a Sailormoon fanfiction by Dejana Talis
-not to be used without permission-
I don't remember when I first noticed there was something wrong about my life. I guess I've always known.
Sailor Mercury praises me for spending so many hours in the library. She doesn't know that I don't go there to study. I stand in a secluded corner among the marble bookcases, beside one of the windows formed by careful thinning of the crystal walls of the palace, and I look down on the garden where the servants' children go to play.
They look so happy, those children; even when they're hurt and cry they still seem happier than I am. Of course they are. When their mothers and fathers take them in their arms to comfort them, those parents look at them and see only their precious children. The eyes of those mothers and fathers are filled with love, not regret.
Those children are not mistakes.
I was never supposed to be told about the day I was born, but eventually I pieced the events together on my own. After all, none of the Sailor Soldiers can stop talking about that day for long.
"You're doing great, Usako. Be strong; our Chibi-Usa will be in your arms soon."
"Oh, Mamo-chan, it hurts!" Chiba Usagi squeezed Mamoru's fingers with one hand and pressed the other against her bulging abdomen as she gritted her teeth against another rising wave of pain.
"Just breathe, Usako," Mamoru coached her, massaging her shoulders with his free hand. "Think about Chibi-Usa. She'll be with us again tomorrow, this time to stay; our little girl, our daughter..."
For a moment Usagi smiled, imagining being able to hug Chibi-Usa again, to brush and style her soft pink hair and teach her everything about life, but the image soon vanished into a rolling sea of pain. As the contraction gained strength, the blonde young woman was unable to contain her suffering, and a shriek of agony escaped her lips.
Outside the delivery room, Makoto's grip tightened on the wooden arms of her chair until her knuckles turned white, the pained cry piercing her to the bone. Rei's speed increased as she paced back and forth in the hallway, wringing her hands.
"Don't worry, Rei-chan; she'll be fine," Makoto called out to her violet-haired friend as she sped by for what seemed the thousandth time, but the brunette wasn't certain she believed her own words.
"I don't know, Mako-chan, I just don't know," Rei muttered. "It sounds like it's getting really bad. I don't know if she'll be able to tolerate this through tomorrow."
"Oh, come on," Makoto replied with a halfhearted laugh. "Usagi-chan's survived years of tough battles; I'm sure a few labor pains are nothing compared to that." Still, she shifted uneasily in her chair, her glance repeatedly darting toward the closed door of the delivery room. "Besides, technically she only has-" Makoto checked her watch "-three hours to go, ne? Chibi-Usa could be born anytime after midnight and still share Usagi-chan's birthday."
A low moan rose from beyond the wooden door, and it quickly escalated into a wailing scream punctuated by brief spurts of sobbing. Rei stopped dead in her tracks and stared at the dark brown door, trembling, her eyes swimming with unshed tears. In the chair beside her Makoto bit her lip and began to tug at her ponytail reflexively. Both women jumped a foot in the air as the door opened slightly and a face framed with short blue hair appeared around its edge.
"Go and get the nurses! Hurry!" Ami commanded, her eyes wide and her words sharp with urgency.
"Mamo-chan, she's coming! She's coming now!" Usagi's voice screamed from inside the room, followed by another shriek of pain.
"Tell them to bring the equipment, the warmer, everything! And quickly!" the blue-haired Ami ordered. Barely hesitating long enough to nod, Makoto and Rei dashed off down the hallway toward the nurses' station at a dead run. It wasn't far, but they were still winded with anxiety when they got there.
"Dr. Mizuno needs you in Usagi's room," Makoto gasped as she lunged against the edge of the oval-shaped desk. "She said to bring all the equipment."
"What?!" The head nurse leapt up from her seat and scrambled on the desk for a box of rubber gloves. "She said we had a few hours yet!"
"I guess even Sailor Mercury can't control the forces of nature," a male nurse nearby joked as he hurried through the gap in the desk and headed off toward the storeroom.
The next thirty minutes were nothing but chaos as the hospital staff struggled to catch up with the ambition of Usagi's child. Makoto and Rei flattened themselves against the wall in the hallway as carts of equipment rolled by and disappeared into the delivery room, trying not to panic at every cry from their suffering friend.
"Come on, Usagi-chan, push!" Ami urged from where she crouched at the foot of the bed. With a prolonged groan of effort, Usagi poured all her strength into her muscles as Mamoru counted the seconds beside her. Before long, a sudden, blessed feeling of emptiness flowed through the blonde's lower body as the baby slid out of her. With a sigh of relief she collapsed against the pillows, and her husband dropped down on the stool next to the bed and stretched out his bruised fingers.
Hidden behind the sheet that was draped over Usagi's knees, the newborn child took a first breath of air and began to cry in Ami's arms. The thin, gasping wails of the infant brought a smile to the faces of both new parents.
Outside, Makoto and Rei leapt for joy and hugged each other in excitement as they heard the baby's cries. After a few cheers, Makoto calmed down enough to reach for her communicator. Eagerly she punched the button to activate the device, and Minako's face appeared in the small screen.
"Mako-chan? What's happening?" Minako asked with fear in her voice, nearly yelling to be heard over the roar of the reporters and onlookers gathered outside the hospital. "Is something wrong?"
"No, Minako-chan, it's all over!" Makoto exclaimed with a broad smile on her face. "Chibi-Usa's here! Come on up!"
"What?! Already?" the blonde replied in disbelief, her voice thinned by the communication technology. "What time is it?"
At these words, the women in the corridor remembered. In unison, they both turned their heads to look down the hallway at the large clock hanging on the wall. It was still well before midnight. June 29th. Chibi-Usa was supposed to be born on the 30th; King Endymion had told them so when they traveled to Crystal Tokyo during their struggle against Nemesis.
"Well," Makoto said with a nervous chuckle, "I guess even fate can be fuzzy on the details, ne?"
Rei did not respond. She stared at the clock as it boldly broadcast the date and time to the world, her jaw slack. Slowly, numbly, the miko shook her head.
"Something is wrong."
Inside the delivery room, Mamoru held his exhausted wife in his arms and covered her face with kisses as they listened to their newborn child's lungs at work. It was a few moments before they realized Ami wasn't moving. The blue-haired woman was still crouched at the foot of the bed, the baby still hidden from view behind the sheet over Usagi's knees. Nurses were bustling around the room, but Ami was as still as stone.
"Dr. Mizuno? We need to clean and wrap the baby," one of the nurses hinted, but Ami did not snap out of her trance.
"Ami-chan? Let me hold her," Usagi pleaded, trying to ignore the tendril of unease growing within her as she held out her arms toward her friend.
"What's wrong?" Mamoru asked, his grip tightening around his wife. "Let us see her!"
"Nothing's wrong," Ami replied numbly, her eyes locked on the child in her arms, "but something's...not right."
"What is it? Is Chibi-Usa okay?" Usagi leaned forward desperately, resisting the urge to panic.
The blue-haired doctor straightened up and rose out of her crouch, standing to hand the child to the new parents. The baby was a girl, and perfectly healthy, her small limbs beating against the air as she cried in the shock and confusion of the outside world. She had ten fingers, ten toes...and a mass of pastel-blue hair. The nurses wrapped the newborn in a blanket and placed her in Usagi's arms, and the child looked up at her mother through a pair of dazzling bright blue eyes.
"She is not Chibi-Usa," Ami said quietly.
At first, my parents gave little thought to the consequences of my birth. I was given the name Naru, in honor of a friend of Mother's who had died in the Last War. Dubbed Princess Chiba Naru Neo-Lady Serenity, I became heir to the throne of the new Silver Millenium as a palace of crystal was constructed around my family.
Eventually I turn away from the library window, away from the smiling, laughing, wanted children. Mother and Father will be expecting me for lunch, and afterwards I have a lesson scheduled with Sailor Mercury. The genius of the water soldier never ceases to amaze me; even after hundreds of years she has never run out of new subjects for me to study.
Thinking about Mercury is one of the few things that brings a smile to my face. We have so much in common, from our love of books and learning to our blue hair, different shades though it may be. Out of all the members of my parents' court, Sailor Mercury is the only one who doesn't make me feel like a cheap replacement for Small Lady. She is never fake, like Venus, or bitter and empty like Mars and Jupiter...or eternally sad, like Mother and Father.
The worst part of it all is that I know the exact moment when it all began, although I can not remember it firsthand.
"Look, Chibi-Naru, your new room!"
"Only until our chambers of the palace are ready." Mamoru flipped on the light switch, and Usagi held her days-old daughter up so the infant could see the nursery. Ami and Makoto slipped around the new parents and carried armfuls of luggage and gifts into the room. It was a small space, tucked into the corner of the young couple's meager apartment, but it had been decorated with love in shades of pink and red. Usagi sighed, gazing around the room she had spent so many hours preparing for her daughter's arrival.
"Mamo-chan, I'd still rather stay here," she muttered. "The Kibou no Hikari was built as a fortress of war, not a home. I don't much like the idea of Naru growing up in some fancy crystal palace without a chance to have a normal life." Usagi lovingly gazed down at the newborn's angelic face framed by wisps of pale blue hair.
"Neither do I, but you know it can't be helped," Mamoru replied, sliding the diaper bag off his shoulder and putting it on the changing table. "Since the war, there's no one else, Usako. The people of Earth need us to lead them."
"Don't worry, Usagi-chan," Makoto said brightly, idly opening a drawer to coo over the assortment of tiny pajamas folded neatly inside. Most of them were in various shades of pink. A flicker of pained worry passed through the brunette's eyes, but she quickly blinked it away. "We'll be there to tell Chibi-Naru-chan all about Old Earth."
Ami hadn't spoken since the group entered the room. She was standing by the cradle, which was painted a light rose color, gazing at the headboard. The name "Usagi" had been carved into the wood, surrounded by tiny paintings of bunnies.
"Oh, we'll have to fix that," the newborn's mother commented casually, approaching to stand beside Ami. "We'll just get a new headboard and put this one away until Chibi-Usa comes. Won't we, Naru?" Usagi smiled at the infant cuddled in her arms, whose eyes had closed into a peaceful sleep. Ami gave her friend a strained, broken smile, but Usagi didn't notice. For a long moment the young mother drifted off into her own world of happiness, gazing down at the tiny miracle cradled against her chest, her perfect little child.
The blue-haired woman stiffened at the sound of Mamoru's voice, dreading the inevitable question that she had known she would eventually be asked.
"Mamoru-san?" The new father approached the cradle and stood just behind his wife and her first Sailor Soldier, looking over their shoulders at the pink headboard bearing the wrong name. Ami did not turn to look at him.
"Now that little Naru's been born," Mamoru asked slowly, his voice eerily solemn, "what happens to Chibi-Usa? Will she be our second child instead?"
"I don't know." Ami's reply was a whisper, barely audible, but once the words were past her lips the room went deathly silent.
"Ami-chan...what?" Usagi tried to smile, but faltered. Nearby, Makoto laughed nervously.
"Come on, Ami-chan," the brunette chuckled. "We all still remember Chibi-Usa-chan, so she must be born eventually, right?"
The blue-haired woman was silent, her eyes still locked on the cradle's headboard.
"Ami-chan!" Makoto strode over to her friend, seized the shorter girl by the shoulders and turned her around. "Chibi-Usa is Usagi-chan and Mamoru-san's child! It's destiny!" Ami hung her head, refusing to meet the gaze of anyone in the room.
"It would seem that destiny is flawed," the young genius said in a tiny voice. Mamoru's hands began to shake as he realized where Ami's train of logic was headed, and he leaned heavily against the pink cradle.
"What are you saying?" Usagi's voice was trembling.
"Chibi-Usa was supposed to be born on your birthday, Usagi-chan," Ami replied quietly. "We all knew the exact date, and the year, of her birth. It's not just a matter of having an additional baby. The creation of a particular child is a very specific thing; all the factors have to be precise for the combination of the exact ovum and sperm..."
Usagi felt lightheaded. Ami continued talking, but the blonde woman barely heard a word. She slowly bent her head to look down at Naru, her pastel-blue hair and cerulean eyes so different from the child she had expected to bring into this world.
"I don't understand," the young mother murmured through numb lips. "She visited us several times in the past, we know she exists!" Usagi continued, her voice rising as a seed of panic began to sprout within her heart. "We still remember her! She was there! She helped us fight! But...if she wasn't born...what does that mean?"
"Chibi-Usa, no..." Mamoru whispered, staring at the name carved into the headboard. "Not her, not my little girl..." Waves of nausea rolled through Usagi's stomach. Desperate for reassurance, she looked away from her trembling husband and turned to her brunette friend, but Makoto's eyes were swimming with tears.
"No," Usagi murmured. "It can't be." Her gaze roamed the room, searching frantically until she finally discovered a ray of hope.
"Look, there!" Shifting baby Naru's weight in her arms, Usagi pointed at a framed photograph atop a nearby chest of drawers. The bright, colorful image showed Usagi and Mamoru standing in the park, smiling. Chibi-Usa was in the picture as well, standing in front of her future parents, her face alight with its usual energetic smile. She looked just as they all remembered her, a happy child with rosy hair and ruby eyes, filled with light and life. Mamoru walked over to the brightly-painted furniture and picked up the photo.
"She's still there, in the past," he observed, his dark eyes drinking in the image of the daughter he had expected to be holding in his arms that day. "She must still be destined to exist, if we remember her."
"I suppose it is possible," Ami mused, but her face was still downcast and sad.
"Of course it's possible! More than that, it's certain!" Usagi's eyes flamed in earnest and her arms tightened around her newborn child. Naru awoke and began to cry in discomfort, but for the moment her mother paid her no heed. "She has to exist! She has to! Chibi-Usa's our daughter. She'll just be born later, that's all," the new mother rambled, beginning to laugh nervously as her husband and friends stared at her in silence. "Chibi-Usa will come back to us, we've seen her, we know it's true! She'll just be born later, yes, that's it!" Her eyes wild, manic laughter bubbling past her lips, Usagi gently bounced her newborn daughter in her arms to calm her.
"We'll have two daughters, Mamo-chan, won't that be nice? Yes, two children! And nobody can tell me otherwise!" Turning away from her husband and friends, Usagi rushed out of the room with baby Naru, slamming the nursery door behind her.
I often wonder what my life would have been like had Mother and Father moved directly into the palace and never gone to that nursery, if they had never discovered the terrible mistake that was my existence. Of course, it's a ridiculous thought. It was inevitable that they would realize their loss. I suppose I should be grateful that it happened early, before I was old enough to remember what real parental love feels like.
"So, Neo-Lady, how was your morning?"
Mother's words are friendly, but her tone is flat and empty, businesslike. I don't have to look up from my salad to know she's watching me with those dead, cold eyes. Neo-Queen Serenity, my mother, grows more beautiful every day even though she doesn't age. Her heart is filled with nothing but love for her people - and longing for a certain person who is missing from her life.
"Fine, Mother," I reply in my own emotionless tone, focusing on plucking the tomato slices out of my salad. Nine hundred years, and they still can't remember I don't like tomatoes.
I don't much like talking with my mother, not since I grew old enough to recognize the pain behind her eyes. She smiles when she looks at me, yes, but it is the forced, sterile smile she wears for her adoring public. There is no sparkle, no light, in her bright blue eyes. For many years I thought this was normal for mothers until I started watching the servants with their children. Mother looks at me with tenderness and love, but always, hovering behind that smile, lies a cloud of sadness and loss that never fades away. She is perpetually in mourning.
"Have you finished your assignments for Sailor Mercury?" Father, King Endymion, is no better, his voice always distant and neutral as he utters the same disinterested questions that he asks every day.
"Of course, Father," I reply. With him I can risk glancing up; Father rarely looks at me even when we speak to each other. It's better that way. There are few things more painful than watching my father the King try to hide the suffering and loss from his dark blue eyes. Try as he might, he can not prevent me from seeing how he really feels. I am a living reminder of what he has lost.
The rest of the meal passes like slow torture, as most of them do. I quietly endure the time I must spend with my parents, silently sinking into the cloud of depression that surrounds us without protest. After all, I have brought this all upon myself.
At last, we have all endured one another's company just long enough to satisfy what is expected of us. Father and Mother exchange glances, a bit sooner than usual this time.
"If you will excuse us, Neo-Lady, your father and I have some reports to read over," my elegant mother the Queen says smoothly. "We will be in our chambers and are not to be disturbed until dinner." Despite all her years of practice, she can not prevent a slight blush from tainting her cheeks.
They think their secret motives are safe, but I do have the mind and body of a sixteen-year-old and I know the facts of life. It is like this every August and September, the window of opportunity nine months before June when Mother and Father do their best to create the daughter I should have been. Every year for the past nine hundred.
I can't really blame them. They loved the girl, as a daughter and as a friend, and if they do not create her she will, essentially, die. Still, growing up with parents who want nothing more than to conceive another baby does not make for a pleasant childhood. Every time I see Mother and Father excuse themselves and retire to their chambers early, I can not help but envy the phantom daughter who commands such unending loyalty.
To their credit, however, my parents denied the truth longer than anyone else in an effort to give me a loving family.
I was three years old. Sailor Venus had given me a jump-rope four months earlier on my birthday, and I was spending yet another day stubbornly trying to master it. Everyone teased Venus for her foolishness and told me I was too young, that I would be able to jump-rope when I was older, but I tried again every day to see if I was old enough yet. That day, like so many others, I only succeeded in tangling the rope around my legs when I tried to do it properly. Being stuck in a flowing white dress with wide skirts didn't help, either. As usual, I settled for swinging the rope over my head, letting it stop on the floor, and then stepping across.
I was concentrating so hard on what I was doing that I didn't notice which corridors of the half-renovated former fortress I was step-roping through. Before I knew it, I was hopelessly confused by the maze of twisting passages.
To my relief, I hadn't gone far when I heard my mother's voice somewhere nearby. I hurried down the hallway, eager for the comforting embrace of my mother's warm arms. Around a corner I discovered a lonely door standing open further down the corridor. It was plain and ordinary, without signs or even paint, but strangely it was far away from the inhabited areas of the palace and there were no other doors in sight.
"...don't understand," my mother's voice was saying. It was coming from the open door, growing clearer as I drew closer. "Ami-chan says there's nothing wrong with me or Mamo-chan; there's no reason why I can't get pregnant, but we've been trying ever since Naru-chan was born and it's just not happening."
"Neo-Queen," a stranger replied, "I have explained this to you. It is your destiny to have only one child." The unknown voice sounded weary, as if it belonged to the bearer of a heavy burden. "You have given birth to that child, and it is Neo-Lady."
Wary of the strange voice I slowed down and walked slowly toward the door, dragging the jump-rope along the floor behind me. The open gateway looked strange; light was pouring out into the corridor, but the space beyond the doorway seemed to be dark.
"You're wrong," Mother countered in a strained voice tense with worry. "That doesn't make sense. Chibi-Usa came to the past. We talked to her, fought with her, cheered her on and comforted her. She must exist as well, Pluto."
At the time I did not understand much of what was being said, but my memory stored every word, saving it for a day when I would think back and realize the meaning of the conversation. Reaching the doorway at last, I peered around the edge into another world. It was dark, but I could still see, and there were clouds and mist everywhere, swirling into the darkness. Up ahead I could see my mother; the fog seemed to draw back from her, as if she were a light holding the darkness at bay. Her back was to me, and she was arguing with a Sailor Soldier I had never seen before, with long hair and a dark uniform. They were too far away for me to see the soldier's face, but every sound in this strange place was clear to me, and I could hear every word plainly.
"I am a soldier of love," Mother declared, her tone becoming edged with a strange ferocity. "I can not give up on any of the important people in my life, least of all my own daughter."
"Denial can only go so far," the soldier said quietly. "Perhaps it is time to admit the truth, Neo-Queen."
"What truth?" Even from this distance I could see my mother was shaking; her streams of hair trembled around her dress.
"Small Lady does not exist."
My mother slapped her. It was a sudden, impulsive movement that was over as soon as it began, a quick flash of her arm and a flick of her wrist, but the sharp crack reverberated around the mist-filled realm and the tall soldier's head snapped to one side. Mother immediately gasped in surprise at her own act and stepped back, clasping both hands over her mouth, but what was done was done.
"Oh, Pluto..." she breathed, "I am sorry..."
"There is no need to apologize, Neo-Queen." The dark-suited warrior did not turn her face back toward my mother, but let her head rest where the slap had sent it, her gaze aimed off into the shifting clouds. "You have every reason to be angry with me. I will not give you what you want."
"And what is that?" Mother replied, but her question had the tone of a demand. She lowered her hands, and they curled into fists at her side, the tension returning to her body.
"I will not help you get her back."
My mother trembled violently, shaking from her head to her toes, and leaned forward as if she were about to say, or do, something - but she hesitated. Her entire form went limp on its feet, in bitter surrender, and she uttered the cruelest phrase ever spoken by the monarch of Crystal Tokyo.
"Enjoy eternity, Pluto."
Without a further word Mother turned around, back toward the doorway where I stood, and strode away from the mysterious soldier. Her eyes fell upon me cowering against the doorframe as she approached, but her face did not change.
This was the first time I had ever seen this expression on my mother's face, but it would not be the last. Her features flickered from bitter fury to deep mourning anguish, and back again, her blue eyes and rosy mouth twitching as she fought to keep her emotions beneath the surface. I shrank back against the opposite wall, fearing a scolding for my eavesdropping. Mother marched through the door and slammed it behind her, then seized me under both arms and lifted me off the floor. Pulling me up against her chest so that I was staring over her left shoulder, my mother headed back toward the inhabited areas of the palace without a word.
I waited for her to scold me, barely daring to breathe, but the harsh words never came. The further we got from the mysterious door, the more her tense body seemed to relax under me. As we approached the servants' quarters, which stood between us and the royal suites, I finally gathered the courage to speak.
"Who was that, Mama?"
"That was a cruel, heartless shell of a woman," my mother replied. Never in my life had I heard her voice sound so bitter, so choked with emotion.
"That place is forbidden!" Mother stopped and lifted me away from her shoulder, holding me at arm's length in front of her so she could look into my face. Her cheeks were streaked with tears, and still more were brimming in her bright eyes, but her chin was set in a familiar expression that I had grown to know meant business.
"You must never go there," she ordered me. "If you do, the door will close behind you and you will be stuck there forever, all alone. Understand?"
"Mama..." I whispered, my voice shaking. My lip began to tremble under the fierceness of her stare. Mother's face softened, and she enfolded me in her arms again, resuming our course toward the royal wing.
"Don't worry, Naru-chan. I'm not angry with you. Just don't go there ever again, okay?"
"Okay," I whimpered, clutching my jump-rope and my mother's hair with my small fists. Anything to stop Mother looking at me like that. Somewhere in my young mind I pitied the stranger in the misty room, all alone in such an odd place, but at least my mother had not locked the door; surely the woman could escape whenever she wanted to.
"She's wrong," I heard Mother whisper. "We'll prove her wrong."
Only later did I understand the true depth of the grudge my mother had developed against Sailor Pluto, and the full cruelty of her act. When I grew older and curiosity struck me, I researched the solitary guardian I had seen through the strange door, and I learned she was bound never to leave her duty in that place. Mother had left the door unlocked to torture the soldier with false hope. It was open, but she could never leave; and although visitors could freely enter, none ever would.
Despite Sailor Pluto's words that day, my parents were never able to completely give up hope. No matter how many years went by, none passed without a season of frantic, desperate attempts to create the one person who was missing from their lives: the daughter they knew, loved, missed, and wanted more than anything in the world, Small Lady.
I cringe involuntarily and stop in my tracks, scowling over the pile of books in my arms as I wait for Sailor Venus to catch up with me. This is the only Sailor Soldier in the palace whom I can not avoid, and the one I most wish to. As the rapid clicks of Venus' shoes on the crystal floor draw closer I force a pleasant smile to my face and turn around.
"Venus, I'm running late for my lesson," I lie hopefully.
"Aw, Mercury can wait a bit," Venus replies lightly, stepping up beside me and wrapping an arm around my shoulder. "You wouldn't be your mother's daughter if you weren't late sometimes, ne? I'll walk you there."
Together we turn around and head toward Sailor Mercury's laboratory, Venus' arm feeling heavy around my shoulders. When I was a child, Sailor Venus had been my favorite of the soldiers. She was always so friendly, so energetic and caring...but as I grew older, I began to see through the mask.
"I thought we could have dinner together," Venus says brightly. "Afterwards, maybe a game of..." She continues as we walk, promising fun and friendship, but all I can think about is how I might escape. The blonde soldier's smile is always a little too wide, her eyes a little too bright. The eager energy that had pleased me as a child became tiresome and irritating after years and years of the same. She pities me because I am alone, because I have not had the life she thinks I should, but when I look into her eyes it is there, the same as with everyone else: a sadness that can not be disguised, a loss that can never be erased.
Besides, she refuses to let me grow up. Evenings with Sailor Venus are consumed with children's games, simple board games and card games I outgrew long ago. Not only that, but she stubbornly refuses to stop letting me win. I know the intelligence is there; as a soldier Venus often designs brilliant tactics for the defense of the city, but she will not share her maturity with me. In all of Crystal Tokyo she is the only person who still calls me Chibi-Naru. Through all the years of my life, Sailor Venus seems bound and determined to keep me as a child for life, an eternal playmate.
Of course, she is not the only one who has tried to mold me into something I am not.
"Happy birthday, Chibi-Naru-chan!"
"Go on, blow out the candles," my father encouraged me with a smile. I grinned and took a deep breath, drawing in all the air my small lungs would hold, and blew. I managed to get all seven candles before I ran out of air, and the assembled guests applauded. It was only the Sailor Soldiers and my parents today; an official birthday celebration for Mother and I would be held later this week.
Sailor Jupiter cut the cake and served it. Although I preferred marble cake, it was chocolate, with pink frosting. It was always the same. Even at seven, I was already starting to feel uncomfortable around Jupiter. I didn't see the tall brunette soldier often, but when I did I tried not to look at her face. She was the only one who made no attempt to disguise her eyes, and when she looked at me it was always with a sad, mournful expression. To this day I don't remember ever seeing her smile.
On that birthday I was already distracted, and through the cake and ice cream my eyes stayed locked on the pile of presents neatly stacked on a table in the corner of my parents' sitting-room. None of them looked big enough. I was not a greedy girl, but this year I desperately wanted something special: a silver scooter with highlights in blue paint and tassels on the handles. For the past few weeks I had been carefully mentioning the precious scooter whenever possible, and I had secretly wished for it when I blew out the candles on my cake for good measure. I even dreamed about riding it through the vast corridors of the palace when I slept.
"Now, now, Chibi-Naru-chan, we'll get to your presents soon enough!" Sailor Venus teased, playfully kicking me lightly under the table. As always, my parents were seated together at the head of the small table, and I sat at Mother's right and Venus to Father's left.
I giggled an apology and concentrated on my cake as I listened to the chatter around the table. Already the party felt strange, somehow. It was my birthday, but nobody there was talking to me, and Jupiter and Mars weren't saying much to anyone. It was altogether too quiet for a celebration.
At last the cake and ice cream was gone, and my favorite part of my birthdays began. I sat on a pillow in the center of the floor, and Sailor Venus handed the gifts to me one at a time while the rest of the group looked on from chairs and sofas.
The first presents were from Venus, of course, since she was choosing the order. They were a ball, a teddy bear, and a new jump-rope. I was slightly disappointed; I had considered Venus to be one of the most likely to give me the scooter I wanted, but I remembered my manners and thanked her with a hug. The ball would end up forgotten in my closet, the bear would be added to my shelf filled with others, and the jump-rope was too short for me anyway.
Sailor Mercury gave me a selection of books that she had read as a child, some of the few that had survived the Last War. She blushed as I struggled to pronounce the lengthy titles, but I knew Mercury had a hard time choosing presents for me and I thanked her enthusiastically all the same; I would be able to read them someday. The box from Sailor Mars contained a bonzai seedling.
"No time like the present to learn patience and discipline," the violet-eyed soldier said brusquely. Before I could even give her my thanks she got out of her chair and began cleaning up the scattered wrapping paper. Mars never seemed to be able to look at me for long. Being too young for such things, my overeager care of the bonzai would cut it down to a tiny lifeless nub within days.
Jupiter's gift was a large stuffed rabbit.
Silence descended in the room, a suffocating soundlessness that made me feel like I was choking. I didn't understand why at the time; the rabbit was innocent enough, all pink and plush with a wide ribbon tied into a bow around its neck. I didn't really care for pink, although I always seemed to end up with plenty of it, but except for the color it was a pleasant enough new friend. Jupiter smiled faintly when I gave her my thanks, but it was a distant, empty smile, and her eyes were like glass. Only my mother seemed pleased with the gift, and said as much; the others stared at Sailor Jupiter as if she had just set fire to the palace.
To my annoyance as the birthday girl, all the attention had shifted to the green-suited soldier, so I fetched the gift from my parents myself. It was a tall box, and although it looked too thin to fit a scooter inside it was the last present remaining, so I tore the paper apart eagerly, hoping with all my heart to see silver and blue shining inside.
It was a set of new dresses. Three to be exact, in various colors, all lace and chiffon and not a scooter at all. I felt in all the corners of the box just to be sure, and looked under the table in case there were more gifts hiding there. There weren't. I felt the dreadful tears of disappointment welling up in my throat.
"What do you say, Neo-Lady?" my father prompted. The urge to cry, to scream and throw a fuss grew stronger, but I was too old for tantrums now. I swallowed hard.
"Thank you," I whispered, staring at the box full of cloth that was not at all what I wanted. It was so silly; I already had a closet full of dresses and I had to wear the official white and gold dress at all public functions anyway. I didn't need any more. Mother got up from her seat and crossed the room to me.
"This is my favorite," she said, pulling out one of the outfits. It was a royal blue blouse and skirt set, made in the sailor-suit style of Old Earth school uniforms.
"It's adorable!" Sailor Venus cooed, admiring the small suit. "Chibi-Naru-chan, you'll look just like us! Hmm, Serenity, it seems a bit small though," she continued, glancing at me and examining the outfit closely.
"Nonsense. I placed the order myself. Here, let's try it on now." Mother pulled out the pins that held the blouse and skirt together, and I obediently raised my arms. I was used to being dressed with several people in the room, and there was no one here I needed to be shy around. My mother pulled off the dress that was a twin to her own and slipped the dark blue blouse over my arms.
It was definately too small. I had to squish my arms together over my head just to get them into the sleeves, and the cloth squeezed all the blood out of them, making my fingers numb. My mother pulled my ponytail of light-blue hair through the neck hole of the shirt and forced the torso of the blouse down over my head, blotting out the light.
"Too small," I protested through a mouthful of cloth.
"That can't be," Mother replied thoughfully, tugging at the stiff shirt, but the neck of the blouse was tight around the top of my head and I could tell from the cold air on my stomach that it didn't even reach my bellybutton. "It's just the right size for a girl of five."
"I'm seven!" The navy blue top was thick and clung to my face like a heavy curtain. I flailed my arms as my mother pulled harder on the bottom of the shirt, trying to force my head through.
"Oh. Yes, of course. So you are." For a moment Mother paused, her voice sounding confused, but then she resumed her efforts. The blouse inched downward bit by bit until it was so tight against my face I felt my nose would be permanently flattened into my head.
"Mama, it won't fit," I mumbled through the darkness.
"Maybe we should try one of the others?" Venus suggested, but Mother only tugged harder. My head and hands were throbbing painfully and it felt like my eyes would pop out. The shirt was mashed against my face, blocking out all light, and worse, all air. I couldn't breathe. I whimpered and struggled, but Mother would not stop trying to get the blouse over my head. I gasped, but no air got through. I batted at my mother feebly with my hands, but she seemed not to notice. Strange lights began to sparkle at the corners of my eyes, and my chest hurt, and my lungs strained but I couldn't get enough air, and finally I cried out.
"You're suffocating her!" It was Sailor Mercury's voice. My mother's hands vanished, and after a final moment of dreadful pressure the shirt was yanked off my head and the blessed light and air returned in a rush.
"Look at her, she's as red as a beet!" Venus exclaimed in horror. I gasped frantically, and then the tears came, great wracking sobs of released terror. I trembled and shuddered, tears pouring down my face.
Mother made no move to comfort me. She stared down at the royal blue sailor-suit in her hands, her face filled with a sadness and grief I had not seen before, as if she had just lost something irreplaceable. My father took a step forward, but it was too late. I dashed out of the room, crying, and ran all the way back to my room in my underwear. Nobody followed me.
After that, the atmosphere in the palace began to change. The new outfits were never brought to my room, and the pink rabbit Jupiter had given me disappeared a few weeks later. The denial my mother had wrapped herself in slowly faded away. When she looked at me, she saw me for who I was, and although she still smiled I began to get the feeling that I was not the child she wanted me to be. For the first time in my life, I felt like a disappointment.
I began to study hard, to train at everything with all my heart, hoping to win my parents' approval. None of it mattered. There were small congratulations, of course, but nothing lasting. Still, I did not give up hope. Surely there had to be something I could do to win back my mother's love.
It was around this time I began to hear the name of Small Lady, Chibi-Usa. It sounded to me like a secret password, or some kind of forbidden curse; it was spoken often but always in a whisper and behind closed doors when no one knew I was listening. Throughout it all, Sailor Venus was the only one who never stopped smiling, but the strange name fell from her lips as often as anyone else's. I learned to recognize her mask far sooner than an innocent child should.
I never did get that silver scooter.
"Today we'll review the Black Moon Uprising and the Nemesis Decision." Sailor Mercury shuffles through a stack of thin crystal data tablets, looking for her first set of lecture notes. Although I was late for my lesson, Mercury had been in the middle of another project and Venus had chatted with her until all the preperatory time was gone, and the legendary genius had not had a chance to organize her materials.
"I know, we've covered all the details before," the soldier agrees, cutting me off to make up for lost time. "However...well, there's been some strange activity on Nemesis recently, and I feel it's best for you to have the facts fresh in your mind."
"What's going on?" I ask, concerned. "Is it serious?"
"Nothing your parents can't handle," Mercury replies with a smile that is meant to be reassuring, but I see the unease behind her eyes. "Now, open galactic maps 15A and 143C, Court Tribunal 1836 and the Jupiter Record."
I sit down at my usual computer terminal obediently and locate the requested files, but the seed of worry has been planted. Sailor Mercury hates wasting time that could be used exploring new subjects on reviewing old lessons. Whatever is happening must be important.
My computer is a small workstation built into the side of the main control station at the center of the lab, which, like all Crystal Tokyo technology, is controlled by touchscreens. The terminal was designed to be used by an assistant, and there are several located around the laboratory, but Sailor Mercury always works alone.
"I am sorry, Neo-Lady, but I seem to have left my first tablet in my office. Please excuse me." I nod, and the blue-suited soldier hurries off to the large glass-walled room in a corner, leaving me alone. I have already opened the files I need, so I take a moment to let my gaze roam around my surroundings. In Sailor Mercury's lab, there is always something new to see.
Glass tubes rise toward the ceiling, surrounded by crystal pipelines that snake around and into them. Liquid of every color is flowing everywhere. The room is filled with computers and strange equipment, and even after nine hundred years I have still not learned what all of the devices do. The laboratory is rather quiet, but always there is a distant susurrus of research at work; something hissing, bubbling, or churning somewhere in the maze of equipment.
As I look around for new developments my eyes pass over the display screen of the main computer console, built into the middle of the control station I am seated at. Normally the touchscreen is blank; Mercury wraps up any projects that are not part of my lessons before I arrive, but today she had not had time and there are several open files on the display. Curious, I slide off my seat and approach the console, leaning forward to catch a glimpse of my teacher's latest experiments.
"Chiba Naru!" I nearly jump out of my skin at Sailor Mercury's shout. "What are you doing!?"
I whirl around to discover Mercury striding over to me almost in a run, and she pushes me aside rather roughly in her haste to reach the main console.
"I'm sorry, Mercury," I stammer, taken aback by her almost frantic rush to come between me and the computer screen. "I was curious about your latest projects."
"You need to concentrate on your lessons," the blue-suited soldier mutters. "My private files are none of your concern." She punches a button and the display goes blank. I sheepishly return to my seat, wary and frightened of the usually-calm Mercury's strange behavior. At the same time, my mind is alive with curiosity. I had only had a brief glimpse of the files, but two words had immediately jumped out at me, words that should not be on file anywhere.
Small Lady. My parents' phantom child whose name is still whispered in corridors and behind closed doors. Over the years I learned almost as much about her as my parents and the Sailor Soldiers know. I do not know what she looked like, but I can hazard a guess.
I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my room, alone, brushing my hair. At age ten it had already grown down to the middle of my back, soft waves of pastel blue flowing over my shoulders and almost to my waist. I had taken the ponytail holder out and let the hair hang loose around my head like a curtain, enveloping me in a sea of light blue.
My mother and father had been fighting again. I had been on my way to the library when I heard them in their suite, yelling at each other. I hated to hear them argue, and yet I couldn't walk away, as if I were rooted to the floor outside the rooms in a block of cement. I had stood there, frozen, twisting the white fabric of my dress in my hands, and couldn't stop listening. When I heard footsteps approaching the door I fled back to my own room.
From what I had heard, Mother wanted Father to stop telling me bedtime stories. Well, not all stories, just the ones about the little pink-haired girl who traveled back in time to Old Earth to help her parents. He had started telling me those tales when I tired of the children's section of the library. I loved those stories more than any others; I wanted to go back in time myself to become a warrior like the Sailor Soldiers and help defend the world from evil. I did not learn until later that Father had not been making it up.
Ever since I had seen one of the servants combing out her child's hair through the library window, brushing my own hair had always made me feel better when I was upset. It was comforting; the stiff bristles running through my soft lengths of blue hair and massaging my head. I only wished my mother would fix my hair sometimes. There was no real love in the touch of my nursemaids.
Mother. I didn't know why she disliked Father's stories so much, but I had heard her crying in their room and I knew she was feeling sad for some reason. I didn't like to see Mother sad, and more and more often she was when she looked at me. Idly I parted my hair down the middle of my head. One ponytail got to be so heavy sometimes, and I wondered if wearing it in two, like my mother did, made it any easier.
I twisted the bunches of hair into balls at the top of my head as neatly as I could with my little hands, but the buns ended up being more pointed than round. By the time I shoved enough pins in there to keep them still, the balls were tall ovals and the hair that dangled down was only long enough to reach my shoulders. I looked silly, I thought, and I giggled at my reflection in the mirror, but I looked more like my mother's daughter with my hair this way and my white and gold princess dress on. I decided to show Mother right away, hoping it would make her laugh and cheer her up.
Eagerly I skipped out of my room and hurried down the corridor to my parents' suite. The door was ajar, and it was quiet inside. I slowly pushed the door open and peered around the edge. Mother was sitting in there alone. I will never forget that image. It was still and silent, and my mother was leaning against one arm of a velvet couch, her legs drawn up on her other side. There was an open box on the floor that seemed to be full of photographs, and one was in her hand. Her long streams of hair and the hem of her white dress cascaded over the edge of the couch, brushing against the floor, and she was staring off into space to her right. Her face was sad, but with the sunlight streaming in through the window, she looked almost like an angel.
"Mama?" I crept timidly into the room and clasped my hands behind my back, blushing shyly but standing proudly as I waited for her to turn her head and see what I had done. She did.
A thick wave of nervous nausea rose in my stomach as I watched my mother's face change. Her eyes roamed from my feet to the pointed buns of hair on my head, and her expression faded from sadness into horrified revulsion, and then anger.
"Neo-Lady! What on earth!?" In a flash she was off the couch and striding toward me, her face set in a firm look of disapproval. Surprised and dismayed I shrank back toward the door, but I was too slow; she caught me by the arm and pulled me forward.
"Who did this?" she demanded, glaring down at me through blue eyes of ice. "Endymion?"
"No, Mama," I whimpered, my eyes filling with tears as I tried to pull away. "I did it. I wanted to look just like you..."
"Well, it's not allowed." Without further explanation she tugged me over to her dressing table and shoved me down on the cushioned chair. Mother started tugging the pins out of my hair, roughly, tossing them aside haphazardly.
"Ouch, Mama!" I protested as she pulled a few strands of blue out with the pins, but she did not hear me through her own murmuring.
"Disrespectful," she muttered bitterly behind me. "You are not Chibi-Usa. You can't replace her. Nobody can. Ever." Tears rolled down my face as pin after pin flew to the floor, and finally my hair was loose again, but dreadfully tangled. Mother reached for a comb. A moment later I was really crying.
These were not the tender, caring hands I had witnessed through the library window. My mother ripped the comb through my hair relentlessly, ignoring my pleading for her to stop. She yanked and tugged until the tangles finally came loose, along with quite a handful of hair and a flood of tears. I had never been in such pain in my entire life. Roughly she pulled my hair back and twisted it into its usual ponytail, muttering bitterly the entire time, and tied it so tightly that I could feel it pulling on my skin.
Finally she was finished, and the furious fire that had possessed her died out and vanished. She looked up and her eyes fell on my reflection in the mirror. I was red-faced and terrified, gasping to catch my breath and shaking like a leaf. The top edge of my dress was soaked, along with my cheeks.
Suddenly Mother seemed to realize what she had done. A look of horror crept across her face, and she reached for me, but it was too late. I leapt off the cushion and ran out of the room as fast as my legs could carry me, my head throbbing, my heart pounding, and my face on fire. When I reached the door I glanced back to see my mother fall to her knees on the carpeted floor, her arms outstretched toward me, her eyes filled with regret and her mouth open in a plaintive cry that died in her throat. Without hesitation I threw myself out into the corridor and slammed the door behind me.
After that day I never again called her Mama.
When night comes, I lie in my bed in the darkness, unable to sleep. My eyes are wide open but it is too dark even to see the canopy above my bed. My mind is racing.
What is Sailor Mercury studying? She is usually so proud of her projects and eager to share her discoveries with anyone who will listen, especially me. It's very unusual for her to hide her work, especially so forcefully. She was so desperate to stop me, and it threw her off for the rest of my lessons. She even cut our session short, even though we had started late. That was not the Mercury I know. Besides, why was she doing research that had anything to do with Small Lady?
After the hairstyle incident, I had begun to hear the name of Small Lady spoken more and more frequently. Among the Sailor Soldiers the conversations were sad, mournful, filled with memories and lamentation. My parents maintained hope, but it was a muted, bitter light, a mere shadow of what they had felt before. Had I a normal human lifespan I might never have figured out the mystery, but I had hundreds of years to research and observe.
It took quite a few centuries but I was finally able to piece it all together. I was a mistake who shouldn't have been born. My parents had been expecting a different child, the rose-haired angel who was the star of my father's bedtime stories. Worse yet, before she was even supposed to exist, they already loved her, as a friend and as a daughter. My birth had meant her death, and whatever they feel for me is nothing compared to the pain of losing their precious Chibi-Usa. A lost child can never be replaced.
It might not have affected my life so badly, were it not for the uncertainty. Nobody knows why the timeline changed, and so there is always a slight chance that Small Lady can be saved. No one who knew her can completely give up on that chance as long as it exists.
Still, Chibi-Usa should not be showing up in any of Sailor Mercury's files. I took care of that over a hundred years ago.
It was another uncomfortable dinner with Mother and Father. Things were better between us then, or so it seemed, but I knew better. Every smile they cast in my direction faltered, every glance held a trace of pain, every word an edge of bitterness. I could see it all as clearly as if they came right out and shouted it, and I was burning inside from the pain of it. They would speak my name one moment, and the next hers, as if she were some fallen hero who deserved to be honored, but they still tried to keep their words secret from me.
It was all immensely frustrating. I was a living, breathing young woman, and the princess of Crystal Tokyo, yet often it seemed as if I was little more than a shadow cast by a brighter star. For hundreds of years I dealt with the atmosphere growing steadily worse, as if I were being slowly suffocated to death. I went through periods of regret, of self-loathing, of rebellion, of pride. I sought attention and shunned it. I wanted to die; I wanted to surpass everyone. I wanted to run away. I wanted to make their lives worse with my presence. I decided my father loved a ghost and ignored me in her favor. Then I decided he simply loved me too much to hurt me with his eyes. I decided my mother was a broken, shattered woman, insane, and I hated her. Then I saw she was a sad victim of her own compassion, and I pitied her and hated myself instead. I loathed them. I loved them. I went through it all, each emotion more bitter and ruthless than the last.
Still, through all the suffering I kept it to myself, feigning ignorance. I am not sure if they realized how much I knew, but they were all certainly aware that I knew the story of Small Lady. Despite the centuries, however, we never spoke of it. Chibi-Usa was never out in the open, but she existed always, behind the scenes, casting her shadow over everything that happened in the palace. We all ignored the subject, and yet it never disappeared.
Finally, on this particular evening, I reached the breaking point. That day I had earned an especially high score on one of Sailor Mercury's more challenging tests, and I had managed to be proud of it even though I was in one of my low moods. I brought the test paper to show my parents over dinner, and they nodded over it appreciatively, giving me a few small words of congratulations.
Then they looked at each other. Neither one spoke, but I knew what they were thinking. I knew it as surely as if they had said it aloud, if they had shouted it to the entirety of Crystal Tokyo. They were thinking about Small Lady and the way she had performed in school. I didn't know if she had earned good marks or bad, but I didn't care. I had done something special, and all they could think about was her. A child who was little more than a dream.
I ripped my napkin off my lap, shot out of my chair, and slammed my silverware down on my plate. The dish cracked straight down the middle, and sauce dripped through onto the white tablecloth. Breathing hard with fury, I glared at my mother and father.
"Neo-Lady!" my Father scolded me, startled, but this time I would not be silent.
"You disgust me," I hissed through my teeth, the words coming too fast to hold them back. "Both of you." My clenched fists trembled at my sides, and I felt as if my chest would explode. "She's gone! Dead! Never coming back! She is dust! Either face it, or destroy me too!"
I regretted the words as soon as I said them, but it was too late. My mother recoiled as if I had slapped her across the face. I looked away before I could see her wide eyes fill with tears. My father slumped in his chair, his head hanging forward. Father is a strong man who stands tall under any pressure, but at that moment, he was weakened, utterly defeated.
The anger drained out of me as swiftly as it had arrived, but something inside me demanded I not break down. I turned on my heel and stomped out of the room before the regret could take me, before I could even consider apologizing.
After that, the whispering voices grew silent. The name of Small Lady was no longer spoken, at least not where I could hear it. I was the sole princess in the palace. At the same time, something had been broken that could never be mended. The next time I looked at my mother, her face was a blank, smiling mask, her eyes dead and empty. Father is not as good at forcing his eyes to lie. After a few days he learned to avoid my direct gaze. The energy of the palace faded away, and we ceased to be a family and became merely a group of people who coexisted. It remained so for the next hundred years, and is so today. Chibi-Usa should not be a factor in Mercury's research, but she is. I have to know why.
The deep blue door slides into the wall after I press my palm to the access plate. If anyone asks about this later, I'll just tell them I forgot something in the lab and went back to get it. I won't be here long anyway.
I slip through the doorway, leaving the light off, and slowly creep down the stairs into Sailor Mercury's research laboratory. In the darkness the strange glass tubes lean over me like rigid monsters poised to attack. I cling to the metal railing of the staircase, trying to calm my ragged breathing. Every quiet step I take sounds like an echoing boom in the silent stillness.
This is silly. It's just Mercury's lab; I've been in here a hundred times and there's nothing to be afraid of. Still, the fear of being caught keeps me crouched over as I reach the bottom of the stairs and steal across the floor toward the main computer console. A light touch on the screen brings the technology to life, and I bend over the console, swiftly navigating through the files.
Strangely, there is very little security surrounding Mercury's ongoing research projects, and the few precautions are easy to get around. Obviously nobody expected extra security to be necessary; only the Sailor Soldiers and the Royal Family can enter this room alone and the well-behaved Princess would never violate the rules. I smirk to myself, suddenly enjoying my newfound rebellious streak. Maybe it would be fun to break out of my mold once in a while.
After only a few minutes of searching I press my fingertip against an icon to open the files I want to see. My blood runs cold and I stand there for a moment, just staring blankly at the console in front of me.
The Timeline Restoration Project.
Beneath the bold title at the head of the file, I finally come face to face with my nemesis for the first time. The scanned image of an old photograph is centered on the page, and staring out at me from the console is the brightly-colored, youthful face of Chiba Usagi Small-Lady Serenity. The child created by destiny and destroyed by fate. Her physical features are much like I imagined them; soft rose-colored hair and ruby eyes with a bright smile that proves she's my mother's daughter. I had not, however, expected her to be so young. So energetic. So adorable.
For a long moment I stare at the image of my lost sister, the perfect child who was everything I am not. Finally I tear my eyes away and begin to read the supplemental files. Page after page of data unfolds before me. Timeline charts. Quantum disturbance graphs. Mundane events described to the finest detail. Endless test simulations involving time travel by just about everyone I know. Regular status reports that had been submitted to my mother and father. And here, there, everywhere, my name and that of Small Lady.
My mind numbs as it all becomes painfully clear, and I sink to my knees beside the flickering console, unable to tear my eyes away from the endlessly scrolling screens. There are years of research here, dating all the way back to the year of my birth. Since the founding of Crystal Tokyo, Sailor Mercury has spent all her life trying to determine what went wrong; why I was born instead of Chibi-Usa.
I start to tremble violently on the floor, clutching the edge of the console for support. So far, the answer had eluded Mercury, but it would not remain hidden for long. What would happen when she discovered the cause of the change in the timeline? Would the Sailor Soldiers send someone to the past to correct things, to make them right again, to - erase me? Would they send ME, to destroy myself in favor of the phantom Princess? Was she so much better than I was?
Hauling myself off the floor, I glare at the smiling face of Small Lady, haloed in a corona of rosy hair.
"It's MY life," I whisper fiercely. "IT'S MY LIFE!" I pound my fists against the console in a growing rage, ignoring the spasms of files opening and closing in confusion beneath my harsh touch. Breathing heavily in fury and fear, I close all the files associated with the Timeline Restoration Project and punch the Delete button. It is her or me. Her or me. I am alive, I am here, she is just an illusion, a dream that never came true! Without hesitation I confirm the delete command, and watch as Sailor Mercury's years of research vanish into oblivion.
After the last file disappears, I turn away from the console and run up the stairs, dashing through the door before it even opens completely. I sprint through the corridors of the palace, concentrating on the indignant anger coursing through my veins. I need this anger, I need to stay furious so I won't start crying. In a few minutes I reach my target, the forbidden door cloistered away in a corner of the building.
Before I can reconsider I throw the door open and rush through, and am greeted by an endless world of shifting mists and shadows. Even though I have seen this place once before I can't help but stop short, gaping in wonder at my surroundings. I must have crossed into another dimension. Behind me, the door clicks shut, and I whirl around in a brief moment of terror, but the door is still there ready and waiting to take me home.
Home. The thought of the palace of lies, and the Sailor Soldiers and my parents, brings the bitterness back with a vengeance. Steeled by my anger, I turn away from the door and set off into the swirling mists. I only take a few steps before it comes into view, the dark hulking mass of the Time Door. As I draw closer it towers above me, intimidating in its height and strength. At its base is a shadowy figure.
The woman is kneeling when I get there, crouched on one knee with her head bowed to me. She is a Sailor Soldier in a black uniform, with long dark green hair and a tall staff shaped like a key gripped in one hand. She does not look at me as I approach, not even when I draw so close that I know she can see the skirts of my white dress.
"You're Sailor Pluto, aren't you?" I ask.
"Yes, Neo-Lady. I am." The soldier rises to her feet, stretching to a height taller than my own; she seems older in appearance than my mother's guardians. For a moment I am intimidated by her strong presence, but she looks at me with crimson eyes filled with sadness and regret and I remember why I have come.
"Why did you do it?!" I demand, my voice growing louder with every word. "Why did you show my parents a future that would never be?!" I fling myself against her, I grasp the soft cloth of the Sailor Soldier uniform in my hands and shake the taller woman with all my strength, but she does not resist. "Why did you condemn me to a life in the shadow of someone who will never exist?!"
"Time is a river of constant change," Pluto replies quietly. "Its eventual course is never certain."
My anger is draining away, being replaced by grief, and I release the soldier's clothing and sink to the ground beneath the mists. Tears are rising in my throat, choking me.
"Why am I here?" I wail, as my vision begins to swim. "Why was the wrong Princess born, Pluto?" The tall woman sighs but does not move, standing rigidly above me.
"I don't know," she admits. "Throughout the late 20th century, all the signs of destiny pointed to the future your parents visited, the one in which Small Lady was born. I only allowed travel between the 20th century and the future as it stood at the time; I did not choose the path."
"Do you think it will ever end?" I ask quietly, kneeling on the unseen ground in this strange place as mist swirls around my waist. "Will they ever stop mourning her?"
"I do not know."
"I didn't ask you what you know, Pluto," I snap. "I asked you what you think!" I glare up at her, and she is silent for a long time before she responds.
"As long as there is hope," the soldier says softly, "they will never be able to let go."
"I found Mercury's research," I confess in a hoarse voice as my heart sinks into despair and begins to drown in misery. "They want to destroy me, do you know that? Even Mother and Father are in on it!"
"Mercury's research is out of curiosity only," Pluto tells me, but she still makes no move to comfort me. "Everyone who knew Small Lady wants to know why the timeline changed. Mercury's mission is to provide the Neo-Queen and King with all the available options and allow them to make a decision." Now Sailor Pluto crouches down to my level, her garnet eyes piercing into my own.
"Your parents love you, Neo-Lady. They love both of their children, living or no. I can not believe they would do anything to harm you."
"You don't KNOW that," I challenge, staring back at the guardian relentlessly. "They loved Small Lady first. What if Mercury proves the future would be better without me? What if Mother and Father choose to change time, to have Small Lady instead?"
Deep within the soldier's dark eyes something hardens, and her grip tightens on the key-shaped staff in her hand.
"I would not allow that," she says in a dangerously quiet voice. "I am bound by laws stronger than the will of the Neo-Queen, and will refuse her commands if necessary. You are Crystal Tokyo's Princess Serenity, Neo-Lady, and I will not permit anyone to reorder what fate has decided."
"But it doesn't make sense!" I protest, wiping a few tears away as I look up at the time guardian. "I've heard the stories. Small Lady was in the past for months! She influenced most of Mother's development as Sailor Moon! What happens to the past if she doesn't exist?"
"All I can tell you, Neo-Lady, is that the timeline has remained stable," the dark-skinned woman says. "Everything will work itself out in the end. You can trust in that. The past and the future are secure, with or without Chibi-Usa."
Pluto's words sound sincere, but I see it: the familiar slight shift in her eyes as restrained tears gather there, a sight I had seen on many faces whenever Small Lady was mentioned.
"You, too!" I burst out accusingly, jumping to my feet. "Even you, the caretaker of time itself, you favor a girl who never existed over a woman who does!" Frustrated, I turn away from the black-suited soldier and storm away from the Time Door and back into the palace, feeling utterly alone in a hostile universe.
The next few weeks pass like a surreal daydream, in which everyone manages to be more distant from me than usual. They surely know what I've done; Mercury must have discovered the files missing the very next day, but it seems nobody has the courage to talk to me about a project that puts my very existence at risk. It is not long, however, before I discover why Mercury wanted to refresh my memory of Nemesis.
It comes suddenly and almost completely unexpected. A low rumbling which, just as I begin to hear it, suddenly erupts into a tremendous explosion. The entire city of Crystal Tokyo shakes to its very foundations, and I tumble to the floor in the corridor where I am walking. I am alone, as usual, but at the moment of the attack I happen to be near the front doors of the palace. Struggling to my feet, I run toward the exit, consumed with a need to see if the city is all right. I guess I have some royal instincts inside me after all.
I burst through the doors and into chaos. A strange haze is hanging in the air, and at the base of the staircase and throughout the city people are falling to their knees, suffering. Children cry out and stumble to the ground. Men and women grab at their throats, gasping for air. The fog is surrounding the palace, too, but somehow I feel fine. I take a few steps forward, but I know there is no way I can help all these people, and I stand awkwardly in front of the doorway as my parents' subjects, my subjects, reach out toward me in their agony.
Looking up toward the sky, I notice the man. He is hovering in the air amid the haze, smiling as my people suffer. He is tall, and wearing a white uniform with a long dark cloak, and as he turns toward the palace he notices me. Beneath the mass of white hair on his head, his eyes are coal black, and they stare down at me with the hunger of an eager destroyer. There is a dark mark on his forehead, like my mother's moonbeam turned upside down. I have no power to oppose him, but he is attacking my kingdom, so I stare up at him defiantly.
He smiles unpleasantly, his face twisting into a victorious grin. The black moon on his forehead begins to glow and shift, changing its shape. I take a step backward, realizing the danger I am in, but the palace doors are too far away now and from the blinding glow on the man's forehead I know there is no time.
Suddenly I am not alone on the staircase. A figure in white darts out in front of me, a whirlwind of chiffon skirts and long hair. My mother. She raises her arm, and a tall rod is in her hand, crowned with an orb that I know contains the Silver Crystal. As the strange man releases his power in a beam of light that shoots toward me, Mother thrusts the rod out in front of her, and a dome of energy surrounds us. The enemy's beam strikes the dome and is absorbed, but the man keeps channeling more and more energy into his attack, refusing to give up.
Mother is struggling, beginning to tremble on her feet as she pours more power into the shield that protects us. I stand helplessly behind her, my eyes wide with surprise as she uses her very lifeforce to defend me, her dress and hair streaming behind her as energy blasts around us. Through the chaos of the battle I hear a defiant phrase fall from her lips.
"You will not touch my child."
At last the white-haired man's attack ceases, and Mother lets the dome dissolve. Weakened, she falls to her knees on the crystal staircase and I rush to her side, crouching next to her. She turns her face toward me, and the mask I have grown accustomed to has been stripped away, and although the pain and sorrow is still there I also see true concern.
"Are you all right, Neo-Lady?" she asks in a shaking voice. I can only nod, overwhelmed. All around us the explosions are continuing to shake Crystal Tokyo, and the people on the ground below are now lying very still. I reach for my mother's arms to help her to her feet, but my attention is drawn to a roaring sound growing above us.
The man in the white suit is still there. His head is thrown back and his fists are clenched as he hangs in the air, and he is yelling, howling out a summons. High above him the sky is darkening, until a mass of shadow appears. It has eyes, and a voice that screeches the day into night.
"Phantom," I hear my mother whisper, and I shudder. I remember that name from my lessons. The spirit of pure evil that had attacked the world long ago and was banished to Nemesis is loose, and has returned for vengeance. The white-haired man is drawing energy from the shadow demon, tendrils of black lightning snaking around him as his cape ripples in the storm of power. I glance down at my mother, and find her still weak and horrified at the sight above her. I look back toward the palace. No help has come yet, and the doors are too far away with my mother in this condition. The mark on the man's head is beginning to brighten again with the influx of energy.
There is only one option available to me. I pull the tall rod bearing the Silver Crystal out of my mother's hands, despite her protests, and leap forward to stand in front of her, bravely holding the rod out in front of us as the enemy straightens up and jerks his head forward. A stream of light blasts toward us, and with a roar of fury for what he has done to my city and my people, I shove the rod toward him at arm's length.
Something inside me bursts into flame. My battle cry becomes a yell of shock as a flood of energy explodes from my chest and streams down my arms. A powerful light fills the air, and I am blinded, but I do not falter. I don't know where this strength is coming from, but it is saving our lives, and I trust it with all my heart. I feel as if I am burning alive; a searing heat flows over my arms and down my legs, and my head snaps back as something blazes on my forehead. My dress is stripped away, and I can barely breathe, but out of nowhere a phrase forms in my mind and I shout it with everything I am.
"CRYSTAL MOON ILLUMINATION!"
All the heat and all the light rushes out of my body, blasted into the air toward my enemy. It is as if my very essence is shoved forward, all the desires and secrets of my heart pouring themselves into a single desperate attack. When the light fades, the man in the white suit is gone. So, also, is Phantom.
I stand at the top of the stairs, breathing heavily, feeling utterly drained from whatever I have just done. A breeze flows past me, and my legs feel strangely exposed. I look down, remembering the heat that blasted my dress away, blushing despite myself.
To my surprise I discover I am dressed in the uniform of a Sailor Soldier. A white bodysuit is covering my torso, accented with red bows, and a short blue skirt hangs from my hips. I raise my arms, still holding my mother's rod, and find white gloves covering them up to my elbows. Tall red boots are on my feet. Hesitantly I reach up to touch my forehead, and my fingertip traces the sharp outline of a crescent moon. I have transformed, and I know this uniform; I remember it well from my father's stories. I have become a warrior to defend my people. Turning around, I face my mother, who is still crouched on the ground.
Tears are flowing down Mother's cheeks as she stands up, and I know why. Now that I am Sailor Moon there is no longer any chance that the Chibi-Usa she knew and loved will exist. I take a deep breath, forcing myself to stand firm as I wait for the inevitable cries of grief, the face filled with sorrow, the hurried words of excuse and the flight to a more private location to mourn. No matter what happens, I refused to be ashamed of the soldier's uniform I now wear. This is my birthright, and I will wear it proudly.
To my utter surprise, Mother dashes forward, throws her arms around me and hugs me tightly. For the first time in what seems an eternity I feel true warmth in that embrace, so close and honest that I can feel her heart pounding in her chest.
"I am so proud of you, Chibi-Naru-chan," Mother whispers in my ear. I am so stunned that I can not even speak or move, and I stand stiffly as she squeezes me tightly and then lets go, standing back to admire the blue and red suit that has formed around my body. She smiles at me, a real, genuine smile, and I tingle from my fingers to my toes. Then she presses a hand to her damp cheek in surprise.
"Why am I crying?" Mother wonders aloud, her eyes narrowing beneath her crown. "Something...sad...happened, I think, but I can not remember it now." She wipes the tears away from her cheeks and beams at me, her blue eyes shining. "Congratulations, Sailor Moon."
My mother is truly radiant when she smiles.
"Pluto...did you know this would happen?"
Sailor Pluto casually reaches for the teapot and refills her cup. As usual, she takes a moment to consider her response before she answers, as if savoring her own words.
"There was a possibility," she says at last. I almost argue for more details, but I reconsider and simply nod thoughtfully.
The war against Nemesis was long and difficult; despite the loss of Prince Diamond, the image of Phantom had only been an illusion, and the Black Moon was free to send even more powerful warriors against us. Fortunately, the Sailor Soldiers now had Sailor Moon to fight alongside them, and after a long struggle we were able to turn the tide against our enemies. Now that it's over, I make sure to schedule time to have tea with Sailor Pluto at the Time Door. Mother never objects; she no longer remembers why she was angry with the guardian of time.
"Will all their memories disappear?" I ask quietly. After I became Sailor Moon, the image of Small Lady vanished from all the old photographs my parents had saved. Mother found the box full of pictures from her childhood under my parents' bed and couldn't remember why she had hidden it there. Chibi-Usa disappeared slowly from all of their minds, gently fading away from the Sailor Soldiers until she finally vanished even from the memories of the man and woman who should have been her parents. I am now my mother and father's only child, and the only one there will ever be, and they love me more than anything or anyone. Still, I can not help but feel a little sad.
"Yes," Pluto replies softly, her eyes becoming distant. "Every now and then one of them might dream of Small Lady, or see something that reminds them of her, but eventually those incidents will cease as well."
"So, she has truly died then," I almost whisper, staring down into my teacup. I imagine I can see the image of a pink-haired little girl staring back from the dark liquid, smiling and laughing.
"No one is dead who has someone to remember them," the green-haired soldier tells me with a smile. "I am outside of time, and your memories are of stories you were told, not actual experiences. Our memories will remain."
"Then, I will fight for my lost sister along with the other people of Crystal Tokyo," I resolve. As long as she exists in my heart, Chibi-Usa will not be lost. She was still a girl with a pure heart, who did wonderful things...
That reminds me.
"Something still doesn't make sense, Pluto," I comment slowly. "Those stories my father told me, of a girl going back in time to help her parents; they never happened now, did they? How can I remember them?"
"Ah." The soldier smirks at me over her steaming teacup, a mysterious light shining in her burgundy eyes. "The timeline heals its own wounds, Neo-Lady. There may be some truth in those stories yet, although the main character may be different."
Sailor Pluto tilts her head and winks at me.
After a moment, I smile.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and its associated characters and canon are the property of Naoko Takeuchi and Kodansha.