Running Through the Changes

By Sophia Prester PG--Manga universe, post "Stars".

Disclaimers: Sailor Moon etc., etc. are the creation of Naoko Takeuchi and belong to her and a number of large media corporations. The lyrics are from the song "True Love" by the Smashing Pumpkins.

Author's notes: At the end, where they'll be easier to skip if you want.

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You've seen this a thousand times before, in a thousand different (yet maddeningly similar) ways.

Tsukino Usagi sits bolt upright in bed, horrified to realize that she has overslept and will be late for school. Again.

Her mother calls upstairs for her to wake up, get up, hurry up. Once more, this isn't anything new.

We'll skip the usual descriptions; they're hardly necessary at this point. The blonde ponytails and the silly-looking odangos (or meatballs, if you prefer) are as familiar as familiar can be. The clang of the alarm, the yowling of the cat scolding her for sleeping late, all of these are just the same as they ever were.

This morning, however, you may notice that things aren't *quite* the same as you were expecting.

For some reason, Usagi does not panic, shriek, or complain. She still rushes, forgets things, and spends much too long on her makeup, but there's an unfamiliar light in her eyes.

Something important has changed.

This time, as she goes through the familiar routine of late-for- school, she spins back through time and space, trying to make some sense of the events of the past few days, weeks, months...

(Fall in to the century of supersonic cross)

...years. Her mother yells up to her that Shingo has left without her, but Usagi only hears the other mother, the one with the white hair and the sad, solemn smile.

(Blessed she in aching silence--eternal loss)

White and beautiful as the moon and just as alone, lost in the coldness of space. Usagi can no longer look at the moon without thinking of ruined palaces and the fragments of a woman's soul trapped in the circuits of ancient, abandoned machinery. This other mother is no bigger than a doll, and no more solid than a mirage.

They met only briefly, in that one stolen moment, but it is one of Usagi's most treasured memories.

(Calling out "I won't surrender")

A different memory--this one far more recent--overlays the first, and her hand pauses as it brings the brush up to her hair. Not all of her memories are so beautiful.

She remembers standing in the middle of the Galaxy Cauldron, wings tattered and on fire with pain, friends dead and gone. She had lost, and lost utterly, but she had not given up. She still isn't sure how, but in losing everything, she somehow gained everything.

Queen Serenity had not given up, either. In the end, her kingdom had been destroyed. Her daughter had been killed. She had seen everything she loved torn away from her, but Usagi doesn't think that Queen Serenity would say she had *lost*.

Usagi checks her hair--adjusts one of the odangos just so--and wonders why the *hair*, of all things, would be the same from lifetime to lifetime. Her own mother (this mother, not the other mother) had chosen the style for her. Why?

(A locket of her hair)

Last night she and her mother were looking over old albums together. Even the earliest pictures of her show her with her hair twisted up into walnut-sized knobs with wispy tufts of baby-fine hair sticking out like pompons. How much of her other life has spilled over into this one?

She twists in front of the mirror, smiling as her ponytails swirl around her like the ribbons that appear during her transformation. She's decided that she's glad her hair is blonde, not silver. Her past-life silver would be more exotic, especially with two other blondes in the group, but she's decided that gold is a happier color. It's the color of Mamoru's crystal, after all. In this time, she belongs to him. They share the same dream. They share the same heart.

She wonders if there's a reason why some things have changed while others have remained the same. When she and her friends fought Beryl, was it just a coincidence that they came frighteningly close to re-enacting the way things happened the first time around?

Pluto would probably know, she thinks. Usagi tells herself that if she *did* ask, Pluto would simply smile and say nothing.

It might be truer to say that Usagi finds that conclusion to be a convenient excuse for *not* asking certain questions.

She prefers to think that in this time, she'll get the happy ending that was stolen from her before. She likes to think it's what her other mother intended all along. After last night, she now feels more than ever that this is true.

(Sympathize her pious pleasures)

The love that once was forbidden is now blessed. She is free to run, laugh, play, chase a million different daydreams. The streets of Tokyo are no mystical moon palace, but they're a heck of a lot more fun.

Maybe it's only a taste of ordinary life before she becomes that goddess-queen who sits untouchable and serene in a palace of crystal. Outside of vague daydreams, it's hard to imagine herself in such a place. It's pleasant, but it's nowhere near as compelling as the idea of meeting her friends for ice cream on Sunday.

Downstairs, her own mother--solid, alive, and probably more than a little annoyed--has given up yelling and is opening and closing cabinets with increasing volume.

Maybe there'll be time to stop by the arcade on the way home. But then again, she *does* have a chemistry exam tomorrow. No arcade, then. Or maybe just a game or two... She is very close to beating her all time record on the Formula One racing game.

If only Queen Serenity had thought to do something about this school nonsense, Usagi thinks wryly. She hadn't liked studying then...

Some things never change.

(Go down the stairs into the dark again)

Barrel down the stairs, grab breakfast, throw half-completed homework into her satchel, and she's off to start another day...

"I'm gonna be late!" she shrieks, but this time she almost sounds happy about it.

"That's what you get for sleeping in!" her mother says, but she's almost smiling and her voice betrays little annoyance. Despite the sameness of today's events, she can see that things have changed.

(To feel alive again, and wait for real love)

It is far too easy to look at Tsukino Ikuko as a bit player, or as a sort of Greek chorus to comment upon Usagi's moods and activities. It is easy to forget that she is also a mother.

When Usagi was fleeing the truth of what Galaxia had done to Mamoru, and when her friends fell two by two to Galaxia's soldiers, Ikuko watched helplessly as the life faded from her daughter's eyes.

Something had been wrong, something she knew nothing about and was powerless to stop. There was one morning when Usagi left and she had this horrible feeling that her daughter would not be coming back, in spirit *or* in body. For nearly twenty-four hours she waited, unable to sleep, unable to eat, *knowing* that something awful was happening to her baby. Then, just when Ikuko was ready to give up hope, her beloved, frustrating daughter returned in a storm of teenage giggles and turbulent moods.

Usagi was herself again.

Ikuko would rather have a daughter who was late to school (and late coming home thanks to the inevitable detentions) than the serious stranger who'd haunted her house for the past few months, looking out at her from dead eyes.

Ikuko laughs as her daughter pelts out of the house, and skid-turns at the gate, arms flailing to keep her balance. Then, with a flick of golden ponytails, she's gone.

(Or is it me you're after... Is it time?)

But that's enough of Tsukino Ikuko for now. As always, her daughter is more the subject of our interest. She's the one who's important.

To be honest, Usagi would prefer not to think of herself as important. If you asked her, she'd say that everyone else was important. Her friends, her family, and--of course--her Mamo-chan. The Formula One racing game and ice cream are also important, in their own way.

Still, you think, this girl is destined to be Queen. Perhaps only of Crystal Tokyo (whatever *that* is), maybe of the Earth itself. Or, if you decide to read some sort of meaning into Sailor Cosmos's title, it could be that Usagi is destined to be one of the most powerful beings in the entire universe.

The number of enemies who have gone after her and her crystal lends some support to that theory.

If what she learned while fighting the Black Moon Family holds true, Usagi knows that she's got maybe six years, tops, before the world and her life change forever. She'll be a mother. Somehow or other, she'll be a queen. *Big* changes.

Six years just doesn't seem like enough time, somehow.

(Because it's now or never Real love Real love forever Real love)

Six years to be friend, wife, lover to Mamoru. Six years to have her friends as just her friends and not her palace guard. Oh, she has no doubt that they'll still be her friends, but she also knows that things are going to change. Not the important things, but change is change, and there are things about this life that she knows she'll miss.

Six years just isn't enough time to enjoy the life she has now.

(Born of the fallen chain...)

You might say that this life is pretty far from perfect, and Usagi would be the first to agree with you. Even though she complains about the same things she did two years ago, she knows that there are other things to worry about besides dates, school, chemistry exams, and thinking of ways to get her parents to increase her allowance.

She knows that would sound whiny if she said it out loud. In fact she often *does* say such things, knowing that her friends will call her on it, and remind her that things really aren't all that bad, or wouldn't be if she just applied herself and worked a little harder and did a better job of prioritizing things.

It used to be that if she thought about things she couldn't control, it would simply overwhelm her.

Now as she runs, she thinks about this imperfect world that she was born to inherit.

(Into a world sustained with sorrow)

There are times that Usagi worries about things that only haunt most people in the abstract. She looks at the people (her future subjects) she passes on her way to school (and what's the point of that, anyway?) and takes note of almost everything she senses.

A young child wailing and being scolded by its mother

An old man waiting at the bus stop, coughing wetly into a handkerchief.

The shriveled body of a baby bird, blown from its nest by the storm a few days past.

The jolt that travels up her leg when she nearly stumbles over a section of sidewalk that buckled during a recent earthquake.

The smell of diesel fumes and car exhaust that only seems to be getting worse every year.

The sound of a bitter argument carrying down from an apartment window.

She keeps on running, and for a while it feels like running away...

How can she be queen of all this? How can she be responsible for all these little goings-wrong? Should she even *try* to be responsible for it all? Is there any way to change it without first destroying it all?

She doesn't know how it's possible.

(Real love A real touch we speak in)

At least she has Mamo-chan. He can be infuriating, especially when his schoolwork drives her out of his mind, but she knows that he'll be there if she needs him, even if it's only in her heart and mind.

Still, she misses being *with* him. It's more than the shivers that run down her body when he kisses her, or the trembling heat that grows ever stronger every time he touches her. There are times she doesn't think she can wait another day before finally making love to him, but there are other times when she appreciates just standing next to him, leaning up against him ever so slightly.

It's true that she's more powerful than him, but it's also true that she's more powerful with him than without. It sounds wonderful and romantic and cliched all at once, but the impossible seems easy when he's there for her.

She also likes the fact that he's so much taller than she is and that his hand can swallow hers up like it's nothing. It makes her feel safe in a way she hasn't felt since she first became Sailor Moon.

Her entire body warms at just the thought of him. Maybe when she sees him this weekend, they can just spend some time along together.

Even though six years seems like it will be here before she knows it, waiting for Saturday feels like *forever*.

(Is it lies Or is what we're seeking Real love)

There are times when she wonders if Mamo-chan really loves her. *Really* loves her. He would die for her, but that's not what she wants to know.

She wants to be certain that he *likes* her for her. She wants to know if he would have fallen in love with her if they had not been those star-crossed lovers from so long ago.

She asked him about that, a few days ago. He only told her not to be silly, then kissed her silent.

It was probably the only answer that would have worked.

(In the eyes Behold and you'll find the 21st century)

She also knows that she'll have ChibiUsa in a few years. *That* makes those six years seem forever long again. Then, of course, she'll be ChibiUsa's mother and not the sister-best friend they've been over the past year.

That's the only part of the future Usagi mourns. Once her daughter is born, the ChibiUsa she's befriended will no longer be able to visit the past. This is one of the few solid facts that Pluto has volunteered about the future.

Still, it's obvious to anyone who listens that ChibiUsa loves and adores her mother.

Usagi tells herself that this is one more instance in which losing becomes winning. She also has good reason to fight for the future of her world. The future of ChibiUsa isn't a foregone conclusion. Her entire being was nearly erased by Galaxia.

Just the fact that ChibiUsa will be there makes that a future worth fighting for.

But then, that future doesn't only hold ChibiUsa and Crystal Tokyo. It also holds one other she may one day meet.

Thinking of the future also reminds her that it wasn't impossible to undo all of the pain that she sees as she runs.

She had her chance, and she refused to take it.

(Detonate her will and her widowed speech)

Such pain in Cosmos's voice. She had broken every rule in the universe to come back in time and make sure that Usagi would not make the same mistakes she had.

It's not what most people would consider a pleasant memory, but all the same Usagi laughs, scaring a flock of sparrows in her path.

Despite Cosmos's urging, Usagi rejected her and made the very thing Cosmos had counseled her against. Why, then, does she laugh, you wonder. Shouldn't she be worried? Crying? Anxious?

That would be the logical way for the Usagi you know to behave, after making such a mistake.



Perhaps it *wasn't* a mistake.

(Buried in the backyard shadow The rusty coffee tin That held her mother's first kiss in a Nameless dream)

Destroy Chaos, and you destroy the source of all pain. It is an equation so simple that even Usagi could solve it on a bad day.

No more uncertainty. No more enemy. No more pain. Cosmos asked her to rewrite the future--or was it Cosmos's past?

Destroy Chaos, and no more stars will be born. No more new life will come into this universe.

That's the flip side of the equation. Somehow, even though she is no good at math, Usagi was able to see what Cosmos had willfully ignored.

In the past year, as she's grown older, she's come to have a better understanding of her mother. Some of that is no doubt thanks to ChibiUsa. Some of it is just part of growing older.

Listen carefully, because this is the important part even though it's tucked away here in the middle: Usagi knew what she was doing in the Galaxy Cauldron, even if she was a little shaky on the 'why.' She chose life, and pain, and growth because that is the sort of person she is. She could no more choose something else than she could simply tell her heart to stop beating.

This is the change: today she finally understands why she chose what she did. It started last night, as she watched her mother pore over old picture albums. The pictures were of her mother and father before they were married, or of her and Shingo as babies.

Usagi saw the love in her mother's face, and recognized it as the same love that is even now pulsing through her own body and soul, driving her forward as she races towards the future.

Mother, daughter, other mother, not-yet mother, it's all the same in the end. None of them would ever give up. They *couldn't* give up. They would face any pain to give the ones they loved another chance at life.

(Fall down the stairs again To feel alive again, it's tomorrow)

So what if she's running late? The point is, it's another day, and she's running, the sidewalk rushing away beneath her feet. She hops over another rough patch in the pavement, taking it all in stride.

(Real love Or is it me you're after)

Tomorrow is Saturday, and she will meet Mamoru at their usual spot in the park, once morning classes are over.

Her father will, of course, put her through the third-degree about the time she spends with her boyfriend (even though he's a reincarnated prince and a promising medical student, no man is good enough for his baby).

(Is it time Cause it's now or never)

The past is past, and the future is by no means set in stone. Queen Serenity didn't give her life so that her daughter could relive the past or just sit around waiting for the future.

(Real love Real love forever)

It's not many people who have their past spelled out for them and the future mapped out. It can tend to overshadow the present...if you let it.

Right now, as you stare dumfounded at the girl running down the street, there isn't a single shadow in sight.

(Is it love Or just yours to treasure Real love Real love Real love)

There is nothing here but light. Usagi is full of love. You can see it in her eyes and in the way she smiles. Did that other mother cause her to be reborn simply so she could be happy? Life is a precious enough gift, but to regain a shattered love? That is a truly wonderful gift.

Knowing for almost-certain that you will have great happiness in your future? An even more precious gift.

It is almost too much love and joy for any one person to carry, no matter how special it is. Is it an embarrassment of riches, or is there something else going on?

(We never listen Real love will listen)

Usagi used to think that the greatest thing she could ever do would be to find love and to grab on to it so tightly that it could never ever get away again. She would live in bliss, in her sweet little house, with her wonderful husband and adorable child, and everything would be wonderful.

That was love, right? That's what the manga and magazines all said. It's what they were silently taught in home economics along with the way to make perfectly cooked rice and captivating little cakes.

When her mother spoke of how love meant sacrifice, and compromise, and above all, hard work, it was much easier to tune that out and daydream about slender, handsome young men who would sweep deserving young ladies off their feet in the final act.

Of course she didn't want to hear about all of the stuff that happened in the ever after. She believed that she was different. When she found out that she'd been a princess in another life, well, that just meant that she was *guaranteed* to have a special love and the best happily ever after the world had ever seen, right?

She thinks about things somewhat differently now.

(And tell of a fortune Real love is riches)

She has the 'tall, dark, and handsome' favored by the fortune- tellers. She even has the fancy dress. She's had a sneak preview of her fairy castle and she's met the daughter who'll grow up to have her own prince--a fair young man bright shining like the sun.

Ten centuries in the future, ChibiUsa no doubt dreams of her own fairy-tale romance.

Usagi, however, has also seen her ever after. Just a day or two ago, she met her own future.

(scratch through the changes real love is nameless so tired and hopeless)

Cosmos was her. Well, the person she would someday become.


Maybe not.

Cosmos claimed to be the ultimate form of Sailor Moon, and it seemed that she remembered what it was like to be Usagi, once upon a time. Perhaps. Usagi still wasn't all that clear about everything that had happened at the Galaxy Cauldron.

Cosmos had wanted her to destroy the Galaxy Cauldron and seal Chaos away forever. That meant no more Chaos and no more pain, but it also meant no more new stars, no more new life. The universe would slowly spin itself out into cold and nothingness.

In the here-and-now her thoughts drift back to the lost, dead Moon, circling in cold emptiness, forever looking down at a lively, living Earth. Cosmos had been like that. Tired, hopeless, empty. She said she had come to Earth as Chibi-Chibi to offer Usagi--her past self--some comfort, but more than the comfort, Usagi remembers the joy that Chibi-Chibi had at being mothered and babied.

(Real love is painless... Nobody mentions...)

"It hurts," she had said to her other-self. "I know how much it hurts when you lose the people you love, or..." She stopped, thought, then smiled.

"But it doesn't matter," she said, laughing gently. "Missing people hurts. Losing people hurts. But love..."

(We ever move to collect The solar questions)

It wasn't that love caused hurt. Love was what made the hurt bearable. Love was what gave you reason to go on despite the hurt.

"I almost gave up, you know. It hurt too much to see my see them die," she said. Tears streamed down her face, but she smiled, and you could hear the trembling joy start to build as she went on.

"If it's really love, you don't quit." Such simple words, such a big idea. She knew it sounded silly, like a fortune cookie or a greeting card. "You *can't* quit."

Maybe it was just that this thing growing in her heart and soul was just *much*. Bubbling, sparking, growing, spreading ever outwards. She could only find a few words that worked, and none of them came close to describing what this was.

She was giddy with ecstasy, burning like the sun. She was standing firm with cool resolve, shining steadily like the moon.

Maybe it was only here, on the edge of nothing, that she could understand the one truly important thing behind *everything*.

(Demon scorn should not relax The laws of gravity...)

You've seen this before, and yet you haven't. You think you know this girl, but perhaps you don't. She is a bundle of contradictions, always more and less than you could ever expect.

Her name is Tsukino Usagi. She is sixteen years old. Schoolgirl, queen, daughter, mother, crybaby, hero. She runs through the town, ponytails like streamers of gold flying in her wake. She hardly seems to touch the ground.

She is running because she is late to school--again.

She is running for joy.

She will face entrance exams, a few more detentions, college, marriage, childbirth, a future that will see her as ruler of the world, a time when the earth is encased in ice, attacks from outside, rebellion from within, a time when she will face the ultimate enemy...alone.

Or maybe not.

She's not sure she can ever be truly alone, not in the coldest, most absolute sense of the word.

The past is over. The future hasn't happened yet. Why should she be prisoner to any of it? Her former life and her future destiny can chase after her all they want. She doesn't dismiss them. They are part of her, after all. Still, there is much, much more to her than that.

She has so much more to give.

What matters is that she now knows what's *really* important. She knows what she'll fight for. She knows what her dream is, and she's running after it with everything she's got.

(real love...)

And don't you ever forget it.

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Author's notes:

Well, I wrote this the second SMRFF Lyric Wheel Challenge. I'd almost forgotten about it, but Ai-ko was kind enough to remind me and ask me if I wanted to participate. Oh, why not, I thought. I had a song that I was kinda sorta tempted to commit songfic upon, so I submitted that.

Then, I got the lyrics to this one. Hmm, I thought. Love song, eh? Interesting--if semi-unintelligible--lyrics. I tracked down the song (house- sitting for a compulsive CD hoarder has its advantages) and was surprised by how strong and driving the beat and melody were. It was not nearly as bleak and mopy as I'd suspected.

So, even though the story would veer towards some dark places, it would be emphatically positive throughout. My usual themes crept in: heroism in the face of adversity, not being a slave to one's past, yadda-yadda. Maternal love crept in alongside romantic love, and in the end, I wound up with this messy, semi-plotless character sketch about Usagi chasing the dream of building a future for the ones she loves. I blame the metafictional elements and experimental crud in this thing on too many comparative literature courses back in the day.

I didn't realize until later that I the phrase "other mother" slipped into my writing thanks to Neil Gaiman's wonderful story, "Coraline." I tried to think of another way for Usagi to describe Queen Serenity, but nothing else felt quite as right.