Chapter 4:

"This can't be right!" Usagi groaned aloud. "I must have missed the exit somehow! That stupid sign says Narimasu, not Nerima!" She slowed her pace even further, beginning to panic while looking desperately for a place to turn around. "Ohh! I'll be lost in the middle of nowhere and Mamo-chan will never find me again! Why don't cars have telephones so I can call someone for help?" She followed her headlights through the darkness, eventually leaving Route 254 and finding herself near the small city of Suwa. Usagi's sinking confidence was suddenly buoyed by a passing sign. "There's a gas station and store up ahead! I'll stop there and ask for directions."

Mamoru's car halted in the parking area and its worried driver clambered out, noticing she was parked at a sharp angle and taking up nearly two entire spaces. 'Good enough' Usagi shrugged. With pangs of hunger growing ever stronger within her, she ran inside the roadside shop in search of aid and sustenance.

. . . . .

Rei abandoned her negligee on the bed and hurriedly dressed in the first thing that came to hand, one of her TA School uniforms. 'This time Grandpa has gone too far!' She grabbed her purse and left her bedroom and the Hikawa Jinja behind. Seconds later she was seated in her red convertible. The upset miko slammed the door closed, started the engine and revved it mercilessly, impatient for her fiancee to join her. 'Where is he? I hope Ojii-chan didn't talk him out of leaving!'

More seconds ticked by, until Yuuichirou finally appeared and slipped into the front passenger seat beside her.

"Rei-chan honey, are you sure about this? The last thing we need is for your grandfather to stay angry at us all night long."

"Angry? I'll show him angry!" She pulled away from the shrine with a shrill screech of tires. Two blocks away, the traffic light turned yellow as they approached. Grumbling at the unwelcome delay, Rei braked to a stop and fished through her purse for a cigarette. She hurriedly lit one and inhaled deeply, her fingers trembling as she regripped the wheel.

"Sweetheart, you really shouldn't be driving a car while you're this upset" Yuuichirou spoke softly. "It isn't safe. Would you like me to drive us to Nerima this time?" he volunteered.

"No."

The teenage boy sighed. "You and I both know your grandfather is right, my love. It's his shrine, and we have to follow his rules as long as he's in charge. Even if we disagree with them."

"Even if they're dumb?" Rei shot back. "It's my home too, and yours! Don't we get a say in how we live our lives together?"

"Uh..." Unsure if further conversation would upset his girlfriend even more, Yuuichirou sat quietly staring out through the windshield. The light flashed green and Rei gunned her car away from it, glad that the evening traffic was relatively light.

As they neared the ramp leading to the expressway, Yuuichirou tactfully suggested, "It's not too late, honey. How about if we go back home and take some time to calm down? Maybe we can talk things out with Hino-sensei in the morning, just like he said."

"I know him far better than you do, Yuuichirou-chan. He won't change his mind."

"It's worth a try, isn't it?"

The raven-haired girl didn't answer. Instead, she drove onto the ramp and picked up speed. Reaching the near-empty expressway, she buried the car's accelerator pedal into the carpeting beneath it and her Mercedes obediently raced ahead.

"I've never seen you this angry before" her young man remarked quietly. "Even at me."

"Maybe I will calm down later, my love. But... not right now."

Yuuichirou's lips formed a familiar lopsided silly grin. "Well then, I guess you'll work it out of your system eventually. Meanwhile, it looks like our romantic evening together isn't going to turn out quite like we'd planned, is it darling?"

For the first time since they left the shrine, Rei smiled. "Oh yes it is."

. . . . .

Taro had hobbled back inside the old house with the help of his remaining crutch and eased himself down on the sofa. Yuji and Makoto sat beside him while the sound of drawers and cabinet doors opening and slamming shut could be plainly heard from the nearby room used as a doctor's office by the home's previous owner. Minako's muttering added to the din. "Where's that silly first aid kit hiding? It must be here somewhere!"

"Do you know where it is, Mako-chan?" Yuji asked.

The brunette beside him grinned wickedly. "Hai, I do. But I'm going to let her hunt for it for a while. At least Minako can't cause any more disasters as long as she's busy in there."

"Found it! And... something else too!" the bubbly blonde's voice echoed from the other room.

After a brief moment of silence, Minako emerged from the office clutching a padded case with a red cross symbol stitched into its cover. Makoto looked up at her and burst out laughing. "Where did you get that thing?"

Minako approached with not just the medical bag but a white nurse's hat perched on top of her head, just in front of her ever-present red bow. "Nurse Minako is ready to save the day! I found this hat next to the first aid kit, Mako-chan. Doesn't it make me look professional?"

"It makes you look ridiculous!" the brunette snorted.

"I honestly don't think my wrist is bad enough to need medical attention, Minako-chan" Yuji said. "In fact, it's beginning to feel better already."

"Nonsense, Yuji-chan! Let me have a look at it." She plopped the kit down on the coffee table and sat beside it, zipping it open and peering inside. "Aha! This is just what you need!" She pulled out a thick roll of cloth bandage and began unravelling it. "I'll wrap your wrist in this for support, just like that ankle thing my Taro-love is wearing. You'll feel just like new in the morning, I guarantee it!"

"Excuse me for asking a stupid question, but do you have any real medical training?" Makoto asked her. "Anything at all?"

"Of course I do, silly! Before I transferred to Juuban Junior High I took a first aid course at my old school."

"Really?" Makoto remained unimpressed. "Did you pass it?"

"Well... almost" the blonde mumbled. Her face instantly brightened again. "No matter! I still remember all the important things!"

The brunette rubbed her forehead and sighed heavily. "I sense another disaster in the making."

"Mako-chan, you just relax and have your lover boy and my patient sit still. Watch a real expert at work!" She held up the loose end of the bandage. "Yuji-chan, stick out your arm!"

The teenager did as he was told and Minako grabbed his hand to steady it.

"Ahhh!" he hissed through clenched teeth.

"Did that hurt? I'll try to be a little more gentle." She began wrapping the cloth tightly around his wrist, again and again until the entire roll was used up and his forearm and nearly all of his left hand was thickly encased and rigidly immobile. "There! How does that feel so far?"

Yuji could scarcely wiggle his fingers. "It's a bit snug, Minako-chan."

His brother chuckled, "A few more rolls of that and Yuji will look like a mummy!"

Minako shot her boyfriend a stern look before turning her attention back to her patient. "It's supposed to be that way, Yuji-chan. That's so it doesn't bend and make the sprain get any worse." She returned her attention to the kit. "Now how am I going to fasten this thing in place?" Rummaging through its contents, she found a large safety pin and squeezed it open. She jabbed the pin's end into the bandage. "Hold still now!"

"Ow!"

"Gomen!" Minako apologized. "That point is really sharp, isn't it?"

"Are you finished stabbing my boyfriend yet?" Makoto growled. "What's next? An amputation?"

"All done!" The blonde sat back and admired her handiwork. "Though... I think there was something else I was supposed to do" she mused. "Maybe I missed a step somewhere."

"How comforting" Makoto muttered while beside her, Taro tried his hardest not to laugh at his brother's predicament.

A further dig through the opened medical kit and Minako produced a small plastic bottle. She quickly scanned its label. "I thought so! This is the stuff you're supposed to spray on the injured area to ease the pain. I knew I forgot something!"

"Great" the brunette groaned. "Now you have to take the bandage off again."

"I do, don't I? Hmm... Wait! I know a better way! I'll just spray lots of it on the outside of the bandage and it'll soak right through! I'm so brilliant!" she cackled. Wasting no time, she twisted off the bottle cap and pumped the nozzle beneath vigorously.

Pffft! Pffft! Pffft!

She soon saturated the cloth wrap, as well as fogging the air with a cloud of chemical pain reliever. Makoto coughed and waved the mist away but Minako continued her relentless spraying until the bottle was nearly empty.

"It smells like a hospital in here!" Taro snickered.

"All finished! For real this time!" Minako beamed. How does that look, Yuji-chan?"

The boy regarded the haphazard bandage doubtfully. "I can't feel my fingers."

His girlfriend also looked at the sopping mess with deep distrust. "Yuji-chan, your fingertips are starting to turn blue." She glared at her friend. "Minako-chan, the bandage is way too tight. You're stopping his circulation!"

"Am I? That doesn't sound good."

"Unfasten that pin and loosen the thing before my poor Yuji's hand falls off!" the brunette ordered.

"Ok, if you insist." Minako waggled a finger in warning. "But this goes against my skilled medical advice."

"We'll take our chances" Makoto answered curtly.

The blonde reached for the wet safety pin and fumbled with it. "This is really hard! I can't get the pin to open. Its too slippery and jammed tight against the cloth." She suddenly looked up at the couple with a maniacal gleam in her eyes. "I'll have to cut it off! I need to borrow one of your sharp knives from the kitchen, Mako-chan."

"Don't you dare!" Makoto gently took her boyfriend's arm and squeezed the pin forcefully until it popped apart. "Yuji-chan, I'm taking that nightmare off of you before you end up needing a real doctor."

Minako began to object. "But... it's..."

Makoto carefully unwound the bandage onto the floor, her fingers also growing numb from the potent spray. She picked up the soggy mound of ruined cloth and passed it to her future sister-in-law. "Here. I believe this is yours."

"What am I supposed to do with this?" Minako asked, holding the dripping dressing between her fingers.

"Do you really want me to tell you?"

"Mako-chan!" the blonde gasped. She giggled again. "Never mind. I'll just throw it away."

"That's the first good idea you've had all evening" Makoto said with a sigh.