A Gift by Starlight
by Mina Martin
Prologue: Four Lines, All Waitingxxx
Nostalgia is a strange thing. A twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone.
People often believe it’s just sentimentality, a good reminiscence. But that’s only one side of the moon. The other side is melancholia.
Why else look so hard to the past, unless something was missing in the present? What do we keep trying to fix?
A long-ago era. A mother’s love. A promise of romance.
Before, before, before. What is a girl that stays the same?
The memories are never perfectly preserved, anyway. The editors and filters of emotion and bias twist reality until what you remember isn’t what happened at all.
That’s even if you remember. How many people swear the car that almost hit them was red when it was really blue? And a bike? How many people who never went to Woodstock or faced a policeman’s water cannon later claimed the counterculture for their own souls?
A crushed innocence. A parent gone forever. A bloody, beloved death.
Before, before, before. Who is a girl that changes?
But this is a more hopeful story. This is a girl’s hope given power.
And so, our story begins.
* * * * * * * *
Greater Los Angeles, Autumn 1996
Dawn Summers, 10 years old, tugged her pillow out from under her head and, turning on her side, pushed it on her other ear to block out the voices of her parents. Mom and Dad were fighting again, and it was all her big sister Buffy’s fault. Who burns down their own high school at the homecoming dance? Her noise-blocking plan worked, for a little while. But she quickly got overheated and it made her neck hurt. So her Saturday morning sleep-in was ruined.
She tiptoed out of her room, slowly closing her door and then made her way down to the kitchen. Saturday morning cereal for Saturday morning cartoons. Dawn had to use a stool to open the top cabinets and reach the cereal boxes. Mom’s fiber oats, yuck. Dad’s corn flakes. And there – yes! Mom got it like she promised!
Dawn pulled out the sugary cereal you could only get around Halloween. But instead of Yummy Mummy or Boo Berry, or any of the other great flavors, it was Count Chocula on the front of the box.
Her Dad’s voice suddenly came through loud and clear from the floor above. “I’m not paying for another round at the loony bin, they just shot her up with drugs!”
“These youth boot camps you like so much aren’t the answer Hank, they’re just torture dressed up in patriotism!”
Dawn shoved the box back into the cabinet, hard enough that the cardboard wrinkled under her hand. She made Eggos with the toaster instead, and then went to the family room to watch TV. Not really watching whatever sitcom was on, Dawn turned the volume up and ate before her waffles and syrup got cold. She had two refills of Eggos before she got full.
She sat cross-legged on the couch and pointed the remote at the TV. Dawn wanted cartoons. Pinky and the Brain, Batman, Rugrats. Her finger pressed the button faster than the TV could change channels. So much so that when she caught a glimpse of something animated, she had to wait for the channel flipping to catch up and then carefully go back.
It wasn’t a cartoon Dawn had ever seen before, but something about it was amazing. The girls had such beautiful long hair and big eyes. They talked about fighting, but unlike her sister they didn’t have crusty old wooden stakes like Dawn had found under Buffy’s bed – one of the characters pulled out a pretty gold locket and transformed, with sparkles and ribbons and music that made Dawn want to get up and twirl along with the girl on the screen.
Well, no one was watching. Dawn whirled around and tried to pose in place just like the magical girl did. It was harder than it looked. “I am Sailor Moon!” the cartoon girl declared, strong and defiant. “I stand for love and justice! I will right wrongs, and triumph over evil - and that means you!”
The screen door made a creaking sound as it slowly opened and shut. It meant Buffy was sneaking back in after sneaking out last night. Dawn dropped her arms and scooted back onto the couch. When her older sister came through the family room – the only way to get to the stairs – she froze at seeing Dawn right there.
Dawn just stared ahead at the TV. If she pretended she didn’t see Buffy, Buffy could pretend right back that Dawn wasn’t there either. She didn’t understand why Buffy was so determined to be a teenage delinquent. Not to mention the crazy part where Buffy believed vampires were real, although she’d stopped talking about that. What was she even doing when she snuck out late at night? Going to clubs? Smoking? Doing sex things with boys? The few times Dawn saw her sneak home after a night out, Buffy just looked tired. Trying to be cool must be exhausting.
On screen, a black cat and girls in color coordinated outfits scolded Sailor Moon for not being brave enough or fast enough. Hurry up, stop being a scared cry-baby, a force of destiny has just declared you a superhero, so act like one.
Buffy signed, and made her way to the stairs, probably hoping her parent’s fight would continue long enough so that she could make it back to her own room undetected. She held a hand to her ribs like they ached.
“Dad wants to send you to boot camp,” Dawn blurted out.
“I knew getting that camouflage skirt was a mistake. Gives people the wrong idea - too much oorah and not enough oo-la-la. And now I might have to wear the actual thing, in ugly washed out green instead of summer pastels? This is exactly why Natalie says you gotta shop the clearance bin last, so you don’t get full on cheap fashion first.”
“But -” Dawn started, and her sister paused on the steps.
“But Mom hates it and doesn’t want to send you,” Dawn said. Then, before she lost her nerve: “You’d look stupid in actual camo anyway, like Army Platoon Barbie, so it’s better if you don’t go.”
There was a beat, and then Buffy continued up the stairs. “Can’t say I want to follow in Judy Benjamin’s marching steps anyway...”
Dawn went back to the cartoon. Those Sailor Scouts were much cooler than being a vampire slayer. Tuxedo Mask was kind of silly, and Sailor Moon’s friend Molly had one heck of an accent. But it would be so cool to have a talking cat and magical jewelry and kick monster butt. She dug out the TV guide to check when the show would be on again.
None of that actually happened to Dawn, but it’s how she remembers it.
* * * * * * * *
Juuban Middle School, Late Spring 1992
Naru Osaka hid a yawn behind her hand. At least she’d gotten to school early enough. Usagi was late as usual. That girl would never change!
“Hey, Naru,” said Yumiko. “What’s the scoop on Usagi’s birthday party?”
“Nothing fancy, just really, really cute!” Naru had spent an afternoon at Usagi’s house decorating invitations with her. It had been a while since they’d had a real sleepover, reading manga and singing along to Seiko Matsuda and Chisato Moritaka, eating pretzel sticks and daifuku past midnight. Well, mostly just Usagi eating past midnight. She would stuff her cheeks like a bunny rabbit, smiling and making a peace sign to make Naru laugh.
“She’s so easy to shop for.” Yumiko stretched back in her chair and gazed at the empty seat where Usagi normally sat. “If it’s shiny or it has bunnies she loves you forever. I like that about Usagi. I wish my cousin was the same, she makes a list of what’s acceptable and it always costs me a month’s allowance.”
Gurio Umino’s fuzzy head popped into her view. “Usagi’s turning 15? Any chance I could get an invitation? It’s not everyday such a cute girl hits a milestone towards becoming a woman – OW!”
He rubbed the back of his head where Naru had immediately up-slapped him. “No boys allowed!”
She sighed. Sometimes Umino could be really nice, other times he was a total dweeb, and then sometimes he was just as much an immature pervert as all the other boys in school. Nothing but a bunch of loud, obnoxious, hentai obsessed mouth breathers. She knew it was un-Japanese to think it, but with summer coming up fast most of them should use deodorant too.
Naru was already 15, but in the same grade as Usagi. That was because when she was little she had a terrible case of mononucleosis. Her mom just thought it was a very long case of the flu. By the time she was rightly diagnosed and in the hospital she’d also gotten strep throat and then rheumatic fever. It had taken months to recover, so Naru had to start school all over again.
At the time she hadn’t been afraid of being sick, only of how cruel some of the nurses were to her mother. ‘How could you not notice? Where was her father? So typical of a hāfu.’ It took years to understand things like hidden symptoms and how people liked to pick scapegoats. Naru often thought it would be right for her to become a nurse herself. The next time a frightened mother came to a hospital looking to help her child, she could be comforted instead of scolded. There were classes in high school geared towards girls who wanted to go into nursing school.
Besides, her second time around in first grade was how she met Usagi. Thinking of that innocent age, so long ago, turned her unfocused gaze wistful.
“I didn’t realize her birthday was coming up,” said Ami, from her seat in the first row, breaking into Naru’s thoughts.
Naru figured that wasn’t such a big deal. After all, Ami was such a new friend of Usagi’s, she couldn’t know everything Naru did, and she informed the blue-haired genius of the precise date - June 30.
“Oh. Did – did she send out the invitations already?”
It was rare for Ami Mizuno to sound unsure about anything. Naru would know because she had studied along with her a couple times, when Usagi and Ami weren’t busy by themselves on any given week night. The genius girl was a patient tutor and a genuinely nice person.
“I don’t think so,” Naru reassured her. “I’m sure if it’s not in the mail now she probably just forgot to send them yet. You’ll see, you’ll get it any day now. The glitter is unmistakable! And really hard to wash out.”
They shared a smile.
A quick look at the classroom clock told Naru she still had a few minutes before lessons began, so she pulled out a special treat from her bookbag: a magazine with the latest scoop on Sailor V, complete with stills from the upcoming anime movie!
Naru traced her finger in a tiny infinity symbol over Sailor V’s eyemask. A verified real-life superhero! The first one ever in existence, and a girl too. Eyewitnesses and security cameras had gotten both Japanese and international police forces to acknowledge her existence. Naru remembered seeing the clip on TV of Sailor V battling smugglers at a port, flipping higher, running faster, and kicking harder than a normal human being could. Her face was blurred on the video, but experts had confirmed there was no tampering.
It would be so cool to help the police get justice for people by kicking criminal butt, and look stylish doing it too!
The picture was drawn anime style and not a photo, since the real Sailor V was too busy fighting crime in real life to star in a movie about herself. But she didn’t seem to care that all kinds of media and merchandise were being made off her. No one had ever shown up to claim profits from the toy companies or the film studios. It seemed like, as long as everything was made in good taste – soft stuffed dolls, pens and pins and keychains, a generic movie plot with good animation – it wasn’t worth her attention.
Plenty of detractors tried to critique her. Some TV people (mostly from America, it seemed) didn’t like that Sailor V’s midriff was bared or that she wore a mini skirt. But Naru liked it. It was a lot like a Japanese girl’s school uniform, and by amazing coincidence kind of like Juuban’s in particular. So she was already kind of dressed up like a superheroine every time she went to school! And if Sailor V wore a modified school uniform, then she couldn’t be that much older than Naru herself.
A year ago, when Sailor V first showed up, was when Naru started wearing her hair half up in a bow too, albeit in a teal colored one that matched her eyes instead of a bright red one. She couldn’t be too much of a copy-cat.
The second to last bell rang, and Naru put her magazine away. Something about being a fan of Sailor V felt like she was betraying Sailor Moon, even though she’d been a fan of Sailor V long before the lunar superheroine had ever shown up. Probably because Sailor Moon had actually saved Naru a bunch of times, and she’d never even met Sailor V. Or maybe because Naru used to wear her hair in pigtails too, but stopped when she graduated elementary school. One had to grow up after all. For a superpowered hero, Sailor Moon ran and cried a lot. Sailor V was more established, more capable, just – more.
But that didn’t mean Sailor Moon couldn’t catch up, and when she did Naru would be happy to be a huge fan of both of them equally.
Everyone heard Usagi before they saw her. Panting and running up the hallway, her Mary Janes clicking like a train on the hard floor, “Almost there, almost there!” and then she burst into the room with a flourishing leap, just as the bell rang.
“USAGI TSUKINO, SIT DOWN AND DON’T YELL!” Miss Haruna yelled.
Naru mimed a round of applause while Ami just shook her head.
“I made it!” Usagi grinned, taking her seat next to Naru.
Naru opened her mouth to ask about getting together after school but it turned into another yawn.
“Ah, so I’m not the only sleepy-head in class for once!” Usagi whispered, eyebrows waggling. She gently poked Naru in the cheek.
Naru playfully batted Usagi’s hand away. “That’s because I was one of the fortunate citizens who got their energy drained at the Juuban library yesterday. Didn’t you hear?”
It was a little unfair; if Usagi ever read the newspaper it would be for the comic strips. But even so, it seemed like the media cared as much about these monster attacks as they did about the weather or local politics. Somewhat interesting, but just a part of life to report on.
And that was weird too. Even though Sailor V hadn’t been officially seen in a few months, she’d made news around the world. But Sailor Moon was a Japanese phenomenon only. Maybe because she’d never been on TV? If a sailor suited teenage heroine saves a tree in a forest but there’s no camera crew around to record it, did it really happen?
For days after that first monster, shapeshifted in her mother’s form, tried to kill her and hurt all those customers, Naru had expected someone or something else to show up. Any person she met could be a monster in disguise. Maybe they wouldn’t even bother trying to hide first.
Or, maybe someone not from wherever the monster came from – someone from the police, or the government, the Japanese version of Agents Mulder and Scully. To interview her, to interrogate her, to take her away and experiment on energy draining. That was the one thing Naru had picked up on during all these supernatural events. They were taking peoples’ lifeforce.
But no one cared. No matter how many times Naru was attacked, had her energy drained, was in danger, no one really cared.
Well, her mother had cared that first time. After Sailor Moon had helped untie her, her mom held Naru so tightly it hurt. Naru had been too relieved to care about that. Mrs. Osaka actually rocked back and forth a little, like Naru was still a baby in her arms.
But then she had to focus on the store. Even though monster attacks kept happening in different places, OSA-P Jewelry store got a bit of a ‘tarnished’ reputation. When the customers woke up from their magical comas, some of them threw off the jewelry and called it cursed. Some of them kept on the clearance-priced pieces and ran out. It was a financial loss either way.
“Oh, I didn’t see you – I mean, no I didn’t hear. But Sailor Moon saved you!”
“Yes, and I’m grateful of course, but it wasn’t until after I’d already been there for hours. The other victims and I were all totally out of it long past closing time. I still had to finish my homework and chores when I got home!” And put some first aid cream on a bruise on her arm, with no idea how she got it.
Miss Haruna cleared her throat with an “Ah-HEM!” and they both quickly went back to dutifully taking notes.
Writing a note instead, Naru used the foolproof system they’d devised, where she would reach down to scratch at her ankle, and then stuff the note in Usagi’s sock instead.
Want to come over today?
Usagi quickly scribbled something back. When Miss Haruna’s back was turned, Usagi leaned down and Naru felt an itch on her ankle.
Sorry not today! I have to meet with Ami and Rei at the Hikawa Shrine. Later?
With Amy and Rei? Who on Earth was Rei? Now Usagi had another new friend she didn’t know about?!
Naru wrote her lines down so hard her pencil tip snapped.
* * * * * * * *
Nowhen ∞ Nowhere
A woman stands in front of a gate.
The woman looks human, mortal. The gate looks like it is carved from stone, manmade. While these facts are true, they are not real.
She is guardian, soldier, scout, warrior. She is 戦士, πολεμιστής, centurionis sola. She serves Queen Serenity in her one and only duty. It doesn’t matter which Queen – she swore fealty to the first Queen Serenity and her dynasty, aeons ago, and she will remain loyal until the last Queen.
Her existence is lonely but that does not mean it is boring. Society did not have the term “solitary confinement” when she began her duty, but her Queen was not ignorant to the effects of an immortal and solitary existence. The woman known as Sailor Pluto, with her powers over time, has many ways to rest, or physically train, or stay mentally sharp.
For one, she lives many lives at once. Setsuna Meiou is matriculating to University for theoretical physics. Theano of Croton teaches the Pythagoreans after the man himself is killed. Zoe Heriot adventures in a way only an astrophysicist librarian can. Many others; many more. Queen Serenity is generous in her gift of reincarnation to her longest-serving subject. They all remember their previous life as her, Sailor Pluto, to some degree, though not necessarily each other. She also remembers the lives she’ll be reborn to, to some degree, as they live and die along her multi-millennia long post. Not enough to distract her from her watch or a fight, but enough to keep her curious when she needs it. Life keeps her company in this mostly lifeless space-time.
Mostly, as for another, there is more flotsam and jetsam in both the timestream and the gate’s surrounding mists than humanity ever realizes. The quirks of creation can make their way to the gate, and her attention, like creatures breaching the surface of ocean water. Some looking to feed, some just to play, and some just the bodies floating to the top, before sinking back below, to serve as food or shelter to other beings, all a part of the temporal ecosystem. Only twice does she encounter an Old One, rising up dead but dreaming to wake and devour. In immeasurable minutes or centuries, they are defeated. As is anyone else looking to travel through time and twist it to their own personal whims. The gate remains pure and protected.
It is a space of quiet peace when Sailor Pluto perceives the Activation Spell.
It hits her and passes through her like a wave from every direction. A storm surge, a rainbow refraction, a gong hit that leaves a note in the air you can smell and taste. It doesn’t knock Sailor Pluto off balance, because it isn’t an attack, but she goes to a knee anyway because she doesn’t understand what the power is. Because it is not for her.
Moving the Garnet Orb in a way that would be impossible to untrained eyes, she scans the area and the residual energy. With both experience and wisdom Sailor Pluto is able to comprehend the unthinkable – that it is a spell from outside the very universe. And it has already permeated the fabric of space-time.
To what purpose? Was it a focused spell, or the side-effect of something even grander? What would such power even manifest as?
She does not have the luxury of speculation. The ripples from the gate indicate the chaos being initiated by the spell. She can feel multiple timelines shake and vibrate, and begin to crossover in unsustainable ways.
Not for the first time, Sailor Pluto compares her three sacred duties with Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Did she dare leave her post? Disturb the universe? This wasn’t a case of others breaking taboo and traveling through time, and yet the one true timeline was in greater danger than ever.
As philosophers and comedians would say, there’s no time like the present. Sailor Pluto makes her choice.
* * * * * * * *
to be continued...
* * * * * * * *
a) Hello anyone out there! This is a story many years in the making. It is a gift to my 11-year-old self, who never did get over that unhappy ending in Sailor Moon S1E24, and never completely forgot it either.
It is, of course, primarily Naru/Nephrite (Molly/Nephlite) but will feature and explore canon couples from both the 90’s anime, the manga/Crystal anime, and Buffyverse canon.
I guesstimate this fic will be 70/30 in favor of Sailor Moon to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but we’ll see where the story takes us.
b) “A twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone,” is from the TV show “Mad Men,” S1E13.
c) Technically the X-Files show debuted a year or so after Sailor Moon did, but from what I’ve read it was popular in Japan and I thought the mention was too good not to use.
d) The Japanese, Greek, and Latin descriptions of Sailor Pluto translate to senshi (of course), polemistís (warrior), and the only centurion, respectively. I don’t speak Greek or Latin fluently and just used Google translate, so I welcome any corrections.
e) Sailor Moon was created by Naoko Takeuchi, with rights to Nakayoshi magazine, Toei Animation, Kodansha Comics, DiC Productions, Viz Media, and various others.
f) Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by Joss Whedon, with rights to Mutant Enemy Productions, the WB and UPN (which now form the CW), 20th Television, Dark Horse Comics, and various others.
g) THANK YOU TO MY BETA READERS! Huitzil and Knightcrawler. This story would be terrible without your help. Just like in “regular” writing, you as the editors have a hand in shaping the story. Thank you for your critiques, insights, and moral support. :D
h) The title of this chapter is taken from a famous trope, go get lost in TVtropes.org for a few hours.
i) Comments and recs make the heart grow fonder and the fingers type faster. :) I don’t mind critiques, and I’d like to hear people’s guesses, hopes, and suggestions for the story. You can bug me at email@example.com!
return to Index / go to Chapter 1
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury