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It started out normal enough.

Mamoru was running late on a Thursday. He had a test on skeletal structure and had stayed up the night before looking over his notes. He didn't want to lose face in front of this professor after the previous term (being dead never seemed to work as an excused absence). He was starting to like peace, after Galaxia. He just needed it to stay quiet a little longer, at least long enough for him to make a slightly better impression. Usagi was rubbing off on him: he was strangely hopeful.

He opened his front door, toast dangling by a corner from his mouth, to discover Minako right outside and about to knock. They stared at each other in confusion for a long moment: him frozen mid-chew, Minako fist raised mid-knock.

He swallowed his toast quickly (he had the sudden feeling Usagi was rubbing off on him again). "Mina-chan?" he prompted.

"Um." The blonde looked panicked for an instant before recovering her bubbly air. "Oh, yes! Mamoru-san! Yes! You see--well! I was in the neighborhood this morning-- going for my morning run! And I thought, hey! Mamoru-san lives here! We can go get breakfast together! Before class! Won't that be nice?" She cupped her hands under her chin and gave Mamoru a wide eyed, pleading look.

Mamoru stared, looked at his watch then back at Minako. "…don't you have class, Mina-chan?"

"No, no! Not for another hour! I'm fine!"

He looked at his watch again. "…but, it's…it's ten o'clock…"

"What?" she strutted in real surprise.

"It is a little before ten," he repeated for her and offered his wrist so she could look herself.

Minako stared at Mamoru's watch. "It was just seven," she muttered before she could recover herself. "So, I was going for my morning run, and I started feeling a little strange, so I decided to miss class today, and I was passing by and thought, oh, Mamoru-san! He can tell me if I'm dying! So, am I dying? You don't think so, right? No? Oh, that's great! I better go home now and rest! Yes!" She laughed at herself there, spun on her heel and jogged down the hall. "Bye!"

Mamoru blinked.

It was a little early in the day, but perfectly normal for his life.


*


It was a few days later, and he was walking with Usagi back to his apartment. She had wrapped herself around his arm with her cheek warm against his bicep. He wasn't sure anymore what she was talking about, may be a joke Makoto had told her that she was trying to reenact for him. It didn't matter. She was beautiful, warm, and so very alive. Even though he was tired and worn around the edges from school, he was happy. She made him happy.

He stopped outside the entrance to his building and kissed her quiet. Usagi made a surprised noise before melting in his arms. Mamoru took a step back, leaning them both against the side of the building so he could just relax and hold on to his princess in the quiet for just a moment more. Usagi sighed, Mamoru grinned against her mouth, and the decorative bush next to the front entrance said, "Urg."

Usagi pulled away, a little dazed. "Did you...?"

Mamoru was looking at the bush. It rustled.

That gained Usagi's attention. "Oh! May be it's a lost kitty! Or a hurt bird!"

Mamoru didn't think so because the bush had a red bow sticking out of the top. He gave the shrub a shove with his foot, and Minako tumbled out end over end. She sat there at their feet in a daze.

"V-chan?!" Usagi knelt down by her friend and touched the other girl's face. "V-chan, are you all right?!"

"Urg," Minako said again.

Mamoru knelt down as well. "Mina-chan, are you still feeling unwell?"

"Sick? V-chan, you're sick?" Usagi swiveled her head between the two of them.

"She stopped by after her morning run a few days ago, said she wasn't feeling well, and then she went home," Mamoru told his girlfriend, even more confused. "She didn't tell you?" Usagi looked hurt and confused. That always made Mamoru a little edgy: when the senshi hid things from Usagi, that meant something was very, very wrong (which was very different from when he hid things from Usagi, because he was protecting her).

"V-chan," Usagi tried again, this time tracing Minako's cheek with her fingertips and tucking loose hair behind the other girl's ear. "Please, is something wrong? Are you sick?"

Minako finally focused on her princess. "Wrong?" she repeated. Her eyes went far away, but she shook her head and focused again on Usagi. "Wrong? …No. Nothing's wrong, Usagi-chan." She reached up and touched Usagi's hand, held it against her cheek as the two locked eyes. "Nothing is wrong, princess."

The wrinkle disappeared from Usagi's forehead and she hugged her friend. "Oh, I'm so glad." Mamoru was still confused because if nothing was wrong, then why was Minako apparently spying on them from a bush? The thought occurred to Usagi at the same time. She frowned again. "But, if nothing is wrong, then why were you--"

"Please don't ask." Minako looked pained. She looked toward Mamoru. "I can't explain just yet. Please?" Since she seemed to be asking him as well, he nodded and Usagi did the same. "I'm sorry I--I didn't mean to disturb you!" With that, the blonde jumped up and ran around the street corner out of sight.

Usagi and Mamoru were still kneeling in the street. "…do you think that's odd, even for Mina-chan?" Usagi asked him.

"Do you think we should worry?" Mamoru countered.

Neither was quite sure.


*


It had been almost a week since Minako started her odd (even for her) behavior. All the girls were worried. Usagi would ring her hands and fret out loud to Mamoru when they were together. Makoto kept making an extra giant bento on top of her own lunch, hoping to jump start her friend through the power of chocolate and bean paste alone. Ami offered to go shoe shopping and to let Minako pick out all the things she kept saying Ami needed in her wardrobe. Haruka, driven by Usagi and Michuri, even offered one day to give Minako a ride home on her bike. All met with defeat.

"She said thank you, but she rather walk," Haruka told Mamoru as they were both working together to find the mysterious 'wweeerg' sound in his own sports bike. "She said she was thinking. I didn't know she did that." Mamoru was just as surprised.

"Something is wrong," Rei told her prince and princess over a private lunch later that same day. She had asked them specifically for privacy and not to tell the others. "She hasn't been sleeping. She tries to hide the shadows under her eyes with make-up, but I can see."

"But she said nothing was wrong," Usagi insisted.

Mamoru frowned at that. "I did believe her when she told us that. She doesn't out and out lie. Not to Usako." And he did believe that. Minako had been sincere when she promised Usagi, he had been sure of it.

Rei kept both her hands cupped around her tea, watching the stray tea leaves in the bottom. "She hides things from us. She wants to protect us. Because she loves us." Rei finally looked up at them both, and they could see her grave expression. "I'm worried about her."

"Oh, Rei-chan." Usagi reached out and clasped both of the priestess' hands, and the two girls clutched at each other.

"I don't know if anything is wrong. She was having dreams a few months ago. Dreams of the past." Artemis sat curled in a ball of misery next to Luna on Mamoru's couch that evening. "She woke up one night recently crying. She said it had been a memory from the final battle on the Moon."

"Why didn't you tell us?" Luna asked.

Artemis looked at Usagi and Mamoru, then at Luna. "I don't…" He hesitated. "I don't want to betray her confidences, but. She often has nightmares."

Usagi put her hands to her mouth. "Mina-chan."

"She says she is fine," Artemis told them, even more miserable. "I thought…I thought it was stress, from school. That she was thinking of the future more seriously. Or she has some crush on a new boy she was keeping secret. Something for me to worry about, not anyone else." Luna nuzzled Artemis' cheek, and the two cats curled around each other.

Mamoru wished there was something more he could do to help.


*


It was Saturday evening, over a week since it had all begun when there was a knock at Mamoru's door. He blinked slowly, trying to pull himself out of his textbook. Heart values and blockage were still the main thoughts in his head when he opened his front door without looking through the peephole. Minako was on his doorstep with her hands twisted in her long sleeves.

"Mina-chan--?"

"Here!" she said before he could ask questions and thrust a folded piece of paper in his face. He looked quizzically at her. "Take it. Read it right now!"

Mamoru, still hesitant, took the note and unfolded it. It read 'can you meet me for brunch across the street at 11 tomorrow?'. He was even more confused.

"Can you?" Minako asked. She looked desperate.

"...I. Well, yes." Because, what else could he say to that face?

"Good! I'll see you tomorrow!" She offered him a dimpled smile before turning around to disappear again.

H shouted to her back, "But, I'm free now!" He had promised Usagi that if Minako appeared on his doorstep again that he would try to get her to talk. And he wanted to help, however he could. These were his friends, too. They deserved whatever happiness they could get for all they had done over the years.

Minako had stopped at his shout and was frozen with indecision. After a long moment, she turned and looked very shyly at Mamoru. "Are…are you sure?" Entirely unsure what to make of Minako, of all people, being shy, he nodded dumbly and moved aside to let her in the door. She paused just inside the threshold, noticing the different school books spread out on his coffee table. "Oh, but you're studying! I don't mean to--"

"Mina-chan." Mamoru put his hands on her shoulders and stopped her from trying to retreat. "Please. Come inside. You're not being a bother." With that, he closed the door.

He left the girl taking off her shoes and changing into house slippers while he retreated into the kitchen under the guise of making tea. He was making tea, but he was also calling Usagi on her cell. The girls had planned a "girls night in" complete with all the romantic comedies Minako loved to force on her friends. They had hoped they could get some answers from her.

"Mina-chan is here," he said in greeting.

"Mina-chan? In your apartment?! Why is she--" He heard the other girls play tug of war with the phone on the other end, and then Usagi returned, obviously the victor. "Should we come? Should we leave right now?"

Mamoru looked out into his living room. Minako was sitting quietly on his couch and looking out his balcony window at the setting sun. He thought for a moment. She had come to him first, it seemed, when she had tried to talk the week before.

"...no. No, I don't think so. Not yet. I'm going to try and talk to her. …is that okay?"

He heard all the other girls shout negative replies and Rei's 'no! He's stupid with girls!' before Usagi gushed happily, "Yes, yes, you talk to her, Mamo-chan. Call if you need us, okay?" The others were still shouting their disagreement when Usagi hung up.

At least the tea was ready, he thought. He set the teapot and two mugs on a tray, took a deep breath, and walked back out into the living room. Minako looked up at his entrance and offered a polite smile. Mamoru settled into the armchair across from her and served the tea.

"Chamomile," he explained as he poured her cup (because he wasn't giving her any more caffeine if he could help it). In this light, he could see what Rei had meant: there were shadows under Minako's eyes and her hair didn't look as golden. Something was off about her.

"Thank you," she said and held the mug between her hands without drinking.

They were quiet then. Mamoru had desperately hoped that she would explain this whole situation without him having to say a word. His luck had run out. Minako seemed content just to stare into her mug.

"I called the girls," he told her, finally deciding that he would be as truthful as possible and hope for the best. "To let them know you were here. They were expecting you at the shrine."

She looked up. "I know. …I didn't mean to worry everyone." So, she had known they had been worried the last week. He wasn't sure what to think of that. "I just…there really isn't anything wrong," she told him and went so far as to reach out and touch the back of his hand. Mamoru blinked at her. "There isn't. This is…it is personal."

For one brief and terrifying moment, he thought she was going to confess she had fallen in love with him. He knew what Minako was like, how she crushed furiously and completely, and her tastes changed with the blink of an eye. He began to form escape plans in his head. He didn't know if he could leap off the balcony quickly enough to get away from her if it came down to it. Minako was quicker and more acrobatic. But, she looked him in the eyes then and he saw the soldier, not some lovesick girl. Mamoru forcibly squashed that fear.

"I…this is going to sound crazy," she cautioned him. He couldn't think of a reply that wasn't along the lines of 'crazier than normal?', so he remained silent. "I need to ask you something."

When she didn't continue, he nodded. "All right."

"You see. I have been--" she shook her head. The mug was set down. "How do I say this?" She squeezed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "This is why I've taken a week. How do I ask you? You'll think I've been stalking you!"

She had been, a little, but not any more than normal. Well, for her. He kept quiet again.

"Okay." She came to a decision. "Okay. Okay, I'm just going to ask. Okay." Seeming to screw up her courage, she shook out her wrists, flattened down her skirt, and faced Mamoru directly. "Mamoru-san," making sure to keep eye contact, "do you have, next to your bed," he was absolutely terrified again, "a box…with four stones inside?"

He had been thrown by the 'next to your bed' and had started to plan his escape again. He had to ask her to repeat herself. "Wh--what?"

"Do you have a box, a special box, where you keep four stones?"

Mamoru was frozen as he realized what she was asking. The Shitennou. He set his cup down. "What…what makes you think--"

"Please, just tell me if it's true," Minako interrupted him. "I'll tell you everything you want to know if you tell me the truth."

He hesitated, even thought about lying to her. She had killed two of his guards when they were all much younger (single handedly with Zoisite, and she had given the order for Kunzite). True, they had been enemies then, but they weren't now. What if she wanted to destroy them again? They were his.

It wasn't any altruistic feeling that convinced him to tell her the truth. It was the same desperate air she had about herself as she had handed him the note earlier. She had become so frazzled that she couldn't remember her well rehearsed speeches. He also wanted to know how she had learned the truth, that the Shitennou weren't truly dead. Would she tell the others? Had she learned it from one of the others? Usagi?

"Yes," he told her finally. "Yes, it's true."

"It's true?" It did seem like real, honest shock to him. Had she not expected it to be true? Had he fallen for one of her bluffs? She stood up, walked around the couch as if to put a barrier between them. "It's true," she repeated as she began to pace. It was trite, but he compared her to a caged animal in that moment, and the fear he had felt before began to return. There was a reason Minako was the head of Usagi's guard. She was very good at her job.

Minako stopped abruptly and turned back to Mamoru, gripping the back of his couch tightly between her fingers. "It is true. You have him. You have Kunzite. He isn't truly dead." He was bewildered that she was so specific, focusing on Kunzite, but he nodded. Her grip lessened, but she stayed put. "I…you see, I've... remembered more of our past since...Galaxia."

That made Mamoru sit forward in his chair. He still only remembered fractured bits and pieces of his past life. The idea of remembering more had both its attraction and its repulsion. To know more about where he came from and how to use his powers, that would help him. But, the idea of remembering more of Endymion, and most especially, more of Serenity, that frightened him. He loved Usagi. Yes, she had been a princess once and would be a queen one day, but she was his Usako. He had loved her long before he learned who she had been, once upon a time. To remember more, to remember the small things that Endymion had loved about Serenity... He didn't want to compare the two in his head, to confuse them. He loved Usagi and Endymion had loved Serenity. That's all he needed to know.

"I've dreamed," Minako continued, unaware of Mamoru's internal thoughts. "I've dreamed more and more of the past. Even when I'm awake. Not all of it. But, more than those final days that we all…" She stopped, flexed her fingers, and continued again. "I can remember other things. The details still aren't very clear, but still. I know things," and here she looked up at Mamoru. "But, the important thing, the thing that upset me most was that…I knew him."

Mamoru was confused then. 'Him' who? "Who did you--"

"Kunzite. Aren't you listening? I knew him. We knew each other. We--" She cut herself off and started pacing again. "I kept thinking that these memories couldn't be real. That there was something wrong with me to create false memories like that. The dreams grew more and more intense and involving and then…" She stopped pacing again, curling and uncurling her fists at her sides as she tried to force herself to relax. "And then, they weren't dreams or memories any more. He was there, in my mind. He was real and there and talking to me. He said that everything was true. And that he wasn't dead, but in a stone, and that you kept him and the others in a box next to your bed."

Mamoru had no idea what to think now. She was saying that Kunzite had been speaking with her in dreams, for who knows how long (she seemed to imply that it had been longer than the last week). "He never said anything--"

"You've spoken to him? Recently?" He now had Minako's undivided attention, and she was walking around the couch toward him.

"Yes. All of them. I speak to all of them," he told her quickly. He didn't like the look in her eyes. He wanted her to stay at arm's distance until he figured out exactly what was happening. Minako was more likely to think (in a vague way) before she acted than some of the other girls, but once she decided on a course of action, it was almost impossible to persuade her toward a different course of action.

That gave her pause. "...all of them?" And instead of advancing further, she sunk back down to sit on the couch, lost in thought.

Was that all she wanted? To know that her dreams had been real? This was too simple. "Is that all you wanted, Mina-chan?"

"...can I see them?"

No, was his first thought. They were his. She couldn't have them. "Why do you want to see them?"

"I won't do anything to them, Mamoru-san!" Good, she had finally picked up on his feelings. "I promise. I won't."

"Thank you, but you didn't answer my question." He couldn't help but grin when Minako made a face at being caught. May be he wouldn't be that bad of a king one day.

She looked off into the distance again, and Mamoru turned to look out the balcony door himself. The stars were starting to come out, and he could almost see the waning moon rising over the cityscape. It looked like it would be a beautiful fall night. If he managed to work this out with Minako, may be he could convince Usagi that Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen needed to patrol the city.

"I…" He turned back to Minako and chided himself for letting himself become distracted. She was focusing on her hands folded in her lap and would not look up at Mamoru. "…I just need to know. That it was all real. If I can see the stone, then I can…may be I can…I can move on." When she reached up scrub at her cheek, he had to give in. He was horrible with girls that cried.

“Wait here,” and he went into his bedroom. The box was on the dressing table, next to his bed where he always kept it. As he picked it up, he tried to decide how to approach this. Should he give them some warning or surprise them all to see if he could weed out if Kunzite wasn't the only one visiting a senshi in her dreams? No, these were his friends. There had to be a reason for all this. He opened the box.

The stones always glowed slightly in the moonlight. It was part of the reason he kept them out of sight. It was obvious at first glance these were not simple decorations. "Shitennou," he intoned, and the stones grew even brighter. A miniature version of each of his four guards appeared and hovered over each of their stones.

"Master," they said together and each bowed.

"You have a visitor," he told them.

"What?" Jadeite asked in complete confusion.

"Master?" Nephrite was bewildered.

"Who?" Kunzite countered.

"The Princess?" Zoisite was the only one that sounded excited at the prospect of revealing himself.

Mamoru didn't answer but carried the open box out in the living room. Minako stood as he entered, and the Shitennou fell silent. He set the box down on the coffee table and sat. He motioned to Minako to do the same, and she did without taking her eyes off the stones. He looked back to the box. The Shitennou were looking at each other in confusion, obviously thinking that if they were ever to be revealed, it would be to Usagi first. All except Kunzite: he was staring at Minako.

"Here they are." He looked at her expectantly.

Minako kept silent. She remained that way for so long that Mamoru finally coughed in embarrassment. That attracted her attention, and she blushed a deep red. She hesitated before reaching out toward the stones then stopped. She looked up at Mamoru. "…may I?"

He, in return, looked at the Shitennou. Three of them nodded while Kunzite was still transfixed. His head guard swung around to stare up at Mamoru with an unreadable expression when he realized what was being asked. Mamoru hesitated. "You can," he told her and hoped that was the right choice.

She still hesitated as she reached forward again. Her hand hovered over Kunzite's stone before she finally picked it up, and the head guard disappeared at contact with her fingers. The other Shitennou looked at each other and began to talk amongst themselves. Minako did not hear or was too focused on Kunzite's stone to notice. She held the stone at arms reach, turning it this way and that as she inspected it. He had no idea what finally convinced her that this was the stone that she had come to see, but she suddenly smiled and cradled the stone carefully against her chest with both her hands.

"It's warm," she whispered to the stone.

Kunzite reappeared fully formed between them, knee deep in the coffee table. Mamoru was shocked. He had only seen his guard appear his full size when he had lay dying at D-point all those years ago. "Minako," Kunzite whispered and bent over so they were on the same eye level, and he could easily watch her expression change as she handled his stone.

"Sailor Venus says you have been visiting her in her dreams, Kunzite. Is that true?" Mamoru was going to get at least some answers since Minako would likely refuse him now that he had given her what she wanted. The other Shitennou's mutterings became even louder at this piece of news.

Minako looked up at Mamoru. "What? I told you--"

Kunzite turned his head and nodded. "Yes, master. But I did not go willingly."

"You didn't go willingly?" Mamoru repeated and Minako fell silent again. She looked around the room to find who he might be speaking with before she looked back at stone as if the idea just came to her. She looked back at Mamoru, traced where he was directing his voice, and squinted at that space between them.

"No, master," and Kunzite looked pained as he admitted, "she called me there."

Mamoru looked to Minako to explain herself, but she was still squinting where Kunzite was standing.

"You must give her permission to see us, Master," Zoisite told him.

"Until you do, she can not see us or hear us," Nephrite explained.

"But I'm showing you to her. Isn't that permission?"

"No," Kunzite corrected him. "You must want her to see us."

Frustrated, he turned back to Minako. "Can't you hear them?"

Minako shook her head, not taking her eyes off the place where she decided Kunzite must be. "No, I can't. But…" She reached out. "If I focus, I can…feel something. Something different." Her fingertips were almost touching Kunzite's cape. "He's right in front of me, isn't he? Kunzite?" At the sound of his name, Kunzite turned back to her. He stared at her hand for a long moment and then reached out. His fingertips passed through her palm and traced the shape of her wrist. Minako gasped. "It is. It's you. You're touching my hand, aren't you?"

"Master," Jadeite called. "Let her see. You told her of us. You must want this. Why tell her only to deny her?"

Mamoru watched as Minako managed to unnervingly pick out where Kunzite's face was without seeing and touched the spirit's nose. Kunzite, very carefully, smiled.

"Yes, I do. I want her to see you."

Instantly, Minako's eyes went wide. She pulled her hand back so her fingers were no longer going through Kunzite's face. "…Kunzite," she whispered.

"You called me," Kunzite repeated for her. "I did not seek you or try to deceive you. You pulled me into your dreams."

"Master," Zoisite tried to whisper from far away. "We should leave them be."

"Um," was Mamoru's eloquent reply. Kunzite had knelt in front of Minako, and the senshi was tracing the outline of his shoulders with both hands. They were both smiling in a way that made him feel like a voyeur. "Yes. I'm…going to clean this up." Mamoru picked up the tea tray and headed toward the kitchen.

"Take us with you!" the other Shitennou shouted, and Mamoru had to come back for the stones' case.

"Master." Kunzite called him back a third time. His head guard seemed overwhelmed and struggled before he decided on a very deep voiced, "…thank you, Master."

Mamoru looked down at Minako, but she had her red face turned away as she tightly held Kunzite's stone in her lap. "Yes," he said and nodded before finally escaping into the kitchen. He didn't bother with the dishes. "Tell me," he commanded his other guardians. The three looked at each other before answering Mamoru.

"They knew each other, in some way, during the Silver Millennium." Nephrite offered very carefully.

"He loved her. Very much," Zoisite told him bluntly, getting straight to the point.

"He admitted it to you? Those words exactly?" Jadeite asked.

"...well. Not those exact ones, no. But it was implied. And that she would draw him to her when she began to remember? The admiration must have been, may still be, mutual."

Mamoru looked back out into his living room. Kunzite was still kneeling at Minako's feet and passing his ghostly hand through her blonde hair again and again as she spoke to him quietly. "I think we have the answer to that question." He turned back to his guards and eyed them each individually before he asked his next question. "Should I expect this to happen again?"

"No," Jadeite's answer was immediate and very bitter.

"No," Nephrite agreed sadly.

"I do not know," was Zoisite's honest answer. The other two Shitennou turned to stare at him. "I do not know!" He repeated, honest and stubborn. "Mercury…" He trailed off, and Mamoru kept a straight face at the idea of Ami with the effeminate (and rather devious) Zoisite. The things he was learning tonight. "She forgave me, as she died. I do not know, master, what she will do…if….she remembers me." Zoisite broke off again before continuing with a surprising passion. "I know my own feelings, but hers-- she was always a mystery to me."

Mamoru looked back at his two other guards to see if they would change their answers in the face of Zoisite's honesty. They didn't. Jadeite went so far as to glare up at his prince.

"If it does happen…" He mulled over exactly what he wanted to say. "…all that I ask is that you tell me. I wouldn't punish you, if it did." He looked back out into the living room again. Minako was still speaking quietly to Kunzite, but his guard was now frowning. Seeming to try and prove a point, Minako picked up his stone cradled in her lap and kissed it with trembling hands. Mamoru could understand the metaphor. "I could never punish you for that."

"...yes, master." Nephrite intoned and bowed. Jadeite and Zoisite followed after a moment's hesitation.

Now Mamoru was at a loss. He had never had a love confession happen in his living room. Well, that didn't involve him. "Do I…do I make more tea?"

Jadeite looked down to cover a smile. Nephrite grinned out right. "Give them a moment more, master," he said.

"They'll remember themselves in a moment," Zoisite added. "It has been a thousand years since they could speak to each other."

"How long did it take you to be reacquainted with princess, master?” Jadeite asked with an innocent air. “May be we should compare--"

Mamoru made a grab at Jadeite, and all three of his guards laughed when his hand passed right through the ghostly form. Covering up for his error, he grabbed up Jadeite's stone and shook it. They all laughed even harder, and Mamoru swore he could even feel Jadeite's laughter vibrate against his palms. "Behave!" He shouted.

"Master?"

Mamoru closed his eyes. Jadeite laughed even harder. He carefully returned the stone before turning to face Kunzite. His head guard was giving him a concerned look. Minako, on the other hand, was sparkling with mischief.

"Did you start hitting the sake without us, Mamoru-san? Early to drink, early to rise!"

Everyone but Kunzite looked pained at Minako's ability to twist any common idiom. He simply looked fondly down at her blonde head before offering, "She really is better than before."

"Ah," Mamoru agreed kindly. "Are you… have you…" He wasn't sure how to politely ask if they had finished discussing their interrupted romance from over a millennia ago, Kunzite's possession, or their mutual deaths. This entire encounter was awkward enough.

"Yes, master," Kunzite interrupted, thankfully.

"We're done, Mamoru-san." Minako walked the rest of the way into the kitchen and offered back Kunzite's stone. "…thank you. I…we…" She looked slightly over her shoulder at Kunzite before repeating, "thank you" very quietly.

Mamoru reached out to take the stone then hesitated. He looked at Kunzite again. His head guard was watching Minako and had another very small smile on his face. Mamoru wondered if that's how he looked when he would look at Usagi.

"Mina-chan, you can," Mamoru started. He hesitated for a moment then offered the stone back. "You can keep it. For a while."

"Master?" Kunzite questioned in real surprise as Minako shouted, "No!"

That offer had taken a great of courage for Mamoru to make. He became upset. "You've obviously been upset about this for some time, but you don't want-- I thought." He looked at Kunzite to offer some sort of explanation or to convince her to take the stone. Kunzite's expression was now unreadable, and he shook his head at his prince.

"No, Mamoru-san." Minako took Mamoru's wrist, turned it over, and folded his fingers firmly around the stone in his palm. "It's not where… he would want to be with you."

Kunzite's ghostly hand appeared over Mamoru's closed fist. "We all have our duties, Master," he said softly. He and Minako shared a look before they both turned back with smiles to Mamoru. "This is where I belong."

"But--"

"You and Usagi-chan." Minako shook her head. "We all have our roles to play. We're not--" Minako's glowed a bright pink as she continued, "--we're not giving up. Not on anything. But…but, things are coming soon. Usagi-chan will need me, need us all. There will be… we'll all have to make some sort of sacrifice before we can reach the future. If this is ours--" She stopped, seeming to try and grow accustomed to the new word. "Ours. …our sacrifice. Then, so be it. We know we'll see each other again. Even if that day is a very, very long time from now." With that, she let go of Mamoru's hand and took a step back. "This is our choice."

Mamoru shook his head. "I wish you wouldn't. Usako and I would never ask you to--"

"We know, Master."

"It's why you're going to rule the planet one day." Minako winked at him. "…thank you, Mamoru-san," she told him in her serious voice. "It was…this meant a…a great deal…"

Mamoru waved his hands. "Please, don't. I should have--"

"Yes, you should have. Usagi-chan doesn't know, does she?" She continued on as Mamoru looked guiltier and guiltier. "You have to tell her. And then you have to tell all of them. Everyone. You should know better than to be secretive about things by now."

Mamoru refrained from pointing out that Minako had just kept a very large secret from the other senshi for several months. He liked breathing too much.

"You should tell her. Soon," she emphasized. "The rest..." Kunzite cleared his throat at Minako with a pointed look, and she shrugged. "You're the future rulers of the world. You decide how to do that."

Deadpan, Mamoru offered, "Thank you for your advice, Mina-chan."

"Do I get to watch when you tell Rei-chan?"

Kunzite cleared his throat again and tipped his head at the case with three glowing stones on the counter. Minako made a face.

"Er, I meant. Tell her about the…um. Sweater! That I borrowed! --Oh, hey! Why don't I go tell her about that now? I'm sure Ami-chan is tired of breaking everyone's cell phone to keep them from calling! Mind if I just--" Minako waved her fingers at Mamoru's balcony.

"Er, maybe you should--"

"Thank you!"

With a flash of color, Sailor Venus was bounding across his living room and out the sliding door of his balcony. She posed on the ledge, her hair blowing like a cape in the breeze, before she leapt down to the roof of the next building several stories below.

Mamoru let out a sigh.

"Wait a moment, Master." Kunzite held up three fingers. He folded down one, then a second.

"SHOES!"

Venus tumbled back in, over turning the coffee table, tipping over the couch, and sending Mamoru's notes flying in every direction. She snatched up her shoes by the front door and clutched them to her chest.

"Sorry! Really sorry!" She quickly righted the couch and table, and she did try to put his notes back in some order. Mamoru set down the stone and moved to help her before any sort of order was lost.

"Mina-chan, please. Just, just leave it. I'll--"

"Minako." Kunzite repeated her name quietly.

Venus paused and then stacked the books and papers in her hands very neatly on the coffee table. She stood and had regained her composure once again. Offering Mamoru a brilliant smile, she gestured to his balcony door again. "I should really go this time. Goodbye, Mamoru-san." She bowed slightly.

Mamoru nodded and focused on putting his notes back together as Kunzite stepped closer to say his goodbye. He had been enough of being a voyeur for one night. When he looked up, Kunzite was alone and watching him.

"So," Mamoru started. "You and Minako." Kunzite nodded, and Mamoru shook his head in wonderment again. "I would have never guessed."

"Master?"

"You both seem so…so different. She is so…" Mamoru tried to find a word for it. "So, Minako!"

"As hard to understand as yourself and the princess?" Kunzite countered.

Mamoru glared. "That's different."

Kunzite shook his head. "You should not let yourself be goaded so easily, Master."

Mamoru continued to glare. "You didn't answer my question."

"Yes," was all Kunzite said with a smile.



*


"Whatever you did, you need to undo it." It was Haruka calling him a few days later. "She says," and he could only assume she meant Minako, "that I owe her a ride in my helicopter! She says because I agreed to some 'rain-check' on the motorcycle, I owe her a ride in the helicopter! And lessons! She wants to touch my baby!"

"I thought Hotaru-chan was your baby," Mamoru teased. He shouldn't because he knew Hakura would get her revenge the first instant she could. It would probably be against his car, and he loved his car.

"Is that Mamoru-kun?" He could hear Minako in the background. "Tell him hi!"

"Yes, hello, prince," he heard Michiru.

"Away! Away the both of you! Get away from the Tenoh Maru! --why are you touching each other? Stop it! That won't work!"

Mamoru snorted and hung up. He didn't need the mental images. Usagi would kill him. She was liable to do that anyway once he told her that evening about how he was able to help Minako work out her problem. He hoped if he stored up enough good karma before then, he would live to be king of the Earth.

Just another perfectly normal day in his life.