Chapter 7: Akane


The demon screamed as the arrow entered its black form, burning it from the inside, the fire in the center of the clearing reaching up to consume the blackness. With one last scream, it vanished, gone from the mortal plane forever.

Rei collapsed, staring at her gloved hands, realizing that she had somehow transformed into Eternal Sailor Mars during the last attack, wearing the familiar and comforting fuku under her red cloak. She noted absently that her fuku had stretched to accommodate her huge belly. She had been unable to summon her transformation for nine months, and she had no idea why it was working now. She looked up as a small spirit with glowing red eyes landed beside her, the child smiling. "I remember you, Rei. I remember dancing with you so long ago. Thank you for protecting this village."

"I will gladly hand the guardianship back to you," Rei whispered, smiling. "These are good people; take care of them."

"Always." The kami jumped into the air and rode the smoke of the dying fire to the shrine, vanishing inside.

Rei slowly stood, staring at the shrine, at the god standing there. "Ares? I have a stone to return to you." She held her hand out, pouring the power of the kitsunezuishou into her palm, watching as the golden-orange fox aura formed a crystal. Slowly, as the last of the kitsume left her, the auras around her faded and the world went dark. She was truly blind. "Thank you for lending her to me. She was a great help."

"I see that." Ares took the stone from the senshi. "I also see that you were able to find your transformation again."

"Find?"

"It was your self-hatred that lost it."

Rei nodded as she detransformed. "I see. Why did you come, Ares?"

"To bring a message from Olympus. The gods forgive you. We do not blame you for what happened, little Senshi."

Rei covered her mouth with her hand, tears streaming down her face, relief flowing through her like cool water through a dry riverbed after the first rains of spring. "You . . . kami-sama. You forgive me? After what I did?"

"The kitsune and the kami of this hill forgive you. They do not believe that your actions were evil or malicious. And we believe them. I hope to see you in your senshi fuku again soon." With that, he vanished, Rei feeling his presence leave the village. She turned blindly, searching for Ariko, her disguise gone, her eyes purple once more.

"I'm here, Rei-san. You've completely lost your sight, haven't you?"

"A small price to pay for what I did and for the safety of your village. Take me back to the shrine, Ariko-san. I will stay a little longer, at least."

Minako clenched her hands into fists as Rei and two of the villagers headed for the shrine, Serenity's hand on her arm preventing her from moving. "Please, Usagi, let me follow her. She's so close . . . don't make me lose her now."

"Let her rest, Minako. We can come back tomorrow. We only came to see if it was her. We have our answer, and there is no reason to worry her more now." Now that the time had come to face her Senshi, Serenity found the confrontation too much.

"She'll leave, Usagi! She's finished what she came here to do, and now she'll leave."

"She's blind, Minako. She's not going anywhere." The conversation ended, Serenity turned and walked away, three unhappy senshi behind her, Setsuna and Ailan hesitating before they also left. The group slowly made its way back to the palace, Minako lagging behind, casting her eyes back toward the hill where she could sense her wife. Her entire being was screaming for her to return, but she could not. She had to follow her queen.

The full moon, covered by clouds all night, suddenly broke free of its blanket, casting its brilliant light upon the Earth. The senshi paused and looked up, smiling at the light, all of them wondering when they would have another ball to celebrate its wonderful power. Minako suddenly doubled over in pain, gasping for breath as red-hot agony filled her before slowly fading. "Minako?"

The Senshi of Venus looked up, blue eyes pained, turning toward Akaneyama. "Rei," she whispered. "She wasn't hurt at all, Usagi. She was pregnant."

"Pregnant?!" Only Setsuna was silent, sighing when the younger Senshi turned to face her. "You knew," Ami whispered, incredulous. "How could you know?"

"When I went to see Rei, I noticed. She did not want you to know until after the baby had been born, until after Rei was dead. When I went to her, she told me that she wished Serenity had killed her, that she wished the child had been transferred to you, Minako, so that she could die for her crimes. I slapped her to bring her back to her senses, and I was surprised that, even then, as angry as she was, as close to the edge as she was, Rei did not attack me. She did not lose control. She is so powerful and so careful . . . watching her calm herself even after I attacked her convinced me that the explosion was no accident, was not a product of a careless Senshi. Back then, no one would listen to me. Now I suppose you will. Minako, your wife is giving birth. What are you going to do?"

Minako's blue eyes narrowed as orange light surrounded her, fading to reveal her Sailor fuku. "What do you think? I'm going to do what I should have done nine months ago. I'm going to her, no matter what you say." With that, Sailor Venus was gone, leaping back toward Akaneyama as fast as she could. Seconds later, Sailors Mercury, Jupiter, Pluto, Saturn, and Moonlight followed, Endymion transforming into the Tuxedo Kamen guise he had not worn in a very long time. Serenity smiled and transformed into Eternal Sailor Moon, taking her daughter as the pair followed, ready for the separation of the Senshi to end once and for all.


"Rei-san!" Rei gasped as another contraction ripped through her, falling blindly onto her bed. Ariko was by her side, calling other women from the village and a midwife. "We're here; we'll help you." Ariko suddenly moved from Rei's side, her shock evident to the miko. "My Lady," the woman whispered.

"Leave us," a painfully familiar voice ordered, love and pain in its gentle tones. Rei shrank away from the voice as Ariko moved closer to the bed, desperate to protect the Senshi of Mars.

"She needs a midwife, Lady. Oh!"

"We'll manage. You can see her when this is all over."

"Yes, lady." Ariko vanished, Rei shrinking away from her wife.

"Why are you here?"

"I felt your pain, Rei. I came as soon as I could. We've been looking for you for quite a while. The girls and I have missed you dreadfully."

"You kicked me out. Why would you miss me?"

"We all missed you, Rei-chan," a softer voice murmured from the doorway. Rei pushed herself onto her elbows, shocked, blind amethyst eyes turned toward the door. "We forgive you, Rei. I forgive you, no matter what happened."

"I killed your people, Usagi."

"I do not believe that you did it on purpose. None of us do."

"Are you all here?"

"Of course we are," Hotaru whispered.

Minako placed her hand on Rei's forehead as another contraction hit, wincing at her wife's pain. "You can feel that? I thought our link was severed."

"Our link could never be severed, koishii. It was just buried for a time. When you went into labor, you instinctively reached for me, reactivating our bond."

Rei jerked away, blind eyes searching for anything, any light or sign of life in the room. "How can you even stand to touch me, Minako? After what I did . . . how can you stand to be near me? How can you like me at all? I'm a monster."

"You're no monster, Rei. Sometimes we fight, but it never matters. Maybe, because of what happened, I don't like you very much right now, but I do love you. I love only you, my wife, my soul mate, just as I always have. And, at this moment, there is only one thing about you that confuses me. In the name of Aphrodite, how did you manage to get pregnant without me knowing?"

Rei couldn't help but smile at the memory. "I was practicing my powers on the night before . . . it happened. I wanted to see how little magic it would take for us to conceive. I didn't think it would be me, honestly, and I didn't have the heart to wake you after our . . . activities. I was going to tell you the next morning, but I never got a chance."

"And that's my fault. I'm sorry I had you exiled, Rei."

"And I'm sorry that I sent you away without even giving you the benefit of a Council meeting. You deserve better than that. As queen, I should have known better."

"Nothing was the same without you," Makoto whispered, her usually sharp, commanding voice calm and gentle. "We can't function without you, Mars. Rei. Without our friend and fellow Senshi, we are lost."

"How? I don't understand. How can you still want me? I destroyed half of your city, and I know that the rebuilding is not yet complete. The scars of my actions may never fully be healed. How can you have it in your hearts to forgive me?"

"Maybe you did kill a lot of people," Minako whispered, sensing her fellow senshi moving back. "And maybe you are killing yourself with grief. But you are forgetting one thing, koishii. I'm in love with you, and love is blind. I cannot see death, only the life you give me by your very presence. I cannot see the darkness you live in, only the light you bring to my life. I cannot live without you, Rei. Please don't make me." She leaned over the laboring woman, her golden hair caressing Rei's cheek, and pressed her lips to the miko's.

Rei gasped as the darkness surrounding her shattered, the world exploding into existence once more. She blinked from the light, the color, the people that she had been unable to see for so long. She stared up at Minako's beloved face as her body shuddered with another contraction, forcing her daughter closer to the world. "I can see again," she whispered. "You brought me out of the darkness, Minako."

"I always will."

Usagi stepped forward as another contraction shook Rei's frame, placing a hand on the miko's belly and taking away her pain. "You chose a good night to give birth," the queen whispered. "Tonight my power is the greatest."

"Good, because this girl isn't waiting much longer." Clenching her fingers around her wife's hand, Rei arched her back and rose off the bed as Ami caught her tiny daughter, quickly cleaning the child, an expert midwife after so many Senshi births. The miko pulled herself up, smiling at her child. "Red hair," she whispered. "We haven't had one with such dark red hair before." Ami handed Rei her child, Minako reaching over and caressing the soft cheek, both women gasping as the newborn opened her eyes. "Gold," Rei breathed. "My eyes were gold when I held the power of the kitsunezuishou."

"In that case, Rei, I believe she looks like you."

"I was hoping she would look like you, Minako."

"Well then, you had better ask the next time you want a daughter, and maybe she will." Minako glared at her wife for a moment before both women smiled, Venus kissing her wife's head. "Please don't leave me again."

"I don't deserve to come back."

"Don't come for your sake, my love; come for hers. What should we name her?"

"Name her after this town, Minako, where I vanquished that demon at last. Let's name her Akane."

"Akane, then."

"Baby?" Endymion, having waited patiently in the corner during the birth, smiled at his daughter, patting the pink-haired girl on the head.

"Yes, Small Lady. A baby. Rei-san and Minako-san had a baby."

"Why did you bring her here?" Rei scooted back from the edge of the bed, frightened eyes locked on the tiny princess. "Don't you know how dangerous that was? She shouldn't be allowed out of the palace! She could be hurt, or killed!"

"Rei-chan, my daughter is safe. All of us are here."

"But the demon was here! Don't you know? He wanted to kill her! That's why he came to Crystal Tokyo! He wants to kill your daughter! If he had known you were here, watching the fight, if he had known that she was here, away from the protection of the palace, he would have killed her and there would have been nothing that I could have done! Don't you understand how dangerous that was?"

"When did he try to kill her? I think I would have known."

Rei looked away. "You didn't notice."

"When did he try to kill her?" Serenity's voice was hard and commanding. "Tell me, Mars. Tell me when that demon got close to my daughter."

"Nine months ago," Rei whispered, trying to stop her tears. "Nine months ago I took Chibiusa for a walk through a scenic part of Tokyo. When we stopped beside the river to watch the fish, I felt a dark presence in the people around me. I was so weak, to not have noticed it as we entered the area. The demon had infected a hundred people, was drawing his strength from the citizens around me. I had to protect her, Usagi. She'll save us all one day, but she has no power of her own. He would have killed her if I had let him continue to draw strength from those humans." The room had gone deadly silent, only Rei's voice moving the air. She did not look up into Usagi's shocked blue eyes, did not see her wife cry because of her pain, did not see the other Senshi swallow and nod, knowing that she had only been left with one choice. "On that day, I was not strong enough. On that day, I could not chase him from a hundred innocent souls. He was too big, too powerful, and I was just one Senshi. And if I had left the other six or so hundred nearby alive, he could have jumped bodies. There was no one else, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. I had to fight. I knew that in a battle between me and the demon, I would almost certainly win, but Chibiusa . . . she would have been the only casualty. I made the only choice I could to save your daughter."

"You killed all those people, those innocent people . . . because of the demon. You had to kill his hosts to save the world."

"It isn't a fair balance, Mercury. It isn't numbers or logic. I had a split second to decide if her life outweighed the lives of seven hundred people. It shouldn't have! One life should never be more important than so many! If I could have traded my life for theirs, I would have, but that was not one of my options. I never wanted to walk that path . . . but I had to. Nine hundred years ago, Serenity, you chose to sacrifice Earth to Chaos so that you could rebuild it when we emerged from our century-long sleep. I remember being so glad that I did not have to make that decision. I was glad that you, Setsuna, and Ailan bore that burden. But, on that day nine months ago, when faced with the same choice, the same split path, I took the fork that led me to exile. In the end, I sacrificed my happiness for Chibiusa. And, given the same choice, I would do it all again."

"Rei-chan saved me," Chibiusa whispered, slipping free of her father's stunned arms. The little princess jumped onto Rei's bed and hugged the miko, careful of Akane. "Thank-you, Rei-chan."

"Why did you not tell us, Rei?"

"Because she could not forgive herself for so many dead, people that you could have cleansed without endangering Small Lady," Minako whispered, resting her head on top of Rei's. "She could not forgive herself for not being strong enough."

"Not strong enough?" Serenity reached out and cupped Rei's chin, forcing the miko to look at her. "Rei, very few people could have made your choice. Fewer still could have admitted to themselves that they were not strong enough, few could have accepted such a cruel fate for such a hard choice. By making that choice, sacrificing seven hundred for my daughter, destroying lives in the present to preserve the past and the future, I think you are the strongest of us all. I think, in my arrogance, I never imagined that one of my Senshi could carry such a burden so selflessly. I am so proud of you, Rei."

"I am proud of you," Jupiter whispered. "I know that I would have tried to fight the demon, and I would have lost. You are a stronger woman than I."

"For all of my logic and brains, I would never have come to the conclusion you reached. I think you are definitely stronger and wiser than I. Rei, I am proud of you."

Setsuna bowed, the goddess smiling. "I knew that you had such strength, Rei, though it took you so long to see it. I am proud of you, and I know that my family will be, as well, when I tell them the full story."

"And the Star Senshi Council will certainly hear of this. They will be as proud of you as I and my daughter, and we will spread tale of your strength, love, courage, and selfless bravery to every corner of this galaxy." Ailan bowed, moving to her wife's side.

Endymion stood, falling to one knee as he had often done to Serenity, tossing a single red rose on Rei's bed. "I cannot thank you enough for saving Chibiusa. She and Serenity are the world to me, and I am proud of you for acting as you did. Truly, you are a great Senshi and an even greater friend."

Hotaru stepped forward, placing her free hand on Rei's cheek. "I know the choice you made, Rei, because the path has lain before me too many times to count. Your choice saved the world, and none of us could hope for a better outcome. I'm proud of you."

Minako was last, resting her cheek on Rei's. "I do not have the words, my love. I don't know how to tell you how proud I am. I should have been there for you. Except for the moment when I heard about the accident, I always believed that you must have had some higher reason. But it was that moment of uncertainty when I said I never wanted to see you again. That moment of insanity caused us both so much pain over these last few months. I'm sorry, koishii. I'm sorry."

"Thank you," Rei whispered. "Thank you, min'na. I never thought you would be proud of me. I thought the most that would happen would be that you would let me come back, but you would never trust me again. I think . . . I think I believe you. I think I believe that I made the right choice. Now that the demon is dead, all of those casualties in Crystal Tokyo are avenged."

"I think we should build a memorial here in Akaneyama, a statue to commemorate the vanquishing of the strongest demon since Ancient Earth. I know that the villagers won't mind having a statue of you in their town. It should be a statue of you, Rei, as Sailor Mars, in the middle of Flame Sniper with Small Lady by your side. We will dedicate it to the dead from Tokyo, since I know that they would have laid down their lives to protect my daughter if they had the choice. It will be a fitting memorial."

Rei blushed as Minako helped her to her feet. "Thank you, Serenity, but I do not think the villagers need any help worshipping me. They seem to be doing a fine job."

"You deserve it," Minako whispered as the women transformed into their Senshi selves. Rei smiled as she let Sailor Mars claim her once more, wrapping the cloths tighter around Akane so that she would not be cold. "Are you ready to leave, Rei?"

"Yes. Let's go home."


Owari!

AN: I should be working on The Last Sacrifice, but I got distracted when I realized that 2 of my older fics had inconsistencies (mostly just names) so they have now been fixed. To everyone who reviewed: I read them all and I am so happy to see that people like my fics. I hope this little story was enjoyable, but I wanted to make sure that it worked with the rest of my fics since I am in the process of rewriting my largest one and editing everything in my universe. To answer a couple of questions that I saw in the reviews: CSS1 is the only one written yet, and it isn't done; CoL: Thunder Goddess is a story about Ami and Makoto, mostly just so I can practice writing them. It isn't done, but I will get to it. Check my profile page to see where I am in my edits and rewrites and what I plan to work on next. For everyone who read this fic because it's a Rei/Minako, you should check out The Last Sacrifice listed under Haruka/Michiru; ReiMina has a huge part, even though we can't list fics under multiple pairings. Now, back to TLS (next chapter should be out tomorrow night since WoW:MoP releases Tues morning and I will be taking a brief hiatus while I level my Druid to 90!)