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Sticks and Stones
Chapter 5
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"Serena!" Luna's voice pierced through the air, making Sailor Moon cringe. "Where have you been?"

"I was taking a walk in the park," she lied, unwilling to speak of her conversation with Tuxedo Mask.

"In your Sailor Scout form!" Luna shrieked with disapproval. "Use of your broach is only for emergencies! Not for taking walks in the park where anyone could be watching!"

She restrained herself from pointing out that if anyone did discover her identity, it would be from Luna's habit of screaming her civilian name and not her misuse of Scout gear.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" Luna continued, obviously expecting something.

Sailor Moon knew Luna wanted an apology, but she just couldn't bring herself to deliver it. Not after what she had witnessed at the temple earlier and certainly not while knowing why Luna was calling her now.

"Is there a youma attacking?" she asked instead, despite knowing the answer.

"Well, no..." Luna hesitated, confirming Sailor Moon's suspicions. "Wait! Don't change the subject! And don't think we won't be discussing this during the Scout meeting tonight. Honestly, Serena, how can you—"

"Scout meeting?" Sailor Moon questioned, cutting off Luna's tirade.

"Uh...yes. That was actually why I was calling. I wanted to inform you that there will be a Scout meeting tonight at—"

"The temple. Got it," Sailor Moon once again cut in as she slipped into an alley to de-transform.

Luna paused after Sailor Moon's interruption before continuing.

"Yes, actually... How did you—"

"Luna, I've got to go. I'll see you tonight."

Sailor Moon hung up on the feline, almost wanting to smirk at the expression on Luna's face. She didn't think anyone had ever dismissed Luna like that and was kind of proud that she had been the first.

She groaned as the ribbons unwound, leaning against one of the walls for support. While in her Scout form, her cuts and bruises had seemed to hurt less, but now that she was back in civilian form, she couldn't rely on her superhuman tolerance for pain.

Limping down the street, her panted breath was all she could hear as her body throbbed. The pain was only getting worse as new injuries showed up every day. At first, she had attributed them to her own clumsiness, but now, she knew that wasn't it.

She remembered the pain of listening to her friends degrade her and although a great deal of it had been emotional, it had actually begun to manifest physically.

That youma had done something to her—of that, she was certain. The marks had started showing up the very next day and although they had started out as minor injuries, she knew that even she wasn't that clumsy.

She also remembered that fight she had with Darien in the arcade and how he had denied touching her, when she was sure she had felt something. In fact, much of the pain seemed to come when she was around Darien.

A sudden thought struck her, causing her to pause, as everything began to fall together.

The pain only came when someone was being mean or insulting her, so maybe, that was what was causing it?

She frowned at the idea, remembering that some of the cuts and bruises had appeared while she was alone, and realization finally dawned on her.

"They really hate me," she whispered aloud in horrified wonder.

She resumed walking after a few moments of quiet despair and slid into another alley. Retrieving the Luna Pen from her subspace pocket, she asked for it turn her into a healthy and happy version of herself.

The transformation did little to lift her spirits, although she was pleased to see that her cuts and bruises were no longer visible. She could still feel them, but that didn't really matter.

She just had the overwhelming urge to hide, unwilling to let the others see what their cruel—and most likely true—words had done to her.

She wondered if the glamour would hold when they took away her leadership duties, too.

...

"What is taking that Meatball Head so long!" Serena heard Raye complain from within the temple. The girl's shriek was loud enough to wake the dead.

"I don't—Serena! Where have you been!" Luna demanded upon first sight of her standing in the doorway.

"Sorry," Serena mumbled, hoping she would be able to make it through this without breaking down.

"As you should be for making us wait!" Raye proclaimed with an indignant sniff.

"Hi, Serena," Amy chimed in quietly, but didn't look at her. Lita's greeting wasn't much better.

"I brought some muffins," Lita added with a small smile that was decidedly off.

"No thanks—" Serena began to decline, before she was quickly cut off by a snarky remark from Raye.

"Like she needs it," Raye scoffed.

Lita frowned at this, but pushed the plate of muffins closer.

"Nonsense. Have one if you want, Serena."

Serena stared at the muffins for a moment, but couldn't summon an appetite for what would probably be a delicious treat at any other time. As for right now though, she just felt sick. Not to mention that the subtle blows she had felt to her stomach from Raye's comments were difficult enough to hide without adding food to the mix.

"No, really. I'm fine," she assured.

The collectively shocked faces glanced at one another, but didn't comment this time. Serena could feel something sharp digging into the inside of her arm though, alerting her to the less than complimentary thoughts.

She wondered which one it was coming from. Before today, she would've said Raye, but now?

It could be any of them.

"Well, now that Serena is here, it is time that we started the meeting," Luna announced.

A foreboding silence fell upon the girls, some unsure how to approach this conversation, while others were just waiting for them to get it over with. Serena knew what they wanted, but if they were going to demote her, she wasn't going to make it easier for them.

Although admittedly, after what she had heard earlier, she didn't think it would be too difficult for them.

"It has come to my attention that...perhaps the way in which you...orient yourselves as Sailor Scouts needs to be changed," Luna spoke slowly, obviously having trouble finding the words.

It came as no surprise when Raye cut in. Despite being a priestess, she has never really been known for her patience.

"Luna, you're making this harder than it has to be," she interjected. "It's simple. Sailor Moon shouldn't be the leader anymore."

It took everything Serena had not to flinch at the pain stabbing in her back. She almost wanted to laugh at the irony.

"Serena," Luna began softly, "I am sorry it has come to this, but due to your lack of...ambition, I feel it would be better to appoint one of the other girls as leader."

"The rest of you feel the same way?" Serena inquired needlessly, already know the answer.

She gazed around the room, staring each one of them down until they averted their eyes. She could feel it, their agreement with Luna as five separate stings in her back.

"Right. So, am I still a Scout? Or...?" she asked as calmly as she could manage.

Fortunately, the physical pain worked well to distract her from the rest.

"Yes..." Luna replied, bewildered at the quiet girl standing before her, so very different from the Serena they knew. "Only the leadership is being changed...to Raye."

"Alright. Well, if that's it... I'm gonna go."

The girls were so shocked by Serena's attitude—they had been expecting her to wail endlessly—that Serena almost made it out the door before anyone spoke.

"Stop."

The command rang out and Serena sighed as she turned to look back at their new leader.

"Have a seat, Serena. We still have other Sailor Scout business to attend to." Raye gave her a hard stare, daring Serena to defy her.

Serena turned back around, dismissing the command as she quickly left the temple. She heard Luna calling her name, but didn't acknowledge it.

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