“Yes, as a matter of fact, I’d like you to get my stationary kit, please.”
“Would m’Lady like something to eat or drink?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“You know that Lady Mercury said you need more calcium, m’Lady.”
Hotaru made a disgusted face. “Fine. I’ll have a glass of milk too.” She watched the young lady in waiting rush off to the kitchen, all business, and her lips twitched a little. They all assumed she was completely helpless. Sometimes it was pleasant being waited on hand and foot, but usually it was slightly annoying. At least she knew they meant well.
Hotaru’s eyes went blank as she went back to her interrupted train of thought. It’d been years since she’d seen Usagi. It was hard to think of her as ‘Usagi’. She still thought of her as Chibi Usa, from when they’d first met, but when Usagi had first been born Hotaru had decided to keep herself at a distance, until they met in the past. If Hotaru’s memories served her correctly, Chibi Usa hadn’t known her as an adult before she’d traveled to the past, while it was painfully obvious that she’d been friends with ‘Puu’, and Hotaru didn’t want to mess with something so sensitive as the time line. That was more Setsuna’s area of expertise. The thing that had her distracted was Chibi Usa would be returning to the future soon, and she didn’t really know how to handle it. It would be wonderful to see her old friend again, but she was old compared to Chibi Usa, now. Hotaru had seemed to stop aging once she hit twenty-five, like all the other senshi, but when Chibi Usa came back she would only be twelve.
The lady in waiting bustled back with Hotaru’s stationary and a tall glass of milk with another smaller one of ice water. Hotaru began to pen a letter in her favorite shade of violet ink, but she hadn’t even finished writing the date when she realized that the servant wasn’t leaving. She looked up. “Yes?” She couldn’t keep the annoyance out of her voice completely.
“I’m sorry, but I thought I’d wait until you finished your milk so I could bring it back down to the kitchen for you.”
Hotaru wrinkled her nose at the thought of actually drinking all that milk. She’d been planning on dumping most of it out her window. The servant had that stubborn look in her eye, though, so Hotaru gave a long suffering sigh and an accusatory look to the woman as she resignedly reached for the glass. She opened her mouth and felt the cold, creamy milk slide down her throat. She hated the way it seemed to coat her throat. As soon as she’d swallowed the last of it she grabbed for the water to wash the taste of it out of her mouth. The servant smiled happily and took the offensive glass out of her sight. Solitude at last. Hotaru loosed a sigh of relief.
She’d decided to ask Neo-Queen Serenity for advice on how to deal with Usagi--Chibi Usa--since she would undoubtedly be planning on how to deal with the same sort of problems. She smiled as she penned her letter. It’d been so long since she’d seen anyone. She was so isolated in her keep, but she couldn’t seem to adapt to the bustling pace of Crystal Tokyo. She liked the dark gray stone her home was built with--it seemed to possess all the strength she lacked. Even though she’d grown comfortable here, in her isolation, she thought it’d be nice to see everyone again. It was always a pleasure to see Serenity, and she hadn’t seen Michiru or Haruka in too long. It would do her some good to visit Crystal Tokyo. With that decision made, she added another paragraph to her missive, telling Serenity when to expect her, and signed and sealed it. The lilac scented wax she used to seal the letter seemed a bit archaic, but Hotaru enjoyed these little affectations--it cultivated her aura of mystery.
She stood up and carried the finished letter and half empty glass of water down the dark, winding stone staircase. Beautiful lamps spun refracted light off the gray stone, making the granite seem to flicker and dance. Hotaru ran her splayed fingers along the cold blocks as she walked down the staircase. It seemed a little too cold here. Maybe a few tapestries would make it seem more pleasant, she mused as she came to the ground floor landing. She blinked as she stepped into the light bathed hall. A servant bumped her as she rushed by with only a quick glance. The woman had almost left the room before she realized who she’d hit. She dropped the clean linens she’d been carrying with a startled exclamation.
“M’Lady! Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
They were all so overly protective. Hotaru suddenly felt as if she were suffocating.
“No. I’m fine. Here.” She thrust the finished letter out at the woman, who was worriedly wringing her hands. “I want you to mail this as soon as possible, and tell the steward that I want him to prepare for a trip.”
“A trip? Who’s going?” The woman couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice as she automatically reached for the letter.
“M’Lady! Are you sure? I m-mean--”
Definitely suffocating. “Yes, I’m sure. Don’t look at me like that! I’m not made of spun glass!” Hotaru swept past the woman with a frustrated glare, and kept going until she was outside. She stood outside the main entrance to her keep and took her shoes off. It was so rare for her to feel simple pleasures, like cool, green grass between her bare toes. She silently watched the sun begin to set--a natural fireworks display. As the sun fell beneath the horizon, the dark violet of the night sky chased away the flaming reds and oranges, and invited the cold, sparkling stars into the night. The universe seemed to be like that, she mused to herself. Cold silence and darkness always won over brightness and light in the end. It seemed to be the reason for her existence--the link between the light and the dark, between death and rebirth. She put her arms around herself and shivered. She seemed to be a creature of contradictions. How funny that she could feel so alone, and yet be suffocating, all at the same time!
“Is m’Lady cold? You shouldn’t be out here alone in the dark. And without your shoes on!” Yet another efficient servant came to her side to put a warm cape over her shoulders. Hotaru caught a glance of the woman shaking her head at her mistress’s silliness, but couldn’t bring herself to care. She ignored the woman’s gentle but insistent tugs on her arm. Instead she simply stood straight, grateful for the warm cloak wrapped around her thin body, and watched the stars finish coming out over the eastern horizon.
Hotaru smiled to herself, amused. Haruka-papa. Michiru-mama. She must be feeling nostalgic. She hadn’t called them that in years! Ever since they’d stopped aging and Hotaru had caught up with them, it’d seemed a little silly to call them that anymore. She placed her chin in her palms, and her elbows on her drawn-up knees. Everything had changed after the disaster. Papa had died, and while she always would love Haruka and Michiru, they could never quite replace him. So she’d gone off to live in solitude, and Serenity had been kind enough to send some servants off to care for her.
And now she was going back to Crystal Tokyo. Would they be happy to see her? Would they even care? Serenity would, of course. Her heart was big enough to care for everyone and everything. But would anyone else? Hotaru wrapped her arms around her legs and looked down at her feet. She wiggled her toes inside her shoes and continued to wonder. Would Michiru and Haruka even notice her arrival? It so often seemed that they were so wrapped up in themselves that the rest of the world barely mattered. She buried her face in her knees and began to shake with worry. What about Chibi Usa? Would she want to be friends with a woman who was so much older than her now? Would the young princess even care about her anymore.
“M’Lady?” Hotaru jerked her head up from her knees and looked through the partition at the chauffeur. “We’re almost to the palace. I thought you’d like to know.” She wiped at her wet eyes with her hand, glad for once she never wore makeup. Hotaru wished there was a back door she could just slip into. Walking up the Serenity and Endymion with a whole crowd watching wasn’t going to be pleasant.
The car stopped in front of the royal palace, and Hotaru supressed an urge to gape like a village idiot. The Crystal Palace always affected her like this, no matter how often she’d seen it. The chauffeur opened her door, and she threw back her shoulders and climbed out as regally as she could. Then she began the long, lonely walk to the throne room. Courtiers, government officials, and even a large crowd of the common folk lined the walls of the hall as Hotaru slowly walked down the red carpet toward the large double doors that led to the throne room. Petitioners shot angry looks at her as she walked ahead of them in line, and she could feel them wondering who she was, until the unrelieved black of her dress and the ghostly pallor of her skin brought to mind chilling fables of the messiah of silence. She actually felt them draw back with fright as they realized who she must be. Hotaru began feel very shaky at their implicit rejection of her. It was just like it had been when she was a child, before she knew she was Sailor Saturn. Superficially it was for a different reason this time--they were drawing back from her might as a senshi instead of her powers to heal--but she knew it was really for the same reason. They were afraid. She slowed her measured tread to the audience chamber as she became more and more distressed at their fear. She closed her eyes for a brief moment. She couldn’t allow them to affect her this way! But Hotaru was affected--nearly immobilized, in fact--by their reaction to her, so she opened her eyes as Lady Saturn. She felt calm cover over her anguish like a smothering blanket, and she blinked her eyes, now cold with dispassionate unconcern, and began to walk toward the audience chamber again. Serenity and Endymion were waiting for her.
She finally neared the gigantic double doors, made of a translucent milky quartz, and stood at the end of the column lined corridor, waiting for the herald to announce her to the court. While she waited she scanned the throne room. Serenity and Endymion sat on twin thrones, and along either side of them sat one or two senshi. Mercury sat by Serenity’s side as she heard petitions, dressed in a sharp powder blue business suit, whispering advice in her ear. Venus hovered near, in her sailor uniform, obviously standing guard just in case anyone decided to try anything to the King or Queen. And next to King Endymion sat Uranus, having a quiet conversation with him about something.
Serenity finished with the petition before her, and the herald motioned her forward. As she stepped forward he called out in a loud voice, “I present to the court Lady Saturn.”
A hush fell over the court as everyone turned to stare at her. She kept the cold mask of Saturn on her face as she stepped forward to bow to her Queen and King. Serenity quickly rose from her seat to pull Saturn back up.
“None of that, now, Hotaru.” She wrapped her in a warm hug. “I’m so glad to see you. It’s been so long!” Hotaru felt her mental mask shatter in face of Serenity’s welcome. She hesitantly hugged her back.
“And it’s always wonderful to see you, Serenity. But--why is everyone so surprised to see me? Didn’t you get my letter?”
Serenity smiled. “Actually, I did, but thought I’d surprise everyone else. With stewards and officials always trying to schedule me to death, I thought I’d keep this under my hat, or they’d strangle us both with ceremonies.”
Hotaru smiled at the supressed chuckle in Serenity’s voice. “Well, that’s a relief. I was a little worried about that.”
Serenity looked up at the herald. “The audience is over. Anyone else with petitions will have to wait until tomorrow.” The herald gave a quick bow, and started herding everyone out of the room, then he closed the huge quartz doors behind him as he left as well.
As soon as the doors were closed, Haruka, Ami, Minako and Endymion came forward to greet Hotaru as well.
Ami smiled her quiet smile. “You’re looking well, Hotaru. It’s good to see you. Now I won’t have to travel to that bleak castle of yours to give you your annual check-up!” She raised an eyebrow as Hotaru stifled a groan.
Minako bounced up, cheerful as always. “I’m so glad that’s over. I’ll be happy when it’s Makoto’s turn to stand guard. It’s hard keeping my face stern for that long!” She enveloped Hotaru in a fervent hug. ‘It’s so good to see you, Hotaru! It’s been so long!”
Endymion smiled and shook her hand, as reticent with emotions as she was. The warm glow of being here, with her only real friends and comrades, made her cheeks feel pink with happiness. If only she had the stamina to live here in Crystal Tokyo, she could have this sort of camaraderie all the time. She turned to the only one here who hadn’t greeted her yet with a rare mischievous glint in her eyes.
“Hello, Haruka-papa.” She wasn’t disappointed. Haruka took a step back in surprised shock, and everyone covered their faces to hide their smiles, except Minako, who just laughed out loud. It was hard to take Haruka by surprise like that.
Haruka opened her mouth say something when Rei and Makoto ran into the room from one of the private entrances. “Hotaru! I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone you were coming?”
Serenity looked at Rei. “I knew she was coming, but decided to keep it a secret so none of my overly efficient government officials would decide we needed some impressive ceremonies to welcome her.”
Rei’s slightly pugnacious expression softened. “Oh, well, that’s all right, then.”
Serenity pointed toward the gilded door that led to her private suite. “Why don’t we leave this huge, drafty room and go chat someplace more comfortable.
Hotaru followed Serenity, surrounded by her friends, feeling like she was home, at last.