Echoes of a Distant Demon
by Sailor Doc
~ Chapter 3 ~
A gentle breeze blew across the earthlit balcony. The soft sounds of a waltz reached them as they swayed back and forth together in the wake of the music drifting on the soft evening air.
The moment was intimate. In this very public place, they were all alone in a very private world of their own making. Here, in these warm familiar arms, she felt truly safe. This was her private safe haven. Her refuge from command and the often crushing responsibilities that came with it. Sighing, she looked up into that much beloved face.
She would never forget the look of her. The dark brown eyes that would flash in lavender and violet lights to reflect a spike in her volatile emotions. The high cheekbones, so gently sculpted in the alabaster of her face and skin. The full, red lips. So soft and warm, and yet so firm and at times demanding as they supped from her own willing mouth. The long, dark hair that when allowed to flow freely seemed to wrap around her like a protective cape.
"I love you, Reiko, she whispered, afraid to speak louder and break the shell of this quiet space.
"No more than I love you back, her partner replied, a teasing petulance in her tone as she had gazed into her eyes. Touching their foreheads together she had continued with a soft smile, the low alto of that voice sending shivers down her spine. "I will always love you..."
Startled out of her fitful doze, Minako came back to reality slowly. Rubbing her eyes, she realized she was in the back of her limo and on the way to the stadium for her big fund raising concert. Closing her weary eyes again, she yawned.
Her day had started early, to be precise, when she had forced herself to get up and begin the early morning workout routine she really hadn't felt like doing. Forty minutes later, she had showered and then dragged herself into a quick breakfast consisting of one granola bar and half a grapefruit.
Afterwards, she had dressed and headed into the office for the pre-activities meeting that was necessary to assure that all the other meetings, interviews, and concerts scheduled for the day went off without a hitch. After this first meeting, she had rushed to Tokyo Children's Hospital for her weekly visit there. Then, she had given two interviews: one to a local radio station about the concert that afternoon, and the second, a luncheon interview, to a correspondent from Modern Woman magazine which focused on her success in both the worlds of entertainment and finance. Which finally brought her here, to the back of this limo and her somewhat worried bodyguard.
"Aino-san?" he asked again.
"Yes, Hibiki. I'm awake," she said grudgingly. "What is it?"
A bit upset at having to wake his over-worked boss, he said, Im sorry to disturb you Aino-san, but we're about ten minutes from the stadium. We thought you might like to..."
"Yes, you're right," she said, smiling slightly. "I must look a sight."
"No! No!" he added quickly as the other bodyguard elbowed him in the ribs sharply. "You look beautiful, as always!"
Picking up her make-up case from the seat next to her, Minako proceeded to 'fix her face'. "You're both very sweet," she said as she worked. "But to be honest, you don't lie very well."
"No, really we " the other guard began.
Giving them a tired, yet still mischievous grin, she said, "It's ok, really! And I do appreciate you waking me up with enough time to make myself more presentable." Looking back in her mirror as she applied fresh powder she asked, "Is everything in place at the stadium? Are there any problems I should know about before I get there?"
"No ma'am, Hibiki answered, all business now. "All the other performers are either already there, or en route, like you."
"Security?" she asked, checking out the lipstick she'd just applied.
"In place," Souma said.
"You're sure?" she asked, looking directly at the large man who had just spoken.
"Absolutely, Aino-san," he answered. "We're taking no chances that the letter we received last week was a hoax."
As if she didn't have enough on her plate, a letter had arrived at her office last week, from a party or parties unknown that had claimed to be part of a local terrorist organization. It had been childishly written on cheap notebook paper, and had threatened both her and her upcoming charity concert. Their purpose, it said, was to acquire funds, media attention, and her. The author of the note had then spent the next paragraph or so illustrating exactly what he would like to do to her personally, in graphic detail. It was disgusting, and she shivered at the memory of those ugly, violent words.
"It was probably just some teenage prankster who doesn't know any better," Souma continued. "But in this day and age we can't afford to take that chance. All the appropriate legal agencies have been notified and are in place. We don't expect any problems we can't handle."
Nodding in approval, Minako said, "Ok then. I'll leave all that in your capable hands." Looking at them as they sat across from her in their matching black suits and sunglasses she added. "You've both been with me for four years now, and in that time I have never had to deal with any situations that were too terribly uncomfortable because you were with me. You have my complete trust and confidence, and I know I can rely on you as I can no one else."
A brief image of Mars flashed across her weary mind before she could prevent it, and she frowned slightly. Neither man seemed to notice though, both feeling as if they had grown ten feet tall at her confidence in them.
Now finished with her preparations, Minako put her case away and gazed out the window. In the distance she could see the stadium getting closer, but the excitement she would normally be feeling at her approaching performance seemed to eluding her. Instead of concentrating on her program and her dance routines, her subconscious rebelled, trigger by that fleeting thought of the one person she least wanted to think about.
"Damn you, Mars," she whispered to her reflection in the window. Yet, even as the words left her lips, she wondered if she were really cursing herself instead.
In the month since Rei had come to her office, Minako had done everything within her power to forget the encounter had ever occurred. Opening the appointment book on top of her desk, she had filled every possible moment of time she had available, and even opened up blocks she had previously crossed out for personal down time. To the horror of her secretary, and the delight of her manager, she had suddenly become twice as accessible as she had ever been before, agreeing to every signing, every interview, every fan event, every charity request, every impromptu concert that she could possibly book.
'I'm not going to die!' she had insisted to herself. 'Usagi reset everything, and I was cured! There is no way I would be made to go through all that again! No way!'
She was convinced of this, and nothing anyone could say to her would change her mind. She had been concerned that she would be deluged with frantic calls from Usagi, Ami, and Makoto, but they had never materialized. Part of her was almost hurt by that, thinking that her fellow senshi didn't care, but a conversation with Usagi two weeks later had proven otherwise. Usagi had rambled on in her usual carefree way, and it had never been even hinted at, much less mentioned. Clearly, her crusading Princess didn't have a clue, proving part of Rei's story. She had obviously not said anything about it to the others.
After all, Rei was not a rambler, and rarely said anything she didn't mean. Unless you pissed her off, that is...
"I heard we were to protect you, but I didn't hear anything about being your babysitter!"
Minako shook her head at that, trying to rid herself of that particularly painful memory.
tried many times to discuss Rei's revelations with her, but she had brushed him
off every time. He would point out that Rei was not prone to lying. That, to
the contrary, she was a highly principled person, with a well established
reputation for gifts that they, as members of the
She had not even dignified his comments with a reply. Instead, she had put on her earphones and continued listening to some new songs she was considering for her next album.
The atmosphere in the apartment between them had become strained and cautious. She hated that, as she missed the easy camaraderie she normally had with him. Just another thing to make her miserable that had Mars' name written all over it.
'Miserable. What an appropriate term,' she thought bitterly. But the actual reality of the situation was, she had no one to blame but herself. 'How foolish,' she had thought more than once. 'How foolish I was to set myself up for that! How could I think that after all this time, she would finally remember? She, with all her visions of the present and the future, is still totally blind to the past!'
"I will always love you, my Mina..."
Angry tears had streamed down her cheeks that first night, as Artemis had stayed by her side in quiet comfort. Yes, she had been angry. Angry at the possible return of the cancer that had already taken her life once. Angry at Rei for telling her about it. Angry at her also, for not remembering their past. But most of all, angry at herself for being such a fool.
For the bitter, unrelenting truth was that she still loved Rei with all her heart. She knew she always had and always would. There was nothing she could do to change that.
"We're almost there, Aino-san," Hibiki said with calm efficiency. Minako nodded her head, and then turned to look once again at the world outside her window. With sad and lonely eyes, she viewed the beautiful, clear blue sky and saw nothing but uncertainty and unending solitude. Closing her eyes, she did something she couldn't remember doing for a long, long time. She prayed. From the bottom of her heart, she prayed. For hope, for guidance, and maybe, just maybe, a little divine intervention?
If it wasn't too much to ask?
Out of the darkness in the quiet room, she felt the familiar arms reach around her, even as she hung her dark red traveling cloak on its hook beside their door. "You missed me, I see," she said, unable to stop the slow grin that spread across her tired features. Turning, she took the other woman in her arms.
"What gave you that idea?" came the playful reply as her partner tightened her earlier hold. "Was it something I said?"
"No," the weary traveler said.
"I didn't think so..." the other woman murmured, letting her actions speak louder than words.
Lips, urgent and compelling against then curve of her neck...
Strong, yet gentle hands caressing her, stroking her back, then coming to rest on her hips...
A gentle tugging, bringing their bodies more firmly into contact; a hint of delights yet to come...
And all thoughts of fatigue, along with the need to rest were forgotten as she pulled her lover tightly to her chest, and captured her questing lips in a searing kiss.
"I've missed you too," she rasped much out later. "My Mi..."
Rei frowned. The sound of her arrow as it entered the target was usually sweet to her, but today it was different. Instead of her usual bullseye, she had scored about two finger widths to its right. Her timing was off. Her rhythm was off. Her concentration was off.
She was off.
'Damn her,' she thought. 'I am not going to keep dwelling on this!' Taking a deep, calming breath, she reached for another arrow. Forcing herself to clear her mind, she concentrated on the age old motions that had always settled her spirit and soothed her mind. Notching the arrow with practiced ease, she slowly and very thoughtfully raised it to its ready position. To the outside observer she was the picture of polished discipline. Her form, her manner, the very essence of the Zen archer. In one smooth, fluid motion she drew the bow and froze as if she had been craved in that position. Her eyes, her thoughts, her concentration all focused on a single point. A single purpose. A single goal. She released the projectile.
It was a shame her heart couldn't join the whole. She missed the mark by four finger widths.
Lowering her bow in total frustration, Rei glared at the target as if the fault were somehow its instead of her own.
"Think you should give it a rest?"
Turning, Rei looked in the direction the voice had come from. She was not surprised to see no one there, as the voice was very distinctive. Instead, she looked down at the rocks that lined the footpath to the archery range.
"I mean, it looks like you may be too distracted to do any good just now."
"Artemis, she said, finally seeing the plush white cat come out of his hiding place. Frowning, she asked, "What brings you here?" A sudden fear clutched her heart and her face blanched white. "Minako? Is she..."
"She's all right Mars, calm down," the cat insisted. "Stubborn as always, but all right."
Breathing a sigh of relief, Rei quickly assumed a more nonchalant air. "So, what does bring you here then? I know it can't be that you want me to talk to her again, because we both know how well that went last time. Besides," thepriestess continued, looking away from him, "she has already made it abundantly clear that she doesn't believe a word I have to say."
"That's not why I came," Artemis insisted, "And that's not entirely true either."
"Excuse me?" Rei snapped, looking back at the cat incredulously. "Are we talking about the same person here? She came right out and said she thought I had just made the whole thing up because I was, oh wait! What was that list she gave me? Jealous? Resentful? Cruel? Arrogant?" Rei's voice rose on each word as if to punctuate every hurtful accusation.
"You know she didn't really mean it," the white cat said.
Turning away from him again, Rei snorted in disbelief. "She sounded pretty sure of herself to me, she said grimly.
"Mars " he began.
"How could she accuse me of such things?" She demanded, turning once again to face the guardian cat. "I've done nothing but try to protect her! To help her, and to show my support of her! And she just turns her back on me and calls ME arrogant!"
Artemis watched as Rei stood before him shaking with the strength of her righteous indignation. How, he asked himself again, had their wonderful relationship from the past life gone so horribly wrong in this one? By all rights, they should be enjoying the same closeness and partnership they had shared before, but instead all they seemed capable of when together was hurting each other. The once playful competitiveness had become twisted into a bitter, on-going rivalry. Personally, he blamed himself. He had been the one who had insisted that the dying Venus should keep herself away from her partner and her friends. Looking at Mars now, he could see that his plan to lessen their pain at Venus' passing had backfired with devastating results for both his charge and her fiery partner. Somehow, he had to find a way to help them now.
"Mars," he said, his teal green eyes looking up at her dark and angry face. "The truth is that, deep down she really does believe you! But she's scared," he confessed. "Scared in a way she never thought she would have to feel again." At her skeptical look he continued. "Think about it! She's doing the same thing she did last time. She's running, using any excuse she can come up with to not have to think about it. Last time it was 'the mission from the past life, and it killed her because she waited too long to let you convince her to hold on to the life she had with both hands! This time, its her 'causes. I don't know if you've even noticed or not, but she has doubled her personal appearances and is driving herself so hard she falls asleep each night from sheer exhaustion. Three hours later, at the most, she's up and at it again, and it never stops! It won't until she collapses or falls over dead," he said, his worried eyes looking at the ground in front of his feet.
"Why?" Rei asked. "Why does she do this to herself? Why just throw her life away? Because she's scared?" The priestess shook her head. "I'm sorry, that's just not good enough."
"I know that as well as you do," Artemis insisted, "and I agree with you wholeheartedly, but I can not convince her otherwise!" Allowing his frustration to show, he said, "She will not even allow me to bring the subject up for conversation, much less discuss it with me calmly and rationally."
"So," Rei asked, looking him directly in the eyes, her hand tightening around the bow still clenched in her fist. "What are you going to do? I mean, we can't just allow her to kill herself like this again."
"We?" the white cat asked, the first real hint of hope on his face.
Rei scowled down at the white plushy momentarily, then quickly looked away. "Well sure. I mean, I really can't think of anything I can do directly, but I'm willing to support any effort you make to force her to see reason," she blustered, a little uncomfortable with the way he was watching her.
"You really haven't given up on her, have you? You really do care?" he asked, watching her reactions carefully.
Blushing, Rei answered, "Well, of course I do! I mean, she is a member of my team, and whether I like it of not, we're still connected to each other on a level we could never be with non-senshi."
Artemis secretly smiled to himself. He had heard and seen what he wanted to. "So, what do you suggest?" he asked.
"I wish I knew, she answered. "But we both know I can't talk to her. She's probably had me banned from her building anyway," she added in a grudging attempt at humor.
"She has," Artemis informed her.
"What? I was just kidding," she said incredulously.
"She was pretty upset, Mars," Artemis soothed.
"What of it?" she growled. "I'm still the one that was accused of lying and all manner of..." At his long suffering look she sighed. "Oh, all right! I'll let it go," she said, rolling her eyes. "So, since I'm out of it, what are you going to do?"
"What do you think I should do?" he asked in honest appeal.
"I don't know, she said finally turning her mind to the problem at hand. "Do you think we should talk to Usagi and the others? Maybe get their help to pressure her into getting a check up?"
"No! Absolutely not! You know as well as I do that it would have the total opposite effect on her!"
"Yeah, you're right," she agreed. "At this point, I think the only option we really have is for you to try and talk to her again. Pick your moment very carefully, though. Don't just jump on her with it as soon as she walks through the door," she added.
"And if that doesn't work?" he inquired.
"Then we'll have to force her," she said grimly.
"Do you have any idea how hard it can be to force Venus to do anything she doesn't want to do?" he asked.
"Yes, actually," she answered, a rare, sexy grin flashing briefly across her dark features. "I do. I also know that Venus never ran from a fight. She may have made a few strategic retreats, but she never ran." Looking at Artemis, she added, "We can't let her start now. Right?"
"Right, he agreed firmly. "So, what are you going to do?"
"Me?" she asked, pointing a finger at herself. "Well, as my options are somewhat limited, I'm going to do what I do best."
"And that is?"
"Consult the fire, and pray for guidance," she said in all seriousness. "A little divine intervention would be nice, too," she added under her breath, as she cast her eyes up to the sky above, looking for an encouraging sign in its bright, clear blue.
END PART THREE