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all things that are dark

Chapter Text

i.

 

 

Usually Setsuna is early.

 

-

 

These meetings are a force of habit long after they officially start; Usagi still holds to the clarity of seeing her future self, the words senshi of mystery and the slight, careful slip of i am so so sorry. She will be a wise queen, apparently.

She picks a table away from the door. She sits by a window. Orders two teas; one with honey, the other with two bags and brown sugar. It makes Setsuna uneasy. There is the ring on her finger too and the memory of Mamoru's worried kiss, right across her forehead before he left for the hospital. These meetings make him just as uneasy; she has a feeling she knows what's coming as it is.

"Am I late?"

Usagi looks up. Setsuna shrugs out of her jacket, tall and poised. The corners of her mouth are crooked. She doesn't smile in greeting.

"No," she says. She nods to the counter. A high school girl in frills is pouring tea and setting the treats. "I just got here," she says with some amusement. None of the girls would ever think to come and find them at a maid cafe. "The habit of showing up too early is staring to stick, I guess."

"It's going to be a lovely day," Setsuna says absently.

"It is."

They wait for tea. Usagi relaxes her gaze at the window again. She thinks about the future. Then she stops.

Their waitress brings their tea quickly. Setsuna murmurs a polite thanks and Usagi walks herself into cheerful politeness, complimenting the girl on her costume - frills, ribbon, and lace. The tiny girl is practically swallowed by it; in the afternoon, there are usually more boys as it is. She wonders what Mamoru would do if she brought something like that home. She would laugh.

"So," she starts.

"Tea," Setsuna corrects gently. She pulls a cookie. "Tea first," she finishes too.

Usagi shakes her head. Her hair fringes over her eyes.

"You know I have no patience for waiting, Setsuna-san," she says politely. There is an edge and the older woman meets her gaze. "I would rather get right into it."

"Serenity," Setsuna's voice is soft.

Usagi's eyes are bright and sharp. She leans her elbows against the table too, her chin resting against her knuckles.

She smiles this way first.

 

 

It took her weeks to talk about Cosmos with Mamoru, even longer with Minako, and just at the fringes with the other girls. There are dreams and then there are terrible dreams, things that seem to continue to build. There are things that she knows that she cannot reveal yet; there is an important sense of practice in being queen and there, right there, she can almost hear her mother's voice, tall and slight with worry and exhaustion. She would rather think about the kinds of stories she is going to be telling Chibi-Usa, somewhere between princesses that fall in love and the warrior girls that breathe in them.

But this all falls into what has to be done, what needs to be done, and why this meetings with Pluto - Setsuna - are so important, despite her reluctance and quiet distrust of the Outer Senshi and their place in what is going to be her rule.

This is her decision first.

"He has the crystals," she says.

"I know," Setsuna murmurs. She is staring at the window now. "It's the structure of his own crystal, drawing his guardians back into the fold. They will return, of course."

"No," Usagi shakes her head. "They're here - I've been sensing them for quite some time. I think - the crystals are only part of it and I think Mamo-chan knows that too."

She lets it slip and wide-eyed, Setsuna stares at her. The curl of her mouth twitches. Usagi pushes her tea forward.

"You knew," she says gently.

Setsuna's lips purse. "Your thread is not mine to read anymore."

"That is beside the point," she says, and here, she is talking like a queen. Her back feels sharp against her chair. She is calm, she is steady. The girls and Mamoru already have whatever she is willing to give.

"But you knew."

Setsuna shakes her head. She hesitates.

"It's your task," Setsuna says at last. She says it slowly, but not thoughtfully, more so as if she were admitting some terrible grievance to herself and herself alone.

Usagi wants to laugh.

"It's my task," she repeats. Her fingers touch the rim of her cup, her nails scraping over a chip in the pattern. China blue, she thinks. "Somehow I am not surprised," she says.

Her memories of the guardians, Endymoin's, are just as select as the others. It is still hard to pull from what she now knows of Beryl and past fights; Mamoru does not talk about them, but she knows he thinks about it. He dreams just as heavily as she does. The closest they got to that conversation had him stumbling, over his need and their betrayal, over knowing that they are here but they are halfway into ghosts. The girls, they don't talk; Minako is still the angriest, of course.

"You know the Prince better than all of us," Setsuna breaks through her thoughts. Usagi meets her gaze. The hardness in the other woman's eyes is expected. "Would it be wise to bring him into this?" she asks. "Especially considering -"

Usagi's eyes flash. "Considering?" she pushes.

Setsuna turns her head, reaching for her tea. Her hair curls at her throat and spills over her shoulder. It's caught in one of the buttons of her coat.

"We all remember how it ended," Setsuna murmurs.

Usagi's throat flushes. Her hand curls into a fist. It feels too hard just under her chin. Our memories are in pieces, she thinks bitterly. That may be for another time.

"I am not my mother," she says, and it has to be said, again and again and again. She thinks of the girls. She thinks of Cosmos, her own fate, heavy-handed and waiting. She drops her hand and lets it rest against her belly.

"I know."

"Do you?"

She leans forward, elbows digging back into the counter. The sun hits her ring and the diamond catches the glass. It forms a glare and Setsuna still doesn't look at her.

"I don't keep these secrets from him," she says. "From any of them - you know just as well as I do that this, this is about timing above all things."

Setsuna sighs. "And yet -"

"No," Usagi interrupts. Her throat is tight now. Her fingers curl; it's not the crystal at her palm, but it is skin and bones, all over the sense of the universe, the ebb, the flow all turning to respond.

Setsuna's gaze is unreadable. The accusation goes unspoken.

It's Usagi who looks away.

"That's different," she says.

 

-

 

Kris is English.

Kris teaches English at a private academy, deep in the city.

Usagi hides the notes from Setsuna in an old box of things from her mother and wonders what she's going to say, who to say to first, Minako or Mamoru. There is no opting out of this and even talking to Luna, would still be talking to Luna with those strange sort of feelings from another life ago.

She takes Ami to lunch first.

"I need to tell you something," she says, and the hospital cafeteria is not the wisest place to do this. But Ami and Mamoru share the same sort of work ethic, so getting this out this way, this will have to do.

"Are you all right?" Her friend pushes her fruit salad to Usagi's tray. They share a coffee.

Usagi smiles faintly. "Yes, I'm fine - " she waves a hand. "But we need to talk about something I'm going to do."

"Usa-chan," Ami warns.

Usagi laughs a little. But then she's serious, the corners of her mouth settling. Ami watches her and then suddenly, the noise level of the room is starting to fade out. How is she supposed to say it - starting with Kunzite first, soon we'll be talking about Zoisite, and Endymoin, Mamoru, needs his Shitennou just as much as i need and have you girls.

"The Shitennou," she blurts. Ami pales and looks at her, wide-eyed. "I'm looking for them," she finishes, flushing.

"What?" but it doesn't sound like that. Ami is shaken. "What?"

"Or found them, one - " she pinches the bridge of her nose, "You're the most rational, Ami-chan."

Ami croaks. Then she covers her mouth and looks away. Her eyes take on a unsteadied focus, her hand crawling back over her throat. The white coat totally disarms her too; Ami is small and wise and most people cannot see past that.

"Usa-chan," she says quietly. "That's -"

"I'm sorry," Usagi shakes her head, interrupting. "That's not fair. I should have been better about this."

A ghost of a smile catches Ami's mouth. "Impulsivity is still a charm of yours," she teases.

But both girls sober. Usagi does not have tell her that it's Kris, or Kunzite, or that when Minako finds out, it will be some kind of blood bath, or when it's Mamoru that comes face to face with him - well, she can only begin to imagine.

She does not ask her girls about those memories. It seems completely unfair to ask that much of them; still, she tells herself, still.

"Who?" Ami asks quietly.

Usagi hesitates. The volume of the cafeteria crowd is getting louder again. It's full by eleven; Mamoru takes his lunch from home to avoid this, that, and the crowd. He takes his coffee at three or four.

"Minako," she murmurs. "I am not asking you to help me."

"What are you asking?" Ami counters. Then she catches herself, shaking her head.

"It's all right." Usagi leans back. She hasn't touched her salad.

"No, it's not," Ami says. She sighs and looks away. "I don't remember much of anything," she shares. "It was even stranger to me when we fought Beryl and the clone ... his clone was him and not him - or was it? It was something and not much of anything and I - I was fourteen, Usa-chan, what else could I do?"

"Nothing," she says quietly.

Ami meets her gaze again. She leans forward and reaches for her coffee, curling her hands around the paper cup.

"Do you need help?" Ami asks.

"No."

Her friend's gaze softens.

"Usa."

"No," she repeats. "I won't ask any of you to do this with me," she says firmly. "I ask enough as it is."

"We do it because we love you," Ami murmurs, and the fierce, underlying sense of devotion is there, just as hard and standing as it always has been. Sometimes it's hard to think of them as girls because they were girls, even for a short, short while. Sometimes she wants to hate her mother for this kind of sacrifice. But there are many things she is walking into understanding, memories that are more old friends than most.

"There is something coming," she says to Ami. There is a laugh somewhere behind them; a mother and a child, a family skirting around with visiting flowers. "Fate only caters to us so much," she says and she stares fondly at her wedding ring, the gold bands that feel more like declaration of pride than anything else.

Then, for that moment, she finishes as the girl.

"I want us to be together," she says.

 

 

Mamoru brings her tea in the morning. He had a late night at the hospital; she forgot and her lunch with Ami remains quiet and unnoticed, just like the notes in the shoebox and now under the bed. She still sits up when he comes into their room, breakfast tray in hands, crease deep in his mouth. She pushes some of his pillows against her back as she rest against the headboard.

"You should be sleeping," she chides.

"It's my day off," he says. He yawns and she rolls her eyes. "I can do what I want."

"Brat," she teases.

She takes the tea into her lap. He sits on the bed, stretching his legs out. She watches him rub the back of his neck.

"We didn't get to talk about your lunch with Setsuna-san," he says. "The other day - sorry I forgot. I feel like an ass."

"I'm fine," she murmurs, lips curling.

He shakes his head. His amusement is brief.

"You're not fine," he says. "You're either somber or quiet or avoid me for a few hours after talking to her. I know what these meeting are for and I understand why you go alone, but -"

Usagi groans. "Mamo-chan."

"I'll sleep when you talk to me," he says, and then smirks, that slight spark in his gaze rolling through.

"You worry too much."

He shrugs. "Reasonably so."

"I know you don't trust them," she murmurs, sipping at her tea. She shakes her head. "But at the very least, burning bridges isn't going to help us."

"It was the same as before," he murmurs, almost daring her to be earnest. He reaches forward, pushing her bangs from her face. "You know this."

He's right, she's right, and they've been here before, a million times over. The bulk of delegation belongs to her, but then thee is Minako and Mamoru, where the line more than just diverges from intention. It's more than a thousand year grudge; no one forgets the taste of war. For Usagi, there's the constant reminder of who she is going to be.

"I know," she says. "I know."

His fingers touch her cheek.

"What's worrying you then?"

She turns her mouth into his palm. Her lips trace the lines from memory. His fingers seem to curl in anticipation and she laughs a little, tuffs of air skinning over his knuckles too.

"Everything," she tells him. She's quiet. "And -" she sighs into his skin, swaying, "nothing, I guess. It won't be this quiet for long. Much longer, if we're honest."

Mamoru pulls back. His eyes are dark and it's strange, subtle change. They are sometimes three people in one - past, present, future - but she and Mamoru have both made promises to each other to live as they are, knowing well that she is very much Serenity and he is very much Endymoin.

Setsuna's words are in her head then: your task; a loud ringing curls around her ears too. They are here. Kris, she thinks.

"Everyone is wiser, Serenity."

His voice drops, steady. It's low and careful. His back is straight and tight and she just watches him.

"You know this," he says.

She curls her mouth gently. She almost shakes her head again, her fingers dancing over her tea. His hand drops against her thigh.

"It doesn't matter if they don't trust me," he says too.

"I know," she murmurs. She meets his gaze. "That hasn't mattered for a very long time."

"We both know that it won't change anything," he finishes.

"But it will affect things," she says, and she thinks of Setsuna's notes. Kris. English. A teacher isn't a far reach from who he was. She has a memory of a wiser man, smiling down at her and handing her a sword (careful now), coaxing her to charge.

Her expression sharpens.

"I am not the tactician, not like you or Venus, Endymoin." Her mouth purses. "But I understand people and I understand their need for habits. I know a large part of this falls on me."

"It doesn't have to," he argues. He responds to her; the energy in the room is starting to peak. She feels the fire of the Golden Crystal, beckoning, teasing. "You know that, Serenity."

She smiles - maybe sadly. The corner of her mouth just sinks. She's long since accepted it. A lot of things have become a part of her that she just cannot share.

Then Usagi rubs her eyes.

"It will always be me," she says.

 

 

She gives in later, after he's slept, after she stares at her hands and her ring and listens to the water running in the shower, after she makes lunch and he comes out humming.

Her hand pushes Setsuna's notes across their kitchen counter.

Mamoru stares and takes them.

They don't speak for the rest of the day.

 

-

 

The school is quiet, maybe too quiet, and a strange sense of comparison seems to overload Usagi as she remembers her own school, Naru and her friends, and the long, high intensity of all that business and noise. She passes a few students; they come in pairs and small clusters, whispering as she moves past classroom after classroom. The right one is at the end of the hall, she keeps telling herself.

This is the right thing to do.

 

 

"You're a little old for this."

She laughs and her fingers touch the spines of books. They live on a shelf by his desk. The story is simple: it is never too early to look for schools for any potential children. It's a strange page to take out of her mother's book.

She turns to Kris. Williams, she remembers. "Williams-san," she says carefully. "I appreciate you letting me into the classroom."

He laughs too.

Kris is handsome. There are bits of Kunzite there, if she remembers right. The long, careful strands of hair folded into a braid; not quite gold, but silver and faint, a reminder of all things ice. His eyes are just as sharp as she remembers - that hasn't changed either. A thousand years. Fourteen year-old her. The cruelty remains hidden and she half-expects him to draw his sword.

"Are you having a daughter?" he asks.

"Not yet," she says, and he sits at the edge of his desk, watching her. She forces a light smile. "Soon," she tells him. "I'm only doing this - " she thinks for a moment, fishing for a lie and trying not to blush, " - to appease my mother-in-law."

"Family tradition then," he says, shaking his head. "I know of them."

Her lips curl.

She keeps it simple too. She talks of Chibi-Usa as if she were already there, growing (soon and not yet) and plans to have a bigger family, she talks of Mamoru as her husband, watching carefully for any signs of recognition to cross the other man's face. But he's guarded, and at least this is familiar enough, until she learns enough of his routines.

She does not like going into this blind.

"And anyway," Kris says, pushing her away from her thoughts. "Your daughter won't see me for a number of years," he says with some amusement too.

Her lips purse. "I know." She pinches the bridge of her nose. "If only my mother knew that," she says.

He chuckles. "You could bring her in."

"It's not that easy," she counters, amused.

He shakes his head. "I know the feeling." He studies her - or has been, she thinks. The familiarity that he seems to be watching feels a little unnerving.

"Have we met before?" he asks then, polite and abrupt. He pushes himself up stand and looms, almost over her. She remembers him as this handsome.

No, she almost says. No, she should say. In her head, she sees him with Mamoru, as boys, laughing, and then with her mother - at Selene's alcove, housing the crystal. He is as clear as he is now, hand over her head, patting, soft and warm and you are too brave of a girl. There is Venus then, finally, the charge of a memory, like angry fists, a silent betrayal; Venus was always the leader first.

She is smiling sadly before she realizes it.

"Why?" Usagi asks.

"No reason," he says quickly. He swallows tightly too.

She watches as he fishes around for something - books, she realizes, as he goes to the shelves. He seems to hunt through the spines, staring at the title. She is now able to separate him from what she knows, Kris and Kunzite, one in the same but very, very different.

He pulls a book from the shelf and studies it.

"I think we did," he says.

Usagi freezes.

 

 

It is hard enough living with memories that feel nothing like her own, that seem so out of place, like many of them, and hold the very expectation that it all come to pass because fate is fate and even the Cosmos, at its very finest, is subjected to it still.

Setsuna buys her a chocolate that morning, before.

"Did you know, before?" she asks because Usagi is still Usagi and not many things fester. But this is one of them that does, the life, the very short life of the Silver Alliance and her own mother, the stranger all the same, a thousand years later and with little regard.

"No," Setsuna says. She stiffens, but remains careful. "And yes - I think you can know all the possible outcomes. It's a matter of the decisions that people make."

"So I did this," she says, waving her hand around.

They are near a cluster of shops and the park. The chocolate rests in a bag with her free hands. They watch laughing children, sneaking into school at the final bell for the morning. At large, the hospital looms over the park too and Tokyo Tower, shoveled into the center. She thinks she cannot see how it would look in ice.

"You did," the older woman says with some amusement.

"But -"

"Usagi," she murmurs. Setsuna links their arms together and it feels so very odd. "You are your mother's daughter all the same."

"No," she shoots back, tensing. "I'm not. Nor do I want to be. Nor did she - " she stops and sobers, her eyes burning. She thinks of the ghostly figure, imposing at best. "She didn't want me to be like her. I remember that much."

"But it troubles you."

"A lot does," she snaps.

Setsuna shakes her head. "I can't tell you about Cosmos," she says quietly, politely. There is a measure of something in her voice. "As I said, your thread is closed to me now - you know what you know and you are alone in this."

It's the most honest anyone has ever been with her, save for Mamoru, save for the strengths and failure of their relationship. She feels young and old when Setsuna says this and the pause is heavier than it needs to be.

"I know," she says, after.

Setsuna's voice is distant. "This is how I've failed you," she says.

 

 

She meets with Kris again. She forgets the book he's leant her. She hasn't even managed to spare it a glance.

"How are classes?" she asks, and he laughs, pleasantly. There is a warmth and a charm to his voice that is never not familiar.

"Fine," he says. He presses his fingers to his brow. "Almost over," he adds. "I suppose I should show up for a visit home," he says too.

She smiles pleasantly. They are in a coffee shop near the school; there are no maids here, nor are they in the shopping district, close to any number of Minako's jobs and any accidents. She doesn't like to think she's making progress.

"And home is where?" she asks.

"London," he answers. "My mother still lives there - my brother Zachary lives nearby with his daughter."

She freezes. "I'm sorry?"

"Oh," he says, amused. "I have a brother. Zachary. He just came back from South Africa, with a daughter no less - my mother has always been on me for grandchildren and this seemingly appeals to her for the time being."

Usagi's mouth opens and closes. She doesn't know what to say, right now. Her hands brush through her hair.

"Are you all right?" Kris asks.

"Yes," she stumbles through. "I just remembered I left your book at home again."

She forces a blush.

"It's okay," he says gently. He tries to tease her too. "I imagine it's a good place."

She shakes her head. "I keep meaning to bring it," she insists. "I just - I don't know - bad habits?"

He laughs.

He does not tell her more about his brother Zachary though.

She doesn't wish.

 

-

 

Minako calls her for lunch.

She's expecting this; Minako cares very little for tact and subtlety when it comes to things.

They sit in a place close to her apartment. Minako wears a yellow sundress that is Rei's, not one of her own, and Usagi keeps to shorts and one of Mamoru's button downs, tied right at her hip. They order sodas.

Mamoru kissed her that morning and mentioned in passing that he'll be around, a uncomfortable affirmation that he isn't mad (is) but they'll talk about it like they do. He left without breakfast; that isn't odd. It just makes her want to blurt it out, right now, to her best friend all the same. This isn't what they need to talk about.

"I can't see him," Minako says then.

"What?"

Usagi freezes. Her mouth tenses too.

"I can't see him," she repeats. There is a mix of emotions that cross her face; she is angry, she is sad; there is fondness and then there is nothing at all.

"How did you know?" Usagi asks quietly.

Minako's gaze is hard, harder than it's been in a very long time. She sees the secrets. She sees the sudden need to lie.

"I've sensed him for a very long time," she murmurs. Shame works it's way onto her face. Usagi thinks of Mamoru and sighs. Minako shakes her head. "I can't, Usa-chan. Whatever you're thinking. I just -"

"You don't have to explain," she says gently.

Minako looks at her fondly. Her smile is wan and thin.

"You're going to do it anyway," she says, and there is no sense of surprise though.

Usagi cannot say i have to. There will be a lot of this, Setsuna, Pluto has reassured her and if there is anyone she is set to work with, it is the Guardian of Time. She doesn't have to like this. She probably won't (trust does go back thousands of years, after all) and in that sense, there are very few things she is going to have left.

"You'll do what's best for you," Usagi murmurs instead. She tries to be diplomatic. "And I suppose Mamoru will do this same - I can only expect the same. I also know that he is going to need them, like I need all of you. Maybe my motivations are selfish, purely selfish. Maybe this is some huge and incredibly stupid mistake."

"You know I'll support you."

Minako pushes her hair from her face. She doesn't smile. She leans over the table when they bring their sodas.

"I can only ask," Usagi tells her.

Her best friend looks away, staring off to the side. She sees the contrast again; maybe it's more a memory. Venus standing with her fists, speaking of the betrayal to both herself and to Endymoin. The sheer weight of pain. She cannot imagine Minako bearing the weight of this here, like this, knowing that her memories were the first to come - rightfully, ironically so.

But these burdens have to be mended. She was clumsy too, a long time ago. Sometimes she feels like that hasn't changed.

"What's his name?" she asks, after awhile.

"Do you want to know?" Usagi calms.

You don't have to, she wants to say. There is the problem of what's in her head, not her heart; Setsuna's fingers in her arm, digging hard, whispering the grave future that she must prepare them for. Usagi will always have her own line.

She thinks of Kris. Then she thinks of Mamoru.

Minako doesn't answer.

 

 

Mamoru is waiting for her at home. He is sitting at the kitchen counter, his files spread out methodically.

In the middle of his papers rests Kris' book.

"You're early," she greets.

His fingers graze the cover. He is smiling absently.

"I was an ass," he says.

She laughs a little, shrugging out of her jacket. "No," she says. "I should have said something."

He makes a noncommittal sound. But it goes unsaid; i don't like how she does this and Usagi knows that there are some bridges that are going to remained burned and the Outers will remain just that.

"He's a teacher," he murmurs. He shakes his head and she moves to the counter, sitting on the stool next to him. "It seems fitting, I guess."

"I don't know what to think of him," she admits.

Mamoru chuckles. "You never did." He meets her gaze. "Minako?"

"Refuses to see him," she answers, shrugging. She brushes a hand over her face. "I'm not good at this," she tells him. "This isn't a child's game and we're not those girls anymore - I know this is for the benefit of our future, but ..."

"We all have lives," he finishes.

It might seem funny - and maybe it will, later, much later - the future king and queen sitting at their kitchen, having this conversation as if they were teenagers and nothing more. But her memories are coming back to her, faster than they have in years; the draw of the sword over her belly, how it felt for her skin to be split, and there are vague instances too: her mother, sad; the screams of the girls; the smell of ash and fire; a glazed Kunzite, cooing little princess.

She remembers a man now too.

"What will you say to him?" Usagi asks her husband. She reaches forward and brushes her fingers against his face. His eyes are heavy behind his glasses and impossibly bright.

"I don't know," he says and that, there is a lie. She sees through it. "The crystal - old customs are still in take."

"Are you going to take his life?" she blurts, wide-eyed.

Mamoru's gaze is steady. "Old customs," he says quietly.

"Mamo-chan -"

She is horrified and then she is not. This has all come to pass because of those old customs. Her hand curls around her throat, her nails scraping over her skin.

"They betrayed me," he says.

"They were not - " her eyes close tightly. "We don't remember everything," she says quietly.

"And what would you do - the girls -"

Her eyes flash. "They would never," she says fiercely and she pushes herself to stand. He turns too, trapping her between her legs.

She doesn't hit him. He doesn't grab her. But her hand is a fist against his chest and he's holding her gaze, almost imploringly. She feels her heart in her throat.

His anger is even more dangerous, silent. He's always had impossible patience; this seems to encourage the feeling even more.

"And what does Setsuna say." His throat clears and his eyes are dark. "What does she advise you to do?"

"I am doing this for you," she tells him.

His hands move to her face. He cradles her, his fingers tangling in her hair too.

"I didn't ask you to," he says.

"You don't ask me either," she pushes. Her eyes burn. The Crystal begins to pulse; she is calm, calmer than she wants to be. "But we're supposed to create our own set of rules - you and I both know this. We agreed. You can be angry, Mamo-chan. I wouldn't think of thinking of taking a life, old customs, new customs. And they're important to you - where is this coming from?"

"What if we're not different," he pushes. "What if this is all circular - you and I -"

Cosmos, he doesn't finish. Cosmos standing between them. Her mouth touches his forehead.

"We are different," she says.

His gaze softens. He shakes his head too.

"How can you be so strong," he murmurs, and his mouth meets hers. She kisses him softly, but his mouth coaxes hers. She opens it slowly and sighs, feeling his tongue slide against hers - they murmur and his hands are in her hair again, pulling lightly until he stands.

She slips an arm around his waist and his mouth then drops to the crook of her neck, just over her shoulder. She feels him shudder and her heart is in her throat.

We are different, she thinks.

She wants to believe.

 

-

 

"What can you tell me about Cosmos," Usagi asks then, finally. The day to day with Setsuna is what it is; the two of them remain faithful for the strange, small maid cafe away from prying eyes and too many questions.

"I know nothing about Cosmos," Setsuna sips her tea. "I told you I can no longer see your thread -"

Usagi waves her hand. She's dismissive and confused.

"That isn't the question."

"And the Shitennou then," Setsuna ignores her. "I am assuming you have met with -"

"Kunzite," Usagi murmurs. Her eyes narrow. "His name is Kris, which you know," she says. "Here and now -"

"And yet," Setsuna interrupts. "We treat each other as we were, are the same from before."

Usagi stops and stares at her tea.

 

 

Kris buys her coffee after his school day. He stares at her ring.

"He's lucky," he says thoughtfully.

She blushes.

"I'm lucky," she says. She stares at her ring too. It's practically weightless, these days; a second skin. "You'd like him," she murmurs absently. "You would."

It isn't the smartest thing she's done - her mouth opens and closes. She feels like she's navigating through this so clumsily; beginnings and ends, really.

"I have your book," she says.

She feels guilty because she's ignored it. And small favors, you know. He didn't have to do this.

Kris chuckles. "I told you - you don't have to worry about it."

"No!" she starts digging through her bag. She put in this morning, she thinks. Just before seeing Mamoru off to the hospital. She has coffee with Setsuna at three, she remembers. Then it's off to some family appointments

"I swear," she mumbles.

Kris pushes his coffee out of the way. His school things sit next to his elbow, papers with names peeling out.

"I -"

"Here."

The book slips in front of her. Usagi freezes.

It's an odd thing, recognizing hands - his hands have always been a particular sort to her. She knows the roughness of his fingertips, down to the few scars over his palms from battle and the world weariness of practicing medicine. Sometimes she catches herself wondering, what would they be if she weren't a princess, if she weren't off to be queen. But then there is Mamoru and then there is his hands.

He is here.

 

 

The book lived in her bag because of this:

"The Little Prince," Setsuna muses.

Usagi studies the book in front of her. She never asked why this, but it makes her head spin too. She's thinking of all of this too hard.

Then it slips.

"I wanted to be a teacher, you know."

If Setsuna's surprised, she says nothing. Usagi can't look at her as it is. It's the first time she's admitting this, out loud.

"It's funny," she says. "I hated my teachers. Haruna-sensei was awful ... not that I didn't deserve it. But I wanted to change things, change things in small and significant ways. I wanted to take students like me and - this is silly now, isn't it?"

Usagi hugs the book to her chest and meets Setsuna's gaze. They stare at each other. The other woman's mouth twitches, the corners pulling to rise.

"Yes," she says, after awhile.

 

 

The paper over the hardcover fringes against her fingers. Mamoru smiles faintly at her. He slides into the booth next to her, kissing her forehead

"Am I interrupting?"

Her eyes are wide. "No," she murmurs, and her hand drops over his arm. "No, you're not."

She can feel Kris staring.

"Good."

Mamoru turns his gaze to the other man. Usagi watches, half-fascinated, half-horrified. She doesn't panic, but there's a strange feeling unraveling in her belly. It unsettles her and her back tenses against the booth.

There's a brief interruption - a waitress comes and takes Mamoru's coffee order. Usagi searches Kris' face for any sort of reaction or recognition. Instead, the man's face becomes a total mask, his eyes hard and sharp.

"Usa," he murmurs.

She clears her throat. "I think you can make the introductions on your own," she says, just as quietly.

He chuckles, but it's heavy.

"She's talked a lot about you," Kris interrupts.

"Has she?"

Usagi feels Mamoru drape an arm around her shoulder. Her hand drops to his thigh.

"Mamo-chan," she mumbles.

There is no apology. The energy in the room is changing, charging even. She feels the Golden Crystal; it could be recognition, it could be in defense.

"Do you know me?" Mamoru asks.

Kris shifts in his seat. His hands flatten against the table.

"No."

Mamoru shakes his head. "That's not the question."

She holds her breath. His eyes are dark. The memories are starting to peel out of her throat. The first time she met Endymoin. The day she got her memories back; Endo, god, Endo. It's that same sense of anger. His hand is curving over her arm too and she's trying to steady her own in response.

This isn't what she wanted. Her eyes are burning.

"Mamo-chan," she tries again, quietly, again. The lump in her throat is growing.

Kris remains quiet.

"I remember an oath," Mamoru says. "It's hard not to remember - to not even make sense of the fact that I have four incomplete guardians and too many memories that never make enough sense. I could kill you, you know."

Kris looks away. His hand falls on the book, somewhere in the middle of the table. It curls into a fist.

"I don't know you," Kris says.

"Look at me," Mamoru says.

"I can't - "

Mamoru's arm drops from her shoulders. "Look at me," he says. "I won't have Usa dragged into this anymore."

Her head whips up. Her eyes narrow and she pushes back from him. She's still in some kind of strange half-embrace.

"Dragged into what?" she hisses.

His gaze turns to hers. "Serenity."

It's that pulse again, that energy, and they never do this like this - but it's harder and harder to hide the full extensions of their crystals and her own power is growing faster. She's long accepted this; and yet, here, right now, she still feels like a little girl.

"This isn't the way."

His mouth tightens. "You wanted to me to have the clarity."

"Don't mock me," she throws back. She turns to Kris, readying an apology. His eyes are graying though and he rubs a hand over his face. "I -"

They don't come back, her memories of Kunzite. Everything of the past remains thin and unrelated. She knows that he was important to him, to Endymoin and Venus - there is still that one side, the full capacity that Pluto won't give to her. Usagi breathes in and out and calms the Crystal, pulling away from Mamoru for a moment.

Sensibility is what keeps her here.

"I'm sorry," Kris says.

He looks at her. The lines in his mouth seem harder then. His knuckles are pale over the book; she cannot tell if his hands are shaking. It doesn't matter. She's missed a moment, she thinks. Too involved, self-involved even - there was too much of a plan to this. She feels it and she hates it.

She gets it then.

Next to her, Mamoru lets out a shaky sigh and there it is.

Her heart stops.

"How long have you known?" she finally asks.

 

 

She has long since dreamed about Cosmos.

Her dreams have been empty. It's more unsettling to see nothing at all.

But those dreams about Cosmos - It's taken her some time to admit it - they feel like they've been around forever. She thinks it started because when she stood face to face with the Neo-Queen, even further before that - you never really know your own memories, she's beginning to realize.

Usagi does not know how long they sit there.

 

 

"I will offer you my life," Kris says.

"That's unnecessary," Mamoru counters. His fingers touch her thigh. She can't look at him.

The coffee is cold by now. Part of her wishes that the girls were here, but that is a mess and a half that she is so not ready to deal with.

"You knew it was me," she says absently.

"Yes," he says. Kris' voice is even. She stares straight ahead. "I've known you were here for awhile."

Her fingers curl against her chest.

"You lied."

"No," he says. "Not to you," he says too. "It's like - it's all an incomplete picture here -" he taps his head and she meets his gaze this way, studying him.

"But you know that you -"

"Yes," he looks down. The shame writes itself slowly across his face. His lips purse.

"You used to call me little princess," she says quietly.

"And then you died," he says.

Mamoru's hand laces through hers. She breathes.

"You watched," Mamoru says quietly. There is an accusation there. She cannot think much of it.

"Yes," Kris says. "We all did - I can only offer my life again."

"That's unnecessary," Mamoru tells him, and it's sharper, this time around, his voice. She listens to it waiver too. Kris' gaze drops and it's not shame - she sees the proud man, and much like she is princess, warrior, and queen apparently rolled into one, she can really see the ghost.

"But you want it," Kris says. His mouth firms. "I taught you that."

"Among other things," Mamoru mutters.

"Stop it," she half-pleads. "This isn't going anywhere."

"Serenity," Kris says.

Her eyes flash. "No," she orders then. "This isn't about kindness or favors or old, old grudges - or whatever instances you think is going to make this better."

"Old customs are old customs," Kris tells her, and there, here comes the general to surface. His voice is heavy and heard, thick with each word. "I can only offer my loyalty again - and I don't know what that extends to, but it's what's expected of me. It's right. Sometimes I see the battlefield and there's Beryl and I can make sense of nothing, but then I know. It's more than just blood on my hands - I broke a promise to -"

"We don't live in the past anymore," she snaps. It comes to the surface this way, all those residual feelings with the meetings that she's had with Setsuna.

It's Cosmos too, that singular thought of her inevitable future - a future without the girls, without Mamoru and family and friends, a daughter she barely knows or who will be a stranger all over again.

"You are not a broken man," she tells Kris. She turns her gaze to Mamoru. "And you are better than this. You need him and he needs you. It's not perfect and it won't be for awhile, maybe years - but you are both better than this."

She could say more. She wants to say more. Instead, she grabs her bag and the book, without thinking, shoving herself together and into a coat. She's so angry, all of the sudden, so irrationally angry at Mamoru, at Kris, at the nonsense of half-hearted memories and Time Guardian that always seems to know just a little bit more.

This isn't even the worst of it. Minako comes to mind and her heart sort of still, thinking about her and the other girls and what could come.

She leaves this way.

 

 

The furniture moves easily in the apartment. Makoto pulls her hair back swiftly, grinning when some of Mamoru's files scatter to the floor. It's just the two of them.

"Wanna tell me what's going on?"

Usagi shakes her head. She rubs the back of her neck.

"No," she says. "Not really."

"You never just want to fight though," her friend presses. "And you usually call Mina-chan when you want to spar."

Usagi pulls at her tank top. Mamoru has yet to come home. They need the breathing space, she thinks. Her hands are still trembling with anger. She's never been good at this feeling; it makes her clumsy and impulsive.

"She needs some space," Usagi murmurs.

Makoto's eyes are sharp. Her mouth twists; she knows she's lying.

"You don't have to tell me," she says.

"I do." Usagi takes her place in front of Makoto. "I'm just not ready, Mako-chan. It's -"

"Complicated?"

Her voice is dry. Usagi's mouth twitches.

"This isn't what I expected," she admits.

"The quiet?"

Makoto's response is careful, almost too careful. She studies her friend; she wonders if Minako's said something.

But all the girls are just that and older, it's not just wiser - they are all learning to wait for what's coming and battle-weary does more than any of them would rather admit.

"I guess," Usagi says, and Makoto's fist comes flying.

She shoots back and spins on her foot, angling herself away from the taller woman. Makoto works with the sheer intensity of her strength though and it's power and speed at her hands, like always.

They fight this way: quick, impulsive, and with a strange sense of instinct. She gets an elbow in her belly, but gets Makoto in the back of her legs. The taller woman flips her, but Usagi, in a move that would make Minako proud, bends her legs and escapes with a solid landing.

She has stopped thinking twice.

But her hands are still trembling. She stares hard at the floor and listens to Makoto breathing, waiting for her to say something, anything at this point.

"You have to let it go," Makoto says. "Whatever it is, whatever is bothering you - you have to let it go. You look so lost, Usa-chan. I don't want to see you this way."

"Easy enough," she mumbles.

Makoto laughs. Her hair falls along her face, into her jaw, and she's pushing her fingers into an old scar, just against her throat. They both stare at each other.

"You don't have to do this alone," Makoto tells her finally.

"I -"

She shakes her head. "I've thought about it, you know." She doesn't say the name. "A lot," she adds.

"Mina-chan," Usagi guesses.

Makoto shrugs. "She's not as great as hiding things as she think she is and Rei's been having visions, so - well, we're all going through this, you know?"

Usagi's mouth twist. She's quiet. Makoto's always been the most romantic of them all, less of an idealist but more and more aware of people and their habits. She loves fully and completely, with an intensity that Usagi has always envied.

She doesn't know how to ask about Nephrite though. She doesn't know how to ask any of them.

"There's always been something, I guess." Makoto taps the side of her head, smiling wistfully. "Occasionally I'd have - I still have these dreams. I mean, I'm not shallow or anything but I've had boyfriends! And yet ..."

"You're always comparing them," she finishes quietly.

Makoto looks at her, surprised.

"No one is perfect," she says, shrugging. "I know how lucky I am - Mamo-chan is ... Mamoru is literally the other half of me. It sounds so terrible and the pressure ... but I cannot see myself without him."

"I know," Makoto murmurs.

"No," Usagi interrupts. "You don't. To know that we have the rest of our lives planned, to fulfill a certain purpose - we struggle with that all the time. He gets angry. I get so frustrated. We talk in these circles sometimes and all I want is to have everyone around me have the answers that they deserve. And yet, none of it is clear. None of it is ever clear, even whatever inevitable end this all has."

She softens, because it's not fair to unload - she does struggle with it though, with talking about it to the girls and to Mamoru. She thinks of her meetings with Setsuna this way, again and again, and there, of course, is the Neo-Queen that now lives in her head, waiting sadly.

"I'm not saying that they're the missing pieces that are going to solve this all - we have things that are coming, things that I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and wonder ... it makes my skin crawl."

Makoto touches her arm and then pulls her into an abrupt, half-hearted hug. She breathes and it's sort of shaky.

"Usa-chan," she murmurs.

"Sorry." Usagi blinks and her hand rests on her friend's arm. "I didn't mean to unload like this."

"Usa-chan, you can talk to us. Just because we don't know what to do with -" Makoto swallows and then nuzzles the crown of her forehead. It makes Usagi smile faintly. "We're going to deal with it as we always have, one step at a time. No one's angry at you for making these decisions."

But then Makoto's even quieter - the air turns into an admission, pulling in between them.

"I don't really know what I remember, or if it's real or if it's a part of what I think is real. Sometimes I remember that I loved him, loved him like I love you. Sometimes I think I was the one that killed him."

"Makoto -"

Makoto shakes her head. Her foreheads rest against hers; Usagi tries to smile. Makoto's distant though, now.

"Oaths are oaths, you know. I promised to protect you then, I promised to protect you know - he understood, just like the rest of them. Mamoru will do what he thinks best, but I think, until I know what really happened, what I did and what he did, then I'll make a call."

There is nothing more to say.

 

 

"I'm sorry," Mamoru whispers into her neck, later.

Their bedroom is dark. He slips into the bed next to her easily, folding her into the crook of his body. Their legs tangle and she lets out a long, terrible sigh - it trembles and rushes over her hands, clasped in front of her.

"I know," she murmurs.

She feels his eyes close. "He doesn't remember much," he says. "We talked a little - it's like it was for me, before."

"Pieces," she offers. "That's what he said."

"Yeah." His hand slides over her arm and then both of her hands, curling over them like a fist. "It seems a little more complicated than that though. For me, I had you. We fed off of each other."

She swallows. "Mina-chan doesn't want to see him."

"He understand, that much."

"But she should," she murmurs.

Mamoru sighs. "She should," he agrees. "We shouldn't be forcing her to do this though."

"What other choice do we have?" she asks and feels so old, older than she has in a long time.

She shakes her head too. Her eyes squeeze shut and she stays quiet. Chaos, she remembers, was just as quiet; it was dark and heavy, suffocating. It wasn't loneliness, but it was a pull. She can picture Kris in her head, but that's replaced by Kunzite.

It's a memory - she's a child, he's older, a teenager even. They sit on some steps, that palace maybe. She hears him laugh. This isn't the first time, of course. Some memories are just clearer than others. He pats her head and just calls her little one. She feels herself think about family.

"Are you all right?" she asks, and her voice is tight.

"No." She turns this way, half-heartedly into his arms. She cannot read his face in the dark. His hand touches her cheek. "I don't know how to accept him again. It's not that easy for me."

It's harder to pull memories from Mamoru. Endymoin is as much as closed door as he is; sometimes their personalities rise in full. It's odd sort of thing, existing as past and present and future. Setsuna has never really given either of them a completely answer, or any bits of understanding that need and should have.

"You took his oath," she says finally. It's more a guess.

"Yes."

Her fingers thread through his shirt. She slips his legs between his again, sinking into the blankets.

Mamoru still finishes first. "Isn't this how it's supposed to go?"

 

-

 

Setsuna wears sunglasses. She's picked a restaurant, deep in the city. Usagi can see the hospital looming over them, close the park.

"You know something," she says.

Setsuna sighs. "I cannot tell you."

"But you know something." This is not an accusation. Usagi shifts in her seat, straightening. "Sometimes, I think I understand you - filling a role that you take seriously, so seriously. Were you ever a child, Setsuna-san? Did you have a family? Did you just watch us all, then?"

The older woman pushes her glasses back against her face. She sees a slight redness, marking her nose.

"You're angry," she says.

"Yes." Usagi looks away. "I'm angry for all of them. What's the purpose of all of this? All the people that I love are hurting and because of some task that I have to do."

Setsuna picks up her wine glass. The red liquid turns. It's early, Usagi thinks. Too early for this.

"Our roles are to stay to the sidelines," Setsuna answers.

"I know this. I remember."

"I watched you take own life, Serenity. I watched the sorrow - the tremendous sorrow as you laid there dying."

Her head whips around to face Setsuna. The corners of her mouth are deep, so, so deep. For a moment, there's an edge of compassion in Usagi. She knows what that means, how she's watched the girls go and go over and over again, the nightmares that Chaos brought to her.

"I made a choice," she says, and Serenity rises in her. "I made a selfish choice, but a choice nonetheless. Do you know what would have happened had they got to me?"

"There are multiple paths. Saturn was at the end of it all."

Usagi glares fiercely. "No," she says. "No."

It comes out, this way, the heaviness of what Chaos did to her, what she say and the sadness, the heavy, heavy sadness that she saw transposed onto the Neo-Queen and finally, Cosmos. All faces of herself.

They should understand each other, Setsuna and her. It's more than a task to undertake - time, the continuous flow of the universe and all these lives. The city comes in like background noise this way, fuzzy and unrelenting; it's all voices and laughter, and the strange, undaunted sounds of birds and wind and car horns. Life has always been unwilling to stop.

"You knew my mother best of all," Usagi says.

Setsuna swallows. "Yes."

"You knew then," she continues, pulling back into her seat. "What I was going to become - it didn't matter if Beryl had one and I was put death in some horrible, measured way. You knew we were going to be reborn anyway. You knew it didn't matter."

"No," Setsuna says. "I didn't."

The Princess draws back and stares to the side. There are children standing on the sidewalk. She thinks of Chibi-Usa, of all the things she's going to get to say to her daughter.

"No," she says. "My mother didn't know. She knew of one option and she knew of one constant - but I will not have any of you watching from the side."

A breeze blows. At a table nearby, a couple bends their heads together laughing quietly.

Usagi turns and stares at Setsuna. Her eyes are bright.

"The most perfect star," Setsuna murmurs. She sighs too.

Usagi shakes her head.

"I'm terrible at puzzles, you know."

The other woman pulls her glasses off. There's a look, but it's brief and Usagi watches as she looks away.

"I know you better than that," Setsuna says.

 

 

It's decided, or maybe it's not, maybe it's just as impulsive and clumsy as the rest of this has been - you have three more to go, she tells herself. She wants to be able to protect the girls and Mamoru and fix this and maybe this is the lesson, or a lesson. Maybe she is going to have to let a lot more of this go.

But she stands outside the hospital with Kris. Mamoru is due in a few minutes; Minako was visiting Ami.

They stand side by side. Kris shoves his hands into his pockets. She leans against the wall, bag gripped in a fist.

"Luna?" Kris asks quietly.

"Minako's apartment," she says, it's all she says. Luna and Artemis are knee-deep in next steps, much like the rest of them. Luna says its privacy for both her and Mamoru. Usagi doesn't need to get it to understand the hidden meaning.

Kris sighs. His feet shuffle forward.

"I still don't remember much," he says.

"I know -"

"I was teaching," he interrupts, and gently. "And a few things came to me. You did. You were a little girl, shy and clumsy. She did -" he swallows and she turns her head, watching him shake his wistfully. "She loved you," he corrects himself, "loves you and so did I. I will too, again, you know?"

Usagi's mouth curls. It feels like a sad, little smile.

"He'll trust you again," she murmurs.

"And her?"

She shrugs. "I cannot tell you what Mina-chan is thinking. She was the first to remember. It's not my place to tell you, the whole story or anything like that. But I can imagine how lonely it was to carry those memories by herself. She did it the longest too - and then came to find us."

"She would do that," he says absently, fondly even.

They pause to watch a bit of traffic walk in and out of the hospital. It's still hard to see Tokyo as Crystal Tokyo and peace too, that's an entirely different concept to grasp even with all the things that live in the back of her mind.

"I can't do this alone," she tells him. She tells him as Usagi.

Kris reaches out and ruffles her hair. The motion is a complete surprise. Her eyes are wide and she sort of falls into a pout. It pushes a chuckle out of him and her mouth begins to twitch - it's smile, but not really a smile.

"You're not a lonely, little princess anymore, sweetheart."

He's warm and full. She sees him, suddenly. He seems to straighten just under those words.

But behind him, the sliding doors open. She sees Mamoru first, then Minako standing next to him. For a split second, she's wide-eyed and then there's the fury of Venus, bright and sharp and burning fiercely. The air changes, but Kris continues to stand as he is, almost completely unashamed.

"She's here," he says.

"Behind you," Usagi nods.

He turns slowly, inclining his head to Mamoru. Her husband steps forward, still in his lab coat. He pats the other man's arm and then moves to her. She turns easily into his embrace, winding an arm around his waist as they watch Kris and Minako stare at each other.

Minako's eyes close first. She makes a sound then - strangled, her hand rising to her throat.

"It's still unclear to me," Kris says.

Minako steps forward. Usagi's fingers dig into Mamoru's hip. HIs mouth brushes against her forehead.

"I need to know what I did," he finishes.

"I know." Minako breathes out. Then she steps closer to him.

The two of them meet halfway; they're a pair, of course. She blinks and watches the change. Minako has always stood proud and fierce and so full of life - it's the same that way, that part will never, ever change. There's just a softness and this intense sadness that she's never seen before on her best friend's face.

Her hand shoots out and Usagi cringes. It hits Kris, square in the chest as a fist. And then again.

"You're awful," she says. Her voice trembles. "And I want to hate you so much and I don't understand why. I don't like not knowing."

Kris' hand brushes over her hair.

"I know."

Minako stares at him. She doesn't crumble, but she doesn't push him away. Her fist hits his chest again. Mamoru sighs next to her, his mouth pursing back in her hair.

Usagi doesn't know if it's Mamoru that leads her away - inside, around the corner for a walk. Nothing feels like a beginning, or an end, or anything in between. It doesn't matter right now.

She'll remember later: Kris' hand was shaking.

 

 

Mamoru makes dinner. She sits at the counter, watching him. Her chin rests in her hand.

These moments are important, she thinks. It's just the two of them. Sometimes it never gets to be the two of them. Sometimes she just wants to be incredibly selfish all over again, without consequences or thought.

"You're worried," he murmurs.

She blushes. "Yeah."

"I - " he shakes his head, checking on the rice. "I wish I could say something better than it's going to be all right."

She smiles faintly, shrugging.

"This is enough," she says simply.

Her ring sits in front of her. She took it off, always briefly, to wash the dishes earlier. She turns her fingers over it, tracing the diamond, watching the light as it hits it here and there. It's so simple - but she loves that most of it all, how understated and quiet it really is, how much she needs that to be.

"I haven't been dreaming," she says, admits. "Obsessing is more like it, really."

"I know," he tells her. It's an odd sort of truth; he's always been the lighter sleeper between the both of them.

"And the memories that I have, it's all - I don't know how to describe them. It's like I'm completely unattached."

Mamoru frowns. "The meetings, maybe."

She shakes her head. "I just get angrier and angrier with Setsuna. I know it's not fair - but what else can I say? They've never really been a part of us and yet, they've always been right there. It hurts, you know?"

Mamoru sighs. He puts the lid back over the rice and moves to join her at the counter.

He takes the ring from under her fingers. He pulls her hand up and brings it to his mouth, letting it graze over her knuckles. She lets out a watery laugh, her eyes burning - she feels like a complete child, sometimes, more so now than ever.

"I'm being selfish, right?"

He slides the ring onto her finger. "No," he murmurs. "You're being you - you're trying not to think of yourself, when you should. You're just as confused and worried as the rest of us. This whole thing, knowing that Crystal Tokyo is coming. You know if it were up to me, we'd -"

"Be living a quiet life in America," she teases, flushing.

The two of them are dreamers, in the end. Mamoru laughs too, nodding. They used have these conversations before they were married - and even now - he would finish Harvard and be a doctor and she would teach. They would have children when they were ready. The girls would visit.

"With a dog," Mamoru chuckles. His arm closes around her shoulders and she realizes she's been saying this out loud all this time. "You can't forget the dog."

"I'm partial to cats though."

He laughs and she grins, burying her head forward against his chest. Her eyes close.

"And a garden," he says. "You would have a garden and we would have our Sundays, sure. And maybe after awhile, after we saved enough, I would take you on a trip."

"Mmm," she says. "Something simple - knowing you, Mina-chan would probably try and get you to do some grand Valentine's Day gesture like last year."

"Usako," he chides. He's laughing and she knows he's blushing; Minako always tries to get him to do something overly romantic and cheesy, mostly to get under his skin.

But she sobers then, turning her head against chest. Her legs fit between his and she watches her fingers curl into his shirt.

"I love you," she says.

His fingers tip her chin. It takes a moment, but she looks up.

"I love you too," he says seriously. The corner of his eyes wrinkle and the color changes to that bright, bright blue again. She tries and swallows. His fingers brush over her mouth. "I won't let you do this alone," he tells her.

"I know," she murmurs.

But at some point, she thinks, he's going to have to.

This is what scares her the most.

 

-

 

Usually Setsuna is early.

But she's not, today, and the sky is too gray to tell what's going to happen, rain or fog. Usagi's umbrella rests against her seat. Across from her, Minako and Kris both sit, close enough but neither of them touching.

There's a diner sign at the window. The neon light is flickering burgers and ice cream! and it makes Usagi miss Motoki and the arcade, which seems suddenly so long ago. Mamoru comes in though. His keys are in his fist and he slides into the booth next to her, pushing the umbrella underneath the table. It leaves the chair at the end, open and singular. From the counter, the waitress eyes the group and it's Minako that shakes her head.

"She's never this late," Usagi murmurs.

Minako scoffs. "But are we surprised?" she asks.

"Mina-chan," Usagi scolds. Mamoru sighs over her. "She's right," he says.

Kris is quieter though. "It's after four," he says.

The waitress turns the news up. They should order something, Usagi thinks. But she checks her watch not just once, but twice, and cannot help the feeling of dread that's beginning to curl in her belly. She turns her gaze to the window and lets out a sigh.

She starts to shut out the diner, the conversation that Minako and Mamoru begin to forge - half-hearted teasing, at best. For a brief minute, she's aware of Kris' eyes on her, but then his voice seems to interject in the conversation as well. They'll wait, she decides. They'll wait.

Mamoru is the first to order coffee.

Setsuna does not show.

 

 

That night, Usagi begins to dream again.