Summary: First season. Usagi and Mamoru are together, but the dreams of the princess haven't stopped. Jupiter has been awakened. When a new senshi appears, Mamoru's vow that he will only love Sailor Moon is put to an interesting test. Which senshi is the real Sailor Moon? Usagi will meet her Princess and face losing her hero. Sequel to An Unlikely Encounter, but this one isn't an OHC.

AN: Here's the promised sequel. If you haven't read An Unlikely Encounter, please do so first. The chapters in the story will be much longer than the ones in AUE since I have as long as I need to write them, I am not constricted to just one hour of actual writing time per chapter. I want to thank all of you who reviewed/read AUE and give a little shout-out to my chapter 8 reviewers: Comet Moon, guitarbabe2005, Taeniaea, OoOSakuraOoO, Butterfle, Yasaboo, and Dream Princess. (Note to Dream Princess: I tried to email you regarding your question and it was returned. Can you contact me using my info from my profile? Thanks.) Please let me know your impressions of this story. Chapter Two will be posted tomorrow and then I will post up a new story Thursday while I work on Chapter Three. 1-2-07

/\/\/\/\

Mamoru and Usagi were celebrating their first month anniversary at a small restaurant about halfway between his apartment and her house. Her father still wasn't keen on the idea that Usagi even had male friends, so Usagi's mom had driven her up to the restaurant to meet Mamoru. Although her mom was amused by her husband's discomfort with their daughter's growing up, she was strongly tempted to stay outside the restaurant during the entire meal. However, knowing she would not have appreciated that when she was Usagi's age, she kissed her daughter's cheek, waved to Mamoru as he claimed Usagi's hand, and then drove away.

Usagi grinned up at her tall, handsome boyfriend as he bent down to kiss her hello. "I've missed you, Mamo-chan." she murmured.

"We saw each other four hours ago, Usako." he laughed. But the way he was holding her close told Usagi that he'd missed her too, so she simply grinned and leaned into him, nestling her head under his shoulder as they waited for Mamoru's name to be called. "Sorry I couldn't get a reservation." Mamoru apologized softly.

Usagi shrugged. "It doesn't matter." Her stomach chose that moment to rumble, however, and she blushed in embarrassment.

Mamoru grinned in amusement as he slid his hand down from her arm to cover her noisy stomach, his eyes darkening when he felt her stomach flutter at his touch. Trying to tamp down on his reaction to her closeness, he lifted their joined hands, stepped back and spun her in a small circle, as if they were dancing on the sidewalk. As she spun slowly under his guidance, he admired her long legs, the trailing ponytails and the fit of her dress. His gut tightened at the thought that she was his. He loved the dream-like quality of the way she slowly stopped, facing him, her slightly flaring skirt slowly settling about her legs. Happiness and love sparkled in her eyes the way the small pink semi-precious stones in her ears sparkled in the light. He was pleased she'd worn his gift to dinner and more pleased that she was here, radiating her love for him for all to see. It made the dark corners in his soul seem to light up with a hope he hadn't felt since his first year in the orphanage.

Ignoring the other people waiting outside the restaurant, Mamoru pulled her close, bending over her. Usagi responded instinctively, rising to the tip of her toes, hands sliding up his arms for balance. Their lips met in a soft kiss. Mamoru's hands fitted about her waist, helping to steady her. He pulled back to look at her and her eyes flitted open, a smile on her lips. "I love you." he whispered, delighting in the way her smile widened. He leaned in to kiss her again, but the sound of his name being called broke the illusion that they were alone. Looking up, he saw a waitress holding two menus smiling indulgently at them. He nodded to her as Usagi regained her footing. Holding hands tightly, they wandered amidst the tables as the waitress led them into the back of the restaurant to a cozy booth.

"Enjoy your meal." she smiled warmly and handed them their menus. Another waitress came up to get their drink orders. After placing their dinner orders, Mamoru slipped a small box out of his jacket pocket and passed it over to her.

"Demo, Mamo-chan, you already gave me a present." Usagi protested. Mamoru simply smiled and refused to take the gift-wrapped box back. Surrendering with a giggle, she untied the pink ribbon and carefully slit the cellophane tape holding the sparkly pink wrapping paper in place. Meticulously unfolding the paper, she gave Mamoru a saucy wink, earning herself a throaty laugh and a kiss on the nose. Having succeeded in her mission to make him laugh, she tossed the paper carelessly aside and lifted the lid of the box. Nestled inside was a small pendant in the shape of a heart. The same pink stones that sparkled from her ears formed the outline of the heart. Lifting it out, she twirled it in the candlelight. "Mamo-chan!" she squealed in delight.

Mamoru had to catch his breath at the tears of surprise and happiness shimmering in her eyes. Usagi stood up and moved around the table, slipping into his side of the booth and presenting him with her back. She looked back at him over her shoulder and asked him to put it on her. Feeling more than a little embarrassment mixed with pleasure, he complied. He fumbled momentarily with the catch and his fingers caressed the sensitive skin at the nape of her neck, making her shiver slightly. A grin crossed his face and he couldn't resist placing a kiss on her skin where the catch lay flat against her neck. Usagi laughed at him as she turned around to capture his lips in a proper kiss.

Mamoru broke the kiss when the waitress interrupted, wanting to know if they wanted dessert. Mamoru shook his head and thanked her, accepting the check. Usagi was still blinking away the effects of his kiss when he returned his attention to her. "It looks perfect." he whispered in her ear.

Usagi stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then glanced down at the pendent that rested about an inch and a half beneath the hollow of her throat. "It's beautiful. Thank you, Mamo-chan." She leaned in for another kiss, this one smoky and slow. "I love you so much." she murmured against his lips as she slowly pulled back.

"I love you more." he teased softly, running his hand slowly down the side of her face. "You make me feel whole." Delight shone in her eyes and he couldn't help stealing another kiss.

Usagi's mom was waiting outside the restaurant when they exited. Reluctantly, they parted after a good night kiss. Mamoru watched his gorgeous girlfriend slip into the passenger side of the car and wave enthusiastically until she could no longer see him. Only then did the handsome man turn in the direction of his apartment, his heart singing with happiness and love and a wish for forever with his beloved Usako.

/\/\/\/\

Despite the romantic nature of their first month anniversary, Usagi felt anything but secure in their relationship. Every morning when they met before her classes, she searched his face for signs of how well he had slept. She was becoming jealous of the woman who controlled his dreams. When she tried to talk to him about the dreams, his lips would thin into a pale line, his eyes would grow stormy. She knew he didn't want to talk about her. She wondered if the Princess was still as precious to him as she had been before he'd discovered he loved Sailor Moon. And there was another problem for Usagi! She was jealous of her alter ego, too! She was terribly afraid that Mamoru loved Sailor Moon, not Usagi.

Rei had laughed at her when she had tried to talk with her about it. She'd told Usagi that Mamoru loved them both because they were the same person. She had tried to explain it from her own perspective, "Look, Usa-chan, it's like . . . like a nickname. Sailor Mars or Rei, I am still me. The same person." Rei had given her a considering glance, "I mean, who's a better friend to you? Ami-chan or Sailor Mercury?" When Usagi hadn't answered, Rei had assumed her point had been made. But Usagi still couldn't help but wonder. Would he have fallen in love with her before he knew she was Sailor Moon? She heaved a sigh. It was too late now. She'd never find out.

/\/\/\/\

Early morning meetings came and went. Late night battles were a staple of their lives. Luna's lectures and worries did little to faze the two lovebirds. Two months passed, then three. Rei and Makoto were just a little fed up with their starry-eyed, perpetually-on-cloud-nine friend. They tried not to let her constant "Mamo-chan this, Mamo-chan that" chatter get on their nerves, but their tongues ached from constantly being bitten. Finally, Rei's temper boiled over as Usagi was dreamily plotting her fourth month anniversary. She wasn't talking with anyone, she was really talking to herself, but forcing them to listen. "Hey, Odango Brain! We're discussing important senshi business. Shut up and participate or go away!"

Usagi's mouth fell open, Rei's anger startling and silencing her. Her eyes filled with tears, but her wails were cut off by Makoto's equally irritated voice.

"Look, Usagi-chan, we get that he's perfect. We've heard it about a zillion times. We're really happy for you. But, we have a mission to complete. We have to find the Ginzuishou, find the Princess and kick Queen Beryl's butt. Every day you babble on and on about Mamoru-san while we are trying to figure out our next move!"

Ami decided she had better intervene before things got too much more out of hand. Usagi was really red in the face and both Rei and Makoto looked too angry and out-of-sorts to communicate clearly. "Girls, please, sit down." she instructed in her calmest voice. Makoto and Rei complied slowly. Usagi swiveled to face Ami, hope in her eyes that Ami would take her side. "Usagi-chan, please calm down and listen carefully." Usagi wiped at her eyes, took a deep breath and tried to obey Ami. Ami paused, watching Usagi, trying to gauge what her possible reactions might be. "Usagi-chan, I'm worried about you. All you ever talk about is Mamoru-san." Usagi attempted to protest, but Ami held her hands up. "Usagi-chan, wait. You can have your turn after I'm finished. You were chosen by Luna to be our leader. You are also our best friend. But lately, we haven't been your priority. You've been slacking in school, in senshi business, and in friendship." Usagi gasped angrily, but Ami placed her hand on Usagi's arm, willing her friend to listen to her. "Usagi-chan, any one of us could tell you what Mamoru's favorite ice cream flavor is. Or about his dreams and goals. We know him as well as you do! But can you tell us one important thing that has happened to us? What did Makoto bake for last Wednesday's senshi meeting? What was the last thing Rei bought?"

Usagi floundered. "I . . . I . . ." she trailed off in defeat. "I don't know." She hung her head. "Have I really been that selfish?" she asked, eyes watering again, but this time with remorse. All three girls nodded at her. "Oh, I'm sorry!" she wailed loudly, throwing herself into Rei's arms. "I really am! I will pay more attention! I'll do better in school! I'll be a better leader, I promise!" Rei groaned and pushed Usagi off her lap, but Usagi didn't care. "Please forgive me, you guys." she begged.

"Yeah yeah, just cut the theatrics, Odango." Rei muttered in embarrassed annoyance. Sighing, she rolled her eyes. "Look, we're not saying we never want to hear about your relationship. We just don't want to hear about it all the time."

"Or most of the time." Makoto threw in, still a little belligerent and not quite ready to let go of her irritation. Ami gave her a glare and Makoto sighed. "Look, Usagi-chan, at this rate, all four of us are going to get him the same birthday present. Some things should be just between the two of you. I mean, it would probably freak Mamoru-san out if one of us should mention something he would have liked kept private. Y'know, kinda like I wouldn't appreciate it if you told everyone at school my parents are dead." Makoto gave Usagi a hard look.

Usagi sighed. "Okay, okay, I get it, Mako-chan. I'm sorry and I will try to be more . . ." she paused as if searching for a word. Giving up, she re-phrased her sentence. "I'll try to pay more attention to what I'm saying and when I'm saying it."

"Exactly, Usagi-chan." Ami smiled. "Just exercise a little more discretion." When Usagi nodded, she looked at the other two, "Now, if we can get back on track?"

All three sighed and nodded, muttering their agreements. Reluctantly Usagi returned her attention to the topic of the Princess, hiding the bitter rebellion growing in her heart. She had no interest in finding the Princess anymore. She could care less if the Ginzuishou stayed lost. But she felt passionately about defeating Beryl and her evil Shitennou. They had to be stopped! She kept her feelings secret, though, because she knew what would happen if she were to reveal her true feelings about the Princess.

Suddenly an idea hit her and she spoke up, interrupting Luna. "Maybe the Princess doesn't want to be found until Beryl has been defeated."

Luna paused, tilting her head in thought momentarily. "No, Usagi-chan, the Princess is the only one who can use the Ginzuishou. Without it, I don't think we can defeat Beryl."

"So then the Princess has to be our highest priority." Makoto announced.

"But how are we supposed to find her? We can't just run around asking everybody if she's the Princess." Usagi's irritation peeked out.

"By keeping our eyes open, Odango Brain." Rei's temper frayed again. Sighing, she stood up, "I'm going to try another fire reading." She stomped out.

"Really, Usagi-chan," Luna scolded. "Sometimes you can be so dense. How can you sit there and not hear a word?"

Footsteps on the gravel walk outside silenced their conversation and they belatedly remembered that Mamoru was coming after his classes. He didn't even get a chance to take off his shoes before Usagi flew out to meet him, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from the shrine. He turned to look back at the annoyed faces of her friends, but let her lead him away.

As they walked to his apartment, Mamoru wondered what had his little Usako so down today. Had she had trouble in school again? He frowned, wondering for the millionth time why she did so poorly in school. He tried to tell himself it didn't matter. Grades were just that. Still, he vividly remembered the day she had met him at his high school. She had come with Rei and everyone had been whispering, curious as to which girl was Mamoru's girlfriend. All three of them could easily hear that Rei was the one everyone thought was his type. He knew she'd been wounded by the shocked voices when Mamoru had greeted her with a kiss, not Rei. He'd seen the damage done to her self-confidence, as had Rei. Maybe it was bothering her again.

There was a glamour about Rei, probably nothing more than the good genes donated by her politician father and her beautiful late mother. When one looked at Rei, they saw her cool reserve, her clear sense of style and her instinctive way of belonging somewhere without "fitting in". Rei would probably be a natural in the political realm, a reincarnation of Jackie O in some ways. Usagi was overshadowed by her friend at times like that. The carefree way Usagi traipsed through life seemed immature by comparison and the sensitive, gentle heart that ached for even the smallest of wounded creatures was not obvious to the casual observer. Usagi's tender soul had to be experienced to be appreciated and even then, a jaded eye could overlook how precious it was.

He knew there were times when each of her three senshi friends overshadowed her. Although it was usually Ami in school and Rei outside of school, even Makoto could make Usagi feel inferior and useless without even realizing she was doing so. It was times like that when he would encourage her to re-connect with Naru. Naru was so much like Usagi and she understood Usagi so well. The spunky redhead could be a little annoying at times, but Usagi needed to be with someone who felt as few worries as she did. Ami, Makoto and Rei were very serious about their senshi roles, to the exclusion of normal teen activities. That might make Luna happy, but it drove Usagi crazy. She was the kind of girl who wanted to enjoy life, not spend it in study or meditation or training. No one understood that better than Naru. Mamoru's love of studying had not rubbed off on his petite girlfriend, but he wasn't overly concerned about it. As long as she understood and respected his need for solitude and success in school, he would understand and respect her need for shopping and video games.

When they got to his apartment, he let her mope on the sofa for a bit before he tried talking to her. "Usako, what's wrong?"

Usagi sighed. "I'm sorry. They were just scolding me again." She leaned back into the arm of the couch, tucking her feet up curled against her. "I feel like nothing I do is right. And then they started talking about the Princess." Mamoru knew this was a sensitive subject for her. It was hard for him, too. He moved up from his spot on the floor to sit beside her. She continued to stare at the ceiling, talking softly. "They said it's our top priority to find her, that she's the key to defeating Beryl."

"Why?"

"Because she's the only one who can wield the Ginzuishou. At least, that's what Luna said. She also says we can't defeat Beryl, no matter how much we train. It just makes me feel so pointless, so useless."

Mamoru pulled her into his arms. "Usako, if we need the Princess, then so be it. I'm sure she'll turn up sooner or later. Her showing up won't change things between us." He kissed her softly, then wiped a few of her tears away. Besides, I told you that she's always asking for the Ginzuishou. I've always thought we have to find it first, in order to find her."

"Always? You still dream of her?" Usagi questioned. She tried to drive the jealousy out of her heart by asking more senshi-related questions. "Does she say anything else, like what it looks like or where we can find it?"

Mamoru pushed her aside, walking quickly to the balcony doors. As he stared at his faint reflection, he spoke harshly. "I don't want to talk about it."

Usagi caught her breath audibly. Fresh tears appeared in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Mamo-chan." she whispered sadly. "I didn't mean to intrude." He turned to stop her misconceptions, but she was already running away, slipping out the door and out of his sight.

Cursing his hypersensitivity regarding the topic of the Princess, he began to follow her. "Why does she always have to run, anyway?" he asked the door as he struggled to slip his feet into his recalcitrant shoes. "At least I know where she's headed." he muttered at his feet in irritation as he finally got the sneakers on and rushed out the door.

He caught up to her at the park. She was sitting by the lake where they'd shared their first real kiss. The lake was man-made; on the far side, it gently sloped upward, creating a shoreline. At this end, however, it was more like a sharp gouge, the water nearly 8 feet deep. Only a few inches of grass and dirt rose above the water's surface. Usagi was sitting right on the edge, her left hand dipping in and out of the water as she contemplated the water's depths. He was relieved that she wasn't crying, but his guilt barely receded. "Usako." he alerted her to his presence softly, speaking her name in a tender tone, intentionally attempting to be non-confrontational.

She wasn't surprised he was there. He always followed her, chasing her down after one of their little tiffs. He'd always coax her out of being upset. But when it came to the Princess, she didn't think anyone could coax her out of her emotional reactions. She wasn't a girl easily given to depression, yet she found herself fighting a lake of emotional quicksand whenever the Princess was mentioned. One misstep and it would gladly drag her down into a depression she was terrified she'd never escape. No reassurances of Mamoru's, or of the senshi, could shake the deep conviction that Usagi held regarding the revelation of the Princess. Her appearance would change everything. Even as she let Mamoru pull her into his arms and murmur his promises and apologies, even as she forced herself to appear relaxed and comforted, an anticipatory form of dread circled in her stomach.

Mamoru and Usagi sat by the lake for a few hours. Mamoru talked about his classes and the books he was studying, knowing that Usagi wanted to feel involved in every part of his life. He appreciated that about her, the way she would sit and listen, not fidgeting or interrupting. When she had a question, he could read it on her face from the way her nose would crinkle just a bit and her head would cant to one side. She wouldn't say anything, just sit there looking adorably confused, so he would have to ask what she was thinking. What truly amazed him was that she never fell asleep or indicated that she was bored. She could recall what he had told her later and sometimes asked him new questions days later, as if she had been thinking about their conversation at length.

He also treasured the fact that she told him almost everything. She'd tell him about her little hurts during the school day, her latest argument with Rei, her triumphs when bargain hunting or passing a test and her hopes and dreams, too. Sometimes she shared her fears or told him about a video game or manga she enjoyed. He loved the way she would get a bit embarrassed when she got carried away with something she thought he wouldn't care about. And normally, he could care less about some alien-shooting video game. But if it was important to her, he wanted to be a part of it. Plus, it was always worth the little blushes, the happy smiles and the hyper kisses she would reward him with.

Best of all, to both their minds, was that they could sit together, comfortable in just being quiet. Silence was no enemy to them. Mamoru was just enjoying sitting on the grass with Usagi in his arms, contemplating the patterns the sky made through the leaves of the trees. Usagi was content to be wrapped up in his arms, leaning back on his strong, warm, reassuring chest and watching the wind dance across the lake, making ripples as it intensified. It was long moments before the sudden chill of the wind brought the couple to the reality of the gray sky above and the scent of rain in the air.

"I'll walk you home, Usako. We'd better hurry." Mamoru was reluctant to let her go, but he suspected a thunderstorm was headed their way quite fast.

Usagi nervously eyed the threatening sky and wrapped her arms around herself, as if warding off the wind that was cutting through her blouse. She glanced up at him as he stood up and extended his hand for her. "Thank you." she whispered shyly, still enamored by the way he could be so chivalrous.

"Anything for my lady." he replied gallantly, bending low over her captive hand to press a kiss to its back. Usagi giggled, her face turning a soft shade of pink. Mission accomplished, Mamoru grinned at her and curled his hand properly about hers. A few raindrops sprinkled down on their heads, warning them to hustle. Usagi shivered as the cold water ran down the back of her neck. Mamoru felt her shiver and pulled her closer to him as they walked out of the park.

They were a few blocks from Usagi's house when the first clap of thunder pealed in the sky. Usagi jumped and squealed, hiding her face in Mamoru's arm. He barely swallowed back an amused laugh, but he knew she was afraid of thunder and didn't want to hurt her feelings. Plus, he knew that phobias were irrational fears that often were beyond the person's control and ridiculing her for that uncontrollable fear was the most damaging thing he could do to Usagi. He was certain if he just gave her unconditional support and acceptance, she would overcome her fears in time. Wishing he'd remembered his jacket as he felt her shiver again from the cold wind and light falling rain, he merely quickened their pace.

The thunder continued to intone at them, but Usagi, embarrassed, was managing to control her squeaks. Mamoru kissed the top of her head each time she hid her face and soon they were turning the corner to her street. Reluctantly, they slowed. Usagi's dad was still refusing to accept his little girl was dating and he continued to scold that Mamoru was too old for her. So, whenever he was home, they said goodbye at the corner, knowing they would be talking on the phone as soon as he got home. Usagi always insisted he call her the minute he got into his apartment. She tended to worry about him and paced her room til her mom sang up that someone was on the phone and her dad would mutter, "It better not be that boy!"

"Mamo-chan," Usagi murmured, turning to face him.

"I'll call you the second I get home, Usako." He smiled down at her, laughter hiding in his eyes, "I promise." He bent down to kiss her goodbye, not realizing she had intended to say more.

"I'm so . . . ." her words were suddenly muffled by his mouth on hers and they both pulled back, laughing. For a moment, the cold rain was forgotten and the thunder waited.

"What were you going to say?"

Usagi's laughter died away. "I was saying that I'm sorry."

Mamoru didn't want to hear it. He pulled her back into his arms and kissed her with more passion than a goodbye kiss often required. "See you tomorrow, Usako." he whispered in her ear, enjoying the dazed look in her eyes. He spun her about and gave her a little push towards her house. She started to turn back, to say something, but a peal of thunder chose that moment to maliciously rumble, louder than the previous ones. She yelped, waved and ran toward her house as if Jadeite had come back from the dead and was chasing her. Mamoru's smile faded when she was out of sight and the rainy day felt even duller and colder without her hand in his. "I'm the one who should be sorry, Usako." Feeling like the Princess was a barrier between them; he turned and walked slowly home. He pictured Usagi curled up in the middle of her bed, under her sheets and comforter. As much as he wanted to hear her voice as soon as possible, he was in no rush to get home to his empty apartment.

His vision of his little bunny curled up under her sheets was accurate, but he could not have imagined her appearance. Shucking her damp clothes, she had pulled on her short bunny-covered pink nightgown, hastily taken down her damp buns and pulled on warm pink fuzzy socks before her hurried leap onto her poorly-made bed and burrowed into the covers. Luna, however, would never forget the sight her charge made with her bottom protruding gracelessly as the human girl attempted to bore into the center of her mattress head-first.

"It's only thunder!" the cat scolded, reluctantly burrowing her own path under the covers to carry on a hushed conversation with Usagi. In reaction to her scolding, Usagi had sat up, causing the sheets to create a tent over her head. She glared at Luna in the dim, pink-tinted light. Luna merely sat primly and gazed back. "Ami thinks she's discovered something on her computer about the Princess and the Ginzuishou. She's going to research it tonight and we will have a meeting at Rei's tomorrow, about noon." Luna didn't try to hide her annoyance with her flighty mistress. "I expect you to behave better than you did today."

"Luna!" Usagi protested. "I . . ."

"Nothing is more important than our mission, Usagi! Nothing!" Luna's temper frayed and she threatened Usagi with one paw, claws extended. "I don't know what is worse, your grades or your poor performances against the enemy lately. But I want you to focus on your purpose. Your carelessness and disinterest in senshi business are not just endangering yourself, Usagi! You are putting the others in grave danger." Luna ducked under the covers and padded away from the bed, leaving a shell-shocked Usagi still sitting under the sheet-tent. "I'm too frustrated to talk with you right now, Usagi. I'll be home at 9 am and I will wake you up. This meeting is of the highest priority." With that, Luna exited the window, leaving Usagi to helplessly stare at the happy, carefree rabbits bounding on the pink meadow of her sheets. Her tears rained down on them in a silent storm.

Mamoru called Usagi about a half-hour after Luna's diatribe. Usagi sounded morose on the other end of the line, but he couldn't coax any information out of her. The only thing she said was that they were having a meeting tomorrow at noon about some new information about the Princess and the Ginzuishou. She wanted him to come, if he could. He promised her he would pick her up and they would go together. That brought a smile to her voice, which eased some of his tension, but after she hung up, he was still tormented about her sadness. He wondered if this was still connected to when he had shut her out earlier about the Princess. He knew in his gut that her misery was Princess-related. The Ginzuishou didn't make his strong warrior love cry.

He leaned against the wall separating his kitchen from his dining area, hands curled about a steaming mug of coffee, his eyes thoughtful and distant. He remembered the night by the lake when she had reacted with such horror when he had explained about his dreams about the Princess. The look in her eyes had run him through. He knew that moment that it would haunt him for the rest of his life. She had looked as if her entire world had shattered, crumbling into dust in her hands. It had also made him afraid. He knew that sooner or later, the Princess would be revealed. One day, Usagi would have to face this woman she was sworn to protect but was growing to hate. He knew she thought she could hide from him the depths of her feelings regarding the mysterious Moon Princess. He knew she was hiding it from her friends as well.

Every day, Mamoru pondered ways to prove to her that the Princess didn't hold a candle to her. He didn't care if the Princess was the most gorgeous woman in the entire universe. He swore to himself that nothing she could do would tempt him away from his Usako for even a second. But nothing he told himself blocked the feeling of betrayal that roiled in his gut when he awoke, sweaty and ill-rested, from another Princess dream. Worse than that, he couldn't decide which girl he felt he was betraying.

/\/\/\/\

Luna awoke gradually, stretching in the morning sun. Ami absently stroked the feline's fur as she tapped slowly on the mini-computer. They sat in silence, Luna grooming and Ami continuing her searches for approximately half an hour. Ami yawned and stretched as she powered down the small, blue computer and smiled at Luna.

"Good news?"

"Interesting news, I think." Ami rubbed sleep from her left eye. "I'm going to go shower and then grab some breakfast."

Luna nodded. "Okay, I'll go wake Usagi, then head over to Rei's. I'm looking forward to the meeting."

"I hope my information will give us direction, Luna. I feel like we are floundering." Ami wandered out of the room, waving a tired, distracted good-bye to the morose cat.

"I know what you mean, Ami. I only hope she shapes up, before our enemy gets a lead on the Princess." Luna let herself out Ami's window and jumped from the balcony to a tree, then to the grass and leisurely walked back to the Tsukino home, wondering if Usagi would be awake or if she would have to yell at the ditzy blonde again.

Luna squirmed in the window at ten past nine, surprised Usagi hadn't shut the window to block out the sound of the thunder. She was more surprised when she found a soulful, pale Usagi sitting on her bed, staring sadly at her.

"I'm sorry, Luna. I know I haven't done my best lately. I don't want to endanger everyone. I just . . ." Usagi sucked in a steadying breath, feeling another wave of tears burning the back of her throat. "I need to ask you something."

Luna stared back at Usagi, seeing for the first time the despair in the shining pools of Usagi's crystalline blue eyes. "Usagi-chan!" Luna's voice was shocked, but affectionate, her mistress's genuine misery melting her outrage and annoyance. She jumped onto the mattress and stood beside her, resting her front paws on Usagi's leg. "What's wrong?"

Usagi looked down at Luna and blurted out one of the concerns that had kept her from sleeping. "You said that Mars, Mercury and Jupiter are remembering their past powers. You told me they fight so well because their old training and abilities awoke when you awakened them. So why is being Sailor Moon so hard for me?" Luna looked confused, so Usagi started over. "You made me the leader of the Senshi. I'm supposed to lead the Princess's guard." Her sentence sounded somewhat like a question, so Luna nodded. "So, why aren't my past life's powers awakening? Why am I constantly falling down and making mistakes and looking like a fool? What kind of Princess would make a clumsy ditz like me her guardian, let alone the leader of her guardians?"

"Usagi . . ." Luna murmured, searching her mind for the right answers.

"What if you've made a terrible mistake, Luna? What if we find the Princess and she doesn't know who I am? Am I only the leader because I'm from the Moon Kingdom, too? And shouldn't it be more like Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus as the names for the senshi? It seems weird to have a Sailor Moon and a Moon Princess. Or is there still another senshi to find?"

Luna felt lost in the rambling curiosities flowing out of Usagi's mouth. "Usagi-chan, maybe you haven't dedicated enough time to seeking out your inner strength. To tell the truth, I suspect your reluctance to be Sailor Moon, to fight against our enemies, is probably what bars you from awakening your past skills. This self-doubt will not set you free. I did not make a mistake. You are Sailor Moon. You are the leader of the senshi. The Princess will know you and she will not be disappointed in you."

"Even though I've stolen her guy?" Usagi muttered darkly.

"Usagi-chan, we don't know why Mamoru-san has dreams of the Princess. Although I don't remember him, there is much from the Silver Millennium I don't remember. Perhaps he, like you four, Beryl and her Shitennou, and myself, is from the Silver Millennium. But nothing says he was her beloved. You two have found each other and for some reason, I feel like it was supposed to be. You just can't let it consume you. I know the girls and I were a bit harsh yesterday, but, Usagi-chan, even if you were a normal 14 year old school girl, you still couldn't spend every waking moment in what Makoto-chan is calling the 'Mamo-zone'."

Usagi sighed. "I know. But I can't help feeling that everything is going to change between us when we find her. Maybe I just don't want to regret not spending enough time with him if I lose him."

Luna rubbed her head comfortingly against Usagi's arm, but she didn't know what to say. She, too, didn't know what to expect from the Princess. Perhaps she frowned on her senshi having relationships. Still, she knew that worrying about what-ifs was not going to find the Princess or stop the Dark Kingdom. Her obligation now was to force Usagi to focus on their mission.

/\/\/\/\

Usagi's dad was called away for a story 15 minutes before Mamoru pulled up to pick Usagi up for their meeting at Hikawa Jinja. Both heaved relieved sighs and shared a quick kiss before Mamoru helped Usagi strap her helmet on. Once he was comfortably seated on his bike, Usagi swung up behind him and snuggled as close as she could to his back, looping her arms tightly about his middle. Her mom waved good-bye from the doorway, her eyes starry, remembering back to the days when she and Kenji were that young.

It wasn't a long ride to Hikawa Jinja and Usagi and Mamoru took their time, holding hands as they walked up the steps to the shrine's entrance and through the beautiful grounds on their way to Rei's room. Since they were expected, they simply slid the screen open, slipped off their shoes and called out a very informal hello instead of the usual, more formal and proper greeting. A chorus of female voices answered back, letting Usagi know that, once again, she was the last to arrive. Self-consciously, she glanced at Mamoru's watch, but it read 11:56. Mamoru heard her relieved sigh and caught her peeking at his watch and grinned down at her. "I think you owe me a thank you." he murmured softly, his grin widening when she blushed. He enjoyed doing that to her far too much.

Usagi gave him a saucy look, despite the blush, and whispered back "Later." Mamoru's eyes briefly turned wicked and her blush deepened, not certain what he was thinking but embarrassed anyway. She pulled at his hand and hurried into their usual meeting room.

Rei sat on the far side of the square table, on a red cushion. Ami sat on her right, on a blue cushion and Makoto sat on her left, on a green cushion. The empty side had two pillows placed in front of it, one white and one black. The three girls simultaneously began humming The Wedding March as the couple stared at them like they had gone off their rockers. "Surprise!" they yelled, before collapsing into giggles. "Happy Four Months!"

Usagi didn't know if she wanted to strangle them or hug them. Mamoru just stared at the three girls, wondering what on earth they were thinking.

Makoto recovered her breath first. "Well, Usagi-chan just couldn't stop talking about the anniversary, so we thought we should share in the fun, too." Rei and Makoto pulled out cupcakes and Rei couldn't resist sticking her tongue out at Usagi.

Ami smiled gently, "Luna told us you were really down lately, Usagi-chan. We wanted to help cheer you up."

Usagi couldn't help laughing. She felt embarrassed that her blathering on and on had been revealed to Mamoru, who was looking highly amused and a bit pleased with himself. "Mmmm, Makoto's cupcakes!" She dropped Mamoru's hand and raced to the cupcakes, spoiling Mamoru's prideful moment.

"Priorities, I see." he remarked in a self-depreciating way.

"Better grab one quick, Mamoru-san," Rei warned, "before she eats them all." Usagi glared at her. Mamoru claimed the black cushion and reached for a cupcake.

"Careful, you might lose a hand." Makoto contributed. Usagi took the hint and checked the way she was sitting. Flushing a bright red, she pulled her legs to the side and straightened up, trying to appear more dignified. Mamoru slid his arm around her waist and tugged her slightly off-balance to lean against him, silently telling her he loved her, and her blush began to fade. He'd been coming to their meetings occasionally these past four months, but she still couldn't fully relax when they were together with her friends.

The five happily snacked on the cupcakes, not noticing Luna was late until she ran in at 12:07. "Sorry," she puffed. They gave her concerned glances and she hastily pulled herself together, shrugging one shoulder in an interestingly feline manner, "Dog."

"Ohhh." the girls breathed collectively, all eyes instinctively checking her over for any sign of injury.

"Well, let's begin, then. Ami has some data to share with us, I believe."

Ami nodded at Luna, taking her cue instinctively. "I ran some searches through the Mercury Mini-Computer. It seems to have acquired new information recently, as if it was uploaded to my computer somehow. I've run these searches before, but this time I received more detailed information."

Ami placed a piece of paper on the table. It was a profile sheet. In the top right corner, there was a picture of Sailor V. She read the information to them. "I first re-ran a search on Sailor V and this profile page was what I was given access to. Name: Unknown. Codename: Sailor V. Age: 14. DOB: October 22, 1977. Mission: fighting youma. Location: Sapporo, Japan. Aside from age and date of birth, this information wasn't new. What is new is this: 'Sailor V appeared two months before the awakening of Sailor Moon. She has been spotted single-handedly fighting youma. She has a gold crescent moon on her forehead. She is currently on the move, heading towards Tokyo. It would appear that the youma are following her, not the other way around. The youma that are attacking her are stronger than the youma that attack the Senshi in the Juuban district of Tokyo. Since they are following her, there will likely be stronger youma appearing in Juuban and outlying areas of Tokyo.'"

Ami stopped reading and looked up at the others, waiting for their reaction. Mamoru was first, "Um, I haven't ever had the opportunity to look at information from your computer, Ami-san, but does it usually print out information in the form of advice?"

Ami shook her head and Luna spoke, cutting off any comment she might have been about to make. "This information must have been planted by Central. I communicate with him directly. I wonder why he chose this manner of interaction."

"Who is Central? And how do you communicate with him?"

Luna glanced at them. "Central is the coordinator of this mission. He contacted me when Usagi freed me by removing the band-aid that prevented me from talking. I told him of my suspicions regarding her and he confirmed that I should attempt to awaken her. He has more information about the Silver Millennium than I do, but I think it comes to him in pieces, too. I usually communicate with him through the Sailor V game at Crown."

"I've been saying that she's connected to us." Usagi pointed out. "Now she's coming here. She has to be one of us."

Luna shrugged. "When she comes, we'll ask her, okay?" She didn't want to get into another discussion of how cool Sailor V was. "Ami, about the other two items?"

"Yes, well, we know that the Ginzuishou and the Princess are incredibly important to find. Mamoru-san has shared with us that in his dreams the Princess seems to indicate that the Ginzuishou is key to releasing her. However, Luna feels that the Princess will reveal the Ginzuishou. Because of this conflict in information, we have been rather stymied in how to go about looking for them. We can't split up -- Usagi's Moon Sceptre seems to be essential in defeating these youma. I've also been concerned that Zoicyte and the Dark Kingdom might have discovered something, since we haven't seen him very often of late."

Ami paused, making sure she had everyone's attention. Makoto and Mamoru were very thoughtful, Usagi's smile had fled and she looked a bit downcast, Rei was staring intently at the picture of Sailor V on the profile sheet and Luna was attentively waiting for Ami to continue. "There is reason to believe that the Dark Kingdom may be trying to prevent Sailor V from arriving here."

Mamoru seized on that thought instantly. "So Zoicyte may be attacking her and we are being distracted from her movement here by the almost nightly youma attacks."

Luna nodded. "Central hasn't asked for help. Nor did he tell us an approximate location for Sailor V. We can't help her. But perhaps the Dark Kingdom does not know that. If we must be on guard against the youma popping up here, then we can't split up to help Sailor V. That may be their plan."

Makoto slammed her fist into her hand. "If she's traveling here from Sapporo, we have no way of even knowing which island she is on. She could have just left last night, when Ami got the information."

"In which case, she may only be on a boat or plane heading from Hokkaido now." Rei finished.

"Not to mention we don't know how she is traveling here on Honshu, either." Usagi added. "She is probably traveling in a way that puts as few people in danger as possible, which means she'll probably avoid the Shinkansen and planes."

Ami nodded. "I'd hate to imagine what would happen if a youma attacked a plane." Everyone else nodded silently.

"So, if she has any extra information or is an ally, we can't count on her arriving any time soon." Usagi concluded, giving voice to everyone's thoughts. She sighed. "And that means we're just going to have to keep on fighting blind."

Mamoru squeezed her close against him in a comforting, one-armed hug. She leaned into him, drawing support from him. His presence at these meetings somehow rubbed off on her, keeping her more focused on the discussions, more serious and more likely to contribute intelligent and useful comments. In fact, she reflected, while Mamoru and Luna discussed something, his presence strengthened her in many ways. When he was at the battles, she performed better. When he helped her with her schoolwork, she understood it better. There were times when his touch seemed to transfer his own strength into her. She gazed up at his profile, pondering the subtle yet powerful effect he had on her.

Luna's voice attracted her attention back to the group. "Usagi mentioned something this morning that has been nagging at me. I went to Central to see if I could find any more information about it, but I had forgotten about it after that dog chased me halfway here." She padded towards the center of the table. "Usagi was wondering if there are any other senshi left to be found."

Ami burst in, "More senshi? How many?" Her eyes were alight with fascination. "After all there are nine planets, and we are only three."

"Four, actually." Rei murmured.

"The moon isn't a planet, Rei-chan." Makoto pointed out.

"I wasn't talking about Sailor Moon. I meant the senshi of Earth."

Mamoru instantly saw where that was heading. "Uh-uh, no way. I'm not a senshi!"

Usagi giggled. "Why not? We have the same mission, we fight the same bad guys, and . . ."

Mamoru cut her off by gently placing a hand over her mouth. His eyes glinted in a dangerous way. "I'm not going to run around calling myself Sailor Earth, Usako." As he feared, just saying the words Sailor Earth caused the four girls to crumple to the floor with laughter. Mamoru and Luna exchanged pained looks while they waited for the girls to recover.

When the girls calmed down, the whole mood of the meeting had been broken. Agreeing that they would have to be more alert, Luna decided the girls should take patrolling duty. If stronger youma were coming along with Sailor V, then they needed to get to know the outlying areas of Tokyo better. Although they knew Juuban like the back of their hand now, they needed to be more informed of places in other districts of Tokyo that the enemy might target. They also decided they needed to train more. Mamoru and Usagi were given the task of riding the trains around and exploring other parts of the city, since they would be easily overlooked as just a couple hanging out. Makoto and Rei were to head into the downtown sections of Tokyo. Ami and Luna would maintain a base of operations, coordinating the two teams and keeping an eye out for any signs of Dark Kingdom activity.

/\/\/\/\

They were returning from their latest expedition outside of Juuban. Over the past few weeks, they had made several trips around Tokyo, just riding the trains, trying to create instinctive mental maps of where things were. Mamoru was better at it than she was, but they would make a game out of it, using mnemonics to help keep all the locations straight. Twice a week, Luna assigned them a district to explore. It was interesting and romantic, but sometimes Mamoru had a hard time keeping Usagi from forgetting their task and wanting to shop.

They were tired from a day of walking; hungry and hot. No youma had appeared, nor had there been any sign of the Ginzuishou or the Princess. Usagi couldn't help feeling that they were just killing time. She felt like one of the hapless victims in a shark movie, treading water, compulsively trying to see all 360 degrees around her at once, knowing that any second she would feel the bite, be dragged under the water to a horrible death. She nervously brushed a lock of her hair back behind her ear, caught up in a nightmarish what-if scenario that had been cycling in her head all day, the product of another late night nightmare that didn't die with the rising sun.

Usagi clung to Mamoru's arm as they walked down the sidewalk. Summer vacation had drawn to a close, but summer's oppressive humidity was still heavy in the air. Usagi still couldn't believe he was hers, that he wanted to be with her when he had a Princess waiting for him. He glanced down affectionately at her, instinctively knowing she was feeling guilty about being with him again. She smiled up at him as he tightened his hold on her waist briefly, subtly letting her know he wasn't going anywhere. She loved this man so much! He seemed to understand her so well that it almost scared her.

Usagi glanced up at Mamoru as they walked past the park. His face was somewhat concealed by the night's shadows, but she suspected that a frown lurked about his lips. She wondered what thoughts were troubling him now. A dark suspicion curled in her heart and further dampened her mood. Was he thinking about the Princess again? What hold did she have over him? Usagi's eyes watered at the thought of Mamoru in the Princess's arms. Did she speak words of love to him in his dreams? Usagi rebelliously wished the Ginzuishou would never be found so that the Princess would never be set free. Almost instantaneously she repented of her harsh wish. She wouldn't want to be trapped forever if she were the Princess, wondering why her protectors never found her. She sighed heavily, her heart burdened by her fears and worries.

She felt his gaze resting contemplatively on her. She knew he was going to ask her what was wrong and she didn't want to tell him she was thinking about the Princess . . . again. She cast about for an excuse for her melancholy and her eyes lighted on the gates to the park, locked against them. Their dark, foreboding look made her heart ache. "Mamo-chan," she murmured, breaking the night with her soft voice, "do you think there will come a day when we will have only happy thoughts about the park?"

Mamoru glanced down at his pale angel. They stopped and contemplated the dark entry to the park. Gates that had never been closed before were now locked securely every night at sundown. The news issued nightly reminders that all citizens were strongly urged by the police to stay away from the park after dark. A group of concerned citizens had convened to call for the razing of the park, demanding that the city do something to stop the rash of strange attacks that were occurring inside the beautiful two-acre rectangle of greenery. "I hope so, Usako." he murmured back. "I'd hate to see it destroyed. I have a feeling that no matter what they put here, this is where the youma would come." His words let Usagi know that he shared her thoughts about their current activity. Searching for youma outside of Juuban was a futile effort, with only the possible benefit of keeping them busy and alert.

Usagi nodded. "I don't understand why this is the site of most of the youma attacks. I mean, when Jadeite and Nephrite were draining people of energy, this was a logical place to come. So many people were always gathering here. But now, it's as if this is the undeclared battleground for the Dark Kingdom. The youma are being sent to destroy us, not to drain innocents of their energy. Plus, with all the public warnings to stay out of the park, there aren't as many targets to victimize."

Mamoru gave her a proud grin. "You're right. Maybe they have gotten comfortable here or maybe they believe this is the only guaranteed place for a confrontation with the senshi. Still, it would be wise to consider the park a hostile place, at least as senshi. The Dark Kingdom could easily use the reduced population of the park in order to lay elaborate traps." Usagi met his eyes with concern and more than a touch of fear. "Nephrite moved in our world as if he were a human man, remember."

"Let's keep walking, Mamo-chan." Usagi requested suddenly. She didn't like the feelings she was getting from the park. The trees overhead seemed to be listening to their every word and the half moon's light was making every shadow seem suspicious and threatening. Mamoru slipped his arm securely about her waist and squeezed her tightly against his side, silently reassuring her.

"Where should we eat tonight?" he asked loudly, changing her train of thought and gently propelling her in the direction of people, lights and food. He was relieved when a smile returned to her face. They sped up just a bit, leaving the park behind, turning their backs deliberately on it in a silent gesture. They told the park that it had no hold on them, but in the park's dark shadows, they knew something was laughing at them.

Usagi and Mamoru chose a sushi restaurant, not too pricy, the kind with the conveyor belts. Usagi loved the conveyor belt sushi restaurants for some reason, and Mamoru loved watching the way she stacked up the little plates. At 100 or 200 yen a plate, she could eat all she wanted and he didn't end up broke at the end of the night. The noisy atmosphere, the families and the bright lights made their secret lives seem like a surreal dream.

As they ate, they talked about school and which movie they wanted to see on Friday, enjoying the light conversation. They laughed and held hands across the table, enjoying the normalcy of the moment as much as they were soaking up precious moments with each other. They were both thinking about their five month anniversary. Usagi was wondering what wonderful thing he was going to come up with this time. She was thrilled with how romantic and creative her Mamo-chan could be. Mamoru was racking his brain for another amazing celebration. He'd already dragged ideas out of Motoki and Reika and was currently spending nights searching the web for something that seemed just right.

Meanwhile, Usagi was thinking about the fact that they would soon have been together for five months and there had been no sign of the Princess. It had been awhile since Sailor Jupiter had been awakened and Luna had said they should be finding the Princess soon, but that did not seem to be happening. She still harbored suspicions about Sailor V being a teammate, since she bore the crescent moon mark on her forehead that Luna also had. Yet the girl had yet to make an appearance. Occasionally, the news would report sightings of the mysterious heroine. They seemed to confirm that she was indeed working her way south, towards Tokyo. But she was never seen in the same place twice and her movements were erratic, not moving in a straight path, but weaving around the island. She chewed her lip, eyes going vacant as her thoughts turned once more to what she would do when the Princess did make the scene.

"Usako? What are you thinking?"

Usagi blinked back to the reality of Mamoru's handsome, concerned face. He had taken her hands in his, their elbows resting on the table, forearms touching. "Sorry." she mumbled, her face reddening. He knew instantly that she was thinking about the Princess and his face darkened a bit. She ducked her head.

He withdrew a hand from between hers and placed it under her chin, pulling her face back up. "Stop it, Usako. You are the only one I want." He held her eyes seriously, willing all his determination and love for her to register in his eyes, wanting her to see it. "I love only you."

Usagi tried to force her concerns aside. The melancholy in her heart and the doubt in her mind were killing her. If she couldn't break this habit, she might well lose him! He saw a trace of fear in her eyes and he wondered what had her so scared. He tightened his grip on her hands, not painfully, but in an attempt to reassure her. She gazed at him with eyes filled with a painfully tender form of love that his breath momentarily failed him.

"I love you more, Mamo-chan." she whispered quietly, but with determined conviction. He smiled at her, amusement sparking in his eyes and triggering laughter to dance in hers. It was their favorite argument and most often led to tickling, which led to kissing and then led to snuggling up on the couch until she finally headed home and Mamoru jumped into a cold shower. Sure he loved his innocent little angel, but sometimes he wished she wasn't so young. Her innocence was precious, but it was truly frustrating, at least on a physical level.

Mamoru summoned up all of his self-control and rose, holding his arm out for hers. The waitress presented them with the calculation of the plates on the table and they walked towards the cashier. As usual, Mamoru sent Usagi away, towards to door, while he paid. It didn't seem so romantic if she was standing there to see how much the dinner had cost.

While he waited to pay, Usagi received a call. He heard the distinctive beep and he glanced up at her, sending her a subtle nod. She sent him a more obvious head wave, gesturing she'd be outside. Then she pushed aside the curtain covering the door and ducked out of the restaurant, heading for the nearest alley. "Moon, here."

"About time. We've got another enemy, in the park again."

"We'll be there in a minute, Mars." Usagi muttered. She was frowning in annoyance and anger. Blasted youma always showed up when they were least wanted! She turned the communicator off and put it away. Mamoru appeared in the darkness.

"I'll block any accidental observers." he told her. Although he said it lightly, he was seriously annoyed at how often his beautiful girlfriend had to transform in seedy alleys. Okay, so he was the only one who had wandered in on her . . . so far. He was not about to give any other man the chance to peep on her. She was his and he felt very passionate about protecting her . . . from anyone and everyone, not just the Dark Kingdom.

He scowled at passersby as he stood, arms crossed, legs braced in the entryway of the alley. It was as if he truly thought a hundred hormonally-charged teenage boys were going to charge him for a chance to see the elusive Sailor Moon in her nude transformation. He didn't care that they didn't know she transformed that way. He didn't care that they didn't know she was even transforming at the moment. He just knew that if they did, they would come running and he was the only line of defense her honor had. And he took that role very seriously.

Sailor Moon stood for a moment, contemplating her boyfriend's back with amused pleasure. When he said he would protect her, he'd really meant it, even in his human form. She got the warm fuzzies just seeing how protective, caring and perhaps a bit possessive he could be. She couldn't believe how incredibly wonderful this man was. No wonder he would be the Princess's soul mate. She stomped on that thought as soon as it danced across her mind. She was not going to contemplate that now. She had a battle to fight and she had to be on her toes. Tiptoeing, she slipped up and tapped Mamoru on the shoulder. "Your turn." she whispered. She grinned when he startled, but then gasped when he grabbed her around the waist and kissed her, hard.

"Be right back." he murmured against her lips, grinning down at her startled face. She grinned back as soon as he let her go. She watched him shamelessly until he reached into his jacket to pull out his rose, then she whirled about, face flaming. He chuckled softly, amused by that flare of innocence that always chased her boldness away. His transformation was much quicker and quieter. He rejoined her quickly, slipping his arm about her waist and pulling her up with him as they jumped to the building's roof and raced towards the park. They both were wondering what kind of monster awaited them this time.

They arrived in time to see the youma flung backwards, snarling painfully, because of Jupiter's lightning attack. Moon broke free of Tuxedo Kamen's hold, racing over to Mars and whispering in her ear. Mars nodded, then began to power up her Fire Soul attack. Sailor Moon removed her tiara, something she almost never did now that she had her Moon Sceptre. She released it just as Mars released her attack. Jupiter watched in awe as Mars' fire wrapped itself around Sailor Moon's tiara, creating a flaming disk that scorched into the youma's pink fur. As soon as the attack dissipated, Moon was ready, pulling her Sceptre out and beginning to power up. The creature howled in anger and struggled to get up, releasing a pent-up energy attack of its own. Tuxedo Kamen flung a rose, intercepting the energy attack. Moon sent him a grateful grin before completing her attack and destroying the creature. Its hideous scream lingered a moment or two after its body crumbled into dust and blew away.

"That was a really cool attack, Sailor Moon." Jupiter murmured.

"That was nothing." Mars replied. "Next time, Mercury and I will have to show you our tri-form attack."

Tuxedo Kamen pulled Moon aside, "Showing off?" he asked teasingly.

"No!" she protested a bit too strongly. "I just really like that attack." She grinned up at him.

"I like it, too." he grinned back.

"Oh brother, they're at it again!" Mars groaned. She exchanged a slightly jealous glance with the other two as Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Moon forgot they had an audience and enjoyed a kiss under the moonlight. Jupiter and Mercury merely shrugged, the envy in Mars' eyes echoing in their own hearts.

They waited a little while, but Zoicyte didn't show and Mercury saw no indications from her computer that he had appeared anywhere else. Sailor Moon stood within the protective circle of Tuxedo Kamen's arms, head tilted thoughtfully. "Guys, doesn't it seem kind of like time is standing still? It's been almost a month since Ami's information about Sailor V indicated she was heading this way and we have only seen Zoicyte maybe four times since then. We've never detected him nearby. Is she really coming here?"

"It has been a while since she appeared on the news." Jupiter pursed her lips thoughtfully. "What if she's been captured?"

Moon shook her head forcefully. "Sailor V hasn't been captured. If she had, then we'd be seeing a lot more of Zoicyte. He'd be taunting us about her, I'm sure of it."

Her conviction seemed to settle the issue and the five turned to go. As they walked towards the gate, they were surprised by five youma, all clad identically in black ninja-type garments. Immediately, without any warnings, they attacked as one.

The senshi were encircled. Standing close together, they were forced into the defensive, unable to break free and make any offensive moves. Mars and Jupiter were punching and kicking to their hearts' content, giving as good as they received. Mercury and Moon were weaker on their martial arts moves and not even trying to fight back, only attempting to avoid the heavy blows being sent their way. Tuxedo Kamen had pulled his cane out and was using it as a weapon, occasionally able to drive away Mercury and Moon's assailants as well.

Jupiter finally was able to break their formation, catching her attacker in a judo hold and hurtling him into the bushes. She ran after him, powering up her strongest attack as she ran. Lightning crackled ominously in the air and smote the youma. He crumpled to the ground and didn't get up. She ran to the aid of Mercury. Engaging Mercury's enemy allowed Mercury time to flood the area with mist, which in turn gave Tuxedo Kamen time to grab Sailor Moon and pull her to safety. As one, the remaining senshi pulled back to Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Moon's position.

Sailor Moon pulled her wand out and readied her attack. Mars, Mercury and Jupiter all released simultaneous attacks on the four approaching youma. Moon finished them off as soon as the attacks dissipated into the air. The four youma screamed in agony as her power cut through them, leaving nothing but ashes on the ground. "Yes!" she jumped into the air, triumphant. They high-fived all around, forgetting all about the fifth youma that Jupiter had grounded.

A light flashed through the air. The five turned, stunned to see the fifth ninja-youma standing behind Sailor Moon, a sword in hand, poised to strike. The golden light sliced through him, cutting him in half. His body disintegrated upwards and downwards, the sword falling to the ground. Tuxedo Kamen pulled Sailor Moon tight against him, as if to reassure himself she had not been harmed. Luna emerged from the trees, fur standing on end, breathing hard, as if she had just run all the way there from Rei's shrine.

"That was extremely careless of you, senshi. I had expected to find you better trained." A feminine voice rang out in the night. Dust obscured the approaching figure, but as they gaped at the shadowy form, Sailor Moon's heart constricted with dread.