Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Sailor Moon.
Gradually, Serena Shields woke up, her awareness returning to her in bits and pieces. A soft smile stole over her face as she felt her husband pull her closer to himself as they lay spooning in bed. Serena glanced down at his arm wrapped snugly around her waist, and felt his warm breath against the back of her neck. If his steady, even breaths were anything to go by, Darien was still gone to the world.
As slowly as she could, so as not to disturb his slumber, she rolled over in order to face Darien. With his eyes closed and an expression of peaceful bliss on his face, she was reminded of the little boy that used to pull at her pigtails. Serena smiled, thinking that those moments almost seemed a lifetime away. Her eyes traced the planes and angles of his face and she couldn't hold back the hum of approval that escaped her.
Mmmm...her love-muffin was fine. Unable to resist, she raised herself up onto her elbow and leaned over him, pressing light kisses along his jaw line. Serena leaned back and took in his jet black hair sticking up in all directions against the pillows and the warm hues of his olive toned skin in the morning light. After two years of marriage, Serena still found it hard to believe that she would get to wake up next to this man for life.
Darien stirred lightly and Serena paused beside him, but when it was apparent he wasn't going to wake up, she pressed one more kiss along his jaw line. Her eyes darted to the clock and she sighed at the time, while running her fingers through her sleep-mussed hair. It was 11 am. Serena was supposed to be at a meeting with her girls, like, now. Serena sighed figuring she might as well get ready. She removed herself from Darien's embrace and got out of bed, heading straight for their ensuite bathroom.
She stripped out of her pajamas and stepped into the tub and turned the faucets, fussing until she had the temperature she was looking for. In minutes, steam was fogging up the mirrors but Serena could count herself fully awake now. Once she was finished, she reached for her towel from the rack placed near the tub and dried off before wrapping it around herself and stepping out of the tub. Serena made her way to the full length mirror in the corner of her bathroom and looked over herself critically.
Gone were the lengthy blonde locks she'd insisted on having throughout her childhood, she wore her hair just below her shoulders now. Serena pursed her lips and turned to the side to eye her own profile. She'd lost most of the baby fat, all except for those last fifteen pounds that kept her petite frame looking "ferociously voluptuous" as one of her best friends, Mina Harris, would put it. Serena puffed out her cheeks and blew out a breath while staring at her reflection. She wasn't necessarily dissatisfied with herself but that didn't mean she was satisfied either. Serena closed her eyes and hung her head.
"None of that, now."
Serena squeaked as arms grabbed her around her middle, pulling her back into a firm chest. Realizing who it was, Serena leaned back, enjoying the fact that she could. She opened her eyes and watched her husband watching her reflection in the mirror.
"Hey baby," she greeted, her own arms coming up to rest over his arms. "Did you just wake up?"
"Mmm," Darien mumbled, lowering his head onto the top of Serena's head. "I heard the shower running. You going to meet the girls?"
Serena nodded and turned in his arms, snuggling into his warmth. "We're finishing up the last few details for the surprise party for your parents' anniversary next week. Everything is pretty much done, we're just tying up loose ends. What are you going to do today?"
"You're amazing, you know? They'll love this surprise." Darien pressed a gentle kiss on Serena's forehead, chuckling at the flush that rose on her skin. "I was actually gonna drop in on Mom and Dad today. I've gotta pick up Dee, she needs a ride out to campus. We're all probably going to have lunch together, so don't worry about me for today."
"Hmm," Serena sighed. "When do you ever give me a reason to worry about you?" She looked up and gave him a dimpled smile. "Well, if you insist, I'll probably be out for most of today then."
Darien smiled and leaned back to catch Serena's gaze. "Shall I get some breakfast started then?"
Serena swung her arms around his neck and went onto her tiptoes to smack a big one on Darien's lips.
"I knew I married you for a reason!" Serena replied while shooing him off and tilting her head to admire the view from behind as he walked away. It was then that she caught sight of the time and groaned before rushing to finish getting ready for the day.
"Whyyyyy, do we meet so early on Sunday mornings?"
Ami Anderson rolled her eyes and hid an amused smile by turning away towards Rei Hino's wall-to-wall bookcase and the book on nature photography that she'd been perusing. She exchanged an amused glance with Mina Harris, who was sprawled across Rei's queen-sized bed and looking quite sleepy herself. Mina shook her head and put a finger to her lips and inclined her head towards the pair facing off by the bedroom door. They watched as Rei rounded on Serena, hands on hips and her eyebrow arched in that Hino way.
"Oh, no, no, no. You were the last one to arrive. You're two hours late and I know you had time to eat something before coming." Rei finished her mini tirade by crossing her arms over her chest, but the girls could see the humour in her eyes. Ami noted with a small smile how time and a close friendship had tempered the fire that used to fuel Rei's temper. At one time, the annoyance and scolding would've been just a bit more harsh, a bit more real. This scolding was merely a habit, and done from a fondness for the guilty party – who was sheepishly rubbing her head and avoiding Rei's gaze. Rei sniffed haughtily but couldn't hold back her grin of welcome. Immediately, Serena's face brightened when she caught sight of it.
"Aw, Rei! You know how I get if I don't eat in the morning." Serena breezed by Rei after pressing a kiss to her cheek. "Good morning, girls! I brought snacks but Grandpa confiscated them." Serena turned to Rei. "He was mumbling something about how you never let him eat anything good?"
Rei raised her eyes heavenward and and sighed deeply. "If it's not one thing, it's another with that old man." She turned towards Ami and Mina and shrugged apologetically. "Let me just deal with this and then we can get started, ok?"
Ami nodded while Mina sleepily waved Rei off. Rei turned towards the door and marched resolutely down the hallway. Serena whistled after her and dropped her purse by Rei's dresser.
"Oops. I didn't mean to get Grandpa in trouble!" Her round, blue eyes widened in concern. "I mean, I know he's got to be watching his diet but I can't help it. He's ridiculously hard to say no to."
Serena shrugged and poked Mina's shoulder. "Shove over, I need some bedspace, too!"
Mina grumbled but rolled over nonetheless. Serena yawned and stretched out beside Mina. Ami's attention wandered away from the sleepy duo and around Rei's room and she took in the clean lines, the classic modern decor and the blend of sophisticated and simple. That was Rei in a nutshell, she supposed. There was no clutter, nothing unnecessary and as always, the room was spotless. The only items that seemed out of place were the pictures of the girls framed in corny or gaudy frames they'd given to Rei as jokes.
Ami picked up the picture frame closest to her and smiled tenderly remembering the day the photo had been taken. It had been just after their high school graduation, six years ago. Rei had graduated from a private high school, but her graduation had taken place earlier, allowing her to be present for their graduation.
She smiled as she looked at Mina and Serena at the forefront of the photo, with almost identical megawatt smiles, fingers raised in their trademark 'V-for-victory' signs. Though they were both blonde and blue eyed; where Serena was petite and curvy, Mina was lithe and willowy and had several inches on Serena. Rei stood behind them, eyes rolled heavenward, hand on hip and a soft, amused smile on her face – her dark eyes glowing with happiness. Beside Rei, Ami stood with the fifth and final member of their close circle, blinding smiles on each face and their arms around each other's shoulders. Which was a feat, since Lita McKenzie was the tallest of them all and Ami was the second shortest, after Serena. Ami sighed and ran a finger over Lita's face. Serena noticed and tilted her head up at Ami.
"What's up, hon?"
Ami met Serena's gaze and then looked over at Mina who had her eyebrow raised and waiting. The Harris version wasn't as intimidating, as the Hino eyebrow per se, but it could get a girl talking.
"Lita called me." Ami paused and looked away from the two faces that were now gaping at her in disbelief. "Or rather, we've been in touch."
Rei chose that moment to return to the room, a take-out bag from Serena's favourite local bakery in hand. "Sorry, Grandpa made off with some of the scones, I-" Rei trailed off, noticing the odd atmosphere in the room. She looked back and forth between Ami and the two who had taken over her bed.
"What's going on?" Rei asked with a deliberate slowness. She directed the question at Ami, sensing who had dropped the bomb. Rei placed the bag on her desk and moved towards the trio.
Before Ami could reply, Serena bounded off the bed and grabbed the book from Ami's grasp, placed it back on the shelf and then pulled her to the bed where Mina was slowly sitting up to make room for Ami.
"Ami says that Lita phoned her. As in had contact with her. As in she's still alive and oh, I'm going to make her see stars. How could she go six years without contacting any of us? Don't we mean anything to her?" Serena's voice broke and tears filled her big blue eyes.
Mina pulled Serena into her side while Rei silently grabbed a box of tissues for Serena. Ami wasn't sure how to proceeed at this point. There were things she could say but it would be up to Lita to fill everyone else in on what she wanted them to know.
Rei gracefully sat on the floor at the end of the bed, at Ami's feet, her feet folded underneath her. She gently took the photo from Ami's hands and stared down at it.
"She's been on my mind lately." Rei mentioned, biting her lower lip as she thought about their estranged friend.
Mina cleared her throat and turned to Ami. "What did she say? Is she all right?"
Ami sighed once more. "You guys have to understand, I can't say much about her situation. She asked me to keep it to myself until she could let you know what she wants you to know-"
Mina cut in before Ami could get anymore out. "How long have you been in contact with her?"
"About three months, or so."
A stunned silence met Ami's answer.
Serena met Ami's gaze with a sad expression. "I'll understand if you can't tell us what's going on with her but why did she only come to you?"
Ami didn't take offense to the question, knowing Serena was really asking why Lita hadn't seen fit to trust the rest of them when they cared for her just as much as Ami did. Ami took a deep breath and launched into the explanation Lita had given her.
"Lita said that she didn't want to burst your newlywed bubble, Serena. She didn't want to add to your troubles, Rei, because she thought that taking care of your Grandpa after his health scare would be more important to you. Mina, she didn't come to you because you'd go charging in to rescue her and what she's dealing with isn't something that can be solved overnight. She came to me because she said I'd be most likely to keep quiet the longest."
"Yup," Mina nodded. "That sounds about as bull-headed McKenzie as it can get."
Serena huffed and blew her nose noisily into a tissue.
"Ami," Rei called out softly. "What's going on with Lita?"
Ami paused, conflicted over what she could say but settled for, "I invited her to the anniversary surprise party. She said that she wouldn't miss it for the world. You girls will be able to talk to her then."
Serena nodded determinedly and wiped a few stray tears away. Rei sighed and patted Serena's knee while Mina gave Ami a resolute nod.
"Six years of silence aside, our girl needs us and we'll be there for her." Mina waited until she knew she had everyone's attention. "Now, there's not much we can do about Lita right now so let's get back to what we came here for."
Serena immediately piped up, "Darien's having lunch with his parents today. Dee and Darien will make sure their schedule stays clear for the party next weekend."
Rei shook her head and smiled while glancing at her open doorway. "Grandpa can't wait to be MC. He's been practicing all of his wedding jokes on Chad for the past two weeks. Chad pretty much runs away the moment they come into the same room."
Mina chuckled and turned to Ami. "Ames?"
"I've got all my equipment ready. Just make sure I get time with the family before the reception starts to take photos while everyone is still looking presentable," Ami replied, crossing her legs at the ankles and leaning back against the bed's headboard to get comfy.
Mina gave her a jaunty salute. "Righty-o! I've confirmed the guest list, which reminds me, Rei – my brother is bringing Celina."
Rei pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, trying to place the name. "Oh! That pretty brunette, right? The one in the same building as my newspaper?"
"Mmhmm!" Mina wiggled her eyebrows at Rei. "Does that bother you in anyway?"
Serena giggled and nudged Rei gently with her knee. "Yeah, Rei. Does that bother you?"
Ami wisely chose to keep her mouth shut as she watched the colour rise on Rei's face.
"Why should Jaden's choice of company matter to me? We've been over for a year now. We're just friends," Rei explained. "I've wished him well and I hope that he finds happiness with the right woman."
"Ugh. You two are ridiculous. You're the right woman for my brother. My whole family thinks so! The whole world thinks so, and so do these two! Right?"
Serena nodded enthusiastically but Ami put up a hand saying, "I have kept and will keep my opinions on the matter to myself, thank you."
Mina and Serena groaned at Ami's usual play for diplomacy and Rei nodded proudly at Ami.
"You see?" Rei exclaimed. "That's a real friend, right there."
Ami then turned to Serena. "Oh! I put the seating arrangements together with the list and preferences you gave me. In order for it to work, I've got to place Rei with Jay and his guest. Jay will just have to have both of of his hands full, I guess."
Serena and Mina took one look at the betrayed look on Rei's face and the look of innocence on Ami's face and burst out laughing. Rei reached over and lightly pinched Ami's thigh while Mina reached over to give Ami a high-five.
Ami simply shrugged and gave Rei a small smile, her blue eyes twinkling with mirth.
"Oh!" Serena exclaimed, wiping tears from her eyes. "We are so proud, Ames."
"I do what I can," Ami answered, with a straight face.
"Anyway," Rei drawled, drawing out the word to catch their attention. "On the day of, the ladies are getting ready at Serena and Darien's, right? The guys are bringing Art here and doing their thing and we're taking Luna over there?"
"Yup," Serena nodded. Her stomach grumbled loudly and she pressed a hand sheepishly to her stomach. "So, how about some lunch before we continue?"
Lita closed the door to the house she'd lived in for the past four years. Her heart was breaking all over again at having to say goodbye to the memories that had kept her running for two years. Yet, this was something that had to be done.
She ran over a mental checklist making sure that all loose ends that need to be tied had been tied and put away. Lita turned away from the house, satisfied that she'd done as much as she could. She moved towards the moving truck parked in the driveway and the woman standing by the open passenger door. Her late husband, Freddie Parker, had looked so much like his mother, it often hurt to look at Marie.
"We're leaving," Lita gently stated.
Her mother-in-law nodded and climbed up to kiss Lita's two children strapped into their respective booster and car seats, one last time. Lita noted the tears running down her cheeks as she whispered sweet promises in their ears. When Marie was finished, she stepped down and closed the door and Lita came to stand in front of her mother-in-law but she couldn't find the words for this goodbye. Marie had this way of making her feel like a bumbling teen all over again.
Marie Parker held up a hand, her eyes red with tears and her lips tight with anguish. "Just go. You've taken my son and now you're taking my grandchildren. Just go."
Lita willed the tears and anger away, knowing it would do nothing. Marie was content to blame her for everything that had gone wrong with their family and Lita could understand the hurt enough to let it be. She'd tried, oh, she'd tried to make her peace with Marie. Her mother-in-law would have none of it.
"Um," Lita cleared her throat. "You have our number, feel free to come visit us. You're still their grandmother – the kids still need you. I still want you in their lives."
Marie stepped away from Lita and the truck and moved towards her house. "I don't know. I just don't know. Drive safely." With those final words, she returned to her house and closed the door behind her.
Lita took a deep, calming breath and willed herself not to cry in front of the children. She took out her cellphone and looked for the last number dialled and called it. There were three rings before a male voice answered.
"Hello? Lita, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Sugar, I've been waiting for your phone call. What's happening?"
Lita couldn't help but grin at her old nickname.
"We're just setting off now. We just said goodbye to Marie and the kids are loaded up. We should be there in two hours, or so."
"You check in every half hour, you hear? Call me when you're near Colford, we're waiting for you."
Lita took a deep shuddering breath and lost her ability to speak for a moment. The weight of what was happening was sinking in on her a little, crowding in on the emotional distance she'd tried to keep regarding the whole situation.
"You're a strong girl and I'm proud of you. Come on home, now. Come home to people that love you and miss you and want you."
"I'm coming. We're coming. I'll talk to you again soon."
"See you soon."
Lita hung up and made her way to the driver's door. She swung it open and jumped in, a strange sense of something bittersweet tingling in her stomach. Lita turned in her seat and let her gaze lovingly settle on the two pairs of wide eyes that stared curiously back at her. Charlotte, her oldest at five years old, had her daddy's brown eyes and straight brown hair but she also had her mother's freckles. Marcus, her four year old, had his daddy's brown hair, but his mother's loose wavy texture and her green eyes. Neither of them had come out with the McKenzie auburn hair, and she used to laugh with Freddie about that.
Lita shook her head and focussed on moving on. This was her world, right in front of her. For them, she would make this change.
"Mommy, are we leaving Grandma forever?" Charlotte asked.
"No, Charlie-baby. She'll come visit us sometimes. We're just going to go live where Mommy grew up, like I told you, remember? We're going to live with Mama and Papa."
Charlie nodded her understanding and turned to take her brother's hand in her own. "Marc, we're going on a trip, ok? We're going to meet all of our aunties and uncles that we never met before. We'll see Mama and Papa everyday!"
Marc, her little man, nodded in his sweet, quiet way and looked to his mother for reassurance. Lita leaned over and kissed them both before slipping on her seatbelt and starting the ignition.
Lita took another deep breath. "Here we go!" She smiled as the kids parroted her and shifted into reverse to back out of the driveway and leave this part of her life behind. Well, leave as much as she could behind anyway. She was going home – they were going home and that was what mattered most right now.
AN: Have you made it to the end? I appreciate it. Let me know what you think! The story will be slow-moving at first so hang in there. It'll get better.
I made up the town's name, Colford. There may actually be a Colford somewhere in this big, wide world but this imaginary town (made up for the purposes of this story) was not meant to resemble it. Anyway, this could become a monster of a story...the good kind, I hope!