Title: The In Between
Author: Girl Who Writes
Feedback: If you feel so moved.
Word Count: 2371
Summary: In another dimension, a parallel universe, she's laughing at the irony of her role in everything - she feels like a cross between a puppet master and a cosmic baby-sitter. (This is not sadness, this is grief.)
Notes: Something else from my files that I was messing around with. This fic is around a year old, I just decided to dust it off and finish it. I might rework this in the future - it looks at a few themes that I've used throughout my fics and will continue to in the future :) I loathe the title, so I may change it in the future.
Disclaimer: The characters of Sailor Moon belong to Toei, Bandai and Naoko Takeuchi. I make no profit from this fan-based venture. The quotations used are from In the Sun by Joseph Arthur.
One. I picture you in the sun wondering what went wrong
In another dimension, a parallel universe, she's laughing at the irony of her role in everything. Maybe sometimes, she'll crack a smile at everything and take her place where she is required.
In her darkest moments, she feels like a cross between a puppet master and a cosmic baby-sitter. The rest of the populace of the Silver Millennium are having the time of their lives in the afterlife, and she's here, trying to keep eight girls in line and maintain some semblance of humanity.
She wonders what the others would say if she laid everything down for them; that she hovered on the edges of history, to make sure that certain things were said, certain things were lost and certain innocent people died. That Setsuna Meioh has been killed a dozen times over – she wonders how they'd feel just rematerializing in the Gates of Time and Space, blood dried on their clothes, fresh pink scars and a stale sense of grief; knowing that every time they fail, they would be sent back to the very beginning, in an endless loop of duty and destiny. The things she has given up surpass anything they can conceive.
She puts her hand through her bathroom mirror in a fit of anger, then, and is glad that Haruka and Michiru have taken Hotaru out somewhere.
Setsuna's tired. She's tired of turning her back on things that the younger girls take for granted. Of death and life, of being the walking example of compromise – it's exhausting, in every possible way.
She cleans her hand, bandages it in clean, white gauze with the ease of someone who has patched up many wounds, and sweeps up the broken glass. There won't be questions; no one goes into her bathroom and she fights enough battles that another bandaged limb will not look out of the ordinary.
She hears Haruka's car pull up outside the house and switches off her lamp. In the dark, she can sometimes catch glimpses of familiar faces in the mirror, people she misses that hang heavily around her, reminding her that this is her duty, her destiny, and it is her love of those people that she doesn't turn her back on the senshi now.
She hears Hotaru's cheerful but sleepy voice and Haruka and Michiru's low voices. She knows she can tell them everything, talk to them, and they will try to help. It's been a long time since she had a genuine family, and she treasures that feeling, like a small child with a beautiful secret.
Another face passes by the mirror, and she rolls over, seeking sleep.
Two. I don't know anymore - what it's for.
The next day, there's a senshi meeting, and Setsuna doesn't – cannot - let her disdain for the chaotic meeting show through. She sits next to Hotaru, who giggles as Usagi and Rei bicker over comic books and Makoto's cupcakes.
Setsuna thinks back to the tiny, doll like princess and her court of four. The princess who would have scaled mountains for love of her mother, her friends, her people; who would never take the last cupcake under Luna's strict tutelage, and whom the Martian princess would have laid down to die for; who sooner would have shot herself than allowed an angry word directed at the princess cross her lips.
Sometimes the simplest changes are the ones that are most glaringly obvious. Haruka is laughing, and there is a glint of humor in Michiru's eyes as Ami and Makoto try to appease the arguing girls, and Minako keeps up a running commentary over the noise.
It's an old skill, something she rarely uses – the Time Stream is a more accurate guide, and it feels like a cheap parlor trick in comparison – but she picks up a spoon and stirs her tea, and then twists the cup around anti-clockwise until all sounds fade from her mind.
The liquid ripples, and in the reflection, there is a girl in gold, arms linked with a girl in black who might be a little older; a washed-out rose garden stretches out behind them. Both girls lean forward to share a secret, gold and black hair mingling, hands covering up smiles and giggles…
And then the tea settles, and she is aware of eight pairs of eyes on her face.
"Setsuna?" Ami asks, looking concerned. And for a second, she is looking at eight different people, eight people who were dear to her – sisters in arms. And as quickly as the ghosts appear, they are gone, and she is with friends. It's simply not the same.
"I'm sorry," she pushes the cup away from her and offers a thin smile. "My mind was wandering."
Three. ...And falling down on your knees, asking for some sympathy.
This fight is a hard one, bloody and violent, over a golden crystal ball that will have to be destroyed at the end of the battle. Pluto has assigned her self that grim duty, because the most powerful items whisper in tempting little voices, with magnificent promises. As the woman who commandeers the orb casts the light over each of the senshi, their eyes turn hopeful, curious. Fame, fortune; love and happiness. They are, simply, dazzled.
Another relic of the Silver Millennium corrupted and lost to Chaos. She has destroyed many, has learnt that Chaos can offer her nothing that will sway her from her duty; the faces in the mirror make her promise, over and over, to stay strong.
The glow hits her, and she throws her free hand up to shield her eyes from the glare. It's warm, like the sun.
"Setsuna!" She's there, with the girls. Princess Neptune drags her into a hug, and there's Artemis flirting with Luna as Luna tried to reprimand Princess Serenity about something. And little fairy-like Princess Saturn, her cousin, with the long black hair in braids, clinging to her arm.
Her cheeks are wet and she can't hear the other senshi crying out at her.
She reaches for the golden orb, cupping it into her hands. There's Princess Uranus, complaining about her dress and flirting with Princess Venus. She wants to stay here forever, with Princess Saturn hanging onto one arm, beaming up at her, with Venus's sunny smile, with the girls she grew up with, the girls who died on a battlefield. Before she knew that true duty follows you to death and back again.
There are tears on her face, and the other girls clamor for the orb, still hypnotized by impossible promises. Pluto sinks to her knees, her Staff beside her. The princesses fade from view, little Princess Saturn pressing a kiss to her cheek that feels like nothing more than a breeze. And she is gone. They all are.
Her Staff is suddenly in her hand, and she brings it down hard. The orb cracks and crumbles, the light turns to dust, an anti-climactic ending to such a glorious and distorted ornament.
The fight is over, and they return to Rei's home, for tea and pizza and half hearted jokes. Setsuna sits on the steps, her arms wrapped around herself, staring off into space.
"It felt like I could be perfect, everything I ever dreamed could happen in the next moment," Minako's voice drifted out. "It was so warm and happy."
Warm and happy. She wonders what that is like. She wonders where their memories are hidden, where even she cannot find them.
"What did you see?"
She can hear their explanations, almost see the dreamy expressions in their eyes at what they remember and she hopes they hold it dear, like the perfect dream; hopes they will not be haunted by the suggestions so easily plied upon them.
"What do you think Setsuna saw?" It is Usagi's voice, innocent and worried. "Should we take her out some tea?" She can feel eight pairs of eyes on her back again, and does not turn around, does not tense up – they do not need to know that she can hear them.
"She didn't look happy when she was holding the orb," Rei joins in. "She looked sad."
Sad. For a second she was home again, with their previous selves – hair a little longer, faces a little narrower, their words tinged with such an array of accents – and then it was taken again. A single moment of contentment. A millennium to heal from death and loss undone in a second by Chaos and crystal.
Undone in a second by Chaos and Crystal – the story of her life in eight words. How poignant.
This is not sadness, this is grief.
Four. And being caught in between all you wish for and all you've seen
It takes them twenty three days, twenty two hours and nineteen minutes to work up the courage to ask her bout it. They are crowded around a table at the Crown, bowls of half-eaten ice cream and half-empty drinks cluttering up the table. They went to see a movie; a foul-mouthed heroine, a simpering best friend and dialogue so sharp and finally tuned, she can almost picture the script opened to the page. Her head aches sharply, and she twists her ring around and around her finger, the skin red and irritated.
"Setsuna." It is Usagi who starts the conversation, timidly, a smudge of ice cream around her mouth, the spoon still in one hand.
"The golden orb," she begins and falters, and so she should. It revealed hopes and dreams, long-buried secrets; the most private thing of all.
"We all saw things we want," Minako breaks in. "We wanted to know what you saw."
"I saw people who died."
Her reply is flat and even, and she didn't think it over before she said it – she didn't need to. Because she can wax lyrical on those girls, that they were more refined versions of those that sit before her; she can speak of promises and sisterhood, but it all comes down the simple truth: they are dead and she is not.
Usagi's eyes fill with sympathy and the cheer seeps out from the group. Even Haruka is regarding her with pity; little Hotaru cuddling up to her 'mama'.
"Setsuna …" The compassion on Usagi's face is almost tangible.
She holds up her hand. "It is okay. When you live long enough, there is no temptation left. Only regrets that weaken you."
It's a shame that she never really got to live any of her lifetimes. She has the age, the wisdom, and none of the revelations, none of the nostalgia, none of the satisfaction and all of the grief of time wasted and lost.
Sailor Pluto, the Senshi of Time, Space and Irony. That almost makes her smile.
Five. When you showed me myself, I became someone else.
If it's one thing that Usagi has in common with her past self, it is the inability to leave someone to heal themselves. She must help; must hover with reassurance and sorrow lighting her eyes. The Guardians are a chorus in the background, with offers of talking, and listening, religion and sweets.
Eternally old, she has no wishes to explain that her place as Solitary Guardian of the Gate has taught her that there is no one to talk to and nothing to listen for; that religion and sugar are the opiates of modern society. She is not that unkind.
Michiru and Haruka paint her a picture of normality, with silly bickering and teasing, not leaving her to the still and quiet. They cling to her with the desperation of people not really sure what they should do, and she wonders how this bizarre tableau of domesticity even makes sense to them, a household made up of a Time Keeper, the Reaper and two teenagers in love, whose independence is of dubious legality.
She then finds it interesting that she allows duty to define both herself and Hotaru, but not Haruka and Michiru.
Someone once said that children can heal the most broken of hearts, and somehow, that is something that hovers in her mind as she watches Haruka chase a squealing Hotaru around the house; as she picks up a fallen, teary-eyed Hotaru from where she fell on the floor, a guilty Haruka-papa hovering in the door way.
And there is a small light of joy in being Hotaru's 'Setsuna-mama' during her dark days. In wiping dirty faces, and bandaging grazed knees; in watching Hotaru stir cake mixture, the little crease of concentration between her eyes; in violet eyes fluttering closed during long car rides.
It is late one night, when Hotaru crawls into her Setsuna-mama's bed, that she lies awake, watching her clock tick over, listening to Hotaru's breathing even out.
She kisses Hotaru's cheek, and the child mumbles something under her breath. She gets out of bed, regarding the mirror on her wall, covered with a black scarf.
There are those that she lost in death; who haunt her less every day, but left her heart a little colder. And there is now; perhaps a life she can actually live.
For everything they are not this time around – her equals, sisters in arms, refined princesses – she is not unchanged either. She lingers in their past selves, and does not see what is there – girls who respect her, who want to understand her, befriend her; girls who are well-meaning and unfailingly loyal. Friends who do not require perfection and appreciate honesty; who offer forgiveness and respect, yet expect nothing in return.
This is another chance; a life to live, friends to have, a place in the world that is uniquely hers. That for all her lingering in the past, she has misinterpreted their message.
Perhaps that is the last temptation of the immortal – that of camaraderie. Perhaps that which is a weakness is also a wish; not for what was, but for what could be.
The scarf slips from the mirror. It is empty, simply reflecting her own face back at her, her features lost in the night-time shadows. No more reminders of the past, just the unspoiled future.
She smiles into the mirror.
Thank you. Just… thank you.