Minako would always remember the day it all changed. The day her she realized that her mission as Sailor V was going to be a lot more complicated than just stopping jewel thieves and petty criminals. That she was going to have to make some sacrifices.
It was a warm, sunny day in June...
Six months had passed since the night that Artemis fell from the sky and gave Minako her mission as Sailor V. Since then, her life had been nothing but a blur: as if juggling school and her busy career as a pop idol (not to mention her frequent health check-ups) wasn't difficult enough, she now had to factor in her secret life as a crime-fighting vigilante. But in truth, being Sailor V was the one thing that was worth it to Minako. She wouldn't trade it for anything.
But now she was going to have to make time for yet another activity, since the record label told her they wanted her to learn to play a musical instrument, which is how she found herself heading for Yamada's Music Supply store after school that day.
"Do you know what kind of instrument you're looking for?" Artemis asked from his spot in Minako's purse.
Minako shook her head. "I guess maybe guitar... most pop idols will play that, if anything..."
Artemis frowned. "But, Minako, don't you think you should learn what you want to learn, rather than just doing what everyone else does?"
Minako sighed. "That's the thing, I don't know what I want to learn. I'm just doing what the record label told me, so I may as well give them what they want."
Artemis mumbled, "Hmm," but if he had any further thoughts on the subject, he kept them to himself. They continued in silence until they reached the music shop. Minako could hear the faint sound of a piano through the closed door; she paused for a moment, enjoying the soft melody before pushing the door open.
It was a large store, which carried all sorts of different instruments. She could hear the piano louder now, and saw that it was a lovely black grand located at the back of the store, but it was partially obscured by a large harp and a shelf stacked with books of sheet music. "Welcome," a preoccupied-sounding voice called, drawing Minako's attention to the front counter, where a balding, middle-aged man, assumably Mr. Yamada, sat. The proprietor was paying little attention to either Minako or the pianist, but instead was focused on some project on the counter in front of him.
"Excuse me, sir," Minako said, approaching the counter. "I was hoping... oh!" She trailed off, her attention caught by the objects on the counter. The shop owner was crafting a miniature replica of a harp, the very same as the one she'd spotted near the back of the store by the piano. The frame was exquisitely carved in minute detail out of wood, and the man was currently threading delicate strings into it. "Wow," Minako breathed, "That's really good!"
Yamada beamed as he tied a quick knot, securing the harp string, and trimmed it. "It's a hobby of mine, but one that's proved to be quite profitable, thanks to collectors," he explained, gesturing to a full set of miniature instruments in the glass cabinet beneath the countertop. Each miniature was marked at over 10,000 yen. Finished with the project, Yamada set the harp and the scissors he'd trimmed the string with down. "Now, how may I help you?"
Minako smiled tentatively. "Well, you see, I have to learn an instrument, and I was hoping you could help me..."
Yamada furrowed his eyebrows. "Is that so? And what kind of instrument do you 'have' to learn?"
"I'm not sure..." Minako mumbled in reply, chagrined.
Yamada removed his glasses and leveled a hard look at her. "Miss, I think you've got it all wrong. You don't learn an instrument because you have to. You learn one because you want to. It won't work otherwise. And I can't pick the instrument for you. That won't work, either. You have to choose it yourself." He paused. "So, what instrument do you want to learn?"
Minako flushed. "I... I don't know..." she stammered. Yamada watched her through narrowed eyes, and Minako began to wish very strongly that she'd never agreed to the record label's demands.
"Don't mind Yamada-san," a soft male voice broke in. "He just takes music very seriously." Minako jumped. She hadn't noticed that the piano music had stopped, or that the young man who had been playing it was now standing beside her, smiling warmly. She glanced at him and her breath caught in her throat. He was close to her age, a bit older, and was handsome; but that didn't explain why every inch of her seemed to call out to him. For a moment, Minako felt certain that she knew him, somehow. It left her completely paralyzed, except for the hammering of her heart.
"Well, what do you expect?" Yamada grumbled, breaking the spell of the moment. "It runs in my family."
The boy chuckled. "Yes, yes," he said in a dismissive tone, turning his attention fully to Minako. "Before Yamada-san bores you to death with a recounting of his illustrious family history, maybe I..." He trailed off, staring at Minako curiously. Minako could see it in his eyes: he was giving her the 'where have I seen this girl before' stare. It would only be a minute before he put it together and started asking for her autograph. "...can help you?" he finished after a brief pause.
"That would be great," Minako responded, and then, deciding she may as well just supply the information that would make his recognition complete—it was only a matter of time before he figured it out, anyway—continued, "My record label wants me to learn an instrument, but I'm not sure what would be best."
"Your record label, huh?" the boy said with a smirk. "So, you're a singer?"
"Yeah," Minako replied, her face hot under his scrutiny. She quickly pressed forward, not wanting to dwell on her own celebrity any longer than she needed to. "I was thinking guitar, maybe..."
"Do you want to learn guitar?" he asked, his tone skeptical.
There it was again! Everyone kept asking her what she wanted! "I don't know what I want to learn!" Minako cried in exasperation, avoiding his eyes and hoping her blush was not overly apparent. "That's why I asked for help!"
He looked at Minako appraisingly for a moment, then grinned. "Okay, then, I'll help you. Let's take a look around and see if anything strikes your fancy."
Yamada snorted, but the boy ignored him and led Minako over to a corner where a few acoustic guitars stood propped on stands. She ran her hand over one pensively as the boy watched her.
"What made you think guitar to begin with?" he asked curiously.
Minako felt her face grow hot once more as she answered, "Well, it seemed like something a pop idol might play."
The boy laughed at that. "That's no reason to learn an instrument!" Minako glared at him, and he sobered. "Come on," he began again. "You don't seem like the sort of girl who likes to do something halfway."
"I'm not!" Minako replied defiantly. "I like to be best at everything I do."
He grinned admiringly at that. "So, you're going to have to put some thought into this. If you want to be the best, you have to start by picking an instrument that inspires passion in you. Playing an instrument means practicing a lot, and if you don't have a passion for it, practicing will be like a chore. You can never get truly good at something if you don't enjoy it."
Minako stared at him doubtfully. "I don't think that's necessarily true," she mused.
"You don't?" He quirked an eyebrow. "Well, what about singing? Surely, you must enjoy singing if you do it for a profession."
Minako managed a tight smile. "I suppose you'd think that."
The boy stared at her in surprise. "You don't like singing?"
Minako looked away, but she could feel his eyes boring fiery holes into her skin nonetheless. "I... I used to. There's just not been a lot to like about it recently."
He was silent for a moment. "You lost your reason for singing," he stated. Minako's eyes flew back to him, wide. He was looking at her with deep understanding and sympathy. For a panicked moment, Minako wondered, Does he know? and she thought back, trying to remember if she'd seen him before at the hospital. But before she could ponder it further, he continued, "I know the feeling. But I hope you find a reason again. You should never do anything unless it makes you happy."
The honesty in his eyes disconcerted Minako, and she turned away, her foot kicking over one of the guitar stands as she went. She yelped and dove to catch the instrument at the same time as her companion; as both reached out, their hands brushed.
Minako froze. Once again, the feeling of paralyzation overcame her, as every fiber within her practically screamed for her to lean forward, touch him, kiss him, something. She was mortified at her own emotions, but she could see in his expression that he felt similarly. He visibly fought to compose himself, his eyes searching hers as if looking for something he couldn't quite define. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I just can't shake this feeling that I knowyou. Are you sure we haven't met before?"
Minako drew a ragged breath. "You probably recognize me from TV. I told you, I'm a singer."
He shook his head adamantly. "No, that's not it. I know you." His face was dangerously close to hers; Minako felt fairly convinced that if he didn't move away from her soon, she was going to do something rash. Thankfully, Yamada chose that moment to call to them from his place at the front counter, "What are you kids doing to my instruments?"
Relieved, Minako turned away from the boy, and he hastily replaced the guitar on its stand, calling back, "Nothing, Yamada-san!"
As she watched him, shaken, Artemis whispered, "Minako!" She looked down to see him peering concernedly at her from his hiding place in her purse. She shook her head at him and followed after the boy, who had retreated to the back of the store where the grand piano was stationed.
Minako watched him for a moment as he ran his fingers over the keys, seemingly in an attempt to pull himself together. "You play that very well," she commented at last. "I take it that this is what you enjoy?"
He grinned at her. "Exactly. When you have a passion for something, it comes easily to you." She smiled and watched him as he played, pieces that looked impossibly hard to her seeming effortless at his hands. The longer he played, the more Minako felt that she understood what he had been talking about. The way he enjoyed playing... it almost made learning an instrument look fun.
Hesitantly, she sank down onto the bench beside him. "Do you think you could show me?"
He smiled widely. "I assume you know your scales?" When she nodded, he went on, "Well, here's how you play them on the piano."
For the next hour, the two sat together on the piano bench, Minako slowly learning where to hold her hands and which key made what note. After some time, the boy grinned impishly at her. "I think that's enough of that. But here's something you may recognize."
He played a few notes of an upbeat melody, and she listened attentively. "Ah!" she gasped as realization dawned. "'C'est la vie!' You know it!" She looked at him curiously. "But you acted like you hadn't heard of me!"
"I've heard of Aino Minako," he retorted mischievously. "But that's not why I know you."
She stared at him for a moment, her heart inexplicably growing lighter and lighter. Then, she began to sing along with the music. "There we go!" he exclaimed as she sang. "That's what I want to hear—you singing because you want to."
She giggled but kept on, singing as he played. Never, since she'd become famous, had she enjoyed singing this much; nor had she felt such pleasure sharing her art with another musician. Finally, she was beginning to understand what everyone had been trying to tell her. At the end of the chorus, she burst out, "You know what? I want to learn the piano! Do you think you could teach me?"
As the boy grinned enormously and enthused his agreement, Minako felt Artemis's paw brush against her arm. She looked at the clock on the wall of the shop and gasped. "I have to be at the recording studio! I'm going to be late!"
"I'll walk with you," he responded quickly, leaping to his feet. "It's just a few blocks away."
Artemis slipped back into the shadows of the purse. "That's not what I meant," he whispered to himself, a fret forming on his plush features.
After leaving the shop, the pair walked silently for a minute or two. At last, Minako spoke up. "Say, do you always go to Yamada-san's shop to play the piano? You're so good, surely you must have one of your own at home!"
He didn't answer for a moment. At last, he replied, "Yamada-san's piano used to be mine."
He sighed. "Well, actually, it was my grandfather's. You see, my parents died when I was very young. My grandfather raised me. I learned to play on his piano. But he died several months ago, and... I couldn't keep the piano." He was looking wistfully off into the distance. "Yamada-san bought it, but he felt sorry for me, so he lets me play it in the store. At least," he added ruefully, "until someone buys it."
Minako watched him, something in her heart stirring. "That must have been hard for you."
He said nothing, simply nodding. Then, after a moment, he added, "Now you know what I meant when I said I knew how it felt when you lost your reason to sing. For awhile, I lost my reason to play." He smiled. "But I found it again. And I hope your found yours, too."
Minako hoped her blush wasn't visible in the pink light of the late afternoon sun. Hesitantly, she said, "I... I also know how it feels to be alone. I still have my parents, but... they really only care about my career as an idol. That's all they talk about, all they seem to think about—their daughter, the celebrity. How can they add to her success? That's all that matters." She sighed. "They encouraged me not because it was my dream, but because it was theirs. They didn't even seem to care when I..." She caught herself just in time; it was so close, she had very nearly blurted out, "when I was diagnosed with my illness." She couldn't tell him about that, she just couldn't. He looked at her quizzically, and she shrugged. "Well, I'm sure you can guess," she evaded. "I won't bore you with the details."
"You wouldn't bore me, Minako," he said with a smile, then stopped short. They were already at the recording studio. "Well, here you are."
"Yeah," Minako said reluctantly. "But I still want to learn piano! Can we meet up again tomorrow?"
"Sure thing," he replied happily. "Same time, at Yamada's?"
Minako nodded. "See you then." He turned to leave, and she pushed through the double doors into the studio. Once in the lobby, she froze. "Ahh! I never asked him what his name was!" She felt mortified.
Artemis wiggled his way out of her purse. "Minako," he began.
Minako wasn't listening. "I feel so stupid!" she stomped her foot.
"But I guess I'll be seeing him tomorrow," she reasoned, her face growing warm with pleasure. "I'll just ask him when I see him."
"Minako," Artemis tried again. "I don't know if it's such a good idea if you see that boy again."
"Why?" Minako asked, her face visibly falling. "He's not a jewel thief, is he? He's not with Cutie Kenko, is he?"
"No, it's not that..." Artemis eyed her disappointed expression for several moments, his resolve weakening. At last, he sighed. "Never mind," he said. "It's nothing. You need to get in there, I'm sure Matsuo-san is wondering where you are." Minako stared at him for a moment more, then nodded, striding forward into the main part of the studio. She didn't hear Artemis whisper, "Maybe I'm wrong... maybe this time, it will be different."
Minako had trouble sleeping that night. She kept playing over the day's events in her mind, too excited to relax. She couldn't stop thinking about that boy. No one else she'd ever met had made her feel like this—and she didn't even know his name! But still, she thought as she finally drifted off, I do feel like I've met him before...
Her dreams were fevered, a blur of images, unclear and rapidly shifting. Some of them were more like feelings than anything. But he was in them all. She couldn't get a clear look at him... his eyes were different, and his hair was lighter... but it was him. At first she was angry with him, but the anger melted quickly into something else. There was something else going on, something she couldn't put her finger on; they were afraid, they were desperate. Something dangerous was occurring. But at the same time, all she could think of was him, and how badly she wanted him.
Then suddenly it was clear; he was in front of her, and then his lips were against hers, rough and full of need. She met them willingly, pulling him closer, never wanting to let him go. But then he was torn from her... and there was a sword in her hand, and it was dripping in blood.
"Zoisite!" she screamed as she awoke from the dream, drenched in a cold sweat.
"Minako!" Artemis cried, rushing to her side. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she assured him, trying to catch her breath. "I just had a nightmare."
"Do you... remember anything?" Artemis asked tentatively.
"About the dream? Not really. It was just..." she trailed off, not really wanting to go into those kinds of details with her mentor. "It was nothing."
"You really don't remember anything?"
Minako shook her head stubbornly.
Artemis sighed. He had thought meeting him might have triggered her past-life memories... "Well, try to forget about it and go back to sleep. Don't forget, we still haven't caught up with Cutie Kenko. He's been targeting the Juuban area... we need to stay on our toes."
Minako nodded. "You're right. Good night." She rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. But still... that name... Zoisite. It's so familiar...
Minako could hardly focus on her classes the next day; her excitement over seeing him again was almost uncontainable. At last, the final bell rang, and she hurried out the door.
She was almost at Yamada's store when a strange feeling hit her. It built in the pit of her stomach; not quite pain, but definitely not pleasant. She doubled over, holding her stomach.
"Artemis," she murmured. "What is this feeling? I think it's my powers..."
The plushie emerged from her purse, climbing up to her shoulder. "So, you do feel it! Minako, something's coming. You have to transform."
"Is it a jewel thief?" she asked, straightening. "In the middle of the day?"
Artemis shook his head. "It's not a jewel thief. It's different. But I need you to pay attention, Minako. This is really important: what you're about to face... it's related to your true mission."
"My true mission?" she repeated. "You mean I'm not just supposed to stop thieves?"
"No," Artemis explained. "That was only part of your mission. The real battle is about to begin. What you're about to fight... it might look scary at first, but I need you to be brave. You can defeat it."
Minako nodded. "Got it." She reached into her pocket, pulling out her Teletia S and ducking into an alley to transform. Then she froze. But what about...? She looked at Artemis and swallowed hard. This had to come first.
Once transformed, Minako hurried in the direction the feeling in her stomach gave her. Around the corner, up the street... Yamada's music shop was just ahead of her. She could see him standing in front. Why, oh, why? He looked her way, and she froze. They looked each other in the eyes for one long moment, and Minako thought for sure he must have recognized her. But before either could speak, Minako heard a commotion a few blocks away; people were screaming. What is that? Minako thought, her heart cold with terror. With one last quick glance in the boy's direction, she raced after the sound.
He watched her as she disappeared around the corner. He'd heard the sound, too; it had a strange effect on him. The sounds of the screams seemed to reverberate around him. There was a sharp pain in his head. Crying out, Zoisite fell to his knees as the world faded to black.
It was all over. With Artemis's guidance, Minako somehow managed to defeat that strange creature that had attacked a group of people in the shopping center. It was a youma, Artemis explained. It had been draining their energy, and only a Soldier like Minako could stop it. He tried to go into further details, but she didn't have patience for it just now. Once the monster was destroyed, she hurried back to the music store, praying that he was still waiting outside. But he was gone.
Dejectedly, Minako turned to Artemis, who had hurried after her. "I suppose he thinks I ditched him," she said, her eyes stinging with tears. "And now I'll probably never see him again."
"Minako," Artemis said sadly, hopping up onto her shoulders. "I... I need to tell you something. That boy... he wasn't what you thought he was. You're going to see him again... but when you do, he'll be your enemy."
Minako felt as though her heart froze in place. She wasn't sure what shocked her more, Artemis's words or her realization that, deep down, she'd known that all along. From the moment she awoke from that dream the night before, in the back of her mind... she'd known.
Artemis put a paw on her cheek. "You'll understand more when your memories awaken. It won't be long. They started to awaken last night." Minako didn't respond, so he went on. "Your mission... your true self... it will all come to you soon. So just... try not to think about it too much, okay?"
Minako stood motionless, staring at nothing for a long time. At last, she sighed. "You're right, Artemis. I'll try to forget all about it."
But deep down, she knew that nothing could make her forget the way that boy had made her feel. If Artemis was right, and he had become her enemy... would she have the strength to fight him?