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Lilium

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The first time the lilies appeared, they appeared quite literally in her path. Rei had been walking home after spending the afternoon with Minako when she spotted the bouquet at the bottom of the steps that led up to the Hikawa Shrine. It wasn’t terribly odd; the sidewalk in front of the steps saw a lot of foot traffic, and there was a bus stop close by. It was possible that the flowers had simply fallen out of someone’s bag in their rush to get from place A to place B.

Rei bent down to pick up the bouquet, smiling as she discovered that it was a bouquet of Casablanca lilies, her favorite flower. She glanced up and down the street, wondering if whoever had dropped them was still in sight, but the streets were deserted.

Not wanting the lilies to go unappreciated, she took them home with her and let their heavy scent fill her room.

She didn’t think anything of the incident until three days later when another bouquet of lilies appeared, this time at the top of the Hikawa Shrine steps. She had been getting ready to sweep the courtyard when she noticed them. The small corner of her mind that had grown lax and used to the peace since Galaxia was ready to chalk it up to a coincidence; people often brought offerings to the shrine after all.

But her eyes narrowed suspiciously when she found a note nestled amongst the flowers. For the beautiful miko, it read in an unfamiliar handwriting. She scanned the courtyard, hoping for any clues, but found none. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to throw the flowers away; they were her favorite for a reason. So they joined the first bouquet in her room, the scent growing strong enough to trickle into her dreams.

A week later the third bouquet made its appearance. Rei had gotten caught in a sudden downpour and was rushing to get inside the shrine, when the unexpected flash of white from the corner of her eye stopped her. The flowers were underneath her favorite tree in the courtyard, the one where she would often sit and read when she had the time; she and the other girls had also spent many a study session under that tree.

As thunder rumbled, Rei let out a huff annoyance as she hurried to scoop up the flowers. Some of the closed buds looked a little flat from the pelting rain, but hopefully they would still bloom just as lovely as the others had. When she was transferring them to a vase, she found another note, but the rain had smudged the ink so much that she couldn’t make out what was written.

Over the next two weeks Rei found two more bouquets under the same tree. The same note accompanied each of them: For the beautiful miko. When she discovered the sixth bouquet just as the girls were arriving for their weekly meet-up, she realized that it was time to come clean about the mystery gifts.

“Oh, Rei, what pretty flowers!” Usagi exclaimed as she and the others crested the shrine’s steps.

“Are they from a secret admirer?” Minako teased. When Rei didn’t immediately brush her off with a scathing retort, the blonde did a double take. “Wait, are they really? Rei, do you have a secret admirer?”

“I don’t know,” the miko admitted. She quickly filled everyone in on what little she knew, clutching the bouquet to her chest the whole time.

“That is so romantic!” Minako exclaimed, as Rei knew the Senshi of Love would. “But you don’t know who they’re from?”

“Not a clue! And it’s ridiculous is what it is! They’re just flowers, it really isn’t a big deal, but..” But she couldn’t figure out why they meant so much to her.

“But aren’t Casablanca lilies your favorite flower?” Makoto questioned.

When Rei nodded, Ami spoke up. “But Rei, let’s say that whoever is leaving the flowers knew that fact. And if they’ve been leaving the flowers at the shrine, well-”

That was Ami, always being the practical one. “I don’t think whoever is doing this is stalking me or anything. Though the thought did cross my mind at first. But I’ve been vigilant whenever I’ve been out lately, and no one has been following me. The flowers always show up when I’ve been gone for most of the day. So, okay, maybe they’re watching the shrine, or maybe they’re just a really grateful patron who sees I’m not here and wants to leave the flowers as thanks? I don’t know!”

“Have you tried meditating on it if you’re so anxious for answers?” Ami asked.

“Yes, but it didn’t get me anywhere,” Rei said with a sigh. “Some days it really annoys me, and other days I just appreciate having something pretty in my room. I don’t know, it just seems so silly to worry so much over flowers!”

“Well, as long as they continue to be just flowers, I guess there is no harm in them,” Makoto said slowly. “And they are pretty. Whoever is sending them to you must know a really great florist.”

“But when do you think whoever is sending them will tell Rei who he is?” Minako pitched in.

Rei just shrugged helplessly as the leader of the Senshi started off on a romantic tale of the secret admirer revealing himself in a dramatic fashion. She wanted the mystery solved, but she didn’t even know where to start.

Little did she know that it would be Mamoru, of all people, who would finally give her the answer she sought.

___________

“Does anyone have any idea why Usagi-chan and Mamoru-san wanted to talk to us?” Makoto asked as the four of them entered the building where the newly married Chibas now lived.

“You don’t think…” Minako trailed off, hands going up to rest against her stomach.

“They’ve only been married for one month; we aren’t anywhere close to it being time for Chibi-Usa,” Ami remarked as she pressed the call button for the elevator.

“Well then what else could it be?” Minako asked, throwing her hands up in the air. “It has to be something big, or Usagi-chan wouldn’t have said that she and Mamoru-san wanted to talk to us.”

“Maybe they decided to go on a honeymoon after all and just wanted to keep us in the loop,” Makoto said easily as they all stepped into the elevator.

“Or maybe Usagi is sick! Or Mamoru! Rei, you haven’t sensed anything lately, have you?” Minako asked desperately.

“Nothing,” Rei assured her. It was the truth, technically; she hadn’t sensed anything evil or nefarious. In fact, she hadn’t sensed much of anything the last few days. Even the Sacred Fire had been mysteriously silent. And it wasn’t the silence that came from having no youma to fight; it was like the silence of the calm before a storm. And that worried her more than any strange readings she might normally have gotten. Something was going to happen today, she just didn’t know what. And so she didn’t want to needlessly worry the other Senshi until they had something more concrete to go on.

The group got off the elevator when the doors slid open for them, and then quickly made their way to the right apartment. But before any of them could knock, Usagi was opening the door and ushering them all inside. One look and they all knew.

“Usagi-chan, what’s the matter?” Makoto demanded.

“Why would anything be the matter?” the Moon Princess asked, her smile not quite reaching her eyes, and her voice just a pitch too high. “I just wanted to have you guys over for lunch, really, that’s it.”

“You’re a horrible liar, Usagi,” Rei said, not bothering to take the seat that was being offered.

“I knew it, you are sick!” Minako exclaimed as she rushed over to her friend. “How bad is it? Surely Mamoru-san can help you find the best doctors, or even Ami-chan, or her Mother!”

“Slow down, Minako, Usagi isn’t sick,” Mamoru said gently as he entered the living room. “Neither am I for that matter. This meeting isn’t about us.”

“Then what is it about?” Minako demanded as she slumped down onto the couch.

“You four,” Mamoru began as he upended a small pouch over the low table in front of him, “and these four.”

The energy in the room became tense as the sound of rock hitting glass echoed through the space. The Senshi all straightened up, eyes locked on the four stones in front of them.

“T-those are…” Ami began.

“You all know that the spirits of my Shitennou retreated back into their stone forms after the battle with Beryl, and that I’ve kept them safe ever since,” Mamoru reminded them. “For their sake, and mine, I kept them close. I can communicate with them, if I concentrate enough. They’ve been excellent advisors these past few years.”

“But?” Makoto prompted, knuckles going white as she wrapped her arms around herself.

“But about a month ago I discovered that they were gone,” Mamoru explained.

“Not the stones themselves, obviously,” Usagi amended as Rei’s gaze flickered over them.

“You mean their spirits no longer reside in their stones,” the priestess said tersely.

Mamoru nodded.

“Wait, wait. This happened a month ago? Why are you only telling us this now?” Minako demanded.

“I wasn’t sure what it meant, at first,” Mamoru admitted, gaze dropping down to his feet. “They had gone silent before; I thought that’s what this was initially. I was distracted with the wedding and I didn’t pay it the proper amount of attention.”

“So what did get your attention?” Minako asked, and the others could tell that she was using her Senshi voice.

Mamoru lifted his head and met Venus’ gaze. “Kunzite showed up at our door.”

A strangled sort of sound came from the blonde’s throat before she got a hold of herself. “They’re back.” It wasn’t a question.

Mamoru and Usagi nodded as one. “All of them,” the Prince added.

Rei’s gut twisted as pieces fell into place. “The flowers,” she whispered. She saw Usagi wince. “You didn’t say anything the day you saw me with the lilies!”

“I didn’t occur to me until after the fact that they could have been from…” she trailed off as Rei narrowed her eyes, daring her to speak the name. “Anyway, it was Mamo-chan's news to tell you, not mine. That’s why I didn’t say anything before now.”

“I told them not to approach any of you before I had a chance to speak to you,” Mamoru added.

“I don’t think they listened,” Rei muttered, trying to remember when she had found the first bouquet. “When? When did…”

“He showed up the day after Kunzite; on the third,” Mamoru said softly.

The same day the first bouquet had appeared. Maybe it hadn’t been dropped there by accident.

“What do they want?” Ami asked after a few minutes had passed in silence.

“You would have to ask them. From us they asked forgiveness, which we gave.”

The Senshi reacted to this news in varying degrees: Ami’s hands clenched in her lap; Makoto spun around and stared out the window, her face unreadable; Minako went pale; Rei didn’t try to stop the scoff that burst from her lips.

“You forgave them, just like that?”

“Rei-chan,” Usagi said soothingly, “they aren’t the same men, just as we are not the same as our selves from the Silver Millennium.”

“They are my Shitennou; I need them by my side just as Usagi needs you by her,” Mamoru explained, steel in his voice. “I understand that your feelings towards them won’t be the same -”

“No, because they weren’t directly responsible for your death back then,” Rei snapped. “He didn’t literally stab you in the back and laugh as you bled out on the battlefield.” Her voice was shaking with fury now.

“Rei!” Usagi cried, part reprimand, part shock as her Senshi spoke of events she never had before.

It was suddenly too warm, almost as if her inner flame was trying to devour her. “No, I can’t,” she said as she whirled around and stormed out the door. Instead of taking the elevator down, she rode it up, then found her way further up to the roof. A few quick words and she was transforming into Sailor Mars. She leapt from rooftop to rooftop, trying to do the impossible and outrun her past. But it kept following her, relentless in its pursuit as more and more memories from the Moon poured through her mind.

It was hours later when Mars finally dropped into the shadows of the shrine’s backyard, more exhausted than she could ever remember being. But the day’s surprises weren’t over. There, by the back wall, was a new bunch of lilies; this time the bouquet was tied together with a red ribbon.

Mars didn’t hesitate; she pointed a slender finger and flames leapt from her hand to devour the flowers.