Hey there :) Sorry for the late update but I've been celebrating Christmas with my family :) Hope everyone had a great Christmas and a merry New Year to come! Please enjoy this next chapter :) xx


A Princess's Duty

Asami takes my hand and together we make our way down the hall to the entrance of the Ionian Palace. A crowd of people congregate outside the Palace gate, as the chariot pulls up and enters the grounds. Chorus of cheering and chanting erupts through the crowd and I laugh in spite of myself. My father is certainly a favourite of the people – and he's not shy in showing it either. My father exits the chariot and gives the people a wave. I grin and run to greet him.

"Mako," he says, pulling me into his arms and kissing my forehead. "I have missed you, my dear."

"I have missed you too," I reply and kiss his cheek. He gives me a weak smile and I instantly know that something is wrong. His smile is fake, I can tell. For some reason he is trying to act brave and it's off putting.

"Father," I begin, " what's wrong?"

"Nothing, Mako. What could possibly be wrong when I am reunited with my daughter."

I am still not satisfied but let the matter rest for now. One of the palace servants hands my father a microphone.

"You requested this, your Majesty," he bows low before my father.

"Thank you,' says my father and he turns towards the crowd. "People of Jupiter!" His voice is magnified to ten times his normal voice. I resist the urge to put my hands over my ears. "I have an announcement to make! After her two month absence, Princess Makoto has returned and I am happy to say," he looks at me briefly, "that she is now eligible to be married."

"What?" I blurt out in outrage. Marriage? What is he talking about? Why would I need to get married? Asami scolds me and I clamp my hand over my mouth to keep me from going into a fit of rage. I have never been told that I am eligible to be married. I would only need to be married to become Queen – as is Jupiter custom – but why would I need to become Queen when my father is still the King? Unless...

"Every eligible young man will have the chance to win the heart of the Princess if they so desire it. By the end of the week, the Princess herself, will chose her husband. Good luck to all suitors."

There is a cheer as my father waves one last time before heading into the palace. I follow him in outrage. As soon as we are safely behind palace doors, I round on him.

"Marriage!" I scream. "Father, what are you playing at?"

"You are of age, Makoto, and therefore, we need to find you a husband. For you cannot become Queen without one."

I shake my head violently in disgust and throw my arms up in the air. "But I don't want to get married!"

My father fixes me with a grave look. "You have no choice, if you are to become Queen. It is the law. A woman cannot become Queen unless she is married."

"And why do I need to become the Queen?" I rant, pacing around the hall in a mad rage. "You have many years ahead of you as the King, so why now? Surely I can look for a husband when I'm much older. I'm only seventeen!"

My father looks eyes with Asami and she nods.

"Please, leave us for a moment," he tells the guards. Everyone nods and exits the chamber, leaving me and my father alone.

"Mako-chan," he says slowly. "There is something you need to know." His green eyes meet mine. They are filled with sadness and regret, something I don't quite understand.

"What is it?"

"Come here." He gestures for me to approach him and I do so, reluctantly. As I draw near, he cups my cheek and caresses my skin with his thumb.

"While on the mission, we were attacked."

"Attacked? By who? I knew we shouldn't have trusted those Earthlings!" I cry in rage. My father laughs uneasily and cuts off my rant.

"The 'Earthlings' as you call them, are not the problem. I have met their King and he is perfectly trustworthy. But there is a dark force in the universe, Makoto. Something powerful is awakening, and this dark force attacked us while we were on Earth. The Earth King has strong defences though, but I was injured while helping him."

I gasp slightly and kneel before my father. "Injured?" I whisper. "But you seem fine."

He lowers his head slowly. "My healers have done all they can to make me look presentable for tonight's banquet. But I am badly wounded across my chest and internally. My energy is slowly being taken away, and the healers suspect I have less than a week to live."

Tears well in my ears and spill down my cheeks. I cannot believe what I am hearing. My father can't be dying – he's the King of Jupiter. The bravest warrior that ever lived. Nothing can harm him. He takes my hands and smiles weakly, brushing some of the tears away.

"No," I say stubbornly as I shake my head. "No, you can't be dying. It's not true."

"Mako-chan," he lifts my chin to look into my eyes. "It is true."

"NO!" I cry, throwing myself into his arms. "No, father, no!" I sob into his chest, wrapping my arms tightly around his neck.

"Makoto, you'll ruin your dress."

"I don't care!" I growl fiercely. "Surely someone can heal you? What about your healers?"

"They've tried everything they can, but it is not enough."

"Then what about Serenity? Her Silver Crystal will surely be able to save you!" I jump to my feet. "I'll send word to her right away, that's what I'll do. And she'll make you better, I just know she will. Serenity always makes things better."

My father just stares at me with sad eyes. "It's no use Makoto. Nothing will work."

"Of course it will," I say quickly, giving a sort of crazy half-laugh. "There's always something. We just need -"

"Makoto!" my father shouts. I instantly stop pacing and face him. "Please, child. You'll make yourself sick."

I feel the tears running down my cheeks like the pelting rain outside. But I don't care. Nothing seems to make sense. No matter how hard I try, I can't quite come to terms with the fact that my father is dying. There must be some sort of mistake. My father is not the type to just give up –there must be something - anything - that can heal him.

"I'm not the one you should be worrying about, father!" I scold him, almost pleading.

He takes my hands in his and gives them a gentle squeeze. "Mako-chan," he says calmly – too calmly if you ask me. "Serenity needs all the power that the Silver Crystal can hold if she is to defeat this darkness that haunts our universe. She cannot waste it on healing me. I am not that important."

"You're important to me, father," I say in a small voice, refusing to meet his eyes. I feel like a child again, which frightens me. I don't like feeling weak and vulnerable.

"I know, sweetheart. But you are important too. That is why I have declared for you to be married. If you are to succeed me, then you need to have a husband."

I frown and shake my head. "But father," I plea, "I don't want to be married. I have too much responsibility – to the Moon Princess, to my Senshi. I simply do not have the time to be a loving housewife!"

"You also have a duty to Jupiter as the Princess, Makoto. When I am gone, I need to know that Jupiter will be governed justly and fairly. And you are my only heir."

I nod. "I know that. Just... marriage? So soon? How am I supposed to fall in love in a week?"

"What does love have to do with anything?"

I freeze, giving him a strange look. "What do you mean?"

"Marriage has nothing to do with love, Makoto. A marriage between a Princess and her husband is purely strategic. It is to do with political gain. Not love."

His words leave me taken aback. Marriage without love? It almost doesn't seem to be in the right context. How can I marry someone I don't love? I would be lying – to myself, to my husband. It doesn't seem right. I tell him of my thoughts and he just shakes his head.

"What are you so worried about? I'm sure there are many young men dying to have this opportunity. You will have no difficulty finding a husband before the week is out."

"But –"

"That is enough!" my father scolds me, frowning for the first time. I sense that I have gone too far. "You will find a husband by this week. My word is final. You may leave now."

I stand in a huff and storm out of the room and into the courtyard. Everything seems so unfair. He's the King, why can't he just change the marriage law? It surely can't be that difficult. I don't want to get married. Well, not now. I'm only seventeen. And not to someone that I don't love. I couldn't do that. As I sit down on a bench, I sigh and rest my head in my hands. If only Minako was here with me. She would know what to do.

It is still raining, and I am grateful. The rain seems to drown my anger and sadness. My hair sticks to my face and neck and I suddenly wish that I had my blue hair tie to tie it back.

"Mako?"

I turn my head and smile as I see Shinozaki standing opposite in the pouring rain. The relief must be evident on my face, for he laughs and embraces me, before sitting beside me.

"So, how does it feel to be home?"

I chew on my lip. "It doesn't really feel like home. Not really. Everything seems different all of a sudden. The only thing that is familiar is the rain." I sigh and lean into his shoulder. "And you, of course."

Shino puts his arm around my shoulder and rubs my arm gently. "Don't worry, everything will get better," he assures me. I can't help but burst out in laughter.

"Are you kidding me? I have to choose a husband by this week's end! I couldn't think of anything worse!"

"True," Shino laughs. "I can just picture all the types of suitors you'll get."

I groan and roll my eyes. "I don't even want to think about it. Why do I have to get married anyway?"

"I guess it's part of being a Princess."

"Well, I hate being a Princess," I pout stubbornly. "All these rules and laws and stupid outfits. Why couldn't I have been born a commoner? They seem to have all the fun!"

Shino fixes me with a reproachful look. "Don't be ungrateful, Mako. You have many things that other girls your age would die for."

"I know, I'm sorry. It just irritates me sometimes, that's all. I can't fall in love in a week. And yet I still have to marry. It's not fair!" I rise, my anger returning. I begin pacing again. "How can I marry someone I don't love? I can't do it! I won't do it! Oh, why does my father have to leave me all alone!" It's then that I break down on the pavement and cry. Shino puts his hands on my shoulders firmly and kneels in front of me.

"Mako?" he whispers in concern. "Are you okay?"

"He's dying, Shino. He's... dying..." I sob brokenly. He pulls me into his chest and I weep into his shirt. Shino just rubs my back gently and rests his chin on my head, mumbling soothing little nothings in my ear. I am so lucky I have Shino. He's my best friend and he's always there for me when I need him. I don't know what I would do without him. And we sit like that for what feels like hours, until I have cried a year's worth of tears.

I pull away from him and wipe my nose with the back of my palm. I instantly feel embarrassed; I've never cried in front of Shino before. Ashamed, I turn my face away from him.

"Hey," says Shino gently, resting his hand on my shoulder and squeezing it gently. "It's okay, you can cry in front of me. I don't blame you."

"Thanks," I say as I sniff loudly and give him a weak smile. He takes my hand and helps me up. We both sit back down on the bench, but Shino doesn't release my hand. I don't complain – I enjoy his company.

"So, you never told me what the moon is like."

I grin at him and proceed to overload him with detailed descriptions of the Moon Palace. He laughs as I tell him about Princess Serenity and seems genuinely glad that I have made some friends. When I tell him about Uranus, he gives me a congratulatory smirk.

"Never mess with my Makoto," he laughs. I nod in agreement and the two of us erupt into fits of laughter. I am starting to feel a lot better. Shino has that affect on me; he can turn any situation into a positive one.

Then, suddenly, the atmosphere between us changes. He keeps a firm grip on my hand and stares deeply into my eyes. Something tells me I should be wary but I ignore it.

"Mako," Shino whispers quietly, taking both of my hands. I cannot look away from his dark eyes. "I want to help you."

I cock my head to the side. "Help me with what?" I ask, a little confused.

"There are going to be all kinds of young men competing for your hand this week," he says.

"Yeah," I scoff, "because of all the perks that come with marrying the Princess."

Shino shakes his head. "Don't insult yourself, Makoto. There are many men who would do anything to marry you. You are strong, and brave, and kind, and wise." His hand reaches up to brush away some of my hair from my face. I realise that it has finally stopped raining. "Not to mention how beautiful you are."

I roll my eyes and smirk at him. "You don't have to give me compliments, Shino. I don't need them."

"I'm not giving them because you need them. I'm complimenting you because I want to."

"Oh."

It is then I notice something is not quite right. Shino is in extremely close proximity to me, I can see the small band of brown freckles that decorate the bridge of his nose. And every drop of water that clings to his long eyelashes. And he never takes his eyes off mine. I don't quite understand why he is so close. I'm not deaf. I can hear every word he says.

"Mako, we've been friends for a long time."

"Too long," I joke, punching him playfully in the arm. Still, his serious expression never falters. It is slightly unnerving.

"And, after knowing you all this time, the last thing I want to see is you marrying someone who doesn't appreciate you like I do."

"That's kind of inevitable, Shino," I remark.

"No, it's not!" he insists. "Makoto Kino, I've loved you my entire life and the only person I want to see you marry is me!"

Without any warning and before I can even comprehend what he is saying, he lurches forward and kisses me. I am so surprised, that I don't push him away. I simply sit there like a statue, while his lips move against mine – trying to force some sort of response. When he realises that I'm not responding, he pulls away and cups my face. Eventually, I come to my senses and push him away from me.

"Shinozaki!" I cry. "What are you doing?"

"Showing you that I am the only one for you," he says as he leans forward again.

This time, I am prepared, and slap him across the face. He gasps and clutches his cheek, while I stand up and glare at him.

"You ought to show a little more respect for a lady," I spit at him. "I don't care how much you claim you love me, you do not kiss a woman unwillingly. I expected more from you, Shinozaki!"

Shino rises angrily and glares at me. In my shoes we are the same height. "Well, I expected a little more consideration from you, Makoto. I thought you cared about me!"

"I do care about you, Shino. You're my best friend."

His dark eyes well up with tears as his expression turns from one of anger to one of betrayal. "I see. But you don't love me. You don't want to marry me."

I instantly feel a little guilty and try to make my voice come out as gentle as possible. "I don't want to marry anyone, Shino. I told you that. I have a duty to the Moon Princess and to my Senshi. I must defeat this evil that threatens to destroy the peace of the Moon Kingdom. That comes first."

Shino turns his head away and I put a hand on his forearm.

"I hope this doesn't ruin our friendship," I say with a smile.

Shino shrugs me off and walks away. "I'm sorry I stepped out of line, Princess. It won't happen again."

"Wait! Shino!" I call after him, but he rounds the corner and disappears. It begins to rain again but I don't care. Why do I feel like I just lost my best friend?


So what do you think? Poor Shino... although I kind of felt exactly how Mako did when I was writing this (not the arranged marriage part but the rejection of a friend) and it made me feel a little sad and uncomfortable and I guess that was my inspiration for this chapter. Please read and review :) xx