

"I can't believe you would do this without even telling me!"

"Someone had to do it."

"Rei. . ."

I couldn't find any words to thank her, I was overwhelmed, I just hugged her. She was so much more caring, compassionate, empathetic than she ever cared to show. I wished she would let everyone else see what I saw in her.

Part 16

Things were getting awkward between us. I think she underestimated my connection with my element. I would catch her staring at me, see her wanting to say something, do something but pushing it back down. She would get tenser the longer we were together until her shoulders were practically up by her ears. I put my comic down on the bed and looked at her. She seemed really uncomfortable and this had gone far enough.

"Why do you do that?"

"What?"

"Hunch over. It's not good for your back."

"I don't need your advice on posture."

"No need to get snippy! Just looking out for your future self."

"Well don't."

"You are such a grump sometimes Rei-chan."

"Don't call me that."

"You look like you're in pain."

"I am, okay?"

"Come on. I'll give you a massage."

"No way."

"Don't be so stubborn."

"I'm not! You'll probably make it worse."

"My volleyball team used to give each other massages all the time. I promise you'll feel amazing afterward…"

I winked at her, I knew how I was being with her, maybe even crossing a line but we couldn't keep on like this forever. I cautiously slipped behind her, running my fingers up her neck, underneath her hair, massaging her scalp. I had always liked working with my hands, I understood things like this better than any math problem. She was practically falling backward and I was happy to see her finally letting go. I could smell her shampoo and her hair felt like silk on my skin, but I stayed focused, working my way down to her shoulders. She had so many knots and I felt her gasp as I popped a particularly stubborn one.

"Just relax, don't fight it. You're so tight Rei-chan."

"I said don't call me that."

"Okay, okay. Take your shirt off and lay down."

"Mina…."

"No more arguing. It's for your own good."

She pulled her shirt off, her skin was so perfect. I swung my legs over her, practically sitting on her to give myself more leverage. I used long even strokes, running my thumbs along the length of her spine, using every trick I knew to chase the tension away. I kept catching on her bra and made the decision to unclasp it, pushing it away with the palms of my hands, surprised at her lack of reaction. I used the weight of my body, pressing, each pop or snap a reward. Using my forearms, I slid up her back... all the way to her shoulders. I felt my chest press against her bare skin and my mouth was now inches away from her neck. My entire body was beating in time with my heart. She was so close…I forced myself up, swallowing hard. My hands felt like they were pulsing against her, all nerve endings and sensation. I closed my eyes, trying not to notice that her thighs were pressing against the inside of mine as she relaxed, forcing my body to sink deeper so I was now actually sitting on her. What dysfunctional line of thinking led to me believe this was a good idea? I was straddling the girl I was wildly attracted to while she was half-naked. I had overestimated my self-control. I had to slow everything down immediately. Rubbing in smooth slow tracts, I felt her muscles finally started to loosen. When I felt like I could speak again, I lifted myself off of her, acting as if nothing had happened.

"See? I keep my promises."

Part 17

Rei had left for a week to study at a shrine in the mountains where her mother had studied. I didn't like to be cooped up in the summer and I spent a lot of time walking around the city before work or on my days off. I found myself wandering toward the Hikawa Jinja without even thinking and ended up paying a visit to see if Rei's grandfather needed help with her chores while she was away. It became my routine for the week. I would come over after class or before work, have some tea with him and then we would do the daily chores, or more accurately I would do most of the daily chores and he would watch me. He told me little things… about her or Shinto. He taught me about the fire, how to arrange the logs properly, explained the talismans as I'm sure he'd done a hundred times before for tourists.

He looked me up and down and then handed me a talisman.

"For love and luck"

"This one is for both?"

"Sometimes you need both." He said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He had an eternally boyish quality that was very cute.

"Thank you."

I smiled at him and he looked pleased that I was so receptive to the gift, but turned suddenly serious.

"Do you know what next Friday is?" I did. Rei had mentioned the date only once, July 20th…it was the day her mother died.

"Yes, she told me."

"Rei goes to the place her father had my Risa buried by herself every year, always everything by herself… too much by herself. It is at the edge of town, you know it?"

"I think so…on the hill?" There was a cemetery at the edge of the city. I had heard rich people were buried there when I was younger.

"That's the one. You should go around dinnertime. Bring these, they were her favorite." He handed me incenses wrapped in paper.

I walked home with the talisman in my pocket, looking off at the mountains in the distance. She was up there somewhere, watching the sunset probably. I was surprised by how much I didn't like her being away. I sent her text saying that I missed her, imagining I could see the words flying through the sky and off in her direction.

Part 18

She had shut off her phone, it went right to voicemail. I found her kneeling by a headstone, lighting the incense she had brought with her. There were dried Sakura blossoms and fresh figs on the mantle. I watched her pray quietly, unable to imagine what she must be feeling. As much as I wanted to, there were some things I knew I would never really understand. I was filled with that sort of breath-catching sadness, the kind that makes it hard to swallow.

"Hey."

"What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to bring this."

"How did you know where to come?"

"Your grandfather."

I knelt down, placing a few oranges beside the figs and dropped the incense her grandfather had given me beside hers in the holders. I silently offered up my own prayer to her mother, a promise that I would try my best to bring her daughter happiness and peace in whatever way I could. It was a lot to live up to, I realized. She stood up and looked at me, tucking her hair behind her ears. There was so much in her eyes she wasn't saying.

"Thank you."

I nodded and we started the walk home. There was a nice cool breeze tonight, so the restaurants had all opened their windows and doors. The smell of cooking food was so distracting that I didn't even notice Rei was falling behind. Honestly, it was hard to notice anything besides the rumbling of my stomach. I slowed down a bit to wait for her, inhaled, and took her hand in mine. Even though I could feel how nervous she was, she didn't pull away.

Part 19

Motoki and I were closing again. We had finished all the necessary clean up and were battling it out on the latest Sailor V game. The stakes were as follows: if I won he had to dye his hair pink. If he won I had to tell him who my crush was on. It hadn't gone my way from the start, I was off tonight and it ended rather quickly. I couldn't tell whether he was more excited for the gossip or because he had actually beat me at something.

"Who is he?"

"She…"

"WHAT?"

"She, it's a girl."

"I didn't know you were…"

"I'm not…except her I guess. I don't know, I never thought about it like that."

"You have a crush on another girl for the first time in your life and you never thought about it like that?"

"It doesn't feel any different…."

"So where'd you meet her?"

"I've known her for a long time actually…"

"Uh oh...when did this pop up?"

"I don't know. We were always busy when we were younger, there was always something going, you know how we were, but now…we've been spending more time together and it just…happened."

"Does she know?"

"I don't know."

"Does she feel the same?"

"I don't know."

"Rei?"

"What?"

"Is it Rei?"

"How did you…"

"Lucky guess." He smirked at me, pulling the glassware out of the sink.

"I just can't stop thinking about her…"

"You're in trouble Aino Minako. "

"I know." I sighed resting my chin on the bar and watching him dry the mugs. She had been on my mind all night. My palm still tingled when I thought about us holding hands. There was something else, something I could only feel when we touched, like déjà vu. All this was too much feeling to keep in all the time.

I needed some distraction and thankfully I was meeting Hideki out for Karaoke after we finished at the arcade. I stepped into the bar, downing a drink and feeling instantly better. We belted out tune after tune, ate until we were almost sick and I even managed to drag Motoki and his wife with us. I had a great night, exactly what I needed, mindless fun. It didn't stop me from wandering over to the shrine at 2 am though.

Part 20

I was waiting for her at the top of the stairs when I saw a familiar car pull up. Rei was going out at night with Haruka? I didn't even know they were close. She didn't even tell me about it. I watched her wobble her way up the stairs….she was most definitely drunk. Her forehead was all scrunched up and she was focusing so hard on each step. She didn't even see me. It was pretty adorable. I couldn't help myself from smiling at the shocked look on her face when she finally saw me.

"Are you drunk?"

"What?"

"You barely made it up the stairs Rei-chan."

"I'm here aren't I?"

"Yup and you smell like beer."

"What are you doing here at 3 in the morning anyway? Doesn't Artemis ever worry?"

"He's usually with Luna, besides I'm quiet."

"Apparently. You still haven't answered my question."

"I answered one of them."

"So answer the other."

"I dunno, I can't sleep sometimes."

"And you come here? That doesn't make any sense."

"Why doesn't it make sense?"

"You can't sleep, so you walk a mile in the dark by yourself?"

"To see you."

"Why me?"

Something was different with her tonight. Her defenses were definitely back up. I didn't know if she was maybe picking up on how I felt, but I changed the subject. I was frustrated that things suddenly seemed to be slipping backward with us, that she still couldn't be real with me.

"Where were you?"

"At a bar."

"That much I can tell. How did you get home?"

"I got a ride."

"From who?"

"I'm going to sleep."

"Why don't you ever invite me?"

"You wouldn't come."

"How do you know?"

"I just do."

"Oh, okay. Well if you 'just do'."

"I don't have to invite you anywhere and I don't have to explain myself."

"Yeah, I get that."

"Why do you care anyway Minako?"

"Let's sleep, okay?"

I led her back to her bedroom, ready to just call it night. I was getting way too upset. All the passive aggressiveness and sarcasm, pretending and dancing around my feelings was really wearing on me. Doing things Rei's way was mentally and emotionally exhausting, but I didn't want her to run or ruin whatever was going on between us… if there was anything. I pulled my shirt off, feeling a bit demoralized by our fight.

Maybe I had been reading too much into things. I undid the button on my jeans and slid them down, wondering what I was even doing here. As I stood there thinking, I could feel her eyes all over me. Her stare was so intense that it seemed to crawl across my skin, goosebumps starting to rise all over my arms and legs. Half-naked I glanced over at her, a question on my face, and she turned away blushing. I was afraid to say anything, afraid of what I would do if I found myself looking into those deep violet pools again. I climbed into bed next to her, staring at the ceiling, keeping my hands planted on my chest. I practiced restraint, kept myself from saying what I wanted to, kept myself from touching her even though I felt like I could explode, and I hated every second of it. The silence was suffocating me, so I tried to appease her.

"I'm sorry Rei-chan. I shouldn't have been so intrusive, but it drives me nuts you won't tell me where you go."

"It's no one else's business." Of course, she was immediately defensive.

"Except 'Ruka's." I was acting like a jealous girlfriend, but I couldn't seem to stop myself. The stress of trying to figure her out, trying to figure myself out, and keeping it all under wraps was getting to me.

"What does THAT mean?"

"I saw her drop you off."

"I don't ask you to come here, and I don't appreciate being spied on."

"I just wish you'd trust me."

As I lay there, feeling dejected, I began to consider the night's information. Rei was going out to bars late at night with Haruka, bars she didn't want me to know about, bars she thought I would never go to… if Rei was going to gay bars, then why was she putting me through all this torture? I can't imagine with the friends we have, what we had all been through, that she could be ashamed of it. I watched the breeze rustling the trees out in the orchard through the window and then suddenly I was someplace else.

Rei and I were sitting on the edge of a cliff, our feet dangling over the edge. When we moved, tiny pieces of shale broke away beneath us. There was a strong wind blowing red dust in swirls around us and it made it difficult to see anything beyond where we were. We both knew that it would be better if we could get somewhere lower, not so high up, but she kept saying there was no way down. The gusts grew stronger, started pushing us, knocking us over. As I crouched down with her, I put my hand on my forehead to shield my eyes, smiled, and said. . .

"I'll jump if you will!"

Part 21

I was so excited. I still couldn't believe it was true. I couldn't stop bouncing and Rei was just staring at me like I was nuts, so I tried to explain.

"I got a record deal."

"What?"

"I met with the label, Michiru helped me find an agent."

"About time."

"We start recording in a few months."

"You must be excited."

I was but I had the sudden realization I wouldn't see her as much... if I started touring, barely at all. I wondered if she would ever consider coming with me.

"Yeah."

"You don't sound like it. It's everything you wanted."

"Almost everything."

"What are you talking about?"

"I want to celebrate."

"Okay. What do you want to do?"

"I want you to come out with everyone."

"Where?"

"I'm not telling. It'll be a girls night!"

"No."

"Pleeeeeeease?"

"No way."

"Rei-chan! It won't be the same without you!"

"Alright, okay."

She was going to come. I wouldn't take no for an answer. I knew it was a risk to throw alcohol into our whole bizarre equation, but I wanted her there more than anyone else.

Part 22

I trounced Usa at the new Sailor V game and it felt good to win. I proudly typed my initials in, while she slunk off reprimanding Rei for laughing at her loss. Motoki had been supplying us with a steady supply of drinks all night, making me my favorite. My dreams had taken a slightly different turn, no more nightmares. Instead, they were detailed, realistic fantasies starring who else...I'm not sure which was worse. We were all pretty tipsy at this point, but I was being careful. I had already said some things I probably shouldn't have. It was much harder to control myself with the alcohol making me fuzzy and bold. I felt almost like I was watching myself from the outside doing all of this, putting my arms around her waist, standing a bit too close, pouting.

"You haven't played with me yet. It's your turn."

"What would you like to play?"

"You choose, lady's choice."

"You're not a lady?"

"Not always."

"Okay ... how about that one?"

She pointed to some random machine and I followed her, completely confident in my ability to win. I grinned at her while the opening credits rolled. There was no way she could possibly beat me, this was my world. Then as the game began, I realized I had made a fatal error in judgment. I had assumed Rei would actually attempt to strategize and understand the rules, but she surprised me by behaving like the archenemy of seasoned gamers everywhere. She depressed the trigger, never releasing, blindly blanketing the screen with a hail of bullets. I watched her aimlessly firing, slapping at the buttons and I could feel my skin bristling. I stomped off when my character died, not even waiting to see if I had any continues. It was cheating, a cheap meaningless win, and I took solace in that deciding maybe it was time to move on to some other activity. We downed another round and were soon on our way.

As we entered the club, we went straight to the dance floor, forming a circle. It was like old times and I found myself not caring how I looked, just a girl joking around with her friends, jumping around with Usa. It felt good to be up and moving, shaking the alcohol off a bit. After a while, I noticed Rei had gone straight for the bar, was sitting legs crossed, beer in her hand, watching me. Her eyes were so dark, so deep, made me ache inside when I looked too far into them, but I forced myself to meet her stare, putting on a little show for her for God knows what reason. For the first time, I was absolutely sure she wanted me, open need in her gaze. We stayed like that for what seemed like hours but was really only a few moments, her hunger drawing the movements from my body. She seemed to realize suddenly what was happening and turned away. I turned back to my friends, dancing in the circle once again. When I looked up, Usa was giving me a strange look and then glanced over at Rei. She had seen what just happened.

"Mina?"

I felt myself blushing and saw the tiniest smile break out across the princess's face. She grabbed my hands and we started dancing like crazy people again.

Part 23

All of our friends had left for the night, we were supposed to ride home together. I wanted to dance with her, my body was still thrumming from what happened on the dance floor. I was filled with the most intense feelings I had ever experienced, the waiting, the teasing, the flirting, the confusion...I didn't want to go home and pretend.

"Take me to that place you go."

"What?"

"I'm not ready to go home yet!"

"No."

"Please?"

"No."

"Why?"

"I told you, you wouldn't want to go"

"I don't think you have any idea what I want."

I pressed myself up against her. The shred of decorum I had left was the only thing preventing me from tearing her clothes off and taking her in the middle of the park. I wanted her, she wanted me, and I dared her to tell me otherwise. I could smell her again, her lips were so close to mine. She squeezed her eyes shut, like that could keep everything trapped inside and then pulled away from me.

"I can't!"

I looked at her...the terrified look in her eyes, her panicked reaction...maybe I was coming on too strong. I hated that she was so afraid of something like this, something I considered one of the most wonderful things that could possibly happen to a person. I wanted the chance to show her how amazing and rare these feelings were, that it was something to treasure... not run from. This wasn't the place to do that. I watched her swaying a bit and realized she was considerably more intoxicated than I was.

"Give me your keys."

"Minako . . . "

"I haven't had anything to drink for a bit Rei-chan . . . you're drunk."

"Are you sure about. . ."

"I danced most of it off. Now give me the keys, I'm taking you home."

She climbed into the passenger seat unsteadily and I gave her a bottle of water. She leaned her head against the window, and I decided I would take her to my apartment, give her some food and make sure she was okay. I didn't want her grandfather to worry. When we pulled up outside my building, she was confused.

"Where are we?"

"My apartment."

"I've never been here."

"I know."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why haven't I been here?"

"It's not like Mako's apartment, or Usa's house, or the shrine."

I hadn't taken her here before because I was a bit embarrassed. It was so small, not really nice, but it was mine and that was all that mattered to me. I watched her as she looked around the place, smiling at my karaoke machine in the corner, noticing my pictures of us all. She turned to face me, serious.

"It's an apartment, it looks like any other apartment I have ever been in."

"And just how many have you been in?"

I wondered what else Rei was up to when she went out on those late night excursions to the place she wouldn't tell me about. If I was honest, I was jealous. She still seemed a little unsteady as she made her way toward the couch.

"You need to eat something Rei-chan."

I grabbed cookies and snacks from my kitchen, filling up another glass of water to take with me. I put them in front of her, happy when she started eating. I needed something to fill up the silence, so I put a movie on, forcing myself to watch it. I put my hand on my stomach, trying to calm its nervous churning. About an hour in, I began to feel her eyes on me again. She was watching me breathe. The tension between us, inside me... it was unbearable. I looked over at her, her eyes were less fuzzy and I could see what she was thinking deep inside them. It was the same thing I was. Tonight I would try things my way.

I turned on my side to face her, praying my voice wouldn't be shaky and said what I was thinking.

"Rei?"

"Hai?"

"Have you ever wanted someone you shouldn't?"

"Minako don't be stu…"

"Please Rei, just answer me this time."

"Why?"

"Because I'm asking you nicely"

"Yes, I have."

"What did you do?"

"Nothing." I could see her begging silently for me to do the same, but I couldn't anymore.

"What?"

"I ignored it."

"Do they go away? The thoughts when you look at her?"

"Her?" She said surprised, shocked even. I realized that it wasn't just feelings that made her nervous, it was that we were both girls. I considered that maybe her faith told her it was wrong, I had never really asked. She never seemed bothered by Haruka and Michiru. I didn't know what to think, but it seemed like such a silly thing to be scared of.

"You don't ever wonder when you look at me?"

"Wonder what?"

"What it would be like to do this?" I took her hand and passed it over my ribs, brushing the side of my breast. It sent a lightning bolt straight through me. I kept my eyes on hers the entire time. She pulled her arm away, sat upright and stared at me, not quite believing I did that. She held her hand, protecting it.

"I can't!"

"Why can't you?" I couldn't let her just shut this down. We both wanted this, I knew we did. Taking a deep breath in, I straddled her... touching her cheek, staring into her eyes, hoping she could see what I felt in mine. I wanted her to see how sure I was about this, about feeling this way...for her. I had forgotten I had a skirt on, the warmth from her legs on my bare skin was driving me crazy. I leaned my head down, putting my lips to her ear, and whispered . . .

"I'm not afraid of this." I wanted her to understand that there wasn't a single thing that felt wrong to me about what was happening between us. I took her earlobe in my mouth, tugging gently at it with my teeth, touching her waist. I had never felt like this in my life, almost drunk with emotion and excitement.

I looked at her, amazed by how incredibly beautiful she was, even if her eyes were still unsure. Her mouth was slightly open and I found myself following the line of her bottom lip with my fingertip, watching its movement and only half believing this wasn't another dream. I watched something change in her, a decision flash on her face, the fear disappear and she closed her perfect lips around my thumb, taking it into her soft, warm mouth, her tongue tracing along the underside, her teeth on the sensitive tip of it ...I couldn't help the noises bubbling out of me, didn't want to stop myself from whispering her name.

I kissed her and she kissed me back, surprisingly yielding, let me take this where I wanted. I took my time, letting her responses guide me, learning every piece of her. It was so different from anything I had ever experienced and I couldn't seem to get enough of her. I didn't leave her alone until she had fallen asleep, exhausted.

Part 24

I woke from a dreamless sleep to find myself alone in the bed. She left . . . I would have put the odds of that at 50/50. I thought that there were three possibilities. 1.) She would have one big breakthrough and things would be okay for us. 2.) She would be horrified by the whole thing and our friendship would suffer. 3.) We would continue as we had, steps forward followed by giant steps back. Any way that it happened, I still felt like someone had torn my heart out. I pulled my knees up to my chest, resting my chin on them and looked at my toes peeking out from sheets. I didn't know how to feel, but somehow I was sure that chasing her right now was the worst thing I could do. I felt the stinging of tears and a tightness in my throat . . . I was lost, I was falling for her, falling in love with someone I wasn't entirely sure could love me back.

Part 25

Usa and I walked along the paths in the park to the fountain that stood in the center. She was so different now than when we were girls, still goofy and awkward sometimes . . . but there was a maturity there now, a quiet self-assurance that gave me so much hope for our future. Something even today seemed to have changed about her. Usagi was almost glowing. I met her here because she had said there was something she wanted to talk to me about, I wondered if it was about Rei. It had been a week since everything happened.

"You don't seem yourself today . . . bad dreams?"

"No. . . just not sleeping well."

She watched me, hesitant to say what she was thinking. "Are you sure you're ok?"

The tears were starting to build again. "Yeah . . ." The first one fell and it was all over.

"Oh, Mina" She gave me another one of those bone-crushing hugs, whispering to me. When I had calmed down, we sat on the stone wall of the fountain.

"Do you love her?" She looked at me, speaking quietly.

I nodded, despite all logic and reason I did. If this wasn't proof enough of love's unpredictability and disregard for common sense I didn't know what was.

"Have you told her?"

"Not in those words . . . " I couldn't stop the blush that felt like it reached my ears.

She gave me that same curious stare from the club and I didn't say anything, just chewed at my bottom lip, nervous and sick.

"This is such a mess Usa."

"Have you talked to her?"

"No, I'm not ready yet I guess."

She nodded and squeezed my hand. We sat in silence together, enjoying the warm air, and just being next to her, feeling how much she cared about me did help a bit.

"I guess you're wondering why I asked you to come out here"

"I thought that was it."

"No...well, that was part of it but..." It was her turn to blush. I watched her kicking at the fountain, suddenly shy, then it dawned on me.

"Usa..."

"I guess we should probably push the wedding up." All my worries were forgotten and we were dancing around the park like idiots. I couldn't believe it, Usa was pregnant. I would have to tell Rei . . . and with that thought, I crashed back to earth.

"Mina. . . just go talk to her. . ."

"I will . . . but we should get you some ice cream first. To celebrate!" Our childhood dreams were coming true all at once, I had a record deal and Usa had her baby. There was so much happiness on the one side and on the other, so much unknown. I needed to somehow bring everything to the middle.

Part 26

I waited in the orchard, fixing my dress for the thousandth time. We needed to talk, but I was scared to see her again, to see her reaction to all of this. I could tell from her face that this wasn't going to go well. She said nothing, so I started the conversation.

"You left."

"I told you I couldn't."

"But you DID, we did Rei ... and you left."

She apparently wanted to pretend nothing had happened, but I wouldn't let her off that easy. My heart was pounding, my mouth was dry. I was mad, sad, afraid, all at the same time. Rei... she was just angry.

"You're making too much of it."

"I'm making too much of it?"

"We were drunk Mina."

"STOP! Stop pretending with me!... I know you...I know you Rei-chan."

I couldn't believe she would try and make into a drunken night, a mistake, but I knew she was grasping at straws. Even if it was a defense mechanism, it cut me like a knife. I looked at her, wanted her to see that she was hurting me, that whatever it did or didn't mean to her, it had meant something to me, still meant something to me. I watched her anger melt away, the walls come down, the tears start. I took her hands in mine, rested her forehead on mine. I whispered "I know you" again. I wanted her to really hear me.

"This isn't simple Minako."

"Why?"

"How could you think it is?"

"...I...it is for me."

"Well, it isn't for me."

"Why not?"

"It's my life Minako, this isn't how it was supposed to be."

"Because I'm a girl?"

She plopped down on the grass, hiding her face in her knees. She looked like she was being swallowed by her miko uniform. I sat down beside her, wanting to understand what it was that terrified her so much.

"No one was supposed to know. It was supposed to be a secret."

I realized she wasn't referring to us, she was referring to herself, a feeling she had inside that had always scared her, something she had kept hidden even from her closest friends.

"You could have told me."

"I didn't want this. I'd never let anyone actually...before we...I didn't want it to ever mean..."

I was shocked, I had no idea that I had been the first to . . . she never said anything. I imagined what it must have been like for her, all of this. If she felt even close to how I feel, to act on those feelings would mean letting go of a secret she had held on to for god knows how long. I thought about how much it must have taken for her to give herself to me in that way. I realized how completely different our experiences of this whole situation were. I needed to make her understand what I felt for her.

"...read my mind Rei."

After a bit of hesitation, she gave in. We clasped hands and I felt her energy pass into me. I let my eyes fall closed...I hadn't expected to be able to sense anything from her. All the heaviness, the anxiety, the fear, the shame came pouring in, but then there was the most beautiful sensation. It was a sort of heat that felt as though it was wrapping around my entire body. There was something sexual intertwined with the warmth, something that seemed to pull my entire being toward one spot. I kept my eyes closed, focusing on the sensation. Underneath everything was that sense of déjà vu, that somehow this had always been there. I opened my eyes and watched her feeling what I felt, poured as much energy as I could into the connection.

"That's how you make me feel, how I feel every time I see you... when I think about you, multiply that times one hundred and that's how it feels to kiss you...I'm not imagining this, you feel something too, I know you do."

She didn't answer, she just kissed me, soundly and without fear, led me away from the orchard, made love to me with a passion that left me breathless. As we lay together in her bed, my head on her chest and counting her heartbeats... I knew this time she would be there when I woke, that she would always be there.