A loud crashing snatches my attention, my ears perking in concern and immediately, I run. I haven't the slightest clue what it could be but I know somehow that it's not good. My heart pounds in my chest as I rush through the halls to find where the crash happened and soundlessly it seemed I turned the corner to sight Makoto in shambles before me. My breath catches in my chest, the shattering pieces of my once loud heart scattering onto the floor as I witness the burning pain in her eyes.
My mouth opens to yell for help, but my throat dries quicker than I can speak and a scratching claw scrapes across the insides of my esophagus. My tears are endless, my soul filled with sorrow. All I can manage to do at that moment is pray that the reasons for Makoto's sudden appearance are not due to what I suspect has happened.
A firm hand is wrapped around me, my tearful eyes averting to spot Mamoru right beside me, his critical gaze peering into me as he voicelessly tells me he'll take care of this. I shudder when his warm arms release me, his orders swift as he sends messengers for Ami. Uncertain, I watch as Makoto's trembling frame remains steadfast in the center of the hall. Her eyes are dangerously void, her skin unnaturally pale and her presence achingly haunting. Frozen in place, I find myself shaking. Of all the fates that could befall my friends, this was one I was never prepared for.
I wanted to help her but it seemed I could do nothing more than try to embrace her and hope that she could feel my soul reaching out in attempts to piece hers back together. My heart ached so much, leaving me in tears, dragging me to sorrow, but I knew those types of things wouldn't help Mako-chan. So I tried my best not to show it to her. I tried to convince myself that it was slowly helping her recover but somewhere deep, in that chamber I never wished to open, I knew she was just too far from my reach to be helped.
But I was stubborn. I wouldn't believe it. Makoto had all of us here to mend her wounds. We all came together just to see to it that she would be fine. Us, the senshi, the ones who loved her like a sister and would do anything to help. Her friends were here.
I found myself repeating these thoughts incessantly in my head whenever I saw her, whenever I watched her.
When she finally made a return to the kitchen and made her beloved cherry pie for the first time in years, I was ecstatic. The taste was just as I remembered it and I smiled with mirth believing that somehow Makoto was coming back to us. Even when I found the disheveled pile of burnt and discarded pies in the garbage can while a large stack of dishes charred with burnt food still littered the countertops I found myself thinking: she's okay. There's nothing to worry about. Makoto will be fine. It didn't matter that I knew Makoto hated leaving a mess and would always clean as she cooked because she was insistent that a clean plate presentation meant nothing if the kitchen it came from was filthy. I believed she was fine. Not perfectly so, but eventually she would be.
When she received her first mission to close a door, I was washed with so much relief after hearing of her successful return with Haruka. I went to greet her and could feel myself cringing as I was directed to the medical wing, a battered Makoto meekly smiling as she was being treated by a frowning Ami. Haruka was unscathed but she excused Makoto's condition by saying she was a bit rusty but would get back into her usual strength with time. Despite the fact I had known Haruka and Makoto were actively sparring months beforehand and were sent to a mild-mannered dimension I let myself believe nothing was wrong. Even with Rei's observation of Haruka and Makoto's sparring sessions where she commented Makoto was much more reckless than she remembered, I denied the idea that Makoto wasn't healing. Instead I kept thinking: she's okay. There's nothing to worry about. Makoto will be fine.
When I saw her interacting with the next generation I was anxious but her smiles and words of encouragement defeated my doubt as the children took an enamored perception of Jupiter whose strength was undeniable and cooking just as praiseworthy. They swarmed around her with adoration and I was convinced that this was her biggest aid in healing. Enthused, I put her in charge of training the next generation. Endymion quietly tried to sway me against this but I could not hear him as I felt this would be the bandage that Makoto desperately needed. She accepted the position without hesitation and I reveled in the idea that this could be it. Soon Makoto would be back!
I was so convinced in this decision that I believed Makoto when she told me her puffy red eyes with a matching red nose were from allergies. I was so adamant at believing she was okay that I accepted her year-long allergies until Minako intervened and charmingly mentioned her children no longer loved her like they used to so she'd be training them a while so long as it was okay with Makoto. Even then I hadn't known Minako was only doing this because she actually had the strength to see the situation for what it really was. Oblivious, and unwilling to see the truth, I watched as the senshi reared back their children and coincidentally, Makoto's allergies seemed to ease up at the same time.
"Stress sometimes spurs these types of things," Makoto had told me. "Those kids are just too smart. I couldn't help but stay up all night and practice my techniques before showing them since I was afraid they'd call me out if I made a wrong move."
I laughed when she said it and blinded by denial I failed to acknowledge the lie. She was fine with the children. The best actually. The problem was when they weren't around and she stepped into her room to retire…alone.
I still can't believe that I put her through such torture. I forced her to relive her memories with her son by asking her to teach and guide the next generation of senshi just so she could return to her room, alone, and again relive the agony of what she had lost.
I wish I was—
I wish I was stronger.
Instead I was so lost in my own cowardice that I couldn't even acknowledge what I had known from the moment Makoto appeared in Crystal Tokyo covered in debris and bleeding with pain. She was too far from reach, but I never tried to extend my arm further because I was so convinced that denial would be more helpful to the both of us. And look at us now.
I'm caught in a situation much worse than when she appeared so suddenly in the center of the hall with those ghostly eyes that still haunt these walls and evidently never left. Now, she's led by a wound so deep and infected that she cannot possibly escape the pain that should have been dealt with long before today.
The magnitude of the situation is far worse than I could have anticipated. Instead of helping, I must now consider the alternative…
I remember the first day I met her. I was in awe of her strength, amazed by her speed and enamored with her food. Heh, I remember how sturdy she was. Even when she wasn't trying and despite her sometimes baffled behavior around boys she thought were cute, she still stood tall with unwavering might. I remember the intoxicating aroma of grilled shrimp paired with steamed rice, a home mixture of soy sauce and herbs, coconut milk soup with lemon grass chicken and a hint of spice, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, taro cake with cream filling, smoked salmon and an array of other foods that would always make me feel as though I had just stepped into a magnificent dream that I never wanted to wake from. Then when I would finish and fall back in satisfaction, she would smile and offer more. And like the bottomless pit that I was, I was always ready.
I remember the many times I've stood behind her. Whenever I see her back, I can't help but feel safe. Whether it be in a fight where she and the others have jumped up to protect me or when we would walk together and she'd accidentally end up slightly in front of me because of her long strides that easily doubled my own, I always felt safe. Her russet curls bounce freely as the scent of summer showered roses warmly seeps from her sturdy frame and my smile broadens when she turns to apologize for passing me up as her green eyes shimmer with embarrassment when admitting she was daydreaming and had forgotten I was with her.
That was my Mako-chan. She was always ready to defend me, always daydreaming about love, always stood tall and fortified, was soft and sweet, a C to B average student, a hard worker, a big dreamer, an amazing chef and one of my best friends...
I loved—I'm sorry, I love her like a sister.
Setsuna says there can be no other option. She insists that I realize this fact and try not to sink back into old memories of a person that is no longer existent. It was hard to swallow that, it was even hard not to be angry by her statement, but I know she is right. Makoto hasn't been the same since she returned and the person she is now can hardly be considered the same young, always dreaming person I once knew. But then again, haven't we all changed?
Endymion sympathetically avoids the question. He knows what this means to me but unfortunately it is not something he can take the reins on like he did when Makoto appeared so suddenly in the hall. He pulls me into a heavy hug, my eyes tearing as I feel his hands tightly gripping my shoulders.
"We all made the mistake of ignoring her heartbreak from day one," he says. "For Mako-chan's sake, Usako, don't make the same mistake twice."
The mention of my name pierces through me. As Serenity I am expected to do what's right for the sake of the universe, but as Usagi my main concern is and has always been for the safety and wellbeing of my friends and family. Mamoru is always so perceptive of those distinctions and I'm reminded of why I love him so much. He knows me better than I sometimes know myself.
Neverthelss, it's hard to admit that for so long I have been so selfish and for that I hope she can forgive me. Rest assured though, Mako-chan, my friend, I will give you the acknowledgement you deserve. It is the least I can do.
"Damn, these people are like ants," Haruka cursed, sending an orb of light barreling towards a barrage of soldiers. "You kill one outside the ant hill and thousands more start pouring from the top."
"Well then," Minako cut in. "Let's find the Queen and get this over with."
Serenity's arrival was less than comforting. Stoically she declared Jupiter a threat, ordering that each of them treat her as an enemy should any of them come in direct contact with her. It was hard to swallow for each of them but they knew it had to be done. What Makoto had done to Rei, though still leaving her alive, was shocking and for once they suddenly started to realize she may have seriously started to believe her son had survived after all these years. Sadly, they didn't know whether to pity her or be angry.
Haruka was back in full commission and even if she wasn't, she'd never let herself be counted out when the mission involved Makoto. In total, they had Serenity, Venus, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and the princess of Crystal Tokyo in attendance and as it stood, they'd have the founders in no time.
Serenity was the first to stop, her bright blue eyes tinged with suspicion.
"Something isn't right," she said and instead of stopping alongside her, Venus chose to swing her chain full force in the direction of an opportunistic assailant. He rolled across the floor unconscious and slowly Minako allotted a moment of pause.
"What do you mean?" She panted, somewhat fatigue by the ongoing supply of soldiers here.
Haruka snarled, now picking up on the suspicious circumstance of the situation.
"Makoto's not one to hide," she said. "If this were a real fight, she'd be out here against us."
"Well then, if she isn't here, where is she?"
He didn't know why he was in there, or why he kept replaying the tape continually despite the fact that he had memorized every frame. The suburban town suffered a terrible explosion and as the Leo waited for military action, it was disappointed to find that technology was inferior to its own humanoid shape. Clumsy jets attempted to shoot down the mobile suit, each jet plummeting to the Earth after being shot.
People flocked from their homes, afraid, and nothing with enough power could save them. He winced, fast forwarding through the tape and stopping on a single frame. A blurry picture of a boy approximately 8 to 10 years old stood like a stone at the foot of the mobile suit.
After a withheld sigh, he observed the image, drinking in the faint emerald green that shined through the smoke and examining the depth of brown in the boy's hair. The scientists had imagined that with a mother that could retain her youthful gait and skin for decades, then her son was likely to be the same and so a young man in his mid-twenties was chosen to convince her that she had something worthwhile here. At first he took on the task proudly but as he watched her struggle and witnessed the real pain in her eyes, he couldn't help but feel guilty.
He supposed he never suspected to realize that she was human. Her power was alarming and the discovery that she still maintained the physical conditioning and appearance of a young adult had somewhat tainted his original view of her. He thought that with those types of traits, she was immune to emotion and quick to act selfishly. He expected she would be as power hungry as any other cliché power house. Clearly, he was mistaken and sadly, he could see that her friends weren't at all as tainted as he liked to believe.
From the memories she shared, she had a real life once. The way she spoke of her son and her husband often made him forget she was anything more than ordinary. After shining at the recollections of her family, her auburn curls somehow seemed to go limp and he had suddenly noticed the graying color of her once luminescent green eyes. And though the lines on her face were faint, and her skin was taut, he could hear the age in her voice, a bittersweet alto imprinting its experienced tenure upon the impressionable ears of a soldier who posed as her son. When he looked to her, she looked normal and sometimes he wished she didn't.
It would be easier if she was arrogant and self-righteous. If she looked down on them like she was a higher being then he could've ignored the urge to sympathize for her. If she wasn't so scarred then perhaps he wouldn't feel so desperate to make up for his deception.
Sighing in discontent, he shook his head and returned his attention to the frozen frame. He had been researching the original records for hours, skimming documents and trying to see if anything had turned up with regards to the young boy that was sucked into the vortex nearly two and a half decades ago.
From the video feed during travel, he wasn't seen. But in old reports, where they logged in the number of soldiers, he kept finding discrepancies. As he matched the number of soldiers returned from different dimensional trips, he would compare them to the log but as he recalculated the numbers over and over again, he always counted exactly one soldier too many. But as he continued, the numbers would eventually match his calculated count meaning that somewhere along the way, that one soldier had either suffered an undocumented death or they had escaped.
The boy's body was never really found. Then again, they assumed he was lost in the vortex. With hesitant hands, he pushed open an old box filled with dusty files and pulled out the accordion file folder filled with the original staff of Black Star. He blew off the gray dust and scrunched his brow with concentration as he skimmed the contents of the folder. A photo was in hand and as his eyes found themselves straying to a brunette boy with the hand of an old scientist, who had escaped and was rumored to have taken part in the creation of the Gundams, resting on his shoulder.
Shocked, he rushed through files, finding the same pair in every annual photo until the year of the Doctor's escape. Afterwards, there were no more pictures with that same brunette boy with grassy green eyes.
His heart pounded in his chest and he was certain that if he took the photo to Makoto then she'd recognize the boy in a heartbeat. No name was present for the long overlooked soldier, but he doubted it mattered since his mother could undoubtedly fill in that bit of missing information. With a new revival of excitement, he pushed himself to his feet only to freeze in his place when the spotty eyes of Black Stars Illusionist filled the void of space between him and the door.
Waiting had been easy, surprisingly enough. Makoto's green eyes scanned every face of every soldier, her throat drying as she watched them run past her.
There was one lost child. And another. And another, she thought. Just how many families had missed their relative for them only to be alone here in a place full of strangers under the whim of wealthy founders? Hn, well, there went another son running off to his death and she wondered if like her child, he had been ripped away from his home at a young age.
Still it remained that perhaps these soldiers had chosen this life. Maybe they were here because they vehemently supported the conniving scheme of the founders and wished to offer their services in every way possible. For some, this place could be a dream, a blessing even. The gift of traveling through worlds to find the different cultures and powers that were at large and capture those useful pieces to craft a magnificent vision was quite a goal. She herself was humble enough to admit that the thought was exciting to the average man who aspired for more.
"Jupiter," she hears from behind her and flinches, turning uncomfortably and speaking before the Illusionist can finish her message.
"Makoto," she corrects with a frown. "Jupiter is a title amongst the senshi. I don't think I can handle using that same name against them."
Secretly, Makoto scoffs to herself. Though she is conscientiously rebelling against Serenity and the senshi, she finds it funny that she still retains so much loyalty that she would stop others from addressing her as Jupiter, a person that was sworn to be their ally for eternities. And yet she frowns. Wouldn't it be harder for them then to know that it isn't Jupiter who was sworn by blood to be their friend that is defying them but instead Makoto, the young teenage girl who grew to love them for who they were away from their duties? She shook the thought from her mind.
"My apologies," the Illusionist says and Makoto suddenly has the urge to ask her for her name but resists after realizing she doesn't genuinely care enough to know. Something about the Illusionist doesn't sit well with her but she disregards the thought and blames it on her own internal struggle with finding her place in a world she doesn't believe she belongs to.
Makoto nods carelessly in response and again cuts her off.
"Where is my son?"
A strange glint flashes through the Illusionist's eyes and it sets Makoto on edge, her voice falsely uneasy as she makes a reply.
"He has decided to face the senshi in your stead," she says, making Makoto's stomach churn. "I tried to convince him not to but his mind was already set. He seemed bent on protecting you…"
Makoto gulps, feeling sparks starting to crackle through her skin as her senses warn her of impending danger. Again, she disregards the feeling and nods in unease.
The elevator to the underground base is openly vacant and without direction, Makoto steps inside. Soundlessly, the Illusionist follows. The static in the air is somehow stifled and Makoto feels herself scoffing as the mistrust of Black Star becomes evident. Lined with non-conductive material, the elevator juts downward into a room completely engulfed in a rubbery substance. When she steps out, she is not surprised to find herself apprehended by soldiers adorned in protective suits made of material from the elevator.
"We hope you can understand," says a decrepitly aged man whose white hair straggles from his scalp. "All necessary precautions must be taken."
They order the soldiers to continue and they lead her into a separate room surrounded by mirrors with a table in the center and a machine growling beside it. As Makoto is strapped down next to a machine whose function is not hard for her to guess, she tries to summon thunder and it fizzes out like a broken light. The soldiers exit upon completion of their task, and the transparent door closes behind them.
"You plan to take my power," she assumes, unenthused and all the more absolute in what her role is now.
No one answers and her pain crashes into her like a bus as she recalls the reason she is in this predicament. She had known they were misleading her. Though the soldier they claimed was her son looked convincing, she had seen through his façade when the scar that should have been on his forehead just above his eyebrow was nowhere to be found. Her son had only been subject to one completely embarrassing moment of his own doing and the scar he received afterwards was one he actively tried to hide to prevent others from asking about it. Chef hats would be shoved onto his head until they met with the top of his eyebrows and though Makoto often tried to reassure him that the scar was barely noticeable, he still kept on with trying to hide it. He'd continue in that fashion, wearing headbands, and even styling his hair to cover it. That insecure habit was something she adored and her heart ached as she thought of it, the picture of him again finding its way into her thoughts.
He couldn't be replaced but when she saw the soldier so close to being exactly as she imagined her son would look, she couldn't help herself. She knew he wasn't hers but she thought that she could pretend if only just for a moment...
The machine groans into life, the heat of its fuel drifting to her restrained position.
A tear trails down her cheek and a sadistic laugh escapes as the corner of her lips turn into a smirk.
"It's funny," she says, looking up to the disgustingly aged founders whose eyes shined with selfish desire and lack of humanity through the windows. "I was wondering what I'd do when I finally met you all. I just didn't know my decision would be so easy."
She can see them scoffing as though they already won and her eyes maliciously glow with intent to change their mirth-filled expressions. She hopes for some type of vocal response from them, but it doesn't come. Still, she smiles, now knowing for a fact that they had made a large observational error when she calls an unnoticeable oak evolution and it rips hungrily beneath her and through her restraints without hindrance.
Such strong words filled with empty promise. Is a phrase that echoes in her head and she's certain it is the work of the Illusionist. It is unfortunate but this is the end for you.
Amused, Makoto scoffs.
"You really should've done more research," Makoto cockily quips as the walls creek around them but not loud enough that the army of Black Star associates would be alarmed.
And why do you suppose that?
Makoto's scoff becomes more entertained and she lets the words roll from her tongue with dangerous intonations. "Thunder isn't my only vice."
Bark juts through the floor, gripping possessively over bodies and devouring everything in sight as Makoto rises to her feet. The founders' first glint of panic rises to their faces and she is satisfied by their surprise as they futilely try to escape. She knows they won't make it since the Earth has already crushed the last exit from this hidden base. Steadfast and pale, Makoto stands at the center allowing her body to be taken last as her eyes shut in anticipation of the inevitable.
Trowa sat patiently on the bed, watching as Duo charmed the nurses enough to convince them that his friend was in good hands and worthy of being released from their care. After moments of coy laughs and slight blushes, the nurses agreed to get Trowa's release under the condition that he return for therapy once a week. Duo thought it was a decent proposal and agreed.
From the bed, already fully dressed, Trowa stood up, straightening up the wrinkled blankets afterwards. He paused a moment to look to the dresser, the pair of pink rose earrings sparkling in the sunlight and hauntingly prodding his slowly healing heart. Hesitantly, he went to pick them up, recalling the decision he had made just days ago with his invisible guardian from the stars.
"Ready, Trowa?" Duo questioned, popping his head in through the doorway as Trowa stared once more at the earrings.
He could feel the struggle still and though he had admitted to the still unnamed man that he would move on, it was apparent that he still hadn't convinced himself it was for the best.
He winced slightly when realizing it was Quatre's voice this time. When he turned, the blond was patiently standing in the doorway with Duo behind him.
"I'm ready," Trowa said, his hand reaching instinctively for the earrings until he stopped it just short of grazing the top of them. He retracted his arm without them and after one last look, he walked away, the pink rose earrings left on the dresser to sparkle for an empty room.
Thank you for reading! I am almost done! I hope this chapter was decent and as always all comments and/or suggestions are greatly appreciated!
Nerf-or-Nothing: Lol. Thank you so much for your review. Not only did you make me laugh but I am so extremely flattered by your compliments. XD I will do my best to keep writing and thank you so much! Your review(s) (in regards to my other stories) have pretty much made my whole week. ^^ But I'm glad you like this one! I probably sound like a broken record but this one is my favorite so its always awesome to get feedback on it! I cannot thank you enough for your words of encouragement!