THE NIGHTMARE REALM,

CHAPTER 12: "The Consequences of Fairness"

By Bill K.

"W-What?" Sailor Moon whispered in shock. Everybody watching her sympathized, even the now awake Sailor Vesta, for Sailor Moon's love had just proclaimed his own death sentence, one she had helped bring about.

"Ladon was selected because he was most qualified to wield the power necessary to guard the nightmare realms," Candide said softly. Her hands gently gripped Sailor Moon's upper arms. "The only other candidate available at this time is Helios, for he already wields the power to guard Elysian."

"But Helios," Sailor Moon almost sobbed.

"A choice must be made," Helios said to her. "A guardian must take control, and soon, or else many will suffer needlessly."

Seeing his daughter was in no shape to make such a heart-rending choice, Endymion stepped in. He gently took control of her from Candide and turned her to the side.

"Your first choice is acceptable, Helios," Endymion said. "You know best in these matters." He turned to Ladon. "Thank you. The world appreciates your sacrifice."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Ladon bowed. Then he moved toward them and gently touched Sailor Moon on the arm. "Thank you for your efforts on my behalf, Princess Usagi. They are gratefully appreciated. But this is best. Many, many more depend upon Lord Helios than depend upon me."

With a sound like a sob escaping her, Sailor Moon tore from Endymion's grasp and ran into a nearby wooded area. Helios turned sadly to Endymion.

"With your leave, Your Majesty," Helios requested.

"Go ahead," Endymion nodded. "You can probably make her understand better than I could."

Softly approaching a clump of trees and bushes, Helios peered over and found Sailor Moon. Her knees were pulled up to her chest as she sat against the trunk of a tree. Heaving with sobs, she cried furiously, bitterly.

"Maiden," Helios began.

"It's not fair, Helios!" she wailed. "We're condemning that poor man to death! He's never done anything to anyone! IT'S NOT FAIR!"

Cradling Sailor Moon next to him as he sat against the tree, Helios stroked her pink hair.

"The wolf eats the lamb, Maiden," he said. "This is not fair to the lamb. But if we intercede and spare the lamb, the wolf goes hungry. This is not fair to the wolf. And should we intercede too often, the lambs will grow unchecked and crowd out everyone else. This is not fair to everyone. What is fair differs from perspective to perspective. What is necessary may not always seem fair to us, but if it is fair to enough people, is it not then right?"

"I guess," she whimpered, crying on his chest. "Oh Helios, I was so adamant about saving that poor man - - until I was faced with losing you instead! Then all of a sudden my high-sounding morals just crumbled! I'm such a hypocrite!"

"No you're not, Maiden," Helios whispered gently, stroking her hair. "You're human."

And he held Sailor Moon until she could cry no more.

As Candide, Fisheye and Ravonna led Ladon to the temple to prepare him for his new post, Pallas turned to listen to something only she heard.

"Poor Princess," Pallas grimaced.

"Yeah," Ceres nodded, glancing back at the procession headed for the temple. "Being royalty sucks when you've got to make decisions like that."

"She'll come around," Saturn offered. "Usa's a lot stronger than a lot of people give her credit for."

"Like me," mumbled Vesta.

"Ves?" Juno inquired, kneeling next to her fellow senshi. "How are you doing?"

"Just leave me alone, huh?" Vesta said softly. "Get away from me before I drag you down with me."

"Vesta!" whined Pallas, kneeling on Vesta's other side. "Please don't be sad! You didn't do the bad thing! You stopped in time!"

"Only because you stopped me," Vesta said. "I was so mad I wouldn't have stopped until I'd ripped her chest open." Vesta shuddered. "Sailor Moon got her mind messed with and she fought back. I get messed with and I attack the person I'm supposed to be guarding. I just can't escape it. I'm going to end up like him, I know it."

"No you won't!" Juno told her. "It's not written in stone! You just have to keep trying!"

"Listen to her, Vesta," Pallas pleaded. "Juno's really smart! If she says you can do it, you can!"

Vesta refused to budge. That only made Pallas cry harder.

"Oh, stop being such a little baby!" Ceres growled at Vesta. "You messed up! You can learn from it - - do better next time! Unless it's like I always thought and you're too stubborn and too stupid to learn anything!"

"Leave me alone," huffed Vesta.

"Damn you!" Ceres cried. "I don't care if you get thrown out or if you slink off like a whipped dog or what happens! But if you break Pallas' heart, I'm never going to forgive you!"

Vesta scowled, but didn't respond.

"Please, Vesta?" Pallas begged tearfully. "It'll be all right! You're not a bad girl! Pallas knows it!"

Saturn watched Pallas cry on Vesta's shoulder, ignored by Vesta. Ceres turned to hide her own tears while Juno looked on helplessly. Then she glanced at Endymion. The look on his face told her he wasn't seeing any of this. He was still seeing Vesta the lioness leap at his daughter, fangs and claws bared.

And her immediate wish was that her healing power could heal this situation.

Eventually Sailor Moon's tears subsided. When she was up to it, Helios escorted her back to the temple. As they walked through the woods, Sailor Moon looking contritely at her boots, he sought out her hand and grasped it securely.

"Helios," Sailor Moon began timidly.

"Yes, Maiden?" he asked.

"Was there ever anything between you," she asked haltingly, "and Echidna?"

"Echidna and I?"

"Because I would totally understand if she was an old girlfriend or something," Sailor Moon continued on, not giving him a chance to answer. "I mean, you probably have a bunch of old girlfriends. I might not have been your first, and I totally understand if that's the case . . ."

"Why would you think such a thing?" Helios asked innocently.

"Well," Sailor Moon began tentatively, "Echidna kind of said she was still in love with you and stuff - - and I just wanted to know if - - well, if there was any - - um, history - - between you two."

Helios smiled, amused, and brought her hand up to his lips.

"Echidna and I played together as children," Helios told her. "We were quite close growing up. When I succeeded Mother as Guardian of Elysian, Echidna considered becoming one of my temple maidens. There was, for a time, a healthy competition between her and Evionne for the position." Helios sobered. "Then two things happened that forever precluded any relationship we might have had. I met a shining light - - the most brilliant dream light I had ever encountered, housing the most beautiful dream imaginable."

"Me?" Sailor Moon asked timidly.

"Yes, Maiden," he smiled. Then he grew serious again. "And The Dead Moon Circus invaded the dream lands. I was merely captured. Echidna's predecessor was destroyed so Queen Neherenia could have access to the nightmare realms. When the dream lands were finally freed, a new guardian was needed for the nightmare realms. My Mother knew Echidna was best qualified and selected her so I would not have to."

"I'm sorry, Helios."

"As am I. But there was no other way." He kissed Sailor Moon's hand again. "Perhaps she did love me. Who but her can say? But any relationship between the two of us is nothing more than a delusion conjured up from a mind descended into madness."

The pair entered the clearing where the temple stood and found Endymion and the senshi waiting for them. Sailor Moon blushed with embarrassment and crossed over to the team. Endymion took that opportunity to come up to Helios.

"Thank you," he said. Helios nodded respectfully. "You seem to have a way with her that - - that I used to have. I envy you." Endymion paused, considering his next word. "Helios, this isn't easy for me - - but obviously I'm no longer the most important man in her life right now. If you and she ever have a daughter of your own, someday you'll understand what I'm feeling." He hesitated, then took a breath. "It may not always seem like it, but I think you're the finest choice she could have made. I'll be honored the day you marry my daughter."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," Helios replied.

"Which won't be for a few years yet," Endymion added with a wry grin.

"As you say, Your Majesty," chuckled Helios.

"I think it's time we were getting back," Endymion said to everyone. He had no sooner turned away then Sailor Moon was back. She threw her arms around Helios and kissed him long and hard. Endymion tried mightily to control himself.

"Good-bye, Helios," Sailor Moon squeaked.

"Until we meet again, Maiden," Helios smiled back.

"I hope it's a happier occasion. Having a crisis takes away from smooching time."

"A-HEM!" Endymion prodded.

"OK," fussed Sailor Moon.

Without even waiting for the senshi to form a circle for Sailor Teleport, Endymion spread his cloak and invoked the Golden Crystal, using the power to transport them to Earth. When they arrived, Serenity and the original senshi were there to meet them.

"Oh, Endymion, you're safe!" Serenity cried, flinging her arms around him. Reaching out with one arm, she caught Sailor Moon and pulled her into the hug, too. "I was so worried about you both!"

To her surprise, Endymion gently but forcefully eased Serenity away. He turned to the Asteroid Senshi, who were still gathered protectively around Sailor Vesta.

"Sailor Vesta," he said in a tone that demanded obedience, "go to your quarters and stay there until you're summoned."

Dejected, Vesta shuffled off. Pallas looked frantically to her, then to King Endymion.

"The rest of you stay in the cafeteria until we summon you," Endymion said. Turning to the original senshi and Serenity, he said, "We need to have a meeting, right now. Sailor Moon, since you're involved and since you're in charge of the Asteroid Senshi, you need to be there, too."

"Endymion?" Serenity asked, ill-at-ease.

"Your Highness, Sir!" Pallas pleaded, tears streaming down her face. "Please don't do anything to Vesta! She's ever so sorry!"

"Now," Endymion replied. Juno and Ceres gathered up Pallas and led her off as the girl cried hysterically. Sailor Saturn lingered in the doorway, first watching Pallas and then Endymion.

Curious about the subject of the meeting and uneasy about Endymion's manner, Serenity, Usa and the original senshi gathered in a conference room in the palace. All eyes were on Endymion. As they watched, all mystified except for Usa, Endymion outlined Sailor Vesta's conduct. His relating her lioness attack on Sailor Moon drew several gasps of alarm from them. Of them all, Minako seemed most upset.

"I've told you all this because I need advice," Endymion told them. "I know what I'd like to do concerning Sailor Vesta, but I realize I have more than a passing interest in this situation and it's probably coloring my judgment. Besides, training and managing this group of senshi has become a joint effort among us all and I think it only fair that WE ALL decide what, if anything, should be done."

Endymion scanned the audience and noticed that Usa was silent, withdrawn.

"I don't think there's anything to discuss," Rei ventured. "She's out."

"Rei, that's pretty harsh," Makoto commented.

"OK, it's harsh. Are you saying it's undeserved? She turned on a teammate - - tried to kill her."

"I seem to recall you attacked a teammate once a long, long time ago," Ami said. She seemed like a chess master probing with a pawn.

"With two differences," Rei bristled. "At the time she deserved it AND I wasn't trying to kill her."

"But what about the circumstances?" Makoto argued. "It isn't a black and white situation. This woman was screwing with the kid's mind. You don't know what she was seeing, what she was feeling. She got pushed over the edge by a force that was stronger than she was and just lashed out in anger. And we BOTH know just how hard it is to control that when we've been pushed over the brink."

"Which just proves my point," Rei countered. "She's a loose cannon. She's as much a danger to her teammates as to an enemy."

"You mean to Usa, don't you?" Ami asked.

"Stop psychoanalyzing me!" Rei snapped. "OK, Usa! They're supposed to be her guardians. How effective are they going to be if they have to guard her from Vesta as well as an enemy? Stick that in your computer and see if it computes!"

"You're suffering from the same problem Endymion is," Ami answered. "You're affection for Usa is clouding your judgment. You're not thinking logically."

"She's right, Rei," Minako said, her arms folded over the back of the chair in front of her and her chin resting on her forearms. "Everybody knows you're as protective of Usa as you are of Serenity. That's got you ready to execute the poor kid."

"And your feelings for Vesta aren't clouding yours?" Rei shot back.

"Maybe," Minako sighed. "Gotta say I'm about as disappointed in one human being as I've been since my first divorce. I really thought I'd gotten through to her. Makoto's right about her head getting messed with, but the signs were there before. Right now I'm not sure it took that hard a push."

"I agree," Ami said. "The warning signs have been there. I've seen them. You've all seen them, too. I warned you all before that she needs some sort of psychological counseling to get her past these issues that cause such anger in her. I'm saying that it's even more urgent now."

"You're right, Ami," Serenity nodded. "We should have listened to you. I suppose it's my fault. I just thought a little love and stability could get her over it."

"Fine," Rei nodded. "What about punishment?"

"Rei," sighed Serenity.

"Whatever her issues, she doesn't get off scot free for this!" Rei maintained. "A person has to be accountable for their actions, no matter what drove them to it. There comes a point where you make a choice and you have to accept the consequences for that choice."

"Got to agree with her there," Makoto said. "I'm not saying we dump her like Rei wants, but we've got to show her that this sort of thing isn't acceptable. Get her into this counseling thing of Ami's, but get her to realize that you don't do this sort of thing, no matter what the reason is."

"Knew you'd put in the plug for Ami," smirked Minako. Makoto nudged her with an elbow. "I still don't trust all of that head-shrinking nonsense, but I vote we hammer her, too. I don't mean toss her into the trash heap - - just do something to her that she's going to remember."

"I suppose there's no other choice," Ami grimaced, adjusting her glasses. "But counseling is essential. This girl isn't so far gone that she can't be brought back. But the path she's on is as self-destructive as her father's was and to do nothing to alter it would be criminal."

"I think they've summed it up properly," Endymion said. "Serenity?"

"I think we haven't asked the one person who should be asked," Serenity said. She turned to her daughter. "Usa, you were the one she attacked. What do you think we should do?"

In the cafeteria, Palla-Palla had calmed down to dejected sniffles. Hotaru, Jun-Jun and Cere-Cere just sat and wondered.

"What do you think they're going to do?" Cere-Cere posed.

"I hate to say it," Hotaru sighed, "but if King Endymion gets his way, she's in big trouble. He didn't look very happy when we got back."

"Can't anybody see she's sorry?" whimpered Palla-Palla.

"Sometimes sorry isn't enough," Jun-Jun told her. "Sometimes you have to pay for what you do, Palla-Palla."

"But what are we going to do if she's gone?" Palla-Palla groaned. "It isn't fair! Palla-Palla doesn't want her to go!"

"We weren't going to be together forever," Jun-Jun offered. "That's life. People go down their own paths sometimes. It happens. It's not the end of the world."

"The queen had all of her friends forever," Palla-Palla squeaked. The tears began to flow again and Jun-Jun looked to Hotaru and Cere-Cere, helpless to know what to say.

"We'll get through it," Cere-Cere offered, grasping Palla-Palla's hand. "Come on."

"Palla-Palla doesn't want to get through it without Ves-Ves," the girl sobbed.

"Me?" Usa asked, startled.

"Yes, honey," Serenity smiled. "You're the victim here. Besides, she's your senshi and your friend. Who better to know the situation?"

"Um, well," Usa began, shrinking into herself. "I mean, it's not like Vesta was the only one Echidna messed with. And it's not like she's the only one who became dangerous because of it. I mean, I was the one she was using to boost her power. That's a lot more dangerous than anything Vesta did."

"But this sort of thing has been happening before the mission to Elysian," Minako said. "Don't make excuses for her."

"That's just Vesta. She's got a nasty streak to her, but she's real valuable to the team. And - - well, you also have to consider what kicking her off would do to the others. Pallas would be lost without her. And Juno and even Ceres love her. They're family." She looked up at Serenity. "I mean, how would you have felt if someone had taken away one of the original senshi, Mom? You'd have been devastated. That's how they're going to feel. And it's not like she ever means it. She's just got a temper. So I'd rather you didn't do anything - - for them. I mean, I can live with her. Who knows, someday I might even break through and get her to like me. But I don't think you should do anything to Vesta."

"Then we won't," Serenity smiled. "That's kind of what I was hoping to hear from you. You're really beginning to mature, Usa honey."

"Like mother, like daughter," Rei sighed in frustration.

"Am not!" groused Usa.

"Do nothing?" gasped Endymion. "Usa, she could have hurt you!"

"But she didn't," Usa countered. Then she gave her father 'the eyes'. "Please, Dad, don't hammer her."

"Yes, Endymion," Serenity added, giving him 'the eyes', too. "Please?"

Endymion frowned. "I hate it when you two do that." Usa and Serenity smirked in triumph at each other.

The original senshi, sensing the decision was made, began filing out. However, it was Ami who noticed Serenity and Endymion talking privately and, in her opinion, very intensely.

The mood back in the cafeteria continued to be somber. Then, to everyone's surprise, Palla-Palla's head shot up. Her eyes wide, the girl seemed to be listening to something, but they couldn't hear what.

"Palla-Palla," the young telepath 'heard' Ves-Ves say in her mind, "I'm going to be gone for a little while. I - - have to do something. I've got no choice."

"Ves-Ves?" Palla-Palla thought back. "Please don't go!"

"Palla-Palla?" Jun-Jun inquired. "What is it? Are you getting someone's thoughts?"

"I have to do this. Don't worry. I'll come back. I promise."

"Palla-Palla believes you!" the girl thought. "She'll wait for you to come back, even if it takes forever!"

"Thanks," she sensed Ves-Ves reply. "We're family. Don't forget that. That's the only thing giving me the strength to do this. I'll be back. I'll make good. Please don't give up on me."

"Palla-Palla won't! She'll be your family forever and ever!"

Palla-Palla continued to cry, as the other three looked at her strangely. But there was the hint of a hopeful smile on her tiny mouth.

Just then Usa eased up. The girl looked tired and a little worried. None of the girls at the table took it as a good sign.

"So what's the verdict?" Hotaru asked.

"About Ves-Ves?" Usa asked. "Ami-san's going to try to get her some counseling."

"They're not going to kick her out?" Cere-Cere asked excitedly.

"No."

"OH, PRINCESS, THANK YOU!" squealed Palla-Palla. "Palla-Palla is going to be grateful to you forever!" And she ran out of the room to find Ves-Ves.

"I'm assuming you had a hand in that, given what she said," Hotaru looked at Usa proudly.

Usa shrugged. "They asked me what I thought and I said she'd be more valuable staying. And Mom said that's what they'd do. No big."

"Thank you, Usa," grinned Jun-Jun. Cere-Cere was smiling, too.

"Don't thank me just yet," Usa warned. "Ves-Ves is still on thin ice around here. My Dad and Rei-san were ready to drop her in the moat and Minako-san isn't too happy with her, either. Ves-Ves is going to have to work really hard to get their trust back. Especially Rei-san, because that woman holds grudges."

"That was still pretty nice of you to do, Usa," Cere-Cere said, "given what Ves-Ves did."

"Are you all right around her?" Hotaru inquired.

"Well," Usa sighed, "I have to admit it'll be a while before I can look at her and not see that lion about to snap my head off. But I forgive her. I know what she went through. I guess we all do. And I know she wasn't purposefully out to kill me. Besides all I have to do is think of two words and it makes it real easy to forgive."

"What words?" Juno asked.

"Black Lady."

Ami Mizuno entered her office preoccupied with the meeting she'd just left. It was frustrating not to be able to convince the others that her counseling program could help Sailor Vesta. Serenity would try, but she wouldn't force Vesta into treatment. Vesta was the type of person that sometimes had to be forced into accepting something that was for her own good. But that wasn't Serenity's style and if Vesta said 'no', that would end it.

Even more disappointing was Endymion's insistence for punishment rather than rehabilitation. She knew he was thinking with his heart and not his head, but that didn't take the danger away from the situation. Sailor Vesta was a powder keg and the wrong action or even miscalculated inaction could lose the girl forever. Nobody wanted another "Toshiko" to happen, but only Ami seemed to recall that part of their history.

She was so preoccupied that she didn't notice the person sitting in the corner of the room for several seconds. When she did, she gave a start.

"Ves-Ves?" Ami asked.

"I know I'm not supposed to be out of my quarters," Ves-Ves said, her eyes instantly seeking the floor as she stood up. Her posture, normally defiant, seemed unsure, almost cringing. Ami had a dozen questions, but kept silent. "I'm, um, sorry for that. B-But I, um - - I wanted - - um . . ."

"Go ahead, Ves-Ves," Ami said softly. "You're not in any trouble. If anyone asks, I'll say I asked you here. Go ahead."

"Well," Ves-Ves began again. Ami could see she was struggling to pull the words from her mouth. "Um, S-Sensei Mizuno-sama, I, um . . ."

Ves-Ves seemed to tense up. Her breathing rate increased. Ami could see she was struggling with her fears and emotions and the adrenaline rush was throwing her whole body out of whack. Ves-Ves closed her eyes unsuccessfully to stem the tears rolling down her cheeks.

"I - - I need help."

A flood of sympathy washed over Ami and she cradled Ves-Ves with her arms.

"I don't want to end up like my dad, b-but I can't stop myself!" Ves-Ves wailed. "I can't stop getting angry about everything, a-and when I get angry I just lose it! A-And you're about the smartest person I know! You're smarter than anybody in the kingdom! Can you help me? I don't want to end up like him! Please don't let me end up like him! Please! I'll do anything!"

"Of course," Ami whispered, trying to soothe the distraught girl. "Of course I'll help you. Please don't be so upset. You've taken the first step already."

"A-And they're going to kick me out and I'll be separated from the others! They're the only family I have! I don't want to go away! Please!"

"They won't send you away, Ves-Ves," Ami told her. "I promise you!" Ves-Ves sagged to the floor and Ami knelt next to her, holding onto her upper arms. "And I can help you control your anger. It won't be easy. We're going to have to get to the root of everything that makes you angry and devise ways to deal with it so that you won't lose control. It won't happen overnight, but I can help you and I will, as long as you're willing to work with me."

"I will. I swear," Ves-Ves nodded weakly, shuddering with sobs. "Thank you, Sensei Mizuno-sama. Thank you for letting me stay. I'll do anything you tell me to do. I swear it."

"You're welcome, Ves-Ves. But I wasn't the one who made the decision to let you stay." Ves-Ves looked up at her. "That was the Princess. She's the one who swayed everyone to let you stay."

Ves-Ves sniffed loudly. "She's so nice. I don't deserve her."

"We can change that," Ami grinned.

THE END