Usagi slowly woke up, sighing in contentment. She felt so relaxed, she gently nuzzled into the pillow, deciding she was going to sleep for a little while longer. She loved sleeping in. There was nothing as stress-free as sleeping as long as you wanted.
She lie in the bed for another fifteen minutes or so, content to just relax. However, a gentle rumbling from her stomach compelled her to open her eyes. She felt completely famished. Maybe mom made pancakes!
One peek, and she immediately sat bolt up in bed and began to panic.
This was not her bedroom.
She then suddenly remembered the events of the night, starting with the youma attack in the park.
Had that actually happened? Had she really…
She couldn't finish the thought. In true Usagi fashion, she decided to suppress the memory about the bridge. She'd come back to that later. Maybe.
Instead, she tried to focus on where she was. She clearly remembered going back to the park to rescue Venus, encountering Kunzite, trying to use the Moon Wand on him, and then….
Everything became a blur. She seemed to remember something about another youma and….Motoki?
She shook her head to clear it. She couldn't remember if she'd healed Kunzite or not. She squeezed her eyes shut and clutched her head, as if those actions could push the memory into her consciousness.
She knew that Tuxedo Kamen was also involved somehow, but that was all she could remember.
She gave up and instead looked at her surroundings for a clue. She was in a small, sparsely furnished bedroom. The bed was against a corner in one wall, with a small nightstand next to it. Across from the bed was a dresser, and next to it an open door leading to a bathroom. On the other side, there was a small wardrobe. That was it. Everything was brown and wooden, including the walls. A window was next to the bed. She looked out and noticed a lot of foliage and…palm trees? Was she at the beach?
She shook her head again, willing herself to remember. Nothing came to mind. At least she could be sure she wasn't a prisoner of the Dark Kingdom. She didn't know where Beryl and her henchman lived, but she doubted it was on the beach.
She swung her legs over the bed and walked into the bathroom. There was an unopened toothbrush and a full bottle of toothpaste on the sink. The small shower was also fully stocked with soap and shampoo bottles.
She stepped back outside and checked the wardrobe. It was filled with clothes that looked to be about her size.
Wherever she was, someone had tried to provide her the basic necessities.
She found this to be…slightly odd. Like she was being kept as…a pet. She shuddered.
Calling the Senshi seemed like a good idea right then. She reached into her sub-space pocket to fetch her communicator. She came back empty handed, groaning. She couldn't remember what had happened to it. Luna would undoubtedly not accept that excuse. She sighed, becoming momentarily depressed again. Why couldn't she be more responsible!? Once again, depression began to cloud her mind. She tried to fight it off and figure out a plan. Her feelings could wait until later. Much later.
With that decided, she considered her options. If she couldn't call for help, she sure wasn't staying here. Something seemed off with the set up. She quickly transformed, confidence enveloping her for a moment before she debated walking outside the bedroom and confronting whoever had brought her here.
Deciding upon the less confrontational option, she opened the window and leapt out among the palm trees.
Tuxedo Kamen felt like hell. He sat at the low table, nursing a plain black coffee. He'd never had a hangover, but he imagined this must be what one felt like. The news he had just heard and the dressing down he'd just received from Zoicite for healing him when he didn't have the energy, did little to help his mood.
"I've been unconscious for two days….so, you used my credit card to buy expensive designer clothes and rent a beach house? Why are we even at the beach!?" he asked, staring incredulously at Motoki.
Motoki shrugged, not feeling too guilty about it. "Hey, man. They needed clothes. They said we needed a safe place to go outside of Tokyo, so…here we are."
Tuxedo Kamen glanced over at the two Shittenou and their ensembles. Zoicite was wearing tight white jeans, a black tank top, covered by a long-sleeved, deep green plaid button up shirt, casually thrown over it, and rolled up to his elbows. Kunzite was also wearing white jeans and a light white jacket over a baby blue turtleneck which complemented his icy colored hair nicely.
He stared back at Motoki. "They look like Ralph Lauren models," he griped.
Motoki shrugged again. "You get good discounts from the time you were a model," he countered.
Tuxedo Kamen sighed again. He was about to ask why they needed to leave Tokyo when Kunzite interrupted.
"Did you purchase us inappropriate clothes, kohai?" Kunzite asked, confused by this interaction.
Before Motoki could answer, Tuxedo Kamen cut in. "Why are you calling him 'kohai'?", he asked, wary of the answer and more curious about this than their whereabouts.
Motoki answered for him. "He forced me to join your fan club," he quipped, waiting for the inevitable explosion.
Tuxedo Kamen sat straight up, glaring at Kunzite.
"No.", he said, with utter finality. There was no way Motoki was going into battle….or calling him "Master". That would be unbearably creepy.
Motoki echoed his thoughts. "I'm not calling you 'Master', dude. Just throwing that out there."
Zoicite gave Motoki a sharp look. "You should always address your…."
He was abruptly cut off by Tuxedo Kamen. "No!"
Zoicite turned towards him with wide eyes, surprised about this outburst. His eyes quickly narrowed, as he tried to determine why his Master was reacting like this.
Kunzite, stoic as ever, calmly raised an eyebrow, encouraging his prince to explain himself.
"Motoki is NOT becoming a Shittenou! That's ridiculous!"
"Why?" Kunzite calmly enquired.
Tuxedo Kamen gaped at him. "Because….because…..he doesn't have any powers!"
He smirked, figuring he had made a good point. Motoki seemed to agree because he nodded his head vigorously in agreement.
Kunzite inclined his head slightly. "Not yet. He must make the oath first."
Silence. Motoki had stopped eating and was staring at Kunzite warily. "Oath? Powers?" he asked.
"Once Kunzite has deemed you ready, you will vow your body, mind, and soul to Prince Endymion. You will then be granted special abilities so as to be able to properly protect him," Zoicite explained.
Another silence followed this explanation.
"Just my body, mind, and soul, huh? Not asking for much, are you?" Motoki muttered, sarcastically.
Tuxedo Kamen was becoming furious. Body, mind, and soul!? What kind of vow was that? Where were these powers coming from anyway? He briefly remembered what Zoicite had told him about celibacy. This only enraged him further.
"Look, Motoki has a girlfriend. You can't expect him to vow celibacy to me," he pointed out.
Motoki suddenly sat up straight, too. "Celibacy? Celibacy? Are you freakin' kidding me? You did NOT say anything about celibacy!" he snapped, staring wide eyed at Kunzite.
Kunzite glanced over at him, suddenly concerned. "You cannot have a paramour if you intend to join our ranks, kohai," he said seriously.
Motoki gaped. "You had a sword to my throat when I agreed! It's not like I had much of a choice!"
Tuxedo Kamen stred at Kunzite. "What!?" he said, horrified by where this was going.
Kunzite narrowed his eyes at Motoki. "No, kohai. I had taken the sword away when you agreed. You did that of your own volition."
Motoki was about to protest, but then he remembered. Kunzite had called him "kohai" with the sword at his throat, but had withdrawn it before he had agreed. Well, shit.
"Fine," Motoki grumbled. "However, I didn't know all the terms. Look, Mamoru is my best friend, and I want to help him out. I don't necessarily want to be a permanent body guard or anything."
"Why not?" Zoicite asked, staring intently at Motoki.
Motoki was momentarily thrown by this question.
Zoicite probed deeper. "Is it because of Reika? If both of them were to die, and you had a choice of whom to save, would you save Reika or Endymion?"
Tuxedo Kamen glared angrily at Zoicite. "You have no right to ask him that question!"
Zoicite glanced over at his prince, unfazed. "Don't I? If he is to become one of us, or even simply to "help out", he must consider this possibility."
Kunzite nodded in agreement, a pensive look on this face. "Duty always comes before love. Always," he said, harshly, looking up at Motoki to hear his answer. Zoicite briefly glanced at Kunzite, concern etched on his face, but then turned his attention back to Motoki.
Motoki's mind was whirling. Reika or Mamoru? What kind of choice was that? One was his girlfriend, the other was his best friend. He couldn't possibly make a choice like that! That was a completely unfair question!
Zoicite was prepared for this reaction and quickly moved to prevent it. He grabbed the salt and pepper shaker from the table.
"This one is Endymion," he said, showing the pepper. "The other is Reika. I am going to kill them by knocking them on the floor. You have three seconds to take one and save it," he stated calmly.
Motoki gaped. "What?" he breathed out, barely believing they were having this conversation.
"One," Zoicite began.
"Stop, he doesn't have to do this!" Tuxedo Kamen protested, hotly.
"Stay that order, Zoicite. This directly deals with the Master's safety," Kunzite replied, staring intently at the shakers on the table.
Zoicite nodded, never taking his eyes off Motoki. "Two," he continued, undaunted by Endymion and Motoki's increased discomfort.
Motoki felt like his entire world had just crashed around him. Two days ago he was heading off to work, a normal young college student. Seeing Kunzite crying and screaming in the park had brought his world to what it was now, making this impossible choice. He couldn't do it. He just wouldn't grab the shakers. He'd say he was sorry, Kunzite would drop this ridiculous notion, and then he could go back to being Mamoru's friend, who was just here to help out, not become a celibate!
However, a small part of him wanted to know the answer. A small part of him wanted to see his level of dedication to….
"Three," Zoicite said with finality, bringing his arm back to swipe the shakers off the table.
Motoki's hand shot out and grabbed one.
No one breathed.
They all stared at the shaker on the floor, releasing its contents in a wide circle.
Motoki's eyes focused on the shaker, everything else blurring into the background. Instead of small grains of spice, he imagined it being blood and entrails.
He stared down at the shaker in his grip.
He gently put the offending object back on the table, his hands shaking and tears pricking his eyes.
Looking up at the group, he saw Kunzite and Zoicite nodding at him, a distant look in the former's eyes. Tuxedo Kamen looked pole-axed.
"Reika and I need to talk," he said softly, staring at the pepper shaker on the table.
Tuxedo Kamen's shock was being overtaken by guilt. "You're…you're going to break up with her?" he asked, nervous about the answer.
Motoki didn't say anything for a long moment, boring his eyes into the pepper shaker. Then he slowly shook his head. "I…I don't know," he sighed. He really did care for Reika, and he had been so determined to make it work even though it was long distance. He thought they were doing well, considering the circumstances. However, he couldn't deny that they had slowly been slipping apart. The missed phone calls, the "I'm sorry, I'll send you two letters next week!" excuses when one or both of them were too busy to communicate. Just because he liked her didn't mean he could continue to date her, not if he couldn't put her first. That wasn't fair to her.
Guilt raced through Tuxedo Kamen, as he desperately thought of a way to fix this. "Motoki-kun..", he started, trying to reason with him.
Motoki started to cut him off, when Zoicite gasped.
"I hate to interrupt, however, we have a situation," he stated, pointing out the balcony windows.
The three other men followed his gaze toward the beach, where Sailor Moon was running away from the cabin.
Sailor Moon! Tuxedo Kamen had almost completely forgotten about her, the confusion about waking up in a beach cabin with a pounding headache having been his sole focus, and making it so that he barely felt the usual pull of her transformation. Great start to his "treating her like a person instead of a verbal punching bag" plan, he groused internally.
Kunzite and Zoicite quickly rose. "She must have been frightened to wake up in a foreign place," stated Zoicite, worried.
They must have brought Sailor Moon to the cabin with them. Why they were at the cabin was still a complete mystery, but something else started to worry him.
"Nobody tell her who I am, okay?" he asked, staring at each of the other three in turn.
Kunzite seemed confused, but nodded his consent. Zoicite raised an eyebrow , but inclined his head. "As you wish, Master," he stated, in a tone that indicated he didn't fully agree.
Motoki, on the other hand, was not used to doing whatever Mamoru said.
"For a genius, you're a dumbass," he stated bluntly, perhaps being a little too harsh after his emotional blow.
Tuxedo Kamen turned to him, surprised at this outburst. "What?" he said, slightly miffed.
"Do you really think that having her find out later is going to…" he stopped, suddenly because he noticed Zoicite frowning at him.
Motoki, very annoyed at the stunt Zoicite had just pulled, snapped at him, "Oh, sorry, am I supposed to be kissing his butt?" He turned to Mamoru, ignoring Zoicite's indignant gasp. "By all means, Your Royal Highness, please keep your identity a secret and use this opportunity to be all suave and charming. When she finds out, she'll be sure to instantly forgive all the emotional abuse you've put her through! It's fool-proof! I heartily approve of this brilliant plan, oh fearless leader!" he finished in a fake sincere voice, unnecessarily laying on the sarcasm.
The two Shittenou stared at him in complete shock. So did Tuxedo Kamen. Motoki usually got a bit sarcastic with him, but this was a bit much. The salt shaker thing must have really gotten to him.
Noticing the stares, he sighed, running his hands through his hair. "Sorry. I'm a little…", he paused, sighing again. "Sorry, look. This has been a lot to swallow…", he paused in his explanation because Kunzite had abruptly left the group and was exiting through the balcony.
"He will fetch the princess," Zoicite explained, staring hard at Motoki.
Motoki stared back. He'd spent two days with the Shittenou while Usagi and Mamoru had been unconscious. He still felt unnerved by Kunzite, who had insisted on training him immediately upon arrival to the cabin. He muscles were still sore. Zoicite...felt too formal and…icy? He wasn't sure how to describe him. He was polite and somewhat easy-going, but he was almost obsessive about his duty and following orders. Calling Kunzite "lord" and Mamoru "Master" just seemed a bit overboard. Didn't he ever relax and have fun? Or have any friends he didn't have to follow orders from?
Zoicite smirked at him. "Perhaps you're just immature," he said, as if replying to a question.
Motoki gaped. Could he read minds!?
Tuxedo Kamen rolled his eyes behind his mask. Zoicite seemed to get on everyone's bad side. He would've tried to defuse the situation, but he was too worried about his identity.
"Please don't tell her. I…need to figure some things out first," he said, a bit pleadingly.
Motoki turned his attention back to Tuxedo Kamen. "Fine. I won't tell her, but I'm telling you, dude. The longer you wait, the worse it'll be."
Zoicite nodded his head in agreement.
Boots and sand did not mix well, Sailor Moon decided, as she trudged along at a very embarrassing pace for a superheroine.
The surf crashed against the beach to her left and the smell of salt water stung her nostrils. The sun peaked over the horizon, turning the ocean water a rich golden color.
For a brief moment, she wanted to forget everything and pretend she was on vacation here at the beach. No school, no parents, no nagging moon cat….
Thinking of Luna brought back the memory of who she was. She tried to forget the feelings that started to overwhelm her, to pretend nothing was wrong and just to enjoy the beach, but she couldn't do it.
She started to run faster as she started to panic. She couldn't be the moon princess! Zoicite must be wrong. She couldn't even keep track of her own communicator! Tears welled in her eyes, as she wiped them hastily away. Zoicite said all she had to do was be confident in herself….but there was nothing to be confident in! She couldn't even remember what had happened before she woke up at the beach. She started to cry in earnest now, the memories of the bridge coming back to her. She had tried to end her life because she thought she was worthless. Zoicite told her she wasn't. Who was she to believe? A man who had known her past incarnation, but had just met her present one (not counting the time he'd been under control of the Dark Kingdom), or everyone else in life telling her the opposite?
Her tears made the beach difficult to see. She suddenly stopped and collapsed in the sand. She knew she should be trying harder to put more distance between her and the strange cabin, but she suddenly didn't care. It didn't matter who brought her there. She was obviously too weak to stop them.
As her sobbing continued, she didn't notice another presence on the beach until someone sat down next to her.
She started, worried she'd have to explain to some beach goer why the heroine of Tokyo was crying by herself on the sand when she realized who it was.
Kunzite. She started to panic. Had she healed him!? She couldn't remember.
He looked over at her, concern gracing his features. "Why are you crying, Your Highness?", he asked, in what she supposed was meant to sound gentle, but sounded more matter of fact.
She wasn't entirely listening because she decided to hastily take out her Moon Wand and attack him.
"MOON HEALING ESCALATION!" she shouted, shoving the wand directly in his face.
He stared at her confusedly through the crescent moon. "Princess? Are you well?" he asked, quite confused.
She stopped the power flow and put her wand down. The wand wasn't doing anything. She must have healed him.
"Sorry," she said softly, looking down at her boots. "I can't remember much of what happened. I remember being in the park, you were there, and that's it."
He nodded, raking a few strands of silver hair out of his eyes. "I am not surprised. You fell from a tree and used your powers twice more afterwards. You have been unconscious for a while."
"I used my powers again? Why?" she asked, her memories still quite foggy.
He quickly recapped how he had been healed, the incident at Motoki's apartment, and the bird youma on the street, tactfully leaving out Tuxedo Kamen's harsh words.
She gasped. Wow. That had all happened in a single night and morning? No wonder she was so tired.
"That leads me back to my first question. Why are you crying?"
She suddenly turned from him. She didn't want another person to think of her as incompetent.
"It's nothing," she replied quickly, wiping her eyes in a vain attempt to hide the evidence.
"It is not nothing," he said, a little too harshly, "Zoicite told me what you tried to do."
Sailor Moon whirled around to face him. Tuxedo Kamen must have told Zoicite. Traitor, she thought bitterly. If he wanted to act as a stand in therapist, shouldn't he keep everything private?
Kunzite stared at her searchingly. "You are far too important to end your life," he stated seriously, breaking her train of thought.
"Why?" Usagi snapped back. "Because I'm the Moon Princess? That doesn't mean anything, being born with a title," she sniffed, realizing it was true. For a very brief moment, she wished she could've been the Moon Prime Minister or Moon Senator. At least they were elected into office.
The leader of the Shittenou gently reached for her hand. "I was not speaking of your title," he said, as she looked up into his pale lavender eyes. "You, Serenity, are too important."
She looked into his eyes, completely surprised to find sincerity there. He thought she was important? Just her?
"Why? Why am I important without my title? What have I ever done to deserve…."
He cut her off quickly. "You exist," he said softly, "and people love you and love to be with you. That is enough," he said gripping her hand tightly, as though to ensure she wouldn't disappear.
"If that is not enough for you, although it should be, I know…used to know you quite well," he continued softly, staring off into the distance for a moment.
He turned back to face her. "One of my fondest memories of you is when you brought me a birthday present," he murmured, still deep in thought.
Sailor Moon blinked up at him. They used to know each other? She bought him birthday presents? Imagining spending any time with Kunzite seemed…odd. She barely knew him at all, but he definitely didn't seem to be the type to be excited about birthday parties or presents.
His lips twitched in an almost smile at seeing her face. "I did not care much for such frivolous celebrations, but you were unaware of that. The day arrived and most knew to leave me alone. While I was practicing in the training fields, I saw you running towards me. I stopped thinking there was some sort of threat. Once you reached me..", he paused, actually smiling this time, albeit slightly, remembering.
His training partner, a young new knight, was not faring well against him. His friends had bet him their ale rations if he were to challenge Lord Kunzite and land but one small cut. So far, he had been failing. Kunzite was about to put the youngling out of his misery and end the fight when he caught a flash of gold running across the field. Was it his wife? Had something happened to the prince?
"Hold," he ordered the knight, turning to face his wife.
The young man either didn't hear him or chose to ignore his order and swung he sword, slicing a long, but shallow cut, down Kunzite's arm.
He hissed in pain before turning to the young knight, his eyes blazing.
The knight dropped his sword in surprise.
"Did I not order you to hold?" Kunzite said, his voice dripping deadly poison.
Color drained from his face, "Lord Kunzite, I didn't…"
Before he could finish, Kunzite heard his wife run up beside him.
"My Lord, you are wounded!" she exclaimed, worry gracing her words.
The young knight and his friends immediately went on one knee.
This was not his wife. This was the Princess.
He turned to face her, bowing at the waist with one fist at his heart, as was customary for someone of his station.
"Rise," she ordered, somewhat impatiently, as she reached out to check his arm.
The knights and Kunzite rose, the former beginning to whisper fervently about what could have brought the Princess form the safety of the palace.
She looked over his wound worriedly. "It's not too deep, Your Lordship," she murmured as she examined it.
"I've had far worse, Your Highness," he answered politely, but her ministrations were unnecessary and slightly embarrassing.
She seemed to sense this, for she pulled away from him and nodded. "Of course. Forgive us. We are not accustomed to the sight of blood as you are," she paused and then continued. "Would you be inclined to escort us on a walk, Your Lordship?"
He could hear the murmuring behind him increase in volume. Why did the Princess want to speak to Kunzite? Alone?
He ignored them and bowed from his waist once more. "I would be honored, Your Highness," he stated seriously, and offered her his uninjured arm. He was just as curious as the young knights were. She took the proffered arm and he led her towards the gardens.
They walked for a bit in silence, a gentle breeze blowing through her hair and his cape. The sunlight on her made her look more radiant than he had ever seen her in the palace. She was smiling and looked quite content. He could not imagine why she wanted to speak to him privately. They had rarely spoken since she and Endymion had begun courting. As they stepped behind a hedgerow, the Princess let out a small sigh. "Finally," she murmured removing her arm from his. "I do rather hate formalities," she confessed.
Kunzite's brow furrowed at her use of the singular pronoun. He couldn't recall ever speaking to the Princess in a private setting, but even then he could never imagine being informal with her.
She laughed at his expression. "I am soon to be married to your prince. We will spend no small amount of time together. Must we always be so formal?"
Kunzite nodded. "One does not become familiar with those from whom one must obey orders," he stated, reciting a teaching he had memorized in his younger years.
Her face softened, a look of…pity?...forming. "You love Endymion like a brother, so I find it heartbreaking that you cannot behave as brothers," she whispered, softly.
He felt his mouth open slightly at her brazenness, but he quickly composed himself. "My duty comes first," he stated, perhaps more harshly than he intended.
She politely ignored his tone. "Very well. However, I am not your liege lady yet, so I intend to do something of which you may not approve. Your wife even warned me against doing it, and yet I would like to present you with this," she said holding out her hand to him. A tiny brown bag was cupped in her palm.
He was instantly appalled, "Your Highness, you need not compensate me for my time nor service. My life is but to protect and serve you."
Perhaps this was a Lunarian custom he was not yet familiar with, but he refused to accept this, regardless. He knelt on one knee before her. "I will offer the vow to you now before your nuptials if you wish a demonstration of my loyalty," he declared, a serious desperation lacing his words.
Suddenly, he looked up, startled. The Princess was laughing. Her head was thrown back and peals of laughter were erupting from her mouth. He was unsure of how to react to her behavior. He earnestly wished he had had more time to study Lunarian customs as she found his seemingly normal behavior so comical.
"Rise, Your Lordship," she ordered, wiping tears from her eyes and smiling warmly. "You are being most ridiculous. I do not wish to compensate you. I wish to celebrate your day of birth."
He rose, surprise radiating through him. He was being given a gift? From the Princess of the Silver Millenium? He could hardly believe it, his disdain for nameday traditions evaporating in an instant. She had thought to present him with a gift and had even consulted his wife about this decision? He knew Endymion would not have suggested it, for he knew of his dislike for all festivities. Therefore, the Princess had decided on her own to offer him this token. He could not help but feel deeply touched.
She presented him with the small bag once more. "While walking in the gardens with His Highness, he showed me a section of the gardens which he told me were yours to tend. I brought these from the gardens at my palace. I hope they fare well under your hand."
Still too choked with emotion to respond, he took the small parcel from her and gently opened it. Inside were small, round seeds. He was quite fond of gardening as a method of relieving the stress of his many duties. He stared down at the seeds in awe before looking up at her again. Her eyes were bright, a mix of warmth and nervousness shining there. She was concerned that he would not appreciate her thoughtfulness. She needn't have worried.
"Your Highness," he begin softly, looking down at her with tender affection, "Words cannot thank you enough for your ever reaching kindness."
She beamed at him. "I am pleased," she said warmly. "Show me your blooms yourself, and I shall teach you the best method of caring for the seedlings."
He bowed to her before proffering her his arm once more. A small smile graced his mouth, quite a difference from its usual hard line, as she took his arm and began to animatedly talk about her love of his roses. Warmth and kindness flowed from her so easily. He could finally see what had enraptured Endymion so much.
He finished his story, the memory making his eyes soft as he looked at her. Her expression of sadness had not changed during his speech. He had hoped the memory would provide some measure of comfort to the Princess. He was sorely disappointed.
She gaped at him. She exists? That's enough? And she gave him a bag of seeds one time? Suddenly, she wrenched her hand away from him and exploded.
"That's not enough! Existing isn't enough! Birthday presents aren't enough! I'm Sailor Moon and I'm failing! I have to save the world because if I don't…..everyone will die, and it will be all my fault!" she screamed, tears once again falling freely.
She turned away from him and stared at the rising sun, once more overcome with a strong desire to forget her fate and simply enjoy the world around her. The sun was warm against her skin, in contrast to the breeze she felt cooling the tears on her face. The sand was inviting and sleep beckoned to her. Why couldn't she just enjoy it? Why did she have to have this destiny and then be so incompetent at fulfilling it?
Panic started to fill her again and she began hyperventilating. She couldn't do this, she didn't want to do this…
A hard stinging sensation on her face brought her out of her panic. Kunzite had just slapped her. She was about to sarcastically ask if all the Shittenou used to slap her around when Kunzite grabbed her chin and forced her to face him.
His eyes had narrowed and he stared at her with an intensity that reminded her of when he had been chasing her through the park. A little bit a fear raced through her.
"If you fail at saving the world, the fault will be with those who chose such a path of destruction! This unfortunate banner of savior has been placed upon you, but your right to exist does not depend upon your success! In what way are you failing? Is the world not still safe? Have you not dealt a powerful blow to your enemy by releasing Zoicite and myself from her power? How precisely are you failing at your duty?"
His hard gaze did not break, even as she considered his words.
"I….I...you saw me break down and cry at the park," she mumbled sadly, remembering that horrible feeling of dread when she saw him there.
He continued to stare. "Were you not feigning tears?"
She tried to shake her head, but he wouldn't release his grip from her chin. "No,…" she finished, feeling worthless.
"That makes your success all the more impressive," he calmly remarked.
She started, surprised. "You think I'm more successful because I was really scared?" she asked, a bit incredulously.
"I do not think you were more successful. I am simply impressed with your ability to perform in spite of your fears. You exhibited a great deal of courage that night," he stated, his eyes finally softening.
She then began to consider what he had been telling her. She wasn't the graceful, fearless warrior she wanted to be, yet…..the world was still safe from the Dark Kingdom and Zoicite and Kunzite were now free.
She blinked in surprise. "How…is this possible? How…has everything worked out so far when I'm not a fighter?" she asked, still in a daze.
He took his hand away from her chin and pointed to her heart. "Here, Your Highness. You have desired to protect those you love so fiercely that you have fought and you have won. That you try to fulfill your fate is all anyone can ask of you."
She…was winning. She was winning this fight because she was trying to win. For some reason, that simple fact had not occurred to her. She surely wasn't anyone's first choice to lead a fight to save the world, nor did she want to have anything to do with fighting. However, she was trying and, at least for now, that was good enough.
She sighed, the weight on her shoulders feeling just a little lighter.
Kunzite nodded down at her, relief at finally getting through to her filling him. He offered her his arm, as he had done so many eons ago.
"Let me escort you back to the cabin. The others have been quite worried about you," he said seriously.
She hesitated for a moment, but then slowly took his arm, feeling a sense of déjà vu wash over her.
Maybe Zoicite was right. Maybe she could believe in herself after all.
Artemis was not normally a vindictive person. He didn't tend to carry around grudges. However, he couldn't deny that maybe he had let Minako cry for just a little too long.
Minako was currently sobbing into her bed, arms clutching a pillow for dear life. She had been doing this ever since she had grabbed him off the street outside of Tuxedo Kamen's apartment, returned home, and spilled the story of what had happened after she had left the apartment.
To be more precise, the story of what had happened after she had abandoned him at the apartment with no one but a trussed up Shitennou as protection against a possible Dark Kingdom attack. That fact did not have Artemis in a good mood despite learning that he had been safe the whole time.
He decided to end her suffering, or at least most of it. What he had to tell her would not sit well with the Senshi of Love, and he had been debating all morning whether he should tell her or not.
"Minako-chan," he began gently, "Sailor Moon isn't with the Dark Kingdom. She's with Tuxedo Kamen."
Minako quickly pulled her face up from the pillow, her tear-streaked face and red puffy eyes making his heart leap out to her. He had definitely let her cry to long. He loved Minako like a daughter, so perhaps he should have been more forgiving of her teenage-led decisions, no matter how serious the implications.
"How…how do you know that!?", she demanded, staring into his face intently, silently begging for him to be telling the truth.
He look at her sadly and quickly told her what had transpired in the apartment after she had left. Her mouth hung open after he had finished.
"He's….he's been healed? He's no longer with the Dark Kingdom?", she asked desperately, eyes gleaming with hope.
Artemis' tail twitched in annoyance. "I think you should be more concerned to learn that the Princess isn't in the clutches of the Dark Kingdom," he stated, trying to be more matter of fact than harsh. He had forgiven her, but that didn't mean she shouldn't consider the very serious implications of her actions.
Minako's face fell as more tears well-up. "Of course…Serenity…I wasn't…I didn't….", she trailed off again, once more burying her face into the pillow and crying. "Why can't I focus on the Princess!?"
He sighed, and padded over to her, nuzzling her hair. "Minako-chan, do you even really remember Kunzite? Maybe you're focused too much on these emotions because they seem new and overwhelming." He seriously hoped he was right. It was certainly not in character for the Leader for the Senshi to put anything above the Princess' safety.
She looked up, affronted. "Of course I remember him! I remember…..", she trailed off, confusion clouding her face. "I remember…..being happy and loved," she whispered, suddenly realizing that her memories were mostly covered in fog, the emotions taking the forefront in her mind.
Artemis nodded sadly. It was no wonder Minako had acted like this. With an emotionally absent father and a mother who could only criticize her, having that sense of love and belonging would mean more to Minako than anything else. If only she could remember the Princess, too. Memories of Serenity should incite similar feelings, but being a teenager, romantic love had obviously taken root as priority in Minako's mind.
He didn't want to tell her, but maybe having to make this decision would force her to focus more on her duties.
He took a deep breath. "Minako-chan….Kunzite gave me a message for you."
Her head jerked up again from the pillow. Her breathing picked up. "What…what did he say?", she asked, her eyes wide with hope.
Oh, how he hated to crush her spirit. Kunzite had been none too happy when he passed along his message. However, it had to be said.
"He said," Artemis paused, looking Minako square in the eye, "he said that you needed to make a choice. You can either be Sailor Venus or his wife, but you can't be both."
Artemis' tail twitched back and forth nervously as he waited for Minako's reaction. Minako had frozen, staring at Artemis with unbelief in her eyes.
"He said….that?", she gasped staring at him, wishing it weren't true.
Artemis nodded sadly. "He did. He didn't seem happy that you chose him over the Princess. He took the Princess away because he said he doesn't trust you or the Senshi to take care of her right now," Artemis finished, deciding to tell her everything.
Minako slammed her hand into the pillow. "He has no right! He has no right to take the Princess and make me choose! That's an impossible choice!"
"Is it?" Artemis asked, seriously. Minako stopped ranting and stared at him, "Of course it is! Being Sailor Venus I who I am! I can't give that up!" she snapped at him, affronted that he would suggest otherwise.
"Well, it sounds like you make your choice then," Artemis answered gently, hoping she would stop romanticizing Kunzite long enough to focus on her duties.
Minako glared at him. "I can't give you Kunzite either! I need both of them in my life!"
Artemis sighed. "Minako-chan, all I know is that you need to start focusing on your mission as Sailor Venus, Leader of the Senshi. Everything else needs to be secondary, including Kunzite. That's what he's trying to tell you," he finished softly, willing her to understand.
Tears once again welled up in her eyes, as she again buried her face in the pillow. "Serenity…Kunzite. Why can't I have you both!?" she wailed, cursing Kunzite for giving her such an ultimatum.
Artemis gently nuzzled Minako's hair again. "Minako, I know this is really hard for you right now, but we need to find the other Senshi and tell them what happened. They're no doubt sick with worry about Sailor Moon," he nudged.
Minako nodded her head into the pillow, still crying. Artemis sighed again and laid down next to her. I'm sorry, Minako-chan, he thought, but as painful as this is, it's all part of growing up and accepting your duties.
Death filled the air. It clung to the decaying walls, seeped into every crevasse, ghosted across every surface. The smell of it hung heavy in the air like a macabre incense. Flames licked the blackened walls, casting eerie shadows against the ancient stone steps. Queen Beryl paid this no mind as she descended into the depths of the Dark Kingdom, flanked by two youma. She had one solitary focus, her one remaining trump card. As she neared the entrance to the dungeons, the smell finally forced the queen to cover her face, her eyes watering. Ignoring these sensations, she crossed the threshold into one of the cells, staring at a face permanently frozen in a silent, horrifying scream. She held out her hand in front of that face and willed her magic forth. The crystal surrounding the face began melting into a puddle around her skirts. Once the face was free, it started screaming, eyes daring back and forth wildly, unfocused. It continued to scream as the rest of the body was also freed, then fell to the ground still screaming.
"Grab him," she ordered the two youma, who willfully obeyed.
The screaming man had clearly lost his sanity, for he began beating his hand against the wet floor and continued screaming, drool and blood running down his face.
The two youma hauled him to his feet, but the screaming didn't stop. This didn't matter to the queen. Once she filled his mind with dark energy once more, his sanity would return and he would have no memory of his ordeal.
You won't have this one so easily, Sailor Moon, she thought, a smirk coming to her face as she turned to leave the dungeons, the two youma following in her wake with their screaming cargo. I'll pour every ounce of dark energy into him. He'll be mine forever! This final thought brought a laugh to her throat, the sound echoing against the walls, providing a sick counterpoint to Jadeite's insane screams as they ascended once more.