At the beginning of the universe...
...there is a girl. Although powerful, although eternal, she is still a girl, and even Time was once young. And the young do foolish things, because despite all evidence to the contrary, they assume that they cannot possibly be wrong.
So. There are two, standing at the gates of time. Even in the endless, timeless moment that exists there, it is obvious that one is old, very old, and the other is equally young. The old one stands with the infinite patience of one who has seen everything, and is in no hurry to see it again; the young one shifts impatiently from foot to foot, toying with strands of dark green hair. Her face is defiant.
"But this is your task, Pluto," says the old one.
"I don't want it," she replies snappishly. "So lonely, so boring ... Father, I don't want that! I want to see the universe..."
"You can travel the time streams, child," the old one says. "You see more than any, and you do not age. But the responsibility of being the Time Guardian is now yours. I have been here for far too long."
"I don't want to just see the humans, Father," she cries. "I want to be them. I want to really live, as they do, moment by moment, without this terrible sameness to time. I want to be... normal..."
"That is not possible, my child," the old one says gently.
"It can be, if I will it! You're just trying to get away from your job, so you stick me with it! I'm sorry, Father, but the answer is no. I've my own life to live!" In a fit of rebellion, she snatches up the Garnet Orb, whirls, and leaps through the gates of the Time Portal. Her slim, dark body disappears into the black, starry void beyond with hardly a ripple.
The Time God shakes his head sadly, and sits back to wait. She will come back eventually. In the meantime, he will be patient. Chronos, father of Pluto, is very good at being patient.
Pluto skims along the surface of the Time River like a well-thrown skipping stone, her fingers tasting each timeflow briefly before moving on. Flickering and sliding along glowing ribbons, she inspects the timestreams with practiced skill. Finally, she alights on a gleaming white current, and sinks inside. She feels the transition from the endless "now" to the unforgiving "later" and shudders... shuddered... at the lessening of her immortality... but she recovered, and passed on through the surface.
With a thought, she summoned the retinues that were her right as the Princess Pluto, powerful senshi of time. She strode boldly up to the Earth Palace and announced herself.
Queen Terra of Earth was astonished, but pleased. "Princess Pluto! Of course you are welcome. Pray tell, what is the occasion for this visit?"
Pluto smiled wryly. "You see, I had some free time..."
Terra laughed at this almost-pun, her green eyes sparkling. "It's been ages since you've graced us with your presence. Welcome! Oh, and have you met my son?"
"Not since he was wetting his diapers," Pluto said wryly. "What year is it now?"
Terra smiled serenely. "I keep forgetting that time moves differently for you," she said. "You must meet Endymion."
At these words, a tall youth unfolded himself from a chair beside the Queen. Pluto stared. He had the Queen's thick black hair, but his eyes were as blue as the deep oceans of Earth. His body was slender, yet strong, and his face was almost impossible in its perfection.
He bowed and kissed her hand lightly. "It is truly a pleasure to meet you, Princess Pluto." His deep, male voice sent a quiver up her spine.
With a shock, Pluto realized that in merging with the time stream, she had also lost her immortal detachment from life. She eyed the youth with pleasure, and more than a little interest.
"You've grown," she smiled at him. "You've changed greatly since last I saw you."
He gave her an engaging sideways grin. "I'll stake even odds that you haven't changed a hair in so many years," he replied. "And yet you look my age."
"Why don't you two get acquainted?" Terra asked. "I've got petitioners and ministers scheduled to come in today, and I'll be a little busy. Endymion, do keep our guest occupied. Pluto, you can join us for dinner tonight?"
"Very well then; I'll see you there." With an apologetic smile, Terra turned to a man who was approaching the throne.
"Mother's very busy," Endymion said, seating Pluto near the side of the hall. "If it's all right with you, I've sent your retainers to put things right in your suite."
"That's very thoughtful," Pluto smiled. "You're a real credit to your mother, Endymion."
He ducked his head, with a shy, lopsided grin. "I wish you wouldn't say things like that," he said. "You make me feel so very young..." He smiled wistfully at her. "You must have seen many things, living so long."
"It's not as good as all that," Pluto said quietly. "I miss out on a lot, too. Sometimes I just want to be a normal person, live a normal life..." She looked down. "I envy you, Endymion. My life is very lonely sometimes."
He reached across the table and took her hand. "Why then, my lady," he smiled, "I must try to make it more bearable for you!" He swung her up into his strong arms. "Do you dance?"
She realized that the musicians were playing a waltz. "Of course," she replied, gazing into his deep blue eyes.
They moved out onto the dance floor, clasped loosely in one another's arms. Endymion moved with confident, smooth grace, expertly supporting Pluto through the steps of the dance. The musicians segued into a faster dance, and the pair adjusted their pace. Soon they were spinning and twirling, picking up their feet briskly. The speed increased until, laughing, most of the other couples dropped out of the dance. Only Endymion and Pluto were left, giggling as they tried to manage the fancy footwork that the dance required. Finally, the musicians brought the dance to its conclusion. The watchers clapped appreciatively as Pluto collapsed breathlessly into Endymion's arms. The prince held her as he caught his breath, stroking her dark green hair.
They retreated to a curtained alcove. Pluto sank into a chair, garnet eyes snapping with glee. "Endymion, that was wonderful! I've never done anything like that before."
He settled himself opposite her, grinning happily. "I don't get to do that very often myself, either."
"Why not?" she wondered.
"A prince doesn't have time to," he answered, sobering. "If I'm not taking lessons, I'm practicing diplomacy and governing. Mother never lets up on me. My generals don't let me do anything, and they all say that I have to be patient." His voice was bitter. "I know my responsibilities. But Pluto, I know it's never going to end. After all this is over, I'll be King someday, and then I'll never be free..."
Impulsively, she took his hand. "I understand how you feel."
"How can you?" he asked.
"Father says that I must keep the Time Stream guarded. Forever. I don't see why. He trains me so relentlessly that I sometimes just want to toss the Garnet Orb away!" She shook her head. "I never asked for this, Endymion; all I want is to be my own person..."
"Exactly," Endymion said eagerly, sitting forward. "Exactly! They keep telling you, this is what you have to do, this is what you were born to do, and all you want is to be left alone... to do what you want, not what everyone tells you to..." His eyes sparkled with rebellion.
"To be free..." Pluto agreed sympathetically. "But of course, you don't truly want that, do you? I mean, I don't want the job my father has - but I love surfing the time streams. I would die if anyone took that away from me..."
He smiled slowly. "I never thought that someone else would feel the same," he said. "It's true I fight the kingship, but I can't imagine doing anything else in the world. And I do enjoy it. It's just that I don't like being forced to it. So sometimes I rebel against everything."
"Really?" Pluto leaned back. "Tell me, Endymion. What is the most rebellious thing you've ever done?"
Endymion relaxed into the cushions. "Promise you won't tell?"
"Swear on the Garnet Orb," Pluto answered, letting it glimmer briefly in her hand.
"Fine, then." A misty smile curved his lips. "When I was only fifteen, there was an uprising in the American continent. My generals and all the troops were called in, and I disguised myself as a soldier and sneaked into the ranks. No one noticed."
"Oh..." Pluto was wide-eyed.
"I fought pretty well, too," Endymion continued. "My battalion was in the thick of it, and I did my share of fighting. Pluto, it was amazing. And frightening. There's nothing quite like fighting for your life, with your own sword, where people aren't holding back. This was real." He smiled wryly. "I wasn't half as good as I thought I was, either... but I fought well enough. I loved every minute of it, too."
"When did your generals find out?" Pluto asked. "Your mother must have been furious..."
Endymion shrugged gaily. "She thought I was with them, and they thought I was with her. No one ever found out. It was so much fun! After the battle, I went out with the troops, and ..." he trailed off, blushing.
Pluto nodded, grinning. She'd seen battles before, too. "You went drinking. And wenching?"
Endymion nodded, red to the tips of his ears.
"And you but fifteen," Pluto teased. "Your first time, hmmm?"
"And my last," Endymion said, sounding rather bitter. "It was the only time I've been able to get away long enough. And I had gone drinking, too, so my memory's kind of hazed..."
"Poor Endymion," Pluto laughed. "It must have been wonderful."
"It was," he agreed. "What I wouldn't give to have it again... just some time alone, just for me..." His eyes were far away. "Some time where no one's telling me to do anything... and where I don't have to be anybody but myself..."
Pluto sat forward. "I can help you get some time away," she said earnestly.
He blinked at her. "What?"
She held out her hand, Garnet Orb appearing suddenly. She drew a deep breath, calling to the powers of time. "Pluto Power..." The energies that were her birthright crackled around her as she held the Orb high; her voice rose commandingly. "Time, stop!"
There was a sudden, unnatural stillness around the two of them. Endymion stared at her, while she grounded the energies, breathing deeply from the effort. She could feel the currents of time storming around her, and she calmed them, gentled them.
"This is your time," she told Endymion. "You won't age, and no time will pass. And when you're done, I'll start time again, and no one will have noticed."
He blinked at her. "I could kiss you."
She grinned, filled with camaraderie, and pecked him on the cheek. "I wouldn't mind."
For a moment longer, they gazed at each other. Then Endymion shouted with laughter, pulled her close to him, and impetuously kissed her on the mouth. He'd meant it to be brotherly, casually friendly, but felt a sudden surge of passion, as did she. Their arms wound tightly around each other, and mouths opened as tongues plunged deep, eagerly exploring...
Endymion broke the kiss abruptly and pulled away, cheeks flaming scarlet. "This goes too far," he stammered. "I never meant..."
Pluto smiled tremulously. "I really didn't mind," she told him. "I didn't mind at all..."
"It's just that - I usually don't ..." Endymion looked very uncomfortable. "I mean - I don't want you to think..."
"Is there a problem?" Pluto interrupted. "Honestly, Endymion, I really enjoy being with you. And I truly wouldn't mind if you kissed me again. Does that clarify things?" She wished that she felt as confident as she sounded. She wouldn't be able to bear it if he turned her down.
His blue eyes wide with wonder, he took her in his arms again, and kissed her long and deeply. Then he pulled back. At Pluto's quiet murmur of protest, he explained, "Much as I like this, my lady, this is definitely not the place for this kind of thing..."
Pluto giggled and had to agree. "Where would you suggest, then? I'm in no hurry to stop..."
Filled with a glorious, giddy sense of young rebellion, they walked unseen and unnoticed from the Great Hall, through the frozen forms of the people of Earth's court. Hand in hand, they walked to his suite in mingled mischief and excitement, and no small amount of lust.
There, they made love rather clumsily, for though it was not the first time for either of them, neither were by any means skilled. So there was cause for shared, sweet laughter, and the tenderness afterwards was greater because of it.
And when they tried it again, it was much better.
"Marriage?" Queen Terra asked, as if she were not sure of what she had heard.
"That's right," Endymion said stoutly. "I'm very much in love with her, Mother."
"I don't see anything wrong with the match, and Pluto is indeed a very powerful senshi," Terra nodded. "If you truly are in love, you have my blessing." She turned to Pluto. "Are you also fully behind this, my dear?"
"Of course I am," Pluto said, and her voice was confident and strong.
"I have no doubt of your love for one another," Terra assured them. "But, Pluto - you are sure that you want this? Remember, you are immortal. It is likely that you will outlive Endymion, that you will remain young as he ages; you may come to regret this decision."
"I know what I'm doing," the young woman replied.
So they were married, and happily. Though (like all marriages) there were sometimes disagreements, overall they were quite content, and events boded well for the two future rulers of Earth.
Until the young Princess Serenity made a visit to the Earth Court, and Endymion saw her for the first time.
"The Princess Serenity of the Moon, and the Inner Planet senshi-princesses!" the herald cried, striking his staff upon the floor.
Inside stepped five young women, each incredibly beautiful. But it was the one in the center that caught everyone's eye.
"Princess Serenity of the Moon, here to represent her mother the Queen Serenity," the herald intoned. The woman in the center stepped forward.
She was an ethereal vision of grace and beauty dressed in long, flowing white. Her white-blond hair trailed out behind her, and her blue eyes were cast demurely down; the crescent sign of the Moon glimmered golden and shining at the center of her forehead. She walked gracefully up to the triple thrones, made a more-than-perfect curtsy, and murmured, "It is an honor to meet the Queen and the Heir to the Earth, and the princess of Time." Her voice was, of course, beautiful as well.
Then she looked up. Her eyes greeted Pluto, and they exchanged warm smiles. She nodded slightly in respect as her gaze met Queen Terra's. And then she saw Endymion.
Their gazes locked, blue to blue, and for a moment, neither of them moved. They simply froze - stopped blinking, stopped breathing, merely stared steadily at one another.
It was Serenity who recovered first. She dropped her gaze demurely to the floor. "It is a great pleasure to meet you, my cousin," she said softly. Her words were a perfectly normal greeting between rulers - but Pluto could sense a rippling undercurrent underneath the girl's words that said that she was more than merely pleased to have met Endymion.
He rose from his throne, bowed, and kissed the back of her hand. "The honor is mine, my lady." Again, perfectly normal words - but he held her hand for a lingering moment too long, and his tone conveyed that he, also, was quite happy to see her.
Terra frowned slightly, exchanging a worried glance with Pluto.
Serenity backed away, and the senshi-princesses came up and introduced themselves one by one: gentle, soft-spoken Mercury; fierce Mars with her imperial bearing; strong-willed, kind-hearted Jupiter; and elegant, laughing Venus. Although Endymion greeted them each with equal courtesy, nothing came close to his reaction to Serenity.
After the princesses had introduced themselves and had begun to mingle with the Earth court, Pluto drew Endymion aside.
"What was that?" she asked bluntly. Her usual tact had been overcome by a sudden, irrational attack of jealousy.
"What?" Endymion asked reasonably.
"The way you acted with Princess Serenity," Pluto said. "I don't wish to sound jealous, but it looked almost as if you were flirting with her."
Endymion sighed. "I don't know," he said. "When I saw her, I - Pluto, it was as if something just squeezed my soul tight. It was as if I had always known her, and that she had always been a part of me... I don't understand..."
Pluto felt a sudden, painful jerk to her heart. It must have shown in her face, for her husband took her hand quickly. "I love you, Pluto," he assured her earnestly. "I love you with all my heart. I'm not sure what happened back there, but I promise you, you're the only one for me. We'll work this out."
Pluto held those words close to her heart over the next few days. Despite what he said, Endymion seemed drawn to Serenity like a moth to a flame. He hovered ever-near her, a dark shadow to her white glow, and she seemed equally drawn to him.
Pluto took to watching them morosely, sitting in a corner of the Great Hall, while they danced and talked. She didn't want to interfere; the Moon was a powerful political force and it was a good thing that the Earth was developing strong relations with the young princess Serenity - but Pluto was definitely not happy about the situation.
One day, as she sat and brooded, Terra came up to her. "This isn't healthy, Pluto," she said. Her warm voice was concerned.
"I know it isn't. But look at them!" Pluto sighed and dropped her head into her hands. "They look like teenagers in love. Your Majesty, it isn't fair. I know he has to dance attendance on her, just because she's the Moon Princess. But I don't have to like it!"
Terra put a consoling hand on her shoulder. "I'm glad you understand, Pluto."
A soft voice spoke behind them. "If I may intrude?"
Terra looked around. "Of course, Princess Mars! Have a seat."
"No, but thank you," replied the fiery-eyed senshi. "If I may, your Highnesses... Princess Serenity has ever been a child, always accustomed to receiving all that she asks for. She has not yet learned that sometimes there are things which she cannot have for her own. Please excuse her actions." Mars curtsied, a lithe and graceful movement. "The treaties have been renewed, the alliance between our planets strengthened. We can depart tomorrow, if you don't mind."
"It was a pleasure having all of you here, Mars," Terra said tactfully. "Please tell the princess that she may feel free to visit us at any time."
Pluto remained wisely silent about her wishes on that matter.
The following night, Pluto faced Endymion in their chambers. "Remember what you told me? That I was the only one for you? That we'd work this out? I think that now is a good time to talk, Endymion."
Endymion rubbed at his forehead. "I don't know what to say, Pluto... I love you, I really do... Serenity... she's just different, that's all."
"That's all?" repeated Pluto. "Different how?" Her eyes narrowed. "Endymion, do you love her?"
"No! That is... I don't know!" He covered his face with his hands, and sank onto the bed.
"You love her!" Pluto accused. "How could you? You married me! You told me that you loved me!"
"I do!" he shot back, his voice thick with suppressed emotion. "I donâ€™t lie, Pluto!"
"Then what about Serenity?" she demanded. "What is this you feel for her? You married me, Endymion. You promised to stay with me, until death do us part â€“ remember?"
"I keep my word," he whispered. "Iâ€™ll always keep my word. I do love you, Pluto."
Pluto sighed. Endymion never lied. She sat down beside him on the bed. "What about Serenity?" she asked quietly.
"I donâ€™t know," he replied, frustrated. "I've never met anyone like her before! Pluto, I'm trying to be honest with you. I love you, all right? I love you with all my heart, and with all that I know how, but you have to let me get this straight between us. Pluto, you matter to me."
Pluto looked into his deep blue eyes, and read truthfulness.
"I don't even know who she is, really," Endymion went on. "All I know is that she likes to dance, and that she wants to be like her mother. But she's not like you, Pluto. I'd trust you to take care of the kingdom for me, to be a partner and work alongside me. Compared to you, Princess Serenity is just a child. I don't think she could even run a household, much less a kingdom. Pluto, she simply doesn't compare to you."
"But..." Pluto whispered. "You said... that you felt that she'd always been a part of you..."
"I think it might be because the Earth and the Moon are so tightly bound, more so than any of the other planets," Endymion said. "In some measure, our powers are linked. But it's no more than that. Pluto, please, don't let it hurt you." He took her hand. "You are my wife, and it's going to stay that way."
"If you say so," Pluto answered. "But Endymion... promise me that you'll stay away from her, from now on."
"The treaties are renewed," Endymion answered obliquely. "I have no reason to have any further contact with the Moon."
But as he gathered her into his arms and sought her mouth, he would not meet her gaze. Needing his closeness after long lonely nights, Pluto decided to continue the conversation later. But as Endymion returned to his normal attentive self, she let the sensitive topic alone.
Days became weeks, and months became years. Endymion and Pluto grew closer and closer, ruling like two halves of a well-made machine. The Earth prospered, and the people spoke proudly of their fair-minded Prince and his beautiful wife. But never in those years did Endymion and Pluto speak to one another of the Moon Princess Serenity.
The peace, like all good things, did not last. One morning, a distant cousin of Endymion's came to call. She arrived with much fanfare, and all but demanded to be honored by a royal banquet and much attention.
"Who does she think she is?" Pluto muttered to Endymion. "She comes waltzing in, acting like the queen of the world..."
"Beryl's the family embarrassment," Endymion grinned. "The little bratling was bound and determined to marry me when she was eight, and she started getting really insistent about it when we turned thirteen. Mother finally bribed her to leave by giving her dominion over a sizeable chunk of Earth."
"What?!" Pluto stared at him. "That doesn't sound like Queen Terra. Those poor people! Wouldn't they have been unhappy, that Beryl was set to rule over them?"
Endymion cocked an eyebrow at her. "The polar bears didn't seem to care."
Pluto blinked, and then grinned in comprehension. "Queen Terra gave her the North Pole," she surmised.
"The Arctic Circle, actually," Endymion nodded. "It was supposed to be a stopgap measure - just to get Beryl off our backs for a couple of months - but she's been surprisingly quiet. She's been up there for years - haven't heard a peep out of her."
"I wonder what she's been doing?" Pluto mused.
Whatever she had been doing, Beryl was now having the time of her life. Clad in skintight black silk and draped in sparkling gems, the redheaded girl with the hard purple eyes drew everyone's gaze. Smiling smugly at all the attention being lavished on her, she sauntered up to where Endymion and Pluto stood.
"It's wonderful to see you again, cousin," Endymion said, bowing over her hand. "What brings you here?"
"Oh, I felt an urge to see the Palace again, and the Court was calling me," Beryl smiled. "And I wanted to meet your lovely wife. What do you think of her, Endymion?" She turned to Pluto, but continued to speak as if the other woman was not part of the conversation. "She's so pretty, Endymion - and so tall! Isn't she a little dark-skinned, though? Was she in an accident, or was she born with the flaw? Frankly, Endy dearest, I'm surprised that you'd marry a total stranger - it's not as if you'd grown up with her or anything. She doesn't know anything about the Earth - I expect you've had to teach her a lot."
Pluto was taken aback by Beryl's rudeness, but Endymion saved her. "Beryl, please meet my wife Pluto, the senshi-princess of time... and the only woman my heart desires."
"Oh, really?" Beryl's full lips curved in a smile that did not reach her eyes. "It's lovely to meet you, Princess Pluto. We've simply got to talk sometime." With that, she turned on her heel and left abruptly.
Pluto raised an eyebrow at her husband. "I see what you mean," she murmured. "I'd throw her all the way to Pluto if I could."
Endymion grinned ruefully. "You're not alone - but she's family, so we have to suffer through her little whims."
As the guest of honor, Beryl claimed Endymion for the first dance after dinner. She snuggled uncomfortably close to him as they danced. Endymion tried several fruitless attempts to disengage her, but she managed to evade or neutralize them all. Finally he gave up, gazing helplessly at Pluto over Beryl's shoulder. Pluto rolled her eyes and smiled tolerantly, and Endymion had to grin.
Beryl gazed at him from under long lashes, searching his face. "Haven't you missed me?" she asked coyly.
"Your absence was indeed felt," Endymion dodged. "How did you find the Arctic Circle?"
"I found more there than you could ever dream," Beryl purred. Startled, Endymion tried to meet her gaze, but Beryl pirouetted in his arms before clasping him close once more.
"Why didn't you want me?" she asked innocently. "I would have made a good Queen."
"I'm not in love with you, cousin," he answered bluntly. "And there's no benefit to the Earth if I marry inside Earth's nobility. This marriage, besides being one of hearts and minds, is also one of political value. We now have an unbreakable alliance."
"With planet Pluto?" she spat. "Nobody lives there, Endymion. Planet Pluto is as nothing in the socio-political solar system, and you have made an entirely useless marriage."
"I would have," Endymion acknowledged, "except that Sailorpluto is a powerful senshi. Don't cross me, Beryl. And I wouldn't advise crossing my wife, either." He deliberately emphasized the word wife and had the satisfaction of seeing Beryl's eyes narrow to slits.
The dance drew to a close, and Beryl gave him a chilly curtsy before abruptly offering her arm to Jaedite. The blond general threw Endymion a glance of pure desperation, but Endymion shook his head minutely. Be nice, he mouthed, and returned to Pluto's side.
"The dance looked fun," she murmured.
"Gods." Endymion repressed a shudder. "I don't know where she got her personality. My family's usually pretty nice. She's an exception," he assured Pluto.
"One would hope," she smiled. "Endymion, my love, there's not a single mean bone in your body - or in Queen Terra's. There's not a scrap of physical resemblance between Beryl and the rest of your family, now that I think of it."
Endymion smothered a chuckle, blue eyes sparkling with laughter. "That's all I need," he murmured. "For my status-conscious cousin to be illegitimate. Let's not go there, shall we?"
Pluto smiled. "Ever the gentleman. Look - here comes Jaedite, and he's walking a bit quickly."
Jaedite walked up to them, a fixed smile on his face and his blue eyes a little wild. "My lord - my lady - you must help me."
"What's the problem?" Endymion asked.
"Beryl's propositioning me," he whispered in panicked tones. "What do I do? I don't want to make her angry, but I definitely don't want to sleep with her!"
"Are you sure that youâ€™re not mistaking her intentions?" Endymion asked.
Jaedite gritted his teeth. "Endymion, the woman is as obvious as a sledgehammer."
Pluto choked back laughter. "Poor Jaedite," she teased. "You never had to say no to a woman before, have you?"
"I've never wanted to before," he pointed out. "But this lady's poison, Pluto. She scares me deeply, and if this is her way of being nice, I never want to see her angry at me. Help me out a little, huh? Please?"
"Tell her that we require your presence at a conference this evening," Pluto suggested. "Tell her that you can't weasel out of it, that it's important, confidential, and will probably last all night."
Jaedite grinned pure gratitude. "I'll do that."
Beryl pouted as Jaedite gave his excuse. "You can't get away, even for just a little bit?" she pleaded.
"I'm sorry, pretty one," Jaedite smiled, "but duty calls..."
"Will you sit and talk with me then, until you're needed?" she asked, gazing appealingly up at him.
"Of course I can," Jaedite agreed, forcing himself not to run screaming. "It's the least I can do." As Beryl drew him towards one of the semi-private booths that lined the hall, the grown man fought down an insane urge to whimper.
They sat, and Beryl drew the curtain closed. Jaedite sighed. Why me? he asked silently, and waited for the woman to kiss him or do something equally unappetizing.
Instead, Beryl held her hands about a foot apart, palms facing each other. "There's something I want you to see," she murmured. "Look here, General Jaedite - look what I found in the Arctic Circle..."
Jaedite stared narrowly at the space between her hands. There seemed to be light-colored smoke swirling between her palms. It collected into a ball, solidifying; a shape seemed to form within it.
"Do you see it?" Beryl asked softly. Jaedite leaned closer, concentrating. The image inside seemed to be calling towards him; abandoning all caution, and let the vision draw him in. The experience was oddly hypnotic; Jaedite felt himself falling into a trance as he tried harder and harder to make out the compelling picture inside the smoke... his mind became a little drowsy, and voices seemed to murmur nonsense in his ears. He tried to look away, and found that he could not.
Beryl smiled triumphantly. "You're mine now," she whispered. "Give me your loyalty, General Jaedite of the Far East. Swear that you will follow none before me. Swear that you are mine."
Some tiny part of Jaedite realized what was happening, and started shrieking for his attention - but it was too little, too late. His body was no longer his to control. He found himself drawing breath to speak, found his lips shaping words he denied with all his being.
"I so pledge," he whispered. "I am yours."
"Put your hand in the smoke," she directed.
The tiny part of Jaedite that was free screamed impotently at the body which was no longer his own. His eyes tracked the unwilling movement of his hand. The tips of his long fingers sank into cool, swirling smoke.
And what remained of Jaedite's will was locked away.
Jaedite looked up at Beryl's face, meeting her gloating purple eyes. "What is your wish, my Queen?"
"Bring me Nephrite," she decided. "My power is strong tonight, and I want all four of you loyal to me before Terra or Endymion notices anything different."
Jaedite nodded curtly and left. Beryl looked into the ball of smoke in her hands. "Soon, Endymion, my dearest..." she whispered. "Very soon..."
Pluto was rudely awakened by a pounding on the door. Endymion was already awake; heâ€™d lain awake all night complaining of a headache. He let in a frantic servant, whose hair and dress were in disarray.
"Oh, please, Highnesses," she babbled, "you must come to Queen Terraâ€™s room. Somethingâ€™s terribly wrong. The Queenâ€™s very sick."
"But she was just fine last night," Pluto protested, pulling on a robe. "When did this happen?"
"I donâ€™t know," the maid whimpered, wringing her hands. "I just went in to see if she wanted anything, and she was like that â€“ oh, please hurry!"
Pluto threw on a robe, and the maid hurried them to Terraâ€™s suite, babbling frantically. Pluto tuned her out, shoving Terraâ€™s door open. Then she stood stock-still.
Terra was propped up on her pillows, face white as death. Her lips were pinched with pain, and the green of her eyes was faded. Her coal-black hair only accentuated her pallor, and Pluto noticed with shock that the roots of her hair had turned white. Terra tried to summon a smile at the sight of them, but could only make the corners of her lips twitch.
"Mother..." Endymion breathed, moving to the bedside. He picked up Terraâ€™s limp hand, holding it as if it would break. "Oh, Mother, what happened?"
Terra closed her eyes. "The Earth â€“ itâ€™s sick," she said hoarsely. "Canâ€™t you feel it?"
"I thought it was just a headache," Endymion said, horror dawning in his eyes. "Sweet gods, Mother, what is happening to our Earth?"
"Evil spell," Terra breathed. "Endymion â€“ go to the Moon. Queen Serenity â€“ has the crystal... you must plead for her help..."
"Iâ€™ll go tonight," Endymion promised.
"Pluto -" Terra whispered, groping feebly with her other hand.
Pluto took it. "Iâ€™m here, Terra," she said gently.
"Take the petitioners," Terra rasped. "Rule Earth in Endymionâ€™s absence â€“ Iâ€™m in no shape to carry out my duties." She managed a wan smile. "Go, children. Go with my love." Her eyelids drooped, and her breathing slowed to an even rhythm.
"Let her sleep," Endymion whispered. "What could possibly be wrong with our Earth, to be hurting her this way? Letâ€™s pray that this crystal of Queen Serenityâ€™s has the power to heal it..."
Pluto kissed him comfortingly. "Weâ€™ll do all we can to help. Come, letâ€™s be gone. The sooner we get our tasks done, the sooner Terra will be well."
Early morning on the Earth was late evening at Queen Serenityâ€™s palace, but Endymion was admitted without challenge. Once inside the holy grounds of the Moon Palace, his throbbing headache abruptly subsided. He sighed with surprised relief, rubbing his temples. Quickly, he made his way to the Throne Room. He made himself ignore the young Princess Serenity, focusing instead on her mother. "Queen Serenity," he smiled, bowing. "It is an honor to be able to see you. You look lovely, as always."
"Prince Endymion," Queen Serenity smiled in welcome. "You also seem well. What can we do for you?"
"I came to ask for your help, your Majesty," Endymion said without preamble. "My mother is gravely ill. Something is sickening the Earth, and it is killing her."
Serenityâ€™s winged brows drew together in quick concern. "What does our dear sister wish of us?"
"My mother mentioned a crystal," Endymion shrugged. "Does this have something to do with your magic, Queen Serenity?"
Queen Serenity nodded with obvious reluctance. "The Silver Crystal is the focus of my power, the force of good incarnate in the jewel of the Moon Family. If your mother felt that its use was necessary, your problems must be grave indeed." She became pensive. "It may not be enough that I go. All the senshi will go with me â€“ and my daughter as well. We will leave in the morning."
"Not now?" Endymion asked hopefully.
"No," the Queen said regretfully. "We cannot. I must spend a night gathering my power, and investigate this disturbance. But I promise you, Endymion, that we will leave directly as the sun rises on our fair horizon. May I offer you a room for the night? We are having a small dance tonight, and you can stay until morning."
"Thank you," Endymion replied, sinking to one knee. "I appreciate your help, Queen Serenity. Thank you very much, and I hope that you will be able to heal our Earth."
"That is my hope as well," she smiled. "Serenity, dear, why donâ€™t you show Endymion to his rooms?"
Princess Serenity stepped forward, smiling. Unwillingly, Endymion met her gaze.
And the love he thought heâ€™d buried â€“ the forbidden love, that of a married man to a woman not his wife â€“ rose up and caught him by the heart.
The peasant had obviously taken care to clean himself up before he came to the Throne Room. His clothes were freshly pressed, and his hair was slicked back neatly. However, his eyes told a different story.
His eyes were tired; they spoke of so many battles fought and lost that heâ€™d given up hope of ever winning. Underneath the crisp, precise clothing, his shoulders were slumped with defeat, and he held himself upright with an act of will. His posture managed to convey despair and an infinite weariness.
"Sit down," Pluto urged with quick sympathy. "You donâ€™t have to stand to speak."
He shook his head, and planted his feet firmly on the carpet. "Thank you, Highness, but Iâ€™d as soon finish quickly."
"Go on, then," Pluto sat back.
"My name is Claude," he began quietly. "I am a farmer in the northern provinces of the American continent. I have owned my own farm for three years, and have been married for the last two. Three months ago, we had a baby girl, and we called her Lucy.
"I woke yesterday morning at daybreak, as usual. My wife Jeannie had gotten up before me, to draw water; sheâ€™d taken Lucy out with her. She hadnâ€™t come back, so I went out to look for her. At our well, a black pillar had sprung up... huge... ugly..." Claude stopped to scrub at his face.
"I am not a superstitious man, Highness," he told her earnestly. "I donâ€™t hold with them as believe in devils, nor ghosts... but this thing! The minute I set eyes on it, I felt a chill down my back. This was evil, I knew without knowing anything else about it. And then, when I went closer... my wife ... was sitting in the shadow of the pillar..." He shuddered.
"Go on," Pluto urged softly.
"My Jeannie â€“ Jeannie was choking the life out of our little girl." His eyes showed dull horror. "Jeannie was a sweet woman, Highness, she loved our baby like the world itself! I started forward to stop her, and she looked up at me. Her eyes were mad, Highness, as if sheâ€™d been possessed, and she screamed at me like a demon. Then she broke Lucyâ€™s neck, threw her down on the ground, and came at me with her fingers curled like claws, screaming all the time. Iâ€™m not a brave man, Highness. I ran."
He closed his eyes. "I ran to the neighboring farm, Jeannie behind me shrieking sounds that were not words, in a mad voice that was not her own. When I reached Robertâ€™s house, he took his gun out and shot my Jeannie dead."
Pluto felt her hands clenching spasmodically on the armrests of her chair. "Do you want him punished?" she asked quietly.
His eyes opened in surprise. "Oh, no, Highness. â€™Twas the same with any who went into the shadow of those pillars. Robert had one on his farm; he showed me what it could do. We drove a few animals into the shadows, and they became mad, killing creatures. What came out of those shadows that morning was no longer my Jeannie, and there was nothing to do but to shoot her, quick and painless. It took me most of a day to accept that, but Robert helped me." His expression was dull with remembered despair. "Robert had shot his own son that morning, you see."
"And youâ€™ve never seen these pillars before?" Pluto asked, trying to delve straight to the heart of this sad story.
"Never before," Claude agreed. "Not since yesterday morn â€“ but theyâ€™re getting bigger and taller, their shadows longer, and more and more are wandering into their shadows and coming out killing folk, screaming like demons. â€™Tis bad out there, Highness. We need royal magic to stop it."
Pluto looked down the line at the other petitioners, noting the dull weariness in each of them, despite the fact that each came from a different part of the Earth. "Itâ€™s the same across the Earth, isnâ€™t it," she surmised. "These black pillars of evil â€“ they are a sickness inside the Earth."
They all nodded, and Plutoâ€™s heart sank at the sheer magnitude of the problem. "Fear not," she urged them. "Prince Endymion is even now at the Moon, pleading for the help of Queen Serenity and her court. With the magic of the Moon, we can surely defeat this evil."
Hope dawned in their tired faces, and Pluto forced herself to smile encouragingly. "Go back to your peoples," she told them. "Take care of them as best you can, and make sure you stay well away from those pillars. Weâ€™ll take care of the situation as soon as possible. Are there any other problems? If you all have the same story, then you may go. I give you my word that we will do all we can to help."
The line of petitioners bowed to her, then turned and filed out the door. Not one remained.
Pluto sighed and turned to Endymionâ€™s four generals. "What do you suggest?" she asked them.
Kunzite snorted. "I think that this is just a bunch of superstitious peasants having a bit of a lark," he shrugged. "Donâ€™t pay too much attention to them, Pluto."
Pluto stared. "Excuse me? Didnâ€™t you see the truth in his eyes, in his face? Do you mean to tell me that you think these men were lying?"
Jaedite rolled his eyes. "Come on, Pluto, give us a break. Evil black pillars, whose very shadow makes people rabid? Since when have you heard of anything so ridiculous?"
"But â€“" Pluto protested. "Queen Terraâ€™s illness â€“ and so many people talking of these black pillars. It canâ€™t be coincidence!"
"Uneducated peasants," Jaedite scoffed.
"Youâ€™re just gullible, Pluto," said a new and unwelcome voice. Beryl stepped out from behind a pillar. "Face it. These peasants come to you with some trumped-up story, and you accept it completely. Have you no brains?"
Pluto bit back an angry retort, and forced her voice to calm. "If you havenâ€™t noticed," she said quietly, "I am the Princess here. I will make the decisions."
"Even when theyâ€™re wrong," Zoicite murmured. Pluto shot him a quick wounded look, wondering what sheâ€™d done to alienate Endymionâ€™s generals.
"If Endymion were here," Jaedite insisted, "heâ€™d see the lies behind these stories."
"Endymion is busy," Pluto said shortly. "We need him to secure the assistance of the Moon Family."
"And that of the Moon Princess," Beryl smiled slyly. "Wonâ€™t it be lovely to see her again? I understand that there was some fascination betwen her and Endymion... is that still going on?"
"That was some years ago." Pluto hid her clenched fist in a fold of her black dress.
"But the long years make no difference to true love." Berylâ€™s voice was like harsh velvet. "Is this not so, Princess Pluto? Do you mean to tell me that you have no doubts as to your husbandâ€™s actions around the beautiful Moon Princess?"
"Endymion is an honorable man," Pluto retorted, stung.
"But don't you want to know what they're doing?" Beryl asked silkily. Pluto turned away.
They were, in fact, dancing.
Endymion held Serenity gently in his arms as they moved together in the graceful steps of the age-old waltz. She cuddled contentedly against him, her head resting comfortably on his chest. Endymion stared down at the top of her head, filled with love - and with guilt.
"If only I'd met you sooner," he whispered.
"Hmm?" She tilted her head to look up at him through her long lashes.
"Never mind," he murmured, carefully gathering her closer. Serenity was fragile, he mused, and easily hurt. The slightest frown could mist those blue eyes over with tears. Pluto was the opposite - stronger, assured, and entirely certain of her self-worth. Pluto, he realized suddenly, did not depend on him as much as Serenity did...
Why was love so complicated?
He loved Pluto, truly he did. She was a good Queen, a reliable, sensible girl, and very much like himself in her attitudes and beliefs. In all practical respects, she was his ideal partner.
But the warm closeness that he felt for Pluto was as nothing compared to the mind-consuming, soul-warming blaze of love that he felt for the blonde princess in his arms.
Pluto was his equal, in everything that mattered.
But Serenity was his mate.
He didn't deserve either of them.
He'd married the wrong one. He'd do anything to be able to have Serenity...
He would not break his word. Pluto didn't deserve it. She was a good person, a close friend... but he did not truly love her. Not the way he loved Serenity.
Was it worth it, to live a life pretending to love another, while his true love would gladly have him?
He'd promised! Until death parted him from Pluto, he would be all but chained to her side... he'd never be free...
Never be free to love Serenity...
He clenched his teeth and buried his face in her scented hair, resolving to treasure this moment while he could.
Sensitive to his emotions, she said nothing, and merely held him close. Her breath was soft and warm against his neck.
Much later, he bade Serenity good night and went to his suite. He flung himself fully clothed onto the bed, and stared up at the ceiling. He lay still in the darkness, and tried to fool himself into thinking that it would be all right. That his life would be a fairy tale, where all would end happily ever after. That he could love one woman without hurting another.
Caught between love and duty. The oldest choice in the world, and one heâ€™d never thought heâ€™d have to make.
Despair curled cold fingers in his gut, and he closed his eyes against the pain. Still fighting with himself, he fell into an uneasy sleep.
He awakened gradually, with the feel of gentle fingers on his brow, brushing back his sweat-soaked black hair. He sighed, only half-awake, and smiled sleepily into the gentle caress.
The long fingers on his forehead trailed down to cup his cheek, stroke his chin, dance over his lips. He kissed them idly, and they grew bolder, moving down his chest to tug at his clothing, releasing the buttons on his jacket, sliding over his tuxedo.
Tuxedo? He never went to sleep fully dressed. He opened his eyes, then jerked back from the girl perched on his bed. "Serenity! What are you doing here?"
"I thought -" she broke off. She bit her lip, hesitating briefly. "I love you, Endymion," she said quietly. "I wanted to be with you."
"This is wrong, Serenity." He inched away from her, ignoring the impulse to take her in his arms.
She met his gaze with her clear blue eyes. "How can love be wrong? I love you, Endymion, and you love me. Weâ€™ve always loved each other. How can it be wrong for us to be together?"
He closed his eyes against the honesty in her pure eyes, against the rightness of her words. "Iâ€™m married." Two short words â€“ but how they tore into his heart!
"You donâ€™t love her as much as you love me," Serenity insisted, each of her words sinking like knives into his soul. "I know, Endymion. I see it in your eyes, and I feel it in your heart. How can love between us be wrong? A marriage without true love â€“ now that, Endymion, is wrong."
The absolute truth of her words echoed in his heart, but he shook his head. "I canâ€™t, Serenity. I gave my word."
He opened his eyes, and met her gaze once more. He willed her to see the truth of his words, that he could not break this promise, no matter how he wanted to. She saw, and the hopeful light in her bright blue eyes darkened with hurt and despair. Tears glittered from the corners of her eyes, and she turned to go.
Something broke inside Endymion as she rose from the bed, and he reached out and caught her arm. She turned back to face him, hope flaring in her eyes. He couldnâ€™t deny that hope, couldnâ€™t deny the longing deep in his heart. He drew her closer to him, and then with a silent moan of despair, he pulled her into his embrace.
Pluto entered the throne room to find Beryl perched on the middle of the triple thrones, dispensing justice to the first petitioner of the afternoon. Pluto took a deep breath, and then another, counting to twenty in slow, measured beats. When sheâ€™d regained her calm, she called out. "Excuse me," she said, pitching her voice to carry across the room. "If you donâ€™t mind, Iâ€™ll take over from here."
The petitioner gave her a grateful look. "Princess Pluto!"
"Pay no attention to her," Beryl told him loftily. "She has no authority here."
"You presume too much," Pluto told the red-haired woman.
"Do I?" Beryl asked archly, rising so that they faced each other on the dais. They were nearly of a height, and their eyes met squarely. "And what authority have you now, to challenge me so? You're not of this planet, Princess Pluto. With your husband absent, you have no ties to Earth." Her face changed, became spiteful. "He should have been mine," she spat. "Mine! You foreigner witch! You came and stole him from me... but he's never loved you anyway, you know."
Quicker than thought, almost as in reflex, Pluto's hand lashed out and slapped Beryl across the face. The force of the blow spun the redheaded princess halfway around, and she staggered before regaining her balance.
"Apologize," Pluto said, her voice deadly and calm. "Apologize, and get out. Get out of Court. I never want to see your face here again."
"Why, then you won't," Beryl answered silkily, holding out her hands. "But what about his face? Don't you want to see the face of your ever-so-loving husband?" Smoke gathered between Beryl's outstretched hands and coalesced into a gleaming sphere. Within, an image formed.
A twist of black smoke resolved itself into Endymion's night- dark hair, strands of it falling over his face. His hands were visible, and his long fingers wound gently through a fall of straight, fine blond hair. Endymion's expression was tender, and his blue eyes were soft as he tilted his head down to meet hers in a gentle, yet passionate kiss...
"Lies!" The cry tore harshly from Pluto's throat. She struck out with the Time Staff, shattering Beryl's globe into a thousand glittering shards. Beryl recoiled as her spell was broken. "Take your lies and go," Pluto snarled.
"Then I'll go," Beryl answered. "But mark my words, Pluto, it's the truth I show you. If you doubt me, then you are weak. And with that weakness, I will defeat you, and take my place at Endymion's side." Her triumphant laughter echoed behind her as she swept from the room.
Pluto stood rigid, hands fisted at her sides. "Never," she whispered to herself. "Endymion would never do that to me. He loves me."
Around her, the nobles of Earth's Court recovered, and began to murmur amongst themselves. The petitioner slowly backed away.
They burned Queen Terra that night. Terra had wasted away with horrifying speed, her flesh all but melting from her bones. "Itâ€™s the Earth," she had whispered to Pluto as she fought against her death. "The Earth is being killed, and itâ€™s killing me. Oh, my poor Endymion... Take care of him, Pluto. Promise me!"
"I swear it," Pluto had promised, tears in her eyes as sheâ€™d gripped the older womanâ€™s hand. "Heâ€™ll be safe with me."
Terraâ€™s funeral was well-attended. Endymion had brought Queen Serenity of the Moon and the planet senshi that evening, and had arrived in time for Terra to whisper a benediction to him before she died. Now Pluto looked across the funeral pyre at the face of her beloved.
His expression was stone-still. She hadnâ€™t had a chance to speak with him since heâ€™d gotten back, and he seemed to be avoiding her. She attributed his silence to the shock of losing his mother, but she planned to talk to him sometime soon. She wanted to tell him about the strange behaviour of his generals.
Queen Serenity stood with her daughter on Plutoâ€™s right, at Terraâ€™s head. Tears glistened on her cheeks. Sheâ€™d tried everything in her power to heal the Earth Queen, but nothing had worked. The damage was too extensive. In the morning, Queen Serenity â€“ with the aiding power of the planet senshi â€“ would attempt to heal the Earth of its malign influence.
And not only the inner senshi, either. Queen Serenity, after having seen the extent of the evil on Earth, had called in the near- legendary outer senshi. Proud Uranus stood tall, face lit by flickering flames; Neptune was beside her, in the shadow. Young Saturn regarded Terraâ€™s burning body with distant regret in her deep gray eyes.
The bonfire blazed brightly as Queen Terra left her beloved Earth. Sparks flew high up into the night sky, as if Terraâ€™s departing spirit would join the stars.
That night, as they made ready for bed, Pluto turned to Endymion. "We need to talk," she said.
He shot her an inscrutable look from under his black bangs. "Whatâ€™s the problem?" he asked, his voice without inflection.
She got up in quick concern, giving him a hug. "Forget it. Are you all right?"
"Iâ€™m fine," he said quickly. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Your generals." Pluto sat beside him on the bed. "Theyâ€™ve been acting a little odd â€“ but weâ€™ll talk about that later. Whatâ€™s bothering you?"
He stared at the wall. "We never talked about Princess Serenity."
Dread coiled in Plutoâ€™s stomach. "There was never a need." She looked at his face. "Was there?"
He swallowed; she could see the muscles in his neck working. "I slept with her last night."
Shock and denial washed through Pluto in dizzying flashes, and her body chilled. She stayed perfectly still.
Silence echoed through the room for a moment, and he looked up at her. "Iâ€™m sorry, Pluto. I love her. I knew it was wrong, but..."
She still couldnâ€™t bring herself to speak.
"...but I love her, Pluto, even though I was promised to you. Love and duty." His blue eyes held hers. "What kind of a choice is that?"
"Beryl was right," she whispered. "Oh, why, Endymion? Love and duty?" Rage shot through her, hot and quick, driving her to her feet. She spun and glared at him. "You already made your choice! You chose me!"
"Before I knew her, I chose you," he whispered.
Beryl laughed hysterically, her eyes completely insane. She gestured grandly, and a pulse of pure evil emanated from her hands. It was aimed directly at Serenity, who happened to be facing the other way.
Fire suddenly crackled in Mars' clenched fists. "Princess!" she shouted in warning, but the flames she sent raging at the enemy were not strong enough. The other senshi threw their attacks at Beryl, who fell back â€“ but none of them could counter the deadly evil heading for their Princess.
Serenity turned too slowly, her blue eyes wide with terror. Pluto's hands clenched around the Garnet Orb in frustration, knowing that she could do nothing to protect the Princess in time. The black menace was too fast, the danger too soon.
"No!" cried Endymion, lunging forward desperately. His tall, lean body intercepted the blast at the last minute, shielding the blonde princess from harm. He knocked her to the ground, crying out horribly as the black, cloudy evil ate through his body. In almost no time at all, there was nothing left of him.
"Endymion!" The despairing, anguished scream tore harshly from two throats. Pluto collapsed to her knees, shock and loss pounding through her mind. She was dimly aware that Serenity had gotten to her feet, but there was no room in her mind for anything but the fact that Endymion was dead.
And that he had died protecting another. The Moon Princess.
"No..." She gripped her time staff so tightly that it cut into her hands. "Please..." Tears tracked down her cheeks, and the rest of the world faded away as she huddled on the ground, lost in grief. "Endymion..."
Even in death he had not been hers.
Venus' clear voice cut through the silence, rousing Pluto from her mourning. "Princess - no! You must not!" Pluto looked up. Serenity had seized Endymion's sword, and was about to plunge it into her chest; Venus had grabbed the hilt, preventing the suicide.
"But he's dead," Serenity whispered. Venus put an arm around the Moon Princess, and Pluto was consumed with sudden bitterness. Why was Serenity being comforted? She hadn't been Endymion's wife.
"He is," Venus agreed, "and it is truly a great loss. But would you lose the rest of the Earth as well? Without you, Princess - without your powers - we can't defeat Beryl. The Earth will die, and the Moon with it!"
Serenity's face was streaked with tears, but she nodded grimly. "You're right, Venus," she whispered. Then she took a deep breath. Her voice rang out like silver bells across the evening, filled with renewed confidence and resolve. "My senshi, I need you!" The Silver Crystal sparkled brightly between her hands, casting a glow of healing and reassurance over the wreckage of the Earth. "We must work together now! Please, everyone - don't let Endymion's sacrifice have been in vain!"
"We can do it! Venus Power!" cried Venus, casting her strength towards the Princess.
"Mercury Power!" The blue-haired senshi of water sent a beam of pure liquid force to join that of Serenity and Venus.
"Jupiter Power!" Jupiter had but to put her hand on Serenity's shoulder, and the mesh of energies around the Moon Princess sparked faintly green.
"Mars Power!" shouted Mars, and the energies flamed redly as her powers were absorbed.
"Uranus Power! Neptune Power!" The boyish Uranus and her very feminine partner thrust their talismans out together, the sword and the mirror crackling with force.
"Saturn Power!" The senshi of destruction brought the Silence Glaive around, adding her own notable powers to the mix. Serenity now had in her hands a ball of fiery energy that was on the threshold of completion. They all turned towards Pluto, who was still crouched on the ground, clutching the Garnet Orb.
"Now, Pluto!" urged Jupiter. "We need you!"
Pluto felt the demands of her fellow senshi buffeting at her, pulling at her to give up her strength to the Moon Princess. The energies drew her powers, tugging her to say the words, to give up her power... She gathered a protective cloak of Time around her, shielding herself, and managed to turn away. "He died for you," she accused Serenity, her voice hoarse from crying. "You stole him from me, even as he died. How could you do this? He was mine. Mine!"
"Endymion and I were meant to be," Serenity replied sadly. "I'm truly sorry that it had to be this way, Pluto. He would have loved you, had he the choice."
Pluto bowed her head, bitter mourning overcoming her once more.
"Please!" Serenity's voice was urgent, piercing through her grief. "Beryl will recover, and this time we may not be able to turn her back. She has let the evil take her over completely, and she has more power than any of us! We need you now, Pluto. If we don't defeat her right away, we are lost!"
"Defeat her on your own," Pluto snarled, and locked Time securely around herself. "I won't help you."
"Pluto!" Shock and betrayal rang through Uranus' voice. "What are you doing?"
"How dare you?" Mars added, her purple eyes flashing. "This is your duty!"
"She stole my love," Pluto snapped. "Even in death, she claimed Endymion, and she had no right. She even slept with him! She stole everything from me. I owe her nothing, and she will not ever touch my power!"
"We respect your feelings, Pluto. But you must see that Serenity's not the issue here," Mercury said softly. "If you hold back your powers, you're hurting all of us. Help Serenity or not, as you please, but don't sentence the rest of us to death. We don't deserve that."
Pluto bowed her head. Mercury was right. Of course. She held out the Garnet Orb, calling up her strength, the complete, total power over Time. She drew a deep, bracing breath. "Pluto Pow-"
A stream of dark, smoking power left her hands, and streaked directly towards the Moon Princess.
The mesh of energies around Serenity had been wavering on the edge of completion, and the sudden influx of dark power overloaded them into explosive deadliness. The Moon Princess shrieked, once, before she died. The senshi, their own powers tied up with the princess, were thrown back by the backlash. Mercury fainted, and Jupiter barely managed to catch her; Venus and Mars simply collapsed where they stood, like puppets whose strings were cut. Neptune staggered backwards into Uranus' arms, and Saturn sank to her knees.
Pluto alone was unaffected. She watched, stunned, as Beryl laughed triumphantly, calling dark powers onto them all. Blackness surged over everything, slowly obliterating the living glory of the Earth.
"My fault..." Pluto whispered, watching the Earth wither, blacken, and die. "My fault..."
Blackness flickered against the prone forms of Venus and Mars, and they dissolved away as Pluto watched, paralyzed with shock. Saturn raised her glaive in futile resistance as the smoke flowed over her body. Uranus' sword glowed feebly against the rising tide of darkness, but could do nothing; Neptune groped weakly for her partner's hand and held it as the black, smoky energies enveloped them. The evil cloud took Mercury, then Jupiter, and licked at Pluto's boots. She stared down at it, horrified.
At that point, self-preservation took over. Pluto's mind finally reacted, and she began to run away - more out of reflex than conscious thought. She sensed the surface of the dying timestream, and cast herself outward... and felt unexpected, sudden resistance. She could not get through. She could feel the strength of the time current fighting her; events were moving very quickly and they were dragging her along. She fought frantically against the current, pain and anguish forgotten for now; all she wanted was to ... survive ... she drew on long-unused skills, reserves of energy that she did not know she had, and threw herself against the barrier of the surface.
She broke ... breaks ... free of the rapidly moving events of the dying timeline, and feels the cloak of her immortality settling itself around her once more. Here there is no past, no future, no aging; all things are one endless moment, and here, in Time's home, Time itself has no power.
And the senshi of Time, the powerful Sailorpluto, curls into a fetal ball in the middle of emptiness... and weeps.
When she has recovered -- although she knows that she will never completely recover -- she turns to look at the timestream that she had left behind: the timestream that she had ruined in her youthful arrogance. Shining broad and silver at first, it slowly darkens, and then abruptly twists itself into nothing, vanishing into oblivion, its former brilliance completely gone. She shakes her head, mourning the loss of potential, the loss of light.
She shakes her head, telling herself that she is not fit to be the Time senshi. She reminds herself that she has destroyed a bright, shining timepath with her selfishness, and lost the love of her life. "My fault," she whispers into nothingness. Tears mist her eyes once more, blurring her vision.
Turning away, she begins to flee into the "future." She runs blindly across the various timestreams, some still gleaming silver with potential, with light and love. Not caring where she goes, but knowing that she needs the passage of time to heal, she dives headlong into the nearest glowing timestream.
She breaks -- broke -- into relative peace. She found herself in the middle of a forest. Quiet. Deserted. Perfect. Vaguely realizing that her scorched senshi fuku was not appropriate for the surroundings, she summoned up her princess gown. Once she was decently dressed, she sank down on a stump, leaned against a mossy log, and began to cry.
Soon she sobbed herself into exhaustion and fell asleep, her head pillowed on her arms.
After an interminable time, the sound of quiet voices roused her. Not knowing how to react, she did not move. She kept her eyes closed, her breathing steady, and listened.
"Do you think she's all right?" It was a female voice, sounding concerned.
"What I think is that she's messed up in the head," a lower voice replied tartly. "Come on, Michiru. Who in their right minds would wear a formal gown into the deep woods, sit on a stump, have a crying jag, and fall asleep?"
"Be a little easy on her, Haruka," the first voice answered. "There's obviously something wrong here." A hand settled gently on Pluto's shoulder. "Miss? Wake up a little, hmm? Is there something we can help you with?"
Pluto opened her eyes cautiously. She gasped as her eyes met a familiar aquamarine gaze, soft with worry, set in a beautiful face and framed by a cloud of blue-green hair. "You -!"
"Do we know each other?" asked the woman who looked like Neptune's senshi. "What's your name? Are you all right?"
Pluto recovered her wits. "Who are you?" she asked. "What do you want?" She thought rapidly. She knew full well that she'd never been to this timestream before - so this must be Sailorneptune's current incarnation...
"My name is Kaioh Michiru, and that's Tenoh Haruka over there," she smiled. Once graceful hand indicated a tall, lanky figure who looked eerily like the Sailoruranus of the other timeline. For a dizzying moment, Pluto wondered what the odds of meeting this pair were...
"We stumbled across you in the woods here," Michiru continued, "and we were worried... are you sure you're all right?"
"I'm fine," Pluto said, and shrugged Michiru's hand off her shoulder. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Well, if you don't want to talk, at least eat something with us," Michiru coaxed.
Haruka rolled her eyes. "Yeah, why not. Michi wants to mother everything she comes across. Seriously though, you'd better eat something. You look a little lost. Come on, I promise we don't bite."
Pluto smiled shyly, consoled by the unexpected kindness. "I'd love to," she replied. Haruka held out a hand to pull her up, and Pluto clasped it. She felt a slight tingle when their palms touched, and glanced sharply at the other woman - but Haruka merely looked puzzled for a moment, and seemed to dismiss the feeling. Pluto sighed with relief; these young women were not yet awakened to their full potential as Sailor senshi.
"So," Haruka said as they began walking, "what did you say your name was?"
Pluto groped after an innocuous name. "Uh - Setsuna. Meioh Setsuna. Pleased to meet you."
Haruka and Michiru were obviously very close friends - they bickered playfully, and yet deep affection was evident in every word. She watched them wistfully as they prepared the soup, teasing one another unmercifully.
"Watch out for Michiru's cooking," Haruka warned Pluto as the blond girl did her best to start a fire. "She's killed people with that stuff before - given them indigestion at the very least. Sure, you think it smells good, but she doesn't know a thing about those plants she's slicing into the pot. She could be feeding us hemlock for all we know." The blond young woman stuck a tongue out at her friend.
"I know what I'm doing," Michiru protested as Pluto grinned. "These mixtures aren't lethal. They're supposed to be nourishing. Look, if anything, it'll be germs because the fire wasn't hot enough, and Haruka, you're responsible for that. I want this water boiling, do you hear me?"
Haruka fanned comically at the spark that she had so painstakingly started. "There won't even be a fire if you keep distracting me. Watch your step, Michiru." But as the spark blazed and Haruka rose to get fuel, she drew her long fingers across the other girl's neck in a tender caress.
Pluto blinked, then winced and looked away.
"Yes, we are lovers, and we do love one another," Michiru murmured quietly, as Haruka left the clearing. "Does that disturb you? That we're both female?"
Pluto shook her head. "It's not that... I'm envious, that's all. I was in love, once."
"Ah." Michiru shook spices into boiling water.
"That explains the crying, then," Haruka said from behind her. She dumped a pile of dry sticks onto the fire. "Don't suppose you want to talk about it?"
"There's nothing to say anymore," Pluto said dully.
"Well, look who's the optimist," Haruka snorted. She narrowed storm-colored eyes at her. "Pain never heals unless you face it, girlie, crying jag or no."
"Go easy on her, Haruka-chan," Michiru said softly.
"I know, Michiru," Haruka replied. "But love is a wonderful thing. She shouldn't close herself off from it just because she's having a bad day."
"Maybe we're not all as lucky as you are," Pluto said, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice. "Maybe we don't all love someone who returns that love. Maybe for some people, love only brings pain."
Haruka cocked an eyebrow at her, but she kept mercifully silent.
"What would you do, Haruka-san," Pluto demanded, "if you loved someone - loved someone so much that you'd do anything for him. And you got married, thinking that you'd spend the rest of your life with him." Her voice rose. "And then some other woman comes along and even years later, he can't think of anything but her, can't be with anyone but her, and he runs off and sleeps with her? What then? What would you do? He said he loved me -" and her voice broke off as sobs clawed up out of her body again, making her hiccup. "He was supposed to be mine!"
Michiru held her while she wept, stroking her hair.
"Yours?" Haruka echoed in disbelieving tones. "Supposed to be yours?"
"I loved him, didn't I?" Pluto replied brokenly.
"Loving someone is not owning someone," Haruka retorted. "I love Michiru, but she isn't a possession. I don't keep her from doing what she wants to do!"
"What if she wanted to leave you?" Pluto asked. "What if she said that she loved someone else?"
"Oh, I'd be devastated," Haruka replied candidly. "I'd probably say absolutely horrible things to her, and regret them later - but I wouldn't try to keep her with me. That's a downhill road all the way, I'll tell you that. That's no basis for a healthy relationship, one person feeling trapped into it, and the other one unhappy because of that. I'd probably end up chasing her out, and hoping secretly that she'd come back... but what did you do, girlie? What did you say to your man? Did he leave you, or did he stay?"
"He ..." Pluto thought. "I asked him to stay, and so he stayed," she answered finally. "Because he'd promised to stay with me. We were married, after all."
"But," Michiru pointed out gently, "neither of you were happy."
Pluto swallowed. "No," she whispered. "I guess not. But what was I supposed to do? I loved him!"
Haruka shook her head. "No, you didn't."
Pluto leapt up and drew back a fist; Haruka caught her wrist midair and held it there, seemingly without effort. "You didn't let him follow his heart," she pointed out. "What kind of love is that?"
Pluto struggled and stammered in incoherent rage.
"Haruka-chan," Michiru murmured. "Enough. Let her calm down. She's not really listening to you."
"Let me go!" Pluto cried. She shook herself free of Haruka's grip. "How dare you? I loved him with all my heart!"
"Did you want him to be happy?" Michiru asked quietly. "That's love, you know. I'd give anything to see Haruka happy - even my own happiness. Even my own life."
That one soft-spoken statement somehow brought Haruka's arguments hammering home. The truth of it pierced straight to Plutoâ€™s heart and crumpled her onto the ground.
"Oh," she whispered. Loss surged up in her again, accompanied by a horrible, leaden guilt. "Oh..." She fell to her knees, and then curled up into a fetal ball. She sobbed as her heart broke all over again, and the world spun dizzily and darkened.
"Oh, dammit," she heard Haruka say from a distance. Then Pluto dimly realized she was being held and comforted, and kind hands patted her back reassuringly. Her head was supported on a firm shoulder, and Michiru was pushing a handkerchief into her hands.
"This is not what I wanted to do with my vacation," Pluto heard Haruka complain.
"Nor I," Michiru admitted. Pluto could hear the smile in her voice. "But we've got a couple of days left. Right now, comforting poor Setsuna-chan here is the least we can do."
Pluto sniffled, and sighed. "I'm sorry to be such a bother," she whispered.
"Don't worry about it," Michiru reassured her.
Pluto rubbed at her eyes. "Oh, gods. What have I done? Iâ€™ve made such a mess of things... hurt so many people..."
"The question is, what should you do now?" Haruka countered. "We obviously can't go back in time and change things, but the least you could do is go set things straight with the people involved. You owe them that much, at least."
Pluto caught her breath and stared at the blond woman. "Haruka- san, you're a genius," she said, a smile dawning on her face.
"Huh?" Haruka responded.
"You're a genius!" Pluto cried, jumping up. "Thank you, thank you both so much -" she whirled, hugging first Michiru, then Haruka. "Thank you, gods bless you both!" While they stared, she turned and ran off into the woods, calling on her powers as she did.
"Wait -" Haruka managed, then stared unbelievingly as their guest's body seemed to ripple - and then vanished without a trace.
"Did she just -" began Michiru, her green eyes wide.
"We didn't see that," Haruka said definitely. "We don't have to deal with it. We're on vacation, and I'm not investigating any weird girls who cry their heads off and then disappear. We will not let anything like this ruin our vacation." She crossed her arms over her chest, and her expression boded ill for any other strange happenings in the area.
Michiru had to smile. "Then do you want some soup?"
Carefully, Pluto traces the timeline back to when she'd entered it - then moves backwards a year. She dives smoothly into the timeflow with scarcely a ripple, feeling time wrap around her as her feet touch solid ground.
It was night. She was outside the Royal Palace of the Earth. Wrapped in a shroud of time, she slipped past the gate guards. With her mind, she sought out the familiar spark of life that she knew so well.
She found it, and willed herself to Endymion's quarters. He lay sprawled on the bed, dressed only in a comfortable pair of pants. His coal-black hair fanned out across his pillow, a tiny smile hovering about his lips. His face was young, unmarked by the strain that she'd seen there in later years. Pluto's breath caught, and for an endless moment, she gazed down at his beloved face.
Then she reached out and tapped him on the shoulder.
He roused, blinking sleepy blue eyes at her. "P - Princess Pluto?" he asked hesitantly. "What are you doing here?"
"Facilitating events," she answered ambiguously. "Come with me, Endymion. Take my hand."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Excuse me? With all due respect, I'd like to know what's going on before you whisk me away." He pushed his hair back in a heartbreakingly familiar gesture, and she closed her eyes against a flood of memories.
"This is hard for me," she said quietly. "But will you trust me, Endymion, if I tell you that I have the best interests of the Earth at heart?"
He searched her eyes with his deep blue gaze, then grinned suddenly, boyishly. "Why not?" he asked lightly. "I've been longing for adventure..." He looked down at himself. "Um... should I get dressed?"
Pluto blinked. "I suppose you should," she answered. She waited patiently while he retreated behind a screen, but she had to repress a smile when he came out garbed in full regalia, cape and armor and all.
"Is something wrong with my choice of clothing?" he asked. "I see your mouth twitching, Princess. Am I dressed wrongly for the occasion?"
"You'll do fine," she promised him. "Take my hand."
His long fingers clasped hers.
Pluto dropped them into spacetime.
"You can let go now," Pluto smiled tolerantly. Endymion had taken a death-grip on her hand. Normal people didn't tend to react well to sudden warps in spacetime.
Endymion released her fingers, and looked around. "You went to all this trouble to transport me to my mother's gardens? We could have walked, you know."
"I needed you right here, at this particular moment," she answered.
"Why?" he asked reasonably. "Pluto -"
"Stay right there," Pluto interrupted, and willed herself onto the Moon while he stared. There, she sought out the sleeping mind of a sweet young girl, pure, gentle, kind... innocent... and in no time at all, Pluto stood in Princess Serenity's bedroom.
The princess slept with her hair undone, and it flowed around her sleeping face in a white-gold halo. She was so young... her cheeks were slightly flushed, and she was curled on her side like a child. Pluto waited for the old jealousy to surface, but to her bemusement, she felt nothing but fondness and regret towards the innocent young girl on the bed.
Reaching out, she gently touched Serenity's arm.
Long blond lashes fluttered. "Huh? ...Pluto?"
"Hello, Serenity," Pluto said gently. "Would you mind going on a little trip? There's someone I think you should see."
"Now?" she blinked. "In the middle of the night? Why?"
Pluto sighed, and sat on the edge of the Princess' bed. "Do you believe in true love, Serenity? Do you believe in destiny?"
"Of course," Serenity said. Her blue eyes were wide, and innocent. "How could I not?"
Pluto felt a pang of bittersweet sympathy, and smiled. "I am the senshi of time," she reminded the girl. "And if you come with me tonight, Serenity - right now - then I'll show you your future."
"My future... and you mentioned true love?" Serenity echoed, her blue eyes hopeful and clear. She rose from her bed, absently winding her hair into two golden buns with quick, practiced motions. Pluto noticed enviously that her hair wasn't tangled by sleep at all. "Of course I'll go with you!"
Pluto stood. "Then give me your hand."
She brought the princess to the gardens of the Earth, around the corner from where she'd left Endymion. "Now," she murmured to Serenity. "when was the last time you saw Prince Endymion? Keep your voice down."
"Four years ago," Serenity replied promptly, in a helpful whisper. "He was trying to prove that he wasn't a boy anymore, and I was pretty sure that I was still a little girl." She giggled. "As I recall, he threw a bowl of chocolate pudding in my face. I'd asked for it, though; I had been a little brat and kept stealing his sword and messing up his hair all day. I thought it was all a great game, but I think I ruffled his dignity. Mars lectured me forever after that little escapade. Bad manners, she said."
Pluto felt a smile twitch at her lips. "I've brought you into a time-warp, Serenity," she explained. "Here, time does not pass until you leave. When you wish to go, meet me back here; I'll take you back to where - and when - you're supposed to be."
A faint, puzzled frown line appeared between Serenity's lovely brows. "What's going on, Pluto?" she asked softly.
"Trust me," Pluto urged her. "You will have all the time you need. True love, Serenity - it's right around that corner." She pointed.
Serenity blinked, then shrugged to herself and disappeared around the corner.
Pluto drew a deep breath into lungs that suddenly felt too tight, and gripped her talisman hard enough to leave angry dents in her palms. She sank onto a nearby bench, suddenly feeling dizzy. This was it - this deed was her atonement, to heal the timeline she'd destroyed.
She gritted her teeth, but it didn't stop her thoughts. She could still go in there and stop them. She could still have him for her own. This time she wouldn't make the same mistakes. The tempation ached inside her. "Endymion..." she whispered.
Pluto shook her head, and with great control, she made her trembling hands place the Garnet Orb safely on the ground. "No," she whispered. "I had my chance. I made him miserable, and he doesn't deserve it. She'll make him happy." She closed her eyes to the beauty of Queen Terra's gardens, closed her ears to the murmur of quiet young voices around the corner. She was doing the right thing.
Perhaps, eventually, she'd even accept it.
An eternity later, Serenity came around the corner. Endymion's arm was over her shoulders, his hand closed possessively about her side. Her face was glowing. "Pluto, we can't thank you enough -"
"Don't, then," Pluto said, forcing a smile onto her face. "Ready to go?"
They traded loving glances, but Endymion abruptly sobered. "Do you know what you've done?" he asked Pluto.
Pluto's eyebrows knit in puzzlement. "Is something wrong?"
"This is an impossible match," he said. "Don't get me wrong," he added hastily as Serenity's face fell. "I love Serenity more than I ever thought possible.
Chronos smiled at the green-haired young woman that stood before him. "To give another happiness by denying your own - that's a truly adult misery, my child," he mused. "You've grown into a strong woman, Pluto."
"About time, I should think," she smiled.