Third First Breaths

Venus

Minako Aino sleeps through the night. She awakes in her childhood bed with the sun hitting a Three Lights poster on the opposite wall. She is not dead. She swallows. Not anymore. What is this, round number three? She looks out the window and frowns at the snow on the ground. It's the Solstice, a voice – Rei's – says in her head. Spiritual Energy is strongest then.

So if the Cauldron has just returned her to Earth, she's been dead for four months. She still shivers at the feeling of her body disintegrating, watching Rei turn to ash in front of her. She relishes the feeling of clothes against her skin as she dresses – pulling folded clothes out of a box – and the feeling of a brush in her hair once she's dumped three more boxes out onto the floor to find it.

She stares at her reflection in the mirror once she's dressed and found mascara, eyeliner, and lip gloss in one of the smaller boxes. A pity they aren't labelled, she thinks bitterly.

She doesn't hear anyone else awake as she creeps to the bathroom. It still won't do for her sister Kara to wake up and find her sneaking around the house after 4 months gone…or her parents. She isn't exactly surprised to find her toothbrush has been thrown away. She just sifts through the drawer under the sink until she finds a spare. Once that's done she puts it right back in the empty spot in the toothbrush holder. A bit of paper catches her eye taped onto the mirror. It looks like acting lessons. But they're made up in cartoons like they're supposed to be for little kids.

The last time Minako saw her sister Kara the 10 year old had wanted to be a teacher. She'd just won second in a science fair. The kid had no interest in the star life. Minako scowled and ripped the cartoon off the mirror, tearing it once, twice, then crumpling up the pieces and dumping them down the toilet.

She didn't think her third life was supposed to start so angry. Minako sighs as the last of the pieces flushes down the toilet bowl. It'll be hard, she realizes. This third go at it…is going to be hard. It's not thinking about how she keeps dying and coming back, she reasons. It's more like… death was supposed to be peaceful. She doesn't remember her first incarnation but she knows she died in battle just like the second time, just like four months ago. Hasn't she earned peace?

She walks back into life like it's not bothering her. She squares her shoulders and gathers her thoughts as she strides confidently into the kitchen. Her mother is up and at the table, empty mug off to the side as she circles what look like audition notices. Minako heads straight for the coffee machine and pours out a cup from the fresh pot. She holds the cup close and stands across the table from her mother, waiting.

"Kara, come look at this audition I found for you…oh could you refill my coffee dear."

"I'm not Kara," Minako says as she takes a chair.

"Jesus!" Her mother screams. Her pen clatters to the table. "M-M…M?"

"I'm not dead." Mina says calmly, sipping her coffee. "I know I was gone…I can explain. I promise." The hot liquid is so calming as it fills her mouth. She wonders if being dead and aware of it makes everything feel twice as intense when you're…well…not dead. She jumps into the explanation, feeling not nervous, but determined that she's done pretending. "I'm Sailor Venus, Mom."

"W-what." Her mother has stood up from the table. Her head is shaking.

"I'm not lying." Not that she supposes her mother's thinking this, but she's always felt more comfortable with words than silence.

"Mina." Her mother scrambles around the table suddenly and flounders to hug her. Her nails dig into Mina's shoulders and she drags Mina impossibly close. It's startling and full of an emotion Mina's not used to from her parents…a kind of unreserved affection. She hasn't had hugs like this much. She got one when she won her first pageant, then again when she scored her first audition, and the day she left to tour Europe with a pop group.

"My baby," her mother actually cries. For just a moment, Mina is nothing except her daughter and it is wonderful.

But it never lasts. She pulls away first.

"Why's Kara in acting lessons?" She dives right in.

"Huh?" Her mother leans back against the table, still taking in Mina alive and well in front of her.

"She's never wanted to act." Mina frowns at her.

"She…well she just wanted to be like you."

"Bullshit." Mina snorts. She can't help herself.

"Well, Mina…we thought you were dead."

"So you made my sister replace me as your little star."

"No!" Her mother looks aghast but her eyes look away from Mina.

Minako sighs. "Well get her out of them, Get her back into math club…or debate team." Debate team, now that Mina thought of it, might be fun for her too. Third life was the charm and all. She might as well mix things up.

"How…I'm so confused, Mina."

"I can explain tonight. I promise. I'll explain to you and Dad and Kara. But I'm back, and whatever you thought, I'm not dead." She shivers whenever she says it. It sounds more and more like a promise. She's determined the fourth time won't be for a damn long while.

"Still…give me a summary, Sweetie." Her mother has sunk into another chair and has a hand pressed against her forehead.

Mina sipped the last of her coffee. "Well, I'm Sailor Venus," she repeats while she thinks up what else to say.

"O-kay," her mother squints at her like she will suddenly see a superhero in her daughter's school clothes.

"I went on a mission…I did die. But a teammate was able to save all of us. And now…I'm back." It sounds lame. She thinks. She'll have to make it all sound more important by tonight.

"Right…Oh goodness." Her mother pinches the bridge of her nose. "This is going to cause such a stir."

Ah, there's the mother she knows: housewife turned agent and press manager.

"And right now, I'm going to school to sort out my absences." Mina stands and brings her mug to the sink. "I'll be back by dinner."

She leaves after hugging her mother again. She squeezes just as hard as her mother had before, but somehow it already feels different, like the love is tempered by the thoughts of her acting career creeping in.

Minako shivers, regretting leaving without a coat, as she walks towards Juban High. A block from home she hears a soft "meow" on the wall behind her. It's a ridiculous sound. It's nothing like a real cat and everything like someone sounding out each letter of the word. She whirls around.

"Artemis!" She cries and catches the white cat as he leaps at her. He purrs as she holds him close, hiding tears in his fur. "We're back."

"We are."

"I don't know how I feel about it, Artemis." She holds him so that she can meet his eyes. "I thought we were all finally done fighting."

He smiles sympathetically and paws at her arm. "We're going to make this one count. We'll all get to Crystal Tokyo one day at a time."

"My parents already got rid of my toothbrush." It was such a small detail, and maybe even logical after four months of her being gone. But it hurt. "They packed up my room they…they put Kara in acting class. They want her to replace me."

"No." Artemis scoffs and squirms out of her grip to coil around her neck. "They do love you Mina. They just need to learn better ways to show it."

"They only love their star."

"Not true," Artemis hisses. She smiles as his tail hits her face. "And I'm so proud of you, by the way Minako. And I'll be with you what ever comes next for every step of the way."

"Even Non-scout stuff?"

"Especially that." His weight on her shoulders centres her, reminding her of her strength, of people that believed in her and not her talent.

"So where did you end up this morning?" She asks as she continues down the street towards Juban High. The wind still whips cold around her but somehow she feels warmer.

It is the first day of her third life. This one, she's determined, will be her last, her longest, and her brightest.Her star seed feels hot in her chest. Big things, it seems to say, are coming to you.

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