A Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.

Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2007 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2007 by Bill K.
"Mama!" the girl urged her mother impatiently. The woman, an elegant thing in a long white gown with a fragile beauty and long trails of blonde hair cascading down from twin "odango" gathers, tried to suppress a smile.

"I'm going as fast as I can, Setsuko-chan," Queen Serenity said to her sixteen year old adopted daughter. "You want it perfect, don't you?"

Though her concentration remained on her drawing board, Serenity could feel the girl slump with frustration. Her blue eyes twinkled. She didn't take offense at the behavior of the tawny young colt with the silky black shoulder-length hair, the inquisitive violet eyes or the shy but dazzling smile. She knew Setsuko was motivated by love. The girl was hopelessly in love with twenty year old Ichiro Ikegami, Makoto's son, so she understood the teen's impatience. It brought back memories of Serenity's own teenage desperation to attract and hold the heart of a tall, dark, handsome youth four years her senior.

"Perfection?" Luna inquired with a raised eyebrow. "Don't make promises you're incapable of keeping, Your Majesty." As usual, the black cat was perched on a windowsill overlooking the Queen's art board.

"What have I told you about calling me 'Your Majesty'?" growled Serenity.

"And what have I told you about how little I care?" the cat fired back.

"I should have left the band-aid's on," Serenity muttered with humor. Luna smirked while Setsuko fidgeted impatiently.

It was February 13, 2026. Drawing was a luxury the Queen had few times to enjoy over the last eleven years. Raising Japan from the dead after the disaster of 2013 was hard enough. Positioning the country so that it could help other areas of the world unable to help themselves made her life even harder. Big countries like China and the US had a difficult enough time on their own. Smaller, poorer nations needed help and Serenity was only too happy to give it. It was a strain, but she managed it with the help of her husband, her senshi and her nation.

And to compound that, she had to raise a family of twenty-two. Setsuko was only the first orphan they'd taken in. The Disaster of 2013 had left more than one child with no parents and no family left to take them and Serenity's big heart had quickly rendered her unable to turn away any child in the Tokyo area with no family. Sometimes she didn't know where she found the time given all she had to do. That's why peaceful family moments like this were important to her.

"There," Serenity said, "how's that?"

She handed the hand-illustrated Valentine's Day card to her daughter. The way Setsuko's face lit up was all the praise the Queen needed. She glanced at Luna and saw the cat silently compliment her.

"Oh, Mama, it's beautiful! Thank you!" Setsuko squealed.

"Have you gotten your box of chocolates for Ichiro already?" Serenity asked.

"Uh huh," Setsuko nodded. "I hope he likes them!"

"He will if they're from you," Serenity smiled.

Without acknowledging anyone, Setsuko flew from the room to assemble her gift and plan strategy. Luna saw the Queen beam with pride.

"Well done, Your Majesty," Luna told her.

"Valentine's Day brings out the best in me," Serenity shrugged. She glanced at the cat. "I can do another one if you want to give it to Artemis."

"Your Majesty," Luna said through clenched teeth, almost as a warning.

"Honestly, Luna, the way you keep him at arm's length, you're lucky he's still around."

"Your Majesty, I will thank you not to pry into my personal affairs."

"How many times has he asked you to marry him?"

"Just the one time, if you must know."

"I don't know why you won't say 'yes'. You're crazy about him. Don't try to deny it."

"Hmph," snorted the cat.

"I can arrange a room if you two want to snuggle," Serenity offered hopefully. With that, the cat bounded down from the sill and headed for the door. "Luna!"

"Your Majesty, with all due respect, my relationship with Artemis is none of your concern!" And the cat disappeared out the door. Serenity scowled with frustration. She'd been trying for years to nudge Luna into taking the final step with Artemis, but her mentor had a stubborn streak that could stop a runaway train.

Outside in the corridor, though, beyond the sight of the Queen, Luna padded mechanically away. Though she was loathe to admit it, Serenity's pleas had once more awakened the urge within her for the only cat she had ever loved.

"Meddlesome," whispered the cat. "She's like this every year at this time. Why can't she leave things as they are? Artemis and I are, well - - comfortable." The cat sighed. "I know he wants more. But are things so bad now?"

Without regard to a destination, Luna continued to walk down the corridor.

Minako sat in the back of the room, watching Ami, Artemis, and two of the brightest engineering instructors at Tokyo University work on a metallic device. Though she didn't understand any of the physics being bandied back and forth by the participants, she was far from bored. One of the engineers, Dr. Hideki Azuma, was quite handsome and distinguished even at forty-five, and Minako was more than content to watch him.

"I'm not liking the way this energy flow is spiking," Artemis warned them, working from his laptop computer.

"Perhaps there's a flaw in the crystal?" Dr. Azuma suggested.

"If there is, it's eluded my scans," Ami replied, her brow furrowed with concentration.

"Or it developed after the energy transmitted through the crystal," Artemis added.

"So what's this thing do again?" Minako asked.

"We're trying to increase energy output by focusing light energy through crystal amplification," Ami explained patiently.

"Yeah?" Minako quipped. "Can you make popcorn with it?"

"I wish you wouldn't play to the stereotype just for cheap humor," Ami sighed.

"I don't think she's playing," Artemis said. Minako threw a paper wad at him.

"Maybe we better shut it down for now," Dr. Azuma suggested. "I don't want to risk damaging the crystal until we know whether there is a flaw."

"Very well," Ami said reluctantly and flipped the switch. "I guess it's back to the computer simulations, eh?"

"Um, if you don't mind, Dr. Fujihara, perhaps we can do that another day? I've got some business to attend to tonight."

"Of course," Ami nodded with surprise. "I apologize. I didn't know you had an engagement."

"I just have to do some shopping," Azuma said. "I still haven't picked up a Valentine's Day gift for my girl friend."

"Figures," they heard Minako muttered. As one, everyone turned and looked at her. "Oh," Minako swallowed with mortification, "did I say that out loud?"

"What about you, Dr. Fujihara?" Azuma said to Ami. "I'm sure you want to get back to your husband."

"I do," she smiled fondly. "I will admit that the prospect of this unsolved puzzle is tugging at my attention, but I suppose I've devoted enough time to it today."

"How about you, Artemis?" Minako called out. "Bet you can't wait to get Luna alone,

"It's not up to me," Artemis replied. "It's never up to me."

"What do I keep telling you?" Minako asked. "Don't give up. You'll wear her down, you slick little devil. After all, thanks to being from Silver Millennium, you've got a thousand years or more to work on her. She can't say 'no' forever."

When the cat didn't respond, Minako glanced at him. She saw him move from his computer to the device holding the crystal. The white cat was crouched as he approached and his concentration was locked on the device. Then she noticed the crystal still had a red glow.

"Hey, is that thing supposed to do that?" Minako asked.

Everybody turned to look at the device. They were just in time to see the jewel flare with red energy. Artemis pulled back, instinctively leaping to avoid the bolt. But the energy struck him and in a blink he was gone.

"ARTEMIS!" Minako yelled, bolting from the table. Ami already had her hand out.

"Mercury Crystal Power Make Up!" she called out, unconcerned about transforming since the senshi's dual identities were common knowledge since the Great Disaster. The transformation to Sailor Mercury took a second. Another passed and her visor was down and her computer was out. She began scanning the scene as Minako stared at where Artemis had been.

"Mercury?" Minako asked frantically. Her instincts, honed by years of battle, were keeping her emotions in check, but just barely. "What happened?"

"It's some sort of massive energy spike," Mercury reported with the coolness of a seasoned professional scientist. "Artemis was showing energy spikes from the crystal, but I never imagined that it could produce something of this magnitude."

"Mercury, he's not - - dead, is he?" Minako asked, fearing the answer.

Mercury continued to scan. "I'm not showing any remains or residual energy of any kind. He would have had to have been destroyed at the atomic level to not leave anything behind. I seriously doubt that occurred."

"So where is he?"

Mercury looked up from her computer. Minako didn't like the expression on her face.

"I don't know," Mercury whispered.
- - - -

By the time Serenity arrived, Mercury, Minako, Dr. Ishihara and Dr. Azuma had already been joined by Endymion and Rei. Rei was off in a corner counseling Minako while the others discussed the situation. Immediately the Queen converged on them.

"What's this about an accident involving Artemis?" she asked, her demeanor already stricken.

"During the experiment with the crystal energy amplifier, there was some sort of surge," Endymion explained. "Artemis was caught in the surge and - - disappeared."

"Disappeared where?" Serenity gasped. When Endymion didn't answer, she turned to Ami. "Disappeared where, Mercury?"

"We don't know," Mercury replied softly.

"What do you mean 'you don't know'?"

"Serenity," Mercury bristled, her emotions getting the best of her, "in spite of my IQ, I don't know everything! I have no idea what happened or where he is, nor do I have the first clue as to how or where to look! My training is mostly in medicine, not physics! I only know what I've read in my spare time! I'm hardly an expert!"

"I'm sorry," Serenity whispered. "You're right, of course."

"Well, to be fair to her, Dr. Fujihara does have a greater grasp of the physical concepts than anyone I've met," Dr. Azuma offered, "including some physicists I've worked with. And I'm as baffled by this as you are, and I'm SUPPOSED to be the expert."

"Is there anything I can do to help you?" Serenity offered.

"To be able to answer that," Mercury replied, her hand on her brow, "I'd have to know what happened and where he is first. I know Artemis isn't dead. Beyond that, I can't say."

"Then it's true," they all heard a small voice with a cultured British accent say. Everyone looked down and saw Luna in the doorway by the floorboard.

"Oh, Luna!" wailed Serenity. "We'll get him back, Luna! I promise!"

"I-I'm certain you will," Luna struggled to say, keeping a calm demeanor with Herculean effort, "Your Majesty. I've every confidence in you all. Please - - keep me informed as to your progress. And if there's anything I can do to aid you, please tell me at once."

The cat turned with forced calm and left the room. Serenity stared after her, visibly upset.

"Well she's sure taking it calmly," muttered Minako. Her own eyes were red and her cheeks were streaked with tears and rivulets of mascara.

"Minako," Rei said softly, "I know you're upset - - but shut up before you make yourself look like a complete fool."

"Yeah?" Minako said, her jaw set. "Well maybe you'd sing a different tune if you had to listen to all the times Artemis asked me what was so wrong with him that he couldn't get that - - ice cube with legs to stop holding him at arm's length. Because I've heard it enough times that I could write a book."

"I know you're not going to listen," Rei responded so no one could hear but her and Minako, "but if you felt what I felt just now, you'd know that 'ice cube with legs' thing is just an act. I don't know why she hides it, but she loves Artemis and she's hurting right now - - worse than you are."

Minako was about to respond, but a sudden movement from Rei silenced her. The priest turned and looked like she'd seen a ghost. Rei kept staring for several moments.

"What?" Minako asked, her senshi instincts rising up out of her grief.

"I felt something," Rei said. Hearing that, Mercury turned to her longtime fellow senshi and listened with keen interest. That silenced everyone else and focused attention on the priest.

"Artemis?" Minako asked hopefully.

"I don't know. It didn't feel like him. It didn't feel like anything I've ever encountered." She turned her head in a different direction, eyeing nothing and scaring everyone in the room. "But something's here."

Instantly Mercury engaged her visor and computer.

"I'm not registering anything," Mercury reported. "But then, I've rarely been able to scan for supernatural entities."

"It's gone now," Rei stated flatly. "But something was here." Instantly she headed for the door, her long black hair trailing behind her like a comet's tail. "I have some research to do. I'll let you know if I find anything."

"Oh, Endymion, what a thing to happen," sniffed Serenity. Her husband pulled her closer to him.

"I know," he told her. "We won't stop trying to find him." He gave her a little squeeze. "Maybe you ought to check on Luna. I'm sure she's taking this a lot harder than she's letting on."

"Should I?" Serenity asked. "I don't want to intrude."

"Who else on this planet is closer to her than you?" Endymion replied. "Except maybe Artemis. I think you may be just what she needs right now. We'll call you if we need your help."

Nodding, Serenity turned and glided out the door.

Palace workers turned and stared as Serenity hurried past them. Usually the Queen was proactive in greeting everyone who worked in the palace, from key advisors to the lowliest maintenance worker, and chatting them up about their lives. It made them all love her and be loyal to her, for they all could tell she was genuinely interested in them and their happiness, that it wasn't an empty, political gesture. That's why the merest sight of distress on the beloved Queen's face sent a wave of anxiety running through the palace.

So intent was Serenity on Luna, she didn't notice the growing alarm of the other workers in the palace. But she did notice Makoto. Her good friend was standing in the hall by the elevators with Setsuko and her son Ichiro. Ichiro, now twenty and a sophomore in college, was tall and slim, with soft brown hair like his mother and gentle, introspective good looks that could catch the eye of any girl. Though the two young ones were wrapped up in each other, Makoto instantly caught the distress on Serenity's face. Only when she moved past them to go to her did they pick up on it.

"Hon'?" Makoto said, intercepting the Queen. "What's wrong?"

Serenity took a moment to collect herself, then quickly related the situation as best she could, given her complete lack of knowledge concerning anything technical. Her alarm quickly mirrored itself on the faces of Setsuko and Ichiro, while Makoto listened with the calm intensity of a seasoned campaigner.

"Wow," whispered Makoto. "Think there's anything I can do? I can call San-San and have him close the restaurant early."

"I don't know," Serenity said helplessly. "Ask Ami. If it helps get Artemis back, I'm all for trying anything."

"Um, maybe we should postpone our date," Ichiro suggested.

"That's not necessary," Serenity told him. "Go on and have fun."

"Mama, you expect us to have fun with Artemis missing?" gasped Setsuko.

"I'm just saying you don't have to stay. Stay if you like. I've got to get to Luna." And off the Queen hurried.

Setsuko looked up at Ichiro. The fear was in her eyes again, fear of losing a loved one, even Artemis, as she had her real parents years ago. Ichiro gently pulled her to him and she nestled in the security of his arms.

Some Valentine's Day this was going to be.

"Luna?" Serenity inquired as she eased into the Royal Chambers. Though the official quarters of the Royal Family, it was considered Luna's quarters as much as it was theirs. It was one of the places the black cat might be. And Serenity could sense that she was here.

Sure enough, Luna was at a computer terminal, going over the palace budget for the month. Serenity glided over.

"We're spending entirely too much on food for the dining hall," Luna remarked without looking at the Queen.

"Luna," Serenity said. Her hand touched the cat's head and glided down her back. Luna seemed to tense. Her mouth quivered. "We'll find him."

"I want to believe that," Luna replied, her voice a quaking whisper. She began to say something, then stopped. Gathering her emotions and losing, the cat turned away. "It's so ironic."

"What is?" Serenity asked.

"I've put him off for years," Luna began, emotion strangling her voice. "I love him. I do love him - - but I've been so afraid."

"Of what?"

The cat shuddered. "That once I gave in - - he'd leave. That's the irony," Luna sobbed. "I wasted all that time being afraid! And he's gone! HE'S GONE!"

Swooping in, Serenity scooped the cat up and cradled her to her breast. Luna pressed her forehead to the bosom of her sovereign.

"All the time I wasted being afraid! It's so silly! He deserved better! Better from me! He deserved better THAN me!"

"He didn't think so," Serenity whispered.

"He's the most tolerant male ever put on this planet," Luna continued. "To endure what I put him through. He should have told me off years ago. Oh Serenity, I was so cruel to him! I wish I could make it up to him somehow! But it's too late!"

Jerking out of Serenity's grasp, Luna leaped to the table. She hid her head in anguish and shame. Serenity wanted to pick her up again, but thought better of it.

"Luna, you're talking as if he's dead," Serenity said. "He's not. We'll find him. We'll bring him back to you. And then you can spend the rest of your life making it up to him."

Luna seemed about to respond. Then, suddenly, the cat jumped. To Serenity's amazement, she looked around with wild eyes.

"Luna, what is it?" Serenity asked.

"I don't know," Luna said softly. The cat was clearly spooked. "For a moment, it seemed that something was there."

Reality began to seep into the situation and with it a return to despair. Luna hung her head.

"But there's nothing," the black cat sighed. "Please forgive me, Your Majesty. I'm going to retire now."

Without waiting for permission, Luna leaped to the floor and headed for her bed in the outer chamber. Serenity followed her with her gaze, tears welling in the large blue eyes.

That night, when the palace was dark and quiet, Luna emerged from the room where her bed was. From that room, she'd heard Endymion return late in the night. He was exhausted and discouraged when Serenity had greeted him. The news he brought wasn't good news. Though they had made a breakthrough in identifying what the energy surge had been, through the concerted efforts of Ami and Dr. Azuma, they were no closer to telling what had happened to Artemis. The news had an adverse effect on Serenity, who had been fidgeting restlessly most of the evening. Though the Royal Couple had tried to keep their voices down, Luna's acute feline hearing had heard every word.

It was nearly two in the morning. Endymion was asleep in his bed. Serenity slept in a chair, failing in her bid to stay up all night and worry about Artemis - - and her. Luna sprouted a small, grateful grin despite her melancholy. Serenity was another person who loved her despite her significant character flaws.

"What did I ever do to merit you?" Luna whispered as she looked at the sleeping Queen.

Out in the hall, there was more solitude. Few were up this late besides maintenance workers and security personnel. To her surprise, the cat could hear Setsuko and Ichiro talking in the Visitor's Parlor, one of the places Serenity had set up to entertain guests. For a fleeting moment, Luna envied Setsuko. She still had a male to confide in, to draw security from, to care for.

Almost on auto-pilot, Luna ended up in the lab where it had all began. Ami was asleep, still in her lab coat, her computer on screen saver where no doubt it had been since she drifted off. Gratitude swelled within the black cat. It was some comfort to know that people like Serenity, Ami, and the other senshi cared enough about them to go to such lengths for them.

But it would be more comforting to see Artemis giving her that timid grin that she always felt was so endearing.

The door slid open. Luna turned with a start. Dr. Azuma stood framed in the doorway, holding a cup of tea in his hand.

"Oh!" Luna gasped, then calmed. "Dr. Azuma. Forgive me for intruding."

"It's no intrusion," the physicist said.

"How are you progressing?" Luna asked.

"Steadily," he told her. "Dr. Fujihara has made some very - - amazing intuitive leaps from what we've managed to analyze. She's a remarkable mind."

"She is indeed," Luna responded. Azuma could see she was struggling with her emotions.

"I wish I could give you better news," he said.

"I understand," Luna forced herself to say. "You can only tell me the truth. I appreciate your honesty." With controlled movement, Luna left the room.

Without any memory of having gone there or what she passed, Luna found herself on the top floor of the palace. She was perched in one of the arched windows, looking up into the dark blue of the night. The moon was past first quarter and would be full in several more days. It looked down upon her, yellow and placid. It seemed so far away, just like her memories of the bright and vital civilization that once thrived on it were so far away. So much of her past life had been spent up there.

And in every memory she could recall, Artemis was by her side.

They had traveled to the Crystal Kingdom as representatives of the planet Mau. She was a straight-laced diplomat. He was an astro-engineer and pilot. Their trip had been bizarre. Luna could tell right away that he was attracted to her. Part of her was suspicious, for she knew what was foremost on the mind of a male. But part of her couldn't understand why he would be interested in her at all. It had to be the fact that they were the only two on board the ship. After all, she never considered herself - - pretty.

Luna sighed as she stared up at the moon. The Crystal Kingdom turned out to be a dream posting for her. It was a paradise of culture, of education, and of good will. It was the perfect society, governed by the perfect monarch. Queen Serenity - - the first Queen Serenity - - was as noble and as gentle a being as Luna had ever met. The woman possessed a selflessness and a depth of compassion that inspired loyalty in anyone with an ounce of good in them. If Serenity had a flaw at all, it was that she was too protective and too pampering of the Princess. The cat had made her concerns known, but Serenity only laughed it off. She remembered the Queen's exact words: "In a way I'm glad. It means I'm not perfect, because perfection is boring and I'd hate to be boring."

Was it any wonder Luna quickly fell under her sway? Though she was there to represent Mau's interests, the cat soon became one of the Queen's most trusted confidants. Within months, Luna couldn't conceive of ever leaving. The Crystal Kingdom had everything she could ever want.

And then there was Artemis. His attentions didn't wane when they arrived. Though he was surrounded by countless females more striking, more energetic, and more romantic than she was, and he could assume human form if he wished in the Crystal Kingdom environment, he continued to pursue her. He wasn't aggressive, wasn't bold, wasn't forceful. He was just persistent. He was content to work with her when she was initially cool to him. But he felt they should be friends and wasn't reticent about saying so. When she finally allowed for a casual friendship between them, he was content with that. But he thought they should see each other outside of work. When she finally consented to attending a ball at the Royal Palace, he was content with that. Things didn't go very well and she thought that would be the end of it.

But he thought they should try again.

The memories hurt now that he wasn't there. Luna continued to stare up at the moon even as her eyes began to sting. No matter how much she resisted him, he always came back for more. He was far from perfect, and her obsessively orderly nature quickly had every flaw categorized. Nor was she shy about pointing them out. He laughed sometimes and other times was hurt by her critiques. But he never gave up the idea that they were a good match. And when he was called away from the palace by the first rumblings of the Dark Kingdom, Luna realized to her surprise that she missed him. She missed him persistently dogging her heels, accepting what she would give him and always hoping for more. It was at that moment she'd realized that she was falling in love with him, in spite of all his flaws.

"Oh, Artemis," she whispered. "You were a fool to waste so much of your life on me. I wouldn't blame you a bit if you never came back to me - - but come back to me."

Something brushed her whiskers. Luna looked, but nothing was there. It might have been an air current that she hadn't noticed in her melancholy.

"Or perhaps I'm just going mad," she mumbled.

On her way back down to the Royal Chambers, Luna passed the Shinto Shrine Serenity had installed in the palace for Rei. Lights were on in the shrine, so Luna peered in. Rei was sitting on a mat in a corner of the shrine. A single light was on over her and she read from an ancient scroll, one of her vast collection of scrolls she'd managed to salvage or retrieve since the Disaster of 2013. It wasn't unusual for Rei to be reading one of her scrolls. The priest was keenly interested in Japanese history and often studied it in her free time.

But never at three in the morning.

"Forgive me for intruding," Luna ventured, entering the shrine. "It's quite unusual for you to be up this late."

"Oh, hi Luna," Rei said. Her fatigue was clear in her face from the lined, red eyes staring back at the little black cat.

"You mentioned earlier you had some research to do. Is this it - - and does it concern Artemis?"

"Yeah," Rei admitted. She wanted to look away, Luna could tell, but kept the cat's gaze so as not to be insulting.

"What do you suspect? Please be honest with me."

"All right," Rei said reluctantly. "I was doing research - - on ghosts."


"I felt a presence in that room, Luna. Something was there - - some entity. Since we couldn't see it and Ami couldn't scan it, I thought maybe it was in a spirit form."

Luna looked down, unable to conceal her disappointment.

"Look, I know you and Artemis don't believe in those things," Rei continued. "But I know I felt something - - some consciousness that was in that room in addition to everyone we could see. Spirits do exist. Just because you can't measure them or only certain people can sense them doesn't mean they don't exist. There's a whole other world beyond ours and sometimes they overlap."

"I felt something, too," Luna admitted.

"You did? When?"

"Once in the Royal Chambers. Once just now on the top floor. It seems so fanciful - - and yet - - could it be Artemis? Has he somehow been converted into a-a spirit?"

"I don't know," Rei sighed. "It isn't quite what I felt. But the fact that you've felt contact twice now makes me think it is Artemis. I don't know if he's a spirit or what, though. I'm kind of working blind here. But . . ."

Suddenly Rei stopped and stared out into the room. Luna watched her nervously. The priest looked like she was staring into another dimension, listening to words that didn't exist on this plane of reality. And there was more. Luna suddenly felt someone was beside her, even though her eyes told her nothing was there.

"Do you feel it?" Rei asked distantly.

"As if we're not alone?" Luna replied anxiously.

"Yeah. Luna, come here. Let me touch you."

The cat complied, casting glances behind her as she walked. When she was in reach, Rei gently folded a hand onto her head and one across her shoulders.

"Now think of Artemis," Rei instructed. "Think of the happiest memories you have of him. Don't think of anything else but the happy times you've had with him."

Spurred by the priest's instructions, Luna began thinking of Artemis. She recalled his cutting wit and his engineering brilliance. She recalled his compassion when she was hurt, his patience when she was petulant, the strength she felt from his body when she leaned on him,
even though he was no bigger than she was. She recalled the hopeful look of his blue eyes and that shy smile of his that sought to curry her favor. She thought of the way he was startled when she licked his whiskers or rubbed her jaw against his, the way affection from her always took him by surprise and always enlivened him.

"He's here," Rei announced.. "I can feel him."

Removing the hand from her head, Rei reached out. Nothing was there, and yet Luna couldn't help but feel something was there. She sensed the hope in the priest, and she silently pleaded with fate to let her succeed and bring her Artemis back to her. The hand extended for a few moments.

Then she felt Rei slump with disappointment.

"Rei, what is it?" Luna asked.

"Tried to reach him," Rei said, her fatigue in her voice now as well as her face. "He's there. I tried to pull him back - - tried to grasp his red string, the one that's connected to you, and pull him back. But I couldn't. I couldn't touch him."

The bitter sting of the situation forced Luna's head down.

"He's not a spirit - - at least not one I have any power over," Rei told her. "I don't know what's happened to him, but he's not in a place I can get to."

"Thank you for trying," Luna said, but her voice cracked.

Then the weight of the situation became too much for her. Luna's legs gave way and she lay on the floor, her head between her paws, and began to emit low, mournful moans. She felt Rei's hand begin to stroke her fur. Then she felt something tickle her whiskers again. Nothing was there, but somehow she knew it was Artemis.

That, though, only made her moan more.

Sometime after, though exactly when Luna wasn't certain, Rei reported what had happened to Ami. Though awakened from her short sleep, the information instantly energized the woman's mind. Pushing her glasses back up her nose, Ami began pecking away on her computer.

A noise brought Ami out of her focus. She looked up and found her husband Hayami in the doorway. Glancing around, she found that Rei had fallen asleep in a chair nearby, joining Dr. Azuma and Dr. Ishihara. Another glance told her it was seven thirty.

"I brought you breakfast," Hayami said in his usual meek, gentle manner. He timidly held up a bento wrapped in a cloth.

"You're so sweet," Ami said, glowing radiantly at him. "I apologize for not contacting you last night."

"It's OK," Hayami said predictably, adjusting his thick glasses. "When you didn't come home, I figured it was senshi business. I called Makoto and she filled me in. I know how focused you get when you've got a puzzle to solve."

"Nevertheless, it was very rude of me," Ami said. She rose up and gently kissed Hayami as he leaned in to give her the bento. "And I haven't had a chance to give you your Valentine's chocolates."

"It's all right. You're busy. Besides," and Hayami patted his pear-shaped abdomen, "chocolates make me fat." He leaned in to look at her display screen. "Any luck?"

"We're closer," Ami told him. "With what Rei told me, I suspect that Artemis has been knocked out of phase with our universe. The energy surge somehow altered his vibratory pattern, either speeding it up or slowing it down so that he's out of phase with this reality."

"So he still exists in this physical space, but can't touch or be touched by anything in this plane," Hayami nodded. "Sort of like a ghost."

Ami smiled up at him. It was so wonderful to be able to discuss intellectual concepts with someone and be understood for a change. Ami suppressed the sudden carnal urge she felt.

"Not quite, but you're close. The fact that Luna has been able to sense contact with him through her whiskers indicates his vibratory rate isn't far off from ours. Unfortunately I haven't been able to determine the vibratory phase he's currently in," Ami admitted, massaging her eyes behind her glasses.

"Maybe you need a break," Hayami suggested. He nudged the bento toward her. "I admit I'm not a culinary genius . . ."

"I'm sure it's quite delicious," Ami smirked. "But I really must keep working on this. Poor Luna is beside herself with worry and grief. And there's no way of knowing how the phasing transference is affecting Artemis."

"I knew I should have made sandwiches," Hayami said ruefully. Ami glanced at him with a dear look. "Well, I can always feed you as you work."

"I don't want to make you late," Ami offered, her gaze locked on her computer monitor.

"I don't have to be at the library until eight thirty," Hayami told her. He offered up a bite of food and, relenting, Ami glanced away just long enough to take it into her mouth.

"Thank you. It's good," she nodded, returning to the screen. "I don't know how long I'll be at this, Hayami. I'm sorry. It's not much of a Valentine's celebration . . ."

"Any time with you is quality time," Hayami replied, covering Ami's hand in his.

It was a fitful few hours sleep. Luna was surprised she could even manage that much, but her laying in her bed was proof of it. The cat pulled herself up, arched without enthusiasm, and then padded out into the master bedroom. Serenity was trying to pull herself out of the chair she'd slept in all night and Luna realized that the Queen's groans were what had awakened her.

"I've either got to stop sleeping in chairs or get more comfortable chairs," grunted the Queen.

"You didn't have to try to stay up on my account," Luna told her.

"I was worried," Serenity said defensively. Luna just hung her head. "Maybe they've had a breakthrough."

"There was a breakthrough," Luna informed her. "Last night. Rei found Artemis. Actually saw him, though I don't understand quite how."

"That's great!"

"We weren't able to get to him," Luna said. Serenity could see the cat was on the verge of breaking down again. "He's trapped in some sort of alternative plane of reality. He could be standing right next to us and he might as well be on the other side of the universe."

Luna's lip began to quiver. Serenity leaned in and scooped the cat up. Luna pressed against the Queen's breast.

"For all I know he could be suffering so," sobbed Luna. "I'm sorry for going to pieces like this, Your Majesty. I should be doing something! Using my intellect and my experience to devise a solution! But I'm so frightened! A life without Artemis is suddenly more than I could possibly endure!"

"We'll get him back," cooed Serenity. "You have to have faith."

"I can't!" the cat wailed. "It's everything I've ever feared come true!"

Serenity held her tighter. The door opened. She looked up and found Endymion there.

"I was just coming to wake you," he said.

"Is there any news?" Serenity asked.

"Ami and Dr. Ishihara are working on it," offered Endymion. His silent expression told her what he didn't want to say in front of Luna.

Serenity looked down. She felt Luna quiver against her breast. And she made a decision.

"Endymion, please call the senshi," Serenity requested. "Ask them to meet me in the lab."

"What do you intend to do?" Endymion asked, an eyebrow arched.

"Find him. And bring him back," Serenity declared. She set Luna down on a table and turned for the door. "This is no way to celebrate Valentine's Day."

"Your Majesty?" Luna inquired after her. But Serenity continued to glide through the door without a word. Concerned, the cat and the King of Crystal Tokyo started after her.

The door to the lab slid open. Haruka Tenoh peered in, with Michiru Kaioh behind her. They found Rei up in Serenity's face, as usual.

"Do you even know what you're doing?" demanded Rei. All four of the senshi were in the room, in civilian forms. Also there were Dr. Azuma, Dr. Ishihara, Endymion and Luna. Endymion and the physicists turned to acknowledge the newcomers. Everyone else was focused on Rei and Serenity, specifically Serenity.

"I'm getting Artemis back," Serenity replied, quietly but firmly, the way Serenity always got when she had made a decision and wouldn't be reasoned with.

"How? By wishing?"

"You said you could see him, but you couldn't touch him. You find him and I'll make it so he can be touched." She thought a moment. "Yes, I guess it will be by wishing."

"At what cost to you?" Rei fumed. "You don't know how much crystal energy this could take! Is it a fair trade if we get Artemis back and lose you? And what if we lose you and don't get Artemis back?" The priest turned to Luna. "You know more about the crystal's limits than any of us. Tell her!"

But Luna didn't speak. She looked at them for the longest time and seemed to want to speak. But the thought of a lifetime without Artemis suddenly stilled her tongue. Rei glared angrily at her.

"It's a risk I'm willing to take," Serenity said, glancing at Luna. The cat almost broke down right there.

"I don't think it's a risk Artemis would want you to take," Minako said timidly. She felt everyone turn to her. "Look, I want Artemis back more than just about anybody in this room. But not if it hurts you. I know he'd want me to say that."

"And I don't think you have to take the risk," Ami added. "We can find a way to reverse this. I'm very confident of it."

"I'm sure you can," Serenity said. "But I don't know if Artemis can wait any longer. And I certainly can't stand to see Luna go through anymore of what she's going through. If it were any of you, I'd do the same - - for you, and for your loved ones."

"So why are we here?" Haruka inquired. Her voice was low and neutral, as always, but those who knew her knew that she didn't like this anymore than anyone else did.

"I may need to borrow your power," Serenity replied, "in case I'm not quite up to the task. I realize it's an imposition . . ."

"Your dying will be the imposition," snapped Rei.

Endymion crossed over to her and took Serenity's hands. He looked down into her big blue eyes and saw they were determined.

"I can't talk you out of this one, can I?" he asked.

"No," Serenity replied, fearing his next response.

Endymion began to glow gold.

"Well, they say two crystals are better than one," Endymion said. "But you owe me more than just a box of chocolates tonight."

A grin grew on Serenity's face.

"It's a date," she whispered. Turning toward Rei, Serenity asked, "How did you find Artemis the first time?"

The priest folded her arms. "And suppose I don't tell you?"

Serenity looked stricken and it tore Rei to pieces inside, but she remained firm. Then the Queen squared her shoulders.

"Then I'll look without your help," Serenity responded. "And expend more energy than I intended - - and put myself at greater risk."

Rei glared at her. Endymion was behind the Queen, still glowing.

"Do it," he said and everyone could see the resignation on him, "please."

Exhaling loudly, Rei turned away and walked over to Luna. The priest took a moment to focus her spiritual energy, then reached out and placed her hand on the cat's shoulders.

"Think of Artemis," Rei instructed. "Remember all your happy times with him. Focus on everything about him that you hold dear."

Luna complied. Everybody watched as Rei took a few moments to let her sight focus on the red string extending from Luna, the string only she saw. Following it, Rei scanned the room until she saw Artemis.

"He's there," she said, pointing toward the table Ami was sitting at. "He's sitting just to the right of Ami's right hand. Please don't move, Ami."

Ami nodded and held still. Serenity brought the Silver Crystal out of its warp. The jewel bathed the room in a bright silver light. She extended her left hand back to Endymion and felt his close around it. A tremendous energy surged through the Queen and for a moment she wondered if she could control it. Shunting her doubts aside, Serenity called on the crystal and wished for Artemis to be returned to their reality. The crystal flared, engulfing the room in its silvery brightness. To a person, everybody in the room suddenly felt a tremendous sense of peace and contentment. The light dissipated.

"ARTEMIS!" Luna shrieked. The cat bounded across the room with wild abandon, for Artemis was now visible just to the right of Ami's right hand. She skidded to a stop, lightly impacting with his body, and began rubbing her chin and head against him.

"Hey, buddy!" Minako squealed as she converged on the cat. "How are you doing?"

"I, um," Artemis stammered. He paused to take a mental inventory. "I guess I'm OK."

Off to the side, Serenity was smiling with broad happiness. Rei eased over to her.

"How are you doing?" the priest inquired.

"I'm fine," Serenity assured her. "Actually I had more trouble when I rebuild everyone's home after the disaster." She shrugged self-consciously. "I've gotten a little stronger over the years."

"Well, good," Rei nodded, embarrassed and chagrined. "I, um - - I guess you were right. I'm sorry for - - for getting angry."

"It's all right," Serenity smiled. "You only do it because you care. I know that." The Queen then smirked maliciously. "After all, if I died, you wouldn't have anybody to pick on."

Rei gave the Queen a cynical glance, but let the remark pass without a retort. There would be other chances. Serenity deserved this triumph.

"What was it like?" Ami asked Artemis, even as Luna continued to rub against him.

"Strange," he replied. "Everybody and everything seemed to move a little faster than normal. And I couldn't understand anything anyone said. What little I could hear was garbled and high-pitched."

"I'd love to do a complete physiological analysis of you," Ami ventured. Minako then nudged the woman with her hip. "Um, but I - - I guess it could wait - - until tomorrow?"

Off to the side, Serenity watched the scene with tremendous satisfaction. Seeing Luna reunited with Artemis, seeing the happiness openly evident in the little cat she owed so much to made her heart sing. The Queen glanced back at Endymion. Her mate rubbed her arms and gave her a proud nod.

"Thank you all for coming," Serenity announced. "Maybe we could give Luna and Artemis a little private time?"

Taking the hint, everyone adjourned from the room until it was just Luna and Artemis.

"Man, I'm glad to be back," Artemis sighed. "How'd you manage to find me?"

"It was Rei's doing, mostly," Luna said, her body tensing with chagrin. "She told me she was able to trace you through - - well, through a red string connected from my paw to yours."

Artemis smiled. He obviously was familiar with the legend that fated lovers were connected by a red string. Luna looked away to conceal her embarrassment.

"So," Luna began awkwardly, "you weren't in any pain, were you?"

"Just from watching how you were taking it," Artemis replied compassionately. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."

Luna looked down, flustered. "In a way it was for the best. It broke through my foolishness and conveyed to me in no uncertain terms my - - well, my true feelings."

"And they are?" Artemis inquired with great interest.

"You're going to make me say it, aren't you?" Luna said through clenched teeth. Then she relented. "Well, I suppose you deserve to hear it."

She braced herself.

"For all our time together, I've allowed - - petty phobias to stand between me and the realization that - - that you mean a great deal to me and that my life would be quite empty without you in it. You've said for a long time that we should be mates and I've come to the conclusion that you're quite right."

"Told you," Artemis smiled tenderly.

"Not back ten minutes and you're already making me regret it," Luna fussed. "But - -
given the choice between enduring your considerable lack of wit - - and doing without you forever - - I suppose the former will just have to be my cross to bear."

The black cat's gaze dropped for just a second. Then she gathered herself and looked at Artemis with loving tenderness.

"Artemis, I would be greatly honored to be your mate for all time," and she swallowed nervously, "if you'll still have me."

"Luna," he smiled, his blue eyes twinkling amid a sea of white fur, "I've waited a lifetime to hear those words. It was worth the wait. I will have you now and forevermore."

Bursting with elation, Luna rubbed her head against her beau. Artemis returned the gesture.

"Picked the appropriate day, too," he commented.

"And a happy Valentine's Day it is, and will ever be," Luna said.

They continued to rub against each other.

"Hey, and this way I won't have any trouble remembering what day our anniversary is," Artemis piped up.

Luna stopped and stared ruefully at him.

"Oh, what have I gotten myself into?" she replied, shaking her head.

But the smile on her face refused to be concealed.