After the Dance

© 1999 by E. Liddell

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Author's Notes:

Bonjour, c'est moi encore! Okay, okay, I'll stop attempting to confuse the monolingual members of my audience.

Yes, Yet Another Crystal Weaver Short. Sorry. I really do think that the longer stories get together in some back corner of my mind and breed, producing these little shorts. I have at least two more sort-of-planned to fit in between "Choices" and "A Shadow of All Night Falling"--well, it was kind of inevitable, I guess, given the twenty-four year span of time that passes between the two in the Crystal Weaver universe (multiverse? duoverse? What do you call a set of two universes?). Anyway, I decided to pick on Sumire this time.

As usual, I own only those characters that I've invented. The others belong to Takeuchi Naoko / Toei / a whole bunch of other people and organizations whose names I don't know.

I do love feedback, people! Email

I'll shut up now.

She'd been sorting through her closet when she found it. It had looked so innocent at first--a plain white shirt, with short sleeves and a round collar. She'd thought that it was hers, or more likely something that she had borrowed from Cass, since she wasn't nearly broad-shouldered enough for the thing to fit her properly. It wasn't until she saw the name tag sewn inside the collar that she figured out that it was his.

How long had it been there? Six years? Seven? At least that long, surely. He hadn't entered this room since that last night. It would have been unthinkable, when she was working so hard on maintaining an indifferent facade, and he was doing much the same, lest anyone find out how they still felt.

She voiced a little sound that wasn't quite a laugh and wasn't quite a whimper as she crumpled the shirt between her hands. Great secret scandal. Yes. A guardian who had fallen in love with one of those she was supposed to guard. Foolishness. But she'd been young, and surrounded by people who had already found their soulmates, and she had been so certain that she had found hers, too.

Coming to a decision, she stood up and wandered into the hallway. Now that she'd discovered it, she didn't want the shirt there to remind her of what had happened.

The question of which part of what had happened she didn't want to remember was a question that she would not ask herself.

She knocked on his door, not sure if he was in or even on-planet. Hadn't the Neptune expedition been slated to leave today? Or was it next week? She couldn't remember, but she did remember that he was supposed to lead it. That was his job: boldly going where no man had been in two thousand years, investigating the worlds that no human had visited since the Silver Millennium so long ago.

There was no response to her first, tentative, attempt to attract the attention of someone inside the suite, so she knocked again, more firmly.

"Okay, okay, I'm coming!"

She stepped back from the door and waited, suddenly not so sure that she wanted to do this. Maybe it would have been easier just to shove the shirt into a disposal unit.

The door opened and a head of tousled white hair stuck itself out. "Sumire?"

"Admiral Tsukino." She couldn't bring herself to address him any more intimately. Six years of habit prevented that. Who had first chosen to build that wall between them, and why? She couldn't remember.

"Sailor Saturn." He reverted to formality himself, although it was difficult to take it seriously when he was standing there with his hair tousled and damp, wearing a really ratty pair of old fatigue pants from his days in the army, and not much else. Neither of them was in the uniform appropriate to his or her title... but not all uniforms were made of cloth.

"I thought you might like this back," she said, holding out the crumpled shirt.

He reached out to accept it, but then one of his fingers brushed against one of hers, and she jerked her hand back. The white cloth fell to the floor.

She blushed, and then was angry at herself for blushing. "I'm sorry." And she bent down to gather up the shirt at the same instant that he did so, as well. A flag of truce? she wondered.

This time, she didn't flinch away when her hand brushed against his. Then she was holding his hand, their fingers entwined, the shirt forgotten.

"I..." she said as their eyes met. "I..." she tried again, but the words wouldn't come.

He wasn't nearly so tongue-tied. "Sumire, please. I still feel the same way about you that I always did--"

She jerked her hand out of his and straightened up, doing her best to ignore the bewildered look in his eyes. He still doesn't understand. What is wrong with him? Why can't he ever understand?

"It would never have worked," she said, wondering where this empty, emotionless stranger's voice was coming from, knowing only that she had to push him away again before he made her change her mind. "Not when you're always out running around the universe and I'm stuck here, protecting your sister and her husband. Do you have a girl on that ship of yours, Sammy? Or maybe it's a boy. I remember you admiring that one kid, what was his name--"

Now he was the one crumpling the shirt between his hands as he straightened up to his full height, his military posture coming into play, making him look more imposing even though he wasn't really so much taller than she was.

"I think that you'd better leave," he said, with accustomed force of command.

She bit back a retort. "I think that maybe you're right," she said at last.

She heard the door slam behind him as she turned and walked back up the hallway to her own room. She pretended to herself that it didn't matter.

She didn't go back to sorting through the closet when she arrived back at her own room. Instead she dug deep into her underwear drawer for something that she'd hidden there because it was one of the very few places that no one, not even an inquisitive six-year-old, was likely to find it.

The album was small. She hadn't needed to buy a larger one, as she'd once thought that she might. She'd actually considered burning it, afterwards, but she hadn't had the heart. No, she had decided to keep the mementos, hoping that there would come a time when remembering wouldn't hurt quite so much.

And there he was, his hair dyed dark with the brush-in-wash-out color that had never seemed to last more than a few hours on him no matter what he did, wearing a headband that hid the crescent on his forehead. They'd been able to steal a few hours for themselves that way, when he wasn't obviously the Queen's brother, and she, thanks to her magical immunity to being recognized when she was transformed, wasn't obviously Sailor Saturn. But the palace staff had known, and the other Scouts... Come to think of it, it hadn't been much of a secret at all, had it? At any rate, not nearly as much of one as they both would have liked it to be.

She snapped the book shut quickly when she heard the sound of footsteps outside the door, and voices.

"Are you sure Mommy's in here, Aunt Cass?"

"Well, we've already tried just about everywhere else."

She shoved the book under her pillow just in time.

"Here you are, Sumire! I was beginning to wonder if you'd emigrated to the Negaverse!" Cass, incongruously dressed in the grey uniform that belonged in that other dimension and not in the Crystal Palace, smiled, an expression that was almost bright enough to lighten her friend's mood. "What have you been up to all afternoon?"

Sumire summoned a smile. "I was sorting through some old clothes, that's all. Sorry. I shouldn't have imposed on you..." She glanced at her daughter, not willing to say any more in front of the child.

"Oh, that's okay." The young Crystal Weaver woman winked at the dark-haired little girl who stood beside her. "We had a great time, didn't we, Rhea?"

The little girl nodded. "We went shopping, and look what I found, Mommy!" She fumbled around in the bag that she was holding, then pulled out a box and extended it towards Sumire. "It's you!"

Rhea watched as her mother dutifully admired the Sailor Saturn doll.

"I wish I could have found a Daddy doll to go with it," the little girl suddenly added, "but I don't know what he looked like. When are you going to tell me about him, Mommy?"

Sumire gathered her daughter in her arms. "When I think you're ready, baby." When I think *I'm* ready, she corrected herself, and when you're old enough that it doesn't matter anymore.

--I still feel the same way about you that I always did--

"All you need to know for now is that he loved me very much, and I loved him, and he would have loved you, too." Except that it would have been a love that couldn't change and grow as you changed and grew. Except that you eventually would have come to hate him, as I do. Or as she wanted to believe that she did.

"Over and over, still thinking of you
I keep pretending that dreams can come true
Oh! They said our love affair never could last
I'm such a loser, can't live in the past
Does love come last?"
(--Glass Tiger, "After the Dance")

The End

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