This story is a work of fanfiction.  As such, it owes a great debt to the creators of the
characters used herein: Rumiko Takahashi, creator of Ranma, and Naoko Takeuchi, creator of
Sailor Moon.

     This story is contains scenes of a dark nature and Lime rated material, and thus may not be
suited for younger readers.  Reader discretion is advised.
 
 
 

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Chapter Two: Rainy Days
 

     Setsuna stood absolutely still.
          "Come now, Setsuna," Hotaru purred, running one long nail over her full lower lip.  "You
     came here to ... help me, didn't you?  Don't be shy.  After all, you never have been before."
     "Hotaru, listen to me," Setsuna began, keeping her expression neutral..  Hotaru's face
seemed different; it was subtle, just a shift of expression, a lazy curl of the lips, a languid lidding
of the eyes, but something cruel and hungry lurked behind those delicate features now, something
that exerted a terrible yet compelling allure.  Hotaru took a step closer, as if daring Setsuna to
give ground.
     "I am listening to you," Hotaru whispered.  "I can hear your heart beating ... faster now, but is
that fear or desire?  And I can smell you, the perfume of your hair and skin, and under it all the
sweet scent of blood ..."  A thick tendril of hair snaked out, Medusa-like, and wrapped itself
around Setsuna's wrist, holding but not really binding.  Not yet.  Hotaru took another step, her
smile widening as she came to stand directly in front of the emerald-haired woman, close enough
to touch.
     "I want to taste you," she whispered, trailing her fingers lightly over the side of Setsuna's neck.
Hotaru's eyes were dreamy as Setsuna met them, forcing her own expression to remain cool.
     "Like you did with Usagi?" she asked, ice in her voice.  Hotaru froze, her pupils contracting
abruptly as Setsuna's words hit her like a bucket of cold water.  Hotaru's hand, which had slid
lightly down to Setsuna's shoulder, tightened abruptly into a fist.  The next moment Hotaru was
shoving her away so quickly that Setsuna barely had time to react.  There was incredible strength
behind that push, and Setsuna collided with the low-slung couch before tumbling to the floor
heavily.
     Well, at least it worked, she thought ruefully as she levered herself up.  She was unhurt, but
one of her shoes had lost a heel, and she slipped them both off before rising and tugging her
conservative skirt back into place.  Hotaru was standing as she had been when Setsuna had
arrived, staring out into the now rain-lashed darkness.  Her slim arms were wrapped tightly
around her body, though, and her long hair streamed and rippled with agitation.
     "Get out," she said flatly as Setsuna rose.  "I changed my mind.  I don't want you in here
anymore."  Setsuna padded toward the girl, the floor cool against her bare feet.
     "I said get out!" Hotaru snapped without turning around, her voice raw.  Setsuna stopped but
didn't retreat.
     "I can't do that," she said softly.  Hotaru chuckled, but her voice quavered ever-so-slightly.
     "Oh, do you really desire my dark kisses so much?" she asked maliciously.  Setsuna had to
force herself not to react.
     "It's the hunger that makes you act this way, Hotaru," she said instead.  "It eats at your
control.  I've told you before, the longer you put off feeding, the worse it gets.  You're too far
gone to go drink a little from some besotted swain in a dark club now.  You'll have to drink from
me.  I know you hate it, but drinking will make the hunger go away and restore your control."  A
shudder went through Hotaru's slim frame, and she nodded slightly.
     "I know," she whispered.  "But I'm afraid ..."  Setsuna stepped closer, and even though Hotaru
couldn't see her she stiffened, as if painfully aware of Setsuna's proximity.  Which, in fact, she
probably was.
     "You won't hurt me," Setsuna said softly.  "We've done this before, remember?  Come on, take
my hand."  She reached out, and for a long moment Hotaru didn't react.  An errant gust of wind
slammed, rain-laden, into the side of the house, and Setsuna twitched.  She'd rarely seen the girl
this bad, but she didn't want to show her apprehension.  It was important that Hotaru feel
Setsuna's confidence in her, even if that confidence was in truth strained.
     Finally, Hotaru reached back blindly.  Setsuna grasped the girl's cool hand and tugged with
gentle but insistent force until Hotaru turned.  The hunger was gone from her eyes, banished by
shame, but Setsuna knew it could return without warning.  It was best to be about this quickly.  If
the hunger returned now, she might not be able to bring Hotaru back to her senses before she did
something ... regrettable.
     Silently, she guided Hotaru over to the couch, sitting with careless grace and pulling the girl
after her.  Hotaru slid down beside her, and Setsuna saw her glance almost shyly from under
lowered lashes.  Hotaru's gaze lingered on Setsuna's neck, and a tingle skittered down the
emerald-haired woman's spine with ticklish spider feet.
     Setsuna fancied she saw a flash of disappointment in Hotaru's dark eyes as she released the
other girl's hand and unbuttoned the sleeve of her blouse, rolling it back to expose her wrist
instead.
     "Here," she said softly.  "Drink."  Hotaru took the proffered arm gingerly, the tip of her tongue
darting out to wet her lips.
          "Shouldn't we wait ..." she began tentatively, her gaze locked on the olive-skinned wrist.
     "There's no time," Setsuna murmured.  She could see the hunger trying to re-assert itself,
and knew that waiting might prove disastrous.  "Go on, it will be all right."  Hotaru nodded
quickly, bending over Setsuna's wrist.  Her face was obscured as that long, midnight hair flowed
down like a curtain of silk, brushing against Setsuna's bare arm and coiling in a deliberately
teasing manner.  Setsuna felt the soft brush of parted lips against her wrist, just over the pulse,
and then ...
     She gasped, unable to stop herself.  Twin points of molten ecstasy lanced into her flesh, and
white-hot pleasure coiled up her arm and into her chest as Hotaru gently sucked.  Her body began
to lean towards the other girl as if drawn by a terrible yet irresistible magnetism, her breath
catching in her throat.  The delicious sensations pulsed in time with Hotaru's feeding, and Setsuna
fought the urge to cry out.  Her skin was supersensitized, the slight friction of her clothing or the
sensual caress of Hotaru's hair sending spikes of heat into her core, causing the tension there to
coil all the more tightly.
     It was at moments like this that she could understand what must have driven them, the lost
souls who'd surrendered themselves to the rapture of a vampiric kiss back when the Clans of
Night had been a force in the city.  For the sake of this decadent bliss, they had sold out their
people, their city, and their very souls, submitting to the dark siren call ...
     Which was why Hotaru's careless sneer had offended her so.  It's not like YOU'RE addicted, a
little voice insisted petulantly.  This is for her.  It's her fault, if she wasn't so stubborn it wouldn't
have come to this ...
     Setsuna's eyelids flickered.  She was slumped against Hotaru, the lush perfume of the girl's hair
filling her head with every breath.  Setsuna's heart was racing, her pulse pounding in her ears, and
she tried to focus through the wonderful sensations that were having their way with her body.
     "Hotaru," she mumbled.  The girl didn't reply, and Setsuna swallowed, tried to raise her hand.
Her arm was heavy, so very heavy, but she managed to place her free hand against Hotaru's head
and push weakly.
     "Hotaru," she gasped.  "That's enough.  Hotaru ..."  The girl hesitated for what seemed an
eternity, finally pulling her mouth away from Setsuna's leaden arm with a moist sound.  Setsuna
fell back against the couch, her breathing rapid and her pulse thrumming through her entire body.
Her boiling blood began to cool, but slowly, so slowly, as she lat limp and sated in the aftermath,
barely able to think through a warm haze.
     "Setsuna?"  Hotaru's voice.  Setsuna managed to open her eyes after a brief struggle to find the
girl bending over her, concern stamped on those delicate features.  Of that demanding hunger,
there was now no sign.  "Setsuna, are you all right?"
     "Yes," she mumbled drowsily.  "Just a little dizzy."
     "It's my fault," Hotaru breathed.  "I took too much.  I'm sorry, Setsuna, I got ... carried away.
Are you sure ...?"
     "It'll be all right," Setsuna said, giving the worried girl a comforting smile.  Hotaru grasped her
gently by the shoulders and lowered her to the couch, so that she was lying on her back.
     "Lie still," she instructed firmly.  "I'm going to make you something to drink, something to
restore your strength.  Don't move, all right?"
     Little chance of that, Setsuna thought ruefully as Hotaru hurried from the room.  She lay there,
feeling the tightly coiled tension in the pit of her belly slowly, oh-so-slowly beginning to dissolve.
For just a moment, she wondered what it would be like to give into that feeling completely, to let
Hotaru's hunger carry them both away.  But she banished the thought as soon as it had formed.
     Some thoughts were too dangerous to be permitted, even in the sanctity of her own mind.

***

     The music was heavy on thumping beat and light on anything else, but at least it wasn't loud.
Not yet, anyway; Rei saw that there was a dance floor and bet herself that within an hour the
music would be cranked for an appreciative crowd.
     The club itself was not bad, all things considered.  The bar ran along one wall, lined by
high-backed stools.  The main sitting area was laid out in clusters of cozy booths, so that patrons
had a measure of privacy while still being able to check out the action.  The dance floor, overseen
by a stage and several platforms for club dancers, occupied the side of the room opposite the bar.
     There was a rather large young man, possessed of a bulky physique that stretched his thin
t-shirt to its limits, off to one side of where the short entryway opened up into the club.  He gazed
at them impassively through his dark sunglasses, which Rei thought made him look like an idiot,
then glanced away.  Paying customers weren't his concern, obviously, just troublemakers.
     They walked in, Rei scanning the room.  There was a pretty good crowd already, and she
didn't see any familiar faces.
     "Hi!" a cheerful voice intruded.  "Would you guys like a table?"  The voice was coming from
one of the hostesses, a petite girl with shoulder length blonde hair and a pert smile.  She was
dressed as most of the female staff were, in a sexy, revealing bunny costume that left her
shoulders and arms bare, and her legs as well except for black fishnet hose.  A collar and bow-tie
adorned her neck, with similar cuffs at her wrists and, of course, bunny ears and a tail.
     "Sure," Usagi said before Rei could speak up.  The perky bunny girl smiled and spun, leaving
Usagi and Rei to follow her pert, swaying tail.
     "Hey!" Rei hissed.  "We're not staying, you know!  We're just here to tell her about the vision,
and the red-head.  That's it!"
     "Aw, c'mon, Rei," Usagi chided.  "This place looks fun!"
     "Fun," Rei muttered under her breath as they walked, glancing about surreptitiously.  There
was plenty of action already around the bar, and the tables were almost half full, all with healthy,
beautiful young men and women looking for a partner ... or two or three, or whatever was going.
She was certain Usagi had little if any idea just what sorts of diversions were popular among such
a crowd, and she was determined that was how things should remain.
     They were seated in a plush, high-backed booth big enough for two, and their guide bent over,
giving them a view of her not-inconsiderable cleavage.
     "How's this?" she asked.
     "It's nice," Usagi commented with considerable enthusiasm.  The bunny girl winked at her.
     "They may seem small, but they're big enough for three at least, if you're all friendly.  I can
send somebody over to demonstrate if you'd like ..."  She trailed off suggestively, and Rei jumped
in.
     "We were actually looking for a girl we think works here.  Her name's Minako Aino."  The
blonde pouted.
     "Aw, she gets all the prettiest customers asking for her," she said coquettishly.
     "Then she's here?" Usagi asked, her face lighting up.  The bunny girl, obviously mistaking the
source of Usagi's delight, nodded and winked again.
     "I'll see if she's free," she said, "although she is pretty popular.  If you want to hold her
attention for any length of time, it helps to be ... generous, you know?"  She sauntered off, leaving
Usagi looking puzzled.
     "What did she ..." she began.
     "Never mind," Rei said firmly.  Usagi craned her neck, staring openly at the crowd, who
ranged from fairly conservative to outrageous in dress and demeanor.
     "Hey, what's upstairs?" she wondered aloud.
     "Storerooms," Rei lied promptly, following Usagi's gaze towards the back where wide,
red-carpeted stairs climbed out of sight.  Usagi sat back and sighed, snuggling into her plush seat.
     "It'll be nice to see Minako again," she murmured.  "I hope she's been doing okay."
     "No worries," Rei said flatly.  "That one always lands on her feet."  Her gaze wandered around
the club, cataloguing the goings-on automatically.  Here a busty bunny girl was pouring drinks for
two laughing men, there a crowd of preening young girls competed for the attention of the
bartender, who played them all expertly as he worked.  All sorts of people, all sorts of games.
Strutting peacocks on the make milled around by the bar, seeing and being seen, a constantly
shifting kaleidoscope of revealing clothing and taut flesh.  Rei didn't actually mind that much;
people-watching could be fun, under regular circumstances.
     But these were anything but.  That red-head, the girl from her vision, she hadn't expected to
see her so soon.  And what was she after, anyway?  They could all be in danger, yet maddeningly
Rei knew almost nothing about the nature of the threat.
     It would have helped if Usagi wasn't actually ENJOYING herself.  Even after seeing the girl,
Rei wasn't certain Usagi appreciated just how serious things were.  Or maybe, in typical Usagi
fashion, she just believed that things were going to work out.  Rei glanced at her friend, who was
swaying gently to the insistent beat of the music as she gawked shamelessly, and hoped for her
sake that she was right.  Then she glanced back across the room and caught sight of someone
making their way slowly through the throng.
     "Oh, dear," she said dryly.  "Someone's set a tigress loose amongst the bunnies."  Usagi looked
puzzled until Rei motioned with her head.
     She was dressed differently from the other girls.  Her leotard left legs and shoulders bare, but
instead of being one colour it was done in bright orange with narrow black tiger stripes, that
colour scheme being matched on her thigh-high boots and shoulder-length gloves.  A slim striped
collar with a round bell on it adorned her throat, somehow managing to look sexy instead of silly.
Small triangular cat ears protruded through the top of her lush, thigh-length blonde mane, which
swayed in time with her sinuous gait as she strutted along, stopping to smile or greet people
several times.  As one waitress passed close to her, the blonde's hand strayed low, and the girl
jumped abruptly, turning to glare.  Her outrage seemed mostly feigned to Rei, though, and the
blonde just touched two fingers to her lips and blew the girl a careless kiss.
     "That's her!" Usagi blurted.
     "Yes, that's her, all right," Rei agreed glumly as Usagi began waving.  And she hasn't changed
a bit, she added silently.  Minako caught sight of Usagi's beckoning gesture and came closer,
slowing only as she caught sight of the person doing the waving.
     "Usagi!" she exclaimed.  Usagi jumped to her feet.
     "Minako!  Wow, you look so sexy!"  Minako's shock faded, and she stepped closer to the
other girl.
     "Of course," she said with an insouciant wink, "I always look good.  You haven't forgotten
that already, have you?"  She wrapped her arms around Usagi, and the other girl hugged back
enthusiastically.  Rei watched as Minako's gloved hand began to stray lower, and noisily cleared
her throat.  Minako seemed to notice her for the first time.
     "Oh," she said, "and you're here."
     "Nice to see you, too," Rei replied sourly.  Usagi finally extricated herself from Minako's
embrace and sat, Minako squeezing in beside her.  The booth, cozy for two, was rather intimate
with three people in it.  One of the bunny girls appeared as if by magic, and Minako gave her a
slow smile.
     "A bottle of champagne for my friends," she said sleekly.  The girl rushed off to comply, and
Rei scowled.
     "And just what is the going rate for champagne here, anyway?" she inquired archly.  Minako
favoured her with a smile.
     "It's not the bubbly that's so expensive," she pointed out.  "You pay for the company that helps
you drink it.  But don't worry, Rei, this one's on the house."
     "Yay!" Usagi squealed.  Minako turned to her, the smile warming.
     "Anything for a princess," she said.  Usagi squirmed and glanced at the table.
     "Princess of nothing," she said ruefully.  It may have been intended to be a careless remark, but
it came out rather heavily.  Rei remembered just who it was who'd said that, and apparently
Minako did too.  Her blue eyes narrowed, and some of the ease went out of her face.
     "Has Herself been bothering you?" she asked, a trifle sharply.  Usagi flushed.
     "Oh, no, nothing like that!" she laughed, waving her hands.  "I haven't seen Hotaru, or any of
the others, since we left!"
     "Of course not," Minako said, relaxing a little.  "If they make trouble for you, Detective
Tux-boy makes plenty of trouble for them, right?"
     "That works both ways," Rei reminded her darkly.  "They know about him, too.  He's got as
much to lose as they do."
     "Well, then it's a stalemate," Minako shrugged.  "Everybody leaves everyone else alone, and
there's no problem."  The waitress returned with a tray, setting three fluted glasses and an ice
bucket in the table with a flourish.  Minako thanked her warmly, and poured three glasses half-full
with practised ease.
     "Yum!" Usagi said.  "Thanks, Minako!"
     "We didn't come her for this, Usagi," Rei reminded her friend, ignoring her own glass.
"Remember?"
     "What's the matter?" Minako asked.  "Too good to have a drink with me, Lady Rei?"  Her
tone remained light, but there was a hard edge to her gaze, and Rei felt her own hackles rising
slightly in response.
     "Come on, Rei," Usagi pleaded.  "Don't fight.  We can have a drink, now that we're here."
     "Yeah," Minako agreed.  "Loosen up.  Having a little fun isn't a crime, you know."  She
propped one elbow on the table and cocked her hand gracefully, resting her chin on her wrist and
gazing up at Usagi with an expression that had probably emptied hundreds of wallets at this very
table.
     "So, Usagi," she murmured.  "How's life with that hunk of man, huh?"
     "Mamo-chan's been great," Usagi gushed as Rei sighed and took a drink.  The champagne was
passable, but certainly not anything special.
     "And how's life under the covers?" Minako asked, eyes sparkling with mischief.  Usagi blushed
fiercely.
     "Minako!" she blurted, hiding behind her glass.
          "Oh, come on," Minako crooned.  "You can tell me."  Usagi took a drink, her eyes averted.
     "Who says we're even ... doing anything?" she mumbled.
     "If you're not, it's a waste of a great opportunity," Minako chided, wagging her finger in
admonishment.  Usagi squirmed.
     "I ... we ... that is ..."
     "If you're shy, I can give you some pointers," Minako purred.  "I know a few tricks that would
have him eating out of the palm of your hand, sweetheart."  Usagi glanced up at the other girl
from under lowered lashes.
     "That's not ... um, like what?" Usagi asked cautiously.
     "Usagi!" Rei snapped.
     "What is so important that we can't have a little girl talk, huh?"   Minako asked, shifting her
gaze to Rei with no small measure of irritation.
     "Minako," Usagi said before Rei could reply, "Rei had a vision.  About us."  Minako raised her
eyebrows.
     "Really?" she asked languidly.  "Let me guess.  We were all naked and covered with oil,
locked in a carnal embrace on scented silk sheets?"
     "In your dreams," Rei growled.  Minako smiled at her playfully.
     "As a matter of fact, yes," she replied.  "Although you were
on the bottom, tied up and kissing my boots ..."
     "Minako, you're so terrible!" Usagi exclaimed in a delightedly scandalized tone.  "And still
such a tease!"
     "It's only teasing," Minako told her with a lascivious smile, "if I don't intend to follow
through."
     "The vision," Rei said, trying to hold her temper in check, "was of danger.  I think it may
threaten all of us who were once members of the White Moon Court."
     "What kind of danger?" Minako asked, sipping her champagne.
     "I don't know, specifically," Rei admitted with a scowl.  "But ..."
     "There was a girl in Rei's vision," Usagi broke in.  "And today, we actually saw her."
     "A girl?" Minako asked, cocking her head and making a thoughtful sound.  "Was she pretty?"
     "Well, actually, yes ..." Usagi began.
     "The point is, she's related to whatever's going on," Rei growled.  "We ran into her today, but
lost her when a wraith attacked."  Minako nodded.
     "Well, describe her to me, so I'll know if she shows up," she said.
     "Um, let's see," Usagi muttered, frowning in thought.  "She had red hair, worn in a braid, blue
eyes ..."
     "Was she built?" Minako asked impishly.
     "Well, actually, yes ..." Usagi said again.  Rei slapped her palm against the table.
     "This isn't a dating service, you idiot!" she snapped, her patience exhausted.  "We're trying to
warn you about danger!"
     "Well, pardon me," Minako sniffed, tossing her hair over her shoulder and taking a sip of
champagne.  "But have you looked around you lately?  This city is full of danger, Rei!  It might
help if you could be a little more specific!"
     "I knew this would be a waste of time," Rei said flatly, placing her hands flat against the table
and starting to stand.
     "Guys, come on!" Usagi said, her mouth set in a stubborn line.  "We shouldn't be fighting
amongst ourselves.  We should stick together in the face of danger, just like old times.  Okay?"
Rei was tempted to say something sarcastic about old times, but Usagi took her hand and
Minako's, and brought them together in front of her.
     "Please?" she added, her eyes wide and brimming with
innocence.  Minako sighed deeply, and Rei nodded, albeit reluctantly.  For Usagi's sake, she'd try
to get along.  Usagi smiled beatifically.
     "Great!" Usagi beamed.  "Now, Rei, you start from the beginning ..."

***

     The big bruiser inside the door moved over in front of me before I took three steps inside.  I
suppose, in his professional opinion, a slightly bedraggled red-head in damp boy's clothing didn't
exactly scream high-class customer.  Imagine that.  Anyway, with his bulk blocking my way, I had
no choice but to stop.
     Well, actually, I did have another choice; I could have executed any of a number of disabling
attacks.  That option wouldn't do wonders for my plan of keeping a low profile, though.  I opted
to try the cute, winsome look.
     "Hi," I said, trying to sound breathless in the presence of such a big, tough man.  He gazed
down at me expressionlessly through dark glasses.
     I hate people who wear sunglasses indoors.
     "I think maybe you made a wrong turn somewhere," he rumbled, crossing his arms over his
chest.  I assume he was trying to appear intimidating, but all I could think was that his stance was
all wrong, and one good shot would send him on his ass.  Or his face; same difference.
     "Oh, no," I said, making my eyes as wide and innocent as I could.  "I'm looking for someone."
     "Oh yeah?" he asked, managing not to sound very interested.  I nodded.
     "I'm supposed to be meeting her here, so I was hoping I could just go look for her," I said, my
voice so sweet it made me want to retch.  I didn't want to drag this out; if we started attracting
attention, those girls might spot me.
     "I don't think so," Mr. Muscle said flatly, starting to move towards me.
     "Ah, there you are," a husky voice interrupted.  "You're late.  And you know how I hate to be
kept waiting."  The bouncer and I both turned to the woman who had spoken, and I doubt I was
any less surprised than he was.
     The speaker turned her dark eyes on the bouncer, lush lips curling into a distracted frown.
     "I trust there isn't a problem?" she asked in a tone that suggested there had damned well better
not be one.  He seemed taken aback.  This woman was everything I was not.  Her high
cheekbones and slightly tilted eyes lent her a cool hauteur, and everything from the way she wore
her expensive looking clothes to the way she held herself suggested a woman accustomed to
getting what she wanted.
     She looked very much at home here.
     "This girl is with you?" the bouncer asked, unable to keep incredulity out of his voice.  The
woman turned her full attention on him, a palpable chill emanating from her as she skewered him
with eyes dark as a starless night.
     "You find that strange?" she asked, and I nearly flinched.  Her voice was so coldly controlled
that it cut, and the unfortunate bouncer was taking the brunt of it.
     "Of course not," he mumbled, holding his hands out in a placating gesture.  "I just wasn't
expecting ..."
     "I wasn't aware I was expected to inform the help of the details of my social life," she
continued icily.  "Didn't my friend just tell you she was meeting me here?"
     "Well, she ... I mean ..."  He stumbled to a stop, glancing over at me.  I flashed him a winning
smile, enjoying the sudden turnabout.  He sure as hell wasn't getting any help from me.
     "I'm terribly sorry," he finished lamely.  She lifted her chin, a tiny gesture that conveyed with
devastating effect just how inadequate she found his words.
     "I rather think you should be apologizing to my friend," she said, her gaze narrowing slightly.
He nodded, tiny beads of sweat breaking out at his hairline.
     "Of course," he said quickly, then turned to me and stammered an apology.  I studied my
fingernails closely.
     "Well, just as long as it doesn't happen again," I sniffed.
     "We have wasted enough time here," the alluring beauty said to me, dismissing the sweating
bouncer with a glance.  "Come."  With one last glance at the thoroughly discomfited hulk, she
took my hand in hers.  Her slim fingers were cool and strong, long nails tracing lightly over my
skin as she pulled me along with her.  I walked in the wake of her perfume, which was subtle but
heady, a faint spicy musk that suited her perfectly.
     There was something about this woman, a dark mystique that swirled around her like a cloak
of wanton sensuality kept barely in check.  Enraptured, I followed her as if it were only natural.  It
was only when we stopped by the bar that I realized with a start that she was still holding my
hand.
     "Um, thanks," I said with a rueful grin.  She smiled back at me, and just that easily I felt a rush
of heat across my chest.  Her gaze, her smile, the way she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes
just slightly; it was like she could intoxicate every sense with just the force of her personality.  The
feeling was unsettling, but pleasant at the same time.
     "Not at all," she replied.  "This place is overrun with the usual assortment of pretty playthings
and poseurs.  You look like someone ... interesting."  Then she raised my hand, still held lightly in
her own, and before I realized what she was doing she kissed the back of it.
     I'd seen this sort of thing in movies, but nobody had ever done it to me.  Her lips brushed
against the skin just below my knuckles and lingered there, parting slightly and almost seeming to
cling, before pulling slowly away.  A hot tingle shot up my arm and into my chest, causing my
heart to race insanely as my mouth went dry.  The whole thing should have seemed faintly
ridiculous, but she pulled it off with such casual flair that it seemed like an entirely natural way to
greet a complete stranger.
     Her deep, dark eyes never left mine the entire time.
     "Saekianna der Kae," she murmured, and it took me a moment to realize that she was offering
her name.
     "Ranko.  Uh, Saotome," I replied through a sandpapery mouth, my throat clicking as I
swallowed.  She released my hand, her fingers trailing over mine as she did so.
     "Charmed," she said, and seemed to mean it.  She turned slightly and snapped her fingers,
summoning a bartender.  That imperious gesture also seemed to fit her.
     While she was murmuring her order to the besotted bartender, I surreptitiously looked her
over.  Her thick white hair was parted in the middle, neatly framing her face as it curved down
sleekly to her collarbone on either side.  In the back her hair hung in thick, soft waves, tapering to
a point just below her knees.
     Her outfit consisted of black pants and a brief shimmery top that hugged her full curves but
revealed plenty of taut flesh both from the tops of her breasts to her throat and from the bottom of
her ribs to her slim silver belt.  Over that she wore a loose jacket of some silky white material that
flowed down to mid-thigh.  Her long earrings and the bracelet on one wrist were silver, as was the
slim ring on her left hand.
     No doubt about it, she was a stunningly beautiful woman.
     "So," she said with a slow smile, "what brings you here, Ranko?"  I blinked.
     Damn!  I'd been so ... distracted, I'd actually forgotten why I'd come here in the first place!
     "Oh, I was, um, looking for someone," I said, trying to hide my embarrassment as the
bartender returned with two delicate wine glasses.
     "That's hardly uncommon in this neighbourhood," Saekianna pointed out, handing me a glass.
Our fingers brushed as I took it, and I felt myself blush.
     What the hell's the matter with you? I wondered.  You're acting like some idiotic schoolboy!  I
ducked my head, avoiding her disconcertingly direct gaze as I tried to control the weird trembling
sensation in my chest.
     It had been quite some time since a woman had given me this sort of trouble.
     I glanced around, trying to appear casual as I searched for some sign of the girls I'd been
following.
     "I meant someone specific," I muttered, cradling the drink in my hand absently.
     "Ah," she replied.  "And is this meeting business or ... pleasure?"  She managed to make the
mere word itself sound wanton and wild.
     "Sort of business," I admitted, taking a small drink.  It would have been rude not to, after all.
The wine was dark and sweet, its taste lingering on my tongue.  I knew nothing about wine, but I
was willing to bet that this particular vintage was a high quality one, and probably expensive.
     "Well, then.  Perhaps when you've completed this ..."  Her voice trailed off abruptly, and if I
hadn't been looking at her in that moment I might have missed it.  Her eyes had swept across the
room as she'd turned to retrieve her glass from the bar, and as I watched she froze, her eyes
widening slightly, nostrils flaring with a sharp intake of breath.
     A moment later it was as if nothing had happened, and she continued talking smoothly, but I
knew what I'd seen.  I glanced in the direction she'd been looking to see what had startled her that
way.
     And felt my stomach drop through the floor.
          The shifting crowd had parted, and there across the floor I could see three women at a
small
booth, heads together as they conversed.  Two of them I recognized as the two I'd followed here.
     Could Saekianna actually know one of those girls?  I tried  to act casual and wondered if
that would be a stroke of good luck or bad.  Definitely bad, if she decided to call them over.  But
her reaction had been strange, not like someone seeing a friend unexpectedly....
     "... place I know," Saekianna was saying.  I started, realizing I hadn't been listening at all.
     "Um," I improvised.  Those bottomless eyes had me in their sights, missing nothing.
     "You weren't listening," she said, cocking her head.  "Did you see the people you were
expecting?"
     "No," I lied, trying to look at her and watch those girls at the same time.  "I mean ... say, are
you all right?"
     Her eyes had become almost unfocussed for a moment, and her stance had changed subtly.
That languid grace was gone; there was a readiness now that tickled my own combat-honed
instincts.
     "Something's wrong," she breathed, rubbing her ring idly with her thumb.  I glanced around
quickly.  Nothing seemed out of order, but ...
     That girl, the one named Rei.  She was sitting up straight in the booth now, a frown on her
face.  She wasn't looking at us, but something had definitely caught her attention.
     "Ranko," Saekianna said, her voice low and urgent.  "Time to leave here.  And avoid deep
shadows."  I opened my mouth to ask her what was going on.
     And nearby, somebody screamed.
     It was just turning into that kind of a day.

***

     It tickled at the edge of her spiritual sense, faint but insistent, and growing stronger.
     "Rei?" Usagi asked as she broke off in mid-sentence.  "What is it?"
     "I'm not sure," she said softly, trying to pin down the sensation.  It was maddeningly elusive,
but familiar too.  Almost like ...
     "Damn," she breathed.  "We've got to find someplace to change, now!"  Before they could
move, though, a scream tore through the club, shattering the pleasant atmosphere in an instant.
An unearthly shriek followed, and tables were overturned as a general panic quickly ensued.
People started running in every direction at once as the three girls bolted to their feet.
     "What the hell's going on?" Minako demanded, trying to see through the sudden crush.
     "Wraiths," Rei said shortly.  And even as they watched, a sleek form emerged from the gloom
of one intimate corner, arrowing at the startled doorman with a gleeful shriek.  He stumbled back
under the force of its charge and was lost to view.
     "This way, come on!" Minako cried, pushing forward into the panicked crowd.  Rei and Usagi
tried to stay close behind her, but the crowd surged and they were quickly separated.  Rei reached
out to grab Usagi's hand, but the blonde turned her head and ducked away at the last minute.
Digging in her heels, Rei pushed through the press into a clear area and quickly saw why Usagi
had stopped.  One of the waitresses had fallen and was cowering on the floor as a wraith
advanced on her, hunger gleaming in its fiery red eyes.  Usagi grabbed the terrified girl and tried
to pull her up, but Rei could see that she wouldn't be in time.
     "Usagi, look out!" she cried, hand plunging into her pocket in search of her henshin rod.  She'd
transform right here without a thought if it meant saving Usagi, but as her fingers groped
frantically, finally closing around the cool cylinder, she realized even that might not be enough to
save her princess.  Time seemed to slow down for her, the moments drawn out as in a nightmare:
Usagi was pulling at the unresponsive girl, trying to drag her back as the wraith lunged forward,
glittering black talons gleaming wickedly at the ends of extended fingers.  Rei got a grip on her
henshin rod and felt the power of her transformation surging, ready to be released.
     Then the wraith stumbled back, shock and confusion warring on its face.  Rei saw it claw
feebly at its chest and she ran the rest of the way to Usagi's side, but when she arrived what she
saw hit her like a sledgehammer of ice, freezing her heart and making her knees want to buckle.
     "Tuxedo Ma ..." Usagi blurted happily, breaking off in mid-word as her eyes widened with
shock.  The wraith collapsed to the floor, fatally stricken by the enchanted rose protruding from
its chest.
     The petals of the rose were black as night.
     Numbly, Rei cast her gaze back to where the rose must have been thrown from, and there she
was, arm still outstretched, eyes narrowed.  Her gaze met Rei's and it was as if that allowed a bolt
of wild heat to arc between them, lingering in the air like a summer storm.  Those eyes danced
with dark humour, and the platinum-haired woman flashed a sultry smile that crossed not just the
room, but years as well.  For a moment, Rei could actually smell smoke, hear steel ringing shrilly
and voices
     (How about a kiss for luck, Sister Dark?)
     raised in impotent anger all around her.
     Then she snapped back to the present as the woman vanished into the crowd like a phantom.
A thrill of adrenaline shot from the pit of her belly up through her throat, and she tried to shake it
off, turning to Usagi.
     Those blue eyes were staring at the spot where their benefactor had vanished, and when they
shifted to meet her own eyes it was all Rei could do not to flinch.
     "Rei," she said, sounding bereft and confused.  "Did you see ...?"
     "Not now," Rei snapped, hauling the whimpering waitress to her feet.  They were still in the
clear for the moment, but that wouldn't last long.  She could hear the wraiths shrill cries nearby,
raised in anger.  They needed to find someplace private to transform so they could deal with this
threat quickly.
     "This way!" someone hollered.  Rei saw the bouncer, shirt torn away from one shoulder and
blood streaming from deep lacerations in his flesh.  He'd lost his shades somewhere, and his eyes
were wild.  He scooped the nearly catatonic waitress up with his good arm and pointed towards
the back stairs.
     "Let's get out of here," he panted, "while they're still busy with her!"
     Her?  As they ran, Rei looked over her shoulder.  The far doorway was choked with people,
but despite the abundance of prey there the wraiths were swarming around the bar.  She caught a
flash of red, then a dazzling lance of blue light smashed through three wraiths at once, reducing
them to dust.  That gave her a clear glimpse of the focus of the wraith's anger, and she grabbed
Usagi's shoulder.
     "Usagi!" she hissed.  "That's ..."
     "It's her!" Usagi gasped.
     Indeed it was.  The red-headed girl from earlier was here, once again in the middle of things.
The fight in the street had been impressive enough, but this battle had gone to a higher level.  The
girl slid, tumbled, and danced through the swarming wraiths, unleashing attack after attack while
avoiding being hit herself.  It was almost mesmerizing, the delicate but deadly ballet she executed
with her lethal foes.  Every move flowed into the next without hesitation, the momentum from a
punch being used to carry her just beyond the reach of a slash from the side, then grabbing that
outstretched arm and flinging the off-balance wraith into another, ducking under the tangle to
slam a third back into a post.
     Several of the creatures ducked in and out of shadow, trying to catch the girl unawares, but
she somehow managed to stay one step ahead of them.  That couldn't last, Rei thought grimly;
one misstep and they would have her.  But the wraiths seemed to be concentrating on the girl
now, determined to eradicate the only active threat before feasting.
     They were nearly to the stairs now, and Rei began casting about for a nice dark corner to duck
into.  First they'd take care of the wraiths, then finally she'd be able to put some pressing questions
to the mysterious red-head ... always assuming the girl managed to live that long, of course.
     Just as they were about to reach the carpeted stairs, however, the thinning crowd there was
parted by a blur that bounded down past them and out into the now virtually deserted club.  Rei
had the impression of black leather and blonde hair rushing by her, and as she reached the bottom
of the stairs she saw the remaining bunny-girl waitresses gazing past her in rapt adoration.
     "It's her!" one of them cried, halting her panicked flight.  "She came!"
     "Mistress V!" another one shouted, jumping up and down.  "All right!"
     Rei froze.  Mistress ... V?  No.  No way.
     She turned, torn between the need to find cover and the urge to see what was going on.  Usagi
stopped beside her, a stunned expression on her face.
     Mistress V stood in the middle of the floor, head down.  Her outfit, what there was of it,
consisted of softly gleaming black leather, from her thigh-hugging stiletto-heeled boots to her
shoulder length gloves.  Her lush curves were barely contained by a matching bodysuit that was
cut high over the thighs and low in the middle, plunging below her navel and leaving basically two
narrowing strips of leather to contain her from the waist up to where they fastened onto her
studded leather collar, just below the sliver tether ring.  The narrow wedge of creamy flesh visible
from narrow belly-button to slim collarbone was cris-crossed by tight lacings.
     Topping it off was a black officer's cap with a death's head insignia just above the shiny brim.
A mane of blonde hair spilled out from under this cap to flow past the goddess's shapely hips.
     Mistress V paused a moment, as if aware that all remaining eyes were suddenly locked on her,
then she reached up with one gloved forefinger and pushed the brim of her cap back to reveal
blazing blue eyes, narrowed with righteous anger.
     "This is a haven of pleasure," she murmured into the shocked silence, her voice a throaty purr.
"But for you foul spawn, it's about to become a nightmare of pain ..."
     "That's not ..." Usagi whispered, her voice a mixture of awe-struck and appalled.
     "Afraid it is," Rei groaned.
     As several of the waitresses huddling in the uncertain shelter of the stairway sighed
ecstatically, Mistress V approached the milling wraiths.  A few of them had backed away from the
red-headed dervish to assess this new threat, and two flew at her together, talons extended.  The
blonde smiled, a lazy, arrogant curve of her lips, and extended her forefinger again, this time
pointing it at the oncoming wraiths.  A beam of brilliant golden light lanced out, catching the first
one squarely and reducing it to dust before it could scream.  The second veered off, but fared no
better than its partner.
     The others were in disarray now, unable to decide which threat was greater.  The red-head
took advantage of the sudden confusion to take out two wraiths in quick succession, and when a
handful of them tried to swarm Mistress V, she blew a kiss that turned into a storm of golden
hearts, decimating the attackers easily.
     There were only a few wraiths left now, the momentum of their surprise attack broken, and the
far door was finally clear of panicked clubgoers.  Rei lurked at the bottom of the stairs and
watched the remaining wraiths succumb to the ferocious attacks of the two girls or flee into the
shadows.  It looked as though she and Usagi wouldn't need to transform after all.
     The red-head somersaulted over the bar, which had sustained some pretty serious damage,
along with the lights above it, and moved out onto the floor, casting about for stragglers.  She
hadn't seen Rei yet, and the fiery senshi wondered what would happen when she did.  Mistress V,
meanwhile, began striding across the debris-littered floor, pausing to blow a kiss to her adoring
fans.
     She never saw the enraged wraith that arrowed out of the gloom behind her.
     "Look out!" Usagi shouted, and Rei felt her throat tighten.  The blonde started to turn, but
she'd been caught off-guard.  The wraith screeched triumphantly as it flew at the girl's vulnerable
back.
     Later, Rei would run things over in her mind again and again, hardly able to believe that
anyone could move so fast.  The red-head was nearly a blur, crossing the floor before V could
turn and managing to knock her aside just in time.  Unfortunately, that left her in the wraith's path,
and although she managed to avoid its talons she didn't have time to dodge the creature itself, and
the two collided heavily.  Entangled, they continued on across the floor, but just when Rei was
certain they would crash into the far wall they disappeared into the deep shadow like swimmers
diving into a pond.
     When they didn't reappear after several seconds, some of the waitresses rushed out into the
club proper.  Mistress V had regained her feet and was staring at the spot where the two had
vanished, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  She had a smile, though, for the girls who clustered
around her.
     "Come on, now, darlings," she murmured as they peppered her with questions.  "It might not
be safe here.  Go upstairs, all right?  I need to make sure there aren't any more of these things
around."  As she said that, her gaze slid past Rei and she gestured almost imperceptibly with her
head.  Rei got the message and turned to Usagi.
     "Come on," she whispered.  Usagi looked at her.
     "Where?" she asked.
     "Outside," Rei replied tersely.  "I'm not losing that girl again."

***

     It was wild.  One minute I was rushing at a wall, courtesy of a severely unhappy wraith, and
the next everything went black.  I held on for dear life, not wanting to find out what would
happen to me if I dropped off inside of the shadows.
     Then there was light again, and I could see.
     I could see, for instance, that we were outside.  And rocketing high up into the air.  And that
my ride was glaring at me from inches away, looking very pissed off.  Its red lips parted and I had
a much closer look than I wanted at its fangs.
     I didn't know if it was going to bite or let loose with one of those shattering screams, and
hanging around to find out seemed like a very bad idea.  I caught a quick upside-down glimpse of
what looked like a canal underneath us, and hoped that the heavy rains had raised the water level
high enough for what I had in mind.
     Releasing my grip, I brought my knees up to my chest and planted my feet in the wraith's
chest, pushing away with a violent double kick.  The wraith was driven back, and I summoned up
my chi, firing a blast straight up before it could recover.
     I didn't have time to admire my handiwork, though.  I twisted in the air, hoping I hadn't
misjudged my trajectory.
     I hadn't.  That was the good news.
     The bad news was that I was pretty high up, and the black water looked to be plenty turbulent
as I fell towards it.
     I braced for impact and hoped for the best.
     Hey, the way I looked at it I was due for a little good luck.

***

     They met V on the street outside the club, and from the look on her face the news wasn't
good.
     "Did you find her?" Mars asked.
     "Not exactly," the sultry blonde said, tugging lightly at the brim of her cap.  "Some bystanders
saw them flying through the air over that way, then the girl jumped or was pushed.  Either way,
she fell from a fair ways up.  She got the wraith as she was falling, though."
     "We'd better go have a look," Mars said, eyeing the sky.  It looked like the storm had resumed
over part of the city already, and was sweeping towards them.  Together, the three set off in the
direction where the girl and the wraith had last been seen.
     "I hope she's all right," V murmured as they trotted down the street.
     "I'm not sure I do," Mars replied, giving the blonde a sidelong glance.
     "What are you talking about, Mars?" V shot back.
     "Didn't you recognize her from our description?" Sailor Moon asked.  "She's the one we saw
earlier, the girl from Rei's vision!"
     "Her?" V asked in disbelief.  "The great and mysterious moon-detonating threat?  Come on,
guys.  There's no way that girl is out to get us.  I mean, she saved my ass back there!"
     "Speaking of your ass ..." Mars muttered darkly.
     "Spectacular, isn't it?" V grinned.  Mars glanced down at the other girl's posterior, tight round
cheeks framed by high-cut leather.
     "It would be exceedingly easy to judge," the dark-haired senshi remarked, "since we can see
practically all of it."
     "What happened to your sailor fuku, anyway?" Sailor Moon asked.
     "Yes," Mars said.  "Do tell us, won't you ... Mistress V?"
     "Oh, Artemis did it," V said airily.
     "Artemis?" the other two blurted in unison.
     "He says there are actually four costume templates in these henshin rods," V smirked.  "The
fuku is only one, so I had him make me up some extras.  After everything that happened, I wanted
to get away from the sailor image, you know, establish a new identity for myself.  It helps strike
fear into the hearts of evildoers."
     "If I were to guess just what feeling that outfit strikes into the hearts of evildoers," Mars said
dryly, "fear wouldn't be my first pick."
     "Anyway," V said, dismissing the snide remark with a sniff, "I look fabulous in it, and that's
what counts."  Judging by the looks they received from the crowd as they slipped past and turned
down a side street, that fact was not in dispute.
     "Somewhere around here, I guess," V said, slowing to a walk.  "I don't see any crowds of
gawkers, so we can probably assume she didn't go splat."
     "Is that a canal?" Sailor Moon asked.  "Maybe she fell in there."
     "Be careful," Mars said as the other girl started forward.  "She might be anywhere around
here."
     "What is it exactly about this girl, anyway?" V demanded as they moved towards the rusted
chain link fence that lined the canal.  "I mean, she was fighting against the wraiths, right?"
     "They do seem to show up wherever she does, though," Mars pointed out.  "And as for
exactly what she's after, I was hoping to ask her in person."
     A quick look into the canal made that prospect seem unlikely, however.  The torrential rains of
the previous days had swollen the drainage canal, with runoff churning its way through the
concrete channel on its way to the bay.  If the girl had fallen in there, she was long gone, and quite
possibly injured or even dead.
     Mars didn't think that was the case, though.  It didn't feel right somehow.
     "Look," V said at last.  "There's no sign of her anywhere, and the rain is going to start any
minute.  Let's head back and think about what we're going to do next, okay?"
     Mars considered arguing the point, but another glance over her shoulder convinced her that
there would be little point.  Much as she hated to admit it, V was right.  There was no sign of the
girl here, and she had no idea of where to look.  There were literally hundreds of places nearby
where she could have gone to ground if she'd survived the fall.
     As they started back, though, Mars turned the events of the day over in her mind.  The girl
from her vision had found them, not once but twice, and both times wraiths had shown up as well.
Whatever the truth was, whatever the mysterious girl's true intentions, Mars didn't think they had
to worry about finding her.
     If the girl was still alive, it seemed likely that they'd be seeing her again.

***

     Haruka stretched as she shucked her outerwear, hanging her coat in the closet.  It had been a
long day, and mostly a fruitless one.  They hadn't found anything that seemed even remotely
useful; of course, that could easily be explained by the fact that they really didn't know what they
were looking for, and likely wouldn't until they found it.
     Michiru was walking ahead of her, and Haruka took a moment to admire the elegant girl's legs
as they rustled the long, flowing skirt she wore.  There were moments when she would just catch
a glimpse of Michiru and think, just out of the blue, "That girl loves me."  The feeling she got at
moments like that was indescribable; it dwarfed everything.
     Like now.
     Michiru glanced back and caught her staring.  A sly smile crept stealthily to the green-haired
girl's lips, transforming her cool, beautiful visage with that playful expression so few people were
privileged to see.
     "Is there something on my backside?" she asked archly.
     "Not yet," Haruka said with a lopsided grin.  "I was just thinking what would look good
there."
     "Oh?" Michiru said, eyes dancing with mischief.  "And what did you conclude?  Silk?
Leather?  Spandex?"
     "Actually, I was thinking my hand would look perfect."
     "My," Michiru said softly.  "Do I look like that sort of girl
to you?"
     "Not at all," Haruka replied.  "But past experience has shown me that, given the proper
stimuli, you can be convinced to abandon your facade of refined elegance for a cloak of
devastatingly uninhibited sensuality."
     "Oh dear," Michiru murmured.  "My secret is out.  But what stimuli could possibly provoke
such a reaction in such a proper lady as myself?"
     "Past experience," Haruka said softly, "suggests that a good place to start is with my hand on
your ... backside."
     "Backside," Michiru whispered as the taller girl came to stand behind her, close enough to
touch but not bridging the distance quite yet.  "And here I thought you were going to grope my
ass."
     "Michiru," Haruka said, unable to keep the smile off her face.  "I do believe that there are
people who will go to their graves utterly convinced that you would never utter such a vulgar
term as `ass'."
     "Oh, I know quite a few words of similar vintage," her partner replied.  Haruka was close
enough to feel the heat of Michiru's body, and to smell the perfume of her hair.  She longed to
run her fingers through those soft waves, but held back.  Soon ...
     "Do you indeed?" Haruka asked instead.  "And how would I go about hearing these words?"
     "First," Michiru breathed, her eyes lidded, "you would need to convince me to abandon my
facade of refined elegance."
     Haruka made a rumbling noise deep in her throat, her mouth near Michiru's ear.  The smaller
girl shuddered lightly, the corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly.
     "Are you certain that simply tearing your clothes off with my teeth wouldn't suffice?" Haruka
breathed.
     "Well," Michiru whispered back.  "There's only one way to find out for certain ..."
     The sound of a closing door broke the spell rudely.  The two moved apart, listening as
footsteps approached.
     "Hotarus interruptus," Michiru sighed under her breath.  Haruka was tempted to snicker at the
irritation in her partner's voice, but that temptation vanished as Hotaru appeared in the hallway.
     Hotaru froze as she turned and saw them standing there, and Haruka fancied she saw guilt
flash through those eyes briefly.  The expression was gone as quickly as it had appeared, though,
replaced by Hotaru's usual aloof expression.
     "You're back," Hotaru said unnecessarily.  Haruka stared at the other girl, taking in the floor
length black hair and the steaming mug in a glance.
     "Setsuna?" she asked.  Hotaru nodded stiffly.
     "She's in my study," she replied.  Michiru stepped forward and took the mug before Hotaru
could object, then disappeared down the hall, leaving Hotaru and Haruka alone.  Haruka just
stared at Hotaru for a time, until the silence became heavy, awkward.
     "You shouldn't have done it," the tall blonde said at last, striving to keep her anger under
control.  "Not without us here."  Hotaru turned and began walking towards her study, and Haruka
fell in beside her.
     "I thought I could hold out longer," Hotaru said softly.  "I didn't intend to ... to feed tonight.
But the storm ..."
     She broke off, stealing a glance at Haruka.  The lanky blonde didn't know what Hotaru was
looking for in her face, but she kept her expression stony, and the other girl finally looked away.
     "Nights like this, it's harder," Hotaru continued at last.  "The dark, the fury of the storm, they
call to me.  The hunger worsened suddenly ..."
     "If you'd lost control, there would have been nobody here to stop you," Haruka said, her voice
harsh.  She was angry with Hotaru, but her anger was also directed at herself.  She should have
seen this coming, but Hotaru had seemed so much in control just that morning.  Had she become
that good at hiding the hunger, even from them?
     "I wouldn't hurt Setsuna," Hotaru said tersely, avoiding Haruka's gaze.
     "The hunger makes you do things you normally wouldn't do, remember?" Haruka shot back.
     "I'm hardly likely to forget, since everyone seems so intent on reminding me!" Hotaru snapped,
eyes narrowed.  "But if anything should happen, you and Michiru would be there to take care of
matters, wouldn't you?"
     "That's right," Haruka said evenly, grasping the other girl's arm and turning her abruptly.
"That was the deal.  We can't afford to have the power of Saturn in the hands of a rogue
vampire."
     "Well, sorry to disappoint you," Hotaru hissed, "but you don't get to kill me today!"  With that
she yanked her arm free and spun on her heel, long cloak of hair rippling with the motion.  Haruka
watched her stalk furiously down the hallway, resisting the urge to go after her.  It was obvious
that Hotaru was in no mood to talk about this; that last remark had revealed an uncharacteristic
flash of temper mixed with self-pity.  Nothing would be gained by pushing now; it would be best
to wait until she cooled off a bit.
     Or a lot.
     Instead, Haruka continued on to the study to find Setsuna sitting on one of the couches,
sipping her tea as Michiru stood quietly  nearby.  The olive-skinned woman didn't appear to be
any the worse for wear, but there was a look in her eyes that Haruka didn't like at all.  She
glanced at Michiru and got a small head-shake in response.  Somehow, she knew that gesture
meant "not now, we'll have that discussion with her later".
     It wasn't at all odd to her that Michiru could communicate so much to her with just a gesture;
it always seemed strange to her that other people couldn't do the same.
     Her temper wouldn't help things now, so she took it firmly in hand as she closed the door and
leaned against it, crossing her arms.
     "You," she sighed.  "Her I can understand, but you ... you really should have known better."
     "She was too far gone," Setsuna replied, staring distantly at a point somewhere on the far wall.
"I had to act quickly."
     "Damn it, Setsuna," Haruka said, scowling.  "If she was so far gone, that's all the more reason
not to let her feed on you with no supervision!"
     "Haruka," Setsuna said, raising her gaze until their eyes met.  "I had no choice.  What if she'd
given in to it, gone running off somewhere?  If she were to attack a normal person in that state,
she could very well kill them.  And if that happened, I'm afraid that we'd lose her forever."
     Haruka pinched the bridge of her nose and fought the urge to shout.  Setsuna had a point, after
all.  But still ...
     "She never used to have to feed this often," the tall blonde said darkly.  "Is she getting worse?"
     "It's not a disease, Haruka," Setsuna said with a wan smile.  "There are a number of different
factors that affect her hunger, some that we know of and others that remain a mystery.  Hotaru is
unique, after all.  I've never heard of a similar case anywhere."
     "So we really don't know what to expect," Michiru broke in.
     "I know one thing," Setsuna replied, leaning her head back and stretching languorously.  "We
are the only family she has.  We have to support her, help her walk this tightrope."
     "We will, Setsuna.  You know we will," Haruka said, walking over to the couch and crouching
down.  "But we all agreed to this.  If she should ever turn completely, we would have to stop
her."
     "You mean kill her," Setsuna said bleakly.
     "Quite likely," Haruka agreed softly.  "In the end, she's our responsibility.  We're the only ones
who would have a chance of stopping her.  It's harsh, but it is the only way."
     "And how do you think she feels, knowing that we're ready to kill her if she slips up?" Setsuna
asked, opening her eyes and meeting Haruka's gaze once more.
     "Look, I know it's hard for her," Haruka said.  "But she carries this with her every day, and she
has to learn how to keep it leashed.  We're here to help her with that, first and foremost.  I would
hope she knows she can count on us."
     "And if she fails?" Setsuna prodded.  Haruka stood up and walked over to the balcony doors,
staring out into the falling rain.
     "Setsuna," she murmured, "believe me when I tell you that I hope it never comes to that.  I
don't want to have to make that choice."
     But she would.  Because, if the need arose, there was only one choice to make.
     And only they could make it.

***

          The wide sidewalk was protected by a glass roof, which was fortunate considering the rain
had returned with a vengeance.  Water sluiced off the angled glass, creating pretty swirling
patterns that provided a distorting filter through which to view the street lights and neon signs.
Usagi thought it an oddly beautiful sight.
     She'd phoned Mamoru's place, but he hadn't been back from work yet.  That was hardly
unusual, and Luna could pass her message on, but she had wanted to hear his voice.
     "All right, I'm covered," Minako said cheerily, returning from the phone kiosk.
     "What did your boss say?" Rei asked.
     "Nobody got killed," she replied, giving a jaunty thumbs up.  "He's just steamed because quote
those two crazy bitches wrecked the place unquote.  I mean, that's gratitude for you, right?"
     "I think we should try to find Mako-chan and Ami," Usagi said, tugging at the hem of her coat.
"Trouble already found us, after all.  I won't feel right until we've warned them too."
     "That's fine, Usagi," Rei replied patiently.  "But the problem is we don't know where to look."
     "Actually, I have a vague idea of where Makoto is," Minako broke in.  "She's been operating
down near the waterfront a lot lately, from what I hear."
     "The waterfront?" Usagi asked.  "What's she doing down there?"
     Would you believe, bounty hunting?" Minako asked with a wry smile.
     "What?" Usagi blurted.  "Bounty hunting?"
     "Yeah," Minako shrugged.  "There's a lot of crime in the Triangle, and not enough police, you
know.  You can make pretty good money hunting bounties."
     "It's getting late, though," Rei said, staring up at the rain spattered glass.  "Maybe we should
wait until tomorrow."
     "But she could be in danger!" Usagi objected, twining her fingers nervously.  "We should at
least try!"  When Rei had shown up at her door, Usagi had been ecstatic at the chance to track
down her friends.  After all that had happened, though, she was beginning to seriously worry.
What if Makoto or Ami got hurt before they could be found?
     "It's no big deal, Rei," Minako said airily.  "We can take my car.  There are a few places I have
in mind that we can check before it gets too late."
     "Come on, Rei!" Usagi pleaded, gazing at her hopefully.  Rei scowled, but Usagi could tell she
was going to give in.
     "All right," Rei sighed at last.  "I suppose it couldn't hurt to at least have a look."
     "Yay!" Usagi grinned.  "What are we waiting for?"
     "Come on," Minako said, motioning them to follow.  "My car's near the club.  I can stop and
get my stuff, too."  They set off along the sheltered sidewalk, which was fairly crowded.  Even on
a stormy night, things were just getting into full swing in this neighbourhood.  Usagi eyed some of
the storefronts as they walked, astounded by the sheer variety of wares being offered.  There were
windows full of lingerie, for example, next to displays of glossy leather and shiny steel.  Lacy
dresses competed with skintight catsuits, and signs offered services ranging from suggestive to
spicy to lurid, all without the slightest hint of shame.
     The covered sidewalk ran to the corner opposite Club Kiss's entrance and turned down an
adjacent street.  As they approached the corner, Minako whistled appreciatively.
     "Would you look at that?" she murmured.  "A Ferengetti Shadow.  Don't see many of those
around."  Usagi followed her friend's gaze, and deduced that she was talking about the red car
parked at the curb in front of the club.  It had a low slung, almost predatory profile, and although
Usagi didn't know anything about cars, it certainly did LOOK expensive.
     They approached the corner and turned, and as they did the car started up with a low, throaty
thrum, it's recessed headlights deploying and flaring to life.  Usagi watched as it pulled away from
the curb and roared towards the street they'd turned on to.  The three girls stopped as the car
drove past them about twenty feet, then pulled over to the curb on their side of the road.
     "If that's your red-head," Minako said with a small smile, "she's got excellent taste in cars."
Usagi fingered her brooch, noticing that both Rei and Minako had one hand out of sight.
     The gull-wing door swung up and a pair of long legs emerged from the car, followed by a lush
female form that seemed to flow almost bonelessly to the sidewalk.  Usagi felt a chill prickle the
skin at the nape of her neck, and she glanced quickly at Rei.  The raven-haired girl's face gave
little away, but her eyes were narrowed and her lips compressed into a narrow line.
     "Hello," Minako breathed.  "Who do we have here?"
     Usagi was wondering much the same thing.  She'd seen this woman inside the club; in fact, she
was certain that the platinum-maned beauty was the one who'd thrown that black rose.
     For just a moment back there, she'd wondered if Rei knew her.  But that thought had quickly
passed; why would Rei know such a woman?  But now ...
     The woman strode under the sheltering overhang and just stood there, arms crossed under her
breasts, watching them indifferently.  Rei stepped forward, but when Usagi made to follow she
turned and held her hand up.
     "No," she said curtly.  "I need to talk to her alone."  Usagi blinked.  There was something
unsettling in Rei's demeanor all of a sudden, something she didn't like at all.
     "But ..." she began.
     "I said no."  Rei didn't raise her voice, but her words seemed to slash across Usagi like a shard
of ice.  She stepped back instinctively, bumping into Minako in the process.
     Rei had never spoken to her that way before.  Never.
     "Hey, ease up," Minako protested, reaching out to steady Usagi.
     "You two just wait here," Rei said, her tone brooking no argument.  "I'll be right back."  With
that she turned and marched down the street to where the other woman waited patiently.
     "Geez," Minako grumbled, "what in the hells was that all about?"
     "She was in the club," Usagi said in a small voice, wrapping her arms around herself and
watching Rei's back as she walked away.  The rest of it pressed against her lips, wanting to be
told, but she held it back, not even sure why.
     Rei does know her, she thought, the words nearly accusatory.  Why?  How?  Who is she?
     But if Usagi didn't know WHO she was, it seemed obvious WHAT she was.
     A rose with petals black as night ...
     Rei, she thought dolefully.  What's going on?

***

     Rei's heart was pounding as she stopped only a few feet away, but she was certain her inner
turmoil didn't show.
     "Well, here we are," she said softly.  The woman across from her smiled, that same smile she'd
shown back at the club.  It was an expression that Rei associated instantly with this woman,
triggering memories the way a familiar scent or a half-heard snatch of music sometimes will;
viscerally, at a level below consciousness where rational thoughts were rare and raw emotion
reigned supreme.
     "Hello, Rei," Saekianna said, her voice soft.
     "Hello, Sass," Rei replied, bittersweet reminiscence welling in her chest.
     "Nobody's called me that in quite a while," Saekianna murmured, her eyes sparkling darkly.
     "I guess not," Rei said with a half-smile, "since I was the only one who ever called you that."
     "You were the only one who was allowed to call me that," Saekianna pointed out.  The
two stood there for a moment, just looking at each other.  The space between them was only a
matter of feet, but Rei sensed an unseen chasm separating them from each other, one that must be
negotiated carefully.  That thought made her sad, somehow.
     "Thank you," Rei said at last.  "For in the club."
     "Ah, yes," Saekianna murmured, glancing over Rei's shoulder.  "The delicate little blossom.
Yours, I presume?"
     "It's not like that," Rei replied, and the other woman raised one slim eyebrow.
     "If you say so," Saekianna replied, her tone making it clear that she didn't believe a word.
"But your taste is still exquisite."
     "Your timing as well," Rei admitted.  The sensations that Saekianna's mere presence evoked
were powerful and not a little unsettling, and it was all Rei could do to keep her expression
neutral.  It had always been thus between them, a private game of sorts, this jousting of words and
expressions and body language, each always trying to provoke the other into unguarded reaction
first.
     But this time, Saekianna was to be the winner.  As Rei swept the other woman with her gaze,
she caught sight of something that made her breath catch almost painfully.  Saekianna's lips
curved once more into that familiar half-smile.
     "That ring," Rei breathed.  The other woman held her hand up languidly, watching the light
gleam softly off the silver ring with the black rose etched into it.
     "Ah, yes," Saekianna murmured.  "Many things have changed since you left, Rei.  Griitna is no
longer Nightmistress.  She lost everything, you see."
     "Playing the game," Rei said, bitterness tinging her soft words.
     "In a way, you were right about her," Saekianna said gently, still staring into the ring's depths.
"She manipulated the game for her own purposes, betrayed our calling.  She didn't believe, you
see.  That was her downfall.  And now, the rules have changed."
     "It's still a game," Rei said with a soft snort.
     "No," Saekianna replied, her dark eyes shifting from the ring to Rei.  "It's no mere game, and it
never really was.  Griitna perverted it for her own gain, but she's paid for her transgressions.  In
full."
     "Sass, do you really believe that the Dark Lady has a hand in all this?" Rei asked, regarding the
other woman critically.
     "I know it," Saekianna replied, her eyes sparkling, barely hinting at the passions that Rei knew
lurked deep within.  "I believe that our meeting like this was Her will.  The Labyrinth holds no
more mysteries for me, Rei.  I ventured to its very heart, and plumbed the secrets there.  There is
so much more to this than we knew."
     "I saw the truth, Sass," Rei said, her voice low and even.  Nothing would be gained by letting
her temper flare now.  "I told you, it was never anything more than a game.  Never.  She lied to us
all along."
     "I know you believe that.  You lost faith, but I cannot blame you, Rei.  You saw the flaws, the
lies, the wormy corruption behind Griitna's lovely face before any of us.  But that was where the
corruption lay, not in the Sisterhood itself.  She twisted the truth, but even she could not destroy
it.  And now the truth is in my hands."
     Saekianna's triumph smouldered in her eyes, and Rei wanted to believe.  She wanted that as
badly as she'd ever wanted anything in her life.  But she knew that there had been no truth at the
heart of Griitna's games.  The last vision she'd had as a Sister had shaken the very foundations of
her life, had shown her the strings that the puppet mistress pulled to make them dance.  But she
hadn't been able to convince any of the others, not then and, apparently, not now.
     "The truth," Rei echoed softly.
     "The path to unlock our greatest desires," Saekianna breathed, "lies before us now.  Just as I
always knew it would."  The alluring beauty moved closer, her perfume enfolding Rei in a delicate
embrace, and the dark-haired girl fought the urge to give in to a delicious shudder.  So many
memories ...
     "What do you want, Sass?" she asked, but of course she knew.  She just had to hear it.
     "Come with me," Saekianna breathed.  "Right now.  Bring those two.  We'll induct them as
Maidens, teach them the pleasures of that calling, and afterwards I'll tell you all of it.  It will be
just like old times."
     "Sass," Rei sighed, real regret in her voice, "I just can't do that."  Saekianna's eyes flicked over
Rei's shoulder to where the two blondes stood, conversing quietly near the corner.
     "It's not like you to not share, Rei," she chided, but a small furrow had appeared between her
slim brows.
     "I'm ... involved in something right now," Rei replied.  "I have obligations."
     "And what of your obligations to the Sisterhood?"  Saekianna asked, her voice deceptively soft
but laced with disbelief.  "What of your obligations to ... me?"  And there it was, out in the open
at last.  Rei fought the urge to raise her voice, conscious of their audience.
     "You could have come with me, back then," Rei pointed out, surprised at the intensity of
bitterness in her belly.  "I gave you the chance, but you chose to stay."
     "I had to," the other woman murmured, her voice urgent, intense.  "Can you still not
understand that?  I never wanted you to leave in the first place, not when destiny had placed the
key to our greatest desires so close."
     "Your greatest desire," Rei said flatly.
     "You can't fool me, Rei," Saekianna replied.  "In your heart, you want this as much as I."
     "We were meant for more than chasing phantoms of dreams, Sass.  And that's what you're still
doing."
     "No," Saekianna replied firmly.  "It's more than that now.  I can do it, Rei, but not alone.  I
have some of the others with me, but with you by my side, victory would be assured.  You can't
tell me that the prospect doesn't call to your heart?"  Saekianna moved even closer, so that the
two were nearly touching, and Rei felt the urge to reach out, to bridge the distance between them;
not only the inches that separated them physically, but the years as well.
     And she could do it, with one simple motion.  Something held her back, though; she couldn't
dismiss everything that had happened, couldn't allow herself to forget why she'd left.
     And, of course, there was Usagi.
     "You could always tempt me, Sass," Rei said finally, a gently aching lump at the back of her
throat.  "That hasn't changed.  But I can't come with you, not now.  When things have quieted
down, when the crisis is over, then we can talk about this, and you can try to convince me that it
was all more than some fever dream of a power-hungry Nightmistress."  Saekianna's lovely eyes
narrowed, and she chuckled softly.
     "You're as stubborn as ever, Rei," she murmured.  "That hasn't changed.  But neither have I.  I
hate losing, and I won't play second fiddle to a meek little flower like that."  She inclined her head
slightly in Usagi's direction, and Rei felt her temper flaring again.
     "Sass," she began, warning tone clear.
     "Go, then," Saekianna whispered, taking Rei's hand in her own and raising it to her lips.  "Go,
and think of me through the long hours of the night, until dawn finds you sleepless and wound
tight with need for my voice, my scent, my touch.  I know the fires that run hot in your blood,
Sister Dark.  They will never be sated by the likes of her, no matter what hold she has on your
heart.  You don't belong with her.  You will always be wild and dark."  So saying, the
platinum-haired goddess kissed the back of Rei's hand, a soft, lingering press of full, soft lips
against hot flesh.
     That brought back memories, of their first meeting.
     And of their last.
     As she lowered Rei's hand, Saekianna slipped something round and cool into it, her gaze
holding Rei's a moment more.
     "I deserve a chance to change your mind, Rei," she said, her voice throbbing with husky
compulsion, caressing like the aural equivalent of fine silk.  "When you need to unleash your true
spirit, call me.  I'll be waiting."
     She gave Rei's hand a last squeeze, then turned and strode gracefully to the waiting car.
Slipping smoothly behind the wheel, she pulled the door closed and gunned the engine.  The sleek
machine rocketed away from the curve, going much too fast for conditions as it roared down the
rain-slicked street and cornered neatly, all that raw power somehow remaining tightly leashed.
     Much like its driver.
     Rei stared at the point where the car had disappeared from view, then looked down at the cool
dark crystal disc that the other woman had given her.  The streetlights traced the pattern of the
black rose that had been etched into its surface, seemingly swallowed by the crystal itself.  Rei
pocketed it absently, then took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
     And turned, walking slowly back towards Usagi and Minako.

***

     Well, there was no longer any question.  Today officially sucked.
     Besides being wet, tired, hungry, and depressed, I had tangled with wraiths, run into some
strange sailor girls who seemed to know me (and, let's not forget, not LIKE me) and, to top it all
off, been dropped into a white water ride.  And when I managed to drag myself, half-drowned, up
onto the edge of a drainage pipe and climb out of the water, what happens?
     I get held up.  I get held up by a gang of teenaged delinquents.
     Welcome to my life.
     "Hey, she's not bad," one of the guys said appreciatively.  There were five of them, all carrying
weapons ranging from knives to chains to one big guy who was carrying a huge, double-bitted
axe.  Impressive weapon, but a little conspicuous for strolling around the streets.
     "Having a little late-night swim, babe?" the one closest to me asked with a sneer.  He was tall
and lean, wearing his jacket open with nothing underneath except pale skin and a few ugly scars.
I just stared at him as the others circled around, hooting and making disgusting animal sounds.
     "Hey, girl," my new friend said.  "I'm talking to you."
     "What do you want?" I asked.  Gosh, my voice was calm.  Incredible, the way I was managing
to hide my raw terror.  The punk must have thought so, too, because he frowned, hesitating a
moment.
     "Well, first," he continued, his sneer reasserting itself, "you give us all your money."
     "Money?" I asked wryly.  "Let me get this straight.  You think I loaded my pockets with
money and jumped into the canal.  That about right?"  The punk stopped cold, confusion and rage
warring on a face that girls probably went bananas for, all heavy lips and brooding eyes.  Oh yeah,
this guy thought he was something.  Well, I thought he was something, too.  I thought he was the
last straw in a long, frustrating day.
     "She's a mouthy one, huh, Gil?" the big guy with the axe chuckled.  Gil apparently agreed.
     "Shut up and listen, bitch," he snarled at me.  "Me and my gang own this part of town.  You
gotta pay a toll, see?  You do us all real good, and we won't cut you up.  In fact, we'll be real nice
to you.  Get it?"  He emphasized his point by gesturing with the razor-sharp stiletto in his left
hand.
     Oh, yeah.  I got it, all right.
     "I'm goin' first," another one said, circling around in front of me.  He was bald and bulky and
had rings in his nose and eyebrows, and he eyed me the way a starving man looks at a beef bowl.
     "You ain't going first," Gil snarled.  "I'm the leader, I'm first."  Then he turned to me, an ugly
light in his muddy brown eyes.
     "Whip those puppies out, bitch," he grinned.  "I wanna chew on `em a little first."  The others
closed in from behind me, waiting for me to try and run.
     As if.
     I was hardly in top form, but whatever kind of trouble these guys were, they weren't a pissed
off master of the Anything Goes school of martial arts, much less one who'd just had an extremely
bad day.
     I, on the other hand, was.
     Even on my worst day I wasn't about to lose to a bunch of amateur small-timers like this.
     It took a little longer than it should have, but the final score was: Saotome 5, Small Time
Hoods 0.
     "Gack!" Gil explained.  I twisted his arm a little harder, edging my unwilling friend towards the
edge of the canal which had recently hosted his four friends.
     "Gil ... can I call you Gil?" I asked.  He gritted his teeth until I applied a little more pressure,
then nodded frantically.
     "Great!" I enthused.  "Gil, let me be frank.  You're a scumbag."
     "Kiss my ass," Gil snarled.  Gil was, apparently, a slow learner.  I twisted harder.  Gil yelped.
     "A total scumbag," I clarified.  "I bet you robbed a lot of people tonight, didn't you?"  He
chuckled, trying to sound arrogant.  That's a hard trick to pull off, though, when a girl half your
size has just dumped your badass gang into the canal and has you trapped in a painful arm hold.
     "Damn right," he hissed.  "We took down a bunch of guys over by the strip."
     "So where's the money?" I asked.
     "Huh?"
     "The money, Gil.  Is that it?"  I tapped a bulge in his jacket pocket with my free hand and was
rewarded with a metallic jingling.  Gil started to squirm, and I applied more pressure.  Much more
and something was going to break.  Gil got the message, though, and settled down.  I reached
into his pocket and pulled out a rough sack chock full of coins, hefting it critically.
     "Gil," I said, "there's a lot of cash here, but all in coins.  A more suspicious person than me
might think that you guys didn't actually rob anyone, you know?  Such a person might think you'd
been involved in something strictly small-time, like ripping off vending machines ..."
     "Hey, shut up!" he spat.  I shook my head.
     "Gil," I said sadly, "you aren't even a very good scumbag, you know that?"  I released his arm
abruptly and he stumbled away, turning to stand at the very brink of the canal with his back to the
water.  He rubbed his arm, glaring at me.
     "That's my money, bitch," he snarled sullenly.  I beamed at him.
     "Not any more," I pointed out.  "I just robbed you.  Don't you love the irony?"  Gil muttered
something that indicated to me that no, as it happened he wasn't a particularly big fan of irony.  I
balanced the bulging sack in one hand and looked at the thoroughly disgruntled punk.
     "Oh, just one more thing, Gil," I said sweetly.  He looked at me, instantly suspicious.
     "What?" he asked.
     "I hate being called bitch," I told him, and danced forward to kick his sorry self into the canal.
     "Oh, hey," I shouted as he surfaced and started thrashing angrily in the current.  "I forgot to
ask; can you swim?"  His reply was just appalling, not to mention anatomically impossible.
     There were a couple of places where the canal wall was damaged and he might climb out;
failing that, he'd have to wait until it emptied into the bay and swim to shore.  At any rate, he
wouldn't be troubling any innocent vending machines for a while.
     Upon sober reflection, while the day had been by no means stellar, I had gotten to trash several
demons and work out my remaining frustrations on some loud-mouthed street trash.  All
things considered, it actually could have been worse.
     Sometimes, that's the most comfort I can expect, you know?
     I turned and walked across the saturated ground, my footsteps squishing noisily as I went.
The bag turned out to contain mostly one and two crown coins, which meant that there was
probably enough there to keep me going for a few days, easy.
     I felt a momentary pang of conscience at the prospect of keeping the money, but it had trouble
making itself heard over the complaints from my empty stomach and the sudden vision of a hot
bath.
     I headed for the nearby street, figuring it would lead me to someplace warm and dry.  One
problem had been solved, but there was still the matter of those girls I'd been following.  Who
were they, and why had they reacted to me the way they had?
     There was no way I'd find them now, though.  Not unless they, for some reason, suddenly
decided they had to visit the waterfront district.
     And how likely was that?

***

     The storm had returned, but fitfully, the occasional flicker of lightning throwing the shadows
that lay across the gauzy curtains into stark relief.  Haruka eased herself onto the bed, pulling the
covers up over her legs, and looked down at Michiru's prone form.
     Growing up, Haruka had always slept naked if it was warm enough.  It was Michiru who had
started her dressing to come to bed; not in the delicate flowing nothings that the smaller girl
favoured, of course, but Haruka had become accustomed to wearing pajamas.  Although of a
masculine cut, these were made of expensive silk that caressed the skin with decadent abandon,
carelessly evoking the most delicious sensations.
     The younger Haruka had believed it foolish to get dressed just to get into bed.  That,
however, was before Michiru, before she'd been taught to value mystery, subtlety, the pleasures of
all the senses and the gratification of taking one's time, delaying the inevitable.  Seduction, done
properly, required mystery, tension, a slow, teasing dance of need and desire, lingering over the
inevitable in order to savour it more fully.
     And Michiru always enjoyed undressing her again.
     Gazing down at her love, though, Haruka sensed that the earlier mood had slipped away.  She
slid down beside the green-haired girl, propping her head on one hand, extending the other to
twine her fingers unerringly with Michiru's under the covers.
     "Thinking about Hotaru, or Setsuna?" Haruka asked.  Michiru smiled at her.
     "Both," she admitted.  "But at the moment, Setsuna."
     "You stopped me before," Haruka sighed.  "Which was probably a good idea, since she
wouldn't have been in the proper state of mind to discuss this.  But we are going to have to
discuss it."
     "I know," Michiru replied, squeezing Haruka's hand lightly and drawing it to the heated flesh
between her breasts.  "And it's going to be hard, but we have to make her see what effect Hotaru
is having on her.  Her judgement has become suspect."
     "Saying that to a control freak like Setsuna will be like waving a red flag in front of a bull,"
Haruka said ruefully.  "Especially since she volunteered in the first place because she would be the
least affected."
     "Her words," Michiru murmured.  "Maybe it was a mistake to allow it to happen at all."
     "At the time, circumstances didn't give us much of a choice.  Setsuna had one good point
tonight, though; if Hotaru were ever to kill someone, we'd almost certainly lose her forever.  And
I don't want that to happen."
     "Neither do I," Michiru sighed.  "I take it your talk with her didn't go well?"
     "That's putting it mildly.  We should try again in the morning, when she's feeling better,"
Haruka said, gazing into the depths of her lover's eyes.  That sight could captivate her for hours;
she never grew tired of it.
     "If Hotaru is beginning to gain power over Setsuna, we will have a sticky problem to deal
with," Michiru pressed.
     "If," Haruka repeated.  "How could she not?  The lessons of the Long Dark remain, for those
who would only look."
     "But Hotaru isn't a vampire," Michiru objected.  "At least not fully."
     "Half vampire?" Haruka snorted lightly.  "That's like being half pregnant, isn't it?"
     "But it's true," Michiru said sombrely.  "She walks in the daylight, and most of the time she's in
control of herself.  When the hunger is upon her she gains some vampiric abilities, but she doesn't
seem to keep them once she's fed.  I've never seen her mesmerize with her gaze, or compel
someone she's fed from when she's herself."
     "Yes, but we don't know that she can't do those things," Haruka sighed.  "Only that she hasn't.
Maybe, when she's in control, she just doesn't want to.  The fact remains that Setsuna has to stop
letting Hotaru feed from her.  We just can't risk it anymore.  And we need a better system of
monitoring Hotaru's appetites than waiting for her to tell us they've returned."
     "I'm open to suggestions," Michiru replied, her long lashes brushing against the flawless pale
skin of her cheek as she closed her eyes.  "We just seem to keep going around and around on this
issue, every time it happens, without solving anything."
     "It's worse now," Haruka breathed.  "That incident with Usagi and the others was bad enough,
but now Hotaru's really worried about the Outsider.  I think she senses that trouble is near.  This
is no time for us to be doubting each other."
     Michiru snuggled closer, and Haruka released her hand, slinging her arm around the other girl's
waist and drawing her close.  Michiru fit against her like she belonged there, and Haruka shivered
at the intoxicating sensation of the smaller woman's breath against her throat.
     "Doubting," Michiru whispered.  "And yet look at her.  She's almost always together, in
control, despite the burdens she carries.  When I think of how it must have been for her in that
house all those years, her father slowly going mad ... she's an incredibly strong girl.  I just wish
that we could do more for her."
     "We would," Haruka reminded her, "if she'd only let us.  But for now, we can only help her
prepare for the Outsider, and pull her back from the edge if she gets too close.  And be her
friends, as much as she'll allow."
     Michiru lay in her arms for a time, her breathing soft and regular, and Haruka wondered if the
girl had drifted off.  Just as she was beginning to doze herself, though, Michiru stirred once more.
     "We can't let Hotaru lose her way, Haruka," she whispered.  "We can't let that happen."
     "We won't," Haruka promised, kissing the top of the other woman's head lightly.  "Now go to
sleep."
     Michiru made a throaty, contented sound and nuzzled into the crook of Haruka's shoulder,
leaving the taller girl to stare out into the darkness.
     The need to protect Hotaru from the darkness was a very real one.  But this was one struggle
that would not be won with the raw power that they commanded as senshi.  For this, they needed
strong hearts and unshakeable faith.
     Not for the first time, Haruka wished that she could turn back time.  She wished that Usagi
was still here to cast her own special light into the shadows of Hotaru's soul.
     But, through cruel circumstance, Hotaru had managed to drive away the one person who
might have saved her.

***
 
     Hotaru huddled in the dark, her only company the sonorous thrum of steady rain.  Her knees
were drawn up to her chest, her cheek resting against them as she stared moodily at nothing.
Her hair hung around her like a shroud, pooling on the dark sheets of the bed in a silken tumble.
Absently, she picked up a handful of the thick locks and let them slip slowly from her fingers, like
sand on the beach.  She'd have to cut it again, but the morning would be soon enough.  She just
didn't feel up to it now.
     The dark's siren song was muted now that she'd fed, but it wasn't completely gone.  If she
listened carefully she could always hear it, even if only faintly, beckoning to her like a lover,
promising sweet abandon in its embrace.  How wonderful, to give in completely to dark desire
just once ...
     Her arms tightened around her legs, and she shifted position, feeling the cool silk of her
nightgown brush across her thigh.  Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna; they were the closest thing she
had to friends in the world, but they still didn't understand her, certainly not as well as they
believed.
     I know you hate it, Setsuna had said to her earlier.  They all believed that; Hotaru denied the
hunger as long as possible because she hated feeding.  But that wasn't true, not at all.
     She put it off because, once she started to feed, it was so hard to resist giving in completely.
Drinking blood, as it turned out, was an incredibly sensual experience, and it made her feel so
powerful, so aroused, so GOOD.
     She didn't want it to be like that; she wished it was loathsome and repellent, that it made her
feel as dirty and ashamed while she was doing it as it did afterwards.  Perhaps then, she would be
able to face it more easily.
     But no matter what promises she made in the precincts of her heart, no matter how fervently
she swore to resist, the hunger always conquered her.  Always.
     There was no feeling like it.  Earlier, she had been almost drunk merely on the hot, delicate
scent of Setsuna's blood.  The two women had been partners in a strange and beautiful dance of
predator and prey, and even though Setsuna was her friend Hotaru had enjoyed playing with her.
And when she'd finally fed, a small, insidious part of her had been disappointed at Setsuna's
cooperation, desiring to take her forcefully, make her submit.
     And there had been a moment, lost in the sweetness of feeding, carried on the tide of hot life's
blood, when Setsuna had  tried to push her away, but couldn't.  In that split second Hotaru had
experienced a flash of pleasure so intense it was almost painful.  The woman was hers, she'd
realized with a savage thrill, all of her; her blood, her life, her very soul.
     That sudden realization had shocked her back to awareness for a moment, just long enough to
pull back, but in that moment the spell was broken, the hunger sated ... but not totally satisfied,
no, never that.
     She'd been stung by Haruka's anger, her guilt causing her to lash out at the other woman.
Because Haruka had been absolutely right; she never should have fed without the others there.
That was far too dangerous, a fact she knew better than anyone.  She'd been on the verge of doing
something
     (Hotaru?)
     terrible, something
     (I didn't mean to I didn't)
     irrevocable.
     Thunder boomed somewhere far off, and she shuddered lightly.  The others thought she held
herself aloof from them out of  some natural reticence.  How could they know the truth?  How
could they know about a girl who'd learned the hard way to keep others at a safe distance?  It
wasn't that she didn't want the closeness that others had; she did.  Some days, she ached for it
with an intensity that was nearly agony.
     But she couldn't risk it.  In the end, the simple sad truth was that she couldn't trust herself not
to hurt someone, even someone she loved.  Because, at the end of the day, getting close to
Hotaru Tomoe could cost you dearly.
     So she hid herself away.
     Watching Usagi had been a revelation.  The girl possessed an utterly disarming openness, a
genuine warmth that had drawn everyone to her.  Hotaru had found herself basking in the glow of
that warmth, envying Usagi even as she resented her.
     Maybe that was why things had ended as they did.  Or maybe it was because, in the end,
Hotaru couldn't look at Usagi without seeing the face of Serenity, the woman who'd created her.
     The woman she hated.
     But what did it matter now?  She'd ruined everything, that was all that really mattered.  If the
Outsider was finally coming, they would have to fight without the power of the Inner Senshi and
their princess.  All because of her.
     Just more proof that her father had been right, after all.
     She ruined everything she touched.
     She sat there for a long time in the dark, but she didn't have to keep her vigil alone.
     Her personal demons kept her company.

***

     He should have known.
     It had been too good to last, hadn't it?  For a while, it had been as if none of it had ever
happened.  His apartment had become a sanctuary of sorts, where Usagi could recover from the
shock of Hotaru's betrayal, sheltered from the world.
     But that cozy peace had been transitory, and at some level he'd known it.  Recently she'd
begun to show signs of restlessness, mentioning her senshi more often, wondering aloud where
they were, if they were all right.  And while he'd hoped that her concern would pass and she
would be content leaving that part of her life behind, he had suspected it was only a matter of time
before things came to a head.
     He hadn't expected it to be like this, however.
     "So she went out with Rei this morning," he repeated, arms crossed as he stared impassively at
the small black cat perched on the back of his couch.  "And you just let her go?"
     "Why would I stop her?" Luna asked, sounding irritated.  "I know you don't like the girls ..."
     "I don't like what they represent," Mamoru interrupted firmly.
     "... but Rei would never allow anything to happen to Usagi," Luna continued.  "Even you must
admit that."
     "She's dragged Usako back into this Sailor Moon business," Mamoru scowled.  "That's not
what I call protecting your friends."  A quick check of the police report from the scene of the
wraith attack had revealed to him that Sailors Moon and Mars had indeed been present, along
with an unidentified girl.
     "Usagi is Sailor Moon," Luna said, her tail twitching.  "What Hotaru did doesn't change that."
     "So what do they want with her now?" he asked, trying to keep a lid on his anger.  "What are
they involving her in?  That last battle with Beryl nearly killed her, you know."  He stalked into
the kitchen and yanked open the refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of beer and twisting the cap off
easily.
     "Mamoru," Luna said, padding into the kitchen behind him.  "Usagi is not a child.  She chose
to go.  You must respect that."
     He stared out the window, slugging back a cold mouthful of
beer.
     "There's something wrong, Luna," he muttered at last.  "Something bad has come to our city,
and I just feel like now is the worst possible time for her to be out there, putting herself in harm's
way.  I'm worried about her.  I just wish I knew where she was, what she was up to.  You're
certain she didn't say anything when she called?"
     "No," Luna replied.  "Just that she was busy and probably wouldn't make it back tonight.  She
sounded fine, though."
     "Fine," he echoed.  "If she was here, where I could protect her, then she'd be fine."
     "I did hear Minako's voice in the background.  If there's one thing those girls could agree on, it
was protecting Usagi."
     "Like they protected her from Hotaru?" Mamoru asked bitterly.
     "That's not fair!" Luna protested, shocked.  "Nobody knew ..."
     "Forget it, Luna," he sighed darkly, pushing away from the window and walking into the living
room again.
     It was bad enough that she'd gone and put herself in a situation where he couldn't protect her.
What was worse, though, was the nagging thought that wouldn't leave him alone.
     Do they mean more to you than I do?
     He sat on the couch and took another drink from the bottle, staring into space.  He didn't
know how much of it was his misty recollections of a princess in a long ago kingdom, and how
much was the girl he'd come to know now, but somewhere along the line she'd come to mean a
hell of a lot to him.  And he thought he'd become important to her as well.
     But now, even after everything that had happened, she went running off with THEM at the
first sign of trouble, without even telling him about it in person.  All right, she was free to do what
she wanted; he'd told her enough times that she could stay with him free of obligations.  But ...
     But he was afraid.  That was the bottom line, wasn't it?  He'd never allowed himself to become
this close to anyone before, and now for the first time he had something to lose.  What if those
girls really did mean more to her than he did?  What if his reluctance to look into their
whereabouts for her had been interpreted (correctly) as disapproval of her friends?  They'd been a
very close group back in the old days, and despite all the changes perhaps that bond still lingered.
     Face it, Chiba, he told himself.  If they're not going to stay out of her life, then you may just
have to swallow your pride and learn to share her.
     Because if you force her to chose, you may not like the result.

***

     The silence in the car was awkward and uncomfortable, and Rei knew that she was to blame.
Her curt refusal to reveal who Saekianna was or what they had talked about had put a damper on
things pretty quickly.  Usagi in particular kept giving her small, hurt glances when she thought Rei
wasn't looking.
     Sorry, princess, Rei thought glumly.  I guess I'm destined to be a disappointment to you.
Better that, though, then letting you get hurt by the fallout of my past.
     The unexpected encounter had left Rei with a lot of questions.  Why was Saekianna here in
Saeni?  Why had she been at the club?  And what had happened after Rei's departure from the
temple?  Could Saekianna really have found some shard of truth buried within the Nightmistress's
web of deception?
     There was only one way to answer all those questions, though.  She reached into her pocket
and ran her thumb over the cool crystal disc, lightly tracing the imprint of the rose emblem there.
One call, and she could be meeting with Saekianna again, just like that.
     But would she be able to resist the lure of the past?
     "Well, this is it," Minako announced with forced cheer.  The grim concrete building across the
street seemed to ignore the rain, disdaining it even as the rest of the neighbourhood huddled
against the cold and wet.  It was brightly lit, shallow steps leading up to a wall of glass.  Long
counters were visible inside, lit by harsh flourescent lights as a few bored attendants in blue
uniforms sipped coffee and chatted soundlessly.
     "Minako," Rei said sourly.  "Are you telling me that you just want to walk in there and ask
them if they know where Makoto is?"
     "What is that?" Usagi asked from the cramped backseat.
     "It's the regional branch of the Supplementary Justice Agency," Minako told her.  "They
handle everything having to do with bounties.  And no, smart ass, I'm not going in there," she
sniffed to Rei.  "In the first place, Makoto isn't a bounty hunter, Jupiter is.  And secondly, those
guys wouldn't tell us squat even if they knew what she was up to.  No, we're going in THERE."
She pointed to another building just down the street.  In contrast to the SJA building, this place
looked like it had just rolled out of bed after a night of heavy drinking.  One of the windows
facing the street had been hastily boarded over, and the other housed a neon beer sign that
flickered uncertainly.  Rain sluiced off the battered awning over the doorway, spattering heavily
against the sidewalk.
     "And what might that place be?" Rei asked, although she was very afraid that she knew the
answer.
     "Bounty hunters need some place to hang out, drink, and tell outrageous lies," Minako said
smugly.  "That place is always full of them.  If she isn't there, someone might know how we can
find her."
     "Great."  Rei wasn't at all looking forward to trying to pry information out of a bunch of
drunk, horny bounty hunters.  This day was turning into a real trial, and only the fact that both the
mysterious red-head and several bloodthirsty wraiths had shown up twice already kept her from
putting her foot down.
     "What are we waiting for?" Usagi asked.  "Let's go!"
     "Hold it," Rei said, still staring at the dingy bar.  "Like Minako said, we're looking for Jupiter,
not Makoto.  I don't think we should go in like this.  If word gets around that someone was trying
to hook up with her, it would be better if that someone was a bunch of fellow sailor girls."
     "I can't believe I'm about to say this," Minako remarked, "but good thinking, Rei."  Rei's
temper, never stellar at the best of times, had been badly frayed by the day's events.  She turned to
unleash a blistering verbal barrage on the brazen blonde.
     A crash from across the street caught her before she could get started.
     "Did you guys see that?" Usagi blurted.  Rei frowned.  A body had been hurled through the
boarded up window, sending shards of wood into the street.  It landed heavily and lay still on the
sidewalk.
     "Whoa," Minako grinned.  "They started the party early, huh?"
     "Guys, I think I saw a flash of lightning," Usagi said urgently.
     "This is no time for your silly phobias," Rei snapped.
     "No!" Usagi shot back.  "I mean from INSIDE the bar!"  The three girls looked at each other,
all sharing the same thought.
     A moment later, the car was empty.
 
 

end part 2