Disclaimer: I definitely don't own Sailor Moon.
"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet,
regardless of time, place, or circumstance.
The thread may stretch or tangle,
but it will never break."
- Chinese Proverb
The Ties that Bind
Chapter One - High School Never Ends
Aino Minako yawned wide, stretching so far back that her spine gave a little crack. With a lazy toss of her golden head she flopped backwards onto her bed and heard a yowl.
"Sorry!" She called out, sitting up immediately to allow the squashed white cat underneath the comforter to breathe.
"Mfmph awyshinm dwo that!?" Artemis groaned.
"What was that?"
Mina lifted the cat up to look him in the eyes - a pose he distinctly did not prefer.
"I said 'Must you always do that?'" he griped.
"Oh, well if you wouldn't sleep all the time you wouldn't get squished."
"What kind of logic is that?" Artemis crawled out of her grasp and sat stiffly, testing his joints on her bed.
"You ought to be a little quieter, I'm not supposed to have you in here, you know."
Mina, in her first year of school at Meji University, was not technically supposed to have a cat (or any animal for that matter) on the school grounds, but since her parents had kindly agreed to pay for a single room for her, she and Artemis were getting through the deception rather well.
"So what's on the docket for tonight?" Artemis asked, peering over his shoulder as she sat back on her bed with a text book and her laptop.
Artemis and Mina made identical faces.
"Well," he said, flicking his tail across her shoulder, "Good luck with that."
"Hey! You could at least help me with this - you're still my helper - right?" Mina pointed out, "That was your excuse for staying with me."
"If you want advice on being Sailor Venus, yes. Anything else - ask Ami-chan. She's the one who got you in here anyway."
Mina stuck her tongue out at him but he was too busy making himself comfortable on her pillow.
"You're getting way too lazy, Artemis. If a youma attacked us tonight you'd probably need a respirator just to make it through round one."
"What are you getting at?" He asked, peering at her with suspicious blue eyes.
"Your tum-tum's a widdle big, kitty-kins," she cooed sweetly with an indolent smile.
"Dumb blonde!" He hissed.
"I made it in here on my own initiative, I'll have you know!" She reminded him, haughtily, "I made the fourth highest score too."
"After Ami brainwashed you, no doubt."
Mina opened her mouth to retort, but then took a deep breath. She was a college student, for crying out loud. Maturity was called for.
"Artemis," she said sweetly, her entire face becoming angelic and saccharine in expression, "Perhaps I should tell Luna how much you've been helping me with college - I'm sure she'd-"
"Alright! Alright," he panted frantically, "I take it back!"
Mina smirked to herself and returned to her studies.
"V-chan five-hundred, Smelly Cat zero," she muttered.
"I heard that," Artemis muttered back as he settled down for another snooze.
"You may be smart enough to get into a private university," he added, smuggly, "But even Ami-chan can't help you get a boyfriend."
It was a low blow - especially for the goddess of love.
"Hey, be nice or I'll accidentally leave you behind when Christmas break gets here."
Artemis was apparently asleep and didn't hear her threat. Mina frowned to herself and pushed a strand of gold behind her ear, trying to concentrate on the homework in front of her.
"Homework two days before Christmas break?" she grumbled, "Not even Beryl was this cruel."
"Four more hours, four more hours..." Makoto chanted to herself under her breath. She refused to open her eyes or relax the death grip she had on the arms of her chair. Her knuckles were bone white and the plastic on the chair's arms was in danger of cracking under the sheer Senshi force she was exerting. Her face had become chalky pale.
"Are you alright, miss?" the flight-attendant asked in a very concerned voice.
"Hai," Mako managed to gasp.
'Think of what Rei told you - think of what Rei told you -' she repeated in her head. Even after making it through the last three years of high school (all of which was due solely to Ami's encouragement) she had won a scholarship to study cooking in Europe for half a year before begining a year and a half cooking school in Tokyo. She already had a job waiting for her when she finished, but Makoto had plans of her own - which involved opening her own shop/bakery as soon as possible. But she'd almost passed up the opportunity to study abroad when she realized she'd have to get there by plane.
In the end the only way she had been remotely persuaded to step foot on the plane was Rei's firm assurance that she would make it back unscathed. Rei, after Herculean efforts on the part of Mina and Usagi, had agreed to use pyromancy in order to divine whether or not Mako would be safe on her trip. The reply had been disgruntled but definitely in the affirmative.
"Keep it together, Mako-chan," she whispered to herself, "You fought Beryl and her nasty generals; aliens; the Dark Moon Family, and Galaxia - you can do this. Just four more hours and then Christmas with the girls!"
Truth be told she'd missed them so much it made her sick. She loved every minute of the European tour - there was nothing to compare with the adventure - but it would have been ten times better with her friends. They were practically her family now - the only family she had - and being away from them for half a year was just too long. Even without the threat of attack, she needed the others - it was beginning to be an actual physical ache.
"Would you like some water, miss?" the attendant asked.
"Iie," she murmured, shaking her head slightly.
"Going to see your family for Christmas?" the attendant asked, her voice intentionally soothing in an attempt to get Makoto to relax.
"Y-yeah," Makoto answered, giving a weak smile, "Yeah. I can't wait to see them."
She cracked her eyes open and saw the attendant smiling at her sympathetically.
"I'm sure they can't wait to see you too."
"I told you it was right here," an impatient, low tenor informed someone in the dark of the early night. It was nearly Christmas in Tokyo and quite chilly as two young men, dressed warmly, walked down the nearly deserted streets.
"Well, this map is hard to read," the other began, his voice markedly lower and richer than the others.
"That's a laugh," the other chuckled, "You can find your way by the sky, but you can't even read a map."
"You were lost too," the second grumbled, "You just won't admit it."
"Hush," the first commanded, "There's someone here."
"Can I help you?"
The voice was smooth, cool and utterly collected. But in the darkness, with only the faint lights of lanterns and the shadows of trees, it was too difficult for anyone to see anyone else.
The two men peered into the darkness and finally caught sight of a pale white shape that might have been a young woman dressed in robes.
"Is this the Hikawa Shrine?" the man with the sharper voice asked. He squinted into the dark.
"Yes, but it's too late for visitors." the woman sounded faintly displeased.
"I told you," the first man muttered, turning on his heel to leave. The taller one stopped him with a light hand on his arm.
"Wait, wait," he murmured, then cleared his throat.
"Excuse us for visiting so late - this is our first time in Tokyo and we got lost on our way here."
He paused but there was no reply - as if to say that the listener didn't see what business it was of her's if they couldn't follow a map.
"Um.." he went on, awkwardly, "We'd like to visit again tomorrow."
"Everyone is welcome," she said, her tone not exactly welcoming.
"Sounds like it," the shorter man muttered.
"If that's all -" the woman began, testily.
"Oh, thank you very much," the taller man said quickly, "Miss -"
The woman sighed wearily.
"Hino Rei, I am the priestess here. If you come this way tomorrow morning I'll be here to greet you. I'm sure one of the miko can help you with any souvenirs or pictures..."
"We're not really here for that," the man interjected quickly, "I'm a Philosophy of Religion grad student - my emphasis is in Eastern Religious practices -"
"Oh," Rei answered, slightly interested. There was a sudden rustling sound above them and then the shorter man jumped.
"What the hell was that!?" he shouted, batting the air.
"They are Phobos and Deimos," Rei answered, a touch acidly, "And if you'll kindly remain still they'll settle down. You startled them."
"Killer birds, what next?" the man grumbled.
"It's late, gentlemen," Rei suggested, her tone colder (if possible) that the temperature.
"Nolan Connelley, Hino-san," the taller man said, still striving for polite diplomacy despite Rei's chilly reception and his friend's unsociable temper.
"This is my friend, Jaden."
Jaden nodded curtly in Rei's direction without removing his hands from his pockets.
"How nice to meet you," Rei said in a wonderfully polite tone. Would they never leave?
Finally Nolan seemed to get the hint. He bowed to Rei, even though they could barely see each other in the darkening gloom. She didn't bother to bow back, but she doubted he'd have noticed.
"See you tomorrow, Hino-san." He said, chuckling at his unintentional play on words. Rei didn't laugh.
Rei watched them - what little she could see of them - as they meandered helplessly through the streets of Tokyo. As they descended from the stairs and onto the street they passed under street light and she was able to get a better glimpse at her nighttime visitors.
The one who had carried on most of the conversation with her - Nolan - was a tall man, squarely built but not heavy, with long, flowing dark hair and a casual grace that he seemed unaware of. The man who walked beside him - Jaden - was shorter by a few inches, and just a bit leaner, though not by much. His hair was short, wavy and light.
She continued to watch them as they disappeared around the corner. Phobos flew down from her perch to lite on Rei's shoulder, her beak pecking gently at the priestess's red ribbon.
"I wonder," Rei murmured to herself.
A breeze seemed to sift through her mind triggering the shiver of a memory or a feeling of deja vu. They hadn't seemed dangerous or unusual men, but they still gave her an unsettled feeling.
"Hino-san?" a young voice called. It was Haru-chan, her youngest miko - still in elementary school and not technically old enough, but Rei had relented when faced with such excited and earnest brown eyes. Haruhi was one of the orphans the local institution had sent over to the Shrine for training. It was part of a new government funded program to encourage children with no families to make friends by getting them involved with local groups, such as the shrine. Makoto had been such a staunch advocate that Rei had been forced to promise she would be involved in the program too. Well, she could always use the help. And Haruhi was certainly growing on her. It was nice to have the added company considering that her grandfather was no longer as spry and vivacious as he had been. Rei hadn't realized how lonely her life had become, until Haruhi had arrived.
"Hai, I'm here. Just some late visitors. Oh, Haruhi -"
"Don't let the fire burn down just yet."
The little girl ran back into the shrine, and Rei followed at a more sedate pace - which gave her plenty of time for thinking about the visitors.
"But Luna," Usagi pouted, "Why now?"
The little black cat eyed her charge with disfavor and then gave an apologetic glance to Mamoru who was sitting on the couch beside Usagi, sipping a cup of coffee and looking the tiniest bit flushed.
"Just because we haven't seen hyde nor hair of an enemy in two years doesn't mean you can afford to forget everything I've crammed into that head of yours."
Usagi sighed and slouched into the couch, but she didn't offer the tears or whining that Luna could have expected a few years earlier.
"So what do you want me to do?"
"I just want to see the crystal - I want to know that you are keeping it safe and close by," Luna informed her.
Usagi rolled her eyes eloquently but rummaged around in her purse and pulled out her rod. Wiggling the beautiful instrument as though it were a trophy, Usagi leaned against the couch arm and thrust the rod into Luna's face.
"See?" she said, "Safe as can be. Besides, Mamo-chan is here with me - so there's nothing to worry about."
Mamoru smiled quietly into his coffee at this praise from his fiance.
"Is there something that you're worried about, Luna?" he asked.
"No, no - yes, I can see it, Usagi, you can stop shoving it up my nose! - "
"Are you sure?"
Luna thought she heard Usagi sniggering to herself as she replaced the rod into her bag. She turned back to Mamoru.
"No, I haven't noticed anything, of course. Rei would have alerted us if there was anything to be worried about. And naturally we would never have encouraged Makoto to leave the country if -"
"But you still seem a little jumpy." Mamoru suggested, setting his coffee down and slipping an arm around Usagi. Luna observed that his stance was casual but there was a hidden protectiveness that bespoke power - much like a sleeping lion.
"A bit," she admitted, "But I overeact to things..."
Usagi snorted quietly.
"That's for sure."
Luna's eyes narrowed.
"I just like to be prepared." She finished.
"So do I. Thank you, Luna."
Luna felt herself over-powered for a brief moment by Mamoru's charming smile and sincere, brilliantly dark blue eyes. Even for being someone not of her species she had to admit that the teenager who had once charmed her princess had grown into a sinfully handsome young man.
Prince, she reminded herself.
"You look worried," Usagi chirped, "Your nose is wrinkling again."
"Is it?" Luna asked, surprised, "Oh, no." She blushed a bit at her thoughts, then suddenly she blinked.
"It's rather late, Usagi," she began suspiciously, "I'm surprised I had to walk all the way to Mamoru's apartment to find you."
Usagi's face grew a bit red, but she eyed Luna with more exasperation than embarrassment.
"We're on a date," she whispered, theatrically. Mamoru coughed, trying to hide his laughter.
"Oh, I see," Luna said, her tone suddenly sharp and no-nonsense.
"Then I'll just leave you to that...ahem, be home before it's too late," she suggested as she backed out of the apartment.
"I'll take care of her," Mamoru promised, "Don't worry."
"Of course," Luna answered, padding out the door.
"I'm not worried."
The sound of Usagi's high-pitched giggle and Mamoru's low voice murmuring something, trickled out the door and to Luna's sensitive ears.
"Not much, at least."
'Big celebration with the girls next week' - Ami looked at the note she had written herself.
"That will be a nice break," she murmured, rubbing her head. It was almost time for mid-term exams and she'd been doing so much studying she thought her head would burst.
She opened a window to let the breeze in - the dorm heaters were sometimes overpowering.
As the cool air hit her cheeks she could feel her face cool - the frosty scent of the air was wonderfully refreshing. Suddenly she heard voices below her - someone was having a party in the dorm under her. She frowned, listening to the voices.
One was speaking English, albeit with an odd accent. She recognized the voices of the foreign exchange students - most of whom were engrossed in partying all night long. There were quite a few that were interested in even less scholarly pursuits from the sounds of the voices below her.
Ami nearly dropped her glasses. She looked around, bewildered by the voice, until she happened to look down and caught sight of an unruly head below her. A young man, obviously three sheets to the wind, was attempting to bend over the balcony backward to peer up at her.
"What light through yonder window falls?" the young man cackled up at her, spinning crazily on the rail.
Ami felt a slow blush creeping over her cheeks - she quickly reached for the window latch. Suddenly a hand appeared out of nowhere, grabbing the young man and jerking him back inside.
"It's 'breaks' you idiot," she heard a light, thin voice say. Intrigued, she peeked carefully over the sill.
All she saw was the faint glint of light curls.
"Sorry about that! Gomen."
Ami managed to wave her hand.
"Hai! It's ok." she squeaked out.
The young man was shading his face with his hand, creating shadows over his features so that Ami couldn't see him at all. But then, with most of her face hidden by the window, and the rest shrouded in the dark, he probably couldn't see her either. Ami felt relieved. At least she wouldn't be embarrassed if she ran into these men again.
She closed the window carefully and sighed.
Compared to being serenaded outside her window, she would have taken a youma attack any day.
'Be careful what you wish for...' she thought.