"TODAY IS YOUR BIRTHDAY"

A Neo-Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.

-------------------------------------------------

Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2003 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2003 by Bill Kropfhauser.

As always, for those only familiar with the English dub:

Usagi/Serenity=Serena

Ami=Amy

Rei=Raye

Makoto=Lita

Minako=Mina

Haruka=Amara

Michiru=Michelle

Setsuna=Trista

Mamoru/Endymion=Darien

Usa/Neo-Sailor Moon=Rini

Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.

--------------------------------------------------

The date will be January 6, 2996. In the palace of Crystal Tokyo, a classroom period has just ended.

"Hey, Hotaru," Usa gasped breathlessly after her holographic classroom session was over, "you doing anything tonight?"

Usa was wearing a pink formfitting jumpsuit with white boots and belt that drew stares from everyone in the palace - - mainly because as early as fifteen Usa had already been blessed with a very shapely form to fit. Hotaru, six months younger, but several inches shorter and quite a bit less curvy, turned to her friend and princess. She was clad in a white blouse, dark violet jacket and a conservative plaid skirt made up of shades of violet, and matching low-heel shoes. Her violet eyes, large and seemingly eternally sad no matter how her small mouth was curved, focused on her friend.

"Yes, Usa-chan," Hotaru smiled. "I'm going to the surprise birthday party you're throwing for me tonight."

Usa's jaw dropped. Her eyes got wide and Hotaru had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. The pink-tressed princess whirled on her classmates as they exited the classroom.

"ALL RIGHT!" Usa roared. "WHO SQUEALED?"

"Gimme a break," scowled Ves-Ves, her laptop station held dangling behind her head as she walked contemptuously past the princess. "It's not like you can keep a secret to save your life."

"Somebody's having a birthday party?" Palla-Palla asked happily. "Palla-Palla never heard!"

"She doesn't count," Ves-Ves maintained.

"Usa," Hotaru said. "It wasn't that hard to figure out. I know my birthday's January 6, and I know you. Why else would you be running around the palace acting so secretive? Why else would you be making whispered plans with the cooks and the palace staff? And why else would you be avoiding me half the time?"

Usa scowled. "Rats. OK, we're throwing you a birthday party tonight. Surprise."

"Really?" Hotaru gasped, feigning surprise. "I never would have guessed! Oh, Usa, you shouldn't have! You're just the best friend ever!" She lunged at Usa and hugged the girl, amid amused giggles from the Amazons.

"Yeah, yeah," grumbled Usa. But within seconds her frown had worked its way into a wry grin.

"Are you going to have cake and balloons and a pony, Princess?" squealed Palla-Palla.

"Well, there's a certain pony I wouldn't mind having. But Dad would probably freak," grinned Usa. "But everything else'll be there. And I've got the best present in the universe picked out - - unless you've already figured that out, too, Little Miss Genius!"

Hotaru twittered. "No, I'll wait and be surprised."

"I can't wait for tonight," sighed Cere-Cere. "I've got THE most beautiful dress picked out! You are all going to die!"

"Dress?" queried Ves-Ves. "Do we have to dress up for this thing?"

"It wouldn't kill you to dress up once in a while," Cere-Cere chided her.

"It wouldn't kill you to stop being a priss all the time, too," Ves-Ves shot back. Cere-Cere responded with her tongue.

"That's OK," Hotaru smiled. "Wear whatever you're comfortable with. I won't mind."

"Phew!" gasped Ves-Ves.

"So when's the party?" Jun-Jun asked softly.

"Twenty-hundred," Usa said, then winked. "And Makoto-san's baking the cake."

"I'm there!" Jun-Jun replied, brightening up.

"There's going to be a party?" gasped a melodious voice. The teens turned and spotted Queen Serenity approaching them in the hallway. "Wonderful! What's the occasion?"

Usa turned to Ves-Ves, scowling. "She doesn't count, either."

* * * *

The party was a happening from the start. Everyone who worked or lived in the palace was there. Makoto's cake was a four-tier masterpiece. Everyone was loath to ruin it by cutting it, so Makoto finally gave in and did the honors. Queen Serenity claimed the first piece and was loudly criticized by her daughter for jumping ahead of Hotaru. Amid grudging glares at one another, the pair gave the birthday girl the first piece.

Minako began entertaining the crowd, singing a selection of her most famous hits from the albums she'd recorded over the centuries, starting with her first hit "Island Princess". Ves-Ves found a male guest to her liking and soon they were dancing to Minako's songs. Minako goaded Usa up onto the stage and the pair sang a duet that had the guests erupting. Not to be outdone, Rei joined them for the next number and the trio belted out a show-stopping tune. So inspired by the music was she, Serenity pulled Endymion onto the floor and for a time the pair were competing with the younger dancers for the most compelling couple.

Cere-Cere was the hit of the party with the young males. Wearing a shimmering pastel blue strapless sheath dress that clung to her young figure because it was made of sprayed on liquid nylon, and retro-looking arm length gloves, she instantly attracted attention and kept it. A throng of boys competed for her attention most of the evening.

But not all were attracted to Cere-Cere. One dark-haired boy of fifteen, with baby-faced good looks and shy pale blue eyes, came up to Hotaru and asked her to dance. Instantly nervous, Hotaru at first demurred. But at last she relented, being silent egged on from the stage by Usa, and proved to be at least competent on her feet. The youth never left her side for much of the evening, to Hotaru's delight and chagrin. Finally excusing herself lest she hyperventilate, Hotaru retired to the balcony just outside the ballroom to catch her breath. Usa, who was covered in sweat from performing and in need of some wind herself, soon joined her.

"You having fun?" Usa asked, her chest heaving.

"How could I not?" grinned Hotaru. "Your singing won't let anyone be sad."

"Hey, it's easy with back-up singers like Minako-san and Rei-san," Usa shrugged. Then her eyes narrowed and she grew a predatory smile. "So?"

"What?"

"Don't tell me you didn't get his name!"

"Usa," sighed Hotaru.

Usa only stared unrelentingly. Finally Hotaru looked away and blushed.

"I thought so," Usa smirked. "So what is it?"

"Yutaka," Hotaru said, unable to repress her smile.

"Ah, sounds serious," teased Usa. "You probably flashed those eyes at him and he didn't stand a chance, huh?"

"He was probably just being nice," Hotaru shrugged. "I'm sure he's forgotten all about me by now."

"You can't let that happen!" Usa advised her. "If you're interested, you have to keep him aware of you anyway you can! Be sexy! Be flirtatious! Get in his face! Catch his eye by any means necessary and hold onto it!"

"Should I do a strip tease for him?" Hotaru responded cynically.

"If that's what it takes! Only," and Usa glanced both ways suspiciously, "don't do it in front of Mom and Dad, huh? They're such prudes."

Hotaru giggled. "I think I can promise that."

She shot a glance at the night sky. It was a deep indigo and littered with stars. The chill January air nipped at her. Being in the thirtieth century was still such a big adjustment in so many ways. It heartened her that there were things like the indigo night of a cold January and the crisp gleam of the stars that were almost unchanged from the passage of the centuries.



"Maybe we better be getting back," Hotaru mused. "After all, I can't stay in his line of sight out here, can I?"

Usa nodded her agreement and the pair headed back inside. But as she entered, Hotaru noticed Jun-Jun on the other side of the balcony. The girl was balanced on the precarious railing as if she were sitting in a chair. For a moment it seemed to Hotaru like the girl wore a very forlorn expression. But Usa intervened, dragging Hotaru's awareness back to the party.

After more singing and merriment, Hotaru was presented with gifts from those closest to her. Each one pleased the girl, none more so than the medical library on crystal given to her by Ami. Even Jun-Jun was there and seemed happy, but Hotaru couldn't shake the sense that Jun-Jun was only putting on appearances. Usa insisted on waiting until last.

"OK, Hotaru, are you ready for my gift?" Usa asked. Hotaru nodded happily. Usa presented her with a small box about four inches by four inches.

"Ooh, I wonder what it could be," gasped Cere-Cere.

"Maybe it's an engagement ring," quipped Ves-Ves.

"Oh! You are SO not funny!" scowled Cere-Cere.

Hotaru opened the box. Instantly her eyes popped and her expression sobered. Responding to her face, the room grew hushed. Everyone wondered what had so shocked the guest of honor. Hotaru's small hand reached into the box. When it came out, the room gasped, for it held a Ruby Time Key.

"Usa," Hotaru mumbled in shock. "I don't understand."

"Well," shrugged Usa, gently smiling at her friend, "you're always telling me how much you miss Haruka and Michiru and Setsuna. I just thought you might like to visit them."

Hotaru just stared, numb. Then after a time her eyes began to water.

"Oh, Usa!" she cried, throwing her arms around her friend. "Oh, thank you! But how did you do it?"

"That's what I'd like to know, young lady," Endymion asked, his arms folded over his chest. His tone was calm, but there was a glint in his eye that told anyone perceptive enough to notice it that his daughter was one step away from incurring his wrath.

"I just took one from Diana's stash," Usa shrugged, oblivious to her father's ire.

"M-My Lady!" gasped the gray feline, wrenched away from lapping up punch from a crystal cup. "I had those keys hidden, and for a reason! Y-You can't just pass them out to all of your friends willy nilly!"

"It's Hotaru!" huffed Usa. "She's not going to hurt anything!"

"Usa, there is a barrier to the past and the future for a reason," Endymion lectured. "Any incursion made into either time could have serious consequences! It isn't something that can be taken lightly!"

Endymion was about to say more, but stopped when he felt a gentle hand on his arm.

"Endymion," Serenity said, appealing to him with those big watery blue eyes that she knew were his Achilles heel, "she meant well." Serenity turned to her daughter charitably. "Usa, I think it was a wonderful gesture. You should have cleared it with Diana, though. The keys and the Door of Time are her responsibility and you really must respect her position."

"Yeah, I guess," Usa admitted reluctantly.

"But I don't think it'll hurt anything if Hotaru visits for a day." She glanced over at Diana hopefully.

"A-As you say, Your Majesty," Diana reluctantly agreed.

Serenity clutched Hotaru's hands. "Please remember not to say anything specific about the future. Say 'hello' to Michiru and Setsuna for me," and Serenity smiled playfully, "and give Haruka a kiss from her 'dumpling'."

"I will," Hotaru nodded, grateful that the queen was allowing her to keep her gift. There was an awkward silence after.

"Well, come on!" roared Minako. "It's only twenty-two hundred! Don't tell me you wussies are partied out already!"

Rei scowled, while everyone else giggled.

* * * *

The morning after was shrouded with a tomb-like stillness in the palace. The party had lasted long into the night, far longer than Hotaru had been able to stay awake for. Echoes of it still resonated in the heads of some of the people in the dining hall the next morning. Hotaru could tell several of the attendants were in less than perfect shape, but they all managed a smile for her and an occasional wish of good cheer, inspired by the merriment of the previous night. At least they didn't hold her responsible for how they all felt.

Spotting Cere-Cere and Palla-Palla, Hotaru moved to sit with them. The Amazons had proven to be quite friendly with her since she'd arrived in this time. They seemed eager to fit in and went out of their way to be amicable - - except for Ves-Ves. Ves-Ves could be quite guarded at times and blunt about protecting her space. Hotaru was relieved later to find out from Cere-Cere that her sister Amazon was like that with everybody and it was nothing Hotaru personally had done.

"Good morning, Hotaru-chan!" Palla-Palla chirped in between bites of her favorite frosted cereal.

"Good morning, Palla-Palla," Hotaru smiled back. "Cere-Cere - - you're both looking better than a lot of people in the palace today."

"Well, that's because Palla-Palla was out by 22:30," Cere-Cere managed to smile, "and I'm a very good actress."

"Cere-Cere's head doesn't feel good," Palla-Palla grinned impishly.

"Are you reading my thoughts again?"

"No! Sensei taught Palla-Palla not to do that. It only happens when she's not concentrating. Palla-Palla just had to look in you eyes to know."

"Are they blood-shot?" Cere-Cere gasped at Hotaru.

"Just a little," Hotaru replied squeamishly. Cere-Cere's hand dived into her bag and produced a shaded optical protection visor.

"Ha ha!" squealed Palla-Palla. "You look like the funny man on the holo-vid!"

"Oh be quiet, Baby!" grunted Cere-Cere. She turned to Hotaru and cocked an eyebrow over her visor. "So, who was that guy you were dancing with?"

"Just a guy," grimaced Hotaru self-consciously.

"Uh huh," smirked Cere-Cere.

"Yutaka and Hotaru, sitting in a tree," chanted Palla-Palla.

"How do you know him?" Cere-Cere grilled the girl.

"Palla-Palla doesn't," Palla-Palla admitted, then grew squeamish herself. "She just wasn't concentrating."

"Um, Cere-Cere," Hotaru began cautiously, trying to deflect attention away from her romantic life, such as it was. "Is Jun-Jun all right? She seemed kind of down at the party last night."

"Well," Cere-Cere began rather uneasily, "Jun-Jun isn't much for birthdays, you know."

"It's because she misses her mommy and daddy," Palla-Palla added.

"Where are they," Hotaru asked, then added, "if I'm not prying?"

"Nobody knows."

Noting Hotaru's confusion, Cere-Cere stepped in.

"You see, she's an orphan," Cere-Cere told her. "We're all orphans - - all four of us. That's how we met."

"Palla-Palla's mommy took her to a store and she went to get something," Palla-Palla interjected, "and she never came back."



"We were all in an orphanage in Sao Paolo."

"It's not like the one Queen Serenity runs. It was a bad place. Palla-Palla didn't like it there."

"So one day Ves-Ves decided to leave," Cere-Cere continued, then grinned impishly, "and we kind of tagged along so she wouldn't get lonely."

"That's not what you said then. You said she'd probably get her donkey eaten by a big snake."

"All right!" growled Cere-Cere. Calming, she continued. "And we survived on our own in the Amazon jungle - - uh, well, on the outskirts of the jungle, anyway - - until Queen Neherenia found us. The point is we're orphans. Palla-Palla's mom abandoned her and she never knew her dad. Ves-Ves's dad killed her mom and was shot by the police. Mine - - were killed in an accident and I didn't have any living relatives. But we at least knew we had family.



"But Jun-Jun wandered out of the jungle one day when she was four. All she knew was her name and the name of the old Mayan that was taking care of her. They traced her footsteps back to this hut back in the rainforest and they found his body. They knew he wasn't a relative, because Jun-Jun isn't Mayan; genetics tests proved it. But there wasn't any evidence of who she really was, where she came from, who her parents were or anything."

"Wow," marveled Hotaru.

"So that's why birthdays kind of make her sad," Cere-Cere continued. "It reminds her that she doesn't know when hers is - - that she doesn't know anything about her past or her family or anything."

"Nobody's been able to do anything?"

"No. King Endymion even tried getting a DNA sample from her and running it through this database of DNA records. They didn't find anything. It's like her parents never existed."

"Or they deliberately avoided being recorded. But what does that say about them?"

"Yeah. And don't think Jun-Jun hasn't thought of that and a million other questions. She says it doesn't really bother her, but I know better."

"Palla-Palla wishes she could give Jun-Jun her birthday so she wouldn't feel so sad," Palla-Palla added.

"Um, Hotaru," Cere-Cere said surreptitiously. "Could you maybe not say we talked about this, at least to Jun-Jun. She doesn't like talking about it much. She says she doesn't want people feeling sorry for her."

Hotaru nodded. However, the more she thought about it, the more she feared it was a promise she wouldn't be able to keep.

* * * *

"You know," Hotaru said to Usa as they walked down the hall, "you're going to get in trouble if you keep being late to class." Class had adjourned for lunch and the pair was headed for the balcony to eat. Hotaru had a delicious lunch that Makoto had prepared for her. Usa had one prepared by her mother. It might not have been as delicious - - or as pretty to look at - - but it was made with just as much love.

"It's not my fault," frowned the pink-tressed princess. "They hold class too early in the morning."

"Maybe it's because you sleep too late," Hotaru smirked. "How late were you up last night?"

"Not THAT much later than you," Usa replied, then reflexively looked away.

"How much?"

"Just a couple - - hours," Usa admitted. "But that's not why I overslept!"

"No, that's an every day occurrence," Hotaru giggled.

"That's because they have morning too early in the morning, too."

On the balcony, Usa pressed several spots on a crystal display panel recessed in the doorframe. Instantly the crystalline structure of the balcony shifted and a table and two chairs formed, made from the same crystal as the balcony. Another stud lowered the climate control canopy over the balcony, to protect the pair from the chill January air. The girls sat down and began eating lunch.

"Usa, did you notice Jun-Jun last night?"

"Seemed kind of out of it, didn't she?"

"You know why, don't you? You do know about her history, right?"

"How she wandered out of the jungle when she was a kid, yeah. What's that got to do with it?"

"Well, um, 'folks' say that birthday parties bum her out because she doesn't have one."

"That's right," Usa commented, searching her memory. "I don't remember ever celebrating her birthday, and they've been in the palace for almost a year now. We've celebrated the others - - except Ves-Ves. She said birthday parties are for babies. But at least we know when hers is." The girl thought some more. "That really sucks - - not knowing when you were born!"

"Or knowing about your family," Hotaru added. "I don't have a lot of memories about my real mom, but at least I remember her. Jun-Jun doesn't even have that. She's about as alone in the world as anyone can be."

Hotaru glanced at her friend. Usa had an intense, far away look in her eyes. It was a gesture that Hotaru was beginning to recognize.

"What are you thinking?" Hotaru asked.

"Hmm?" the teen said, shaking herself. "Nothing." And she went back to eating her lunch.

"You're not going to do anything without clearing it with the King and Queen again, are you? You do remember what they told you?"

Usa nodded absently. Hotaru was sure she saw the signs now.

An idea was germinating in her friend's brain. For a brief moment, she considered warning the King and Queen.

* * * *

"Now you're certain you know how to properly operate the Ruby Time Key?" Diana asked.



She trailed along anxiously at the feet of Hotaru as Usa and Hotaru walked down the hall. They were headed for the room that held the dimensional phase warp that led to the Door of Time. Hotaru walked with a steady pace, trying to control the churning mixture of anticipation and trepidation that was bubbling inside of her. Would her surrogate parents be happy to see her? Would they think she'd changed? It'd only been about four months, her time, since she'd seen them last, but the questions seemed to spring up on their own.

"I think so," Hotaru whispered breathlessly.

"Miss Hotaru, you must be certain!" the sleek gray cat said frantically. "Time isn't something to experiment with! You must know exactly what you're doing or you could wreck havoc!"

"Oh, Diana, lighten up!" fumed Usa. She was at Hotaru's side, fully intending to see her friend to the door and through it to the twentieth century if need be. "Pluto didn't fuss over me this much the first time I went back and I was five then!"

"Given all the damage you caused, perhaps she should have," the cat shot back.

"You want a live mousetrap in your litter box, you keep it up," Usa shot back menacingly. Diana only smiled, because she knew once more that she'd struck a nerve.

"I focus on the time I want to go to," Hotaru repeated from memory, "and use the key to pass through the door. As long as I keep hold of the key and keep focused on where I want to go, it'll take me there."

"Very good," Diana said. "And when you want to return, just say so. The key will communicate the wish to me and I'll set things in motion to draw you back." She sighed. "Oh, how I wish Sailor Pluto were here to do this. When I agreed to this job, I didn't realize the awesome responsibility it was. Sometimes I feel its more than one cat can handle."

Diana felt Usa's hand stroke her back in just the right way, the way that made her back end arch of its own volition.

"We miss her too, Diana," Usa said.

"If only she hadn't gone back in time to fight the Deathbusters - - and me," Hotaru said. "She might still be alive."

"She was fighting Mistress 9," Usa emphasized, "not you."



Hotaru nodded. The trio slipped into a room. Hotaru was only allowed entry by the barrier around the room because she was in the presence of Diana and Usa. Once inside, she gazed on the imposing, almost ominous door surrounded by a dimension of swirling black, violet and indigo mists, a dimension that seemed larger that the room that contained it.

"Are you ready, Hotaru?" Diana asked.

"I'm so ready I could barely sleep last night," Hotaru grinned. "I'm really eager to see them again. I've missed them a lot in the last few months."

"Then remember what I told you," Diana said, "and bon voyage."

"Say 'hi' for me," Usa added.

Hotaru stepped toward the door, clutching the key in both hands and concentrating on the date January 9, 1999. At the last moment, though, she glanced back at Usa. She saw her friend had that look again.

For a moment, Hotaru wondered if she'd have a future to come back to. Then, giggling to herself, she plunged ahead and through the door.

The sudden sensation of being suspended in mid-air was jarring. At the last moment, Hotaru shook herself from her shock and crouched for impact with the boat dock on the lake in Juuban Park. Her legs, though, were still not strong enough to take all of the impact and she flopped back painfully on her bottom.

"Diana forgot to mention that," Hotaru grimaced. Picking herself up and rubbing her sore bottom, Hotaru began walking toward her old home.

* * * *

"So what do you think Usa's up to?" Rei Hino asked Ami. They sat in the Shinto shrine in the palace that was Rei's home within a home. Ami was there relaxing with an old friend after a long day managing the healthcare network of Crystal Tokyo.

"It's hard to tell," Ami smiled, thinking about the recent behavior of the princess as she sipped tea. "I thought it would stop once Hotaru's birthday celebration was out of the way. But she seems to have found something new to focus her energies upon. There's no indication that it's dangerous - - perhaps it's for the best."

"Is that Serenity talking?"

"Probably," Ami grinned. "Serenity's usually glad when Usa's focused on something in the palace. It means she's not exercising her insatiable curiosity about things outside the palace."

"We need to do something about that some day," Rei stated.

"Good luck! You and I have both lived with that girl for fifteen years. I'd think you'd know by now that's next to impossible. That girl's going to be curious and headstrong until well into her life."

"Serenity just spoils her too much."

"You wouldn't say that if you'd ever had kids of your own."

"Who needed kids? I've been raising Serenity for the last thousand years," joked Rei.

Just then Usa scampered up, her twin ponytails bouncing as much as her increasingly womanly figure. She stopped at the table with almost intimidating energy.

"Rei-san, Ami-san," she nodded breathlessly. "I've got something for you both!" She handed each woman a small card in an envelope. "I hope you'll say 'yes'. This is really important."

And off she flew, leaving two very bewildered original senshi in her wake.

"What do you suppose this is?" Rei asked, eyeing the envelope in her hand.

"There's only one way to find out," Ami replied.

Each woman opened her envelope and read the card inside. The words made perfect sense, but each one was still confused after reading it.

* * * *

Michiru Kaioh suddenly stopped playing the violin piece before her. The melancholy stanza fit her mood perfectly - - perhaps too perfectly. She'd selected it based on her mood, but it was proving too difficult to get through. She had the skill - - she'd performed this piece hundreds of times. Right now, though, she just didn't have the will.

"Focus," she berated herself, tapping her forehead with the bow several times. "You've known for weeks what today was. It shouldn't be that much of a shock to your system."

She felt a tear begin to well and marshaled all of her strength of will to force it back.

Surrendering to her mood, Michiru placed the violin back in its case and closed it. Without meaning to, she gravitated to the window. She wasn't searching for Hotaru. She wasn't. She knew that Hotaru was in the thirtieth century, that Hotaru being in the thirtieth century was a necessity to keep the timeline from now to Crystal Tokyo intact. She knew then that she'd miss the little girl, but it was Hotaru's choice to go and she had to respect the choice.

However, Michiru had enjoyed being Hotaru's surrogate mother for the scant year or so she had been. It brought out new feelings in her that she never thought she had. And when Hotaru left, those feelings were left unfulfilled. Plus Haruka and Setsuna both missed her, too. Setsuna had even moved out into a place of her own, ostensibly to give her and Haruka more privacy. But Michiru didn't discount the belief that Setsuna probably felt the house was just a little too empty, too.

"I wish there was some way I could visit her," Michiru mused to herself. "See how she's doing - - especially today."

Absently the woman glanced back at the calendar. It still said January 9. She looked back out the window, not searching for someone in particular because she knew that person wouldn't come. She was just - - watching the world go by. Her breath fogged the chilled glass of the window.

Then she spotted something impossible.

"Am I hallucinating?" Michiru gasped.

Squinting didn't make the vision go away. Impossible though it was, Michiru saw what she thought she saw. The woman moved to the door. She opened it, expecting to find nothing. It wasn't what she found.

"Hotaru?" Michiru whispered, afraid to believe lest that belief make the girl vanish.

"Michiru-Mama!" the young teen gasped and quickened her pace up the walk.

"Hotaru!" squealed Michiru. Hotaru landed in her arms and Michiru squeezed her tight. Only then did she believe. "Hotaru, it's really you! Oh, I'm so glad to see you again!"

"So am I!" beamed the girl. "I've really missed you, Michiru-Mama!"

"Not as much as I've missed you!" Michiru sighed. She pulled back and looked the girl over. "You've hardly changed at all!"

"Well, it's only been a couple of months for me. I know it's been a lot longer for you."

"How did you get here?"

"Usa. She let me use the Door of Time to come visit you as a birthday present."

"What a thoughtful thing to do. She's certainly inherited her mother's compassion." Michiru suddenly looked pained. "Oh and I didn't get you anything for your birthday!"

"That's all right," Hotaru smiled. "Visiting you all is present enough. Where's Haruka-Papa?"

Suddenly the air was split by a very loud string of curses and invectives. The eyes of both women popped, then melted into amusement.

"Never mind," grinned Hotaru. "I think I know. Is Papa having car trouble?"

"What else could get your Papa outside on a cold January day?" joked Michiru. "Come on in. We'll tell her you're here."

The pair gratefully went inside the warm house.

"Is Setsuna-Mama here?" Hotaru asked.

"Well," Michiru sighed, "Setsuna doesn't live here any longer. She decided she wanted to live by herself. She bought a house near the university about six weeks ago."

"Oh," Hotaru replied, disappointed. "I hope I can make time to see her."

"Is there a time limit on your visit?"

"Yeah. Diana said I shouldn't stay longer than twenty-four hours and that I shouldn't go anywhere unless I'm with you or Haruka-Papa. She's really scared I'll do something to change their history."

"I'll see if I can call Setsuna."

In the kitchen, they both met Haruka. The tall blonde was still spewing curses and held her right hand with her left.

"Haruka!" gasped Michiru. "Did you hurt yourself?"

"Damn wrench slipped!" hissed Haruka through clenched teeth. "Opened up my hand real good!" It was then she noticed Hotaru. "Firefly! When did you get back in town?"

"Haruka-Papa!" Hotaru gasped, moving up to her. She took the injured hand in hers. "You're bleeding!"

"I'll be all right. I just need some . . . gauze," but Haruka's reply sputtered to a stop.

Hotaru's eyes rolled back into her head. As she held Haruka's injured hand, her hands began to take on an unearthly glow. Michiru noticed Haruka tense up. Then she noticed the gash on Haruka's hand begin to mend on its own. The blood receded back into the raw flesh. New skin began to knit over the wound until it was fresh and pink and whole again. Hotaru's hands returned to normal. She released Haruka and sighed with fatigue, then opened her eyes.

"Well that's new," Haruka whispered. She didn't want to make Hotaru feel uncomfortable, but at the same time she was spooked.

"Hotaru, how were you able to do this?" Michiru asked.

Hotaru looked down. "I've kind of always been able to do it."

The explanation was hard for her. Telling her foster parents about her 'inhuman' abilities, as she always thought of them - - what had Ami-san called them, telekinesis - - was difficult. All she had to do was look at the tension in Haruka-Papa's face and hear Michiru-Mama strain to keep the tone of her voice calm and all the old fears about being shunned as a freak and a threat resurfaced. But she continued. Back in the thirtieth century, Sensei had taught her in her ESP class not to be ashamed of her abilities and not to be afraid of people's reactions. And these were her foster parents, after all, not the kids at Infinity Academy. Still the reactions she was seeing were all too familiar.

"They are teaching me how to control my powers," Hotaru said quickly. "Sensei says I'm making good progress." Hotaru looked down. "I'm sorry for scaring you."

It was her own fault, the girl mused. She'd forgotten herself. This was the twentieth century, not the thirtieth, and mental powers were still looked on with fear and suspicion. When she'd performed healing in class, everyone had been amazed. She'd forgotten what healing in the twentieth century had brought down upon her.

"What makes you think I was scared?" bluffed Haruka.

Hotaru looked up at her sadly. "I could see it. I've seen the look before. You saw me healing you and you instantly thought of Mistress 9."

Haruka's face fell. She glanced down for a moment.

"OK, you got me. I won't lie to you. I did for a moment." Her hand curled under Hotaru's chin. "Then I realized what you were doing and I remembered it was my little Firefly doing it, not that other one. I'm sorry, kid."

"Hotaru, we both understand what it's like to be different" Michiru told her. "But we're still human and being human means we're still capable of - - how shall I put this - - reacting in ignorance? It doesn't mean we don't love you."

"I guess it's a little my fault, too," Hotaru said. "I see Queen Serenity doing it and I figure it's OK. In that era, it is. But I'm not in that era. I have to remember that."

She felt Michiru's hand stroke her black hair.

"You meant well. That's the important thing. Not everything we do turns out the way we intend. As long as you're trying to help and not harm, I can't condemn you."

"In plain talk, that means you're doing good - - we're the ones that were wrong," Haruka added, teasing Michiru. Hotaru's mouth curled and she stifled a giggle as she saw Michiru's eyes narrow and her mouth thin.

"Stay close by, Hotaru," Michiru said tightly. "Your Papa may be needing your abilities again VERY SOON."

* * * *

Everyone who lived in the palace, from the King and Queen to the newest of the help were gathered again in the ballroom. So soon after the blowout for Hotaru, they all wondered what the occasion was now. Once again Makoto had produced a work of art for a cake. A band played, decorations filled the ballroom and in a corner were presents. When Usa entered, all eyes turned to her.

"Usa, honey," Serenity said as her daughter approached. "You've certainly got another wonderful party going. But what's the occasion?"

"Something very special, Mom," Usa smiled. Turning, she walked over to her senshi and recent friends. Each one gathered by the cake, admiring it hungrily. "Enjoying yourselves?"

"Palla-Palla is!" the girl nodded enthusiastically. "Palla-Palla loves parties!"

"Yeah, but what's it for?" Jun-Jun asked.

"It's for you," Usa smiled. Jun-Jun looked at her uncomprehendingly. "Birthday's are important. They're something that tells us we're real. And you don't know when yours is." Jun-Jun blushed uncomfortably. "So from now on, this is going to be your birthday. And we'll have a big party every year so everybody'll know it!"

Jun-Jun's fellow Amazons grew uncomfortable, a fact not lost on Usa or some of the others at the party. Jun-Jun seemed to flinch. But it all dissolved behind a happy mask that struggled to be convincing.

"Um, what a nice thing to do," Jun-Jun said, struggling with a smile. "That was really thoughtful of you, Usa. T-Thank you."

"Jun-Jun?" Usa asked, totally astounded by her reaction.

"Yeah. Everybody should," Jun-Jun stammered out, "should have fun. Have a really good time. That's what this place needs. I," and she stopped when emotion stole her voice. Jun-Jun tried valiantly to regain control of herself. It was an effort doomed to failure. "Excuse me," she whispered, hiding her face as best she could, and fled from the room.



Ves-Ves and Cere-Cere were quickly at her heels, leaving Usa and the guests standing in stunned silence. Palla-Palla paused momentarily to grab a piece of cake and in that moment Usa grabbed her by the arm.

"Palla-Palla, I don't get it!" Usa cried. "I thought she'd be happy! What did I do?"

"Princess," Palla-Palla stammered uncomfortably, trying without any luck to articulate what she knew and what she felt. "Palla-Palla's sorry, Princess. She's just not smart enough to know how to explain it."

With that, Palla-Palla retreated in the direction of her sisters, leaving Usa standing in shock and a room full of guests looking at each other in uncomfortable silence. Usa started to go after her, but a gentle hand around her arm held her back. Looking back, she found Rei holding onto her.

"Let her go," Rei advised quietly. "You can check on her later. Right now she needs to be alone. OK?"

Usa looked away to try to sight Jun-Jun without success. Reluctantly she complied.

It was about an hour later. The door to Usa's quarters hissed open. The girl looked up and found her father, King Endymion, standing in the doorway. Though she'd had her differences with him over the years, he always seemed so strong and reassuring at times like this - - a pillar of strength she could depend on for support. His long form ambled over and sat down on the bed next to her and Usa was privately grateful.

"I don't get it," Usa said meekly. "Jun-Jun was so sad about not knowing when her birthday was. I thought this would cheer her up. Why did it all crash?"

"Your heart was in the right place," Endymion said softly. "Obviously there's something more to this than just missing out on birthday parties - - don't you think?"

"I just wanted to help."

"I know. But things don't always work out the way we think they will. It's good that you wanted to help a friend, but you can't help unless you know what the problem is. If you just go storming in, you might make it worse. On the other hand, if you try too hard to find out what the problem is, you risk prying and offending someone. Helping people isn't an easy job. It takes more than just good intentions." He hugged her and kissed her forehead. "But good intentions is a very good start."

"So I should mind my own business?" Usa asked. "I can't do that, Pop. Jun-Jun's in a bad way and I want to help her. I have to help her. That's what people are supposed to do - - what Sailor Moon's supposed to do."

"Well, that's your choice. I'm not saying it's a bad choice - - it's a noble choice. Just tread lightly, my girl. Don't make things worse. When I was learning to be a doctor, the first thing they taught us is 'do no harm'. Sometimes the best way we can help is to back away and let someone work their problem out in private."

Usa nodded absently. She was busy trying to figure out a way to approach Jun-Jun about this without offending her further.

* * * *

It was wonderful to have Hotaru back in her life, even for only a day. Michiru knew she'd missed the girl, but didn't know just how much until she came back. It was all she could do to go about her usual guest routine and not make Hotaru uncomfortable by fawning all over her. Phoning Setsuna had helped in that respect.

Setsuna was delighted to hear of Hotaru's visit and was even now on her way over. It was just as Michiru expected. Setsuna never admitted it, but the woman had a weak spot for children.

"She'll make a good mother," Michiru smiled to herself, "if she'd ever break down and date someone."

Entering the living room, Michiru instantly noticed Hotaru's mood. The girl seemed worried by something. This got Michiru's instincts up. Was she hiding something? Was there a problem with this visit that she hadn't revealed?

"Hotaru?" Michiru ventured. Hotaru instantly turned and tried to put on a mask of happiness that didn't quite succeed. "Setsuna's on her way. She's very eager to see you again. You will have time for her, won't you?"

"Oh, yes!" beamed Hotaru. "I've still got time. I'll push it to the very last second if I have to. I want to see Setsuna-Mama, too."

"She'll be flattered," Michiru smiled. She purposefully sat down right next to Hotaru, her goal to be in a position that emphasized their intimacy as family, yet also dominated the smaller Hotaru with her size in order to seize control of the impending conversation. "Hotaru, is something else wrong? You're not still brooding about that incident with Haruka's wound, are you?"

"No," Hotaru said and looked down, reluctant to speak further.

"We meant it when we said we were sorry. These powers don't change how we feel about you."

"I believe you. It's nothing like that."

"Well something seems to be wrong. I know I'm not here for you as much as before, but I'd like to think you could still tell me anything," Michiru told her, gently stroking the girl's black hair. "If you think I'll judge you harshly, I won't. I hope I proved this with that little incident with Haruka earlier."

"It's not that," Hotaru said quickly. "I just don't know if you can help. It's not anything happening to me, if that's what you're worried about."

"Well, I'll admit that's a relief," Michiru smiled. "If you want to talk about it, I'm here. Maybe I can't help, but we won't know until I hear what's wrong."

Hotaru frowned. "I have this friend in the future," she began. Quickly Jun-Jun's situation tumbled out. "I want to help her, but I don't know how."

"Well, there are some mysteries that defy explanation," Michiru told her. "But it's very nice of you to want to help her. They haven't been able to find anything? I imagine the data storage technology a thousand years from now must be fantastically vast and thorough."

"No, they can't find anything. It's almost like she just sprang to life the moment that old man in the jungle found her." Hotaru grimaced. "I think that's part of what scares her: That she was constructed in some genetics lab and she never had parents or a family."

Just then the door opened. Haruka walked in with shopping bags in her hands.

"I couldn't remember which flavor you liked," Haruka alibied, holding up two plastic shopping bags with six quarts of ice cream in them, "so I got a selection."

"Thank you, Haruka-Papa," grinned Hotaru. "You didn't have to do that."

"Don't worry, Hotaru," smiled Michiru. "Haruka will finish off what you don't eat. It'll be my job to make sure she doesn't do it in one night."

"Spoil sport," Haruka huffed. "So what flavor do you like?"

"Strawberries and Cream," Hotaru told her.

"Good! That's one of the ones I got!" Haruka noticed how her two favorite ladies were sitting. "Something up?"

Michiru summarized the situation.

"Hmm," thought Haruka. "You suppose your mirror could come up with anything? It's usually pretty good at getting to the truth."

"I'm not sure," Michiru responded thoughtfully. "I've never tried to question it about the future."

"Yeah, but this Jun-Jun's been in our century for a time. We've even met her. Maybe that counts for something with the mirror."

"I suppose I could try. Would you like that, Hotaru?"

"Oh, yes Michiru-Mama! That would be wonderful of you!"

As Michiru summoned the Deep Aqua Mirror, Haruka toted the ice cream to the freezer. Glancing back at her little Firefly's hopeful smile and excited eyes, she realized how pleasing Hotaru gave her the same warm feeling that pleasing Michiru gave her.

"Wish I could do it more often," Haruka whispered to herself.

* * * *

Usa turned the corner and immediately spotted Ves-Ves standing sentry by Jun-Jun's door. When Ves-Ves spotted her, Usa knew instantly that this was going to be harder than anticipated.

"What do you want?" Ves-Ves growled, then added "Princess" as an afterthought. "Haven't you done enough already?"

"I was just trying to help," Usa said. Ves-Ves was upsetting her, but she refused to back down.

"Who told you, Hotaru? Well she had to have told you that in confidence," Ves-Ves hissed. "Not so you could advertise it to the whole palace! Jun-Jun is sensitive . . .!"

"Ves-Ves," Jun-Jun said in a tired, defeated depression as her door hissed open. "It's OK. I'll talk to her."

"You don't have to," Ves-Ves advised her.

"Yes I do. She's the Princess."

"If you'd rather not, I understand," Usa offered. "Just know I'm sorry for whatever I did."

"Well, we're supposed to be friends, too," Jun-Jun told her. "It wouldn't be very friendly to tell you to go away. Come on in." She glanced at Ves-Ves. "Don't you have homework to do?"

"Screw my homework!" spat Ves-Ves.

"No, I'm not letting you use me as an excuse. I'll be all right. Thanks. Now go do your homework."

Ves-Ves grimaced, because it was a dispute she knew she'd lose. With a warning glance at Usa, the girl turned and left.

"Sometimes I'm more mother to them than sister," Jun-Jun frowned, "and we're not even blood sisters."

"You can be family without being blood. I've got four aunts that aren't blood, but I'd die without them." Usa looked down uncomfortably. "I didn't mean to hurt you, however I did it. I just wanted to make you happy."

"I know," Jun-Jun said. She sat down on the edge of her bed and hugged a plush toy to her chest. "It really was a nice thing to do."

"Then . . ." Usa began, then wondered if she should ask.

"Why the tears?" Jun-Jun asked. She wouldn't look at Usa. "I don't know. I guess - - having someone pick a birthday for me isn't knowing when MY birthday is. It's almost like I'm giving up on knowing. It's conceding that I'll never find out. I can't do that, Usa. I can't ever give up. I have to know. I have to know who they were, what they were like, why they abandoned me? Did they have a choice? Are they still alive? Did they even exist?" She looked up at Usa fearfully. "Usa, how do I know I wasn't spliced together in a lab from scraps of leftover DNA? I could have been dropped on this planet by aliens or grown from poppy seeds for all I know! That's why I have to know when I was born. Because that proves I was, and that's the next link to finding them. Because when I find them, I find me."

"That makes a lot of sense," Usa replied. "I should have thought of it that way. Sometimes I can be as dense as - - well, certain people." There was a moment of silent consideration. "I brought a peace offering if the apology wasn't enough. Can I give it to you?"

"You didn't have to do that," Jun-Jun said.

Usa produced a plate with a piece of cake from behind her back.

"Well, I know how much you love Makoto-san's cooking. I figured you'd want this, at least." Jun-Jun grinned and took the cake. "Jun-Jun, I'll help you any way I can. I promise. Just tell me."

"I know you will. I promise I'll tell you when I need you."

"But no parties, right?" Usa grinned awkwardly.

"Not until I know what day you can hold it on."

* * * *

"Hotaru!" Usa squealed. She'd heard the hiss of the pneumatic door and turned away from the self-defense class that Makoto was conducting. The Amazons turned upon hearing Usa's exclamation. The princess sprang up onto her feet and raced over to her friend. "When did you get back?"

"Just now," Hotaru smiled. She still seemed sad-eyed - - she probably always would - - but there was a sense of satisfaction about the girl that everyone instantly noted.

"The trip must have done you a world of good," Cere-Cere noted.

"And I want to hear EVERYTHING!" Usa demanded.

"I'll tell you later. I swear," Hotaru said. "I don't want to interrupt Makoto-san's class."

"Don't worry," smiled Makoto. "I can pick this up anytime."

"So, how was the twentieth century?" Ves-Ves asked.

"I'll tell you all about it later. Right now I've got something I have to give to Jun-Jun." Hotaru held out a piece of paper folded over. "This is for you."

Curiously, Jun-Jun took it. With her sister Amazons peering over her shoulder, the girl opened it. On the paper was printed "June 16, 2980" in ink. Jun-Jun frowned and looked up at Hotaru, puzzled.

"What's that?" Ves-Ves asked, verbalizing everyone's confusion.

"It's your birthday, Jun-Jun," Hotaru replied quietly. "Michiru-Mama used the Deep Aqua Mirror to find it. She wasn't able to find out anything else, like who your parents are or what happened to them." Hotaru shrugged hopefully. "But it's more than you had."

Jun-Jun stared down at the piece of paper in astonishment. Hotaru noticed tears beginning to well in the girl's eyes. Her hands began to shake ever so imperceptibly. Then Jun-Jun looked at Hotaru, as if fearing the girl would snatch the paper from her and crush her. When it didn't happen, the dam burst.

"Oh, Hotaru!" Jun-Jun cried, flinging her arms around the girl. Jun-Jun clung to the slight girl desperately until she could regain enough of her composure. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!"

"You did it! You actually found it!" Cere-Cere added happily.

"Palla-Palla is so happy for you, Jun-Jun!" squealed Palla-Palla.

"Bout time we got some good news around here," Ves-Ves nodded.

"I wish we could have found out more," Hotaru said.

"No! This is wonderful!" Jun-Jun exclaimed to her as Usa looked on happily. "I-I'd begun to give up hope that I'd ever learn anything! But this proves that I wasn't brewed in some - - some genetics lab! I'm a real person, with a real mother and father!"

"Not only that," Makoto interjected, "but you've got one more clue to who you really are. Now not every mystery has an answer, so don't get your hopes up too high. Maybe you'll never find out - - but maybe this is the piece of information King Endymion's computer system needs to get to the truth."

"That's right!" gasped Jun-Jun. She instantly went flying to the door, then stopped half way. "I'm so sorry, Sensei Makoto-sama! Could I be excused?"

"Yeah, go on," grinned Makoto. "Just don't run over anybody in the hall. All of you, go ahead and git."

Jun-Jun flew out the door as fast as she could. Her sister Amazons began to follow, but paused one by one at Hotaru.

"Thank you," smiled Cere-Cere. "You don't know what this means to her."

"Palla-Palla is so glad you're her friend," beamed Palla-Palla. "She's going to give you a pretty dolly to say 'thank you'!"

"From this point on," Ves-Ves said with solemn gravity, "if there's anything you need - - ANYTHING - - you let me know." And the trio scampered out after Jun-Jun.

As she left, Makoto flashed Hotaru a 'thumbs up' sigh. Hotaru smiled to herself. Then she felt Usa next to her.

"That was a real nice thing you did for Jun-Jun," Usa told her. "I'm glad you did it. I kind of made a mess of things while you were gone."

"I'm glad I could do it," Hotaru said. "Now I see why you try to do it so much. It really makes you feel good to make other people happy like that."

"It's a high, no doubt about it," Usa grinned. "So, you want to go to the dining hall and grab some pizza? You can tell me all about your trip."

"Sure," Hotaru grinned, then glanced slyly at Usa. "Are you going to hog it all like you usually do?"

"After what you did? I wouldn't dare," smirked Usa. "The gods would probably strike me down."

The pair giggled and headed out of the room.

"Have I ever told you how lucky I am that you're my friend?" Usa asked.

"That's funny," Hotaru replied. "I was just thinking the same thing."

That night, in her quarters, Jun-Jun slept, perhaps more peacefully than she had in many years. The computer inquiry had failed to find anything, but the king wasn't discouraged. The note with her birthday printed on it was locked in a crystal box that measured one inch by one by one. It was attached to a chain that Jun-Jun wore around her neck like a locket. One hand pressed the box to her chest while she slumbered.

And as she slumbered, the box pressed to her chest, the corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly with contentment.

THE END