SM/JUL cross – Sere and Bruce
Moonlight Dark Knight
Chapter 1: I Follow my Heart
Laughter could be heard at the Cherry Hill Shrine as four young women happily talked about their college lives. They would be graduating soon, and even at the age of twenty-two the band of friends still found time to relax and laugh as they did when they were young teenagers of fifteen; except for one.
Serenity sat at Rei's window, her beautiful face emotionless as she gazed out at the blooming Sakura trees on the Shrine grounds. All of the Sailor Senshi had blossomed into the regal princesses they were but Serenity held this divine beauty that only a Queen of the Moon could possess. Her blonde hair had lightened greatly over the years and had become even longer as it now swayed to the backs of her ankles. Her dark sapphire eyes now held silver flecks of moonlight in their orbs, and she had grown slightly as well while filling out with curves in all the right places. Since her teen years, she had studied diplomatic relations and business and became a favorite among classmates. She could capture the attention of everyone around her by simply being present, and had nine of the greatest friends a woman could ever hope to have. She had become the daughter that Queen Selenity always knew she would be.
Yet despite all of this, she still felt empty in her heart, for how can anyone truly be happy when they are separated from the one person in the world who can make the complete?
"Sere?" Mina asked.
"Hum?" The silver-blonde woman answered as she turned her attention back to her friends.
Makoto gave a smile. "Don't worry, Sere. I am sure that Mamoru is missing you too." The brunette answered, assuming her friend's far off gaze was due to the missing presence of her long-time boyfriend.
(They have no idea how wrong they are.) The young woman gave them her trademark smile instead. "I have no doubt about that." She answered, smiling as her friends once more engaged in their previous conversation. Once she was sure their attention was no longer on her, she returned to gazing out the window. Her eyes flittered up to the Moon that was visible even in the light of the early Saturday afternoon. (Where are you, my Dark Knight?) She cried out mentally. (I am no fool; it is only obvious that Mamoru is not my soul mate. How that notion came about I still don't know, but until I find you, it is best that Mamoru and Setsuna keep their relationship secret.) Her gaze was interrupted by a breeze of Sakura petals floating past Rei's open window. She allowed her eyes to follow their dance as they floated across the Shrine courtyard before turning her gaze back to the Moon as she asked one more time, (Where are you, my Dark Knight?)
"Come now Bats, don't be such a spoil sport!" The Joker pouted.
"Don't hijack a military plane full of nuclear bombs." Batman replied in his icy tone.
"Buzz kill." The Joker mumbled, before a black gauntlet made contact with his white clown face. "Ouch, now what was that for?" The purple-haired villain asked.
"For blowing up my plane." He answered. Giving one of his famous Bat Glares to the uniformed officers holding the Joker, he said, "Get him out of here."
The officers didn't argue as they hauled the mental convict away from the legendary hero of Gotham.
"All of the nuclear bombs have been accounted for." Green Lantern spoke as he landed next to the caped man. "All we need to do now is go back to the Tower and fill out the paperwork."
"Why do we have to do a ten page write-up on a five minute battle?" The Flash asked in with a dose of his usual sarcasm as he appeared on Green Lantern's left. "It takes so long."
"You are the fastest man alive, how long can it take you?" John asked.
"Ok fine, it doesn't take long at all. But its so boring!" The speedster remarked.
"Quit your complaining and get back to monitor duty. I have more work to do in Gotham." Batman told them before he slipped away.
"Is it just me, or is Bats brooding more than usual?" Flash asked.
Green Lantern was able to resist the urge to roll his eyes. "Whatever it is, it is none of our business. Let's just finish up here so we can go home."
"On it!" A blur of red and gold let John Stewart know the Flash had left in his usual manner: as fast as possible without any thinking involved. He gave a sigh and moved to help.
Back in Gotham, the vigilant protector was wrapped in the shadows from a very tall building as he surveyed the city around him. He turned blue eyes to the Moon, where the face of a Princess with silvery blue eyes and a crescent moon on her brow smiled warmly at him.
Batman gave a shake of his head. His mind had been tormenting him with images of the strange young woman for years now. The visions ranged from seeing her in a flowing evening gown of silver and white to a battle outfit with angel wings and a staff. He knew he had never seen her before, but he could not stop the sense of familiarity that swarmed within him each time he had a vision of her. Something inside of him was screaming that this woman was of the greatest importance and that he had to get to her.
A scream filled his ears, and on reflex the Dark Knight already was swinging down on his grapple. He had a duty to protect his city, and illusions were not going to stop him from doing that.
"Hey Luna, I am going for a walk." The young woman said as she slipped the apartment key into her pocket. She was dressed in jean shorts and a black spaghetti strap shirt due to the warm weather, and she reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water to take with her.
Luna looked up at her charge as she walked around her apartment. Serenity had been acting more distant the past few weeks, and the feline advisor was beginning to grow worried. "Would you like some company, Sere?" She asked with her accent.
The near-perfect replica of Queen Selenity turned to look at her companion, before a small smile spread across her lips. "Sure, Luna, I would like that. I'll carry you."
Luna purred softly as she left her perch on the couch to walk across the room and leap into the Moon Monarch's arms. If Serenity wouldn't ask for advice in whatever is troubling her, then the Mau cat would make sure to at least be there in silent support.
"Alfred, remind me again why I am in my jet flying to Tokyo, Japan?" Bruce Wayne asked his life-long butler and father-figure.
"Because, Master Bruce, you were asked by the Board members of your company to oversee the take-over of the second largest microchip company in Japan." The English accent rolled out in reply.
"Why don't I have people working for me that can do this? I have work in Gotham to do." The ebony haired man grumbled.
"Because, Master Bruce," Alfred replied in the same tone as before, "They are holding a ball to welcome you, and Bruce Wayne has a reputation to uphold." The elder man's only reply was a small glare, to of which he wisely ignored in favor of pouring himself another glass of tea.
They landed two hours later, greeted by raging paparazzi and a crowd of single raving women.
"Mina, quit shoving!" Rei growled at her friend.
"Can you believe how hunky he is?" Makoto sighed.
"I heard that he is here because his company is taking over the Wushi Corporation." Ami added, her demure voice having to speak up in the crowd.
"He's walking this way!" Minako screamed before the group was pushed backwards by the mob of estrogen.
"Where is Sere?" Ami asked as she looked around.
"She went on one of her walks – hey, watch it! I'm not afraid to shove back!" The tall Senshi of Jupiter challenged to the red-head who had pushed her fairly forcefully.
Ami gave a sigh, but none-the-less joined her friends in their attempt to view the sexy bachelor as he walked their way, which was near impossible.
Bruce Wayne simply placed on his trademark winning smile as he walked past, giving a wink here and there to the screaming women around him. They were all instantly swooning as they tried to beckon the billionaire over to them but it was futile. Once he reached the safety of the limo, he let out a sigh. Alfred already had a scotch on the rocks ready, to which Bruce was eternally grateful.
The hotel he was staying at was also swarmed with paparazzi and screaming women, but this time it was only ten feet from the curb to the hotel lobby to Bruce's relief. As the sun began to set Bruce Wayne figured that now was as good a time as any to search the streets of Tokyo, his way.
Serenity looked up at the full moon as it shone brightly down at her, surrounded by glittering stars. (Hello, Mother. I miss you, too.) She thought as she continued her walk. Despite the fact that it was now dark, it was still very warm. Woman and cat continued their walk through the district surrounding Tokyo Tower.
Surprisingly the streets were all but abandoned, which was brought to Serenity's attention by her cat who shook her from her thoughts. "Sere, I have a very bad feeling that something isn't right." Luna spoke up.
"What do you mean?" The silvery blonde asked as she looked around. "I don't sense any Negaverse monsters."
"What's that beeping sound?" The cat asked while spinning her head, the advisor's ears perked up as they swiveled around in an attempt to find the source. Serenity did not have time to reply as the building not more than twenty feet in front of them burst into flames. The force from the explosion sent the Moon Princess flying backwards, clutching the black feline to her chest as she rolled. She looked up through squinted eyes to observe the damage before looking down.
"Are you alright, Luna?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Are you ok?"
"Yes." The blonde answered. Serenity slowly stood up, keeping a wary eye out. Luna jumped out of her hold onto the ground, and Serenity clutched her locket to her chest after pulling it from her space pocket. "What caused that?" Luna asked.
"My guess would be the creepy two-faced man wearing the two-in-one business suit." Serenity told her cat before slipping into the alley. She transformed in a brilliant flash of white, and Sailor Cosmos spread her wings as she took into the sky while knowing Luna would find some cover. Cosmos landed before the burning building, letting out a blast of Mercury's ice and Neptune's water to eliminate the flames.
"What do we have here?" Came a cackle. "It would seem this territory is not as unclaimed as I thought."
Sailor Cosmos spun to face the deformed-looking human, her staff at the ready. Her silvery eyes were blazing as she leveled with his gaze, ignoring the coin that he continued to toss in the air. "Who are you?" She asked, knowing he was no youma.
"I am Two-Face, Super Villain extraordinaire." He answered with a mocking bow. "Who be you?"
Her wings ruffled in reply. "I am Sailor Cosmos, Queen of the Moon and Soldier of Love and Justice."
Two-Face laughed as he watched her. "You mean to say that you protect this town? Well, you are no Batman but you will have to do for now, seeing as how you disrupted my bank robbery." He gave her a crooked grin. "How about we play a game? This is my lucky coin, and you have a 50/50 chance of this being your lucky day. Heads says you live, Tails you die."
Sailor Cosmos clutched her staff in both hands as she spread her legs apart, watching him flip his coin up in the air. This man was mad, that much was certain. "Oh yippy, Tails it is!" The man then proceeded to dance around on his toes for several moments.
(I wonder if I should just leave him for the authorities...) She thought while observing his movements. (Handling mental convicts is not my jurisdiction.)
The choice was made for her when the man pulled out a gun and began to shoot. She held the Cosmic staff out before her while summoning Saturn's Silence Wall to stop the bullets before they came near her body.
Two-Face let out a whine. "That's cheating, I hope you know. Well, you definitely have something over Batman - he doesn't have nifty powers like you do."
Sailor Cosmos growled. "That's it; it's not my job to handle mental patients who go blowing up buildings, but I have had it with your and your mouth! Venus Love Chain Encircle!"
Two-Face found himself wrapped in a glowing chain, his gun arm pinned to his side. He had managed to avoid his other arm being pinned to his body at the very last moment. "As much fun as you are, my Lucky coin said that you have to die, and while it had been fun, the second bomb is about to go off."
"What second-" BOOM
"Sere!" Luna called from across the street. The building next to the first that had exploded went up in flames, easily overcoming the building and causing the first building to be re-kindled as well as the building to the opposite side of the second. Sailor Cosmos, who had been fairly close to the building during its explosion, was flown forward and sent to the ground, her staff landing beside her as she lost her grip on the Venus Chain.
Two-Face was smirking as he sauntered up to the winged woman as she ever so slowly rose to her knees and gave a shake of her head to clear it. "Thank you for playing. This is where you die." He told her, bringing up the gun to level it with her head.
A black blur flew by, knocking the gun from the villain's hands as it scattered to the ground. Cosmos watched as her opponent's face contorted in incredible rage as he sent an angered glare in the direction the object had flown from. "Batman." He growled.
"Get away from her. Now!"
Sailor Cosmos squinted as she gazed into the shadows, attempting to see the figure of who spoke. She knew that the identity of her savior was unknown to her, but she could have sworn that she knew that voice.
"What the hell are you doing here, Batman? A little far from Gotham, aren't you?" Two-Face sneered.
"I could ask you the same thing, Harvey." The deep voice rang out again, but this time from behind her. "Get away from her." He repeated as his voice laced over with a promise of punishment should he go unheeded.
"Why the interest in her?" He asked with a smirk, giving a few tosses of his coin in the air.
"That is not your concern." Sailor Cosmos felt shivers run up and down her spine; the voice was now directly behind her, and she could have sworn that she felt the body heat radiating from the unknown hero.
"Let's say it's tickled my fancy." Two-Face replied before he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a silver hand-held grenade.
Sailor Cosmos was unsure how it happened, but she found herself lifted from the ground by two very strong arms and settled in the safety of some tree leaves several yards away. Black gauntlets filled her eyes as the arms removed themselves from her waist and the same smooth voice filled her ears, "Stay here." She barely had time to nod in answer before she felt his presence leave.
She turned to face the battle. Apparently it was no grenade that the deformed man had thrown, but some kind of strange acid that was eating away at the ground where she had previously been kneeling. A black shadow that she assumed was her savior was engaged in a fist fight with the demented villain, but quickly won the upper hand and the man - Harvey? - was sent sprawling to the ground. She watched from up in the tree as the black figure with a pointed cowl over his head slapped on handcuffs.
Knowing the battle was over, she spread her wings and flew down from the tree to land soundlessly on the ground. She walked over and picked up her discarded staff that had flown from her hands during the second explosion. Her heels were muffled as she walked across the grass to the caped man, mentally taking note of his broad and muscled shoulders. Her savior was talking into a communicator that she could not see. "I'll wait here, J'onn. Tell them to hurry." His gruff voice spoke before he ended the transmission.
Sailor Cosmos gently cleared her throat. "Thank you, for helping me." She spoke, unable to miss the regal tone that had filled her voice. "I never handled a villain before that was human."
Batman refused to turn around. How was it that she was real? The woman his mind had been showing him images of for years truly existed, and was almost killed by Two-Face. If he hadn't made it in time to save her...
"Next time, be more careful." His voice came out more gruff than he meant.
Sailor Cosmos was taken back by the ice in his tone. She glanced at Luna, who was now standing at her feet, before returning her gaze to the back of her apparent hero. "It was not my intention to be attacked by that man. Like I told you, this is out of my jurisdiction."
"Then next time, leave it to the police or the Justice League."
Sailor Cosmos' silver eyes flashed in fury. "You expect me to just stand by and watch next time? I have no idea about this Justice League that you are talking about, but here my Senshi and I defend Japan." Her statement had Batman turning around before his mind could remind him not to. Both froze as their eyes landed on one another. One had wide eyes of shock, and the other hardened stubbornness.
Police sirens broke them from their staring contest, and while Sailor Cosmos turned her head to stare at the approaching sirens, Batman took this opportunity to slip away into the comfort of the shadows that he knew so well. He watched as she returned her attention to the space he had recently occupied before she turned startled eyes to the cat.
"Luna, did I imagine him?" She asked. He was puzzled as to why - it was not as if the small black creature could answer back.
"You most certainly did not, Princess." Or it can. He had seen stranger things.
"He's here..." Her voice whispered with a sense of wonder. "That was him, it had to be."
"Who?" The cat asked with curious maroon eyes.
"My Dark Knight." She answered as the police pulled up.
"Sailor Cosmos, greetings." The police chief smiled with a bow.
"Hello, sir." She greeted back with a smile. "I am sorry to interrupt your night, but it would seem this time there were no Youma."
"Yes, we received a call from the Justice League to come pick up Two-Face." The police chief gave a wave of his arm, and the SWAT team and several other officers that had escorted him to the scene went to pick up the unconscious and hand-cuffed villain from the ground.
Sailor Cosmos turned to the chief. "Who is this Justice League you speak of?" She asked.
The chief smiled. "A band of heroes from around the world that handle super villains like Two-Face. They do not come here to Japan because we have you and your Senshi to protect us so they have never had a need, but we still know of them."
Sailor Cosmos gave a nod and a grateful smile. It would seem that with all of their work handling the Negaverse, the Senshi had overlooked other media news. "Thank you, sir. I shall take my leave since there is no longer any danger." She gave a smile to him and the rest of the officers before spinning her staff. A portal appeared beside her and she stepped in after Luna, vanishing from sight.
Batman watched everything from the shadows, waiting for her to leave before moving to return to his hotel room. First he had to figure out how Harvey had managed to escape the Asylum and get to Tokyo and why, and then he would figure out how the woman he thought was a figment of his imagination was real and here in Japan.
Serenity sat at the counter of the Crown Arcade, staring into the chocolate glass that was her shake while absentmindedly twirling the straw with her pointer finger. Her chin was resting in the palm of her free hand as she let out a sigh. Why was Fate so cruel? Her Dark Knight was here in Japan, or at least he had been. What was worse is he acted as if he did not recognize her.
Her silvery blue eyes suddenly lit with recognition. Of course! No one had remembered anything of their past until they had their memories unlocked! That had to be the reason. If she could find him again and help him regain his memories, then he would remember everything!
Though there was still the problem of statistics. In all the time that they have been fighting the Negaverse and know their real identities, she had only managed to see him once. How long would it be before she sees him again?
"Are you alright, Sere?" Motoki asked the twenty-two year old. At the age of twenty-six he now owned the arcade that had blossomed under his care.
"Of course, why do you ask?"
"You haven't had a single sip of my special milkshake." He pointed out.
Serenity gazed down at the glass before her and then back up at Motoki with an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Motoki. I guess I was too occupied with my thoughts."
"I figured. Are you sure you are alright?" He asked. His light green eyes softened. "Is it because of Mamoru?"
Serenity gave a sigh. Motoki was the only one who knew the truth about her relationship with Mamoru because he was Mamoru's best friend and like an older brother to her. However, Motoki did not understand that she held no romantic feelings for her 'boyfriend' at all.
"No, it's not about Mamoru. I am happy for him and Setsuna, really." She told him with a brave smile.
"Then what is bothering my Moon Maiden?" He asked.
Serenity stirred the straw with the tip of her finger again in the glass. She bit her lip as she thought about telling him, her best guy friend who knew everything about her right down to her identity as the Moon Princess. However, the bells at the door that signaled the arrival of new guests took his attention away, and Serenity found that she was relieved. After all, if Motoki let the information slip, he would crumple under the interrogation of the girls.
She did not lift her gaze as Motoki greeted the new guests, nor did she for the next half an hour. It wasn't until a familiar voice met her ears that she snapped back to reality. "Hey Koneko-chan."
Serenity turned to look into the smiling faces of two of her most loyal and protective friends. "Haruka! Michiru!" She smiled brightly at the couple before she stood from the barstool and gave each of them a hug.
"How are you?" Michiru's mystical voice rang out like the ocean she was so in tune with. However, the look in her knowing eyes stopped Serenity's traditional reply.
"Come on, I want to take the two most important women in my life out to a fancy lunch." Haruka spoke up.
Serenity gave them a bright smile of gratitude and nodded happily. "Thanks, you guys." She told them sincerely.
They simply nodded with smiled and escorted her out to Haruka's sports car. The ride was spent in silence as the racer took them expertly through the streets of Tokyo to one of the most exclusive cafe's in town. Of course, when you are a famous race care driver and violinist nothing is denied to you. They were seated right away with Serenity facing the couple and then given menus.
When their waiter walked away, Michiru spoke up. "Do you mind telling us why our normally cheerful Princess has been carrying so much turmoil lately?"
Serenity's eyes softened and she set her menu down. She appeared as if she was unsure if she should tell them, and so Haruka spoke up. "Koneko? Is everything alright?"
She lifted her gaze to them, the corners of her lips pulled into the smallest possible smile. "I feel so alone."
The two lovers exchanged glances. Both of them knew the kind of loneliness that their Princess was talking about. After all, the two Senshi were very astute- they knew Mamoru and Setsuna were a couple, with the Princess' blessings. However, Serenity was the kind of being that needed love in their life, and not just the kind for family and friends. It had to be hard for her to be the only single one in the close-knit group.
"I saw him." She spoke so quietly that the two women were not sure they heard her.
"Who, Serenity?" Haruka asked.
"My Dark Knight." She told them. Her face momentarily adopted a far-off gaze. "He is here, somewhere."
The waiter interrupted them to gather their order, but when he left Michiru turned to the younger woman. "Tell us everything."
"Mamoru is not my true love." She began, her gaze never leaving her water glass. "I have no clue as to why everyone thinks we are to be together, but we have never been anything more than friends." She let out a soft sigh. "My Dark Knight was a nobleman from Saturn and although he was shrouded in shadows, I fell in love with him. He was the greatest detective you could ever hope to meet, and I am sure that he could easily beat even Ami in chess." She finally looked up into the startled eyes of her Senshi. "We were to wed, until Queen Beryl attacked." Her eyes were shimmering with tears. "We had been sharing a dance when Beryl's minions overcame our own, and he went to the front line to defend us. It was the last I saw of him, until last night."
"We saw the news report." Michiru added.
"Two-Face called him 'Batman'." Serenity added.
"Gotham's Hero?" Haruka spoke up. Her two women turned surprised and curious eyes to the tall blonde. "What?"
"Haruka, you know I do not like secrets." Michiru spoke with a warning tone, even as she gracefully lifted her glass to her lips. The fact that Haruka had not told her she had ventured to the dangerous city was news to the calm woman.
Haruka held up her hands in defense as she let a guilty smile stretch across her lips. "You were in a concert and I was bored! I had always heard that Gotham offered the most for adrenaline racers."
"Haruka..." Michiru continued as Serenity watched in silent amusement.
"I won twenty thousand dollars!" Haruka added. Michiru continued to remain as calm as the sea before a storm. "I bought you that beautiful diamond bracelet with it!"
"We shall discuss this matter later." Michiru commented.
Serenity burst into laughter. The two lovers looked to their princess with wide eyes, both wondering what the younger woman had found so humorous. However, upon taking sight of their Princess in better spirits even if it was at their expense, had the two older woman smiling as well.
Once the laughter had died down, Serenity moved to continue the conversation. "What do you know of Batman?" She asked.
"Not much, unfortunately. I do know that he has been watching over Gotham for years, putting away criminals like the one that attacked you last night." The racer added. "That and he is one of the founders of this Justice League. It's apparently a large organization of super heroes both with powers and without that protect the planet."
"Basically, they do what we do only they fight super villains, not the Negaverse." Michiru added.
"That had me wondering why we have never heard of them before. I wonder if it is because we never focused on the media outside of Tokyo." Serenity spoke thoughtfully. "If they are all super heroes, how come we have never heard of them until now?"
"It may be that they have no way of contacting us. We are very good at our job of protecting you, Princess." Haruka added while unable to hide the pride in her voice.
Serenity looked at her two friends. "But we need to. If my Dark Knight is with these people, then we simply must contact them."
The warriors of Neptune and Uranus shared a glance. The desperate tone in their leader's voice left a pang of sadness in their hearts. "But Koneko, I thought that he did not remember you." Haruka spoke softly.
"No one remembered until I returned their memories." Serenity pleaded in a whisper. "At the very least, I must know if it is him." She met their gazes firmly but gently. "No matter the outcome, I need to at least seem him one more time."
In the end the need to see their Princess happy won out, and Serenity found herself with an Outer Senshi escort to Gotham that would leave in several days.
"Serenity." The deep voice calmly rang out.
The blonde-haired Princess of the Moon spun around to face the dark shadows of the elegant hallways of the Moon Palace. "Bruce?"
The Master of Shadows stepped into the light of the glowing Silver Crystal that was clutched in the Moon Princess' hold. A hand lifted to let the hood of the black cape fall back to reveal his ebony hair and piercing blue eyes. With a small nod of his head, Serenity let the Silver Crystal dissolve back inside her body as she move to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head on his muscled chest. Strong arms wrapped around her smaller form, holding her close as he reveled in the feel of her against him.
"I am sorry for returning so late, my Princess." He told her with a whisper in her ear.
"You are here now, and for that I am happy." She answered, lifted her head to meet his gaze. Without hesitation they met in an intimate kiss, Bruce bringing his cape to wrap around the bare shoulders of his love, keeping her warm as well as ensuring she was pressed closer to his person.
They let their lips pull away after a moment. "Are you unharmed from your mission?" The Princess asked.
"Earth has proven they use brute force, but it was nothing I could not handle. I do need to inform your Mother and her council that I believe I have found Beryl's base."
Serenity's eyes widened in surprise. "Truly?"
"Yes." He told her, his voice deep.
Serenity molded against his frame as relief washed over her. "Then soon this whole matter shall finally be behind us, and then we may wed."
Bruce did not speak; he simply lifted her chin in a commanding fashion and took her lips with his own again.
Bruce sat up in the bed at the hotel, covered in a light sheet of sweat and breathing heavy. Was his mind playing tricks on him again or had that actually happened?
Bruce Wayne was never one to believe in past life experiences, but after all he had lived through, he supposed that stranger things had happened. He glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand, letting out a groan upon realizing it was half past six. Perhaps he should speak with J'onn about all of this. He rolled over to another side of the bed and attempted to relax. Hopefully the Martian would be able to explain what was going on, because for once he sure as hell didn't.
Ok, so how was that for chapter one? This is a random idea, completely not thought through. Just something that popped into my mind and I figured I may as well type it out. Let me know what you think, please!
As always, thank you to all of you who continue to follow my pieces, and to you who read them!