Dejana's Writing

Full Circle
a Sailormoon fanfiction by Dejana Talis
-not to be used without permission-

This was a place where the world stood still.

Tall trees waved lazily overhead, the rustling of their leaves filling the air with a gentle whispering. It was early autumn, and this was one of the few places that still remembered what that meant. The leaves were just beginning to turn, a few early yellow ones drifting across the ground and piling up against the gateway to the retreat.

The secluded house in the forest was the only sign of civilization for miles, and was nestled against a hill high up on a mountainside. It had been built in the traditional style of ancient Japanese shrines, the real thing long lost to the nation's people. It hid within the forest, yet stood proudly, its simple structure speaking not of primitive construction but accomplished simplicity. No one lived here, but the house was well cared for, and on that day it was not vacant.

Between the building and the hillside a small waterfall tumbled over a short cliff, filling a pool beside the house. A young woman descended the stone steps at the far end of the pool and entered the chill waters, her movement disturbing the regular ripples generated by the waterfall. At first her tall boots protected her legs from the cold water, but she waded deeper until the liquid almost reached her short skirt.

The woman closed her eyes and stood there a moment, simply breathing, listening to the burbling of the waterfall and feeling the water lapping against her thighs. A faint smile slowly crept across her face, as if the environment were seeping into her, washing away all the tension and stress of her life.

She raised an arm and touched the jewel that adorned a large bow at the center of her chest. Her clothing shimmered and melted away, every bit of cloth or decoration from gloves to earrings vanishing into nothingness. In a few seconds she stood completely nude, but neither the cold water nor the breeze in the air caused her to shiver.

There was another long pause of motionlessness, another moment spent simply savoring the experience of standing in that pond in that place. Then the woman's hands twitched, her fingers flexing where they hung inches above the pool's surface. Beneath them, the water responded. She did not touch the liquid, but it rippled and followed her motions as if drawn by strings.

She breathed, and when she raised her hands the water came with them, pulled out of the pond and into the air by an invisible force. The water moved silently, bowing to the woman's will seemingly effortlessly, forming tendrils of liquid that shimmered in the sunshine that filtered through the swaying trees. As the water rose, it pulled away from the woman's body, leaving her free to move about with little resistance. She stepped forward, drawing the streams of clear water along with her, and began to dance.

It began like a solemn ritual, with slow deliberate steps across the center of the pond. The liquid followed, the displaced water leaving a hollow around the young woman that lowered the surface of the pool to her knees. She waved her arms in smooth, graceful curves, painting patterns of sparkling water in the air.

With each step the woman seemed to gain more energy, as if the mere presence of the water filled her with a growing joy. Her dance picked up speed, and her steps gained a bounce that sent her into brief twirls and leaps through the rippling pool. Soon she was virtually skipping across the water as streams of hovering liquid swirled and leapt around her in a frenzied chase. A rainbow-tinted mist filled the surrounding air and spray coated the woman's body, glistening on her hair and limbs and breasts and smiling face. The water churned around her, drawing away from her steps and crashing back again, stirred up by the waterfall that fed it and its repeated leaps into space as it shadowed the fingers it could not quite touch.

Finally the dancer slowed her pace and once again stood still for a moment in the center of the pond. She stretched her arms out to her sides and began to spin, two trails of water following her hands around and around in circle after circle. Soon a cyclone of liquid had formed around her, completely hiding the woman from view. It began to shrink, drawing inward as it spun more rapidly, outstretched fingers pushing through its walls as it finally made contact with its mistress. As the woman's arms emerged from the spinning cylinder, she drew them inward as if to embrace the water as it embraced her. Together the entities sank toward the surface of the pool.

A short distance away, Sailor Venus left her hiding place at a corner of the house and hurried around to the front of the property. Once the building was between her and the pond, she slowed her flight and proceeded at a more leisurely pace, cluching the appointment book she had come to retrieve to her chest. She had not intended to violate Mercury's privacy, but the book contained the master record of the entire court's meetings and conferences and they needed it urgently...

Had Venus really left such a vital item behind after her last visit on accident?

At this shameful thought, the orange-suited soldier blushed briefly as she headed down the path leading away from the retreat. Of course it had been an accident. She had simply neglected to double-check her baggage before leaving the hideaway. She was not some twisted voyeur who covertly arranged excuses to spy on her friends.

Besides, it was not as if her glimpse of Mercury was some unspeakable sin. They were Sailor Soldiers; they had all seen each other naked plenty of times during their various transformations. Similarly, they had all seen Mercury manipulating water often enough; none of this was anything new. Venus had left before the experience became too intimate. She always allowed them that privacy.


Yes, this was far from the first time Sailor Venus had secretly watched one of her fellow soldiers in this place. She could try to explain it away, but it was the truth. For a moment, her blush deepened, but she pushed her rising shame aside.

As usual, in the absence of embarrassment came jealousy. This, too, was pushed aside momentarily as Venus reached the small landing pad that was cut into the mountainside beyond the trees. Skirting the blue skimmer that sat there, she climbed up into her her own orange craft and switched on the autopilot. The ship rose smoothly off the pad and headed out over the trees, leaving Venus free to focus on other things. She opened the appointment book on her lap and flipped through its pages, but her eyes glazed over when she tried to read the words. The bitter seed of envy was still flourishing in her chest, and at the moment she could think of nothing else.

Although it would take some time to reach the city, the spires of Crystal Tokyo were visible as soon as the skimmer cleared the mountain. Just looking at the distant metropolis made Venus' heart heavy. It was always difficult to leave the secluded retreat and return to the pressures of the royal court.

The location of the Sailor Soldiers' hideaway was a closely guarded secret, and all the media outlets knew the consequences of seeking it would be too high a price to pay. Only in their mountainside retreat could the soldiers truly relax. It was the only place where they could be free of the roles Crystal Tokyo had defined for them.

They had designed it together, each soldier adding her own requirements to the plans. The house had four suites decorated to suit the occupants' tastes; the royal family spent its vacations elsewhere. The location and landscaping had also been decided by the guardian soldiers. On Jupiter's request, the retreat had been built within a forest, one of the few remaining in the post-apocalyptic world. For Mercury, a nearby stream had been diverted to form the waterfall and pool at the rear of the property. Mars had a meditation room within the house where the sacred fire still burned.

The trend of the design was obvious the moment plans for the retreat began. Now that they were diplomats and courtiers, there was little opportunity for the four women to use the powers they possessed as soldiers. Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter used their hideaway as an opportunity to commune with their elements, to renew the treasured bonds between them and the forces given to their control. It was not so for Sailor Venus.

Now that she was well away from the mountain, Venus allowed herself to breathe deeply and relax the firm restraint she had been maintaining on her powers. Sense and feeling came rolling back, but in a blessed peaceful silence. With a faint smile, the soldier leaned back in her chair and let the tension fade out of her body. She had only a brief period in which to relish this tranquility. Crystal Tokyo was drawing closer. Soon the silence that reigned now would be replaced by a constant murmuring, a din that would never die down. There was no noise like the combined emotions of thousands of people.

As the Sailor Soldiers had grown older, their powers had grown stronger, until they did not even need to transform to interact with their elements. Sailor Venus' power was empathy.

It had been said that Venus' core element was metal, but those close to the orange-suited soldier knew that was not the case. Although she was attracted to crystals and shiny metals, and used them in her attacks, it was not those substances that gave Venus her energy. Metal was lifeless, without movement. It was a tool to be used, not a source of power. Like Jupiter, who attacked with lightning but drew her strength from trees, Sailor Venus was fueled by a different energy than her powers as a soldier. Venus' true element was emotion.

So, with her maturity as a Sailor Soldier came the empathy, a constant awareness of all the emotions that surrounded her. The older she got, the stronger this power grew, until the combined feelings of every citizen of Crystal Tokyo threatened to overwhelm her on a daily basis. With Mars' help she had learned to tune out much of the onslaught, and her ability to tell a liar at a glance was indispensable at court, but alone of all the soldiers Venus viewed her power as more of a burden than a blessing. It took constant conscious effort to keep from losing herself in the chaos of the people she served.

When Sailor Venus went to the Sailor Soldiers' retreat, it was not to commune with her element but to escape it.

While the others had requested the presence of their elements at the secluded hideaway, Venus had asked only that it be built far away from the city. While the others decorated their suites until they were more works of art than places to sleep, Venus relished plain white walls free of any stimulus. While the others used their scheduled trips to reconnect with their roots and indulge in old pleasures, Venus simply lay still in her bare white rooms, enjoying the blissful silence in her mind. She envied the other women, envied their ability to embrace their elements like long-lost friends instead of fleeing them.

Although she was bitterly jealous, Venus could not resist any opportunity to sneak glimpses at the supernatural rendezvous that took place at the retreat. It was her guilty pleasure, her masochistic indulgence, her futile attempt to capture some sliver of their joy. She had witnessed Jupiter nearly flying among the branches of the trees. She had gaped in wonder at Mars standing cloaked in fire. Venus always kept her empathic sense closed off at those times, so as not to intrude any more deeply into her friends' private moments, but she envied the pleasure she knew they felt. It was cruel torture to know that she alone would never experience it.

Venus' return journey was drawing to an end. Long before she could see the people of Crystal Tokyo, she could feel them. It was mid-afternoon, and with most of the population awake and active, the emotional haze hanging over the city was at full strength. By the time Venus' craft crossed the outer borders, she could already feel a headache starting behind her eyes.

The skimmer flew low among the crystalline structures of Neo-Queen Serenity's city, weaving among towers and turrets and spires on its way to the heart of the futuristic metropolis. Other hovercraft moved aside to let the orange ship pass, the crests emblazoned on its sides a clear indication of its passenger's identity. Venus leaned over to glance down through the windows at the people on the streets below.





The soldier pulled back sharply, slumping in her chair until the sides of the craft hid the ground from view. It was getting worse. At this rate, before long she wouldn't be able to interact with anyone anymore, no matter how hard she tried to close off her empathic sense. Breathing deeply, Venus called on the techniques Mars has taught her to calm her racing heart and quiet her overwhelmed mind. At least the palace was large and sparsely populated.

Sailor Mars was waiting on the landing pad when the skimmer finally touched down at the rear of the palace. When the hatch opened, the Sailor Venus that emerged from the craft was cool, calm, as collected as always. She smiled as she approached the soldier in red, arms outstretched to take Mars' offered hands in her own. In an era where various duties threatened to isolate them in their own separate worlds, the Sailor Soldiers made sure to touch each other as often as possible to renew their bonds.

"You have it?" Mars asked, foregoing the formality of a greeting. They were late for an important meeting.

"Of course." Venus released her fellow soldier's hands to get a more secure grip on the appointment book that was clamped under one arm. "It was right where I left it."

"If you'd agree to let Mercury store all the data in the central system, we wouldn't have had this problem," Mars commented as the two soldiers headed down the walkway to the palace at a brisk pace.

"You know I have my reasons." Although she would trust Sailor Mercury with her life, Venus could not help worrying about data security. If a hacker got through just once, the information he might uncover could be disasterous. She felt much safer keeping the only full record of the royal family's activities in a single hard copy.

"How is Mercury?" Mars asked.

After so many years of practice, Venus did not bat an eye. Her face remained casual, impassive, neutral. Innocent.

"Fine, I imagine; I didn't see her," Venus answered smoothly. "She was out back when I arrived, so I thought it best not to disturb her."

"I see." The half-smile Mars turned to her was oddly conspiratorial, her eyes far too knowing for Venus' comfort. The blonde soldier looked away, watching the path ahead of her to avoid the blush that threatened to taint her face. Mars couldn't possibly know. None of them knew.

A handful of attendants were waiting for the two soldiers when they entered the palace. Again, Venus sensed them before she saw them, and her face twitched in discomfort. Beside her, Mars' expression changed to one of concern.

"How are you holding up?" she asked quietly, increasing her pace to keep some distance between them and the servants.

"I'll be all right," Venus answered resolutely. She refused to let a silly little problem like this interfere with her work or give her friends cause to worry. She was the leader of the Sailor Soldiers. Weakness was not an option.

"Perhaps we've been going about this the wrong way," Mars mused as they turned a corner. "None of us can hide from what makes us what we are. Empathy is your power. Perhaps you should try embracing it, as we do."

"You know that's not an option," Venus said briskly. "It's not safe." They had all learned long ago that Venus' level of empathy was far too sensitive without some amount of protection. She had nearly come apart when her gift started gaining strength by leaps and bounds, and would have lost herself completely had Mars not taught her some basic mental defense.

The red-suited soldier took a deep breath. What she was about to say was better suited to a private conversation in a cozy room with friends, but now that they were aides to the rulers of the world there were precious few of those. The soldiers' lives revolved around the practice of seizing whatever moments they could, appropriate timing or no.

"After the war, I didn't know if I could ever bear the presence of fire again," Mars confessed. She still remembered those dark days as if they were yesterday, the endless battle that forged the foundations of Crystal Tokyo. By the end of it, Mars had felt like she was always bathed in fire, so constant had the need for her powers been. She knew Venus was staring at her now, but she did not return her gaze.

"I was afraid of being overrun," Mars continued. "There was always fire within me, always an attack beginning or ending. I felt as if it might consume me completely. I feared I would lose myself to the fire." They were nearing the conference room now, their time nearly up, and Mars hurried to speak the rest of the words before the opportunity was lost.

"Finally I set aside my fears. I embraced the fire. I allowed it to become a true part of me. And I learned that our powers can never make us anything we are not. We are all the same women we have ever been, through every incarnation, and that is something no power can ever change. Our elements are our support system, our partners in life, lending us strength through thick and thin. They are not changing who we are; they are giving us the energy to BE who we are."

Venus wasn't sure what to say. Mars' words were enticing, and deeply meaningful, although Venus could not quite grasp what they were trying to express. She felt she was hovering on the edge of a great revelation, so close to a divine truth that was the answer to all her troubles, yet unable to discern it through the fog.

Was it possible that she might be able to escape the constant strain of defending herself against all the minds in the city? It was a lovely dream, but hard to even hope it might actually come true. If Venus opened her mind to all of Crystal Tokyo, it would destroy her. That was a fact. Again, it seemed the freedom of the other soldiers was something Venus could only envy.

There was no time to discuss it further; they had reached the tall double doors of the conference room.

"Come to the retreat with me next weekend," Mars said suddenly. Venus stared at her, puzzled. There was an intensity in Mars' eyes that showed she had more on her mind than she was speaking.

"Don't ask, just trust me," the red-suited soldier insisted. She reached out a hand and grasped the door handle, giving Venus only a moment to consider the matter. "Say you'll come. Please."

Unsure, but curious, Venus nodded her assent. Mars opened the door and the two soldiers reentered the world of duty and leadership and responsibility, all personal concerns once again set aside.

It was raining the day of their scheduled trip to the secluded hideaway. Normally bad weather meant a canceled vacation, but Mars had insisted they still make the journey. As the two of them ran up the pathway from the landing pad, their small bags of essentials held rather ineffectively over their heads, Venus could almost imagine they were running up the hill to the long-lost Hikawa Shrine. The gateway arch and traditional sliding doors of the retreat served to extend the illusion, and by the time they entered the house Venus was smiling despite being out of breath and soaked to the skin.

The two women separated and went to their suites to dry off. The first thing Venus did was drop her transformation, letting her wet uniform dissolve from her body. She knew she could transform again immediately and the clothing would be perfectly dry, but nostalgia still hovered over her like a cloud and she wanted to hold on to that feeling a little longer.

Instead she dressed herself in a soft yellow robe and pulled the red bow out of her hair. After brushing her blonde tresses until they were completely dry, she headed back out into the common room. The falling rain was beating a soothing rhythm on the roof, and Venus was already feeling more relaxed than she had in ages. She smiled at the two pairs of shoes sitting in the entryway. The soldiers were usually alone when they came here, and it was nice to have some company for a change, even though it meant she could not completely drop her guard.

She found her fellow soldier waiting for her in the meditation room. Mars was also dressed in a robe, and had already built up the fire so that Venus could feel its heat as soon as she stepped through the doorway. She sat down on the floor, expecting a meditation exercise.

"I've been thinking about your problem," Mars began. She was seated at the opposite side of the fire, and her eyes kept returning to the dancing flames even though she was speaking to Venus. Her fingers twitched, betraying her longing, and Venus suddenly regretted that her troubles were preventing her friend from fully enjoying her weekend away.

"I know the emotions of an entire city are too much," Mars continued, "but what about just one person? What happens then?"

"Well, I don't think I've had an opportunity to try it," Venus said after a moment of thought. "The city is too busy no matter where I go, and out here I'm alone..."

"What about...those times?" The look Mars turned on her now sent a chill through Venus' stomach. It was a kind look, but a wise one, far too wise.

"What times?" Venus asked, making her best attempt at a look of honest confusion as she tried to calm the sudden racing of her heart.

"You know." Mars stared at her expectantly for a long, dreadful moment, and sighed when Venus did not answer. "We know, Venus. We've been together a thousand years; did you think we wouldn't notice? Even if we weren't aware of everything around us during those moments, we would have guessed. If you were really as forgetful and slow as your behavior makes you out to be, Mercury would've had you in for an exam ten times over by now."

"I'm sorry!" Venus burst out, horror shattering the mask she had believed so effective. She had never been so mortified in her life. They knew, they all knew. Surely they hated her now, surely they thought she was a sick pervert with no respect for them.

"I'm so sorry, Mars, I just envy you all so much, I'll never have what you have, and I want it so badly," she babbled, fighting the shameful tears that threatened to choke her. "I always leave after a few moments, and I keep my empathy sealed off, I swear, I-"

"What?" Now Mars' eyes narrowed in confusion and she leaned forward. "You never share our emotions?"

"Never, I swear it, I only watch for a moment, I... I..." Venus trailed off. Mars had broken into a grin and she was chuckling, shaking her head gently.

"No wonder you've had such a rough time," she said. "Don't worry, Venus, none of us are angry. We're your friends; we're more than happy to share our experiences with you. We only kept quiet about it so we wouldn't embarrass you."

Venus sagged with relief. Her cheeks still burned with the shame of being caught, but at least she wouldn't have to resign from her post and go live in a cave somewhere.

"I want you to stay this time," her friend told her, "and I want you to open your mind to me."

"This time?" Mars' fingers twitched again and the fire flared up in response to her movement. Venus' eyes widened in realization. "Mars... Are you sure?"

"It's the only way for you to embrace your element safely," Mars responded. "Believe me, Venus, you're not the only one hurt by your differences. We all want you to be able to experience the wholeness that we do."

Venus hesitated, afraid of what might happen if she agreed to do this. After so many years of sealing off her power as much as possible, the thought of surrendering to it was frightening. Then there was the idea of openly watching Mars bond with her element; spying briefly from a distance was embarrassing enough!

Still, the curiosity and hope were too strong to deny. It was becoming so difficult to live in the presence of others; how could she pass up a chance to ease her struggle? If there was any possibility of making her power easier to manage, it was worth the risk, and there was no better place to try it than out at the retreat with one of her dearest friends. Finally, Venus nodded.

Mars stood up. She untied the cord at her waist and let her robe slide off her shoulders and land in a heap on the floor. A brief blush flashed across her face, but she pulled herself together and stood confidently.

Venus tore her gaze away from her friend's nude body and stared at the floor, concentrating on dismantling the mental guards she had worked so hard to create. Bit by bit she forced her mind to relax, wall after wall of protection rolling aside. Finally the psychological aura of Mars broke through, blazing like the fire she was about to embrace, burning with longing and excitement and nervousness and insecurity.

Taking comfort in the fact that her friend was as unsettled by the situation as she was, Venus set her unease aside. She breathed deeply, focusing on herself and what made her who she was, at the same time letting Mars' emotions sink into her. To her intrigued surprise, she found herself in two worlds at once, comfortably experiencing what Mars was feeling while still in possession of all her own sensations. It was indeed easier to open herself to just one person.

After a moment, Venus looked up at Mars again to show she was ready. The violet-haired woman stretched out both arms toward the fire as if to welcome it, and the flame responded as if it had been waiting for the invitation. Fire leapt from the brazier into Mars' palms, and when she moved her hands they left trails of light in the air.

Unlike Mercury, with Mars there was no hesitation, no slow start. She raised her hands to draw the fire upward and the flames raced up her arms, wrapping around her shoulders like a cloak and climbing into her hair. She was soon crowned by a corona of flickering orange and red, and the fire did not stop there. The cloak of undulating flame rolled down her back and abdomen and coated her legs as well, until Mars appeared to be completely ablaze.

This sight was familiar to Venus; she had watched her friend reach this point many times. The feeling it gave her now, however, was entirely new. She was warm from head to toe as if covered by a blanket, and the flames on Mars' body were a gentle tickle on Venus' skin. She had never expected fire to be tangible. It caressed Mars like a lover, and by proxy Venus as well, and she felt the unique sensation of being adored by an all-encompassing energy. At last, Venus knew what it was like to be bonded to an element, and the unattainable pleasure of it nearly brought tears to her eyes.

The feeling was intensifying. Mars threw her head back and wrapped her arms around herself, embracing the fire that coated her body. This was the point at which Venus usually left her friend to finish the experience in private, and she fidgeted uneasily on the floor, but Mars' head rolled toward her and her violet eyes opened. Through a haze of growing pleasure Venus felt Mars' desire clearly as her friend's eyes pleaded with her.


Venus stayed, but closed her eyes. She no longer needed to see what was going on to comprehend it. The warmth of the fire seeped deeper into her body, sinking through her skin and penetrating all the way to the bone. She breathed raggedly, struggling to hold herself upright as the feeling of becoming one with the fire stole over her.

Frightened, Venus sought out the part of her mind that was herself and clung to it. Mars' mounting ecstasy was a raging inferno that begged Venus to surrender to it, to experience it fully, but she was afraid, afraid, afraid-

-don't be scared-

The essence of Mars was pleading with Venus alongside the invading flame. It mingled with the fire, fading in and out of it until Venus could no longer tell which was which. It became the flame, and the flame became Mars. They were one, a single entity of heat and light and energy. They were two halves of one being made whole.

-I am with you-

Fire was running through Venus like the blood in her veins, and it spoke with Mars' voice. This was no longer fire, a dangerous force of destruction. It was Venus' dear friend, who loved her, who would never let harm come to her. She was filled with Mars' joy, her sense of wholeness, her feeling of being what she was meant to be, and Venus was being invited to share in that ecstasy.

She let go of the last isolated piece of herself.

Mars flooded into her, the fire soldier's essence rolling in like a wave that filled Venus to every corner. For a brief, terrifying moment, Mars filled her entire self.

Then the ocean of flame receded as Venus' essence reasserted herself, the soldier rising up within her own mind to balance the intruding force. After a few seconds of chaos, there was equilibrium, an equal presence of an entity of fire and an entity of...of...


In that perfect moment of balance, Venus found her center. She was experiencing the exquisite wholeness of Mars' unity with fire, and at the same time equally experiencing something else, a sensation all her own. She was no longer merely using her empathic power, she was becoming one with it, merging with it, giving herself over to its energy and its strength. She was emotion.

Her entire body flooded with energy, a white-hot tingling bursting out from her heart and spreading all the way to her toes, growing stronger by the second until she felt she could not contain it. Along with it came a wave of pure elation, the liberating feeling of something long-confined finally breaking free. It was the most intense euphoria Venus had ever experienced. The rush was beyond emotional, beyond sexual, beyond anything she had ever felt before. At last there were no barriers, nothing to keep her from this feeling. There was no fear, no worry, no pain, nothing but the pleasure of absolute freedom.

For a moment she thought she would be overwhelmed by ecstasy, but Mars' training served her well. She breathed purposefully as the intensity of the experience rolled through her, reshaping herself around this new plane of existence. After a few seconds the feeling stablized, still pulsing throughout her body but not overrunning her mind. Her element was part of herself, but it was not her whole self.

She opened her eyes. Mars was watching her from across the room. The soldier of fire had become little more than a glowing shape of rosy flame, her familiar features nearly lost to the merge with her element.

Venus stood up. Her mind was racing, but she felt perfectly in control. Her friend's emotional aura was as visible as a cloud and as tangible as the heat she radiated. Venus stretched out an arm toward her, and Mars' aura bent, drawn toward the soldier of emotion as fire was drawn to Mars, as water was drawn to Mercury.

Venus pulled her hand back. It would be wrong to use the emotional energy of another for her own purposes. There was another source, much closer to home. She looked down at her hands. Her skin was illuminated by a bright yellow glow, so thick she could barely make out her fingers. It spilled out from the sleeves of her robe and poured out on the floor around her feet. She felt stifled, choked, confined. Moving slowly, gently reminding herself how to make use of fingers and hands, she untied the robe and let it drop to the floor.

Yellow light burst out everywhere. Her entire body was covered in the warm, glowing energy. It flexed when she breathed, moved when she moved, an aura of tangible emotion that linked her to all the passion that permeated the world. She felt everything, and she was master of it all, able to sample or set aside any sensation she chose. The room was ablaze with yellow and red, the energy of the two soldiers casting shadows that danced with each other across the walls. Venus looked up at Mars, her sister in light, and knew in these forms there was nothing they could not do.

Mars made a motion Venus recognized vaguely as a shake of the head. There was one thing they could not do like this. They could not live their human lives.

The soldier of fire stretched out her arms toward the brazier at the center of the room. The glow that surrounded her dimmed, condensed, and once more took on the form of leaping, flickering flames. Just as the fire had enveloped her, it left her, rolling up her body and down her arms to return to its place of origin. After a minute Mars' form was once again an ordinary female body, as human as any citizen of Crystal Tokyo.

Venus closed her eyes and concentrated. It was a painful task to raise her mental barriers again after experiencing such freedom withuot them, but it had to be done. Bit by bit, she closed herself off to outside emotions, and bit by bit, the yellow light emanating from her faded away. Finally, she too was restored to her human body, but the feeling of pure emotional power lingered, its memory giving her an inner strength despite the limits of skin and bone.

"Those are our ultimate forms," Mars was saying, jolting Venus back to reality. "We can't stay that way for long without sacrificing everything, but remember that power will always be there when you need it...and now that all four of us have achieved this, there is nothing that can defeat us."

Artemis was worried. The last he'd seen, Sailor Venus was having trouble coping with any social situation. Now the first planning meeting of the week was concluding, and Venus had volunteered for all the assignments that involved public appearances. Artemis was glad to see the bright smile he remembered had returned to the soldier's face, but he was concerned it might all be an act. With one thing and another he and Venus were no longer as close as they once had been, but he knew the problems she'd been having were no simple matter. As the meeting broke and its participants went their separate ways, Artemis caught up to Venus in the corridor.

"Don't push yourself so hard," he said gently, looking at his former protegé with concern. "I'm sure the other soldiers would be glad to handle some of those appointments if it's too much."

"Don't worry," Venus said lightly. "I'm fine, really, I am." Artemis searched hard, but could find nothing but sincerity in the soldier's relaxed expression.

"You're not coming apart on me, are you?" he asked warily, his eyes narrowing.

"Just the opposite." Venus smiled warmly, and there was a fresh light in her eyes that Artemis hadn't seen there in over a hundred years. "I've finally got it all together."

The End
Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and its associated characters and canon are the property of Naoko Takeuchi and Kodansha.
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