Sailor Moon Fan Fiction ❯ Absence ❯ Once More, Into The Breach ( Chapter 52 )

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


Chapter fifty-two. Rei was supposed to be obsessed. And she did give up any chance of happiness for Usagi. That's what chapter forty-eight was all about. As for Usagi, Mamoru's little speech about various things swayed her.

Pfft, everyone's complaining about Sanjuro and Tsubasa. You know, I do have to tie up loose ends. What's one drop of Sanjuro and Tsubasa time in the ocean of Rei time? It's near the end; I have to do these things. Which reminds me of another fanfic tip: people rarely like to read about author created characters. Be glad I'm aware and that I try not to dwell on any of my made up characters unless I have to.

Chibi-Usa and Hotaru. Maybe it's the age thing, but some people like them together, some people don't. I'm the former. Deal with it; it's barely even a side plot compared to the Rei/Usagi stuff. And Chibi-Usa doesn't have a destined prince, plus not everyone knows about Hotaru and the pink haired one's developing fuzzy feelings for each other, so that matter doesn't crop up.

And as usually, everyone wants Mamoru to die. Heh.

I do read other people's fanfics if I find the time, or if anything interesting catches my eye. Spare time is a rare thing for me, even when I'm on holiday. So, I'll see if I can find a moment to read people's fanfics who requested it. Except I don't read alternate reality type fanfics; I don't really like them, to be honest. Dub names usually give me an allergic reaction also (hardcore anime fangirl here), but I can take it. And don't expect any amazing and/or insightful reviews… unless I feel relatively strongly about a certain aspect of a story, my comments will be brief and lame. I'm lazy when it comes to intellectual stuff, and I don't like to criticise other people's fanfics. Still want me to read and review your stories? LOL ^_^;; And I'm glad people are writing more Rei/Usagi fanfics; previously I had to search for ages to find any that I hadn't already read. So yay!

Back at university tomorrow (and I passed all my first semester units. As if there was ever any doubt, *cough* ^.^;;). Thankfully, I only have a couple of classes this semester. I knew overloading my timetable last semester would pay off! ^_^


- Kirika


Chapter 52 - Once More, Into The Breach

"…Oh, and Artemis, don't let anybody see you or Luna in the hospital," Rei heard Minako speak into her wrist communicator in the backseat of Haruka's convertible. Despite her words to the contrary, the Senshi of Love had ended up riding in the car with Michiru behind the wheel, and didn't seem the least bit nervous about it. "They might think you have fleas, and sick people don't need unhygienic animals roaming about the place… yes, I know you don't have fleas, Artemis, I was just saying... yeah, okay, okay. Look, we're going into a tunnel, so I have to go… I know this isn't a cell phone. Yes, I'll be careful. Bye!" Minako released a sigh and shut her eyes briefly as she closed the cover over her watch communicator. She turned to Hotaru, who was sitting next to her, and put on a reassuring smile. "See? Artemis and Luna will keep an eye on Chibi-Usa; she'll be okay," Minako said to the pensive Outer Senshi, who nodded in response as she stared up at the blonde with big, hopeful violet eyes. "It's us I'm more worried about…" she added under her breath, looking away from Hotaru.

Rei knew Minako's eyes were boring anxiously into the back of her seat, her earlier instincts about the upcoming youma confrontation no doubt starting to worry the Senshi of Love. While the premonition was troubling to Rei also, she wasn't that concerned by it. No matter what the vision meant, there was really nothing she could do about it until it was upon her, so she had decided to put it out of her mind. There was no use dwelling on something you had no control over. Rei smirked bitterly at the irony of her musings. Her beliefs didn't always fit well with every situation.

Rei rested her head back against the passenger seat's headrest, and stared with half-lidded glassy eyes out the windscreen at the red car a short distance in front of Haruka's. She could see the backs of Ami and Makoto's heads, but they obscured the view of Usagi who was sitting in the front seat of the car, beside her boyfriend. Like she should be. Rei pulled her black coat closer around her body. It was pretty cold out tonight, and even though she was in the convertible with the top up, the Fire Senshi felt the chill.

"Shall I turn the heat up?" Michiru asked from the driver's seat, glancing at the miko.

Rei shook her head weakly. "No, it's alright. I think it's just me," she explained softly, the last part more to herself.

Michiru was quiet for a time, her concentration seemingly focused entirely on following Mamoru's car. Rei heard Minako engage Hotaru in idle chatter behind her, the drone of the two girls' combined voices a pleasant background noise that, along with the steady purr of the convertible's engine, lulled her senses and caused her mind to drift.

"Setsuna is really fond of you," Michiru said carefully out of the blue, keeping her eyes on the road. For some reason, Rei wasn't very surprised by the Senshi of the Sea's admission. The Outer Sailor Senshi did form a close-knit group, even more so than the Inner Senshi, to a degree.

Rei could tell that Michiru was waiting expectantly for a reaction, but the miko took her time in replying, appearing not at all perturbed. "I know she does," she said without inflection.

"She's very beautiful…" Michiru continued cautiously, shooting the Senshi of Fire furtive looks. "And has quite the lovely figure…"

Rei flicked her eyes towards the not-so-subtle woman in the seat next to her. "Yes, she does…" she said slowly, taking care to keep her voice level.

"I wasn't aware that Setsuna was interested in women until recently," Michiru went on in a contemplative tone. "I wish I had known sooner; she's really quite a catch. I know several women who would jump at the chance to go out with someone like her."

Rei resisted the impulse to say that it was too bad Michiru was with Haruka, or she could have gone out with the Senshi of Time. "Uh huh," the miko said instead, urging the Outer Senshi to go on with a nonchalant response.

"And she looks very, *very* good for her age; not the slightest hint of wrinkles or… other signs of aging," Michiru said, continuing her promotion of her friend's charms. "Why, she could pass for her early twenties."

"Yeah, she could."

Michiru hesitated for a second, and then finally came to the point of her whole conversation about Setsuna, which didn't take a genius to already figure out. "Since it didn't work out with Usagi, perhaps you… and Setsuna… could…?"

"Setsuna put you up to this, didn't she?" Rei deadpanned.

Michiru blinked innocently at the Fire Senshi before returning her gaze to the road. "Of course not," she said, feigning astonishment.

"Yeah, Setsuna isn't the type to ask someone to do such a thing," Rei said with a knowing smile as she watched the traffic whiz by the car. "I guess that whole speech was your own idea, right?"

Realising she was caught, Michiru smiled in resignation and let out a small sigh of defeat. "Setsuna wouldn't admit it, but I know she has feelings for you," she confessed. "They're as plain as day; even someone as aloof as Setsuna can't hide them, especially from someone who knows her well."

"Yeah…" Rei whispered sadly, remembering the pain in Setsuna's eyes every time she was with the woman. Pain caused by her. Indirectly caused perhaps, but Rei still held a measure of responsibility for the Guardian of Time's suffering. She seemed to be good at causing other people pain. But then, misery did love company.

"Loneliness is a terrible thing, Rei," Michiru said quietly. "And for someone like Setsuna, even more so. For many, many, years she has been completely alone, with not even other Sailor Senshi for company. Her duty is one of the worst of all of ours; to guard the Gates of Time, for all time. Setsuna needs a special companion to ease the passage of that eternity with." The aquamarine-haired woman let out a frustrated breath, noticeably concerned for her friend. "Even if she did find somebody, they would be mortal; a normal human being whose body, and subsequently their life, would ultimately succumb to the ravages of time. You can imagine how torturous it would be to continually lose someone you love dearly over and over again." Michiru shook her head gently, her eyes becoming misty as she watched the road. "Sometimes I think our lives as Sailor Senshi are a curse. But I am thankful that Haruka and I can share forever together. I suppose I'm lucky in that respect."

Rei inwardly agreed that Michiru was indeed fortuitous, but the miko didn't feel like her own life was a complete curse, despite all that had happened thus far. The reason for her birth in this world was to protect her princess, Usagi, and it was a life she gladly accepted, no matter what the future held.

"I don't know loneliness like Setsuna does," Rei said soberly, slouching further back into her seat. "But I can guess how hard it has been for her. However…" The Fire Senshi looked out the windshield at the back window of Mamoru's car, but she could only see Ami and Makoto. Her princess was still just out of sight. For some reason, that brought down Rei's spirits even more. "However, it's her fate, Michiru. She knows it, and… and I know it, too. There is nothing you can do for her, no matter how badly you want to help." Rei closed her eyes, not really wanting to go over the whole upsetting situation again, but doing so anyway. "If you're asking me if I feel anything for Setsuna, then yes, I do. Pity. I feel pity for her, because I know what she is going through. But pity isn't love, and I can't live a lie for her, and I'm sure she doesn't want to live one either." The despondent girl gave a jaded smile to the air, keeping her eyes shut. They burned beneath her eyelids; she hadn't been sleeping very well lately. "Setsuna's beautiful, compassionate, gentle, intelligent; you would think that she would easily be able to find somebody to love her, even a mortal. But she won't. She's a slave to Fate and, I guess, a slave to her heart, if loves someone as hopeless as me. Setsuna's just like me. We're both slaves to Fate, and slaves to our hearts." Rei chuckled cynically, and opened her lavender eyes. "It's funny; if I could only free my heart from Usagi, then we'd both break the hold Fate has on us. I could give it a try with Setsuna, and she would have someone by her side. I… just wish…" She trailed off, her voice starting to crack. Rei took a moment to control the rising anguish inside of her, and swallowed it back with some difficultly.

"You really love her, don't you?" Michiru whispered, more to herself than to the miko. "Perhaps it's a gallant, romantic thing, always preserving your heart for someone you love," she then went on in a louder, but still relatively solemn, tone.

"Maybe," Rei said, not really believing it. "But all the gallantry in the world doesn't lessen any of the pain." The Senshi of Fire suddenly shook her head in mild anger. "Damn it, I sound like a martyr."

"You are," Michiru said, causing Rei to look at her sharply. "You've made a sacrifice. You're willingly suffering for a loved one."

"I guess…" Rei said uncomfortably, never really having liked being referred to as a martyr. It conjured up the image of someone moaning and whining about all the troubles they willing took on for the greater good. A better person would simply stoically take it without complaint. She supposed that was the difference between a martyr, and a hero. But then, she didn't like being referred to as a hero either. "And Usagi isn't just someone I love; she's my true love, my first and only. There have been crushes, sure, but nothing even approaching the intensity of the love I have for her."

"What about during the Silver Millennium?" Michiru inquired. "I was under the impression all the Inner Sailor Senshi had close relationships with the Prince of Earth's personal bodyguard."

"My memories of that time are still fragmented," Rei explained, her brow creasing in concentration as she tried to recollect the tattered events of her life during a time long past. "I know I had some sort of relationship with Jadeite, but it was like… it was like I was merely filling a void for something, and going along with the others. And I'm certain it never came even remotely close to the scope of the love I have for Usagi. I was charged with guarding the Moon Princess, and Jadeite was charged with guarding the Prince of Earth. The other Inner Senshi all found a partner in the prince's bodyguard, so it was more or less expected I would too. I guess it put everything in a neat little package if each and every member of the princess's personal bodyguard were involved with one member of the prince's," she finished acidly in a bitter sneer.

"It seems that you and Setsuna have more in common than I first believed," Michiru commented sadly, giving the Fire Senshi a short sympathetic look before refocusing her attention on driving. "I'm sorry, Rei. It would have been nice if you and Setsuna could have tried it together, but I see someone else holds your heart. Or rather, imprisons it."

Rei gave a faint half-smile to Michiru's profile. "No, my heart isn't imprisoned. Someone's just taking care of it for me." The Senshi of Fire's smile then turned into a smirk. "Besides, me and Setsuna? Heh, I like blondes," she joked, her lavender eyes twinkling with humour and… acceptance.

Michiru let out a polite laugh and glanced at Rei. "As long as you stay away from *my* blonde, then we won't have a problem," she said with a small, teasing smile. "…But, we do have another blonde who's available and just so happens to be in the backseat of this car at this very minute…" she added with false innocence, eyeing Rei slyly.

"Minako?" Rei said, and then shook her head with a smile gracing her lips. "Nah, I don't think so."

"What? Did you call me?" the girl in question asked from the backseat, leaning forward to poke her head in between Rei and Michiru.

"No, Minako," Rei said in a longsuffering way.

"It's alright, Minako," Michiru chimed in. "Go back to talking to Hotaru."

"Yeah, okay," the Senshi of Love said a little uncertainly, looking between the miko and the aquamarine-haired woman with suspicion. "…You aren't talking about me, are you?"

"No, Minako," Rei repeated in a similar tone as before, rolling her eyes.

Minako continued to glance at her two fellow Sailor Senshi for a couple of seconds more, and then fell back into her seat again. "Okay. But I'll find out if you were, you know," she threatened. "And then I'll punish you in the name of Venus! You'll be sorry!"

"Yes, Minako," Rei said, mimicking her previous tone and grinning at Michiru, who smiled conspiringly back.

"I'm glad you haven't lost your sense of humour," Michiru remarked after awhile as she indicated to the right and followed Mamoru's car down a quiet, seemingly deserted street where some of Tokyo's tall corporate office buildings resided.

"The day I lose my witty sense of humour is the day I truly die," Rei smiled.

Michiru opened her mouth to no doubt give a witty response of her own, but stopped in mid breath. She frowned marginally as she looked in the rear view mirror. "I'm not entirely certain, but I think someone is tailing us."

"Huh?" Rei said.

"The blue compact a couple of cars behind has been following us for quite some time now," Michiru informed the Fire Senshi as she spared several apprehensive glances in the mirror.

"Youma?" Minako questioned from the backseat, having overheard the conversation.

"Worse," Rei grumbled as she looked surreptitiously behind her at the occupants of the shadowing car. "Idiots with a death wish."

"It's too late to lose them, whoever they are," Michiru informed the girls as she pulled up to the curb behind Mamoru's red car containing their comrades. "We're here."


"Ah, crap! She's coming this way!" Sanjuro exclaimed as he slapped Tsubasa's arm in a panic and looked with frightened eyes as a darkly dressed Rei approached their parked car, the girl's long hair and coat flapping behind her in the cold wind. "Quick, hide, you fool!"

Tsubasa looked to his left and then looked to his right as his flustered mind tried to find a suitable hiding spot… until he realised just where he was. "Uh, where?!" he squeaked out as Rei, the Sailor Senshi of hot, blistering, face searing fire came ever closer. Damn Sanjuro, Tsubasa knew he had been following the miko and her friends too closely. Some great driver he was.

"I don't know, just duck, god damn it!" Sanjuro hissed, doing just that.

However, before Tsubasa could do likewise, there was a sharp rap on the window beside him. The brown-haired man slowly creaked his head around to the passenger side window, meeting the inevitable. He smiled weakly at Rei's pretty face framed by the car's window, as his own unsightly face drained of colour. That is, if it hadn't been burnt a painful red. However, Rei's expression didn't seem very angry, it was more curious and a little anxious. Tsubasa blinked uncertainty and then fumbled for the button to open the window.

Once the window had been opened fully, Rei let out a weary sigh. "You guys shouldn't be here; it's dangerous," she said, glancing at the still cowering Sanjuro for a second. The raven-haired girl then refocused her gaze on Tsubasa and frowned in puzzlement. "What happened to your face?"

"He stayed in the sun too long," Sanjuro cut in quickly as he sat up from his 'hiding spot', answering Rei before Tsubasa could even open his mouth. "You aren't mad at us?" the ex-reporter then asked tentatively, looking ready to bolt from the car if the response was not to his liking.

"I don't like getting stalked by a couple of annoying men," Rei with some force, making Sanjuro recoil and Tsubasa gulp. "But it's not important right now. I can yell at you both later. Right now, just get lost for your own safety."

"I knew it!" Sanjuro shouted elatedly, grinning in triumph. "Youma! There's youma here! And you and your pals are about to bring major beat down on them!" The ex-investigative reporter's expression then turned sneaky, his happy grin becoming sly. "Or should I say you and your *Sailor Senshi* pals…"

Rei tensed where she leant down to the car window, her skinned knuckles turning white as she gripped the frame harder, and Tsubasa prayed that she wouldn't have to silence him and his loudmouthed companion permanently, or do anything that involved experiencing physical pain. But as quickly as her muscles tightened, the Sailor of Fire relaxed and shook her head gently in grudging acceptance.

"I suppose it was obvious," she sighed in resignation. Rei looked back to her companions who had assembled outside the two cars, all of whom were watching her expectantly. Tsubasa saw that Usagi and her boyfriend were among their number. "But it changes nothing," Rei continued, turning back to the window. "It's not safe for the two of you to remain here; there's a risk the fight could spill out onto the streets."

"It's a risk we're willing to take," Tsubasa stated resolutely, folding his arms and nodding firmly. "After all, in the end, it is our choice to make."

"Damn straight," Sanjuro added, and then puffed out his chest. "Our courage knows no bounds! …Anyway, I need pictures." He waved his camera at Rei.

The miko narrowed her eyes at the two men and stared at them intensely for a few moments. Tsubasa swallowed uneasily and felt himself start to nervously perspire. Eventually, Rei stood up and looked over her shoulder at something across the street, and then to her friends, before she simply looked straight ahead.

"Idiots," Tsubasa heard her breathe. She leaned back down to the car window and looked at the vehicle's occupants sternly. "If you want to be stubborn numbskulls, then fine," Rei said, causing Sanjuro to let out a whoop of joy. "But you don't budge from this spot, understand? *Don't*. *Follow*. *Me*," the Senshi of Fire ordered strictly, glaring hard at Tsubasa and Sanjuro.

"We won't, Rei," Tsubasa assured the girl.

Rei moved her gaze to Sanjuro. "And no pictures, camera boy."

"Aww, come on!" Sanjuro protested loudly. "What the hell's the point in staying then?"

"So go home," Rei said unsympathetically, raising a challenging and elegant eyebrow.

"Fine, no pictures," Sanjuro consented with clear reluctance, tossing his camera belligerently on the dashboard.

"Good. And if I even hear the hint of something that sounds like a camera shutter clicking…" Rei threatened, presenting a balled fist to the ex-reporter, her warning of violence obvious.

"Okay, okay," Sanjuro acquiesced, holding out his hands in a motion of passivism. "Since it's you asking, Sailor Mars. Anyone else I'd tell to take a hike."

Rei smirked. "I feel privileged," she said dryly.

"Come on, Rei, what's taking so long?" Tsubasa heard a girl's voice call.

The miko glanced at her waiting friends and then back inside the car. "Gotta go, guys," she said grimly. "Stay out of trouble," she then added after a slight pause. And with that, Rei stood up and jogged back to her comrades.

Tsubasa watched Rei leave and join up with her impatient friends. She looked tired. He hoped she was getting enough rest. It had to be difficult for a girl as young as Rei to have to face the kinds of nightmarish creatures Tsubasa had seen. She was still just a teenager. Tsubasa wondered how long Rei had been a defender of good and a fighter of evil. It seemed cruel and unfair that she had been roped into such a hard life. Why would people so young be chosen to protect the world? But Rei appeared to enjoy her lot in life at any rate, or at least, accept it. Still… it had to take a lot of bravery to stand against the horrors Rei had to deal with. Tsubasa wondered why she did it. There was no real reward beyond the mere satisfaction of fighting the good fight, and possibly the fame, but then Rei's true identity did remain secret from the public. Perhaps that was enough though; the simple satisfaction of knowing what she was doing was right. Some people were just inherently good, Tsubasa supposed. And also, in life or death situations, which Rei was constantly thrown into, people's true characters tended to reveal themselves, be it one of a coward, or one of a hero. But, the depressing fact was, the cowards tended to live longer. All that faced every hero was the cold hard grave eventually.

"Come on; I wanna watch this," Sanjuro said as he got out of the car, interrupting Tsubasa's disturbing reverie.

Tsubasa followed suit and directed his attention to the eight people several metres in the distance as he sat on the car's bonnet. There was a brief exchange of words between them, mostly between Rei and the others. Tsubasa noticed a tall brunette and a blonde girl with a red ribbon in her hair point in his general direction while they spoke heatedly to Rei, to which the miko responded by waving one hand casually and shrugging her shoulders. A beautiful aquamarine-haired women, who looked older than the other girls, smiled faintly and then said something to the group, which seemed to diffuse the situation somewhat. The brunette nodded and the blonde with the ribbon shrugged indifferently, and then looked at where Tsubasa and Sanjuro were observing for a second. All of a sudden, the tall brunette held up a pen-like object above her head, and then shouted out a phrase that echoed around the area strangely, as if the words held some sort of important, powerful, significance.


As Tsubasa watched, the figure of a normally dressed girl was replaced in a split second by a similar girl dressed in a peculiar style of fuku, not unlike a special uniform of sorts, akin to the one he had seen Rei wear before. Just as his mind began to comprehend that the girl was indeed the same brunette who had arrived with Rei but now transformed, the rest of the girls yelled out their own versions of the magical phrase.







"Awesome!" Sanjuro cried with glee at the spectacle unfolding before him. "This is amazing!" He gestured excitedly at a thin, dark-haired girl, who looked the youngest of the team, and who Tsubasa also recognised from the mansion explosion a while back. However this time, while the girl still had a frail, pale, form, she exuded an aura of icy menace. The long pole graced with a shiny curved blade at one end that she wielded didn't help her image either. "I've never seen that Sailor Senshi before!" Sanjuro said, nearly hopping up and down with exhilaration at being allowed to witness a rare display for the public eye.

Tsubasa moved his gaze to where Rei had been standing, and saw that the miko was now decked out in the red and white fuku of Sailor Mars. He couldn't help the flutter in his heart as he looked on in awe at the magnificent portrait of splendour, getting a clear impression of the Senshi of Fire in all her glory for the first time. In Tsubasa's eyes, Sailor Mars was the most beautiful of all the senshi. But, he could make out the small flaws in her intrepid and exquisite bearing; the trace of dark circles under her eyes, the not quite so glossy sheen on her raven locks, her rather pale complexion, and the slightly fevered, desperate look in her lavender eyes as she looked up at a tall office building across the street.

Tsubasa slumped his shoulders and lowered his now heavy head. So something indeed had happened between Rei and Usagi. There could be no doubt; there was only one thing that could make the normally fiery girl appear this way. Tsubasa raised his head and flicked his eyes over to where Usagi --or rather Sailor Moon if his knowledge was correct-- was standing, the blonde looking glumly at Mars as she tried to meet her gaze, but to no avail. Sailor Mars seemed engrossed in looking up at the skyscraper and didn't notice Sailor Moon vying for her attention. But then at long last, Mars turned her head to Sailor Moon and smiled at the girl. However, the smile was strained and tremulous, even to Tsubasa who was a fair distance away.

"'Love that we cannot have, is the one that lasts the longest, hurts the deepest, and feels the strongest'," Sanjuro quoted sagely from out of nowhere. Tsubasa turned to the man, and saw that he was also watching Mars. Seeing the completely and utterly dumbfounded expression stuck on Tsubasa's face at his wise words, Sanjuro shrugged absently. "I'm a journalist; I have a billion of 'em."

Tsubasa continued to simply stare at the ex-reporter in astonishment for a few more seconds, unable to break his features out of their stunned rictus. Perhaps Sanjuro's brain wasn't just filled with crazy fantasies and self-centred thoughts.

"Maybe we should get back in the car; if any youma come flying out I want to be able to get the hell outta here, pronto," Sanjuro then said, slipping off of the car's hood and walking back to the driver's side. "I don't want to be ripped to shreds and then chewed up by some hungry monster. That's what the Sailor Senshi are there for; let them handle the evil, homicidal, brain-eating, youma."

Tsubasa sighed and shook his head. Of course, he could be wrong about his assumptions of the contents of Sanjuro's brain. The brown-haired man looked back to Sailor Mars as she and the other Sailor Senshi, plus one rather formally dressed man in a white mask, began to cross the street to the building the miko had been staring at so intently before.

"Be careful…" Tsubasa whispered to the departing Senshi of Fire.


"I just bet the big bad is on the very top floor," Sailor Venus complained as she stared up at the twenty-storey skyscraper.

"I think it's based on the leader appearing superior to their underlings," Mercury commented contemplatively. "It forms a stronger image of power, and hence, control."

"The elevators better be working, that's all I can say…" Venus said dryly.

Sailor Mars listened to her friends' exchange absently, her mind focused more on finding and recovering the object that could provide her with a second chance at happiness in her dismal life. And slaying the object's current owner. The Senshi of Fire felt Tsubasa and Sanjuro's eyes on her back, but the two men were far from her thoughts. While their presence had been a mild upset to her fellow senshi, there was no point in worrying about them knowing what the majority of the Sailors, and not to mention Tuxedo Kamen, looked like normally. No, there was far more important and immediate concerns that occupied the miko's mind. Sailor Mars narrowed her eyes to determined slits as she stared through the front glass wall of the office building and into the large ground floor lobby. It looked perfectly quiet, not even the slightest sign of movement to be seen. That just screamed out danger.

"Looks clear," Sailor Jupiter remarked uneasily as she and the others gathered around the entrance to Lazarus' designated meeting place. "Too clear."

Mars shook her head while she kept her gaze fixed on the apparently empty lobby. She agreed with Jupiter. The moment she and her companions all took one footstep in that building, youma would be coming out of the woodwork.

"We should still be cautious," Sailor Moon suggested as she looked ominously inside the corporate office building. "Don't let your guard down."

Sailor Mars angled her head upwards, noting the two sets of elevators dead centre in the far wall in respect to the main entrance, and also taking heed of the two first-storey balconies on either side of the front doors, positioned a few metres to the rear. Her lavender eyes flicked to the lobby's large curved front desk to the right, and then to a couple of couches and armchairs arranged around a rectangular coffee table off to the left. Besides some pot plants placed periodically along the walls, there was no other furniture to speak of on the lobby's grey polished tile floor.

"What is it, Mars?" Sailor Moon asked her bodyguard quietly from slightly behind and to the left of the raven-haired girl.

"It's pretty sparse," she explained slowly, revealing her thoughts about the environment's layout as they came to her. "We're going to be very vulnerable as soon as we go in."

"The balconies are going to be a problem too," Tuxedo Kamen said from Sailor Mars' far left, on the other side of her princess.

Mars nodded in agreement as her mind continued to mull over the situation. "If they're smart, they'll use the elevation to their advantage. Any projectiles will have full cover of the entire area from that high angle."

"I guess we stay low, and if things get hairy, maximise what cover there is," Sailor Venus said, offering her opinions on strategies.

"Easier said than done," Sailor Neptune breathed as she put a thoughtful finger on her chin. "There's not much to work with."

"No choice," Sailor Jupiter sighed as she rubbed the back of her head.

Sailor Mars leaned back a little and then turned her head towards Sailor Moon's ear. "Stay close to me," she whispered gravely to her true love, the miko's lips barely moving as to not be noticed by Tuxedo Kamen. She didn't want the man to think she was moving in on his territory again.

Sailor Moon looked at Sailor Mars with worried blue eyes and then nodded apprehensively, much to the miko's relief. The Fire Senshi still had her duty to protect her princess at all costs; nothing would ever change that fact. She was glad that Sailor Moon hadn't hesitated in conceding to her instructions.

"It's getting quite cold out here," Sailor Neptune said matter-of-factly, a small smile coming to her features. "What do you say we get indoors?" Everyone else agreed that it was a good idea.

Sailor Mars felt adrenaline being shot into her bloodstream as Sailor Venus took the point, carefully pushing open the glass double doors to the office building that the youma enemy had been so kind to leave unlocked. Sailor Moon stayed close to the Senshi of Fire's side as the raven-haired girl followed behind Sailor Mercury and Sailor Jupiter, the whistling of her comrades' edgy and shallow breathing the only nearby sounds. As Mars' red heels clicked on the hard tiled floor of the lobby, she knew there was no turning back. If there ever was. Lazarus was somewhere in this building, and with the youma assassin, the mask that could see each individual thread of the near future timeline. How she was to defeat him Sailor Mars still had no real idea, but she would find a way. If not for herself, then for Sailor Moon, her princess and love. At the very least, with the mask, Sailor Mars could protect the blonde odango atama utterly from any danger and pain the world threatened to throw at her angel. The Senshi of Fire would finally be an infallible guardian, and never fail her princess again. Of course, there was the other, more obvious reason for winning the mask; use it to repair her relationship and love with Sailor Moon, and finally get the destiny she so yearned for. Mars knew it was a selfish use for the artefact, but the pain of longing in her heart would not let the option rest in her mind. But first, she had to hunt down Lazarus and kill any youma in her path. All while protecting Sailor Moon. The blonde's life was still in potential jeopardy, and Sailor Mars had not forgotten Setsuna's unsettling portent of the future. It seemed like ages ago that the Guardian of Time had warned her, but now, tonight, the miko felt more restless about it than ever. She couldn't help but start to think that maybe Setsuna's 'moment' and her vision from the Fire were related somehow. Exactly how, she wasn't sure. There was just something in the air tonight. It was electrifying, like ozone before the coming lightning strike, like a sense of expectancy, a tense anticipation that held the entire universe's rapt attention. She could almost taste it; a tart, acrid, unpleasant taste.


to be continued…

Author's ramblings:

Okay, so nothing much happened. I decided to split the chapter up into two parts, and have the violence component in the next chapter. It just didn't feel right tacking it on to the extra angst in this chapter. No, this isn't a pathetic attempt to reach sixty chapters before the fanfic ends. ^_^

So basically, sorry, no punchy-kicky-fighty-fighty stuff, you have to wait until next chapter. But at least it cut back on the long waiting period, right?

It's nearly midnight right now and I have a class at ten tomorrow. So it's sleepy time for me. -_-.z.Z