Disclaimer: Anou, I don't own anything except the plot, but I'd like to have Heero and Trowa please! *gets blasted by a wave of fire and then zapped by lightning* Never mind! *runs for the hills to save life, being chased by a flaming firebird and crackling lightning dragon* I was just joking!

Dedication: Girl-chama – Thank you so much for writing Bring Me to Life! It's wonderful, exactly what I had always imagined. Not to mention, I'm now hooked on the song by Evanescence. You rock! Anyone who likes this story must read Girl-chama's side story for this fic. In fact, it's a must because she actually read my mind and wrote stuff I was going to write, but much better! Also, I loved the e-mail you sent me because it really helped me take a look at how I was writing and things I had overlooked. Chibi-chan – Arigatou for all of your kind words and inspiration from your awesome fics! And Zechs is very delusional at this point but I forgive him because he's a hottie! This chapter has Hotaru/Wufei in it so please don't kill me, especially if Zechs does manage to kiss Rei and leave my poor Duckie out of it. He's traumatized as is! La Perle – Thank you so much for the kind review and I'm so glad that you like the story angle I have here. I always wondered how far the dedication the Senshi have for Serenity would go and wanted to explore it. I hope you'll enjoy the ride with me! :D – I know, I know, updates from me are like rain in the desert, miracles from heaven. And though I'll play with some flirtatiousness and seduction on Zechs' part towards Rei, I could never part Rei/Heero. After all, they live with me and would kill me in a hundred different ways! Michi – You're very welcome for the chapter and I'm sorry this one didn't come out sooner. As for the Ravagers, there are plenty of secrets yet to be revealed so it's understandable if not everything is clear just yet. And Zechs is going to be quite involved in the story for a while so his motives are going to be revealed as will the consequences later on. lady pyro – Your review really touched me! I think every author would love to have a review like yours! I'll see what I can do about making sure you always feel that way! DTN – You rock! Don't kill your computer! How will you read fics and be able to post your awesome DBZ/SM ones if it's broken? That would be a shame! And my chapters are long because I don't know how to shut up! Firenze – Thank you for still following this story o' mine and its eternal delays! I love you for reviewing! Mars Child – I'm so sorry for not updating sooner! (cowers like a frightened child) I'm glad you liked the Ami/Duo part because I'm really enjoying writing them as a couple. Duo's so sexy and Ami's so ready to kill him! Bwahahaha! And Heero is the cutest of them all! (glomps Heero before he runs for the hills) Heart Soul – Should I tone down on the sweetness? I don't want you to have to go to the dentist, after all! Chapter 17 was one of those weird chapters that just kind of wrote itself and each character had their own thing they wanted to get across, hence the Heero who was in/out of character the whole dang time. Minako/Quatre were fun to write and I could see them being fluffy and cute with each other because they can relax and be themselves with each other and not have to worry about all their leadership troubles. Duo is a sexy little devil in this fic and he's enjoying every minute of it. So is Ami but she won't admit to it! There is going to be a lot more conflict between Setsuna and the others because she see things in a different perspective than they do and they don't understand her reasoning. Hopefully, she'll begin to unbend little bit by little bit! And yes, Makoto does go from formal to friendly with Quatre because she feels that she can call him a friend. Good call! Boredenigma – You're very welcome and I hope you enjoy this next chapter! Kaiya – Thank you so much for the review! Ami/Duo is just so much fun to write so I'm glad you're enjoying it! I hope you like the parts they have here too! Princess Ren – I'm so glad you liked Chapter 17. Seems like everyone liked the Ami/Duo part. I guess I'll have to focus on them some more! And the Ravagers are definitely going to have more about them revealed though I can't tell you who the agent inside the UEA is yet. I really like Minako as a character so I wanted her to have more depth and I could totally seeing her use the excuse of being boy crazy as a way to try and find her true love. As for Zechs, he has some issues that he needs to deal with and Rei and Heero are going to be more than happy to help him see the light! (snickers) I was so happy to have Rei/Heero back together again. I really don't like writing them as being apart from each other. And Setsuna has a lot of explaining to do! As for this story ending anytime soon, it's doubtful but it will have a definite ending. I won't give up on it, no matter what! And Rei/Mirai Trunks is one of my favorite couples so I just had to write it. Don't know when it'll post though! Cherry – Thank you so much for your constructive (and long) review! The Ravagers will be explained thoroughly later on and they are old yet new at the same time. You'll see what I mean later on. Sad endings…I love angst but I do believe in happy endings because I'm a major romantic. There's almost no chance that this will end badly for the main characters though there might be some minor characters who will suffer tragedy. The path to true love doesn't run smooth though so not everything will be wine and roses for the main characters either! Zechs has been my favorite character to twist so far because he has really warped thinking right now. It will change slowly during the story as he begins to discover things but it'll be a while and you'll see a lot of evil Zechs until he begins to change. Can't tell you about the spy or it'll ruin things but you'll see. Zechs and Noin? Not going to happen here though I kinda like them as a canon couple for GW. Myst Lady talked me into writing a Zechs/Setsuna so we'll see how that goes! WikeD tEnShI – I'm so glad you like Rei/Heero and Hotaru/Wufei fics because this will be the one for you. And there's quite a bit of Hotaru/Wufei in this chapter so I hope you like it! DragonStar – You said it! I was going to try and have Zechs start his sexiness here bit got overwhelmed. You will see it next chappie though! Li Ying Fa – Wai! I loved your insight on Chapter 17. I have to agree that normally Mamoru bores me if not downright annoys me so I'm trying to mature and expand his character a bit here. Hopefully, it'll work! If nothing else, refereeing for the Outers is sure to give him some backbone! I agree, after deciding to do a Zechs/Setsuna at Myst Lady's request, the idea really grew on me. I hope I can write it well enough to do it justice. Quatre is such a cutie and Minako's just sweet enough to let him lead the way in their relationship (mostly). Ami and Duo are beginning to become one of my favorite couples and I'm really enjoying writing them. Even I don't know what either of them will do at times until I type it. I think I plotted the Rei/Heero bit as a reward for myself because I was just so happy to have them together again! And I haven't seen anything from you in ages! Are you still alive? Princess Rei – You gave up beauty sleep for my story? I'm not worthy! (bows down low) And I love Rei with just about everyone but Wufei too, though there are a couple of stories out there that are written pretty well. I will definitely keep trudging on! SenshiofMars – Thanks for the compliment! I'm not amazing, just long-winded! (grins sheepishly) Wufei = onnaful? I like it! That's a good term. Maybe I could use it? (hears low growl and turns to see livid Wufei) Maybe not. Marsgoddess – You know what they say about a thin line between love and hate? Noin has officially crossed it! I thought it was a cool twist on her devotion to see how it would change when she herself being rejected. Zechs is going to be pouring on the hormones to get Rei and I can tell you now that Heero is so not going to be happy about it, but he'll never feel that desperate that he'll turn to Relena! Ugh! Just the thought of it turns my stomach! You're one of the first ones so far who has backed Setsuna and I'm glad because I didn't mean to make her seem like a total wench. Haruka will come to realize how much Setsuna hates what she has to do. Kellie – OMG! I so didn't mean to make your review come true and wait so long to update but life got kinda freaky and hellish for a while. I promise that it will never be that long again before I post again. I will whack myself with Usagi's streamers of hair before I do that again! I swear, Ami and Duo are becoming a major fan favorite in Need. Every woman should have a Duo in her life at one point or another. I'm just lucky that I have all the GW guys rolled into my husband! miyaka – Wow, I was totally bowled over by your review! Thank you very much! I love to hear about what you like and don't like about the story because you guys help me grow as a writer! And you're no slouch in the writing department either, you know! Yesterdays and She Walks In Beauty are two of my favorite stories! When are you going to update them? (shameless begging) As for Ami/Duo, there is going to be a lot of different action between them and both of them are going to blow hot and cold with each other, each trying to see where the other one is coming from. Rei and Heero are a challenge to write but I feel that they really would only open up to each other. They know they don't have to be mushy in order to let the other know they love them. Zechs/Rei/Heero? Oh my! I really can't wait to get started on that next chapter! Joanna – I'm sorry this wasn't your favorite but I hope this chapter will meet with your approval. And sorry, but it did take almost 5 months for this to come out and I abjectly apologize! Makura Koneko – Thank you sooo much! And even though you gave me the big, beautiful begging puppy eyes, I was still way late. Gomen! Icyfire – Thank you so much for your support! I really appreciate it. I think whatever you write will be wonderful because you have a great imagination! Firako-chan – Romance is such a wonderful thing and I'm glad I could inspire you! I thought about adding Heero's side but decided to just focus on Rei because last chapter was huge! I will have more from Heero though. Sets/Zechs will be further down the road but they will become a lot more sympathetic and people will see what drives them to be what they are now. Rena H.M. – For readers like you, I will always do my best to keep going! I'm just glad that you're all so patient with me! And good luck on writing! It's hard but it's worth it! Purple Mongoose/PallaPlease – I am totally humbled by your review and I appreciate not only the praise but also the things you've pointed out that I can work on. I really can't tell you how much that means to me. Since from the review I take it you're not a huge fan of Rei/Heero, Minako/Quatre or Trowa/Makoto, it made me wonder who you did support besides Ami/Duo. I'm just curious. I do love the Ami/Duo pairing and it is very rare so I'm glad you like what I'm doing with them so far. I do try to quality control my chapters as much as possible with my beta reader but unfortunately, small errors still make it past me. I will try to make sure those occur as infrequently as possible though! In regards to Relena, I can't say that I like her very much and I hope you don't take offense. She is strong in her convictions, I'll give her that, but her too-focused idealism just rubs me the wrong way, but maybe I'm too cynical and jaded. I try not to bash too much but be warned that Relena has a definite reason for being in this story and many may see her as a villain since Zechs is doing all he can to break Rei and Heero up for her. I'm sorry to say that I haven't been able to read 'Requiem' yet, but if it's from you I'm sure it'll be of the highest quality. I can say that because I read your bio and your review and they're very concise and well-written. You put forethought into just about everything. Arien – Ah, you're a reader after my own heart! Need just about developed because I was so sick of all of those Rei backstabs Usagi stories out there, so I decided that my favorite character deserved her own story. Who knew the others would jump in like they did? Angel of Mercy – Ah, my imouto-chan, you give me such words of inspiration! I take it my twists on the characters get your approval? And I finally have Hotaru/Wufei for you even though it's just the beginning and there isn't a lot of fluffiness for them…yet. I'm still working on my part of Passion's Rhythm so I hope to have that to you soon as well. Huggles back! marzy001 – I'm always so glad to hear from you and I really appreciated the e-mail you sent me to kick my butt in gear! Just for that, I'll have lots more Zechs sexiness just for you! I had a great time exploring Wufei's hidden character and I hope you like what I've done to him in this chapter! And Setsuna is under orders from Queen Serenity, Usagi's mother, not Princess Serenity. Princess Serenity has no idea of what's going on/ Sorry for the misunderstanding! Well, now that I've posted, where's yours? (looks around eagerly) SVZ – Wow! You reviewed every chapter, practically back to back! I hope you didn't get in trouble for being online for so long! I'm glad you like the little things I throw into my chapters.  I always wonder if people notice them sometimes! Reviewing your fics was my pleasure because I really enjoyed them and I'm just sorry I hadn't read more of them sooner! I'm not upset that you like Heero/Relena or prefer Rei/Mirai Trunks. I like Rei/Mirai Trunks and Rei/Heero for different reasons. Not too crazy about the Heero/Relena though. And I'm glad you liked the Chinese. Thought I'd play up to my own Chinese heritage and add them in since it didn't make as much sense to have Wufei speaking Japanese all the time, just an occasional word. And I'd be honored to write a fic with you, DTN and babeof01and05+trunks, not to mention that I do have a Rei/Mirai Trunks fic in the works but it'll be awhile before it sees the light of day, since I have to concentrate mainly on Need. Sadie Joyce – Myst Lady – Oh, you weren't supposed to cry! After you mentioned Zechs/Setsuna, they've grown in my head as quite the couple though it'll take some time to get them there as the events that I have planned that will open them up to the possibility of love are still down the road. I didn't want to just throw them together. I also wanted more time to explore their characters so I can make sure to get them right. For Zechs, I've always seen him as not really appreciating Noin, maybe not even realizing the depth of her feelings for him. He doesn't see himself as being cold, he just doesn't know that his words and actions are killing her. And I never could see Setsuna loving Mamoru. Maybe appreciating his friendship during the lonely years but never really loving him. I expect that I'll be asking for advice from you to make sure I get them right. I hope you don't mind! (grins) The Firey – Hey, a late review is better than no review! I loved your new chapter for Heart ni hi o Tsukete! And thanks for the kawaii review! Magician – Does this mean that I put you to sleep? (laughs) Seriously though, I'm glad you're enjoying the story! k-e-l-s – Sorry about the delay! Here's the next part though! lalalala – You read the entire thing in one sitting? (hands over award for endurance decorated with little kiss-blowing Duos, blushing Quatres, somersaulting Trowas, scowling Wufeis and pouting Heeros on it) Luckily for you, you don't have to wait as long for this new chapter! Thank you for taking the time to read and review! angelicmayuka – Thank you for the review! You're probably one of the few who can say that I'm updating this pretty quickly from when you read it! Duckie – Do I even have to say that I'm dedicating this to you? (blows big kiss)

Here's the n

A/N: I know I'm so late with this! (Bows so many times that gives self whiplash) Let's just say that my life had a lot of problems and leave it at that. Luckily, most of those problems are gone so they shouldn't affect future chapters. Well, looking at the reviews from last time, a lot of you really liked the Ami/Duo pairing and how they're reacting to each other. Yippee! I'm so happy about that because they're so much fun to write! Well, I won't postpone your reading pleasure any longer. Enjoy!


            Hotaru walked into the main dining room and gaped as she saw the long table that seemed to stretch out into infinity before her. There were beeswax candles in beautiful silver candleholders that were surrounded by fresh orchids marching down the center of the table. Cut crystal goblets were paired with gold-rimmed china plates and crisp white linen napkins. The chandeliers overhead caused every place setting to sparkle with a soft glow. Hotaru's deep violet eyes scanned the length of the table, looking to see who was there as she noticed that three chairs were empty. Minako and Quatre sat at one end, both of them deeply engrossed in a private conversation, their hands intertwined. Hotaru smiled softly to see that whatever nervousness Minako had suffered from in the kitchen was obviously taken care of by the platinum-haired young man who sat by the Senshi of Love's side. Haruka and Michiru also sat together on the other side of Quatre, their conversation being spoken fast and furious between them. Hotaru watched as Michiru brought a goblet of ice water to her lips, sipping delicately as she raised an eyebrow over whatever her companion was saying to her. Trowa sat next to Michiru, his forest green eyes thoughtful as he observed the others around him. Across from him sat Makoto and she was currently speaking with Ami and Setsuna, both of them sitting on either side of her, chatting about something she had seen in the gardens outside. Three empty chairs sat next to Setsuna, their plush royal blue seats waiting to be occupied. Next to Trowa sat Duo, who was trying vainly to get Ami's attention. Ami, on the other hand, was successfully ignoring him, her entire attention riveted on whatever Makoto was saying. 'Hmmm, if Ami-san gives Duo-san any more of the cold shoulder treatment, he's going to need a cure for frostbite. I wonder what happened. Ami-san is never this rude,' Hotaru thought wonderingly, her head tilted to one side in inquiry, her hair brushing the tops of her shoulders. Shaking her head over the mystery, her eyes continued to roam over the table. She felt a slight heat come to her cheeks as she noticed Wufei sitting next to the braided pilot, his look smug yet thoughtful at the same time. She reminded herself to thank him later for his care in seeing her to bed after her night out with the rest of the girls. Seated next to Wufei was Mamoru, his gaze hooded as he contemplated the candles in front of him. As she puzzled over why Mamoru seemed so melancholy, Setsuna raised her hand briefly, drawing Hotaru's attention. Setsuna smiled at her and beckoned her to sit next to her. Smiling happily, she made her way to her surrogate mother and gratefully sank down into the plush depths of the proffered chair. Looking up as she edged her chair closer to the table, her gaze clashed with onyx eyes, eyes that pierced right through her and caused a shiver to run down her spine. She was going to say something but was cut off as several Maganacs swarmed in, all of them carrying either platters or individual plates of food. A huge soup tureen was uncovered, the contents inside steaming hot and carrying a wonderful aroma that had stomachs around the table rumbling in response. Plates of steaming vegetables in different sauces were also set on the table, baskets of fresh baked breads accompanying them. Crocks of freshly whipped butter or soft cheeses sat next to them, waiting to be spread onto the warm surfaces. A small crystal cup of iced lemon sherbet was set by each diner to cleanse the palate between meals. Auda and Muhammad came in next, jointly carrying a platter of roast beef big enough to feed a small army. After them came Ismail and Murad carrying in platters of baked fish and steamed shrimp for those who preferred lighter fare. The platters were set down with a flourish and soon plates were served as other Maganacs went up and down the table, inquiring as to what each person would prefer. Soon everyone was served and the only thing heard for several minutes was noises of appreciation as the deliciously prepared food was consumed or the soft clinking of utensils against plates.

            Looking up from her soup, Minako frowned as she realized that the two chairs at the end were still empty. Noticing her frown, Quatre also looked down towards the two empty seats. "Does anyone know where Rei-chan and Heero are," he inquired politely, the smallest hint of worry creeping into his normally calm voice.

            Everyone shook their heads except for Wufei, who continued to eat with only the faintest of smirks apparent on his features. He continued to eat until the soup in his bowl was finished, nodding at Auda, who whisked his bowl away and replaced it with a plate. Hotaru, who had been unconsciously looking at him, pointed out, "Wufei-san, do you know where Rei-san and Heero-san are?"

            Wufei's smirk grew wider, his ebony eyes gleaming with satisfaction. He was having a much better day since he had come out of the Med Bay. First, there had been the chat with Rei and the knowledge that she would be speaking with Heero again, which meant that Heero would be more clear-headed. If they actually made up, it might be even better because that meant that he wouldn't be getting his butt handed to him on a regular basis by Heero like it had been earlier this morning, not that he would ever admit that to anyone else. It also meant that he wouldn't have to look at Rei's alternatingly forlorn and angry face. Secondly, after his conversation with Rei, he had found Duo and coerced the distracted pilot of 02 into a bout of target practice.  His smile widened even more as he recalled that the target practice had evolved into a survival course that had progressed into that baka Maxwell running for his life, his braid flapping in the wind behind him. Still smiling over the memory, he glanced towards Hotaru before replying, "Maybe."

            All attention was suddenly riveted on Wufei at his coy answer. "Well, where are they," Haruka asked impatiently, biting her tongue to keep her from adding anything snide. Michiru had deliberately asked her to not do anything to antagonize any of their new allies for peace's sake and she was trying, but it was extremely difficult with this particular person.

"I'm not sure where they are now," Wufei responded, earning several groans and glowers from those around the table. "But I do know that Rei was on her way to the Medical Bay to see Yuy when I bumped into her earlier today," he finished, his smirk still plastered firmly in place.

"When was that, Wufei-san," Ami asked politely. "Please understand. We're just worried about Rei-chan."

"You don't have to worry about Rei. She's tough. She can take of herself. And just because you asked politely," he said, shooting a look at Haruka, who turned purple with suppressed fury, "I saw her a couple of hours ago. She wanted to talk to him about something that was bothering her."

            The remaining Gundam pilots were puzzled to see the Senshi and Mamoru trade even more worried glances with each other. Minako was biting her lower lip in concern, a small frown creasing the space between her brows. Ami had paled, her grip on her soup spoon tightening as she exchanged a look of concern with Makoto. Makoto, in turn, fidgeted with the heavy sterling silver napkin ring that had held her crisp, linen napkin. She shook her head briefly before murmuring, "Wufei's right. Rei-chan is a big girl and she can take care of herself. I'm sure she's weighed all the consequences before deciding to talk to him. All we can do is be there to support her, just in case…"

            Murmurs of agreement came from the others, though Haruka looked as if she wanted to do something more. She looked down the length of the table towards Mamoru, her navy blue eyes beseeching him for permission to act. She slumped back in her seat when he shook his head negatively and was grateful for the comforting hand that slipped into hers, giving it a comforting squeeze. Hotaru was grave, her face serious as she mulled over the conversation she had had with Makoto earlier. She wondered if things were happening that would bring their musings to life and force them to make decisions that would tear them apart so soon after they had been reunited. She sighed almost bitterly, wondering if life would ever grant them peace. Mamoru was torn, his heart hoping that things worked out for Rei but also wondering if choices would have to be made that would irrevocably break someone's heart. 'What would Usako want? Would she want Rei-chan to be happy or would she want Chibiusa to exist? Somehow it seems that if one way is taken, the other side cannot be happy. Usako will be heartbroken. Does she think as a mother or as a friend? Which side of her will be stronger,' he mused, thinking of how his beloved would react when she emerged from her stasis.

            Setsuna was outwardly calm, showing a countenance of slight concern as was befitting a friend worried for another friend, but inside she was a seething mass of emotions. When she had heard Wufei's words that Rei had went to see Heero, she had immediately tried to use her Time Sight to see what the outcome had been in order to prepare herself and the others. Instead of seeing Rei in tears or Rei and Heero embracing lovingly, she had found herself coming up against a wall of force that had repelled her completely. She tried several more times, each time being pushed back more insistently than the time before, until her head throbbed with the effort. She then tried to go beyond and was repelled again. Further and further she tried to see along the time line until she realized with a horrifying feeling of despair that she could see nothing. There was no destruction, no utopia. There was just nothing and Setsuna wondered if that was their future or if she was just being blocked. She forced herself to reach for the glass of water in front of her, watching her hand tremble minutely with the effort as she brought it to her lips. She took a long drink, the cool, fresh water sliding down her parched throat as she thought of the different possibilities that lay before all of them. She felt like she had been blinded or that one of her senses had been cruelly ripped away from her. 'I can't help them, any of them. I'm lost and don't know what to do or say. I could be leading them to wanton destruction or happiness unparalleled. Queen Serenity-sama, what am I supposed to do? You told me to never abuse my powers but you never told me what to do if I ever lost them,' Setsuna inwardly cried. She reflected on her past actions and wondered if this was Fate's way of saying she had interfered too many times. She let out a small huff of a sigh, deciding to be as mortal as the rest of her friends and play it by ear. She just hoped that she was doing the right thing.

            Duo, Trowa and Quatre looked on in confusion at the different reactions spreading across the dining table. When no other information seemed forthcoming, Duo exclaimed, "Hello! Mind telling us what's going on or are you going to leave us in the dark forever? What's Rei-chan going to tell Hee-man that's so important?" He paused for a moment, rubbing his chin thoughtfully while Trowa and Quatre looked at him almost fearfully. One never knew what would pop into Duo's mind. The braided pilot's eyes lit up as he snapped his fingers. "I know! She's going to tell him he's a daddy, isn't she? There's going to be little Hee-mans running around, isn't there? Or maybe little Rei-chans? Should we plan a baby shower? What should I get the little tyke? A mini plastic gun or maybe a stuffed Deathscythe Hell, complete with mini glowing scythe," Duo rambled, lost in his own musings. He ignored Quatre, who had almost done a spit-take at his casual utterance.

            Sweatdrops appeared on almost every head around the table. Mamoru's spoon clattered noisily onto his plate as he dropped it from suddenly nerveless fingers. Haruka sputtered, turning almost fuschia from lack of oxygen before popping up like a jack-in-the-box. "What in the world are you saying, you baka?! Babies? There better not be any babies happening! And in case you haven't noticed, Rei-chan and Heero weren't even talking yesterday and they weren't even in a real relationship," exploded Haruka, ignoring Michiru, who was vainly trying to calm her lover down and removing any sharp utensils from her area of reach. Michiru frowned sharply at Duo, her aqua brows creasing in disapproval.

"I hate to agree with her, but you truly are a baka, Maxwell. I'm sorry I even said anything about Rei going to see Yuy. Still, you're the only person I know who can add 1 plus 1 and get 10," Wufei growled, slicing into his roast beef almost savagely. He stabbed a piece with his fork and bit into it, his eyes narrowed in anger at his nemesis.

"Rei-chan's having a baby with Heero? That would be so wonderful! I wonder what he or she would look like. Would it look like Rei-chan or Heero or maybe a combination of both? Oooh, can you imagine Rei-chan's hair with Heero's eyes," Minako babbled to the table at large, getting starry-eyed at the prospect of her best friend finding love like she had. Quatre, sitting next to her, sweatdropped again before patting her hand bemusedly. She was just too cute.

"If it's a girl, then I certainly hope it looks like Rei-chan. A female Heero is just too scary, don't you think," Duo exclaimed, eager and happy to find a kindred spirit in Minako. His glance slid over to the occupant of the chair next to the bubbly blonde, his mouth quirking into a grin as he caught her wide, blue-eyed gaze. His grin faltered slightly when Ami resolutely turned her gaze towards her lap, the only sign she had seen Duo being a faint tinge of pink across the bridge of her nose. 'Ignoring me, huh? You'll learn that that's a lot harder to do than you think. I love a challenge,' he thought impishly, mentally licking his chops at the thought of the chase. Ami had no idea of what was going to happen to her.

            Makoto shook her head in wonderment, her chestnut curls grazing her cheeks. "I can't believe we found a male Minako-chan," she murmured out of the side of her mouth towards Setsuna, who repressed a chuckle with a great effort. 'It's good to see her so happy. We found Rei-chan and made up with her and now Minako-chan has found someone to love and who loves her back. No wonder she's bubbling over with happiness.  I wish I could say the same for the rest of us, especially Rei-chan. I'm wondering how Heero took Rei's revelation. She has this tough façade that she hides her sensitive, vulnerable side behind, kind of like me. But she's dealt with so much rejection and pain and misunderstanding because of her psychic abilities, that I don't know if she'll be able to take another blow, especially from someone who is as important to her as Heero seems to be. If he hurts her, I'll beat his head in to a bloody pulp and even Haruka-san won't be able to beat me to him,' she thought angrily, recalling the bleak look on Rei's face and her total unresponsiveness as they had flown home from UEA headquarters. She had been so concerned over Rei's welfare that she had even pushed aside her normally overwhelming fear of flying, focusing only on Rei and trying to get her to talk to the rest of them. She shuddered slightly, remembering the choking feeling in her throat and the knots in her stomach that had appeared when she had first laid eyes on the massive shuttle. It had looked too much like a plane for her comfort and only Ami's reassuring smile and soft hand slipping into hers (A/N: No, this is not yuri, folks!) and giving it a comforting squeeze had made her take a deep breath and valiantly stride into the shuttle. She bit delicately into a glazed carrot, savoring the slightly sweet taste before returning her thoughts to Rei and what she was possibly going through.

            Trowa, sitting across from Makoto, tuned out the conversation around him, going so far as to ignore Duo when the braided man leaned across him to babble excitedly to Minako about what type of cake Rei might like for her baby shower. His attention was focused on the chestnut-haired beauty before him. He was fascinated with the play of emotions that ran so vividly across her face, hiding nothing of what she was feeling. Her green eyes were truly a window into her soul. He watched bemusement flit across her face, followed quickly in turn by admiration, happiness, worry, doubt, anger, and protectiveness. He watched her hand clench and unclench around the napkin ring and then her fork. He admired her capacity to feel, and in turn, her fearlessness in showing what she felt. For so long he had been trapped behind a wall of solitude, one of his own making, one forged by the brutality of war and the fear of losing his sense of self. He had forgotten how to express himself, so used to hiding his reactions or his feelings to things and actions, not wanting to give anything away to the enemies that had relentlessly pursued him. It had been only recently that he had felt the walls coming down. Watching over Rei in her early days with them, seeing the grief that screamed from her eyes had softened him slightly and the burgeoning friendship between them had made him see how much he longed for close relationships. He remembered watching her cry silently on the night she had finally realized that there were no records of any of her friends in any of the historic annals. The silver streams had poured down her face in rivulets, but she never uttered any sound. She had looked broken, but she had refused to utter a single sob. He had wrapped his arms around her and silently rocked her, wishing he knew what to say that would ease her pain, but helpless to do anything but watch her clutch his arm and continue her silent crying. In contrast, he knew the equally tough Makoto would have no problem crying her heart out and perhaps sobbing, just as she would have no problem showing any of her feelings. He had watched her for the last couple of days, his gaze drawn to her inexorably over and over. He had seen her hover protectively over Rei or anyone who seemed hurt and remembered the stories Rei would sometimes tell him of her friends from the past. She had told him of how she hadn't gotten along with Usagi in the beginning and how Makoto, newly dragged into their group, had defended Usagi hotly against a bid for leadership Rei had made, not caring if she would be shunned by her and Ami. "Mako-chan is the best defender anyone could have. She'll always look out for the underdog and never think of how it might hurt her or what she can get in return. She's completely selfless that way. I learned a lot from her," Rei had said softly, her eyes misty with remembrance. Trowa smiled softly to himself, recalling the looks Makoto had shot them, Heero in particular, when she had realized Rei was living with them. The suspicion and protectiveness in her eyes had reminded him of a lioness protecting her cub. 'The depth to your spirit is amazing. After all I've heard you go through, you can still manage to have compassion and love for those around you. I wonder if you could tell me your secret, Makoto-san,' Trowa mused, his bangs falling in front of his face to hide his expression momentarily.

            Dinner continued on, the lively chatter filling the enormous dining room and making the Maganacs assembled nearby smile to hear the wonderful sounds.


            Upstairs, in a bedroom secluded from all the activity going on downstairs, a lone figure lay in a crystal structure, suspended in what seemed to be mid-air. The figure was still, the eyelids closed, the brow unmarred by worry. The singular feature was the crystal flower suspended above the figure's chest. It normally glowed with the light shining through it, casting rainbow ribbons all around it, but at that moment, it flashed with sparks of orange and red only, flickering after several bright flashes before dying out slowly. The figure embedded in crystal registered no reaction except for a slight upturning of the corner of pale pink lips.


            Even further away, a woman handed a scruffy-looking man a slim, translucent black card, holding on to it for a long moment before hissing, "Make sure you get what we discussed about done. I don't care how you do it; just make sure the target doesn't walk away from it. And remember, this stays between the two of us. If this leaks out to anyone, I will personally hunt you down and kill you."

            The scruffy-looking man snatched the card from between the woman's fingers, growling back, "Save it for someone who cares. I know what I was hired to do and I'll make sure it gets done. No worries on that. And you might want to remember this: if you had the balls to kill me, then you wouldn't need to hire me for this job. Think on that, missy. I'll contact you the way you contacted me when the job is done." With that said, he melted into the shadows, the night swallowing him whole.

            Lucrezia Noin glared into the shadows before walking away from her rendezvous with the assassin she had just commissioned. Her fingers bit into her arms as she hugged herself close, murmuring, "The things I do for you, Zechs. You'll be the death of me yet." Squaring her shoulders with determination, she headed back towards the shining headquarters of the Preventers.


            Back at the Winner estate, a couple walked slowly through the dimly lit gallery, shadows flickering and merging with each other in the soft light. Fingers entwined, they walked in silence, basking in the comfort they seemed to draw from each other. Finally, they stopped, standing under one of the marble archways. The male figure turned slightly, facing his female companion, his eyes poring over her elegant face, followed soon by his fingertips.

            The female almost purred, feeling his surprisingly gentle touch on her face. Her beautiful lips curved upward in a small smile as she felt him trace her features one by one, both memorizing and rediscovering at the same time. She leaned into the caress, like a cat being petted. "I don't know how you make me feel this way, Heero, but I know that I don't want it ever to stop," she murmured huskily, their surroundings seeming to call for discretion.

"As long as we're honest with each other, it won't stop. I promise you that. I don't think I could stop. You're like a fire in my blood and I don't care if you burn me from the inside out. All I want is you. All my life, I've fought for some stupid ideal that didn't matter one bit to me. I was trained to be a soldier, the perfect soldier, and I followed my duty and what my leaders drilled into me during every minute of my life. I didn't know how to feel, didn't even think that I could feel. Then I met you and you made me rethink every aspect of my life. I saw the passion inside of you, Rei, the way you throw yourself into living, even after suffering tragedy. I was captivated by the way your eyes were alive with a fire that wouldn't die. I could see the sadness in you, but also the determination to live in spite of all that you had suffered. It made me think about my own life and what I've done with it. Sure, I've fought in a war and been a part of getting it to end before we all ended up destroying ourselves, but how have I changed the lives of those around me? I saw you communicate and live with the men I've fought side-by-side for several years and know more about them then I do in just a couple of short months. What did that say about me? So I studied you, telling myself that I was just looking for ways to improve myself. You don't know how hard I fought with myself over you," Heero admitted roughly, his hands stopping to cup her cheek.

"So what changed your mind, Heero," Rei said, her eyes shutting briefly against the wave of pleasure that flooded through her at the intense look in his eyes. Her eyes opened a few moments later when there was no response.

"I think I finally threw caution to the winds the night I showed you around the Gundam Bay and taught you how to shoot. I couldn't help but be aware of you since it was just the two of us alone, especially when we were in the shooting range. Being so close to you for several hours in such a small space, it was too much. I had made sure to not spend more than a couple of minutes alone with you previously precisely because I was…afraid of my reaction to you," Heero confessed, struggling for the right words to describe the turmoil he had been in ever since he had met her.

"Afraid? Of me? You never let on that you even noticed me, much less were avoiding me. But I noticed you immediately. The first time I set eyes on you, I was drawn to you. Your eyes seemed to say so much but I couldn't understand everything. You see, I saw your eyes in a dream, Heero, but I didn't understand anything about it. All I knew was that I wanted to find out more about you and why your eyes were in my dream, but I could never get up the guts to ask you. I was content to let things go as they were because I figured I'd be living with you for a while and I'd get my chance to know you, but then my friends showed up and I was so happy to see them and to realize that they finally understood what had happened to me and came for me that I let everything fly right out of my head. But when the excitement died down and I realized that they would want me to go home with them, most likely immediately, I couldn't stand the thought of leaving you before we explored what was between us.," Rei said softly, her eyes reflecting the confusion she had felt at that time. She closed her eyes once more as he stroked her face softly, letting her see a side of him that no one else ever would.

"That was the night I found you, wasn't it? I was ready to let you go until I saw you sitting in the window seat of the living room, the dim light of the stars making your skin glow. At first, I wondered if I had imagined you, like a fantasy, so I could say everything to you that I couldn't say to your face, but then I realized you were so much more beautiful than I could have ever imagined you in my dreams. I was almost tempted to walk away and leave you there with your thoughts, but there was a part of me that just couldn't. I didn't want to spend the rest of my life regretting not touching you, not talking with you. I don't think I've ever been more afraid of anything in my life," Heero confessed huskily, his voice dropping slightly as he opened himself to someone like he never had before.

"I can't imagine you ever being afraid. You're so strong and sure of yourself. But I should know more than anyone how easy it is to hide behind a mask, to project a feeling of confidence but be shaking inside like a leaf. Every time we're in battle and I start to freak out because the Ravagers are just so grotesque and powerful, I think of you and I regain my strength," Rei replied, staring deeply into Heero's eyes once more and reveling at the look he gave only to her, a burning look that thawed the normally icy demeanor he surrounded himself with continually.

"You are my strength. I can't promise that I'll ever be lovey-dovey gentle like Quatre is. I'm not like that. I can't be flowery and recite poetry or write you songs about your beauty. I hate showing my emotions in front of other people," Heero warned, his face serious as his eyes continued to roam over her perfect features. One of his hands dropped to caress her waist, the other still stroking the soft skin of her cheek. His grip around her waist tightened minutely as he awaited her reaction.

"As long as I know how you feel about me, I don't care if everyone else knows or not, Heero. All that surface junk means nothing to me. Granted, it's nice to have the one you love give flowers every once in a while, but it's what's inside here that's the most important to me," she said, tapping him lightly on the chest where his heart was. "I've had men give me gifts and all the lip service I'd ever want, but it meant nothing to me when their actions proved them false. I like knowing where I stand with you, how you feel about me and I promise to never let you down," Rei vowed, her amethyst eyes dark with sincerity and a fierceness that left Heero feeling humbled and raw inside.

            Heero was quiet, silently digesting the importance of her words, letting them nestle in the frozen corners of his heart and feeling them thaw out the remnants of his isolated and guarded past. Hearing the quiet pain in her voice as she told him of men who had tricked her with their meaningless compliments and linking it to the vision she had told him of earlier, the one that had made her creamy complexion turn even paler and her eyes swim with tears that refused to fall, made him understand how much she had been hurt and humbled him to realize how much he must mean to her for her to take a chance on him. He knew she didn't make empty promises and because of that he made his own promise to her. "I'll never let you be hurt as well, even if I have to protect you from myself. I would die before I let anything harm you."

"That's all I need to know, Heero," she murmured throatily as one hand reached up into his hair, silently urging him to bend his head down. He needed no second urging as he lowered his mouth to hers, his lips meeting hers eagerly. Their kiss became scorching in its intensity as both parties tried to relay their feelings through touch.

            Heero maneuvered them so that he was leaning against one of the marble columns with Rei resting against him, their lips never breaking contact. He tasted the sweetness of her mouth like a man starving. He explored the inside of her mouth, his hunger for her only deepening. He knew that he would never tire of her, never stop wondering what he had done to deserve his fiery angel and never stopping in his gratitude that she had come into his life when he needed her most.

            Rei held onto Heero like a drowning person, so awash was she in the passion that came over them, like a wave cresting and smashing into the sand. She let herself be swept away by the force of his desire, her world narrowed into just the presence of her and Heero. They broke away momentarily, both of them gasping for air before meeting again. This time, Rei traced the tip of her tongue against the fullness of Heero's lower lip, the sensual touch causing him to moan softly against her mouth. A slight smile tilted the corners of her lips before her tongue darted inside, touching his briefly before darting away. His tongue chased after hers, wanting to prolong the contact. His hands played in her hair, the long strands threaded through his fingers like the softest silk he had ever felt. Both of them were wrapped into a world that no one could ever intrude upon.


            Everyone had finished dinner and many of them had retired to the main living room to continue conversations or just be around people. Wufei had quickly disappeared after dinner, stopping only to thank the Maganacs for the meal. He was followed soon after by Haruka and Michiru, who had cited they needed some time for themselves. Of those left, Mamoru had chosen a large overstuffed chair to sink into. He had a glass of wine held loosely in one hand, barely sipping it. He swirled the ruby liquid occasionally, admiring the color and letting his thoughts roam freely. He looked out over the rest, watching them as they intermingled with each other freely.  'How normal this seems. I guess it shouldn't surprise me too much since I'm sure there were times during the Silver Millennium when everyone in the Court would gather like this for private moments. I wonder how Rei-chan and the others met their young men? Were they officials or liaisons from different courts, maybe even princes from other planets? I wish I recalled more about my past self. The Inners recall more, especially Rei-chan and Usako, but Luna and Artemis decided it would be best to not force those memories on us and let us regain them naturally, over time. I can't fault them for that. We have lives that are different and having so many memories of the past might make us second guess ourselves and our feelings, though Minako-chan and Quatre don't seem to be having any problems,' he thought in satisfaction, his earlier worries wiped away as he watched the two lovers share a smile at the antics of Duo, who had taken to following Ami like a shadow and driving the normally unassuming young woman into fits. She had, so far, thrown her napkin, three cushions, a bookend and both her shoes at the incorrigible young man, all to no avail. He had simply grinned and either ducked or caught all of her missiles, being cheeky enough to return her shoes to her after catching them. Minako clutched her sides, laughing, as she watched Ami's flushed face and Duo's anticipatory eyes. Turning to Quatre, she remarked," Duo-kun looks like a kid anticipating a treat. Do you think he's serious about Ami-chan or is he just teasing her?"

"Duo doesn't chase girls. He's too busy either fending them off or running from them. I'd have to say that he just may be serious about Ami-san. Duo's philosophy is that life is too short to be spent wasting time. He may act flippant most of the time but he's extremely serious as well. He just hides it behind a laughing mask. I envy him sometimes. He knows when to get down to business and when to enjoy himself in a way that I don't think many people could match. Your friend, Ami-san, better be prepared for a long siege. Duo doesn't give up easily, if it's something that's important to him," Quatre responded, holding back a chuckle as Ami, tired of throwing things at Duo, had decided to hide behind Makoto. Makoto, being the good friend she was, was busy running interference and alternated between blocking Duo by dodging every direction he did or just by putting the palm of her hand on his forehead and keeping him from approaching any closer. Her greater strength kept him from advancing or from going around her as she kept her hand firmly on his forehead, smashing his bangs against his forehead and somewhat blinding him. Duo good-naturedly accused Ami of cheating by bringing in a third party. Ami, in turn, surprised them all, responding by thrusting out her tongue from behind the safe haven of Makoto.

            Minako hooted, pumping her fist in the air at Ami's action and cheering her on with her enthusiasm. She was so enthusiastic that she almost fell over, taking Quatre with her. Both blondes landed with a soft thump on the carpeted floor, Quatre making sure to cushion her fall. "Gotcha," he murmured, pressing a soft kiss on the tip of her nose, causing her to flush prettily.

            Duo whistled appreciatively, his brows lifting almost into his hairline as he watched the exchange. "Now that's what I call guest relations! Way to go, Quatre," he cat-called, grinning from ear to ear. He caught Ami's eye and winked flirtatiously, his grin widening even more as she flushed and ducked back behind Makoto. Makoto shook her head reprovingly at Duo before craning her head to look back at her gentle friend. "Ami-chan, you can't hide from him forever. Meet him on his own terms. Make him have to step back, ne? That's what you recommended to me once," Makoto encouraged coaxingly, trying to get Ami to step out and face the mischief maker.

"Oi, Trowa, you have to help me out here. Ami-chan and Mako-chan are ganging up on me," Duo sang out, his gaze directed to the slim young man comfortably seated on one of the comfortable couches. Trowa cocked a slim eyebrow upward before languidly responding," And why do I have to help you? You look like you're handling yourself just fine to me."

"Look, I'm no Wu-man but us guys have to stick together. Gimme a break, Trowa, and just lend me a hand, would ya? Either distract Mako-chan or get Ami-chan to come out and play," Duo begged comically, shooting his fellow pilot a beseeching look.

            Trowa took a moment to consider before looking at the scene before him. Duo was once again trying to get past Makoto and she was holding him off the same way she had been for several minutes, her hand pressed firmly to his head. Her eyes were dancing with mirth as she expertly moved one way and then the next, always blocking the braided young man. "Fine, execute maneuver 12," he ordered before springing off the couch in a lithe movement that took everyone off guard.  Duo immediately darted left, drawing Makoto's attention to his sudden movement. Trowa slid in almost under Duo's arms and quickly snatched Makoto around the waist, and lifted her in a smooth arc, leaving Ami suddenly and completely without defense. Duo had underestimated the desperation of a shy Ami and was stupefied to see her dash over to Mamoru, Setsuna and Hotaru like a frightened gazelle. She smiled triumphantly because there was no way anyone was going to move either the Senshi of Time or Mamoru from their huge chairs or get past Hotaru seated on the floor between them. Duo grinned rakishly though, his confidence never shaken as he sauntered over to the interested crowd and plopped himself down next to Hotaru. "You have to come out sometime, Ami-chan," he sing-songed, his lavender eyes twinkling with mirth and challenge. He sent a sly wink to Hotaru, who giggled into her hand. The young Senshi looked back at her friend, who was currently gape-mouthed at Duo's audacity. "He's right, you know, Ami-san. We can only run so much interference for you. Even us Senshi need to go to bed sooner or later and I love you a lot but I'm not sleeping down here when I have a huge featherbed waiting for me upstairs," Hotaru said impishly, shooting a wink back at Duo.

            Setsuna smiled, one of the most genuinely happy smiles she had given since their arrival and finding of Rei. She remembered the times during the Silver Millennium when Duo would tease and chase Mercury around until the poor girl had finally given in to the happy-go-lucky young man's charm and they had become fast friends, a friendship that had slowly developed into a deep, true love, one that had changed both parties and made them stronger. Ami had come to her several times to complain about Duo's advances and ask for advice. The Senshi of Time hadn't been able to offer much except to let time take its course and see if Duo was truly interested in her and her well-being or just a casual flirt. She had seen the pilots' pasts when she had first arrived in this dimension, wanting to know if these young men were truly the girl' lovers from the past. She had seen pain, hardship, loneliness, misunderstanding, and loss aplenty in all of their pasts and had marveled that they were not harder than they were now. 'I wonder if they've just been waiting for the girls all this time, subconsciously knowing that there was something important missing in their lives but not knowing what it was. I know Duo was an orphan taken in by the Maxwell Church and that it was destroyed during the early part of the war, taking everything and everyone dear to him at an early age, but I never guessed he would choose to hide his pain by putting up a cheerful façade and try to laugh and joke his way through life. I guess he's seen enough pain in his lifetime already that he doesn't want to see it every time he looks in the mirror. Maybe he'll be good for Ami-chan and help her to not feel so burdened by her irreplaceable role among the Senshi or feel so inadequate when it comes to her mainly defensive powers,' Setsuna thought to herself musingly. She smiled as Duo growled sexily and mock lunged at Ami's feet, making the girl shriek and jump back, holding on to the back of Mamoru's chair, setting up another round of gentle laughter.

            Meanwhile, Makoto found herself amazed at Trowa's strength as he had easily lifted and twirled her out of the way. There was no sign of discomfort or effort in his face whatsoever and Makoto found herself shaking her head, remembering how other guys had been intimidated by her size. She was by no means fat or out of shape, but she was tall and curvaceous, her body matching her height perfectly. It had taken her a long time to reconcile her mind's body image with reality and to not be embarrassed by her height. Now she saw it as an advantage and knew she had a unique beauty that was her own. The other girls always praised her and Rei had once commented on how she was envious that Makoto was always able to carry off styles she would love to have tried but couldn't because of her shorter height. That had really made her think twice about herself. It had been a long process but she no longer felt ungainly next to the others or dressed to look shorter, or as Minako said "dowdier". Now she felt no problems with wearing the long, straight skirts that emphasized the long line of her legs or even the shorter skirts that showed off those same legs. She had become comfortable in her own skin and attracted a lot of attention from the opposite sex, her confidence and sunny personality shining through like a beacon. But even for all of her progress she knew that there weren't a lot of men who could easily lift her. She looked back and up at Trowa, who was still holding on to her waist and watching Duo's antics. She blushed at the warmth of his hand and looked down at it. It was strong, with long slender fingers that spanned her waist. She could see calluses and it caused her to smile slightly. He wasn't one of those sissy guys who played macho but hadn't done a lick of work in their lives. She had been pretty well off financially from her parents' life insurance policies and other holdings. She had sold their house and bought an apartment, knowing she couldn't take care of a house by herself and had sued for emancipation from her father's distant relatives, all of whom had never laid eyes on her. She had kept her grades up, even though she transferred schools several times, and kept in touch with the judge who had granted her emancipation. Originally, she had to have a social worker check on her once a week, and then once a month until she turned fifteen, where it then became bi-monthly visits until she turned sixteen. At that point, the visits stopped and she was truly considered independent. She had worked hard, budgeting her money, setting up and maintaining her household and keeping up on her schoolwork as much as possible. She wasn't afraid of hard work and people who wouldn't work when they could ticked her off to no end. She was always one of the first to roll up her sleeves and pitch in to help whenever it was needed and she was grateful to see that Trowa seemed to be like that too.

            Trowa feigned watching Duo and Ami's interaction, too aware of the young woman by his side to pay any real attention to the cat and mouse game Duo was playing with the blue-haired genius. He had felt her sharply indrawn breath when he lifted her and had been afraid that he had offended her somehow or touched her in the wrong place. His fears had been allayed when she didn't move away from him. He was very aware of how real she seemed next to him, almost as if she belonged there. She was warmth and he could smell the lingering scent of chocolate, cinnamon, and baby powder about her, all natural scents that didn't hide or detract from her wholesomeness. There was just something about her that seemed down-to-earth and made him feel comfortable in her presence. He liked this feeling.

            Minako cuddled with Quatre and smiled blissfully to see Makoto and Ami enjoying themselves with such nice, young men. Quatre stared down at his goddess Venus and thanked all the deities in the heavens for sending her to him. He watched the happiness spread across her face and up into her cornflower blue eyes and followed her gaze, his own smile blooming when he saw Trowa's arm wrapped securely around Makoto and the look of relish Duo had while pursuing Ami. Ami, in turn, looked like a hunted doe, but there was a twinkle of something indefinable in her eyes as well. "You're all so good for us," he murmured into Minako's ear, watching a pleased blush spread across her beautiful face.

"How are we good for you? I'd say you're good for us. You've shaken us up and brought excitement back to our lives," Minako murmured back, not wanting to bring attention to either of them. She liked watching her friends be carefree and happy. Her smile widened as she decided that Trowa's hand look inexpressibly right around Makoto's waist. She would have to see what she could do to make that a more common sight.

"Ah, but you've given us our lives back. I know you've opened my eyes to a whole new world of light and I think Rei-chan has reached a part of Heero that even he didn't know he possessed. And it looks like there might be some other possible couples," Quatre replied just as softly, nuzzling her gently with his nose. He delighted in hearing her gentle giggle as he tickled the spot below her ear. Somehow he had known that spot would be ticklish.

"Quatre-kun, you're tickling me! Yamete, onegai," she continued, helplessly laughing as he continued to nuzzle the same spot. She couldn't seem to escape him and a small part of her didn't want to escape, it just wanted to enjoy these moments when they were normal people delighting in each other's company.

            Mamoru smiled knowingly, his spirits buoyed up by the feeling of happiness he was surrounded with. He had seen the joyousness in Ami's eyes, one that was thrilled with the attention she was receiving from the dashing Duo. Makoto looked content, her eyes cast demurely downward while a pretty blush suffused her cheeks. She was still in Trowa's hold and neither party looked like they were going to part any time soon. Minako was breathtaking in her happiness and she seemed to glow from within. Love looked good on her, Mamoru decided. He sighed softly, wishing Usagi was there with him to share these moments. The only ones that still concerned him were Rei and Heero's reaction to her visions and Hotaru, who hadn't seemed to be drawn to Wufei in any way. 'Could it be that with all the mucking around in her physiology that she has gone through since she has been reborn has caused things to change for her? Being possessed by Mistress 9 and then reborn as a baby, only to mature even faster than she would have normally can't be an easy thing for her to have gone through,' Mamoru thought to himself, laying a gentle hand on the top of Hotaru's head as she sat by his and Setsuna's feet. Hotaru looked up, her eyes still brimming with humor from the scene Ami and Duo were causing. She smiled at Mamoru and he was satisfied to see that she looked like the young woman she was supposed to be, carefree for the moment and surrounded by laughter. He smiled back, pleased with the clarity of her eyes. For too long a time after the banishment of Galaxia, they had all seen the sorrow and forced maturity dull her eyes to dim shadows. It had taken a long time to get her to come out of her shell, lots of diligent work from all of them to get her to smile again, to become used to her new body and circumstances. His musings were disturbed by Auda running in, panting.

"Daijoubu, Auda," Quatre answered, alarmed by the panic in the normally jocular man. He had half risen from his seat, Minako following suit, her hand tensed as it lay on his arm. The others stopped as well, each focusing on the hapless Maganac.

"There's a report of an attack scheduled for the asteroid colony X-15477 later tonight. We just got the news from headquarters. If you leave right now and go through the warp gates, you'll just make it in time before the Ravagers are slated to be there," he panted, continuing in a rush. "All the Gundams are being prepped right now and are at maximum efficiency. A warp gate is being prepared as we speak and it should be up in 15 minutes."

"Fine. Continue with your work. Make sure the others are notified. We'll meet you in the bay," Quatre said solemnly, watching as Auda nodded once before pivoting on his heel and running back the way he came from. Turning towards the others, he said, "I know you just got activated for duty yesterday. Do you feel you're ready for a battle so soon?"

"We were born to fight, Quatre-kun. If there are people in danger, we have to be there," Makoto said gravely, her forest-green eyes serious. She stood proudly, her shoulders straight and one could see the fighting spirit of the Jovian race in her demeanor.

            Quatre nodded once, gratitude shining in his sky-blue eyes. "Then let's get to it, shall we?"


            Thirty minutes later, 5 Gundams appeared out of a warp gate, touching down in the already evacuated town. A bare second later, a subdued flash of light appeared in the night sky and 9 figures floated down to the ground soundlessly. "Someone want to tell me why we had to do a Sailor Teleport instead of riding in the Gundams and going through the warp gate? That's a lot of energy to have to put out, energy that would be better saved for fighting," Haruka asked, her eyes darting around to look for enemies.

"The Gundams are too small, Haruka-san. They can only comfortably fit one person and we're way more than one extra person per Gundam. We can't ride on the Gundams through a warp gate either because the jump into hyperspace would disorient us, enough to probably make us lose hold. We'd be lost in the quantum fields that make up hyperspace. The Sailor Teleport is still our best option and since there are so many of us, there isn't as much of a drain on our resources as you might think," Ami said absent-mindedly, tapping on her mini-computer. "In fact, we're regaining it as we speak. I don't scan any signs of Ravagers yet, minna."

"They'll be here. Intel has never been wrong yet," Trowa said, as he continued to scan through his own long-range scanners.

"We should spread out. Rei-chan, will you stay with your friends or will you take up your customary position on Wing Zero," Quatre asked, looking out over the group of Senshi. 'They look so small and defenseless and even though I know they can probably take care of themselves, I'm worried,' he thought in concern, his eyes darkening with anxiety as they rested on Sailor Venus. She looked confident and poised, but he was feeling anything but. 'If anything happens to her, now that I've found her, I don't know what I'd do. Please be safe, koishi,' he prayed silently.

            As if sensing his thoughts, Venus looked up at Sandrock and winked, talking softly into her gel-comm on a frequency only he could hear. "Keep safe, Quatre-kun, okay? Don't make me go gray with worry over you."

"I'm going to be up on Wing Zero, minna. It's the best position for me for right now. I'll get a bird's eye view and be able to map out a better strategy," Rei replied, brushing a strand of hair out of her face. With that, Wing Zero knelt, its arm extended. Rei leapt gracefully onto it as it rose. She then leapt from the outstretched hand to the shoulder, her customary position. Wing Zero straightened effortlessly with Rei firmly planted on her perch.

"Is it just me or have there been some developments in the Rei/Hee-man saga? Anything either of you'd like to spill to the rest of the family," Duo questioned gleefully, almost rubbing his hands together in anticipation.

"None of your business, Duo," both involved parties shot back simultaneously. Rei reddened with embarrassment, glad that she was up so high. Her relief died shortly after hearing Duo's voice again. "I can see you, Rei-chan. You look so cute when you blush!"

"Omae wa o korosu," came Heero's flat voice over the airwaves as Wing Zero's buster rifle was aimed at the chest plate of Deathscythe Hell. Inside, Heero also had a faint flush across his cheeks and was glad that he had turned off his video feed momentarily. He was in no way ashamed of his relationship with Rei but it wasn't something the Perfect Soldier was comfortable blaring out to all and sundry. He preferred to keep his private life private and he knew it would be hard enough to keep it that way while living in a house filled with people without Duo making it into a three ring circus affair.

"Geez, you're so touchy! If you didn't want anything mentioned, you should have said something," Duo muttered, folding his arms over his chest and pouting cutely.

            Everyone rolled their eyes at that statement. Leave it to Duo to turn something that was his fault into the fault of the victim!

Further banter was cut short as Rei called out, "Here they come! Positions, minna!" Everyone sprang into their already discussed arrangement, the Gundams ringing the outside, with Wing Zero in front, Deathscythe and Sandrock flanking on either side and Heavyarms and Altron in the back and ready for a rear assault. Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Prince Endymion stood on one side, their backs to each other. Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Saturn stood likewise, their weapons unsheathed and ready.

To the newest of them, the horde of Ravagers that descended upon them looked like a grotesque flood straight from the mouth of Hell, all of them screaming their bloodthirsty war cries with abandon.  It was enough to send shivers down the spine of the most stalwart of hearts. "Kami-sama, there are more of them then there were last time," Mercury shouted over the din as she let loose a Mercury Aqua Rhapsody at two particularly foul looking beasts, freezing them in their tracks. She acknowledged the assist from Jupiter as the tall warrior kicked through both of them, splintering them into harmless shards of ice that melted quickly during the commotion.

"Tell me about it! And they're twice as ugly too," Jupiter grunted as she shoved a fist surrounded with electricity into the open wound of a monster Venus had just blasted. She grinned in satisfaction as it exploded, spraying her with a gelatinous goo. "Oh, gross! This'll take hours to get out of my hair!"

"You're lucky to be alive if you keep chattering this way, Jupiter. Stay focused. These aren't the weak youma we're used to fighting back home," Uranus said grimly over the gel-comm. Jupiter grimaced at being caught and re-doubled her efforts, sending a Sparkling Wide Pressure flying. 

"Uranus, that's how we deal with stress, okay? You have your way and we have ours," Venus shot back over the comm.. "If we weren't professional and focused, we would have died several years ago," she reminded the leader of the Outer Senshi as she catapulted over the head of a gargoyle-like beast.

            Uranus' reply was lost as another wave of Ravagers broke through into the inner circle. The Gundams were doing as much as they could but they were overwhelmed and didn't want to break formation, which would have left the Senshi vulnerable to even more attacks.

            The battle raged on and the Senshi found themselves amazed at how focused and determined the Gundam pilots were. They took blow after blow with only minor grunts. Even Duo was uncharacteristically silent as the battle heightened, his scythe swing back and forth through the opposition like they were cheap toys. Mars was still firmly planted on her perch, her body automatically adjusting to the movements of Wing Zero. She also knew that Heero was being as careful as he could with regards to her and he was maneuvering Wing Zero to compensate for her unsteadiness. She fired off a Burning Mandala and was grimly satisfied to see it devour 2 Ravagers within its holy flames. Her powers had been slowly getting stronger and stronger while she had battled here, far stronger than they ever would have been back home. She surveyed the battlefield around her, watching as Uranus and Neptune continued to work in perfect harmony, their moves flawless as one cut low and the other went high. Next were Pluto and Saturn. They too worked seamlessly, the years of cooperation between them evident as Saturn guarded Pluto with her Silence Wall while Pluto fired off a Dead Soul Scream or lashed out with her Time Staff with deadly accuracy. Her gaze then drifted towards her other friends, watching with a critical eye as Venus sent her Love-Me Chain like a sword through another Ravager and smiled at her friend and leader's ingenuity. Mercury and Endymion were slowly slashing through their enemies as well, Mercury freezing the monsters enough for them to be slowed considerably while Endymion smashed them with the strength of his sword. She smiled in relief for Mercury and Endymion had never really worked together before. In fact, Mars had worried about Endymion because he had never worked with any of them before except for Sailor Moon and then only as Tuxedo Mask or Moonlight Knight. She shook her head at her doubts over the Earth Prince. Her worries returned as she saw Jupiter slowly being separated from the rest of the group but eased almost immediately as she saw her fighting extremely proficiently, using every movement to the best of her ability, wasting nothing. Her thoughts were interrupted as a gout of fire shot near her, nearly singing several strands of her long hair and causing her violet eyes to narrow dangerously. "Using fire on me? You don't know what a sorry mistake that was. Too bad you won't live long enough to learn from it," she murmured before she retaliated with a white hot stream of fire straight down the gullet of the bug creature who was issuing forth fire from his hose-like tail. Just as she suspected, the creature wasn't immune to fire just because he was able to wield it. Rei smirked in satisfaction as the abhorrent creature seemed to melt from the inside out before disintegrating entirely.

"How is everyone doing? Report," came Quatre's smooth voice over the communication channel.

"Uranus and Neptune kicking butt and not bothering with names," Haruka's voice rasped along the airwaves. Quatre watched as Uranus hefted Neptune by the arms and spun around in a circle, Neptune's long legs flying out in an arc and kicking several Ravagers down. Separating quickly, they made short work of their momentarily stunned foes, slashing into them with an almost elegant ferocity. Quatre was taken aback by their seamless teamwork and whistled silently as he admired their methods for a few moments more.

"Pluto and Saturn, we're fine so far," murmured Setsuna as she launched a Dead Soul Scream at a cluster of crab-like enemies, shattering them like so much brittle junk. She was relieved to know that her Senshi powers were unaffected, though her time sense was muddled and useless to her now. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at her partner and smiled grimly to see Saturn fending off a vulture man with three pairs of eyes, a beak filled with sharp teeth and razor tipped feathers. She was proud as she watched her young charge twirl her glaive with ease before slicing through it with precision. She felt a faint niggle of worry though when she that Saturn's eyes were blank and without remorse as the enemy collapsed into a pile of lifeless flesh. She decided to stick closer to Saturn for her own good.

"Mercury and Endymion reporting in. We're doing well over here," Endymion reported, his voice businesslike as he continued to concentrate on shattering the enemies that Mercury froze for him, the two of them back to back. Mercury would send sprays of freezing water and slowly move in a circle, freezing those around her and letting Endymion cover her back and circle with her, his sword flashing as it would shatter their opponents. They had created a large swath of destruction in their wake.

"Venus here and I'm showing these freaks a little bit of poetry in motion," came the blonde's cocky voice, her spirit undaunted by the brutality around her. Quatre looked for her slim figure with anxiety among the throng and breathed a huge sigh of relief as he watched her catapult and somersault around while blowing a Venus Crescent Beam from her finger like a gun. Though her voice sounded cheerful, her face was a mask of concentration, the leader in her refusing to waver. "I am wondering where my partner is though."

"Jupiter reporting. Sorry about that, Venus. Big, bad and ugly over here wanted a solo dance and you know about me and dancing," came Jupiter's voice smoothly over the gel-comm. She was currently engaging an enormous, mutated version of a rat. It stood a good ten feet tall and had a spiked tail that lashed out frequently and seemed to be coated in some sort of green slime that Jupiter was just sure was acid. All of her thunder attacks had bounced off a seemingly impenetrable thick fur hide and she was running out of room to maneuver in quickly. Her mind raced while her eyes flickered over the monster, trying to find some sort of weakness she could exploit. Her gaze focusing on the tail, she seemed to hear Ami's voice during one of their study sessions telling her about how electricity conducted better in water. 'It's not water exactly, but that slime on its tail is liquid of a sort. Well, here's going nothing,' she thought grimly, placing her hand on the ground and sending a jolt of electricity out and watching as it traveled rapidly and then made contact. Fzzackt! The rat monster convulsed and screamed an inhuman high-pitched squeal as its beady yellow eyes bulged from the pain. Satisfied that her gambit worked, Jupiter quickly sent a larger surge of electricity through the tail and watched as it fried the monster from the inside. She looked over to Mercury, wanting to let her know that all of her tutoring sessions had done more than help her with her grades. Her mouth dropped in horror as she saw Endymion get side-swiped by an enormous rock monster, leaving Mercury's back uncovered. Another monster saw the opportunity and charged forward, ready to cleave the unsuspecting Mercury's head from her shoulders. Time seemed to slow and Jupiter could swear she could hear her own heartbeat over the din of battle as she watched the bladed forearm of a monster descend upon her friend. 'Iie! No one else I love dies,' her mind and heart screamed in unison as her body surged forward, trying to reach her close friend before it was too late.

            Up in Heavyarms Kai, Trowa was calmly surveying the battlefield as he fired round after round of ammunition at his foes. His aim was true and he switched gun types and missile types flawlessly and automatically. He listened with one ear as the Senshi reported in, correcting the aim of one of his gun launchers without thought. Hearing Jupiter's voice, his eyes found her tall, slender form unerringly on the battlefield. He had become concerned as he watched her get separated from the others, but had relaxed when she seemed fine. Now, his eyes widened as he watched her dash recklessly through the throng, ignoring the Ravagers in her path and narrowly missed being eviscerated twice by those that stood in her way. 'What's so important that she's thrown caution to the wind? Where is she going,' he questioned, his eyes still following her path. He was horrified to see her target: a defenseless Mercury. He watched as she dove, shoving Mercury out of the way of the descending blade, watched as the blade found a new target, sinking into the flesh of Jupiter's arm through sheer luck as she turned at the last moment, creating a long gash in her arm that bled freely, staining her long white gloves with a streak of running crimson. He heard her cry out over the communication systems, heard the others' cries of concerns but all he could see was her pain-wracked face as she held her arm, but what stunned him most was her disregard for the injury. Instead, she was looking at Mercury and asking her if she was all right, her tense face only relaxing when she heard the reassurances of her blue-haired friend. He found himself reeling from the depth of her protectiveness. Rei had told him all about her friends and whenever Makoto's name had been brought up, he always heard about how she took care of the others, from defending them from bullies to making sure they were taking care of themselves. He had heard the stories but had never realized to what extent she would go to make sure they were okay. It shook him.

            Makoto blinked rapidly, trying to clear her head from the haze of pain she was currently wrapped in. She had been so scared that she wouldn't make it in time. She began to shake as she realized how close she had come to losing one of her best friends. She had just barely made it. All she could remember was seeing Ami in danger and knowing that she had to save her. She had run as fast as she could across the battlefield, mentally cursing herself for getting separated so far from her friends and comrades. She had tapped into her Senshi energy, pushing her body faster than it had ever gone before, the panic driving her as her mind chanted, "Too late. I'll be too late." The next thing she knew, she was shoving Mercury out of the way and then an explosion of pain in her arm had caused her to see bursts of light behind her eyelids. Still, the only thing that was on her mind was if she had saved Ami, if Ami was all right. She didn't relax until she heard Ami's calm, soothing voice reassuring her that she was safe and unharmed.

"We have to get her to Saturn, so her wound can be healed," came the heavy timbre of Endymion's voice. "Mercury, work with me so we can get her over there," he continued as he lifted Jupiter in his arms, shifting her in his hold so she could cradle her injured arm comfortably to her chest. Mercury was busy freezing all the nearby monsters as much as possible while she nodded her consent.

"I'll be fine and we can't leave. It'll leave Venus all alone," Makoto protested, shaking her head vehemently and then wincing as she jostled her arm with the movement.

"I'll be fine, Jupiter. You need the most help right now. Don't argue with your leader or your prince, it's the fastest way to get demoted," Venus grinned at her, blasting a set of monsters near her with a well placed Venus Crescent Beam Shower.

"How much can a person get demoted when there are only eight of us? Don't worry, Jupiter, I'll watch Venus' back," came the confident voice of Mars as she descended from the shoulder of Wing Zero, landing neatly next to Venus and firing off a Burning Mandala at several monsters who thought to attack while they were seemingly distracted.

"Then it's settled. We'll be back as soon as Jupiter's healed," Endymion promised as he made off with his charge, Mercury following and shooting blast after blast of icy power to deter their opponents.

"Nice of you to join us commoners here on the ground," Venus quipped as she turned her back to Mars, smiling as she felt Mars' back settle against hers. She jump kicked another monster in the chin, following it up with a Venus Love Me Chain and whipping it against another monster, sending it crashing into a third one in its path.

"Oh, shut up. You're just jealous because you don't get to be on Sandrock," Mars quipped back, leaning forward as she drove her fist into the face of another monster. She had missed this, this feeling of camaraderie that she had with these women, these sisters of her soul.

"I could be if I wanted to. I just didn't feel like it yet," Venus retorted, the smile on her face and in her eyes at odds with the ferocity of her movements as she decimated another Ravager. She hated to admit it, but she had missed fighting, especially with Mars at her side.

"Yare, yare," responded Mars as she sent a Mars Fire Storm flying through a mass of bunched up monsters, several being quickly reduced to ash while others survived only to be sliced in half by the falling of Deathscythe's blade.

"Hey girls, what's up? How's Ami-chan? Was she hurt? I was fighting off a couple of monsters and didn't find out what happened," Duo said anxiously over the gel-comm system.

"Why don't you ask her, Deathscythe," Mars said pointedly, stressing his codename. They had all agreed to use either the names of the Gundams or the names of their respective planets as codenames while in battle so as to not give any clue to their identity to the Ravagers accidentally.

"Gomen, gomen. I forgot. And she won't respond to me, Mars-chan. I've tried raising her on the link several times and she keeps ignoring me," the brunette said plaintively as he raised his scythe up to block the charge of a rhino-man hybrid that was nearly 15 feet tall.

"Maybe if you'd calm down on the flirting a bit, she'd be more inclined to take you seriously, Deathscythe. I warned you, didn't I? Anyway, Mercury is fine. They're with Saturn right now to treat Jupiter's wound only," Mars responded, rolling her eyes while Venus' giggle could be heard clearly over the system.

            Duo sat inside Deathscythe Hell and breathed a sigh of relief before smiling ruefully at Rei's words. He had never had to use so much patience before with a woman he wanted, but then again, he had never wanted someone the way he wanted Ami. He continued to fight to get his mind off Ami for a moment, calculating that if they fought for another hour at this same rate then they would be finished. He charged back into the fray, his scythe creating a rift as he swung it at his attackers. 'Where the hell do they get all of these horror movie rejects anyway?'

            Across the battlefield, Saturn wiped her brow as she watched Endymion, Jupiter, and Mercury race away from her and back to where they were needed. She was so tired after healing Jupiter's wound. It had been mildly serious and she was drained as usual after a healing. She sensed a Ravager coming and put up a Silence Wall, giving herself some time to recoup her lost energies. She didn't know how long she could keep this up. She had been depending on her physical attacks and her Silence Wall for a long time and knew she didn't have a lot of energy to begin with like the others. For the umpteenth time, she cursed her lack of strength and wished it had increased as she had matured. She now stood at the same height as Ami, but still didn't have near the strength as her comrades. She took a deep breath, her lungs taking it in gratefully before a spike of pain going through her head made her look up suddenly. She was literally surrounded by Ravagers, all of them pounding on her energy shield, ready to tear her to bits. The Ravagers sensed she was at the end of her endurance and were ready to pounce on her. Surrounded by all of that evil, Saturn's spirit reacted. Her power was created to cleanse evil on a planetary scale and as such, she housed the power within her and focused it through her Silence Glaive. However, what few people knew was that in reverse from the other Senshi who had to strain to use their powers to the fullest or evolve into a new form, Saturn had to struggle to not unleash her power, letting only what was necessary at any one time out to do its job. And after using the healing side of her power, the destructive side of it was clamoring to be used to bring her power level back to a state of equilibrium. Saturn shook as she gripped her glaive, desperately struggling to prevent herself from unleashing the devastating forces within her. The Ravagers continued to pound on her shield and Pluto was inundated with enemies that kept her from Saturn. Saturn wobbled, slowly sinking to her knees, her fingers gripping her glaive as the only support she had. Sweat poured down her face, the color of her eyes deepening in hue to an almost midnight color as black power threatened to consume her. 'Can't lose control. Can't let loose. I'll kill everyone, the innocent as well as the Ravagers. I want to be free! Get rid of the darkness. Kill all the monsters,' her mind and spirit battled, bowing her head with the pain.

"Saturn, don't do it. Don't lose control. You're stronger than that," Uranus' voice broke through her haze of pain. She watched as her Silence Wall began to flicker, losing solidity as the pain caused her to begin to lose concentration and her control over her powers of destruction began to waver as well. "Haruka-papa," she whimpered softly. "Tasukete." (A/N: Japanese for "Help me.")

            Just as the shield dropped, a flash of motion ripped through the throng that was about to converge upon the hapless form of Sailor Saturn. With the absence of the evil around her, Saturn's eyes flickered before settling back into their normal violet. "Who," she murmured, looking around and expecting to see Uranus and her powers of wind and speed to be there.

"Baka onna! What the hell do you think you're doing, just kneeling there when the majority of Ravagers are hovering over you like a meal waiting to be served? I told you, if you're too weak to handle battle, stay out of it. I don't have the time to watch out for you," Wufei roared at her, his anger hiding his shock over his actions. He had seen her kneeling, her hair falling forward to expose the back of her neck, like some hapless execution victim. The moment he saw her shield fall and the Ravagers descend upon her, he had unthinkingly fired his dragon heads, skewering the majority of them, the others being brushed aside like flies from the velocity of his weapons. He was shaking with rage that she would put herself in that kind of position, yet infuriated with himself for caring so much. 'Why did I feel such an urgency to save her? Since when do I care about an onna,' he blazed at himself.

"Gomen nasai, Wu…Altron-san. I…oh, your Gundam is damaged," Saturn's voice cried out softly, her distress showing in the creasing of her brow and the slight frown that had the corners of her lips turning downward. "It's all because of me, isn't it? Your Gundam got damaged because of me." She was looking at one of the dragon heads, a chunk the size of a car ripped out of it, little jolts of electricity where the wiring and cabling had been exposed. Her remorse over her weakness was eating away at her.

"Say anything and I gut you like a fish," hissed Uranus' voice on a personal channel, one that could only be heard by him. Opening his mouth to retort, he closed it as he saw how guilt stricken Saturn was. His own personal code of honor wouldn't let him attack anyone who was already down. "Never you mind my Gundam. Just keep fighting. We're not done by a long shot," he barked out over the main channel to Saturn. "Don't think I listened to anything you had to say, woman-who-wants-to-be-a-man-but-can't," he snarled over the personal channel to Uranus, smirking in satisfaction as he saw her face burn angrily in response. He turned and pinioned three different Ravagers on his trident, turning up the energy and watching them fry before releasing them and turning back to the battle.

"Uranus, don't. Let's just keep going. Even Saturn has returned to battle," Neptune said as she nodded her head back towards where Saturn had made her way back to Pluto. She had been just as concerned about Hotaru but saw no reason to be as angry as Haruka. Intuitively, she knew that Wufei wouldn't deliberately harm Hotaru because she just knew that the scenes they had seen in the Silver Millennium were portents of the future. She had a feeling deep inside that all of the younger girls would make their way back to their lovers one way or another.


            Several hours later, an exhausted group of fighters sat in the medical bay, patiently being looked over by several medical trained Maganacs. Several of the Senshi had assorted cuts and bruises liberally scattered over their bodies and Mercury, Uranus and Venus were suffering from dehydration and were attached to IV's that were hooked to specially formulated liquids designed to help in situations exactly like these. Neptune sat next to Haruka's bed, her left leg wrapped in a medicated bandage that would help the regeneration of her skin, which a great deal of had been scraped off during a close shave with a Ravager with blades that shot out of its arms. Pluto stood slumped against a wall, the wall being the only thing keeping her up. Endymion had fractured his wrist when an enormous Ravager had tried to force his sword out of his hand. He was currently sitting with his wrist under the glow of a miniature regenerator, wincing occasionally as his bones re-knit themselves. Quatre stood next to Minako's bed, gently brushing her bangs off her forehead in a soothing motion as she fidgeted with her IV. Their hands were clasped together, which seemed to offer Minako some degree of comfort.

            Duo looked up from the battle report he was writing to Headquarters, his frown disappearing as he looked over at Ami, who was monitoring her own fluid intake with careful eyes. He recalled the incident on the battlefield which almost led to her being killed and he shook his head slightly, trying to clear away the last vestiges of panic he had experienced when he had seen that he wouldn't be able to help her. He looked over the rest of the room, seeing the others being taken care of and noted that several of them had already been released, most noticeably Rei and Heero. He wasn't as carefree as he pretended to be and he had observed that something had changed between the two of them. He would wait until he could get more info from Rei because he knew that Heero would rather string him up by his toenails than look at him twice if a personal question was directed at him. Transmitting the report, he stood up and walked over to Ami's bed, murmuring a greeting so as to not surprise her.

            Ami looked up with a carefully neutral expression on her face as the brunette walked up to her bedside. Looking for a way to avoid him, she noticed the others were preoccupied with their own injuries and Makoto, Hotaru and Rei were already gone. Giving a little sigh, she braced herself for whatever outlandish action or speech the braided pilot was going to make. "Was there something you wanted, Duo-san," she asked a little irritably, begrudgingly looking at him. She had to admit to herself that he was very handsome, in a rakish way, though she assured herself she wasn't interested in that kind of man.

"Just checking up on you, Ami-chan," he replied cheerfully, internally sighing over the fact that she was still upset with him. He wasn't used to this kind of reaction from females. All women adored him, from the ages of 2 to 100, they all thought he was cute and funny, and most would bend over backwards for him.

"I'll be fine, Duo-san," Ami replied, stressing the san suffix she attached to his name and relaying to him that she wasn't too appreciative of his familiarity with her, attaching chan to her name. "I'm sure there are other things you could be doing now instead of checking up on me."

"Give me a break, would ya? Are you still mad over what happened this afternoon? Look, I already talked to Quatre about it and told him it was my fault the book got destroyed. He understands and forgave me and it was his book! Why can't you just let it go? Is it that important to you? If it'll make you feel better and make you forgive me, I'll find another copy of it for you, okay," Duo said in exasperation, running his hand through his bangs, his lavender gaze locked with her sapphire eyes.

"I doubt you'll be able to since I researched it myself and there are only three other known existing copies and they're all in the private collections of well-known, wealthy men. I really don't see how you'll be able to get your hands on a copy of one, barring dishonorable methods, which would be reprehensible," Ami informed him, ignoring the thrill that ran down her spine at his sincerity and determination to make things up to her.

"Ah, Ami-chan, Ami-chan, you really don't know anything about me, do you? I live for challenges. Life isn't worth living without them. But, you know that already. After all, it's the challenge that drives you to excel, doesn't it? There's nothing like the sweet thrill of success, knowing you've done something that is nigh impossible to others. You may come off as being sweet and demure, Ami-chan, but we both know that there's something deeper, something wild within you that longs to be set free," he whispered hotly into the pink shell of her ear, his voice dropping an octave to create an intimacy between the two of them that had Ami's color heightening to a soft rose. "Sweet dreams, Ami-chan," he murmured throatily as he turned and walked out of the room, his braid swinging in a bewitching rhythm that captivated Ami before she blushed furiously and looked away, her gaze straying back towards him once before jerking her head around.

            Minako sat up carefully, making sure her balance was restored before laying her head on Quatre's shoulder. She watched the little byplay between Duo and Ami with upraised eyebrows, her smile blossoming as she realized what was going on.

"What has you so happy, Minako-chan," Quatre asked, feeling her bubbly joy wash over him like a pleasant wave. He looked down at their still entwined hands and felt his own smile threaten to overwhelm his face.

"You make me happy, Quatre-kun. The little sparks between Ami-chan and Duo-kun are making me happy too," Minako said blissfully, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder like a playful kitten.

"Sparks between Ami-san and Duo? Are you sure? Ami-san seems to dislike Duo a lot, which is explainable since they're so different," Quatre said in confusion as he recalled Ami coming to him after Duo had already explained the incident with the book to him. She had been so upset and looked ready to wring Duo's neck every time he was mentioned. She had been so apologetic and ready to get down on her knees to beg for forgiveness and because she had been so upset with Duo, he had not mentioned that the pilot of Deathscythe had already been in to see him about the matter.

"True, but sometimes differences make the greatest attractors. Take for instance myself and Rei-chan. No one who knew us would ever think that we would be best friends, but we are and I'm so grateful she's in my life because she's taught me so much and I hope that I've been good for her as well. Love can cause people to behave totally unlike themselves sometimes and Ami-chan is totally out of character. She's never snappish with anyone like the way she is with Duo-kun. She's normally so sweet and shy with everyone and she never has a bad word to say about anyone, but Duo-kun gets under her skin like no one else I've ever seen," Minako said speculatively, her gaze trained on the flustered face of her brilliant friend. 'Oh, Ami-chan, you're so brilliant when it comes to schoolwork but so absolutely clueless when it comes to your heart. I hope you'll give Duo-kun a chance.'


            Trowa found himself roaming aimlessly after staying with several of the Maganac crew and overseeing some repairs to Heavyarms. A Ravager had shot some sort of gooey substance into one of his gun ports and it had solidified into the consistency of cement, jamming his left gun. He rolled his neck from side to side, listening as it popped and released his tense muscles, making him groan in satisfaction. He rubbed his neck absently as he walked down the hall into a seldom visited section of the mansion. Standing still for a moment, he recognized his surroundings as the hallway to the greenhouse housed inside the mansion for the more delicate blossoms. Musing on what had brought him to this part of the vast mansion, he decided to walk in and enjoy the beautiful floral showcase and heady scents. He opened the door softly, padding into the room on silent feet, stopping short at the sight before him. Standing in a patch of soft starlight stood Makoto, her head tipped back to bathe in the gentle light. She was surrounded by dozens upon dozens of barely opening white rosebuds that were gilded with the barest touch of pink. Trowa thought it was the most beautiful sight he had seen in a long time and let the peacefulness of her expression seep into his soul.

            Makoto had wandered around after being released by the Maganacs from the medical bay. She had come through relatively unscathed, her only major injury being the wound in her arm that had been healed by Sailor Saturn. She had never been so happy to have a battle end, wondering if she would be able to last through it. She shook her head in wonder, marveling at the fact that Mars and 5 men in metal robots had been battling these things for months now with no casualties or major injuries. She was bone tired and longed for a long soak in a bubble bath and then a sound night of sleep in her big fluffy bed, but she knew she wouldn't appreciate it as much until she was able to clear her head and calm her nerves first, so she had found this wonderful greenhouse. She had spent the last half hour looking at all the different varieties of flowers and inhaling their wonderful perfume. Even though she was the Senshi of Thunder and Lightning, she had an affinity for plants that rivaled Endymion's and when she wasn't in the kitchen or practicing martial arts, she could most often be found pampering her flower box and the myriad plants in her apartment. She often clipped the most beautiful blooms to give away to friends or included them into her famous bento boxes, adding that little extra touch. She found herself relaxing as she surrounded herself with all the natural beauty of her favorite flowers. She absently rubbed along her arm where she had been sliced open earlier in battle.

"Does it hurt," Trowa's voice broke through her reverie. He hadn't wanted to disturb her or intrude on her privacy, but he had felt compelled to ask when he saw her rub her arm. He didn't want her to suffer any pain for her courageous deed.

"Iie, I'm fine. It wasn't really that bad and Saturn healed it right up. I didn't even realize I was rubbing it until you said something. How are you doing, Trowa-san," Makoto replied, turning the concern back onto Trowa.

"I don't have a scratch on me since I was in Heavyarms. None of us really suffer much unless the Gundams take big hits or we wrench a muscle while operating the Gundams and getting thrown around. Thank you for your concern," Trowa answered, his beautiful eyes glimmering with subdued pleasure. It warmed him to hear the concern in her voice.

            Makoto blushed softly, not only at his tone of voice, which was smooth and relaxing, but also at the look in his eyes, which gave her a pleasant, warm feeling in her stomach. "So, what brings you to this part of the house? I was just admiring the flowers and letting my nerves settle before going to bed," Makoto said as she studied the delicate petals of a beautiful yellow rose, bending down to sniff its sweet fragrance.

            Trowa observed the lines of her face, smiling as a long winding curl fell across her cheek. He had to curb the impulse to brush it back with his fingers so he could fell the softness of her hair. He wondered where that thought came from and decided to change the topic for his own feeling of comfort. He hadn't often conversed with women, preferring normally to observe instead of talking and there weren't many people he let in to see the real him. Many people made the assumption he was quiet or shy but that was far from the truth. Trowa Barton was a man who had lost a lot during the first war, his family, his memory, his sense of identity, his purpose in life. He had joined in Operation Meteor because he had truly felt as if there wasn't anything better for him to do at the time. He didn't want anyone who had a family to die, subjecting that family to loss, to take the risks involved with the Colonial rebellion. Because of everything he had lived through, he preferred to not make ripples or bring attention to himself. "I was just wandering after I fixed up Heavyarms," Trowa murmured in response, his forest green eyes traveling towards her arm once again. He gave in to impulse and traced a line down her arm, where her wound had been. "Can I ask you a question, Makoto-san?"

"What do you want to know, Trowa-san," Makoto asked, her brow furrowed in puzzlement. Rei had told her that Trowa was a quiet man who spoke only when he thought it important, but when he did speak, it was worth it to listen.

"Why did you risk your life the way you did? You threw yourself in front of Mercury without any thought to your own safety," Trowa replied, his voice low and subdued. He remembered how startled he had been to see her bizarre actions on the field. It wasn't to say that he had never risked his life for another or had the favor returned, but usually soldiers wouldn't throw their lives away for another unless they thought they could survive the blow. He knew Jupiter hadn't given much thought to whether or not she would survive her mad dash across the battle field.

            Makoto was silent for several moments, her green eyes hazy as she struggled to put her feelings into words. "I've been through a lot in my life, lost a lot of people who were close to me. I don't know if Rei-chan told you about my past but I lost both of my parents in a plane crash when I was young. I wasn't on the plane with them because I had been sick so there wasn't anything I could have done but I always wondered what would have happened if I had been with them or if I had prevented them from going on that flight. It took me several years before I was able to reconcile the guilt I felt over surviving when they hadn't. I still have dreams sometimes where I convince them to stay with me," Makoto murmured softly before taking a deep breath and continuing. "I was lucky that I was raised by my parents to be self-sufficient and independent because the few distant relatives I had couldn't have taken me in without a lot of hardship, so I did the only thing that made any sense at the time. I petitioned the courts to declare me an independent and worked to make sure that status couldn't be revoked, but I saw other kids in similar positions who weren't so lucky. I vowed I'd never let the opportunity to help someone pass me by again. I didn't want to ever regret what I could have done because it could have easily been me in their shoes," Makoto said sorrowfully, her emerald eyes bright with unshed tears as she recalled another girl who had been in the court with her, also petitioning for independent status. She had been found a year later in an abandoned alleyway, her body bruised, battered and savaged almost beyond recognition. Makoto had seen the small article in the newspaper by chance and had been shaken to the core. She had gone to the local police and inquired about the case, desperate to know what had happened to the girl who had given her a gap-toothed smile to calm her nerves during the processing of their paperwork. The officer on duty had been reluctant to disclose details but hadn't been able to resist the pleading look in Makoto's eyes and let her know that the girl had been beaten by one of her customers. When Makoto had looked blankly at him, he had explained that the girl had turned to prostitution when she couldn't make ends meet. Makoto had reeled in shock, the girl had been only a year older than her, a tender fourteen. After that, she had thrown herself into making sure she would never have to face such circumstances nor ever have to see anyone else hurt. She protected the weak under the guise of a tomboy looking for fights with the local bullies. It had gained her many admirers among the timid and weak, but had also brought her reprimand after reprimand from the school teachers and principals who only heard the twisted version of events from the parents of the bullies. With no one to help her, she had been shunted from school to school, her reputation following her like a plague until she reached Juuban and made friends with Ami and Usagi.

"I guess I understand your motives, but I still don't understand why you'd throw away everything, including your life to save another. Why are they so important to you," Trowa questioned as he absorbed her previous answer.

"I do what I do because my friends are my most prized possessions. They are my family, the family I thought I'd never have again after my parents died. They belong to me the same way I belong to them. We're responsible for each other. We've seen each other through tears and laughter, through successes and defeats, life and death. Their friendship is something that can't be taken away from me. Everything else doesn't matter," Makoto replied, her eyes sparkling with her determination and love for her friends.

            As Trowa looked down at her, he could feel admiration for this strong woman well up inside of him. He had spent most of his life with nothing and had gone through most of his life grieving for what he didn't have. Before him stood a woman who had had nothing either, but she had worked and gained the most important things of all, a sense of self-worth and a love for others that took his breath away. Realizing she was looking at him now, he gazed directly at her and said, "You humble me."

            Makoto flushed at his words, uncomfortable with praise of this kind. She was used to being told she was a good fighter or her cooking was the best in the world, but very few beside her fellow Senshi ever looked beyond that to see the qualities inside. "Trowa-san, how do I humble you? You risk your life to save people on a daily basis, even when it seems to be a losing battle. I should be humbled by you," she replied, feeling extremely warm.

"You save people as well, don't you? Rei-chan told me of some of the adventures and monsters all of you have faced before and you're risking your life now for people who don't even know who you are. But I'm humbled mostly by your capacity to love. Most people who have gone through experiences like yours would be too concerned with themselves and not caring about others. They'd have attitudes that the world owes them something for taking away so much from them. However, you're nothing like that. You love so much and so deeply that it would be a shame to see anything happen to you. Remember that, Makoto-san. It's admirable what you want to do but also think on the fact that your friends would be devastated if anything were to happen to you," Trowa gently reminded her as he put one steadying hand on her shoulder.

            Makoto could feel the warm reassurance of his hand and fought the impulse to nuzzle her cheek against it. "So what do you propose I do? I can't just stop protecting my friends. I couldn't live that way," she questioned, tilting her head so that one long winding curl brushed his fingers.

            Trowa was silent as he pondered her question. He was inwardly smiling as he felt the softness of her hair against his fingers. It was just as silky soft as he had imagined earlier. Finally, he said, "Well, in that case, I guess I'll just have to watch over you while you watch over everyone else."

            Makoto was speechless. Never had anyone offered something of this magnitude to her, except for maybe Usagi when she had ignored the rumors about her and offered her the trust of a friend. She didn't know how to respond. Her heart was beating so loudly in her chest that she wondered dimly if it would burst out of her chest. "Trowa-san…," she began only to be silenced by a finger laid gently against her lips.

"Shhh, I won't take no for an answer, Makoto-san. And on that note, you should get some sleep. I've kept you up for far too long. Oyasumi nasai," he murmured huskily before leaving, fading quietly into the shadows of the plants.

"Oyasumi nasai, Trowa-san," Makoto murmured dazedly, wondering if she had just imagined the whole scene before shaking her head and deciding that sleep was what she needed after all.


            On the other side of the Winner mansion, a lone soul seethed furiously as he stalked towards his room from the medical bay. His back was ramrod straight and his face twisted into a scowl that would have sent a pack of Ravagers cowering back to their mistress in fright. He wrenched the knob to his door and entered with stiff strides, flicking on the light switch with an absent gesture of his hand. He looked at his room, a classical Chinese bedroom. Scrolls with Chinese philosophy and virtues adorned the walls, their stark black and white relieved by a large mural of polished teak inlaid with mother of pearl into a scene of a Chinese woman in ancient costume walking over the bridge of a koi pond. A brass incense pot sat on the corner of a low table, next to a container of brushes and an ink stone. A thick sheaf of parchment scrolls sat untouched in the middle, waiting to be written upon. A jade vase of a delicate apple green held several stems of pussy willow, and looking at it, the young man decided to lose himself in writing some poetry. Settling down onto the brocade cushion on the floor, he unrolled a sheet of the pristine white parchment paper, setting down the weights on the corners to keep it from rolling with meticulous movements.  

He disappeared into the bathroom with the ink stone and reappeared with a small amount of water in the bowl of the stone. Selecting one of the brushes in the holder after careful thought, he used it to mix the water into the stone. An ebony ink was slowly formed and after reaching the consistency he wanted, Wufei took up the brush in sure fingers and began to gather his thoughts to release them onto the paper in front of him. Carefully, not wanting the brush to drip, he brought the brush to paper and began to make the black strokes that would form the Chinese character for Strength. His movements were graceful and sure, the ink flowing in smooth strokes across the paper. Finished with the character, he began to dip his brush back into the ink for the next character when the bold figure seemed to catch his attention. "Strength," he whispered, hearing it echo in his memory of recent events.

Start Flashback

            They had just come back from their fight with the Ravagers. Luckily, there had been no loss of civilian life though several of the Senshi had suffered some minor injuries and Wufei had suffered a minor pulled muscle when an enormous ape-like Ravager had grabbed on to the dragon head he had wrecked while protecting Saturn and thrown him off balance. He had pulled the muscle trying to stabilize Altron to keep it from falling on the Senshi beneath him. The Maganacs, who were medically trained, swarmed over the injured like flies, efficiently bustling each one to where they could best supply aid. Wufei had snarled as his arm had been prodded to ascertain the severity of the pulled muscle before having his shoulder put under a regenerator. Hotaru had walked up to him timidly as he scowled at her.

"Anou, Wufei-san, does it hurt a lot," the pale young woman had asked softly, her voice barely over a whisper. She was biting her lip, looking uncertain.

"What do you think? You think maybe this is a pleasant feeling? I wouldn't even be in this mess if you weren't so damn weak, practically collapsing in the middle of all those Ravagers. Maybe I should have just let them rip you to pieces instead of inviting them to destroy my Gundam. At least Nataku has some uses on the battlefield," Wufei growled, the words tumbling from his mouth while a detached part of his mind was horrified at his brusqueness, the part of him that had once been a kind, peace-loving scholar. It was his frustration over his inability to keep from being injured and his pride that were in control now. He didn't want anyone to come to the conclusion that he had saved Saturn out of concern, least of all himself. He deliberately turned a blind eye to the tears he saw shimmering in the violet depths of her expressive eyes.

            Hotaru's lip trembled as she heard his words and felt them cut into her heart. She had always feared that one day she would endanger one of her friends because she was weak physically or mentally, either hurting them with her unleashed destructive power or by her inability to be useful. Hearing the fears that haunted her during every battle fall from Wufei's lips seemed to cement all of her insecurities. All she could remember was seeing the damage done to Wufei's Gundam because he had had to save her. Not wanting to seem any weaker than she was, she ran from the room, hiding her tears as best she could from the others.

            Silence descended upon the room until a low growl seemed to resound from the room. Cautiously, Wufei turned to look at Haruka and was surprised to see the bleak expression she had on her face as she stared at the door Hotaru had just made her exit through. 'Where the hell is the growling coming from if it's not from her,' he wondered just before a galaxy of stars burst in front of his eyes and his head felt like it had been caved in. Getting up from the floor where he had been knocked down to, he glared at the person in front of him. Focusing his bleary eyes, he was shocked to see Rei standing in front of him, her fist drawn back to hit him again, but with Minako holding her arm. "What the hell did you do that for, onna," he spit out, gingerly feeling his jaw to see if it had been dislocated. Relieved yet surprised that it wasn't, he glared at the young woman who had dared to hit him.

"That was for your absolute stupidity, Wufei! What right do you have to say anything like that to Hotaru-chan? You have no idea what she goes through every time we have to fight," Rei growled, making Wufei realize with a start that she had been the one to growl earlier.

            Pride forcing him to not back down from anyone, he lifted his chin and spat back, "If she's not ready for it, she shouldn't be allowed to fight." He thought himself justified as he misunderstood Rei's words, thinking she meant that Hotaru had to psyche herself up to not be afraid before a battle. "Her fear is no excuse for her to freeze during a battle like that. Her little shield obviously couldn't take the stress and I had to bail her out, which I shouldn't have had to do."

"You pompous baka! You don't understand anything and yet you feel you have every right to make assumptions based on your warped thinking. Hotaru-chan is so much stronger than just about anyone in this room, most especially you. You have no idea of the strength she has inside her," Rei railed furiously, still barely being held back by Minako before Ami added her strength to the Senshi of Love to pull back their furious friend.

            Wufei sneered, his own temper rising at Rei's insults. He didn't believe for one moment that the pale, slim girl who had stood before him, practically trembling, could have the strength that Rei was mentioning. A picture of Meiran flitted through his mind's eye briefly before disappearing as a movement at the corner of his eye caught his attention.

            Haruka was also struggling to get to Wufei and knock him silly, with her being held back by Setsuna and Mamoru. She was only quieted when Michiru raised a hand for her to stop. Her lips thinned as she watched her partner walk right up to Wufei.

"You're wondering how Hotaru could possibly be considered strong by any of us, aren't you? Physically, it's true that we are all stronger than her. We can outrun, outlift, and outjump her. Anything having to do with physical skill is an area where we surpass her completely. However, she has an inner strength that is second to none. And before you scoff and tell me what I'm saying is trite, let me explain a little bit about my statement," Michiru said calmly, cutting off Wufei's response. "Hotaru-chan introduced herself as the Senshi of Destruction and Rebirth. What do you think that means, hmmm? Well, you've seen her healing powers twice already, the first time during the first battle we partook in when Rei-chan got thrown through a wall and the second time being today when she healed Mako-chan's arm. Obviously, the Rebirth part of her powers is pretty self-explanatory though you have no idea of how it taxes her energy. The Destruction side of her powers is not quite as clear cut as one might think though. You have to realize that the Inners were to guard Princess Serenity from all internal threats because she has no real power of her own, expect for the Ginzuishou and excessive use of it can kill the bearer. The Outers, on the other hand, were to safeguard the Silver Millennium from outside invaders. Many think that Saturn is an Outer and she is, but not by definition. Saturn is the Silent Messiah, with the power to destroy an entire universe and return it to the original silence of nothingness. In fact, it is her duty to destroy everything when she is awakened, for it usually means she was deliberately called for desperate measures. Normally, she is to be dormant until needed."

"So why isn't everything in your dimension destroyed then since she's obviously awake," Heero asked, his brow creased in thought at this new information being provided by Michiru.

            Michiru smiled sadly as she remembered the events that led to Saturn being awakened. "We came close to it, Heero, so close that it still makes me shiver sometimes. In our dimension there was an entity called Pharoah 90. He was an evil force that wanted a way into our world. Unfortunately, his minion, Mistress 9, found a way to possess Hotaru-chan, through the work of Hotaru-chan's father, Professor Tomoe. The possession awoke Sailor Saturn prematurely and we almost lost Sailor Saturn to the forces of Pharoah 90. If not for Chibiusa-chan and her steadfast friendship with Hotaru-chan, we would probably not exist today. Saturn had to battle Pharoah 90 and she would have died if Sailor Moon had not used the power of the Ginzuishou and the Holy Chalice formed from the Outers' talismans to reign in the destructive forces. Instead, she was reverted to a baby and given another chance to live her life over again. Setsuna, Haruka, and I decided that we would raise her, leaving our Senshi lives behind. We felt that we owed it to her because we had aggressively pursued her in order to destroy her before she could be fully awakened, hoping we could stop the destruction she heralded. However, destiny decided to interfere again and before we had even a couple of months of peace, Hotaru grew overnight in order to counter the threat of Nehelenia, another villain," she concluded quietly, letting her words sink in.

"That doesn't make sense, Michiru-san. I recall seeing Hotaru-chan during the Silver Millennium so she couldn't have always been sleeping," Rei said in puzzlement, biting her lip in uncertainty. The image kept niggling in her brain and she sensed that it was more important than she knew but only questioned the obvious. 

            Michiru hesitated, at a loss for words as she realized that Hotaru must have been awake if Haruka had seen her. She had told the Gundam pilots what had been told to all of them by Setsuna and she had never thought twice about it. She immediately looked to the oldest of the Senshi, quirking an eyebrow in inquiry.

            Setsuna knew she had to give some answers and this was a relatively simple matter. She straightened from her slumped position against the wall and relayed to them the truth about Sailor Saturn. "It is true that Sailor Saturn was supposed to sleep until she was awakened by the need for her singular power, however, before that decree was made she enjoyed and lived during the Silver Millennium like the rest of us. In fact, she lived on the Moon with the rest of the Inner Senshi since she was closer in age to them than she was to the Outers. All of you spent your time growing, playing and practicing with one another from the very beginning. However, near the end of the Silver Millennium, before the final attack on the Moon, Hotaru asked to be put to sleep because her control on her powers was waning due to…unforeseen, tragic circumstances. Queen Serenity saw the wisdom in granting her wish and used the power of the Ginzuishou to put the Senshi of Destruction and Rebirth into an eternal sleep until she was needed," Pluto explained, her eyes growing melancholy as she remembered the tear-stricken face of Saturn begging to have the pain end. It had ripped her apart to see the youngest of the Senshi plead with their Queen to put her to sleep so her torment could cease and she could try to forget why her broken heart kept her from controlling her powers in her normal fashion. Saturn's anguish had already caused a huge crater on the dark side of the Moon, a result of her being unable to suppress the need to release her sadness in a huge blast of power.

"Then how was she reborn like the rest of us if she was sleeping? If she had been sleeping, she should have been like you, Pluto, and not reborn into another body. Was she awakened before us," Ami asked, interrupting Setsuna's musing, her blue eyes alight with curiosity as she continued to unconsciously hold onto Rei's arm.

"Saturn was awakened right before the end of the Silver Millennium, on the night of the final battle, for reasons unknown. She was sent into the future along with the rest of you because she died like the rest of you, protecting the Silver Millennium. Queen Serenity decided that she would repeat the bond on Saturn she had set previously and put her soul to sleep. Saturn should not have awakened during our time unless needed. Unfortunately, Pharoah 90 and Mistress 9 destroyed our original plans for Saturn," Pluto said, deliberately glossing over the fact of how Saturn had come to be put to sleep. Some things were better left unsaid until they needed to be revealed.

            Rei looked back to Wufei, most of her earlier anger draining away as she looked into his confused onyx gaze. She recognized the struggle he was going through, one of pride and uncertainty. She knew Wufei didn't mean to be harsh but he used it to hide away his softer emotions. Heero did the same thing only he pretended he didn't have any emotions whatsoever. "Do you understand now, Wufei? It's not that Hotaru-chan is weak or doesn't know how to fight. Her struggle has always been with controlling her darker powers so that they don't overwhelm her and destroy everything around her. If one of us loses control, we might start a small fire or freeze something or cause a lot of static electricity, something that can be lived with or countered by the powers of one of the other Senshi. Hotaru's power unchecked means the destruction of an entire universe. She told me once that the power inside of her is like a rabid wolf, clawing at her insides to be free, howling in insane joy at the thought of destroying everything so the world can start over. It's an instinct for her, like breathing or blinking, but she fights it everyday and on days like this, where she's surrounded by evil of that magnitude, it takes almost everything she has to keep it in check. She's not useless and I'd still trust her with my life, even with that kind of stress on her because I know she would rather die than hurt anyone she loves," Rei said earnestly, her gaze locked with Wufei's as she leaned forward to make sure she had his full attention. She didn't want to be so harsh, especially after he had done so much to help her get past her pride and uncertainty to face Heero, but she couldn't just let him go on thinking that Hotaru was a liability.

            Wufei's head spun as he struggled with his pride. After everything had been said, he knew he owed Hotaru a huge apology but he hadn't apologized to anyone in years. He hated being wrong, even when he had been a gentle scholar married to a stubborn woman determined on fighting. Finally, he spit out a choked, "I have to think." before detaching his shoulder from the regenerator. He flexed his shoulder and was satisfied with the absence of pain. Without another word, he strode out of the medical bay, knowing that everyone's gaze was on him.

End Flashback

"Damn it," Wufei hissed, setting down his brush over the rapidly drying ink stone. He had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get rid of the idea that he had just done a grave injustice to someone who had not deserved it, but his mind still dwelled on the hurt look Hotaru had given him before running away from him and his accusations. His memory flashed back to the scene on the battlefield where she had been kneeling, almost overwhelmed by the force of the Ravagers pounding on her shield. Now he wondered how much of that was because of the pressure of the Ravagers and how much of it had been because she had been struggling to not obliterate them all. He sank his head down between his hands and clutched at his head while he struggled with himself. Finally, after several long minutes, he stood up with a determined look on his face. Never let it be said that a Chang did not face up to his mistakes and take responsibility for them.

            About 15 minutes later, Wufei was still looking for Hotaru and with little success. He had gone to her room but no one had answered. He had tried to look for her through the bands they wore but she must have deactivated hers. He was torn between being relieved at not having to face her and angry at not being able to get his apology over and done with. He feared he might lose his nerve for there was something unsettling about Hotaru's melancholy eyes and he wondered if it was because she had lived through so much at such a young age without complaint. Huffing a breath of frustration, he decided to go into the Gundam Bay to check on his beloved Gundam. 'Wouldn't hurt to decide what I'm going to say to the little onna either and Nataku always helps me think better,' he mused to himself as he found himself in front of the mechanical doors. Slowly keying the access code, he waited patiently as the doors swished open on a silent hiss of air. He walked in and noticed that it was deathly quiet and dark as night except for the faintest glow from the overhead lights situated by each Gundam. He walked quietly, the Chinese slippers on his feet muffling his footsteps in the cavernous room. He bypassed all the other Gundams until he came to his own and halted in shock at the sight before him.

            Hotaru was perched on the arm of his Gundam and was stroking the metal of the dragon head that had been damaged earlier. She had both legs drawn up and she was resting her chin on her knees, her face tilted so her hair fell in a short silky curtain across her face. She was wearing a black, sleeveless dress with a rounded neckline threaded with purple satin ribbon. The skirt was long enough to allow her modesty while in her current position and resembled a black pool against the white metal of the machine beneath her. Wufei thought the faint light gleaming against her hair made her look rather otherworldly, for it picked up some of the deeper violet highlights in her hair and made her skin glow like a luminescent pearl. Her eyes were shadowed however, and Wufei couldn't tell what kind of mood she was in as she continued to sit there on his Gundam. He didn't think she had noticed him yet and his suspicions were confirmed when next she spoke.

"Gomen nasai, Altron-san or maybe I should call you Nataku-san like Wufei-san does. Rei-san says that he cares for you very much, almost like a lover, and that's why he gave you another name. If he does care for you so much then I am doubly sorry for what my actions caused you today. I didn't know I would be so overwhelmed by all the evil around me. I thought I could handle it because I've been okay so far in my dimension, but I don't think any of us have ever been confronted by anything this evil or this strong. This time though, it was like I was suffocating under all that evil and I just wanted to blast my way through it so I could breathe again, but I knew if I did that I would unleash something that I couldn't just rein back in. How do I find a happy medium? How can I be more useful in battle without sacrificing my sanity? I have all this power in this stupid, weak body and I can barely do anything with it. All the other Senshi have powers they can use without practically any thought at all. They're strong in body and mind and I can't do anything. I can't run as fast or for as long, I can't take as many hits as they can, and I can't do anything with my power except heal, put up a shield or destroy the universe. It's all or nothing with me and I'm sick of it. I can't even do anything to fix you, Nataku-san," Hotaru said forlornly, one of her hands fisting into a tight ball while the other continued to stroke the metal hand beneath her. Wufei couldn't decide if she was comforting the mecha or getting comfort from it. "Wufei-san was right. I shouldn't be allowed to fight with the others."

"I was wrong," Wufei said, walking into the soft light so it illuminated him. His pronouncement startled Hotaru, making her jerk suddenly and lose her position on the smooth metal she was sitting on. Wufei, realizing she was falling, ran to catch her. Hotaru couldn't find anything to stop her progress and fell from the enormous Gundam, wondering if she could heal herself if she was unconscious before her gaze found Wufei's. 'He's going to catch me,' was her startled thought before she landed in his arms.

            Wufei's own reaction was one of confusion and wonder as she seemed to float down into his arms like a sprite. His hands came up of their own accord to wrap around her tiny waist and the sensation seemed so familiar for some strange reason that he shook his head to clear it. Releasing her as if she had burned him, he asked, "Are you all right?"

"Hai, I'm fine. Arigatou, Wufei-san, for catching me," Hotaru murmured, her voice subdued as she recalled their last conversation, if it could really be called such. She wondered if he was going to be upset with her for being on his Gundam or if he was going to yell at her for being weak again.

            Wufei let out a shaky breath as he wondered how to start off his apology, especially when he could feel her shying away from him as if he was going to hit her. Frustrated when she wouldn't look at him so he could get this ordeal over with, he said brusquely," Look, I'm here to apologize for what I said earlier. I didn't realize what you have to go through with your powers and I was out of line to make judgments on a topic I know nothing about."

            Hotaru could barely believe that she was hearing an apology from Wufei, for the harsh, young man struck her as being very proud and unused to being wrong. However, as she heard the rest of his little speech, she began to tense, especially when he mentioned that he had learned about her powers. She knew the others would jump to her defense and they probably explained her situation, but Hotaru had too much experience with pity to ever want it again. She raised her head to look him in the eye and broke in, her voice laced with bitterness. "I don't want or need your apology, especially not because you pity me or because the others made you do it. You want to apologize because you know your behavior was wrong, then fine, but do not come to say you're sorry because you feel bad for poor, little me!"

            Wufei reeled back at the venom in her voice, which was totally at odds with her earlier appearance. Unfortunately, Wufei couldn't just let that pass as his pride swelled once again. "Look, you will accept my apology because I don't pity anyone! I don't have time to waste on pitying people. Yes, your situation was explained to me by Rei and the others but that doesn't mean that I pity you. I misunderstood the reason for your inability to fight and I insulted you for something you couldn't control. That is the only reason I am apologizing. And if you think anyone can make me do something I don't want to do, then you're delusional. I've said my piece and if you accept my apology, then fine. If you don't, well I don't care. It means little to me either way," he bit out savagely, his face flushed with anger at the very idea that she would think he could be coerced into doing anything against his will. He turned and was going to leave her when he stopped, his back still facing her, and said quite clearly, "I'd better see you during the next battle." It was the only way he would let her know that he didn't think her useless after all.

            Hotaru stood there in the shadow of Nataku, a small smile turning up at the corner of her lips. "You will, Wufei-san. I promise you that I'll be there," she replied, her eyes brimming with gratitude and a newly returned confidence.

            Wufei nodded once, his back still to her before walking out silently. Somehow, he knew he'd have a restful night of sleep tonight…finally.


A/N: It's done! Hallelujah! 41 pages of the next installment of the GW/SM epic of the century. I say this because I think this is one of the longest stories in the fandom currently. I know there wasn't as much Rei/Heero in this chapter but I really felt like I had ignored Trowa/Mako and Hotaru/Wufei last time so I decided to make up for it. The guys especially may seem a little OOC at first but I hope everyone comes to understand that I'm writing about the guys after the war. They've matured a lot and seen what they've been missing. Also, the girls are like missing parts of them that they don't really know about so they're reacting in ways not normal for them. I hope you all like it!

Next: Guess who's coming to visit!