by Sophia Prester

Disclaimer: Sailor Moon and all associated characters are the property of Naoko Takeuchi and an assortment of media conglomerates. This work is presented strictly for entertainment and not for any kind of profit. "Daylight Fading" is by the Counting Crows. I don't own that either.

Notes: This story takes place in the manga continuity sometime between the end of the Black Moon arc and the beginning of the Deathbusters arc.

* * *

"In regions such as Arizona and New Mexico, where there is a strong presence of Mexican and Mexican-American culture, it is common to see wooden crosses, known as ~descansos~ (Spanish for "resting place"), along the roadside... The ~descanso~ is an invitation for passersby to stop, reflect on the transitory nature of human existence, and pray for the soul of the person who died on that spot. For the family and friends of the victim, the roadside cross is a place of remembrance, enabling the living to continue a relation to the dead."

From "The Human Ecology of Memory" John F. Kihlstrom Professor, Department of Psychology at U.C. Berkeley

* * *

Setsuna looked up from her journal and peered out at the tarmac. The maintenance crew--which had been swarming around the plane like jump-suited ants for the past two hours--stopped working in sudden unison, loaded up their equipment, and scurried off to some other part of LAX. She checked her boarding pass for the fifth time, and wondered when it would really hit her that this was a one-way trip.

Was she ready? Maybe. Probably not. There wasn't any way she could be sure.

The gate agent, whose perky demeanor had eroded over the past two hours, picked up the PA handset. Setsuna's smile held back a laugh as the crowd in the waiting room turned as one to stare menacingly at the poor woman.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she said wearily, "we will begin boarding JAL flight 25 to Tokyo Narita airport in just a few minutes. We apologize for the delays."

Setsuna ignored the muttered chorus of "about time" and "they said that an ~hour~ ago" from her fellow travelers.

It seemed she was the only one in the waiting room who had neither noticed nor minded the passage of time. For the past few months, she had lived feeling as if she were being suspended in some sort of eternal present. Oddly enough, she had just been reading a paragraph she had written on October 19th, where she described being in state like that of being caught at the moment between impulse and action, between decision and commitment.

She had spent much of the delay lost in re-reading her most recent diary, trying to pull some sense and pattern out of the words she had written down only a few short months ago. Maybe, just maybe, she would find some clue that would help her face whatever was waiting for her in Tokyo.

She hadn't found much--only a few intriguing phrases scattered here and there throughout the series of entries she'd written right before her birthday. Rereading the entries brought back the memory of those days as if they had been yesterday. The words were sketchy, but the memories they triggered were strong enough that even smells came back as if they had been trapped like cigarette smoke in her hair and her clothes.

By the time her eighteenth birthday had rolled around, she had been living and going to school in America for nearly three years, and for every one of those three years, she would go out to Arizona to celebrate her birthday with her mother's relatives. ~All~ of her mother's relatives. For better or for worse, that pretty much guaranteed an unforgettable time.

Her mother had a lot of relatives. Too many relatives, in Setsuna's opinion. It wasn't that she didn't like them or love them. Ever since she could remember, visiting her mother's family was a special treat. The problem was that being around more than a handful of them at a time only helped to remind her of the loneliness that she bore like a faded, unexplained scar.

And, of course, they all descended upon her abuela's Tucson house in late October, just in time for her birthday.

Of course, none of this was in honor of her, the strange one, the family foreigner. The fact that her birthday was when it was only added to the fact that her mother's family didn't know quite what to do with her.

It wasn't like she had ~asked~ to be born smack in the middle of ~Los Dias de Muertos~.

While waiting for boarding to start, Setsuna returned to the entries for the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-eighth of October. On the twenty-sixth, she had noted that she had had "strange dreams," but nothing about those dreams. There were a few notes about feeling as if time was suspended, with all of the bustle of the day trapped like a mosquito mid-flight in amber. On the twenty- seventh, she hadn't made an entry. Quietly, she cursed her own laziness. The dreams had rattled her, but not enough to make her write down any details. Either that, or they had seemed so vivid at the time that she had stupidly assumed that she wouldn't forget them.

On the twenty-eighth, she had filled nearly eight full pages with details of that day's festivities--cooking, decorating sugar skulls with her little cousin, going out that night with her cousins and some childhood friends. There was one line, however, that stood out--literally and figuratively--from the exuberant and physical account of the day.

In the middle of the next blank page, with no explanation or commentary, she had scrawled the following words:

"I feel like I'm waiting for the moon to come and light me up inside."

Her pen had dug so deeply that the words echoed through the next five pages.

She could see the indentations clearly because on October twenty-ninth, after thirteen years of faithful habit, Setsuna gave up keeping a diary.

* * *

The actual day of Setsuna's eighteenth birthday started a little bit later than usual. She slept soundly until nearly eight o' clock, when the light coming through the living room window finally woke her. She tried to go back to sleep, but was too awake to ignore the metal support bar in the old sleeper sofa and how it pressed into the small of her back. When she looked back at the clock, she found that what felt like only two minutes of thinking about getting out of bed had been nearly a half-hour.

It had been a late night, and as daylight grew, Setsuna feared that the memory of that precious time would fade like the darkness. There was something magical about the way time had lazily stretched out and settled down as she, her cousin Inez, and two of her oldest friends sat out under a full moon and did their best to talk about everything important and bring out all of the old jokes for one last airing. She had no idea what time she'd gotten home other than the fact that she knew that she didn't have long before daybreak.

So it was that morning that she wanted nothing more than a little quiet and two cups of coffee. Unfortunately, it looked like she would get neither, and that was merely the start of the day's troubles.

Mama was already up, as were most of the other aunts, uncles, and cousins. As Setsuna entered the kitchen, Mama smiled fondly at the daughter who had done nothing but baffle and confuse her from the day she was born.

"Ah! I was wondering when we'd see you, ~querida~. Your father called early this morning and wanted me to wake you, but I told him you deserved to sleep in a little on your birthday. Be sure to give him a call back before you get too caught up in anything."

Setsuna was glad that she had not been around to hear that particular conversation. She looked around for the coffee. All she saw was the empty percolator sitting upside-down in the dish rack. "Um..."

"How old are you, Susanita?" asked Lourdes. Setsuna's little cousin was fiercely proud of the Japanese phrases and the handful of simple kanji Setsuna had taught her, but the proper pronunciation of Setsuna's name remained an insurmountable obstacle.

"Eighteen, Lolo-chan," she said, feeling a sharp tug of affection. She had always fancied herself as being the aloof sort, and not fond of small children, but there was something about Lourdes' gap-toothed smile and unconditional adoration that turned her into a puddle inside. Setsuna could have sworn that it reminded her of something--or someone--but that was silly. Lourdes was the first small child she'd ever known well, wasn't she?

Still, there was no denying that she felt a sweet homesickness whenever Lourdes shrieked and ran to give her a big hug if they'd been apart for more than ten minutes.

"Eighteen," Mama said with a dramatic sigh. "Ah, I wish you wouldn't remind me of how quickly time passes! In here," she said, laying a hand on her chest, "you're still just a little baby."

From the corner of the kitchen, Abuela Rosario watched all of this unfold carefully, smiling enigmatically as always.

Tia Concepcion peered at her over the rims of drugstore reading glasses. "Don't be silly, Lupe. Your daughter has always struck me as quite old for her age. An old soul."

Concepcion Ramirez San Raphael loved to speak pompously, taking on the air of a wise old woman. She especially liked to do this when talking to the niece who everyone referred to pityingly as the "smart one" in the family. Many of Setsuna's female relative on both sides of the family thought she was getting above herself with all this talk of college and graduate school, and in ~science~ of all things.

Concepcion was gathering her breath to say something else, no doubt something meant to remind Setsuna of just how different she was from her Tucson relatives, but Abuela Rosario came to her rescue.

"Don't talk about things you don't understand, Conchita," she said, cutting Concepcion short with the hated baby-name. "Time doesn't make our children any less our children. Leave the girl alone and go see if Suela needs help with her babies. Take Lolo with you--she can help wear out the twins."

Concepcion left without so much as a glare at her mother-in-law. Rosario San Raphael could hear an insolent thought from five rooms away, so making a face was hardly a wise idea. Even someone as self-centered and self-important as Concepcion knew that.

Lourdes cast a mournful look back at her cousin, and Setsuna couldn't help but feel that she should run to the girl's rescue.

Unlike Concepcion, Rosario's oldest daughter didn't need any direct orders. Rosario merely had to give a subtle flick of dark eyes and a tilt of the head, and Guadalupe Josefina San Raphael Meiou meekly nodded her understanding and left the room.

"If you want coffee, you know where it is," Rosario said. "Make a full pot--the extra won't go to waste, not with the crowd we have today."

Setsuna measured beans into the old hand grinder. The rich, smoky smell of the grinding coffee was enough to burn off a bit of her morning fog. So, Abuela wanted to speak to her alone. Setsuna was tempted to tell her grandmother about the strange dreams she'd been having, and how her old, inexplicable loneliness was no longer a scar but an open and festering wound. Concepcion's stupid remark about that 'old soul' business had sent a shiver down her spine that would linger for the rest of the day. But, she held her tongue. She was half-afraid that her grandmother would only tell her to light a candle or make an ~ofrenda~, or put a small gift to the Virgin in the family ~nicho~.

For one near-hysterical moment, Setsuna envisioned herself making an offering at the Shinto temple near her father's ancestral home in Tokyo. One of these days, she feared she was going to forget herself and clap her hands sharply and bow in front of the Blessed Virgin, or genuflect as she walked through the ~torii~ at the shrine by her obasan's house.

As it was, she was confused and sleepy enough that she almost started talking to Abuela in Japanese. It was a fortunate stumble, as it gave her time to collect her thoughts. She decided that she would not tell Abuela about the dreams of a large, iron gate or the vision of the small, delicate girl who wielded the Reaper's scythe.

Instead, Setsuna started talking about the other thing that had been worrying her. It was a genuine worry, and if Mama had indeed woken her to speak to Father, Setsuna might have had some genuine tears and rage to go along with the explanation of her current dilemma.

Abuela Rosario listened attentively as Setsuna complained and worried about the choices that lay ahead of her. Should she continue her education here in the United States, or go back to Japan? If she stayed in the States, should she attend UC San Diego, where her father taught, or go to the cold, strange northeast to attend M.I.T.?

Rosario murmured and muttered in assent or sympathy as her odd duckling of a granddaughter ran through the advantages and disadvantages of each situation, and tried to weigh one set of sacrifices against another. All the while, Rosario kept on seeding roasted peppers with seemingly unconscious flicks and scrapes of her knife, listening to Setsuna just as Setsuna knew she had listened to dozens of other daughters, nieces, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, and assorted god-daughters. Rosario was wise enough to know that the words that rattled from their mouths weren't the important thing. The important thing was that the thoughts that clanged around their heads like malevolent spirits were able to be aired and exorcised in the safety of the San Raphael family kitchen. If she had any advice, Rosario would hold it until Setsuna ran out of words.

As she spoke, Setsuna wondered what advice her grandmother would have to give. Abuela Rosario had a word or saying for nearly every thing and every occasion. Most of these words were dismissive, in keeping with her attitude that anything outside the scope of home and family wasn't worth wasting time worrying over. Was everyone clean? Fed? Not in serious trouble with the law? Was the front yard swept? They were words meant to knock some good common sense into otherwise empty heads.

Whatever advice Abuela had to give, Setsuna was certain that it would do nothing to ease the real worries that lurked beneath the surface. "I need something to make my path clear. I know I'm not an indecisive person, not usually, but maybe it's just that I'm not used to making choices like this. I'm not used to the stakes being this high."

Funny how that would describe her real dilemma just as well. She turned her coffee cup round and round in her hands, peering down into it as if she could see her fortune in the smoky reflection. "I always used to think that I knew what I wanted to do, that I knew what I wanted to be,'s like I'm stuck in some sort of holding pattern and I'm waiting for the telephone to ring and tell me I'm alive."

Abuela looked at her coolly for a few moments, as if waiting for Setsuna to continue with her explanation. Setsuna was about to tell her grandmother that she'd said all she had to say, when her grandmother finally broke the silence.

"Well ~I~ heard you let somebody get their fingers into you."

Setsuna stared. "What's that supposed to mean?" she stammered.

Abuela shrugged, one-shouldered. "I only said I ~heard~ it. I didn't say I ~believed~ it. Anita said that you were distracted all day yesterday, walking around with your head in the clouds like you were thinking about some man. She even asked me if you'd met someone in San Diego, or if you had a boyfriend back in Japan."

"Oh, give me a break!" Setsuna said. Every time she came out here to visit, she was always asked about who she was dating. Lately, the tone of the inquiries had been more along the lines of 'why haven't you found anyone yet?' "I already told you, I'm making a decision that's very likely going to affect the rest of my life. Why shouldn't I be distracted?"

She got up and poured herself another cup of coffee, aware of her grandmother's dark eyes watching her almost without blinking. Her tone had been borderline insolent, and she wondered if Abuela would call her on it.

For a minute she considered walking out of the kitchen, but in the end sat down at the kitchen table to finish her second cup of coffee.

Abuela looked at Setsuna--really looked at her. "You always were the special one," she said.

"Special," Setsuna muttered. It sounded more bitter than she intended. "I wish I knew if that was supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing."

Abuela shrugged again by way of an answer. "Special can go both ways," she said. "Let me know when you're ready to tell me what's ~really~ bothering you."

Abuela Rosario got up and walked out of the kitchen and into the yard, leaving a stunned Setsuna with her quiet and her second cup of coffee.

* * *

"We will begin with boarding our first-class passengers at this time, along with passengers with small children and anyone else who may need assistance."

A number of people grimaced or rolled their eyes when it was announced that the plane would be boarded by rows. Setsuna pretended to cough to hide her smile.

Were those five minutes so important? Would it really help the plane get there earlier?

On the other hand, were these five months she was giving up so important? What was she gaining by going back to Japan so much earlier than necessary? What might she be losing?

She looked back out at the tarmac. A different ground crew had assembled, and were waiting to guide the plane back from the jet way. All of them wore windbreakers, and more than a few also wore caps.

"It's getting cold in California," she thought. "Japan will be colder still. I guess I ~should~ have waited until spring."

The thought triggered another one of those strange memories, this one of a Japan covered with ice, harsh and barren like the depths of the Sonora, but blasted with cold instead of heat.

She pushed the image from her mind and continued to wait for her row to be called.

* * *

After a late birthday lunch, Setsuna sat out on the front porch with her mother, watching as the sun gilded the walls of the front yard and made the swept dirt yard glow like hammered bronze.

"I miss it out here, ~mija~," said Guadalupe Meiou. "San Diego has much nicer weather, true, but I miss the desert. I miss the way the light changes."

The late afternoon sun felt heavy and sticky, like honey or amber. A lizard, bright as any jewel, darted up the wall by the ~nicho~. The yard, with its hard packed earth, terra cotta pots full of vegetables and herbs, and its mosaic-covered walls, sometimes had its own kind of timeless serenity, like a Japanese garden.

The place her mother saw, however, lay far beyond the walls of the San Raphael front yard.

"Someday soon I want to go back out to the desert and see the canyons and the cliffs," Guadalupe said. "I love the play of light and shadow, all the colors of the sky. I love to go out among the rocks, and think about how old they are, how many years they've sat there, outlasting us all, soaking up the same sun that we see every day."

Earlier in the day, Setsuna had spoken with her father, who for some reason had waxed equally sentimental about the cherry blossoms, and how he hoped to be back in Japan in time for the blossom viewings this coming spring. The beauty of the cherry blossoms was fragile and fleeting, so different from the rugged, razor-edged beauty of the desert her mother loved.

She wondered if the sudden discourse on the importance of the sakura blossoms to Japanese culture was her father's way of telling her that he hoped she would go to Tokyo for university.

She remembered visiting Ueno Park, holding her father's hand and standing under an old sakura tree as petals fell around them like snow. She was only five years old and yet she understood all too clearly how something could be infinitely beautiful and infinitely sad at the same time.

It was the first time she had felt the loneliness deep within her, a loneliness that was bigger and older than anything she ever knew. From that moment on, that feeling of loneliness had never left her.

Setsuna envisioned her mother's red rocks--which had always seemed young to her, although she knew they were millions of years old--flaking away in the wind like so many cherry blossoms, and she knew then, with a certainty she could not explain, that she herself would be in Japan before spring.

"I guess I'll be leaving soon," she said. "I've made up my mind. I'm going back to Tokyo to..."

To what? To go to college? That was what she would ~do~ once she got there, but that wasn't ~why~ she was going.

The sun was setting, daylight fading, and Setsuna could hear the first hum of noise from the night's celebration.

"I'm not surprised to hear you say that," Mama said. Her eyes were still fixed on some distant desert vista. "I know you love it here, but this was never really your home, was it?"

For a moment, Setsuna saw another woman next to her mother, like a photographic negative. Silver hair for Guadalupe's gray-dulled black, pale blue eyes for chocolate brown. The other woman's skin was as pale as moonlight itself and as fresh as dew, while her mother's deep olive skin was dark and roughened from years of exposure to wind and sun.

Setsuna wasn't scared by this sudden vision. What scared her was that she felt the same love and devotion towards this pale shadow that she did towards her own mother.

She prayed that she would never be forced to make a choice between the two.

Setsuna reached out and took her mother's hand. "I'll miss you, you know that, don't you?"

Guadalupe squeezed her hand gently in return. "I know. It's funny, though. Sometimes it feels like you're going much, much further away than Japan."

* * *

Setsuna's row was finally called. As she passed through the door of the jet way, she stopped cold.

Doorways. Doorways were important, somehow. They were something she protected, and something to which she was bound.

She had almost puzzled it out when another passenger brushed past her roughly to get onto the plane. She blushed and hurried on to her seat.

* * *

Through a set of carefully arranged circumstances and a few direct orders, Setsuna wound up being the one elected to help Abuela with the dinner dishes. She should have known that Abuela Rosario wouldn't let things stand the way they were after their conversation that morning.

"So you've decided, then? What you're going to do?"

Setsuna shrugged. Even though she had told her mother that she had made up her mind, she was not ready to make that same sort of declaration in front of her abuela.

"I don't know for sure. Not yet, anyway. If I'm going to get financial aid, I have to let M.I.T. know by Monday. If I'm going to Tokyo, I have to start in on the paperwork right away. Either way, I have to decide something, or I'm just going to waste another year."

"Are you calling this year a waste?"

Setsuna cringed. "No! No, of course not, Abuelita!" She dried the last of the plates and slid it up into its rack. "It's just that..."

She stopped herself. Abuela was wise, true, but Setsuna doubted that even she would understand this strange sense of time being short, this sense of something urgent that went beyond paperwork deadlines, passports, and fulfilling parents' expectations.

She had constructed arguments to justify each choice she could possibly make, but no matter what choice she made, someone she loved would be unhappy. So, she rehearsed arguments that were full of logic and passion, but now that the time had come for her to make a choice, all the anger and the eloquence were bleeding into fear.

"I'm scared, Abuelita," she said at last.

"Something happened last night, didn't it?" The question was gentle, and had none of the accusatory quality it would have if directed at one of Setsuna's wilder cousins.

"I just went out with Inez and a couple of friends," she said, reasonably enough. "Jackie McKee and Linda Vasquez, you remember them, don't you?"

Abuela nodded and waited for Setsuna to continue.

"We were out late, just talking, and finally, Inez drove me back here. I don't know exactly what time it was, only that the moon was low in the sky."

Setsuna could explain away the optical illusion that made the moon seem larger when it was closer to the horizon, but that rational explanation was swept away by what Setsuna could only describe as majesty.

She remembered the nearly overpowering impulse she had to curtsy to the full moon.

"I came in through the front gate, and I stood in the front yard for a while. It was...magical, somehow. Moonlight creeping around the corners of our lawn, making everything look like it was carved from marble, like I was in some palace."

"And?" asked Abuela. "What then?"

"I had the strangest feeling that I was choosing something much bigger than college. I feel like I'm being asked to...oh, I don't know. Choose a destiny, I suppose." She laughed at the notion. It was a tight, nervous sound. "For a moment there, I felt like King Arthur going up to the sword in the stone."

Except that the object that came to mind wasn't a sword. Some little voice in the back of her head told her that someone else was supposed to get the sword.

Whatever Abuela was going to say about that flight of fancy was cut off by a shrieking Lourdes who bounded into the kitchen, all dressed up to go out.

"Is it time to go, Susanita? Can we go yet?"

"The puppet show and the parade won't start until after dark," Abuela said.

"But the party's already started!" Lourdes whined. "I can hear it!"

Abuela smiled and winked conspiratorially at Setsuna. "Go on," she said. "Do us all a favor and take her out so we can have a few minutes of peace around here."

"Let's go, Lolo-chan," Setsuna said. "I want to go to the festival with my favorite little girl."

Right now, this was more important than some unknown destiny. There would be enough time tomorrow to tell Lourdes that she was leaving, and time enough after that to wonder about another little girl she remembered, one with hair as pink as falling sakura petals.

* * *

As they pulled away from the gate, Setsuna pretended to be interested in the activity outside the window. She didn't want anyone to see her face as things became clearer in her mind.

She was beginning to remember that other little girl, as loving and affectionate as Lolo-chan, and somehow just as precious to Setsuna.

Setsuna couldn't get over the feeling that she was betraying her cousin by feeling this love towards another, unknown child.

Except this child wasn't unknown, was she? Setsuna could picture, no...~remember~ the little girl running towards her down a long, marble hallway and calling out her name, mispronouncing it just as Lolo-chan did.

But the name in that memory wasn't Setsuna-turned- Susanita. It was something else, and Setsuna shivered with recognition.

The name explained a long-standing obsession, and Setsuna was afraid to think of what it might mean.

* * *

The morning of October thirtieth, Setsuna was the first one awake and in the kitchen.

Mama came in not long after, smiling when she saw that her daughter had started the coffee. She stopped smiling when she saw her daughter's face.

"Setsuna, ~querida~, what's wrong?" She pulled up a chair and sat next to her daughter, pausing for a moment before putting her arm around Setsuna's shoulder.

"Lolo's mad at me because I'm leaving. She told me she hates me."

Mama tsk-tsked and tried to comfort Setsuna.

Mama was a good, sweet, and loving woman, but as a counselor, she was a disaster. She said "everybody loves you" so fervently that it always felt to Setsuna as if Mama knew the words were a lie.

After a few minutes, Setsuna smiled softly and told Mama that she would be fine. Once she was sure that Mama had gone off to run some errands and would not be hovering and worrying, Setsuna hid in the bathroom and cried for fifteen minutes straight.

"She says everybody cares," Setsuna said to Abuela, later that day, as they were making tortillas. "But if they cared, surely they'd try to understand, wouldn't they?"

"How can they understand if you won't talk to them?" Abuela asked. "You just spent fifteen minutes telling me how you feel like an stranger in the middle of the family, but ever since you were a child, you've been the one holding yourself apart, like you were afraid to get too close to us."

Setsuna's throat seemed to close, and she felt a stinging heat in her eyes. She didn't want to cry again. It always left her with a horrible stomachache.

"Maybe...maybe you're right."

Maybe she had always known that she would have to leave, that she would have to make these hard goodbyes.

She idly traced a symbol in the flour that covered the table. A capital P overlapped a capital L so that the two letters shared one long stem. It was a symbol she had doodled frequently since first learning it from an astronomy book many years ago.

P and L were the first two letters of the planet Pluto, and also--in a delightful burst of synchronicity-- the initials of one Percival Lowell, the man who had discovered that lonely planet. Still, Setsuna had always felt that the symbol was much older and far more mysterious than something made up in 1930. She preferred to think that an ancient symbol had somehow been rediscovered along with its tiny planet.

For some reason, she had always been fascinated by the last, oddball planet of the solar system. As a child, she couldn't help but love a planet that was--as she'd believed at the time--named after a Disney character. Later on, greater learning had led to greater fascination. She was intrigued by the way its orbit was out of kilter with the rest of the solar system, and wondered why it was so different from the pearly, multicolored giants that orbited outside the Asteroid Belt.

In many ways, that lost planet--one that wouldn't even be called a planet by today's standards--reminded her of herself.

"There are things...things I think about all the time. I want to talk about them, but all the things I keep inside myself, they vanish in the air the instant I try to talk about them with anyone."

"What sort of things?"

Setsuna thought for a moment. It was hard to say these things out loud without them seeming silly or crazy. Pluto was the god of the dead, and her birthday was during ~Los Dias de Muertos~, the days in which the dead came back to visit the living.

There were many nights when Setsuna would sit bolt upright out of a deep sleep, heart pounding. It wasn't from any nightmare, but from a sudden terror and a certainty that she had died. In the moments following the terror, she thought she could remember exactly what it was like to die.

Maybe, she had thought once upon a time, her parents had found a lost, lonely little ghost when they were out walking during ~Los Dias de Muertos~ and had taken her home to raise as their own.

"Sometimes I feel that I'm someone else, that the me you know is just a disguise for someone else." She thought for a moment. She did not want to talk about ghosts and gods of the dead, not with Abuela. "It's like Clark Kent and Superman, only that right now there's no Superman to go with the Clark Kent. Lately, though, it feels like the Superman job is about to start up and pretty soon Clark Kent might just disappear. I'm afraid that once I make up my mind, things will change. ~I'll~ change. I won't be able to come home again, not really. If you tell me that you'll wait for me, I'll say I won't be here. It won't be me coming back. I'll be somebody else."

She didn't notice that she had been crying until Abuela handed her a handkerchief.

* * *

The plane gathered speed as it headed down the runway.

Setsuna thought about the diaries she had carefully packed. Thirteen years of herself, all her petty desires and grandiose dreams, and--perhaps--a few insights into this other self who was waking up inside of her. This guardian of the gates, this emissary of the planet Pluto.

It was like being caught up in some sort of fairy tale, the kind where the little scullery-maid is a princess in disguise, or the toad is a prince under an enchantment.

Did princes ever worry about forgetting their frogness? Did princesses ever think back with pride on a clean room and a job well done?

Were they ever afraid of what becoming a prince or princess might mean?

The jet left the ground, and Setsuna took a deep breath, reminding herself that there was no turning back.

* * *

Rather than fly from Tucson out to San Diego, Setsuna was asked to take her uncle Ramon's ninety-six Buick out to her father. Father needed a new car and would rather pay to have the emissions upgraded on one of Ramon's cars than trust a car dealer.

Setsuna threw the last of her bags into the trunk and went to hug her abuela. Mama had said a brief goodbye earlier. She'd be going out to San Diego about a week before Setsuna left for Japan, so they'd have time for a longer goodbye without all the craziness and distractions of Tucson. She would also be able to retrieve the rest of her diaries. There was a chance they would contain some hints of what waited for her in Japan, but more importantly, they would help her keep alive the memories of the life she was leaving behind.

"I want to say good-bye to you, but I don't want it to sound like it's forever," she said to her abuela.

In fairy tales, the writers conveniently swept the characters' loved ones aside before the story really started. Poor little Cinderella was alone, with only the evil stepmother and stepsisters to remind her of what she didn't have. Of course Cinderella wanted to leave! She would have forced her foot into that slipper with a crowbar to get out of there.

But what if the stepmother loved Cinderella as one of her own? What if the younger stepsister had followed Cinderella around with hero-worship shining in her eyes? Or if the older one had shared dirty jokes and gossip with her adopted sister and best friend?

In that case, Cinderella might have some serious second thoughts about going away to be a princess.

"It's too bad that your birthday party had to be a good-bye party as well," Abuela said.

"I know. At least I got to say good-bye to all my friends." She paused. "Good-bye to everyone I know, I guess. Poor Lolo-chan. I don't think she understands why I can't just stay and be her playmate."

"She understands that you're leaving, and its not just that you're going to Japan." She reached up and rested a withered, work-worn hand on Setsuna's cheek. "Some people have a calling, ~mija~, and that's never an easy thing, especially if you don't know where that calling may take you. Don't tell me for a moment that the Blessed Virgin wasn't frightened when Gabriel visited her."

Setsuna laughed. "No offense, Abuela, but I think I prefer my comparison to Clark Kent."

Abuela mock slapped her. "Ungrateful child," she muttered, but her eyes were sparkling with mischief.

For one last moment, Setsuna considered staying and forgetting whatever this calling was. She could just stay here, go out to the desert with her mother to watch the sunset and daylight fading into twilight until the stars came out like a glorious scattering of diamonds.

"Come and waste another year," she whispered to herself. Dreams and gates and moons and princesses were still half a world and a whole lifetime away.

She wanted to protest, to argue with whoever it was that set her up with this destiny. She had framed arguments about free will, but when she thought about the consequences of running away, all the anger and the eloquence bled into fear.

She did have a choice, she supposed, as once again she saw the image of a smiling child with the Reaper's scythe. Something was about to happen, something she needed to stop, something she, not alone. She felt, rather than saw, the presence of two others by her side. Friends. Allies. It was the first glimmer of comfort that had been given to her.

Just before she left, there was one last rush of hugs and well-wishes. Lourdes came running out of the house and hugged Setsuna so tight that she could hardly breathe.

"I wish you didn't have to go, Susanita," she whimpered.

Setsuna stroked the little girl's hair. "I know, honey. I know."

Mama came out one last time, with a cooler packed full of snacks and drinks, and once again pointedly ~not~ saying goodbye. "Don't forget to stop and rest every two hours, even if you don't feel tired. I know it's only a six-hour drive, but don't push yourself."

"I won't, Mama. And I'll call when I get to San Diego, no matter what time it is."

Mama gave her a quick, fierce hug, then helped Abuela shoo the aunts, uncles, and cousins back to the house.

Once she got to Tokyo, she'd have to re-enact this whole drama. Even worse, she wouldn't have the luxury of a real goodbye. She wouldn't be able to put thousands of miles and fathoms of ocean between herself and her Tokyo family. With her Arizona family, she could comfort herself with the fantasy that she'd be able to return one day to find things--and herself--exactly the way they were.

The cooler went in the front passenger seat. It was going to be a long, long trip.

She thought about the other night, and the moonlight creeping around the corners of the lawn. Whatever she was facing was scarier and far stranger than anything she'd ever known, but at the same time, it was grander and more beautiful.

Maybe it all ~would~ work out all right.

Setsuna watched the sky and thought about these things until the light shifted from honey-gold to red-gold--the first signs of daylight's fading--before getting in the car and turning the key in the ignition.

She headed due west in the last of the daylight, and was out on I-8 and out of sight of Tucson just before it was gone.

* * *

As JAL flight 25 flew north and west, the plane was filled with the light of the setting sun, and as the plane raced against the dying light, it seemed as if the sun was fixed motionless in the sky.

The illusion only lasted for a little while, then time resumed its forward momentum. That was as it should be, Setsuna thought. As tempting as it might sound, she didn't think she would ever stop time, even if such a thing were possible.

At last, Setsuna turned away from the window, pulled another diary out of her bag, and began to travel back in time.

* * *

"Daylight Fading"

Waiting for the moon to come and light me up inside And I am waiting for the telephone to tell me I'm alive Well I heard you let somebody get their fingers into you It's getting cold in California I guess I'll be leaving soon

Daylight fading Come and waste another year All the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear Moonlight creeping around the corners of our lawn When we see the early signs that daylight's fading We leave just before it's gone

She said "everybody loves you," she says, "everybody cares" But all the things I keep inside myself they vanish in the air If you tell me that you'll wait for me I'll say I won't be here I want to say good-bye to you Good-bye to all my friends Good-bye to everyone I know

Daylight fading Come and waste another year All the anger and the eloquence are bleeding into fear Moonlight creeping around the corners of our lawn When we see the early signs that daylight's fading We leave just before it's gone

* * *

Author's notes: These are long, but I thought it would be fun to spell out some of the things I was thinking about while planning this fic, some of the things I hoped to accomplish in it, and some of the decisions I made while revising.

This fic was originally written for one of the SMRFF Lyric Wheel challenges and was posted to the list under the title "Notes on the Perils of a Fairy Tale Life." I felt that the idea of the ~descansos~ as described at the beginning of the story was truer to what I was trying to accomplish here. Setsuna's diaries fill the role of the roadside crosses, with some passages providing links to her past life as Sailor Pluto while others provide a link to the normal life she is leaving forever.

The song "Daylight Fading" suggested the emotional path this story would take. I must admit that I got the idea of hiding the lyrics of the song from Quicksilver's first lyric wheel fic. Using the lyrics as dialogue and description seemed to work better for this story for some reason. Also, since I was switching back and forth between two timelines, further interrupting the story to post the lyrics would have made the thing far too choppy.

This story, to put it bluntly, was a pain in the ass to write. It changed shape several times before I finished, even though the main point of the story stayed the same. I knew from the outset that I wanted to write about Setsuna-- not Sailor Pluto, Setsuna. Specifically, I wanted to write about the same Setsuna who appears in "Empire of the Sun." In that story, I only toss out a few details about her family and her life before she became a Senshi.

From the manga, we do know that Sailor Pluto was appointed as guardian of the Time Gates, and presumably whiled away the years since the Silver Millennium until the era of Crystal Tokyo. She died during the whole Black Moon crisis, and was apparently pre-incarnated as Meiou Setsuna so that Sailor Pluto could help out during the fight against Pharaoh 90. When she is nearly killed by one of Tellu's plants, she says (thinks) that she can't die before she achieves the purpose for which she was reborn.

In other words, the manga implies that Meiou Setsuna had a life apart and prior to that as her life as Sailor Pluto, but at the same time, had some degreey of awareness about her destiny. So, what was Setsuna's life like before she awoke as the Senshi of Time? Another thing to note is that Setsuna became a Senshi at a much later age than any of the others, which means that her worries and dreams would be somewhat different than the other girls' when their lives were disrupted. I thought it would be interesting to see what she might have been like before she came into her powers and hooked up with Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn.

Why the half-Latina background? There is a fairly large Japanese presence in California, Mexico, and South America, which makes the idea of a mixed background for Setsuna entirely plausible. This mixed cultural, racial, and linguistic background could very well lead to Setsuna constantly being put in the position of outsider or feeling somehow isolated.

Thanks again to Luna Hope and serasempre for catching all the silly errors and inconsistencies that crept into the story. Also, many thanks to Kat P. for her help with the Spanish.