The time around Hotaru had always been a little warped, but Setsuna, who had first noticed it, and the others assumed it was a normal thing. The awakening of the star seeds within the senshi meant they were given their own form of eternal youth, allowing them to bypass the regular flow and effects of time. In the eyes of Sailor Pluto, they all had a bit of odd twists in their times.
Not only that, but Hotaru had also aged rapidly to fight as Sailor Saturn. If her time was 'regular', that would be an abnormality in itself. Setsuna kept an eye on Hotaru's growth, but other than the massive growth spurt she went through to fight alongside them, she seemed fine, so Setsuna let herself relax.
Except, over a year after the incident with Chaos and Chibi-Usa's return to her own time, it wasn't just the odd twist in the flow of time around Hotaru's body that was a concern.
Rather, her body remaining unchanged was the bigger issue. Her hair and nails had slowed growing before stopping altogether. Her height didn't change.
She was frozen at the physical age of eleven. Had this happened at the arrival of Crystal Tokyo, it might have been more understandable, but it was too early – both for the world, and for Hotaru, not yet fully matured.
Setsuna and Ami put their heads together, and came to the conclusion that it was a side effect of going through rapid growth. Since she had aged up so quickly, now her body was taking a 'break' and had stopped aging altogether.
"It might be similar to what Small Lady went through in her own timeline," Setsuna said thoughtfully. "I have limited memories from myself in that parallel world on just what happened, but I know something happened that kept her from physically aging to adulthood for nine hundred years."
And only after coming to their time did the princess from a future timeline start growing, bit by bit.
Having something in common with her best friend didn't reassure her now, not when Chibi-Usa was no longer here. Hotaru looked down at her body and sighed.
"Can we fix it?" Usagi asked, concern clear in her eyes. She looked ready to pull out the Silver Crystal and begin showering the senshi of silence with its magic light the moment she was given the okay.
Ami bit her lip. "The thing is, I don't think it's something that needs to be fixed. It's actually her body's way of trying to protect itself."
If it was her body's way of making up for lost time, there was no point on relying on the Legendary Silver Crystal.
Setsuna nodded. "Left alone, she will eventually recover without any aftereffects and start aging normally again."
As if to laugh in the faces of their hypothesis, however, transformations soon began to cause Hotaru pain. It was a pain she unfortunately remembered, that of her body being forced to disintegrate. With the feeling of her body being broken down drained away her powers as Sailor Saturn. Hotaru had to sit out on the occasional fights that came along, but soon the pains came more frequently. It hurt her when the others were fighting, two blocks away. She felt it when they were fighting in the city somewhere, pangs of agony resonating through her body from her very soul. She shuddered with pain when they transformed.
It came to the point that being around the other senshi, even when they were civilians, caused her pain. The other guardians were helpless as Hotaru silently suffered, her usually pale face absolutely bloodless and gaunt, lips torn apart from her biting at them to not scream. To help her was to stay away, but that meant she had to be alone. And yet if they drew close to her, wanting to keep her company, it caused her more pain than it did any good.
Ami described it as an allergic reaction to the concerned senshi.
"Basically, her powers need a chance to mature properly," she explained. "Hotaru aged at an accelerated rate so she could fight at our side when there were enemies of a large scale like before, but in a time of peace, warriors don't need to fight, which means her body now needs to catch up to the growth before she can use it safely."
She typed some things onto her computer, and projected images of the solar system above their heads. Within the model of each of their planets shone the star seeds. Sapphire, amber, gold and silver, ruby, emerald, amethyst, ultramarine, aquamarine and garnet.
Familiar colors, familiar sights that left their hearts pang with a longing for a home they had not known in this life.
"The problem is most of us were physically matured enough when we became senshi, and later gained access to our planet crystals. Hotaru, though . . ."
Hotaru had been robbed of her own body before it was destroyed by the parasite that had taken over. Then, Sailor Saturn, lacking a form of flesh and blood emerged from the ruin of her body as a soul before throwing herself along with Master Pharaoh 90 beyond the dark dome to rid the world of his abominable presence, and was given a second life as an infant by their queen and messiah. Except that infant had then grown rapidly to fight and been robbed of the wellspring of her power by Galaxia and melted into the cauldron where all star seeds began, and while the Legendary Silver Crystal had restored them all, it didn't change the fact that Hotaru had been through a lot.
Sailor Saturn had never been very active in their previous lives, and the powers of destruction needed a vessel strong enough to host it. Until Hotaru caught up to her borrowed time and her body's balance was restored, it would remain dormant within her soul.
But with her powers needing rest, it left the yet-mortal body of Saturn's reincarnated princess vulnerable – to the influences of the other planets, not just foes that wished her harm. As a senshi she could stand her own against their influence, but when Sailor Saturn could not be called, they weren't on equal footings in terms of power.
There was a reason why during the Silver Millennium, the princesses of the planets were kept on their home castles until they were awakened to their own power, capable of using their birthrights. To affect each other's domains was to affect their own souls.
And Hotaru's soul was defenseless against the might of her fellow senshi at the moment. It reacted to let its host know of the dangers, much like the body's own mechanism of defense. It alerted her with pain, as her bared soul struggled at the exposure to power not of its own birthright. No matter the intentions behind those who possessed it, her very being recognized the other senshi's powers to be a threat to itself and rejected it with all its might.
Truly, it was an allergic reaction.
The best method, of course, would be to remove Hotaru from the 'allergens'. Elysion was offered as a sanctuary by Mamoru. She would be able to hide away there and not have to worry about suspicions regarding her unchanging age. She would also be safe, watched over by Helios and the ancient magic that warded the former capital.
Kind as the offer was, however, to be in the slumbering sacred land was to be forced to be in an enchanted sleep as well, and Hotaru protested to that.
"I can live alone," she volunteered. "At a – a dormitory. Or a homestay. I can go overseas if I need to. Just don't make me stay in Elysion by myself."
She protested to it quietly and meekly, but the senshi had already scrapped that option. Hotaru had suffered as silently as she could so as to not inconvenience them. They weren't going to let their youngest be forced to sleep again, all by herself.
Helios – woken from his own dreams at the call of his prince – agreed, though for a different reason.
"The enchanted slumber of Elysion would also slow down the time flowing around her," he explained, reminding them all of the flaw in that idea. "It would effectively increase the time she spends recovering."
He did, however, offer a solution.
"My prince," he said to Mamoru. In the crowded apartment of the Chiba-Tsukino couple, he seemed out of place with his faint coloring and clothing from another era, but he stood without concern for such things. "How much of your former life do you remember?"
Like most of the senshi, Mamoru remembered some, but not all. Serenity, the identities of his guardians, details of life as a prince in a castle that no longer existed. Fighting. Laughing. Weeping. Dying.
Helios nodded as if he had expected this answer. "We did not want to approach you until you could call us yourself," he said. "For myself, the dream world was under threat from Nehellenia, and my hand was forced. But the others . . . ."
"The others?" Mamoru looked alarmed. "'We'?"
"The Shitennou were your generals and guards," Helios murmured, before his voice took on a touch of mournfulness. "Powerful knights worthy of the title 'guardians'. It was why Beryl and Metallia targeted them. But they were not the only ones called as such on Terra."
Mamoru and the other senshi paid close attention at this revelation. On the other side of the communicator, in her own room at the house she lived in with her parents, Hotaru also listened in, unable to physically be there without collapsing in pain. Even this distance wasn't enough to stop the pain completely, but at least she could still listen to the discussion and pay attention to what was being said.
"Guardians like you?" Ami asked, astute as always in picking through his words and analyzing possible outcomes of where he was heading.
"Like myself," Helios agreed. "I have little offensive capacities, but I was a priest, and therefore responsible for the purified state of Elysion and the realm of dreams that sustained its magic. There were others like me, responsible for . . . areas not involving direct combat."
Mamoru noticed the pause and felt as if there had been something else Helios wanted to say, but the choice in word drew his attention more. "'Were'?"
Helios smiled, a little helplessly. "I was a special case, my prince. They were long-lived, inheritors of Terra's lost magic who bore their torches to the best of their abilities, but a great deal of time had passed since the fall of the Silver Millennium. As of now, only one of the original guardians other than myself remain."
That revelation shook Mamoru, anyone could see. Usagi wordlessly held his hand and tucked herself into his side while he pulled himself back together. His grip on her hand was hard, almost painful, and she bore it without complaint.
"And the last guardian remaining?" Setsuna asked. She, too, could begin to see why Helios had brought this up.
"He was called Acheron back then," Helios answered. "He was tasked with keeping the balance of the world until you were reborn, my prince."
"Acheron," Mamoru tried the unfamiliar name, and could not remember anything from his previous life. It left a bit of bitterness in his mouth, that he was so disconnected from his own planet and memories.
"He goes by a different name in the present – that was his way of keeping himself alive, through the years, walking among mortals and passing his days watching the balance of the world." Helios brushed his hair out of his eyes, older than the age he appeared to be. "He will be honoured to aid the guardian of silence in her current plight."
Haruka looked doubtful, unable to trust someone she had never met or known about until this moment with the care of her adopted daughter. "Can we trust him?"
Michiru also had questions of her own. "And are we sure that his presence won't hurt Hotaru?"
"He would not harm one of the princess's guardians," Helios insisted. "And we are not on par with bearers of star seeds – our presences will not register as a threat to Saturn's soul."
It was a valid theory, Ami agreed after some thought.
"I still want to meet him," Haruka grumbled, not looking convinced even with Ami's word to back him up.
"I would also like to meet him," Mamoru added.
Helios looked at his prince apologetically. "My prince, he would prefer not to meet you until you regain your memories of him."
The rejection was gentle, but it was still a terrible blow to him. The blood drained out of his face at that, and Mamoru rubbed at the lower half of his face, conflicted.
"Does he resent me?" he said at last, unable to hold back the question despite fearing the answer that may come.
Usagi held tight to Mamoru like he would collapse if she didn't. She might not have been wrong about that, in a way.
The priest's eyes widened in surprise. "No!" he shouted, before he flinched back. "No. He doesn't resent you. But Acheron, for all that he can be obfuscating, has his reasons. He would rather not risk his presence forcing your memories back."
"And if they never come back?" Mamoru asked. It had been years since he had first donned an enchanted tuxedo and started running around as Tuxedo Mask, haunted by dreams that insisted they were real. Years since he had learned of his previous life, and still much of his past's memories were locked away.
"They will," Helios assured. "At least, the important parts."
Mamoru did not like it. He really didn't.
But he understood. While he wanted to meet the guardian he had not remembered, he could respect his wishes.
Without him, Hotaru was introduced by Helios – whose presence did not bring out the reaction the senshi did like he had promised – to the survivor of the Silver Millennium called Acheron.
"That's a name I haven't heard in a while," the man muttered, running a hand through his shaggy white hair, after Helios had faded away. He looked mortal, and more importantly he looked like a normal young man who spent most of his days at ease without care for much, not a guardian of ancient magic. His plain kimono was worn in the way only clothes that had been often-worn could, and a pair of round glasses glinted on his face. "I currently go by Kawahira Riku. A pleasure to meet you, Princess Saturn."
She took his offered hand, large with bony fingers, and shook it. One of the fingers had a ring on it, but the metal was cold to the touch. "I'm Tomoe Hotaru, Kawahira-san."
Haruka didn't trust him. Michiru was hesitant.
Setsuna, however, had spoken to him at length in private, and she refused to share the details of her conversation with anyone. But she did say that Hotaru would be in good hands with Kawahira, and while Uranus was their leader, when Pluto spoke with advice they listened.
Hotaru packed her bags and moved into the rooms on the third floor.
"I live on the second floor with my 'grandmother'," he said, putting emphasis on the last word. "She is not aware of my true identity, and I prefer to keep it that way."
"I understand," Hotaru said. It would be hard to explain, she knew all too well from watching the others keep their identities from their families. In that sense she was lucky – her current family all knew of who she was, both sides of her.
Kawahira nodded, and while his expression didn't change there was a more approving air about him then.
"Welcome to Namimori, Tomoe-chan," he announced in his lilting voice. "It's a fairly peaceful town, most of the time."
AN: A 'Hey what if Checker-Face and Sephira were survivors of the SilMil' story where Tomoe Hotaru gets the spotlight (and therefore the misery that comes with getting Huinari's attention). SM is over and the only change to the canon there is that Usagi and Mamoru did not give birth to Chibi-Usa yet.
Basically my attempt at answering the unanswered questions I had about KHR (so what up with Kawahira and Talbot what) and SM (exactly how is the entire Earth going to accept a queen that's going to rule over them like forever in the future).