Fred walked down the passageway, her footfalls echoing around her. She had just come from Faith's throne room where she had been granted the mission she had been longing for ever since she was told to antagonize her former friends. She would face Sailor Moon in one-on-one combat and strike her down, taking from her that which she protected and giving it to the one who would wipe the world clean of the presence of all who stood in their way.
So why could she find no pleasure in that? Why did it feel, even on the most basic of levels, completely contrary to that which she suspected was true? And why was she dreading having to do that which had to be done?
Fred's face contorted into one of confusion and disgust. She knew that her mind had been manipulated by Faith, and that her usefulness to her cause lasted only as long as that tampering held, but even that did not explain why this all felt so wrong. It wasn't as if Faith had made her feel so differently about her friends; the ill will and distrust she had towards them having always been present in her person, and yet...
And yet, even then, they were very serious doubts as to whether or not what she had believed was in fact true. Even after they had all fractured in the wake of agreeing on a solution to their problems, Willow and Buffy had always tried to be friendly towards her, making her feel as if she really belonged to them. Nobody else would have tried to do that, and since they at least tried, did that mean they were truly deserving of being treated with scorn?
The conflicting feelings she felt about the whole situation nauseated Fred. She didn't want to remember her former friends like that. It was a lie. It had to be. Then again, any lie, told as often as that one was, would immediately be seen as true to those who wanted to see it that way, regardless of whether or not it actually was. Was that what she had done here? Had she allowed this to happen to her simply because that was the only possible explanation?
Closing her eyes, Fred struggled to suppress those thoughts. They were a cloud that would only distract her from what needed to be done.
Tomorrow. At the moment, she was tired, and needed to rest. She would bring about Sailor Moon's death once she was at full strength.
Out of sight nearby, Angelus watched as Mercury made her way down the corridor, a slight hesitancy in her step. Her state of mind truly was not the main concern on his mind; truthfully, he cared not for her well being. He had not before when he had tried to use her as an instrument of destruction, and he did not now that she was Faith's weapon of choice against the Soldiers.
But it was becoming increasingly more obvious that, like he himself, the hold Faith had on her was becoming weaker, and with that threat looming over her, Faith sought to use her now in the only way that was left which was still beneficial to her: sending her against Sailor Moon in the hope that doing so would lead to their mutual destruction.
Smirking, Angelus retreated back down the path he had come. How easy it would be to deny Faith that which she most wanted. Easy, and more importantly, fun.
Unseen by Angelus or Mercury, Xander watched as they both made their retreat from Faith's throne room. The behavior of the two of them, along with Spike and Oz, deeply disturbed him. Something had happened between them all, bad enough that Faith no longer considered them worthy enough of being by her side. He didn't know why this was so, but what he did know was that he had fallen out of favor with his Queen, and he would do whatever he thought was necessary in order to regain his standing.
Well, for all appearances, he had just been granted his opportunity. He would have to watch both of them and make sure they didn't betray their rightful masters.
Willow had waited in front of Tara's door for nearly ten minutes before, concerned for her girlfriend's safety, she retrieved the emergency key from underneath the doormat and entered the house, oblivious to whatever danger awaited her inside.
There didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary, but she did hear a hauntingly beautiful melody that immediately struck her as all too familiar to her despite the fact that she had never heard it before. Willow closed the door and followed the music all the way to Tara's bedroom, where she found the blonde sitting cross legged in front of a star shaped locket that appeared to be the source of the music.
Jumping slightly at the sound of Willow's voice, Tara moved to close the locket and turned to look at the redhead. "Willow. I'm sorry. I...I didn't...I didn't hear you knock."
"I kinda figured that," Willow responded, making sure her voice didn't have any anger in it so as to give Tara the wrong message. Looking at the locket, she added, "It's beautiful."
"It's an old family heirloom," Tara explained, picking up the locket and holding it out to Willow. "It's one of the few things from my past that I've managed to hold onto all of these years. I've always thought...that it could help me uncover the secrets of my past."
Moving over to sit in front of Tara, Willow let out a breath. "I think it can."
Tara's brow creased in confusion. "But how...?"
"Well," Willow began. "When I came in, and by the way, you're going to need to find a new place to hide the emergency key, I heard the music that was coming from it, and I felt something...familiar about it. And if I think it's familiar having never heard it before, then it might have something to do with our past lives that needs to be revealed."
Tara hesitantly brought the locket towards Willow. "Are you sure?"
"Won't know until we try," Willow replied, bringing out a finger and tentatively brushing against the locket. The moment she did so, white lights exploded from behind her eyes, engulfing her essence in the blinding flash akin of an exploding star.
Willow's vision cleared within moments, but the sight that greeted her was not that of Tara's bedroom. Instead, it was of a vast rocky surface that was currently cloaked in the semidarkness of night. She looked up to find a sight that surprised her. Hanging in the distance was the perfect blue marble that was the Earth. Seeing that there could only mean one thing.
"The moon! We're on the moon!"
Spinning around, Willow saw that she was standing before the ruins of what appeared to have once been the courtyard leading to a majestic palace, an opulent building rendered destroyed by some unimaginable disaster. Common sense soon made itself evident in her mind, as she became aware of how impossible it was for her to be here seeing all of this.
Then she looked down at her body to find it not clad in the jeans, shirt and sneakers combo that she had worn to school that day, but an exquisitely designed white dress that she had only seen in wedding catalogues. Reaching to her forehead, she was not surprised to find embedded there a mark that was no doubt a crescent moon.
Turning at the sound of her name, Willow found Tara making her way towards her. Only this wasn't the Tara that she knew. Clad in medieval looking armor, a sword sheathed to her side, her hair elaborately done up in braids, this was the Tara that she had come to know from her dreams; Tara as she had been in the past.
Tara's lips quirked ever so slightly as she brought up a hand. "Or should I say, Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom."
Willow took Tara's hand, heart thrumming with pleasure at the touch of the blonde's skin against her own. Even in this strange place, it still felt right for them to be together. But the overall weirdness of what had just happened permeated her, making her unable to fully enjoy it. "But how...I don't understand how all of this could have happened."
"Perhaps I should explain."
Willow and Tara brought their heads around to look at the ruins of the palace, watching as a figure coalesced into being some distance away and made its way towards them. She wore the same white dress as Willow, her long blonde hair flowing freely about her. She was a vision of beauty the likes of which neither Willow nor Tara had seen before; the perfect appearance of an angel.
"Who are you?" Willow asked.
The newcomer smiled, though it was a smile that belied the obvious pain, as evident in her eyes, she tried to keep hidden. "I'm not surprised you don't remember me, Willow. The pain of what happened that day was such that I was almost glad that you would have no memory of me. I couldn't bear to have you remember what took place."
Willow's unease at the situation didn't fade upon hearing this, especially since she hadn't given her any clear answer. But despite her confusion, the pieces managed to find themselves sliding into place as her brain worked frantically to find an explanation as to who this person was. And only one came to mind readily that made sense.
The pain in Serenity's face faded, making her smile seem more genuinely happy. "That's one quality I always loved about you, Willow. You always had the ability to absorb new facts and data, trying to figure out the most possible explanation out of so little information. Even reborn in the future with no memory of your past, I suspected that it wouldn't take you long to recover that part of yourself." She turned to Tara. "And neither would your desire to be with Endymion. I knew you were destined to be together no matter what life threw in your path. I'm glad that you were able to find one another."
Willow's unease at the situation was beginning to grow, especially in light of the fact that it was becoming all but impossible for her to look at this person and call her "mother", and equally impossible that she could be here now after all this time. Seeing her confusion, Queen Serenity spread her arms.
"What you see before you is the last remnants of the Moon Kingdom. Within these ruins is a computer upon which I imprinted my spirit, to await the day when you would find one another and make your way here."
"So...you're my mother?" Willow asked. "I mean, you're not real, but you're here, so you have to be real, but that shouldn't be possible, cause that sort of thing only happens in science fiction movies and bad fan fiction crossover stories..."
"I am you mother, Willow," Serenity interrupted, her voice calm. "And I assure you that, though I am long departed from the land of the living, I continue to exist as long as the computer powering me functions." The look on her face dropped slightly. "And as long as you continue to hold a special place for me in your heart."
Willow didn't know was to say; nothing coming to mind that seemed even vaguely appropriate. Thankfully, Tara was there to cover her lapse. "I don't wish to intrude, Queen Serenity, but is there a reason that we have been brought here?"
"There is, Endymion," Serenity replied, and Willow noticed that Tara felt visibly uncomfortable at being referred to by that name. "The locket that you possessed is indeed a family heirloom, but it is not of your reincarnated family, but of my own. It belonged to my daughter, who had given it to you as a token of the love the two of you share. It came into your possession in the future so that it could bring the both of you together and thus here to this place."
"But why?" Willow asked, finding her voice. She watched as Serenity's expression became somber, and noticed that her body was radiating the bright light that she had seen when she had touched the locket. Before she knew it, she and Tara were once again engulfed in its embrace.
"To show you the final days of the Moon Kingdom."
The light faded once again within moments, and Willow was left to seriously wonder as to the state of her eyes after having been exposed to repeated bursts of high intensity light. Another concern became apparent rather quickly when she saw that she was standing outside the Palace, not in the ruined state it had been in, but fully restored and opulently decorated, the sound of running water coming from the nearby fountains.
Queen Serenity's voice rang in her ears. "I'm sure that Luna and Artemis told you everything about the Silver Millennium, when the people of the Moon watched over the Earth, helping the people who lived there in their development and ridding their world of negative influence."
A figure emerged from the palace to stand on the balcony above her, and Willow looked up to see who it was. Her mouth slacked open slightly as she recognized the person; she was several years older, her body more fully developed into womanhood, and she composed herself more regally than she thought possible, but there was no mistake about it. She was looking into the face of her former self, Princess Serenity.
Willow suddenly found herself on the balcony, watching as her other self - there was no other way to call the person she saw - made her way back inside the palace and to the table situated at one corner of the room. Willow focused her attention there and saw...
Her eyes widened in surprised as she recognized the woman sitting there. She wore a blue dress and her hair was done up in a more elaborate style than she would normally consider, but there was no mistaking it. She was Fred as she had once been. The person Luna had said she was in the past life. Princess Mercury.
Fred - Mercury - looked at Serenity with an expression that Willow had seen her mother, or more correctly, the woman she had thought was her mother, give her countless times before. "Princess, you may have a mastery of the scholarly arts, but that does not mean that you should be allowed to have those skills atrophy. You cannot afford to become lax in your studies. You have a great destiny ahead of you, and you need to be prepared to handle it."
"I know," Serenity sighed, her boredom and disinterest readily evident. Willow could sympathize, hearing once again how special she was and how she had a destiny to fulfill even back then. Mercury, meanwhile, didn't need to think much about the reason for Serenity's disinterest.
"You're thinking about her again, aren't you?"
Snapped out of her daze, Serenity turned to look at Mercury. "What? Who?"
"You know who," Mercury replied curtly. "The Princess from Earth." Serenity didn't respond to that accusation, but her silence was all the answer Mercury needed to hear. "Princess, you should know better than that. Contact between your people and the people of Earth is expressly forbidden per your mother's own decree. Venus has told us how many times she has caught you sneaking off to Earth to be with her, and that's only the times she's aware of. We Soldiers have sworn to protect you and your mother from all threats to the Kingdom, and try as we might, we cannot do so at all times. How long do you think you can continue to defy us by putting yourself in danger this way?"
"You don't understand, Mercury," Serenity replied as she got to her feet, Willow noticing that her voice had taken on a more petulant and argumentative tone. "None of you could. You, Mars, Jupiter and Venus have pledged yourselves to protect me and the Moon Kingdom from outside threats, and it is that duty which drives your lives. And as for my mother, as ruler of the Moon Kingdom, she has to think about the needs and desires of countless people, never allowing herself the simple pleasure of knowing what it means to know the love of another person. None of you could possibly hope to understand why I love Endymion."
Willow watched as Serenity made her way from the room, expecting Mercury to follow her. Instead, she watched in surprise as she slumped in the chair she was sitting in and closed her eyes, head hanging loosely against her chest. "But I do, Princess. All the Soldiers do. We love you as we would a sister. We love your mother as we would our own progenitors. We only want what's best for you. That's why we do this. We do it because we love you."
Mercury began to weep, convinced that she was alone in the room. Willow made her way over to her and, forgetting the very real fact of her intangibility, brought a hand up to Mercury's cheek and, mere millimeters from actually touching it, mimed the motion of brushing it against it, drying her tears.
"Even now I treated you badly. I'm sorry."
Tara stood in the middle of an expanse of parkland, slightly disoriented at the shift in location she had just undergone. What became more important to her after the disorientation passed was the fact that she was hearing the sounds of combat somewhere nearby. Forgetting for the moment that she would be incapable of doing anything to help, she made her way over to the fight as quickly as she could, arriving there after several moments to witness a surprising confrontation.
Two beings were locked in combat, swords clashing against one another as they struggled to remain balanced in the rain slicked ground. Tara recognized them immediately. One of them was Angelus, the leader of the enemy's chosen warriors whom she and Willow had faced many times. The other was she herself, or rather, she as she had been during this time. The scenario playing out before her deeply troubled Tara. Had they been enemies in the past as well?
Tara's train of thought was interrupted as she saw herself...or Endymion ...or whoever it was get knocked off her feet, Angelus taking advantage of her slip by bringing the tip of his blade against her chest. She stiffened, knowing that she was helpless to do anything but watch. Suddenly Angelus smiled and sheathed his sword, offering Endymion a hand.
"You're getting better all the time, Mistress."
Endymion took the offered hand and got to her feet, the quirky half-smile on her face an exact match for Tara's own. "Obviously not better enough to protect myself in this one instance, it appears. If I were fighting anyone but the leader of my personal guard, I'd probably end up being sliced in two."
"That's what troubles me, Mistress," Angelus replied, obvious concern in his voice. "I can't understand why you insist to develop your skills. The Shitennou are more than capable of protecting you from any threat against your life."
"Who said I needed protection?" Endymion responded, Tara recognizing in the words the stubborn independence that was much a part of her character now as it obviously had been then.
"Do you really doubt our skills that much?"
"No," Endymion answered. "It's just...I can't depend on you and the others all the time. I have to learn to defend myself. There are situations I can't expect to have your support."
"Like protecting the Princess?"
Tara turned at the sound of the voice, Angelus and Endymion doing likewise, to find a figure clad in white making his way towards them from the nearby palace. Tara immediately recognized who it was, and was beginning to wonder why two of the enemy were here at this place with the person she had once been. Endymion had mentioned that they were her "personal guard", which certainly put Spike's actions towards her in a more prominent light.
Angelus turned towards Endymion, his expression darkening. "Is that the reason you want to sharpen your skills? For the day when our people become distrustful enough of the people of the Moon to attack them and you betray us to fight on their side?"
"It won't come to that," Endymion answered, Tara noticing in her tone that she was as unconvinced at that as the others obviously were. And they were all obviously right in that regard. This would not be taking place now if they had been wrong.
"She wouldn't betray us."
Angelus turned to look at Xander. The hopeful idealism in the youngest member of the Shitennou wasn't surprising, but wasn't something that allowed one to look at the bigger picture. "Love is capable of blinding anyone to the truth of what is going on around them. We all know that it won't be long before their affair becomes known amongst the majority of our people, and they rise up against the Moon Kingdom because of their hypocrisy. And when that time comes, can you honestly believe that she would fight on our side?"
"You seem certain of that," Oz spoke up then. "She's been nothing but loyal to the kingdom of Elysion. I cannot believe she would side with the enemy."
"But she does not spend much of her time here anymore," Spike countered. "We have often found her in the company of Serenity, and those are only the times that we are aware of. Who knows how many times she has snuck off without our knowledge to be with her?"
"She would do anything to protect her," Angelus confirmed. "And so we must be certain that she doesn't have the opportunity to betray us."
A sound from across the room caused the four Shitennou to turn to the nearby archway, where a stunningly beautiful woman stood. She wore a purple dress and a yellow headpiece from which her brunette hair flowed. Her figure suggested a frailty to her being, but looks could be deceiving, as evident by the feral gleam in her eyes and the smile on her full lips.
"Who are you?" Angelus asked, drawing his weapon as the others did likewise.
"Faith," the woman replied.
"And what is it that you want?"
Faith's grin widened. "To give you that which you most desire."
"We have to be in agreement about this. This requires consensus among us, otherwise there will be difficulties."
Willow stood as she watched Anya, or rather, Princess Venus, talk to the other Soldiers about what to do about Serenity's delinquent behavior. She found it difficult not to sympathize with their position, finding her former self to be rather bratty. She couldn't believe she had been like that, being very seldom naughty as she was.
"And you don't think we already have a problem?"
"This is different, Mars. Queen Serenity is likely to be very displeased with us when she learns of her daughter's activities. We have managed to convince ourselves for the longest time that we did as much as we could to prevent this from becoming a major problem."
"But it's different now?"
Venus nodded. "Yes, Jupiter. Serenity's behavior towards Mercury has proven that this has gone beyond simple infatuation. Her love for Endymion will be the death of us all if we allow it to progress further, but we have to be agreed on the decision to bring this to Queen Serenity's attention. We cannot act if someone disagrees that this is the right decision."
"I believe it is," Mercury said, Willow noting that her voice was soft and shaky. "I felt something from when we talked, a deeply horrifying beast that rested within her that threatened to come loose and attack me. I cannot begin to imagine how dangerous it would be to all of us if that beast were allowed to become unchained."
Venus nodded and turned to Jupiter. "What do you think?"
Jupiter swallowed. "Princess Serenity is one of my dearest friends, and I do not wish to go against her. However, I do feel that in this case, my friendship with her requires me to act on what I think is in her best interest, not what I think would best serve our friendship. This must be brought to the Queen's attention."
"You all know my position on this idea," Venus said as she turned to Mars. "It's down to you. What do you think we should do?"
Mars was quiet for some time before she spoke. "Like you all, I feel obliged to honor our commitment to protect the Princess. But as with Jupiter, I have a friendship with Serenity that conflicts with my feelings. I cannot think to act against her, even if it's in her best interest."
Venus didn't visibly react, but Willow could see the tension in her eyes that belied her otherwise calm exterior. It reminded her very much of the arguments and confrontations that Cordelia and Anya had gotten into. "Is that your decision?"
Mars swallowed and drew a breath. "No. We have to do this. I love Serenity as much as I would love a sister, and that is why we must do this."
"Then we are in agreement." Venus stated. "Let us go to Queen Serenity."
Willow followed the Soldiers as they made their way to Queen Serenity's throne room. The second she entered it, Willow was instantly struck by how beautiful it looked. Very much the image of beauty and decadence that was to be expected from the official meeting room of the ruler of a vast kingdom, it certainly was a sight to behold. The irony of finding herself shocked at seeing this wasn't lost on her; at one point in her life, she had lived in this place, perhaps even been in this room.
Her attention was drawn to a column in the center of the room where, surrounded by four fountains and supported over a small pool of water by four platforms, lay a pillow upon which rested the Mystical Silver Crystal. For the briefest of moments, Willow thought about touching it, then decided against it. Even though she was intangible to what was going on, she didn't know if those same rules applied to the Crystal, and she didn't want to take too many chances.
Her attention returned to the throne as she heard Queen Serenity speak to the Soldiers, who had knelt before her in deference to her authority. "Welcome, Soldiers. It is a pleasure to see you."
"Thank you, your majesty," Venus replied. "I do wish, however, that our visit was under less distressing circumstances."
Serenity's left eyebrow quirked. "Oh?"
"We have...concerns about your daughter," Venus continued. "She's been consorting with Earth's Crown Princess against your explicit wishes. We have tried to dissuade her from doing so, but our best efforts have proven fruitless. We think that it is in her best interests and ours if you were to speak to her about this and convince her of the error in her ways."
Serenity got to her feet and made her way over to the Soldiers. "Rise." The Soldiers got to their feet, expecting to be reprimanded for the lax behavior. Instead, they watched as Serenity made her way over to the Crystal. "Venus, you are known as the Soldier of Love and Beauty, are you not?"
Venus was unsure as to what Serenity was talking about. "Yes, but..."
"Have you ever known what it's like to love someone?"
"Your majesty, I hardly understand what that has to do with..."
"That's the problem." Serenity turned to look at the Soldiers, her eyes reflecting the sadness she felt. "You may think that by being loyal to Serenity and pledging to protect her, you are showing your love for her. But love for someone in that manner is not true love." She made her way back to her throne. "This may surprise you, but I have known for some time about my daughter's liaison with Endymion."
The Soldiers were obviously shaken by this, Venus most of all. "But your majesty, if you have known all of this time about what your daughter has been up to, why have you not done anything about it?"
Serenity closed her eyes, and Willow noticed the tear running down her cheek. "Because in this life, there is nothing more important than the love one person has for another." Opening her eyes, she looked once more at the Soldiers. "You all know my daughter is, at best, distressed with the idea of being the next ruler of the Moon Kingdom. It is not a thought that pleases her. It could not have escaped your attention that she tends to be confrontational towards you whenever you broach the subject."
Venus nodded. "Indeed, your majesty."
"I am aware of this as well," Serenity added. "And I have spent a lifetime watching my daughter be unhappy about life. I wish her to have something happy in her life for as long as she can have it, even if it is supposed to be forbidden for her."
"But your majesty," Mars interrupted. "You cannot be serious. The people of Earth already despise us. If they were to learn of this union, they would no doubt openly revolt against us. The cost of lives on both sides would be disastrous."
"I know," Serenity replied, her voice shaky. "But I am prepared to take that risk. And so must you. Be prepared to defend us when the inevitable occurs. If we are to die, we will die ensuring that my daughter and Endymion find happiness."
The Soldiers bowed in respect as they left the room, Willow watching in silence as they did so. She turned back to Serenity, watching as the woman broke down and began to cry.
"She knew about what we were doing, and she let us continue doing it," Willow thought. "She knew of the dangers of what we were doing, and did nothing to stop us. She wanted us to be happy." She brought her attention back to the throne as she noticed two small forms approaching it, recognizing them immediately as Luna and Artemis.
"Are you sure that this is the correct course of action, your majesty?" Luna asked. "Is your daughter's happiness really worth what is to come?"
"Yes," Serenity replied without a second's pause. She looked down at the cats. "You two have served me and my daughter well. If worst comes to worst, you must be prepared to do so one final time."
"What do you mean?" Artemis asked, concern in his voice.
Serenity looked out at the night time sky as the Earth rose into view. "When the time comes, you will know."
Princess Serenity stood on her bedroom balcony and watched as the blue and white marble of the Earth rose over the horizon. Standing beside her, Willow likewise looked at the rising world, silently wondering what her former self was thinking at this very moment. Having seen that Serenity led a life very much like her own, Willow felt she could guess rather accurately: having been born into a life where great things were expected from her, she felt pressured and, for lack of a better descriptive term, spazztastic. It was no wonder that she snuck around her mother and her guardians to be with someone who could love her for who she was. There was no possibility of them being able to understand why.
For a moment, Willow's thoughts drifted from the comparisons between herself and Princess Serenity to thinking about her mother. She had been afraid of learning what the Queen's reaction to learning about her daughter's activities would be, and had expected her to come down on the Princess like a ton of bricks. Willow knew that would be the very reaction she would have gotten if she had done that with Sheila...after getting a literal textbook lecture about teenagers acting out in order to establish dominance over their progenitors, of course.
Instead, not only had the reaction been very subdued, but she had known all along about what was going on? Willow didn't understand why Serenity didn't take any action against her daughter. Didn't she know what she was doing by allowing their love to continue on?
She decided that the best way to find out was to ask. "You allowed us...I mean, them...I mean...well, you know. Anyway, you allowed that to continue, despite knowing what could happen?"
"I did," came Serenity's reply. "I knew that you were unhappy with your life as it was, so I decided to let you have the one thing that made you feel happy."
Willow's eyes began to water, and she closed them in a fruitless effort to contain her own emotions. "I know this might not seem like much, but...thanks. I...I don't know if I...If she...If we ever told you...now...back then, I mean...about what you did for me."
Serenity didn't respond, but Willow did hear another familiar voice. "Princess."
Serenity and Willow turned as one to find Tara - or rather, Endymion - standing in the shadows nearby. Willow remained rooted where she was while Serenity ran to envelop her beloved. "I've missed you."
Endymion returned the embrace, but Willow could tell that there was no warmth in her touch, nor was it wholeheartedly given. Something concerned her, and Serenity realized this quickly. "What's wrong?"
Endymion sighed. "Things are happening on Earth, Serenity. Terrible things. I can feel that a great evil has worked its way into my people and is spreading itself all over the planet like a cancer slowly eating away at the soul of humanity. Its bringing the natural distrust of my kind for yours to a fevered pitch, and I fear that it may only be a matter of time before they come to blows."
"And all because of our love for one another," Serenity sighed, the accusatory tone in her voice making that more a question than a statement of fact. "That is what you believe, isn't it?"
"No," Endymion relented. "But you can't expect the tensions between our two peoples to ease if they learn about us. Your mother explicitly forbade contact with the people of Earth, and my people are looking for any excuse they can get to invade and take the Silver Crystal away from you." The silence between them grew for moments more before Endymion broke it.
"We could stop it, you know."
Serenity looked up. "What?"
"It might not seem like the easiest decision for us to make, but if it can make a difference, I think we might have to consider it."
There was something about Endymion's words that gave Serenity pause. "Are you saying...you want to break up with me? That...that you want to leave me?"
"We may have to."
Serenity couldn't believe it. "You can't possibly believe that would stop the people of Earth from attacking us. You said it yourself. They were looking for whatever reason they could get to do so. If it's not us, then it would be something else."
"And you want it to be something else?"
"If it means keeping you, yes. I would. It's what I want."
"It's not about what we want, Princess. It's about what's in the best interests of both our peoples. They hate your kind and everything you stand for; the knowledge of our relationship will set them off in a way that can only lead to our mutual destruction."
Serenity gripped the railing of the balcony, her face as unemotional as any Willow had ever seen. "Is that what you believe?"
"It's the truth."
"But is that what you believe? Is that what you want?"
"I told you, Princess. It's not about..."
"Is that what you want?!"
Willow was struck at hearing Serenity speak in that belligerent and demanding tone towards Endymion, especially when she knew Serenity loved her almost as much as she loved Tara. That alone was troublesome enough, but what disturbed her more was the reaction Endymion showed to it. It took her a moment to reply, and when she did it was with a voice that held none of the conviction with which she had tried to dissuade Serenity mere moments before.
"No. It's not."
Serenity turned and looked at her love with a smile. "That's what I thought."
"You know what it is that you're suggesting, right?" Endymion asked. "What you propose will be difficult, not to mention dangerous. But if it works, we can keep it a secret. How long that will last...I don't know."
"I'd rather die with you at my side than live the rest of my life without you," Serenity replied, her tone telling Willow that it was a promise she intended to keep until her dying day.
"I know. And I'll stand by you every step of the way. I'll be with you until your dying day." The pair enveloped one another once again briefly before Serenity moved into her chambers, Willow watching in stunned silence at what had just taken place. It was disturbing for her to watch someone who was in every way, shape and form her equal behave very much in the exact opposite manner. She could never think about manipulating someone's emotions to get what she wanted the way Serenity had just done to Endymion, especially if it meant crossing her mother and her guardians, who, much like Endymion herself, wanted only what was best for her.
Even more disturbing was the continued subdued reaction that Endymion showed. The minute Serenity had raised her voice, it was as if all of the fire that she had brought to her own words had been snuffed out and leaving her unable to do little more than agree to whatever it was that Serenity wanted. Willow had a hard time believing that she could cave that easily, because that wasn't what she knew Tara would have done. Yes, they were two different people, but that didn't make watching it any easier. Willow knew that, were the situation on the other foot, and she trying to get Tara to agree to do something that was as dangerous as what Serenity and Endymion were proposing, Tara would not only let her have it, but then would walk out of the room and never come back.
Willow's attention returned to the here and now as she watched Serenity return to the balcony, an object hidden in her hands. She held them up to Endymion, and Willow recognized what it was that she held: Tara's locket.
"My most prized possession," Serenity explained. "It was a gift to me from my mother. She and the Soldiers gave it to me to show the love and loyalty they have for me. And now I give it to you for those same reasons."
Endymion took the locket and embraced Serenity once again, then moved to take Serenity's hand into her own and make her way back into the Princess' chambers, obviously to undertake some other activity. Willow stood in silence for several moments before she could feel the tug of something pulling her away, and was thankful for that as she heard Queen Serenity speak to her again.
"We all expected the end of our kingdom to come, but little did we know how close to the truth of that statement we really were."
Willow found herself standing in the windswept expanse of parkland, the chilled air of night making itself felt despite her intangibility. Or maybe it was something else that was causing her to feel at ease with the situation.
Willow spun around on her heel to find Tara standing close by. Abandoning all rational thought, she rant into Tara's arms, thankful that, at least between them, tactile stimulation remained. "Oh, Tara. You wouldn't believe where I have been...the things I have seen..."
The edge in Tara's voice concerned Willow, but not nearly as much as the cries making themselves known over the approaching wind and thunder. The shouted and vengeful cries were coming from a large gathering of individuals near a rock outcropping a few meters nearby. All of them were male, and all of them were looking at who was standing on top of those rocks, a five member group of individuals, four of whom recognized immediately as the warriors she and the others had been facing off and on for the past few months. The one in the middle, obviously the leader, was a tall woman with long brunette hair that flowed from her head, upon which was adorned a golden crown that appeared to have been weaved from a spider. She wore a figure hugging purple dress and swung a exquisitely handcrafted staff in the air in time with the chanting coming from those below.
"The people of the Moon believe themselves superior to you," the woman shouted, eliciting a roar from the crowd. "They know the pleasures of long life and eternal beauty. And now they seek to corrupt our lives once more by having one of their own become romantically involved with one of us."
It was apparently obvious to those in the crowd who the woman was talking about. Shouts of "Endymion is a traitor" began almost as soon as those words had left her lips. Those lips turned upward in a smile at the sound of the cries, which soon began to form a chant. "Yes, she is a traitor. And now is the time to show the people of the Moon the error of their ways! I say its time to let the Moon Kingdom know that if they no longer feel the need to remain respectful of their own rules, then we should not allow those rules to keep us under their thumb!" She raised her staff into the air at the same time as a lightning bolt streaked through the sky. "TO THE MOON KINGDOM! TO THE DEATH OF QUEEN SERENITY! TO THE DEATH OF HER DAUGHTER, AND TO THE DEATH OF THE TRAITOR!"
Willow and Tara looked beyond the woman to the cloud that was beginning to form behind her, obviously the source of the lightning that had just taken place. It soon became apparent, however, that this was not a cloud, as a demonic looking face appeared within it, and let loose a deep throated cackle to match the one being emanated from the woman.
And then, even as they were both pulled away from the sight, Willow and Tara knew that this pair was not only responsible for what happened in the past, but for their current troubles in the present. Almost on cue, Queen Serenity's voice rang in their ears. "Yes, Faith and Metallia are the ones responsible for your problems in the present, much like they were responsible..."
"...for the destruction of our kingdom."
Willow and Tara found themselves on Princess Serenity's bedroom balcony, once again overlooking the Moon Kingdom. But it was not the opulent splendor it had been when Willow had been there, but was now being ravaged to the ground, with frightened women and children running as best they could to avoid being killed while others contributed to the cacophony of noise by wailing as they watched others die around them.
And then came four new voices, voices that, despite the knowledge of what was going on, gave Willow comfort.
"Venus Power Make Up!"
"Mars Power Make Up!"
"Jupiter Power Make Up!"
"Mercury Power Make Up!"
"My friends," Willow thought. "And Princess Serenity's guardians. Even in the face of utter defeat, they don't give up."
"Shine Aqua Illusion!"
Mercury sent forth her attacking, hoping that it would quell the fire raging on around her, but at best, it merely held it back for barely a few seconds before it raged back to its former glory. "Damn." She turned to Venus. "No chance of putting a stop to this. All we can do is keep it contained in the short term, and even that won't get us anywhere before long."
Venus cursed. "Queen Serenity should have known that this would have been the inevitable outcome of letting her daughter continue to consort with the Earth Princess."
"She did," Jupiter felt compelled to point out. "And you'll recall that she said she was prepared to take that risk, and asked us to defend the Princess when it happened. Well, it's happening. So we should do all we can do to protect the Princess."
"Even if it cost us our lives?"
Jupiter held her ground against Venus' retort. "Especially if it costs us our lives."
Venus gritted her teeth, turned to Mars and uncoiled the chain from around her waist. "Very well, then. Let us protect unto our dying breath the Princess of the Moon Kingdom." Then, adding silently to herself as the others moved off, "Even if she brought this down upon herself."
It was chaos incarnate, unbridled death and destruction at every corner. No matter where Willow and Tara turned to look, there was flame and carnage and horror, the stuff not even of their worst nightmares. And what made it worse was that it was all brought about because of what they had done in the past life, making their current helplessness to do anything to change it all the more unbearable. They had both seen in their nightmares Endymion face the one known as Faith and watched as she brutally took her life in front of the Princess, taking great delight in doing so.
But now they watched an even more horrid truth. Serenity rushed to her fallen love and, cradling her in her arms, began to sob her name. She then lay her down and, reaching for the dagger sheathed to her forearm, pointed the blade directly at her chest.
"I...I can't go on without you, my love. I can lose my mother. I can lose my friends, but I can't lose you. Perhaps...in the next life...we will find each other." As those last words fled her lips, Serenity plunged the dagger deep into her own chest, the suddenness of the action causing Willow to flinch and bury her face into Tara's shoulder, crying as she watched herself commit suicide. She brought her face up to see that they were on Queen Serenity's balcony, watching as she looked down to see her own daughter take her life.
"My daughter," she whispered so faintly that they could barely hear it. "My dear, sweet, innocent daughter..."
Willow and Tara, along with the Queen, turned and watched as Luna and Artemis made their way towards them. "We've just received word from the battlefield."
"I'm afraid the Soldiers have...fallen."
Serenity all but collapsed under the weight of the news. With her daughter dead, and the ones meant to protect her fallen in battle, there was nothing that could be done. The invaders would soon be here to take her own life and steal the Crystal.
"It's over," Artemis sighed. "We've lost."
Serenity's face contorted into one of abject rage as she got to her feet. "Not yet." In bold strides she made her way over to the podium where the Mystical Silver Crystal was kept, Luna and Artemis, and unseen by them all, Willow and Tara, following behind.
"Your majesty, what are you doing?"
Serenity picked up the Crystal. "What must be done, Luna." She made her way back to the balcony, the others following her. It was halfway back when Luna realized what it was that Serenity intended to do.
"Your majesty, you can't. The energy required to do that...if you were to do that now..."
"...I would most likely die," Serenity finished. "Look around you, Luna. My daughter is dead, her lover is dead, our finest warriors have fallen, and at any moment this room will be overflowing with those whose singular goal is the death of the three of us by any means necessary and the acquisition of this." She held out the crystal to the black furred feline. "Can you honestly believe that I have anything left to live for?"
Luna didn't respond to that; she, like Willow and Tara, realizing the truth of her words. All they could do was watch as Serenity held out the Crystal to the heavens, watch in silence as the Crystal lifted off her palms to rise slowly in the air, Serenity closing her eyes as the Crystal began to radiate the light and power contained within.
"Cosmic Moon Power."
With the spoken command, the building energies burst forth from the crystal, enveloping the moon in its white brilliance. A roar of anger erupted from Metallia, a shriek of denial rose from Faith...
...and bright lights exploded from behind Willow and Tara's eyes, sending the world around them into the wide expanse of nothingness.
The light receded slowly after several moments, and Willow and Tara found themselves looking once again at the shattered remains of the Moon Palace and the surrounding area, the fallen bodies of the people who lived there strewn about like confetti. Thought they had seen it in this fashion when they had first arrived, it was something different to see it like this so soon after the attack that had brought about its transformation.
It hadn't taken them long to find the bodies of the Soldiers, Willow flinching involuntarily as she took each of their broken forms in an increasingly inability to remain unemotional to it all. Finally she could take it no longer and, collapsing to her knees, began to wail at the death and destruction she had just witnessed. Knowing that it was, after a fashion, her own fault did nothing to make her feel better.
A noise brought her attention upward, where she found Queen Serenity making her way towards them, her steps stilted and her movement awkward. Feeling Tara's hand on her shoulder, Willow watched as Serenity fell against a large rock , her breathing becoming erratic, ragged and painful as Luna and Artemis, who had been following behind her, approached.
"You've done it, your majesty. You've defeated them."
"No," Serenity replied to Luna's statement as she violently shuddered. "I merely sealed them away. To utterly remove their existence from this universe would put the lives of my daughter and everyone else in danger."
"But your majesty, they're already dead," Artemis felt compelled to point out.
"Here, yes," Serenity admitted as she raised her hand, palm outward, showing the cats the Mystical Silver Crystal. "But I have enough strength left to use the remaining energies of the Crystal to send them all into the future where they can live out their lives in peace."
Luna's happiness at hearing this soon gave way to concern, as even as close to death as she was, Serenity was not taking this news well. "But your majesty, if this will save their lives, why are you so sad to do this?"
Serenity winced and let out a choked cry. "Because they will have no memory of their time in this place, nor will they remember their friendship towards one another." "" She looked down at Luna and Artemis, her eyes brimming over in tears. "And that is where you come in."
Serenity half smiled, half grimaced. "I'll be sending the both of you into the future with them. I cannot guarantee that Faith and Metallia will stay sealed away in their prison; they are no doubt currently working to escape at this very moment. If they succeed, the Earth will be in danger once again and its people will need to be protected." She gave both of the cats a look that was as serious as she could manage given her rather obvious pain. "If that happens, you will need to find the Soldiers, make them rediscover their memories of this time and place, and help them to ensure the safety of the Earth. And most importantly, you must see to the safety and protection of my daughter and Endymion. They will find themselves in the future much as they did here, so make sure they are happy."
Luna and Artemis nodded in reply, an act that gave Willow cause to wonder what they were doing. She knew fully well that what the two of them had done was the exact opposite of what Queen Serenity wanted, but now that she had seen what had taken place to lead them to this moment, she could understand why it was that they hadn't revealed to them all the full truth of what they knew.
"They wanted us to be ready," Willow whispered. "They wanted us to be ready before they...before they..."
"Before they told you the truth," Tara finished, giving Willow's shoulder a squeeze.
Willow nodded in agreement, the hatred she had been feeling towards Luna and Artemis fading in light of what she had been witnessing. She couldn't continue to feel negatively towards them when they, as much as she and the others had been at first, had been tossed into a situation they were ill equipped to handle initially. It was understandable that they would hit some stumbling blocks along the way. Sad, yes, for it to have come out in the way that it did, but if it had not been that way, then it would have been in some other, perhaps more disastrous way.
They watched in silence as Serenity held up her hand, the Crystal rising from her palm and once again bathing the area in the brightness of its light. Willow and Tara stood and looked on as the bodies of the fallen, along with Luna and Artemis, rose into the air and began to disappear one by one. As the last figures faded, Serenity's expression began to fade, the life from her eyes bleeding out as her smile turned upside down.
"Find happiness in the future, my daughter. Find Endymion and be happy."
Her hand dropped to her side, the Crystal falling moments later to shatter on the ground, engulfing Willow and Tara once more in its bright light. Getting up and holding onto Tara's hand, Willow waited to see what Queen Serenity would show them next.
Five seconds passed. Ten. Twenty. Thirty. A full minute. And still the light did not fade. Willow was beginning to grow concerned when she heard footsteps approaching and spun on her heel to find Queen Serenity walking towards her and Tara.
She couldn't help it. She smiled and waved slightly at the approaching figure. "Hello, mom."
Serenity returned Willow's smile. "I'm happy that you now consider me that, Willow." Then her expression grew dark. "I truly am sorry for all that you have suffered, Willow."
"Don't be," Willow replied. "I'm not. I mean, yeah. I've had to face a big bad evil, but it's allowed me to make some friends, have more excitement in my life than I ever would have thought possible." She turned to Tara. "Not to mention finding the love of my life."
"I'm glad you think that," Serenity spoke. "But it might not matter anymore. Metallia has obviously been awakened and is seeking to conquer the Earth. You would not have found yourselves here if that were not true."
"But we can defeat her," Tara said, her voice firm. "With the help of the others, we can stop her and Faith from destroying the world."
Serenity's smile returned as she turned to Willow. "Be strong, Willow. Be glad that you are the Princess of the Moon and the Champion of Justice. Be glad also that you have friends that will stand by you no matter what happens. But forget not the fact that you and Tara are in love, and that is why I sent you here. Never forget that. Regardless of what happens, may you find the happiness in the future you could not find here."
Willow smiled, then watched as the bright light around them finally receded back into the familiar shape of Tara's living room. She sat cross legged in front of Tara, trying to assimilate all that had just happened.
Tara smiled. "Yeah. It's a lot to take in."
"I know," Willow agreed, shifting her body and getting up. "And I think we should. Take it in, you know. Let's talk again tomorrow, Tara, after we've had a chance to deal with this." She moved to the door and was about to step through it when Tara's voice stopped her.
Turning around, Willow watched as Tara got up and made her way over. Stopping in front of her, she held out the locket. "Here."
Willow hesitated. "Tara..."
"It belongs to you, Willow," Tara replied. "You should have it."
Willow hesitated for a moment longer before reaching out to take the locket. Smiling, she left Tara's room and made her way back to the front door and stepped outside, taking a look around the neighborhood before staring her journey home.
Tara was right about one thing. What she had just seen was a lot to take in.
Willow was still taking it in as she, along with Anya, Cordelia and Buffy walked into the Bronze, so much so that she needed to be prompted to show her passport to Riley. When she had gotten home, her mother - Sheila - had told her that one of her friends had called, insisting that she meet with them at the Bronze after school. It was clear to her that Sheila didn't want to tell her this, but was left with little choice. Obviously whoever it was that had talked to her had given her a good enough reason to ignore the fact that her daughter had come home late.
It was just one of the things she had been thinking about all day. Thankfully, no one at school seemed to notice. Though it bothered her a great deal during school, her concerns were greatly lessened by the fact that Fred had not been there. Then again, that in and of itself was a problem. Where was she? And what was she up to?
All these questions still rattled around inside her head as she waited with the others as Buffy went up to talk to Riley. "Listen, about last night..."
"Hey," Riley replied with a wave of his hand. "No problem. I've lived a long time on a diet of pepperoni pizza and Diet Sprite. I really wasn't expecting anything fancy for dinner."
"But I wanted to give you something special, you know?"
Riley smiled and kissed Buffy on the cheek. "Don't worry. I've already got something special." Buffy tried in vain to hide the blush as she walked back over to her friends. Noticing their looks, she tried as hard as she could to put on a serious face. "Nobody says anything."
"Lips sealed," Cordelia replied, miming the action of doing just that. The four of them then made their way over to the door. Willow opened it and the group stepped through...
...to find the room a disaster. A large number of half eaten snacks, dirty dishes, open container and glasses full of drinks of all kinds were arrayed across the table as if a large party had taken place in the room sometime during the night.
And sitting across from them, holding a large container of popcorn, was the young girl each of them aside from Anya had met the other day. Seeing the four girls enter the room, she broke out in a smile.
"I was beginning to wonder when you would get here."