The Beauty of Fire

This is another part of the Crystal Kingdom Archives. It helps if you've read Demon Hunter's Journal first, but (hopefully) it's not necessary. This story takes place between Aa! Megami Senshi! and Forsaken Heart.

"I was starting to wonder if you'd come." Michiru looked out at the figure dripping rainwater on the porch. Rei blushed at Michiru's teasing, looking as if she were on the verge of turning to flee. "Come inside before you get any wetter than you already are. Ami's already here, and Hotaru and Chibi-Usa have gone to spend the day with Usagi and Mamoru." Michiru chuckled softly before adding, "Probably to avoid my wrath at the state of my kitchen."

"That bad, huh?" Rei asked softly, assaying a faint smile. "If it's anything like the condition Usagi's kitchen is routinely in...."

"Something like that," Michiru confirmed with a soft laugh, "although Hotaru is much better at cleaning up than either Chibi-Usa or Usagi, so it's not the disaster you'd imagine. It's merely bad enough to make them afraid of how I'd react."

"And you're so scary," Rei teased, stepping into the house so Michiru could close the door.

"You realize, of course, that I'm going to have to punish you for that," Michiru growled and reached for her with a playful smile.

"Only if I help punish her," Haruka purred dangerously, coming into view from the direction opposite Michiru. "I wondered what was taking so long. Are we planning to leave Ami alone?"

"Only long enough to get Rei into some dry clothes," Michiru answered, shooting an annoyed look at Haruka. "Why so jealous?"

"I'm not jealous," Haruka grumbled. "I'm just noticing things."

"Uh...maybe I should come back another time," Rei murmured, backing toward the door as the other women began to look far too much as if they were on the verge of a fight. When she and Usagi fought, it was obviously (especially in the last couple of years) play; when Michiru and Haruka started sniping at each other, it was hard to tell. Whether it was playful or not, it wasn't fun to be around.

She was reaching for the door, silently offering a prayer of thanks, when she felt hands on both her arms. She took a deep breath and slowly turned her head toward the others.

"There's no need for you to go," Haruka growled softly, looking her over with a gaze that pushed Rei through her nervousness, into anger.

"No, I think there IS a need for me to go," Rei snapped, jerking free of their hands. "I refuse to be some sort of game for you two. When you want to talk about the album, instead of trying to use me to make each other jealous, you know where to find me."

The two lovers jerked back, stunned; each looking at the other, they saw the same guilty surprise in the other's face. Michiru reached out to catch the door, holding it so Rei couldn't open it. Haruka turned and stalked back into the house, the set of her jaw and the hunching of her shoulders revealing her inner conflict.

"I'm sorry, Rei. I didn't think," Michiru said softly to the back of Rei's head. "I didn't intend to get into this; all I'd intended to do was get you to relax. Please, let's talk about this."

"Not without Haruka. I'm not going to go through this twice, just to satisfy her need to be strong and silent regardless of the cost." Rei turned to glare stubbornly at Michiru. "I will not put up with this any longer. It's been like this for the last eight years. We've made allowances for the two of you, because - when you're not fighting - you so obviously love each other; but I am tired of the way one or the other of you will flirt with one of us when you KNOW it's going to make the other mad, and then the rest of us have to put up with the two of you sniping at each other - and the unfortunate who was flirted with ends up feeling guilty about being the cause of yet another one of your fights. Either get over it, or expect not to see me again except in uniform."

Michiru recoiled at the anger in Rei's voice, and more at the realization the anger was justified. The sniping was, while sometimes painful, something she'd always thought of as being just between the two of them. She'd never considered the effect it could have on the others. She opened her mouth to speak, just as the sounds of Haruka's Ferrari speeding away became obvious.

"Damn it! Why does it always end this way?" Michiru cried, turning to flee - right into Ami's arms.

"I think it's because she's afraid of her emotions," Ami murmured gently. "People have always accused me of being cold, withdrawn, or at best reserved, and I suppose I am - at least, compared to someone like Minako. But Haruka always seems to be fighting against what she feels, as if she's afraid we'll somehow discover some terrible secret if she lets herself go."

"The only person I've ever seen who's as uninhibited as Minako was Urd," Rei grumbled, smiling slightly. She reached out to touch Michiru's shoulder and murmured, "Michiru, you DO understand what I'm talking about, don't you?"

"I do," Michiru whispered, feeling herself trapped between the two. "I never realized that what we did hurt any of you. Why didn't you say anything?"

"Maybe because none of us were ever angry enough to risk your coldness, or Haruka's temper. Until now, that is." As she spoke, Rei felt Michiru stiffen under her hand. This wasn't going well, but it had to be said. "Maybe it's a good thing I got rained on coming here. I wouldn't have been pissy enough to say anything otherwise."

"My coldness?" Michiru asked, not quite sure how to take that. Nobody had ever described her as cold before. It was usually Haruka who got that label.

"Yes, your coldness," Rei said gently. "You have a way of freezing someone out when you're not happy with them; it's worse than Haruka's anger, because when she stays around to yell, you can at least yell back and clear the air. When you freeze us out, it's impossible to clear the air, because there's nothing to work with. Haven't you ever felt that way with anyone?"

<With Haruka, far too many times. But I never realized I was doing it to them. NOW what do I do? Nothing I can say will make it any better.> Michiru bowed her head silently, wishing Rei and Ami would leave her alone with her sadness.

"Michiru, you're doing it now," Rei growled softly, hoping she could get her to respond. "This is what I'm talking about. You're shutting us out; how am I supposed to know if you're angry, sad, or too hurt by what I've said for anything to get through?"

"I'm not shutting you out," Michiru murmured. "I just...what can I say to make it better? No matter what I say, it would just be like putting a Band-Aid on a nasty gash."

"A Band-Aid is better than nothing," Ami said. "Come on, Michiru. Let's go sit and talk." She looked at Rei and added, firmly, "All three of us."

**Where's Haruka? It's been nearly two hours since she left.**

**At the track. She blew her car's engine about five minutes after getting there.**

**Beloved? How soon will you be coming home?**

**I don't know. Is Rei still there?**

**Yes. She's not leaving until you talk with her. No matter how long she has to wait.**

**I don't know when that will be. I have to rebuild this engine before I can go anywhere.**

**We've put this off far too long, beloved. Rei may have been as blunt as you sometimes are, but she has a point.**

**Actually, she has two, and they're very attractive.**


**I was just trying to lighten the mood a little.**

**You can lighten the mood by coming home. I'll be waiting...but if we don't do something, the others won't be. Rei's already mad enough that you're going to have to talk seriously with her if you don't want to be shut completely out of her life.**

**That's not much of a threat.**

**I know you better than that. You can't tell me you don't care that she's mad enough to want nothing to do with us outside of our duty.**

**She's that mad? Then there's nothing I can do.**

**Yoku-iu-yo! You know better than that. You're just afraid to face her. Do you REALLY think that you'll be exposing yourself by working this out?**


**Just come home as soon as you can, ok?**

Michiru looked up at Ami and Rei with a sad sigh. After all this time, she still didn't understand why Haruka was so deathly afraid of exposing herself - sometimes so much she retreated even from their relationship. Making it even more difficult, both of them had been so understanding - so willing to make allowances for anything she felt she had to avoid for Haruka's sake.

"She's being stubborn, isn't she?" Rei asked softly, giving her a warm hug. "She's not the only expert at stubbornness around here, you know."

"That's for sure," Ami said, with a teasing grin. "I'll bet if Usagi hadn't jumped her, our resident priestess would still be stubbornly making herself miserable every time they saw each other."

"Ami, sweetheart?" Rei asked, in a voice dripping with deadly sweetness. "Biiiih!"

Michiru and Ami stared in surprise at Rei, until she crossed her eyes with the effort of looking down at her tongue. With that, both broke into hysterical laughter and - in unison - pushed her down into the sofa.

"Rei no baka!" Ami laughed.

"That does it," Michiru laughed, applying her fingers to Rei's ribs. "In the name of Neptune, I'll tickle you!"

Rei squealed and squirmed, batting ineffectually at Michiru's hands as she rolled off the sofa with a loud crash. Michiru reached to catch her, while Ami dove to get her hands under Rei's head before it could hit the floor. The three landed in a tangle, laughing maniacally.

Ami was the first one to recover, and she leapt to her feet to pose like Usagi over Rei and Michiru. They looked up at her with matching expressions of surprise, before turning to look at each other.

"Are you sure this is the real Ami?" Michiru asked. "OUR Ami was never this demonstrative."

"She's gotten better over the last couple years," Rei laughed. "I think she's had some help with her inhibitions."

"The same help that helped pick her lingerie?" Michiru purred teasingly.

Ami emitted a faint squeak, turned a deep red, and - realizing she was standing where Michiru would have to be blind not to see up her skirt - jumped back, pressing her hands against the front of her skirt.

"," Ami squeaked in outrage, falling back onto the sofa and curling up in an attempt to hide her embarrassment.

"Her...her...her...," Rei laughed, as Michiru smiled knowingly at Ami.

While Ami squeaked again and tried harder to disappear into the sofa, Michiru rose to her feet and looked down at her, still smiling knowingly. Rei chuckled softly and stood beside her, a playful gleam in her eyes as she looked down at her friend.

"Do I get to see, too?" Rei teased, bringing another embarrassed squeak from Ami. She stretched to stagewhisper to Michiru, "I say we peel her and get a GOOD look."

"Try it and die," Ami growled. She sat up and pointed at Rei, adding, "I'll put your fire out, you...."

"Only if I let you," Michiru chuckled. "You're not the only one who can play with water, you know. And I'd be very annoyed if my house were to be flooded."

Rei laughed softly and wrapped her arms around Ami in a friendly embrace. Ami stiffened for a moment, then sighed and returned the hug.

"What am I supposed to do with you?" Ami complained softly with a smile. "You're almost as hard to stay angry with as Usagi."

"Only almost?" Rei pouted. "I guess I'm going to have to work harder."

"I believe this is my cue to go try and bring some order to my kitchen," Michiru murmured softly, moving away from the others.

Rei and Ami met in the kitchen, wearing nightshirts Michiru had found for them before showing them to her guestrooms. Chibi-Usa and Hotaru were already there; Hotaru was doing her best to keep some organization while Chibi-Usa was impersonating Usagi at the stove.

"I wonder if there's any place to get breakfast around here," Rei murmured to Ami as she watched the disaster Chibi-Usa was creating.

"I hope so," Ami replied. "If her cooking is anything like Usagi's, ANYTHING would be better."

"Oh dear," Michiru murmured from behind them. "It's worse than I thought. No wonder Hotaru has phone numbers for places that deliver posted by the phone."

"Worse than you thought?" Ami asked, turning to look at Michiru as Haruka joined her in the doorway.

"Would you want to eat pancakes that were seasoned with wasabi?" Michiru asked softly.

"Err...why don't the four of us find a nice quiet restaurant somewhere?" Ami asked, grimacing at the thought of being forced to eat Chibi-Usa's cooking.

United in agreement, the four women quietly backed out of the kitchen and closed the door on the scene of devastation. Only after the door was closed did they sink back against the wall and release a massive sigh of relief.

"Can the two of you be ready to go in ten minutes?" Michiru asked.

Rei and Ami looked at each other, then nodded; after nearly ten years of fighting side-by-side, they could move a lot faster than that, but if Michiru wanted that much time, they weren't going to argue.

The restaurant was within walking distance of Michiru's house. Michiru and Haruka were apparently regulars; the four women were quickly shown to a table with a view of the sea. While they looked over the menu, Rei watched Michiru and Haruka thoughtfully. Haruka had apparently come home after they'd gone to bed, and she was currently doing her best to appear as if nothing was bothering her.

"Rei, would you order for me?" Ami asked suddenly, surprising all of them. "I have to take care of something."

"All you want anything in particular?" Rei peered at Ami; this wasn't like her. She looked as if she was trying to conceal surprise at something.

"Anything but pancakes. I don't think I could stomach them this morning." Ami's reply brought a laugh from all of them.


**No, nothing like that. I just have to talk with Setsuna for a minute.**

**And it's NOT trouble? OK, count me as weirded out.**

Ami blew a raspberry at Rei and slipped away from the table while the others were reacting to the display.

"What was that about?" Haruka asked Rei as Ami was walking away.

"Someone's trying to act like her daughter again," Rei responded, just loud enough to carry to Ami's ears. "I tell you, that husband of hers is nothing but a bad influence."

"Yes," Michiru chuckled. "She's acting far too much like a human being these days. Whatever happened to the cute little computer in human form we all knew and loved?"

The sudden reddening of Ami's ears made it obvious Michiru's teasing had struck home. Rei grinned and nodded to Michiru as the waiter arrived to take their order. As soon as the waiter had left, Rei turned to look intently at Haruka.

"All right, Haruka. Don't say anything for a minute - just listen. We - Ami, Usagi, Makoto, Minako, and myself - are used to thinking of Michiru as the more sympathetic of the two of you; it might have something to do with you being almost as stubborn and hot-tempered as I am." Rei smiled when Michiru squeezed Haruka's hand, just in time to keep her from snapping off some snappy answer. She had to sympathize; it would have taken Usagi to do the same if their positions had been reversed - although Usagi would have been more likely to do it by distracting her.

"Michiru and I talked last night, with a little help from Ami," Rei continued, smiling warmly at Michiru. "We learned something that none of us had ever realized before - and Michiru learned something she'd never realized. Now it's time for you to learn it."

Haruka opened her mouth to protest, only to have Michiru's hand cover it before she could get a word out. Haruka's eyes flashed angrily, but Michiru murmured softly to her until she nodded and closed her mouth. Rei waited another few moments, until she could see Haruka had relaxed a little.

"Haruka, it's not nearly as bad as you're imagining," Rei said gently, reaching across the table to cover the couple's hands with one of her own. "All I want you to understand is that when you and Michiru use one of us as an excuse for your fights, you're hurting whoever you use. If you think about it, you'll realize it makes sense. How would you feel if we used you as an excuse for fighting? I know, from what Michiru said, that she never realized how much the two of you were hurting us - and so I have to assume that you either never realized it yourself, or you thought you were doing us a favor by 'toughening' us with your fights. Well, it's no favor. When people we love are fighting, it hurts. When they're fighting over one of us, it hurts a lot more, because it always feels as if there was something we could have done to avoid the fight - even if there isn't, rationally. Feeling guilty sucks - and it sucks worse when you can't think of any way you could have avoided it."

Haruka clenched her jaw and fist, hissing angrily as Rei spoke. She started to rise, only to feel Michiru's hand on her shoulder as she shook her head.

"I know. I wasn't happy to hear it, either," Michiru said, penetrating Haruka's thoughts with her gentle voice. "She's right, though. What would you feel if someone repeatedly used one of us as an excuse to fight? I know what I'd feel."

"I don't have to...," Haruka hissed.

"Dammit, Haruka, do you have to let your pride make EVERY decision for you?" Rei exploded, leaping to her feet and slamming both hands down on the table. "Start using your MIND, not your EGO, dammit!"

Ami was just returning to the table as Rei threw back her chair and stalked out of the restaurant. The look Ami threw her was curious and distracted at the same time. Rei was too mad to stop for explanations, and when she ran into Setsuna outside, the impact nearly knocked both down.

"Careful. If you'd run into anyone else, they might have been hurt," Setsuna said with one of her knowing smiles. "Care to join me for a cup of tea?"

"I wouldn't be very good company," Rei growled. "What I'd really like to do is grab Haruka by the throat and shake her until some sense leaks into that thick skull of hers."

"So early in the morning?" Setsuna chuckled. "I don't usually want to shake some sense into her until at least noon."

"She does have a talent for it, doesn't she?" Rei grumbled. "But I'm not going to put up with it any more. If she's not willing to deal with it, then I'm not willing to deal with her. Except for business, of course."

"Yes, let's go have some tea and talk. It sounds like something we really don't want to talk about in public, am I right?"

"I guess you're right. But I'm not going back in there. I'd probably get all of us thrown out before they even delivered our tea."

"That's all right. There's another nice place not far from here. We can get a private room and talk."

Setsuna took Rei's arm and guided her away from the restaurant, toward a teashop about a block away. The owner appeared surprised to see her so early in the day, but immediately escorted them to a room in the back, just large enough to comfortably seat four. Setsuna nodded as they were seated, and the owner slipped out, closing the door behind her.

"Now, why don't you start from the beginning?" Setsuna suggested, offering Rei a warm and understanding look she'd rarely seen before.

"It goes back to when we first met Haruka and Michiru, during the Death Buster situation," Rei said, "but yesterday I finally couldn't take it anymore...."

**Rei, I' to talk, if you're willing to give me a chance.**

**That's all I wanted, Haruka. I'll meet you at Michiru's, ok?**

**That should work. I'm...sorry.**

**Thank you. Hearing that means a lot. And I promise, I won't tell anyone else, ok?**

**Thank you, Rei.**

"David printed these out for me," Ami said, opening her briefcase and pulling out three clipped bundles of papers. She handed one to each of the other women and closed her briefcase. "These are some of Alex's songs. We thought you might want to try them on for size."

"Alex?" Haruka asked, looking over the papers in her hand. "Cooper? But she's one of Bill's characters, isn't she? Or has he built another computer like David?"

"Yes and no," Ami laughed, realizing as she looked at the others that none of them understood Alex the way she did. "She's a character, and a whole lot more. But she's not a MacManus."

"OK, this is confusing. Would you like to explain?" Haruka growled. She'd never liked not knowing what she was in the middle of, and it was obvious Ami knew something she wasn't telling.

"I have a better idea," Ami said with a gentle smile. "Why don't we wait for Alex, and she can explain. She's on her way here now. In the meanwhile, why not try the music? If you like it, I'm sure she'll be willing to do performance rights for you."

"All right," Rei said, looking up from her pages. "I don't know what you're up to, but I'll go along with it. Let's try 'Close Your Eyes', ok?"

Michiru and Haruka looked at each other thoughtfully, then nodded and shuffled through the pages in front of them until they'd found what Rei had asked for. Michiru drew her bow across the strings of her violin, and Haruka began working the piano's keys. The sweet call of the violin and the ringing tones of the piano joined, bringing tears to the eyes of all present. When Haruka looked her way and nodded, Rei began to sing.

Close your eyes
Feel my hand touch your face.
Touch my breast
Feel the way my heart races
For you.
Only for you.

Feel my hands
Hold you 'til the end of time.
Hear my lips
Whispering that you are mine.
Woman to woman
Heart to heart
Our love forges chains
That can never break apart.

If I had a lifetime
To tell you all the things
The way you breathe
The way you move
The way you make my heart sing
If I had forever
To fill your heart with song
Could I return the joy
You've given me for oh so long?

Close your eyes
Feel my lips touch your breast
Touch my hair
Let me bow to caresses
From you.
Only from you.

Feel my heart
Love you 'til the end of time.
Feel your heart
Promise me that you are mine.
Woman to woman
Heart to heart
We live our life
With love burning in our hearts.

Give me 'til tomorrow
To teach you how to sing.
A gentle kiss
A sweet caress
To make your soul take wing.
Give me just a lifetime
To fill your soul with song
And make each day another chance
To share the love that takes us on.

Close your eyes
Feel my arms hold you close
To my heart.
Know we never will part
Any more.
Close your eyes.

Haruka's hands left the piano and reached for Michiru; Michiru settled onto the bench beside her, still playing, and leaned against her sweetheart's side. Haruka slid her arms around her lover and gently nuzzled the back of her head, careful to not interfere with Michiru's playing as she inhaled the sweet aroma of her perfume.

"You have to sing that for her," Ami murmured, moving to take Rei in her arms and cradle her against her breast. Rei smiled tearfully up at Ami and nodded, then gently pushed away to wipe her eyes and compose herself.

"I never...," Rei murmured softly, blushing with embarrassment. "I guess she's a little more complex than she seems in the manga."

"I guess so," Ami agreed with a smile. "I haven't met her yet; I just know about her. But we'll find out in just a couple minutes."

"So soon? It sounds like you had this planned." Rei grinned and gently punched Ami's side.

"Me? Do I look like Setsuna?" Ami asked, putting on her best look of outraged dignity.

"Let your hair grow a few years and practice being secretive," Michiru suggested with a soft laugh. "Then you'll look a lot more like her."

"I don't know," Ami said, blushing. "I think she looks more like her father."

"And he thinks she looks more like you," Rei said, grinning as Ami's blush deepened.

"We'd better give her a break," Haruka chuckled. "We want her to recover enough to introduce us when Alex gets here."

The doorbell rang, startling everyone in the room.

"I'll get it," Ami said, jumping to her feet and moving toward the door while the others were still reacting.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think she was nervous," Rei chuckled, throwing a teasing smile at Ami's back. "I wonder why that might be."

"If I didn't know better, I'd think Alex was her girlfriend," Haruka growled playfully. Michiru laughed and batted at her, while Rei snorted in amusement. Ami was so taken with her husband that the idea of her having a serious girlfriend was as silly as the idea of Minako settling down with any single person.

"Hello, Ami." The voice coming from the entryway was vaguely familiar, very definitely feminine, but none of them could place it with certainty.

"Alex?" Ami sounded uncertain, enough to bring Rei to her feet, ready to join her.

"That's right, gorgeous," the voice purred, dripping with enough lust and sensuality to cause all three women to catch their breath. Ami squeaked; a squeak that was quickly muffled and followed with a deep throaty laugh. "Mmm...I could definitely envy Bill. You taste just as good as he remembers."

Just as good as he remembers? That doesn't sound right. Rei moved toward the doorway, flanked by Haruka and Michiru. In the entryway, Bill - wearing an emerald green racing suit, instead of his usual trenchcoat and fedora - and Ami were tangled in an embrace that was definitely not intended for public consumption.

"Wow...he wasn't exaggerating, was he?" Ami gasped, breaking the kiss and looking up at Bill through half-glazed eyes.

"I certainly hope not," Bill responded, in that strange feminine voice. Rei, Haruka, and Michiru looked at each other, then took ready positions around him.

"Whoever you are, get out of his head!" Haruka snarled, leaping toward Bill, who pushed Ami toward Michiru and rolled with Haruka's impact, coming to a stop with his knees on her shoulders and the web of his hand against her throat.

"Not bad," he said with another throaty laugh. "Trust me, I'd love to get out of his head. The only problem is, it's my head, too. Unless you've got some way to split us into separate bodies, we're stuck with each other."

"Haruka! No! That's Alex!" Ami yelled, jerking away from Michiru and pulling at Bill's arm. "Alex! Relax!"

"I'm ok," Bill said, flowing to his feet and offering Haruka a hand. "I understand, Haruka. This has to be a big shock for you."

"Rin, pyou, tou, sha, kai, jin, retsu, sai, zen. Akuryou taisan!" Rei chanted, slapping an ofuda against Bill's forehead.

"Sorry, Rei, I'm not an evil spirit. But you'd already know that if you'd looked at me. Michiru, do you have any beer here? I think we should all get a drink and sit down so I can explain what the hell's going on." Bill reached up and took the ofuda off his face. Putting it in Rei's hand, he looked her over hungrily and smiled. "I wonder if Usagi realizes just how hot you could be."

"Alex...," Ami growled, moving between Bill and Rei and staring firmly into Bill's eyes. "Now is not the time. Into the living room."

Bill smiled, giving Ami a lingering look, and looked toward Michiru. Leaving Haruka to get back to her feet on her own, he bowed and moved toward the living room. As he walked, two things became quickly apparent: first, while the body was male, the soul within it was definitely female; second, she was a whole lot more graceful than Bill.

"Trust me?" Ami pleaded with the others as they shifted in preparation to follow. "Alex isn't an enemy. She's a friend. At least, she WANTS to be a friend."

"You got it right the first time, Ami," Alex purred, glanced back, licked her lips, and winked. "I AM your friend. And a whole lot more."

"Alex, stop that!" Ami squeaked, blushing all the way to her toes. "How are we supposed to accomplish anything if you're going to do that?"

Rei shook her head, looking from the paper in her hand to the figure retreating toward the living room. That was definitely Bill's body, but who was in control? Alex was a fictional character; how could she exist in this world, rather than in her own? This made less sense than when the Goddesses had come into this world.

"Come on, ladies!" Alex called as she flipped over the back of the sofa into a seated position. "Let me tell you, the center of balance in this body is all wrong. I don't know how he manages to do as well as he does. Especially with how inhibited he is."

"Give it a rest, Alex," Ami called back, a sour expression crossing her face briefly. "You know how he manages - probably even better than I do."

"Actually, he hasn't had much need for me since he died. This is the first time I've been out since before he came to Japan." Alex grinned and flapped a hand dismissively. "I've got to admit, the body's in much better shape now than it was before. Don't tell him I said this, but he's almost up to my standards now."

"You aren't're...I'm not sure what," Rei muttered, approaching the sofa and studying Alex intently.

"Well, I hope I'm not evil," Alex laughed. "I'm just the other person who lives in this body. Everyone else who used to be here is already re-integrated. I guess I'm just too much woman for him to cope with."

Haruka stalked over to the sofa and glared into Alex's eyes from inches away. Alex grinned, reached up, and tweaked Haruka's nose.

"You're cute, but I'm NOT going to get between you and Michiru. That'd be rude." She winked and batted away Haruka's fist. "Wouldn't you rather listen than fight?"

"I'd rather have my brother back," Haruka growled angrily. Other person who lives in that body, my ass!

"He's here," Alex shrugged. She sat up, her attitude shifting to serious and gentle. "Haruka, I promise, he's not in any danger. He can't be. I'm a part of him, and he's a part of me. It's been this way...since he was a child."

"Why didn't he tell me?" Haruka muttered, caught between anger and uncertainty. "I thought I was his friend."

"You are," Alex said firmly. "You're his closest friend. He didn't tell you because he believed I'd reintegrated with him when he died. What good would have been done by telling you we used to be separate personalities, if that was no longer true?"

"He...she's right, Haruka," Rei said, moving to join Ami behind Alex. "Telling us about her if she was no longer a separate person wouldn't have done anyone any good. Now that you're here, Alex, why don't you tell us why you're here?"

"That's easy," Alex laughed. "Unless you want me to go back to why I exist at all. I'm here because Bill's been working too hard. The dummy has this annoying tendency to keep going on something until he's driven himself into the ground. That's when I step in and take over so he can rest. Whether he wants to or not."

"Working too hard?" Haruka asked, glancing worriedly at Ami, who nodded in agreement with Alex.

"Yeah. Ever since Mara was here, the local demons have been at a full boil. And since your girlfriend doesn't exactly make herself easy to find, he's even been too busy to work on completing Frank's body."

"Who's Frank?" Rei asked, noticing how tightly pressed Ami's lips were. Obviously, he'd been too busy for a lot of things...some of which were going to have to be rectified.

"The construction mech who's going to build Crystal Palace," Alex said with a grin. "Don't know why he picked that name for himself. He knows a buttload more about engineering than the original Frank did. I'd be a lot more confident if he'd named himself Bucky or Antonio."

**I chose the name because the Crystal Palace is supposed to be a work of art. Fuller and Gaudi were much better engineers than Wright, but his artistic style is my inspiration for the Palace.**

All five jumped at the unfamiliar voice, and Alex laughed cheerfully.

"OK, I stand...well, sit...corrected. Anyway, that's why I'm in control now. I'm here now because I want to hear my music being performed by real people. I can hear it in my imagination, but it's not the same as hearing it from real voices."

"How long have you been...?" Haruka let the question hang, not quite sure how to ask what she wanted to know. How long had she been a part of Bill? How long had she been...whatever she was?

"A while," Alex said, shrugging with a sour smile. "I have scattered memories that go back to when his father sawed off one of his fingers when he was two years old."

"He WHAT?" Haruka exploded in shock.

"Sawed off one of his fingers. This one." Alex held up her left index finger and looked at it appraisingly. "It's one of the many things that got healed when he died."

The others stared at Alex, still shocked; Ami hesitantly reached for her with tears in her eyes.

"Hey, it's ok," Alex murmured soothingly as she gathered Ami into her arms. "Bill doesn't even remember it. He knows about it because he carried the scar for his entire life, and was told how he got it, but I'm the one who remembers it. There's a lot of incidents like that from his childhood. That's just the most physically damaging one."

"A...lot...," Rei mused, looking Alex over thoughtfully before hazarding a guess. "'re the reason he survived."

"Pretty much. I know I'm the reason he survived his second wife. As much as he remembers, there's a lot he doesn't - because I was there, not him. And she never realized she was torturing me instead of him. If she had, knowing her, she'd have tried to have us committed." Alex took a deep breath, squeezed Ami reassuringly, and continued, "You can't imagine how hard it was to not kill her, but I really didn't relish the idea of our spending the rest of our life in prison. So I took it, shielded him from it, and prayed there'd be a day I could take care of her without endangering us."

"I suppose that means you were disappointed when he killed her," Haruka said. She wasn't sure just what to think of this strange person occupying Bill's body, even if Ami and Rei had accepted her. She was willing to grant that Alex had been a part of his life for years...most of his life, if what she said was true...but hearing a woman's voice and seeing feminine mannerisms coming from her 'brother' was extremely unsettling.

"No. Well...sort of." Alex laughed. "I'm disappointed I didn't get to do it, but I'm kind of glad he finally found it within himself to do it for himself."

"Kind of?" Rei asked. "Why only 'kind of'?"

"Well, if he's finding his own strength, that means he's not going to need me much longer. And I like being me." Alex looked down at Ami and smiled. "Well, I'd like it a lot better if I had my own body, but that's not likely to happen. Do you know what a pain it is to be in a guy's body?"

"Not really," Rei said with a smile. "And I don't remember the Starlights complaining all that much about that when they were on Earth."

"Well, Seiya was so busy chasing Usagi, I think she liked having a male body," Ami laughed. "Yaten mostly didn't like much of anything. I think she was too caught up in their mission to think of anything else."

"Sounds like certain outer Senshi I can think of," Alex stagewhispered to Ami, bringing an angry glare from Haruka and a gentle punch in the ribs from Ami.

"Alex..." Ami admonished; Alex responded with a puppydog look that brought a groan from Haruka, while Ami continued, "As I was going to say, Taiki explained why they chose male appearances. And no, Rei, it wasn't for the reason Seiya gave. I think she said that just to get a rise out of Usagi. Or maybe Minako, given the way she was chasing all three of them. Taiki said they chose male forms because, in most cultures on Earth, women are subordinate to men, and restricted in their freedom of movement and association. Given their mission, they couldn't afford that."

"Seiya...Yaten...Taiki...the Three Lights?" Alex asked thoughtfully. "You mean, they weren't just an idol group?"

"No, they weren't." Ami sat up, pushing away from Alex enough to bring out her computer. She tapped on it for a moment, then nodded. "Edgar should be feeding you the information now. Basically, they were aliens from Kinmoku, here on Earth in search of their princess. That was about six years ago. We haven't heard from them since they went home."

"Wow. I wish I'd been able to meet them." Alex grinned as her eyes glazed over with the effort of keeping up with Edgar's information transfer. "I like their fuku style."

"So says she who's into leather," Rei murmured with a smile. "So now what?"

"Hopefully, I get to hear some singing." Alex leaned back and crossed her legs with a grin. "I know most of my stuff just doesn't work without a band backing it up, but David was supposed to make some printouts that would work with just the three of you."

"He did," Ami said, accepting Alex's invitation to snuggle against her. "And they already tried 'Close Your Eyes'. What do you think they should try next?"

"Oh, I don't know...," Alex laughed. "Given who we were just talking about, how about 'Starstruck'? I want to hear how it sounds as is before trying to decide how to change it."

"Doesn't any of this bother you?" Michiru asked thoughtfully, watching Alex. "So far, I hear some worry that Bill's not going to need you much longer, and a complaint about being in a male body, but other than that you don't seem very concerned."

"Why should I be?" Alex asked. "His father's dead, his ex-wife's dead, and I'm surrounded by some of the sexiest women on the planet. If he'd just learn to pace himself so we could take turns by choice, rather than by necessity, life would be about as good as it can get in this body. The only thing that'd make it better is if we could change sex when we change personalities. But that's not bloody likely."

"No, I'm afraid you're right," Michiru said. "That's not very likely at all. It would take something as powerful as the Silver Crystal to do something like that."

"And it'd be pretty selfish to ask Usagi to use the Crystal for something that trivial," Alex murmured wistfully. "Something that powerful has to take a lot out of her."

"You know, Usagi has her own ideas of what's trivial and what isn't," Rei said. "A lot of times, her ideas don't even make sense to us. At least, not until she succeeds."

"You didn't think it was trivial when she made you younger," Haruka growled softly. Bill, Alex, or whoever, this was her friend. She had to know more about what was going on in his/her head. "Why now?"

"He didn't realize that Usagi was taking a bigger risk than he was when she did it," Alex said, answering Haruka before smiling down at Ami. "He also had incentive to accept her offer. I have to say I envy him. He finally has the kind of love he wrote about me having."

"And he gives that kind of love, too," Ami murmured, blushing at Alex's words and reaching up to touch her cheek gently.

"I'm not going to ask Usagi to risk herself again the way she did then. Not for anything less than the fate of the human race." Alex said, looking up again, as much to keep Ami from seeing just how much she envied Bill as to address Haruka directly. "It's just too dangerous for her."

"You realize she'd be angry if she knew we were making decisions for her," Haruka chuckled. The look in Alex's eyes had been enough to convince her that, even if Alex wasn't Bill, she had his heart.

"So we won't tell her, right?" Alex laughed. Rei snorted, and Ami gently punched her side. "Well, do either of you want to tell Usagi we're making decisions for her without consulting her? I may be an adrenaline junkie, but I'm not suicidal."

All five laughed at the idea of Usagi being scary. It took a lot of doing to get her to take any threat seriously enough to retaliate. Even when Galaxia had taken their Star Seeds, she hadn't seriously fought them until they'd almost killed her.

"I think all my questions are answered. Aren't yours?" Michiru murmured softly to Haruka, slipping an arm around her waist.

"We should try another song," Haruka murmured, picking up and shuffling through the nearest bundle of music as she leaned into Michiru's embrace.

Rei shuffled through her music until she found the song Alex had suggested. She could see why she'd said it needed some changes. On first read, it seemed a little disjointed, as if Alex had just scribbled her thoughts as they came, without any organization. But there must be some, or she couldn't have put music to the words. She looked at the others and waited for Haruka to sit at the piano.

It's such a small thing
Just a little spot of blue
In the nighttime
Full of love and of life
And of hearts burning hungrily for truth

Do you know?
Do you see?
Do you feel?
We are here

As you shine far from me
Does my call reach your ears?
Can you feel my soul's cry?
Does it matter to you?
In the vast endless night
In the cold distant light
All is sharp
All is clear

There is no emptiness
In the places you shine
What is your significance?
What fruit on your vine?
What secrets does your brilliance hide?
What stories do you sing?
Where is the song that gives you warmth
Among every and no thing?

It's such a small thing
Just a little spot of blue.

Rei looked at Alex, who had a dissatisfied expression on her face as she listened to the song. She couldn't blame her; the song definitely needed work. At least she could tell what she'd been trying to say with it...maybe what she needed was some inspiration. That, at least, they could do something about.

"Alex, have you ever been in space?" Rei asked, expecting she already knew the answer.

"Only in my imagination," Alex said. "I'd love to go, but unless I somehow acquire the ability to travel magically, or Bill builds a mech that can go to space, all I can do is wish."

"I think there may be other options, if you're willing to get to know the rest of us. I think the view from the moon could help you with this song."

Alex's eyes lit up and she squeezed Ami excitedly. Rei smiled at her happiness; she was easily as demonstrative as Usagi - definitely a lot more than Bill had ever been, even when the four of them had him alone. Ami laughed and punched her gently.

"Alex, you're bad! You want to go to the moon, don't you?" Ami teased, as lovingly as she ever did with her husband. "We haven't been there in years, but I'm sure the others wouldn't mind going back."

"I wouldn't have suggested it otherwise," Rei said, sticking her tongue out at Ami.

When Alex opened her mouth to say something, Ami covered it with her hand and returned the gesture, surprising them all again. Michiru and Haruka chuckled softly at the way the two of them went at it, so much like Rei and Usagi did so often.

"If the two of you keep that up, we're going to put you in a room," Haruka growled teasingly. Michiru laughed softly and swatted her arm, until she pulled her close and silenced her laughter with a loving kiss.

"She means the three of us," Alex laughed, after gently nipping Ami's hand until she pulled it away with a giggle. "No way am I going to sit out here alone while the two of you enjoy each other. I'm hungry."

"You're right, Ami," Rei laughed while Ami turned crimson with embarrassment. "She is bad. If Bill were as shameless as she is, you'd have some serious trouble keeping him out of trouble."

And trouble keeping the three of us off him, too, but there's no way I'm going to tell her that.

"I don't think so," Alex laughed. "The kind of trouble you're thinking of, he'd never dream of without Ami. Of course, with Ami is another matter entirely, but you already know he's not going to do anything about that unless she takes the initiative. I, on the other hand...."

Ami shrieked in embarrassed outrage and swatted Alex. Rei chuckled and watched as Alex absorbed her swats with an indulgent smile until Ami ran out of steam and collapsed against her. Sometime during the display, Haruka and Michiru had slipped away and left the three of them to work this out on their own. Rei decided that meant Haruka had finally decided she was ok.

Ami finally pulled herself together enough to extend a hand in invitation. Rei smiled and moved to join the others, unsure where to fit herself in until Alex shifted to make room for her next to Ami. It wasn't as good as snuggling with Usagi, but it did feel right. Rei purred contentedly and nipped Ami's ear, apparently inspiring Alex, who began nibbling at her other ear.

Caught between the two of them, Ami squeaked and squirmed helplessly as they teased her in unison. As she crumpled between them, driven into incoherence by their caresses, Rei and Alex looked at each other over her head, smiled, and nodded conspiratorially. The gasp of surprise when they picked her up was delightful; Rei let Alex take Ami's weight so she could open the guest room door.

"Ugh. Close the drapes, David. It's too damned early." Bill's muzzy voice tickled Rei's ears as the morning sun drew her out of slumber. His arm draped across her and his hand cupped a breast as he drew her closer. She purred contentedly and pressed her back against him as she, in turn, drew Ami against herself.

Rei knew he'd figure out she wasn't Ami soon enough, and she intended to take full advantage of his confusion for as long as she could. She knew he'd be mortified if he remembered what she, Ami, and Alex had done last night, so she needed to make sure he had memories of his own to convince him that everything that had happened was because she wanted it.

**Are you awake, Ami-chan?**

**Mmm-hmm...what's up, Rei-chan?**

**Bill's back. We need to do something before he remembers what Alex did.**

**'re right. As much as he likes to tease and flirt...**

**He's going to think either that Alex took advantage of us or that he somehow betrayed you, even though it was Alex we were playing with.**

**We really need to talk to Usagi. Without telling them.**

**This afternoon. For now...**

**Let me start, ok?**

**He's your husband.**

"Mmm...Rei-chan? Would you hold Bill down for me?" Ami purred and turned, brushing Rei's lips with her own before squirming across her body. "As for you, sweetheart, we are going to punish you terribly for forcing us to pounce Alex last night."

"Do I have to?" Rei asked, winking at Ami. "He's doing such a good job of holding me."

Anticipating Bill's attempt to pull his hand away, Rei's hands swept up at the sound of his gasp and gripped his hand, pulling it down across her chest and pressing it against her other breast. He stiffened and attempted to pull away, which only succeeded in pulling her tighter against him. The sound of Ami's giggle made it clear she was enjoying the situation, now that she was fully awake and on top of Bill.

"Now, sweetheart, you are going to lay right there and let the two of us have what we want, aren't you? I'd be terribly sad if you said no...." Ami's voice shifted from playful to sniffling as she spoke, so much like Usagi's when she wanted something from Mamoru it was unbelievable. Bill's resigned sigh was so much like Mamoru's, Rei almost felt sorry for him. Ami had obviously - and surprisingly - learned Usagi and Chibi-Usa's tricks for getting what she wanted.

**I'm sorry, Rei. If I'd realized Alex was still around...**

"Don't you DARE apologize!" Rei snapped, squirming around to glare into Bill's eyes. The look of shock in his eyes was a relief; it meant he'd at least heard her. "I WANTED what she did! And so did Ami! And I want what YOU are going to do, too!"


"But nothing, beloved," Ami purred, shifting to straddle his waist and press her hands into his shoulders, holding him firmly against the bed. "I want what you're going to do, too. I want it for all three - no, all four of us. You, me, Rei, and Alex. You haven't done anything to hurt me. Neither has Alex. Everything you've done, you've done because you love me with all your heart. I know that. Why can't you believe it?"

Ami's voice was quavering as she stopped; clearly, Bill's lack of faith in himself still upset her - not that Rei could blame her, especially knowing where it came from. Apparently, he still hadn't fully deprogrammed himself.

"I love you so much," he whispered, no longer attempting to escape. "You're my Angel. You're the reason I live. I just...I'm so afraid...."

"That you'll hurt me?" Ami stroked his cheek gently with one hand, looking down at him with the kind of loving regard Rei had only felt from Usagi. "Don't you realize that if you do, it'll be because we love each other so much? When you're as close as we are, it's bound to hurt sometimes - but that's part of what makes it so wonderful. If we weren't close enough to hurt together, how could we be close enough to be joyful together?"

And we used to think she was cold...boy, were we wrong!

"But...I don't ever want to hurt you..." Bill murmured weakly; Rei couldn't tell if it was because he was lost in Ami's superior logic, or because he was still so knotted up inside he was grasping at that to keep from losing himself in his ex-wife's programming.

"Remember when we first made love?" Ami asked gently, shifting to lay full-length on him. "Do you remember what I said when you were afraid to do it again?"

" felt so didn't care about a little pain?"

"That's right. Loving you, sharing my heart with you, sharing my soul with you, feels so can I possibly care about a little pain? What hurts you, hurts me. And I already know that what hurts me, hurts you. So don't let what SHE did to you interfere with our love for each other." Ami's hands cradled Bill's head, forcing him to look into her eyes as she spoke. Rei hoped she was getting through.

"But...doesn't..." Bill's eyes flicked toward Rei as his voice trailed off.

"How could it, Beloved? Rei, Makoto, Minako...I love each one of them, and I know you love them, too. How could that possibly hurt me? I know you - both of you - and I know that your heart and mine are one. And my heart tells me that what I want more than anything right now is for you to surrender to my love - and to Rei's. Will you do that for me? Please?" Ami gently kissed Bill and looked into his eyes with an expression that Rei would have found impossible to resist.

"Ami...," Bill whispered, reaching for her with his un-trapped hand and drawing her tight against him for a deep and loving kiss.

**Take his other hand, Rei. Don't let him put it off.**

**You're amazing, Ami. I love you.**

**I'm not amazing, I'm just me. And I meant every word I said.**

**I know. That's what's so amazing. I'm not sure I could be so free from jealousy.**

**I'm not. But the three of you don't make me jealous. That'd be like being jealous of myself.**

Rei found Bill's hand, where it was trapped against her side, and pulled it to her lips. She began kissing his fingers, one at a time, and with each kiss, she broadcast images to Bill and Ami of the things she intended to do to and with them. Both were initially surprised by the graphic intensity of the images, but first Ami, then Bill, eventually joined in the spirit of things and began returning the images - until she demanded to know why they were imagining things, when they could be doing them.

Usagi was, amazingly, at home studying when they found her. That was one of the things that was most amazing about how she'd grown up: she actually took her studies seriously for the first time in her life. Then again, her major was government - an attempt to learn enough to be a good Queen.

"Better mark this occasion in your calendar, Ami. Usagi, studying? It must be a sign of the apocalypse." Rei grinned at Ami as she said it; they both knew what was coming.

"Rei! Why are you so mean to meeeeeee?" Usagi wailed, right on cue.

"Maybe it's because you're such a total flake!" Rei shot back, leaping to tackle her beloved Princess. Usagi obviously hadn't been expecting that, but she rolled with the impact much better than Rei had expected.

"Well, you know what they say," Usagi purred, looking lovingly up into her eyes. "Flakes burn real hot."

"And you're certainly the flakiest, aren't you?" Rei laughed, giving Usagi a quick kiss before pulling her upright. "But Ami and I have something we need to talk with you about."

"Uh-oh. This sounds serious." Usagi looked from Rei to Ami, reacting to the intensity of their gaze with a shift to the loving concern that marked her acting as Serenity.

"It is," Ami said. "It's about Alex."

"Alex? Who's Alex?"

"Alex Cooper. She's not just a character, Usagi. She's real." As Ami explained, Rei watched Usagi's expression rapidly shift from surprise to disbelief to amazement. "The problem is, she's stuck in Bill's body."

"Stuck in Bill's body? What do you mean?"

"Bill and Alex share a body, but are different people." Ami blushed; Rei was pretty sure she was remembering just how different. "And neither one of them will suggest the obvious solution to you."

"Different people? Like Mamoru and Tuxedo Kamen, when we first met him?" It was nice to see Usagi trying to figure it out for herself, even if she was wrong.

"Not really," Ami said gently. "Mamoru and Tuxedo Kamen were really the same person, even then. Alex and Bill are as different as Rei and Minako."

"She's right, Usako," Rei said gently. "They really are different people. They're more like Mamoru and Tsukikage no knight, except they're in the same body."

"But...Bill writes about he must know about her, right?"

"That's right," Ami said. "They know about each other. He's unhappy because he thought she'd reintegrated with him when he died. She's unhappy because as long as she's separate, she's stuck in a male body - and unlike the Starlights, she didn't choose it."

"That sounds miserable - for both of them." Usagi's eyes filled with tears as she spoke.

Rei knew she'd do anything she could, no matter what it took, to help them. This was why Alex had insisted they not say anything to her about it, Rei was certain. This was also why Rei and Ami had both agreed to talk with her without saying anything to Alex or Bill.

"It is," Ami said. "Both of them try to claim otherwise, but you know I can feel what's really going on. But they're both as stubborn as a certain priestess we know."

"Ha! Nobody's as stubborn as I am!" Rei laughed, sticking her tongue out at Ami. "Seriously, though, I'm pretty sure it's only the surprise that's making him unhappy. Am I right, Ami?"

"You're right. He's only unhappy because of the surprise. Beyond the surprise...he and Alex are actually pretty good friends." Ami gave Usagi one of her smiles - the ones that seemed to come from her toes and gain strength as they flowed up her body to light up her face. Watching her smile, Rei felt herself drawn to the pure love Ami radiated - so much like Usagi, yet so much herself, too.

"So once he gets over it, Alex is the only one who's really unhappy, right?" Usagi's face screwed up in concentration for a minute, then she laughed cheerfully. "I've got it! We give her her own body!"

"Do you think you can do it? Without separating them?" Rei asked softly, trying to hold in her worry. Ami's computer simulations had convinced her it was well within the Silver Crystal's potential, without pushing Usagi's limits. Usagi had to believe it was within her limits, though, or it wouldn't work.

"Without separating them?" Usagi asked, looking surprised. "I...guess it'd have to be that way, wouldn't it? Well...if the Starlights could do it, why not?"

"That was what we thought, too," Rei said, smiling happily. She figured it out on her own, with only a little help from the two of us. She's really coming along better than anyone realizes.

"The only problem will be getting them to agree to it," Ami said. "They're both worried unnecessarily about how using the Crystal that way will drain you."

"Unnecessarily, huh? That sounds like you've already figured it out." Usagi peered at Ami suspiciously for a moment, then laughed. "You wouldn't even have mentioned this to me if you weren't certain it was safe, would you?"

Ami blushed, right down to her toes. That was all the answer Usagi needed - she threw back her head and let loose one of her room-clearing laughs.

"That's right," Rei said. "Ami and I were hunched over that computer of hers most of the morning while she tried to find any potential for harm to you. You know neither of us would have said anything if she'd found even the slightest chance of it. According to the computer...what's a good comparison, Ami-chan?"

"A phage. Doing this wouldn't drain you any more than healing a phage." The grateful glance Ami shot her way told Rei the chance to slip into reporting and analysis was just what she needed. "They already have the image of her body within them; they just need the ability to take it on when Alex is the one in front."

"Is that all? Well, that should be pretty easy," Usagi said with a grin. "A lot easier than trying to convince them to let me do it. I could just order whichever one of them I see to stand still while I do it...Naaah!"

All three laughed together; she knew as well as they did that not one of them would stand still for an order that they believed would risk her life. As the laughter died, the three of them began plotting in earnest.

"You're sure about this?" Rei glanced back toward the others. Everyone had decided to come along for this trip - Usagi had called it moral support. Rei wasn't so sure about that. If she blew it, she didn't want all her friends there to see her humiliation.

"Absolutely!" Alex decreed. "I worked a long time to find a record company that isn't going to try to turn you into an idol. You're a priestess who sings, not an idol like certain blonde maniacs we know."

Minako shrieked in outrage and punched Alex's shoulder while the others laughed. The tension broken, Rei, Alex, and Minako led the way into the record company offices. Rei was still surprised: between Minako and Alex, they'd managed to not only help her pull together a good demo tape, but somehow managed to land an appointment to see someone who could make a decision on the spot, without having to "consult with management". There were definite advantages to having Mina Harker as a friend.

"WelcometoTowerRecordshowmayIhelpyou?" The receptionist's greeting was fired off with all the interest and clarity of a phrase she repeated hundreds of times a day.

"We're just here to see Mr. McClanahan. Don't mind us!" Minako said cheerily as she swept past the desk toward the elevators. "Oh! You can call up and tell him his 2:00 appointment is here. Come on, gang!"

Rei laughed softly at the way Mina-chan's maniacal personality had flustered the receptionist enough to get them all into the building without unwanted delays. Usagi had been worried they'd be shuffled off into the store - probably the first time in her life she didn't want to shop. As the elevator doors closed behind them, Alex, Minako, and Usagi laughed maniacally and threw their arms around Rei.

"You're gonna knock 'em dead, Rei!" Alex said. "With my music and your voice, there's no way you can miss!"

"Aren't you glad I've got connections?" Minako teased. "Mr. McClanahan is Tower's Director of Asian Operations."

"You didn't tell me that!" Rei gasped. How was she supposed to deal with this? She'd expected a manager, but to talk to the man at the top? That was definitely more than she'd ever imagined.

**It's time. Mina-chan, Mako-chan, grab her. Rei, stop the elevator.**

The trio moved as one, Minako and Makoto taking a firm grip on Alex's arms, while Rei hit the stop button. Alex looked between the three of them, then toward Ami and Usagi, in apparent hope that one of them would explain what was going on. When Ami just smiled at her, she fixed her gaze on Usagi.

"Princess? What's going on?"

"Nothing much," Usagi purred, taking on her royal appearance. "I'm just taking care of a little problem. Now relax and hold still, this won't take a minute."

"What won't...wait a minute! You can't do that!" Alex protested as Serenity brought out the Silver Crystal. "It's too dangerous!"

"I can't?" Serenity raised an eyebrow and gave Alex one of her regal looks - the 'what do you mean, I can't?' look. "Don't you think it's up to me to decide if it's too dangerous? Do you even know what I'm planning to do?"

"I don't know, but I know how much using the Crystal drains you," Alex said worriedly. "And why are Minako and Makoto holding me? You don't think I'm possessed or something, do you?"

"Nothing like that," Serenity said gently, stretching to kiss Alex and push her back against Rei. "I just think that someone I love very much needs to be healed, and I'm the one to do it."

"Healed? I'm fine. So's Bill....Why are you looking at me like that? You're not thinking of...Serenity, you can't split us. We're not complete without each other." If Alex had sounded worried before, she sounded very worried now.

"Trust me?" Serenity asked gently. Alex stiffened for a moment, much like Haruka did when asked to trust - anyone - then slowly nodded, releasing a heavy sigh.

"How can I not? You're...."

"Irresistibly cute? Impossibly lovable? Devastatingly wonderful?" Serenity smiled playfully and looked up at Alex with her most irresistible look. With a resigned groan, Alex relaxed; Serenity nodded to Minako and Makoto, and they released her. "Now, will you let me do what I plan without fighting?"

"Of course I will, Princess. You just surprised me, that's all. Are you...sure it's safe for you?"

"According to Ami, what I have in mind is safer than healing phages. Mostly because we don't have to pound you into submission first," Serenity laughed.

"You're just lucky you've already got your Prince," Alex growled playfully and swiped at Serenity, ending by gently stroking her cheek.

Serenity smiled, gave Alex's hand a quick kiss, and raised the Crystal. The light quickly filled the elevator, then flowed over Alex like water. As the light enveloped her, she began to change. She shrank eight inches, from an even six feet to about 5'4"; her hair changed from light brown to a red so dark it was almost black and grew until it was as long as Serenity's. Her eyes changed from a warm hazel to a green as deep and inviting as Makoto's. Her skin darkened to a dusky olive, and her features grew fine and sharp, changing from Bill's square and blocky solidity to a rapierlike slenderness. As her features shifted, her shape changed with it, until she was as shapely as Rei. Finally, the clothing that had vanished during her transformation reformed on her body as an emerald green silk pirate shirt, a black silk knee-length broomstick-pleated skirt, and knee-high black suede boots. When the light faded, Alex shook her head as if clearing it and looked down at herself.

"Wow...THIS is what you meant?" she whispered, tears in her eyes when she raised her head to gaze at Serenity. With a happy shriek, she threw her arms around the Princess and squeezed her tight, babbling as fast as Usagi or Chibi-Usa did when excited, "Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

"I think we can assume this means she's happy with the change," Minako suggested with a grin. "So can we get to Rei's appointment now? Oh, by the way, might want to think about braiding your hair, as long as it is."

"Hey, at least it's still in a ponytail," Alex shot back happily, releasing Serenity to tackle each of the others with a joyful hug. "You don't want to know how long it would be if I let it down."

"Remember, Alex," Rei cautioned as she restarted the elevator, "you have to at least pretend to be respectable while we're here. You can cut loose when we leave. OK?"

"Well...," Alex said, blinking her eyes innocently. "Only if we get to go shopping after we leave...."

"Shopping?" Rei added a sniffle, even though she knew she couldn't pull it off as well as Usagi could. "I didn't think you'd want shopping, now that you're in your own body...."

"Oh, Rei, of course I want you," Alex exclaimed, sweeping her up in a close embrace. "I want ALL of you! And, yes, that means you, too, Princess."

Rei swatted Alex gently and wagged a finger in her face, which only resulted in Alex nipping playfully at the finger. The others, with the exception of Ami, who had expected something like this as much as Rei had, were turning interesting shades of red.

"If there's one thing Alex is good at, it's testing everyone's circulation," Ami chuckled softly and moved to take Alex's arm. "Alex, sweetheart, try to restrain yourself until we get home? Will you do that for me?"

"I'll...try...," Alex murmured, looking lovingly from Rei to Ami. At the steady gaze both of them gave her, she swallowed visibly and added, "I'll try...real hard?"

**Why do I get the feeling we just created a monster?** Usagi's thought felt somewhere between amusement and embarrassment - Rei understood completely what she meant.

**I think...we never considered how much having her own body would free her.** Damn. Ami was right. They knew Alex was used to holding back because it wasn't her body...they'd never thought about what not having to hold back would mean to her.

"Alex, if you don't restrain yourself, you'll ruin this chance for me. Do you really want to do that?" Rei mentally kicked herself as she said it, but she couldn't afford the fuss that yelling at her would cause. The problem was, she knew how sensitive Alex was to anyone she loved, and putting it the way she had was certain to subdue her - and make her feel as if Rei were mad at her. She'd have to take extra care to reassure her - after the meeting.

"I'm sorry, Rei," Alex whispered uncertainly. "I promise...I won't ruin this for you."

"Thank you, sweetheart," Rei said gently, giving Alex a hug. "That's all I ask. Now let's go see Mr. McClanahan."

The tape came to an end and Mr. McClanahan looked at Rei, Alex, and Minako thoughtfully for a minute. After looking at each of them thoughtfully - for what, Rei couldn't tell - he nodded.

"It could have the talent for it. But your choice of material...."

"Stays," Rei said firmly. "Alex is my partner. This isn't America, Mr. McClanahan. We don't have fundamentalists waiting to go ballistic just because I sing about loving a woman. If anything, our material should boost your sales, if your marketing department is willing to work with us."

"Well," Mr. McClanahan chuckled, "you're every bit as self-confidant as Miss Harker led us to believe. I think we should be able to work something out. Do you plan to do your own management, or do you have a manager we can contact to make the business arrangements?"

"David MacManus," Alex said. "He's our manager. He doesn't travel, so you'll have to do all your contact with him by phone, fax, or email."

"That's...unusual," Mr. McClanahan said. "Is this your choice as well, Hino-san?"

"Yes," Rei confirmed. She was willing to put up with David's questionable sense of humor for the sake of his business skills. "Mr. MacManus is our manager. Do you want the contact information, or should we give it to your secretary?"

"Tanaka-kun can take care of that. I'd like to keep this tape and have my marketing people listen to it." Mr. McClanahan brought a sheaf of papers out of one of his desk's drawers and passed it to Rei. "Since you have a manager, you'll want him to read these before you sign them. It's our standard new contract package. Am I correct in understanding that you came to us because you're not interested in becoming an idol?"

"That's right. I'm a priestess above all else. Music is just one of my gifts, but I won't let it interfere with my duties. That's why I won't become an idol like Mina. I've seen how much of her life it eats up."

"Hmm...I think that could be an interesting hook. Tell me, what would you think of photographers at your temple?"

"As long as they don't interfere with anything, we won't object. If anything, my grandfather may insist on copies for brochures or pamphlets."

"I see. Well, if you'll take this package to your manager, we can get things under way. Thank you for coming to us. I'm certain this will be profitable for everyone concerned." He stood and extended a hand; Rei thought again that he hadn't been in Japan for very long as she shook it.

**He acts like he just came over from Boston. I guess we should be thankful he speaks Japanese, eh?**

**That's what they act like in Boston?**

**Nah. They're more high-stress. Imagine juku stress in your job. That's Boston.**

**I'll pass, thanks.**

They stood and bowed, unsurprised when Mr. McClanahan seemed uncertain how to respond. After giving the secretary David's email address and phone number, they were swept up by Usagi, while Makoto and Ami looked on indulgently.

"Well? Did he like it? Do you have a contract?" Usagi babbled excitedly while they waited for the elevator.

"See these papers? Whether we have a contract depends on what David says about what's printed on them." Rei gave up trying to keep her expression restrained. "He liked it! He really liked it!"

"Boy, did he ever!" Minako agreed. "I've never seen a record company person make a decision that fast. You're going to be famous!"

"As long as I'm singing, I don't care." Rei grinned and tugged Alex into her arms. "And you, my dear, were marvelous! I never would have thought of using David if you hadn't brought it up."

"Well, I suck at business, and you've got enough worry about with the shrine. And it's always better to have someone else take care of the business stuff so it doesn't interfere with the music. Right?" Alex sighed happily and returned Rei's embrace. Rei gave her a quick kiss, thankful that she'd managed to ease Alex's unhappiness over her perceived disapproval.

"Don't you two think you should wait until we get back to the house?" Usagi teased. "You don't want to give everyone here a free show, do you?"

"You're right!" Alex laughed. "If they want to watch, they should pay for the privilege!"

"Alex, you're shameless!" Ami squeaked, frantically pushing the elevator button in an obvious attempt to hide her embarrassment.

"Yes...and your point is?" Alex purred, slipping away from Rei to capture Ami from behind and nip at the back of her neck, just below her hairline.

Ami shivered, turning crimson and dashing unsteadily into the elevator as soon as the doors opened enough to allow her to slip through. As pleasant as it looked, Rei had to feel sympathy for her. Alex had to be pushing Ami to the limit of her ability to cope publicly. The rest piled into the elevator as a group, providing Ami with some shelter from the eyes of strangers.

Rei sank into her tub with a heavy sigh of relief. The first song was in the can, and it had turned out a lot better than she'd expected. Working with strangers was something she'd never thought about, but neither Michiru nor Haruka had wanted to be a part of the album. The musicians had been good, though - even if Alex had insisted she was going to find women to form a permanent band. They'd agreed to name the album "The Beauty of Fire", despite Alex's teasing about naming it after herself.

Usagi had threatened to pay a visit tonight, and Rei wanted to be presentable for her when she arrived. Between Rei's album and Usagi's pregnancy, neither had been able to spare any time for each other - but Usagi had been insistent that Rei be ready for her by 9:00, which meant she would probably be there around 10. That meant she still had another half hour before she had to dress. She leaned back, closed her eyes, and let the heat soak into her body. As her muscles went limp, she thought she sensed movement - but there was no sense of danger, so she didn't bother opening her eyes. If it was Usagi, she was nearly an hour early; if it was Yuuichiro, she was going to pound him into paste.

The water rippled, and Rei suppressed a smile. There was no question who it was now; she obviously wanted her presence to be a surprise, so Rei would play along - at least until she was close enough to grab. Suddenly, she felt the pressure of lips against her own, and opened her eyes in surprise - to look directly into the beautiful blue eyes of her Princess. With a growl, she threw her arms around Usagi and pulled her close, returning the kiss with all the love and hunger she'd been saving during their weeks apart.

"Mmm...," Usagi purred when they finally came up for air. "Now that's the kind of reception I like. How was your day, sweetheart?"

"Not as good as it would have been with you there," Rei teased, shifting so Usagi could snuggle against her. "You know you're my angel...."

"Ooh...I like it when you say that." Usagi nuzzled Rei happily and curled up in her lap. "Mamo-chan doesn't expect me home until tomorrow...I'd hate to disappoint him by returning tonight...."

"!" Rei growled, laughing softly as she squeezed her sweetheart tightly. When Usagi looked up with her eyes sparkling happily, Rei lowered her lips to meet those of her love.

Disclaimer: Sailor Moon, Sailor Senshi, and all terms, names, etc. associated with the series are copyrighted by Naoko Takeuchi and Kodansha. I make no claim to them and this work of fanfiction should not be seen as making a claim.

Those characters and concepts that are original, the Crystal Kingdom Archives, and the story "The Beauty of Fire", are copyrighted 2000 by Bill Hartwell.

"Close Your Eyes" is copyrighted 1999 by Alexandra Cooper.
"Starstruck" is copyrighted 2000 by Alexandra Cooper.

Rated: PG-13

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