The Tangled Web We Weave

by Crawlspace


~Day 7 – Friday~

~Midnight to Early Morning~



            The night air hummed with activity, as if every creature knew something was about to happen.  And that they needed to get out of the way.


            Venus followed behind Jupiter as Mercury led them to the farthest corner of the property.  The ebb and flow of their moods swirled around her – impatience, reluctance, eagerness for battle.  All of these things pulled at her, accentuating her own emotions.


            She had faith.  They knew their enemy and knew how to fight them.  They knew where they were going.  Mars had clearly described the large dining hall with its massive wooden table, cast iron chandeliers, and large fireplace.  It would be a good place to enter and exit, and Mercury would be able to find the baby once they were there.


            But she also had doubts.  The battle was going to be in unfamiliar territory.  Where they were going, there was no easy in or out.  This was someplace that could not be reached by plane or boat, and in all of Pluto’s vast memory, they had never tried to teleport with a civilian.  Her own heart ached at the idea of failure.  She feared what such an outcome would do to Jupiter, and as she watched her friend’s tension grow, she feared they wouldn’t be able to calm her long enough to even contemplate failure.


            Venus breathed in the crisp night air and focused herself by listening to the tread of their footsteps over the grass.  The process was interrupted, though, by Uranus’ fist hitting her palm.


            “When we find him, dogboy is mine,” grumbled the wind senshi.


            She could hear Mars’ smirk as the fire senshi returned with, “Only if I can help, because I don’t think Jupiter will leave any of the catgirl for me.”


            Venus shot them an unhappy look over her shoulder.  She understood the sentiment, but now wasn’t the time.  Unfortunately, the question this exchange prompted couldn’t be prevented.


            Trailing at the end of their march with Tuxedo Kamen, Pluto, and Kyo, Ami’s mother easily translated the feelings behind the words.  “Personal grudges?  You’ve had dealings with this girl before?” Kaya asked, directing the question at anyone who would answer.


            A beat of silence before Pluto accepted the responsibility of answering.  “Yes, about a year ago.  It was a random meeting that we thought had been dealt with.  We didn’t expect to ever see them again.”


            “’Them,’” repeated Kaya as she turned things over in her mind.  “They’re going after more than just the girl.”


            “And it’s personal beyond what happened tonight,” interjected Kyo.  “Why?”


            This time, Neptune answered.  “Minako was injured in that fight.  So was I.”


            “Are you often targets for those you’ve fought in the past?” asked Kaya.


            Neptune shook her head and contemplated how best to answer before settling on, “No, our battles are often more conclusive than that one turned out to be.”


            They were blessed once again with silence, even if it wasn’t completely comfortable, and before more questions could be asked, Mercury looked back at Venus.  Venus nodded, then moved back to the end of the line.  Stopping in front of Chibi-usa, she indicated this was the end of the march for those staying behind.


            “We’ll be back soon,” she promised, smiling at Kyo and Kaya.  “We’ll all be back, and these guys will make sure you’re safe in the meantime.”


            Luna and Artemis sat up proudly, projecting as much reassuring confidence as they could.  Chibi-usa and Tuxedo Kamen gave her a nod, acknowledging silently that they knew this was going to be a long, tense wait.


            “You may want to move back a bit,” said Venus as she moved to join her comrades.  “This might get a bit rough.”


            Leaving Ami’s family in the most capable hands she could, she took her place in the circle.  “Okay, real quick one last time.  Mars leads us there.  When we get there, we stay together.  First we find Miki,” her eyes cut over to Mars, “and then we’ll make whatever point we need to.”


            A nod from Mars, as well as several of the others.  They were ready.  Hands joined and eyes closed.  Venus could feel the ground tremble as the power built.  The focus of their energy wrapped around Mars, and a moment later, they were gone.


            Kyo shielded his eyes and stumbled back several steps as the blinding rainbow of light set off a small earthquake.  Dirt and rock churned up into a perfect circle, which was all that remained of the girls once the light had faded.  He stared at the empty, destroyed ground in wide-eyed wonder and whistled in disbelief.  “Well, damn,” he finally muttered.  “I could explain the bedroom, but how the hell I am I supposed to explain that?”


            Kaya’s frown was so tight it looked painful, and her brother’s comment pushed her over the edge.  She started to turn, but before she could take a step, Kyo grabbed her arm.


            “You can’t keep running,” he said quietly, the sorrow in his eyes more than she could deal with.


            She pulled away from him, staring him down for just a second before going back up to the house alone.



*        *       *       *


            For something so little, it made an awful amount of noise.  Kai frowned at his little sister’s latest mess and jacked up the volume on his headphones.


            Leaning against the cold stone wall in Kei’s room, Kai watched in mean-spirited amusement as his sister struggled to get the human baby to shut up.  Dark wisps of hair fell into her eyes as she bounced the retched creature at arms length, which only seemed to make it cry harder.  Ti looked almost as distressed as the baby.  He covered his ears with his hands and looked pleadingly at his big brother.


            Kai just smirked, showing a flash of fang.  “You two are in so much trouble.”


            “She did it!” yelled out Ti, pointing an accusatory finger at Kei.


            The girl turned her head and hissed at her youngest brother.  “Stupid puppy!” she shot back, causing the red bow that sat haphazardly between her ears at the top of her head to finally fall away.  A sheet of hair fell across her face, and she tried to huff it away.


            Now completely frustrated, she moved over to the round, cushioned bassinette she’d found to match the dark blue and gold fabrics in her room.  She laid the baby down, roughly pulled her hair away from her face, and marched over to stand in front of Kai.


            The posturing did nothing to faze her older brother.  He only stared down at her looking as though he were very bored.


            Kei fumed.  In a sudden impulse, she balled up a fist and punched her brother in the arm.  “Jerk!  And don’t you dare say anything to Shin!”


            “Or what?” threw back Kai, knocking his headphones off his ears so they hung lopsided around his neck.  He stood to his full height, his lanky form towering over her.  “What is it you think you can do?”


            There was a lot she could do, thought Kei as she stared daggers at Kai.  She just wasn’t sure how successful any of it would be.  However, before she could form a doable list of mischievous deeds, the sudden quiet in the room seized her attention.


            She and Kai forgot about each other and looked over at Ti.  The little boy grinned and made silly noises down into the bassinette.  His brown eyes lit up when the baby grasped his fingers, and he grinned even wider when teary blue eyes blinked at him in curiosity.


            “I want to name you Henry,” said Ti as the baby hiccupped.  “Can we name him Henry, Kei?”


            The little girl frowned, but rather than say anything, she shrugged.  “Whatever.  Just make sure it doesn’t cry anymore.”  She walked over to stand beside Ti and stared down at the baby.  She smiled widely, then reached over and ruffled Ti’s sandy blond hair.  “Okay, next we feed him.  Then you get to change him.”


            Ti looked at her, confused.  “Do we have to change him?  I like Henry the way he is.”


            Kai laughed at the evil grin on his sister’s face right that moment.  “You are in so much trouble,” he murmured through a smirk of his own.  Then he pulled his headphones back on, turned the volume up as high as it would go, stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and meandered out of the room. 


            The techno synth vibrated out of the speakers and into his ears, leaving a pleasant tingle in his bones.  Kei closed his eyes and his head bounced in rhythm as he navigated the hallways at an easy pace.  His footing was sure even without his sight, and behind his eyelids, he could see the turbulent, uneven patterns of the music.


            But then his footing faltered.  His eyebrows knit together in confusion as a dull orange glow invaded the familiar light patterns of the song.  The synthesized rhythm was underscored by an odd rumble, and before he had time to open his eyes and see it coming, he was lifted off his feet and tossed aside like a crumpled piece of paper in a massive explosion of earth and stone.



*       *       *       *


            The castle hallway was eerily quiet, the only light coming from wooden torches that lined the rough stone walls.  The air hung heavy around them, as if the castle itself were holding its breath, waiting.  Then, in the shadows of the dancing firelight, one tiny sound emerged.


            The toe of her shoe tapping in measured annoyance, Mars stood on one side of the small ditch created by Uranus’ attack and frowned down at the pile of rubble with an unconscious dogboy buried in the middle of it.  Then she turned her displeasure onto Uranus.


            On the other side of the ditch, Uranus looked back at her and shrugged.  “What?  He’s not dead.  See, look.”  She kicked aside some of the debris and felt around until she found the front of his shirt.  What was left of his CD player fell aside as she hauled up his limp form.  “Now get ready,” she said, about to prove she hadn’t ruined all of Mars’ fun.


            Mars braced herself, her fist opening to reveal a ready flame.


            Uranus grinned, then went all serious as she raised a hand and slapped Kai across the face.  “Come on, snap out of it!” she barked, giving him a rough shake.


            Kai groaned, the sound cutting off as he was slapped again.  He growled at whatever was attacking him, his eyes glowing red as they snapped open.  His body hurt like hell, though, and before he could command it to do anything, he was jerked aside and manhandled to the floor.


            “Son of a…” muttered Mars as she was pushed aside by Jupiter.  The flame in her hand extinguished as she watched the other girl knock dogboy from Uranus’ grip and toss him back onto the pile of cold earth.


            Jupiter leaned down over him, pinning him down with her knee in his gut and her fists wrapped tightly in the tattered remains of his shirt.  “Where’s my son?!” she demanded.


            Kai blinked at her, still dazed and reacting on instinct.  He growled low in his throat, baring his fangs as he did.  Fangs that were suddenly no longer there as an electrified fist slammed into his face.


            “That was a warning,” said Jupiter, her voice cold and hard.  “Now I’m going to ask you one more time.  Where. Is. My. Son?”


            Blood trickling down his throat and nose, Kai gagged, unable to speak through his broken mouth.  His eyes were already swelling shut, leaving him little more than slits to see through.  But what he could see terrified him.  Her shadowed face was that of a demon’s, her eyes a murderous green.  His blood stained her gloved fist, and with one more blow, she would kill him.  So he gave her what she demanded.


            Raising a shaking hand, he tried to point down the hallway.  “Kei,” he gurgled out in a grossly distorted fashion, and he prayed she understood.


            It must have been enough.  In a breath, she was gone, and Kai relaxed as he listened to the others chase after her.  Someone cried out her name, the sound desperate.  That was the last thing he heard as everything around him faded to black.



*       *       *       *


            It wasn’t the answer she wanted, but it was enough to get her started.  Jupiter released the demon and headed in the direction he had pointed.  The girl was here, and she would tear down every wall in this dank, dark castle to find her if she had to.


            “Mako-chan, wait!”


            Had it been any other voice, she would have ignored it.  Her feet slowed until they stopped, allowing Mercury to catch up.


            The girl came around in front of her.  Their eyes met and they took a collective breath, its release equally shaky.  Then Mercury held up her mini-computer.  A map Jupiter didn’t fully understand appeared, and at the top of the screen, a bluish-green dot pulsed gently.


            “That way,” said Mercury, her voice an unsteady calm.  “Up two corridors, then left.  I’ll lead.”


            Jupiter nodded, and with the sound of their comrades’ feet trailing behind them, they went to reclaim their son.



*       *       *       *


            A rare curse flitted from Venus’ lips as she admitted to complete loss of what little control she’d had over this whole situation.  “Come on!” she called as she began the chase after Jupiter and Mercury.  “Uranus, catch up to them and…”


            Her command was abruptly halted along with their stride as a giant, black-furred beast appeared in the junction of the corridors.  Saliva dripped from razor sharp fangs as it growled out its displeasure with them.  Dark eyes began to glow a deep red, and it reared back to strike.


            But this time, Mars was ready.


            The glow of the creature’s eyes paled in the flame of her bow, and as it lunged forward, her arrow flew.


            The creature howled in pain and fury as the fiery arrow pierced its right shoulder and knocked it off balance.  The creature fell to the ground and rolled, hitting the wall.  Breathing hard, more from anger than pain, the creature began to rise, its focus now on Mars.


            Mars didn’t give it the chance.  Another arrow flew, striking the creature’s left shoulder and pinning it to the wall.  The smell of burning flesh and fur wafted through the air as a third arrow was released, striking it in the left thigh and securing it more fully to the wall.


            Sailormoon gagged at the stench as the dog-like creature bellowed in agony.  She turned away and moved closer to Pluto to hide her reaction, but as the howls tapered off, she slowly looked back.  The creature slumped against the wall, held in place by Mars’ arrows, and slowly morphed into a human form.  He was tall and thin, with thick curly black hair and a goatee that made him look sinister.  His brown eyes glared at Mars and Venus, though a cloud of impending unconsciousness tinged their depth, taking away some of the ferocity.


            Mars held her bow at the ready, standing one step behind Venus as the arrows that immobilized the now human looking demon began to wisp out.  As the last arrow faded, he fell unceremoniously to the floor.  All that moved were his eyes, and he looked up at them, one lip curling as a growl rumbled from deep in his chest.


            “Go ahead,” challenged Mars.  “See which one of us is faster.”


            The demon glared at her.  In a deep, echoy voice, he demanded, “Who are you?  Why did you attack us?”


            Venus wanted to scream.  Instead, she stood up straighter and took a step forward.  “A child who belongs to us was taken.  We’ve come to get him back.”


            The demon rolled his eyes and sighed in an annoyed manner.  “You’re Kei’s humans.  She took the kitten after I told her not to.”  He thought to wave his hand dismissively, but the burning agony in his limbs made him think otherwise.  Displeasure rumbled in his throat, and he gruffed in obvious pain.  “Find her and do what you wish with her.  Kill her if it pleases you.  Just take your child and leave here without doing any further destruction.”


            Taken aback by his response, Venus glanced over at Mars, who only shrugged.  She didn’t need to look back at Sailormoon to see the horrified expression on her princess’ face.


            The sound of thunder and splintering wood saved her from having to say any more.  Turning her attention away from the demon, Venus shouted, “Let’s go!” before leading them in the direction of a vengeful Jupiter.



*       *       *       *


            It was a magnificent explosion.  Wood and stone cracked, then vaporized into a thick cloud of ozone under the force of Jupiter’s attack.  Through all of it, though, the only thing she heard was the crying.


            Electricity still dancing along her fingertips, she charged through what was left of the wall.  She could feel Mercury at her heels, and her partner’s anxiousness fed into the already chaotic cadence of her own emotions.  Miki was here.  She would get him back.  She would turn this entire castle to rubble if she had to.


            And this time, the girl wouldn’t escape.


            Ash and dust burned her eyes as she tried to focus.  Debris made her footing less sure.  She felt Mercury’s hand on her arm, and her eyes found what they were seeking.  Through the settling cloud, she saw the girl just well enough to realize her target.


            Before any of them had so much as a chance to take a breath, Jupiter moved forward.  Her boots trampled over the remains of a glass baby bottle, its contents retreating into the cracks and crevices of the stone floor.  The girl herself wasn’t so lucky.  This time Jupiter didn’t miss as her fingers wrapped into the fabric of Kei’s dress.  A strangled squeak issued forth, followed by a breathless huff as the girl was slammed into the wall.  A hand at her neck held her in place, her feet dangling above the floor as she fought to stay conscious.


            The blips and bleeps of Ami’s computer abruptly stopped, and the tone of Miki’s crying changed.  For just a moment, Jupiter’s grip loosened as she looked over to see Mercury lifting Miki from the arms of a frightened little boy.  The relief she felt was a painful thing, and through the tears it brought, she looked back at the girl.


            And then we’ll make whatever point we need to.


            Jupiter’s fingers squeezed tighter.  She ignored the desperate clawing that ripped at her gloves and tore at her skin.  She was going to make her point, and it was going to be definitive.



*       *       *       *


            “Damn,” whispered Uranus long and low as they rounded the corner into what used to be the hallway.


            No kidding, thought Venus.  And you haven’t seen the half of it, yet.


            Maneuvering around debris that had survived the blast, Venus led them forward.  Smoldering, splintered wood mixed in with scorched rock, making it difficult to get through the opening in the crumbling wall.  Glowing embers danced like fireflies in the unsettled dirt and ash, burning their lungs as they tried to breathe.  But what truly stole Venus’ breath was the scene she walked into.


            Mercury held Miki close to her and covered his face before turning her back to the boy crying desperately for her to save his sister.  Jupiter ignored them, her concentration squarely on the girl she held pinned to the wall.  The girl’s struggle was coming to a swift end as Jupiter’s bloodied hand cut off her oxygen, and the cold, distant look in those green eyes…  Venus’ heart nearly stopped, fear chilling her soul.


            Her hesitation passed quickly, though, and she moved towards Jupiter calling out orders as she went.


            “Uranus, Saturn!” she shouted, hoping she could bring order back to this mess.  “Help me with Jupiter!  Restrain the girl when she’s released, but nothing more!  The rest of you deal with Mercury and the boy!”


            They moved quickly, and much to the consternation of Mars and Neptune, Sailormoon went immediately to the boy.  She spoke to him gently and moved him away from Mercury and the others, all the while Mars trailing behind her and grumbling about her princess’ lack of sense when it came to their enemies.


            Beside Jupiter, Venus placed a hand lightly on her arm.  Beneath her fingers she could feel raw strength and focused rage wrapped in a barely controlled energy that was uniquely Jupiter’s.  Standing on tiptoe, she said softly, “We’re here now, you can let her go.  I’ll handle her.  Mercury’s got Miki, and that’s where you need to be.”  Her hand moved from Jupiter’s arm and rested gently on her cheek.  “Trust me to do this, Koto.  Trust me.”


            The storm in Jupiter’s eyes lifted just a bit, and she looked at Venus.  The blonde fell back on her feet and smiled.  “That’s it.  Now go on.  I’ll finish up here.”


            Jupiter looked back at the girl, then released her grip.  Kei’s limp body fell to the floor, and Jupiter turned and walked away.


            Hitting the floor jolted the girl, and she gasped a raspy breath.  She tried to sit up straight as she coughed violently, her bloodshot eyes tearing as she held her damaged throat.  But before she could get up enough to even see her savior, the metallic *shing* of a blade cutting through the air made her freeze.


            The blade of Saturn’s glaive stopped abruptly in front of her face, and Kei pushed herself hard against the wall in a futile effort to get away from it.  The blade only followed her, coming to rest at the base of her throat, the cold metal whispering against her skin.  She licked her lips, and her eyes traveled up the staff of the glaive.


            Death frowned down at her, the purple depths of its eyes drawing her in and pulling her under the icy black mists.  A warm voice tickled against her ear, but rather than find comfort in it, she shivered in fear.


            Having knelt down beside the girl, Venus kept her voice low as she spoke.  “The order right now is to let you live, but only because I think it would hurt my friend more to let you die.  I’m not completely sure about that, though, so this is how it’s going to be.  If you or your brothers ever come near us again, we’ll test my judgment by letting her finish what she started.  We are not toys, and we don’t like being played with, and when you find your brothers, you’ll realize just how lucky you really are.”


            Venus stood and looked over to Jupiter.  Her friend held her child in one arm and pulled Mercury to her with the other.  Tears had spilled over, leaving tracks in the dust that stained their cheeks.  Jupiter’s control still balanced on a hair trigger, but at least her focus was where it needed to be.


            “We’re leaving,” announced Venus, then she moved over to Jupiter.  She stroked the baby’s head and grinned down at him, thankful that they’d found him unharmed.  “You guys ready?”


            “Yes,” answered Jupiter curtly.


            Mercury nodded, the stillness of her form and the paleness of her face evidence enough that she was more than ready to leave this place and never come back.


            Sailormoon smiled sadly at Ti, then wiped his tears one last time before releasing him.  With one last look behind her, she followed Mars and the others out of the room.  It was time to go home.


*          *          *


            They returned to the same spot they had teleported from, their feet balancing on upturned earth as the sensation of weightlessness passed.  Venus felt the last vestiges of the teleport wear away, and was almost afraid to open her eyes.  But when she did, a sense of relief washed over her.


            Held securely in his sling against Jupiter’s chest, Miki fidgeted, then began to cry.  He was confused and unhappy, but he was okay.


            Venus released the breath she was holding and allowed herself a smile as Uranus clapped her on the back in congratulations.  This part of the plan had been a success, and she was going to find joy in the moment before focusing on the failures.


            An arm slung around her shoulders, and Mars gave her a crooked grin.  “Welcome home.  We did it,” she said simply.


            Nodding, Venus answered, “There’s still a lot more we need to do.”


            Mars nodded back, though Venus knew she didn’t fully understand.  But the next thing on her mental checklist was getting back to the house, not having a heart-to-heart with her partner.


            Stepping over to Mercury, she wrested some of the girl’s attention away from Jupiter and the baby.  “Ready to go,” she asked.


            “Yes, very much so,” answered Mercury as her fingers held on to Miki’s tiny hand.  “Oh, but,” she added as the thought came to her, “I think I would rather return as Ami.”


            “That’s easy enough,” said Venus with a grin.  A faint haze flowed around her and her eyes closed briefly.  The steady hum of power that made her Venus quietly faded into the background of her consciousness, and a second later, Minako opened her eyes.


            The others followed suit, all except for Jupiter.


            When Ami looked at her questioningly, she indicated her injured hand and arm.  “It’s starting to hurt.  Badly.”


            Minako rested a hand on her shoulder, and with sympathy in her voice, replied, “Speaking from experience, it’s not going to make much of a difference this time.”


            Jupiter’s frown deepened.  Grudgingly, she allowed her power to rest.  As familiar as the change was, this time it left her uncomfortable.  She suddenly felt as if she were standing there naked and defenseless in the open field.  Holding Miki to her a bit more tightly, she found herself very anxious to get back to the house.


*           *           *


            The wait on word from the girls was becoming disquieting.  Slowly tapping her thumbnail against her lips, Kaya concentrated on the even pace of her breathing, forced as it was.  Kyo had become so anxious he seemed like he was going to jump out of his skin.  She’d needed to get away from that simply to keep herself sane.  He didn’t understand that, though.  Instead, when he’d found her alone in the dark of her mother’s office, he’d accused her of some kind of macabre brooding.


            Kaya promptly closed the door in his face.


            Macabre brooding.  That wasn’t what she was doing, of course, but as she sat there alone, the words flitted across her thoughts.  In the small, soft spotlight of the desk lamp, she studied her reflection in the glass of a picture frame.  Perhaps it was her expression – not quite a frown nor a scowl – that had brought about the sentiment.


            If only it were that simple.


            Kaya closed her eyes and let the quiet of the room embrace her.  She took several deep breaths, trying to force away the discordance of her thoughts.  The night had always been her friend, offering her safe haven in its dark cover.  She knew the specter of death just as intimately, though he had never been a friend, and she was not going to allow him to chase away her beloved mistress.  Not even after tonight’s infidelity.


            The quick movement of her hand flicked off the lightswitch, and she turned the chair so she could look out the windows.  The stars and moon shone bright against the dark backdrop of the sky.  Tiny sounds filtered through the windows and replaced the sound of her own breathing, helping to settle her nerves.  The night was her friend, and she had never been more grateful.


            A rapid knock shattered her newfound peace, and she barely had time to turn around before Kyo burst in, his restless energy obviously unstated.


            “They’re back,” he said, a huge grin on his face.  “All of them.”


            Rising slowly, her outward calm in sharp contrast to her brother, Kaya asked, “Are they all right?”


            “I think so,” answered Kyo.  “I haven’t seen them up close yet, but they were all on their feet and moving on their own.”


            Kaya frowned, though it wasn’t really at him.  She took a deep breath, then moved over to Kyo.  He smiled at her and nodded, and didn’t take any offense when she turned away and started downstairs in that measured pace of hers.  Instead, he fell in a step behind and tried not to step on her heels.


*          *          *


            She was expecting soldiers to walk through the door, thought Minako.  But then she realized it wasn’t what Ami’s mother was seeing that had slowed her down, it was what she wasn’t seeing.


            Minako took a step to the left and nudged Mamoru to do the same.  That left Ami and Miki clearly visible to the doctor, and her uncertainty immediately disappeared.  Kaya walked up to them and pulled Ami into a crushing hug.  Then she reached out and touched Makoto’s cheek gently before letting that hand fall down to stroke Miki’s hair.


            The baby looked up at her wide-eyed as he chewed on the front of his shirt.  It was almost as if he were asking why she was looking at him in such a solemn manner, because his mommy had rescued him and everything was okay now.  Minako grinned, envious of his point of view.


            Still holding onto Ami tightly, Kaya said quietly, “Welcome back.  I was almost ready to start worrying about you.”  Then she saw Makoto’s injured arm and frowned.  “Or perhaps I still should worry.  Let me see.”


            Kaya let go of Ami, but stood in a way that wouldn’t let her go far.  Not that Ami wanted to, but her mother wasn’t going to give her that chance as she gingerly turned Makoto’s arm, frowning hard at the ragged, angry gashes.  “Are there any other injuries,” she asked finally.


            A few no’s and heads shaking let Kaya focus back on Makoto.  The girl was starting to get fidgety, perhaps because she’d had enough attention or perhaps because she knew there was a bottle of peroxide in her future, she wasn’t sure, but either way, that didn’t change the situation.  Letting her have her arm back, Kaya ushered her into the sitting room to be tended to.  She would be as quick as she could about it, and then would give Ami and the baby a once over just to satisfy herself.  Then perhaps they would all be able to start coming down off the tension that was still pulling at them.


*          *          *


            Minako cringed a split second before the peroxide made contact with Makoto’s skin.  Makoto’s scowl followed, and her uninjured hand balled up into a tight fist.  Minako found herself winding just as tightly.  In vivid color, memories from a lifetime ago ran behind her eyes.  Replayed were the deafening howl of the wind and the rumble of the ground as it shook beneath their feet.  In sharp contrast against the background of a charcoal gray sky, the beauty of pink petals and deep green leaves swirled, slicing through and cutting down everything in their path as blood dotted the ground in a sickening pattern.


            Minako shuddered and closed her eyes against the memory.  It would never happen again.  She wouldn’t let it.


            The light brush of fingers against her arm made her open her eyes, and she looked up into the worried violet of Rei’s gaze.


            “I think you’re the tensest person in the room right now.  You even beat out Mako-chan,” said Rei quietly.  “What’s wrong?”


            Minako looked back over to Ami and Makoto.  Ami rocked the baby in her arms, humming softly as he slowly fell asleep.  Makoto… she wasn’t completely sure what she was seeing beyond the physical discomfort. 


            Rei raised her eyebrows, silently asking the question again.


            This time, Minako nodded and tilted her head in the direction of the door.  There were things that needed to be said, and it seemed now was going to be the time to say them.


            Rei followed her out of the room and down the hall.  As they moved further from the family room, Minako crossed her arms tightly over her chest and bowed her head slightly, a thoughtful expression appearing on her face.  They were nearly to the kitchen when she stopped and turned around to face Rei.


            Blue eyes serious and intense, she asked, “Why did you follow Uranus when she attacked?”


            Thrown off by the unexpected question, Rei’s mouth opened, then closed.  Her arms crossed to mirror Minako’s, and she answered, “I’d think that would be obvious.  He was our enemy.”


            “He – they – had no idea we were there,” returned Minako.  “Why did you break off and attack?”


            Rei frowned, quickly becoming frustrated with the question.  She had given the answer, and though it was as plain as the nose on her face, it clearly wasn’t what Minako was looking for.  “First off,” threw back Rei, “between Uranus and Jupiter, I didn’t get to attack, not until I had to so that giant black furry monster wouldn’t kill us.  And second, they were the enemy!  What was I supposed to do?  Invite them for tea?!”


            Minako frowned right back at her and shook her head.  “That isn’t what I mean, and you know it.  We had a very specific plan going in there:  Stay together, get the baby, fight only if needed.  You had orders that I thought you understood, and you threw all of that away so you could get back at someone because they hurt me.”


            “That isn’t true!” defended Rei.  Then her eyes looked away and she scowled.  “Okay, maybe a little, but we got Miki back and everything is fine.  And we would have had to fight them anyway.”


            “Maybe,” said Minako, her arms dropping to her sides.  “But that isn’t the point.  There was a reason orders were issued before we went in, and not following them put all of us in danger more than we already were.  Uranus I can kind of understand ignoring me.  I haven’t earned her respect yet.  To her, I’m just the little blonde kid who’s goal in life is to beat her at Grand Prix, and that’s my fault.  But you and the others, do I still have to fight there, too?”


            “Don’t be ridiculous,” snapped Rei.  “You know you have our respect.  We won tonight, didn’t we?  That’s largely because of you.”


            “Do you have any idea how close we came to losing?” returned Minako.  “Because of me, because I’m the leader.”  She sighed and took a few steps to the side, then back again.  “Jupiter was already out of control, Mercury was on the edge.  I needed you under control to help me keep things balanced and to keep Jupiter from going off and destroying everything in her path.  We were going in quietly for a reason, Rei.  A reason you understood when we made the plan.  You saw what kind of damage Jupiter did just trying to find that little girl and Miki.  If they had been standing any closer to that bedroom wall when she let loose…”


            Minako let the sentence trail off, and Rei’s eyes fell to the floor.  “She could have killed him.”


            “If Miki had died because of something she did,” went on Minako, “she would have died with him.  Or worse.  You’ve never seen what she can do when she’s like that, and I never want you to.  And I won’t lose her because I can’t figure out how to lead the way I’m supposed to.  I’m not saying any of this as your friend, your wife, or as Minako with a bruised ego.  I’m saying this as a leader speaking to her second-in-command.  Tonight was a disaster.  We got lucky and everyone came home, but it can’t happen like this again.  I’m not going to lose anyone on my watch, and I’m not going to have lives risked because of personal grudges.”


            “Okay,” relented Rei.  “We screwed up.  Now what?”


            Minako took a long, deep breath.  “I don’t know, not for certain.  Right now I’m just thinking we need to clean things up around here and really hope that in the morning, no one asks why they can’t remember how they got to bed.  Or about that giant hole in the backyard.”


            Rei smirked, than said, “You know, Mako-chan still looks like she’s about to snap.  Maybe we should get everyone away from her before we…”


            “No,” interrupted Minako.  “The idea makes sense, but we did that last time and it just made everything worse.”


            Rei took a step closer to her and rested a hand on her shoulder, noting the hint of a shimmer in Minako’s eyes.  “I’m afraid you’re losing me here, Mina.  What ‘last time’ are you talking about?  What happened?  What did she do that makes you so afraid for her?”


            An errant tear fell from Minako’s eye, and she sniffled.  “Not tonight, okay?  Besides, you always say you want your own memories back, not someone else’s version of them.”


            With a shrug, Rei pulled her into a hug.  “That’s still true, but if there’s something hurting you, I want to know.  Likewise if it’s something I need to know to keep us safe.”


            Minako returned the hug, her fingers holding on to the back of Rei’s shirt.  The warmth gave her comfort and a sense of finding her anchor in the storm.  She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, Rei’s presence wrapping around her like a soft blanket.


            Rule number ten, she reminded herself.  Even leaders need a shoulder to lean on sometimes.


*            *            *


            Damage control.  Rei almost laughed at the idea as she made her way to the dining room alone.  As Minako had pointed out to her, control was not something they were excelling at tonight.  But these things needed to be done, an attempt to make things look as normal as possible when the sun rose.  And Rei figured she had been given the easiest of these tasks.


            Arriving at her destination, she got down on her hands and knees and studied her quarry.  Kara was where they had left her, curled up on her side under the dining room table with her thumb in her mouth, sleeping soundly.


            Rei smiled at the way the child clutched her Sailor Mars doll, and she couldn’t fight the idea this brought to her.  Backing away from the table, she called up her henshin wand.  A moment later, Mars crawled back under the table to gather up Kara and her dolls.


            Mars found herself treading slowly up the stairs to the bedrooms, the child feeling like she had doubled in weight in her unconscious state.  “Darn kid,” she muttered softly as her foot landed on the last step.  “But that’s okay.  Sailor Mars won’t drop you or your dolls.  She’s too awesome a superhero to do something that stupid.  Especially to one of her biggest fans.”


            Seiji had already been brought in and placed in his sleeping bag.  Mars toed open the empty bag beside the sleeping boy and knelt down.  Carefully arranging Kara so she had all her dolls around her, Mars tucked the little girl in and grinned.


            “I know you won’t remember,” said Mars, her voice barely above a whisper, “but I wanted to do it anyway.  I like that I’m your favorite, and I’m going to take extra good care of you.  I promise that you’ll be safe, and that nothing else will happen to you.”


            She kissed the tips of her fingers and touched them to Kara’s forehead, then stood to leave.  Closing the door behind her, she never did see the happy smile that formed around the thumb in Kara’s mouth.


*          *          *


            Eyes tired and heavy, Ami yawned and shifted in her upright position, Makoto’s grip keeping her from going very far.  Even asleep, Makoto’s hold was unyielding.  Ami sat up a bit straighter, trying to abate the tingles in her leg without disturbing her partner or their child.  She wasn’t entirely successful, though, and Makoto sucked in a breath, her eyes cracking open.


            “I’m awake,” she murmured.  “I’m awake.”


            Ami grinned and leaned across to kiss her lightly.  “So am I,” she whispered.


            Makoto adjusted herself without letting go of either Ami or the baby.  She had handed Miki away only long enough to have her already healing wounds cleaned and bandaged.  Then she’d settled on the loveseat in the family room with Ami and Miki, and they hadn’t moved since.  Now, with dawn not far away, everyone was still here with them sleepily standing guard.  Except for one very noticeable exception.


            “Where’s your mom?” asked Makoto.  “She was here a second ago.”


            “She’s…”  Ami looked over to where her mother had been sitting by one of the windows, and a tiny frown touched her lips.  “Not there anymore.  I must have dozed off.”


            Makoto let go of Ami’s arm and brought her hand up to her cheek.  “I think we all did a little.  Even Minako.”


            Ami glanced over in the direction Makoto indicated.  Seated on the floor and propped against a chair, Minako sat with Rei’s head in her lap and Usagi sleeping on her shoulder, softly snoring in her ear.  The blonde smiled and shrugged.


            “But your mom just left a few minutes ago,” added Minako quietly.  “I don’t think she went very far.”


            “Thank you,” answered Ami.  “She turned back to Makoto and placed a hand gently against Miki’s back.  “I’m going to see if I can find her.  I won’t be long.”


            Makoto hesitated, then reluctantly said, “Okay.  But hurry back.”


            Minako was right when she said her mother hadn’t gone very far.  Ami could see her form in the dim light of the hallway, sitting near the bottom of the stairs.  Her bare feet moving silently over the floor, Ami moved over to her mother and sat beside her on the step.  They were quiet for several minutes, a normal and comfortable state for them in uncomfortable moments.  She didn’t feel a need to question her mother.  Instead, she found a sort of comfort in just having her mother near her, their arms brushing in the tight space.


            “You remind me of your father.”


            The quiet statement startled Ami, and she looked over at her mother.


            “The best of him I’ve always seen in you,” went on Kaya.  She smiled as she glanced over at her daughter, then looked back down at her hands as they sat neatly folded in her lap.  “Now I’m not sure what it is I see.  I’m not accustomed to such confusion.”


            “I’m still me,” replied Ami, a touch of hurt in her voice.  “I’m still Ami.  This doesn’t change that.”


            “I know,” answered Kaya.  “You are still who you’ve always been.”  She looked back at Ami, aching because of the hurt she saw in those beautiful eyes.  The hurt she had caused.  Reaching out, she pulled Ami into a hug and held her tightly.  “I love you, no matter who you are, Ami.  I’ve just never had to ask who that is before.  I always felt like I knew.  Now…”


            Kaya released Ami and gestured to one of the small windows in the foyer.  Pale light was beginning to trickle in, indicating sunrise.  “We need to get everyone settled in their rooms and at least try to get some rest.  It’s going to be a long morning once it truly begins.”


            Ami nodded and began to rise, but was stopped by her mother.


            “There is one thing I’d like to know,” said Kaya hesitantly, as if the question was still forming in her mind.  “How did you really meet Usagi?  Did the cats arrange it?”


            Ami nearly laughed at the expression that came over her mother’s face as the last half of her question was asked, the precise and scientific nature that made up so much of who Kaya was kicking in too late to keep the question from coming and obviously completely confounded by such a thought.  A soft grin on her lips, Ami answered, “I met her just as I told you.  She thought having an intelligent friend would make getting her schoolwork completed easier and result in better grades.  It wasn’t until after all of that, that Luna realized I was Mercury.”  Intentionally leaving out the details of just how it was Luna had realized she was Mercury, Ami added, “Usagi has a kind heart and loves her friends deeply, but that doesn’t keep her motives from occasionally being shallow.  Most often with her, what you see is what you get.”


            Kaya didn’t believe that for a second.  All of them, Usagi included, were far more complex than Ami was giving them credit for.  But this was Ami’s truth, and for now she was willing to accept it.  She nodded, filing away what she’d been told and pulling out the long mental list of things they needed to do before breakfast.


            “Thank you,” said Kaya, giving Ami one last tight squeeze.  Then they stood and started back towards the family room.