Disclaimer: I don't own them. If I did, there would have been even more angst in Sailor Stars.
Summary: In the attempt to save the royal family from temporal disaster, Pluto succeeds in saving only one. The only time they can go is a time where neither exists, a young girl hurts, and the ability to fix things is still within reach.
AN: This is the last chapter. Go to the end for all of my notes.
Chapter Seventeen – Return
Chibi-Chibi hated long good byes. At least, she thought she did.
She had done her duty. What had not been done in the future had been fixed in the past, she had guided those she could home, and now all that remained was a fate that was not her decision to make.
She knew, as she drifted away from the warriors below, that things would work out. They would go back to being as they should. Chibi-Chibi was uncertain of her own future now, and that delighted as well as frightened her small body.
She left them then, her body coalescing with the universe around her until she was once more a part of it. Stars beckoned to her soul, seeking out aide for rebuilding and protection, and she gladly stretched out her hands to help them all.
Luna left Minori as she raced from the room. She had felt the change in pressure along her fur the moment it happened, and she knew.
The next classroom was exactly as it had been when she left, and standing there now were her girls. All of her girls.
Talking with the boy had distracted her from the terror that had nestled in her bones, but seeing them there, battered yet alive, her limbs trembled as she launched into Usagi's arms.
Though she said nothing, Luna knew her charge was hurting despite their victory. There was a palpable absence around them, even she could feel it.
The others were loud around them. Uranus and Starfighter argued, Starmaker and Starhealer spoke amongst themselves, and the other girls were just generally loud and cheerful after the adrenaline of their success.
Only Usagi was quiet, and Luna could feel the fur of her back dampening as the girl tried to stifle her sniffles.
It was by chance she saw him lurking in the doorway. Minori lingered for a moment, taking each of the girls in as though assessing that they were really all okay. He listened to their conversations, and she knew he understood what had happened. Then he left, as quickly and quietly as he came, and Luna could focus once again on the girl who held her.
Luna knew what she wanted to happen. She felt horrible for thinking it, but as shaking arms crushed her ribs, she realized she would think it for a thousand years to come.
He had hoped that with their return the seed would change. It still twinkled in the pale moonlight, devoid of any indication that a man had once been what it now was.
Minori stared at the seed across the room. "You're time has passed. There's no reason for you anymore."
He had been struggling with his inner thoughts ever since the others returned, back from the dead, all save for Usagi. She had never even died, and had gotten the happy ending she had wanted. The only star seed left was Mamoru's, and perhaps it was the most important.
He did not need Pluto to tell him why Mamoru had not reappeared. Galaxia had given him the answer before he even knew the question. He was an anomaly, something that had no right to exist in this time and place.
Yet he did not want to leave. He was alive, breathing, whereas this seed belonged to a man who should be dead. Who said Minori could not live in his place? They were the same person, technically, and he knew that in time perhaps Usagi would forgive him.
"No!" He screamed, clutching his head. "It isn't fair!"
He wanted to live. He wanted to spend his life on Earth with the people he had come to care about. He wanted to give Usagi his notes in class even knowing she would not study them. He wanted to annoy Seiya. He still had to finish Setsuna's guest house.
"What gives you the right?" He demanded the seed that had begun to blur in his field of vision. "What makes you so damn special that I have to give up everything? I'm alive!"
His seed would last well past his death, even as degraded as it was. There was a good chance he would be an old man before it completely lost its shine. He knew this without being told. He could live, survive, and he knew he could make her happy given the chance. He would spend an eternity trying.
"Minori?" Usagi stood in the doorway, still dressed as Sailor Moon. "What are you doing?"
It took only one look at her face to realize the answer, what he had to do. Despite her concern for him, he could see how much she was hurting.
"You know, it's funny," he started. "If they're to be believed, this is the fourth time."
"The fourth time for what?"
It was the fourth time he had fallen in love with her. He wanted to tell her, but the words stuck hard in the lump in his throat.
"Do me a favor," he said instead. "Don't do anything stupid. I thought a lot about this, and this is the only way. So don't go blaming yourself, alright?"
"Blaming myself for what, Minori?" She asked, wary and timid. "The only way for what? You're kind of scaring me."
"The only way for you to be happy," he told her. "This was my choice."
Before she could ask another question, before his resolve could waver, he grabbed on to the seed. It burned his already injured palm as though it knew what he was about to do. He took a breath, pausing a moment. He was terrified of the pain, of what came after. Would he cease to exist?
Her voice calling his name steeled his resolve. He had to do this fast or else she would try to stop him. He knew she would. He thought for a split second, though. This was not dying exactly, was it? Technically Endymion had ceased to be so that he could be, yet Endymion was not really dead. Neither would he be, he hoped. Death would never play a part in this, would never keep him from her.
He turned to get one final look at her. "Not even death," he whispered, vowing that he would not scream.
He slammed the seed against his chest, holding it tight into place.
As it tore through skin and muscle, burrowed through bone, returning in an unnatural way, he screamed.
Lost. For so long, he had been lost. He did not know how long, but now he knew who and what he was. It was too late, now, as he watched the scene unfold before him. He was no longer a part of his body, having been pushed out for something new, something pure.
That was his name. That was who he was.
He turned from the sight before him to the window. She stood there, the light casting a shimmering ray about her, and his breath caught in his throat.
He could not speak as he moved toward her. She was here, and as real as he was, and he had never hoped to see her again.
She smiled at him, her eyes never leaving his as she picked up his wrist to button his undone cufflinks.
"Serenity," was all he could say as the light swallowed them both.
He had been floating in nothing and going insane with it. He had died before but it had never been like this. He would just be dead one moment and alive the next with no knowledge of the in between. Now, though, he remembered everything, and all there had been was nothing.
He wondered if it was a fluke, an anomaly in space and time, or if the scholars and philosophers had been wrong, that there was no life after this one. Or perhaps this was a form of hell, whether that as described in Dante's Inferno, or maybe of another religious belief altogether.
He was not sure how long he had been there, or remembered why. Things left him, here and there, until he was as empty on the inside as he was the out. All that remained were flashes of golden hair and sunny smiles, and when those came he clung tight until they inevitably drifted away. His heart, if he had one anymore, ached in those moments as he reached for those images and played the last word he spoke in life over and over in his mind until it had lost all meaning.
Then it happened.
The return to life was not slow and gradual but sudden, tearing through his veins in an intense searing burn that would have made him scream had his lungs wanted to cooperate.
There was something wrong with him. His entire body was moving and contorting, stretching his skin and ripping through his muscles. His brain, already overloaded at his body's exclamations and signals of pain, could barely process the onslaught as his memories bombarded through his skull. Things he had forgotten, memories that haunted, every waking moment and every nightmare that left him screaming, each and every nuance of his life shoved its way to the memory centers of his brain.
The pulling, twisting sensations stopped, leaving every nerve ending in his body screaming. He had to concentrate to breath, continuously focusing on one breath, then another, and struggling through the pain.
He collapsed, the muscles in his body weak and exhausted, and the cold floor burned through his nervous system.
He heard a sound, realized he had been hearing it for a while, but he could not force his brain to focus long enough to place it. Something touched his shoulder, and it should have been soft but his brain registered it as a stabbing knife. Gasping in a lungful of breath, he jerked away, rolling up at his muscles' protestations.
White boots met his focusing eyes as he struggled to get up off his knees. His arms could barely support his weight as he knelt there on the cold tile. Instead, he lifted his head into the glaring light, catching the silhouette of a winged figure. Then she stepped forward, shielding his sensitive eyes to the blinding light, and he saw her. Golden hair, and behind her hands he knew was where the sunny smiles should have been but were not.
Then he remembered what would happen next, the disappearances that always came after, and he lunged forward to reach out for her. His fingers closed around the loose fabric of her skirt as he pulled forward, the momentum closing the gap between him. The soft fabric of her gloves scoured his skin where they fluttered, leaving scorching trails in their wake. He clutched to her regardless, wishing to tear the wings away so he could grip closer. She held him fast, not going anywhere as her hands settled down his back and gripping his hair. He was not sure who was trembling, him from exhaustion or her from something else.
His eyes fluttered closed as his mind settled, face pressed against her hard broach, but he refused to move in case she disappeared from him again. Holding her was like a tether, and in him everything slowed as the storm in his mind calmed. Memories went where they were needed and he no longer had to think about breathing.
As his mind settled, a thick haze weighed heavily down. But Mamoru knew he liked chocolate, knew he feared needles. He knew his favorite flower was the rose, and that forget-me-nots meant love. He also knew the girl in his arms was crying, and her tears hurt more than her gloves.
Still, he exhaled a shaky sigh as he clung tighter and whispered a name that he had said so many times that the meaning came rushing back.
Setsuna had expected to find Usagi and Minori speaking in the next room. She had not considered the fact that Minori would have done what he had, at least not so soon. She also had not expected to be greeted by so much of Mamoru.
Neptune found some blankets in the nurse's office, and Uranus had reluctantly left to find clothes at his apartment. Her recent foray into the man's apartment made her more familiar that most with the layout and content of his home.
Mamoru did not resist Pluto's guiding hand to one of the few desks that remained standing, but in the few seconds that had them separated he kept staring at Usagi as though she would disappear any second. Then the young girl resumed her clinging, and everything seemed okay.
That was a lie. Mamoru, always quiet to begin with, said nothing among the chaos around him. The only indicator that he was actually aware of his surroundings was that he never took his eyes off Sailor Moon. Setsuna took his face in her hand and checked him over, worried about the pale pallor of his skin.
As she took in familiar signs, time around her sizzled and sparked. Things were readjusting and realigning and healing. There would be scars, differences that would not have been there before, but overall she knew the future would be much the same as it had been. Once again time had healed itself.
She felt a shadow fall over her. Turning, she saw Uranus standing over her with a pile of clothes in hand. "They were in a box marked 'bathroom.'"
Mamoru was coherent enough to be able to dress himself after Pluto pulled the others from the room. Setsuna left the girls standing in the hallway and entered the other room, sliding into a desk and rest her head in her palms.
She was not sure how she felt. She wanted to cry, for the loss and joy and countless other emotions swirling in her head. It was now as it should be, and she had succeeded in her goal. Her king's desire to save a young girl and spare her heartache was more or less complete. So why then did she feel an overwhelming sense of loss?
"Kitten ran back in soon as he was dressed," Uranus said as she entered the room. "I'm surprised you didn't hear the crash."
Her lips curled at the edges. "It seems we don't need to worry about her now."
"We may need to keep an eye on him for a while, still," Uranus said. "He's a bit off."
"He'll be fine," Setsuna said. "Time is now as it should be."
Seiya hated goodbyes. They were too mushy and touchy feely for her tastes. However, seeing Odango one last time was a good thing.
Of course, Chiba was right there. He was more aware of his surroundings now, alert and not nearly as pale. He stood behind Usagi, quiet and calm and always there. For the first time, Usagi's smile reached her eyes.
Seiya hated his guts.
Her own princess was once more with them. Their planet was still decimated but they could rebuild. Princess Kakyuu's abilities were great, and soon their home would be as it had been, if not better.
With one last look, as Usagi's eyes filled with confusion at the teasing of the others, all Seiya could think was that she hoped this girl would be happy. If not, she would come here personally and wipe the floor with that boyfriend's face.
The closet door was open.
Usagi stared inside, wondering why it had been so hard to open it in the first place.
"You didn't want to know," a small voice sounded beside her.
Chibi-Usa stood next to her, her face as sharp and clear as it had been in life.
"If I'd know, I could have done something," Usagi said.
"But you did. You knew, but you locked it away." Chibi-Usa hopped on the bed, legs swinging back and forth and her feet kicked the mattress.
Usagi chewed her lip. There was something she did not want to know, but she needed to. "Were you really gone?"
Chibi-Usa nodded. "I was being forgotten. Soon, I would have been gone."
Usagi swallowed the hard lump in her throat. "How did you survive?"
The younger girl smiled as a faint blush stole across her cheeks. "I was kept safe."
"How? You didn't exist anymore."
"Everything is safe in dreams, Usagi," Chibi-Usa replied. "It took a while, but he found me. He'll always find me."
"I'm glad," Usagi said. "Are you back home now? Safe and sound?"
Chibi-Usa giggled. "Why are you asking me? I'm just a dream."
Minori. The name felt weird on his tongue whenever he tried to force it through his vocal chords.
Mamoru had no memories of the young boy who had been him but not. Though she never told him, he knew Usako hurt whenever he admitted this, so he stopped bringing the subject up altogether.
Two weeks had gone by since his return. He still had a lot of paperwork to do regarding his absence in America, and there had been some inquiries into his disappearance on the plane that was just now coming out. He needed to fill out the forms and soon, but he just could not bring himself to open the thick manila envelope they had arrived in.
Instead, he found other ways to take up the countless hours in the day. His apartment was now unpacked, Usako came over whenever she called to ask if she could, but even then, the days were too long and the nights even longer.
He was not sure what compelled him to come here of all places. He had never even been inside the small building, or even talked much with anyone outside of Usako since his return. Still, here he was with a paint roller in hand and completing a job that had been half finished. There was a promise he did not remember making in these rickety walls. If he kept at it, the small little shack on Setsuna's property would be functional once more.
End Notes: So many billions of thanks go to Antigone2. If not for her continual support and gentle prodding, this story never would have gotten past the fourth chapter. A big thanks to everyone who reviewed. I am terrible at responding, because I never know what to say, but I cherished them all. (If you can picture a dragon hoarding a great treasure, that's pretty much how my brain regards reviews.)
This ending was actually the one I had in mind since the beginning. Along the way, I tried to think of other ways to end this, but they all seemed cheap and far too deus ex machina.
Thank you all for reading, and I hoped you enjoyed it at least half as much as I did writing it. :)