|Shades of Difference|
A Sailor Moon fan fiction by Thomas Sewell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This story is set in my particular version of Sailor Moon. It takes place long after Sailor Stars, and after the events chronicled in my other stories. American Dream explains how Chibi-Usa really came to be. Under Black Wings explains how Usagi became wheelchair-bound. Nurse Venus tells the story of Minako's marriage. The events chronicled in A Year and Change, not complete as I write this, have also taken place, but this story is more of a follow-on to Nurse Venus. However, I hope you can enjoy the story by itself.
Minako waited until Ishi-chan had accomplished her task before her own time at the shrine. That time gave Minako enough time to think about time . . . Kevin had been dead for longer than they had been married. Isis and Achilles had no real memories of him, and he had not lived to see little Aphrodite, had not even known she was coming.
Minako was already running late, and the five extra minutes seemed never to be made up in the busy day that followed . . .
Minako was late coming home that evening. It was hardly unusual; scrub nurses were in shorter supply than surgeons, and there had been a lot of extra surgery: Victims from no less than four major accidents, and a gang shooting. Minako was startled at one point to actually recognize one of the shooting victims. He had known her husband Kevin in his gang days, and he had visited Kevin several times while he was alive. Minako did not get to catch up on old times with the young man; he died on the table, despite the best efforts of Dr. Gonsoles. Minako did remember that he had fathered some children, but she did not know the mothers.
Minako's license was suspended again, so she rode home with Carmen Gonsoles in the ancient car that used to belong to Mamoru. Haruka had repaired and rebuilt it so much over the years it the children called it "The Frankencar." It was not really this seat she had sat in on the way to give birth to Ishtar. Still, it was the same car, a connection to so many memories. It was the first car Kevin had driven after his terrible injuries; no one would worry if it got a little more banged up . . . and it was the last car he had driven before he had died.
It was really only fifteen kilometers from Highland Hospital to the home they shared, but it took more than an hour to cover it. The same traffic that had yielded the accidents was still clogging the freeways and flooding over into the streets.
It was dark when they finally got to the old mansion they called home, the place Minako had called home now for longer than she could remember living in Japan. It was a white elephant, as big as a small hotel, and rather seedy-looking, though Minako knew its appearances were deceptive. Under the brick facing, it was a heavily-built ferroconcrete structure, except for the light framework of the loft, with its many dormers. After a break-in, its owner, Dr. Alvarson, had further reinforced it, replacing most of the glass with clear plastic armor, five centimeters thick. It was safe against fire, against earthquakes, against bullets. It was even proof against most supernatural attacks, because Dr. Alvarson was actually a wizard. He had put many protective enchantments on this place, which had some special magical resources Minako did not understand and did not care to, however much Naru-chan tried to teach her about Thaumatology.
Why Dr. Alvarson allowed and encouraged the other senshi to live in his mansion was a question he had never really answered to satisfaction. Minako, however, would always be welcome, since the little wizard had married her mother. He was away, with her mother. They had been gone nearly a year this time. He had been away for even longer periods twice before since she had first set foot in her new home.
This was her old home now, the place were she felt safest. It held only one bitter memory, the night so long ago that she lost Mamoru, or rather discovered she could never truly have him. And even that was sweetened, because Mamoru had given her Ishtar, worth any pain.
The big house was quiet when they entered. Sarah, or Chibi-Usa as Minako always thought of her, was the usual ringleader for noisy fun, but she was babysitting somewhere tonight. Naru and her large brood were in Japan, visiting family.
But it was not that quiet. Ishtar brought up a whimpering Aphrodite in her arms, and Isis and Achilles ran to her. Minako spent more time getting her three small ones safely to sleep for the night. When at last Achilles was down, she took a long moment to ponder them all. She thought long enough, and hard enough, that she did not notice the familiar squeak of rubber wheels on hardwood getting closer.
"Mina-chan?" inquired Usagi. "Are you eating tonight?"
"Oh . . . Yes." Minako closed the door to their room carefully, because Achilles, or "Aki-chan," was liable to wake up if he heard the door close. Once that was quietly done, she went with Usagi.
They went to the kitchen. Minako was relieved that Usagi had not made the meal; it was leftovers from some function Makoto and Olivia had catered—quite the usual thing now. Makoto had made noises about starting a restaurant since they had first met, but it had taken iron-willed Olivia's management to make it reality. Olivia was sort of a relative of Minako's; she was the widow of Kevin's brother. "When will Mako-chan and Olivia be back?" Minako asked between bites. Not normally a heavy eater, Minako was very hungry tonight; she had skimped on breakfast and missed lunch altogether.
"Not until after midnight, I think," replied Usagi, who was not eating. "There is some big affair tonight. Someone rented the whole restaurant."
"Usagi-chan, you are not eating? This is very good."
"I know. I've had enough for tonight."
"Enough? What ever happened to your bottomless stomach?"
"Perhaps it went away with my legs, Mina-chan. Or maybe I am just getting older."
Minako's appetite fell off for the moment. "I am sorry."
Usagi shook her head. "That is all right . . . Maybe I do not need to eat so much because I do not burn so much energy as Sailor Moon."
"Maybe . . . you certainly do not look older." That was an exaggeration; Usagi could look very old indeed, especially in her eyes, but there was not a line on her face. Or in Minako's face, or any of the original senshi's.
Minako decided to change the subject. "Usagi-chan, do you think I should be working? I hate to be away from my children all the time."
Usagi said, "What you do is important, Mina-chan."
"Many others could do my job. Many others who need the work, and many others who can do it better than me."
"Few others . . . Mina-chan, you do not have to work, but you are helping people. You are helping to save lives."
"Thank you, but I am just a nurse," said Minako wearily.
"Do you want to be an idol, like you did when we were . . . " Usagi was obviously about to say "younger" but instead she finished with ". . .in Japan?"
Minako laughed, with a little bitterness. The some of the fame she had wanted as a teenager had come to her, but not quite the way she had anticipated. She was famous as Sailor Venus, which was, of course, a secret. And she was or had been famous, or infamous, as the widow of a gangster. The true story was more complicated than that, but Minako had found all too few reporters were more interested in truth than in sensation. Even if she could publish the real truth, would enough people listen? Minako led a quiet life as Minako now, lest her children be tainted.
Usagi took a large sip of the weak green tea she now drank on every occasion. Watching her, distant part of Minako's mind remembered a Queen who had also possessed that habit. Usagi said, "I think you should talk to Ami-chan, when she returns." Ami was visiting her mother in Africa. "But I know you will do what you think is right, and that is fine with me." Usagi put down her tea, and wheeled herself over to one of the counter-cabinets. She rifled through a drawer, and produced an envelope. "This came for you today, Mina-chan. I hid it from Chibi-Usa. She is such a snooper now."
"I wonder where she could have gotten that from?" Minako "asked." They chuckled, because Usagi had been a snoop—and still was, though she had learned a little restraint. Minako also noticed that Usagi had slipped and called her daughter "Chibi-Usa," a sign she was tense. Normally Usagi addressed her by her American name, Sarah—or "Sarah Ami Usagi Uer" when she was upset with her eldest daughter, which was often. But Minako let that pass.
Minako took the letter, wondering why it was important enough to be hidden. It was rare for Minako to get a real letter. She looked at the addresses. It was from Katrina, but she was using her maiden name, Riles, not Desmond. She opened the envelope, and began to read the letter.
After a few minutes, Usagi asked, "What is the news? I do not remember you hearing from your old friend for years now."
"Katrina has sad news. She and Alan have divorced."
"Is that why you heard nothing for so long?"
"Are you reading my thoughts?"
"No. I am behaving myself, Mina-chan."
"I am sorry . . . You are right, that is why. They have been having troubles for years, and they did not want to tell me about them."
"Foolish . . . You might have helped them."
"Do you think so? Really?"
"I know you would have tried . . . after all, you are the goddess of Love. And you did bring them together."
"Yes, I did do that."
"Did they have children?"
"No . . . Katrina is glad they did not, because of the divorce, now . . . She says she is glad." Minako shook her head. "Katrina has some better news. She has been promoted again. She will be heading the Paris office of Interpol."
"Oh, that means that Haruka and Michiru will see her all the time."
"Maybe when Michiru performs. Katrina does not know who the other senshi are. Not from me, at least."
Heartsick from how much her little ones missed her, Minako cut back her hours at the hospital. But, naturally, something else came up: a particularly nasty killer operating in Europe, mostly in Berlin and Paris. It took two months of hunting to catch him. No one accomplished any miracles this time, but the man was certain to spend the rest of his life locked away.
Katrina was the liaison between Interpol and the senshi, because this killer sent a frisson of fear throughout Europe, and it was feared he could strike anywhere. They met again after the man was locked away in the first of many institutions. Reviewing the distasteful details of the killer, yet another marginal man with a genius for murder and cruelty, Katrina suddenly closed the file she was working through and brought her fist down upon it. "Why didn't you kill him?"
Minako said, "It was better to capture him alive."
"We can learn from him. He can help us find his victims."
"You don't really believe that, do you?"
Minako hesitated. "Perhaps we will learn nothing from him, but we might."
"Didn't you want to kill him?"
"Of course . . . " Minako hesitated, and then decided to tell Katrina a little more. "But I did not. And I kept another senshi from killing him."
Katrina had looked up, and Minako saw she had read her face. Katrina asked, "What was so special about this other senshi?" Katrina unfolded her fist, and took Minako's hand.
There was every reason to say no more, but Katrina had been her oni-san, the first person she had ever shared her secret life with. "My daughter is the one I had to stop."
The journey home wasn't urgent enough for an energy-draining teleport, so Minako faced a long journey home from Berlin, along with Ishtar, Rei, Deja, and Naru's oldest, Pleione. Rei had charge of the others for the moment, as Minako left the Berlin Interpol offices. Katrina had more work, a lot of it, before she returned to Paris tomorrow, so they would not be seeing one another before Minako flew out with the others.
Outside, only a few steps out, she found Alan. He was on his way in.
"Alan?" she asked.
He stopped, and turned to her voice. His face brightened with a smile. "Minako! What are you doing here?"
"I was just with Katrina."
"Oh . . . Was it about that Eidelmann fellow?"
"Yes, it was." She looked around. "I do not want to talk about that, now . . . You are coming to see Katrina?"
"Yes . . . Actually, I'm turning over some things to her. I've sold our old flat, so I can pay her the settlement now."
"Oh . . . it is so sad, that you divorced. Is everything final now?"
"Not completely, but . . . really, it is over." He shrugged. "Nothing for it but to get on." He was silent and thoughtful for a moment. "Are you in a rush? This will really only take a few minutes."
Minako said something she found surprisingly difficult to say. "I must get back to my hotel, my daughter is waiting for me." She fumbled for the pad she kept in her purse, and a pen. "Here. I am at this place, room 428. If you come by, we can have some dinner and talk before I leave."
"You are leaving?"
"Yes, I am flying home tonight."
She tore off the top sheet and handed it to him. He glanced at it, folded it, and put it into his pocket. "I'll come as soon as I can, Minako."
Minako gave him a peck on the cheek, and then rushed for the cab stand to catch the taxi that had just pulled up before someone else claimed it. On the way back to her hotel, Minako kept thinking about a detail of her impression of Alan. He had seemed so much shorter than she remembered. Minako, and most of the other senshi of her generation, had grown well into their twenties, so she was taller than she had been in middle school. But still, Katrina had not seemed shrunken . . .
Minako would have preferred to have her dinner with Alan alone, but she did not really consider making her wish come true. Ishtar was not really over her upset from capturing Eidelmann. Her powers had increased, but now she could read entirely too much of a man like Eidelmann. Minako had not wanted to leave her alone at all, but if she had taken Ishtar to see Katrina, Katrina might have asked the wrong questions.
Ishtar knew something was different as soon as Minako came home. After Minako explained that Alan would be visiting them before they went home, Ishtar got an all-too-familiar look: She had sensed something she didn't want to talk about.
Rei-chan, however, spoke her mind. "You look like you were in middle school again. Are you still in love with this Alan?" Rei had never met Alan.
"Maybe a little bit. It will be nice to see him."
"How would your friend Katrina feel about that?" asked Deja.
"I don't think it is your place to ask that," said Pleione.
"You are sounding like Chibi-Usa!" retorted Deja.
"Maybe, but I'm right."
"Stop that, both of you!" said Rei.
"Aino-san is my friend, but she is your elder! Deja-chan, remember your manners. And Pero-chan, do not provoke Deja-chan."
"Please let them alone, Rei-chan," said Minako. "Deja-chan made a good point. I do feel awkward about seeing Alan when I have just seen Katrina. But when will I get another chance? It is just a visit. We will share a meal, and talk for awhile." Minako reached out and drew Ishtar to herself. "And I will show off my beautiful Ishi-chan!"
Ishtar smiled and blushed.
Alan was later than Minako anticipated. There wasn't to be time for a leisurely meal at the hotel restaurant. Instead, they transferred their meeting to the airport. So, their meal turned out to be a brief one, shish-kabobs at a Turkish booth.
Alan was very surprised by Ishtar, but he didn't remark about her age—in such a public place, Minako could not explain how she could have a daughter so old, so she had to be content that he did not ask the obvious questions.
But as they went to the plane, Alan asked to speak with her for just a few minutes alone. The others went ahead, onto the plane. When they were all out of sight, Alan said, "Your daughter is so big . . . I thought you were only married a few years ago?"
"I was. Ishtar's father was Mamo-chan. We were engaged for a time."
"Chiba Mamoru. He married my friend Usagi-chan. Long after Ishi-chan was born . . . I will explain this some other time, it is complicated."
Alan shrugged. "I am sorry . . . sorry."
Minako took his hands. "You did not have children with Katrina. Maybe you wished you had?"
He took a long time to reply. "I want to be a father someday."
"I think you will be. There are many ladies who would let you into their hearts."
He waited a shorter but significant time before his next remark. "What about you, Minako?"
And there it was, the possibility Minako had been trying very hard not to think of since she learned of the divorce. "Ne-e-eh . . . What do you mean?" <Did he mean it?>
"I mean, do you see possibilities for us, together? To be more than friends, someday?"
"Oh, Alan . . . I will always have you in my heart. But I was a child when I was in love with you. So much has happened to me . . . " She sucked in her breath, and took both his hands in hers. "You are 'on the rebound,' as people in America say. You should not rush into love now. You will find it, but it will be better to wait until you can be sure it is really new love you are finding."
He shook his head. "You have grown up on me." He took one hand out of her grasp, and lightly touched her cheek. "And you are giving me sound advice. But I know I would like to be with you. I don't see myself finding anyone else." He broke the brief contact. "Please, give me consideration. That is all I ask. What must I do?"
Minako was the one who paused this time. She carefully weighed her heart against the other considerations. But in the end, she said. "If you can come to San Francisco, we will see what happens. But not for a few months." She kissed his cheek. "If you still think it is a good idea in a few months, then we will see. But I must get on my plane now!"
Before she could ease away, Alan kissed her on the lips. It was harder to stop than Minako anticipated. Much harder . . . But at last she broke away long enough to say, "Do not forget, I have three other children. Think about that, before you decide to come."
"I will," said Alan.
"I have to go now." And she left him, without looking back, because she was not sure she could leave at all, if she looked back. <Can this be real?> She could think thoughts like that, now that she was out of his presence.
Minako found she had barely made the plane. Even Pleione noticed that Minako was flushed. Ishtar, of course, knew exactly how her mother was feeling, even if she didn't know precisely why. And, for once, Rei and her eldest held their tongues while Minako settled into her seat, strapped herself in, and forced herself to think about something else besides her last revealing moments with Alan.
After another shift at Highland, Minako returned to the familiar bedlam of the mansion. Achilles and Isis ran up to her, and Aphrodite ran until she fell, then crawled until Alcyone, one of Naru's many children, scooped her up and brought her the rest of the way. After hugs and kisses for her little ones, she asked Alcyone, the same age as her own oldest, "Arakano-chan, where is Ishi-chan?"
"Doing homework with Kimi," answered Alcyone. Kimi was Usagi's second child, born only two months after Ishtar. They were like twins in many ways . . . and, of course, Mamoru had been Kimi's father, too.
"What about your homework?" inquired Minako. "Have you finished it?"
"Most of it. Mom said I could help Pell and May with the little kids for awhile." "Pell" and "May" were Alcyone's American-style nicknames for her older sisters Pleione and Maia. Alcyone was very smart, but she had limited patience with tasks she thought were boring and unnecessary.
"Please, do not forget to finish your homework. I do not want your mother to be angry with me because I let you forget it." Minako remembered that Naru would be gone overnight, a very rare event. Naru-chan spent a lot of her time minding her friends' children; it was only right to look after hers when she was away.
"Yes, Auntie," Alcyone replied with a slight but definite sourness. Then her tone brightened into mischief. "Oh, your old boyfriend has been calling."
"Boyfriend?" asked Minako, completely surprised.
"Yes, that's the name."
Isis picked up on the phrase, and began chanting, "Mommy has a boyfriend." Achilles made it a two-part harmony. Before they tired of that game, Maia and Pleione came up with a wireless phone. "It's for you, Auntie," they chimed at the same time, with every bit as much mischief as Alycone in their voices.
"Alan?" There was a lot of noise from where he was calling. "Are you in a car?"
"Yes. I'm on a bridge now. I'm near somewhere called 'Treasure Island1' from a sign up ahead. I can't see much else but autos and lorries. Traffic is very slow."
"You are coming from San Francisco, then?" Treasure Island was halfway between San Francisco and Oakland, at the midpoint of the Bay Bridge.
"Oh . . . it is a bad time of day to be coming from San Francisco." Minako couldn't think of anything better than that to say to him, though she did cover the receiver for a moment to say, "Isi-chan, Aki-chan, please be quiet while I am on the phone."
"Are you talking to your boyfriend, Mommy?" asked Isis.
"I am talking to an old friend, Isi-chan."
"Can I talk to him?" asked Isis.
"Is he a really old man?" asked Achilles.
"Are you still with me?" asked Alan.
"Yes," answered Minako.
"He is a really old man?" repeated Achilles.
"No," answered Minako.
"Can I talk to your boyfriend, Mommy?" asked Isis.
"What?" asked Alan. "What is going on?"
"I am confused. My children are talking."
"Oh . . . I think I understand," said Alan.
"Alan, Isis would like to talk to you now." Before she heard the answer, Minako gave the phone to Isis.
"Hello. Are you my mommy's boyfriend? . . . Uh-huh . . . Four. Are you really old? . . . Even older than Mommy? . . . Uh-huh . . ."
Eventually Isis and Achilles were finished, and she took back the phone. "Well, you have a bright lad and lass," said Alan.
"Oh, I am sure Afa-chan will be just so in a short time."
"Quite so. I think I will be at your home in a short time. Traffic is better now that I have passed that Island. I can actually see2 where I am going. I guess I am looking at your home somewhere up in the hills I see ahead."
"Oh . . . you are coming here." <Of course he is coming here; how stupid!>
"Yes . . . You didn't know? Am I intruding? I did ask, but I guess the word did not get back to you."
"No, it did not." Minako recognized the signature of mischief. "Alan, who did you speak with before?"
"Actually, I've been calling most of the day, but I made arrangements with the lady of the house."
"What is her name?"
"She said her name was 'Usagi.'"
"She did, did she?" said Minako.
"Yes. I remember, you said Usagi makes most of the decisions when your stepfather is away."
"Did I get the wrong impression?" asked Alan, with real concern in his voice. "Have I come at a bad time?"
"Oh, no . . . Tell me, did Usagi have any trouble with words like 'Welcome' or 'Later?'"
"No, she spoke perfectly."
"That explains the mystery. You were talking with the wrong Usagi. Usagi-chan has a daughter with the same Japanese name. She was playing one of her jokes on us."
"Usagi-chan, my old friend from Japan, is not here today. She is--" <She is doing something Alan did not need to know about.> "She will not be back until tomorrow night, or maybe even longer. And Chibi-Usa—"
"Little Usagi. Her American name is Sarah; that is what the other children usually call her, except Deja-chan . . . she is babysitting for someone tonight. But I will talk with her about this when she returns."
"I wager you shall," replied Alan, laughing. "So, I am reasonably welcome, then?"
After more thought than her heart wanted to give up to reason, Minako answered, "Yes. But do not expect romance, Alan. I have all my children to watch and many others besides."
"Thank you, Minako . . . This will mean much to me." After another moment, Alan said, "I should hang up for now. Looks like a bit of a maze up ahead."
Minako found herself changing into a party dress. She caught herself, and put on more sensible clothes: pants and shirt, both comfortably worn. She did allow herself to put on lipstick and just a hint of eyeshadow. She was just finishing up when Ishtar came to her. "What is it, Ishi-chan?"
"Mr. Desmond is downstairs."
"Already?" Actually, three-quarters of an hour had passed; Minako had taken only a few minutes of the time for herself. "Tell him I will be right there." Minako unfastened her workaday bun and began brushing her hair out. No point in cutting it short, she thought idly, because it grew long in with every transformation and stayed long after. She wished he had more time, but she made do with a few passes of her brushes, put on her ribbon, and went downstairs to be with someone she thought she had lost forever. At the landing, she saw him—and he was talking to Chibi-Usa, with Ishtar and her half-sister Kimi close beside.
"Chi—Sarah," said Minako, catching herself. "I thought you were babysitting tonight."
"Mr. and Mrs. Bouget cancelled," said Chibi-Usa. "Traffic was so bad, they turned back and came home."
Alan shook his head. "Yes, the traffic is very bad. Minako, is this the way it always is here?"
"Oh, yes, most of the time."
"That's right," said Chibi-Usa. "It was even bad when I had my driving lesson this morning. I'll be getting my license soon, you know."
Chibi-Usa was speaking much too sweetly for a traffic report. Minako had regained enough composure to realize that she was flirting. That was hardly unexpected; while Sarah Ami Usagi Uer was loath to have any boy tie her down, she was always up for some practice in leading them into temptation. But Alan was not a boy . . . Minako put authority into her next words. "Well, now that you are home, you can help me with the little ones. Unless of course you have homework to doŚ"
"Not much, Auntie Minako. I like the car you rented, Mr. Desmond. Could I maybe drive it a little bit later?"
"We'll see," said Alan.
"Yes, we will see," added Minako. "Later." <The little beast is really asking for—>
At that moment, Isis walk-skipped her way up to the little group by the foyer. She stopped in front of Alan and asked, "Are you Mommy's boyfriend?"
Alan smiled, and squatted down to reply at somewhere nearer to Isis' four-years-old eye level. "I am not sure I am anyone's boyfriend, Miss." He patted her head. "My, so many beads in your hair."
"It was my special present for being good in preschool," said Isis "Mommy took me to a hair place and they put them in. It took a really long time."
"Oh, yes," said Minako, putting her own hand on Isis' head. "I thought she would lose patience, but she wanted to have her hair beaded and she waited all the way through it." Minako bent down to kiss Isis. "I am so proud of my very grown-up girl."
"It hurt a little. But I think it was worth it." Isis struck a remarkable pose for a four-year-old.
Minako laughed, and picked her up. "You are already as bad as Chibi-Usa!" she exclaimed in mock sternness. Glancing at Sarah/Chibi-Usa, Minako saw a blush. <Scored. You are worse than your mother ever was, I think . . .>
And then Minako caught the movement of Alan rising from his crouch. Turning back to him, she saw something in his expression she hadn't seen before . . . "Alan?"
He did not respond. Minako took little notice of that for the moment because Achilles and Aphrodite, seeing their sister being held up, ran up from two different directions and each grabbed a leg at the same moment. Minako knelt down to give them their own allotments of hugs and kisses and little tickles.
Sarah asked, "Can I help with dinner?"
"Dinner?" Unlike her mother, Chibi-Usa was a good cook and actually enjoyed preparing food. But why was she volunteering so suddenly? "Yes, thank you, Sarah."
Sarah bent down and said, "Isi, Aki, wanna help me fix dinner? I got a whole buncha peas to pop out of their pods." That was an easy, fun chore for the twins; they went off eagerly with Chibi-Usa. Aphrodite tried to follow them, but Minako picked her up. She squirmed for a moment or two, while Minako said, "Don't you want to stay with me?"
"Wanna peas," the toddler asserted.
"You can do that when you get a little bigger."
"Wanna peas!" Aphrodite's approach to shelling peas meant eating a few of them and throwing most everything else at her siblings or other targets of opportunity.
Ishtar came up, took squirming Aphrodite from Minako, and said, "I think maybe you could use a bath before dinner, Affie."
"Bath?" The child stopped acting out. She loved water.
"Don't worry, Mama, I'll clean up after," Ishtar said as she carried her tiny sister off.
Minako shook her head, and explained to Alan, "Aphrodite likes to splash. I think there will be more water on the floor than in the tub."
"Yes, I would imagine so." Alan still seemed to be a little off, but again, Minako was interrupted before she really let herself become aware of it. This time the interruption was more serious: Asterope Umino came in through the front door, supported by her twin Electra. One knee of her jeans was torn, revealing a bloody mess. Her face and her arms were hurt, too.
Minako forgot Alan altogether while she went to the stricken girl. Typically, she had to pry the skateboard loose. "Where are your kneepads?"
"Dunno . . . Owww!"
Minako switched unconsciously to Japanese as she went on. "I'm afraid you are going to need a few stitches."
"Why can't Sarah just take me to Hotaru? I don't want to have a scar."
The child had a point, but Minako was now in mother mode, and wasn't going to let Asterope off just yet. "We don't use our powers for trivial things. Maybe a nice big scar on your knee will help you to remember your kneepads the next time." Minako knew that the nasty-looking but superficial wound would be gone in a few days, perhaps even by morning, since Asterope was one of the stronger chibi senshi, but she didn't tell. Still . . . "Come. I need to clean off the wound." She switched back to English to tell Alan, "This will take some time."
"I should think it will," replied Alan. "I think I will look through this place. I have never seen anything quite like it."
Of course, Minako did not force Asterope to heal on her own. After getting in a little digging on her own, Sarah took Asterope to Hotaru—in Massachussets. Asterope seemed to want Minako to come along, so she did.
It was late in Boston. The first thing Minako noticed was that Hotaru's daughter had grown noticeably since their last visit. Rhea was still awake, something of a night person like her mother, who allowed her to sleep in mornings rather than force her into a schedule that was not natural to herself. <So wise, our little Hotaru-chan>, Minako thought as she adjusted to the new place.
Sarah was already helping Asterope over to the couch. Hotaru went right to work, dabbing the injured knee with an peroxide-soaked cotton ball, and then a damp towel. "It helps if it is very clean." Then she applied her healing power, while Rhea's eyes grew wide.
Minako remarked, "Rhea, you have seen your mother do this, haven't you?"
Hotaru answered. "She closes her eyes when I fix her up."
"I saw Mommy with Auntie Mika."
Hotaru smiled wanly. "Yes, you did see that . . . All right, I think that is enough, Asatara-chan."
"Is there a scar?" asked Asterope.
"No," replied Hotaru drily as she went on to the minor scrapes on Asterope's face and arms. "Why do you worry? Do you want to be a model? An actress? An idol singer, perhaps?"
Asterope merely shrugged. Hotaru's words had gone above her head, but not above Minako's.
Finished, Hotaru patted Asterope's hand, said, "You should be a little more careful." Then Hotaru turned to Minako. "Will you stay a few minutes?" she asked. That would have been an ordinary, polite request, perhaps made out of form, if it had not been Hotaru making it.
Sarah piped up. "Auntie Minako has to go back because she has a date."
Minako found herself blushing. "No, not a date. An old friend is visiting."
Hotaru's eyes fixed on Minako; like Usagi's, her eyes sometimes seemed to be much older than the rest of her. "An old friend? But I see you have put on new makeup."
"Ne-e-eh . . . Maybe more than a friend."
Sarah had little patience with subtleties. "It's Alan Desmond. Auntie Minako had a crush on him when she was younger than me. Now he's divorced and he wants to be with Auntie."
"So," replied Hotaru. "You have a second chance, Venus-san."
Minako was not really over her embarassment, but she spoke again. "Perhaps . . . We don't have to go right back. Alan thinks I am stitching Asatara-chan. Oh, do you have a big bandage?"
"Yes, I think. I am sorry, I did not think to get one out."
"I'll come back. Gotta get back to the kitchen." And Sarah/Chibi-Usa winked out before Minako could say anything.
Hotaru actually laughed. "Chibi-Usa is still Chibi-Usa, whatever else changes. Come, let's get a big bandage so that Auntie Minako's date does not know our secrets."
"He knows Auntie Minako is a senshi," blurted Asterope.
"He does?" Hotaru turned back to Minako. "He does?"
"Yes . . . for a long time. I knew him before I knew any of the other senshi. From when I was Sailor-V, in England."
Hotaru found the box she was looking for, and began preparing a big gauze bandage for Asterope. But she spoke while she worked. "Artemis has told me much, but he did not tell me of a man named Alan."
"Artemis did not know him. Artemis was away from me for that time." That time . . . so long ago. "Artemis was in quarantine for the trip back to Japan."
"Oh, that I know of. There was a mixup and he was almost neutered. Luna keeps joking that she wished he was."
"Yes, she has told me that also." Minako ran out of words. Odd, for while Hotaru was not a talker, she was a wonderful listener.
But Hotaru was never afraid to say what had to be said. She finished applying the camouflage bandage, and told Asterope, "That will do. Why don't you go watch some TV with Rhea while we wait for Chibi-Usa to come back?" Once Asterope was gone, Hotaru said to Minako "Something has upset you. And Chibi-Usa, though she is covering it up better."
"Chibi-Usa? Upset?" Minako realized that Chibi-Usa was upset . . . and that she was. "Maybe."
"Is it this Alan who has upset you?"
"No . . . perhaps Chibi-Usa does not take to him, but—"
"Venus-san, I think he has done something to upset you."
Minako struggled to find an expression. "I . . . I don't know." But as she said the words, she suddenly did know what was upsetting her. <Alan?>
Hotaru bowed. "Venus-san. Could I meet this Alan? Come to dinner with you?"
"I don't know. We have to bring back Asterope."
"It will just be Rhea and I. Shingo is with Mika tonight."
"Oh . . . Yes. We are all . . . " An errant thought came to Minako. "Can Rhea transform now?"
"Yes. She even has small wings. I do not think she can fly yet. Shingo and I told her not to try until we have training for the smaller chibis again."
"Oh . . . I wish they would wait." Minako was thinking of her own children. Rhea was younger than Isis and Achilles; in fact, she was only one year older than Aphrodite.
Hotaru said, "If she can transform, she can protect herself from sick men like Mr. Eidelmann and Mr. Cardift. You and I have small worries compared to Umino-san3, or Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama."
"You are extremely correct once again, Saturn-san," said Minako, laughing, graver concerns suppressed once again, for the moment. Haruka's second child, Hecate, could conjure things before she could talk, and do wild magics. And one of Naru's second set of twins, Atlas, had started teleporting after his first year—he had been literally inseparable from his mother until a few months ago. "Don't forget Yoriko or Celeste." They had no real senshi powers yet, but Usagi's little sister's eyes could change color, and Luna's Celeste was liable to change into one of her feline forms if she nodded off. Lately their power had grown too great for the talismans Naru had improvised to prevent that. Small annoyances, but—
Minako suddenly realized that Yoriko and Celeste were both back at the mansion, with Alan. "I think we should all go back to the mansion as soon as Sarah gets back. Well, I guess this is where Rhea gets to do her first Sailor Teleport."
"Do we need that?"
"Yes," said Minako, the General part of her old soul emerging for a moment. "Chibi-Usa's power is great but not inexhaustible. A Sailor Teleport will leave us all with reserves. You never know when something will come up."
"That is so, Venus-san. I will call Shingo now so he does not worry."
Watching Hotaru leave the little room, Minako thought, not for the first time, that Hotaru owned an even older soul. Then she looked at her watch, and wondered how long Chibi-Usa would make them wait this time . . .
"There you are!" said Alan. "What a labyrinth this place is! I looked everywhere, I thought."
"I guess we just were never in the same place," said Minako as cheerfully as she could manage. Alan seemed to be his old self again. Seemed. . . < wait and see, Mina-chan, wait and see . . .> "Anyway, it is time to eat and I am starving. I worked through lunch again." Those statements had to be convincing, because they were true.
"Auntie Hotaru, where's Shi—"
Pleione, as bad as her father had been at the same age with importune remarks, was "saved" by an artfully applied elbow, belonging to Chibi-Usa, who managed to administer a sharp little pain to her old playmate's ribs without spilling any of the things she was carrying. "I hope I made enough." She had prepared a huge kettle of pasta, and several pots of sauces. "Little meatballs for the little ones; this one is a cheese sauce with peas; and this one with calamares is for me and anyone else with good taste."
"Well, I must have some of that," said Alan, ladling some of the squid-infested sauce onto his plate. Minako noticed that Chibi-Usa drew back from him as he did that, but Alan did not seem to notice. "Can I get some for you?"
"Yes," said Minako, loading her plate with pasta and salad. Like nearly every meal at the mansion, it was a buffet for the adults and larger children. Minako did not care that much for squid, but had grown used to it; it was a favorite of Makoto's and Chibi-Usa's—and of Aphrodite, who was absorbed in getting every suckered morsel.< I wonder where she got that from?>
Ishtar was sitting with her little brother and sisters at the children's table, helping Aphrodite not make a bigger mess. Ishtar had things well in hand, but Minako went to them anyway. She set her plate down, and cleaned a spot on the far cheek of Aphrodite that Ishtar had missed, and kissed her. And then, of course, she kissed her other children. And then she looked up, into Alan's eyes. He had followed her, but was standing a little further away than he should be. And there, in Alan's eyes, Minako saw what she did not want to see. But it was there. <Nothing for it.>
Minako went to the house shrine soon after she woke. Ishtar was there already. Each did their own devotions, in their own way. Ishtar was finished first. Minako spent more time, making her mind clear as she could, wondering if certain kami were nearby. <If they can choose, they will be here, to watch over us . . .>
She returned to normal awareness, and acknowledged Alan, who had been standing silently a few paces away for some time . . . since just before Ishtar had left.
She waited a moment, and then answered. "I thought you knew. I wrote to Katrina, even when she did not write back. I sent her pictures. How could you not know?"
Alan did not answer that. Instead, he asked, "What was he like? Your husband?"
"He was young, Alan," said Minako. "He had done some terrible things, I think, before I met him."
"I know, you were his nurse. Your friend Mokoto told me last night. I know . . . I know, now. But what was he like for you?"
<What was he like?> How could Alan understand a man like Kevin? Had Alan been born to Kevin's life, would he have had the honor and decency Kevin had attained? Did Alan have a heart that could forgive pain that never left? Would Alan ever have an enemy weep over him, as Usagi did at the end?
<What was he like for me?> What was it like to love such a creature, to be loved by such a walking horror, to make love with the burnt remnants of a man? <Oh, please, forgive me, Alan! How could I offend you so?>
"He was good for me, Alan," was all that Minako said.
Alan came forward and embraced her. "Yes. But he is gone. I am here."
"His children are not gone, Alan." She carefully extricated herself from his embrace. "They are my children, a part of me. And Kevin-chan will always be a part of me."
"We both have old baggage to carry . . . We could work it through."
Minako shook her head. "I am sorry for you, Alan-chan, but you must find another. Or go back to Katrina."
"That is finished, Mina-chan," he said, in Japanese.
<Of course; I forgot that he spoke it.> Minako actually smiled a little. "How many of our secrets did you find while I was gone, Alan-chan?"
"Not all of them, I wager." He smiled, and drew nearer. "Don't write me off. I can adapt."
<You should not need to adapt, Alan-chan>.>
Waking from a troubling dream, unable to get back to sleep, Minako went downstairs. She found that Usagi had returned. Her old friend was sitting alone in the kitchen, sewing and drinking weak green tea. Minako asked nothing of where Usagi had been or what she had done. What she asked was: "Why is it you are always up now?"
"Maybe I did most of my sleeping when I was young."
"We are not really old, Usagi-chan."
"If you say . . . Chibi Usa told me Alan was here."
"Yes. He left at about noon, I think."
"He is still in San Francisco. You could see him again."
"Please, do not tease me, Usagi-chan."
"I am not teasing you, Mina-chan . . . Chibi-Usa told me why you made him leave. She told me what was in his heart."
"And what is that?"
"He loves you, Mina-chan."
"What did Chibi-Usa say about how he feels about Isi, Aki, and Afa-chan?"
"He was surprised, Mina-chan. He really did not know about—"
"Should it make a difference that he did not know I had dark-skinned children?"
Usagi took a large sip of her weak, green tea, like a long-vanished Queen, and said, "No, Mina-chan. But he will learn to love them."
Minako shook her head. "Alan is not a bad man, but he is not the man I thought I loved. It will never work between us. And that is all I will say of this."
After another long sip, Usagi said, "So." She poured a cup of her tea for Minako, and they sat drinking tea, together, not saying much, and not needing to say much, until the black of night began to turn blue.
1. The Bay Bridge connects San Francisco with Oakland. It is actually two bridges which meet at a tunnel through Yerba Buena Island. In 1940 promoters built a flat, artificial extension to the island for a world's fair called the "Pan Pacific Exposition." They called the site "Treasure Island." They were going to put an airport there when the fair was over; it seemed like a good idea since the really big airliners were flying boats. But World War II happened first; the Navy took over both islands. When the war was over, so was the era of flying boats, and the new airliners were too large and too fast to land on such a small island. The Navy held on to it for no particularly good reason, but shut down the base there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However the Navy still owns Yerba Buena, and thereby hangs a further tale . . .
2. The Bay Bridge now has two parts, a four-towered suspension bridge from San Francisco and a cantilever span from Oakland. It's a two-deck bridge, five lanes each way, with a wonderful view of the City (as we call it) going west on the upper deck and a wonderful view of a lot of girders coming east on the lower deck. Caltrans wants to replace the cantilever span with a one of several single-deck designs. This has happened in the future Alan is driving in; his view improves.
However, in the real world and the now of August 2000, the US Navy is blocking all plans because all the proposed new spans would go through the sacred demesmes of the last house Admiral Nimitz lived in, on Yerba Buena Island.
3. When Hotaru says "Umino-san" here she is talking about Naru; that's her married name.