Sailor Moon: Snippets - Seven

 

Minako and Artemis watched from behind the tree, open-mouthed, as Mamoru deliberately snubbed Usagi and then drove off. Usagi sank to her knees and followed him only with her eyes.

"That does it. Come on, Artemis!" Minako carefully avoided Usagi's sight, then broke into a run.

"Minako -- he's on a motorcycle. We'll never catch him."

"It doesn't matter. I've got his scent now."

"You're not a cat."

"Close enough." They ran on.

 

"Ah. How convenient." Minako stepped on the pier and turned her gaze to the end, where Mamoru was the only human being in sight.

"I think he wants to be alone." Artemis was panting from the long run.

Minako looked down at him, "That's what I said. How convenient."

"Minako..." Artemis really didn't like the sound of her voice. She sounded... determined.

 

"Stop right there, you idiot!"

Mamoru swung around, then relaxed when he saw who it was. "Oh. Hi, Minako."

Minako glared at him, "You are an idiot, Mamoru. Did you truly forget what my powers are?"

"Huh?" Mamoru's face was a study in total bafflement.

"I have my life through the Moon Goddess who gave me Light to share with others. I was chosen to defend Life by the planet Venus, whose own Life was destroyed by the darkness millennia ago. She will go to any length to protect the Life on her sibling, Earth. Do you know what it is that creates Life Energy?"

The man and cat looked at each other, then warily at Minako, "What?"

"Love. And that is why the darkness cannot make its own Energy and must steal ours. For there is no love in darkness."

Her hand stretched out, and the Moon Stick appeared in Minako's hand, "Moon Power Transform!"

"What?" Artemis and Mamoru both exclaimed, for different reasons, as the transformation took place.

"Sailor V?"

Sailor V stood before them, hands on her hips. "That's right." She grinned somewhat sourly, "I have a couple advantages as Sailor V that I don't have as Venus. First of all, it won't alert the other Inner Senshi, and second," she lifted a hand to her mask, "I can see a few more things this way." Sailor V raised her hands and spread them out, "Venus In-Soul!" A golden glow appeared between her hands. The light increased in brilliance as she drew her hands down in front of her chest, then she pushed it out from her, straight towards Mamoru.

"What are you doing???" Artemis yelled at her, as Mamoru's eyes widened and he tried too late to duck.

The golden glow surrounded Mamoru and sank into him. There was a long pause as everyone waited for something to happen. "Huh?" Mamoru started to relax, then thoughts of Usagi started drifting through his mind. Usagi, glowering at him as he called her meatball head. Usagi, laughing in joy. Usagi, smelling the flowers. Usagi, dancing in the rain. Usagi, smiling at him inviting him to share in her love of life. Usagi, smiling at him in that way that made his heart turn over. Usagi, torn away from him as the world broke up around them. Mamoru sank to his knees, "Usako..."

"I thought so." Sailor V's mask glowed with the golden light, then she took off the mask and her outfit changed back to her everyday clothes. She studied Mamoru for a moment, who stood up and faced her.

"What did you do to me?"

"I did nothing to you. I sought the truth. And found it."

Mamoru felt a chill through his body as he heard again the words of the prophecy.

Minako shook her head, "No, I don't know the details," she paused and grinned, "Your face gives away your thoughts at the moment. I don't know details, but I know that you have been given a choice. Several, actually. You didn't chose the one that lead to utter and total disaster, I'll give you that. But neither have you taken the path to the future. You will destroy us all if you continue." She turned away and started back down the pier.

"Wait! Minako." Mamoru stretched out his hand to her, but didn't otherwise move.

Minako stopped but didn't turn around. "You aren't ready yet. When you want to talk about it... When you REALLY want to talk about it, and to be truthful about it, then come to my house. I'll be home." She keep walking. Mamoru watched until he couldn't see her anymore.

He looked down at Artemis, "What was that all about?"

Artemis regarded him seriously, "I think you know better than I."

 

Several hours later, Mamoru approached a two-story whitewashed house. It was simple and elegant. Located just outside of the city, there was space around the house that spoke of a peace not had in the inner Tokyo. The garden out front was well tended and full of life. It incorporated a traditional path that all visitors had to traverse to get to the front door, and Mamoru felt some of his tension draining away as he contemplated the meaning in the grove. He rang the doorbell and waited.

"Just a minute!" The voice sounded breathless, and before a few seconds had gone by, the door was opened by a beautiful older lady. She was dressed in knickers and an apron, and a cap was over her head, but several blonde hairs straggled out, accenting the delicate features of her face. "Iím so sorry! Johnny got out just as I was watering the garden, and then ran back inside before I could catch him, and the place is a horrible mess! Please, keep your shoes on! Iím cleaning up the mud now, but the house slippers wonít do at all for the moment. Can I get you some coffee or tea? Would you like a crumpet?"

Mamoru felt overwhelmed. Heíd been guided inside the house without his even knowing it, and found himself sitting at the counter on a stool, a cookie in one hand and a tea cup in the other. He ran the past few minutes through his mind and decided he hadnít been mistaken -- he hadnít yet introduced himself, and the woman hadnít even asked. He started to stand up and remedy that, when a small dog came barreling into the house, yapping furiously. The dog skidded to a halt two feet from Mamoru and bared his teeth, snarling. The dogís fur was shiny cream-white -- evidence of a very recent bath.

Before Mamoru could do anything about this new situation, a white cat materialized from around the corner and stood between him and the dog. A paw shot out and slapped the dog across the nose, but the claws werenít out. "Artemis!" Mamoru called out gratefully -- he had been starting to wonder if he was in the right house after all. The dog yipped resentfully, then started wagging its tail and shoved its nose on Mamoruís leg. Mamoru set down the cookie and the tea and reached down to pet him.

"Oh, good, youíve made friends with Johnny." The lady came back in, her hair no longer under the cap and her apron off. She held a tray of crumpets. "Do try some of these. I was just experimenting with a new recipe, and I want to know how I did."

"Mother. Heís my guest. Please do let me rescue him for awhile."

Mamoruís head turned again, and he almost grinned with relief to see Minako there. Inside he was thinking, Mother? The lady of the house was unquestionably English. Minako flashed him a quick smile before turning back to her mother.

"Oh, my dear. How wonderful -- inviting young men to the house. You really must do that more often. Are you sure he doesnít want a crumpet? And heís been so wonderful to little Johnny."

Minako grabbed the cookie that Mamoru had set down and ate it, "Oh, I like these, Mom! Do you have any more?" She disappeared into the kitchen with her mom. The noisy dog followed them. Mamoru sank down on the stool and looked around him. The house wasnít just spacious -- it was huge. Rugs and wall hangings left almost no bare wood excepting the furniture and shelvings. Little figurines filled every nook and shelf. The decorations had mixtures of English, Indian, African, Australian, Mexican, and some other cultures he couldnít even begin to identify.

A throat clearing by his feet attracted Mamoruís attention downwards to Artemis. The white cat gave a significant jerk of his head and started walking. Mamoru followed him out of the living room and around the hallway to an ornate set of stairs. He ran his hand over the polished wood appreciatively. Artemis was waiting for him at the top of the stairs and gave an urgent meow. Mamoru heard voices coming back from the kitchen and quickly followed Artemis up the stairs with a slight sense of guilt.

Upstairs, Artemis led him into a room that was filled with tons and tons of stuffed animals. Small, large -- all shapes, sizes and different types of animals. They ranged from the cute to the serious to the adorable. There were stuffed animals on the dresser, on the bed, on the sofa, on the floor, in the windowsill... Minakoís room. Mamoru let his eyes wander around the room, seeing the evidence of an open soul that loved her childhood and her friends. Are they her only friends? Mamoru sat down on the sofa between two of the larger animals and picked up a fuzzy kola. Artemis hopped up on the bed and curled next to a lamb.

Minako came in with a tray of cookies and milk and tea. She handed him the tea and kept the milk for herself. "Sorry about that. Mom tends to be a little exuberant with visitors. We donít get many."

"I didnít know your mother was English."

Minako nodded, "Father is a diplomatic attaché. He travels a lot. He and mother met in Egypt, when they were both touring the Gaza Pyramid." She smiled, "Theyíre a good couple." Moving a reindeer out of the way, she sat down on the rocking chair and put the milk on a nearby shelf. She reached around to one side of the chair and brought out a bag with knitting needles sticking out of the edge. Pulling out different yarns, she picked out a purple color and took up the needles, "Now, whatís up?"

Mamoru felt a little silly and a little uneasy about sitting there in her room, talking about his problems with Usagi. He looked down to the kola bear he held and bit his lip.

"Thatís Mick."

He looked up, "Huh?"

Minako nodded towards the bear, "Youíre holding Mick -- he was given to me in Australia by a little girl. Kathleen, her name was. She said Mick had been given to her by her cousin from Sydney just after her favorite wombat died. When she gave him to me, she told me he was the best support and friend that a troubled person could have."

Mamoru looked down at the kola. It was a well-worn bear, but also a well stitched one. It looked hand-made now that he looked at it more closely. Well-worn, and well-loved. He turned his gaze to Minako, but she was apparently concentrating on her knitting. And what had you so troubled, my friend? He hugged the kola bear close to him. "Right after Chibi-usa was attacked by the Black Moon, I started having these dreams..."

 

The silence stretched out, broken only by the click of the knitting needles. Mamoru munched on the last of the cookies and waited.

At last, Minako sighed, "I understand, Mamoru. But I think youíre wrong."

Mamoru shook his head, "I donít know either if itís real or not, but I canít risk Usagiís life. I have to stay away from her."

"Oh, I didnít mean the dream. Of course you have to go on the assumption that itís true." Minako paused in her knitting. "I meant the way youíre going about it. Breaking Usagiís heart is not the way to ensure her strength in battle!"

Spreading his hands, Mamoru said, "But how else can I do it? Sheíll always want to be with me, as I do her, and the only way to keep her away is to make her think I donít care anymore."

Minako snorted, "Where do you men come up with these ideas? It seems to be an almost universal trait." She put down the needles and leaned towards Mamoru, "Tell her."

Mamoru blinked, "Tell her I donít care? But I have."

"No, you numskull! Tell her about the dream!" Minako leaned back in her chair and glared at him, shaking her head in disbelief.

He thought about it, swallowing nervously. He wanted to tell her... Lord, he wanted to tell her. But if she didnít believe it, or worse yet, decided her life was her own choice and wanted to stay with him... It was the second part he was the most afraid of. He knew how little Usagi regarded her own life when it came to her friends. He told Minako what he feared.

"Humm." The knitting needles started up again. Mamoru waited, pouring himself more tea.

Artemis spoke, breaking the silence, "It doesnít really matter."

Two heads turned to him, but Artemis didnít move from his spot on the bed. "For one thing, according to your dream, itís not just Usagi in danger -- itís the whole world! For another, your not telling her is so cruel, it opposes everything we stand for. Your actions are tearing the Moon Kingdom in two."

Mamoruís face went white, stricken with his emotions, shamed to his core as the realization of exactly what heíd been doing was brought forcibly to him.

"Besides, I donít think itís quite as extreme as youíre thinking." Minako kept knitting, and both men looked at her with expressions of disbelief. She glanced at them, and gave a grin, "No, not that. I agree with Artemis on that. But Iím heading back to an earlier tangent. Mamoru, youíre worried about her staying close to you no matter what, right?"

He nodded.

"But thatís not the prophecy. According to your dream, you and Usagi were getting married as the world tore apart. ĎIf you and Usagi join togetherí were the words. I donít think your friendship is the problem, I think your marriage is. You can still be friends with Usagi -- just donít let it go over the line into romance."

Mamoru blinked, closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them again. "Minako, do you have the faintest idea of what youíre asking?"

She put down the yarn. "Yes, I do. I really do. And I think you and Usagi will be the stronger for it. You two have a ĎMiracle Romanceí, but long before that, in your past lives, you were friends. In this life, you were friends as well, even if neither of you had recognized it. You can be friends again. It will be hard. It will probably be the hardest thing you have ever done. But both of you have friends who love you. We will support you. We will be there when it gets too hard. We will do all we can to help you through this."

Mamoru sank his head in his hands and thought about it. He thought about Usagi. He thought about the moonlight in her hair, the grin of cheer as she turned to him, the way his heart started pounding whenever she was near, the way her lips tasted and the feel of her soft body in his arms... "I canít, Minako. I canít be near her without wanting her." He realized what heíd just said and jerked his head up, turning red with mortification.

Minako just smiled sympathetically, "Mamoru, I said I understand, and I do. Do you think you and Usagi will be the only couple in the world or in history to have to stay together, yet apart? Itís a classic. And I canít begin to tell you of the Prayers that are asked of Venus for help. I helped them, and I can help the two of you, even if I am less than what I used to be. And do you think that Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter will stand idly by? We are a team, but more than that, we are your friends. I never said it wonít be hard. Of course it will. Of course there will be times when you just canít stand it anymore. There will be times when you will be so tempted that your only recourse will be to run. But do you really think that we can stay together as a team as we are? We are worried about you. We are concerned about Usagi. We debate among each other and split us even further. Whether you know it or not, Mamoru, you are a part of us. You cannot stay away and still fight with us. Our strength, as you always used to tell us in the beginning, is in our friendship and our working together -- that doesnít exclude you."

Mamoru stared at her.

Minako stood up and walked to her dresser drawers. She opened one and reached inside, pulling out a long box. She handed it to Mamoru and walked back to her chair, where she picked up her needles again. Mamoru opened the box. Inside was a rose. A red rose. He touched it gently, recognizing it as one of his own. He looked up at Minako.

She nodded, "I need reminders too. I keep it to help me keep going on the dark days." Smiling, she looked to the window, "Usagi is my strength, and you are hers. We are a team." Artemis hopped off the bed and onto the sofa next to Mamoru, rubbing his head against Mamoruís hand. Mamoru automatically started to pet the white cat, thinking about the rose, and what it really meant: Courage. There is someone on your side. Some of his tensions started to drain away as he felt his friendsí support. But not all of them. He tried to picture himself telling Usagi, and his whole being knotted up with worry and concern. Staying away was easier, then I could pretend she was okay Ė until I would see her again. To his absolute horror, a tear slipped down from his eye. He didnít dare look towards Minako and prayed she was absorbed in her knitting. Quickly, trying to be subtle, he brushed it away with the hand that had been holding the stuffed animal. Mick fell to the ground, and he leaned down quickly to pick it up.

"Amiís in cram school Ďtil eight, so how about if we arrange to meet with the others at eight-thirty?"

Mamoru had never sat up faster in his life, "The others?" he tried to say, but all that came out was sort of a frightened squeek. He blushed at how obvious he was. Minako very carefully didnít look up from her knitting, and he was grateful, though embarrassed, for the consideration. Artemis cleared his throat and Mamoru looked down.

"I think itís a good idea for you to tell all of them. Theyíve all been worried, and this dream is something we need to put on our agenda to check into. If itís another piece of the puzzle about the Black Moon people, everybody needs to know it."

Reluctantly, Mamoru agreed. Somehow, though, the thought of telling all of the girls wasnít quite as frightening as telling Usagi by herself. Coward, he accused himself, and knew it for the truth.

"Youíre what, Mamoru, eighteen?" Minakoís voice was light, but her gaze was serious.

He nodded.

"Calm down then Ė you still have a lot to learn as well." Minako laughed, "And yes, I, a fifteen year-old school girl dare to say this. Somehow, though, a lot of people I know tend to be older, and I can see the difference between a boy of fifteen, one of eighteen, and one of twenty-three. Most of the time, you act a lot older Ė probably from being on your own so much, but Mamoru, youíre not that much different than the rest of us." She grinned widely, "I admit, we all hold you in awe, and tend to goggle at your handsome face," Mamoru blushed, "but all teenage girls will do that to any older guy. Particularly the cute ones. Donít let it throw you so much." Her voice became more serious, "And donít think you always have to live up to our expectations, or Usagiís. Being yourself is more important."

"Is this a discussion of the dream I had, or a psychological evaluation of my character?" Mamoru could have bit his tongue out for saying it the way he had, but Minako didnít seem upset. Instead she just put away her knitting.

"Iíll contact the others and let them know about the meeting. Be right back." She pulled out her communicator from a pocket and slipped out the door, hesitating for a moment to say, "I wonít tell them youíre coming," before she was gone.

Mamoru sighed, then remembered Artemis. He looked at the white cat, but the cat was watching the door. "Artemis. Is she like this all the time?"

The cat continued to watch the door. "Minako is veryÖ changeable. No. Sheís not like this most of the time. But sometimes she is. And sometimes sheís even more." Artemis sighed, "When all the girls came back without their memories, and then got them again, it changed things. Minako and I had fought the Negaverse for over two years, and she was almost fully merged with her former self. But when Usagiís wish gave them life again, it also took away the Senshi, and the merge started again from scratch. Minako is happier now, in a lot of ways Ė sheís got four very good friends her own age who accept her and will talk with her, and she can almost be a normal fifteen year old girl. But she also remembers the old times, and is frustrated that she canít do as much." Artemis jumped off the sofa and paced. "Even when without her memories, Minako is still the Captain, and is a great partner. She takes crime and danger and planning seriously, and one of her young dreams was to be in Interpol. But sheís also rather scattered, doesnít like to study, and her other goal was to be a famous actress."

Mamoru looked around the room, which reflected neither of those dreams, and wondered.

"But Mamoru," the white cat went on, "When she is being serious Ė itís good to pay attention to her."

"I think I just found that out." Mamoru laughed and stood up, putting Mick on the sofa. The box with the rose, he set carefully on Minakoís bed. He walked to the window and leaned on it, looking out over the neighborhood, seeing the expanse of green hills in the background, and behind the hills, the darkness of the mountains. "Artemis, what was it like on Nath?" The home star of the Moon Cats was a yellow one like their own, and the world evolution very similar, he knew from his own old memories, but back when he had known that, he hadnít asked any of the Cats for details.

Artemis blinked, then jumped up to the sill next to him. "Traditionally, Moon Cats that are slated for service to the Kingdom are sent off fairly young, and itís been many a year since I could have been called young."

Mamoru smiled, gently, "Nobody ever forgets their home." His face clouded over as he inadvertently reminded himself of his own current past. Usually.

So Artemis told him what he remembered, amazed at how much he could, and they spent an hour in conversation before either one even thought about where Minako had gone to.

Artemis wandered downstairs to check and came back up looking disgruntled. Mamoru raised his eyebrow at the cat, who frowned, then shrugged, "Sheís helping Mom cook dinner. Iím not sure if you want to stick around for it. Thank God I eat canned tuna."

On the heels of Artemisí announcement was Minakoís mom, and as when he first came into the house, Mamoru somehow found himself swept along until he was sitting at the dinner table, a fork of something unidentifiable in his hand, a glass of white froth beside his plate. He took a tentative bite and raised his eyebrows Ė it was good. He ate some more and waited for a break in Momís conversation. When there was a pause, he turned quickly to Minako, "What is this?"

Minako grinned, "Nightshade."

"MinaÖ" Her mother frowned.

"Sorry, Mom." Minako was unrepentant.

Her mom turned to Mamoru, "Potato casserole with ham. A popular dish in Ireland and America."

He sipped the warm liquid. It was familiar, butÖ he looked to Mom again.

"Steamed milk."

Mamoru almost spit it out, but contained himself. He took another cautious sip. It wasnít that bad, actually.

Minakoís mom smiled, and then pointed out all the dishes to him. Most of them were apparently other traditional dishes from combinations of cultures. He was particularly impressed with the Ďfry breadí Ė flat scones of cornbread fired in oil, a Native American staple. In addition to telling about the foods, she also talked about the cultures, and drew comparisons and contrasts between them.

Mamoru spend most of the meal listening, fascinated. Sometimes, Minako and her mom would get in apparently furious arguments about a point of almost trivial importance, each bringing up examples from the places they had been. Then they would be all sweetness again, and the subject would move on. In Mamoruís opinion, probably one of the most fascinating things about the conversation was the languages. Minako and her mom spoke mostly Japanese and English, but the combinations of sentence structure and which language was used apparently was at the speakerís whim. Minako tended to use more Japanese structure, and her mom English, but both would occasionally wander into some other language altogether. He recognized some words of Spanish, and some of Indian, but the clicks disconcerted him altogether until Minako caught his expression and laughingly switched back to Japanese for a while, apologizing for her use of an obscure African dialect.

When they finished, Mamoru helped clear the table, and carried the dishes into the kitchen. He stared for a moment, appalled at the state of the kitchen. It rather looked like his when Usagi had been let loose in it. He cautiously glanced down to Artemis by his feet, and the white cat rolled his eyes. Mamoru put the dishes in the sink where Mom had left a tub full of hot soapy water. He wanted to clean up some more, but Minako and her mom had already moved out to the family room and taken him with them.

Then he found out what an inquisition was like. Minakoís mother was powerful enough when one was simply swept along in her wake. When her attention was focused on you, it was almost overwhelming. She pried details out of him that he hadnít even known that he knew, the childhood that he had thought heíd lost, the rigors of High School, his studies in College, his friends. Never was she obtrusive, though. Mamoru found himself answering all her questions and expanding on details without the least sense of resentment -- it was so natural for her. At one point, Mom concentrated on the orphanage, wanting to know how they were run, what the children had to look for, what the chances were of adoption... all sorts of points that he hadnít known that he knew, but was able to answer with her patient questions.

"Time for us to go, Mom." Minako stood up.

"So soon?" Her mom stood up as well, "If you must, you must." She turned to Mamoru and clasped his hand in both of hers, "So good having you visit. Do come again if the opportunity presents." She saw them out the door and Mamoru found himself out in the garden, with Minako and Artemis at his side.

Minako saw his expression and laughed, "Donít worry about it -- Momís that way with everybody. She looked back at the house thoughtfully, "And I think sheís just gained a new cause."

"Cause?"

"Mom likes to have causes to work for wherever she is. When we were in England, she worked extensively with victims of IRA bombings. She hadnít found one here yet -- I think the adoption agencies just became it."

Mamoru was caught between the Japanese reluctance for interference and the knowledge that something did need to be done. He smiled at the thought of Minakoís mom let loose in the agencies. She would be very effective, he had to admit.

"Minako, whereís your father?"

"Heís still in England. He tried to get a transfer back to Japan, but the diplomatic corps said they needed him there. They probably do. But heíll get the transfer eventually. In the meantime, he calls and visits when he can."

"Thatís hard."

Minako shrugged, "Itís always been that way. I know he loves us, and thatís more than enough." She looked up at the lights of the city. "He has responsibilities. I donít ask him to abandon them or the people who depend on him just because I occasionally miss him. Nor do I love him any less, but sometimes rather more. He is a dad to be proud of." She grinned, "When you have children of your own, youíll have to teach them that."

Mamoru blushed to the core of his being. Then he realized something, and before he thought of what it would mean to Minako, he spoke it, "If I canít be with Usagi, Iíll never have children."

Minako opened her mouth, closed it, and then turned to the car theyíd been standing beside. "Is this yours?"

"For now." Mamoru unlocked the doors and held open the passenger door for her to get in. "I have a friend whoís on sabbatical for the next three months and he asked me to use the car while heís gone."

"He asked you to use it?" Minako ran an appreciative hand over the seat and the dashboard. She leaned over to check out the controls on the panel.

Mamoru laughed as he entered the other side, "Sajahan said that an unused car is like a neglected mistressó" He clamped both hands over his mouth and nearly sank into the seat. He wouldnít meet Minakoís eyes, who was doubled up in her own seat wheezing with suppressed laughter. Eventually, she gave up, and started laughing out loud.

"The look on your face!"

Artemis jabbed at her with a paw, "Itís not funny, Minako."

She straightened up, dashing her face with a hand, "Oh yes it is. A unused carÖ" she paused wickedly, then skipped the comparison, "when you do start using it again, it just wonít be the same."

Mamoru made no comment but turned even redder. He put the keys in the ignition and started the car. Smoothly, he pulled out on the street, and headed towards the city.

Artemis frowned at his companion, "Minako, where did you hear that?"

"You donít want to know, Captain." Minako laughed again, then took pity on her male companions protecting her innocent virtue, and changed the subject.

 

They walked up the steps to the Shrine. Mamoru shivered in the night air, and bit his lip. Soon, heíd see Usagi again. Soon, heíd have to see her, and not hold her close. Soon, heíd have to hurt her again. A gentle touch on his shoulder reminded him of his companion, though she wasnít looking at him. Artemis waited until theyíd gotten to the top of the steps, then hopped on his shoulder, adding his own silent support.

There they are. Around the corner, in the courtyard reserved for their talks, were the other four girls. Chad and Grandfather knew well not to approach that area without permission, and Mamoru felt reluctant to go there too. He felt like an intruder on the ancient goddess rites. The other four hadn't seen them yet. Then Usagi looked up. Her eyes met his and she stood up. The distance between them could have been only a couple of feet for the clarity of her expressions. Mamoru drew in his breath at the joy and light and hope he saw. His heart started to pound, and his hand involuntarily reached out to her. She started toward him. Her image swam before his eyes and he saw again her in the beautiful wedding dress, torn from him as the ground broke under their feet. His outstretched hand clenched into a fist. Not able to go to her, he prepared to run away instead. Then a figure of strength and justice stood between them, and the image shattered.

"Usagi, wait."

Usagi stopped before them, her eyes flickering between Minakoís face and the shadow of her love behind her friend. "Minako?" she whispered.

"Usagi-chan." Minako reassured her with that single word, then stepped forward and placed a hand on her friendís shoulder, turning her and guiding her back to the others. "Hear what he has to say."

 

The discussion had started when he stopped speaking. The Senshi and Luna mostly agreed with Minako. But so far, the only voice he really wanted to hear hadnít spoken. Even though he longed to know what she thought, he didnít dare raise his head to see her. He kept his eyes trained on the ground beneath his feet and wished he wasnít there.

Reiís voice broke through the others, "Usagi, are you able to do this?" Her voice held doubt, but Mamoru also read some of the concern it was masking. He risked looking up, and was trapped by Usagiís gentle blue eyes watching him. He couldnít look away.

"I canít say Iím very happy, no." Usagi stood up and walked towards him. Mamoru didnít look away, but knew surprise when Minako didnít interfere. Usagi stopped only when they were within touching distance from each other. Mamoru didnít move. Couldnít move. He had promised MinakoÖ but her eyesÖ I canít resist her dreams, I canít.

Usagi laughed. Seven people were stunned to silence, even those who hadnít been saying anything. She dropped to her knees before Mamoru and took his hand in hers, laying her cheek upon it. Mamoru started to reach his other out to her, then froze. His eyes devoured hers, but he didnít move a muscle. Usagi put his hand back down, and turned away. She walked back to her bench and sat down again. "Iím not happy about it, but itís a hell of a lot better than seeing you dead!"

Seven pairs of eyes blinked, including his own. Nobody said a word.

Usagi sighed, "Mamo-chan, you want to save my life. I know that. But Iíd rather you saved it by staying away from me if you have to, rather than jumping in front of me and taking a bolt of energy, or a crystal, or a stalactite, or a spear, and leaving me alone to mourn over your body!"

There was a collective sigh from the group. Luna stood up, "Usagi-chan, thatís a very mature attitude."

Usagi turned to look at the cat in disbelief. "Thatís not a mature attitude, Luna! Thatís the damn truth!" She bowed her head and the tears started flowing down, dropping on the stone with the regularity of rain.

Mamoru started toward her. Makoto blocked his way and shook her head. Her voice was too low to be heard by anyone but him, "Not now. This is what you have to be careful of." He bit his lip and looked beyond her to where Ami held Usagi tight. His gaze returning to Mako, he nodded and went back to his corner seat, removed from the group. But when he sat down, he was surprised to find Makoto next to him.

"Sheís right. I know it well -- itís better to know that the one you love is still alive, even if you can never see them again."

"But she should be free."

She smiled at him, "Mamoru-san, donít you remember what you were telling Rei and me last month?"

Upon his negative reply, she looked to her friend, still crying helplessly, "You said, ĎSheíll keep loving me no matter what, until the world ends, even if I hurt her to the core of her being.í Mamoru, didnít you remember that when you started this plan?"

Now Mamoru remembered it. And he remembered when heíd said it. And his feelings at the time. He looked to his only love crying her eyes out from the remembrance of his death, deaths, and muttered, "Iím a selfish person."

Makoto started laughing and didnít stop. The group turned to look at her. "Want to share the joke," Rei asked dryly. Makoto shook her head, and started to sober up. Then she looked at Mamoru, and laughed again. "Mamoru, you are a true friend." She left his side and walked back to the others, who accepted her back in among them as if sheíd never left. Mamoru watched them, enviously. Then he felt his shoulder quivering and turned to the white cat, "Now what, Artemis?"

"You." Artemis kept shaking, then gulped some air. "I donít believe you said that. Well, actually I do, but really."

"What?!?!" Mamoru grabbed the cat off his shoulder and held him in front of him, "Whatís so funny about it?"

Artemis calmed down, seeing that he was serious, and was about to say something when something caught his attention and he looked around. Mamoru looked where he did and turned scarlet, gently putting down the cat. The whole group was watching them again.

Ami stood up, her hand still on Usagiís shoulder, "Mamoru-san, Usagi-chan. Weíll support you."

The others chimed in their agreement.

Mamoru felt their support include him, and though he was still standing away from them, he felt like he was a part of them. For the first time in days, he started to relax. He looked to the moon above them, and smiled at her.

And he felt something in his mind. He looked around. He didnít see anything, but something was missing. Something small. "Usagi, whereís Chibi-usa?"

"At home with Mother."

He frowned, reaching with his feelings for the undefinable wrongness, "I donít think so."

"Mamo-chan Ė did you really have a dream or is this another excuse?!"

"What?" Mamoru turned and saw a furious Usagi standing next to him, hands on her hips, glaring at him. And he saw the real fear behind the fury. He closed his eyes and opened them, "Usako Ė do I ever have to search for you?"

"What?" Usagi blinked, and her face lost the furious look. Around her, the others stood in a semi-circle around them.

He put his hands on her shoulders, aware that this time it was allowed. "Usako, when youíre in danger, I know it. When I need to be with you, Iím there. I always will be." He gazed into her blue eyes, "Chibi-Usagi is different. I have to protect her, but I donít have anything to go by." He looked up at the moon, "Except my feelings. And just now, I got worried about her. Do you understand?"

Usagi looked into his eyes, and remembered her trust. She thought about the little pink-haired girl that had come into her life demanding the Silver Crystal. Her feelings towards Chibi-usa were mixed, but there was no denying that there was an Evil after the small child. And she did need protecting. But my Mamo-chanÖ

The silence stretched out, and Luna cleared her throat, breaking it. "Excuse me." The two frustrated lovers looked at her. "ĎHave to protect herí? Why?"

Mamoru opened his mouth, then closed it. He dropped his hands off Usagiís shoulders and took a step back. "ThatísÖ an interesting question." He shrugged, then mists swirled around him and his form faded into another familiar one.

"Tuxedo Mask?" Usagiís guardian love was there, and she immediately felt safe and secure. In his shadow, the nightmares didnít reach. And he always was there for her when she truly needed him. With him at her side, she could fight.

His mask cleared and they could see his blue eyes. "I protect the Small Lady because Chibi-usaís cause is right. Because if they defeat her, the world will be destroyed. Not now, but the future. I have to protect all the futures, and I have been appointed as her guardian in this time. She needs a sanctuary if she is to trust and allow help." He turned his gaze to the moon, "And I still donít know where she is, damn it."

"How serious is the danger?" Rei twirled her power stick in her hand.

Tuxedo Maskís voice was thoughtful, "Not imminent. I think itís more that sheís not under protection now rather than direct attack."

Makoto scratched her head, "Why did you change to Tuxedo Mask?"

The form of Tuxedo Mask was stiller and more serious than he was as Mamoru, "To answer the question -- Mamoru didnít know."

"Oh, ho, wait-a-second here..." Rei put out her hands, "Youíre the same person!"

Usagi shook her head, knowing instinctively the difference. They, her and the other Sailor Senshi, were the same people in Senshi or not, but he was not. Minako also was shaking her head, and Usagi looked at her in surprise. Minako caught her glance, and made a face. In a voice too low for anyone else to hear, she told Usagi, "Itís complicated." Tuxedo Mask turned his head to them and Minako drew back from Usagi, startled. But Tuxedo Mask didnít say anything, not even in reply to Reiís remark.

Tuxedo Mask stepped back and looked towards the moon, "Iíll look for her." Though he didnít move, his presence suddenly seemed to be less there than before. It was as if gravity had released her hold on him.

"Wait." Luna stepped forward, "There is one thing we should know first."

Gravity reclaimed him, and he seemed to settle into himself. He gave a brief bow towards the black Moon Cat, "Luna diínath."

The title disconcerted Luna, "di... I wish you would stop calling me that."

Tuxedo Mask blinked, "But it is who you are."

"Was. There is no court of Moon Cats here. There is only me and Artemis left. And I am not Crescent."

"As you will, Luna-sama. What is your question?"

In spite of herself, Luna laughed, "I give up." Then she turned serious again, "Who appointed you guardian?"

"What?" Tuxedo Mask was disconcerted.

"You just said that you were Ďappointedí guardian -- who has the authority to order you to do anything?" Luna sounded worried, and the others suddenly became so.

"Well, Earth obviously does... And Moon. But thatís not exactly what you meant." His face was a study of concentration and puzzlement. "No... I donít know." He looked at Luna, "I donít feel any wrongness about it, or uncertainty. It is legitimate, where ever it came from."

"You donít know?"

Tuxedo Mask shrugged. Being a part and a portion, he accepted his limitations and only worried about them when Sailor Moon was in danger. "Itís not important."

"Not important? Tuxedo Mask..."

Minako cleared her throat, "Tuxedo Mask-chan."

The girls all turned to look at her, and the corners of Tuxedo Maskís mouth twitched up in a grin. He bowed to her, "Venus-chan."

"Being a team means sharing information. Even if trivial, it is the only way to separate out the chaff from the wheat."

"Mina -- you got the proverb right." Amiís surprise showed in her voice.

The look Minako gave her was sad, and her blue eyes were shaded. Ami suddenly got the impression that she wasnít speaking to Minako at all, though her friend felt the same.

"Trinity," Tuxedo Mask was subdued, "I donít know. Really."

"But you can find out."

"Ahh..." Tuxedo Mask turned his back to the group and paced away. He stopped before a large elm tree and stood there for a long moment. Eventually his voice floated back to them, "Maybe." He turned to face them, and his voice held reluctance, "How important is it that you know?"

Minako prodded Rei, who looked at her in surprise. Artemis, noticing the by-play, nodded, "Trust yourself, Rei-san."

Disconcerted, Rei looked to Usagi, who hadnít said a word since Tuxedo Mask appeared. Usagi was staring at the moon, ignoring the group and the proceedings. Rei cleared her throat, and addressed Tuxedo Mask, while still gazing at Usagi, "Itís not so much the answer thatís important, but the trust that goes with it."

Tuxedo Mask winced. He muttered under his breath, "Team... Right." Louder, he spoke, "Usako." She turned to him, her gaze expectant and admiring. He smiled at her, then turned serious, "Usako, do you have your Star Locket?"

She blinked in surprise, her hand going to her neck where she used to wear it. Her mind flashed to the last time sheíd had it and she bit her lip as her eyes started to water. "No. I left it..." Usagi couldnít finish the sentence.

And, again, I hurt her. "... on your dead body," would be the ending to that. Oh, how I hurt her. "Itís okay. The Locket would have made it easier, but itís not necessary."

"Necessary? For what?"

"For what I need to do." Tuxedo Mask knelt down where he was, his cape falling around him in a protective gather. He looked up to the Moon, and then to Usagi. I love her so. The Moon had filled his earliest memories, and he remembered gazing up at it as a child, wondering. Even then, he had known that the Moon held all the answers he would ever need, and memory didnít seem so important while he watched the Moon and stood in her Light. His parents were dead, his memory was gone; but he had the Moon. And I knew that my family served the Moon Queen, and that I did too. I knew the Light was the most important thing in our world and even as a child, I wanted to fight to defend it. My rose garden by moonlight was the most beautiful sight. And Raylia would stand next to him, there, solid and steady. An anchor, whether a large striped serval, or a smaller grey tabbycat. Both lives. Both people. Friend and companion; and teacher. *You can choose your focus. Remember that it is only a focus -- the power is within yourself. But one tends to mold their heart to what they choose as a focus. Think about it.* Endymion walked in his garden and stopped before a rose bush. "Father teaches me the sword. And I know that he and Lachesis use that as their focus." He grinned, "But thatís too many for one family. Clotho uses a key." He touched an open rose gently. "I think, this rose has enough mixed meanings to represent myself." *Endymion...* "Itís a joke, Ray. But I still like the idea." Tuxedo Mask reached out to his rose garden and walked in it. He saw the roses in the moonlight and wondered which one to use. One that Endymion never used in battle, but still tended with care. He stopped before a bush with light blue petals. A rather smallish rose. But well loved for his sisterís sake. Tuxedo Mask rethought it, For my sister. He pulled the rose into the world and became aware of it between his hands as he knelt on the ground before the Moon.

*Tuxedo Mask* A greeting came to him as he focused inward to find answers.

*Senshi Earth* He was respectful, as always, to his elder self.

*The Earth has always been alone.*

*Times change. They would be a Team.*

His self seemed happy. *It is right. Times do change.* *Endymion.*

*No.*

Tuxedo Mask felt exasperation with his self. He added his plea. *Endymion.*

*No.*

Mamoru spoke and at least three of them were in concert. *Endymion!*

A new thought joined them. *If you do not, my time will have been for nothing.*

Tuxedo Mask bowed his respect to his self that for a time had been the Moonlight Knight.

A long silence passed by, and at last a light shone forth within them. *If I must.*

 

The girls and the cats stood back from Tuxedo Mask and watched him as he knelt in silence. It stretched out, and they started to wonder if theyíd asked too much of him. Usagi clutched Rei, who held her tight. Minako stood apart from the others and raised a hand to her head, massaging her temples. Artemis stood next to her and sorrowed for the effects of a child not a child.

"Oh..." Makoto breathed out, "Thatís beautiful." A small blue rose had appeared in Tuxedo Maskís hands.

The other girls looked at it and at her. "Itís blue."

"So?"

Ami smiled, "I like it too. Itís more gentle."

"Should we be talking?"

"I think he wouldnít hear us if we yelled."

"Point."

But they fell silent anyway. And continued to watch. A chill air whipped around them, moving the leaves on the ground. They shivered and drew together, pulling their jackets tight around them. Tuxedo Maskís cape didnít move in the breeze. Then the wind died, and his cape did move, swirling around him in the colors of the rainbow. He stood up, and he was not Tuxedo Mask, but Prince Endymion. The girlsí mouths dropped open, as they saw him for the first time as himself, not as a memory, and not as a dark agent. He was very like Mamoru, but for the sword girded to his side, and the dark sad eyes. Makoto and Rei turned their heads away at the sight of that pain, reminded of Mamoru in the park. He stood, tall and slim, with his armor girding him Ďround, and approached them. When he was in front of Usagi, he knelt again, on one knee, his head bowed to her.

"My Lady, I am sorry."

"What?" Usagiís face expressed her puzzlement well.

Endymion looked up, his blue eyes glistening, "Lady, I canít ask for forgiveness, since for what I have done, there can be none."

Usagi blinked, her forehead wrinkling, "What are you talking about, Endymion?"

Endymionís mouth fell open, and he stood up in one smooth movement. "What am I talking about? Serenity!" He reached in his cloak and brought out the Star Locket. He held it out to her, "I donít deserve this. I never did."

Usagi made no move towards the Locket. "Oh, that."

Makoto couldnít help it, she giggled, then clamped her hands over her mouth. The look on Endymionís face was priceless, and she remembered only too well how much Mamoru had agonized over the same thing. Obviously, not all of him had been convinced. But Usagi was doing a better job just by being herself, then all of her and Reiís rationalizations had been.

Endymionís eyes flicked towards Mako briefly before returning to Usagi. His mouth twitched up involuntarily. "When the time comes, Serenity, you will be known as the Serenity of Forgiveness and Redemption." He mimicked her tone of voice, "ĎOh, that.í"

Usagi smiled up at him, her heart in her eyes, "And you will be, as you are, the pillar of my strength, my gentle companion."

The others got the impression they were hearing a conversation that had taken place many times before. The look exchanged by Endymion and Usagi was that of perfect understanding, with years of friendship to support the link.

But Endymion lost his gentle, teasing look, and his eyes were sad again, "Serenity, you might forgive me -- your Light is endless and never dims. But I canít forgive myself. I promised to protect you. And I turned against you."

Rei opened her mouth, but before she could speak he waved her to silence, and impatiently corrected his sentence, "I was turned against you. The end result was the same."

Usagi rolled her eyes irritably, then bit her lip while frowning at him. She shook her head, "Are you forgetting you also saved my life?" She raised her hand, "No, donít answer that. I know what youíll say, and I donít want to hear you putting yourself down anymore." Placing her hand on his chest, she looked earnestly up into his eyes, "I love you."

"I know you do." Endymion gently removed her hand and placed the rose, now red, into it, closing her fingers around the stem. "I donít trust myself anymore. And until I can -- if I ever can again, the only way to keep you safe is to not be with you."

Usagi heard the weight of his words, and bowed her head, feeling the thorns on the rose she held. But none of them took her blood. She knew in her heart that their love would be enough. But she also knew that he didnít believe it yet.

Luna stepped forward, almost hesitant, as the Moon Cat rarely was, "Are you responsible for the warning?"

"Me?" Endymion gave a half-grin, "No. Not really." He stepped back from Usagi, so that he was facing the whole group, "but I concur. If there really is danger, and I am not whole, then Usako and the Earth are at risk. Better to stay away until I can trust myself."

Minako lifted her head where she sat, and the group was shocked at the dark circles under her eyes and the tiredness of her expression. "What about Chibi-usa?"

"Small Lady..." Endymion looked up to the moon. "Chibi-Usagi is at the pier. No danger yet, but sheís... restless. Better go to her before she does something rash and alerts the Black Moon family again."

"And?"

"And what, Captain?"

"And who appointed you her protector?"

Endymion laughed, and for the first time since heíd joined them, his face was open and relaxed, "Pu did, of course."

The girls looked at each other. "Excuse us?"

"Sailor Pluto. Guardian of the Time Gate. She was the one who helped Chibi to come to us, and though she cannot leave the Gate, she still watches Chibi. She asked me to help."

"Sailor Pluto..." Lunaís voice was thoughtful.

Rei still thought of her friend as one person, "How come you didnít answer that before?"

Endymionís form flickered briefly, and he backed up another step, "Iíve been here too long already." He looked at Rei, "Because, in this time, neither Mamoru nor Tuxedo Mask know Pu yet. And I have separated myself from them. Right now, they are more than me. I have too much healing to go through before I can join myself again." He stepped back again, his form flickering. His cape billowed out and hid their sight of him. When the cape dropped, he was Tuxedo Mask again. They gazed at each other for a moment, then Tuxedo Mask smiled, "That was interesting. Weíd better get going to the pier." He stepped towards them, and as he did, the hat, cloak, and mask faded away, leaving him as Mamoru.

Makoto was the first one to walk toward him, including him in the group. "You know, Mamoru, you can be really strange sometimes."

Ami was next to her, silent, but supportive. Though she looked rather taken aback at Makotoís words.

Mamoru laughed, "Donít I know it." He looked his friends over, feeling for the first time like they really were his friends as well. "Mina-chan, are you okay?"

Hovering to the back of the group, Minako had sat back down again. She stood up, "Fine. Letís go."

Artemis hovered protectively at her side, "She used too much of her Power, earlier. And has spent too much time merged with Trinity."

Minako boxed his ears lightly, "Artemis, you dinglebat. Donít make him feel bad." She looked to Mamoru, "Iím fine, Mamoru. Just as long as you and Usagi arenít at odds anymore, weíll all be fine."

Usagi snuggled up beside her and put an arm around Minako, "Lean on me if you need to." Rei moved to her other side.

Minako smiled, "Of course I will." And she looked to Mamoru, the meaning in her eyes clear.

He smiled back at her, I will too. If I need you, my friends, next time Iíll let you help.

The Team of six humans and two cats walked down the road, heading for the pier, and a small, lonely child who needed their friendship almost more than she needed their help.