Another, far less twisted Maria-sama fic from me, this features the second of my two favorite yuri couples in MariMite, Satou Sei and her partner in naming, Katou Kei. It's rated PG-13 for yuri themes.
It wasn't particularly noticeable at first. Kei had had to wrack her brain to even remember it, but she was fairly sure that this was where the first hammer had struck. Sei seemed to agree, though she had better recall of it. It was hard to recall something so subtle when they had been victims of much sillier things.
They had been studying in the library together, as Sei had encountered a class that she actually needed to do research for. Thrilled, since she very seldom got the chance to stretch out, she had turned it into a grand studying outing, even bringing a picnic lunch. Or, to be more accurate, whining at Kei to prepare a picnic lunch for them.
So Kei was in the library, enjoying the peace and quiet. She'd have been here anyway, as she was in the same class as Sei, and if Sei was being forced to study, she would have to really put her nose to the grindstone in order to keep up with her.
Not that they were competing. Of course not.
She noted down where the book she needed was, and went to the shelf, still gathering her thoughts. She reached up to get the book, and instead found herself grabbing a hand. Startled, she looked over and found herself nose to nose with Sei.
Despite herself, she turned a little pink. Sei was as unflappable as ever.
"We seem to be of like mind," she murmured quietly.
Kei breathed in... and then grabbed the book. She smiled wryly, and the moment passed. Exactly the sort of thing you wouldn't even remember unless you were looking for it.
A few weeks later, there was the massage. Kei had slipped and fallen on one of the insidious ginkgo nuts that littered the campus, and pulled a muscle in her back. Cursing, she had carefully winced her way home, hoping that a hot bath would solve the problem. It hadn't.
Then Sei had arrived, and noticed the pain that she was in. Sei had offered to rub her back, and massage away the muscle tension. Kei had agreed.
Then somehow, without even speaking, they had ended up with Kei lying on her stomach on the bed, with Sei sitting lightly over her and massaging her tortured back muscles. It was exactly what she had needed, and when Sei hit a particularly tight knot, Kei had moaned loudly in appreciation.
And then the situation they were in had hit her like a hammer.
It had apparently hit Sei too, who had stopped her ministrations. At first Kei thought that Sei was breathing harder, but decided that she was imagining things. After all, it was the perfect position *to* imagine such things.
Kei had decided to break the awkward silence. "It's OK, Sei. Don't read more into this than there is." She could have phrased it better, really, but then saying things and then realizing they'd come out wrong was one of her lovable character traits. Sei had said so herself.
Luckily, Sei understood what she meant, and continued with the massage, which had finished without any more unfortunate moans.
It wasn't until the vacation that they both began to realize that the hammers were starting to fall a little thickly. They were in Rome, and Sei was like a little kid, running around trying to see every single sight, in case they closed forever just before she arrived. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and Kei found herself running around just as hard, a big grin on her face.
Then the rain hit. This was not one of those rains where you feel little drops, look up, and then seek cover before it begins in earnest. This was a 'suddenly the sky opened' rain where you found yourself completely drenched in a matter of seconds. The two of them found themselves frantically looking for shelter, finally taking refuge under a large stone archway.
Shivering, Kei clutched her arms together as she looked outside. It was later than she'd thought, so it was hard to see anything besides the downpour and the occasional blurred streetlight. She shivered again, and suddenly found an arm around her shoulders.
"You cold?" Her voice was tight, and Kei couldn't help but laugh.
"Yes, and so are you." Sei chuckled, and wrapped the other arm around her, leaning onto her shoulder. "I can't help it if you're so warm..."
Kei relaxed, Sei's body heat starting to get rid of the worst of the cold. She leaned back a bit, and found her head instinctively leaning against Sei's.
Then they stopped. And looked at each other again.
"More hammers?" Sei inquired.
"More hammers." She moved her head forward, but didn't move away from Sei. The two of them continued to huddle together as they waited for the rain to stop.
After that, there was just no avoiding them.
There was Sachiko's graduation party, where Yoshino for some reason decided to bring along the game of Twister. Naturally, Kei and Sei had ended up wrapped around each other, faces almost touching.
There was the time when Sei had angered her friend Youko, presumably by doing something insufferably Sei-like. Kei had no idea why Sei was hiding, as she must have known by that time that all of her friends would forgive her everything up to and possibly including homicide. But Sei had grabbed her hand and dragged her into a convenient broom closet, where they had stood pressed against one another, trying not to breathe so as not to give their position away.
"You brought that hammer on yourself," Kei had said afterwards. Sei pouted, and Kei began to laugh hysterically at her face. Sei had joined in until the two of them were prostrate with laughter on her couch, ending up with lips almost touching.
"What were you saying about bringing hammers on us?" Sei said, sparking a fresh, separate round of laughter.
After a while, they became a sort of shared curse, something that bonded the two together in a massive display of karmic evil. Sei, who had always flirted harmlessly with Kei before, didn't even need to work hard at it anymore. The situations they found themselves in were so hilariously cliched that Kei at one point suggested they look for the funk guitarist who must surely be playing in the background.
And then, just as suddenly as the hammers had started, they had stopped. It was as if karma had simply thrown its hands up in disgust and walked off. Their lives returned to what passed for normal, with absolutely no wacky situations or comic misunderstandings.
That's not to say it had totally failed to affect them. They said less these days, being more comfortable with a quirked eyebrow or cocked head. The awkwardness that had always plagued them in the early days of their friendship was gone. Kei no longer felt that Sei was an annoying pest who glided through life on the charity of others. And Sei no longer felt as if she had to be careful to be glib and carefree for fear that she would once again find herself too close to someone.
In fact, everyone who knew them now thought they were a couple. They had all the signs of two people who had fallen for each other. Except, of course, that they hadn't. They were still in the habit of avoiding those trying hammers.
And so it came to pass that one night they were seated in Kei's room, studying as usual. Which is to say Kei was reading the material and Sei had gotten bored and was gazing off into space. Kei had tuned Sei out, being engrossed in the curriculum. She had her hair tied up, and was rolling a pencil under her lips.
And then she finished the last of the material, and popped her lips so that the pencil flew out, landing with a soft thud right in the middle of her notebook. Grinning, she raised an arm in victory.
She looked up and saw Sei looking at her, her lips parted slightly. The look could only be described as 'scorching'. Kei felt herself get hotter just looking at it.
"God, I want you so badly," Sei said. There was a slight pause. Sei waited for the moment when she'd realize she said the wrong thing and flee. It didn't come. Kei waited for the inevitable point where she'd say that she wasn't ready for something like that, wasn't sure if she ever would be. It passed by without a sound.
Instead Kei found herself getting lightly to her feet, walking over, and sitting herself right in Sei's lap. And then she leaned forward and began, without preamble, to kiss the hell out of her.
They sat there for an incredibly long time, taking pleasure in each other. No clothes were removed, but that wasn't so much due to not wanting to go that far as much as simply not being tired of the other's person's lips just yet.
Eventually, they slowed to a stop, still breathing heavily. Sei's face was aglow with a happy smile, one Kei didn't think she'd ever seen before. As for Kei, she assumed that she was smiling. Though considering how dazed she felt, it was more likely a goofy grin.
Suddenly Kei giggled. "What's up?" Sei asked.
"No hammers," she replied, and Sei found herself laughing.
Somewhere else, out in the night, karma screamed loudly in anguished frustration.
Thanks to the Fanfic Revolution for pre-reading.
Another, far less twisted Maria-sama fic from me, this features the second of my two favorite yuri couples in MariMite, Satou Sei and her partner in naming, Katou Kei. It's rated PG-13 for yuri themes.
I chose to post this story next, because I just re-read it, and it still makes me laugh out loud. :-)
Notes and Disclaimers: As usual, the characters of the Outer Senshi belong to Takeuchi Naoko, Kodansha and Bandai Visual, hopefully in that order. I am using them only for entertainment - and I think that this story, in particular, is quite entertaining. The character of Seira is my creation and anyone is welcome to use her if they so desire, as long as I'm credited.
There is no sex or violence in this story - but you might want to read it anyway. If you do and you enjoy it, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will always thank you politely.
Rescue in Time
"There needs to be a taxonomy of Time, as there is a taxonomy of Space for, by defining and classifying a thing, we imbue it with meaning. From classification come discernable qualities, both fixed and malleable. It is these qualities that our scientists will investigate and question, until we move beyond simple classification, refining and mastering those qualities. From this we gain new understanding and begin the process over once again.
The scientists of far-off Mercury, it is said, have achieved such amazing advances in computational investigation that they can now (so the rumor goes) merge physically with their devices. The metallurgists of Venus have developed a living metal, and those of Jupiter can harness the energy of the universe itself. Yet no one, from either fear (or possibly wisdom,) has ever embarked upon a scientific investigation of Time.
Perhaps it is senility that lays heavily upon me, or perhaps some kind of enlightenment, but it is my hope that my heirs will inherit a spirit of inquiry into the science of that which affects and informs us all...a spirit that will bring people from far distances in our wide-flung system to our small planet, as we now visit Mars for inspiration and divination..."
"What are you doing, Grandma?"
The old lady sat back, laying her pen down alongside the journal in which she wrote. She smiled at the four year-old and beckoned to her. "Seira, are your lessons over so soon?"
The girl nodded, one finger stuck happily in her mouth. The old woman pushed herself back from the desk, making room for the child on her lap. The girl clambered up, settling herself comfortably in the familiar arms.
"I'm writing a journal, my little one."
"Can I see?"
The old lady smiled gently, shaking her head as she rocked the child back and forth. "Not yet."
"Soon?" The girl asked, her eyes wide with curiosity and desire.
"One day," said the old woman. "One day it will be your journal and you can write in it too."
The girl smiled, content with the answer, and laid her head against her grandmother's chest, as the old lady began to sing softly.
The sun was shining into the living room, making it hard to see the television. Michiru clicked the remote, shutting the device down, ignoring Hotaru's protest.
"I was watching that!" the girl objected from two rooms away.
Michiru shot a glance at Haruka, who was curled up on the sofa with a newspaper. The blonde grinned and shrugged. "She's your daughter," she muttered, amused at her joke.
Michiru made a face at her, and turned back to the still-complaining voice. "You weren't watching the TV, Hotaru-chan, so stop being silly please." The green-haired woman's voice was calm, even teasing, as she spoke.
At the use of her name, the girl came out from her bedroom, brush still in her hand. "But Michiru-mama," she smiled as she whined, knowing what Michiru thought of that particular pleading tone, "I was just brushing my hair, see?" And she held up the object as if that proved her imminent return.
Michiru whirled on the blonde, who hadn't stopped grinning. "Haruka – do something about *your* daughter, will you?" This line made both Haruka and Hotaru laugh out loud.
The dark-haired girl threw the hairbrush back into her room and came out to join the other two. "Haruka-papa says I take after you, you know." The gleam in the girl's eye was more than a little wicked and the blonde began to make panicked "no" motions behind the other woman's back.
Michiru pretended not to notice Haruka gesturing frantically, instead addressing the fourteen year-old in front of her. "Oh? And when does she say that?" Michiru crossed her arms as Haruka began to back away towards the front door.
"Well," Hotaru began, "when I..."
A door opened with a loud crash and the fourth member of the family entered looking completely distracted. Without noticing the tableau she had broken up, she began to pick random items up, and replace them, move piles aside, and generally rummage around in the living room. The other three women watched her, fascinated, until she stood up from scanning a low bookshelf and noticed their presence.
"Has anyone seen my journal?" Setsuna asked.
"You have a journal?" Michiru responded.
"Oh? What do you keep in it? Is it like a diary?" Hotaru asked.
Haruka took up the thread, "Ooooh, a diary. It must be pretty meaty – no wonder you're looking for it. You wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands."
Setsuna stared for a moment at Haruka, then grinned. "You have no idea." Turning to Hotaru, she narrowed her eyes a little. "You've been in my jewelry again – did you take the book while you were in my room?"
Hotaru blushed. "I was just trying on the Roman necklaces...oh, wait! You had a journal in your jewelry box? Oh, man...." she moaned, thinking of the lost opportunity to peek into her oldest guardian's private affairs. She groaned again as she realized just how old, just how many affairs and how cool it might have been.
"No – it *wasn't* in the jewelry box. But it's not anywhere right now and I need to jot something down."
"Well, where did you last leave it?" Haruka asked, rather inanely, Setsuna thought.
"Last time I checked it was in your top left hand drawer, behind the watch box and underneath the handkerchiefs," the older woman snapped somewhat irritably and watched with no little satisfaction as both Michiru and Haruka colored slightly, catching the reference to some rather personal items of their own.
"Nope, haven't seen it," Haruka said nonchalantly and leaned down to pick up her newspaper.
Michiru retreated towards the kitchen, "Sorry, Setsuna – I haven't seen it either." She turned, as if with a sudden thought. "What exactly does it look like? In case I see it, I can return it to you," she finished hastily.
Hotaru held a hand up, "It's black leather, with a gold clasp, and hand-cut parchment pages," she said prophetically.
"How do you know that?" Setsuna asked, amazed.
"You mean, that's what it actually looks like?" Hotaru asked excitedly.
"No," Setsuna said with a twitch. "I mean, I wonder what kind of stories you've been reading recently. When you were a child you read Yeats – now you read what, manga?"
Hotaru stuck her tongue out at her mother. "So what does it look like?"
Setsuna sighed. "I'm not sure."
Haruka sat up on the couch where she had reclined and Michiru turned from within the kitchen. Hotaru simply stood with her mouth open, snapping it shut audibly.
"But," Haruka spoke slowly, "if you don't know what it looks like...how can you be sure it's gone missing?"
"Because it's not here," Setsuna stated with maddening calm.
"I am so confused," Hotaru declared.
"Anyway, I didn't say I don't know what it looks like – only that I'm not sure what it looks like. I know what it looked like the last time I saw it."
Understanding dawned upon Michiru's face. "When was the last time you saw it?"
"About forty or so years ago."
"Ah," Haruka said, comprehending at last. "And what did it look like the last time you saw it?"
Setsuna let her eyes go vague as she thought back the decades necessary to see the object in her mind. "It was a black leather book with parchment pages and a big gold clasp."
Hotaru began to giggle.
Michiru stepped back into the room, her hands on her waist. "And you need to find it now, but it might look different than it did." The words were a statement, not a question.
"Yes," Setsuna confirmed. "I'll hazard a guess that it looks like a computer disk, or maybe a day-timer, now."
"Can we search for it?" Hotaru asked enthusiastically. She was just dying to get into Haruka's dresser and search the top drawer behind the watch box, under the handkerchiefs.
Setsuna smiled at her. "I think not. It will probably turn up soon." She included the other adults in her smile, then returned to her room, the door closing behind her with a crash.
There was a moment of silence then Haruka said, "I've lived with that woman for six years now and I still don't understand a word that comes out of her mouth."
"Me neither," agreed Michiru. "Who wants some ice cream?" She smiled at the enthusiastic cheers from her lover and daughter.
"Wake up sleepyhead!" A bouncing figure caused the bed to rise and fall as Haruka moaned piteously, feebly attempting to cover her head with the blanket, only to have it brutally yanked away.
"Hotaru-chan," groaned Haruka, "why don't you go torture Michiru or Setsuna?"
"Because you're the only one left asleep!" the girl shouted, as she increased her bouncing. "Turbulence!"
"Hotaru-chan?" Michiru's voice was audible through the door, "have you gotten that slug out of bed yet?"
"Working on it!" Hotaru shrieked, while tugging ruthlessly at Haruka's arm, forcing the woman upright.
"Tell her she's got three minutes to get out here or she makes her own breakfast."
"I'm..." Hotaru began, but the words turned into garbled masses of laughter as Haruka threw the blanket over her and began to tickle her.
Haruka held the smaller form down and yelled, "The slug says, give me two minutes."
"One and a half," was the answer.
Haruka released the bundled form and pulled on some pants while Hotaru extricated herself from the mass of tangled blankets and sheets indignantly.
"That was so not fair," Hotaru said, as she shook her hair out.
"Neither is waking me up like that," Haruka smirked. "Out of my way, I need cofffeeeeee," she held her hands out and stomped off like a kaiju attacking Tokyo. Hotaru laughed and ran after her.
"Got her up, Michiru-mama."
"Nice job." Michiru smiled. "Now if only you could do something about her hair."
"I can call up my Glaive, if you want..." Hotaru laughed as she grabbed some toast off the plate.
"Keep that monstrous can opener away from my hair!" Haruka shouted. "Or I'll give you a haircut with my sword."
"Ooooooohhhhh," Hotaru pretended to be scared for a solid microsecond. "Hey...can I invite Chibi-Usa over tonight? Haruka-papa reminded me, there's a Godzilla festival on TV."
"Sure!" Michiru said and bopped the blonde lightly over the head as she made a goofy face at their daughter. Glancing at the kitchen clock, she said, "I wonder where Setsuna is? I know she's awake – I heard her earlier."
"Maybe she's still looking for that notebook thing." Hotaru suggested. "Let's ask her when she gets here."
"Ask who what?" Setsuna popped her head around the corner of the kitchen. "I'm sorry," she apologized to Michiru. "It was my turn to make breakfast, wasn't it?"
"Don't worry. I'm glad to do it." Michiru waved her to a seat.
"We were going to ask *you* if you had ever found that journal of yours." Haruka answered the earlier question.
Setsuna looked up from her coffee, puzzled. "What journal?"
Haruka stared back at the older woman, equally as puzzled. "That thing you mentioned yesterday, you know, your journal." She watched as Setsuna's expression remained mystified. "You know – the one you said you hadn't seen in forty years?"
"Black leather, gold clasp?" Hotaru offered.
Setsuna shook her head. "I have no idea what you're talking about. I've never kept a journal...it always seemed so pointless in my position." She finished pouring her coffee and drank it, oblivious to the exasperated confusion on her companion's faces. Michiru, Haruka and Hotaru retreated from the topic into a bewildered silence.
Hotaru yawned and rolled over. Chibi-Usa's form sprawled over most of the futon, and Hotaru found herself with a face full of elbow.
"Ow," she muttered and pushed the offending limb away.
"Wha..." Chibi-Usa mumbled, her voice muffled by the pillow over her face.
Hotaru was about to make a snotty remark when Setsuna's voice was heard over a knock on the door.
"Girls – we're having pancakes for breakfast."
Hotaru watched with sleepy amusement as her apparently somnolescent friend bounced out of bed in one move.
"Come on Hotaru-chan...pancakes!" Chibi-Usa said, as if that explained everything. Hotaru allowed herself to be dragged into the kitchen, still in her pajamas.
Once seated at the table, Chibi-Usa asked, "Where are Haruka-san and Michiru-san?"
"They've gone out for the day," Setsuna nodded towards a note on the refrigerator door. "No details, so don't ask."
Hotaru closed her mouth and gave her attention to the pancakes that were placed before her. When the older woman turned back to the stove, Chibi-Usa nudged her friend, receiving only a headshake in response.
"C'mon," Chibi-Usa insisted in a stage whisper.
"No, forget it," Hotaru gave the other girl a hard stare, which she ignored. Chibi-Usa poked Hotaru with a toe and got a kick in the shin in return.
"Ask her," Chibi-Usa said.
Hotaru shook her head vehemently. "You ask her."
"Ask me what?" Setsuna inquired, standing at the edge of the table, a teacup cradled in her hands. Chibi-Usa stared up at the older woman with a smile.
"Hotaru-chan says that you've lost your journal, Pu. I didn't know you kept one."
Setsuna's face softened as she gazed down at the pink-haired girl. "Yes, it's an old family tradition." Her face fell slightly, "But I do seem to have lost it – I can't imagine where I put it." She seemed to come to some decision and asked Chibi-Usa, "Can you please ask Usagi-chan – and you can do this too – to let me know if any strange objects appear in the near future."
Chibi-Usa nodded solemnly. "I'll ask Rei-chan, too. She can look for it in her fire." She turned to Hotaru, who sat her mouth hanging open, half-chewed pancake visible.
"Don't do that, Hotaru-chan, it's gross. I thought you said she didn't remember it."
Hotaru swallowed, drank some juice and answered. "Yesterday she didn't, did you Setsuna-mama?"
"Not remember my journal? That seems unlikely. I write in it every day."
"Every day?" Chibi-Usa asked curiously. "Why?"
Setsuna sat down. "Well, because Time is so unpredictable – and not at all linear," she began. "The Guardian of Time needs to keep track of what she's done and why."
"That's so cool!" Chibi-Usa gushed. "Like when we do a science project in school, right?" Setsuna nodded. "Is the journal filled with notes from your whole life?"
"Mine and the Guardians before me."
"Whoa," Hotaru said. "How many of them have there been?"
"Quite a few." Setsuna smiled. She stood up, taking her cup with her. Turning away she stopped for a moment and asked Hotaru, "What did you mean, I forgot about my journal?"
Hotaru gestured generally. "Yesterday, when Haruka-papa asked you about the journal, you said you didn't have one."
Setsuna frowned slightly. "Are you sure you didn't misunderstand me?"
"Positive." Hotaru confirmed.
There was a noise at the front door and voices could be heard. A few moments later Haruka and Michiru appeared toting bags full of freshly picked peaches.
"Beware of Senshi bearing gifts," Hotaru intoned as Haruka plopped the bags onto the table.
The next few minutes were taken up with admiration for Haruka and Michiru's peach-picking prowess.
After she and Chibi-Usa had sampled some of the fruit, Hotaru wiped her hands and face. "Hey," she said, "Haruka-papa, Setsuna-mama says she remembers her journal today. Isn't that good news?"
Haruka swallowed a mouthful of peach and shook her head gently. "What journal?" She grinned as she turned to look at the dark-green haired woman. "You keep a journal?"
Michiru's teasing laugh joined Haruka's. "If I had known that, we'd have had to break into it and read it!" The two women shared a mischievous smile.
Setsuna glanced at Hotaru, her eyebrow raised. "Don't you remember my journal? Haruka, you call it my little black book – although it's not black, or even a book."
Hotaru leapt onto that last comment. "What *does* it look like?"
Setsuna cocked her head slightly. "It's that hand-held device I always tote around. Don't you remember it?" She looked at the others for some recognition.
Chibi-Usa glanced from face to face. "I don't know what's going on," she said slowly, "but something doesn't seem right."
Haruka wandered into the living room, a towel around her neck. Michiru glanced up from a sketchpad and smiled at the blonde.
"Much!" Haruka agreed. "I really love riding, but it's hot, gritty work." She walked over, glancing down at Michiru's sketch. "She's cute, who is she?"
Michiru laughed, and shoved Haruka lightly away from the table. "My *other* girlfriend," she teased. "You know, the one who's nice to me."
The blonde laughed and walked into the kitchen to make tea. "Do you want any?" she asked over her shoulder.
Michiru shook her head, concentrating on the pad. "I want to work on this for the next show, but thank you for the offer."
"Even when you're saying no, you always sound like a Princess." Haruka said, as she seated herself at the table and gazed with admiration at her lover.
Michiru didn't say anything, but continued to look down at the sketchpad. As Haruka watched her, the other woman's eyes slowly crossed and the blonde was forced to turn away suddenly to avoid spitting tea all across the table. By the time she got herself cleaned up, Haruka was glad to see that Michiru had put the pad aside and was happily making a fresh pot.
"Good afternoon!" The two women looked up to see Setsuna and Hotaru entering the room. "Mmm, can I get some of that?" Setsuna continued. "You've made jasmine, my favorite."
"I assumed you'd be home at any moment," Michiru said competently. "Hotaru-chan? Tea?"
"No thanks Michiru-mama – I've got some homework to get done." The girl bounced off to her room.
The three older women sat quietly together. They often found themselves lapsing into comfortable silence - as if without Hotaru's presence mere chitchat was pointless.
Haruka looked up, smiling into Setsuna's eyes, "when was the last time you went dancing Setsuna? You look like you could use a night out."
Setsuna shook her head at the comment. "What possesses you to ask all of a sudden?"
Haruka shrugged, "Well Michiru has a new girlfriend, so I'm free," she ducked as an arm swung out to hit her. Laughing she grabbed the arm, pinning Michiru to her side. "Seriously, why don't we all go out for a nice dinner or something? Together as a family."
Michiru pushed herself away and straightened her clothes. "That sounds nice, actually. What do you say, Setsuna?"
Setsuna's comment was abruptly interrupted by Hotaru's reappearance. The girl had the strangest look on her face and she was waving around an envelope as she spoke excitedly. "This was in my room on my bed, only I don’t remember writing it and Chibi-Usa-chan also wrote it, I remember she was here, but...."
Haruka put a strong hand on the girl's shoulder, attempting to stem the flow of words. "Hotaru-chan, what are you talking about?"
Hotaru took a deep breath, closed her mouth, opened it and shook her head. "Let me read you the letter.
Chibi-Usa-chan and I are writing this letter because we're pretty sure I won't remember this tomorrow. Something weird is going on and it has to do with Setsuna-mama's journal.'"
"Your journal? Your little black book?" Haruka interrupted, looking down at the dark green-haired woman.
"I don't have a journal," Setsuna said in some surprise.
Hotaru looked around at the women, then turned back to the letter. "'Over the past few days, Setsuna-mama, Haruka-papa, Michiru-mama and yourself have variously remembered and forgotten it. Here's the sequence.'"
"The next few pages are a list of the various memories of the journal that the four of us have had, according to myself and Chibi-Usa-chan." The girl flipped past a few pages. "The final note is from Chibi-Usa – she says that she called Usagi, who wants you to know that she and Rei and Mamoru-san all have felt something odd over the past few days, but have no premonition of great danger."
Setsuna took a deep breath. "A journal."
Michiru nodded. "You write in it every day."
"This is very disturbing," Setsuna continued. "Someone is playing with powerful forces."
Haruka's face was grim. "This doesn't sound good."
It was a bright morning, but the faces of the four women that sat at the table were dark with confusion.
"So, step one - we keep notes on who remembers what." Hotaru wrote carefully on the pad. "Check. I already started to do that yesterday." She gestured towards the letter that lay on the table. "Next?" She looked at the women around her for guidance.
"Next, " said Setsuna, "we determine if there is a pattern."
"Right." Hotaru began to write, then turned to look at the older woman once again. "Um, how do we do that?"
"By analyzing the data," Haruka said, watching Hotaru's face. "You really have been reading too much manga, haven't you? I think it's eating your brain."
The girl made a face at Haruka. "I didn't mean *that*!" she said indignantly. "I mean - what kind of patterns should we look for?"
Michiru sighed. "That's the sticky point isn’t it? We don’t know what to look for, so we may not see it when it's right in front of our noses."
Setsuna shook her head. "That's not true - we start where this seems to have started. With this." She held up a slim book bound in dark red leather. She laid it down on the tble gingerly. "I know you say it's my journal – and there seems to be a few scattered entries in my hand," she shook her head, "but I don't remember it at all."
Hotaru picked the journal up and turned it over in her hands. "This is from the Silver Millennium, isn't it?"
"Actually," Setsuna answered, "it seems to be a little older. Go ahead," she gestured to the girl, "write down what it looks like, where it is right now - everything you can think of."
Haruka snorted. "This seems so silly. I mean, before today you had no idea you even had a journal - why do we need to know where it is?"
Michiru laid a calming hand on Haruka's. "We've been through all that, Haruka. Because yesterday Setsuna did know about the journal. And we didn't."
"Well, that's what Hotaru says anyway," argued the blonde, "but..."
Hotaru met Haruka's eyes. "You wouldn't be saying that I'm making a fuss about nothing would you?" Something in the girl's tone was far older than herself and Haruka shook her head slowly.
"It really creeps me out when you do that. Hotaru-chan," the blonde muttered.
Hotaru had returned her attention to the paper in front of her. "I know - that's why I do it." She looked up and shot a triumphant smile at her foster mother. Haruka hmphed and looked away, only to meet Michiru's eyes, which held no sympathy at all for her wounded pride.
"Okay, so, " the blonde tried desperately to regain her cool exterior, "we'll note anything we can think of about the journal, then what?"
Setsuna smiled grimly. "Then watch when it goes."
"You mean, watch it until it disappears?" Hotaru asked, her brows drawn together in concentration.
"No, I mean - determine "when" it goes." Setsuna made the quote motions with her hands.
Hotaru said. "That's what I thought you meant, but...how do we do that?"
"I have no idea." Setsuna stated calmly. "Any suggestions?"
Michiru looked around the table. "I have one."
"I don’t think I've ever felt quite this stupid before," Sailor Uranus said, leaning back on the couch. She saw Sailor Neptune crane her head slightly, and forced herself upright. "Michiru, I'd have thought that beneath you."
"I have no idea what you mean," the green haired woman's smile was unrepentant.
"At least not in front of the others, please," Uranus pleaded.
"Oh, I don’t mind - after all, its not like we aren't all pretty much in the same boat." Sailor Pluto made an encompassing gesture. Her key lay across her lap, almost onto Uranus'. The blonde shifted away from the Garnet Rod, eyeing it carefully.
"I know, but you don’t have someone sitting next to you trying to look down your cleavage."
Neptune laughed teasingly. "Uranus, you are so easy to provoke."
"How come no one ever tries to look down my fuku?" Sailor Saturn whined. When the three women turned towards her in surprise, she just smiled predatorily. "I just wanted in on the conversation," she shrugged.
Pluto smiled at her daughter and said, "I imagine that if anyone considered doing that, *that,*" she nodded towards the Glaive on the girl's lap, "would make them reconsider."
The four women laughed. The conversation waned and they returned their attention to the object in the middle of the table. The journal sat, inorganic and still.
"I still feel rather stupid," Sailor Uranus admitted. "Usually when we're arrayed as Senshi we're in a battle – not sitting in our living room watching a book not moving."
"They also serve who stand and wait," Neptune cautioned the impetuous blonde.
"But better to serve in…" Saturn jumped into the game of dueling quotations eagerly, until something drew her attention back to the book. "Look, something's happening."
The women watched as the book began to fade from its place on the table.
"Quick, Pluto!" Saturn cried, reaching towards the journal, but Pluto put a hand out to stop her.
"Leave it – we need to see what happens," Pluto said quietly.
"What if it disappears?" Uranus demanded.
"Then we trace it." Pluto said.
The book showed no signs of disappearing, though. Faded and translucent as it was, it remained solidly anchored to their living room table. They watched as the aura around the journal expanded into a vortex, allowing them to see beyond the book itself. Mists and vapors swirled in a harsh wind, but nothing distinct was visible.
Pluto cocked her head, watching the miasma with narrowed eyes. "There's something…."
"Where is it?" Neptune whispered.
"When," Saturn corrected her, "*When* is it?"
"No," Sailor Pluto said, "not when – it's still somewhere." She drew in a gasp and shouted, "Uranus, grab the book!" and without another word, leapt into the storm that surrounded the object and disappeared.
Without hesitation, Uranus put both hands on the journal, and closed her eyes against the buffeting winds that surrounded her. The air around the book grew more violent and Sailor Neptune reached out to help her lover. They had everything they could do to hold onto the small book, as it began to rock and lurch in the cosmic winds, threatening to slip from their grasp. With the storm shrieking about them, Saturn stood ready to defend against whatever might manifest itself; her Glaive held carefully in her hand. One hand shielding her eyes from the storm, she called out over the noise, "I see her!"
A shape was just visible behind the book, then with a loud sucking noise, the portal closed in on itself and disappeared. Sailor Pluto stood for a moment, then collapsed to her knees, panting for breath.
Sailor Neptune looked down at the journal, which both she and Uranus had let go of in the confusion. To her surprise, a pile of clearly faceted, inscribed jewels now sat on their living room table, twinkling in the afternoon sun.
Pluto pulled herself to her feet, still doubled over breathlessly. "She's…" she gasped, trying to get the words out, "she's still…out there."
"So, you're saying that you saw the first Senshi of Pluto wandering in the Time-stream?" As usual, Usagi was a few steps behind everyone else. Setsuna nodded emphatically, as did most of the others in the room.
"And that's important, right?" Usagi asked, a little airily.
"Yes," Setsuna confirmed in her cool voice." It is."
"Is there something we can do?" Rei jumped in, not able to wait for Usagi to get the whole picture.
"As far as I can tell, no." Setsuna said. "Keep vigilant, of course, but I don't think this is an actual threat – just something we," she gestured at Haruka, Hotaru and Michiru, "need to handle."
Makoto nodded. "I'll help, too – my powers are almost as strong as yours." She looked abashed as she realized how abruptly she had spoken.
Setsuna had raised a hand to reject the offer, when Haruka's hand settled on her shoulder. "Setsuna, I think we should let her help us."
The oldest of the Senshi looked at Haruka with some surprise, but nodded. "In that case, why don't you come over for dinner tomorrow night."
"Why not tonight?" Michiru wondered.
Setsuna smiled. "Because when one is dealing with Time, there is never really a rush. As far as I can tell, Seira-sama has been drifting for many millennia, in a sense – a single day won't matter." She paused dramatically. "And because I have a date tonight."
The room erupted with noise, as every person shouted question after question at the hapless woman.
Haruka was writing notations in the margins of a book; Michiru hummed quietly to the music on the stereo as she sketched. The door opened, then closed softly, and the two women looked up.
"Setsuna!" Haruka said with some feeling. "Why are you home so early?" She checked her watch in case the evening had gotten away from her. Shaking her head, she noted that it was, indeed, very early.
"Is everything alright?" Michiru asked sympathetically.
Setsuna hung up her coat and joined the two. Seating herself on the sofa, Setsuna curled her legs beneath her and sighed. "Everything's fine, Michiru, thank you."
"What happened to Metsuke-kun?" Haruka grinned, using the man's title instead of his name. "He didn't stand you up, did he?" Her face flushed. "If he did, I'll…"
Setsuna laughed at Haruka's dark tone. "No, he didn't stand me up. In fact, we had a lovely dinner, went dancing and," she sighed, "now I'm home."
Michiru cleared her throat delicately. "You've been seeing him for some time, haven't you?"
"Yes and I know what you are asking. I agree. We should progress a little, but…his place is so small and tawdry – and that roommate of his is rather unpleasant. Do you know," Setsuna said with a wry expression, "the last time Kentaro-san invited me over for dinner, that man stayed the *entire* time I was over. Even though Ken had asked for the apartment that night. He kept making excuses to not leave."
"How rude." Michiru agreed.
"You could always bring him here," Haruka suggested, but stopped speaking as she saw the look that the older woman was giving her.
"Haruka, think about what you are saying," Setsuna pleaded.
The blonde looked thoughtful. "I don't see the problem. We can always ask Usagi to watch Hotaru – or even Rei…"
"Haruka," Michiru interrupted, "I don't think that's what she means."
"No?" Haruka turned to face her lover. "Do you mean…us?" she asked Setsuna, with more than a little hurt in her voice, as she gestured towards herself and Michiru.
Setsuna placated her quickly. "Not in the sense you mean, no. Think about it – I am, to all intents and purposes, the single mother of a teenaged daughter. That's difficult enough in this world, but I also share parenting duties with a lovely lesbian couple who, while obviously devoted to each other, make it extremely difficult to explain my household arrangements in a few words. Several of the men I've dated have assumed that I shared your bed while I was without a boyfriend. Nothing seemed to disabuse them of the notion, either," Setsuna reflected.
"Well, it's not like we didn't offer," Haruka said holding her hands up and out quickly as Setsuna glared, "Joke! Joke!" She thought for a moment. "How about a love hotel?"
Michiru made a noise and placed her pencil on her pad. She stood up from the table and walked over to the kitchen, pulling three glasses and some sake' from a cabinet.
"What's wrong with a love hotel?" Haruka demanded of Michiru.
"Nothing at all," the woman said disapprovingly. She poured three glasses and handed them out. "Kampai," she intoned.
The other two returned the toast and drank their sake'.
"Not to mention," Setsuna took up where she left off, "that I can't even begin to explain the whole truth."
Haruka grinned ruefully. "I suppose simply stating that you're a nearly immortal, magically endowed soldier of a forgotten kingdom is out?"
"I'm afraid so," Setsuna agreed with a small smile.
"So," Michiru summed up, "you're not left with many options, is that what you're saying?"
"Well, there's his place, which is not an option," Setsuna shuddered slightly, "my place, which is, no offense, also not an option, or..."
"A love hotel," Haruka stated unnecessarily.
"A love hotel." Setsuna agreed.
Michiru stood and seated herself on the sofa, carrying the bottle of sake'. "Well, you're more than welcome to stay here with us – we're planning on a quiet night tonight." She held up the bottle, and waggled it slightly.
Setsuna put her glass down, staring thoughtfully at the floor. Looking up, she stood and gave the other women a slight apologetic bow. "I appreciate the offer, but I think I'll have to pass." Setsuna swept over to the table by the door and picked up the telephone, making a quick, almost inaudible phone call. Haruka and Michiru busied themselves in a polite conversation so as to not appear intrusive.
The older woman put down the phone and joined the two in the living room. "I apologize for being so abrupt, but..." Setsuna shot Haruka and Michiru an embarrassed grin, "don't wait up for me."
Haruka and Michiru kept their expressions placid as they assured Setsuna they'd do no such thing. In a few moments, the older woman had gathered up a few items and left the house.
Haruka watched the door close, waited a few beats and turned to a softly giggling Michiru. "Why'd you say that to her?" She gestured to the bottle. "I know you remember we've got a midnight cruise recital tonight."
Michiru nodded, stood up and picked up the sake' bottle. "Of course I remember...in fact, we should probably get ready." She returned the bottle to the cabinet and stood in the kitchen entrance.
"But..." Haruka protested.
Michiru interrupted. "Life is too short, Haruka, even for her, not to take every opportunity to have some fun. Now come on – we have to get dressed."
Haruka stood, looked at the door then back at her lover. "Then why didn't you just tell her we'd be out tonight? Especially since you don't like love hotels."
Michiru shook her head. "You heard her, Haruka – explaining us is difficult at the best of times...why complicate something as simple as a night together with her boyfriend with something as difficult as family?" She laughed. "Anyway - *I* don't like them, so tonight, after the recital, you won't be bringing me to one," she smiled.
"Ah." Haruka said, with an understanding grin.
Makoto greeted everyone pleasantly, handing over a small package.
Michiru smiled as she took it from the younger woman. "I hope this is what I think it is," she ventured, lifting the box to sniff at it.
"My homemade strawberry-shortcake," Makoto announced proudly. "Still the best on all nine planets."
"Eight," Setsuna replied acerbically. "Remember, Pluto's only an minor planet now."
"Oh, right," Makoto said, chagrined. "Sorry."
"That's alright!" The older woman was amused at Makoto's reaction. "I'm not taking it personally. It's not as if it's changed my abilities or anything."
Makoto thanked Hotaru when the girl placed a cup in front of her. Taking a polite sip of tea, Makoto asked, "So, I know what you told Usagi-chan and the others, but um, what exactly are we going to be doing today?"
"Well, as far as I can tell, we'll be making a human chain for Setsuna to hang onto after she throws herself into the Time-stream." Haruka said with a grin. "Think of it like this – Setsuna has to rescue a girl who is trapped in a well, and she needs a lifeline to be pulled back out of the well."
"Okay," Makoto said slowly, "That makes sense, but, and I don't mean to be rude, what do you need *us* for Setsuna-san? You're not likely to get lost in Time or anything are you?"
"Not usually, no." The older woman said calmly. "In this case, however, if you can imagine that at the bottom of the well - nice analogy by the way, Haruka - if you can imagine that the girl is trapped by a very swiftly running river that happens to pass below the well. If we don't get her out now, the river can pull her away – and even if we do catch her, the river might pull us both away."
"Oh." Makoto said softly. "That sounds bad."
Hotaru nodded. "It's worse than that, because you see – we keep forgetting what we have to do – or that we have to do anything at all."
Makoto looked terribly confused at that last comment.
"Hotaru-chan is right. There's something going on here that keeps affecting our memories of this situation. It has something to do with Setsuna's journal from the past."
Makoto turned to Setsuna once again for explanation. The older woman shook her head slowly. "Therein lies one of our problems. I didn't remember ever having a journal, but when Hotaru-chan mentioned it, I went and looked...and there it was, sitting by my bedside." She held out a pile of loose crystals, each faceted surface inscribed minutely. "I would have spent all morning puzzling out how it worked, except that Hotaru-chan has been taking notes and she had a list of its various incarnations – when it exists at all."
The girl proudly held up a notebook. "Ta-da! The journal about the journal," she laughed. She opened the book. "Yesterday, Setsuna-mama knew about the journal, I didn't, Haruka-papa did and Michiru-mama didn't." She looked up from the notebook. "And the journal was in the form of a pile of vellum scrolls."
Makoto's eyebrows were extremely high on her forehead. "Now I'm even more confused. What does the journal have to do with anything?"
"That's just it," Haruka said, "we're not sure. Setsuna thinks it may be because the First Senshi is trying to use it to orient her passage through time – it may just be that the journal is becoming temporally unstable, it may be something else." She blew her hair out of her eyes and grinned dubiously. "So, to continue the analogy, we're kind of throwing Setsuna down the well blindly."
"Or maybe the wrong well. Nice." Makoto said. "But – and I'll try and make this the last "but" for now, why do we think that throwing Setsuna down the well is a good idea at all if we don't really know the girl is trapped there?"
"Because," Michiru said with a maddening smile, "the journal says she is."
"The journal that Setsuna doesn't remember she has or sometimes doesn't exist." Makoto looked around for confirmation. Four heads nodded enthusiastically.
Makoto looked away thoughtfully then looked back at the four women. "Okay, I'm game. What do we do first?"
"First?" Setsuna reflected. "First – we have some dinner, then that lovely cake you brought."
The cake was delicious, as they had all expected. Early evening had passed and night had fallen once again. The five women felt well fed and ready to go forward with their adventure. They arrayed themselves as Senshi and consulted the journal of the journal, trying to formulate a plan that opened themselves to the fewest difficulties.
"This is what I think," Saturn said imperiously. "I think that I should be the next in line after Pluto – for obvious reasons."
Uranus grinned down at her daughter. "I think that as your mother, I'm inclined to disagree, but as your fellow Senshi, I can't dispute your right. The truth is, Saturn – you're the most powerful of us, except for Sailor Moon…"
"Um," Jupiter interrupted. "I was kind of wondering about that. Why didn't you ask Usagi-chan for her help?"
Pluto's face was serious as she answered. "Because she is Serenity," she said without explanation.
"Yeah, and…?" Jupiter asked.
Pluto said nothing else, but nodded at the journal, which had altered to the shape of a large black-leather bound book, with thick parchment pages.
Jupiter shrugged. "So, Pluto, then Saturn…"
"Then myself, " Neptune said, "then Uranus and yourself as anchor. Can you do that Jupiter?"
Jupiter nodded, her face serious. "I can do that."
"Part of your job will be to make sure the portal doesn't close until we're all back." Pluto reminded her. Jupiter said nothing at all. "Okay, then, are we ready?"
"Ready" four voices responded sharply.
"Then let's begin."
Jupiter stared into the maw of the vortex and wondered what would happen if she just happened to be the first to enter…
"Oh no you don't," Uranus said, gripping Jupiter's upper arm and holding her fast.
The younger woman looked startled, then shot the others a rueful grin. "Sorry – it just looks so…"
Pluto smiled reassuringly. "Yes, it does." She turned to include the others in her glance. "Are we clear on everything?"
"Sure," Saturn shrugged. "You'll lead the way, I'll make a wall to bolster the portal from the other side, Neptune will hold herself in reserve, and Uranus will stand just on the other side of the portal to assist Jupiter."
"Succinctly put," Pluto said. "Now let us hope that this strategy survives the battlefield."
"Not a chance," Uranus grinned.
"Here we go," Pluto said, stepping smartly into the mouth of the vortex. She held the Rod in front of her; its garnet finial glowing like a torch. "Remember," she said, as she walked away, "focus on your Talismans and we'll be able to stay in contact."
"Right." Three voices answered. Jupiter made a face, but said nothing. It wasn't something they ever said but, she wasn't the only one of the Inner Senshi to admire and, yes, covet, the Outers' Talismans.
Pluto had disappeared and the portal seemed steady enough. Saturn took a deep breath and, holding the Glaive before her as Pluto had held the Rod, she stepped into the hole in space. Jupiter could see flashing light, black and violet, and the aura that surrounded the portal began to pulse. Saturn too had disappeared.
Neptune looked up from her mirror with a small, tight smile. "I've got them both." She took a step towards the void and shot a meaningful look back at Uranus. Jupiter turned away slightly, allowing the two women a moment alone. Clutching her own Talisman, Neptune stepped through and disappeared.
Uranus looked down at Jupiter. "You okay?"
Jupiter nodded. "Fine. Go ahead."
"I'll stay within sight, as long as I can." Uranus commented lightly. "Unless there's trouble." She gave a hard smile. "Which there always is."
"Go." Jupiter said, shooing the older woman away. "They need you."
Uranus nodded and she too stepped into the aperture, her sword sheathed, but held ready.
Jupiter watched as Uranus walked away, waving when she could barely see the woman, except for the radiance of her Talisman. The shining dot stopped and moved back and forth in acknowledgement.
Jupiter sighed. Please, gods, let this one time go smoothly.
Pluto moved into the Time-stream with ease. She had been a Senshi for a long time, longer than many of her line and she knew where the eddies and pools formed, where earlier Senshi had been trapped – and above all, she knew what Seira's own records had dictated. It shouldn't be all that hard to find her predecessor…but moving through Time was never that easy.
"Hello?" Pluto called out.
"Hallooo!" the sound came back to her.
"Seira-sama? Is that you?" she attempted. Mists and vapors obscured her vision – but vision was not her only sense here in the Time-stream. She could make out a young woman ahead of her, standing with her mouth open.
"Who are you? When are you?" the woman demanded. The mists swirled thickly about Setsuna, disturbed by a powerful force. She could see them coalesce around an indistinct figure, a figure who held a long object in her outstretched arms.
Pluto spoke cajolingly. "I am called Setsuna. I am, for what it’s worth, here to rescue you."
The young woman laughed darkly. "Oh – that's good! The last time I heard that, the seven headed monster that tried to sneak past me ended its days as ash. Try again."
"I'm not lying, Seira-sama. I am here to take you out of the Time-stream."
The young woman, Seira, paused. "You are not here to bring me home. You did not say 'to take you home.'"
"No," Pluto said. "Not home."
"Then I'm not going to go," Seira said. "I told them I would return – I can't leave until I find a way home." The orb at the end of her staff glowed strongly now, and Seira set her jaw visibly.
The mists darkened as the voice spoke. "I can't allow that, Seira-sama. There are things that must happen, despite your wishes." The figure was more easily discernible now – Pluto could see that it was a woman, but still had trouble making out her features. "Allow me to take you home with me."
"No." Seira shook her head. "I'm sorry. If you don't leave now, I'll have to destroy you."
Pluto laughed gently at that. "That doesn't make sense does it? Please don't force me to fight you, just to rescue you – it seems so counterintuitive."
Pluto could see the Time-stream agitate around the woman as a second figure approached them. Seira goggled at them while Saturn spoke a few words to the other Senshi.
Pluto spoke again. "Please, Seira-sama, we have little time." The mists seemed to clear in front of the figure and Pluto saw, that the other woman was carrying an nearly exact copy of her own Garnet Rod. "I am Setsuna, Senshi of Pluto from a future that will not happen if you don't come with me."
"No. Go away. You're some kind of bizarre illusion!" Seira gathered the power of the orb and sent it hurtling towards Pluto. Saturn held up her own weapon, calmly blocking the power Seira had sent against them. When the attack had been disposed of, the child gazed at the first Senshi of Time with large, dark eyes, full of pity.
"Seira-sama," the girl spoke. "The portal is closing...please come with us now."
Seira looked petrified with fear. "I...I can't..." she ground out, just before her eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped into the arms of a third figure.
"Sorry to be so sneaky folks, but Neptune says that Jupiter can't keep the portal open for much longer." Uranus lowered the sword she had used to knock Seira unconscious, and lifted the woman in her arms. "We'd better get back."
"And then you'll tell us what this has to do with the sometimes disappearing journal, right?" Saturn asked Pluto.
Pluto shrugged. "I think I'm beginning to understand, so, yes."
Jupiter gritted her teeth and pushed back, hard. The portal was threatening ever more strongly to close and she wasn't sure she'd be able to keep it open much longer. She wondered idly if this was the difference between the Inners and the Outers – if one of them would have been strong enough to hold it open with a little finger, while she was struggling for all she was worth. With this thought, she felt a nudge of some other power and a relief from the strain.
Neptune stood next to her, focusing her Mirror on the swiftly shrinking opening. Jupiter gave her a thankful look and the older woman nodded graciously.
"You're doing a great job," Neptune said. "Just a few more moments and they should be out."
"What if they don't make it?" Jupiter gritted as she sent a blast of energy into the opening.
"They'll make it." Neptune stated firmly.
And with that, three figures came charging towards them from within the portal, as energy seared the air around Jupiter and Neptune. Momentarily the gateway widened and together, the six women dove through the opening, landing in a heap on the Outer's living room floor.
"Well, gosh," said Jupiter, as she struggled upright from underneath Seira's unconscious form, "that was fun. You guys really know how to live!"
Setsuna closed the door, and nodded. "She's asleep."
"I wonder how long it's been since she last slept?" Hotaru asked.
"Practically no time at all," Setsuna said. "Time isn't like that..." she took a deep breath. "Anyway, we're halfway there."
"Can't we just bring her home while she sleeps?" Michiru ventured.
"Mmm, unfortunately not. She's got to find her own way back – in fact, she's the one who discovers how to move through Time properly. I can't even tell her how to do it, or I change our path through Time."
Haruka rubbed her temples. "I don't know how you do it, Setsuna. Being Senshi of Pluto sounds like a real headache." She laughed. "Being Uranus is so simple comparatively."
"I don't know," Setsuna teased, "you make it look so complicated."
Haruka made a moue' and ignored the giggles from Michiru and Hotaru. "Seriously, now that we've rescued her – what are we going to do with her?" She gestured towards the bedroom door.
"Do with?" Setsuna asked. "We're not going to do anything with her. I'm going to talk to her when she wakes up and when she wants to return to the Time-stream, I'm going to let her."
"Are you saying that we went through all that so we can just send her back into the well?" Michiru gaped.
"I don't think we'll ever get rid of this metaphor, will we? No Michiru –we are not *just* letting her go back into the well...we'll be throwing her back in."
"She has to find her way back home or we'll never exist at all."
Haruka resumed rubbing her temples. "But we do exist, so..."
"So she made it back home!" Hotaru chirped happily. "So everything ends up happily ever after?"
Setsuna nodded. "As long as we can get her back on the horse, yes."
"Horse?" Hotaru asked.
"She's just switching metaphors," Michiru said, with a tight smile for the older woman.
Setsuna sat down with the others.
"So, what do we do? Just wait?" Haruka asked. "And then what?"
Setsuna checked the clock on the VCR. "Well, I thought we should have a little party tomorrow – I've invited Chibi-Usa-chan over, " Hotaru cheered at the news, "and Usagi-chan."
"Koneko-chan? But why?"
"I have a hunch that she's the key to Seira's return home," Setsuna said with conviction.
"I have a question," Hotaru began.
"Only one?" Setsuna asked, one eyebrow raised.
Hotaru giggled. "Just one – who remembers the journal?"
"My journal?" Setsuna said with curiosity. "Ah, yes, it was the crux of this problem, wasn't it?" She stood and walked towards her room quickly, returning with a small palm-held device.
"Hey!" Haruka said, "I remember this thing – you're always jotting notes down in it. Where has it been?"
"When has it been?" Michiru corrected .
Setsuna conceded, "I have no idea. Yet."
"I have a headache." Haruka moaned.
"I have a headache." Seira mumbled, her hand pressed to the back of her head.
"That's to be expected," Setsuna commented wryly. "Here, swallow these – they'll lessen the pain." She handed over two pills, which Seira dutifully swallowed.
"When am I?" Seira asked, looking very much like the young woman she was.
Setsuna considered carefully before answering. "You are in a possible future – one I hope to keep in existence."
Seira watched the other woman carefully as she spoke. Slowly a smile crossed her face. "You remind me very much of my mother when she spoke of Time. What was your mother's name?" she asked, almost as an aside.
Setsuna smiled politely but did not answer the question.
Seira's eye opened wide. "How did you come to be the Senshi of Pluto? Only members of the royal family can be..." Understanding flooded her face. "You can't tell me, can you? Even if you know." Seira sighed heavily. "Well then, what *can* you tell me?"
Setsuna smiled. "I can tell that you're feeling better already. Do you feel up to eating something?"
"I am hungry, now that you mention it."
"Good. Come with me and I'll introduce you to everyone."
"Everyone?" Seira parroted, as she slipped out of the bed.
"My family," Setsuna said.
Seira looked around her, taking in the strange surroundings as Setsuna lead her to the living room. The gathered women swiveled as they entered. Haruka leapt from her seat and immediately bowed in greeting. "You're awake. Welcome to our home – I'm Tenoh Haruka," she introduced herself formally.
Seira made an awkward bow in return.
Setsuna gestured for Seira to step forward. "Everyone, this is Seira, of the Royal Family of Pluto of the Silver Millennium. Seira-sama, this is Haruka, Kaioh Michiru and Tomoe Hotaru, our daughter."
"Your daughter? Yours and Haruka's?" Seira asked.
Michiru stifled a smirk as Setsuna clarified. "No. Haruka, and Michiru are a couple, the three of us have adopted Hotaru-chan." Setsuna shot Haruka a "See? This is what I meant when..." look, which Haruka ignored pointedly.
Turning to Michiru, Seira admired the young woman, whose manners were polished and elegant. "Michiru, it's very nice to meet you. And you too, Haruka." Seira stared down at the girl, trying to place the face. When she realized where she knew the child from she blanched. "You...you had a weapon."
Hotaru nodded. "Setsuna-mama is being rather coy." The girl stood and bowed sharply. "So I'll fill in the details. I am also known as Sailor Saturn, the Senshi of Silence. Michiru-mama is Sailor Neptune, and Haruka-papa, she's Sailor Uranus."
Seira's mind reeled. "You are all...?"
Haruka grinned. "Senshi? Or female? Yes to both."
Seira recovered slowly. "In my day, Saturn had no Senshi." She looked once again at Michiru and nodded with recognition for another royal. All of a sudden, Seira burst out in laughter. "And in my time, Uranus and Neptune loathed each other."
Haruka and Michiru shared a glance, as they all smiled at the comment.
"I suppose that when I get home, I'll have to share this little bit of gossip with them..." Seira mused.
"Seira-sama?" Michiru interrupted, "I suppose this is indelicate, but are you planning on staying with us long? If so, I think we should make up a separate room for you." She smiled sweetly. "You slept in Setsuna's room last night."
"I think I will," Seira said, looking at the women around her. "It's been a long time since I had someone to speak to and I find, now that I've been dragged from the Time-stream, I think I'd like to stay for a while." Michiru smiled at the visitor, but she could see Setsuna's eyes become stern.
"She has to leave – tonight." Setsuna said.
"But why?" Michiru asked. "Is it so much to ask, that she be allowed a few days in the company of people who understand her before we cast her back into the loneliness of Time?"
Setsuna shook her head. "The longer she stays, the harder it will be for her to leave. We can't risk that." She had to bite her lip to keep herself from saying more on the subject.
"I'd like to publicly admit that I have no idea what you're talking about. Or what it has to do with that infernal journal." Haruka said, "But, if I have to I'll drag her back there myself."
Smiling, Setsuna said, "That won't be necessary. It wouldn't work anyway – she *is* the Senshi of Time. You can't make her enter if she won't go."
"She's coming." Hotaru whispered.
"Your world is endlessly fascinating," Seira said happily upon entering the room. "I think I will stay for a while and learn about it." She stopped, a look of sadness passing over her face. "Once upon a time I was a researcher. Not a very good one, unfortunately," the woman said contemplatively, "or I might have found my way home."
"Sometimes, the easiest things to do are the hardest to figure out," Setsuna sympathized. " Like forgetting your keys when you leave the house." Seira shot her successor a sharp look, but Setsuna's face was expressionless.
"Well, while I'm here," Seira said with a chipper tone, "I'd very much like to see some of this planet. In my time," Seira did not see Haruka roll her eyes at this oft-repeated comment, "I had been to several of the planetary systems, but spent most of my life in the Silver Millennium on the Moon."
"I'll be glad to show you around, Seira-sama," Hotaru offered, her eyes fixed on Setsuna, who nodded ever so slightly.
"Thank you Hotaru-chan," the eldest Senshi said graciously.
It was full dark before Hotaru and Seira returned, full of stories of their day together. Setsuna greeted them at the door. As she closed the door behind them, she took a deep breath and spoke. "Seira-sama, there's someone I'd like you to meet."
Seira turned to face Setsuna, her face open and pleased. "Yet another Senshi? Do you all know each other?"
Setsuna nodded. "Yes, another one of the Senshi. And yes, we all know one another in this Time." Her voice was cut off by a squeal of pleasure as Chibi-Usa launched herself at Hotaru. The two girls wandered off chattering quickly and loudly while Seira watched them, a variety of emotions crossing her face.
Turning to Setsuna, Seira asked, "Who is that girl?" She let her eyes follow the two young women as they walked away hand in hand. "She looks familiar."
Setsuna did not answer. Seira turned back to the other woman, but at that moment, Haruka popped her head out from the dining room and greeted their visitor.
"Seira-sama, you're just in time for some dessert!" the blonde called out. "And there's someone here who wants to meet you." A second blonde head appeared at Haruka's side and Setsuna watched as Time slid to a complete halt. Seira stared open-mouthed at Usagi.
"S...Serenity?" she stuttered. "You're here? You can't be..." Seira clasped her hands to her chest as if her heart might escape.
"You can call me that," the girl said solemnly. "I am told that you are Seira, of Pluto."
Seira nodded, speechless.
"Why don't you come into the living room and we'll talk." Setsuna gestured for Seira to precede her.
Usagi seated herself next to Seira. The visitor from the past was staring hard at the younger woman. "Serenity, you said I could call you that? How is that?"
The young woman faced her. "I *am* Serenity," she said simply. "I don't really know how to explain it."
Seira looked into the blonde's eyes, searching for something, but shook her head. "You look so like the Princess, but that's impossible. It's disconcerting."
Haruka laughed at that. "You wouldn't be the first to be disconcerted by our Princess."
Usagi made a face.
"My princess is my daughter's foster sister..." Seira spoke softly.
"I have a daughter too," Usagi answered. "Isn't that odd? I don’t think I've ever said it that way before," she said as if to herself. "How old is your daughter?" Her eyes met Seira's.
"How old?" Seira looked around, "I suppose," she hesitated, "that she's long gone now."
"How old was she when you saw her last?" Setsuna asked, her voice intense and urgent.
"She was four. Almost five years old," Seira admitted.
"Don't you miss her?" Usagi inquired gently. "I know I miss Chibi-Usa when she goes away."
Seira shook her head at this. "Your child goes away?"
"From time to time," Usagi smiled.
Seira stared. The other women in the room hid their smiles in a variety of ways. Usagi was being, as usual, both alarmingly profound and disturbingly unaware.
"Seira-sama," Usagi continued as if she had she had no idea of the effect she had on the people around her. "Don't you think it's time to go home?"
Seira blinked. "You are Serenity, aren't you?" Slowly Seira stood and stepped away from the couch. She kneeled with her head bowed. "You're quite right Your Highness. It is time to go home."
Usagi put her hands out and raised Seira to her feet. She shot a quick look towards Setsuna, who gave her a relieved smile.
"Now that we've decided that, let's have some dessert!" Usagi said happily, while Haruka and Michiru let out the breaths they'd been holding.
It was a quiet night, despite the extra number of people staying in the house. Setsuna sat by herself, reading over the notes about the last few days that Hotaru had meticulously written down. Then she stared, with undisguised confusion at the palm pilot.
"It hasn't changed." Michiru's voice was soft, but it still made Setsuna jump.
"Not since she came here, no." Setsuna commented.
"But is it a journal you remember?"
Setsuna pursed her lips. "I remember one, but I haven't written in it for many years and it didn't look like this."
"Do you understand what's happening?" Michiru sat down next to Setsuna, and gazed at the other woman.
"I think I do."
"You guys can't sleep either?" Haruka wandered over to join them.
"Setsuna was just about to explain what's going on," Michiru hushed her lover.
"I think, that I am not the person I used to be," Setsuna said, her eyes still on the object on the table. "I mean that literally."
There was a silence that lingered.
"So, what you're saying is, you are not actually the Setsuna from last week?"
"Or yesterday," Setsuna confirmed. "It appears that time has been altered quite a lot by this little toy's existence."
"How can that be?" Michiru asked.
Haruka picked the handheld device up and turned it over. "If I understand what you're saying – something about Seira's wandering through time has altered time itself, changing some little things. But why doesn't it affect the big things? Like our memory of each other, instead of just about this journal."
"Time isn't linear," Setsuna said. "Nor is it cyclical. It's full of little nexuses and confluences. Each thing the current Senshi of Time does has profound effects on herself – and the people around her. I can, if I need to, alter probabilities to affect situations. But, as you both probably have noticed, I don't. I won't. Not since...well, you remember."
She paused, closing her eyes.
Haruka shifted slightly where she sat. "Setsuna," she began softly. "That time...did you...?"
Setsuna's eyes opened and she fixed Haruka with a piercing look. "I'm not permitted to talk about it," she said, with finality.
The blonde woman nodded solemnly.
"When I became a Senshi," Setsuna began again, "I was taught that Time wasn't meant to be altered...an early Senshi of Pluto - not Seira-sama – was killed by the backlash from an unwise use of her powers."
"I remember something like that," Michiru said. When the other two women looked at her questioningly, she blushed. "It was in a dream, really." She looked at the ceiling, calling up the memory. "Before I was Neptune – I had a dream about a girl who wouldn't listen when her teacher told her how to live in the ocean – live with it."
"Yes," Setsuna confirmed. "Sometimes a new Senshi became drunk with power – or was too hot headed or irresponsible. Funny," she said, targeting Haruka with a smile, "I recall Uranus had that problem more than other Senshi."
"Ha ha," Haruka responded tartly. "So, back to Time..."
"So...Time is shaped by anyone and everyone. Let's call it Fate. Fate is the quality of Time after a person makes a decision that leads to a particular path." She could see Haruka stifle a yawn. "The result is that Pluto, while able to control Time, simply doesn't. In this incarnation, Pluto is as much a part of the linear time that all humans tread as anyone else."
"But what does this have to do with your journal?" Michiru asked.
"Nothing," Setsuna said cryptically, "nothing at all."
Haruka closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands. After a moment, she looked at the older woman with pleading written all over her face, "Setsuna! Come on! Can't you explain what's going on? Simply?"
Setsuna laughed at the blonde's confusion. "No, not simply. But I'll try. When Seira-sama was lost in the Time-Stream, she began to keep a record of her experiments. These, and other, older records, became the first entries in this journal. They were handed down from Senshi to Senshi as an heirloom – and a training tool. It recorded not only what each Senshi learned, but also the changes that occurred to the journal from earlier times."
"What?" Michiru and Haruka were both staring in disbelief.
The older woman nodded. "Yes, because as each Senshi took possession of the journal, it changed. Seira's words were never the same for any Senshi. Each variation was recorded in the journal and pondered over. It was a well-known phenomenon among the Senshi of Pluto. In fact, it was one of the first parts of our rite of passage – to read Seira's words to us and transcribe them, then compare them to the older records.
"And now I think I know why. As long as Seira was trapped in the Time-stream, her words weren't fixed. She was, merely by existing, shifting small points in Time, reshaping details of the existence of her own position as Senshi.
"But if what you're saying is right, then you can find out easily. After Seira-sama returns to her time, all you have to do is see if the journal is the same as you remember it." Michiru mused.
"Yes, assuming that I'm the same Setsuna that I am today – who remembers one set of words, and not another one, who only remembers the words in that journal."
"Oh my gods," Haruka whined. "Do any of your conjectures ever have a definitive end?"
"Possibly," Setsuna joked.
"She does it just to annoy you, you know," Michiru laughed at her lover, who was looking at her desperately. "And you keep walking right into it."
It was a festival-like atmosphere in the house. Seira, having decided to leave immediately, was importuned by Hotaru to stay one more day. Seira was concerned, but Setsuna, after being ganged up on by both the youngest Senshi, relented.
Hotaru and Chibi-Usa hadn't wasted a moment. The house was decorated with paper streamers and balloons. Makoto had outdone herself and there was enough food for thirty people.
When the doorbell rang, Seira stood along with Haruka, looking a little pale.
"Are you alright?" Haruka asked, concerned, but Seira nodded and gave her a little smile.
"I'm just not used to the idea of a lot of people," Seira said. "I've been by myself for a while."
Haruka stiffened at this and rebuked herself silently. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea..." she mused, but Seira shook her head.
"No! I'm looking forward to meeting all of this time's Senshi! In my time, we only have five full Senshi."
Haruka nodded. "Okay. Here we go!"
She opened the door to allow in Minako, Rei and Ami, each loaded down with presents. Their food offerings were added to the table and flowers were accepted with many thanks.
Usagi, Mamoru and Chibi-Usa arrived a few moments later. Makoto had been there for a while, but had thrown everyone - even Michiru and Setsuna - out of the kitchen while she worked. So, at last, everyone was gathered and Seira, still visibly pale, was introduced to all the present Senshi.
Haruka, divested of her hostessing duties, was dispatched to assist Makoto (and to keep Usagi out of the kitchen) while Seira had a chance to meet the rest of the Inners.
"In my time," Haruka overheard Seira saying to Minako and Ami, "Venus hadn't approved the position of Senshi yet. Mercury had, but no one had been appointed to the title."
At last, the party wound down. The time had come for Seira's departure. The Inner Senshi had left, and so had Mamoru, with Chibi-Usa and Hotaru in tow.
So now it was Usagi, and the three older Senshi who stood, facing Seira, as the first Pluto made ready to go.
She took a deep breath and held her Garnet Rod upright. "I've been thinking about what you said the other day, Setsuna," Seira said. "And I believe I understand. However, if I don't," she smiled, "you'll know immediately, because you'll all cease to exist." She laughed.
"You are so definitely one of Setsuna's ancestors," Haruka commented wryly.
"Seira-sama," Usagi said with a deep, formal bow, "please send my regards to my many-times grandmother, Serenity."
Seira smiled mischievously. "I will – although I'd better not put it quite that way. She's only twenty years old!" She bowed to the women in the room and closed her eyes. "It was, among other things, a pleasure to meet you all – especially you, my many times granddaughter." Her eyes opened, sparkling with pleasure. "Goodbye."
With that, Seira gripped her Rod and swung it around her body. Even as she did so, space peeled back from her, separating her from the room the rest of the women occupied. The rod began to glow with an incandescent light, a light that spread into the growing space around Seira. Faintly at first, then more clearly, the observers could see a set of ornate doors form in the now immense portal. The eldest Pluto shot her successor a look and mouthed something that no one heard. With a final motion, the doors slid open and Seira stepped through. The doors remained open for a brief moment, then closed, taking with them the portal that had opened up in the living room.
When the noise and wind had cleared and the four women could see clearly again, three of them turned to Setsuna and asked, "What did she say?"
Setsuna shrugged enigmatically. "It sounded like, 'I remembered where I left my keys.'"
Haruka rolled her eyes.
"So, it's gone completely?" Michiru asked while handing Setsuna a cup of tea.
The older woman nodded as she sipped. "Yes. I remember the journal," she looked around to see if the other Outers did as well and was rewarded with nods, "but there's no sign of it."
"I guess Seira took it back with her," Hotaru posited. "Or maybe she never started it in the first place."
"If I *ever* meet one of the earlier Uranuses," Haruka said with some emotion, "I swear it won’t be half this complex."
"No," Michiru joked, "but it would be five times as noisy." She swatted at her lover's hair, but Haruka ducked.
"What with all the hot air and all..." Hotaru added.
"Yes, yes, Senshi of wind, I get it, I get it...sheesh!" Haruka rose with a grimace. "I'm going to get the mail." She stomped out of the room noisily to the amusement of her family.
"Well, one way or another, at least that little adventure is over," Michiru said pleasantly. "It was rather interesting to meet one of your ancestors, though, wasn't it Setsuna?"
The older woman nodded. "It was – Seira did so much for the position. She was a brilliant researcher and a powerful Senshi. I have much to thank her for."
"Did you?" Hotaru asked suddenly. "Did you thank her? While she was here?" Her eyes were huge as she regarded her mother.
Setsuna's cup stopped halfway to her mouth and she turned to face the girl. "Did I...thank her?"
"Yes," Hotaru said quickly. "She was your fore-mother – the first Senshi...did you ever tell her how much you admired her?"
Her face pale under its coffee color, Setsuna put her cup down quickly. "I..."
The door slamming and quick footsteps interrupted the conversation. Haruka broke into the room waving a package. "There's something for you in the mail, Setsuna!" she placed the small box on the table triumphantly. Three faces watched expectantly as Setsuna unwrapped the parcel. When the small, leather journal was lifted from the box, every breath was held in anticipation.
"Is it..." Hotaru whispered.
Setsuna opened the book, turned a page, then another, closed the book and nodded. "Yes. It's the journal." She looked at the wrapping, taking in the address. "It's my handwriting," she commented abstractly.
"Then it is your journal." Michiru stated.
"She means that she sent herself the journal," Haruka said triumphantly. "Didn’t you?"
"Yes. Now, Hotaru-chan, as I was saying," she picked her cup back up from its saucer and sipped at it. "Yes, I did thank Seira-sama for the honor of meeting her." She reached out to squeeze the girl's shoulder. "Unlike some little girls, I was raised to honor my elders."
"Hey" Hotaru protested. "I'm always polite to my elders. It's just that, as the Senshi of Silence, there really aren't that many people older than I am," she laughed.
"So," Haruka was practically dancing from foot to foot with impatience. "So? Well? Is it the same journal?"
Setsuna handed the book over. "You tell me."
Haruka took the book with a frown. "How would I know...?"
"Start with the last entry," Setsuna said. She stood, picked up her empty cup and brought it to the sink.
Haruka flipped through to the last entry. "It's dated a few weeks ago – about," she flipped to the beginning of the journal entry before that, "forty years after the last entry.
"'The Time-Stream is agitated, I can feel something is about to happen any minute now. I don’t know why, but this journal has suddenly become precious to me and I feel that I must keep it safe. I'll put it away in the safest place I know – a place with wards so strong that no rule of Time will supersede them. I trust that it will be returned to me in due course.'"
Haruka looked up and said, "It's your journal, isn't it – the one you lost."
"Yes," Setsuna said with a bright smile. She approached Haruka with her hand outstretched. Haruka handed over the book with a grin. "I'm glad you've got your journal back."
"Me too. I'll be in my room writing, if anyone needs me." Setsuna gave a little wave with the volume and disappeared into her bedroom.
"Now it's my turn to be confused," Michiru said lightly. "How did you know it was her journal just from that passage?"
Haruka yawned and stretched and helped herself to some tea. "Because what she did was so typically Setsuna-like, it had to our Setsuna, and therefore, her journal. She needed a place safe from Time, right? A place where all rules superseded the pressure of Time." Haruka reached out and tugged at the paper that had wrapped the book. "So she found the safest place of all. She mailed it to herself – fourth class." Haruka gave a little bark of laughter. "*Nothing* makes fourth class mail go faster than it's supposed to – not even it being mailed from the house it was addressed to."
Hotaru made a noise of disgust and rose from the table. "You know," she said, "this has got to be the lamest ending I've ever heard to a story. I'm out of here." And she left the room, slamming her bedroom door behind her.
Haruka looked up at Michiru, who shrugged. "It does seem a bit...anticlimactic."
"True, but who knows – maybe the story isn't actually over yet, after all..."
"Yes, yes, Time is a funny thing." Michiru cleared away the last of the tea things. "All these adventures in the uncertainty of Time has made me want to do something important – come with me while I go get my nails done."
Haruka snapped to attention. "As long as it's something important, I'm there."
To celebrate the almost-grand opening of our new site, here's the first new story I've managed to complete in what must be the best part of two years.
After watching the Marimite anime, I knew I'd have to try and write something about Noriko and Shimako - their relationship is just too much fun to leave alone. (For what it's worth, I think Shimako is secretly an evil genius. She needs to be to get Noriko wrapped so carefully around her finger.)
Maria-sama ga Miteru : Sweet The Rose
Steel-blue eyes, half closed.
White china and green tea.
A wisp of brown hair falling towards delicate lips.
The sharp clatter of porcelain and metal.
A warm and comforting voice.
The dark-haired girl started guiltily, suddenly realising that she'd
been staring again.
"Are you alright? You've hardly touched your cake."
"Cake?" Noriko looked down at the fork in her hand and the plate on
the table in front of her as though they had suddenly and unaccountably
sprung into existence. Concentrating fiercely, she sliced off a piece
of millefeuille and lifted it to her mouth. The pastry was soft and
deliciously sweet, but somehow she could barely taste it.
From the other side of the table, Shimako giggled quietly, hiding her
mouth behind her hand. Noriko froze, feeling a blush creeping to her
"What is it? Did I--?"
Before she could finish, the older girl reached across the table and
wiped a spot of cream from the corner of her lips with her finger.
Despite her embarrassment, Noriko couldn't help but laugh. Shimako
carefully licked the tip of her finger clean, casting a slightly
puzzled look in her direction.
"I'm sorry," she smiled. "It's just that I keep expecting to hear
Rosa Chinensis complaining about my table manners..."
Shimako gave her a stern look. "Noriko-chan," she said sharply, her
voice a passable impersonation of the older girl, "a young lady should
comport herself properly at all times."
At the expression on her face, Noriko almost choked on her cake, trying
desperately to stifle a burst of laughter. "How long have you been
practicing that?" she asked, teasingly.
The other girl gave no response, other than an enigmatic quirk of her
lips, and the two lapsed into silence as Noriko forced herself to
concentrate on her food, glancing up only occasionally.
Shimako watched her wistfully, entranced by the shifting of the light
in her eyes and across her skin as, outside, the clouds began to darken
the sky. Her black hair brushed softly against the collar of her
sweater, highlighting the slow, delicate curve of her neck. Shimako
sipped at her tea distractedly, brushing a finger across the
lingering warmth on her lips and sighing quietly.
She was sure that only the briefest of moments could have passed before
she was startled out of her daydream by the sound of Noriko setting her
fork down against her plate, the tiny sound jarringly loud in her ears.
"That was delicious. Thank you so much, Shimako-san."
It seemed to her that the younger girl was watching her face intently,
almost as though she was fearful of some sign of disapproval. "I'm
glad," she replied, smiling warmly.
Noriko stared intently at the tablecloth, trying her hardest to avoid
the warm, uncertain tension that hung between them. In her mind
she searched frantically for something, anything to say. With uncanny
timing, just as she opened her mouth, the other girl began to speak.
They both laughed nervously.
"Please," Shimako began, "you go first."
"I..." Noriko swallowed and tried again. "I think we'd better leave,
Shimako-san. We don't want to get caught out here in the rain."
The older girl nodded sadly in agreement. Gathering their things,
the pair stood up and made their way towards the exit, Shimako pausing
at the counter to fish some wayward coins from her purse.
As Noriko pushed open the cafe door, a few spots of rain began to
spatter onto the pavement. Up ahead, the sky was menacingly dark. She
rummaged in her bag for a second, eventually pulling out a small
compact umbrella and wrestling it into shape. Raindrops began to smack
hollowly into the red fabric.
The younger girl turned to see Shimako staring at the clouds, a look of
obvious concern on her face. "What's the matter?"
"I forgot to bring an umbrella with me," she admitted. "Would you--?"
Before she could finish, Noriko walked over and dragged the taller girl
underneath the umbrella with her, pulling her close to try and make
sure that they could both stay dry.
As they began to walk, Shimako slipped her arm around the smaller
girl's shoulders. Sighing contentedly to herself, Noriko let her head
rest gently against the brunette's arm, the warmth of it suffusing her
In the distance, jagged forks of lightning flickered across the sky,
leaving lingering purple shadows in the air. The rain grew harder.
At the end of the street, Shimako made to turn left, only to find
herself tugged back by the smaller girl, who glared at her defiantly.
"Shimako-san, I am not going to leave you waiting outside for a bus
in this weather," she admonished. As if to punctuate her words,
a peal of thunder rolled over them like a wave. "It's not far to my
Aunt's house. You can stay with us until this storm passes."
Shimako drew a short breath, making ready to argue, but the fiery look
in the other girl's eyes made her think better of it. With a quiet
smile, she nodded her acquiescence, and together they began to make
their way against the growing wind.
As they walked, she looked down at the younger girl, her eyes
half-closed, resting once more against her shoulder. Strands of dark
hair blew lightly across her fingertips, and almost instinctively she
found herself twining a tiny lock around her fingers. Catching
herself, she let go, smiling wryly at her own foolishness.
All too soon, they found themselves at the front of a small two-storey
house. Noriko opened the gate, wiping her wet fingers absently on her
jeans as they made their way up the path.
She pushed the front door open to let Shimako step inside, slamming
it shut behind her to keep out the rain. "I'm home," she called out,
kicking her shoes off into a corner.
A tall, grey-haired lady stepped out of the kitchen at the end of the
entrance hall, humming softly to herself. "Welcome home, Riko," she
said happily. Catching sight of the other girl, she paused, her eyes
widening sharply. "Oh... Who's this, Noriko?"
"Shimako-san, this is my Aunt, Nishimuro Sumireko," the dark-haired girl
began excitedly. "Auntie, this is my friend, Todou Shimako."
Shimako gave a small, graceful bow. "I'm very sorry to intrude
unannounced like this, Nishimuro-san--" she began.
The old lady favoured her with a bright smile. "Please, don't worry
about it," she interrupted. "I've been looking forward to meeting you,
Shimako-san. Come inside and sit down - you must be cold."
Relaxing slightly, Shimako kicked off her sodden shoes and took a pair
of guest slippers from the mat, following Noriko and her aunt into the
"Would you like some tea, Shimako?" Sumireko asked, settling herself
slowly into an armchair.
"If it's not too much trouble..."
"Of course. Noriko-chan, would you mind making us some tea, please?"
Noriko nodded obediently and hurried away to the kitchen.
"She's told me so much about you, Shimako-san. I was glad to see her
happy - I had worried that she wouldn't fit in at Lillian. She can be
so stubborn when she wants to."
Shimako laughed quietly.
"I was so shocked when she returned home that evening wearing a
rosary around her neck. I hadn't imagined she would ever accept
someone as her soeur... Tell me, Shimako, how did you and Noriko
"It was at the beginning of the Spring term," Shimako began. "My
Onee-sama had just recently graduated... I was watching the cherry
blossom, underneath the tree where I first met her."
At this, Sumireko's smile cracked slightly. She rubbed at her eye with
one of her fingers. Shimako paused, uncertainly.
"I'm sorry. Did I--?"
"No, no. It's not your fault, child. I... I was just remembering a
"Do you know that place, Nishimuro-san?"
"Oh yes. I used to go there myself, whenever I wanted to be alone for
a while. Back then we all used to believe that it was haunted."
"Haunted?" Shimako looked genuinely shocked. "But who--?" She broke
off as Noriko stepped back into the room bearing three steaming cups of
tea on a tray. She handed one to her aunt, and another to Shimako, the
tips of their fingers brushing together for the briefest of moments.
Noriko seated herself next to Shimako, a short distance away, letting
her hand fall between them. Smiling warmly at her, Shimako turned back
to face the older woman. "I'm sorry. If you don't mind, I think I'd
like to hear that story," she continued, apologetically.
"There isn't much to tell. The rumour was that two lovers had been
caught there one day by the school authorities. They were due to be
expelled... They were so scared of bringing such shame upon their
families that they crept back into the grounds that very night and
took their own lives beneath its branches. Supposedly their spirits
haunted the grounds and that any two people who first met there would
Shimako covered her mouth with her hand. "That's terrible,
Nishimuro-san! Were there really...?" Her voice trailed off awkwardly.
The old lady smiled once more. "Who knows? We used to believe all
kinds of awful things. I think mostly it was just a way to make the
school feel a little more exciting." She laughed gently. "As far as I
was concerned it was just a quiet place to eat my lunch. At least it
was, until one day I found another girl sitting there in my place."
Out of sight, Shimako felt Noriko's fingers entwine with her own.
"What did you do?" she asked. Beside her, the younger girl leaned
"I was so angry at her! I knew it was silly of me, but it felt as
though she'd stolen something from me just by being there. So I walked
away, thinking that at least she'd be gone the next day and I could
have my haunted tree to myself again. But when I came back, she was
there again. And the next day. And the day after that. I tried going
there as early as I could, but it seemed like she was always ahead of
Sumireko paused to take a long sip from her teacup before continuing her
story. "In the end I decided that there was no way I could win, so I
gave in and sat down next to her. 'Aren't you afraid of the curse?' I
asked her. She turned to me and laughed a little. 'If we get cursed,'
she told me, 'I'm blaming you.'"
Noriko laughed delightedly, and Shimako couldn't help but join in.
"Did you find out who she was?"
"Oh yes. After that we ended up meeting there every day to eat our
lunch together. Her name was Suzuhara Keiko, and she was two years
older than I was. We used to talk to each other about all kinds of
things - about school, about the future... Whenever I felt lonely or
sad, she was always there waiting for me. Towards the beginning of
summer that year, she offered me her rosary while we were sitting there
in the shade."
Shimako sat up slowly, clutching the warmth of Noriko's fingers more
tightly in her own to hide the nervousness from her voice. "I hope you
don't mind my asking, Nishimuro-san," she began quietly, "but what did
you do after she had graduated?"
The older lady looked at her gently. "That's quite alright,
Shimako-san. I was sad for a time, of course. But after she left we
began to write letters to one another. She married a very handsome
young man and moved away to live with him in Yokohama. I still speak
to her quite often, even now."
At that, Shimako smiled sadly. "I'm very glad to hear that,
Nishimuro-san," she replied. "Thank you for telling me." She relaxed
slowly back against the cushions, allowing a comfortable silence to
fill the room, disturbed only by the steady hiss of the evening rain.
After a minute, Noriko put down her teacup and turned to face her
soeur. "Shimako-san, could you tell me about how you met your
Onee-sama? You've mentioned her before, but we never..." she asked,
her voice trailing off uncertainly.
The older girl set her cup down on the table, a gentle look in her
eyes. "Of course. I'm sorry for not telling you sooner, Noriko. I...
I hope you can meet her one day. I'm sure she'd like that."
"It was in the middle of the spring," Shimako began, leaning forwards,
her soft voice drawing the others in. "At first she seemed almost
By the time Shimako had finished, the last of the evening light had
long since faded. The rain was still drumming fiercely against the
Sumireko looked outside and shook her head. "I don't think you should
try and find your way back home in this weather, Shimako-san..."
Shimako turned to see, a worried frown creeping across her face.
"You're welcome to spend the night here if you'd like. We have plenty
"Are you sure?" Shimako asked, uncertainly. "I don't want to impose
Sumireko nodded warmly at her. "It's no trouble at all. Noriko-chan,
could you pop upstairs and make up an extra bed, please?" Noriko
assented enthusiastically, bounding her way up the stairs two at a
time. "And Shimako-san, you'd better call your parents and make sure
they know you're here."
Up in her bedroom, Noriko busied herself laying out a mattress and
bedding on the floor next to her bed, trying to conceal the trembling
nervousness that thrilled through her. From a picture on the wall
above her head, the stone face of the Buddha stared down from a green
mountainside with a look of aggravating serenity. Noriko found herself
After a moment, she heard Shimako's voice calling querulously after her
from the bottom of the stairs. She walked over to the open door and
beckoned the older girl to come and join her.
Shimako climbed the steps with a slow, measured tread, looking around
the inside of Noriko's room with a mischievous light in her eyes.
"Noriko-chan, do you have something I could wear?" she asked. "I
didn't bring anything with me."
The dark-haired girl stared at her wardrobe for a moment, thinking.
"Just a second..." she stated, suddenly, dashing out of the door. She
returned a moment later, carrying a large cotton shirt on a hanger.
"This belonged to my Uncle," she explained, holding it up against the
taller girl to check the size. "It'll be a bit big on you, but--"
Shimako took it, smiling gratefully and rubbing the soft material
between her fingers. "Don't worry, Noriko-chan. It's fine. Thank
you." She paused for a moment. "Is it okay for me to get changed
Noriko nodded, then looked away quickly as Shimako began to undo the
buttons of her blouse, feeling as though she might blush all the way
to her toes. "I'll just go and clean my teeth," she began, hoping that
her voice would not betray her discomfort. "The bathroom is at the
end of the hallway. You can... you can use my bed. I'll sleep on the
floor." Before the other girl could try and argue, Noriko had grabbed
her night-clothes and stepped out onto the landing, closing the door
When she returned, she found Shimako standing next to the bed,
examining a small statue of the Buddha that she kept there. The
shirt's sleeves were rolled halfway up her arms, and the tails hung
alluringly around the middle of her thighs.
Catching Noriko's expression, she spun playfully on the spot, her hair
bouncing around her shoulders. "How do I look?" she teased. The
younger girl laughed in delight, shaking her head as Shimako walked out
towards the bathroom, before finally dropping to her knees on the
Through the thin fabric of her pajama top, Noriko absently counted off
the beads of the rosary that hung, hidden, around her neck. The warm
weight of it against her skin so similar, and yet so different from the
juzu she had sometimes carried in the past.
She hadn't meant to wear it like this - certainly not outside the
Lillian school grounds. She'd meant what she'd said when she had told
Shimako that she would merely keep it safe for her. After all, it
didn't mean anything much to her. Not really.
But somehow she'd kept forgetting to take it off. And with Shimako
here... This was her secret. A private prayer.
Another Decade passed beneath her fingertips. Her skin tingled gently.
Each bead of the juzu brought calm, a tranquility to be found nowhere
else. The rosary seemed almost its polar opposite, bringing confusion,
uncontrolled. Her heart beat faster.
She jumped in surprise, her fingers flying from her throat as though
scalded. Turning, she found Shimako standing a few steps behind her,
eyes bright with amusement.
"I'm sorry. Did I startle you?" she asked.
Noriko shook her head, standing slowly. "No, not at all. I...
Shall I turn the light off?"
Shimako sat down on the bed, shuffling herself under the blanket.
"Thank you," she nodded.
Sighing quietly with relief, Noriko turned out the light and settled
herself onto her mattress. The cross around her neck felt as though it
was blazing with light. Even in the dim glow of the street lamp
outside, she felt sure that Shimako could see it shining from where she
Shivering, she tugged the blanket up under her chin. "Goodnight,
Onee-sama," she whispered.
A moment later, she realised what she had just said, her fingers
leaping instinctively to cover her mouth. Her skin burned, blushing
In the darkness, she could barely make out the outline of Shimako's
face. Only her reply, softly breathed, hung in the air.