Disclaimer: I don't own Sailor Moon, never have, never will. :( I'm just borrowing the characters. All hail the wonderful Naoko Takeuchi for creating this fabulous series.

AN: Hello again! Here's the next revised section of FLOD-and the second-to-last chapter that needed extension revision. We're getting there! (Actually, this little darling is the entire reason I went back to revise in the first place-a few of the details I'd slipped in here came back to bite me later.)

In other news, the first book in my sci-fi series is being published next month! I'm excited. :)

Special thanks go to sorahanachan, skyhighdreamer, and Zylvie Meinfield, and of course, all of you who have left me reviews and encouraged me to continue. Hope you enjoy!

"Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me." ~ John 14:6

For Love...or Duty

Part 10:

A Gathering Storm

As his Generals vanished with their wives, Endymion looked at Serenity in confusion. Then he turned to Mina and Malachite, who had not moved. "Aren't you two going to disappear as well?"

Mina shook her head, sending tendrils of golden hair flying. "No, my Prince. We have already had our discussion."

Endymion cocked a dark eyebrow. "Oh, have you? Then perhaps you could explain to me what exactly is going on here." He leaned forward, disapproval etched into the tanned planes of his face. "I dislike being left in the dark."

Beside him, Serenity bit her lip, her blue eyes wide and uncertain.

Mina darted a glance at her before focusing on Endymion. "We have a confession to make about our roles on the Moon." She was grateful for Malachite's solid presence at her side.

Endymion eyed her dubiously. Not only was this entire affair setting off his internal warning bells, but Mina was…not acting like herself. Her voice was unusually serious; in fact, if he had not known better, he would have thought the glint in her cornflower blue eyes matched Malachite's when he was briefing soldiers. Choosing his words carefully, he said, "You are princesses of the Inner Planets. What else is there to know about you?"

Mina casually inspected her nails. "We're also the Senshi."

The prince almost choked. "What?" That he had not been expecting. Stunned, he looked at his First General, who wore a faint expression of wry amusement. "The four of you are the Senshi?"

His head spun with a whirlwind of conflicting information. What had the Moon Queen done? Four Sailor Senshi living in Earth's royal palace, each of them daily in close proximity to the King, Queen, Endymion himself—and Serenity. Serenity.

Endymion's deluge of emotion froze over in an instant. The Senshi were his wife's sworn protectors. Of course. "You are the Senshi." It made a surprising—albeit disturbing—amount of sense.

Mina nodded. Then she posted one hand on her hip and canted her head to one side like a bird. "Would it help if I proved it?"

The prince still being in a state of shock—highly unusual for him—Malachite answered. "Show us." He directed his words to Mina, but his speculative lavender gaze rested on his liege, watching to see how well he took the news. Better than I did, he thought with an internal grimace.

Slipping off the arm of the chair in a rustle of pale green skirts, Mina straightened and threw her hand into the air. "Venus Power!" She closed her eyes at the familiar rush of comforting power.

As Endymion and Malachite watched in combined fascination and awe, a shining chain of hearts swept around Mina. In a flash—a blaze of golden light—the Princess of Venus no longer stood before them. In her place was the Senshi of Venus.

Venus flipped a lock of gold hair over her shoulder and turned a gloved hand palm up. "Well?"

Endymion finally found his voice. "This is unbelievable." He cast a dumfounded look at his wife, who unexpectedly dissolved into laughter. "What, may I ask, is so amusing?"

"Oh, Endy." Serenity threw her arms around him. "You should have seen the look on your face!" His face settled into grim lines, but she continued, "Yes, Mina and the others are the Senshi. They're my protectors."

"Just as we are yours, Prince," Malachite interjected quietly. He was still staring at Mina—No, Sailor Venus, he corrected himself. Again, he wondered why he had never connected the dots before.

A shadow passed over Endymion's face. He put an arm around Serenity and pulled her into his side as he met Venus's steady gaze. "That would explain why you jumped in front of her, wouldn't it, Venus?"

The golden Senshi bowed stiffly. "It is my duty."

"However," Endymion's voice became sterner, "it does not explain why you have kept this knowledge a secret. How long did you intend to keep us in the dark?"

Venus straightened and allowed her transformation to dissipate. "We had our orders, Endymion."

"Orders?" Endymion's eyes widened and then he looked down at his wife in disbelief. "You ordered your guardians to say nothing of this?

Serenity shook her head violently, her face draining of all color. "No!" she protested loudly. "I would never do that! Endy, you of all people should know I would never do that." She took his hands in hers and stared up at him, willing him to see the truth in her face. "My mother forbade me to tell you. She said the Senshi were responsible for that."

Her breath hitched and tears gathered in her eyes. "I thought that meant they'd be able to share the news after the wedding. I was wrong."

Endymion's face darkened and he turned back to Mina, who was still standing calmly in the middle of the room. "You had better have a good explanation for this, Princess," he said in a low, cold voice. He ignored the admonishing look Malachite sent him.

Mina spread her hands. "We swore an oath of silence, Endymion. None of us could say a word until the Queen released us from it last night before she sent me back to Earth."

"Why would she require an oath?" Endymion demanded. "Why the secrecy? What was she thinking?"

Mina's face was expressionless, but her eyes held a trace of sympathy. "It wasn't just Queen Selenity's idea," she said carefully. "She passed the decision along to us, yes, but it belonged—both officially and unofficially—to the Council. They wanted to be certain Earth could be trusted before..."

It was the wrong thing to say.

The prince's eyes glinted with cold fury. Rising to his feet, he advanced on Mina. "They wanted to be certain EARTH could be trusted?"

Malachite was halfway out of his chair, fingers tightening on the armrests. No man, not even the prince, would lay a finger on Mina. Not while he stood by. He relaxed a fraction as Endymion halted two feet from Mina, but he remained ready to intercede.

Her heart thudded in her chest, but Mina stood her ground. "Yes."

"Endy—" Serenity began, but her husband held out his hand for her to be silent. She narrowed her eyes in annoyance.

In one fluid motion, the Moon Princess rose to her feet and moved to stand beside Mina facing her husband. Her long golden ponytails swirled around her slim figure. "Endymion, listen to me. For the last four hundred years, the Silver Alliance has sent envoy after envoy to Earth and the Royal Family has always refused to rejoin. Until now."

Mina silently cheered.

Endymion met her gaze. "What are you saying, Serenity?"

She tilted her chin. "I'm saying that my mother and the rest of the High Council are still concerned about the rumors they have heard of strange happenings on Earth." She laid a hand on his chest and peered up into his face. "You know that, Endy. It's the main reason negotiations for Earth's entry took so long. They wanted us to have a layer of protection if something happened."

A muscle in the dark-haired prince's jaw twitched, but before he could speak, a soft voice said, "That is correct, Your Highness."

Ami and Zoicite emerged from the study, arm-in-arm. Ami's face was slightly flushed, but her eyes held a peaceful calm. She nodded to Serenity. "Excellent explanation."

"Yes," Rei said as she and Jadeite swept back into the room. "Now we know there's actually something in your head."

"Besides Moon rocks," Lita added teasingly from the other side of the room. Nephrite's arm was around her waist; she positively glowed with happiness.

Serenity smiled, but did not laugh. Her silvery blue eyes were fixed on her husband.

"Ahem." Jadeite cleared his throat loudly. "I hate to interrupt this tender moment, but—"

"There are still things to be discussed," Mina finished.

The blond general shot her an odd look. "You mean there's more?"

Rei leaned close to him and whispered, "Wouldn't you like to know?"

He glanced down at her and was a little bit taken aback by the predatory smile on her face. "Rei..." he trailed off doubtfully.

Zoicite's sharp green eyes glanced about the room, lingering on each princess appraisingly. "All of you are Senshi?" He received three nods.

"Care to introduce yourselves?" Nephrite drawled. His arm tightened around Lita. "I know who my wife is, but who are you?"

"I'm Mars," Rei informed them.

Ami held her hand up shyly. "Mercury."

"Jupiter." Lita held her head high.

Mina smiled mischievously. "I am Venus."

Jadeite stared at her in shock. "You're Venus?" When she nodded, he shook his head. "And here I thought Sailor Venus was a stick-in-the-mud serious type like Mal!"

Rei rolled her eyes. "Obviously, you were wrong."

Mina winked at Jadeite. "You may think that if you like, but I could not possibly comment."*

"Well...," Lita began thoughtfully, straightening her skirts, "Mina has her moments. When she's Sailor Venus, she really is as serious as you are, Malachite."

"Now that is a frightening thought." Zoicite shook his head mournfully. "Mal's bad enough."

"They deserve each other," Nephrite said with a chuckle.

Mina laughed. "You are terrible." She flounced over to Malachite's chair and perched on the armrest again. "Can you believe they're talking about us this way?" She swept her golden hair out of the way and it spilled over onto Malachite's arm.

"Yes," he replied. "It's perfectly normal." Absently, he began to finger the glittering strands streaming down her back.

"Well, I think they're just jealous."

Nephrite smiled but refrained from answering as he and Lita sat down together. Endymion and Serenity settled back down, and Ami and Zoicite joined them.

Jadeite, however, wasn't as wise. He cast a mock-serious glance at the First General. "Are we mellowing, Malachite?"

Malachite leveled his lavender eyes at his friend. "Do you really believe that?" His voice was deceptively calm.

The younger general just smiled and pulled Rei down onto a couch beside him.

The jovial atmosphere faded rapidly, giving way to an awkward, stilted silence. Rei solved it by turning to Malachite and asking, "Tell us about these powers of yours." She nodded to her husband. "Jade wouldn't say a thing."

Malachite's eyes flitted to Endymion, who inclined his head. "Zoicite."

"Ah, yes." Zoicite straightened in his seat. "Our powers." He shrugged. "It's fairly straightforward. Each of us was born with special gifts."

Ami glanced sideways at him, her face brightening. "Such as the 'gift' Malachite used to heal Mina?"

"Exactly," Jadeite put in. He waved a hand to Nephrite. "Neph here can create a sword out of nothing."

"It is not 'nothing'," Zoicite said sternly. "How many times do I have to remind you he manipulates—"

Jadeite held his hands up in mock-surrender. "Not another lecture, Zoi."

Zoicite glared at him, but subsided. Ami squeezed his hand. "Annoying, isn't it?" she murmured. He gave her a small, rueful smile.

Mina raised an eyebrow at Nephrite. "You can create a sword out of thin air? That is quite an accomplishment."

The brown-haired General shrugged. "Merely a gift."

"Amazing." Lita shook her head.

Nephrite gave her a fond look. "Sometime I forget it must seem that way. Much like your transformation, I think."

Zoicite cleared his throat. "I create and manipulate crystals."

"Really? What do you do with them?" Ami rested her chin in her hands as she studied her husband.

Zoicite shrugged. "I can form crystal daggers as well as crystals for other purposes such as honing crystals, focusing crystals, and the like."

"Useful skill," Rei commented approvingly.

Jadeite sent her a keen sideways glance. "I have control over fire."

She looked up at him so sharply that everyone else fought the urge to laugh. "Is that so?"

His face the picture of innocence, Jadeite nodded. "Really and truly."

"We'll see about that." Rei tossed her head and the ends of her black hair flicked him in the face.

"Must you do that?" Jadeite wrinkled his nose.

"Do what?" she inquired in an equally innocent voice.

Despite the situation, Endymion had to smother a smile. Jadeite had never been like this before he met and married the Martian Princess. "If you two intend to argue," he said mildly, "kindly take it elsewhere."

Suddenly realizing everyone was watching them, Rei froze. Two bright spots burned in her cheeks, but she managed a regal nod.

"Apologies," Jadeite said. No one knew to whom it had been addressed.

Mina turned her head to lock eyes with Malachite. "And you heal people." He had been silent throughout the entire exchange—quite possibly because her hair had held the bulk of his interest, but she doubted he had missed a word.

He nodded curtly.

She rested a hand on his shoulder, not even bothering to pretend to be steadying herself. I can see how that gift might be viewed as a strange burden. It wasn't every day one ran into a military commander with a knack for healing people on the brink of death.

"Now that we've all been properly introduced…" Lita leaned forward, her face taking on a serious cast. "Why did Queen Selenity recall you to the Moon, Mina?"

Here it comes. Stiffening her spine, Mina took a deep breath. Then, slowly and carefully, she explained everything that had happened since she disappeared from the palace. She deliberately held the news about Serenity being sent back to the Moon for last. It would be the hardest to break.

By the end of the first part of her tale, Endymion and his Generals all wore frowns. The dark-haired Prince shook his head. "We are not the only ones being bothered by Beryl's minions."

"No," Mina said.

"Is Mother well?" Serenity asked anxiously, twisting her delicate fingers together.

"She's fine, Princess," Mina assured her. "Tired and worried, but otherwise in perfect health."

Visible relief washed over the Moon Princess. "Good."

Malachite frowned. "I don't like this," he said frankly. "Where does this Beryl think she's going? There is really no point in harassing the Outer Planets—or the Inner Planets for that matter. The Moon or even Earth itself would be more logical."

"I agree," Zoicite said. "Logistically speaking, it would make more sense for her to attack the Moon because your Queen has the power of the Silver Imperium Crystal."

I don't want to have to tell them this. "There's more," Mina said softly, brushing a lock hair over her shoulder. She closed her eyes briefly to gather her courage, and then opened them.

Endymion suddenly felt a peculiar sensation in his stomach, as if he was being carried hundreds of feet above the ground and suspended there. "More?" he echoed suspiciously.

The Venusian nodded, her face solemn. "If Beryl attacks the Earth, Queen Selenity has issued orders that we must escort the Princess to the Moon."

"No." The Prince's stomach came crashing down; his voice was barely audible. She wouldn't do that to us. She couldn't.

"I'm afraid so, Endymion." Mina's tone was apologetic, but firm.

"No!" Serenity jumped to her feet, clenching her hands into tiny fists. "I won't go! You can't make me, Mina. I won't leave Endymion!" Her blue eyes filled with swirling blue and silver as she glared heatedly at her friend.

Mina did not flinch. "Your mother has decreed it. If Earth is attacked, you MUST go to the Moon. I'm sorry, Sere, but it is your duty as the Moon Princess—"

"I'm not just the Moon Princess anymore! I'm a Princess of Earth now too. And I refuse to abandon Earth!" Serenity was trembling from head to foot.

Endymion and his Generals stared at her in shock. They had never seen the delicate, always-smiling, always-cheerful Princess truly upset. The Senshi were accustomed to the crying and wailing she'd done on occasion, but this...?

For their part, Ami, Lita, and Rei were profoundly glad that the golden-haired sprite's anger was not directed towards them. At least not yet.

"Serenity." Endymion finally found his voice. "Calm down." Wrapping his arms around the slender Moon Princess's shaking form, he held her tightly. As he did, he fought the ache that just thinking about losing her created in his heart.

"I won't leave you," she murmured into his chest, her hands still balled into fists.

"Well?" Endymion looked at Mina coldly over the top of his wife's head.

Mina rose to her feet with all the grace of a warrior. Her cornflower blue eyes were hard, but filled with the weary sadness of one who has had to deliver too much bad news. "Should the riots and other problems here escalate, we'll be taking her back to the Moon. I'll do it alone, if it comes to that, but we will leave."

Lita, Ami, and Rei exchanged stricken glances.

"I don't want to go," Serenity repeated, still holding fast to Endymion.

"You're the heir to the Moon Kingdom and quite possibly the Silver Alliance as well," Mina retorted. "You have a responsibility and a duty to your people to stay alive and unharmed."

Eyes swimming with tears, Serenity lifted her head to face Mina. "Don't do this to me, Mina. Please."

"It's not in my hands. You know that, Princess."

Endymion spoke into the sudden silence that fell over the room. "Let me see if I understand you, Princess. Should we fall under attack, my wife is packed off to the Moon—"

"We will be going with her," the Venusian interjected.

"—and I won't be able to see her again until things are calm again?" he inquired icily.

Mina's eyes widened in shock. "Of course you'll be able to see her, Endymion. The Queen said you'd be allowed full visiting privileges, which means access to the Moon at all times." Well, that's a bit of a stretch, she thought to herself, but I'll insist on it myself if need be. "And remember, this is only if—IF—Earth is bothered."

"What right does your Queen have to decree this?" the Terran prince demanded.

The golden Princess began to tick off reasons on her fingers. "The right of a ruler protecting her heir—"

"Serenity is my wife," Endymion cut in. "It is my duty and privilege to protect her. I don't need Queen Selenity telling me how to do that."

"With all due respect, Endymion," Ami interjected calmly, "how do you propose to accomplish that?" Ignoring the startled looks being sent her way, she focused her navy gaze on the Prince. "Let us suppose for a moment that Earth is attacked. You command the armies. No doubt you'll be sent out in the field with them. Do you intend to take Serenity with you?"

Malachite and the other Generals listened expectantly. Zoicite glanced at Ami with the hint of a smile on his lips. Good job, he complimented her silently. He didn't like the way this conversation was going, but his wife had latched onto a valid question.

"Good point." Lita nodded towards the blue-haired Mercurian. Then her eyes flitted back to rest on Endymion. "What will you do? I don't think you'll be able to take her with you—"

"A battle field would not be safe for her," Nephrite agreed.

"—and you obviously can't leave her here unprotected." The tall Jovian ran a hand through her brown ponytail. "Even though we'd be here with her, we aren't enough of an opposing force to prevent a large enemy force from..." she trailed off, emerald eyes suddenly very intent on the smooth tiles of the floor.

"We'd make a dent in them though," Rei said grimly.

"Don't talk about me as if I'm not here," Serenity said sharply, raising her head from its resting place on her husband's chest. She looked up at him pleadingly. "I could go with you, Endy. I could."

Slowly, Endymion shook his head. He placed his hand on her cheek, his stormy eyes soft and sad. "No, they're right. That would be too dangerous." He ran a weary hand over his face. "As much as I loathe to admit it, the Moon is the only viable option."

"No!" Serenity freed herself from his grasp and stepped back defiantly. "I won't leave you."

Endymion grasped her hands and raised them to his lips. "Serenity, don't worry. I won't let you go without a fight. Nothing but a real emergency would cause me to even consider sending you up there."

The golden-haired princess swallowed, trying to hold back more tears, and gave him a watery smile. "I-I believe you."

Endymion turned to give Mina a pointed look. "Anything else we should know?"

Mina spread her hands. "I've told you everything." Shaking her blonde hair out of her face, she tucked a few strands back behind her ribbon. She was trying to give the impression that she was completely unaffected by her Princess's show of emotion, but in truth, she was almost shattered. Informing Serenity and Endymion they might have to be separated was quite possibly the hardest thing she'd ever done in her life.

"Will you excuse us please?" Serenity asked very quietly.

Almost of one accord, the other Princesses and the Generals rose to their feet. Jadeite clapped Zoicite on the shoulder. "Time to do all those things we would have done this morning if you hadn't—" The rest of his sentence was lost as he walked out the door.

"I'm going to the garden," Lita announced. She kissed Nephrite on the cheek. "I'll see you later, dear."

He placed a hand on his heart. "Of course, my lady."

Ami caught Zoicite's arm as he was being unceremoniously dragged down the hall by a grimly determined Jadeite. "I'm going to the library to do some research," she murmured in his ear.

Green eyes full of understanding, he nodded. Quickly, he kissed her, and then marched off to fulfill his duties.

I'm going to stay here and talk to Serenity when she and Endymion are finished, Rei sent to Jadeite. Do try to stay out of trouble. I mean it.

I'm sure I don't know what you mean, the blonde general shot back, as he pulled Zoicite down the hall. See you at dinner, sweetheart.

Mina was among the last to leave, and as she did, she was well aware of Serenity's silver-blue eyes on her. Eyes now full of hurt, betrayal, and pain. Why? they seemed to ask. She forced herself to stand tall as she exited.

Jadeite happened to look back, and abruptly nudged Zoicite. "Zoi, look."

"What now?" Zoicite grumbled in exasperation.

"Just look."

Zoicite cast a long-suffering glance over his shoulder. To his surprise, Malachite was following Mina down the hall. From the looks of it, Mina had not yet noticed. "Those two appear to be getting along better," he remarked. "He's finally admitting to himself that he cares about her."

"I'd say so," Jadeite agreed. "It's about time. Come on, Zoi. Let's get to work. We can rib him about it later."

"You mean you can rib him later," the Second General retorted with a sniff of disapproval.

—- —- —- —

Mina maintained a thoughtful look on her face as a mask for her true feelings until she reached the quarters she shared with Malachite. She stumbled through the doorway, almost blinded by the tears that suddenly rose in her eyes. The look on Serenity's face cut her to the heart.

Sinking down onto the floor, unmindful of her skirts, she buried her face in her hands. It's not right! Why am I always the one to be the harbinger of bad news?

Would you rather one of the other Senshi had been tasked with it? her annoying inner voice asked.

No, but— A hand touched her shoulder and Mina turned, hurriedly brushing away the traces of her tears. "Oh, it's you." She refused to meet her husband's concerned gaze.

Malachite knelt on the smooth floor beside her. "It's not easy, is it?" he said, his voice unusually gentle. "Being the one who has to carry on in spite of everything."

Not trusting herself to speak, Mina just shook her head. Her eyes were still brimming with tears and she struggled to keep them back.

Malachite debated with himself for only a second before he tugged her into his arms. She came willingly and he rested his chin on the top of her head. "You've had a rather interesting week, haven't you?"

Perhaps it was bland and inane, but it was the first thing that came to mind. When his wife's shoulders began to shake, he loosened his grip and looked down at her in alarm. "Mina? Are you all right?"

It was only then that he realized that she was laughing—not sobbing as he'd feared.

"Oh, my," she got out, amid fits of giggles. "Yes, Mal, I suppose you could say that I had a very interesting week." She collapsed against him, burying her face in his chest and inhaling his crisp, clean scent. "How about you?" she asked in a muffled voice.

Malachite chuckled softly. "About the same as yours, I think."

Mina raised a hand and tenderly smoothed a few silver strands of hair out of his face. "That bad, eh?"

His lips curved in a wry half-smile. "Well, the love of my life did disappear, you know. That was rather stressful."

Mina froze. Then, feeling a blush burn her cheeks, she dropped her hand and looked down. Internally, she panicked. What do I say? What do I do? Her heartbeat sped up and she took a deep breath, trying to calm it.

"Mina." Tilting her chin up to see her face, Malachite looked at her seriously. "Don't trouble yourself about this. Endymion doesn't like the news, but he is sensible. Eventually, he'll admit that this plan is for the best. Although," his eyes darkened a little, "I can't say that I particularly care for the idea myself."

Mina shrugged, the movement sending ripples through her mane of golden hair. "There wasn't anything I could do. There isn't anything I can do now besides my duty." Her cornflower blue eyes suddenly blazed. "And I will o my duty."

"I know."

She looked at Malachite, and for a moment, time seemed to stand still. Yes. He does know. He faces the same dilemma. But somehow...somehow I know we'll get through this together. Throwing her arms around his neck, she kissed his cheek. "Thanks, Mal."

He raised an eyebrow. "For what?" Her mercurial moods sometimes left him internally reeling.

"For being here for me."

Simple though they might seem, those words did wonders for Malachite's heart. Taking her hand, he raised it to his lips. "You are welcome."

Her cheeks tinting pink again, Mina smiled and gently disengaged herself from his arms. "Well, no time like a gift. I've got to talk to Serenity and you," she poked his chest, "have work to do. And we can't have the First General not attending to his duty, now, can we?"

"Of course not, my lady," he agreed smoothly, helping Mina to her feet. Before she could react, he leaned down and kissed her. Then he strode for the door. He paused long enough to send her a roguish smile over his shoulder. "We'll straighten all this out, I promise you."

Her stomach still doing flip-flops, the golden princess could only nod. She stood in the middle of the room for a few moments after he'd gone, trying to compose herself. She wanted him to kiss her again…and again…but they didn't have time for that. She straightened her shoulders. Time to see how Serenity is.

—- —- —- —

After everyone departed, Serenity wrapped her arms around Endymion's waist again and rested her head on his chest. "Don't make me go, Endy. I don't want to leave you."

He trailed a hand through one of her long ponytails. "I don't want you to go either. But…" a muscle in his jaw clenched, "I'm beginning to think it will be the best way to keep you safe."

"What?" Serenity gasped. Freeing herself from his grasp, she demanded indignantly, "You'd send me away?"

He reached for her, but she stepped back. Head held high, back straight, she faced him, hurt and fury evident in every inch of her slender frame. "Endy, you'd send me to the Moon? Away from you and home and—and everything?"

Endymion frowned. "Sere, the Moon is your home."

"Was," she corrected. "My home is with you now, Endy."

"Serenity," he said quickly, taking her by the shoulders, "I love you. I want to keep you safe from harm. If sending you to the Moon will protect you, then I'll do it."


The dark-haired prince placed a finger to her lips. "Don't fight me on this, Sere. It's just a precaution. In case the worst does happen. Your mother—" he sighed, and shook his head, "—your mother just wants to keep you from getting hurt. I understand that." He pulled her close and rested his forehead against hers. "Believe me, Sere, I won't let you go unless it's absolutely necessary."

Serenity bit her lip. "Endy

"I can't take you with me," he told her softly. "War is brewing, my love, and I want you to be somewhere where I won't have to worry. If something were to happen to you, I'd—" His voice cracked and he trailed off, closing his eyes against his inner fears of losing her. When he opened them again, they were stormy with emotion. "I'd lose my mind."

Two crystal tears slipped down Serenity's cheeks, but she tried to smile. "I understand, Endy. I do." She launched herself into his arms. "I don't want anything to happen to you either. I love you so much, Endy."

"I know," he replied, before kissing her.

Several pleasurable moments later, Endymion reluctantly pulled away. "I need to talk to my father about all this." He ruffled his wife's bangs affectionately and kissed her one more time.

As he crossed the room, Serenity called out, "Endy, don't be angry with Mina. She's only doing what she's been doing all her life—protecting me."

His mouth tightened briefly, and then he relaxed and nodded. "I won't."

After he had gone, Serenity sat down in a patch of sunlight on the forest green couch and drew her knees up to her chest. She stared out the window, watching the birds and observing how the wind gently stirred the flowers below in the royal gardens. A sudden, tentative knock brought her back to reality. "Come in," she called.

The door opened to admit Rei. "Serenity, are you well?"

The fact that she failed to start off with sarcastic banter alerted Serenity to the fact that the Martian princess was quite serious. She smiled half-heartedly. "I'm upset, Rei, but I'll survive."

Nodding, Rei brushed a lock of raven hair out of her face. "I know what you mean. The thought of leaving Jade behind just—" She twisted her hands together uncomfortably before bursting out, "I love him, Sere, and I can't imagine life without him. But if leaving here will keep you safe, then I'll do it. I would do it in a heartbeat."

"I know you would, Rei, and I appreciate it." Serenity looked her friend in the eye. "But if it came to a choice between Jade and me? What would you do then?"

"What do you mean?" the fire princess asked, her voice strangely calm despite the shock and premonition the question sent racing through her.

The Moon Princess's blue eyes were troubled. "If your duty to protect me made you choose between Jade's life and mine, what would you do?" She held up a hand. "In all seriousness, Rei. Would you sacrifice Jade to save me?"

Rei bowed her head. "I-I don't know. I'd like to think that I would fulfill my destiny as a Sailor Senshi, but—"

"It would kill you to lose Jade," a soft voice finished.

Both princesses turned sharply towards the door. Neither of them had been aware that anyone else had entered. Mina stood with her back to the door, having just pushed it closed.

"Have you forgotten you're supposed to knock?" Rei snapped, more out of surprise at being taken unawares than any real anger.

Mina gave her a look, one the raven-haired princess knew well. It was the look Mina wore when she was Sailor Venus and she had a mission. "My apologies, Princess." She curtseyed to Serenity.

The Moon Princess rolled her eyes. "You know you don't have to do that. You never even bother unless…" she trailed off, a catch in her voice. The rest of her sentence was left unsaid.

Sensing the burning determination and inner tumult engulfing Mina's aura, Rei stood. "I'll come back later, Sere." With a swish of scarlet silken skirts, she vanished from the room, leaving Mina and Serenity alone.

Mina swallowed. "I'm so sorry, Sere. I don't want to hurt you with all this."

Serenity sighed. "I know. You had orders."


The Moon Princess patted the seat next to her, regaining a little of her old spark. "Have a seat, Mina, and let's talk about this."

Mina curled up on the couch and took Serenity's hand. "I don't want us to have to leave," she said earnestly. "I hope we can stay here with them for the rest of our lives. It's just—" She broke off as Serenity giggled.

"You don't have to go through it all, Mina. Endy explained it to me. I still don't like it, but I'll make do."

The Venusian felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "I'm so glad."

For a few seconds, the two princess smiled at each other. Then a mischievous look came into Serenity's face. Casually, she asked, "Are you and Malachite getting along better now?"

Much to her embarrassment, Mina blushed.

"AHA! You are!" Serenity shrieked with delight, the prospect of losing her husband temporarily relegated to the back of her mind. "He's kissed you, hasn't he?"

Mina blushed harder and dropped her eyes to her lap to avoid Serenity's teasing gaze. "Yes," she admitted.

"Oh, Mina, I knew you'd fall in love." Serenity sighed happily before nudging her with a knowing wink. "You do love him, don't you?" She and the Queen had been discussing the pair for a while now, and it would be nice to report some good news when she joined her mother-in-law for their afternoon sewing session.

"Yes." Mina blinked back sudden tears. "I love him with all of my heart."

"Wonderful!" Serenity clapped her hands together. "I want to know everything that's happened in the past week!"

Mina smiled and sighed at the same time. Same old Sere.

—- —- —- —

That night during dinner, Mina was incandescent. Sitting beside her, Malachite couldn't help but notice what a change her absence had created in the general atmosphere. Yes, she chattered, but she kept conversations going and you could be sure that no uncomfortable silences would result. Her presence had been sorely missed.

As the meal wound down, with amicable conversation replacing food and drink, Mina discreetly slipped her hand into Malachite's under the table. He found himself a little surprised, but pleased nonetheless. The servants noticed, and news spread all over the Palace.

Sadly, all good things eventually came to an end. Malachite had late duty that night, and it was time for the evening watch to be posted. He tightened his grip on his princess's hand briefly before letting her go. "If you'll excuse me, Your Majesties," he bowed his head to the King Edward and the Queen, "Your Highnesses," he nodded to Endymion and the princesses. "I must attend to tonight's guard."

King Edward raised his goblet in a dismissive gesture. "You may go."

Rising to his feet, the First General bowed again before striding out of the dining hall. The rest of the nobles gathered at the table dispersed shortly afterwards. The King and Queen retired for the night, followed by Endymion, Serenity, Mina, and the other Generals and their Princesses. The rest of the assembly then went their separate ways.

Mina made her way back to her room alone, her footsteps echoing faintly on the marble floor as she traversed the darkened halls. It was late—the evening meal had lasted longer than usual—and everyone in the palace was preparing to turn in for the night. The Venusian princess passed several guards throughout the course of her journey, all of whom bowed as she passed by. She acknowledged them with a smile and kept going.

The heavy wooden door to their quarters protested loudly as she pulled it open and she shook her head in amusement. Mal really should get that fixed, she thought wryly. But then, he'd never know when someone came in or left, would he? Perhaps that was why he hadn't fixed it.

A wave of weariness washed over her as she leaned on the windowsill of her room to stare up at the waning moon. She was still recovering and the day's emotional trauma had not helped. Still, she turned to her maids with a smile as they appeared to ready her for bed.

The smile faded after their departure. Mina curled up on her side and frowned at the door. Exhaustion tugged on her eyelids, but she stubbornly held on to wakefulness. She had the overwhelming sense that something…something was missing, and yet she could not quite put a finger on it.

And then it hit her like Jupiter's lightning.

I miss Malachite.

The thought made her frown deepen, even as it increased her heart rate. He just held me for one night. Why do I feel like this?

True, she'd felt unbelievably safe and protected—and loved—with him there, but…that wasn't any reason to keep her from sleeping, was it?

Mina bit her lip. I liked listening to his heartbeat, she thought wistfully. It was a soothing sound. Rolling over, she closed her eyes and imagined she was lying in her husband's arms. It was a poor substitute for reality, but the Venusian Princess had been gifted with a vivid imagination. She was asleep within moments.

—- —- —- —

After turning over the supervision of the sleeping castle to a subordinate charged with the next watch, Malachite quietly walked the dark, empty halls to his quarters. He entered with great care, so as not to awaken Mina in the next room. Stripping off his sword, he propped it up beside his bed where he usually kept it and went to check on his wife.

My wife. The words held so much more meaning now.

The hour was too late for him to hope she was still awake, but he noted with a pleasant jolt of surprise that Mina had left her door open. That had never happened before. Stepping inside, he stood at her bedside for a moment and looked down at her. Despite her Senshi powers, despite her irrepressible sprit, she was still a mortal being who had barely escaped death. The memory still left him cold.

Tenderly, he pulled the covers up around her shoulders and dropped a kiss on her forehead. As much as he found himself aching to hold her again, it would have to wait. "Sleep well, Mina," he murmured softly, before leaving for his own room.

Malachite was too tired to bother with a light. He changed clothes in the dark and sank down onto his bed with a small grunt of relief. It's been a long day. Resting an arm beneath his head, he stared up at the ceiling, remembering the night before and the way Mina had felt in his arms. A vision of his smiling wife, sunlight dancing around her and turning her hair to molten gold, was the last thing he saw before his exhaustion claimed him.

—- —- —- —

Some time later, Mina awoke from the throes of a nightmare. She shot bolt upright in bed, breathing heavily. The exact details of the nightmare evaded her, dissolving like mist as she attempted to pin them down, but she knew it had been bad. Pressing shaking hands to her face, she struggled to calm herself. I want Malachite. She wanted him to hold her, to assure her it had been nothing more than a bad dream.

Impossible, she knew, but… Mina abruptly stilled as an idea occurred to her. Very slowly, she lowered her hands to stare at the open door separating her room from that of her husband. Determination glinted in her eyes. We're married. Not only that, but he loves me. There's no reason why he can't hold me.

Throwing back the covers, she slid out of her bed and padded barefoot to the doorway. She paused on the threshold long enough to take a deep breath and then silently crossed the room to stand by Malachite's bed. He was sleeping soundly.

Mina traced the contours of his face, memorizing his features. Lightly, she brushed a few stray locks of silver hair out of his face. Her fingers trailed over warm skin.

Breathe, she commanded herself. Gathering her courage, the princess lifted the covers and slipped into the bed beside him. Malachite still did not stir. She almost smiled. He's really out of it. Poor man. He works too hard.

She was close enough to feel the heat radiating from his body, see the gentle rise and fall of his chest with every breath. And while it wasn't quite what she wanted, she felt the last whispers of the nightmare fade as a kind of peace stole over her. I'm in the right place. Her eyelids fluttered once, twice, and then closed in sleep again.

An hour later, Malachite rolled over and bumped into something warm. Startled, he came fully awake, already twisting to reach for his sword. His hand froze on the hilt when he realized who had climbed into his bed. He blinked in shock. Mina? What is she doing here?

Now that he had turned over, she was practically in his arms. He swallowed a lump in his throat. He had no idea how or why she had come to be there, but he realized he was deathly afraid he was dreaming that his wife lay sound asleep in his bed. Very hesitantly, he brushed her cheekbone with his thumb. She feels real. He slid an arm beneath her and tugged her into his embrace. Mina did not wake, and, more importantly, neither did he.

I'm not dreaming. This is real. The thought awed him.

Malachite was further awed when Mina smiled and snuggled farther into his embrace, finding the crook of his neck in her sleep. A faint answering smile curved his lips as he tangled his fingers in her golden hair and allowed himself to go back to sleep. This was where they belonged.


—- —- —- —

It took Mina a few seconds to remember where she was when she awoke the next morning. She registered the walls of Malachite's room and then her cheeks flushed. Ah, yes. She did not regret joining him; his presence had staved off any other nightmares she might have otherwise suffered.

She bit her lip. But what is he going to think when he wakes up and finds me here?

The thought made her flush again. Gently, she attempted to slide away from her sleeping husband—and discovered herself unable to move. Her head rested on one of his arms, he had locked the other around her waist, and his hand lay against her side, curled around her—

Her cheeks burned with a deep blush. Oh, my. She forced herself to breathe at a normal pace. Does he know I'm here? Or is this just that thing Ami called a…what was it? A 'subconscious response'?

"Good morning," a deep voice rumbled in her ear.

Mina started. "Oh! Good morning!" She fought to keep the nervousness she felt out of her voice.

Behind her, the silver-haired general smiled into her hair. He'd awakened when she began to stir and found their new position quite comfortable. "Sleep well?"

The blonde princess blushed again. I'm glad he can't see this, she thought ruefully. "I did after I came in here."

"I slept better after you came in here as well."

Mina blushed even harder, and a strange silence descended on them. Finally, she sighed. "I suppose you want to know why I'm here?"

"I'm obviously not dreaming." There was a definite bit of amusement in his voice. Malachite's lavender eyes were soft as he stared down at the back of her golden head.

"I-I had a nightmare. So I came in here. You don't mind, do you?"

He smiled. That was the understatement of the century. "No, I don't mind. What was your nightmare about?" He could think of a dozen scenarios off the top of his head.

Mina shrugged. "I don't remember. I just…..felt so alone…..and I didn't want to be alone."

Malachite let her go—albeit reluctantly—and propped himself up on an elbow. "I was thinking the same thing."

She turned over to face him. "Really?"

"I don't know what it is, but holding you feels so right. Like that's where we're supposed to be." He reached out and tucked a few strands of her golden hair behind her ear.

"Serenity keeps telling me it's destiny," Mina said wryly.

"Perhaps it is." Malachite's eyes darkened as he locked eyes with her.

The air shifted between them, charging with something deeper as it dawned on both of them that they were alone in bed together. Malachite brought a hand up to cup the back of her head, his eyes dropping to her lips. Mina's breath hitched in her throat as he leaned in to kiss her.

A sudden banging on the door startled them both. Malachite jerked upright and rolled out of the bed. "I'm coming," he called gruffly. He fought a surge of irritation that they had been interrupted again.

Realizing the bed lay in full view of the door, Mina vanished into her own room. She closed the door partially and leaned against the wall beside it, listening. Her heart still thudded from their interrupted kiss and her knees wobbled alarmingly.

Malachite swung open the heavy door to demand, "What's the matter?"

A grimfaced Jadeite stood on the other side, hand poised to knock again. "Mal," he began without preamble, "one of Queen Selenity's advisors and one of the Queen of Venus's advisors have just arrived from the Moon."

"That's unusual, but hardly something that requires my presence this early in the morning."

"They say Uranus and Neptune have fallen to Beryl's dark forces."

In her room, Mina gasped. No! She thought of the two Senshi of those planets. They must still be alive—surely I'd have felt it if they weren't.

"We're convening in King Edward's study."

Malachite's annoyance fell away at once. "I'll be there immediately." Jadeite departed and he shut the door. He was just strapping his sword on when Mina's door flew open. She was fully dressed, her eyes blazing with a combination of sadness and determination.

"I'm coming with you, Malachite. As a Senshi, this is my business as well."

Malachite regarded her wryly as he held the door open for her. "I very much doubt I'd be able to stop you."

"You're learning," Mina said brightly. She stepped out into the corridor, but stopped abruptly and spun to face him.

Startled, Malachite looked down to ask her what was wrong—just as she grabbed his open collar with one hand and arched up on her tiptoes to kiss him. His surprise lasted only a fraction of a second. When they parted, she smiled at him and continued down the corridor as though nothing had happened.

Malachite stared after her with wide eyes. Then, despite the situation, he chuckled. "Minx."

She sent him an impish look over her shoulder. "So you won't forget me, whatever happens today."

The words, though lightly spoken, stirred something deep inside his chest. Malachite caught up to her in a few giant strides. "I would never forget you, Mina. Ever."

"That's good to know." She tucked her arm through his and they hastened toward the King's study.


*Line from PBS Masterpiece Theater's "House of Cards"

Until next time! Let me know what you thought! ^_^