Title: Leave a message at the tone...
Author: Starsea (sea_thoughts)
Theme: Gateway (March)
Mamoru turned over and gritted his teeth, keeping his eyes closed. "No."
"This is my daughter we're talking about!"
For a moment, Mamoru kept his eyes closed, willing himself to go back to sleep but then the bedside light snapped on. Mamoru opened his eyes and stared into the faint but unmistakeable features of the late Tomoe Souichi.
"Tomoe-san, I have a practical assessment tomorrow," he said, struggling to keep his temper. "Why don't we talk about this at a more convenient time?"
"I don't HAVE time, Chiba-san! The gateway will close soon and I will be back in the underworld!"
It was always the same: Obon came around and Tomoe showed up, begging Mamoru to speak to his daughter. Reasoning didn't seem to do any good. Mamoru had been tempted to ask Rei for an exorcism but... technically Tomoe wasn't a bad spirit. His intentions were pure. And Mamoru understood what it was like to miss your family. He knew that Tomoe exploited this soft spot but he just couldn't bring himself to block the former scientist out or even take the necessary precautions to stop him entering his apartment. The shitennou were becoming frustrated with Mamoru's refusal to protect himself from Tomoe's visits. It had been the source of a major argument between Mamoru and Jadeite.
"Tomoe-san, Hotaru-san barely remembers you. She has a new family, now." Actually, he didn't know how much Hotaru remembered of her old life, but he really hoped she didn't remember much.
Tomoe shifted. It was difficult to tell in the light whether he was uncomfortable or not but Mamoru knew the mention of Michiru and Haruka and Setsuna must have had some effect on him. He pressed home his advantage.
"I doubt that her parents would be happy if they knew you were trying to get in touch with her."
"They aren't her parents!" Tomoe cried out, the pain in his voice unmistakeable. The blind rattled against the bedroom window and the temperature in the room, already cool, dropped several degrees.
"They are as far as Hotaru-san's concerned," Mamoru said firmly. He could see his breath forming as he spoke the words.
"How can you be so cruel?" Tomoe demanded, his transparent fists clenching.
"I'm not the one who planted an alien egg inside his own daughter!" Mamoru snapped, goaded beyond endurance.
This time it was impossible to miss Tomoe's flinch. He turned away, but not before Mamoru saw the look of anger on his face. "I was trying to save her. I thought I had no other choice. But you do not need to lecture me. My wife has made it clear that my actions were... inexcusable."
Mamoru stared at him. He'd forgotten about Hotaru's biological mother, Tomoe Keiko. Of course she would be there, too. Of course she would be... upset about what had happened to Hotaru. Mamoru wondered why she'd never shown up and asked to speak to her daughter. He would have been happy to carry her message. As if he'd spoken the question aloud, Tomoe answered him.
"Keiko is happy that our daughter is now safe. She is happy that Hotaru is being cared for by people who understand her powers and love her. She is satisfied with the situation."
"But you're not," Mamoru stated.
"I need to talk to her! I need to explain..." Tomoe's head drooped. "I want to ask for her forgiveness. If she forgives me... maybe Keiko will forgive me."
Mamoru was caught, his heart pierced by the misery in the man's voice. He wished Usagi were here. Once she'd got over her automatic reaction to any ghost - screaming and hiding in the wardrobe - Usagi would not have seen a problem. She would have been happy to reconcile Tomoe and Hotaru. He did not have her ability to bridge the gulf between people but he would have to try.
"At the toro nagashi," he said, reaching over and turning the light off. "I'm not making any promises. If Michiru-san or Rei-san spot you... you're gone."
"They won't see me," Tomoe said, his voice and presence beginning to fade. "I'll make sure of that. Thank you, Chiba-san."
"Don't thank me yet," Mamoru said, but the room was empty. He dropped his head to the pillow and sighed. The material was cold against his cheek. It felt like his room had been banished to November while the rest of Tokyo shimmered in July.
The bed gently sank on one side and Mamoru felt a back against his own. It was warm and solid. His shitennou were always warm - which made them different from any other spirit - but they could rarely manage such a physical presence. There was only one who might be able to do such a thing. "Kunzite?" he whispered.
"I know what's you're going to say."
"Really." There was amusement in Kunzite's voice, which was never a good sign.
"I have to try, Kunzite. After he said that, it's the least I..."
"No, you don't. You don't have to do anything for him, Master. But at least you didn't make him any promises. You've learned that much."
They were both silent after that. Mamoru was silent because he dropped off to sleep very quickly (there was something about Kunzite's presence that relaxed him); Kunzite was silent because he was on guard.
* * *
The toro nagashi had always been Mamoru's favourite part of Obon. He loved the stillness of the occasion, he loved the look of the candles on the river, but most of all, he loved the fact that the spirits were departing for another year and he wasn't going to be used as the human equivalent of a telegram. He always lit two candles (one for his mother, one for his father) and whispered a small prayer before placing them into the paper boat. He sensed Tomoe watching him, but the man had the decency to wait until the boat was in the water before he moved any closer.
Without speaking to him - always dangerous in a crowd - Mamoru turned and made his way to where Hotaru was standing. She hadn't put her boat into the water yet, which explained why Tomoe was still here. Mamoru had no idea what he was going to say until he saw that there were two candles in Hotaru's boat as well.
"Two?" he asked softly, keeping an eye on Michiru and Haruka, who were busy putting their own boats into the water. One of them was white, and he wondered who they'd lost in the previous year. It was a question that would almost certainly go unanswered. They never answered questions about their lives before they became senshi.
"One for my old mama and one for my old papa," Hotaru said, pointing. "Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama weren't that happy but Setsuna-mama said it was a good idea, because they deserve to be remembered." She looked up at him with those unnerving but beautiful grey eyes. "Ne, Mamoru-san?"
Mamoru nodded. "I think they'd like that, Hotaru-san," he said, feeling Tomoe press close to his side, desperate to speak. "I'm sure they remember you. I'm sure there are many things they want to say to you..."
"Maybe." Hotaru bent down and placed the boat on the water. "But I don't need to hear them." She straightened and looked at him again, a faint smile on her face. "I know they loved me. Even Papa. He tried to save me out of love. I used to think it would have been better if he'd let me die, but then I wouldn't have met ChibiUsa or Usagi... I wouldn't have a family. So he helped, in the end."
"He still loves you," Mamoru said quietly, feeling Tomoe fade as the boat floated away.
Hotaru turned and watched the boat move away without responding. Mamoru decided to leave before he did any more damage. As he did so, he heard Hotaru whisper, "Good."
Author's Note: For more on the toro nagashi, see this entry