Rhapsody by ruminant

Chapter Two

Guilt is unlike any other emotion in the sea of human feelings. Anger may drive a person to righteous action. Sadness may open a person's soul so that they can more clearly see their true needs. Fear forces a person to take action - the ever quoted "fight or flight". But guilt is an entirely different creature. Guilt gnaws. Guilt feeds upon itself. Guilt begets guilt.

In the two weeks following the incident that took Sanya Keito's life, the senshi all attempted to deal with their varying degrees of guilt in different ways. As one united group they had attended the young woman's funeral. None of them spoke of what had happened after the funeral. They were all fearful of their fellow senshi's reactions. They were all especially concerned about Ami. Although all the girls had witnessed great strength come from the petite girl, they also knew how fragile she could be. Ami never made mistakes. For her to have made such a miscalculation, at such a great cost... she would carry that guilt with her always.

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Three young women dressed in school uniforms stopped at a crosswalk. The crowd was dense around them. Ami pulled her arms in closer to her body as the human herd stacked up around her. One of her two blonde companions sighed as they waited for the light to change.

Usagi glanced from the stiffened Ami to the sighing Minako. "So... did either of you watch the Three Lights interview last night?"

Ami blushed slightly and shook her head, "I was studying."

Usagi smiled at her friend and poked her in the side. "Sure you were."

Ami smiled good-naturedly and turned the conversation away from herself, "What about you, Minako-chan?"

"Well, of COURSE I watched it. What kind of fan would I be if I didn't watch all of their interviews?"

The light at the crosswalk changed and the crowd surged forward. The girls were once again silent as they crossed. Usagi thought for a moment and blurted out, "Taiki said he doesn't have a girlfriend."

"I already know," Minako replied as if EVERYONE already knew.

Usagi thought for a moment before nodding her head. "Oh, yeah... I forgot about all that spying you do."

Minako gasped dramatically at the accusation, "I do NOT spy on them."

Ami shook her head slightly as Usagi made her case. "You hide in the bushes and watch them at lunch."

Minako folded her arms across her chest and raised her chin. "I'm just gathering information. If I want to become a top idol then I need to watch other top idols and do what they do. Spying... hmph!"

Usagi snuck a glance at Ami as Minako went on about how spies were just nosey, whereas SHE was enterprising. The blue haired girl was only half listening to the conversation. She had been only partially present in her own life ever since "it" had happened. Ami would respond to questions and even make an occasional remark but she was never fully engaged in a conversation. Usagi didn't know how to help her. This time her friend's hurt would not be fixed by a trip to the ice cream stand. All she could think to do was to make life as normal as possible for Ami... for them all.

Usagi's nose interrupted her train of thought as the girls walked near a bakery. Ice cream might not help her friend, but a nice pastry certainly wouldn't hurt anything. She was about to suggest they stop when all three girls stopped in unison as they heard an inhuman scream.

"It's coming from the bakery," Usagi informed the others as she ran to the large window of the shop.

Sailor Aluminum Siren stood on top of the counter looking disappointed. Obviously, she had once again failed to collect a true star seed. Usagi felt a hard tug on her sleeve. "Come on," Minako urged, "we've got to go around back and transform."

The three girls sped to the alley beside the bakery and transformed. Minako tugged on the door knob but the alley entrance to the bakery was locked. She gave the door one more pull before she resigned. "No chance of a surprise entrance. We'll have to go in through the front."

Sailor Mercury frowned at Venus' back as the three hurried to the front of the store. Of course the alley door would be locked. What kind of shop owner would leave a back door open to thieves and vandals?

The three senshi ran through the front door of the shop and surveyed the sight. Sailor Aluminum Siren was gone. But... there was no phage. "Maybe it left?" Sailor Moon suggested.

Sailor Venus shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't see it through the window either. Maybe the target wasn't here when Aluminum Siren came?"

Sailor Moon strayed over to a shelf of sticky pastries wrapped in colorful plastic. "I wish SOMEONE was here so I could buy so..." she was cut off as a wad of dough hit her in the mouth.

Sailor Mercury went to check on Sailor Moon as Sailor Venus went into a defensive posture. "Show yourself!" she yelled.

Sailor Moon was struggling to remove the sticky dough from her face. Her entire mouth was covered and no matter how hard she pulled, it would not come off. Sailor Mercury tried to pry it off but it was no use. Sailor Moon mumbled incoherently as she began to panic.

Another wad of dough shot through the air at Sailor Mercury's turned head. "Crescent Beam!" Sailor Venus shot it before it could reach its target.

Another glob hurtled toward Sailor Venus. She leapt out of the way and saw the dough stick to the window. "It's over there!" Sailor Mercury shouted and Sailor Moon pointed.

Sailor Venus quickly turned and saw a shadowy figure duck behind a display of plastic cakes. "Venus Love and Beauty Shock!" she called out.

The plastic cakes exploded into tiny pieces that rained down on the three senshi in the cramped store. However, there was no phage where they had been. "Venus, look out!" Sailor Mercury shouted as she knocked the blonde to the ground.

A massive three-tiered cake had been dropped from the ceiling directly on top of her. She and Sailor Mercury were splattered with pink frosting as they fell. Sailor Moon punched two buttons on her wrist communicator and held it up to her face. She mumbled a bit and held the camera of the communicator so that it filmed the scene in the bakery.

Sailor Venus and Mercury got to their feet and looked around them once again. "Why is it hiding like this?" Venus growled.

Two balls of dough suddenly hit Sailor Venus in each arm. They were shot so forcefully that she was slammed into the wall behind her. The sticky mess pinned her arms to the wall. "Venus!" Sailor Mercury cried out.

Sailor Venus struggled to free her arms but the dough held her. Sailor Moon ran to try to pull her off the wall. Sailor Moon braced one of her legs against the wall and pulled on Sailor Venus with all her strength but the senshi didn't budge. "Pull harder!" Venus grunted through her clenched teeth.

Sailor Mercury stood with her back to her friends, ready for more games from the elusive phage. She activated her visor and scanned the store for the monster. "There you are," she thought as a red silhouette flashed before her eyes. This phage had some sort of a chameleon quality. Well, camouflage couldn't fool her computer.

"Mercury Aqua Rhapsody!" she called out.

A gush of water flowed from her body toward the phage. It screeched in terror as the flood drew closer to it. The stream flowed nearer and nearer to the monster. Sailor Mercury gasped as her attack folded in on itself. The edge of the wave barely lapped at the phage.

The phage stepped forward and dropped its camouflage. It was made of dough and wobbled as it strode toward the three helpless senshi. "You can't catch me," it cackled, "I'm the Gingerbread Man!"

"Mars Flame Sniper!"

The phage screeched as a good part of its torso was baked. The dough holding Sailor Venus to the wall loosened. "Hurry! Attack it again!" she yelled.

"Jupiter Oak Evolution!"

The phage fell to the ground and broke in the middle like a burnt cookie. Sailor Venus fell forward as the dough holding her up let go. Sailor Moon spat the dough ball out of her mouth and called out,
"Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss!"

Light surrounded the phage and when it faded, a kind looking elderly baker was left lying on the floor. Sailor Jupiter knelt down to check on him. "It looks like he'll be all right," she said.

Sailor Moon and Venus looked expectantly at Mercury. "Did we miss something?" Sailor Mars questioned.

"I..."

"Ami-chan? You're really pale. Are you OK?" Sailor Jupiter quickly went to her friend's side.

"No...I'm not. My attack..."

"We should ask Luna and Artemis about this," Sailor Venus interrupted to save her friend from having to explain for at least the time being.

The girls transformed back into their school attire and left the bakery. Minako dropped to a slower pace and walked behind her friends. She activated her communicator and Artemis' face appeared on the screen. "Is the battle over?" he asked.

"Yeah," Minako replied, "but we need to have a senshi meeting. Is Luna with you?"

"I'm here," Luna's voice answered from off-screen.

"We're heading to the shrine. Can you meet us there?" Minako asked.

"Yes, but… are you all right?" Artemis questioned as his concern for the well-being of his charge grew.

"I'm fine, Artemis. Nobody is hurt. We just need to talk is all," she replied.

"All right then. We'll meet you at the shrine."

Minako broke the connection and caught up to the other girls. The four girls kept throwing concerned glances toward Ami as they walked in silence. For her part, Ami stared straight ahead and kept blinking back tears.

The cats were waiting for them at the top of the long flight of stairs that led to the shrine. "What happened?" Luna quickly asked as she saw the expressions on the girls' faces.

Ami slumped down and sat on the top step. "My attack didn't work," she whispered as if she still didn't believe what she had seen.

"What do you mean, 'didn't work'?" Artemis asked.

"The energy left my body but it barely touched the phage. It stopped short," Ami replied while looking away from the others, "It didn't even affect it."

Usagi shook her head. "No. It DID affect it. We could see it after your attack."

Ami gave a short, sad laugh. "It revealed itself because there was no threat. You couldn't call out your attack and Minako was immobilized. Once it realized I couldn't hurt it..."

Usagi wrapped her arms around her friend. She had also been in a similar situation. It was an awful feeling to think you couldn't fight and protect your friends. That you couldn't fulfill your destiny.

"But why?" Makoto asked, "Why would Ami's attack not work?"

Luna looked up at the defeated senshi of Mercury. "Because your attacks are tied to your emotions," she gently explained, "You all made a choice when you became sailor senshi. You chose to become senshi of your own free will. Artemis and I could not have forced it upon you. Your attacks wouldn't have worked if we had."

Rei's eyes closed as she realized what Luna was saying. She had never thought much about how her powers worked. She had faith that they would work and they did. But it was more than that. Ami had fought countless battles. She knew her attacks would work. It wasn't a matter of faith.

When Rei had first became Sailor Mars she had called out her attack because she wanted to save the people trapped in that dark dimension. She had desired to use her powers. "We have to WANT our attacks to work."

Four defenders of justice and two cats turned questioning stares upon the now weeping blue haired senshi.

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"We have to WANT our attacks to work," Rei had said.

She could still see the confused faces of her friends through her closed eyelids. They should have been angry with her, or disappointed. They should have looked upon her with contempt but they only stared at her with crinkled foreheads as they tried to understand why a senshi could possibly not want her attack to be effective. She supposed she couldn't blame them for being confused. To be a sailor senshi was to be a fighter. To be a fighter a senshi had to call upon her powers. There was nothing to be confused over.

Ami rolled onto her right side and looked out her bedroom window. The stars were obscured by the lights of Tokyo. Only a small sliver of the moon was visible through the light pollution. She couldn't see it, but she knew that there was a small point of light in the heavens that belonged to her... whether she deserved it or not. Whether she wanted it or not. DID she want it?

She wanted to help people and ease their suffering. That was all she had ever wanted. It was why she dreamed of becoming a doctor. It was why she had become a sailor senshi. She had reconciled her passive nature with the constant battling required of a defender or Earth. She rationalized the fighting as a means to an end. That end being the peace that would come once Usagi had her throne. Of course Ami wanted to be able to study in peace and quiet, but she was willing to make sacrifices in order to ensure that bright future.

She was willing to make sacrifices...

Once again she wondered if Sanya Keito would have willingly given her life in order to save the lives of others. From what she had heard at the woman's funeral, Ami was fairly certain she would have. What gnawed at Ami was the fact that Keito was not given that choice. It was one thing to be offered the opportunity to become a sailor senshi and protect the world. It was another to be FORCED to give up your very life just to make it easier for those protectors to defeat a monster.

Ami strained her eyes to see the twinkling celestial object she knew she would never be able to see. Did she want to be a senshi? Of course she did. She still wanted to protect innocent lives. But that wasn't the important question.

Did she want to use her powers? Her powers had saved the lives of innocents and her fellow senshi countless times. Even the seemingly weak Shabon Spray had been crucial to many successes in battle. She had used the attack to blind and confuse the enemy. The same attack that had kept her loved ones safe had taken an innocent life. How could anything capable of killing a human being be good?

Ami was now the one blinded and confused.