The Gift of Love

by LadyKeren

A/N: Thank you to my new-old readers Guest Cupcake and Sailor Sakka for the feedback. I'm glad you are enjoying and I hope you continue to. ^_^


* * * * * * * *

Zoisite's heart proceeded to pound rapidly and a knot formed in the pit of his stomach the moment he sensed Beryl summoning him. He knew he would endure a major tirade for his failure, at the very least. A tiny part of him was tempted to not even appear before the witch queen. 'No, Zoisite, you mustn't think that way. You pledged to be more loyal and competent than Nephrite ever was, remember?' a voice in his head reminded him. He mentally cursed himself for even thinking of running away from his fate.

All of a sudden, he felt a firm, gentle hand on his shoulder, which made him stiffen at first, but he relaxed upon feeling the reassurance he craved whenever he was distraught, lost or frightened. He glanced up and saw Kunzite, giving him a small smile. "I'm so happy to see you, Kunzite-sama."

Kunzite returned his pupil's smile, then looked serious. "What are you still doing here? Shouldn't you be reporting to Queen Beryl?" He spoke in a paternal, but gracious tone.

Zoisite gulped, looking sheepish. He avoided his mentor's eyes, peering down at his boots as if he had been scolded. "I know…I just needed a few minutes to get it together. " His face turned red with embarrassment. 'Okay, not my best response, but at least I'm not lying to him.' It took everything in him not to cross his fingers in hopes he wouldn't be asked to elaborate.

The top ranked shitennou placed a finger under Zoisite's chin, prompting him to give eye contact. Contrary to the sakura king's worries, Kunzite did not look disappointed or angry with him, but as if he understood. "It's all right. I imagine the fact that your fate is uncertain must make you anxious, but Beryl might just be merciful to you in spite of this second setback. However, you have no way of knowing that unless you answer her summons. You know she doesn't like to be kept waiting."

Zoisite exhaled a heavy sigh, both in relief and because he knew his mentor spoke the truth when he hinted stalling wouldn't appease Beryl's displeasure. 'Sometimes I don't know what I would do without him.' He made an effort to look perky instead of despondent. "You're right. I'll be back." With that, he disappeared from the castle.

Kunzite stared after the sakura shitennou for a bit, then partially closed his eyes to enter a meditative state. 'Oh Zoisite…please return soon and unharmed.'

* * * * * * * *

Zoisite appeared before Beryl, giving a deep bow. His legs became wobbly and proceeded to tremble, which he ceased with his willpower. No way was he going to show the witch queen his nervousness. 'I always have to remember what Kunzite-sama taught me. These human emotions are signs of weakness. I refuse to give Beryl or even that Nephrite and his wretched youma the satisfaction of exploiting my fears.'

Drawing in a deep breath, Zoisite faced the witch queen, barely managing to hold back a cringe at the look of displeasure on her features. He didn't know whether to attribute it to his failure, his late arrival, or possibly both. 'Either way, I owe her an apology. This tension is too much.' Exhaling lightly, he said in a timid voice, "My apologies for keeping you waiting, Queen Beryl-sama."

Queen Beryl set her mouth in a line, tapping on her crystal ball with her long, clawed nails. She studied the young man and saw that there was fear in his eyes, despite his effort to hide it. "Apology accepted. However, I do hope it doesn't become a habit. But that's not the issue here. It is the fact that you've failed me twice thus far. You're even worse than Nephrite. I expected so much more, given the promise you showed when this task was first assigned to you. Perhaps I had overestimated your capabilities and should consider replacing you."

Zoisite mentally flinched as if he had been slapped in the face; Beryl's excoriation of his performance thus far had stung his pride deeply. Still, he dared not show how offended he was to be considered not just as bad, but worse than his long-time nemesis. He bit his lower lip to keep it from trembling. 'Nephrite will always be a disgrace to the Dark Kingdom in my eyes. Beryl is right in one respect, though. These two setbacks are nothing to be proud of. And as much as I hate to admit it, Nephrite's plans were partially successful and he is far stronger than I am.'

The sakura king swallowed a small lump that had formed in his throat before pleading in a meek voice, "Please, your majesty, give me a bit more time and a chance to prove myself. I promise you I can rebound from this." He retrieved the kurozuishou from his pocket. His voice got loud as he ordered, "Dark crystal, show me the identity of the fourth nijizuishou carrier!"

The ebony colored gem responded by floating away from him and hovering in mid-air, generating a gust of wind resembling a cyclone. The wind evaporated, revealing a young woman with long thick chocolate colored hair pulled over to one side in a loose braid, and she wore glasses. Zoisite gave an evil grin. 'So, this woman possesses the next nijizuishou. How quaint.' He was about to burst into maniacal laughter, but caught himself, remembering he was in the presence of Queen Beryl and needed to show some sort of restraint. He faced the witch queen, clearing his throat. "I promise you, I will retrieve this nijizuishou and the stolen ones without fail, even if I must sacrifice my life in the process. "

Beryl's hardened eyes softened a tad, but the sternness was still present on her features. "Very well. I will give you another chance. However, you know what the circumstances will be if you continue to fail."

Zoisite held back a shudder, for he had an idea of the punishment Beryl was alluding to. Just the mere thought of being turned into a human icicle made him quiver in fear. "Yes, I do understand, my queen, and I'll keep that in mind." Giving one last respectful bow, he disappeared from the throne room.

Ruby, in invisible form, retreated back to the mansion. While Zoisite hadn't been dealt with in the manner she had hoped, she couldn't help smiling at the chewing out he had received. She especially had to give a smug smirk at the sakura shitennou looking as if he would cry when Beryl said he was worse than her master. 'Hell yes he is…ten times worse. It's about time the hag admit it.' Still, she knew she would be lying if she said she was thrilled with the idea of dealing with Zoisite or his mentor for much longer. 'I don't suppose the others would be, either, but I can't worry too much about that now. I know the identity of this nijizuishou carrier, and that's what is most important. Well, sort of. I know what she looks like, but not her name. Perhaps Master Nephrite might know, though.'

The cherry-haired youma rematerialized in the planetarium, putting on her best "no exciting news yet, but I'm still optimistic" look. She did her best to ignore the tickling feeling in her stomach as she recalled how Beryl had nearly reduced the sakura shitennou to a sobbing mess. 'One would think Kunzite would have rubbed off on him enough for him to grow a backbone, but apparently not. Then again, he is still pretty much a child, so I can't expect much, right? Still, I know of even younger children who are more mature than he is.'

'Hmm?' Nephrite and the twin youma turned to face Ruby, giving her a slight nod of greeting. "What do you have to report this time?" inquired the star shitennou.

"Yes. While you do not appear as amused as you were last time, you definitely seem pleased," observed Miki. _'Something tells me Beryl had not lived up to her threat, but then again, how often does she? Unless she is extremely livid, that is.'

Yukari's eyes were full of excitement and curiosity. "Is it about Zoisite?"

Ruby looked relieved at having managed to succeed in suppressing her amusement. She was never one to wear her heart on her sleeve, but it was difficult not to give in at times. "Well, it all began when Zoisite arrived late, which Beryl surprisingly overlooked. She did not punish him for his failure, but she did manage to toss him down several pegs." Suppressing a laugh that was threatening to explode out of her, she continued, averting her eyes toward the reformed general this time, "She finally acknowledged how much better your performance was under her service, Master Nephrite, and threatened to replace him, both of which nearly reduced him to tears."

"Is that so?" The corners of Nephrite's lips quirked up a bit, both at the idea of Beryl realizing how valuable he was during his tenure and his greatest rival dangerously close to crying. He couldn't help laughing a little at the scenario, especially when he recalled the endless needling he had endured. "Having the shoe on the other foot seems to hurt him quite deeply. Well, I'm afraid it will only get worse."

"It certainly looks that way," agreed Miki. "However, it is a fitting punishment for poking his nose where it doesn't belong."

Yukari snickered. "I'll say." She laughed some more. 'Seriously, though, does Zoisite always have to be such a wuss?'

Unable to hide the tickled feelings any longer, Ruby let out a chuckle. 'I figured they would find it hilarious…and it does help to overlook the fact that the virus will be a thorn in our side for awhile longer.' She then looked serious, although there was still hope in her coffee coloured eyes. "I'm happy to report I have found out the identity of the next nijizuishou target. While I do not know her name, I thought you might, Master Nephrite. I managed to take a picture of her." She pulled out her mobile phone and clicked on the snapshot she took before handing it to the star shitennou.

Nephrite took the phone from Ruby, furrowing his brow whilst examining the image. Despite it looking a bit fuzzy, he was still able to recognize the young woman. He glanced up at Ruby, who was awaiting his response with a look of mild anxiety. "You are correct. I am familiar with this girl. Her name is Yumemi Yumeno, and she is a well-known artist. It has been some time since I've seen her work, but from what I do recall, she is extremely talented." He handed the phone back to Ruby.

"Thank you, sir." Ruby took the phone, looking relieved that she hadn't made a fool of herself. 'Now, to pass this information on to Usagi-san so she can notify Sailor Moon. ' Her eyes lit up as she realized what this revelation meant. "Naru-san mentioned wanting to visit the local museum and Usagi-san will be joining us briefly. This will give me the perfect opportunity to have her warn Sailor Moon."

Nephrite felt his heart racing at the mention of his female companion's name, which he ignored. 'This is not the time to be satisfying your fantasies. You must wait,' a voice chided him. However, there was no dismissing the warmth inside of him. "Well then, it's time you get going. I leave Naru-san in your capable hands."

Ruby's face flushed slightly at the amount of confidence placed in her to look after Naru yet again. 'If I had to pinpoint, I believe it was the night she was kidnapped that solidified how much I enjoy doing it.' She curtseyed. "Thank you again. We'll be careful. Also, chances are she may want to see you after our outing, so I was considering bringing her by…if it's all right with you?" She sounded a bit hesitant, as if wanting to make sure it wasn't a bad time for him.

The star shitennou quirked an eyebrow upon noticing how unsure of herself the red head youma sounded. "It's fine."

Ruby opted for a reserved smile to hide her relief. "Wonderful. I'll see you all later."

"I hope you enjoy," said Miki.

"Give Naru-san my regards," added Yukari.

"Sure thing." With that, Ruby disappeared from the planetarium.

* * * * * * * *

Usagi sat on a bench at the park, reading a manga while waiting for Naru and Ruby to show up. Luna was next to her mini backpack, listening to the sounds of the birds and crickets chirping. 'Thank God it's Saturday…but then I still have lots of homework to do. If only Ami-chan could help me, but she's studying with Ryo-kun and I don't want to bother either of them. I should have done what Naru-chan did and worked on it during Study Hall yesterday. Gosh, I'm such an idiot.' She released a heavy sigh, wondering why school had to be so complicated for her.

The blonde's mind then switched to Tuxedo Kamen and how he was in possession of the second nijizuishou. She hadn't read too much into it, but recalled that Luna was troubled and suspicious as she gave a quick glance at the feline guardian from the corner of her eye. 'While he did seem interested in what we first thought was the ginzuishou at that ball, I don't think it makes him evil. I mean it's better he has it than those Dark Kingdom creeps. Besides, he wouldn't be looking out for me if he was truly an enemy. I refuse to accept that he is unless proven otherwise.'

Not wanting to spoil her day by thinking about subjects she deemed unpleasant, Usagi shook her head lightly to rid it of the thoughts and directed her attention back to her manga, trying to lose herself in the story. The cool breeze blew against the nape of her neck, making her feel relaxed. 'That feels so good. I have to make sure I don't fall asleep on this bench, though, since Naru and Ruby will be here any minute.' She pinched herself hard in the left thigh to remain alert, and continued reading. She came to a funny part and began to giggle. It gradually got louder until she was laughing uncontrollably. She had to grab one end of the bench to keep from falling over.

Luna rolled her eyes and shook her head as if to say, 'Really, Usagi-chan?' She crawled partially onto Usagi's lap and tugged at the blonde's skirt with her teeth to get her attention, prompting her to cease her laughter. She gave a startled yelp and clutched at her chest as if she were having a heart attack. "Lunaaaa, you scared me half to death! And you could have put a hole in my skirt! What's the big idea, anyway?"

"That's what I should be asking you." The feline guardian gave Usagi a look of disapproval. "I was merely trying to get your attention and tell you to quiet down. You could have woken up the dead with that boisterous laughter. You're a young lady, so act like one, would you?!"

"But I can't help it if what I'm reading is so hilarious," protested the blonde. She bit her lip to keep from bursting into another fit of giggles.

"I'm sure it's not that funny, Usagi-chan."

"How would you know unless you've read it?" Usagi retorted in a mock irritation tone. Her annoyance sounded more real than she intended for it to.

Luna was about to give a retort of her own, but before she could, Naru and Ruby arrived. "Greetings, Usagi-san," said Ruby.

"Hey girl!" Naru greeted. "I hope we didn't keep you waiting for too long."

'Those two just saved me from another lecture.' Usagi inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. She put a bookmark in her manga and slipped it in her backpack before facing both teens with a bright smile. "Oh, hi guys! Don't worry, your timing was perfect!" She got up from her spot and grabbed her backpack, stretching her legs a bit as they were slightly cramped.

Naru gave a relieved smile. "Good. Oh, and since you asked, here's what the promise ring Nephrite-sama gave me looks like." She held out her hand for her best friend to see.

Usagi gazed at the ring on Naru's finger with awe. She held the red head's hand gently to get a better look whilst continuing to admire it. "Wow, it's gorgeous. And it so happens your birthstone is a garnet." She released her friend's hand.

"Yup! It's too special to be worn at school, so when Mama made me promise that I wouldn't, it was easy," said Naru. She smiled, feeling proud of herself for proving no relationship would make her forget her standards. 'Not only that, but Nephrite-san has shown he loves me the way I am.'

"I bet." Usagi smiled sadly as it hit her how quickly Naru was maturing. 'I don't even know where I stand with Tuxedo Kamen, and here Naru-chan has a guy who has changed so much for the better because of her.' She let out a light sigh of despair, then remembered Ruby was standing there. Although noticing a slight smile on the young woman's face, she didn't want to give the impression anything was wrong, nor did she wish to keep the youma waiting longer than necessary. "Oops, so sorry if it looked like I was ignoring you."

"Oh, you're fine," Ruby reassured the blonde. "I'm more than happy to give you two girls a few moments to converse."

"Oh, thank you for understanding. I really do appreciate it." Usagi looked thoughtful. "We're ready now, though."

The reformed youma nodded. "All right. Shall we get going, then?"

Usagi's eyes brightened and the excitement returned to her features. "You bet! Let's go!" She took off with Naru and Ruby right behind her. They made their way to the gallery together. Unbeknownst to the blonde, her moon wand had flown out of the pocket of her backpack and would have landed in the river had Luna not sprung off the bench to retrieve it. 'Hopefully this will take my mind off of what Luna said about Tuxedo Kamen. Also, I wonder if there is another enemy Ruby wants to warn me about. It sure would be nice to be able to take a breather.'

Luna, meanwhile, could only let out a weary sigh as she watched Usagi with the two red heads. 'That girl seriously needs to be more attentive to more important matters. However, I must admit she sure knows how to put the information given to her by Ruby to good use.'

* * * * * * * *

Once the three young ladies arrived at the gallery, they entered and noted the decent sized crowd it appeared to have that day. Shrugging it off, they gathered around to look at all the different paintings of well-known couples done by Yumemi Yumeno, taking in the essence of each.

"Wow, these paintings are amazing," said Usagi in an awed voice. "Whoever this girl is sure has got some major talent."

"Yes, they really are," agreed Naru. "I can see how much heart and soul Yumemi-san put into these." She felt her heart becoming full and warm.

"I must agree with you girls," Ruby spoke up. "Take a look at this one over here. I think it will be of interest to you especially, Naru-san."

"Huh?" Naru wandered over to see which painting the cherry-haired youma was referring to. Her eyes widened when she saw herself and Nephrite etched in the picture. It depicted him reaching out a hand and her preparing to take it. All she could do is stare as the words she wished to say escaped her. A lump formed in her throat, which she swallowed. 'Look at me. It's like cat got my tongue because of a mere painting, but I can't help it. Not only is it gorgeous, but it's so realistic and true, telling the story of how our relationship began.'

"So what do you think, Naru-san? Pretty breathtaking, isn't it?" asked Ruby, rousing the young teen out of her thoughts. She had taken the stunned silence as a good sign, as she herself had been speechless.

Naru barely managed to squeak out, "Oh yes! It's really beautiful." Her face turned red with embarrassment at the sound of her voice. 'Gosh, what is with me today?'

Usagi wandered over to the red heads to see what the fuss was about. Her jaw dropped open upon seeing how accurate the portrait of Nephrite and Naru was. "Wow, that one is incredible! Nephrite should have been here to see it!" She fell silent, afraid she had been thoughtless. "But I do understand why he is being cautious." She turned away from the painting to look at the one on the opposite side, freezing in surprise as soon as her eyes landed on it.

Featured in the picture was a young man with short raven hair dressed in a tuxedo, complete with a masquerade mask over his eyes. He was soaring towards the moon, accompanied by a girl with long blonde hair pulled into pigtails that were topped by buns and dressed in a leotard. The blonde felt her heart beginning to race and she got a dreamy look on her features.

"Yeah…" Naru sighed, looking wistful. 'I hope one day those people in that evil organization leave him alone for good…of course they will once the sailor senshi defeat them. Stop worrying and have some faith!' She mentally winced at the berating she received from her conscience, but knew it was true. Not to mention she really didn't want to spend her day with Ruby in despair. She frowned with concern upon noticing her friend's pensive state. "Are you okay, Usagi-chan? What's up?"

Naru's sweet voice filled the blonde's ears, bringing her back to reality. She let out a nervous giggle. "Nothing, this picture just gives me a feeling of déja-vu for some reason."

"Oh." Naru took a quick glance at the painting that had the blonde's attention. "It is beautiful."

"Hey, did you guys know if you bought one of these paintings, your romantic dreams will come true?" asked a deep male's voice, making Naru and Usagi nearly jump a mile.

All three girls turned away from the portraits they were admiring to see Umino standing behind them. The two junior high schoolers gave him a look of exasperation for sneaking up on them, whilst Ruby frowned at how unfamiliar the teenaged boy was. "Umino, stop scaring us like that!" Usagi and Naru yelled in unison. Ruby chuckled quietly to herself, shaking her head at the young boy's antics. 'Tsk, tsk, tsk.'

Umino squirmed and tittered nervously before looking relieved that neither of the girls had hit him. "Sorry. "

Naru's look softened a bit. "To answer your question, no I didn't, but thanks for telling us. It's really good to know." A tiny smile formed on her lips as an idea for a gift for Nephrite came to her. 'Not that a painting is necessary to prove that our hearts are connected. In fact, I felt it before I saw this. At the same time, though, seeing that he bought a present for me, it's my turn to do the same for him. Plus, I know he likes the fine arts very much.'

"Yes, thanks," piped up Usagi. "I'm gonna buy the one with the guy in the cape for sure." She wrung her hands, looking wistful. 'If what Umino says is true, then Tuxedo Kamen will be my guy for sure.'

Neither Naru nor Ruby were surprised to hear Usagi make the decision, since they knew of her infatuation with the caped hero. Umino merely grinned, feeling proud of himself for mentioning something of interest to his classmates as opposed to being scoffed at for talking about boring stuff.

Naru looked sheepish and slapped her forehead, embarrassed for taking so long to properly introduce Umino and the cherry haired youma. "Ooops! I can't believe I almost forgot. Ruby, as you heard Usagi-chan and me mention, this is Umino, a boy in my class. He's the biggest nerd and among the most intelligent. He can be very sweet when he's not being embarrassing, stalkerish or a blabbermouth." She turned to the young teen boy, who looked a bit pokerfaced. "Umino-kun, this is Ruby, a really good new friend of mine. She's on the way to becoming like a big sister to me, just like Rui one-chan is." From the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Ruby blush. She shot Umino a look that read, 'Now don't you say anything too stupid or else.'

Ruby gave Umino a slight nod, and the young teen boy did likewise, mumbling a "Nice to meet you." With Naru's warning glance, he couldn't think of much else to say. 'The lady sure is pretty, but I don't want her to get the wrong idea and think I'm flirting or anything. She doesn't seem like the type to fall for that.'

Naru appeared somewhat satisfied, then she let out a sigh of relief. She turned to face Ruby, sensing the awkwardness between her and Umino. "Ruby? Where to next?"

Ruby rested a slender finger on her chin. "Well, I must speak to Usagi-san about something important…" She cut herself off mid-sentence, gazing around the gallery. 'Still the same amount of people, but if it really is as Naru-san said, that this Umino person can't be trusted to keep quiet, well then, some privacy is in order. It is better to be safe than sorry.' Quickly wracking her brain for an idea, she turned to Naru again. "You remain here and look around at whichever painting you choose, or if there is one in particular you would like to purchase, I will let you take care of that. Usagi-san and I will be right back."

Naru nodded. "All right." She directed her attention back to the painting of her and Nephrite, having made up her mind to buy it. 'Hmm, let me see here.' She proceeded to remove the portrait from the wall.

Ruby allowed a small smile to escape her lips. 'I thought she would want that painting. While I do not entirely know what to make of that boy, I don't get the feeling he will allow harm to come to her. The forces of heaven forbid he tries to seduce her, but I'm certain Naru-san won't stand for it.' Leaving the younger red head to do her shopping, she wandered over to Usagi, putting a hand on her shoulder, which prompted the blonde to face her. "There's something important I must speak to you about. Come with me."

"O-Okay." Mystified, Usagi allowed the cherry-haired young woman to lead her away from the paintings, down the halls of the gallery. Although not expecting Ruby to suddenly want to speak with her in private, she had an uneasy feeling in her chest about the possible reason the youma could have for doing so. 'She must want to warn me about another Dark Kingdom attack…that has to be it. In that case, her reasons for not telling me in front of Naru-chan and Umino are obvious.' Her cheerful mood was beginning to become sour. It took everything in her not to clench her fists in anger. 'I should have known…I will make that Zoisite pay for ruining my Saturday.'

Ruby stopped when she and Usagi came to the ladies' room. She pushed the door open, jolting the blonde out of her angry thoughts in the process. Peeking inside, she looked relieved to see the restroom was empty. She then entered and gestured for Usagi to follow, which the blonde did without question.

"So, what is it you wanted to tell me?" inquired Usagi as she leaned against the wall next to the dryer. "Is it something about a new target?" She sounded hesitant, as if she knew the answer would be yes, but wasn't prepared to hear it.

Ruby smiled briefly at how perceptive the blonde was before looking grim. "Yes. Yumemi Yumeno is a nijizuishou carrier."

Horror made its way onto Usagi's innocent, child-like features. "What?!" Her voice was just above a whisper.

"Yes. Unfortunate, I know. That's why you must ensure Sailor Moon and her fellow senshi keep an eye on her. Seeing as how you're here, I imagine you would want to help as well."

Usagi's horrified expression turned into determination. "Definitely! You can count on all of us." Inwardly she was screaming for joy as she wanted to meet the person behind the paintings and the task of guarding her just made it that much easier. It was all she could do not to start jumping up and down as well. 'Hopefully she is right here and not too far away. That way I can pick her out, once I know what she looks like.' She barely suppressed a grin.

Ruby gave a hint of a smile. "I know I can. Here is a picture of her, to help you along." She took out her mobile phone and pulled up the picture she had snapped of the young woman, holding it in front of the blonde to see.

Usagi eyed the snapshot, absorbing all the details of the girl's appearance. 'She's pretty enough. Would hope she's as beautiful inside.' She glanced up at Ruby with a grateful smile. "Thank you, this helps a lot."

Ruby placed her phone back inside her pants pocket. "Good. It was my pleasure. We should get a move on, now, especially if you want to find Yumemi-san before Zoisite does. Also, I shouldn't leave

Naru-san alone for too long."

Usagi nodded. "Right. Let's go." She and Ruby exited the bathroom, making their way back to the display area together.

Just as the teens arrived, they saw Naru talking to the renowned artist, and watched as she handed the red head a large plastic bag containing a wrapped painting. They faintly heard her thanking Yumemi, to which the brunette responded, "My pleasure. I'm honored you have taken an interest in my work and I am especially glad you like the piece I dedicated to you and Sanjouin-san." She left to go make other rounds.

Usagi had a starry-eyed look on her face as she watched the artist walk away. She felt her heart bursting with joy and had to bite her lip to keep from squealing like a crazed fan. A part of her wanted to run after Yumemi, but instead opted to show restraint. 'Ruby's reserved nature must be rubbing off on me a little…still can't believe Yumemi-san was standing just a few feet away.' She wandered over to her best friend. "Hey Naru-chan! Ruby and I are back. I see you got the painting."

Naru faced the blonde, looking cheerful. "Hey! Yup, I got it! As I expected, it was a little pricey, but there's a special discount for the next few days. Not to mention I've been saving my allowance, so it worked out great!"

"Wow, that's awesome!" Usagi grinned, genuinely excited for her friend, although she knew purchasing the painting she coveted would have to wait. 'That's right, Usagi. This isn't about you, but about Naru being able to present a gift to the love of her life,' a voice in her head told her.

Ruby smiled to herself, happy that Naru had gotten sorted out. She glanced around the museum, frowning slightly upon noticing Umino was nowhere in sight. 'Hmm…I wonder where that eccentric young lad went off to. Shouldn't be my business, though.' She mentally kicked herself for her distractions in recent weeks before coming close enough to be in both girls' view.

Usagi glanced at her watch, and then at both red heads. "Well, guys, I think I'm gonna head out and see if I can catch up with Yumemi-san. It was great hanging out with you. "

Naru nodded. "Okay. I enjoyed hanging out with you, too. See you later."

"Be careful," added Ruby.

"I will. Later." After giving a farewell wave, Usagi left.

Naru watched her best friend for a bit before turning to Ruby. "What do you suggest we do now? Any ideas?"

The cherry-haired youma got an uneasy feeling in her stomach, as if she sensed things would turn ugly for her and Naru if they remained at the museum for too much longer. 'I've been doing well to protect myself and Naru-san since the desertion and I'm not going to screw that up. Not now, not ever.' Masking her grim feelings, she responded, "Actually, I think we had better get going, too."

"Okay. Anywhere in particular?" Naru tried her hardest not to show how eager she was to give Nephrite his gift. 'No, scratch that…you just want to see him, period.'

Ruby scrunched up her brow in thought. "Well, I imagine you would want to visit with Master Nephrite, especially since you haven't seen him in a little while." Although merely a suggestion, the mild excitement was evident in her voice.

Naru's eyes lit up and a smile escaped her lips. It was if the cherry-haired youma had read her mind. "Oh yes! I would love to." 'Of course, this will just be my second time going to his house…the first being the day after that night he saved me, when he sprained his ankle…thank goodness that's all in the past.'

Ruby smiled wryly, chuckling a little. "I thought you might want to." Her smile faded, replaced by a serious expression. "Wrap your arm around my shoulder as tight as you can and don't let go."

"All right." The red head wrapped her free arm around Ruby's shoulders in a tight embrace as instructed. She imagined it looked rather odd, considering the youma was a head taller, but she didn't care. "Okay. I'm ready."

Ruby draped an arm around the younger teen's shoulder as well, and transported them both to Nephrite's mansion.

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite was on the couch in the den, watching a televised symphony performance with the twin youma. It had done well to destress him after a lengthy week, and the twins looked peaceful as they enjoyed the beautiful music, just content to be in their master's company.

Just as the concert was about to end, there were footsteps approaching the den, followed by the sound of muffled voices, which got the attention of the twins and Nephrite as they looked away from the TV screen. "Ruby, is that you?" called the reformed general.

"Yes, Master Nephrite," came the reply. "Naru-san is here to see you."

'Hmm?' Nephrite felt a smile forming on his lips. He decreased the volume until it was nearly mute. "Send her in."

"Yes sir." Lowering her voice a bit, Ruby told Naru, "Go on in. I'm heading into the kitchen to attempt to make this daifuku I've heard about."

"Okay. Thank you again," Naru whispered back. 'Mmm, daifuku. I wonder how Nephrite-sama will like it. He seems pretty open, after all.' She entered the den to see Nephrite and the twin youma seated on sofas. A shy smile crept on her lips, especially at the star shitennou. "Hi everybody," she greeted.

"Salutations, Naru-san," the twins responded.

"Hello. It is wonderful to see you again," said Nephrite.

"I've been eager to." The red head strode over to Nephrite, who stood up with open arms. She rested the plastic bag she had been holding down on the ground next to the TV before running into her male companion's arms, wrapping hers around him and giving him a squeeze. Unable to resist this time, she stroked his hair. He chuckled and returned the gesture, before lifting her chin to peck her on the lips. Naru felt her skin tingling and her cheeks becoming hot at this. 'Oh, this is another dream come true.'

Miki and Yukari felt their once frozen hearts turning into mush as they watched the display of affection—though not to the extent where either of them would burst into tears. Miki looked thoughtful. 'I imagine Naru-san must mean more to the master than ever before. May their happiness continue.'

Nephrite pulled away and sat back down on the sofa, patting the spot next to him. Wasting no time, Naru retrieved the gift and accepted the invitation, giving him another shy smile. "I-I bought you a present," she told the ex-villain.

Nephrite quirked an eyebrow, genuinely curious. "Oh really? What is it?"

Naru pulled the wrapped painting from the plastic bag, handing it to the star shitennou. "It's a painting I bought from the art gallery," she explained. "It's one I had a feeling you would appreciate very much. I know I did."

"Well, I am curious to see this painting." Nephrite carefully removed the wrapping from the painting and examined the portrait. There was a long silence as he extensively absorbed each detail.

Naru brought up a hand to run through her hair, feeling slightly anxious about what Nephrite's silence meant. 'I know I was speechless myself because it was so stunningly beautiful, but what if I was wrong about what he would think?' The thought of spending money on a gift he disliked was too much for her to bear.

Her fears were alleviated when the chestnut-haired young man glanced back up, smiling. "It most certainly is a masterpiece. I can see how much heart and soul Yumemi-san had poured into this. Thank you, Naru-chan."

Naru briefly looked relieved before giving a delighted smile. "You're more than welcome. I'm so happy you like it."

"Indeed I do. It is an accurate portrayal of our relationship."

"I think so, too, which is one of the main reasons I was drawn to it." Naru was about to say more when Miki and Yukari, bursting with curiosity (more so Yukari) whilst listening to the exchange, rose up from their seats and walked up to the couple. "May we see, Master Nephrite?" asked Miki.

"Certainly." Nephrite handed his painting to the brunette youma.

"Thank you." Miki took the portrait and eyed it, holding it in front of her twin so she could also see. Her eyes widened in amazement. It was all she could do not to get a dreamy look on her face as well. "Wow, this is gorgeous. Don't you think so, sister?"

"Yes I do, and this is coming from someone who has always been rather particular about creative arts," said Miki. She thought she saw Nephrite smiling wryly at her comment. 'Then again, he's kind of like me.'

Yukari nodded, as she knew her twin wasn't entirely keen on art in general. "I know that's right, and so I'm glad it has met your approval." She looked away from the painting, directing her attention to the star shitennou. "I know the perfect place to hang this, that is if you don't mind."

"Not at all. In fact, it's a superb idea." Nephrite couldn't help smiling at the way his henchwoman gushed over the painting.

Yukari grinned. "Great."

"And we'll take this trash for you, too," added Miki, retrieving the gift's wrapping and the plastic bag. Truth be told, she also saw it as the perfect opportunity to give the couple some time alone. 'They can most certainly use it.'

Nephrite gave a reserved smile. "Thank you."

"My pleasure." Miki and Yukari exited the den to carry out their respective tasks and also to see what Ruby was doing.

Nephrite retrieved the remote and shut off the television, having no desire to view the ongoing program. He then took ahold of Naru's hand, caressing the back of it with his thumb.

A swarm of butterflies appeared and fluttered around in the teen girl's stomach. She squeezed Nephrite's hand in turn. "I was going to tell you it isn't the painting that signifies we belong together. I've felt it in my heart from the moment we met."

"I very much believe that, too, although I didn't care to admit it in the beginning. Nor did I understand. However, the stars knew, and so they led me to you." Coming to grips with the realization was a release of the inner turmoil for Nephrite. He knew he would be branded as a traitor because of his love for Naru, but quite frankly he didn't care. 'After all, I never pledged loyalty to Beryl from the outset, and she will soon come to see the remaining minions are not as loyal as they appear to be. In spite of having to keep a low profile for now, I do not regret choosing this path.'

"And you're the only one for me, Nephrite-sama." Naru got misty-eyed as she thought of how much the reformed general had opened up to her since that fateful night. 'Even when he confessed to everything, he was direct and blunt about it. I honestly believe those have always been his strengths, but he just didn't know it.' She blushed when she felt him putting an arm around her. Heaving a contented sigh, she rested her head on his shoulder.

* * * * * * * *

Zoisite stood atop the roof of Yumemi's apartment, keeping watch so he could ambush her. He wore a sinister grin at his imminent victory. "Yumemi Yumeno, famous artist. Your time under that fraudulent identity is about to end as you will be reawakened as Binah, the shadow youma." He unleashed a diabolical cackle. 'And if that pesky Tuxedo Kamen or those pathetic senshi interfere, I'll have an unpleasant surprise waiting for them.'

After spending a tension-filled several hours on the couch at Yumemi's home with Mamoru as a model for the young woman's painting, Usagi stood up, grabbed her backpack and stretched her legs. Mamoru had left already, which was fine with her. She headed for the door, looking surprised to see Yumemi following her. "Yumemi-san, what are you…?"

"It's getting kind of late for you to walk home alone, not to mention muggers and perverts are also out at this hour," replied Yumemi.

Usagi held back a shudder at the mention of the dangerous people, but she waved her hands in a sheepish refusal gesture. "Awww, you don't have to do that. I live ten minutes away as far as walking distance goes, and I would hate to inconvenience you." She mentally winced at the pang of guilt she felt for not telling the real reason. 'Come on, it's true enough. Besides, you couldn't possibly tell her exactly why without coming close to revealing your identity.'

Yumemi gave the blonde a "don't be silly" look. "Oh, it's no inconvenience to me at all. I want to do it as payback for you agreeing to be my model. It was really very kind of you. Please give me a chance to return the kindness you demonstrated to me." She stopped, listening to herself. She wanted to die of embarrassment for sounding like she was begging. 'She must consider me so annoying and pushy right now, but I can't help it.'

Usagi knew there was no point in flatly refusing with the brunette's earnest tone and strong argument, as well as the pleading eyes. 'Oh, why am I such a softy during times like this? I know! Let me see if a compromise will work!' Putting her hands up in defeat, she conceded, "Okay. You can walk with me for part of the way."

Yumemi put on a nonchalant expression to hide her mild disappointment, as the response was not what she had been hoping for. 'It's better than her saying no way, I suppose.' She nodded to show her approval. "Fair enough."

Usagi grinned widely, partially out of relief that she hadn't offended the young woman. "Good. Let's go." She opened the door and let Yumemi exit first, then came out after her, shutting the door. She and Yumemi began walking together.

There was an uncomfortable silence between the two girls before Yumemi finally spoke up, "Thank you again for agreeing to be my model. You and that gentleman helped my inspiration tremendously."

"Don't sweat it. You're one of the best artists, if not the best," answered Usagi with a cheerful grin. "I need to be thanking you for those delicious cookies you made."

Yumemi's cheeks flushed slightly. "I'm glad you liked them."

Usagi eyed the brunette a bit strangely. "Are you kidding?! I loved them! Oh, and I hope you get out of your slump. "

Yumemi managed a small smile. "Thank you, that means so much to me. I can feel the inspiration, along with my confidence, returning, thanks to support from you and Naru-san."

It was Usagi's turn to blush. "I'm glad I can help. You're such a sweet person."

"So are you."

The two girls continued their journey in silence, each one appearing as if they were lost in their own thoughts as they mused over the day's events. Usagi spotted the arcade in the distance. "Okay,

Yumemi-san, I can make it home on my own from here. Thank you for walking with me this far."

Yumemi nodded. "Of course, It was my pleasure. Good night, and be careful."

"You too. I hope we see each other again some time."

Yumemi's eyes brightened. "I would like that very much. Well, you know where to find me when time permits either of us."

"Yes, I remember. Until then, I'll see you later." Usagi ran off, pretty sure dinner was nearly over. 'Oh well, I'm sure there is some left over, that's if Shingo hasn't eaten it all.' She gritted her teeth at the thought.

* * * * * * * *

Yumemi watched Usagi go and waited until the blonde was out of sight before she began to make her own way back home. A small smile formed on her lips as she thought more about Usagi. 'She is really something…spirited but she truly has a big heart.'

Truth be told, accompanying Usagi had helped to soothe her loneliness she imagined the blonde would have felt, not to mention the uneasiness produced by the possible dangers of walking home alone at dusk. 'Now I'm the one with chills up my spine, as I'm sure she is. The fact that she's a bit younger is even more cause for concern, so my persistence was justified.' She stopped in her tracks and took several breaths to calm herself, then resumed her walk home.

Soon, Yumemi was approaching her apartment, and as she was about to walk up the doorsteps to go inside, she saw a young man with long blonde hair swept from his face in a ponytail and forest green eyes standing on top of her roof. He wore a smug grin on his face that sent chills down her spine, which only worsened when the young man fixed his gaze upon her.

The brunette's legs became paralyzed before she could go any further. She barely kept her horrified gasp muffled and her heart nearly stopped with fear. 'Oh no…why did this have to happen now?' She managed to squeak out, "Who are you?"

Zoisite gave a soft evil chuckle. "Let's just say I am somewhat of a friend. A friend who has searched for you for a very long time." He chuckled again.

Yumemi mustered enough courage to study this strange young man. 'He is really pretty, but something about his laugh and the grin he wore on his face give me the creeps. Also, his eyes, although beautiful, look so cold.' She gave Zoisite a blank stare. "I don't understand. I don't recall seeing you before in my life. What is it you want from me?"

Zoisite sneered at the brunette. "Nothing much, but it will free your mind in the process." He levitated off the roof, onto the ground. 'Time for the crystal to go to work!' He conjured his kurozuishou and tossed it out. "Zoi!" He shot a beam from the ebony colored gem, striking Yumemi in the chest and causing her to cry out in agony. The sakura king grinned maliciously as he increased the power level, which effortlessly extracted the emerald colored nijizuishou. He caught the gem in his hands. "Success!"

* * * * * * * *

Meanwhile, Usagi was halfway home when she got a gut feeling she should stop and remain nearby in case something happened to the artist. As she made the decision to follow her instincts, she felt a sharp pain gripping her chest and discomfort in her stomach worse than mere hunger pains or nausea. She had to bite her lip to keep from screaming, as she didn't want to draw any attention to herself while alone. 'Oh no. I think the Dark Kingdom has already gotten to Yumemi. Now I really feel guilty about letting her walk with me.'

At that moment, Luna sprinted up to the blonde, holding the moon wand in her mouth and dropping it at Usagi's feet. The alarm on it started going off, which confirmed the blonde's suspicions Yumemi was being targeted. Usagi, looking a bit surprised, picked it up, ignoring her erratic heartbeat. "Luna! Where did you get this?"

"You dropped it at the park, and I had been searching for you all day in order to return it to you," responded the feline guardian, sounding rather reproachful. "What timing to have finally tracked you down, too, considering it's the nijizuishou alert."

Usagi winced as if she had been stabbed in her heart by Luna's criticism and her sarcastic tone. 'She sure is grumpy, and sounds like Rei. I wonder what's got her so upset. Is she mad that I dropped the wand or just because I was out practically all day?' She gaped at the black cat. "Oh, I had a bad feeling the Dark Kingdom was after Yumemi and Ruby had warned me about it. But I had no idea the wand was missing."

"You would have if you would just pay attention to all that's going on," said Luna a-matter-of factually. "If you don't want the wand, you should just say so. There is someone who will gladly take it off your hands."

Usagi peered down at her feet, looking ashamed for a brief moment, then she flinched at the reminder of Rei. 'I can just hear her right now. She would never let me live it down. I already feel inadequate enough without her lectures.' She quickly shut down that train of thought. "Of course I want it! I just had so much on my mind, wondering whether time with Naru and Ruby would help me take my mind off of what you keep telling me about Tuxedo Kamen!" She shot her guardian a dirty look.

Luna appeared unfazed by the blonde's outburst. She simply responded, "Well, I trust you dealt with all your emotions successfully. They can be a major distraction during a battle, you know."

"Perhaps I have. Even so, if you're trying to make me change my mind about Tuxedo Kamen, it's not going to work. I'll only believe what you said when I see it!" Usagi ran away before Luna could answer, as fast as her legs would carry her.

Luna hung her head, releasing a deep sigh. "I was simply looking out for her…perhaps I was too meddlesome."

* * * * * * * *

By the time Usagi had arrived at Yumemi's apartment, she was out of breath. Squatting and placing her hands on her knees, she panted several times before grumbling, "Stupid Luna…she doesn't understand anything. That's the last time I'll go to her for relationship advice…"

The still-sounding alarm broke the blonde out of her indignant thoughts. She rose to her full height and peeked through the apartment window to see the artist's transformation complete. It consisted of a humanoid shaped angelic being with long, straight navy-blue hair, black eyes, rosy pink lips and pristine sleek snow-white wings. She was dressed in a long pale pink robe-like dress with gold ornaments on both shoulders, pink gloves, and her forehead was adorned by a halo.

Usagi blew at her bangs, making a "Phew" sound. 'Well…at least there's a normal looking youma for once, but that doesn't matter. I had better save poor Yumemi…no time to wait for the others.' She took out her brooch and screamed, "Moon Prism Power, Make Up!" Ready for action, she headed off to face the shadow youma.

Zoisite and Binah glided and pranced around the construction yard as if there was no tomorrow. They had huge grins on their faces, feeling giddy with excitement. It kept up until they both felt their endurance levels diminishing ever so slightly.

Zoisite unleashed a hearty evil chuckle. "This was a piece of cake. All that's left is the destruction of those meddlesome senshi and Tuxedo Kamen."

"Don't count on it, Zoisite!" blared a familiar female's voice.

The sakura shitennou cursed under his breath and glanced up sharply, looking like smoke would rise from his ears. "Sailor Moon! Show yourself, if you dare!"

"Heeeeya!" The moon senshi leapt down to meet the two villains, landing with precision. "Exploiting the passion of a talented artist for your own selfish purposes is despicable! I will never forgive you for that! Do you hear me?" She pointed a finger at Zoisite. "I'm the pretty sailor senshi of love and justice, Sailor Moon! In the name of the moon, I will punish you!"

Zoisite looked unimpressed before faking a lengthy yawn, which made Binah giggle. "Don't you ever get tired of making the same old speech? It's so boring." He turned to the angel-like creature, smiling a bit at her amusement. His smile faded as he commanded in a no-nonsense tone, "Dispose of that wimpy little girl."

"Consider it done, Master Zoisite." Binah pulled a feather from her wings. Moon backed away in fear and whimpered, "Please, I'm ticklish", then her fear turned into bemusement as she watched the youma toss the feather into the air. The feather conjured a small rock, causing the moon senshi's expression to return to horror as it fell from the air, about to land on her. She dodged it just in time, giving a little yelp as it slightly nicked her in the ankle.

Undeterred, the monster retrieved another feather from her right wing and tossed it in the air to create a second boulder, but Moon dodged that one as well, albeit just barely. Binah snarled with annoyance before using a third feather to conjure a boulder, which was much larger than the previous two. "This will finish her off."

Sailor Moon's eyes grew wide as saucers and she let out a horrified cry as she prepared to be crushed to death.

Fortunately for the moon senshi, a pair of strong arms grabbed her out of harm's way just in time. She glanced up, her face resembling a Christmas tree when she saw it was none other than Tuxedo Kamen. She gave him a big grateful smile. "Thank you Tuxedo Kamen-sama. If it weren't for you, I would be as flat as a cockroach." She laid her head against his chest.

The caped hero's face turned bright red and he felt his heart racing just a little. "Think nothing of it. No harm will ever come to you as long as I'm around." He gently set the blonde senshi down.

"Awww my hero," sighed Sailor Moon with starry eyes.

Zoisite grimaced, his face turning green and then glared at his enemies. "Binah, squash those pathetic fools like bugs." He disappeared in a flurry of cherry blossoms.

"Right away, my master." Binah pulled several more feathers from her wings, this time aiming to conjure enough boulders to destroy Moon and Tuxedo Kamen in one swift swoop.

Sailor Moon hunched over slightly and clasped her hands together, pleading, "Yumemi, please snap out of it. I know your kind and gentle spirit is still alive, even within that monstrous exterior." She gazed at the angel-like being with earnest eyes.

Binah's eyes glazed over and she allowed the feathers to float to the ground, instead conjuring several ropes which turned into serpents. She thrusted them forward, preparing to bind the duo and squeeze the life out of them.

Then, all of a sudden, a voice rang out, "Fire Soul!", followed by a fireball swirling toward the snakes, incapacitating and turning them into charred cinders.

Sailor Moon looked relieved and gave a wide smile upon seeing that Mars, Mercury and Jupiter had arrived. 'Luna must have told them…again, she continues to look out for me, even when I feel like shutting her out.' Her heart melted at the thought of that. She didn't even object when Tuxedo Kamen took this as his cue to go and track down Zoisite.

Binah scowled at the interruption from the three senshi, then her scowl turned into an evil smirk as she pulled more feathers from her left wing, tossing them into the air to create a cluster of boulders. The girls ran out of the way.

Sailor Mercury gave Binah a hard look. "Enough of your attempted brutality! Shabon Spray!" The bubbles floated towards the angel-like being, creating a fog and causing her to shiver. Her teeth chattering, she covered her arms with her wings to shield herself from the cold.

"Good work, Sailor Mercury!" Sailor Moon's expression then grew serious, with a touch of fear and concern. "Please just make sure you guys don't be too rough on her. Remember, Yumemi-san is still in there, and she's a really kind person. I'm gonna go help Tuxedo Kamen fight Zoisite now. I leave this monster in your hands." She left before any of the other senshi could question her.

* * * * * * * *

Luckily for Tuxedo Kamen, he was able to track Zoisite down. The two young men engaged in a scuffle, which was an even match thus far as they leapt at one another, but had yet to actually land a blow.

Tuxedo Kamen gave the sakura shitennou a fierce look. "Hand over the nijizuishou!" he demanded.

Zoisite sneered at the masked man. "I don't think so. You'll have to take it from me by force, and you're not capable of doing that." He and Tuxedo Kamen jumped at each other once again.

"You should be careful what you ask for. You might just get it," Tuxedo Kamen told Zoisite wisely.

"And just what do you mean by that?"

A sly smile threatened to escape the caped hero's lips. "You're about to find out," he responded. He smiled widely upon seeing Zoisite was distracted. He tossed several roses around the younger man's feet.

Zoisite began guffawing loudly. He had been expecting more, although he wasn't sure why. "That's the best you can do? I should have known you were only bluffing." However, when he geared up for a counterattack, he found he could not move his feet. His amusement faded and was replaced by a horrified look. He dropped the nijizuishou in his shock. "What's this? I'm trapped! "

Tuxedo Kamen gave a gleeful laugh, especially when he saw the nijizuishou was out of Zoisite's grasp. "That's right. I'm afraid the worst is yet to come." He bent over and quickly snatched up the nijizuishou, putting it in his pocket.

Before Zoisite could question his arch-enemy or react to losing the nijizuishou, a hail of rose petals rained down, slicing through his jacket sleeves, shoulders, back and pants legs, causing him to give a yelp of pain. He disappeared before the petals could touch his face, reappearing once the mini-storm was over. Although his face had been spared, there were wounds on his arms, thighs, knees, calves, shoulders and back, at which he clenched his fists, shaking them in rage. "You will pay for this! Zoi!" He shot razor sharp cherry blossoms at the caped hero.

Releasing several grunts, the ebony-haired young man shielded himself with his cape as best as he could, but was nicked on the shoulder by several blossoms. Whilst he was recovering from the onslaught, Zoisite tossed an ice crystal at him. "Die!" spat the tawny-haired shitennou.

Sailor Moon arrived just in time to see the ice crystal being aimed at her beloved Tuxedo Kamen. 'No!' Springing into action, she took off her tiara and tossed it at the cherry blossoms, shouting, "Moon Tiara Action!" The tiara attack hit the back of the young man's cape, eliminating the petals and crystal shard. He turned to face his rescuer. "Sailor Moon…"

"Are you all right?" asked the moon senshi in a worried tone.

Tuxedo Kamen gave the blonde teen girl a warm, grateful smile. "Yes I am, thanks to you."

"I'm glad." Moon eyed Zoisite, giggling a little at the sakura king's battered state. "Well, you seemed to have done a number on Zoisite. Way to go! Up high!" She placed a hand up in the air. Tuxedo Kamen looked a bit bewildered at first, but then obliged by giving the superheroine a high-five. Her heart raced as he did that.

"Thank you, Sailor Moon. I appreciate your support," said the masked hero.

Zoisite scowled at the pair before him and clenched his fists again, this time to calm the rage within him. It was infuriating enough losing yet another nijizuishou, but to be wounded to such a degree intensified his hatred for Tuxedo Kamen. 'Not to mention Queen Beryl is gonna have my head for sure if I dare to appear before her empty handed again. I'm going to bring much pain and suffering to these two, but now is not the best time.'

The sakura shitennou cleared his throat, getting the attention of Moon and Tuxedo Kamen. "Hear me now, you audacious little worms. You may have won yet again, but you won't be so lucky next time, for I will retrieve the remaining nijizuishou, and the ones you stole from me, then I'll send you, along with those other pathetic humans, to the pits of hell!" After unleashing a cruel laugh, he teleported away.

'Whoa. Talk about creepy.' Sailor Moon stared at the spot Zoisite had been standing and then turned back to Tuxedo Kamen. She pulled the star shaped locket from inside her bosom, and it started playing a heartwarming, morose melody. "Here, Tuxedo Kamen, take this locket back. I've been keeping it safe ever since the day you dropped it in a fight." She held it out for the young man to accept.

'Hmm?' Tuxedo Kamen furrowed his brow and looked pensive, as the music brought back memories, although he wasn't sure why. 'So beautiful.' Shaking his head lightly, he pushed the blonde's hand back, clasping her fingers over the locket. "It's all right. I feel inclined to give it to you as a gift."

Moon's eyes brightened as if she had received an early birthday gift. "Oh really? Thank you!" She looked thoughtful as she thought of a way to return the favor. 'Oh, I know. Luna won't like this, but at least it'll show her I stand my ground.' She retrieved the yellow nijizuishou which she also had in her "secret" hiding place and held it out for the caped hero to take. "I'm sure you'll want this, though. While I may not know why you're after the nijizuishou, I do feel like I can trust you with it tons more than I can trust the Dark Kingdom. Plus, you'd do better at keeping it safe than I would."

Tuxedo Kamen looked taken aback at first, but accepted the gem from the moon senshi. He kept a nonchalant expression on his face to mask the relief and happiness he felt. "Thank you, Sailor Moon. You have no idea how much I appreciate this."

Unsure of what the caped hero meant, Sailor Moon got a perplexed expression on her features. Still, his gratitude made her feel warm inside. "Don't mention it, I suppose. " She let out an awkward giggle.

"I will reveal my motives to you in time. Until then, so long. Go and help your friends now." With a brief salute, Tuxedo Kamen took his leave.

"Awww, my masked man," the moon senshi mumbled with hearts appearing in her eyes as she stared after the ebony-haired young man. His parting words echoed inside her brain, bringing her back to reality. "Oh! That's right! My friends! " She slapped her forehead, annoyed with herself for nearly forgetting. 'Hopefully they would have listened to me.' Placing the star locket back in her bosom, she ran back to the scene of the battle.

Binah had just regained her senses from Sailor Mercury's attack and was preparing to conjure her ropes again. "You miserable sailor senshi are finished!"

Sailor Jupiter put on her hardened warrior look. "That's where you're wrong! Supreme Thunder!" The enormous surge of thunder travelled towards the angel-like youma, destroying her right wing. She slumped over, letting out an ear-piercing screech of pain, which Sailor Moon arrived in time to witness. 'Whew. She's still alive, but only by a thread.'

"Great work, Sailor Jupiter! That's enough, though. I can take it from here." Sailor Moon whipped out her moon wand and tossed it, then caught it. "Moon Healing Escalation!" As she waved the wand around in a circular fashion, healing magic poured down onto Binah, making her yell out, "Refresh!" Yumemi reappeared, collapsing face down.

* * * * * * * *

(Dark Kingdom castle)

Kunzite was in the living quarters he shared with Zoisite, tending to his pupil's wounds. Zoisite clenched his teeth and hissed with pain as the veteran shitennou dabbed at each one with a damp cloth before placing his hand on the areas to heal them. It was all Zoisite could do not to yelp at how much it hurt.

Kunzite gave Zoisite a sympathetic look upon noticing his discomfort. He hated to cause the young man even more pain, but knew it was part of the process. "I know it stings, but try to bear it a little longer," he said in a paternal tone.

"Yes, Kunzite-sama." The sakura shitennou remained still as the older man continued to clean the wounds and heal them. 'They did hurt, but the mere sound of his voice is nearly enough to make everything better. Of course next time I see that wretched Tuxedo Kamen, oh, is he gonna pay!' The mere image in his head of Sailor Moon laughing at his injuries made his nerves twitch. 'Not to mention my perfect uniform is ruined!'

Kunzite finally finished cleaning and healing Zoisite's cuts, then disposed of the blood-stained cloth. Sensing a slight change in his pupil's demeanor, he placed his hands on the younger man's shoulders. "Now, now, my dear Zoisite, I understand your fury. You will have an opportunity to retrieve the stolen nijizuishou and crush our enemies, but do not allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. That is how you lose."

Zoisite released a defeated sigh, knowing his mentor was correct but abhorred the agony and being outsmarted by his enemies all the same. "You're right. Thank you for tending to my injuries and always being the voice of reason." He laid his head on Kunzite's chest.

Kunzite held the tawny-haired shitennou close. "Not at all. I only want the best for you."

"I always knew that."

* * * * * * * *

A/N: Yes, you read right! Zoisite is under the age of 18. His estimated age is given in the Materials Collection Artbook as 16-17…he is 17 here, though, same age as Koan/Catzi. Anyway, I hope you guys are still enjoying this. Faithful reviewers and silent readers alike, let me know if you like where this story is going so far at your earliest convenience. It adds fuel to my creative juices. Thank you!

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 9

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury