Japanese names are left and English names are right, for those who are confused.

Tsukino Usagi >> Serena/Bunny

Aino Minako >> Mina

Hino Rei >> Raye

Mizuno Ami >> Amy

Kino Makoto (Mako-chan) >> Lita

Kaioh Michiru >> Michelle

Ten'ou Haruka >> Amara

Meioh Setsuna >> Trista

Chiba Mamoru >> Darien

Chibiusa/Small Lady >> Rene/Rini

Ginzuishou >> Silver Crystal


(We interrupt this story with a brief commercial.)

Sagara Sanosuke, I'm amazed. Is that a two digit number I see on that IQ test result?

"What? I'm not an idiot! You told me to color in the bubbles and I did. Keh, anyone can do that!"

Umu...

"What?"

So, you didn't actually read the questions did you?

"There were questions?"

Umu...

"What the hell are you looking at, woman?"

Nevermind.

(Rurouni Kenshin is courtesy of Watsuki-sensei. Sailor Moon is courtesy of Naoko Takeuchi-sensei. The words below are mine. Enjoy the drama you're about to witness as I drag them through the mud of angst! Yeah me!)


The Bitter Brew

by Blue Jeans

The End came with all the bang it had promised to be. Sailor Senshi Pluto had warned them of its coming, but she didn't take it all in as she had thought she had, not at the time. Because really, after having died more than once, she never really thought it could be worse than Beryl or Galaxia, until it had arrived. She didn't really call it by any other name except it or The End – in capitalized letters. Thinking back to that time, she reluctantly admitted that it still gave her the shivers. There were nights she still woke up shooting out of bed with adrenaline and fear, like Rei must have done so many times before, during the war against it, plagued by nightmares - those yet-to-happen memories of The End. She rationalized that it was better than what Rei must have gone through. The dread of the upcoming future did not plague her, just the past. Now she can better understand the dark circles that left its mark beneath Rei's seeing eyes, but it too was too little, too late.

Another part of her was not so grateful, despite that rationalization, because she experienced the pain nightly and its vividness always left her bitter and filled with a darkness she didn't want to face. On such nights she woke up crying and scared that it wasn't over yet and it was going to come for them, her, all over again. Sometimes, she wished that it would come and just put her out of her misery.

On such nights she was no longer heroine, but a scared little coward, an animal who feared and knew nothing else. On those nights she hated herself more than usual, and could not bring herself past the threshold to shame until morning came and the darkness dispelled. Her cowardice disgusted her when the light of the day washed away the horrors of the night. She thought there would be no more tears by now. The wounds had long healed upon her body, though sometimes she thought only the physical ones ever really mended correctly as promised. And though the loss had been great, they had won in the end.

Earth was safe for another day. Life went on. And strangely, it did, even though she did not, could not. Things just did not end up the way they had all thought it would go, and sometimes she asked, silently: "Where is my happy ending? What have my sacrifices given me?" But there were no answers, and those who could have given them to her were either dead or mute or insane.

Eight operations later, her face was finally somewhat the way it had once been when she was a teenager, growing into a young woman. She just wasn't one anymore and whatever dreams she had about being a star, she knew now that it could be nothing more than that. Her prime had passed, and all it had left her were memories, scars, and a hospital bill that would keep her in debt for the rest of her life. It had been over a decade, and she was getting older. The promise that she would no longer age was all but a distant memory, one that made her smile more bitter-sweetly in irony than cynicism. She wasn't so sure what destiny was about and she didn't know if she cared the way she had once cared. She wanted back the person she once was, the brave and cheerful girl that died with everyone else, but time didn't travel backwards and the one who could have accomplished it had long been dead and buried.

Destiny betrayed people all the time. She had obviously outlived her usefulness, and it had forgotten about her and the few friends she had garnered and kept. Once in a while she thought she had the answers to her unspoken questions, but they either turned out too banal for her own liking or they scared her too much for her to accept them. So she discarded them one by one, and though she had come up with quite a few possibilities, she never used them, allowing the questions to continually plague her. Most times, she was too bewildered to know how to put the emotions she felt into words. Those words could shape questions, and those questions, when answered correctly, might have finally dispelled the emptiness that grew within her in discontent.

The past was the past and there were things to be thankful for, but she didn't think she would ever be able to forget what had happened or be content with the end results. The doctors were still so baffled she survived at all, that her healing was so much more accelerated than most other people her age or otherwise. They would have probably laughed if she told them that once she wouldn't even have worried since it was a perk for being a Sailor Senshi, but she wasn't laughing because she was like this now because of it. Magick had its advantages but she was too damaged to be healed by it alone, especially since most of it had already been bled out of her after that final show-down. She was almost normal now, something she had once wanted desperately and now wished she had never been granted. So she tried to move on and she tried very hard to be grateful, and each day it got a little easier to do so, even if she still hadn't learned to let go of what was lost. Others had suffered more than her and she didn't lose as much when The End did come. And maybe they did something wrong along the way. Maybe they had a chance at paradise and just missed the train. Maybe this was what destiny had in store and Sailor Pluto had lied to them all so they could go on fulfilling the destiny they should have. Maybe if they had known that this was how it was going to be they wouldn't have...

"Minako," her mother croaked out her name from downstairs, "it's Usagi-chan. She's come by to visit after so long."

With some reluctance, Aino Minako twisted her hair out of her face and left her vanity. Her finger brushed lightly against the white scar tissues at the base of her neck, the face she didn't have to give up the way her voice was given up as she laid unconscious and dying on a hospital bed. She was more conscious of the bandages that still adorned the outer edges of her face. She smiled a bit awkwardly into space, and it pained her physically to wear the expression that might sooth others of their guilt or discomfort. She took a deep breath, preparing herself for the meeting ahead. The smile wouldn't last long, but it was important to start off on a good foot, even if it may turn into a bad one later and rot off, or something like that. Ami should be there to correct her, but...

"I'm coming, Mom," she answered as she let go of the golden strands she had momentarily clung to like she once did in another life as another person. The strands were shorter now, anyway, just brushing the edges of her shoulder blades. She didn't want to recall the time she had to shave what was left of it off, but then again, she hadn't been conscious through most of it. Her mother remembered, because that was the day the police came to her home and informed the older woman that she had been caught in the final blast that ended everything, and that there were papers to sign and a hospital to visit. Her remaining friends did too, but that was because that was the day they nearly lost everything - though there were some things that wouldn't ever be the same again despite them having won. That day, they had lost the future even though they had won all the battles.

She stepped onto the stairs and hopped down them like a child, with more bounce and energy in her than she really felt. She headed for the living room and there was a bright smile on her face, though it would never be the same as the one she used to wear. She saw the woman that once she would have given her life over to, the person she did give her life over to, and she took in the other's appearance – the immaculate dress, the expensive designer purse, the way Chiba Usagi's hair was done up in a bun instead of the twin-odango the other used to wear. The princess-child she once knew had changed too, and not just in name. "You look like a doctor's wife," Minako observed aloud and her smile was a bit more brittle and a lot emptier than before when she caught the blush on Usagi's face. The other was truly happy, as happy as one could be after everything that had happened, and there was a jealous pain in her breast because she knew that Usagi didn't have disfigurations or nightmares every night, but Minako was too used to her own imperfections now to show any more shame in her thoughts.

"I'll leave you girls alone to talk," Minako's mother announced after setting down some tea for them.

Since Minako's near brush with death, her mother had become more bearable. She didn't want to linger over the whys or the hows, but she didn't really like how her mother sometime stared at her, almost hungrily, as if she was about to vanish if the other wasn't careful. That look scared Minako because she was reminded of how close she was to not coming back, but more importantly, it caused her to remember who didn't make it back. It made her uncomfortable because everyone who survived it was different after, but none had changed as much as Usagi and no one had became as happy either. Sometimes it just wasn't fair, and Minako had no one to blame and no one to ask "Why?" or more specifically, "Why her?" without coming off sounding like a completely selfish bitch, which she tried not to be.

For the two girls, it was the first time in months since they had spoken. Minako hadn't really wanted to see Usagi after the surgery, but it hadn't been her choice that they hadn't met up till now. Of them all, Usagi was the only one left unscathed. No, rephrase that, Usagi and Mamoru were the only ones that had moved on with their lives. The rest of them had tried to, though some of them were too damaged to know what moving-on meant, anyway.

"How's it going, Minako-chan?" Usagi asked after a pause.

"Going on thirty," she replied and pointed at her face. "I haven't got any wrinkles yet though. It's all that anti-aging formulas the doctors keep pumping into me between surgeries, you know?" There was an uncomfortable silence, and she knew Usagi didn't find her jokes to be very funny anymore. It was a little disappointing to see that discomforted, adult look on the other's face, because no matter what had happened, Minako was only now discovering that she didn't know how to handle this woman before her. The other had changed from the most important person in her life to a stranger in the course of time it took for her to wake from one nightmare into the next. It was, as if, while she was sleeping, she had dreamt up the whole thing about being a Sailor Senshi, and that even The End was just a horrible nightmare she had concocted.

It would have been nice to believe that, if the henshin pen was still not sitting in her room. And once, when she had been cleaning, she had found white cat fur all over a favorite black turtle-neck. She broke down that time, and her mother had been tactful, for once. When she was found, the other just hugged her and rocked her as if she was little again and hurt could be rocked away.

The worst thing was that once Usagi would have been one of the few people who would have laughed at her callous and tactless jokes. At least, the Usagi she remembered and knew. "I guess it's a good thing I didn't go and become a comedian," Minako finally said in the uncomfortable silence. The statement sounded awkward after the long pause, but Usagi tried to smile at her at least. "Why are you here, Usagi-chan?" Minako asked at last. She was tired. The operations were almost over. Her chin ached and she needed to take her meds soon, even though her mother and her doctors feared that she would get hooked on them.

Getting hooked on pain-killers was the least of her problems, yet she was the only one who seemed to think that, since the last time anyone came over -- and it was Makoto -- the brunette had commented that Minako should start thinking of cutting down on the pain-killers too. "I'll be surprised if you're not already addicted," her friend had said to Minako as she was handed a pastry. "It may be better to suffer a little now instead of later. Believe me, I know." And Makoto did since she was the one missing half of her right leg. The brown-haired girl used to joke that at least it was not one of her hands, since -that- would have killed her. To lose the ability to cook probably would have killed Kino Makoto, so Minako always laughed it off like she was supposed to and kept the worries locked away in her heart.

Minako was glad for Makoto though. At least one of them was living out their dreams. Even with her crippled leg, Makoto had managed to smile through it all and opened a pastries shop along the road of recovery. It had made Minako smile, because Makoto was strong, and Makoto was alive, and Makoto tried so hard to face her scarred face as if she was the same Minako now as she had been before the war and The End. It was kind of her, despite the fact that they would always have those mementoes of pain and suffering and lost causes.

"I-" Usagi cut herself off and clutched her hands tightly together. Minako looked over at her, and if she squinted her eyes just so, she could almost imagine Usagi as their princess again. This immaculate woman with that slight wrinkle at the corner of her left eye, her blond hair all done up and proper... Where had all the time gone? Where had their teenage years and dreams of Utopia at the palms of their magically gloved hands, gone? Had it really been her dream to help this woman to one day rule over such a city? Had it really been her dream to give up being an idol and fight evil at night while trying to act normal and live the high-school dream like every other school girl?

What went wrong? Didn't they give up everything? Wasn't that enough?

"I have a confession," Usagi said with a bow of her head. Minako just looked at her expectantly, because what could possibly be said now? The future is not in stone? She already knew, learned the lesson the hard way. She just wished that Sailor Pluto had not set their hopes so high, but even that woman wasn't around to blame anymore. She had tried, but it was unfulfilling and it had probably looked ridiculous and rude, that time she went and yelled at Meioh Setsuna's grave stone like the broken lunatic that she was. And what had Pluto's sacrifice given them besides scars and more dead bodies to bury? At least no innocents died that day, just warriors. But, no one would ever really know who these brave women were except Minako, Makoto, and Usagi, because they were already yesterday's news, a bunch of broken and beaten school girls, out on a bad night with dead-end leads. No one could bring the dead back to life, not even the princess Usagi used to be, not after all this time.

What could possibly be said now? What could they say to Hino Rei's father, who had never been there to look after her dark-haired friend while she lived, but who had broken down into tears after the doctor came and told him, "She's gone, there's nothing we could do." Later, he had resigned from his post and lived a secluded life out of the lime-light he had sought after, all of his life. Perhaps the man lamented for the lost times that could never come back, just like Rei would never come back.

It wouldn't have surprised Minako if she had been awake at the time. She had seen Mars go down in that blast, and the fact that there had been enough of her friend left to save probably would have surprised her more. It had not surprised her that the politician's money and influence, that got Rei into the best school in town and allowed her to receive such beautiful dresses on her birthday with a paid assistant, couldn't save Rei's life. Despite everything her father had given up and everything she had done for the world, no one could do anything for her in the end. Love, friendship, justice, fairness, and fate, all those things could not save her or any of them from the reality setting in. The daughter he had never known and never did anything for, outside of a yearly dinner arranged by his personal assistant that he usually missed anyway, was dead. And Hino Rei's father found that he had lost something precious without having lifted a finger, and probably because of it.

She still remembered, and probably always would, Ojiisan's face at Rei's funeral. How he had muttered at the grave that Rei wasn't supposed to die that young, that her dark-haired friend should have buried him instead of the other way around. And how she had cried, because Rei hadn't been there to scold any of them about being weak and she wasn't going to be there for Minako to lean on or depend on the way she used to be. She was gone forever, never to look so aloof and cool and beautiful for anyone ever again, burned and dead and gone as the others were. Minako couldn't forget how she had been pushed aside at the last moment, how the blast had only disfigured her, and how it had killed the best friend she ever had.

But at least Rei had died a heroine. She never had to live in the aftermath to become a normal person or be made into a coward by the memories and the nightmares and the constant living that left Minako both glad and guilty. She never had to wonder about what happened to Sailor Uranus, or Ten'ou Haruka, the high school girl who ran around dressed like a devilishly handsome boy, the one whose body was never found. Or Kaioh Michiru with her beauty ripped to shreds and her long, elegant fingers so broken they would never play again even if the other had lived. She didn't have to see how little Hotaru, bereft of Saturn's transformation, had clung to one broken hand whimpering and dying. How they couldn't even do a viewing with what was left of Michiru at her funeral, just like Rei could not be viewed, since who can possibly sew back the pieces as if they had died a normal death? Rei didn't have to see how Makoto still shuddered sometimes when she passed a violin store or any old posters of Kaioh Michiru that never got taken down, since the brunette was the one who found the two, huddled and wrecked and so very pitiful.

There was no need for the dead to know how they had put three grave-stones together, Haruka's empty grave next to Setsuna's next to Michiru's, because the diggers had made a mistake and separated Michiru and Haruka in death, as they had never been in life. And Rei didn't have to live with the memory of Sailor Mercury, friend and comrade, a once brilliant and potential doctor, lying limpid and still and staring with glassy eyes as if she was dead, but she was not when they had finally found her. How the relief was short lived. How those blue, intelligent eyes that scolded them for never studying enough, that were fierce only when it came to knowledge and school and protecting Usagi, were now, at best, distant, on a good day. When Ami had awakened, she just wasn't the same person anymore. She didn't bear any physical scars, but Minako shuddered to think what made the blue-haired girl the way she was now.

"She's gone insane," the man in the white coat bluntly had explained it to Minako and Makoto later when they had gone to visit. They didn't want to believe it, so they went with disbelieving faces. They didn't believe it, not until they -saw-. Minako discovered that day that she hated doctors more than she'd ever hated policemen, because she never realized how much she had depended on those doctors that Ami dreamed of being until they failed her. They couldn't save the heroes that had made it possible for them to still live in a semi-peaceful world - without supernatural evil, at least - and practice their useless crafts of healing that saved no one. She especially hated the vacant looks the doctors gave them when given the task to tell the bad news to the friends and relatives of the ones that were lost and broken.

But, even in the end, at least they had all done their sworn duties as Sailor Senshi, because Usagi was safe. Usagi had survived unscathed. She had saved the world and her prince. She was a heroine, through and through. But Usagi was also a traitor, because Usagi had abandoned them in the end. She wasn't there when Minako woke up. She wasn't there to hold Makoto's hand while the other girl shook with pain after every recuperation session for the first month as the brunette tried to learn to walk again with only one leg intact. She wasn't there at Rei's funeral or Setsuna's or Haruka's or Michiru's. She wasn't there to hold tiny Hotaru who knew too much already but decided that she didn't like the world and would, instead, sit in a house as if it were empty, only staring out, unmoving unless Makoto prodded her to eat or drink or anything else for that matter. Hotaru, who was like a doll again, only there was no Mistress Nine to pull the strings... There was no one to breathe life into her, the child that had lost two families in less than a decade. Usagi, up to now, had seen no one, and Minako didn't want to know why.

And, oh gods, Artemis! Artemis, who twitched and died with only half of his body still in tact enough to identify him as a cat. Oh, but she remembered how most of his soft white fur, his only vanity, was black with ash and soot, and red with blood and exposed tissues. And Luna, Luna who had never made it out, like Haruka had never made it out. Minako was almost glad that at least she didn't have to remember them battered and ripped apart and burned to ashes like everyone else. In her memories, they were whole, and smiling and joking and stern. In her mind, those two were still the people she once knew, and sometimes she pretended they made it out alive and were living somewhere in the outside world with amnesia, or something like that, but still breathing and well and unchanged. If only all her memories of her friends and the past were like that...

"I had to make a decision," Usagi finally said after small talk got them nowhere fast. "I had to make a decision, and maybe it was wrong. I was so scared, Minako, you must understand. And I'm sorry, if what I decided was wrong." Usagi said the last part in a whisper, but Minako was stuck on her name. The Usagi she knew never called her Minako. It was always "Mina-chan" or "Mina-P" or "Venus" or "V-chan" - though the last two were reserved for the times when she was Sailor Venus.

"What?" Minako asked dazedly, blinking at the other with wide blue-eyes. Distant eyes. Eyes that never looked to the future anymore. Eyes that only saw the past - more of the bad than good - and once in awhile, blinked at the present. Eyes that ate up the world and asked, accusingly, "Why?" but never found a satisfying answer.

"I made a decision," Usagi said again slowly, painfully. "When the battle was over, I didn't know. I didn't know what had happened to everyone... I just, I just wished we were normal, you know? That we could live a normal life and..."

"What did you wish for exactly, Usagi-chan?" She couldn't say Chiba-san without feeling awkward, and saying Usagi, the way Rei used to, was too painful, so she stuck with what she used to call the odango-blonde, even though the name no longer suited the person Usagi had become.

"I wished that we could all live in paradise together," Usagi answered hoarsely, through tears of guilt, "but deep down, I just wanted to be normal and to find happiness by no longer being a hero anymore. I really wanted to wish for Crystal Tokyo, but I couldn't help but dream of what Chibiusa would be missing out on for being ten for nine-hundred years, how she said she was never accepted by the children because she was the princess. I thought about how you wanted to be an idol singer, how Makoto wanted to be a chef... I really tried to wish for Crystal Tokyo, but I think the Ginzuishou saw through me." And for once, Usagi had wished something completely selfish at that moment the wish was made, but then, weren't they all a little selfish? Minako didn't like how the other blonde still didn't want to admit that, in a single moment, she had stopped being a heroine and was just a human being that was making a selfish wish. Usagi hadn't been thinking of them when she made the wish that changed their lives; she was thinking of herself, and probably, Chiba Mamoru.

"What about us?" Minako asked, and her voice rose like a crescendo. "What about us, as normal? What about us as mortals? What about us who are hurt, who died, who have nothing left to protect because you are normal now and did not ask to bring back the dead? What about us who have nothing but the memories and the dreams we gave up for you, some we will never be able to fulfill?" What about me, Soldier of Love and Beauty, no longer beautiful? What about Makoto, carefree Mako-chan, who was glad she still had two hands to cook, but who lost the ability to run? What about Hotaru, child of destruction, destroyed and living like the puppet she had struggled so hard, not that many years ago, to not become? And Ami, brilliant, beautiful Ami, out of her mind with her incurable madness that reduced her life to a white, windowless room? And what of the dead and the lives they gave in your name, Usagi? What of the dream that we gave up our dreams for? But those questions were not voiced; they were just accusations of a past that could no longer be changed and a future that will never happen.

And Usagi was suddenly cold, her face like stone. "I'm sorry," she said, slowly starting to get defensive, but those repeated words changed nothing. "I cannot change what my heart wished for." For a moment, just a moment, Usagi looked like the Queen she may have become, the heir to a kingdom she had died for, over a thousand years ago. But she was not that person; this Usagi's wish was granted, even if it was an unvoiced wish, and it was not the wish that the person Minako fought along-side for so long would have made.

This Usagi was the ex-princess, the ex-heroine, the ex-leader, and Minako was just a pawn on the board of this girl's life, and she was no longer useful. Chiba Usagi was no longer a heroine. This woman had given up being Queen; she had given up a kingdom, the game they played to gain that future, and decided instead to leave the toppled pieces toppled and the broken ones as was. The odango-atama, the smiling girl Minako knew, was not a woman who would have given up on her friends and left them to die on the battlefield, no matter what. But this Usagi had done it and now they were all a reflection of that decision, even if nothing else in the world reflected it.

Admittedly, being a heroine really wasn't fun and held too many sacrifices. But this Usagi was a woman who had the power to change that but did not. So now this woman was here, asking for forgiveness that Minako couldn't give her, because Minako was not who she was before, either. Usagi couldn't bring back the dead anymore, because after her wish the stone and the talking cats and the magical heroines had all vanished - though some magick still lingered to taunt Minako with painful, useless remainders of a past gone unexpectedly wrong. Usagi couldn't right those wrongs anymore though, because after the wish, the losses had became real losses and the game had became their lives, rooting itself into reality. Usagi couldn't heal anyone anymore, because she was a doctor's wife and not a doctor, though the current profession made no promises.

"I can't forgive you, Usagi-chan," Minako finally answered, wondering how her voice could remain so steady, so soft, and almost uncompassionate. "I have none to give."

Because Rei, Haruka, Michiru, Setsuna, Luna and Artemis were dead, and had been for a long time. Because Artemis' grave was a shoe box buried in the park he used to love to wonder since she didn't even have a backyard to offer to him as burial ground. Because Ami had gone insane, and was now better known for stabbing another patient at the asylum with a plastic fork and calling people youma, than as the genius girl she once was. Because Hotaru did nothing but sit and eat and sleep and stare at command, as if she really had destroy the world and she was its sole survivor and they were only the buzzing noises in her head. Because Makoto's food, when the brunette brought it over to Minako, was overly salty because the other couldn't help but cry into it when it was being made for the only other Senshi who had survived The End without losing her mind or her life. And because, Minako, with her reconstructed face that makes her look like a young woman, was not a child anymore. She was turning thirty soon, and in some poetic justice and ironic way, she looked like she was in her early twenties, like Pluto had promised them all, a long time ago, when there was a Pluto who had lived and breathed and made promises for a future that was not yet set in stone. It was because of the little, selfish things she once took for granted. Like the fact that she would never wear a short skirt again because she was ashamed of her legs and the way they looked now, despite the fact that she should have been grateful she even had legs to walk around on. It was because she no longer owned a talking cat who she could confide in. There was the fact that she had never officially graduated from high-school, that she couldn't imagine falling in love because she couldn't imagine any boy loving her at all, that the doctors told her she would never be able to sing a high note again because her throat was too damaged, and that at thirty, she still lived with her parents as a cripple, because what else was there to do for a high-school drop out whose body was covered with scars.

It was because of that and more.

It was because Usagi had a happy future with Chiba Mamoru, who the odango-blonde did marry, despite everything and probably because of it. It was because Usagi was living the life that Minako and all the others had secretly longed for, because to high-school girls who saved the world as an extra-curricular activity, it was what they didn't have. It was because, when Usagi tried to be a heroine, the plan had failed but she was not the one paying the price for that failure. Because Usagi thought of the future and herself as the Queen of a paradise city, but she had discovered that to her, it was a scary prospect for the future, and for once, had confided in no one about those fears. Usagi had gone on with those unvoiced feelings, smiling and promising nothing to anyone but setting their expectations high in her silence. The Princess had them all fooled, and now they were paying for those shattered little dreams and useless sacrifices made in her name.

Minako wouldn't have thought that all her pain and all her anguish could be decided by someone's one simple, careless wish from the bottom of a treacherous heart. At the time, she wouldn't even have questioned it. The truth was made even worse because Minako knew about treachery and she understood now, more intimately than those long years ago, how the human heart worked in small, betraying ways. It made Usagi human and it really wasn't her fault, but that only left Minako with no one to blame. In the end, she had only herself to hate for the unchangeables and the unfairs and the maybes.

Was that how Fate was decided? Was that what fate was? A high-school girl with a shiny rock and a talking cat counselor that vanished into the final battle? Was that how things were supposed to be settled? By teenage girls and a wish made during desperate times by somebody hurt and tested beyond reason in the depths of her heart, despite the wish she knew she was supposed to have made? Was that how it should have ended, because their enemy, for once, didn't gloat or brag about hurting them and left them to do it on their own? And was that why the dead were staying dead this time and the living could do no more than move on or go insane because they had always been mortal, and they just never accepted the fact till now? Was it because they could shoot flashy things from their finger with a few choice words from their mouths that made them so presumptuous, so very blind of what was really going on?

"Why?" Minako asked instead, because it was the only real question she had ever had of all the million ones she asked herself, and the world, in the silence. But there was no answer, and Usagi's cool expression crumbled. The blonde was crying and smearing her makeup and reverting to an incoherent mess of sobs, because a scented handkerchief couldn't stop the guilty flow anymore than a rock should have had the power to give them a paradise and immortality.

Minako knew that her mother was going to step in any second now and usher the other home, and that there would be silence, and that unanswered question would be echoing and hanging in the air, perhaps forever. And Minako knew she should learn to forgive, that what was done was done, and what was stolen from her was never really ever hers to keep, anyway. It had never been, and never would have been, her decision to make. She could live with it -- at least she should have been able to -- because she was alive unlike more than half her friends, and still sane, even though sometimes she wondered why the role was not reversed between herself and Ami. She could survive, despite the salty pastries that Makoto made, or the vacant stares that Hotaru gave, and the raving madness that kept Ami running wildly around her white room in fear and glee, things no longer moving her to tears, only resignation. Those things didn't have the power to kill her, not the way her old enemies did, not the way a fire blast from a monster should have, but got her best friend instead.

It wasn't a question that will end her pain, but Minako had yet to acknowledge that. The answer to that question only had the power to close the door to a future that was never going to happen with a disappointing but resounding click. Yet, even after all the time that had passed, she was still not ready to accept the answers she had already figured out. She couldn't go back and be Usagi and make that decision for her friend that would make everything alright. That was not her role. She couldn't bring back the dead or heal the broken. She didn't have the means or the power or the destiny. She shouldn't have trusted the words of a human woman, despite the other's age and skill and wisdom, at least, not on what the future should have been, because that woman was human too, and so were they all. And maybe, if she thought about it, without the fear of being hurt or disappointed or betrayed even more, she might have been able to acknowledge the fact that they were just high-school girls then, playing heroine, when a real battle finally came and knocked them off of their pedestals. They were just girls with dreams and hopes, saving the world with barely themselves understood, and talking cats as their only guides through a treacherous world gone bad. And really, when it all came down to it, the fault laid with a powerful rock that granted wishes far too easily, not with the child who made it. They had been given too much power and too little time to grow. They had failed the last test of fate, and in the end, it had cost them all a little too much because they were nothing more than girls trying to grow up to fit the roles they were given.

They just never really understood it then, and some never would, that the real life heroes rarely got their just deserts. So Minako drunk her cold tea by herself, in an empty living room, but only after Usagi was gone. It tasted acrid and salty, as if it was brewed in tears and given to her by Makoto with a smiling mask. The liquid was cold on her tongue and went down easy like ice and wine because this was her life now. Aino Minako was no longer tied to fate, no longer a heroine or the famous Sailor V, and she definitely was not that girl who lived in wonderland, walking a fenced and narrow path leading to some unknown paradise, as she had done over a decade ago. She was free now, but the taste of it was foreign and the cost of it, too much. So she named it bitter, because that was the only taste she recalled.

The End.


-chan – term of endearment usually used to address close girlfriends/children

Henshin – the stick used for the Sailor Senshi to transform/the transformation pen

Japanese names – Family/Last name first, followed by given/first name (i.e. Aino Minako and –not- Minako Aino)

Odango – dumpling

Odango-atama – dumpling head(description of Usagi's hair)

Ojii-san – Grandfather (in a respectful/formal tone)

Senshi – soldier(s)

Youma – demon (Used in first season of Sailor Moon)


(After 'The End'...)

"So you're telling me that it was an exam, which is the future equivalent of a test."

Yes.

"And it's supposed to measure how smart I am."

Yes...

"So, I did pretty good didn't I? Heh."

Sano, you didn't actually answer anything. This score doesn't prove -anything-.

"Heh, you're just jealous cause I got a higher score than you, right?"

Umu...

"Ha! I knew it! I'm smarter than--"

Hmm... Look at -that-! I think you got a higher score than Saitou Hajime. That -is- rather... impressive, Sanosuke.

"Really? Let me see that!" Sano rudely yanks the score sheet over to him and looks at it, grinning at what he saw. "Ha! I really did beat that bastardly, small-eyed freak!" Glances over at the fuming author. "Hey, girly, I gotta go somewhere that's only for -smart- people." Sano heads off to look for Saitou to gloat.

Glancing at the score sheet, author twitches slightly in annoyance, before a gleamingly menacing grin overrides it.

Hehehe. Sucker!

(Sano is brought to you by Rurouni Kenshin's creator Watsuki-sensei. This story's final version, and all its great editing, is brought to you by the wonderful and talented, Yumeko! I bow to her in awe of her ability to turn this mess into what it is you see before you! This story would have been –nothing- without her! –bow, bow, grovel–)