To all appearances, the two felines in the room didn't appear to be anything other than your garden variety cats, nothing about them betraying the fact that they were anything but, at least from a distance. Upon closer inspection, anyone taking notice of them would see that each cat bore a yellow crescent moon on their forehead, the mark of those who served the Moon Kingdom in the time of the Silver Millennium, and who today were those chosen by Queen Serenity to guide the reincarnations of her daughters' chosen defenders.
It was that very issue that they were discussing at that very moment, the black furred cat speaking to her white furred companion. "I'm worried, Artemis."
"I am, too, Luna," Artemis replied. "It shouldn't be taking this long for them to come together as a team. Even in the old days, when they had their disagreements, they always managed to put them aside and come together as a team when confronted with a very real threat to the life of the Princess. We know the Princess' life is in danger..."
"I know that the Princess' life is in danger, Artemis," Luna replied indignantly, knowing full well what her companion meant by that statement. "But no matter how much it might help, we simply cannot allow the others to know that Willow is the Princess they are sworn to protect, especially Willow herself."
"Why not?" Artemis asked. "I would think that enough time has passed since we've been together to make that piece of information something we should feel more comfortable discussing. And in any case, if what you've told me about Willow is true, then we may not be able to keep it a secret for much longer, anyway."
"I know," Luna sighed, turning away to look at the wall. Although Willow had never spoken to her about any recovered memories of her time in the Moon Kingdom, the fact that she had slowly begun to become better at her studies over the past two months greatly concerned her. Princess Serenity had, after all, been highly intellectual and nothing if not an overachiever when it came to her studies. Luna took it as a sign that her memories as Princess Serenity were working their way to the surface, even if Willow herself was unaware of them. She had hoped to wait for a more convenient time to talk to Willow about this, but fate was apparently having other plans. If Luna was correct in her assumptions, Willow could regain her full memory in but a matter of days.
She dreaded what would likely happen once that occurred. Seeing how close to them the person the other Soldiers were supposed to be protecting was, they might actually look past their differences and come together under Willow's leadership as they should have done right at the start. On the other hand, since she had kept a secret of this magnitude from them, it might very well end up being the thing that caused not only the great rift already present between the Soldiers, but may also cause Willow herself to abandon the fight, seeing Luna as little more than someone who put her life at risk quite unnecessarily.
Just then, the door to the room opened, and Willow walked inside, backpack slung over one shoulder. Grateful for the distraction, Luna asked, "How are you feeling today, Willow?"
Sitting down at the table in the center of the room and dropping her bag down beside her, Willow let out a deep breath as she replied, "About as well as can be expected, seeing as how I'm lying to my friends about what I do when I'm not in school, I can barely speak to my other friends without having them want to know how I plan to deal with the enemy, and to top it off..."
Willow trailed off unexpectedly, Luna seeing that she was about to say something, but seemed almost reluctant to do so. Wondering if it was somehow related to their mission, she asked, "What is it?"
Willow blinked and rubbed her eyes, trying to clear her head. "It's nothing, Luna. I've just been having...having a rough couple of days."
Luna grew concerned at that. This was the first time that Willow had given any real indication that she may be remembering her past. And as much as she didn't want to talk about it right now, there appeared to be no better time than the present to do it. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I want to," Willow replied. "But...I don't think you'd understand."
"Try us," Artemis said, coming over and leaping onto the table in order to look Willow directly in the eye. "We can be surprisingly understanding when it comes to understanding something others tell us that may shame us to reveal." He turned to look at Luna at this, and the black furred feline was thankful that Willow hadn't picked up on it.
"Well," Willow began. "I think I may know who the Princess is."
Luna's eyes widened noticeably, and Artemis tried not to look surprised. "You...you do?" he asked.
"Well, I think I do," Willow clarified. "I mean, I might not be sure, because I could be jumping to the wrong conclusion. And I've done that before, and I don't think I want to do it again, especially when it involves something like this. I mean, what if she's not the Princess? That could be embarrassing. We wouldn't want to go up to this person and say 'Hello, you may be the reincarnation of a Princess that once lived on the Moon that needs to be protected from an evil organization that wants to use the Crystal you carry to destroy us all..."
Artemis chuckled, and even Luna, despite herself, had to be amused. Realizing that the two cats were laughing at her expense, Willow stopped herself and said, "Like I said, I may know who the Moon Princess is, but I'm not sure that I should tell you..."
"Then perhaps you shouldn't," Luna said before Artemis could interrupt. Willow clearly didn't want to reveal that she knew that she was the Moon Princess, which was perfectly fine with her. Of course, she was assuming that Willow did in fact know she was the Princess, which was a rather incredible leap in logic. But there was no one else Willow could suspect as being the Princess, so there didn't appear to be any problems. "I mean, I don't think that it's necessary to reveal the identity of the Princess quite yet, at least not until we can get you and the other Soldiers working together."
"Not to mention that there's been a high amount of people disappearing throughout town lately," Artemis added, his tone of voice clearly telling Luna that he was displeased with how Luna had just conducted herself. "We have to assume that's something the enemy is doing in order to draw you out into the open."
Willow nodded. "I've been thinking about that, yeah. We've got to do something about that."
"The attacks seem to happen at random," Luna noted. "And they appear to happen mostly at or near areas where large groups of people congregate. Is there anywhere you can think of that they might strike next?"
Willow mused about it for a moment. "Well, there is a swimming competition this afternoon at the rec center for the regional championships. Fred's going to be there. Buffy and I were going to go down there after I came and talked to you."
"Perhaps one of us should go with you," Luna offered. "To offer moral support."
"I don't think the others would be as grateful to see you as I would," Willow said, getting up and picking up her backpack, heading towards the door. Pausing as she opened it, she gave Luna and Artemis one final look. "Besides, cats hate the water. You'd be out of place there."
Willow stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her. Looking at the spot where she had been, Luna and Artemis turned to look at one another, sharing a look between them that bordered on irritation.
Willow walked down the street, an expression on her face that any passersby choosing to take notice of her would no doubt interpret as one of shocked surprise. It was an assumption that was not far off the mark, but the reasons behind it were something beyond the comprehension of the majority of the people of Sunnydale, most of whom lived in ignorance to the danger they faced.
Especially the one who, unbeknownst to her, could very well be the focal point of the entire battle Willow was fighting.
"And I almost let it out," Willow thought, still shocked about how close she had truly come to revealing to Luna and Artemis her suspicions about Tara, and how she thought that her girlfriend might be the Moon Princess they were looking for. True, she had no real knowledge to support her claim other than Tara's own words, which neither confirmed nor denied it. All that she had said was that she was looking for the Mystical Silver Crystal, but only after she got Willow to promise her that she could not tell anyone about it.
It was a confidence Tara had chosen to divulge to her, knowing that Willow could possibly look at her quite differently than she had in the time that they had been together. And truth be told, Willow did look at her quite differently than she had before, but instead of a crazy old woman talking nonsense, Willow saw a person of royalty, and someone who was quite obviously unaware of this fact.
Willow knew that she had to keep her suspicions about Tara a secret, not only from her, but from Luna and Artemis as well. If they, or if her friends, found out, they would want to get her involved in something that, regardless of her former life, did not concern her now. And there she had been, coming as close to blurting it out as she ever had in the two months since first learning it.
As much as Willow knew keeping her assumptions a secret was the right thing to do, there was something gnawing away at the base of her skull telling her that, at some point in the not too distant future, she would have no other choice but to let Luna and Artemis know what she suspected. It was something she knew she couldn't avoid, but at the same time, she knew that she couldn't betray Tara's confidence, even if she did it to keep her safe. It was that commitment that, until recently, had been so familiar to her when it came to doing her schoolwork: doing what she thought was best to get what she wanted getting locked in an eternal battle against doing what she knew was right in order to get what she knew was needed.
Willow had always hated that part of herself, especially when it came to the surface during times like this, when what appeared to be the fate of the entire world hinged on her decision. Only this time, she knew that it wasn't a joke: the entire world did hinge on the decision she had to make.
She realized it was selfish of her to think of her dilemma in terms as limited as what would happen between them if she were to reveal Tara's secret. After all, it wasn't just her life and Tara's that were in danger, but those of the entire planet. Willow had been telling herself that keeping Tara's secret wasn't selfish; but her way of making sure that her girlfriend didn't suffer while she led a double life as Willow Rosenberg, normal, average, everyday High School student, and as Sailor Moon, the Sailor Soldier of Love and Justice, leader of the Sailor Soldiers, defenders of the planet Earth against the evils of the Dark Kingdom.
"Tara could never know what it's like to lead a life of mystery and secrets in the name of protecting the innocent," Willow thought. "I mean, she knows a lot about living a life of secrets, seeing as how she never talked to me about her past before...well, before. That's why I can't tell her about this. I know how much she's already gotten involved in my fight, and I can't let her get any more involved in this than I fear she may already have."
But, as she stopped at a red light, she had cause to wonder if that line of reasoning wasn't just as selfish as what she had thought of before. After all, not telling Luna and Artemis about her suspicions of Tara might have been her way of protecting Tara, but assuming at all that Tara needed to be protected was not giving her the credit she deserved. Willow knew that Tara had a troubled life growing up, having lost both of her parents at an early age and having been forced to live on her own ever since.
But despite all of that suffering, she had never once complained about it. Willow had always known that Tara was strong enough not to let things like that get under her skin, and by even for a moment thinking that she needed protection, Willow was dishonoring everything about Tara that she had come to know, not to mention everything the blonde had done for the whole of her life.
Tara had never given Willow any indication that she needed anyone's help to do anything, and Willow doubted that she was going to start now.
But that still didn't answer the question about what she should do: should she keep Tara's secret, and run the risk that the enemy would find out and capture her? Or should she tell Luna and Artemis, and betray the confidence that Tara had given away so freely and without a second thought, even if it was done in order to protect her from a threat against her life that she wasn't even aware of?
Willow didn't have the answer to that question, and as she brought her fingers up to brush the heart shaped brooch that she wore around her neck, she knew that she was highly doubtful to find an answer any time in the near future. Whether or not she truly was the Princess, Tara was in danger. And that meant that she would fight with all of her being to protect her, even if she did it alone.
Her thoughts drifted to Cordelia, then, and Willow wondered what she was up to at that moment. They hadn't talked in weeks, and it was painful for the two of them to be separate. Before this, they had been such good friends; now Cordelia wouldn't give her the time of day. It was sad to see a lifetime of friendship flushed away due to circumstances that neither of them could control.
"I hope you come back to us, Cordy," she thought. "We... I miss you."
Cordelia sat at a table outside the Espresso Pump, mildly sipping at a cappuccino she had ordered nearly an hour ago. The drink had gone cold some time ago, so its value as a warm drink had long since vanished.
Not that it mattered, since the soothing effects that came from drinking it were about the only thing these days that made her visions seem anything resembling comfortable.
Her head beginning to hurt, Cordelia put the book she was reading down and rubbed her temple, taking another sip of her drink in order to fight the growing headache she was beginning to feel. After a few moments of painful torture, her headache faded.
Its cause, however, burned itself into her brain, where it was unlikely to be removed from anytime within the near future.
It had been like this since she was little, though throughout the whole of her life, she was worried about what it meant. But now she knew the truth. These visions she had were the memories of her former life trying to reassert themselves after having been buried for so long.
Her former life...
Even two months later, Cordelia still had trouble believing that she was a Princess, especially since she had always dreamed of being a Princess when she was younger, imagining herself living in a castle in some faraway land and having royal subjects to order around.
But she was a Princess. But she was not a Princess of a foreign or fairy tale land, but a Princess of one of the planets of the Solar System. And instead of having subjects who worshipped her, she was charged with protecting the Princess of the Moon long ago. And these blasted visions she had, which had plagued her since childhood, were of that time.
Cordelia always resented it, and learning that they had been intentionally given to her (despite the claim she had been given that it was an accident) didn't make her feel any better about it. And to make things worse, she had been hostile towards Willow, who was her only friend and who had not deserved to suffer her wrath.
She hadn't wanted it to end up like that, but her visions had gotten progressively worse in the two months since they had met. And that, combined with the fact that the five of them couldn't come up with some sort of plan that could defeat the enemy, had finally sapped away at Cordelia's resolve, making her choose to break her friendship with Willow and her commitment to the mission to which she had been entrusted, despite the fact that doing both was extremely dangerous not only to her, but to the others.
Looking down at her wrist, Cordelia saw the red bejeweled bracelet she had been given all those months ago. Even though she felt so negatively about what happened, she couldn't bring herself to take it off and throw it away. She knew that it had something to do with the fact that there had been times since she left when she had thought about going back, apologizing for her part in what had happened and giving her solemn promise to never let it happen again.
But she couldn't do that, no matter how much she wanted to. Who knew how the others felt about her now? And, more importantly to her, who knew what Willow felt about all of this? After all, of all of them, hers was the voice she missed the most.
"So there you are."
Looking up in barely contained surprise, Cordelia saw Anya at the door, looking directly at her. "Oh, great," she thought irritably. "Now there's one voice I'd like to never hear again."
Making her way over to sit down in front of Cordelia, Anya affixed the brunette with a stare. "I've been trying to get into contact with you for the past few weeks."
"And now you've found me," Cordelia replied irritably, reaching for her cappuccino and taking another sip, this time to calm her nerves about the upcoming confrontation. "So what do you want?"
"You know what I want to talk about," Anya stated matter of factly, and Cordelia grimaced. This was the topic she hadn't much wanted to talk about, especially to Anya, who, of all the others, was the most vocal proponent about what they had to do in order to accomplish their mission. Cordelia suspected that it had something to do with the fact that she resented playing what was essentially second fiddle to Willow in regard to who actually led the team in that mission, especially since Willow had no real ideas on how to accomplish it.
"I don't want to talk about it," she replied, picking up her book and all but telling Anya that the conversation was over. "I didn't then, and I don't want to now."
"You're going to have to, though," Anya pressed on, clearly not taking the hint. "How long do you think you can continue to play the wounded child and give us all the silent treatment?"
"I'm not sure," Cordelia replied, looking up from her book, her words all but dripping with sarcasm. "But just between you and me, let's just try and see."
Anya frowned. "Listen, Cordelia, you don't like those visions, fine. I didn't like having my memories of the Silver Millennium restored either, at first. But when I realized that it gave me a duty and purpose more important that being vain and having material goods, I realized that it made me someone special. Not that I particularly dislike the idea of having material goods or being vain, but I know that I have a higher calling. We all do, whether we wanted it or not."
"I don't want it," Cordelia stressed, not bothering to look up from her book this time. "And this conversation is over, whether you like it or not."
Anya sat dumbfounded for several more seconds, then got to her feet. As she turned away to leave, she whispered, "Willow misses you, you know."
"What?" Cordelia asked, putting her book down.
Turning around, Anya said, "Willow misses you. After you left, she talked to us all the time about whether or not you're going to come back. She told me that you two were friends before all of this, and that she was the only one you ever felt comfortable around, even if you did hide the secret of your visions from her."
Anya looked away, mostly to hide the tears that were beginning to form in her eyes. "She goes out there every night, fighting to protect the people of this town from the Dark Kingdom. And she does it all out of the goodness of her heart, despite the fact that there are some of us who don't deserve the treatment she gives us."
"Especially the two of us, who have cut ourselves off from her completely," Cordelia finished.
Anya nodded and moved to the door, stepping outside of it without another word or look back.
Cordelia sat in silence for several more minutes before putting her book inside her purse, withdrawing the cell phone she had received from Luna, slinging the purse around her shoulder and heading for the door. As she walked, she dialed the number for Willow's cell phone, but received no answer.
"She's not answering," Cordelia said after her third attempt to contact Willow failed. "I wonder what she and the others are up to right now. No doubt she's probably with the others at some big event having the time of her life."