The Tangled Web We Weave

by Crawlspace

 

~ Day 6, Part 2 ~

~ Thursday Evening~

 

 

            His nana had left him forever ago, and Miki really wished she would come back now.  His Ken-sensei had been okay for awhile, holding him while they read a new story.  But then he’d slowly stopped talking.  He’d yawned really big and set the book he was reading them upside down on his chest, then yawned again and closed his eyes.  His glasses slid down his nose as his head tilted to the side of the pillow.  It was his sleepy time.  Miki knew this because Ami-mama did the same thing a lot.  Except when Ami-mama did it, his mama would come and get him.  Right now, his mama wasn’t coming to get him, and neither was his nana.  She must have forgotten he was here.

 

            Miki sniffled pitifully.  His chest hitched, his voice coming out in an abbreviated squeak.  Then he found his breath and began to wail.

 

            The bathroom door opened suddenly.  Kaya stood there looking stunned and confused, a small towel gripped tightly in her hands. 

 

            Miki held out his arms, waving them at her as he continued to cry so she would know precisely what it was he wanted.  They needed the extra help sometimes, he’d found, because they didn’t always understand when he just told them.

 

            Tossing the towel back into the bathroom, Kaya walked over to him and picked him up from where he was tucked in against Ken’s side.  “It’s okay,” she cooed softly.  “There’s no reason to be so upset.  Quiet down,” she went on as she rubbed his back.

 

            He disagreed, but settled down nonetheless as she moved him from her shoulder to cradle him.  His crying petered off and he relaxed into the warmth of her.  She dried his cheeks with soapy-smelling fingers, smiling down at him as she did.

 

            Things were okay now.  The baby brought his fist up to suck on and watched his nana smirk at Ken-sensei.

 

            “I leave you alone for five minutes,” she muttered softly.  “Old man.  And typical, too, being able to sleep through a baby crying like that.”  She shook her head and chuckled, not really angry at him.

 

            Miki bubbled and burbled.  Ken-sensei did look kinda funny laying there like that.

 

            “Would you like Nana Kaya to read a story to you since your other sitter is an old man who had to go to sleep early tonight?” asked Kaya, giving the baby a bounce.

 

            Geeeeeee,” answered Miki around his drool-covered fingers, which made his nana smile.  He liked it when she smiled like that.

 

            But then she stopped smiling.

 

            There was a sound outside the bedroom door, like something thick falling on the carpet.  Then the door snicked and slowly slid open.  His nana frowned deeply, the scowl in sharp contrast to the playful grin of the little girl standing in the doorway.

 

--------------

 

            One could never really understand until it happened, the overwhelming intensity of a particular emotion when it reached its highest peak.  Love, hate, joy, sadness…

 

            Fear.

 

            Makoto thought she knew.  Thought she had discovered that moment as a small child standing in front of a wall of windows watching a plane fall from the sky.  Until the moment she heard Mars’ voice, she thought she knew.

 

            Fear.

 

            It drove her forward, focused her in one direction.  Her henshin wand was in her hand and the words out of her mouth before she’d even thought to say them, and in a matter of seconds, Jupiter was storming into the house.

 

            Up the stairs, she could hear the baby crying.  Moving faster, ignoring Seijuurou’s prone form lying sprawled in the hallway.  There would be others to help him.  She had to save her son.

 

            Raised voices, a scream of pain, Miki’s cries ratcheting to a terrified wail.

 

            Jupiter hit the door hard, splintering the frame and driving the handle firmly into the wall.

 

            Anger, hatred.  The absoluteness that someone was going to pay dearly.  These things crackled in her gaze as it lit upon the girl tightly grasping her child.

 

            Startled by the sudden intrusion, the girl’s head snapped around.  She grinned a feral, smug little grin, and Jupiter lunged forward.

 

            A ring of high-pitched laughter, Miki’s wide blue eyes bright with tears, her own voice harsh as she reached out desperately.  The sound turning to anguish as her fingers grasped at a ruffled white sleeve and kept on going through a bright flash of light, her world falling apart in the space of a heartbeat.

 

            Jupiter stopped only a few inches from the wall on the other side of the room.  Breathing in gasps, heart racing, she stared at her empty and trembling hands.  The power of a planet radiated from her, the energy unspent.  She shook her head in disbelief.  Too slow.  She’d been too slow.

 

            “No,” she whispered, her voice choked.  Her hands balled into tight fists.  “Damn it, no!”  One fist shot forward, hitting the wall and crumbling the radius around the impact.  “Please, no.  This isn’t happening.  Please,” she cried.  Her head bowed, tears coming unbidden, for a moment feeling isolated and defeated.

 

            But only for a moment, because she wasn’t going to lose her son.  The anger welled up, turning her tears hot against her cheeks.  She was going to get her son back.  And then she would kill the little bitch who had taken him from her.

 

-----------

 

            Mercury couldn’t keep up.  She followed in Jupiter’s wake, her pulse pounding in her ears.  It was as if a lead weight had been dropped squarely on her chest, and she feared the stillness she felt as she entered the house.  Even focused on getting to Miki, she noticed things weren’t right, and concern for the rest of her family tickled at her mind.

 

            Then she saw Seijuurou and her pace faltered.

 

            Further down the hall, the bedroom door exploded in, and she refocused.  Her heart torn, she continued forward.  I’m sorry, Uncle,” she said silently, guilt following her as she left him behind.

 

            She reached the broken doorway as Jupiter charged, time slowing to a crawl.

 

            Ken was unconscious on the bed.  Her mother lay slumped against the wall, bloody gashes across her arm and chest.  A girl – the catgirl who had stalked Minako all those months ago – stood smiling ruthlessly and clutching a crying Miki awkwardly in her arms.  Jupiter’s movements were a blur, the sound coming from her unfamiliar and terrifying even to Mercury.

 

            Then, in the blink of an eye, the girl and Miki were gone.

 

            Time kick-started, and Mercury felt the others coming in behind her as she slowly stepped into the room on shaking legs.  She couldn’t think, couldn’t concentrate on what she needed to do next.  There was pandemonium around her, but she felt like she was in a bubble.

 

            Miki was gone.

 

            No.  She shook her head.  They would find him.  She had what they needed to find him.  The first step would be…

 

            Thunder, and the wall crumbled around Jupiter’s feet.  She was visibly decompensating, and that was where Mercury needed to be.  But barely two feet away, blood was slowly pooling around her mother, Kaya’s face growing paler as the seconds ticked away.

 

            She was needed, and the first step would be…

 

            Her mind touched again on her uncle, his condition unknown, which led her back to the lack of information on the rest of her family.  Why weren’t they here?  How badly hurt were they that they would ignore all of this?

 

            She was needed, and the first step would be...

 

            “Mercury!”

 

            The first step was decided by someone else.

 

            It was Mars who had called her name, the dark haired senshi grabbing the first piece of cloth she could to press against the wounds on Kaya’s body.  Saturn held a steadying hand to the woman’s uninjured arm, offering some small comfort as Kaya drifted in and out of consciousness.

 

            Uranus, Venus, and Pluto had surrounded Jupiter and were trying to steady her.  Mercury wanted to be there, also.  Needed to be.  But right this moment she was needed somewhere else.

 

            Moving quickly and steadily now that she had a clear objective, Mercury knelt down in front of her mother.  She carefully lifted the compress Mars had created and gingerly moved aside the shredded material of her mother’s shirt.  The gashes were ragged, bleeding more than she liked and not clotting easily.  Her mini computer materialized.  Charts flashed across the screen, and through the blue tint of her visor, she noticed her mother trying to focus on her.

 

            “Ami?” she rasped out.  Kaya tried to lift a hand to touch the blurry image in front of her, but pulled back, wincing in pain at the movement.

 

            It’s okay, Mom,” said Ami gently, not even trying to pretend.  It just didn’t matter anymore.  “I’m going to take care of you.  You’re hurt pretty badly,” she went on, her voice emitting a calmness she didn’t feel.  “But you’re going to be okay.  I promise.”

 

            Kaya began to nod, completely trusting her child’s words.  Then her eyes widened in a moment of clear remembrance.  “The baby!”  She grabbed at Ami’s uniform, but again the movement was too much.  Pain slammed into her causing her vision to swim and her stomach to turn.  She gagged, her complexion going paler.

 

            Mercury’s teeth clenched as she tried to steady her mother, but before she could offer another generic reassurance, a hand lightly touched her shoulder.  She turned her head and looked into the gentle blue of Sailormoon’s eyes, and for a moment her soul felt true calm.

 

            “Mercury,” said Saturn softly.

 

            She looked to the girl, so different in this form.

 

            “I’ll take care of your mother.  Go ahead.”  Purple eyes cut over to Jupiter, then back to Mercury, and she smiled.

 

            Mercury took a deep breath to steady herself.  “Thank you,” she answered, then delicately placed a gloved hand against Kaya’s cheek.  When her mother focused on her, she said, “I love you, Mom.  My friends are going to help you, and I’ll be back in just a few minutes, okay.”

 

            Kaya’s eyes closed, enough of an answer for now.  Mercury stood, and with heavy steps, she moved over to Jupiter.

 

            Jupiter’s agitation ceased when she saw Mercury, though she remained tense.  The other three stepped back, parting like the sea to allow Mercury to get closer.  Then the two of them stood, eyes sharing the same thoughts and fears, the same determination.  They would not be defeated.

 

            Jupiter reached out and pulled Mercury to her.  She could barely breathe for the strength in that grip, and she held on just as tightly, her ear pressed against the beat of Jupiter’s heart.

 

            “We’re going to go get him and bring him back,” hissed out Jupiter.  “And then I’m going to kill her.  I swear it, Ami, I’m going to kill her for what she’s done.”

 

            Mercury took as deep a breath as she could wrapped up in Jupiter’s grasp.  She wasn’t sure what frightened her more in that moment – the idea of losing her son or the unbridled hatred in Jupiter’s voice.

 

-----------

 

            No one greeted him when he walked through the door.  Not really an unusual thing, but Kyo had been hoping one of the kids would notice when he pulled up.  Right now, he felt defeated and worn out.  And just a little lonely.  A small smile from one of his gang would have gone a long way towards alleviating some of that.

 

            He announced himself, his voice echoing slightly in the entryway as he bent to untie his shoes.  He removed them and put them in their proper place, his pace deliberately slow as he waited for a response.  But he got nothing, and his brow furrowed as the stillness crept up over him.

           

            It was too quite.

 

            “Mom?  Dad?” he called, caution in his steps as he slowly moved forward.

 

            “Welcome home.”

 

            The unfamiliar voice startled him and his eyes shot up to the aqua-haired young woman standing at the top of the stairs.  He didn’t know what name to give her, but he knew who she was.  He also knew that her presence here was nothing good.

 

            Hesitation slipped away as he approached her, demanding, “Why are you here?  What’s going on?”

 

            Neptune remained calm as he bounded up the stairs, panic clearly written on his face.  “There’s been an incident.  I don’t know precisely what…”

 

            A boom of thunder cut her off, and she turned on reflex as Kyo charged right past her, his common sense and caution left far behind.  He came to a sudden halt, though, when he saw Seijuurou unconscious on the floor, the Senshi’s tuxedo clad companion hovering over him.

 

            Kyo’s mouth went dry and his knees felt weak.  His brother was pale and unresponsive to the touch of the stranger trying to aid him.  He felt a hand land gently on his shoulder, and a soft voice said, “It’s okay.  He’s alive.”

 

             Kyo reminded himself to breathe.  He forced his feet to move the few steps they need to reach Seijuurou’s side, and there he fell to his knees.  Out of habit, he checked for respiration and a pulse, carefully counting the slow but steady heartbeat.  He carefully lifted an eyelid.  Pupils were responsive, heartbeat within normal range, breathing unlabored.  He ran his hands over Seijuurou’s torso, arms, and head looking for injuries, but nothing.

 

            “What happened?” he asked, his voice scratchy.  “Did he get caught by that… explosion?”

 

            Tuxedo Kamen shook his head.  “That came from down the hall.  We don’t know what happened here.”

 

            “Is there anyone down there?” went on Kyo, the doctor slowly overtaking the brother.

 

            “Yes,” answered Tuxedo Kamen, though there was a clear reluctance to elaborate.  “I don’t think you can do them much good, though.”

 

            Kyo ignored him and looked down at his brother.  “I’ll be back Juurou.  Duty calls.  I know you understand.  Don’t be a bad patient while I’m gone, okay, big brother,” he said quietly with just a hint of his typical smirk.  Then that tiny smirk disappeared and he stood, steeling himself before running head first into the storm.  But even with the mental buffering, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw.

 

            So many of them, there in quiet chaos, a feeling of heavy loss hanging around them.  It was obvious the good guys weren’t winning tonight.

 

            Before he had time to sympathize, though, the small flicker of purple light across the room grabbed his attention.  Kyo’s heart froze at the sight of his sister and the dark child kneeling beside her.  The shadow of his constant enemy hovered around them like a cloak as a small, gloved hand released a power he could sense down to his bones.  The depthless purple of the child’s eyes grew distant as they slid closed, but in the moment he saw her, there was recognition.

 

            He knew her, and he knew what she was.

 

            Every fear and suspicious worry he’d had rose up and reignited his badly beaten soul.  He would continue to fight, no matter how futile the end result.

 

            His feet carried him forward with a great determination, but he only managed a few steps before meeting his first challenge.  Tall and dark-skinned, they came within a breath of colliding, her garnet adorned staff held as a barrier between them.  Because he knew the child, recognizing the mother was easy.  Intimidating as she may be, though, he met her stare as best he could and grasped the staff with unsteady hands.

 

            Unable to ignore the strength he felt, he rasped out, “I don’t care who you are or what that… thing is to you.  I won’t let it have my sister.  Not tonight.”

 

            Unshaken, Pluto replied, “Saturn isn’t a threat, and the only thing your interference will bring is your sister’s death.”

 

            “I know what she is!” shot back Kyo, the desperate fear slipping around his mental shield.  “I’ve seen the shadow inside of her more clearly than I ever wanted to see it, all because she had a temper tantrum, and you expect me to think she isn’t a threat!”

 

            “Yes,” answered Pluto simply.

 

            “We don’t have time for this!” cut in Mars before either Uranus or Jupiter saw fit to take the man down themselves.

 

            “She’s right,” backed up Venus.  She stepped forward, her voice firm but not uncaring.  “You’ve figured out who we are, so you know none of us would hurt Ami’s family.  We didn’t do this to Ami’s mom, but she will bleed to death if you don’t let Saturn help, because you can’t fix her wounds by yourself and an emergency unit would never make it here in time.  Your only choice is to trust us, as hard as that may be.”

 

            “Uncle Kyo, please,” added a small, pleading voice.

 

            He looked over at his niece, so unfamiliar in this form as she held tightly to the one she loved.  It was all he could do at that moment to keep from falling to his knees and crying out his frustrations and helplessness, unused to feeling so completely lost and useless.

 

            Venus spoke again, issuing orders in a way he wouldn’t have associated with the bubbly young woman he knew.  “Pluto, help Uncle Kyo find his place and explain things as best you can.  I’m sure his sister will be glad to see him when she comes around.  Mars, take Sailormoon and Chibimoon, find Neptune and Tuxedo Kamen, and start looking for everyone else.  We need to make sure no one else has been hurt.  And we’re going to need to move Saatchi-san to a better place, since he seems to be okay.  Uranus…”

 

            She received a round of nods, and people started moving, direction helping to lift some of the chaos.  Then Venus turned to Mercury, and everything about her bearing softened.  “I have to ask you what it is we do next.  This isn’t going to be a typical search and rescue, but that is what it is.  You’re my starting point for that.  We’ll stay in here while we get set up, so you’re close to your mom and in case there’s any clues or traces of something for you to latch on to.”

 

            “All right,” answered Mercury, licking her lips and pointedly trying to focus away from Saturn and the small group now gathered around her mother.  She released her hold on Jupiter and recalled her mini computer, moving over to the study desk to get started.  “I don’t have any information on the girl, but I have scanned Miki several times.  That should give me what I need.  I can do a scan of the house first as a test, then branch out to the rest of the estate…”

 

            She trailed off as her mind settled on her task.  That only left Jupiter, thought Venus.  She didn’t think separating her from Mercury right now would be a good idea, but she needed to give her friend a task to focus on just to keep her from going stir crazy and putting another hole in the wall.  But there was really only one thing she could think of.  “Jupiter, Mercury’s going to need some help, I’m sure.  Just get whatever she needs, watch over her, and be ready to move fast when the time comes.”  Then she reached out and took Jupiter’s hand, giving it a squeeze.  “We’ll get ‘em.  Just hold on a little longer.”

 

            Jupiter took a deep breath, but didn’t say anything.  She returned the squeeze, thankfully gently, and went to stand over Mercury.

 

            That taken care of, Venus inched closer to Uranus, who was grinding her teeth as she contemplated how and where she was going to move the unconscious doctor.  “Please don’t kill Uncle Kyo,” she whispered, only half joking.  “Remember, there was a time not all that long ago when you wanted to do to Saturn the same thing he wanted to for pretty much the same reason.”

 

            Hmmph,” grunted Uranus, not in the least bit placated.

 

            Kyo, for his part, had moved with Pluto to stand over Kaya.  He watched uneasily as Saturn worked, snippets of conversation floating to his ears.  “What’s going on?” he asked softly, his eyes never leaving his sister.  “What was she saying about Miki?”

 

            “I’m sorry you had to walk in on all of this, especially tonight,” started Pluto, her voice much gentler than it had been.  “An old enemy followed us here with intent to take the baby.  We were unable to stop her.  Your sister was hurt during the abduction.”

 

            Kyo closed his eyes and swallowed hard.  “Oh, Ami,” he breathed out almost silently.  Then, just as quietly, “Can you find him?”

 

            “I believe we will,” answered Pluto.  She placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Open your eyes.  You’d said you’ve seen the darkness, now you’ll see the light.  You can not have life without death, nor death without life.  They are two sides of the same coin.  You know that better than anyone, Ishida-san.”

 

            He did as asked, and his breath nearly stopped.  Beneath the glow of Saturn’s hand, the bleeding stopped and the wounds closed.  Pink scars disappeared to become healthy skin, and slowly the color returned to Kaya’s face.  Her breathing eased and her pained features relaxed.

 

            He stood in awe.  This much power effortlessly wielded by a child.

 

            The light faded, her power receding.  When her eyes opened, she wore a small, satisfied smile.  She stood, her balance a bit shaky.  Perhaps not as effortlessly as he thought.  She took a deep breath, and without acknowledging him, went to stand beside Uranus.  An arm was wrapped loosely around her shoulders as she leaned into the young woman’s side.

 

            A soft groan pulled his attention from them and back to Kaya.  He knelt beside her and checked her over much the same way he had Seijuurou, gingerly running his fingers over the shredded, bloody remains of her shirt.  Part of him still didn’t believe what he’d just witnessed.

 

            Kaya’s eyes fluttered open, as if she were waking from a nap.

 

            “Hey, sis,” said Kyo, trying to keep his voice steady.  “How’re you feeling?”

 

            “Numb,” she answered, a hand coming up to rub at her temple.  Then she froze, and the cloudiness lifted from her eyes.  “Did all of that really happen?  Ami, where’s Ami?”

 

            He heard the chair his niece was sitting in move across the floor, and he looked over his shoulder to see her walking towards them.

 

            Mother and daughter locked eyes, and for several seconds, no one moved.  Then Kaya whispered, “I never knew.”  Breaking the stare, she began to stand, grimacing as her hand landed in the sticky, warm blood that had spilled to the floor around her.

 

            Mercury and Kyo moved to help her.  “Are you all right, Mom?” asked Mercury, trying again to meet her mother’s eyes.

 

            Avoiding that uncertain gaze, Kaya answered, “I’m fine.  At least, I think I am.  But what about Miki?  There was a girl, or at least something that looked like a girl.  She wanted him, and I tried to stop her, but…”

 

            “We know,” interrupted Jupiter, her voice impatient and tense.  “We couldn’t stop her, either, but we’re going to find them.  That’s what Mercury’s doing now.”

 

            “Mercury?” asked Kaya.  She looked down at her daughter and tensed, repeating the word as a statement.  “Mercury.”

 

            “We’ll answer your questions as we go along,” promised Venus.  “Please bare with us, though, and give us some time.  We’re still trying to find everyone and figure out exactly what’s going on.”

 

            Kaya looked at the girl speaking to her, her eyes narrowing.  It took a moment, and there was just a hint of surprise in her voice when she asked, “Minako?”

 

            Venus nodded.

 

            “Mom,” said Mercury, reluctantly stepping back.  “I have to get back to this.  I’m the only one who can do it.  But as she said, I’ll tell you everything later.”

 

            Mercury turned from her, taking Jupiter’s full attention with her.

 

            Priorities, thought Kaya.  She understood prioritizing in an emergency.  Questions she still didn’t know how to form weren’t important right now.  Ami, or Mercury, or whoever she was at this particular moment had her tasks, and Kaya was going to find her own.  She took a deep breath, pulled down a stoic mask and moved over to the bed.  Her intention had been to check on Ken, to play doctor and find out what had happened to the rest of her family while fully ignoring her half missing and bloodied shirt.

 

            Instead, her eyes met Saturn’s.

 

            The girl smiled at her, but she didn’t return it.  “You healed me.”

 

            Saturn nodded.

 

            “Rei’s eye.  Was that also you?”

 

            “No,” answered Saturn.  “She did that on her own.  We all heal quickly without help.”

 

            Kaya nodded, storing that information away for later retrieval.  “Thank you.  Very much.  I really had no desire to die tonight.”

 

            “You’re welcome,” said Saturn, not certain if that was supposed to be a joke or not.

 

            “All right, what’s the plan?” said Kaya after checking over Ken.  “Is anyone else wounded that you know of?”

 

            “We’re…” started Venus, only to be interrupted as Artemis came dashing around the doorway.

 

            “Venus…” the cat started, but stopped short and froze in a panic.  “Uh… meow?”

 

            Kaya rolled her eyes.  “I should have known that, too, I suppose.  All right, let’s get Ken moved so I can concentrate on any other patients that might come in.  Kyo…”

 

            “I’m going with her,” he said before she could try and give him an order.  “We’ll search for the others.”

 

            Without anything else said, Kaya motioned an okay for Ken to be lifted and walked out of the room, stepping over Artemis as she went.

 

-----------------------

 

            Kyo appreciated the irony in being led through the hallways by a furry, white animal, though he was fairly certain he hadn’t walked through any mirrors or fallen down any rabbit holes.  But the cat – the talking, intelligent, fully sentient cat – said he knew where Hana was, and with Juurou being cared for, this was now his priority.  So he followed in tense silence a step behind Setsuna as she and the cat conversed.

 

            “We thought she had only fallen asleep,” continued Artemis.  “Until the call from Mars.”

 

            “Did you see any of the others?” questioned Setsuna.

 

            “No, although Kara was there with us not long ago.  She left to get her dolls, but never came back.”

 

            They rounded a corner and came upon the family room.  The sight was a familiar one to Kyo, his grandmother napping with a book and magnifying glass held loosely in her lap.  The only discordant thing about it was the black cat pacing in a worried fashion at her feet.  Luna looked up at them as they came in, and in the moment before she saw him, he recognized relief on her features.  His presence, though, quickly brought back her uncertainty.

 

            “It’s all right,” said Setsuna.  “He’s obviously aware of the situation.”

 

            Kyo snorted.  “I’m not aware of anything.  But it won’t be that way for much longer.”  With that, he stepped around them and over to Hana.  Kneeling beside her, he checked her vitals, finding her much the same as he had Seijuurou and Ken.  “I don’t know if we should move her or not,” he said finally.  “Do you think she’s in harm’s way?”

 

            “Most likely not,” answered Setsuna.  “The rest of the battle won’t be fought here.”

 

            “If we leave her here,” added Luna, her trouble-shooting instincts already looking ahead, “we’ll have less of an explanation to come up with when she awakens.  Providing the situation is resolved by then.”

 

            Kyo’s head bowed, and a quiet, bitter laugh fell from his lips.  “Explanation?  The situation?  There is no explanation we can give them for any of this!” he shot out.  Then his eyes turned to Luna.  “And you have a gift for understatement.”

 

            He worked his way back to his feet, his attention going back to Setsuna.  “I’m not even sure where to start,” he went on, his voice low.  “What am I supposed to call you?  Are you Meioh Setsuna?  Or are you… this?”

 

            The Senshi of Time smiled gently.  “In this form, I am Pluto, guardian of both the Gates of Time and the Lunar Princess.  In this world, when I’m not Pluto, I am Setsuna.”

 

            Kyo stared at her as that answer went flying over his head and kept on going.  His jaw moved, but no words emerged.  After several seconds, though, one sentence did manage to form.  “You really are one of my niece’s dolls,” he said incredulously.

 

            That made Pluto chuckle.  “Apparently, I’m the one she can’t find.”

 

            “You and Saturn,” whispered Kyo, Kara’s ramblings coming back to him.

 

            “Yes,” replied Pluto, allowing him a moment to scrutinize her, to see if he could find what he was looking for.

 

            After several moments, he asked hesitantly, “Is she your child?  There’s something about you… it’s not the shadow I see in her, but…”

 

            Setsuna shook her head.  “She is my child only in my heart, though Saturn and I are similar souls.  Our gifts naturally tie together, time being a basic element to life and death.  Remember, though, that the shadow you see in her is only part of who she is.  It’s a part she no more desires to possess than you do to be confronted with.”

 

            “But she controls it,” said Kyo, some of his tentativeness lifting.  A hand scrubbed at his face, then ran through his hair as he paced several steps.  When he turned back to look at Pluto, there was a light in his eyes that hadn’t been there before.  “She has control over life and death, she decides who lives or dies?”

 

            Pluto frowned.  “To a degree, but her power has limits.  She does not play God.”

 

            Kyo waved a hand at her dismissively.  “We all play God everyday.  What she did upstairs and what I spent all day at the hospital doing was playing God.  Except this time, I lost the game.  I understand life and death and how they go together, because in that loss, four others will live fuller lives.  But I want that one loss back, because when I play God, there is no death.  My kids don’t die.  And if all it takes is a simple thought from her…”

 

            “No,” cut off Pluto.  “It takes far more from her than a thought.  Each time she heals someone, it drains her.  If she were to use her power to its fullest, it would kill her.  She healed your sister because her injuries were indirectly our fault, and because Ami is a precious friend to her.  But as much as she may want to, she can not heal the world.  She doesn’t have the strength for it, and it is not her place to choose which of the sick and dying to save and which to cast aside.”

 

            “I’m not asking for the world!” threw back Kyo.  “I’m asking for one child.  One little girl who should never have been taken.”

 

            “There are many who should never have been taken,” replied Pluto.  She walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.  Her voice was soft as she went on.  “And it’s never just one child.  No matter how much we may want to, or how unfair it seems, we can not intentionally alter the course Fate has chosen.  The rule isn’t ours, but we are bound by it.  Ishida-san, I do understand the want.  I hold time in my hands.  I exist in every moment – past, present, and future.  I have only to ask the question, and I will be given the answer.  I have only to take a step backward, and I could reclaim all that I have lost.”

 

            Meeting her gaze at that moment was difficult, because for the first time he saw just how deep her losses ran.  His soul ached for this woman, and he had to ask.  “Why?  Why live with the suffering if you don’t have to?”

 

            “Because the burden of the universe is heavier than the weight of heartache,” she answered quietly.  “How many lives would I have altered or how many people would I have erased, good or bad, simply to ease my own loss?  Besides, one of my first lessons was that we can not take from Fate what it deems to be its own.  The losses would still come, regardless of my intervention.  No matter how it seems, my powers – our powers – are not infinite.”

 

            “But Kaya…” he pressed on even though he felt his argument weakening.  “You’ve already mucked around in her fate.”

 

            “We haven’t,” replied Pluto gently.  “Kaya is still very much necessary to this world.  Saturn was here tonight so she would live.”

 

            “I would ask how you can be so certain of that, but I doubt I’d like the answer.”  Kyo moved from under her touch and plopped down on the couch beside the cats.  His elbows rested on his knees and he held his head in his hands.  He took several deep breaths, then glanced at Luna and Artemis.  “And how do you two fit into all of this?”

 

            Luna sat up a bit straighter as she answered, “We are advisers to the Moon’s princess and Earth’s future queen…”

 

            “And to Venus, who is the head of her guard,” added Artemis.

 

            “We’re also something of guardians to them in this lifetime,” continued Luna.

 

            Kyo’s eyes narrowed.  “This lifetime?”  Then he thought better of it and shook his head.  “Never mind.  Save that and all the alien stuff for later.  Right now just tell me, who is this future queen?  And is any of that stuff on the back of the doll boxes true?”

 

            Luna’s whiskers twitched at the mention of the boxes, though Artemis suspected her ire came more from not having her own doll than the inaccuracy of the information.

 

            “Usagi is our princess,” Pluto answered for them.  “And, no, most of what’s on the boxes isn’t correct.”

 

            “Huh,” remarked Kyo.  “I would have guessed Michiru.  She seems the most… queen-like.  And the media never does get anything of importance right.”

 

            “Usagi will grow into her role over time,” answered Pluto, one corner of her mouth lifting into a half-grin.  Then with some concern, “How are you doing?”

 

            “How do I look?”

 

            “Like you’ve been wrung out and hung to dry,” she answered frankly.

 

            Kyo nodded.  “That’s ‘bout how I feel.”

 

            Pluto graced him with a sympathetic smile, then lifted her communicator.  There was a beep as she pushed a button, and she spoke into it, “We found Hana.  She’s all right.  Any others?”

 

            Mars was the first to respond.  “We have Ami’s grandparents.  We still need her aunt and the kids.”

 

            Venus’ image pushed Mars’ to the side as she chimed in with, “Can you guys spare Uranus?  I’d like her back here with us asap.  The natives are getting really restless.”

 

            “I’m on my way,” came a curt reply, too short for her image to even appear before she was gone again.

 

            Kyo bit the inside of his cheek for a moment as he thought.  “Has anyone looked in the game room?  Seiji’s probably there.”

 

            “Did you hear that?” asked Pluto to the images on her communicator screen.  “We’ll try there if no one else has.”

 

            “Roger that,” answered Venus.  “We’ll let you know if we find anyone else, and you check in with the same.”

 

            Communications ended, and Pluto turned back to Kyo.  “Ready?”

 

            “As I can be,” he answered, rising from the couch.

 

            The cats jumped down behind him, and the small group continued with their search.

 

*          *          *

 

            Kara was the last to be found, curled up peacefully under the dining room table with her army of dolls to protect her.  Kaya gritted her teeth, forcing back the unpleasant emotions building beneath her exhaustion.  Everyone was alive, at least, if not truly well.  That meant a great deal.  What’s more, she was alive.  That meant even more, and gave her a headache when she thought about it for too long.

 

            Her eyes slipped shut, and she leaned against the battered bedroom doorframe.  She could hear the tiny clicks of the keyboard in the bedroom as Mercury worked, and the shuffle of Jupiter’s feet as she paced anxiously.  Down the hall, just far enough away so she couldn’t make out their hushed words, the others huddled in conference.  Again she took long, uneven breath.  The initial rush of adrenaline had worn off, leaving her feeling physically and emotionally drained.  It was a familiar sensation, though, and she knew how to fight it.  She just needed a moment to reorder her thoughts and collect herself.

           

            Fear, confusion, and worry.  These things were focused on and removed, relegated to a locked room in the back of her consciousness.  She would open that door later, when she was alone and not surrounded by…

 

            Her child?

 

            Her child’s friends?

 

            Her missing grandson.  That was where her thoughts needed to be.  She couldn’t do much to help find him, but she could make sure he had someone competent and fully responsive to tend to him when he came back.  In the meantime, she should go check on the rest of her family.

 

            She looked back into the room, finding herself reluctant to leave Ami.

 

            Mercury.

 

            Kaya sighed, and as she half listened to the group in the hallway trying to catch any stray words, she watched Mercury work.  Delicate fingers moved with surprising speed over a keyboard that looked more a gaming device than something actually useful.  The tiny screen flashed information too quickly for her to decipher it.  It blipped and beeped, and every now and then, Mercury would reach up to tug at an earring, activating something within her visor.

 

            Without meaning to, Kaya found herself fixated on that small row of studs.  A tiny thing that spoke of a subtle rebellion Ami did not possess.

 

            Her child.

 

            How had she missed it?

 

            “Anything yet?”

 

            The question came from Jupiter, her voice strained and little more than a breath away from the breaking point.  Understandable, given the circumstances.  Nonetheless, the sight of this girl in this state chilled her to the bone.  Raw, unfocused power radiated from her, the warrior and the mother now merged.  She needed a target, and it was just a matter of who or what was in front of her when she finally broke.

 

            They realized this, though, she thought.  Or Venus did.  It was why she had left… What was it the girl called herself?  Kaya couldn’t remember, so her mind reluctantly inserted ‘Haruka.’  This was why Haruka had been left to watch over them as the others conferred.  She was here to stand guard, obviously the only one who stood a chance at standing against Jupiter should it become necessary.

 

            Kaya glanced down the hallway as the whispers quieted.  Kyo had attached himself to Setsuna and seemed to have no intention of leaving her side.  The rest of them… they all looked to Venus.  She was their centerpoint, and Kaya studied her with a clinical air over the curve of Rei’s shoulder.

 

            As she watched the blonde and cataloged each of her movements and reactions, the sounds of Ami’s computer flitted in the background.  Jupiter’s feet stopped, and the room held its breath.  But nothing, and like she had each time before, Jupiter cursed, more at the world in general than anyone specifically.

           

            “Damn it, where the hell is she?  She can’t have gotten that far!”

 

            “I’m doing the best I can!”

 

            The outburst nearly knocked her over in surprise as Mercury’s hands landed hard against the tabletop and her chair fell backwards, hitting the floor with a clatter.  Mercury, now on her feet with her head bowed over her computer as it flashed a defeated red, choked back a frustrated sob.

 

            “I’m doing all I can,” she said again, this time barely a whisper.

 

            The noise brought the others quickly to the source, and Kaya could feel them crowding in behind her as she unintentionally blocked the doorway.  From the corner of her eye, she saw Usagi try to move forward, only to be held back by Venus.  She saw the distressed look in Usagi’s eyes and the sad nod Venus gave her that prompted her to reluctantly back down.  They couldn’t help with this.

 

            And neither could she.

 

            She watched Jupiter freeze, her anger at their failures instantly giving way to guilt.  As Mercury’s shoulders began to shake lightly, tears tracked down Jupiter’s cheeks.  Kaya wanted to cry with them, and she turned away when Jupiter laid a trembling hand on Mercury’s back.  She heard a hushed, “I’m sorry,” and forced her feet to take her through and away from those crowded behind her as Mercury’s tears gained strength.

 

            She couldn’t help them, not right now, and she needed some distance to recompose herself.  She swiped roughly at her eyes with the back of her hand, then focused on those she could help.  At least her sleeping grandmother wouldn’t ask her why she’d been crying.

 

*          *          *

 

            Rule #3 – Bring Order to Chaos

 

            Easier said than done, mused Venus as the group reassembled after finding Kara.

 

            Rule #2 – Never Let Them See How Afraid or Full of Doubt You Really Are

 

            She could do this.  Better in this life than the last, because Aino Minako was a much better actress than Venus.  Venus had just been a ham.

 

            Rule #1 – Always Win

 

            She didn’t want to think about what would happen if they didn’t.

 

            Venus took a deep breath, then began issuing orders that were little more than busy work.  But at least it would keep them all from going stir crazy until Mercury could pinpoint the ultimate destination for the battle.  She broke them down into groups and gave them station points.  She listened to their ideas and concerns, and reassured them that the good guys always win.  And through it all, she smiled confidently, because they were going to win.

 

            Mars let out a breath and fidgeted uncomfortably, unintentionally cutting Venus off.  At the looks of curiosity this earned her, she frowned and said, “We’re being stared at.”

 

            “I know,” replied Venus.  “Can you blame her?”

 

            “No,” muttered Mars.  “But it isn’t your back she keeps staring at.”  She crossed her arms and stood a little straighter.  “Anyway, do you mind if we change the plan up a little?  I found catgirl once before, and I think I can do it again.  With Mercury not having much luck…”

 

            Venus started to nod, but before she could say any more, Mercury’s voice rang out from down the hall.  Their surprise only lasted a fraction of a second, and with their next collective breath they were crowding around the doorway.  Ami’s mother blocked them from getting into the room, and that was likely a good thing admitted Venus grudgingly as Moon tried to squeeze by her.  As much as it hurt to just stand on the sidelines, this was a moment Ami and Makoto needed to themselves.  Nobody else could help them.

 

            Reaching out, she gently took hold of Sailormoon’s arm.  Teary blue eyes looked at her in confusion, then in horror as she realized she was being asked to abandon her friends.  Venus was only peripherally aware of Ami’s mother moving away from them as she whispered to Sailormoon, “It hurts me, too.”

 

            They looked back at their friends, their hearts breaking.  Jupiter held Mercury against her in a crushing hug as Mercury sobbed softly into her chest.  Venus released her grip on Sailormoon and put an arm around her shoulders.  With her free hand, she gestured for Uranus to join them, then slowly moved away from the doorway.

 

            “Okay,” she said quietly, giving Sailormoon a reassuring grin, “let’s get to our tasks.  Uranus, go ahead with Neptune.  There isn’t much to say, but she can fill you in.”

 

            “Are we just going to leave them like this?” questioned Uranus, her skepticism reflected on Kyo’s face.

 

            “No,” answered Venus.  Me and Artemis are going to stay here.  But out here, not in there.”

 

            Uranus wanted to protest.  Venus suspected they all did on some level.  Nonetheless, they all did as ordered.

 

            With the exception of Sailormoon.

 

            With Tuxedo Kamen and Chibi-moon at her heels, Sailormoon had only taken a few steps when she stopped and looked back at Venus.  “There’s something I have to do,” she said, a decisive clarity to her voice that hadn’t been there a few minutes before.  “Tuxedo Kamen and Chibi-moon can come with me, but they’ll have to wait for me until I’m done.  Will you need to change the patrol patterns at all?”

 

            Venus hesitated a moment.  The crystal clear blue of Sailormoon’s eyes at the moment led her to her first genuine smile since all of this had started.  Curiosity niggled at her, but she knew better than to ask.  Instead, she answered simply, “No, Princess.  I won’t need to change anything.”

 

            Sailormoon blushed a pretty pink, and a lopsided grin touched her lips.  “Okay,” she said as she turned away.  Taking Chibi-moon by the hand, she gave the little girl a tug.  “Come on, guys.  I’m not sure how long this is going to take.”

 

*          *          *

 

            The footsteps were light, almost timid.  Kaya barely heard them as they came up behind her and stopped.  She couldn’t tell if the distance the girl kept was out of respect or nervousness, but it really didn’t matter.  She gave Usagi a tight grin to try and help them both relax, because no matter what outfit they put her in, she was still Usagi.  The least different out of all of them in this form, Kaya fully expected her to start chewing on one of her pigtails.

 

            “Did you need something?” Kaya asked finally after retucking the blanket around her grandmother’s legs.

 

            Usagi shook her head.  “No, but I thought you might.  I wanted to talk to you, to try and answer some of your questions.”

 

            This time it was Kaya who shook her head.  She let out a sigh that betrayed her mental state, and answered, “Thank you.  I appreciate that you’re trying to take some of that burden off of Ami, however, she really is the one I’m going to need to talk to.  And it can wait until the immediate situation is resolved.”

 

            “Some of your answers will have to come from Ami, yes,” returned Usagi gently, a soft smile coming to her lips.  “But most of your questions are for me.  Mercury – all of them, actually – do what they do for me, their princess.  Your questions are my responsibility because Mercury is my responsibility.”

 

            Kaya stared at the girl, dumbfounded.  “Their princess?” she repeated slowly, wondering what stories Usagi had been told to believe such a thing.  She hadn’t come from a broken home or lonely background like the others, so had it been the girl’s naiveté that Venus had played on?  Had she given her this ‘little girl dream’ special title to hold her to them?

 

            “It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?” continued Usagi, sounding almost embarrassed.  “I’m the last person anyone would think of when they hear ‘princess.’  Except maybe Rei.  She always tells me I act just like a spoiled princess.  But that’s who I am, just like how Ami is Mercury.”

 

            Kaya moved to sit on the ottoman beside her grandmother’s chair and crossed her arms.  “And you are… who, exactly?”

 

            Usagi giggled.  “You look like one of those psychiatrists on TV who think you’re crazy when you tell them something that sounds crazy.  But I guess I can understand that right now.”

 

            “I don’t think you’re crazy, sweetheart,” answered Kaya, though her level and condescending tone made it seem otherwise.  “I just think you’ve been told a lot of things you need to reevaluate.”

 

            “You know that’s not true,” chided Usagi lightly.  “You know who we are and what we do, even if you didn’t realize it was actually us in these uniforms until tonight.  You’ve seen what goes on back home, and you know we fight against it.  And on some level, you’ve always known we needed each other for something beyond just ourselves.  That’s why you’ve always accepted us the way you have.”

 

            A deep frown and nervous fidgeting were her only response.  Still, she didn’t back down.  Instead, she found a comfortable chair and perched on the edge of the overstuffed cushion.  The image of the simple teenager, her fingers playing along the edge of the cushion’s hem, contrasted sharply with the gentle wisdom in her voice.  “It’s okay.  We’ve all had moments when we wanted to run away from it, too.  But we can’t deny who we are.”

 

            “Did Venus tell you that?”

 

            “Venus?” asked Usagi as her eyebrows knit together in confusion.

 

            “Yes, Venus,” answered Kaya, leaning forward onto her crossed knee.  “I can see she’s the one you all follow.”

 

            “Oh, that’s what you’re asking,” replied Usagi as understanding dawned, and she chuckled to herself.  It seemed a silly notion to her, but she supposed it could seem that way to others.  “No, she didn’t tell me those things.  I’m not who I am because of Venus.  She leads us as soldiers, and she’s one of only two who fully remember our past lives, but she isn’t why we’re here.  I am.  Me, and timing.  It was time for us to be reborn.  Luna says Earth is in transition, and Earth’s future depends on us.”

 

            Usagi took a deep breath and pressed forward before her sanity could be further questioned.  “You asked me who I am.  I’m going to tell you, though I bet you’ll believe most of it is a fairytale.  But remember,” she added, grinning widely in an attempt to lessen the tension hanging around them, “in only the last hour you’ve seen demons, talking cats, and a child who controls life and death.  What I’m going to tell you shouldn’t be anywhere near as unbelievable as all that.

 

            “Now, let’s see, I am…”  Usagi paused for a moment, and one corner of her mouth turned into a self-conscious smirk.  “You know, this used to be a lot easier to answer.  I am Tsukino Usagi, 18 years old, and a third year high school student really hoping she makes it to graduation.  I am also Sailormoon, who just happens to be the reincarnated princess of a long forgotten kingdom on the moon.  No one forced me into anything, and no one has forced Ami into anything.  She is who she has always been.  She’s your Ami, but she’s also Sailor Mercury, one of my guardians and an extraordinary soldier who also just happens to be a reincarnated princess from a lost kingdom on the planet Mercury.”

 

            Taking advantage of Usagi’s momentary pause for breath, Kaya held up a hand to stop her.  “Reincarnated, alien princesses,” she said, each word clearly enunciated and falling from her mouth like a rock.  “And she and the others?  They’re your own personal bodyguards in all of this craziness?”

 

            Usagi shook her head emphatically ‘no.’  “It’s much more than that.”

 

            Kaya tried to stay detached and calm and to listen like the well educated doctor she was as this girl began to speak.  She nodded with a clinical air when Sailormoon apologized for not remembering more than she did, for she really only knew of her kingdom’s destruction and the events right before and after.  Staying detached was difficult, though, as sorrow clouded features that until this moment she had only known as bright and cheerful.  That happy voice faded as it spoke of evil and betrayal, of the valiance of her guard, the death of the one she loved most, and the fall of a glorious kingdom at the moment oblivion overtook her.  Tears glistened as she recalled what she had been shown of the woman who had once been her mother and the sacrifice their queen had made to save them all.

 

            “She gave us a second chance,” recounted Sailormoon.  “Not only to live out our lives, but to restore the peace and prosperity of her kingdom.  That’s why we’re here.  To protect this world and ensure its future.”

 

            Kaya swiped at her eyes.  As overwhelming and fantastical as this was, there was one detail that was nagging at her in this story.  Because Ami was not a soldier.  She was a gentle, caring girl, and not to be used as a fragile shield for anyone.  “And you’re supposed to be… this one great hope?” choked out Kaya.  “They’re just supposed to fight for you and protect you so you can save us all, their lives be damned?”

 

            “No,” answered Sailormoon quickly, fighting to make her understand.  “They fight with me and protect me, yes, but their lives aren’t worthless to me.  They’re a part of me.  I am able to do what I do, to keep my people and my planet safe, because of them.  I cherish them, and I will always protect them as best I can.”  Her eyes fell then, just for a moment.  When she looked back up at Kaya, some of the light was gone from her eyes.  “But I can’t always protect them, and they know what their duty is.  Just as I know mine.”

 

*          *          *

 

            Sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, Venus pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her forehead on them.  “How are they?”

 

            Artemis peeked into the bedroom, then moved back over to sit at her side.  “Pretty much the same.  They’re sitting on the bed, and Mercury’s still trying.  They seem calmer now, but it’s the wrong kind of calm.”

 

            “They’re defeated,” answered Venus.  “They can’t save their son, and if Rei can’t…”

 

            “She will,” cut in Artemis, putting a paw against her arm.  “And if she doesn’t, we’ll find another way.”

 

            Venus lifted her eyes and gave him a thankful grin.  Then she reached out and lifted him into her arms, snuggling him against her.  “I know,” she said.  “It’s rule number one.  And I’m not going to lose someone on my watch, especially when that someone belongs to Makoto.  But I hate just sitting here and waiting.  I’m their leader.  I should be doing something!

 

            A pair of red shoes stepped into her line of vision, and Mars’ voice quipped, “What’s my prize if I give you that something?”

 

            Venus scrambled to her feet, keeping a tenuous grip on Artemis.  “You found them?” she asked excitedly.

 

            Mars nodded and blew her sweaty bangs out of her eyes with a puff of breath.  “Call everybody in.  It’s time to go.”