Rei practically jumped out of her skin. Her obsidian eyes flew upward to accost this intruder to her *not thoughts*. Then cursed inwardly - because this sunny-haired girl with her unbefitting and uncharacteristically grim disposition was exactly the reason why Rei was trying so hard to *not think*, and, well... her presence just sort of defeated the purpose, didn't it?
The subject of her half-greeting, half-query quirked the corners of her lips by way of acknowledgment. Rei had never seen Usagi so subdued, and to be honest, it kind of freaked her out. She rushed to fill the silence.
"Weren't you just here? Shouldn't you be home preparing for your great, big, flawless, knock-down drag-out plan to infiltrate the Dark Kingdom and rescue Mamoru-san?" Rei couldn't help the slightly querulous undertone that crept into her voice. It was easier than the alternative.
Even if the alternative was all she was feeling. Suffocating her, more like. From the inside out. A parasitic worm.
But she would not give name to it. Names made everything real.
Usagi fidgeted while Rei cogitated.
"I... well, I was thinking..."
"Someone call the miracle hotline," Rei murmured, but this time, she couldn't inflect any of the playful enmity into her voice that she normally would have.
Usagi went on like Rei hadn't said anything at all. "It's really not a good idea to have it, well, they'd probably ask anyway, and I wouldn't, but just in case..."
"Usagi, what are you *talking* about-"
"Here!" Rei's hands were suddenly full of Usagi's, and she fumbled to grasp hold of the cool metal being placed - no, shoved - into her possession. It was an entire five seconds before she registered what exactly it was, and five more before she realized the full implications. Her heart dropped, and her stomach rebelled, giving a most unpleasant lurch.
"Usagi - *no* -"
"I can't possibly-"
"You *can*. Please. You have to keep it. If anything happens... You have to keep it safe. They can't get their hands on it."
Rei stared, absolutely gobsmacked, down at the Crescent Moon Wand now gripped in her palm. It glinted innocently back up at her, unaware of the tumult it was causing between the two Sailor Guardians.
"But... why me?" she whispered, wondering when it had gotten so hard to breathe. Usagi shrugged.
"You're always saying you're the better woman for the job," the flaxen haired princess reincarnate said, with a teasing lilt. "With me gone, the Guardians will need a leader. Here's your chance to prove it!"
Rei didn't even crack a smile. Instead, she narrowed her eyes and pinned Usagi with the most severely appraising look possible. "That's not why."
Usagi faltered. She blinked at the Shinto priestess a couple times, as if confused by the question, then a gentle blush burgeoned across her cheeks. She kicked at a loose piece of gravel, pointlessly trying to hide her sheepishness at having been found out.
"You're stronger than me, Rei-chan," she mumbled, so quietly Rei had to strain to hear. She kept her face averted. "If they try to force the Crystal out, I know you'll protect it. You won't break. You never break. Not like me."
Rei wasn't so sure of that. There were definitely things that held terrible power over her. Things that could make her hurt. Beg. Concede defeat. She really wasn't as strong as all that. But she *was* prideful, to a fault, so there was no way in hell she'd ever admit that to Usagi.
The aforementioned fourteen-year-old, with her flowing odango and her big, beguilingly blue eyes, then took a ginger step forward. She glanced up, and Rei was suddenly thrown off kilter by the intense sincerity shining in those endless azure depths - a look not often directed her way. She swallowed thickly.
"I picked you," Usagi said softly, fingers darting to brush Rei's, "Because I trust you the most, Rei-chan."
Rei choked on whatever response she might have had. Her hands were trembling as she clutched the Crescent Moon Wand to her bosom. Usagi smiled, so wide her cheeks pulled taut, and it was like seeing the sun after a long, dark winter. The shadows in her eyes were immediately chased away; the tension gone from her countenance now that she had fulfilled her mission. The transfer of authority, complete.
"Well, I should probably get back now! Like you said, I have a lot to do to get ready!" she rambled energetically, body a sudden blur of movement as she nodded, waved, and bounded toward the exit. "You're the best! Thank you so much, Rei-chan!"
Rei's voice returned then, hoarse and strangled but there nonetheless. The words fell from her lips unchecked, before she even truly had a chance to examine them. "Usagi... please."
Usagi stopped at her imploration, and she hesitated, back to the raven-haired warrior of fire.
"Please don't do this."
Rei didn't know what was wrong with her. *They had agreed.* Yes, it was a stupid plan. A stupid plan with so much room for error. But they had all agreed - this was the best shot they had at securing Mamoru's release; the closest they'd ever been to finally discovering the whereabouts of the enemy's base. If all went according to plan, they might even gain a foothold in the war against the Dark Kingdom.
And it all rested on Usagi's shoulders.
Rei squeezed her eyes shut. 'Dammit.' All day, she had tried. But she could stave the beast off no longer. Deny herself no longer.
She was *terrified*.
"I have to," Usagi's voice resounded, quiet yet firm. Rei gazed up through her ebony fringe, struck by the ferocity she so rarely heard coming from this petite slip of a girl. Usagi turned, and there was fire in her features; a burning resolution. Her cerulean eyes were alight in a way Rei had never seen before. She felt breathless at the transformation. Cowed yet uplifted. Fearful yet awed. Some chord deep within her very soul hummed in recognition -
Then Usagi's expression softened, became more tender, and she lost some of the striking resemblance to her regal, more battle-hardened past self. She was Tsukino Usagi again. Simple Usagi, with a penchant for dramatics, a flair for hopeless romanticism and an affinity for all things cavity-inducing. Clumsy, scatter-brained, loyal and above all, loving... even to a fault. Rei almost felt relief.
"I have to do this. For me... and for you," Usagi explained, and Rei had to wrack her brain for a few seconds before she understood Usagi's meaning.
Oh. Usagi had a silly little earnest look on her face, and Rei realized she was referring to her own feelings for Mamoru; the relationship they had shared not even one month past. 'Fling, really,' she amended. For it never did go as deep as 'relationship'.
Rei mentally shook her head. It was funny how far away that all seemed, now. Like lifetimes ago... A distant dream. Had she *ever* felt anything for Mamoru that didn't fall under the category of superficial schoolgirl crush? It was difficult to recall, and thoughts of all they'd been through since kept flitting through her head. Usagi, blonde crown bowed as she listened to a mournful musical locket in the middle of a snowy entrapment. Sailor Moon, railing about the unfairness of life, denouncing her duty as a Guardian because she didn't want to see anyone else end up like Mamoru. Usagi, sticking out her tongue, participating in their usual song and dance because of her dire need for normalcy. Sailor Moon, proud of her 'brilliant' plan to sacrifice herself as bait, in order to gain entry into the Dark Kingdom's lair. Rei squeezed the handle of the Crescent Moon Wand in her fist.
Stupid Odango Atama. Didn't she know? Rei cared about Mamoru, it was true. People did not just effortlessly weasel their way into her heart, nor did they leave it so easily once she had come to view them as a friend. But yet, she would have gladly given him up - left him in the hands of monsters - to keep this happily smiling girl in front of her safe.
Did that make her a horrible person? Rei hung her head as Usagi chirruped one last thank you, "don't worry!", and goodbye. She wanted to reach out and hug her ditzy, brave, *stupid* princess; force her to stay and take back this damn wand so she wouldn't feel so damn comfortable throwing herself into this damn suicide mission. But the Fire Guardian resisted that urge.
Usagi existed on a higher plane than the rest of them. She possessed a purity of heart that was fairly unattainable to most mere humans; love so strong it had the power to break worlds and power to save worlds. Being her friend was more than just a duty to Rei. She loved Usagi - like a priest loves a deity; like a mother loves her only child. She would have gone to the ends of the earth for this girl; thrown herself off a cliff without a second thought if Usagi said the word.
She would not chase Usagi down - even if every particle in her body screamed to do so. That wasn't what Usagi wanted. Usagi wanted her to safe-keep this wand and guard its Crystal, so that she could walk straight into the bowels of Hell itself without a single stitch of protection.
And Rei was going to let her.
The priestess moaned, allowing one tear past her defenses before she shut that weakness down, and all other emotions with it.
She had a job to do, and she was damn well going to do it.