Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me, they belong to Naoko Takeuchi -sama and all the wonderful people who created Sailor Moon.  I am torturing them without permission.  ^_^

Notes (5-25-99): Sorry this took so damned long to finish.  *sighs*  I've been having real trouble with this fic but I keep trying to plod along and finish it, 'cuz I know several people who will kill me if I don't.  And they know where I live...  *shudder*  :)  Anyway, hope you're still enjoying this fic and please send me C&C if you liked this part - or if you didn't.  ^_^  At this point, just about anything will help... *sheepish grin*

Anyway, enough of my babbling - enjoy the fic!

Generals' Hour: Part 6

Upper Sailor Mars stared about the courtyard, anxiety causing her heart to rabbit in her chest.  No one was about, that she could easily see, but it was fairly late at night.  They were probably all inside sleeping.  But what bothered her most of all was the absence of Jupiter's presence.  Oh it was there, but distant - as if Jupiter were no longer on the Moon.  That meant she'd have to face the Generals alone...

You are never alone, little one.  Not while I'm here, was Mars' steady reply.  These are your people - you should not fear them.  In spite of what the Princess led you to do, you have shown true courage in returning.  They will respect that - I know they will.

Sailor Mars smiled.  Of course, he's right.  I have nothing to be worried about.  She slowly pushed open the door to Healer Hall.  She had earlier determined that the remainder of the Moon's people were here rather than at the Palace.  And considering the ruin that Beryl's troops had made of the Palace, she couldn't find it in her to blame them.

The minute she stepped into the Hall, she felt the chill of a metal blade against her neck.  A voice growled from the darkness, "That's quite far enough, traitor."

Mars froze, her mind whirling in a hundred different directions.  But she knew that voice...  "Roland?  Roland, is that you?  It's me - Rei..."

The lights quickly flared and Mars caught sight of the Captain's frowning visage, "I know well enough who you are, traitor.  Your reason for being here will determine how soon I let you die.  So start talking!"

All color drained from Mars' face.  She had told herself that she was ready for any kind of reception - but she hadn't been ready for this.  She did the only thing she could think of to do.  She started talking - fast.

As Roland listened to her story, his grip on her arm loosened.  By the time she reached the end of the story, he had dropped his dagger arm.  His eyes still showed an unhappy wariness, but he no longer looked like he was ready to kill her.  She cleared her throat, "Roland?"

He sighed heavily and backed away, allowing her entry into the main corridor, "I'm not happy about this, Rei - not any of it.  As far as I'm concerned, you could still be a spy."  Rei moved to interrupt, but Roland cut her off, "I've heard your story - and it's a good one, I'll admit.  But I just can't buy it, Rei.  I'm sorry."

Rei nodded, a lump forming in her throat, "I expected no less.  If you have a holding area, I'll wait there while you get the Generals."

Roland tapped his dagger against his chin for a moment, weighing the options - she had a point, unfortunately, they had no such holding area.  No dungeon.  Damn.  He growled softly, "You realize what an act of faith this is for me, don't you?"

"What?  I'm afraid I don't understand..."

Roland jabbed his dagger at the floor, "You will stay here.  I will go get the Generals and we will all have a nice chat.  If I find that you have moved from this spot, then you're dead when I get back.  Got it?"

Rei swallowed and nodded her head, not trusting her voice.  When Roland left, she sank to the floor, clutching her knees to her chest.  Oh great Mars - what did I get myself into?  As she wasn't expecting a response, she was startled when one came, Courage little one.  You are not alone.  She smiled and leaned back against the wall to wait.

Roland knocked on Zoisite's door, feeling more than a little ridiculous.  I feel like a child afraid to wake up his parents for a
nightmare...  He heard a low growl emerge from the bedroom, followed by a thump and a loud curse.  Zoisite flung the door open and stared at him for a moment before whacking him on the head with her pillow, "Damn it, Roland!  I was asleep..."

A rakish grin appeared on the Captain's stern visage, "And doubtless having very pleasant dreams about a certain General..."

Zoisite's eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest, pulling her robe more firmly shut, "If you woke me up in the middle of the night, to exchange witty banter, I'm going to have to hurt you."

Roland sighed, "Unfortunately, that's not what I woke you about.  It appears that Sailor Mars has had a change of heart during the night and would like to rejoin us..."

"What???"  Zoisite was instantly in a flurry of motion.  She tossed her robe onto a chair and raced over to her closet, unlacing her nightgown as she went, "Damn it!  You could have said that to start with!"  She yanked the nightgown over her head and pulled on her uniform as Roland hastily averted his eyes.  When he looked up again, she was over at the mirror pulling a green hair band over her mussed ponytail.  She grabbed his arm and started pulling him down the corridor, "All right, you wake Diana and Zafir, I'll get Malachite and Jadeite.  Once I have Malachite awake, he can go wake up the Prince."

Roland gave her a jaunty salute and snapped out, "Yes sir, General, sir!  Right on it!" about-faced and ran off down the hallway.

Zoisite grinned, "Scamp," and went about her own business.

Twenty minutes later had the motley crew standing in the main hallway and staring down at a frightened Sailor Mars.  That, more than anything she said later, convinced Zoisite that she was being truthful.  Her gift of Empathy revealed the true nature of Rei's fear as she related her tale - not fear for herself, but fear for them.  A fear that they wouldn't believe her and would be hurt as a result.  Once everyone had settled themselves around her, Zoisite approached and knelt beside the girl.  She patted Rei's shoulder and smiled, "Hello, Mars.  Welcome home."

The beaming smile that Mars gave her in response was pure joy.  She threw her arms around Zoisite and hugged her close, "Thank you.  I was so afraid that you'd turn me away..."

When she broke away from the hug, it was to see Darien also kneeling close by.  He held out a hand to Sailor Mars, a tender expression on his face, "I do thank you, Rei.  We can use all the help we can get for this fight.  It took a lot of courage to do what you did."

Rei took his hand and grasped it warmly, a pensive expression on her face.  She looked up over Darien's shoulder, looking for the tall, slender form of the First General.  When her eyes alighted on him, they brightened, "Malachite.  I'm glad to see that you are all right.  I had feared the worst."

Malachite stepped forward and nodded his head, "I have certainly seen better days, Sailor Mars.  Fortunately, I will live to see many more."  His fist clenched at his side, "And I will see Venus pay for what she's done.  I want a rematch."

Mars smiled, then slowly rose to her feet to be on eye level with the General.  Darien and Zoisite rose to stand behind her.  She looked about at that small sea of faces and swallowed hard, "Malachite, sir - there's something that I should tell you.  I know that it's going to sound hard to believe, but...  Just try."  Zoisite gave her a nod of encouragement, and Mars took a deep breath before continuing, "As I told you, I overheard a conversation between Serena and Sailor Venus.  Serena said something that startled me greatly, for I had never even entertained this notion.  I think that maybe this knowledge might have had something to do with why she turned to Metallia."  She bowed her head, and her next words were quiet, almost reverent, "Sir, you too are a child of Serenity.  The elder half-brother of the Princess."  She dropped to one knee, head still bowed, "Sire."

A tense silence followed her words.  No one spoke, no one moved.  Zoisite's eyes roamed around the room, taking in everyone's postures and expressions.  Darien looked - almost angry.  As if he'd been cheated of something - and perhaps he had.  Her eyes turned to Malachite, expecting to see shock, joy, maybe a bit of fear.  His eyes showed none of that - they didn't even show surprise.  He nodded once, then held out a hand to Rei and asked her to stand up.  She did, casting a quick glance around at everyone else before returning her gaze to the First General.

Malachite cleared his throat, "I suppose you are all wondering why this didn't surprise me."

A snort sounded from Roland's direction, "No really..."

Malachite smiled and turned that way, "I'm serious, Roland.  Try to be the same - just this once."  Roland tossed him a thumbs up and settled back into his chair.

Malachite turned back to the rest of them and cleared his throat, "When I was unconscious, I had a dream - a very vivid dream.  I saw a day in my past that I had very nearly managed to forget.  The day my father died."  His voice grew quiet, subdued, "Relli lived with us, then - a gift to my father from my mother as protection.  In a way, she saved me that day, by getting me out of the house before the soldiers came.  Nephlyte's mother later found me and took me in."  He paused, "What I never knew was what happened to her later.  Faithful Relli... She came back here - to my mother.  To Serenity.  In the dream, I saw that, and I knew."

His eyes met Darien's, and in them was a silent apology, "After I woke up, I forgot - the dream.  But, now that I've heard Sailor Mars' story, I remember it."  He gave a bitter laugh, "And I suppose that this explains the very prematurely white hair..."

That earned a few laughs from around the room, but they quieted quickly.  Malachite stepped forward and put a hand on Darien's shoulder, "Darien, let me tell you this now - this doesn't change anything."  At Darien's surprised look, he continued, "Think about it.  I'm the bastard child of a Queen of the Moon.  You are the Heir to the throne of the Earth - where all surviving people of the Silver Millenium will now reside."  He sank to one knee at Darien's feet, bowing his head, "You will ever and
always be my Prince, Darien.  And one day, you will be my King.  I live to serve you now, as I always did."

Darien swallowed hard, a lump forming in his throat.  He hastily told Malachite to get up, then pulled the older man into a tight hug.  In that moment, he truly felt like a prince.  For the first time in many a year, he felt the ability to rule rise to his fingertips.  He could do this.

Gently putting Malachite at arms' length, Darien gave the older man a genuine smile.  Malachite nodded, glad of the self-confidence that he saw in the Prince's eyes.  Darien dropped his arms from Malachite's shoulders and straightened his tunic.  He looked around at the sea of faces, wondering what he would see.  Almost all were smiling.  He found himself smiling back - how could he have doubted them?  These were his people, and this was his sacred responsibility.  If he had felt inadequate, it was no one's fault but his - and only because he'd lost his self-confidence.  He squared his shoulders and walked over to where Rei was standing.

Rei looked up at him with nervous eyes, in spite of his welcoming facial expression, she was still wary.  He smiled warmly at her and enveloped her in a hug.  Rei nearly melted into the embrace - how many times had she dreamed...?  No - best not to think about it.  She brought her arms up and patted Darien's back, "Thank you, my Prince."

Darien gave her one last squeeze, then pulled back to smile at her, "The pleasure is all mine, Mars - welcome back."

Malachite watched them with happy eyes before turning to the rest of the assembled and saying, "OK, people - I think the show's over for now.  We can all meet back in the morning to talk about finalizing plans.  Good night, everyone."

The first general watched everyone file out of the room with tired eyes.  The revelations of this night had brought back childhood memories with a vengeance.  And they were memories that he was totally unsure that he wanted.  He watched as the Prince tucked Mars' arm in his and led her upstairs - to find her a room, he supposed.  He turned his head to look out the window, not quite ready to seek his bed, yet.  A great part of him wished that Nephlyte were here - he could really use someone to talk to.
He was momentarily startled by a light tough on his shoulder.  He turned to find Zoisite's concerned eyes but a foot away.  She smiled at him and tilted her head sideways, "You OK?"

He sighed, feeling that weariness seep into his bones, "No.  Not really."

She moved her arm so that it draped across his shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze, "I may not be Nephlyte, but I'm willing to listen... if you want to talk, that is."

A small lump formed in his throat, but he pushed it down.  His voice was slightly strangled when it emerged, "I think I'd like that."

Zoisite nodded and led him outside.  He stared up at the stars for a while, his eyes automatically locating the blue-green sparkle of the Earth which hung above them.  Zoisite's eyes followed his and she smiled, "You miss it, too."  It was a statement of fact, not a question, but he nodded anyway.  She raised a hand to rub his back lightly, "We all do, Malachite.  You, me, Jadeite, Nephlyte - even the Prince.  Especially the Prince.  And this is hard on everyone..."

He turned his silver eyes to capture her jade green ones, "I know that, Zoisite.  It's just that..."  He hung his head, "I don't know."  He raised a hand to rub his head, closing his eyes.

Zoisite frowned, "Headache?  It's no wonder...  You don't find out you're the son of the Queen every day, you know."  At Malachite's quickly indrawn breath, Zoisite nodded slowly, "That's what this is all about, isn't it?  The Queen."

Malachite turned and walked away from Zoisite, sitting himself down on a nearby bench, "It is - and it isn't.  It's almost as if I don't know who I am, anymore.  But that's silly.  No matter who my mother is, I haven't changed.  I'm still the same person I was before this started."

Zoisite sat down next to him and laughed, "Now that is silly."  At Malachite's confused look, she continued, "No one is exactly the same person they were yesterday, Malachite.  We all change, day by day, year by year.  What a boring world this would be if we didn't!  Change isn't bad, you know - just different.  So yesterday you were an orphan and today you're the son of the Queen.  But what difference that really makes... who can tell?"

The First General nodded slowly, still deep in thought, "I suppose you could be right."

Zoisite smiled and rubbed his back again, "Of course I am.  Now listen to your friendly country Healer - take two of these..." she proceeded to kiss each of his cheeks, "...and call me in the morning."  Then, feeling very gratified by the light blush that colored Malachite's cheeks, Zoisite stood, waved, and walked back to Healer Hall.

Malachite raised a hand to touch his right cheek as he watched the younger General walk away.  I can't believe she did that...  The spots where she had kissed him felt cool compared to the heat of the rest of his face.  He hadn't blushed like that in longer than he could recall - it almost felt good.  And he wouldn't kid himself into thinking he was unattracted - Zoisite was a very good-looking woman...  And intelligent, witty, and strong - everything I ever wanted in a woman.

He turned his face back to the aquamarine orb of his homeworld, a thoughtful look upon his features.  Maybe Nephlyte was right.  After all, he and Lita had made their relationship work - in spite of the very serious odds against them.  Maybe, just maybe...  It might be worth a shot.  After all, who knew what the next few months would bring...?

Zoisite slowly uncurled her limbs from their cramped position.  One of her arms was tucked underneath her body, the other under her head.  And both of her legs were comfortably entwined with those of...  She flushed, a satisfied smile creeping over her features.  Even now, she could hardly believe it.  After all those months of chasing after the First General, she'd finally captured his heart.  She smiled, twisting in his embrace so she could see his peacefully sleeping features.  Even now, his beauty made her breath catch in her throat.  A captured moonbeam... that's what her lover was.

My lover...  I can't believe I can finally say that...  She lifted a hand to brush a strand of silver hair from Malachite's face.  He murmured something in his sleep and pulled her closer, causing her heart to thump even harder in her breast.  Gods... I love him so much.  She pressed a kiss to his forehead, laughing as he snuggled closer to her.  She held him close, stroking his hair until he subsided back into a deeper sleep.

The Healer-General relaxed back against the pillows as she let her mind wander over the memories of the past several months.  When had the turning point been?   Probably that first night I kissed him...  She almost laughed again as she remembered her words: "Take two of these and call me in the morning."  Doubtless, he hadn't expected a woman to be so forward.  She'd shocked him.  And once she'd figured out the key to catching his attention, she'd been able to keep it.

A small chuckle escaped her lips.  Once Darien had figured out her attraction to the First General, he'd been eager to help her catch him.  Some of the more daring plans she'd rigged to get Malachite alone with her had been his work.  He'd really changed over the past months - they all had, really.  He wasn't completely the same as he had been before meeting the Princess, but he was on the road to recovery - that much was certain.  He was a lot more confident, a lot more easy-going, as well.  All the
changes were for the good - and a great many of them had been brought about with Rei's help.

Now there had been an interesting scene...  Nephlyte and Jupiter had stopped back to replenish their supplies.  They'd already evacuated what was left of the outer planets to Earth and were on their way to Jupiter as soon as they resupplied the ships.  To say that Lita had been shocked by Rei's alliance reversal was such an understatement, it wasn't worth making.  After a few suspicious and wary first hours together, the two had reunited like the old friends they were.  And there hadn't been a dry eye in the place when they finally accepted each other.

But the Moon team hadn't been alone in doling out the surprises.  Nephlyte and Lita had found a surprise of their own once they'd been out in space a day or two.  Stowaways in the form of the two Moon Cats had been found aboard the flagship.  Apparently, Luna and Artemis had hidden there when the fighting broke out.  They had stayed hidden, living off the ship's stores, unsure of when the fighting had ended - or if it had at all.  And no one had thought to look for them - they'd been assumed dead.  And what a lecture they'd gotten on that one!  Zoisite smiled as she shifted in bed, cradling Malachite's head on her shoulder.  Luna had been absolutely livid with fury - and surprisingly, it had been Artemis who calmed her down.  The two had settled back into the routine of palace living, staying close to the Prince and offering advice as though nothing had changed.

But something had.  And it was a nearly palpable thing.  Everyone felt it, though it affected the Cats and the First General more than anyone.  The difference?  Serenity.  Zoisite felt a lump form in her throat at that reminder of the Queen.  Serenity may as well have been dead - and in a way, that made it worse.  Her body was alive, but only in the most superficial way.  Her mind, her soul - were dead.  It was cruel to let her live on in such a comatose state, but the matter wasn't as simple as pulling the plug on a life support machine.  For the Queen's body was keeping itself alive of its own volition.  And there was no easy way to tell people that the only way to "help" their Queen would be to take a knife to her throat.

And that wasn't the worst part, either.  In the still hours before dawn, the Healer could admit this to herself - but only then.  She was certain that this was her fault.  If only she'd acted sooner - or gotten there before the Crystal shattered.  Anything!  She tucked her head under Malachite's chin, resting her head on his slim chest.  But self -accusation could only do so much.  And it couldn't change the past.  She had learned that much.  Sometimes, in a Healer's fight with Death - Death had to win.  It was part and parcel of the deal.  But that didn't mean she had to like it.  Malachite's arms tightened around her, pressing her body closer to his warmth.  A warmth she desperately needed with those thoughts swarming through her mind like angry bees.

She allowed herself to relax into the embrace, to enjoy the shared warmth.  She pressed her face into the crook of her lover's neck, wondering how she'd ever slept before Malachite had come into her life.  It was almost hard to imagine...  Such a dim memory...  Her smile returned with a vengeance.  She'd ensnared him so well that in the end, he'd thought it was he who'd done the catching.  And that was how it should be, wasn't it?  Her smile widened, and she placed another kiss on his forehead.  To her left, the window showed the first lights of dawn.  She sighed heavily.  Her patients wouldn't tend themselves, after all...  She slid quietly out of bed, tucking the blankets back up around Malachite as she left.  He got cold too easily...  After stealing one last kiss, she slipped off to the showers to start her morning routine.  Malachite wasn't the only one that needed her, these days.

After a quick shower, she headed back to her own rooms at Healer Hall, a light robe wrapped around her as she went.  No one was about to comment this early in the morning, after all...  She pushed open her own door and went to her closet, pulling out the silvery-grey uniform she'd worn since she became a General.  She took a moment to look at it, wondering what power this thing held to steal her life from her so completely.  She dropped the tunic onto the bed along with her robe as she pulled on her green tank top, then the pants.

Uh- oh...  She looked down at herself - this was not good.  She tried to fasten the button at the top of her uniform pants and failed a second time.  Drat...  She sucked in her stomach and tried again to button her pants.  She almost growled as she failed again.  As a last resort, she lay down on her bed and sucked her stomach in as far as she could - but still to no avail.  Damn!  When did I get so fat??  Her heart started to beat faster - she'd known this day would sneak up on her all too fast.  She peeled off her pants and stared at them for a while, before hanging the uniform back in the closet and sitting down on her bed to think.

She'd known this day was coming all right.  She'd dreaded it for the past 2 and a half months, and now it looked like it was finally upon her.  She let her left hand drift down to rest on her offending stomach with a heavy sigh.  Her voice was quiet and directed more to her slightly bulging tummy than to herself, "Looks like I can't hide you in my uniform anymore, can I?  Well - that's one good thing that can be said for a Healer's robes, at least.  You could hide an army, their tents, and 4 months of supplies in them and no one would be the wiser."

Giving her tummy one final pat, she stood and snagged her green Healer's robes and loose breeches from the other side of the closet, pulling them on with a resigned air.  She looked at herself in the mirror, making a face at her reflection, "And just think - it only gets harder from here.  I'll have to get a bigger uniform from Stores today...  That should give me another month's grace period or so.  I hope."  She pulled on her boots, fixed her hair and gave herself one more good look in the mirror.  A bitter smile formed, despite all she did to prevent it, "For once, I'm actually glad all the men around here are so dense..."  She shook her head at her own foolishness and headed down to her office, already forcing her mind to focus on the day's work.  It was about all she could do, anyway.

When she reached her office, an unexpected sight met her eyes.  Jadeite was standing by her desk, pawing around in her personal belongings.  She raised an eyebrow and cleared her throat to get his attention.  He jumped, hastily putting down the paperweight he'd been playing with and snapping to attention.  She laughed and waved her hands at him, "At ease, Jadeite!  For goodness sake.  We're not on a battlefield, you know."

He gave her a sheepish grin, leaning back to relax against the desk as she walked around to sit behind it.  She motioned for him to sit in one of the chairs facing the desk, which he did with a slight look of unease.  She frowned at him, "So, what brings you to my door?  Are you feeling all right?"

Jadeite gave her a reassuring smile, "I'm fine.  Don't worry."

Zoisite picked up one of the files on her desk and opened it, browsing through it.  One of the Healers' children, from the looks of it.  A broken leg - ouch.  The poor thing...  She made a mental note to go visit the little girl and see if she couldn't do something to Heal the bone a little faster - and she'd have to talk to Malachite, too.  I almost forgot about that...  We're going to have to move the noncombatants from here as soon as possible.  Serena's been silent up there a little too long...  I don't trust it.  She closed the file, placing it on top of another stack of papers on the other side of her desk.

Seeing the younger General still sitting across from her, Zoisite raised an eyebrow, "You still here?"  She folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in the chair, "OK, Jadeite.  Spill.  You feel fine, that's great - but you must've come here for a reason.  Why don't you tell me what it is, hmm?"

Jadeite folded his arms over his chest, a sheepish grin warring with the frown currently upon his features.  The grin won, spreading a light pink flush over his features, "Well, you see... it's like this.  Darien and Malachite are running things with help from Rei, Nephlyte and Lita are rounding up the populace to bring to Earth, you're busy running Healer Hall and I..."  He trailed off, giving her a pathetic look before continuing, "I'm sitting around twiddling my thumbs."

Zoisite blinked a few times, then smiled, "You're bored."

The younger General stared at her for a moment before an answering smile curved his lips upwards, "Essentially."

Zoisite raised an eyebrow, "And you're hoping I can find you something to do, because we always need help at Healer Hall, right?"

Jadeite spread his arms wide and leaned back in his chair, "Lovely lady, you read my mind.  Now, what can I do for you?"

Zoisite rose from her chair, noting a mild backache as she did so.  Darn - another thing I'll have to remember to think about...  This extra weight is gonna cause mild back problems...  Drat.  She walked around to meet Jadeite on the other side of the desk, drumming her fingers on her chin as she did so, "Hmm...  Now, where can we put you where you'll be useful...  Ah!  I have it.  What do you know about calibrating medical scanners?"

Jadeite's confused look was answer enough in itself.  Zoisite laughed as she hauled him to his feet, "Absolutely nothing, right?  Of course, right!  Well - it's a simple enough thing to do.  We'll start you off there."  She led him down a quiet corridor to her own lab and opened the cabinet with the scanners in them.  She pulled one from the cabinet and held it so that it faced her - then thought better of it.  She turned the scanner to face Jadeite and scanned him once.

Jadeite frowned, "What was that for?"

Zoisite smiled and tweaked his nose, "Imp.  OK, see this chart over here?"  She pointed to the one inside the cabinet door, "These are normal readings for an adult human.  I was scanning you to make sure your readings were normal - which they are.  So, all you have to do is scan yourself with each scanner and set it, like this..."  She proceeded to demonstrate.  "Simple enough?"

"I think I can do that..."

The Healer clapped him on the shoulder, "Well then - there's about 50 scanners in this cabinet.  They need to be recalibrated once every week or so.  Finish these up, then come find me, OK?"

Jadeite gave her a grin and a salute, "I got it, sir.  And Zoisite..." he added as she paused in the doorway, "Thanks."

Zoisite gave him a salute of her own and left him to his work.  They all needed to keep busy these days, after all.  She heaved a weary sigh and set off to find the child with the broken leg.  At least that - like Jadeite's boredom, was something she could easily fix.

Serena uncrossed her legs and recrossed them the other way.  It was the fifth time in as many minutes that she had made that move.  It didn't make the cold stone throne any more comfortable to sit in.  Finally, sighing heavily, she stood up and stretched.  One or two youma shrank back at the movement, making her snarl.  They turned tail and ran.

Slowly, Serena let her gaze wander the room.  Venus, as usual, was nearby.  She tossed the princess a smart salute before resuming her silent vigil.  Serena shook her head.  Lately, Venus had even begun to scare her.  And that was saying something.  It was as if the golden-haired Scout had been waiting to make this slide into darkness her whole life, making Serena wonder if Mina would have taken the plunge even without her initiative.  It was a scary thought.

She let her gaze wander away from her top Scout and towards the back of the throne room.  Her gaze met a pair of unwavering indigo eyes.  She shivered.  The Scout of Silence was yet another ally who unnerved her completely.  Saturn raised an eyebrow at the Princess' discomfort and made a slight beckoning motion with her head.  If she hadn't been watching for it, Serena would have missed it.  With her heart giving one flutter of trepidation, the Princess left the dais and walked towards the youngest of the Scouts, waving Venus to stay at her post.

Without waiting for the Princess to reach her, Saturn turned and walked out of the throne room.  Serena cursed quietly and followed after her, heart beating slightly faster as adrenaline began to rush through her veins.  Saturn turned down a quiet, dark hallway and stopped in a little alcove that overlooked the bleak northern landscape of the Negaverse.  Saturn settled into the little alcove seat, waiting for Serena to make the first move.

Always a patient woman, even the Princess found herself lacking in that category.  Repressing a growl of displeasure she spoke, "What did you want, Saturn?"

Saturn turned her head towards the Princess, looking mildly curious about the anger she heard in Serena's voice, "Why so angry, Princess?"

Serena whirled away from the other woman and slammed a fist into the wall, "Why the hell do you think I'm angry??   Nothing has been going according to plans.  Nothing.  Anything I try, Beryl manages to mess up for me.  No matter how close I get, I always lose."  She turned around and slammed her back against the wall, drawing one booted foot up to rest against the wall, as well, "I'm sick of it.  And the lack of real support from the Scouts isn't helping either.  Mars' defection shook their faith in me."

Saturn shrugged, "You should have expected as much.  The whole situation here is unstable."  Her eyes darkened, "This can not last, and I think you well know it."

Serena's shoulders slumped and she leaned her head back against the wall, "I do.  I just need to figure out how to pull out of this nosedive."

Saturn stood, resting her weight on the Silence Glaive, "You will figure out something my Princess.  Of that I am sure.  Luck be with you."  She blurred out of existence.

The Princess watched the empty spot where Saturn had stood for a moment before settling down in the window seat, knees tucked up under her chin.  She wrapped her arms around her legs and stared out the window at the bleak landscape.  Bleak as my heart...  She sighed heavily.  Ever since that failed attack all those months ago, things had been going rapidly downhill in an ever increasing snowball effect.

She slammed a fist down on the seat, "Damn you, Malachite."  She seethed inwardly, unwilling to show more of a temper for fear of spies.  "Damn you..."  Why does that bastard have to be so good at what he does?  And Darien...  A lump rose in her throat.  Who would have ever thought that Darien would be willing to fight her?  She didn't want to admit, even to herself, how much that had hurt...  She slowly let herself drift off into the memory.

She stared around herself at the carnage of battle.  Things were not going well for her troops.  She thrust her sword in a wide arc, listening with satisfaction at the chorus of three screams that resulted from the swing.  Her eyes darted about the battlefield, picking out allies and enemies as she went.  A flash of orange-red pulled her eyes to the left.  She hissed, "Mars..."

With a single-minded intensity, Serena forgot about the rest of the battle, plowing through friends and enemies alike in an effort to get to her quarry.  Malachite saw her moving - but too late.  He couldn't get to Mars in time and they both knew it.  She left him to Venus to take care of as she advanced on the fire-Scout.

Mars' eyes met hers and flashed in fear in spite of the new power she now held.  She backed up a pace, bare hands held out in front of her as if to hold off the Princess.  Serena raised her sword to an attack posture as she spat out the words, "Bitch.  Traitor.  What made you think you could cross me and live, Mars?"

Mars backed up another step, terror showing in every line of her body.  Serena drank it in with a wild glee as she waited for Mars to speak.  She was disappointed.  Mars just kept shaking her head back and forth, horror suffusing her features.  Serena clasped both hands around the dark sword and raised it...  And froze.  Her sword clattered to the ground with a loud clang that reverberated across the courtyard.  Only then did she feel the pain.

Reaching a hand around in morbid fascination, Serena wiped it across the knife wound in her lower back.  She looked at the blood covering her fingers with a fascination bordering on fear as she slowly turned to identify her attacker, fully intending to take the bastard with her to Hell.  She froze again.  Her eyes took in the black armor, the bloody knife, the greatsword still in its sheath, the black and red cape.  They took in the tousled black hair, the tear-filled blue eyes, the saddened visage... and she couldn't find it in her heart to attack him.  Before she realized what she was doing, Serena reached her blood covered hand up to cup his cheek.  A blood-flecked whisper escaped her lips as she fought to stay conscious, "My love..."

Darien jerked away from her as if she'd smacked him and she fell to her knees, unable to keep her balance.  She watched in detached fascination as Darien backed up one more pace before falling to his own knees.  He shook his head, the tears flowing even more freely from his eyes, "Serena..."

Serena felt a tear or two of her own slide down her cheeks.  Her hardened heart cracked and began to bleed.  Saturn's form blurred into existence next to her, gathering her up into a pair of strong arms.  She felt herself slipping and surrendered to the darkness.  The last thing she saw before she slipped away completely was Sailor Mars wrapping her arms around Darien and holding him close to her as he wept.  Serena's heart shuddered once and died.

When Serena next woke, she felt numb.  So numb.  Venus had explained that they'd lost the battle.  She didn't care.  Mercury had explained that she'd healed the wound but it would take time for Serena to completely recover.  She didn't care.  Haruka had explained that Beryl had been causing trouble while Serena had been unconscious.  She didn't care.  Michiru had told her she had to eat to keep her strength up.  She didn't care.  Venus had stepped forward, shooing everyone else out of the room.

Saturn had caught Serena's eyes, silently telling her that they would talk later.  She still hadn't cared.

Venus had taken that opportunity to grab her shoulders and shake her violently.  The shake had jarred the wound, reminding Serena of exactly how she'd received it.  Another shake jarred loose the few remaining tears that the Princess' eyes held.  Venus had dropped her like a hot coal, her eyes suffused with horror, "What the hell is wrong with you, Serena?"

To her own horror, Serena felt a sob rise up from the depths of her chest.  She shook her head mutely, unable to answer.  She sat up, wrapping her hands around her stomach as if she were in pain, little gasping sobs escaping her throat.  Venus backed away from her, unnerved by such a display of weakness.  As Serena watched, something changed in Venus' eyes.  They closed off from her, pulling farther away with each tear she shed, widening the gap between them.  Venus gathered her dignity around her like a cloak and left the room to the sobbing Princess.

Venus' departure broke something open inside her.  Just as she'd thought she couldn't shed any more tears, the floodgates opened, causing her to sob with a broken-hearted abandon.  It felt as if everything had suddenly crashed in on her and she had no support in the increasingly stormy seas.  Not even a piece of driftwood to help her float.  The loss of her throne before she even had it, Jupiter's betrayal, Mars' betrayal, the continued failures of battles lost, and finally... Darien.  That betrayal had hurt far worse than all the others combined.  And that she'd lost him to that traitorous bitch!

The tears began to slow, finally reaching an endpoint.  Serena stood up from the bed, not even wincing as her movement pulled at the half-healed tissue.  She walked determinedly over to the wash basin to erase the signs of her tears.  She stared coldly at herself in the mirror, her own cobalt eyes boring into her soul.  And she decided.

Part 5 | The Graveyard | Part 7
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