dedication: to Loretta, April, and Lauren. thank you for not kicking me out.
notes: people who do not observe Quiet Study Room rules MAKE ME SO MAD.
title: gone with the wind
summary: The only rule to time travel is that you never get to meet yourself. A hundred thousand years later, Setsuna is still cleaning up Usagi's mess. — Pluto, Saturn.
The only rule to time travel is that you never get to meet yourself.
There are other rules, of course, many of them. In fact, time travel is very stringent with its rules. That being said, there is really no going back despite the Moon-blooded's aversion to rules. Usagi was like that. So was Small Lady, for that matter, and though it feels like only yesterday, it is truly a long time gone. All the Senshi have been lose to time.
Excepting, of course, Saturn. The Senshi of Silence is as endless as Setsuna herself is.
Time and Rebirth are not bound to the regular rules.
"There are holes in the continuum, Pluto."
Hotaru Tomoe is dead, but her body remains. Saturn's old eyes look out through the gaps in Hotaru's face like sparkling black pits, and this is not the girl that Setsuna helped raise.
"I know," Setsuna replies quietly. She stands in front of the Gates of Time in her Senshi uniform with her eyes narrowed, arms across her chest, and Small Lady's key swinging silently from her wrist. It has been a millennia since the little girl wore it, but neither Setsuna nor Pluto can bring themselves to call it anything else. It is Small Lady's key, and Small Lady's alone.
"How are you going to fix it?" Saturn asks. She is still shorter than Setsuna ever has any memory of being. Together, the two remaining Senshi of Crystal Tokyo watch as Time goes by. "They cannot remain as they are."
Setsuna restrains herself from rolling her eyes.
As though she doesn't know that.
But Saturn is still young, in the grand scheme of things, and Setsuna is very, very old.
"Calm, little one," Setsuna soothes.
Saturn only nods. Her gaze is still pinned to the misty, shifting currents of Time all around them. They are dark and thick, and curls around the Senshi gentle as a lover in the night.
Setsuna walks, and the mists lighten.
"Come have a cup of tea."
Saturn doesn't say anything in reply. Her face is a solemn drop of dew, a ghost in the dark, a tiny tear down the cheek of unending Time. The sun room fades into being—all bright gold-white glitter and sleek mahogany—and the pair of women sit and sip on just-boiled tea.
Or Setsuna does, at least.
"You need to fix it," Saturn says. She folds her hands in her lap, and doesn't touch the cup that sits on the low table in front of her.
"I never said I wouldn't," Setsuna replies. She sips her tea again.
"The world cannot have holes, Pluto! I will not allow it!"
Setsuna sets her cup down, eyebrow raised. In this light she is at peace, and Saturn is only twitchy. It's rather a pity. "And who are you to tell me how to guard my own element, hm?"
"I am you sister," Saturn's eyebrows furrow as she speaks.
"You are my little sister," Setsuna says evenly.
She does not mention that she has been mother much longer than she has been sister; Saturn will not take particularly well to that point, right now. "And I will not be told how to run my time-streams by someone whose real is Death, Hotaru."
Saturn's face crumples, and for a moment, Setsuna thinks she sees a spark of her long-lost daughter behind the empty black eyes. But the ancient deity swallows the girl again before she even has a chance to speak, and Saturn's face is cold brittle steel snapped in half.
"I hate time travel," she whispers.
"As do I," Setsuna says delicately. She puts the rim of her cup back to her lips, and smiles benignly at Saturn's questioning look. "The Taboos cannot hurt those not bound to them, sister."
"But you are bound to them."
"Not anymore," Setsuna says.
They both think of a tiny pink-haired moon princess, and they mourn.
The pair of them sit in silence for what seems to be a very long time. This is grief, this silence; it is a long-ago grief, but one that still aches terribly when no one is looking.
Setsuna drinks her tea.
Finally, Saturn rises. It takes her forever to stand, and they stare at each other for an eternity.
For now, between them, there is nothing left to say.
"Fix it, Pluto," Saturn says.
She is gone before Setsuna can formulate a reply.
"I don't know if I can," she tells the empty room, anyway.
The holes are getting bigger."
"I know," Setsuna says absently. The Gate shimmers tragically at her, gone pale and see-through in places, and she long to dig her hands into it and submerge it in her power. It kills her to see her only true home like this (home? No, it is a prison, but the terms have become interchangeable after all this time), but she will not attempt something so dangerous with Saturn nearby.
"Don't you care?"
"Then do something about it!" Saturn exclaims, impatient. Her eyes flash an unnameable colour, an unnameable emotion.
Setsuna cannot bring herself to care. "Give me time."
"We don't have time."
Setsuna;s hair falls over her eyes, and her smile is wicked amused. "I always have time, my dear. Remember?"
Saturn's hands clench into fists, whiter than snow at the knuckles. The flush of rage across her face is disturbingly lovely, as though Small Lady pressed her lips against the Senshi of Silence's colourless cheeks over and over again to leave her stain there.
"Is this a game to you, Pluto?!"
"What isn't a game?"
"Lives are not a game!"
Setsuna's gloved fingers skim across the kaleidoscopic surface of the Gate. For a moment, she's standing in the court of Crytal Tokyo's palace, arms linked through Michiru's and Small Lady's, laughing in the moonlight.
It is beautiful, and then it disappears.
Setsuna is not surprised to find that her cheeks are wet. Crystal Tokyo always sends her into hysterics, both good and bad.
Small Lady echoes inside of her head on repeat, a laugh track designed to an induce a forever-melancholy. I'm sorry, Setsuna tells the indistinct amusment, I'm sorry I couldn't protect you.
"No," Setsuna sighs. "They are not."
"Then why, Pluto? Why do you cling to this world? Why do you hold me back from my duty?!"
Setsuna's eyebrows rise high on her forehead, lips pursed to keep herself from laughing at the little Senshi near thrumming with fury in front of her. Saturn hates, she muses. Saturn hates in a way that no other Senshi ever did.
The Senshi of Silence never did have any time for fools.
"I could ask you the same thing, little one."
"How?!" Satrun demands.
"Small Lady's hat," Setsuna replies, and watches in something like satisfaction as the little colour drains out of her daughter's perfect face. "You keep it, do you not?
It's not something she likes to mention ever, because they're wounding words. The fear that it would set Saturn off and she would lose Hotaru for good to the empty black abyss that is the Planet of Silence is always hovering close to the surface.
"She was my friend!" Saturn's voice cracks only a little, but her eyes change, then. The black shifts a shade lighter to a dark, dark violet, and Hotaru looks out of her own face for the first time in an age.
Her voice is tiny and vulnerable, a little baby bird trying to fly for the very first time.
Setsuna's heart breaks a million times over.
This is worse than Endymion and Serenity, worse than Small Lady and Heliose, worse than—worse than even the end of the Silver Millennium, all those thousands of years ago, an end in fire and blood.
This is the worst thing Setsuna has ever seen.
"Oh, Hotaru-chan, darling," Setsuna murmurs, and approaches her broken daughter-Senshi-sister-friend slow and steady. It's exactly the way she'd approach a wounded tiger, hands out, gentle.
When she's close enough to touch, she doesn't hesistate.
Setsuna wraps her arms around Hotaru, gathers her up, and begins to tuck in all of her ragged edges. She smoothes away the lines, the fears and the anger, as they sink to the floor.
If Hotaru cries, neither mention it.
The mists of Time are kind. They sink in around the two women, and they allow them to forget.
Saturn returns with a vengeance.
"The holes remain, and you dare—!"
"Yes, I dare," Setsuna says. Her gaze is cool and calm as it settles on Saturn's face. "Hotaru is my daughter, and you should not keep her hidden as you do.
"She is weak!"
"She is stronger than you ever gave her credit for, Lady Saturn," Setsuna replies, face grave. "Leave, before I get truly angry and banish you to the beginning of time."
Saturn whirls, and for a moment, Setsuna thinks she sees a flash of the Silence Glaive.
But then it is gone, and all she can see is her daughter's back.
"Find out what's causing the holes, Pluto," Saturn breathes out, incensed. "Or I will erase this world and all those in it."
Saturn walks, and Setsuna sighs.
The holes in the time-stream gape ever wider.
Setsuna pieces the world back together over thousands and thousands of years, and wonders how she never noticed. Here and here and here—all these places have holes, and the holes eat at her like dark-matter eats at the rest of the universe.
They are anti-reality. They set all of Setsuna's teeth on edge. Everything about them is wrong.
They suck the life from the world.
Neither Pluto nor Setsuna would be surprised if a laptop turns up in an era long before even electricity. She can already feel the headache.
Her fingers dance over the Gate.
"Tell me," she begs aloud. "Tell me what did this."
Your Queen, the door replies.
Setsuna exhales a storm. "Of course."
She doesn't even have to ask it to send her back. The Gate does that of its own accord, and Setsuna finds herself far in the past, and looking at ghosts of people long-dead.
Serenity is beautiful, Sailor Moon is crying, and…
Setsuna presses her fingers to her cheeks, and has to bodily restrain herself from sweeping the little princess up and clinging to her until the door forced her back.
She can only watch, not interact, here. That's another problem—she's already lived this, and she isn't allowed to live something twice.
The Gate isn't that kind.
(Or perhaps it just isn't that cruel. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, though Setsuna hasn't really lived in a very long time.)
She could look at Small Lady forever.
It would still never be enough.
Setsuna watches as Sailor Moon meets her future self, and thinks this is it. This is why the world is eating itself. Oh, Your Majesty, why?
She won't do anything to change this.
If she changes this, she knows without a doubt, Small Lady will never be born. Sailor Moon will fall to Galaxia, and there will never have been a Crystal Tokyo at all.
She bows her head.
Saturn is going to have a fit.
Setsuna's watched the world regenerate thrice, in her stint entire as the Guardian of Time. There was Saturn and the Silver Millennium first, then a thousand years later Saturn and Mistress Nine, and even after that, Saturn and the Cauldron.
Always Saturn and the end of the world.
She'll watch it again, it seems.
Hotaru won't be able to keep Saturn from rebirthing the world in silence. Not this time.
The Glaive will have its due.
Setsuna breathes out slowly as The Gate sings her back to the present. Her knees hit tone and she slides to the ground in front of it. Setsuna can barely draw breath or thought or anything.
Time buoys her, and allows her to sleep.
This is how Saturn finds her. It might be hours, days, years later, and Setsuna wouldn't know the difference. Time is hers to waste. Especially now, here when Saturn is the end of all things.
"Pluto? What are you doing?"
"Dreaming," Setsuna replies, half-whimsy, half-despairing.
"Get up," Saturn drops down beside her, shivers, touches her gently on the shoulder, shivers again. "Wondering about what?"
Setsuna shrugs, but makes no move to rouse herself from the floor. "Hotaru-chan, what would you say if I told you that Small Lady was only born because of Serenity's insistence on meeting herself?"
"…Your point is?"
"Our Queen's choice is what is causing the holes, little one."
"What does that mean?" Saturn asks. There is true fear in her voice; fear, and deadly, deadly longing.
"To fix the holes, I must erase Small Lady."
"No," Saturn says.
"One life for a million. Is that truly too much to ask?"
"No, Pluto. I said no."
"Ah," Setsuna made the sound at the back of her throat. "Then I suppose you must do what you must. If I cannot fix it…"
"…Setsuna-mama, will you still be here?"
Setsuna turns her head to look at Hotaru Tomoe. The girl is there in her face, afraid and beautifully brave. There is no telling when she'll next see her child; for now, she will take what she can get.
"…Okay," Hotaru said.
She stands on wobbly knees, and walks to the Gate. She turns around just long enough to send Setsuna a sweet smile, a brave smile, something to reassure them both. "I'll come back, I promise!"
Setsuna watches her go.
Later she will watch as the Silence Glaive falls.
Later she will watch the world birth itself inside out.
Setsuna smiles faintly in return. "I don't doubt that you will, Hotaru-chan."