|A Year and Change|
MICHIRU WOKE UP to the familiar nausea. Haruka was already up and gone from her bed, and Titania was bringing in her usual tray of broth and tea and juices. And there were no signs Roland had returned at any time.
"Where is the paper, Titania?"
"Oh, I forgot."
"You are such a poor liar. Bring it, please."
"Is Nereid awake?"
"No, maman. Should I wake her?"
"Not yet . . . the paper!"
Haruka returned to the room with her bowl of runny tofu, which made Michiru's nausea return. She fought it down, taking some broth, the easiest edible to keep down, before allowing Haruka to give her the first kiss of the day. Michiru did not allow more than that first kiss, though.
"What's wrong? What's right! I'm beached like a whale, you are just as far gone, and darling Roland is doesn't bother to come back at night. He's in the paper again, isn't he? Doesn't he have the brains to keep out of sight? The courtesy?"
"Of course he isn't hiding. He loves being in the papers. You knew that from the beginning."
"I didn't know I was going to be a laughingstock. And you . . . " Michiru stopped, realizing that Titania had returned, with the paper. She took it, and embraced the child, the product of Haruka and the maddening man who had entangled them both.
Haruka kissed Titania's brow, and said, "I'm sure otousan will be home all the time after the babies come. He just doesn't like to be around crabby old pregnant ladies. Go, have your own breakfast. And make sure Neri-chan doesn't just have pastry."
"Yes, Anne-Marie gave her five yesterday," added Michiru. "Tell Anne-Marie to stop that."
"I will tell her, again."
When Titania was gone, Michiru opened the paper to the arts section, and, sure enough, there was Roland. "With her? Haruka, doesn't he have any taste at all?."
"We still have each other," said Haruka, who then managed to get in a second kiss. Then, scanning the picture and the article, she added, "We could be worse off."
"We could be like Setsuna. Or Minako."
One of the perks of being the Security Supervisor (the fancy new name for the House Detective) was having the front desk sort his mail. Martin Tiggs was well-liked by the staff, so he usually got his real mail separated from his junk mail. So, he was able to toss the junk before leaving the front desk. He thought about dumping the letters, too, one addressed in the childish hand of Lorraine, the other in Setsuna's elegant printing, almost calligraphy. But he took both of them to his office, and left them there, until the early evening lull.
He had made the mistake of answering Lorraine the first time, and now he would have to answer another one. He read Lorraine's letter first, and scribbled out a short reply, on one sheet of hotel stationary. Then he held the one from Setsuna. It was stiff, and thick; it had to have a photograph. He was tensing to tear it up--but instead, he opened the envelope.
There were two photos inside. The first was Setsuna, sitting on the bed they had shared, dressed modestly as always, not particularly emphasizing her pregnancy. The second . . .
That was a photo of her fully transformed, with wings, and the peculiar staff she could manifest. Her true nature.
Still pregnant, though.
There was writing on the back of that photograph:
Airport, 6 pm, 12-24.
The same day Lorraine was "just coming down" with her mother.
Martin Tiggs tore that photo into small pieces and burned them in his ashtray. He was starting to do the same with the other one, but he stopped just before the first tear reached her face. He put it in the back of his bottom drawer.
He went out to prowl, and had a hooker arrested he would have probably just chased off on another day.
Ikuko had spent most of her time traveling with her husband for years now--more years than would be possible without working for the Grey Company. But she had moved herself back into the old Kensington mansion, first to help with her newest granddaughter, Rhea, and then to keep an eye on her firstborn, Usagi, through her third pregnancy. To make things even more interesting--and difficult--she was expecting her own third child. It was a surer indicator of the magic in her bloodline than learning a few household spells.
Now Hotaru, whose difficult pregnancy had drawn her back before everything else happened, was one of the few women in the household who wasn't pregnant. But at least Hotaru was a dutiful daughter-in-law. Olivia was impossible to bear, especially since she was the indispensible one.
Olivia was a tiny Filipina, not even as tall as Chibi-Usa, but a woman, and the mother of her own child. She was now the housekeeper. But she was not really a mere employee because she was the widow of the brother of Minako's late husband--she was family. Her husband had been a powerful gang lord. Now that he was gone, she was penniless. But not useless. Ikuko estimated that it would take three people to replace her. At least.
But Olivia's way of keeping the house meant running the house, which meant she was always arguing with Usagi--and with Makoto. And she annoyed Ikuko because she was really mothering Usagi and even Makoto--and the tiny woman, closer in age to Chibi-Usa than to Usagi, was really pretty good at it.
Ikuko wanted to mother Minako in through her widowhood and approaching childbirth, but Minako had a mother--who had returned also. Returned with the Founder, the little wizard who was the leader of the Grey Company, and the news that he had married her at last, but without much news about where they had been or what they had done.
But the Founder deferred to Olivia as well--in fact, Minako's sensitive daughter Ishtar informed Ikuko that the little man, one of the most formidable wizards in the multiverse, was actually a little afraid of Olivia.
The one woman in the household Olivia did not try to boss was Setsuna. But now Setsuna was packing up.
"Why are you packing?" Ikuko asked Setsuna. "You can come back to get whatever you want."
"No. I am not coming back, not without Martin. I will live with him, or near him."
"But you won't be going until tomorrow."
"Tomorrow all the children will be home. I will be with them until it is time to go."
Ikuko sighed. "I have just gotten to know you. Now who will I talk with?"
"You will run up phone bills that will give Kenji something to complain about. He is never happy unless he has something to be unhappy about."
Ikuko laughed, but it did not chase the hollowness from her heart for long.
Hotaru came to Minako's room again that night, summoned by Ishtar. She threw up a wall of silence, so that Minako could cry herself to sleep again, without waking anyone else. When it was done, and they were sure Minako was really asleep, Ishtar said, "Mama is hurting more now."
"I think it is because of the baby," Hotaru said. "When you have a baby inside of you, you can have extra trouble with your feelings."
"I know that. I have been around many pregnant ladies. But I think mama needs more help. Grandma isn't enough. Mama hides her troubles from her."
"Who could help? We cannot sent her to a psychologist."
"No . . . but what about Artemis?"
"Artemis has not been her guardian for many years. He has not even been a cat for many years. I do not know where he is now. Even Mama Setsuna does not know that."
"Ask the little man, when my Grandma is not around. He should know."
"All right, I will try, sometime tomorrow . . . what is it now, Ishi-chan?"
"Remember to do it before Shingo gets here. You will not remember after."
"Ishi-chan, you are still a child. You should not--"
"I know what you are feeling all the time. Remember to talk to the little man first. And remember to be careful, or you will have another baby inside you soon after Shingo comes back."
Dr. Yawada, the head of Oncology at Stanford Hospital, felt bittersweet joy when he saw that Dr. Mizuno had come with her friends. Ami, his perfect love, the sweet soul that brought simple joy to his heart. Always beyond his reach, and perhaps that is why she was so perfect.
But there would be no light conversation today. They had come to receive his final diagnosis. After the courteous words that must be said, Dr. Yawada pronounced sentence: "Tomiko, I am advising you to discontinue chemotherapy. If you wish to continue, I will recommend other oncologists. But I will not continue it. I feel it is doing more harm than it is worth."
The elder Mrs. Kumada--actually younger than one of Dr. Yawada's daughters--looked very old now. A tear escaped from one eye, dissolving the makeup carefully applied to cover her pale, sickly skin. Her daughter-in-law instantly responded, dabbing away the salty destroyer with a tissue. But when she made to repair the damage, Kumada Tomiko pushed her hands away. "No . . . please, not now." The doomed woman gathered herself for a moment more, and then said, "Yawada-san, what would you have me do?"
"You can stay at home, if you wish. I will provide stronger pain medication." Dr Yawada looked at her son as he added, "The strongest." Maybe he would understand.
"How long?" asked Kumada Tomiko.
"Impossible to say. Several weeks, certainly. Perhaps several months."
Tomiko turned to her son, and then to her daughter, and Ami. "Long enough to see the babies, then." She smiled, crackling more of her makeup.
After that, Dr. Yawada explained the all-too-familiar details of how to make death as comfortable as possible.
Usagi was still blessed with the power to sleep whenever she wished, and she used it even after hearing the horrid, inevitable news from Rei-chan. Another death, and, likely, she would be asked to use her powers to help send Yuuichirou's mother on her final journey. If she stayed awake, she would brood about that prospect.
Besides, if she stayed awake, she would also fret about Chibi-Usa being off with Setsuna, and Setsuna leaving . . . how like her, to leave just when Usagi was used to having her around. The evening would be long, and she wanted to be rested for the few hours Mamoru would be home, before he went back to the hospital, on duty, as usual, over Christmas, so that his Christian friends could be home.
But in her dream, she found all her worries, and more.
The dream started as it always did. She was dancing with Mamo-Chan, on a great parquet floor. There was no roof overhead, only stars and moons--many moons, of different colors and sizes. Music came from everywhere, and nowhere.
And then she was in her wheelchair. Mamo-chan began to dance with others, first Ami, then Rei, then Minako, then Gin-chan. More and more people appeared around, dancing, or applauding. The other senshi, the children, the Ayakashi . . . Diamond and Sapphire and Emerald . . . the Witches 5 . . . the Four Generals. Other enemies she had fought, until at last the boys with guns. They clapped and cheered, even as they withered and crumbled, even as they had under her merciless gaze . . .
Sarah was dancing with Mamoru, tall and elegant as the Wicked Lady, winged and skull-jeweled as Chibi Death. Then Kimi, sweeping the crowd with her third eye like a searchlight, the crowd showing as withered corpses while the beam was upon them. And then Neherenia, laughing in triumph, and finally Galaxia, in all her forms from Chibi Chibi through the beautiful Sailor Warrior and finally the vessel of Chaos. And each of them crumbled away in Mamoru's arms. Finally they were alone again. Mamoru reached out to Usagi . . . and crumbled away.
Then something dark began to cover the moons . . .
And that was as far as the dream went, this time. Usagi saw she had slept for longer than she intended. As soon as she found Sarah had not returned, she used her communicator. Sarah responded in her usual way. She didn't answer at all, and came back after twenty nerve-racking minutes. Usagi was still squabbling with her headstrong daughter when Mamoru returned home.
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