Third First Breaths

Pluto

Setsuna Meiou wakes up in her bedroom alone, as soon as her body is done materializing. It is 00:00 on December 23 – The Winter Solstice this year. She brushes over the exact time and space coordinates and holds a hand to her heart. It always beats differently outside the time vortex. Right now it pounds loudly in her chest. She sits up.

It is 4 months, 3 days, 15 hours, and 55.4 minutes since she died, since her star seed was dropped into the Galaxy Cauldron. She hears breathing from the room to the left of hers, but nothing from the room to her right. So Michiru and Haruka are here…and Hotaru is gone.

Of course not, Setsuna chastises herself. Hotaru will be with her father…where she belongs, because she's not yours Pluto!

The weight of lonely reality drags at her chest, and she suddenly feels the absence of the promise ring on her finger – the one Haruka had bought the three of them when they set about raising Hotaru. Hotaru is not really her child. And no matter how they try to include her Michiru and Haruka belong to each other. None of them need her now.

Her mission is over. She doesn't know why she's awoken here instead of the time vortex. It makes it more painful. Every one of her senses, the ones that inform her of the exact date, time, planet, coordinate of space that she is in remind her that she'll be called back eventually, more eons guarding that stupid door. She lets herself sob into the dark room, arm clutching tight to her ribs like it might hold her together. She feels the path to the Crystal Millennium paved out in the time stream – stable, as it should be. So she is done here then. She doesn't know when she'll leave, but surely soon she'll have to soon.

This is an interlude, she reminds herself as she sobs. I always knew that.

She cries in fits and starts for 3 hours and 19 minutes before her phone startles her. It rings from the bedside table where it's been plugged in to charge for four months. She stares puzzled at the unfamiliar number before answering.

"Hello."

"Mama Suna!" her baby cries. Her heart hurts. Hotaru has never known how much it means that even with her memories and battles at her back, she still calls her Mama. And it's just her, she reminds herself. She still calls Ruka Papa sometimes and Michiru is Mama whenever Hotaru wants something, but Setsuna is always Mama. No matter what.

"Hotaru! Oh goodness. You're all right. We're all right. I can't believe…" that you'd call me and not your father, that I'm still here, that you still call me that…

"I woke up at Dad's," Hotaru explains. "Mama could you maybe…bring some of my clothes over."

Setsuna laughs as she cries, swinging her legs out of bed. "Of course, Little One. She throws away the phone on the bed and rushes to her closet, grabbing a pair of purple pyjamas and buttoning the shirt as she runs from her room to the empty one next door. She stuffs a backpack full of Hotaru's newest clothes and changes into Sailor Pluto before swinging the Garnet Rod in the air. This is a clear abuse of the laws of Time. She doesn't care.

"You're here!" Her baby launches at her as she steps through the portal. Her uniform fades and the garnet rod clatters to the floor as she gathers Hotaru in her arms – this girl who shouldn't feel so much like her child. She cries into Hotaru's hair. It still smells like the berry blast shampoo with the cartoon fish on the bottle. Setsuna buys it to remind Hotaru that she can still be a child if she wants.

"Little One," she chokes on her words. "We're all right." She feels Hotaru tighten her arms around Setsuna's back.

"It's okay, Mama." Hotaru whispers.

As the sun prepares to rise, Setsuna pushes back the duties entrusted to her as the Guardian of Time. Right now she is a mother. She'll hold onto that identity until the Universe pries it from her hands.

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