Irina

The Outer Soldiers Saga

 

Part Three

 

Part one: The Price of Happiness

 

 Haruka and Michiru were now leaving in different rooms though they were in one wing and their bedrooms were separated only by the wall. The bond between them was still strong. They were powerful and able sailor soldiers, almost always fighting against each other’s backs. They still spent time together, though not as much as they used to. Michiru with some sadness and faint bewilderment watched as Haruka was building a wall around herself, not allowing her, Michiru, enter through it. She was still respecting Prince and Setsuna as her senior partners and their wedding didn’t change anything in her attitude. She was kind and patient with Hotaru, allowing her many silly things. But with Michiru she grew colder and colder.

 As Neptunian Princess was thinking about it she came to the conclusion that may be Haruka was angry because of all the teasing things Michiru used to try with her. She liked the way Haruka’s face looked when she as if by accident was stroking her hand or touching her cheek trying to take away the never existent eyelash. Her face paled, eyes widened then slowly red wave was coming up her neck disappearing in her blond hair. Michiru was laughing heartily at her, always amused. They were good friends and she thought it was all right and that Haruka shared the fun.

 But one day when she touched Haruka’s fingers nothing amusing happened. She felt the fingers tremble slightly and slowly clench in a fist. Lifting her head in a wonder she looked at the face in front of her: it was so white grey eyes seemed black. When their glances met Michiru saw such pain in Haruka’s eyes she felt bad inside. But it flickered like a lightning. Haruka was very good at hiding her feelings. Michiru felt shame and guilt burning inside her. She didn’t know why but she suddenly knew that even if she had slapped Haruka’s face just now it wouldn’t have been as terrible as what she just did. She opened her mouth and almost without understanding why she was saying that uttered: “I am so sorry, Haruka.” Grey eyes were again filled with pain. Michiru stormed out of the room not being able to bear the look in them. After that time Haruka began avoiding her, refused to go for walks with her, didn’t want to listen to her singing any more, was trying to spend as little time as possible by her side. Sailors Uranus and Neptune were still fighting with their backs to each other.

 

                                                                                         *

 

 Michiru was walking with the book in her hands, the long skirt of her blue dress touching the grass. As she was approaching the big green lawn she heard blades whistling through the air and saw two figures fighting. She quickly realized that those were Hotaru and Haruka practicing as usual with their glaive and sword. They were dressed in waist-length wide shirts and long wide trousers, both barefoot. Hotaru’s long dark purple hair was put in the bun at the back of her head. She was now as tall as Michiru. Her glaive, which at first seemed too high for her and they all wondered how she could ever deal with it, was turning in her hands with a lightning speed as she was trying to hold Haruka’s attack. Her partner’s curved sword with the golden blade was giving her a really hard time.

 Michiru stood herself a bit aside, watching with pleasure the scene in front of her and suddenly the thought of how beautiful Haruka’s body was occurred in her mind. She had strong arms and strong long legs that brought her wherever she wanted in seconds. She was thin and tall and many still took her for a young man. Though her body was well trained it didn’t seem heavy at all. On the opposite, it was as light as a feather. Michiru was looking with admiration at how skillfully Haruka was attacking Hotaru and defending herself when the girl struck back. She felt warm inside.

 At this moment Haruka spotted the audience and immediately her face became expressionless, eyes turned into two steel blades, at once cutting Michiru absolutely off their sight. She smiled to Hotaru, bowed showing she had finished and left. The Saturnian Princess went to greet their spectator and as she was approaching, Michiru saw condemnation and sympathy in her purple eyes. It looked like Hotaru was blaming her for something and at the same time feeling sorry for her. “She is very proud, isn’t she?” Neptunian Princess said, meaning Haruka, whose figure almost disappeared by now. “Yes. And very vulnerable,” was the answer. The glaive with a silver blade disappeared from Hotaru’s hand, she undid her hair and shook her head. The look in her purple eyes was still strange. She was watching Michiru for some time then slowly said: “I am thinking sometimes what is worse: when you know yourself or when you don’t. I guess, in both cases there is no escape.” Michiru bent down her head and turned to go. She didn’t understand the meaning of Hotaru’s words but she knew that this girl with hypnotizing purple eyes was never saying words in vain.

 

                                                                                        *

 

 Asteroids came flying out of Space. They were just pieces of another broken planet having nothing evil within them, but the damages they brought were rather heavy. So the outer soldiers’ task was to break them into the smaller pieces to prevent otherwise inevitable destruction of several cities and probably some smaller planets. It was easy but risky because huge balls seemed to have no proper trajectory that could be foretold.

 Chronos and Sailor Pluto were by each other’s side as they always now were. Sailor Saturn was by herself: she preferred to fight alone. Prince of Time knew that she did not want the others to realize how enormous her power was. Sailors Uranus and Neptune stuck together. By the end of it they were almost worn out. Finally, they could see no more asteroids coming and turned to leave. At this moment a huge burning ball appeared flying out of the darkness with vast speed towards Sailor Neptune. By the instant she spotted it it was too late. Suddenly she felt she was pushed rather rudely away and fell, floating in Space. Immediately the ball was sliced by the glaive, purple light turning it into dust.

 Neptune turned her head and realized that it was Uranus who saved her. The body of the soldier was burnt, her sailor suit was fading. Neptune used the rest of her powers to transport both of them to the Chronos Palace. There she ran to Haruka, bent to her and put her head on her lap. Celadon eyes slowly opened, white lips smiled. “I am lucky,” Michiru heard the whisper, “at least, to die in your arms.” On hearing those words Neptunian Princess understood all she had to understand long time ago and even more.

 Haruka loved her for… she didn’t know how long. But she knew that Michiru was just playing with her. Her every touch was tearing her apart inside, the sound of her laughter made her want to cry with anger and helplessness. But she was too proud to show her true feelings, her nature revolted at the very thought of being laughed at. Finally, she decided to shell herself from this girl who has become her torture, her nightmare, her desire, her dream. She was succeeding but it didn’t bring any peace or happiness with it, just misery. Haruka was partly happy she was dying. Now she had a chance to expose her weakness without hurting her pride because in the face of death pride was meaningless.

 Michiru understood all that in an instant: Haruka’s sufferings and her own, though unconscious, cruelty; the look in Hotaru’s eyes and her words and their meaning appeared burning in her mind. She felt as if cold wall was broken inside her, warm wave coming up her body and falling in tears down her cheeks. She suddenly realized that in her heart she loved too but never looked deep enough inside herself to see that. At that moment she knew that without this girl who was hardly breathing by now she would become nothing, that there would be nothing left for her to fight for. “I am sorry,” she was crying in her mind. “I am so terribly sorry. How could I have been so blind?!”

 She felt somebody else’s presence and on lifting her head saw Prince of Time standing by her side. He kneeled down and took the wounded girl in his arms. Her sailor suit faded out completely by then. The body was enveloped in the amber light as if trying to hide its nudity. But Haruka was not ashamed of the man who was carrying her through the corridors and rooms of the Palace. It didn’t matter any more. Nothing mattered any more. She just felt the safety of his embrace and nestled closer to his chest putting her head on his shoulder. She felt so warm and light, she didn’t want to wake up. She smiled in her mind and fell into nothingness.

 

                                                                                     *

 

 The loving power of the Silver Crystal healed Haruka’s wounds, energy was brought back to her body. But she still was very weak and spent most of the time sleeping. Michiru was always by her side now. She was sitting in the arm-chair near the bed and declined all the offers from Prince, Setsuna, Hotaru and the servants to help her. She didn’t want to leave Haruka even for a moment. She was holding her hand in her own and watched her face becoming less pale, her breath more regular, her body less thin. When Haruka was asleep she was whispering how sorry she was. “I will always be protecting you no matter what the cost. I will always be by your side even if you are wrong.” As she was swearing to that again and again tears were falling down her cheeks.

 When Haruka felt so good she could stand up, Michiru supported her to the dining room. There she was greeted with joy and then concern for her still poor health. It was decided that for a while she would be freed from her responsibilities as a soldier. It was a rather peaceful period again, so she was not so badly needed.

 

 The whole delegation arrived from the Moon Palace to congratulate her with her recovery. The inner soldiers were happy to see her and almost at once she was captured by Minako who seeing that she was feeling better decided to tell her about her new romance. Luckily, she was spotted by Rei in the right time and withdrawn when Haruka was already getting pale though tried to look interested. Ami brought with her recipes she found in the old books especially for Haruka. Michiru took them with gratitude and was nodding in agreement as Ami was explaining her something. Makoto said she would gladly watch by Haruka’s bed if it would be necessary. But it was not, so she was a bit upset. As for the Moon Princess, she brought a present with her. It were two golden crescent-shaped ear-rings. Haruka was touched at such a demonstration of affection for her. Prince Endymion was away on Earth but sent her his regards and best wishes. Queen also came and with a calm smile said that she had been worrying about her soldier. Surrounded by so much love and true friendship Haruka was almost crying. She suddenly realized she found a family in people around her.

 

 Michiru was still caring for her, though wasn’t sleeping in the chair by her side any more. Haruka couldn’t believe her own thoughts. Had this girl returned her feelings or was it just gratitude and care of a really good friend? She decided to find out what it was. After all, she could always say later it was just a friendly touch. She was becoming sly.

 Once when Michiru was sitting by her side and telling her the news, what she was doing every day to amuse her and keep her company, Haruka’s hand was slowly put on Michiru’s. Nothing happened, the girl still was going on with her story. Unable to leave the hand she now felt in hers, blonde tightened the grip. Michiru’s hand turned, the words ceased flowing. She lifted her eyes and looked in Haruka’s for quite a long time as if asking for something and giving the answer to the question that wasn’t asked. Then she took Haruka’s hand in hers, leaned and kissed the palm. “You have good hands,” she said in a soft voice looking straight into the grey eyes filled with amazement and relief.

 

 In the evening Michiru came again to say “Goodnight.” She sat by Haruka’s side on the bed and was sitting there for some time with her head down. Then she got up, sat herself as closely as she could to Haruka’s face and began slowly leaning to her lips. When their lips touched both of them trembled and pulled away. Haruka smiled, put her hand at the back of Michiru’s neck and bent her down to her face. She felt soft, sweet lips touching hers, pressing against hers, opening in return to hers. She felt warm hand going slowly down her neck to her chest. She caught the hand and gently pushed Michiru away. “I am not strong enough. Yet.”

 Michiru nodded as if in agreement. “Don’t worry.” With these words she stood up and blew the candles. They were in complete darkness, only soft silver starlight coming through the windows. Michiru sat herself back beside Haruka’s face. She bent forward and gently, very gently began stroking it. The blonde was sinking in this tenderness. She felt two gentle warm hands stroking her face going down to her chest, coming up her legs. Her nightgown was slowly sliding away leaving her completely nude. But strangely she didn’t feel embarrassed at all, her heart was beating in its normal way. What was happening was so natural. She heard the silk rustle, then fall to the floor with soft noise. In front of herself she saw a white figure with black curlish hair down her waist. She closed her eyes when Michiru’s lips kissed hers, her hands lifted and embraced the body pressed against hers. Lips and touches were becoming more and more demanding but she didn’t have the strength to respond. She just left herself to the mercy of those silky hands that were chasing her for so long in her dreams. She felt warm waves coming up and down inside her. It seemed it would last for eternity. She didn’t have any wish to move, just to stay like that forever. She felt peace and warmth that were so overwhelming she didn’t even notice as she went to sleep.

 The girl with long curlish hair lifted her hand and put away the blonde strands from the calm face in front of her. She put her head on the shoulder of her lover and smiled. She felt complete.

 

                                                                                          *

 

 Setsuna was looking into the silver orb: it showed anything she wanted controlled by the power of her thought. Suddenly she blushed and closed her eyes. The vision faded, the silver sphere was clear. She heard her husband’s steps and turned to him bending her head down trying to hide her crimson cheeks. Prince smiled at her. “What happened?” Setsuna blushed even more.

“Haruka and Michiru…”

“Yes, what about them?” Chronos seemed to be amused with her looks.

“Well, I thought I would just have a look to make sure they are all right and …”

“And are they all right?” Now his voice was teasing. Setsuna was fiercely turning the button of her garnet pyjamas in her fingers. Words stuck in her throat. Recently she was thinking that Michiru was spending too much time by Haruka’s side. But, on the other hand, she saved her and it looked like mere gratitude. And they always were good friends. But what she just saw went beyond any friendship. She coughed lightly, looking at the thick carpet at her feet.

“They… love each other.” It was almost a whisper. Prince came close to her and lifted her chin. His countenance was serious. “I was expecting this.” Setsuna looked surprised. He smiled at her. “It is their destiny. Without this love they would never become the ones they were supposed to be.”

“Oh my God, what about Hotaru! We will have to tell her!” The Pluto’s Princess was panicking. Her husband’s gaze was strange.

“She knows.”

“What?!”
“She knows. Setsuna, Hotaru is shrewder than all of us. She told me they would be lovers long before I understood she was right. She sees through things.” His wife was taking in his words with some difficulty.

“And she seems to be just a little girl. But sometimes her powers scare me. There is malice in her.” Setsuna was frightened herself by what just slipped from her lips. Prince paled a bit but managed to smile. He desperately needed to change the subject somehow but his wife was very clever, she would notice he was hiding something form her. He sighed. Of course, it was a little unfair to use her love for him but he had no choice.

 Chronos looked at the young woman in the garnet pyjamas and blushed. He never hoped such a beautiful creature as her would ever love him the way she did. For a long time he was afraid it all was just a dream. She was his ideal woman and she never shuddered into pieces like the ideals have a habit to do but was even beyond his dreams. And now when he knew her so much better he fell in love with her even more. Sometimes he was frightened he had so much happiness but when he was looking in her honest, loving garnet eyes he wanted to believe it would last. Before he knew her he was cynical about love, thinking it to be a mere illusion some fools amuse themselves with just because they don’t want to face reality. But now he felt he was a fool who dared to place himself above Love. Now he realized that those who reject it, play with it or fight it and win, those deprive themselves of the best emotions that ever existed in Universe.

 Setsuna was still looking at him with suspicion and wanted some answers. If her guess about Hotaru was right she needed to know how far she was right. She was staring impatiently at her husband who seemed to be lost in his thoughts. At last, his eyes looked straight in hers.

“I don’t want to discuss Hotaru.” He tried to never lie to her. She wanted to object but he put his arm around her waist and pulled her close to him. She was sinking in the black eyes like she always did from the first time she looked deep enough in them to realize she loved him. Setsuna forgot about Hotaru, about Haruka and Michiru, all she could think about was the warmth that was slowly wrapping her. She felt his other hand brushing through her hair, it was strange but his fingers never tangled it.

 Prince felt relief: this dangerous conversation has been avoided. He should take care for her to forget about it. He couldn’t let anyone know the truth about Hotaru, even her. She wasn’t ready for this truth. Chronos kissed the head lying on his shoulder. Setsuna clasped her hands on his back and leaned on him gradually becoming sleepy. Prince laughed softly. He unclasped her hands, turned her round and carefully began plaiting the dark green hair. When he found out that she was doing it every evening because otherwise it would simply be impossible to sleep, he was very surprised. He never thought about something like that. But now he himself was braiding her hair and in the mornings undoing and combing it. By the time he finished Setsuna was standing on her feet merely due to the instinct of self-preservation. He took her in his arms and carried to bed. When he was covering her with a blanket, garnet eyes opened with obvious difficulty and he heard the sleepy whisper: ”I need to ask you something.”

 Prince bent down his head. He underestimated her! But the question was surprising.

“I know you were expecting many things to happen but were you expecting me?” Her husband smiled and nodded. Setsuna closed her eyes then opened them again and looked at him for a long time to make her thoughts clear.

“And was there anything you did not expect?” Prince of Time leaned forward and stopping his face millimeters from hers whispered: “I did not expect you were so beautiful.”

 The garnet eyes closed, Setsuna slowly nodded confirming that the answer satisfied her completely and peacefully went to sleep. Chronos blew the candles then sat by her side, took her hand looking at the thin silver ring dimly shining in the darkness and smiled faintly: the day the same ring appeared on his finger he again started seeing good dreams. After several hundred years.

 

                                                                                     *

 

 Haruka absolutely recovered after a couple of weeks. She and Michiru decided they would live together. Although they didn’t know whether the others would accept their relationship, they didn’t want to give in because inside they knew they were right. Haruka took on herself the task of telling it all out, she just feared her rudeness if Prince would object. She was determined to have her way though didn’t want to hurt her friends.

 They were sitting at the breakfast table. Prince was looking at Setsuna from time to time as if asking for a support, she smiled at him. Hotaru was eating her breakfast without paying any attention to the growing tension around her. She knew what was about to take place. “There is something I want to talk to you about,” Prince finally broke out. Girls froze. “Here we go,” they thought. Chronos continued, still looking at his wife from time to time: “As you know the Palace is very big and there is plenty of room for everyone. So I can order one of the wings to be decorated for you two. When you would be ready we would discuss this circumstantially.” Haruka and Michiru were silent then slowly nodded. They realized that those people accepted them because they loved and respected who they truly were. They felt ashamed for ever doubting their understanding and trust.

 Prince was looking at them and suddenly realization of what this love would bring to these two girls came to him. They were now doomed at every second of their existence to one of the hardest choices in Universe: the choice between love and duty with the shadow of death standing behind. They were doomed to follow their own path and deprived of anybody’s help, being absolutely alone on this road and having only each other for support. It was the price they had to pay for their love. He knew that the time would come when they would sacrifice each other for their duty and tear their souls apart. When they would sacrifice their duty for their love even if it would mean treason. He saw them with golden bracelets on their hands, he saw them attacking their best friends, he saw their souls crying with pain when their faces were calm and frozen. He wanted to shout, to protect them, to never allow them to do that but in a moment he knew that they were prepared to pay because their love was priceless.

 

 

 The news reached the Moon Palace. The inner soldiers and the Princess gathered in one of the rooms to discuss the matter. Rei was sitting on the wide sill of the window filling almost the whole wall. Her knees were pressed under her chin, arms wrapped around her legs. She was staring out of the window for quite some time. Ami was standing by her side with ever-present book in her hands and watching the starlight coming through the glass. Makoto was sitting in the arm-chair with Minako on her lap. The latter was not turning and jumping as she usually was doing. Princess was standing near Ami. They all were silent.

“Lovers.” Rei’s voice was tense. But there was no contempt or repulsion in it just amazement, embarrassment and not understanding. The word hung in the air refusing to disappear. Ami blushed and clasped the book so tightly her knuckles became white. Makoto paled but didn’t lower her gaze trying to look straight into the face of facts. Minako fidgeted at her lap, looking scared.

 They were shocked, they didn’t even try to hide it; they were bewildered; they were trying to put the pieces together and were failing each time. May be they were going the wrong way? But were they disgusted, were they willing to turn away forever from those two girls, were they prepared to make them outcasts?

 The Moon Princess was calmly smiling looking at the stars shining in the night sky. She put her hand on Rei’s knee lightly touching her chin and said in a soft voice: “Does it really matter?” The question was not accusing, it was too simply asked for that. Rei bent her head down for some time. Then she looked straight into the blue eyes of her Princess and firmly said: “No. It doesn’t really matter.” She took the gentle hand and squeezing it friendly uttered: “Thank you.”

 And they all were grateful to this so simple and so wise girl who a second ago showed them what really was valuable. Inside themselves they knew that they loved Haruka and Michiru, that they still were their friends, their fellow soldiers, two people important to them and the fact of them being in any way different didn’t matter. And by understanding all that each one of these five girls made a huge step in growing-up.

 

                                                                                          *

 

 Queen Serenity asked Chronos for a private meeting and he invited her to his Palace. He knew what she wanted to talk about. The silver-haired woman didn’t meet the outer soldiers as she always did when came to visit them. She asked to be led straight to the Prince’s cabinet. She shook her head when he offered her to sit down and was looking at him for some time then slowly said: “Do you realize this love is dangerous?” Prince was standing, with his arms crossed on his chest, near the big rectangular table where all his books, maps and papers were placed in perfect order – Setsuna was very accurate.

 He was looking at the Moon Queen without any emotion on his face. “Dangerous for them?” he asked at last. There was a mocking note in his voice. Serenity sighed: this conversation would be even more difficult that she expected. He didn’t want to help her. “For them as well.”

“Any sincere feeling is dangerous. But you told me once I had to teach them not be afraid of themselves. And now, when I’ve succeeded, you are saying this is dangerous. May be you are scared of what could become of it? May be you yourself did not fully realize what you were asking about?”

“It will bring them sufferings and you know it as well I do.” The Queen’s voice was full of sincere concern. Chronos nodded.

“Yes, it will. But how can you appreciate the happiness you have if you have never suffered?”

Serenity was silent. Finally, she looked straight at him: “By accepting this love they have separated themselves from all the other sailor soldiers. Think about that.”

Prince was silent for some time. “The outer soldiers are wise enough to accept each other the way they are. As for the inner soldiers - their acceptance is important but not necessary.”

“And what about the others? This world is big.” Chronos smiled. “If they are not afraid of themselves there is nobody they can be afraid of. They are strong enough to face the world.”

“And what about their Queen?”

Prince of Time was looking straight into the silver eyes. “Since the moment you’ve appeared I never had a single chance to question your wisdom, my Lady.” Serenity smiled faintly: he knew her better than she expected.

 They were silent for a few minutes then Chronos’ eyes twinkled. “Would you stay for tea?” They were good friends and though they often had different views on things and different attitudes to the same events they respected each other. “And for the apple cake.” Now his eyes were full of kind laughter as the woman in front of him suddenly smiled one of the smiles that could be least expected from her: a smile of a happy child. Apart from the Queen’s family only her closest friends, such as Prince Chronos and the outer soldiers, knew her weakness: sweets and cakes. Serenity nodded: she could never refuse her favorite cake.

 Prince opened the door of his cabinet and followed the Queen: she knew the Time Palace as well as her own and there was no necessity to navigate her.

 They were walking in silence for a few minutes – they both had things to think about – when they saw violently blushing Hotaru standing in the corridor. She noticed them and froze for a few seconds then bowed to the Queen remembering her manners and said in a faintly shocked voice: “I was going to tell you that… tea was ready and… wanted to ask Your Majesty to join us when…” Prince smiled. “When I ran into kissing Haruka and Michiru,” he finished in his head but there was no necessity for the Queen to be shocked as well so he was silent. It seemed that they just could not have enough but he was not actually blaming them remembering that he himself was late… very late once for the Moon Counsel because the look in Setsuna’s garnet eyes made him forget about everything. But so far neither him and her nor Hotaru were used to Haruka and Michiru’s relationship going to completely different level and sometimes even he felt his cheeks burn. He coughed a little: “Hotaru, Serenity is staying and it’s better to go to the dining room, don’t you think? Call everyone else.” The girl nodded.

 

 

 The six of them were finally sitting at the table. “I almost forgot, I need a favor of you.” Serenity smiled at Prince of Time paying all her attention to the considerable piece of the apple cake. “I am leaving for another solar system in a few days. There are certain documents to sign and many things to discuss. Haruka would stay as a leader of the outer soldiers, she has good leadership qualities and is highly reliable.” The blonde looked at him with surprise and then gratitude: his praises were rare. ”I just want you to visit them from time to time to make sure they’re doing all right.”

The Queen looked at the crumbs of the cake on her plate and took another piece. “It wouldn’t be a favor at all.”

Michiru looked at Haruka and smiled. “I think you should take Setsuna with you,” she said in her gentle voice. “She misses you so much when you are away though she never shows it because she knows how your duty is important for you. She would be glad to go. I did not understand her before but now… If Haruka would leave me even for a day I…” Michiru turned to the blonde and grabbed her hand with her both hands. Hotaru swallowed her tea with some difficulty. “I just don’t want to think about it.” Haruka faintly blushed and glanced at the Queen but the latter was too busy with her cake and seemed to notice nothing.

 Chronos looked at the Neptunian Princess a bit startled then turned to the unreadable face of his wife and frowned. It was true: sometimes he was away for weeks and even months but never offered Setsuna to come because he just thought she was not interested.

“Hm… Would you go with me?” Setsuna slowly nodded though her face was emotionless. Prince smiled. “We would be back in a few months then: days there are longer than ours, Time flow is slower,” he said at last. “I will block the Time Gate so that you would be safe.” Serenity nodded finishing the piece. She looked at the girls and at the man sitting at the table and only now realized that she has eaten the half of the cake all by herself. The Queen put one of her long silver tails away from her shoulder and sighed: “I’m afraid my daughter is so much like me.”

 

 

Part two: The Rift.

 

 Prince of Time entered the Throne Room of the Moon Palace and halted in a wonder. Queen Serenity asked him to be present today because she needed to discuss 'a very important matter' as she herself put it. And now the room was empty. Prince looked around and saw the silver-haired woman standing near one of the windows. He walked to the Queen and stood beside her. She was watching one of the alleys of the Moon Garden where Princess Serenity was sitting on the grass in the long white dress and carefully and gently putting flowers into the black hair of Prince Endymion whose head was lying on her lap. He was smiling at her and saying something when the flowers fell and he picked them and gave them back to her. She was smiling back at him and nodding. Such a scene was so common that nobody was paying any attention to it for the last century.

 Ami was sitting with her book on one of the benches and was struggling to read it because Minako, who was sitting by her side, with surprising permanence every five minutes was tucking her head in between the book and the blue-haired girl bringing usually calm Ami to the verge. At last, she closed the book and lightly hit her friend on the head. Minako made a sad face finally guessing she had done something wrong.

 Rei was sitting on her knees on the grass with a hairbrush on her lap and her mouth full of pins and fixing Makoto’s hair. The latter was from time to time looking in the mirror she held in one of her hands and turning her head then waving her hands in the air and saying something to explain what exactly she wanted. The Mars Princess was nodding and undoing the brown curlish hair for the hundredth time. Each one of the two knew that this hair-do would never be fixed. It was the process they were after.

 Queen Serenity was watching the girls and Chronos saw tears slowly forming in her eyes. It was sudden and at first he was lost: he never saw her cry. Queen closed her eyes for some time. When she opened them and turned to him her face was as calm as usual.

“I am glad you came.” Serenity was looking at him for some time and suddenly asked: “Have you ever thought what you were created for and lived for? What is all of this for?” Prince was silent for a few seconds. “Yes, like anyone, I guess. But I’ve never found the right answer.” The Queen nodded. “I was thinking about it too and I have found the right one. For me and for you. We are in many ways similar, though it may sound strange.” Chronos was looking at her with some wonder - this was the conversation he did not expect. “And what is the answer?” She smiled at him. “It is very simple like any answer to such a question is. But you have to find it yourself. You will.” Prince smiled at her: why everyone was so fond of riddles?

 

 

“We have done a good job, Chronos. They are growing up and are gradually becoming the ones they are supposed to be. But have you ever realized that they are the new generation, that for them to take our place we would have to be gone? And this time we are living in now is so happy and peaceful because them and us are together. I heard, people call it silver because of your silver staff and the Moon’s Silver Crystal. But it cannot last forever. Nothing lasts forever, even forever. Do you realize that there can never be two Guardians of Time? That she can become one only the moment you would disappear?” Prince was listening with great attention. Yes, this was a very important matter. He himself was thinking about it and what she was saying was not new to him. But when the words he so often heard in his head were spoken out loud he felt as if someone suddenly hit him hard in the chest. It was difficult for him even to breathe. But it seemed Serenity was not waiting for him to say something, she again was looking out of the window.

“I understand what you are talking about,” she heard the Prince’s voice. “Yes, there can never be two Guardians of Time. Like there can never be two Queens of the Moon Kingdom. You should disappear for her take your place.” Queen bent down her head and he saw tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. Prince was standing by her side and looking at her. He knew she didn’t need any consolation, she just needed to say what she had said and he was the only one she could have said it to.

“The eight of them would have the strength of you and me. And the Princess… sometimes it seems to me she is infinite light and pure love. Sometimes seeing that they are not together makes me sad. But they are too different to understand each other in the way necessary to be together. But still they are one.”

 She was silent for some time then suddenly asked: “Tell me, Chronos, what did you feel when you realized that her birth was the beginning of your end?” Prince was looking in front of him as if seeing something only he could see. He smiled. “I realized I loved her.”

 Serenity turned to him. “It will help you because she could never become the Guardian of Time without your help. Your sacrifice should be voluntary. As well as mine. But I love my daughter and my girls and I will be able to do it for them. When the time will come.” Prince of Time was looking at the beautiful woman beside him and thinking about her courage and wisdom and her ability to live knowing what she knew.

 

“You are bringing Princess Hotaru tonight, aren’t you?” Serenity said in her usual calm voice. Prince took the hint. “Yes, I think she would like the Moon Palace. Setsuna, Haruka and Michiru are busy today so only the two of us are coming.”

 The Queen looked amused. “You are really prepared to make sacrifices for them. In a situation like this you would have to stay for the whole ball.” Prince smiled and nodded.

“Are they fighting those creatures again?” He frowned. “Yes. All my negotiations failed. It seems their own galaxy is too small for them and they decided that a considerable part of our solar system is absolutely necessary for them to be satisfied. But they’re so stupid that I allowed the girls to fight by themselves. They need real practice. Of course, they only waste our time and powers but unfortunately we have no choice: they are strong.“ At this moment the Moon sky colored in garnet making the green trees look black. In a few seconds it faded. Prince suddenly paled and froze.

“I have to go back. I’m sorry.” Serenity was looking at him with a worried face. “I’m coming with you.” It took them minutes to transport themselves to the Time Palace.

 

                                                                                      *

 

 When they appeared in one of the rooms they saw Sailors Uranus and Neptune standing by Setsuna’s side. Her body was horizontally floating in the air, though it was not the body but what was left of it. She was covered with bright garnet light, her long hair was one with her body defying the law of gravity. Her garnet eyes were closed, she was showing no signs of breathing or moving. Serenity thought Prince would die right now. His face was not pale, it was grey. The silver highlights in his black hair strangely faded making him look unfamiliar. He was staring at the scene in front of him as if not understanding its meaning. Finally, he asked in a low voice: ”What happened?” Sailor Uranus turned to him.

“We were fighting with those ugly creatures. You know it all lasts for a very long time already. Everything was as usual. But today there was a trap. We underestimated them.” She bent down her head. “The main blow was aimed at her and she took it so that we finally destroyed them. She saved us all. But I’m afraid she has no energy left at all.” Chronos nodded. He was taking in her words without any emotions on his face. After a few minutes he raised his head and smiled a little: “You have forgot to detransform.” Uranus and Neptune stared at him with wide eyes. Serenity was looking worriedly at him as if afraid he would go insane in a second.

 

 Prince was still silent. At last he said in a soft voice: “Serenity, can the Silver Crystal heal her?” Queen was motionless for a long time. “No. It helps to heal but does not heal. There should be some energy left. I’m afraid we would have to accept that there is no choice for her.” Her voice was calm and even but filled with deep sadness.

 Prince looked straight into the Queen’s eyes: “There is always a choice, even in the face of death. She is a sailor soldier and they can share their energy with her. I know, they can.” Queen was still looking with sadness at him. “Yes, they can. But she is dying. And she was a very strong soldier. Enormous amount of energy is necessary. I cannot allow the inner soldiers to be enfeebled so much. It would hardly have any effect but would make us all defenceless for quite a long time. And without their help it would be even more hopeless. I am sorry.” Haruka and Michiru stared at the silver-haired woman with anger, pain and not understanding. How can she be so heartless, so merciless, so pitiless, so… They couldn’t even find the appropriate words for her. Prince of Time was listening with calmness showing no signs of anger. All this time he was looking at the big round oak table standing in the center of the room. When Serenity finished suddenly the silver sparks scattered all over the oak and in seconds it was reduced to ashes. Prince was still calmly looking at the place where the table used to stand.

“I have enough energy to share with her. Sailor soldiers are not necessary.” Queen looked at him with determination and said in a firm voice: “You cannot risk so much. You are the guardian of the solar system and the Time. You have your duty. You don’t belong to yourself. You are too important.”

“How can you say that? How can you be so cruel?” Haruka wasn’t able to content herself any longer. She even forgot to refer to the Queen in the proper manner. She would have slapped her if still at the back of her mind she did not remember that this woman was her Queen. Michiru was in a similar state. Serenity looked at the blonde with calmness. “I am sorry but duty always goes first. There are always sacrifices. And we have to accept this. You have a lot to learn yet.” Grey and blue eyes were looking with open hatred, they were prepared to tear her apart.

 Prince of Time smiled a little: “Yes, you are absolutely right. Duty is more important than anything.” Haruka and Michiru stopped breathing. And he always said he loved her so much. And he thinks this is love? And they trusted him. Chronos took in a deep breath: “Duty. This is what I was putting first before I knew her. And now I would risk myself, you, sailor soldiers, the whole solar system if it would be necessary in order to bring her back. And I doubt you would be able to stop me. If you only try I would destroy you.” His voice was still calm but the girls and the woman felt something intangible filling the air: menace. “I cannot lose her. Not now.” Serenity felt the wave of the energy coming through her. It was so powerful she could hardly stand on her feet.

“I think it is better for you to leave, Your Majesty.” Hotaru’s calm voice suddenly filled the room. They all turned to look at the fragile girl of the middle height standing in the doorway. Nobody noticed when she came in. “We don’t need your help. We have enough energy to revive her. Sailor soldiers have the ability of rebirth.” Serenity wanted to object but when she looked into Hotaru’s eyes she saw ancient worlds in them. This scared her: Queen wasn’t used to the changes in Hotaru’s face. But still she took in a deep breath: “It is honorable that you don’t want to let her die but your duty is to protect this solar system. The energy shocks are very dangerous. The Time Palace may disappear forever. Do you realize the possible consequences of your disappearance? Who would be protecting the inhabitants of the planets and stars? You cannot reject your duty. I forbid you.”

“You cannot give us orders. We are not the inner soldiers. We are different.” Michiru’s voice was icy-cold. Her blue eyes were looking haughtily at the silver-haired woman. Nobody objected. It was for the first time they openly declared their estrangement, for the first time they ever refused to obey their Queen and for the first time suddenly felt they might not need her any more.

 Serenity was silent for a few minutes then nodded: “I will transport all the servants to the Moon Palace. If you succeed they would return. If not you wouldn’t need them any more anyway. There is no necessity to risk somebody else’s lives.” They nodded. “The responsibility is all yours.” They were silent. With these words Queen Serenity left.

 

                                                                                       *

 

 Strangely, they felt no shame or regrets knowing that may be they were risking the whole solar system, the lives of millions of creatures inhabiting it, that may be they were sentencing them to destruction. So what?! Why did it matter if Setsuna would disappear? It was egoism, it was cruelty but it was courage because they dared risking that much. And this paradoxical state of mind that allowed them to be devilishly heartless and at the same time enabled them to make sacrifices for the sake of love and friendship was their real strength.

 By that time Setsuna’s body melted even more, the lines of her face and figure disappeared, she looked like a big garnet cloud that was gradually fading at last becoming the little garnet sphere. It was on its way of flying away to the Pluto’s planet - to come back to where she belonged - but Chronos caught the little garnet sphere: it was warm and still shone. He brought it to the center of the room and let go. It floated in the air. The four of them stood around the sphere and joint their hands. Haruka and Michiru who stood on each other’s opposite felt enormous energy filling them, their hands joint with Hotaru’s and the Prince’s were shining of silver and purple. In a few minutes the room filled with the silver, purple, golden and turquoise lights. Their shine was so overwhelming the Time Palace itself was brightly shining making the inhabitants of almost all the planets and stars look at the sky in wonder.

 

 The garnet sphere slowly began growing finally taking the form of the tall woman with knee-length thick hair and beautiful figure enveloped in the garnet light. She was motionlessly standing on the floor of the room with closed eyes. The lights slowly faded. Four people in the room unclasped their hands and opened their eyes looking in a wonder at the woman standing in the middle of their circle. The garnet light faded leaving her completely nude but her long dark green hair was covering all her body so that only her face, arms and the lower part of her legs were seen. Prince of Time wasn’t able even to breathe. He could not believe they’d succeeded. He knew Serenity was right in everything she had said but the thought of losing Setsuna made him forget about his duty, about the people he had to protect, about his respect to the Queen, about everything but her.

 The woman with dark green hair opened her garnet eyes and looked around herself as if not understanding what she was doing here, then bent down her head and blushed. They all were waiting for her to say something. At last, she looked into the black eyes of her husband and said in so familiar mellow voice: “Darling, why am I undressed? This is not one of our rooms.” They sighed with relief: her memories were in place. The girls smiled. Prince unfastened his long cloak and carefully wrapped her in it. Suddenly her face paled. “Pain. I remember. It was unbearable. I was dying. I wanted so much to save you all. And I even couldn’t say good-bye to you.”

 Prince put his arms around her: “Setsuna, don’t worry. You saved us, you did very well. But we would have never allowed you to die. Sailor soldiers have the ability of rebirth and the girls shared their energy with you. As well as I. It is all right now.” She frowned a bit then smiled. “Thank you.” Hotaru smiled calmly. Haruka and Michiru smiled as well. Strangely, they felt as if someone filled them with energy instead of taking it. And they were so happy to see Setsuna alive again that the fact of Hotaru being slightly paler than usual escaped them. Only Prince was looking worryingly at her: he knew that it was her who prevented them from collapsing after so much of their energy had been used.

 

                                                                                        *

 

 Several days after Setsuna’s revival Prince took Hotaru to the Moon Palace for her first ball. Though he was worried about her being paler and calmer than usual when he asked her about it she assured him she was all right but thought she saw disbelief in his eyes. But still they agreed that they would go because all the preparations had already been made. Haruka and Michiru refused to join them: they still were angry with their Queen and seeing her, the inner soldiers and the Princess was their last wish. Setsuna was still rather weak and spent most of the time sleeping. So, as Prince had promised before, only the two of them came. Serenity appreciated their coming and tried her best to relieve the tension.

 That evening Hotaru was beautiful. Long sleeveless glistening lavender gown outlining her waist was softly wrapping her figure leaving her neck and shoulders open in front and showing all of her back. Lavender shoes were put on her feet. Her face was as white as her long opal earrings making her look mysterious and even more attractive, it seemed her paleness was becoming her. Her long dark hair was put into the complex knot at the back of her head fixed with an opal clip. She did her best to look interested and even took part in senseless conversations but really was feeling weaker and weaker: she gave almost all her energy first to revive Setsuna and then to prevent Michiru and Haruka from collapsing. She hoped she would regain it herself as she always did but this time she could not. She needed help. Finally, Chronos who was getting more and more worried because of her strange behavior decided it was time to go back to the Time Palace. They asked Queen Serenity to excuse them and left.

 

 When they came back Hotaru thanked him for coming with her and already wanted to go to her rooms when suddenly ground disappeared from under her feet and her vision blurred. The last thing she remembered was the Prince’s frightened face and his hands that prevented her from falling. When he caught her he was surprised by how weightless her body was. He suspected she was enfeebled but never really believed it because she was always the strongest. He never saw her so helpless and weak and now was really scared. He was thinking about calling the girls but it was the middle of the night and then he decided that may be Hotaru would need to talk and their presence would be bounding to her. He carried her to her bedroom, put her on her bed, took off her shoes and sat there for several hours until she didn’t open her eyes.

 Thin lips smiled faintly. “I am sorry. I didn’t want to scare you.” Prince’s face was serious. “You should have told me before. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Hotaru was lying and looking oddly at him. “Yes. But I don’t need your energy. I need you to relieve my burden. If you would agree you would help me.” Prince’s brows frowned. “What do you mean?” Hotaru smiled faintly again and closed her eyes. In a few minutes he heard her voice again but it was not as usually calm and even but it seemed was coming from the unknown depths: “If you would agree to take the part of my memories you would relieve me.” Chronos was frightened but remained sitting on the bed by Hotaru’s side. He knew whose voice it was, it was Sailor Saturn – the soldier of destruction. It was not Hotaru any more. He nodded.

 Hotaru opened her eyes and stood up. She took the Prince’s both hands in hers and stood him on her opposite. Purple eyes were looking straight into the black ones. “Wouldn’t you regret it?” Chronos was still looking into her eyes. Suddenly something powerful shook him, Hotaru’s hands became hot and he felt as if lightning came through him. He was looking straight into purple eyes and suddenly saw another Time and another Space. “It is the future.” he heard the voice in his head. He didn’t know for how long they were standing like that but during those hours he knew everything about the inner soldiers and their Princess living as common girls on Earth, about Prince Endymion becoming Tuxedo Mask, about little girl with huge garnet eyes being sent from the future, about Haruka and Michiru loving again, about Setsuna living in loneliness like he did, about Sailor Saturn fighting with Pharaoh Ninety, about Chaos being stopped by the faith and the power of love that was hidden in the fragile body of the sixteen year old girl. All the visions he had had were put in one big picture. He felt as the part of Hotaru’s knowledge was coming into him, making him heavy, pressing, trying to break him. But he knew he had to be strong in order to help her.

 

 When he opened his eyes it was dawn already. Hotaru was standing on his opposite and smiling. Chronos was looking at her for a long time then slowly said: “You remembered the future.” She nodded. “It was a heavy weight but now, when you have it instead of me, I am stronger. There are things I shouldn’t know, don’t need to know. Knowledge can destroy.” Prince frowned. “But you still know almost as much as me.” Hotaru was looking at her feet. After a long time she raised her head: “I can never know what it is to love the way you and Setsuna and Haruka and Michiru love.”

 

                                                                                      *

 

 For the Prince’s surprise there were no distractions in the flows of Time and Space and the Chronos Palace was firmly floating in Space. But something was worrying him. He knew that such outbursts of energy should always have effect and now failing to find any damages on the planets or holes in Time he was unpleasantly amazed.

 Queen Serenity didn’t feel any resentment to the Prince and the outer soldiers. She understood rather quickly they would have their way and she had to admit to herself that she had almost no influence over them. She realized she didn’t know them to have any. For several months they didn’t see each other at all. The outer soldiers felt a little awkward beside their Queen remembering that only her timely disappearance prevented them from killing her. The inner soldiers and the Princess became strange and distant to them. They did not realize that this happened because now they knew the power the four of them had and that they didn’t need anybody’s help. They risked so much and succeeded: this made them bold and ensured them of their rightness. They grew up and became stronger.