Chapter Eight: Quiet Nights Breed Quiet Stars

Disclaimer: I don't own Sailor Moon or Gundam Wing.

It had happened again. All Rei could do was lie in her bed, worry marks wrinkling at the vertex of her eyebrows as she frowned and grasped the sheets at her side. They'd been up late into the hours of the morning; Minako and Wufei did not return to the room and the Queen never made an appearance. Sally Po appeared after a few more minutes of waiting and had explained that the Queen had called for a later meeting of midday. Needless to say Rei's mounting displeasure with the haphazard structure of her return was beginning to bubble at the top of the glass. She and Ami had parted ways, that strange Trowa character following her into the medical wing of the palace.

But these worries were not what consumed Rei's mind at the moment. In her mind it was something far more bothersome, something that evoked a frustrating emotion within her. The first one hadn't happened long ago and she remembered the exact same welling unease within her chest. It had been the morning before she'd had her talk with Quatre…that morning she'd had a dream. What caused her to cross her arms over her eyes and groan with aggravation, however, was the fact that she was not able, no matter how hard she tried, to recollect one iota of information from that dream. Not a picture, not a word, nothing. The only thing she could remember was a drastic, heavy sensation of pure disquiet churning in the pit of her stomach.

That feeling had returned.

She knew that she'd dreamt again, that awareness was a function imbedded deep within her consciousness. What she'd dreamt, however, eluded her once again and left her with a residual, sickly feeling within her body. Rei emitted a tiny groan and placed a hand to her stomach, not quite able to determine how she felt about the physical ramifications of her otherwise subconscious endeavor. Her ability, her foresight and senses were trying to tell her something, trying to evince some sort of vital information. Since there was a glitch somewhere within her causing the data not to pervade throughout the entirety of her usable brain, her body was adhering to the brain's request and shifting the info from mental to physical sensitivity.

She tossed an eye to the clock by her bed and watched as the digital numbers taunted '9:34' right back at her. Rei turned her eyes back to the ceiling and ran a hand down her tired face. She'd gone to bed approximately three and a half hours ago and felt no immediate urge to fall back asleep. Her mind was working precariously around the edges of the information she could not detect, trying with all her might to divulge what exactly she'd seen while she'd slept. She felt weary but she didn't feel sleepy.

Rei sat up and looked out of the sliver between her curtains that revealed a sparkling Crystal Tokyo. The single beam of light cut across her face, splitting her features disproportionately. She looked down with blank eyes as the line of light sliced down her torso and bed. She kept her head bent, facing her body and bed but lifted her eyes to watch the scope of Crystal Tokyo's blatant unawareness. She suddenly felt annoyed by the people of the city being totally unaware of the governmental storm brewing within its capitol's palace. She felt annoyed and yet she admired them, admired their blindness and their carefree atmosphere towards the fact that the foundation of Crystal Tokyo, and even perhaps that of Crystal Earth was about to be rocked to its molten core.

Throwing the covers from her body Rei slid her legs around and got out of bed.

Minako almost felt hung over. Her head pounded when she awoke, a dull beat that persisted for several minutes. She waited for it to die down but when it refused to do so she acknowledged the fact that such heavy crying and stress had given her a stuffy headache. Her eyes felt swollen as she squinted into the day's sun from her bed. She felt like a night owl, going to bed so late—or early rather—and waking up so gosh darn late.

Turning to see what the damage was this morning she was startled with slight surprise as the clock read just a few minutes past ten in the morning.

So much for sleep.

She smacked a hand over her eyes and groaned before her heart gave a mild jump. A smell had wended its way into the lines of her palm and stained her skin with its memories. She held her hand above her face watching as her fingers fought to stay steady and wondered just what had happened. Hesitantly she brought her hand to her nose and inhaled, pulling sharply away before leaning up and slowly inhaling deeper. It wasn't a putrid stench, in fact it was quite the opposite. It was sweet with a feeble musk, like jasmine incense. Her hand smelled distinctly of…Wufei; it smelled of his hands, of his chest, of his neck and his hair. Minako swallowed, the dry sensation unsettling. She'd nearly forgotten about what had happened last night.

She'd kissed Wufei. She'd kissed Wufei. She'd kissed Wufei.

Minako smacked her hand against her forehead harshly, closing her eyes and groaning as she rolled over. Memories came flooding back to her of their split second downfall. She remembered her hands tight around the collar of his shirt pulling him as close to her body as she could muster as his hands ran hotly through her hair. His hands had been cupping her face—harshly at first before his grip loosened. She could remember bending to his dominating stature as his lips worked furiously against her own. Her breathing had been ragged as they pressed their bodies close, the rapid connection of their eager lips the only course of action running through Minako's blank mind.

Wufei had pulled away first, hands sliding from seizing her face to grasping her shoulders. Their noses still barely touched, Minako looking down, unable to bring her eyes to his. This wasn't going to work and she knew it, it had been an emotionally encouraged slip…one that had revealed more to Wufei than it had to herself. But no matter what feelings fluttered in her chest she knew that whatever had happened between them would be nothing but a dream by the next day.

"Minako…" he'd started, taking a small step back, hands gripping her shoulders as she'd sighed. She'd known what was going to happen even before she'd kissed him. It was not necessarily an action that was emotionally void (in fact it had been quite the opposite) but within the confines of their already established relationship they would have to be careful. In essence, giving in to their desires was not a part of their duty.

Somebody cleared their throat and the two jumped miles apart. Minako grabbed her shoulder shyly and glanced towards the door where Sally Po stood, sticking her body out just far enough to relay her information. When they'd been told that the meeting was rescheduled they nodded, followed Sally Po into the building, and went their separate ways.

Minako gave a tiny whimper after remembering the scene like a movie playing in her head. If anybody, anybody knew what happened they would be done for. She and Wufei would most likely be out of a job and be subjected to years worth of scrutiny.

And then she remembered exactly why she'd been in such a horrible emotional state and the spat she'd had with Ami and Rei.

Minako suddenly had no desire to get out of bed and face reality.

Ami inspected his forehead carefully, removing the bandages she'd placed there the night before. She pushed his hair back gently and leaned in to see if the wound had become infected. The cut was scabbing over, primary hemostasis working its wonders to protect Trowa's skin and she pressed around the outside of it, a tender, pink ring rimming the once bloody mess.

Ami must have been too absorbed in her inspection of his wound to notice how invasive she was of his personal space. She felt her nose brush against something and looked down, only then noticing that her own blue eyes were very close to his green ones, her view near enough to notice tiny flecks of hazel that dotted his irises. A split second later she noticed that what her nose had been brushing up against was, in fact, his nose.

"Oh!" she cried softly, pulling back quickly with a sharp intake of breath. "I'm so sorry, I was just too intent on checking your injury and I…I'm sorry I was in your personal space and—" She tried to explain and apologize further but Trowa grabbed her hand.

"It's fine," he said sternly, manipulating her hand so that her pointer finger was aimed in the direction of his wound. "All I need is for you to heal this."

She swallowed dryly and nodded, a blush destroying any sense of calm she tried to exude. She couldn't help the fierce patter of her heart that thumped at her chest but she was able, through professional ability, to keep her hands steady. The night before, she'd cleaned and dressed his wounds properly, albeit quickly, and said goodnight, knowing that if anybody needed sleep it was her. However, Ami had never been one to be able to sleep late, an infernal internal clock waking her every morning at 7:30.

She began re-bandaging his forehead after she'd diagnosed no infection, the white gauze slowly protecting the slice. Ami sighed, her hands slowly working the whiteness around his head. Her head pounded with the need to sleep and yet, for some reason, her body wouldn't allow it.

"You look tired. Perhaps you should sleep more."

Ami's fingers stopped, one hand pressing gently to keep the gauze in place while the other grasped at the roll. She pursed her lips slightly, squinting down towards the ground. "I can't," she responded, finally continuing with her ministrations. "We have a meeting today."

Trowa raised an eyebrow. "You did pass out last night."

If Ami hadn't been so out of her wits his slightly harsh statement would have seemed vaguely suggestive.

With a frown she finished winding the gauze around his forehead. "Because you shoved me into a wall," she mumbled humorlessly, reaching for the tape and placing a small piece where the bandage ended. It took her awhile to realize what she'd said before Ami pulled back with a tiny gasp. "I'm sorry!" she squeaked, placing a hand to her heart. "It's just that when I get tired I tend to—"

"Say what you really mean?"

"No," she responded quickly with a frown, turning her back to him to place her materials in her bag. She could feel his eyes on her back unnervingly and felt slightly captive to his almost emotionless gaze. "I tend to be blunt." Turning back around she held up a tiny, squished piece of metal and leaned back casually against the table. "Care to tell me how you managed to acquire that lovely cut there?" she asked, changing the subject.

Trowa knew what she was doing and humored her. "Not really."

Ami squinted in his direction, not really in the mood for games or folly. "I'm sure you can try—since I did save your life and all."

Trowa leveled her with that same, heavy stare. "I didn't want your help," was his simple reply.

Ami felt a small bout of anger rising in her chest and took two deep breaths. "Whether or not you wanted it, you needed it and you got it so I expect a decent amount of courtesy and respect on your part. Now I would be grateful if you could please describe to me the context of the situation in which you found yourself shot at," was her long winded reply.

Trowa shrugged his shoulders. "I got caught."

Ami raised an eyebrow. She made a general circular hand movement for him to continue and explain further. "You got caught doing what?"

Trowa sighed and Ami, for the first time, witnessed some semblance of fatigue flash across his features for a moment. It was kind of warming to know that he felt comfortable enough, or tired enough, to let the stone-like façade fall away and reveal a more personable veneer. "Setsuna asked me and…" he paused as if having said too much, running a hand down his face and rubbing his eyes.

Ami squinted. You and who?

"I told you I'm a part of a fighting ring, right?" At Ami's nod he continued. "The location of the brawl is texted only hours before and once you arrive the fighters are chosen at random." Trowa yawned suddenly and ran a hand through his hair. Ami was blessed with a split second of his second green eye before his bangs fell back into place. "Two of the men in the ring are a part of the Coup D'état—Pierre Henry and Marcel Lefevre. She asked me to follow them to see if I could find where Francois Elan rallied."

Ami's heart thudded in her chest and she swallowed dryly. "So you knew about the Coup D'état before we brought it up in the mortuary?" she asked, almost hurt by the fact that he'd kept this vital information out of their brainstorm the night before.

"I knew about the Coup D'état, sure, but its actual relevance was beyond me." He looked up slowly and made eye contact with her, his harsh green watching her blue irises carefully. "Needless to say it didn't go over so well."

Ami, unnerved by his intense stare, cleared her throat and turned away, pushing herself from the table. "Did you get anywhere?" she asked quietly, placing the small bullet into her medical bag.

"Only so far as the Waisuke district on the east side."

Ami was quiet for a moment and Trowa watched her carefully. He could see how tired she was not only by the bags sitting prominently beneath her eyes or the pink twinge that surrounded them from the constant rubbing, but also the sheer lack of energy in her posture and her almost slumped shoulders.

He didn't mean to sound worried but…"You should really go back to bed."

Ami clicked her tongue and looked out the window, not wanting to make eye contact. "My body won't allow me to do that, Trowa."

He shook his head slowly. "Frankly you won't be of any help if you're stalking around like a zombie."

Ami's eyes swiveled quickly back to his face. "I do not stalk," she said in rebuttal, lifting her fingers gently to her face with a concerned look before muttering, "and I do not look like a zombie."

Trowa smirked and stood, crossing his arms across his blue sweater and shrugging his shoulders. Ami couldn't help but stare at his arms for a moment. They definitely exemplified a fighter's arms and she couldn't help but wonder about the vast musculature and the sinewy fibers that amassed to produce such a finely toned specimen.

She was brought out of her revere with a blush by Trowa's voice. "No, you don't stalk. You shuffle." Ami opened her mouth to refute that statement once more but Trowa cut her off, continuing. "And you don't look like a zombie…" he stood and stepped towards her until his crossed arms almost brushed her body. The sheer vicinity of his body was enough to perpetuate the blush on Ami's face, the rouge stain spreading to her neck. "You look overworked," he finished. Ami swallowed harshly and Trowa closed his eyes softly. "Let's go to your room, I think I have an idea."

It took Ami's brain a moment to register exactly what he'd said but when it was finally roused from it's momentary lapse into la-la land, it came out comprehending only the perverse connotation of his suggestion. "E-excuse me?" she asked, not able to hide her flustered appearance anymore.

Trowa raised an eyebrow as he watched her stumble for words. Obviously she'd taken what he'd said the wrong way. "Don't worry," he said curtly yet reassuringly, "I don't mean sex."

Ami felt like she wanted to either curl up in a dark corner or throw up. The situation had morphed into something far beyond awkward as she couldn't help her mind from imagining slightly naughty things beyond her control. She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head vigorously. "O-oh, no, of course not! I hadn't meant…" she pursed her lips, "I didn't think you meant—I mean I wouldn't want to have," she held up her hands quickly and waved them, "I mean, not that I don't find you—!" eventually Ami gave up and covered her face with her hands, feeling like she was sixteen again.

She mumbled something incoherent into her palms and Trowa smirked, grabbing her elbow. "Come on," he said, leading her out of the medical wing by her elbow, her hands still covering her face tightly as she shuffled behind him.

Ami sighed gently. "I don't understand how this is supposed to work."

Trowa sat in a plump chair pulled up to the edge of her bed. One leg was folded onto the seat of the chair while he pulled the other to his chest and let his arm rest flaccidly on his knee. His eyes stared calmly out of the window beside her bed as he spoke to her. "You don't necessarily need to understand," he explained, turning to face her. The sunlight from the city played small shapes across his face and illuminated his eyes.

Ami groaned and shoved her face into a pillow. "This is not going to work," she mumbled, the sound muffled by her pillows.

Trowa shrugged and turned back to the window. "If you think that way then it won't."

Ami lifted her head, knowing that her frazzled hair stuck up at odds and ends, and glared at him. With a harrumph she settled back into her bed. "Fine, oh guru. Work your magic and put me to sleep, please." She waved her hands around in an attempt to portray magic before finally resting her head onto her pillow.

"Are you done making fun of me?" he asked, no expression easing onto his face and his eyes remained plastered to the city beyond the window.

Ami blushed in embarrassment and tried to snuggle deep into her plush bedding to hide herself. She couldn't really help it. When she was exhausted she tended to be very blunt and slightly sarcastic. "Done," she squeaked, trying to ignore the heat on her cheeks and slow the quick thrum of her blood rushing through her veins.

Trowa turned slowly to face her, his green eyes sharp in the penetrating fragments of light. It seemed as if the only brightness that seeped through her curtains enveloped him in wisps of luminosity, highlighting his every feature and portraying a near flawlessness within him. The only thing that seemed starkly out of place was the stoic white bandage that encircled his forehead.

"Do you smell the tea?" was all he asked.

Ami looked at the steaming cup of lavender tea sitting on her small bedside table. Curls of steam rose and faded, squirming like tentacles from the still liquid beneath it. She inhaled softly, the warm fragrance of lavender invading her nostrils and filling her nasal passage with a welcomed sweetness. She nodded. "But don't drink it."

Trowa shook his head. "Don't drink it." He pushed the cup closer to her, watching carefully as the tea toppled precariously before seesawing back to safety. "Just smell it."

Ami nodded, looking to him for instruction. "Now what?" she asked, as if it were a procedure.

"Close your eyes," came his simple command. Ami did so and was immediately hit with the inability to open them. Her body relaxed into her bed, the sunlight filtering in from her windows making the room warm but the small breeze that flitted through her hair kept it from becoming hot.

Her body felt heavy but the pounding in her head began to cease as she felt herself beginning to become drowsy. She really didn't want to admit it but Ami was almost sure that it was the sound of his voice and the fact that he was watching over her that made her body relax so fast. Sure the tea had soothed her but the low and calming pitch of his voice was less cold than usual and carried a softer note to it.

"You're very good at this," she mumbled sleepily, finally letting the sand man come over her and shut her tired brain off.

She heard him chuckle softly and Ami couldn't help but peek an eye open. He sat in the same position, the sunlight still giving him an unearthly glow as a small smile picked at his lips. Instead of becoming uncomfortable or shy she smiled back sleepily and closed her eyes firmly.

"Thank you, Trowa," she said softly before finally drifting off into a much needed slumber. She couldn't remember if it was a dream or reality but she could have sworn that she heard him respond in kind as the world and its cumbersome worries faded away.

"You're welcome, Ami."

Later in the day…

"Unbelievable…" Makoto growled to herself, fixing the sunglasses that rested fashionably on her nose. After they'd quietly left the palace, Hotaru took them into the heart of the city. Using what money she had, the younger girl bought them all clothes and was currently treating them to lemonade at an outside café.

Why Makoto was so frustrated, however, was not because of the heat or the expensiveness of the café, as she heard all of the other patrons tut-tut about disapprovingly. It was the fact that, despite her quick healing abilities, her lower back and shoulder still throbbed in pain and she was forced to wear sunglasses because of a slight ocular quandary due to the side effects of the beginning mutations. It was the fact that her neck sported a white bandage doused in an ointment to prevent scabbing, quarantine from the palace wanted to kill them—thus making her new home not so homely—they were lounging around drinking lemonade while monsters hid in the crevices of their precious city, she hadn't slept since Hotaru woke her in quarantine, and she was basically on the run with a rag-tag group of people.

"Unbelievable," she muttered again sourly, shaking her head slightly with a frown.

Duo turned to her with an annoyed glance before looking to Heero. "Does she always complain this much?" he asked as Makoto sent a glare his way.

"More," was all Heero said as he took a small sip of his lemonade.

"I resent that!" Makoto pouted, turning to face the other agent. He too wore a pair of sunglasses due to their small issue. They'd been walking down the street when Makoto had noticed her reflection in a window. Something seemed slightly…off, so she stopped and peered harder into the glass. Hotaru had asked what was wrong when she'd gasped and scurried over to them, covering her eyes with her hands.

"Mako-chan…what are you doing?" Hotaru asked carefully.

Makoto looked around suspiciously, making sure nobody was staring in their direction before lifting her visor-like hand and revealing her eyes to the younger girl. Hotaru placed a surprised hand to her mouth as Duo raised an eyebrow. "I thought you said nothing was going to happen to me!" she whispered harshly, shielding her eyes as someone walked past them.

"If I remember correctly," Hotaru started, "I believe I said that you would get some side effects but that they would wear off in time." She carefully looked around before leaning in and whispering, "You were only bit hours ago, Makoto, and the effects have yet to even take place."

Makoto had swallowed harshly and looked up to Heero, noticing that his eyes held the same affect hers had embraced. Both of them were exhibiting bright red irises, a piercing color that reminded her far too much of the monster that'd infected them.

And so now they sat carefully at the café, waiting for Hotaru to return with the pie that she'd been craving. Soon the cheerful, young girl came and sat down at the table, her smile teeming with elatedness as she licked her lips.

Makoto shook her head in envy. "You are far, far too chipper."

"Don't rain on my parade, Makoto," Hotaru responded quickly and distractedly, not tearing her eyes from the glistening, warm pie in front of her. She dug her fork in slowly and popped a piece into her mouth, closing her eyes and almost groaning at the delicious, sweet taste.

Makoto harrumphed, obviously in a bad mood as she leaned back in her chair. The good ole youngin' got to eat her pie happily while the rest of them had to sit in some form of disguise or another. Sure, she and Heero were only graced with sunglasses. But Duo, on the other hand, in order not to be noticed from his once revolutionary glory, was wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap and casually blowing bubble gum. He'd kept the long braid, opting not to cut it claiming that short hair would make him more recognizable since it'd been cropped long ago, but Makoto had a distinct feeling that he'd grown some manly love for that braid.

They sat in silence for a moment while Hotaru ate her pie happily and Makoto sulked moodily.

"What is our next plan of action?" Duo asked, linking his hands behind his head and leaning back casually, blowing a bubble with his bubble gum.

Hotaru shrugged her shoulders. "We contact the queen."

Heero looked to the young girl and Makoto stared at her in confusion. "I'm sorry, we do what now?" she asked, raising a confused eyebrow. "Is it not that entire fastidious establishment that we're trying to escape?"

"Fastidious, nice word," Duo commented absent mindedly as he smirked at a cute girl who walked by. She giggled behind her hand as her friends threw him appraising looks.

Makoto rolled her eyes as Hotaru answered, still enthralled by her pie. "No, it's only quarantine that we're trying to stay away from, you know that Usagi wouldn't have let them kill you in a million years had she known, Mako-chan."

Makoto suddenly felt a strange pang course through her body at Hotaru's words. She looked down to her fiddling hands and wondered exactly what it would feel like when she was reunited with the other Senshi…if it would ever happen. She was glad that she was wearing sunglasses because a flitter of emotion passed over her eyes that she would have rather kept hidden from any outside sources. It wasn't a guilty feeling, it wasn't sad, it was merely uncertain.

Heero watched her become silent out of the corner of his eye, keeping his arms crossed firmly across his chest. He turned to Hotaru. "How do we contact the queen if we're not able to get back in the palace?" he asked lowly, trying not to draw any outside attention to their gathering. He understood why Hotaru brought them to the busiest part of town, a place where people focused only on themselves and what they needed to do instead of eavesdropping on another person's conversation, but all of the ruckus was distracting. If it had been a quieter part, sure, they could have focused more, but what was being said would also have been projected loud and clear.

"This," she said, holding up a small, pink device.

Duo leaned forward, intrigued. "It looks like a toy…" he mumbled and Hotaru pulled it back, slightly offended.

"They're our communicators," Makoto said as Hotaru nodded. The brunette shrugged her shoulders. "Fire it up, Hotaru. Let's talk with the queen."

Duo looked appalled. "Here?" he asked, looking back and forth between the two girls. "Now?"

But Hotaru had already pushed a button on the device. Something appeared on the tiny screen and Hotaru began to speak softly, the other three people unable to hear her words. She ignored their questioning looks and soon the trio leaned back in their chairs, waiting for Hotaru's update.

In the mean time, Heero, comfortably situated in his chair, looked carefully over to Makoto's neck. His eyes felt drawn to the white patch on her there, knowing exactly what lay beyond that bandage. He couldn't help the small urge building within him to draw blood from that wound once more. Since she'd become his host Heero couldn't help the fact that his mind had been filled with her blood that entire day. Being quite restrained himself, however, he was able to suppress the desire fully from being expressed in any way. The infection was working faster than he'd expected and it was strange not being able to control the mere urges his body sustained. However, despite whether he liked it or not Heero wasn't quite sure if what he yearned for was the agents in her blood that would heal him or frankly just her blood.


The agent looked up from Makoto's neck to her eyes with a blank expression, not that she could necessarily read what was behind his sunglasses. The way she'd said his name had been soft and full of worry and he nearly abhorred her for it. "It's fine," he said curtly, looking away and only then noticing the small crack in the glass of lemonade he'd subconsciously been holding. His grip relaxed and he set the cup down, turning to Hotaru as she put away her little communicator and looked up towards the group.

"Interesting news…" she began.

"What do you mean you've stepped down?" Haruka asked sharply from her position against the wall. She was tired and she was cranky and the queen's ludicrous statement had simply set her off the edge. She gained reprimanding glances from the Black Ops agents and Wufei but she ignored them.

Usagi stood before the Senshi, minus Hotaru, Makoto, and Setsuna, and the Black Ops initiates plus Wufei and Trowa. She was garbed in nothing but a pink sundress and white slip-ons. Her crown was not on her head and her crystal had been set back into the brooch she wore before becoming queen. She still, however, carried herself with a certain grace and her beauty was by no means downplayed. She looked to Mamoru, who stood beside her, and then looked back to the people gathered in front of her after his encouraging nod.

"Not officially, Haruka. Mamoru will take over my position for now but while we're faced with such an intense enemy I can't just readily stand by. It's been my duty to protect this city and this planet since I was 14 and I intend to uphold that honor." Usagi looked out at those before her with a small smile. "I need to become Sailor Moon again."

Michiru frowned and was about to articulate a particular fact before Rei beat her to it.

"And what will you do when another strong enemy appears? Will you place your obligations on Mamoru's shoulder's once more?" Rei clasped her hands and leaned forwards, well aware of the slightly reproachful glances she was receiving. "Will you step down from queen every time an enemy appears?"

The quiet smile was never erased from Usagi's features. She stood there in a pocket of thought for a moment, hands clasped in front of her as she looked out to those who stood or sat before her. "If need be," she responded firmly. Michiru opened her mouth to say something again but Usagi held up her hand. When she spoke her tone was a bit stronger. "My duty is first and foremost protector of this city and world. I'm not some political genius and that sphere is not the realm I chose for myself. I was given my powers for a reason, as were all of you, and when the people and the place I love is threatened by something, I don't choose to stand idly by and watch the destruction unfold."

Usagi placed a hand to her heart and looked down. "A team is defined by a group of people working together to achieve a certain goal," she continued, keeping her eyes trained to the polished ground. "We may not be the team we once were but we are definitely still a team." She finally looked up with a gentle smile.

One could have dropped a pin in the room at that moment and it would have sounded like a roaring thunderstorm. Anybody who wasn't a Senshi in the room suddenly felt like the odd man out. Usagi's words, though spoken for all to hear, were obviously geared more towards her…team. Usagi sucked the dry air deeply into her lungs and slowly breathed out. Then suddenly it was as if her regality shifted, her shoulders were slumped a little lower and her posture was a little less perfect. "We need to work together," were her final words.

She watched carefully as slowly, one by one, the girls and guys gave her silent nods of approval or some form of acknowledgement. Turning to her husband she placed a hand to his arm and smiled. "Now if everyone would be so kind, I'd like to speak to—"

Mamoru leaned down and placed a kiss to her forehead. "We understand," was his simple response as he left her side and disappeared through the door. The Black Ops agents, Wufei, and Trowa got the hint and followed silently in his footsteps, still not quite sure what to make of the development.

Once they'd disappeared Usagi's silent smile slowly melted away. She watched the door slowly close and as it shut completely the air suddenly felt sucked from the room. Her eyes shifted from material to human and she watched as her Senshi struggled to wrap their brains around the situation as well. As she'd expected, Haruka was the first to speak up.

"You shouldn't put yourself—"

Usagi cut her off. "Please don't tell me that my place is not with you guys," she nearly pleaded, holding up her hands as if to fend off Haruka's words.

The tall blonde still frowned, her arms crossed tightly beneath her breasts. "You're the queen. You need to be protected—"

Minako snorted from her lazy position in a chair. "You didn't seem so worried about that fifteen years ago."

Haruka's harsh glare was replaced and situated firmly on Minako's stubborn position. Her eyes remained steadfast on the blonde now returning her glare but her words were issued towards Usagi. "To be frank, you'd be a liability." Usagi frowned.

Ami read her look and explained. "Based off of what we've seen so far it would be nearly impossible to do our Senshi duties." Ami placed a finger to her chin and crossed her legs, resting her elbow on her knee. "After a brief encounter Makoto's already been put into intensive care. Agent Noin claims it to be a monster beyond all belief. If we were so focused on keeping you protected then our initial duty to defeat the hybrids would become much more difficult."

Usagi placed her hands on her hips. "Do you think I can't take care of myself?" she asked.

Michiru shook her head. "It's not that," she began to explain. "It's the fact that if Ami, for example, were seriously injured I'd be less preoccupied than if you were seriously injured."

Usagi looked almost appalled. Her mouth hung slightly open with barely contained shock before she regained what she could of her composure. "Then that ends here," she said firmly, as if putting her foot down. "Ami and I are equals. We're all equals. Our duty is to save these hybrids not to worry about my well being."

"It's not that easy—" Haruka began but was cut off by Usagi's near shriek.

"Then make it that easy!" she cried, throwing her hands into the air. "Do none of you understand?" she asked, looking at each and every one of them. "This is not about me. This is not about you! This is about saving peoples lives and the duty we have to do so. Do you not understand? It's the whole reason we're here on this planet!" Her chest heaved, arms spread wide to accentuate her brief outburst as five women stared back at her.

Rei leaned back in her chair, the squeak resounding in the suddenly quiet room. "Fine," she said nonchalantly, her voice soft yet easily heard. All eyes turned in her direction. "I recognize the fact that this is a job meant to save other's lives, not to protect yours."

Usagi smiled graciously. She turned to face Haruka and Michiru. They looked at each other, a silent battle waged mutely between them. Haruka sighed and looked down before begrudgingly nodding. Michiru smiled and turned to face Usagi, nodding as well.

The blonde turned to face Ami. The blunette still had her finger to her chin, a speculative look encapsulating her eyes. "I still don't understand what this means," she said gently. When Usagi opened her mouth to speak she held up a hand. "I mean, I get what you're saying but frankly where does that leave all of us? What terms are we on now? Do things just…" she waved her hands around, "go back to normal?"

Usagi shook her head. "I can't just snap my fingers and ask for everything to be alright. I can't tell anyone how to feel," she said. Then she raised a finger. "What I can do, however, is let things move at their own pace. Minako."

The blond looked up from her chair.

"To you I would like to apologize."

Minako looked surprised. "Apologize?" she asked carefully as if she hadn't heard right.

Usagi nodded. "You were the one who stayed with me, stayed by me not for your own selfishness but for mine." Usagi placed a hand to her heart. "I feel as if that's taken away fifteen years of potential freedom you could have had." She watched as Minako looked down, the slightly angry expression on her face very readable. "But I have you to thank more than anyone. You, Minako, are the most amazing person I think I've ever met."

When she didn't dare to explain further Minako looked up slowly.

"Which is why," Usagi started again, "when this is all over we are going to hold a ball."

Minako couldn't help it when her ears perked at the word. Her inner girl surfaced and her face flushed. She'd begged Usagi in her earlier years to host a ball, a grand one like they'd had in the Silver Millennium. Minako cleared her throat and looked down, suddenly overcome with a fiery feeling that she would not be bought out.

"I know that doesn't settle everything or even anything," Usagi explained, "and it's not supposed to." She shook her head. "No, this ball will be for you, this ball will be recognizing your outstanding duty, your unwavering devotion, and the love you harbor for this city and this world. This ball, Minako, will be held in your honor." Usagi smiled down to her sitting posture. "There are no words that I can express to thank you, no amount of hugs I can give you for what you've done. You are my best friend and my gratitude is all I have to give."

Minako was not quite sure what to make of the development before her. Her mind was filled with years past, of happiness, of love, of the friendship that they all shared. There was nothing, nothing like a bond like that. But then there was also the disconnect and the contention she could still feel almost tangibly between all of them, herself and Usagi included. As much as she just wanted things to revert back to fifteen years ago or even further back she knew that time was eroding at the once pristine friendship they'd all had.

Minako sighed. She was well aware of the fact that the queen was not trying to buy her out. From the look in Usagi's eyes she could tell that this was her way of apologizing for what had happened between them in her office. She was being recognized as a protector, as a proficient soldier and staff member. She did her job well. Minako became aware of the tears building in her eyes and gave a disgusted cluck of her tongue, waving her hand and closing her eyes, turning away. "Jeez," she said, "fine, fine, I accept."

Usagi smiled gaily and bent down, grasping the sitting girl in a hug. The other blonde refused to face her, not entirely comfortable with the tears brimming in her eyes, but hugged her back slightly nonetheless.

Usagi stepped back and sat down in a chair, her appearance suddenly becoming very grim. "Now I have some troubling information for you concerning the hybrids…and Makoto," she said, watching as eyes quickly turned her way from whatever venue they'd been staring at previously. She shook her head. "And Setsuna's setting the strings of fate, as well."

Ami leaned forward, very ready to hear the news about her partner. "What's going on?" she asked, fearing the worst.

Usagi sighed. "Last night Agent Yuy and Makoto were brought in to urgent care. While going to process the third victim they came across one of the hybrids." Usagi pursed her lips. "In that encounter they were both severely hurt and…" her eyebrows creased, "and bitten."

Ten pairs of eyebrows shot into their hairlines, surprise the only feature evident on their faces. Rei was the first to come down from the surprise. "And the outcome?" she asked.

"At first we believed it was nothing but quarantine wanted to keep them under their care just in case. They did a blood test to see if there had been any internal effects." Usagi shook her head softly. "This morning quarantine contacted me in a frantic storm of worry. Apparently the tests came back revealing that both of their DNA was being altered."

Ami nearly looked horrified. "Altered?" she questioned softly.

Usagi nodded. "With time they would both become hybrids." Haruka made an exclamation but Usagi held her hand up, explaining exactly what Hotaru had told her over the communicator not but minutes ago. The room settled to a more repressed horror as she explained that Hotaru had released Duo due to Setsuna's command and that they were safe but hiding from quarantine.

"Can't you just call quarantine off?" Michiru asked logically

Usagi shook her head. "Quarantine is able to restrain and exterminate anything it deems sensibly worthy of harm to people. I have no control over that."

Minako looked confused. "But can't you tell them what Hotaru told you, about our blood and how Makoto has become…" she swallowed harshly, "a host?"

Usagi bit her nail. "I could try," she said softly though her eyes held an unsure light.

Haruka pushed herself from the wall. "That's all we ask," she said, standing tall. "But in the mean time what are we going to do now? What are we going to do about Makoto and Agent Yuy?"

Usagi quickly pointed to Ami. "You and Minako will work on deciphering the Lunarian letters." The two nodded. "About Makoto and Agent Yuy…all we can do is leave them in Hotaru and Setsuna's capable hands." She turned to the rest of the girls she had yet to address. "And that is where you all come in. Haruka, Michiru, tonight the higher society is having a get together, a party of sorts. You two have been signed on to be the music."

Michiru raised an eyebrow. "We have, have we?" she asked as Usagi smiled.

"Your job," the blonde said, "is to keep an eye on …her." She pointed directly at Rei.

Rei looked surprised. "Me?" she asked, pointing to herself and looking around the room, confused.

Usagi nodded. "I spoke with Director Po this morning. Apparently Setsuna's been in contact with her and introduced her to a kind young man named Quatre Winner."

Three mouths dropped open "Quatre?!" Rei, Haruka, and Michiru exclaimed, leaning forward in incredulity.

Usagi nearly laughed at their faces. "You," she said, pointing to Rei again, "will be his date."

Rei raised an eyebrow. "I'm sorry, I'll be what?" she asked, glaring at Usagi.

"His date."

"And why, pray tell, am I going to be Quatre's date to a party?"

Usagi smiled softly. The night before, Agent Noin had informed Sally Po of what her Senshi had talked about in the mortuary. Sally Po, there to inform Usagi about Quatre Winner, relayed to her the information she was about to share. "Francois Elan will be attending."

Haruka and Michiru looked at each other.

"Who's that?" they chorused.

After they'd decided a plan of action the girls began to leave. Just as Rei was about to step through the door Usagi captured her shoulder.

"Wait, Rei," she said. "Can we talk for a moment?"

Rei turned slowly, closing the door gently and nodding before walking back into the room. They stood there silently facing one another, neither quite sure what to say. Rei could feel the tension almost tangibly between them and was unnerved by its presence. She knew that there was a pain shifting between them, a virus that needed to be sucked out before it infected the entirety of their friendship. Rei sighed, knowing that she would have to be the one to start whatever meltdown was quickly approaching. She knew that she'd come across some understanding, some semblance of knowledge as to how her life was crumbling before her very own eyes. She cleared her throat.

"It was after about the sixth year…" Rei looked to the ceiling as she attempted to recall the exact setting upon which she'd come across her epiphany. She placed a delicate finger to her chin. "I was at home with a man, someone I'd been dating for about seven months."

Usagi couldn't help the swell of hurt that waved through her chest. It was strange to now hear about Rei's daily life, about how she'd finally come to garner the things they'd always dreamed about as kids. She felt a chip of her life had been missing, she hadn't been there to witness Rei succumb to infatuation with this man, she didn't know what he looked like, what he did, or even what his name was. For some reason everything felt so foreign.

Rei didn't miss the look that passed over Usagi's face but didn't feel the exuberant need to acknowledge it. Instead she continued on with her story. "I've never really felt anything for someone like I did for him, I've never felt the desire to even be with anyone or stay with anyone until I met him." Rei nearly sighed, missing the days when their relationship was far less complicated. "And it was that night that he told me he loved me."

Usagi swallowed dryly, the revelation hitting her firmly in the chest. She felt slight anguish tighten at her throat like a squeezing hand. How could Rei not have told her any of this? How had she not been informed that someone had fallen in love with her closest friend? How had they not gossiped for hours over miniscule details and…Rei's complex emotions for him in return?

Rei crossed her arms and sighed, closing her eyes gently. "He told me he loved me so much that he felt like we were soul mates." After a tense, pregnant pause, Usagi's eyes wide and awaiting her next words, Rei let out a scoff and an tiny smile grew on her lips that didn't reach her eyes. "It was then that I wondered, 'how do I explain to him that my soul is ultimately so irrevocably consumed by a duty and claimed by another's existence that it's almost as if it were not my own?' It was then that I asked myself, 'why, Rei, if this is true, did you even leave in the first place? Why would you strain the very bonds you've worked so hard to create when deep down inside you knew, you knew, that your soul was not your own to give?'"

Usagi's fist clenched tightly at her side and she suddenly felt weary. She felt weary, hurt, and regretful as Rei finally opened her eyes and looked at her. Her neck fluctuated with the effort it took to swallow and she couldn't help it when her eyes began to wet. "Rei," she said softly, deeply embarrassed by the fact that her voice shook with the strain of holding back her sorrow. Rei watched her and Usagi was able to see that beneath the overbearing sense of emotional fatigue there was some semblance of sadness. "Rei, I don't want to be the one responsible for your pain."

Rei closed her eyes again and ran a tentative hand through her hair gently. "Usagi," she said and the girl couldn't help but catch a slight reprimanding undertone. She seemed almost exasperated, Usagi's name nearly forced breathily from her chest. Rei sighed. "It's not anything you've done, Usagi. You are not responsible for my pain, it is not any thing you personally have done." She started to say something more but stopped herself. "It's hard to explain," she finished.

Usagi toyed with her wedding ring almost nervously. "Try," she urged.

Rei looked to the ceiling and her eyes blinked rapidly. Usagi's heart thumped in her chest harshly, realizing that this conversation was probably something Rei had thought about since she'd left the palace so long ago. The weight that had been set on their shoulders had accumulated over years and years and to finally have to ability to let it slide off and be able to stand tall once again was an emotionally taxing feeling. She reached out to touch Rei's shoulder but pulled back, slightly embarrassed when the raven-haired woman shied from her hand.

Rei's nostrils flared and her lips pursed with the effort it took to hold back her tears. "You can't help being you, Usagi," she said quickly, her voice bubbling with unshed grief. "You can't help who you are, who you were born to be…" Rei cut her own self off suddenly and clapped a hand over her eyes. She was silent, one hand fisted, not exactly sure where to go, the other hand nearly shaking and pressed firmly over her eyes. Usagi could see the strength Rei was exerting, her muscles flexed, as she clamped her hand ruthlessly over her eyes. The shake in her hand became more noticeable and Usagi felt ready to cry. Rei's lips turned down in a harsh frown, quivering slightly with the effort she put into restraining herself from crying. "And neither can I." Despite how hard she tried, it was obvious to Usagi that Rei was crying.

The queen couldn't admit that she was surprised when she felt her own tears begin sliding down her cheeks, hot trails scalding painful tracks into her innocent skin. She wiped them furiously from her face. "Rei, I—"

"It's not your fault," Rei said, keeping her hand over her eyes, still not willing to let anybody see her cry. "It could never be your fault, Usagi."

"Rei, that's just not true—"

"My soul may be ages old, it may harbor the same respect for the duty I am to uphold that is has for countless years, but my…" Rei's fisted hand unclenched itself slowly and pressed gently above her right breast. Despite the fact that she knew exactly what she wanted to say she couldn't help the swell of embarrassment that rose in her chest and the strict repression of the word. "I'm different."

Usagi, not as emotionally refined as Rei, was not afraid to let her emotions show plainly on her face or be heard in the room. She sniffled harshly and wiped at her tears again.

"It was just that the prospect of a life of my own, to find someone who would be there for my like Mamoru would be there for you…" Rei shook her head harshly and turned for the door, finally dropping her hand. Usagi faced her back, hand outstretched though not quite sure what it desired to do. Rei sniffled and took a deep breath, her voice finally steady once again. "It took me years to come to the conclusion that what I'd believed as a teenager, that men were the complete bane of my existence, that I didn't need them, was a defense mechanism. I concluded that it was my body's way of blaming my father for everything he'd done." She wiped her eyes with her dry hand. "And now it's taken me fifteen more to realize that it'd been my soul reinitiating the curse that will forever be a part of us Senshi…" Rei looked over her shoulder and Usagi caught a brief glance of her tired, sad eyes. "We're not meant to love or be loved by anyone but each other."

So shocked by her statement, Usagi felt it nearly impossible to rouse herself from her position as Rei walked towards the door slowly. The amethyst-eyed woman gripped the knob but paused for a moment, looking down to her feet.

"Rei, please don't say that," Usagi pleaded softly.

Rei gave a small, humorless chuckle. "Whether you express an insistence that the job not be about protecting you, Usagi, it doesn't matter. It always was about you, it always is about you, and it always will be about you, no matter how hard you try to refute it."

"Rei, please!" By now Usagi was almost begging.

"It's why we're here, Usagi. We were born solely to protect you. It's the reason we're alive. And I have to admit I'm glad that my duty is to protect you of all people. You and the girls are the closest thing I've had to a real, concrete family. For that, I'm willing to put my life on the line." Rei turned the knob and opened the door slightly. She had to admit she was thoroughly surprised when the door slammed shut with an unrivaled force. The sound snapped into her eardrums and she blinked furiously. Looking up she found Usagi's hand placed firmly on the door.

"Don't I get to say anything, Rei?!" she cried, tears coursing unabashedly down her face. "Don't I get to say my piece?" she asked, hand grasping at her chest.

Rei took her hand from the knob and turned slightly to face Usagi. She hated this feeling, she racked her brain to find any word harsher than hate to describe how much she abhorred, detested, loathed the feeling clenching at her chest like an unforgiving lock. Her body strained with an effort to keep her emotions in check, her body ached with the desire to scream, to cry, to hit something, to curl up into a ball and weep her sorrows away. But she couldn't. And she wouldn't.

"Don't you dare tell me that you're not meant to love or be loved by anyone else!" Usagi nearly screamed, her chest heaving with the emotions Rei yearned to express herself. "Have you learned nothing?" she pleaded, looking the Senshi of Mars directly in her eyes. Her face was nearly a mottled red and her eyes held a furious passion. She threw her arm out as if to display something dramatically. "All I can advocate is love, Rei!" She heaved a breath. "Do you remember what you said to me?"

Rei didn't even need her to say when or where, she knew exactly what Usagi meant. She nodded.

"Imagine a life without Mamoru, Usagi," Rei had said.

"Rei, that's not fair—"

"You know, out of all of these years I think that you've fallen out of love with him," Rei urged, trying to goad the reaction from Usagi that she desired, the one that would help demonstrate what she meant.

Usagi gasped, her face looking aghast and appalled at Rei's words. "What are you saying? Rei, why are you doing this?" She knew she didn't mean it, she knew there was something she was trying to get at. Sure they fought all the time but there was no way that she could actually have meant her words…was there?

Rei shook her head. "Getting around the question Usagi only makes it seem like I'm right."

"How could you possibly say that, you know I love Mamoru!"


"No!" she cried, swiping her arm across the air as if to fend off her words in a battle. "How dare you doubt my love for him. That's unbelievably absurd! I've loved him all of my life, we've been through so much together. Rei, we've died for each other in more ways than one! We're going to have a child together! I love him more than anyone could ever imagine, it's an inexplicable feeling that captivates my whole body." She pressed a hand to her heart and clenched the fabric that resided over it. "I can't live without Mamoru. I'm so in love with him. And the fact that you would doubt this hurts me more than anything."

Rei smiled and looked at her as if she finally got it. "And I guess I'll never understand that feeling."

Turning slowly Rei walked away.

"That Rei, that was precisely what allowed me to finally let you guys go. That was what made me realize that I was being selfish! I wanted you to find that same feeling, Rei, and this is the conclusion you came to?" she asked softly, her tears finally slowing as her confusion and hurt seeped through.

Usagi sighed, placing a gentle hand to her own forehead. "You've seen the Galaxy Cauldron, Rei, you know that new stars, new souls are being produced every moment. You know how beautiful it is, you've seen it with your own eyes." Usagi reached out and grasped Rei's arm, knowing that the girl wasn't going to pull away. "Your soul was created there too. Your very existence was forged mere feet from where you stood." She grabbed Rei's chin and turned it softly to face her own. "Yes, we may have an obligation that's strenuous, that's taxing, that pulls on our heartstrings and toys with our emotions but we are people. We're people, Rei, we're stars. We've been born with the right to live according to nobody's rules but our own." She let go of her chin and instead embraced her in a tight hug. Usagi couldn't necessarily believe what she was about to say but…

"Quiet nights breed quiet stars. And in that fateful silence they find their place and grow. They grow and fashion the beautiful beings we serve to protect. They grow to become the people that we love, Rei, and they grow to become the people that will love us." Usagi let her go. "That's just the way it is. That's the way it's always been." She shook her head gently and smiled to herself, all tears wiped away. "And that's precisely why I need to step down. I don't enjoy being Neo-Queen Serenity, Rei, that's not who I am."

Rei finally turned her entire body to face Usagi, her lips curled slightly upwards in a ghost of a smile. It had yet to actually reach her eyes but the dead-like pain that they'd exuded before was no longer there.

Usagi let loose a real smile and looked up to Rei. "I'm just a girl. I'm just Usagi. If I had my way I would only be her and I would only be Sailor Moon." She giggled slightly behind her hand. "I still have klutz attacks, I still whine all the time and put my carrots on Mamoru's plate. I still make jokes and read manga and there's nothing in the word as fabulous as ice cream." Her brightening smile began to fade, however, and she sighed. "Unfortunately it's not as easy for me to step away from my position. Given the chance, though," she looked up to Rei seriously, "I'd drop it in a heartbeat."

Rei's look melted again. "Usagi—"

"But it's all okay because I love you. I love all the girls and there's nothing any of you can say or do that will make me think otherwise," the shorter girl said, placing both of her hands on Rei's shoulders. "This is where we are. We've just got to do what we've always done." Usagi nodded firmly, her pigtails bouncing with her movement.

Rei looked down at the firm resolve floating in Usagi's eyes. It was suddenly as if a wave of comfort, as if this was where she truly belonged, as if she'd finally come home washed over her and blanketed her in warmth. She had to admit, she'd missed Usagi's strength, she'd missed her firm belief that everything, no matter what the circumstance, was going to be alright. Thus, in effect, Rei was powerless when, and exerted no effort to refrain it, a smile blossomed on her lips.

"And what's that…meatball head?"

While Usagi was shocked in silence, the catchy words from their younger years ringing within her ears, almost as an afterthought Rei nabbed one of her pigtails and tugged on it slightly.

Usagi's eyes were wide, almost disbelieving. After a moment of silence she let loose a torrent of laughter that was so infectious Rei couldn't help but join her softly.

"Kick some Youma-butt, duh!"

Rei's fingers gripped the slim champagne flute delicately. Her fingers molded to the ribbed glass and she took a small sip, listening to the bumblebee like chatter that engulfed the room. It was constant and it was annoying, words like 'fluxuation', 'miniscule', and 'problematic' the three most common that frequented her ears.

She was a little tired from her talk with Usagi both emotionally and physically but despite those setbacks she set her eyes on the duty at hand. She peered around the room.

Most of the women wore black. The only things that differentiated were the length, the material, and the cut. Some were v-neck, some were square. Some were short and some were long. Some were silk, some were cotton. But most nearly all of them were that neutral, godforsaken black.

Rei felt out of place in her knee length, olive dress. She could feel the women staring at her out of the corner of their eyes, their calculating diamond-eyed glances analyzing her top to bottom. 'Who is she?' Rei could sense them asking, their frowns insinuating that they didn't like someone who wasn't a part of their lifestyle infiltrating the party 'scene'.

She rolled her eyes discreetly and finished the glass, setting it tactfully on a passing waiter's tray. Her eyes followed it for a moment, just to make sure that the lovely thing didn't topple and fall. Just as she nodded in satisfaction she felt someone take her hand and place another glass in it.

Looking up, Rei saw Quatre smiling down at her. The sweet thing was infectious and she couldn't help but give him one, albeit smaller, in return.

"I figured you could use another," he said lowly, taking a sip of his own.

Rei gave a small snort. "How could you tell?" she asked jokingly, taking a larger gulp from her own glass. "Was it my overeager attitude to enthusiastically converse with the world's future overbearing, pearl-wearing mothers of higher society?"

Quatre gave a diplomatic smile and placed a hand to the small of her back, leaning towards her ear. "I would be careful what you say," he whispered to her. "Those overbearing, pearl-wearing mothers have ears like a hawk and will pick you apart like that teacher in primary school you'll never forget."

Rei raised an eyebrow, the amethyst orbs boring into his aquamarine ones. It was February versus March. "And you're touching me precisely because…?" Her eyes glanced down to his arm, the warm hand still perched firmly on the small of her back.

He smirked. "Unless you want us both to be shunned I suggest you let it stay there," he whispered again, taking a look around the large room.

Sure enough, as Rei looked around, each male hand his hand placed adroitly upon his female counterpart. Wherever it was, the shoulder, between the shoulder blades, the back, the waist, there was almost always a hand there. Rei gave a nod. "Understood, I get it." Her look turned sour in a flash however. "But let it wander and I kill you later tonight."

Quatre took another sip of his champagne. "Are you implying that there's going to be a 'later tonight'?" He laughed at her incredulous demeanor.


"Quatre!" a voice called, interrupting Rei's slightly infuriated comeback.

Looking up Quatre gave another diplomatic smile, something Rei realized he was very good at, and gave a call of hello to the couple maneuvering their way towards them. "Raiko and Takami Manazuwa. Careful, they're very judgmental and will make plenty of comments on our relationship."

Rei shot him a glance. "Our what?" she asked quickly, question coming out almost as monotonously as Heero sometimes spoke.

"Stay cool," he mumbled just as the two approached, him giving Quatre a firm handshake and his wife getting two kisses on the cheeks from the blonde.

Oh how Rei wanted to glare at him. Cool? If he wanted cool he should have brought Sailor Mercury, the Senshi of ice, definitely not the Senshi of fire. The only thing that rivaled her flaming hot powers was her passionate temper. But so as not to make a scene she plastered on a smile as Quatre introduced her.

"Who is your beautiful date?" Reika asked and Rei could feel her greedy eyes roaming every inch of her body, analyzing, calculating, wondering. Her facial expressions weren't very subliminal. "She has quite a short dress." And neither were her comments.

Quatre spoke before Rei could spit out a comeback, which she was obviously ready for because her mouth was open and prepared. "Raiko, Takami, this is my friend Rei Hino," he said, inconspicuously grabbing Rei's clenched fist, unwinding her fingers and fitting his hand into hers.

Rei didn't look at him but felt a blush begin to form on her cheeks and her smile tighten uncomfortably. "It's nice to meet you," she said, not meaning a word of it.

"And you as well, dear," Raiko said, waving a hand as if to show off a new, sparkly ring. Looking back to Quatre her smile became genuine. "Oh Quatre you really have grown up. It feels like just yesterday you were that sweet little boy. Not that your charm has disappeared, you're still as charming as ever," she said, patting his arm.

Quatre laughed. "You're too kind, Raiko, you flatter me too much."

"Pish-posh, dear," she refuted, noticing their linked hands. "How long have you two been dating?" she asked, expecting an answer.

Rei looked startled. "Oh, we—"

"—Have been together for about three months," Quatre cut her off, taking his hand from hers and wrapping it around her waist, pulling her slightly closer to him.

Rei, pressed against his side, looked up with a raised eyebrow. "We have?" she questioned, wanting so badly to put a hand on her waist and a fireball down his pants.

"As of a week ago," he smiled down to her, loving the unnerved look that was plastered to her face for a moment.

Rei's frown turned upside down in a millisecond. So that was the game he wanted to play? Satisfy all of his dopey, ass-like, fake friends at her expense? If he cared so much about what these damn people thought then why on crystal earth did he come to these sorts of things? If he was going to use her to save face then he was going to have to play the whole game. Nobody used Rei Hino and got away with it unused in return.

She gave him a sweet smile and placed a hand to his chest. "Oh you're right," she said gently and she could see him give her a contained incredulous look.

"Oh that's sweet," Raiko said. "How did you two meet?"

Quatre blushed. "Oh, well we—"

"Met overseas," Rei grinned as she gave his chest a pat. "Remember, Quatre?"

"Oh I remember." He smiled tightly, wondering just what ludicrous story she was going to come up with.

"I was visiting a friend in Tel Aviv," Rei explained and Raiko's face lit up at the name of the place.

"Oh, beautiful city, isn't it?" she said, a dreamy look in her eyes. It almost looked as if she were beginning to like Rei.

"Beautiful," she agreed, "but not as beautiful as where I met Quatre, was it?" she asked him rhetorically.

The blonde smiled down at her nervously. "No," he said, "no it wasn't."

Raiko looked intrigued. "Where did you meet?"

Rei smirked. "On a bus to Jordan." She looked up to Quatre and gave his chest a pat and he gripped her waist hard in annoyance. Rei turned to Raiko. "We were both going to see Petra. It was amongst the Roman ruins that he asked to see me again," she giggled as he gave a false chuckle.

"Yes, Petra, gorgeous really, Raiko. You should take your fabulous husband there, I'm sure you two would enjoy it."

Raiko looked thoughtful. "I guess we will Takama!" she laughed. "If it can bring this lovely couple together then I'm sure it will do wonders for our romance." Her husband laughed at her joke. "Quatre, dear, Mr. Yamika is over by the drinks, you really should come to say hello."

"Of course," he said, his hand sliding to the small of Rei's back. "I'll be right back, honey," he said, beginning to pull away as the older couple walked off.

Rei gave a sugary smile and a petite wave of her hand, watching until enough distance was put between them. Her smile melted away once they became immersed in their own conversation and she huffed out a gentle sigh. It was tough to allow people to judge who she was based solely on her looks; her personality just normally didn't allow it. She looked down at her hands, trying to hold her annoyance within.

"You're not wearing black."

Rei nearly jumped, looking up so quick she felt her neck crack. Her startled expression was almost like a deer caught in headlights, as if she'd been doing something she wasn't supposed to do. The man in front of her chuckled at her actions. He was an elderly man, hair a peppered gray and his eyes crinkled permanently at the ends. His lips held a perpetual smile, but a smile Rei did not feel comfortable with. He was tall and thin with a build that screamed that he was an elderly man who cared deeply about his physicality. Not to mention his voice was smooth, rich and throaty…and his accent was French. He held a very thick, very French accent.

Rei rubbed her shoulder, very aware of just who this man was. "I was unaware there was a dress code," she murmured bitterly, looking over her shoulder at the multitude of black dresses swishing about. She wasn't the only one who was not garbed in the monotonous tone but she definitely stood out.

He gave another chuckle and took a sip from his champagne glass, eyes watching her over it's flute. "New to the game, are we?" he asked.

Rei tried not to act nervous and was quite conscious that she was far better at this whole acting thing then she really aught to be. Rei giggled behind her hand and gave him a seemingly shy smile. "Is it that obvious?"

He grinned. "Only as obvious as your beauty," he said and Rei waved an embarrassed hand at his comment. "Not many women can pull off olive green. Who is your escort?"

Rei looked over her shoulder to where Quatre was talking with his friends from the upper echelon. As if sensing her gaze he turned his head slightly and smiled gently at her. Though she returned it in kind, the blonde noticed the man she was talking to and his smile vanished. Rei turned back to face the tall Frenchman in front of her. "Quatre Winner. He's my, uh…boyfriend. Of about three months now."

"Ah, Winner! Yes, I hear good things about that boy. Never really met him though, miss…?" He down to her with a raised eyebrow, hand extended.

Rei placed a hand to her chest. "Where are my manners," she said, placing her hand within his, prepared for a shake. "My name is Rei." Needless to say she was fully surprised and unprepared when he brought her hand to his lips. She, however, was not impressed with his flashy ways.

He stood straight. "My name is Francois Elan," he said, placing a hand to his chest

"I've heard so many good things about you."

Rei looked up, surprised, as Quatre came and stood beside her, his arm winding around her waist almost naturally. She smiled, thankful that he'd come back over. Francois Elan was enticing and had an air of power around him, but that power exuded something far blacker than sheer authority.

Francois smiled brightly. "As I have about you, son," he said gaily, holding out his hand. Quatre took it and shook it firmly. Francois crossed his arms, that all knowing smile pasted securely onto his elderly lips. "Say," he said, reaching a hand into his pocket. Rei felt Quatre's hand grip her waist tightly. "My hotel, Elan, is having a 20th anniversary party to celebrate the years of successful business. Why don't you two attend? I'll be sure to put your names on the guest list."

Rei smiled brightly, heart thumping at the opportunity. This could be absolutely perfect for their infiltration of his society. What luck… "That would be wonderf—"

Her words were cut off by a series of events that happened in quick succession. First, a man pushed his seat back from a table, standing and blissfully unaware of what was happening behind him. His chair had knocked into an elderly woman and she stumbled into the arms of a brown haired youth. Catching her weight, the youth took a few steps back and consequently ran into a waiter. The waiter lost his balance and in turn he lost control of the tray he was carrying, which was holding two flutes of champagne. The circular, metal tray rammed harshly and directly into Quatre's side.

Champagne flew into the air, blotting across the front of Quatre's shirt. Some landed on the waiter and sprinkles of it dotted Rei's face. She flinched as Quatre bumped into her and fluid prayed towards her eyes. The champagne flutes were launched into the air and fell to the ground, shattering immediately upon impact. From such great heights the glass rebounded off of the polished floor and sprayed towards the closest occupants of shared space. Quatre covered Rei for a moment, allowing the fragments to ricochet off of his protected back before laying like strewn jewels on the ground.

Quatre pulled away and looked down to Rei. She noticed flecks of pain in both his eyes and his voice. "Are you alright?" he asked gently only for her to hear as the large room suddenly became a swarm of worried voices.

After Rei nodded in affirmation she followed his arm that wasn't grasping her to the inside of his jacket. Quatre was holding his side in obvious pain…but could a rammed tray have really caused him such grief?

Quatre looked down slowly and pulled his hand slightly away from his side. Rei, having seen the flash of red on his finger tips, knew that something was not right. The tray could hardly have caused Quatre to bleed; sure it would have produced a nasty bruise that would have made inhaling ache, but blood?

The room was filled with a bunch of hubbub, the sound of frantic apologizing echoing throughout in a dizzying manner. Eager to escape anyone else's eyes Rei turned to Francois Elan, her hand pressed firmly to Quatre's arm. "We would love to attend your party Mr. Elan, thank you so much for your invite. But now we must excuse ourselves. It was nice to meet you," she said with a smile as he reciprocated the thanks. "Let's go wash this champagne off of you," she said to Quatre, linking her arm through his and pulling him towards the bathroom.

With the main room up in a tizzy it was easy to escape the wondering eyes of the elite. Rei stole into the bathroom with Quatre and locked the door behind her. In an air of impatience she spun and tagged the blonde with a meaningful glare. Quatre, however, was not paying attention to her and gingerly took his black jacket from his shoulders.

His white shirt below was stained with a dark red, a round blotch flourishing against the bright canvas of cloth. He pursed his lips almost as if annoyed and held his arms out to assess the damage. Rei crossed her arms.

"What is that?" she asked haughtily, taking a few steps towards him until she faced him full on.

Quatre looked up almost as if he hadn't known she was in the room before peering back down at his wound. "It looks like that tray snagged me pretty good," he said nonchalantly, loosening his tie with one hand and leaning back against the sink table.

Rei was not convinced. "That tray did not do that to you."

Quatre looked up with a raised eyebrow, not so keen on her attitude. "Says who?" he asked, stopping in his one handed effort to release his tie. It rested sloppily around his neck as he rolled up his sleeves instead, looking her dead in the eye with the challenge.

Rei, not one to feel comfortable with knowing that she was being lied to, stepped forward angrily. In a flurry of quick movement she gripped his shirt with both of her hands where the buttons kept it clasped closed. Quatre, quite aware of her motives, reached out to grab her wrists and stop her. But she'd already started pulling. His shirt flung open, buttons spraying onto the floor with a clattering noise. Her arms held his shirt wide to display what resided beneath.

Wrapped securely around his torso were rings of white bandages. They circled tightly around his abdomen and sported a colorful blossom of blood on his side, the epicenter of his pain. Rei pursed her lips in both worry an annoyance. She looked up to his face, her wrists still gripped in a vice like grasp. She dropped the opening of his shirt, the white material fluttering inwards like curtains to cut off her view of his wound. Quatre no longer sported his usual kind look, his lips no longer held that sincere smile. His look was cold, his eyes were hardened, and he was not happy.

"What happened to you?" she asked gently, only barely nervous from his aggravated look.

Quatre shoved her hands away from in with an annoyed tsk and crossed his arms over his now bare chest. Rei took a step back and mirrored the action. She tilted her head to the side, waiting for his response. "I got caught," was all he would say.

Rei raised an eyebrow. Now what exactly was that supposed to mean?

And voila! Another chapter long as hell. There wasn't a lot of fighting but there was some confrontation. This chapter, I know, focused mostly on Rei but that's because her story had kind of been put on the back burner for a while and there are some important things going on with her. Now before you go and scold me for my fluffy reunion between Usagi and Rei or Usagi's promise to Minako you have to understand that everything is, by no means, back to normal. I just figure that by this stage the girls have reached a maturity where they find the job and saving people's lives more important than their petty internal arguments. If they need to be a team then they will be a team. As well, Usagi took the initiative during the meeting and assigned roles solely because she was the only one with all of the linking information. Have no worries, Minako will reprise her leadership role in due time. Anyways, next chapter will most likely be comprised of these stories (again I figure I can give you a taster because it's going to take awhile to push out): Minako and Wufei actually talk about what happened. Ami is holed up in the lab with Trowa and begins to unravel the mystery of the Lunarian letters. Makoto and Heero are stuck in a sticky situation when someone walks in on their 'host' process. Lastly, Rei finds out what happened to Quatre (though it's kind of obvious). It'll probably be the first chapter with a little bit of actual romance. Perhaps I'll even throw in an encounter with the hybrids again. Who knows. It'll be a surprise :)

So many new reviewers! I'm so pleased!

The Cuteness: Thank you for your compliments! I was going to say, haha, it must have taken a while to read, it's quite long. I'm glad you liked it and I hope the update left you wanting more again.

Fatal Mars: I know what you mean about Minako. Truly I do. But it's just kind of the role she's stuck in right now. I don't like to rush things so getting her back to normal is not going to happen in the next chapter or so, but I hope you can bear it for a little longer. I'm glad she's at least tolerable to you. Haha, yeah, Makoto and Heero's part was a lot of fun to write. That whole scenario is just fun—hence why I created it! I'm glad you liked it and hopefully this chapter was up to par.

JPandS: Thank you! Keeping people in character is something that I really value. When things are rushed or you give people emotions or attitudes that just don't fit them or the context you've created it just irks me. Hopefully there's more interesting things in this chapter! And oh yes, trust me, there's going to be plenty more to read. To be honest the end is nowhere in sight at the rate I'm going…I really enjoyed the part with Hotaru, Duo, Makoto and Heero too, that entire relationship is going to be very, very fun to write—Hotaru's and Duo's as well. Thanks for your review!

JW Jump: Yeah, it all kind of starts off slow because I don't like to rush. The problem with that is that a lot of people don't really understand where it's going. It just takes some time, haha, things will start to unravel and finally pieces will start falling into place. But it's like a book! You don't really know what's going on at first until the action starts and the story line really gets going. It's funny that you compare it to chocolate—I'm a slave to chocolate's overwhelming goodness! To me that is a great compliment, haha! I hope you liked the chapter as well and thank you for your review.

nadeshiko_yunna: Thank you for your review! I'm glad it's different, haha, that's kind of the feel I was going for. I really didn't want it to be like all of the rest of the stories out there because they're all the same. You're welcome for the story but thank you for reading it! I'm glad you liked it :)

nequam-tenshi: More girl action in this chapter, yeah? Hope you liked it :) Chibi-Usa will appear in due time. Thanks for your review!

oombala: Yeah, I really enjoyed writing and re-reading the Minako/Wufei scene. It was quite a gem of a moment…I was really excited with it. I can't really help my view of centered fics. It's not that they're not good (even though a lot of them are) it's just that I can't stand one person's woes and feelings and relations with other people. Sure some of them I can stand but, I don't know, it just doesn't draw my attention. I guess it's because I kind of always root for that character that doesn't get much of the spotlight, and when all of the spotlight is placed on one person they no longer become that underrepresented character anymore that gave them appeal. You know what I mean? Anyway, when it comes to pairings I have no preference. I tend to grimace at the generic ones because so often they turn out to be crappy, but if the relationship is written well then I don't really care who's with whom. I totally went through a Makoto/Quatre phase though, so I know what you mean with the ones you now like. Lots more emotion in this chapter! The girls are starting to spit out all that they want to say. Oh, and I know, I love Heero's cure, haha, it's going to make for some smoldering scenes :) Don't worry, Duo and Usagi's relationship will be explained…sort of. It's more of an implied thing but more hints towards that implication will happen once things start to settle down. Thank you for the wonderful review!

TristaDin: Ah, sorry no guy interaction really in this chapter :( But honestly, you're almost right about what will happen when they all kind of get together. In all honesty I'm planning a big scene where it's the five girls and the five guys all together at one point, a big meeting of sorts that kind of clears up some other stuff. I promise more interaction with the guys will happen, I just have to get them all together! They're so far apart from each other! But no worries, it will all come about. Needless to say, a lot of the guys will be surprised by a lot of the other guy's new outlooks, physical looks, and reactions to each other. Meanwhile, I hope this chapter was enough to suffice…thank you for your review!

TopazDragon: I swear we write letters to each other over these things…anyways, I know the last chapter was a stop at 'whoa' station. I was really excited to kind of further the whole cop aspect of it with the history and the secrets with the Japanese and French and whatnot. This chapter, however, was kind of filled more with the relationships rather than the mystery of the hybrids. That will come about more in the next chapter.

I'm glad you liked the Minako, Ami, and Rei scene. They were kind of jumpy in their comebacks and statements but they were all frazzled, kind of like they were in this chapter—after all, Usagi's revelation was quite a shocker. And you're right! All of the Senshi haven't even gathered together, Makoto and Hotaru haven't even really talked to any of the other Senshi yet and Setsuna is still working in her mysterious ways. In this chapter there was more of a talk between Usagi and Rei. I had to clear the air on that one, it was a long time coming. Bottled up emotions, you know? Years of thoughts you're finally able to express. Plus I wanted to show that Rei still didn't want anyone to see her express any severe emotions so I had her place her hands over her eyes when she cried. I just can't imagine her being comfortable with anyone, even Usagi, seeing her in such a vulnerable state.

A goddess?? Me oh my, I'm not sure I can claim that title. I'm ecstatic you loved the scene though! It was definitely one of my favorite scenes that I've ever written. It's weird because I've never really had a taking with Wufei and he ends up being a main part of one of my pride and joys. Your insight into Minako's character is awesome. We all kind of take to our own Senshi and understand more about her than almost anyone else we know. To be honest I could probably write an entire scholastic paper on Makoto alone, haha, as I'm sure you could do for Minako. I'm glad the scene was mhm :) I'd say that's almost the perfect way to describe it, lol. You've gotta give it up to raw emotion, it's simply the best. I see where you're coming from though when you say you though perversely at some of their sayings. Haha, what I meant with Wufei, though, is that she was making him feel things that he wasn't necessarily comfortable with feeling. She was making him feel an assortment of emotions that he didn't really want to feel and, in essence, was 'doing' numerous things to him that he was not as ease with feeling. Thus there were so many things that she was making him feel that it was almost as if there wasn't anything he wasn't feeling, hence the "What aren't you doing to me?"

I'm definitely getting used to Trowa. He comes more naturally now and his actual character within the story is getting a lot more comfortable with being around Ami. I'd say right now he kind of feels like he needs to protect her, she's the one person who's really taken to caring about his well being after years of being by himself and alone. That's why I made the sleeping scene, to show that he wanted her to get more sleep because it was important for her well being. Since she cared so much about him he innately felt the need to sort of reciprocate that altruism. Though if it was done consciously or subconsciously…that's for you to decide :) He is definitely Ami's number one, cute, strong puzzle.

Yeah, Usagi just had to come down from that role. Honestly, I just don't see it happening. To me she's just not that character, she's one of the girls, she's that crybaby that we all love and hate. She's not so regal…she's just Usagi and an imperative part of their team. She knows that and they know that but they're all too stubborn and hurt and conflicted to kind of just let everything slide, which is where the contention comes from.

Yeah, Hotaru I'm still conflicted on. I think I'm going to keep her going back and forth between that kind of child-like exuberance and that stoic, all knowing Saturn persona. That's just who she is. When you need to get down to business she's serious. When you don't, she can still be that fun loving girl.

Honestly, Makoto as Heero's host is supposed to be a little perverse. It's supposed to be, again, that sort of raw sense of vulnerability. Plus, you're right, Heero's not used to having to rely on anyone else so keeping her alive as well as himself has become a top priority whether he likes it or not. Honestly this is how I feel about the relationships that are coming around; Minako/Wufei is raw, unadulterated passion and exploration with a sprinkling of confusion and stubbornness. Ami/Trowa is definitely morphing into something sweet and romantic with a ton of shyness, quietness, and unarticulated tension—sort of best friend to something more scenario. Rei/Quatre is that back and forth, kiss me, don't kiss me, love me, fight me sort of thing with a huge dash of complicated feelings and emotions (mostly on Rei's part). Makoto/Heero is supposed to be that sort of smoldering, sexy, wicked, it's not supposed to happen but it kind of is thing, with an essence of annoyance and dependency. As for Hotaru/Duo…I really have yet to decide.

I'm glad you liked the chapter, it means a lot. I hope this one was just as good, though it kind of focuses mostly on Rei; something which I'm not too happy about. It's not that I don't like Rei, I love her character, but I just feel like there's more to other stories that I wanted to write. Nonetheless, her parts just kind of had to come out to move on to those other parts—it was a needed chapter. You are so, so kind with your words and they really help with getting out the next chapters. Thank you so very much!

P.S. Girl…what's happening with your fics?? I miss them! I need more good fic-ness! But I understand…I'm swamped with school work and stuff, too. I'm just the queen of procrastination, haha.