A Sailor Moon Sekkushiaru Roman

NOTE: This is the first story I have written since the S season dub began running on Cartoon Network which features the Outer Senshi, or, as I call them, the Soldiers of the Outer Planets. I have decided to keep using the "North American" names I had used for the characters in earlier stories of mine, rather than adopt CN's names. (I'm sorry, but "Amara" is WAY too feminine for Haruka). They are as follows: Alex=Haruka, Michelle=Michiru, Sonya=Setsuna, Heather=Hotaru. Also, please note that I am most definitely NOT going with that "cousins who grew up together" thing. . .therefore, there's explicit yuri ahead.

By Sailor Mac

Outside of space and time, in a realm only a few humans had ever seen, a solitary figure stood guarding the Time Gate. Tall, olive-skinned and green-haired, she stood absolutely still, a long staff in the shape of a key clutched firmly in her hands. At first glance, one would be tempted to think she was an unusually beautiful and well-crafted painted statue.

Solitary is what she had always been, ever since her birth many centuries ago. Even during her childhood amongst the gods, she had never liked all that feasting and celebrating - which seemed to be all they did, unless there was some sort of crisis at hand. She'd played in the corner by herself.

When someone *had* captured her heart, it had been a disaster. She'd ended up marrying her own uncle, the deity known as Hades, or Pluto - nothing unusual amongst the gods. The only problem was, her mother had despised him. She had flown into a rage and stripped her of her godhood, turning her into a human. But her husband had taken pity on her and made her a Sailor Soldier, his Sailor Soldier.

And so it was that she stood there at the Time Gate, a realm of swirling mists, colored light and little else, between the realms of gods and humans and not really belonging to either one of them. It was not a condition she minded. Indeed, during the times when she'd been forced to go to 20th Century Earth to help keep Pharaoh 90 from destroying the world, she'd considered it mildly annoying.

But then, little by little, something began to happen among the infinite nothingness. The mists began to swirl in one spot, forming a cone, like a whirwind. The cone spun, faster and faster, and began to slowly take a shape, like clay being formed on a potter's wheel. The shape was that of a woman.

The Time Guardian snapped instantly into a defensive pose, the massive key-staff in her hands poised to swing at a second's notice. "Who is it?" she called.

A voice replied from the form, "Someone who hasn't seen you in much too long, Persephone." It was familiar, but she could not quite place it. . .

"I haven't gone by that name in centuries," the Time Guardian replied. "Who are you, that you would know my old identity?"

The mists were solidifying now, forming flesh and fabric, and the Sailor Soldier could now see a woman even taller than herself, with dark-brown skin and a piercing gaze, wearing a crown in the form of a coiled serpent, a blood-red, ground-length robe and a necklace of skulls. Recognition suddenly dawned. "Kali!" she said.

The goddess smiled. . .or as much as someone with a perpetually stern expression can be said to smile. "You guessed. You always were sharp-minded."

Sailor Pluto relaxed her stance. "I don't think I've ever seen you here before. Not even when the incident with the Deathbusters was going on."

"I've never had reason to come here before. But I'm afraid I have urgent business. You are needed back on the Earth."

"Back on Earth?" The Time Guardian raised an eyebrow, as close as she'd come to showing shock. "Why?"

"The planet is under attack. An old enemy of the Moon Kingdom has resurfaced, and she won't give up until she conquers the Earth. Sailor Moon and her inner circle have been fighting against her troops, but they won't be able to complete the job alone."

"Who is this enemy? A survivor of the old Dark Kingdom?"

The goddess shook her head no. "Nehelenia."

"Nehele. . .but I thought she'd been sealed away!"

"So did every other god. Somehow, she has found a way to gather a magical army and direct an invasion from within her mirror. Apparently, she is trying to unlock the secrets of human dreams. And once she does that. . .she will flood the entire planet with nightmares."

Sailor Pluto mulled over this information. Nehelenia was dangerous enough during the Silver Millennium, a cunning black sorceress with ruthless ambition. And she'd had all these centuries of solitude to perfect her dark arts. . .she was a significant threat, indeed.

"You must go to Earth," Kali told her, "and find Sailors Uranus and Neptune. All three of you will soon be gaining a power boost and attaining Super form. . .as soon as the Return occurs."


"The Return of Sailor Saturn. She is needed to complete the destruction of Nehelenia."

Of course, Sailor Pluto thought. That's why it was Kali that brought me this news. She was the Guardian Deity of the Sailor Soldier of Death and Rebirth. "When is this going to happen?"

The goddess knew she couldn't tell her that, much as she wanted to. If Sailor Pluto knew too much, she might try to force the hand of destiny by interfering with the time stream - which could spell disaster in the delicate balance of the gods' master plan. "The precise time, I cannot say. All I can tell you is it will be soon."

Sailor Pluto sighed inwardly. This meant the sooner she got to Earth, the better. Ah, well, she thought, it's something that must be done.

"I'm on my way," she told the goddess. "And I think I know where to find Sailors Neptune and Uranus. . ."

* * *

Two college-age young people entered the coffeehouse, taking a quick look around. The redheaded young woman had a slightly annoyed on her face. Her companion, a man with slightly mussed brown hair who was wearing his usual flannel shirt and jeans, looked a bit more cool and calm. . .but still not entirely happy.

"This place is packed," David said. "I thought the coffeehouse fad died out?"

"Try telling that to these people," Lori replied. "Hold on, I think I see a booth back there. . .by the restrooms. . ."

Jeez, she thought, you'd think they were giving away *free* coffee from the amount of people packed in here. She found the crowd annoying. . .but then again, she was finding a lot annoying over the last couple of days.

That's what happened when you were carrying around a burning secret, and you didn't know whether to keep it to yourself or share it.

She'd figured out the real identities of every one of the Sailor Soldiers. Even the little kid one. Who else could it be but that kid cousin who trailed Serena everywhere?

I'm not about to go blabbing this to every person on the planet, she thought. But. . .should I tell David? She couldn't shake the feeling that there was a *reason* David had to know.

He was giving their orders to the waitress. He seemed to be back to his old self, fully recovered from the attack by those godawful batlike things. Hell, I think it shook me up more than him, she thought.

When the waitress left, he said, "You're quiet. That is *definitely* not like you."

She looked up at him, and tried to put on a light tone of voice. "Oh, you know how things are." She twisted a lock of hair around her finger. "I've got lots of crap on my mind, that's all."

"Stuff with the women's group?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," she said, quickly. "Just, you know. . .general school stuff. . ."

He leaned over. "I know you, Lori. You don't let school stuff get you down. School is something you do between protests and letter-writing campaigns. What's wrong?" He covered her hand with his. "Does this have something to do with what happened the other day?"

She was about to answer in the negative. . .but finally decided to stop torturing herself. She looked left, then right. . .everyone around her seemed too wrapped up in their own conversations to be listening. . .

She leaned over toward him and whispered, "While we were being attacked, and you were out. . .I found out who Sailor Venus really is. I saw her turn back into a regular person, and then back into a Sailor Soldier again."

"Really?" he said. This was a genuine surprise. . .nobody had ever seen a Sailor Soldier detransform before. "Anyone we know?"

"Mina Aino."

"Mina?" He wracked his brain, trying to place the name. . . "Wait a second. . .blonde ditzy girl, right? Friend of Serena?"

"Yes! That's the one! And. . .think about it. She always hangs around with the same group of girls, right? There's five of them. . .and five Sailor Soldiers. . ."

"Serena. . .Amy. . .Raye. . .Lita. . ." The pieces were clicking together in his mind. Of course! he thought. That makes sense. . "And the little kid that always tags along with them is the kid Sailor Soldier?"

"Bingo! But you breathe a word of this to anyone and I'll kill you. Worse. . . I'll lock you out of my bedroom for life. Don't even tell Darien. We don't know if he knows his girlfriend's secret."

As she said that, David felt some kind of twinge. . .like an idea, a revelation, struggling to burst into consciousness that wasn't quite there yet. . .something about Darien, and his relationship with those girls. . .

"I won't say a word," he replied.

* * *

By the rest room doors, just behind David and Lori's table, a cool, elegant young woman with long, wavy aqua hair stood. She was confident that the couple had not noticed her eavesdropping on their conversation. She'd had quite a bit of experience gathering information in secret in the past; it was almost second-nature to her.

She nonchalantly made her way toward a booth near the front of the coffeehouse, where a woman with short, blonde hair sat looking out the window. Both of them were well-practiced in the art of seeming totally normal when what they were engaged in was very much *not* normal.

She looked up as the other slid gracefully into the booth. "Find out anything?"

"They definitely know the identities of all the Soldiers of the Inner Planets," she replied. "How they found this out, I don't know. I just heard her telling him that there were five Sailor Soldiers, and five girls who hung out together, and he reeled off all the names."

The other woman shook her head. "We definitely have to keep an eye on them. There's a good to excellent chance that they could be enemies."

The aqua-haired woman picked up her coffee cup, looking slightly amused. "How did you come to zero in on them, anyway? There's nothing suspicious about them."

"Because in the week we've been back from Europe, I've seen Darien Chiba three times, and all three times he had that guy hanging around with him. Darien was *never* one to seek out the company of other men. I figured this one might be an enemy, trying to get information from him. . ."

"Don't you think you might be overreacting a bit?"

"You just said yourself. . .they know who the Inner Soldiers are! And I don't think even Mina is dumb enough to blab around their secret identities."

The other woman looked thoughtful. "No. . .no, they're not. And we *don't* know anything about these enemies. . ."

"It figures. We come back from our vacation and find Tokyo under siege. In worse shape than we left it!" She sighed and raked a hand through her hair. "We shouldn't have gone."

Her companion leaned over, gently taking her hand. "Alex. . .we had no way of knowing. Whoever it was slipped by completely under our radar."

"I know. . .but I still can't shake this feeling that if we were *here*. . .we could have nipped this in the bud. Taken care of it so Sailor Moon didn't have to get involved at all."

"Still have doubts about her ability to handle something like this?"

"No, not after what happened when we fought her." A vivid flash of memory passed across Alex's mind. . .she and Michelle were about to crush this so-called Moon Princess whose misplaced compassion had almost led to the destruction of the world, when a flash of brilliant power had come from her. . .more power than Alex had ever dreamed of existing in one place. "But still. . .ever since the Silver Millennium, hasn't our function always been to take care of invaders before they got a chance to get anywhere *near* the Moon Kingdom?"

"In case you haven't noticed. . .we're *not* in the Moon Kingdom anymore." Michelle put her coffee cup down and reached into her purse to pay the check. "I think they're about ready to leave. We'll tail them, find out where they're going, try to listen in on their conversation. . .and then, if necessary, we stake them out again tonight."

The two of them exchanged a glance. They could communicate volumes to each other without words. They'd always been able to, ever since the dawn of time, when they were patrolling the outer reaches of the Solar System.

They knew they had a mission, one which had to be fulfilled at any cost.

* * *

The woman looked out the window of her apartment with a sigh. It was just the way she had left it. She had hoped she'd never have to see it again.

She'd detransformed out of her Sailor Soldier identity and now looked like a regular young woman in her early 20s. . .albeit an unusually tall and attractive one. This was her least favorite of the three identities she'd bourn over her long lifetime. . .Sonya Meiou, a young nurse and scientist.

Hopefully, she thought, we'll be able to get this matter resolved quickly and I'll be able to go back to where I belong. I'm so used to existing out of time, out of space, that being in a fixed time period feels restricting, like too-tight clothing.

The first matter of business was to find her two fellow Outer Soldiers. And if I know them, she thought, they're hanging around that coffeehouse.

She left the apartment and headed down the stairs. On the way, she met an older woman who lived two doors down from her. "It's Sonya, isn't it?" she said. "I haven't seen you around in months! Where have you been?"

Sonya had a cover story all ready to go. "Studying abroad," she said, evenly. "At Yale University in America."

"Yale? Why, that's wonderful! It must have been very exciting!"

"Very. And how has your life been?"

"Oh, nothing much. Life is the same as it's always been. ..except my cats have been acting a little peculiar lately. Running around in circles for no reason, refusing to eat for two or three days at a time. . ."

Typical way for domestic animals to behave when negative supernatural energies are in the area, Sonya thought. She forced a smile and said, "I'm sure it's just from the change in the weather. Well, I have an appointment to keep, I'll see you around. . ."

Once out in the street, she took a look around her. On the surface, nothing looked unusual. . .but it usually didn't. You had to look closer to find the subtle signs of malicious activity. Like the way that woman's cats were behaving. Or the fact that the blooms on the flowers seemed. . .not quite as bright as they should be. Or the peculiar green-brownish color of the puddles on the sidewalk. If you didn't have experience in this kind of thing, you wouldn't know anything was wrong.

Sure enough, as she approached the coffee shop she saw two very familiar figures emerging. She didn't call out to them. She didn't need to. She had so much presence, there was no way anyone could *not* know she was in the vicinity.

As she headed toward her car, Alex caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye. Was it. . .no, it couldn't be! She was dead, or at least had vanished. . .

She turned in the direction of what she'd seen, putting a hand on Michelle's shoulder, encouraging her to look as well. Their eyes widened - it *was* her.

"Sonya," Michelle said quietly. "But. . .how?"

She walked toward them slowly, a slight smile playing at her lips. "I *had* to come back. Not my choice. But we *do* have a mission."

"You died, after you stopped time," Alex said, her face looking like she was literally seeing a ghost.

"No, I was just taken to the realms of the gods. They sentenced me to be exiled back to the Time Gate. It was not a sentence that I exactly minded. And I stayed there until Kali appeared to me and told me I had to come here."

Michelle suddenly interjected, "We have to go, Alex. . .they're just about ready to pull out!"

"They?" said Sonya.

Alex unlocked the car. "Come with us. . .we'll explain on the way. And you can tell us what the goddess said."

* * *

Lori made her way through the irritating-as-usual crosstown traffic. "Good thing I'm done with classes for the day," she said. "At this rate, it'll be eight or nine o'clock before we're back on campus."

"Geez. . .that means we'll have to miss that *marvelous* cafeteria dinner," David deadpanned.

"I'll survive," she replied. There was a moment's pause, then, "Hey. . .you think Darien knows anything? About Serena and the others, I mean."

"It's not something he'd blab to everyone on the planet," he replied. "But he never acted suspicious, or nervous, or like he was hiding anything. Either he *doesn't* know, or he's doing a damn good job of hiding it."

She finally pulled up into the parking lot of her dorm, and they headed for her room. "Cripes, I don't know what to tackle first," she said. "My homework, or the E-mail campaign."

"What is it this time?" he said as she fumbled through her multiple keys.

"I'm organizing a petition drive to get the campus to put more ladies' rooms in the public buildings. It's ridiculous the lines we have to stand in now. The library has only *two* stalls for women. *Two*! For a building that size!"

He walked into the room and sat on the bed. "Well, you *could* always use the men's room," he said.

"Are you kidding? No way! Besides. . .this isn't just about *toilets.* It's. . .an *equality* thing."

David smiled to himself. This was typical Lori. Only she could turn the number of bathrooms into a feminist crusade. Having gone head-to-head with her in open battle, he had no doubt that there'd be ladies' rooms on every two feet of the campus by the end of the month.

Lori sat at the computer and booted it up. She opened her E-mail program. . .and looked at the list of people she had to send messages to. The members of her women's group. . .the Library Association. . .the various athletic teams. . .

"What the hell am I doing? Gods, I must be insane taking on something this size!"

Outside her window, the bushes rustled. The very tops of two heads - one aqua, one blonde - poked up for a second, but they would not be glimpsed by any passerby, because they were well-concealed by a cloak of magic. One of them held up a mirror with the symbol of the planet Neptune on the back of it, reflecting what was going on in the room.

In a car parked a couple of blocks away, a green-haired figure sat, gazing into the large Garnet Orb on the top of the staff it held. It was picking up the sights and sounds being transmitted via the mirror, like a television receiving a broadcast.

"Don't worry about it. You've done things like this before, and you can do it again," David said, not looking up from his textbook.

"Yeah, but. . .geez, I didn't know how much of a pain in the ass it was going to be when I took it on! Next time I get a brilliant idea like this. . .just shoot me."

He put the book down, walked over to her and began to rub her shoulders. "Hey. . .a few minutes ago you were completely gung-ho about this."

"Yeah. . .but that was before I knew that it was going to involve. . .Cripes, why the hell do I do these things?"

He hugged her. "You *could* always let someone else take this over, you know."

"Are you kidding? Nothing will ever get done if that happens. I seem to be the only one who can see these things through from beginning to end." She sighed. "Okay. . .if I believe in this, I have to do it."

He went back to the bed. "Hey, I have faith in you. You'll get what you want in no time. You're capable of bringing entire armies to their knees." The bushes outside rattled again.

"Oh, I *know* that," she deadpanned. "One of these days, I'm just going to have to get some decent helpers. Wish I had that crew who was with me in the old days. . .oh, well." She began to draft the E-mail.

The occupants of the bushes crept away after the room fell silent. They didn't speak until they were safely back in Alex's car.

"Those were the two who know the names of the Inner Soldiers?" Sonya said.

"Yes," said Michelle. "I heard them myself."

"*Definitely* sounds suspicious," Alex said. "We *have* to keep an eye on these two. The more I see of them. . .the more they look like enemies."

"And if that be the case," Sonya said, "and the boy was hanging around the Prince. . ."

Alex nodded. "The Inner Soldiers could be in mortal danger."

"We can take turns scouting for them," Michelle said. "Try to find out all the places they can usually be found. We know about the coffeehouse, and this place."

"And doubtlessly, other places around the campus," said Sonya.

The car headed back toward the coffeehouse. It was time to draw up a plan, formalize the mission. If these two *were* enemies. . .there was no way they were going to escape.

* * *

Reenie rushed out of the school, glad that the day was over at long last. She felt like she'd been in there forever.

I want to go to the temple and see how Raye's making out with the new Sailor Soldier uniforms, she thought. I can't wait until mine's finished! I can't wait to see myself wearing it!

She'd felt a lot better about herself, about life in general, since she'd designed those new, Egyptian-style fukus and gotten a new hairstyle. Even her teacher had commented that she seemed "livelier."

"I have Pegasus to thank for that," she murmured aloud. He was the one who had inspired and encouraged her to make changes in her life.

There was just one thing that was bothering her. . .the black rose she had seen in that one dream. Every time she thought of it, a cold chill passed through her, like an icy wind blowing through her body. It felt evil, pure evil.

Were the enemies attacking me in my dreams? she thought. Were they after Pegasus? She couldn't bear the thought of her dearest friend under attack by those three creepy guys and their hideous monsters.

Pegasus, she thought, if they *do* come after you, I'll defend you. With my life, if necessary.

She was so deep in thought, she didn't notice the woman walking toward her until they had almost collided. She stopped short at the last second, almost losing her balance. "I'm sorry!" she said. . .and then looked up, and saw who it was.

The face she remembered so very well from Crystal Tokyo, the woman who had been her one true friend there, the person she thought she'd never see again. . .

"PUU!" she cried, throwing her arms around the woman's waist.

Sonya almost couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Small Lady!" She held the child at arm's length. "Just look at you. . .you've gotten beautiful!"

"I picked out the new hairstyle myself," she said, proudly. "I talked Eileen-mama into letting me pick out some of my own clothes now, too!" She leaned over and whispered, "And I designed new outfits for the Sailor Soldiers!"

"You *did*?" Sonya was taken aback. This was certainly more independence than she'd ever seen from her young friend. She's growing up, she thought, and very quickly. "Your mother would be so proud."

"You think so? Come on, let's go sit in the park for a moment. . .I have so much to tell you! I missed you so much. . .where did you go?"

"I went back to the Time Gate. I came back to help you with your mission."

"I'm so glad!" Reenie led Sonya to a bench and sat down. Now I'm *really* happy, she thought. I have Pegasus. . .*and* Puu. Two of the three best friends I ever had. If only Heather were here as well. . .

"Small Lady. . .have you been helping to fight the enemy?"

She nodded enthusiastically. "They're tough! There's these three weird guys, and they strap people to boards and pull mirrors out of their chests. . ."

"Mirrors, you said?"

"Yes! They pull the mirrors out, and then they stick their heads in them. . .then, after they do that, they call up a monster to kill the person. But we take care of the monsters. It's not easy, though."

Sonya remembered something she'd heard centuries ago. . .a theory that each person carried within their soul a Mirror of Dreams. Several black magicians had made efforts to remove these mirrors and look into them. There were rumors that a couple of them had succeeded. . .and one of them had been Nehelenia.

Could those two young people we were observing yesterday, she thought, be two of Nehelenia's henchmen? And she taught them the art of removing Mirrors of Dreams?

"Small Lady. . .you said the enemies were three weird guys. . ."

"Yeah! They wear outfits like they belong in the circus. Two of them are definitely guys, the third. . .I'm not sure if it's a guy or a girl."

Heavy disguises, Sonya thought. They could even have some sort of magical transformation. And one of them *could* be a woman.

"Would you know them if you saw them on the street?"

"Only if they were wearing their outfits. They like to disguise themselves as normal people. That's how they trapped Amy, and Lita, and a friend of mine from school."

"Lita and Amy were attacked?"

Reenie nodded. "Lita was one of the first people they got. Amy was a couple of weeks after."

Sonya made a mental note to talk to the two Sailor Soldiers and find out more about the enemies' human forms. It could be a vital clue. And if they match the descriptions of those two from the college at all, she thought. . .we have our enemies.

Reenie hopped up. "I have to go. Raye is expecting me. She's making the new uniforms." She paused. "Are you back to stay?"

Sonya answered, "I'll be here as long as you have to fight this enemy."

Reenie sighed inwardly. She wished Puu could be here with her forever. . .but she never stayed in contemporary Japan for very long. She'd only been around a month or two during the Deathbusters affair also, around the same time Reenie had been friends with Heather.

"I guess I'll see you later, then. ÔBye!" She took off in the direction of the temple, and Sonya noticed it was more of a purposeful, adultlike stride than the childish running that was common of her before.

Sonya stood up and continued in the direction of the campus. Small Lady is growing up very quickly, she thought. I wonder if her magical power is maturing along with the rest of her? Her father had sent her into the past to be trained by Sailor Moon.

Kali had informed her that Sailor Moon had evolved permanently into the Super form. Sonya knew, though, from having been a confidante of the Royal Family of Crystal Tokyo, that she had *not* attained her full power. A flash of frustration passed through her. If she *would attain her full power, she thought, she could do the job she was meant to do. . .protect the Earth. . .and Uranus, Neptune and I could go back to doing the jobs we were supposed to do. I would never have to leave my place at the Time Gate, and things would be as they should.

She reached the campus, looking with a detached interest at the young people passing by her. Even in a crowded area like this one, she was always solitary, in mind if not in body.

Endymion is attending this college right now, she thought. She remembered encountering him several times, both as Darien and as Tuxedo Mask, during her last sojurn on Earth, at the time of the Deathbusters. He is so different as a young man from the king he will become, the powerful leader I know so well. He's going to have quite a bit of development to go through before it's time for him to be king.

And then, full realization hit her. It wasn't the failure of Sailor Moon to achieve her full power that could hold them back from defeating the enemy. It was the failure of her consort to do so.

I know he's capable of a lot more than throwing roses, she thought. The question is. . .when is *he* going to know that?

* * *

Alex unlocked the door of her apartment, letting out a deep sigh as she dropped the gym bag on a chair. Automatically, she pushed the button on the answering machine. No calls. Sonya had promised to let them know if she saw those two around.

"Obviously, she didn't," Alex said aloud. Are they on to us? she thought. It's entirely possible, if they are, indeed, enemies.

I'm not giving them the benefit of the doubt, she thought. Not until we know more. It was something she'd been taught all the way back in the Silver Millennium. . .learn everything possible about the enemy, then strike with utmost ruthlessness. When the territory you had to protect was an entire solar system, you couldn't afford to be too careful.

Michelle came out of the bathroom, a robe around her body, drying her hair with a towel. "Anything?"

Alex shook her head. "Guess we're going to have to go out hunting for them again."

Michelle smiled. "Not a fate worse than death, is it? Sometimes, I think you're happiest when we have a mission."

"Happy?" Alex settled into a chair. "Not quite. It's what I do. What we both do. Simply that."

Michelle perched on the arm of the seat, putting a hand on her lover's shoulder. "Sure. That's why, the whole time we were in France, you kept saying ÔI'm so *bored*!' every two minutes. Even though we were touring the wine country, shopping, going through the Louvre. . ."

"France just wasn't my thing, that's all."

"And neither were Germany? Italy? Switzerland?"

"I was homesick."

"Homesick for our mission, that is." She leaned her head against Alex's. "It's okay, I felt the same way. It's as if our entire lives this time around were leading up to one thing alone. . .stopping the Deathbusters. And then, it was over."

She always understands me perfectly, Alex thought. She knows me better than I know myself. "It was like working for the same company for decades, and then finding out you'd been fired."

"I know. I was beginning to wonder if that was it, if we'd ever be Sailor Soldiers again."

"We found out the answer to that one pretty fast, didn't we? If only we had been in Tokyo when these things first showed up. . ."

"We probably wouldn't have made much more progress than we have now. Whoever these enemies are, they're secretive."

"Offshoot of the Deathbusters, perhaps?"

"I don't think so. The end of Pharaoh 90 meant the end of them." Michelle stood up and headed for the bedroom, pulling the towel from her hair as she did so. "That chapter is closed, for good."

She's so right that I miss that mission, Alex thought. During that period of my life, I had never felt more intense, more *alive*. I am a soldier, a true soldier. My purpose in life is to go into battle. Michelle knows this. . .because we're the same. We've been the same since our first lives, when we were all alone, patrolling the furthest reaches of space with nobody but each other.

She got up and moved toward the bedroom. Michelle was humming to herself, combing out her wet hair, still wearing just the robe. Alex thought she'd never seen anything quite as beautiful.

The only thing in the world I truly fear, she thought, is losing her in battle. We'd said to each other that if one of us were to die, the other would fight on. . .but I don't really know if I could do that.

Michelle put the comb down and turned around. "Okay, I just need to get dressed and. . ."

Alex slowly moved toward her. "Do you really *need* to get dressed? Right now?"

Michelle felt her heart speed up. The electric current which always seemed to flow between them was flaring up into full blaze right now. She gave Alex her coyest smile and said, "Well, I *am* wearing only a bathrobe right now."

Alex closed the rest of the gap between them, and pulled Michelle into her arms, crushing her mouth against the other woman's. Michelle made a small "mmm" sound as her body relaxed, her lips opening to allow her lover's tongue to find and stroke her own.

She responded in kind, moving her mouth against Alex's with urgency, allowing one hand to slip between their bodies and cup a breast, gently squeezing. Her partner's moan only made Michelle's blood run hotter.

Suddenly, Alex pulled away from her, and untied the sash of her robe with one swift movement. A push at the shoulders, and the garment was on the floor.

"Now," Alex said, "you're not wearing your bathrobe anymore."

"Well, then. . .we'll have to do something about you, won't we? You're overdressed."

The women kissed again, and Michelle reached for the buttons on Alex's shirt, swiftly undoing them. The garment landed on the floor, with her bra and blue jeans joining it shortly afterward.

They pressed their bodies together, rubbing, feeling the unique sensation of breast sliding against breast, soft roundness against soft roundness. When they moaned, it was almost in perfect harmony.

They moved backwards, and tumbled together to the bed, clasped tightly within one another's arms. Michelle reached down and began to slide Alex's panties down, and her lover completed the action with one swift move, eager to rid herself of the last barrier between them.

Alex kissed and nibbled her lover's neck, running her tongue slowly up and down it. One hand slipped down, over her shoulder, her chest. . .Michelle sucked in her breath as she felt the feathery touch of fingers on her nipple, lightly stroking, caressing. . .

"Yes," she whispered. "More. . .please. . ."

"How can I refuse an offer like that?" Alex said. She lowered her head, and began to lick around the hardened bud with long, deliberate strokes. Michelle cried out, and cried out again, louder, as she felt lips close over her nipple and begin to suck. Her hips rose off the bed, mutely begging her partner to touch her, taste her there, too.

Alex switched her head to the other breast, taking the nipple in, sucking with long, hard draws, then taking it out and flicking her tongue over it. No matter how many times she did this, the body of her darling would never cease to excite her, fill her with awe. . .Michelle was the living embodiment of a goddess.

Her fingers began to slip over Michelle's stomach, making small swirls on the skin, tantalizing her lover. "Oh, honey," she gasped, "please, please do it. . ."

At the first touch, Michelle opened her legs wider, raising her hips, and Alex gave her what she wanted, plunging two fingers in deeply, moving them rapidly in and out. Her thumb moved up to the passion-swollen jewel, going around and around it in swift circles.

She felt Michelle buck under her, heard her moans, her cries, her pleas for release. She brought her mouth down to her sweetheart's, kissing her deeply, pushing her tongue in with fierce possession as she quickened her stroke, as her thumb began to brush directly over the heated nub.

Michelle felt pressure and heat building and building, like a flood barely constrained by a dam, and she moved her hips faster, please, please, just a little more, just a little more. . .And then, the heat shot through her, and she shrieked, one delicious spasm after another wracking her body.

Michelle let out a deep sigh, feeling herself go totally limp, the warm afterglow washing over her like liquid sunshine. She felt her beloved's lips on her face, gently kissing her cheeks, her eyelids, her mouth.

Her eyes opened, and she looked up at Alex, so strong, so beautiful. There was love in her eyes. . .and raw hunger. Michelle wanted to appease that hunger, make Alex feel as good as she did now.

She sat up, grasping Alex in her arms, pulling the other woman's head down to hers, and flipped them both over, so Michelle was on top. She grasped both of Alex's breasts, squeezing them gently, running her thumbs back and forth across the nipples. A renewed thrill went through her own body when she heard the other woman's breathing start to come rapidly.

Michelle shifted herself so her own nipples were right on top of Alex's, and began to rub back and forth. . .soft curve on soft curve, hard peak on hard peak. Both of them let out long, low sounds of desire.

Michelle moved down quickly, licked one nipple, then the other, began sucking on the right one while her fingers caressed the left, then switched mouth and hand. Alex groaned, writhing, one hand tangling in her lover's hair, the other clutching the sheets. . .Michelle was licking, licking again, right nipple, then left, then she was rubbing their breasts together again, and the wetness became a lubricant, making it slicker, hotter, more intense.

The hardness of Michelle's nipple on hers. . .then the sensitive peak sliding against softness, smoothness. . .then the hardness again. . .Alex thought she'd explode with sensation.

The fires within Michelle were stoked to new life. She didn't think it was possible after the intensity of the last climax, but her body was absolutely blazing. She needed to come just as badly as Alex did.

She lifted her body from Alex's and lay on her back, sliding one leg between her lover's, then the other over the top of her. Both of them sat up, and their womanhoods pressed together, hot, wet, heavenly.

They kissed deeply, tongues probing, hands reaching for breasts, finding, squeezing, caressing. . .Their hips began to move, grinding themselves together, damp velvet on damp velvet, their jewels meeting, brushing against each other for a millisecond of pure electricity, parting, meeting again.

Both of them leaned back, their hips moving faster, harder, pushing each other toward the peak of sensation, mouths wide open, letting out cries and gasps, Michelle shaking her head back and forth rapidly, as if saying no, no, nothing could be this good. . .the whole world was heat and softness and slickness and love. . .

Suddenly, Michelle stopped, her body tense, suspended in motion. . .then, she let out a wail, trembling, shaking, grinding against her lover harder than ever before as she was consumed by wave after wave of ecstasy.

Alex heard her lover's cries of bliss, felt her shudders, and it pushed her over the edge, a hot throbbing begining rapidly in her womanhood, then exploding into tingling bliss over every part of her. She cried out her beloved's name as she gasped and writhed.

They fell forward, their arms wrapping around each other, their heads falling on each other's shoulders, gasping. Finally, they kissed, tenderly.

"I love you," Alex whispered.

"I love you, too."

They stretched out, heads on pillow, still wrapped tightly in each other's arms. "Unreal," Michelle sighed.

"You're pretty wonderful, yourself." Alex kissed her. I was wrong before, she thought. It's not battle that makes me feel most alive. It's *her.*

"That was worth putting off getting dressed for," Michelle said, bringing her lips to Alex's. They began to kiss again. . .

And then, the phone rang. They ignored it. . .until the answering machine started to talk.

"Alex, it's Sonya. I saw them. They were coming out of a music store. She was saying something about Ôtalk more at my place tonight.' I'll meet the two of you outside her dorm at 7:30. Goodbye."

The lovers sighed and broke apart. "Guess I can't put it off any longer, can I?" said Michelle.

"Unfortunately," said Alex, getting up and hunting for her discarded clothes. Dressing felt like they were being sealed away from each other.

But pleasure had to be put aside for now. Duty called. When the world was at stake, even love itself had to take a back seat. . .temporarily.

* * *

"Duty calls," Tiger Eye grumbled, "and I want to tell it to go take a flying leap."

The three henchmen shuffled into the dingy main tent of the Dead Moon Circus for yet another meeting with their more-despised-by-the-day supervisor, Zirconia. It was obvious they were getting closer and closer to total burnout. Their shoulders were slumped, their eyes were dull, even Hawk Eye's spiky hairdo was drooping.

"She's going to tell us 10 more mirrors by tomorrow or some stupid thing," said Fish Eye. "I just know she is."

"Come on!" said Hawk Eye. "Not even the old bag is that sadistic!"

"I'll show you just how sadistic I can be!" an all-too-familiar voice boomed from everywhere and nowhere at once. They turned toward her platform with a groan, and sure enough, there she was where a moment ago there had only been empty air. "You keep it up the way you've been going and I'll destroy you!"

"And then who's Nehelenia going to get to do her dirty work, huh?" Fish Eye snapped. "*You're* certainly too old to do it."

"Just about anyone would be better than the three of you!" the ancient crone wheezed. "Nehelenia has *not* been happy with your progress lately."

"We've brought back dream data from every mission," said Tiger Eye.

"Yes, and there's still *five* Sailor Soldiers running around! You couldn't even destroy the puny little one! What will we do if *more* of them show up?"

The same litany that they had heard over and over again. They were getting more and more sick of hearing it.

"We're throwing everything we've got at them!" Hawk Eye said. "We've been using the most powerful lemures we can find!"

"You're obviously not trying hard enough!" Zirconia snapped. "Believe me when I say it would be absolutely nothing for Nehelenia and I to utterly destroy all of you. Keep that in mind during your next mission!"

Her familiar, the winged eyeball creature Zircon, flapped above their heads and dropped a load of pictures. Tiger Eye caught them, thinking this felt like a seagull dropping a load of turds on unsuspecting beachgoers.

"Bring back the dreams of one of these people within the next 24 hours! And I do *not* want to hear about any women in short little skirts showing up! Or it'll be your heads!" Zirconia turned, and was gone as fast as she appeared.

The three headed back toward their regular hangout, the bar. To look at them, walking slumped over, heads down, you would think they were a funeral procession.

They sank into barstools, and Tiger Eye slapped the photos on the table. "Okay, whose turn is it this time?"

"I've lost track," Fish Eye grumbled. "When this is all over. . .I want to get that old hag, and good."

"How?" said Hawk Eye.

"Turn her own lemures against her," Fish Eye replied, sinking even deeper in his seat.

"They wouldn't do that," said Tiger Eye. "They obey her like puppy dogs. Personally, I think all we have to do is push her out in the sun. She'll disintegrate."

"Hey, you think she was ever a normal person?" said Hawk Eye. "I mean, like, thousands and thousands of years ago?"

"Her?" said Fish Eye. "She was *born* old and cranky."

"I think her problem," Tiger Eye yawned, "is that she never had a man."

Hawk Eye leaned over toward him with a smirk. "Are you volunteering for the job?"

"Me?" Tiger Eye had a look on his face like someone observing a colony of cockroaches under their stove. "YUK! EEEEWWWWW! I'd rather eat used motor oil! *Really* used motor oil! We're talking stuff that's been in the engine for 10 years!"

"And if you had sex with her," Hawk Eye mumbled, "the experience would probably be exactly the same."

"Well, *I* certainly don't swing in that direction," Fish Eye said.

"And I don't like inexperienced women," said Hawk Eye. "Guess that leaves you."

Tiger Eye leapt from his barstool. "NEVER! EVER! Not in a million years! A billion years! Not if she was the only woman who EVER lived!"

Hawk Eye yawned. "Guess you're not the ladies' man you thought you were."

Tiger Eye sat back down. "I *am* a ladies' man. The only thing is. . .she's *definitely* not a lady."

Fish Eye picked up the pile of pictures. "Well, these aren't going anywhere. We might as well pick our target and get this over with."

As he shuffled through the pictures, one of them fell away from the pack and landed on the table. It was a photo of a teenage girl with round blue eyes and very long blonde hair with a big red bow. . .

* * *

Nehelenia had watched the meeting from her mirror. Zirconia is correct when she says I'm not happy about those Sailor Soldiers, she thought. They *must* be eliminated. . .even if I have to do it myself.

She ran down the list of the ones who had already showed themselves. Sailor Moon. Sailor Jupiter. Sailor Mars. Sailor Venus. All that's missing from the original group, she thought, is Sailor Mercury. I have to put Zirconia on alert about that. If Mercury is going to show up, it will probably be soon. . .there wasn't much time between the appearances of the other Sailor Soldiers.

And then, there was that little one. Nehelenia couldn't shake a gut feeling that she very well might be the most dangerous one of all. There was *never* a child Sailor Soldier before, she thought. Never. In fact, that bitch Serenity had said over and over she wouldn't let her daughter train to be Sailor Moon until she was good and ready, because nobody should become a Sailor Solder too early. . .unless she was some kind of Messiah, and was born with extraordinary powers.

She paced a bit more. *Could* that little one be a Messiah of some sort? It was when she was facing an enemy alone that the second Pegasus appeared, she thought. Does she have some kind of connection to Helios? Maybe she's from his Realm of Dreams?

She walked back into the chamber where her prisoner hung suspended from the ceiling, wrapped like an equine mummy.

"Whatever your secret is, Helios, I *will* find it out," she said aloud. "And then. . .may all the gods have mercy on anyone who may be helping you."

Her words reached him through the strange half-dreaming, half-waking fog that was his normal, everyday state.

You're not going to find out, he thought. You'll never be able to discover how I can move through the dream world. I am a creature of dreams, and you are not. If you were. . .you wouldn't need those three slaves of yours to do all your dirty work.

Besides, he thought, if you want to do battle with whoever is helping me, you're going to find yourself fighting against a power stronger than any you had ever dared dream of.

He thought of the Voice that had guided him up until this point, the Voice that was the source of much of his power, of Neo-Sailor Moon's power. He wondered, not for the first time, who it was. A god? A powerful spirit-being? Or. . .was it an outside entity at all? Was he drawing on some previously untapped source of power within himself? In his current state, it was so hard to tell reality from fantasy, inside from outside. . .

Whoever and whatever you are, he quietly told the Voice, help me to keep my Maiden safe. Help me to save the Prince from this hideous curse the evil one has put on him. Help me. . .help all of us. . .to save the world.

And he couldn't help but feel that someone, somewhere was replying, "I swear to it. . .I will."

* * *

Artemis stretched out in a patch of sunlight on Mina's living room floor. To a casual observer, he was just a cat engaged in normal feline behavior. But he was actually in a meditative state, because he had to do some very deep thinking about recent events.

There was the attack on David and Lori, the one that Mina had foiled. It had been his first opportunity to see the enemies and their tactics up close and personal. And what he'd seen had frightened him.

Their method of attack is vicious, he thought. That bat-monster was unlike anything we've ever come across before. If Mina hadn't gotten her Super power-up. . .all of us would have been dead. Me, her and the victims.

He didn't want to think of what they'd try if they decided to redouble their efforts against the Sailor Soldiers. I don't know if they could handle it, he thought, even in their powered-up forms.

And then, there was Darien. There was something wrong with him, very wrong. He was insisting on continuing with their workouts - but he'd suddenly stop, collapsing to his knees, coughing.He'd drag himself to his feet and go on, but his powers were considerably weakened - the periods where the Earth Blade wouldn't work at all were coming more and more frequently.

Artemis was beginning to suspect a curse. This is too much like what I used to see in the Silver Millennium, he thought, when black sorcerers wanted to eliminate an enemy. . .they would cast a spell where the victim's body was slowly consumed from within.

But why would the enemy go after Darien, and not Serena? he thought. Wouldn't it make more sense to eliminate the most powerful member of the Sailor Team, rather than one who hadn't reached his full potential yet?

He didn't want to face the possibility that Darien would never be able to reach that potential.

He heard footsteps on the floor, and then Mina's voice saying, "Artemis. . .Serena wants to talk to you."

To me? he thought. Well, that's a surprise! He wondered if it had something to do with Luna. Not that he'd noticed anything unusual about his counterpart lately. She was as haughty and short-tempered as ever.

He looked up, and saw Serena enter the room, slowly. He gave a start - she looked terrible, like she hadn't slept in days. Her eyes had dark circles under them and lacked their usual spark.

The white cat leapt to his feet. "Serena! What's wrong?"

She sat on the couch, twisting the strap of her purse nervously around her finger. "Artemis. . .something's wrong with Darien. He's been standoffish. . .I mean, he keeps making excuses to not. . .have me over his house. He doesn't even talk to me on the phone for very long, and when he does. . .his voice sounds funny. Kind of hoarse. But he keeps insisting nothing's wrong."

She drew a deep sigh, twisting the purse strap again. "And then, when I try to reach him with my mind. . .you know, telepathically. . .he's. . .*off the air*. Like he's blocking the connection between us. As if there was something he was hiding."

She turned sad, desperate-looking blue eyes on him. "You work with him a lot. Maybe you can tell me. . .what's going on? Why is he acting like this?"

Artemis didn't know what to say. I can't tell her my theory about a curse, he thought. I don't want to panic her needlessly, and then find out there's no curse at all.

Finally, he said, "I think he's drained. He's been expending a great deal of magical energy lately. I've warned him against over-practicing when he's alone, but he may be doing it anyway."

"Why?" she said. "Why would he do that if he knows he's putting himself at risk?"

"To force a power-up, so he'd be as strong as you and the others. Remember, he's officially your protector. . .he'd feel totally worthless if he couldn't protect you from the enemy."

Serena nodded, slowly. This made sense. Darien was always fretting about protecting her. . .even though she was more than capable of defending herself. Especially with her Super-level power-up. "Do you think I should talk to him?"

"I'll talk to him," Artemis said. "I'm going to be seeing him a bit later, anyway." I'll talk to him, all right, he thought. I'm going to tell him he should come clean with her about his problem. He's only upsetting her by hiding it.

She stood up. "Thank you, Artemis. Tell him he *doesn't* have to force anything. I'll be fine. Until he gets his power-up, the natural way, I can take care of both of us."

"I'll tell him," he said.

Serena left Mina's house. I cleared the air about that, she thought. Artemis is going to talk to Darien. . .and he listens to Artemis, right? He'll do what Artemis says, and then he'll be back to his old self, and. . .

"And what if Artemis is wrong?" she said aloud. It was entirely possible he was overworking himself to force a power-up, yes. . .but could she be *sure* that's what was wrong?

It was all too much like the time he had gone into a depression and refused to see her around the climax of the porn battle. He'd been quiet and withdrawn then, too. I came so close to losing him, she thought. I can't face that again. And I don't know if sexy lingerie and a pink ribbon can make things right this time.

Because there was something else bothering her. Something different about this time and last, something almost intangible. There was something about the way he spoke, the way he moved, that was just. . .not right. He seemed weakened, like a person struggling with a chronic illness.

But he doesn't seem *sick*, she thought. He's had no symptoms. At least in front of me.

She began to wonder if he'd been suffering from some terrible, incurable illness like AIDS all along and just hadn't told it to her. She didn't want to think of *that* possibility.

She shook her head. No. . .something like that, he'd *tell* me. He wouldn't dare hide it, especially if he knew I'd find out afterward.

"Whatever it is, Darien," she said aloud, "I'll find out. And then I'll find a way to help you."

* * *

Darien lay on his couch, waiting for Artemis to arrive. He'd wanted to conserve as much of his energy as possible.

It's been a good day so far, he thought. No coughing fits. Hopefully, I'll make it through the training session without them.

They were coming closer and closer together now. And they almost always resulted in him bringing up black fluid from his lungs. He was having a hell of a time concealing it at school. He ended up carrying a thick wad of tissues with him, putting them to his mouth when he started to cough.

Hiding it from Serena was another matter. He felt horribly guilty about not letting her sleep over, about not spending more than a few minutes at a time with her. I keep telling her I'm busy, he thought, but how long is she going to buy that?

"She can't know," he said out loud. "She has to keep her focus on the enemy. I'm going to find a way to beat this thing, and then, when it's all over, I'll tell her."

A knock came on the door, and he got up to answer it. There stood Mina, basket in hand.

"Hi!" she said, cheerfully. "Brought you a visitor! I'm going to leave him here and come back for him in an hour and a half. I've got to go to the library and get a book to do a report on."

She set the basket down, and Artemis crawled out, looking dazed. He staggered around a bit, his legs wobbling.

"First thing you should read," he said, "is a book on how to transport cargo without beating it up."

"Oh, you're fine," she said. "I didn't drop you, did I?"

"Well. . .the basket didn't make it *all* the way to the ground. . ."

"Doesn't count," she said, quickly. "Okay, I'll see you two later! ÔBye!" And she swiftly exited the apartment.

Darien picked Artemis up. "Are you all right?"

"Just a little shaken, rattled and rolled, but I'll live." He pulled himself up so he was almost eye-to-eye with Darien. "Look. . .I had a talk with Serena before I came here. She's worried sick. Literally. She thinks you don't want her anymore You've *got* to talk to her."

He looked away. "She can't know," he said, quietly.

"What do you mean? She has a *right* to know, Darien! She's your lover since the Silver Millennium, your future wife and your magical partner. I'd say she has a *very* good right to know."

"She'll spend all her time trying to cure me and no time fighting the enemy!"

"You think she doesn't know what's important? Nothing will keep Serena from defending the earth. Nothing. Telling her about your problem isn't going to put your planet in jeopardy."

Darien paused for a moment, then sighed. "Look, Artemis. . .okay, I'll tell her. But *Reenie* can't know."

Artemis nodded. "Fair enough. It *would* only worry her."

"Now, I'm ready to pick up where we left off last time."

Artemis nodded. "We'll go out back in the woods and you can do target practice again. Feeling strong today?"

"Yes," Darien said. "Much stronger than I've been the last couple of times."

"Great! Well, let's go, then."

In the elevator, Darien thought, Forgive me, my friend. . .but I'm probably going to end up breaking my word to you. I can't tell her. Not until I'm sure I'll be safe, and until I know what's wrong with me won't affect her as well.

* * *

Hawk Eye was crouched behind one of the cars in the apartment house lot, waiting for his target to come out of the building.

I wish she'd come out soon, he thought. This is one hell of an uncomfortable position. The things we have to do for that hag. . .

For once, he wasn't thinking with excited anticipation about snatching the dream, finding the elusive second Pegasus, finally eliminating a Sailor Soldier. . .he just wanted this to be over with.

I think we all feel like this now, he thought. It's just not *fun* anymore. It hasn't been in a long time.

The door opened, and the girl walked out, humming to herself. He watched as she started to head toward the back of the building, where there was a wooded area.

She's taking a shortcut through the woods, he thought. She'll be all alone, in an isolated area. Good. I won't have to go through the whole routine of pretending to be a regular person and gaining her trust. I can just ambush her. There'll be nobody around to help her.

He crept out from behind the car and watched her disappear into the trees. He waited for a slow count of 60, then followed.

* * *

Mina headed through the woods at a leisurely pace. It's sure a nice day, she thought. I'll just take my time getting to the library. You know what they say, haste goes straight to your waist.

She realized she was feeling pretty good about life at the moment, better than she'd felt since the ill-fated attempt to matchmake David and Lori. I don't feel like I did anything *wrong* anymore, she thought. Maybe it's because I helped them when they were attacked. . .or maybe it's because I saw first hand that they *did* get together, on their own, and they're happy.

Whatever it was, she felt completely purged of her old guilt. And confident. The Super-level power-up had a lot to do with that. She knew that Venus had specifically given her an attack strong enough to take out these new, nasty monsters.

But it was just as she was thinking that when a voice suddenly shouted from the trees, "ONE!" Mina gasped as she felt herself slammed by invisible hands against a wall. . .what wall? She was in a *woods!*

"TWO!" the voice shouted, and metal bands bound her wrists and ankles. She tried to move her hand, to flip her wrist in the gesture that would bring her wand out of subspace. . .but it was impossible.

There was a sound of footsteps, and someone came out of the trees. She recognized him instantly. . .one of the enemy's henchmen.

"You!" she said.

Hawk Eye laughed. "Yes, me. Caught you by surprise, didn't I? This was the easiest capture I ever had. Oh, I wish they were all like this. Well, now that I've got you here. . ."

Mina panicked - did he intend to rape her? She struggled to move her hand, kick out. . .nothing.

"You may as well show me your beautiful dream," he finished, advancing on her slowly. "THREE!"

* * *

Darien was concentrating, feeling the power rise in his body, like a river rising against its banks.

"Now focus on channeling the power into the *crystal*, not the blade itself," Artemis said. "Once it passes through the crystal on its way to the blade. . .it'll be multiplied a thousandfold."

He raised the weapon, getting ready to launch the attack. . .and then, he heard the scream. His head snapped up. "What was that?"

"It came from over there," said Artemis, starting to run in the direction. Oh, gods, the cat thought, it sounds familiar. . .please, please don't let it be her. . .

But sure enough, there was Mina, bound to a mirror, a smaller mirror in front of her chest. . .and one of the enemies was just pulling his head out of the mirror.

"MINA!" Artemis cried, starting to leap for her captor. Darien held him back, shaking his head.

"Well, that's that," Hawk Eye said. "Thanks for sharing. But now. . .it's time for you to. . ." He stopped abruptly as a rose flew through the air, sticking into the mirror Mina was bound to. It and the metal cuffs dissolved, and she fell to the ground.

"What the. . ." Hawk Eye said. Great, he thought. One of the Sailor Soldiers managed to find me. Wonderful. He turned around, expecting to see the familiar short skirted uniform.

Instead, he saw a white cat and a guy in a ridiculous outfit. He could only smirk. "I see someone who's all dressed up with no place to go has crashed the party."

"Get out of here RIGHT NOW if you want to live!" Darien shouted, spinning his weapon over his head to charge it.

"What the hell could *you* do?" said Hawk Eye. "It's not as if you're a *Sailor Soldier.*"

"EARTH BLADE EXECUTION!" Darien shouted, aiming the knife, focusing on pushing his power into the crystal. He felt it build up within him, start to launch itself toward the weapon.

Nothing happened.

No, Darien thought. Not again! Especially not now!

Hawk Eye laughed uproariously. "That's the most pathetic thing I've ever seen in my life! It's almost not worth using a good lemure on. But. . ." He snapped his fingers. "Lemure! Come forth!"

Darien started charging the knife again. . .but it was no use. He couldn't feel the power rising within him anymore.

"Deep breaths!" Artemis was saying to him. "Focus, dammit! Focus!"

"I AM focusing!" Darien said between gritted teeth, as he saw some kind of black mist rise from the ground. It was taking on a shape, solidifying. . .

It was a penguin. A huge penguin. It was almost as if the enemy had specifically hand-picked a monster to mock him.

The lemure made a squawking noise and raised its flippers. . .which instantly began crackling with electricity, sparks dancing back and forth along the tips. Artemis leapt for it. . .and suddenly a ball of crackling blue energy burst from the creature and screamed through the air like a comet, slamming into Artemis and sending him sprawling to the ground, groaning, the smell of burning fur filling the air.

"ARTEMIS!" Darien said. He pointed the blade again. . . "EARTH BLADE EXECUTION!" Still nothing. In desperation, he produced a rose and tried throwing that at the creature. The penguin raised its flippers again, and launched another ball of energy, which fried the rose in mid-flight.

Hawk Eye stood off to the side, watching the battle. . .and getting bored. "This isn't even worth watching," he said. He knew he'd been told to hang around to the end, but. . .it was *so* obvious that this one was over. He waved his hand, and a portal opened in front of him, rimmed with a ring of whirling leaves. He jumped through, and was gone.

Artemis looked up from the ground. "Darien. . .your communicator," he said, weakly. "Summon the girls."

There was no time for Darien to feel inadequate, to curse the fact that his training so far was for nothing, that he had to rely on the other Sailor Soldiers for help. There was only the need to save Artemis, save Mina, save himself.

He reached for the communicator on his wrist. . .right at the moment an enormous ball of electricity, twice as big as the one that had struck Artemis, slammed into his body, making him scream in agony. He fell to the ground, gasping.

There's got to be a way, he thought. There has *got* to be something I can do against this thing. I can't wait for the others to get here. This thing will kill all three of us in the meantime. Artemis keeps telling me I have untapped powers. . .what are they? How can I access them?

And then, a flash of memory filled his mind, of a time long ago, before he was known as Darien Chiba. . .

It was the Silver Millennium. He was a small child, and he was hiding behind his mother's throne. . .someone was invading the palace. . .He could hear yelling, the clash of swords, as his mother's soldiers battled the intruders. . .

And then, his mother, Cassiopeia, appeared. But she wasn't in her royal regalia. She was wearing a sailor fuku, with a dark green skirt, collar and bow. . .the uniform of Sailor Earth.

She faced down the leader of the marauders, some kind of creature that looked like the fusion of a human and a horse. "You've come to the wrong place!" she told it. And she drew her hands up, preparing to attack. .

Darien leapt to his feet. He knew what to do now. The same thing his mother had done.

He saw the lemure gathering another ball of electricity, big enough to strike a killing blow. He held his hands up, chest-level, cupping them and willing his powers to concentrate there. He felt a burning warmth, saw tendrils of smoke appear in the air.

Suddenly, he thrust his hands out toward the monster, shouting, "SMOKING BOMBER!" A comet of white light streaked from him, trailing smoke in its wake, and slammed into the creature. With one last, loud squawk, it exploded.

Darien and Artemis both rushed over toward Mina, who was just starting to regain consciousness. "What. . .what happened?" she murmured. "I feel like I've been run over by a truck!"

"You were attacked by the enemy," Artemis said. "But Darien saved you. . .saved us both."

"He did?" she said, sitting up, looking even more bewildered than normal.

"Yes!" Artemis said, proudly. "He used a new power! One I've never seen before!"

"Wow!" said Mina. "That means you've gone Super, Darien!"

"Super?" he said. "I don't think so."

"That was the most power I've *ever* seen you release!" Artemis said. "More than even when you pumped your power through the crystal! You did it, Darien! You've reached the next level of power!"

Darien looked down at his hands as if they didn't belong to him, as if someone had grafted someone else's hands onto his arms.

I should be able to appreciate what just happened, he thought. But I can't. Is it because I know I'm carrying a curse? Because of the way it happened. . .we all had to almost die before I could access the power? Or is it something else?

It's true I launched a bigger attack than ever before. And I was able to access a power I never knew I had. But why doesn't it feel like a power-up? Why doesn't it feel like something. . .more?

* * *

Lori sat at her computer, looking over at David, deep in thought.

She wondered if she should have told him about the Sailor Soldiers' identities. The last thing in the world I want is to put him in any kind of trouble, she thought. Especially after what happened the other night.

A shudder of revulsion and fury passed through her as she thought of those monsters, one of which she had taken down with a baseball bat. What the hell were they? she thought. And why did they and that freaky guy target *him*? Damn, I wish I knew something about the supernatural. Maybe monsters and creepy things are drawn to people who've been involved in conflicts or something like that.

David raised his head from his book. "You look very pensive right now," he said.

"Well. . .I was just thinking."

"About what?" He marked his place with an envelope and shut the book. "About your more-ladies'-rooms campaign?"

"Gods, no. Nothing like that. It was just. . .I was thinking about the other night." Outside, the bushes began to rattle, as they had before. "When we were attacked by those monsters."

"Oh. . .that." He shuddered. "I'm trying to forget about that."

"It's just. . .I don't understand why they went after *you.*" She sighed. "Good thing I had that weapon, or you would have been dead."

He got up off the bed and took her hand. "Lori. . .don't think about that anymore. It's over."

"I can't help but thing about it. Because it made me realize. . .oh, hell, when I thought you were going to die, it was the worst goddamn moment of my life. And considering what I went through when I was younger, that's saying a lot."

He sat there, stunned. It certainly *was* saying a lot, considering that her younger years were a nightmare of molestation by her stepfather.

She bit her lip, looked up at him. "Geez, listen to me. . .I sound downright sentimental. Sentimental, me! I'd better not let this get out. People will think I've gone soft."

He laughed, and hugged her close. "Oh, don't worry. I think your pit bull reputation is intact no matter what happens." He gently kissed her forehead. "But there's much more to you than that, you know."

"Yeah? Like what?"

"Like a gorgeous woman. Who's hot as hell to boot."

She laughed, and said, "Now they're going to say *you're* soft."

His lips caressed her neck, moving upward slowly. "Sweetheart, when it comes to you. . .there's not much of me that's *soft*."

"Crude. No wonder you defended porn."

"I'm not into porn. I'm into free speech." He began to kiss her cheek and nibble softly at her earlobe, one hand slipping up under her shirt, snaking up toward the clasp of her bra.

She clung to him, starting to feel weak in the knees. "I suppose the next thing you're going to say is you're free to tell me how hot I am."

He chuckled, then whispered, his lips right against her ear, "Am I *that* predictable?"

"Yes. Which is why you should stop talking. There's far better things to do than *talk.*" And she grabbed the bottom of his shirt and yanked it up over his head, flinging it across the room. Their arms came around each other, and she crushed her lips on his, her tongue probing into his mouth insistently as she lightly raked her nails down his chest. As they scraped over his nipples, a jolt of mixed pleasure and pain shot through him like a bolt of lightning, and he gasped.

She raised a leg, wrapping it around his hip as her tongue slid out of his mouth and flickered over his top lip, then the bottom one, before pushing between again. Both of them groaned as she started to pump her hips. . .

Outside, the three observers squirmed with discomfort.

Michelle coughed delicately. "I think we're done for tonight," she whispered.

"Yes," Sonya replied, starting to move out of the bushes. "We've seen enough."

"You can say that again," Alex mumbled.

They slipped away into the night, not noticing that the blind in the dorm room had finally been drawn.

David turned away from the window. . .to see Lori dropping her blouse and bra to the floor. She tossed her head back proudly, standing with her hands on her hips, displaying her full body. "Well?" she said. "What are you going to do about this?"

He regarded her with a sly smile. "Take your pants off and I'll think about it."

"Not until you take off yours."

He stripped off his jeans, boxers, shoes and socks, kicking each garment away as it fell. "Okay, I've lived up to my part of the deal. Let's see yours."

"Fair enough." She unsnapped her jeans, and he watched her slide them and her bikini panties down and off, revealing delicately curved hips, a belly just slightly rounded. . .She was all woman, and all gorgeous. "*Now* what are you going to do about it?"

There was a pause. . .then, suddenly, he charged at her like a mad bull, letting out a long, low growl. He tackled her, and she fell to the bed, laughing, and kept laughing as he kissed her neck and shoulders.

"Brute," she said.

"Hmm. . .maybe."

"Well, two can play at that game." She rolled them over so she was on top, grabbed his wrists and pulled them up behind his head, pinning him in place. "Now I've got you!" she said.

"Okay, I give up," he said. "I'm all yours. Just. . .let go of my hands."

"And why should I do that?"

"I can't play with your nipples if my hands aren't free, can I?"

That was all the incentive she needed. She let him go.

He reached for her breasts, cupping them gently in his palms. Smooth skin. . .soft, but firm flesh underneath. . .and in the middle, a hard peak. . .The combination of sensations made his blood flow hot.

Slowly, he started to move his hands, rubbing the palm back and forth across the nipples. He heard her suck in her breath, which became a moan as he started to move in circles, swirling slowly, then squeezing the entire breasts, then moving his palms in circles again.

He released them, then splayed his fingers along the sides, bringing his thumbs to the puckered flesh around the peaks. He circled it, feeling the ridges, the heat, coming close to the nipple but deliberately not touching, hearing her groan. "Dammit. . .that feels too good. . .oohhh, gods. . ."

"Mmm," he said. "I'm not done with you yet. Not by a long shot." He moved inward, until he was directly caressing the hard buds, rubbing on their very tips in little, tight spirals, then sliding down the slopes, going around the edges. . .

She gasped, flinging her head back. Her heart was thundering, and hot tingles of sensation were running through every inch of her body. She could feel honey almost pouring from her, her sex aflame with need. Damn him! she thought. I feel like I'm going to explode! And she knew she had to give some of this exquisite torment back to him. She straddled his hips and pressed her womanhood against his manhood, beginning to slide back and forth slowly, inch by inch. . .

David felt the silky wetness envelop his hardness, and he groaned. . .her speed was nowhere near enough to bring him release, just enough to make him nuts. He pumped his hips, trying to get her to move faster, but she kept up her deliberate pace. He retaliated by taking both nipples between his thumb and forefinger, squeezing gently, releasing. . .squeezing, releasing. . .brushing his thumbs over them again, lightly. . .Then, hit with a sudden inspiration, he grasped them with his thumb and middle finger this time, and as he squeezed, he slid his index finger over them in rapid swirls.

Lori let out a strangled cry. . .oh, gods, what the hell was he doing to her, she was burning up, she *had* to come! Her hand groped for the nighttable drawer, where were the goddam rubbers, she'd put Saran Wrap over him if it came to that! Finally, her hand encountered a foil-wrapped packet, and she gently pulled away from him, tearing it open. Her fingers trembled as she rolled it on. When he was ready, she came up to him, breathlessly, and their mouths collided like two trains, their tongues seeking each other, tangling and stroking. She moved her hips about, positioning him exactly where he needed to be.

When she pushed down, and they became one, an electric shiver ran through them both, and they paused for a second, just savoring the sensation. Then, she started to move, groaning deeply as he filled her, left her, filled her again. She leaned back a bit, shifting her position slightly until she could feel the contact with her jewel, and then she pumped hard, wanting more, more, wanting the sensation to build and build until it exploded.

Beneath her, David bucked, moaning, his head tossing about as the liquid heat enveloped him again and again. He felt like he was barely holding on to the edge of sanity, pleasure totally flooding his very soul. He cried her name over and over, sparring her to go faster, to give him more, more, until he couldn't stand it a moment longer.

And then, she felt the sweet eruption, and she shrieked as she was wracked with spasms of delicious sensation, fading away, then coming back even stronger, over and over. . .When he felt her sheath grip him, he let out a loud cry of his own, and felt release come in sweet waves of pulsating heat, feeling like he would never stop coming.

Finally, they both collapsed, gasping and clinging to each other. She kissed him, gently, over and over.

"Oh, gods, I love you," she murmured.

"I love you, too," he answered.

Together, they rid him of the condom, then curled up in each other's arms, feeling warm and content.

"How the *hell* did you learn how to do what you did with your hands?" she said. "That was *unreal.*"

He smiled. "Just instinct."

"That's one hell of an instinct."

"Anything to make you happy." He kissed her, tenderly, and drew her into his arms, drifting off to sleep.

Dreams began to overtake him. . .dreams of being in the middle of the city, at midnight, walking down a dark street. . .

And then, a group of women came running down the street, full-speed, desperate to get somewhere. . .He saw the sway of their short skirts, flashes of color. . .red, blue, white, orange, green, pink. . .The Sailor Soldiers. On their way to a mission. . .

Behind them came another figure, running not as fast, a wave of billowing black. Only the white of his shirt and his mask gave him away in the darkness. Suddenly, David had the feeling he was seeing something *important*, something he should know, something he should have known all along. . .

The Sailor Soldiers. Trailed by a man. A man who was with them all the time. The only male seen around the Sailor Soldiers. .

Sailor Soldiers. . .Serena, Amy, Mina, Lita, Raye, Reenie. . .and the only male seen around them was. . .

He suddenly awoke, sitting bolt upright, heart pounding, eyes staring out into the darkness. At last, he knew what had been eluding him for so long.

His best friend was a Sailor Soldier, the only male Sailor Soldier. Tuxedo Mask.

* * *

As the ones who had been in the bushes drove away, Alex said, "So. . .what do you think?"

"They said they were attacked by monsters," Michelle said. "That kind of blows the theory of them being enemies away. Why would Nehelenia turn her monsters loose on her own people?"

"Unless," said Alex, "the *monsters* they're talking about are the Sailor Soldiers themselves."

Sonya frowned. "Come again?"

"I mean. . .don't you think the enemy would see *us* as monsters? For all we know, those two are aliens or some kind of creature disguised as humans. And even if they're not. . .wouldn't they see their enemy as *figuratively* being monsters?"

There was a pause as everyone let this sink in. Then, Michelle said, "Okay, you have a point there."

"So. . .we just keep investigating," said Sonya.

"We have to," said Alex. "We can't take *any* chances with this enemy."

Sonya sighed and watched the world whiz past her window. Unfortunately, she thought, this doesn't look like it will be fast and easy. Kali, why didn't you tell me more about this enemy before throwing me. . .throwing *us*. . .into the deep end?

But she knew better than anyone that gods didn't share information with humans unless there was a very good reason. Even if the human in question was a former goddess and a Sailor Soldier.

* * *

In a place that was not a place, in a time that was not a time, Kali felt the approach of another. She knew exactly who he was, and why he had come.

"The time of final reckoning is near," she told him. "My protegees are ready - is yours? After all, it's your protegee that's in the center of all this."

The other replied, "It's not going to be as easy as I first thought. There are. . .factors in the way."

"I'm sure now that Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are in the game, many of those factors will be removed."

"Not necessarily." The other paused. "How did you come to be guardian deity of all of them?"

"Out of necessity. Uranus and Neptune never showed much interest in their planets or their Sailor Soldiers, not at any time in history. Pluto. . .well, let's say it would be a conflict of interest, since his Sailor Soldier is also his wife."

The other nodded. "Understandable. And your main charge? What is her status?"

"When she is needed, then she will return. And that time will be more sooner than later."

* * *

Artemis sat at the foot of the bed, gazing at Mina. Finally, he thought, she's gone to sleep. I don't know how long it'll last, though. I thought she'd gone to sleep for the evening before. . .and then she had that nightmare. . .

He thought he'd mentally prepared himself for the aftermath of the dream mirror theft. He knew Mina would have a difficult night. He didn't realize just *how* difficult it would be. She'd awakened about an hour after going to sleep, screaming hysterically, bringing her parents running into the bedroom. She'd reassured them it was a nightmare, she was going to be all right.

She wasn't. Artemis had sat up with her for the next couple of hours as she had one panic attack after another - something she'd never had before. Finally, she passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Looking at her go through this makes me want to beat this enemy ten times more than I did before, he thought.

He thought over the events of the day, especially watching Darien unleash that Smoking Bomber. . .a genuine Sailor Earth attack. Granted, it was pretty low on the hierarchy of attacks. . .but still, it was more magical power than anyone in the Silver Millennium had ever dreamed a man could wield.

And he was able to do that with whatever else was wrong with him. . .

"Imagine," Artemis murmured aloud, "what he'd be able to do if he *wasn't* carrying a curse!"

He told himself that he very well might be putting two and two together and getting 95. . .but he didn't think so. This had the *feel* of a curse. He'd seen too many victims of black magic in the Silver Millennium to not recognize the symptoms. The sickness that seemed to come and go, the strange, haunted look in the eyes. . .

Still, he knew he couldn't tell Serena. That was Darien's job. . .and he wondered if his friend really would keep his word to do so. And that made him feel a bit guilty, knowing the future queen was suffering in silence, not knowing the truth.

But I don't think *any* of us know the full truth, he thought. And I don't know if we ever will.

* * *

Across town, Darien was also having a rough night.

He'd gone to sleep around 11. . .but was up two hours later, coughing, choking, gasping for breath. He'd clutched at the nighttable, groaning as pain shot through him, feeling like he was being torn in two from within. Then, finally, he expelled the black fluid and collapsed.

But sleep did not come. Because no sooner was it over than he felt the pain, the shortness of breath, starting to build and build again.

It's worse than it ever was before, he thought. Is this the price I have to pay for being able to use my new power? Am I going to die before I can power up any more? Is this what whoever's doing this to me is aiming for. . .to keep me from getting more powerful?

He twisted in agony, a cold sweat covering his body, clutching at the bedsheets. Every bit of his being fought against what he knew was going to come next, the terrible coughing fit. . .

Outside his door, Serena fumbled for her key. He's going to be mad at me, waking him up in the middle of the night like this, she thought. But I have no choice. I'll never be able to sleep until I find out what's wrong with him. We *have* to talk, and now.

She unlocked the door and went inside. Strange, she thought. . .there's a light on in his bedroom. And what's that noise? It sounds like. . .

Her blood ran cold. It sounded like him moaning in extreme pain.

She ran for the room and flung the door open to see him coughing, deep, wracking spasms that twisted his entire body, looking like an obscene parody of the climax of love. And then, something came out of his mouth and splattered all over the sheets. . .black fluid. Almost like blood. . .

She screamed.

Darien opened his eyes. Oh, gods. . .she was here, she saw. He couldn't keep it a secret any longer.

"DARIEN!" Serena cried, throwing herself onto the bed, embracing him. "Oh, gods. . .what is it? What's wrong with you?"

"Serena. . ." He could only speak her name in a hoarse croak, clinging to him with what little strength he had.

"I had to come see you. . .I knew something was wrong. . .but, oh gods, I never, never dreamed it was something like this!" She stroked his face, alarmed at how cold and clammy his skin felt.

"I. . .I didn't want you to know," he whispered. "Didn't want you to worry. . ."

"I worried anyway! You should have told me! I could have helped you! Darien. . .you're not just sick. That black stuff. . .I've never seen anything like that before! The enemy did something to you, I just know it!"

"We don't know that for sure," he said.

"What else could have done it?" She took the locket off her blouse and opened it, exposing the Silver Imperium Crystal. "Let me see something. . ."

She held the locket out until the crystal was almost touching the stain on the sheets. At first, nothing happened. Then, a light began to pulse deep within the sacred stone. . .faint, but definitely there.

"The crystal is reacting," Serena said. "There is definitely Dark Energy involved. They're trying to kill you, Darien, slowly and painfully." She fought back the tears that were threatening to overwhelm her. I can't give in to my emotions, she thought. I won't be able to help him if I do that. "But. . .why?"

He managed to sit up, slowly. "Maybe it has something to do with the Golden Crystal. Maybe they think I know where that missing piece is. . .the one Reenie's Pegasus talked about. . .and they're trying to torture me and weaken me so I'll give them the information they want."

"Golden Crystal. . ." Serena said. "Do you think that's what they're after?"

"It could be. Remember, the Pegasus appeared to Reenie around the same time they arrived. Maybe they're connected, somehow. . ." Again, as before, whenever he thought of Reenie's Pegasus, something struggled to come into his conscious mind, something buried just below the surface, something he *should* know about that creature, that, on some level, he knew all along.

Serena raised the locket over her head. "Well, they're not getting it! And they're not going to hurt you anymore, either! MOON CRISIS POWER!" There was a brief, blinding flash of light, and Super Sailor Moon stood where Serena had been.

"Now," she said, "I'm going to heal you." Gently, she removed the crystal from the locket. It hung suspended in the air between her cupped hands, giving off a steady, silvery glow.

"Serena," Darien said, "that's dangerous! You could drain your own strength, you could pull what's wrong with me into yourself, you could. . ."

"I don't care about any danger to myself!" she said. "I just want you to be cured! I can't stand to see you like this, Darien. . .and once you're better, we're going to make them pay for doing this."

She concentrated, focusing her power on the jewel in front of her. . .she felt it pulsing with light, with pure divine essence. She mentally pushed the light toward him, and she could *feel* it, feel it enter his body, search for the evil that was within him, then attack it like an antibody attacking a disease. . .

And then, suddenly, it faded. The light went out, the crystal dropped to the bed, looking like nothing more than a chunk of glass.

Serena opened her eyes and stared in disbelief. "What. . .what happened?"

"The crystal. . ." Darien said. "I felt it starting to work, and then. . .nothing."

"No!" Serena cried. "This can't be happening!" She picked the crystal up, willed it to come to life again, to start sending the healing energy into his body. . .but. . .nothing.

"It resists the Silver Imperium Crystal," Darien whispered. "Whoever did this. . .it's like they designed the curse *especially* to resist its powers." To do that, he thought, they would have to be familiar with the crystal, and how it was used.

This is no invader from space looking to conquer Earth, he thought. This is someone attacking from within. Someone with *intimate* knowledge of the Sailor Soldiers.

Serena finally put the crystal back in the locket. When she closed the lid, she felt like she was shutting a coffin. She felt herself detransforming, the power draining out of her slowly like water from a swimming pool at the end of summer, then collapsed to the bed, clinging to Darien.

"I'm so sorry," she whispered, letting the tears come at last. "I couldn't help you. I tried. . .I used every ounce of energy I had. . .but I couldn't help you!"

He stroked her pigtails, held her close. "It's all right, darling. It's okay."

"No, it's not! You're still sick, and you're only going to get sicker, and there's nothing I can do about it! If it resists the Silver Imperium Crystal. . ."

And then, a thought popped into his head from nowhere. . .almost as if some divine presence had put it there, as if some higher power was giving him the answer.

"But there's still hope," he said. "The Golden Crystal. We'll find the missing piece. We'll make it whole again. . .and then that will cure me."

"Are you sure?" she sniffled.

"I'm not. But. . .it's worth a shot. It's our one best hope right now, Serena. If that's really what the enemy is after. . .it must be *very* powerful."

She nodded. "How do we find it?"

"Perhaps the best way is to talk to Reenie. If this Pegasus has been showing up in her dreams on a regular basis. . .perhaps she can ask him. If he knows anything about the Golden Crystal, he may be able to help us."

"And in the meantime. . .I don't want you going out on any battlefields with us," she said. "Stay away from the enemy. They know you're vulnerable."

"I'm not going to do that," he said."

"Darien. . .you'll be in danger. . ."

He gently brushed his fingertips over her face. "I've been in danger since the very beginning, haven't I? I used to rush off to protect you armed with nothing but a bunch of roses and a cane. . .and that was when you had no other Sailor Soldiers to back us up."

"Yes, and look what happened to you!" she cried. "You were captured, brainwashed. . ." She stopped herself before she could say "raped." Isis had helped her remove the memory of that ordeal from his mind, and she didn't want to reawaken it.

"That won't happen again," he said. "I'm stronger now than I was then. In body and in mind."

She leapt to her feet. "Stronger? Darien, you're carrying a *curse*! If anything, you're weaker! I won't hear of it!"

He heaved a deep sigh. When Serena got persistent, there was no denying her. "All right. . .I'll stay away from battlefields. But I still want to continue training with Artemis."

"Fine," she said. "Just as long as you don't put yourself in any *real* danger." She lay back down beside him, embracing him fervently. "Darien. . .you're my life. If anything happened to you. . .it would be the end of me. I wouldn't be a person anymore, just this hollow thing."

"I know, Meatball Head." He stroked her hair. "You're everything to me, too."

They lay in silence for a moment, holding each other. She noticed that he was starting to drift off to sleep. She snuggled against him, letting herself drift off as well. She'd call her parents in the morning and tell them she had to be at school extra-early. . .club meeting or something like that. . .so she'd left the house before they all got up. She knew they wouldn't believe her. She didn't care.

Just before she lost consciousness, she whispered, "I'll protect you, Darien. . .even if it's with my life."

* * *

Reenie stood in the same dream-forest where she always met up with Pegasus. Only it seemed cold tonight, for some reason. . .there was a strange, chilly, damp wind rattling the trees.

Her heart leapt as she saw the familiar pinpoint of light appear, then get bigger and bigger until it took on the shape of a horse. She flung her arms around his neck. "Pegasus! I'm so glad to see you. . ."

"I'm glad to see you, too."

"Oh, did I tell you my good news? My oldest friend is back! Puu! I haven't seen her since the Deathbusters were around! Next time you come out of my dreams, like you did when I rescued Lucy, I want you to meet her."

Puu, he thought. He knew from the information he'd been given on Reenie by The Voice it was her nickname for one of the Sailor Soldiers. . .

"Sailor Pluto?" he said.

"Yes! Then you *do* know her?"

A memory passed through his head of the Silver Millennium, of sitting beside Queen Cassiopeia as one of her honored courtiers, and being introduced to all the Sailor Soldiers, one by one. He remembered the last one *very* well. Statuesque, with dark olive skin and green hair, and the regal bearing of a goddess.

"I have met her," he replied.

"Really? Wow! That's great! Then. . .I guess you haven't always lived in the dream world?"

Again, he remembered long, long ago. . .the beauty and splendor that was Atlantis, the wonderful people he had met, the two magnificent queens, Cassiopeia and Serenity. . .

"No," he replied. "No. . .I haven't. Some time. . .I'll tell you about it."

"Have you met the others too, then? The ones that always work with Puu, Uranus and Neptune?"

"Yes, them too. Have they *all* come back?"

"Yes, they have! I saw Alex and Michelle go whizzing by me in their convertible today. They didn't see me, though."

Helios frowned. All of the Soldiers of the Outer Planets were reassembled. He remembered something The Voice had told him. . . "When all of the Sailor Soldiers are together. . .then the final battle is drawing near. The last sign will be when the one who had been dead returns."

The one that had been dead. . .Helios remembered what he'd heard from The Voice about Reenie's friend Heather Tomoe, Sailor Saturn. She had given her life to defeat Pharaoh 90, but through the intervention of the goddess Kali, had been instantly reborn.

Sailor Saturn is going to return, he thought. She's going to be restored to her former age, turned back into a Sailor Soldier.

"Reenie," he said, "you may be seeing another friend of yours again very soon."

"What? You mean. . .Heather?"

Helios nodded. "But listen to me, Reenie. When Heather appears. . .it's not necessarily a good thing. She'll have come back for a reason, and that reason is that you'll be going into full, final battle with the enemy. Be on your guard."

The last words he said weren't sinking in at first. . .all she could think of was she was going to see Heather again! Pegasus, Puu, Heather, she'd have them *all* in her life! She couldn't remember ever feeling less lonely, more surrounded by love.

Then, the full meaning of what he'd said hit her. "Final battle? You mean. . .it's going to be them or us? One side isn't going to come out alive?"

"I'm sorry, Reenie. I wish it didn't have to be that way. . .but these enemies are ruthless. To defeat them, we're going to have to find the missing piece of the Golden Crystal."

"But how? I don't know anything about it, Pegasus! I don't know where to look!"

He was about to answer that he didn't know either. . .when the all-too-familiar Voice began to whisper to him. . .

"You won't have to look," he said. "You will be drawn to it, and it to you. It's destiny."

"Destiny. . ." she said in a small voice. "Pegasus. . .why *me*? Why have *I* been chosen for something so important? Why not Serena, or Darien, or one of the other Sailor Soldiers?"

He didn't have to listen to any Voice to know the answer to that. "Because, dear girl. . .you're more important than you realize."

She smiled at him, warmly, and he felt as if beams of sunlight were radiating his entire being. Careful, he thought. She's just a child. . .and even if she wasn't, you're in no condition to think about anything like that. And even if she were an adult, and I were human. . .there's far too much at stake to get involved in that way.

"You really think so?" she said.

"I *know* so."

But even in the warmth of her smile, part of him still felt cold. The chill wind in her dream tonight, the return of the Soldiers of the Outer Planets, the imminent return of Sailor Saturn. . .Things are getting serious, he thought. *Very* serious. Pretty soon, I may have to contact the prince and princess themselves and warn them about what's coming.

And hope it's not too little, too late. . .

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is something of a landmark for me. After three years and more than 50 lemons, I finally wrote my first woman/woman scene. Feedback on this portion of the story especially is appreciated (as I will confess to a slight case of first-time jitters!)

And yes, the "Smoking Bomber" was derived from the "Tuxedo La Smoking Bomber" attack from the manga. I just made the name a bit less. . .unwieldly.

Thanks tons, as always, to my editor, Steve Savage (check out his original fantasy series, Xai, at, to Cheyne and Sonya-chan, and to everyone who's written to comment on my stories.

E-mail me at My Web page is at

Standard Sailor Moon disclaimers apply. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.