After years of major writing blocks and editing, I finally came around to finishing another chapter. It's been much much too long, but I thank every person for reviewing and being patient with me! It's definitely been a struggle.
Anyway, I've realized my writing style has changed over this period of time, and I'm planning on revising (not changing the actual storyline, of course) the other chapters to flow evenly. Otherwise older chapters seem completely in a different writing style than this one, which may be confusing, and we can't have that ;). I'll get the last chapter (finally!) out as soon as humanly possible. Promise!
My breath escaped me.
Suddenly every rational thought sitting in the back of my mind fluttered away, collapsing. Instincts to push away his hovering form, to scream at the lack of space between us, punch heavily against his jaw with all my pent-up force, also fluttered away. None could shake my numb limbs. Instead I simply waited, awestruck and hazed.
Were my heartbeats always this loud? I could feel each thump pound against my chest, clear and unshaken.
Once surrounding us, the room began to dissipate; the nonexistent couch, the bottomless floor, the enclosed walls, all faded into bleak nothingness and left only Mamoru and I in our lingering, infinite space.
As I could feel the slightest, impossibly light brush of skin against the very bottom part of my lip, the worst (or maybe the best) happened.
My communicator chimed, secluded underneath the coffee table, and cut straight through the once-soundless air. As if some invisible lasso pulled me from behind, I fell onto the soft carpet, still in a daze. After fumbling blindly for my communicator, eventually it ended up in my hands (though slipping through my fingers a couple times). Without a glace toward Mamoru's direction, I hurried off into the bathroom, my face burning fifty different shades of red.
Leaning against the back of the door, I let out a sigh that seemed to be lodged in my throat. Although still not able to gather my thoughts, I somehow noticed the ongoing loud beeping invading the air, and finally I pressed the answer button.
"Oi, baka! I've been on the line forever! What took you so long?"
Furious as always, Rei's glaring face popped up inside the tiny circle. My throat dry, I could barely manage to open my mouth, let alone gather any words to speak. With the idle thumping of my heart humming loudly against my ears, who knew what kind of volume my voice would force out.
"USAGI!" she repeated impatiently, causing me to jump. "Are you even listening? I swear, it's like I'm talking to a wall sometimes. Kami-sama, even a wall is more helpful! At least it echoes back when I talk! You have no idea—"
Forcing to end her rant, I could faintly hear Minako's voice arising. Her obvious presence became louder as she wrestled the communicator from Rei's paws, leaving the grumbling fire dragon to sulk and lick her own wounds.
"Sorry about that, she didn't take her medication today," Minako concluded with a discreet cough, seeming to dodge a stray book being thrown in her direction. After a couple of moments, a worried look took hold of her expression.
"Usa-chan? You okay?"
Blinking, I finally noticed my silence, and mumbled an unconvincing "Yeah", remembering to throw in a half-smile. "Just tired."
Knowing Minako, she didn't buy it in the least, and from the wary look on her face, my efforts left her totally unconvinced. Not that I had the strength to try and fake my way out of this one, anyway.
"You know, you haven't been this quiet since you brought your 'boyfriend' Yoki home from junior high holding hands, and you found your dad in the kitchen polishing his shotgun collection. Yoki was small, but that boy could sure run fast."
"Yeah… I guess I'm a little distracted today," I halfway lied, still not able to pull myself together.
Unsure, she threw another proverb, "You know what they say, 'the silent lion thinks the loudest'."
"Um, I don't think that's how it goes…"
"Come on, you can tell me. My senses reveal all, and it's been proven that no one can hide anything from the love goddess," her voice became quieter as muffled voices droned in the background, which I recognized as Ami's soft tone, followed by Rei's heavy thundering. "Oi, oi, calm down already, geeze! I'm getting to the point! And we can do without the name-calling, thank you very much."
Gaining her composure, she continued, "Sorry, Usa, the meeting tomorrow can't wait, we need you down at the shrine A.S.A.P. Ami found something out about that black crystal you found and you need to see it for yourself. It's important."
I nodded slowly. "Sure… I'll be there soon."
She paused for a moment. "And after all this is settled, you will tell me what's wrong."
Before I could answer, her face disappeared from the screen, replaced only by black and white static. For some reason a jarring feeling spread through me, partly from having no idea what they had discovered, and partly from knowing Mamoru was still out there, waiting in the living room, probably pondering my sanity. I wouldn't blame him.
Escape plans began forming, one after the other, mulling in my mind. Where's a roll of rope the length of an apartment complex when you need it?
As I poked out of the bathroom, I decided the best and easiest route for the moment would be heading straight for the door with no intention of looking back. I couldn't worry about what had… or maybe had not (considering I might really be going insane) happened. For once senshi business was my first priority, and for that reason, I pushed any other stray thoughts into the distance. Mind nearly blank, I hurried through the darkened bedroom.
Vaguely, as I left, I noticed the apartment was empty.
"It seems our first instincts were correct," Ami explained as she pushed the darkened gemstone I had found earlier in Mamoru's apartment across the square tabletop, pointed in my direction. Each of us sat at opposite sides of the table, which was propped in the middle of Rei's bedroom. I wasn't sure why, but an uneasy feeling shook through me and saturated the room with a kind of pulsating static. Curiously, I glanced into the mirrored cuts of the gem, which, as far as I could tell, were unchanged since I'd last seen it.
"I've examined the crystal and, as we've suspected, this energy seems to be a part of the block on your transformation. Although it's the only solid evidence showing Mamoru's involvement in the situation, it confirms our doubts." Ami took in a long breath and evenly exhaled with grim reluctance, "Mamoru is on the side of our enemy."
My mouth dropped, soaking in her words. Lowering my gaze once again to the glimmering shard, I shook my head slightly, speaking in a whisper, "But… It can't be."
"I'm afraid so, Usagi-chan…"
I could barely recognize my voice as it squeaked out, "How though? I mean, he never once attacked me, not even close. So how do you explain that?" My words came out rushed, harsher than I expected. "I mean he's had more than enough opportunities."
"We're not sure," Makoto answered. "Ami-chan, we'd better show her."
I blinked in confusion. With a silent nod and the push of her tiny blue studded earring, Ami's visor encircled across her eyes, and with a few clicks on her compact computer's keyboard, a beeping noise radiated from its speakers. Turning the computer's screen toward me, she pointed to what seemed to be a green outlined figure in the long shape of the crystal. As the beeping wore on, another screen popped into view, revealing the outline of a man, face partly hidden, his form distorted into some monstrous figure. One feature made the picture clear: deep sapphire eyes embedded on top of the figure's head.
"Mamoru…" I whispered unthinkingly, eyes locked onto the blinking greenish shape. The multitude of surrounding deep green lines melded against the pure black background. I kept refocusing my eyes, but it seemed like my mind couldn't have been playing a trick on me.
"It's Mamoru, but trapped inside a youma's body. Somehow this crystal links you to Mamoru, and Mamoru to this youma. I have a strong feeling this is the same one we've recently been fighting with and having so much trouble."
My mind flashed back to the monster we'd seen: black and disfigured. It couldn't be…
"That's him?" I questioned skeptically while gripping the thick strands of my yellow hair between my fingers light enough, in hopes of thinking of an alternative. "Come on, there's no way. I mean honestly, he didn't even try to do anything bad the entire time I was there. If he really was that… thing, I would've seen it by now."
Ami thought to herself for a moment. "Maybe his mind is distorted when he's a youma, so he has no idea what's happening. I mean, as far as we can tell, generally the youma's only intention is whatever orders their master carries out, and in most cases, it's collecting energy from humans; nothing else matters to them. When a mission is given, either they complete this mission successfully, or die doing so. There's no way he'd be able to distinguish you in the view of a human to you in the view of a youma. Or at least, that's our best guess."
I didn't want to believe it. I could hear her speak, but my mind rejected the words. I became awash with panic, in fear for his life being drained away by that horrible creature.
"That must mean they're taking him over! We have to save him!"
Minako interrupted me, a very calm tone emitting from her voice, before I could continue, "No, Usagi-chan, it's too dangerous. We have no idea what he could do, and you can't transform."
I opened my mouth to speak, to protest, but nothing came out, and it closed again. It left me dry and speechless.
"We'll take care of it," Makoto assured after a long pause of deafening silence. "You just stay here and be safe. In fact, it's probably a good idea you sleep here tonight, in Rei's room. We don't want you getting hurt. Besides, we can always call your parents and let them know you're coming back a little early, that you've improved enough in the past few days. They wouldn't suspect a thing."
"Luna will watch over you," Rei added in the same calming nature, which surprised me, and reassured her promise by placing her hand on the back of my shoulder. "You won't have anything to worry about."
"No!" I burst suddenly, causing the four senshi to flinch at my opposition. "I'm the only one that can save him! You know that! Only my powers can heal him!"
"Usagi-chan, calm down—" Ami began slowly, but the slamming of my fists against the solid table cut her sentence short.
"I won't calm down! I can't sit here waiting, standing by as he's being turned into a heartless monster … That's too cruel! I know we fight a lot, sure, and he gets me so angry sometimes over little dumb remarks, but that's no reason to let him become … that." I spat out my last word, acidic in my mouth.
They all threw me sympathetic gazes, as if they already knew his fate had been sealed. Face flustered, I shook my head in disbelief. This can't be real. He was just sitting there next to me, human as ever, helping me with my stupid math homework problems. How could he possibly hide something that major from me? Nothing made sense. If this was true, he was alone with me plenty of times, no witnesses, and could've killed me right there in his living room … but he didn't. Why?
Staring outward, my focus set on the framed doorway, my eyes narrowed. "I won't let this happen."
Without a reflex to react, I sprinted out the shrine's main door and onto the hazy, winding Tokyo streets. Back in the distance I could make out Minako's voice and the others shouting protests, but my feet continued moving, one foot touching the ground after the other, so lightly they could barely make contact, using the opposing foot to propel my body forward.
Ignoring the fresh air my lungs ached to breath, I could only think of saving Mamoru from this horrible thing, from the pain. He had to feel pain from this. I wanted nothing more than for him to be okay, for this to end up being a horrendous nightmare than we could all laugh about tomorrow. I needed to see that same Chiba Mamoru grin that always slid gently across his face, to know everything will be okay, and to know that there's not one shred of monster left inside his body. I won't accept any less.
Images of building after building swept by my line of sight, all molding into one tall, infinite rectangular line. Gasping for cold, shortened breaths, I could feel my chest beginning to collapse in itself, but without an ounce uncertainty I stared ahead, determined. Not even the icy wind pounding my face was able to slow my pace down.
I barely noticed (or tried not to notice) one of my feet steadily becoming heavier than the other as I ran further down the elongated paved road, and only seconds later after this realization, that same foot missed a step from the sudden build up of dead weight, causing me to fall face-first onto the sidewalk.
Ignoring the obvious pain from the blow to my forehead, I focused on relaxing, drinking in the specks of noises scattered in every direction. None of these sounds seemed to be anywhere reachable. After listening to the mute silence mixed and engrained in the distant hoots and slow cicada songs, I grumbled in frustration. Why, of all times, must I have a klutz moment now?
Pushing myself onto my hands and knees, I was determined to keep moving forward. I couldn't bear to think of him lost in the midst of that kind of danger. Thinking about letting him turn into that… I knew I could never forgive myself if I didn't try.
Slowly, I began searching for the relief of air traveling through my throat. I realized my head was pounding, and I was barely able to make out the buildings or even the sidewalk. I did notice a few key things through the haze: the bitingly cold air, the hard, uneven pavement, and the lack of any light within blocks, including any visible streetlights; just rows upon rows of pitch black that seemed to engulf itself.
A feeling of unease hit me. I must've gone off the main path into some strange part of town, a section that was completely foreign to me. I didn't even bother to try and make out the scrapings on any street signs. Attempting to push myself up from the security of my knees, I felt the warm blood that was beginning to seep through the tiny, grain-like scratches etched into my skin. It stung, grinding dirt into the wound. Defeated, I fell back onto the pavement. I realized how helpless I really was without my powers. Poor little helpless, crybaby Usagi.
"I guess Mamoru was right," I choked in a coughed whimper, almost hoping for a reply as the still atmosphere whispered in my ear. I tilted my head up toward the night sky, stars clouded over and invisible to the eye. Even the brilliant light reaching from the stars felt like a torch for the sky instead of down here, on Earth. The moon itself hung high above, glinting silvery hues and overcast with dented grey valleys. Glowing peace and patience, I smiled steadily. It really was beautiful.
I did know this: Sailor Moon wouldn't fall and mope; she's supposed to be a hero. Heroes don't cry and give up when things get tough. As much as I force myself to forget sometimes, I am Sailor Moon, and I will protect anyone and everyone possible. Especially … those I love. I wonder…
Taking in another deep, ragged breath, I was fully determined to get back up on my own two feet and sprint off once again, task in hand.
But suddenly, I froze.
I could tell that I wasn't alone.
Only a few small feet away, I could barely make out the sight of a dark, almost shapeless shadow, reflected by the moon's glow; it was the first sign of light at all. Calmly as I could, I focused on listening to the sound of my inward breaths. I paused steadily before lifting my head.
There it stood: the very youma we had encountered several times, the one that was currently enclosing Mamoru's human form.
Now bathed in full view of the silvery moonlight, I noticed the lines of his face that jutted in slow, curved lines and outlined his ghostly complexion. A torn white mask clung around the traces of his eyes, the very same blue eyes I knew and studied daily in the very deep corner of my mind, regardless of our fighting and bickering. Even then, the evidence shoved in front of my face, I still wished to not believe. My mouth agape, I searched further, and finally landed my gaze on his one uncovered eye, haunting, its darkened reflection piercing. The face and body that surrounded, though, were unrecognizable. Without the distinction, he could fall into any pack of hungry youmas as well as I do with other teenage girls.
This confirmed my fear, though: this was Mamoru. I'd never seen any other person with that same shade of blue. Not one. Drinking in his hollowed figure, I became more and more horrified. His white mask stuck against his face as if it were burnt plastic. That body wasn't his own; the thin limbs and poking ribs made that clear. All I could do was stare … and wait for any sign of movement.
But, as time wore on, he left himself rooted in place. I was about to open my mouth to say something, anything. Maybe there was some trace of human left hiding in his blood.
"Pretty magnificent, wouldn't you agree?" a voice purred from above, causing my head to snap toward the intrusion. There floated a figure clad in a snow white tuxdeo, a matching cape tossed behind his back, along with various crystals that jingled and hung freely from the knit threads. The man set his gaze directing toward me, mouth thin and grinning with a vile, tightening cold. I'd recognize that unnatural white color of hair anywhere: Kunzite.
"What … what do you mean?" I managed to stutter, ignoring the warm, gushing adrenaline that flooded my veins.
"Oh, why must humans be so naïve as to protest their fate?" he questioned as his form lingered directly above the disfigured Mamoru, who continued heaving, almost beastly. "It should be accepted as such. Wouldn't you agree … Sailor Moon?"
Hot blood stained my cheeks. I fought the urge to lose my composure. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Hmm?" He raised his silvery eyebrow, almost amused. "Did you really think your identity would be kept secret for this long? Unless you would prefer me to call you Miss Tsukino Usagi, which I would happily oblige."
My legs became dead weights underneath me. He knew.
"Or…" he murmured mindlessly, "Would Sailor Moon suffice? I suppose that would be the best, considering our history."
Instead of a rebuttal, I simply remained collapsed and quiet. A sort of hollow sickness filled the pit of my stomach.
"You see," Kunzite began to explain steadily, easily, as if my life wasn't as crushable as glass in his very hands. "After months of research, I finally was able to track down a significant amount of energy in this particular human, Chiba Mamoru. As you well know, his energy seemed extremely valuable, and therefore I wasn't tempted into completely draining him of every drop yet. Instead I allowed him to collect vast amounts of energy from his day-to-day tasks. After monitoring him for a needed time frame, I was about to pluck the ripeness of his energy, when I stumbled upon watching an amazing transformation in front of my own eyes. I could hardly believe it."
"… Transformation?" I whispered somewhat eagerly, confused.
"As shocking as it would seem, this ordinary human," he gestured downward, "possesses the ability to transform into a person whom we both know well … one that fought by your side and protected your own life. Also, he was one that blocked my progression toward energy collecting; an obstacle, if anything. He is … your own Tuxedo Kamen."
Already at a loss for words, I'd probably at that moment be uncontrollable, if I were to speak again. I couldn't swallow this. First, he was stupid Mamoru-baka, then a youma, and now my all-time crush and the potential love of my life, Tuxedo Kamen? Was I dreaming? But, if he really was, then that would mean … he loves Sailor Moon, as Mamoru and Tuxedo Kamen. He said so himself, in his confession. This had to be a dream, worse yet, a nightmare.
"Now," he interrupted, my thoughts cutting away and back to reality, "as loyal as I may be to my Queen, I pursued this lead on my own terms, without a word to any of my comrades. This discovery was too profound to waste. So I planted that lovely crystal you and your annoying Senshi were tirelessly trying to evaluate in his apartment. Little did you realize, however, that not only did this crystal track your movement, but it revealed a much greater secret: your identity. Unfortunately, it took some time before the crystal took full effect, but as you can see, he seems fairly content in this new form. Think of it as an upgraded version of your beloved hero."
"How… Why…" I fumbled, at a total loss. There were no corners to run and hide, and no way to transform. Only one fate seemed left on my path.
"On top of that," he continued onward, ignoring my meek words, "this crystal contains the ability to block your power. As I knew well, and thought to myself, Tuxedo Kamen must be close to Sailor Moon somehow, and then the plan became full proof. More or less, his state was altered, and instead he transformed him into this newly-born being. Perfect, would you not agree?"
Casting down my eyes at Mamoru (or what was left of him), tears began to arise, against my will. "That ... can't be."
"I'm afraid so. Enough talk. Your ill fate will be sealed by the very hands that once adored to protect you. Consider it an honor."
Disgusted, my vision narrowed at Kunzite, as the taste of death gathered in my mouth. He rose his hand across his chest, cutting it heavily in a downward motion.
In a blurred frenzy, I could make out the distinctive shift in Mamoru's eyes. They were heated, unforgiving, no longer his own. Teeth slightly pointed, they became unsheathed from his widened smirk. How was this the same person? He prepared to launch with the crouch of his legs. I clenched my eyelids shut, preparing for the blow I knew followed.
"Shabon … spray!"
A shout from the distance rung and suddenly the air surrounding me felt incredibly cold and wet, filled in mist. I could faintly make out the four senshi that came to protect me as they each sprinted and planted themselves in front of my crouched body. Washed over with a sense of relief, I whispered, "Minna …"
Venus turned herself, sun-stained skirt fluttering along her ever-long hair, to wink an eye heartily at me. Her arm began to lift, as she turned into position. "Cresent …"
A yellowish light formed at the tip of her finger, but before she could aim her attack, the deformed Tuxedo Kamen pounced somewhere from the thick fog atmosphere and, cane in hand, he swirled his arm in a circular motion, cutting through the dense wetness and causing them to collapse at the swift touch.
"No!" I cried out unthinkingly, willing strength into my legs, as I stumbled onto the huddled mass, their bodies limp. My hand reached out to grab the torn collar of Rei's uniform, unwanted tears welling up in my eyes. The back of my throat became dry, bitter. "I … I couldn't help. Please, wake up. Please!"
A dark mass hovered above, shaking with cruel, heartless laugher. "Your powers are no longer useful, Sailor Moon, as long as this crystal exists. You must accept this willingly."
Eyes stained from salty tears, I clenched my fists, pulsating with hardened anger. Gaining sensation in one of my legs, I pushed the weight of my body against its base, and managed to steadily rise, back straight and one arm stiffly tucked behind. Through the short golden locks of my bangs, I locked my eyesight on the endless grey path ahead. My apparent regain in strength must have taken Kunzite aback, as he clenched his jaw shut in a tight line, nearly flinching. He awaited my next move, wary.
"I won't …" my gasps exhaled into a stronger heave, "I won't allow any more harm. If only I had known his condition sooner, I could've tried to cure his sickness, or something; anything to let him be free. If this means a battle …."
Strength focused and ready, I tilted my head to face Kunzite, gathering the energy. All I needed was a spark. Just one flicker of strength might cause a reaction. Pulling the mass of strength I could manage, it spread to heels of my feet, the base of my neck, and continued surging. My fingertips numbed, not with the cold night, but instead a very distinct energy that collected and gathered like pixie dust.
"Then I should at least grant that."
An outline of a crescent burned through the skin of my forehead, molding the depths of my energy. I noticed the moon's distant glow flashed for a brief, still moment. The oxygen in my lungs disappeared. I felt at peace, as if part of the link between the long distance of our planet and its companion crumbled.
"Moon Prism Power …"
As the trickling energy clustered in the center of my chest, it trickled and swayed across the surface of my form, enveloping the bottoms of my legs to the grip of my hands.
Sections of light burst out in every direction, encircling the waistline of my stomach, forming into white cotton. Boots with crescents attached to the tops appeared on my feet. I did it. I could transform again!
Completely distracted with this discovery, I could barely blink before a force gripped the sides of my shoulders, pinning my arms between its tight hands and a concrete brick wall.
Shocked and weary, my head swayed and felt too light. I tilted my head up.
A pair of hungry blue sapphires met my gaze.