Quiet Time

How long had she been awake? One hour? Two? She smiled bitterly. She should know, after all, time was her business it was, in a nutshell, her life.

Time.

How empty the word sounded.

It was why she hated always being the last to fall asleep. In the cold, still quiet all she could do was think, and all she could think about was time. Time stretching out before her, an endless, impossible road.

Sometimes, when the house was silent, and the walls of her room swam with shadows, and she drifted in that strange, disturbing place between wakefulness and sleep, she imagined she was back at the Gates. When that happened, her walls faded, and the shadows turned to mist, and her whole world narrowed down to her bedroom door, and the light snaking beneath it – the Gates of Time.

And then, just before the Gates swung open, she'd twitch and come up gasping, only to find herself alone in her bedroom.

Alone.

It surprised her that it still hurt to be alone. Would it have been too much to ask, that along with her powers, she be given a heart strong enough to endure an eternity of loneliness? She looked over at the clock on her bedside table.

1:30 AM.

Traitorous time, she thought, to pass so slowly, to so extend the grim, silent hours between dusk and dawn. Her mind drifted, and as it did, she dreamed. She dreamed of so many, many things.

She dreamed of a woman with crimson eyes, and a man with emerald hair, and she felt them slip away, cast adrift by the endless flow of years.

She dreamed of a kingdom long since dead, of regal towers of glittering white, and a sky where the Earth hung low, and to the east, a few moments before dawn.

And last of all she dreamed that time was a kaleidoscope and that if she looked at it just right then everything would be okay.

But her dreams never lasted long. And so she woke, and it was still dark in her room, and the silence was still there, still waiting just for her. How fitting, she thought, that the quiet always came to her.

She smiled, a bitter smile.

Haruka had never known the silence, had never felt the strange, undeniable emptiness that found her every night. When Haruka fell asleep, it was nestled in Michiru's arms, the other woman's breathing in her ears, the rhythm that turned the sun and stars and drove the blond haired senshi's dreams.

And Michiru…

How Setsuna envied her sometimes.

Michiru drifted to sleep, not only with Haruka there beside her, but with the sea whispering in her ear. What did the sea whisper, she wondered. Did it whisper to her of times gone by, or else, of things to come? Or did it show her things, her and Haruka adrift on an ocean far away, with the wind and waves around them?

She looked back at the clock.

3:30 AM.

Four hours till sunrise, four hours till she could go downstairs to breakfast and smile and nod and pretend that she had slept well and that the quiet hadn't bothered her. Four hours till the house was filled with lively chatter and the silence left, if only for a little while. Four hours…. Four hours too many.

But what she wouldn't have given for four hours more all those years ago…

Four hours…

Time enough to alert the Moon Kingdom's army…

Time enough to get the Princess and Queen to safety…

Time…

Time…

Time…

How she hated it.

For want of four measly hours she had earned a thousand years of sadness.

The light beneath her door vanished, and she was seized by something that might have been panic, but was probably sorrow, or else a strange, peculiar mix of both. It would be fitting, really, if it was a ghost from the Moon Kingdom come to claim her. How long would it take to kill her? Would she scream, would she struggle?

Four hours?

Four minutes?

Four seconds?

And yet, when the door opens, it is not a youma or a ghost, only a little girl with violet eyes and a sad, sad smile. It is the smile, she thinks, of someone who knows the silence, who knows it very, very well.

Words aren't spoken. They don't need to be. They are alike, the two of them, more alike than either will ever understand or admit. The Silence and Time, what a pair they make. Violet eyes meet crimson and Hotaru slips beneath the covers and presses close to Setsuna.

She pulls Hotaru closer, or is it Hotaru who snuggles closer? In the end she isn't certain, and really, she doesn't care. For all her small size, for all her youthful innocence, Hotaru is an old soul, and there is something comforting in that, something that makes her almost want to weep for its simple, understated purity.

But she doesn't weep instead she listens. The silence is gone, replaced instead by the soft, gentle breathing of the little girl in her arms. Once they would have been equals, two soldiers staring down the cusp of eternity. Now they are something else, parent and child, and she isn't sure which is better and which is worse.

For a long time they lay like that, together in the almost-silent dark, each to their own thoughts, each alone and yet together. It is a pleasant darkness now, and the memories don't come quite so fast, and the walls of her room don't blur, and the shadows don't turn to mist.

She sees her life now, stretching out before her, and isn't quite so dark as before. Only there's one thing left, a millennium of guilt still on her shoulders, and even the warm weight in her arms can't make it leave.

And then Hotaru breaks the silence, as she whispers, in a voice filled with longing. "Tell me, Setsuna-mama, what was it like, to live in the Moon Kingdom?"

And so she tells her, she tells her of the tall, tall towers, and of the Earth hanging low in the sky. She tells her all these things and more besides, until at last Hotaru is asleep, her breathing soft and even, lost in sleep.

This time, when she closes her eyes, the quiet does not haunt her. Instead, she focuses on the sound of her daughter's breathing, lets it be the way she marks the time.

One breath at a time.

A smile.

It is all the time she needs.

XXXX

Wow. My first piece in a long, long time. Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it, other than to say it just happened to pop into my mind. Which, when I think about it, kind of makes me worry about the state of my mind – possibly damaged.

That said, I'd love it if you, the reader, could pop in a review!