Chapter 1: Act One: Can't fight the moonlight
Hotaru looked up at the full moon rising high above Hikawa shrine while fumbling in her coat for the keys to her bicycle lock.
"Are you gonna get home safely after drinking so much?"
"Ha. Don't worry about me, nee-san," She turned around, smiling at Rei.
"You're the one who's going to have to send a drunk Usagi-chan home."
The miko cringed.
"It was a great party. At least this way the rest of us got to share a little in the fun of your trip. Thank you for inviting us and letting us join in the planning of your Hiroshima visit."
"Yeah. It's too bad Mamoru-kun's company will only pay for five. But I don't get to complain of course," Rei smiled. "It's wonderful to get this chance at all."
"Don't feel bad about it nee-san. I have a tournament next week anyway."
The affectionate appellation the younger girl had come to bestow upon her always made Rei wonder how things could have been had they really grown up together as sisters.
She enjoyed hanging out with Hotaru. The younger girl now almost came to see her as much as Usagi.
Eventually, they had discovered they just clicked and shared a lot of interests. Chief among those being Princesses.
One of which had just come outside.
"Rei-chan! Come back in. I want to watch the Devil Hunter Yohko DVD together."
"We can watch it another time. It's late. I want to go to sleep. Everyone else already went home."
Usagi clung to her arm. "Ah! I don't want to go to sleep yet. Come and watch Devil Hunter Yohko with me."
"I should never have gotten that DVD player," Rei sighed.
"You didn't. Remember?" Hotaru smiled.
"We all chipped in to buy it for your birthday."
"I can only guess who's idea that was."
Even drunk, Usagi giggled nervously seeing the miko glare sideways at her.
"But we've had lots of fun with it haven't we?"
That much was true. And Rei couldn't deny Usagi had bought her several DVD's as a present because she wanted to watch them together.
But she was drunk and tired and she had to wake up extra early tomorrow to clean up, so she didn't really care right now.
"This'll be easier once I leave. Goodnight nee-san. Goodnight Usagi-chan. Don't give Rei-chan too much trouble please."
The black bobbed girl leisurely hauled her bicycle down the stairs and went on her way, watched by her two friends.
"Hotaru-chan is so fast. Pity, she cut her hair again. She looks so cool when it's long."
"She must have felt she looked too much like Mistress 9 again. None of the girls or boys at the club want to play her when she cuts her hair. She gets scary."
Rei looked at the face leaning against her shoulder.
"Now go home. I have to clean up tomorrow, so I want to get some sleep."
"Then let me sleep over. I'll help you clean up Rei-chan," Her friend chuckled.
She smelled like watermelon Bacardi Breezer. Very sweet. She was far too close, Rei thought peevishly.
"You mean you'll sleep in while I get to clean up around you," She shook the blonde off.
"No way that's happening. Besides, you have to pack for the trip."
The blonde's disappointed pout quickly turned mischievous.
"That reminds me, Rei-chan. Have you invited Yuuichirou-kun yet?"
"What are you talking about?!" The blackette exclaimed in frustration.
"Come on Rei-chan!" Usagi pestered her friend. "It's a romantic cruise to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's a perfect opportunity to ask Yuuichirou-kun to come with you! He's still reeling from the break-up. He's lonely and vulnerable!"
The company Mamoru was working for needed him to help start up a new office in Hiroshima. In his first years working for the company he had impressed so much, he had been offered a cruise trip to and from the city with five friends or family members. Tsukurimono Enterprise was a fast-growing company, willing to go to very great lengths to reward their best-performing employees.
"Why do you keep going at this absurd match-making? I'm not interested in him like that! I never was!" Rei hissed. "Besides... Yuuichirou has to look after the shrine with grandpa. He can't come."
Her friend had been on her case for three days to ask Yuuichirou to come with them.
"Ahaa!" Usagi smiled. "But I already asked grandpa if he could miss him for the duration of our trip and he said yes."
"Well, then I'll immediately convince him otherwise."
Rei moved towards the house, but her friend held on to her sleeve, crying and begging while she was towed forward.
"Please Rei-chan. It would be so nice. You could finally fall in love with each other."
"But I don't want to find love with Yuuichirou!" The miko turned around furiously. "I want..." She put her hands across her mouth and stifled a scream of frustration.
Usagi bowed, hands joined behind her back and looked up at her friend with blinking eyes.
"Does that mean there is someone else you like? Does Rei-chan have a secret lover?"
"Of course I don't! Don't be ridiculous. I don't have time for a lover."
"You do. You do." Usagi sang, hopping from one leg to the other in excitement.
"Tell me. Tell me. Tell me. Please Rei-chan, you have to tell me. We have been best friends for seven years."
Rei blushed and tried to hide it.
"Wait..." A suspicious expression came over the blonde. "You are not lusting after Mamoru-chan, are you?!" She threatened.
"Please don't start with that again." Rei fumed. "No!"
Usagi took a moment to allow her ears to stop ringing.
"So who is it then? Who is it? You can tell me Rei-chan. It'll stay a secret. Just a secret between bosom friends."
"Do you really want to know?" Rei grinned, dangerously over the limit of her patience.
"Yes! Yes!" Usagi clapped in her hands, leaning closer.
"But remember: you asked for it. You take all the blame and full responsibility for all repercussions."
"Yes. Of course. I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know. I just want to help you find happiness with the one you love Rei-chan. That's what friends are for, right?"
"Alright then. I'll tell you."
Usagi closed her eyes and leaned closer.
At the same moment, her friend grabbed her collar and set her aflame with the most passionate kiss she had ever experienced. Rei let go of her slowly, not quite believing what she had just done and Usagi let out a small sound, not unlike the whistling of a pressure cooker.
The only thing she was capable of was opening her eyes with a dumb expression on her face.
Rei glared at her.
"You are such a moron Usagi." She blushed angrily and walked away, leaving her bewildered and hurt friend to pull herself together and walk home in a daze through the darkening evening.
Monsters of all shapes and sizes were rampaging through the town. People ran in all directions. Panick written on their faces. But to no avail. "This is not a dream." They only ran towards certain death. Monstrous faceless winged creatures picked them up and drained their bodies. "I am using you as a receiver because of your powers." Sailor Uranus and Neptune fought side by side, but they were completely overwhelmed. Neptune called out to her lover who ran to save the people in the bus from the huge pig-faced monsters. But it was too late. The trap was sprung. "You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing." A shadowy figure stepped through a portal while Mars held a crying Moon. "You are seeing what is going to occur for the purpose of causality violation. "
Rei jumped awake in a cold sweat.
What had she done! She had kissed Usagi! Her friend knew everything now! That moron had finally pushed her so far that she couldn't restrain herself anymore. "Uurgh." How could she face anyone now? Wait. Perhaps she had misunderstood. This was Usagi after all. She might not have gotten the clue. In fact, she might get away pretending it had all been a big joke.
"Uurgh!" Who was she kidding? What she had done had made her feelings clear as daylight. Her only choice now was to roll with the punches.
She found solace in the reflection and rolled on her side. Touching her lips she thought back to last night. At least she had the kiss. Usagi's lips had tasted sweeter than she had ever imagined. To hold her like that and finally share a kiss with her. It had been...
Like nothing, she had ever felt before. "Hnnng." Usagi buried her head deep in her pillow. Why did she have to kiss her like THAT?! None of Mamoru-kun's kisses had ever felt like this! Why had she done that! Why Rei-chan?! Did that really mean Rei-chan was in love with her?! But why?! How?! Why hadn't she ever said something?! And why did it thrill her so much and made her so afraid, even though Rei-chan is a girl, a friend, her best friend...
"Usagi-chan? What are you doing?"
Luna gave her Queen a strange look as the latter slowly looked up from under the pillow she had been pushing over her face.
"Hahaha! I was having a bad dream. Yeah. Just having a bad dream. That's it," The young woman laughed away her red cheeks.
"You looked like you were trying to eat your pillow," The cat remarked. "You have to start packing for the cruise if you don't want to make the others wait for you. Of course, you could have done this yesterday. But someone needed to put things off to the last moment as usual." Luna sighed. "Luckily you have Rei-chan to push you into studying or you would never have gotten through your first two years of university at all."
"Alright, alright," Usagi grumped. "I'm not completely useless. And I still have two days.
You should be impressed I did so well actually," She said haughtily. "You predicted I would drop out after three months."
"Well yes," Her cat smiled. "I admit You have done very well. You would have made Queen Serenity proud."
"Thank you," A proud Usagi grinned.
"Usagi? Can I come in?" Shingo knocked on the door.
"Alright. Come in."
"Huh. You're packing?" He blinked.
"Oh, right. That's right. You're going on that cruise." He remembered, scratching the back of his head in disappointment.
"I'm not moving out Shingo," Usagi sighed.
"It's not fair. Your boyfriend has a bigger paycheck than dad. I'm sure of it. I've been waiting for ages to get your room.
If I had a cute girlfriend I'd get her to move in with me as soon as I had a place of my own...
Euh, not that I think you're cute or anything." He tried to correct himself.
Usagi giggled at her brother's inadvertent compliment.
"Mamoru-kun and I agreed it might distract me from my studies too much if we lived together."
"Usagiii! I don't need that kind of imagery in my head." Her brother whined.
"I'm sorry Shingo, but you are going to have to wait a few years more.
What did you come for anyway?"
"Oh. One of your friends is here. Mom asked me to check if you were up."
"My friend," His sister colored.
Luna tilted her head and gave the blonde a curious look.
"Which... Who is it?"
"I don't know, your highness," Shingo crossed his arms. "Why don't you go down and find out for yourself?"
The future Queen bit her lip.
"Could... Could you ask her to come up?"
"Are you kidding...?" Shingo whispered in astonishment.
He left without another word.
"Euh, Luna," Usagi muttered. "Could you go and take a walk or something please?"
"You're behaving very strange again," Her cat observed.
"Please?" Usagi repeated anxiously.
"Very well. I'll go and see how Artemis is doing."
Once Luna left Usagi couldn't control herself anymore. She paced all over her room and started fidgeting. At last, she decided the best thing to do was to start packing.
To her relief, it was Minako who knocked and came in.
"You still aren't ready? We leave on Thursday! This is going to be amazing Usagi-chan! A cruise around the western islands and a week in Hiroshima! Imagine the men we might meet!" The girl gushed while Usagi was full of mingled relief and disappointment that she wasn't Rei.
"I have researched every major tourist attraction in the city!" Her friend conjured up a whole bunch of brochures. "I even found some beautiful hidden treasures."
"That sounds great Minako-chan," Usagi smiled sheepishly. "But we already agreed what we are going to do remember?"
Her friend looked blank for a second.
"Haaa... Yes... I guess I was a bit out of it yesterday evening. But we still have time to hit a club or two, don't we? I have plans Usagi-chan..." She looked intense.
"I have gone to the hairdresser and went shopping with Rei-chan and Makoto-chan. I am not coming back without a boyfriend."
Usagi smiled sadly in response.
A sudden knock startled them both and Usagi felt the same mingled emotions when she saw Mamoru came in.
"I hope I'm not disturbing anything. Shingo-kun said her highness was receiving visitors so I didn't know what to expect," He smiled. "I thought I'd come and help my girlfriend pack."
"Oh no Mamoru-kun, we were just looking over places we could visit in Hiroshima," Minako cheerfully invited him further in.
"Thank you again for inviting us. I would have thought you would want to enjoy a romantic cruise in the exclusive company of your girlfriend?"
"Oh no," Mamoru came closer and embraced the girlfriend in question fondly.
"After the cruise, I will be busy working most of the time. I'll be busy with work during the cruise too. So it's a relief to me to know Usagi-chan will have her friends to keep her from feeling lonely. And since we are having such a quiet time of it this past year I thought we should all enjoy it to the fullest."
"Please don't awaken sleeping enemies with talk like that," Usagi deadpanned.
"Hahaha," Her boyfriend rubbed the back of his head.
"Oh, Rei-chan!" Minako welcomed.
Usagi turned as red as a tomato and moved away from her boyfriend.
Rei gave her a look and not knowing how to act Usagi turned and continued packing.
"You are going to wear that dress I bought you on the cruise aren't you? It won't do the rest of us any good if there's a slacker in the group. We all have to look our finest on our holiday," Minako turned serious on Rei.
"Of course I'll wear it, Minako-chan," Her friend smirked. "If only to justify your buying it so you can ask me to loan it to you later on."
"Hehe. Thank you... Oh, but..." The blonde looked towards Usagi and remembered her talking about inviting Yuuichirou. "Perhaps you don't need to go hunting with us. Your future lover might be waiting for you on the cruise without your knowing."
She gave her friend a sly look.
Rei raised an eyebrow.
"Actually Usagi and I have agreed not to ask Yuuichirou to join us," She stated evenly. "My grandpa needs him at the shrine."
"Aaaah," Her friend sighed. "You are no fun. You are the only one of us besides Ami-chan who has a guy at her feet but you keep holding him at a distance."
Mamoru looked at Usagi who was still packing.
"That's because like I've told you a million times: I don't care for him that way. Yuuichirou is a good friend. I' m sorry for him but nothing is going to happen between us, so the best thing he can do is give up. Which I've been getting the feeling he finally has."
"I... I guess it's not easy, but seven years is an absurd amount of time to be in love with a person who can't return those feelings."
"Well, he has been with Megumi-san. And there were others," Minako stated.
"Yes. He'll find someone eventually. It's useless to pine for a girl who is not meant for you so it's a good thing he's trying to get on with his life."
"But he has tried," A small voice came from next to Mamoru.
"I think a person should at least try."
"That's right. Usagi?" Rei scraped her throat.
"The reason I came: About that thing for school we talked about yesterday..." Usagi managed to keep her blood flow in moderate control as she timidly turned around.
"Don't worry about it. It doesn't matter. it's my fault for getting into that problem, so I'll sort it out. It's no big deal." She laughed exaggeratedly breezy.
Her friend pulled a shy sulky face.
Rei had the feeling her friend was looking right through her.
"Hmmhmm," The blonde replied eventually.
"Well since you already have two of your friends here to help you pack I better get back to work because I still have a lot of it. It's quite exciting to get involved in this... But I will spare you the details," He laughed, moving closer to his girlfriend for a kiss.
Usagi recoiled for a millisecond and blushed before she kissed him back stiffly.
"I'll see you three on Thursday then,"
Usagi went back to packing under Rei's concerned gaze.
Jupiter hurried out of the way of the storming herd running into the soldiers who's gunfire didn't seem to bother them in the least. "You have to prepare them." The rockets exploded in mid-air without harming any of the attackers. "There is no way to stop them with your current powers." A woman screamed in horror as a hooded creature bend down towards her. "Your only option, mankind's only hope, is for you to survive so you can fight for its future! "
"Not this again!" Rei threw the sheets from her and went outside with a sigh.
The night air helped her calm down as she organized her thoughts.
A shadowy form approached her from behind the corner.
"What are you doing here?!"
The broom in his hand was halted just in time during its descent towards her.
Rei scowled at him.
"Ahahaha Rei-chan. I'm sorry. I heard a strange noise and after that attack a few years ago I thought it was safer to investigate."
Rei still tensed in anger remembering the audacity of AlphaGretchen to think she could just take out the weakest of the Sailor Senshi in her own home.
The fight was a brutal one, but against all odds, Rei, at last, managed to melt through the Soulmerchant's defenses thanks to her new attack and reduce her to a very pitiable state indeed by the time her master took pity on her and teleported her away.
Or he could have just wanted to torture her himself for at long last releasing Grandpa and Yuuichirou's souls.
But the thing that she could never forgive that poor cursed woman for was that her housemates now couldn't be lied to anymore.
It had become crystal clear to them that there were terrible and vicious creatures in the world, and that Rei and her friends had been fighting them for years.
None of the people closest to Rei's heart would ever be able to live their lives ignorant to that danger anymore.
Well... At least she got to be cradled and kissed by Usagi again for her troubles.
"You couldn't sleep?" Yuuichirou asked, bringing her back to reality.
Rei turned back to the garden. Her colleague came and stood beside her, the broom in his hands.
She frowned, pondering how well her closest male friend knew her.
"Yuuichirou?" She gave him a penetrating look. "How's your love life these days?"
"Huuuh?! I... I... What brought that up all of a sudden?!"
Rei raised an eyebrow and sighed.
"Oh, you know. The others were matchmaking again. They wanted me to invite you to the cruise."
"Oh." He looked disappointed.
"Minako-chan and Usagi. As usual. Who else?"
"Oh," He smiled. "Don't let them bother you Rei-chan. You know I've... Well, I still really like you."
He rubbed the back of his head.
"I just always liked you. Maybe I always will. But... You're not the only woman in my life anymore."
" deserve better than to waste your youth on me Yuuichirou. I really hoped you and Megumi-san would have married."
"Yeah," He smiled sadly. "She was... really great. I'm sad it didn't work out between us. I did love her. But in the end, we were both wanting different things."
The blackette patted him on the shoulder.
"One of these days a really amazing woman is going to snatch you away from me and I'll regret not returning your feelings.
It's got to happen someday. You are too good a man to pass up on.
Besides, seven years is too depressingly long for an unrequited love."
Her friend stared dreamily ahead.
"Yeah... Maybe..." He finally answered.
"But if that happens I'd wish for you to be swooped up by someone too. Because you also deserve much better than to pine for HER for seven years."
"Usagi... Are you going to eat that?"
The blonde slowly looked up at her mother's concerned face.
"Are you alright? You look a little pale." Ikuko asked.
"Did you get enough sleep?"
"Yeah. I mean no. I'm sorry," Usagi quietly responded. "I'll do my best."
Her mother blinked.
"She's probably just nervous for her trip," Her father sussed.
"I have to confess: I used to think Mamoru-san was a really strange boy, but he has really been cleaning up his act these past years. Word is he's a real shooting star. You were lucky to find him."
His daughter turned back to prodding her food without aim.
"He is lucky to have you too Usagi. You're doing really great at university."
"Yeah. You're actually getting good grades. We never suspected you'd be smart enough to even get in," Shingo joked.
"I have saved the world on various occasions you know!" Usagi flared up.
"We know honey."
"I'd like to see you get through university while fighting monsters every day," She glared.
"You haven't been fighting monsters since you went to university haven't you?" Shingo deflated his sister.
"I could fight monsters and go to school easy," He crossed his arms.
"You're not fighting monsters Shingo," His father reprimanded. "The only members of this family who are allowed to fight monsters are the ones with superpowers! And that's the end of this talk."
Usagi couldn't help hide a smile. It was kind of cute for her father to feel threatened in his patriarchal role by her powers, and her mother expertly boosting his self-worth by a variety of tactics whenever the subject came up.
It was regretful that she had to reveal her secret to her family, but after the way Nebula Supreme had tampered with the space-time continuum she didn't have much choice if she wanted to protect them.
Her face fell and a cold shiver stole over her spine.
Remembering how they lost Setsuna was never going to be good for her emotional state.
And as such, she fell again into pondering what had been bothering her.
What was bothering her was still the same.
The kiss, and the revelation it represented.
Lying on her bed after breakfast she was still pondering what had kept her awake all night.
Had she really never suspected?
They had a strange friendship, Usagi knew everybody thought so.
But she had never known a more intense friendship.
She supposed it had to be intense if Rei was involved, but the blackette's relationship with others had never been so constantly intense as it was with her... or her grandpa and Yuuichirou.
And they were certainly close. Rei might even be said to be the closest friend Usagi had.
Not that she was always as nice as Usagi wanted her to be.
In fact, her teasing could test the limits of her tolerance like no enemy had ever been able to.
It went so far there was a time Usagi had become downright paranoid, seeking a hidden insult behind everything her friend said.
Maybe she had wanted Rei's friendship a little too much and Rei found it amusing to make her doubt those feelings were returned.
Except she had loved her more than anyone had suspected.
Rei had given her so much,
Dedicated so much of herself to Usagi.
She had even died protecting her more than once.
Sure that may have been more about wanting Usagi to save the world, but the fact is that she actually trusted Usagi to pull it off. Every time.
In spite of her criticism, in spite of the teasing, Rei had always trusted Usagi to bring things to a good end when everything relied on her.
Rei had sighed and moaned when Usagi revealed she was going to follow psychology at the same university as her friend was. But she made sure she sat next to Usagi in class every time.
She came to Usagi's place every day to study together. She had actually never seemed happier than she had been these past two years.
It was the first time they had gone to the same school, been in the same class.
Usagi had gotten used to having the others around her all the time and had dreaded the separation after high school.
She was very happy about going to school with Rei, sitting next to Rei, watching her attentive face, getting pinched whenever she nodded off.
She wondered whether her friend had regretted not going to the same high school together if she had been in love with her back then.
Usagi wondered how long her friend had been in love with her.
Could it really have been from the start?
Was that why she just gave up Mamoru to her like it was nothing?
No, she did seem hurt at first when their past was revealed and Usagi had felt deeply guilty about that.
But after the first outburst of pain, she didn't hear another harsh thing from her. In fact, Rei had been unusually kind to her before their talk in the snow.
Usagi turned around in dismay.
This wasn't going to tell her anything. She could rack her brain for weeks and she wouldn't discover what she wanted to know.
If Rei had been able to keep this secret from her for so long she would only be able to get what she wanted from Rei herself.
That is why later that day she got off the bus at the shrine. She was nervous and afraid, but she had to talk to Rei about this.
As she walked up the stairs she saw Yuuichirou sweeping.
"Hello," She greeted him in mock cheer.
"Oh. Hello Usagi-chan," He returned. "Are you ready for the cruise?"
"Euh, yes. I packed yesterday."
He waited for her to say more.
"You've been on a cruise before haven't you, Yuuichirou-kun?"
"Yes. Well, I've been on one with my parents when I was little. It was fun. But they didn't let me out of sight. They were afraid I might get lost."
"Hmm. I suppose that wasn't much fun."
"No," He laughed, rubbing the back of his head. "But they had a lot of activities for kids, so I didn't get bored."
Usagi felt her palms get sweaty and her heart beat fast in anticipation, so she tried to get to the reason for her visit.
"Is Rei-chan in her room?"
"Oh, no. She's doing a fire reading."
That was disappointing, and Usagi looked it.
"But don't worry," Yuuichirou came to her aid seeing her face fall. "She's been at it for a while now. She'll soon be ready."
"Oh. Okay, thank you."
She walked up to the temple quietly and found her secret admirer sitting in front of the fire in supreme concentration.
She walked back a little, feeling a supernatural fear that her presence might disturb Rei's concentration.
Looking at the miko doing a fire reading was always a relaxing experience for Usagi. She was so overawed by how solemnly Rei performed the ritual that she felt compelled into silence.
There was also the fact that her friend looked even more impressive than usual when she was dressed in her miko clothing. Usagi had always felt so. She involuntarily remembered the first time they met as the fire burned higher.
Rei wasn't surprised when as she got up she found her friend waiting for her. Usagi had come for her before, only to find her busy with a reading and every time she uncharacteristically waited patiently for her to finish. This time, however, the miko groaned internally for what she knew must be the reason for the visit.
It evidently took Usagi a while to realize she had finished and Rei felt her heart warmed by the dumb, cute expression the blonde made as she came back to the present day. She wondered what Usagi had been daydreaming about.
They dramatically walked up to each other, neither knowing well how to start the conversation.
They just stood facing for half a minute, looking perhaps like fish, having an involved discussion no other race on earth could comprehend.
At last, Rei drew first, by virtue of losing her patience.
"If you came to talk about what I did don't bother. I know I said you were responsible for the repercussions. But I told you afterward, when I was sober, that it's not a big deal. So there really is nothing to discuss."
"There is everything to discuss you mean! I want to know things!" Usagi responded in a half irritated, half whiny voice.
"What?! What do you want to know?! What's the point?!"
"How long have you been feeling this...!" Usagi swallowed and talked more quietly. "How long have you felt this way about me? Why did you never tell me? It doesn't feel quite fair to keep this to yourself Rei-chan," She sulked. "I'm involved in this too."
"How are you involved? Why are you trying to make this about you?!"
"This is your hero complex acting up again! You're trying to save the world because you feel your parents never gave you that kind of protection!"
"Stop trying to analyze me."
"And you're afraid of rejection because you feel your parents never gave you the love they should have!"
"Stop trying to analyze me! You just finished your second year of psychology, you are not a therapist!"
"I'm sorry. I just think you should have told me when you first fell in love with me."
"These are my feelings. They are my business. You are not involved. And how you feel about that is your business." Rei gave her a stern look.
"You made me a promise."
Her friend sighed in defeat.
"Just tell me how long?"
The miko waited a few seconds and bowed her head.
"About when Yuuichirou arrived. Maybe sometime before. It's a long time ago, I don't know for sure anymore."
"It was confusing. I really did like Mamoru-kun, but I also liked Yuuichirou. Yet when I looked at you. When I thought about you... It felt very different from how I liked them. Then later, about the time we freed that girl with the broken heart I realized that what I felt for them was friendship and what I felt for you was much more than that."
Usagi blushed deeply.
"A... And now I am tired. I want to eat and take a bath."
Rei stepped forward and tripped.
Usagi's fast reflexes saved her from falling on the floor.
She felt herself blush while slowly regaining her footing in her friend's arms.
Usagi smelled nice. She felt soft yet safe.
The strength of pure love. A heart big enough for everyone. She hardly dared to admit it to herself, but the miko's dream was for Usagi to not only love her back but to love her alone. In the deepest confines of her soul, Rei was the most selfish person in the world, wanting the biggest heart in the world to care only for her.
"You always push yourself so hard Rei-chan and you never eat well! Always that junk food! You have to take better care of yourself!" Usagi wept.
Wait! What was this? She wasn't this tired. Did she trip on purpose? Pathetic! She wasn't going to resort to these kinds of tricks to get her kicks. Usagi deserved better!
"Don't fuss!" She reprimanded as she got up. "I just lost my footing for a moment, that's all."
"Nooo! You're tiring yourself to get a reading as usual!" Usagi blubbered all over her.
"You're not eating that junk today. I'm cooking for you. A nice balanced dinner. And you have to come to the kitchen with me and relax while I cook." She commanded while marching off into that direction.
"You expect me to be able to relax while you cook dinner for me?" Rei smirked.
"I heard that!"
The miko grinned, raised her shoulders and followed her overly enthusiastic friend.
"I really don't see why you have to help," Usagi huffed while she was frying the eggs. "Even my mother admits I have become a much better cook."
"I'm not saying you haven't. But I can't relax while you do all the work."
Rei was having a bit of a rough time. Usagi was so cute today. She was wearing that fluffy light blue sweater and it was so sweet how concerned she was.
Part of her wished she had confessed sooner. But that was wrong. She shook her head. She should get that issue out of the air and make them behave as usual. Nothing good could come from this. But she should be allowed one bit of fun.
Usagi rubbed the back of her head.
She looked down and found a Kyoho grape lying at her feet.
She looked at Rei, who was quietly grating the Daikon and turned back to her soup.
Another bump, this time against her bottom.
"You're a rogue Rei-chan."
Another bump against her bottom.
"A mean, vicious rogue."
Without warning, okra, radishes, and cucumbers went flying from both sides.
They laughed their asses off when they finished their food fight.
"Pity we can't use these anymore," Usagi smiled at a slice of cucumber as she collected them from the floor.
"I see the Tsukino household is made of money. If we give them a quick wash they'll be perfectly edible."
Usagi gave the miko a look.
"Wasteful brides make poor wives,"
Her friend teased.
"Come on! Let's get on with this slo-mo. I'm hungry."
It was strange. Usagi was doing this to make Rei happy. To somehow make up for not being her girlfriend. Because she wanted so dearly for her best friend to be happy. And at the same time, she knew Rei was allowing all of this to humor her. Because if there was one thing that was a constant in life it was that Rei would always enable Usagi to spread love.
Yet... As forced as their intent was, they were both honestly having the time of their life.
Usagi looked around her and realized that her sardonic friend, the kitchen around her, the shrine and it's surroundings had over the years become her home as much as the house she grew up in. More perhaps than Mamoru's apartment.
She had slept here, studied here, partied here on a few occasions, read manga, dined and breakfasted, had war meetings, fought monsters and friends, cried and laughed, and much more. She knew every corner of the building and the grounds almost as well as Rei did.
Some of the most important memories of her life were made in or around this building.
As she watched Rei visibly enjoying their meal she smiled contentedly at the familiar scene.
The atmosphere seemed to have suddenly changed without a warning.
Rei from one moment to the next had started to look rather anxious.
"Huh? What's wrong?"
"You know... We have always been rather lucky in the past. We've always been able to stop our enemies from bringing whatever evil scheme they harbored to completion. We have only on rare occasions ever not been able to save someone from getting killed."
"We are also just a really awesome team!" The blonde cheered in an attempt to loosen the mood.
The look in Rei's eyes silenced her quickly.
There was something there that scared her, something she wanted to go away and disappear forever.
"Yes that's true," Her friend smiled cautiously. "But what if one day... that wouldn't be enough. What if there came a battle we have to give up on... In order to survive to fight the next one."
Rei swallowed, and Usagi felt an icy hand around her heart.
"What if there came a day that we won't be able to prevent the enemy from killing a lot of people?"
"I would... really... NOT like that," Usagi shivered.
"I would really not allow that to happen. Don't worry Rei-chan. That would never happen. Sailor Moon would find a way to save everyone even under the direst of circumstances," The pale-faced blonde smiled.
Rei felt a pang of guilt. Not just towards her friend.
"I'm sorry," She smiled apologetically. "I was just thinking out loud. I wouldn't allow anything like that to happen either."
Part of Rei was happy to see the anguish on her friend's face.
The part that knew Usagi would always be able to work miracles against all odds.
After what her fire reading had revealed to her today she knew she would have to fight that part. If she wanted to save Usagi. If she wanted them to save humanity. That part of her could absolutely not be allowed to guide her actions.
"Alright. Who's riding with me?" Minako asked.
Rei saw Usagi shooting a sulky look at her, but she was determined to get this awkwardness over with as fast as possible. It was bad enough she was still as stiff as a board when Mamoru kissed her and as soon as Rei had come down with her suitcase she had widened the distance between him and her.
"Great! Let's get ourselves a bachelorette ride! I'm sorry Ami-chan, but you're going to have to ride with Mamoru-kun and Usagi-chan." The blonde idol teased.
"Somehow I don't regret that," Her friend sweated.
"Hunnn. I'm a good driver you know."
"I doubt that's what she is worried about," Rei boisterously slapped her spluttering driver on the back.
Her second passenger just came down the stairs of the shrine with an anxiously blushing Yuuichirou at her side.
"It's not that I'm not grateful. I love your cooking, it's the best I ever ate. But you didn't need to do this for us. We could have handled cooking for ourselves for a few weeks."
"No offense Yuuichirou-kun, but I've tasted your cooking and I'm not leaving you to your own devices when it comes to food."
"Thank you." He smiled.
The sous-chef felt her heart sing and gently tapped him on the head.
"Just don't let it go to waste."
"I won't. I guarantee your efforts will be greatly enjoyed."
"Mako-chan, you're joining Rei-chan and me in the bachelorette ride aren't you?"
"Not if you're calling it that," The brunette replied, looking aghast.
"Yeah, you're making us sound like a bunch of old maids Mina-chan. We're going on a cruise to have fun with all the handsome wealthy young man we can find," Rei cheered, high-fiving her driver while their friend sighed in resignation.
Usagi grumbled under her breath, but couldn't help admire the spirit of her admirer.
"Okay then. It's time to get in everybody! We need to be on time."
"I think Rei-chan should come with us. Mamoru-kun's never been in Yokohama. He doesn't know his way around."
"Neither do I," Her blackette friend frowned.
"Neither do I. That's why we have maps Usagi-chan." Minako chuckled.
Rei gave her meddlesome beloved a penetrating look while she got in next to her driver. Usagi huffed and sat down moodily next to a puzzled Mamoru.
"Listen Rei-chan. I understand you have a strong attachment to Usagi-chan, but don't you think it's time to move on?"
"Is it time for that talk again, huh?
Trust me Mina-chan, I'm not going to move on anytime soon and I've made my peace with that."
"That's... I don't know. Don't you feel that you deserve more though? I'm not saying you should try to find a boy... or girlfriend for life right away, but just try and have fun. You were Queen of your school. Surely there have to be some girls you liked?"
"Most of those girls were nice enough Mako-chan, but they were all... well, idiots."
"Exactly! I thought you loved idiots?!" Minako smiled. "All the most important people in your life are idiots."
Makoto grinned sheepishly.
"Well, all the other important people in your life. I wasn't talking about us," The former idol tried to save herself to her companions obvious delight.
"Oh fine, I'm an idiot too. Ha ha ha. Just so you know, I'm not going to let you spoil our chances to party on that boat!" She poked her navigator in the forehead.
"You are wearing that dress and you are dancing with whatever girl or guy is friends with the guy I pick up.
I am so ready for this trip! First two days will be spent sunbathing so I get a nice tan. Then we hit the bar and on the day before we land at Hiroshima..."
Sailor Moon was trying to hold them back so the others could evacuate the people, but there were too many monsters. "This is not a dream. I am transmitting to you from a place outside of space-time."
Just before she was going to be overwhelmed Sailor Uranus and Jupiter joined her, holding the line so everyone could escape beneath the subway before they activated the explosives and sealed the entrance.
"You have to warn the others."
They added their firepower to that of the soldiers, but it was no use. One by one the tanks were destroyed by the monsters. The soldiers were slaughtered.
"You have all been living a wonderful dream, but the enemies you have faced in the past pale in comparison to what is coming."
Mercury and Mars led a crying Moon with them in their retreat.
"It is time to wake up."
"Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! No more sleep."
"Alright, I heard you. Stop yelling!"
"You are a terrible navigator Rei-chan. You slept the entire way here. It's a good thing I had Mako-chan to help me."
The eyes of the black haired young woman met the soft expression in those of her other blonde friend. The one who currently wasn't complaining about her.
"What are you looking at," She murmured not unkindly.
Usagi blinked and got out of the way, so her friend could get out of the car.
"Are you okay?"
"Hum," Rei replied quietly while turning to fetch her suitcase from the car.
Her friend pouted in frustration.
"Everybody got everything out?" Mamoru asked. "Please make sure you do."
"That means you slow-poke," Rei smirked.
"I didn't mean..."
"Oh I'm not the one suffering from sleep deprivation because I keep pretending nothing's wrong," Usagi sassed while walking past the miko.
"Don't worry about my presence of mind."
Ami pushed her back just before she would have walked into an unpleasant surprise.
"Maybe the two of you should double-check," The bluehead deadpanned to their embarrassment.
"Is something wrong with Rei-chan?" Mamoru asked while arranging his clothes, computer, and paperwork into the cupboards of their room after they embarked the Diamond Princess and were shown to their cabins.
His girlfriend tried to hide her blush.
"It's just that I think she's having visions, but she's keeping it to herself."
He turned around with a frown.
"Visions?! That might mean there's a new enemy. I hope she knows what we're going to deal with by the time there is an attack!"
"It's nothing to feel alarmed about,"
Usagi waved, suddenly feeling queasy. Realizing what she just said, for some reason she vaguely remembered Rei's strange unsettling question.
"She would tell us if it's something like that. She's been a bit tired... Maybe I misread things. She might just have been nervous for the trip."
"Nervous?" Mamoru laughed. "Like for a school trip. That's cute."
His girlfriend felt funny having someone call Rei cute.
"Well, I hope it's nothing more than that."
Then closing the cupboard: "I'm sorry but I have to go the purser's office to get that package they told me the company sent. I'll be back in a few minutes."
He halted at the door, remembered the size of the ship and quipped:
"I'll try to make it half an hour."
"If you're lucky," His girlfriend smiled. "Don't get lost."
He turned around sensing he forgot something.
"Wish me luck," He kissed her and closed the door behind him.
Usagi sat on the bed quietly, touching her lips. Wondering why his kiss didn't make her feel like Rei's did.
"Yeah, the ship is huge! I've been around our deck-level and that alone took half an hour. Luckily they got clear directions on where everything is."
Rei listened to Hotaru's answer.
"Haha. I'll see what I can do, but I don't know if we're allowed to take pictures. I can tell you I'm not going to be spending my time in the cabin or the lido deck. I want to breathe the sea air."
Another reply from Hotaru.
"You know using the phone is only included in the price for Mamoru-kun's cabin, right?" Ami informed while sitting on her berth.
"Hahaha!" Rei sweated. "Well, I'll see you when we get back Hotaru."
She got interrupted.
"Oh yeah. Haruka-chan is in great form, isn't she? Wish her luck for the race. Yeah yeah, You're in great form too. Stop fishing for compliments. Do your best tomorrow. You owe me a match when I get back. You might win your tournament, but beating me will be another matter."
"It's good to see her enjoy tennis so much after having been plagued by illness for so long because of Pharao 90," Ami smiled.
"She would have a talent for the sport of course," The bluehead continued with a grimace shared by her friend.
"Yeah, I had to remind myself it was a tennis racket in her hand and not a scythe the first times we played together. But it's fun to let loose with her," Rei smiled.
"It's not something I expected the two of you to bond over. You've become really close these past years."
"Well, I guess we have a lot in common,"
Rei grinned crookedly.
Ami turned quiet and hugged her knees.
"Rei-chan? Did something happen between you and Usagi-chan?"
Her friend looked doubtful.
"I have no idea... Did you notice anything strange?"
Ami frowned at her.
"Well, I kissed her," Rei admitted with a guilty grimace.
"What?! How did that happen?"
"She bugged me."
"She always bugs you. You said you could handle yourself! "It's not a problem everyone. You think Rei-chan can't handle a little crush? Don't worry about me!". "
"Yes, I did say that." Rei rubbed the back of her head.
"She's been acting really strange lately. I haven't seen much of her these past days and even I can tell. You have to fix this!"
"Well it's not my fault she's getting worked up over this. I told her it's not a big deal," The miko huffed.
"But it is a big deal Rei-chan! You don't fool anybody pretending it's not, and you clearly haven't fooled Usagi-chan.
You have to talk to her about this. Properly. And work this out together."
Rei looked at her friend's emphatic expression and got up with a sigh.
"Alright. I'll go find her and bare my heart to her."
She turned at the door.
"This really isn't fair you know."
"Yes it is Rei-chan," Ami smiled. "You deserve this. This is a good thing. You finally get a chance to tell her how you feel."
"We'll see," her friend replied.
It took her some time to find the woman she loved.
When she went to their cabin Mamoru told her hey had just received loads of extra work and Usagi had left for a walk so she wouldn't bother him.
Their other two friends weren't in their cabin but she found them sunbathing at the outdoor swimming pool and they said they hadn't seen her.
She was about to give up and get Ami to go to one of the restaurants together
when she found Usagi leaning over the railing of the ship, staring listlessly out at the ocean.
Her heart contracted like it did every time she saw Usagi like this.
She softly came closer and leaned next to her.
Usagi didn't react, but Rei knew she was happy she had come.
"This brings back memories doesn't it?"
She gazed at the still silent girl next to her and sighed.
The warm wind ruffled their hair.
"Maybe I should have taken you with me after all, that time. Who knows what might have happened."
"That was very mean of you Rei-chan. You knew I really wanted to come."
Her friend pouted.
I know. But you really bugged me, and I hadn't figured out why at the time."
She glanced to her left.
"I won't hold you to it you know.
I told you. You're not responsible for the consequences. You don't have to worry about hurting me. You and Mamoru-kun finally get to enjoy each others company. No future daughters, no enemy for over a year... It wouldn't be fair of me to spoil your happiness. I didn't mean to tell you.
You just, you know... bugged me," She smiled.
Usagi looked at her with angry tearful eyes.
"So you're just going to keep it all to yourself again like you did before?"
Rei just kept smiling.
"Being your friend Usagi..." She sighed happily.
"... It's not just about how close you let me get to you, or the place I know I have in your heart. It's all about how much of yourself you give to me, and how you force yourself into my life without even suspecting how much I really enjoy it."
Usagi gazed at her, with eyes wet from emotion.
"Rei-...chan..." She uttered in a tiny voice.
She tried to wipe away the tears with her sleeve but they only came faster. She ended up sobbing over her arms, leaning over the railing.
Rei came closer, putting her arm around her. Trying to comfort to the best of her ability. Her heart hurt at the sight of what she had caused and her eyes stung.
"I'll be alright. Don't worry. Besides, we're in university now. We have to study. We don't have time for luxuries like love. You are going to be Queen one day. So you'll be busy then too. It's time to enjoy your time with your King now," She quipped, contradicting herself.
Usagi still sobbed, but suddenly her lip quivered.
"No!" She said in a hoarse tone of voice.
Usagi stood upright, a determined expression on her red face.
"I've been thinking about these things a lot lately. I may become Queen in the future. But I'm not going to be some kind of selfish Queen-bee who gets to enjoy a happy marriage with her King while her loveless Sailor Senshi serve her as drones and get nothing in return!
I'm sick of it!" She yelled in a passion.
Rei's passion rose to meet it.
"What are you talking about?! I'm not a drone! I get lots of things in return!"
"You've given up happiness for me before! I won't allow it a second time!"
"Well, I'm not letting you jeopardize your future with Mamoru-kun for me!"
"Tough! Because I'm going to find a way to be your girlfriend! "
Rei ground her teeth. This was so like her.
"Don't be stupid! You know you have to be in love with me to make that actually work, right?!"
"Well, then I'll fall in love with you!"
"You're not making any sense!"
"Ha! You see?! That's what people do when they fall in love!" Usagi triumphed.
"Have you forgotten about Chibi-Usa?
If you leave Mamoru-kun for me she won't be born!"
"You don't know that! I... I might cheat on you."
"Oh. Thanks for telling me. Now I see no obstacles at all for us to be together."
Usagi frowned at her friend's arch expression.
"Is that the reason you never told me?
Chibi-Usa? Mamoru-kun? Crystal Tokyo? There is nothing we know that makes us incompatible with any of that.
Mamoru-kun and I don't have to be married to rule as King and Queen."
"It's the custom."
"Things change. He could be a donor father to Chibi-Usa. The future we saw might not even be our future."
"That's all very nice Usagi," Rei smiled again. "But we both know that's not what's going to happen. You and Mamoru-kun love each other." She took her friend's hand.
"Thank you for wanting to make me happy, but I meant what I said. You already do make me very happy."
Usagi's heart crashed, seeing the tears forming in Rei's eyes. She knew they were not tears of sorrow. And somehow that made it more painful than if they had been.
"And I want you both to be happy too. So the best possible conclusion to this is for everything to remain the same. Can't you see that?"
Usagi turned her head towards the sea to avoid Rei's expression.
"I want to do more for you."
Her own tears started to spill anew.
"Then just hold me. You don't have to do more."
Her friend came closer and Usagi held her automatically. As if two pieces to a very simple puzzle they fit together into one form against the backdrop of the Pacific.
"Just hold me. Because all I want from you is to let me be close to you. And to care for you."
Usagi felt Rei's head lean against hers. She heard her friend sniff up her scent with a shudder.
The warm sea air mingled with Rei's own scent. Usagi enjoyed the feeling of her friend's soft hair against her warm, wet cheek. Rei felt so comfortable in her arms. She felt familiar, as in family. As in a part of herself the blonde could never live without. Usagi would hold her as much as she wanted. Let her come as close as she wanted. But she wasn't going to let things remain the same. There was no way she could ever allow that.
Imaginary end credits = LeAnn Rimes - Can't Fight The Moonlight
Chapter 2: Act Two: The Worker
They were standing in front of the herd. The city was burning all around them. The statue of liberty half destroyed."This is what you have been told about: The end of civilization." But they had to give the people in the ships a chance to get within safe distance of the shore if there was anything like that. "This is the fate of mankind." Sailor Moon raised her Silver Moon Sceptre and used the New Millenium Moon Love attack... only to have it harmlessly absorbed by the protective shield the invaders had created around themselves. "The only thing you can do is protect the survivors."
Rei turned around in her bed and sighed.
She looked through the night's shade at the face of her friend in the berth beside her. Kind, dependable Ami. The one if any of them who always kept her head cool. The one she could always come to with anything that bothered her she didn't want to share with the others. Or at least not right away...
How would she react if Rei told her she had once again seen them all die while an army of monsters slaughtered the entire population of New York City.
It would be alright, wouldn't it?
After all, men are supposed to love this kind of thing. Usagi remembered seeing Mamoru feel a little award sometimes when Haruka and Michiru kissed in their company. Of course, that was when they first became friends, he seemed to feel perfectly comfortable around them when they kissed now. Still. He used to date Rei-chan, so he must find her attractive. Usagi knew he liked her and respected her. How would he react? Would he like to join in if they kissed?
She felt her body heat up and turned her back towards her boyfriend, remembering Rei's kiss.
She had barely been able to think about anything else since that day.
Surely this was the ideal solution?! A way for the three of them to be happy and safeguard Chibi-Usa's life to seal the deal.
She closed her eyes in frustration.
Rei had been right! She was grasping at straws. What she was thinking was ridiculous! Mamoru would be perplexed if she dared suggest such a thing. And Rei deserved better than to have to share her love.
She remembered their embrace fondly and bitterly. Rei had smelled so nice, her hair was so soft. And even though what Rei had told her had made her sad, at that moment, holding her in her arms, she had felt really happy.
It was so frustrating! She had always been so concerned about the happiness of her Sailor Senshi. Why couldn't they meet a Prince of their own?! Why didn't men flock to them from all around? Why couldn't they see how amazing and kind and beautiful they all were?! She thought sadly about their duty as her bodyguards. Was this a curse? Were they destined to remain alone because it was their duty to sacrifice their lives for hers? Her entire being revolted against the idea. Mako-chan, Ami-chan, Minako-chan, Rei-chan... They deserved happiness every bit as much as she did. Just because she was the Moon Princess didn't make her life any more important than theirs. And now it was finally in her power to make at least one of them happy. To free her from that curse.
Thinking of the possibility of doing that for Rei she felt her body grow warm and heavy.
Silently promising her heart to her best friend she drowsed away into a deep sleep.
Rei decided to put a stop to her depressing thoughts. She remembered what had happened earlier and smiled.
She felt a gentle warmth envelop her body. As if she was holding her dear friend at this very moment. Her soft cheek. Her warm body. Her kindness and her concern for Rei's happiness.
Each time Rei was convinced she couldn't love her more Usagi proved her wrong.
She closed her eyes and imagined lying in her berth with Usagi in her arms.
Rei forgot all about monsters and the end of the world.
She had better things to dream of.
"Good morning. You're late for breakfast," Makoto grinned. "But you're just in time for brunch."
Rei put her plate down and sat at the table her friends had populated.
"Don't try to act cute though. Apart from Ami-chan, I doubt either of you was awake before 10," The miko grinned behind her cup of tea.
A roar of laughter came from the table behind them.
"I'll admit. We had fun last night. And after all, there are those who manage to get to the brunch buffet even later than you," Minako pointed her finger at the blonde young woman just getting in line at the buffet.
Rei met Ami's eyes as her own returned from looking in the direction her friend had been pointing at.
"How were things last night? I was asleep by the time you came in."
"Hey, what?! Did you meet someone?" Makoto and Minako sat up enthusiastically ...
A loud handclap from the other table interrupted Rei's answer
"I spend the evening with Usagi, that's all."
... and the pair of friends instantly deflated and sat down again.
"Everything's fine," Rei looked at her blue-haired friend emphatically, hoping she would believe her if she managed to convince herself.
"She told me Mamoru-kun was working hard in their cabin and she didn't want to disturb him, so we had dinner together and went for a movie... And we talked a bit in one of the bars afterward."
Her expression changed as she watched Usagi finish scooping pudding onto her plate.
"It was fun," She smiled, knowing she wouldn't need to put in any effort to convince her friends that the last part at least was true.
"So I got up behind that idiot while he was acting like a twat about it and pulled his pants down!"
"Hahaha! You should have been there mate! It was hilarious!"
"Yeah," Makoto looked apologetically. "Those guys showed up right after we got here. Sounds like they opted not to go to sleep after drinking all night."
Usagi came and sat down between Rei and Makoto.
"Hey guys, good morning. Sorry, I'm late."
"Hahaha! will you look at that!"
"Why isn't Mamoru-kun with you?" Minako asked.
"Oh, he's very busy. He asked me to excuse him and bring him something to eat after we're done."
"Is that the new fashion around these parts? The women dress their hair up as food now?!"
"Hahaha! Can you imagine a sashimi hairdo?"
"Just ignore them," Rei deadpanned as she saw her friend tense.
"I knew he would be working on board, but this is excessive," Ami said.
"Yeah. He got a post package with a whole bunch of new stuff when we arrived."
"Well, I guess if they throw all this money at him they can get him to do whatever they want."
Rei raised an eyebrow at Minako for her remark.
"Hey, noodlehead! Can you pass by our table? We didn't see you at the buffet!"
A grape landed near Usagi.
"Just ignore them."
"I'm kind of starting to regret him getting this job," The blonde groaned.
"I don't want him to become a workaholic."
"I know what you're thinking," Her friend stuck out her tongue.
A bunch of grapes landed near her.
"Hey, Bami Goreng! Hahaha!"
"Just ignore them," Rei repeated again. "They don't know what they're doing."
"What they're doing is pissing me off."
"You are a noodlehead though."
Rei's arch smile brought a blush to her friends face.
"I'm afraid he's going to have to work hard to earn his place in the company now," Ami commented. "But he shouldn't just take on anything they give him. He has to take care of his health. Besides, he has another job on top of this. Thankfully things have been quiet. But you never know."
More food was thrown at Usagi and she was visibly losing her patience.
"Please, just ignore them," Rei repeated in a more grim tone of voice this time.
"Can I get a side of curry with that hair? Hahaha!"
"Why don't you mind your own business!" Usagi shouted at them.
Then she saw the chilling sad look in Rei's eyes and fell silent.
"I'm sorry. I expected them to stop eventually. I'll ask them to stop now."
She moved towards the men at the other table who were anticipating more fun with roaring laughter.
Then they all fell silent. Not because of what she said, but because of what they saw in her eyes through their drunken haze. Compassion. Compassion and intense pity for them.
"I'm sorry. I am really sorry. Please, can you stop pestering my friend."
Her friends observed the change in their behavior with bewilderment.
"That was oddly effective," Minako observed.
Usagi was the only one aware of the sadness in Rei's eyes as she pretended to act mock-humble and participated in their banter as if nothing had happened during the remainder of their brunch.
After brunch, Usagi brought Mamoru his food and enjoyed his break with him.
Early in the afternoon, she rejoined the others.
Currently lying in between Rei and Ami she was enjoying the sun in her new white and yellow bikini.
She wiggled her toes in delight at the relaxed atmosphere at this side of the swimming pool after the hubbub of brunch.
Her breathing came evenly as she felt the warmth of the sun on her body, making the variously colored tiny flowers on the landscape that covered her breasts move as if blown by the wind.
But something was on her mind in spite of the heat and tranquility.
What had that look in Rei's been eyes about?
Why had she seemed so sad after Ami had mentioned the absence of enemies?
She looked involuntarily to her right and saw Rei look in her direction.
"Stop snoring," Her friend scolded. "If you fall asleep in this heat you'll burn."
"I wasn't snoring!" She replied suddenly frustrated by the blackette's tone. "And even if I was, you should wake me up instead of staring..."
With a sudden blush, she realized what Rei had really been looking at. In a reflex, she covered her bosom, but then she looked back at her friend who looked very awkward for a moment and closed her eyes as she rested her head in silence.
Usagi looked down at her body and back at Rei and an idiotic smirk appeared on her face.
She now recalled being scolded in a similar manner on other occasions of catching Rei staring at her when sunbathing, swimming, sleeping over, wearing some particular dress...
But she also recalled being caught admiring her friend in turn.
Rei was built like a supermodel, after all, she constantly caught the eyes of passers-by.
Her long, straight black hair was at the moment tied up in a bun.
It looked like the night sky, a pure black surface filled with glittery stars.
Her face had a naturally regal appearance, in fact, Usagi had for a while entertained the idea that she might be the Moon princess when Luna had first told them their duty.
Her skin tanned fast. Usagi usually had to spend a while in the sun, but she eventually caught up with the others, but Rei always got a gorgeous tan very quickly.
Then there were her firm round breasts and the overall beautiful and elegant shape of her toned body. And of course, Rei's legs had no equal.
Usagi was pulled from her reverie by a sigh and an annoyed expression coming from the woman she was staring at and realized she was feeling hot and bothered from another source than the heat of the sun.
"I think I've had enough sunbathing for today everybody, I'm going for a walk."
"Alright." "Bye, Rei-chan." "Have fun."
Usagi got up and followed her.
Makoto and Minako got up from their lounge chairs and watched them with a suspicious expression.
"What is going on with those two lately?"
"Do you have any idea why they're acting so strange Ami-chan?"
Usagi patiently awaited her friend to get served at the refreshment shop.
"You are unbelievable! Have you turned lesbian overnight?"
"Well, I always did think you looked cool." The blonde woman smiled.
"Considering what's going on in your mind, shouldn't you go to your boyfriend and work out your lusts with him?"
"Weren't you looking at me the same way before I caught you?" Usagi teased.
"Or are you the only one allowed to stare like a hentai and I should just lie down and look beautiful for you?"
"Don't be so flippant!" Rei turned on her licking an ice cream cone and pointing a Callipo at her. "This is a serious matter."
Usagi took her favorite water ice from her friend's hand and started licking.
"You are the Moon Princess. You have responsibilities. So have I. So yes, the only thing I am allowed to want is to admire your body in a bikini,... and you have a sexy prince, so you have no right to complain anyway." Rei concluded dryly.
They went toward a lone table behind the shop and Usagi frowned, remembering her earlier musings while her friend sat down.
She swallowed on the lump that mingled with the water ice as she watched Rei lick her ice cream and for a second she wanted to slap her friend for keeping all these painful secrets from her for so long.
There were hundreds of people around them, but somehow they felt very lonely together in this quiet corner.
"... What is going on?"
"I've just told you what is going on," Went the authoritarian reply. "There's nothing more to it."
Usagi clenched her fist.
"There's something else. I can see there is. You're having visions again aren't you?"
Rei gave her that involuntary sad look again and Usagi nearly crumbled under it before her friend answered after a considerable hesitation.
"It can wait."
A short silence followed, but Usagi had determined to persevere.
"No, it can't. We are friends! When something troubles us we talk about it! We help each other."
Rei smiled. She seemed happy after the strange sadness from a moment earlier.
"That's true. We are friends, and that's why I will tell you when we get back from this vacation."
Her ice cream finished, she moved to get up, but suddenly her friend slammed her hand flat on the table, holding the back of Rei's chair with the other and looked her in the eyes.
"You are not leaving without telling me what is going on!"
It was incredibly arousing.
Rei felt her friends breath on her nose. There was barely five centimeter between their lips.
Her heart suddenly beat like a maniac and she had trouble to prevent herself from closing the distance.
She took note that it had become particularly harder to resist these urges since her 'confession'.
It didn't help that they were both wearing nothing but swimwear.
She pressed her eyes shut and shook her head.
"Don't make this more difficult for me than it already is!"
She pushed the blonde back and stood up.
"I can deal with this now. It's not something we need to be immediately concerned about. It can wait."
Usagi still looked angry.
"You don't want to know about this yet! You should all enjoy your holiday and when we get home I will tell you everything."
"What about your holiday?!"
"I... I'm enjoying myself," Rei blushed in spite of herself.
Usagi couldn't help feeling self-conscious all of a sudden.
"I know you watch out for me, and I watch out for you," Rei smiled softly.
"Stop worrying. I'm fine. And I will tell you everything as soon as we get home."
Usagi pouted and held up a wavering finger at Rei's face.
"When we get home, I follow you into your room and you tell me everything!"
Usagi still looked unhappy.
"You should tell me now."
"I will tell you when we get home.
There is nothing we can do for now."
They stared in silence, becoming conscious of the people around them once more.
A painful expression on her face, Usagi heaved a deep sigh.
"Sometimes I wish you didn't love me so much.
I should get Mamoru-kun something to eat. It's almost 12 o clock."
She turned around quietly and slumped away.
Rei followed her with her eyes, feeling rather empty.
That last remark had hurt.
She knew she shouldn't love Usagi as much as she did. But how could she stop herself?
It's not as if she had never tried. Everyone always acted as if she had never even tried falling for someone else.
Once your heart only beats that way for one person, even if there are other people you care almost as deeply for, eventually you come to the conclusion that that feeling is just a part of who you are. Maybe someday you will change and those feelings will change. Maybe they will finally be directed towards someone else. But as long as they are there, they are part of you and part of your journey. And you live your life formed in part through their influence.
Maybe she shouldn't have said that.
She didn't really mean it anyway.
It was just that it was so painful having Rei playing the martyr for her all the time.
But she couldn't really blame her, after all, she would do just the same for her friend if their roles were reversed.
Only they weren't reversed and they never would be. Destiny had given Rei a firm advantage when it came to self-sacrifice and she couldn't do a thing about that.
"This is very good soup. We should get the recipe."
Usagi stared at her lover as if waking from a dream.
"What's wrong?" Mamoru smiled.
"Oh, nothing," She sighed, stirring her soup. "There were a few drunks this morning bothering me."
"Oh?" Mamoru's gentle expression turned into an angry frown.
"It's alright though. Rei-chan took care of them."
"Took care of them? Hmmm..."
"No. Don't worry. She handled it peacefully," Usagi waved.
"We know anything we do on this trip might reflect on you."
"Ow. That makes me seem rather unfeeling," He frowned.
Usagi hugged him.
"Don't say that. You know I know better. But we all know you love this job."
"Yeah," Her boyfriend smiled. "What I'm doing right now is so exciting. When I got that package I was a bit overwhelmed, but what we are working on is amazing! It's going to revolutionize how people communicate!"
Usagi liked seeing him so happy. He was like a little boy when he talked about work. She could on average understand 10 percent of what he was saying, but knowing he enjoyed himself doing his job made her happy.
"Are you enjoying yourself?"
"You don't sound very convincing."
She hastily flashed a fake smile.
"Sorry, I was just dwelling on those drunks. It's been really fun out here Mamo-kun. I'm just sorry you can't enjoy it like we can."
"I know. But don't worry," He smiled apologetically. "I knew this would be a working trip for me. I don't mind though. Like I said: I'm having fun in my own way. About that..." He sighed and got up to sit at his laptop again. "It's time to get back to work."
Usagi watched his back, thinking how kind he always was.
She loved him for that.
His kindness and his beautiful heart.
The frequency and quality of their sex life had been decreasing for a few years now.
It had been months since she had initiated sex, over half a year now she guessed. If there had been any intimacy between them the last two years it had been because of Mamoru.
Even then it felt soulless.
These things happen in relationships.
She had heard of this from others. She had read about it and learned about it. She knew this was an ordinary thing.
But she was aware that something had changed.
Because to her surprise she now suddenly realized for the first time that what might not be such an ordinary thing was that none of that had ever bothered her in the slightest.
Rei was being very docile. Extraordinarily so. She knew they were doing this for her own good. She even agreed with them a 100 percent.
That is why in spite of her current mood she sat obediently in between Makoto and Minako after listening to their admonishings to spend her time with them from now on and try to focus on anything but Usagi. Their motivation and reasoning were as sound as they could get.
What she did not agree with was their method.
"Boys and girls, please give a hearty applause for Tsubasa the clown!"
The audience cheered.
"This will do you good miss grumpy-pants."
"What you need is a good laugh, and with Yuuichirou-kun currently unavailable this guy is a great substitute."
"Hey! Don't compare Yuuichirou-kun with a clown. He may be clumsy at times, but he is a capable man." Makoto objected.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to criticize. The important thing is to distract our friend here."
Tsubasa was juggling eggs in the air with a chefs cap on his head, letting them fall down on his face in succession after he got cheered on for his prowess to follow up with laughter for his clumsiness.
"Today we are going to have some fun, just the four of us. Ami-chan will join us in a few hours. Today is Inner Senshi bonding time!"
"Yep. And tomorrow we are going hunting. No guy on this ship will be safe!"
Tsubasa now pushed a plunger onto his rather voluminous belly and spread his arms for the full effect of letting the thing fall off to the amusement of the children in front of him.
"This guy is an idiot."
"Huh? He's hilarious isn't he?" Minako clapped.
"I'm going to the toilet."
"Okay. Hurry back alright? You don't want to miss this."
Rei raised an eyebrow at her hooting friends and went straight for the nightclubs.
Ami cautiously opened the door to Mamoru and Usagi's cabin and entered.
"Hey, Ami-chan. Welcome. How are you doing?"
"Oh. Great, thank you, Mamoru-kun. How are you? Not working too hard I hope?"
The young woman informed frankly.
Mamoru gave her an embarrassed laugh.
"Haaa. I hope I'm not worrying you? I know you've warned me about this, but really I'm okay. I take care to get some rest in time and Usagi has been kind enough to keep me company today even though I asked her to go out and have some fun with the rest of you."
He mistook the serious expression in her eyes and rubbed the back of his head.
"I'm sorry if I've made myself a stranger."
"Oh no. Don't worry. I know you have to work on this trip. I am very grateful to you for inviting me. It's been a lot of fun." She made a grimace, feeling guilty for getting to the point.
"But you are right, Usagi-chan should make the most of her time here since she is able to. So I thought I'd invite her over."
She tried to look insistent at her blonde friend.
"Oh, thank you Ami-chan. It's getting late though and I'm feeling a little tired from reading though."
It evidently didn't work.
"That's alright. We're not going out for long. But we'd really like you to join us. I mean, there are some really fiery nightclubs on this ship and you should come along and see what's going on out there."
Usagi gave her friend a look appropriate to her strange phrasing, so Ami made use of Mamoru's focus on his laptop to try and give her the most meaningful look she could manage.
"I... Okay, I guess if it's not for too long I can come along for some fun with you guys."
"Huh. Are you going out?"
"Yeah. I won't be long though."
"Oh, don't worry. You girls have fun," Mamoru smiled.
"Thank you," Ami bowed. "See you later Mamo-kun."
"What's going on? Where are we going?"
Usagi followed her fast-paced friend.
"Mako-chan and Mina-chan took it upon themselves to distract Rei-chan from certain... things."
Usagi blushed under Ami's scrutiny.
"So they took her with them for the day. I told them I'd meet up after studying.
When I finally found them they were all drunk and Rei-chan was dancing around and wouldn't leave the dancefloor."
Usagi walked faster.
"Is it far?"
"We're almost there."
They arrived in front of the entrance to the nightclub.
Usagi went inside followed by her friend and was greeted by the music as she approached the luxurious ballroom.
[We're lost in music...
Caught in a trap...
No turning back...]
In the middle of the dancefloor was Sailor Mars. No. It was Rei, but she dazzled like nothing Usagi had ever seen before. She was dancing like a pop star in a video clip.
[Feel so alive...]
Dressed in a red and white short dress and red high heels, a white sash through her wildly flowing hair she was the star of the dance floor. Everyone was cheering her on. Usagi could do nothing but stare with her mouth hanging open.
[Responsibility to me is a tragedy...]
She swallowed as she felt the tempo of her heartbeat increase.
[Yes I call that temptation...]
"You came and found us!"
Minako and Makoto giggled, grabbing onto her on either side.
"Come with us now. You don't need to see that."
"Yeah, Rei-chan's got some stuff she's hung up on, so she's acting out, that's all."
"You don't need to see her when she's dancing like that," Minako laughed.
They started to push her back.
"Go back to Mamo-kun, we'll take care of Rei-chan."
"You've done a great job so far," Ami frowned, blocking their way.
"You're all completely delirious. I got Usagi-chan to help me get you to bed."
"Oh, but Ami-chan..." Makoto put her pointer fingers together. "We just wanted to let Rei-chan forget about Usagi-chan."
"We only wanted to help."
"We are all here thanks to Mamoru-kun. What do you think his bosses will think when they hear how his friends behaved during this trip?"
Ami turned her attention from the repentant duo to Usagi.
"You go and get Rei-chan. I'll have these two get their stuff together and pay their bill."
Usagi stepped forward through the crowd. This would have been a lot more difficult if they hadn't been all making room to watch her friend flit and twirl from this side to the other.
Usagi watched her elegant souple movements entranced, she focused her gaze on Rei's long hair and the sash twirling around her as she twisted her body into movements that had been used to behead demons of all sorts.
The unspoken fear that she and Ami felt was that any of them was a potential danger to the safety of every surrounding person if they were this drunk.
She was close enough to talk to Rei now but took care not to come to close.
"I'm not talking to you. You're mean to me," Her friend said without looking at her.
"I'm not mean. I just don't want you to hurt yourself for me."
Rei just ignored her and danced on.
"Did you see me approach you?"
"I don't have to see you, to know when you are nearby."
Usagi moved back as her friend's hand came within an inch of her face.
"I know you are angry with me, but we can talk about this without all these people around."
Rei gave her a look.
"You don't know what you're talking about. You wouldn't be thinking what you're thinking if you knew what I knew."
Usagi gritted her teeth.
"You can be a very difficult person Rei-chan!"
Her friend stopped her movements for a second, balanced on one foot and winked.
"So can you Usagi-chan. Bleich!"
"Oh yeah? Bleich!"
Rei frowned and resumed her dance at a slower pace, moving towards the bar.
"Like I said: I'm not talking to you. You're mean and I'm at a disadvantage. You're not drunk, so it's unfair of you to talk into me. Stop trying to talk me down. I'm no danger to anyone. I'm just acting out because SOMEONE broke my heart."
"You got some nerve," Usagi sighed, following her.
Rei finally sat herself down on a barstool.
Her eyes went wide for a moment.
"Hahaha! So that's why the room seemed so still while I was dancing?"
Usagi hurried to keep her from falling from the stool, but her friend just turned to the bartender.
"Can I get another Gin and Tonic please?"
"I'm sorry Miss, but your friend over there closed your tab. If you would like to open a new one?"
"No, she doesn't. It's time to go to bed Rei-chan."
Her friend gave her a curious look and burst out in laughter.
"You are going round in circles. It's so funny!"
"That just means you had too much to drink," The blonde smiled while holding her hands up.
"You are always looking out for me aren't you?" Rei asked with drowning eyes. "You are so kind Usagi-chan."
"Well, it's what we do right? You look out for me and I look out for you."
Ami and their other friends came closer.
"Is everything alright? How are you feeling Rei-chan?"
Their friend suddenly took Usagi in a tight hug and smiled warmly.
"I'm alright because Usagi is here for me."
The object of her affection felt her heart thumb violently.
"Heeey! That's not allowed Rei-chan!"
"Let Usagi-chan go!"
Makoto and Minako jumped in front of their blue-haired friend, but Usagi turned to keep them from prying Rei of her.
"It's alright! She can hug me if she wants, right?! Aren't we friends?"
The other two looked doubtful.
"You better get her to release you before she falls asleep here though," Ami suggested.
"Yeah. Rei-chan? Are you still awake?"
"Yeah," The blackette smiled as she sat up.
"We're going to have to leave now."
"I got her things too."
"Okay. Come on Rei-chan. Get up now. It's time to leave."
"I can't," Rei sighed.
They looked at her.
"What do you mean you can't?" Ami asked. "You've been going over the floor like a ballet dancer."
"Dancing is easy. It's just hopping from foot to foot, balancing myself while my head turns around and around. If I have to walk I have to put one foot in front of the other in a predetermined direction," She giggled, looking at her feet. "I can guarantee you that is completely impossible right now."
Ami and Usagi sighed in defeat.
"Lean on me then," Usagi eventually suggested. "We'll walk to your cabin together and I'll bring you to your berth."
"Of course I'll lean on you Usagi-chan!" Rei cheered, glomping her friend.
"Ugh! Rei-chan! At least try to walk on your own, please. I'm not carrying you all the way to your cabin."
"As you command, my Ice Queen!" the miko giggled, while she started to walk, supported by Usagi.
"I'm not an Ice Queen. I'm sorry for what I said," Usagi sulked. "I didn't mean it like that, but I'm not an Ice Queen."
"Yes, you are."
Her friend squinted and put her face close to hers, pointing at her lips.
Usagi could smell the alcohol on her breath.
"The moon is cold. She only shines because of the sun.
"Don't talk nonsense."
"It's not nonsense! Hahaha!" Minako laughed behind them.
"You didn't pay attention in class again Usagi-chan. I'll have to have a talk with your parents if this goes on."
Makoto burst into laughter.
"Don't listen to them. They're drunk. I'm only teasing you," Rei continued. "You were always the bright side of the sun," She smiled.
"Ugh! You're a real smooth talker aren't you Rei-chan? I bet you get all the girls with that nimble tongue of yours."
Usagi blushed when she realized what she had said. She hoped Rei was too drunk to notice, but Rei wasn't nearly drunk enough for that.
"Are you curious? I might show you when we get to my cabin."
Usagi felt herself grow hot under her friend's teasing gaze.
"Hey Rei-chan, we can't allow that kind of thing!"
"Yeah, quit hogging Usagi-chan! She's our Queen too!"
"No! She's mine and mine alone!" Rei hugged her friend tight. "You can't get her. Come on slow-poke, run! We got to lose those spoilsports."
"We're at their cabin Usagi-chan. I'll get them inside and put them to bed. I'll come and help you as soon as I can."
"No, Ami-chan! You can't trust Rei-chan. Don't leave them alone."
"Minako-chan, Usagi-chan can handle it. It's time for the three of you to sleep it off."
Minako tried to go in pursuit, but Ami drove her and Makoto to their cabin with a little gentle force.
"Are you sticking out your tongue at them?" Usagi asked.
She heard Rei giggle.
"They're so dumb. They don't know that I'm the good girl and you're the molester."
"I'm not a molester." Usagi blushed.
"Hihihi. I don't know if I feel safe around you in my present state."
"Your talking nonsense. I would never take advantage."
"But you'd like too."
Rei played with her finger around Usagi's throat and moved it to her breast.
"I thought I was supposed to be the molester?"
"That's right," Rei straightened up. "I'm a good girl."
"Sigh. Here we are."
Usagi opened the door and brought her friend to her berth.
"I'll take off your shoes and that sash. But you can sleep in your clothes."
"Nooo! Take it off."
Rei rolled onto her belly and giggled with her face against the cushion.
"Please be gentle with me."
"I'll be very gentle," Usagi couldn't help chuckle. "Good night Rei-chan."
"What? Are you leaving me?"
"Yes. You're drunk and you're tired. It's time to sleep."
"Rei rolled onto her back and pouted.
"You have to give me a kiss or I won't sleep. My mother never gave me a kiss before putting me in bed, so you have to."
She sat up again and closed her eyes.
Usagi blushed and hesitated.
She closed her eyes and slowly put her lips to Rei's.
She tasted sweet. She kissed Usagi back with vigor and let herself fall back on the bed while Usagi heaved a shuddering sigh.
"Hihihi," Rei squinted and pointed at her with a grin.
"You totally fell for that, you moron. I don't even have a mother."
"Yes, you do. Your mother loves you. She just doesn't know how to show it very well."
Rei sat up again and hung herself around Usagi's neck, whispering into the ears of her shocked friend:
"Shhh. I'm a big girl. I don't need my mother anymore. I only need you."
Then she fell asleep in Usagi's arms.
Usagi smiled through her tears. Gently weeping as she hugged the friend that loved her so much. She had never felt so much happiness in her entire life.
Makoto was listlessly chewing her sandwich with an equally tired Minako next to her. Usagi sat on the other side of the table and Ami at the head.
"Oh, look who finally got out of bed?"
"Not so loud please Ami-chan."
Compared to her partners in crime, Rei managed to look somewhat more vital.
After filling her plate at the buffet she demurely sat down next to Usagi.
Her friend watched her chew with an amused expression.
"Did you sleep well Rei-chan?"
She got a quiet nod in response.
"You are the greatest dancer that I've ever seen."
"You girls were planning to go hunting tonight weren't you?" Ami teased.
"I'm looking forward to joining you. Usagi-chan and I will have to keep things a little less naughty of course, but If the guys aboard don't get the wrong idea we can join you in the fun."
"I don't know whether I'll be in much of a state to dance tonight." Mina groaned to Ami's amusement.
Rei quietly coughed, attracting Usagi's attention.
"Thank you... For not molesting me,"
She muttered in embarrassment.
"That's alright Rei-chan," Her friend giggled. "I told you I wouldn't take advantage."
"You didn't have to give in to my drunken requests either though," Rei sissed between her teeth.
Makoto groaned heavily and got up.
"I'm going to sleep it off. Are you staying Mina-chan?"
"No, I'm with you. I'm not gonna waste our last night on the ship," She attempted to say energetically. "Give me a beauty nap of a few hours and no bachelor on board will be safe! Ugh," She sighed, heaving herself off her seat.
"There, there Minako-chan," The three other girls sweated as the blonde pulled herself towards her cabin.
Rei was standing at the railing of the promenade deck two hours later watching the southern sky.
They had enjoyed a beautiful and quiet weather for a long time now, but a dark thin hairline was just about perceptible far behind them. They were sailing away from it, but they couldn't outsail it forever. A violent storm was chasing them and by the time they arrived in Hiroshima, it was going to come on land with them. She could wish as much as she wanted for this peaceful time to last forever, but they would have to face what was coming. She couldn't protect anyone from the future. She could only hope to prepare them so they could try their best to survive it.
"It's a beautiful day, isn't it?"
Usagi leisurely approached and stood beside her.
"Again: I'm sorry. I guess I did overreact."
"No," Rei smiled at her. "It was understandable for you to worry considering the state I was in and I may have been dancing with a little too much enthusiasm," She sweated.
Usagi watched her, feeling light. She hadn't forgotten nor regretted having to come to the ballroom and bring Rei to her room. Looking at her now in her toe-slippers and her cream-blue dress she felt Rei's awesome beauty radiate all around her.
"I changed my mind."
Rei frowned at the storm nobody else had perceived yet.
"You were right before. What I learned is too important to wait. For better or for worse you are our leader..."
"Hey! Saying it like that makes it sound like I'm a bad leader. "
"Haha. You are our leader. So you have to know. And you have to decide what we do once I've told you what I know."
"Okay, then Rei-chan. Tell me. I'm ready."
She wasn't. Rei knew that much. Nobody could be for what was coming, but after what had happened at the mall Usagi was least ready of all.
It was clear as day that the blonde still hadn't recovered from the trauma.
Losing Setsuna had only made things worse.
Rei had no idea how she was going to tell her leader what she and the other two members of the 'visionary club' had seen, but she would have to manage to the best of her abilities.
"Not now. I'll tell you tomorrow evening in my room after we've checked into the hotel. I want us to have one more evening to spend in blissful ignorance. One last evening to enjoy our youth without worry..."
Usagi grabbed her hand, causing Rei to turn and face her.
"You're scaring me. I've never heard you talk like this before."
The miko's voice had gotten a somber, ominous quality as she went on.
Usagi blinked at the shadow obscuring her friend's eyes.
But she could still recognize the sadness she had seen there the day before.
"It is scary."
Minako was humming happily while donning her sprightly blue and yellow dress.
"You really are committed to sleeping somewhere else tonight aren't you?"
"Don't make me sound so promiscuous. Am I wrong for wanting to have a good time during our summer holiday?"
Makoto gave her friend a pitying look. Not that she wasn't in the same boat. Neither of them had been in a real relationship so far. There had been a couple of flings, but apart from Usagi and Ami and Haruko and Michiru of course none of them could be said to have found someone to share their lives with... or even two months of those lives for that matter. But then she felt her own situation had more in common with Rei's than Minako's.
Whether that meant she or her cabin-mate was to be pitied more she didn't know. But she did know that she was worried about that friend apparently having given up on ever finding love.
"You can have fun without fooling around with guys you know. Are you so bored with your fellow old spinsters?"
Minako sighed but didn't turn to face her.
"Old spinsters? We are only 22! We have an eternity before us."
She went quiet.
An eternity of loneliness is what they all thought.
It sometimes felt like that was what they were destined for. They all knew that they were still young. If they had been ordinary girls they wouldn't even have worried. But the fact that no man had ever shown the least bit of interest in more than a passing affair with any of them was strange, to say the least, and had made them somewhat superstitious.
More than that, there was the constant nagging feeling that their duty as bodyguard to the Moon Princess somehow cursed them to remain alone
forever in order to be completely devoted to her. In the darkest recess of their minds, they feared Rei's situation illustrated how much of a curse their fate could become.
But there was always Ami. No matter how bleak their ponderings on the subject of their fate might become Ami had been in a solid, joyous relationship for the past three years. It was a long distance relationship for the most part, but it was still romance, and they but had to look at her after a phone call with Ryo or a date or a holiday spent together to see how happy they made each other.
Of course, they also had Haruka and Michiru to lift their hopes. Minako had seen how happy and how in sync they always were, she had wondered about Rei's feelings for Usagi. Could it be that a relationship with a fellow Senshi might actually be more fulfilling than anything they might find outside of their circle? Nobody could certainly understand their plight better.
"Mako-chan?" She grinned. "Who would you feel more attracted to? Rei-chan or me?"
"what?!" The brunette broke out in a sudden blush. "What kind of a question is that? You know I like men."
"But if you had to choose. Do you have a preference?" Minako smiled sheepishly.
"Well..." Her friend muttered. "You know if Rei-chan finally finds love no matter who with, and we stay alone... Aah! Really Mina-chan." She sweated. "I'd be happy to find solace with either of you if that's my fate, but I'd rather we could just stay friends, to be honest."
"Hahaha. I know. So do I. Don't worry, I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet! I'm determined to find myself a nice guy tonight and rock his socks off, but I haven't given up on true love. Not by a long shot!" She radiated.
"I'm happy to hear that," Her friend smiled. "That's why I wanted to ask..."
"Huh? What's wrong?"
Mako hesitated. Her chances of success were very slim. Almost none existent in fact. But was it better to live on the friendship you received from the person you loved than to risk your heart and suffer the pain of clear rejection? She had decided it wasn't. And if there was one thing she had learned from Rei it was that maybe it didn't even really matter. She had made her decision and she was going to see this trough.
"I will be your wingman tonight, I might even dance and have fun with your guy's buddy... But when we get back home there is someone I'm going to confess to."
A shadow of loneliness fell over Minako for a moment and Mako suddenly felt like she had betrayed her, but the blonde brightened up. She knew Makoto would never allow her to become a third wheel. Even if she was successful, their friendship was too strong, their bond too deep. Their sexual preference might exclude them from pursuing the bond Haruka and Michiru had, but that didn't mean their hearts weren't connected in equal measure.
"Go for it! Give it all you got!"
"Don't worry. I stand little chance," Mako looked away.
"Yes you do," Her friend smiled. "You are awesome Mako-chan! If you love this person he will love you back."
The brunette scratched the back of her head.
"Well, he has been in love with someone else for a long time."
Minako smiled more genuinely now as she started to remember things she had noticed this past year and pictured her friend together with the person she imagined had stolen her heart.
She came closer and took Mako's hands in her own. Both young women felt like giddy school girls again.
"You would be too cute together for fate to deny your happiness. You're going to make him love you. And you don't have to feel like you are getting in the way of what could be. We all know if that hasn't happened by now it's never going to happen. Give it your all, and in a few years time I'm going to cuddle all of your raggedy haired children."
Mako pulled the surprised blonde to her ample chest.
"Thank you Minako-chan. Thank for your support.
I won't disappoint you!"
A sudden knock made them part.
The tall brunette opened the door to Rei who eyed her from top to bottom.
"Aw!" She pretended to be repelled after touching the brunette's shoulder with her finger. "You're electrifying!"
"We've known each other for seven years and you make that joke now?" Makoto sweated.
The miko's grin turned to a frown as she entered the cabin and looked from one to her other friend.
"What's been going on in here?"
"What do you mean?" Minako asked, pretending to finish packing.
"Oh? Fine. You don't have to tell me. I have secrets too."
"I just told Mina-chan I have someone at home... that I like," Makoto blushed.
"That's great news! Mako-chan, you sneak," Rei nudged her friend. "So you've been secretly nurturing a romance at home?"
"Hahahahaha!" Minako suddenly interrupted with a maniac laugh. "So are you girls in the mood to party?! Because I want the Senshi bachelorettes to go out with a bang tonight!"
Her friends stared at her with two pairs of dead eyes.
"Seriously Mina-chan." "Don't call us that."
"Alright. You can look now."
Mamoru opened his eyes to a spectacular sight:
Usagi was dressed in a knee-length white skirt and a blue and white top covered under a short white vest with beige and yellow accents. Gorgeous beige high heels completed the picture. Her trademark hairstyle was left unaltered.
"Stunning as ever," Her boyfriend smiled as he got up.
He took Usagi's hand and let her twirl around under his gaze.
"My Prince?" His girlfriend bowed.
A sad grimace flitted over his face for less than a second as disappointment asserted itself.
"We seem like a fairytale in reverse. I hope I will be on time to turn my rags into a leisurely tuxedo before the clock strikes twelve."
"Don't feel guilty about leaving me without your company. I know you do. We all actually feel very guilty for having so much fun while you are here working and working. I'm sorry you didn't get to enjoy this trip more," Usagi caressed his face.
"I..." Once again Mamoru felt guilty for honestly doubting he would have as much fun dancing with his girlfriend as he had while doing his job. He wondered whether he would ever fall in love with her again or live the rest of his life a lie.
"As long as you have fun all my hard work has been worth it."
"I'll make it up to you. When we get home I'll spoil you for a whole month," Usagi smiled.
"I look forward to it," He grinned as he let go of her.
She slowly walked to the door of their cabin.
"I'm almost ready anyway. I'll work as hard as I can so I'll be able to spin you around in an hour or two," He called out from behind his laptop screen.
Usagi searched for a good answer for a few seconds.
"Thank you. I'll see you soon," And left.
Mamoru let his eyes linger on the place where she had just stood before concentrating on his work again.
"Ah! What a waste."
Usagi leaned her back against the hallway, her palms pressed against the wall behind her.
She hung her head as tears started to flow.
"I'm sorry I can't love you like I should," She whispered, wiping her eyes.
"I'm sorry for not telling you what's going on. I'm sorry for what I'm doing. But I need to keep on doing it."
She wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
Just then she heard the sounds of familiar voices around the corner.
She hurried to Minako and Makoto's room and saw Rei and Ami come out with them.
The blackette was wearing a flowing violet evening-dress that left her shoulders bare. Her hair was pinned up.
It made her seem softer and less intense than she was to most people. But to Usagi who knew the other sides to her friend's personality, it accentuated the sides that were mostly reserved to her. The dedication, the teasing, the kindness, the comfort, the challenge. All the things she got from Rei out of love for who she is.
All the things that told her she was special to Rei. Rei... who was special to her. Who was more important than life itself.
Most people only got to see the Rei who could burn things to a cinder, but Usagi knew the Rei who's love warmed and comforted.
It took her friend a moment to realize Usagi was standing behind them. She turned around while her friends walked on unawares. Enchanted by Usagi's appearance in her cute ensemble she couldn't help staring back at the young woman in front of her.
Her face was blank, defenseless.
Meanwhile, the girl she admired was still lost in reverie. Remembering how Rei had loved her for all those years. Not because she was their Princess, not because she was Sailor Moon. But because she was an annoying, clumsy, lazy, hyper girl who constantly got into trouble and had to be reminded to take things seriously.
"What are you crying about you moron?!"
Usagi smiled at the rough expression of love.
"Stop worrying about other people. You should enjoy the benefits of your boyfriend's career," Rei admonished as her friend wiped her eyes.
She closed the distance between them and smiled, offering her hand which Usagi took and together they followed their friends outside to the ballroom.
Outside on the lido deck, an area had been reserved and decorated for the outdoor ball.
A DJ was playing appropriate music and everyone was dressed at their finest for a night of fun, slow dancing and trying to spend the night in someone else's cabin.
"So you guys are going to choose a partner now?"
"That's the plan, yes," Minako grinned.
"If they don't choose us first, that is," Makoto added.
"Forget about that. I'm done waiting. I choose... That guy."
Minako pointed at a tall handsome guy who was talking at one of the cocktail tables with his friends over a couple of gin-tonics.
"Come on Mako-chan, Ami-chan. Let's go!"
Usagi grimaced as her very determined friend walked up to the pair with the other two indulgingly laughing young women in tow.
"Don't worry. Mina-chan has good judgment in men at least. They'll have a fun evening with a couple of nice guys and sleep with them if nothing more, but they'll be alright even if they don't."
Rei gave her friend a well-meant wink.
"Our love life is our concern. You just look after your own."
"Excuse me miss? I hope I'm not disturbing but I've seen you a few times now these past days and... I really hoped you would come to the ball so I could ask you to dance."
"I would love too."
Rei graciously offered her hand.
"See? Go get that workaholic of yours, pull his face from between his laptop and join us," She challenged Usagi.
Their Princess smiled broadly as she saw her friends dance around with their dates.
"Excuse me miss? You seem so happy just watching that I couldn't resist asking you to join in."
She bowed to her dance partner and followed him to the dance floor while Makoto and her date went to get some drinks.
Rei really looked dazzling, Usagi followed her with her eyes however she turned.
"Where are you from? I'm from Chiba."
"Oh?" Her partner laughed nervously as he looked in the direction she kept turning her head towards.
"My name is Oshiro Koji. What's yours?"
"Hey Rei-chan," Minako laughed as she and her partner came near. "Kudos on picking up Tsubasa the clown."
The black-haired woman frowned at the sheepishly grinning young man she was dancing with.
"My real name is Kawaguchi Ju-long. My mother is Chinese."
"Are you allowed to socialize with passengers?" Rei smirked.
"Hahahaha! Please don't get me into trouble."
"I hope you washed your hands after your last performance?"
"That plunger is just a stage prop, you know. We never really use it."
"Listen..." Koji grimaced. "I get the feeling you're not really interested in dancing with me, so I'm just going to get something to drink. Have a nice evening Tsukino-san."
Rei's laughter sounded like a melody from her childhood. Or maybe another childhood than that one. A childhood where they danced and laughed and played together. Still innocent to the dangers that would threaten their world.
Those loose strands of hair behind the miko's ear hypnotized her. That smile made her heart jump. Her fluent movements sang to her soul.
As Rei and her partner came near her their eyes met and as if their minds communicated without words Rei stood still in front of her.
Put on your red shoes and dance the blues... ]
"May I cut in?" Usagi asked.
Ju-long looked from one to the other and realized the woman he was dancing with was never going to be interested in him.
"Oh, okay. Why not."
"You're really pushing it aren't you?" Rei scowled as Usagi took her hand and broke the spell.
"I can dance with my friends can't I. I've danced with Mako-chan and Ami-chan and Haruka-chan before. I've danced with you before."
[Because, my love for you
Would break my heart in two... ]
"Yes, but not like this."
Usagi really tried. But somehow instead of whirling and twirling Rei elegantly over the dance floor they just kept bumping into each other.
"Aagh! You're terrible," Rei grinned.
"Come, let me lead."
Things improved a lot from then on.
Rei had become a very good dancer thanks to the lessons her mother had forced her to take a few years ago.
As they turned around and around in each other's arms they got lost in each other's gaze.
[And if you say run I'll run with you
And if you say hide We'll hide...]
"Rei-chan... I need to tell you something. About my goal," Usagi whispered as she broke eye contact and rested her head on her friend's shoulder.
Rei couldn't get angry. She just felt intensely happy.
"I love you, Rei-chan."
For once the dangers their feelings could represent didn't even enter her mind.
[Under the moonlight, this serious moonlight...]
She buried her face in Usagi's neck, taking in her scent and closed her eyes as they twirled around.
Their hearts beat in unison as they danced through the evening.
And they never danced with anyone else.
Mamoru made sure nobody had seen him as he returned to his room.
He sat down and heaved a deep, shuddering sigh.
Sometimes an image really did say more than a thousand words.
What he had seen forced him to rethink everything. But he felt he shouldn't disturb what was happening. He warned himself not to jump to conclusions but didn't delude himself either. He had seen enough to know that everything he thought he knew had changed and now he had decisions to make.
Imaginary end credits = Ficher Z - The Worker
Chapter 3: Act Three: Clouds across the moon
As they stepped into the taxi's that took them to their hotel after lunch the next day the approaching storm became obvious to everyone.
All activities on land were suspended and most passengers spend the day in their cabin.
The ride to the hotel was awkward, with Usagi sitting next to the driver and Mamoru and Rei in the back.
Each too engrossed with their own immediate worries to provide or desire much conversation.
The wind was already picking up strength by the time they checked in.
Rei took her friend aside as Mamoru went to the front desk and their other friends entered the lobby.
"Come to our room after dinner. I'll send Ami-chan away with some excuse. It's time to talk about the things I've seen."
Usagi nodded gravely.
"I wanted to ask you to tell me tomorrow because I expected tonight to be Mamoru-kun's only free evening, but it turns out he will have a video conference after dinner."
She looked at her boyfriend with sad, guilty eyes.
"It seems they can't even give him one free evening."
"He can't let things go on like this. He's got to let them know there's a limit to the amount of work he can handle.
At least he's got you to support him."
Usagi was surprised to see the emphatic smile with which Rei was looking at her as she turned around to face her. It was clear her friend was going to continue ignoring who it was she really wanted to be with.
"Come on. Let's go unpack," The miko strode forward as Mamoru hailed them.
"Yes?" The bluehead looked up from her book with a genial smile.
After dinner, they had gone to their respective rooms. Rei was nervous about telling Usagi about the threat that she had seen and it showed in her fidgeting. Ami immediately took notice.
"What's wrong?" She asked with a concerned look.
"I asked Usagi to come here after dinner. I have to talk to her... about things. Important things."
Ami stood up without prompting.
"I can spend the evening with Mako-chan and Mina-chan if you want to be alone?"
"That would be wonderful of you."
Rei's roommate packed her book and laptop and came towards her.
"Rei-chan... I know this is hardest on you. I know you don't want to cause any trouble, but... even if you do... I will be on your side."
"What are you talking about?"
Ami smiled. "I think you have done more than can be asked of you. The love you feel for Usagi-chan... It is equal to Mamoru-kun's in its beauty and purity if nothing else. Whatever the consequences, whatever happens next, I can't blame you."
Rei gave her friend a curious look.
"Thank you... But that is academic. Because I won't allow anything to happen."
Ami rested her hands on her friend's shoulders.
"Rei-chan... The Crystal Tokyo we visited was hundreds of years into the future.
I believe the future cannot be altered.
Chibi-Usa will be born, Mamoru-kun and Usagi-chan will be King and Queen of Crystal Tokyo no matter what happens. That is what I believe. But anything might happen before that time... Or even after.
Another thing I believe is that the love we all share, the friendship between us all is strong enough to survive anything that might happen in between now and the future we saw."
"I think we were wrong before when we agreed Usagi-chan should never know what you feel for her. And I know we have been unfair to you, expecting you to get over your feelings because we believed it was the right thing to do. Maybe the right thing to do is for you to challenge the future. Because I know that is what Usagi-chan would want you to do.
The love you feel for her is a selfless love. It has saved the world on more than one occasion because of your sacrifice. The rest of us have always know Sailor Moon's life can never truly be in danger as long as Sailor Mars is near.
The love you feel for her enables her to perform miracles.
Don't let that love die Rei-chan."
Ami smiled again and left her alone in their room, gently closing the door behind her.
I wish I could be so confident, " Rei smiled bitterly at the door. "But every time I do a fire reading specifically for the relationship between Mamo-kun, Chibi-Usa, Usagi and me, all I see is an endless void.
She poured out some tea for the both of them and paced back and forth as the storm finally broke loose in full force before Usagi knocked.
Usagi saw a furious bolt of lightning illuminate the view of the city behind Rei trough the room-wide window as she closed the door behind her.
"Hello," She greeted timidly.
I think you better sit down. I made some tea for you."
Rei went to the window and closed the curtains. She had been too preoccupied to realize, but this was actually a really bad time to talk about this with Usagi.
"Do you want us to put this off till after the storm?"
"No thank you Rei-chan. I've gotten better with lighting after all. I'll be alright," Her friend smiled.
Rei gazed at Usagi for half a minute, making her friend feel happy and uncomfortable.
Another thunderbolt colored the window sheets and startled the blonde, snapping Rei out of her dreamy stare and reflect how cute Usagi was.
She went to fetch the tea.
"Are you angry with me for what I told you when we danced?"
Rei froze in her movement. A barely perceptible grin showed on her face as she remembered what she really felt while dancing with Usagi that evening.
Nobody but the woman who was now in the room with her could recognize that expression as a smile. It made Usagi's heart flutter.
But we can't talk about that now. We need to focus on something far more important than our erratic love life."
Usagi sat down in a soft straight-backed armchair.
Rei put the teacup down on a stylish coffee table next to her and stood behind the opposite armchair a meter or two in front of her friend, leaning on it's back.
Rolling thunder and bright flashes diffused the constant howling of the wind and the torrent pounding against the windows to Usagi's left.
"I have been getting horrible visions since shortly before we started on the cruise," The latter talked quietly.
"Since I knew I wouldn't get the chance for two weeks I almost immediately consulted the flames about them."
She sighed and hung her head slightly.
"I'm sorry Usagi, but what I'm going to tell you is the very worst I could ever tell you. This is going to be extremely painful."
Usagi saw tears coming down her friend's cheeks, dropping from the chin underneath her clenched teeth.
"That's exactly why I want you to tell me!" She exclaimed.
"I want to bear this pain with you Rei-chan! It's time to stop living on your own!" Rei looked up slowly and stopped crying.
"I want you so much to..." Usagi wrung her hands. "I want to share everything with you," She continued more timidly.
Rei smiled, then grimaced.
"I wish you didn't have to share this."
Like the crack in a broken heart, lightning struck the weeping heavens as Rei told her friend the horrors she had seen in her visions and fire readings.
As the horrific vivid account poured down on Usagi like the rain on Hiroshima the true scale of what Rei was talking about gradually became clear and the blonde was filled with a cold, empty dread.
Desperation made her question the veracity of what she had been told, seek loopholes to escape the logic of her friend's conclusions and beg to consider other possibilities.
But as she had expected Rei had examined the situation from every side and inside out.
There was no conclusion then the only one the miko could have made.
The one she was putting before her friend right now.
With all the power at their disposal, they were utterly helpless to stop or change the future invasion of earth.
Usagi sat down quietly after she had heard it all.
"Why did you tell me this?" She asked softly through her tears.
Her friend responded gently, looking down at her with regret and pain in her heart.
"Because we have to be prepared. You... You have to take charge and guide us through this."
Usagi shuddered as she cried and didn't say anything for a few minutes.
"I did not want to know this... I don't want this to be true."
"I know," Rei sighed, looking out of the window.
"Neither did I."
Usagi looked up.
"I'm sorry... I..."
"It's alright. I didn't mean it like that," Her friend smiled sadly. "I just... I wish there was something we could do besides damage control... I wish this would happen far further into the future."
"Are you really sure there is nothing we can do?! " Usagi exclaimed again, sobbing as the words left her lips.
Rei walked towards her and squatted, holding the blonde's hands inside her own and resting her head on her friend's soaked lap.
"If I could absorb all the pain this causes you together with your tears. If I knew there was the smallest chance we could stop this..."
"I want to protect everyone!"
"What use are all of our powers if we can't do this?!"
"I don't want this. I don't want to be the Queen of a graveyard.
I don't want to be useless while millions of people die."
Rei sat up and held Usagi in her arms, letting her sob on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
I'm sorry I had to tell you this.
I'm sorry you have to tell this to the others.
I'm sorry for all the pain and death.
I'm sorry for being useless.
I'm sorry I love you so much for suffering as much as you do just from hearing this."
Usagi calmed down together with the storm.
She slept in Rei's bed that night, while her friend slept on a futon beside her.
Mamoru acted as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world when Ami went to their room to tell him.
Sailor Mercury managed to disintegrate the left arm and chest of one of the colossal humanoid creatures with her High-Pressure Beam.
"More than half the world's population will die in the first 100 years of the invasion."
Sailor Uranus temporarily incapacitated another monster with her attack and as soon as the soldiers had loaded the bus with refugees they jumped on top and they drove away, trying to defend as best they could against the swooping creatures overhead.
"You cannot save them. Try to find peace with that or you will die in a foolish attempt to do the impossible. Condemning Humanity to extinction as a result."
The 30 story building crumbled to dust in front of them as they escaped, monsters jumping out as it fell.
"This is not a dream..."
Rei peered through the darkness, sighing softly.
She became aware of someone watching her and looked up at Usagi leaning over the edge of the bed with a concerned expression.
"Did you have another one?" She whispered.
The miko nodded and looked her in the eyes.
"How long have you been watching?" She asked after a while.
Her friend looked uncomfortable.
Rei turned under her sheet.
"Go to sleep. You had a lot to process this evening."
"Get in here with me."
She hesitated. This wasn't right. She had allowed Usagi to get too close already. It's her own fault. This is her responsibility. She had to be firm again. With Usagi and with herself.
"The bed is too narrow. We couldn't sleep like that. Besides... You should be sleeping with Mamoru-kun. I shouldn't take advantage."
She felt fingers touch her shoulder.
Opening her eyes she turned around and looked up into Usagi's pleading eyes.
"I want to be your comfort. Stop sacrificing yourself."
"Obey your queen," Her friend added with a kind, yet arch smile.
After a defeated heavy sigh Rei got up and lied down in the bed next to Usagi, covering herself with her own sheet.
"You're wrapping yourself up like a Negi sausage. Heaven forbid our bodies might touch."
A playful foot caressed Rei's and the miko gave her friend a warning look.
"Let's keep faithful to our boyfriend or our bodies might touch in a very unpleasant manner."
Their faces were close, as was the rest of their bodies. It was a narrow fit, lying side by side. It could have become very awkward and the sexual tension could have gotten to both of them, but surprisingly it didn't. Lying so close together after they had become aware of their more than friendly feelings for each other and sharing such a painful heartrending secret as they just had they only felt very safe and happy in the intimacy of their emotional bond.
Besides, Ami wasn't a meter away.
"Now go to sleep and dream of nice things," Usagi kissed the tip of her finger and put it to her blushing friend's forehead.
"What are you smiling at, you moron?" Rei grinned. "Neither of us is going to get any sleep cramped up like this."
They got the most refreshing sleep they had gotten in a long time.
When she got up Ami looked at them with an indulging smile and prepared breakfast. They woke up to the scent of fresh tea and the unceasing showering of the rain outside.
"Welcome to Tokorozawa! The V-Shine hotel boasts the best lodgings in town.
For only 450¥ you can spend the night in one of our luxury suites."
"You haven't got a hotel yet," Rei muttered while dutifully paying the 450¥ required for her stay.
"Oh, Rei-chan. Don't ruin my imagination."
Usagi was sitting next to her, being partnered with her for the game. But she had started to lose interest in the game and ended up gazing outside.
"Always so elaborate," Ami murmured.
"It's a pity we're losing a whole day of sightseeing like this," Her boyfriend stated as he fondled her free hand and watched the unrelenting rain outside.
"We still have plenty of time to see all we wanted to. Besides, for Mamoru-kun, this is a working holiday. We can hardly complain." Makoto moved her car eight steps toward Minamimihontetudou. "We're buying, Ami," The brunette's partner interrupted.
"We'll start with the A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum tomorrow."
Rei looked up and coughed while Ami helped herself to Nagasaki.
"Humm, I was thinking after all this rain we might want to do something a little less sad tomorrow. How about we visit Shukkeien and Hiroshima castle first?"
Usagi turned towards her.
"You don't have to..."
Rei gave her a supporting smile.
"Won't the park be swampy after this rain?"
"We could go shopping in that case." Minako smiled.
"I wouldn't mind that," The miko winked at her smiling partner.
Usagi took Rei's hand under cover of the closeness of their bodies and was disappointed when her friend pulled it away and rolled the dice with a poker face.
"That's 8 steps and Ginza is mine! Here's 4000 ¥ Ami-chan."
"How is Mamoru-kun by the way?" Ryo asked, looking from her to Usagi in a way that made Rei feel like ignoring him. "Ami-chan told me he's been working too hard lately?"
"It's hard to get him to take it easy," Usagi sighed. "He really loves what he's doing."
"Which makes getting out of the overwork trap even more difficult. A professor of mine I get along with really well with told me his body and mind just gave up on him a few years ago. He loved his job too, didn't mind when he was asked to do more and more work. He even sought extra work at first and was happy to get it. He didn't see how the overwork killed his social life and how in the end he spent every waking hour and every day of the week at University.
He lost his job because he loved it too much."
Usagi and Rei's eyes met briefly after the last remark and poignant look from Ryo.
"It took him a long time and a lot of help before he could see how he caused so much damage to himself and why he should learn to have a different relationship to work."
"Maybe YOU should have a talk with him then Ryo-kun, because Usagi already tried," The miko gave him a penetrating look.
"Can you mind our business while I make tea, Usagi?"
Her partner nodded quietly while Ami poked her grimacing boyfriend in the ribs.
"I didn't tell him," Ami came to help her friend in the kitchen of their hotel room.
"I know. We have similar abilities. He's got "I found out all these things about you because of my powers" written all over him. You can tell him I don't want to talk about it."
They waited for the water to boil.
"He's got... a less supportive view on things then I do."
"I don't really care what he thinks since it's none of his business."
Rei sighed and looked her friend in the eye.
"It's gone too far," She whispered.
Ami put a hand on her shoulder.
"So you still think pursuing a relationship with Usagi-chan is wrong?"
"I think it's dangerous. I have been endangering lives since I kissed her.
And all for this lunacy called love."
"You don't know for certain that your love endangers lives! It might end up saving them."
Rei poured the tea.
"Am I being too pessimistic?"
"I think so. So does Usagi-chan apparently.
Maybe you clairvoyant types are just a little fatalistic. But you're also very kind and cute," Ami smiled. "And you're great kissers." She giggled.
She took the first plate with cups and they prepared to return to the others.
"Maybe you should just leave it all to Usagi-chan. I'll take care of Ryo-kun."
"You might have the room to yourself tonight. I wonder which bed Usagi-chan would prefer to share," She threw back with a teasing look.
After turning into a drizzle in the early afternoon it had finally stopped raining in the early evening, and from the balcony, the sky looked light and fresh. Relieved of its burden it was covering itself up for rest in order to start the new day with vigor.
Rei turned as she heard the bell and went inside, closing the window after her.
She opened the door to a face she had anticipated seeing this evening.
"So you came?"
"Knowing full well you didn't want me too? Yes," Usagi cheered.
"So what are you doing?"
She knew Rei would let her in any way.
They both knew that. And she took full advantage of it. If her friend thought she could end their romance after a night of dancing and a sleepover she was gravely mistaken.
Rei moved aside and held a hand out to the sofa.
"I was just reading the manga I had taken with me. I hadn't had a chance to read them until now."
The blonde bounced into the sofa and looked over the titles lying there.
"Oh! You got the latest volume of One Piece."
Rei sat next to her and bowed her head to Usagi, giving her an annoyed grin.
"I get the feeling you and Ami-chan had a little talk. You are not sleeping over tonight."
"So strict," Usagi sighed.
"Just so we're clear."
Rei sat back and finished the manga she had been reading before going to the balcony to watch the evening sky and the city again.
She looked so serious. She didn't know how cute she looked when she was so serious. Usagi could have told her being this strict with her was probably the worst thing she could do to chase her off. She grinned at the irritated expression her friend made as she realized she was being watched.
"If you want something to snack there's still a packet of cookies I hid from your binge this afternoon. Don't you dare get the pages dirty."
"Thank you Rei-chan."
She slyly leaned in for a kiss, but her friend had anticipated her and leaned away.
Presently deterred, Usagi hung her head and walked to the kitchen.
Sitting next to Rei, stuffing her face and reading manga was the most exquisite penultimate most sublime state of happiness there was in life.
This was the closest thing to paradise mortals could obtain. The Moon Kingdom didn't reach the foundations of this moment when it came to pure bliss.
"You're certainly cheerful."
"It's because I'm with you," Usagi smiled.
Rei cringed but blushed deeply realizing she could make her friend this happy after telling her the world was about to end and they would not be able to stop that from happening.
"Don't say such things. We have far more important things to consider. As soon as you are ready we should tell the others about my visions and decide on a plan."
"I actually think your initial idea was a good one. I'm happy you told me what you have been struggling with alone for so long. I'm really happy you chose to tell me. That is a really healthy evolution."
"I told you before: stop pretending you're a therapist," Rei growled.
"Hihihi. Oh!" Usagi saw the clock. "It's getting late. I should get back to Mamoru-kun."
She got up and looked down at her friend.
"I'm glad Rei-chan. I want you to share all of your troubles with me, and I with you. But to answer your question: I think it's better to tell the others when we get back home."
Rei looked at her in disbelief.
"But... The reason I told you everything, is because we should begin to accept that we cannot fight this threat as we usually do and reorganize ourselves accordingly, sooner better than later."
Rei-chan could be such a scaredy cat sometimes. Of course, there was a great danger. But there always was. They defeated Death Phantom, they defeated the Soul Merchants, they defeated Nebula Supreme. They were the defenders of earth and they would find a way to save humanity one way or another.
Usagi stopped at the door.
"Don't worry Rei-chan. I know you saw terrible things, and I was terrified by what you told me. But we will find a way. We always do. Just trust in Sailor Moon," She winked.
"No matter how many enemies or how powerful, we will always find a way to protect the people of earth.
Now calm down and try to get a good night's rest. I wish you would let me spend the night with you..." Usagi smiled sadly and hung her head for a moment.
"... but you still won't allow your own happiness... and mine," She whispered and looked up.
"I love you Rei-chan. I want you to be happy, so sleep peacefully and tomorrow we'll have fun together."
Usagi gently closed the door behind her.
But Rei's mind was in turmoil.
She didn't get it! She didn't get it at all!
No, that's not true. She got it alright. But her God complex had taken over again because she couldn't accept it. Just as Rei had feared. This was a disaster! If Usagi was planning on leading them against the creatures Rei had seen in her vision they would all die! Rei had thought she had found the right balance between harshness and gentleness. She felt Usagi had realized the gravity of the situation while receiving the comfort she needed to accept what she had been told. Rei had used all her powers of conviction to convey the fatality of what was coming in the most tempered way she could imagine. But now it seems she had to try harder still.
"Usagi, you moron! You think you are saving me from worry? You just keep adding to them!"
Lying in her bed after Mamoru had gone to sleep Usagi suddenly found herself worrying. The way Rei had told what was coming rather than what she had told her had scared her more than she dared admit.
But she couldn't let something this horrible happen. Somehow they would fight it and prevail.
A cold feeling stabbed at her heart and she turned in her bed.
They would prevail. They would save everyone. As usual.
They would prevail.
Sailor Moon will save everyone!
She dreamed of being trapped in a bubble on an asteroid in another galaxy, watching people's souls being sucked from their bodies while her friends tried to get her back.
Mamoru held her as she woke up crying, wondering why the nightmares had come back.
"Remember to keep your promise."
Ami was walking hand in hand with her boyfriend towards Shukkeien garden where the others were waiting for them.
After the storm on Sunday and the rain yesterday the weather had cleared up and the sun was shining in all it's splendor. The rest of their trip seemed to be safe from the weather for now.
"I know," Ryo smiled. "I won't bother Usagi-chan and Rei-chan about what's happening between them."
"Don't lie to me," She squeezed his hand.
"What? I'm not lying."
"I can tell when you're lying. You've got that face. You're up to no good.
"What face," He laughed. "I thought you loved my face?"
He leaned in for a kiss.
"I'll bite you."
Ryo moved away in playful shock at the look his girlfriend gave him.
"I won't bother them about it. I promise."
"You said you wouldn't bother Mamoru-kun about it, but you admitted to testing him."
"Yeah," He paused. "I shouldn't have done that. The way he talked, it was weird. I don't know."
"Nothing. Just a feeling. You were right before. We don't know what's going on. Maybe we should trust them to resolve the matter in their own way. But you shouldn't bother them either," He reprimanded.
"I can't help it," Ami shrugged. They're my closest friends."
Ryo gave her a look.
"Yes, yes. I'll leave them to work it out in their own way."
They saw their friends waving at Kabukimon gate.
Ami noticed right away that Usagi nor Rei was looking in a very good mood.
They entered the garden and walked leisurely, following the winding path along the herbal garden, the ginkgo park, and the rice garden.
Rei walked briskly in front, obviously aiming to walk ahead of Usagi while Makoto and Minako walked side by side a while behind her and a morose Usagi had Ami and her boyfriend by her side.
The garden had dealt with the rain very well and had luckily only sustained minor damage from the storm.
They were able to enjoy it's wondrous beauty to the fullest.
Ami repeatedly tried to engage her friend with observations while Ryo stalked sneaky glances at Rei all the while.
He saw his chance finally when he realized she had stayed behind at the round flower gazing bench without Ami's noticing and skillfully lingered behind before disappearing from his lover's view.
"Hey Rei-chan," He smiled as he approached her.
"I thought I was clear when I told your girlfriend I didn't want to talk with you about what you know?"
"I'm sorry," He sat down beside her. "I think we both know what is going on between you and Usagi-chan could have important consequences, but after what Ami-chan told me I'll trust in your judgment, so I won't bother you about it."
The miko turned her head and gave him a look.
"You know very well that's not what I'm talking about. I recognize the look in your eyes from the mirror. I know what you saw. Back off. This is my responsibility and I'm taking it."
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to put more pressure on you. I know you have enough on your mind already. I only want to help. I know how it feels to carry this burden."
Rei softened and smiled at him.
"Our little clairvoyant self-help group."
"I talked to Michiru-chan, but she didn't want to say much about what she had seen. I guess she didn't want to trouble me with things I hadn't."
The blackette frowned and stared at the pond.
"She called before we left, I managed to convince her to keep her visions to herself for now."
"This can't wait. You have to tell the others."
"I thought you weren't going to pressure me?"
"Those creatures are going to be here sooner than you think. You have to be prepared."
"I know that! I have to prepare Usagi before I tell the others. You think that is so easy after what Mesmerphistopheles did? After Setsuna sacrificed herself to stop Nebula Supreme? Usagi has a strong, beautiful heart, but in reality, she is very fragile and doesn't deal well with loss..."
"You haven't told her yet?"
"I have... But she... You have to understand, after the mall..."
They sighed and remembered what had happened, or in Ryo's case what he had been told."
"She still hasn't talked about it?"
"People are going to die. A lot of people. And she has to lead us through it all. I... I don't know how I am going to get her to be able to deal with that."
"Why do you have to do that?"
Rei turned her face to him.
"It's not your responsibility. Neither are the visions. You never contacted me."
"I'm sorry," She sighed. "I was busy doing fire readings. This is why we wanted to create this understanding between us: For Michiru-chan and me it's important to communicate about these things, but it's important for you to have someone to talk to when you have a vision."
"You asked Michiru-chan to contact me. I don't blame you for not doing so yourself. I knew you would be busy doing fire-readings. What I wanted to talk to you about was to ask how I could help?"
"Like I said: The reason Michiru-chan and me decided to involve you in our 'Visionary Club' was so we could be of help to YOU. I appreciate your concern but you and Ami-chan work hard at your careers."
"So do you. And you help your grandfather and you have your obviously strong feelings for Usagi-chan to deal with. Not to mention you're her study coach, war councilor and everything in between! Let someone help you with this. I can do little things. Whatever. It's not a bother."
"Stay out of it Ryo-chan! This IS my responsibility. You are a civilian and civilians shouldn't be touched by war."
"We are always touched by war!"
"Not if I can help it!"
Ryo sighed in defeat.
"You are as bad as Mamoru-kun."
"That is not a compliment. Did you listen to anything I told you about my friend at university yesterday?"
"Here you are!" Ami grinned in annoyance with Usagi and their friends by her side.
The visionaries turned their heads at once.
"We assumed they had to use the restroom, but it seems they wanted to have a romantic moment together," The bluehead winked at Usagi.
Rei looked at her alarmed companion.
"He wasn't a bother," She said, getting up and walking towards her friends. "We were talking about his studies."
Ami tilted her head.
"You are a bad liar Rei-chan. Don't try to defend my boyfriend when I find him violating what we agreed on earlier."
Usagi thought the woman she loved was looking tired. Not that she was feeling any better.
As she passed her by she tried to walk along and take her hand, but Rei coldly brushed it off and upped her pace.
These rejections were starting to really hurt her, for more than one reason. She gritted her teeth and followed her briskly walking friend with the others in tow.
"I'm sorry Ami-chan. I know you told me she doesn't want to pursue a relationship with Usagi-chan, but I wanted to clear some things up with her."
"Stop insulting me. I've known from before we got here that something else is going on. Tell me the truth."
"I'm sorry. I can't. I promised, sort of. Even though I hate it."
"What is it?" Ami looked at him with worry in her eyes. "A vision?"
"Rei-chan wants to talk it through with Usagi-chan before they tell the rest of you."
"Rei-chan," The young genius sighed. "You are my boyfriend though. I never liked that understanding between you, her and Michiru-chan. It's like a conspiracy against your lovers," She glared at her boyfriend.
"I know," He smiled sheepishly. "But I think it's actually beneficial to us. It's really helped me to feel more relaxed with that part of myself. And I agree with Rei-chan there might be a tactical advantage to having us reflect on our visions together so we can better understand what will happen before we tell the rest of you..."
He smiled. "Well, yes."
His girlfriend playfully punched him.
"Oh look!" Minako exclaimed. "It's Koko-Kyo bridge.
The others looked ahead at the bridge Rei was standing on to watch her surroundings with Usagi in pursuit.
"Isn't there a tradition about Koko-Kyo that says if you walk over it with the person you love you will be together forever?" Rei and Usagi heard Makoto ask.
The miko was annoyed to see the intrigued look on the face of her blonde friend and hurried to bar her way with a stern expression.
Usagi gritted her teeth.
"Move aside! Your Queen commands you!" She turned to Ami and whined.
"Amiiii-chaan! Rei-chan won't let me walk over the bridge with her!"
"I know. I know," Their friend sweated. "Please play nice you two."
"Are you their mother?" Minako grimaced.
"You want to pass, my Queen? Bring all the knights you want. We could do with a little training."
"You lack a knights humility. Let me pass!"
"You want to come across?! Then wait till I do!"
"I will cross this bridge hand in hand with you!"
Usagi braced herself and pushed against her friend.
"Let it go!"
"No! Stop being so stubborn!"
"You stop being stubborn!"
They pushed against each other like a pair of wrestlers.
"Come on you two. We all want to cross," Makoto begged.
"It's not even this bridge that tradition is about," Ryo informed his girlfriend.
"I don't care. She should let me cross with her!"
In her rage, Rei took Usagi into a choking headlock which the blonde futilely tried to get out of by limply pulling on her friend's arms.
"When are you going to take this seriously?!"
"Rei-chan, please let her go," Their friends sighed, coming to the rescue.
"Come on Rei-chan."
"Her face is turning blue."
The blackette finally let go and Usagi croaked and spluttered in Makoto's arms.
"Are you guys actually regressing in your relationship?"
"It's all Rei-chan's fault. She keeps rejecting me even though she really wants us to cross that bridge together herself!" Usagi stuck out her tongue.
"Why, you little!"
Rei furiously went for her friend's neck. Makoto got in between them just in time to save the blonde from strangulation.
"Fine. Come over the bridge with me," The miko fumed. "For all the good it'll do you. On one condition! you'll have to answer three questions first."
"Ask what you want. I'm not afraid."
"I'll start with a question even you can answer. What is your name?"
"Tsukino Usagi," Her friend grimaced.
"What is your favorite color?"
"Red," Usagi grinned.
"Fine. What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?" Rei smirked.
"What do you mean?
An African or European swallow?"
"I don't know. A European swallow," A confused Rei answered.
"11 meters per second."
Everybody looked confounded.
"That... That's correct."
Usagi smiled and got on the bridge, taking her friend's hand.
Rei hung her head and allowed herself to be led over.
"How do know so much about swallows anyway?"
"Well, you have to know these things when you're a Queen, you know."
After further enjoying the beauty of Shukkeien garden and taking lunch together nearby, they walked through the grounds of Hiroshima castle.
Having explored the faithfully reconstructed Ninomaru at leisure they went to the main tower.
"I hope the museum will be interesting," Ami said.
"I read we can take pictures of each other wearing Samurai armor," Makoto smiled at Minako. "That should be good for some laughs."
"Hello. Who are you?!" A voice greeted them from the windows above the entrance.
Usagi looked up and saw two boys looking down on them.
"I am Tsukino Usagi and these are my knights."
"Aren't you getting a bit carried away with this knight thing?" Rei sighed.
"We want to visit the castle."
"You can't. This castle belongs to my master, the great Daimyo Heon Woo Noh."
"I thought everyone could visit? Can't we come up?"
"Of course not! You're all Japanese. You want to reclaim Hiroshima castle for yourselves. We conquered it fair and square."
"Why don't we just go in?" Ryo asked his girlfriend.
"They're cute aren't they?" Usagi grinned. Just wait a bit, this is fun. I'm good with kids."
"This IS going to be fun," Rei smirked and crossed her arms.
"Now listen here, you boys..."
"I don't wanna talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food-trough wiper! Go away!"
"What?! Maybe we should just get up there and teach you some manners!"
"You don't frighten us, you ugly noodle head!"
"This is your last chance!" The Queen yelled. "Let us in at once or I'll..."
"Let her have it!"
The others jumped aside as Usagi got pelted with nuts and berries.
"People have to stop throwing food at me!"
Suddenly she was pulled into the castle's entrance and looked wide-eyed at her black haired friend who stood and smiled in front of her while letting go of her pulse.
"You saved me," Usagi muttered after a few moments.
Rei's initially amused grin turned to a blush.
She turned around suddenly and followed their friends inside without a word.
Usagi smiled and joined them, enjoying the sights of the various artifacts and reading the explanations.
Ami and Ryo thoroughly enjoyed the reconstructions of samurai and civilian homes inside while Makoto and Minako had a blast dressing up on the third floor.
Usagi had lost track of Rei after that, but she found her lingering on the observation platform of the fifth floor after the others had left to get some souvenirs.
"Almost everything you can see around you is new. There was a time when there was nothing to see but death and destruction all around us," Usagi's friend said as she came near.
She followed the miko's gaze across the buildings and people.
"But people rebuilt everything. They picked up their lives again and made this city more beautiful than ever."
Rei smiled, but a few moments later her gaze grew dark again.
"And they will again. In many, many hundreds of years from now. But what is going to happen can't be stopped Usagi."
Rei hung her head.
"I'm sorry, but you know what I told you."
"We will stop it Rei! We will find a way! I know what you saw, but you know we always manage to save the world from whatever threat we face," Her friend maintained doggedly.
"I know. I'm sorry... I know how much it hurts, but we are going to have to confront..."
"Why don't you confront your feelings for me?" The blonde young woman growled.
"Because they aren't important. What's important is the future we have to preserve."
"What you want is not important?"
Rei looked at her friend and saw the tears in her eyes.
"What I want isn't important?!"
Usagi's heart revolted at the sadness in her friend's expression.
"Millions of people are going to die. So no. What we feel doesn't matter. We have a duty to perform. You have to become the Queen of Crystal Tokyo and together we have to protect the survivors."
Usagi was furious now. She loved and hated this part of Rei so much. This heroism you never expect to come across outside of epic tales. But right now it only angered her beyond reason.
Rei watched in surprise at her outburst
while bystanders discretely cleared the area around them.
"You and Mamoru-kun! Why do you always have to do what is right?! Why do you always have to act responsibly?! Why can't you live for yourselves?! Why can't you do what YOU want?!"
Usagi heaved a shuddering breath.
"You are just as important as anybody!
And YOU are most important to ME!"
She couldn't hold it anymore and ran off.
Downstairs. To the lavatory. To a place, she could give vent to the pain and frustration inside of her.
Her friend still stood motionless on the platform. Silent tears running down her cheek. Guilt piercing her heart.
Gradually her mind drifted off, dreaming about Usagi's words.
"Why can't you do what you want?!"
Rei remembered the day that question could have changed her life.
The day her mother came to visit the shrine. Rei was ten. She was dressed in her small Miko dress, guiding her mother along the Shrine and its grounds.
"You seem to know your way around very well."
"Yes, it's beautiful here."
"Has grandpa been taking good care of you?"
"Yes. Grandpa is very good to me,"
She got on tiptoes and whispered:
"He's a bit strange sometimes."
Her mother laughed aloud. She always laughed loud and clear, like a bell.
"Yes. Father has his ways. But like all harmless old men, we should humor him when possible."
The woman in front of her gave her a penetrating look.
"You are growing into a fine young woman Rei-chan. How is school?"
"Good. The teachers are kind and helpful. The other girls are a bit of a handful, but I got them to understand I need my personal space once in a while."
That made her mother laugh again.
"Daddy's girl. Nobody knows the trick of effortlessly getting people to love them like a Hino."
Her mother looked serious.
"Rei-chan. You have to tell us if you are unhappy here. You seem to be doing well. We are happy about that and we have the time to pursue our careers...
This is our solution, Rei-chan.
It seems to be a good one for all of us.
But if you are unhappy here you have to tell us.
We want to know.
So Rei-chan, what do you want?"
They had never asked her before.
She thought about it, but in the grand scheme of things, what she wanted didn't seem all that important. Her parents were free to excel in their careers and that was important. Her grandpa had someone to help him in the shrine and that was important.
So she agreed with her parents. She wanted to stay with grandpa because it was the right thing to do.
If Usagi and Rei's spirits were deflated, an afternoon going trough Hondori managed to lift them to at least normal levels.
While Usagi, Ryo, and Ami went to the bookstores and cake shops the other three visited the fashion stores.
Makoto had fun seeing Minako try to convince the more economic Rei to buy this or that dress in the hope of getting to loan it herself later on, but she and her blonde friend bought plenty of outfits for themselves.
In the evening they met up with Mamoru to have some Okonomiyaki together.
"You really let go didn't you?" He smiled as he saw the shopping bags they had with them.
Minako looked surprised.
"You think? I tried to moderate myself though."
"You even tried to get me to buy some dresses you liked Mina-chan."
"Usagi is right," Rei admonished. "You were terrible.
"Aw. I just can't get used to not being an idol anymore. All the wonderful clothes I got to wear for free," Minako sighed with stars in her eyes.
"As a teacher, you'll have to be sober and set a good example anyway. And you'll income will be considerably lower too," Ami smiled. "So you better get used to moderating yourself."
"You guys are too harsh."
"There, there," Makoto patted her slumping friend on the back.
"I'm sure you saved enough to get yourself something nice every now and then."
"I can always try to rekindle my career!" Minako fired up.
"Don't be ridiculous!" "Whoever heard of a teacher turned idol!" Rei and Makoto laughed on either side of her.
Usagi visibly had trouble finding room for her Okonomiyaki.
"I know Minako-chan wasn't the only glutton," Mamoru deadpanned after taking a sip of his drink. "How much did you eat before?"
"We tried to reign her in, but you know how she gets," Ryo quipped.
"You really are incorrigible. What am I going to do with you?"
"I don't care. I'm going to finish this. It's too good."
"You already had one earlier," Ami laughed.
"That's true," Usagi brought her index fingers together. "But this one is different."
"They're all different!" Makoto laughed while the rest of them joined in.
Everyone except for Rei, Usagi realized.
She turned to her left and blushed at the amused smile her friend was wearing.
"I just want you to have a good time," The miko whispered.
Usagi sat frozen for a moment while the laughter around her died down.
Then the sensation of Rei's hand squeezing her own under the table gave her a jolt that nearly sent Mamoru's drink over the table, causing another burst of laughter from her friends.
"I'm so tired. I'm going straight to bed," Rei said after she came back from bathing.
"Well, it's late enough anyway. I'll get over to Ryo-kun's place. I'm curious what he has in store for me after his promises of a night of romance and debauchery."
Ami giggled at her smiling friend, put her book aside and leaned over the back of the sofa she was sitting in.
The sun had almost completely disappeared behind the skyline to her right.
"I was glad to see you and Usagi-chan enjoy yourselves after the castle. Are you feeling better?"
Rei shrugged but smiled in the affirmative.
"It was fun. Especially at dinner, all of us together. That was nice."
"Yeah. It's been a while."
The miko started walking towards the bed-chamber again.
She stopped and turned. Ami gave her a knowing, concerned look.
"I don't like you keeping things to yourself. I know you, Ryo-chan and Michiru-chan are a comfort to each other when it comes to these things, and I understand your reasoning behind wanting to work out what you see before you talk to the rest of us about it. But..."
"When it comes to the battlefield I'm less effective than the rest of you. So I try to pull my weight where I can contribute."
"I understand that, but that's not at all how the rest of us feel. Your dedication more than makes up for your lack of power. Nobody wants you to burden yourself like that."
"It's not a burden. It's a privilege. I have powers that others don't have. So I use them in their aid."
Ami read the determined look of her roommate and knew further discussion would be futile.
"I know. Just... Don't push yourself, please."
"Thank you, Ami-chan. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," The bluehead half turned around before she remembered something.
"Oh. There's a present for you in the bed. Just something to help you sleep since you prefer to sleep alone," Ami mysteriously smiled.
Rei flicked on the light and closed the door of the bedroom.
On her pillow was a gift-wrapped something about the size of a cat.
For the flicker of a second, she entertained the possibility of Usagi having wrapped up Luna for a prank, before cautiously unpacking.
Inside was an Eternal Sailor Moon plushie.
Rei smiled and imagined all the Sailor Moon plushies she had collected for herself. Some of them given as presents by Ami, Minako or Makoto.
"That'll be my new favorite plushie from now on."
She saw a little note was left inside the gift paper.
"Now go to sleep and dream of nice things. Sailor Moon will always protect you," She read.
Rei got in bed and cuddled Sailor Moon, allowing herself to be happy being loved back by the most beautiful, most loving woman in the world.
Sailor Uranus screamed in agony as the gigantic creatures pounded her.
"This is not a dream."
Sailor Neptune was beside herself and relentlessly attacked the energy-field that kept her from intervening in the murder of her lover.
"I am using you as a receiver because of your powers."
The two tall cloaked birdlike creatures standing at the edge of the energy-field observed her desperation with glee.
"You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing."
Sailor Jupiter pulled on Neptune's arm, trying to tell her something. Only after the body inside the energy-field stopped moving did she turn around to see that where completely surrounded.
"It is your duty to stay alive!"
"Shht," Mamoru held the weeping woman he wasn't in love with anymore.
"It wasn't your fault. You did all you could."
As usual, when she had the nightmare it would take Usagi near an hour to get back to sleep.
Mamoru cursed UltraFaust and Mesmerphistopeles with all his heart.
He wished Rei and Usagi would tell him the truth. Somehow he got the feeling Usagi would be spared the return of her nightmares if she could sleep with the woman she loved.
Imaginary end credits = Raj Band - Clouds across the moon
Chapter 4: Act Four: Mad world
The half skeletal remains of the building now known as The Atom Bomb Dome had a somber imposing quality in the greyest of weather, but standing in its shadow thrown by a shining sun in a clear sky somehow gave it an even more otherworldly appearance.
Like a mock version of a grand opening.
The sunlight pierced every crevice, accentuating that what they were looking at was, in fact, the corpse of a building.
As if the people of Hiroshima had had a felled giant in their midst and decided to have it's remains stuffed for all the world to see and remember the fearful power that struck that giant dead.
"It looks like a haunted house," Usagi observed.
"Don't scare yourself."
"I never looked at it like that. She's right Mako-chan, it does look like a haunted house."
"If any house would be haunted this one would," Rei murmured.
The miko had wanted to protect Usagi from this visit after what she had told her, but they both felt it their duty to visit the Peace Memorial Park even more because of what was coming.
She certainly felt the misery and loss of life that had taken place here far more intense since her last visit back when she was in high school.
"It looks even more harrowing just by standing in the middle of one of the most beautiful cities in Japan."
"That's good. That contrast," Minako muttered. "It helps to remind people that everything around it had been flattened and needed to be rebuilt."
"Yes." "It's a good thing."
They stood nailed to the ground in silence for almost ten minutes, gaping at close to the only building - or ruin of a building - left standing in the wake of the bombing of the city they were visiting.
"Isn't Ami-chan joining us?"
Rei grinned at Makoto's questioning look after they rang the Peace Bell.
"She told me she doubted they would be in much of a state to join us after last night."
"Ugh! I'm so jealous."
Minako stretched her arms behind her head.
"You just had that guy on the ship!"
"I know. But to have a guy that can go on all night...
As soon as we get home I'm going to the clubs."
"You should be more careful Mina-chan," Her brunette companion admonished.
Usagi frowned at the two friends walking in front of her, wanting to say something supportive.
"You'll find a guy eventually Mina-chan. You are smart and kind and beautiful. There's no reason to keep trying to lose yourself in these temporary love affairs. Ow! Don't flick me!" She glared at Rei while rubbing the back of her head.
"Mind your own love life," Her friend scolded.
"Thank you, Usagi-chan, but how am I going to find that guy if I don't go hunting for him in the first place?" Minako laughed.
Rei swallowed and blinked as they arrived at the monument to the children who died because of the atom bomb.
They gazed at the statue inspired by Sadako Sasaki.
"She survived for eight years before she heard she was going to die and then she fought with everything she had to beat the disease," Makoto whispered.
"How cruel that she wasn't at least able to reach her goal before she died."
"Yeah. It's pretty impressive that she got to two-thirds though, Minako-chan."
Usagi broke down for a moment and set her friends of too.
Rei took her hand. They leaned into each other while wiping their eyes.
"All those children..."
"Yeah. Many were just as old as we were when we last came here."
They didn't separate as they walked to the memorial mound for the unclaimed victims of the bomb.
"This is so sad, but I guess it's also kind of comforting."
"How do you mean?" Makoto looked at Usagi.
"All these people died together. A lot of them were never claimed because all the people they knew died with them, so there was never anybody..." She swallowed back her tears. "There was never anybody that was hurt by their deaths. And none of them died alone. That's comforting I think."
"They all died together."
"They could have been anyone, but they were all equal in death. It's as if they were all made family by this horrible catastrophy," Minako wiped her eyes and swallowed.
"Their souls found peace together."
Usagi noticed the pensive look on Rei's face as she watched the former idol.
They walked on until they came to the monument for the Korean victims.
The atmosphere tense, it took some time before anyone spoke.
"I think it's sad it took so long for this monument to be placed here," Makoto sighed.
"These people were brought here by force. They shouldn't even have been here when the bomb dropped."
"Every death is tragic, but they would still be alive if they hadn't been brought here against their will."
Usagi reflected on the many more deaths they were going to have to try and prevent soon.
The entire world was going to be invaded according to Rei's fire readings.
She remembered her friend's vivid descriptions of the worldwide slaughter and destruction she saw.
Her heart protested at the scale of it and she made an effort to stay in the present.
"Want to be my chaperone tonight?"
"Chaperone?" Makoto frowned at the out of place question as they continued their pilgrimage of peace.
"Since you think I should be more careful. I feel like I'm going to need a party tonight to cheer me up. So if you'll come with me I'll be safer," Minako smiled.
"Maybe I should start flicking you too," Her friend growled.
"Haha! Come on. It'll be fun. We won't make it late."
"I know your concept of time," Makoto smiled. "But I'll come. I know I'll need some laughs too after the museum."
Usagi stopped walking, realizing Rei wasn't at her side anymore.
"The flame of peace?" She asked, finding her at the monument after walking back a little.
The blackette sighed but kept her eyes on the flame.
"Do you think there will be a time when we can all live in peace together?"
"Maybe a little conflict is unavoidable," Her friend smiled.
Their eyes met.
"Just look at us. We fight so much, yet we love each other more than ever."
She looked at the flame again.
"Fire is like that. It warms us, it lights the darkness for us. It's only when we use it in the wrong way that it causes harm."
Rei took Usagi's hand, noticing a tremor in her friend's voice.
"We shouldn't avoid conflict. But we should try to solve it in a way that makes everybody happy.
Maybe that's not always possible. But we should try."
Usagi swallowed and then blushed when she saw Rei's broad smile.
"Spoken like a future Queen."
She pulled Usagi into a warm embrace.
"Rei-chaaan! Not fair! You keep me on a leach all the time, but you do stuff like this," The blonde closed her eyes and enjoyed the closeness of her friend.
"Because I can do this without longing for more. Which is just an example of that wisdom you just shared," Rei grinned. "This way our conflict is resolved and everyone is as happy as they can be."
"This is not as happy as I can be."
Rei let go of her friend, but her heart chilled as she saw the tears in the blonde's angry eyes.
"Usagi... I'm sorry."
Her own eyes filled up as the other young woman turned and walked away from her in disappointment.
When they arrived at the Memorial Cenotaph Makoto and Minako were already paying their respects to the hundreds of thousands who perished in Hiroshima because of the atom bomb.
The beautiful monument made them contemplate the fate of those people whose lives were sadly ended trough unbridled aggression. Usagi and Rei contemplated the lives that would be sadly ended trough future aggression.
"I'm sorry," The blonde sniffed, seeing the sad look on her friends face.
"Everything is just getting to me. I feel terrible."
They joined hands.
"This was going to be a sad day. We all knew that."
On some level, Rei hoped the confrontation with the past would force Usagi to accept the inevitability of the future.
Judging from the way her friend was being affected just by the memorial monuments there might be a chance of that happening.
"How horrible that they dropped the bomb directly above Shima hospital!"
"Yes, but that's how war is waged. You aim at disabling the enemies infrastructure."
Rei watched the increasing pallor of her friend with concern as they heard the remarks of other tourists watching the maquette of Shima hospital, the Peace Park itself and other buildings on the second floor of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Usagi nearly stumbled on the marble stair to the third floor but managed to hold herself upright.
"Are you alright?!"
Rei was too late but still tried to support her friend by the arm as they ascended.
"It is horrible," The blonde whispered.
"Why must these kinds of disputes always end in mass murder?"
Rei looked up toward the globe on the third floor.
"Because conflicts have a way of escalating. Especially when they are started and maintained by people with large ego's and no sense of remorse."
As they approached the globe Makoto smiled grimly.
"You have to applaud Kazakhstan and those other former Soviet states for wanting Moskou to take their warheads back. Even South-Africa dismantled their bomb."
The globe was dotted with minuscule warheads in the US, Russia, China, the UK, France, India, and Pakistan.
"There are so many of them," Minako sighed.
"Enough to destroy the world ten times over as they say."
"They never will," Rei whispered in her friend's ear. "Small comfort."
Usagi gave the miko an angry look and moved on.
As they walked in between the remains of window-sills framing pictures of a devastated Hiroshima Makoto also started to notice the state their friend was in.
"Are you alright Usagi? We are coming to the grimmest part of the museum yet, remember."
"I can never get used to those pictures," Minako whispered, her eyes starting to sting.
They walked into the first room, the maquette of Hiroshima after the bomb and the reproduction of the bomb greeting them as they turned to the right.
Usagi swallowed as she saw the plastic mannequins in the apocalyptic scene and the pictures of the horribly burned bombing victims on her right.
They were not the only visitors affected. Some people had a hard time to keep from crying, others walked around as they would in any other museum. But for them, who had seen similar scenes and had fought to save people's lives this kind of harsh reality was more familiar and more real.
They entered the hall leading to the next room and stopped in front of the steps with the shadow etched into them.
"They say the person that shadow belonged to completely disappeared. burned up by the heat."
Usagi started to tear up.
"Minako-chan, you moron!" Rei fumed. "That's impossible. Even with the heat produced by the blast, bones and ashes would be found. It would take a burst of solar plasma to completely sublimate a body!"
"I don't think you're helping Rei-chan," Makoto grimaced as she calmed their friend down.
"Maybe we should get out of here Usagi-chan? You're really taking this hard aren't you?"
"No." Usagi sobbed as the brunette rubbed her back. "So many people died here. It's only right that we remember their suffering."
"Don't be so stubborn."
"It wasn't your fault."
The blonde stopped crying and looked at the miko together with her other two friends who turned pale at her words.
"I don't think..." Minako started.
Usagi's expression grew defiant, but her look was returned by the blackette.
"Let's go on," The blonde snapped.
"What were you thinking Rei-chan. You shouldn't say such things to her."
"We can't go on pretending what happened isn't eating at her. I know shocking her into confronting it can make it worse, but she can't be allowed to repress it any longer."
They continued past the horrible pictures and exhibits of victims belongings into the next room.
Usagi stayed strong in spite of the horrors she witnessed until they saw the exhibited human remains.
Rei moved like lightning and helped her friend to a large plastic bag as she caressed her back.
"Keep yourself together Usagi-chan."
"It's alright. We'll leave now."
"Is it over?" Rei gently asked.
Her friend shook her head.
"Alright, come with me."
She carefully pulled Usagi up and lead her to the nearest toilet.
It took some time for the blonde to stop throwing up in the toilet.
Rei helped clean up her face and gave her something to drink the foul taste away, putting her arms around the still shaking Usagi.
"I'm sorry. I knew we shouldn't have come here after what I told you."
"That's not it," Her friend sobbed.
"We'll go to the hotel and read some manga together. Take your time and try to calm down."
"All those people! All that pain!"
"Why did all those people have to die?"
Rei started to allow her own anger to come to the surface.
"Because their leaders wanted to stay in power.
Because all that mattered to their leaders was power. Because heartless people carried out the orders of those leaders. Because heartless people had put those people in power and kept supporting them and their heartless ideas and because this was a disgusting war that killed more civilians than warriors!"
Usagi realized the body holding her own was trembling as much as her own and turned around.
"A war should be a confrontation between trained and armed groups of warriors. Civilians should never get directly involved. No God worth loving has any sympathy for a leader or warriors who target civilian lives!"
Usagi smiled through her tears in love for the honest outrage she was witnessing.
"I'm sorry... I meant to calm you down," Rei sniffed and wiped her tears.
"No. You are right. Everything you say is true. This war was started by men who actively sought to murder entire people. By leaders who filled the hearts of their people with hate and coldness towards others in order to facilitate their rule! If I ever become like that I want you to kill me!" The blonde cried.
"Of course," The miko simply said as tears were still softly flowing down her cheek. "And right after I'll kill myself."
Usagi stared blankly while her friend sniffed again.
A smirk belied the miko's words.
"Who would clean up the mess you made if I did that, you moron?"
Usagi giggled involuntarily and wiped her tears, but was startled by Rei pulling her into an embrace.
"Don't be stupid. I'll do no such thing because there will never be a need for me to do so. You are incorruptible. Your heart is the purest and kindest love there is. If everybody in the world turned cold you would make them all love again," The blackette smiled.
"Thank you," Her friend lovingly rubbed her back.
"But I'm sorry Usagi. Because I need you to understand that..."
The body in Rei's arms tensed.
"I'm sorry. You need to accept..."
Rei sighed and decided to leave it there for now.
She couldn't. Not after this day.
All she could do now was smell Usagi's hair and feel her warmth. They had seen enough misery today. It was time to remember that there was still kindness in the world.
"Oh, Hi Rei-chan."
Mamoru opened the door to his hotel room. "Are you looking for Usagi-chan? I thought she was with you?"
He might have said other things but considered it better to wait.
His friend looked nervously around the room and smiled sheepishly.
"I... Got a present for her," She rubbed the back of her head.
"I slipped out during dinner to get this and bring it here."
"She'll like that," Mamoru smiled.
An awkward silence descended over them.
Usagi's boyfriend let his eyes wander to the bag his friend was carrying.
"Is that it?"
She handed him a large, soft gift-wrapped item with a card.
"I... I got you something from the buffet too. I was wondering whether you had eaten today."
That seemed to take him by surprise and he blushed slightly, then smiled.
"Thank you, Rei-chan. That's very kind of you. I try to take care of myself too. Usagi-chan is always going on about how I'm working too hard," He shared a self-deprecating laugh with the miko. "So I try to give her as little to complain about as possible. But I'll enjoy this very much,"
He opened the large plastic saucer.
Rei relaxed and leaned a hand on the table her friend was working on.
"Yeah. Usagi can be such a bother," She casually grinned. "Always going on about how you should take better care of yourself and telling people to put their own needs first. "What do you want?" What is that all about anyway?"
"Sometimes you do have to put your own needs first," Mamoru remarked calmly.
His friend deflated.
"Yeah. I guess," She fidgetted and stood up straight. "Maybe she's right."
Rei looked him the eyes for a long time until he took the present again and gently felt it's shape.
"What's in it?"
"It's uh... It's a... An Eternal Sailor Mars plushie. I didn't think she'd have one already," Rei stumbled over her words but managed to keep a straight face.
"Hahaha! Of course, she has one," Mamoru laughed kindly as he realized Rei really did think his girlfriend didn't have an Eternal Sailor plushie of her best friend, just because she was the only one of them who still hadn't obtained that form.
"You think she didn't run to the shops the moment they called her to say they had it in stock?"
That was too much even for Rei and her friend had the pleasure of seeing her beet-red.
"I just assumed... That... But I..."
"It's very kind of you. She'll cherish it especially because it came from you...
And you'll catch up to the others soon enough."
"Urgh. Stop it already Mamo-kun. Too much."
She averted her face.
Mamoru looked at the present pensively.
"Has she told you the nightmares are back?"
Rei cursed herself. She had expected as much. She almost apologized.
"I think she ought to go to a therapist.
We might coach her and try to make up a story she can tell him that would fit with her trauma."
"That would take her wanting to talk about it in the first place," Rei sighed.
"I've noticed something was wrong. I knew..." She looked at the worried face her friend was making.
It wasn't fair. She had already stolen the heart of his girlfriend and now he was forced to deal with the fallout her revelation had caused in the woman he loved. They would have to tell him eventually and she desperately wanted to be honest with him about something.
"I don't want to burden you when you have so much on your mind already."
Mamoru turned pale and fell silent.
After a while, he swallowed and scraped his throat.
"What is it? I'd rather you tell me... I mean: I wouldn't mind if there was something you kept from me," He averted his eyes.
"After all, I've had secrets of my own. But if I can help..."
He looked kindly at the woman in front of him.
"I've been having visions."
Not what he had expected.
"Visions?!" He exclaimed in alarm, remembering an earlier conversation with his girlfriend.
"I think it's better to wait until we're home to tell you all, but I told Usagi when we arrived here because she's our leader."
"That's when the nightmares started again."
Mamoru looked at his joined hands in his lap.
"No. You did good," He looked up in surprise.
"But if something is going to happen we'll need to treat her kindly and be supportive. We need to find a way to get her to start talking, so she can begin to accept what happened."
"I'm trying," Rei mumbled with her head bowed in defeat.
"I had hoped the visit to the Peace Memorial Park would force a confrontation that might get her to talk... I have other idea's..."
"Take care of her Rei-chan."
The miko looked sideways at Mamoru.
"Don't give up. She'll reach out to you eventually. All good things come to those who wait," He smiled.
Rei felt a bit uncomfortable and walked slowly to the door.
"I'm a bit tired. I'm going to lie down for a while."
"Don't worry about me Rei-chan."
She turned around.
Mamoru tried to look encouraging.
"I'm doing alright. So don't worry about me. I haven't been the greatest boyfriend have I?"
"Huh?! You've been great to Usagi! She's been lucky to have you!" Rei panicked.
"I mean to you. I should have been honest with you that I was dreaming about someone else all the while I was with you... Uh! That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy being with you! I just..."
The blackette burst into a rejuvenating laugh.
When she was done she gave her friend a sly smirk.
"That's the first time you've talked about our little fling to me in seven years Mamo-kun. You think I would let that bother me when you have been such a great friend to us all and made Usagi so happy?"
"I just meant..." Mamoru smiled. "I owe you one. Not every ex-girlfriend would have been so supportive of my relationship with Usagi-chan as you have been. You were pretty amazing. So don't worry about me. We'll always be friends no matter what. I want you to be happy Rei-chan."
"Alright. I want you to be happy too. Thank you, Mamo-kun. See you later."
She closed the door behind her wondering what the hell he was on about as she walked to her hotel room and found Usagi waiting, sitting down in front of the door.
A few hours later the blonde walked into her own hotel room.
"I'm so tired!" She sighed as she dropped herself into the sofa beside her boyfriend.
"The Peace Memorial Park was exhausting."
"It's pretty harsh. I remember when we visited in high school," Mamoru tried. "WWII was horrible. Mankind at it's worst, trying to slaughter itself."
"Don't you be so dark too," His girlfriend pouted. "I just started to feel better."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry open old wounds."
Usagi gave him a look as to say: "That's exactly what you're trying to do."
"I'm thirsty. Is there still lemonade?"
She jumped up and went to the fridge.
"Yes. I bought some food and drink on my way back from work."
Her eye fell on the empty plastic saucer still lying on the table.
"Did you go to the buffet? Why didn't you come and sit with us?"
"Haa! I'm sorry. I meant to put that in the trash. Rei-chan brought me some food out of pity."
Rei hadn't told her anything about that while they read manga together.
Usagi felt warm inside and smiled at the kindness and consideration of her friend. Then she hung her head and shoulders realizing Rei had probably done it in part because she felt guilty.
She poured herself a glass and went back to her boyfriend who was still watching the television.
"She came here just to bring you food?"
"Oh no. She..." Mamoru half turned around. "I can't tell you yet what she really came for," He grinned at the screen. "It's a secret."
Usagi frowned and waited for more.
"Oh fine," She sighed. "Be that way. I'll find out eventually."
"Of course that means you had two dinners today. I hope you realize how fat you'll become if you keep accepting food from other women," She scolded her sweating boyfriend as she left for the bedroom.
"You will be my new favorite plushie from now on," Usagi smiled and kissed Eternal Sailor Mars before closing her eyes. Blissfull in the knowledge that underneath her harshness Rei loved her more than anything in the world.
Next to the hastily torn paper on her nightstand laid the accompanying note:
"I am Sailor Mars. The Senshi of fire and passion, and I will always protect your dreams."
The crowd was going out of their minds as Takkyu Ishino teased Jeff Mills's latest EP into the mix.
Minako was hooting with the best of them as she worked her body to the beat.
She had been longing for this: The ecstasy that came from giving yourself up to the rhythm. Moving your body frantically as you were fired on by a hallucinogenic melody that was chased by clashing hi-hats and pounding beats.
She loved this music so much!
Tired out after the climax she went and sat beside her friend, refreshing herself on the bottle of water and cocktail that were already ordered for her.
"Are you having fun?!" She asked Makoto.
"Sure I am! I've been dancing!
I'm just not into this music as much as you are, that's all! I preferred the house-set of the other DJ! I like that funky stuff! This is too harsh. It's a great club though! I love the decorations and I've been watching the anime on the screen! It's pretty weird! "
The blonde laughed at her friend's sober answer." Takkyu is great! I wanted to do something with him, but my contract ran out before I had the chance! Pity. I doubt my record company would have liked the idea though!" She smiled, playing with her straw.
"Oh well. You have to see this guy I spied earlier Mako-chan! He is just heavenly!
Ooh! He's standing over there!
Mako-chan! Mako-chan! Look at that guy!"
"What, the tall stiff one?!" The brunette looked in the direction her friend was pointing in a less than discrete manner.
"He looks like some handsome dream-prince," Minako drooled. "Oh no!" She exclaimed, playing coy with her friend and hiding her face in Makoto's bosom.
"I think he saw us looking! I'm going to faint if he comes over here!"
Makoto rolled her eyes as her friend tried to make herself small.
"Hello! My name is Maki Yori! I... "
He recoiled for a moment as he saw Minako's grinning blush.
"This might sound rather obvious and maybe a little offensive!" He rubbed the back of his head. "And if it does I'll treat you to a drink and leave you in peace, but I couldn't help feeling you were watching me! Do we know each other perhaps?!"
Minako saw stars as his pearly white teeth reflected the light of the strobes.
"Hahaha! I was just telling my friend here what a great physique you seem to have! You look like a soldier!" She babbled.
Now it was Yori's turn to blush.
"Oh boy." Makoto looked away and sipped from her drink.
"Haha! Euh, yes! That's because I am a military man! Lieutenant-Colonel Maki! At your service ladies!"
The brunette raised an eyebrow at his elaborate bow, but her friend was enchanted.
"Lieutenant-Colonel?! But you look so young!"
Yori laughed excessively.
"Still seems young for a Lieutenant-Colonel!" Makoto frowned.
"Well, I was only promoted recently!"
The neatly dressed young man sweated.
"What did you say?!" Minako came closer.
"I said: I was only promoted recently!"
"Oh," The blonde smiled.
"You must have made a few people jealous though, having made such promotion so fast!"
"Yeah. I had a bit of gossip about me, and I regularly get that: "You're young too be a Lieutenant-Colonel." thing!"
"Sorry. You can't deny it's true!" Makoto interjected.
Her friend elbowed her.
"But people quickly learn I earned my position!" He grinned under Minako's admiring gaze.
"Where are you stationed?!"
"Well, I recently moved to Tokyo! I'm a Hiroshima kid originally! On leave to visit the grandparents! When I get back home I start work right away!
Oh! That's The Storm. Love that track."
"what did you say!" Minako shouted.
"I said: I love Dave Clarke!"
"Yeah, he's great! I've played Archive One till it melted!"
"Hahaha! That's pretty funny!"
Makoto didn't think it was very funny. It was the Discman she had lent to her friend that had happened to.
The blonde misread the look in her friend's eyes.
"So are you alone here Maki-san?! Where are your buddies?!"
"Yeah, I am! Sorry M... My friends from around here all had to work tomorrow! So It's just me!"
"Oh." Minako fell silent.
Her friend took a look at her.
She could tell that the blonde really liked this guy. It was in the small details. Like she had completely forgotten to introduce them, she wasn't trying to play up her looks, she was fidgeting without being aware. They both had forgotten to order new drinks and Makoto's was empty.
Which gave her the perfect excuse.
"I'm sorry guys!" She got up. "But it's been a long day and I'm a bit tired! Rei-chan proposed we go to Kure tomorrow! For what I have no idea, but I want to get a good rest for it! Have a nice evening Maki-san! I am Kino Makoto by the way!"
"Oh! Firm handshake! I hope you didn't feel left out?!"
"No no! I'm just tired! Have fun together! I'll see you tomorrow Mina-chan!"
"Alright!" The blonde smiled. "See you tomorrow Mako-chan!"
They followed the brunette with their eyes as she walked to the exit.
"Hey, would you mind going to the chill out zone?! We can talk easier there!"
"Oh okay! Great idea! Let me get my coat!"
Minako again noticed how athletic he looked as they descended the stair and entered the chill out zone past the toilets.
"What are you drinking?" Yori smiled.
He was really handsome and looked very kind.
"A Gin and Tonic please."
"Oh? Two Gin and Tonic's please!"
They went and sat in one of the sofa's scattered around the room and placed their drinks on the little table.
"Ow! I haven't told you my name yet. I am Aino Minako."
"Haha. I noticed. Pleased to meet you Aino-san.
Where are you from?"
"Minato-ku. I'm on holiday with a few friends. Well. One of them has to work because it's his company that pays for the trip and the stay."
"Wow! A real hot shot! And you tease me about my rank?"
"I wasn't teasing you," She laughed.
He's helping to start up a new branch of the company. I guess it's a big deal. He's really great at his work though. It's cool that he is so passionate about it but we sometimes worry."
"Yeah. These guys can burn themselves up if they don't take care. I hope that doesn't happen to him."
"He won't. Usagi-chan will be on his case whenever he overdoes it."
"Usagi-chan. That's his wife?"
"No. His girlfriend. She's a really wonderful person."
"You love them a lot."
"Yeah. Mamo-kun and Usagi-chan are the best,"
"I'm closer to Mako-chan though. We just click. But what about you Maki-san?" She smiled. "Are you secretly married?"
"Wow!" He recoiled. "You're direct. No, I'm single at the moment. I lived with a woman for a few years. But that didn't work out. That's why this was..." He looked confused. "I guess she was right." He mumbled. "There's not much I won't do if they ask me."
Minako gave his sad face a confused look.
"She wasn't happy about my dedication." He continued, noticing her stare. "I guess I have no lessons to teach that friend of yours. But I swore to protect my country. I take that very seriously. Though perhaps I should be more critical of the orders I get." He sighed.
"It's not like you can refuse, right?" The blonde laughed.
"Keep that thought." He sighed.
"I can. Sometimes."
"I understand how you feel though. You want to protect everyone and you won't hold back when you have to. Even if it costs you your life."
"Exactly." He smiled tenderly, making her blush.
"So..." Yori fidgetted. "I was hoping you'd bring it up. I guess I'll look like a crazy fanboy if You're not, but..."
"Yeah, I'm Ai no Shojo," She smiled.
"I knew it. I'm sorry. I have to admit I am a bit of a fanboy. You were great! And the shows you did were always special."
"I don't mind you being a fanboy," Minako laughed. "It's not like I hate people loving my idol work. I loved doing it. I always dreamed of becoming an idol, so I enjoyed it very much and I loved making people happy...
And now I dream of becoming a teacher."
"You are so... On the one hand, you're so wild and free. But you're also professional and dedicated and nurturing." Yori gushed.
"You just met me," The blonde smiled as she hid her blush behind her drink.
"I'm making an observation based on what I learned. They teach us stuff like that. You gotta make fast decisions sometimes."
"I know. I mean I can imagine," She spluttered.
"Hahaha. I understand.
So you like kids?"
"Yeah. I Love them."
Minako finished her drink and looked at his kind face. The soothing music and lights played all around them, helping to weave the magic of the moment.
This guy was different. She couldn't let him get away. She had never felt like this before, but she wanted to know everything about him.
"Aren't you going to invite me in?" The blonde smiled with his hand in hers as they arrived at his hotel a few hours later.
Yori blushed and swallowed.
"Aino-san, I..." He stared at her and her own eyes widened. For the space of a few seconds, they couldn't speak. Then the man with the kind face broke the silence with practical words.
"you know I'm a bit older than you. A guy my age starts to look for something a little more serious than this."
He saw the disappointment in her eyes and cursed himself.
"I had a really wonderful time tonight. I... Don't remember when I last felt so good just talking to someone. I enjoyed being with you very much. That is how I really feel. So if you feel the same way..." His smile turned serious. "If you still feel the same when we get back to Tokyo, I'll be overjoyed to welcome you to my apartment and I'll be overjoyed to let you know me better."
"Alright then you square," She winked.
"But you'll come to our hotel and join us for brunch, so my friends can check you out and get jealous."
"I promise," He smiled.
They didn't move for a few moments. Just looking at each other. Then he leaned forward and brushed her hair back.
"Goodnight Minako Aino-san," He kissed her lips.
Minako didn't know these kinds of encounters really happened. He tasted so good. She didn't know such joy had been meant for her. He was so kind.
She really wanted to go inside with him and yet she wanted to leave just after this kiss, but she wanted to kiss forever.
They almost did. But they parted at last and for a second he looked angry.
But then he smiled and blinked.
"Goodnight Minako Aino-san."
She watched him enter his hotel and lingered for a while at the entrance, smiling like crazy before she got on her way to join Makoto in their hotel room.
Usagi was feeling happy. For the first time in a few days, she was feeling good again. She had slept without nightmares and had received a token of Rei's love. Rei could be strict and mean, but she could also be very kind and warm.
"What?" The blackette grumbled when she caught her friend staring.
"Nothing," The blonde smiled. "I slept really well last night. I had wonderful dreams about a beautiful heroine who brought me lots of delicious homemade food she handfed me."
"Good. I slept well too last night," The miko blushed, trying to chase away the fantasies that image had produced in her mind.
"So where are you going today?" Ryo asked as he and Ami put their plates on the table and took a seat.
"Ōkunoshima. I felt like checking out the local wildlife," Rei grinned.
"Should be beautiful this time of year."
"You'll like it there Rei-chan. You too Usagi-chan. You should feel right at home," Ami teased.
"I'm looking forward too it. I hope Usagi won't get jealous with my attention so divided though."
The blonde looked from one to the other of her laughing friends and crossed her arms.
"I have a feeling you're having a laugh at my expense, but I don't care. I'm in too good a mood for the two of you to be able to spoil it," She huffed.
"How about you two by the way? How was your private time? Did you have fun?"
"It's not over yet," Ryo scoffed. "We still have plans for today. We have to make the most of the time we have after all. It's not like we can spend time together anytime we want."
"Well, we could if you'd study in Tokyo," Ami pouted while feeding him with her chopsticks.
"You're really going to wear me down over this aren't you?" Ryo sighed. "Alright. All my friends are here, but I'll do my master in Tokyo so I can be with you, my love."
Usagi leaned her head on her hands and smiled as she watched the two share a long kiss.
A sudden sensation made her turn her head, and she caught Rei watching her before the violently blushing miko looked the other way.
Usagi wrung her hands and blushed in turn as she imagined what her friend had been fantasizing about.
"Who's that guy with Mako-chan?" The miko suddenly observed.
The others looked her way as the duo approached their table.
"Must be serious if she's bringing her conquest to join us at breakfast now," Ami grinned.
"I know what you're thinking, but he isn't mine. He's Mina-chan's."
"Hey, you're making it sound like I'm her dog. Maki Yori. Nice to meet you all," He said, offering Ryo his hand.
"Well Minako-chan was still snoring when you came by, so maybe she's the one leading the dog's life," Makoto replied dryly as she left for the buffet.
"Hino Rei. So you're a friend of Minako-chan?" The miko gleefully smiled.
"Well I got to know her yesterday night, so I don't know if I can call her a friend already," Yori smiled nervously. "But we did have a good time," He continued proudly.
Then he blushed, adding.
"She asked me to come and meet you at brunch though. I'm not stalking her!"
"My, my. Aren't you the privileged one," Rei continued the grilling.
"You are among a select few," Ami giggled.
"Don't say such things," Usagi scolded. "You'll scare him."
"No way!" The miko pretended surprise. "Maki-san is a big boy. He can handle an experienced girlfriend. Don't you?"
"You're being kinda mean there," The tall black haired man sweated. "I don't care about Aino-san's past. I just enjoyed spending time with her and I want to get to know her better"
"See?" Usagi leaned in. "I'm not the only one who says you're a meanie."
"Well, you're the only ones who say that," Her friend grinned viciously. "So maybe I just really like him."
"Haha! It's a good thing he has Mina-chan then because he'll be sad and lonely waiting for you to keep him warm!"
"I'd hardly expect him to look to me for love when he already has someone who likes him!"
"What are the two of you talking about?" Makoto deadpanned, coming up behind them with her plate filled.
"You're scaring away the first guy Minako-chan ever asked to meet us in a long time."
The two friends turned to Yori with shamed expressions.
"Don't mind these two. They can be a handful."
"So I've... noticed," Yori sweated.
"An officer in the army?! What was Minako-chan thinking?!"
"Calm down Rei-chan," Ami laughed, looking up at her friend from her position in the hotel swimming pool. "I hope this guy can make her happy, but for now we don't even know if he'll last till next month."
"You're treating this way too lightly," The miko frowned at her friend from the corner of her eye while pacing back and forth the edge of the pool. "For all we know this guy is infiltrating us...
Idiot!" She cursed an invisible Minako. "If we're not careful we might wind up in prison because of your promiscuity."
"You don't really believe your father will let that happen do you?" Ami splashed around in her white bathing suit.
"My father is not God." Rei glared. "He can try all he wants, but he won't be able to protect us from a criminal investigation if that's how things turn out. They might even try to use us against him if they find out about us.
It might do us good to realize now and then that unless political conditions are favorable when they find out about us, we will be considered a powerful and therefore dangerous illegal militia and will be dealt with accordingly.
Senshi actions or rather the results of them have never met with much political scrutiny because we have been careful and lucky. That might change at any time.
We can't believe the countless attacks at the shrine haven't come to the attention of certain people or that my father hasn't been protecting our identities so far, but if we become careless we'll only have ourselves to blame for the results."
"Alright. I admit you have a point. I'll check him out when Ryo-kun comes for me. My laptop is still at his place."
"Are you happy?" Rei asked suddenly breezily, mollified by Ami's understanding words.
"Are you kidding me?!" Her friend radiated. "He's finally moving to Tokyo next year! I'm so happy!"
She dived and did a loop underwater before coming up again.
"This is the best holiday ever!"
The miko's expression changed, but it quickly changed back into a warm smile again.
"That makes me happy I only shared my visions with Usagi."
"No! Don't you dare use my happiness to justify your martyrdom Rei-chan! You have to stop this behavior. You think you're doing good, but you're only hurting the people who love you most," Ami admonished.
Her friend smiled sadly and turned around to look at Usagi who had fallen asleep while sunbathing.
"I haven't even begun hurting her."
"What are you talking about?"
"I've known from the start, you know. I just needed to see the look in her eyes. I knew from the start that she was pure love and goodness. A spoiled, lazy idiot with the biggest heart in the world. A girl that won't do a damn bit of work to help herself, but would go running into the face of danger without an inch of concern for her own safety when it comes to helping other people. A girl that could move the most hardened villain to care with the love in her heart."
Ami saw tears falling as Rei bowed her head. "And today I'm going to stab her in the back and force her to confront the most traumatizing thing she ever experienced!"
The bluehead felt over-awed by the enormous amount of love that she was witnessing. The love she herself felt. The love every one of them felt for the woman snoring in the beach chair was multiplied a thousandfold in the woman standing in front of her.
Maybe this was the key to the dynamic of their relationship she thought. Maybe if you can't help but pour your love into everyone around you, you need someone with an equal amount of love in her heart who can't help but pour hers into you. The only person who can do that for Usagi... The only person capable of replenishing that enormous amount of love Usagi feels for all of creation is Rei. Rei, who has always tested the limits of her friends love. Who always drew out Usagi's desire for her friendship and in time paid her back multifold for all her effort.
Ami's heart beat violently as she pondered these things. Rei's love for Usagi was so great that she would be like a blade to help the woman she loved, even to the point where she would strike at her own heart if that was necessary to heal the heart of her beloved.
"I'd do much worse to help her though," Rei continued with a resteeled unwavering voice. "And I won't regret it one bit. Even if it would break my heart beyond repair."
Too far for Ami to reach her in time Rei lost her balance as she spun around and fell into the pool.
Wearing her normal clothes instead of having changed for bathing wear, she had trouble finding the right way up right away, but her friend came to her rescue.
Usagi who had been awakened by the scream of the bluehead rushed to the edge of the pool.
A strange moment was shared by them as something in the eyes of the miko made the blonde watch her with reverence as she took her arm and received her from Ami who helped their black haired friend push herself up onto the edge of the pool.
The two regarded each other in silence. Usagi still held her friend by the wrist as Rei's clothes dripped onto the floor.
Ami couldn't talk either as long as the mood lasted.
"I would do anything for you," Rei finally smiled before she marched off to wring out her clothes in the bathroom and go to her room to change.
Usagi couldn't take her eyes of her friend, asking herself what had happened and what was going to happen. But even though she was afraid, she felt confident she would not have to face it alone.
A lush green paradise greeted them after they got off the ferry and left the pier behind them.
Usagi went straight for the wild rabbits as they approached the group, being taught generation after generation that a ship meant people and people meant food.
"You were right Rei-chan!" She squealed as they all crouched to feed the fluffy creatures. "They're everywhere."
Makoto held one of the bunnies to her cheek with a big grin but put it quickly down as it kept struggling to get to the food the others were getting.
Rei couldn't get enough of the smiles and giggles of her dear friend.
"They don't call it Usagi Shima for nothing," She teased, seeing the bunnies surround and hop on the blonde's body as she relaxed in the grass. "They instinctively know their Queen when she comes to visit them."
Usagi raised her head at the other woman's arch smile and the two shared a moment of genuine happiness.
"Attack that intruder!" She threw a bit of the rabbit feed they bought on shore at her friend with a loud laugh. "She is being disrespectful to your Queen."
"Hey!" The miko laughed. "You don't like it when people throw food at you, so don't do it to me either."
Before Usagi knew what was happening Rei had pushed one of the smaller bunnies into her red-on-white dotted blouse.
"Hey!" The blonde jumped up while the creature quickly escaped.
Rei turned around to hide her embarrassment and laughed herself silly until her friend startled her by tickling her from behind.
"let's see how you like it when a bunny tries to get into your shirt!"
"Your friends are a lively bunch." Yori smiled as he watched the two romp about together.
"Yeah. They couldn't stand each other seven years ago..." Minako smiled. "On the other hand... They've always been like this. I suppose they just didn't know how to behave when they loved each other so much."
She watched as Usagi playfully protested at a grinning Rei tying her up by means of her own pigtails and turned to find her date staring at her as if mesmerized.
"Oh, sorry," Yori gasped, both of them looking away.
"So... Are we gonna do some exploring now the two of you scared all the rabbits away?" Makoto smiled, carefully untying Usagi after the latter kept whining for her to help.
Rei looked on with an amused expression.
"Don't look at me that way," Usagi stuck out her tongue. "You better watch your back Rei-chan, cause I'll do the same to you as soon as I get the chance," She continued with a challenging smile as they started walking.
"Don't tell me beforehand, you moron," Rei elbowed her, promptly getting elbowed in return. They leisurely continued the exchange, giggling as they made their way along the path.
Coming to an open space in the forest the group stood still before the large ruin that occupied it.
"What is this eerie building doing in the middle of paradise?" Makoto asked with a lopsided smile.
"Oh. That's one of the ruins from world war two."
Everybody turned to Yori.
"They built a secret factory producing all kinds of gasses for chemical warfare on this island. After the war the allied forces had the installations dismantled, but the ruins were left standing."
"That's quite impressive Lieutenant-Colonel Maki-san. Did they teach you that in Defense Force history class?"
"No. I had assumed stuff like this was common knowledge. Without meaning to insult anyone's intelligence of course," He returned Rei's derisive grin.
"He's right! Here's a plaque."
Everyone joined Makoto reading the description of the former power plant that used to provide electricity for the extensive military presence on the island.
"Yes. Those gasses where used during the campaign in China. Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed or injured by the blister agents produced here. It may look like paradise, but it's the birthplace of terrible weapons."
"Can we go and look inside?" Minako looked at the tall brunette next to her.
"I doubt it's a good idea," Her friend frowned, looking up at the high, overgrown building. "You never know something might fall down while we're in there."
"Yeah. Let's just go, please," Usagi softly mumbled while hugging herself.
Rei looked at her with concern and rubbed her back.
"I think we'll have to walk back a bit though," Makoto said. "We seem to have taken a wrong turn."
Yori and Minako followed her back with Rei in tow.
The latter looked behind her and turned as she noticed Usagi was still standing there, hugging herself and looking up at the windowless ruin.
She seemed to be shivering.
Rei pondered how small and vulnerable the women she loved looked, standing in that open space in the forest with that huge building in front of her.
"Usagi. Are you coming?"
The other woman slowly turned around and blinked, but didn't move from her place.
"It was a long time ago," Rei said after a while. "There's nothing we can about the past."
Usagi cradled herself from left to right.
"It wasn't that long ago."
"I know. But we can't do anything about it now. All we can do is try to prevent people from doing those things to each other again. Come."
Rei held out a hand.
The blonde frowned and closed her eyes. She grimaced as if making a great effort and at last came running towards her friend with a big grin. In slow motion, it seemed to Rei.
When at last their hands clasped each other, the blackette felt a chill in her heart, renewing her resolve that she would break her friend before the day was over.
After all, this was perfect. If she succeeded, it would create a rift between them that love couldn't conquer. They would still be friends. Neither of them could imagine living in complete discord forever. This was something that was a fact to both of them as undeniable as the laws of physics.
But how could Usagi ever forgive her for forcing her to relive the most traumatic experience of her life?
Rei stopped herself from thinking any further.
"So what's life like as an officer in the JSDF?"
Yori looked surprised as she interrupted his talk with Minako.
"Oh. It's everything you ever imagined it would be: Joyrides in tanks, all-night partying, beautiful women flocking around you..."
"That last part is true at least," Usagi smiled with a wink at the couple walking beside her and Rei.
"I hadn't expected you to flock around me on my holiday though."
"You seem to be predisposed to getting full of yourself when you got too many women around you,"
Minako suddenly deadpanned, causing her date to lose his cool instantly and turn his attention to his left with a desperate attempt to gain her smile back.
Usagi watched Rei's satisfied grin.
She felt her friend had seemed sad today and decided to try and cheer her up.
Rei was probably still worrying about the awful things she had seen in her visions. Usagi involuntary hugged herself, thinking it seemed unusually cold today.
Her friend should be more confident. They were more powerful than ever and together they would find a way to stop that invasion. She smiled but wished she could convince the miko that everything would be alright, as usual.
"Stop grimacing like that. It's creepy. You'll scare Mina-chan's date away."
"You guys sure assume I'm easily scared. Is that how I look to you?"
"I'm not grimacing! I was smiling!" Usagi growled.
"You think I'm joking?" Rei challenged Yori while ignoring her friend at the same time. "This is no ordinary rabbit."
She pointed to her right with her thumb.
"This is the foulest, cruelest, most bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on!"
"I think you're pissing off your friend," Their companion sweated.
"Look, this rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!"
Usagi was fuming.
"Don't let her get to you Usagi-chan. You know the only reason she wanted to come here was so she could make these jokes," Makoto laughed.
"You really are a comedy duo," Yori chuckled.
"I'm warning you!"
"I'll show you a vicious beast!"
"It's been a while since they went violent. They just have to get it out of their system once in a while," Minako reassured her date with a smile as he watched her friends fight with concern.
"Don't worry. They can take a beating or two... Three... Eight. Let's go. They'll catch up."
Yori chuckled again, shook his head and he and his date followed Makoto and her wise words.
"Hey little fellows, can you tell us if our friends went this way?"
Rei grinned, watching Usagi feed a group of ragged rabbits.
"They're just a few meters ahead. But you keep holding us back because you want to ask the bunnies."
"You have no imagination Rei-chan. I bet you never played with dolls when you were young," The blonde caressed one of the rabbits unperturbed.
"I played with ofuda's and chased imaginary demons around the shrine," The miko pelted her friend with a chunk of rabbit food. "Believe me, I had plenty of imagination, but I was never prepared for the fact that there were girls like you in the world."
Usagi rubbed her head and got up, continuing their leisurely chase after their companions.
She looked left and right at the lush foliage and the wildlife all around them.
It really was beautiful on the island.
"Looks like there's something interesting up ahead."
Usagi looked up as they gained on the group standing still in front of them.
"These are old artillery batteries from the war against Russia," She heard Yori say as they came closer.
"There's a lot of ruins like this on the island. It's best not to come to close. These aren't tended to at all. The government just let's nature finish the demolition work the Americans started, so these are all fairly unstable by now."
They walked further along the path. Rei glanced at her friend and noticed she was looking behind her at the old buildings.
"There's a museum up ahead that goes in great detail about the production of all kinds of poison gasses that went on here," Their military friend continued. "In secret of course, because we signed the Geneva treaty. Yes, Emperor Hirohito's bunch of monsters did some seriously nasty stuff during world war two: We even spread the bubonic plague among civilians in China and several playgrounds were built in China where our most depraved psychopaths could enjoy themselves butchering people under the guise of scientific research."
Rei stopped and went back a few steps to where Usagi had stood still, shivering and stopping her ears.
"Are you alright?"
Usagi felt a well-known touch on her hands and relaxed, looking up into the miko's eyes.
Rei tilted her head and smiled.
"Are you tired?"
Her friend wiped the tears from her eyes and smiled.
"Yeah. It's been a nice holiday, but it has been a bit tiresome."
She flinched at the movement she noticed from the corner of her eye.
"Oh! Little bunnies. Come here. You can get some food too."
Rei frowned at the innocent scene at her feet that once again had allowed her friend to avoid facing her trauma.
"Look Rei-chan, those two are kissing. Isn't it cute?"
She stooped in front of her friend and held her left hand as she quietly patted one of the rabbits with her right.
Usagi blushed and looked at her in confusion.
Slowly the miko brought her friend up with her and embraced her.
Usagi felt the world around them fall away while Rei softly caressed her back in downward moving circles, resting her face on the blonde's shoulders. Just like she had done at that time.
The blonde woman closed her eyes and felt tears prickle them.
Rei probably didn't know what she was doing. She was moving her fingers through Usagi's right pig-tail.
It started to feel cold again, even though Rei was trying to warm her, just like she had done back then.
Standing stiffly in Rei's desperate embrace. Knowing how useless she was feeling. Not being able to comfort her friend because Rei was trying to comfort her.
Usagi felt something deep inside of her open up. In the darkness formed by her closed eyelids, she saw a light. Everything turned silent around her. Then she heard noises coming from the light. She couldn't move. She had nowhere to go even if she could, but she fought with everything she had. She wanted to run to the noises. She saw shadows falling down inside the light as she approached it. A larger shadow was taking something from them. She wanted to stop the cries! She wanted to help them! SHE NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THERE!
"We better get back to the others."
The sound of Rei's voice brought her back.
Her heartbeat was too fast. Her breathing too deep and uneven.
She felt Rei was scrutinizing her.
The world seemed blurry and cold.
"If something is wrong you should tell me."
There was something wrong with Rei's voice.
"I... I love you Usagi. You know... I want you to feel safe with me."
Slowly her breathing went back to normal.
"I do feel safe with you Rei-chan,"
She swallowed. "Let's run and join the others," She smiled and took Rei's hand. For a split second her friend seemed annoyed.
Then they ran forward hand in hand, laughing as they went faster and caught up with the others.
They went on through the forest, looking at the beauty everywhere.
"You never really answered my question you know," Rei disrupted the peace.
Minako saw Yori's amused grin.
"What question was that?"
"What life is like in the Defense Force. I might want to join."
"Why the hell would you want to do something stupid like that?" He laughed out loud.
He had a beautiful laugh, the former idol thought. It seemed like he was trying to tease Rei, but even so, his laugh still sounded warm and sincere.
"Maybe I'm just an idealist and want to protect my country."
Yori looked behind him for the first time. His eyes looked into a pair of penetrating, smiling, purple eyes.
"I'm kind of curious myself now," Minako said, pulling him closer.
"Haha. Hey, if you are expecting anything glamorous I'm going to be a big disappointment," He blushed.
"I get up early. I organize training and combat exercises. I co-lead said training and exercises and co-evaluate them. I do a lot of paperwork. I go to meetings and I tolerate a lot of Yanks who owe me money and can't hold their liqueur. That's pretty much it."
"That's it? Don't you get to drive tanks and jeeps and stuff?" Makoto asked with a peculiar look in her eyes.
"Oh, yes. Of course. The tanks and the jeeps and helicopters. You sure are very interested in this stuff being women... No offense. I mean... There are lots of women in the JSDF," Yori nervously apologized to his date.
Rei saw her brunette friend frown at her and knew she wasn't alone in her suspicions.
"Hey, we're at the coast again."
"That'll be the second pier. We're almost at the visitor's center."
"Finally! I'm so hungry. I haven't eaten since this morning."
"You're always hungry," Rei smirked.
"So where do your parents live Maki-san?" Minako asked.
Her friends watched him with interest.
"Oh, they moved to Tokyo while I was at university."
"They're not in the Defense Force?" Makoto asked.
"My mother was. She was a Lieutenant. Really proud I made lieutenant-colonel. She's working in Yokohama harbor now. My father is an accountant."
"What are their names?" Rei continued the joint attack.
"Takumi and Oki."
"Who's your best friend?"
"Where did you work before your promotion?"
"What's your favorite color?"
"Hey everybody!" Minako turned around.
"This is no fun anymore. Let us enjoy our date."
The three prosecutors sighed and followed the couple walking ahead again.
"Did you see that?" Rei whispered to Makoto. "He winked at me. The fiend. He's just laughing at us."
"We can't be certain of the truth of his answers anyway."
"I asked Ami-chan to check him out while we're here."
"So that's what you've been so nervous about? You could have told me you didn't trust Minako-chan's date," Usagi complained.
"I'm sorry. You were asleep, so I didn't want to wake you. But I just think this guy is suspicious. But even if I didn't, just Minako-chan dating a guy who's in the JSDF or the police is dangerous."
"I know," Usagi frowned. "We have to be careful. But we have to be kind too. After all... They might end up really liking each other. Right?"
Rei and Makoto looked at her hopeful smile and both felt the same thing.
"Yeah." "Maybe we should give them a chance."
"After all, Minako-chan never looked so happy with a guy before."
"I'm not leaving him out of my sight," Rei whispered as Usagi passed them by.
"Yeah. Better safe than sorry. I don't want Mina-chan to get hurt either."
"Aah. This is the Poison Gas Museum," Yori said as the approached the building.
"I know it's not exactly the most romantic thing ever, but I always wanted to take a look inside."
"It's just a small building. I guess it won't hold us up for long," Minako answered.
She turned around and faced her friends.
"Hey everybody! Maki-san would like to visit the museum. Is that okay?"
"It's the Poison Gas Museum he was talking about earlier. Could be interesting. Let's give it a try."
Makoto frowned at her black haired friend as they caught up with a hesitating Usagi.
"Come on," Rei smiled, clasping her friend's hand. "It'll be alright."
The blonde smiled uncertainly but allowed herself to be led inside anyway.
"So what are these?" Minako asked her date.
"Gas tanks. Other materials to produce the gasses."
They looked at the materials on display and read the descriptions on the wall as they went around the room.
"So that's what the workers wore," Makoto stated as she looked at the suit on display. "Didn't protect them one bit it seems."
"You think Hirohito and his buddies cared about the safety of the people who worked here? The people who were forced to work here were told nothing but lies about what they had to do. Later they were forced into service to fight a losing war while their wives and children were in turn made to work here, also without any real protection against the dangerous gasses they were producing."
"How do you know so much about these things anyway?" Minako asked her date.
"I'm interested in history, that's all. And WW one and two were as terrible as war can get.
People have done inhuman things to each other throughout history, but the technology of the time coupled with the invention of nationalism gave authoritarian regimes unprecedented control over the people they ruled and spread their heartlessness over a never before imagined amount of victims."
Rei carefully observed the pallor of Usagi's face and the shivering of her body.
"The rape of comfort women, the hell ships, atrocities like the Nanjing massacre... They just killed and raped people without a care in the world. Geez, how can people allow themselves to lose all concern for the suffering they cause others?"
Usagi swallowed as she felt her friend's hand slip from hers.
"Those are missiles," Minako observed.
"Yeah. They delivered the gas in missiles and grenades which they launched from a distance in support of the ground troops."
As the group entered the second room Usagi was confronted by depictions illustrating the effects of the gasses on victims of chemical warfare in China and their producers in the Okunoshima factory alike.
"Mustard gas, Lewisite and the like caused extremely painful burns on the skin and even inside the body," Yori said. "I can only imagine the pain suffered by someone who developed blistering in the lungs from inhaling the stuff."
The images displayed danced around in Usagi's mind, mingling with memories of more recent suffering she had witnessed that started to force themselves to her consciousness in spite of her efforts to forget.
"Usagi. Are you alright?" Minako asked in alarm.
Yori looked at the shuddering woman with concern.
"I'm sorry. I should have warned that this could be harsh. Maybe we better leave."
"No no," Rei hugged her friend. "She can take it. You mentioned the Nanjing massacre. Did they use these gasses there too?"
She was struck hard in the face as she finished her question.
"This is why you wanted to come here!" Usagi screamed at her stunned friend, tears streaming down her face.
"Why?! Are you so desperate to push me away that you can't think of anything but hurting me as much as you can?!"
A second later she bolted outside.
Rei watched her leave with an expression full of anguish in the middle of the shocked group.
"I humbly apologize," She muttered. "She's right. This is all my fault."
Then she ran after her friend.
Yori looked at the pale faces of the other two women. He would never have expected something like this to happen. This was not good. Not good at all.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know..."
"You couldn't have," Minako smiled, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry. It'll be alright. They're going through a rough time. But they'll patch things up. Let's just go ahead to the visitor's center and give them some time."
Rei narrowly grabbed her friend's hand as she caught up with her, but the blonde turned around and pulled away.
Both women leaned on their knees, catching their breath. Trying to calm down after running all that distance from the museum.
For a moment Rei considered trying to defuse the situation, but she knew she was reaching her goal and nobody but her would be able to push Usagi off the edge like she needed to be.
"You needed to see that," She heaved. "You need to be confronted... All of us need to be confronted with the results of failed leadership. You are going to be Queen and it's my responsibility to help you become the kind of leader that you want to be. The kind of leader you need to be."
"You're a liar!" Usagi screamed with tears in her eyes. "I know you well enough by now to know how your mind works!"
"No," Rei shook her head. "This was a taste of what democide begets. If you want to rush us into a war we can't possibly win the results will be a thousandfold worse. Rape..."
Rei watched her friend's pained face.
"Mass murder on an unprecedented scale! The end of the human race will be on your head!"
"I don't want to know," Usagi whined.
"This is why you love me after all. I push you. You push me. This is what our love is all about. I question you like nobody else. And you should always, ALWAYS question your leaders.
The more you love them the more you should question them," Rei winked.
Usagi grimaced and averted her eyes.
"That's true," she murmured.
"But when do you question yourself?"
"Huh?" Rei hadn't expected that question.
"If you love something so much that you're willing to sacrifice yourself to it. If you love something so much that you feel others should do the same.
If you give so much of yourself without asking for anything in return except maybe some vague promise in the future..." Usagi looked up with clouded honest eyes.
"Why do you do that? Why would you deny yourself so much in service of what you love?"
"That's the nature of love. When you love something you give it all you got," Her friend answered, knowing it was a poor excuse.
"No. That's not what love is. Love doesn't ask you to dedicate your life without giving anything in return. Nothing worth loving does that."
"Why don't I put an end to the innuendo? I do it because you DO give me an enormous amount of love in return. As I told you before."
"That's true. You did. But you never ask for any of that. Stop using what you love as an excuse Rei-chan!" Usagi gave her an accusing look.
"Why are YOU so ready to give your life for me?! Why are YOU so ready to sacrifice your love for Chibi-Usa, for Mamoru-kun, for the future?!" She panted. Why is it so normal for you to sacrifice yourself to what you love?!"
Rei gave her a dirty look.
"Why is everyone more important than you are?!" Usagi's voice was hoarse and strained.
"I love you! Stop doing this to yourself!"
"Alright. Do you want to play therapist? Fine, let's play therapist.
Why can't you accept that sacrifice is necessary if you want to accomplish something? Why do you always expect every problem to get solved as if by magic just by pushing against it?"
"I don't expect problems to get solved by violence!"
"I'm not talking about violence. I'm talking about your constantly assuming that every problem will get solved just because you want it to. You have always tried to avoid doing things you didn't like, but when you were pushed into doing them you always got spectacular results with the least bit of effort. The problem is that that only encouraged your unrealistic view of things. You have come to expect to be able to solve any problem through sheer willpower. That is not how things work."
Her friend gave her a hurt look.
"You are not God. What you want is not automatically the right thing. Why does it bother you so much when I criticize you? Or when Luna does it?"
Usagi hung her head.
"Why can't you accept that sometimes others have the answer?!
Why does it bother you so much that I fight for you in spite of my powers being much weaker?! The rest of us are needed because you are flawed! We all are. You cannot do everything on your own! And neither can we. It's time you got off that pedestal you placed yourself on."
Rei had never hurt herself more than she was doing now. She knew Usagi still blamed herself for what had happened at the mall. But she had to get through to her. She had to make her see the folly of her God-complex and accept that they were not going to be able to save everyone.
If not everything would be lost and humanity would be exterminated.
"None of us want a repeat of what happened when Mesmerphistopheles first attacked, but just like then we will be out of our league."
Usagi finally broke down.
"We could have saved them all!" She sobbed, sinking to the ground.
"No, we couldn't."
"If I had waited for the rest of you... We could have saved them!"
"We were never going to be able to save them! We weren't prepared for his level of power!"
Usagi shook her head, leaning on her hands.
"I can't accept that!"
"You have to! Sometimes the enemy wins and there is nothing we can do about that! You are not God and life is not a fairy tale! We can't save everyone! Sometimes sacrifices have to be endured because we cannot solve the problem!"
Rei came closer and sat in front of her sobbing friend.
"Sometimes people will die, so we can save others. And people will have to deny themselves what they love most in order to protect the future."
She hugged Usagi.
"You are right. I know I shouldn't be so eager to sacrifice myself. I'm sorry. I know I hurt you by denying myself. But what I do is necessary. And it hurts me just as much as you. Terrible things are going to happen and we won't be able to prevent them. Because if we try we will die, and everything will die with us."
Usagi kept sobbing in her arms.
"I couldn't do a thing...
They all died and I was stuck in the cold and I couldn't do a thing for them..."
"I know. But we couldn't help them either. It wasn't your fault. You made a mistake and we underestimated the enemy. Lives were lost and we will remember that and mourn them. But there is nothing more we can do for them."
"I can't accept that."
"I know... That is what makes you so beautiful... But you have to learn to accept. Because it will tear you apart if you don't. You can't keep wanting to be invincible, because you're not. Nobody is. Everybody feels helpless sometimes. Everybody feels useless sometimes. But it's good to feel weak from time to time. It's good. Because it helps us imagine how it feels for those who feel weak all the time. It helps us to care."
A few hours later on the Shinkansen back to Hiroshima Usagi was sleeping on the shoulder of her dejected friend.
"She finally stopped crying," Makoto observed.
"Yeah. From exhaustion probably."
"Are you alright?"
The brunette watched Rei grit her teeth, coming to the brink of tears.
Rei looked up at her.
"It's unfair that these kinds of things fall to you, but you are the only one who can reach her like that. You are the only one who can get under her skin. I can only imagine how you must feel right now Rei-chan, but you did well. What you did was necessary."
"That doesn't mean it had to happen."
"No, it doesn't... But that was out of our control from the start," Minako chimed in. "Something happened that shouldn't have and we were left with the aftermath. And we didn't know how to deal with it. You saved her from herself Rei-chan."
The miko's attention shifted to the blonde's date.
The Lieutenant-Colonel stopped pretending not to hear them and gave her a nervous look.
"I'm sorry you got in the middle of this. I was kind of prickly to you earlier, but to tell you the truth, I was actually very happy you were with us today. You were very helpful."
Minako's date looked at Rei's pallid, smile and saw her face turn dejected again as she slumped her head and shoulders.
"Well, I don't know what's going on, but I'm glad I could help I guess? I don't mind really. I just hope everything is alright."
"It's alright Yori-san," Minako smiled gratefully. "Thank you for your understanding. I'm sorry we can't tell you more."
He smiled back at her and put his arm around her as she rested her head on his shoulder. Watching the scenery outside go by as the shinkansen brought them nearer their goal he couldn't shake his worries.
No... this was not good at all.
"That smells sooo good!" Ami gushed from the sofa in Ryo's room.
"I am so lucky to have such an amazing cook as a boyfriend."
"I am glad you realize," He smiled. "But it's the least I can do for my nimble girlfriend. After last night I feel compelled to spoil you so much you'll want to do that to me every day."
The bluehead giggled behind her laptop. "Yes yes. Keep my stomach happy and I will keep doing all the things you like."
Her eyes continued to search the screen in deep concentration.
"I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I can't believe I never took you to Miyajima. It's so beautiful. We should go on our own one day."
"Well, we never went because when I have time to visit we want to spend as much time as we can just the two of us. We've never gone out much."
"That's true... The summer rolls are ready. We can almost eat."
Ryo sensed a sudden tension in his girlfriend's voice and glanced at her beautiful body sitting straight up and focused on what she was reading.
"Is everything alright? What are you reading anyway?"
"R... Rei-chan asked me to do some research... To think I tried to laugh her concerns away! Ryo-kun..."
Hearing the panic in her voice he put the dishes on the table and came to see what was the matter.
"You see, I promised to research Mina-chan's date. Everything looked so clean and fitted so neatly at first until I started to investigate his private life. Oh, Ryo-kun... Oh, Ryo-kun... We are in bad trouble!"
Ryo looked at the picture on the screen and froze.
"Starting tomorrow you have to stick to Maki-san like glue and keep him away from us as much as possible... Even from Minako-chan. We are in bad trouble Ryo-kun."
It was a picture in an article about a high-class restaurant in a culinary magazine.
They weren't the focus of the picture but still clearly recognizable.
They probably weren't even aware their picture had been taken, but Yori Maki and the Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff looked like they were having a great time together.
Imaginary end credits = Tears For Fears - Mad World
Chapter 5: Act five: Burning Love
Rei entered her hotel room and lazily flicked on the light.
She felt so very lonely and so very tired. Which was only fitting, because she was the worst person in the world.
She went to the kitchen and poured herself some ice tea. Then she changed her mind and made herself a gin and tonic. Then she called herself a weak, spineless bitch and took the glass of ice tea with her after pouring the gin and tonic in the sink.
She made herself a sandwich and sat on a chair by the window, watching the sun go down as the rain pouring over the city slowly developed into a storm.
A knock on the door made her get up.
As she opened the door it felt like looking into the mirror, only the person in the mirror had a longer skirt, a green jacket and two blonde pigtails like noodles hanging down her head.
"I don't want Mamoru-kun to see me like this," Usagi muttered. "I know how you feel about us..." She softly wept in spite of herself, "But can I sleep here tonight?"
Rei took a few steps backward and her friend came in and closed the door behind her.
They stood in front of each other without a word for about five minutes.
"How... How do you feel?"
Usagi answered without looking up.
"I feel terrible. I'm still fighting myself, but I know I can't deny what happened any longer," She wiped her eyes.
Rei gritted her teeth and grimaced.
"Usagi... I... I'm..."
Her friend looked up and saw the tears forming in the miko's eyes.
The next moment Rei got hit in the face about three or four times.
Once she felt it was over she opened her eyes again.
"Now we are even, so I don't want you to ever feel guilty about what you did again!"
The blonde wrapped her arms around her friend and started to cry again.
"Thank you. Thank you... I was so scared. I didn't want to know. I didn't want to remember... Those poor people. I can't... I can't... I want to save them... Rei-chan... Rei-chan... Rei-chan... Rei-chan..."
They wept in concert as the blackette held her friend in her arms, the two of them standing in the middle of the room. United in their care for the world, in their love for each other.
As their grief was gradually softened by that love they parted.
Rei went to the kitchen and brought back another sandwich for her friend and two cups of tea.
She watched Usagi eat, smiling softly, feeling her heart hurt her with its passion.
"Did you at least enjoy the bunnies?"
Usagi smiled sheepishly.
"This is a world where you can find an island that has everything to make me confront my trauma and tease me.
Okunoshima really is an evil place," She answered, giggling with her friend.
Usagi's hand wandered to her right and held the hand of her friend as they watched the lightning through the curtains.
"You're not afraid?"
Rei noticed the calmness of her friend's touch.
"Never when I'm with you... And I told you: Lightning doesn't bother me as much as it used too."
Rei felt happy now.
They looked at each other and smiled.
"As long as we have each other Rei-chan..."
The words didn't need to be spoken.
Rei let her hand rest next to her friend. This was wrong. It was as far as she would allow herself to go, but it was still wrong.
Then, suddenly, Usagi moved her hand through Rei's long flowing hair.
"Usagi..." She blushed.
"I have often thought these past days that in the hereafter of our lives, when I owe no more to the future and can be just a woman, that we can meet, and you will come to me and claim me as yours. " The blonde sighed.
Rei took her hand and kissed it.
"You are my Queen... You are my friend. You are my world."
"You moron," Usagi smiled.
"... That is enough for me."
"But not for me," The blonde took her hand back. "And you are a liar," She smiled, teasing the miko's earlobe with her finger.
Rei got up.
"I'll make our beds. I'll put them next to each other... If you can keep your hands to yourself," She smirked, turning her back on her friend.
"Whatever you say Rei-chan," Usagi smiled, gazing lecherously at her friends elegant back and firm bottom.
Usagi had started to understand something of that happiness that didn't ask for more. She had started to feel that she could also live like that. To live with the knowledge that Rei loving her unconditionally would color her days till the end. She had started to feel that like Rei she might be able to live like that, in spite of the hurt Rei's rejection still caused her occasionally...
That did not mean it was the life she wished for either of them.
Rei opened her eyes.
It was still raining heavily. Next to her Usagi was sleeping soundly. She looked closer and saw that there was a slight smile on her friend's face. She grinned, thinking how cute Usagi looked and wondering what she was dreaming about.
Feeling thirsty she gently got out of the bed and went to the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of iced tea.
As she put the empty glass on the sink with a refreshed feeling she felt something drawing her attention to the window.
Step by step she came closer, feeling anxious as she approached.
Standing in front of the window she drew aside the curtain and looked around.
Everything seemed normal.
The storm was almost as violent as the one who's fury had terrorized Hiroshima when they came ashore.
Still, she felt uneasy and looked around.
Then, as lightning split the darkness, she saw a shape in the distance.
At first glance, it looked like a large bird on top of a lamp-post and she wondered why it was sitting there perched in the middle of the rain instead of seeking cover.
But what was falling from the skies was not water.
Gradually she started to sense that the bird was watching her, only that couldn't be, she realized with a shock, because the creature's face had no eyes.
Yet it was looking at her. Into her. Fear started to possess her as it seemed to her the creature was looking into the depths of her soul.
She felt a cold, sadistic, beastly consciousness search inside her heart and tried desperately to keep it from finding what it was looking for.
Too late she realized that it already had.
She tried to close the curtains, tried to run away to protect Usagi, but she could not move.
She realized she was completely helpless as she, in turn, looked into the soul of the depraved creature. A monster that was dedicatedly trained to wage war and destruction, it's mind constantly fantasizing about the most horrible mutilation and torture, remembering the cries of the hundreds of thousands of victims it had already made elsewhere.
In the darkness that covered the world, the creature was being drenched in the blood of the people Rei had vowed to protect, and it's cold hungry mind was lusting after the one she wanted to protect most of all.
She felt her arm move towards the window. Shuddering with fear she tried to stop herself. Her hand closed around the handle to open the window to the horror outside and she knew that the creature was in total control of her actions. Desperately she tried to resist as the creature made her pull the handle down.
She woke up breathing heavily.
"Rei-chan! Are you alright?! You're bathing in sweat."
Rei took a moment to adjust herself, calming down as Usagi caressed her cheek and held her hand.
She sat up.
"Are you alright?"
"What was it? Another vision."
She shook her head. "No. This was different. I... I think I just had a nightmare."
She looked towards the window.
"Tell me about it."
"huh?" She saw Usagi watching her earnestly.
"Tell me what you dreamed of."
She looked at the window again, thinking it might be best not burden her friend's sleep with what she saw after today.
"I'll tell you tomorrow."
"Rei-chan!" Usagi reprimanded her sharply.
She made her friend chuckle.
"I'll tell you tomorrow. I promise. Now go to sleep. You had a very taxing day."
"Thanks to you."
Rei got up and walked to the window.
She quickly opened the curtain and looked at where she remembered the creature sitting, but there was nothing there. The storm had calmed down. The rain had become a trickle. Maybe it had been just a dream.
Usagi watched her friend, wondering whether she was planning on holding a vigil. She was certain now, that Rei had seen something horrible.
She still couldn't stomach that so many people were going to die and they wouldn't be able to stop it, but seeing her friend's anxiety made her realize that what was coming must really be no ordinary enemy.
Rei closed the curtain, went to rummage inside one of her bags and came back in bed.
"What's that? Handcuffs? Where did you get those?"
"Euh... Minako-chan gave it to me as a joke once," Rei answered without looking at her.
Usagi frowned as she saw her friend cuff herself to the bed.
"You realize you're still scaring me, don't you? You might as well tell me about your dream."
"Tomorrow," Rei grinned.
"Take this key and put it somewhere I can't see."
Usagi hid the key quietly while her friend covered her eyes.
"Is it gone?"
"okay then. Goodnight Usagi. Sweet dreams," Rei smiled, laying her head on her pillow.
"You have to be joking."
Rei's features were gradually illuminated as the sun was led from out of her hiding place and revealed to the world.
Usagi gazed lazily at her friend's innocent sleeping face, smiling as she rested her own head to enjoy the nuances of the black strands of hair that draped over Rei's shoulders down to her pillow and underneath the sheets.
She became hypnotized by the soft lips she wanted to kiss so much and felt her heart contract as she pondered whether she ever would.
"Even though you are now so much weaker than the rest of us, protecting me is still the foremost thing on your mind. Rei-chan... Even if I keep telling you it's me that should be protecting you. You do so much for me, but you won't let me do anything for you."
She reached for her friend's hand, lying next to her pillow but stopped short of holding it.
A knock on the door made her sit up.
"Hmmm. Is it morning already?"
"Good morning Rei-chan," She sang.
A drowsy half scowl/half grin formed on the miko's face before she rubbed her eyes and noticed the shackle around her ankle.
Again someone knocked on the door.
Usagi produced the key to the handcuffs from the pendant hanging between her breasts.
"Cute hiding place," Rei raised an eyebrow.
"I guessed the best place to hide it was somewhere you'd be hesitant to look," The blonde huffed.
As her friend freed herself Usagi got out of bed and opened the door to Ami and Ryo.
The surprised couple searched Rei's face after they greeted and came in, but quickly learned from her expression that nothing had happened between the two women.
"What are you doing here so early?" Usagi whined. "Rei-chan was still sleeping and she looked so cute."
The miko tried to hide her blush from Ami while she went to the kitchen to get them a quick breakfast.
"Sorry guys, but we discovered something we need to discuss as soon as possible."
Rei felt a chill on her back as she finished the sandwiches and brought them to the table.
"We can't trust Maki-san," Ami said solemnly.
Rei and Usagi stared at her.
"Alright. What have you discovered?"
The bluehead opened and activated her laptop while Ryo went into the kitchen and poured them all a drink.
"I haven't discovered much. Which only makes things more frightful. His career in the military, his private life... Everything looks perfectly normal, but then I found a picture of him and used it in my facial recognition program. After a search through all Japanese computer systems, it found this."
Rei looked at the picture and turned pale.
"What is this? Who's that guy with Yori-san?" Usagi asked.
"They mention his name and rank in the article," Rei sighed.
"Well if he's that important that we're worrying about him I should know about him without having to read the article, right?!"
"Usagi, that would still imply that you're the one at fault," Ryo sweated.
Feeling she had no way left to talk herself out of the situation the blonde glared at the smugly looking Rei.
"He's the Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff, and the fact that he and Maki-san are intimate enough to go for dinner in plain clothes together is ominous. It could be a coincidence, but having us connected to such a person is too dangerous."
"It's not a coincidence," Ami stated wearily.
"After I found this I started to dig deeper."
She opened a file.
"This is a graph I made. 70 percent of all meetings Maki-san takes part in are always with the same select group of officers. No matter how I searched I could not find any notes taken during these meetings. The only evidence that they took place are the reservations for the meeting rooms. Now, look at the graph. Notice anything particular about the dates on which the hours spent in these meetings spike?"
Usagi and Rei looked at the dates with wonder.
"This was after Naru-chan was attacked by that horned Golem," The blonde remembered. "And this was after Nebula Supreme tried to ascend."
"This was after they tried to take Mako-chan's Pure Heart Crystal. And this was the battle against Mesmerphistopheles. These are all dates of creature attacks or great battles!"
"I searched for pictures of the other officers involved in those meetings and used them in my facial recognition program. I found these pictures." Ami started to display a series of photographs on the screen. "These were all taken on locations of attacks, after and some even during an attack and each of them has one of the officers on the list present in them in civilian clothes."
"Yori-san himself is in this one!" Usagi exclaimed. "They've been investigating us for years!"
"That's what I've been telling you for years!"
Usagi hung her head.
"Poor Mina-chan... This is so unfair."
"That's the least of our worries Usagi," Rei scolded with her arms crossed.
"Don't worry Usagi-chan," Ami giggled. "We're all still young. I'm aware we don't have the best track record when it comes to relationships, but no matter what happens I'm confident Mina-chan, Mako-chan, and Rei-chan will all find a lover someday."
"Don't smile with such meaning at her when you mention my name."
"Don't worry," Ami whispered conspiratorily while winking at her blonde friend. "She'll come to her senses one day."
Ryo frowned, drumming the fingers of his right hand on the table.
"Shouldn't you deal with the problem at hand instead of trying to create new ones?"
"Then again, romance isn't all rainbows and butterflies. I think we can both agree, Mina-chan dodged a bullet. Oh, Usagi-chan! If only we had been so lucky!" Ami sighed dramatically.
"Please. You think you can get me riled up so easily? Maybe you should be a little nicer to your boyfriend who is going to have to get between Mina-chan and her date and come up with all kinds of embarrassing reasons to stick to him for the rest of the day."
"I'm so sorry Ryo-kun," Ami kissed him several times. "Thank you so much for sacrificing yourself. I promise we will help as much as we can. We'll try to think of some things you can keep him busy with and we will try our best to keep Minako-chan with us."
Usagi stared at her black haired friend's concentrated expression.
She couldn't help caressing her hair. The events of the past days had only strengthened their bond and she felt an intuitive desire to ease Rei's worries.
The miko looked up with a dumb expression and gently brushed her hand away. Usagi sighed and felt her heart sting.
"What are you thinking Rei-chan?" She whispered.
Rei exhaled and stayed silent for half a minute.
"It seems they have been content just observing us for years," Her face turned pale and she looked into Ryo's eyes.
"It seems something changed that made it seem necessary for them to make contact with us."
Ami looked from one to the other and then to the awkwardly looking Usagi.
"Hey, you guys. I'm getting pretty tired of being left out of the loop!"
"Ah... Yeah, I actually think it's high time you told everyone Rei-chan."
The miko reflected quickly but considered it would be too soon for Usagi to discuss her visions with the others after how taxing yesterday had been.
"I'm sorry Ami-chan, but I really think everyone should get to enjoy their holiday before I tell you. There is no immediate need for all of you to know yet."
"What are you talking about?! We're being infiltrated by some top secret organization inside the JSDF because they're scared out of their minds! Have you even told Usagi-chan yet?"
"Then just tell me Rei-chan. It's not right that you're making my boyfriend keep secrets from me. I want it to stop. And I shouldn't be getting permission from Rei-chan to get you to tell me what you know!"
"I'm sorry Ami-chan, but we all agreed that it would be best for the three of us not to talk with the rest of you about what we saw before we had some certainty about what we're dealing with. And don't you try and pressure me into talking because of an assumption I made Ryo-kun!"
"What?! I told you, we can't wait much longer! We have certainty enough now, don't you think? I don't care what you say, Ami-chan is right. I'm going to tell her."
"I think Rei-chan is right."
Everybody looked at Usagi who had been quiet all this time.
She blushed deeply when Rei stared at her open-mouthed.
"You shouldn't make Ryo-kun or Michiru-chan keep secrets from their lovers Rei-chan. I know what we agreed on, but the three of you are taking it too far. This cold sensible reason for secrecy is making you all feel obliged to deny yourself what you really passionately want to do. It's a typical Hino construction," The blonde huffed while Rei looked dumbfoundedly at her.
"But I agree that we can wait one more day before we tell the others. There is no reason to share our burden with you now and spoil the rest of your holiday even more than already has been by Yori-san. So I propose we go and have fun at Itsukushima and tomorrow when we get home, we will tell everyone what you saw."
"Alright then," Ami sighed. "I can wait one more day. You're lucky the two of you are so cute."
A knock on the door made them look up.
"That'll be Mako-chan and Mina-chan. What do we say?"
"Best to say nothing for the moment I think."
Ami shared a look with her boyfriend and went to open the door.
"I agree," She said. "If we're going to keep all the bad news until we get home we might as well wait to tell her about Yori-san too."
"Hey! You're all here already!" Minako exclaimed as she looked into the room."
Makoto frowned as she saw Usagi and Rei were still in their nightdress.
"What's going on? Did you have a slumber party?"
"I just slept here last night. I didn't want Mamo-kun to see me as miserable as I felt yesterday."
The brunette looked from Usagi to the pre-occupied Rei.
"And do you feel better now?" She asked, looking Usagi so square in the face she made her blush.
"I feel better, yes. I had a good talk with Rei-chan... She comforted me."
"Usagi I'm going to shower. We need to leave early if we want to get to the torri gate in time for the low tide.
Maybe you should shower in your own room."
The miko abruptly got up and went to the bathroom with her clothes in hand.
"What was that about?"
Usagi looked from the surprised Minako to the frowning Makoto and got up nervously.
"Rei-chan is right. I better go and get ready. See you in half an hour."
"Then we should get back to our room Mako-chan. Yori-kun might be there already."
Ami and her boyfriend shared a sad look.
"We'll come with you too, so Rei-chan can get ready in comfort."
Ryo went to the bathroom door and knocked three times.
"Rei-chan? We're gathering in Mako-chan and Mina-chan's room. Join us there when you're ready."
Hearing a muffled response he joined the others and closed the door of the hotel room behind them.
Takashi Hino was not a man you could just have a talk with. Even in the middle of the night, Rei's father could be busy with an important meeting, socializing at a party or otherwise busy with work. Nevertheless, she had to talk to him. She had to know for sure why they were being infiltrated now. He might not want to acknowledge what she wanted to talk about though, and that would be a problem. She understood well enough the need to protect his political integrity. It was bad enough his daughter was a vigilante with superpowers, but if anyone could prove that he knew about this it could be disastrous not just for his career, but for his entire party.
A lot of things hinged on Takashi Hino being completely unaware that his daughter fought monstrous creatures, often in plain daylight.
Sitting down with the portable phone of her hotel room after drying her hair and putting on her light-green overall and pink shirt Rei dialed the number of her father's private cell phone and waited.
Her heart skipped a beat when she heard his stern rumble.
"Hello, father. It's Rei-chan."
She heard him breathe in and wait.
"Do you have time? I need to talk to you for a moment."
"I was just reading a proposal for a new bill, so I have some time, yes."
Rei breathed deep. She knew she couldn't ask about anything directly. Everything had to be cloaked in innocent everyday babble. It all depended on her and her father understanding what they were really trying to say to each other.
"I am on a holiday with a few friends. Mamoru-kun, Usagi-chan..."
"Yes, I know everything you've been doing."
That was direct. She had to take a moment to recover. Was he saying what she thought he was?
"Y... You do?"
"Yes," He sighed. "I know everything.
Rei... Have you girls found a summer love yet?"
He did know everything.
"One of us has."
Takashi was silent for a moment.
"I see... Well, like with all things you should be careful dealing with strange men, but I know you are all smart girls. I trust your judgment in these things. A summer love can become an important friend if nothing more."
"I see... You seem to have an optimistic view on this."
"Yes... I do. You don't?"
"It's a weird guy."
"Yes. I suspect he is," He chuckled. "Don't worry about it. These kinds of people often just need help... To loosen up."
"You think so?"
Her father hesitated.
"I know so."
Rei played with her hair.
"I see... Thank you."
"Rei... After your holiday is over an important time is ahead of you. I'll help you any way I can... But you have to be aware, that sometimes I can't."
"Yes. I understand."
"I wanted to tell you I was going on holiday with my friends. I should have told you everything. Why didn't you tell me you knew everything?"
Her father was silent for a moment.
"Well, I don't blame you for not telling me. Sometimes it's best for parents and children to have a few secrets from each other, or their relationship might turn awkward. I'm glad you understand that."
"But I have to get on with my work now, Rei. Do you have anything else you wanted to talk about?"
"No... I'm sorry to bother you."
"Don't be... You and your friends should have fun now," His voice sounded strained for a moment. "Enjoy yourself Rei. You're going to have to work hard when your holiday ends."
The miko felt a chill in her spine.
"We're proud of you."
Startled by the unexpected expression of affection Rei's eyes filled up.
She had never talked like this with him before.
"T... Thank you."
"Yes... Maybe we should have said so before... But you know, these things are awkward to talk about,"
"Have fun Rei, and take care."
After he hung up Rei wiped her eyes and swallowed. It was clear that the government was already aware of the treat. To what extent she couldn't guess. But since they were apparently trying to make contact with the Senshi, where before, they seemed to have been careful to observe without acknowledging their existence, they must be aware that the threat was of a high order.
If anything she supposed it might be good to be backed by the government. But being backed usually came at a price.
They had a clear blue sky and a hot sun for their visit to Itsukushima.
Fresh from the ferry a gentle sea breeze softened the heat for them and accentuated the holiday atmosphere with its scent.
Taking his mission very seriously, right from the start Ryo had engaged Yori Maki and Minako about the food served in the mess hall. A subject that had been strategically chosen to draw Makoto and Usagi into the conversation so that the latter could get her friends away from the Lieutenant-Colonel by starting a conversation of their own while Ryo kept him busy.
Ami watched the spectacle in front of her with a sympathetic smile for her boyfriend. She, Rei and Usagi had joined their heads in the toilet of the ferry so they could give him some inspiration to draw from for subjects to keep the Lieutenant-Colonel busy with. But the pressure was still very much on Ryo to drive a wedge between Minako and her date, though the rest of them would certainly help as much as they could.
"I didn't mean to make trouble for your relationship," The person walking next to her said as they approached the first shops of Omotesando arcade.
"I know Rei-chan. I overreacted because I was frightened. I still don't like it that you make Ryo-kun keep secrets from me, but I do understand that there is a good reason for the secrecy. I suppose I am to blame too. I should trust your intelligence unit to investigate what's going on and inform the rest of us when you feel it's needed."
"Good. I'm happy you see it that way because I'm not planning to abandon the way we've been doing things. Keeping things between the three of us allows us to keep a level head and discover what's what without having to alarm the rest of you."
The blue haired woman stared at her friend's confident smile.
She could understand how Usagi could get on Rei's nerves sometimes, but she could certainly relate to Rei getting on Usagi's nerves sometimes too.
"I think you would be a great interrogator Rei-chan, Just spend the day talking like that to Maki-san and I'm sure he'll tell you all you want to know in the end."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing," Ami grinned. "I just admire your pigheadedness. That's all."
Rei gave her a sideways leer.
"Hey everyone! We need to eat some Momiji Manju!"
"They say I got my stubbornness from my mother," Rei said as they cued in line for the pastries after Usagi's enthusiastic announcement.
"Only a woman like my mother could live with my father without having him walk all over her."
"Don't buy so many Usagi-chan. You'll get fat if you eat all that."
"Have you ever seen her gain any weight Mina-chan?"
Ami watched her companion ponder something while she came next in line at the shop.
"What kind do you want Rei-chan," It's my treat.
"Oh. Thanks. A green tea paste Momiji Manju please," The miko smiled.
Continuing their walk through the crowded shopping street they resumed their talk while enjoying Miyajima's local specialty.
"I called my father before I joined you in Mina-chan and Mako-chan's hotel room."
Rei rarely talked about her parents with anybody but Usagi. Always claiming there was not much to tell. Ami knew their names, she knew Takashi was currently minister of trade, economy, and industry for the LDP and Risa worked as the global senior brand manager for Shiseido.
She knew visits were made according to previously planned appointment and a bunch of other casual information. But Rei had never really talked much about her emotional relationship with them.
"You see I wanted to try whether I could pry loose any information from him about Maki-san and his group. He... Surprised me."
Ami watched her friend's strange grimacing with an ever-increasing curiosity. She hoped the relationship between Rei and her parents, peculiar as it was wouldn't be endangered by these developments.
"Why? What did he say?
"He... pretty much told me that he knows everything about us."
"You long suspected this, didn't you?"
"I never told them, because I didn't want to create trouble for them. He told me he understood my decision. He also implied that he would help us where he could."
A wide grin formed on the bluehead's face
"That's great! It must feel good to know he is so supportive."
Rei showed her a coy smile.
"He said he was proud of me."
"That has to make you feel good?"
To her friend's shock the miko stated, proud as a peacock:
"It does feel good to be commended for always having striven to stay true to your principles. I always hoped there would be a day I could tell him all about us. And that he would understand and approve of my decisions."
Ami futilely recoiled as her friend suddenly glomped her.
"I feel great. I haven't taken the time to process our conversation before now, but I'm so happy Ami-chan! I can't wait to see the look on Usagi's face when I tell her."
"His approval might not necessarily mean the way you've been doing things is flawless though," Ami tried carefully.
"He is your father after all. Perhaps it's natural for the two of you to think alike?"
"Oh, I know that. To tell you the truth if he would say to me he totally disapproved of my methods I wouldn't change the way I did things either, but it just feels great the way we talked. I never knew he felt this way."
Her friend couldn't get herself to criticize this infectious joy any longer. After having known Rei this long as a girl nearly completely devoid of family joy, it was great to see her so happy about a conversation with her father. A conversation she had initiated with strategic goals at that.
"Hey everyone! Why don't we eat some of those delicious oysters we've been smelling since we got here?"
"Maki-san seems to have found a way to circumvent our blockade," Ami smiled.
"Yeah," She watched her friend openly grin at the Lieutenant-Colonel.
"Alright, Yori-san. It'll be my treat!"
"Wow! What happened to make you so generous Rei-chan? You're usually so stingy."
"That got your interest huh? I always suspected you were a golddigger," Rei returned her friend's sour look.
That hit Usagi harder than she intended, but a winning smile quickly showed the blonde that the accusation was merely in jest.
"All I mean is you should try and live a little more," She smiled, huffed and stepped haughtily into Yakigaki No Hayashi with her hands neatly joined behind her back.
Something stirred within Rei as she watched Usagi's coquettish behavior.
Certainly just being friends with the blonde was heavenly in itself. It must be wonderful for Mamoru to spend every day of his life together with her.
"Here is your Kiyomori-Teishoku Miss. We apologize to have kept you waiting,"
The handsome waiter bowed to Makoto.
"Enjoy your meal everybody."
"Enjoy your meal."
"If you are really that interested in American eating culture Ryo-san, we could go on a double date with Ami-san and Minako-san and a few friends of mine. They'd be of much more help than I am."
"Oh! I'd like that. What do you think Ami-chan?"
Usagi grinned as Ryo unintentionally widened his circle of friends in Minato-ku.
Her Kaki Sankei-Teishoku menu was delicious! The Kaki-Furai were so crispy!
Itsukushima was the best! And they had only just arrived!
"So how is Mamoru-kun doing?" Rei asked next to her.
Rei looked so happy and beautiful today. Usagi couldn't help turning red.
"Yes," She laughed apologetically. "I know. He is going to have dinner with his superior from the Hiroshima office. They are very pleased with the work he put in and his input. Thanks to him they are ahead of schedule starting up over here. He looked very excited this morning. I'm happy for him. He deserves the praise they give him."
"Yes. I never doubted he would do an amazing job. He's always been a hard worker and very passionate about his studies and his job."
"Rei-chan," Usagi deadpanned. "Stop trying to sell my boyfriend to me."
Her friend elbowed her.
"Can't I honestly be interested and admire him? I was with him first remember?" She grinned.
Usagi felt that the grin was more flirtatious than Rei probably intended, but she wasn't going to let that stop her from retaliating.
"You only wanted to date him so I couldn't."
"That doesn't mean I didn't think he was handsome and kind. Mamo-kun is quite the catch."
"Why don't you date us both then?"
Rei spat out her oyster rice seeing the haughty expression accompanied by that question.
The subject ended there, but while she continued to eat her oysters Usagi noticed Makoto had been watching them with a curious expression.
"There is more," Rei said as she once again walked next to Ami at the tail-end of their procession.
"There usually is... What are you talking about?" The latter added with a surprised look.
"My talk with father."
They were nearing the end of Otomosando arcade and were sorry to leave the bustling street, but grander things were up ahead.
"He made it sound like Maki-San is here to make contact with us because they want our help."
"As you expected?"
"You would think they'd have a more clever way of going about that. Seducing one of us is hardly going to get them on our good side."
"I wouldn't expect much better from a covert JSDF organization though."
"That's another strange thing. Why does it seem like there are no Americans involved? They would be able to provide better knowhow and technology."
"I have no idea. But I have the feeling they would rather the rest of the world doesn't know we exist."
"Yes. Like we discussed so many times before, it wouldn't look too good for the government if the world finds out they've got a team of super warriors hidden away."
"After all, according to your research, it seems the one thing they have been thorough in is making sure there is no binary data about us or the group that researches us."
They were walking on the esplanade now, navigating the deer lounging about and sniffing their bags.
"If they need us, there is less for us to worry about is there?"
Ami gave her friend an inquiring look.
"I wish we had nothing to worry about at all," Rei sighed. "But the least it will do is keep us out of jail."
"Hey Ami-chan," Usagi interrupted with a jaded look. "Can you keep Minako-chan busy for a while in my stead? I want to talk about something with Rei-chan."
The miko gave Ami an apprehensive look.
"I'm sorry Rei-chan," She cheerfully smiled. "This is a beautiful location for the two of you to have some couple time."
"We're not a...!"
Usagi's hurt expression shut the miko up.
They walked along the shoreline for a while in awkward silence. Rei watched the paradisiac clear blue water to her right. It was great weather: warm, but not as hot as it could be around this time. She looked at the sun in the sky and the city of Hatsukaichi in the distance on the other side of the water. For the first time, she became aware that they hadn't seen any birds since they left Hatsukaichi on the ferry.
"Hey! Leave me be, you pesky deer!"
Rei chuckled at the sight of her blonde companion being engaged in a handbag pulling contest with one of the deer roaming the island.
"This one has been following me since before we had lunch!"
"How do you know it's the same one?"
Usagi watched her friend's teasing grin, thinking how unfair it was that Rei always looked so cute when she was making fun of her.
"Of course it's the same one! I would recognize that conceited leer anywhere," She gritted her teeth, mirroring her opponent's expression.
"Why don't you just give him that last Momiji Manju you've been hogging and have him out of your hair?"
"But they're so good," Usagi whined.
"We can buy new ones on our way back to the ferry," Rei sighed. "We're going to have deer bothering us all over the island if you're going to be so selfish."
Heaving a deep sigh Usagi got the cake out of her bag and took a good bite before throwing the remainder at the deer.
"Ha! Did you think you were getting the whole thing?" She crossed her arms as the animal sniffed its nose at her.
Rei smirked and resumed her walk with the blonde joining her.
"You are terrible."
"Hmmm. That Momiji Manju was so yummy."
The miko felt all fuzzy inside seeing the expression of pure delight on the face of the woman she loved. She blushed and quickly looked ahead, seeing the torii gate come into view as Usagi, in turn, watched her and smiled at the expression she was making.
An intense sadness again overwhelmed the blonde, realizing that this might last forever. This distance of their hearts, so attuned to each other, yet kept apart because of Rei's concerns about the future.
After all, she might not be able to continue like this. She could not endure this dazzling happiness if it kept being marred by the knowledge that this painful impenetrable wall would always keep them apart.
But she knew that endure she must, though it would end up tearing her apart.
Her love for Rei had always been a part of her from the moment they met. They had slowly grown closer and closer in spite of the conflicts that arose between them because of the differences in their personalities. But from the start, there had been a deeper affinity. Even if neither of them would have admitted it in those early days they had quickly been a shared realization that nobody in the world understood them better. It had made Rei alternate between teasing her and resentfully pushing her away whenever it made Usagi crave her company and chase after her.
And it was this feeling of kinship that had bound her to Rei far before the miko's inadvertent confession had made her aware of the significance and strength of that bond.
If Rei was determined to offer her heart to the future of Crystal Tokyo then she would offer Usagi's too.
For all that she was capable of, Usagi knew she would never find the strength to stop Rei from sacrificing her for the good of mankind, even if she wanted too.
Rei felt increasingly anxious, stealing glances at the pre-occupied young woman next to her. She knew what Usagi wanted to talk to her about. She knew the pain she was causing the woman she loved. She knew it would be painful for herself to once again have to repeat her reasons for rejecting Usagi's love and disappoint that pure love.
But because her own love was equal to the love felt for her, she could not allow her friend to torture herself any longer. Better to once again break their hearts as soon as possible so they could glue them together with the love that would pour out of them.
"Huh?" The blonde answered as she looked up in Rei's eyes, shaken out of her reverie.
That beautiful, honest, open, pure look. That world of love that Rei would never be able to live in.
"So what did you want to talk about?"
Usagi looked at their friends walking ahead and the great torii beyond.
The sea had made way for them to come up close to the gigantic structure.
"You have never really given me an answer when I confessed to you," She, at last, said with downcast eyes.
Rei sighed as her heart contracted.
They slowly followed the other tourists as they descended towards the entrance to Itsukushima-jinja.
"I'm sorry Usagi... But you already know my answer."
She could not make it more clear than that. The tears finally being freed from the eyes of her friend were a testament to that.
Even so, Usagi's reply quickly made the miko aware that she was not going to just let the matter rest there.
Rei swallowed, hearing the desperation in the blonde's voice and gently pulled her wrist, making them stop moving after having started walking below sea level.
"You know that I love you more than life itself. I always will. But we are not free to love who we want. You are the hope and protector of humanity and I am your bodyguard. And as your bodyguard, it is my duty to help you do what you do best."
"That is not your duty!" Usagi cried in a voice strained by heartache and tears.
Rei's eye's began to sting.
"Not exactly perhaps. But if we don't do these things who will?" She softly wept.
"We know what the future holds. It's not pretty. We cannot risk endangering the people around us more than they already are. and we can't allow future generations to be endangered."
"Just say it! You mean Chibi-Usa don't you?!"
"You know as well as I do she won't be born if we..."
"What you are saying is I don't care whether my daughter lives or dies!" Usagi burst out.
"I never meant anything like that!" Rei responded, shocked that Usagi would think an idea like that could exist in her mind.
"But that is what you are saying if you think you have to save her from our love!"
Every one of the tears that flowed from Usagi's eyes were daggers that struck at Rei's heart.
It's exactly what she had been saying the entire time.
It didn't matter that she had never considered it like that in her mind. What she had been telling Usagi was that to Rei, it was her duty to keep her friend from murdering her own daughter. No, the entirety of mankind.
"I never meant it like that!" She just repeated.
"You look upon the love I feel for you as a monster that wants to destroy the future! You have never even considered how little we know about that future! You have never even considered that we are still there in the future, protecting Chibi-Usa! Protecting mankind!"
The meaning of Usagi's words hit the blackette's consciousness like a shockwave, but even though it changed everything she had thought she knew, a final question born from her old convictions still escaped her.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that if our love was such a danger to the people we love, the people we want to protect, neither of us would have allowed things to come as far as they have! If our love really threatened the future, Sailor Pluto would have alerted us of its danger long ago, and we would have taken action to prevent our feelings from becoming so strong."
It was true. It was an undeniable truth. Faced with such a crisis, their future selves wouldn't have hesitated to send Chibi-Usa to walk in their way wherever they would meet. They would have done much much more to prevent such a threat. But nothing had happened to kill their budding love. Nothing had happened to keep it from burning their hearts with its fire. They had been left free to pursue that love just as any other two people would have been. Nobody had told them to stay away from each other. Nobody had told them that the greatest threat to humanity was the way Usagi pouted when Rei teased her with her English pronunciation or how elegant she looked in her blue and white yukata.
For years Rei had lived in the belief that what she had felt for her best friend was one half of a shear that when made whole might cut mankind's thread of life.
All this time she had been wrong.
As the shockwave that had made her realize this subsided, it seemed like everything had gone quiet around them.
The birds, the deer, the people, even the sea.
No... there had been no birds this entire time. And in truth, there had been only a handful of deer when Itsukushima was supposed to be swarming with them.
Rei and Usagi saw the realization growing in each other's eyes that something was very wrong. It seemed like the people around them that had been casually chatting on their way to the Torii, were now waiting with baited breath.
Time seemed to stretch out as they turned their heads.
Everyone around them was gaping in the same direction.
Something had turned the hundreds of tourists that were visiting Itsukushima-jinja a ghastly pale.
What she saw shocked Rei's world to its core.
Instinctively she drew Usagi behind her as the sky-blue Pterosaur-like faceless many-tailed creature from her nightmare sat grooming itself on top of the red torii gate.
"It's here..." She whispered. Blood curdled in her veins.
"Everybody run!" Ryo yelled at the top of his lungs. "Run for your lives! To Omotesando street!"
He pulled on the arm of Yori Maki, who was completely stunned, staring at the monster in front of them and led him running to the mainland, followed by a howling terrified mass of people.
"We have to transform!" Makoto shouted. Even her voice was inspired with a fear they had rarely felt before.
The fear of certain knowledge that most of the people around them were going to die, no matter what they did.
As the creature reared it's head towards the beach they knew they had run out of time.
"Mars Cosmic Power! Make Up!"
"Jupiter Eternal Power! Make Up!"
"Mercury Eternal Power! Make Up!"
"Venus Eternal Power! Make Up!"
"Moon Eternal Power! Make Up!"
By then the creature had flown straight towards the shrine and destroyed the entire structure, crushing the people inside to death.
It was fast.
Their attacks were in total disarray.
Venus's Cosmic Love Bomb almost killed a bunch of people as it missed the creature by a hair while one of its tails crushed another group of people to their death. A group Mercury narrowly escaped being a part of. Her High-Pressure Blast narrowly sheared off a broad strip of skin on its flank, but it was much too fast to take a direct hit.
People were running around in panic, walking all over each other. There were bodies everywhere.
Mars was reliving her visions in real time.
"We have to do something," Moon muttered, feeling completely powerless to stop what was happening.
That prompted Mars to step forward.
"Don't you dare!"
Rei gave her friend a confused look.
"Not this time Sailor Mars. Not this time!" Sailor Moon yelled.
"If this thing is as powerful as you say it is you don't stand a chance! This time I will protect you and you will help everyone find safety in Omotesando arcade!"
Her world turned upside down, Sailor Mars couldn't offer more resistance.
Sailor Moon was right perhaps. Being so much weaker than the rest of them it would be better for her to join Ryo and Yori in organizing the evacuation.
Sailor Moon, in any case, was more than powerful enough to take care of herself. If anything she was the one of them who was most at danger from a powerful enemy.
Nodding and starting to run along with the last people to come from the area around the torii she looked back to see Usagi stand defiantly in the monster's path.
Raising her Silver Moon Sceptre with both hands she was about to begin the New Millenium Moon Love attack.
Mars yelled at the people around her not to stay too close together when she heard a horrifying shriek behind them.
Heavy air circulation dragged her back and sent her rolling over the empty seabed as she saw the Silver Moon Sceptre in one of the creature's tails.
She heard someone cry her name and saw a bunch of unconscious people caught in other tails while she rolled along the floor underneath the gigantic blue body. Finally, she felt like a Bomber jet collided with her head.
"You're not going anywhere!" Jupiter Roared as the creature turned around after grabbing Sailor Mars and the people she was evacuating and was about to go off in pursuit of a group of people trying to escape at the other side of the destroyed shrine. "Green Giant Devastating Discharge!" The monster flew right past the gigantic electrical orb before it could even take effect. What it succeeded in was getting its attention.
It perched for a moment as if noticing it's assailants for the first time.
Every one of the Senshi held their breaths. The battlefield to their grief was clear now except for the victims the creature had dropped from its tails after it had drained them or crushed them.
"That's right, you monster," Jupiter growled. "We're the ones you want."
They now saw that the creature had no real mouth. Its beak, or what looked like it, was marked by a pattern of incisions. One of its tails suddenly moved violently as it flew straight towards Jupiter.
"High-Pressure Blast!" Mercury missed. But Jupiter managed to jump in time. Before she could land however the creature caught her with another tail, swinging her along in its flight.
The Senshi of protection screamed out in pain as her body was wrapped around by the long tail.
Venus summoned her heart-linked wings, flew up and attacked the creature from behind.
"Cosmic Love Bomb!"
This one struck home, and the monster was momentarily blasted out of its trajectory, but it instantly adapted it's course and grabbed Sailor Venus in its claw. Its beak moved towards her. Luckily Mercury came to the rescue.
She managed to do away with two of the creature's tails, causing it to emit a shrill shriek that was heard all over the bay.
All she had succeeded in though was make it concentrate on herself now.
As the monster went straight for near the most powerful of the Senshi, Moon watched in agony. Mercury managed to jump out of the creatures reach, summoned her cloud-wings and flew up so she could launch another attack. Desperately trying to outmaneuver her opponent she blasted away the tip of one of its wings. It turned gracefully in its flight and flew at her again, all the while dragging the half-conscious Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus along in its tails. Mercury turned in her flight and tried to attack again, but she couldn't emulate the creature's skill. Right when she was about to launch her attack it flew up and pounced upon the young woman. She didn't have a moment to reflect. Her body was in its claw.
Sailor Moon ran up to them immediately, planning on getting her Sceptre back while the creature took a pause to groom itself again while draining its new meaty victims and transfer Mercury to another one of its tails.
Trying to approach the monster from behind she carefully used the corpses it had left lying around and pretended she was one of them. So far it had not taken notice of Sailor Moon's presence.
Her heart ached, seeing all the dead people around her and her friend's bodies wrapped around by the powerful tails the creature used to such great effect.
Her heart beat like mad, but she had to shut it all out. She had to be strong now for everyone. Sailor Mars had been right. If the world was going to be invaded by creatures like this there were going to be a lot more victims, but if she wouldn't be able to save her friends... If they would die here, everyone on earth was going to die with them.
She had to be strong. She had to endure the horrible psychological strain that was causing her heart to send blood through her body like a bullet train.
The tail holding the Silver Moon Sceptre was just idling about in front of her. Just a few meters and she could grab it.
Just before she felt the impact that knocked her out Sailor Moon noticed that Sailor Mars was staring at her.
It was over.
Sailor Mars moaned in dejection as Sailor Moon was wrapped in the tail that had hit her and started to drain her of her energy.
The last thing she saw was the face of the woman she loved, unconscious and helpless.
This was it: She had explored a lot of scenarios in her fire readings, but after all her effort she had been unable to prevent the very worst from coming true...
The scenario where they all died before the war against the invaders even began.
All her self-denial had gone to waste.
Chibi-Usa will never be born and nothing she had done had any part in that...
Mamoru's heart will be broken through no fault of her...
Usagi won't spend a day of her life in the arms of the person she loved...
And Rei will die alone...
And none of this was her fault.
It just happened...
In spite of her desire to save the future. In spite of her arrogant martyrdom.
She would have no part in the inevitable downfall of humanity.
Crystal Tokyo will never exist, and it won't be because she stole it's Queen from it's King.
In the end, all her self-sacrifice had been in vain.
The one thing she had succeeded in was to keep avoiding to answer that question.
It didn't matter anymore now.
"What do you want?"
To have everyone safe and happy?
To be a loyal knight who defends her Queen until the end?
To protect the future of earth, Crystal Tokyo, and Chibi-Usa?
To do the right thing?
None of those things were true.
They were all important. They were things she would always fight for.
She would always try to do what was right, it was part of who she was. It was a good and beautiful thing, it was not unhealthy.
She had just brought it to unhealthy extremes because she had convinced herself that in order to properly take care of her parents, her grandpa, Usagi, Mamoru, Chibi-Usa, Ami, Mako, Mina, Yuishirio and the world, she had to put herself second.
But that wasn't true.
She could try to do the right thing and still strife for what she wanted.
And what she wanted had no self-sacrifice to it.
It was a purely selfish thing that would consume everyone and everything if she let it.
It was a primal desire that was central to who she was.
An identity she had tried to disown for far too long in her desire not to bring harm to others.
But that wasn't her responsibility.
She was a warrior and she would always fight to protect others, but no cause worth fighting for demanded her life or the lives of others.
Usagi had been right, in the end, she only answered to herself.
"What do you really want?"
"I want to live."
The symbol on her forehead glowed a deep hellish red. An intensity that hadn't it's equal on earth.
"I want to conquer!"
Sailor Mars opened her eyes and looked straight at the face of the woman she loved.
"I want you to love only me!"
She braced herself, straining her muscles to their limit.
Against the inhuman power of her enormous enemy.
Against it's draining of her own power.
Against all odds,
the creature's tail gave way slowly, and Sailor Mars broke free.
"Blades Of Fury!"
She jumped just in time before the monster would have plunged its beak into her body and severed the tail that held Sailor Moon.
As the creatures strange howl filled the bay a second time Sailor Mars hurried her Queen to safety behind the shelter of the destroyed shrine.
"Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up," She cried while she carefully laid Sailor Moon down. "I'm sorry for everything. Please wake up."
She hugged her friend passionately.
Sailor Mars cried tears of joy.
"Are you feeling okay? We are still in danger, Sailor Moon."
Her friend opened her eyes uncertainly and smiled.
"Are you okay?"
Sailor Moon nodded.
"Stay here. I'm going to try and get the others free."
"The Silver Moon Sceptre!"
"We will get it back. We are not going to die today!"
Sailor Moon slowly got to her feet while Sailor Mars cautiously approached her enemy.
"Blades Of Fury!" Screaming the name of the attack that she had been using for so long now, she became enveloped in flames, culminating in her arms which became like two burning swords.
She jumped and cut at one of the creature's tails as it flew up at her, but to no avail. To her horror, it curled another of its tails around her legs as it passed her and dragged her over the ground for several dozens of meters before perching in front of its prey. With a brisk, fluid motion it's beak carved into her. She screamed in agony as flesh was torn from her body and sucked into the cavities of the creature's muzzle.
"Give me your face!"
In desperation, she struck hard with her right sword arm into the beak that was coming at her a second time.
A horrible cry once again echoed around the bay. The creature swung Sailor Mars up with its tail and threw her against the ground with great force.
Sailor Moon ran up to her in hysterics. Ignoring the danger to her own life.
"Mars! Mars!" She shrieked as she held her. Her friend had a terrible gushing wound in her right side and didn't appear to be conscious.
Moon kept crying out her name and shaking her to no avail.
"Sailor Mars? Sailor Mars?"
Mars opened her eyes to the person kneeling before her.
"Queen... Neo-... Princess... Usa..."
Neo Queen Serenity smiled.
"No!" Mars sat up on her knees and panicked, realizing they were inside some kind of futuristic and luxurious bed-chamber. "Where am I?! I have to help the others!"
"Calm down Sailor Mars. Everything will be as it should be. I just had a nostalgic desire to see you again at the moment you made your decision."
The Senshi of fire looked at the beautiful woman before her.
She held out a hand and touched the blonde's cheek, causing her Queen to blush and bow her face.
"I used to be so amazed at your power Sailor Mars! You have been denying yourself for so long. You have restrained yourself for so long. There was never any need for all of that. Like I said before, fire is not harmful by nature. It has always been central to mankind's prosperity. You should not fear your own nature. I know that you will always be able to channel it into the right path. The one where you become my Queen.
The blackette felt her face heat up and grinned stupidly.
"You have decided as much haven't you?" Neo Queen Serenity smiled.
Mars bowed her head, still blushing. "I did. I was going to fight for you. You finally made me realize I was allowed too... I was planning to do anything I could to earn your love, but I didn't really expect..."
She looked up again.
"But we saw the future. Chibi-Usa told us about her parents."
"You saw holograms. You were shown what you expected to see. You were told what you expected to hear. And of course, we had to give Chibi-Usa false memories to ensure she would not tell you things you were not supposed to know yet. I'm not supposed to tell you these things either," The Queen laughed. "You give me hell about this in the future. But I don't care!"The radiant woman stuck out her tongue and winked. "I wanted to see you at this important moment in our lives. Besides! It'll teach you to make a fool of me in parliament Sailor Mars! Anyone would prefer to watch Quantum Migrants to reading that boring amendment about agricultural diversity."
This was Sailor Moon alright.
Sailor Mars looked at her. Barely believing what she was being told.
"And don't worry about Chibi-Usa," Neo Queen Serenity smiled. "Because I was right when I told you earlier that her existence was never threatened, you know. Not as long as your love for me survives.
Your future self has always been blocking your attempts to read our future because we want you to come to your decision without foreknowledge.
People have no idea how often the past is threatened in its natural path. Sailor Pluto works hard to keep this timeline following its natural course and because of changes wrought by others she or the rest of us have often had to alter things in order to protect the future. Every time this timeline repeats itself it is in danger of being altered countless times, but no matter what happens, with or without interference, we always end up together, Queen Constancy."
Sailor Mars grimaced.
"Did you pick that name?"
"No," The blonde smiled. "You did."
"There is no way I picked that name for myself."
"Why not?! What's wrong with it? I think it's a beautiful name. It's hardly worse than Serenity! At least Constance is a real name."
The Senshi of fire grinned.
"Alright then. I'll be Queen Constancy. It's a small price to pay for getting to share my life with you."
The woman from the past and the woman from the future smiled at each other. Even separated by hundreds of years there was a perfect harmony between their souls.
"Our love is a truly miraculous thing. Even faced with the illusion of destiny, even with you fighting it with all of your might it still blossoms." Neo Queen Serenity leaned closer and cupped the young woman's cheek.
"And now it is time for you to stop sacrificing yourself. Because it hurts me more than you know. It is time for you to fight for what you want. To take your first steps to become my Queen."
Mars could do nothing but stare at the woman Sailor Moon would become. But something had changed inside of her, back when she broke from the creature's deadly grip. Something inside of her had been pouring over. Freed after far too long a time. An unstoppable force was spreading through her body. A part of her that she had finally acknowledged and accepted.
"Free your heart Sailor Mars. Let it burn. Let it soar."
"Usagi kissed her. Rei looked up as she tasted her tears and woke up in her arms.
She brought a hand up to caress her dear beautiful friend's cheek.
"I'm sorry I scared you," She said softly. "But like I said before: We are not going to die today."
"Sailor Mars..." Sailor Moon sobbed.
Mars sat up and held her. Stroking her hair. She felt at her side to check if the wound was healed already. It was.
"Don't worry. I'm going to end this."
Sailor Mars got up and started walking, followed by her Queen.
"Sailor Mars wait! Let me..."
"No," The Senshi of passion winked. "Not this time. I've let you down far too much these last years. It's time to give it my all."
"I thought you died again. Are you a dream?"
"The miko smiled and whispered: "A dream to some."
She turned her face towards the creature with a grim expression and roared: "A nightmare to others!"
A minute passed in silence as Sailor Moon watched Sailor Mars and Sailor Mars watched the creature that now reigned supreme over the battlefield it had created, still feasting on the life force of their friends.
"Mars Eternal! Make Up!"
Sailor Moon felt a thrill go through her as she heard her friend yell the curt command and saw her new transformation.
In a minute she wore a similar fuku to Moon's own but with different highlights and while her wings were shaped the same as Moon's hers were enveloped in flames which did not seem to harm them.
She flapped her wings and soared high in the sky.
The creature took notice and looked up at her.
"You! You invaded these people's serenity! Cruelly ended their lives! You defiled this sacred place!
I cannot... I will not forgive you!" She cried out. "In the name of Mars! In the name of my dear friends! In the name of the people you brutally murdered! In the name of all of mankind! I know I won't be able to stop more people from dying at the hands of others like you..." She spoke with a face like fury. "But here and now for what you have done today. I will chastise you!"
The monster let go of her friends and flew up at her. Mars was aware of its speed by now, but it was still shocking to see it fly so high above her so fast. She had anticipated it though and nimbly dodged its attack.
"Mars Eternal!" She held her right hand up and a torch appeared in it as the vicious sky-blue monster dove at her.
She brought both of her outstretched hands together, similar to a Burning mandala but instead the flames of the torch licked the air in front of her.
As the creature cut the distance between them in half a searing hot and blinding flame shot from between Sailor Mars's hands, disintegrating it on impact without leaving a trace of the flying giant behind.
She slowly descended. There was no satisfaction or relief on her face.
As Sailor Mars landed her wings disappeared and Sailor Moon ran up to her, holding her in her arms.
Mars returned the embrace. Words were not necessary.
There was no victory to celebrate. There was only mourning in their hearts. But the sadness was mixed with relief. Relief that they still lived, to fight in the hope that they would be able to do more for people who would need their help in the future than they had been able to do for the people that needed them today. As they heard the moans of their friends whom the creature had released when it attacked Sailor Mars in the sky, they separated and ran towards them.
"It looks like our days of peace are over," Sailor Mercury moaned.
"Look at those people!" Jupiter cried.
"They came here on a holiday, some were here to work. It just slaughtered them all and we couldn't do a thing to stop it!" She punched into the ground.
Sailor Mars listened to their comments, hoping that the others would be more easily persuaded of the best course of action after she told them of her visions because of what happened today.
"We were able to keep it from killing more people," Sailor Venus tried to comfort.
Everybody turned to Sailor Moon.
"We would have died if Sailor Mars hadn't been able to stop it.
"But she did," Venus reminded.
"This was just one creature though."
Mars wouldn't make things easy on them.
"Can you imagine an entire flock descending over this city?"
Jupiter looked at her in horror.
She had to force them to imagine what she had seen.
"Sailor Mars?" Mercury asked intently. "What do you know?"
The tone of her voice demanded an urgent explanation.
Mars received a supporting look from Sailor Moon and looked at each of her friends in succession.
"I've been having visions. Of unspeakable things. Things that I hate to tell you about. I have been wanting to spare you all, wanting to prolong this wonderful peaceful time. But after what happened here today," She turned around, looking sadly at the corpses all around them." I fear my visions are going to become all too real."
Moon took the blackette's hand in hers to Sailor Jupiter's annoyance.
"We will have to talk about this later," Sailor Venus said. "we are all sad we could not save these people, but we cannot dwell here. The authorities will be here soon. It's time to transform and return to the others quickly."
It had been quiet for a while now.
Ryo was afraid to hope.
The last thing he had noticed had been that hellish light, but he had no idea who could have brought that forth. He could only hope it was Sailor Moon defeating the monster. He and Yori had been hiding inside the restaurants and shops of Omotesando together with the other survivors of the attack. They had been venturing outside of the shop in the hope of catching a glimpse of the battle, but the pentice didn't afford them the best view.
Now they hadn't heard anything for a while they were just idling about, leaning against the porch of a shop, or in Yori's case squatting with his head in one hand and the other hand resting on the floor.
"Are you alright?" Ryo asked.
The Lieutenant-Colonel didn't reply right away.
Ryo thought he saw him clench his fist.
"That thing... I had heard of such things. I had accepted their existence. But to be up close to one of them..."
"Yes... I was frightened to death. I'm still shaking."
Other people were cautiously starting to come out to see whether everything was safe now.
Bruised people with ripped clothes, wounds, and blood on their bodies.
Ryo remembered what he had told Rei in Shukkeien: Civilians are always affected by war.
Out of the about two hundred people that had been walking around the shrine, were visiting the shrine and had been walking around the torii gate maybe thirty had survived.
He hoped Amy and the others had killed the creature and were alright.
"H... Have you heard anything of Mina-san and Mizuno-san?" Yori asked carefully.
He didn't look Ryo in the eye. Ryo suddenly considered that Minako's date didn't seem all too good at this deception thing. It was obvious he was worried about her, but he didn't know how to talk about those feelings without betraying what he knew about her secret.
"They probably escaped in another direction."
Or perhaps he was actually very good at it and was succeeding at making Ryo think he really cared about his friends.
A couple of police officers from the nearby police station came towards them from the direction of the shrine.
"You can all relax now people. The monster has been killed."
"Did you see it?!"
"Is anybody still alive?"
"My brother is still there!"
Ryo watched the tourists and the people from the shops flock around the officers.
"We don't know anything for the moment except that the monster is dead. Please follow us to the station if you are injured or have missing friends or family members. We will do anything we can to help you."
Then amidst the chaotic gathering, Ryo saw a blue bobbed woman appear and his heart jumped.
Doing his utmost to restrain himself in order to give his friends a chance to appear from the crowd unnoticed he waited until Ami reached him and hugged her without pause.
"Are you very injured?"
"That thing was crushing me between one of its tails," She whispered. "So I'm bruised all over. But I think I'm fine otherwise."
Ryo chuckled at the statement of his girlfriend's ridiculous durability.
The tall man looked around as he heard Minako's voice and got up.
She walked up to him and stopped short of embracing when she noticed the tears in his eye.
His hand moved to her bruised cheek.
"We escaped on the other side of the jinja," She lied, mesmerized by the concerned look on his kind face.
Before she knew what was happening she was being pulled into his arms and leaned her head against his shoulders.
Even though the pressure against her battered body hurt like hell.
Rei glanced at the woman beside her.
Usagi hadn't let go of her hand since they departed the scene of the battle.
"He seems to be relieved Mina-chan is safe."
"Stay with me, Usagi. You have to stay in the present or what happened today will hit you even harder once the adrenaline is spent."
The blonde looked up and smiled.
"I was thinking how cool you looked."
Rei felt suddenly uncomfortable under the smiling gaze of the woman she loved.
So many emotions coursed through her right now that she barely knew how to behave.
"Hahaha! Isn't it hot under this pentice?
We'd better follow everyone to the police station to have our wounds tended to."
Usagi squeezed her hand while they went on their way.
She had received a glimpse of the horrible future today. Hundreds of people had lost their lives. They had nearly all died with them. Earth and all of the people that lived on it had nearly become the playground for an army of monstrous invaders. It had been traumatic. She was sure she was going to have nightmares. The faces of all the people she had seen lying dead on the seabed would be etched into her mind forever. Her heart bled because she had not been able to protect them. But she knew now that she had to get help for her original trauma. She needed to learn how to handle not being able to save everyone. No matter how hard it would be to talk about these things without actually telling her therapist that she was a magical woman fighting supernatural creatures.
But she was going to be fine because Rei was alive. Rei was no longer vulnerable to especially powerful enemies. Rei was awesome!
"Hey, don't cry, you!"
She wiped her tears with her dirty sleeve.
"I'm sorry Rei-chan. Don't worry," She smiled again.
"I'll be alright."
Imaginary end credits = Vision - Burning Love (remix)
Chapter 6: Act Six: Eve of the war
Act Six: Eve of the war
Finally arriving in the hotel after a journey that seemed much longer than it had taken them to get to Itsukushima the group split up.
It had been agreed upon that they had better wait until they arrived at Minato-ku for Rei to give them a detailed account of everything she knew about the new enemy.
Having spent the greater portion of their last day in Hiroshima, the clever thing was to pack their bags for the shinkansen trip back to Tokyo the next day.
Yori Maki insisted Minako spent the night in her hotel room rather than with him but promised to treat her to the most delicious breakfast she ever had the next morning.
Ami had already packed everything she had for her last overnight stay at Ryo's place. So after Minako and Makoto had said goodnight, Rei and Usagi walked quietly towards their respective rooms.
Mamoru would have gone to sleep early after his two weeks of long and intense work. Usagi planned to quietly go into the room, undress and get in bed with him. They could pack in the morning and she could tell him about what had happened after that.
They were nearly at the door to Rei's hotel room.
"Are you going to be alright?"
Usagi smiled to herself.
"You've been asking me that every quarter of an hour. It's cute, but it's not that cute that it won't get annoying."
Rei blew some air.
"sorry for caring."
Usagi had noticed how her friend had been lost in thought since they had arrived in Hiroshima. No doubt scared about how Usagi would deal with today's events. Maybe she should tell the miko that all things considered she didn't feel that bad. Rei's survival and transformation had done a lot to boost Usagi's psychological defenses against the horror they had lived through and the deaths they hadn't been able to prevent. But she didn't want to sound like the deaths of the people on Miyajima didn't touch her.
"I actually don't want you to spend the night with Mamoru."
Usagi's face lit up like a cherry.
She turned around and faced the blackette.
What was Rei saying all of a sudden?!
No. She didn't mean that. She was just worried Usagi might have nightmares if she wasn't there.
"I'll be alright Rei-chan," She smiled, resting a hand on her friend's shoulder. "I promise you. I don't feel as bad as I could." Usagi continued with a blush. "And that's because of you in a lot of ways. I won't have any nightmares tonight. I promise."
"You don't understand," Rei took the hand from her shoulder. "Obviously you will do what you want," She grimaced and looked at the hand she was holding. "After all... I have caused you so much pain, being so dumb and so pigheaded."
Usagi looked blank at the incomprehensible explanation she was hearing.
"I don't want you to sleep with Mamoru ever again!" Rei suddenly vehemently declared. "I want you to spent tonight with me... And every night after that.
I need you! You are what I live for. You are what I want..."
At this point, the blonde's tears were flowing freely over her cheeks.
"I want to be with you forever. I deserve for you to utterly reject me right here," The miko ranted. "But I won't let you! I will be your knight. I will be your Queen. I will be your blade. I will put you on the throne of Crystal Tokyo and protect your dominion of love with my life!" The miko wrung the tears through her throat as she spoke.
"I will be totally and Utterly yours!"
For a moment the blonde could do nothing but stare.
Without warning her friend put her arms around Usagi's waist and neck and pulled her into an intense kiss.
Usagi felt dizzy. Her heart was pumping like mad. She slowly brought a hand to Rei's cheek.
The other woman impetuously entered through her lips and licked her tongue while Usagi caressed her face.
Rei embraced her, enveloped her, held her tighter than the creature they had fought earlier. And Usagi knew she was never going to let her go.
She pushed Rei against the wall and kissed her in full abandon, sliding her hand through her silky hair.
They were kindred spirits. Rei knew that. It was no surprise to her that Usagi's passion matched her own.
But to be subject to it after years of fantasy thrilled her to her essence.
She shuddered as Usagi longingly kissed her all over her face and neck. Then she kissed Usagi's lips back with burning love, again and again, and they both gasped as their desire hardly left them time to breathe.
Rei kissed the blonde's cheeks, the edge of her lips and moved slowly to her neck.
Usagi felt herself turn to wax as Rei kissed her throat. Her friend held her upright while she blindly caressed the other woman's cheek and hair.
"Rei-chan... I want you. I want to be with you."
"Hmm," Rei moaned as she kissed her. "Usagi... I love you."
"Let's go into your room."
Rei looked into her beloved's eyes and slowly moved a hand to open the door to her room.
"Do you really want to...?"
Usagi smiled at her.
"I love you Rei-chan. I love you. I always did. I never knew how much until you kissed me.
I want to feel you more. I want to feel you everywhere. I want to feel you always."
Rei hugged her. They stood still for a moment. feeling each other's warmth. Their friendship had been building up to this moment for years.
"I want to feel you too," Rei said as they let go and gently held hands. "Every day of my life."
Once inside the room Rei tried to guide them to her bed to the best of her ability, while the blonde undressed her and kissed and licked her throat and breast with so much effect she could hardly walk straight.
"So are you Tashi or Neko or how are we going to... Oh, you are a pants Neko aren't you Rei-chan?"
"I don't care!" Her friend sighed. "Keep kissing."
Usagi giggled and obeyed.
After some irregular navigation, they finally managed to make a rather soft landing on the bed.
Rei sighed from excitement and leered at her friend.
"Don't you ever dare dress up like a boy, alright?"
She leaned in and kissed the other woman, moving her hands down to Usagi's breasts she stopped again and blushed, murmuring softly: "You know, unless it's just the two of us perhaps."
Usagi saw the blackette look at her with a lewd expression while she unfastened her bra and smirked.
"You hentai," The blonde whispered as she kissed her lover on the lips.
Rei took her hand and kissed the palm, then she covered her entire arm in kisses and moved on to her breast while Usagi rested on the mattress.
"You're very good..." She sighed while Rei gently caressed her right breast and licked her left nipple.
Whining in delight while her right hand played with Rei's soft, smooth hair she, at last, glided her ring finger back and forth over the earlobe of her friend.
"Ahhhh. Keep doing that. Do that a lot," The miko sighed while she started to kiss her friend's belly and pulled her skirt off.
"You like that?" Usagi smiled, positioning her pelvis and legs to make undressing her easier.
Rei started to kiss the inside of her legs.
"These are the cutest," She said softly, undoing her friends white and blue closed toe sandals.
The blackette deftly divested her beloved of her underwear, making her squirm in anticipation.
"No... wait. Rei-chan!"
"What is it?" She gave the other woman a confused look.
Usagi blushed, breathing deeply.
"Come over here."
Rei obeyed and exchanged several gentle kisses with her lover when they came face to face.
"What is it?" She smiled.
Usagi caressed her cheek, feeling her heart accelerate at the sight of such bliss.
"I want..." She sought the right words.
"Tonight you come first!" She finally exclaimed.
Rei looked puzzled for a few seconds, but gradually her lips formed a smile.
"Alright then." She kissed Usagi's nose and they giggled at each other.
The blonde carefully rolled her friend over.
Doing the thing Rei loved with her ear she softly kissed her lips while the miko's hand glided over her back and shoulders.
After having exchanged several gentle kisses their lips opened and their tongues started to pleasure each other with their moist softness.
In time their tongues and lips were the only parts of their bodies that were moving. They got high on each other just embracing and kissing.
At last, Rei broke the spell by nestling her cheek against Usagi's and licking her ear.
The blonde quietly whimpered and hid her face in the neck of her friend, softly kissing her throat and shoulder.
"Uhh. Usagi, I love you so..."
"I love you too Rei." Her hand caressed the miko's cheek and shoulder while she slowly kissed her breast all over.
"I love you so much."
Usagi hugged Rei's other breast with her cheek while her friend undid her hair, combing through the luxurious blonde strands with her fingers.
Enjoying the sensation, Usagi started to kiss Rei's belly and took her underpants off, slipping her hand between her legs.
Rei's breathing deepened as her friend's fingers teased her.
"Ki... iss me."
The blonde slowly worked her way up to Rei's lips again, enjoying the feeling of Rei's hand stroking her hair, ear, and cheek.
When they came face to face, Usagi thrust her hand in deeper and Rei moaned loudly, pulling her in and kissing her passionately while the calve of her right leg caressed Usagi's.
Rei became increasingly moist and kept licking Usagi's tongue until she finally let go and they smiled at each other's scarlet faces, whining and breathing heavily.
She was coming. Usagi was inside her and she loved her and she kissed her and everything was wonderful.
Rei was ecstatic. As she reached her climax she arched her back and pulled Usagi in again for another intense kiss.
She rested while her blonde friend hugged her satisfied body.
"Was that good?" Usagi smiled as she opened her eyes, still catching her breath.
Rei smiled back and kissed those soft lips that she couldn't get enough of.
"I was a little afraid of disappointing you since I never made love to a girl before."
They kissed again.
"Moron. You can't disappoint me."
She put her hand through the luscious blonde hair again.
"You have never ever let me down either," Usagi murmured as she likewise slid her left hand through the hair of the young woman lying underneath her.
"I don't want you to think you ever did."
Rei smiled. "I guess I just let myself down then."
"Just forget about it and do yourself justice in future," Her blonde lover gently smiled.
The Miko turned serious.
"You know... I'm not going to ask you to tell him. I'm not going to push you. I want to be with you more than anything in the world, but I don't want you to feel pressured into anything. This can just be a mistake."
Usagi frowned, but she couldn't get angry.
"It's not about denying myself," Rei smiled and touched her lover's cheek.
"I know this isn't easy for you. I want to spend my life with you. As your lover. I'm done denying myself. But this is your choice. You are the one who will have to break a heart. I don't want to make this more difficult for you than it is."
She gave the Princess an intense look.
"But even if you'd say this is a mistake. I won't give up without a fight. I Won't let you go if you get second thoughts. I will definitely make you mine, no matter what happens."
Usagi felt her heart beat fast, hearing the words she had wanted to hear from Rei since she first kissed her. With a bright blush, she gaped at her friend's determined expression.
The miko hesitated. Her hand shaking Imperceptibly as it hovered above the other girl's head. Then she grinned mischievously and rubbed Usagi's scalp roughly.
Her friend closed her eyes and cringed under the treatment.
"I'll give you a fight, you meanie!"
She pinned Rei's hands to the mattress and grinned.
"After all these years of your haughty comments, I made you wet yourself and turned your face red. How embarrassing," She chuckled.
Rei giggled with her.
She deftly turned the tables and their bodies on her friend.
"And after years of watching all the boys and girls chase after you like after an idol, I'm finally going to make you come second."
Usagi returned the miko's arch smile.
"I look forward to it," She blushed.
Rei put her lips to hers, gently savoring the softness of their contact. Slowly she started plucking at Usagi's lips more intensely. As they paused to breathe, her tongue darted over Usagi's lips and she stopped her friend's mouth with a long smooch before their tongues continued their loving embraces in the space between their lips. The miko finally let go of Usagi's hands and cupped the back of her head and her cheek while they continued their french kissing. Just like before they couldn't get themselves to stop before they started to feel lightheaded. Finally, they separated, Usagi breathing heavily as Rei began to plant kisses all over her face, making her girlfriend giggle and sigh, all the while caressing her lover's glossy black hair.
Then the miko started to lick her ear and the blonde whined in delight.
"Oh. So you're also sensitive there."
"Don,t... Hhh... Don't stop. Rei-chan..."
Usagi clung to her friend's body, turning her head in all directions to escape the bemused miko's dexterous tongue.
To put an end to the game Rei sucked on her earlobe and kissed herself a way to Usagi's breasts while the blonde brought her beloved's left hand to her lips and kissed its palm.
Rei caressed her friend's readily inclined cheek after the kiss and trailed her other hand down Usagi's body.
"Hhh. Put it inside."
"Really? I had something else in mind," Rei smiled as she kissed her friend's soft belly.
She gently teased Usagi's vagina with her fingers before stealing inside.
The body of the blonde tensed while she exhaled with a shudder.
Rei kept kissing her belly and the insides of her legs while she went deeper and deeper inside.
Usagi caressed her dear friend's head, cheek, and shoulders, filled with love and happiness that Rei was making her feel like this. That the person she felt closest to in the world was inside of her and they were sharing this intimacy.
Then she felt Rei's hand coming out of her, spreading her legs apart and a heat surged up in her when she felt the blackette's tongue lick her clitoris while her fingers entered her again and continued their labor of love.
Pushing her pelvis this way and that as she felt Rei gently lick her and hum with delight Usagi cheeped and whined while she played with her lover's lush black hair until finally, after the miko kept licking and licking her increasingly sensitive clitoris she felt all of Rei's love ignite and fill her like a flashover.
Tired and satisfied she fell back and inhaled deeply while Rei crawled forward.
As she felt her lover's hand on her cheek and saw her tired smile, Usagi impetuously embraced her, though still unable to speak.
"Hh... Hhh. Love... You..."
Rei heard her lover sigh next to her ear as she put her arms along her back and brought them in a sitting position.
"Me too... Usagi... I love you so much."
Later, after getting something to drink and eat from the refrigerator, they laid shoulder to shoulder on the bed.
"I'm so happy that my period hasn't started yet," The blonde sighed.
"Yes, I'm sorry about that," Her friend sweated.
"Don't be like that, Rei."
Usagi turned onto her side and gave her lover a kiss on the cheek.
"I know you have been fantasizing about this for much longer than I have."
She started to play with the miko's hair, resting her face on her shoulder.
"Hmmm. I assumed I would have had to teach you," She purred. "But you seem to have some experience yourself.
"Euh... yeah," Her lover laughed nervously."It was just a one-time thing with a girl from school, I guess we were both a bit drunk and kind of curious."
Rei made a mental note to get rid of Haruka's booklet of "friends" as soon as possible.
"Rei?" Usagi asked after a while.
"Yes," Her friend smiled, turning to face her lover.
"Why do you always sacrifice yourself so easily? Is it because you felt you couldn't be with me? Or... is it... because you and the others feel your lives are less important than mine?"
Rei saw the anxious expression in those beautiful innocent blue eyes and realized the truth of what Neo-Queen Serenity had told her. She took Usagi's hand in hers and spoke softly.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I hurt you.
But we are soldiers. All of us. We were destined to do this. But that is not why we do this. That is not why any of us fight monsters is it?" She emphatically looked her lover in the eyes.
"We do this because we all have powers. We do this because we live a longer natural life than the people around us. And because of that, we can protect those who cannot protect themselves from the horrible beings that want to harm them. It is an honor to be able to do this. And we will all gladly lay down our lives to protect the people of this planet.
And we feel more honored to have a Princess with such a beautiful loving heart. A Princess that makes dreams come true and who inspires us to do everything we can to bring her in front of our main adversary. So that she can do what only she can do, and save the people of this world against all odds."
Usagi's heart beat violently.
She felt so humbled by the single-minded determination of pure noble purpose in those words.
Her knights. She didn't remember when she started calling them that, but that's what they were. Her pure noble knights who all believed in her so much.
Who would throw themselves in harm's way, so that she could save the world.
She threw herself around Rei and had her embrace immediately and heartily returned.
"Besides... Like I said before: We are all flawed. It's not like we throw ourselves between you and the enemy at every occasion. Sometimes one of us has to
save the day when you are unable to.
Mesmerphitopheles never knew what hit him when we focused our powers trough Sailor Mercury and she utterly destroyed him... And you doubted she would be up to it," Rei teased.
"Aah! I know!" Usagi hid her scarlet face. "I am still ashamed for underestimating Ami like that."
"So you should," Her lover giggled while rubbing the blonde's scalp.
"So, no. We don't think our lives are worth less than yours," Rei kissed her friend on her lips. "You are just infinitely cuter than anyone else."
Usagi closed her eyes and enjoyed her lover's warmth.
"Really though, it's like I've always said: you don't do anything but hold the rest of us back."
The blonde started to fume, hearing her lover's amused teasing tone.
"Why would I ever think you are more important than any of us? Ow! My ear! Let go of my ear!"
"Ow! You let go of my ear! And apologize! Ow! Stop it!"
"You stop it! Ow!"
"Ow! my hair! You mean bully!"
"Let go! And I'm not a bully!"
"Yes, you are! You are always mean to me!"
"Yeah! Because you love me too much, so I have to be mean to you sometimes!"
"That's just an excuse! Besides! You love me far too much too!"
"Well... Yeah. But it's true, you know,"
The miko reflected as they stopped struggling against each other.
"Lying there in the deadly grip of that creature's tail, I finally realized how arrogant and foolish I have been. Because for days you have been telling me that you wanted to grant me everything I have ever wished for. You were actually making my darkest, most selfish desires come true!
For the first time, I realized how much you wanted me to be happy and wanted to love me. You wanted to share your life with me. And It felt to me like that was the only thing on your mind. You seemed willing to give up on everything for us to be lovers. You seemed willing to leave the world to whatever fate awaited it so we could be together. It is... what I wanted more than anything. And feeling like you were giving it to me. Knowing you were giving your entire heart to me and me alone scared me and thrilled me. Because I absolutely cannot let that happen. You are the light of this world and you must shine for everyone. And I will always be there to make sure you do!"
Rei saw tears form in Usagi's eyes and looked apprehensively at her scarlet face.
"Uwaaa!" Without warning her lover glomped her and wept on her shoulder.
"See, you meanie?! You are always making me cry."
"I didn't mean too!" The miko exclaimed in alarm.
"You make me so happy Rei-chan!
Nobody understands me like you do! Uwaa!"
"It's alright. It's alright," The miko sweated, pulling her lover from her body.
"It's true though," A tearful Usagi assured her, stroking her cheek and kissing her repeatedly on the lips while Rei cupped the blonde's own cheek.
"I've always chased after your love because I had never felt so intimately connected to anyone else before. From the moment I met you, I wanted to be close to you, even if I didn't realize why at the time. We are so different, yet deep down I feel we are so alike."
"Say, Usagi..." The miko blushed.
"How about we do it again?"
"Hmm," Usagi smiled.
Rei laid her down on the bed and started to kiss her.
"Do you still have those handcuffs?"
The black haired woman smiled thoughtfully.
"Yeah... We really do have a lot in common."
"Haaa!" Minako exclaimed. "That was delicious! Those croissants melted in my mouth!"
"I told you I knew where to get a great breakfast," Yori grinned, enjoying the sight of Minako's satisfaction.
"It's really a brunch though. But it was so good! I want to visit Hiroshima again, just for this."
"So you should. There's lots of stuff you haven't done yet."
"That's true enough."
Yori returned a guilty grimace to her penetrating stare.
"yeah... Like I said I don't want you to feel like I'm taking advantage."
"How is it taking advantage? You're a man! I shouldn't have to beg for this," Minako pouted. "It's not even our first date anymore. Are you that shy?"
"It's not about that... It's just..."
Minako started to feel a bit gloomy about the matter, noticing the dark look on Maki's face as he stared out of the window.
"And yesterday we barely escaped that thing alive. You were vulnerable! Of course, it would have been taking advantage!"
"Pfft. You were more affected than I was. We safely escaped on the other side of the shrine. I got some bruises, but otherwise, I was fine. Besides... I wanted to be comforted by you. Men don't know anything," She sulked.
"Hehehe! You look cute when you're like that. Here, have my croissant with honey."
She stared at the sweet roll and huffed.
"Don't want it. It's like a pity kiss."
"I deserve all of that of course. Serves me right." She heard him say in a sad voice and looked at him.
"I'm not really angry. But sometimes I get the feeling that you don't really want to be with me."
"I do really want to be with you!"
Yori looked into her eyes.
"That is what I really want! Most of all!"
Her heart skipped a beat, staring into those serious eyes. But still, she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wrong and that he would slip away from her if she let him.
A glance at the clock on the wall behind him told her it was time to meet up with the others at the station.
"We'll talk about this when we get home, alright? It's time to join the others."
Yori watched her get up and gather her bags with a heavy feeling in his stomach that wasn't caused by the European breakfast they just had.
"I hope so... But it's still early."
"I know. But it's safer to be early, just in case someone forgot their bags or something."
Yori knew her friends well enough to be able to share a knowing smile with the woman he loved.
Usagi looked towards the end of the shinkansen platform.
Thanks to Mamoru's foresight and kindness all of their luggage had already been packed so that by the time she came back from Rei's hotel room, feeling thoroughly guilty but without an inch of regret, they had only to share a late breakfast before they left the room.
As a consequence, they were the first to arrive at the station.
Mamoru had been acting a little distant at first and feeling guilty she had assumed he had guessed something had happened between Rei and her. But after some effort, she had managed to convince herself such a thing might, after all, be too farfetched to be guessed at so easily.
Once she told him what had happened in Itsukushima his demeanor had changed dramatically in any case.
From shock to distress, followed by sadness and at last relief and something like pride.
Usagi had chosen not to tell him anything Rei hadn't told any of the others. She was bashful of the intimacy her knowing more than the others would imply, though for Rei to tell her what she knew before she told the others made sense and was according to the purpose of the visionary club.
"So then it was as you suspected all along."
She turned around to face her boyfriend.
"I can understand Rei-chan not wanting to spoil your vacation, but still..."
His expression was one of concern.
Usagi sighed. It was true that Rei might have done better to tell them sooner, but she didn't know the creatures would attack so soon. Rei just wanted to be kind. She had wanted to protect them. And Usagi herself might have found fault with the way she had done that, but it wasn't fair of everyone to criticize her when she had borne it all for them. Besides, thanks to Usagi, her friend had had even more worries during that time.
Mamoru noticed her pained look and realized he might have overdone his outraged ignorance act.
"After all though, I am grateful she was able to save you all from that creature. I am happy she was finally able to obtain her Eternal Sailor form."
His girlfriend looked up and shared his smile.
She followed his eyes as they darted towards the other end of the platform.
"there are the others.
Ah!" He put his hand inside his pocket, hearing a signal from his cellphone.
Meanwhile, Usagi looked towards the end of the platform again and saw Rei right away. She blushed instinctively, feeling the corners of her mouth curl up.
Rei noticed her and winked, which didn't make it easier for her to act normal.
Besides and behind her lover she saw Makoto, Minako, and Yori. Each was towing along their luggage.
"I can't believe you are the first ones here!" Makoto exclaimed in genuine surprise.
"Why not?" Rei grinned. "Mamoru-kun probably packed their bags."
Usagi gave her lover a sulky look, but couldn't say anything when she had hit the nail on the head like that.
"I'm going to have to get back to the hotel," Mamoru suddenly announced. It seems they sent a package from work to the lobby at the last minute. Which is strange, because when we checked out the staff didn't have anything for me."
"Oh! I'll get it."
Usagi saw the excited blush on Rei's face. She knew the miko felt guilty.
She would take any opportunity to be of service to Mamoru out right now.
It was very cute.
"I'll go with you. You don't know how big the package will be," Minako piped up.
"It won't be that big. Thank you two for wanting to help, but I can do this myself. I'll be back right anyway."
"It'll be faster if I go Mamoru-kun. I'm faster than you too Rei-chan."
The miko raised an eyebrow.
"That sounds like a challenge. I'm getting that package for Mamoru-kun though."
"Well, why don't you both go? I'm very grateful in any case," Their friend sweated.
Mamoru quickly explained to them what they were supposed to ask for and his friends went off for the hotel in an instant.
Having arrived at the hotel's entrance, Rei turned and looked behind her, breathing heavily. Minako had started to lag behind her some time ago, but she was relieved to see her approaching.
"Hey...!" The blonde caught her breath, leaning on her knees. "What's the deal, beating me at running Rei-chan?! Being an athlete is supposed to be my thing!"
"oops!" The miko coquettishly held a hand in front of her lips. "Maybe you should train harder then."
"Ha! I get plenty of exercise. There's no need to be arrogant."
Minako puffed her cheeks and glared at her, she looked genuinely displeased, but her behavior reminded Rei of her lover and she just wanted to hug her friend.
At last, she linked arms with her and pulled her inside of the lobby.
"Quit whining. We have to hurry before the train leaves."
They were lucky to be second in line at the hotel's front desk and after explaining the situation the clerk went into the back to search for Mamoru's package.
Rei noticed her friend still looked dejected.
Minako was tracing her pointer finger along the edge of the front desk and sighed.
"Hey, are you alright?"
The blonde looked up with a moping face.
"... Yori-san is so strange. He really seems to like me... But he's so distant sometimes. And it seems to have gotten worse since we got back from Miyajima."
"Well, he got the fright of his lifetime. Did he talk about that?" Rei couldn't help asking, curious about the answer.
"Yes, but I don't think that's it," Minako wrung her hands and boisterously exclaimed: "I really like him, Rei-chan! I'm afraid he's getting bored of me and will use some excuse when we get home to dump me!"
The miko recalled how Yori Maki and Minako had been together all the time. She remembered the sparkle in his eyes when she laughed at him, the way he touched her, the way he behaved when she wasn't around. The way he looked at her when he assumed no one was watching.
Whatever else was true, Yori Maki liked Minako Aino. Rei was sure of that much.
Perhaps love had made her soft.
"How do you think he feels about you?" She smiled.
Minako looked into her friend's eyes, then she searched her soul, looking for the truth as she felt it.
At last, she looked into the miko's eyes again.
"I think he likes me."
"Here it is, miss. We humbly apologize for forgetting. Please have a nice day."
Rei checked the name on the label of the package just to be sure, greeted the clerk and turned around with her friend.
"I think he likes you too, Mina-chan. I wouldn't worry. Besides: It's impossible to get bored of you!" The blackette laughed. "Who knows... He might be afraid you will dump him when we get home."
"He might think that mightn't he?" The blonde blushed, realizing her free lifestyle and her idol career.
"But it's also because you guys teased him so much! Especially you, Rei-chan!"
"Well, you can punish me if you can catch up!"
Rei laughed as she started to run back to the station with her friend right behind her.
The journey back to Tokyo was spent reminiscing about their holiday and Mamoru made full use of the occasion to ask Usagi's friends about the embarrassing and amusing things he knew his girlfriend hadn't told him.
She was often the butt of the joke, as for example when Makoto told Mamoru about the boys who fought her, dressed up like samurai. Or when Ami recounted how she had accidentally disturbed one of the tea ceremonies in Shukkei-en.
Everyone was partaking in the storytelling. Except for a remarkably quiet Rei and Yori.
Rei had purposely taken a seat a little out of Usagi and Mamoru's way. Out of respect for her male friend she didn't want to steal any more of his time with Usagi before his girlfriend told him she wanted to spend her life with the miko.
But the blonde was pleased to see the enjoyment in her lover's face as Rei enjoyed the others teasing the woman she loved without personally joining in.
Usagi could guess why the Lieutenant-Colonel was so silent of course.
The others would be quiet too if they knew what Rei was burdened with revealing to them when they got to the shrine.
She had always hoped they could avert the disaster they were told would strike earth in the not too distant future. She hadn't expected it to come so soon either, or be so violent. But perhaps they were being too pessimistic after all. They had all reached their most powerful form now. It was true that even though they would not evolve further, their powers in this form would still increase, but surely they must be strong enough together to stop the creatures that had invaded earth. Surely...
Usagi screamed and lost her balance, landing on Mamoru's lap while she was hit by a packed Momiji Manju.
She stared at her lover in horror.
"I'm sorry for scaring you," Rei giggled while she cupped her mouth. "I noticed you were feeling a little chilly, so I guessed a snack might warm you up."
Usagi glanced at Mamoru's smile as she got off him and smiled gratefully at Rei.
"I knew you bought some too. Don't try to hide food from me Rei-chan. That's just mean," She deadpanned as she started to chew the Miyajima pastry.
"Are you implying Rei-chan should share all of her food with you?" Ryo sweated.
"You know she is," His girlfriend giggled.
Her relapse couldn't be helped. During the ride, apart from Rei and Yori, in spite of their brave endeavor to keep each other cheerful, each of them became withdrawn sometimes. It was only natural after their failure to protect the people who fell prey to the invader on Itsukushima. Each of them felt sad for the lives that were lost yesterday. Lives that they felt they should have been able to save. Just like that other time though, they had to accept that they had been out of their league and there was nothing they could have done better.
For Usagi that was hardest of all, but at least she could now talk about it. Last night the people that had died in Miyajima had been one of the things she and Rei had talked about, even amidst the euphoria of their young romance.
But neither of them had lost any sleep over the horror they had survived that day.
Usagi looked from the brooding Makoto to the woman who only had eyes for her and returned her smile.
It might be cloudy or bright when they arrived in Tokyo, but she knew that she had someone she would dare brave any weather with.
As their cars pulled up to the side of the road near her home, Rei was immediately aware that something was wrong.
Her grandfather stood at the torii with a strange woman and uncharacteristically didn't look like he was enjoying her company.
She couldn't help give Yori Maki a dirty look as he got out of Minako's car behind her. She was convinced he honestly cared about her friend in spite of his sleazy plan to use her to infiltrate their group but intimidating her grandfather was a bridge too far.
The Lieutenant-Colonel saw the expression on her face as he straightened up and heaved a deep sigh.
"Why are you getting out Yori-san? I told you I'd drop you off at home."
As she got out of the car, Minako briefly feared Yori didn't want her to see where he lived.
"I'm sorry Minako-san. I told you I would have to work as soon as I got home. But I just realized that was just another lie. Because of course, I have been working all this time. It was just too easy to forget I was."
"What are you talking about?" The blonde felt her heart shrink, looking from her distraught boyfriend to Rei, who, sorry she couldn't do anything to soften the blow, turned her eyes on her grandfather.
"What are you talking about?!" She repeated while tears fell from her eyes.
"I'm sorry. I meant what I said about you. I always thought you were amazing and I only realized how amazing you really are after I met you.
But I didn't meet you by chance. I'm sorry for deceiving you," He finally looked her in the eyes and went the round of the others quickly after that." But your country needs you. Please follow me."
"That day has finally come," Mamoru murmured.
Minako burst into tears, turning to her closest friend. "Mako-chan! What is this nonsense?! What is he talking about?!"
"I'm... I'm sorry Mina-chan," The brunette faltered. "We had a suspicion, but you really seemed to like each other, so we decided to give him a chance."
The blonde fell sobbing in her friend's arms while Yori worked hard to keep down the tears that were choking him.
He passed Rei and led the way to the shrine.
"Don't worry. She knows how you feel about her," The miko whispered.
"Grandpa? Are you alright? Have these people treated you right?"
"It's alright Rei. Don't worry, these are really nice people. They want to talk to all of you inside."
"Please don't be alarmed. You are not in trouble. We really need your help," The woman who had been awaiting them reassured.
"My name is Hikari Homoda. Secretary to the chief of staff of the joint staff. You have met Lieutenant-Colonel Yori Maki of course. We apologize for the deception, but it was imperative that we made contact with you without drawing suspicion from other parties. That is why it would be best if we continued this conversation inside."
"What do we do?" Usagi asked.
Rei pulled up an eyebrow.
"Well, I live here... The rest is up to you."
"Right," The blonde realized the others were waiting for her to decide.
"Well then... If they need our help I think we should hear them out."
She looked at Hikari.
"Thank you. Please follow me."
They carefully stepped inside of the living room and saw themselves awaited by three men and another woman.
The entire way into the house had been guarded by security personnel. The Hino household seemed to have become a war room for others than the Sailor Senshi.
Yuishirio was being thanked in whispers for moving their cars from Yokohama to the shinkansen station by Makoto, who was comforting a bewildered Minako as they went inside. The man was gently requested to stay outside with grandpa and Ryo however.
Tables and chairs had been brought in and were littered with photographs and papers.
"Please be seated," Hikari Homoda said gently.
She held out a hand as they reluctantly moved towards the chairs.
"I am sorry to have to take you by surprise like this. But these are far from ordinary circumstances... We wouldn't be here if they were. I assure you, there is no need to worry. We all know or at least have an idea of what you are and what you are capable of," She stated. "We have been monitoring you for a long time now. We are aware of the gratitude the world owes you."
It took some time for everything to sink in.
"Well, we always suspected you knew about us," Ami sighed.
"Why didn't you approach us sooner?" Usagi added cautiously.
"That's very simple," The woman smiled. "For starters, you have been doing very well without guidance from the defense agency. And perhaps most importantly: If we didn't get involved with you, we wouldn't get in trouble politically if things went wrong."
Hikari took a handful of pictures and handed them out.
They were pictures of the Senshi fighting, pictures of them transforming and in civilian clothing.
"You have tried to maintain your cover quite well, but when our people found you present whenever anything involving the Sailor Senshi happened, it wasn't hard to put two and two together.
It's a miracle we have been able to keep your existence a secret from the Americans," She chuckled.
"We believe you are Sailor Moon?"She suddenly turned to Usagi, who swallowed.
Mamoru squeezed her hand. But that didn't exactly help her feel less tense.
"She is," Makoto said.
"Good. We believe there also is an auxiliary group. Do they also take orders from you?"
"Well, it's not that I give orders really... We are all friends... We fight together..."
"They do if she gives them," Rei intervened.
"Speak up!" She mouthed to her lover.
"Very well then. Since we seem to have gotten the main things right and had a short introduction I will not keep our guests or the dire matter at hand waiting much longer."
Hikari Homoda moved back and held out her hand to the people next to her.
"Yori Maki has been part of a group that has secretly researched you for some years now and because of the knowledge he has gathered and his background we thought it would be a good idea to have him make contact with you and get to know you personally, so that he might be our liaison with your group if you decide to help us."
Minako was disappointed to see that her boyfriend kept evading her searching look.
"This gentlemen is the Chinese ambassador to Japan, Tang Li."
"And this is the secretary to the Chinese minister of defense, Zhu Mei Lien "
"Good evening everyone."
Rei suddenly got up.
"Usagi? Can I talk to you in private in my room for five minutes?"
The blonde left her seat, her face a question mark.
They moved into the hallway together.
Here too, security personnel was standing guard. At the entrance to her room, one of them stepped aside to allow them in.
"They might have microphones everywhere. So it's probably of little use for us to even come here," Rei whispered. "But we already made a statement by interrupting them."
Usagi just looked at her.
"We talked about this day remember?"
Her friend continued. "You are our leader. You have to make them feel that you are, or they will walk all over us. My parents did keep me around until I was ten, I went to receptions with them. Heard them talk to important people. Even after that, I have appeared at official functions and have heard and seen my father doing what he's good at. I know how this works. You have to speak up. You have to ask questions and make demands. You have to negotiate our independence or we will lose it."
"I just..." Usagi looked down at her feet, seeming lost.
"It's all so sudden."
"That's right. And that's exactly the effect they are aiming for. They want you to feel overwhelmed. They want you to feel like they are the only ones who know what's going on and the only thing you can do is listen. It's not."
Her friend nodded. Rei took her hands in hers and came closer.
"You are the Moon Princess. We are your soldiers. They are not talking down to a bunch of students, they are negotiating with an independent nation. Now is the time for us to make them feel that, or there is no telling what they might send us into."
Usagi nodded again.
"Remember: once this starts, we don't know where it could end. We are not their weapons. You cannot allow us to become that."
"No." Usagi nodded firmer. "I know that. We will help them to protect. Not to attack."
"You are not alone," Rei smiled.
"We are all there for you. I know politics. Ami-chan and Mamoru-kun know science. You have consultants just like they do. It is your right to pause this meeting to ask for our opinion. So will they when we bring them before a situation they did not anticipate...
But you have to make the decisions. You have to speak up for the rest of us."
Usagi felt comforted and strengthened by the eternal trust and confidence in her lover's voice and expression.
She couldn't help but lean in and press her lips to the other woman's.
"I didn't expect this to be a moment for a kiss," Rei grinned.
"Every moment is a moment for a kiss," The blonde winked. "You just have to initiate one."
Rei smiled and followed Usagi's example.
"Are you ready now?"
"Yes. Thank you."
"Let's go then."
They walked out of Rei's room with firm steps. Usagi walked in front, bearing a regal expression.
They silently took their seats.
"I apologize for the interruption," Usagi stated briefly. "We had to take a few minutes to discuss what you have told us so far. Please continue."
Mamoru and the others smiled at her.
Hikari noted the change in her attitude.
"Very well. Ahem. We will now come to the heart of the matter. I don't need to remind you that nothing of what you hear today can be shared with anyone but the members of your auxiliary group."
"The Outer Senshi," Usagi corrected her.
"The Outer Senshi, yes. We know you are certainly no strangers to secrecy, so we are confident we can trust you with this information.
Late last week, we were contacted by the Chinese government concerning a situation inside their territory. It seemed they had run into a dangerous development with which they had no experience. The situation was getting out of their control, but they desperately wanted to keep this a secret. So they asked us to negotiate between them and the Americans, in order to get their help without word getting any further. During the negotiations, it was agreed upon that instead of following their initial plan, we would contact your group because you had much experience with these matters.
So we agreed to meet you here, ask for your co-operation, and discuss the situation as soon as you came back from your journey."
Rei grinned, realizing how desperate a step the government had taken to prevent a thawing in Chinese - US relations.
"As agreed with the Chinese government, the secretary to the minister of defense will now explain to you what they are dealing with."
Hikari Homoda stepped aside, and Zhu Mei Lien came forward to address them.
None of them had any doubt left that the reason these people were here had something to do with the monster they had fought in Hiroshima. Only two of them had an idea of the magnitude of the situation.
"Good evening again," The woman swallowed. Obviously pained with what she was about to say.
"I thank you for your willingness to hear us. Let me illustrate to you the situation we are facing. Some years ago a group of scientists had made some unusual discoveries. I will not bore you with particulars. They got the interest of some members of the party and received funds to put their theory into practice. A research lab was built in the Gobi desert and they were put to work to do what they claimed was possible: opening a gateway to another planet."
Ami's mouth fell open. Mamoru looked grim.
"The party hoped that if this was possible, China would be the first to establish colonies and exploit the raw materials of other planets cheaper than via conventional space travel. It would allow us to modernize and boost our economy without having to damage our country.
Several weeks ago, the government received an announcement that the group of scientists was ready to start a test run of their space-gate. After assuring themselves that their safety would be guaranteed, several party members traveled to the site to witness the test run."
The woman sighed.
"What exactly happened remains unclear, but it seems that when the gate was opened the scientists lost control over it and became unable to close it.
The experiment was a success, in this respect, that a gateway to someplace was opened. As the visitors watched the experiment from another room creatures emerged from the gate and forced their way through the building. Few escaped what happened."
"Did any of the scientists escape? Did you manage to retrieve the study they did for the experiment and the data from the experiment itself?" Ami asked.
"One of them managed to escape. I am not currently at liberty to release further information about the experiment itself.
"You said this all happened several weeks ago," Minako spoke up. The gravity of the situation had shocked her out of her confusion. "Why didn't you look for help sooner?"
She looked at Hikari and Mei Lien alternately.
"Wanting to keep this a private matter, the government deployed the army in an attempt to kill the creatures who had come through the gate and get access to the building so they could try to regain control of the gate.
We..." She swallowed and averted her gaze. "Were not successful.
After several attempts to take out the threat we were forced to acknowledge that rather than a group of wild animals we are dealing with an organized invasion force."
Rei gave her lover an intense dismayed look. Usagi bit her lip and looked down, turning pale as a sheet. She knew what was coming, but she wasn't ready yet. She couldn't face the possibility that the horrible things Rei had told her were really going to come true.
"But you have tanks and fighter jets!" Ami exclaimed. "You must have been able to take out some of the creatures?"
"We wouldn't need your help if these were ordinary..." Mei Lien chuckled resentfully at the previous word. "... monsters! As I said: these creatures are organized! They seem to have magical abilities. Our bullets seem to be stopped in mid-air. Rockets don't fare much better. We have lost two tank divisions already!"
Ami and Minako exchanged looks.
"Two tank divisions!" The latter exclaimed. "How many creatures are there that you need that much firepower?"
The secretary took a moment and handed out the satellite images she had been carrying inside a map.
"They have already split into five different armies that are marching towards the nearest settlements. We have only engaged the sixth group that is guarding the facility. Every day more creatures are coming out at a tremendous pace."
Everybody gasped as they saw the images which were dotted with creatures. The Senshi stared at each other in horror.
Rei was satisfied they were starting to realize exactly what they were up against.
"I believe you have not answered the question yet," She stated without remorse. "How many creatures have crossed over at this time?"
Mei Lien gave her a filthy look and gritted her teeth.
"To the best of our knowledge about fifty thousand creatures have passed to our side of the portal.
The other Senshi gasped, but Rei kept glaring at the woman.
"Every time a politician lies, they murder some part of the world. How many creatures have arrived?!
Mei Lien cursed audibly and wrung her hand.
She remained quiet for an intense, long time.
"Our most optimistic estimates arrive at 4 million," She growled at last.
The atmosphere in the room turned so cold the moisture in the air might have frozen.
Everyone turned pale at the number.
"4 million of those things!" Minako whispered in horrified awe.
Mamoru watched Hikari and Yori's reaction with curiosity. Apparently, they were hearing that number for the first time themselves.
They were startled out of their shock by the sound of a fist hitting a table.
"How could you...!" Makoto gritted her teeth. "How could you have attempted something this dangerous. Opening a portal through space on our planet. One of those creatures killed hundreds of people on Miyajima in five minutes! And you still think you can keep this a secret! How dare you! How can you be so reckless!" She shouted at the men and women in front of her.
Apart from Yori, there was no shame on their faces, however. Only cold scornful looks directed at the lowly chef that dared talk to them in that tone.
Rei was glad to see Usagi needed no prompting to take advantage of the situation. Though her lover's motives were less strategically founded, as well she knew. She did share those feelings, but she was happy Makoto had given Usagi a chance to assert herself as their leader in front of these people.
Overcome by gratitude and comforted by Makoto's honest outrage she got up and walked to her friend. Putting a sympathizing hand on her shoulder.
"I know how you are feeling Mako-chan. We all grieve for those people. We are all sad we could not save them. But we have to concentrate on the task at hand now. It won't do us any good to put blame on anyone. Mistakes have been made, but we will all have to work together to stop this threat."
Her friend returned her tearful look and not without effort managed to contain her anger slowly.
"We couldn't do a thing for those people."
"I know. But we will have friends to help us now. We will have more information thanks to these people."
Makoto sat down and Usagi went back to her seat.
"I apologize for the interruption," She addressed the secretary to the chief of staff.
She colored slightly as Rei squeezed her hand with a mostly suppressed grin of pride.
"This is the situation as we face it now," Mei Lien icily continued.
"We have positioned our troops at the settlements the creatures are heading towards. But if the gate stays open things will only get worse.
Your government has shared the secret of your existence with us. We need you to close the gate for us. You will be working with your own people, accompanied by Chinese military...
I hope we can count on your help."
She bowed and stepped aside to make room for Yori Maki.
"As Madame secretary told you we will be operating under a special mandate from the Chinese government. If you agree to help us you will receive your orders and information from me.
I will be leading the Japanese soldiers who will accompany you, but we will also be accompanied by a division of Chinese troops.
Now the key to this operation will be stealth. If we are forced to engage these creatures too soon we will lose the element of surprise and most likely will have to fight our way to safety.
We will be brought to a distance of the site by helicopter and dropped. The helicopters will be part of an attack formation to mask our true objective. From the drop point, you will then cautiously make your way to the site. You will have a Chinese guide and five Chinese and five Japanese soldiers with you."
Ami gave Usagi and Rei a look.
"We usually work alone," Makoto interrupted.
"It does not seem like infantry would be a match for these creatures. And their presence might burden us, worrying about their safety." Their Prince offered.
"You need people to guide you to the site though. You don't know the surroundings," The Lieutenant-Colonel said.
"And as part of our mandate, we are forced to have you escorted by the Chinese military."
Rei and Usagi took the opportunity to hold a whispered conversation.
"I can recall a detailed and up to date map of the area on my laptop," Ami answered.
"You plan on taking a laptop to the battle zone?" Yori scratched his head.
"It's a small and easily portable model I designed myself," Ami answered curtly. "Far superior to anything on the market. I have a variety of self-designed programs on it that will also allow us to trace the nearest creatures so that we can find the safest way around them and get as close to the site as we can get without being seen."
The tall black-haired man stared at her.
"Madame Secretary?" Usagi got up. "I'm afraid the absence of military personnel and civilians on the field will be essential to our agreeing to this adventure. We absolutely cannot do what you are asking of us under any other conditions. Dropping us and picking us up will also involve unnecessary risk to other people. We have a safer way to travel to and return from the site. The presence of others during the operation will endanger them, us and the mission. Speed is another essential and we will have to discuss these things among ourselves before we decide what to do. I must ask you to use that time to renegotiate with the Chinese government as soon as possible."
Everyone looked at her in surprise.
"If you will," She sat down laughing sheepishly.
"Well done Usagi," Rei whispered, grinning lecherously. "That was so cool! I don't remember when I was ever more turned on by you."
"Shut up Rei-chan," Her lover whispered back. "I've never talked to anybody like that. I'm so nervous I feel like I'm burning up."
"Relax. You did really well. They're so impressed you were confident enough to put that ultimatum to them they hardly notice your nerves."
"The men and women in front of them exchanged glances. The Chinese ambassador and the secretary stepped aside while the Senshi began to talk among each other. After a while, the two approached Hikari Homoda and discussed with her.
"Alright!" She silenced the room a little later. "We understand your concerns and it seems there might be room to renegotiate the terms of the mandate.
We will assemble tomorrow at the embassy to hold negotiations and you will be informed of the result promptly."
They packed quietly and withdrew. Some of the security personnel came in and emptied the room of the tables and chairs they had brought with them. After that, they too left the surroundings of the house and shrine. Ami immediately combed through the place to clean it of any spying devices left behind while grandpa and Yuishirio came in quietly. The latter asking whether a still visibly angry Makoto was okay.
"Are you okay?" Mamoru asked his girlfriend without making physical contact. "You did great," He winked after she smiled a grateful yes. "I didn't expect you to be able to handle yourself so well in front of these kinds of people. But you acted very confidently. Of course, you have a great advisor," He smiled at a slightly confounded Rei.
"The two of you make a great team."
The two of them didn't quite know where to look for a second.
"We need to contact the Outer Senshi and get them to meet us here immediately!" Minako saved them.
'I'll also go home to bring Artemis. You'll have to get Luna here too, Usagi."
"Yes," Usagi and Rei nodded. "I'll phone Hotaru-chan immediately."
"I'll go home for Luna right away."
Before she could leave, Minako was engaged by Makoto to discuss how she felt about the matter and to talk about Yori Maki while the Prince and Princess left to fetch Luna, alone together for the first time in a long while.
"I fear you haven't had much of a holiday," Usagi smiled apologetically while they walked side by side.
"You have been working almost non stop since before we left, and now we are dropped into this situation."
"It's alright," Mamoru smiled. "This holiday has been very productive for me in many ways. I have finally been able to shed light on a matter that has been bothering me for a while now. I feel like much has been made clear to me and I finally know how to proceed. I didn't mind working so hard by the way. I love my work. These two weeks have been extremely fascinating. I am only sorry I couldn't assist you in your battle against that creature. I hope you at least had a carefree holiday in spite of what happened, and in spite of my absence?"
"I... enjoyed myself," Usagi murmured uncertainly.
"Mamoru-kun... There is something important that I really should talk to you about."
She stopped and took his hands, but one of them slipped out of her grip and went to wipe the tear forming in her eye.
"It's alright. It can wait. There is nothing more important than this right now."
His girlfriend gave him a sad look.
"It really is important."
"Don't worry. These kinds of things are never so sad or so urgent as you think they are. Believe me. We will talk about it later. I want us to give this threat our undivided attention. We have never faced anything of this magnitude before. We will find a quiet moment after we have closed the gate."
"She wanted to believe him. But she also didn't want to break his heart. So she obeyed and kept her silence.
When they got back, she joined Rei and Makoto in the kitchen to cook dinner for all of them and by the time they had finished, the Outer Senshi had arrived together with Minako and Artemis.
They all ate in peace before addressing the issue at hand.
"We will have to tread very carefully, Luna said as she walked back and forth over the table amidst the Senshi. "We have to make it clear to them that they can not boss you around." She looked towards Usagi and Mamoru. "This is the moment the two of you have to start taking your responsibility as King and Queen."
"At the same time, we can't risk legal prosecution. And that is what we may be threatened with if we refuse an appeal from the government," Artemis interjected.
"True. But the government cannot be allowed to endanger the lives of the King and Queen."
"We already decided we are going to help them though," Usagi stated. "It seems this is the disaster that will strike earth before we create Crystal Tokyo as a safe haven for humanity. We have always fought to protect the people of earth so we will do so now." She looked at Artemis "But we will do so on our own terms. We will work together with the armies of our nations, but we will do so as an independent unit."
"Good," Luna answered after a pause. "As long as you are careful and don't allow them to take command of the Sailor Senshi."
"Now let us talk about the findings of the visionary club." Artemis looked at Ryo and Rei, and then at Michiru. "What exactly did you see?"
"Pretty harrowing stuff," The greenhead grimaced. "I'm not sure if we can give you an adequate description of what we will be facing in China, Artemis."
"I don't know whether I can agree with your decision to do this without military support after all, Usagi-chan," Luna interrupted.
"This is a disaster," Haruka sighed. "They should have reached out for help sooner. I can't believe they allowed 4 million of those creatures to pass through that gate before they did."
"Well, this is what we are faced with now," Michiru said. "We are going to have to deal with it.
What I saw, was me and Haruka fighting a variety of monsters in a Chinese town. And other battles. I saw the portal and the site. But no way to know where it was located. Rei-chan?"
The greenette looked at the woman on the other side of the table.
"You told me you were able to learn a lot more from your fire-readings. What did you see?"
Usagi and Rei exchanged a grim look.
The miko sighed, but Usagi stealthily took and squeezed her hand. They sat next to each other. All of the Senshi were sitting in a wide circle around the table in the living room of the shrine's residents.
Rei swallowed, but she knew she had to be blunt. "I saw the end of our civilization."
Haruka and Michiriu gasped. Minako turned pale.
"I saw empty, destroyed cities, armies overrun and soldiers slaughtered. I saw people hunted."
"It... It can't be that bad!" Makoto exclaimed.
"Why didn't you tell us sooner? And you knew of this too?" Mako turned to Usagi, her intuition telling her as much.
"Rei-chan wanted to spare us. She wanted us to enjoy our last peaceful holiday. She was going to tell us all when we got home. She tried telling me several times even before the trip, however. It was very hard for her to have to tell us what was waiting for us!"
"She seemed to be enjoying herself to me!"
Usagi and Rei grew pale and angry.
"That is none of your business."
"It is when you both fail to tell us of an impending threat."
"What is going on?" Luna looked suspiciously from Makoto to the two others.
"She saw the end of the world! Do you think it's so easy to bring that news to your friends after we finally enjoyed a whole year without enemies?"
"Well off course you are going to defend her!" Makoto growled.
The room went silent.
"I don't even know what either of you is thinking anymore."
Nobody dared speak. Those who didn't know what had been going on during the trip knew Rei's feelings for her friend well enough to be able to imagine what Makoto must be alluding to. Mamoru thought it best not to interfere.
The brunette got up and walked over to Rei. For a moment Usagi felt anxious. But the mutual respect between them was too great. Once this might have come to blows. When they were still in their first year of high school. But their bonds were too strong now.
"I thought I knew you," Makoto said with disappointment in her voice.
Rei couldn't help look away in shame for a second.
"What do you want from me Mako-chan?"
She retorted. "I'm only human."
She looked her friend earnestly in the eyes. "When you are offered everything you always wanted. Every feeling you have held in check for seven years is answered and it is revealed to you that everything will be alright. What did you want me to do?"
"Then why not tell the truth?" Her angry friend challenged.
Luna and Artemis shared a confused look.
Rei sought for an excuse to exonerate her lover. Conscious that the fact that her feelings had been answered laid half of the blame with Usagi.
Minako looked from the pair to the man who was being wronged and the intense look on his face to her shock betrayed that he already knew.
"Mako-chan!" She exclaimed as Usagi was just about to intervene. "We have other things to discuss for now. Please stick to the subject."
"Yes. I don't know what is going on exactly, but I have an idea," Haruka added. "These things shouldn't be discussed like this. Let's keep to the more important subject."
"Very well," Makoto returned and got back to her seat.
"I don't know what is going on, but judging from how serious it seems it might be best to talk this over later with us," Artemis soberly concluded. "For now, if you can keep it from interfering with the matter at hand, please do so."
Everyone calmed down a little and Minako looked at Mamoru with concern.
He caught her eye and winked.
She didn't understand whether he was trying to put up a front or not. His smile seemed genuine. She remembered what Yori had done to her and realized that her case wasn't really that sad after all. Rei was right. Yori cared about her. You can't fake the concern he showed after they safely returned from their encounter with the monster. And it seemed to her now, after reflecting on the past days that he had been trying to warn her several times about his deceit.
"We have had visions about the end of the world before. We have always managed to save the world against whatever threat rose up," Michiru continued.
"No!" Rei interrupted as cold as ice. "We need to stop thinking like that right now. We need to realize, all of us, that this is going to happen, and there is nothing we can do about it."
"What?!" Haruka exclaimed. "You want us to just let this happen?"
She turned to Usagi. But her princess cast her eyes downward.
"You are talking about the death of billions!" Michiru said. "We can prevent those deaths."
"We can't. Not at our current power levels."
"But Rei-chan. You killed that creature with one attack." Ami tried.
"And before I got my new power it had us pinned down and was killing us. What all of you need to realize is that this is not Galaxia-san or Queen Nehelenia or Queen Metalia and thousand or so demons. This is a well organized alien invasion force with magical powers beyond our current understanding. We don't stand a chance against them if we fight them openly."
"Still. Michiru-chan's visions didn't see anything of the scale you are talking about. I don't want to question you, but aren't her visions generally more accurate?"
"I wouldn't say generally. I tend to see in more detail, but Rei is very intuit..."
"They are. Her visions are clearer and more complete than mine."
"Suit yourself," Rei's fellow visionary waved.
"That's why I have spent the time before we boarded doing all of those fire readings. I have become very adept at them these last years. As dubious as my visions are, my fire readings grant me to see things not even Michiru-chan can.
Believe me, Ami-chan," The blackette smiled sadly. "The things I saw were clearer than I would have liked. There is no doubt about the future. And there is no doubt of what will happen if we take these creatures head-on at this time."
"I guess I have to agree with you," A dejected Ryo sighed. "Four million. In my worst nightmare, I didn't expect such a number."
"Yes... I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys any of this earlier. I'm sorry I insisted on keeping this between me, Ryo-kun and Michiru-chan, but I felt Usagi had to know first."
"You don't have to apologize, Rei-chan. This how we agreed to do things, after all. You simply followed procedure."
Rei looked to her left, but Usagi was fighting the inner demons she had been forced to face since Rei asked her that strange and horrible question the day after she had confronted her about her feelings for her and currently had little attention for what was going on around her.
"Thank you, Luna. But perhaps we should change the way the visionary club works. Or perhaps I should just become tougher, since I had a hard enough time getting myself to share this with Usagi."
"No. Don't blame yourself Rei-chan. This is difficult for all of us to hear. It's understandable that you wanted to spare us as long as possible. I know I gave you a hard time about your secrecy before, but I understand your dilemma better now," Ami said emphatically.
"Thank you," Her friend smiled.
Haruka looked with concern to the second Senshi Rei seemed to have won over.
"Hang on, because I want to be clear about what you are saying. We are supposed to let billions of people get slaughtered to save ourselves?"
"I'm saying that we have no choice at all."
Rei saw Makoto gritting her teeth again.
"Oh yes, we do have a choice: We can let them kill billions so we stay alive to save millions or we can let them kill us and let humanity die with us."
"There has to be another way!" Her brunette friend exploded.
"There isn't! We cannot fight them the way we are now! We are dramatically outnumbered and heavily overpowered! You have to try to accept this."
"How can you accept it?" Michiru asked. "This isn't like you! Ordinarily, you would be the first person up in arms against the enemy. How is it so easy for you to accept the deaths of billions of people?"
"That's unfair!" Minako intervened.
"Is it?" Haruka added. "You used to call us heartless for being prepared to let a few people die to save the world. Now you are willing to sacrifice billions? Ow!"
Haruka rubbed the back of her head.
"I'm sitting right here," The young woman behind her informed her dryly.
"And you still live with us without contributing one Yen to our common expenses. I'm starting to think we should have been more ruthless after all," Michiru deadpanned to her stoic ward's amusement.
"You know I hate this," Rei groaned. "I know this is new to you, but I have been confronted with this for two weeks. I understand this is difficult for you, but it is still difficult for me too. I want to fight them. I want to try. But I know it is useless."
"How do you know?" Makoto asked. "Michiru-chan is right. You have had visions of the end of the world before and we beat it! Usagi-chan has been able to save the world all those times."
"You don't understand! This is not just a vision! I explored every possible outcome in my fire readings. Every time we go up against these creatures before all of us get to a certain level of power we die! All of us! And humanity gets hunted down to the last. If there was any hope Usagi might beat this don't you think I would hold onto it with every ounce of willpower in my body?!"
"That's true," Hotaru spoke up.
"No matter how hard things ever got for the rest of us Rei-chan always knew that Usagi-chan would save the day." She looked at the person she had come to regard as her older sister.
"If you of all people see no possibility of that happening now I think... maybe..." She looked at Haruka and Michiru. "Maybe we have to accept that the only thing we can do is survive so that we can protect those that are lucky enough to survive with us."
"Then what do you suggest we do?"
Mamoru earnestly inquired.
Rei had calmed down due to her winning Hotaru over.
"I don't think there is much we can do for the moment but see what the government wants to do with us and try to keep our independence as much as possible. We will have to pick our fights.
We will have to go with the flow to some extent. Now they have contacted us, employed us, they will not allow us to act independently anymore. They have acknowledged our existence and their awareness of that to the Chinese government, so from now on, anything we do might have political consequences."
"That seems to be a good strategy in any case," Artemis agreed. "We all want to stop this invasion, but you must not forget your first duty." He looked at the Senshi. "And your duty to the future, He nodded to Usagi and Mamoru.
"Great, that's another thing we'll have to deal with," Haruka growled.
"You mean we'll have to ask permission whenever we engage the enemy?"
"More likely they will ask us for more and more missions," Mamoru replied.
"I'm expecting them trying to force us into a situation where both apply," Rei said. "But I'm confident we can get ourselves enough maneuverability to make our own demands and have them met if we are smart about it."
"So this is the great disaster that is going to befall humanity?" Minako sighed crestfallen. She looked up at the others. "I suppose we knew this was coming. I just didn't expect it to be so soon. And I... Some part of me was always hoping we could prevent it from happening."
There was a silence.
"I think we all hoped that," Ami said.
"I can't believe you guys."
Makoto got up again and walked towards the door.
"I'm sorry Rei-chan, but I can't accept this. I understand what you are saying, but I can't just let the government tell me what to do and allow this to happen."
"Mako-chan, wait!" Rei went after.
Usagi woke from her funk and saw Haruka and Michiru go after them with Hotaru in tow.
Minako and Ami got up and went as far as the door, but looked back at her.
"Usagi-chan, are you coming? This might not go well," Ami called in concern.
But Usagi wasn't ready.
It was too hard. Too hard to ask this of her. To allow for this to happen. To know that all this suffering was going to happen yet knowing that she wouldn't be able to do anything about it. Because she knew Rei was right. Rei was always right in these things. This was destined to happen. There was no way to ignore that they had been shown that this was the path to the future. The person in Rei's visions had repeatedly told her that caution was the only way to protect humanity. But how cruel was it on all the people who would fall victim to the monsters. How cruel that they weren't strong enough to protect them and that there were too many creatures to fight!"
"Usagi-chan? Are you alright?" Mamoru's gentle voice brought her to the present again.
She looked up into his kind eyes. The man she was deceiving. Was this some kind of punishment? Were all those people going to die because she could not love their Prince the way she should have? Had Rei been right after all?
"It's horrible!" She wept. "Why is this happening? Why is this happening now? If this would happen farther into the future we might be able to stop it. We might be powerful enough to fight them. I can't do this! I'm not as strong as Rei-chan. I can't deny what I feel. I can't be a Queen if I can't do a thing to stop this. I know this was always going to happen, but now it is going to happen I can't face it. I can't give the order to stand down while people are getting killed! I can't do that! "
"I don't think Rei-chan wants you to," Mamoru comforted. "Because she has been doing all those in your place all evening."
Usagi looked up, wiping her tears on her sleeve.
"Hotaru-chan was right. Rei-chan knows what you can and can't do. She has always known, better than any of us. She gives you hell when she knows you can do better, but she fights in your place when she knows you can't. And she has been fighting for you this entire evening."
"I think Mamoru-kun is right," Artemis smiled.
Not just this evening, Usagi knew, Rei had been fighting for her from the very beginning.
It has always been like this: Rei pushing her, criticizing her, teasing her, protecting her, stepping aside for her, fighting for her and dying for her. Rei wouldn't even tell her she had been in love with her all this time. She knew it would be too sad for her. Too much for Usagi to bear.
So she bore it alone.
She had borne so much for Usagi, for Chibi-Usa, for Mamoru, for the future.
Sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Sometimes they aren't necessary. Rei learned that from Usagi. But sometimes sacrifices are inevitable.
And when they are, Rei will be there to make them, and now it was Usagi's turn to learn.
To learn that hard decisions would have to be made. But that there would always be someone to help her make them.
She got up.
It was time to finally fulfill the promise her lover had always seen in her.
"Thank you Mamoru-kun," She said.
"I just needed to be reminded that I am not alone... And I have someone who has always been there for me. It's time to be there for her."
"Mako-chan." Rei pulled on her friend's wrist. But the brunette was already slowing down.
Two pairs of sad eyes met.
Rei didn't know what more to say. She cast her eyes down in defeat. She wished she could make this easier on everyone...
She wished she could undo the events that had lead to this.
She wished she could protect everyone!
"No, I'm sorry Rei-chan. I can't imagine how hard this has been on you. You kept all the horror to yourself to make sure we had a nice vacation before hell broke loose... I'm being ungrateful."
Makoto looked away when her friend looked up at her.
"I have been a bad friend as well. What happened between you and Usagi-chan... Neither of you would have allowed for this without being sure of what you were doing. This is between the three of you and I had no right to say the things I did. I just think you should be honest with Mamoru-kun about it."
"I understand your concerns Mako-chan, all of them."
Rei put a hand on her friend's shoulder.
The women shared a heartfelt smile.
"I promise you, I share and have shared all of them."
"Mako-chan. Do you want to take the fight to those creatures?"
Haruka and her lover had caught up to them. Hotaru was watching them with apprehension.
Rei let go of her friend's shoulder and turned around. Makoto observed the newcomers with a doubtful expression.
"We have a friend who can get us to near the area of the invasion. The three of us might not do much against a quarter of a million of monsters, but we might give the inhabitants of the besieged villages more time to evacuate."
The brunette's eyes lighted up. She nodded and approached the pair.
"Have the three of you not been listening to what I've been saying? This might be the death of you!"
"We are aware of the dangers and the stakes Rei-chan," Michiru said. "But this is something we just can't let go off. I'm sorry, but we have to do something."
Rei turned angry.
"No, you don't! The time when we could run off and act on our own is over! The fate of all those that survive the end of civilization is on our hands. You can't prevent the inevitable, but it is our duty to..."
"I'm sorry Rei-chan, but this is not up for discussion. You don't get to talk to me like that. Not after what I did for you!"
"Wha... what has that got to do with anything!" Haruka's black-haired friend spluttered. "You promised me that would remain between you and me!"
"The trio turned in the direction of the bus stop.
Rei blocked the way before them in an instant.
"I'm not allowing this Haruka-chan. Your life is not yours to risk. It belongs to another. It belongs to the future generations we will save."
The blonde gritted her teeth. There had been a time when she would not have been much daunted by a challenge like this from Rei, a conceit she had quickly realized to have been mistaken in. Even so, she wasn't facing a teen who came up to her chin anymore. Before her stood a determined young woman who came up to her eyes.
these past years to compensate for how weak her powers had become compared to the others Rei had been taking intense martial arts training.
Haruka knew what she was capable of.
On top of that, the person before her was very different from a mear month ago. The speed with which she just moved was not something she could imagine duplicating. Rei had all the appearance of a warrior in prime condition. The slightly tired aura she had carried with her for the past years was gone and a brilliance radiated from her that was hard to miss.
"Please Rei-chan. We just have to do something," Makoto tried.
"You are not leaving without Usagi's consent," Rei growled. "You are Senshi. You are part of a team."
Haruka decided to call Rei a bluff.
"Stop this nonsense! You're not going to stop us. You don't want us to get hurt fighting the invaders, so you're certainly not going to fight us yourself. We're leaving!"
She set a nervous step and Rei moved like lightning.
Haruka barely had time to look in shock at the fist that was going to knock her out.
"No! You will do as you are told!"
That fist stopped at about half a cm distance from the blonde's temple.
The miko moved her arm to her side as they all looked towards the direction of the sudden command.
Eternal Sailor Moon came slowly approaching in all her splendor. Her Silver Moon Sceptre in hand. Ami, Minako, Mamoru, Hotaru, Artemis and Luna by her side.
"We are all Sailor Senshi! The fate of the world hinges upon us! This threat is unlike any we have ever faced, and we will not deal with it as we have dealt before. There will be no more rogue actions. We will debate and act as a team. And you will take your orders from me!"
And with that Rei knew that on this moment Neo-Queen Serenity was born. Her friend who would always rise to meet any challenge had risen above herself as always. The light that had been hidden in her friend for all these years, the light that she had loved, the light that she had witnessed becoming brighter and brighter, now shone for all to see...
And full of more love than it seemed possible for a person to feel the only thing she could do now was kneel in adoration.
And as she did, slowly and hesitatingly in some cases, but inevitably convinced of their duty, in a circle that started and ended with herself, Usagi saw all of them follow the example of her first knight.
Out of her depth. Out of character. Imposing her will in spite of her personal feelings. She had never behaved like this to her friends. But now as always, acting before Usagi's resolve could get the chance to waver, Rei had conquered all in service to her. In love of her. And looking down on her wondrous lover, Usagi felt her heart pump fiercely in awe of its Queen. And she knew the unity forged in this fire would never be divided.
Imaginary end credits = Jeff Wayne - The Eve Of The War
Act Seven: The Storm
A few months ago the events of the other day would have left Rei with little desire to immediately get up as early as she had to in order to perform her daily duties at the shrine. But the young woman honestly could not remember waking up more joyously, even in spite of knowing with certainty what was coming.
She prepared breakfast for the three residents of the Hikawa shrine and joyfully greeted her grandfather when he came to eat.
They discussed the events of the previous day and what would happen in the coming days. When both had finished and Yuichirio still hadn't come she couldn't help getting impatient, however.
"He went to bed the same time you did last night didn't he? Last night was eventful for everyone, but he has no excuse for this behavior."
"Aah, but this kind of thing can happen to everyone, and he has been taking your duties with his these last weeks. I don't mind if he sleeps it off for once."
"What are you talking about?" Rei got up with a grin. "I used to do all of that work on my own for years! You are getting soft on him grandpa."
She moved past the startled old man.
"I'll get him up and about."
"Really Rei, I wouldn't bother! It's going to be a slow day in any case. We can handle things on our own for a few hours!"
Grandpa's protestations fell on deaf ears. The miko was already near her colleague's door by the time those last words were spoken.
"Yuichirio! Get out of bed! It's time to start work. You can get a quick breakfast if you come now!"
She heard some confused movements and then a muffled voice, clearly not Yuichirio's.
Rei sighed and smiled like a devil.
"Your little friend is more than welcome to share your meal. There is no reason to act so sneakily."
The door opened slowly and Yuichirio came peeping out, then stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.
"Oh Hi Rei-chan!" He sweated while scratching the back of his head.
"What are you talking about? There's nobody with me."
The suspicions noises coming from the room belied his words.
Rei smiled teasingly.
"You're not a teenager Yuichirio. And I'm not your mom. There's no need for secrecy."
She ruthlessly opened the door and was shocked to find a hastily dressed Makoto behind it. Blood drained from the brunette's open-mouthed face.
"H... Hi, Rei-chan."
Rei's friend cautiously slipped by her while the miko followed her back to the hall, confronting the sheepish pair.
To their horror, she choked them both in her loving embrace after a silence that seemed to last an eternity to them.
"This is just wonderful! I was wondering whether the two of you were falling in love since you've gotten so close lately!"
She wrung her hands and smiled ecstatically with hearts in her eyes.
Mako and Yuichirio turned beet-red.
"You are such a cute couple. Don't worry if you join us for work a little later! Grandpa and I have everything covered."
They recoiled in fear as she came closer one last time with her maniacal smile.
"I'm sorry for bothering you. I'll leave you to enjoy this beautiful morning together."
She practically danced outside. Makoto thought she saw her doing a pirouette before she left the hallway.
The pair looked dumbfounded for a minute.
"She seems to have high hopes huh?" Mako smiled bitterly.
The brunette awkwardly shook hands with the male miko who had been passionately kissing her not ten minutes ago ... and from about half-past twelve to two the evening before.
It had started naturally. After talking over what had happened at Miyajima, what had been told them by the officials and the dramatic back and forths during the Sailor Senshi meeting she had been so overcome by his compassion and understanding that after stroking his cheek while looking him in the eyes dreamily she couldn't help herself anymore and just kissed him.
He hadn't stopped her. It's as if he had been waiting for her. He just kissed her back and before she knew how it had all started he was inside of her, whispering for her not to wrap her legs around him so tightly while their hands were moving all over each other.
But Makoto knew that could only have been the heat of the moment. Desire and the feeling of being close to someone who had just bared their soul to you. That was all it had been. Poor Yuichirio was still in love with Rei and always would be. That's why he and Megumi had broken up after all. Everyone knew that.
She looked him in the eyes and braved him with a smile.
"Well, thank you for last night, Yuichirio-kun. I really needed to talk about those things with someone who isn't a Sailor Senshi. I know we can trust you to keep everything to yourself."
"Yeah. You don't have to worry about that. I saw how worked up you were. I was glad I could listen."
They shared an uncertain smile.
Last night he had shared his futon with the compassionate, brave, kind and incredibly sexy woman who now stood before him. Yuichirio had fantasized about that moment since long before he had been able to gather the courage to tell Megumi he didn't love her the way she loved him.
It had been gutwrenching. But eventually, he had to confront that he would never be able to give her what she wanted. And deep down they had both been aware of that for a while.
But after their separation, he was constantly going back and forth. No matter how close Matoko came, she always seemed to treat him like a friend and it seemed like that was the only way she cared about him.
He pondered about how to approach her for months, without knowing how she would react. Agonizing whether after all, she might just not care about him in the same way.
And then Makoto totally took him by surprise.
Maybe that was only natural. It had been Megumi who had confessed to him too.
He supposed Rei had simply taken the courage out of him.
He hoped she wasn't going to leave right away. Maybe they could talk later on, while he swept the floor.
"Well, anyway. What happened afterward was... unexpected," The brunette continued. He couldn't help glancing at her beautiful muscular long legs. He wished she would show them off more.
I'm not going to pretend I didn't want it, and it was exactly as I had hoped it would be," Her hand lingered in his.
Something felt wrong suddenly...
"But we both know who your heart belongs to, so don't worry. I'll tell her nothing is going to come from this. I'll tell her not to bother you about it."
Makoto silenced her aching heart and turned in the direction Rei had disappeared in, but something clung to her hand.
She looked back at the embarrassed young man behind her.
"I think... I might deserve it if you smothered any budding feelings you might have had from the start...
I guess seven years really is a ridiculously long time for a clearly unrequited love."
He looked up at her with fearful eyes.
"Please don't give up on me Mako-chan. Because I like you very much. I don't want to lose the chance to... I don't want to lose you. I want you in my life. I want to see you every day. I have been in love with you for so long."
Makoto smiled like an idiot.
She couldn't believe what she was hearing.
Yuichirio love her?
"Really?" She fondled his warm hand with both of hers.
He came closer, looking as bashful as a schoolboy.
"You make me happy."
His other hand went to her shoulder, then it played with her still loose hairs.
"You make me smile. You thrill me. You make me feel like even with everything that lurks in the shadows the world is a beautiful place."
She didn't know how to believe in a world where the kindest, most compassionate man in existence loved her back.
Maybe he was right. Maybe this world was very beautiful. A world worth protecting.
"But you loved Rei-chan?"
"I did. But I haven't for a while now. I thought I was in love with Megumi-chan, but while I was with her the two of us had gotten so close. I always wanted to be near you. I convinced her to buy your perfume. I made excuses to eat at the restaurant you worked in."
"You are in love with me?"
"I guess I like intense women."
She kissed him.
"I am not that intense."
"Yes, you are," He kissed her back.
"You are intense..." Kiss.
"And caring..." Kiss.
"And extremely beautiful." Kiss.
"Well you are all those things yourself Yuichirio-kun," She winked before she embraced him.
"I guess we are just two of a kind then," He grinned.
They gazed into each other's eyes with vigorous hope, feeling that this was the person that loved them back in equal measure. That their love was finally being returned.
"I love you too Yuichirio-kun. Kind, cute, wonderful Yuichirio-kun."
She kissed him with vigor.
Yuichirio showed up for work an hour and a half later, but Rei gave him a cheerful smile and a hug when he did.
Since Makoto was only starting next week in the restaurant her previous boss had recommended her to, she had time to help her lover, which made them both - and Rei - very happy.
In contrast to the joy reigning in Hikawa shrine, Yori Maki was very much down in the dumps, lazily eating lunch at home while writing his rapport on his PC and awaiting news from the joint staff.
Two concerns were conflicting in his mind: Minako Aino and the mission to lead the Sailor Senshi inside the overrun site in China.
Yori Maki wasn't easily scared, but having come face to face with one of the creatures the Senshi were going to have to fight and realizing he did not have any real combat experience, he started to doubt he would be of much use to the woman he loved while leading her and her friends on site.
He was rudely interrupted in his thoughts when the doorbell rang, so he got up and opened it to the startling image of a Sailor V cosplay.
Only he was well aware that he was looking at the real thing.
"I am Sailor V and I heard you hurt a good friend of mine, so I am here to punish you!"
She pointed a finger right at him.
"Are... Are you serious?!" He stammered, shrinking back slightly.
Minako took off her mask to reveal a pained and tearful face.
Her mouth was twitching.
"Minako-chan. I'm sorry. I hated doing it. I know I have no excuse..."
"How could you think this was a good idea!" She cried.
"Did you think I had it coming because I like to party?!"
"No! Of course not! It was nothing like that!"
His heart stabbed him, seeing the woman he had long admired so hurt.
"Please... Come inside. I'll get you something to drink."
She walked past him into the apartment but refused to sit down, standing next to his desk while he made them tea.
He looked at her sad face and put their cups down on the desk.
There was only one chair. She hadn't sat down, but she might want to sit down after all. Maybe he should have sat down on the sofa, so she had a place to sit too. He should ask her again.
"How did you even think you might function as our liaison after what you did?"
She still didn't look at him. Standing there with her arms crossed and her eyes on the teacup.
"I know it will be difficult. I expected it would be, though evidently, it will be more difficult than I imagined..."
"How could you think of such a disgusting plan?! Picking me up at a party so you could introduce your bosses to us! How sleazy can you get?!
Did your bosses ever consider I might really like you?! Did you?!"
Now Yori bowed his head. Bowed it in shame.
"You could have just approached us with the truth, instead of this cold war spy nonsense! You could have told me the truth! Couldn't you tell I liked you?! Couldn't you tell I'd get hurt if you waited for me to discover the truth in front of everyone?!"
Minako caught her breath and grimaced before sobbing heartily for a few minutes.
Yori wanted to comfort her but didn't feel he had the right.
"Of course my friends could have told me too. I know they wanted to give you a chance. I guess things might not have gone the way they did had they told me, so I don't know how I feel about that yet. But I trusted you...
You could have just told me... instead of acting like a damned martyr while keeping me in the dark!"
He deserved this. He was scum. He certainly had never felt so low before. Not even when Saschi had divorced him.
He had deceived and hurt a woman who put her life on the line to save innocent people from terrible monsters on a daily basis.
"Stop just sitting there like that! Why don't you defend yourself?!"
"I have nothing to defend myself with."
Minako hated that gloomy voice. It was the same voice he had used in Hiroshima whenever she felt him slip away from her.
"It was a stupid plan. I should have fought it. I should have come up with a better plan. I just didn't want anybody else to do it. I'm sorry. I know I hurt you. I know what I did..."
"You don't know anything!" She cried.
"Men don't understand a thing! You are so stupid."
He looked up for the first time since she had started to scold him. He saw the look in her eyes. The pain on her face. Then he remembered something. Sachi had looked that way too. That hurt expression. Those desperate tears...
It seemed to him now that that was not the look of a woman who had given up on him. Even then. Sachi had started life on her own, without him. He had always assumed she had just come over that last time to make it clear to him how much he had hurt her.
It had never occurred to him that she had still hoped he might reach for her at the last moment. He could have spared them both the pain of heartbreak, had he realized what he now did.
Maybe men just needed time.
"You... You still want to be with me?"
"I'm in your home!" She wept.
Yori seemed to hear a sprinkle of hope enter her voice.
He got up.
"Why didn't you stay and talk to me after the presentation yesterday? Why didn't you come to me as soon as you woke up this morning?"
"I'm sorry. I hadn't expected... I had convinced myself that what I was doing was unforgivable."
"I'm a Sailor Senshi," She muttered. "Giving people a second chance is our thing."
He took her hand in his own after she used it to wipe her eyes.
"Sailor Venus was always my favorite. Even before I knew she was the same person as Ai No Shojo."
"You stupid fanboy," She giggled and sniffed.
"But I never expected I would fall so hard for Minako Aino-chan. I was always dazzled by your glamorous alter ego's, but I never considered that the person doing all those amazing things you do, the person I admired so much, was just an ordinary woman. An ordinary woman who talks nonsense and drinks too much and giggles when she gets nervous and is very kind. An ordinary woman who gets hurt, but who takes that risk because she loves people."
He kissed her hand, held it to his lips for a moment and looked at her earnestly.
"I didn't respect the risks you take. I was doing my job, knowing that I was doing something really low. But I did it anyway, feeling very low about it, but not having fought the decision to do so when I had the chance. I'm sorry I hurt you Minako-chan, I'm sorry I let you down. But if you really can forgive me, I will always come to you. I will never let go of you again."
This guy... This guy was so...
Minako couldn't pull her eyes from his.
"You are such a smooth-talking man."
"I'm not trying to be," He smiled. "But I don't want to disappoint you again. I already hurt one person I loved like that. I just realized how I did that. I don't want to do that to you too."
This was a risk. She knew why it was a risk, but that was also why she loved him. That kind, humble man who lived to protect. A man with a sense of duty that was perhaps a little too strong. A man that could get a little arrogant at times. A man that cultivated an aura of seriousness and an air of cool, but who was, in fact, a buffoon. A calculating man who was good at keeping his strong emotions in check... most of the time. A handsome man with a gorgeous body, kind intense eyes, and shiny black hair.
Before she had time to make her decision her body leaned forward on its own and kissed that man.
"I know there's not really something I can do to make up for deceiving you, Minako-chan. But I'm certainly going to spoil you when we get back from the mission."
As he said those words the ringtone of his cellphone made his heart skip.
Makoto finished her last abb-crunch and sat on the edge of the shrine lodgings terrace to watch her boyfriend sweep the grounds.
Just like her, he got a big stupid grin on his face whenever he looked around and met her eyes.
He waved enthusiastically and the brunette felt her heart jump. She had never thought it possible that kind, stuffy, heroic Yuichirio would return her love for him. Just looking at him now, grinning broadly, she wanted to cuddle him and rub his goofy curls.
They had spent all of the last hours together. Breakfast. Praying. Tending to customers. Shopping, after Yori had dropped Minako off with the news that their demands had been met and they would have war room later in the day. And finally preparing the food for the meeting. It had been the best time she had had in a long while. And they were soon going to face an invasion force from another planet. If this was what love felt like, things could only get better.
"I heard you got your guy."
Minako sat down next to her and kicked her legs like a teen.
"Between being together with Usagi-chan and discovering your relationship Rei-chan seems like she's on drugs. She told me all about your sleeping together and flirting during work at the shrine's shop."
"She's going off the rails! I'm going to talk to her," The brunette growled, getting on her feet. "Our love-life is not a tall tale for the world to hear."
"Let her be."
Minako pulled on her arm and gave her a pleading look.
"Hey, stay here with me. Let her be on her high for a bit. We'll be going to hell in a while. Let's savor this time."
Makoto sat down with a sigh.
"But I still think they should tell Mamoru-kun the truth. This is not right."
"I know... But actually, I think he already knows," Minako smiled doubtfully.
"I don't know. It was just the way he looked and then smiled at me when you were confronting them."
Makoto watched her friend's face.
"But if he knows, why doesn't he...?
Aah!" She sighed. "It's their business after all. I don't want anyone getting hurt, but I'm not going to get involved anymore. I'll be happy for Rei-chan in any case if things work out for her."
She stretched and looked at her friend earnestly.
"So how did things work out for you?"
The blonde leaned on her hands an threw her head back, enjoying a good laugh at herself and relieved at the outcome of her situation.
"I yelled at him and called him all kinds of names. And he just sat there with a vacant stare and took it all without a word. But then he looked at me and he seemed suddenly to understand what I wanted from him."
"I hope you didn't forgive him too easily."
"I don't think I need to punish him any more than he is already planning to do himself," Minako smiled dreamily. "From what he told me, I expect my most selfish desires to come true when we get back from China. I'll have a personal slave for a long time if I want to."
Haruko and Michiru greeted them breezily, walking towards them.
"Everybody not here yet?"
"Rei-chan and Usagi-chan are getting Luna and Artemis from Usagi-chan's home. Yori-kun is gone with Mamoru-kun to get Ami-chan and Ryo-kun and bring the three of them to meet with that Chinese scientist at the embassy so he can fill them in on everything we need to know about the site and the technology involved. After that, he's taking them back here to talk strategy with us."
"That leaves Hotaru-chan," Makoto looked expectantly at the couple.
"Rei-chan called her on her cell phone. She's on her way."
"How are the two of you doing?" Haruko asked.
"Trying not to think of the future too much," Minako sighed.
Makoto's eyes wandered to Yuichirio, smiling absently while the others went silent and pondered gloomy thoughts.
"I guess Rei-chan and Usagi-chan maybe right about this."
Her friends looked at the serious brunette.
"Michiru-chan, Haruka-chan. You haven't fought these creatures yet, but I assure you they are no common enemy. There is no way we are going to put a stop to an invasion force counting millions of those things. Things are different this time. We aren't dealing with a group seeking the destruction of our world in one great blow. This is an army capable of prolonged strategic warfare. But that may be a good thing too. Because before, we always dealt with an all or nothing conflict. If we had ever lost we would have lost for good..."
She returned their intrigued stares.
"However, even if we won't be able to save everyone, I am fully resolved to fight for every life on earth every time we are sent to oppose those creatures."
Haruka's eyes and those of her lover sparkled again at those words.
"We can't afford to do things on our own terms anymore. I understand that. And it's a good thing that we have the government of our countries helping us to deal with this threat. I guess such a coöperation will greatly enhance the results of our efforts. But I will never stop being a Guardian Senshi."
"I am glad of that."
Usagi clapped in her hands, visibly moved by her friend's fervor.
Their heads turned towards the approaching future royal couple, flanked by Luna and Artemis, who were still ignorant of the change in the relationship between the two women amidst them.
Haruka's eyes went towards Rei first.
"I get that this is the way forward. I get that. But the part where we accept that we cannot win this without even trying..."
"Only, we have tried," Rei interrupted.
"I have seen us try countless times in my fire readings. I have seen you and Michiru-chan die against these creatures several times, trying to take them on alone. Mako-chan died with you on a few of those occasions. Just like the enemy is far more powerful and far better organized this time, so do we have to resort to stratagem this time and seek allies in order to fight them."
"This was never even our war, to begin with," Minako piped up.
"This is humanity's battle. The enemy never sought to build up their power for the climactic attack in the shadows. From the start, they have made their presence known without scruple. Like Mako-chan said: this is no small group trying to bring sudden destruction. This is a war of two worlds. And we, as always, will defend humanity to our fullest. But how we do that cannot be left solely to our decision. We owe it to the people we live with to place our powers at their disposal."
"But we do not owe them our powers to do with as they please," Usagi corrected.
Makoto and Rei nodded.
"Well said," Luna agreed.
"Governments are subject to the fickle opinion of the mob and internal power-struggles. I will never surrender our independence to decide who we fight, how we fight and when we fight completely to their decision. And I don't intend for us to remain the shadowy special operations force of the Japanese government."
She blushed slightly when an admiring Rei took her hand.
"Once we have closed the portal I intend to push the government to make our presence and the existence of the enemy known to the UN. If humanity is going to be forced to fight for its survival it needs to fight unitedly."
"That's some ambition you got there. Are you sure they're just going to listen to what you have to say?"
"I agree, Usagi-chan. You might gain yourself a lot of enemies instead of friends if you follow that path," Artemis frowned.
"There are two speeds in politics," Rei interjected.
"Very slow and very fast. Our governments will realize very soon that they cannot keep this threat a secret. That alone will force them to seek the help of the Americans and the UN before long. As to bringing our existence to the attention of the world... I have caught wind that will soon enough happen without any effort on our part anyway."
Haruka stared dryly at the miko's smug grin.
Then she shook her head.
"I've heard how sleazy you can look after you've been satisfied Rei-chan, and I've seen that smirk of yours a lot of times, but seeing you so amused by pulling the wool over the eyes of the government is on another level entirely."
"Huh?! Don't insinuate stuff!"
Rei's eyes nearly bulged out in shock, giving the others a hearty laugh.
"Hey, you all," A smartly dressed Hotaru smiled as she came near with Yuishirio in attendance.
"What are you laughing at? I was expecting everyone with grim faces like yesterday, not this kind of scene," The black bobbed stoic remarked dryly.
Makoto took the hand of the shrine's male miko and smiled mischievously, leading him inside.
"I have no idea, but judging from the innuendo I've heard recently I'm guessing Rei-chan's sordid past is going to catch up with her."
The woman in question glared at the brunette.
Minako got up and joined the couple.
"I never expected of you what I'm starting to suspect, but I suppose it's only natural. Don't look so angry Rei-chan. You'll be relieved when the truth comes out."
Hotaru looked at her older friend with a quizzical expression. Then she looked at the fuming woman holding Rei's hand.
"I see. I doubt you'll be that relieved. But I'm afraid it's practically inevitable by now from the looks of it. Better to get these things over with nee-san. Think of it like pulling off a band-aid."
She smiled sympathetically and followed the others inside.
"Come Artemis! You too Luna! We have great news for you. Rei's secrets sadly are for a select few's ears only."
The two confused cats looked at the four women left outside.
"Something tells me it would be better for my nerves if I didn't hear this," Luna glared at the two younger ones.
She went inside with a huff, followed by a sighing Artemis, who threw a last concerned look behind him.
Rei hesitantly looked towards her left, expecting a furious Usagi.
It was worse. It was so much worse.
"So Rei-chan!" The blonde smiled threateningly. "What was Haruka-chan talking about last night before I interrupted your punching her in the face?! She keeps making these cryptic remarks. Not that I'm curious mind you."
"Hahaha! What was Haruka-chan talking about? What were you talking about Haruka-chan? I don't really know myself," Rei sweated.
"I believe it's something that was supposed to remain a secret?" The tall blonde smiled heartily.
"What secret?! I don't have secrets from Usagi! Hahaha!"
Rei watched her lover grin grow increasingly tense.
"Oh come on Rei-chan," Michiru teased. "You don't expect your girlfriend to believe you're still a virgin, surely?"
The blackette hung her head.
"Haha," She laughed without amusement. "Why would you say that? In front of her?"
"Don't worry Rei-chan. I don't mind your pretending I was your first."
Haruka snickered at Usagi's words.
"After all... All that experience must have come from somewhere."
"I'm just naturally good at making love though," Rei smiled sheepishly.
"Yes, that's what Chizuko-chan told me. And Sumiko-chan."
Rei glared at the tall blonde.
"I only tried to save your life. I'm sorry for almost punching you," She hissed.
"Consider us even."
"Only two girls. That's alright Rei-chan. You made me think I was the only girl for you, but I can understand your getting a little lonely," Usagi smiled crookedly.
Michiru couldn't hold herself and burst into laughter.
"Two girls! Hahaha!"
"You guys are terrible. You know how she gets when she's jealous."
"I think it's time we left the two of you to prepare for later," Haruka and Michiru went out.
"We are definitely even now," Rei fumed.
"How many girls were there Rei?"
Her lover growled threateningly.
Rei got in her face with an equal passion.
"Well, you had Mamoru-kun all that time! I don't see what you have to complain about!"
"I thought you were sad and alone for seven years!"
"I WAS sad and alone!"
"You were in heat! How many girls Rei?!"
Suddenly they fell silent.
Usagi cast her eyes down and hugged herself. Rei rubbed her lover's shoulder with a guilty look in her eyes.
"I should tell him already. I owe him."
"It's not your fault."
The miko took her hand. The blonde looked up into her compassionate lover's eyes.
"Yes. It is. Because I fell in love with someone else. And that makes me hurt him. And especially because that's the way I want it to be," Usagi's eyes filled up.
Rei hugged her.
"If I could do this for you I would."
"Don't you think you've been doing too much for me lately? You're going to spoil me. That's not why I fell in love with you." The blonde smiled while wiping her eyes.
"Then why did you fall in love with me?"
"Because you get on my nerves."
They smiled, and with Rei caressing the blonde's hair and cheeks they started to kiss.
"Ugh!" Usagi moaned after a few minutes of lovemaking.
"For God's sake! We were worried about Mamo-kun just a few moments ago!"
"That's just the irresistible Hino-charm and beauty messing with your heart," Rei flipped her hair back. "Don't feel bad about it."
"Oh yeah? Maybe it's the legendary Tsukino-charm and beauty." Usagi posed in a mock imitation of her lover, making them both burst out in laughter.
"I'm going to have to be the bad girl here though," The miko said while her friend was still laughing.
"Not that I want too, but I think it would be best not to tell him until after we went on our mission and closed the gate."
"I know," Usagi sobered up.
"I'm really sorry. I know you never wanted to have secrets from him, and neither do I... But we can't allow anything to endanger with what we are about to do."
"I know you're right. I was afraid to tell him at first. Now I just want to get it over with and I have to wait. But I know you're right. Both of us will be devastated when I tell him..."
"So will I."
Usagi smiled sadly at her.
She took Rei's hand.
"I know you'd feel for me and you'd want to ease his pain as much as I would. All three of us would be sad and confused while we should be focussed on the task at hand. So unloading our consciousness and confessing our feelings to Mamo-kun will have to wait."
Rei caressed her lover's cheek, seeing the depressed look on her face and then gave her a fierce hug.
Usagi hugged her back and smiled.
"Don't be sad for my sake, or for his. It'll be alright, This is just a broken heart we are talking about. Those heal in time. There will be much more irreparably painfull things ahead of us," She continued sadly.
Makoto was looking at the big screen Yori Maki had installed in the living room of Hikawa shrine's private lodgings. On it, pictures and maps of the scientific research complex they were going to try to enter in a few hours were projected.
Minako's boyfriend sat at a table with a projector in front of them while Mamoru stood next to the screen.
To her left sat Yuuichirio, his right hand around her shoulder.
He didn't need to be here, they had always wanted to shield their loved ones from their double life. Civilians shouldn't get involved in warfare anyway. But Yuuichirio had insisted he get more involved in their struggle. He wanted to be able to contribute, no matter how little. They shouldn't think Grandpa and him, or Usagi's parents, or Ami's mother and Ryo, or Minako and Makoto's parents, or Michiru and Haruka's family and Hotaru's father didn't know they fought with them in mind every day. That's what Yuuichirio had said. Makoto blushed. His eloquence had silenced them all. Yuuichirio wanted to contribute and now he sat in the Sailor Senshi's war-room next to his new girlfriend.
The brunette turned to her left and smiled at the goofy concentrated look on her boyfriends face.
She couldn't stop herself and rubbed his curls after all.
"Hey!" He started, but when he saw her smile and felt her pull him closer he just smiled back and gave her a kiss.
He might lose her forever in a few hours, but for now, they were closer than they had ever been. He felt like he had finally found what he had been looking for ever since he woke up on the stairs of Hikawa shrine. He had finally found a home for himself.
"The Chinese believe that these creatures are in command of all the others. The Silent Ones, they call them."
Yori brought a fuzzy picture on the screen of three tall cloaked vaguely humanoid creatures with birdlike faces.
"Why do they believe that?" Haruka asked.
Mamoru scraped his throat.
He nodded to Yori and pointed at the screen as various other pictures followed each other.
"Verbal communication has never been observed between any of the creatures, but several large troop movements during engagement have been noticed to have been preceded by non-verbal communication between members of this group. It is guessed at that they use a form of telepathy to communicate between themselves and the other creatures."
"And they are the only ones who wear garments of any kind," Ami added dryly.
The two men in front of the group snickered.
"Yes. That is probably the main thing that tipped them off," Yori smirked.
"It is assumed that there is only one airborne race among them. Some of you have fought one of those."
Mamoru watched Rei grit her teeth.
"They are incredibly fast and manoeuvrable. They are said to have downed several Shenyang J-8 fighter jets. The invaders use them as an airborne vanguard in attacks and arm them with some kind of plant or fungus that envelops their torso which they seem to have a symbiotic relationship with. Enough to have them eject explosive and corrosive pods at will. But we must assume they also use them as spy-plains. So we will try to avoid being out in the open as much as possible."
Yori brought a new picture on the screen.
Several arachnid monsters were shown, lined up in front of the main army.
"This is their main artillery," Mamoru continued.
The creatures didn't seem to have any recognizable facial features. Just six legs on a spiderlike body and two tubular feelers in front. On it's back, a structure grew with a seemingly liquid green substance inside and an orange cotton-like thing on either side of the substance.
"If we are caught by one of these we attack immediately and without reserve.
These ugly things are as fast as a military jeep and that green goo on top of them melts a tank into miso soup in two minutes.
We never try to outrun them. We never try to hide from them. We hope to avoid them and if we get spotted by them we fight for our lives."
Next came pictures of orange and red spotted canine-looking beasts with tusks and beards.
"These and the Monster Men you will see next are their soldiers. These - Hellhounds the Chinese call them - are about the size of an African elephant and are as fast as a sports car. They send them into the Chinese troops to create fear and chaos..."
Yori pulled another picture on the screen.
"Then these guys come in."
The Senshi saw something that vaguely looked like a furred human being with tusks and pig-ears throwing a tank in the air.
"These are the Monster Men. They are as big as a three-story house and... Well, you can see how powerful they are. The only good thing about them for us is they are relatively slow. Relatively meaning they can still easily outrun Michael Johnson."
"No problem. That means nee-san will still have them eating her dust."
Yori chuckled, then stared at their audience when he realized Hotaru wasn't joking.
"What? Really?!" He asked the miko in an unbelieving tone, but Rei looked back at the surprised man as if she had just walked into the discussion.
"Oh dear. Seems like someone's surveillance wasn't up to snuff when we fought Sailor Galaxia," Michiru teased.
"Haha. You can mock us all you like," The Lieutenant-Colonel sweated, holding his forehead. "It's not like we had any proper funding. Everything needed to be invisible so the Americans wouldn't find out..."
"What are those fat humanoid creatures we see in the background in some of the pictures?"
Yori sat at attention again and brought one of the pictures referred to on screen. A moloch that could easily fit a modest apartment building inside of it loomed behind the part of the invasion army on the picture.
"Their function in the enemy army is unknown," Mamoru said, a pensive look on his face. "The Chinese never saw them do anything but stand in the background."
"They are for demolition," Ryo interrupted in a grim tone.
He immediately had everyone's attention.
"After they go through an inhabited area they don't want the survivors to have anything to go back to. These creatures have a funny reaction to water. They soak it up like sponges and can grow near half the height of a skyscraper. After the other creatures slaughter the population of a town or a city these monsters come in and they flatten everything."
He looked up, seeing the shocked faces of his friends.
"That's what I've seen in my visions."
Ami pulled him close and kissed him.
"Do you remember the invisible wall I talked to you about?" Michiru asked a nodding Ryo.
"I have a feeling these creatures are the ones creating the force field I saw in my visions," The greenette continued.
"Could be. I didn't see much of that. But that is possible. What do you think Rei-chan?"
"It's possible. It might be the hooded creatures too. There's no real way of knowing for sure right now."
"No matter who creates the force field, it shouldn't be a problem for this mission. Since we will try to avoid a confrontation if possible."
"Still, we should be aware of it," Rei told Yori.
"That force field may be their most formidable weapon. I saw them use it to brush off the New Millenium Moon Love attack."
Rei cringed as she felt the atmosphere in the room tense.
"Neither Mercury's High-Pressure Blast nor New Millenium Moon Love has any effect on these things?!" Haruka exclaimed.
"That's not what Rei-chan said. Sailor Mercury did give that flying creature damage, it was just too agile to hit it point blank."
"Usagi is right. I don't mean to be fatalistic. I just want us to be prepared. Obviously, both of our most powerful long-range attacks as well as my new one will have an effect on individual creatures. Cosmic Love Bomb shook our opponent at Itsukushima up too. But we must be on our guard against allowing them to force us into a large scale battle. I think we should especially avoid getting found out by any of those hooded creatures."
"I agree," Yori said with his hands folded before his lips.
"That's why we will transport as close to the main entrance as possible, avoiding the gigantic hole they have tunneled from inside the building on the other side and quietly make our way to the main lab where the gateway was created."
"I'm sorry Yori-kun," Usagi said firmly. "I think you probably expected this, but we cannot allow you to come with us."
The Lieutenant-Colonel looked at the emphatic faces staring at him and sighed.
"You know what kind of political effects it might have if my superiors or the Chinese found out you went there without attendance."
"We won't tell them," Ami smiled.
"It's not about your not having powers like us," Rei comforted.
"We just worry about our ability to keep you safe."
Minako nodded in agreement with her brunette friend.
"Last time we fought these creatures we nearly lost our own lives."
"And now we are going into the lion's den."
"To put it bluntly: having you with us would make things more dangerous for all of us, because we'd constantly worry about your safety," Haruka and her lover added.
"Ugh. This is so humiliating. A bunch of civilians has more combat experience than me."
"Don't think of it like that Yori-kun. If we would be engaging one of those monsters in a location we were familiar with we would feel fortified to have you fighting with us. But we have no idea what to expect during this mission. I don't want to lose you so soon after I met you."
"I know. I know. You are absolutely right of course. But I don't want to lose you either."
Minako knew how anxious he was going to be, staying behind and waiting for her to come back just like on Miyajima. She really felt sorry for him, looking into his sad eyes. She felt the urge to plead for him to come along. But she really didn't want him to join them on such a dangerous mission with a rocket launcher and a couple of service pistols.
"Don't worry Yori-kun. I'll personally make sure Mina-chan gets back to you safe and sound."
Yori looked at Makoto's earnest face as she put her arm around the shoulder of his girlfriend.
His face twitched into a grin.
"That does make me feel more confident."
"And I'll keep Mako-chan safe, Yuuichirio-kun. I promise," The blonde smiled, returning the gesture.
Ryo frowned at the uneven number of the group that was going on the mission.
"And who's going to keep Ami-chan safe?"
He got a poke in the side and his girlfriend huffed with a smirk: "I promise you I can take care of myself. Besides..." She kissed him. "I just got your promise to live together in Minato-ku next year."
"H..hold on... Living together?"
"On condition that I come back without a scratch," The bluehead grinned.
"You are a shrewd negotiator Mizuno-chan," Ryo smiled. "I agree to your conditions."
"Alright everyone," Mamoru gathered the Senshi's attention.
"We are now all informed about the situation on site. We have no time to lose. Some of the mobile armies are nearly within reach of the nearest settlement. Every hour more of those monsters are coming through that portal. Let's transform and teleport."
The Senshi in front of him all turned serious and resolutely nodded their agreement.
When they came outside the sun had already set.
Yuichirio, Ryo, and Yori watched their beloved line up in front of them in the shelter of the shrine's garden.
One by one the young women transformed.
It was the first time Yori had seen his girlfriend transform in real life without him spying on her.
After they had transformed into their Sailor Senshi forms each of them saluted the Lieutenant-Colonel.
"You can trust us Maki-chan," Sailor Moon solemnly stated.
"We know what's at stake. We won't take any risks. We will complete the mission without endangering ourselves."
Yori saluted back.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get to know you in a more honest way. I have been enriched by your love and friendship.
I know you will save our people."
The Senshi smiled at their loved ones and formed a circle, holding hands.
Yori and his companions shielded their eyes against the bright light emanating from the eight women and Mamoru as they transported themselves to the Gobi desert in China.
The light subsided gradually after they reached their destination and their eyes became accustomed to the darkness once more.
They watched their surroundings with apprehension.
Sailor Mars looked up to the sky, hoping the flying monsters hadn't spotted them yet.
Their arrival must have been noticed, so they had to get into the enormous building in front of them as soon as possible.
Sailor Mercury immediately activated her laptop and scanned the area.
"The main army is several hundred meters from here. There are several creatures about the size of men inside the building," She observed in surprise. "And I can see monsters arriving through the portal and going toward the other side of the building through the tunnel."
She looked at her friends.
"All the monsters they showed us were considerably larger than men," Sailor Uranus frowned. "Even those hooded ones are about a meter taller than an average man."
Her lover put a hand to her waist and looked Tuxedo Mask in the eyes.
"Maybe they are scientists they forced to operate the computers for them?"
"Sailor Mercury. Is our entrance clear?"
"Yes. I don't see any life signs on our way to the main hall where the portal is located."
"Then our first concern is to get in," Sailor Moon ordered.
"We can find out what these smaller creatures are once we are safe from the flying monsters."
Everyone gathered around Sailor Neptune.
A transparent vapor appeared from her right hand that twirled around them several times until it had enveloped them completely and made them invisible to all outside the nebula.
They quickly ran to the main entrance of the building, not trusting the enemy to not have ways to see through the nebula by use of their magic. At least it should keep them safe from surveillance cameras and the like.
Once they stood before the fence of the main gate Tuxedo Mask produced a small device from his pocket.
"Luckily for us, they are arrogant enough not to keep patrol around this place," Sailor Jupiter muttered.
"Are you ready Sailor Mercury?"
The bluehead nodded in answer to her Prince's question.
She activated a program on her laptop and punched in several codes.
"I'm connected to the security mainframe."
One more series of codes and the fence opened to them.
Weary for any surprises they carefully entered, keeping their backs to the outer wall while Mercury closed the fence behind them.
"That's the main entrance in front of us.
At Sailor Moon's command, they all ran to the other side, lining up against the wall.
Tuxedo Mask pried open a panel underneath a small keyboard in the wall next to the main entrance, careful not to come in sight of the camera.
"Don't worry," Sailor Mercury smiled. "I am in control of all surveillance camera's now. They'll only see what I want them to see."
The masked man smiled back and altered the position of his body into a more comfortable one.
"Let's see whether this device the Chinese gave us works."
Sailor Saturn observed a distracted Sailor Mars while their friend tried to connect the device to the wiring in the wall.
"Is something wrong nee-san?"
The blackette frowned.
"I recognize this situation from one of my fire readings now."
She looked back at Sailor Saturn and then at Mercury.
"There may be a group of those hellhounds headed towards us."
The entire group safe Tuxedo Mask got into battle stance.
Sailor Mercury checked the satellite map on her laptop.
"there are! Heading for us from the main army! They'll be here in three minutes."
"I'm almost ready!" Tuxedo Mask hurriedly connected the last wires.
"And this one should go here."
He pushed the device into the hole in the wall and closed the panel while hurriedly fishing for his new cell phone, using it to activate the device he had connected to the wiring.
"You should have control now," He agitatedly told Mercury.
The group could hear the sound of a stampede in the distance.
Mercury activated a new program on her laptop and punched in a command.
The heavy double doors slid open, allowing the group to hurry inside.
Before Mercury closed the entrance gate behind them, Sailor Uranus blew a kiss to the outside world.
"Winds Of Uranus."
Her kiss developed into a strong gust that blew the sands up and around into the path of the approaching pack.
"That should take care of our scent," She grinned while the group took a small break to catch their breath.
"Smart thinking," Sailor Venus smiled.
"People sometimes forget that my beautiful beloved is more than just a handsome face."
Sailor Neptune flirtatiously embraced the amused short-haired woman and kissed her hand.
"We better get going," Sailor Moon spurred the rest into action.
"I want to put as many concrete walls between us and those monsters outside as possible."
"I won't challenge you on that," Sailor Jupiter muttered.
They hurried through a small corridor leading to an elevator hall and ascended the stairs to the top floor rather than risk getting stuck in one of the elevators.
"I hope those smaller creatures you spotted are the people who worked here Sailor Mercury. It's hopeful to see this place doesn't look like a battlefield," Jupiter said as they ran through the hallway on the top floor.
Mars doubted very much they would find anyone alive in the building.
She remembered seeing the walls splattered with blood in several of her fire-readings. People had been gruesomely murdered in here. Those hooded bird-things must run a tight operation to have their soldiers clean the building just for the heck of it. Maybe they had been afraid of diseases.
After turning a corner and walking the same distance as they had come through the other hallway, they came to another elevator hall with a small corridor to their right.
"We're nearly there," Mercury said.
"At the end of that corridor, we turn the corner to our left into a hallway in which the observation room is located. All of the life signs my laptop perceives are gathered there. As discussed earlier, I will try to cause a malfunction in the portal. If I succeed, half of us will go down to the entrance of the main hall where the portal is located. Hopefully, the creatures who came through the portal will just continue going through the tunnels while the creatures in the observation room try to fix the portal.
By the time the second team arrives at the entrance the monsters should be at least halfway through the tunnel, but feel free to take your time going down.
When you get there, you enter the main hall and you make this building come crashing down on that tunnel and everything in it while the rest of us engage whatever awaits us in the observation room."
Everybody nodded their understanding.
"Alright!" Sailor Moon said with a determined look in her eyes that made Sailor Mars's heart sing. "Let's go."
They quietly walked down the corridor and the hallway until they reached a fortified double door in the right side of the hallway.
Sailor Mercury crouched with Tuxedo Mask next to her and activated a program on her laptop.
"It's connecting to the intranet," The masked man said. "Let's hope it works as it should."
A few minutes felt like a quarter of an hour, but finally, the two smiled at the screen and the other Senshi sighed in relief.
"I see what they were talking about. This is pretty amazing how they managed to make this work, but something doesn't seem quite right to me," Sailor Mercury pondered.
"I think I see our best way to cause a malfunction here."
Tuxedo Mask pointed at the screen.
"Yes. I think so. If I enter this command it should..."
Mercury switched to the program that allowed her laptop to scan her surroundings and grinned.
"It seems things just got a little hectic in there."
"Mars, Saturn, Tuxedo Mask. Let's go!"
Sailor Moon whispered.
"Glad I don't have to go down all those stairs again," Sailor Uranus teased her grinning ward.
The second team slowly descended the stairs to the ground level and then the basement. All the while hoping their enemies wouldn't find a way to get the portal working again before they got a chance to blow up the tunnel. Their hearts were pumping inside their bodies.
On the basement level, they walked until they came to a large fortified double door inside a wide hall.
Hearing a loud crash behind the door Tuxedo Mask spurred them on.
"Let's waste no more time everybody."
"Cosmic Love Bomb!"
The large orange heart exploded, bursting a big hole into the wall in front of them.
Sailor Venus and her fellow Senshi had seen some surreal scenes in their lives, but this one was certainly one of the more notable.
Stationed at various computer screens in the spacious observation room and
Looking at them with wide eyes were about ten man-height creatures who walked on four tentacles that supported a bulbous body with a large head sporting fangs the size of their eyes. And their eyes were big. Four other tentacles were attached to their bulbous bodies that seemed to function as their arms.
Behind the creatures, a room-wide window oversaw the enormous main hall, the top of the large green, swirly gateway clearly visible to the Sailor Senshi.
In a second, the creatures hid behind the screens.
Several of them brought the tips of two of their tentacles together, producing green flashes that hurtled towards the Senshi.
Sailor Jupiter turned on her left heel, hugged Venus and pushed her back into the hallway, right before one of the flashes would have shot the blonde's left arm off, judging from the hole in the wall behind them.
The Senshi scrambled farther into the hallway and turned the corner into the corridor to the elevator hall.
Sailor Neptune's main attack crashed into the wall on the other end of the hallway, doing away with it completely. Discouraging the attacking creatures from any plans to pursue their assailants.
"Thanks, Jupiter," Sailor Venus breathed.
"I take my promises serious," Her friend winked.
"Blasted!" Sailor Uranus cursed. "They immediately took the advantage of our not wanting to damage the computers. How do we get in there if we can't get rid of them?!"
"There might be a way," Sailor Neptune deadpanned. "I'm sure if you can keep your blood from boiling for a few seconds, you might think of something."
Uranus leered at her.
"Mercury. Can you allow the portal to function normally again for just a few seconds?"
Sailor Mercury smiled.
"Yes. I think I understand."
The monsters inside the observation room patiently awaited the promised reinforcements to come to their aid.
Being attacked inside the building by indigenous creatures with such powers was entirely unexpected. A grave oversight of their leaders. They would file a complaint about this incompetence.
The two who were guarding the hole in the wall recoiled as another attack made its way through the hallway.
Rapid footsteps were coming their way and the guards prepared to fend off the attackers.
"Cosmic Love Bomb!"
"Winds Of Uranus!"
With a crash, the window behind them shattered and before they realized what had happened, all ten of them were blown through it and into the momentarily functional portal. Back toward the world, they had come from.
"Mars Eternal Burning Flame!"
The large double door was entirely sublimated. Along with part of the surrounding wall.
Tuxedo Mask and the three Senshi of the second team ran quickly into the main hall. Just in time to see the portal turn a swirly green again.
The portal was massive. Reaching the top of the fifteen-story main hall and filling its breadth. To its left was a large garage door, wide enough for a fighter jet to pass through, leading to a momentarily empty hangar. A tunnel of similar dimensions to the portal was dug through the ground to its right, underneath the wing of the building that provided housing for the scientists and maintenance workers, and in which offices, maintenance rooms, the kitchen and recreational areas were located.
Sailor Mars looked around. Getting a strange feeling that she had forgotten something.
Sailor Moon stepped in front of the enormous hole in the ground and gripped her Silver Moon Sceptre with both hands, holding it straight in front of her.
The others took positions behind and on either side of her.
She used the Sceptre to draw a circle in the air in front of her while a shining silver moon appeared behind her. Hugging the Silver Moon Sceptre to her chest and closing her eyes the light of the moon enveloped her while her wings sprouted from her back and settled into a resting position.
She looked the epitome of serenity.
The light of the moon became brighter and brighter until it completely eclipsed her and everything around her.
"New Millenium Moon Love!"
Slowly she raised the Sceptre and pointed it in front of her again while the light of the silver moon was directed at the base of the wall in front of her.
In an instant, the right wing of the building collapsed into the tunnel. The Senshi covered their eyes and mouths while they huddled together underneath Tuxedo Mask's cape.
"They did it! The tunnel collapsed. We are safe for now."
Sailor Venus and Jupiter looked at the slowly settling dust while Uranus used her special attack to protect them and the computers of the observation room from the airborne particles.
"Why are you looking so concerted?" Neptune nervously asked while she watched Mercury check her laptop and the various computers around them.
"Because it makes no sense," The bluehead fretted. "The Chinese explained how they use the nearby hydroelectric plant to power the portal, but now that I can see all of the readings from these computers the energy spent by the portal is much greater than the plant can provide. It's simply impossible that they could constantly uphold this portal to another planet on the power of the hydro-electric plant alone. It's an ingenious technology and with some adaptation, a small amount of energy would suffice to travel from any place on earth to any other. But it cannot do what we are seeing!" Mercury agitatedly pointed at the fifteen story gateway behind them.
She kept checking and calculating on her laptop until she finally gasped in horror.
"It didn't originate from here!"
"The portal?" Neptune asked.
The other three Senshi came to look over their shoulders since the debris had at least settled down to the tenth-floor level by now.
"What's going on here?" Uranus asked.
"It wasn't the Chinese who created this gateway. The gateway simply locked onto the portal they created. The gateway was created by our invaders. They were always going to come here. No matter what we did."
"Well, it's nice that the Chinese government can be cleared from blame concerning this invasion. But how does this affect us?"
Mercury looked up with a fearful expression.
"It means we cannot destroy the gateway from our side."
As the dust finally cam down around them, the Senshi of the second team separated and wiped their faces and clothes.
Saturn frowned when she saw Sailor Jupiter walk up to them through the hole in the wall.
"What's the matter?" Tuxedo Mask asked.
"We have a problem," The brunette breathed.
A thud reverberated through the building.
"Sounds like we have two problems."
Jupiter looked emphatically at the others.
"We can't close the gateway from our side. Sailor Mercury discovered that the Chinese were not the ones who opened the gateway. The gateway to earth was opened by the invaders on their side. They just connected to the portal the Chinese had created to make their gateway more stable.
And that stability is currently our problem."
"Then we'll just have to go to the other side and close the portal on that side."
Sailor Mars sought support from her Queen.
"We wouldn't be able to get back here after we did that. We would be stuck there forever. Moreover, it's doubtful we would survive the destruction of their portal. The creatures on that side would make short work of us," Jupiter responded.
"Couldn't Mercury get us back using the portal the Chinese built?"
The brunette shook her head at her Prince.
"She says the portal on our side doesn't have a powerful enough energy source to sustain the connection for a second once the other portal is destroyed."
Another thud made everyone turn their heads in the direction of the collapsed tunnel.
"We can't have come here and risked our lives for nothing," Tuxedo Mask growled.
The five of them sank in thought for a few minutes.
Sailor Moon nervously watched her beloveds concerned look.
She understood very well what Mars must be thinking right now.
She herself would be more than happy to offer her own life if it would permanently stop the invaders from being able to bring more of their soldiers to earth.
She was grateful that Mars had fought so hard to prevent any of them from falling against the monsters.
It gave her hope that the blackette might not suddenly decide to jump through the portal before Moon could stop her.
"No, Mars," She said quietly, at last, making the other woman stop pursuing the memory that still escaped her with a confused look.
"There is a way to do this without leaving anyone behind."
The rest of them looked at Sailor Saturn.
"You all know this is a mission tailor-made for me."
"That doesn't mean you have to do it."
Mars knew Saturn was right. If she died on the other side she would still be instantly reborn on earth again. But the loss of all those years...
It didn't seem fair.
"Are you afraid Sailor Neptune and Uranus would be tired of raising me and dump me on your doorstep nee-san?" The black bobbed young woman smiled.
"You know it's the only way. And considering the threat we are facing there is every chance I would quickly reach my current age again."
"I'm afraid Sailor Saturn is right. It's our only option. If the gate stays open for more monsters to come through, mankind has no hope of survival."
Sailor Moon gave her Prince a short angry look, but she knew they had no other choice. Aborting the mission would mean the invaders could go back to bringing over millions more of their monstrous soldiers to earth.
They had no other choice.
Her heart stabbed her as she made her decision.
"Alright," She muttered. "You are all so eager to give your own lives for the good of others."
She gave the Senshi of rebirth a look full of the friendship and respect she felt for the younger woman who had always been such a dear friend to her daughter.
"Only because I know we will meet again soon do I grant my permission for this."
Saturn hugged her Princess, Prince and fellow Senshi.
"We are out of time. I will see you all soon," She said with a look devoid of all emotion while the other three women watched her with tears in their eyes.
"I will run up to tell Sailor Mercury she has to open the portal for you," Sailor Jupiter shouted over her shoulder, already halfway to the elevator hall.
As Sailor Saturn walked slowly towards the gate Sailor Mars grimaced and closed her eyes to an abundance of tears. She had finally remembered what was going to come next. And she knew that what was going to come next was necessary. Because she had finally recognized one of the distorted voice from her visions.
Her body tensed while the man next to her started to move forward, filled with determination.
"Wait!" Tuxedo Mask shouted to Saturn.
"Someone has to come with you to the other side or you won't even have enough time to use your attack. They would overwhelm you at once."
"You are right," She nodded.
He stepped towards her.
"What?! No!" Sailor Moon cried out.
Tuxedo Mask turned around.
"I have to. There will be enemies on every side. I am the only one of us capable of engaging them all at once."
His Queen threw herself at him and clung to his body.
"Don't do it! Please!" She sobbed. "There has to be another way. You don't have to do this. You don't have to do anything."
"No, I don't, and you have made me see that," He smiled.
"I have seen what has happened between you and Sailor Mars and it has opened my eyes."
A shock went through both of his former girlfriends.
They stared at him.
"I'm sorry Sailor Moon. There was a time when I loved you. I still do, but not like that anymore. Not as I thought I was supposed to. You have made me very happy for so many years. I used to think I would fall in love with you again. Our destiny was to get married to each other after all. I realize now that I was only fooling myself.
No life is bound by destiny," He smiled radiantly.
"We are all free to make our own decisions. You both made your own choices. Now I am making mine. And it has nothing to do with the choice that the two of you made.
You only freed me to the realization that I don't owe the future my life.
I am a prince of Earth. I do this to secure the survival of my people. We might think of another way if we had time. But we don't."
He stepped closer to the portal.
"I'm sorry," Sailor Moon wept while her lip quivered. "Don't do this, please. I love you. I don't want to lose you."
Mars slowly came closer and embraced her Queen from behind while she still clung to Tuxedo Mask. Not trying to force her away from him, but trying to be a comfort.
"Don't be sorry. You deserve to be with someone who truly wants to be with you. Not someone who stays with you because they were told they should. I am the one who is sorry he didn't realize that sooner. Don't sorrow. Be happy and take care of each other. And protect the people of earth."
"We have to go," Saturn reminded him as she noticed Sailor Neptune and Uranus high up at the window of the observation room with a desk lamp to signal the time for departure.
The Prince of earth looked at Sailor Mars as her beloved slowly let go of him.
"I'm sorry," She sobbed. "I wish things were different."
"Me too... I wish earth hadn't been invaded." He looked at them as Sailor Moon finally relented and the two women wept in each other's arms.
"I never meant to hurt you."
"I know, Mars," The masked man gently assured. "We've had this conversation, remember? We both desire each other's happiness. Like I said: I am grateful. Your love set all three of us free. Besides... I get the easy part. You are going to have to spend your entire life together now."
His former girlfriend's choked a laugh through their tears.
"Don't cry, you two," Saturn comforted. "I promise you, I will find a way to get him back when I am reborn. I will do everything in my power."
They felt the ground shake once more and Tuxedo Mask looked up to see the Senshi in the observation room wave.
He laid his hand on Sailor Saturn's shoulder and motioned her to come as he threw a last look at the mourning couple in front of him
"I have felt alone for so long, but your friendship has made me happier than I ever could have expected to become. The love all of us share is truly beautiful.
I have been blessed to be part of all of your lives... Adieu!"
With a dash, he and Sailor Saturn jumped through the portal when the desk lamp in the window above lighted up.
They looked at the curious herd of monsters all around them. The sky was beige and orange. What there was of the vegetation looked similar to what you could have found on pre-historic earth, but was blocked from view by rows upon rows of monsters neatly lined up in front of and next to the portal.
"I have to confess," He whispered.
"I am afraid."
Saturn took his hand with a cold look for the creatures in front of her.
"I will get you back. I'm sure I can. Once I get older my powers will increase. I promise you I will bring you back somehow. Just think of this as going to sleep."
He pulled an absurdly sized bouquet of roses from his tuxedo.
"Are you ready?"
"For earth," She stated in a businesslike voice.
With one fluid movement, the whole area around them was colored in red flower petals while no stem missed its target.
Tuxedo Mask instinctively kneeled low as Sailor Saturn swung her frightful weapon around.
Centrifugal forces where gathered and enhanced to astronomical levels of power in the bottom end of the weapon.
Then, the Senshi of death and rebirth held her Silence Glaive high in front of her and gripped it firmly with both hands, sparing a quick, grim look around for the lives at her mercy.
"Wave Of Oblivioooon!"
And with a thud the previous world that had fallen victim to the creatures that had invaded earth ended.
Sailor Mars still held a weeping Moon in her arms. Not for a lack of tears herself she gradually managed to calm her lover down.
"We'll get him back. One way or another we'll get him back. I promise."
Yet again, they felt the entire building shake.
"We better get to the others," Sailor Moon quietly said.
Mars nodded and hand in hand they ran to the elevator hall and up the stairs fifteen stories high.
When they entered the observation room they saw their friends standing like frozen, staring at the various computer screens.
"What's going on?" Sailor Moon asked, frowning at their strange behavior.
Sailor Mercury looked up with a panicked expression in her eyes.
"They all went like that about a minute ago. I have lost control of everything but my laptop. Luckily they couldn't access that."
The two women followed to where she was pointing.
All around them the computer screens displayed the same words:
[Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?]
They walked towards the nearest keyboard.
Mars wiped her eyes.
"Tell them!" She wrapped her arm around Sailor Moon's back, having the gesture immediately returned.
Moon still sniffed, occasionally wiping her eyes as she typed:
[We are the ones who save the people of earth from murderous monsters who believe in nothing but power and tyranny!]
Mars kissed her, and they leaned their heads together.
Half a minute later they got an answer.
[The people of earth are food for our cattle. Their armies will not save them. Their plutonium will not save them. Their Sailor Senshi will not save them.
In fact: They will not be saved at all.]
Everyone stared at the screens.
"They already know," Sailor Venus muttered.
"How can they know who we are?"
"Why did they even ask if they already knew?!" Uranus spat.
"Because this is just psychological warfare!" Mars replied angrily.
"They're trying to frighten us. I'll tell them they'll have to do better!"
She moved her fingers over the keyboard.
[Neither will you!]
She shared a determined look with her lover and Moon turned to look at the gate which was now starting to become unstable and leaking into the room. A blurry sign that the heroes on the other end of the gate had succeeded in their mission.
The whole building shook again as a large chunk of the right wing that had covered the entrance to the tunnel was catapulted up against the ceiling of the main hall.
The Senshi all ran to the window to see several of the Monster Men crawl out of the tunnel.
"We have to destroy the portal."
Sailor Mercury finished a data-transfer and quickly packed her laptop.
"Leave it to me."
Sailor Jupiter winked and moved as if to roll a bowling ball while the others ran towards the door of the observation room.
"Green Giant Devastating Discharge!"
She threw the gigantic ball of green electricity at the portal and watched it overload until it and the equipment that produced it exploded, showering the Monster Men in sparks and debris.
Content that the portal wouldn't be of use to anyone anymore, she followed her friends out of the observation room.
Uranus's main attack made quick work of the observation room and its computers.
"Everybody! To the elevator hall at the entrance at once! We need to get outside as fast as possible and teleport!"
At Mercury's words, they hasted through the hallway, turned the corner and ran through the other hallway to the door for the stairs down to the ground floor.
Jupiter cautiously held the door handle and watched Mercury nod to open, ready to strike in case an attack came from the staircase.
Having established that the way to the stairs was safe, they peered down and strained their ears.
They heard a bunch of faraway sounds, but nothing seemed to come from inside the stairwell.
After that, they quickly descended, taking turns to guard the doors at every floor until they all arrived in the corridor to the building's main entrance.
"All right everyone," Sailor Mercury warned. Having seen to her shock that Tuxedo Mask had entered the portal with Saturn she had instinctively resumed the leadership role that had been forced onto her after Sailor Moon was traumatized by Mesmerphistopheles attack at the mall.
"They could be waiting in ambush for us behind the wall. One of those flying monsters could swoop down at us as soon as we set foot outside. So we keep to the plan. We run until we are two meters out the door. I blast the building to dust and we teleport."
"Alright!" Everybody nodded.
Except for Mars, whose eyes went wide.
"I have to go back!"
Before anyone could react, she had cleared the corner, ran through the next hallway and cleared another corner down a long tunnel intended to lead trucks to a loading bay next to the main hall.
They followed her until she disappeared at the end of the tunnel.
"What is she doing?!"
"Mars! Come back here right now!" Uranus yelled.
"Stay here and wait for us!"
Sailor Moon left in pursuit faster than they could blink.
"What's gotten into them?! They're running right in danger's path!" Jupiter panicked.
"We have to go after them!" Venus tried, looking for support. "They have no chance of making it back here alive! The main hall must be flooded with monsters all headed towards us by now!"
Sailor Neptune touched her shoulder.
"I sensed something as well."
They listened in silence, hearing the distant but swelling sounds of violence.
"Why did Tuxedo Mask go through the portal?" Mercury asked her brunette friend.
"I don't know. They didn't tell me anything about that. All I knew was that Saturn was going."
"Sailor Moon must be devastated," Neptune muttered.
"Sailor Mars too, probably," Uranus added.
With a bang the end of the tunnel was brightly illuminated, forcing their attention back there.
A surreal image greeted them.
A Phoenix seemed to fly out of the flames towards them, carrying an infant in its arms. And flying right above it was an angel, firing its long weapon underneath its body at the giant monstrous creatures that were in pursuit of them.
Sailor Moon's attack made the tunnel cave in on the creatures as she and Mars enlarged their distance from them.
"Uranus's eyes lighted up as the three Senshi landed amidst their friends.
Their heads turned to see the Hellhounds dig through the rubble of the tunnel falling on top of them at an alarming speed.
"We leave now!" Mercury yelled in fear for their lives.
At top speed, they ran back to and through the front door after Venus blasted it open.
In less than a second, they stood in a circle outside with Mars holding baby Hotaru in the middle and Mercury just outside the circle in front of the building.
She joined her hands overhead and brought her arms in front of her while a blue ray cut through the building from one side to the other, growing wider instantly, until a beam the breadth of the building itself blasted the entire structure into vapor.
Mercury turned and joined hands with Venus and Moon.
The Hellhounds that had jumped at them literally bit into dust.
Several hundreds of meters away, on the top of a large dune, the Silent Ones that had observed the situation in the building that housed their point of arrival knew what to expect for what had happened under their watch.
They looked in anger at the dozens of bruised and unconscious Monster Men and Hellhounds lying in the dusty remains of the building.
They had not expected to find such powerful opposition among the beings of this planet.
The only thing they could bring their superiors was information concerning those powerful enemies.
Not enough to prevent their descent through the ranks to a life of humiliation and drudgery by a long shot.
But they would find a chance to strike at the creatures that had done this to them.
Their people may be stranded on this planet forever now, after the loss and probable destruction of the universal gateway on the other side, but they would make this planet a very comfortable home indeed.
With the number of Watchers they had managed to bring over, none would be able to stand against them. The energy shield they could create would make them invulnerable to any attack.
And the fact that none of the other clans had come over meant there would be no competition for the abundance the information they had gathered about this planet via its media promised.
The creatures that had stranded them here would realize soon enough that the only thing they had accomplished was to lock up the predators with the prey they wanted to protect.
And all of their powers would be useless against the might of the herd.
This world would belong to the Nemesis Brotherhood and none other!
Imaginary end credits = Dave Clarke - The Storm
I apologize for killing Mamoru as well as Setsuna. The truth is that I had no use for Setsuna on earth, while I had a use for her as guardian of space and time. And I needed to kill Mamoru for my homaging of John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness. But of course the Guardian of Time and Space cannot really die and Sailor Saturn made a promise. Besides, their deaths will play a big role in the sequel I want to write.
Next week I will publish the epilogue, which will somewhat describe the start of humanity's battle for survival against the Nemesis Brotherhood and will have lots of precious Rei x Usagi moments and some Chibi-Usa x Hotaru moments too.
Act Eight: State Of Emergency
There is a plane of existence outside the multiverse.
An existence where time nor space exist, where concepts like life and death do not apply.
Out there two souls are trapped together. One because not being able to die, yet she died.
The other because he was brought there by the first at the moment of his death.
These souls are joined in non-existence. As close as two souls can be.
The only thing that might alert one of their being, is the fact that they are constantly emitting a peculiar message.
A message that can only be perceived by a select few.
A message that has been received for well over a year now on earth by several people familiar and dear those souls.
The frequency of perception has dropped since about a year ago by this time. Only one of those people still perceives the message, about once every three weeks.
Today is the last time.
"This is not a dream... not a dream. I am using you as a receiver because of your powers.
We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a vision. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing. This is not a dream. I am transmitting to you from a place outside of space-time. You are seeing what is going to occur for the purpose of causality violation."
Rei woke up. Remembering how Mamoru had sacrificed himself a year ago to permanently close the gateway through which the invaders had come that have been all over the news.
She had wanted to keep all of her friends alive. Not just out of love, but to make sure earth would have as many protectors as possible.
In spite of her efforts, the one friend she hadn't been able to save was the nobel, kind man who had stood by and supported her while she stole his girlfriend from him without so much as honestly admitting to him what was going on.
At least he somehow seemed to be in the company of Setsuna.
Rei had recognized the other distorted voice from her visions a few weeks after Mamoru's sacrifice.
There was comfort in the knowledge that wherever they were, whenever they were, whatever they were, they were in the company of a friend.
She looked to her right at the woman whose bed she was sharing.
The death of her ex had been hard on Usagi. And on top of that, they had been dealing with the stress of becoming celebrities, being in the middle of an international political scandal, and constantly going back and forth to China to help the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the People's Liberation Army fight the invaders.
It was a good thing their government had not stopped deploying them in China in order to appease the international community. Though it had come close to that.
She smiled at the peaceful expression on the face of her lover. Should she tell her that the visions she had received had come from Mamoru and Setsuna?
Probably not. Usagi had only just recovered from the loss of her ex a few months ago. Maybe if Michiru or Ryo told the others they had recognized the voices in their visions. But that seemed unlikely since the visions had become less frequent. They would probably stop altogether very soon.
She noticed Usagi was waking up. The blonde was frowning and moving her head left and right.
She regretted it, but for the foreseeable future, she was still going to have one little secret from the woman that loved her so much.
As Usagi moved her arm in front of her face to shield her eyes from the sunlight pouring in through the window and moved her face to her left Rei prepared to wish her a warm good morning.
The blonde's hysterical scream nearly sent her lover to the other end of the room.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" The blackette exclaimed, sitting up while her racing heart calmed down.
"R... Rei?!" The equally agitated Usagi asked, prudishly covering herself with the bedsheet.
"Of course it's me! You moron!"
"I'm sorry," The other woman remorsefully muttered. "It's the first time in a long while that I share my own bed with someone. I'm just not used to it yet."
"I hope you get used to it fast," Luna sighed, jumping down from the curtain. "I don't want to wake up like that every morning."
Rei watched the feline hop onto Usagi's desk and nestle herself into a ball to continue her nap.
She and Artemis had mourned Mamoru's death just the same as the others.
But when Rei and her friends started to get on with their lives they had started to realize their guardians were not only mourning for Mamoru's passing, but also for the future of Crystal Tokyo.
It was then that Rei and Usagi in the company of their friends gently recounted to both how their friendship had developed into love.
Their guardians had been perplexed and
annoyed at the news initially.
Luna had severely remonstrated with them, but after Rei had with much understanding told her about her encounter with the Neo-Queen Serenity of the thirtieth century both Luna and Artemis had started to calm down.
Not without some lingering sadness at first, they had gradually come to accept that the future they had imagined for their charges had not become a reality, but that the future those charges were creating for themselves was just as beautiful and beneficial for Crystal Tokyo, save for the death of their friend.
It did help that over the years Luna had gained an unshakable confidence in Mars's ability to protect her future Queen.
A to Rei regrettable side effect of their guardians' acceptance, however, was Luna's dedication to making the miko more aware of herself as a future Queen.
The blackette cringed, remembering how the enthusiastic feline had at long last got her to demonstrate her mastery of the much-hated rules of etiquette her family had made her learn when she was young.
Suddenly, without warning, the door to Usagi's bedroom was opened from the outside and a discontented ten-year-old pink haired girl emerged carrying a remarkably well-behaved toddler in her arms.
"Chibi-Usa! I told you to knock before you come into my room!" Usagi flared up.
"I would if you showed some concern for other people yourself, Usagi! But you just do what you feel like, without a care in the world for the discomfort of others! The two of you are so selfish!" The young Princess complained, cradling her infant friend in her arms.
"You rudely woke up baby Hotaru-chan with your loud sex!"
Rei looked cross-eyed at the ridiculous woman next to her who was stopping her ears to the word her daughter was not allowed to mention in her presence.
"Please don't mention the forbidden word, Chibi-Usa."
A sudden slight sound made the pinkette look down at the smiling infant in her arms.
"Ew, she pooped."
Daughter and mother launched their appeal simultaneously:
"Why do I have to do it every time?!" The miko got up and walked over to relieve her daughter.
"I'm not going to change my best friend's diaper! That's just wrong."
Chibi-Usa claimed while handing over her charge.
"Imagine how weird it would be if you had to change Usagi's diaper?"
The two women gave each other a look.
"I refuse," The blackette deadpanned.
"And why are YOU too good to do the dirty work?"
Usagi knew how to make looking cute work for her.
"It's yucky," She muttered, bringing her pointer fingers together.
"Riiight," The blackette gave her lover a saccharine sweet smile.
"Well, It's a good thing you'll have so many years to get over that then," She cooed. "Because you'll be the one to change all of Chibi-Usa's diapers."
"No! Please no."
Usagi crawled into a sitting position and tried to put the pressure on with her cutest puppy-face.
She put her hands together and begged with her sweetest largest blue eyes.
"Don't say that Rei. Please. I will change her next time."
"No, that's alright," Rei squatted in front of her lover. "I understand that you need time to grow into your role as a mother. In a few centuries time, you will love changing diapers so much... I promise you every one of our daughter's diapers will be all yours," She beamed before kissing Usagi, who promptly let herself fall face first in Rei's pillow.
Rei got up, turned, walked to the dresser and opened giggling baby Hotaru's nasty package.
"You are enjoying this, aren't you?"
She smiled back. "I hope you're not planning on reliving your entire youth. There is work to do. We've got refugees from all over China seeking shelter.
The Sailor Senshi have been going to the front line on a regular basis. Keeping the invaders at bay to the best of their ability, supported by Chinese and Japanese soldiers while UN troops help evacuate the villages and cities that lie in the enemies path.
Seriously losses have been suffered, though. Because we cannot be everywhere. And the enemy is so numerous and well organized.
In many villages and cities, the entire population has been murdered... " Rei grimaced." Or rather: eaten, while the troops that tried to protect them have fought bravely to the last. The enemy is now in possession of the entire western part of Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, and much of Qinghai, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. They destroyed the part of the Chinese Wall located there, while two third of them have recently branched off and seem to be headed towards Moskou, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.
Nothing seems to stop them and nothing seems to penetrate the forcefield they create around themselves."
Usagi watched her beloved sigh while she finished dressing up baby Hotaru.
"It's like fighting a moving wall."
The blackette lifted the toddler up and brought her to the bed, sitting down next to her lover who gave her a kiss and their daughter who smiled as her infant friend played with the hand she had intended to tickle her with.
In spite of the things they had been through in the past year, their domestic bliss and mutual love were obvious.
After a while, Rei put baby Hotaru down on the bed in between them, because she kept reaching for Chibi-Usa, and the toddler tried to stand up and walk to her friend.
Usagi gave her lover a long hug, while the blackette pulled her close.
"If I can have this, I can endure going to hell all the time without losing my mind."
"Speaking of which," Rei looked at her intently. "How is therapy going?"
"Great," Usagi smiled. "Natsuo is amazing. She understands me really well. I can't thank Yori enough for getting her to take me on. I would never have imagined a JSDF therapist would be such an amazing PTSD expert!"
"Yeah, yeah. Natsuo is amazing. I know," Rei rolled her eyes.
Usagi grinned at the miko.
"Don't be jealous. You are the only one for me. She's not even my type."
"Yessss," Rei smiled viciously. "Like Seiya isn't your type. Yet he was constantly flirting with you when the Sailor Stars and Galaxia came to offer their help."
"He was flirting with you as well! And Minako and Ami."
"Yeah. It was very satisfying to see how Yori told him to keep his manners or leave the planet," Rei grinned.
"And he really isn't my type! I was just lonely and sad back then and he was the only one who offered his kindness."
Chibi-Usa giggled at Hotaru taking her by the nose.
Usagi crossed her arms.
"Perhaps someone we know should have offered to comfort me back then instead of being jealous from a distance," She huffed.
Rei smiled crookedly.
"Yeah, I know... I should have."
"It was cute the way you kept telling him to watch where he put his hands if he didn't want to get them burned," Usagi giggled. "But you shouldn't have tripped Seiya over. That was very mean. He took a nasty fall," The blonde deadpanned.
"You noticed that?" Rei grinned nervously.
"You shouldn't have tricked him into racing Haruka with a motorcycle you emptied the gas tank of beforehand so he would look ridiculous either."
"Héhéhéhé!" The miko laughed way to loud while rubbing the back of her head.
Chibi-Usa looked up.
"It's a pity they couldn't help you in China."
"Yeah, I know," Rei rubbed the pinkette's head and returned her sad expression. "But Yori was right. We are still treading carefully because it's hard for the international community to trust us. There are still UN-members who want an independent investigation into everything the government has told them about us."
"If Sailor Galaxia and the Sailor Stars had joined the war in China there would have been no end to the troubles. They might have put pressure on the government to stop deploying us outside of Japanese territory. And Sailor Galaxia told us she had even less success against the invaders than we are having when she first encountered them. So their help probably would have made little difference."
"Mongolia and Russia are getting nervous though," Usagi said. "The time may come soon enough when we might be allowed to call in the help of our extra-terrestrial friends."
"Speaking of the UN. Usagi, I think you should recite your speech again," Luna piped up.
"I know it by heart already, Luna."
The blonde sat on her knees and straightened her back, folding her arms in front of her. "Esteemed Statesmen and fellow inhabitants of our beautiful planet earth..."
"Practice makes perfect, Usagi. You may have memorized the words, but the more confidence you have, the better your delivery will be."
"She will do fine," Rei adoringly embraced and kissed her beloved.
"But we better wash up and take breakfast. Yori-kun will be here in..." She checked the hour on her cell phone. "... about two hours to bring us to Akasaka Palace."
"There's still time." Usagi yawned, lying down again. "Ow!"
She looked in surprise at a grinning Rei and rubbed her sore behind.
"I always felt you had such sexy cheeks Usagi. I can't help wanting to pinch them occasionally. Get yourself cleaned up. I don't want you making yourself nervous because you've been so lazy you ran out of time."
Usagi sighed and walked in the direction of the bathroom without a word.
About halfway she stopped and slowly turned around with a blush on her cheeks.
"But I am a little nervous already. It might help me to calm down if we showered together."
"That's sound reasoning," Rei answered with a pink face. "I'll come with you."
Luna and Chibi-Usa watched as the latter's mothers left the room.
"Honestly, if they didn't need science to have me I would be born by now."
"It's a good thing they don't need much time," Luna yawned.
"Can you pass me the Tamagoyaki please, Shingo-kun?"
Usagi's brother graciously helped Rei to the dish as the recently enlarged Tsukino household thoroughly enjoined their breakfast together.
"This is really good. Why have you never cooked for us if you improved this much, Usagi?"
Rei and her girlfriend gave each other a look.
"Actually I've cooked for us quite a few times now, father."
"Oh," Kenji reddened seeing his wife nod. "I'm sorry. You really have become quite good at it."
Usagi and Rei shared a smile, knowing the other was thinking the exact same thing. Considering they had both been so unused to cooking in the past, it was a miracle they had become this good by learning to cook dinner together for their joint study sessions.
"Thank you for making breakfast," Ukiko smiled at them. "It really is delicious."
"It's the least I could do," Rei bowed her head. "Thank you again for allowing me to live with Usagi."
"Not at all, Rei-san. You make Usagi very happy and it is a beautiful thing to give up your room in Hikawa Jinja to the refugees. You are very welcome to live here with Usagi for as long as you want," The bluehead smiled.
"Thank you very much. But please, you can call me Rei-chan by now."
"Oh. Thank you Rei-chan. And please do not feel as if you are imposing. You have helped to save the world several times. We are honored to welcome you into our home."
Kenji looked from Rei to his wife.
They had all been devastated by the news of Mamoru's death. And when later on they were told their daughter and her best friend had always been in love with each other unknown to the other and had recently started dating, Usagi's sexual preference had come as a bit of a shock.
By then they had had their share of startling news, of course, news that had shocked much more than the most recent one.
Ikuko had been more open to the idea of her daughter dating and eventually possible marrying another woman if it came to that.
But Kenji was not exactly opposed to such an eventual union either.
After all, Rei Hino was the daughter of a still very powerful ex-minister and a celebrated businesswoman and she was a very accomplished and well behaved young woman in her own right.
He focused his eyes on his newspaper and frowned at the reports about the war in China.
[Chinese government is starting the evacuation of Peking.]
[Mongolia urges the US to send more troops.]
[Queen of Sailor Senshi will deliver a televised speech at today's UN summit.]
[Eye witness account by child who escaped death at the hands of a Monster Man.]
He was all too glad his daughter was sharing her life with a woman who had given her life to protect her on more than one occasion.
"Aren't you going to work at the shrine anymore?" Chibi-Usa asked her future mother when Rei took the bottle Usagi had warmed in the kitchen and fed baby Hotaru.
The blackette smiled at her.
"I'll still drop by to help every now and then. Both of us will!" She fixed her eyes on a sheepishly grinning Usagi.
"I'll miss Grandpa and Yuichirio too much if I don't."
"Mako-chan and Yuichirio-kun will share the work now she moved in with him," Usagi added. "They will help out the refugees too."
"So what are you all doing when you're not in China?" Shingo asked.
"We're just continuing our education while we remain ready to fight whenever we are needed," His sister explained.
"It's really not much different from the usual. Except now we are getting paid," Rei quipped.
To make certain things more practical the new government had come to an agreement with Neo-Queen Serenity that all of the Sailor Senshi would enlist in the JSDF under strict conditions.
This allowed the Defence Ministry to pay them a salary while having the Senshi under obligation to be available for active duty at all times.
The catch was that they had all joined under their civilian names while the accord explicitly stated that the Ministry of Defence had no command over the group known as the Sailor Senshi, its members, and their powers.
They could order Haruka Tenou to China to drive a tank, but only Neo-Queen Serenity could command Sailor Uranus.
The agreement seemed to appease most of the concerns of the international community and it preserved the independence of the Sailor Senshi. The cold sensible reason of the accord allowed the government to please it's most important allies and enable the Senshi to continue standing by the Chinese in their war against the invaders while denying itself the control over them it really passionately wanted.
It was a typical Hino construction.
Just like the events that lead to members of the opposition finding out about the LDP's Defense Minister sending the Sailor Senshi to China in secret which allowed them to raise the international scandal that had toppled the previous government.
Some fathers tend to have a problem with supposed friends sending their daughters to fight alien invasion armies without the least concern for their safety.
"When we graduate we'll get employed within the JSDF," Usagi continued while again noticing the peculiar way in which her little brother had occasionally been regarding her these past few years.
It bothered her, because there was no precedent to help her recognize what the look meant.
She just noticed it one day, and afterward, she had started to notice him looking at her like that more and more. Especially after a great battle. Or when she had started her second year at university. It was very annoying that she didn't know what he was thinking when he looked at her like that.
"This way it's easier for us to be available for active duty at any time of the day."
A signal interrupted Rei playing with baby Hotaru and made her take a look at her cellphone.
"Yori-kun says he's parked outside.
It's time to leave Usagi. Get your dry cleaners bag."
Chibi-Usa took Hotaru from the miko and giggled at her young friend while her mothers hurriedly packed their evening dresses for the summit and got into the hallway followed by Shingo.
Ikuko and her husband quickly finished their breakfast so they could go outside and wish their daughter good luck.
In the meantime, Rei had felt mother nature call and slipped away to the downstairs toilet leaving brother and sister alone.
Usagi hoped she would be back soon. There it was again. That weird expression in her brother's eyes. What could he be up to?
Shingo looked left and right, to Usagi's wonder.
She nervously watched the door to the toilet.
"Hey, Usagi..." Her brother began.
"I've wanted to tell you this for a while..."
He watched her intently and hemmed, clearly embarrassed.
"I think you're amazing."
Usagi couldn't believe her ears. She blushed from the right one to the left.
"Thank you for always fighting so hard to protect everyone. I am proud to be your brother."
"Shingoooo!" The next second the high-school student found himself boisterously embraced by his blubbering sister.
"Usagi! You idiot. Everyone will see."
"Uwaaa! You should have thought about that sooner! I will embrace my sweet little brother whenever I want."
Rei smiled when she came back from the toilet and saw the two together.
"Is this your doing?" She grinned.
"I just told her I love her," Shingo blushed.
"Uwaaa! I love you too Shingo!"
"Well, you can't. Only I get to say that," Rei winked.
"You Tsukino's can be such nuisances,"
She smiled while rubbing the teenage boy's hair.
"Alright Usagi. Let go of your little brother. We have to go."
The blonde slowly let go and smiled.
"I'm sorry I got your shoulder wet."
"That's alright. It'll dry," Shingo smiled back while their father and mother joined them with Chibi-Usa and Hotaru.
Several hugs exchanged and Kenji shook Rei's hand while giving an encouraging: "Show those foreigners you're not just Takashi Hino-san's daughter."
Rei and Usagi walked to the car and a cheerfully waving Yori. They took a minute before getting in, waving at their family while getting cheered on.
"Good luck, you two."
"We'll be watching you at work."
"Blow them off their feet, Usagi!"
"We're proud of you."
"Thank you, everyone," Rei and Usagi jointly returned. "We'll make you proud."
Yori sat in the driver's seat while the women seated themselves in the back.
Their friend turned around to face them.
"You two ready?"
The confident couple behind him nodded.
"Alright then. UN summit about extra-terrestrial visitors, here we come!" The boisterous man cheered while starting the car.
He had been a resourceful ally and a great friend to them the past year and had proven himself a brave soldier when assisting the Sailor Senshi with his men in the field. Yori had put his life on the line far more than his rank obliged him to do and he had revealed himself to be an able commander.
Working out strategies that had saved many lives.
Usagi smiled at his eyes in the mirror, thankful that this guy had become so enamored by Sailor V and Ai No Shojo.
"That is why this threat should instead inspire us all to think about the things we have in common and become more emphatic to each other's needs..."
Yori looked at the mumbling Usagi in the rear-view mirror a few minutes later.
"Are you nervous?"
"A little bit," The blonde smiled.
"Not so much about speaking in public anymore. But I want to make a lasting impact."
"You will," Rei smiled. "One way or another."
Usagi gave her smirking lover an angry look.
"I'll play some music to calm you down."
Yori twisted the button for the car-radio and a sparkly J-pop melody came to an end followed by the voice of an interviewer.
"Doujima-san, You have claimed before that the lack of experience of the PLA and the JSDF in urban warfare was part of the cause for the Hohhot massacre..."
With a quick press of a button, Yori switched to the CD-R Minako had made for his birthday.
Rei almost instinctively took Usagi's hand in hers without looking.
An awkward silence filled the car in spite of the music.
"We can't ever allow them to repeat what they did in Hohhot," Usagi muttered quietly.
"We won't. We're better organized now," Her lover comforted while rubbing Usagi's thumb with her own.
"I'm sorry," Yori said with a pained expression.
"Never mind Yori-kun. You couldn't have known," The blonde attempted a smile.
"It's only natural for the war to be on everybody's mind. We saved a lot of people in Hohhot. And elsewhere."
"Yeah," The Lieutenant-Colonel smiled quietly. "We've done well."
"Hey. I have a surprise for you," Rei smiled while she saw the faces of her friends gradually fall again.
Usagi slowly turned towards the miko.
"I had been thinking you might be hungry after all the stress for the summit. So how about we went to a cakeshop afterward. My treat!"
"Cakeshop?! Yeah! You are the best Rei!" The blonde hugged her lover.
Rei smiled as she hugged her beloved back, happy her news had been able to turn the mood.
Yori grinned at the happy couple behind him.
Minako was right. These two were no less oddballs than her, but just like his brave, kind beautiful girlfriend you couldn't help but love them.
He drove on with a smile, humming to the recording Minako had made at his request of her singing the songs of her first album under the shower.
"Wait a minute," Usagi frowned. "This wouldn't happen to be Awari-san's cakeshop, is it?" She watched Rei like an interrogator.
"It... might be."
A disgruntled Usagi frowned still more threateningly at the miko, remembering the unexpected introduction to one of Rei's flings and owner of the new cakeshop they had visited together a few weeks ago.
"I see," She said. Crossing her arms and looking ahead. "I thought you looked particularly happy to see her again."
"I was surprised, that's all," The blackette smiled, trying to appease her lover.
"She's not even an acquaintance. She's just a girl I... Euh... Héhéhé," The miko laughed while rubbing the back of her head. "She's just someone I went on a few dates with. That's all."
"She seemed happy to see you. She couldn't stop talking," Usagi huffed.
"Yeah, I know. But you liked her cakes," Rei tried. "And we got a big discount."
"Yeah," Usagi grinned viciously. "I hope I bankrupted her."
"Héhéhé," Her lover sweated. "If that's your goal you'll be more likely to bankrupt me."
Usagi looked at the blackette and allowed her face to relax into a loving smile.
"I wouldn't do that to you Rei."
Her lover happily returned the kiss she gave her while playing with her right pig-tail.
Several more kisses were exchanged and the couple embraced, looking deep into each other's eyes as they separated.
"Sumiko-san was kind I suppose. And she did whisper to me how you like your ear to get fondled. But I already knew that," Usagi blushed.
"Yeah. You do" Rei kept looking at her with those enamored eyes. Usagi knew they had some time before they had to get ready for her speech. And she was really happy about that right now.
"Here it is guys, Akasaka Palace.
Welcome to the big leagues," Yori grinned as he drove them through the graciously adorned, white front gate and up the road to the main building flanked by luxurious black pines.
Rei smiled, seeing Usagi's eye widened to take in the view of the immense neo-baroque white granite-walled building and the soldiers in their ceremonial uniforms standing guard.
Her Queen was about to take her place among her peers.
But Rei knew that some part of her was still mulling over what she had been reminded of a few minutes ago.
The Hohhot massacre.
The city of Hohhot had not been considered immediately threatened by mid-February.
The enemy by then had taken control over most of the western part of Inner Mongolia and was advancing towards Yinchuan in the south. Away from the Blue City.
Nevertheless, like the residents of the surrounding territory, more than half of the city's population had joined the stream of refugees seeking shelter in the south or abroad.
The remaining inhabitants of the autonomous region's capital were guarded by a small Regiment of PLA soldiers. Then suddenly, on the morning of the 22nd, the city had found itself encircled by an approaching enemy force of several thousands.
The Senshi had been called in to assist nearby JSDF troops and PLA reinforcements attempting to break through the besiegers and keep them busy while other Chinese troops tried to fly in with helicopters to perform an emergency evacuation.
After two days of heavy fighting and many casualties on the side of the defenders, the enemy had taken Baita International Airport and established a firm grip on the city.
The Senshi and their allies had managed to force their way in from the southwest in the meantime and had entered the city to station themselves at strategic locations to form a defensive perimeter.
But while the helicopters tried to leave with the first groups of evacuees, Sailor Mercury, Neptune and Jupiter received an urgent appeal via their JSDF walkie-talkie's from Venus to help her protect a school full of people that had found itself under attack near her location.
Neptune recognized the situation from one of her visions and called Venus on her communicator, but the other two Senshi went to the location the Senshi of beauty was guarding without a second thought.
When they got there, Venus had already left, warned by Neptune's concerned call.
She called her friends to leave the location, but it was already too late.
Jupiter and Mercury were surrounded and being advanced on while barricading themselves inside the school, unable to escape to the skies because of the "Acidcrawlers" who were ready to bombard them if they tried.
Using a JSDF walkie-talkie probably recovered from an earlier battle the Silent Ones must have somehow been able to impersonate the former idols voice.
Mars had also heard the call and was lucky to arrive after she had heard Neptune's warning. She fought to extricate her two friends while Sailor Uranus, Neptune, Moon, and Venus were called to the landing zone of the airbridge to help combat helicopter squadrons escort the evacuees to safety through the swarms of attacking "Demon Cranes" and thus the only ones standing in the way of the invaders entering the city were the regiments of Chinese and Japanese soldiers.
Communication had been made impossible due to the disturbance caused by the enemy's forcefields.
Reinforcements were eventually asked for through the airbridge, but only a few extra battalions were sent due to the enemy having started their full-scale attack on Yinchuan and all of the Senshi being present in Hohhot.
After a two-day siege, Yori who had come with the Senshi had finally been able to get one of the Chinese officers to send a combat helicopter squadron to rescue Mercury and Jupiter.
While the helicopters bombarded the besieging invaders, the two Senshi were finally able to fly to safety while Moon and Mars kept the Demon Cranes from attacking their PLA saviors.
After that, the latter two joined the Japanese and Chinese soldiers trying to hold back the enemy while Mercury and Jupiter joined the effort of getting as many people as possible out of the city via the airbridge.
By the time, four days later, the Senshi received the non-negotiable order to leave the city with the retreating troops the Nemesis Brotherhood had painted the snow in Hohhot red.
Their herd had used the urban environment to their benefit and had pushed the defenders further and further into the city. For the duration of the siege, many of the creatures had been able to roam free through most of the city while the soldiers had desperately tried to at least keep the landing zone safe.
Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars left the city fighting off attacking Demon Cranes while beneath them Hellhounds and Monster Men were feasting on their victims.
Hohhot had thought them that the Nemesis Brotherhood not only had immense power and numbers at their disposal but also cunning and combat experience.
Rei turned in front of the mirror, watching herself in the spotless black silken evening gown she had changed into after she and Usagi had kissed each other and confessed their love to each other about a hundred times.
She turned around to see her Queen dressed in her beautifully lily-white dress.
Tomorrow they would be in business attire as they had been earlier. Representing the Sailor Senshi at the summit, debating the war against the invaders, their own involvement in it, and the future of mankind. After which, Usagi would sign the UN charter as Neo-Queen Serenity.
But today was Usagi's big day. And she looked absolutely radiant.
"You look so gorgeous, I wish we still had some time left," The blonde smiled gently.
Rei walked over to her and took her hand.
"The time for pleasure is past, my Queen. It's time to work now," She winked.
"Oh Rei," Usagi grinned and rolled her eyes. "All work and no play make Rei a dull Rei."
"Am I that dull?" The blackette made a mock-sulky face.
"Never, my Queen."
They smiled at each other until a knock on the door startled them.
"You can come in."
Their appointed stewardess obeyed Usagi's call and showed a pleased expression after quickly looking her charges over, getting to the point without informalities.
"It is time to go to Hagoromo No Ma, Tsukino-sama."
Rei and Usagi followed her outside and closed the door to the dressing room behind them.
The trio walked among other important guests from all over the world to the spacious, brightly lit ballroom named after the Noh play Hagoromo.
The spotless white walls with gilded decorations, large decorated mirrors, and Carmine curtains held tables seating representatives of every country in the UN. Many other guests were mingling near the entrance they were coming through.
"We will wait here for ten minutes while the summit is started."
Rei and Usagi nodded their understanding to the stewardess, while the UN's Secretary-General approached the rostrum under loud applause.
Suddenly Rei turned her lover to face her.
Usagi watched her scrutinizing look.
The blackette's eyes stopped wandering and landed on Usagi's.
"Nothing," She smiled. "I just want to take a good look at you before you get up there."
Her eyes looked her lover up from top to bottom again.
"You look amazing," The miko smiled again.
Usagi's eyes became slightly moist.
"You brought me here. I wouldn't be here without you."
"Don't start crying now! You'll ruin your make up."
Usagi brought her hands to her eyes, but Rei pulled her arms down, got a handkerchief out of her purse and carefully dried her beloved's eyes.
"It's not true anyway. You got here through your own efforts. And don't you forget it."
"No," Usagi shook her head, a gentle smile on her face.
"I would never even have survived long enough to face Queen Beryll without the support and help of my friends and family. I have so much to thank you all for, but especially you Rei. You made me who I am. You always pushed me to work harder, to not become complacent, to question myself. You were always there to comfort me and protect me."
She kissed the blackette on the lips.
"You shaped me. I only adjusted myself to the pressure you put on me."
Rei looked at the blonde's loving gaze.
"You moron. That's a terrible thing to say about yourself."
The woman in front of her didn't listen and hugged her.
"Watch your make up. Your dress will wrinkle," Rei protested.
Then she smiled and returned the hug.
"Yeah... This is just like you. If I made you, I didn't make you like this. You were already this way when I fell in love with you."
"But you pushed me beyond my limits," Usagi smiled, enjoying the embrace.
"Right back at you, Noodlehead.
You became a hero I knew I wanted to follow everywhere.
I love you Usagi."
Rei kissed her lover on the forehead.
"I love you too Rei. Thank you for always being there for me."
They separated and the miko grinned.
"But what are you going to do about your make up? There's no time to do it anew."
Usagi smiled and held up her Disguise Pen.
"I see," Rei smirked. "Cheating as usual."
"Are you ready, Tsukino-sama?" The stewardess asked after Usagi used the pen on herself to correct the blemishes in her make up.
"I will escort you to the rostrum in two minutes."
The woman smiled at her and attempted to put her charge at ease.
"Take calm strides towards the rostrum. It will help you to empty your mind and focus on your speech."
She listened to the microphone in her ear.
The blonde turned towards Rei again.
"I'm watching you up there. You better not mess this up, you hear?"
Both women smiled at each other.
"Thanks, you big meanie."
"Are you ready, Tsukino-sama?" The stewardess asked.
Usagi turned again and nodded.
"We walk in five, four, three, two, one."
The woman lowered her arm and Usagi started walking beside her on cue.
Rei saw her turn her head one more time as she followed the stewardess, taking a last look at her lover for a much-needed boost of courage.
The miko gave her a wink and mouthed:
"You're going to be just fine."
"The moment has come for her to take center stage. Forced by circumstances," Rei heard a stern rumbling voice behind her say.
"Forced by you, you mean," She grinned.
"And you were forced to leave office."
"What are you saying?" Her father chuckled "I didn't do anything I didn't choose for myself. I never did."
"I know," His daughter smiled.
"Well... That's not entirely true I must admit. But it's true enough with regards to my political career. Anyway, I'm happy to see you are finally starting to live your life the same way."
"Yeah. I needed a very good friend to make me see reason... And a near-death experience," The blackette grimaced.
"Don't joke about those things Rei. Your mother and I always feared whether someday we might be told..."
"I'm sorry. I know, but... It's my duty and my life. I'm also glad I learned to be more true to my desires, but protecting others and standing by Usagi's side will always be a major part of those desires. Still," She looked at him. "Your career has always been one of the most important things in your life. And you gave it up to help us. I haven't thanked you for that yet. This moment would probably not have been possible without your sacrifice."
"Not that anyone would be able to prove anything."
They watched as Usagi was introduced by the new Prime minister.
"But you're wrong about her. This is something she chose to do." Rei smiled.
"This might be the most important day in her life. The day she gets to make an appeal to everybody in the world to look past their differences and protect the future together.
I know she has always wanted to do something like this. And I have always wanted to help her achieve it."
Takashi Hino watched his daughter's happiness with greater joy than she might ever realize.
"Don't you regret cutting your term in office short?"
"I've had a good run," He smiled when Rei made him the subject of their conversation again. "I Did most of what I had aspired to do. What's the point of living in a democracy if your government doesn't change every few years, huh? Besides... I don't envy the government that's going to guide us through the coming years," He grinned.
His smile relaxed after a few seconds and he looked ponderous.
"Maybe this is a chance for us to finally become a real family."
"That would require for mother to get fired, wouldn't it?" Rei smirked.
"Don't get smart with me... But yes, something of that order probably," Takashi shared a chuckle with his daughter.
"Looks like the show's about to begin."
Rei watched Usagi take a deep breath and find her girlfriend where she had left her. They had gone through so much together. And yet, their real journey together was only just beginning. Usagi was taking her first footsteps on the path towards her destiny and the person she had chosen to walk that path with her, in the face of tradition and assumed destiny and duty was Rei. And Rei in return had chosen to proudly walk that path hand in hand with her beloved. No matter the consequences. Confident that there was nothing wrong, harmful or immoral about that choice.
Her heart beat passionately as she realized that the girl that had stared at her with hearts in her eyes when they first met - the girl she had recognized that infinite ability for love in, the moment she saw her - was about to start her journey to become the Queen of a united human race. And as if trough telepathic understanding she saw in Usagi's eyes and pink smiling face that she was thinking the exact same things.
The blonde woman winked at her lover, breathed in and opened her mouth to begin her appeal for global cöoperation.
"Let's see what your girl can do," Takashi Hino said, crossing his arms.
Rei grimaced for a moment as an apologetic Usagi was pointed out to look in the direction of the cameras.
"Watch her," She smirked.
"You'd be surprised."
Imaginary end credits: Bjork - Joga
This wonderful journey has come to an end.
After so many uninspired attempts, it has been such a fulfilling experience for me to finally be able to write a nice love-story for Rei and Usagi and I am pleased that I wasn't the only one who has enjoyed it.
It has been so much fun also to do research for The Road To Crystal Tokyo, which I have never really done before because it was never necessary for any of my previous stories.
I learned a lot about WW2 in the Pacific, about Hiroshima, about the JSDF and many other things, even about Sailor Moon.
It was also very satisfying to realize how well many things, like locations and backgrounds, fitted into the story thematically.
I am pleased I could find music that fit each chapter so well thematically also, like Mad World, which Tears For Fears wrote about Primal Scream therapy, but also fits very well with the theme of WW2. Or Bjork's Joga, in which the lyric "State of emergency" fits so well with earth's fate at the end of the story, but is also very fitting because she wrote it in celebration of her very Rei/Usagi relationship with one of her best friends and which I will never be able to hear again without thinking of our Senshi.
I am a bit sad to end The Road To Crystal Tokyo. I have had so much fun, with Usagi and Rei, Ami and Ryo, Minako, Makoto, Mamoru, Yori and the others.
But if all goes well I will - after finishing another story I started earlier this year - write the sequel to this one and explore Chibi-Usa and Hotaru's romance as well as trying focusing on Haruka and Michiru more.
I am not so familiar with either couple, but that just means I will get to watch some more Sailor Moon for research :p
I pray the muse will inspire me as well as it has for The Road To Crystal Tokyo and bring me some great themes I can explore in the sequel so that I can hopefully start publishing the first chapters around spring next year. Sooner would be great too of course :)
Until then, I hope you can forgive me this little afterword, but The Road To Crystal Tokyo has really meant a lot to me. Thank you very much, for enjoying it with me.