The air swelled deliciously, caressing the skin. The distant roar of the ocean rang out, carried from its watery home to listening ears and longing hearts. A familiar wind, this ocean breeze. A calming zephyr. There was a time when she would have considered that wind tainted, fouled by the salt tears, but Haruka Ten'ou could no longer deny truth. Could no loner deny the two were eternally bound, ocean and air, just as those ruled by them were forever entwined, their souls immortally matched.
Somewhere along that vast expanse of coast the wind sang of was her other half. As bound to the water as Haruka was to wind, Michiru was ever drawn back to wade, bathe and cleanse the ever-present scars left by countless battles etched into her very bones. Haruka felt a smile tug at the sides of her mouth as she imagined Michiru, clad in some shapely suit, diving through the rolling waves like some sea creature of legend. It was a good day; bright and full of promise, and while Michiru had chosen to spend it in the water, Haruka had decided to join with the wind.
There was too much time. Days passed effortlessly, without force or evil intent and while content, Haruka was not at ease. As she began to run she let the wind drench her and her uneasiness grew. The world was peaceful, lazy, unaware. She felt the wind heaving, breathing heavily, in, out, in time with her own and she yawned loudly. As always, the terrible dread filled her. It could no longer be denied; the wind was asleep.
Haruka had faced many dangers in her relatively short life, and even greater, more numerous dangers in her past life, but no matter how far she dealt into her memory, she could not recall a time when dread had taken her so completely. It wasn't that she wanted trouble. She would do anything to keep trouble as far away from her, and hence Michiru, as possible. It was just the wind was asleep. Unaware. Who would warn her of troubles if not the wind? There was no way to know if danger approached, and Haruka worried. Duty weighed heavily on her shoulders and with her worry came suspicion. Had the wind really fallen asleep or was there something greater at work? Haruka wanted to believe it was her imagination, but as the wind lazily whipped her hair back from her face she caught sight of two children playing in the park nearby. One was all too familiar, raised in part by Haruka herself. The other was horribly familiar, and her presence always foretold trouble, even when the wind failed.
"Hotaru!" Haruka called out, waving airily as she jogged to where the two were playing, rolling about on the fresh spring grass. Hotaru lay still the moment she heard the deep, husky voice, then sat bolt upright, waving enthusiastically.
"Haruka, look! Chibiusa has come back to play with me!"
"I'll bet that's not all she's back for," Haruka said under her breath. She slowed to a walk as she finally came to their play-spot, her eyes sharpening as she quickly studied Chibiusa. She had grown a little taller, more graceful and bolder, but there was still that undeniable presence of her mother; the child within that would never die.
"It is good to see you again, Chibiusa," Haruka finally said, smiling brightly. While she was fearful of why Chibiusa had come, she could not deny the pleasure running through her as she looked upon her future princess. This, if anything, was what she fought to protect. What she had given her life for willingly more than once.
A memory of Galaxia came suddenly, the feeling of the bracelets wrapped about her wrists, but Haruka pushed it aside, stubbornly shaking her head. It was past. They had won, and Galaxia was one of them once more; a sailor scout. They were at peace she chided herself stubbornly and the memory faded.
Chibiusa ran into Haruka's arms and planted a huge kiss on her cheek. Haruka was still trying to keep her balance and could not think of any way to respond. Chibiusa had kissed her! She wasn't sure whether she was angry, amused or plain stunned. Before she had any time to ponder the action, Chibiusa bent close to her ear where Hotaru could not hear.
"Pu says to be ready. Only you will see it coming. Hard times are coming for you, but you must be strong."
Haruka swallowed dryly, glancing quickly at Hotaru to see if she had heard, but the young girl was leaning against the tree, her gaze averted, oblivious to their conversation. Haruka thought that unusual for Hotaru, then noticed Chibiusa's toy ball floating at Hotaru's side. Whatever the ball was made from, Haruka wished she knew all its secrets... It could be great to have when Michiru was in a bad mood...
"Did Setsuna tell you what was coming?" Haruka asked quickly, locking her gaze with Chibiusa's. She was desperate to learn more, dying to know why the wind dozed and the earth snored, but Chibiusa shook her head sadly and shrugged.
"She said she was sorry she couldn't come to help you, but the gate was too dangerous. That's why I can't go back right now. She said you would need a friend and that it was time I got to know the Outer Senshi."
That was a very strange reason to send Chibiusa in Haruka's opinion. If trouble was coming Setsuna should have wanted Chibiusa as far away as possible... unless she was going to be important again, like with Hotaru and the Daimon. Haruka certainly could not see why Setsuna would send Chibiusa to be her friend when she knew perfectly well there was Michiru.
Fear stole over her like plague. Was something going to happen to Michiru?
No... Setsuna would have warned her of that, surely! Yet... Setsuna could not leave the gate. What was approaching that could effect everything, including time? There were no answers to the myriad questions flooding her mind and there would be no answers for some time.
Only you will see it coming... Because only Haruka knew the wind was asleep and that no warnings would come. It all made a terrible sense, so terrible that Haruka finally realized why the dread had taken her so completely. Everything was asleep; no warnings, no wakings. The enemy was already here.
Chibiusa nodded knowingly then jumped from Haruka's arms. She grabbed hold of one of Hotaru's hands and tugged at Haruka's shirt with the other. Hotaru shook her head as if shaking off a deep sleep and Haruka felt the same.
The wind was still quiet, carrying the gentle, dozing sound of the ocean; nothing had changed. Except Haruka.
"I have to go visit Usagi soon, but I will visit you every day," Chibiusa said happily. She stopped suddenly, her nose twitching as she thought hard about something.
"What is it Chibiusa?" Hotaru asked, a concerned expression on her face.
"Where do you live?" Chibiusa asked suddenly, her face blank.
Haruka and Hotaru laughed together and soon Chibiusa was laughing with them.
Hotaru began to explain to Chibiusa how to get from Usagi's house to their own. It was a strange way to go, using a lot of footpaths Haruka didn't know existed, as she rarely walked anywhere... In fact, Haruka got lost halfway through Hotaru's directions, but since Chibiusa was listening avidly and seemed to know exactly what Hotaru was talking about, Haruka thought it best not to interfere.
"I can always pick you up too, my kitten. You only have to call."
Chibiusa nodded enthusiastically, skipping as they made their way toward Usagi's house. Haruka had not seen the princess in well over a week, and felt guilty for having stayed away, but a whole week alone with Michiru... Haruka had no regrets.
The gate closed, the loud whirring ceased as the bright red light went out, leaving her alone once more with nothing but the darkness to console her. It was lonely in the gate, depressing and cold, yet she had never abandoned her duty. Several times others had volunteered to take her place, but Sailor Pluto knew she alone could stand against time and protect her universe.
Still, it was nice to see Small Lady. Her visits were more regular now, and Sailor Pluto had even traveled at times into that past Small Lady kept returning to, and she had come to an understanding. The world was on the brink of change, ready to become Crystal Tokyo but needing that last push, the final sacrifice. Sailor Pluto understood this, but Setsuna Meiou worried. Sailor Uranus was strong, but only as strong as those beside her.
When they failed, would Haruka truly be able to hold them at bay long enough for Crystal Tokyo to be born?
It had been a risk sending the warning with Small Lady, but Setsuna could not let Haruka face this alone. The gate was growing more unstable with every day as the threat approached; Sailor Pluto could not leave a she had for the battles against the Daimon and Sailor Galaxia. This time Sailor Pluto had to remain outside of time, an onlooker as the fate of the universe was decided. Only if all else failed could she leave her post and join the battle.
The shook abruptly and she freed her talisman from its staff, ready to attack at any moment, but the gate settled and the darkness became complete once more. Sailor Pluto breathed out heavily and returned to her musings.
She had fond memories of her time on Earth, much like Small Lady, though their circle of friends had been very different. Small Lady was at home among the Inner Senshi, with her future parents and their eternal friends. She had found sisters in Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury.
Setsuna, on the other hand, had been trapped by her mission, not that she regretted it. Only her mission had allowed her time on earth at all. She had spent her days with the Outer Senshi, who were much more to her liking. Reserved yet filled with a fiery passion the other Sailor Scouts lacked, Uranus, Neptune and Saturn were a match for Pluto, their powers her equal, as well as their minds. Their commitment was undying.
Pluto recalled the final battle with Sailor Galaxia. Uranus and Neptune had killed her, as well as Saturn; pretended to be Galaxia's slaves to get in a better position to kill her. It had failed, and cost them their lives, yet it had not been something Pluto herself would have ever considered. The Outer Senshi fought strangely, stronger and more fiercely than the Inner could ever hope to, yet they must be reconciled; they must be one if Crystal Tokyo was to appear. Only then could the gate of time be closed forever.
Only then would Sailor Pluto be released from her duty and Setsuna Meiou be free.
"You think much, Soldier far from warmth," a voice whispered from far away.
How it had reached her in her dark lair, Sailor Pluto could not imagine. Instead, Pluto focussed on the intonation; soft, kind, yet dangerous. It was a voice capable of the greatest pleasure or the darkest treason. An ancient voice; a familiar voice.
"Who are you?" Pluto demanded, driving her staff against the darkness and lighting her talisman. It glowed a dark red, piercing through the darkness for leagues, but there was no sign of any living thing besides herself; only an endless nothing.
The voice laughed, further off now, retreating as the light raced after it.
"I am the same as you," the voice said mischievously, "and yet we are completely separate. Still, I think we are more alike than all the others. After all, you are still here, and you still remember..."
Pluto's eyes narrowed and she flung her staff to the left, gathering her energies. She had the vague impression of something far away to her right.
"Dead Scream!" Pluto cried out and a great planet-shaped ball of energy careened through the musk atmosphere, growing dimmer and dimmer until at last it winked out of existence. The laugh echoed through the nothing and Pluto scowled darkly. This was plain annoying!
"You will have to do better than that if you are to win me," the voice said seductively. Pluto was about to reply when she realized the voice was gone. The heaviness of the gate had returned and nothing had passed through. She had succeeded once again in keeping the gate safe, but for how long could she continue? There was only one hope. She simply hoped The Sailor Scouts believed Haruka, even though in her heart she knew they would not. All hope, as it so often did, lay in the smallest hands. Small Lady's hands.
The ocean had soothed away her tension, stripped away her nightmares, at least for the moment. The feeling of the bracelets on her wrists was gone, washed back into memory until the next bad dream brought it rushing up once more. Michiru Kaiou refused to think of such things, drying her hair and madly thinking what she wanted to wear. She had no idea where Haruka was, but she also had no intention of looking like a swamp rat if she accidentally ran into the woman.
Smiling mischievously she selected a short, tight black dress and some high boots. It did not take long to dress and Michiru hurried through the house, cleaning up the mess she had made. Sand and water were everywhere through the corridor and kitchen; something she always chided Hotaru for. Now she had done the same, at which Haruka would be very amused. Michiru was not about to give Haruka any reason to tease; she had enough already.
Once the mess was cleaned up and the house looked relatively tidy, Michiru took out her violin and began playing a gentle melody. She opened no folder of music, refused to think of the notes she played. Today, she was determined, the music would be from her heart and would call her soul-mate home.
The phone rang. Michiru ignored it and waited for the answering machine to pick up, the whole time continuing to play. The melody grew faster as the speaker on the other line became clear. What was she doing here?
"Hotaru? It's Chibiusa! I left my jumper in Haruka's car. Can I come over and get it? Actually... that's a silly question isn't it... Well, maybe it isn't, because I don't know if you are home. Can you call and tell me when you're home so I can come collect it? Thanks!"
Michiru stopped playing. Haruka had been with Chibiusa and Hotaru? Michiru thought Haruka had gone running... Perhaps she saw them on the way. Still, there are no coincidences she reminded herself, and she walked over to the machine and dialed Usagi's house.
"Hello, this is Michiru Kaiou. Yes, the violinist," Michiru rolled her eyes. "I was wondering if I could speak to Chibiusa?"
Michiru began tapping her foot impatiently as the young boy, presumably Usagi's brother, went off to find Chibiusa. A lot of loud banging and crashes were followed by a loud squeal Michiru knew was Usagi's before someone picked up the phone. They said nothing, but Michiru could hear loud footsteps as if someone was running away with the phone.
"Michiru?" A voice finally asked. Michiru sighed in relief.
"Hello Chibiusa. I'm sorry I didn't pick up the phone. I was practicing the violin. I'm sure Haruka will be home very soon, so you can come over whenever you like and pick up your jumper."
"Thank you Michiru... and... how are you"
The question surprised Michiru. She had never been very close to Chibiusa, though she would give her life to protect the small princess as would any of the Sailor Scouts.
"I'm very well, how are you?"
"I'm great! It is so good to back and see everyone again... but, Michiru?"
"Yes Chibiusa?" Michiru was down-right intrigued. What was Chibiusa trying to say? The young girl seemed ready to burst with questions, but Michiru had a strong feeling Chibiusa did not think she could ask any of them.
"Be nice to Haruka, okay?"
Michiru's eyes sharpened and she focussed intently on the phone.
"I don't think you need to worry about that Chibiusa," she replied carefully and was rewarded with a sigh of relief on the other end of the phone. Now very confused, Michiru finished their pleasantries and hung up the phone. Confused, she went to her bedroom and found her talisman; a green oval mirror. It was carefully blank, glazed with a familiar silver sheen. It had been that way ever since they converted Sailor Galaxia back into a Sailor Scout once more. No sign of trouble, not a touch of the unusual. All was calm, like the ocean. There didn't have to be any sacrifices.
The sound of a car in the driveway, Michiru tucked the mirror back into her drawer and skipped down the hallway just as Hotaru bolted through the door, nearly barreling Michiru over. Haruka slipped inside and leant against the doorframe, a wry smile on her lips. She seemed happy; both of them did. Michiru couldn't fathom what Chibiusa had meant.
"Chibiusa rang," Michiru said softly, unraveling Hotaru's arms from around her waist and slipping into one of the large lounges.
"She wanted her jumper no doubt," Haruka replied softly, holding up a pale pink woolly jumped and tossing it to Hotaru. Hotaru clutched it to her chest, grinning wildly, then ran off to her room to find some doll to annoy.
Michiru giggled quietly as Haruka slumped down in the lounge beside her. She smelt a little sweaty and Michiru guessed she had been for a run after all. Still, it was not a bad smell. It suited Haruka Ten'ou, the F1 racer.
"Chibiusa returns but there is no sign of Setsuna," Michiru said remorsefully. She would have loved to have the other woman around once more. At least Setsuna enjoyed going shopping.
"At least there isn't any trouble," Haruka said quietly, almost forcefully. Michiru's attention sharpened. Did Haruka think there was trouble? Michiru had checked everything. The sea was calm, the mirror blank, her henshi stick dull. There was no need for Sailor Scouts. Perhaps that was Haruka's problem; there was no action any longer. That would be very like Haruka.
"The house is very clean," Haruka said suddenly, eyeing the hallway. Michiru blushed, then grinned.
"Would you like to make it dirty?" She asked innocently, running her fingers along Haruka's thigh. Haruka blushed a dark red, her mouth working wildly but no sound coming out. Michiru simply shrugged and settled into Haruka's lap. Haruka's fingers promptly began kneading her shoulders.
Michiru began to doze.
Hotaru closed the door carefully and sighed happily. It was so good to see Chibiusa again! Still, Hotaru was well aware there was a reason Chibiusa had come back and Hotaru had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with Haruka. There had been a moment in the park where she had been unable to concentrate, and she recalled Chibiusa's Luna-ball floating nearby. Had Chibiusa used magic to keep her from hearing her conversation with Haruka? Whatever had happened, Hotaru knew Chibiusa had said something to Haruka.
Living with Michiru and Haruka, Hotaru knew their every move, though she didn't think they really understood how well she knew them. Still, the entire drive home Haruka had had that look in her eye, and every time Hotaru asked a question the response was the same, as if programmed. Haruka was only like that before a race, or a mission. What frightened Hotaru was that it wasn't racing season.
Hotaru folded Chibiusa's jumper and sat it on her dresser, then sat on her bed, legs crossed, hands on her knees, palms upraised. She closed her eyes and slipped deep into trance. There were many memories in this part of her subconscious; memories she would rather forget, including the thoughts and feelings of Mistress Nine. All the things she had fought so hard to destroy could never be stripped from the world without her death. So they were pushed so far within Hotaru that they were no longer her, but some part of the endless darkness of time. If only Setsuna had come with Chibiusa; she would have known what was happening, and she would have trusted Hotaru enough to tell her what was happening. To Setsuna, Hotaru was not an ordinary child. In fact, to Setsuna Hotaru was not really a child at all.
She was Sailor Saturn, the Soldier of Destruction, wakened by none other than Sailor Galaxia. So many things started and ended with that incredible scout. She had conquered the galaxies, and only failed because she herself had not desired to do such terrible things. It was Chaos who destroyed so many lives. Chaos who was responsible for the nightmares still plaguing the Sailor Scouts. Which made Hotaru wonder what the strongest Sailor Scout was actually doing.
Gathering the silent darkness of her planet, Hotaru sent out a silent call for Galaxia, streaking through space and time, trying to draw out that powerful spirit. She held her arms out before her and in her mind she held aloft the Glaive, shining a bright white, smashing through the eternal night.
"I thought we were the only shooting stars," a gentle voice said close to her ear, "but it seems others have the potential. What are you doing?"
Hotaru was so surprised she almost dropped the Glaive and opened her eyes, but a hand brushed against the back of her neck and she settled back into her trance.
"I wish to speak to Galaxia," Hotaru said sternly, wondering who this was. They were familiar...
"Galaxia?" The voice was stunned, as it should be. No one ever actually wanted to speak to Galaxia any more. Except Crow and Siren for some bizarre, perverse reason of their own.
"You cannot reach Galaxia this way," the voice said sadly. "But, perhaps we can help?"
"We?" Hotaru asked curiously. There was only one voice, but when it had said 'we' she had sensed others nearby, listening, curious.
"Don't tell me you don't recognize me? Saturn?"
Hotaru thought hard and long and finally realization struck. Near enough to her own solar system that her call would reach, yet still so far away from Galaxia that she was unreachable. The voice thought they were the only shooting stars, yet here was Hotaru streaking through space with her Glaive. It was quite funny..., no wonder they were enjoying themselves!
"Healer!" Hotaru breathed and the hand that had rested on her neck and embraced her cheerfully.
"Hello, old friend! How is Earth?"
"Quiet!" Hotaru exclaimed excitedly. She had so many things she wanted to talk about; so many things she wanted to ask! Yet, she remembered Haruka's face and the Luna-ball, Chibiusa's return and the way Michiru had watched Haruka when she walked in the door and there was only thing she could say.
"The Earth is too quiet. I think trouble comes, but I cannot say why. Would you come?"
There was silence for a time and Hotaru would have thought they had left, but there was a gentle hand on he shoulder. No longer Healer, but Maker. How she knew the difference Hotaru didn't know, but she did.
"Do you think this threat will effect us here?" A new voice said and Hotaru recognized Fighter.
"No," Hotaru replied truthfully. "If there is trouble it is certainly centered on Earth and Earth alone."
"Very well, we're coming. Our princess says it is all right and we have a lot of catching up we want to do!
Hotaru thought she knew who Fighter wanted to catch up with, but why Maker and Healer seemed so eager to return was a mystery. Still, she was not going to complain. She needed help; help from people who knew how powerful she really was and would not treat her like a small child.
"How long will it take?"
"A day, maybe two," Maker said quickly. "We'll met you at the Hikawa Shrine in three days time."
Hotaru was about to thank them when their presence faded and she was once again alone. Well, not so alone. She felt a great itch at the base of her spine and their was a soft whirring far, far away. Things were moving through space... and time. Hotaru felt fear rising in her stomach.
Setsuna couldn't come, she realized suddenly. Setsuna had to guard the gate from these moving things. But while she guarded the gate, who would guard the solar system? All was quiet on earth, Hotaru recalled... wasn't it?
As she quickly surfaced from her trance Hotaru remembered Chibiusa's Luna-ball and Haruka's face.
It was quiet, wasn't it?
"You are ready?"
Fighter glanced quickly at Maker and Healer, then turned back to the Princess and nodded. Yes, they were ready. They had been talking about going back to Earth for some time, just to catch up with old friends and to take a break. It had taken so much effort to rebuild their own world now all they wanted was a vacation. Hotaru's call had simply been the last piece in the puzzle.
Fighter felt excitement growing in her stomach and laughed. It would be so good to see Usagi again... and the other Scouts too. She had even been practicing ways to pick on the Outer Senshi when they came to tell them to go home. Fighter had several arguments all worked out, including quite a few about Haruka not only disliking popular men, but popular women as well!
"You aren't going to cause too much trouble, are you?" The Princess looked at each in turn, searching their carefully blank faces for any sign of improper intentions. Finding none, she sighed, kissed each lightly on the forehead in blessing and gave them their lockets once more.
"Fly away my stars, to Earth, and there have a wonderful time. Return safe and refreshed."
They bowed low and kissed their Princess's hand, then Fighter linked her arms with Maker and Healer and they launched into the air, singing on the top of their lungs. It was a familiar song, one they had sung countless times, but this time it reminded them of things they had found when all had been lost, and things they had lost when all was found.
"It's a good thing the Princess did not know what you have planned, Fighter," Healer said suddenly, a small smile twitching her lips.
Fighter raised her brows innocently and batted her lashes. Maker simply laughed and shook her head ruefully. It was good to be free, and it would be even better to see friends again.
"Do you think Hotaru is right?" Maker asked suddenly, her eyes swerving over the galaxy they were shooting through. All was still here; at peace.
"I don't know," Fighter replied seriously. "Everywhere there is peace, but Sailor Saturn is so strong. I cannot imagine her instincts being wrong in this. We shall have to be on our guard."
"That's not a problem for us," Healer said slyly. "Only Seiya is a problem."
Fighter elbowed Healer in the stomach and nearly knocked her off course, but Maker grabbed the smaller woman's arm and hauled her back to their side.
Fighter shrugged apologetically while Maker shook her head and sighed.
"I thought this was going to be a vacation!"
"And then Mamoru is back now too..." Healer added cheekily, avoiding Fighter's punch and shooting past the pair, streaking toward Earth at an awesome speed that made Maker very uncomfortable.
"Why is she so eager to get back anyway?" Fighter asked grumpily.
"I think she wants to see that cat," Maker said slowly, genuinely having no other idea why Healer would want to return to Earth. Of the three of them, Healer was the only one who had not really cared for what they were leaving behind, now she seemed the most eager to return. It made little, if any sense. Although, Healer's favorite pastime was picking on Fighter, so perhaps she just wanted to see Seiya in some awkward situations. That was certainly a possibility.
"The cat?" Fighter was repeating in disbelief when they broke into the right Solar System and nearly shot straight into Healer where she had stopped before the outer planet, Pluto.
"My god," Maker hissed under her breath. "What is happening?"
The three Stars watched in bewilderment as the many moons and rings of the Solar System once known as the Silver Millennium flashed in bright, erratic hues that dazzled the eyes. Shooting between these were many small stars; messengers for stronger beings that should no longer exist.
"What is that?" Healer asked, pointing to a large dark mass on Pluto.
"I imagine it is one of the entrances to the gate of time, guarded by Sailor Pluto," Maker said smartly, "but it should not be visible."
"I think, sisters," Fighter said quietly, "our little Hotaru was more right than she could ever know."
"Yes," Maker agreed. "But the question is, can we really do anything to help? I mean... just look!"
And they did. They remained on the edge of the Solar System for hours, watching the bizarre movements of stars and planets alike, wondering what they had stumbled into. After all, they had only wanted a vacation!