The Gift of Love

by LadyKeren


* * * * * * * *

Ruby made herself invisible before materializing in Beryl's throne room, giving a Cheshire cat grin at how the lack of interference made her job to help the senshi easy. Her grin faltered a bit when the possibility hit her that maybe Beryl was aware of her methods to aid the superheroines of justice, but just chose to remain silent about it. 'Wait a minute, what I'm thinking? She's too busy ranting and raving about world domination to even notice things like that, not to mention she's still an idiot. I just have to continue to be discreet and all will be well.' With that bit of self reassurance, a smile formed on her lips, especially when she considered how effective she was with aiding the senshi in such a manner. 'I want to keep it that way, too, so if Beryl doesn't know, then it's just as well.' The cherry-haired youma tilted her head upon noticing the look of displeasure etched on Beryl's features, which she had the feeling was caused by Zoisite's recent failure. ' The worthless little snake in the grass is in for it now…and he's demented if he thought I was going to miss this for the world. I almost wish I had some popcorn. This is like a movie, after all.' She had to bite her lip to keep a straight face.

Beryl waved her hands around her crystal ball, bouncing it. "Zoisite! Kunzite! Come here at once!" she barked.

The two young men immediately appeared before the witch queen, bowing respectfully. "Yes, your majesty?" responded Zoisite. He barely managed to hold back a shudder at the heavy frown on Beryl's face. His palms became moist and a sweatdrop formed on his forehead, which he quickly wiped off.

Queen Beryl fixated her gaze on the two shitennou as she cleared her throat. "We need all seven nijizuishou in order to obtain the ginzuishou. Tuxedo Kamen should not be in possession of the second one, or any for that matter. Your failure displeases me greatly."

Zoisite wanted to disappear right then and there. It was all he could do not to start squirming as well, but Kunzite's presence alleviated his uneasiness. He bit back a gulp. "Yes, I do humbly apologize for that, Queen Beryl-sama. I can assure you it will not happen again. In fact, there are plans set in motion to retrieve it from him."

"Yes, we will do whatever it takes to seize back the nijizuishou stolen from us, even if it means disposing of Tuxedo Kamen forever," chimed in Kunzite. He clenched a fist and laid it on his chest, giving a slight bow.

Beryl's expression softened a smidge, but it still looked stern. It matched the tone of her voice as she conceded, "Very well. I will hold you both to that. However, I would implore you to remember there are also five more nijizuishou to capture besides the stolen one. I want them all, understand? I will accept no more failure from you!" Her voice raised a little with the final statement, causing everyone in the throne room to nearly jump a mile.

"Understood, your highness," said Zoisite and Kunzite in unison. After giving one last respectful bow, the two young men disappeared to make more plans.

* * * * * * * *

Despite cringing at the sound of the witch queen's raised voice, Ruby got a smile on her face witnessing the scathing rebuke Zoisite received. 'I knew he could only keep it up for so long. It'll be interesting to see how he pulls himself out of this. I do wish he remained long enough for me to see the next target, but no matter. There are other ways I can find out. Hehehe.' Still in her invisible form, she teleported away, making herself visible again once she was back in the planetarium where her comrades and Nephrite had been doing a bit of meditating. "Hi girls, Master Nephrite. I'm back."

Nephrite and the twins turned to face Ruby, Nephrite quirking an eyebrow upon seeing her expression. "Well, you seem amused. What have you discovered this time?"

"Something pertaining to Zoisite, I presume?" asked Miki. 'She never returns from one of Beryl's meetings smiling unless there is favorable news that would help us.'

"Let's hear it," said Yukari, giving a curious smile.

Ruby's face flushed a bit, and she let out an embarrassed little laugh at her glee being noticed. "Well, Zoisite's failure to retrieve the second nijizuishou has angered Beryl quite a bit. In fact, she gave him and Kunzite a stern warning about it. This means our efforts to assist the senshi are bearing fruit thus far."

Yukari resisted the urge to do a fist pump gesture, instead allowing a grin to escape. There was also a hint of relief on her face, given how worried she had been before. 'Geez, I was worked up over nothing.' She snickered. "I can imagine. I almost wish I had gone with you so I could have seen it."

"I can't say I didn't see that coming," remarked Miki. "I mean, I don't know whether he relied on counsel from Kunzite in that particular scheme or not, but either way it makes no difference. He is in over his head, and Kunzite is a lousy mentor, not to mention it remains to be seen if either of them know not to underestimate the abilities of our former enemies." She then looked serious. 'What a turn of events. In the past, hell would have had to have frozen over for me to commend Tuxedo Kamen, but to him I must say kudos and keep it up.'

"Indeed." Nephrite couldn't help giving a slight smirk of delight at his nemesis feeling pressure from Beryl so early in his tenure, especially when he recalled numerous times the younger shitennou had relished in his failures despite most of his plans being partially successful. 'I can say with confidence I had completed my task. He should have minded his own business, and now he is paying the price. I am interested to see how soon he falls from Beryl's favor and how he fares against the senshi. I look forward to the day he and Kunzite are silenced forever.'

Ruby chuckled a little at Miki's bluntness. 'She sure knows how to keep it real, and I do agree.' Her smile disappeared and was replaced by a serious look she wore when she had disappointing news to deliver. "Unfortunately, I don't know the identity of the third target because Zoisite did not use the power of the kurozuishou to reveal it at this meeting." The regret was evident in her voice. 'I know I'm not a failure for that, but does it put the senshi at a potential disadvantage?'

Yukari rested a hand on Ruby's shoulder, giving her an "it's all right" look, at which she appeared a bit taken aback. "Hey, don't sweat it. We still have this." Removing her hand from the younger woman's shoulder, she conjured her crystal ball.

"Yes, I remember." All traces of apprehension drained from the cherry-haired youma's demeanor. 'What the hell is wrong with me lately?'

Yukari gave a smile of satisfaction before shaking her crystal ball. "I command you to show me Zoisite!" She, Miki, Ruby and Nephrite observed as the spherical item complied by revealing an image of Zoisite in his castle invoking the power of his kurozuishou. The cylinder-shaped gem revealed an image of a young man with a mop of low-cut brunette hair dressed in a white shirt and black pants. He appeared to be the same age as the senshi. The trio of henchwomen felt their stomachs becoming queasy whilst listening to the false pity in Zoisite's tone as he spoke of how innocent and naïve his victim was.

Ruby exhaled through her nostrils and rubbed her temples. 'I think I'm about to lose my breakfast. Never mind that, though. At least I now know who the next target is.' She turned to the twins and Nephrite. "Master Nephrite, I suppose I should get going now to give this information about the new target to Usagi-san, for Sailor Moon."

"All right. Do be careful, and try to return as soon as possible." Nephrite didn't want to risk the cherry-haired henchwoman bumping shoulders with Zoisite. Although his appearance in public with Naru most recently went smoothly, there were only so many chances he was willing to take in such a precarious situation. 'However, I am confident it will only be for a season.'

"Yes sir." Ruby gave a quick curtsy and exited the planetarium. 'Hmm…perhaps I should speak with Usagi-san personally this time seeing as how she and I have finally made peace.' She peered down at her minidress. 'I should change into something more presentable, though.'

* * * * * * * *

The entire eighth grade class at Juuban Junior High gathered in the hall to see the results of their national examination and class rankings. Usagi's jaw dropped and her heart leapt in her stomach when she saw hers. Five hundred eighty-six points out of nine hundred, ranked two hundred and three.

"Oh no!" moaned the blonde. "I know my score is way over the halfway mark but it's still not good enough for my parents. They're going to be so mad at me again!" She let out several rapid breaths and proceeded to tremble as if she were on the verge of having a panic attack. 'Not to mention Ms. Haruna will probably put me in detention forever.'

Makoto eyed her friend's results, shaking her head slightly before giving her a look between amusement and sympathy. "Well, it is to be expected. That's a pretty awful score you have there. I know you can do much better than that if you try something more assertive…like studying?"

Usagi had the urge to wrinkle her nose in distaste, but instead giggled a bit. 'At least she isn't making me feel like less of a person.' She quickly scanned the list for the brunette's results and felt a bit of reassurance seeing they were not much better. "What an awesome idea, Mako-chan! You and me both! It would be fun!" She and Makoto burst into laughter and then averted their eyes to the top of the list to see who got the top grade. There was no doubt in their minds it would be Ami, so when they saw her in second place instead of first, their mouths dropped open.

"It turns out the new transfer student, Ryo Urawa got the perfect score this time," stated Makoto.

"Who would have thought there was actually someone who could beat Ami-chan?" Usagi pondered in awe. "If people had actually told me that, I would have thought they were lying."

"I know right?" agreed Makoto. She was about to say more when all of a sudden, a voice blared over the PA system, "Miss Usagi Tsukino, please report to the office immediately!"

Usagi's shoulders slumped and a massive knot lodged in her stomach. "I knew it. I'm in big trouble." She let out slight whimpers as she thought of all the possible punishments that would be inflicted on her for the subpar performance on the exam. 'What if I have to repeat 8th grade? That's even worse than being grounded!'

Makoto placed a hand on the blonde's shoulder, relaxing her a little. "You may not be. Just go. Whatever happens, I'm here for you."

Usagi managed a small smile at her friend, knowing she was fortunate to have crossed paths with her. "Thank you, Mako-chan. I'll be right back…at least, as soon as possible." Inhaling a deep breath, she made her way to the office, her heart pounding wildly the entire time. Her right hand shaking a little, she turned the doorknob and opened, bracing herself for whatever lecture or punishment she would have to face as she entered.

Sitting in one of the chairs was not Mrs. Tsukino, but a young woman with long wavy cherry coloured hair held in place by a beret, dressed in black slacks with a matching top bearing her midriff and a bolero jacket draped over it. The wardrobe was complete with a pair of brown boots.

The principal smiled slightly. "I see you have arrived, Ms. Tsukino. Excellent. I do not know all the details of this young woman, but I imagine whatever it is you two intend to discuss must be very important. I'll give you some space. I trust I can leave you both alone." He left the office without waiting for a response.

Usagi let out the breath she had been holding, heaving a sigh of relief. Her eyes became wide as saucers and she gasped as she recognized the woman. "Ruby?!" She kept her voice muffled so the principal wouldn't return and scold her for being overly loud. 'Although she isn't wearing that short poufy dress, I can tell by the hair and eyes that it's her.'

Ruby chuckled a bit. "So you recognized me, huh? I should have known you would. I'm glad, though."

Usagi blushed and giggled nervously. "Of course I did. Really, though, what are you doing here? Do you have more information for Sailor Moon you want me to give her?" She felt her legs beginning to ache, so she sat next to the youma.

"Aye, there is something urgent I need you to inform her of. The next nijizuishou carrier is a young man by the name of Ryo Urawa."

A look of horror crossed the blonde's features, and the gasp she released was identical to her expression. "Oh no.." she murmured, her voice just above a whisper. 'These guys really aren't going to quit.'

Ruby gave her former enemy a sympathetic look. "I'm afraid so. That means you will have to advise Sailor Moon to keep a close eye on him."

"Most definitely." Usagi's fear turned into anger, which she had to clench her fists to control. "I'll keep watch over him, too. It just so happens he's a new student in my class." The idea of her potential new friend being attacked made her blood boil. 'Of course, I've wanted to talk to him anyway, and get to know him better.'

Ruby gave a light nod. "I thought that might be the case, so it makes the task so much easier." She then got up from her seat. "Well, I should get going. The master doesn't want me gone longer than necessary and I don't want you to miss too much of your lesson."

Usagi nodded. "I understand. Thank you for stopping by, though, and telling me."

"Anytime, Usagi-san. I'm off now. Do take care of yourself and tell Sailor Moon to remain vigilant."

"I will, thank you. See you later."

"Later." Ruby left the office, the sound of the heels on her boots echoing with her footsteps.

Usagi stretched out her legs a bit and got up, too, rubbing her sore buttocks. 'I guess I had better get a move on, too.' The last thing she wanted was to get a detention for skipping class. She exited the office and made her way back to class, thinking about her brief conversation with the reformed youma and how at ease she felt around her. 'I have to admit it felt nice talking to her face to face…it solidifies the feeling I have that I can trust her. After all, I didn't sense any evil aura. And she's right. Ami, Rei, Mako-chan and I will have to protect Ryo at all costs. Hopefully it won't distract me in any way.'

* * * * * * * *

Ryo accompanied Usagi at Café Amigo after school, something he had agreed to do after receiving a bit of coaxing from the blonde. Despite there being a minor incident where water had spilled overhead, semi-drenching her in the process, she and the young man managed to make it to the eatery with very few problems. Once they were situated in their booth and had placed their orders, the two teens faced each other.

"So," Usagi began, twiddling her thumbs. "How are you enjoying it here so far? Especially in comparison with your old home."

"I love it, actually," the young man answered. "I'm especially glad to be in the same class as Mizuno-san. I've always admired her and wanted to meet her. I used to carry this picture around with me all the time." He pulled out an old newspaper clipping of a photo of Ami to show to the blonde.

Usagi took the paper and examined it, skimming over the featured article next to her friend's picture. 'Oh, I remember seeing this…then again, Ami-chan is always in the paper for her high marks, so it isn't surprising.' She glanced back up at Ryo with a big grin on her face. "Oh, so you like her like that, huh?" she asked teasingly.

Ryo's face turned red with embarrassment. "I wouldn't say that. She has just been my inspiration and she motivates me to do my best in school." He lowered his head a bit to avoid the blonde's eyes. 'The truth is that I do…in fact, I like her a lot…but I would never have the nerve to tell her.' He barely suppressed a sigh of despair, annoyed with himself for his cowardice.

Usagi gave a wave of her hand as if to say she wasn't buying it. "Oh come on, there's nothing wrong with having feelings for her. What you say makes sense, though. I secretly wish I could be like her, too, but I don't see that ever happening. She's so smart, I never expected anyone to beat her. It threw me in for a loop when you did."

"I can see how you would be. I'm really not the genius you think I am."

Usagi was about to ask the young man what he meant when a waiter wandered over to their table holding a tray with two chalices of fruit smoothies on it. He presented the teens with their respective treats and straws. "I hope you enjoy. And shall I bring back two separate checks or just one?"

Ryo was about to say two, but Usagi piped up, "One. I'm paying for both of us." The brunette glanced at her with a hint of surprise on his features, but she said, "It's my treat."

Ryo knew there was no point in arguing or asking the blonde if she was sure. Not with the air of firmness and determination in her tone as well as a look of kindness in her eyes. The latter especially melted his heart. "Wow. Thank you, Tsukino-san."

"It's nothing." 'I may be blowing half of my allowance, but at least I'm doing it for a good cause this time.'

The waiter knitted his brows together. "Consider it done." He left the two teens alone.

Ryo picked up his glass and took a sip. 'Mmmm, this is so delicious.' He gulped a bit when Usagi guzzled hers down. Shrugging his shoulders, he continued drinking his. 'I know about her appetite, so I'm not surprised.'

Usagi finished off her drink and pushed the chalice off to the side. "Aaaah, that was so good," she raved. She picked up a napkin, using it to muffle a loud burp that had escaped. 'Ooops…he must think I'm so nasty…but I would be more mortified if it had happened in front of Tuxedo Kamen or Motoki-san.'

Ryo chuckled a little. "I could tell you were enjoying it. However, I do agree with you. It really is fact better than the ones I had at my old home." He finished off his drink and then picked up a napkin to wipe his hands.

Usagi wiped her hands before digging in her purse, pulling out a small package. "This is for you, Ryo. Think of it as a present," she said, holding out the package for the young man to take.

The brunette young man looked surprised, but accepted Usagi's gift. "Thank you. I appreciate it." He tore open the package and pulled out a photo, holding it up to see. It was a picture of Ami preparing to take a huge bite of a hamburger. He tilted his head slightly, as he didn't expect Ami to wear that type of expression in any of her pictures. 'I have to say it makes her even more adorable.' He allowed his eyes to meet the blonde's. "Thanks again."

Usagi placed a hand in the back of her head, giggling awkwardly. "Don't mention it. I thought you would want to have a better picture than that newspaper clipping. Plus, it shows even serious and studious Ami has a fun, silly side." She got a mischievous look in her eyes. 'One good thing about Ami is she's not Rei, who would flip out and kill me for sure.'

"So I see." Ryo slipped the photo in his shirt pocket. 'I don't know if I should keep it or not, but if I end up moving again, it would be nice to have something to remember her by.'

The waiter returned with the bill, and also to collect the empty chalices. "I take it you youngsters enjoyed?" he asked, placing the cheque book on the table and picking up the glasses.

"Yes, we certainly did," responded Ryo.

"It was delicious," chimed Usagi with an emphasis on the first syllable. She saw the young man stifling a small laugh. 'One thing I can say about him is he's really easygoing.'

The waiter smiled. "I'm glad to hear it." Once again, he left the teens to themselves.

Usagi picked up the cheque book to examine the total on the receipt, then searched in her purse for her wallet. She pulled it out and zipped it open, desperately hoping she hadn't put her foot in her mouth when she offered to pay. 'That would be totally bad…but it's what I get for spending too much at one place.' She took out several bills and counted them, smiling in delight when she realized it was even more than enough. 'Yay! I did good this time!' Biting her lip to keep from yelling out, she rested the necessary amount on top of the receipt before putting the remainder back in her wallet and closing it, dropping it back inside her purse.

"Once again, thank you," said Ryo. "I owe you one."

Usagi gave him a funny look. "Don't be silly. That's what friends are for." She closed her purse and got up from her spot. "You ready to go?"

"Yes, let's get going." Ryo stood up as well. He and Usagi made their way toward the exit, leaving the café together. They stood by the window, facing each other. "Usagi? Can I tell you something?" the young man asked.

Usagi quirked an eyebrow slightly as it was somewhat unexpected. 'What could he want to tell me? Is it something I've done?' She could have driven herself crazy worrying or making incorrect guesses, but instead she responded, "Sure. What's up?"

"Um…about what you said earlier, that I have feelings for Mizuno-san, you're right. I do like her and would love to get to know her better," admitted the young man.

The blonde breathed a light sigh of relief. She allowed a tiny proud-of-herself smile to escape. It was all she could do not to scream, "It's about time you fessed up!" as she knew it wouldn't help matters any. "Oh…like I said before, you're not wrong to like her. That's really great, actually. I do sense a "but" in your voice, though…what's the matter?"

Ryo let out a heavy sigh before reaching up a hand to run through his hair. "It's just…I'm worried she doesn't feel the same...and with all she has going for her at the moment, she might say she doesn't have time for a relationship. Besides, I'm not good enough for her." He looked somewhat dejected as he made the last statement.

'Man, he looks so bummed out.' Usagi felt her mood taking a nosedive upon seeing the young man's glum countenance. She peered down at her feet, then back up at him. "I can relate to being afraid of rejection. But saying you're not good enough is crazy talk. You and Ami-chan are perfect for each other. Besides, you won't know what her response will be unless you actually tell her how you feel."

Ryo's eyes widened in surprise. "Are you sure?"

"You bet! Just leave the setting up to me. She's at cram school right now, but it's about to end. You can just go to the arcade to wait, and I'll bring her to you when she's done."

Ryo was hesitant. "Ah, well I…" He generally didn't like dragging people into his dilemmas, but he didn't mind the nudge when he was on the verge of giving up. 'Tsukino-san sure is easy to talk to, I can say that much. I guess trying wouldn't hurt.' He cleared his throat. "I suppose that could work. Thank you."

Usagi gave the young man a gentle tap on the shoulder. "That's the spirit! I'll see you again in a bit!" The blonde traipsed to the cram school whilst Ryo began to make his way to the Crown Arcade. 'I did want to try my luck at the Sailor V game,anyway…I think I've earned it.'

* * * * * * * *

As Ryo was approaching the arcade, he spotted a young man with long flaxen hair pulled into a ponytail perched on top of the roof. His heart skipped a beat, a sweatdrop appeared on his forehead and his stomach felt queasy. "Oh no…that guy is bad news. Good thing I can no longer say the same about Nephrite," he muttered to himself. 'What should I do? I suppose I could try to pretend I didn't see him, but it won't do me any good.' Unfortunately for him, the young man glanced up, destroying whatever slim chance he had of going by unnoticed. 'Crap! Now I'm in for it.'

Zoisite fixated his gaze on the seemingly unsuspecting younger teen boy, giving him a sinister smile. "Well hello there, young lad. I've been looking forward to meeting you," he said, blowing the brunette a kiss.

Ryo eyed the sakura king strangely at first, then gave him a hard look. "Listen, Zoisite, you're not fooling anyone with your pretense, so whatever it is you want with me, I suggest you just get to the point already."

Zoisite froze in surprise at first. Ryo was the first mortal besides the senshi to address him by his name. 'He is actually the first to know it without me introducing myself.' A part of him wanted to laugh at Ryo's annoyance, but instead his eyes hardened to mirror the hard look he had received from the brunette. "How is it that you know my name when I haven't revealed it to you?" he demanded to know. 'If I hadn't known any better, I would have thought Nephrite recruited a male youma to spy on me.'

Ryo barely held back a shiver at Zoisite's menacing demeanor. Refusing to give the impression he was intimidated, he kept his expression firm, clenching his fists. "Ever since I was very young, I've had the ability to foretell the future based on visions I have. It's both a blessing and a curse, but they are always true. I know all about the Dark Kingdom and why you've come here today."

Zoisite made a "hmmm" sound before allowing a smirk to escape his lips. "Is that so? Well then, my job has just become so much easier." He levitated off the roof onto the ground with an effortless landing, facing the young teen. "Now, my young friend, come along quietly and offer yourself to the Dark Kingdom."

It was times like this Ryo considered his ability to be a curse—knowing that no matter what he did, he couldn't escape his fate, even if he wanted to. Still, the thought of being a servant of the Dark Kingdom made his stomach churn. He exhaled through his nose to prevent the bile from rising up, then gave the tawny haired shitennou a defiant look. "Never!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "I'll never surrender myself to the likes of you, even if you kill me in cold blood right here and now. In fact, I would rather die that type of death before I sell my soul to a demon!" He clenched a fist and lunged forward, preparing to punch the sakura king in the face.

For a moment, Zoisite looked shocked at the younger teen's outburst, but when he saw the boy going on the offensive, his expression turned into a sneer and he used his telekinesis powers to throw Ryo off his feet. "Zoi!" The young man landed on his bottom with a pain-filled groan, eliciting a smirk from the sakura shitennou.

Zoisite peered down at his target with an evil grin. "It is quite admirable that you are willing to sacrifice yourself, but it is not necessary in this case. It would be in your best interest to come along quietly and accept your fate, instead of trying to escape it. I promise you, your suffering will end if you just trust me."

Ryo, who had slowly been recovering from the fall, rose to his feet and stared at the sakura shitennou as if he were insane. "I don't think so! I don't trust you further than I can throw you!"

Zoisite shook his head at the young man's stubbornness, clicking his tongue. "Fine. I suppose I will just have to use force. A pity, too, considering I had given you a chance to go the easy route." He retrieved the kurozuishou from his pocket and tossed it out, emitting a beam from it. "Zoi!" The beam struck Ryo in the chest, causing him to yell out in pain.

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, Usagi waited outside Ami's class, watching as all the students exited. All of a sudden, she heard the sound of the moon wand going off in her purse. 'Oh no! I hope the Dark Kingdom didn't get to poor Ryo already. What do I do? What do I do? I promised I would take Ami-chan to him. These evil creeps sure know how to choose the worst timing.' As she attempted to wrack her brain for a solution to her dilemma, Luna ran up to her. "Oh it's you, Luna!"

"Usagi-chan, it's the nijizuishou alert. You must hurry and transform!" said the feline guardian in a rush.

Usagi took the wand out of her purse. "Yes. Ruby came by the school today and told me the Dark Kingdom is after Ryo. We will need Ami-chan, too, which works out fine since I had told Ryo I would get her for him."

"It's good that you are aware. However, you will have to go without her for now. There isn't a second to lose," pressed Luna.

Before Usagi could protest, Ami finally came out of the classroom, causing the blonde to let out a sigh of relief. Ami looked surprised to see her and Luna. "Oh, hi Usagi-san! Hi Luna. What brings you here?"

"There's very little time to explain…just come with me to the Crown Arcade," responded Usagi. She felt a sharp poke in her ankle. "Ow! Lunaaaa! What was that for?!"

The black cat just gave Usagi a reproachful look and told Ami, "You must transform! Ryo is in danger!"

A look of horror appeared on Ami's features. "What?! Oh no!" She and Usagi ran to the back of the school to transform. Lucky for them, the students were long gone. "Mercury Power, Make Up!"

"Moon Prism Power, Make Up!" Moon and Mercury sprinted to the arcade together.

* * * * * * * *

Zoisite increased the power level of the kurozuishou just a tad, whilst the young man clutched his chest, trying to prevent the nijizuishou from coming out. The sakura shitennou gave him a look of false pity. "Don't worry, your suffering will end very soon and you'll be one of the most powerful beings in the world!"

"Don't be so sure you'll get away with such a thing!" two female voices yelled.

Zoisite cursed under his breath and then turned away from Ryo to sharply look over his shoulder. His expression turned into a scowl when he saw it was Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury who had interrupted him. "It's you pests again," he growled.

"That's right! Neither of us will stand by and watch you torment innocent people! I'm the pretty senshi of love and justice, Sailor Moon!"

"I am the pretty senshi of love and intelligence, Sailor Mercury!"

"In the name of the moon…."

"We will punish you!" Moon and Mercury declared in unison. They each took their combative stances.

Despite the deep anguish, Ryo managed a reserved smile of admiration, which was especially aimed at the senshi of ice. His smile then became sad as he considered his inevitable fate. 'At least I will have a brief moment of happiness. I will cherish it.'

Zoisite sneered at the two senshi. "Didn't your parents ever teach you not to judge a book by its cover? Furthermore, it is impossible for you girls to stop me, but if you wish to try, it's your funeral."

"You don't scare us! Whatever it is you plan to dish out, bring it on!" The blonde senshi turned to Sailor Mercury. "Mercury, I want you to get Ryo to safety while I try to hold off Zoisite," she instructed, giving the blue-haired teen a slight wink.

Sailor Mercury looked a bit flustered for a moment, her cheeks turning red before worry and doubt appeared on her features. "Are you sure you'll be fine alone?" she asked, sounding just as worried as she looked.

"Yes! You have to hurry! I'll be fine, I promise," insisted Moon, attempting to reassure herself at the same time. 'The truth is I do feel a little nervous…he doesn't seem to be nearly as strong as Nephrite, but I still don't know what I'm up against because I haven't seen all his tricks yet. He is far crueler, I can say that much for him.'

"All right. But be careful." Mercury wandered over to the shaken Ryo and placed one of his arms around her shoulders, taking him away as instructed.

The senshi of the moon directed her gaze back to Zoisite, a fierce look appearing on her features. "All right, pretty boy, it's go time!" She took off her tiara and tossed it at the sakura shitennou. "Moon Tiara Action!"

Zoisite watched as the frisbee weapon travelled towards him for a bit, then a tiny sly grin formed on his lips. He disappeared in a flurry of cherry blossoms, causing the tiara to fall harmlessly to the ground and Moon to let out a gasp of horror.

"What the heck?! Not again!" the moon senshi whined. 'Just like the time I first took on Jadeite.' She retrieved her tiara, put it back on her forehead and then clenched her right fist, shaking it. "You rotten cheater!"

There was a sound of diabolical laughter in response. Zoisite rematerialized, smirking at Moon. "You're a fool if you thought your little frisbee attack was a match for my power. I will show you how unworthy an opponent you truly are. Zoi!" He shot razor sharp cherry blossoms at the moon senshi. She crossed her arms in front of her face in a defensive position, crying out in pain as several of the petals hit her. The young man then disappeared to locate his target.

* * * * * * * *

The senshi of ice had taken Ryo to a nearby park and laid him on the bench, resting a damp cloth on his forehead to mop up any beads of sweat that formed. She sat beside him and kept watch, monitoring his condition. So far, he appeared to be in a dream-like state. She had the strongest urge to grab ahold of his hand to let him know he wasn't alone, but felt too shy to do so. Instead, she stroked his right temple, near his ear. 'Don't worry, Ryo-san. I won't let Zoisite hurt you.'

Ryo stirred a bit, exhaling a light breath through his nose. He turned his head to the left and grimaced as if he were in pain, causing the towel to fall off his forehead onto the bench. All of a sudden he yelled out, "NOOOOOO! Mizuno-san, run!"

Mercury briefly looked taken aback at the young man calling her civilian name. 'Does he know my identity? But that's impossible. Not that it's exactly worrisome…after all, he seems pretty trustworthy so I can pretty much guarantee he won't reveal it to anyone.' She gently shook his shoulder and loudly whispered, "Wake up! You're having a bad dream!"

"Huh?" Ryo's eyes shot wide open and he sat up, running a hand over his face. He gave the ice senshi a sideways glance, looking relieved. He then stared ahead. "I'm so glad you're all right. What I just saw was so disturbing."

Mercury gave a confused frown before turning to the brunette with her eyes full of concern. "What's disturbing? What was your dream about?"

A grim expression appeared on the young man's face as he answered, "It's no dream. It was a vision of the future."

The blue-haired senshi cocked an eyebrow, not expecting to hear that at all. "Oh? What do you mean?"

Ryo then knew it was time to come clean and that simply declining to speak on the matter wouldn't work with the ice senshi. Plus, he didn't want to give Usagi a less than favorable report. 'After all, it was Tsukino-san who set this up so Ami-san and I could get to know each other.' He took a deep breath before beginning his narrative. "Well, you see, ever since I was a little boy, I have had the ability to foresee the future, and as I got older, my premonitions became even stronger. That's how I was able to achieve a perfect score on the recent examination, not because I am super intelligent."

"Oh…" Mercury put on her best pokerface to mask her surprise. She didn't blink when he mentioned the examination since his revelation covered everything. It also brought back a memory of how rigid he seemed during the exam and how she had to encourage him to relax. She let out a slight gasp as the realization hit her what Ryo's "gift" meant. "So that means…you know my identity!"

Ryo nodded. "Not only that, but the vision I had when you first brought me here showed that you and I will become enemies."

Mercury blanched at that and she felt her blood running cold. 'Could he be overthinking this?' she mused. "What are you saying?"

Ryo could see his prediction was a hard pill for the senshi of ice to swallow. His heart pained with guilt for making her feel uncomfortable. 'However, the truth cannot be changed, and my visions have yet to be wrong.' He gulped and peered down at his feet as he responded, "I mean, you and I will soon be in a fierce battle because my true nature is an agent of the Dark Kingdom. I cannot stand the thought of hurting you, so when I transform into a youma, please promise you'll kill me immediately!" His voice was slightly raised when he made the plea.

Mercury was speechless as she slowly absorbed everything she had been told. She glanced at the young man and saw in his eyes that despite his very blunt tone, he was distressed by it all. 'He can't continue to go on like this or he will fall into a deep depression. While I'm all for realism, I don't condone it at the expense of living a miserable life.' She placed a finger under his chin, lifting it up so he was giving her eye contact, which made him blush and caused his skin to tingle. "Ryo…I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for you, but I want you to listen to me. Granted, there are some things in life you cannot escape because they are inevitable, but it's up to you to shape your own future. You have the power to do it."

Ryo's ocean colored eyes widened in surprise. "I do?"

"Yes. Even if the tragic events you foresee do occur, you should make the most of every moment and make sure they're filled with happiness. Take it from me. It's a lesson I've had to learn as well, thinking about how I would eventually lose the ones who mean the most to me. Sacrifice is very noble, but think about your friends and loved ones who would be sad if you were to leave them behind prematurely. "

Ryo looked thoughtful. It was the first time in his life he had ever received such uplifting advice. 'Then again, very few people know about my ability or my true feelings I've kept deep inside me for so long. I have to thank Tsukino-san for this later.' His shoulders felt lighter, as if a burden had been lifted. For the first time, he was able to give the ice senshi a genuine smile. "Thank you. You have given me something new to think about."

Mercury gave the young man a warm smile. "I'm glad I was able to free your mind somewhat. I don't want to see you suffering. I want you to remember you can still have joy, even if you feel you can't escape your fate."

"I will. I promise."

"Oh, how very touching. A pity no one is going to be escaping except me," interrupted a male silky tenor voice, making the pair whirl around sharply. Standing several feet behind them was Zoisite with a wicked grin plastered on his face, spinning the kurozuishou around on his finger like a top.

"It's you again," stated Ryo, his voice full of displeasure.

"That's right. You're a fool if you thought you could hide from me forever. And this pathetic senshi won't be enough to save you from your destiny, either."

Mercury stuck out her jaw defiantly. "I'm tougher than I look, so it wouldn't be wise for you to underestimate me. I won't let you lay a finger on Ryo." She enveloped the young man in a protective embrace.

Zoisite gave a devilish grin before using telekinesis to knock the ice senshi away from Ryo. "Zoi!" He watched with a satisfied smirk as Mercury stumbled with a yelp and grabbed ahold of the bench to stop her fall. He sneered at her. "That was quite a heroic act on your part, but truth be told, he is helpless against my kurozuishou. Trust me, you wouldn't be so intent on protecting him when you see his true self."

The ice senshi got back to her feet and rose to her full height, glaring at the sakura shitennou. "Well, you can try to do your worst, but mark my words, you won't get away with it."

"We'll see about that! Zoi!" Once again, Zoisite emitted a beam of energy from the ebony colored gem. The young man cried out as he was struck for the second time. The yellow colored nijizuishou flew out of his chest, into Zoisite's open hands. "Success!"

Mercury watched with a stony expression as a billow of thick, cloud-like smoke surrounded her male companion. She waited with baited breath to see which shadow youma had been awakened. The smoke dissipated to reveal a particularly large humanoid shaped lizard-like beast with light green skin, orange eyes, sharp teeth and white armor covering most of his body. His arms were made up of razor-sharp blades resembling scissors. He let out a mighty roar. "Bunbo!"

Zoisite gave a wide evil grin at the creature's ferocity. "Welcome back, Bunbo! Cut Sailor Mercury apart!"

The lizard-like creature approached the ice senshi with a menacing look in his eyes. She stepped back, glancing at him with pleading eyes. "Remember my previous words. You have the power to shape your own future."

Bunbo looked confused for a bit, hesitating as if trying to process Mercury's words. Then, with a fierce roar, he soared into the air towards Zoisite, pushing him into the puddle of water and causing him to land with a splash. The sakura shitennou yelped at both the impact and the fact that the nijizuishou flew out of his grasp into Mercury's hands, which she caught with precision. She looked pleased upon realizing her persuading proved to be effective. She stuffed the nijizuishou in the shirt portion of her fuku for safekeeping.

A drenched Zoisite emerged from the water, coughing. He used his magic to dry his soaking wet hair, clothes and boots before clenching his fists and shaking with rage for a bit, obviously furious at the disrespect shown. 'The nerve of that incompetent oaf! I should destroy him for this!' He got an incredulous look on his face as he was hit by the realization that the creature still had human emotions. 'How could this be? He's the strongest of all the warriors.'

Feeling somewhat calm again, Zoisite averted his attention back to the youma, emitting some waves from the kurozuishou onto him. "Your enemy is the sailor senshi. Retrieve the nijizuishou from her."

Bunbo's fierce look returned, he felt power surging through him and he grew several more inches. "Bunbo!"

Mercury could tell by the emotionless and cold look in the youma's eyes that Zoisite's maneuver had worked. She managed to suppress a shudder. 'It's useless to plead with him now. I can most certainly use the help of the others this minute.'

Sailor Moon finally arrived at the scene with Luna at her side. "I'm not allowing you to get your evil, greedy hands on the nijizuishou, and I certainly won't tolerate you tormenting innocent people!" she declared, pointing a finger at the sakura shitennou.

Zoisite breathed a heavy sigh. "I beg to differ. Bunbo, pummel these nuisances to the ground and get that nijizuishou!"

Bunbo let out another roar, which sent chills down the spines of the two senshi. He shot several knives from his mouth at a nearby tree, causing it to fall over. The girls dashed out of the way before it could land on top of them. Bunbo came after them, breaking the bench in the process.

Zoisite laughed as if he were watching a comedy. "Well done, my old friend. Now destroy those girls the same way you just annihilated that flimsy bench."

"Bunbo!" The lizard youma followed Moon and Mercury, shooting a blade from his hand at another tree. They got out of the way, Moon almost tripping over her feet.

"We can't keep going on like this," said Mercury.

"Yeah, enough is enough!" Moon agreed. She faced the massive creature with a glare, clutching her wand. "The fact that you're trying to wreck such a beautiful park is unforgivable! Time to bring back the sweet boy who is no doubt fighting to break free. Moon Healing Escalation!" Healing magic rained down from the wand onto the beast, but it had no effect and he unleashed a battle cry.

Moon's mouth hung open as she glanced at her wand. "What happened?! It didn't work!"

"It's because he's too powerful at the moment," explained Luna. "You girls will have to weaken him."

Sailor Mercury nodded. "That makes sense. I felt power radiating from him earlier." She saw the beast preparing to attack again. "Careful, Sailor Moon!"

"Huh?" The moon senshi looked at the creature, then made a panicked nose as he threw several knives, this time with the intent of severing the two.

"Duck!" Fueled by adrenaline, Moon and Mercury crouched low. The knives flew over their heads, just narrowly missing them. "Whew! That was close." The blonde senshi took a few moments to catch her breath before rising to her feet, Sailor Mercury doing the same. They turned to see Bunbo approaching them to correct what he failed to do, which made them break into a run once more.

The creature chased after the girls, but they kept on running, only to realize there was not much room left. "Oh no! We're trapped!" cried out Moon in a horrified voice as she and Mercury stopped by a fallen tree. She shook her legs to rid them of the soreness.

"I'm afraid you're right," conceded the ice senshi. "However, running away was not the answer in the first place. We have to do something, and fast."

"I agree."

Zoisite laughed again. "There's nothing you can do. You foolish mortal girls are finished. Bunbo, this is your chance."

"Bunbo!" The reptilian youma launched two more blades in the girls' direction. They stepped aside to avoid them.

"Fire Soul!"

"Supreme Thunder!"

The fire and thunder-based attacks stopped Bunbo's weapons in their tracks. The youma snarled at this, whilst Moon and Mercury breathed huge sighs of relief, their eyes brightening to see they were joined by Jupiter and Mars.

"I hope you two are all right," said Mars.

"Yeah, sorry we're late," added Jupiter.

"No worries," reassured Mercury. "You're here now and that's what matters."

Moon had to fight the urge to ask her friends what took them so long because she didn't want to start an argument. Especially not when the creature was gearing up for yet another attack. "Exactly. You're here just in time to help us take out the trash!"

The ice senshi chuckled. "That's one way to put it. " Her expression then turned into an all-business one as she directed her attention back to the youma. "Shabon Spray!" The barrage of bubbles floated towards the lizard-like youma, creating a fog around him. He looked around and shivered from the cold, his skin becoming numb.

"Awesome work, Mercury! Now it's my turn!" Moon took off her tiara and tossed it at the disoriented creature. "Moon Tiara Action!"

The tiara weapon travelled towards Bunbo, hitting him in the head and making him shrink in size. He unleashed a pain-filled roar.

"He's weakening. Now is your chance, Sailor Moon!" said Luna.

"You don't need to tell me twice!" The moon senshi twirled her wand around before waving it in a circular fashion. "Moon Healing Escalation!" Again, magic rained down on the creature, except this time the action was successful in purging the dark energy from Ryo's body and transforming him to his normal state. He raised both arms over his head and yelled out, "Refresh!" before collapsing face down.

Zoisite gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, shaking with rage at having lost another nijizuishou. "You will pay for this!" he vowed, disappearing in a flurry of cherry blossoms.

Tuxedo Kamen had been watching the battle from afar, just in case the girls ended up in grave danger and also because he intended to retrieve the nijizuishou. 'It looks like the senshi are now in possession of the third nijizuishou. That's fine. I'll allow them to hold on to it for now. It's better for them to have it than the Dark Kingdom.' Seeing that his assistance was not needed, he left. 'I actually think this is a sign they are becoming stronger.'

* * * * * * * *


Yukari, who had been using her crystal ball to view the battle with Miki and Ruby, allowed the image to dissolve and then turned to face the two youma. "Well, it certainly won't be too long now for Zoisite, wouldn't you say, girls?"

"Oh definitely," concurred Ruby. "I mean, Beryl made it crystal clear that she wouldn't be accepting any more failure and he failed again. Not that I'm surprised."

"Neither am I. However, I will say that even if Beryl does decide to give Zoisite a reprieve, it remains to be seen if he can still redeem himself with or without help from Kunzite and somehow regain favor from the witch if he has already lost it," pointed out Miki.

Ruby nodded. "You have a point. While I frankly have high doubts about both, time will tell. Either way, we must do everything in our power to see to it that he does fail." She looked pensive as she considered her motives for doing so. On the one hand, it was her desire to make peace with her former enemies that drove her, but on the other hand, she knew she would be lying if she said her reasons were entirely unselfish. 'Oh well…no one can change overnight.'

"Of course. Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury really seemed to have had trouble against Bunbo for awhile, but to be honest I expected it, considering what a brute he is," said Miki.

"Yes, it's very understandable," agreed Yukari. "He made my skin crawl during the days of the Silver Millennium. I have to say, though, his attack on Zoisite was so satisfying to watch." It was all she could do not to burst into another laughing fit at how the sakura shitennou ended up soaking wet.

"Oh yeah." Ruby barely held back a chuckle, but a slight snort escaped through her nose. 'Oh my…that was really elegant of me.' She then looked serious. "More importantly, though, the senshi came through in the end. Master Nephrite will be pleased to know things went well, which I will inform him of when he returns from the tennis club."

Miki glanced at her watch. "Now that you've mentioned it, he should be back any minute."

"You both are right." Yukari's eyes brightened as she continued, "I, for one, am especially looking forward to the day Zoisite and Kunzite are out of our hairs for good."

"We all are," remarked Ruby.

The three henchwomen broke into malicious laughter.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 8

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury