Chapter 12: "Does The Loss Equal The Gained"
A neo-Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.

In confusion, the Asteroids looked around. They were surrounded by the twilight mists of the limbo where the Door Of Time resided. Vesta visibly relaxed.

"Boy, when I saw Black Lady hit us with that energy blast, I thought we were cooked!" Vesta gasped.

"Her name was Usagi, not Black Lady," Sailor Moon said with some irritation. "Not at the end." And she began scanning the area she knew so well.

"What are you looking for?" Juno asked.

"The Door Of Time," Sailor Moon replied. "I have to find a way back. I have to help her."

"Don't you think she can do it?"

"Not alone. The crystal has limits," Sailor Moon explained. "It draws from your energy and magnifies it. But if you ask it to do too much, it draws everything you have - - and you die."

"Isn't that what she wanted?" Juno said.

"It doesn't matter!" Sailor Moon said stubbornly. "I'm not going to let her take the easy way out! She still has so much she can do!"

"You really want to make her live the rest of her life with the knowledge that she killed her parents and her love?" Ceres asked, askance. Sailor Moon stopped. Her shoulders slumped.

"She's the only one who knows what happened to Saturn," Sailor Moon squeaked. Then her shoulders squared. "Besides, what kind of a person would I be if I let her sacrifice herself when I could help. Mom wouldn't do that."

Taking off suddenly, Sailor Moon plunged into the mists. The Asteroids scrambled to catch up to her. But they were all brought up short when Sailor Pluto suddenly stepped out of the mists directly in Sailor Moon's path.

"My Lady," Pluto nodded. "Please follow me."

"Are you going to take me to the Door?" Sailor Moon asked, a quaver of anxiety escaping into her tone despite her best efforts.

But Pluto said nothing. Realizing that she was headed in the direction of the Door, Sailor Moon fell in behind her.

"Do you suppose Miss Saturn-Ma'am is all right?" Pallas wondered out loud.

"I hope so," Juno reassured her. "Are you picking up anything from Sailor Pluto?"

Pallas shook her head. "Pallas can't seem to hear Miss Pluto-Ma'am's thoughts." She glanced around the limbo and shivered. "This place is spooky."

If Pluto heard them, she gave no sign.

Serenity's hands shot up to her mouth. Diana stared up at the pair in shock.

"No," she whimpered, doubling over from the distress she felt. Diana's attention turned solicitously to her. Then the Queen straightened up. "Pluto, it can't be too . . .!"

But Pluto was gone.

"Behind you, My Queen," Pluto said. Serenity whirled around and found Pluto walking up, flanked by Sailor Moon and the four Asteroid senshi.

"USA!" she wailed and flung herself at her child. Sailor Moon was shoved back two steps as the Queen trapped the senshi in a bear hug and buried her face in the kerchief of the senshi's fuku. Helpless to do anything else, Sailor Moon curled her arms around her mother's middle. They held each other for a few moments while the Queen soaked her daughter's kerchief with her tears.

Then Serenity's head shot up. Anxiously she looked around, her eyes finally coming to rest on her daughter's.

"Where's Kousagi?" Serenity asked desperately.

"I am sorry, My Queen," Pluto announced. "My Lady. Both sisters were consumed by the energies needed to save Earth in the parallel time."

And the Queen's tears flowed anew, these accompanied by the most pitiful wails. Sailor Moon actually had to hold her mother up to keep the woman from collapsing at her feet. And it was a struggle, because she wasn't feeling very strong herself at that moment. As the Queen sobbed, Pluto turned to the Diana of the other time line.

"Your time has need of you, Diana," Pluto said. "It stands with a grave path before it. Your mother and father will need your help for the task ahead."

"Both the princesses are gone?" Diana asked, heart-sick. Pluto nodded solemnly. Resisting the urge to break down, Diana turned and headed for the door of time. At the door, she paused and turned back to Pluto.

"It was nice seeing . . ." the cat began.

But Pluto and the denizens of the other time line were no longer there. It was as if she'd dreamed them all.

"But you know better, don't you Diana?" she mumbled to herself and passed through the door.

With the aid of Juno and Ceres, Sailor Moon passed the Queen and the others through the temporal nexus into their present. Though the uncertainty of Saturn's fate gnawed at her, the Princess focused on helping her mother. Saturn would just have to hold on a little longer - - wherever she was. Because she couldn't be dead. Sailor Moon refused to believe it was possible that . . .

"Sailor Moon!"

And Saturn was there, in the corridor outside of the temporal nexus, waiting. Overcome by a wave of emotion, Sailor Moon wrenched away from her mother and enveloped Sailor Saturn in the same crushing bear hug that her mother had caught her in earlier. Saturn was actually lifted off of her feet.

"Saturn! You're all right! I thought," Sailor Moon began as the others looked on happily. "Well, I didn't know what to think! How did you get here?"

"Usagi," Saturn answered once her feet regained the floor. "She teleported me back to this time line. I've been here ever since, waiting for you, because I can't pass through the nexus." The girl looked down, embarrassed. "For a moment - - when she fired that black energy at me - - I thought it was all over. But I guess deep down she wasn't evil after all."

"No," Sailor Moon answered.

"Did she . . .?" Saturn asked.

Sailor Moon shook her head.

She turned to take her mother back to their quarters, but Rei was already there and taking Serenity into her care. Sadly Sailor Moon and the senshi watched the two go.

"Sailor Moon, I'm sorry," Saturn offered. The transformation faded and Helios stepped from her form. He, too, looked at Usa with sadness and concern.

"Thanks," the Princess mumbled. "She was so angry. She just wanted to destroy everything that was important to Kousagi. Only she didn't realize that those same things were important to her, too. Not until it was too late." She turned to the Asteroids, now returning to civilian form. "Thank you, everyone." Cere nodded while the others looked on sympathetically. Usa turned to Helios. "Doing anything right now?"

"Yes," Helios responded. "I believe I will be sitting with you."

Usa molded herself against Helios and the pair walked off.

It was a somber mood in the Palace Of Crystal Tokyo. Queen Serenity was desolate over losing Kousagi a second time, and there was an old saying in the land: "When Queen Serenity is sad, the entire country weeps in her stead so she won't have to stain her gown." People began gathering in the streets surrounding the palace, bearing gifts and wondering what else they could do to make the Queen smile again. For many of them lived for her smile.

"Do this, go there," muttered Diana as she slipped into Usa's room through the door. "I'm not your personal maid, Mother. The Queen will get better. You just need to give her time. It was a terrible blow . . ."

At that point the gray cat realized that she wasn't alone in the room. Usa was laying on her side on the bed, her back to the door. The cat felt a moment of embarrassment at having been caught muttering to herself. It was just that Luna could be so infuriating some times.

Then she got a feeling that something wasn't quite right. It was nothing overt, but the visual cues she was getting from the silent figure didn't add up. Softly she padded over and leaped up onto the bed. Angling her head to see Usa's face gave her the answers she sought.

"A tissue might do a better job than your thumb," Diana suggested gently. Usa flushed slightly. Even in the low light, Diana could see the puffy eyes of her princess. "There's no need to be embarrassed. I heard the story. It was quite the tragic ending."

"Tragic," mumbled Usa.

"My Lady," Diana began, "your twin and her sister chose to make their sacrifice out of a need to protect others and a need to take responsibility for their actions."

"I know all of that," Usa said softly. "That Usagi did exactly what I would have done. She did what I would have expected her to do. What - - Pop would have expected her to do."

Diana stared. "Is it something else?"

Usa inhaled deeply. "She acted exactly how I would have acted to neutralize that rod and save Earth."

"And . . .?"

Usa didn't answer right away. "So if I somehow lost Helios," she finally spoke, "would I react the same way she did?"

A familiar helplessness fell over Diana.

"This frightened you," she observed.

"Of course it did," Usa frowned. "I saw a twisted mirror image of me, one that became a danger to everybody because she gave in to the petty, immature feelings that lurk inside of me all the time."

"Which makes you human."

"Helios said that, too, but you're both missing the point," Usa argued. "I can't afford to be human. I can't afford to give in to my immature side. I have too much power - - physical power and in the future governmental power. I can't afford to give in to those dark urges. I saw what happens when I do that; like I needed another example after Wise Man. I'm not a Princess, I'm a ticking time bomb . . ."

"Oh, rubbish!" Diana fumed. "This other Usagi lost control during an emotionally vulnerable time. It wasn't inevitable for her and it's not inevitable for you."

"But the possibility is still there," countered Usa. "That's what Desdaemona was trying to show me."

"Then don't let it happen," Diana advised her.

Usa stared at the cat.

"Just like that?"

"Just like that," Diana nodded. "Life is a series of trials and errors. Sometimes we make errors and it's too late to correct them. But it's a crime to make an error and learn nothing from it. And you've an advantage in this instance. Here you've been shown the consequences of an error without actually having to suffer those consequences. This is a unique learning experience. My advice is to learn from it. Don't punish yourself because you made the error. Make certain that you don't make it again." She gave the girl a cynical look. "But I suppose sitting around whining 'woe is me' is easier than learning your lesson."

"Helios wasn't this hard on me," Usa pouted.

"Well Helios is reluctant to expose you to harsher realities due to," and she glanced at the girl's womanly body, "other considerations. Sometimes humans need their cats to show them where the unvarnished truth lies."

"Yeah," Usa mused quietly. "Maybe that was the secret behind Mom's success: Luna."

"Well, I'll grant you that Mother did have some SMALL influence on Her Majesty," Diana replied. "But the basic greatness has always been within her, just as it's always been within you. The Queen just never believed it. And there's that saying: 'Like mother, like daughter'."

"Yeah," Usa said with a cynical grin, a grin aimed right at the little gray cat. "I sure can see the truth in that saying right about now."

"Personally," sniffed Diana with haughty aloofness, a gesture that greatly resembled another cat who lived in the palace, "I have no clue as to what you're referring to."

Confident that her friend's self-assurance had been at least partially restored, Diana hopped down to the floor and headed for her favorite sleeping nook in the closet. As she did, she recalled something her mother had always said about knowing when to guide the Queen when she was younger and when to "boot her in the rear".

"I guess Mother is right," Diana mused, "about A FEW things, anyway."

Cere entered the common room of the quarters she shared with the other Asteroids dressed in a tight metallic red strapless gown slit up one side to the hip. She had black hose on underneath, red high heeled shoes and white opera gloves. Her magenta hair was styled in an upsweep, revealing an aquiline neck and silver teardrop earrings. Jun whistled.

"Somebody's on the prowl," she smirked.

"I am NOT on the prowl," Cere scowled. "Just because I want to look nice doesn't mean I'm on the prowl. There's an exhibition tonight and it happens to be very fancy dress."

"Well that outfit definitely says 'fancy'," Jun nodded. "It also says 'stalking predator'."

Cere grinned. "There's nothing wrong with that."

"This exhibition wouldn't happen to be of art by Hikaru Kuroda, would it?"

"Could be," Cere responded coyly. "I want to see if my portrait is in the exhibition. And I don't think we'll be needed anytime soon. Usa's getting back to normal and even the Queen is beginning to perk up a little. And I need some 'me' time."

"And you hope Kuroda might be there and be overwhelmed by your vampirish beauty," Jun teased.

"Vampirish?" Cere responded, aghast. "Sure, it would be nice to see Kuroda-San. But he's not interested in me. Not as date material, anyway. I'm just an interesting subject to paint. And I think I'm the wrong sex."

"You know this?" Jun asked.

"Well he's not interested, so it stands to reason."

"You sound disappointed."

"Well, I have had a few naughty dreams about him," Cere admitted. Then she shrugged. "But you can't force these things. Hey, take your compliments where you get them and move on."

The exhibition was crowded. Hikaru Kuroda was one of the growing sensations of the local art scene and the affair was attended by art critics, art worshippers and people wanting to associate with the famous and trendy. Cere was complimented more than once on her look, but she could see that she was just one more glamorous girl in a sea of glamor. As such, she concentrated on the paintings.

After a while, she found her portrait, hanging next to a powerful portrait of a sunset. Looking at the portrait, Cere felt a thrill pass through her. He'd captured her likeness, but there was more. There was an audacity to the curve of her hip. There was a majesty to the way she stood. The way the light hit the woman in the picture made her larger than life. And the eyes just held you in a way Cere never seemed to see in the bathroom mirror. Her chest swelled with pride. If she had the money, she'd buy it on the spot.

"I don't think it captured you," a voice came from behind her.

Cere turned and found Hikaru Kuroda standing behind her. He was in a tuxedo, though on him it seemed wrong, out of character. But those same smoldering eyes were behind his thick black frame glasses and his black hair was still wind-tossed and unkempt.

"Kuroda-San," Cere exclaimed in surprise. "Um, I think it looks great."

"Then you can't see the flaws I see," he frowned. "But it's the best I could do at the time."

"I'm sorry you're disappointed," Cere replied.

"It just gives me incentive to do better," he shrugged. "People think capturing beauty on canvas is easy. 'Just paint what you see.' But they don't see what I see."

Cere looked at him. He didn't care. He disapproved of the picture, but he wasn't going to regret it. Cere marveled. He was so complex.

Suddenly he clasped Cere's hand.

"This place has suddenly become boring," he observed. "I'm going to take you to dinner."

"B-But," Cere gasped. "The exhibition? It's for you!"

"It's for my work," he shrugged. "It can get along without me."

"But all of these people . . .!"

"Are here to see and be seen by each other, so they can feel elite," Kuroda maintained. "I doubt one in ten give a damn about my work and out of those, only one in ten understands it."

"But," Cere continued to protest.

"Don't you understand?" Kuroda responded, staring so intently at Cere that he was overpowering. "I don't want to be with all of these people. I want to be alone in a restaurant with an incredibly beautiful woman."

"You think I'm beautiful?" Cere asked, smiling.

"So beautiful my art couldn't capture it all," Kuroda replied. Then he smiled confidently. "So I'm just going to have to capture it another way."

"Definitely not gay," she thought.

Cere smirked. "You think it's going to be THAT easy?"

"Nothing worthwhile is ever THAT easy," Kuroda winked.

And together they scurried out of the exhibition, hand in hand.