Birds twittered outside the window, making their nest in the hope of a healthy brood for the year to come. A few petals fell away from the shaking branch as a piercing scream ran through the crystal halls.
"You don't understand! I can't stay there any longer!" She collapsed in a sobbing heap, her Rod clattering to the ground. Usagi ran forward to embrace her in a worried hug but she shook off her offered comfort convulsively.
Usagi stumbled back and fell over. "Puu!" she cried, the anguish in her voice stemming from her worry over a friend, not the pain shooting through her legs and back after her harsh landing.
"No, Small Lady. I am not Puu. I am not Meioh Setsuna. I am not Pluto. I am nothing!" Her head lifted and her eyelids opened a little to look up at the sky. "I am everything at once. I can't-" she shuddered, "-I can't take it anymore." Her eyes may have been open, but she wasn't seeing anything in this world. Usagi crept up to her again and stood over her, tall and elegant in her white gown.
"Puu...please stop this!" She slowly dropped to her knees and again attempted to hug her friend. Pluto surged angrily to her feet at Usagi's approach, slapping her full in the face.
"I told you, I'm not Puu! Stupid bitch!" she snarled. "Get out of my sight!"
"B-but..." Usagi held her tears back with great effort and slowly began to pick herself up off the floor. Blood dripped in a slow warm stream down the side of her face. Helios ran up to her side and put his arms under her shoulders, gently helping her up and wiping the blood away with the hem of his snowy tunic. She looked at her one-time friend as Helios gently pulled her back from danger. "I don't understand..." A tear joined the blood on her cheek.
"Of course you don't. Of course you don't. Isn't that what I've been trying to tell you?" Pluto looked up at Serenity again, who was standing in front of her throne, obviously distressed at Pluto's treatment of her daughter. "Your Majesty..." Pluto started angrily, then stopped speaking for a second and closed her eyes. Her muscles grew tense for a moment, then she sighed sadly and opened her eyes. "I'm sorry about this, your Majesty..." she gave Usagi a quick glance, "your Highness. I haven't been-myself-lately." She knelt on the marble floor, her right hand unconsciously searching for her rod until she found it and gripped it tightly to her chest as if it were more precious to her than life. "I've made my petition three times, now, and each time you have refused me. This time it's not a petition. It's a necessity, your Majesty."
Serenity looked sympathetic but far from capitulation. "There's a good reason I've refused your request, Pluto. Simply put, there's no one to replace you. You must go on. Why else did you develop such a relationship with my daughter? So you could live under her rule as you have under mine."
Pluto spit to one side as a camouflaged door behind the throne opened and Jupiter and Venus pelted into the room. Venus's eyes widened in horror at the impertinence, Jupiter's narrowed in anger. "That for your reasons! I. Can't. Do. It. Anymore. That's it. I can't." She raised her staff over her head. "Let me go!"
Serenity slowly stepped forward. Venus and Jupiter moved forward as well, intending to guard her, but she motioned them back as she neared the senshi of time. "Why?" she whispered as she neared her friend. "If I truly don't understand, show me. Tell me."
Pluto had calmed again; her head was bowed with weariness or surrender. "I can't. It simply isn't possible. You can't experience my life, words don't exist that can hold a pale shadow to the darkness I live in." She raised her head again to stare pleadingly into her sovereign's eyes. "I've seen you die a billion times in a million different ways. I've seen you build thousands of Crystal Tokyos and hundreds of different kinds of kingdoms. I've watched you raise ten thousand different Small Ladies and Gentlemen. I've watched the Moon Kingdom survive thousands of times, and die millions, and I've watched your mother give the same three commands in each. To guard, to watch, and never be allowed to do anything. Anymore. Thousands of times in a hundred ways I've either obeyed or disobeyed. I can't take it anymore, Serenity. I feel myself going mad even as we speak. Every second that goes by engenders a million universes as a million more choices and changes are made possible. I can't live like this. I can't see these things. I can't say there a moment longer. " Her voice broke and she slumped down to the marble to sob; her staff dropped to the floor yet again.
Serenity went down on her knees on the marble, ignoring the dirt deposited by countless feet as it marred her pristine dress. "I can't Pluto. I can't let you abandon the Time Gate. Even to save your sanity."
Pluto looked up at her, and her eyes blazed so bright with rage that Venus emitted a strangled cry and ran forward. Jupiter began to visibly gather her power for a strike. "Use Ginzuishou then, Serenity-sama. Let me show you the only way I can."
"Look into my mind with it."
Serenity regarded her silently, then nodded and pulled her stone out from its dimensional pocket. She closed her eyes and began to glow a white so pure that even Usagi had to shield her eyes. Pluto's aura pulsed an answering purple, so dark it was almost black. For a second they seemed to share something, then Serenity broke away with a strangled cry and dropped Ginzuishou to the ground. It fell to the floor and rolled along the ground, forgotten as Serenity struggled to breathe and Pluto began to laugh wildly.
"You see! You see! You finally see! I live with that every minute, and it grows worse every second! I've given the Door the best protections I can. It should be safe from all but the most determined attacks. So. I've done my duty. Let me go. Let me go!"
Serenity didn't respond at first, still gasping for air. As Usagi carefully walked up to her she blinked, and looked up as her daughter took her hand, worry etched on her young forehead. "Yes. I will let you go." She shuddered in her daughter's arms and seemed to lean back for some badly needed support. Her hand slowly rose and beckoned at the glittering diamond lying incongruously on the floor. It rose into the air and flew to her hand. It caught the sunlight entering the window and flung short-lived rainbows over the room as it began to glow softly. "If you want, you may go now. You know how, Pluto."
Pluto blinked and calmed again, as if her imminent escape from existence had freed her from the grip of madness for one more lucid moment. She looked over at Usagi and reached out. A tear fell down her cheek as her young friend instinctively flinched. "Oh, Small Lady...I'm so sorry. I would never have...never have done that on purpose."
Usagi's answering smile was weak but as she spoke it brightened to its old luster. "I know that-" she hesitated, then forged ahead. "I know that, Puu. It's all right."
Pluto leaned forward pulled Usagi close in a hug, resting her dark, tear-streaked face on top of the pink head. "Thank you, Small Lady. If I'd ever had a daughter..." Her voice trailed off into silence, and Usagi sobbed softly against her friend. Pluto looked up as she hugged her young friend. "I-is Endymion around?"
Serenity shook her head. "No, Pluto. I'm sorry. If he were, I would send for him."
"No, no, that's not necessary." She watched Serenity's eyes fill with sympathy. "You knew."
"Of course. We shared...so much, just now. I knew before, but now..." Serenity took a deep breath. "He kept you going so much longer..."
"Yes. His strength was an inspiration. . ." They said nothing more, having said all that needed to be said. "It's time." She pushed Usagi back and picked up her staff for the last time. She raised it into the air with both hands, brought up her leg, and slammed the Garnet Rod down over her knee. As it snapped in half all the windows in the throne room shattered and the birds in the tree took off with angry squawks. The two pieces of the staff fell to the ground with their mistress and her talisman dropped separately, sparkling in the bright light from Ginzuishou. Pluto and her staff slowly faded into mist until a bright crystal lay on the ground, it's pulsing light slowing and fading until...it was gone. Ginzuishou blazed bright for a second, then went dormant again. Serenity sighed and bent over to pick up the Garnet Rod.
"Puu..." Usagi wiped up the last trickle of blood that fell down her chin, and stared at the bright bead of it on her finger as if it were the most precious thing she possessed.