Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ Absence ❯ Preparations ( Chapter 51 )

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


Chapter fifty-one. Yes, Michiru, Michiru. I supposed I could have researched her character, but I just couldn't be bothered. Well anyway, Michiru's injuries basically consisted of her insides greeting her outsides in salutations of gore, which was a cause for surgery. So compared to Minako's wounds, they were more grievous. I mean geez, third degree burns and suffocation? Pfft, *I've* shrugged off worse wounds, LOL. ^_^ As for Tuxedo Kamen's late arrival at that massacre, he knew of course but was slowed down by Hotaru and the ruckus in the hospital. Plus he didn't drive like a maniac. Besides, I had to have him show up late so he could see Usagi and Rei together, and so that Hotaru could go insane for a bit.

Naru is a cameo because she only showed up once in the entire fic. Her detecting something between Usagi and Rei was just your average intuition.

And Byakko Rei, sure I have some spare weapons for you. I have plenty. My bunker cannot only withstand a scorching flame blast from disgruntled fanfic readers, but has enough weaponry to arm a small country. *sighs blissfully* My bunker is a happy place. ^_^ has been unstable for ages, and only now I realised I could upload again. I'm on holiday (though I only have a week left now), so I used the break to get some R&R. No, it's not because I got Neverwinter Nights and my passion for RPG computer games resurfaced, and because my friends demand me to join their LAN campaign just about everyday. It's a horrible lie, I swear. ^.^;; So basically, there's no back load of chapters.


- Kirika


Chapter 51 - Preparations

"Sometimes I question your sanity," Iason muttered as Lazarus finished explaining his 'plan', if you could even call it that, to execute the mystery Sailor Senshi the blue-suited youma had encountered in Minato General Hospital, and the human's allies with her. "You told her where our base of operations is," he said slowly, a statement more than a request for clarification, as if he was having trouble comprehending the information. Iason folded his arms and blinked a few times from where he stood in front of Lord Makareus' desk. "And then, you invited her --*and* her Sailor Senshi companions I might add-- to come and 'meet' you here." The second in command youma shook his head, outwardly appearing mildly befuddled, but inwardly incredulous. "You willingly compromised our whole operation. You've made this 'plan' of yours an all or nothing venture. You risk everything. That is *not* our way."

"There are always risks," Lazarus rasped without inflection from the dark little corner of the office he liked to dwell in when before Iason's master. The assassin was leaning casually back against the wall with his head bowed, seeming as cool and as laidback as ever. Iason just knew that hidden beneath that mask was a constant smug grin... most likely directed at him. "What is life, without risks?"

"A far better situation than we have now," Iason answered with some sarcasm in a near sneer, his eyes narrowing as he glared coldly at the Night Haunter. "The entire Sailor Senshi group could be heading here as we speak, thanks to your impetuousness. We will have to abandon this building, and with it, scores of resources; there is simply not enough time to salvage everything." It had taken Iason a long time to acquire the skyscraper, weeks of secretly filtering out the human occupants and replacing them with youma agents until the whole office building became his Lord's property. That it was now to be lost due to some outsider's reckless meddling galled him greatly.

"Perhaps now is the time…" Iason heard Lord Makareus murmur from the chair behind the desk.

"My Lord?" Iason questioned his master crisply, turning to the demon and moving his hands behind his back in a gesture of servitude.

"There has been so much delay as it is; we must take advantage of these new developments," Lord Makareus continued in a louder voice. He looked up at his second in command with a steady gaze. "No matter how dire circumstances are, one can always find a way to use them to their own gain. That is a skill of a true master of manipulation." The demon stood up and leaned forward, placing his fists on the desk as a keen and rather sinister smile pulled up the corners of his mouth. "Gather our troops. All of them. Recall those in the field as well," Lord Makareus ordered Iason. He stepped out from behind the desk and turned around, looking out the large rectangular window at a bright structure on the dark horizon. "It is time to open the gate."

"*Now* my Lord?" Iason inquired, a little puzzled and somewhat concerned. "Would it not be better to withdraw from here and regroup elsewhere?"

"We *are* withdrawing, and after this, there will be no need to regroup," the demon stated, his back still to his subordinate. "You know what must be done. I want that structure locked down. At this time of night, no humans should be present, but I want absolutely none alive in the near vicinity, just to be safe. This *is* an all or nothing venture; there can be no room for mistakes." Lord Makareus turned away from the window to face Iason once more. "I trust that you will not be the cause of any," he said coldly, the iris' of his eyes flashing through a cycle of many shades of colour in as many seconds.

"You have my assurances, my Lord," Iason guaranteed Lord Makareus firmly, his gaze drawn like a moth to flame to the spectacle in his master's eyes that betrayed his demonic heritage. The youma subordinate felt no fear at the unnatural display, but instead respect and deference. Iason simply didn't have the capability to experience that particular emotion, fear, anymore.

"The Silent Blades and I shall remain here," Lazarus said, having previously been silently observing the exchange.

"Naturally. You wished to work alone on slaying that irritating Sailor Senshi. This is the results of your… 'methods'," Lord Makareus said frostily, directing his gaze at the arrogant masked assassin. "And you will see them through. Earn your keep."

Iason couldn't help a slight twitch in his lips that threatened to curl his mouth into a conceited grin. The 'mighty' grandmaster assassin had foolishly painted himself into a corner. Now Lazarus and his order had to succeed in executing all the Sailor Senshi tonight, in this building, or face definite severe reprimands from Lord Makareus. If the Night Haunter and his followers failed, it would be better for them if they had all perished. It truly was an all or nothing venture for Lazarus. Iason would certainly not miss him.

The dark figure cloaked in shadows in the corner of the room remained quiet, and merely nodded in acceptance of Lord Makareus' commands. While it was an all or nothing mission for Lazarus, it was a win-win situation for Iason. If the assassin and his company did in fact manage to kill the Sailor Senshi that showed up at the office skyscraper, then it was almost without a shadow of a doubt that the interdimensional gate spell would be preformed without a hitch-- the lack of any distracting opposition would make the casting hardly a chore at all. At the very least, Lazarus would divert the Sailors' attention away from the portal invocation site, giving Lord Makareus plenty of time to bring forth the legions of youma waiting fervently in Iason's home plane of Pandemonium, all raring to claim Earth in their master's name. Even if any Sailor Senshi survived the Silent Blades' attack, they would eventually be slaughtered in the ensuing siege. A quite perfect set up in Iason's estimation.

Though, the second in command youma had to admit, he had personally wanted to challenge and put to death one particular senshi, and her mousy little mate with her. Iason still had a score to settle between himself and the pair of Sailor Senshi, Jupiter and Mercury, and he had intended to forcefully resolve it. However… the youma wasn't one of the deceased Khairephon's ilk; he would not rashly pursue his two enemies when both would wind up butchered anyway, even if it wasn't by his hand. As long as Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Mercury ended up just plain dead was completely fine in Iason's book.

"It is time for this campaign to come to a close," Lord Makareus said softly, more to himself than to the other two occupants of the office. But Iason couldn't have agreed more.


Tsubasa looked carefully in the vanity mirror on the passenger side of the newly rented blue compact car, delicately prodding at his burnt face. As flakes of dry, dead skin fell from his scorched visage, his mood became even gloomier. He wasn't going to win any beauty prizes, that was for sure. Sailor Mars' fiery arrow had done quite a number on his face, the superheated projectile's close flight path having given his skin a raw, sunburnt appearance. It was very uncomfortable.

Tsubasa squirted some moisturising cream from a tube into the palm of one hand, and then gingerly applied the cool soothing mixture to his sore face. The things he endured because of his feeble heart. He had abandoned a perfectly good job in Yokohama and travelled to another city with a totally selfish blockhead as a companion, to only become more entangled in some sort of monster invasion, get in a car crash, and have his face nearly fried to a crisp. And all because of a girl, who just so happened to be the same girl who was responsible for his peeling features. It was a whole new level of pathetic for Tsubasa. Sure, he had had crushes before, but none as bad and as fruitless as this one, and certainly not one for a magical girl, a Sailor Senshi, no less.

Sanjuro had filled him in on some background of the magical girl team, but Tsubasa's mind still had trouble dealing with the fact that he actually knew one of the senshi personally. The group even had merchandise designed after them for god's sake. Tsubasa sighed miserably while he finished off applying the cream to his stinging face. A hopeless crush on Sailor Mars, a girl who was probably already the crush and idol of millions all over the country. Okay, so he may have an advantage over the masses since he knew her true identity, but even that wasn't worth squat when the girl was utterly in love with someone else, and the 'someone else' happened to be a girl also. Tsubasa was beginning to think he was a masochist for even staying here in Tokyo for this long. He should just pack up and go back home already. The main reason he was here was because of Rei; his feelings had initially led him to the bustling metropolis; his aspirations to make a difference in the fight against evil had been secondary to the wish in his heart. And they still were; Tsubasa's feelings for the miko were what were giving him the incentive to stay in Tokyo and see this youma invasion through to the end. He just hoped the end didn't consist of the entire city, and then the country, closely followed by the world, being consumed in a storm of gnashing teeth and slashing claws that turned the human race into fertiliser. While Tsubasa's life pretty much stunk, he certainly didn't feel like taking a dirt nap just yet, and he was confident that most people elsewhere in the world really didn't either.

Tsubasa dabbed the last dregs of remaining cream off his fingertips onto his scorched face and rubbed the mixture in, before turning his head to his company sitting in the driver's seat. Even though Tsubasa had provided the cash to rent a new car, and had wisely payed extra for insurance, Sanjuro had insisted, no, *demanded* that he drive. While Sanjuro's crazy driving made Tsubasa's last meal want to forcibly bring itself up, he had to admit that the ex-reporter was a skilled driver and that in a situation where a hasty getaway from unspeakable evil or an infuriated Rei was called for, he would prefer the spiky-haired man behind the wheel. Besides, Sanjuro would have probably incessantly complained about Tsubasa's driving until he got his own way anyway. Until Tsubasa knocked him out to get some peace, that is.

"How's it look?" the brown-haired man asked Sanjuro, referring to his red raw face.

The self-centred ex-reporter popped a few strawberry Pez candies into his mouth from his blue Goofy dispenser, and then glanced at Tsabasa. "Like you had an intimate experience with napalm," Sanjuro deadpanned while he chewed on his sweets. He lifted his Pez dispenser towards an irritated Tsubasa, pulling back on the Goofy head with his thumb to expose one of the candies. "Pez?" he then offered cheerily, as if it would cure all his companion's ails.

Tsubasa stared at Sanjuro like the man was mentally challenged, and then shook his head. "No," he declined grumpily, before returning his gaze to the vanity mirror to survey his face again, and hopefully make the damage less repulsive.

"Suit yourself," Sanjuro said, and then looked out the driver's side window, up at the numerous steps that led to the Hikawa Jinja. He tilted his head back and emptied the Pez dispenser contents into his gaping maw. "Man, those cops. I can't believe they actually kept us in that hellhole they called a holding cell for twenty-four hours," the ex-reporter whined as he strained his neck to try and actually see the buildings that made up the shrine at the top of the long staircase. "My lawyer would've had a field day. I mean geez; anybody could tell that we had nothing to do with that bloodbath back at that school. Lame cops; it was obviously youma." He reached out with one hand and fumbled blindly for another packet of Pez that resided on the dashboard, not taking his eyes away from the Hikawa Jinja steps across the street. "Those bastard youma. I bet they wanted the students' brains… those kinds of creatures always like the big fat smart brains… they probably wanted to eat them, the sickos… but better them than me, I guess…" Sanjuro mumbled absently as he expertly removed the foil wrapping from the pack of candy. He shifted his gaze away from the view outside the window and attempted to slot more Pez into his dispenser. After several seconds of frustrated grunts and bit off curses, he eventually threw the blue dispenser in defeat over his shoulder onto the back seat behind him, and then resorted to cramming the sweets into his mouth. "Damn things are so hard to load," Sanjuro bemoaned through chews. The ex-reporter then went back to looking intently out the window again. He positioned his head in a variety of angles for a few seconds, and then let out an annoyed breath. "Crap. I can't see jack from here. I'm going up those steps for a better look."

As Sanjuro opened the car door, Tsubasa was jarred out of his well-practiced selective hearing state, finally tuning in to what the irritating spiky-haired man was saying exactly. "Wait! You can't do that!" he wailed emphatically, snapping his head sharply to the right to look at Sanjuro.

"Oh, come on," Sanjuro groaned, throwing his hands up in a gesture of impatience while rolling his eyes as he turned back to Tsubasa. "I *know* something is going down up there. All those chicks and a dude meeting up at Rei's shrine at this time of night? Either they're having one hell of an orgy, or there's youma stuff afoot." He paused for an instant, appearing to contemplate something. "You know, both ways are good," Sanjuro the hentai added, a lecherous grin slowly coming to his features.

Tsubasa made a face at Sanjuro while the ex-reporter's mind was no doubt swimming with ecchi fantasies. Two of those 'chicks' were entirely too young to be a part of the man's unwholesome imaginations. "It's too risky, they might see you. Rei already knows we're following her, if she catches you who knows what she might do," Tsubasa argued desperately, hoping to forestall his partner in crime from making any rash decisions. He didn't want Rei mad at him. Plus knowing Tsubasa's luck, Sanjuro would be caught and then be mistaken for a peeping tom by the girls, and after beating up the ex-reporter, making him blab about everything, they would hunt down Tsubasa and give him the same unpleasant treatment. Afterwards, Rei would probably never speak to him again, and right now, she hardly even did that, except to yell at him and dispense insults. The whole idea had disaster written all over it.

"Man, have some guts, you wimp," Sanjuro said, the remark all the more offensive coming from a coward like him. "I wouldn't be surprised if all those babes where Sailor Senshi; we just gotta find out!" He grinned feverishly, waving an eager fist at Tsubasa. "They're all probably preparing for a huge kick ass assault against some youma base! I can see it now, the carnage, the mayhem! Stuff blowing up all over the place! Mad magical powers flying left, right, and centre! Evil, ugly monsters getting their heads pounded! Oh man, I gotta get some photos of all that stuff!"

Tsubasa quickly grabbed Sanjuro's arm before the worked up ex-reporter could bolt for the shrine and probably clumsily crash through a window, and then end up using Rei's lap to break his fall. That would definitely not go over well. While seeing Rei use Sanjuro as a punching bag would be amusing, Tsubasa just knew the hotheaded miko would soon turn on him too.

"No way, you're staying here!" Tsubasa insisted, holding onto his excited companion's arm in a vice-like grip, desperate to prevent any catastrophe. "If you're spotted --and you will be-- Rei will get really mad."

Sanjuro ceased trying to struggle away from Tsubasa, and then sighed in a longsuffering way. "Rei's *always* mad, you idiot. She's fiery, feisty, and doesn't take crap from anybody. That's what makes Sailor Mars so cool…. and also the whole pyromania thing." He then eyed Tsubasa and smirked, snorting derisively. "Though I guess I'm already preaching to the choir…"

Tsubasa let go of Sanjuro's arm and looked away from the man, glowering at the pavement outside of the parked vehicle he was sitting in. "I don't know what you mean," he said sourly.

"That's it; I can't take this no more!" Sanjuro cried out, looking up at the car's grey fabric ceiling as if it could give him strength to tolerate any hardships. "All your brooding and moping and junk; it's driving me crazy! I've lost count of how many depressed sighs you've made in the past couple of minutes. For the love of *god*, for the sake of all our sanities, would you just tell Rei how you feel about her already!"

"How I feel about Rei…?" Tsubasa repeated, feigning ignorance.

"Oh geez! You are pathetic!" Sanjuro moaned, slapping his hands on the sides of his face and dragging them down slowly. "Look, if you don't say something to her, I will."

Realising denial was futile, and while trying to figure out if his feelings for Rei were so obvious that even a dummy like Sanjuro could detect them, Tsubasa decided to drop the bewildered act. And then let out another one of his apparently patented depressed sighs.

"What would be the point? All it would do is make things more complicated than they already are for Rei," Tsubasa said in a resigned tone.

Sanjuro pursed his lips and settled back into his seat, looking out the windscreen. "Yeah… I guess," he admitted contemplatively. "Yeah, like you could ever be good enough for Sailor Mars!"

"Gee, thanks," Tsubasa said flatly. The ex-reporter didn't need to add that last part.

"She likes hot slinky blondes with odango hairstyles anyway," Sanjuro continued unabated, "and last time I checked, you don't fit that category."

Tsubasa rested his head back against the car seat and stared blankly up at the vanity mirror. An unsightly sunburnt man's face stared back at him. Great, Rei probably wouldn't be able to stand looking at him now. And lately, she had seemed to be downcast. Tsubasa closed his eyes, recalling how the raven-haired beauty had appeared so dejected and defeated. He was sure something had happened in the past day or so to make Rei that way, and he was also sure that that something had to do with Usagi. Rei's moods usually tended to revolve around her best friend. Maybe Usagi had broken up with the miko. Tsubasa wouldn't have been surprised if the blonde had done so. He knew that the relationship had been destined for a painful ending. *Life* was painful, after all; what chance did forbidden love have in the face of reality? Tsubasa shook his head, still with his eyes shut. No chance, apparently. But he had already known that fact long ago. Rei had fought hard for her true love's heart, and if she had indeed failed, then what hope was there for a guy like Tsubasa? Rei's philosophy had been to fight for what she desired, while his was to let what he desired come to him gently of its own volition. Both ways looked like they were failures.

The depressed man chuckled quietly; a cynical, jaded laugh. Perhaps a dirt nap wasn't such a bad fate when you thought about it; it certainly was looking better all the time.


"…And that's it in a nutshell," Rei finished slightly demurely, concluding her account on what Lazarus had said to her, but leaving out one small, specific, detail. She lowered her gaze down to the square wooden table she was sitting in front of, preventing any eye contact with the assembled active Sailor Senshi and the Prince of Earth who were crowded into her bedroom at the Hikawa Jinja. She had an uneasy feeling that one of her friends would be able to tell she had omitted something from her story if they met her eyes. Especially if that friend happened to be a certain odango atama.

"Do I really have to say that this is obviously a trap?" Minako said from where she was sitting next to Rei. "Again? It's like these youma love this kinda set up."

"Hmm…" Makoto mumbled thoughtfully, idly picking at a long thin scab on her neck. It looked like she had been hanged a number of times with a thin piece of rope, as did her partner, Ami, who had similar scars. Gifts from the clash with the youma in Minato Hospital, no doubt. "Last time we got an invitation to check out some youma headquarters, the entire place exploded and half of us were nearly killed." Rei caught Hotaru fidgeting nervously in Michiru's lap to the right of her at the mention of the explosion. The Senshi of Rebirth's face was still a little smashed up, but mercifully neither Ami nor Makoto had asked about it. Perhaps they already knew the circumstances behind the young girl's injuries.

Ami absently reached up to her brunette love beside her and gently but insistently drew the tall girl's arm down to her side. "If you keep picking at them they will never heal," the Senshi of Water chastised in a murmur, entwining her fingers with Makoto's to prevent further scratching, and causing her lover to give her a sheepish grin. "And as before I don't see that we have much choice in the matter," Ami then said in a louder voice to the rest of the room's occupants. "It is the only clue we have to the remaining demon's headquarters. At the very least, we can destroy whatever youma are present at the location given to Rei, or use them to lead us to more youma."

"Where exactly is this location?" Michiru inquired as she wrapped her arms loosely around Hotaru in a comforting gesture.

"I believe it is a high-rise plaza at the outskirts of Minato-ku," Ami replied to the Senshi of the Ocean.

"So…" Minako drawled out, glancing around the table to each person in turn. "What do we do?" She paused for a moment, seeing that Rei, Usagi, Mamoru, and not to mention Chibi-Usa all looked preoccupied. "Uhh… guys?"

Rei tensed as she felt her unoccupied friends' eyes on her. The tension in the air between her, Usagi, and Mamoru was highly noticeable to her, and she was certain it was obvious to everyone else in the room too. But of course by now, all her friends knew what had happened between the trio. The miko didn't want to raise her eyes from the tabletop to see Usagi and be reminded of her pain… and yet, she craved the gorgeous sight of her princess at the same time. She supposed it would always be this way now. Suffering and longing were her eternal companions. Unless… the mask gave her a second chance. Rei still hadn't truly decided exactly what she would do once she got her hands on the artefact, but then most of her important decisions in life were made on the spur of the moment. Plus there was also Setsuna to think about. Using the mask to view the timeline would incur the Guardian of Time's wrath… well, her disapproval at any rate. Rei was sure that after she talked to Setsuna about using the mask, if she indeed decided to use it, that the women would eventually be swayed by her words. The Fire Senshi knew she would be taking advantage of Setsuna's more than fuzzy feelings towards her, but she couldn't help it.

"We go," Mamoru said quietly after a short silence, bringing Rei out of her inner thoughts. "Ami's right; even if it isn't the demon's base, we can at least get vengeance against the youma there for what they did at Juuban High School."

Rei looked up from the table and nodded gravely. "Agreed. We owe it to those who suffered and lost their lives because of us."

"So it's settled then," Minako declared, slapping her hands on the table and pushing herself up from her sitting position. "We're taking the bait." She let out a small sigh and scratched her blonde head. "I figured it would wind up this way. So who's gonna stay behind this time and look after Haruka and Setsuna?"

"Speaking of which; who's looking after them right now?" Makoto interrupted, turning her head to Michiru.

"No one," the aquamarine-haired woman informed the group. "Setsuna insisted she would be fine, and Haruka…" Michiru paused in mid breath, and a slight smile graced her lips. "Haruka assured me she could take care of any threat that happened to cross her path."

"Still, one or two of us had better stay behind and watch over them," Ami suggested. "While I'm sure Haruka is confident that she can best any youma that may take advantage of our absence, she and Setsuna are not at their peak physical condition at the moment."

"I have a feeling we're going to need everyone on this one," Rei said softly from where she still sat at the small table, the troubling memories of the vision and the emotions that came with it flickering over and over again in her mind.

"What makes you say that?" Minako asked, looking down curiously at the astute miko.

"Call it instinct," Rei replied cryptically. "Anyway, the meeting place is a big, tall, skyscraper, right?" she went on in a more normal, and yet still somewhat subdued, tone. "Worst case scenario, the whole building is chock full of youma nastiness, all waiting patiently to ambush us."

"Be that as it may, I think it would put all our hearts at ease if someone were to watch over Setsuna and Haruka," Ami said.

"I'll do it!" Chibi-Usa piped up from beside the silent Usagi across the table from Rei, as she thrust an eager hand up in the air above her, volunteering herself for guard duty.

"You can't," Usagi argued in a quiet but insistent voice, breaking her self-imposed mute state. "What would mom say if she looked in your room and found you missing at this time of night? She'd totally freak. And we don't know how long we're going to be out; you could be stuck at the hospital until morning."

"Geez, Usagi!" the future princess whined. "I could make the same arguments against you! I want to look after Puu and Haruka! I can do this, I know it!"

"Oh, but Chibi-Usa, what if youma *do* attack the hospital?" Hotaru said, noticeably worried about her best friend's welfare. "No one would be able to help you except for Setsuna-mama and Haruka-papa, and they're not well; it's too dangerous!" The dark-haired girl's expression then turned determined, and she nodded her head firmly, appearing to come to a decision. "I think I should stay behind too," the Senshi of Rebirth concluded resolutely.

"Hotaru…" Chibi-Usa moaned, drawing out the Outer Senshi's name. "I'll be okay. The others will probably need your help anyway. I'll be fine by myself." The pink-haired girl leapt to her feet and flashed a V sign with the fingers of one hand, winking mischievously. "Just leave it to me!" Rei heard Minako mutter something about pending trademarks next to her.

"I guess we don't have much choice if Rei's… instinct, is correct," Mamoru sighed. "The enemy didn't attack the hospital the last time most of us were drawn to that mansion, lets hope they don't change their tactics…"

"Yay!" Chibi-Usa cried triumphantly, and then promptly glomped her future father, nearly bowling the man over.

"Fine then. Let's get going," Rei ordered, standing up from the table, but keeping her gaze pointedly away from her true love. "I'll meet you all outside in a second; I want to change first," she informed her comrades. "And try to be quiet; I don't want to have to explain to Yuuichirou or Grandpa why you're all in my bedroom this late at night."

The Senshi of Fire kept her eyes lowered as she heard her friends all shuffle out of her bedroom, chatting softly to one another. Soon the sounds ebbed, but Rei still sensed the presence of someone in the room with her. She raised her head slowly and saw that Usagi had remained. She had suspected as much. Rei blinked when she also noticed Mamoru lingering in the doorway behind her princess, observing the two of them. The prince simply watched the pair of girls impassively for a second, and then left the doorway without a word. It looked like Mamoru still had some trust left in Usagi to leave his girlfriend alone in the presence of her recent onetime lover, for which Rei was grateful; perhaps she hadn't damaged their relationship as much as she had feared. Although, the cynical side of her suggested that maybe Mamoru just didn't care if Usagi threw herself at her best friend to steal some illicit kisses or not. Either way, it truly didn't matter; Mamoru and Usagi's relationship would recover eventually, or at least enough for them to produce a child. It was their destiny.

"Um… how are you…?" Usagi asked tentatively, fidgeting nervously with her hands clasped in front of her.

"Fine," Rei said, her lie transparent as glass. She turned away from her princess and moved to her dresser, before pulling open some drawers.

"I think you'd say you were 'fine' even if both your legs were broken," Usagi said, giving a strained laugh at the end. Her laugh quickly waned and petered out weakly as Rei continued to give her dresser her full attention, appearing engrossed in raking through her clothes, searching for something to wear. Usagi rubbed her arm uncertainly and swallowed, before attempting to start up another conversation. "I haven't seen you in awhile, Rei…" she commented softly, looking expectantly at her bodyguard's profile.

"It's not even been two days yet, Usagi," Rei remarked dryly as she pulled out a dark sweater and pants from her dresser.

"Oh… yeah…"

Obviously disappointed and a little hurt by Rei's standoffish attitude, Usagi merely stood there in the Fire Senshi's bedroom, looking unsure as what to do or say next. Rei turned away from her dresser and in turn her only love, and then paused in mid motion with one hand clutching her clothes to her chest, the other still on one of her dresser's drawers. She sighed deeply and shut her eyes. Here Rei was, being selfish again. She shouldn't forget that she wasn't the only one hurting. Usagi was at least making an effort to re-establish contact, and with it their friendship, with her again; all Rei was doing was moping and shunning the girl like the plague. Rei shook her head slightly and chastised herself for being so inconsiderate.

"Usagi… I'm fine," Rei said in a somewhat weary voice, opening her eyes, but with her back still to her princess. "I am, really."

"But Rei--"

"I said not to worry about me," Rei interrupted gently. She turned around to face a dismal looking Usagi and put on a faint smile, holding her clothes tightly in front of her, like a makeshift shield. "You have enough to deal with right now. Just worry about making up with Mamoru. Forget about me…" Seeing her princess open her mouth to no doubt argue, the miko hurriedly continued. "I'm always going to be here. Right here. Waiting. There's no rush, Usagi; I'll always be your friend, *always*." Rei's smile increased a little, becoming reassuring, and yet, trembled ever so slightly. "So don't concern yourself with me until you've got other matters settled. We have… an eternity."

"Do we?" Usagi whispered, looking at Rei earnestly, as if she didn't believe her.

"You know we do. It's the one thing we do have: time." The Senshi of Fire gestured with her head towards the door. "I'm going to change now, so…"

Usagi blinked at Rei in confusion for a moment until she finally got the message, and then blushed adorably. The odango atama nodded a little rigidly, and then left the room, but not without a slight backwards glance. Rei let out a long breath and relaxed her tense muscles. She felt like in the past few weeks, she had aged many years. She felt old, worn-out, just… tired. Physically and mentally. The raven-haired girl knew it had nothing to do with the battles she had fought in. She wondered how Setsuna could have taken the feeling for more than a thousand years without simply crumbling. Rei suspected she would learn eventually.


Rei changed out of her miko garb swiftly and put on her street clothes, before grabbing her long black coat from a hook in the wall and leaving her bedroom in a brisk jog. She saw that her fellow Sailor Senshi and Mamoru were gathered at the torii of the Hikawa Jinja, waiting patiently for her.

"All set?" Makoto asked upon Rei's arrival.

"Ready as ever," the Fire Senshi said, shrugging her shoulders briefly.

"Then we're good to go," Minako said. "So let's go!"

"Just how are we getting to this suspected youma stronghold anyway?" Makoto said as the group trotted down the steps of the shrine.

"Mamoru and I *do* have driver's licenses," Michiru informed the brunette matter-of-factly.

"And the cars to go with them," Mamoru added.

"Wait a minute, Michiru. You're going to drive us?" Minako said with an incredulous expression plastered to her face, as if it were the most bizarre thing she had ever heard. "I don't know why, but you driving a car is just… just…"

"Strange," Ami finished for the flabbergasted Senshi of Love.

"Why? Just because Haruka does most of the driving doesn't mean I never do. I simply prefer to let her do so when we're together," Michiru explained. Seeing the dubious glances the Inner Senshi were shooting one another, the Senshi of the Sea frowned a little in irritation. "I *can* drive, I assure you!"

"Right…" Minako said carefully. "I'm sure you can. Uhh… I think I'll go in Mamoru's car though… it's nothing personal, heh heh…"

In a matter of minutes the Sailor Senshi and the Prince of Earth were at the bottom of the Hikawa Jinja's steps and in front of Mamoru's and Michiru's --or rather Haruka's-- parked cars.

"Well… good luck, I guess…" Chibi-Usa said, realising this was the time she would be parting ways with the senshi and her future father. "Kick some youma butt for me! And don't worry about Puu or Haruka; you have *me* looking after them!" The princess from the future slapped a fist to her chest in a version of a salute.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you…?" Hotaru asked one more time, looking glumly at her friend. "The streets can be unsafe too…"

"I'm sure," Chibi-Usa reassured the Senshi of Rebirth. The pink-haired girl then shuffled her feet and lowered her gaze to the ground for a moment. She then shyly took Hotaru's pale hands in her own, holding them in a delicate grip. "Just… just you be careful too, okay?" Hotaru's cheeks turned pink as Chibi-Usa's hands held hers, but she managed a stiff nod and a small noise in the affirmative as a reply.

Rei turned away from the two young girls and noticed Minako had an indulgent look on her features as she observed the cute scene. The Fire Senshi rolled her eyes in mild exasperation. The 'Goddess of Love' could see potential romance just about anywhere. Minako needed a boyfriend, or *anyone* really, badly.

"Now that the touching farewells are done, shall we go?" Michiru said with restrained smile, which caused both Chibi-Usa and Hotaru to redden in embarrassment.

"Yes. We have a job to do," Usagi said with surprising resolution, making a few eyebrows rise.

Rei smiled grimly as she saw the natural leader in her princess manifest itself, her love's blue eyes becoming icy, determined, steel. "That we do. And a meeting to attend. Let's not keep them waiting." Or *him*, the Fire Senshi mentally added. Or her second chance at happiness.


to be continued…

Author's ramblings:

The next few chapters may take a while to come out. It's just about all action from here on out. Plus the city of Neverwinter is in trouble and needs my friends' and my assistance. *sigh* Such is the life of an adventurer, no one else but you can save the world… Now if you excuse me, I have some orcs to slay. ^_^

Torii: The arch structure outside the shrine. Separates the holy inner area from the world.