Title: Once Upon A Midnight (//1)
And I smelled her burning flesh
Her rotting bones
- MerGirl, Madonna
Sweat dripped down the back of her neck and she shook her head slightly cool it, even though that only made the drops run down and pool over her collarbone. The sun's reflection blinded her for a moment from the watch face as she moved her arm, already slightly pink despite the sun cream. Nearly ten o'clock, nearly time to stop work and retreat to the shade.
"Just a few more minutes," she muttered, lifting the brush and clearing some more dust away from the carving.
She lifted her head and shielded her eyes with her hand. "What is it, José?"
"Bones, Luzita. Human bones."
Bones? Hotaru straightened, wiped the sweat off her forehead and followed him, puzzled and intrigued. There was nothing better than finding a skeleton on your dig, it could tell you all sorts of interesting things about what had happened at the place, its purpose, the kind of people who'd lived there. And maybe you could also find out about how the culture had viewed death. She had an interest in death, of course.
"Where are they?" she asked, trotting to catch up with him as José led her up towards the temple, which had been discovered twenty years ago.
"In the ante-chamber we've been clearing out, we found a small passage leading off there, the bones were in a room at the end. Consuela says that there are things with it as well."
"What sort of things?" Hotaru asked, trying not to get too excited, but he only shrugged.
"Jewellery or pottery, I don't know. But bones, that's something!"
Hotaru bit back an impatient reply. Bones were nothing unless they had something to indicate the body they'd once supported. Without that, they might as well be given to dogs, callous as it sounded. Of course, she'd never do that. They'd get a proper burial, with full rites of the religion they would have believed in (a Christian burial was one of the worst things you could do in these cases). "Yes, that's something," she agreed as they reached the temple entrance. Conseula was already waiting for them. She was smaller than Hotaru, and even more finely built, with a delicate neck and large dark eyes that were now shining with excitement.
"Luzita! You must come and see! This could get us in the newspapers!" Her thin fingers closed around Hotaru's wrist with an iron grip and she almost dragged the younger girl inside in her eagerness. Hotaru looked over her shoulder at José, who grinned and waved at her. Obviously he'd already been given the full spiel and now it was her turn. But she couldn't resent Consuela for this: she and José had been working on the dig for a year before Hotaru arrived, bringing the necessary money and resources. Up until then, only Consuela's unfailing beilef in the religious significance of the temple had kept the dig going.
They walked through the main part of the temple, which had been open for six months in order to meet the cost of continuing the excavation and then turned down a corridor which was now full of spades, buckets and coils of rope. Hotaru breathed the dusty, muddy air and felt the familiar thrill of excitement at the thought of discovery.
"I've prayed about this, Luzita," Consuela breathed, her grip relaxing slightly. "I was so sure that they held the sacred rites at this place... we found a well."
Hotaru caught her breath. The Mayans had used three methods of sacrifice and the Well Method was one of the most common. "But I thought that only happened at Chichen Itza."
"Sí, but logic dictated that couldn't be the only place it occurred, just the only place where we found evidence," Consuela lectured as they reached a chamber with a large hole in the centre. Hotaru could already smell the water and she could hear the flutterings of bird wings in the roof above her, where nests had obviously been built. "I think we've finally found another place where it might have happened," Consuela finished, pointing her torch down into the well.
Hotaru knelt, her eyeline following the beam. She saw it gleaming on the cranium of an intact skull, then catch the spindle curves of ribs and fingers. The skeleton seemed intact, although they wouldn't be able to confirm that until it was properly examined. Long years of submersion had preserved its foetal shape while giving the bones themselves a greenish yellow.
"There's something hanging around its neck, were you able to identify what it is?" She stood up, unwilling to stay here for long. The atmosphere was not good. If she were Rei-san or Michiru-mama, she'd be able to say more than that, but her sixth sense had never been up to their standard. She was only able to sense world events, not personal ones. Not much good for her, really.
"It's a pendant of some sort, probably asking the god to look kindly on this sacrifice. I'll examine it more closely once we've got the skeleton out."
"Good. Well, I need to notify our sponsors... and the Prince."
Consuela's eyes widened. "The Prince? You really think he'll be interested?"
"Definitely," Hotaru told her with a wink and headed out into the open air with more than a tinge of relief.
Although it was the sponsors who paid for their equipment, food and shelter, the Prince's official support meant more to the workers, so when he arrived, everybody cheered and some people even threw flower petals and rice. He put up a hand and waved and Hotaru went to meet him.
"I still wonder if they'll start booing," he murmured in her ear as they kissed each other on the cheek. "All this adulation... it's so different from what I'm used to."
"Oh Nephrite-san," Hotaru said, unable to the mixture of sorrow and amusement in her voice. "Why would they ever boo you? They love you."
"Love doesn't last," Nephrite said, his voice tight, then he went to greet every one of the workers personally, shaking the mens' hands, kissing the women on the cheek, charming them with his warmth and openness. Hotaru watched the affection and respect on the workers' faces and wondered how he could even think of being unpopular. It seemed that he was haunted by it, always afraid that the skeleton of the past would leap out if he even dared to open the cupboard door. But it was gone, buried. These people had no memory of him as an evil pawn. She thought of his remark on love, thought of Jupiter on the other side of the world and very obviously in another relationship, felt the familiar sad ache. She went across to him.
"Come on," she said, "José and Consuela will be waiting in the tent. They brought the bones out especially for you."
"Lucky me," he said, his ironic tone masked by the gentle smile he gave her. "And how are you getting on here, Hotaru-chan?"
"Great... it's so nice to be with people who don't..." She stopped.
"I know," he said. "You don't have to explain. We have no history with these people... our relationship is not influenced by the past, good or bad. You are Tomoe Hotaru, nothing more."
"Yes. And I like being Tomoe Hotaru," she said, realising it almost for the first time.
"Luzita! Prince!" José hurried over, beaming all over his face.
"Luzita?" Nephrite repeated, glancing at her.
"Yes, my name in Spanish translates to 'luciérnaga', which turns into 'luz', which turns into 'Luzita'."
"Makes perfect sense."
"And it sounds better than 'Otaru'."
Then José arrived and began to pour out a long, excited monologue about what a great honour it was to have the Prince actually visit the site and how he, José, would be able to tell his grandchildren and great-grandchildren about this day. Nephrite had probably listened to about twenty similar speeches by now but his smile didn't falter. Hotaru was just wondering how he could keep smiling when Consuela came out of the tent and interrupted the speech by scolding José for keeping the Prince in the hot sun. Nephrite offered her his arm and she took it with many blushes, leaving José and Hotaru to follow. José looked put out at the sight of his wife chatting and laughing with another man. Hotaru had to remind herself not to giggle.
"Here we are!" Consuela said when they were all inside and she carefully peeled back the sheet that had been covering the skeleton.
Nephrite's smile faded. He took a step closer and bent down, but not too far, his eyes sweeping up and down the bones. "Did you find anything on the body?" His voice was calm, far too calm for Nephrite. Hotaru was immediately alert.
"Yes, we found a pendant, we think it might be-"
"Jade?" Nephrite interrupted.
Consuela blinked. "Yes... how did you know?"
Title: Once Upon A Midnight (//2)
Title: Dream Lover
Once upon a time, she had dreamed of flying horses. A flying horse that talked to her and only her. He was her special friend, more so than any of her human friends. There was a bond between them: he needed her and she needed him. She didn't quite understand why, she just knew that she liked being with him. It was easy to be with Pegasus. He didn't have any expectations. He did not compare her to her mother. To him, she was the Maiden and she was everything he needed. Her heart had broken when she'd realised that it was Usagi he was looking for, not her, but then... then he'd kissed her.
When she got to this point, ChibiUsa blushed and she could feel Vesta and Juno looking at her, unimpressed.
"You kissed a horse?"
"He turned into a boy."
"A boy... right..." Juno raised her eyebrows.
"Nothing else happened!" She folded her arms, wanting to protect Elios from their suspicion. "He wanted to comfort me... it was pure..."
Vesta snorted. "Men's minds are never 'pure', Princess."
"He's a priest, he's the priest, he's pure," ChibiUsa argued. "He prays to protect the Earth and the people who live on it. He needs a pure heart to do that."
"Sure, but that's his heart, we're talking about his mind," Vesta retorted. "What did he do after he got the kiss? Disappear?"
"Well... yes, but not forever! That's when I found out about Nephelenia holding him prisoner."
Juno nodded. "Hooked you first, very clever."
ChibiUsa felt like hitting both of them, but as sisters, they were far more versed in the art of kicking and punching than she was. "It wasn't about the physical aspect!" she snapped. "We were friends first! It just grew..."
"Whatever you say, Princess. I'll believe it when I see him. Come on, Vesta, let's go train." Juno got up and her sister followed her.
ChibiUsa took a deep breath and let it out. She turned and went the other way, towards the rose bushes. "You'll see," she muttered. "Our kind of love... it's more than just physical. It's spiritual, like Mama and Papa. We understand each other."
She knew that faith was the evidence of things not seen, but occasionally she wished to have something more solid to show them than a memory. Still, she would not doubt him. She would believe and keep that faith.
Perhaps tonight she would dream of him again
Title: Future Glimpse
Theme: Time Travel
There were many strange things about time travel: living with your fifteen-year-old mother before she had even become your mother and discovering that she was a normal teenager instead of the perfect lady you'd worshipped ever since you could remember; discovering your mother's guards, far from being glamorous warriors, were also normal teenagers who bickered and whined and sniped and cried; having friends who treated you as if you were a normal kid. But of all the strange things she'd experienced, ChibiUsa had to say that meeting her guardians before they'd even been born was one of the strangest.
As she stared at Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta, she felt the realisation wash over her slowly, a tingling sensation in her skin.
"Sailor Chibi Moon."
She almost jumped as Ceres said her name, unable to stop herself staring at the other girl. Ceres had the exact same shade of hair, the exact same tone of skin. As someone who'd gone through life marked out by these things, Chibi Moon felt a strong desire to go over and touch her, make sure that she was real. Ceres smiled at her and spoke again.
"We are awaiting the time when, someday, you will stand on your own as a soldier. That time is the time of our true awakening. If you need us, we will give our lives to protect you."
She couldn't believe it when she'd heard those words. Her guardians, her own guardians. Even now, when she was back in the future, it was strange to think they had met before any of them were actually born. It made her head ache to think about it.
"Small Lady?" Diana put a paw on her leg. "What are you thinking about?"
"When will they appear, Diana?" ChibiUsa said, staring out into space at the slice of Earth that she could see on the horizon, covering her with its blue light.
"When you need them, Small Lady. Like they said."
"I need them now, I'm dying of boredom..."
"I don't think that's quite what they meant."
"But it's so stupid! We go to the far future to help Sailor Moon and when we come back, they're gone again! I thought... I thought that since they'd appeared, they were going to stay with me." She blinked back some tears.
"You'll see, Small Lady. They'll come... when the time is right."
Diana always spoke that phrase so confidently. But when you'd time-travelled as often as ChibiUsa had, you knew that time was fluctuating, easy to manipulate. What if the right time had already come and gone? What if they were lost? What if they were trying to find her and here she was, stuck orbiting the Earth. Powerless, again. Funny how she had to travel to the past to make anything happen in her life. She'd go back there again in a second, just to see everyone... just to be free again, for a little while...
"Hurry up," she whispered. "I'm lonely."
Title: A Poor Imitation
I wanted to be like you,
I wanted everything.
So I tried to be like you,
And I got swept away.
- All You Wanted, Michelle Branch
Title: Leaving You Behind
A daughter is a mother's gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters' role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships. - Victoria Secunda
"What's the biggest disappointment in your life?"
ChibiUsa looked up, surprised. It was a strange question, and on the other hand, it wasn't strange. Hotaru never asked the simple questions - what's your favourite colour, who's your favourite singer, she skipped past all that. She wanted to make you think. She liked seeing people grapple with questions; sometimes, if she was feeling particularly irritated or pressured by the small-minded people in her class, she would ask them about the meaning of life and what happened after death.
"The biggest disappointment?" She stared into space for a moment, her brush poised above the page to add the next character to their banner for Rei's annual fundraising event. "I don't know... I think there are two big disappointments."
Hotaru nodded, dipping her own brush into the glass of water and continuing the next stroke. "Which are?"
"Not being more like my mother... and my mother. I mean, Usagi."
"How can you be disappointed in your mother and yet be sad you're not like her?" Hotaru asked.
"I want to be like Mama, not Usagi. Mama's kind and gentle and she always knows what to do. She's a great queen and everyone respects her. Usagi... I don't know how they're the same person."
"I know! It sounds mean but I can't help it."
"Usagi-san isn't your mother."
Silence hung between the two girls for a moment. ChibiUsa examined the statement from every angle and finally shook her head. "Hotaru-chan, she is, there's no doubt. Sometimes I pretend she isn't, but I do know the difference between fantasy and reality."
Hotaru didn't reply for a moment. She finished painting her character and blew on it gently, helping the paint to dry. Then she picked up a smaller brush and began to paint little ofuda around it. "I read this quote somewhere... it said that when a baby is born, so is a mother. She doesn't exist before then. The baby and the mother come into the world at the same time. So... Usagi-san isn't your mother. Not yet. She's just a girl. So... do you think it's fair to expect her to be perfect?"
ChibiUsa was shocked. "I don't expect her to be perfect! Just..."
"Just not have any faults," Hotaru finished with a small smile. "You're pretty hard on her. And even harder on yourself. I think you should take a leaf out of your mama's book and be a little kinder. Ne?"
This was rather complicated for a Sunday afternoon. ChibiUsa sat there, trying to wrap her head around it. She was certainly not stupid, but Hotaru did have a habit of saying things that made her think long after the actual conversation was finished. "Be kinder to Usagi?" she repeated, wrinkling her nose.
"And yourself. Because you're really criticising yourself when you criticise Usagi-san."
"I am not! I do not see myself in her! Not one bit!"
"But you just said you do. You said you were disappointed in her. Why else would you be disappointed in her unless you think that her behaviour influences you? When she does well in battle, don't you feel happy and inspired?"
"Everybody feels that way," ChibiUsa said defensively.
"But you look at her and think 'One day, I'll be able to do that'."
"... I'm going to get a new glass of water. This one's too dirty." ChibiUsa got up, her head whirling. She needed to get out of the room for a while. Hotaru watched her go and then shook her head. Perhaps she'd been a little harsh on her friend but...
What can I say? I'm a perfectionist.
Title: The Right Kind of Love
Theme: Daddy's Girl
On behalf of every man,
Looking out for every girl,
You are the god and the weight of her world.
So fathers be good to your daughters,
Daughters will love like you do,
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers,
So mothers be good to your daughters, too.
- Daughters, John Mayer
Sunlight beat hard on the paving stones, making them shimmer white. ChibiUsa squinted and wondered if it was worth digging in her backpack to find her sunglasses. Probably not. She was better off finding Hotaru-chan. She pushed her hat back a little further on her head to make sure that it shielded her neck, then walked along the path. After turning a corner, she could see her friend in the distance, a shimmering black figure absorbed in her task. She called out Hotaru's name and waved. Hotaru looked up and shaded her eyes, then waved back.
"What are you doing here?" she asked when ChibiUsa arrived.
"I don't have any graves to visit," ChibiUsa answered, feeling a little embarrassed. "Usagi's paternal grandparents are buried in Nagasaki, so they take turns visiting and this year, Kenji-papa took Shingo. And Mamo-chan doesn't know where his parents are buried..."
"Really? That's awful." Hotaru reached forward and rearranged her flowers. "It's really soothing to come here."
"Is it?" She never knew what to say about Hotaru's 'other' parents. Her mother had died when she was barely more than a toddler, while her father... her father had been responsible for turning Hotaru into a host for Mistress 9.
"When I'm here... I can remember how Papa used to be. Kind... careful... wanting to know what I thought. I can forget the bad side." Hotaru looked up and smiled. "You don't have to worry about that, do you? Your father doesn't have a bad side."
"No way! Mamo-chan's the best!" ChibiUsa agreed enthusiastically. "He said that he can take you home when you've finished. All I have to do is call him."
"Daddy's girl," Hotaru teased.
"What's that mean?"
"Means that you can twist your father around your little finger."
"Well, I can't do that! Mamo-chan can be really strict and Papa never lets me get away with anything in the future. Actually, people in the future say I'm more of a mummy's girl," ChibiUsa added, thinking.
"You'd never guess."
"You said Usagi isn't my mother yet, anyway!"
"And Mamoru-san isn't your father."
"He's always my daddy," Chibi-Usa retorted as Hotaru stood up and they began to walk away.
"I rest my case," Hotaru replied, and giggled at the way her friend turned her nose up. She did enjoy getting the last word in.
Title: Let Me Inside You
Theme: Hymn to Her by The Pretenders
Let me inside you,
Into your room,
I've heard it's lined
With the things you don't show.
Lay me beside you,
Down on the floor.
I'll be your lover from the womb to the tomb.
- Hymn to Her, The Pretenders
Puberty crept upon her like a mist. She waited for so long, watched so carefully, but it still took her by surprise. Breasts were easy to measure but body hair was less noticeable. One day she put her hands on her hips and discovered that she suddenly had a waist. When she saw the spots of blood on her nightdress, it took her a few minutes to realise what they meant, thinking for a moment that she'd scratched herself in the night somewhere.
It was the dreams that were the biggest change. They went from being full of wide skies, sparkling lakes and green forests to... much stranger, darker landscapes. Spanish moss hung from the tree branches now; the roses were a deep red with intoxicating perfume, the petals leaving crimson-black pollen on her fingertips; water lapped against the shores in a rhythm that was both fascinating and disturbing. Often, she felt a pulse in her belly as she wandered this new kingdom, which grew stronger or fainter, depending on her direction. It was often twilight or night in her dreams now, and the moon was always full, ripe and round, leading her onwards. It was sometimes hard to believe that this was still Elysion, but she would catch a glimpse of a landmark she remembered - the shrine far in the distance or the lake, now velvet blue and shimmering with strange light.
She was both excited and nervous of meeting Elios in this changed environment. She caught glimpses of pegasi in the forest, and occasinally one would come up and nudge her, breathing in her new scent with flaring nostrils. But they shied away whenever she tried to ride them and would only let her touch them for a little while, flanks quivering as she stroked their shining coats. Eventually, she stopped expecting to see him and relaxed, which was exactly what he'd been waiting for.
Usagi was lying on the bank of the lake one evening, the warm water licking her toes, when she felt someone sit beside her. She turned her head lazily and saw him sitting there, shining white. And he seemed to have kept pace with her - still a little older, a little bigger. He looked almost full grown but his smile was still the same: warm and sweet, a silent caress.
"It's really you."
"I didn't think you'd come..." She felt herself blush a little and she sat up, drawing her knees to her chest. "Not now I've changed."
"You're becoming a lady," he said. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Yes..." She couldn't take her eyes off him. She wanted to touch him, to make sure that he was really sitting there, beside her, so close. Yet this was a dream, only a dream. "I thought you might not like me anymore. Now that I'm growing up."
"I promised you we'd meet again, didn't I?"
"And isn't this what you wanted?"
"Yes," she whispered. Was he getting closer? Please, let him be getting closer. She could feel the beat inside her again, strong and low. The whole land seemed to shiver with it. Fireflies floated around them, winking on and off, lighting up his expression, suddenly intense.
"Mm?" He was closer, she could see it. They were staring into each other's eyes now and she never wanted this to end. Please don't let me wake up. Let it stay like this forever. All I ever wanted was this... the sense of closeness, of intimacy, but it was like torture. Too close and yet not close enough.
"I've felt you... I've felt this change. I've felt you... wanting me. Is that right?"
"Yes," she whispered, glad that she didn't have to explain, that he understood, the wonder of dreams and dream logic. Now she was free to touch him and she put her hand on his shoulder, feeling his warm skin through the thin linen of his tunic. Had it always been this thin? His hair was crystal white in the moonlight. He shivered underneath her hand.
"Do you want..."
"Yes," she said, leaning forward. "Come inside. I want to show you..."
His lips were warm and soft, his arms held her as they lay down, thin but strong. She felt the weight of his body, strange yet familiar, as the world blurred and the moonlight became stronger and stronger, almost like the sun but cooler. "I want it to be like this always," she whispered, arching her back as his hand slipped over her breast, her blood running hot as she gazed up at the moon.
"Forever," he murmured.
"Forever," she agreed, closing her eyes as he kissed her again. This was only a dream but the promise was for real.
Title: Water Baby
Title: Brief Shower
Title: Blood and Bone
Title: Piercing My Skin
Theme: Until It Sleeps by =Xerces