The senshi of time sits in the middle of nothingness, hovering a few feet above the River of Time. Moodily, she regards a certain timestream. "You were supposed to be my world," she tells it. "My little paradise. Gods, what a selfish little brat I was."
She'd blundered, but she had the power to fix it. Therefore, she was almost obligated to fix it - for who else would?
She thinks for a moment, one hand caressing the Garnet Orb. She'd started changing things from the moment she'd entered the timestream - when Endymion had met a girl who shared his youthful rebellion, and thought he'd fallen in love. However, Endymion was an honorable man. If he had had a prior commitment, then he wouldn't have fallen for Pluto. Therefore, the only solution was ...no, please!... to have him already in love with Serenity...
Pluto's mouth twists with the irony. Was that her penance, to play matchmaker for her love and her rival? She thinks harder, working her mind around the situation - but she can find no other way. "So be it," she whispers fatalistically, and turns her attention to the timestream before her.
Carefully, she traces the timeline back to the point where 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. Beloved now in truth - for what she was about to do was for his happiness, not hers. If it makes him happy... she thought despairingly.
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, my lady, 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. "Out of curiousity," she murmured to Serenity. "when was the last time you saw Prince Endymion? Keep your voice down."
"Five years ago," Serenity replied promptly, in a helpful whisper. "I was nine years old. At twelve, 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 had amused myself by 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, and his name leapt unbidden to her lips. "Endymion..."
Pluto shook her head, and with great control, she made her trembling hands place the Garnet Rod 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, the prince and princess came around the corner. Endymion's arm was over her shoulders, his hand closed possessively about her side. Her face was glowing, and her voice vibrant as she said, "Pluto, we can't thank you enough -"
"Don't, then," Pluto said. "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. But what future is there for us? I'm the only heir to the Earth Throne; she is the only heir to the Moon Kingdom. There's no possible way that we can stay together. And there's the matter of aging - the people of the Moon Kingdom don't age, while the people of Earth do." He turned to the girl by his side, catching her hands up in his. "Serenity, I could grow old and die, and you'd remain young - are you sure that you can face this?"
"If you die, I die," Serenity said quietly and sincerely. She was young yet - only fourteen years old! - but wise in the ways of the heart. "I will not face a world without you."
Pluto suddenly remembered - when Endymion died, Serenity had taken up his sword and would have pierced her own breast... "Don't talk like that," she said gruffly. "There will always be a way. Love makes its own way."
Serenity smiled dazzlingly. "See? It'll all work out."
Endymion ran a caressing hand over her shoulders, and hugged her close. "I hope so."
Serenity kissed him then, gently and without embarassment, and then turned to Pluto. "I'm ready to go."
Endymion smiled at her. "I'll visit soon. I promise. Go on," he told Pluto. "Take her home. I'll make my way back from here."
Pluto picked up the Garnet Rod and looked at Serenity. "Coming?"
Serenity took her hand.
"Job well done," the Time Senshi mutters sardonically to herself as she floats above the timestream. "Wonderful." The injured timestream now branches at the point where she'd changed things; one end begins slowly fading and darkening, while the other path continues brightly on into the future.
She is about to leave, then takes a closer look. The new branch is oddly weak. The fabric of space-time was stretched dangerously thin, and a thin rent gaped open all along the side, endangering the timestream's connection with reality. Further on into its future, the timestream's surface was so strained that it looked as if it would fray and unravel at any moment.
Pluto stares wide-eyed at the weaknesses, wondering how she can patch them. She does not want to ask her father; Chronos' policy of nonintervention had been made quite clear to her. She racks her brain; there must be someone with the wisdom to know what should be done!
Suddenly realizing who she can consult, Pluto slips carefully into the weak timestream.
Queen Serenity regarded her with soft blue eyes as she wound up her story. "You have done nothing wrong, Pluto," the woman smiled. "It is no crime to be young and reckless - as long as you grow up a little afterwards."
Pluto blew out a breath of relief. "But I ruined a timestream!"
"It can be healed," Queen Serenity said, unmoved. She held out a hand, and the Silver Crystal glimmered inside it. "With this, I can work miracles. But even I cannot produce more than a stopgap measure - because the Silver Crystal is transient." She held Pluto's gaze. "On the other hand, there are things that exist outside of time."
"Me," Pluto whispered. "And my father."
Serenity nodded. "Now, I can infuse you with the healing essence of the Silver Crystal, and you can stay with this timestream, healing it. Or, you can go your own way, and leave this timestream to its fate. It's completely your choice, Pluto. From what you told me, the healing may take centuries. Are you willing to commit yourself for that long?"
Pluto looked down. She had already been selfish once, and the results had not been pretty. "I have to," she admitted. "I owe it to Endymion - to everyone." She raised her head. "Can you wait a minute?" she asked. "I have to go see my father first."
"You're the Time Senshi, remember?" The Queen smiled fondly at her. "You can go and come back in the same instant, or so it seems to me. Give my regards to Chronos."
Pluto smiled tremulously at her, and then raised her staff. She stepped - steps - delicately out of the timestream, savoring the familiar timelessness for the last time. She turns towards the Portal - but stops. Her father is standing directly before her.
"Father," she smiles. Chronos answers her smile with a grin of his own, and embraces her. In the endless space between moments, they hold each other tightly. Without words, everything is said and understood.
"I'll be gone for a while," Pluto tells him. "I promise I'll visit you once I'm done here. Oh, and Queen Serenity sends her regards."
Chronos smiles. "Give her mine as well. I'm proud of you, Pluto." He tips her chin up with a finger. "You've grown very wise."
Pluto blushes. "I wish I were more like you. I could've learned more from you," she admits.
Chronos blinks at her. "Why do you say that? What more was there for you to learn?"
Pluto shrugs. "Not to meddle. I should have listened to you. You've never meddled, never felt the urge to change things in a timestream, to become part of a world..." she trails off, because Chronos is laughing silently. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, my dearest daughter," Chronos grins. "You know where babies come from. Haven't you ever wondered who your mother is?"
Chronos' ageless eyes dance with amusement. "When I was young, I meddled too..." He meets Pluto's surprised gaze. "She was mortal. I was not - but at least I learned love. And I brought back a daughter, whose wisdom warms my heart. Child, you're more like me than you'll ever know."
Pluto kisses his cheek. "I love you, Father."
Chronos ruffles her hair, sending her bun askew. "I love you too, child. Fix this little problem of yours, and then we'll talk. After all, we've got all the time in the world." With a last fond smile, he disappears from view.
Queen Serenity held the Silver Crystal above Pluto's head, its light bathing everything with a silvery glow. "Are you ready?" she asked Pluto.
"I am," the young woman replied with quiet dignity. Serenity nodded and lowered the crystal until it touched the top of Pluto's head.
Pluto felt as if music were threading through her body, healing and enhancing her. It wove into her very soul, silver bells chiming in delicate and ethereal harmonies that danced through her, into her...
She opened her eyes to meet Queen Serenity's gaze. "Are you awake?" the Queen asked quietly. "Awake and aware?"
Pluto took mental stock of herself. She felt healthy and rested, and completely whole. There was something extra though - a humming, vibrant bouyancy that moved with her, breathed with her, resonated with her very being... "I feel it," she said. "Something with me, something almost alive..."
Serenity nodded. "It's this timestream. I've woven it into your soul. Now there are a couple of things you must know."
The Queen drew her to her feet, and pointed out the window. Outside, Pluto could see a pair of ornate doors hanging in the middle of empty space. "That is the physical manifestation of the rip in the timestream," the Queen said. "Your immediate task, Pluto, is to guard those doors. Make sure that no one goes through - otherwise, the timestream could tear from their passing."
"I will guard the doors," Pluto promised. She could defend herself, and she had enough power to make sure that absolutely no one would disturb those doors.
"You will watch the space-time door, Pluto," Serenity repeated. "You are the soldier who controls time and space - but there are now limits on your power."
Pluto stared up at her.
"There are three things that you must not do," Serenity said quietly, and held up one slim finger. "First, you may not cross time. The temporal fabric here is too weak for the kinds of journeys that you are used to making."
Pluto nodded grimly, and Serenity held up two fingers. "Second, you can never leave those doors. You are bound to them because your proximity to the rip is what heals it. This rule is especially important right now, in the early stages of the set-spell, because this is when major healing is being done. Perhaps later, when the healing is almost complete, you can leave for short periods of time - but you'll be the judge of that."
The Queen now held up three fingers. "Pluto. The third thing that you must not do: you must never stop time. I know that you and your Garnet Rod still have the power to move time, to start and stop time as you please - but from now on, no matter what happens, you must never, never stop time. If you ever violate that law ... you will give up your life."
Pluto stared at her. "How is that possible? I've stopped time before, and nothing happened!"
"I bound your soul to the timestream, remember?" Serenity asked gently. "If you stop it, you'll stop your own heart. If you try hard enough, you can indeed stop time - but the backlash will kill you. The timestream may survive, but I guarantee that you will die. This is why it's so important, Pluto."
Pluto bowed her head. "I understand."
Serenity stood, and to Pluto's surprise, the Moon Queen gave the young senshi a quick, fierce hug. "Oh, Pluto," she murmured. "My prayers go with you, and I commend your bravery and dedication. There are many who would not have the courage to walk the long and lonely road that you are taking."
Pluto shrugged self-deprecatingly. "There aren't many who'd have messed things up as badly as I did either," she joked. Then she smiled up at the Moon Queen. "We all do what we can to set things right."
Serenity hugged her again. "Go with our love, Pluto. Go well."
Pluto made her way to the ornate double doors that floated in the middle of empty space. She could almost feel herself resonating with the timestream as it began to heal, slowly but surely.
She settled herself comfortably, the Garnet Rod held at the ready, and composed herself for a long wait.
She would be here for a while.
-- End --