Meiou Setsuna, after reverting to her civilian form, now wore a midi-length dress made of silk. It was black above the waist, where the color transitioned to a dark green at the hem of the skirt. The spaghetti straps exposed her lovely shoulders, and the scooped neckline displayed an ample amount of cleavage. On her feet were strappy, low-heeled shoes; showy, but reasonably practical.
She spared a glance at the door behind her, beyond which the redhead waited, before she began her journey to the phone that was downstairs. The princess of the thirtieth century was still in the past, she knew, and she wanted to call the Tsukino residence to see if she could find her there or not.
As she descended down the staircase, she could hear voices coming from the living room. By the time she reached the landing, she had discerned the identity of the three speakers that she had heard, and suspected a fourth that had yet to say anything. More importantly, to her relief, was the fact that one of the voices belonged to her quarry, which would save her the time that it might have taken to locate her otherwise.
She entered the living room, from the hallway, and stood just within the room to take in the scene. In the armchair sat Michiru, who was in the middle of lifting a tea cup from a saucer and taking a sip from it. Behind her was Haruka, who leaned on the back of the armchair with her forearms. On the couch sat Chibi-Usa and Hotaru, with the latter currently talking about school in an animated fashion; in particular, about the friends that she had made there.
Setsuna knew that the princess didn't go to school, and was instead tutored in the palace, so it made sense when she heard Hotaru's wish for her to be able to attend — especially now that they were both the same apparent age. Unfortunately, the princess had no business to be in the past, now that her training as a sailor senshi had been completed. The only reason for her being in the past, this time, had been due to the order of Neo Queen Serenity herself. No reason had been given, and she hadn't raised any questions, but she didn't think that it had been for the cause of her current concern. She certainly hoped that wasn't the case, at least.
Since the armchair was facing the entrance to the room, from the hallway, Haruka and Michiru were the first to notice her presence. They were alarmed by her sudden, unexpected appearance, but they quickly regained their composure. Their reaction drew the scrutiny of Hotaru toward them, who turned to look at what had caught their attention. This, in turn, had brought Chibi-Usa's attention to her.
Hotaru, who now had a bright smile on her face, cheerfully exclaimed, "Setsuna-mama!"
"So," Haruka lightly drawled, with an easy grin on her face, "you found the time to take a break, did you?"
With a sigh, Setsuna said, "Unfortunately, I'm here on business."
With the notable exception of Chibi-Usa, everyone's faces clouded over with disappointment upon hearing those words. While it was true that their mission had changed, and they didn't have to stand at their posts at all times, Setsuna considered herself the exception. While Haruka, Michiru and Hotaru could essentially keep their vigil on the solar system from Earth, she could not do the same for the Door of Time, which was in the fourth dimension. Not only could she not do that, but failing to guard it properly was an immediate risk to the stability of the universe itself, rather than just one solar system in a galaxy among countless other galaxies.
In reality, guarding the Door of Time was important enough to enlist the aid of every sailor senshi in the solar system, at the very least. The late Queen Serenity, however, couldn't stand the thought of depriving every sailor senshi of some form of life, and had thus spared all but one from undertaking such a task: that being herself. Like Michiru and Haruka, the queen hadn't intended for her to be alone, but — for some reason — her partner had never been found... until now.
No one, save for the future queen and princess, truly understood how important her duty was. And she — like them — was not about to make anyone else any wiser about it, so that they did not have to live their lives in guilt; or, worse, give up what lives they had to join her in protecting the Door of Time.
That's why she would never think any less of Michiru, in her ignorance, for saying, "Come, now, Setsuna. It can't be healthy for you to hide yourself away like that for so long."
Hotaru, by that time, had wrapped her arms about her waist, and had begun to look up at her imploringly. The sight evoked a pang in her chest, but she kept the feeling from showing itself on her face.
"I've missed you," Hotaru said, her voice strained a bit by emotion. "Please say that you'll stay for a while."
"I'm sorry," Setsuna apologized, placing a comforting hand on the girl's head before evasively adding, "Maybe some other time."
Haruka turned her head aside, snorted, and said, "Coming from you, 'another time' could mean another era."
"Now, Haruka," Michiru softly chided.
Setsuna sighed, knowing that this was for the best. It would be far better for them to think of her as being anti-social, or a workaholic; to see her as a cold, distant woman. Should they ever think about it too much, and realize her sacrifice, then they might want to get involved as well... And she couldn't have that. She cared about them too much to subject them to a life in the fourth dimension.
Turning her attention to the still-seated princess of the thirtieth century, she gave her a significant look. "I need to speak with you in private."
Hotaru reluctantly drew away from her, with an obvious pout, as her pink-haired friend took to her feet. Said friend followed Setsuna as she led her out the front door and to the veranda of the outer senshi's colonial-style house. The day was nice and warm, and the light breeze carried pleasant scents from the fields and trees around them. It was quiet, save for the rustling of the trees and the tinkling of a nearby wind chime.
They regarded each other with impassive expressions for a time, their eyes locked together in silence. Setsuna loved the young girl who stood before her, and she had made great exceptions — for her sake — when it came to upholding her duty. Even now, despite the additional evidence that their current confrontation had brought to her, she couldn't get angry. What she could do, however, was get answers.
"I would have preferred coming here to ask if you had simply lost the key," Setsuna began, her voice level and calm, "but that doesn't explain how someone would know how to use it. And your lack of concern, right now, just reinforces what I have already come to suspect."
Getting no immediate reaction from her, she continued. "Why? Short of myself and the queen, you know — more than anyone else — why you shouldn't try to change history. You know how dangerous it is."
"Why do you think?" Was Chibi-Usa's calm reply. "You wouldn't be here if you hadn't met her."
"I could have killed her," Setsuna pointed out, her brow furrowed. "And I almost did."
"It was a possibility," Chibi-Usa admitted, her calm exterior faltering a bit — showing some guilt — before she recovered. "But it was the best approach that I could come up with. If I had gone directly to you with this, you would have dismissed it outright."
Setsuna's expression softened. "And you know why. As I've said before, you don't have to worry about—"
"It's not just you that I'm trying to do this for," Chibi-Usa interrupted, her gaze sorrowful. "This is for her, too."
Confused, Setsuna asked, "Are you trying to say that guarding the Door of Time with me, in the fourth dimension, is going to be an improvement for her?"
Chibi-Usa nodded her head, before she removed a small device from her skirt pocket and held it out for Setsuna to accept. After doing just that, the sailor senshi of time looked it over, not knowing what the grey-colored object was. It was flat on one side, while the other convexed into a modest dome. Set in the middle of the dome was a small, white crystal.
Not being familiar with all of the technology from the future, she regarded the pink-haired girl with a questioning look. "What's this?"
"It's a memory device," Chibi-Usa replied. "It was made so people could record their memories, for short-term use, so they could replay them later and prevent themselves from forgetting something important."
She pointed at the device and continued in a more serious tone. "That has my memories of my time with her. It will answer all of your questions, and better understand what I'm trying to do."
It was that last part that concerned Setsuna, since becoming sympathetic would make it hard for her to adhere to her duty as the Guardian of Time. It was bad enough that her love for the princess had already compromised her position on numerous occasions. However, that same love was the reason for why she would trust her and use the device.
After some direction on how to use it, she closed her eyes and placed the flat side of the device against her forehead. The crystal lit up for a few seconds, and during that time she remained motionless. When the light in the crystal went out, her eyes remained closed. Her brow, however, strained with warring emotions. She remained that way, for a time, before she removed the device from her head and opened her eyes, which gazed intently into the pair of dark pink ones across from her.
Chibi-Usa nodded, as if to answer some question that had not been vocalized. Then, with a pained expression, she quietly asked, "Do you understand, now?"
"But..." Began Setsuna's half-hearted response.
Shaking her head, Chibi-Usa sternly said, "Don't say it. From what you've just learned, you should know that my mother supports this idea. Since I set this up so you can decide whether or not the 'point of no return' occurs, it's up to you to decide her fate."
After staring at Chibi-Usa's resolute visage for a time, without seeing her balk, Setsuna closed her eyes and sighed in resignation. The princess was serious, which put her into a rather unwelcome position. Awakening Charon, at best, would be a short-term solution. A sailor senshi could spend an eternity in the fourth dimension, after all. That meant that the solution would only last for as long as her tolerance for the fourth dimension did. Unless...
"Fine," she finally replied, as she opened her eyes and leveled them at the girl in front of her. "I'll be sure to give it some serious thought."
Pleased by that answer, Chibi-Usa nodded her head. "Good."
Setsuna smiled slightly as she regarded the maturing princess from the future. She was already more mature than her mother had been, at her current age. Although that wasn't all that surprising, considering the fact that she had grown up with more responsibilities; responsibilities that reminded her of her own, and her continued reason for being in her presence.
"There's one more issue that I'd like to address, before I go," she said, her smile vanishing.
Chibi-Usa tilted her head inquisitively. "What's that?"
"From what I've gathered," Setsuna began, "you used someone else to get," she paused for a second, as she considered which pronoun to use, "her to the fourth dimension. Which was a good idea, but I need to know what you told them."
Waving away Setsuna's concern with a hand, Chibi-Usa said, "All I told him was that it would get someone lost forever. Whatever he might have said, beyond that, must have been made up in order to trick her into using the key."
Mollified by that answer, Setsuna nodded her satisfaction. Of course, while she knew what the boy had been told was true enough, a person who knew how to use a key to the fourth dimension could navigate it just fine. That Ranma had been able to find her, despite not knowing how to use the key for that purpose, was nothing short of curious. She would have to ask her about it, once she got back to her, though she had an idea regarding how it had been accomplished. In the end, it was amazing how many risks the princess had been willing to take for the girl, in order to alter her future.
When she tried to return the memory device, Chibi-Usa shook her head. "Hold on to it. Depending on your decision, you might need it."
Setsuna nodded her understanding. Since her attire wouldn't accommodate the device, what with it having no pockets, she sent it away — in a flash of light — to join a number of other items that were normally accessible while she was Sailor Pluto.
"Well," she began, as she glanced toward the door, her thoughts being pulled elsewhere, "I guess I better be going, then."
She raised her hand, to the level of her elbow, and her keychain belt appeared in her hand, after a brief flash of light. She plucked one of her keys from it and handed it to Chibi-Usa, who accepted it with silent gratitude. Afterward, they went back into the house, where they parted ways. While the princess of Crystal Tokyo returned to the living room, to continue the conversation that she had been having with Hotaru, Michiru and Haruka, she climbed the stairs and made her way back to her bedroom on the second floor. Before she entered her bedroom, however, she transformed into Sailor Pluto: she didn't think that there was a need to reveal her identity to Ranma, just yet — that is, if she were to ever decide to do so at all.
When she opened the door, she was met with the sight of the girl standing on her head, with her hands planted on the floor, and her legs crossed as if she were seated. She paused within the doorway and stared, their eyes catching, and she wondered if it was some kind of obscure meditative position. Then she watched as the girl deftly rolled along her back and hopped onto her feet in a single, smooth display of motion.
After stretching her neck a few times, to get the kinks out of it, Ranma casually asked, "So, is it time to go?"
Pluto nodded her head silently in reply, her thoughts racing. She had to make a decision, but she couldn't think of a good enough reason to come up with a definite answer, in regard to Ranma's potential future as her partner in guarding the Door of Time. Awakening her to a sailor senshi's existence would be easy, but doing no more than that would jeopardize the stability of the third dimension since too many changes would probably be made in Ranma's life, to the extent that the princess wouldn't have traveled back into the past to set in motion the events that had eventually made her a sailor senshi in the first place.
Basically, if she decided to give Ranma her sailor crystal, and make her a sailor senshi, then she would have to assert some control over her life, so that the events of the future — that inspired her princess to travel back into the past — would still take place. However, the whole point of the princess' mission was to prevent the events of the past that led up to producing the events of the future. Somehow, she would have to manipulate events so that the same end could be acquired through a different means. Making her a sailor senshi in the past, rather than in the future, was a part of the solution; but, it was also a major part of the problem.
What it all amounted to, of course, was Ranma spending a lot of time in the fourth dimension, with her. However, without being a sailor senshi, she wouldn't be able to stay for long periods of time, like she could, since a sailor senshi's power maintained their health. They could forever forgo food and drink, as well as sleep, in order to maintain an eternal vigil over what they protected. If she intended to help the redhead, as the princess of the future wished, then she would need to keep her in the fourth dimension for a long time, in order to work out a solution for the problems that they both shared in — and with — the third dimension.
And then, of course, there was the fact that she didn't really know the girl — certainly not the girl of the past, at any rate. She wasn't about to put her in a position to learn about the most fiercely-guarded secrets without first knowing if she could be trusted with them, as the late queen had done for her. However, it did give her an idea, as well as an opportunity to think further about what her ultimate decision would be.
She removed one of the keys to the fourth dimension from the chain about her waist and approached Ranma, with the key held out to her. When she got a questioning look in response to her offering, she said, "This is so you can come and visit, if you ever need a retreat, or a place to think."
Ranma blinked her eyes incomprehensibly as she accepted the key, and quietly said, "Um, okay..."
"Oh, and before we go," Pluto spoke up, after a short pause, "I was wondering if you could answer something for me."
Ranma rubbed the back of her neck. "It depends on what you want to know."
"I was just curious as to how you found me," Pluto posed.
"I don't know," Ranma answered, with a shrug of her shoulders. "I usually can't sense anyone from that far away."
Then, almost as an afterthought, she turned her head away and quietly added, "Though it may have been because of how powerful you are."
Pluto noticed the veiled admittance within that last comment, and wondered if losing to her had become a bit of a sore spot for the redhead. As if in answer to that thought, she saw the makings of a pout, one that was barely kept from being fully expressed. She had to smile to herself, knowing that the girl in front of her — who was practically exhibiting a girlish mien — was actually a guy...
Still, since she had expected Ranma's initial answer, she nodded her head. "Well, be sure to use that to find me, if you ever decide to pay me a visit. Should you lose your way in the darkness, you can get lost... Forever."
Showing a little surprise, as well as shock, Ranma wanted to make sure that she had heard her right. "Forever?"
"Forever," was Pluto's solemn response.
Realizing what kind of danger she had been in, Ranma's eyes widened a bit further from her initial reaction as she stammered, "I-I see..."
Smiling despite herself, Pluto placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Just keep that in mind, and you shouldn't have anything to worry about."
"Now," she continued, her smile replaced by an expression that was meant for business, "let's return you to where you belong."
With that said, she summoned her Garnet Rod into her other hand. She raised it as far as the ceiling of her bedroom would allow, without bumping into it, and then the Garnet Orb began to glow. After a bright flash of light, and an accompanying rush of air, they were gone.