“The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate”

By Crawlspace



Disclaimer:  Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, not me.  I’m just borrowing the characters for a little while.



5.  Living With Fate, part 1


            “I’m just pregnant.”

            The silence that descended over the room was almost palpable.

            Usagi stared at Makoto.  Her mouth opened as if she were going to ask something, and then snapped shut as she changed her mind.  Shaking her head slowly, the blonde backed up until she hit the back of the couch.

            Haruka chuffed.  “Just pregnant?  Like a hurricane headed towards shore is just a light shower?  Ow!”  Haruka glared at Michiru as the girl’s elbow landed in her side.

            “Pregnant?” asked Usagi.  “As in,” she arched her hands over her stomach, “gonna have a baby pregnant?”

            Makoto nodded.

            Rei noticed that the casual smile Makoto had put on for Usagi’s sake was quickly disappearing.  It was replaced by a tension of sorts, like she was waiting to be hit.  Rei looked over to Ami.  She didn’t look much better.  She was still biting her lip, looking like she was holding herself back from something.  Rei guessed Ami wanted nothing more at that moment than to go to Makoto and hold her the way she had in the parking lot.

            No one seemed to know what they were supposed to say.  They were all more or less banking on Usagi to ask the question they all wanted to – How?  But the blonde remained as silent as the rest of them.

            Luna finally rescued them from the awkwardness of the moment.  “It’s why she couldn’t transform,” said the cat rather unnecessarily.  “I didn’t think I’d have to have this conversation with any of you so soon, but as it is apparently necessary, you might as well all hear it at once.”

            “Wait a minute,” said Minako, putting her hands up in a stop gesture.  “Just hold on.  She just dropped a major bomb on us, and you’re acting like it’s just some little thing she forgot to mention.  And you,” she turned to Ami, “you knew about this all along, didn’t you?”

            “Yes,” answered Ami quietly.

            “Don’t be mad at her,” said Makoto.  “She wanted me to tell you right from the beginning.  I made her promise not to tell anyone.”

            “How long have you known?” asked Rei.

            “For certain, almost two weeks,” answered Makoto.  She gave Rei an apologetic smile, hoping the meaning would be clear until they could speak properly.  “I was going to tell you next week, when we were done with Minako’s play and everything.”

            “Regardless of the where’s and what for’s” broke in Luna, “Makoto is out of commission until the baby is born.”

            “Why?” asked Haruka.  When she realized what kind of look she was getting from the others, she clarified, “I mean, I know you can’t send a pregnant girl out to fight youma.  But why couldn’t she transform?”

            “Simply put,” replied Luna, “your transformations, as well as maintaining them and performing your attacks, put a certain physical demand on your bodies.  Pregnancy does the same thing.  Those demands conflict with each other and therefore the two states can’t exist at the same time.  And, unless in a last resort, life or death situation, the pregnancy will always take precedence.”

            “’Last resort, life or death’ being?”

            “You as the last living thing standing between the princess and whatever annihilating force has swept over the planet and destroyed or killed everything but you and the princess.”

            “At which point you’re pretty much toast anyway,” said Minako with a frown.

            Luna nodded.  “Precisely.”

            “She’ll be able to transform again, though?” asked Usagi.  “After… um… the baby?”

            “Yes,” answered Luna.

            Usagi looked at Makoto, the initial shock in her expression fading.  “And you’re not sick?  Not at all?”

            Makoto couldn’t quiet meet Usagi’s eyes.  “Not unless you count the morning sickness, no.  Usagi, I’m sor…”

            Usagi cut her off.  “You shouldn’t have lied to us Mako-chan,” she said as she stepped back over to the girl.  “I was worried about you.  We all were.  But I’m glad you’re not actually sick.”

            Makoto was surprised as Usagi reached up and put her arms around her neck.  She relaxed a bit into the hug the blonde was offering to her.

            Standing on tiptoe and leaning close to Makoto’s ear, Usagi whispered, “And even though she shouldn’t have lied either, I’m glad you’ve had Ami to help you.”

            Makoto tensed as a light blush came to her cheeks.

            “I’m hungry,” was declared from across the room.

            Everyone turned to stare at Chibi-usa.

            The little girl fidgeted from foot to foot.  “Well, I am.”

            Michiru grinned.  She had noticed Setsuna nudging the girl gently.  Believing she understood what Setsuna was trying to do, Michiru decided to help.

            “I admit I’m a bit hungry myself,” said Michiru.  “We did miss dinner, after all.  Perhaps we could order something like we had planned?”

            “That’s a good idea, Michiru,” responded Setsuna.  “We should stick to our previous plans.  I’ll go and pick up the food.  Minako can join me.”

            “I want to come, too,” chimed in Hotaru.  “And Chibi-usa.”

            Setsuna smiled indulgently at her child.  “All right.  We could use the extra hands to help carry things in.”

            Before she could offer any protests, Minako was being handed her jacket and pulled to the door by two little girls and a Time Senshi.


*            *            *


            Minako’s chin rested on her hand as she stared out the passenger window of Setsuna’s car.  She wasn’t really paying attention to where they were going, so when the car came to a stop outside the restaurant, she was startled by the swiftness of the trip.

            Minako noticed Setsuna watching her.  Setsuna gave her a small smile, then turned to the girls in the back seat.

            “I have a very important job for you two,” Setsuna said to Hotaru and Chibi-usa.  She reached back and handed Hotaru some money.  “Go next door and look for a calendar.  They should be out by now.  Pick out something pleasant.  Also get a small notebook, like the kind Michiru-mama uses for the grocery list.”

            “Okay,” replied Hotaru.  She grabbed Chibi-usa’s hand and pulled her out of the car.

            When the girls were gone, Setsuna said to Minako, “I’m going to place the order.  You can wait here if you’d like.”

            Minako nodded and went back to staring out the window.  After a few minutes alone, she got out of the car and went across the street to stand at the railing overlooking the river.  Across the way, car lights ran in strings along the highway and across the bridge.  The water lapped gently against the wall below her.  It was easy for Minako to lose herself here.

            “It’s beautiful here at night, with all the lights,” said Setsuna as she came to stand beside the girl.

            “Mmmm… It’s peaceful, too.  A good place to come and think.”  Minako’s mouth turned up into a grin.  “Assuming the sound of the water doesn’t put you to sleep in the middle of your thoughts.”

            “What is it you need to think about tonight?”

            Minako laughed.  “Like you’d even have to ask.”

            “I suppose not,” answered Setsuna.  “But I’d still like to hear your thoughts.”

            “Right now, my thoughts are making me feel like a very bad friend.”  Minako sighed.  “I knew something was up with those two.  I should have pushed them for answers instead of just letting it go.  We would have been ready for the attack, at least, if I had.”

            Setsuna watched as Minako tried to work out the night’s failures for herself.  She believed the girl would grasp part of it on her own.  However, it seemed she would miss the larger aspect without a bit of direction.

            “I think we handled things well enough,” replied Setsuna.

            Minako brought her hand up to her throat and the yellowish bruises that were mostly covered by her jacket collar.  “It could have gone better,” she said.  “And if you three hadn’t been there, we would have had some real trouble.”

            “But we were there,” countered Setsuna.  “For the time being, we are all here.”

            Minako looked over at Setsuna, realizing she was including not only the Outers in her statement, but Chibi-usa as well.  “No offense, Setsuna,” began Minako carefully, “but telling me I have to replace Makoto, our best fighter, with Chibi-usa is… well…”  She thought for a moment and then pointed over to the bridge.  “It’s like telling me to pull out one of those reinforced steel support beams and replace it with a flag pole.  I don’t think she’s useless, not at all.  But she’s nowhere near the fighter Makoto is.”

            “What is there to fight?” asked Setsuna.  She turned to look out over the water.  “The world is, for the most part, at peace.  The universe is calm.  There are no new or even old enemies to defeat.  Save the occasional stray youma, the threats we are meant to face are nonexistent.  For the time being, at least.”  She looked over to Minako as the girl tried to pull together the loose strings of what she was telling her.

            “So you’re saying we don’t need Makoto right now.”  Minako frowned and shook her head.  “No, it doesn’t sound right when I say it that way.  We need her.  But right now it isn’t necessary for her to be a Senshi.  The timing isn’t just a coincidence, is it?”

            Setsuna shook her head.  “There are no real coincidences in life.  Fate plans everything out very carefully.”

            “Fate,” said Minako incredulously.  “You’re trying to tell me that it’s her fate to be 16, unmarried, and pregnant?”

            “How did you come to be here, Minako?”

            Minako blinked in confusion at the sudden change of subject.  “Huh?”

            “How did you come to be here?” repeated Setsuna.  “What things in your life have brought you to where you are now?”

            Minako’s brow furrowed.  “A lot of things, I guess.  My parents, since they made a lot of decisions for me.  My friends and everything we’ve gone through together.  The people I knew back in England and all the battles I fought when it was just me and Artemis.”

            “You were in England without your parents for a while, weren’t you?” broke in Setsuna.

            “If you know all of this, why do you need me to tell you?”

            “Indulge me.  Please.”

            Minako sighed.  She turned back to the lights, leaning her arms against the railing.  “Yes, I lived with a friend for a few months after my father was transferred back to Japan.  There was someone there.  But it didn’t work out.  Turned out he was really in love with my friend.  It hurt so much when I found out.”

            “And now?”

            “Now I’m happy for them.  It still makes me a little sad,” admitted Minako.  “He was my first love, after all.  But if I hadn’t had my heart broken back then, I never would have left England.  If I hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have come here and met Rei.”  A smile came to Minako’s lips.  “It’s so much better with her, Setsuna, because this time I’m being loved back.”

            “Fate can seem cruel at times,” replied Setsuna, “but it is always fair.”

            Minako took a moment to think back on what she’d just said and tied it together with what Setsuna was telling her.  “I… I think I understand what you’re saying where it regards me.  My fate was to be here.”

            Setsuna nodded, “To fulfill your destiny.”

            “Right,” went on Minako.  “I would have stayed in England for Alan, no matter what Artemis might have said.  I had to leave, so I had to lose Alan.  And now I have Rei.  And that makes her what?  Some sort of consolation prize?”

            “No,” said Setsuna with a soft chuckle.  “I would think that Rei is more like the grand prize.”

            “Damn right she is,” answered Minako.  “But how does this apply to Makoto?”

            “Think for a moment, Minako.  Makoto, just like all of us, had a destiny to fulfill.  What is the one thing that could have kept her from that?”

            Minako’s eyes widened just a bit as she found her answer.  “Her parents,” she said quietly.  “Setsuna, that goes so far beyond cruel…”

            “It was their time,” said Setsuna calmly.  “That was decided before they were even born.  For Makoto, though, losing them – her only family – was a defining moment.  It made her who she is and it brought her here when she was needed.”

            “And what?  Fate decided it would be really fair and have her get used by some low-life jerk?” said Minako, her anger at whatever forces ran the universe showing.  “Better yet, let’s throw in a pregnancy just for laughs.  That isn’t fair, Setsuna, and we passed cruel a long time ago.”

            “It does seem that way, doesn’t it.”  Setsuna placed her hands in her jacket pockets and leaned her back against the railing.  “Maybe I’m wrong this time.”

            “Oh, no.”  Minako wagged a finger at the Time Senshi.  “You’re never wrong.  And you were going somewhere with this, no matter how much I may dislike it.  Now, let’s see…”  Minako took on a thoughtful expression and tapped her finger against her lips.  “She’s getting something to replace something that was taken from her.  That’s it, right?”

            Setsuna nodded.  “It’s what I believe, yes.”

            Minako sighed.  “She lost her family, so now she gets a new one.  You know, I resent that Fate or whatever thinks we don’t count enough to be considered her family.  And there are better ways to go about it than this.”

            “We don’t always get a choice.  And as I said, it may be a matter of timing and opportunity.”  The corner of Setsuna’s mouth turned up into a crooked grin.  “There may also be a bit more to it than just the baby, if I’m interpreting what Small Lady said correctly.”

            Minako’s eyes narrowed as she scrutinized the older woman.  “You’re not going to explain that are you?”

            “I’m afraid not.”

            “All right, then.  I have a question for you.”

            Setsuna looked down at the blonde, her brows arched in curiosity.

            Minako wore a grin as she said, “You said we’ve all given things up to our destinies.  So what about you?  Has Fate been fair to you?”

            Setsuna paused for a second.  Across the street, she noticed two little girls coming out of a shop and running up to the curb, waving.

            “Setsuna-mama,” called Hotaru, “we got the calendar.  It’s got all kinds of fairies and sprites on it.”

            Minako laughed quietly.  “I suppose that’s my answer,” she said when she saw Setsuna’s face soften at the sight of her daughter.

            “I suppose it is,” responded Setsuna.  “The three of them are more fairness than I ever expected to receive.”

            As she and Setsuna crossed the street, Minako said teasingly, “Any more great knowledge you’d like to impart to me tonight?”

            In a serious tone, Setsuna replied, “A good leader knows the strengths and weaknesses of those under her.  Rather than crushing them for each of their failures, she will find a way to make them stronger.”

            Minako stopped midstep in the center of the street.  “I was just kidding.”

            Setsuna graced her with an enigmatic smile, but kept walking.

            Minako found her feet and hurried to catch up to the other three as they headed into the restaurant.


*            *            *


            Makoto sat on her bed with her knees pulled up to her chest.  Lying on the covers in front of her were her henshin pen and communicator.  Her chin resting on her knees, she stared at the objects.

            A knock on her door pulled Makoto from her thoughts.  “It’s open,” she called.

            Minako opened the door enough to stick her head in the room.  “So this is where you’re hiding,” she said with a smile.

            Makoto gestured to the blonde.  “Come in.”  As an afterthought she added, “And I’m not hiding.  My stomach’s bothering me, and I wanted to be able to sit for a few minutes without everyone staring at me.”

            Stopping just inside the doorway, Minako pointed her thumb over her shoulder.  “Do you want me to leave?”

            “No,” said Makoto quickly.  “No, I didn’t mean it like that.  Actually, I’m glad you’re here.  Gives me a chance to apologize about ruining your party.  Rei planned everything out so carefully.”

            “Usagi even managed to keep it a secret,” said Minako as she went over and sat on the edge of the bed.

            “Yeah.”  Makoto sighed.  “This is all just one big mess.”

            “Yes, it is,” agreed Minako.  She put a hand on Makoto’s shoulder.  “But the party being messed up isn’t your fault.  Besides, it wasn’t really ruined, just changed a bit.  We’re having a pretty good time out there.”  Minako frowned prettily then.  “But there’s one thing missing.”

            “What’s that,” asked Makoto.

            “One of my best friends.”  Minako giggled.  “And this just happens to be her apartment, so you can understand how it’s a little weird without her there.”

            “She’s glad you’re having a good time.”  Makoto rested her chin back on her knees.  “But I’m not good company right now.  That sweet sauce we had with dinner was really good for the first few bites, but it isn’t sitting well.”

           “Then you’re probably not going to want that cake we saved for you.  It’s really good, by the way.”

            Makoto smiled.  “Thanks.  Maybe I’ll get it later.”

            Minako nodded.  Looking at the objects on the bed, she waved a hand over them.  “Whatcha been doing?”

            “Thinking,” answered Makoto.  “Remembering what it was like before.”

            “You’re still a Sailor Senshi, Mako-chan,” said Minako seriously.  “This is only temporary.  Well, uh,” Minako faltered, a hand going behind her head, “the transformation thing is, anyway.  The baby’s kinda permanent.  Isn’t it?”

            “Yeah, it is,” answered Makoto.  “Luna wasn’t going to make me tell you if I wasn’t going to have it.”

            “Okay then.  You know we’re here for you and we’ll help however we can.  We’re your family, Mako-chan, Fate be damned.”  Minako grinned.  “This kid’s going to have so many aunts she isn’t going to know what to do with all of us.  There’s just one thing.”

            Makoto tilted her head to the side in a questioning gesture.

            “None of us know what we’re supposed to say to you,” continued Minako.  “Do we congratulate you, tell you how sorry we are that this happened, or just ignore it?  All you’ve done so far is apologize, and we don’t know how you really feel about all of it.”

            Makoto looked down and nudged her henshin pen with her toe.  “I’m not sure how I feel.  That first morning when I found out was like tonight.  I just wanted it all to go away.  The rest of the time, I’ve been trying to ignore it.  But there was a moment today…”  A small smile came to Makoto’s lips.

            “Tell me,” said Minako when Makoto’s pause lasted too long for her.

            “I had a doctor’s appointment,” continued Makoto.  “I was sitting there and he was explaining where the baby’s at development wise.  Right now it’s just this tiny little M&M sized blob with a heartbeat.”  Makoto’s voice became very quiet as she said, “It’s this strange little life inside of me, and it’s my kid.  My kid.  And it was just like… wow.  I’m not supposed to want this, Minako.”

            “But you do, don’t you?”

            Makoto closed her eyes.  “I was starting to,” she admitted.

            “Then it’s okay.”

            Makoto opened her eyes to a smiling Minako.  Rei’s lucky, she thought, to have her and her smile all the time.

            “You’re allowed to have this, Mako-chan,” went on Minako, “if it’s what you really want.  You don’t need anyone’s permission.  If you want it, though, then I’ll give it to you for all of us.”

            “Thank you.”

            “No problem.”  Minako stood and put a hand out for Makoto.  “Now come back out there with me.  There isn’t much party left, and I want you there for the rest of it.”

            “Give me a few more minutes, Minako,” replied Makoto.  “I wasn’t lying about the sweet sauce.”

            “All right.  But if you take too long, I’m coming back with reinforcements.”

            Makoto smiled up at the blonde.  “I promise not to be long.  And keep Usagi away from my ice cream.”

            “Not a problem,” said Minako, her grin getting bigger.  “Ami’s been threatening anyone who so much as looks at the carton of peanut butter.”

            Makoto couldn’t help but laugh at the image that conjured up.  “That’s Ami for you.  My knight in shining armor.”


*            *            *


            She knew she didn’t have a chance when it was suggested, but she’d played along anyway.  It was just bad luck that the person she had to race against was Haruka.  Even with the handicap she’d been granted, Ami had still been lapped twice.  She didn’t mind, though.  She had Usagi, who was standing at the sink drying the dishes as Ami washed, to sympathize with her.  And the whole idea of a Gran Turismo death match to determine who would be doing the clean-up had amused Makoto.

            “I wish you guys would let me help,” complained Makoto.  She sat at the breakfast counter, watching as her friends washed the dinner dishes.  “They’re my dishes, after all.”

            “You don’t have to,” said Ami as she rinsed off a soapy glass and handed it to Usagi to dry.  “Besides, that’s the last one.”

            “I’ve got one more for you,” said Haruka as she came into the kitchen.  In her arms was a drowsy and chocolate covered Hotaru.

            Haruka walked over to the sink and set Hotaru on the counter beside it.  “She always winds up wearing half her ice cream,” she said as she ran warm water over a paper towel.

            Hotaru was barely awake, but it was enough for her to turn her face away and fidget when Haruka brought the towel close to her.  “Uhn uhn… don’t wanna,” said the little girl unhappily.

            Haruka’s hand followed Hotaru’s mouth.  “Come on, Hotaru.  Just let me get you cleaned up.”

            “No.  Want Michiru-mama to give me a bath.”

            “I’m not giving you a bath,” sighed Haruka.  “I just want to get the chocolate off of you so you don’t get any on the car.”

            Hotaru made more unhappy noises as she turned her head to the other side, away from the wet towel.  “It hurts,” she whined as Haruka made another attempt to get the ice cream off her chin.

            “All right,” gave in Haruka, “I won’t wash your face.  Let me see your hands.”

            “Uhnnn,” was the sound Hotaru made as she put her hands behind her back.

            Usagi was having a hard time keeping herself from laughing as the great Tenoh Haruka was being totally frustrated by a tired and petulant eight-year-old.

            “Come on, Hotaru,” said Haruka as she tried to get to Hotaru’s hands, “stop acting like a baby.”

            That did it.  Hotaru’s lip trembled and tears filled her half closed eyes.  “I’m not a baby,” she said, her voice hitching.

            Haruka bowed her head in total defeat as the tears began to fall.  “Hey, now, don’t cry.  I didn’t mean it,” she said calmly as she tried to pick Hotaru back up.

            The little girl wasn’t having any of it.  Her voice rose in pitch as she pushed Haruka’s hands away from her.

            Haruka stood where she was and crossed her arms over her chest, waiting.  It was roughly ten seconds before Hotaru, upset that Haruka hadn’t tried harder to get a hold of her, cried for her papa and put her arms out to be picked up.

            The crying had gotten the attention of everyone in the living room.  Chibi-usa raised her head from the spot she was curled up in on the couch beside Setsuna.  Her eyes blinked sleepily and her mouth hung open, not awake enough to ask a question.

            Setsuna placed a hand gently on Chibi-usa’s head.  “Go back to sleep, Small Lady.  There’s nothing to be concerned about.”

            The girl didn’t need anymore than that.  She was asleep again before her head hit the cushion.

            Rei and Minako looked up from the game they were playing.

            “That’s her tired cry,” explained Michiru for them.  “I think she passed her limit about half an hour ago.”

            Michiru stood and started towards the kitchen, limping because of her injured leg.  She made it three steps before Setsuna was at her side, offering support.  Michiru smiled her thanks to her friend.

            They entered the kitchen with Rei and Minako curious and close behind them.

            “She didn’t want to take a bath,” said Haruka as she swayed gently with Hotaru.

            The child’s cries were down to soft hiccups and her eyes were nearly closed.

            “Trying to bathe her in the sink again, Haruka,” teased Michiru lightly.  “I’d thought you had learned your lesson the last time.”

            “What happened?” asked Makoto.

            “It was the first time we had her,” said Haruka softly, so she wouldn’t disturb Hotaru.  “I had no idea soapy babies were so slippery.  After that Michiru would always bathe her.  Even this time around, she wouldn’t let anyone else do it.”  Haruka grinned.  “She’s very possessive and jealous, you know.”

            Michiru made a noise that meant ‘you’re one to talk’ and limped over to the counter by the sink.  Leaning against it, she picked up the towel Haruka had tried to use earlier and brought it to Hotaru’s chin.  The sleeping child didn’t notice as her face and hands were wiped clean.

            As Michiru set Hotaru’s hand back against Haruka’s shoulder, she said, “She got your shirt.”

            “I have something you can put on that,” spoke up Makoto.  “So the stain doesn’t set.”

            Haruka nodded and handed Hotaru off to Setsuna.  She followed Makoto back to the bedroom.

            Makoto found a white, button-down shirt similar to the one Haruka was wearing.  A slight blush crept onto her cheeks and she quickly turned away as the racer casually took her shirt off to replace it with the one handed to her.

            Haruka grinned at the younger girl’s reaction.  “Thanks for the shirt.”

            “No problem,” answered Makoto.  She coughed lightly.  “You can put Hotaru in here if you guys want to stay a while longer,” she ventured.

            “Thanks,” answered Haruka, “but it’s late.  We should really be going.”

            Makoto peeked over her shoulder.  Seeing Haruka button the last of the buttons on the shirt, Makoto turned back to face her.  “Everyone else is staying.  Ami was already going to.  Rei wants to stay with Minako because of what happened tonight, and the only way she can is if they both stay here.  And there’s no way Usagi can wake Chibi-usa up enough to get her home, so they’re stuck here.  We could put the kids in here together so they won’t be disturbed.”

            “A slumber party, huh,” said Haruka, amused at the idea.  “Why not?  But I get to tell Setsuna.”

            An odd image of Setsuna in frilly purple pajamas, cotton between her painted toes and Michiru doing odd things to her hair popped into Makoto’s mind.  She laughed lightly, wondering what Slumber Party Setsuna was really like. 


            As it turned out, Slumber Party Setsuna was a lot like Rest of the Time Setsuna.  She claimed the couch as her bed while the rest of the girls found spots on the floor.

            Haruka and Usagi put Hotaru and Chibi-usa in Makoto’s bedroom.  Usagi had to struggle with the pink haired little girl, all the while muttering about dead weight and too many sweets.  Her actions belied her words, however, as she brushed aside Chibi-usa’s bangs and kissed the girl’s forehead.

            As Makoto reached up in the hall closet, Haruka reached over her.  The blonde pulled down the extra pillows Makoto was aiming for and handed them to her.  She then reached up to get the blankets.

            “I didn’t want her at first,” said Haruka quietly as she pulled the blankets off the top shelf.

            Makoto looked at the other girl, surprised by the admission.

            “Setsuna just showed up with her one day,” went on Haruka, “and I felt like all my choices were being taken from me.  I didn’t want to be responsible for another person that way.  I certainly didn’t want a child.”  She smirked.  “And I didn’t want to share Michiru.  It amazes me how much has changed in such a short period of time.  Now she’s my second favorite thing to wake up to.”

            “Hotaru’s lucky to have you guys,” said Makoto.

            “Some people wouldn’t agree with you,” replied Haruka.  “Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, if you need anything or want to talk, I understand some of what you’re going through.”

            “Thanks,” smiled Makoto.

            After the two youngest Senshi were tucked in, pillows and blankets were arranged on the floor, and everyone settled in for the night.  The TV was left on with the volume muted.

            Makoto chose to lie on the floor between Usagi and Ami.  For a time she lay on her back, watching the shadows play along the ceiling and listening to the even breathing and occasional snores of the people around her.  The sounds were comforting, lulling her into sleep.  Then slight movement on her left caught her attention, and she turned her head to see Ami watching her through slitted eyes.

            “Having trouble sleeping?” asked Makoto as she turned on her side to face Ami, her left arm under her head.

            “Not really,” answered Ami around a yawn.

            “All right, then,” replied Makoto.  “I won’t keep you up.  Sweet dreams, Ami.”  Without even thinking about it, Makoto reached over and tucked a stray piece of hair behind Ami’s ear.  “I’ll see you in the morning,” she said as she turned onto her other side, away from the now wide eyes of the blue haired girl.

            Ami was never so grateful to be in a darkened room as she was at that moment.  She could feel the heat in her cheeks just as well as she could feel the lingering sensation of Makoto’s fingers against the side of her face.  It took several deep breaths for Ami to get her heartbeat back to normal.  For a second there it had felt like it was going to pound right out of her chest.  Consequently, she was now wide awake and watching Makoto’s back as it rose and fell with the other girl’s breathing.

            Count something, she thought, that always works.  And because it was right in front of her, she began to count the number of Makoto’s breaths.

            As Makoto’s breathing became deeper and more even, Ami could feel herself becoming drowsy.  After a while, she gave up the counting and just watched her friend, the contentment in the act leading her into a peaceful sleep.

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