All that night and through the next morning, Helios was as quiet as possible – a smart move on his part, for while Mamoru understood the rationality behind what Helios had done, he had not forgiven him for it. Mamoru slept for nearly 14 hours that night, rocked by constant nightmares, one after another, focusing primarily on Usagi and the Dark Kingdom. In one she was caged, in another, bound, in yet another she was lying in a coffin, the flesh melting off her face and reforming into something sinister. Each dream was worse than the last, each her situation more dire, the consequences of losing her to Sailor Venus becoming ever more terrible. And while the dreams were horrible, he did not wake up screaming; whether he physically couldn't or his mind wasn't letting him as further punishment for not being able to save her were both likely candidates as to the reasoning. When finally he broke through and woke up, he was drenched in sweat and his heart was racing painfully. Taking a few deep breaths, he started his day as normally as he could, going into autopilot as he tried not to think at all. He went through his morning routine, modifying where he had to due to the late afternoon hour. It was almost easy, until he went in to make himself something to eat and saw her belt on the table, the little gems shining with inner light.
She dropped it. Even though her life was in danger, though she faced Sailor Venus, she was still thinking of others first. Before even trying to free herself she made sure that the senshi's power crystals would not be used to awaken their evil Queen. Usagi… he looked away, feeling ashamed all over again. He should have been there.
Without touching it, he left the kitchen, slipped into a pair of shoes, and left, deciding that he wasn't hungry after all and that some sunshine would be good for him. As he exited his building he was immediately joined by Moegi, who kept quiet but alert as they walked. His presence was comforting; after all, Moegi hadn't known anything, thus hadn't hidden anything from him. He could still trust Moegi. He didn't know where he was leading them until they were already there: the Crown Fruit Parlor and Arcade. "Old habits die hard," he commented, more to himself than Moegi, and turned to look down the street, wondering where else he could go for some lunch without the possibility of running into Midori or Kobai.
"Do you want to go in?" Moegi asked, but as the door to the arcade opened they both stepped out of the way to let the young patron leave. He was a boy, probably late elementary school in age; as he left the building he was looking down, but glanced up at them once he made it through and paused, looking at Mamoru. Mamoru was sure he had never seen the boy before, but there was something unmistakably familiar about him; maybe the younger brother of someone on the soccer team?
"You're Chiba Mamoru, aren't you?" he asked, looking up at him with a bold expression that contradicted the timid hope in his tone.
Moegi looked like he was about to say something, but Mamoru nodded to answer the kid; he looked as though he were on a mission and, honestly, Mamoru hoped the mission was for him. He needed some sort of distraction; if the kid really was related to someone on the team, then maybe they were looking for him for practice. He'd be able to ignore Midori and still play to keep his mind off his life.
"Have you seen my sister?" he asked, sticking his hands in his pockets nervously and glancing away and back again. Mamoru's hope for a distraction plummeted as he suddenly placed the familiarity; the boy's general features shared similarities with hers. His eyes were even near the shade of hers. "I know you guys are dating and I saw you drop her off last night, but when the lights went off we couldn't find her and I just thought… well I thought maybe she snuck out to go on another date with you or something." He looked up, waiting for an answer, then shuffled his foot once before continuing, as though talking aloud was helping him through his worry for her. "She didn't come home this morning, and my mom and dad are getting really worried. I told them she was probably spending the night at Naru's house, but Naru hasn't seen her so I thought I'd try checking out her arcade and when I saw you I thought… well, have you seen her?"
Mamoru's mind skidded to a stop. What should he do? He couldn't tell them the truth; they'd think he was lying and making light of their situation by suggesting their daughter was a super hero – it would be downright disrespectful. He should offer to help them find her, but then he'd be wasting time he could be spending actually searching for her. But what, then? Lie to them? Keep them hanging and uncertain?
"I'm afraid we haven't seen her since yesterday, kid," Moegi said for him, speaking sympathetically. The kid, Shingo, he remembered, nodded, looking away from them. "We'll keep an eye out for her though," he consoled, "Maybe there was a surprise candy store opening? I know how much Usagi-chan loved her sweets, right?"
Shingo shook his head, looking pointedly away from them as he gritted his teeth.
"We'll find her, Shingo-kun," Mamoru stated, "I promise." He meant it. There was no running, no distractions. They needed to find her and get her back – first priority. Shingo nodded once, mumbled "Thank you", and walked away. As soon as he left Mamoru turned around, facing Moegi, and twitched the watch hands to noon.
"What are you doing?" Moegi asked incredulously as his watch started beeping.
"Cutting the crap and calling a meeting."
With his arms crossed, leaning against the counter watching the door, Mamoru waited for Midori and Helios to arrive. They were the last; Moegi stood to his left, Hanada to his right. Kobai and Beryl sat at a table in the center of the room. If he could avoid involving them he would have, but doing so would be asinine. Both Kobai and Midori were strong, and Beryl and Helios had knowledge about the past that they couldn't afford to ignore. Even if neither of those were the case, begrudging them for their actions was wrong – they were just doing what they thought right, but while Mamoru could rationalize their behavior all he wanted, there was no changing how he felt. Finally the door opened to admit Midori and Helios. The brunet removed his shoes before entering and took a seat across the table from Kobai. He folded his hands on the table and stared at them, looking for all the world like a broken dog.
"We're finding Usagi-chan," Moegi announced as a way to start the meeting. "So… what do we know about the Dark—er, Moon Kingdom's whereabouts and their motives?"
"After last night I started remembering bits and pieces of my past life," Hanada offered, "But I don't remember any open hostility from the Moon Kingdom. Or anything about them, really." He paused, "until the last battle."
Both Moegi and Midori nodded in agreement. Kobai looked at Helios for answers. After a moment watching him, wondering if Kobai knew more than he was letting on, Mamoru looked to Helios as well.
"They were mostly an unknown," Helios commented, standing on the table to survey them all. "From what I remember, up until the last few years of the Golden Kingdom's reign they were just benevolent and silent overseers of Earth, almost like a last defense for life. Older tomes told of times when they would descend from the Moon and fight mysterious evil forces on our planet, then leave."
"What made them change so drastically between those 'olden times' and our Golden Age?" Hanada asked.
"I'm not sure…" Helios trailed off, looking over at Beryl, who sat on Kobai's shoulders with her knees drawn up.
Sensing their eyes on her, Beryl folded her legs another way and took a curl of her hair between her fingers and worried it as she spoke, "We didn't know for sure, but…" she glanced apologetically at Mamoru, "it might have had something to do with their Princess falling in love with a Terran."
"None of that matters now," Mamoru stated, closing the subject and internalizing further implications that this entire mess, all of their hardships, was his fault. "Where do they call base now? Where are they keeping Usagi? Are they on the Moon?"
"How could we get to the Moon?" Moegi marveled. "Midori?"
Midori's chuckle was half-hearted. "I think that'd cost a little more than my yearly allowance."
"I don't think they're on the Moon anymore," Beryl quietly said, her wings fluttering. "Throughout the eras following the fall of the Golden Age, I remained in Elysion, watching over the holy city and the gardens. I didn't know what the golden light did to everyone, but when the blonde warrior returned less than a year ago, I hoped it meant rebirth for everyone in the battle. The way she moved was purposeful, and though I didn't know what she planned, I left to find you, hoping you all had been reborn that I could reawaken you before the Dark Kingdom could destroy us again."
"They're in Elysion?!" Moegi spat incredulously. Mamoru's hands tensed into fists as a sour taste invaded his mouth. They were in his Kingdom, his capital city, planning the destruction of Earth from its ancient seat of power; the thought infuriated him. Why would Diana use Elysion when her Moon Kingdom should have been whole? Was it to enrage him? Well, it worked. No more waiting; they would save Usagi and defeat Diana and end this millennia-long war.
"How do we get there?" he asked, unfolding his arms and straightening. He had brought the Golden Crystal with him; they could leave from here. He'd already be on his way if not for Elysion's relocation to a separate dimension. To his credit, Midori pushed back and stood, ready to go with him.
"Are we ready to face them?" Hanada asked cautiously. If it had been anyone else, Mamoru would have brushed them off and repeated his original question, but Hanada wouldn't have asked if he didn't mean it and have a specific reason in mind. So he paused, giving his attention to the blond. Hanada met his eye, "Venus won the last battle. She was in our world, we fought her on our time, and she still won. Do we really want to go running into their base while both she and blonde warrior are still at large? This could all just be an elaborate trap in order to secure the golden crystal; she might have taken Usagi specifically to get us to Elysion before we are truly prepared for this final battle. I think we should wait."
"Wait for what?" Midori asked, shoving his hands in his pockets as he stared Hanada down, "It's not like our waiting here for a more opportune time is making it any easier for Usagi-chan. The longer we wait, the rustier our skills get and the less chance we have at surviving. So long as our Prince is up for it, I say we go now."
"But is he up for it?" Kobai asked, leaning back in his chair and glancing back at them. Mamoru wanted to hit him. He was smug, he was elitist, he was secretive, he kept the truth from them seemingly without regret or remorse, and now he questioned Mamoru's abilities; there was nothing more Mamoru wanted to do than to punch him in his holier-than-thou face. Catching his stare, the grey eyebrows quirked. Mamoru twitched forward; immediately Hanada's arm went before him defensively, cautioning him to stay where he was. "Dislike me all you wish, Prince," Kobai said, his tone infuriatingly calm, "But it's my job to keep you safe, and, to my knowledge, you have never used the Golden Crystal offensively. Would you really like your first time to be when the Earth's survival is at stake?"
Keeping his eyes on Kobai, Mamoru released his frustration by unlocking his arms and slamming his fist into the cabinet behind him before turning sharply away, walking around the bar area into the billiards side of Hanada's game room. There he paused, breathing deeply as he stared at the green felt table and wishing the "Morning Star" wasn't right. He had never used the Golden Crystal to hurt anyone, in this life or his last. Now and in the Golden Age, he had only used it to rejuvenate. How, then, could it be of any use in this fight? Seemingly Ages ago, when it had only been the three of them, Helios had suggested the Golden Crystal would be the answer to all their problems; it would defeat the Moon Kingdom threat in no time, else it would at least stand equal to the Silver Crystal in battle. But what good was it if it could only heal? How could he use it to destroy this evil presence and save innocent lives? To save Usako's life?
He felt helpless. They had been so sure, yesterday; they had their plan and they were well on their way to completing their mission. One more senshi to go and the world was safe. They had found their Prince, completed the Heavenly Kings, and with Jewel Tiara on their side, they had secured immense wells of power that could not then be utilized in the Dark Kingdom. "Yesterday had been so much better," he commented quietly, staring at the white dots that marked the billiard table. His life had been so good yesterday. He knew who he was. He had a family, he had friends he trusted with his life – friends he would both live and die for – and he had Usagi, someone who brightened everything and made him feel complete. It couldn't have gotten any better than yesterday. But now?
Now he was a twofold failure, both betrayed and betrayer. He had been lied to and it had cost them all dearly; Midori almost died, Usagi had been kidnapped, Venus lived. He couldn't trust Kobai farther than he could throw him, and now he had to question his feelings for Usagi based on his love of Serenity. He had found that it was his fault that the Moon attacked, his fault that Serenity died, his fault that they were all here now, and he hadn't even managed to do what he had sacrificed it all to try: Serenity was dead. And to top it all off, he couldn't even utilize their only hope, the Golden Crystal, in any truly useful way. They had put so much stock in the Prince and the Golden Crystal being the last line of defense, the thing to turn to if nothing else worked.
And now here he was, completely useless.
"Hey." Mamoru focused, then turned to acknowledge the speaker. It was Moegi, looking a little uncomfortable. Behind him, Hanada and Midori were speaking very quietly with Kobai; based on Hanada's subtle gestures, it wasn't a particularly nice conversation. Part of him liked that, the other half felt like they were fighting his battles for him. Looking back to Moegi, Mamoru waited for him to continue. Moegi shrugged self-consciously, looking away, his eyes darting all around the room before he finally said, "I believe in you, okay? So yesterday was shit, so what? We'll get through it and kill the crap out of that blonde, rescue Usagi-chan, take back Elysion and save the world. That's all there is to it." Moegi crossed his arms, still uncomfortable, staring at the score-board mounted on the other side of the room.
Mamoru half-smiled. As terrible as he felt, he really appreciated Moegi's for saying what he did; that he even offered to say anything so openly and honestly meant a lot. Maybe they would do alright. Maybe he could learn to direct the Golden Crystal's energy into attacks. And maybe pigs would fly and Midori would pass all of his classes. In any case, he wasn't giving up, even if it did seem hopeless. He'd continue to try until they killed her or she killed them. "Diana," he corrected, a little late.
"The blonde in charge. Her name is Diana; she was the general of their forces and right hand of Queen Serenity."
Moegi looked at him full-on, both brows furrowed incredulously, "Okay, so? She's dying either way. I guess we have something for a headstone now, thanks." He shrugged his shoulders, putting his palms up the ceiling, and turned back to the others, "Did you hear that? Beryl, make yourself useful and start carving a tombstone for Diana. Make it tiny so we can step on it after she's dead. We're sure-as-hell not burying her in Elysion."
The quiet conversation stopped and Beryl jumped into the air, flittering above the table hesitantly. "And when do you want it ready by?" she asked, continuing with the charade as a means of masking another question.
All eyes shifted to Mamoru. As much as he wanted to say 'immediately', there was no way they would have a chance if they left now. Kobai was right – he needed more practice with the crystal. Hanada was right, too; they couldn't face Venus and Diana and whatever other monsters they had prowling around in Elysion and still hope to come out of there alive. No matter how worried he was about Usagi, going in now would probably cause her death rather than her rescue. They had to wait. "No rush," he answered, and the tension in the room plummeted.
Their meeting ended soon after without much progress anywhere else. Sunday was spent on the rooftop, trying to coax the Golden Crystal into attacking various targets to no avail. Monday came with a reluctant return to school; for the first time in his life, Mamoru considered skipping in order to try again with the Crystal, but in the end decided to go in hopes that when concentrating on academics, the solution for his problem would surface. He worked hard throughout the day, and continued to stretch himself in soccer, where ignoring Midori was a hassle, but doable. Afterwards he and Hanada went back to his place so he could work more with the Crystal.
By Thursday he was beginning to see some results; if he acted as though he had just thrown a rose, the energy would sometimes follow his hand, bursting forward with a golden glow. It worked best when his palm faced outward, but then he was beginning to see that the Golden Crystal's powers were more connected to his hands than anything. Through his hands he could heal, he could locate people and objects, and, as he practiced more and more, he could focus energy and send it out. Still, while it was impressive to affect things without actually touching them, he felt as though this development still wasn't enough to tip the scales in their favor. If only he could magnify the amount of energy; it felt almost like it was bottled-necked, like he wasn't allowing as much to pass through as he wanted or as it could allow. He had to figure out how to get around the block if he wanted any chance of success. He needed to find a way.
After school on Friday they started back towards his apartment to keep trying, but Moegi intercepted them on the way.
"Hey, Moegi," Hanada greeted, a little confused, "Don't you have debate practice?"
Moegi shook his head, "Rescheduled. Do you guys want to go hang at Crown for a bit?"
Hanada looked to Mamoru, obviously willing to do whatever he decided. Mamoru considered; while he needed to continue working with the crystal and the developments of the day before were interesting, he knew he needed a break. It wasn't that he felt depleted energy-wise, but mentally he could use a bit of time off, and hanging out with Moegi and Hanada would probably be a good step in that direction. He shrugged and nodded, and the three of them turned towards the shopping district.
When they reached the Crown Fruit Parlor and stepped inside towards their regular spot, Mamoru paused when he saw Midori sitting in the booth. He started to turn back when Moegi caught his arm and held him with a hard glare. "Time to "cut the crap", remember?" he spoke quietly, "It was a jerk move not to tell us, but he thought he was doing the right thing. Your 'silent treatment' or whatever you're pulling with him is messing him up; just forgive him already. You know he's got your back and he won't pull that shit again."
Pride flared instantly in reaction to the condescending tone and Mamoru's first instinct was to push past, keep walking, and add Moegi to his shit-list. The only thing stopping him, in fact, was the knowledge deep down that he was right. Would he have done the same thing if his and Midori's roles had been reversed? No, and he'd proven it – they told Midori that they thought he was the Prince almost immediately after his first transformation. But did he agree it was a rational alternative to their original plan to keep the Prince in the dark? Grudgingly, yes. He would not have agreed to such a plan, personally, but he could understand why Midori and Kobai did. Well, Midori more than Kobai; Midori, at least, seemed regretful when it blew up in their faces. And that regret Midori displayed led him to believe that Moegi was right in that he wouldn't do it again. Kobai on the other hand…
"We'll see," Mamoru growled in response, thinking of Kobai and wondering whether the man could persuade the others into something like that again. He turned around and completed the trip to their table, paying little attention to Midori and the somewhat-shocked look on his face as he sat down across the booth from him.
"Hey," Midori greeted, a small touch of apprehension creeping unbidden into his otherwise-casual tone. He leaned forward a bit, his hands folded together over the newspaper he had been reading.
"Hey," Mamoru replied nonchalantly, meeting his gaze in a conveyance of gradual forgiveness. He nodded towards the counter, "Go get me a drink."
Midori's brows furrowed, his face filled with shocked disbelief as he balked "Go get your own!" and folded his arms crossly. Mamoru chuckled, glad Midori wasn't going to try an apology by way of overcompensation; Midori, seeing his reaction, started laughing along. And just like that it was practically back to normal, so long as he could ignore what the other night had meant, or what faced them and the stakes of their upcoming battle. Hanada and Moegi joined them and conversation was easy, but distinctly avoiding mention of their other lives, of senshi and missing friends, of Crystals that didn't quite work, of Kobai and Beryl, or the world they were now starting to remember; however, while their words kept safely to clubs and sports, it was obvious that their minds were hovering around those unspoken topics.