When Angelia woke up, the next morning, things were considerably different than they had been the day before. She was in Jennifer’s old room at the Tiger House, lying horizontal on a comfortable bed with clean sheets. She even felt cleaner in a pair of pjs she didn’t recognize.
She sensed that someone was in the room with her. She shifted in bed and her blue eyes went huge.
Sitting in a chair, sleeping in a very uncomfortable position was her best friend…
Orlando! she thought, then, despite her having been tied up for several days, she jumped from the bed and shook him awake.
“Orlando!” she cried. “Orlando, wake up!” Orlando stirred in his sleep. “Come on, you bleeding wanker! I know what you do when you’re in the shower before work—”
Coming awake, Orlando yelled, “Oi, can’t I sleep around here without—?” He broke off and sat up, nearly knocking Angelia off of his lap in the process. He grabbed her in time and searched her grinning face. “Annie? Is that you?”
“Well, I hope so,” she retorted. “Or else I have Angelia Buchannan’s knickers on, and I’d hate to have to return them to her. I’ve been wearing them for days and…”
Orlando laughed hysterically and hugged her senseless.
A few minutes later, Angelia and Orlando had dressed and gone down for breakfast. The boys were gone. Cassandra had left to open up the restaurant and Makoto had gone with her. Jennifer had gone to have breakfast with her fiancé and her mother. Danie, Usagi, Minako, Rei, the cats, and Jessica were all who remained besides Orlando and Angelia.
When Angelia appeared, Usagi jumped up and glomped her cousin. The others sweatdropped.
“Come back and finish your breakfast, Usagi-chan,” Jessica scolded gently.
Danie raised an eyebrow at her sister. “She’s not listening to you…”
Jessica got the hint and turned back to go back to the kitchen.
After they had completed their reunion, Usagi took her place at the table. Angelia and Orlando occupied empty seats and served themselves breakfast. While digging into his scrambled eggs, Orlando felt something brush up against his leg. He caught himself before he could jump toward the ceiling. Rei glanced under the table and sighed.
“Luna, leave him alone for a second,” Rei scolded the cat. “You can introduce yourself later.”
Orlando frowned as the black cat walked toward the priestess. “A cat wanted to meet me?” he asked incredulously.
The girls blinked at him as if knowing something he didn’t. Despite all his experience out in the real world where people couldn’t shoot fire out of their eyes and cats supposedly didn’t talk, here he felt like an idiot.
“Of course!” chirped Minako. She reached down and picked up the cat. “Luna, you can say hello to Orlando now.”
The cat trained her soft red eyes on him and then said, “Hello, Orlando. I am glad that you are a part of our group.”
Pause. Expression frozen in shock, Orlando turned to Angelia. He stared at her without blinking, speechless.
Suddenly a voice came from under the table. “If you couldn’t tell, Luna has a crush on you.”
Orlando looked down… and found another cat with white fur that actually had an expression of disgust on his face. He jumped this time, and nearly into Angelia’s lap. Angelia yelped out his name and tried to steady him in his teetering chair. Usagi, Minako, and Rei were laughing so hard that they hardly noticed when Orlando and Angelia went crashing to the ground, but when they did, their laughter increased. Jessica sighed and went back into the kitchen for some aspirin. Trying times, they were.
“Fucking hell—not at the table while I’m eating!” Danie bellowed. Usagi, Minako, and Rei calmed down.
“See what you’ve done, Luna!” exclaimed Artemis.
“Leave me alone,” Luna snapped. Minako had set the cat down on the ground before laughter could render her clumsy. “I can say hello to him if I want to.” She padded toward Angelia and Orlando on the floor. Sitting on her haunches, she addressed the duo. “Are you two okay?”
“We’re just fine, Luna,” Angelia assured her. “’Lando’s just shaken a bit.” She placed a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Will you be alright from now on, Orlando?”
“Oh yes, after the initial shock wears off,” Orlando responded. He paused a moment, staring at Luna, then at Artemis when he padded toward them. He extended a hand and rubbed the downy fur on her head. She purred. Artemis glared.
“Artemis is jealous,” Minako remarked in a sing-song voice.
Artemis’s pithy response indicated that he didn’t care what Minako thought.
After order was restored, breakfast resumed. When they were done with breakfast, Angelia pulled Orlando away to the backyard where they could talk in private.
The cover was off of the Tiger House pool so Angelia walked toward it and pulled off her shoes. She swirled her feet in the water and watched the water sway with the motion. Frowning thoughtfully, Orlando sat down beside her. They didn’t say a word to each other for a long time. Orlando didn’t know how to bring up the subject of this whole situation without making Angelia feel uncomfortable. The truth was, the situation wasn’t comfortable for either of them. Determined to start the conversation, Orlando turned to Angelia, ready to speak. Angelia, however, spoke first.
“I should have told you about this before, Orlando,” Angelia said, still looking at her feet. “It wasn’t my intention to ever involve you in this life. I know how dangerous and stressful it can be.” She looked at him, blue eyes filled with remorse. “But if I’d known…”
Orlando chuckled. “Annie. That’s the thing. You couldn’t have known that this was going to happen. What would you have done? Really?”
“We could have awakened you earlier. My abduction should have never happened.”
“Shouldn’t I be saying that? Aside from the fact that I should have been awakened earlier.”
“I should have known better.” Angelia shook her head. “I should have known that we met for some reason. It just seems all very convenient that we are friends and this just happened.”
“You make it sound like something sinister. It’s not, Annie. I honestly am glad to be your friend, even though it seems that you’ve gotten me into this mess and it’s nothing I can talk my way out of.” Angelia shoved him. “What? I was just kidding.”
“You better have been.” She looked back out over the pool. “You mean a lot to me, and if I could have, I would have protected you from this heartache.”
“Well,” Orlando contended, “you know that old saying: What doesn’t kill you—”
“Will send you to a therapist,” Angelia joked.
“Will make you stronger,” Orlando corrected, laughing.
Angelia leaned on Orlando and basked in the glow of his presence. It felt like it had been far too long since they had done this. “That’s why we’ll be friends forever. Because we’re so damn strong.”
“Ah, so you two aren’t going to hook up?”
Orlando and Angelia turned away from the glittering pool water and saw Danie standing behind them along with Minako, Usagi, and Rei. Danie wore short gym shorts that looked like they’d seen some wear and a screen tee that warned everyone that she was a Hothead who was Dangerous When Lit. Minako wore short overalls over a blue t-shirt, and Usagi and Rei wore denim shorts with sleeveless tops in different styles and colors.
Angelia shook her head at the question. “I don’t think we could…” They shared a look and laughed.
Rei pulled up a patio chair. “Have you tried to?” she asked.
They shared another knowing glance. Orlando replied this time as Minako crowded the chair with Rei. Danie and Usagi each pulled up one of their own. “We had known each other for a few months when one day we were walking on the street and someone got it into her head that we should do this grand experiment.”
Angelia shrugged. “I just wanted to see if I felt it, you know?”
Orlando frowned. “It?”
“Aw come on. You know what she’s talking about. The feeling you get when you kiss a guy you can be romantically involved with,” Danie clarified.
“Either that, or true love,” Minako offered.
At that, Usagi sighed, her elbows on her knees and her chin on her palms. “True love is wonderful,” she remarked with that I’m-thinking-about-Mamoru look in her eyes.
Danie shrugged. “Trying to find it isn’t so bad.” She paused thoughtfully. “Well, only if you end up with a whole bunch of duds.” She sighed. “And then it’s horrible. Take Gretchen for example! Her last six boyfriends have cheated on her with their exes.”
“I deplore men like that,” Angelia commented. There was a familiar glint in her eyes, so Danie and Orlando, not knowing they were thinking of the same thing, decided to change the subject.
“So how does it feel to be a Fire Child, Orlando?” Danie spoke first. “Is it disorienting yet?”
Orlando chuckled. “When did it stop being disorienting?”
Danie chuckled, too. “It will. Trust me. You will get used to it. You have to or you will burn yourself to death.” She laughed when Orlando’s eyes widened. “It may seem odd, but you can. Not only that, but we Fire Children have a lot of other unexplainable abilities.”
“Oh, you mean like the time we went to Soul Love Live and all those guys wanted to sleep with you?” Minako broke in.
“What? How does that have to do with being a Fire Child?” Orlando asked.
“Hell if I know, but it really happened. Needless to say, the girls and I had to leave the club early that night. I had men calling me for days.”
“I think Ami said it had something to do with your glands,” Rei offered. “She gave some scientific explanation that had us all confused.”
“Ami always has us confused,” Danie remarked, but she didn’t say it derisively, leading Orlando to believe that the girls had fully bonded and had adjusted to each other’s differences. “She and Moira-Selene both. They’re two peas in a pod.” She turned to Orlando again. “But we all have our little distinctive character traits. It’s going to dizzy you to figure them all out, but once you get used to us, we’re just like one big happy family.”
“A family with a lot of sisters,” Orlando noted, and Danie laughed.
“The way it should be, my friend. If only women ruled the world.” She turned to the house when Jessica called her inside. “Excuse me for a moment. That’s probably someone wanting my immediate attention.”
Danie went into the house and Minako moved to her chair because it was close to Orlando. She flashed him her dazzling Venus smile when he looked at her. A little mystified, Orlando returned the smile, though not in the manner that Minako had.
“Orlando-sama,” she began, drawing out the syllables in his name, “are you taken?”
Rei and Usagi sweatdropped. Angelia tried to cover her snicker with a cough.
“Eh,” Orlando uttered, trying to think of the best way to phrase this, “I like to think of myself as single at the moment. I have…” He trailed off and picked up his sentence as Minako sat down beside him. “…Many things to worry about these days, so I haven’t secured a long-term relationship in that way.”
“Ah! What a shame!” Minako exclaimed. “You poor thing.” She placed a hand on his thigh in a seemingly innocent gesture. Orlando looked down at her hand and didn’t know whether to be exasperated or amused. So he went for a little of both. “I’m sure a good-looking, sexy guy like you gets pretty lonely sometimes.” She batted her eyelashes as if to suggest something that was best left for the imagination.
Finally Rei couldn’t take it anymore. She hated to burst Minako’s bubble, but she had to do it. “And he’s probably getting some sleep, too. So leave him alone, Minako-chan.”
Minako huffed and sat down in Danie’s former seat. “I was just flirting.”
As Rei and Minako debated on whether or not Minako had been flirting, Usagi came and sat beside him. She wiggled her toes in the water and then looked up at him. Her blue eyes were twinkling.
“Orlando-sama,” she began, “I think that everyone has a true love and someday you will stumble across that person that makes you feel like nothing can ever be wrong in the world.”
“Well, Usagi-chan, don’t forget that there will always be war and escalating gas prices to bring you back to Earth,” Rei pointed out.
Usagi lowered her head and growled. She turned around to glare at Rei. “You’re ruining the moment, Rei-chan.”
“What moment?” Rei wondered. “I was just trying to bring a dose of reality to the conversation.”
Another growl hummed in Usagi’s throat but she didn’t respond to Rei.
“Usagi,” Orlando said, causing her to look at him, “I think you’re right about true love. When it’s real, and you’re with that one person that completes you, it seems like absolutely nothing in the world can bother you.”
“So you don’t feel that way about Annie-san?” Minako wanted to know.
Angelia and Orlando looked at each other. “No,” Angelia answered. “Orlando makes me feel comfortable, but he’s more like a faithful pet than a lover.”
Usagi, Rei, and Minako laughed. Orlando sighed as if he were hurt by Angelia’s response. She patted his shoulder. “Cheer up, Fido.” Orlando’s playful shove nearly sent Angelia into the pool. “Watch it, Bloom. That was a little too close there.”
Deciding to change the subject, Orlando asked Minako in a conversational tone, “So Miss Minako, are you taken?”
Minako laughed a little too loud, which indicated that she may not be telling the whole entire truth. “Oh of course not! I am utterly, blissfully single and free every night after five.”
“Demo Minako-chan, what about Izzy-sama?” Usagi asked, not knowing what she was saying.
Isidore Corcoran was Minako’s unofficial boyfriend. He was overseas at the moment with his brother, working on a production project. Minako nudged Usagi with her foot and gave her a little extra push for ruining her chances with Orlando.
Usagi let out a loud shriek as she went toppling into the pool. Minako put a hand over her mouth and Rei groaned. Usagi was wailing.
“Minako,” Orlando chided, voice mildly stern. “You know that wasn’t nice.”
Minako had the grace to look sheepish. “I didn’t mean to do it. I guess I don’t know my own strength.”
Orlando just shook his head, any emotion in his eyes veiled. “Come here, Minako.”
She inched toward him gingerly, not knowing what he was going to do. So she put on her most contrite face and widened her blue eyes for effect. “I’m really sorry, Orlando-sama. I didn’t mean to…”
“No,” he corrected her. “I’m sorry.”
Before she could ask him for what he could possibly be sorry, Orlando placed a hand on the back of her thigh. She gasped and started to grin…until she felt that he had pushed her. She squealed his name shrilly and went belly-first into the Tiger House pool. Rei and Angelia giggled. Usagi laughed hysterically.
“See, Minako-chan!” Usagi exclaimed. She stuck out her tongue at the seething, dripping blonde even though she was old enough to know better. “Orlando-sama pushed you in because you were mean to me.”
“It was an accident!” Minako insisted. She splashed water in Usagi’s direction. “Take that! Hurricane!”
Usagi growled when water got into her eyes. “Typhoon number eighteen!” she shot back, doing the same to Minako.
Watching from the edge, Orlando laughed and got considerably wet himself with large droplets of water from Usagi and Minako’s water battle. Suddenly, the burden of being the Sun Prince and any last battle against Alex and Amanda were forgotten. For this moment in time, it was a normal day in sunny California, and he was going to have fun with a group of young women that he had decided were going to be his friends. Standing, Orlando took off his shirt and jumped into the pool. Rei had to admit that he had a nice set of pectorals.
“Geronimo!” he bellowed before hitting the water. Seconds later, Angelia and Rei felt drops of pool water on their clothes and exposed skin. When he surfaced, he grabbed Minako and held her over his head. She screamed in delight as he threw her back into the water. Setting his sights upon Usagi, Orlando chased the other blonde as she waded away from him. Angelia and Rei shared a glance. Then they both stood and jumped into the pool. Angelia jumped onto Orlando’s back. He laughed with surprise as Angelia clamped on and prevented him from catching Usagi.
When Danie returned outside, she raised an eyebrow. Orlando, the only one who wasn’t fully clothed, was trying to dunk Rei in the water, but Usagi, Minako, and Angelia had ganged up on him.
“Aw, what the hell,” she muttered, and cannon-balled into the pool with her screen tee and shorts on. A few moments later she resurfaced and assisted Rei, Minako, Usagi, and Angelia in dunking Orlando into the pool. After a couple of tries, they finally threw him over the deep end.
* * *
A few miles away in Los Angeles, Amanda Latona watched her lover do push-ups.
“Alex,” she said to him, “are you sure you want to you want to do this?”
For a moment, all she could hear was the sound of Alex’s rapid breathing.
She spoke again. “Alex?”
Too engrossed in his workout regimen, Alex ignored her. He continued with his push-ups, now well into the triple-digits.
At that moment, Amanda’s anger peaked and she climbed to her feet. She went to the bathroom where she slammed the door to let Alex know she was mad at him. She stood over the sink for a long moment, waiting for Alex to knock on the door and apologize. But he didn’t come.
No surprise. The man she had fallen in love with had changed since he became allied with the Sailor Senshi. A thought in the back of her mind made her frown. No. Actually, he began to change once he became evil. And even more when he was stripped of his powers. It grew worse when somehow he got his powers back. Shaking her head, she tried to shake the reasoning that he was a better person before her. He hadn’t been. This time, they said that she was the bad element in the relationship. But she wasn’t. She was taking Alexander James McLean to his destiny. And her own.
She looked up into the mirror at the face she’d had for years. This face hadn’t always been evil. There was someday long ago when she would have never thought that she would be capable of killing, mass destruction, and calling up ice on command. But one night with an old friend had changed her life.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to finally get back at that one person who made your life a living hell?”
It was one hell of a sales pitch that Amanda bought, hook, line, sinker. Did she have any regrets? No. If she did, she pushed them down to obscurity and went about her new life. And that new life included hurting Daniella Thomas and her family as much as she possibly could.
That same voice that resided in the back of her mind reminded her that it had actually been she, not Danie, who had done the major screwing around.
She shook her head again, dispelling any doubts about what she was doing. Her purpose in life. Her reason for living.
Was this a valid reason for destroying someone else’s life?
“No,” Amanda whispered. “Please don’t start that now. I have no regrets. This is just. This is right. Daniella Thomas deserves all she can get.”
There was a knock on the door. The one she had been waiting for. It took him long enough. “Amanda? Are you in there?”
Amanda turned to the door and opened it. Alex was standing there with his shirt off. Sweat gleamed on his exposed skin. The look in his eyes indicated that if he was going to take a shower, he was not going to take it alone. She reached down to the waistband of his sweatpants and was rewarded with the sound of a pleased groan from his throat. It didn’t take long before the two were undressed and making more steam than the water from the shower taps.
Later on, when they had finally made it to bed, Alex looked down at his lover all tangled up in his arms and the sheets and said, “Baby, I think we’re ready to rumble.”
* * *
At Cat Headquarters a little later, Moira-Selene sat in the quiet conference room eating a salad. She was taking some time out from the bustle of Gracia Memorial Hospital to have a moment to herself. She felt like she’d had the same headache for several days, and the sounds of ambulance sirens and yelling for drugs did nothing to help it. Even at night, when Duo was holding her in his usual soothing embrace, her head still throbbed.
She knew what it was. It was worry. It was attacking her like a tumor. Not only did she have to contend with planning Jennifer’s wedding, but Danie. This whole business with Danie falling ill had pushed up her blood pressure, and now she was worried about Alex and his next move.
Moira-Selene remembered the humiliation her sister endured when she was pregnant. She had been getting fat and no one loved her. That is, except for her family—the members of her family that chose to love her. Moira-Selene had stuck by her sister, had gone to Lamaze classes with her when any of the other sisters had been busy, had soothed frayed nerves, and had satisfied strange cravings. She, Gretchen, Claudia-Michelle, Jennifer, Samantha, Cassandra, and Jessica had painted toenails, had gone clothes shopping, and had offered shoulders to cry on. When the twins had been born, the Thomas cousins had been camped out in the waiting room since they could not be in the delivery room with her. Jessica and Irene, her mother, had been present when Danie gave birth. Robert Bullock had been conspicuously not present. Irene’s mother and grandmother also had not given their approval. Moira-Selene hardly cared about that minor detail. Especially now that nearly five years had passed.
Ami walked into the conference room. Moira-Selene hadn’t noticed her until she placed a couple of aspirin and a glass of water in front of her colleague. Moira-Selene looked up with tired emerald-green eyes and frowned.
“You look like you’re stressed out,” Ami observed. “I can almost see the vein throbbing in your forehead.”
Moira-Selene sighed and took the aspirin. “Thank you, Ami-chan. I guess…” She shook her head. “I guess I’ve been running on fumes during the last several days.”
Ami sat down in front of her. “Are you worried about Danie?” Moira-Selene nodded silently. “You shouldn’t be worried about her. She usually lands on her feet.”
Moira-Selene brushed her fingertips along her left brow. “I’m just worried that Danie might take this more personally than she should. I mean, she is fighting the father of her children and the woman that he cheated on her with. I just…” She hesitated. “I’m just wondering if her judgment will be impaired.”
“Not to mention that Orlando would probably kill Alex himself if he tried to hurt Danie.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just have this feeling,” Ami told her. “There’s something about those two.”
A smile tugged at the corners of Moira-Selene’s mouth. “Destiny can be like that.”
Before Ami could comment, a loud beep came from the control room. Frowning, Moira-Selene stood and walked to the control room. Ami followed. The control room was empty, but there was an icon blinking on the large screen, an envelope opening and closing in a garish loop.
“What is it?” Ami asked.
Moira-Selene logged into the Cat Headquarters e-mail account furiously. There were several new messages in the inbox, but there was one marked Urgent. She shared a glance with Ami. The subject was Last battle.
Wordlessly, she pushed a button to print-out the e-mail. Moira-Selene snatched the paper warm from the printer and scanned it. Ami read it over her shoulder.
Sent: Wednesday 12:37 PM
Subject: Last battle
Time is of the essence. It seems that we are wasting time and it is ripe for one last showdown.
Here are our terms:
We will meet us off the highway between Los Angeles and Gracia at eleven o’clock tonight. You will walk one mile off the road.
No one but Sailor Sunfire and Orlando can use their powers in this battle. If anyone tries anything, you will be punished accordingly.
Orlando will be fighting first. If he wins the battle, we will retreat. If he does not, Sunfire has a chance to redeem herself. If they both lose, the Sailor Senshi will suffer the consequences.
Moira-Selene closed her eyes and placed the note on top of the console. She steeled herself against another throbbing headache and forced the obvious out of her mouth.
“I think it’s time to assemble everyone,” Moira-Selene remarked to Ami.