By any count it was a joyful day. The sky, church and reception grounds were bright and warm. Though all paled next to the happy couple at the centre of the proceedings.
Usagi and Mamoru were nothing short of resplendent, their happiness somehow infectious amongst their guests’; chiefly, the eight bridesmaids. Save one.
Hotaru was happy, really she was. She felt nothing but love and affection for everyone at the wedding, and in particular for the Prince and Princess. Or, as she reminded herself, the future King and Queen.
… The future…
That was the problem wasn’t it. The thing at the back of her mind that was secretly spoiling the day for Hotaru.
She didn’t like to dwell too much on her past. There was so much hurt and pain there she figured there was no point, especially not when she’d been given a second (now third) chance at life. Nevertheless, there was something she couldn’t help but think about.
Or rather… someone. Someone who was all too conspicuous by their absence. Someone who Hotaru knew she would not see again for far, far too long.
Thankfully, that note melancholy within her went unnoticed by Usagi, Mamoru and most everyone else. As much as she wanted to talk about it, she didn’t want to tarnish what otherwise was shaping up to be a joyous day for everyone. There were three people though who couldn’t help but notice her sadness. Each of them in turn had tried to alleviate her loneliness the past year since Hotaru had suddenly found herself ‘ bereft ’.
Hakura had let her ride along with her at the racetrack. Michiru played her violin within earshot of Hotaru, evidently hoping the music could soothe her somewhat. Setsuna for her part had simply hugged her one night and whispered four words into her ear.
“I miss her too.”
Their efforts helped a little. Or at least, they had been enough to prompt Hotaru to gather herself for Usagi and Mamoru’s big day. So she had smiled, and cheered, and clapped and shared in everyone’s happiness. Until the reception anyway.
That was where she had finally run out of steam. Where all she could muster was a few polite excuses about being tired and wanting a break. The ‘break’ however was shaping up to last hours and hours. Looking up from her drink at one point she inadvertently caught Usagi’s eye, the blushing blonde bride coming over to her table.
“Hiya Usagi. Congratulations again!”
Usagi gave her a small smile, evidently unconvinced by her performance.
“Hotaru… I know how you feel.”
For just a moment, Hotaru felt a note of anger flicker inside herself. It was swiftly extinguished when she locked eyes with Usagi. Few could ever feel angry when faced with those big, blue orbs of purest kindness; least of all someone who knew her as well as Hotaru did. Her flicker of anger was soon replaced by a gnawing guilt. How could she be sitting here feeling sorry for herself when Usagi and Mamoru had lost so much more than she had.
“I’m sorry for bumming everyone out Usagi. It’s just… hard, you know?”
Usagi gave an understanding nod, then took a seat next to Hotaru, the pair sitting silently for a while, merely observing the dancers before them. Then, almost abruptly, Usagi spoke up.
“Hey… did you get me and Mamoru a wedding present yet?”
Hotaru’s eyes widened as her guilt returned with a vengeance. Her name had been signed alongside the gift Haruka, Michiru and Setsuna had given the couple, but she hadn’t given them any money for it. Selfishly, she had thought that’d suffice given her age. She wasn’t even out of middle school yet, let alone old enough for an after school job. But she did have an allowance, why hadn’t she thought to-
“Because if you hadn’t, we did have something in mind.”
“Of course!” Hotaru replied, a little too hastily. “Anything you want.”
“Well, we were talking with Setsuna and the others and what we’d really want is…”
Without meaning to, Hotaru leaned forwards in anticipation.
“... for you and her to be happy .”
Hotaru cocked her head slightly.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you…”
It was only then, out the corner of her vision, that she noticed three elegant women approaching them. Setsuna was at the forefront, her right hand clasped around a small glittering object. She extended her hand and opened it out. Sitting there at the centre of her palm was a glittering gold key.
“Setsuna…” whispered Hotaru, “... isn’t that one of your…” She trailed off at the tiny nod and understanding smile Setsuna gave her.
“But…But I can’t.” She protested. “I can’t leave you all for so long!”
“Oh, we know,” said Haruka.
“And we couldn’t bear to not see you for all that time either.” Added Michiru.
“We’re leaving together.”
Hotaru stared up into Setsuna’s face. “W-what if the others need us. What if someone tries to invade our Solar System?”
“They won’t.” Hotaru’s gaze turned now to Mamoru, who had apparently snuck up to their little gathering. “In all the times I spoke to her, she never mentioned any enemies invading from beyond our Solar System. Even if they did, Usagi and the others can handle it.”
“We’re pretty tough you know,” Usagi giggled.
“But… But what about everyone else you guys know here and now?” Even as she said it, Hotaru couldn’t help but notice she hadn’t said ‘ we know ’. Because, if she was being honest with herself, there was no one she really minded leaving for a long time.
Haruka and Michiru each took one of her shoulders and squeezed. “You are the most important person we know.”
Hotaru felt tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
“ Are you sure? ” She whispered.
Setsuna ran her fingers gently down Hotaru’s cheek, coming to rest under her chin.
“We’re sure. All of us.”
A week later all of them, alongside Rei, Ami, Mako and Mina, were gathered in the park, their essential belongings safely packed.
“We’ll make sure you’re provided for.” Assured Mamoru.
“And that none of you will get in trouble for this,” added Usagi, her gaze falling chiefly upon Setsuna. “Other than that… well…”
“See you on the other side…” Interrupted Haruka. “... my Queen…”
A few waves, a few more hugs and the time finally came. To Hotaru’s surprise, the journey, for all its mystery and strange sensations, faded from her memory as soon as it was over. The sight that greeted her once she was through the corridor and the ornate door was so dazzling it banished all other thoughts from her mind.
It was an entire city made of beautiful, glittering crystal, as bright and warm as the sun itself. But it paled next to the happy trio there to greet them; especially the pink haired girl at the centre. She broke away from her resplendent parents and ran towards Hotaru, the pair embracing as though they hadn’t seen one another in a lifetime. Which, Hotaru thought, wasn’t far from the truth.
“ Welcome, ” whispered Chibi-Usa. “Welcome to your new home.”
Hotaru never again dwelt upon her past. She had far too much joy living for the future.