024-Till Our Lives Burn Out-Ch 7-Pt3
Age Rating: 13 +
Picture Credits: Screengrab
Till Our Lives Burn Out
Chapter 7 –Bloody Sunday
Sunday morning, Rei Hino stood watching the sunrise. During her all night vigil she had not seen anything new. Nor did she have the same vision, exactly. There was a moment where she was beginning to see the same thing, but then she thought she sensed that the thing causing the vision knew it was being probed, and had drawn itself back to prevent its discovery. The perception of this was so tenuous, Hino thought it unwise to say anything. It boded well though, for it might mean she had seen an evil intention – a devil’s dream, as it were- and not something necessarily fated to happen. Nonetheless, she would call Setsuna-san and tell her that the vision had persisted, and that she would ‘keep watch’ over the matter.
Hotaru sat eating her breakfast and still not really looking at anyone, but she seemed calm and resigned. Occasionally, a little smile would play at the corners of her mouth, as she glanced at Haruka, Michiru and Setsuna. She'd thought things through, and last night, as she fell asleep, an answer of a sort came to her. She understood now what was going on, and what she needed to do about it. In a way, it was something she had done once before, but this time, it would be done differently, and it would require a deft touch, and the proper frame of heart and mind. But before she did it, she needed to ‘do it’ to herself. Forced to put it into words, she felt that she must change, or rather ‘accept the change I have felt since the day I met him.’ Her expression did not show it, but she now glad that she would be shopping with Setsuna-momma today. She would spend this time remembering just how much she loved her guardians, and especially the woman putting a bowl hot steamed rice in front of her.
The phone rang. Setsuna answered it and from the brief conversation, everyone knew it was Rei Hino. Setsuna hung up a few minutes later, hit the high points of her conversation, and everyone seemed satisfied that there was no imminent danger. So, with watchful eye to their own powers of perception, everyone would proceed with their plans for the day. Everyone did school work for the rest of the morning, except for Hotaru, who read that history text Kuryakin-sensei translated for her.
Around 11:30, everyone went upstairs to prepare for their respective outings. By 12:15, Setsuna and Hotaru were looking at storefront windows, and Haruka and Michiru were headed down the coast.
Halfway around the world, the ‘capsule’ began breaking up upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere. The ‘bubble’ in the micro-corridor accommodating it was collapsing, annd the capsule was like a hollow marble being shoved through an ever-narrowing steel tube. It wasn’t going to be possible to make any kind of controlled landing. In fact, it might even become too small for the occupant to squeeze through safely. It had chosen this point of entry because it was presently night, and far from any populated area. All of these Micro-corridors opened over the northern hemisphere of this world, far the occupant’s objective. A covert night landing was desirable, but that was no longer possible since the capsule was starting to burn from friction with the planet’s atmosphere. Perhaps, it would be seen as nothing more than a shooting star. Upon landing, it would be necessary to make sure the micro-corridor network surrounding this world was simply intended for remote controlled exploration and nothing … more. Something had sensed its coming, and it wouldn’t do if one of them was here.
The capsule had gotten close enough. The occupant bailed as it exploded. It had been a long trip, so it would be necessary to get something to eat. The energy it had expended holding itself together through the landing had it feeling especially ravenous. Blending in with the surroundings would have been a wise idea, but it couldn’t be helped. There was some sort of town over the next few rises. It should be able to get food there, and then it would find its ‘allies’ and locate the base, and make contact with the others. Fortune had favored them; it was up to it to make sure fortune paid off.
The tall man walked through the crowd at the Azabu Juuban shopping district, his head perched well above the crowd. The crowd was pretty heavy today as the Christmas shopping season was in full swing. He tried to take solace in the reserved merriment of those around him, drawing upon their energy as it were, but it wasn’t really working well. There was a slight wind that occasionally gusted out of the northwest, and it was rather cold. He was wearing a rather old fashioned top coat and eating an apple. Occasionally, he drew the usual stares from people, and also found himself having to give way, lest young children, not paying attention to their surroundings, collide with him. It was funny how kids could notice things of a certain size and avoid them, but if something was too big, like a six foot seven adult, it just didn’t register until it was too late. Ah, children, he mused. They live in world of knees. The crowd was getting heavier. It would be best to avoid such collisions. Once, while he was walking through a crowd just like this one and fretting over the trials and tribulations of a student named Noriko Kurosawa, a young boy had run smack into him. When he looked down, the severity of his pensive expression had further frightened the young child, and sent him wailing, off to find his mother. He tossed the apple core away, and looked at his reflection in a display window. He had the same impressive scowl on his face today.
It wasn’t just kids, either. Earlier, a blond teenage girl nearly collided with him. She begged his pardon, as she ran to catch up with a guy in a chartreuse jacket and – were those pants lavender? The tall man was no fashion maven, and the blond girl’s early-twenty-something boyfriend was dark haired, strapping and handsome, but good gawd … lavender pants? Oy! If he hadn’t been so depressed today, he might have chuckled at that and at the way the girl’s long ponytails, which extended from the twin buns in her hair, slapped at people as she ran by them. A good gust might just launch the girl into the air, much in the same way a spider can hitch a ride on the wind by deploying a long thread of silk. He almost managed to smile at the image.
Then his stomach grumbled so audibly a few people around him took note. There were things more important than food, and the apple he’d just eaten was the only was concession he’d made to the need in the last 24 hours, but he was still hungry and really starting to feel it. His good natured humanism aside, the crowd was starting to annoy him a bit. All the nearby restaurants looked quite crowded. He ended up buying some tonkatsu from a vendor at the park entrance, and then headed in to it. The benches were full of people, but he caught a person leaving a spot where he’d been sitting with two women. The tall man asked if he could sit down, and nearest woman nodded pleasantly, and resumed chatting with her friend.
Peter Kuryakin took one bite of the tonkatsu and made a face. ‘That vendor needs to change his cooking oil more frequently,’ he growled internally. There was a waste can nearby and he nearly pitched the acrylamide-laden pork into it. Instead, he sighed and wondered if the food was just bad, or if he’d actually had enough of this place. No, he said to himself, a wan smile coming over his expression. He was just heartsick, and at a loss to understand the quirky but lovely Miss Meioh …
The scowl returned. That muffin headed girl and her oddly dressed boyfriend were back. She was rather loud and hard to miss. He looked rather harried, but amusedly so. Somehow, they didn’t quite seem right together. He was far more mature than her. But what did he know about it? At least each of them had someone. There was no where to sit as all the benches were taken up, and muffin head was making sure everyone from here to Switzerland knew that she was footsore.
The two young people heard a deep voice behind them and turned.
“You can have my seat, Miss,” Kuryakin said as he stood up.
“Amazing!” she said, looking up at him in awe. Apparently she had taken little note of who she nearly ran into earlier. He smiled a little and shook his head.
“Heh. 201 centimeters. I was just leaving.”
“Oh?” said Muffin Head, “but you haven’t finished your tonkatsu.”
Then, the two women sitting with him got up and left.
“Oh good,” said the girl, taking charge, “now there’s enough room for us all here. We’ll just share your seat. Please don’t leave because of us.”
“Uh, by all means, join me,” he said, somewhat distractedly. Given his current turmoil, sitting with a couple was the last thing he wanted to do, but he shrugged and they all sat down.
“Mmm, that looks good,” said the girl. She was eyeballing Kuryakin’s box of tonkatsu. “Mamo-chan, I want some.”
“There’s quite a line over there, Usa-ko,” said the boyfriend, pointing at the kiosk.
“Please?” she asked, in her most demure and pleading voice.
The boyfriend chuckled and left to get in line. She sat there looking at all the people. Then she started eyeballing the tall man’s food again, and looked puzzled as to why he wasn’t eating. He seemed quite despondent, and was staring off into space, so she took a good look at him. He was a bit older than Mamoru, smart looking, had a similar cut and mien, and though he scowled very impressively, there seemed to be an underlying kindness. The side burns didn’t quite ‘work,’ but he was handsome in his own way. He was clearly ‘in a mood,’ and in that, too, she found him like her boyfriend. In fact, the longer she sat there with him the more cool he seemed and the more comfortable she felt. Suddenly her stomach growled audibly.
“Umm, excuse me?” she asked shyly, “but are you going to eat the rest of that?”
“No, actually. I don’t normally eat fast food. I’m … not myself today. I’m not sure why I bought it.”
His already deep voice was weighted further with introspection and sadness.
“Ooo, can I have it then?” she asked almost without thinking. “I’m really hungry.”
“Y’know, your country has superb national cuisine; but … this is not it. It’s cold, and besides, your boyfriend went to get you some, didn’t he?”
“That line is pretty long and I’m really hungry.”
“Okay, sure,” he chuckled and shrugged. “I just hope this doesn’t spoil your appetite for when your boyfriend gets back.”
“Oh, I should be okay. So far today all I’ve had is …” and then his eyes widened as she listed twelve different foods.
“That’s … all you’ve had? It’s only 1:34 in the afternoon. That’s quite an accomplishment. Do you eat like this all the time?”
She shrugged very cutely, and tried to say something with her mouth stuffed to overflowing.
“Unless you’ve got the metabolism of a hummingbird, you might want to lay off,” he said, almost smiling. “You don’t want to lose that girlish figure. You might lose that guy along with it.”
“Ah, my Mamo-chan would love me no matter what,” she said proudly through the final mouthful.
“Heh, heh, you’re a funny girl,” he chuckled.
“Everyone says that,” she said kittenishly. As she was wiping her mouth, she caught his gaze following a really cute couple as they walked by. The woman was tall, very pretty and had long, dark hair.
“So,” she ventured with a wry smile, “why’s a handsome guy like you all alone on a Sunday afternoon? Is that why you’re looking kinda sad?”
He smiled self-consciously.
“Yes, it must be that. I have such good intuition about these things …”
He was staring at her now, and getting a reminder of why self-absorption was never a good idea. He had failed to notice there were things about this girl to notice. He peered deeply at her, getting closer and closer.
“Uh, I’m afraid … I’m … taken, if … that’s … what you’re thinking,” she said, puzzled by his gaze.
“Ah, forgive me for staring. I … just realized something,” he said with a warm smile. “My name is Peter. Peter Kuryakin.”
“Usagi Tsukino,” she declared loudly, as she thrust her arm straight out to shake hands. As his hand gripped hers a strange look came over her face. It deepened when he put his other hand over hers as well.
‘What is this I’m feeling? How soft and warm his hands are. And there’s something else…and … he feels it too.’
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said softly. “Finally.”
‘Finally? And how kind and deep his voice is. How it resonates deep inside me, in my very heart.’
But then he released her hand, and the moment passed.
“It looks like your boyfriend is getting closer to the front of the line.”
“Usagi-chan!” said a voice from behind them. “Oh! Kuryakin-san!”
He turned to see a girl with blue tinted hair coming up to them.
“Miss Mizuno? We meet yet again,” he said, as he stood up and offered her his seat. “Well now, here I’ve been a little down today, but suddenly I feel a whole lot better. I just met Miss Tsukino here.”
“You know each other?” Usagi asked as Ami sat down.
“I’m a private tutor, Miss Tsukino. Early on, I did a cram school. Miss Mizuno was my very first student.”
“Yes,” said Ami.
“How is your mother doing, Miss Mizuno? Busy as always I imagine?”
“Yes, as always. Oh by the way, she was very grateful for your help at the hospital.”
“Hospital?” asked Usagi.
“Yes,” said Ami, “remember that big highway pile up a while back?”
“Remember it? Shingo and papa were in it, at the tail end,” Usagi said. “The car was pretty banged up. Papa and Shingo had to go to the hospital for a little bit, but they came home okay.”
“You never mentioned that, Usagi,” Ami said.
“Well, papa’s arm was hurt, but Shingo was okay. So, you knew Ami-chan even before I did,” Usagi observed.
“Yes,” said Kuryakin. “And it’s wonderful to see how much she’s changed since then.”
“I wish you had continued with the cram school, Kuryakin-san. Mother said if you had, she was going to take me out of public school altogether, and let you teach me all day.”
“Surely she was joking,” Kuryakin said.
“I think so,” Ami said, “but one never knows with her. By the way …” she continued and then motioned for Kuryakin to come close so she could whisper something to him. After a moment of listening, he smiled.
“I had a feeling you knew,” he said, looking sheepish. “I hope you don’t … misunderstand what happened there.”
“No, I understand completely,” said Ami, “I only wish there was something to misunderstand, but it was very, very kind of you.”
“Why did you quit doing a cram school?” asked Usagi.
“Well,” replied Kuryakin, “I found my self drawn to the idea of helping those less gifted than Miss Mizuno here. I wanted to have fewer students, so I could put more effort into each person. I couldn’t do that, and still run the cram school. So I had to make a choice. I was sad to close the cram school, but I hope in the end, there are some people -who might have ended badly – that are better off because of it.”
Usagi smiled. “That’s really nice.”
“Thank you. It also meant more money and less work,” he said.
Usagi and Ami laughed.
“More money, maybe, but less work? I don’t believe that for a minute,” said Ami. “You know, Kuryakin-san, you have done a great job with so many hard cases, Usagi-chan could use the help of someone like you.”
“Yeah,” she sighed. “I just don’t like studying.”
“Well, I was never fond of it myself, really. I’m actually ending my formal practice. I’ve got a job offer from K.O. University. But I’m determined to make room for tutoring and mentoring on the side, where I can. Here’s my card, Miss Tsukino” he said, as he fished a couple out of his pocket. “You too, Miss Mizuno. Sorry, I forgot to get in touch with your mother, but if you need any help with med school entrance exams, or anything like that, don’t hesitate to call. You’re kind of at a point I might be useful to you again. For you, if we can work out a schedule, I’ll do it for free.”
‘What a nice guy,’ thought Usagi.
“A job offer from K.O. University? That is wonderful, Kuryakin-san,” said Ami.
“Yeah, it was quite a surprise, actually. I guess Vice President Kishimura was pretty impressed with how I helped his son.”
“You’ve had some very important clients,” Ami said admiringly.
“All my clients were important. But yes, it’s nice to have fans in high places. I even did an evening seminar there a month ago. I realize now it was probably an ‘audition’. However, I’m … thinking of turning it down.”
“Why? A polymath like you would be a real catch, even for them. You could probably dictate your own terms, at least a little. I always wondered why you weren’t doing something … ‘bigger’.”
“Well,” said Kuryakin, looking reticent, “for reasons I can’t go into just now, any situation in which I become a formal professor at any university will always be a bit … uh, complicated. It would be of great help to have the assets of a major university to help me in some research I’ve been doing off and on these last few years, but now something else has come up. K.O. University might not be as … hospitable an environment for me as it first seemed. I don’t know. I’m still thinking it over.”
“I hope you do take it, Kuryakin-san,” said Ami. “You would be great there. I’m sure any problems can be smoothed out. I’m hoping to get into their medical school. It would be wonderful if I did and if you were a professor there at the same time.”
“Thank you, Miss Mizuno,” he smiled at her warmly, “you’ve always been so wonderfully sweet and kind. Just like your mother. Again, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you so outgoing these days. I take it Miss Tsukino here is one of those friends who helped draw you out?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Then I am doubly glad I met you today, Tsukino-san.”
“Oh,” said Ami suddenly remembering something, “I have been meaning to call you and ask. How did the private tutoring for Hotaru go?”
“You’ve been tutoring Hotaru? Hotaru Tomoe?” asked Usagi.
“Uh, yeah, I have,” he said, and Usagi immediately picked up on the change in his voice. She and Ami had really cheered him up, and she liked him even better when he was happy. Now the despondency was instantly and jarringly back. “It … went well. I seem to have done her some good. She passed her midterms and finals just fine. She’ll be going back to a regular school next term, I imagine.”
“You imagine? You don’t know?” Ami asked, puzzled.
“By the way,” said Usagi to Ami, “I saw Hotaru-chan with Setsuna-san shopping around here earlier and …”
“You did?” Kuryakin interrupted. “Miss Tsukino, when did you see them last?”
“About half an hour ago.”
“They went over there, actually,” Usagi pointed toward a row of shops. He looked very intently in the direction she pointed.
“Any idea where they were going after that?” he asked, and then started looking behind and around.
She shook her head.
“I really need to be going,” he said quickly. “Ladies, thank you, for being such charming company. You’ve both reminded me of some important things. Thank you, and good day. Miss Mizuno, I’m serious about being available to help you. You too, Funny Bunny,” he added with a wink.
‘Funny Bunny? Well, at least he didn’t call me Dumpling Head,’ thought Usagi.
Then he left, walking briskly in the direction opposite of that which Usagi had given him.
“That’s strange,” said Usagi.
“Yes, if he wants to see Hotaru-chan or Setsuna-san, why is he going that way?” asked Ami. “It’s like he wants to avoid them.”
In Usagi’s mind, it was only for the ‘important things’ that ‘two’ and ‘two’ ever attempted to make ‘four.’ Many could attest to failure, but it was happening now and with success.
“Ami-chan,” she asked excitedly in a burst of insight, “doesn’t Setsuna-san go to K.O. University?”
“Yes, she does.”
“No, it couldn’t be …,” Usagi got a sly gleam in her eye. “If he taught Hotaru, then he must have met them, which means he met her … and I’ll bet he … but then something must have happened … you don’t think?”
“Think what?” asked a confused Ami.
“Ami-chan, wait here for Mamo-chan, and tell him I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“You’re supposed to be the smart one?” Usagi said haughtily as she ran off after Kuryakin.
“That was unnecessary,” pouted Ami under her breath.
‘Funny Bunny. I kinda like that,’ Usagi thought as she ran.
It was nearly fifty minutes before she came running back.
“Usa-ko, where have you been?” said Mamoru as he looked at his watch. “We were about to go looking for you. It’s nearly time for us to meet the others and head over to Hikawa Shrine.”
“Oh, sorry, Mamo-chan. That tall guy we were sitting with? He’s a really good private tutor,” she said breathlessly as she winked at Ami, “and I wanted to ask him a couple of questions. And then I ran into Hotaru-chan and talked to her for a bit,” she said archly, as Ami noticed the ecstatic ‘and boy, have I got some gossip’ glint in her eyes, and now understood.
“Glad to see you taking your studies more seriously, Usa-ko,” Mamoru replied, deciding that was sufficient justification for the absence, “but your food has gotten cold.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” she said, as she grabbed it and began wolfing it down. “All this running has given me an appetite.”
It was early evening and already dark out. Kuryakin was sitting in an internet café. There were a few TVs going in the background. He was poking around at a few websites that interested him, but his mind wasn’t really on it. A device that he carried with him at all times had signaled him twice today, and was doing so again. He ignored it.
Earlier, as he quickly exited the Juubancho shopping district, Funny Bunny had caught up to him. He sensed her coming and thought about evading her, but after one got over the quirkiness, she was so pleasant to be around, he allowed her to catch up. After a bit of trying to explain herself, she had just come right out with it and asked if he had fallen in love with Setsuna Meioh. He was very surprised; she had not struck him as quick witted. After a moment of pondering how she had pieced this together from just a few minutes conversation with him, he responded with a wan smile and a little nod. He gave her a few of the details. Sweetheart that she was, Tsukino-san looked as though it was just the most wonderful thing she’d heard in a long time. She looked sad that things hadn’t worked out so far. There was little more to say. Usagi didn’t want pry any further, and truthfully, she didn’t know Setsuna-san very well, so he couldn’t really offer him any advice. However, like the man before her, she was someone who would give the best of what she had, in this case, encouragement.
“You haven’t given up have you?” she asked.
“Well, no, but … it’s not up to me now.”
“Well,” she said, very sympathetically, “Setsuna-san is a very mysterious person, but I know she’s always been alone, and maybe if you just keep trying … she’ll, I dunno, get used to you.”
He chuckled at that.
“Say, Mister, what did you think of Hotaru-chan?”
The smile that came over his face was beyond merely wistful. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that girl.”
‘Awww,’ thought Usagi. ‘He didn’t just fall for Setsuna, and that’s just the kind of care Hotaru needs.’ “And you must have met Haruka-san, and Michiru-san.”
“Ah yes,” he smiled, “The Kittens.”
Usagi burst into embarrassingly loud peals of laughter. “That’s what you call them?” she said, unable to stop giggling.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. Her laughter was quite infectious. “Why is that so fun- … Oh wait, let me guess: you’ve been hit upon by Tomboy Kitten, have you?”
“I’m a ‘little kitten’ to her, but it’s all relative, I guess, so she’s one to you,” said Usagi, nodding and finally getting control of herself. “Gawd, but that is funny. I’m so glad I met you today, sir. I hope you don’t give up,” she said earnestly, wanting to encourage him now more than ever.
“Hey, listen,” he said as she turned to go, “if you should accidentally run in to Hotaru-chan back there, please don’t tell her I was here today. I wouldn’t want her to think I was trying to avoid seeing her. I just need some time alone, ne?”
Usagi smiled and nodded. If she ran into Hotaru-chan again, it wasn’t going to be by accident.
“I hope I see you around, Mister Kuryakin,” she said waving as she left.
‘Dja, Funny Bunny,’ he thought, as he watched her retreating figure and chuckled at how her flying ponytails made him think of a kite in a typhoon. ‘I’m glad I met you too. It explains a great deal.’
The café crowd was thinning out a bit. He clicked on a few more websites, signaled the waiter, and ordered another green tea with crème de menthe. As the waiter left, he noticed the device in his jacket pocket was getting warm. That meant a priority message had come.
Setsuna and Hotaru sat at the dinner table eating some curry they’d brought home from the shopping venture. Hotaru still wouldn’t talk to her, but she could sense that her young charge was slowly resolving matters. She hoped that Hotaru wouldn’t be incommunicado much longer.
Earlier today, she had gone into a dressing room to try on several things, and when she finally came out, she saw Tsukino-san talking to Hotaru. At first Setsuna, thought nothing of it, but upon seeing her, Hotaru became very furtive in her conversation, and Tsukino-san looked at her with a knowing little smile on her face. She went over to them.
“Konnichi wa, Setsuna-san,” Tsukino-san said. “That looks very, very nice on you.”
“Thank you, Tsukino-san,” she said. “What are you and Hotaru chatting about?”
“Oh, nothing,” Usagi said, but her smile had gotten bigger and even more knowing.
At that point, she wanted to suggest that Tsukino-san ought to be heading over to Hikawa Shrine, but she would have trouble explaining why she knew about that. Usagi saved her the trouble. “Well, it was nice seeing you both. I have to get back to the others. We’re headed over the Rei’s in a bit.”
“Oh,” said Setsuna, “having a girls’ night at Hikawa?”
“Actually, Mamo-chan is coming, too. We’re going to study and watch movies.”
‘Good,’ thought Setsuna, ‘if something is up, the Prince will be in a safe place, too.’ “Well, have fun, Tsukino-san.”
“Thank you, Setsuna-san,” she said as she turned to go. “That really, really does look nice on you.”
Seeing Usagi Tsukino would have been fine little diversion, except Setsuna couldn’t avoid the sneaking suspicion that, somehow, Tsukino-san had puzzled out the highlights of the last four months in the Outer Planet Senshis’ lives, that Hotaru had just filled in the details for her, and that Mister Kuryakin had gained another tacit ally in his quest for her heart.
Hotaru was also thinking of meeting Usagi that afternoon. At first, Hotaru was kind of hurt that Kuryakin, finding out she was nearby, quickly acted to avoid any chance meetings, but then Usagi, seeing that she had blundered into breaking her promise not to tell Hotaru she’d just met Peter Kuryakin, explained that he didn’t want Hotaru to think he was avoiding her. Hotaru understood; he had said ‘one week’ and he meant it. While Setsuna-momma was in the dressing stall, Hotaru had time to tell Usagi the whole story. They shared a good laugh when she got to the part about “The Kittens,” something Hotaru found almost as amusing as Usagi did. Hotaru had managed to read between the lines of Usagi’s parting comment about how nice Setsuna looked. She was saying, “He seems nice, and you’re such a lovely woman, Setsuna. Why won’t you give this a chance? Why are you fighting it so?”
Hotaru couldn’t have agreed more. She was so glad to have run into Usagi. The Princess had given Hotaru the final piece of the answer she was looking for. Headlights flashed through the windows of the house. “The Kittens” were home. Hotaru smiled. The board was set; the pieces, in place.
Kuryakin had checked the message. It was troubling enough, but nothing compared to the CNN-Japan breaking news story he’d noticed after reading it. He would have thought nothing of it, except that the location given was Edgeton-Upon-Sea, a small village in northern England that he knew of for a very specific reason.
Now his internet meanderings took on a sudden focus and urgency. He checked the CNN-US webpage, but it had little. He went to the BBC home page, and clicked on ‘UK version,’ and saw what he was looking for. He needed to encode a message to home. It was a long one, and it ended with the words “have any uninvited guests crashed the party?” This prompted what one would normally call ‘a flurry’ of long and urgent messages back and forth, except that the transmission time through the corridor was too long to permit a ‘flurry’. Kuryakin continued his search for new information as he waited. Then the next message came.
Hotaru headed upstairs, ostensibly, to get ready for bed. The phone rang and Setsuna said she’d get it as Haruka and Michiru headed upstairs as well. She was about to pick up the receiver when she noticed the name on the Caller ID. It was Mister Kuryakin. Setsuna sighed, quickly lifted the receiver, and replaced it. Then she unplugged the phone. He was the last person she wanted to hear from just now. She picked up her cup of tea and went into the receiving room to think. She sat down on an ottoman, and stared at the corner table where the music box Mister Kuryakin had given her sat stilled and silent, its crystal vase empty. The rose bud that now sat in the kitchen waste basket had bloomed very nicely before succumbing to its fate.
She took a sip of her tea and realized that she was using the cup Hotaru had made for her, and was holding it in the saucer that Kuryakin-san had made. How clever and subtle he’d been, like the filigree on the bottom of the saucer. Hotaru had been as moody today as she had been since Friday night, and she continued to blame him for it. His presence in Hotaru’s life was going to take a lot of undoing. Yesterday, after Rei Hino had called her, she sat in this very spot thinking very angry thoughts. In her mind’s eye, she could see herself hurling that music box through the window and hearing it collide gratifyingly with a tree. She had felt the same way about the saucer, but she stopped short of putting such plans into action because she couldn’t imagine the saucer being destroyed without the cup somehow being destroyed along with it. Still, it was quite enjoyable to think about.
‘Is this truly who I am now?’ she wondered as she drained the cup. Then she headed upstairs to bed.
Hotaru stared into the mirror as she brushed her teeth. Much as she had the night before she contrived to bring Kuryakin and Setsuna together, she felt it was necessary to review all the known facts, and the events and her thoughts about them before proceeding. Accordingly, she had spent the last hour thinking very hard about how much she loved each of her guardians, and how wonderful they were. She thought of strong, proud Haruka: graceful, elegant Michiru: and …well, Setsuna-momma was going to require an extra special effort on her part. As she did, there burst forth within her a realization.
‘You look like you have authority in the matter …’ Kuryakin-san had once said to her. And so she did. She had once, long ago, slain them. And when she was to reappear during the Infinity Crisis, they were rightly terrified of her coming. They knew almost nothing of her; she knew almost nothing of them. And yet, as the battle progressed, they began to understand each other. In the end, it was Sailor Pluto who, in anguish, screamed Sailor Saturn’s name as The Senshi of Destruction sacrificed herself to drive the Invader from the Tau Nebula back into his dimension.
‘Authority in the matter.’
Yes, she had long ago slain them, and, more recently, she had quickened them, too, after they had lost their powers, and they had begun to raise her. L'Enfant Terrible -in spades!- though she sometimes was, they were true to their promise, and if they had not, exactly, loved her at the beginning, they had all come to it sooner or later. Maybe that’s the point. You can reason yourself away from things as surely as you can reason yourself to them. Real knowledge is in the doing, in the suffering, in the joy. They loved her truly, and it was that which enabled Hotaru to give them back their powers. She was always the key to the Outers, just as Usagi was the key to the Inners.
Hotaru smiled. The Cold Look came into her eyes, and a faint aura of pink surrounded her.
She was ready to … apologize.