"Up and at 'em, Mina! Rise and shine, it's a beautiful day!" Artemis strolled happily in through his charge's door, ready to pounce on her to get her out of bed. Minako always seemed to want to sleep in on holidays. But she should be out, seeing her friends... having as much of a childhood as she could manage. Fighting the Dark Kingdom - alone - on the streets of London had aged her in many ways.
But that was no excuse for lazing about in bed! He slipped through the door into Minako's darkened bedroom, took a running start, and leaped up onto her bed. Which was empty... He facefaulted.
All right, Artemis, don't panic - just look for her. Artemis slowly took in all the familiar sights and smells in the room, cataloguing each one and pushing it aside. After a few minutes, the white cat concluded that Minako was certainly in the room somewhere. He let his eyes track lightly around in the darkness, searching for something out of place. He found it. The closet light was on.
Jumping lightly off the bed, Artemis padded over to the closet, wondering what the hell Minako was doing in there. He sat down by the closed door, his tail lashing back and forth in indecision. Finally, he spoke, "Mina? Will you let me in?"
There was no response from inside but the door opened wide enough to permit him entry. He stepped inside blinking rapidly until his eyes adjusted. He then took a good look at the situation - and quickly covered his eyes with his paws, a deep blush covering his face. "Minako! You could have warned me!" Damn... Something was really wrong here. Girls don't normally sit in their closets in their damned underwear! So, what the hell is she doing?
Minako finally took pity on him, "It's all right, Artemis. You can look. I'm not going insane, nor am I doing anything shameless. I'm just... looking..."
Artemis uncovered his eyes, but refused to turn his face to look at his charge. He cleared his throat, face still flushed as he spoke, "But why Mina?"
A light movement caught his attention and he watched as Minako trailed one finger lightly up her right arm, her eyes fastened on the motion in the mirror on the back of the door. Her eyes were muted, not their normal fiery azure blue - more of a dim stormy grey. And they looked removed from the situation, slightly glassy. Artemis swallowed hard as he watched Minako's hand leave her right arm and move to trace her left thigh. He fought the urge to hide his head a second time. Minako's hand moved from her thigh to her stomach, tracing lightly across the flesh, then moving up towards her collarbone. When Artemis found his voice again, it was shaky and uncertain - this wasn't the Mina that he knew and it was frightening him badly. "Mina? Please... Tell me what's wrong...?"
Minako sighed heavily, eyes now focused on her right calf, "You know... I hardly ever notice them anymore."
Artemis took a step closer, the fear now bright in his eyes, his voice plaintive as he all but begged for an explanation, "Notice what, Mina?"
Her voice dropped, eyes dimming even further as she traced over a spot on the right side of her ribcage, "The scars, Artemis... The scars."
It was then that the white cat forced himself to take a closer look, eyes traveling over each spot that Minako's fingers had touched. Her upper right arm, trailing along her biceps - a robber who'd gotten ambitious. He'd shot at a child - Sailor V had stepped in, taking the bullet through the arm without complaint. Her left thigh - a series of vicious bite marks covered its otherwise pristine beauty. She'd picked up those fighting a werewolf who'd decided that "Leg of Venus" was on the menu for the evening. The ragged scar across her stomach was the most recent of the set - a youma with a sharp set of claws had nearly disemboweled her two weeks ago - she was still healing from that one. The light speckling of scars near her collarbone - a youma that breathed fire. That had had been one of the first scars she'd picked up. It had taken her nearly the full three years since it had happened to grow her hair back out to its original length. Amazingly enough, she'd cried that night - not for the injury, or the fear - but for the hair she'd had to cut to hide the burnt ends. Her calf - where Kunzite had nearly managed to hamstring her a year ago. The skin over her ribcage held no visible scars, but she'd certainly broken enough ribs over the years... And the list went on.
Artemis felt a tear slide down the fur on the right side of his face as Minako's eyes met his. He dropped his gaze first. Minako's fingers continued to lightly trace over the network of scars that criss-crossed her body, not saying a word. Artemis curled in on himself, tail tucked over his nose as he wept. He must have failed somewhere along the line... to allow her to pick up so many scars - physical and mental - before the age of fourteen. Granted, one should expect to pick up scars in her line of work, especially when one fought alone. It wasn't possible to walk away from every battle unscathed. But still... He couldn't help feeling that he'd failed her miserably...
A warm touch enfolded him as Mina lifted him to cradle against her, "Daijoubu, Artemis, daijoubu... It doesn't really bother me all that much... I mean, with my transforming power masking them, you can't even see them if you don't already know that they're there!"
The white cat risked a glance up at his charge, hearing the unspoken thought that while others couldn't see them, Minako could see them clear as day. He nuzzled her lightly under the ear, "Well... If it doesn't really bother you..."
He felt Minako heave a huge sigh as she held him closer, "Oh, Artemis... I'd be a true fool if they didn't bother me. Every single one is a reminder of how many times I've come within knocking distance of Death's door. It frightens me... more than you can know... to think of how many more I may pick up before my life is over. I've been Sailor V for less than four years, Artemis. I'm not even fifteen yet..."
Artemis raised his face to give hers a light lick, "Then we just do the best we can, ne, Minako-chan? Your teammates have almost all gathered - soon it will be time to join them. Kunzite has already left England for Japan. You've been fighting nothing more serious than stray youma and youkai for a week - mostly it's been bank robbers and kidnappers. And once you have your team around you... you'll be safer."
Minako nodded - she'd heard it all before. Part of her yearned for that safety, that comfort, that would come from being part of a team. A tight fighting unit that could support and help each other as well as destroy every enemy in its path. Often at night, she would dream of them... quiet, intelligent Mercury - as cool and calm as the water she controlled; courageous, quick-tempered Mars - her soul as bright as the fire she wielded; solid, strong Jupiter - as warm and energetic as the forces of Nature. And Moon. Sailor Moon - the Moon Princess from one thousand years ago. How to truly describe her? As a klutz, a crybaby? No... Better to think of the hidden grace, the loving loyalty, the unswerving devotion to her friends - her sisters.
Yes, she dreamed of them. What little glimpses she got into their lives through Artemis' secret communications with the black Lunar cat - Luna? - gave fuel to her vivid imagination, urging her to match up what she saw with what little she remembered of a thousand years ago. Though outwardly they had changed, the cores of their souls had remained the same. She couldn't help but wonder if they too remembered the hardened warriors that they had once been - something that she was rapidly becoming again. Every injury, every scar, every enemy kill - each one hardened her soul further, crystallized it into something that she did not truly understand. It frightened her.
She put Artemis down, slowly standing and turning to face the rack of clothes hanging in the back of her closet. She selected a tight-fitting white tee-shirt and a pair of blue-jean overalls, slipping them on quietly before walking back out of the closet. She pulled on a pair of white socks and ran a brush through her hair, gathering half of it up and holding it with a red bow. A childish conceit, that. An unwilling smile crossed her face - the bow made her look young, even when every glimpse of her eyes made her seem far older than she appeared. She slipped a watch onto her left wrist and a golden heart-link bracelet onto her right. She was ready to face the day now.
With one last wink for Artemis, she headed downstairs for breakfast. Showtime...
Amanda watched her daughter leave the house with a confused look on her face. She turned to her husband, one eyebrow raised, "Tetsuya... Is it just me or was Minako not as upset about this as we thought she'd be?"
Tetsuya raised an eyebrow and shook his head, "Who can know what goes on in the mind of a teenaged girl, Amanda? Perhaps Minako-chan has grown up some. How did Michael take it?"
She sighed, "Not as well, I'm afraid. He can't believe we want to move back to Japan in the middle of his senior year of high school. He stormed out of the house as soon as I told him. Will you try to talk to him?"
Tetsuya nodded, "Hai. Perhaps we can work something out... Well. We'll see." He stood up and kissed his wife on the forehead, "Enough talking. Why don't you start packing and I will go talk to Michael."
Amanda smiled, "Good luck, love."
"And to you, koi."
Minako sat stiffly in her seat, stomach churning, and chest tight. To her left sat her mother, Amanda and her father, Tetsuya. There should have been one other. A tear slipped her control and slid down her cheek. It was all her fault... All her fault... Michael... Another tear slipped down to join the first. A family was not meant to be divided. And hers was about to be. She had a sudden desire to jump up and run off the plane - tell her parents it had all been a mistake... tell her father that he didn't have to transfer to Japan and that they could all stay with Michael. It passed quickly. She had to go to Japan and the only way she would get there would be with her parents in tow.
Minako hung her head, more tears sliding free as she sniffled lightly. I'm sorry Michael... I'm so sorry... Please forgive me...
A hand ran lightly through her hair, soothing some of the ache in her chest but not nearly enough. Amanda pulled her daughter close to her, whispering quietly, "I know, Mina... I know. It'll be all right - you'll see. Michael promised to take good care of the house and we can go visit whenever holidays permit. He'll be going to a local college next year so he can stay at home - it won't be so bad."
Minako nodded - what else could she do? Nothing. For all her power, for all her strength, she could do nothing. As she could do nothing for the people of London. Nothing for her friends at Interpol. Nothing for Katarina-oneesan. Nothing for Alan. She'd never in her life felt as helpless as she did now and she couldn't help but wonder if it was worth it. Just to join up with a team of total strangers who doubtless did better between the four of them than she could ever do on her own. What could she truly add to the group?
The fears swam up out of the depths of her mind, greedily threatening to swallow her whole. No. Now was not the time. Not now... She forced herself away from those morbid thoughts - she had to be strong. She was the leader of the Sailor Senshi. She had to join her team. And that was final.
She leaned against her mother's warm shoulder, letting her light, sweet voice lull her to sleep. There would be time enough to worry about other things later. Right now she was tired. So very tired...
"Wai! These are so delicious, Mako-chan! Please don't tell Luna that I had five of them..." the blonde giggled as she chomped her way through her last two crepes.
The tall brunette beside her laughed lightly as she finished her second, "OK, Usagi-chan - but don't come crying to me if you have a bellyache later!"
The blonde nodded vigorously, eyes alight with happiness. The watcher felt her heart glow just to see it. Yes - this one deserved happiness. A small part of her rebelled against the idea, though only a very small part. The argument went something like this... Why was this one girl so deserving of joy? Why were her guardians not entitled to the same joy? If but for an accident of birth - their positions could have been reversed! Minako forced that part of her mind to be quiet as she moved to follow the Princess and Jupiter.
A light smile crossed her face as she thought of how easily she'd picked them out of the crowd. She hadn't known exactly what they'd look like - but it had seemed so obvious once she'd stumbled across them! She grinned. Oh yes, the Senshi stood out to a Sensitive like a small sun in a darkened room. Their auras practically flared with the colors of their powers. And that very thought worried her. While Jupiter's psychic senses were never the sharpest - the Princess surely must have noticed her by now. Yet she seemed oblivious to Minako's presence. The Senshi of Venus didn't like the picture this was painting at all...
A sudden shriek from somewhere above them startled Minako out of her reverie. Oh no! The men washing the windows! She grabbed for her henshin wand, the words, "Moon Power Transform!" on the tip of her tongue when she froze. She was in the middle of a crowd of people! She couldn't transform here! A quick look up ahead of her showed Jupiter and the Princess having a similar crisis of conscience. She'd just decided that protecting her identity was not worth someone's life when it happened.
One of the ropes snapped. The man fell screaming - it seemed to happen in slow motion... A flash of white, purple, and blue swung down from a nearby building, catching the young man and carrying him to safety. Minako's mouth dropped open. Sailor Moon. Her eyes whipped towards Jupiter and the Princess - who was crouched on the ground wailing. The Princess... Sailor Moon... They couldn't possibly be in the same place at the same time!
She extended her senses, feeling out for flares of power. Jupiter and the Princess were the same steadily glowing green and white that they'd always been - though the Princess' aura was tinged black with distress over her stolen identity. "Sailor Moon" on the other hand... Minako gaped in horror, Zoisite! That's Zoisite! Her eyes narrowed in anger as they took in the minute differences that they should have noted earlier - Where the Princess' uniform was always red, this one's was purple. Her tiara was just that - a tiara. A boomerang hung from her belt. Her hair was just a touch more copper-tinted than gold-brushed... And a glimmer of cruelty shone from her evil jade...green...eyes... That clinched it. She booked it for a nearby alleyway, Artemis close behind her. She'd promised her mother she'd be home for dinner... Didn't look like she was going to make it.
She pulled out her henshin wand and held it high aloft, yelling the words to unlock her power, "Moon Power Transform!!" A golden wave of light slowly built and then crashed through her soul, washing free any doubt or indecision. A white, orange, blue, and yellow fuku formed over her body, then slowly transmuted into the more familiar white, red, and blue of her Sailor V fuku. Finally, the yellow-jeweled tiara disappeared from her brow and a red mask formed over her eyes. Sailor V was back in business.
She made a leap towards the roof of a nearby building, sandals clicking lightly as she ran, following Zoisite to his destination. Whatever he was up to - it couldn't be good. And wherever Zoisite was, his precious Kunzite-sama couldn't be far behind, lurking in the shadows just waiting to cause havoc. Her fists clenched as her right calf twinged in pain, That bastard owes me...
She increased her pace, desperate that she not lose her prey. They raced on in a seemingly random fashion, the fancier buildings of downtown giving way to docks and warehouses. Zoisite stopped near a large crane and Sailor V crouched down, watching anxiously. A flash of black and white caught her eye and she glanced down. A smirk formed on her lips, So who's the guy in the tux? Man, these people are weird... She turned her attention back to Zoisite.
Kunzite had tied Zoisite's wrists together. Sailor V's eyes narrowed in confusion - what could the two of them possibly be up to? She watched as Kunzite gathered Zoisite close, tipping his face up and touching his lips to the younger man's. Sailor V fought the urge to look away, though she felt like a voyeur. It was times like this that almost... almost... made her feel pity for the two Kings. Love was precious - no matter what form it came in. It would hurt her to have to destroy it...
She shook those thoughts out of her head as Kunzite raised his bound lover to hang from the hook of the crane. Zoisite screamed once, then closed his eyes, appearing, for all intents and purposes, passed out. Sailor V began to feel a cold ache in the pit of her stomach. This felt like a trap... She just wished she knew for what!
Mere seconds later she got her answer. The Sailor Senshi had arrived on the scene. Each and every one of them ran through some version of Sailor Moon's opening speech and Sailor V gaped in astonishment. Couldn't they see what Kunzite was doing? They were setting themselves up to be trapped inside one of his dark domes! She cursed quietly - the Senshi had no clue. Not a one of them. She began to move, then froze as the tuxedo-clad young man "rescued" Zoisite from the crane. Damn it! She turned back to the Senshi, praying that one of them would be smart enough to see what was happening - they weren't.
Kunzite encased them inside one of his domes, then shrank it down to hold them effectively imprisoned. Sailor V knew from experience how hard it was to escape one of Kunzite's domes - from the inside, it was nigh impossible. She wavered for a moment before deciding that it was safe enough to leave the Senshi where they were. If Kunzite wanted to kill them he'd have made an attempt by now. No... he wanted something. Time to find out what.
She raced off after the young man, desperately hoping that she wasn't already too late. She didn't even notice that Artemis was no longer at her side. She finally came to rest on the roof of one of the warehouses, waiting like a sniper for a clear view - and perhaps a clean shot. Minutes later, Zoisite (in his normal attire) had backed the tuxedo-clad man into a corner and knocked him easily down to the ground. She growled when she realized that she didn't have a clear shot. She couldn't hit Zoisite without hitting the young man...
Zoisite locked his ice crystal with the other man's cane and threw a blast of his trademark cherry blossom petals at the young man. It didn't do much damage, but did manage to blow his mask off. Sailor V felt the bottom slowly drop out from under her. That's... That's... Prince Endymion! She finally took the time to do what she'd failed to do before - and there it was. The young man's aura shone as brightly as did the Senshi's. Damn it all! Why can't my job ever be simple??
Just then, she got her wish. Zoisite backed off enough from Endymion to afford her a clear shot. She didn't waste a second taking it. She aimed for the hand holding the ice crystal, praying that Endymion would be smart enough to run when he had the chance. She gathered her power inside her like a tsunami - then released it in one brilliant burst, "Crescent Beam!!"
Zoisite cursed and dropped the ice crystal, clutching at his injured hand in pain. Endymion ran. Sailor V smiled as she ticked off a mark on a pretend scoreboard, "Round one to Sailor V!" She flashed a V-for-victory in Zoisite's direction, then headed back towards where Kunzite waited with the Senshi.
Zoisite beat her to it. He was standing near Kunzite, a worried look on his face as he explained what had happened. Kunzite's eyes narrowed, then turned up to search the roofs of the nearby warehouses. Sailor V dropped down, hoping to stay out of sight. Kunzite's eyes fell on her, nonetheless, and their gazes locked. In his was a violent promise. ~This is none of your affair - stay out of it. I missed the last time, I won't miss twice.~ She ignored it.
Just then Zoisite called out, "Tuxedo Kamen! If you wish to save the Sailor Senshi, hand over the nijizuishou!" Kunzite tore his gaze away to focus on events nearby. That was his big mistake. She smiled viciously, "Never underestimate Sailor V, Kunzite. Never." She moved closer to the scene of the fight, praying yet again that Endymion would stay away. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, she couldn't help giggling over the name that Endymion had chosen for himself... Tuxedo Kamen...
She had to wonder though... the nijizuishou... The name sounded so familiar... No - not nijizuishou... ginzuishou. Then... her mind flashed back on events too quickly for her to catch hold of any single one, but she remembered. The ginzuishou had been shattered to capture the seven Shadow Warriors - the nijizuishou must be the pieces of the Crystal! Oh, Endymion... Please be smart... Once they have the seven shards, they might be able to reform the Ginzuishou - and they'd have no reason to leave any of you alive! Please stay hidden...
Her silent pleading did nothing. Endymion stepped forward, mask replaced, clutching at his injured right arm, "Stop! I'll give you the nijizuishou! Just don't hurt them anymore..."
"Damn!" The word exploded from V's mouth before she could stop it. Didn't these people know anything about the enemy they fought??? Damndamndamndamndamn! Now was the time to intervene. Kunzite's attention was focused on Tuxedo Kamen... She gathered her power once again and aimed it - straight for Kunzite's hands, "Crescent Beam!!"
Kunzite let out a muffled choke of pain and the dome came crashing down. Zoisite clutched at his lover's hunched frame, carefully hidden panic etched in his eyes. The Senshi fell from their held positions, gasping for air. Kunzite's eyes tracked up from the ground to land right on her, angry promise clearly written in them. She could feel him fuming as she ignored it - again.
She leapt lightly from the building to land neatly on the ground opposite the two Dark Kings. A light smirk crossed her features as she pulled her red mask off. Her fuku transmuted back to its natural state and she flashed the two Kings a V-for-victory, "Long time no see, Kunzite-sama."
Kunzite growled incoherently at her while Zoisite made ready to attack. Salvation came in an unlikely form - Queen Beryl ordered the two Kings back to the Dark Kingdom. Venus recognized the look in her eyes - thwarted lust. As the two Kings teleported away, Venus had the momentary thought that she should warn Endymion... but he was no where to be found.
The Princess had crawled over in her direction before hauling herself to her feet. Her voice was full of an excitement that sparkled through her entire frame, "Sailor V! You're Sailor V-chan, ne?"
It was at that moment that Artemis made his reappearance - and only then that Venus noticed he'd been absent. She blushed lightly, but no one caught it. Artemis tossed her a wink, "That's right, Sailor Senshi! The fifth warrior is here - and I'm her guardian, Artemis. Luna, minna-san, meet Sailor Venus!"
Venus gave them all a cheerful smile and another V-for-victory. Luna smiled, her heart shining in her eyes, "The Senshi have gathered... What a beautiful sight!"
Venus was just beginning to get into the celebratory mood along with them, when the Princess spoke. Her words sent Venus' world crashing down around her. Her heart froze in her throat as she stared at the Senshi in near-absolute horror. The Princess repeated the question, a hopeful look in her eyes, "Sailor Venus... Are you the Princess?"
She forced herself to smile, hoping this was a joke and more than ready to play along if it was. She let her eyes track from one Senshi to the other, finally falling on Luna. The same look was frozen on every single face - hopeful expectancy. They don't know... They don't remember... Oh dear gods, no! Every fear that she'd ever had for this moment crashed in on her, the ocean of terror roaring in her ears. I'm a freak... We weren't meant to remember - what the hell is wrong with me??
She vaguely heard Artemis saying something about them having something to do, then jumping on her shoulder and whispering in her ear, "Let's get out of here - I think we both have some rethinking to do." She didn't waste another moment. She ran.
After making some excuse to her parents about why she'd missed dinner, Minako gladly fled to the refuge of her room, relieved that her parents had sent her to bed with no food. It was a childish punishment, but she was grateful. She'd lost her appetite and quite frankly, she didn't think anything she ate would have stayed down. Feeling entirely numb, she undressed for bed, brushed her teeth and curled up in her blankets, holding Artemis close to her. He was the only point of stability in a world that suddenly seemed anything but, "What do I do, Artemis? What do I do?"
Artemis wrapped his tail around her wrist in reassurance, "I wish I knew, Mina-chan. I wish I knew..."
"How could they not remember?? How??" An angry tear slid down her cheek to be followed by a flurry of others, "Why are we the only two that remember the Silver Millennium? It isn't fair!"
Artemis opened his mouth to speak, but Minako beat him to it, "And if you dare tell me that 'Life isn't always fair.' - I will have to hit you, Artemis."
The white cat chuckled lightly, "Hai, Mina-chan. I wouldn't dream of it..."
Minako continued, "And did you see how they fought? Gods, could you even call it fighting?? The only ones with any skill are Jupiter and Mars and they don't know how to coordinate with each other! How the hell can I lead a team that doesn't know how to fight together? I'm going to have to re-teach them everything that they should already know!"
Artemis sighed heavily, "Aa. It is unfair, Mina-chan. It is. We'll just have to do the best we can, ne? One day at a time..."
Minako turned to bury her face in her pillow, "All right, Artemis. I'll give it a shot. We'll see how it goes." A mighty yawn split her lips after those words, and she mumbled sleepily, "Oyasumi nasai, Artemis..."
"Oyasumi nasai, Minako..."