Act 29

"Mercury."

Ami turned around. All she saw was Kunzite slashing his sword down on her.

"Ami-chan!" Usagi cried, horrified.

Ami bowed her head waiting for the mortal stroke…that never came. She only heard a metallic noise and when she looked up, she saw Nephrite standing before her, blocking Kunzite's sword with his own.

"What are you trying to do?" Kunzite asked.

"I was trying... to get in your way," Nephrite hissed, pushing Kunzite roughly away.

"You're a fool," Kunzite answered and teleported away.

Slowly Nephrite turned around meeting Ami's gaze, his blue eyes burning into hers.

.

Ami was sitting straight in her bed. It was dark. The moon was the only source of light that brightened her room. Her heart was slamming hard against her chest and she was sweating.

Again. She had dreamed of him again.

It had been a week since she came back from The Dark Kingdom, since she was herself again. Although she wasn't able to remember anything that happened, she was relieved that it was all over. She just couldn't stand the idea that she really had fought against her own friends, that she had almost killed Usagi.

Yes, she was glad that all was over, but since she had been back there hadn't been one single night she had not dreamt of him. Nephrite, the red haired Shitennou, who had saved her life that day. If he hadn't, Ami knew, she would be dead now.

"Why," she whispered to herself, "why did he…?"

And why she could not forget him?

She turned her head when she saw the flickering at the edge of her sight. She moved quickly to her bedside table to turn the light on, but she knew that it would be too late. The strange presence was gone before she could even reach the light. She knew this because this was something that happened every night too. There was a presence in her room that had observed her every night since she came back. And every time she tried to figure out what it was, it vanished.

Ami even had started to go to sleep with her bedside lamp turned on; but it was always dark when she woke up in the middle of the night.

But the strangest thing was that she wasn't afraid of this unknown presence. In fact, it even gave her a feeling of safety and confidence—which was more than stupid, she knew. She should have told at least Rei. With her psychic powers she certainly would have been able to figure out what kind of presence this was and destroy it.

But Ami didn't want that. Yes, she was really a fool. Because deep inside her she hoped that this presence was the one she suspected; and if it truly was so, she needed to talk to…him.

"I have to find out who it is," Ami said to herself, "I have to know if it's really…"

The image of a pair of icy-blue eyes flared up in her mind, a gaze burning right into her heart.

Ami shook her head.

"I only want some answers, that's all," she repeated again and again, forcing herself to believe in her own words.

xxxx

Nephrite materialized in one of the tunnels in The Dark Kingdom.

"Damn," he cursed, and beat his fist against the wall. Then he slowly sat down on the floor and leaned against the cold wall.

"Mercury," he whispered, "what have you done to me?"

Every night he told himself not to go to her house and not to enter her room anymore; and nevertheless, every damned single night he found himself in her room again watching her sleeping.

This had been going on since the blue haired Senshi had overcome Kunzite's curse and had become a Sailor Senshi again. It was since Mercury had left The Dark Kingdom.

Actually, it had started with only one single night. Nephrite had just wanted to be sure that she was safe. And he had remained the whole night, watching her sleeping; and at that moment, for the first time in his life, he had felt nothing but calm and peace. This was the reason why he had repeated this now every night. All the rage and fury he always felt suddenly turned into dust when he was near Mercury. And something that was odd, too, were the feelings of concern he suddenly had. When she was sleeping she was the most vulnerable, and Nephrite couldn't stand the thought that anything might happen to her.

"Kunzite was right," he said, "I am a fool."

And now she had started to become aware of his presence. Every time she woke up, the first thing she did was to look straight at the corner he was standing. She even had started to sleep with her bedside light turned on. And it had been completely stupid and careless to turn it off again every time he appeared in her room.

What other proof would she need to be aware that there was somebody in her room by night?

Or was this what he wanted? Maybe he wanted her to know that he was there...protecting her as she slept...

"No!" Nephrite shouted out, "I'm going to bring this to an end. This is going to end right now."

He took his cape out and looked at the shining red cloth.

"Being all alone like that...Somehow I don't like it."

"It was nothing," he thought, "nothing special. I should forget. Why can't I...?"

"Being all alone like that...Somehow I don't like it."

"Just one more time," he whispered, "tomorrow will be the last time."

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

"A MI – CHAN!"

Ami jerked at Usagi's call. She was standing right in front of her desk, her fists on her hips.

"I'm sorry, Usagi-chan, what did you say?"

"I was just wishing you a good morning," Usagi answered as she sat down beside her friend.

"Oh, good morning."

"Ami-chan, is something wrong?" Usagi asked.

"Eh?" was all Ami could answer.

"Well, you seem to be very distracted lately and I was wondering if something is bothering you."

Ami shook her head and put on a smile when she said: "No, don't worry, Usagi-chan. I'm fine."

"Honestly?" Usagi asked. The doubt in her voice was so obvious that Ami could only nod. She knew that Usagi would hear the lie in her voice. It hurt Ami not to be fully honest to her best friend. But what could she tell her, anyway? That she was dreaming every night of the man who saved her? That every time she thought about him her heart started to race? That she wasn't able to forget him? Someone who belonged to The Dark Kingdom, their enemies.

"What are you trying to do?"

"I was trying...to get in your way."

Those eyes, those deep blue eyes.

"There, you did it again!"

Usagi's loud voice cut Ami's thoughts once more. Usagi was leaning over Ami's table and gave her a reproachful gaze.

"You've been so lost in your own thoughts, you haven't even heart a single word I said. Am I right?"

Usagi grabbed Ami's right hand.

"Ami-chan, I'm worried. What's going on? Are you...You aren't still blaming yourself for..." Usagi cut herself off, then she smiled when she continued: "You really don't have to blame yourself. It wasn't your fault. Nobody is blaming you."

"I know that," Ami answered.

"Then what is it?"

Ami knew that Usagi wouldn't let go of the matter. So she gave her the only answer she could.

"I still can't remember anything. And nobody wants to tell me anything about it."

Usagi put an arm around Ami's shoulder. "So this is what's bothering you?"

Ami nodded. In fact, this was actually something that kept occupied her too sometimes. Although not as much as...the other thing. But this was the only thing she could tell Usagi without lying to her. And it was true. Every time she wanted to know something about the time she had been at The Dark Kingdom Usagi, Rei and even Makoto avoided a concrete answer.

"Was I that bad?" Ami asked now once more.

"Well..." Usagi started the way she always did to buy herself some time when she didn't know what so say.

"The sensei is coming. Show your respect," someone shouted out and Usagi hurried quickly to her own desk. Her relief about the interruption was very obvious. The class greeted their teacher and sat down. And then there was silence. Ami saw how Usagi's expression, and those of the others, yielded to a stunned one. Ami followed their gazes and finally registered the person who was standing next to the teacher. She couldn't help but also feel stunned.

"Everyone today," the teacher started to say in English, "let me introduce a new friend to you."

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

"Man, are you still hanging around here?"

Nephrite didn't need to look up. He knew very well who was standing at the beginning of the tunnel.

"What do you want?" he asked emotionlessly.

Jadeite took a few steps towards him.

"I just wanted to know if you're still alive."

"I'm sorry to tell you that I am. So you can leave now."

"You know," Jadeite kept on talking, ignoring Nephrites hint, "Queen Beryl thinks it would be better if you died in one of these miserable tunnels."

"Oh, really?" Nephrite answered, and stood up, meeting the gaze of the blond Shitennou, Beryl's new favorite.

"This must be very satisfying for you. Isn't it, Jadeite?"

Jadeite didn't answer immediately, and for less than a second Nephrite thought that he had seen a glimpse of compassion in his eyes. But it had disappeared before Nephrite was really sure about it.

"Maybe you really should," Jadeite answered now, "You're such a disgrace. You were neither able to obtain the illusionary Ginzuishou nor to kill the princess. You failed again and again, and now all you can do is to sit in a dark and dirty tunnel. Useless. Aren't you ashamed?"

Anger was forming in Nephrite's stomach over the humiliating words Jadeite threw at him. He took a step towards him, ready to beat the hell out of him. But then something strange happened. Suddenly the image of Mercury, sleeping peacefully in her bed, flashed before his inner eyes and from one second to another all his anger just...had vanished.

Nephrite knew that he should feel fury and rage, but this short memory that he just had had was like water to fire. It had simply extinguished all his angry feelings.

He stopped in mid-step, surprised; and when he looked at Jadeite, he saw that he was obviously taken aback, too. He couldn't be blamed for that—Nephrite was normally known to be the most hot-tempered of them all. It wasn't difficult to provoke him; but now, he felt nothing but calm.

"Was that all you had to say?" he asked the more-than-stunned Jadeite.

Jadeite only made a clucking noise with his tongue and turned around to leave.

"What was that?" Nephrite whispered when Jadeite was finally out of his sight, "Mercury..."

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Ami watched Usagi, who was desperate to win a point for her volleyball team. But no matter what she tried her opponent was always better.

Ami looked at Kuroki Mio, who had just slammed the ball over the net and obtained another point. Something was strange about the new classmate. She was always smiling, but it seemed that she didn't really like Usagi. That kick just a few minutes ago hadn't been an accident. It had been all intentional.

Kuroki Mio, the pop idol, now the new classmate. Of course, the students had just freaked out—so had the teacher. The only one who wasn't thrilled at all was Usagi. After all, she was a loyal fan of Aino Minako. And this was why she was so obstinate in winning the match against Kuroki-san's team.

But it was all in vain. Usagi and her team lost.

"I'm sooo angry," Usagi said again when they went to the locker room.

"You gave it your best," Ami tried to console her.

"But it wasn't enough. I've lost against Aino Minako's rival. What a shame."

Ami couldn't do anything but smile and pat her friend's shoulder. "I'm sure there will be another opportunity, Usagi-chan."

Usagi nodded and smiled again. It was so easy to cheer her up.

"Are you going to wait for me?" she wanted to know.

"I can't," Ami explained, "Luna wants Mako-chan and me to meet her at Crown as soon as possible. She wants us to do some special training to awake our senshi power."

"Really?"

Usagi bent her right arm. "Ouch!"

"Are you okay?" Ami wanted to know. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine. I'll take a shower and get changed. I'll see you later, Ami-chan."

Ami watched Usagi entering the locker room, then she left the building to meet Makoto at the school gate. She had been already waiting for her.

"Shall we go?" the tall girl asked, and Ami nodded.

"I heard there's a new classmate in your class."

"Yes, Kuroki Mio."

"Kuroki Mio, the pop idol," Makoto said with little enthusiasm. Ami had to grin. Makoto was an Aino Minako fan too. If she only had been on Usagi's team...

"So, what is she like?" Makoto wanted to know.

"Well, I don't know how to say it..."

"What?"

"Maybe I'm putting too much into this, but..."

"But...?" Makoto insisted.

"I think she doesn't like Usagi-chan."

"Eh? Why that?"

"We had a volleyball match at gym, and Kuroki-san kicked Usagi-chan."

"Intentionally?" Makoto wanted to know.

"Kuroki-san said she didn't mean to, and she apologized, but...it looked intentional to me."

"Hm, we should keep an eye on it," Makoto said. "Although there should be no reason to have something against Usagi. She doesn't even know her."

Ami nodded. Makoto was right; maybe she was overthinking things. But how could she not? She was having the same dream every night, and waking up with the same questions. And never able to figure out the presence in her room. And always thinking of… him. Why couldn't she just let things be? It was over. She wasn't brainwashed anymore. She was Ami again and a Sailor Senshi. The Shitennou were their enemies; they belonged to The Dark Kingdom. One of them had saved her life once, but that was all. It meant nothing.

But why? Ami thought again, and as she and Makoto were approaching Crown, she finally made a decision. She would find and ask him; and she would start by finding out if that presence was who she thought. Otherwise, Ami knew, she would never stop feeling restless.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

It stared at the people downstairs. Some were just walking around; others were sitting at one of the cafes; and still other people were just hanging around wherever they had found an empty space.

"Energy," the voice sounded in its head, "go for their energy. Collect as much as you can."

The Youma jumped down straight into the crowd of people.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

It was late. Ami walked home, staring at her hands, still overwhelmed by surprise. She just couldn't believe that she had been the next who had awakened her Senshi Power. It was incredible. It had felt like a strong band of energy that had overwhelmed her body and mind. A power she hadn't even been able to imagine she was able to have.

"That's it, Ami-chan, don't forget what you've just learned." Luna's advice echoed in her mind.

That moment, Ami thought, I'd been calm because I'd made my decision. Could this really be...?

No, that was impossible. How could one decision be the reason that she had awakened her Senshi Power?

Ami was approaching her building. The lights at her apartment were off. Her mother wouldn't come until 6 o'clock in the morning.

Ami was just about to climb the steps to the building's entrance when she heard a strange noise. She turned around immediately, and before her was standing the Youma she just had been fighting with the others this afternoon. It had followed her.

"Mercury Power...make up!" Ami called immediately. "I'm the Senshi of water and wisdom, Sailor Mercury. And in Mercury's name I will punish you."

The Youma only made an amused noise and ran towards her.

"Mercury Aqua Mist," Ami called, and threw a fountain of mist towards the pink-eyed creature. But, just as it had this afternoon, the Youma protected itself with its cape and Ami's attack didn't harm it at all. It continued to walk towards Ami and assailed her with several little explosions. Ami jumped back.

"Shine Aqua Illusion!"

Again the Youma held up its cape and the water-attack bounced off.

It's too strong, Ami thought. I have to call the others.

She grabbed quickly for her cell phone, but she only began to open it when the Youma sent another attack which beat the phone out of her hand. Pain gathered through Ami's arm and made it nearly numb.

"Pull yourself together," she said to herself, "you can handle this."

She took her star tambourine and concentrated, just the way she had when her Senshi Power had awakened this afternoon; and although she knew that this was wrong, she suddenly had only one thought. Nephrite.

Ami could feel how the power entered her body. The pain in her hand winced and she felt strong again.

"Shine Aqua Illusion," she called out again and this time the attack hit the Youma hard; and although it used its cape again for protection, Ami's attack pushed it several meters away. Ami smiled and hurried after the Youma to repeat her attack.

"Shine Aqua…"

The Youma's attack exploded right in front of her. She flew backwards and hit the ground. All the air went from her lungs, and for a few seconds she wasn't even able to breathe. She had barely managed to stand up again as the Youma took another step towards her, sending another explosion just before her feet. Ami jumped back while the Youma continued its attacks.

It's playing with me, Ami thought as she jumped backwards again. Suddenly her heel hit something that was lying on the floor. It was her cell-phone. She quickly picked it up dialing Luna's number.

The Youma made another amused sound, and then everything happened very fast. Suddenly, Ami found herself wrapped up with its white strings. She wasn't able to move, and the more she tried to get free, the tighter the Youma got hold of her. And then Ami felt how she became weaker. The Youma had started to absorb her energy. Falling down on her knees, Ami felt her power fade. Her sight began to vanish, and she wasn't able to struggle against the Youma's hold anymore.

It's over, she thought.

The last thing she saw was a red light that flashed the more-than-surprised Youma.

Rei-chan, Ami thought in relief, and then everything went black.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Nephrite slowly took shape in Mercury's room. He frowned. Her bed was empty. Where could she be at this hour?

The noise from outside made him hurry to the window, but he had felt the Youma's presence before he had seen it. But it wasn't the Youma that made his heart beat faster with fear. On the street he saw Mercury down on her knees, wrapped up in the Youma's strings that were absorbing her energy. There it was again: The anger and fury that overwhelmed Nephrite so often. But this time it was different. It was the scene below him that awoke that fury inside him: the Youma who was absorbing Mercury's energy. Mercury, who was losing more and more power.

"No," Nephrite whispered, and before he knew what he was really doing, he teleported directly down to the street. As soon as he had taken shape again, he threw a red ball of energy towards the Youma. The creature was more than surprised when it realized who had attacked it, and, letting go of the Sailor Senshi, it took a fighting position. Nephrite attacked again; but this time the Youma was prepared, and raised its cape for protection. This, however, gave Nephrite the time to step between the Youma and Mercury, who was laying unconscious on the ground.

"Damned Youma," Nephrite hissed, and threw one energy-ball after another against the Youma, so the only thing the creature was able to do was to lift its cape again and again, unable to make any attack by itself. Finally, weakened, it disappeared.

Nephrite didn't waste time by thinking how strong this Youma had been. He rushed to the blue haired Senshi who was still lying motionless on the ground.

"Mercury?" he whispered kneeling down by her side, "Mercury, can you hear me? Hold on."

A white light enlightened her body and, when it had died, Mercury had transformed to her civilian form again.

Nephrite looked around. Of course there was nobody on the streets at this hour. What should he do now?

He carefully took the unconscious girl into his arms and lifted her up. He was surprised by how light she was. Still, he wasn't really sure what to do now, and he almost dropped her when she suddenly put her arms around him.

"Mercury?" he whispered but she didn't answer, still unconscious.

Well, the most important thing now was to get her away from the street. So Nephrite teleported straight into her room, where he stepped to her bed to lay her down. But he hesitated, overwhelmed by a strange feeling he wasn't able to explain. Why? Why did it feel so right to hold her in his arms? Why did it feel so good to feel her hands around his neck and her head leaning against his shoulder? Why did he wish to hold her longer?

Because you're a fool, he thought, and laid the young girl quickly on her bed, ignoring the coldness this action had left his body with.

Now what? He had no idea how humans cared for each other. In The Dark Kingdom, the Dark Power always regenerated all injuries and weakness. But this of course was not an option.

Fortunately, she wasn't injured. Nephrite looked around. He wanted at least cool off her face a little.

On her bedside table he saw a bottle half filled with water. Well, this was better than nothing. So he wetted a corner of his own cape with some water and moistened Mercury's face carefully.

"You are a fool." Kunzite's words echoed again in his head.

Yes, he was but it felt so right.

Suddenly, he heard a door open.

"Ami-chan?" somebody called anxiously. Nephrite would always recognize that voice. It was the princess.

He stood up quickly and teleported away.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

When Ami came back to herself and opened her eyes she saw Usagi, Rei and Makoto standing at her bedside, looking worriedly at her. They had still their Senshi forms, and when Ami saw the crescent moon scepter in Usagi's hands, she knew why she felt so strong again.

"Ami-chan," Usagi said in relief, "thank God."

"Are you all right?" Makoto asked while they all transformed to their civil form again. Ami sat up and nodded.

"What happened?" Rei wanted to know.

"A Youma," Ami answered, "the same we had been fighting this afternoon. I think it followed me. It was too strong and I wasn't able to call you in time."

"It had taken nearly all your energy," Rei told her. "How did you manage to get rid of it and reach your room?"

"But…" Ami started to say.

Had that not been Rei's fire-ball that had hit the Youma? Then who…? Could it really be…?

"I… I don't remember," she said quietly. That wasn't a lie. She really had no idea how she got here.

"Well, the most important thing is that you are safe and everything is all right," Usagi said now, "but I think you really shouldn't be alone tonight. I'll stay with you in case the Youma comes back."

"That's a good idea," Makoto agreed.

Ami nodded. She was too tired to argue. Anyway, she knew that tonight the presence wouldn't appear again.

Makoto and Rei said goodbye and went home. While Usagi quickly went to the bathroom, Ami set up the guest's bed in her room. Then she reached for her bottle of water she always put on her bedside table. She frowned. She was sure that the bottle had been half full this morning. Now it was almost empty. What the…?

Usagi came back and lay down on her bed.

"Good night, Ami-chan," she yawned.

"Good night," Ami replied, but it took a long time until sleep finally overcame her too.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Makoto yawned and stretched. Two schoolgirls jumped quickly out of her way. Makoto rolled her eyes. There were still some silly girls that were afraid of her. All right, she was tall and strong, but what did they expect? That she was going to eat them up or something?

"Mako-chan!"

She turned around and saw Ami, who was waving, and then ran to her.

"Where is Usagi?" Makoto wanted to know.

"She went home early in the morning. Otherwise her mother would be freaking out. I hope she'll make it on time anyway. You know Usagi." Makoto nodded.

"And you," she said reproachfully, "you really shouldn't have come to school after what happened last night."

"Don't worry, I'm fine," Ami assured, showing her biggest smile, "I'm not going to miss classes because of one single Youma."

They walked through the entrance door, greeting the janitor who was mopping up the leaves. They changed their shoes in the hallway and went to the classrooms.

"I'll see you later, Ami-chan," Makoto said to her friend. Ami nodded and smiled again. She really didn't look good. But the genius inside her would never miss a class. Makoto knew that. Even when she was evil, she had come to school and had brainwashed all classmates so they had been against Usagi.

"Thank God that is over now," Makoto said to herself while she entered her classroom.

Fortunately Ami had nothing to do with The Dark Kingdom anymore…