A/N: I should think you're aware of this fact, but it's become customary to note – these lovely ladies are the intellectual property of people far cooler than I.

It had been a little over a month since the final battle with Galaxia, and Tokyo was finally pulling itself shakily to its feet. Those who had watched loved ones scream and fade away before their eyes only to reappear hours later and those who had themselves died and returned, all began talking again, laughing again, shopping and singing and playing in the park and watching low-budget television and all the things that people do. Life was returning to a comfortable status quo.

Except in one palatial house on the outskirts of the city, which before the battle, three women and their daughter had called home.

At first, in the wake of the disaster, still suffused with the relieved joy of life returned, star seeds each in their proper place, they had celebrated. Driven out to the coast and watched the shooting stars of the Kinmoku senshi leaving for home. Bought ice cream from a 24-hour market and watched anime about giant robots late into the night, heads pillowed on legs and shoulders in a haze of sleepy togetherness. Called off school and work and gone to the park, fed ducks and raced around the footpath laughing, jarring those citizens around them who still wandered in the silent post-disaster haze.

But that had faded. As the rest of Tokyo began to shake off its fear and pain, Haruka and Michiru had steadily sunk into a dark and isolated depression. Haruka was barely around, bouncing from one racetrack to another and spending every free hour at auto shops and press junkets. Michiru locked herself in her studio all day, ignoring any pleas from Setsuna or Hotaru to come out. Some days she composed - haunting violin melodies dripping despair from every note, an eerie sound that inevitably drove the senshi of Time and Ruin from the house. Other days she painted, and the silence that filled every room was almost worse.

They stopped eating family dinner by the end of the first week. By the end of the second, they barely spoke to Setsuna and Hotaru. Partway through the third, Michiru was simply gone when they got up in the morning; Haruka said merely "out" when asked where she was. Not long after, the doorbell rang and they could hear Usagi hollering cheerfully outside. By the time they finished their welcome, Haruka had disappeared as well.

One thing that didn't change was their need for each other, though their expression of it did. Haruka and Michiru were considerate housemates, and not often loud, but Setsuna was still fairly aware of their lovemaking - enough to know it had stopped since the return from the dead. The one night she had dared to violate their privacy and peek into their room after bed, they had both been awake, Michiru clinging to Haruka in the dark while the blonde stared at the ceiling. Two pairs of eyes had rolled over to meet Setsuna's, expressionless. Almost like they'd been waiting for her. No anger, no shock, no embarrassment was there to be read in their shadowed faces, simply a horrifying blankness. It left Setsuna's heart pounding painfully fast when she shut the door and fell against it in the hallway.

And now it had been a month, and the silence in the house had gotten so loud and suffocating that Setsuna feared it would never break, and Hotaru had missed her bus. Haruka had not managed to escape to work just yet, her morning dash out the door arrested when she'd broken a breakfast dish. Setsuna was at the table still finishing her own breakfast, watching her best friend across the room and feeling like the whole Solar System lay between them, when her daughter came into the room.

"Gomen, but I've missed the bus. Could you please give me a ride, Haruka-poppa?" she asked hesitantly.

Something snapped at her words, and Haruka's fist slammed sideways into a cabinet door, splintering it. Her words were dangerous and painful at the same time. "Don't. Call. Me. That."

Hotaru, blinking and fearful, stepped back, as Setsuna jumped to her feet. "TENOU HARUKA!" She pulled her daughter to her side, trembling with rage. Suddenly Michiru was in the doorway, glancing back and forth between her housemates, concern in her posture but a strange dullness in her gaze. "I have had it with this! What the hell is wrong with you two?"

Haruka's fist hadn't moved, still half-embedded in the wood. Setsuna thought she saw a drop of blood roll down her knuckle. "I'm not your poppa."

With this Michiru seemed to make a decision, and was on the floor, kneeling at her mate's side amidst the broken china. Gently she pulled Haruka's shaking hand towards her and began to pull off the larger splinters that cleft to her raw and bleeding skin. "Haruka..." she said warningly.

"No, Michiru. I want to hear this," snarled Setsuna. "I want to hear a woman I once respected try to explain why she's abandoned her child. I want to know why you two are so determined to break up our family. I want to know why I've been living with wraiths for the last month. I want to hear the brilliant explanation that will stop me from Dead Screaming your sorry carcasses through the wall for the shit we've put up with ever since Galaxia."

"Setsuna-san -" began Michiru, but Haruka cut her off with a bellow.


Setsuna stepped back in shock, and Michiru put a supplicating hand on her lover's arm, but Haruka was on her feet now, fingers balled up and shaking at her sides. "Because we sold our souls and destroyed the greatest thing we'd ever had! Because we tore the life from your bodies with smiles on our worthless faces! Poppa? I'm no one's poppa. No poppa lives with his daughter's blood on his hands!" She threw her open hands out before her, and crimson flew out and spattered the floor. Michiru clung to her shoulder, sobbing silently.

"I had no idea," Setsuna said, garnet eyes boring into teal ones. "I had no idea that the leader I chose to follow was so weak."

Haruka blinked, shocked out of her rage. Setsuna continued relentless. "How terribly easy it is to betray those you love, knowing all the while that Hell waits just around the corner. How simple, to consign your allies to death when you know you'll join them. And how dreadfully spineless and contemptible to weep like a child when denied the punishment your guilt expects."

The racer was frozen in place, mouth open like a fish above her still supplicating hands, but Michiru had found her tongue and raged back through her tears. "So you say! So you can say, standing there, smug in your heroism! What do you know? What do either of you know? You whose agency is death? It's fine for you with your noble Time Stop to condemn us, for you two with your staff and glaive to stand back and accept what comes, to pay the price fate has handed you. Well you can take your noble death and shove it, Setsuna-san, because we pay the true soldier's price. We kill, and must live."

She took a shuddering breath and Haruka started in again. "Can you imagine it? Can you even begin to imagine it? The weight of every pure heart we'd have freely stolen had it been a talisman, endurable only because we knew it would save our world in the end. But we lived with it, because it was our duty. And when our duty demanded our souls be sacrificed again, we did it. We struck down our family, destroyed you, those we love the most. Cut down our partners and sisters and to no purpose. We committed treason on you and it was USELESS in the end! AND WE LIVE ON! We endure our fate! We accept the fouling of our souls for no reason but our own destruction and we live with that choice as senshi. But how can you expect us to live with you as well?" Haruka choked down a sob and turned away, wincing as she clenched her hand.

Hotaru stepped quietly forward and slowly, lightly, wrapped slender fingers around Haruka's trembling wrist. "You're hurt, Poppa. Let me fix it." Haruka and Michiru both stared at her amazed, almost fearful, as a gentle glow spread up from the racer's palm and knitted torn skin.

Setsuna sighed sadly, and sank back into the chair. "Haruka... Michiru... please sit." When they didn't move, not making eye contact, Hotaru led Haruka over by her now-healed hand, and Michiru reluctantly followed.

"Listen, Haruka... do you know why you lead and we follow? Why though Saturn is stronger, Pluto is wiser, and you bow to Neptune in civilian form, it is Uranus who speaks for us as Outer System senshi?"

Hotaru, seemingly satisfied that neither of them were getting up, took a seat herself.

"It's because we trust you," Setsuna continued. "We have faith in your judgment, and we trust our lives and yes, even our star seeds, to your ability to make those soul-staining, necessary decisions. We trusted you at Galaxia's throne and fruitless as it may have been, I do not regret that decision." Their dark-haired daughter nodded firm agreement.

Setsuna turned to Michiru. "You're right, Michi. We Outer System senshi are different than the Guardians. Not only do we risk death in duty, but it is sometimes our duty to die." She looked somberly at Hotaru, who met her gaze with even understanding. "And we accept that duty as the senshi we are. Do not cheapen our duty by making it a burden on yourselves."

Hotaru reached out and took Haruka's hand in hers. "Besides. The days when we fought alone are over. Do you feel guilty that your ruse cost each other your lives?"

"No," answered Haruka, free hand twining with her lover's. "We made the choice together."

"And so did we," Hotaru said. "We joined you in that choice just as much as Michiru-mama did. This is how we fight. As a team, no matter what."

For a moment, silence settled again. Then -

"... we took your star seeds," Haruka protested quietly.

"After watching yours stolen," Setsuna answered gently, "what was the point in us trying to keep them?"

At this Michiru began to cry again, and Setsuna took her hand, tears pooling in her own crimson eyes. Even Haruka broke down in the end, and they sat together, hands clasped, taking strength in each other, bringing their own personal Silence to an end.

Hotaru didn't make it to school that day, nor did Michiru pick up her violin. Instead, they went to the park and fed the ducks, and Michiru and Setsuna sat in the sun laughing while Haruka chased Hotaru around the footpath. They bought ice cream and drove out to the coast, where Setsuna convinced Haruka to collect shells with her and Michiru competed skipping rocks with Hotaru as they waded in the surf. And at the end of the night, they collapsed in a heap in the family room, heads pillowed on legs and shoulders in a comfortable sleepy togetherness, while giant robots flickered on the television set.