Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ Absence ❯ An Offer ( Chapter 50 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
Absence - By Kirika


Chapter fifty. But I thought everyone here loved the Mamoru/Usagi pairing? No one likes the Rei/Usagi pairing, right? LOL. ^_^

For the person who wanted to print this story out; sure, go for it (though by now you probably already have). Thanks for asking anyway. ^_^ I haven't written anything else… yet. This is my first fic.

Allen, I don't know how many chapters this story will be, but it is almost finished. Probably. So it isn't ongoing. Plus I no longer answer any questions to do with the plot since it's sort of near the end. Like I said before, I don't have time to help anybody with fanfics right now; I have exams, and then I'll be all for the world cup until the final is over. Afterwards, next week, I can help I guess if I don't get the urge to be lazy.

fan_rei, you're forgetting one thing; I adore angst. *laughs evilly* And forget about Naru; I only threw her in the mix as a cameo.

In between studying and watching the football world cup (waaah England! *sniff* But go Sth Korea!! Go all the way!!!) I managed to get this chapter out. It had actually been done for ages, but had some hardware stuff up or something as you all probably know, which meant no uploading. Oh well. It's up now. And this doesn't mean I have a back load of chapters to upload. ^_^

Oh, and by the way, I added the song I wanted Yuuichirou to sing to the previous chapter, if you didn't already realise yet.


- Kirika


Chapter 50 - An Offer

Setsuna gave Rei a small, pleased, and rather triumphant smile as she placed down her five red, and sequential, playing cards face up on the brown table situated over her lap, revealing her winning hand to the Fire Senshi. "A straight flush," the woman said matter-of-factly, but with a twinkle of humour in her crimson eyes.

Rei let out a defeated puff of air from where she sat next to Setsuna on the Guardian of Time's hospital bed, and then tossed her cards on the table beside the substantial pile of peanuts that consisted of the pot, displaying the measly pair of threes that made up her hand. "Remind me not to play poker with anyone who has precognitive abilities again," she grumbled, flicking her two remaining peanuts glumly with one finger as Setsuna gathered her great amount of winnings with both hands, leaving the miko almost broke-- in the peanut sense of the word.

"I was under the impression you had visions of future events," the Senshi of Time remarked while moulding her considerable collection of nuts into a neat pile.

"Yeah, but it's not like I get to actually *see* the timeline," Rei replied, shaking her head at the sight of Setsuna's giant mound of winnings. She should have never have attempted to bluff the Guardian of Time of all people.

Rei had opted to come to Minato General Hospital to see Setsuna after departing the Hikawa Jinja in the morning dressed in her school uniform, leaving her Grandpa behind with the belief that his granddaughter was heading to the T*A Private Girls' School. Rei simply didn't feel up to returning to school yet. Besides, what were a few more days of school missed after the vast amount she had already cut? So instead, the miko had decided to spend the day with the still injured Setsuna, which the green-haired woman seemed to appreciate. Rei knew Setsuna was lonely, and if the Fire Senshi's simple presence could help ease the woman's pain of solitude, then she was more than happy to oblige her. Though in truth, Rei also benefited from Setsuna's company. She felt it best if she stayed away from Usagi for a while, since being near her princess would most likely do neither of the girls any good, only serving to heighten the torment of their separation, or at least in Rei's case. Staying by Setsuna's side assisted in alleviating the raven-haired girl's own feelings of loneliness and depression of an unavoidable, and agonisingly long, fate. Having the Guardian of Time as a friend in more or less the same boat as her, and one who understood what Rei was going through, was comforting.

Setsuna smiled pleasantly at the miko as she collected the playing cards and arranged them in a neat deck, before beginning to shuffle them. Rei smiled faintly back in return, losing herself in the hypnotic way the Senshi of Time expertly handled the cards. She realised she had become a lot closer to the eldest Sailor Senshi over the past few weeks, more so than she previously had been. There had always been an unspoken barrier separating the Inner Sailors and the Outer Sailors that tended to limit the friendships between the respective groups, so Rei was grateful for the welcome change. The raven-haired girl sighed and managed to break her gaze away from Setsuna's elegant hands mixing up the deck of playing cards, turning her head towards the chair that her long black coat was draped over. However, she hoped she wasn't giving the Guardian of Time the wrong impression by being by the woman's side. Rei was now aware of Setsuna's feelings for her, and she didn't want to lead her older friend on. The green-haired woman was now more affectionate to the miko than ever; fleeting gentle caresses and coy pretty smiles had become the norm from the usually reserved Outer Senshi. Though all were coupled with a shade of sadness in Setsuna's crimson eyes that pulled at Rei's heartstrings. Rei neither encouraged the woman's fond gestures towards her but nor did she resist them; strangely, they didn't make the Senshi of Fire uncomfortable, but rather they made her feel cared for… loved even. Even if Rei couldn't spend eternity with Usagi, her true love, at least she didn't truly have to go through the everlasting future alone. Perhaps, if she were so inclined, Rei could return Setsuna's loving advances, finding solace in the older woman's arms. At least one of them would be happy and have their dream of a better destiny. Maybe Rei might even learn to love the lonely Guardian of Time as the Outer Senshi loved her. The miko sighed once more and shut her eyes. She wished it were that simple. As much as she would like to make that sacrifice for Setsuna's happiness, Rei's undying love for Usagi would sow the seeds of doom in her relationship with the Senshi of Time right from the very start. While Setsuna might at first be content for her partner to always love someone more than her as long as they stayed with her, eventually it would lead to disgruntlement on the Guardian of Time's part, ending the relationship in ruin and causing the woman more heartbreak than she deserved. No, Rei would let Setsuna play make believe with her intimate touches and alluring smiles, but that was all it was; merely a fantasy to help her friend get through each long day, nothing more. It was a depressing realisation, and the Fire Senshi's already low spirits further plummeted.

Rei opened her eyes as she felt fingers run through her glossy hair, tenderly tucking the loose tresses behind her ear. The miko met Setsuna's warm and concerned gaze and flashed a brief half-smile at her, attempting to reassure the woman. "Sorry. Did I zone out there for a second?" she said apologetically.

Setsuna moved her hand to cup Rei's cheek and stroked the soft skin with her thumb. "It'll get easier," she said solemnly. Her expression then turned a little mischievous, if that were possible for the reticent Guardian of Time. "'Time heals all wounds'," she stated furtively, "If you let her…"

Rei smirked wryly and rolled her eyes, catching the woman's pun. "I bet she does," she replied sardonically.

Setsuna chuckled politely and let her hand drop from the miko's cheek. "Indeed. You should experience her ministrations sometime," she said with mild playfulness, relaxing back into the piled pillows on the bed behind her.

"I thought I already was?" Rei shot back good-naturedly, looking down pointedly at Setsuna's other hand that rested casually on her thigh.

"Hmm. Perhaps you are," the older woman said with a small impish smile, squeezing the miko's leg with her hand and raising an expectant eyebrow as she did so.

Rei shook her head in mock irritation at the Outer Senshi's behaviour. Who would have thought Setsuna could be such a flirt? Though, in her defence, the woman most likely hadn't actually acted on any feelings of affection in more than a millennium, if ever; it was only natural for her to be a little bit frisky.

"How are your injuries, by the way?" Rei asked the Guardian of Time, deciding a change of topic was called for. "When are you getting out of here?"

Setsuna's indulgent expression vanished from her features, replaced by a serious and tired one that made the woman's normally ageless face appear older. "Soon," she informed her friend quietly, averting her eyes from Rei to look out the window at something in the distance. "But not nearly soon enough," she added under her breath, her voice so low that the Fire Senshi barely caught the words.

However, before Rei could call the Senshi of Time on it, there was a knock on the closed hospital room door, forestalling further conversation. She turned her head to the door at the sound and then back to Setsuna. The older Sailor Senshi gazed deeply into the girl's lavender eyes and took her hands tightly in her own, causing Rei to blush somewhat.

"Don't fret," the Guardian of Time whispered austerely. "I shall protect you."

Rei raised a confused eyebrow just as Setsuna let go of her hands and called for the visitor to enter the room. The Fire Senshi felt her throat go dry as she saw who the visitor was, or rather, whom the *visitors* were. Michiru frowned marginally at the sight of Rei sitting near Setsuna on the bed, but kept quiet. It looked like the once critically wounded aquamarine-haired woman had finally recovered from her injuries sustained in a earlier youma ambush. Hotaru, who was holding the other Outer Senshi's hand, glowered sullenly at Rei and reflexively brought her free hand up to touch her taped up nose and bruised face gingerly. Chibi-Usa, who stood next to her best friend and was apparently skipping school, glared at Rei and stabbed a pointed finger at the girl, her face a portrait of anger and distaste.

"What is *she* doing here?!" the pink-haired girl yelled, outraged, as if the miko's mere presence was an affront to all her senses.

"Rei was kind enough to pay me a visit," Setsuna replied calmly, looking directly at Chibi-Usa.

"But-- but-- but she hurt Hotaru!" Usagi's future daughter spluttered in disbelief, staring at the bed-ridden Setsuna like she had grown a second head. "She made Mamoru miserable and broke him and Usagi up!" She whirled away from the Guardian of Time to face the Senshi of Fire. "I hate you! I hate you!!" Chibi-Usa screamed.

Rei bowed her head, Chibi-Usa's vehement declaration hurting her more than she had expected, to her surprise. She felt Setsuna's warm delicate hand clasp hers, and the miko returned the grip, thankful for the support.

"So it's true after all," Michiru commented as she ushered the two young girls in the room and closed the door, blocking out any nosy eavesdroppers.

"Yes, it's true; all of it," Rei admitted honestly in a weary and resigned breath. She raised her head to look jadedly at the trio. "But it's over now between myself and Usagi; she wanted to be with Mamoru. She loves him." She was silent then, but pleased that she had managed to say what had happened out loud without erupting into tears. It had hardly been a day, but she missed her princess like she had lost a limb.

"Oh," Chibi-Usa said, slightly stymied. "But what about Hotaru?!" she then shouted, regaining her anger's former momentum. "Why did you do that to her?!"

"I know. I'm really sorry, Hotaru. I didn't want to fight you," Rei directed to Hotaru, deeply remorseful. She was successful in suppressing the stubborn impulse to point out that the Senshi of Death and Rebirth had attacked her first. "But when you accidentally hurt Usagi… I… I couldn't…"

"What Rei is trying to say is; she was pushed too far," Setsuna cut it on the Fire Senshi's behalf. "As Hotaru was in regards to you, Small Lady," she added knowingly, causing Hotaru to immediately turn a deep scarlet and lower her head in an effort to hide her hot face.

"Huh?" Chibi-Usa responded unintelligently, shooting bewildered glances between her now red best friend and Setsuna.

"Look, I'm sorry for any distress I've caused you, Chibi-Usa," Rei said, keeping the issue on track. "Please believe me, that wasn't my intention. And I'm sure things will be just… just fine between Usagi and Mamoru." The miko gave a strained reassuring smile and swallowed the lump that was starting to form in her throat while willing back the tears that threatened to spring to her eyes. Setsuna squeezed her hand gently, reminding the girl that she wasn't alone.

Chibi-Usa was silent for moment, like she didn't know what to say. "Well… but--"

"I think that's enough, Chibi-Usa," Michiru interrupted levelly, before the young pink-haired girl could fire another barrage of questions/accusations at the Inner Senshi. "There was fault on both sides. It would be best if we just leave this unpleasant business in the past."

"Agreed," Setsuna concurred, glancing at Rei for the raven-haired girl's confirmation. The Fire Senshi nodded. She didn't want any bad blood between the Outer Sailor Senshi and herself.

"Setsuna-mama…" Hotaru's soft voice said from near the hospital room door, causing all heads to turn to the shy dark-haired girl. The Senshi of Rebirth squirmed a little at the attention but pressed on. "What about you and Rei? She… umm, cheated on you…" she continued, her blush returning as she averted her eyes from the Guardian of Time to the floor.

It was Setsuna's turn to squirm as the woman hastily let go of Rei's hand, before realising that the abrupt movement only drew all eyes to the offending hand that had just held the miko's. "There's nothing between Rei and I," the Guardian of Time assured Hotaru, and everyone else in the room bar Rei for that matter. The Fire Senshi heard the almost hidden resignation and longing in the older Sailor's voice however, making the girl's heart bleed. Destiny was so cruel.

"Oh, that is a pity," Michiru said with a deliberate smile, as if she didn't truly believe her fellow Outer Senshi.

"It's the truth," Setsuna said sternly, her tone becoming somewhat hard.

"Of course," Michiru said with contrite and mild puzzlement, realising she had hit a nerve in the normally aloof Senshi of Time.

"I should probably leave you all alone," Rei interrupted quickly while hopping off the hospital bed, not wanting the Senshi of the Ocean to further question Setsuna, and definitely not while she herself was in the area.

"It's alright, Rei," Setsuna said, unconsciously lifting one arm slightly, like in an attempt to prevent the Fire Senshi's departure. "You're not in the way."

"No, I should. I have to go to Makoto's place to see how she's doing anyway, and then there's Ami to check on too," Rei explained, pulling out a half-truth to escape the uncomfortable situation. While the girl did indeed wish to see if her friends were recovering from their encounter with the would-be youma assassin from the day before yesterday, she also didn't want to stay in a room filled with three people who probably didn't really think very highly of her at the moment.

"Very well…" Setsuna conceded reluctantly, looking away from Rei a little dejectedly.

Rei gave Setsuna an apologetic look, knowing that the older woman would miss her. But the Senshi of Time would be all right; Michiru and Hotaru were here, and with Haruka, they were more or less her family. Plus Chibi-Usa and Setsuna were quite close also.

Rei grabbed her coat from the chair and turned to Michiru. "I'm glad to see you finally back on your feet," she said while slipping on her black coat over her school uniform. "Tell Haruka to get well soon when you see her too."

"I will," the aquamarine-haired woman replied, watching the Fire Senshi as the girl picked up her book bag from where it had been leaning against the chair leg. "However, she was not best pleased when she saw the state of Hotaru. But--"

"--I'll smooth matters over," Setsuna assured Rei quickly before Michiru could continue.

"I *was* going to say I would handle Haruka," the Senshi of the Sea said pointedly to the Guardian of Time, angling her head back to look carefully at the woman over her shoulder.

Setsuna appeared mildly uneasy for a second, and then nodded in acquiesce. Rei noticed a slight hint of pink in her complexion. "Of course you were," the Senshi of Time said, as serene as ever.

"I'll see you later, Setsuna," Rei said in parting to her friend. The green-haired woman smiled softly at her in response. The Senshi of Fire nodded her farewell to the other three Sailor Senshi standing in the hospital room, and then took her time in exiting, not wishing to appear too eager to get out of there. Setsuna was no doubt going to get an interrogation from Michiru due to her strange and rather nervous behaviour, and Rei didn't want to be there to complicate things. She was fairly confident Setsuna would successfully dodge all of the Senshi of the Ccean's probing questions however; the green-haired woman was the guardian of the Gates of Time and was extremely wise after all; didn't she know everything about everything?


Luna twitched her nose in slight irritation as Usagi lay on her back on her bed dressed in her pyjamas, and hugging a pillow close to her chest. The feline's charge had been moping about all day after returning home in the late morning after talking with Mamoru at his apartment. Luna hadn't asked how the talk with the future King of Earth had went, but she didn't have very high hopes that it had gone brilliantly. She shook her head in aggravation; Rei certainly had a lot to answer for. Usagi was miserable that her relationship with Mamoru was in jeopardy. And now that she didn't have school for a while would unquestionably not help matters; Luna wouldn't be at all surprised if the girl just sulked at home during her free time. Perhaps the black cat could invite one of the other Inner Senshi to come over and try to cheer Usagi up. Minako maybe… anyone but Rei, really. It was a pity that Usagi had essentially lost her best friend in the whole fiasco between herself and Rei, but Luna was sure one of the other girls could give her charge the emotional support she needed in the miko's stead. Rei… what had the girl been thinking, pursuing Usagi like that? It had been like the Senshi of Fire had been possessed by some fanatical evil spirit; the memory of the fevered look in the girl's eyes when she had fiercely confronted the feline still made Luna shiver; she had actually feared that the Sailor would harm her. Rei hadn't even listened to a word she had said, either. Luna sighed from where she sat on Usagi's dressing table, making her whiskers flutter. That was nothing new; no one hardly ever listened to the intelligent cat, despite her almost always giving sound advice. When would they learn?

"It still smells like her…"

"What was that?" Luna inquired as she perked her ears up, hearing a mumble coming from Usagi on the bed.

"The pillow; I can still smell Rei on it," Usagi said forlornly, hugging the pillow tighter with both arms.

Luna sighed again and then nimbly jumped off the dressing table, before padding along the carpet and leaping up onto Usagi's bed beside the girl. "Naturally; she had only used it two nights ago," she said, as if it were blatantly obvious.

"I wish…" Usagi went on, apparently not listening to the cat. "I wish I could have done something to prevent all… all this."

"Perhaps if you had not given in to Rei's shameful advances," Luna suggested unhelpfully.

Usagi said nothing in response; instead she simply went on staring up at the ceiling while embracing the pillow. What a shambles. Luna knew it would have ended badly between Usagi and Rei, but as usual, nobody had listened. Artemis had just said to leave them be, like he had 'advised' beforehand during the Ami and Makoto 'incident'. At least that hadn't turned out as disastrous as the black cat had first predicted… but it was still fairly early days yet.

"I'm sure Mamoru will forgive you eventually," Luna said, injecting compassion into her tone. "You are to be king and queen of Earth in the future. It's both your fates."

"Fate…" Usagi repeated softly, as if the word had become foreign to her.

"Yes, that's right," Luna said, eyeing the girl a bit uncertainly. "Written in the past, set in the future."

"Yeah… how could I forget…?" the blonde whispered rhetorically, and then inhaled a deep breath of air, before releasing it tiredly. "Everything's already mapped out, it had been right from the start. With Mamoru. Just like I've always wanted."

Luna nodded in approval. "And I wouldn't lose sleep over Rei," she added, "I'm quite certain that everything will be back to normal in no time; I believe you'll always be friends. She *is* one of your senshi."

"Yeah…" Usagi agreed, smiling briefly.

The feline smiled too, pleased to see her blonde charge's mood brightening a little. Everything would be all right. In time, the affair between the princess and one of her personal bodyguard would be forgotten, or at the very least, not spoken of ever again. Luna couldn't help but feel some sorrow for Rei however, despite all that had happened between the two of them. She wondered if the miko had indeed truly loved Usagi. The black cat sighed. It didn't really matter anymore.


Rei was kneeling in front of the sacred Fire located in the Hikawa Jinja, seeking divine guidance from the gods above, desiring a foretelling of the near future, and hopefully, insight on the still active youma enemy with it. She had been in a state of severe mental concentration for many hours now after the sun had set however, and it was beginning to take its toll. Her miko apparel was sticking to her body with sweat, and beads of perspiration matted her fringe of raven hair to her forehead. Yet still Rei stayed rigid in her spot in front of the scorching hot Fire with her eyes closed, totally still and appearing dead to the world around her, the girl's periodic chants the only indication that she was indeed a living being and not a lifelike statue. It had been a fairly long time since the Fire Senshi had performed a reading of the Flames, and although she was a bit out of practice, it was a skill that would never leave the dedicated miko, a skill that she would always be reasonably adept at.

Without warning, there was a flash of something in her mind's eye, images that her own consciousness had not created. A vision. A vision of what was yet to be, but could possibly come to pass. Rei knew she had been successful in receiving a blessing from the gods, and while she was pleased, she didn't let the feeling interfere with her focus. Visions were few and far between, and the miko treated every one as a revered and holy event.

Rei's brow creased with concentration as she struggled to give the images in her mind more substantial form, endeavouring to make them clearer. There was a fountain of something red; dark, nearly a ruby shade, showering into the air in front of her face, bringing with it a feeling of shock and something else the miko couldn't quite identify. The image constantly flickered however, blinking in and out of view completely in a steady cycle, like it was out of place. The red cascade then vanished for good, and a silvery object glinted in ambient light, a light that seemed to have no origin. The object passed by quickly in the Fire Senshi's mind, leaving behind a sensation of dread and bleakness but also a hint of satisfaction, and with it, a sense of emptiness, an… absence.

Suddenly, just as abruptly as it had manifested itself in Rei's mind, the vision left the raven-haired girl, returning to the Fire and then on to the heavens from whence it came. The miko released a long, slow breath and then stood up and opened her eyes, the warm light from the crackling flames in front of the girl reflecting in the lavender orbs. What did it all mean? That was the problem with reading the Fire; it was usually too vague to be of much use; more often than not only when the portended event was actually upon you did you finally understand its true meaning. And by then it was too late to prevent or avoid.

In one fluid and lightning quick motion Rei suddenly spun around from the hot flames, pulling out an ofuda from a sleeve of her Chihaya with two fingers as she did so. "This is a holy place of the gods; how dare you debase it with your vile presence!" she spat out into the dark recesses of the large room, where the wavering circle of light from the Fire behind her didn't reach.

There was a barely noticeable movement in a shadow located at one corner of the room, and a black swathed figure stepped out into the open, but stayed back from the halo of light. It appeared to be male and humanoid, but was dressed entirely in black, reminding the Fire Senshi of the two youma assassins she had fought in Minato General Hospital several days ago. However, this one apparently liked to add a bit of colour to his wardrobe; a light blue strip of cloth hung from his waist. The youma's differing fashion sense didn't stop there either; the creature also wore a mask that displayed a gruesomely wretched visage, similar to the tragic persona that was sometimes the emblem of live theatre with its happier counterpart, except many times more cheerless.

"I see your senses are attuned to my kind…" the figure said in a voice akin to dry bones scraped over stone.

"Your's and every other kind of nauseating abomination," Rei snarled, holding her defensive stance, ready to invoke the ward held between her fingers in an instant. Her senses told her the creature was alone however, but that was no reason to let her guard down for even a second. "You must either have a death wish, or be utterly stupid entering here by yourself." The Senshi of Fire pretended to consider it for a moment. "No, definitely stupid," she then said derisively.

"Save your barbs," the youma rasped, not moving so much as a muscle. "And I have not come to fight. I have come to talk."

"Is that a fact?" Rei sneered. A youma who would rather talk than fight? That was a laugh. Perhaps it was a new breed. "What could you possibly say that would have *any* interest to me?"

The black-clad figure tilted his head slightly to the side, like he was sizing the miko up… and found her as daunting as a small cockroach. Rei found it a little intimidating, much to her annoyance. "Rei Hino, a fighter with the distinctive ability to produce fire from her hands," the youma said, making the raven-haired girl's eyes narrow and her muscles to become even more tense than they already were. When the enemy knew more about you than you did about him, it was *not* a good thing. "A Sailor Senshi. And… a warrior against Fate."

Rei's heart rate began to speed up as adrenaline was shot into her veins. No, this was definitely not a good thing. "Who are you?" she demanded, managing to keep her unease from her voice, covering it with anger. "And just what makes you think you know so much about me?" She paused for an instant. "…Or about fate?" the Fire Senshi couldn't resist adding.

The youma was silent, merely staring at the miko, completely immobile. "You may address me as Lazarus; I haunt the night… and bring death to life," Lazarus declared finally. A sliver of fear shivered down Rei's spine as the youma assassin spoke in his cold, and yet casual tone. It had hit the Senshi of Fire at last; the dark creature's sudden appearance, his strange mask, his reference to Fate; this was the youma Setsuna had warned her about. Lazarus wasn't too impressive to look at, but Rei intuitively sensed a great danger about him. No small wonder, considering his ebony mask gifted him with the capability to see the numerous threads of the near future, and use the knowledge gained to his benefit. "…As for how I know so much about you, that is simple; I… observed," he went on.

"Get off on watching then, hmm?" Rei wisecracked caustically, outwardly appearing confident, but inwardly on edge.

The masked assassin ignored her, seeming totally immune to her gibes. "We are kindred spirits, you and I," he continued unabated. "We are special. But you have no idea… do you?"

"Will there be a point soon?" the Senshi of Fire said with scorn, though her speech quavered ever so slightly.

"No… you do not," Lazarus answered for her, once again disregarding her taunts. "You have the gift, the strength, to challenge Fate, *Destiny* itself. Such individuals are extremely rare. But you have lost the battle… have you not?"

Rei glared intensely at the youma, the senshi's fiery temper burning her fear to ashes. What impertinence the smug creature had to barge into her home unwelcome and say such things. She didn't need to be reminded of how she had ruined everything with Usagi, or about her failure in her duty caused by getting so caught up in a hopeless fight against Fate.

"You were, *are*, alone," Lazarus continued, oblivious or simply unconcerned that Rei's temper was starting to blaze into a furious inferno. "That was your downfall. Your strength is great, but no one can defy Destiny alone and expect to win. You need addition help."

"And let me guess," the Senshi of Fire rudely cut in. "You're the one to provide that help?" Rei snorted, as if it were the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.

"Perhaps…" the black-cloaked assassin replied mysteriously. He reached up slowly with one hand and ran his thumb down the side of his dark mask, the nearly translucent flesh of the digit one of the only bits of skin that was visible beneath his garb. "I… *dislike* that I am not the only being with the potential to walk my own path," he said, still stroking his horrific mask. "In all my time in this mortal existence, I have never encountered anyone sharing my traits. Thus, I extend you an offer…" Lazarus lowered his hand from his face, returning it to his side. "A contest; as it were. This mask I wear has a unique and useful power. With it and your innate ability, you can crush Destiny as if it were but a pathetic insect beneath your heel. Fate would no longer hold you back, it would truly be defeated; you would finally be free from its constricting bonds. You would be able to do anything you desire, possess anything you wish…" Lazarus leaned forward, and Rei could have sworn the youma was leering at her behind his mask. "…Love anyone you want…"

"And the catch?" the miko said evenly, controlling the impulse to ask the cryptic creature what he knew about her princess.

"The catch," Lazarus repeated, straightening his posture. He made to reach up and touch his mask once more, but then stopped. "Yes, the catch. There are always strings attached, are there not? The catch, human, is that I will not simply give you my mask. You must face *me* for it. Show me you are worthy to have the title of a warrior against Fate. Only *one* can oppose the boundaries that limit life. *Prove* to me that you have the strength and will to be that one!"

"What if I refuse your 'offer'?" Rei asked, feeling the anxious sweat that was building up between her fingers seep into the ofuda that she still held.

"You will not. We both know that; I do not even need my mask to know," the assassin said levelly.

Rei responded with silence. She knew Lazarus was right.

"I will return tomorrow night to give you the details of where we are to meet," the creature informed his rival, stepping back into the shadows behind him, the deep darkness swallowing his form from view. "Bring your allies if you wish; it matters not." And then Lazarus was gone, Rei's sensitive awareness no longer detecting the supernatural creature.

Rei relaxed her stance and replaced the ward in her white Chihaya. Her body ached from holding her pose for so long, but the unpleasant sensation was far from her mind. So Fate wasn't unbeatable, or so Lazarus said. He seemed to know what he was talking about, and that complemented by Setsuna's prior intelligence on the youma made the Fire Senshi believe his words. Rei paid no heed to the notion that perhaps she simply *wanted* to believe Lazarus. With the assassin's mask, there was still a chance for her and Usagi to be together. But… did Rei really have the right to even attempt that? Again? Challenge Destiny once more? It would mean coming between her princess and the prince again, most likely causing even more damage in the pair's relationship. And more pain for Usagi. Though, this time the Senshi of Fire was certain to triumph over Fate and spend the rest of eternity with her true love, wasn't she? Rei sighed in frustration blended with sadness and ran her fingers through her damp hair. Gods, she didn't think she could endure the whole ordeal again. At the very least, with the mask Rei could protect Usagi with greater ease and confidence, knowing threats before they even happened. And there was still Setsuna's prophesised 'moment' to consider; being able to anticipate everything would be a huge advantage; Usagi would be assured to live for all time, maybe not even ever being harmed again. Of course, Rei would have to actually defeat Lazarus and claim the mask first. But that shouldn't be too much of a problem; the youma did say she could bring her fellow Sailor Senshi along for the ride, and she certainly intended to do so… without informing them of a certain artefact's nature.

Rei shook her head gently and walked towards the exit of the Fire room. She needed a long, hot, bath badly. A relaxing soak in the furo would help her wrap her mind around this new dilemma and ponder all angles. And besides, she had until tomorrow night to determine what her actions would be.


to be continued…

Author's ramblings:

Michiru hadn't been in this fic much, so I decided to throw her into the mix. I still can't remember what her character was like, so I decided to just wing it.