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you left me in the desert

Chapter Text

A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image. Joan Didion

 

 

The Arcade is usually empty on Sundays. Usagi meets Naru early and they spread their history project over their table.

"Try not to spill your milkshake this time, Usa-chan," Naru tells her, and Usagi sticks out her tongue in kind. They both giggle when Motoki passes too, shaking his head.

They're mostly quiet though. Usagi's notes are pretty diligent; it's math and science she struggles with, if only because neither can hold her attention long enough. But she likes history and she likes working with Naru, knowing that her friend knows her well enough for a project like this one.

It's not long before her attention sort of drifts within the project. Names become faces and moments; her mind wanders within the scope of each event too and she finds herself frowning, her unease growing as she starts to read into battle plans.

"Usa-chan," Naru hisses.

She blinks. The other girl's hand settles on her arm and she looks up.

"Hmm?"

"Those guys," Naru breathes, wide-eyed. Her lips curl into a grin. "Those gorgeous guys are staring at us!"

She blinks again and turns her head, ignoring Naru's protests. The pen in her hand spins between her fingers. She takes in the small group at the counter with Motoki, three guys all talking pleasantly with him. It's a strange, brief feeling but she finds herself straightening in her seat.

They're all gorgeous; the tallest is leaning against the counter, bright eyes and smiling. His hair is braided back, the cuffs of his sleeves rolled to his elbows. The other is laughing with Motoki - he grins at her too, slipping into a jacket and rubbing his hand against the back of his neck. But it's the one that is sitting that startles her.

He doesn't smile. When he tilts his head to the side, catching her gaze, she feels herself swallow. He wears a handsome suit, his hand smoothing against his tie. One of friends says something to him and his mouth quirks, the laughter spilling into her space with Naru.

"I wonder who they are!"

Usagi shifts, looking back at her friend. "What?" she asks. Naru clicks her tongue in disapproval. "Oh," she says, blushing. "I don't know. You should ask Motoki-san."

Naru rolls her eyes, but she lets it go too and they get back to their project.

Usagi thinks nothing of it.

 

 

School holds an odd array of people in her life. Lunch usually has her sitting in the square with a few other girls and some boys. It's the only other time they see some of the older kids too, as well as some of the private school kids who sneak out for their lunches.

Naru and Yumi decide to follow that tradition this time, electing Usagi to keep watch and linger until the end of the period. It works simply because it's her turn and she needs to focus on something that isn't setting her math book on fire.

"Hey, is this your cat?"

Usagi blinks. Makoto, one of the older girls, stands behind her.  Next to her is Ami, who she knows because of math tutoring - she does it for a few kids in her class and more group oriented work.

"I'm sorry?" the cat in Makoto's arms blinks back at her and Usagi feels uneasy. "That's a cat, Kino-san."

Makoto laughs. "Makoto," she corrects gently, and then Ami laughs too. "I'm guessing she's not yours."

"No," she says. "My brother's allergic and it would be a little weird if the cat followed me to school."

Both of the older girls laugh. Ami hugs her books to her chest and then nods to the grass next to her.

"Mind if we have lunch with you?" she asks.

Usagi flushes. "No, no," she says. She gestures wildly with her arms. "It's just me today," she tells them. "Please sit."

They smile at her. Makoto sits close to her and the cat jumps from her arms, sprawling out in the grass in front her. The cat blinks and meets her gaze. Usagi shakes her head. She tries not to pick at her lunch.

"So," Makoto says to her. "Why are you alone today? I usually see you with a bunch of people." Her eyes narrow and she looks at her worriedly. "Everything okay?"

Usagi blushes. "Oh, yeah. I - uh - Yumi-chan dragged Naru off to … some place. Naru usually gets roped into her schemes as it is and it's my turn to keep watch." She laughs, looking down at her hands. "Yumi and I aren't exactly the closest and the others, I don't know - I got to lunch late as it is. Sometimes it's nice to sit by yourself too."

"Definitely," Ami agrees.

They talk then. It's small, but it's comfortable. They go back and forth with pleasantries, the three of them fumbling into an easy sort of banter. Usagi likes that Ami is somewhere between shy and sharp and that Makoto keeps dropping bits of her sweets into her lunch, telling her to try them without thinking. She goes in between awe and delight with them. She doesn't need a large group around her, she thinks.

But Yumi and Naru sneak in through the fence, close to where she sits with the two of the girls. She spots them and Naru waves wildly, dragging their shopping backs to where they sit. They explode into stories, interrupting Makoto and Ami as they try to coax her back into their conversation. Almost instinctively she is drawn to the two older girls, but Naru and Yumi are louder and persistent, so much so that even the cat looks irritated.

She doesn't know who says what first, but she feels guilty when Makoto and Ami both stand. The two girls get glares from Yumi, but Makoto barely blinks.

"Lunch tomorrow?" she asks.

Usagi doesn't think and smiles warmly. "I'd like that."

 

Shingo tries to bribe her into staying at the Arcade longer after school. She puts up a light fight, rolling her eyes at her brother when he swipes the last of her money. Her milkshake is half-finished in front of her and she's staring at her math book like it's the most offensive thing in the world. Motoki laughs as he passes her.

"It's not that bad," he says.

"Says you," she mutters.

He leans over the counter and ruffles her hair. She wrinkles her nose. They'll stay another hour, she thinks, but then she really has to get home. Math, for what it's worth, still gets her into trouble with her mother from time to time anyway.

She spins on her stool. She catches her brother and his friends, bent over one of the games. She tilts her head to the side, studying them.

"You could go play."

She jumps, wide-eyed. When she turns on her stool, the guy from the other day is sitting next to her. He waves at Motoki and slides out of his jacket, draping it over the counter.

"Excuse me?" she asks.

"The game," he says. His mouth twitches. "You want to play," he says.

She laughs, shaking her head. "No," she says. "I'm worried that it's going to get me in trouble. Shingo's fine, but I still have homework to do and my mother's … well, she's a little scary when it comes to me and my math homework."

"Mmm," he says.

She's struck again, at how handsome he is. When she looks at him, when she really looks at him, she catches that low, lazy turn of his mouth. It's a smile but not quite a smile. It still seems to unnerve her and she lets her fingers brush against the counter, rubbing lightly over a loose napkin. She doesn't touch her milkshake.

"Mamoru."

She blinks. "Huh?"

He laughs. "My name," he offers. "Mamoru. And you're Usagi."

She eyes him warily. "Okay." It's easy to hide her blush, keeping her head down and her gaze framing the milkshake. "Do you make it a habit of knowing people's names? That, you know, you don't know or anything like that."

"Only yours," he teases.

Usagi laughs. She actually laughs, cupping her mouth with a mix of surprise and amusement. Mamoru's eyes seem to brighten. They're blue, she realizes. They're very blue. It forces her to focus on him and he seems to catch that too, leaning forward onto his knees.

The strange thing is that he doesn't say anything. He seems to wait for her instead.

She ducks then, smiling to herself. Her hair falls into her eyes and her hands immediately pull into her lap. Her finger curl around each other.

"You're strange," she blurts.

He chuckles.

"Do you make it a habit of being strange?" she asks, and forces herself to look up again. "Or is it just me?"

"It's just you," he teases.

There's a warmth that coils in her belly. It's sharp, maybe even too small to be anything else. She's caught off guard by the feeling though. It rises and falls inside of her and feels too close to something like familiarity. She bites her lip and he seems to soften as he watches her.

"Usagi-chan!"

There is a burst of voices behind her and then an arm around her shoulder. Makoto stands tall, her eyes sharp as she smiles at her and then turns her gaze to Mamoru.

"How's it going, Usagi-chan?"

Usagi blinks. "Fine, Kino-san."

"Makoto," she scolds gently, and another girl appears at her side. Where Makoto is practically statuesque, her friend is almost unreal. Usagi can barely take in how beautiful she is; the girl smiles at her first, but when she sees Mamoru, her eyes darken and her mouth slides into a deep frown.

Usagi looks between the two girls and then back at Mamoru, who in turn seems completely unfazed by them. Behind him though, she sees Ami and another girl move to join them.

"Mamoru-san," she murmurs. She fidgets with the sleeves of her blouse, nodding to the girls. "This is Makoto and Ami -"

"He knows us," the girl next to Makoto interrupts.

The tension seems unavoidable. Usagi turns her gaze to her brother and his friends. He is paying no attention to her, so there's no chance for a quick and easy escape. She doesn't know why she feels so frantic all of the sudden. It pulls and twists at her, so much so that it's Mamoru that leans in and touches her knee.

He's frowning. "Another milkshake?"

"No -" she and Makoto's friend say it at the same time. The dark-haired girl next to Ami rolls her eyes. But Usagi makes the decision to stand.

She reaches nervously for her bag. There's too many people, she thinks. Now too, she can feel them all watching her.

"I should go," she says firmly. She offers a forced smile. "It's good to see everyone," she murmurs, nodding at Makoto and Ami and their friends. She's sure she's being somewhat rude, but her gaze is pulled back to Mamoru. "And -" she laughs nervously. "Yeah," she finishes.

She doesn't know where the burst of energy comes from, but she is moving to Shingo without even thinking. She must be an open book too because her brother takes one look at her expression and says goodbye to his friends, excusing himself and using the token my mom as an excuse.

They pass the group on their way out. Usagi tries not to look.

 

 

The attacks start slow. They graduate from the back pages of the paper to small blurbs in the front news. Usagi sneaks uneasy peeks while her mother tells her and Shingo to be careful when they go out alone.

She is supposed to meet Naru at the shops and arrives thinking that she's late again until Naru leaves a message on her phone that she's held up at the jewelry store. Usagi sighs and shakes her head.

Leaning against the wall, she clasps her hands in front of her dress. She rocks lightly against her heels. There is the rumble of an engine. A group of passing girls are giggling; when Usagi opens her eyes, she ends up watching Mamoru slide off his bike.

His helmet is in his hand. Another bike pulls up next to him and she remembers his friend - it's the taller one, but this time his hair is pulled loose and he's wearing a scarf wrapped around his neck. They both see her.

"Usagi," Mamoru greets. He reaches her first. She eyes his bike before offering a shy smile. His friend moves to stand next to him. "This is Kris," he says.

"Hello."

Kris smiles. "Hello back." His accent is misplaced.

She studies him and then Mamoru. "Are you stalking me?" she asks. They both laugh, but Usagi is wary.

"Are you waiting for someone?" Mamoru asks instead.

She hesitates. "Yes." She curls her fingers in her hair, twisting them in the strands. "She's late," she explains. "I might have to go home though - my mother is worried about the attacks."

Mamoru frowns, but Kris answers. "As she should," he says. "Nasty business." Mamoru's gaze seems to darken, but Kris continues, gently touching her arm. "We were getting coffee - you should join us while you wait."

She blushes. "I couldn't," she protests. "I -"

"Come on," Mamoru says. Kris laughs, shaking his head. It's still Mamoru that offers his arm. "I'll buy a hot chocolate for you," he says.

There is something that makes her hesitate again. It's far from unease or concern. She feels like she's been here before. He looks at her and she feels like she should be reacting differently. Her lips purse, but she takes his arm. Her fingers curl against his jacket.

"All right," she murmurs then.

 

 

They sit in a booth. Kris picks the side across from them, moving to grab the drinks from them counter. Normally, she would be swept up in this. It's jus that there's no Naru or Yumi or any of her other friends to distract her.

"You look worried."

Startled, Usagi catches Mamoru's hand on her arm. She blushes, shrugging. "Just thinking," she says.

"About me?"

She snorts. "Does that actually work?" she asks. Mamoru smirks. His eyes are dark and he licks his lips. Kris comes back with their drinks first. "No," she still answers and it's a strange, little lie. "I'm not thinking about you."

She does not miss the look that Kris shoots Mamoru, or how he shrugs in kind; something passes between them and she frowns, her hands wrapping around her drink.

"So Usagi-san," Kris starts carefully. She straightens. "Tell us about school," he says, smiling. "Do you enjoy it?"

She groans and Mamoru chuckles. "Sometimes," she says. "I could do without math or science. But the rest of it is fine. I like history," she says. "And I like our reading period."

"There's nothing wrong with math and science - they can be just as interesting, if not more than the others." Mamoru
takes a sip of his coffee finally.

Her eyes narrow. "You really just sold it to me," she says dryly.

"Ah, but you really shouldn't be quick to judge."

For whatever reason, she can tell he's baiting her. Kris is watching them in amusement. Her cheeks flush.

"Or you could just agree to disagree. It's not for everyone."

Mamoru's mouth quirks. "Of course," he says smoothly.

She changes the conversation though, gearing it towards him and Kris and the two bikes outside. She is usually quick to understand what and how people feel about her, but Mamoru is not an easy read. He alternates between watching her carefully and being particular with his interest, lazy smiles that don't quite reach his eyes and then this look, this strange look that makes her heart start to crawl into her throat.

"Do you want a ride?" he asks finally.

She shakes her head, checking her watch. "No thank you," she murmurs. It's been almost an hour, she thinks. Naru isn't usually this late. Her fingers dip into her bag and she presses them against her phone. "Sorry," she sighs. "I - okay."

He touches her arm. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," she murmurs.

She's barely touched her hot chocolate. Her mouth brushes the rim of her cup. Her nerves hit.

It could be nothing.

 

Her mother is going to kill her. She stands by Mamoru's bike, holding the extra helmet and then sighing.

"Don't say anything," she warns, and she reaches up, pulling her hair loose from her twin buns. The strands unravel and spill, draping over her shoulder as she hands him back the helmet for the moment.

His eyes narrow though and he is blatantly watching her, moving to lean against the bike. She ignores him - Kris has left - and her fingers weave her hair into a braid. When she finishes, he reaches forward and wraps a hand around the end, tugging lightly. Her cheeks flush and then he puts the helmet over her head.

"There," he murmurs.

Her throat burns.

 

Nauru is all apologies at school. Usagi waves it off until lunch, where she is left again when Naru and Yumi slip away again for another adventure.

"Usagi-chan?"

She barely has time to sit when Makoto loops her arm through hers. Ami isn't with her. Instead it's one of the other girls, the very same girl who stared down Mamoru at the Arcade.

"Alone again?"

Usagi blushes. "Yes," she says.

"Her friends leave her as the lookout," Makoto says to the other girl. She smiles kindly and jerks her hand to her too. "Minako, Usagi. Usagi, Minako. Sorry about the other day -"

"Chiba-san isn't my favorite person," Minako says dryly. She flashes a wide smile too, splitting her fingers into a v sign. Usagi's go wide with recognition.

"Oh!" she breathes. "Oh."

"Yeah," Makoto says. "She's -"

Minako smacks her arm. "Sailor V," she grins. "That's me.

It still doesn't explain anything, but Usagi joins the other girls for lunch, letting them drag her to a corner. She forgets about the Arcade for the moment, about Mamoru and his motorcycle, about how suddenly there are these people in her life and she isn't sure what to make of any of them. It's not permanent, she thinks. She's just over thinking it.

But she adores Minako, and falls pretty hard when they start laughing over mutual grievances with the mall escalator. Makoto is watching them in amusement, listening and then interjecting to give both of them treats.

After though, she stands with the girls. The period is close to an end and she needs to linger to catch Naru and Yumi. She flushes as she explains, but both girls won't hear it.

"Tomorrow," Makoto says firmly. "I'm making lunch for all of us," she says too.

Usagi stares at her. "You don't have to," she protests.

But Makoto laughs and shrugs and gives her this soft look. Usagi is taken aback, but has no time to process it. Minako links her arm through hers as they watch the taller girl leave them for the school.

"You should take care with Chiba-san," she says quietly.

"Mamoru," Usagi says. Minako raises an eyebrow. "That's what you called him the other day."

Minako gives her an odd little smile. It doesn't quite reach her eyes; Usagi cannot tell if she is sad or angry or somewhere in between. Her fingers catch at her bangs though and she gently pushes away, tapping lightly at her forehead.

"I know you," she says. "You have a big heart. He doesn't. Don't let it try and change you."

It isn't until she's back in her classroom, Naru and Yumi
chatting at her side, that the words hit her.

She doesn't understand what they mean.

 

 

The cat is sitting outside the stoop of her door when she comes home with Shingo, books flushed at her hip. Shingo immediately rushes by, leaving her with the cat and its creepy blank stare. She tries everything: she offers to pick it up, her fingers tucking under its belly, but it pulls away and even asking it to go - which is silly, of course. But it does not seem to want to budge.

So she lets it be.

 

The nightmares come then. They unravel in her head as uncomfortably as anything else; first she wakes up crying, the next night her hand is digging into her stomach, her nails scraping at the fabric of her pajamas.

She starts to taste things as well - names, not faces, blood and dirty and the heavy, heavy presence of ash. She pushes her fingers to her throat and is suddenly struck by the weight of Minako's words.

I know you.

When she sits at the breakfast table, she pulls her legs up onto her chair. Her knees are tucked against her chest and her mother puts the fruit in front of her.

"Don't forget to pick up things for Luna today."

She blinks. "Luna?"

Her mother smiles, stepping back and revealing the cat from the other day. "Luna," she says. "Shingo and you brought her home yesterday. Your father says that it'll be a good thing for the two of you and teach you responsibility."

"Responsibility," Usagi echoes, staring at the cat. It blinks back at her. It tilts her head to the side, watching her too. "I -" she frowns looking up at her mother. "I don't remember bringing a cat home," she says slowly.

Her mother waves her hand.

She leaves her for the kitchen too. Usagi picks at the fruit, her fingers pressing into the melon. She pushes it with her fork. The cat seems to move towards her, lingering at the foot of her chair. She eyes it warily.

It's a cat, she tells herself. It's just a cat and maybe, maybe it's the thing with her dreams and her imagination, always awkward and moving faster without her.

The feeling is back again.

 

 

There is an attack at the mall. Naru and Yumi get up in the whole thing, recounting their whole story with wide, wide eyes and hands as everyone hangs on their words. Usagi sits the furtherest away, listening quietly.

She thinks back to the dreams again. It's the third, fifth time this week that she's woken up in a cold sweat, clutching herself. It's as if she remembers something, something large - and it's the sensation, the feel of something slicing through her skin that unsettles her the most. When Naru laughs, she shivers and her hands open and close and her fingers tremble. Everything feels so desperate all of the sudden.

Then she sees the girls.

They stand, watching. Makoto, still the tallest, and then there's Ami, leaning against one of the trees with her hands clasped in front of her.

Minako's frown is the deepest.

 

 

Mamoru buys her a milkshake after school. His friends sit at a separate table; there is no signs of the other girls, although something in her feels like she should watch out.

She's quiet though. Part of her thinks she shouldn't be here.

"Do you like me?" she asks.

His brow furrows. "Of course," he says. "I -"

"But you don't know me," she interrupts. "You don't know me. They don't know me and I'm not really sure that friends that I have make sense anyway." She looks up at him, her fingers curling around her straw. "I just met all of you and I -"

He reaches for her hand. His fingers curl around it, brushing against the back and then over her palm as it turns into his touch. It happens almost instinctively.

"And then," she says. "There's the cat."

"The cat?"

She nods. "The cat." She waits for him to laugh too, but he doesn't. When she looks up, his friends are watching them. The only one she knows is Kris. "My brother's allergic," she says. "And suddenly, Mama is all about keeping her. In fact, it's like she's always been there. Maybe I'm the crazy one, but I first saw her with Makoto-chan - how come you and the girls don't get along? Minako told me to stay away from you. I think I'm rambling."

He laughs. Then he softens. "You're worried," he says.

"I don't feel like myself," she confesses.

"What can I do?"

Usagi laughs too. "You barely know me, Mamoru-san. I don't really know what to do with you as it is - I feel like - you just gave me a motorcycle ride."

He flashes a grin, a strangely boyish grin. Her cheeks burn and she's completely caught off-guard, sliding her hand from under his and dropping it to her lap to curl in her skirt. She's smiling too and she can't exactly wrap her head around as to why.

"Is that all it takes?" he teases.

Her flush deepens. His fingers press against her cheek and she looks up.

"I know enough," he says softly.

They stare at each other. She feels like he's picking her apart, but she's entirely sure what he's looking for. She doesn't understand. She doesn't understand how easy it is for her to open up to him, even though she's an open book as it is. She knows she wears her heart on her sleeve, that most of the time, most of her feelings are so blatantly obvious because they're unavoidable and they're there.

Her lips curl and he's already dropped his hand but slowly, shyly, she finds herself reaching for it. Her fingers touch the back of his hand. When it turns towards her fingers, she doesn't know if she's done the right thing or not.

There's no time.

The glass next to their booth breaks.

 

There is a hand around her throat. When her eyes open, she is staring at man. He smiles at her, his nails scraping against her skin.

"Hello little girl." He tilts his head to the side. "You pretty girl."

This is a dream, she thinks. This is a new dream. But his fingers press harder into her throat, pulling at her skin. She is starting to panic, panic faster and faster as the sensation digs at her throat. Her eyes grow wider and wider, her hair falling loosely to her sides as he lifts her up and over him, her legs dangling as he smiles again.

Her hands start to claw at his. He squeezes once. He squeezes twice. Then he giggles.

"Let her go!"

The cry comes from somewhere behind her. There's a growl too and more glass shatters. She sees the monster next, her vision blurring as it comes barreling into the picture. Something flashes and something flashes fast. The grasp around her throat drops and she falls to her knees, crying out when they hit hard.

"Hey, hey, hey," gentle hands brush at her face. "You're okay." When Usagi looks up, her eyes widen. The only thing she can think is this: just like Sailor V as gloves frame her face, fingers brushing back at her bangs. "You're okay," the woman says again.

It's just that light cracks over them, fast and hard with a furious snap. She cries out, her hand slamming against her mouth and the woman turns in a whirl, standing in front of her. Usagi is dizzy and her hands move to her throat again.

She can taste the blood in her mouth.

It happens too fast for her to follow. There's screaming and yelling and then someone's hands are on her shoulders, dragging her back. It's Kris, then, tucking her in between the wall and another one of Mamoru's friends - Jack, Jade, Justin? She has can't remember. Her fingers still dig into his shirt, her head dropping to rest against his back as she feels the tears and the panic overwhelm her. Her knees are ready to buckle.

But every crack sounds like bone snapping. She keeps her head pressed against Kris' back, then it's another one of his friends - Zach, she remembers. He replaces Kris and tells her to breathe, but all she can focus on is the sound of metal hitting against each other, then sliding and scratching and sounding too much like knives. There is laughter too and the bile rises up her throat. Be brave, she tells herself. Just be brave.

She doesn't know exactly when it's over. When Zach pulls back, she finally spots Mamoru, pocketing something and then turning to acknowledge Kris and the rest of his friends. There are cries inside the Arcade and she jerks her gaze to the side, suddenly remembering the woman that was with her and the odd familiarity of Sailor V. No, she thinks. That's in her head. Shingo was bent on playing the new game. That's why they were here today.

Mamoru does come to her though. He wraps an arm around her shoulders. The grip is tight and her head drops against his chest. His mouth is in her hair.

"You're fine," he says. But it's a question too. His fingers tighten briefly. "We got separated, Usagi-chan. I'm so sorry -"

Her hand drops between them and presses against her stomach.

The feeling is too sharp. "I'm fine," she says.

 

 

The cat is sitting on her bed when she arrives home. Her mother's already lost it, between the glass in her blouse and Shingo's recounting of everything that happened. He didn't see her, but it doesn't matter, Usagi thinks touching her throat. It doesn't matter at all.

She settles in her bed. Her legs curl underneath her and the cat moves to jump into her lap. It startles her and her eyes are wide, her fingers burying themselves into its fur. When it purrs, her lips twitch and she wraps her arm underneath the cat, pulling her up and into her arms. She nuzzles its head, her eyes blurring again and the tears that start are both hot and heavy. She doesn't know why she's crying, but the cat nuzzles her; first her cheek, next her jaw, and Usagi drags them back to curl up over the pillows.

"Don't go, okay?" she says to the cat. Her lips twitch and she rubs her eyes. "I just need someone to stay with me, kitty-cat. Just for a little while."

She may or may not fall asleep then. The cat will nuzzle her though, touch her fingers with its nose and then settle in her arms again. She will feel it shift. She will swear, half-hazy with sleep, that it sighs too, if only because it can't get close enough to her.

But when Usagi wakes up in the morning, the cat is gone.

Chapter Text

The strangest part about memories is that they tie you to people. Sometimes it's intentional.

Most of the time it's not.

 

 

Her parents go away for their anniversary and Shingo gets into a fight. It's a long weekend and they both have that Friday and Monday off from school.

"You can't tell them," her brother pleads. Usagi is uncharacteristically quiet, taking the small bag of ice Motoki hands her. She presses it against Shingo's eye, her mouth set into a frown as she brushes his hair away from his face. "Usagi," he says again. "I'm serious - Mom and dad are going to kill me."

As far as she's concerned they should; it's never an easy feeling, walking into the school yard after classes and see a group of boys circling her brother and another student. There is blood on her uniform and his, but she's more concerned about things like broken bones and that stupid, stupid other boy coming after her brother again.

"Usagi -"

"Usagi-chan?"

She looks up and Makoto and her friends are standing behind her brother, flanking the back side of the counter with their school bags and an order for Motoki. It's Minako that steps forward first and then to her, looking at her brother and then at Usagi again.

"Is everything all right?" she asks.

"Fine," Usagi murmurs. She feels Shingo tense underneath her, but she keeps the ice to his face. "Everything's fine, everybody. Thank you."

Makoto steps forward too. Her gaze softens. "Do you both want to get a milkshake with us?" she asks. She nods to the other girl standing with Ami. "We meant to introduce you to Rei, ages ago, but, you know, it's just been hard to get together."

"Usa-chan," her brother murmurs.

She ignores him. There really is no time to process any of this, between the new round of weeks that both the girls and of course, Mamoru - who is strangely never far from her mind. They go back and forth and alternate. Since the attack too, Naru and Yumi have sort of been pressing for her to talk about it, just like they did, but she has no interest in the matter at all.

She still forces a smile onto her mouth. It's too hard to fake, but she tries to nonetheless and shakes her head.

"Maybe some other time," she says.

 

It isn't until later that she lets Motoki bring her a soda, not a milkshake, and she hides herself away in one of the corner booths. She spreads her homework around her, staring blankly at it as she looks up occasionally to make sure that Shingo is still taking his frustrations out on the Sailor V game. There are a couple of kids in the Arcade from school and on the other side, there is the booth that she sat with Mamoru, a couple of guys setting the new pane of glass in - the only memory of the attack.

Her nightmares are getting worse. It's more than just her senses; she sees things now. She sees faces and feels like she should know them. Sometimes there's a woman smiling at her, brushing her hair from her face and whispering things like you will be fine as if she expected this all along. It bothers Usagi, that kind of assumption, the fact that she's attaching herself to this and she doesn't know where to begin to make sense of any of this.

"Here."

Motoki brings her a slice of cake. Her lips twitch.

"Motoki-kun," she drawls, laughing. He grins when he sits across from her. "I'm fine," she says. "I promise - I'm just worried about my brother."

"Do you know what happened?" he asks.

She shakes her head, looking back to her brother. He's found some friends from school. They flank him, laughing. He seems more relaxed.

"School finished," she says, "and they were just fighting - he hit him so hard, the other boy. I don't know why but I just … I pulled him back and one of the boys from my history class to told the other kids to get lost. My brother's annoying but he's not - you know him," she finishes. "Shingo would never get into a fight."

He sighs. "Sometimes it just happens. But you shouldn't worry too much."

But she is, she wants to say. She watches another group of kids wander through the Arcade. She recognizes the uniforms - they're from her school. They break off from each other too; a couple of girls disappear to the seats and then the boys, the boys head straight to where her brother and his friends are settled.

Her eyes widen and she's already sliding out of the booth. She recognizes one of the boys from earlier, watching as he immediately jumps into Shingo's face. They square off and Shingo shoves back at the other boy. There's a sharp, uneasy feeling unraveling in the pit of her stomach and she reaches the boys, weaving through the small crowd.

"Hey!" she says.

"Stay out of it, Usagi," Shingo snaps.

Her eyes flash, but she tries to keep calm. Behind her, Motoki moves to step in too.

But the boy starts to laugh and starts to laugh loudly, pulling himself up to full height and shoving hard at her brother. It doesn't matter that he stumbles back, that some of Shingo's friends catch him before he hits one of the machines. It's when the boy turns to her, it's when he smiles with his teeth that the feeling comes back again.

His eyes are black.

 

The ground bursts. It starts from the back, pulling the double row of arcade games out of the floor and sending them back against the wall. There are screams.

"Usagi!"

Shingo's arm wraps around her waist, dragging her back as the boy starts to rise off the ground too. His friends stumble back, horrified. No one can take their eyes off of the boy though. His clothes begin to rip, large spikes shooting out from underneath the fabric and breaking his skin. The sound pushes at her ears, her fingers clawing at her wrists as she watches his skin split. His smile grows into teeth, his face lengthening

He never looks away from her though. His hand rises, large claws shooting out. She watches as a dark mass of energy forms and he throws it at her and her brother. It's instinct, suddenly, that carries Usagi to duck but her hand pulls out of Shingo's and her brother goes flying back. She can hear herself scream, but then there are arms around her waist and a large, sharp mass of fire goes barreling towards the monster.

"Easy, easy."

It's Makoto's voice in her ear. She's trembling, but her shoulders slump. She tries to twist around, but Makoto keeps her steady and in front of her.

"We got you," she says. "Okay?"

Her mouth opens, but there's nothing nothing. Her ears are ringing. There is a hand on her shoulder. Her head turns and Minako is standing with her, her gaze hard. She brushes her bangs out of her eyes.

"Are you hurt?" she asks.

"No," Usagi manages, coughing. "No - I -"

Minako frowns. "Then -"

"It's not me," Makoto says.

Usagi looks down at the arm around her waist. It's untouched with the exception of the cuff of Makoto's sleeve. She doesn't know what's going on, but the air around the Arcade starts to thicken, darken too with a heavy set of fog. But her eyes can't leave the arm around her waist, or the slow, lazy spread of blood against her uniform. She gets dizzier and dizzier as it grows and then there's Minako's hand in her hair, Makoto shaking her gently - her name is called too or it just must be her imagination. She can't tell the difference.

"Oh," she says softly. "Oh."

Her head falls back. The ringing fades in her ears.

 

The dream is hazy this time. Her hands are curled in a dress that she feels, the silk running back against her palms as she moves to sit on the edge of a pool.

She wears a heavy cover - cloak - and it's clasped at her throat. She's careful, first, then one of her hands reaches up to touch the pin at her throat, tracing the cool metal. She feels tired. She feels sad. Around her, everything is dark and lush, too green and too bright even in the dark. When she looks up, her gaze settles on the moon.

"You're early."

Her lips curl. "No," she says. "You're late. Your general has informed me that you've had quite the day, including something that involves a glass being thrown at the wall."

"A momentary slip," comes the admission. There's a chuckle. Then, a hand drops to her shoulder. The fingers move against her skin and then against the back of her neck. She feels lips press against her throat. "I promise, that's done now."

"Good," she murmurs.

The worries are a strange thing to hold onto; her head dips back, then down to rest against the shoulder. In front of her, she watches her hand tangle in another. She isn't inclined to look up, but she does smile softly.

There is something pressing to talk about. It's lodged deep in the back of her mind, then in her throat. From the side, she hears a low laugh and then a sharp hiss. She feels her mouth twitch again and then her free hand rise to cover her eyes. She rubs them gently.

She feels the mouth soften against her ear. "Don't be sad, Serenity."

 

Her eyes stay closed. Her fingers twitch against a blanket.

"I'm going to let Mina kill you if she arrives before you leave," comes a voice. "You know you can't be here. Or stay for that matter."

A hand presses against her face. The skin is cool. There are fingers brushing her hair away from her forehead, tracing the skin that rests just under a slight bump.

"Leave him be, Rei," comes another voice. Justin registers, for whatever reason, for Usagi almost instantly. "We'll be out of your hair very soon."

The other voice, Rei, sighs. "Not soon enough," she mutters.

There is another sigh. The fingers trace her cheek, then her jaw, and a thumb rubs over her lip. She lets out a soft sound, turning her head slightly. It's almost instinctive and her mouth grazes the tips of the fingers.

But then they're gone.

 

When her eyes open, the cat is sitting on the bed. She meets its gaze blearily, shifting. There is a sharp pain at her belly and her hand jerks forward, cupping her hip and then her stomach as she sits up. This isn't her room.

Her eyes feel heavy. The cat shifts forward, hopping into her lap and then circling to settle down. She lets out a small laugh, burying her fingers into its fur. Her eyes burn and she looks around the room again. She doesn't remember getting here.

But one of the doors slide open and Shingo walks into the room, turning on the lights at the side. He looks at her worriedly, then smiles, moving to her bed. He eyes the cat and then sits down, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and then pulling her in.

"I'm so sorry," he breathes into her neck. She feels the tears press into her skin.

Usagi manages to hide a wince. "You're safe," she murmurs. Her fingers circle into the cat's fur. "That's all that matters," she adds. Confusion presses into her voice. "Where are we?"

"The temple," her brother tells her. "Hino-san was kind of enough -" she laughs softly when he blushes, rubbing the back of his neck, " - to let us stay here. You got cut pretty bad and stuff and you fainted and you know we can't reach Mom and Dad until they arrive at the resort."

"I remember," she nods.

Shingo's gaze darkens though. "You could've been hurt," he says. "Pretty badly - I just - if I hadn't pressed, if we had gone home instead of the Arcade -"

"Shingo," she says quietly. "It's not your fault."

She ruffles his hair. The cat in her lap purrs and she laughs a little. The door opens again though and it's Rei - she remembers Rei - stepping into the room. Her eyes widen in surprise at her tradition dress, the priest uniform do different from the school one that she's used to. The older girl smiles a little.

Shingo draws back to blush too. They're join then by Ami and Makoto, Minako drawing into the room last, leaning lazily against the wall.

"Thank you," Usagi offers shyly.

Rei's mouth twitches. "We didn't do anything," she says.

"Well," Makoto grins. "I am making dinner though."

The older girls laugh and Usagi smiles a little. Her hand goes to her brother's arm though, tightening a little. She doesn't know how comfortable she feels; she's still in awe of all of them, at how tall and beautiful and so, so, so smart they all are. She doesn't understand why they keep falling into her life or how she fits back in.

Makoto looks at her brother though. "Wanna help, kiddo? I've roped Ami here and Mina-chan, at the very least, with setting the table. I could use a pair of steady hands in the kitchen."

He flushes and looks at her. Usagi nods, pushing him lightly. It won't hurt, she thinks. Dinner is polite enough to not overextend their stay. Her brother gets up then and disappears with the other girls, blushing harder when it's Minako who wraps an around his shoulder and launches into some kind of tale about playing Sailor V.

Rei comes to her bed then. The voice disappear behind the open door, down the hallway too. When she sits on the bed, the cat stretches out in Usagi's lap, nipping lightly at her fingers.

"Are you all right?" the older girl asks quietly.

Usagi flushes, looking down. "I don't know."

"Ami managed to help with your stitches," Rei tells her. Without even thinking, Usagi's hand goes to her belly. She touches the fabric of her shirt. "She's good," she offers too. "Do you don't have anything to worry at all."

She nods.

"But -" Rei's hand drops against her arm. "You're worried," she says gently.

Usagi shakes her head. "I'm not brave like you, Hino-san."

"Rei," the other girl corrects.

Remembering Makoto, Usagi's mouth twitches. She looks down, staring at the bed. She isn't exactly sure what she should say.

"You'll be all right, you know."

Her lips curl now. "That's what everyone keeps telling me. You, Makoto-chan - I - I don't really know what I should believe I guess. I don't really know where to start either."

Rei touches her arm. The cat purrs.

"Sometimes things have to run their course," Rei says slowly. "And, sure, there's coincidences to factor in as well. You can be pragmatic, but you should open too."

"I don't understand," Usagi says, blinking.

Rei laughs, shaking her head. "Don't mind me," she tells her. "It's been a really long day, Usagi-chan. For both of us - but, but, you should know that you are going to be okay. We mean it. We would never let anything happen to you."

"I don't know what that means."

She looks up at Rei, wide-eyed. She wants to say that everyone keeps telling her this. But then there's the attack, the attacks, and the Arcade and her brother - everything is unsettling and it's strangest kind of panic that is building inside of her.

Rei touches her cheek. "You'll know," she says quietly.

It's suddenly painful, the way Rei looks at her, like she's supposed to understand and reciprocate in some telling and easy kind of way. Her stomach is in nothing but knots. But she lets the older girl help her out of bed and leans against her as they move into the hallway, the cat jumping from the bed to follow them.

At dinner, it's as if the conversation never happened.

 

 

The roar of a motorcycle stops at the front door. Shingo looks up from his reading; Usagi stands at the foot of the couch, blinking.

"I -" her brother looks back down at his book, waving his hand. "Okay," she mutters.

It's early. She's changed into her dress for the day. Her fingers are working through her hair, pulling them back into braids. She moves to the door, opening it, somehow completely unsurprised as Mamoru slides off his bike.

He pulls of his helmet. She leans against the frame of the door, reaching for more hair to finish off the second braid. When he drops the helmet on his bike, he meets her gaze. Her mouth quirks and she shakes her head.

"Stalker!" she calls.

He smirks. He takes long strides up the path. He's wearing that leather jacket again, his tie twisted against his shirt when he pulls it open. He's impeccably dressed, she thinks and shakes her head again. Nothing seems out of place.

"You're all right," he murmurs, reaching her.

Her eyes narrow. "We really have to talk about how you know where I live," she says. "Or, well, the part where you seem to know where I am at the strangest times."

He shrugs. "It's early," he says. "The Arcade's not open."

"I don't always go the Arcade."

He chuckles. His fingers curl around her braid when she finishes, tugging lightly. She bats his hand away and pulls each pigtail up, wrapping them around her head into buns. A few strands of hair brush over her eyes still.

"I'm fine," she says almost immediately, just as his mouth opens. She doesn't move from her spot at the door. Her arms cross in front of her chest. The strap of her dress starts to slide down her shoulder.

"I didn't ask anything," he says.

She snorts. "But you will. Or you'll show up another place that I'm going to be at - we'll have the very same conversation and then you'll say something weird and I'll be uncomfortable but not uncomfortable because you're charming and it's - oh, I'm rambling again."

He laughs, but says nothing else. Shingo comes to the door, halfway into something about their parents coming home early. Lie or not, her brother's eyes light up at the motorcycle parked in front of their house. He wasn't home the first time Mamoru dropped her off.

He gives the older boy a look too, bolting towards it when Mamoru nods his consent to check it out. The bruises on Shingo's face are still there and Usagi finds herself soften, still worried about what she's going to tell their parents. Almost immediately, her fingers drift over the front of her dress and she's touching her stomach again.

"The attack," Mamoru says.

She pushes herself away from the door, moving to sit on the steps. She watches her brother.

"No," she says after awhile. Her voice is soft. "He was in a fight before. Then the boy came to the Arcade after - he was -"

She stops because she doesn't exactly know what to say. The papers call them monsters, but she can still picture the boy in her head; he doesn't make it into her dreams, but she can pull herself into the memory of him rising above her head, his skin splitting, and that awful, awful laugh of his.

Usagi forces herself to swallow. "Nobody helped him," she says. "It was awful."

"What about you?"

Mamoru sits on the steps next to her. He slides his jacket off, draping it over her shoulders. It makes her lips curl, but it isn't chilly. The jacket smells like him though. She curls her fingers around the flaps, keeping it close to her.

"I'm fine," she repeats.

"You look tired," he murmurs.

She looks down. "There's that too." Fidgeting, she lets her arms slide into the jacket. It's too big for her and she moves her gaze to focus on Shingo as she watches him circle the bike. He pulls out his phone. "I haven't been sleeping," she admits.

"The attacks?"

"Yes," she lies. She still doesn't look at him. "This is my second one."

His fingers brush against her cheek. She swallows. They move to her hair too, tracing the line of her ear and then circling back to her jaw.

"Talk to me," he says quietly.

Her mouth turns. "There you go again."

"Talk to me," he repeats. "What's got you so worried?" he asks too. "It's written all over your face and, well, you can't look at me. You usually look when you talk."

"Because you know me so well," she says dryly.

"You'd be surprised."

Her gaze shoots up. Her eyes are wide, but he doesn't seem to back down. She's caught off-guard yet again, the sharpness of his gaze, the bright, bright color of his eyes. It's silly and stupid and she's letting herself be framed by this idea of him, an idea that she's not entirely sure where to start with him.

She sighs sharply. Her mouth opens and then it closes.

"Why are you doing this?" she asks. Her voice is small.

Mamoru doesn't answer.

 

Kris shows up with Justin. Shingo's friends are already here. Usagi's had to lie twice to the neighbors, awkwardly fumbling between the boyfriend lie and the mentor lie for Shingo - much to Mamoru's amusement.

All the boys are talking excitedly about motorcycles and cars; Mamoru is deep in conversation with her brother about the engine and engine mechanics. She half-listens, shaking her head and thinks about going into the house to hide again. She's not entirely comfortable with all these people here, but she is happy that her brother is being her brother all over again.

Justin touches her arm. "Hey."

"Hi," she greets.

"I don't really think we've been introduced or whatever." She laughs and Mamoru looks up. Justin snorts next to her. "But I've seen you around."

Her lips curl. "You're Justin," she says. She makes no mention of the other night, still fuzzy on some of her feelings about being at Rei's. She hasn't told anybody either. Then again, she thinks. There's really no one to tell.

"I am." He grins. "He likes you."

She blushes. "We're not talking about this," she mutters.

"Oh, I know." He waves a hand. "I'm just telling you. He doesn't like very many people. In fact, and he'll kill me - he's like socially awkward in the worst kind of way."

"Mamoru-san?" she chokes. Her hand claps over her mouth. She muffles a giggle. Both Mamoru and Kris look at her. She turns away, hiding. "Please," she says. "He's - I'm sure there are girls following him everywhere he goes."

Justin smirks. "Well."

They watch Shingo laugh at something Mamoru says. Then he claps, getting behind Kris as they both slide onto Mamoru's bike. Usagi's arms cross over her chest.

"Be careful!" she calls. "I only have one brother."

Shingo glares and Kris laughs. Mamoru steps back to where she stands with Justin; Shingo's friends are standing off to the side as the motorcycle roars to life.

She realizes she is still wearing Mamoru's jacket when he touches her arm. A soft blush catches at her cheeks. She meets his gaze though

"What are the two of you talking about?" he asks.

"Your charm," she says dryly, and Justin breaks out into a loud laugh. Mamoru seems completely unfazed though. His arm settles around her shoulders and oddly enough, she finds herself completely at ease at how simple the gesture is.

"Good," he says.

 

Later, they are roped into dinner downtown. Mamoru has an apartment in the nicest part of the city; Shingo spends the majority of their arrival at his place still talking about his motorcycle ride with Kris as she listens quietly.

It's better this way, she thinks. Her father would kill him. In fact, she thinks if they had stayed at home it would be just her luck that her parents show up early and everything erupts into a strange, awkward moment of explanations.

But Mamoru's place is incredible. From the marble floors at the entrance, the linings and the photos - it's not a small place. Everything is dark and clean lines and there's an open room with shelves and shelves of books. For some reason, she thinks of Ami then. It's a quick thought and nothing more.

She meets two more of his friends though, Nix and Zane. Zane is the cook. Nix is somewhere between business owner and wine lover; he's the oldest of the group and it should seem strange to here, but then again, nothing is at that point anymore. She still listens to Shingo laugh and talk to them as if he just fits right in. It makes her smile with some relief, knowing that she can have something a little normal after the kind of turn life seems to be taking.

For a little while, she keeps to the open room.

 

"You're hiding."

There is an office that she finds. There are more books that line the walls. She's curled herself into a corner of the couch. The black leather is cool against her cheek.

When her eyes open, Mamoru is kneeling by the couch.

"Just tired," she murmurs.

His lips curl. "Your brother's worried about," he says. His fingers brush against her face. "Said he found you sleeping back here - was worried about it seeming strange. Are you sleeping well at home, Usagi?"

"Fine," she says.

It's a lie and it tastes like a lie. When she focuses, she catches the recognition in Mamoru's gaze. He gives her one of those lingering smiles - half-smiles, she corrects. She doesn't actually think she's seen him smile; it's been more lazy grins and laughs. It's easily drawn to the kind of presence that he has; which, she thinks, still doesn't make any sense to her yet.

She does try to move, to sit up so that she can offer to help. Her embarrassment uncurls in her throat. She should've stayed in the open room or the kitchen.

"Hey," Mamoru says. He lets her shift to sit up, sliding between her and the arm of the couch. Then gently, he lets her lower back to lying down. Her cheek rests against his thigh and she sighs. She nuzzles him without thinking. "You don't have to eat," he says. His fingers move to her hair. "It's okay - I won't be offended."

"I feel like I've wasted the day," she admits.

He laughs.

"I'm serious." She stares at the floor. Her legs curl inward, tucking themselves into one of the pillows behind her. "Shingo and I were going to go to the park. We never know what to do when my parents aren't home."

"That's not a bad thing," he offers.

"Says you."

His fingers work themselves into her hair. She feels them as they catch the bands around her buns and suddenly, slowly, he's pulling them loose. She freezes, if only to see what he does; the first bun uncoils from her head, then he's pulling the braid out and loose. The next happens in the same manner, slow, thoughtful, and gentle enough. Her hair spills everywhere though, over his legs and her shoulders.

She swears she hears him murmur beautiful, low enough that she has to strain to try and catch when he says it. They're quiet though. She can hear laughter from one of the other rooms, but it's sort of faint anyway. Mamoru's fingers keep working through her hair. He then moves to trace her cheek, then her jaw.

"Do you get scared?" she asks suddenly. She waits for him to laugh but he doesn't. "I just - I feel like something is happening and I don't really understand why. I - I feel like I'm missing things too. I don't know. I don't like feeling this way. I feel small and useless and it's stupid, right? It's stupid."

"Breathe," he murmurs. "You're getting worked up."

She shoots up, her eyes wide. They're burning too. Her hair flies everywhere and she's clutching her throat. It comes to her this way, the weight of the attacks and the dreams that she's trying so valiantly hide from when everyone else seems like they're being bigger and braver. She's not scared, but it makes her feel sad. She doesn't understand why.

"I -" she breathes. Her eyes close tightly. "I don't understand what's going on with me. Naru and Yumi were in an attack and they're fine. Shingo - I just -" Frustration hits her hard too. "I want to understand what's going on. I'm not brave or pretty or anything that -"

"Stop," he says.

His hands rise and cups her face. His thumbs roll against her jaw.

"Stop," he says again. His mouth brushes against her forehead. "Take a deep breath," he says too. "You're fine, you know. Your brother is fine. Nothing's going to happen to you."

Her eyes are wet. They feel hot around her lashes.. "I know," she mumbles. When she blinks, there are tears. "I know," she says. "Everybody keeps telling me that I'm going to be okay."

"You don't believe them."

The me is implied. She flashes a watery smile, resting back on her knees. He shifts and laughs, reaching for her again.

"I don't know you," she says.

He laughs again. Her eyes open slowly.

"No," he says. There is a curious hesitation. It's like when she talked with Rei, she thinks. It was in the way that she looked at her, watched and even helped her along to dinner with the other girls. Even Minako too, Usagi thinks.

It's still different with Mamoru. Her heart starts to race, rush hard against her chest. She can hear it in her ears and when he leans forward, she feels her body bend. Her hand presses against his chest, his fingers catching around her hand too. His mouth touches hers. Then he touches her mouth again, hovering before he almost kisses her. Or kisses her.

She can't tell, but she can almost taste him, lingering. He's hard and sharp, his teeth brushing over her lip as she sighs. She feels herself move closer, then closer and over his lap, her legs straddling it on either side. His hand finds its way into her hair and it's back to spilling all around them.

"But you can," he says. He pulls back a little, but she can feel the smile against her mouth. "But you can," he says again, and it's almost like a promise. She may believe him.

 

Usagi doesn't dream that night.

 

 

The cat is outside the door that Sunday morning. Shingo finds it with the paper, dragging it inside as Usagi pours the cereal. He is still talking excitedly about Mamoru and his friends, the apartment and their dinner, while Usagi listens absently. She touches her mouth first, now out of habit, and then she remembers that her mother was going to call when they arrive at the resort and then when they're on their way home later that night.

There's no message though. The resort calls later that afternoon.

Her parents haven't showed.

Chapter Text

Her aunt - Auntie - arrives the third day. The police stand in the kitchen, drinking coffee. The morning paper is open on the table, pinned back by Shingo's schoolbooks. Usagi has read the pages already. There were two more attacks in the banking district.

Her parents make the second page.

 

 

They sit with their backs to the fence. Shingo's legs are crossed, his hand rolling a soccer ball back and forth in the grass. Usagi wraps her sweater closer to her body. They've missed nearly a week of school; Naru has not dropped by to give her homework and Shingo's friends are not calling around, as they don't know what to say to him.

"I don't remember Auntie," her brother says.

"She moved out of the city," she says quietly. "You were just born and she and Daddy stopped speaking. I don't remember why. Something happened a long time ago."

Shingo shakes his head. "Is that why they are no pictures?"

"I assume so."

"But that's a little weird," Shingo presses. His hand rolls the ball back into the fence and then stills. He's insistent. "Don't you think that's a little weird?"

"Shingo," Usagi warns.

He rubs his eyes. "I just - I'm worried. We don't know anything. Doesn't that bother you? It's mom and dad."

"I have to believe she's doing the right thing for us - it's family, Shingo. Why wouldn't she?"

Usagi meets his gaze. His eyes are dark and he sets his mouth into a deep frown.

"So she's here now."

The weight settles against Usagi's shoulders. "I don't know."

"Do you remember her?" he asks, and it's a strange question, it's heavy question, and she pulls herself back into her memories, her mouth opening slowly. But nothing comes out. She sees Christmas. She sees holidays in the summer; her mother, her father, but no pictures of their families, of her family and what would it be.

It's just that Shingo is looking at her too. She meets his gaze again, her hands sinking into her lap. Her fingers curl into her skirt. She feels uneasy.

"No," she says.

 

It is Auntie's idea to go to the temple to pray. Usagi thinks of her as Auntie because it is the right thing to do and it doesn't make Shingo more uncomfortable than he already is. They do not wear black; Shingo shuffles behind the two of them, his hands tucked into his jeans while Usagi is wrapped up in another dress.

There are plenty of people at the temple giving thanks. Her lips are pursed. She tries not to look around and see if she can find Rei. There is comfort in seeking the other girl out. It's immediate too. She murmurs something to her aunt then, pulling back and giving Shingo a look - she can barely hear herself anyway. Bathroom. Air. It doesn't matter.

She turns and follows the long hallway inside. She remembers a bedroom and a kitchen. Her  arms wrap around herself and she really shouldn't be wandering blindly in a place that she doesn't really know. But she hears the voices first.

"You can't be here."

"Rei." It's Justin. Usagi leans against the wall, wide-eyed. The conversation they had in the room that day comes back to her. "We need to talk," he says seriously. "This can't keep going on. You trusted me once."

"Once," Rei growls. "And look what happened - we're not going through that again. I can't watch her die again. I can't."

The pain in Rei's voice is so heavy, heavy enough to rattle Usagi. There is a sharpness inside of her; her throat tightens and she folds her hands harder against her sides.

"Rei," Justin murmurs. "You know as well as I do that we can't keep them away from each other. It's not how this works. Minako knows that."

There's a snort. "Stop it," Rei warns. "And stop looking at me like that."

Something hits her. It's a flash of a moment. There is a girl, another girl, standing right in front of her, her hand tucked in hers as she bent in and whispers to her. Usagi can see her so clearly: violet eyes, sharp smile, her mouth forming the words be careful. There is a garden too, or at least, she thinks it's a garden. She can smell roses.

Rei and Justin turn the corner. Usagi looks up from the wall, her fingers still digging into her sides. She sways a little. They're both wide-eyed.

"Usagi," Justin murmurs.

Usagi takes a step back. "I -" Rei reaches for her, but she jerks back again. The panic is rising. She shouldn't be here, she thinks. She shouldn't be here at all. Shingo needs her. She should go find him. "I should go," she murmurs.

Usagi flees.

 

On a whim, she thinks she's stolen one of Naru's dream books. Or borrows. And then remembers she's had it for awhile and has just forgotten that it's lived in her room. It makes her sad because she and Naru aren't close anymore or even weren't as close as she thought; there is something scary about not having that familiarity anymore.

But she leafs through it in bed, or outside, pretending not to watch Shingo and his soccer ball. There are cliffs and hawks and moments where you're falling and falling and falling and it's supposed to be about how worried you are. Usagi tries and remembers her dream, or doesn't quite remember it to detail. She can feel things: a dress, a hand, and the low, soft warm mouth against her neck. She remembers being in love.

If you stop, you die.

 

The house isn't the same. Auntie keeps to herself downstairs. The television is on. She makes tea in the kitchen; Usagi and Shingo keep outside, as if their parents were about to roll into their driveway, any minute, and this whole thing will be one surreal, strange joke.

One of Shingo's classmates brings their homework around. There is no inclination to see any of their friends; the bruising around her brother's face is starting to fade as it is. She still sits on the porch though, her books open on her lap as Shingo kicks his soccer ball against the fence.  None of this, she thinks, none of this feels right.

A soft purr startles her.

"Kitty-cat," she murmurs. Her mouth twitches. The black cat is back, sitting at her feet. She looks up to see if Shingo's noticed, but he keeps kicking the ball against the fence. She sighs softly, leaning to pick the cat up. "I haven't seen you in awhile," she says.

She pulls the cat up to her face, laughing when it nuzzles her. The book her lap seems to slide closer to her knees. Her eyes close.

"I wish you could talk." Her throat burns. "Silly, right? I just - I don't know what to say to Shingo and Auntie kind of gives me … I don't know, kitty-cat. I don't like her and I feel really guilty saying that. She's really creepy."

"Usagi-chan?"

She blinks. She looks down at the cat, then up. She's startled to see Minako walking up the path to her house. She's tentative. She's dressed in her school uniform and it forces Usagi to sit up straighter. She doesn't pay attention to the time. All she knows is that her parents are going to be missing for another week soon.

She's quiet though. The cat jumps from her arms, moving to the grass and to settle by Shingo and his soccer ball. Usagi closes her book.

"How are you?" Minako asks.

The corners of her mouth turn. "I don't know," she says after awhile. "I know what's going on," she murmurs. "But then - I don't understand what - why my parents. What did they do? It was only supposed to be a weekend trip. And then, then Auntie's inside and she's this weird stranger that I don't really trust and I feel awful because I'm rambling and she's supposed family but I feel like I can't trust her and I'm - Minako-chan, I have to be careful and watch my brother. You understand, right?"

Minako softens. "Of course." She slides an arm around her waist. "What I can I do? Can I help with anything?" Suddenly, Usagi feels herself waiting for her to mention Rei. But she doesn't. Minako smiles inside. "Maybe I can sneak you and your brother out for a few hours?"

"I don't know." She offers the other girl a weak smile, her gaze moving back to Shingo. He's stopped kicking the ball. He stares blankly at the fence. "I don't think it's a good idea," she says quietly. "I don't want to go too far."

It's a lie, but then it's not a lie. There's something in the air that's connected to all of this, to her, to her brother and her family. She wishes that she had a better grasp of what was happening. There's this odd feeling of being removed from the situation, like it's happening to her but not happening to her. Or maybe it's just because it hasn't hit her yet.

"You have to trust your instincts," Minako says.

She shakes her head. "I'm not like you though." Her throat tightens when she swallows. She laughs nervously too. "I don't know what that means."

"You do," Minako tells her. "You just have to trust yourself too - you'll know what's right for you."

"But -"

There is a strange smile that settles on Minako's face. Her hair falls soon after; it cuts and crosses over her eyes. It keeps her face hidden from Usagi.

"Just know," she says finally. "Just know you're not alone."

 

 

At dinner Shingo breaks one of their mother's good glasses; it's eerie, the shift Auntie takes from quiet to sharp. She stares at them through dinner without mentioning any news. It's unsettling. She's asked. Shingo's asked. But there's nothing. There's just nothing at all.

So she sends her brother upstairs while she cleans up. There's this tightness in her throat; her mother would probably wide-eyed with amusement, she thinks.

The sink water is hot though; she washes each dish carefully. Her aunt keeps her company. They don't talk, but the woman watches her. It's eerie, the silence. The lack of hesitation to react to anything feels like nothing.

When she finishes, she manages a good night to the woman, heading upstairs and to her room. Her parents' room is across the hall and the door is closed. She and Shingo have kept to their own spaces. But she walks into her own room, she just reacts. She grabs a bag and shoves some clothes into it, making sure to keep things into place. She then leaves, careful to close the door.

"Get up," she says when she walks into her brother's room. She pushes her hair out of her eyes, sliding into a jacket. The bag drops to her feet.

"Usagi -"

She presses her finger to her lip. The television downstairs jumps in volume; her aunt doesn't come upstairs and she and Shingo keep to themselves for the most part as it is. There's just this feeling that she has. They can't stay here.

"Pack a bag," she murmurs. "We're sneaking out - I -" Trust yourself, Minako had said. "I need to think and I'm not leaving you here alone."

She doesn't have to tell her brother twice. He packs a few things with some homework. She stays and leans against the door, listening for her aunt - just in case. But she means it. She needs to get them somewhere, somewhere they can be safe and she can figure out how to get answers. She needs answers for her and her brother.

When he finishes, she leads him to their parents' room. She could easily leave through the window in her room, but it's a safer, quieter land this way.

Her brother shakes his head. "You're way too good at this," he whispers, and she grabs their bags, dropping them down below. They hit the grass. "I mean, it -"

She flashes a victory sign. "I have to be good at something," she says.

They grin at each other. Shingo goes first, landing easily on his feet. He trips a little but manages to steady himself. Usagi goes next; she takes a deep breath, sliding onto the ledge and taking care to shut the window. When she jumps, she jumps and lands perfectly; one knee touches the ground, her fingers touch the grass and when she looks up, her brother is wide-eyed.

"Do this a lot?" he breathes, and she tries not to laugh because the look on his face is sort of funny. He waves his hand around.

"It's not a bad jump," she says defensively. It feels strange when she stands though.

"Whatever," he says.

They have to be quiet though. Shingo grabs their bags and Usagi leads them outside, through the fence and onto the street. It's unnerving how her own lack of panic is suddenly driving her. As the house starts to fade behind them, she reaches for her brother's hand. His fingers flex and tremble and she swallows, squeezing his hand.

Hers stays steady.

 

The building is more elaborate than she remembers. Inside, the entrance hallway alone is so intimidating, from the ornate golds that line and stencil the walls, the paintings and the ever-abundant presence of black leather. She was distracted, she reassures herself. It was too big and too wide and too strange for her as it is.

Shingo rides in the elevator quietly. She stands close to him, fingering Minako's number from the other day. She could. She hasn't. It's the wrong kind of instinct; stopping in front of the door, her brother is watching her wide-eyed and then she knocks.

"Let me talk, okay?" she murmurs.

Her brother has no time to answer. The door opens and Justin is standing on the other end. There's a loud murmur of voices and laughter and he's dressed impeccably. Usagi feels so small, so suddenly, and her throat tightens.

Justin looks at her in surprise. "Usagi -"

Naru, she thinks. That's their next stop. "I - " she swallows. "This was a terrible idea. I should - we should go." She meets Shingo's gaze. He's watching her with concern. "Sorry," she murmurs. She steps back too. "Come on," she says.

"Usagi," Justin says. "Wait."

But she ignores him and Shingo grabs their bags again. She's twisting her hands and they start to wander back to the elevator. The laughter from the door is getting louder and she thinks of friends, of sophisticated friends, people that she cannot fit in with.

"What's wrong?" her brother hisses. "This is - he's cool, right? You like him. We can't go back until - you said we were going to figure this out."

"I need to think," she tells him.

She crosses her arms against her chest, her hands digging against her sides. She hears a door shut loudly behind her and she is praying, praying it isn't who she thinks she is. She's never felt this vulnerable around him and doesn't really know what to do with that. Seeing him might unravel everything in a very, very ugly way.

But then she can do nothing as the elevator opens. Shingo steps forward first and she breathes with relief, stepping into follow. She's stopped though. There is a hand around her shoulder, then arm around her waist, and her brother is sort of wide-eyed as she's pulled back and he follows quickly. She is pressed against a hard chest and she can feel her body start to shake now, her eyes squeezing shut.

"You don't have to go," Mamoru's voice comes. His mouth brushes against her ear and Shingo drops their bags as the elevator shuts. Something in her says to breathe. It's just that it's all catching up. Her parents. Her parents are missing and they're living as strangers in their own home with an aunt that she barely has any memories of.

She won't cry in front of her brother. Not like this.

 

Kris and Justin take Shingo into the kitchen. The dinner party - it's more like a cocktail thing full of women and their dresses and their boyfriends, which makes her head spin. Mamoru takes her by the hand though and tugs her along to the back, to the bedroom, and then forces her to sit down at the end. He closes the door behind them too.

She is quiet as she stares at her hands. She listens to him take his coat off and then drags the foot rest from his chair to settle in front of her. He takes her hand and she laughs a little, her throat tightening as their fingers lace together.

"You're alone," he says.

Her lips press together. "No," she answers. "Auntie came up to stay with us - Shingo doesn't know her. I don't remember her."

"That's not a bad thing - "

Her eyes flash. "I am not a child, Mamoru-san." Her voice is sharp and low and she straightens, her fingers loosening in his. But he holds onto her hand, still watching her. "I don't know what's going on. Auntie tells us nothing. We're just kind of living in our house and it doesn't feel right. I don't want my brother in that kind of space and even if she were to say something, anything really -"

"Hey, hey, hey." His hands frame her face. He pulls himself forward, their knees pressing against each other. Her eyes start to blur. "Take a deep breath," he says. "What do you need me to do - let me help you."

She tries to pull back. A thick, shaky sigh leaves her mouth.

"I don't know," she says.

His mouth brushes her forehead. "Breathe," he says this time. The tears start. Her lashes are wet, then it's the corners of her eyes and the way her cheeks sort of burn too. She feels so useless, she thinks. And restless too - this is the part that bothers her the most.

"You'll stay here," he says. "I'll call your aunt."

Her mouth twists. "Because that'll go over well," she says dryly.

"It doesn't have to," he says.

"You seem so sure of yourself -" her hands press against her face. "I don't understand why you're doing this for me. I - I get the feeling," she says too, "that there's something attached to all of this. What do you even want?"

"Nothing," he murmurs. He looks away. "I want nothing."

She's quiet. His shoulders rise. He tenses almost instantly; his jaw locks and it's almost as if he cannot look at her. It kind of just leaves her.

"You're a terrible liar."

His laugh is low. His hands move to her jaw and then her arms, dragging slowly down her jacket. There is a change in the way he settles, not in the way he looks at her. His eyes are bright, the slight curl of his mouth disappears, and there's a confidence that she seems to feel herself go back and forth and in between.

"I made a mistake," he tells her, "a long time ago - I turned away from someone who I cared about and in turn, hurt this person and a few others. I'm trying to sound -"

She rubs her eyes. "Dramatic?"

He lets out a short laugh. "Sure," he says. "My point is you're here and if it's a place to stay for a clear head, then let me give you that. If you need to scream and yell and cry or hit things - whatever - I'll give you that too."

It sounds so earnest and warm and perhaps, it's even the very thing she needs. She thinks about her brother outside, the only family she seemingly has left at the moment. She wants to protect him, not drop the weight of her own anxieties on him. They don't need strangers like her aunt. They don't, she keeps telling herself.

Then she's here and there is Mamoru with her, his friends in the kitchen with her brother, and even the girls - Minako and Makoto and the others - who seem to care for her. It's overwhelming and the expectation seems to stand there, watching and waiting too. She doesn't know if she can trust any of this yet.

"Stay," he says again.

There is a hand in her hair. She feels his fingers touch the back of her neck. "Okay," she murmurs, and her eyes stay closed.

 

The dream happens so clearly this time. It is stuck between that awkward place, half a nightmare, half a reality, and waiting for her to catch up.

She is on her knees. The cold stone presses against her skin. There is a tear in her dress. She knows but doesn't know why. It is so quiet; the smell of roses is ever-present, the sky staring back down at her, and the moon, oh there's the moon, watching her as well.

Her hands are pressing against her belly. They are the only things that are warm and sticky; her fingers flex over the silk of her dress. It's silk, she thinks. It's always silk; it's light and warm, it makes her quiet and easy to run. But then it's her thoughts, burrowing deep in her head as the faint cries start to blur behind her.

There is a name. She knows the name. She always knows the name. But her knees are starting to give and the moon over her head seems to start to disappear. It should be cloudy, she thinks too. It's going to go soon.

It breaks apart in front of her though. There are hands and her name - it must be her name, right? - all over her face and her arms and then at her hands, pulling them away from her belly. She tries to protest but she's swaying too.

"Serenity," someone begs.

It's simple. She knows she's dying.

 

 

The kitchen is quiet in the morning. She sits at the breakfast bar, staring at a few wine glasses leftover from the party from the night before. Shingo is still fast asleep in their room. She knows that at the very least, she wants him to go back to school. But she's going to deal with her aunt, not Mamoru. She needs this to be done her way.

A door opens though. It startles her. Her hands are wrapped around a cup of water and she watches Justin walk into the kitchen. He seems surprised to see her. He says nothing at first; he moves around the kitchen, pulling from a few shelves and then settling a bagel before he sits at the bar with her as well.

"You're up early," he says in greeting.

Her lips quirk. "I don't really sleep as much as I would - well, used to," she says. Her mouth twists then too. "I like sleeping."

"Me too," he laughs. "They all make fun of me. Kris and Mamoru especially. The weirdos and their early mornings. Everybody's allowed to be lazy, you know?"

"Absolutely."

They talk and it's careful, maybe too careful because she can pick up on him trying to read her. It should surprise her, maybe even force her to be more than conscious of what to say. She thinks of her brother in the other room, still fast asleep. Turning in her stool, she faces Justin and bites her lip, falling into seriousness.

Her mouth opens. He stops talking. She flushes, not really sure of where she wants to start. It should be kept cordial, she thinks. She should stray away from the bits that she heard when she was with Rei, when Rei and the girls helped her. She's curious and it's strange. It feels like she should know the answers but the words aren't coming out.

"I'm scared," she blurts.

His eyes widen. He seems to straighten too. "Of what?" he asks softly. "You're safe here, you know. Mamoru would never, ever let anything happen to you or your brother. None of us would, Usagi."

It's a mess of steady reassurances. Her fingers brush over the rim of her cup.

"I should be feeling more," she says. "About my parents," she says too. "I - I came here because it seemed like the right thing to do. My first instinct - Minako said to trust my instincts - so I thought about where we'd be the safest, Shingo and I. But I want - I think I feel like something's happened and instead of -"

Justin's hand brushes against her arm. "You're tired," he says quietly. "You're trying to catch up by overanalyzing everything. You can't think the worst."

"I don't want to think about the worst - I want my brother to be safe. I want someone to tell me what's going on," she breathes. Her words get heavier and heavier. "I want people to be honest with me instead of - I don't know - seeming like they're holding back. Auntie barely talks to us. Don't you think she'd call me? She'd call friends looking for us? Our -"

"He's right."

Usagi is startled. Justin straightens again in his chair; he then moves to stand, picking up his bagel and plate. Mamoru is leaning against the doorframe next to her.

"Morning," Justin greets. Usagi looks down. She hears the slap and the laugh, peeking to see Justin rubbing his arm, his bagel caught in his mouth. His eyes are narrowed at Mamoru, but he leaves them alone in the kitchen.

"Let's go."

Her eyes widen. "Now?"

"You're worried," Mamoru tells her. He shuts the door to the kitchen, moving to take the seat next to her. He leans in and brushes his mouth against her forehead. "We'll take care of your aunt and get Shingo to school and get you your answers."

"You make it sound so easy," she mumbles.

He shrugs. "It is," he says. "But first, first you're going to get some rest. I heard your brother in the shower. Kris and Zane have some errands to run. I think Zane's enlisted Shingo in helping him out for the day -"

"Why are you doing this?" she asks. Her voice is soften and she pulls herself back, her arms crossing against her chest. "I don't understand - it's not that I'm not, like, really appreciative of everything. You took us in. I - I don't want to take advantage -"

"You're not," he interrupts.

"Well." Her eyes narrow. "I feel like I am."

"So stop."

She blinks. "Is this part where I'm supposed to be totally swayed by your charm?"

"Yes." His mouth twitches. "S - you'll listen to me too."

"I probably won't," she warns, and it earns her a sharp laugh. He reaches forward, his fingers tucking her hair behind her ear. She catches herself, just as she leans into his hand.

It's how he looks at her again, it's how it all changes, and she wonders how long she can go without saying something to him. There's a question here. She just doesn't know the right words; maybe that's it, she thinks. Maybe she's avoiding it.

"No," he says finally. "You probably won't. I think that's why I like you."

She scoffs. "Does that actually work too?"

"Not with you, apparently."

"I'm not the best with rules," she says.

He laughs. His arm slides around her shoulders and she hides a shy smile, leaning into him as he pulls her into his arms. Her eyes close, but she doesn't pull away. His mouth moves against her forehead, then against her hair. He kisses her jaw.

"Let me come."

An uneasiness settles over her. It's not him. It's not even this whole thing; the last couple of days seem to rise and then disappear and she wonders if her exhaustion is finally catching up with her. She could tell him about the dreams, she reasons. Maybe he won't think she's crazy. But she knows, she knows he'd force her to sleep.

Her hand presses back against his chest. She shoves lightly and he laughs. She's blushing again and she cannot stop it.

"Fine," she finds herself saying. "Fine."

It doesn't settle well with her.

 

 

Later she blames herself. Auntie is waiting for her at the door.

Her eyes are black.

Chapter Text

The windows shatter.

Usagi pushes Mamoru as hard as she can; it stumbles her into action, her foot planting into a twist in the grass as she edges them both away from the brunt of the attack. Her aunt - Auntie - starts to rise above them, her legs dangling lazily in the air. She is laughing, her mouth opening into an ugly smile. It's the sharp twist of her lips and her teeth.

"Little princess," she sings. "Oh little princess. We've been looking for you."

Usagi steadies herself in front of Mamoru, her arms tense at her side. The wind picks up around them. The trees by the house begin to shudder, the leaves twisting. Usagi feels her hands pull into fists as Mamoru stands behind her.

"He hasn't told you," her aunt grins. "They haven't told you - whatever will you do, little princess?"

Usagi's eyes darken. "Where are my parents?"

"Usagi -" Mamoru's hand is on her arm. He draws her back, but only close enough - her body keeps her still.

Auntie is laughing again, loud and shrill. Her hands and arms turn and then slowly, very slowly, the fabric of her blouse begins to tear. But unlike the boy, Usagi watches as a second arm begins to grow, then a third and fourth; her mouth splits too, slicing at her cheeks.

"Where are my parents?" Usagi repeats.

Mamoru tries to pull himself in front of her. It's a strange feeling, standing there, and not feeling much of anything - her heart steadies, her mouth purses, and there's this overwhelming mix of sadness and acceptance. She feels older and younger and knows that this shouldn't be.

"They're dead, of course," Auntie giggles. When she jerks her arms up, the wind snaps and a large mass of energy starts to gather above the - the monster.

"They're dead," Usagi murmurs. The disbelief is there. Auntie giggles again and the ball is getting bigger and bigger, the energy snarling around her hands.

It's then that Usagi actually sees Auntie. She can remember the boy that clearly, the Arcade and Shingo and the feeling that she still was watching a boy. But now she is staring at a body, the insides rotting in motion. There is no heart in her aunt, no light, no signs of any life at all. She doesn't feel sad. Instead, she is swallowing back her relief.

"Usagi -" Mamoru's voice startles her into moving again. The monster throws the energy at the two of them; Mamoru throws his arm around her waist, pulling her into the ground.

They tumble hard. Something in her arm snaps and she cries out. She pushes herself away from him, scrambling up as the monster's giggling becomes shrieks. But he stands too. There is a sudden change in how holds himself.

He doesn't dust himself off; covered in dirt and grass, he seems to stand taller. It's instinct that pushes her to move towards him. He stretches his arm out, opening his palm. There is a catch in the air and gold light begins to gather at the tips of his fingers.

"And of course," the monster grins with her teeth, "Of course, it's time for the prince to play." She cackles. The sound is awful, worse than before, heavy and sharp, thick with disdain. "The little princess and the dark prince -"

"Stop it," Usagi blurts.

Her hands fly to her ears.

 

 

The memory is callous and clumsy. She stands in a garden. There is blood everywhere; her hands are sticky and she studies the man in front of her, his back turned.

"You're all right," he says.

"Yes," she agrees and presses her hands against her dress. The silk peels into her hands.

"I'm sorry you saw this."

Her mouth twists. "Are you?"

"Serenity." She looks down at the blood on her dress. "It was to protect you," he says. "You know that."

"Don't be patronizing," she snaps.

It's then that she steps forward. Her feet hit the body below her; her toes curl under the arms and into the grass. She feels the mud and then kneels, her dress sweeping underneath her.

Her fingers brush the face.

"It was my fault," she murmurs.

 

Her nails dig into her hair. "It was my fault," she breathes.

There is no response from Mamoru; the heavy burst of light rushes forward instead. It slams into Auntie - the monster - forcing her to slam into the house. There are cracks, snaps and bones. When Usagi looks up, a explosive charge of fire follows the gold light into the house.

The house explodes.

Mamoru grabs her by the waist, swinging himself in front of her.

"Are you insane?" comes a snarl, and from behind them, both Minako and Rei emerge. Their expressions are grim. Usagi has no time to take them in or level herself with the strange acceptance of their outfits.

Rei pulls her back, arm around her waist, and Minako moves to Mamoru. They exchange glances; Minako moves to the side, her arm rising and gold light gathering at her hand. Mamoru closes his eyes, chanting softly. The cackling begins again and the monster starts to rise from the house.

Usagi can only watch in awe as a sword begins to split out of Mamoru's hand.

"I -" Rei pulls her closer. "I don't understand - what's happening -" Usagi tries to finish.

But the monster goes straight for Mamoru.

 

She doesn't know what happens. Maybe she screams. Maybe she pushes Rei out of the way; all she can think is that this needs to stop happening.

A heavy feeling washes over her. Her arms snap back. Her head drops forward and there is light everywhere. She can feel her body shudder, her mouth as it begins to move into words, and her eyes close. She feels incredibly sad; there are names too, places that flash into snapshots. They move too fast to fade; her hands start to rise and she feels something begin to build at her palm.

When they open again, her eyes are silver.

 

"Serenity."

Her head turns up. The stairs underneath her feel hard as her hands drop into her lap. There is a woman in front of her; she's beautiful, wide-eyed and wearing a lazy smile. She kneels by her too, cupping her face in her hands.

"It's not time," the woman says softly. Her fingers brush against her cheek. "You'll know when it's time, darling girl. You cannot be afraid to let yourself understand."

Usagi's mouth opens and closes. "Understand?" she asks.

Her hands press against her belly. Her fingers curl in the fabric of her dress. This must be another dream, Usagi thinks. But the woman doesn't let go of her face. Usagi can feel her eyes start to water too.

"Be patient," the woman says. When she looks down, there is blood on her hands.

 

 

Usagi shoots up in bed. Her hands are clenched in the blankets.

A hand presses against her chest. She's breathing heavily and looking up, she sees Zane sitting on the side of the bed next to her. He brushes her hair away from her eyes.

"Hey," he says. "Hey. It's okay - just breathe," he says softly.

Usagi starts to cough. Her hands are trembling and she presses them to her mouth, her eyes closing tightly as a sob stumbles out. It's heavy and ugly and Zane's hands move to her shoulder. He leans over her.

"Breathe with me, sweetheart. Look up -" she does and he smiles a little, "Okay," he says too. "Now let's breathe. One, two -"

She breathes and he counts again, forcing her into the routine of breathing as he counts her through them. Her throat feels tight. She draws back eventually, pulling her legs up as she leans forward to rest on her knees.

Her eyes remain open and Zane's fingers are in her hair, pushing the strands back. She tries not to watch him until he pulls back and stands.

"You need to rest," he says seriously.

"What happened?"

Zane runs a hand through his hair. "I don't know," he says slowly, and she knows he's lying. She tastes it, but doesn't press. "What I do know," he says too. "Is that you've got to recover. Your energy levels are low - I'm going to make some lunch. I think Justin should be back with food. He took your brother out too."

It's then that it comes back. Auntie. Her house - oh god, her parents. She shudders thinking about her aunt, the way she rose and exposed herself as a complete and utter monster. There is a rhyme in her head, something about old and new and princesses too. She hums softly, absently, and when her mouth opens to say something, it's half a question instead.

"Why did she call me little princess?"

Zane freezes, mid-turn. "You should sleep."

"And my parents," she says softly, ignoring him. "Is it true? Is what she said - is that why there's no information? Are they dead? Does Shingo know? How can I even tell him? It's just going to be the two of us now. I don't know what to think - I - I - I -"

A half sob stumbles out of her mouth. Her hands catch her throat and her eyes are wide when the door opens and Mamoru enters the room. Zane backs away from the bed and Mamoru, in turn, moves to her. His arm slides around her shoulders and he draws her into him. She misses the exchange between both men, her fingers curling into Mamoru's shirt as she shuts her eyes and struggles to steady her breathing.

Mamoru's hand combs through her hair. She listens vaguely to him talking; the words sort of blur in her head and Zane's responses are sort of the same. It isn't until she hears the door shut again that she finally looks up, meeting Mamoru's gaze. She doesn't let go of him and his hand cups her cheek.

"You're safe," he says.

"That's not what I'm worried about," she says too. Her eyes are burning. They feel wet. "I don't understand any of this. And Minako and Rei-chan - they were there too -" Her heart is racing and she twists a hand into her shirt. "Are my parents' dead, Mamoru-san? I - what am I going to do? I don't want to lose Shingo. He's my brother. I have to take care of my brother."

He shakes his head. His mouth brushes against her forehead. "You need to rest," he corrects. "And I'm not going to let you do this alone - you'll stay here."

She half-laughs, half-sobs again. Her head drops against his chest.

"Just like that?" she murmurs.

"Yes," he answers.

He says it like he expects her to accept it. Part of her wants to laugh at him; it seems like the thing to do - or something that he would do. The familiarity feels too open for her.

"Where are my parents?" she asks softly.

"I don't know," he admits. He pulls back, studying her seriously. "But these monsters -"

"They lie," she says instantly.

If he's surprised, he doesn't show it. "Yes," he agrees. "Or tell it in such a way that it could be true," he says slowly. "But I don't know how to unravel any of this yet. None of us do. What I can say is that I won't let anything happen to you. You're too important."

The way he says it unnerves her. She draws herself back, staring at her palms.

"What did I do?" she asks suddenly.

"I -"

"I did something," she repeats. "My skin feels like it's ready to crawl off of me."

"You're tired," he says instead, and she has every inclination to roll her eyes. She's just interested in the truth, she wants to say. "You should rest."

"I just want someone to give me a straight answer." Her mouth thins. "Is it really that hard?"

Her mind opens to flashes of what happened at the house; Minako and Rei, strangely at ease with showing up, and Mamoru and the sword. Her hands ball into fists.

"Why does everybody feel the need to protect me from - I don't even know. I don't want any of this -" Mamoru's hands frame her face. She pushes at them, angry tears burning from her eyes. She feels useless and used, an unsettling helplessness overwhelming her. "Mamo-" she coughs through a sob. "Why is this happening?"

He gathers her to him. Her eyes squeeze shut against his shoulder and suddenly, slowly, her exhaustion begins to filter out. He still doesn't answer.

 

Shingo is in her room when she wakes next. He seems so much smaller; he is pale when she sits up, his hand touching her wrist.

"I heard about Auntie," he says quietly.

Usagi can only nod.

"Mamoru-san says that we're staying." He looks down at his hand; his fingers curl around her wrist and then drag down to her palm, lacing his fingers in hers. "Does that mean -"

"I don't know," she croaks. Her voice is hoarse. She doesn't try to smile. Her fingers brush against Shingo's cheek. "I don't know what to think."

Shingo nods.

He is quiet and she watches him. She sees flashes of what happened - the house, Auntie, dead. It's thick in her throat. But she can focus on him and how his grip on her hand starts to tighten. His eyes are watering too.

"Please don't leave me, Usagi-chan," he murmurs. His voice trembles.

They say that growing up comes in moments, in smaller ones more than others. It is much easier to straighten and reach for him, her fingers smoothing against his face.

She doesn't promise.

 

 

Mamoru helps her get Shingo back to school. Usagi isn't ready to go just yet. It doesn't bother her, but she won't let her brother give up that sense of normalcy up either. The others, they're helpful too; Zane starts dropping him off on his way to the restaurant and Kris is the one that sits with him through his homework.

Usagi wants to take on her parents. She is not entirely sure where to begin or end or who to ask. Mamoru crosses her mind first, of course, but then there's the fact that he's holding back and that she knows he's holding back. Part of her isn't surprised. The other part of her is both sad and exhausted, wary enough. Her mind is filled with too many dreams and there are faces, the face - the woman who calls her name with such familiarity. But it's not even her name, she thinks. It's Serenity.

Tonight, she sits at the kitchen table with Kris and Mamoru. Shingo has long gone to bed and Usagi is touching the remnants of some schoolwork, something that she's keeping up with anyway. Her pen is easy to put down. She looks up and watches the two men talk, both tall and regal, almost too regal, and with a frank kind of ease. It's how she just says it.

"I want to talk to Minako-chan."

Both men stop talking. She looks directly at Mamoru.

"I don't know what happened between the two of you," she starts. She straightens in her chair, curling her legs up against her chest. She leans against her knees. "Or the other girls," she answers. "And - if I'm going to be honest - I don't care."

Kris coughs a laugh into his hand. Mamoru's eyes narrow.

"I trust them."

Mamoru sighs. "Usagi, that's not the issue."

"And what is?" she says. She rests her chin on her knee. "I'm not calling you a liar."

His mouth opens and close. Across the table, Kris shifts uncomfortably. Between all of them, the air begins to change. She licks her lips.

"Something happened," Kris murmurs, and Mamoru shoots him a dark look.

Usagi doesn't miss any of it.

"I got that," she says dryly.

"Aino-san," Kris starts; his voice is polite. "She's - she's always been very protective of people that come into her life."

"What does that have to do with me?"

Kris's mouth opens and closes. Mamoru reaches for one of her hands, but she pulls them back and keeps her arms wrapped around her knees. She wants answers.

"I'm not asking you why she doesn't like you," Usagi murmurs. She nods to both Kris and Mamoru. "I don't care - I - I'm not ungrateful either -"

"Usagi," Mamoru starts.

She holds a hand up. "No," she interrupts. "I'm trying to make good decisions and I trust Minako-chan, like I trust you -" the words taste tight in her mouth. "I just want to talk to her. And the other girls. They -"

She stops. She cannot explain the sudden weight; when she thinks of them all, Minako and Rei and Ami and Makoto, there is this sense of a pull that is both heavy and dangerous and very, very, very sensible. She knows she should be with them; this is as clear as her comfort level with Mamoru and with trusting him.

But she is doing this all for Shingo, she reminds herself, and answers. Even if they're dead, she thinks. She isn't ready to go that far for her parents though. She is still prone to thinking simply: there are no bodies, there is no evidence, and presumably, there are still reasons to look. The reassurances, however and however selfish, cannot be here with any of them. She remembers Minako the best. Trust your instincts.

"I don't know how to explain it," she starts again, and realizes then, that both Kris and Mamoru are watching and waiting. Mamoru's eyes are particularly dark. It doesn't unnerve her. Usagi just doesn't know what to feel. "I just want to talk to the girls."

Kris looks at Mamoru first. Usagi turns her head down.

"I can give her a call," he says finally.

 

Zane brings Shingo in from school. Kris has disappeared to his bedroom; she isn't sure how long he's been gone and her brother moves to their room, off to do his homework. She and Mamoru remain at the table. When it quiets again, she looks up.

"Why do you want to protect me?"

His mouth twitches. "Habit?"

"You're really the worst liar ever," she says, and he laughs, rubbing her eyes. "I mean," she says too. "It's rather romantic and I think I can appreciate that, at the very least, but - we still haven't talked about the fact that you and I don't know each other."

"Does it really bother you?" he asks.

"Yes."

He leans back against his chair, draping his arm against the back. He relaxes and it's lazy. His mouth turns and he shakes his head.

"You wouldn't believe me."

The sound of his voice is fond - she can only think of it as fond. It's that same sense of familiarity. This time it's warm, but sad too. She wonders what she's missed. But at the same time though, she finds herself wary of him, waiting for a break in what feels like a sudden, a too sudden routine.

"You don't know."

He laughs. "Usagi, you wouldn't. It's a story and it's a story that I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to tell. I hate saying it: but it's complicated."

"That's an excuse," she says.

"Maybe," he admits.

"Why -" she stops herself and shakes her head. "Nothing," she says quietly. "Nothing."

"You're special," he says. He half-blurts it out and she looks up, her eyes narrowing instantly. It's the way that he says it: soft and almost too pointed, heavy with each word. She licks her lips and he rubs the back of his head. "You're special," he says again. His cheeks warm too. "But I cannot - it's -"

"Tongued-tied, Mamoru-san?"

They both turn. Ami stands at the frame of the door with Zane, gripping her bag. Her mouth twitches and she shakes her head.

"He's not usually like this," she says.

"Who is?" Makoto emerges behind her, brushing by Ami and Zane and moving to sit next to Usagi. Her gaze instantly softens and she drops a bag in front of her, candies spilling out onto the table. Usagi relaxes. Her mouth curls and she shakes her head.

"Mamoru," Ami continues. "Minako-chan says that he's usually as suave as can be."

"Skeevy," comes Minako's voice. She appears with Kris and Justin, Rei behind them and scowling as they converge on the table. Minako flashes a lazy smile at Usagi. "The ladies love Mamoru-san. It's the tall, dark -"

"Incredibly handsome," Mamoru interjects.

Minako snorts. Usagi bites her lip in amusement.

"She means rich," Rei says dryly. She comes over to Makoto and Usagi's side, kissing Usagi's cheek. "Mamoru-san is filthy rich and that brings out the best in some of the …" She glances at Minako, who smirks. "Well," Rei finishes. "Let's just say I wouldn't call them wonderful human beings or anything like that."

"Ah," Usagi says.

"The point is," Ami says, smiling at Usagi too. Zane pulls out a chair for her and she sits, rather gracefully against the back. "Mamoru is flustered. We never see him flustered."

"Except when he loses," Justin offers.

"Not you too," Mamoru says. Justin shrugs and Mamoru's eyes narrow. "You can't even begin to start with -"

"Anyways," Minako says. Her voice is sharp. She leans against the table between Mamoru and Usagi. Her arms fold against her chest. "What can we do?" she asks softly. "Where can we help? Are you worried about school?"

Usagi draws back against her chair. Her back stretches against the wood. Her hands drop against her lap. She curls her hands into fists and then she sighs, shaking her head. She looks to the far corner, to the hall and to the other rooms. Shingo, she thinks. Shingo is the most important person here. She has to think of him first.

"I want to know what happened to my parents," she says quietly. "I don't understand anything that's going on - the things that I've seen, the experiences - everyone one else seems to get it."

Minako is quiet. Makoto pushes a candy to her. She picks it up and rolls it between her fingers, studying it without looking at any one. She's resigned herself to getting no answers. It's just easier to assume with what's happened anyway.

"We can start with your parents," Minako murmurs. "Right, Mamoru-san?" she asks and asks sweetly, so much so that the girls around her wince. Kris stands across from them and leans against the wall. His mouth quirks.

Mamoru rubs his eyes. "Yes." He looks at Usagi, reaching for her hand. Their fingers seem to lace out of habit, just briefly. She pulls her hand back too. "We're working on that," he says, nodding towards Kris.

They're all quiet, all watching her. She knows what it means.

Somehow this has to be good enough.

 

Much to her amusement, the girls invite themselves to dinner. Makoto and Zane take residence in the kitchen; they adopt her brother too and Usagi stands outside of it, leaning against the doorframe to the balcony. She watches careful, taking in the scene. It makes her happy that he's fitting in. He should, she thinks too.

But Mamoru and Kris have disappeared, along with Justin and Nathan - who came in later, sleeves rolled and bare introduction included. He is the oldest of Mamoru's friends and the traveler; she doesn't miss the way he fixes a gaze on Makoto either.

"Are you all right?"

She looks up and Minako joins her, nudging her arm. "I don't know," she says quietly. "I don't know what to think anymore. Going along with everything seems to be my best bet."

"Do you want to talk about what happened?" Minako asks.

"You were there," she says. Her hand jumps and covers her mouth. Her eyes are wide and she looks at the other girl, apologetic and flushed. "I'm so sorry," she says. "I didn't -"

Minako laughs softly. "Stop," she says. "I'm surprised you haven't burst."

Usagi shakes her head. "I just don't understand why everybody walks around me like they know me, like they want me to know that they know me, and it's - it's in between that and then everything - and then Shingo," she breathes. Her hands rub at her eyes. "I can't expect -I won't take charity."

"Hey," Minako reaches for her. Her arm goes around her waist. She presses her lips against her forehead. "Calm down."

"Easy for you," she mutters.

She pushes at Minako. Not too hard; her arms curl at her chest.

"I don't even understand what's going on between you and Mamoru - that's not even a straight answer either," she says.

Minako gets quiet again. She doesn't move her arm. She straightens and pulls herself back, if only to meet Usagi's gaze. It's that same look, she thinks again. She sees it in Mamoru; it's this fierce patience, this sense of hope that scares Usagi so, so, so much. There is a weight of expectation that she doesn't know how to handle, that she wonders if it's misplaced, completely and utterly misplaced if anything else.

"We've never gotten along," she says finally.

"Why?"

Minako's mouth twists. There is some amusement there. "I don't trust him," she answers. "I never has. I see him and see how entitled he is when it comes to certain things. I'm a big believer in karma and past weights. I think he has a lot of those."

Usagi shakes her head. "That explains nothing, you know."

"They're cut from the same cloth," Minako says. She nods to Zane too and then Kris, who appears in the kitchen for some water. He ruffles Shingo's hair. "They've always picked each other. They will pick each other before they pick you."

The words are heavy-handed and strange. They're stiff and sound like they've been forced together. Usagi shakes her head again. Of course, she thinks.

"Did he hurt you?" she asks too.

Minako smiles ruefully. "No," she murmurs. "Just someone I love."

 

 

"I'll kill him."

Her dreams are starting to come together. At least, this time around. There is a room, a bedroom, large and open and unfamiliar; it makes her feel like a visitor.

"Serenity." Two hands grasp her by the wrists. "I'll kill him and we'll be done with this nonsense. I knew he was -"

"A man?" she quips. She feels her lips turn and she shakes her head. It's that dress again too. It's soft and white and so lazy to look at, pulling at her knees and spilling everywhere as she moves to sit on the bed.

She still shakes her head too.

"They weren't in bed, Venus," she hears herself say. "And before you ask me if I am that amiss about everything - I am well-aware of his majesty's indiscretions. In fact, I think the whole Silver Alliance knows that he has a fondness for brunettes."

"Court gossip," the voice snarls.

She laughs softly. "He can't hurt me," she says. She shifts and reaches forward. Her hands connect with a face, her fingers spreading against her skin. "Unless I let him," she murmurs. "Unless I let him hurt me - then, then and only then we can talk about how much of a fool I am, Venus. I'm sure Mother would join us in that conversation."

"But you spend so much -"

"He amuses me." She shrugs. "As I am sure I amuse him."

Hands pull at hers on the face, fingers curling around her wrist. They pull them gently, settling them down against her lap.

"Serenity," comes the quiet response. "You and I both know that it is simply not true."

 

Mamoru has a balcony in his room. It is an odd thing to come to terms with; she is not entirely sure she is comfortable being alone in his room, something too, too intimate for the moments that are surviving through now.

But he brings her tea, and her hands curl gratefully around the mug, as he sits. His chair is behind her; she prefers the railing, overlooking the city. The girls have long since gone too. Makoto has promised to walk her brother to school until she can figure out what's going on. It's the most sensible she's felt in a long time.

"You're worried," he says finally, from behind her. Usagi smiles into her tea. "You can talk to me," he says. "I feel like a broken record, but if you need to hear it -"

"I don't want you to take on the world for me, Mamoru-san," she says quietly.

"But I would," he tells her, and when she turns, his hands wrap around her legs and she's pulled to stand in between his, looking down at him. Her hair brushes over her eyes. "I would," he insists again.

"I barely know you," she says.

His mouth twitches. "Stop thinking about the answers," he murmurs.

She laughs a little and she brings her tea to her mouth. His hands haven't moved from her legs either. She feels his fingers brush against her skirt.

"Everything's changed," she says to him. She bows forward, putting her tea on a table next to his chair. Behind him, she can catch the low lights of the city, mixed with the color of his room and their reflection. She cannot look at herself with him yet.

"You're scared."

"No."

Her fingers touch his cheek. She feels shy.

"If I were scared," she says. "I wouldn't be here. I don't know where I would be." Her fingers graze his mouth too. "I'm going to tell you a secret," she murmurs. Her thumb catches his bottom lip and she leans in, touching her lips to his briefly. She can feel him smile. "It is much easier to underestimate myself," she admits. "It's a bad habit I - I hide behind. I am not afraid to be me, but I am afraid of letting other people down. Of not being what they need."

"Usagi," he says.

She shakes her head. "Let me finish," she says too. "I'm going to be strong for my brother. I know my brother. I know what he needs and wants and how we're supposed to stay together. But I don't know you. Or the girls."

He sighs against her mouth and she exhales, closing her eyes.

"I am going to pick my brother each time, Mamoru," she murmurs.

This is how she kisses him: her lips are soft and open, and she splits his, her tongue sliding along his bottom lip. She traces over the skin tasting and sighing over the sharpness. There are his fingers in her hair, twisting at the nape of her neck until she is more than half-bent, her knees resting between his legs and on the chair.

It's cold now, and there is the low, dull hum of the city ringing in her ears. She sees nothing. She remembers no dreams. She pulls herself closer until she has to pull her mouth back, breathing heavily and keeping her eyes closed.

"I would expect nothing less," he says finally, after a moment, and she knows, somehow, it's because it's something she should want to hear.

Chapter Text

Monday, two bodies are pulled from the water. A lift dangles a little car from a hook; a mix of weeds spill out of an open door. The detective that watches all of this is the one that sits with Usagi in Mamoru's apartment.

Kris sits on the arm of her chair. Usagi stares blankly at the space in front of her; she has no idea where the others are, remembering vaguely that Mamoru had a meeting with someone.

"Do you recognize this, Tsukino-san?"

The detective slides two bags onto the coffee table; the wedding rings cause her throat to tighten. But it's the second bag that she picks up, her hands shaking. Her nails dig into the bag, pulling at the plastic. It's a bracelet. The charms are in different states, the gold spoiled and green from the water. She tries to swallow. When Kris' hand settles on her shoulder, she realizes she's let out some kind of sob.

"There are supposed to be seven charms," she says quietly. Her eyes are burning. "Shingo and I were saving up to buy Mama the sea horse one that she liked so much."

"I'm sorry," the detective says. He gently tugs the bag from her hand.

Kris clears his throat. "Is there anything else you need?"

The detective looks at him and then Usagi. He runs a hand through his hair.

"Once we finish processing, we'll need a secondary confirmation -" Usagi is wide-eyed. Her mouth opens and closes. "We'll call you into the station. Are there any other relatives that could come and..."

She watches the mouth of the detective move. She doesn't really hear anything; she knows what he's asking. The truth is that both Shingo and Usagi knew how tight-lipped their parents were about their lives. From what she knows, her father was practically disowned for marrying her mother. On her mother's side, there two more brothers. The first is a doctor in the States, the second is a monk and left the family when her mother was a girl. Her mother never talked about her parents either.

"There's just Shingo and I," she says. Her hands press against her face. Her stomach is starting to tighten into knots. "I'll do whatever needs to be done." She feels the tears start to blur and fall. She wipes away at them hard. "But," she says. Her voice evens and is firm. "I will not let my brother see my parents in - in anyway other than what he knows."

There is a strange feeling in the room. It grows heavier when Kris straightens next to her and the detective looks at her with a misplaced sense of awe.

Usagi drops her hands into her lap. The man clears his throat, looking away. His fingers touch the badge over his jacket.

"I understand," he says.

 

Usagi does not pull Shingo out of school. Her age feels like a sudden authority. She waits until Mamoru brings him home, Minako in tow; the other girl has an arm slung around her brother and when they see her, Shingo is the first to stop.

It's a moment that will forever engrave itself onto her mind, the way his smile fades and his gaze becomes unsteady. He stands taller and Minako's arm drops from his shoulder, as he takes a step forward. He doesn't look like her brother and she feels her own self-resentment begin to crawl inside of her. She doesn't move either, not yet, and draws her arms over herself, hugging herself tightly.

"Let's take a walk," she says quietly.

Shingo nods. He hands his school bag to Minako and Usagi moves forward, letting her brother take her arm.

Usagi can feel them watch her the entire time.

 

"I want to go with you," Shingo says after awhile. "You shouldn't have to do it alone, neechan."

All she can really do is stare at her brother. They've stopped at the park, the two of them settled at a bench that over looks the swings. Shingo reaches for her, touching her arm tentatively as she forces herself to smile sadly.

"No," she says. "I don't want you to see them like that -"

"Usagi," he interrupts.

"No," she insists. Her eyes feel warm again. She presses her hands to her face, her fingers digging into her temples. "You need to have good memories of them, of the way they should be - I want you to live your life knowing Mama and Daddy like they - they -"

She can't finish. She doesn't cry. She just sits back against the bench and stares. Shingo mirrors her, shaking his head and then leans forward to rest his elbows against his knees.

There are so many things going through her head. She wonders if her parents are just another casualty in these monster attacks. She cannot think of them as scared. There is an incredible amount of guilt that comes with that; she doesn't know what to do with it or understand it.

Shingo shifts next to her. He doesn't touch her, but he doesn't pull away either.

"Take Mamoru-san with you," he murmurs. "Please don't go alone."

Usagi can't look at him when she answers. "Okay," she says.

 

 

The call comes just as Usagi starts returning to normal habits, like homework and tentative conversations with friends. She talks to Minako and the other girls the most; they visit from day to day, overwhelming meals and checking up on her brother. There's Naru too, just Naru though, who comes around just barely by phone, asking how she is.

But when she gets the call, she knocks on Mamoru's door - she shares a room with Shingo down the hall - biting her lip as he answers. He's sleepy, despite the early morning stride, and she's tugging her sweater around her.

"I need you to take me to -" her eyes close and she looks down.

"Come in," he says, not even hesitating. "Let me get dressed."

Her cheeks flush. She moves into the room, tightening her arms around herself as he closes the door behind her. The bed is a neat mess, something she finds incredibly odd and funny nonetheless. She sits at the edge of it, looking up at him.

"Thanks," she murmurs.

He shakes his head. "It's not necessary." He tugs a shirt on. "We - me - I'm here for you, for whatever you need."

"I feel like we're taking advantage of you - your kindness," she mumbles.

He scoffs.

"I'm serious," she insists, and it's hard, being in his bedroom. She's flushing and her hands wring in her lap, her legs twitching to curl underneath her. "I don't want you to think that's the case. I hope that you don't - I can't -" she doesn't want to owe him any favors, she thinks seriously. But she can't even finish that sentence.

"I know," he tells her.

His fingers fumble over the buttons of his shirt. He stops and moves to where she sits, taking the spot next to her.

"I want you here," he says.

She smiles sadly. She doesn't know what to say; there's only so many times she can insist how little he knows about her or how little she knows of him. She's tired. She's just tired. She doesn't want to argue anymore - or feel like it in the very least.

"Thank you," she says.

His hand brushes against his shoulder, then back of her neck. He pulls her close to him, into him, his arm resting against her shoulders.

He presses his lips against her forehead.

 

The morgue is cold. The walls are all white; Mamoru's hands have moved to her shoulders. There is Kris and Minako too, Minako holding her hand and Kris standing on the other side of Mamoru. Usagi tightens her grip on Minako's hand.

"I'm right here," the other girl says quietly.

She'll never forget how surreal everything is. They have her standing in front of a glass, the curtains drawn forward tightly. It's bad enough that she knows exactly what is on the other side and how it'll simply just change everything.

Slowly, she lets go of Minako's hand and draws away from Mamoru. The detective appears at the side and she moves forward to touch the glass. She doesn't remember taking a deep breath, but her mouth opens and closes and she finds herself relaying a nod to the officer. He taps the glass and she steels herself.

Her hand covers her mouth.

It's like the monsters, she thinks first. The break in skin; the way her mother seems so inexplicably pale, her hair flattened back and her hands folded across her chest. She is a mix of horrified and shock. Her eyes blur and takes more than a moment to look at her father - it's her father - body stretched out, sunk against the cold slab and she just knows. It's all connected, she thinks. It has to be.

"Tsukino-san?"

She looks up, trembling. The detective steps closer to her. Mamoru's arm slides around her waist and both Minako and Kris seem to flank both of their sides again.

"That's them," she says. "That's my mother and father."

"I'm so sorry, Tsukino-san."

Her eyes burn. She looks up at him again. "I want to know what happened -"

"Usagi," Minako starts.

"No," she snaps, her gaze steadying on the detective. She straightens against Mamoru, her mouth tightening. "I want to know what happened to them. I want to know why this took so long - why weren't - why - why."

She breaks and she breaks hard, stumbling into a sob as Mamoru wraps her into him. She half-clutches, half-hits at his jacket, her fingers clawing at the fabric of his shirt. She doesn't think anymore. It's all about monsters and secrets and things that she can't even begin to wrap her head around and somewhere, somehow, it just levels itself as completely and utterly unfair. That's what she hates most about it.

So she sobs and there are half-murmurs around her, fingers in her hair and an ease that she should question but she doesn't because for once, for once, she wants to be selfish about something and then mean it. She knows that this means she's going to have to carry her family now, her brother, herself - it's what her parents would have wanted.

This, she promises herself too, will be the last time she cries in front of all of them.

 

It doesn't quite hit her until they return home - to Mamoru's home - where she stands in the kitchen, flanked by Minako and Kris and Mamoru, all watching her as if she were just that ready to snap. She pours herself a glass of water from the sink.

"What can we do?" Minako asks quietly. She steps forward first, sliding an arm around Usagi's waist. Usagi ignores her for a moment, pressing the glass to her lips. "I can call the other girls -" she adds. "I'm sure," she says dryly. "Mamoru-san won't mind."

There is a low growl and Usagi isn't in the mood, stepping between the group and then pulling away. She takes her water, making a fist around her glass.

"I need some air," she says.

She barely gives any of them a second look, moving into the hall and down the line to the bedrooms. She walks into the room she shares with Shingo, leaning back against the bed and settling on the floor.

Her gaze settles on the carpet. She can't erase the memories of her parents now; the way her mother's hair was slicked back, the twin, pale pallors of her parents' skin. She wonders if they were hurt, if they felt pain - she stops that thought, right there, her stomach lurching into knots. Putting the glass of water down next to her, she draws her legs up to her chest.

Mamoru comes in sometime after, not long - she isn't sure. But he comes and sits next to her on the floor, sliding his arm around her shoulders. His mouth presses into her hair.

"This shouldn't have happened to you," he says quietly.

She chokes over a laugh. Her eyes close tightly and she curls a hand into his shirt.

"I'm sorry it did," he says too. "If I could, if I could, I'd take it all away from you. You and your brother," he adds.

"But you can't," she says.

"No," he agrees. His fingers tighten in her hair, dragging briefly to run against the back of her neck. His fingers press lazily over her skin. "But I can be here. I can be here for whatever you need from me."

It's not the right thing to say. She doesn't really know if there is. But it's just the way his arm settles around her shoulders, the way he keeps her close and she doesn't feel like she needs anything else. For a moment, she thinks, for a moment it feels like it's just that easy to shut the world out and forget, forget that everything has changed and she cannot begin to understand where she stands now.

Somehow it doesn't matter. She doesn't know how long they stay like this.

 

She wakes up in the dark, shooting up. Her eyes are heavy. She makes a fist in the sheets; it's Mamoru's room, she realizes instantly. The blankets rest lazily over her legs and she cannot remember how she got here. She remembers sitting with him in her own room though.

"Hey."

Usagi blinks. Mamoru shifts off of a chair, sinking into the bed next to her. His fingers touch her face and she turns her cheek, letting out a soft sigh.

"You're okay," he murmurs too.

"No," she says. "I'm not."

She doesn't cry, but she swings her legs off the bed, in between his and falls slightly against his knees. She feels his fingers slip into her hair too. He rolls them slowly, lazily, as if to try and comfort her. She tries and focuses on the change in pressure, the way his fingers seem to know how to push away some of her tension.

It takes awhile for her to look up at him. Her hand reaches for his wrist, her fingers curling around it to still his hand. His gaze meets hers.

"I have to make arrangements," she says softly.

"I know."

"I don't know their families," she says too. A shaky sigh leaves her mouth. "Shingo and I - everything about Mama and Daddy's families are … empty and I don't think I can handle another Auntie. I don't know what's real and what's fake anymore except -" Her hand frames her face. "Except that I saw them at the police station like that."

Mamoru shakes his head. "One thing at a time," he tells her. He pulls her hand away from her face. Tugging at it, she finds herself being pulled into his lap. "You don't need to take it in all like this. I'm not saying that it's not hard - but, but you can't take on all this responsibility and feel like it's just yours to bear. You always did do that."

She blinks. "What?"

He clears his throat. She sits up, confused.

"Mamoru?"

"Nothing," he says. He touches her cheek. "It's nothing."

"It's not nothing," she mutters, looking away. "You and Minako and the others are the same - you don't think I notice? The way you look at me like I'm someone else. I don't understand it. I don't think I'll ever understand it, but it's not fair. It's not fair because I'm starting to trust you and my brother's involved and honestly, honestly, Mamoru, I told you before. He's the most important person in my life now."

"Hey," he says. His hands frame her face. "Hey, I know. Take a deep breath."

She feels his hand move back against her neck too, his fingers spreading along the long line of her throat. She shudders and sighs, biting back another moment where she feels like she's going to cry. It's deep in her throat, deep in her heart, and somehow, somehow she forces herself to control that kind of release. It's frightening how instinctive it all feels.

"You're too good at this," she mumbles.

He laughs. "Not really," he says. She looks up at him. His mouth twists. "You'll find that I just tend to have better days."

She shakes her head. "You're so silly."

"So you tell me," he says softly.

It's when she settles that she catches that gaze, the gaze again. His eyes are soft. It's the way his mouth seems to relax too, his fingers pulling at her hair.

There is so much she wants to ask; it comes in spades, in moments that she's not really sure are questions that she should ask or shouldn't. They feel too unfamiliar, another part of how complicated and how uncanny all of this is. She misses her parents, she thinks. She misses that sense of normalcy she had; it's more than that though. She wonders if this is what growing up is supposed to feel like.

Her eyes start to close again. "Go to sleep," Mamoru says. "I'll be here."

She believes him.

 

The dream is lazier than before. She feels the grass between her toes and giggles, off-putting and confused. Her hands are in fists, around the fabric of her dress, and she sort of spins to the side, her mouth breaking into a smile.

"You're drunk," comes the voice behind her.

"I'm alive," she corrects.

She turns on her heels. Her head tilts to the side. The shadow form the figure of a man. There is a sword at his side. By all accounts, he is an imposing figure but she isn't intimidated at all.

"Serenity," the man warns.

"Endymion," she sings back, the name stumbling out of her mouth with incredible ease. Her mouth tilts and she sweeps herself into a low, low curtsy. "My prince," she drawls too. "I trust the Lady Edith has kept your bed sufficiently warm."

"Jealous, princess?"

She scoffs. "You take me for an idiot, Endymion," she says. She swings into a spin, craning her neck back. The moon seems unusual bright, waiting for her. She tilts her head to the side again, calming. "I wasn't sent for you," she says quietly, seriously. "I was sent to give a gesture of good will and - " the words are there: see you, but she cannot bring herself to say it. "I am not a fool, your grace."

There is a hand on her arm, then her shoulder as she turns. A hand presses against her cheek.

"Forgive me," he mumbles.

"No," she says. Her mouth twitches. "It's not supposed to be that easy - Venus says I should, by all rights, be able to torture you."

He lets out a dark laugh, pulling her close. Her eyes close when she feels his mouth graze her jaw. His fingers work their way into her hair, pulling at the strands.

"She hates me," he mumbles.

"She does." Her lips brush against his shoulder. She tastes the cool fabric of his cape. "You haven't given her any reason not to."

It feels dark and complicated, the weight of their reactions and whatever relationship is theirs to hold. She leans back, just a little, her mouth curling into a lazy smile. It's the wine, she thinks. The wine was supposed to give her a little more courage. But his knuckles graze her cheek.

"I won't hurt you," he says softly.

She doesn't answer. The words are there, linger: yes, yes you will.

 

 

The Temple is an odd source of comfort. Rei sits next to her on the steps, their hands holding tea that her grandfather has made for the both of them.

The funeral is in a few days, and in a few days more, Usagi is going back to school, back to a life, back to something. There are nerves and anticipation and she is less and less concerned with how people are going to be watching her. She thinks it's Shingo, although she knows it's completely unfair to put that kind of silent pressure on her brother. It just gives her some focus, a chance at having some focus.

"Thank you," she tells Rei. She looks up at the older girl. "For the arrangements," she murmurs. "For helping," she adds.

Rei softens. "Anything you need," she says simply.

Usagi flushes and tightens her grip around her tea. "Still," she manages. "You were very patient with me and with - everything."

"Usagi," the other girl says. Her fingers curl around her wrist. "You need to stop taking this on all by yourself. No one expects you to take it all on. You're human."

She shakes her head. "I don't feel like it," she says.

Rei laughs.

There is something about the Temple, she thinks again. Looking down the stairs, she sees the slow passing of people, going up and down with offerings and prayers. Rei is dressed simply today, in jeans and a blouse. She sits closer to Usagi too, watching the people as well; Usagi feels as if her gaze is much more careful though.

But she enjoys the colors and the sights, the way the trees seem to blossom around her. It's the smile of those families that pass them too and then the simple bitterness that the tea warms against her tongue.

"Do you believe in dreams?" she finds herself asking. She doesn't look at Rei. It feels so strange; it's a partial admission, maybe even nothing. The words just feel comfortable being directed towards Rei.

"I do," Rei murmurs. She seems careful, maybe too careful. "I think there's a tremendous sense of meaning in them. They're always important."

Usagi's hand brushes through her hair. "Important how?" she asks too.

Rei shrugs. "I think they're usually where the answers are -" she laughs, shaking her head. "Even if we don't believe them. Or we're frightened - mostly, I think, we're frightened of the answers that dreams give us."

"Answers," Usagi echoes.

Rei touches her arm. Usagi bites her lip, studying her hand. It seems familiar, stupidly familiar - she wonders if she's reading too much into these gestures, between the girls and Mamoru and everything else. She's just exhausted too. It could be all a part of that.

She thinks about her dreams though; she hasn't tried to piece them together. It seems reckless and silly, it seems like the answers should just be right there and yet, right now, they're not. She wants to be angry that they're not.

But Rei's question drops and drops in a way that Usagi cannot avoid answering.

"What's bothering you?"

Usagi's mouth twitches. "Everything," she says.

 

Justin takes them to lunch. He wraps an arm around Usagi's shoulder, grinning at a bemused Rei. The conversation is warm, but Usagi isn't really paying any attention. Her mind belongs a million miles away as it is.

But she does watch them, watches as their body language seems to unravel in a mix of comfort and discomfort, a lazy paradox that she doesn't even know how to understand. It still feels familiar though and when she leans closer to Justin, he smiles down at her and Rei leans forward to touch her cheek as well.

"Stop it," she says. Her mouth curls in amusement. "You can't hide your worrying well."

"I -" Usagi blushes, ducking against Justin's arm. "Sorry."

"Girls," Justin warns teasingly. "We're going to have a good day today."

"Ugh." Rei's nose wrinkles. "Stop ruining the moment."

"I am not," he says. "I'm just saying, we're going to have a good day and Usagi's going to laugh and maybe, just maybe, you'll finally make out with me."

"What?" Rei's eyes narrow, and Usagi covers her mouth with her hand, hiding a laugh. Justin smirks in amusement. But Rei pokes him in the chest. "You - you need to keep that stuff to yourself, okay? Minako hates you enough as it is."

"But Usagi-chan doesn't, right?"

Usagi blinks, flushing. She feels like she's being pulled into an argument that she has no room to be in or stand on her own.

"Don't bring Usagi-chan into this," Rei says. "You just like getting me into trouble, you jerk. That's what you do best."

"I don't hate anybody," she mumbles.

They both look at her in surprise; they've stopped outside of the Arcade, both of them standing too close to Usagi. Justin grins and Rei reaches forward to tug her hair.

Nobody says i know.

 

"How long have you known each other?"

The question seems reasonable enough. She isn't surprised when both Rei and Justin look up at her; Rei is prone to amusement, but Justin's gaze is unreadable. She bites her lip and curls her legs together, rubbing her palms against her knees.

"Long enough," Rei mutters.

Justin rolls his eyes. There's a slight hesitation in his voice. "For awhile," he says carefully. "Rei and I knew each other after Kris -"

"Minako," Rei corrects, interrupting. "Knew everybody first. We just all … it fell into place," she says quickly. "I think she, Kris, and Mamoru knew each other the longest."

Usagi stares at her hands. Lunch has been relatively pleasant enough, she thinks. The barbs feel familiar and warm her in the oddest of ways. She wants to reach out and touch Rei's arm or laugh at Justin and tell him to stop being an idiot, which she's sure, in some way, he already knows.

She thinks of Mamoru then, of their own shared awareness of all these stupid secrets. She wonders if he would tell her, should she ask him. She wonders if it's just that easy to say - tell me everything. He doesn't seem like the type to give it up.

"Why?" Justin asks gently.

"I don't know," she admits. She bites her lip. There is a strong, overwhelming need to keep her conversations with Mamoru private. But, she thinks, they are a part of this too. "I feel like," she says slowly, "there are things that I should know - it doesn't make any sense. Maybe I'm tired, maybe I'm - I'm just caught up in everything."

"What do you feel like you should know?" Justin presses. Rei shoots him a dirty look, but he's turning towards her, leaning over the table. His fingers touch her knuckles. "You can talk us, you know. Tell us anything."

It feels too personal. She draws back.

"I feel like I'm losing sight of myself," she says; it's scary, how real that feels.

 

 

The door to the bedroom is open. The curtains to the balcony pull back, wiping against the slight breeze. The light is there too; Kris steps through, finding the Prince leaning against the balcony railing. He nurses a drink, lifting it when Kris comes to settle next to him.

"She's going to be angry," the Prince says.

"Rightfully so." Kris straightens against the railing. He turns and leans against it, shoving his hands into his pockets. "We can only hide this from her for so long."

"They're insistent," the Prince agrees.

"They know she's the one."

"We're going to have to push." The color of the Prince's voice is unsettling. Kris watches his mouth set into a deep frown. It's the warrior, he thinks. "I don't want to push her," he says too. "But there is no other way to -"

"You'll do what you think is best, your grace," Kris tells him.

The other man's mouth twists. "Always with the right things to say." He flicks his wrist, the ice in his glass clicking together. "She did like you best," he says.

Kris laughs, but the sound is too soft. His memories of the woman are selective and warm, the slight touches against his face, familiar and of a family that he could've had. It makes things desperately sad, heavier even.

"But she loved you."

The Prince sighs, rubbing his eyes. He brings the drink to his mouth. They both know that the safest place for both Usagi and her brother is here, in the apartment, among the others and, much to the Prince's reluctance, the girls. They cannot take them away from this either. He knows that Minako is biding time, as well as the Prince, but they are both keeping their sides to themselves. Usagi will never be able to pick.

"The Dark Kingdom has been watching her for a long time," Kris murmurs then. "How long - we don't know. Venus seems to think that the family had something to do with it too."

"It's already devastated her," the Prince murmurs.

"And you're surprised?"

Kris watches a dark smile cross the Prince's mouth. They have been together the longest; much like all aspects of their lives. He thinks the darkest memory for his Prince, however, is the subsequent murder of his beloved - it still feels odd and cold to think of the girl this way, especially when she stands in front of them daily now, bright and flushed, sad but so alive nonetheless.

"She'll hate me," the Prince says. "I don't think - I can't have her hating me. It would kill me all over again. I can't have Venus or the others being right again. I know she dreams too. I know because I've sat -" His hand presses against his face. "I've heard her talk in her sleep."

Kris shakes his head. "She didn't hate you."

"Kunzite," the Prince warns, a deep growl. Kris straightens at his given name, his eyes darkening. But his mouth twists too and the Prince finishes off his drink. "I won't make the same mistakes," he says quietly, dangerously.

They hear the door open from outside the room, the bedroom and then Justin's laughter signaling the return of Usagi. They hear Shingo too and Kris grabs the glass from the Prince's hand, pushing the Prince into standing straighter.

There is never anything right to say.

Chapter Text

She does not sleep.

 

 

Serenity dreams. She understands this.

The gardens are coiffed. They smell less of roses; Elysian is far too strange to pinpoint any sort of understanding.

Helios appeals to a simpler nature and pours tea. He settles at the table too.

"You are troubled, my lady."

"I -" she frowns, her mouth slight. Her fingers curl in her dress. The fabric is thin and cuffs at her palms. "Why am I here?"

"I provide asylum to the lost," he murmurs - he is a young man, and a mass of contradictions; she knows he is ageless and just as unforgiving as she feels, as she will be.

When she looks down though, her hands are sticky and red, puckered against her belly. Her head is heavy.

"Am I lost?" she asks.

 

 

Usagi opens her eyes.

Laughter filters into the bedroom. She hears noise in the kitchen and sits up, rubbing her throat. Her nails dig briefly into her skin.

Her legs swing over the side of the bed. She stumbles into Shingo's books and shoes, kicking them lightly against the wall. It's his voice that laughs, then, suddenly, it's Mamoru's, sharp and brief and heady.

Outside, she finds Kris standing off to the side, watching.

"Did we wake you?" he asks, gently.

"No," she murmurs. They both watch Shingo with Mamoru; he's burned eggs, and she watches as laughter rushes against her brother's face. She studies him, shaking her head. "But you knew that," she says.

Kris chuckles.

It's weeks now, since they've put their parents in the ground. Usagi does not dream of them though; instead, it continues to be an odd array of images, of watching herself, as someone completely different and having a troubling sense of familiarity.

She says nothing about it. Shingo wakes her here and there. Mamoru hovers, but there isn't much she can do. He humors her need for space and even with the fact that she's been back at school for a few days, it presents something, something familiar that she can't shake.

"Would he let me leave?" she asks, suddenly, abruptly.

Shingo pushes a pan in front of Mamoru. He grins, directing the older man into making the eggs.

"Why -" the color of Kris' voice changes, "he cannot make you stay," he tells her. His fingers graze her elbow.

She sighs. "No, I know."

"But your question?"

Shingo knocks into Mamoru's side. They grin at each other. Shingo takes over the eggs; Mamoru hovers over him, watching dutifully. Her heart is caught in her throat and she exhales, sharply.

"It was a stupid question," she says.

"Sere -" startled, she looks up. She's wide-eyed, but Kris is smooth and doesn't flinch. "Usagi-chan," he says gently. "You can trust us." then, as an afterthought, he pleas too: "And me."

"You," she repeats.

Her gaze meets Mamoru's. Her hands drift over her belly. He flinches. Kris steps over, covering her from view. It's both instinctive and odd, but she doesn't touch it.

She should get ready for school, she thinks.

 

 

Minako buys ice cream.

Usagi resigns herself to a pile of napkins, cleaning off a mix of cream and cone off the fabric of her skirt. Her mouth is sharp with a groan.

"I can get you another one, Usa-chan."

She looks up, flushed. "No," she says. "It's fine - you'd think I'd grow out of spilling it all over the place."

They sit at the Arcade. Usagi's eyes, out of habit, ghost over the games and an amused Motoki, ignoring the way the new furniture and pieces gleam. The floor too - all reminiscent of the attack, of a half-broken Shingo and things that moved into place.

She breathes. She reaches for her soda.

"This is nice," she admits.

Minako blinks. "What?"

"I -" she stops and thinks of Naru and Yumi, of feeling so oddly misplaced in her own skin and between others. She feels too old when she thinks like this and Minako is watching her, her gaze careful.

She leans over the table, biting at her ice cream.

"I know," she says quietly.

Usagi's lips purse and tremble. "Okay," she manages.

"But that's not what you want to talk about."

The conversation shifts abruptly. Usagi pauses, uncomfortable. She tastes a strange feeling. Minako has never been good at coaxing; it's Ami, Ami has always been gentler.

She shakes her head. Napkins forgotten, Usagi pinches the bridge of her nose.

"Minako."

She hears the older girl's smile. "Your face is an open book, sometimes," she says. She's fond, almost.

"I don't know what that means," Usagi mumbles.

Minako pokes her forehead. Usagi wrinkles her nose. She turns to her ice cream, picking at it absently.

"It means," Minako says. "You wear your heart on your sleeve, Usa-chan. And there's nothing bad about that -"

"But," she prompts, and it comes out harsher that she intends. Her eyes burn a little. She wets her lips too.

"But nothing," Minako sighs. "It's the best and worst part of you - and you can't tell me that I'm not right. I've seen you. Your ability to love and accept people and just do it so openly. Doesn't that worry at you at all?"

If she didn't already understand that Minako was brazen enough, this would one of those moment - it unnerves her like crazy, such an open drop on her personality. Is she right? Does she trust too much. Usagi thinks of Shingo and frowns.

"I know," she murmurs, and looks away.

"What's going on, Usa-chan?"

Minako touches her hand. The ice cream starts to melt.

"I don't feel like myself anymore," she says. "Everything is happening too fast and I don't know what to do."

"It's okay," Minako murmurs. "You're only human," she adds.

And for some reason this makes Usagi laugh, sharp and unwarranted, unlike the sound of her own laugh.

It tastes -

 

 

"Helios."

The man smiles.

"Yes," he says.

He pushes the tea to her. She laughs. It scratches her throat.

"He will find you," he says gently.

"Perhaps."

There is laughter in her throat again. She looks around - Elysian is strange to her, perhaps too close to home. The color of the room is just as close to Selene's garden as she remembers - or it was. She thinks of embers. She tastes the flames.

"Do you not trust my -"

"Your prince," she interrupts quickly. "Is still too guarded and too used to -" she stops, blinking. Her hands hover over her belly.

"Princess?"

Her fingers are warm. It's such a strange sensation; the stickiness crawls over her skin, from the tips of her fingers, mid-palm. She knows she's dying. But she feels removed from the idea. She stares ahead, over the tea cup in front of her. There is the table too, but it seems just as far away as Helios is, or remains even.

"This isn't real," she says.

 

 

Somehow she gets dragged to the Shrine. Her school skirt flutters over her knees; Minako is talking a mile a minute, barking into a phone as they barrel up the steps to the waiting Shrine and a waiting Rei, looking grim and tired all the same.

She seems to soften when she sees Usagi. Minako skips forward, moving past Rei and into the temple, leaving the two of them outside. They stand quietly. The question is at the tip of her tongue.

"There's been an attack," Rei says, as if to answer her question.

"Where?" Usagi asks tiredly.

"The Jewelry District," she answers. "Ami-chan and Makoto just called. Minako just worries a lot."

Her heart clenches. She feels her body stiffen. Somehow her mind wanders back; Makoto will be fine, she thinks. She's strong, so strong. She isn't sure where that reassurance comes from. It feels like a practiced habit almost.

"Are they all right?" she still asks, and Rei turns her gaze onto her. Her mouth thins and she reaches forward, linking their arms together. She brushes an absent kiss against her shoulder.

"You don't need to worry," she murmurs.

Her lips turn. "Too late," she says.

"Minako -" Rei's voice waivers with humor. "Would probably burn the entire city down before anything happened."

"Yeah?"

Usagi's cheeks are flushed. Rei chuckles.

"Yeah," she murmurs.

She smiles, or manages to smile, letting Rei pull her to the Shrine. They hear Minako's voice echo sharply in the halls and the slight, somber murmuring of prayers. There is an unsettling feeling in her belly. Usagi's hands rise and fall, her fingers wiggling. They're sticky from the ice cream, she thinks.

It's abrupt - she reaches out and grabs Rei again. She doesn't remember letting go. Her hand curls around the older girl's wrist. Rei's eyes are wide, her mouth parting into a slight, pale oh. Usagi's free hand curls too, half in her hair, palm sweating against her forehead.

"Who am I?" she breathes. "Who Rei?"

"You don't know what you're asking me," she murmurs, and Rei's fingers cue over her elbow. They tug at her blouse.

"Rei -"

"You don't," she repeats. She steps closer to Usagi. "And I know this weighing at you." It isn't gentle, what she says. Rei's voice is even too. "I know it's asking a lot, telling you to trust us."

Usagi's mouth thins. "I feel like -" she stops. She's repeating herself, now. Over and over again. She thinks about her parents this way. Her mom. Her dad. Shingo. Neither of them sleep anymore. They've just decided to not talk about it. "I don't know," she finishes.

"You can tell me, Usa-chan."

Minako's voice crumbles somewhere at the end of the hall. The murmuring stops too. Usagi looks down at her hands.

"Can I?" she says bitterly. "It's like I can trust you, but I can't. I don't really know where I feel comfortable. None of this makes sense. I should be scared. I know I should and then, then -"

"You feel nothing," Rei finishes. Her smile is wistful. It's strange to see. "I know how that feels," she murmurs.

Usagi's mouth purse.

They're quiet. Rei leaves her in a room for a minute. It's a soft glance into a courtyard of the sorts and it almost keeps Usagi from thinking about the last time she was here, and her parents. But Rei is fast and she carries tea, settling the tray between as she settles on her knees. She pours Usagi a cup first.

Usagi blinks. She hesitates in taking it.

"Are you all right?" Rei is careful.

No, she thinks. Yes, she thinks. She should call Mamoru and Shingo, to reassure them.

"Thank you for the tea," Usagi says instead.

They both wait for Minako this way.

 

 

How they get to Makoto dragging a bloody Nathan up the stairs, she doesn't know. It's Minako that rushes forward. Rei stays settled, next to her, but grimly watches the sky and some sort of space behind the two of them.

Makoto's eyes are fierce, sharp. There is bloody smeared against the pulse of her uniform and her skirt. She doesn't meet Usagi's gaze; instead, she murmurs something sharp to Minako, who juts back and freezes, and drags Nathan to her and a waiting Rei.

"I need your help."

Usagi squeaks. "Me?"

"I need your help," she repeats, flat, and Nathan groans. He lowers to his knees, an unrelenting Makoto steady at his side.

Rei touches her arm. She stares at Makoto.

"Makoto-chan," she chides softly. "It's not -"

"Fuck you, Rei -" and Makoto exhales through her teeth, a whistling sound escaping. "She can do this," she says. The pitch of her voice climbs and she holds Usagi's gaze. "Put your hands on him."

"Makoto -"

"Put your hands on him," she snarls.

Usagi's eyes are wide, her hands curling into her face. It's instinctive and she jerks back, close to Rei.

"No -"

It happens slowly: Makoto's eyes churn into this strange, irreplaceable green. She sees hits of golds, flecks of silvers growing, almost spinning right in front of her. The air seems to crack. Rei even shuffles forward, turning her body in between her and Usagi, even as Nathan groans quietly and wilts in between all of them.

Usagi's hands are shaking.

"You can go inside," Rei says softly.

But her feet don't move and Usagi swears, swears she sees Nathan's eyes roll into the back of his head. His knees buckle and then Makoto is lowering him to ground.

Usagi takes a step forward.

"Usa -"

"I don't know how to help," she whispers. Makoto shifts Nathan's head to her lap. "I don't, okay."

"You do," the other girl says. "Put your hands on him."

Now, it's a plea. The sky is starting to darken too. Her cheeks flushed, are starting to get wet - it's not her eyes. The blossoms of the trees remain steady too.

"It's going to rain," Makoto says absently.

Usagi doesn't know why she decides to kneel.

 

 

"She's afraid."

Helios stares at him. His knees are buried in the grass - Kris stands a few feet away, leaning against the wall and staring off to the side.

"Who?" Mamoru asks, finally. His mouth purses. They are watching a replay of the battle in the district; Sailor Jupiter takes a hard fall, Nathan in a strange display of old habits takes the next hit for her.

"The Princess," Helios relays.

The guardian of Elysian continues to remain ageless and untouched, despite the changes in the planet. Mamoru's memories of Endymoin are much sharper here too - he is Endymoin and will always be. But his memories of his own end, with the fall of the Silver Millennium, are much darker than he cares to touch.

He thinks of Usagi, her careful trust, and of course, his quick assumptions that she is really okay with staying with him. She has been incredibly clear; he sees the way she watches him.

It unsettles him.

"My lord," Kris murmurs.

Mamoru rubs his eyes and Helios stands.

"She is the same and she is different," his guardian says. He looks away - Elysian faces them, loud, bright and clear.

"Will she choose?" he asks.

"My lord," Kris is insistent. Mamoru feels it too. A guardian, his, hurt; it pulls at him, nearly as deep as everything else - Earth, his men, Serenity.

His hands clench into fists. Elysian starts to sway.

Helios says nothing.

 

 

The blood is warm on her hands.

"Princess," Nathan croaks.

"Stop," Rei warns, and Makoto sends her a look. They resettle, her hands, on his belly. He shudders underneath them and she doesn't know what she's supposed to do.

Her fingers curl into knuckles. She watches Nathan's face contort into pain, the lines picking at the corners of his mouth. He arches into Makoto and Usagi almost reels back.

Minako slides down next to her.

"Mamoru-san is on his way."

Rei sighs. "Minako," she murmurs. "Really."

"Shut up -" Makoto meets her gaze again. Her mouth trembles. "Please," she says. Her voice cracks. "I need you -"

Usagi closes her eyes.

 

 

It's a tremendous power.

Her hands are steady, her fingers spread as she settles them onto her lap. Serenity is quiet.

"You give life," Helios tells her.

The blood is sinking into her gown again.

"And take it away."

 

 

Nathan arches back.

"What -"

Her hands are glowing. Heat flushes against Usagi's face. She feels unsteady. The blood remains on Nathan's shirt.

"Usagi," Minako murmurs. Her hands curl around her shoulders. She's standing behind her now - she's not quite sure how they got here. But she's steady and Usagi cannot tear her eyes away from the man in front of her at all.

He's withering now. His mouth is wet and Makoto is strong, maybe too strong, as she catches his arms, pinning them back against the floor.

She squeezes her eyes shut.

"Usagi."

"What am I doing?" she croaks. She feels her head start to spin. Something snaps. She feels Nathan shudder.

"Usagi." This is Rei. She shifts and then, suddenly, she is in front of her, on the other side of the man. "It's okay," she says gently.

The glow is getting brighter and brighter though. Her hands are hot. Her skin is crawling. There is a faint ringing in her ears.

It's not okay - she wants to cry out in panic. She doesn't want this. She doesn't want any of this. She wants to claw at her skin, cry out for Mamoru, take Shingo and run.

But then she's struck by at all, visions of a place - places that she dreams of. High gardens. A woman, a woman too and there are kind, sad, sad eyes. She feels the responsibility and the resignation. Then it becomes much simpler than that: heal him, she thinks. She feels her fingers start to move, slowly, as if to weave the skin and blood and bones back into place. Heal him, she thinks again.

The energy settles. "Usa-chan," Minako tries.

Her hands pull away from Nathan.

"Usagi," she says again.

Later, she'll have a fuzzy memory, some kind of memory, of how her body moves. Skin and bones, her head craning back, her hair spilling over her shoulder; it's that easy, sometimes.

She meets Minako's gaze though.

Her eyes are silver.

"This is real," she says.