Author's Note and Disclaimers: The usual disclaimers apply. The characters of the in the story, with the exception of Eternity, are the property of Takeuchi Naoko, Toei Animation and Kodansha Pub. No copyright infringement is intended, but I'm sure some occurs anyway.
This story has no explicit sexual content, but it does contain depictions of mature relationships between women. Call it PG-13. If this offends, then you probably already know enough to avoid my writing. :-)
Throughout the story, I consistently refer to the Senshi of the past by their planet names only. Senshi of the present are referred to as Sailor whatever. Hopefully this makes it easier to follow the continuity of the story.
My thanks go to the hauthor list for all your feedback and to Shonen Knife for writing incredible music to write fanfic by.
My last note is the important one - I dedicate this story to my friend Elena, the best audience anyone could ever hope for. Thank you so much for your support and guidance. And for your superb use of the English language. Ti ringrazio molto! Sei la migliore! (I hope that's right!)
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WSF also supports the Fanfic Revolution, because Fanfic doesn't have to suck.
This is a pretty old story of mine but if you like it, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Eien no Nedan: The Price of Eternity
Michiru's eyes opened. Her mind searched for the noise that had awakened her. Soft footsteps and the rustle of silk drew her attention to the front door. The door closed with a soft click and Michiru turned her head to see Setsuna just entering the living room.
Michiru rubbed her eyes and looked down at the blonde head in her lap. She smiled slightly, realizing that they must have fallen asleep on the sofa, after settling down to listen to a new CD the night before. Automatically, Michiru reached out to sense Hotaru, reassuring herself that the child slept soundly.
Setsuna stepped behind Michiru, and placed a hand on her shoulder. Michiru reached up and covered the hand with her own.
"Long night at the observatory?"
Setsuna nodded, trying to stifle a yawn. "They're thinking about taking away Pluto's status as a planet." She smiled tiredly. Michiru squeezed her hand and pulled her own away.
"Go to bed. We'll watch." Michiru glanced at the clock - it was almost 5 AM. She thought of the promise they had made, to protect Sailor Saturn and raise Hotaru as their own. Ever since Sailor Saturn had reawakened, the three older women had agreed that at least one would remain on watch in case Hotaru should need comfort or companionship. An ancient mind in such a young body was occasionally the cause of nightmares or physical discomfort.
"Are you sure?" Setsuna glanced pointedly at Haruka.
Michiru nodded. "It's morning already. She'll be up soon anyway."
Setsuna stifled another yawn. "Good night then." She turned towards the door of her room.
"Sleep well." Michiru called softly after her. She sat quietly for a while, one hand loosely entangled in Haruka's hair. She let her thoughts wander, thinking of the people with whom she was now sharing her life.
As a young girl, Michiru had been considered precocious, aloof. She had never had many friends, or even acquaintances, and had taken refuge in her abilities as a musician and painter to maintain her privacy. The excuse of practice allowed her to remain apart from her peers, both in school and in the various orchestras in which she played. By the time she had awakened as Sailor Neptune, she had reconciled herself to a life alone.
Alone, as she had been in the past. Her memory was filled with years of solitude, punctuated by feelings of a greater purpose, a destiny. She had no idea what these feelings meant, but she was used to them - she thought. Then, one evening, worn out physically and emotionally from a difficult battle with a human-turned-monster, she had had a dream. She saw the destruction of the world, the Silence. And in the midst of the cataclysm stood a figure, solid and strong in the center of the storm, wielding a sword. She had awakened with a desperate need to see the figure's face. The same dream continued to haunt her for weeks, but every time she was unable to see who the person was. The figure seemed so familiar, and yet...
Then came the day when she was introduced to Haruka. Michiru had long been following the races of this remarkable woman. She had watched in fascination as Haruka had defeated all her opponents with single-minded determination, whether on foot, or in motor sports. Michiru could see that some competitors quailed if Haruka even glanced their way. Her will was so strong, it dominated every arena in which she performed. Michiru felt an incredible attraction to this mysterious woman. Casual inquiries turned up a figure as aloof and solitary as herself, an orphan, also like herself. Enthralled, Michiru had attended this meet with one of her few friends, the runner Elsa Grey, determined to learn about Tenou Haruka.
As the runners stood at the starting blocks, Michiru had had a vision. She could see the storm, the Silence, and a figure, screaming with fury, in the center. The figure - the one she was searching for she was sure, was Haruka. There, in the midst of the raging tempest, Michiru called to Haruka, warning her of the Silence, telling her of the Talismans, the need to find the Messiah. Then the starter called the runners to the blocks and Michiru had been drawn back to the present. She had leaned heavily on the rail in front of her and sighed.
After the race, Michiru had asked Elsa to introduce her to Haruka. As she approached the tall blonde, Michiru felt unaccountably nervous. She let her eyes drop, unwilling to face the intensity of Haruka's dark gaze. When she finally looked up, memories came flooding back to her, powerful visions of this same woman and herself, locked together in intimate embraces, of passion in love and in battle. The intensity as they locked eyes was so profound that Michiru imagined that electricity, visible to all, shot between them. She could see Haruka visibly recoil from her, and dropped her eyes once again.
To Michiru's disappointment, that meeting had gone badly. Haruka had rejected her, putting distance between them. But Michiru had not given up. She had followed Haruka, watching her, until the day that fate had ordained for Sailor Uranus to reawaken.
And then the remaining pieces had fallen into place. The attraction between them had grown, coming together with memories of their past lives.
Michiru remembered their first evening together.
She had asked Haruka to drive her along the coast in her car. Boldly, Haruka had told Michiru that she had no intention of letting her leave that night. Michiru had laughed, and allowed a hand to gently touch Haruka on the leg. She watched as the muscle tensed, then relaxed, but no change came over Haruka's calm face. Michiru looked at Haruka's jaw muscles and, without realizing she was even moving, Michiru drew one finger along that strong jawline. Haruka turned to her, eyes large with wonder, and Michiru again had a vision. She saw Haruka, gloriously naked, head straining backwards in passion, while she, Michiru, caressed the athletic body below her. Michiru blushed furiously, turning back to stare at the road ahead. She glanced sidelong at her companion. Haruka's face was still impassive, but Michiru could see a flush along her neck above the collar, and she was breathing quickly, shallowly. Michiru felt sure that Haruka had seen the same vision.
Michiru felt a thrill run through her, and she too, began to breath a little quickly. The feel of skin, burning hot, possessed her finger tips, the taste of lips, cool and sweet, came to her mouth. Michiru's hand covered her mouth in astonishment. She could not bring herself to look at Haruka, but eventually fascination and desire won over fear. The blonde woman sat, stiff and tall, both hands clenched on the steering wheel. Her eyes looked vague, disconnected from the road, her breathing rapid. Michiru stared openly as, for a split second, Haruka let her eyes close, a small moan escaping her mouth. Then just as quickly, her eyes opened again, her mouth closed, and she was in control once more.
Michiru sat in the passenger's seat and shivered with the sensations that washed over her. She was torn between laughter, tears, confusion and desire. There was no doubt in her mind that they had been lovers once, and not much that they would be again. Haruka's icy control of her emotions made Michiru feel a cold pit in the middle of her stomach, however. She did not know this woman - was she ever likely to? Could she break through this reserve and find the person underneath?
Scenes of her past life threatened to overwhelm her. Michiru closed her eyes and let the memories come. Impressions of herself in battle, back to back with Sailor Uranus came to her mind, and images of a crystal castle and a soft bed, the two of them intertwined.
In her mind, she could see Haruka roll over and smile at her. Michiru felt the hot tears well up in her eyes, as she registered the contentment in that smile. A large teardrop ran silently down her face. Michiru was startled out of her reverie by a warm hand that brushed the teardrop away.
"Does the sight of me smiling make you that sad?" Haruka tried to laugh, but her voice was dry.
Michiru was shocked. "You saw that?" Haruka was silent as she turned the car off the road and pulled up by a lighthouse. The sun had gone down, and the stars had begun to glitter in the sky.
After parking the car, Haruka turned to Michiru and nodded. "I don't know why, but I feel as if I need to protect you from sadness." Her voice was soft, tender. She reached out and touched Michiru's cheek again, tracing the path the tear had taken. Michiru reached up and covered the hand, leaning into it.
"I'm sorry - please excuse my foolishness..." Michiru began pulling away. But Haruka leaned forward and Michiru was silenced by a finger touching her lips. Michiru could hear her own blood pound in her ears. Haruka let her fingers linger for a moment, Michiru reached up and took them in her own. She looked at the long tapering fingers, then at the teal eyes that watched her.
"You play an instrument?" Michiru asked. Haruka's eyes widened slightly.
"Yes, piano. Why?"
Michiru released Haruka's hands with a light laugh and smoothed her skirt. "Can we walk? The evening is so beautiful."
Haruka got out and opened the door for Michiru. Michiru stood, then shooting Haruka a small smile, started for the lighthouse on the short quay. When they reached the edge of the pier, Michiru leaned on the railing, letting the seabreeze fill her senses. She closed her eyes and let the wet air bring messages of love, and hate, and hope.
When she opened her eyes, she found Haruka staring at her intensely. The blonde gazed out at the water, then turned back to Michiru.
"I understand now," she said calmly. "when we met, you asked me if I heard the wind rustle. It scared me badly."
"Because I didn't like to be obvious. I thought it was a secret. I had no idea about you." The two women were silent for a few moments.
"What does the wind tell you now?" Michiru asked.
"That tonight people will live - and die. That there will be a success and a failure. That tonight a baby will be born and a man will commit suicide." Haruka shrugged. "What do these messages mean to me?" Her voice was bitter.
Michiru put her hand on Haruka's arm and looked up into eyes so familiar, and so unfamiliar. "It means that we can still make a difference. We can find the Talismans and stop the Silence."
Haruka stood away from the railing and looked down into Michiru's face. "I don't know why, but I feel..." words failed her. Michiru touched her lips with a finger.
Michiru pulled her finger back slightly, feeling Haruka lean forward. Slowly, she guided Haruka forward until they nearly touched. The teal eyes were wide and vulnerable. "Michiru, I..." Haruka began.
"Shhhhh..." Michiru said and kissed Haruka firmly. "I won't let you leave tonight." she said, when they finally separated.
Michiru sighed with the memory. She could see the outline of trees in the greyness of predawn and a hint of lavender in the sky. She thought of how little she knew of the women with whom she now lived.
When Setsuna joined Michiru and Haruka, she brought with her an essential part of themselves, one they had not known they had been missing. Their powers had grown, and their identity as Senshi. Setsuna had also come with something more crucial - knowledge that they were holders of the Talismans. And that they were part of a team. They searched their memories, and had found a new part of their true selves, that they were the Senshi that protected the Earth from threats from outside the solar system. As a team, joined with the other Senshi, they defeated the new evil and had restored peace to Earth.
But things were different in their new lives and this was made more evident the day Setsuna came to them, carrying the infant Hotaru. She had explained that in this incarnation, it was part of their purpose to protect and raise Hotaru, and train Sailor Saturn. Haruka and Michiru had readily agreed to this, and they immediately moved in together to this house in the country.
In their pasts, both Neptune and Uranus had respected Pluto and Saturn, and felt affection for them as fellow Senshi. Yet she and Haruka could not have predicted the affection that they had come to feel as humans for Setsuna and Hotaru.
Michiru closed her eyes, sensing again Hotaru's steady breathing, now joined by Setsuna's slower rhythm. Michiru's heart felt full with a sensation she had thought she would never know. For she had come to think of them as a family. "Michiru-mama," Hotaru called her and it was indeed a maternal love she felt for the young girl.
Michiru's emotions concerning Setsuna were a little more complex. She and Haruka had discussed the situation before they moved in to this house. It seemed so unfair that Setsuna, alone of the adults, should not have companionship and comfort. It was awkward, but eventually, Michiru and Haruka had confronted Setsuna about it.
Blushing furiously, they had asked Setsuna about sleeping arrangements. After a prolonged consultation, the three agreed that Haruka and Michiru would share the master bedroom, while Setsuna took the bedroom next to Hotaru.
Over the years, they had come to realize that Setsuna was not attracted to them sexually, but nonetheless, they had always left the option open. Should Setsuna need them, they would be there for her.
Michiru heard the clock chime 5:30 AM. Haruka stirred slightly, a small noise and a stretch signaling her awakening out of a deep sleep. Michiru ran one hand along the tousled blonde head and down Haruka's spine. A smile came to Haruka's lips and another moan, this one very much like a purr. Haruka's eyes fluttered, then opened. She rolled over and looked up into Michiru's sleepy face.
"Did we fall asleep on the couch?" Haruka laughed. "I knew we shouldn't have bought such a comfortable sofa."
Michiru smiled into the dark blue-green eyes that regarded her. She felt so privileged to see this side of Haruka. The tall blonde guarded her inner self so carefully, never letting anyone, except Michiru and more often now, Setsuna and Hotaru, see her tenderness. But when they were together, Michiru had seen Haruka, fragile, gentle and open, with no pretenses. Haruka as a lover had been a revelation. As a Senshi she was so fierce, so single-minded and determined that Michiru had half expected bed to be a battleground. Instead she found Haruka playful and considerate. And not surprisingly, passionate. It was not in Haruka's nature to do things by half.
Michiru leaned over and kissed Haruka lightly. "Good morning. Setsuna has come home - she's gone to bed." Haruka nodded and stretched luxuriously. Michiru continued. "I told her we'd watch until she woke up."
Haruka looked at her watch. "I'll bathe first. Unless you'd like to join me?" her voice was teasing.
Michiru laughed. "Maybe I will - it's not like Hotaru can't call us if she needs." She shook her head and gave Haruka a shove. "No, no - go have your bath. I'll make some coffee." Haruka stood up and leaning down, kissed Michiru on the head.
Michiru was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, when Hotaru woke up. Rubbing her face sleepily, she came into the kitchen. Large violet eyes lit up at the sight of Michiru.
"Michiru-mama! Ohayo!" Hotaru appeared to be a small, delicate 12 year-old, but her eyes belied her physical age.
Michiru smiled at her "daughter." "Good morning, Hotaru-chan. Did you sleep well?"
Hotaru's face went blank, then her brows drew together. Michiru felt herself tense slightly, as she waited for the response.
"I had a dream...a voice called me. It spoke of a price...it was from very long time ago." Her young face was screwed up in an effort to concentrate.
Michiru rose and took the girl's hand. "Are you okay?" Michiru was worried for the girl, burdened as she was with the immense power of Sailor Saturn. She placed a hand on Hotaru's forehead, then cheek. Hotaru broke from her reverie and smiled up at Michiru.
"I'm fine, thank you, Michiru-mama. If you think it's important, I can have the dream again." Disconcertingly ancient eyes stared up at her from a pale face.
"I don't think it's important." Michiru reassured her. "We were planning on going to the park this weekend for a picnic," she changed the subject, "why don't you invite Chibi-Usa?" Hotaru once again became a young girl, clapping her hands in delight. "Go get ready for school now, and I'll get your breakfast ready."
As she prepared breakfast, Michiru continued to think about her new family, and by extension, the other Senshi. Her memories of the past held respect and love of a kind, but never the kinds of emotion she now felt for these people. Mamoru, Usagi and the young women who were the Inner Senshi, she had come to love in a way that would have been impossible in the past. When she had accepted her memories of Sailor Neptune, Michiru had sworn to protect them, but now...now she would gladly sacrifice herself (indeed she had done so,) for any of these young women and their Prince. But even more importantly, she considered them her friends and her family.
Haruka walked in, a towel around her neck, dressed in jeans and a white button-down shirt, worn loose - a relic from their school days. Hotaru ran in and threw her arms around Haruka's waist. Haruka laughed and hugged the girl back. Hotaru gave her a squeeze and reached up to stroke the blonde woman's cheek.
"I have the softest Papa around," she giggled and sat down to eat the breakfast Michiru was placing on the table. Haruka smiled and shot a look at Michiru.
This was another awkward topic, or might have been, but for the awakening of Sailor Saturn. When Hotaru had been a mere 4 years old physically, Saturn had reawakened so that the Senshi could defeat Neherenia for the final time. While young Hotaru might have been confused by their relationship, after Saturn had awakened, the question never arose. Hotaru accepted them readily as a couple, occasionally teasing Haruka about her role as "Papa," commenting on her feminine figure, or lack of facial hair. Surprisingly Haruka did not seem to mind this. In fact, Michiru had often seen a tender look pass across Haruka's face as she watched Hotaru.
After breakfast, Haruka left with Hotaru as she did every morning, dropping the girl off at school on her way to the racetrack.
Michiru kissed Haruka lightly on the cheek as she left, whispering as she did, "When you come home, I think we'll need to talk." Haruka nodded and ushered Hotaru out the door.
Michiru cleaned up the kitchen and sat for a while, reading. She could hear Setsuna rise, bathe and move around her room, dressing. When Setsuna finally entered the kitchen, Michiru slid a cup of coffee across the table towards her. She smiled gratefully and sat down to drink it.
Michiru placed the carafe on the table and stood. "I'll be painting, if you want to talk."
Setsuna nodded without answering.
The studio in their house had originally been designed as a conservatory. Large windows flooded the room with bright morning sunshine, while Michiru set up her easel. When all her equipment was prepared she closed her eyes for a moment, letting the image enter her mind. When her eyes opened, she had already covered the canvas with a wash of dark color. She let the feeling of the image flow through her, transferring itself to the canvas. The motions of painting became a deliberate dance, at the center of which Michiru's mind slowed and calmed, coming at last, to rest.
When Setsuna came in carrying a tray, the sun's rays no longer slanted into the room. Setsuna glanced at Michiru, who was stroking the brush languorously across the canvas. She set down the tray and stepped up behind Michiru, looking appreciatively at the painting. It presented a dark sky, rich with the burgeoning energy of stars, at the center of which lay a darkness - all the more energetic for its contrast with the light. Setsuna could feel time twist and distort in the lens of the painting. She sighed admiringly.
"Powerful," Setsuna commented. "The black hole at the center of our galaxy." She stood watching as the darkness of the canvas erupted in twin jets of energy, flowing from Michiru's brush.
Finally, Michiru stood back, allowing herself to come slowly out of her meditative state. She brushed the hair out of her eyes and stretched. Setsuna rubbed Michiru's shoulders briefly and Michiru smiled in thanks. The two women sat down at the small table in comfortable silence, and drank tea. Setsuna stared out the window, watching the trees swaying gently in the breeze.
"You've been worried about Hotaru, haven't you?" Michiru finally broke the silence. Blue eyes met scarlet ones. Setsuna saw concern in the younger woman's eyes, and smiled reassuringly. How could she burden Michiru with this? But it had to be said.
Setsuna took a sip and put the tea cup down. "I've been thinking, yes. About the rate at which she is aging."
"But it seems to be slowing down..." Michiru offered.
The silence built again.
Setsuna looked out into the yard and watched the trees sway in the wind. She thought of Sailor Saturn and the release of power that transformed her from an infant into a 2 year-old. The next release brought her to an apparent age of 4. Then Sailor Saturn had completely reawakened - her memories intact. Setsuna flinched at the thought. Hotaru overnight had aged to approximately 8 years old, while Sailor Saturn looked more like 12. After they had defeated Galaxia, and had taken up their old lives, Hotaru appeared 10. And now, not even a few months later, she looked to be a small, somewhat frail, 12 year-old.
Turning to Michiru, Setsuna asked her suddenly, "Have you ever wondered about our ability to be reborn?"
Michiru eyebrows rose in surprise. "Not really - I just assumed...I've never questioned it."
Setsuna nodded. "It's Saturn. She gives us that ability. It comes from her." Her voice was quiet, almost a whisper.
Setsuna's voice was cool and even, when she spoke again. "I was alone. Can you imagine what it was like? Alone so far away from everything, anything. You hadn't been born yet. Did you know that Saturn and I are older than the rest of you? We are much, much older."
Michiru shook her head. She hadn't known at all.
"It was so long ago that I cannot remember how old I really was - 400, 500 years, I don't know. I was about 16 or 17 in appearance. I knew about my powers and I practiced constantly to hone them. I knew my destiny was to guard the Doors of Time. On that side of Time," Setsuna quipped, "you have all the Time in the world. I used my powers to travel, to learn. About people, about the Earth, the Moon, about everything. I visited different times and places, always staying invisible, disguised, blending in, then disappearing, unnoticed."
Setsuna turned again to the to gaze at the yard, her face composed.
"It was a Roman border town, it doesn't even have a name now. Life was cheap, and often cruel. I was walking down a muck-covered street - well disguised, of course. I heard the chariot before I saw it.
"When I looked up the road, a child, an infant really, stood in the road. I could see the driver, I knew he saw the child. He didn't even try to swerve. Before I knew it, my staff was in my hands, pointing at the driver."
Michiru could see Setsuna's hands clench tightly around the staff she was not holding.
"The chariot and driver flew backwards and smashed into a wall. The infant was safe - but every bone in the driver's body had been crushed. It was the first time I had killed someone."
Michiru poured more tea. Setsuna picked up her cup and drank automatically.
"I went back to my planet and cried. I sat in front of the Doors and cried until I had no more tears. Then I sat watching the mist swirl about me until my eyes burned with the monotony.
"At first I thought it was an hallucination. A figure, dark and small, appeared in the distance, seemingly growing out of the mist. Who would approach me here? There wasn't anyone *to* approach me.
"When she came to me she was serious, no smile on her face. She looked to be my age, but her eyes were as old as my own. She kneeled by me and held out her arms. I moved to her and she held me, rocking me. I knew her immediately. Until that moment, I had never considered the existence of another Senshi, but I knew her at once. It was Saturn.
"Saturn held me, comforting me. She kissed me. When her lips touched mine I felt my sorrow drain away, disappear into her. As we made love, it was like I was given new life, new energy. She wasn't my first lover of course. I had taken several during my travels in Time, and she didn't stay with me long. I can't tell you how long she did stay. How bizarre," Setsuna noted, "that I who guard the Doors of Time and can manipulate it, have so little sense of it for myself." She paused, reflecting. "Before she left, Saturn told me of Silver Millennium and Earth and the existence of the other Senshi. And as she told me, I sensed them being born.
""You and I are oldest," she told me, "we are closely bound. We are the only Senshi who understand Eternity." She kissed me on the cheek and turned away, disappearing as she had come, into the mist.
"I pondered that last remark for a long time. I knew she had the power of Destruction - and I guarded time. So we did, in a fashion, both understand Eternity. But now I think she meant something else."
Setsuna was quiet for so long that Michiru began to worry. At last the older woman spoke again.
"Eventually I met you all, as you know, even visiting the Moon Kingdom. And you know I wasn't there when Silver Millennium was destroyed. I stayed at my post, although I longed to join the battle against Beryl.
"I never saw Saturn again. She would sleep, she had told me, until an immense battle awakened her. She had told me she would only appear at endings, wherever tremendous power was destroyed. When Silver Millennium was destroyed, I went and looked for her.
"I found Queen Serenity dying in the ruins of the castle. She said that Saturn had helped her save her daughter and the other Senshi.
" "Where is she?" I asked, meaning Saturn.
" "They are gone - sent to Earth to be reborn." The Queen managed to tell me.
" "Saturn?" I cried.
" "Also gone. Her power went into my daughter and the others...she is..." and the Queen died in my arms."
Setsuna rubbed her face with both hands.
"Before she left, Saturn told me one other thing. She told me that if I should ever see her again, to destroy her."
Michiru put her hand to her mouth in horror. "Oh my God, Setsuna, why didn't you tell us?" Michiru's eyes filled with tears at the thought of Sailor Pluto's internal conflict when Sailor Saturn had reappeared in Hotaru.
"What could I have said? I told you the truth - that Sailor Saturn could not be allowed to reawaken, and if she did, she must be destroyed. Would it have made it any easier if I had told you I knew her, that I loved her once? It was hard enough to watch Small Lady play so happily with Hotaru-chan, and know that I would have to kill her best friend." Setsuna's eyes were filled with the pain of the memory. Setsuna loved Small Lady so much and now, she had also come to treasure Hotaru as a daughter. Remembering the betrayal in Small Lady's eyes, and the fear and confusion in Hotaru's, made Setsuna feel ill.
She smiled sadly at Michiru. "You can imagine how surprised I was when I saw Hotaru. None of us seem to change from one incarnation to another, but Hotaru was so small and frail..." she paused a moment.
"I think," she said slowly, "I finally realize what she meant when she told me that we understand Eternity. Her power, Michiru, is so great, it's like a supernova, destroying its own vessel, even as it creates new life. It's as powerful as..." she paused, reflecting.
"A black hole?" Michiru suggested, her eyes drifting to the painting on the easel.
Setsuna nodded. "Exactly. everytime she uses her power, it ages her. The question is - does she know it? And how long can she sustain it?"
Michiru's voice was thick with concern. "Hotaru's power is killing her?"
"Yes, I think it is."
The silence fell between them like a barrier. Setsuna thought of all the things she could not say to Michiru. Again and again, she found herself caught between Time, knowing too much for one life, and not enough.
Setsuna started as Michiru reached out to touch her hand.
"Setsuna, please count on us. Of all the Senshi, we know the least about you, but you know Haruka, Hotaru and I would die for you. Don't push us away - even for our own safety."
Setsuna found tears welling up in her eyes, an outburst she rarely allowed herself. "Thank you." She stood and began to clear the tea accouterments from the table. "We'll talk again. Soon." Setsuna picked up the tray and turned toward the door.
Michiru watched her leave, then stood and picked up a paintbrush and approaching the canvas, began to breathe deeply.
The car drove down a lonely road, a warm breeze blowing through tawny hair and green. The sun was setting, the sky aflame with a riot of pink and orange clouds.
Haruka slowed the car and pulled it into a cul-de-sac near a lonely quay. She parked and got out of the car. Michiru and she stood at the end of a quiet pier looking out over the darkening ocean, now writhing with flame. Salt filled their nostrils, and Michiru thought about the wind that caressed them, where it had come from, what news it brought. The sky became a vivid turquoise, deepening into azure.
Michiru looked over at Haruka, who stared fixedly into the sky above her. Michiru reached out a hand.
"What are you thinking?" she asked.
Haruka faltered for a moment, then spoke carefully. "I was thinking, how bad could a planet be, where the sky turned to the exact color of your eyes?" She turned to Michiru, a quiet smile on her face.
Michiru felt herself blush in answer to the question in Haruka's dark eyes. Their hands met, clasped.
They looked out again over the water, now black. Stars shimmered in the darkening sky. Two bright points of light drew their attention.
"Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction tonight." Haruka said. Michiru couldn't help herself - she giggled.
"Ecchi," Haruka laughed.
Michiru drew closer to her lover. Haruka put one arm around her. The crescent Moon was bright in the western sky. They watched it in silence, thinking of their Princess, and their promises.
Finally Michiru came to the point. "Setsuna thinks that Hotaru's aging... it...she thinks it may be killing her." She could feel Haruka stiffen, and she closed her eyes. "It's her power - every time she uses it, it ages her."
"Does Hotaru know?"
Michiru shook her head. "Setsuna doesn't know. She thinks we should all talk about it with her."
Haruka nodded. She thought of the battle with Neherenia that reawakened Sailor Saturn, of Galaxia and of the child who was an infant a few years ago and was now 12 years old. "It appears as if every battle ages her about 2 years," she agreed.
"But the real question is...how long does poor Hotaru have?" Michiru shivered in the warm air.
"No," Haruka said firmly. "The question is - how do we stop it?"
The small, pale man had a nervous laugh. "Welcome back, Meioh-san," he twittered.
Setsuna looked down at him calmly. "I've brought a guest with me tonight, Usui-san." She gestured towards Hotaru, who entered the observatory behind her.
Usui simpered at the girl. "Oh, is this your daughter?"
"Yes. Tomoe Hotaru, this is Usui Ojabun."
He extended a hand, "Hotaru-chan, pleased to meet you, I'm Usui."
Hotaru took his clammy hand in a firm grip. "Tomoe, please," she said firmly, meeting his eyes. "I'm pleased to meet you, Usui-san."
Usui pulled his hand back quickly as if he had received an electrical shock.
"Tomoe..." Usui hesitated a moment, "-kun." The last syllable was spoken as a question, as if she might not be satisfied with the mode of address. Hotaru nodded her head slightly, which further disconcerted him. Her face was so young, maybe 12 years old, but her eyes were far, far older and her manner was that of a very self-confident woman.
Usui turned to cover his confusion and lead them back to the computer room.
"I've set up the smaller 'scope, as you requested, Meioh-san. Is there somewhere you'd like to start with?"
"I want to see Saturn." Hotaru's voice came from far away.
Nervously laughing, Usui nattered on about how popular Saturn was for beginning astronomers. "Let me just look up the coordinates..."
"1 hour 04.5 minutes east and 2 degrees, 3 feet south," Hotaru stated firmly.
Usui flushed and looked at Setsuna who nodded. He set the scope to the coordinates Hotaru had given him. Shortly the monitor showed the ringed planet clearly.
"Thank you so much, Usui-san," Setsuna said smoothly. Her colleague muttered that it was nothing and made his escape.
When the door closed on him the two women met each other's eyes and began to giggle.
"Was that nice?" Setsuna asked, laughing behind her hand.
Hotaru shrugged, "He's a prig."
"You're right about that." Setsuna put her hands on the keyboard and adjusted the image.
Hotaru stepped up next to her. They regarded the monitor in silence for a long time. Unconsciously, Hotaru brought up one hand to lay lightly on Setsuna's head, then slide it down to her shoulder. When she spoke her voice was older, darker. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Pluto?"
Automatically, Setsuna caught the hand and pressed her cheek against it. "Yes, it has, Saturn."
Hotaru's face changed and she pulled her hand away quickly. "I'm sorry, Setsuna-mama."
Setsuna smiled, with no trace of irony, or discomfort in her face.
"Don't be. It was a very long time ago." Setsuna hugged the girl to her with one arm. "We're very different now. Setsuna and Hotaru are not exactly the same as Pluto and Saturn. We carry their memories, but we have our own, too."
Hotaru hugged Setsuna back. "I am very glad that you are my mama this time around." Setsuna smiled at the young girl, then gestured for her to take the seat in front of the computer.
"Can we see the center of the galaxy from here?" Hotaru asked.
"Not from this telescope, but..." Setsuna thought, "We have some data on disk from Hubble."
"I'd like to see it." Hotaru nodded excitedly.
When the first picture resolved itself into a false color image, Setsuna found herself and Hotaru staring at an exact replica of Michiru's painting.
When Hotaru spoke, her voice was once again deeper with age. "That's it. That's where the answers are."
Setsuna looked down at the girl. Hotaru's eyes were dark. "The answers to what?" Setsuna whispered.
"To your questions." Hotaru replied. She pointed a white hand towards the monitor. "That is Eternity."
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