Serena Tsukino stared at her reflection as she cried quietly to herself. She was alone in the house, her parents were off on a date night and Sammy was off at a friend's house. Luna was at Rei's as she usually was lately. Everyone it felt stayed mad at her for not pulling her weight. Whether it be school, her parents, or her fellow Scouts. Nothing she ever did was ever good enough for anyone else. Even Darien seemed to barely be able to hide his contempt for her lack of being able to read his moods.
Serena wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to clear her head. She couldn't avoid the fact that she only brought grief to those around her. She knew that, for the most part, the Scouts mainly tolerated her out of some sense of loyalty to her simply because she embodied the spirit of a long since dead princess. Even with Darien, any root of affection that he could bring himself to show her, too, was spurred by the loyalty of his past self.
"I think everyone would be happier if I just wasn't around," Serena mumbled as she reached for a stuffed bunny on her bed. Suddenly, what she herself had just said took hold of her heart as if it was the only real solution that would end everyone's misery.
She stood and started to gather up only what she knew that she needed; just a couple of changes of clothes and an extra pair of shoes. She then found where she'd been hiding her allowance and holiday money that she'd been saving to buy Darien a present next month. Serena also grabbed her heaviest coat since it was very cold outside. She then wrote a note to tell her parents that she'd be over at Lita's house for the weekend. That meant they won't worry about her for a few days at least.
Serena thought about leaving the Moon Crystal behind but she just couldn't bring herself to do it. Instead she snatched it up and took it with her, though she did leave her communicator under her pillow. She took her small rolling suitcase and duffel bag and left the house. She knew where she was heading. The bus station. Serena was nearly frozen to the core by the time she reached it. Before heading to the ticket counter Serena locked herself in the bathroom to use the crystal to disguise her appearance.
"Moon Crystal, transform me into a college student!" Serena called out just before being surrounded by light. When she emerged from the ladies room she looked a bit older and had red hair that went mid-way down her back. Satisfied with her appearance, Serena went to the ticket counter and bought a seat on the next bus to leave Tokyo. It didn't matter to her where she went; just so long as she was away from those for whom she could not be anything but a bother.
Thinking back to the crystal, Serena began to question the wisdom of taking it with her. She knew that Rei could most likely trace the thing if she really put her mind to it. Looking down at her watch she saw that she had nearly half an hour before her bus pulled out. Serena bolted across the street to a shipping store and figured that she should leave the crystal with one of the others. But which one? Thinking quickly, Serena chose one and put her address on the box from memory. She then ran back to the bus station and found her bus and boarded it. She wasn't sure if she was doing the right thing but it seemed that this was the best choice for all concerned.
Darien and the other Sailor Scouts shouldn't be bound by a destiny of someone else's life. Just because she had been a princess in another life didn't make her special in this one. Nor did the fact that she and Darien had loved one another in a past life mean that they were destined in this one. It was time to set the others free to choose their own futures; to help them let go of the past.
When Serena reached the bus's final stop she looked around the station and had been just a bit scared. Now she was in a strange town where she didn't know anyone. The town appeared to be a resort town up in the mountains somewhere. A definite change in scenery, that was for sure. Serena knew that the first thing she needed was a place to stay. The second was a job to pay for it.
Serena made her way to a phone booth and thumbed through the phone book and looked for a place to stay. She found a small hotel on the edge of town which she figured would do nicely. The hotels closer to town had to be more expensive. She called and made sure that there was a room available. A nice little old lady answered and Serena had to smile as she spoke to her. She knew that the price of the room was less than it would be here in town but she still blanched at it inwardly. She said that she'd take it and hailed a cab to take her to the small hotel.
Once in her small room, Serena fell exhausted on the bed. She'd spent nearly all of her money to pay for the room in advance but at least she had a roof over her head for the next two weeks. She'd kept a little out for food and was glad that there was a small refrigerator in the room. She could get by on sandwich meat if she needed to. That night Serena was so tired she didn't even change out of her clothes before falling asleep. She knew that she had a lot that she needed to do come the morning to start her new life without all of the ones that she had left behind. She only hoped that she was up to the challenge.
The next day Serena asked the woman at the front desk about getting a job in town. She was told that a restaurant in town had an opening so Serena bundled up and headed back to town. Serena was surprised when she got to the restaurant. She'd been expecting a diner type place, not a upscale one that catered to the couples that came to this town as a lover's getaway. Serena sat at one of the empty tables since it was still early in the day and filled out the application. She pulled out her I.D. out of habit and was surprised that the crystal's magic had altered it as well as her own appearance. Her I.D. had her at nineteen instead of seventeen. When she finished her application the manager looked it over and commented on just how bare it was.
"Well, to be honest I've just left home hoping for a fresh start," Serena said truthfully. "But if you'll just give me a chance I'll work very hard for you."
The manager eyed Serena then nodded. "We have a position open for a hostess. You'll start our guests' dining experience by greeting them at the door. Seeing to it that they get a table to their liking, things like that. In fact, you can start tonight."
"Oh thank you," Serena said with a lot of enthusiasm. "I appreciate this chance so much."
"Jerry can show you where the uniforms are and you can find one that fits and be here at four to start your shift," the manager said as he stood and left Serena smiling at her good fortune.
Monday morning Ami Mizuno sat in homeroom and noticed that, as usual, Serena was late. Ami sighed. She couldn't count the number of times that her fellow Scout was late to class over the years. Ami had hoped that considering that graduation was just around the corner that her friend would start to become more responsible. It was only when homeroom not only had started but had ended that Ami became concerned. When lunch came and neither Molly, Lita nor Mina had seen Serena yet today that Ami had gone from being concerned to being worried.
"Lita," Ami whispered as she pulled her fellow Scout to the side on their way back to class. "Have you seen Serena lately? She never showed up for school today."
"No, not since she ran out on Friday night," Lita said before continuing, "I still say that Luna and Rei were a little harsh on her. Why try to make Serena into something that she isn't?"
"Serena is the princess. They just think that it's time that she started to act like it," Ami said trying to defend her mentor and friend.
"And since when have you heard of princesses having to learn to fight? Isn't that what the rest of us are for? To protect her?" Lita said since she was fiercely protective of the girl who had been the first to befriend her after she had long since become an outcast years earlier.
"Yes, of course, but we never know where the next attack will come from," Ami said calmly, "We can't always be there to protect her so she needs to know how to defend herself."
"Yeh, well, I don't think that yelling at her is an effective method to teach self-defense. I'll go by her house and check in with her after school. I know that you have your after school classes today," Lita said as she turned to head to class.
Lita Kino walked up the front walk up to the Tsukino residence. She couldn't believe that Serena had played hooky from school. Still, there was a chance that she was actually sick, she figured that she should give Serena the benefit of the doubt. She knocked on the door and waited as Serena's mother answered the door.
"Lita? Didn't you get enough of Serena this weekend?" Mrs. Tsukino asked as she wiped her hands on her apron.
"Huh?" Lita asked bewildered.
"You know, I was surprised when we came home and found her note. But I suppose that sometimes a girl's just got to spend some time with her friends," Serena's mother said as she turned back toward the kitchen with Lita in tow. "I will say that I was glad that she remembered to leave a note this time. Serena's not home from school yet but you can go ahead and wait for her in her bedroom."
"Thanks, Mrs. Tsukino," Lita said as she made her way to Serena's room while wondering where her friend has been all weekend.
Once inside, Lita saw that the room seemed to be neatly made; which didn't seem right in itself. The only thing that looked askew was the pillow which was crooked on the bed. When Lita straightened it she found Serena's communicator turned off. Frowning, Lita switched it on and called to the others.
"Serena! I told you that I-" Rei Hino's voice came over the device in a huff until she realized that it was Lita that was on the view screen. "Lita? What are you doing on Serena's communicator?"
"I think something's wrong," Lita said quietly so that Serena's mother didn't hear her. "Serena's missing."
"Missing?" Mina's voice joined the conversation. "What do you mean missing?"
"She told her folks that she was staying with me over the weekend and she never showed up for school today," Lita explained. "And that's not all; she hid her communicator under her pillow. She's gone and we can't even call her."
"It just figures that Serena would go off and not tell the rest of us where she's going," Rei said angrily as she thought about how many times Serena had caused the rest of them trouble over the years.
"Rei, this is serious. I'm worried," Lita said firmly.
"Alright, meet here at the temple and we'll see if we can trace her. Then we'll haul her butt back and make sure that she doesn't do this again," Rei said with a sigh.
"I'm on my way," Mina said as she signed off. Now she was worried too.
Lita, Mina, Ami, Luna and Artemis all waited as Rei consulted the flames. Rei hated to admit it but Serena had long ago learned how to block her from using her physic powers to find her. Instead Rei focused on the Imperium Silver Moon Crystal. Finally, in her mind's eye Rei saw the crystal. It was in a box.
"Lita, have you gone home yet today?" Rei asked as she came out of her trance.
"No," Lita said. "Why?"
"The crystal is telling me that it's there," Rei said sadly.
The four teens and two cats went to Lita's apartment as fast as they could. When they got there they were met by a small box that had been left on Lita's doorstep. Inside the crystal sat alone. There was no note with it but the handwriting on the front of the box was definitely Serena's.
"I don't get it. Where's Serena?" Mina asked in concern.
"From the looks of it, I think Serena has run away," Ami said not really believing what she was saying.
Darien got home after work and found Luna on his balcony and had been more than just a bit surprised since she rarely just showed up without a purpose.
"Luna? To what do I owe this pleasure?" Darien asked as he let the magical cat in through the glass door.
"Darien, when was the last time that you saw Serena?" Luna asked in a panic.
Darien's brow raised at the question, "Friday afternoon. Why?"
"No one's seen her since Friday," Luna silently chastised herself for losing her charge. "She told her parents that she was staying at Lita's and has up and disappeared."
"Yes. And what's more, she left her communicator and crystal behind," Luna said to Darien's surprise. "Rei tried to trace her but got nothing."
"I can only sense her when she's in trouble. I haven't picked anything up lately," Darien said as he gazed out of the window. He knew that Serena was upset when he told her that they shouldn't date for a while. But he didn't think that she would just up and run off. He had hoped that she'd be able to take her studies and Scout duties more seriously if he wasn't around to distract her. At least until she graduated come the spring.
"Well, we need to find her. Without the crystal she won't be able to transform into Sailor Moon if she gets into trouble," Luna said firmly.
"Don't worry, we'll find her. She couldn't have gone far," Darien said while hoping that he was right.
Serena stumbled into her room exhausted after standing on her feet for eight hours straight. She'd never thought that her feet had hurt this much in all of her life. Still, at least the people that she worked with were all pleasant enough. The customers were all of a high-class sort but Serena was still able to chat some of them up a little.
Serena thought about her friends that she'd left behind in Tokyo. She missed them but she knew that it would only be a matter of time before they moved on without her. After all, what did they need her for? The Dark Moon and Negaverse had long since been defeated. The power of Princess Serenity was no longer needed. Serena was just in the way now.
In the time since leaving home, she had kept an eye out to see if anyone had been able to follow in behind her to the small resort town. So far she had yet to see or hear anything that would indicate that the others had come to try to convince her to return home. Then when not only one but three weeks went by Serena reluctantly admitted to herself that she was disappointed. The fact that no one came only confirmed her lack of self-worth where her friends and family were concerned.
Sighing, Serena prepared for bed in the small boarding house that she'd moved to after she'd gotten her first paycheck. The hotel had been nice but it would have taken her whole check every week to remain there. Instead she had to move so that she could afford her groceries as well.
Ironically, Serena felt like she had done precisely what the others had always insisted that she do; become more mature. Now, away from the others, she was working (and getting there on time) and paying her own bills. She was living life as the adult that she wouldn't officially be for many more months now. Spring was just around the corner which meant that the rest of her friends would be graduating shortly after that. A part of Serena ached to return home but she couldn't avoid the fact that if her friends had wanted her there they would have found a way to come and take her back. Rei would probably enjoy doing so if she had the opportunity to do it while Serena was kicking and screaming.
Climbing into bed, Serena glanced at the stars and sent up a prayer that the rest of the Sailor Scouts were alright. She then closed her eyes and tried to drift off to sleep. Tomorrow promised to be another busy day at the restaurant. The tourists had arrived in droves lately and that was in addition to the folks who seemed to be regulars there as well. Serena smiled as she thought about one of those regulars. He was a young business man who seemed to have business dinners at the restaurant on nearly a nightly basis and when he didn't he still came by to eat alone. He was a tall, dashing man with blond hair and he had the most amazing smile which he seemed to send her way quite often. To Serena, seeing that smile made the aching feet and long hours at the restaurant well worth it.
She didn't dare to speak to the blond stranger since she was sure that she'd come off looking like a child if she did. But still, that didn't stop her from looking at him. Or from daydreaming.