The Stuff That Doesn't Make Sense
A piece of Sailormoon fanfiction by Jon Carp
address: jcarp@med.unc.edu













When you're fourteen years old, the world is starkly divided into
two categories: stuff that makes perfect sense, and stuff that just
doesn't.

You make sense, your parents don't. Dogs make sense, politics
doesn't. Algebra makes sense, but no one in the world, not even the
instructors themselves, can figure out why on earth schools insist on
teaching it.

But for Tsukino Shingo, one thing, one bizarre, inexplicable
force had always confused him more than anything else: His sister.

Oh, he knew her well enough. After fourteen years of putting up
with her goofiness, neuroticism, and general freakishness, he could
predict her behavior fairly well. But there was one thing he would
never understand as long as he lived.

Her... friends.

Oh, Usagi's friends. They were the most beautiful women in the
world, as far as Shingo was concerned. Sometimes he'd sit and idly try
to figure out which was the prettiest of them all, but he just couldn't
decide! They were the four corners of gorgeousness; all so different
from each other. It was like someone deliberately designed each of
them to appeal to a different kind of person: free-wheeling Aino-san
and shy Mizuno-san and amazon Kino-san and classy Hino-san...

He wasn't obsessed, really. They were just quite a force for a
fourteen year-old boy to be confronted with every few days.

He just couldn't understand how four goddesses like them would
ever be friends with his intolerable goofball of a sibling, the girl
that used to dress up as a "mashed potato princess" every Sunday night
at the dinner table.




She was almost supernaturally good at getting on his nerves.
Even something as innocuous as talking to her boyfriend on the phone
could annoy him... especially when he's trying to watch television and
she's sitting on the same couch a foot away, jabbering like a macaw.

Actually, she had been saying goodbye for about ten minutes, so
painfully in love she couldn't bear to end the conversation. The
boyfriend seemed nice enough (though, and for once Shingo agreed with
his dad about something, creepy-old), but he sure put up with a lot.
He probably didn't have the highest self-esteem in the world.

Usagi finally hung up and sighed dreamily, because now that she
was off the phone, she needed some other way to keep Shingo from
hearing the dialogue.

"How's Mamoru-san?" Shingo asked grudgingly. His sister adored
that question.

"Great!" Usagi enthused. "He has to study tonight, but we're
going out tomorrow! Hey, what are we watching?" She indicated the
television with a nod of her head. "Is it any good?"

"I don't know," Shingo replied. "It's some new drama series."

"Ohhhh." Usagi watched in silence for ten seconds. "Doesn't
look very good."

"Shh!"

Usagi crossed her arms over her chest and pouted. On the screen,
a handsome man, assumedly the protagonist, was talking furtively to a
less-handsome man, assumedly the villain. Behind them, a young woman
watched them frettingly. "You won't get away with this!" the hero
raged. "I'll get that money if it's the last thing I do!" the villain
countered.

"Is she his girlfriend?" Usagi asked, pointing vaguely at the
screen.

"I don't know."

"Why don't you know?"

"Because I've never seen this show before! It's brand new!"

"Oh." Usagi thought for a moment. "I bet she's his girlfriend."

"Will you be quiet?!" Shingo snapped. "I'm watching this!"

Usagi leaned forward and glared at her brother. "You don't have
to be so rude about it. I'm just trying to catch up. If I was with
Mamo-chan, he'd answer any ques..."

"Will you please just shut up?!"

A calm, patient voice floated up from downstairs. "Don't tell
your sister to shut up, Shingo."

Shingo opened his mouth to protest, but thought better of it and
simply pouted instead, which was just as satisfying anyway.

Usagi grinned triumphantly at her brother. "See? That's what
you get for being immature."

Shingo snorted and glared at Usagi. "Immature? You're calling
me immature, Dinosaur Queen?"

"I haven't dressed up as the Dinosaur Queen in eight years!"
Usagi growled. "There's nothing wrong with a nine year-old liking
dinosaurs, anyway!"

"Yeah, if you're a boy," Shingo replied smugly.

"I was the prettiest bunny-saurus in the land!" Usagi shouted,
stabbing violently at her brother with a pointed finger. "My caveman
subjects adored me! They brought me gifts and..." Usagi trailed off,
distracted by something on the television. Shingo blinked and looked
over at what she was staring at.

Both of the men were gone. The woman was now in a dark room,
passionately engaged in what could only be called "rump-bumping". The
most notable aspect of the scene was that her partner was a very
beautiful woman.

"Wow," Usagi said. "I guess she's not his girlfriend after all."

Shingo watched in startled fascination, the argument utterly
forgotten. "Whoa. That's... that's weird."

Usagi shrugged. "Why's it weird?"

"Well... two women like that? Together?"

"It's not that unusual."

Shingo blinked and looked at his sister oddly. "Sure, when
they're younger. But those are grown women. You really don't think
it's weird?"

"It's not weird," Usagi insisted. "I have two friends that are
like that, and it doesn't bother me."

Shingo opened his mouth to respond, but he was suddenly struck
with the true meaning of what his sister had just said. He froze.
"Um," he rasped after a moment, "what did you say?"

"I have friends that are like that. They're both girls, but they
love each other and do things like that." Usagi thought for a moment.
"I mean, I don't know for SURE they do things like that. I just
assume. It's not like I go spy on them when they're alone, or..."

Shingo stopped listening. Two of Usagi's friends... were...
were... and when they were alone, they...

"...but they make it work. My god, they're still going at it.
This is the longest kissing scene I've ever watched on television..."
Usagi continued talking absently, oblivious to the sly, dreamy grin
slowly spreading across her brother's face.





Shingo could not sleep that night. Whenever he closed his eyes,
he saw various combinations of those four goddesses recreating that
excessively long kiss. He had tried to steer the conversation back to
his sister's revelation, but she had started talking about her
boyfriend again, and hearing about the dinner he had cooked her on
Thursday (lentils, rice, steamed tuna, and snow peas) was not quite as
stimulating as hot girl-on-girl action.

He sighed and rolled over in bed. That dinner did sound tasty,
though. It was a nice gesture: anyone would be happy if their lover
cooked a meal like that. He could just picture Aino-san standing over
the stove, carefully measuring spices and ingredients. Then Mizuno-san
would come in and sniff the air and hug Aino-san from behind, and then
the two of them would kind of yawn and stretch their backs out. And
then Hino-san would come out and bring Kino-san and they'd both be
naked, and join the others in the kitchen, and the food would start
burning but they wouldn't care, and then Kino-san would say, "Oh no!
We got so caught up in our passion that we ruined the beautiful dinner
you were making me, Ami!" And then Aino-san would say, "I was
cooking!" And then they'd all start fighting about who was cooking for
whom and they'd all wrestle and roll around on the floor and they'd
bump into the counter and honey would spill all over the place and...

Shingo's eyes snapped open. He couldn't take this. He had to
find out the truth and prove it for himself, or the fantasies alone
would kill him.

He got up and went down to the kitchen for some milk. He had to
plan, and he wasn't going to get any sleep anyway.





The next day, Shingo practically ran from his desk as soon as
class was dismissed. He stopped only briefly, to promise his friends
an explanation for his odd behavior the following day, and then
continued his sprint. He couldn't afford to miss a second, or else his
carefully crafted plan would fall apart.

Shingo's plan was as follows: He would follow Usagi's friends at
a distance, spy on them, and vaguely hope the lesbians would do lesbian
stuff right in front of him.

It was not a very good plan, but it was the best he could do
under the circumstances. Shingo was a lot of things, but unfortunately
Usagi had gotten all the "sneaky" genes in the family. Besides, it was
a lot better than his original idea: Walking up and directly asking
them.

Luckily, he had his sister's routine memorized, not because of
any conscious effort to do so, but because she really liked to talk
about herself. He knew they spent every afternoon hanging around Hino-
san's place.

He could hear his sister's voice before he even got within sight
of the temple. She was screeching about something or other, dueting
with Aino-san... who somehow sounded like a beautiful angel instead of
the shrewish harpy his sister was.

He crouched in the bushes and watched them from a discreet
distance. They just sat around, talking. Everything SEEMED perfectly
heterosexual. Whoever the lovers were, they probably kept it hidden
because they were afraid of intolerance! It was so tragic it almost
brought tears to Shingo's eyes, but he was mainly annoyed at how
difficult his job was going to be.

After only ten minutes, his sister announced that it was almost
time for her date and skipped merrily away from the temple. Shingo
smiled to himself, that certainly made things less irritating.

With Usagi gone, the four girls seemed to settle into routines,
slightly more tense than before. They talked politely for a while,
before Kino looked at them all (and did her gaze linger on Mizuno?!)
and said something that had them all laughing and smiling. Then they
all got up and... went inside.

Shingo would have cursed, had he been a year or two older. As it
was, he just grumbled in an annoyed manner. He stood and tried to
figure out what to do next, when he suddenly felt a presence behind
him, and a menacing voice demanded, "What are you doing here?" Shingo
gulped and turned around.

There was an old man there. He was about a foot tall, and his
head was basically a basketball with a face on it. He was currently
poking dangerously at Shingo with the end of a broom. In all, it was
about the least intimidating encounter Shingo had ever experienced.

"What're you doing, out here in the bushes?" the old man grunted.
"Are you shy? Why don't you come into the temple, hmmm?"

Shingo took a step backward despite himself. "Um, you see, I..."

"Oh, I get it!" the old man interrupted, scratching his chin in a
rather goofy pose. "You were looking at my granddaughter and her
friends, weren't you?"

Beet red, Shingo took another step back. "Well... kind of."

The bottom half of the man's face became an enormous, alligator-
like grin. "They're great, aren't they?" he whispered
conspiratorially. "I'm so glad Rei made friends with them. So, so
glad." He stared off into space for a moment, then blinked and focused
his attention back on Shingo. "Have you noticed that sometimes, they
bend over, and if you stand behind them, you can see... things?"

"I can't say that I have," Shingo answered cautiously.

Rei's grandfather suddenly glared at Shingo seriously. "But none
of this means you can just go around hiding in the bushes. You'll
frighten people wanting to come to the temple."

"Yes, I'm sorry sir, I just wanted to, um, check something."

The old man raised an eyebrow. "Check something? Check what?
Do you know something?!" He leaned closer. "Are they going to have an
underwear party?! I hear that young girls do that sometimes!"

Shingo stared at the man, wide-eyed. "Uh, I really don't
think..."

"Tell your elders the truth, kid! I'm wise, I know when you're
lying."

Shingo glanced around, looking for someplace he could run, but
the old man had backed him into a corner and was holding that broom in
a very dangerous-looking manner. "Okay," Shingo stammered after a
moment. "You see, um, I kind of heard that two of them were...
involved. With each other. But I don't know which ones."

The old man looked at Shingo with a cold, unreadable expression
for what felt like an eternity. Then, with a soft moan, he fell over
onto the ground.

"Oh my god, I killed him!" Shingo exclaimed, more loudly than
that sentence should ever be spoken in public. He rushed to the old
man's side and was relieved, but a bit disturbed, to see him grinning
and wheezing.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"Yes, I'm fine. You just put quite a strain on an old man's
heart, my boy." Shingo reached down and helped Rei's grandfather to
his feet. He started walking off toward the temple, rubbing his chin
in thought. Shingo stood where he was, scratching the back of his
head.

The old man stopped and looked back at Shingo. "What're you just
standing around there for? Come on!"

"Oh!" Shingo trotted to catch up with the old man. "Uh, where
are we going? Are you going to call my parents?"

The old man laughed and slapped Shingo on the back. "No, no, of
course not! We're just going out back. There's a window there where
we can see into Rei's room." He chortled. "I haven't been this
excited since the birth of my first child!"

Shingo shut his eyes and let the old man drag him away. Only one
thought went through his mind: "What on earth have I gotten myself
into?"




The window did offer a good view of Rei's bedroom, but they had
to stand at an extreme angle, behind a tree, to keep from being spotted
themselves. Shingo did not ask how Rei's grandfather knew all this.

Shingo felt very uncomfortable looking into a teenage girl's
bedroom, but luckily Grandpa's impatient demeanor made it clear nothing
exciting was happening.

"So you have no idea who it is?" the old man asked, not moving
his eyes from the window.

"No, Usagi didn't say."

"Hmmm." Grandpa nodded, unwavering focus on his face. "That
tall one. I bet she's involved with this somehow."

"It's possible," Shingo replied, with the tone of someone talking
a maniac down from an acid trip.

"Yes... so, who do you think she's with? The blonde one, or the
little one?"

"What?" Shingo asked, trying his best to pretend he was somewhere
else.

Grandpa looked back at him like he was an idiot. "Those are the
only two options. She has to be with one of them. Or, I guess they
could be with each other." The old man's eyes went skyward as a toothy
grin covered his face.

"Well, those aren't the only possibilities," Shingo said, and
immediately regretted it.

Grandpa leaned close, suspicious. "What are you talking about?
Is there something you didn't tell me? Is there another young, pretty
woman I don't know about?!"

"No," Shingo squeaked, notably aware of the sweat beginning to
form on the back of his head. "It's just... um, I don't know who's
involved. It could be any of them. Including... Rei-san."

"Rei? What are you... oh." The old man's face fell, and he sat
down on the ground, dejected. "I understand."

Shingo blinked at Grandpa's sudden change in demeanor. "Do you
have a problem with it?"

The old man shrugged. "Rei has proven time and again that she's
mature enough to run her own life," he said, sounding like a four year-
old looking down at a melting scoop of ice cream on the sidewalk.
"It's just... no FUN if she's one of 'em."

Shingo was half frightened by the old man's continued hedonism,
half relieved that it did not apply to his own granddaughter. "Oh," he
said, "I guess you're not interested, then, and I can just go home..."

"Hey, there's Yuuichiro!" Grandpa stood up and waved to a
scruffy man that was walking into the backyard carrying a rake. "Maybe
he knows something! Hey, Yuuichiro!"

The man looked up at Grandpa, sighed, and sidled over. Grandpa
grinned at him. "Yuuichiro, meet... kid. Kid, Yuuichiro."

"Hi," Shingo greeted.

Yuuichiro nodded to him, unimpressed. "Hey, how you doing." He
looked at Grandpa. "Are you spying on them again?"

"Yes! But this time, I have a good reason!"

Yuuichiro sighed wearily. "What is it this time? An underwear
party?"

"No, bigger than that!" The old man leaned close to Yuuichiro
conspiratorially. "Listen, you're closer to their age, you notice
things I don't. Do you have any reason to believe that Rei... is a
homosexual?"

Yuuichiro simply stared at him for a few seconds, his mouth
hanging open. The broom fell from his hands.

"Because, we have reason to think she might be, and..."

Yuuichiro keeled over onto the ground. "Oh dear," Grandpa said.

"Did he faint?" Shingo asked.

"I don't know. Are his eyes closed?"

"I can't see his eyes." Shingo bent down over Yuuichiro and
shook his arm softly. "Um, are you oka--"

"Don't say things like that!" Yuuichiro suddenly bellowed.
Shingo shrieked and jumped away.

Yuuichiro lurched to his feet. "You shouldn't make up horrible
lies about Rei-san like that!"

"We don't know for sure she's like that!" Shingo argued. "All we
know is, two of them are, so there's a fifty-fifty chance."

"I don't know about the rest of them," Yuuichiro huffed, "but
Rei-san isn't like that, so don't go around saying she is."

"I'll keep that in mind," Shingo said, subtly taking a step away
from Yuuichiro and towards Grandpa, who was creepy but probably could
not kill him with his bare hands.

"You don't believe me," Yuuichiro growled. "I'll prove it to
you." He looked through the window for two seconds, then pointed and
nodded. "You see? Their knees just touched."

"Who?!" Grandpa asked, staring into his granddaughter's bedroom.

"Mizuno-san and Kino-san. So, problem solved, let's all go
home."

"They're sitting across the room from each other," Shingo pointed
out. "How could their knees touch?"

Yuuichiro thought to himself for a second. "Um... they touched
knees... with their eyes."

"Oh, they did not," Grandpa admonished. "Now be quiet and let me
concentrate. This is serious business."

"I can't believe you're just spying on then," Yuuichiro grunted.
"You'd never catch me doing anything like that to Rei-san. She's...
hey, where are they going?!"

Shingo looked and, indeed, the four girls were leaving the room
(Hino handed Aino her coat, and smiled as she did so). "Quick, after
them!" Yuuichiro commanded. He and Grandpa started running to the
front of the shrine.

Shingo trotted after them. "Wait!" he called, "you're just going
to leave? What if some poor soul needs spiritual guidance?"

"Eh, it's okay," Grandpa replied. "I'll put one of those plastic
clocks on the door."

Shingo would have fallen over backwards, but he was too busy
running to catch up. Considering his five centimeter long legs, the
old man was surprisingly fast.






They kept a block's worth of distance between them and the girls,
but Shingo knew where they were going anyway. The arcade was calling
to Aino; she almost couldn't go a single day without playing a few
games.

Shingo was deep in thought as he walked. He could not decide if
the inclusion of these two frightening men was good or bad for his
plan. On the one hand, they were very loud and skilled at attracting
attention to themselves. On the other hand, if they were caught, he
could easily blame everything on the skirt-chasing old creep.

His thoughts were interrupted suddenly and unexpectedly by a
cheerful voice: "Shingo-kun!"

Shingo blinked and looked at the person they had just passed on
the sidewalk. It was a young woman he vaguely recognized, waving
cheerfully. She had red hair and sparkling green eyes. Cute.

"Remember me?' she asked. "Naru?"

"Oh, of course." He bowed politely. He did remember her:
friendly, but a little dull. "One of my sister's friends, right?" As
soon as those words were out of his mouth, he panicked. What if SHE
was one of the people Usagi had been talking about?! But his fears
were soon abated when she put her arm around a rather extreme-looking
young man standing next to her.

"That's right! Were you looking for her? I just passed the
other girls, but I didn't see her with them."

"Oh, um, no, I'm just going for a walk."

"Hey, kid!" Grandpa called, annoyed. "Hurry up, will ya? We'll
lose them!"

Shingo felt the cold, familiar feeling of sweat on the back of
his head. "Um... one second!" He turned back to Naru, laughing
nervously. "Yeah, we're... following them."

Naru's boyfriend grinned excitedly. "Ooh, why? Do you know
something? Gossip?"

"Umino..."

"Come on, Naru, if he's got gossip, it's his obligation to tell
me." Umino leaned closer. "Come on, let me in on it."

Shingo blanched; somehow this boy was even creepier than the old
man, and he was far too frightened to think of a lie. "Um, all right.
See, the reason we're following them is..."






"Hey, move over!" Umino grunted. "I can't see anything."

"Maybe if you weren't so SHORT, you could see better!" Grandpa
snapped back.

"I still can't believe it," Naru muttered. "I never would have
guessed any of them would be with each other. They don't LOOK like
they'd be like that. Well, Makoto-chan, maybe."

Shingo looked around nervously. "Um, people, maybe it wouldn't
be such a good idea for you all to just stand on the sidewalk with your
faces pressed against the window."

"Why not?"

"Well, because they might SEE you."

"Oh." Grandpa nodded appreciatively. "Good thinking, kid."

They all took a step back, so they stood in the middle of the
sidewalk staring into the arcade. "Okay," Shingo said. "That's a
little better, I guess, but please try to look inconspicuous, okay?"

They all tried to look inconspicuous. None succeeded.

"Who do you think it is?" Umino asked.

"It's Mizuno and Kino!" Yuuichiro declared. "That's been
established. I don't know why anyone has any doubt."

"You think?" Naru asked. "Minako-san and Makoto-san always
seemed like very good friends."

"Well, maybe. All I know is, Rei-san isn't involved."

"Well, okay, if you're sure." Naru leaned over to Shingo. "Who
is that guy?"

"I don't know," Shingo replied.

"I know who the lesbians are!" Grandpa announced suddenly. "You
kids don't have enough experience in the world. But in my wisdom,
gained from a long life of spiritual enrichment, I can safely say that
all four of them... except for Rei... are involved in a triangle of
ecstasy."

"Um, I don't think that's very likely," Naru said.

"Yeah," Shingo agreed, "and besides, Usagi said there were only
two of them, and they were committed to each other."

"Oh," Grandpa said, disappointed.

"Minako-san and Rei-san are really getting into that racing
game," Umino observed. "But, I'm sure that means nothing!" he
clarified after a low growl from Yuuichiro.

"Does anyone see anything for sure?" Shingo asked. "We might be
wasting our time here. They're not going to do anything out in public,
after all."

"We just have to pay careful attention," Umino replied, leaning
closer to the window. "I can tell all the signs from those shoujo
manga... um, Naru reads."

Naru rolled her eyes but did not have a chance to comment,
because at that point a handsome, blonde man walked out of the arcade,
strode up to the motley group, and cleared his throat. "Excuse me," he
said, "I don't know what you're doing, but you're scaring the
customers. You're going to have to leave."

A general cry of protest went up among the group, but Shingo
secretly breathed a sigh of relief; this was his way out.

However, he was not fully in control of the situation, and some
of his companions would not give up without a fight. Grandpa sidled up
to the arcade employee and poked him in the chest. "Don't boss around
your elders, kid! We're on an important mission!"

"Yeah, Motoki-san," Umino grunted. "This is bigger than you.
It's bigger than me. It's bigger than all of us!"

"What are you talking about?" Motoki asked, confused.

Grandpa grinned and put his arm around Motoki's waist, not as a
gesture of affection, but simply because that was as high as he could
reach. "Do you know those four girls in there?" he asked, indicating
the suspected lesbians, who, luckily, were too engrossed in their games
(and in Ami's case, a book) to notice the shenanigans outside.

"Yeah, I know them," Motoki answered, a bit suspicious. "Are
they in trouble?"

"Not really," Grandpa replied. "You see, we've come into some
startling information regarding them."

"What do you mean, startling information?"

Grandpa just grinned, apparently too startled to answer. Shingo
butted in helpfully. "Two of them are dating each other," he
explained. "But we don't know which ones."

Motoki blinked. "That's... well, that's none of my business, is
it? That's just... it's not polite... two of them are REALLY dating?
Are you sure?"

"Positive," Shingo said. "Usagi said so."

"Wow." Motoki stared in the window, suddenly entranced by the
sight of Makoto and Rei shoving each other as they competed at the
newest Sailor V game. He blinked and refocused. "Well, still, it's
very rude to just spy on them, and you're bothering the other customers
and... wait, aren't they a little old for that? I mean, if they're in
high school and seeing girls, then..."

"Then it's the real thing, yes," Umino interrupted. "That's what
makes it such great gossip."

"Wow."

They all just stood in the middle of the sidewalk, watching the
girls play their games. After a few moments, Yuuichiro turned to
Motoki. "Rei's not one of 'em!" he announced threateningly.

Motoki looked back at him. "All right."

"Good. Just wanted to get that straight."

Motoki nodded and both men resumed their vigil. They all stood
in silence for a while.

"You know, it's really kind of sweet," Naru said eventually.
"I'd always wondered why they didn't have boyfriends. This explains
two of them, at least."

"Yeah, it's brave," Grandpa agreed. "Fighting society! Standing
tall! Making out in their underwear! It's enough to make you cry."

All of them were quite disturbed, but luckily had no time to
dwell on it. The four girls were on the move. "They're coming out!"
Umino shouted. "Hide!"

The next few minutes were too frantic and madcap to describe
adequately, but essentially, all six of them attempted to hide behind
the same public mailbox, which ended up on its side with Grandpa inside
of it.

After they had fished him out, they took stock of their
surroundings. "Where did they go?" Naru asked.

"Probably upstairs," Motoki answered. "They usually go up to the
cafe after the arcade."

"What are we waiting for?!" Yuuichiro bellowed. "After them!"

"Wait!" The group halted and looked back at Shingo, small but
clearly in charge. "This is ridiculous," he said, exasperated. "I
want to find out just as much as the rest of you, but we're not going
to do it this way."

"He's right," Motoki agreed. "I mean, they're obviously private
about it. It's not like they're going to just start kissing in the
middle of the restaurant." This image nearly caused Grandpa to faint,
but everyone ignored him.

"Yeah," Naru said. "They might be giving off 'signals' or
something, but none of us knows what to look for."

Shingo nodded. "Exactly. So why don't we all just go home,
huh?"

"But we can't give up yet!" Grandpa protested, though the rest of
the group seemed ready to let common sense prevail. However, just
when they all began to disperse, Umino gave a cry of excitement.

"I think I see the solution to our problem," he said, pointing at
two women window-shopping across the street.

"Umino, don't bother them..." Naru started to say, but her
boyfriend was already gone. "They're gonna kill him," she muttered
sadly.

Shingo took a closer look at the couple Umino was approaching,
and for the first time began to doubt his previous belief that Usagi's
friends were the most beautiful people in the world. They were both
women: one tall, athletic, gorgeous in a vaguely masculine but clearly
female way. The other was indescribably glamorous and radiant, with
wavy aqua hair. Shingo felt a bit light-headed.


Umino approached the two women. "Excuse me!" he greeted
cheerfully.

They turned around and looked at him, bemused. "Yes?" the tall
one asked.

"Now, I'm sorry if I've got you wrong," Umino said, "but would
the two of you happen to be... homosexuals?"

They just looked at him, too bemused to even blink. "Excuse me?"

Umino flinched, but did not back down. "Because, if you are, my
friends and I need your help. We need someone with 'gaydar.'"

The two women looked at the nerdy boy staring creepily at them,
then glanced at each other. "What do you think?" the tall one asked.

Her girlfriend shrugged. "Should be amusing, at least."

The tall one nodded and looked back at Umino. "All right, we're
homosexuals."

"Hooray!" Umino shouted.







They were lucky for two reasons: the cafe was fairly crowded, and
the four girls were sitting in a booth against the far wall. Haruka
and Michiru assuredly claimed a large table around the corner. The
rest of the group followed.

"But we can't see them from here!" Umino whined, much to Naru's
embarrassment.

"Yes, and they can't see us," Haruka explained calmly.

"Ahh, see, that's smart!" Grandpa said, sitting down at the
table. "See, this is what we've needed the whole time. They're smart
AND they're lesbians!"

As always when Grandpa made an unsolicited remark, no one chose
to comment. Instead, Shingo spoke up. "If we can't see them, then
what's the point?"

"We can get my sister to help." Motoki said. "She works here."

"Good idea!" Umino enthused. "With her and our secret weapons,
we're sure to find out who the lesbians are!"

Haruka grinned and leaned close to her girlfriend. "Do you hear
that, Michiru? We're secret weapons."

Michiru smiled coyly at Haruka, but wisely chose not to extend
the flirtation with a dirty old man watching. Instead, she regarded
the group as a whole. "I must say, I'm surprised by your news," she
said.

"But now that you know, you can tell us what to look for, right?"
Umino asked.

"Oh, sure, we're good at that!" Haruka replied confidently. She
indicated the perky, red-haired waitress approaching their table.
"See, I can tell instantly that's she's NOT a lesbian."

"Ooh, very impressive," Yuuichiro remarked, amazed, and there was
even some light applause from around the table. Haruka shrugged
modestly.

Oblivious, the waitress came up to them and smiled widely. "Good
afternoon!" she greeted cheerfully. "Hi, Motoki."

"Hi, Unazuki. We need your help."

"We're on a secret mission!" Umino added.

"Wow, a secret mission!" Unazuki said, genuinely impressed. "How
can I help?"

Everyone looked expectantly at the in-house lesbian experts.
Haruka coughed. "Okay, um, do you know those four high school girls at
the booth over there?"

"Sure!" Unazuki replied. "They're friends of mine."

"Okay, good!" Haruka seemed uncharacteristically unnerved by the
spotlight. "Well, when you go and wait on them again, could you please
look to see if any of them are... uh, holding hands? Or, um, kissing?
Or anything along those lines?"

Unazuki blinked. "Okay." She looked up at her brother and
raised an eyebrow. "Motoki, what's this about?"

"It's a secret?" he offered lamely.

Unazuki was obviously not satisfied by this answer, so Shingo
stepped in. "Two of them are dating each other, but we don't know
which ones."

"Really?" Unazuki scrunched her forehead and leaned forward
inquisitively. "Wow, they do such a good job of hiding it. I never
would have known."

Grandpa, who was sitting nearby, reached his hand up, but
Yuuichiro quickly smacked it back down. Unazuki thankfully did not
notice. "How long have they been together, whoever they are?" she
asked.

"We don't know," Shingo replied, wondering how a fourteen year-
old was somehow the most responsible member of this group. "But
apparently, they're very committed to each other."

Unazuki sighed. "It's so sweet, even though it's totally weird!"
she squealed. "Okay, I'll be your infiltrator!" She took out her
notepad. "Oh, but let me get your order first, okay?"

"Um.." Shingo looked around the table and saw everyone staring
at him blankly. "I think we all just want water, actually."

"Eight waters," Unazuki confirmed, writing on her pad. She
looked up, beaming. "Okay! I'll get your waters, but it's just to
hide the fact that I'm really a spy!" She merrily skipped away.

Everyone at the table looked at Motoki for some sort of
explanation. "I think she was really bored before we came in," he
said.

Everyone nodded, and then Umino glared at Haruka. "Holding hands
or kissing?! That's awful!"

Haruka shrugged. "I have to admit, I'm not quite as good at this
as you might expect." She chuckled to Michiru. "Elza was always a lot
better at that kind of thing as we were, remember?"

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Grandpa bellowed. "Call this
'Elza' person and get her over here!"

"We can't, she's training sixteen hours a day for the Olympics,"
Haruka said. "Although... the last time we saw her, I do remember her
making a comment about those girls."

"Oh yes," Michiru said. "Something about Makoto-chan and Minako-
chan, wasn't it? Although that might have been wishful thinking on her
part."

"Mmmm, yes," Grandpa mused. "Yes, Aino and Kino. That's a
theory the kid and I have kicked around since the beginning. It makes
sense from a lot of different angles."

"I don't know," Naru murmured, shrugging. "I can't see Minako-
chan being like that... hmm." She looked up at Haruka and Michiru.
"Even though you can't recognize the signs, do you have any ideas of
who it could be?"

Haruka rubbed her chin, deep in thought. "Well, this doesn't
directly relate to the subject at hand, but I've always suspected Rei-
san has feelings for that Usagi girl."

Yuuichiro froze and let out a high-pitched choking sound. The
others chose to ignore him.

"You think so too?" Michiru asked. "I thought I was the only
one."

Yuuichiro moaned softly, eyes beginning to bug out of his head.

"Actually, I noticed that a while ago," Naru confirmed. "I
thought I was imagining things, though."

Yuuichiro's face smacked against the table and rested there,
inert. "Oh, my," Michiru said, worried. "Is he all right?"

"He's fine," Shingo said, trying not to shudder at the thought of
his own sister with another girl. "But Usagi said she wasn't one of
them."

"Oh, I know," Haruka replied. "But it's not a difficult scenario
to imagine... Rei, heartbroken and rejected, turning to the nearest
source of comfort."

"I'M THE NEAREST SOURCE OF COMFORT!" Yuuichiro suddenly shouted,
whipping his head up from the table and drawing quite a few stares from
around the room. "If she turned to anyone, she'd turn to me, if she
had those feelings, which she doesn't and if she got rejected, which
she wouldn't, since no one would ever reject her since she's so
perfect, so stop saying things like that about her!"

Everyone at the table but Yuuichiro and Michiru (who was too
dignified) felt the familiar cold, wet sweat dripping down the backs of
their heads. The cafe busboy saw this, annoyed, since he was the one
that would have to wipe it all up off the floor when they left.

"Yuuichiro," Grandpa said warily, "I've let this go on for years,
and you're a great help around the temple, but enough's enough. Why
can't you just give up on my granddaughter?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Yuuichiro snapped. "I can't give up,
she's too important to me! Besides, once I finish that song and play
it for her, she'll know how I really feel."

"You mean that thing I hear you practicing all the time? What's
it called, 'Love Burns My Brain'?"

"It's 'Love Scalds My Brain' and you know it!"

"Um, please don't yell," Shingo said timidly. "We don't want
them finding us."

"Yeah," Naru said. "And besides, if it's that important, he
shouldn't just give up. Not if he really loves her."

Michiru nodded soberly. "Listen to Naru-chan; she's an expert on
love. In fact, she's won contests on the subject."

Naru blushed. "Thank you, Kaiou-san."

"So, anyway, back to the subject at hand," Shingo said. "If that
did play out, then she'd probably turn to Aino-san, right? Since she
and Usagi look so much alike."

"I'm not sure that's plausible," Michiru replied thoughtfully.
"Rei-chan and Minako-chan might have complimentary personalities, but
the physicality of it would be a logistical disaster."

"That's true," Haruka agreed. "All that hair? They'd get out of
bed in the morning with their heads tied together in a series of
intricate knots."

"I still think it's Mizuno and Kino," Yuuichiro said.

"Me too," Umino agreed. "They fit well together."

They all nodded, considering the possibilities. "Ami-san is the
only one that's never flirted with me," Motoki pointed out. Everyone
looked at him, most raising eyebrows. "Well, it's true!" he added
defensively. "I'm not bragging, it's just the way it is!"

There was a very awkward pause, and then Naru spoke up. "Well,
regardless, I think..."

"It's not like I encourage them!" Motoki interrupted, blushing.
"I mean, they're underage! I hate it when they flirt with me! I tell
them to stop, but they won't!"

"Okay, we believe you," Shingo said warily.

"I have a girlfriend!" Motoki near-shouted. "We love each other
very much!"

"All right, son!" Grandpa said. "You're loyal and stalwart.
We're all proud of you."

"Well, thank you."

Haruka subtly rolled her eyes. "It doesn't matter anyway. I'm a
girl, and Ami-chan is the only one that's never flirted with me."

"Yes, but most of the time, you look just like a man," Naru
pointed out.

Michiru smiled mischievously. "Trust me, there are certain
conditions where it's quite obvious she's a woman."

Response to the double-entendre varied. Naru, Shingo, and Motoki
blushed, Umino and Grandpa grinned toothily, and Yuuichiro was not
bright enough to figure out exactly what Michiru was talking about.
Haruka looked over at her girlfriend, still smiling pleasantly. "Very
cute, Michiru, but not here," she whispered.

A few moments passed awkwardly, and then Grandpa spoke up again.
"So, does everyone agree we should keep an eye on Mizuno and Kino?"

"I'm not sure," Umino said. "Minako-chan and Makoto-chan are
good friends."

"It's hard to tell," Motoki mused. "Makoto-san is very
protective of all of them."

"Okay, it looks like we're getting somewhere," Shingo said. "Can
we all agree that Kino-san is probably one of them?"

Everyone seemed to nod vaguely, but Haruka spoke up. "I don't
think she is."

"You don't?" Even Michiru seemed a bit surprised. "But she was
the only one that didn't seem very bothered that you weren't a man."

"Yes," Haruka said, "she wasn't upset, but that doesn't mean she
liked it. She's also by far the most mature of all of them."
Yuuichiro growled, so she quickly rolled her eyes and amended: "Except
for Rei, who's mature and wonderful and perfect in all ways."

Yuuichiro nodded, satisfied. "That's better." He suddenly
frowned. "Wait, what did you mean by that?!"

"Well, one thing's for sure," Michiru said quickly, before Haruka
could further accidentally antagonize Yuuichiro. "If any of them are
lesbians, they'd surely be attracted to Ami-chan, right?"

"Why do you say that?" Motoki asked.

"Because Ami-chan is so pretty," Michiru replied.

Everyone at the table looked at her strangely, especially Haruka.
"Um, all of them are PRETTY, Michiru dear."

Michiru blinked, clearly surprised. "You don't think Ami-chan is
the prettiest? She has such lovely hair and sparkling eyes and long,
sexy legs..." She trailed off as everyone kept looking at her
strangely. "Did I say something wrong?"

Haruka glared at her, eyes narrowed. "Michiru, would you
accompany me to the ladies' room, please?"

Michiru blinked, then smiled sweetly. "Why, Haruka, are you
jealous?"

"Of course not!" She crossed her arms and began pouting coolly,
a skill possessed only by her and American actor John Cusack.

Michiru shrugged at her companions. "She gets jealous
sometimes," she explained prettily.

No one else at the table knew why, but they were deeply disturbed
by the scene before them. Luckily the awkwardness was interrupted by
the return of the group's secret agent, looking dejected and carrying a
tray full of water glasses.

"Hey, how did it go?" Motoki asked.

Unazuki sighed. "Well, I did what you said, and I couldn't see
anything. Then they saw me staring at them and asked what was wrong,
and I couldn't think of an answer, so I just kinda walked away."

Haruka smoothly clasped Unazuki's hand in her own and looked deep
into her eyes. "That's all right, you tried," she purred. Unazuki
blushed. Michiru looked away and pretended she did not know either of
them.

"Hey!" Motoki interjected. "Don't do that to my sister!"

Haruka glared at Motoki. "Shouldn't you be WORKING?"

"I'm on a cigarette break," he replied defensively.

Unfortunately for the would-be Casanova, the interruption was
enough for Unazuki to gather herself and pull her hand away from
Haruka. "Anyway, I'm sorry I couldn't help," she said. "I gave them
their check, too, so they're about to leave."

"Thanks for trying," Motoki said.

Unazuki smiled brightly. "Let me know what you find out, okay?"
She waved cheerfully and trotted off into the kitchen. Haruka made a
big show of watching her go, and Michiru made a big show of not caring.

"So, where do you think they'll go now?" Umino asked.

"The park, probably," Shingo replied. "They go on walks there."

"Well, let's get to it," Grandpa said. "This is hard work, but
it's worth it, huh?"

There was very unenthusiastic agreement to his comment, but they
all got up and left, leaving eight untouched glasses of water behind.





As they strolled down the sidewalk towards the park, the intrepid
team began to lose some of its earlier enthusiasm. Outwardly, Haruka
seemed utterly cool and Michiru purely charming, but the tension
between them was palpable.

With dismay, Shingo suddenly realized that even the things that
seemed to make sense were more complex than he could understand. The
subjects of his curiosity might have more to their relationship than
simply kissing and fondling: they argued, they got angry, and worst of
all, they probably acted just like his sister and her boyfriend.

Also, Grandpa was beginning to really get on his nerves.

Besides the old man's vaguely pornographic chatter, they all
walked in silence. It was only interrupted once, when Umino
complimented Motoki on his apron.

"Thanks," Motoki had said. "I made it myself."

"Oh," Umino had replied.

Besides that high note, the walk was tedious and uncomfortable.
Luckily, things picked up when they got to the park and two nearby
people, a beautiful woman and cute young girl, saw the group and waved.

Haruka and Michiru waved back, and approached them. "I was
beginning to think you'd forgotten to meet us," the woman said, the
barest tint of annoyance in her voice.

Michiru frowned. "Oh, Setsuna, Hotaru! Are we late? What time
is it?"

"It's 5:34," Setsuna replied instantly, though she was one of the
few people nearby not wearing a wristwatch.

Michiru bowed apologetically. "I'm sorry, we lost track of time.
It seems..." she leaned closer and whispered something. "Did you know
about this?" she asked at normal volume.

"Well, I'm not allowed to divulge that kind of information, am
I?" Setsuna replied coyly. "What do you think, Hotaru?"

The girl blushed, obviously embarrassed by the topic. "I dunno,"
she said nervously. "It's, um, nice they found someone, whoever they
are."

"I agree," Setsuna said. "Do you mind if we tag along?"

"Of course not," Michiru said. "But, you should know, there's a
small man standing behind you."

Setsuna turned around to find Grandpa there, smiling widely.
"Hello!" he said.

Setsuna blinked, which was perhaps the most violent expression of
emotion she had displayed for years. Realizing the urgent danger,
Michiru took Hotaru by the arm. "Come on, let's get away from the...
friendly man," she said, pulling her toward the rest of the group,
waiting impatiently at the edge of the park. "See that boy over there?
He's nice and looks about your age. Why don't you go talk to him?"

Though Setsuna was quite grateful Hotaru was no longer subject to
this odd man's influence, she was still quite wary. "Oh well," she
thought. "Better me than Hotaru."

Grandpa leaned close, put his hand around her waist, and began
walking with her into the park. "Miss, you look like the kind of busy
professional that sadly neglects the spiritual side of life..."





Shingo was a bit annoyed at the delay; he did not want to lose
the goddesses in the park. However, as soon as he got a good look at
the two new people joining the group, he had a hard time getting too
upset about it. Especially when the younger of the two quickly caught
up with him and smiled shyly.

"Hi!" she said, matching his walking speed. "I'm Hotaru. What's
your name?"

"Um, Shingo. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you, too."

Shingo tried to keep himself from blushing; this was indeed a
very pretty girl. "So, um, you know Kaiou-san?"

"Mm-hmm! I live with her and Haruka-papa."

Shingo nodded, then her real meaning hit him. "Oh! So, you're,
like, their daughter?"

Hotaru nodded. "Kind of."

"Oh. I hope you're not offended by what we're doing, then. You
know, trying to find out who else is... like that."

"Oh, not at all," Hotaru said. "I want to know, too. It's none
of my business, but I don't want them to have to hide it. I mean, not
if they... if they love each other."

Shingo nodded. "That's a good point. Kinda noble."

Hotaru smiled gratefully.





Michiru walked a few steps behind, pleased by the way the
adolescents were hitting it off. She had her own doubts about her
"daughter", but Usagi's brother seemed like a level-headed young man,
even if he had somehow gotten caught up in this nonsense. She smiled
to herself; Hotaru could do much worse.

"Kaiou-san?"

Michiru blinked, and turned to see Naru timidly walking to catch
up with her. "Please, call me Michiru."

"Michiru-san." Naru smiled softly, still obviously intimidated
by her companion's grace. "Um, I just wanted to say something to you
while Umino is, um, busy." She pointed behind her, where her boyfriend
was arguing with Yuuichiro and Motoki about Kino's masculinity.

"I see," Michiru said. "So, what did you want to talk about?"

"Well, um, in the cafe, you mentioned that love contest from a
couple of years ago, remember?"

Michiru nodded. "Of course I remember. Congratulations for
winning, by the way."

"Thank you," Naru murmured. "Actually, I just wanted to thank
you for backing out of the contest when you did. We would never have
won if you hadn't."

"Oh, don't be silly," Michiru replied. "That was just a game to
Haruka and me, but we could tell how important it was to you."

Naru blushed. "Yes, well, we love each other very much, but
sometimes Umino has a hard time expressing it."

"I'm envious of your devotion," Michiru admitted. "Haruka and I
love each other, but our feelings aren't as innocent. It's a more...
complicated kind of love."

"Oh."

"Don't misunderstand me," Michiru said sweetly. "We're deeply
committed to each other, but it's not pure like you and Umino-san."

Naru nodded timidly. "Thank you very much. But, you're so
grown-up. Sometimes I feel like we don't understand the way it should
be. Isn't that what being an adult means? Realizing things can't be
as pure and simple as you want?"

"Maybe so," Michiru said thoughtfully. "But some people really
can live the life they wanted when they were a little girl. Don't give
up, Naru-san. Just because Haruka and I can't be blushing brides,
doesn't mean you can't."

Naru looked at Michiru in surprise. "You mean you wanted to be a
bride when you were younger?"

"Actually, I didn't. Haruka, on the other hand..."

Naru gaped in surprise. "Really?"

"When she was very young. She would wear long curtains and carry
flowers around her house. But don't let her know I told you, all
right? She would be mortified."

"Oh, of course," Naru giggled. She looked like she was going to
say something more, but a strong hand suddenly slipped around her
shoulders. Shocked, she looked up to see Haruka walking close to her,
pretending to grin confidently in her direction but really glaring at
Michiru.

"Hello," Haruka whispered erotically. "What're two such lovely
ladies talking about, hmm?"

Naru blanched. "Um... nothing."

Haruka nodded. "Well, it's too bad Michiru is monopolizing your
time like this. You're very pretty. Almost as pretty as dear Ami-
chan."

Michiru did her best to ignore her girlfriend, which was fine for
her, but left Naru in a predicament. She frantically looked around the
group for help, but Umino was utterly consumed in his debate (he
claimed to have "evidence" for a Makoto/Ami romance).

Naru sighed as Haruka pulled her closer, murmuring sensually into
her ear.



`
Setsuna saw the poor girl's trouble, but was too busy with a
similar problem to intervene. Grandpa's hands were ridiculously quick
from years of practice (she did not wish to consider what, exactly, he
had been practicing all those years), so it was all she could do to
keep him from touching her inappropriately.

"I really think you should come with me back to the temple," he
was saying. "So we can... meditate."

The urge to shudder was nearly uncontrollable, but Setsuna
managed to control herself. "I'm very flattered," she said cautiously,
"but it could never work out between us. I'm afraid the age difference
is insurmountable..."

"Tut tut, my dear," Grandpa interrupted. "You're as mature as
you are beautiful."

Setsuna slapped away his hand again and glowered invisibly. Not
many things bothered her, but unwelcome sexual attention (which was any
sexual attention at all, actually) came close. She briefly considered
praying for escape, but she was actually older than the concept of
religion by a few thousand years, and she realized the gods, if they
exist, would surely favor the priest over her.

However, miraculously, she received an excuse. "Meow?"

Setsuna looked down to see two cats, one black, one white,
padding along next to her, looking up curiously. "Well!" Setsuna
exclaimed. "What are you doing so far from home?"

"Meow."

"I see, yes." Setsuna allowed herself a slight grin. "Well,
we're busy trying to find out which of those four girls up ahead are
dating each other."

"MEOW?!!"

Setsuna put on an alarmed expression as she watched the cats
spasm on the ground next to her. "Oh my!" she exclaimed, smacking
Grandpa's hand away one last time. "Something has upset them! I'd
better take them to their owners." With that, she scooped them up and
walked away, leaving grandpa too bewildered to think of an excuse to
follow.



"Thank you," Setsuna whispered as she walked away from the old
man.

"What, what were talking about back there?" Artemis asked, with
the tone of someone in the "denial" stage of grief.

"I don't know, myself," Setsuna replied. "It's just the rumor
that's going around."

"You're from the future!" Luna hissed. "You can't convince us
you don't know!"

Artemis moaned lightly. "Is... is it Minako?"

"I honestly don't know. It's not the kind of thing I pay
attention to."

"I bet it's Rei and Ami," Luna mused.

"No, no, it's Makoto and Ami," Artemis argued. "Though... I have
to admit, I have my doubts about Minako. I'm not sure she could go all
this time without a boyfriend if she REALLY wanted one."

"Maybe Rei and Makoto."

"Yeah, I can see that."

Setsuna growled internally. Gossip was almost as bad as
flirtation, and Artemis seemed to enjoy being in her arms a little more
than he should. She wasn't sure which was worse, the cats' prattling
or the old man's twiddling.

She was relieved when she heard approaching footsteps and soon
found Michiru walking in step with her. "Luna, Artemis," she greeted
dejectedly. The cats nodded back to her.

"How's Haruka?" Setsuna asked. "Still bothering that poor red-
haired girl?"

Michiru gave an exasperated sigh. "No, her boyfriend finally
noticed what was going on. I just don't understand why Haruka is
acting like this!"

"What prompted it?"

"Barely anything. I just happened to mention that I thought Ami-
chan was attractive."

Setsuna gave her a dry look. "Really."

"Yes," Michiru said, "but I don't have to defend myself about
that! Ami-chan IS beautiful, I can't help noticing. I'd never act on
it! I know for a fact Haruka is attracted to other girls, and it
doesn't bother me."

"Forgive me," Luna said hesitantly, "I know it's none of my
business. But perhaps Haruka is reacting to the fact that you notice
Ami-chan specifically."

"I don't see why," Michiru replied. "She likes Ami-chan."

Setsuna sighed. "She means, it's interesting that of all the
girls you could find attractive, you happen to choose a blue-eyed,
blue-haired genius that likes to swim."

Michiru blinked. "I don't follow you."

"Michiru, who else do you know is a blue-eyed, blue-haired genius
that likes to swim?"

"I don't... oh." The epitome of grace that she was, Michiru
refused to let herself facefault, but the urge was nearly overpowering.
"Oh, dear. This is rather disturbing."

Setsuna shrugged. "There's a reason your talisman was a mirror,"
she remarked, deadpan.

"That's not funny, 'Puu'."

"Don't worry about it," Setsuna said, not missing a beat. "Just
smile prettily and she'll revert back to doing whatever you tell her."

"That's not funny either." Michiru pouted for a moment, then
grinned slyly. "I'm surprised you're not in a better mood, you finally
found someone as old as you are."

Luna snickered. Setsuna glared down at the cat and then at the
young woman next to her. "That's not funny."






Naru was so glad Umino was her boyfriend. He was such a
romantic; when he noticed her straits, he swooped in, like Zorro except
awkward and bumbling, and demanded his girlfriend be freed.
Fortunately for his health, Haruka had given up without a fight and
just walked glumly away.

Naru rested her head against Umino's shoulder. "Thanks for your
help," she said as they walked comfortably along.

"I'll always fight for your honor!" he declared.

Naru smiled and squeezed his hand. "You're so brave."

"Yeah." They walked in silence. "Oh, right," Umino said after a
few moments, "have I told you my theory about Makoto-san and Ami-san?
See, the key is, you don't look at what they DO when they're around
each other, but rather what they DON'T do. See..."





Shingo was so engrossed in his conversation with Hotaru, he
almost forgot why he was in the park in the first place. Thus, he was
very surprised when she suddenly grabbed his arm and ducked into some
nearby bushes.

"There they are!" she hissed, pointing to a nearby open section
of the park. "See? Over there!"

Shingo blinked, realizing that Hotaru's physical contact was
making him blush. "Oh, right," he stammered, finally noticing the four
girls sitting on a nearby park bench.

Hotaru tittered lightly. "This is exciting, I feel like a secret
agent."

Shingo grinned. "Yeah, me too." They smiled at each other, but
before anything else could happen, the rest of the group caught up with
them.

Grandpa and Yuuichiro ducked into the bushes as soon as they saw
the girls, but the rest of the group decided that was overkill. "See
anything?" Umino asked.

"Kino-san and Aino-san are sitting very close together," Shingo
said. He glanced back at the group. "But I doubt that means anyth...
hey, what's Luna doing here?"

"She and Minako-san's cat were following us," Setsuna answered.

Haruka grinned and swaggered up to her. "How smart of them!" she
said loudly. She took Luna and began rubbing between the cat's ears,
glancing subtly at Michiru as she did so. "Such a pretty cat," she
said huskily, as Luna turned to a semi-liquid in her arms. The rest of
the group watched her with a mixture of disgust, horror, and
fascination.

Michiru closed her eyes and snorted in frustration. "Okay,
Haruka, that's enough," she grumbled, grabbing her girlfriend by the
arm and pulling her away from the rest of the group. Haruka was so
startled she dropped Luna, who fell to the ground with a shriek.

Shingo bent down and patted the dazed cat. "Oh, are you okay,
Luna? Was that strange lady treating you badly?" Hotaru chuckled and
knelt down next to him, scratching behind Luna's ear. For her part,
the cat moaned softly and relishingly accepted the attention.

Setsuna placed Artemis on the ground and bent over the
youngsters. "Is she all right?"

"She's fine," Shingo said. "She's a tough cat; been through
worse."

"Good, I'd be very angry with Haruka if she..." Setsuna suddenly
trailed off. Her forehead creased slightly, which, on the scale of
emotional expressiveness, was as extreme for her as a high-pitched,
prolonged scream would be for most people. "Hotaru?" she said dryly.
"Could you please tell me there is NOT a small man lifting up my skirt
from behind?"

Hotaru looked. "Um, I'm sorry, Setsuna-mama, I'd have to lie."

Setsuna closed her eyes, fighting the strong urge to stop time,
move Grandpa so that he was grabbing Yuuichiro's posterior instead, and
then sit back and watch the fun. However, the responsible part of her
nature won out, and she simply stood up and spun to look at the old
man. He dropped her skirt and skittered away.

Setsuna shook her head, then turned to her faux-daughter.
"Hotaru, this has been a pleasant outing, but I think it's time to go
now, all right?"

Hotaru looked up with wide, adorable eyes. "Do I have to? I
want to stay with Shingo-kun."

Setsuna thought for a moment, then nodded. "All right. But
don't go anywhere that Haruka and Michiru don't know where you are,
okay?"

"They're acting weird today," Hotaru said, frowning. "Haruka-
papa was flirting with Usagi-chan's cat, and I didn't like it."

"Yes, I know, they're in a strange mood, but they'll make up
soon. Be back in time for dinner tonight, all right?"

"I will, Setsuna-mama!"

Setsuna smiled at both of them and then smoothly made her escape.
Shingo looked at Hotaru curiously. "So, she's your mother, too?"

"Yep! Well, she lives with us."

"Uh huh," Shingo said dubiously. "So... all THREE of them
are..."

"Don't be silly!" Hotaru exclaimed. "Haruka-papa and Michiru-
mama love each other very much, they wouldn't do things like that."

A sharp slapping sound surprised them, and they looked to see
Hotaru's "parents" standing a few meters away, Michiru pouting crossly
and Haruka holding her newly red cheek. They did not halt their
furious, whispered argument.

Hotaru watched them with dismay, so Shingo, in an
uncharacteristic fit of empathy, placed his hand over hers. "Don't
worry. Setsuna-san said they'd work it out, and she knows what she's
talking about."

Hotaru smiled gratefully. "You're right. I'm glad I met you
today, Shingo-kun."





Setsuna strolled through the park, a bit concerned for Haruka and
Michiru but mainly glad to be away from the frightening old man. She
was glad Hotaru made a new friend, but the boy's mission was so
childish. Setsuna could not imagine why anyone would care who was
homosexual and who was not.

...Though, she had to admit, she had her suspicions about Minako.
After all, the girl had a crush on YATEN, who was not exactly the most
masculine transsexual in the universe.

"Setsuna-san!"

The familiar voice shot through her musings, and she turned to
see the shining blue eyes and loping stride of Tsukino Usagi. Mamoru
walked beside her; they were clearly on a date.

"Good afternoon," Setsuna said, bowing politely.

They returned the gesture. "I haven't seen you for a while!"
Usagi said enthusiastically. "So, what brings you to the park today?"

Setsuna looked at her, and allowed herself a slight grin. "Well,
if you want the honest truth..."






The rest of the group had more important things to care about.
Yuuichiro, Motoki, Grandpa, and Umino huddled in the bushes. Naru
stood nearby, a cat on each shoulder. They all watched the four girls
intently. "You see that?" Yuuichiro said, pointing. "You see how Rei
is sitting a few centimeters farther away from Aino than Kino is?"

"Um, I guess so," Motoki replied, clearly lying.

"She's always farther away from them than the others are from
each other," Yuuichiro said triumphantly. "As a matter of fact, I
don't think she's touched any of them all day! I bet she doesn't even
LIKE them, and she's just keeping them around because they amuse her."

"That's an interesting theory," Naru said, also clearly lying.

"I still think it's Minako-san and Makoto-san," Motoki said.

"No, I bet it's Ami-chan and Mako-chan," a voice behind them
remarked. "Minako-chan would never be like that."

"That's what I keep saying," Naru said, turning to look at the
speaker. "But no one will..." She trailed off when she saw the
familiar blue eyes and bouncing pigtails.

"Hi, Naru-chan!" Usagi said cheerfully. "Boy, this is weird,
huh? I never would have guessed any of them would be like that! But
if they're happy together, that's the most important thing, right?"

Everyone in the group gaped at Usagi. Mamoru stood behind her,
uncomfortably. "Hi, Motoki," he said.

"Hi," replied Motoki, then he resumed gaping at Usagi.

"Shouldn't you know for sure who it is?" Umino asked.

Usagi looked at him, confused. "No! I just heard about it for
the first time from Setsuna-san."

"That's odd," Yuuichiro said. "Your brother said you knew
already!"

Usagi stared at him, bemused. "My what said what?"

Yuuichiro just pointed to a nearby patch of grass, where Shingo
and Hotaru were talking pleasantly. Usagi stomped right up to them.
"Shingo!" she bellowed, "What's going on?!"

"Usagi!" Shingo shrieked, backing away from his sister in fear.
"What are you doing here?!"

"I'm on a date with my boyfriend," Usagi replied icily. "What
are YOU doing here?"

Shingo cringed at his sister's tone. "Well, um, last night you
said two of your friends were... were dating each other, and I wanted
to know who they were."

Usagi looked at him like he was an idiot. "I was talking about
THEM!" she shouted, pointing at Haruka and Michiru, who were semi-
hidden behind a nearby tree, making up.

"Oh," Shingo said, trying not to gawk. "See, I didn't know you
knew them."

The rest of the group gave a collective sound of understanding
and disappointment, except for Grandpa, who had passed out when he saw
what Haruka and Michiru were doing.

"I already knew THEY were dating," Umino said dejectedly. "So
much for good gossip."

"I can't believe you were spying on my friends!" Usagi shouted at
her cowering brother. "What's the matter with you?!"

"Ahem."

The group turned slowly toward the voice. Four girls stood
there, each with raised eyebrows and unamused expressions.

"Now," Makoto said, "who, exactly, was spying on us?"

Everyone looked at Shingo, who panicked and pointed at the
comatose priest. "It was the old man's idea!"

Rei rolled her eyes. "I should have known," she muttered.
"Yuuichiro!" she shouted suddenly to the startled young man. "Take
grandpa home! I need to have a talk with both of you."

Yuuichiro quickly picked the old man up and skittered away. Rei
stomped after him, fuming.

The remaining three kept looking unsmilingly at Shingo, who hung
his head in shame. "I'm sorry," he said.

Hotaru leapt to his defense. "Don't be mad! He didn't mean any
harm. It just got out of hand."

"Yes," Naru added. "It was like a mob mentality."

Umino nodded sadly. "We got so caught up in finding out who was
a lesbian, we almost lost our humanity."

Everyone looked at him strangely. "Well, I'm not sure I would go
that far," Motoki said, "but we're all very sorry."

"Wow, Motoki-san was watching us all day," Minako whispered to
Ami, who turned scarlet.

Makoto ignored this exchange. "It's okay," she said. "Just
promise you'll never do this again."

They all agreed effusively, and the girls seemed satisfied.
Minako and Makoto latched themselves onto Motoki and dragged him off
somewhere. Ami and Artemis followed timidly.

Shingo looked up at his sister cautiously. "Um, am I forgiven?"

Usagi glared at him. "Yes, you're forgiven, now go home!" she
snapped, and then sighed, collected herself, and went to chat with Naru.
"What's up, Naru-chan? I haven't seen you for a while!"

"Oh, nothing much. Just, umm..." she looked around for a second,
then burst into tears. "Oh, Usagi-chan, it was horrible! The tall
blonde girl kept hitting on me and the old man was a pervert and that
guy from the temple kept screeching and screeching and..."

"Calm down." Usagi patted her back. "You know what you need?"

Naru's eyes shone with hope. "An outlet sale?"

Usagi nodded emphatically. "There's a 20% off sale right now at
Uttuki! Come on, we both deserve it after today."

Umino crossed his arms. "What about me and Mamoru-san?"

Naru turned and grinned at him, "Oh, you're coming with us!"

"Really?"

"Of course, we need someone to carry all the clothes!"

Umino facefaulted. He turned to complain to Mamoru, but he was
already obediently jogging off after the girls. Umino sighed, then
followed suit.





Shingo walked through the park sadly. His plan had been a
disaster from the start, and now his sister and her friends were mad at
him! He kicked a rock. "What an awful day," he muttered.

"Shingo-kun! Wait up!"

Actually, he thought, maybe it wasn't so awful.

Hotaru ran to catch up with him. "Sorry your plan didn't work
out," she said, panting lightly.

He shrugged. "That's all right, I shouldn't have jumped to
conclusions." He sighed. "Everything's so complicated. Sometimes I
think nothing makes sense."

Hotaru nodded. "I think so too, sometimes. Even things that
seem simple end up being completely different than they appear."

"Yeah."

They walked in silence for a few minutes. Eventually Hotaru
turned to him. "I promised Setsuna-mama I'd be home for dinner, but I
wanted to say I really enjoyed spending time with you, Shingo-kun."

Shingo blushed. "Yeah. Um, Hotaru-chan, I was wondering... if
you wanted to do something with me sometime, I'd..."

"Oh, wait!" Hotaru interrupted. "I just realized something!
You're Usagi-san's brother, right?"

Shingo blinked. "Um, yeah."

Hotaru grinned widely. "That means you lived with Chibi-Usa-
chan!" she squealed.

"Yes," Shingo replied emotionlessly. "Chibi-Usa is my cousin."

"Wow." Hotaru blushed deeply. "Um, what was it like living with
her? Chibi-Usa-chan is so cool."

"Chibi-Usa is my cousin," Shingo said, just like before.

Hotaru did not notice the boy's odd behavior. "I hope she comes
back soon," she gushed. "I can't wait to see her again."

Shingo blinked as he came out of his trance and realized what
Hotaru was talking about. "Oh," he said, confused. "Um, me too."

"Do you think she'll be older when she comes back?" Hotaru
continued, oblivious. "Uh, I mean, of course she'll be older! Um, but
you know what I like, is when she smiles and she gets those dimples,
isn't that adorable?"

Shingo looked oddly at Hotaru as she continued to babble. "Oh
well," he thought. "I'll ask her out when she's done talking."

"Chibi-Usa's my cousin," he said out loud.

The two teenagers walked through the park as the sun set behind
them, and the fiery-red brought out the purple in Hotaru's hair. She
looked so beautiful, Shingo could only blush and stammer as she said:

"So, when we get older, you and I will be related, huh?"

Umino blinked. "Huh?"

"Well..." Hotaru blushed and held her face in her hands. "Don't
tell anyone, but someday, when marriage between mamas is legal, me and
Chibi-Usa-chan are going to be wed! Isn't that great?!"

Shingo gaped at her for a moment. "What?"

But Hotaru did not even seem to hear him. "I bet she's really
cute in the mornings," she gushed. "Is she all sleepy at breakfast
time? I hope she comes back soon, don't you? She's so cool and
nice..."

Shingo just sighed and nodded as his shock gave way to
acceptance. For right now, he decided, it was better to let things
stay simple and innocent. A walk with a pretty girl was enough.

Who needed a girlfriend, anyway? The life of a fourteen
year-old boy was complicated enough already.










________
Special thanks to Unagi Eater and Sam Marine.


Extra special thanks to Harmony Cox.