2020-05-22 - Uminari Matsuri: Nothing Goldfish Can Stay

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Uminari Matsuri: Nothing Goldfish Can Stay

Rei, Usagi, and friends staff a goldfish scooping booth, where people compete to take home fish, and also each others' attention. Prizes are won and also gifted. Some unexpected family drama creates a scene.


Rei Hino, Usagi Tsukino, Lera Camry, Chibi-Usa Tsukino, Hotaru Tomoe, Steven Universe, Fuu Hououji, Ai Yamamoto, Haruka Tenoh


Uminari Matsuri

OOC - IC Date:

5/22/2020 - 08-29-15

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sailor Moon Crystal - Rei no Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx_NypFbd4s

"Now, listen up! That was Maya Tohno-san. She's a prodigious player of the Japanese drums!"

"Japanese drums..."

"In other words, Rei-chan, you were negotating for her to come play for the Uminari Matsuri?"

"Correct! If Tohno-san could beat the drums for us..."

"Uminari Matsuri would be more exciting!"

"Oooh... hey, Rei-chan! Let me beat on the drum too!"

"There isn't a drum that you can beat on, Usagi. Oh... wait... Usagi, there is one drum that even you can beat on."



Bang, bang, bang, go the drums, drums, drums. Enthusiastic amateurs, most of them.

Along the bustling throng of Uminari's walkways is a stall set up around a pool, flag fluttering above. GOLDFISH SCOOPING, it advertises, a venture personally endorsed by Hikawa Shrine. A dozen-dozen people walk past, on their way to food or festivities; some stop and crouch down on their heels to look into the glittering water below. There's a toy starfish, in the shallows. Not all the things in that pool are toys.

Could goldfish scooping be the quintessential traditional festival activity? Certainly, variants have existed since the late Edo period -- though the current paper-net permutation came to life around a century ago. Bat the fish into a scooping bowl with a paper net in a plastic frame (more properly called a poi), and bring back a friend for life. (Please remember to give him a proper home!) It is, certainly, a favourite of the children of Tokyo, and many of the visitors here have been young. Many -- but not all. There's a certain nostalgia to goldfish scooping, after all, whether it's done with goldfish or with super-bouncy balls.

(These are proper goldfish, swimming leisurely in their pond. It doesn't look like there are any swift medaka killifish mixed in for extra points -- this is just for fun!)

When Rei and Usagi find their way back, Ami, Minako and Makoto seize the opportunity to trade places with them and see some more sights in the festival. And so, crouched by the pool, with a box of poi nets and little goldfish bowls...

Rei hands one of those poi over to a young girl. She crouches in red yukata, baby blues about the top edges as they cross over each other in the folds; the deep purple pattern at the bottom is hidden by her knees, though the colour repeats in the purple ribbon tying back the fountain of her raven hair. (She's since put her tengu mask down in the stall. It's right over there, it's fine.)

"It will break easily," Rei explains, "so be careful, all right? Go slow, and you'll get there." The girl hums concentration, as she tries to go after one of the fish -- only for the corner of the paper to tear at one edge. "Don't worry," Rei encourages her, gently, "you've still got half your net. The game isn't over until it's completely broken!"

The little girl nods, eminently serious, the way youth are when faced with an act of dire importance. Tap, tap... and in the end, she manages to bat the goldfish into the bowl with the last remaining strength of her poi. "I did it!" She exclaims, excited, and Rei smiles.

"You're great at this," she tells her, as she fetches one of the special bags and tucks both fish and water into it. "Here you go. Have fun together!"

"Yes!" She beams, as she takes her bag and fish and runs back off to her mother.

Rei, of course, is helping everyone net their fish, but that's only one part of a successful stall...

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.




An arhythmic cadence of percussive pops comes out of the Goldfish Scooping Booth's Barker.

A bloated red porcupined pufferfish with bulging eyes that see everything is held by a rope, that is held by a feminine hand. Its twin brings across a mallet to rap its side and create the drumbeat for passers by.

"Goldfish! Goldfish! Come and try to scoop Goldfish! Win them for Lover - Sibling - or Child! Goldfish!"

The hands belong to an odango-haired girl calling out advertisement for those who come by. She's wearing a bright pink yukata with starbursts of green color that match the Obi, the colors calling to mind the vibrant innocence of youth enjoying their summer.

Abruptly she stops, as if drained of all energy, shoulders slumping - she sighs. "Why do I have to do this?"

Calling back to the booth where Rei-chan is assisting a child, she blares out her interruption, "Rei-chan! We should switch! You take over the Taiko until the others get back!" Thrusting out the childish pufferfish drum in her direction.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera Camry can't always remember what Japan's -- Earth's, really -- many festivals are about. But, she likes them just the same. She has a T-shirt and jeans on, rather than dressing up with more traditional clothes. But she has a little ribbon on her sidebraid, to give it that extra flair.

She recognizes the fish scooping game immediately. When she first got here, that was a source of terror and uncertainty. What did they do with the fish? Did they have to eat it?

She learned, later. (The answer is no.)

The sound of the drums makes her blink -- and then she grins, as she spots Usagi beating the drum, and Rei. She walks up, waving her hand. "Ooh, I didn't know you two were doing the booth, y'know?"

<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

Chibi-Usa Tsukino is among the crowds and the smells of food and the lights and the everything! It is a festival and she is starry-eyed taking in the sights, and arriving at a booth operated by familiar girls indeed. Dressed in a pale pink yukata with brighter blue and red patterns, she has her hair up in characteristic style, and is thus a very model of small pinkness. It is easy to miss her in the crowds on size alone, but she is walking quickly up to the booth to look over--

"Ohhhh," she says, seeing all the fish. There is... admittedly, something missing. But that something isn't wonder, as her big red eyes take in the sight of the pool and its contents and the people at it. "Usagi," Chibi-Usa starts, "Look at all the little goldfish..."

You know she's finding the festival fun, because she isn't even seizing on the opportunity to call the taller Usagi lazy.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Some Enchanted Evening (Jackie Evancho) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxKyA_evIp0

Why is this night different from all other nights of the year?

Well, it sure isn't because of Hotaru's clothing. She's rocking her signature 'black leggings and tunic/oversized dark green winter coat stolen from her Papa' look per usual, par invalid excellence. As is its wont, it emphasizes unseasonal warmth and exceptional smallness of frame.

The expression is new, though, or at least unusual enough to rate placement on an SS Ultra Rare trading card. And there's a lightness to her step, as she hurries along the (edge of the) crowded path, that is almost unrecognizable.

She's almost... a totally ordinary little girl.

With an extraordinary smile.

She's not healthier than she was earlier, but mood is a powerful stimulant, and an excited shine lingers in her eyes, polishing them to a brilliantly violet lustre.

It might be analogous to exceptionally beautiful glacier ice in twilight -- but still, that's gigantic strides in the direction of warmth from her more usual 'frigid expanse of the endless space void' and occasional 'absolute zero'.

Her twiggy arms are clutching something tightly to her chest in that way that only a young child does, equal parts enthusiasm and fear that it might be confiscated from her by an adult or bully at any time. It must be very precious to her.

Every few steps, she pauses and twists the upper part of her body back and forth. The gesture would make more sense if she shaded her forehead with a palm, but it has the same purpose: she's obviously looking for something. No, someone. No one looks for a THING with such an intent and tender expression.

Seeing Chibi-Usa from across the street, she stops dead.

It takes her a second to work up the courage. On multiple fronts. The last time she dared the crowd it did Not Go Well. And although she's been dreaming of doing what she's about to do ever since someone was foolish enough to mention an upcoming festival inside her earshot, now that the moment is upon her, her heart pounds fiercely in her throat.

There've been so many miracles tonight already. One more feels greedy.

But... greed is not always an evil impulse.

She's across the street in a twinkling.

She's a shadow in Chibi-Usa's shadow.

Shyly, she clears her throat.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.


Be it fortune telling, cork guns, or lucky string games, Steven Universe will find a new Yukata! The boy has found himself on break assisting his own booth again, and wanders the stalls. The festival is so large that seeing everything might just be impossible, at least enough to enjoy the rich tapestry of Japan's history in a single take.

Which is good! This new home is so enjoyable for that fact, they celebrate their past and what they have accomplished, much like individuals he knows. And while loss is experienced, people are better for it in the end. Usually.

Still wearing his own traditional garb of fluorescent and cotton candy pinks to a fading silver bottom, stars reflecting the bright colors on the top. Click-clack go wodden sandals on the floor beneath-- the boy has adjusted to them easily! It helps living mostly in flip-flops.

He now imagines Greg in them as well. At first the boy ponders how he might have trouble, but the mremembers those white-and-silver shoes he showed Steven that have bottoms half a foot tall. he might do okay...!

Nearby drums carry their own cadence over the ambient musics of an enjoyed crowd. "Ooooh, I should keep on my secret mission, but I wanna see...!" And so, once again the littly boy is defeated by curiosity.

A curly head of hair pokes through a crown and eaves between folks to get close. He sees familiar people running a booth! "Heeey! Rei! And... Usagi!" he says, a small pause on the latter's name, possibly to recall correctly. "FISHES!" he says, holding his hands up, the sleeves on his outfit sliding down his arms and bunching up at the elbow. A moment is taken to correct them. "What do they do! Do they do tricks?!" he asks, leveling his eyes to the booth, his wonder-filled gaze watching them go!

There are people near this booth he knows as well! Lera, the lady clearly from the U.S. like himself, Chibi-Usa, who he knows from uh, not-so-fun events. Coming up behind her is the... wasn't that the shy girl from the cork gun booth?

But that drum Usagi plays is also super cool! The boy ponders if it can be hooked up electronically somehow to make cool synth beats!

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"But Usagi," Rei points out, sly, "you're so good with that drum..." That childish drum, shaped to look like a fish with none of the glamour of taiko.

(She's been very nice tonight, but she's still Rei, after all. Maybe it's a relief!)

She smiles, brightly, as Lera walks up. "Hey, Lera-chan!" She waves a poi net, if only because the net was in her hands in the first place. There's Chibi-Usa, too, and Rei smiles brightly to her, with warm tones. "Chibi-Usa-chan, how are you enjoying the festival?" Would she like to scoop a goldfish?!

"As for the booth," she smiles to Lera, hand with poi flicking back in a loose gesture. "Grandpa wanted to --"

"Oi, oba-chan!" A small boy snaps to get her attention, leaning forward on his knees. "Don't wave our nets around like that, like that! You're gonna ruin our chances!"

Rei's smile grows a little more fixed, as she turns to look at that little group that's popped up. "How... terrible," she says, on a timer delay, and sets to handing them over some nets.

(Some poi nets are stronger than others; these are No. 7s, which aren't terribly strong at all.)

"Steven-kun, still looking sharp," Rei smiles to him, as she works. "You could teach them tricks, if you won one. Oh --" that's the noise where she sees Hotaru, but --

"Get us good nets! We're gonna win ten!" Insists one of those small boys, with all the pride of unfettered youth.

"Only the best," Rei lies through her smile-showing-teeth, as she hands over the worst nets in the house. She hasn't done anything to them, of course. They have... a sporting chance.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"Goodness," Fuu remarks with gentle amusement from behind the terrible trio. "Is this competitive goldfish-scooping, then?"

She gives Rei a friendly smile and a polite bow; the sleeves of Fuu's yukata are actually down at this point, so apparently she doesn't have to go back to the popgun booth in too much of a hurry. "Good evening, Rei-san; I trust your booth is faring as well as any?"

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Rei's response has Usagi clenching her fists over drumstick and drum-rope, teeth gritted in anger. "You-!" Then she slumps, feeling thoroughly tricked but unable to protest.

Straightening up, she turns around back around. The drum is a cross too heavy to bear, her drumbeat anemic.



Lera approaches though and Usagi seems to shrug off her lethargy, "Good evening Lera-chan!" She then nods her head rapidly, smiling, "For the Hikawa Shrine. Very traditional goldfish scooping. You should try it and win something for Setsuna-chan!"

She leans in, to confide to a totally normal Earthling whom she knows might not know these things about normal Earth life, "I know I'd like it if a date won one for me!"

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"That sounds fun!" Lera says, with a grin. "Your grandpa... uh... runs the shrine, right?"

She peers down at the water for a second, and then looks at the little paper net. She takes one, holding it between her fingers, and inspects it in a way that might pass as critical.

She stops squinting at it, then she waves at Steve. She looks up -- and then she blinks at Usagi as she leans in. Her cheeks red. "E-eeh--"

She steps back, then nods, and clenches a fist. "R-Right! Then... I'm definitely gonna catch as many fish as I can, y'know!"

She declares this, even as -- perhaps -- the point is missed.

<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

Chibi-Usa, unsuspecting at first, stares down at the pool, and then beams at Rei as she's greeted. "Oh, it's a lot of fun!" she answers, and 'hmmms' at Usagi, skeptical... Until--

The girl in her shadow clears her throat, and Chibi-Usa blinks, turning around before her eyes widen in recognition and thus utter delight. "Hotaru-chan!!" she effuses, stepping a half-pace forward immediately. "You're here!!"

She hears Usagi talking. She does. But, "Just a minute," she tells her, and instead faces Hotaru still, starting to lift her hands to take the other girl's before--

"Oh?" she asks, and tilts her head. Hotaru is holding something...!

Chibi-Usa's red eyes practically glow with happiness, a certain innocence despite everything the others would've known about. She'll...

Think about the fish again in a second.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.

Rei, Usagi, others: your attention has been noted and you will be served in the order it was received.

But right now Hotaru's whole world has narrowed to one small, pink person.

Hotaru reddens sharply beneath Chibi-Usa's joy. In the end the only way to counterbalance her bashfulness is with the dual measures of screwing her eyes shut -- she can't bear to watch -- and thrusting her arms out straight.

Chibi-Usa: meet a plush cat big enough to hug and squish quite satisfactorily. It is an incredibly delicate gray, one that almost borders on grape without quite leaving the chiaroscuro spectrum. And it is softer than its obvious carnival origins would suggest, the fibers of its fur cheap but not coarse.

Hotaru remains behind it, awaiting its acceptance or rejection.

"For you, Chibi-Usa-chan," she whispers. Her breathy, quavering voice is pretty much drowned out by POK POK POK but the sentiment comes through loud and clear.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Oh, no," a little of Rei's tension bleeds out, as she looks over the trio's heads to the newly-approached Fuu Hououji. "This is just for fun!"

"Yeah, right! We're gonna win!" The boys retort, seemingly terribly invested in this concept of competition Fuu raises. But it's not long before one of them cries out in dismay -- because his aggressive technique has ruined his net. "Aw, man..!"

The other two are still trying very hard.

"That's right!" Rei passes them over to respond to Lera, instead. She doesn't even include a crack about how poorly Grandpa Hino runs the shrine with all those weird outlandish ideas of his, so she must be in a good mood. Usagi is on top of justifying why Lera ought to scoop goldfish, and herein lies Rei's true wicked plot:

Usagi is the best cheerleader amongst them, and that's why she has to man the pufferfish drum and get people involved.

Could Rei just come out and say this, and save a bunch of trouble?

Rei could do a lot of things.

The scoop Rei hands over to Lera, at least, is one of the stronger No. 5s; she's got a better shot than the brats who are currently bemoaning the second amongst them ruining their poi.

Could their aggression be spelling a terrible fate..?!

It's at least a show which calls Rei's attention away from the heart-pounding meeting by the stall; Hotaru's efforts are safe from well-meaning encouragement, for now.

<Pose Tracker> Ai Yamamoto [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Ai's finally got around to changing into her yukata, the material a pattern of black and white with pink cherry blossom petals scattered over it, while a red obi is wrapped around her wasite. The tall blonde even has her hair up in a bun, too.

This time she doesn't appear lost, or slacking off or doing a combination of both. She's taking her time to explore the festival, enjoying the sights and sounds that she's never really experienced before. Especially not in the small village she called home until a few months ago.

Once again, she's got another taiyaki with custard cream filling. It seems that she's one who starts from the tail, as that's the end that she's currently chewing on. She raises her free hand up and offers a wave to Fuu when she spots the girl, and makes her way towards the gold fish scooping booth.

She stands and watches curiously, though mostly staying quiet and out of the way for the time being as she continues to enjoy her treat.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera's fist remains clenched, eyes on the heavens--

And then she spots Hotaru Tomoe, offering a plush cat to Chibi-Usa. She looks at the smaller of the Usagis, blinks, and then declares: "Aw..."

She takes the scoop offered by Rei. With a serious look, she walks over the artificial little lake. She sucks a breath in, and then stage-whispers to herself: "Like James Dean crossing the Delaware...!"

And she goes for the scoop.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

"Thank you madam~," Steven says in a posh manner towards Rei with the bat of a hand. "You are looking marvelous yourself!" The boy eyes the fish, imagining trick performing goldfish now. That would be a sight to see! "You can win goldfish?!" he says, already reaching for the cash. "How much to play...! I can get in line!"

Actually this game seems to have less of a line and more of a 'if you are in front of the tank, then play' style. But too many people can spook the fishies! Also, those nets seem rather... Hum.

Cheap doesn't describe it right. They seem to be made that way on purpose, perhaps to attempt catching with skill instead! Or swiftly. One of the two.

He hears a voice from behind! "Hey Fuu! They are doing goldfish catching stuff!" he says, like a kid who hasn't seen something like this before. Which is actually correct! "Catch all of them!" he shouts toward Lera. "If you get them all you can uh."

What WOULD you do with so many goldfish? "Make a koi pond???" he half-asks, completely unsure if that is how one makes koi ponds.


Maybe koi ponds are a way you show your SKILL AND EXCELLENCE IN THIS GAME. THATS GOTTA BE IT.

"I'm Ready," he says with affirmation and gusto. A look toward Usagi's echoed statement. "I'll show everyone goldfish, for sure!"

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

It takes Usagi a few moments, to realize she's being ignored. Right now her reaction is more puzzled than anything, a single finger of the hand holding the drumstick scratching her brow. Though it does not take her long to realize why she's being ignored, and deciding it is for the best reason.

Looking down at the exchange of plush cat from Hotaru to Chibi-Usa, an obvious carnival prize won. It takes her a few seconds to get it. Her lips become an O. And her heart swells an extra size, if that's even possible.

With a smile, she steps back and to the side, as if realizing that she's getting in the way. For a while the drum stops entirely. Because this moment is sacred, and the best act of worship is silent observation until this moment of friendship has played itself out.

If she could, she'd silence the passers by and the others too, but she doesn't. For now... she waits, and watches this exchange of gift with a smile.

Turning to Steven to give him a brief - and silent thumbs up, she then faces back forward her hands together like she is praying, hands clenched over drumstick and rope. Her pose full of hope as an enthusiastic eye witness to how this plays out.

As she stands there though, her pose breaks and she scratches her forehead again. While she won't ask it aloud right now...

... a question is now on her mind, distracting her just a little.

'Who's James Dean?'

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

"Beer?" a stall attendent asks Haruka. Earlier in the night, you had to wait in line for the stuff. Now you'll get flagged down if you stand too close for too long.

Haruka's sky-blue eyes are fixed much further down this aisle. Her expression is cold. The princess's daughter--which is to say, another princess--grows closer to the human apocalypse daily. That is on Haruka and Michiru. This will be harder on the child the longer it goes on. It's too late to stop this puppy love, but the sooner love turns to grief and, surely, anger, the shallower the wound. Violence with mercy is just sadism by another name.

"Ehhh..." the attendent asks. She shrinks back a little from the scary expression on this guy's face. But he notices the sound and the expression evaporates as he turns to her.

"Not right now. Beautiful night, isn't it?"

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Rather than ponying up some money for a poi, or lining up to try her hand at the goldfish-scooping, Fuu seems content to remain on the fringes, watching various friends and strangers try their hand, and their luck. Her gaze weighs a little more heavily - *just* a little - on those three boastful boys, but her attention moves on as two of them are duly eliminated due to poi failure.

In the meantime, she smiles and returns Ai's wave, and politely looks away from Hotaru and Chibi-Usa, as though to avoid intruding on their moment. In fact, when Fuu resumes moving - meandering, almost drifting with the foot traffic rather than risk obstructing it - she seems to gravitate towards Usagi ... and that pufferfish drum from which the odango'd blonde is raising a relatively joyful noise.

<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

Chibi-Usa blinks once more, innocently. The small, pink girl has to look up a little to see Hotaru's screwed-shut eyes, but not so much the new arrival in her arms. Her big eyes refocus closer, and she sees a big plush cat in gray. Delicate, yes--and terribly soft as she discovers as she reaches out. But that gets ahead of the moment:

The first thing Chibi-Usa does is gasp in surprise, and go utterly quiet. Then, reverently, she reaches out to this new friend. "Hotaru-chan...!"

Her hands find the sides of the plush, and grip--and then she brings it back to herself all in a second, hugging tightly. "Oh, I love her!"

Chibi-Usa is small, but her arms can hold the plush! And her eyes open back up wide, "Thank you, Hotaru-chan!!! Wow..."

Her voice is full of excitement--but despite the volume all around she doesn't have a problem in the world with understanding Hotaru's whisper. She is terribly happy.

...She doesn't realize she's being watched, not by anyone. Instead her eyes shine, her face practically aglow with the light of happiness. ...She takes one small hand off of the plush only to reach out to find Hotaru's again after all.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.

The human apocalypse is prompted to open her eyes by the removal of the light plushy weight from her hands. Even then, she does so reluctantly. There's a heartbeat when they're violet slits straight out of a screaming nightmare, complete with long black silhouette, the Reaper's own scythe, a shattered red landscape, and Silence.

'Oh, I love her!'

Warmth buoys Hotaru's brows upwards, into her heavy bangs, widening her eyes to the opposite extreme. Chibi-Usa's joy is total, and therefore so is hers. Her shy blush transforms into a faintly humiliated blush -- not embarrassed BY Chibi-Usa, never, never. But wild success is not her normal mode and it discomfits her a little.

She shuffles her feet, but also, her shoulders spread and open, her chin lifts, her face unscrews.

Call it a net win.

When her fingers are threaded by Chibi-Usa's, it's like the shorter girl has unlocked the flood gates, and enthusiasm starts pouring out of her in a babbling brook.

"It came from the cork gun booth," she explains earnestly, all smiles. "It's the first prize I ever, ever won, Chibi-Usa-chan!"

Hotaru is both an honest and loyal little person, so, she adds, with a little bow towards the red-yukata'd girl in question, "I didn't do it all by myself, Hino-san helped... the only time I've ever been happier is when I'm with you! So, um,"

She catches up with her running mouth and seems to realize that she's out slightly over her skis.

"Um, that's why... why I, I wanted you, to have it," she concludes in a mumble.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Pausing before reaching the group proper, Haruka bares her teeth for a moment, her brow heavy for a moment. When it comes down to it, she will not hesitate to take Hotaru away from Chibi-Usa. If it should come to pass that she is pained by taking Chibi-Usa away from Hotaru by the same act, she may falter for a moment. The pale little waif had never been allowed friendship, and it is affecting to see her experience it.

Remember. Her fate was decided the moment Sailor Saturn returned and Queen Serenity did not.

And so tonight, dressing with elegance, is Haruka Tenoh in the dark navy yukata from earlier, with its faint concentric circles of white thread. It is a suitable match for her pale blonde hair and her sun-gilt skin. Other than her face and forearms, most of that skin is covered, but there is an exemption for a V where the halves of her yukata meet. Her collarbone is the lyre that restrains the beautiful tendons and muscles of hard shapely shoulders. When she steps up next to Usagi and folds his arms, the strings ripple.

"You look like you're hoping I'll hit that," Haruka tells the much-shorter blonde. He doesn't look down at her; it's more like he just sat down next to Usagi at a movie (Now Playing: A Cute Friendship). His tone holds no innuendo.

"Hi, Rei-chan," he greets the girl who intentionally chose not to be the one carrying the drum right now. "She's taking it seriously," he observes to Rei, of Lera.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"We can do it, Steven!" Lera says, giving the young boy a grin.

She gives a thumbs-up to Usagi, Rei, and Haruka -- and flashes them a big grin -- before she looks down. She slides the scoop into the water. She finds the goldfish of choice; one that has a little crimson shimmer to the scales on its back.

She knows well what Setsuna Higashi will want in a pet goldfish. Experience has taught her these things.

"C'mon--c'mon--" She keeps trying to scoop it up, half-giddy. "I've almost got it...!"

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"A hundred yen to play!" Rei declares, brightly. It's a paltry sum for people grown, but to the youth who come to play at this stage -- well, not all of them have the biggest allowances. That's why there's so much riding on a successful scoop..!

And why, perhaps, the various attendants of this stall have such varied methods of guidance. Helping find strong poi nets, guiding a child's hands, choosing who lives and who dies in the gladiatorial arena of goldfish scooping... and here, it seems, Rei's approach is to leave them to find their own fate.

Her hands-off approach gives her the room to hear Chibi-Usa's joy, and Rei smiles, softly, to see the exchange of gifts. She knows it's something Hotaru worked hard for; it's all the more touching, to see her offer it up to her friend. With a glance to Usagi, it seems both of them have settled on the same conclusion: they cannot interrupt this moment on pain of death.

Of course, if Hotaru wants to mention her, that's different. She wriggles her fingers in a wave to the two of them! And proceeds to continue not interrupting, because Hotaru is trying her best to say how she feels.

Luckily, there's plenty else for Rei to focus on aside from the feelings of those two. Lera will find a match in her fish, darting this way and that way past her scoop -- but even though the water is its home ground, navigating through water and the air aren't so different, and it may find itself in a pinch...!

Steven will find himself having to choose between chasing three separate fish. One is small and round. One has a long, tall tail. The third is all speckled in a mixture of bright colours. What could his approach be?!

MEANWHILE: the last rowdy boy.

His scoop is halfway-tattered, but with determination, he finally taps a little fish into the bowl. "Eh..? It's so..." "You got one!" His friend interrupts, before he can insult the fish. Quoth the third: "See?! The best!"

"Hmm," Rei reflects, as she fetches a bag for the fish. "Looks like you'll all need to pitch in to take care of this little guy together. Between you, there's no way you're going to mess up -- riiight?" There's something sharp and evaluative in her eyes and her voice, at that last word. She is making a challenge.

"Ehh..." One starts, before another jumps in: "Duh! Don't even ask that! God, adults are so dense!"

It's only after they turn to hurry off to the next attraction that a little string of tension twangs in Rei, and she calls after them: "I'M NOT THAT OLD!"

This is the precise moment that Rei turns to find her field of view suddenly obscured by a soft filter. Her face reddens, as she realises that the wonderful Haruka just saw her lose her temper. "H-hi, Haruka-san!" She stumbles over her words a little, as she looks back to the pond and its challengers. "Ah -- yes! Goldfish scooping, it's serious business!"


<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Steven has nothing but determination on his face when it comes to this game now! He can totally win! Possibly? Watching other people flounder with these nets is funny, though he may have the same problem. It looks like they are made of... paper?

No, not just paper. The paper seems even flimsier than normal. Possibly handmade paper! He has a notebook at home made from handmade paper at home from a country store-- it looks similar.

"Are you gonna try the game?" the boy says, asking Fuu over the shoulder. He also sees Ai has arrived as well, and gives her a wave!

Nearby, he overhears a conversation between Chibi-Usa and Hotaru. "You shot those guns well!" he adds to them, but otherwise not wanting to interrupt what looks like a sweet moment. That sky girl giving up her prize to Chibi-Usa. "Aw," he says quietly, with a pursed smile, trying to remain focused on the trial at hand! But it is super hard to do...!

"Yeah we are!" he calls back toward Lera! "We can train them to do tricks, and name them after a theme, like flavors of ice cream or something!"

Offering coin and with ONE (1) POI equipped, Steven begins to eye fish nearby! There are three candidates! "Its very serious!" Steven replies with without looking toward Rei or Haruka, hearing her nearby. His laser-focused starry gaze sees the options. A round fella, one with a very large tail, and... "That one!" he says, beginning to home in on what is essentially a calico cat, but a fish instead! The three colors kinda remind him of the guardians at home!

He raises the net, and...!

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

As Fuu approaches her, Usagi puts a finger to her lips, and juts another at the pair, then discretely moves a few steps away from them as if to direct Fuu over to another end of the booth. "Over here. I'll get you a net." She says, hushed. Her eyes are still on the pair of them. The joy of a sullen but driven girl in receiving a gift. The joy of a shy and lonely girl in winning it, giving it.

Her attention so divided that when Haruka comes up to her she only sees her by looking straight up. An act which almost plants her hair directly in the exposed V of Haruka's navy blue Yukata. Seeing Haruka upside down in inverse makes him no less handsome. If anything it adds a layer of strange sensuality to it. Rapidly Usagi unbends her neck and swivels around. Bright red and laughing, "Ahahahahha - you mean this?"

Usagi makes an experimental tap on the side of the drum. "To... hit... it." Usagi bites down on the inside of her lip, as if trying to suss out if there was innuendo in that and not truly succeeding. The mere act of trying causing a pink flush as she stammers. "N-No. I really mustn't let you do that... I'm working right now."

A thought does occur to her though of something she does want, as she takes a short hop forward up to Haruka, drumstick and drum brandished, eyes eager. "But you should try scooping a goldfish!" As she bobs her head at Rei's mention of it being serious, "For... someone seriously special." As she hedges her bets, hoping that it will in fact be for her, but not forcing the idea that its her either.

And indeed Usagi does move over to the side and grab a net for Haruka, only doubling back at the last moment as if remembering Fuu was there(Sorry Fuu, he's hawt.) Handing each of them one, promptly, "There's plenty of room over on this side..." As she directs traffic eagerly, "You can scoop me u- I mean scoop goldfish all you want over here."

As she directs them over to the pool she eventually leans over Rei's direction, eyes now on Haruka.

"Rei-chan, you really helped her out?" Usagi says to her a whisper on her lips, both hands behind her back. She doesn't sound surprised of that fact at all, merely trying to confirm whether Rei Hino was performing some kind of gift giving conspiracy between friends.

Another thought occurs to her though, and a hand comes out from behind her back, a finger crooked as she asks, confused, "I didn't know you could shoot a gun."

Usagi's imagination right now: https://66.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m5bvfvxL3e1qjkedbo1_250.jpg

(Like many other things this is nominally Homura Akemi's fault.)

<Pose Tracker> Ai Yamamoto [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

That taiyaki is still slowly being consumed, and Ai seems to be enjoying it as she continues to watch in amusement. While she's being pretty quiet, the country girl watches curiously.

Spotting Steven's wave, she also offers a wave of her own in return.

She remains silent as she raises her head up and swallows that mouthful of taiyaki, as she continues to remain there silently, unaware that she's now got custard cream on her cheek.

She takes a few moments to consider the other girls and boys in the area, before she carefully makes her way in Steven's direction so she can watch his attempt of scooping up a goldfish. She remains quiet, not saying anything in an attempt to avoid distracting the boy.

<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

For Chibi-Usa victory is unqualified. Her joy is total, and she welcomes the babble entirely, her eyes bright with interest in every word of Hotaru's explanations. "Oh!! Oh wow, really??" Honest and loyal--if anything the fact that she did it with help only means that there is that much more happiness to show, and for an instant when Hotaru bows to Rei Chibi-Usa turns her sparkling gaze at her too. ...Briefly, though. "Oh, you--"

Her heart is too big for such a small girl, and even then it is not big enough to contain her feeling at Hotaru talking to her about her happiness. "Oh, you..."

Chibi-Usa beams back at Hotaru, and gives the plush another squeeze. "Hotaru-chan's first prize... I'll treasure it!"

But then, "If that's your first... then that means there's lots more for you to try! Let's try this one, too!"

She tugs at Hotaru's hand gently towards the pool, looking up and--

"Hmmm," she says, waving to Haruka in passing as she decides that Usagi and Rei are busy talking to him and thus instead... Picking up two of the poi, just the closest she can find on tiptoes while placing the plush under her arm.

"Ah!" she says, and hands one to Hotaru with a big smile. "I think you... try to catch the goldfish!" This is the limit of her understanding of this game. She's also not going to let go of the plush, possibly ever, in her life.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"A-ah, well, this one is for my girlfriend, y'know?" Lera says, as she maneuvers her scoop. "She'll want to name it herself!"

She maneuvers her net. It takes some work, but for all that Lera can be a little oblivious -- okay, a lot oblivious -- she has excellent reflexes. She manages to back the fish towards a corner, then cut left at the last moment, and the fish is scooped up into the paper net.

She lifts the No. 5 net out of the water, a few droplets falling down, and the fish in it. It wiggles.

"I think I need a bag!" she declares.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Well. Fuu hadn't been planning on taking part in the goldfish-scooping booth but when Usagi chivvies her to an open spot and provides her with a poi, Fuu goes with it, following along, and smiling good-naturedly at Usagi's stumbling over her own words. "Thank you, Usagi-san, I'm looking forward to giving it a try." Haruka, too, gets a smile and a polite bow from Fuu - and maybe even a slight blush. Fuu is, however, taken, and very happy with Ferio.

When he's actually around, at least.

Once Fuu's been guided to her spot, she gathers up her yukata's sleeves, taking net in one hand, bowl in the other, and hunkering down, watching quietly as the various flish flit about in the water. The idle thought crosses her mind of whether they have 'bait' - nothing fancy, just crumbling some fish food into the water to lure goldfish - or whether she needs to wait until a suitable fish comes within reach of its own accord.

The latter seems much more likely, when you think about it. No point in getting the water potentially dirty, or dirtier than it's going to be anyway ...

"Ah, congratulations, Lera-san," she says to her senpai as Lera bags (so to speak) a goldfish. Then it's back to concentrating on the water.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Friendship - BSSM S OST https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BkfjopFAGk

'I'll treasure it!'

"...I'm glad..." Hotaru exhales breathlessly, in dazed reply.

At this point her entire existence has basically been reduced to, elevated to, being a receptacle for Chibi-Usa's sparkles. Young Casanova here has no idea that she's emitting just as many of her own. As the intensity of the moment fades a little -- not all the way into the rear-view mirror, but out of the unbearable zone -- the flush across her nose fades to an affectionate, delicate rose, a good match for her best friend's hair. On most faces it would be almost unnoticeable, but even the gentlest peach stands out on this level of cream.

She would follow her to the ends of the Earth (...to the end of the world...), that much is obvious. CERTAINLY she is easily drawn towards the goldfish pool, a buoyant balloon whose string is tied around her best friend's little pinky with a perky little bow.

This forces her world to expand substantially, though; it's getting a little crowded around here, especially for her. She doesn't complain, but her Rate Of Glitter (units: sparkles/sec) is reduced a bit.

She follows Chibi-Usa's gesture across the water to Haruka, and she echoes it without looking at him very closely. "You know so many people, Chibi-Usa-chan," she sighs, admiringly, and doing her very best to cram down the intimidation that's starting to tighten her chest.

'This one is for my girlfriend, y'know?'

She is given two poi and one mission and accepts them all very carefully, though also with immediate performance anxiety. Contracting into a crouch, she's never looked more like a marionette; her sticklike limbs are ridiculous, and their jerky motions -- it isn't a completely controlled drop, as she has no strength, per se, to control herself -- only further the comparison. A cuter girl might have a filly's legs, but these are just TOO skinny even for horses, and cross the line to spiderlike.

Hotaru only has two hands, so in order to scoop with one of the poi while holding Chibi-Usa's with her other, she has to transfer one to her mouth like Rambo's knife. Then, with fierce concentration, she leans forward, arm poised to strike...


...stares........at the goldfish, like she's hoping to paralyze one with her gaze like a serpent.

Or maybe there's some other reason she finds their endlessly swirling, flashing little bodies so fascinating. It's possible she's never seen one before? Hers is a sheltered life...

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

"Rei-chan," Haruka realizes with a note of mischief. "You're working." He hadn't put that together instantly.

Upside-down Haruka spins like handsome laundry to become right-side up Haruka. "Not now, huh? My fault, in that case. I shouldn't distract you while you're..."

Chibi-Usagi spots him, and he spots her spotting him. It's been a long while since that day at the park, and Haruka suddenly finds himself in the ridiculous-yet-entirely-sincere position of being anxious about what an 11-year-old thinks of him. Did it hurt her feelings? Haruka doesn't know much about kids.

Her tiny hand lifts, and Haruka lifts his larger one, hesitantly.

"...working," he finishes. He smiles a little.

But then Saturn lifts her hand, too.

Haruka's never sure whether it's best to think of the sickly girl as Hotaru or Saturn. Hotaru is a normal girl, but one she's managed to avoid getting to know too well. Saturn is a senshi who knew the job when she took it, but also Uranus's sister, after a fashion.

Haruka has the benefit of ambiguity. His hand is still up from Chibi-Usa. Whether he keeps it up longer because he makes brief eye contact with Hotaru, or whether it would have stayed up that long anyway, is impossible for anyone but Haruka to say.

Perhaps it is difficult for Haruka as welll.

Then comes a bracing burst of color and sound. Rei and Usagi are united in a shared desire for Haruka to scoop goldfish. Haruka laughs in appreciation. "Maa, you two are pretty strong when you fight side-by-side," he says, and this time there is definitely a second meaning in his too-blue eyes, though not of the usual variety. "Guess I'm defeated..." he sighs, accepting his net.

As Haruka squats, he scoops a hand briefly to crease his yukata where he wants it to bend behind his knee, with a smooth adroitness normally seen only in women nowadays. On his haunches he seems all the more festive; it's how you squat for a sparkler as well.

"I'm not very good at it. But if it can't be helped," he says, his voice richer suddenly, as though it were voiceover instead of dialogue. That sparkler imagery has diffused all around him, subtly. He scoops a goldfish directly out of the water and captures it, as casually as one might eat a snack out of a bag.

"I hope you'll forgive me," he intones somehow both seriously and lightly to the fish. "For taking you where you won't get to look at Rei-chan anymore...."

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Whisper, whisper. "Of course! Though to be honest, Mami-chan was the biggest help," Rei replies to Usagi, because as much as Rei would love to take sole credit for helping she can't actually take sole credit. "But I thought -- guns and bows can't be that different, right?"

It's only when she says it out loud that she realises exactly how that thought sounds, and Rei laughs, scratching at a cheek. "I mean..."

Luckily, Ai is here and definitely needs to be greeted right now. "Yamamoto-san," Rei waves, to her. On seeing what she's snacking on, she remarks, brightly: "Oh! I see you've come prepared!" She has brought fish to goldfish.

Now the rowdy boys have left, there's plenty of room around the pond; room enough for Chibi-Usa and Hotaru to slip in, certainly, though activity from the other end distracts Rei from being Helpful. "Oh! Lera-chan, you've got it! Here --" Rei bustles over with a bag, just add fish and water. She cinches the string so the fish is secure, and hands it back over. "There you go, one new friend! I'm sure she'll love it!"

Rei briefly has a concern that Setsuna might decide to eat the goldfish, only to push it back down because not even Setsuna would be that oblivious to what is and is not a food. Right? Right.

Steven's target is all white and black and orange and spotty-spot-spot, and it flicks around the pond animatedly. It looks stout and hardy, so perhaps it's the perfect fish...?!

Fuu will find herself facing down a particularly fancy goldfish, distinctively gold, with a long fancy tail. It's like the wind is blowing through the pond -- excepting, of course, that there's no wind under water, on account of it being full of water. It doesn't seem to be moving too quickly, so... perhaps it won't be too tough to catch.

Unless it has fish secrets. Do fish have secrets? Apparently they do, to watch one Hotaru Tomoe at the pond. "Hotaru-chan... have you ever played the goldfish-scooping game before?" Rei wonders, gently. That's the second revision of her statement, though the only evidence is that brief trailing-off. The first went more along the lines of, 'have you ever even seen a goldfish?'

(One could ask the same question of Chibi-Usa, but Chibi-Usa is much more confident in her approach, relatively speaking.)

"You just use your poi net to tap the fish into the bowl. Ah..." Here her head turns and she finds that their might has defeated Haruka, and Rei gestures, open-palmed, as he effortlessly taps his fish into the bowl. "See? Just like that --"

Of course, Rei has called their attention to him just as he apologises to the fish for taking it away from Rei. Once again, her face reddens, but at least it matches her yukata. "I... I could visit!" She declares, quickly. "Then fish-kun wouldn't feel so bad!"

So quickly, perhaps she doesn't realise how bold she's being--!!

But Rei will stand by it, of course.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Steven can feel others watching him now, with Ai near. "Lookout world! Fish catching sensation Steven is here!" he says, boundless excitement in his voice. "Nice job, Lera!" he calls her way, seeing a fish in a poi held by her.

The net is raised, Steven being a praying mantis attempting to catch his prey! He holds still, his predator instinct kicking in*!

(He does not have a predator instinct, this is a fabrication in his mind.)


The boy closed his eyes as he swiped! One peeks open as he feels a touch of weight to his net. "I got one!!!" he calls out, starting to freak out. "Uh!!! What do I do! Do I pick it up with my hand?!"

His panicking us causing the fish to bounce a little, and with the flopping of the tiny fish, is putting the test to the held poi...!

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

If Usagi were a bolder girl, she'd suggest to Haruka that he can hit that once she's off-shift.

In her imagination, perhaps she is that girl.

Right now as Haruka suggests he shouldn't distract her Usagi is lock lipped, and nodding fast. After her earlier slip, she's not trusting her lips to part or tongues to move. These nods are a lie her heart does not agree with because as far as she's concerned Haruka can distract her anytime.

"You put up a good fight." Usagi says when she trusts her lips to move again, playing along with a faint giggle at Haruka's assertion that the two are strong and defeated him, "But you shouldn't underestimate two working girls at a festival!"

Usagi nods slowly as she whispers back to Rei Hino, "That makes sense." Though her mind is currently thinking about it inverse, Mami Tomoe elegantly drawing back a bow in traditional archery clothing. Then, blink blink, "Wait does that mean you really didn't know how beforehand?" Rei's original comment was of course, but it changed course mid statement and Usagi only registered that now.

Usagi's gaze is back and forth from Chibi-Usa/Hotaru and back to Haruka so quickly one would swear that her vision is matching the swirl of the currents, the swimming of the gold fish schools. "Good luck Chibi-Usa...!" She whispers quickly, as Rei asks Hotaru on whether she's played before.

And then all of a sudden, Haruka says something that freezes her gaze on him - in profile, both handsome face and sky blue eyes, as well as the part of the fabric of Yukata that reveals the muscle.

Putting a hand on her lip, she rubs her fingertip lightly across her pink lip gloss. As if simply yearning would make that comment belong to her instead. "Eh?" Her bright blue eyes grow real big - at Rei's response.





Usagi suddenly grips Rei's Yukata sleeve with the fingers of both hands grip her Yukata, as she shakes it urgently, volume suddenly raising abruptly, "Rei-chan you can't! How will Fish-kun ever learn to become independent if you're constantly hovering over them in their new home? You have to let them go-! Now say your final farewells and remember them fondly!"

Given how dramatically she's speaking, you'd swear that it was the end of a film - with Rei Hino's love interest getting on a train.

<Pose Tracker> Ai Yamamoto [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

With Rei offering her a wave, Ai returns it with her free hand. Though once spoken to, she has to lower the fish down and quickly chew on what she had in her mouth. She swallows, and offers a bright smile. "Oh hi! I'm just watching. It's been a long time since I've been allowed to get this close to something like this. Also, I don't think my room mate would like me bringing back a fish you can't eat," she comments jokingly.

When Steven catches one of the fish, she laughs and steps forward. She's not going to take over, but simply to guide the younger boy.

"Relax Steven-chan," she offers cheerfully and calmly, like it's an every day thing to see fish being caught. "You'll break your poi if you keep on moving it around like that. Calm movements, steady movements."

A bright smile is then offered. "Pretty little fish, though. You'll be a fine fisher one day!"

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

"You need to transfer the fish into your bowl with the net, Steven-san," Fuu coaches him gently. "Move too forcefully or suddenly and the net tends to tear, so you want to move gently yet deftly ..."

This might not be Fuu's favorite festival activity, but she *does* know her way around the game. She looks into the water again - and dips her poi, swishing it gently through the water as she tries to scoop it up.

Tries. Does not succeed. But at least her poi is still fairly intact ... for the moment ... even if the goldfish she spotted got away.

<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

And sparkle Chibi-Usa does. She seems to have a limitless capacity for joy in the moment, and is completely unselfconscious about tht fact. The goldfish pool awaits, and Chibi-Usa's glow is unabating, though now she looks around a little more carefully because of the crowd. Just a little, just enough to look out for the other girl.

She knows people! That is true. So, "Mm!" Chibi-Usa agrees, because it's just a fact that is true, not something strange for her, though perhaps once it could have been strange to imagine how many people she would meet and get to know here in this place. Once it was no one.

If Hotaru's limbs are spiderlike, then Chibi-Usa is light enough to walk on spiderwebs as she watches with intent interest to see Hotaru go. She is entranced by watching Hotaru in fierce concentration, the pool in--...


Blink blink. Chibi-Usa turns her head a little further to face Hotaru again. "They're so pretty, aren't they?" she asks. One as they look really exemplifies the gold in goldfish, with a little shine that catches the light in a lovely way.

"Oh, look at that one..." A beat, "Did you want to try together?" she wonders.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sailor Saturn Appears - BSSM S OST https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6JZ40BtROg

The first time they make eye contact, it was too quick for Haruka to get more than the most superficial taste of the experience of Hotaru's attention. Purple eyes like Rei's, curiosity behind them. A lingering softness from Chibi-Usa's proximity. An underlying strangeness; there's something disorienting about them, but not enough time to identify it clearly.

The second time, though -- after Haruka has made his perfect move, which had rippled effects across the pool and broke up Hotaru's hypnosis of, or else by, the fish -- her head snaps up like a startled predator's, and then he gets his chance.

Rei and Hotaru have eyes that only share a hue in the broadest, most generous definition. They both contain mystery, occult, a rare (and literal) visual cue that there's something different about them, something that sets both girls apart. But Rei's eyes are, of course, fiery; they are passionate. They burn. Hotaru's contain the cold of the void of space. Rei can be cool, and Hotaru warm, but the windows to their souls display two very different inner landscapes, because even at her coldest, Rei is always on fire, and even at her hottest, Hotaru has a shaft of purest ice at her core.

And what gazes back at the Sky King is ancient. Not in treachery, just breathtakingly old. This soul would no more belong in a wrinkled grandma than a baby; there is a hard limit on humanity and this is not so much past its expiration date as entirely without one.

There are two paths to eternity: either you stop time, or you render it meaningless.

Of course, that has other implications. A porcelain doll also has timeless eyes. This suits her well. The uncanny valley from whence she sprung is one that creates rather than births its population. The symmetry of her face, a bit too perfect; the length of her eyelashes, a bit too unbelievable.

Not to mention inappropriate and out of place. No amount of lash will make these eyes a doe's. No doe -- no doll -- could ever contain such limitless frigidity, even if they managed to approach the origin of all such lack of temperature: her perfect stillness.

Then something shifts behind them, and for a split second, Haruka is RECOGNIZED. The lidless eye of the void sees her. Knows her. Stirs, awareness begetting awakeness--

--Just at that moment, Rei and Chibi-Usa distract the apocalypse, who cranes her neck to looks up and back at them, blinking. And Steven too; like the others, he knows success, and she looks at his prize for a brief, absent moment.

Then she smiles the same sweet, gentle smile she's had all night. As best as she can, at least, around the handle in her mouth. Her hair hovers heavily over her slight shoulders as she shakes her head in response to Rei's inquiry as to ever doing this before.

When Chibi-Usa points out a fish, her arm flashes out without her face actually looking away from her best friend's, a brief, uncanny incongruity fast forgotten due to the size of the splash, which splatters anyone else who was leaning over to fish at that moment. It is perfect in accuracy but wildly outsized in force, and she emerges with a fish-sized hole in her net, but no prize.

Parting her lips, she pulls out the spare. This frees her mouth to smile properly, though it isn't anymore; rather she's apologizing for the impromptu soaking she's just committed.

"Please excuse me!" she squeaks, mortified, and bows her head towards the group for a long moment in near-dogeza.

She's slower the next time to peeeeeeeer over the edge of the pool to watch the fish swim by, as though she's expecting to see a corpse. Tension drains from her little frame when she sees darting flashes of gold, same as ever.

"Maybe you should try," she suggests softly to Chibi-Usa, offering to trade her net for plushy with a hand that's vibrating just a little bit too much to be merely excited. Those kinds of shaky hands don't belong to someone entirely well.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Haruka scoops a fish into his bowl periodically. He's in no hurry about it, just grabbing one here and there as he feels like it apparently.

"She might be right, Rei-chan," Haruka concurs mournfully with Usagi. "It's a lot to ask of a goldfish's heart. The thing about being a goldfish..."

Scoop, plop. His pale blond lashes are particularly visible because of how his face is downturned to fish.

"They don't last long. Each day might be their last. So if such a cute Rei-chan comes to visit, I'm sure it will ask her to stay a little while."

Haruka lifts his face with a rueful smile. "Do you mind if I put some of these back? Feel like I'm catching more than I need."

As part of looking up, Haruka ends up catching Hotaru's eye again, and vice versa apparently. He gives her a slight nod, but neither of them end up breaking eye contact...

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Don't speak for Fish-kun, Usagi! Maybe they want me to visit! Maybe they have strong roots and appreciate traditional ideals!" Are... are Rei and Usagi still talking about the fish?

Luckily, Fuu and Ai are there to explain the traditional game to Steven, because Rei is absolutely busy getting up in Usagi's face and pointing a finger at her. But the thing to pull her out of her argument is Haruka, with timeless wisdom on the time limits of a fish. Her face flushes with the correction, but what he says is something which gives her pause. "Eh... Haruka-san..?"

Mouth all twisting up, Rei's gaze snaps back to Usagi, as if to say without a single word: is that actually something we should be worried about or what

"It's -- it's fine, it's fine!" Rei laughs it off, a moment later, waving a hand. "Please, feel free, Haruka-san! Choose a lucky goldfish to go home with you!" Luckii, English out of nowhere.

SPEAKING OF GOLDFISH GOING HOME: Rei finally remembers to do her job.

"Don't worry, Steven-kun!" Rei hurries over with a goldfish bag, in a grand effort to save his fish. (Even if it escaped, the staff at goldfish-scooping booths have infinity +1 poi nets, which is to say, normal fish nets which aren't made of paper. But let's say it was a dramatic moment.) In goes the fish and the water, and she ties up the bag, handing it carefully over to him. "There you go! He's a colourful one, isn't he?"

To the Ai who helped him, she asides: "Thanks for the help," her gaze going over the pool a little further, "and you too, Fuu-chan. Keep at it! I'm sure you'll catch something good!" The veil-finned fish flicks a fin as it swishes on a heel. Well, if it had heels.

That's not the only thing being kicked up, though. SPLASH goes Hotaru's net, and Rei -- who had innocently turned to see how Chibi-Usa and Hotaru were doing -- finds herself suddenly a bit damper than she was before. Suddenly her bangs, which have had a certain puff to them ever since Nori gave her valuable advice on haircare in the depths of summer, lose all their volume like Rei in the middle of a tirade: drippy-drip-drip they slick down her forehead, and she has to push them out of her eyes.

(Purple eyes, yes. Purple isn't quite a unique colour, not in the glorious technicolour of Tokyo, but neither is it brown or hazel or blue, all of them sensible everyday eyes.)

Rei's smile stretches over her face like a taiko drum for a moment, before she laughs, again. "Don't worry, don't worry! It's not the first time!" IT ACTUALLY MIGHT BE, considering how Rei only came back to the stall which was technically her responsbility fairly recently, but Hotaru and Chibi-Usa don't have to know that. "Go ahead and give it another shot!"

Whether she's talking to Hotaru, or Chibi-Usa, is left to the reader's interpretation. It could honestly go either way. They're kind of a unit right now, aren't they..?

<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

It's not so much that Chibi-Usa is unaware that there are other people around, people she cares about a great deal, so much as that the great shape of her attention happens to be focused on just one of them at the moment, as if the little actions here at the pool and with a girl whose hand is in hers are more than enough to fill her field of reference all on their own.

"Ohhh, good try!" Chibi-Usa says, enthusing even as Hotaru is back apologetic. Rei says don't worry, and Chibi-Usa beams again. "Yeah!" she answers brightly. She does look back thoghtfully at the pool after another smile, and her attention on anyone else is largely forgotten. She peers, too, between pool and Hotaru, and then at the suggestion--"Okay!" she says warmly, and entrusts her new dear friend to Hotaru, careful at the handoff as she feels the shake in her hand. Chibi-Usa's may be small, but they are steady; the one entwined with her friend's, and the one performing a trade, with a little plush-supporting help from her arm and side.

It could be a little awkward for some, but not for her.

She takes the net, and leans down, looking for the flash of gold, remembering the one that she spotted. Her red eyes are wide, her expression a mask of careful focus as she stares down in more wonder. It's so pretty, she said, and that shows in the wistful curve of her lip, the guileless cant of her face.

Her lips press together in thought after a moment, her eyes narrowing to track the fish swim by. Chibi-Usa's little arm holds the net carefully over the water, its surface just barely above the wet as she waits for the goldfish to swim up, up--

The pink-haired girl holds her breath suddenly as she gently brushes the net down into the water and comes up with a little goldfish quick as a blink, and oh-so-carefully looks--

"Aaa-ah!" Chibi-Usa exclaims, practically vibrating in place though her arm is not so shaky as her shoulders and her face and her expression. "We did it! Look!" Excitedly she turns to face Hotaru again to share in the moment, joy exuding from her in almost palpable waves, but most of all right here in front of her. "Oh, do you want to name it...?"

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

The boy's resolve has instantly shattered as the boy panics, this cute fish now outside the wateer and gasping for air "Uh! Uhhhh!!!" Maybe he can bubble it with some water?! Send it home, swim safely in the depths of the temple in a happy bubble! Wait no, who will feed it?


Some of the tension alleviates when he hears feminine voices behind him offer advice. "Uh, okay...!" he says, holding super-still now at Ai's suggestion. Well, still except for his eyes, which are looking around for avenues and plans to save the fish!

Fuu offers helpful advice, too! "Bowls?!" he replies with, starting to sweat. Actually, yes, there are bowls partitioned out for victors to place their prize around the tank. In his excitement, he completely missed them. Steven begins to carefully shuffle toward them at a snail's pace, but sees another moving to his aid.

"Rei, help!" he calls, trying to move EXTREMELY carefully toward Rei, seeing her now with a bag. The poi is thoroughly tested, but stands fast somehow, and the calico fish finds a new home! "Oh, we did it! The fish is saved!" A pause. "Oh, thanks for the advice! And thanks for the save, Rei!" the boy offers toward Fuu and Ai. "I woulda felt really bad if it woulda fell on the ground or something..." A look down to the bag now holding a small companion. "Oooh, he is! Thank you!" he says kindly, and offers a traditional bow. He's... not very good at them still, but he is trying to be traditional during this festival, darnit!

Now, how to get it safely home! Actually, that aforementioned panicked idea might work well...

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"And maybe Fish-kun is a more modern goldfish dreaming of the day they'd leave home and enjoy a different life from what they've known!" Haruka speaks, and Usagi is often prepared to hear that she's wrong, so frequently that her mind is almost instantly forming a counter to something it does not fully comprehend yet. "Wait - I might?"

Usagi's fingertips loosen their grip on Rei's Yukata, still present but no longer pulling it away from her arm. Usagi hears the explanation. And at first she just nods along, "Goldfish have tender hearts." Usagi agrees. Though she hushes again, as Haruka reveals... more...

... this isn't the first time she's seen this side of Haruka. Usagi's expression changes from a smile at being told she might be right... to, still smiling, yet there's something different in her eyes.

And for a while she just stares at Haruka. She doesn't understand. It feels like there's something more there. Some connection she's not making. Maybe if she were smarter, she would. All she knows is that for a while, she feels sad.

Sad because it feels like the wind is distant from her. Like she felt the breeze of its passing, and even if she chases it, she won't be able to catch it.

Rei will see it when she looks at Usagi's face - that trace of sadness, which shows that Usagi is feeling more than she's saying right now.

... much more.

A splash of Hotaru's attempt, seems to snap her out of it, as a few droplets touch the hem of her Yukata. And she blinks at Hotaru, before saying with that same smile, "It's okay. You're having fun right?"

It's inevitable though, as her eyes return to Haruka - only seeing the number in his bowl for the first time. "You're better at that than you thought." Usagi points out quietly. She isn't calling Haruka a liar. Never that. It's just Haruka is good at everything. Even when he says he's bad at it.

It's like she's noting the distance again. And wishing - it were not so.

Something in her decides to cheer up though. And it's not clear what it is. Perhaps Chibi-Usa's cry of triumph. Perhaps a recollection of a moment. Or perhaps simply a fleeting fancy that often takes her, "Whichever one you decide to keep though - that's a really lucky fish."

Her attention turns then, decisively, "Hey - Chibi-Usa! Great job! You caught it!" Bending over with hands on her knees, she looks at the fish and Hotaru, eager to find out what her answer on the name is. "Hmm - it's a lot of pressure." Wait what, naming a goldfish? Well perhaps Usagi at least understands that something so simple can be very important. "But you can do it Hotaru-chan!"

<Pose Tracker> Ai Yamamoto [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Ai watches Steven with the fish closely, smiling softly the entire time. She raises the treat up for another bite, which she chews thoughtfully and then swallows. "You did good for your first time," she offers reassuringly to the boy. "And if that had happened, Fuu-chan, myself or..." She glances towards Rei, still uncertain of the shrine maiden's name. "Well, one of us would have scooped it up for you!"

She then offers a bow of her own, to be polite to Steven, before her attention shifts towards Rei. "Oh, you are most welcome! I'm glad I could help someone out."

She then watches Fuu's attempt curiously, offering a smile to the other girl, before turning and starting to making her way away. "We should try to catch up for lunch or something when school starts again, Fuu-chan!" she offers as she starts to leave.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Of course there's something more to it than the obvious. It's in Haruka's reflection, and it's in Usagi's eyes.

Rei could drag it out into the light and demand answers, but...

Once more, Rei could do a lot of things, were she not wholly embodying Rei Hino.

No: let's celebrate a fish. Chibi-Usa is so happy, and that brings joy to Rei, too.

"Congratulations, Chibi-Usa-chan and Hotaru-chan!" Rei declares, little fishy in a bowl. She has apparently determined that they are absolutely a unit. She has a bag ready for them, too, though she won't transfer the fish until they're ready. After all...

"Go for it," Rei encourages Hotaru with a smile, not for the first time, though this time it's on the subject of a name. Also, it's in tandem with Usagi, because the two of them have been known to move in total sync now and then.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Is the wind hot or cold? As a riddle, it has no answer. Wind is wind; it moves what is there. This is not indifference. Indeed, hot and cold and the play between them is what wind is made out of. But to ask what the core of wind is, whether its fundamental nature is fire or ice... there can be no answer. Only an observation of the here and now.

Haruka stays poker-faced. She does not know if there is a reason Hotaru is paying attention to her, though reasons are easy to imagine. But it is unavoidable that her sky-blue eyes respond to Hotaru's ice. In a night now lit mostly by the fireflies caught in string lights and bulbs, the thousand tiny sparkles in that blue may as well be crystallizing pinpricks of frost in the air. And by this process Hotaru makes of Haruka something harder and sharper, crystal by crystal. These things occur gradually until they don't. At the end it sometimes seems to come from nowhere, even if you watched it happen.

There is a grief here. Sailor Saturn should not have been given that scythe, and Hotaru Tomoe should not have been given Sailor Saturn. It's an inverted, sick pyramid, where the more delicate something is, the lower it is placed, until the limitless ebon base rests entirely on its singular least deserving point.

What would you do, if one day you woke up with such an unholy abomination looming above you? You would know that it must be demolished on your terms, before it comes down upon everything.

When she is at her strongest Haruka regards Hotaru with cold professionalism, and at other times her thoughts are heated by regret. But right now there is a hatred in her eyes, stirred up by contact with the cold. To Haruka there is no such thing a perfect stillness. She is not so old a being as Saturn, but she is old enough to know an enemy when it announces itself.

The passionate neutrality of wind was seen, by the ancient philosophers, as hot instead. So be it, if so. Because there is only one path to eternity that Haruka believes in. It is to move and breathe and love so passionately that it feels like dying, that one day dying might feel like love. May time run. May it have meaning.

Haruka does not look away when Saturn--or whatever Saturn has become--begins to see her. She ignores the shadow of that invert pyramid as it falls over her heart. She wishes to be understood. She craves rejection by what is anathema to her.

All motion is perpetual motion.

All at once it's over, dispelled by nothing but a little girl's voice. For a few moments, Haruka watches Hotaru and Chibi-Usa together. Then, restlessly, she dumps her goldfish out in one big pour, sharply tilting back just before the last slithers free to its cute guardian.

"This one should do," he tells Rei with a smile. It is not a false one, but something about it seems at odds with its ostensible cause. "If he gets lonely for you, I have your number."

He accepts his tied off bag, lifting it to his eye level to examine the goldfish. He lowers it, its funhouse mirror rippling away from Usagi's face to reveal the crystal clear reality before him.

He spent so long avoiding Hotaru, worried it would sap his resolve. Maybe he had the wrong idea all along. Haruka pities someone who has nothing they'd kill for.

"Well, I should be going," he tells Usagi. He's looking at her eyes now. "I can't come back if I never leave."

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (7)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Hotaru's Sorrow - BSSM S OST https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrjoTTH165E

Hotaru watches Chibi-Usa with the rapt attention of her #1 fan club member, and she shares in the delight of her success, but only for a moment.

Asked to name it -- the importance of which is further emphasized by Usagi AND Rei -- she shrinks back a little, hugging the plush very tightly beneath her chin.

"I," she demurs, "I don't think..."


Hotaru, much smaller than she is now -- smaller than Chibi-Usa, even -- is surrounded by broken glass, weeping. Her knees are on the floor, a puddle soaking her purple nightie. Her fists are in her eyes, not so much containing her tears as grinding them back in, to be reborn again and again and again.

A pretty flash of gold lies still amid the wreckage.

A pretty corpse.

"Who did this to Fishy?! Who...?" she wails, between sobs.

"My, what an odd thing to say..." replies a cool, feminine voice. It is older, but the antithesis of motherly.

A shadow falls across her. Across them, Hotaru and the scales and fins that used to be her first (and only) pet.

"You did this yourself."

Hotaru gasps and stares up at the lady towering over her. Her lower lip quivers in vain; there is no sympathy to be found here, only impatience, disgust, and underneath... something darker, something she recognizes without comprehension of its nature.

"Now hurry up and get rid of this mess," she snaps.


That was the last time Hotaru was responsible for another living thing. Now the prospect terrifies. She couldn't ever trust herself with such a charge again. Bad enough that she can stir joy and, more pointedly, sorrow, in these kind people she has dared allow become her friends.

Better they be strangers, or at least believe themselves so.

All people are strangers to death, until they aren't.

But death is stranger to no one, no matter what a mercy that would be...

Death is not included in calculations of mercy, except as a universal donor.

An infinite capacity to grant mercy, but never to receive.

Hotaru is visibly panicking now, beads of sweat gathering at her temples. Her breathing hitches, then restarts much too quickly.

A shadow falls across her.

"Hotaru-chan," snaps the same voice, with the same biting fury.

The little girl's pale skin, already ashen, becomes translucent. She rises, not of her own accord, but because a grasping hand picked her up and set her, none too gently, on her feet. It was under her armpit rather than by the scruff of her neck, but there's something of the latter in the brisk handling she received. Certainly she is as helpless as a kitten to resist the will -- and seething irritation -- of the woman who has come to collect her.


For a moment it's so unmistakably the dark witch from the beach that the most logical thing to do is to transform. The threat is breathtakingly immediate.


"Kaori-san!" Hotaru gasps, both startled and miserable, but also with the slightest edge of defiance providing grit at the bottom end of her timbre. She jerks her shoulder forward but is unable to make the cage of well-manicured crimson nails around it break its grip. But the interaction between them -- very human -- breaks the spell, somehow. "Hey -- you're hurting me!"

It MUST BE Kaolinite. It has to be! But the dynamic between the statuesque, red-haired woman and (clearly) her charge is so utterly ordinary, if obviously a little bit dysfunctional, that it just seems impossible. It's not the Grand Magus come to collect her demon-eating demon. It's...

It's Kaori Kishi, Principal-General of Infinity Institute and longtime employee of Tomoe Laboratories, come to collect her boss' daughter. She has no magic staff or jewel, and her crimson pencil skirt and blazer, while extremely well-tailored and flattering, are no black gown, either. The only dark powers she wields are bureaucratic, though this interaction is already starting to smack slightly of familial ritual.

"I'm hurting you? You are unbelievable," scoffs Principal Kishi, with whom apparently Hotaru is on a first-name basis. Her voice rises, wholly unconcerned with embarrassing its target by making a scene. "How many times are we going to go through this? You CANNOT keep RUNNING AWAY! Your recklessness, your SELFISHNESS, if it doesn't kill you, is CERTAINLY going to kill your father! We've been looking everywhere for you!"

This is, evidently, a familiar argument; Hotaru regains her equilibrium to some degree. Her violet eyes are flinty, which, oddly, robs them of some of their chill. It is a somewhat more normal child-sulk, and Principal Kishi is EXTREMELY inured to its effects.

"I just wanted to go to the festival," she mutters, resentfully. "Like everyone else."

"You know why that's not possible, Hotaru." A look passes between them, Hotaru acknowledging the point; she's not like everyone else. Something's wrong with her.

She hangs her head.

Principal Kishi, satisfied by her ward's silence, lifts her chin to glare at the group.

"If you care about this child's safety and recovery, STAY AWAY FROM HER. She IS NOT WELL ENOUGH TO PLAY," she both explains and demands.

And then, with a jerk, she frog-marches Hotaru into the crowd. They cannot be found if pursued.

Hotaru's final act, before she disappears, was to desperately fling the plushy back towards Chibi-Usa, where it belongs. A few more sparkles follow its trajectory, but these are silvery tears. "Wait!" she cried at her keeper, lobbying unsuccessfully for a delay. "I want to say--"


<Pose Tracker> Chibi-Usa Tsukino [Juuban Public School (5)] has posed.

Congratulations, Rei tells them--and they are a them here, Chibi-Usa hears and does not really understand why she likes that. But she sees Hotaru start to shrink back, and--

"Oh, it--" She falters for a moment, not out of any lack of feeling, but of uncertainty what to do. She recognizes Hotaru's panic, and wants immediately to step closer, to tell her it will be all right, to--

Chibi-Usa stiffens sharply when she hears the snapping voice. "Ah--" Hotaru is moved. Chibi-Usa looks up, up, and sees her, has her identified by Hotaru. "Oh--H-hotaru-chan--"

She's hurting her, and Chibi-Usa quails with it, wanting to say something, but her voice dies in the face of this woman. Her big red eyes have the width of fear, and fear is an emotion all too familiar to Chibi-Usa's face and heart. It replaces everything else immediately. But even so--

"B-but--" Selfishness. Those awful words, so many, and it hurts even just to hear them used.

Hotaru hangs her head, after that statement, and Chibi-Usa, straightening, almost gets out another word before she sees that look. She almost manages to answer, before that explanation and demand both scythe into her and she stops as if struck. If you care, the Principal says. "H-hotaru-..." But in moments, she is gone.

She wasn't splashed by the water, but her eyes are wet, but one thing brings her into motion--one thing, to catch the little plush cat and hug it tightly to herself. "Hotaru-chan!" she manages. But then she's out of sight with Principal Kishi, and even that is too much. She wanted to say...

"H-Hotaru-...chan..." Chibi-Usa stares after, and the first tear wells up deeply enough to fall, joined by another, and another in short succession. "I didn't... B-but I..."

She wraps her arms so tightly around the plush that she may seem never to let it go. "I'm... I'm sorry..." The words of the Principal echo in her mind, and Chibi-Usa breaks down into awful, ugly, not at all small tears, standing and becoming an even smaller figure than usual, as if even this much space is too much to be in.

No brilliant light appears; no great beacon is lit. Chibi-Usa keeps crying.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi is eagerly watching Hotaru, awaiting her answer. Though when she's shy, Usagi does not push her farther... she waits...

Usagi catches a glimmer of lantern light off the ripple of water, a gold fish swimming in a bag, beyond that Haruka - at an angle and up. The distortion is momentary. Just a transient life and water - the idea of life as so transient is a sad one, but its Haruka that called it to mind for her.

And then just Haruka. The bright cheer in her eyes isn't sapped away by what Haruka says, it merely changes.

It feels like Haruka is always there and gone. And back again. In a cycle. He never stays long enough for Usagi to truly grasp how she feels.

A more bold girl would ask him to stay whenever he goes. And yet she can never bring herself to do so. She can always watch him leave.

And love it when he comes back.

Asking him to stay would change something about what they have right now. Asking for something to change is putting yourself out there, vulnerable to the idea that you could destroy everything that currently is and will be from the turning of that wheel.

It's scary.

And the thing that Usagi Tsukino is frightened by more than anything else, is losing what she has with other people. If courage could mean destruction of something so precious.

Then the most rational thing to be is a cowardly crybaby.


It's a single word. Though her eyes are not so sad anymore.

After all. She knows she'll see him again. Usagi raises her arm to wave, a gesture which causes her bright pink yukata sleeve to fall down. Ink smudged characters still present in her arm, like some temporary tattoo...

...maybe sometimes - small changes aren't so bad. Maybe she doesn't even know she's showing it to him. But if Haruka were gone for long enough, and she had to think about, she'd be able to find him.

This would typically be a moment where she would watch him go. Darkness steals that away. A voice snaps, and Usagi is looking back at her. "Hm?" Usagi initially shrinks reflexively from the tone of maternal anger. Maybe it's Hotaru's mother? She doesn't know. The woman looks familiar to her though for some reason. Like she'd seen her at some school event.

Hotaru's reaction though doesn't sound like its her mother, and Usagi's eyes grow wide. When at first she heard it, she expected maybe, something to be thrown Hotaru's way like she didn't do some chore around the house. Instead she's seeing Hotaru writhe within her grip. And it's then that she sees it - from that night. That night at the Tomoe Mansion, just after they'd saved Hotaru from that strange ever-shifting dimension. Her.

Usagi gasps, putting a hand to her mouth, and then takes a quick step forward, "Hotaru-chan!" Sounding desperate at her distress, her tone the same as if she were knowing one someone precious to her - precious to those around her is being taken away.

"Please don't! We weren't.... that is... she was... just having a nice time with..."

And yet the realization causes her to stammer, never causing her to quite finish, as if instinctively knowing she's on dangerous ground. She is not Sailor Moon, she's Usagi Tsukino. This is not Kaolinite. It is the Principal of Infinity. Usagi simply meets her glare, shrinking beneath it.

"Please. If she's sick... being rough with her can't be good..."

She pleads, feeling helpless, eyes starting to glimmer with tears. If she were truly courageous, she might try to do something about this, than watch Hotaru be marched away into a crowd...

... but sometimes all a cowardly crybaby can do is watch.

A hand falls on Chibi-Usa's shoulder, and Usagi kneels herself down. She does not try to hug her from the front. That place is reserved for the precious payload that Hotaru gave back to her. Instead her arms wrap around her back, and she says nothing. Her own eyes full of tears, as she leans down and puts her chin on her shoulder. She says nothing. She does not tell her it's going to be okay.

There's nothing okay about this.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Oh --" Rei sees the trembling, and her other hand raises, conciliatory. "Don't worry, it's okay --" was it too much pressure? Rei snaps under weight and Hotaru shatters, they both stand apart but for all their similarities there are a thousand different ways to be a strange occult girl.

The regret in her eyes is real, though, even if she can't quite shape it properly. She wanted to raise Hotaru to greater heights, not drop her off the edge. Her gaze goes once more to Usagi, more helplessly, this time; what do we do what do we do

She is wrapped in worry for that girl; she isn't really attending to the booth, right now. Someone else approaches, entirely unseen. Until that hand slips around and grips --

Rei gasps, a sharp and accusatory intake, and instantly her hand moves to the sleeve of her yukata; she's made sure there are pockets in hers, of course. They're handy for carrying things like phones, and keys, and...

... pens...

Her anger BURNS, looking up at what must be Kaolinite as she manhandles Hotaru, and in that moment there's only one thing to stop her, one thing which twitches up the muscles in her wrist and through the motion curls her fingers in a jerky stop.

If she transformed out here -- in full view of everyone -- the secret would be out. Usagi needs her, needs the plausible deniability of her own normality; how can she defend her if their foes know who to guard against?

One heart weighs against another and there is a winner, here, and it isn't Hotaru.

It certainly isn't Hotaru.

Because -- Kaori Kishi, is it Kaori Kishi? -- certainly Hotaru names her and she is missing the accruements, plausible deniability here to confuse her just as well -- that woman lectures her in familiar beat and now --

WHAT DO THEY DO TO THIS GIRL, Rei thought, back then, loud and angry in such a way that it seeped through the cracks and perhaps Hotaru saw, but what it looks like and what it feels like are two different things.

Let's explain, once Kishi addresses them. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THAT GIRL?!" Rei demands, voice tearing like a photograph in flame, as she surges to her feet. At five-feet-three her height is not unenviable, but neither is she notably tall in the manner of some of her friends; she does not loom or tower, especially not in the presence of a true adult.

The retreating presence, because Kishi is dragging Hotaru away. Rei's hands tighten like the same screws which pull back her smile into its most technical form; her anger is not technical, not practiced. She will crush her thumb in her rage, all-consuming, pouring out of her like a burning house whose windows have shattered to bring in so much more oxygen.

"You-- YOU--!!"

It is not friendly address; neither is it specific. Rei is angry, intensely angry, horrifically angry. It is anger which ascends, like an endless stairway, always one more flight at the height of its exhaustion.

Hotaru throws the plushie back. There's Chibi-Usa, there's Usagi; they are crying and it will be some time before Rei realises there are tears in her eyes too, because the heat on her face might as well burn them away.

They're not moving; fine. Fine! So be it!

Rei moves instead.

Storming forward, into the throng of the crowd, and her anger only takes her so far into it before the people in the courseway had their view blocked and don't know the yelling girl is coming straight for them. "Eaugh!" Yelps one of those men, because her foot has come down like a piston, and if there were any justice in this world the concrete would crack beneath her furious tread. It does not, but his feet are softer than concrete, and exposed in those traditional zorii.

"What's your problem?!" He snaps, as Rei's attention finally calls back to him from where she was trying to find that prim dress in the crowd.

"I --"

"That's just rude!" He lambasts her, before his companion tugs on his arm, and the both of them disappear into the crowd. Rei looks, again, but they're not the only ones who've faded in.

"Hotaru-chan..." One strange and lonely girl is not always like another, playing alone as the others whisper, but their eyes are both purple and here are the scars. Hands cupped to her mouth, screaming into the void, Rei cries: "Hotaru-chan!!"

If only she finds her, she can -- she can --

she can't.

<Pose Tracker> Haruka Tenoh [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Haruka's eyes are on Usagi's at first. His smile is small and rueful, but not regretful. Indeed, he seems contented. Then, he looks down at Usagi's arm, where the smeared crypto-markings of pen suggest Haruka's phone number in a form only your Ami Mizunos and Honoka Yukishiros could crack. That's when his smile grows a little less small, and a little more rueful.

"Okay," Haruka agrees softly. And it is.

But that's not the bow that will tie off the evening, it seems.

There's a moment there, where Haruka's hand disappears into his yukata. A moment where he pointedly does not make the slightest motion to either warn or defend the two Inners and their little ward, for fear of suggesting there is something here she s keen to defend. It is at least figuratively true that he is prepared to draw a weapon. This is a fitting enough time for the Princess and her guardian to learn Sailor Uranus's secret identity.

This is Kaolinite. This is the Grand Magus. But it's also the principal of Infinity Institute. Haruka's hand drops back to her side.

It's not that she didn't know that Kishi was dirty. Nobody can be that high up the Infinity food chain without having a few Daimons in their closet. But Kaolinite! Haruka's suspicions had not been ambitious enough.

As principal, the Grand Magus has a lot of direct influence, and hands-on, day-to-day knowledge of that school. She's been busier than Haruka thought. Busier... and more exposed.

Kaolinite arrived a few minutes too late for Haruka to feel as much as she should on behalf of Hotaru Tomoe. That the girl's life is a string of woe is viscerally affecting even right now, and there's only one permanent solution to that problem, and it's not chasing headlong into it like Rei Hino has chosen to.

But there's something smaller. Something that can be done that might provide some short-term relief for Hotaru. And conveniently enough, it's exactly what Haruka was already considering how to pull off. Michiru needs to know.

"Nice to meet you, Kaori Kishi," she says softly. Letting her goldfish hang from her fingers at her side, she keeps only its company as she departs.