Scene 3: A Walk in the Park

"Hmmm..."

Still dressed in her white miko haori and long pleated red skirt, Hino Rei examined her newly-washed car with a critical eye. Nearby, her fiancee looked on in a damp tee-shirt and faded jeans, the hose of a vacuum cleaner still dangling from one hand. Rei ran a finger along the red painted fender, then took a long moment to inspect the interior of her convertible.

"Well honey? How did I do?" Yuuichirou asked with a self-satisfied grin. "Is it clean, or is it really clean?"

Rei smiled happily back. "Surprisingly good, my love. It looks just like new. You even got all the dust off the inside of the folding top. I don't know what I was thinking to follow baka Minako and her little pumpkin-colored car down a filthy gravel road like that. Now I know what it's like to drive across the Sahara desert during a sandstorm."

Yuuichirou laughed but his grin faded as a familiar voice behind the teen piped up. "If you would only take similar pains to clean the shrine with such care, I wouldn't feel the need to gripe at you nearly so often, Yuuichirou-chan."

"Uh... I try my best, Hino-sensei."

"Hai. I'm sure you do... on those rare occasions when the mood strikes." The old Shinto priest winked at his granddaughter and turned to walk away. He suddenly paused. "Oh. I nearly forgot. While you were attending to our guests earlier, I received a call from the Konpira Jinja regarding the next step in your Shinto studies."

The young man's face brightened with hope. "What did they say? Was I accepted?"

"You were. As you are no doubt aware, this first set of training lasts one week. They'll be expecting you at their shrine on the morning of June tenth."

"Honey, that's wonderful news!" Rei exclaimed, hurrying over to give her boyfriend a joyful hug. Yuuichirou dropped the forgotten hose and held her tightly. A deep, passionate kiss followed, causing her grandfather to look away and clear his throat.

"Would you two mind keeping that sort of behavior for a more suitable place?"

Blushing, Yuuichirou finally thanked his mentor. "Arigatou, Hino-sensei! I really appreciate your recommendation. I don't think I'd ever be accepted into their program without it."

"Yes... well, you can thank me by doing well on the course and returning with as much knowledge and wisdom as you can possibly absorb." The elder man's voice became stern. "Your performance reflects on the Hikawa Jinja and the training I have given you so far. Please do not disappoint us, Yuuichirou-chan."

"I won't!" the teen nodded vigorously. "I promise!"

"Very well." The priest left the couple and reentered the shrine, now closed after a long, busy day.

Yuuichirou beamed at his girl. "My life is really starting to come together, Rei darling! That week of training, plus another week next year, and I'm well on my way." He noticed a sudden twinge of sadness in her deep violet eyes. "Something wrong, honey?"

"I'm going to miss you so much" Rei spoke softly. "A whole week in Shikoku is a long time to be apart from the man I love."

"I'll miss you too, Rei-chan. Terribly! But it's just for a week. I'm sure you can find something to do to pass the time until I get back. Maybe you can spend a couple of days at Mako-chan's house. The summertime is beautiful in the countryside around Nerima."

"I'll try" Rei sighed, pouting. "But it won't be the same without you." The miko's gaze narrowed and now it was her turn to speak sternly. "And while you're away, no looking at other girls!"

"Don't worry, honey. I'll be so busy, I won't have the chance."

"What exactly do you mean by that? Are you saying you would look at other girls if you have the opportunity?"

"Nani? Of course not, my love!" Yuuichirou hastily explained. "My heart belongs to you alone."

"Good. Remember to keep it that way!" Rei's warm, loving smile quickly returned. "How about we put away the vacuum and cleaning stuff and take a romantic walk together in the park?"

"Your wish is my command, sweetheart! I'll take care of these things while you change."

Fifteen minutes later, the young lovers were strolling into the Juuban park together hand-in-hand. Yuuichirou smiled at his girl. "You haven't said much about your night at the haunted house, Rei-chan."

"No. I haven't." Rei leaned her head against his shoulder as they walked. She tactfully changed the subject. "I suppose by now, Minako and Mako-chan are already in Nerima. Heaven forbid Minako has to go a whole weekend without seeing Taro. And Mako-chan is just as bad with Yuji."

"They're quite the pair, aren't they?" Yuuichirou chuckled. "They and their boyfriends are just right for each other. Yuji is a gardening whiz, and Taro can fix nearly everything Minako breaks!"

"All the guys are perfectly matched for us girls" Rei replied, gazing up into his eyes. "Especially... mine."

"There must be something you'd like to change about me, honey" the apprentice asked. "Go ahead. You can tell your old Yuuichirou. My ego can take it."

"Well..." Rei pondered a moment. "You know, I honestly wouldn't change a thing about you, Yuuichirou-chan. I love you just as you are."

Yuuichirou gave the trunk of a ginkgo tree they were walking past a silly grin. "She thinks I'm perfect!"

"I didn't say that!" the miko protested. "But you're more than close enough, lover."

"I'll assume that's a definite yes!" Yuuichirou laughed.

"All we have to do now is finish whipping Usagi into shape as our leader. That's one challenge that I'm sure will take a while."

"She's come a long way in the last year, Rei darling. You all have."

They stopped beside the lake and stood watching the setting sun cast its sparkling glow across the tranquil waters. "Sailor Pluto helped us at the house last night. She left before sunrise, but Usagi said they had a long talk while everyone else was asleep."

"Setsuna-san was there? Did she say anything new about our futures, or about our children?" her fiancee asked hopefully. "I hope our little Akane-chan and the other children are well and happy."

"Our future daughter is fine, honey" Rei reassured him. She suddenly frowned. "Usagi wouldn't go into much detail about their chat but from a few things she mentioned, I have the feeling that we aren't going to end up living routine, normal lives after all."

"That's fine. I always expect as much from having a Sailor Senshi in my life." The teen gathered his raven-haired girlfriend into his embrace. "No matter what happens I'll always be there for you, my beautiful Rei."

"Hai" she whispered softly. "I know."

"I certainly will" Yuuichirou affirmed. "Washing your car, endlessly sweeping the shrine, getting yelled at by your grandfather. I'm so looking forward to lots more of it!" he joked.

"You really do know how to kill the mood!" Rei groaned.

"Who, me? I wouldn't do that! I'm perf-"

Rei muffled his reply with a press of her warm soft lips to his.

. . . . .

Scene 4: Tokyo Night

In Chiba Mamoru's apartment, Usagi peered anxiously at her fiancee across the dining table "Try it and tell me if you like it, Mamo-chan."

"Of course." The first-year university student tentatively raised his chopsticks to sample Usagi's latest curry rice and beef dish. "It certainly looks good. And smells good too. Well, here goes." Remembering the last time Usagi had prepared their evening meal and his following night's intense heartburn, Mamoru cautiously took a small taste. "This isn't bad, Usako. In fact, it's really quite good!" He swallowed and followed up with another larger bite while his blonde girlfriend beamed happily.

"See! I've improved a lot, haven't I?"

Mamoru nodded, pleasantly surprised at the tasty meal she had prepared for them. "You have, Usako. Keep this up and Mako-chan may get worried."

"It isn't that good!" Usagi giggled. "But all compliments about my cooking are very welcome. Especially from you, my future husband." She happily looked down at her left hand to admire her engagement ring and gasped in panic.

"Mamo-chan! My ring is gone!"

Mamoru paused in mid-bite, suddenly sensing a hard lump within his latest mouthful of rice. He discreetly raised a napkin to his lips. "Uh... I think I found it, Usako."

"No! It must have slipped off my finger and into the food somehow!" the blonde wailed. "Oh Mamo-chan, I'm so sorry!"

He smiled understandingly. "That's ok honey. Let me wash it off before I give it back to you." As he hurried to the kitchen sink, Usagi's shoulders slumped. "Rei is right. I really can be a complete idiot at times" she fumed, angry at herself and her latest kitchen mishap.

Her tall handsome boyfriend soon returned and retook his seat, holding out the ring. "No harm done. Usako, don't be so hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. It's just human nature."

"But I tried so hard!"

"And it shows, my love. The meal really is delicious."

"Honest?"

"Honest. But I believe this belongs to you." He gently took Usagi's hand and slipped the engagement ring into place. "There. Back where it belongs."

Usagi's pretty face brightened. "I love it when you do that, Mamo-chan. It's like you're proposing to me all over again." She abruptly asked, "Would you? Would you propose to me again? I hope you don't regret asking to marry me that day in Okinawa."

"Absolutely not, my love!" Mamoru stood and walked around the small table, taking her hands in his and helping her to her feet. "I would marry you a thousand times in a thousand lifetimes, my princess."

"Oh, Mamo-chan!" Usagi raised herself up on her tiptoes to kiss him. "I love you!"

"And I love you, Usako. As I always have, and always, always will."

Usagi's expression quickly changed to one of intense longing. "Mamo-chan, let's forget about dinner for a little while. I want to... be with you."

"I thought you said you were really hungry?"

"Oh! Just a second!" Usagi grabbed her chopsticks and hurriedly gulped in three huge mouthfuls of rice, washing it down with a long sip of tea. "There! That should hold me over for a while!"

. . . . .

Some time later, Mamoru awoke to find himself alone in his nearly dark bedroom. Puzzled, he slipped into a robe and wandered through the apartment, finally spotting his girl outside on the balcony. Stepping through the open doorway into the reflection of a multitude of twinkling lights of a typical Tokyo night, he stopped close behind Usagi and slipped his arms around her.

"There you are."

She leaned back into his warmth, sighing contentedly. "Hai. Here I am."

"What's on your mind this evening, my beautiful princess?"

"I was just thinking about something Setsuna told me last night, Mamo-chan. Something really weird."

Mamoru's interest was immediately piqued. "You mentioned how she helped you fight off that demon thing. Is it about that?"

"No. It was something she said later, when we were just talking."

"Can you tell me?"

"I guess so." Usagi turned away from the bright lights and gazed instead into her lovers' eyes. "You know how much I like reading manga and watching anime?"

"I've seen your manga collection, Usako. It's very impressive."

"Even more than Rei has!" the blonde gloated. "Anyway, where was I? Oh, about the manga."

Curious, Mamoru replied, "What about it?"

"I'm not sure if I completely understood what Setsuna was telling me. It all sounds so complicated! But she said that this universe we live in isn't the only one. There are many others, one of which is a lot like ours. Almost identical."

Mamoru's eyebrows raised. "That's fascinating, Usako. Scientists have long suspected there are alternate universes and realities. I suppose that as Sailor Pluto, Setsuna is in a position where she has to be aware of them."

"Now you sound just like Ami!" Usagi giggled. "But I haven't told you the strangest part yet."

"Oh? There's more?"

"Hai! She told me that in the other universe that's almost the same as ours, you and me and the other girls don't exist. Not as real people. Mamo-chan, in that place we're all just characters in a manga! And in an anime on tv! Isn't that crazy?"

Mamoru was nearly speechless. "Incredible!" he finally whispered.

"And you know what else, Mamo-chan?" Usagi's voice changed to an angry mutter. "I bet that Rei teases me just as much in those stories as she does here in real life!"

Her fiancee smiled. "It's all in fun, Usako. She really does care deeply about you."

"I know she does" Usagi admitted, though her hands still shot to her hips. "But sometimes she's got a really horrible way of showing it!"

. . . . . . . . . .