At long last, the epilogue is edited and uploaded. So sorry for the long wait, and thank you for your patience. I've been focusing on my original stories, particularly a novel called Shadow King. If you'd like to read it, you can find it over on fictionpress, under the penname Thyme Willowbrook. I highly recommend (not to toot my own horn or anything ...). ^_^
Usagi woke slowly to the sound of quiet voices murmuring around her. Voices that she recognized as belonging to her best friends.
"When do you think she'll wake up?" Minako half-whined. "She's been sleeping for ages now!"
"Who knows? Could be any moment," Makoto replied cheerfully.
There came an unladylike snort. "Knowing Odango Atama, she'll be sleeping in 'till next Christmas if given half the chance," Rei commented cynically, which was immediately followed by a sharp whack and a pained, "Ow!"
Usagi's lips curled into a smile, and she held in a giggle as she opened her eyes, ready to thank the ever-valiant Mako-chan for defending her. However, she was rather surprised to see Ami calmly massaging her knuckles, while Rei winced and fingered a growing lump on her head. Minako and Makoto were regarding the blue-haired girl with identical expressions of shock, complete with large sweatdrops and twitching eyebrows. Usagi grinned as a giggle unexpectedly escaped, attracting the attention of all four girls.
"Hey, what's up?" she teased. In reply, she suddenly found herself being glomped by four half-hysterical teenage girls.
"Don't you ever do that to us again!" Rei proceeded to grab her princess by the pajama top and shake the life out of her.
"Hey! Ow! Stop that! Let go! Help!" Usagi squealed, before the other three managed to drag Rei away from her. Usagi flopped back onto her pillow and gasped dramatically. "Geez, Rei-chan! Are you trying to kill me again?"
"Hmmph!" Rei crossed her arms sulkily as the girls tittered into their hands.
"Well, looks like everything's back to normal," Minako chirped happily.
"Yeah, but I wanna know what happened!" Usagi whined. "Did I win? Did I defeat Beryl?"
"You sure did!" Makoto crowed triumphantly. "You kicked Beryl's skinny white as-"
"Ahem!" Ami pointedly cleared her throat. "Language, Mako-chan."
Makoto pursed her lips sulkily as Usagi and Minako snickered.
"What happened," Rei said in her haughtiest tone, "was that as soon as Beryl was gone, the Dark Kingdom started crumbling. Mamoru-san managed to get the both of you out of there before the entire place collapsed on you, after which we were able to bring you home. You've been asleep since then for two days straight. It's Monday afternoon."
"Two days!" Usagi yelped. "What about my parents? What did you tell them?"
"Well, you know Mamoru-san is a doctor-in-training, right?" Minako replied, trying to sound important. "He came up with the excuse that you caught a slight case of that sleeping illness. Wazzit called? Mono … Monucle … Monclosis …"
"Mononucleosis," Ami supplied.
"Yeah, that. And that's why you slept so long. He's been coming over to check up on you. Since he's the one who brought you home, your mom's been letting him stay, and we explained everything to her. You know, about how you and he are going out now and—"
"What?" Usagi gaped at her. "You told her? Are you nuts? She'll tell my dad and I'll never hear the end of it! He'll ground me 'til I'm thirty! I'm doomed!" she wailed, pulling a pillow over her head.
"Oh, stop being such a drama queen," Rei snorted. "You'll be fine. Both of your parents have been completely charmed by that guy. Even your brother's taken to calling him Mamoru-nii-chan."
"It's totally cute," Minako cut in. "It's like total hero-worship! He's trying to talk him into going to the amusement park this weekend."
Usagi groaned. "Great. He'll scare poor Mamo-chan off before I even get a shot at him," she complained, pouting as she hugged a stuffed bunny to her chest.
"After everything you've gone through to this point to be together, I'm sure it will take more than your family to scare Mamoru-san away so easily," Ami said logically. "Now, for more important matters … I've brought your homework for you, so you won't have to catch up. It's over on your desk."
Usagi shot her a deadpan look. "You shouldn't have. Really."
Ami smiled sweetly, completely unrepentant.
"Well, anyhow, we'd better get going. Not supposed to disturb the patient too much, after all," Minako announced loudly as she not-so-subtly began herding everyone toward the door.
"Aw, do you have to leave now?" Usagi protested.
Minako shot her a positively evil grin. "Well, we could stay, but Mamoru-san will be stopping by, and now that you're awake I'm sure he'll be wanting to spend some … quality time with you." She gave an exaggerated wink and mimicked kissing noises.
"Minako!" A bright flush rose to Usagi's cheeks.
Minako ignored her. "Well, you know, your mom's shopping, your brother's still at school, and your dad's working. Nobody'll be here. Just you and him. All alone. I wonder what you could do together in all that time—"
"Perhaps he could help her with her homework," Luna cut in dryly, popping in seemingly out of nowhere and settling herself firmly on the bed.
Usagi pouted, despite her flaming cheeks. But a determined glint had entered Minako's eyes, and without further ado, she snatched the startled cat by the scruff of the neck and shoved her into her gym bag. "You know, Artemis has been wondering where you've been lately, Luna-chan," she said slyly. "Ever since your little hunting trip, he's been lost without you. How about coming over for supper and putting the poor furball out of his misery?"
A few muffled yowls and several suspicious words issued from the bag as Minko threw another exaggerated wink toward Usagi and ushered three giggling girls out the door.
Usagi stared after them, rather bemused by their stranger-than-usual antics, before settling herself back into her mattress to await Mamoru's arrival.
She awoke again to a different distraction; that of a warm, familiar presence by her side. She felt the bed dip as somebody sat down, and knew who it was even before the sweet, heady fragrance of roses washed over her. A warm hand caressed her face, long fingers playing in her unbound hair, and she smiled and turned her cheek to his palm, opening her eyes slowly to meet the gentle gaze of her Mamo-chan. "What a nice way to wake up," she shyly told him.
He blinked at her, and she had the satisfaction of seeing him look startled, before the expression was replaced by a slow smile spreading across his sensual mouth. "It's about time, too," he whispered teasingly. "I was beginning to think you'd be asleep until Christmas."
She wrinkled her nose. "Tell me, you and Rei-chan don't happen to share a brain, do you?"
She grinned and shook her head. "Never mind."
"How do you feel?" he asked gently.
"Like I had all my energy sucked out of me."
She grinned. "That crystal sure does pack a wallop, huh?"
Memory suddenly reasserted itself, and she gasped and sat straight up, her eyes widening in horror. "Oh, no," she breathed. "The Ginzuishou! I-I'd dropped it, and then—" Her breath came in quick, shallow gasps. "What happened to it? Where is it?"
"Shhh. Calm down, Usako," he soothed, stroking her hair. "The Ginzuishou is fine. When you fell unconscious, it vanished back into the locket, which I have here." He pulled it from the pocket of his green blazer and handed it to her. "I kept it for you, in case your mother saw it and started asking questions or something."
She released a shuddering sigh, clutching the locket to her, before opening the drawer of her bedside table. She hesitated a long moment, gazing at the jeweled broach that had caused so much trouble in her life. "I … guess I don't even need this anymore, do I?" She ran her fingers over the polished surface as her eyes took on a melancholy gleam. "It's so strange," she murmured. "All this time, since finding Luna and discovering who I am, all I wanted was to just be … normal. And now I will be. And it's just …" She trailed off and shook her head, glancing up to meet a steady, blue gaze. "I think I might actually miss it. Isn't that weird?"
"Not at all." Mamoru wrapped a strong arm around her and pulled her close, his other hand closing over hers, the one still holding the locket. "I don't think it's strange at all. Sailormoon has become such a big part of your life, just as she's become a big part of mine. I'll miss her, too, you know. After all—" He gave her a playful grin and a sly wink. "—you look really good in that sexy fuku."
"Mamo-chan!" Usagi's face abruptly turned an unhealthy shade of red as she tried to pull the covers up over her head. She peeked shyly out at him a moment later. "Well, I'll miss Tuxedo Kamen, too," she admitted.
"But, you don't have to, Usako," he whispered, pulling her arms down. "Because he's right here with you. I promised I'd never leave you, didn't I?" He raised his hand and, with a flourish, produced a perfect rose. He smiled as she blushed and accepted it. Then, reaching into his pocket, he withdrew a familiar, shining locket in the form of a golden star. "I believe this also belongs to you." He gazed deeply into her eyes as he slipped the chain around her neck, allowing the beautiful trinket to settle against her breast, over her heart. His hand lingered there, feeling her heartbeat flutter reassuringly against his palm. Even now, he could hardly believe she was alive, was there with him. After so long. He silently vowed he would never lose her again.
"You don't have to miss Sailormoon, either," she told him, her cheeks flushed at the proximity of his hand. "She's still right here with you, too. And so is your Princess Serenity."
"You are my princess, Usako." He tilted her face up to nuzzle her sweet-scented hair. "Not Sailormoon …" He kissed her eyelids. "Not Serenity …" He pressed gentle lips to her cheek. "Just you."
Her eyes grew glassy with unshed tears as she wrapped her arms around him to squeeze him tight, and they lay together on the bed, cradled in each others' arms, relishing each others' company. They spoke very little, wrapped in warmth and comfort, until Usagi stirred slightly to look up at him. Her brow was furrowed slightly as she worried her lower lip.
"Do you think, if I hadn't been Sailormoon and you Tuxedo Kamen-sama, we still would have met?" she asked. "Do you think we still would have … fallen in love?"
"I have no doubts about it, Usako," he said. "Even if there had been no such thing as Sailormoon or Tuxedo Kamen, we're soul mates. I believe we would have met one way or another."
She wrinkled her nose. "Would we still have fought so much?" she asked wryly, making him laugh.
"Probably. But I kind of like fighting with you. I guess it's our version of foreplay," he teased, just to watch her face turn red again. Then he became serious. "All the same," he added softly, "if anything I said to you seriously hurt you, I am so sorry, Usako. I'll do whatever I can to make it up to make up for all the hurtful things I've said … and done. Especially in these past months." He looked away as shame and guilt began to gnaw at his conscience.
A pair of slim, gentle hands cupped his face, drawing his gaze back to her again. "Of course I forgive you, Mamo-chan," she told him, knowing exactly what he was thinking of. "How could I not? It was hardly your fault. And besides, I love you. I'm not sorry about anything that happened. It all worked out in the end." She paused, considering. "You know, I told myself for so long that life wasn't a fairy tale, but now I see I was wrong. All the best fairy tales have challenges to face and obstacles to overcome. All of this is a fairy tale, and you're my prince, and this is my happy ending. Our happy ending. Only … I guess it isn't really ending yet, is it? It's only just beginning."
"Yes," he replied in a breathless whisper, leaning his forehead against hers. "It's just beginning. With us, it will always be the beginning. There will never, ever be an end."
Her eyes sparkled with humor. "Well, there has to be some sort of an ending, or else we'll miss the very best part of the story."
"Oh? And what part might that be?" he asked, his eyes gazing lovingly into her own.
"The kiss, of course! The princess has to receive her kiss, so she knows when it's time to start living Happily Ever After." She grinned at him impishly. "So … I guess you'd better kiss me now, huh?"
So he did.