Echoes of a Distant Demon
by Sailor Doc
~ Chapter Two ~
There could be no doubt of that.
She was passion personified in everything she did. If it was worth her time and energy, then she threw herself wholeheartedly into whatever it was. To do her best. To be the best. It mattered not. She would conquer all she put her mind to, be it making war or making love.
And Venus, like a moth, was irresistibly drawn to the brilliance of her fire.
Shadows danced across the ceiling...
A log cracked, then crumpled to ash in their fireplace...
A soft caress of fingers traveled up her hip, and across the flat of her belly...
A whisper of sweet breath against her ear, then the warmth of her lips and tongue...
A sudden intake of breath, and then she felt her body begin to quiver in delight as her lover took her to all the secret places only they could find together...
Her heart. Her love. Her...
"Reiko-chan..." she groaned as she pulled her lover closer still...
Light. Airy. Quiet. Still. Safe.
These were all
words that Aino Minako would have used to describe her
Since her 'return', as she liked to think of it, she had thrown herself into her new beginning, embracing her fans and devoting herself to many of the things that she could now see the importance of with more clarity. She had become highly visible at events to raise consciousness of, and monies for a variety of causes, from world disaster relief to stem cell research. Her pet project, however, remained pediatric cancer research; the cause nearest and dearest to her heart. She knew that a good many of the children affected by it would never receive the second chance that she had gotten, and had determined long ago that she would never be too busy to visit the wards, and sing one song, or fifty, if need be, to bring some joy or some relief to these special children.
With some of the profits she had accrued over the years, she had established a foundation to help terminally ill children realize at least one dream before they became unable to do so. Known simply as 'Minako's Dream Warriors', other celebrities had soon rallied to her cause, devoting time, energy, and funds and her project had continued to grow at a staggering rate. After four years, she now required a full time staff just to handle the enormous demands of what had started out as a simple need to give love to those who so desperately needed it, and a little beauty to those innocent souls being destroyed by the ugliness of cancer.
A wane smile crossed her lips. Artemis, wise old cat that he was, had not been surprised, merely pointing out to her that he would expect no less from Sailorvenus. Love and beauty, after all, were reflections of what made her who she was. They were even more a part of her than her slightly turned-up nose, and her amazingly agile mind and body. Though she could no longer wield her 'love-me chain' or 'crescent beam', she would never be able to escape the very essence of what made her who she was. But
If she were totally honest with herself, it also kept her so busy that she really didn't have time to think about her private life. Or rather, her lack of one.
With a heavy sigh, Minako looked at the white plushy cat sleeping on the corner of her desk. She had found a great deal of comfort in his words as well as in the mentor cat who had delivered them. He was her last real link to the past. A past who's memories were as vivid to her as if their events had happened only yesterday. A past where she had known happiness, loyalty, friendship, rivalry, and love. A past that had brought her both immense pleasure and unspeakable pain.
'Mars,' the unspoken name drifted out of the winds of her subconscious mind like the prayer of a wounded heart.
Shaking off the unconscious shiver that had briefly swept over her at the thoughts that name could trigger, Minako steeled herself to face the coming encounter.
She had received word from Artemis late last night that Rei wanted, no Rei demanded to see her. When she had asked why, he had been unable to provide her an answer, as he had never been given one himself. He honestly had no idea. He only knew that Rei had told Luna it was vitally important that she see Minako as soon as possible. Luna had reported however, that Rei had seemed very agitated. Even desperate if the truth be known, but no amount of questioning on her part had persuaded the darkpriestess to share her burden with the guardian cat. Minako, at a loss about this sudden situation, had agreed to see her the next morning at . She had then proceeded to spend the rest of her night and early morning hours wondering 'why?'
Sleep, needless to say, had never fully come to her.
'What could it be?'
All through the night, she had turned the question over and over in her mind. She knew very well that Rei had a tremendous gift of 'second sight'. Could that have prompted this sudden visit? Could that explain why Rei was 'desperate' to see her for the first time in almost a year and a half?
Frowning, Minako had turned on her side, her eyes staring sightlessly at the picture on the far wall.
Though her schedule kept her pretty much on the run all the time, she did try to keep tabs on what was happening in the lives of her fellow senshi. It wasn't that hard, really. Artemis still kept in touch with Luna, who still lived with the princess who, let's face it, kept tabs on all of her old friends. Minako would actually call Usagi herself from time-to-time, just to chat. She still couldn't stop the huge grin she would get as soon as Usagi recognized her voice and screamed "Minako-chan!" in her ear! She had grown very fond of spending time with her energetic princess, even if it was more likely than not, just on the phone.
They did, sometimes, manage a meal together, and Minako honestly felt that Usagi was the closest she would ever come to having a real 'best friend', especially since Rei seemed so far away from her now.
Flopping over on her back, Minako had lain there, her eyes still wide open, and listened to the mantle clock ticking in the next room. But time had past, and since the ceiling had offered her no answers, she had finally succumbed to stress and fatigue. Closing her eyes, she caught a couple of hours of restless dreaming instead.
Minako shook herself and came back to the present.
Rei would be there in twenty minutes, and Minako still could not figure out why.
Going back to what she did know, the idol singer kept coming back to the same thing. Rei must have seen something that had really rattled her in one of her visions. Why else would she come to the 'leader of the senshi' after all this time? But, what? What had upset her so much that she had decided to break her self-imposed exile where Minako was concerned?
No, Rei was practical and not prone to panicking. She would have gathered more information, and then gone after it herself, unless she felt it was too much for her to handle on her own. Then, she would have sought the help of the others before coming to her. She also would have not kept it hidden from Luna.
A new, evil menace?
No, that couldn't be it either. Rei would never keep that information to herself. One of the reasons for her gift was so she could warn the rest of them of impending danger.
Drumming her fingers impatiently on her desk, Minako asked herself what else the fire could have shown the priestess. If there was no danger from the future or the present, then what if she had started to remember...
"...the past," Minako said aloud, the words seemingly twice as loud in the quiet of the office.
That had to be it!
All of a sudden, Minako was nervous for an entirely different reason.
Of course! That had to be it! Why else was she so agitated, so desperate to see her after all this time? And so quickly as well! Why else did she not tell Luna and Artemis why?
Though the others had always known the true nature of the relationship between Venus and Mars, they had never made it their practice to impose their personal lives on the others. They had always kept their private lives strictly private, each vowing to love each other only, but to keep there relationship separate from their senshi responsibilities.
Minako smiled and felt a thrill of anticipation replace the cold dread she had felt before. Her Reiko had finally regained her memories! Her smile grew into a happy grin. Her Reiko was coming back to her, and all the lonely, aching years of solitude and self-denial were finally coming to an end.
'But, what if she doesn't want you back?' the unbidden question came into her mind.
Minako paused a moment in her happy thoughts of celebration and reconciliation and simply raised her eyes to her 'brag wall'.
There, in the very center of a wall literally covered in brass plaques, awards and certificates of appreciation from all over the world, was a moderately sized frame that held two dried, long-stemmed roses, and a simple white card. Minako remembered vividly when she had first received them...
It had been before the official announcement of her first major award. Minako had walked back into her office to find a new decoration centered perfectly on her desk. Strangely drawn to the elegant vase, she had slowly moved forward, never taking her eyes off the two long-stemmed roses, one a deep rich red, and the other a brilliant yellow/orange. Mesmerized, she had reached forward to retrieve the small card that simply read, "Congratulations, V. No one could deserve it more. Mars Reiko."
They had meant all the world to her, and she had framed and matted them herself, carefully drying the roses between the pages of a huge book, then stacking practically every other book she owned on top of them to try and preserve the precious petals for all time. To her, they had meant that Rei still thought of her, and maybe, just maybe, still loved her on a deeper, if still hidden level.
And so, she had clung to hope.
She raised her eyes to the clock once again.
Startled a bit, Minako quickly rose from her desk and stepped over to her private washroom. Checking out her make-up once again, she just had time to run a brush through her hair before her intercom buzzed. Rushing back to her desk, she answered a bit breathlessly, "Yes?"
"Ms. Hino is here to see you," her secretary informed her.
"Yes, thank you. Please send her right in," Minako said, settling herself back in her chair, and trying to look nonchalant. She suddenly was overly concerned about what she should do with her hands and ended up resting them in front of her on the desk.
The click of the doorknob. The rush of air from the outer room.
And there she was.
Dressed in a gun-metal gray business suit, the burgundy of her silk blouse brought the darker tones of her skin and eyes into sharp relief. With matching black pumps and handbag, Rei looked absolutely stunning to the woman who most of the civilized world thought was one of its most beautiful. As elegant as Rei's hair looked up in its french twist, Minako couldn't help but wish she could see it down and dancing around her shoulders in wild abandon, the way she knew they both liked it best.
A moment passed in silence as they both contemplated each other, until Rei finally broke the moment.
"Uh, Minako?" she asked, a bit concerned at the way the idol seemed to be studying her. "Is everything okay? I mean, I hope I didn't overdress, but I wasn't really sure how I was supposed to dress to come here."
"No! No, you look just fine," Minako said, finally snapping out of her trance. "I'm sorry for my bad manners! Please, come in. Sit down," she added, indicating the comfortable arm chair in front of her desk. "I'm sorry if I seem all out of sorts, but to be quite honest, I didn't sleep very well last night, and..."
"Minako," came the calm, male voice of reason.
"Yes?" she asked, stopping mid-ramble.
"You're babbling," Artemis pointed out.
Stunned into silence, Minako stared at the white plushy as if she had never seen it before.
Rei laughed softly. "Hello, Artemis."
"Hello, Mars," the white cat said.
"I haven't seen you in a while," Rei reminded him. "I've missed your visits."
Minako shot a startled look from Rei to her guardian cat.
"Well, I haven't had cause to seek your help and good council for quite a while now. She has actually been using good judgment since her return." Artemis replied, totally ignoring the look of outrage he was getting from his mistress.
"I beg your pardon?" Minako said, her eyes shooting daggers at the cat. "What was that suppose to mean?"
Scooting over to the edge of the desk, Artemis made the easy leap to Rei's lap.
"Don't ask questions you really don't want the answers to," he stated, enjoying the quick, firm scratching he was getting behind his ears. Winking at his charge, he moved to the coffee table and settled into a more comfortable location to observe both of the girls without appearing to interfere with their discussion.
After one last look at the plushy, Minako turned her full attention back to Rei.
"So, what brings you here?" she asked, and noticed that Rei's' smile of a moment ago was now gone. The elegant and confidant young woman who had entered her office suddenly seemed uneasy and very uncomfortable.
"What is it, Rei?" she asked sitting in the chair next to Rei's. "It must be something very important to get you up here to see me," she gently prodded.
"It is," Rei said, looking up at Minako quickly. It's just," she hesitated again. "It's just, now that I'm here with you, it's difficult to find the words to tell you something I know you're not going to want to hear."
"It's okay, Rei," Minako encouraged the girl, reaching forward to lay a comforting hand on Rei's arm. "You saw something. Something in your fire, didn't you?" she asked.
Nodding, Rei looked down at her hands, now clinched into fists in her lap.
"Was it something you thought might hurt me?" Minako prompted.
"No!" Rei exclaimed abruptly, looking up to catch Minako's eyes. "It's something I know WILL hurt you, even kill you if we don't stop it now!"
Frowning, Minako sat back, her first hint that it wasn't what she wanted to hear now clear.
"Was this a memory from the past, or a vision of the future you saw?" At Rei's hesitation, she encouraged her. "Don't be afraid to tell me the truth, Reiko-chan," she said, unconsciously allowing the very private diminutive to slip out. A small part of her still hoping to hear the words she had waited so long for.
"The future," Rei whispered, her eyes darting away from Minako's.
The disappointment was crushing. However, Minako was nothing if not a very talented professional. Closing her eyes briefly and swallowing back the momentary pain that assailed her, she forced herself back into the present and her role as the leader of the senshi.
"What did you see?" she asked, her voice now firmer as she asked her second-in-command for details. "Was it a youma? Did you see a new enemy approaching?" As Rei continued to hesitate, her voice rose with her level of frustration. "Speak up, Mars! How can we plan to defeat this thing if you won't even tell me what it is we're fighting?"
"Your tumor, damnit!" Rei finally spat out, her eyes rising to meet Minako's. "Your brain tumor is returning," she repeated in a more normal voice.
At Minako's stunned silence, she continued in a soft, steady tone, trying to convey the importance of the gift the fire had given them. "I saw it last night in the sacred fire. I wanted to get word to you immediately, so we can get it treated before... before it has a chance to kill you like it did last time," she said. "Minako, this time we have a chance! If we can get it treated before you've even shown early signs of a problem, then we can probably..."
"I don't believe you."
"What!" Rei asked, staring incredulously at the idol singer.
"I said, rather plainly I thought, 'I don't believe you!" Rising to her feet, Minako glared down at thepriestess still seated before her. "I always knew you resented me and were jealous of my authority over you, but I never knew you were so cruel, or so arrogant!"
"Be quiet, Artemis!" she spat at the cat, her emotions pressed as far as they could go.
Rei was already on her feet. "Minako, how could you believe I would even dream of doing anything so cruel? I would never lie about such a thing! How could you ever question my loyalty to you?"
Minako smiled bitterly. "Oh Rei! How could I not?" she asked. "If only you knew! If only you could remember..." she began. Then, she stopped herself. "But the sad truth is, you can't, can you? So, why should I believe anything you say now? Why? Can you just tell me why, Mars?" she practically shouted.
"Because... because," Rei started, flabbergasted by the venom of Minako's assault and the confusion of her own emotions. "Because I care about you!" she finally got out. "Because I don't want to watch you die again!" she finished, all the honesty she could pour into her words as she reached out for the other woman.
"Don't touch me," Minako said, jerking away from the whisper of Rei's fingertips against her arm. "Don't ever touch me again," she whispered, putting her arms around herself and turning her back to Rei.
"You know," the idol began, "we've all believed every word you're ever said before, without question. Every little dream, every little vision we've taken as the absolute truth, but you know what? I won't! Not this time! I don't believe you! I have never felt better in either one of my lives. I have more energy and more drive than ever before! Why should I choose to believe your superstitious mumbo-jumbo now, just because you say so?"
At a loss, Rei stood there, and not knowing what to do or say, yet still desperate to make the situation better. "Minako, I think you should..."
"Get out. Now."
The words were spoken quietly, and yet they still seemed to echo in the silence of the room.
Though her first response was to refuse and to argue severely with the stubborn idol singer, Rei took a deep breath and exercised something she wasn't generally known for. Her patience.
"Okay, Venus," she answered, following her leaders example. "I'll go, and if it pleases my 'commander', you will never have to see me again. I do, however, have one request." At Minako's silence she continued, "Go see Ami."
"So, you've told her this hog-wash then, too?" Minako spat.
"No, I haven't, Mina," she said with weary patience, her own slip of the tongue missed by the both of them. "Contrary to what you believe, I would never betray your trust. If you won't go see Ami, then fine. Go see another doctor, but whatever you do, please! Just go get checked. What could it hurt?" she asked. "Who knows? You may even prove me wrong," she said, a feeble attempt at humor that sank in the tension of the room like a stone. "Minako, please..."
"Oh, are you still here?" Minako finally turned around and asked, glaring defiantly at the sincerity of the young priestess.
That was all it took, as what little patience Rei had finally snapped. "Okay then, fine! Do whatever you want! That's what you've always done anyway, isn't it? Hold people off at arms length so they won't get too close. What are you afraid of anyway, Miss 'Love and Beauty'? Afraid to feel? Afraid to need someone else? Afraid to love and be loved? Afraid of the beauty that is love itself? Well then, fine!" Rei yelled, her eyes flashing fire. "Go ahead and kill yourself! I've tried! The Kami knows I've tried, but I can't stand here and watch you die again! I just can't do it! Damnit all, I won't do it!" she stormed.
In a towering rage, Rei turned for the door, opening it with a force that sent it slamming into the wall so hard it rebounded and shut itself behind her, leaving the room in a silence so loud it was painful.
Taking a rather shaky breath, Minako answered the worried voice of her loyal friend. "Yes Artemis?"
"Are you all right?"
Giving his question a bit of thought, Minako finally answered him. "Honestly, no, Artemis." Tears beginning to well up in her eyes, she concluded, "I'm not sure I'll ever really be all right again."
END PART TWO