Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon nor Dresden Files. If I did, Moon would not be so useless, and fans would burn me at the stake for destroying Harry's awesomeness.

The Senshi Files: Silver Warden
File 09: Moon Talk
By Irritus185/Raithe

I was a wielder of lightning and thunder, a person who controlled the very forces of nature, someone who had a foot in the worlds of both the mundane and the supernatural, and a hero of justice (in-training).

I have faced off against college werewolves, pizza-maddened pixies, a family with the hand of God hovering over them, and a man whom insurance companies have created a personalized premium for.

There was little which I could not beat, triumph over, figure out a way to circumvent, or snark at.

...This was one of them.

"It feels so breezy... Why did I let you talk me into this?"

"Aw, but Mako, you look so good in them!"

I nervously tugged on my pants in a futile attempt to cover more of my legs. Well, they were less pants and more shorts. Okay, less shorts and more, 'who wears short-shorts?' Seriously, the things were little better than denim hotpants (though they were still better than the actual hotpants Usagi had tried to shove my big butt into).

It was bad enough that I felt like I was flashing the world with my pseudo-booty shorts; it was even worse that I was gathering more attention than I usually did just from my tall stature. Walking along with Usagi and Naru (two petite specimens if I ever saw them) just made me seem even more gargantuan in comparison.

The wide-eyed looks I got from some people were embarrassing; the outright catcalls from the more aggressive individuals made it almost intolerable. At the very least, living with papa gave me ample training to scare off the more straightforward with a steely-eyed glare and a general aura of 'you do that again, I break you.'

Too bad Usagi actually considered the harassment I was getting to be a compliment.

"Ya see? You really do look good in shorts! Look at all the attention and compliments you're getting!"

"I don't think she really likes 'em all that much, Usagi," Naru said.

"What? The shorts or the attention?"

"I swear, if I have to high-kick a dude to get them from staring at me so much, don't think I won't."

"C'mon, Mako, if you have it, flaunt it!"

"Darn it, Usagi, I'll get you back for this!" Cuteness can't save you forever!

...Well, at least things seemed to have calmed down a bit since my and Usagi's tumultuous talk at the clothing store (even if it was because my uncomfortable situation had overridden the original awkwardness). I really hated that there was something I couldn't do anything about. Mind magic was not my forte (and thank god for that), so that left me with little ability to fix the problem.

I could always talk to papa about it, as he's had more than a little experience with this kind of predicament, but I really didn't want to burden him with even more on top of what he already had on his plate. Papa may be a hero of justice, but even heroes can't do everything all at once.

I guess I could talk more with Naru, but how would I even be able to broach such a delicate topic? I didn't know her, didn't know what her original personality was like, didn't know what changes could have been made because of magical manipulation.

All in all, it left me frustrated and ornery, and I did not like feeling useless, especially because I couldn't see a quick way to throw off those annoying emotions.

From how Usagi was acting, she probably felt the same way. She looked like she was forcing herself to be a little happier, act a little peppier, have a little more 'oomph' than the situation needed. No way was she that clueless about how I wasn't liking the unwanted attention on me.

Even unconsciously, Naru seemed to be reacting to the atmosphere. We may have all been talking to each other, but it was like we were just going through the motions - there was no real investment in our conversation. Everything seemed wooden and even a bit unnatural. The tension was back, but hidden underneath a thin veneer of normalcy that each of us was trying our best to maintain.

That veneer broke when some shady-looking dude in a snazzy business suit came up to us, a slimy smile on his lips. He was shorter than me and had his hair bleached and slicked back in some sort of 'gang' style. I caught him eyeing my legs and chest, which did nothing for my initial impression of him.

"Excuse me, ladies," he said silkily. Ah jeez, even his voice sounded creeptastic. "I couldn't help but notice just how beautiful all of you were. Would you perhaps be interested in-"

"Not interested," I interrupted, my voice on the edge of growling. I immediately recognized the spiel this guy was about to go on, and I did not want any part of what he was selling.

He seemed startled for a moment but then quickly slipped back into his 'charming' facade. "Now, now, there's no need for that. I just wanted to-"

"Not." I bent over at the waist, suddenly shoving myself into the recruiter's personal space. Metaphorical lightning danced across my tongue and eyes. "Interested."

"A-ah..." he stuttered and licked his lips. "Maybe I'll just… go over there, now." He quickly slipped back into the crowd, like a snake into tall grass.

"Yeah, you do that," I muttered darkly. I turned to Naru and Usagi, both of who were staring at me with wide eyes. "Ah..." I scratched my cheek and looked away from them, a feeling of warmth beginning to color my cheeks. "I don't like pushy guys..." I said lamely.

The two of them said nothing, and quiet descended upon us. Damn it, why couldn't I keep my stupid temper in check? Now I'd gone and made things worse again. What was I going to do with-

"Sweets!" Usagi suddenly burst out. I looked at her like she'd gone crazy, and, judging by her expression, Naru probably felt the same way. Usagi laughed awkwardly at our stares. "Aha, I mean, uh, I... suddenly had a craving for sweets. You know, cause everyone seems a bit cranky and sugar is good for your brain and stuff, or at least I think Ami said that and I..."

She trailed off at the looks we continued to give her. Usagi pointed back the way we came. "I'm pretty sure I saw a crepe shop a little while back. I'll just pop over and grab some for all of us."

"That's okay," I started to argue. "I'm not really-"

"No, no! I insist!" she nearly shouted, cutting me off.

"...Well, at least let me give you some money for my share." I patted at my pockets for my wallet and scowled when I remembered I couldn't actually fit it into the blasted things that dared called themselves pants. "Hold on, I have it somewhere..."

"It's fine, it's fine. It's my treat!"

"Are you sure?" I asked hesitantly. "I don't want-"

"I'm sure," Usagi said, a little too quickly.

I noted the blonde's smile was starting to look forced (well, more obviously forced), and looked to Naru for some form of backup.

The redhead simply shrugged at me, the corner of her eyes taut. "Just let 'er. When it comes ta sweets, it's best not ta argue."

I frowned slightly. "If you say so..."

"Kay-kay! I'll be back!"

With that, Usagi disappeared into the crowd and left Naru and I to stew in the uncomfortable, awkward silence left behind. The two of us moved to the side of the walkway and out of foot traffic, but besides a polite nod, neither of us talked or made any attempt to.

What were we going to talk about anyway? We barely knew anything about each other, and what I did know wouldn't make great conversation.

'Sorry about your mental predator getting whacked. How's your brain been since he scrambled it?'

Oh yeah, that ice breaker would go along swimmingly. Even if I could explain myself without outing Usagi, I doubt it would make a difference to Naru. Maybe she'd had a legitimate crush on Nephrite before the mind rape, but the latter outweighed any real feelings when it came to emotional turmoil.

You just didn't do certain things, especially when you knew (and didn't care) what the consequences were. And I had a special hard and pointy place in my heart for predators of any kind.

I ground my teeth while silently fuming at the situation. Like I said, I wasn't built for this type of thing. I was my papa's daughter after all. Though even papa probably would've found a way to go about the topic without completely screwing it up (I mean, it would've been awkward and messy, but it wouldn't have been a lost cause).

My gaze slid over to Naru. She was staring at her feet, but every once in a while she would look at me from the corner of her eyes and then immediately back down. Her hands nervously played with the straps of her bag, and she was biting her lips hard enough to leave white marks. As time passed, her actions became quicker and more anxious.

Ah heck, I couldn't take it any more. I sighed, puffing strongly. "There something you want to say?"

She jumped straight. "W-what?"

"Look like you wanna ask me something."

"Not really, I..."

I scowled a little more deeply and scratched furiously at my temple. "Look, if ya wanna tell me something, just-"

"Are you an' Usagi in a girl gang?"

Usagi... in a girl gang? Smoking, skipping class, shaking kids down for arcade money, and the like...?

Someone stop the world, it's moving too fast.

While I tried to scoop up the shattered remains of my psyche, Naru pushed on ahead with the sheer psychosis of her question. "I mean, I think it's kinda silly too, but it makes a lotta sense when you start ta think about it sum' more." She shook her hands. "Not that it's wrong. Well, it is wrong, a lot, but Usagi isn' a bad girl, so she won' be doin' too many bad things, and I'mma still gonna-"

"Wait, wait!" I coughed out, holding a fist to my chest as I finally was able to start breathing clearly again. Naru's mouth snapped shut. "Just... just hold on a minute."

I took a deep breath through my nose and stood up straight. Naru cowered a bit as I suddenly must've looked like I was looming over her, but to her credit she didn't back or look away from me. "Ok, so..." I pushed my bangs out of my face. "What in the hell makes you think Usagi and I are part of a girl gang?"

"You mean ya aren't?"

"No!"

She eyed me up and down skeptically. "Ya sure?"

"Why does everyone always think I'm part of some gang?" I groused loudly. I shook my head. "Look, forget about me for a minute. Why do you think Usagi of all people is in a gang? I've only been around her for a week, and even I can tell she doesn't have the heart or stomach for something like that."

"Well, I mean, I though' that too, but..." She just kinda tapered off at that.

I looked at her, not severely but still. "Aren't you supposed to be her best friend or something? Why would you think that of her?"

"...doesn't really seem like it lately..." she muttered softly, with not a small amount of bitterness.

...I think I may have just heard something I wasn't really supposed to. This was something obviously important to her, Usagi was important to her, and there was some mixed, dark feelings boiling beneath the surface. This could've been result of her mental whammy, or it could've been because of something else, but either way, this was a chance for me to learn more about her, Usagi, and what the heck was going on in the supernatural drama that had invaded their lives.

Besides, there was a cute girl that was feeling bad and looking sad! What kinda hero of justice would I be if I just let her mope without even trying to help out?

I sidled a bit closer. Naru didn't react, too caught up in her own thoughts. "What do you mean?" I asked quietly.

She looked up. Oh jeez, tears in her eyes, right in the heart feels. "I don't... ah don' know if we're really friends anymore," she sniffed.

"But she's spending the whole day with you today, isn't she?"

She scoffed. "Yeah, but yer here too."

"Err, I don't-"

"We 'ad this planned fer a couple weeks," Naru bulled on ahead. She glanced up at me, her narrowed eyes a little more red and bloodshot than before. "Just somethin' fer me and her. But then you..." She waved angrily at me. "Ya just... just barged right on in!"

Ok... looked like I stepped on a bit of a landmine here. I stopped myself from instinctively moving away at her anger but didn't say anything to provoke her further. She didn't need me doing anything to rile her up; she was doing a bang-up job of that on her own.

"We've been friends since ferever, and you... you just came up outta nowhere!" She laughed bitterly as she tried to stare holes into her feet. "Our day, and she... she jus' brings you without even asking!" Another slightly hiccupped and broken chuckle. "I just...jus'..."

...Oh, Usagi, you were a total sweetheart but also a complete idiot. I figured she was just trying to cheer both of us up, but I don't think she knew just how important this was to Naru. This was... well, it was important, and my presence wasn't really helping in whatever healing process Usagi was trying to work on Naru.

Still, that didn't mean I could let this bitterness fester between the two, even if it was only from Naru. I didn't know if this was because of the mental whammy or some other underlying problem, but I had to do something. I couldn't just let myself become some sort of wedge between the two.

Unfortunately, I was not the touchy-feely type, so my avenues for fixing the problem pretty much boiled down to only a couple choices... and I really didn't like any of them. Still, if there was anything I learned from papa, it was that sometimes you had to injure, embarrass, or plain ol' do dumb things to yourself in order to help out another. So yeah... time for me to tell a complete stranger something deeply personal to show that Usagi was just doing her best to help us both out.

I took a slow breath and then exhaled. "Usagi... kinda caught me in the middle of a mental breakdown the other day."

Naru's head whipped up, her eyes suddenly wide and shocked. I grinned nervously. She licked her lips. "Wha... what happened?"

"We were hanging out, and a trauma of mine got triggered. It was... not pretty to watch. Usagi helped me through the crash, but I don't think she wanted to leave me alone after that."

"So she invited you out today?"

"Yeah..." I scratched the back of my head. "I really am sorry. I didn't mean to be a third wheel on your date."

"It's... it's ok," she said. She rubbed at her eyes. "Are... are ya ok now? I mean..." Naru trailed off and went back to staring at her feet.

"As alright as I can be," I said. "I don't really think I'll ever be over it, but... but I have gotten better."

Naru fidgeted with her hands. "Was... was it bad? Do... do ya-" She cut herself off and bit her lip.

Yeah, no real polite way to phrase that question, huh? The small, roiling lump in my gut reacted to the memories. I laughed - a short, harsh bark of a sound. Naru flinched and glanced at me, a sliver of fear and worry in her eyes.

"It sucked." She flinched again at the steel in my tone. "You really don't recover from losing your family in a stupid freak accident. I'm still terrified of airplanes and frightened screaming to this day."

I sighed and lowered my face. "Usagi means well, right? Just... sometimes, she just messes up the execution."

After that, we were silent for a minute or so. Naru was the first to break it. "We used ta do a lot together. Like, all the time." She shifted her arms and pressed further against the wall. "Today was the first time inna while that was gonna be just the two o' us."

"Sorry."

She shook her head. "Don' be. This... this's been goin' on awhile." She breathed heavily through her nose. "Ever since a few months ago, Usagi's been really secretive and odd. Cancellin' on dates, runnin' out on gittogethers... Not ta mention how she's been hangin' out with a lotta different, new people lately."

I assumed she meant Rei and Ami. "But she's not totally ignoring you, right?"

Naru shrugged. "She tries, but... well, Usagi's not all that great at balancin' her schedules. She's forgetful and absentminded, an' she'll suddenly remember sumptin' out of nowhere and just run out."

That explained some things, especially with how quiet and passive-aggressive the girl'd been acting. However, there was still one thing that threw me off.

"So, why'd ya think she was in a girl gang with me?" I mean, she was a girl, and she was part of a group with other girls that got into knockdown fights all the time and I wasn't helping myself here so I was just gonna shut up my stupid brain now. "I mean, Usagi? Really?"

The redhead giggled, a mix of mirth and sadness caught in her throat. "Yeah, you'd think that with her bein', well, Usagi, it's real stupid, but..." She rolled her shoulders. "I don't know. I mean, see, I know she's hidin' stuff from me, I can see that."

"What do you mean?" I prodded.

"Well, Usagi might be good at readin' others, but she's also easier to see through than a plastic bag." She looked at me, eyes sparkling with tears but also something... kinder in them. "I've known her fer a long time. Kinda hard for her to hide anythin' from me. So... to know that she is... well, it kinda hurts that she can't tell me."

"So your first thought was 'girl gang'?" I laughed.

"Can't imagine much else she'd be scared to tell me." Natu sniffed and giggled, a hiccup in her tone. "What could she possibly feel was so bad tha' she couldn't tell 'er best friend?"

Fighting monsters that feasted on human souls was a good start. Doubted Usagi wanted to bring her friend into that world, especially since Naru pretty much seemed to be a normal human. Looking at her through my electro sense, she had a higher 'charge' than average, but nothing that made her capable of fighting off supernatural predators.

Still, a lot of things were finally starting to make sense to me. The whole thing with that DK goon did have an effect on the girl, but I think it was more of a 'straw on the camel's back' than the main problem. It was definitely crappy, and there was no way Naru hadn't been harmed by the warlock, but it was... well, yeah.

Usagi's recent dive into the deep end of the magical community had had a lot more consequences than she'd probably realized. It was one thing to try and balance the personal problems that evolved from risking your life to save others; it was another to see the effects your problems had on those close to you.

Usagi was a good girl, of this I had no doubt. However, she seemed to fail to realize that her exploits were taking her farther and farther away from those that were with her before the whole 'senshi' thing took root in her life. It was just something that... that sneaked up on you without realizing it.

Papa had the same problem. After the whole thing with Susan, well... He was so focused on one goal that he missed the forest for the trees. I never wanted to see Papa like that again, and there was no way I wanted to see that kind of thing happening to others.

So, yeah, looked like I had to do something. And with my social skills, well, great...

"Usagi's really not in a gang, you know."

"...yeah, I get it, but..."

"I get it too." Naru looked at me skeptically. I grinned nervously. "Really, I do - get it, that is. It's like... it's like Usagi's going some place you can't reach, and it really sucks, huh." I made vague gestures with my hands. "But, but it's not like you're not friends anymore. I mean, yeah, people can drift apart, but that doesn't mean you have to let it happen. Usagi's got new friends now, and she's paying attention to them, but that doesn't mean she's ignoring you on purpose. I mean, I mean it's like..."

I struggled to find the correct words to put my thoughts into. Dang it, why was it so hard to come up with a poignant speech on the fly? The sentai did it so easily!

"I could just talk to 'er?"

I looked at Naru. The area around her eyes was still a bit raw and red, but there was a genuine smile on her face rather than the skeptic, half-hearted one from before.

"Yeah, just... talk to her. Let her know what you're feeling. This is Usagi, right? Sometimes you just have to lay things out for her." I ducked my head and scratched my temple. "Or maybe I'm completely wrong. You would know her better than any bull I'm spewing."

"...Thanks."

I could feel my face flush to my ears, a gooey smile tingling at my lips. "So, yeah, uh, I can totally assure you: Usagi is not in a gang." I paused for a second, remembering what caused this conversation. "And neither am I."

For a moment, Naru's eyes darted up and down my body, and she licked her lips nervously. "Really?" There was a hint of strained laughter to her tone.

I resisted the extremely strong urge to groan and roll my eyes. Instead, I closed them and grit my teeth. "Really, really."

"Are ya sure...?"

"Why does everyone always think that?" I threw my hands in the air dramatically. "My papa's a private investigator, my big sis's a police officer, my family's best friends might as well be pre-ordained saints. If I ever tried to do anything bad, they'd tan my hide quicker than you can blink."

Naru blinked. "Wow, really?"

I looked at her morosely. "I once snuck into a bar my papa frequents. You know, to see what it's like. The owner immediately sent me to the back room and called my papa. He and my big sis showed up from, like, halfway across town and gave me the biggest scolding ever."

Think I was still on probation for that one, actually. Also, I'm amazed that Mr. McAnally was able to tell papa everything when I don't think he said more than a couple words.

Literally - two words.

Naru covered her mouth, a small giggle escaping. "Um, sorry."

"Yeah, yeah, yuck it up, why don'tcha'?" I took a look around. "By the way, where the heck is Usagi? Does it really take that long to get some food?"

She followed my gaze. "Maybe she ate them all on the way back and 'ad to go buy some more." I gave her a blank stare. She shrugged, a bemused look on her face. "It's 'appened before."

I hung my head and sighed. "Let's go see what's taking her..."

Naru nodded, and the two of us entered the crowd of people again, heading towards the food shop Usagi mentioned. We got there quickly enough, but I didn't see Usagi in line for food nor off to the side holding what she promised to get.

"You see her?" I asked.

"Nah," Naru responded.

I frowned. Well, I didn't really like doing this, but... I focused on my electrosense, and suddenly the world blossomed into a field of dancing sparks and lightning storms. I held myself from reeling back at the sheer influx of info. Ugh, this was why I didn't like using it in such a populated area - sensory overload almost always hit me like a dump truck.

Shaking my head, I searched for the particular 'ping' of Usagi's bioelectricity. It was easier than I would've imagined not only because the kernel of power in her chest (which I assumed was her senshi 'core') made her shine like a beacon compared to even magically-active folks, but also because there were several individuals scattered around her that had, well, 'dimmer' or 'darker' signals. Strange, yes, but like papa said, there was always something new about my powers I'd learn every day.

Still, it became a lot easier to track Usagi now, and I led Naru to where the blonde's signal was - a side street a little off the main one. When I got there, I immediately stopped and felt a burble of annoyance rise inside me.

Usagi was there alright - along with two goons that appeared to have taken their flirting advice from a bad infomercial. They seemed to enjoy the punk aesthetic - slicked hair, piercings all over, disheveled clothes, one even had a tattoo on his arm. Honestly, they would've fit in perfectly with Moll's crowd, but the way Usagi seemed exceedingly uncomfortable made me not care about any of that.

"C'mon..." the one with a beanie over his hair said. "Just hang out with us for a little bit. We won't bite, we promise."

"I- I can't," Usagi stammered. "I have to get back to my friends."

"Ditch them and come with us," the tattooed punk said. "You owe us after ruining my jacket."

"I don't really..."

"Hey! Back off from my friend!" I shouted.

Usagi looked up with excitement, the anxiety in her eyes shifting to happy relief. "Mako! Naru!"

The punks looked at me, their expressions twisted into annoyance at being interrupted. Upon seeing me (or rather, my godsforsaken outfit), that annoyance turned to perverse delight. Beanie looped an arm around Usagi's shoulder and drew her closer, the girl squeaking in surprise, as Tattoo ambled up to me.

"Ah...? So you're her friend?" he looked me up and down, and I had to hold back the feeling of revulsion, like I could feel him licking me with his eyes. "Maybe we can come to an amiable agreement then?"

I could feel Naru try to hide behind me. I snorted. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, ya see..." Tattoo raised his jacket, and I saw that there was a smear of what looked liked reddish cream on the side of it. A cream that was very similar to the filling of one of the crepes Usagi had squished between her trembling hands. "Your friend got my nice, foreign-made jacket all messy, but she didn't have the money to replace it. So we were trying to come up with an alternate method."

"Then use a napkin and wipe it off before it stains. Isn't even that big."

"Oh no no no," he said, a nasty sneer on his face. "This is imported leather, it's already too late for that. And we need to pay for the mistakes we make." He glanced over his shoulder at Beanie. "Right?"

Beanie tightened his hold on Usagi. The girl squeaked louder. "Yup. Proper Japanese etiquette and all that."

Tattoo grinned. "So..." He leaned forward. "Maybe you'd be willing to pay for your friend instead?"

I raised my eyebrow. "Really? In broad daylight?"

He shrugged. "Like those sheep are gonna do anything about it. You see anyone coming to your rescue?"

I looked behind me. The people who were no more than a few feet away were mysteriously unable to see the clear case of extortion, and their steps even quickened a bit as they neared us before moving to a more normal pace once they'd passed. Really? So they had no problem watching a girl accidentally flash her panties at them, but when the same girl was being harassed it was all, 'oh, look at that something over there'? Stupid 'it's not my problem' culture.

I looked back, my jaw sternly set. Somehow, the whole rescue thing wasn't as fun if I knew the person I was rescuing well enough. "And if I refuse?"

"Then we'll just take blondie here with us as payment."

Again, Beanie squeezed Usagi, eliciting another uncomfortable squeak. My frown got harder.

Tattoo seemed pleased at my realization and reached a hand out to me. "Don't worry, I like big girls like you. I'll treat you re~al good."

When he grabbed my wrist, my hand flowed over his own wrist in a classic Nikyo hold. Not even a second later, he was on the ground with his arm positioned painfully behind his back and me having only shifted a foot or so.

"Aggressive guys like you ain't real popular with girls," I said snarkily.

"Gah! You bitch!" Tattoo bit out.

I added some pressure, and his expletives quickly bled into wordless grunts of pain. I shot a glare at Beanie. The guy reacted by increasing his hold on Usagi and reaching into his pocket.

"Hey, let go of him or the pigtails gets it!"

I wondered briefly if the jerk was about to pull a knife out and stiffened at the idea. It was one thing to fight barehanded, but big sis always told me to never let my guard down if one of my opponents was armed; you could never tell if they actually knew how to use their weapon or not.

Luckily, I didn't have to worry too much. Usagi had been struggling the whole time, but the second Beanie got distracted by me and started searching for something, she made her move. With a heroic squeal, she slammed the remains of her crepes into the guy's face, covering it with cream, fruit, and other goodies.

The guy squawked in surprise and released her to swipe away the junk from his face. Usagi took the opportunity to duck away, and I dashed forward. Beanie barely had time to see me before I flipped his ass over onto the recovering form of Tattoo. There was a meaty crack as their heads collided with each other, and the two collapsed into a boneless heap.

I didn't even get a chance to ask Usagi if she was alright before Naru launched herself at the blonde, tackling her into an all-encompassing hug, and became a blubbering, apologizing mess. Usagi looked confused for all of two seconds before she too started to cry and apologize, and soon the two were a moist clump of 'so sorry' girls.

I looked away, uncomfortable at seeing what was supposed to be a private reconciliation between the two. I noticed that with the two goons were dealt with, only now were people actually paying attention to us, and a person called out for a policeman to check on things.

Ah great, so the rest of the day would be spent answering questions. Awesome. Totally awesome.

Something tugged at my jacket. I looked down to see Naru's finger lightly clutching at the denim. She glanced at me out of the corner of her eye as Usagi wailed and hugged her tight, and then she smiled softly and gave it another tug.

Well, how could I resist that invitation? With a great swooping motion, I scooped the both of them off their feet and gave them the biggest hug I could manage. Usagi squeaked in surprise, and Naru just laughed. Hey, being big had its perks; didn't think I could literally sweep them off their feet if I was the same size.

Ok, so maybe this day wasn't going to be so bad after all. Though I would have to figure out what to do about Naru, I think I could let that slide for the moment and just enjoy the heaping pile of cuties in my arms. Totally worth it.


Have you ever been lectured to by a talking cat before? It's an entirely surreal experience. Sadly, it doesn't even make the top ten list of weird shit I've been subjected to. Or been the cause of. Or even just tangentially witnessed.

Stars and stones, my life had become a never ending stream of oddities and crazy.

The minutes between the soulgaze with Ami and finding myself on the receiving end of the mother-of-all-haughty-diatribes from an uppity moon cat were a bit of a blur. Between the slight light-headedness cause by the surprise mind-meld, the leftover aching of the previous day's battle, and my annoyance at the overall idiocy and danger of the situation, my body ran on auto-pilot while my mind observed the scene with a clinical detachment. Like I wasn't the one with an unconscious Japanese schoolgirl on top of me and a yowling alien feline trying to bash down my balcony door.

Did I mention that it found the whole thing hilarious? Because damn could I be frustratingly snarky.

Carefully moving Ami off of me, I absently marveled at how a girl who probably didn't even weigh eighty pounds soaking wet had managed to pin me down, even briefly. Most likely due to surprise from the audacity shown by a girl who looked like she'd curl into a shivering lump if you glared at her too hard.

Laying her on the floor and positioning her as comfortably as possible, I rolled up my duster that had been haphazardly tossed on the ground and tucked it under her head as a makeshift pillow. Despite the stab and bullet wounds, scorch marks, and blood stains (all somewhat masked by the dark leather), it was still the comfiest thing I had on me.

...I think that said a lot about me and my lifestyle.

Disregarding new and intimate understandings of my somewhat messed-up history, I made my way to my balcony door, a no longer yelling but obviously dour and peeved Luna waiting impatiently. If looks could kill... she'd still be as dangerous as a sack of wet kittens (sorry, couldn't resist). Really, despite the fact that creatures smaller and sillier-looking than Luna had proven they could easily break people twice my size, it was hard to take the moon cat as a serious threat.

However, the tongue lashing she'd given me the second I'd let her in was beginning to change my opinion. She could've given Charity and Murphy a run for their money at their top form. Combined.

"And what were you thinking, a grown man inviting a girl his daughter's age into his apartment, alone?"

"I was thinking to answer some questions and get some answers of my own," I muttered.

"It was rhetorical!" she yelled.

I obediently kept my tongue on a leash. I'd learned quickly enough from Charity's and Murphy's sessions that talking only prolonged the torture and made them more insufferable in their filibusters. I did not need more of a temptation to 'bend' the Rules, for Luna's sake.

"But no, you had to be an idiot and let an inordinately curious and driven girl into your abode and then proceed to knock her unconscious. It was completely right of me to follow her. I knew she'd been acting strangely the last few days, especially when she started asking questions about you and that blasted soulstare of yours!"

"Soulgaze," I corrected. Ignoring the tautness in her lips, I said, "How'd she even know about that anyway? I Know I didn't say anything, and I'm certain Sparky wouldn't have even thought to."

"I told them." This time, it was me who shot her an annoyed look. She flicked her tail. "I had to say something to convince them you weren't a threat." Luna glanced off to the side. "Well, not as big a one," she bit out, loud enough for me to hear.

"Oh yeah, you're a veritable tactical genius," I muttered.

"What was that?" she snapped, her tail emulating her tone as it whipped to the side with a nearly audible 'crack.'

I eyed her in indignation. "You're really pushing it, furball." She opened her mouth to retort, but I cut her off, rubbing my temple in clear annoyance. "You tell a girl who you just admitted is too clever for her own good about some mystical thing that proves me not an enemy without a shadow of doubt, and you're the one that's acting all pissy?"

"And what was I supposed to do?" she said sarcastically. For a moment, I wondered if this was how Mister would sound if he could talk, but then I quickly locked that train of thought away - too horrible to contemplate. "Tell them to just trust me without any evidence to back me up?"

"Seems to have worked for you so far."

"And what is that supposed to mean?" she said, a subsonic growl bubbling in her throat.

"The tactical info you have on the DK is, 'They're the bad guys, kill them.' Any info on the senshi themselves boils down to, 'You're magical girls of justice, yay.' And all advice on how to fight could be summed up in a children's 'cowboys and Indians' fight. Frankly, your MO pretty much shouts, 'do it because I said so.'" I raised my eyebrow, a corner of my lips twitching. "Is it any surprise that the budding Sun Tzu on your team jumped at the chance to grill a person who looked like they knew what the hell they were doing?"

"The fact that I don't freely share the information I have managed to acquire does not connote I know less than necessary."

"Coulda fooled me."

"Perhaps that's because you're not nearly as clever as your purport yourself to be," Luna sniffed haughtily.

"Still know more than you," I said in a signsong voice.

Luna paused and narrowed her eyes. "I don't like your tone."

I smiled grimly and leaned my chin on my good hand. "Aww, and here I thought we were getting along so well."

She sat on her haunches, her spine and shoulders coiled like she was preparing to leap at me with fangs and claws bared. "You are an infuriating man, Harry Dresden."

"And you're a sanctimonious kittycat," I snarked.

"You still have not understood the ramifications of this issue, have you?"

My smile slid into a frown. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"The fallout of the senshi and Dark Kingdom's fight will have far-reaching consequences for this entire planet - no, this entire solar system." Her body tensed once more before all rigidity seemed to flow out of her. "The lives of everyone and everything you both know and don't hang in the balance, and you think you can make even the slightest impact? Though you may be able to use magic - you? A mere mortal?"

"In case you haven't noticed, this ain't my first rodeo when it comes to phenomenal cosmic power and the whacko nutjobs after it," I said dryly. "You of all people should know that, just like I know you don't have as much info as you'd like with your memories doing an amateur rendition of Swiss cheese."

I wasn't over-exaggerating that bit, either. Whatever process the mooncat had undergone to survive the eons-long wait from the fall of the empire to today had done a number on her, both in body and in mind. Looking at her through a soulgaze was like someone had taken an industrial-strength ice cream scooper and just carved swaths out of her mindscape. Not that she had been mentally damaged, no (all of her natural personality quirks, emotions, and such were intact). However, there were enough chunks randomly missing from her mindscape that I was surprised she hadn't forgotten her own name, let alone a basic knowledge of who and what the senshi were.

Plus, I highly suspected her 'true' form wasn't that of an ordinary housecat. I very much doubted she was hiding it from the others (likely another result of her flawed 'awakening'), but there were so many subconscious and awkward 'tics' of hers - a slight hesitation when trying to make a simple leap, a moment of confusion when she was in the middle of a normal cat mannerism - that it made me think she had to feel, if only unconsciously, uncomfortable in her own skin.

Hey, you deal with enough shapeshifters like the Alphas or your common supernatural creature, or illusionists like the fae or Lasciel, and you pick up on some things.

...or maybe I was overanalyzing things and being paranoid as hell. Once again, shapeshifters and illusionists will do that to you.

"And..." I drawled, trying to draw the word out for optimal annoyance and smart-assitude. "I seem to remember a little furball freaking out at my memories when I barely flinched at yours."

"That says less about your 'experience' and more that there is something deeply wrong with your psyche," she muttered darkly. "You didn't see a carousel of horrors, oddities, and love flash before your eyes without any warning."

"Well, considering I lived that carousel, I'd think that- wait, what was that last part?" I must've misheard her, and also mis-seen her, because that was much too gentle an expression and tone coming from the cat.

"I've said it before, Dresden - you are a dangerous man. But..." Luna gave her paw a cursory lick and drew it over her head, briefly hiding her eyes. "That does not mean you are not a good man." She chuckled at my expression. "The two are not mutually exclusive, after all. In fact, I have seen them go hand in hand quite nicely." She trailed off, a fond glint of nostalgia in her eyes.

...hell's bells, so the female didn't even have to look human to stop me in my tracks? Maybe Murphy was right - maybe I should go see a shrink about my (apparently not-so-supposedly) 'chauvinistic' tendencies.

Luna took my stunned silence as an opportunity to continue. "Therefore, knowing what I do about you, I cannot allow you to throw yourself into danger on our behalf when you are not equipped for the magnitude of the situation." She used her paw to cover a blooming catty smirk. "Well, no more than you usually do, I mean."

Launching myself back into the debate, I countered, "Not equipped? Furball, I've fought against things that would make your fur stand on end... and it has."

She waved a paw nonchalantly. "I will admit, you do have a good amount of power inside you, especially after I've reviewed and re-reviewed those memories and talked to Mars about your little jaunt with Zoicite. You know how to handle yourself when the stakes are high." Her brows drew together at her next words. "But you have yet to realized just how high the stakes are now."

"And you consider a mad god, fallen angels, blood-sucking demons, cursed monsters, and psychopathic practitioners to be low stakes?" I asked incredulously.

"You beat them. Magically speaking, you are on the same level as a common foot soldier back when the Dark Kingdom invaded. You cannot expect to pull off the same kind of victory against the ones at the pinnacle of their forces."

Little kitty, I've beaten things that would tie your brain into Gordian knots. Granted, there was a lot of luck involved, but still, I'm a little more prepared than what you think.

I shook my head in mild consternation. "Trust me, the stakes were a lot higher than you think."

"And yet they only affected one small town on the entire planet."

"How is that any different from now?"

Luna raised her chin. "This is simply the prologue to something grander and more terrible than you can imagine. If the Dark Kingdom manages to extract enough life energy from the populace, Metallia's awakening will spell doom for all." Somehow she managed to look down her nose up at me. "A tad more expansive than falling frogs and wild dogs, regardless of the collateral damage they may have caused."

I opened my mouth to retort on how they were a bit more world-threatening than that but then closed it with a dull snap. Belated as it might've been, it finally hit me. I finally understood just why Luna had been so nonchalant about the incidents she'd seen through our soulgaze. To me, they'd been near-complete disasters that could have destroyed the human race or irreversibly altered the face of the planet. But to Luna, they were little more than banal and common.

The reason for that attitude hit me like a nose-diving TIE fighter. Soulgazes were a personal thing – focused on the self, the individual, the most narrow viewpoint crystallized into the heart of the human soul. Luna understood - deeply, intimately - how these events affected me, but not how they could affect others. The visceral knowledge she'd gained was on a level so localized it was essentially useless on a world-wide scale like the DK's war on Earth.

She understood how one city could have been destroyed, but not how it would lead to the birth of a god not bound by any laws. She knew how angels could be terrorists, but not how they could create the second coming of the black plague. She saw two warring supernatural factions with me stuck in the middle, but not the possible endgame of another, potentially eternal, ice age.

She knew, but she didn't understand.

The scary part was that, had Lasciel not shoved the truth of the matter into my face and skull, I might've treated the situation between the senshi and DK in the same fashion - just another small case of your common crazy warlocks fighting against (admittedly much rarer and... sillier) teenaged mages - instead of the gravity it deserved. Because this would not be the first time incomplete info about a situation came back to bite me in the ass, and I did not feel like travelling down that path once again.

Seriously though, was this 'throw Harry's past mistakes back into his face' day?

Still, let it not be said that I didn't realize my mistakes and then try to hang those of others over their heads (well, at least not that much). So I did what any person did when attempting to dissuade another of a mistaken notion they themselves once held.

I cracked it open with all the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer through a stained-glass window.

"Trust me when I say even the Silver Galactic Empire would have trouble with some of the things I've fought. Mab alone would give the empress a run for her money."

Luna looked simultaneously poleaxed and sick to her stomach. She made a dry choking sound, as if was in the middle of hacking up a furball only for it to get stuck in her throat. Had I'd been a pettier man, I might've felt smug over catching her off-guard. Instead, I was stone-faced as I waited for her to collect herself.

...okay, maybe there was a small part of me that was a bit self-satisfied, but I didn't indulge it.

Luna took a few calming breaths, a short string of coughs interspersing them, and looked at me with wild, suspicious eyes. "How do you know about the empire?" she hissed.

"I know a lot more than that," I said. "Mu, Metallia's cult, Endymion and Serenity's torrid love affair…" Her tailed 'poinged' at the last one.

Her eyes locked on me with the fury of a cruise missile. "I will ask you again, Dresden. How did you find out that information?" Her expression brooked no funny business.

I couldn't resist. "Wiz~ard..." I crooned with a goofy grin.

She let out a dissatisfied mrowl. "Dresden..."

My smile slipped off. I sighed. "The empire predates humanity by a magnitude or two, I will admit that." I leaned forward, locking eyes with the cat. To her credit, she didn't even flinch, despite it not being possible for another soulgaze to happen. "However, I've met with, fought against, and pissed off beings that date back to the creation of existence and make the empire in its prime look like a bunch of apes whacking each other with sticks."

One of whom I shared headspace with, and was currently supplying me with ever more colorful descriptions of the empire's societal advances (or lack thereof). Lasciel took vindictiveness and put-downs to an art form.

Luna was quiet for a few moments. Her tail languidly swished from side to side, occasional twitches running up and down it. "And these..." she slowly started. "These beings... They were the ones who told you?"

I put a finger to my curled lips. "Ancient wizarding secret." Hey, a man had to keep some secrets, right?

She made to snap at me but held herself back. "You make it very hard to work with you, wizard."

"The feeling's mutual, furball."

The conversation between us might've gone on further now that were both on more equal footing and more aware/respectful of each other, but it was swiftly interrupted by movement and a small series of sleepy noises from Ami.

The girl slowly began to sit up, her eyes half-lidded and somewhat droopy. Luna quickly padded over to her and put a paw on her knee. "Are you all right, dear?" the cat asked kindly.

With a small delay, the girl looked blearily at her. "Luna...?" she asked curiously.

Looked like someone wasn't all that adept at waking up. Not wanting to give her too much of a shock, I coached my voice into a soft dulcet. "You okay there, little lady? You must've had quite a shock."

Ami's entire body language galvanized at the sound of my voice, going from weak simmer to full boil in two seconds flat. Her back went ramrod stiff, and she whipped her head over to face me.

Her lips trembled as she struggled to find the right words. "Mr... Dresden?" she asked softy, unsure.

"The one and only," I said. At the very least, it didn't look like she was in shock (or Luna's post-screaming fit). A little shaken, sure. Like her world had been flipped upside-down, definitely. Guess she'd realized she'd bitten off more than she could chew.

"Mr. Dresden, I... I..."

"Just take it easy for a bit," I said in a coaxing manner. "Relax. Let your mind give itself a chance to recover."

Ami gave me a shaky nod and looked down at Luna. "Luna, I-"

"It's all right, dear." The cat patted her on the knee. "Take your time. There's no need to rush." Luna's ears subtly pushed backwards as she spoke until they were almost completely flattened against her skull. "Though do be aware we will have a talk about this business when we have a chance alone." Her voice was just above a whisper yet carried though the room.

An involuntary shiver trailed down my spine. Hell's bells, that was Charity's 'quiet voice'. That was... Well, the impact was lessened since Luna was barely ten pounds soaking wet, but still... horrifying.

Apparently Ami recognized the tone too, if her widened eyes and straightforward posture said anything. "Luna, I'm sorry, I didn't-"

"I understand," Luna interrupted, "You are not the only one at fault here." Her tail whipped to the side as she spared me an indignant glance. "As a rather annoying individual has told me recently, I should not have introduced a wildly unknown variable to the team analyst and then expected her not to try to uncover more about it."

"Well, look at that - the furball can learn."

She shot me a withering glare. "I said she's not the only one at fault here. Had you not lived your life as extremely as you do, this might've not become such a fiasco."

Oh sure, blame the guy for his tragic backstory and (involuntary) R-rated lifestyle.

"S-so..." Ami finally took the chance to speak up, breaking apart mine and Luna's epic staring contest. The girl gulped when we both fixed our sights on her. "That... that really was your... your soul, Mr. Dresden?"

I smiled, no unkindly. "What does your gut tell you?"

She was quiet for a moment, eyes locked on the floor. "Does that mean that you... you also..."

"Please be good friends with Makoto," I said gently.

Her eyes shot up, wide and vulnerable. For a split-second, it looked like she was going to try and make a break for it, but then some unknown emotions flashed across her face. Her face relaxed, and an odd mixture of pity and awe settled in her eyes. Her eyes darted to mine, held them for a second, and went back to her feet. She released a soft, breathy giggle.

"We really are children to you, aren't we, Mr. Dresden?" Luna tried to speak up, but Ami cut her off with a gesture. "Luna, it's all right. I... I actually understand where Mr. Dresden is coming from. He, well..." Another giggle. "We really just jumped in head-first, didn't we?"

"But if you didn't, the Dark Kingdom would have gotten away with so much more than they have," Luna argued.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't have. I don't regret that. But, well..." She shot me a pleading, expectant look.

Why the sudden asking for my advice? Wasn't Luna her first and foremost role model in this regard? I decided to put that away for later.

"You did good for what you've got. From what I've seen and researched, you could give a lot of bogies in the upper-mid echelons a run for their money in firepower alone." Oh wow, the pride that filled the girl's eyes. However, it looked like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, which was good, because I had a size-14 steel-toed boot at the ready. "But your actual control of those powers is basic at best."

"We've done well for ourselves so far," Ami prodded. Again, that expectant look. What was she aiming for?

"Not arguing that, but at the moment you're like a bunch of kids who suddenly got access to tanks. Great for dealing with small fry, but once you have to go against other tanks with operators who know what they're doing, well..."

"We knew this would be hard when we first started. None of us were forced into it."

"Really? Could've fooled me."

"We were given these powers for a reason." She smiled, a tinge of melancholy and irony to it. "We... I, have to make good use of them."

"With great power, comes great responsibility, huh?"

She brightened. "Right! Exactly!"

Okay, so now she was unintentionally quoting Spiderman at me. Unfortunately, that wasn't quite enough to convince me.

"But that doesn't mean you have to throw yourself into the jaws of death just because you might have the chance to get out again." I shook my head briefly as the hypocrisy of my words punched me full in the face and slogged onward. "You now know of people who might not have as much power as you, but have a lot more experience and knowledge on the subject."

"Like you?"

"Maybe," I admitted. "But there are others, too. There are lots of people who have a much better grasp on monster slaying than me. Heck, I'm good friends with one." Or several. "There's no need for you to continue putting yourself in danger."

Ami was quiet for a moment. She looked down at her hands, her fingers making unknown patterns over each other. Luna seemed to be waiting for the girl to say something, as she didn't take the chance to add her own two cents.

"Mr. Dresden," Ami spoke up, still looking downward. "I want to ask you something. If we weren't around, if you had been the one to face off against the crystal youma, would you? Fight them, I mean?"

I glanced at her with a sardonic smile. "I think you know the answer to that."

She nodded. Her lips pursed and Ami took a shallow breath. "Would you have been able to free them? Turn them back to normal?"

That's... I didn't really know. From what I'd heard, the demon that had infected the person was actually part of them. Trying to remove a magical infection from a person was hard enough when it was external, but when it was something that grew out of them...

Still, I knew I would've tried anyway if I'd known. "I d try."

"And if you couldn't? If you had no way of turning them back? If you had to stop them so they wouldn't harm anyone else... maybe even permanently?"

The corners of my lips tugged up. "You like asking hard questions, don't you?"

She looked up me, meeting my eyes directly. "Be... because I want to know the answers."

I met her gaze with my own and gave her the answer she deserved, if maybe not the one she wanted. "I'd do what I'd have to, and I'd live with that decision." My tone was clear, even if perhaps my words were not.

Luna's tail straightened, but Ami's hand on her back stopped her from speaking. Ami kept her hand there, but her eyes were firmly on me. "And that would be your choice, right, Mr. Dresden?"

"I'm the only one who chooses for me, little lady, regardless of what others may say."

"I know. Even if things are hard, you choose your path... and you stay on that path... and you see it to the end. And... and that's why I feel we can rely on you to help us."

My eyebrow quirked. Somewhere deep in my crusty, ornery shell, something lit aflame - warm and solid. "Reliable, huh?"

She nodded her head. "Mr. Dresden, I understand things better now - well, somewhat better - and I can see that... you do mean well, and you do know more, and you do want what's best even if it hurts you because..." She licked her lips. "You always try to do the right thing."

Something about how she said those last few words struck a chord within me, a sliver of ice travelling down my spine to meet up with that flame deep inside my core and warp it into something... different, unfamiliar, unnerving.

I frowned. "Anyone can try to do the right thing; doesn't mean it ends up being right."

"But still, it's the fact that you try. That's... that's something to be admired. You try, even if it is tough to do so." Her voice dropped down to barely above a whisper, and I think she said the next part more for herself than for me. "...even if hurts you the most."

What exactly had this child seen in our soulgaze? What visions did she encounter that made her think of me this way? It seemed profound but at the same time... broken.

Ami continued, her voice back to normal volume, unaware of my inner thoughts. "And it's because of that that we - I - also need to do what we can even if it's difficult or dangerous. We need to do this, or at least be part of this... because it's our choice."

I rested my chin on an opened palm. "As flattering as this is, I don't really think I'm the best role model to use for determining if it's worth risking your life. Judging from your spiel, I'm pretty certain you have an inkling of what I've done, and trust me, I regret every moment."

"But if you had the chance, you would make the same choices all over again, right?" Her mouth had the barest hint of a curl to it.

"...Maybe not all of them."

She giggled, one that was lighter than the ones before. "Mr. Dresden, we are going to continue doing what we can. It's just something we need to do."

"Even if you're unprepared and more than likely outgunned?"

"We're going to do it, with or without you, Mr. Dresden." She straightened up. "But... but we could always use advice."

For a moment, the image of a winsome girl with dark hair and dimples - a girl I had once known named Kim Delaney - overlaid the much younger one in front of me. Damn it, the same situation had reared its ugly yet again. I bit on the inside of my cheek. Damn Ami for being so stubborn, and damn me for being even more. Really, was today just a time to throw all my previous logic in my face?

"Yes," Lasciel agreed, her tone frustratingly perky. "In fact, I remember you using that exact same argument earlier today."

So now even the fallen angel was getting one over on me. I internally shook my head. No, I would not let the mistakes of my past haunt my present and future. Not now, not ever.

I heaved a great sigh and scratched morosely at the back of my head. "All right, little lady, you win, you win."

Ami brightened like the rays of the sun, and Luna looked gobsmacked that I had capitulated so quickly.

"But I- but she- but you-" the cat sputtered.

"I'm a sucker for a sad, pouty face, especially when it's like I'm withholding cookies from a child," I groused. I glanced at Luna from the corner of my eyes. "Sorry, but the whole 'furball' thing doesn't really do it for me."

"You rude-!"

"So you'll help us, really?" Ami blurted out. "You won't try to stop us?"

"Little lady, I doubt the gates of hell could stop you if you put your mind to it." I screwed up my mouth and leaned back on my hand. "But yeah, I'll help."

"Wonderful!" Ami clapped her hands together, eyes shining. "I have so many questions I want to ask!"

"Whoa there..." I put my hands up in a placating motion. "Just hold on a second."

She blinked in confusion. "Is... is something wrong?"

I sighed. "I did say I was going to help, but not without a couple conditions."

Luna started, "You will not-!"

"That's fair," Ami said.

Luna looked up at her with a mixture of disgruntlement and surprise. The girl looked back down. The two held their staring contest for a bit before Luna broke eye contact first, grumbling and resting herself flat on the ground.

Ami focused back on me, her expression determined. "What are your conditions?"

"Pretty simple," I said. "I'll assist you with this whole DK thing, give you advice on basic warlock junk, magic, the works. I'll also see if I can get you using your magic outside of those silly outfits of yours."

"You mean that's possible?" Luna asked, clearly interested despite her leftover misgivings about me.

I shrugged. "Makoto's able to do just fine. She's been using what I call 'normal' magic since we met." I stroked my chin. "Though that started under some very dire circumstances, and I don't feel like replicating them just to 'awaken' you, as it were. So it's boot camp training for you instead! With some luck, I'll be able to drill some basic tactics and maybe some actual spells into you before everything ends up on fire."

Not because of me, though. Really.

Ami raised her chin, eyes glittering intelligently. "And your demands?"

"Only two, really." I held up a finger. "First, keep me in the loop. No running off on your own, no hiding things from me. As reasonably as possible, tell me when something's up before any of you dive headfirst into battle."

Ami looked at Luna. The cat rolled her eyes before nodding at me. "That one is acceptable. The other?"

"All of you have to tell your parents. About you being senshi, about you risking your lives fighting monsters on a regular basis, everything."

They reacted like they had been hit by a bucket of ice-cold water. Ami went ramrod straight and her eyes started to dart back and forth like a nervous animal, and all of Luna's fur seemed to stand on end, her pupils widening to an absurd degree.

"Absolutely not," Luna exclaimed. Her voice had reached an even higher pitch than I'd ever heard from her before, and her lips curled over her teeth in an aggressive snarl. "There is no way that the girls can tell their parents! It is for their family's safety as much as their own! Their identities must be kept secret!"

"Look, I know it must be embarrassing for your family to know you cosplay on the weekends, but..."

"This is serious, Dresden!" Luna hissed.

"And I am being serious," I said back with almost as much vitriol in my voice. Luna's ears flattened against her skull. "As hard as it might be, the girls have to tell their family what they're doing."

"B-but w-why?" Ami asked. Oh no, her stutter was back. Was the idea of telling her parents the truth so frightening? "We... we c-can't tell them. They... they wouldn't un-understand."

"Worry less about them understanding and more about them wondering why their daughters don't come back one day and they have no idea why."

The room went deathly quiet. "...w-what do you mean?" Ami mumbled.

"You girls are courting death with all these battles you do. You are good, I will admit." I pressed my hands together. "But there is always the chance that something will go wrong, and your parents aren't going to understand anything if they're told nothing."

"B-but we-"

I smiled, not unkindly, but not softly either. It was a hard, worried smile, and it shut the girl right the hell up. "Let's speak hypothetically for a moment. Imagine Makoto never told me about you and joined up with you against the DK. Imagine she fought, she did her best, she never gave up, and she never told me she was risking her life to save the world. Imagine one day something happened - it wasn't anyone's fault, it was just luck of draw - and she died."

My smiled disappeared completely.

"What would you have told me?"

Six simple words, and they hit the two of them like a flying brick. Ami's gaze locked on her lap. Luna opened her mouth, but her heart was not in her words.

"We would have said she fought bravely and died saving those she loved."

"Comforting words to a grieving father," I said dryly. "Also, I would have fried you without a moment's notice if I'd thought you were responsible for her death."

"But that's illogical!"

"Grief isn't logical," I countered. "All that matters is that my daughter is dead, and I'm stuck between either not knowing why or learning that she was throwing herself into danger and I never even noticed."

I waited a moment for either of them to speak up, but when they didn't, I sighed softly. "Look, I know you want to protect them. If they don't know, they can't be pressed for info on who you are. However, if they're already being interrogated, it's not like the villains would believe they didn't know anything. Most bad guys would simply assume they know and press them harder and harder when they don't spill."

I tapped my fingers on the ground. "At the same time, they're not going to know when you're safe, when or why you're hurt, or what happened to their kids if they never see them again."

I shook my head. "Trust me, the fear of not knowing is much more psychologically damaging than constant worry. At least there's closure with the latter." I shrugged. "It's not much, but it's still better than the alternative."

Luna glanced between me and Ami. "Dresden, I-"

"I accept," Ami spoke up.

"Ami...?" Luna asked. She placed a paw on the girl's hand. Her voice was soft and motherly. "Are you certain?"

Ami blinked away whatever moisture had gathered in her eyes. "I accept, Mr. Dresden. I'm not sure about the others, but I'll tell my mother if you agree to help us." She raised her chin and set her jaw. "My... my mother may try to stop me, but I can at least tell the person who raised me that I'm doing my best to protect her."

I smiled, a much kinder one this time. "That's all I ask."

"If... if it's okay, can we meet tomorrow? I want to tell the girls about the deal and... see if they agree with it."

I nodded. "Sure. Where?"

"Do you know the Hikawa Shrine?" Luna asked.

I made a flat expression at her. "Furball, I've been in this city for barely a week, most of which has had me running around like a chicken with its head cut off chasing after dark warlocks or resting up after I catch them. I'm lucky if I know where the nearest convenience store is."

"Let me write you some directions," Ami said, interrupting before Luna and I could get into another snarkfest. She pulled out a page from her notebook and jotted down some directions from my apartment to the shrine before handing it off to me.

Looking it over, I nodded. It was simple enough and would only take a twenty minute walk at most to get there. I glanced back. "Got it. Morning sound good? The earlier we can things started, the better."

"That's fine," Luna said.

The three of us hammered out the details before concluding the conversation. We would meet the next day, me bringing Makoto in tow and Ami and Luna bringing the other senshi. There, we would finally get down to brass tacks, and hopefully I could start to get some actual battle strategies into these girls.

Ami (with Luna on her shoulder) walked over to the door. As she opened it, she said, "Really, Mr. Dresden, thank you again."

"No problem. Thanks for letting me stop making a fool of myself."

"Oh, I don't know. You do such a good job of it," Luna said primly.

"Watch it, furball. I don't need magic to know how to skin a cat."

Ami placated Luna briefly before facing me. "Is there anything else you wanted to ask before we leave?"

"You sure Mars is gonna want to work with me? She seemed pretty adamant about, you know, not."

"Don't worry, I'll make sure Rei's there as well. No matter how much she may argue about it, she really was impressed with your fighting style."

…Wait, what did Ami's other friend have to do with anything? I just wanted the senshi, not some random civilian.

Before I could ask her to clarify, Ami shut the door behind her. I could hear the quick, light thumping of her feet as she ran away. Damn, looked like I would have to wait 'til tomorrow, then. Still, I was sure there was a good reason Rei was mentioned.

...Reasonably sure.

In any case, I now had something new on my plate - getting prepared to teach a vigilante group of magical girls how to fight without using their planet-powered sailor uniforms against Outsider-lite super-demons from pre-history.

Stars and stones, that was a string of words that didn't belong in the same topic, let alone the same sentence. Once again, I wondered which of the many, many supernatural beings I'd pissed off had gotten me stuck in another crazy-stupid situation.

Was it Lea? It was probably Lea. This was the type of thing my fairy godmother would love to stick my happy ass into – the madness and fetish suits especially.

Still, that left me with trying to find a way to train them. If Makoto was any indication, they should be able to use the same type of magic (though probably not intensity) out of their power suits as in. Which meant I had to scrabble together a crash-course version of Makoto's training overnight, hopefully one customizable to water, fire, and... light? (Seriously, what the heck was it that Usagi was using?)

Looked like that meant some late-afternoon shopping was in some order. Now the walk previously meant to clear my head had some sort of purpose. Hopefully I would be back home in time for Makoto's return, just so that she didn't have to worry that I was setting fire to some (preferably unpopulated) section of Azabu-Juuban.

Looking out the window, I noted that the sun was only starting to come down, its rays outlining the dapperly tuxedoed gentleman smiling smarmily at me.

I walked over, threw open the balcony door, and said in the most deadpan-tone I could muster, "How long have you been there?"

"Long enough," he quipped. He motioned. "Are you going to invite me in to see how much?"

My lips pursed and, with the weight of a thousand no-longer-giving-a-cares, flapped my hand as I headed back in. "Why not? Seems like everyone wants a piece of me today."

"Much appreciated." He smoothly shut the balcony door behind him without a sound and stepped into the middle of the room.

"So?" I asked. I sat myself down on the floor, my muscles beginning to ache again with all the weird stuff that had happened. I eyed Tuxboy, my fingers twitching. "What exactly do you want?"

He simply answered with a knowing smile, one that I was intimately familiar with. Yup, this was definitely 'throw Harry's snarkiness back in his face' day. This was going to be all kinds of fun.

Joy.


A/N (Irritus): And there's another chapter after our long, long hiatus. Yay. Once again, sorry it took so long, Raithe decided to give me a break with the flogging and I took advantage of that. Anyway, we finally have catharsis between the senshi and Dresden, and I hope that will have put the two on more equal footing. The next chapter after this will be second half of what was originally one chapter (for like the nth time). After that, we have more DK fighting, fire, and snarkiness.

Happy holidays, and a fantastic New Year.

A/N (Raithe): Hooray! The turning-point in their relationship that we've been planning literally since we started writing this thing and was supposed to occur in chapter four has finally been published!

We'd initially planned to have Harry agree that they shouldn't tell their parents about their Senshi-ing. I'm… not entirely sure what our reasons were, but they probably weren't very good.