"Sailor Decoy"
By Bill K.
(e-mail at billk57@earthlink.net)
Rated G

Story is copyright 2000 by Bill Kropfhauser; Characters are copyright 2000 by
Naoko Takeuchi and Toei Animation and used without permission, but with respect.

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Author's notes:
This story takes place between Sailor Moon episodes #35 and 36 in the Japanese
chronology - - #31 and 32 in the English dub. For those only familiar with the
English dub: Prior to her joining the Sailor Scouts as Sailor Venus, Minako spent
some time in England fighting monsters that may have been connected to the
Negaverse. She called herself "Sailor V" and wore a mask and a sailor scout
uniform with a red, white and blue color scheme and a bared midriff. As for the
names:

Usagi-Serena
Ami-Amy
Rei-Raye
Makoto-Lita
Minako-Mina
Haruka-Amara
Michiru-Michelle
Setsuna-Trista
Mamoru-Darien
Chibi-Usa-Rini
Kunzite-Malachite
Crystal Kingdom-Moon Kingdom

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Artemis?"

Minako was lying on her bed, her hands cradling her head and her gaze fixed
on the ceiling. She hadn't changed from her school uniform and her long blonde
hair fanned out behind her. Artemis was busy on her dresser typing data into a
hand held size computer link with his paws - - he prided himself on being the
only touch typist cat in the history of the universe. He glanced up for a moment,
wondering what immature nonsense had crowded serious thought out of Minako's
mind this time.

"What?" he asked absently, concentrating on trying to pinpoint the location
of the Negaverse's entry-point into this reality.

"If Usagi is the Moon Princess," Minako asked with a tone devoid of any
emotion, "why was I activated first?"

All thought of the Negaverse disappeared. Artemis quickly glanced over at
Minako to gauge her mood. Right now, he wanted to answer any question besides
this one, because he was afraid of where it would lead. Minako was as dear to
him as any human could be. Sure, her malapropos were maddening, her ego was
occasionally annoying and the fanatical energy she sometimes attacked a situation
with could be truly scary. But she was kind, levelheaded most of the time, and
often endured harsh realities with admirable stoicism.

And she knew just where to scratch on his chin.

"Minako," Artemis replied, trying to keep his gaze off of her, "I'm really
trying to find the entry-point. You know how important it is. It's what you
should be focused on, too."

Her reply was silence. Artemis didn't like it when Minako was silent. She
was scary when she was silent. Anything could be cooking in that brain of hers.
He peeked over at her and caught her staring at him. At that moment, the little
white cat knew the jig was up.

"You know something," Minako replied with the same withering stare that
made Sailor V so formidable. "What?"

Artemis let out a loud sigh.

"Knowing it isn't going to help you," he said softly. "It's only going to
hurt."

Bouncing up to her feet, Minako loomed over him. For a fleeting second,
Artemis feared for his safety. But she flashed him one of her patented toothy
grins meant to diffuse tense situations.

"Aw, come on, Artemis," she chirped, playing the airhead. "Now you know
you have to tell me." Her finger brushed along his ribs lightly. Artemis jumped.
"Besides, I have ways of making you talk."

"Stop that!" spat Artemis. He glared up at her, both for not leaving this
alone and for threatening to use his ticklish nature against him. This was going
to hurt her and he'd give anything to avoid that. But he knew her too well and
knew she'd never rest until she knew the secret he held. "I'm telling you, this
isn't going to be something you want to know."

"I'm a big girl, Artemis," she complained, but he knew she wasn't that big.

"All right," the cat sighed. "A scout needed to be activated ahead of the
moon princess to test how advanced the intrusion of the Negaverse was in this
reality. That scout had to be strong enough and a quick enough study to learn on
her feet, but someone who was," and Artemis hesitated, the words painful for him,
"expendable if the Negaverse was stronger than anticipated."

She tried to conceal it, but Artemis noticed Minako wince.

"So," the blonde girl said softly, "I'm expendable?"

"When it comes to protecting the Moon Princess, you're all expendable,"
Artemis replied sympathetically. "You were activated first - - because of your
resemblance to Usagi. That way, the Negaverse attacks would be drawn away from
Usagi and toward you."

"So Usagi's the Moon Princess," Minako said, her voice hollow and distant,
"and I'm Sailor Decoy."

"I told you that you wouldn't want to know. I know it's cruel, but the
Negaverse is too big a threat and there isn't much of the Crystal Kingdom left.
You're a valuable asset to the Sailor Scouts. You make them that much stronger
for your power and your experience. But the Moon Princess has to survive to stop
Beryl, and if it means sacrificing one of you or all of you, it has to be done."

"Sure," Minako said softly, forcing a half-hearted smile on her lips. "I
guess that makes sense."

Artemis leaped over to the bed. He came over to Minako and rubbed his
forehead on the back of her hand.

"Don't take it personally," cautioned Artemis sympathetically. "These are
desperate times. Sometimes we have to do desperate things."

"How long have you known?" Minako asked distantly.

"Since yesterday, when Usagi was revealed. The knowledge Luna and I have
is released to us selectively. They're memories that are triggered to surface by
specific events. Up until that moment, I honestly thought you were the Moon
Princess. And I thought you would have made a great one. Certainly better than
that crybaby Usagi."

A grin flashed fleetingly on Minako's mouth. Her fingers scratched behind
the white cat's ears and for a moment Artemis thought she'd be all right. Then,
unexpectedly, she bounced to her feet and headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" Artemis asked.

"I've got to burn some energy," Minako said quickly. "I'm going down to
the video arcade." She sensed her cat staring at her, turned to him quickly and
winked. "I'll be OK. You worry too much." She grinned unconvincingly and
flashed him a "v" sign.

Artemis sighed as the door closed. Fighting a war was bad enough, but
fighting a war with an army of fragile fourteen-year-old minds just didn't seem
fair. He wanted to go after her, but didn't. He wouldn't know what to say to
her if he caught her.
* * * *
Minako walked past the video arcade, lost in a creeping depression. She
walked past the residential area, past the park, and past the hospital. Her feet
were moving, but she wasn't noticing where she was going.

It was her own fault, she concluded. She'd convinced herself that she was
the Moon Princess. That overwhelming need she felt to be the star had latched
onto that possibility, embraced it and made it a reality in her own mind. How
many times had she seized on some slim possibility that her dreams might come
true and built it into some consuming fantasy, only to come crashing back to
Earth in flames when harsh reality knocked the support out from under her? No
one to blame for that but herself.

But the rest: Jerked away from her home, her friends (what few there were)
and her life and plopped down on the front lines for all that time just to be a
sacrificial lamb? That wasn't fair. It all seemed so callous. This was
something the Negaverse would do. Wasn't that what they were all fighting?

What was the point? Why put her through all of that sacrifice? Why go
through what she did and gain the experience she gained if it was all just to be
a diversion?

And what was she supposed to do now? Artemis and Luna clearly wanted them
fighting together as a unit under Sailor Moon's lead, but was that a good idea?
The other sailor scouts seemed a little raw, but competent enough - - except for
Sailor Moon. Minako had watched her, both before revealing herself and again
during the battle that exposed Zoicite as the fake Sailor Moon. The only thing
she seemed good at was dodging and squealing like a baby. She had power - -
they'd all seen that. But when Kunzite took this Tuxedo Mask character, "The
Moon Princess" wanted to fold like a paper doll.

Minako felt an old twinge in her heart. Now she could understand loving
and losing a guy - - boy, could she ever! But she didn't fold up, no matter how
much she wanted to at the time. There were enemies to face - - battles to be
fought - - fire to draw, as it turned out. And now she was supposed to follow
the lead of this - - this little girl playing hero, after all the sacrifices
she'd made and everything she'd accomplished as Sailor V? How was that fair,
too?

A pedestrian signal made her stop at a corner. Minako wondered if it was
worth continuing the fight and immediately knew the answer. The Negaverse was a
real threat. But she wondered if it might be easier just to fight on her own
than to join this fractured team being led by Princess Crybaby. Especially if
the only thing she was needed for was to draw enemy fire away from Sailor Moon.

"Sailor V!"

Shaken from her depressed thoughts, Minako looked around, trying to get a
fix on the voice she'd heard. Finally she locked onto a cute little raven-haired
girl about ten-years-old just down the street from her.

Minako had first thought the urgency in the exclamation was distress. As
it turned out, the child was clutching the pant leg of a man, her father no doubt,
and pointing to the front window of a store. Her eyes were saucers and her mouth
was pulled into an over-sized, excited "o" shape. Following the line of the
girl's finger, Minako found the reason for the excitement. It was a twelve inch
Sailor V fashion doll in the window, which had just recently hit the market. The
little girl seemed about to hyperventilate in its presence.

"You like Sailor V, huh sugar?" the father grinned, bathing in his
daughter's glow.

"She's the best, Daddy! I want to be just like her! Can you buy me the
doll, Daddy? I promise I won't ask for anything else! Please?"

"I think we can afford it," chuckled the father. He ushered his daughter
into the store. By then, Minako had turned away.

"Poor kid," Minako thought to herself. "Would she want to be just like me
if she knew the truth?" Her spirits not lifted, Minako wandered away.

Was she jealous? It was a good question, but one she'd hate to answer
"yes" to. Usagi was a surprise choice for the Moon Princess. Minako had worked
longer and harder, faced more, and accomplished more. She was Sailor V. They
were making a movie about her - - and that was another thing, she wasn't getting
a cent from that. Maybe she didn't deserve to be the Moon Princess, but she
deserved to be more than just a pawn in this chess game between the Crystal
Kingdom and the Negaverse.

Looking up, Minako was surprised at where she had wandered. But maybe it
was fate. Still, fate, gods or just dumb luck, on impulse Minako decided that
maybe she needed to talk to someone.

Venturing up the steps of Hikawa Shrine, Minako looked around curiously.
Artemis had told her about it, but the first time she'd been here, she was more
concerned with other things. This was the first time she'd had a chance to look
around. It was a nice place. Minako wasn't that religious, but there was
something about the place that made her feel peaceful.

"Hello, young lady!" came a male voice from behind her. Minako jumped in
surprise and crouched into a defensive posture before realizing that it was just
a harmless little old man. He wore priest's clothes and a wide, almost
child-like grin on his pumpkin face. "You look depressed. I've got just the
thing for that!"

"Um, I'll just bet," Minako said, suddenly nervous as to just what this
weird little man meant by that. "Actually, I'm just here to see Rei Hino."

"Oh, my granddaughter. She's a nice young girl. Taught her everything she
knows."

"Grampa, are you bothering my friends again?" fumed Rei, poking her head
out of a door in the temple.

"Just welcoming her," Grandpa smiled too innocently. "She's cute, Rei.
She's even more cute than the one with the two balls of hair on her head."

"Um, thank you, sir," Minako smiled warily.

"Don't mind him. He's just got too much time on his hands. He should be
doing his chores," Rei said pointedly, aimed not so subtly at her grandfather.
Rei escorted Minako away.

"Stop by any time, my dear," Grandpa called after her. "You're always
welcome here. Next time, you'll have to let me show you my charms."

"Grampa!" gasped Rei.

"Heh heh heh!" laughed the pudgy little priest. He danced off, far more
spryly than someone his age should have. Rei looked intensely mortified and
Minako had to surpress a giggle.

Inside the temple, Rei poured them both some tea and sat down across from
Minako at a small table. She was dressed in red and white priestess robes and
looked bewitchingly glamorous without trying.

"So what can I do for you?" Rei asked. The girl was cordial, but Minako
couldn't help but sense she was sizing the blonde up. This one had a suspicious
streak. "Is there Negaverse trouble?"

Minako sighed. Why was she even here? How much should she say to this
girl? They barely knew each other, even though they'd fought side by side
several times now. However, she might be able to get an honest assessment of the
situation from Rei. She didn't seem to be an ally of Sailor Moon, like Mercury
was. She didn't even seem particularly enamored with Sailor Moon, either. But
was that because of Sailor Moon or because she was a malcontent? Sorting out
these group dynamics gave Minako a headache.

"You look kind of down," Rei observed. "Anything I can help with?"

"I don't want to burden you with my problems," Minako demurred.

"Hey, it comes with the robes," Rei shrugged. "It's one of the things I'm
training for here. If I'm ever going to run this place one day, I've got to
learn how to give people spiritual guidance." She squeezed Minako's hand. "And
I seriously do want to help."

"Well," Minako hesitated. "Are you that confidant in Usagi? I know she's
the Moon Princess, but, well, she's not very together."

Rei sighed. "She doesn't exactly make a good first impression, does she?"
Rei said, fiddling with her sleeve.

"So why do you guys follow her? Or do you all follow her? I mean, you did
slap her."

Rei grimaced. "Don't remind me. It's not something I'm proud of. Look, I
admit Usagi has the unique talent of being able to work my very last nerve. She's
lazy and a complete space case at all the wrong times. And you have to
practically lead her by the hand sometimes, because she has no confidence in
herself at all. But I've seen what she can do when she tries. You saw it, too,
when she blew away Zoicite and held off Kunzite. There's something about her.
Something you can only see when you've spent some time around her. Something - -
magical.

"Really?" Minako asked skeptically.

"Uh huh. I know you're used to better than her - - better than us. I mean,
you're Sailor V. But if you stick around, you'll see it in her, too. I was
skeptical of her for a long time . . ."

"From what little I've seen, you're still skeptical." Minako saw Rei's
cheeks flush.

"I guess I can be pretty harsh sometimes. But I don't look down on her.
Usagi's got what it takes. She just has to believe in herself to be able to
function. And that's where we come in. Ami helps her focus. Makoto helps her
be strong." Rei grinned impishly. "And I give her a kick in the pants when she
needs it."

"Sounds like you don't need me at all."

"Are you kidding? You're Sailor V! Do you know what she could learn from
you? What we all could learn from you?"

"She barely knows me. She's not going to listen to me."

"She's your biggest fan."

"Yeah?"

"Figure this: Usagi can barely do high school level math. She barely knows
proper Japanese, forget about any foreign languages, and the only thing she knows
about current events is what stores are having sales at the mall. But she can
recite every fact about Sailor V ever published by heart. She could probably
tell you things about yourself that you don't know. And she plays that Sailor V
video game until they throw her out of the arcade. You're her hero. Of course
you'd be a great role model for her. You could be the only one she'd ever listen
to." A dreamy smile overtook Rei's face. "And it's worth it, because you'll
never find a better friend."

Another memory triggered in Minako's mind, one from a short time ago.
Minako had helped the scouts expose Zoicite as the impostor Sailor Moon, then
introduced herself to the other scouts.

She hadn't noticed it then, but Sailor Moon was the only one who recognized
the Sailor V mask she'd worn with her Sailor Venus uniform. Now that she thought
about it, Sailor Moon had been excited about meeting her, far more than the rest.
She seemed almost giddy - - just like that little girl looking at the doll.
Minako had been too occupied with the adrenaline rush of the situation to make
the connection, but Sailor Moon had been in awe of her.

"I don't know," Minako replied. "She just seems so - - goofy."

"Don't let first impressions fool you. Usagi's totally devoted to her
friends. She even tries to be nice to her enemies. Like I said, there's
something special about her."

"You believe in her that much?" Minako asked.

"Yeah. I'll be the first one to ream her when she messes up, but she's got
such a bottomless heart that you can't hate her no matter what she does. So I
help her all I can, because it's my job, but also because it's my way of saying
'thank you for being my friend'."

Minako looked down. Rei's words registered, but the ones that stuck out
were "it's my job".

"Something else is bothering you besides Usagi, isn't it?" Rei asked.

"What are you, psychic?" Minako asked, covering her mood with a joke. She
saw Rei wince from an inner pain, but the girl moved past it.

"Tell me to butt out if I'm prying," Rei offered.

Before Minako knew it, the entire story of "Sailor Decoy" had tumbled from
her mouth. There was an awkward silence and for a moment she was afraid Rei
would sneer at her fears or ridicule them.

"Wow," Rei commented, momentarily stunned. "That sucks."

"Yeah," Minako agreed. "It's thrown me for such a loop. I hate being used
like that. It's kind of made me wonder if my only reason for being around was to
take one for Usagi." Minako thought a moment. "Do you ever think about it?"

"Taking one for Usagi? Not a lot. But I would."

"Why? Because she's your friend?"

"Yeah. And because she'd do it for me in a second. Well, maybe two
seconds in my case. And because she's important - - and not just because she's
the Moon Princess, either. I - - sense things. And it might not seem like it,
but Usagi's the key to our future. I knew that even before I knew she was the
Moon Princess."

"And we're expendable."

"No, not expendable. We're necessary. Usagi would be lost without us.
She needs us. Even if, worse comes to worse, she needs us to take one for her so
she can do what she has to do."

"That's pretty grim."

"Or pretty noble. Depends on how you look at it. Grampa always says truth
is shaped by the angle it's viewed at. He'd say it was pretty noble, too, if he
knew."

"Your grandfather sounds like a traditionalist."

"He is in the things that count. I owe him a lot. Look, Minako, you seem
to be wondering if you're doing any good being a scout. I don't know if my
opinion means a lot, but I think you are. OK, sticking you out on your own to
draw fire wasn't cool. But you got a lot of positives from that mission, too,
and you made a difference to a lot of people. And that's way cool. And now
you've got a chance to pass those positives on and to keep making a difference.
Maybe even be a part of changing the world for the better. I'd say that outweighs
the negatives."

"Guess I'm being pretty selfish," Minako mumbled, smiling sheepishly.

"After everything you've accomplished?" Rei said, her eyes twinkling
brightly. "I figure you've got the right. Just don't wallow in it, huh?"

"Was that my kick in the pants?" Minako asked wryly.

"We all do what we do best," grinned Rei timidly.

"Thanks. You're pretty good at this - - both the spiritual guidance thing
and the kick in the pants thing. You're going to make a great Priestess some
day."

"You think?" Rei asked, her chest swelling.

The two teens walked out into the courtyard of the temple.

"Now you tell me if I'm being too nosy," Minako said. "I remember one of
the others saying you were in love with this Tuxedo Mask too?"

"That's all past," Rei said quickly. She glanced and found Minako still
looking at her. "If you love someone, you have to do what's best for them. Even
if that means letting them be with the one they love."

Unbidden, memories of Katarina and Alan surfaced. "I know where you're
coming from on that," Minako said quietly. Rei looked at her like she was
looking into her soul.

"You do, don't you," Rei said. A wistful smile grew on her lips.

"Your grandfather have any sage advice for someone who's loved and lost?"

"Yeah. 'Don't eat so much ice cream. You'll get fat and then no boy'll
want you.'"

Minako looked at her, puzzled.

"I never said he knew everything," Rei shrugged.

The two teens burst into giggles. Out of nowhere, Rei's grandfather
appeared.

"Well, I see my granddaughter did you a world of good, young lady," he
grinned happily. "You look even prettier when you smile."

"Thank you, sir," she bowed, playing along. "But I have to tell you, she
also warned me about you."

"Don't believe half of what you hear," the irascible old man replied
playfully. He held up a small carving. "This talisman is for you. Hold it
whenever you appear before an audience and it'll ward off stage fright."

"Why thank you!" gasped Minako, her eyes lighting up. "How did you know?"

"I didn't get this far in life by being blind," he grinned. "You're going
to be a star someday. I can read it in your aura. And I'd be honored if you
gave me your first autograph when it happens."

"You got it," she beamed. Waving to Rei, Minako bounded down the steps to
the street.
* * * *
As she walked down Tenth Street, Minako felt as if a dark cloud had been
lifted from around her. Not because she bought into all of that "honorable
death" stuff that Rei talked about - - traditional Japanese Minako was not. But
Rei had reminded her that she had a power and Minako had to use that power to
make a difference, even at the possible cost of her life. It was simply the
right thing to do.

And it wasn't necessary for her to like it.

What had lifted her burden most was just being able to talk it out with
someone her own age, someone that understood. She hadn't had anyone to talk to
since returning from England except Artemis. All she really had in England was
Katarina. Before that, no one had really been close to her. They were either
jealous or intimidated by her looks or her ambitions. This conversation with Rei
had been one of the few times she'd connected with a contemporary. It felt good.

She passed the shop with the Sailor V dolls in the window. Stopping on a
whim, Minako peered in the window, looking at the doll with growing appreciation.
It was a good likeness. Nodding, she continued on her way. It still bugged her
that she didn't make a dime off of that, either, but that didn't seem as
important right now.
* * * *
"Minako," Artemis said, looking up from his terminal as the girl entered
her room. "Where've you been?"

"I wandered over to Rei's temple," Minako said airily. With bedtime coming,
she began pulling off her school uniform.

"What did you do there?" Artemis asked, puzzled.

"Girl talk," she shrugged.

"Minako," Artemis said soberly, leaping to the bed. "I'm sorry for
upsetting you earlier. I should have found a way to tell you that softened the
blow. It's a terrible thing you had to do for the Crystal Kingdom, but . . ."

"Hey, knock knock," Minako said, playfully tapping on the cat's head with
her knuckles. "Anybody home? I understand. I don't blame you, Artemis. I'm
all past it now. I'll cope." She shrugged absently. "I'm Sailor V. Although I
guess I'm just Sailor Venus now."

"Oh yeah," scowled Artemis cynically. "You're back to normal all right."

"I love you, too, Artemis," smirked Minako, wrinkling her nose. She picked
the cat up and hugged him to her breast.

"Rowr! NOT SO TIGHT!" gasped the white feline, his eyes bugging out.

Minako dropped him to the bed, giggling. She turned and headed for the
bathroom, singing the latest pop hit. Artemis watched her, shaking his head. If
he used all nine of his lives, he'd never fully understand her.

But he was very glad she was back.
* * * *
At the temple the next evening, the four scouts gathered along with Artemis
and Luna. Only Usagi was missing. Minako noticed Artemis about to say something.
Then they noticed the worried look on Luna's face and kept silent.

"I'm so worried about Usagi," Luna fretted. "She's not herself. She just
sits around and mopes about Tuxedo Mask. She's gone to pieces just when we may
need her most!"

"Well that girl's got to pull herself together," Artemis replied. "Events
are moving fast and they're not going to wait for her."

"Lay off of her, Artemis," bristled Rei. "She's worried about the man she
loves. She's not a robot!"

"Yeah," added Makoto. "Haven't you ever been in love before?"

"Hmph!" snorted the cat.

"Sounds like she needs a friend right now," Minako spoke up. "We all need
to lean on somebody once in a while. How about I go try to cheer her up?"

"Would you?" Luna asked hopefully. "It might be just the thing to lift her
spirits. You know, she's a great fan of Sailor V."

"So I hear," grinned Minako. "But I think she just needs a shoulder right
now, not an idol."

The others moved off to plan strategy. Rei, though, intercepted Minako as
she started to leave.

"Looks like you're past your crisis," Rei smiled. "Glad to see it."

"Just needed a shoulder," shrugged Minako. "Besides, I figure my time as
'Sailor Decoy' is done. No sense dwelling on it. It's not like I'm ever going
to have to do it again."

Rei winked at her. Minako flashed a "v" sign in return and headed off for
Usagi's.

THE END