OK folks, I've had this monster sitting on my computer for about 5-6 months. It would have been published a few weeks ago, but I had a problem finding a title for it. (Thanks Lauren!) Don't let the size (187 KB) scare you. The story is in fact shorter than both my other fics (to date). It's just a one part story, that's all. :) There will be an Epilogue written for this, though. (For those of you who get to the end and realize that I left a lot of loose ends untied.)
Also, this was my first attempt ever to write a story with the Outer Senshi in it - and my first attempt at using Japanese inflection. I wrote this story before I found out that Haruka and Michiru actually had an "official" history from one of the episodes. *blush* Therefore, I gave them a history of my own making. Before you bash me for doing so, I ask that you give this one a chance. I think I did them justice.
This story takes place after Sailor Moon Sailor Stars - Haruka and Michiru are in their early twenties and the Inner Senshi are around 19 or so. Hotaru is about 11 (I'm not sure if that's accurate or not), and Setsuna is just ageless. ^_^ None of them belong to me - they are all property of Naoko Takeuchi and Co. :) Don't sue me for using them - I certainly wouldn't do that to you. ^_^
Note: Anything that is in between two lines of ...*~~~~~*~~~~~*... is a flashback scene. Hope you enjoy it! (And remember feedback is a good thing.) ^_^
The young woman reached up and pulled the racing helmet off her head. Another race, another trophy. Same old, same old. At least this race is in a country I've never been to, she thought. She grabbed the door handle and pushed open the car door, scanning the stands as she did so. The crowd was on its feet, cheering and clapping their hands. She raised her own in response and gave them a cheerful wave. She jogged over to the announcer to receive her trophy.
It seemed that each trophy she received was gaudier than the last, What ever happened to the simple blue ribbon? she sighed, Well, at least Hotaru and Michiru will be happy about this. They've been complaining about that empty corner in the living room display cabinet... Tenoh Haruka lifted the trophy high above her head, as she was expected to do. The crowd's cheering rose another notch in volume. The country may be different, but the rules of response between winner and crowd never changed. Haruka tossed the crowd one last smile and quickly jogged off the race course.
Upon reaching the relative safe haven of the locker room, she placed the trophy down on the bench, and quickly stripped off her racing uniform. Grabbing a towel, she took a hurried shower and ran a comb through her short, blond hair. Pulling on a pair of tan slacks and a simple blue button shirt, she grabbed the trophy and made a dash for the door. When she realized what she was doing she laughed at herself, Haruka, Haruka. Always racing, no matter what you're doing. She slowed her pace, attempting to casually stroll to her rental car. By the time she got there her pace had quickened considerably. Giving it up as hopeless, she threw open the door, shoved her bag in the back seat, and started the car.
She sat there for a moment, thinking. What now? My plane doesn't leave until tomorrow. What is there to see in Los Angeles that I haven't seen? She revved the engine as she pondered her options. Putting the car into drive, she sped off to her destination.
"Michiru-mama! Watch me! See? Are you watching?" Hotaru yelled with childish glee.
Michiru looked up from the sketch pad on her lap to see Hotaru swing back and forth one last time and then jump from the swing to land on her feet in the grass. She smiled and said, "I see, Hotaru-chan! That was very graceful, but try to be careful! I don't want you to get hurt."
Hotaru giggled and ran over to Michiru, dropping down into the grass beside her, "I'm always careful, Michiru-mama! What are you drawing?"
Michiru turned her sketch pad so Hotaru could see the sketch. "Haruka-papa!" she exclaimed. The sketch showed Haruka, one foot out of her race car, as if she had just finished another race. Her helmet was tucked under one arm, her other arm pulling a rogue piece of hair back from her face. She was smiling.
Hotaru looked up at Michiru, questioning. Michiru smiled and handed over the pad. Hotaru grinned and ran off to find Setsuna to show her Michiru's latest creation. Michiru sighed as she lay back in the soft spring grass. Haruka... Where are you now, my love? I wish you were here. How many spring days had they spent just like this? Simply lying in the grass, silence except for the singing of the birds. Content to just be near each other. She closed her eyes, picturing Haruka as she was when they had first met.
Michiru bent down slowly to tie the laces of her running shoes. It was her first day in Mugan Gakuen High School, her family had just moved here. No one had spoken to her all morning and the graceful green-haired girl was starting to become depressed. At her old school, she had been aloof. Admired by the students, adored by the teachers, everyone's favorite person - yet none had dared to call her "friend". They were afraid, afraid that they wouldn't be good enough for the young musical star to be friendly with. How she had longed for a friend! When her father was transferred to Tokyo, she had heard the news with a singing heart. At last, a chance to start over! A new school, new people who had never heard her play, never seen her draw! It would be wonderful - her exotic good looks would attract them to her like moths to a flame, and she would welcome them all! Friends at last.
Her plan was failing abysmally.
She had been introduced to the school that morning, and to her dismay, they had been told about her music, her art. Not one student had approached her all morning. Not one had made an overture of friendship. They stood back. They pointed. They whispered. She had been hurt, and determined not to show it. When the whispering started, she held her head high and proud, pretending to not hear a word of it. The rumors spread - "Snob", "Princess", "Rich Girl", "Too good for them". It stung. By early afternoon, Michiru was utterly miserable.
She had opened her gym locker with an air of dread. The students had mentioned that the current unit was track and field, yet another field in which Michiru excelled. If I haven't alienated them already, this will surely do it. The thought of throwing all the races crossed her mind, but her heart wouldn't hear it. The idea of doing less than her best in anything, school, art, music, track - was so contrary to her nature that she couldn't seriously stomach the idea.
She finished tying her shoes with a sigh. Another year, another school, another period of loneliness. Why did I think Tokyo would be different than anywhere else? She slammed her locker shut and walked outside. The rest of the girls were all gathered by the track in little groups, talking amongst themselves. Michiru felt tears gather at the corners of her eyes as she took her place by the track and was immediately surrounded by ten feet of empty space. She hung her head.
The teacher told everyone to do two warm-up laps before they started the races to narrow down the field of competition. Michiru moved out onto the track and began to jog. She thought of nothing but the pounding of her feet on the pavement. She did not take notice when she left the all of the girls far behind her - that is, almost all of them. She looked up, startled, when she realized that one of the girls was actually keeping pace with her! The girl had a slim, boyish figure. The only physical characteristic that made her seem to be a girl was the incredibly long French braid flying out behind her. It must hang down to her knees when it isn't up! Michiru thought in amazement. The girl caught her eye, winked and practically flew past her. Michiru stared after her in shock, losing several seconds, before she hurried to catch up. No matter how hard she tried, the girl managed to stay two maddening feet ahead of her! Before she knew it, the two laps were finished.
The teacher stared in shock as the two girls ran past him - the rest of the class was just beginning their second lap! Michiru stumbled to a stop, nearly falling as she tried to check her forward momentum. The blond haired girl reached out a hand to catch her before she fell. Michiru blushed a furious scarlet, No one's ever beaten me in a race before! Who is this girl?
The blond girl smiled and held out her hand again, "Tenoh Haruka. You're pretty good! That's the first time I've ever had some serious competition!"
Michiru tried to calm her breathing before she answered, "Kaioh Michiru. That's the first time I've ever been beaten in a race." She took the other's hand and shook it.
Haruka smiled, "Sorry. I just love to race - I can't help it. You should join the track team - I've been needing a warm-up partner that can keep up with me!"
Michiru suddenly stopped breathing, She wants to be around me! She actually does! The tears threatened to come back, Oh, thank you, Tenoh Haruka!
Michiru let her breath out in a sigh, Oh Haruka, little did I know what other prayers you held the answers to! I was so lonely until I met you - you completed my heart.
Michiru opened her eyes and sat up. How could I ever be lonely now, with Setsuna and Hotaru here to keep me company? And it'll only be another day before Haruka comes back from America. I am so lucky!
She held her hands up and Setsuna hauled her to her feet, "Come on Michiru! Time for lunch."
Michiru laughed as she took Hotaru's hand in her own, "Sounds great to me! I'm starving!"
Setsuna laughed, "Every time you say something like that, you make me think of Usagi," then she said seriously, "Hotaru-chan showed me your sketch, it's beautiful."
"You miss her, don't you?" Setsuna asked, although she was already sure of the answer.
Michiru nodded again.
Setsuna frowned, "Next time she's going to be gone this long, you should go with her. I'm sure that we could've manage without you for a few days."
Michiru shook her head, "It's not that, Setsuna. I could never feel lonely with you and Hotaru-chan around. It's just that every time she goes away, I'm afraid that I'll never see her again - even though every time I think it, I end up being wrong."
"And you've been having this feeling again, lately?"
Michiru looked up into the sky, "Yes..."
The car screeched to a halt when it reached the parking lot. Haruka turned off the car and stepped outside. A group of girls stopped their conversation to watch her walk past. She snickered to herself, Got five more.
She walked down the stairs of the parking lot and regarded the vision of beauty in front of her. The beach. Whenever she was missing Michiru, Haruka would go to the beach. It made her feel closer to her love. Oh Michiru, I miss you. I'm going to have to stop racing outside of the country if it means you can't always come with me. I miss you far too much.
When she reached the water, she kicked off her shoes and rolled up her pants. She waded into the water up to mid-calf. She closed her eyes, remembering...
The green haired girl smiled at her, eyes twinkling. "Come on, Haruka-san! It'll be fun!"
She'd only known Michiru for a month, yet it already seemed as if she'd known her forever. She had quickly become the greatest friend Haruka had ever had, perhaps even more. Just now, they were sitting on Michiru's back porch, enjoying the sun. She thought that she had known Michiru's every side, but this was something new. Ever since Michiru had learned of this, she'd been pestering Haruka. Haruka shook her head at the girl, "Uh-uh. No way."
Michiru's eyes widened in an expression of innocent hurt. Haruka's resolve wavered. Those eyes... A person could get lost in them. What's wrong with me? What am I feeling? I don't understand... She shook herself out of her reverie, "No, Michiru-san. I'm not going."
Michiru put a gentle hand on Haruka's arm, "Please, Haruka-san? Just this once? If you absolutely hate it, I promise we'll never have to go again."
Haruka's eyes flitted down to the graceful hand on her lower arm and then up to those pleading eyes, and her resolve melted away completely. She sighed, "OK, the beach it is."
Michiru jumped up and started cheering - Haruka quickly interrupted, "There's only one problem." At Michiru's questioning look, Haruka blushed, "I don't own a bathing suit." Michiru began to laugh hysterically.
She grabbed her friend's hand and dragged her into the house and up the stairs. My friend. It feels so good to be able to say that. She tugged Haruka's hand and led her into her room. She opened her closet and frowned, "We're not exactly the same size, but I've got some suits that might fit you. If none of them do, we can always go shopping for one."
Haruka groaned, the only thing she disliked as much as going swimming was going shopping. Michiru knew that. She looked up to see that mischievous twinkle back in Michiru's eyes. Uh-oh. Looks like this is gonna be 'Let's-Humor-Michiru-Day'. She sighed in resignation and Michiru smiled. Michiru turned back to the closet and pulled out a purple one-piece bathing suit. The material shimmered and sparkled a little as it moved. She nodded in satisfaction. Turning to Haruka she said, "I bought this before I moved here, but once I got it home I decided that I didn't like the color on me. It would probably look good on you, though."
She saw Haruka's frown of indecision. Michiru knew how much Haruka hated clothing that showed off her femininity - she even wore a boy's school uniform. Not that it looks bad on her... Confused, Michiru stopped that train of thought. Haruka couldn't exactly wear a guy's bathing trunks to the beach, so it was imperative that she find a suit that Haruka would wear. She held out the suit to her friend and said, "There's a bathroom across the hall. You can change there."
Haruka nodded and trudged across the hall. Please let her like it! Please let her have fun today! Michiru had always loved the water, the ocean most of all. It was as if she felt most at home, most complete and accepted when she was in the ocean. It was as if she belonged there. She had never known that feeling when she was anywhere else - until recently. She felt that way with Haruka, but she didn't dare tell her friend that for fear that she'd chase her off. But she knew that it was important that the person she felt most comfortable with like the place she was most at home in. It was essential, somehow.
She heard a throat being cleared from the doorway. Haruka stood there in the bathing suit... and her button-down shirt over it. Her cheeks looked pink, as if she'd been blushing furiously. Michiru pouted at her, "You can't wear a shirt when you go swimming! How will I know if the suit fits you if I can't see it?"
Suddenly blushing furiously, Haruka unbuttoned the shirt and took it off. Michiru's breath caught in her throat, Kami-sama, she's beautiful! And what a body! Scared at the turn her thoughts were taking, Michiru blushed. She managed to calm her beating heart and say, "Haruka-san, it looks wonderful on you!" It was an understatement, the shimmering purple material brought out darker highlights in her blond hair and green eyes. It gave her an exotic, otherworldly look.
Haruka shook her head, "I don't know..."
"Oh please, Haruka! Please!" Michiru was nearly ready to start begging.
"What?" Haruka looked stunned.
Michiru blushed, only then realizing what she'd done in her desperation to get her friend to accompany her, I've only known her for a month, I have no right to assume such familiarity. Out loud she said, "Forgive me, Haruka-san. If you really do not wish to go, we do not have to."
Haruka saw the raw hurt in her friend's expression and felt ashamed for having caused it, "No Michiru-san, it's OK. If it means that much to you, we can go."
Michiru smiled, a brilliant smile that left Haruka slightly dazed. She ran over to her and gave her a brief hug. She then grabbed a deep aqua colored bikini and ran to the bathroom to change.
Haruka's mind was whirling in at least ten different directions. Kami-sama! What am I thinking? If she were a boy and I were reacting to her this way, I might think I was falling in love with her! The thought made her blood run cold, But she's not a boy, she's a girl... She sank down on the bed and put her now aching head in her hands.
Several minutes later, she heard soft footsteps in the room. She looked up... and every sane thought left her mind. Michiru cleared her throat. "Well?" she said, expectantly. She did a slow twirl so Haruka could get the full effect of the two piece bathing suit on her petite body. Haruka seemed to be having trouble breathing.
Finally, Haruka spluttered, "You look great! You should be a model, or something!"
Michiru smiled at the friendly flattery. She grabbed her clothes and pulled them on over the bathing suit, "Flatterer!" She playfully threw her friend's clothes at her.
Haruka came back to the here and now with a start. Letting the clothes fall to the floor, she grabbed one of Michiru's pillows, "So that's how it's gonna be, huh? Can't take a simple compliment? Well, we'll see about that!"
She attacked mercilessly with the pillow. Michiru squealed and dashed out of the way, "No fair! I'm unarmed!"
Haruka smirked, "You gotta get through me to get a weapon! Try, if you dare!"
Michiru pouted for a moment, then her face lit up. She dropped to the floor and started inching around Haruka. Haruka, thinking to catch her easily, brought her pillow up high in the air. Michiru jumped up, and started tickling her friend's sides. Haruka's eyes went wide as she brought her arms down to block Michiru's hands. In doing so, she got too close and Michiru grabbed the pillow, knocking Haruka down on the floor. With both the pillow and the tickle advantage stacked against her, Haruka quickly yielded the battle. "I yield! I yield! You wouldn't want to incapacitate me before we go to the beach, would you Michiru-san?"
Michiru smiled and graciously let her up. Haruka grabbed her clothes and pulled them on over the bathing suit, "Lead the way!"
Michiru laughed and dragged her back downstairs. She grabbed two towels and yelled to her mother that they were going to the beach. Her mother yelled back that they should be back before dark. Michiru laughed and reassured her that they'd be back for dinner. She then dragged Haruka out of the house and down the walk.
Haruka stared around at the huge expanse of sand. It didn't look like much to her. She kicked at a little dune, there was no one else on the beach. Michiru noticed her sullen attitude and yelled, "I'll race you to the water!" and threw the towels at her.
Haruka caught the towels and hurried to catch up. As she pulled alongside Michiru, she threw a smirk over her shoulder. But Michiru would not be defeated this time. She dove for her friend, catching her leg around the knee. With a startled yelp, Haruka went tumbling into the sand. "Hey!" she yelled.
Michiru giggled back, "All's fair in love and races," she proclaimed. She then wriggled out of her outer clothes and tossed one more challenge over her shoulder, "Last one there's a rotten egg!"
Haruka spluttered in dismay and hurriedly climbed out of her own clothing. By the time she got to the water, Michiru was nowhere to be found. She panicked, "Michiru-san! Where are you??"
Suddenly, Michiru surfaced about six feet out from shore. "Come and get me!" she yelled. Haruka boldly stepped into the water - and then jumped several feet back, "That stuff's freezing!!"
Michiru yelled back, "Afraid to get a little wet?"
Haruka, not one to be outdone, yelled back, "Not on your life!" She determinably put her foot back in the water. Cringing from the cold, she put her other foot in. She then drew in a huge breath and dove under the water, surfacing near Michiru.
Michiru frowned, "I thought you couldn't swim?"
Haruka smirked, "I said I don't like the beach and I don't own a bathing suit. That's not the same thing as saying I don't know how to swim."
Now that Michiru knew that Haruka could hold her own in the water, she engaged in some serious competition. Soon the two were playing amongst the waves like overgrown children. When they were wrinkled and shivering, they finally called it quits, racing out of the water for the safety of their towels. The temperature had dropped considerably and they huddled together as they dried off. By the time they were halfway back to Michiru's house, Haruka grudgingly admitted that maybe the beach wasn't so bad after all... as long as she had Michiru there to keep her from getting bored.
Michiru felt a wave of warmth spread from her head to her toes. She wrapped her arms around her friend and gave her a good squeeze. Haruka awkwardly patted her back and then hugged her in return. It felt good.
Haruka sighed as she swirled one foot around in the warm water, What a gift you gave me, Michiru, and you didn't even know it. She looked up at the sky, which was starting to cloud over. Feeling suddenly chilled, Haruka stepped back out of the water and grabbed her shoes. She made a dash for the car and dried off her feet.
This is it. I've had enough. There's no reason for me to stay here until tomorrow. I'm going home. She put the car in gear and zoomed out of the parking lot. She packed her bags, quickly and signed out of the hotel. She called the airport from the front desk and changed her flight to the first one leaving for Tokyo - it left in an hour. Just enough time. Upon arriving at the airport, Haruka gave her bag to the woman behind the counter and asked where the phones were. After a brief struggle to understand the woman's heavily accented English, Haruka spotted the phone.
She walked over and quickly dialed her home in Japan.
"Michiru? Is that you?" she asked.
The tone of the voice brightened, "Haruka! How are you? Did you win the race?"
Haruka smiled, "Yes, I did. I just wanted to call to tell you that I changed my flight, it's leaving in about 40 minutes. I'll need one of you to pick me up at the airport."
Michiru laughed in sheer delight, "Of course I'll pick you up! I can't wait to see you, Haruka!" The tone drooped a little, "I've missed you."
Haruka said softly, "I've missed you, too, Michiru. I love you."
"I love you, too. I'll see you later, Haruka. Goodbye," Michiru hung up the phone.
Haruka placed the phone back in its cradle and went to find her departure gate.
"I love you, too. I'll see you later, Haruka. Goodbye," Michiru hung up the phone and immediately squealed with joy.
Setsuna looked up in surprise from the kitchen table where she sat doing a crossword puzzle, "Nanii?"
"Haruka's coming home!! She's coming home, now!!" Michiru screamed, not bothering to contain her excitement.
Hotaru came running into the kitchen, "Haruka-papa's coming home?"
Michiru grabbed her in her arms and swung her over her head, "Yes, Hotaru-chan! She really is!"
Setsuna watched the scene with a growing sense of alarm, Something is not right. What made her change her mind and come home early? What could this mean? She looked at the happy scene in front of her, Maybe I'm just being paranoid. She cleared her throat, "Hotaru- chan, perhaps you should go to bed. It's getting late. If you ask nice, I'm sure Michiru will sing you a lullaby."
Hotaru looked up at Michiru, "Will you, Michiru-mama? Please?"
Michiru smiled down at the child, "All right. You go get ready first, though." She put Hotaru down and she scampered up the stairs.
Michiru turned to Setsuna, "What's gotten into you? Aren't you happy that she's coming home?"
Setsuna slowly looked up at Michiru, "Yes, of course. Michiru, do you still have that feeling? That something will prevent her from returning to you?"
Michiru's face went pale. She swallowed, "I'm sure she'll be fine, Setsuna. We're just scaring ourselves for no reason. We're so used to looking over our shoulders for enemies that we see them everywhere. I'll drive to the airport tomorrow and pick her up. Then when we're all settled back in, we can have a good laugh over this. Good night, Setsuna-san."
Setsuna frowned a little, "Good night, Michiru. I hope you sleep well."
A deeply troubled Michiru slowly climbed the stairs to Hotaru's bedroom. She's just imagining things. I'm sure of it. Haruka's going to be fine. There's not a danger on this Earth that she can't handle. She'll be fine. She pushed it behind her and started pondering what song Hotaru would want to hear.
Haruka looked down at her ticket and up at the sign, Gate 14. This is the place. She hitched her carry-on a little further up her shoulder and walked over to the security guard to show him her ticket. He nodded brusquely at her and waved her into the seating area. She found an empty seat and sat down with her carry-on in her lap. She closed her eyes and tried to relax, I'm coming, Michiru. I'll be home soon.
She heard two people whispering nearby and tried to catch what they were saying. To her amazement, she heard that they were speaking in Japanese! She listened harder.
The girl said, "I'm sure it's her! Look at her!"
The man said, "I don't know. What would she be in America for?"
The girl growled, "How do I know? I'm telling you it's her, and I'm going to go see!"
Haruka's muscles tensed, expecting an attack. Who are these people? She cracked her eyelids open to see the two people approaching her - and nearly died of shock. Her eyes shot wide open and she stared.
The girl approached her first, "Haruka-san? Is that you?"
The man put a hand on the girl's shoulder when Haruka didn't immediately respond, "It's not her, Kiaki-chan. You're embarrassing yourself. Come on."
Haruka smiled a little, He always was a little dense... Out loud she said, "Kenjo no baka! Shows what you know. A person cuts their hair a little shorter and her own brother doesn't recognize her! Or are you just getting a little forgetful in your old age, onii-san?"
Kenjo took a step back and stared at her. Kiaki merely dropped her bag and threw her arms around Haruka, "Onee-san!! It is you!!"
Haruka put her arms around her little sister and patted her back. Eventually she pushed Kiaki away from her a bit and said, "So, what brings you two to America? I thought you were living in Japan?" She turned to Kiaki and said, "And I thought you were still living at home?"
Kiaki laughed and bounced on her toes, "Kenjo had to come here on a business trip. I had a holiday from school, so Father said that I could come along as long as I behave myself. I am nearly 16, after all."
Kenjo broke in, "Not that you've been in touch with us often enough to know what's going on in any of our lives."
Haruka frowned, "Look, Kenjo, I didn't come here with the intention of running into either of you. I was here for a race, and now that it's finished I'm going home. It's pure coincidence that we happen to be on the same flight. If I bother you that much, then I'll be sure not to sit near you on the plane."
Inside, where Kenjo and Kiaki couldn't see, Haruka was hurting. As a child, she had had a very large family. Her father's parents had lived with them, as well as her mother's sister and her family of three (a husband and two sons). Her own family consisted of her parents, herself, her older brother, Kenjo, and her two younger sisters, Reika and Kiaki.
With ten other people in the house, it was hard to be lonely - and extremely hard to keep secrets. She had loved it - until she had a secret to keep. Naturally, the nature of her and Michiru's relationship didn't remain secret for very long. When her parents found out, they had been deeply hurt and somewhat ashamed. Kenjo had been furious with her, and Reika and Kiaki had been too young to really understand. Reika had been 12 and Kiaki only 10. All they knew was that their loving family was suddenly being torn apart. At 17, Haruka could no longer stand the tension in her once-loving home, and moved out. Michiru moved in with her not long after that. Haruka had not spoken to her family since then.
Suddenly fighting back a lump of tears in her throat, Haruka grabbed her carry-on bag and tried to walk away from her brother and sister. A strong hand grabbed her arm and pulled her into a close embrace. A voice, rough with emotion, broke through the fog in her mind, "I'm sorry, imouto. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you like that. It's just that... I've missed you."
Haruka hesitantly put her arms around her brother, feeling the wound in her heart come a little closer to healing, "That's OK, onii-san. You were right, I should have tried to call once in a while."
Kenjo laughed, "After how we all treated you, I'm surprised you're even talking to me, right now." He pulled back from her and blushed a little, "So, how's your friend? What was her name? Michiru?"
Haruka smiled, "She's wonderful, Kenjo, just wonderful."
Kiaki bounced up and down on her toes and grabbed them both to her in a group hug, "I'm so happy! Wait 'til Mom and Dad and Reika hear about this! They'll be so glad!" She turned to Haruka, "You are coming home with us, Haruka-neesan? Aren't you?"
Haruka looked up at Kenjo, who had a thoughtful look on his face. She swallowed, "I don't know Kiaki-chan. I had plans..." Then quietly she added, "And I'm not so sure that I'd be welcome..."
Kenjo broke in, "You have time to decide, Haruka. And in the meantime, we have the whole plane ride to catch up on each others doings, ne?" He held out his hand to her.
After a brief hesitation she took it, "All right, onii-san. I'll think about it."
He smiled, "Well, then. We'd better all hurry up or we're going to miss the plane."
Kiaki squealed in horror, grabbed her bag and raced for the gate. Haruka chuckled, "Kenjo! You shouldn't do that to her! This trip is probably her first time ever taking a plane! You'll scare the life out of her!"
Kenjo laughed right back, "I know. Evil, aren't I?"
Haruka punched him in the arm, grabbed her own bag and followed her sister onto the plane.
Several hours later (after filling her sister in on everything that had happened in her life from the time she was 10 to now), Kiaki fell asleep, leaving Kenjo and Haruka to talk by themselves.
Kenjo suddenly seemed uncomfortable, "So, there's more of you, now?"
Haruka smiled, figuring out what he was trying to ask, "Michiru and I bought a house a couple of years ago, and a friend of ours, Setsuna, needed a place to stay. We offered to let her stay with us. A couple of years later, someone we knew died, leaving a small child behind. The three of us were the closest things to friends that he had, so we offered to raise her. Hotaru-chan is about 10 years old, now."
Kenjo wrinkled his nose at her, "My sister, the papa! Who'd have thought?"
Haruka stared at him, "And don't tell me that I beat you to it, 'nii-san!"
He blushed again, I seem to be doing a lot of that tonight. He cleared his throat and said, "Well, I had a girlfriend... once..."
Haruka chuckled and punched him in the arm, "We'll just have to see about this, won't we?" She smiled nastily, "Actually, I have several friends who are just dying to find a decent guy... Maybe I should point them in your direction! Although... they're all about Reika's age, maybe a year or two older." She smirked.
Kenjo's eyes went wide and he coughed, "No Haruka, that's quite all right..."
The friendly chatter went on for quite some time until they both heard the pilot come over the loudspeaker, "In 15 minutes we will be landing in Tokyo. Please put all trays and chairs in their upright positions and fasten your safety belts. Thank you. I hope you've enjoyed your flight."
Kenjo looked over at his imouto and said quietly, "Made up your mind yet?"
She shook her head as she reached over and woke up Kiaki, "I can't believe that Mother and Father would be as forgiving as you are."
He looked her straight in the eye, "You might be surprised, imouto. They felt awful after you moved out. I don't think Father's ever forgiven himself for driving you away. You might want to give them a second chance."
That certainly gave her food for thought as the plane began it's slow descent, Do I dare? Do I dare trust them, again? Oh, Uranus, what do I do?
Michiru didn't feel much better, even after having gotten a good night's sleep. She turned the car on and stretched. It wasn't often that Haruka agreed to let Michiru drive her car, so she should have been glad of the opportunity. But, all she could think of were Setsuna's disturbing words from the night before, "Do you still have that feeling? That something will prevent her from returning to you?"
She was just being silly. Nothing would ever keep Haruka from returning to her. In her heart she knew that. A silky voice whispered into her mind, "But you also know that Setsuna knows things - things about the future. What if she knows something about this?" She firmly told the voice to be quiet. She put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway. Haruka will be fine - she'll always return to me. I know it.
Home, Haruka had never felt so relieved to set foot on Japanese soil. She closed her eyes for a moment and just took in a breath of the fresh air and listened to the mumble of Japanese all around her. She smiled and relaxed, I'm home. She felt a tug on her sleeve and looked down to see Kiaki smiling up at her.
"Did you hear what Kenjo-san just said?" Kiaki asked.
Haruka looked up at her brother and said, "No, I didn't. What did Kenjo-san say?" She smiled.
Kenjo laughed, "I said I'll go to baggage claim and pick up the bags. Why don't you go get the car?" He tossed her the keys. "And take Kiaki-chan with you, why don't you?"
Kiaki grabbed her arm, "Oh please, Haruka-neesan! Please!"
Haruka looked down at her with a bewildered expression, then back at Kenjo, "Kenjo, I have a friend meeting me here. I can't just take off without her - she'll be worried."
Kenjo frowned, "Come on Haruka - it won't take you that long to go get my car. It's the least you can do if you're going to desert us again."
When he saw the pain-filled expression on his sister's face, Kenjo wished with all his heart that he could take back those hastily spoken words. He opened his mouth to try, but Haruka's face was now closed. He tried anyway, "Haruka, imouto- "
Haruka cut him off, "No Tenoh-san, you are right. If I'm going to leave you, fetching your car for you is the least I can do to make up for the trouble it was to see me, again. Don't bother seeing to my bags - I'll retrieve them myself." She looked down at Kiaki, "Stay with your brother. I won't be long." She spun on her heel and stiffly marched off to the parking lot.
Kenjo stared after her miserably. You moron! Why did you say that? You were getting through to her on the plane, why'd you have to go and ruin it??? he berated himself. He looked down at Kiaki and saw tears in her eyes.
She spoke so softly that he almost didn't catch what she said, "Oh Kenjo-san, what have you done?"
Michiru pulled into the parking lot and eased Haruka's car into a spot close to the baggage claim building. She chuckled, Nice, Michiru. Haruka couldn't have done better herself. She turned off the car and opened the door, running a hand through her windblown hair. She got several appreciative glances from the men in the parking lot, and many envious ones from the women. She smiled, And I'd trade it all to have Haruka here, right now. She looked around and, to her surprise, saw Haruka right across the row of cars! She yelled out, "Haruka!" Haruka didn't answer. She jerked open a car door, revved the engine and tore out of the parking lot - causing several pedestrians to leap onto the sidewalk for safety. "Haruka?" Michiru whispered.
She ran after her.
Haruka brought the car to a halt in front of the main building, her mind still in turmoil. I knew I shouldn't have trusted him! He was just playing with me the whole time! Go fetch his car, indeed! She got out of the car and went to search for the two traitors who dared call her sister. She found them standing just inside the door, her bags and theirs scattered around them.
She took in the scene for just a moment, trying to figure out why everyone in the building looked so scared. Then she saw the man with the gun standing two feet away from a little girl.
Michiru ran as she had never run before. Her lungs burned with the effort of supplying her body with the necessary oxygen. Her ankles burned from the effort of supporting her racing feet in the high heels she had chosen for the reunion. Every beat of her heart pulsed a word through her thoughts, "Haruka, Haruka." Her mind screamed at her to hurry, urgency burned across her very brain. She had to reach Haruka, everything depended on it because something was terribly wrong. Setsuna, I hate it when you're right! People stared after her in confusion as she raced past them, Please, Neptune, don't let me be too late!
Haruka stared at the gun, for a moment uncomprehending. Once her brain had caught up with the events, her hand reached for her henshin wand, then immediately jerked away. Years of training as a Sailor Senshi kicked in, I can't transform in front of all these people!
Fortunately, the gunman hadn't seen her walk in. She was slightly behind him, so he still could not see her. If I can turn his attention away from that girl, I have a chance to disarm him without anyone getting hurt. She dropped to a crouch and began to creep closer.
Michiru saw the main building about 100 yards away from her and she put on an extra burst of speed. When she reached the main door, something made her stop short. She pulled out her henshin wand, I need to transform. Whatever's wrong, I just know that Sailor Neptune will be needed. She thrust her henshin wand high into the air, "Neptune Planet Power, make up!"
Sailor Neptune quietly opened the door and peered inside. What she saw made her gasp. A man with a gun stood right near a little girl, threatening to shoot her if his demands weren't met. Haruka was crouched behind the gunman slowly creeping up on him. He hadn't seen either Haruka or Sailor Neptune, yet. If I can distract him, Haruka can get the gun away from him. Wordlessly, she integrated herself into Haruka's already-formed plan. She prepared to give an entrance speech to turn everyone's attention her way.
Before Neptune could begin to speak, a police siren cut through the air. A policeman grabbed the little girl and ran out of the building. A voice sounded over the police megaphone from just outside the door, "All right, put the gun down, now! We don't want anyone to get hurt! Just put the gun down!"
The gunman panicked and whipped his head around wildly. His eyes fastened on a young woman who looked suspiciously like Haruka. Sailor Neptune saw the rest in slow motion. The gunman pulled the trigger. The policeman yelled and pulled his trigger - a moment too late. The young woman screamed in pain, followed, in stereo, by the gunman. Haruka sprang to her feet and yelled, "NNOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Kiaki-chan!!!!!!" She ran over to the young woman and started yelling for someone to call an ambulance. Sailor Neptune stared on in silent horror.
Haruka cradled Kiaki's body in her arms, feeling the life slowly ebbing out of her. She yelled again for someone to call an ambulance, What's wrong with these people? Couldn't they see that a young, innocent girl was dying, here? A girl who had never known violence, never hurt anyone? A girl who spent her whole life trying to bring happiness to others? A girl who's soul was so bright with love and innocence that she brought sunshine to all around her? Couldn't they see? What kind of world could allow this to happen??
She pulled Kiaki a little closer to her, hearing her breath rattling in her chest as, even now, she clung to life. Kiaki's eyes fluttered open and she gasped. Haruka rocked her back and forth, trying to give her comfort. She felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks and for once, she didn't care. "Kiaki-chan, imouto..." she whispered.
She felt a hand touch her cheek, and the tear stains decorating them. "D-don't cry, onee-san. It doesn't...hurt...much..."
Haruka's tears fell even faster, So brave... Why?? Why take her? A little girl who hasn't even begun to live! Why? Someone should have stopped this! I should have stopped this! Her eyes went wide when Haruka suddenly realized that not only should she have stopped this, but that she could have stopped this. If only I had transformed! Sailor Uranus could have saved her! This is all my fault! My imouto is dying and it's my fault!! I killed her!! As surely as if I'd pulled the trigger myself! I killed her!! Noooo!!
Kiaki saw her onee-san tense up, and could feel, as if the emotions were her own, Haruka's guilt. She thinks this is her fault, she thinks she could have done something to prevent this... Why? A blinding flash of light consumed her vision and an incredibly old, incredibly sad voice spoke. Hearing that degree of grief made Kiaki want to cry. The voice said, "All will be made clear to you, but you can not help your onee-san, anymore." In a whirl, Kiaki saw it all. The Moon Kingdom, the Princess, the gods, the Senshi, Death, Rebirth, Duty, Honor, Death again, Rebirth again, Michiru - always beloved above all else,... Suddenly, Kiaki knew her sister, better than she ever had before, "Haruka-neesan is Sailor Uranus?" She felt the voice nod, if a voice can nod.
Kiaki saw how Haruka thought she could have saved her, but even Sailor Uranus could not have foreseen this. She turned to her onee-san to share her newly found wisdom, and found that she could not. The door from her soul to the mortal plane which had been opened so briefly during her short span of life was now closed to her. A hand held itself out to her and a voice spoke, "Come with me little one, your time here is ended." She recognized the voice from before. "Who are you?" she asked.
The voice condensed into a form. The hand was now attached to an old, tired man - who was, even now, beginning to weep. "I am Uranus. Your onee-san is my Avatar, little one. We must leave. Pluto is waiting for us. And you'll like the Elysian Fields. It's really a very nice place..." He held his hand out to her, and she took it saying a silent apology to her onee-san for going off and leaving her like this...
Haruka felt the life leave Kiaki's body. As it took one last breath, she thought she heard words, "I'm sorry, Sailor Uranus..." She knew! Kiaki knew! And she didn't blame her. Somehow that didn't make her guilt any less. She felt hands tearing her imouto away from her, The ambulance. They're late. There's nothing they can do. But, she let them try. Uranus help her, she let them try.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, "I'm so sorry, imouto! I'm so sorry! Kami-sama, why Kiaki? She was so little! It'll be all right, Haruka-chan! It wasn't your fault..."
It wasn't my fault? Of course it was my fault, Kenjo-san! Don't you see? It was all my fault... She allowed herself to be pulled into a rough embrace, but she didn't return it. Suddenly, she didn't feel she had the strength.
Another voice joined Kenjo's in pleading with her, one she felt she should recognize, but just... couldn't. "Haruka!! Can you hear me?? Speak to me! Oh please, oh please, oh please..."
Who is so heart-broken? Don't you know you should be crying over Kiaki-chan? Not me. This is my fault. You should hate me! Everyone should hate me. I hate me. How can anyone not hate me? She felt herself pulled into yet another embrace. This one was different. A hand stroked her hair, a small, delicate hand. The other's tears mingled with her own where their cheeks met. A smell, sweet ocean air. Clean, crisp. A finger brushed her lips, and the other's met her own. She tried to respond, wanted to respond. To kiss her back, tell her it would be all right, to comfort her. That's my job, to comfort her, protect her, love her. I'm not even good enough for that anymore. Her tears fell even harder.
The other pulled her lips away, aware of her own unresponsiveness. She could put a name to the other, now. Kaioh Michiru, Sailor Neptune, the other half of her soul. It didn't matter anymore. Michiru would hate her. Everyone would hate her when they found out what she had done. She killed her own sister, her beloved imouto. Poor odango atama, my princess, you'll never forgive me either. I killed an innocent girl. She withdrew even further into herself, I deserve to die. Please Uranus let me die. Oh, imouto...
Michiru pulled her lips away from Haruka's as the young man stared at her. She could feel Haruka pulling away from her, deeper into herself. I need to know who that girl was. Who was she that she could cause Haruka to pull away from me like this? Haruka was completely unresponsive. She stared straight ahead, seeing nothing, hearing nothing. Oh, Haruka, what have you done to yourself?
She turned to the young man and said, "What happened, here? Who was that girl?"
He looked coldly at her, "I don't see how that's any of your business."
Michiru felt as if she'd been slapped in the face. Her beloved, Haruka, Sailor Uranus, her partner, the other half of her soul, was going insane and it wasn't any of her business??? Just who did this guy think he was? She turned to tell him just that, and to her surprise saw him lifting a completely limp Haruka into his arms. "What are you doing?" she yelled.
He replied coldly, "Taking my imouto home. Where she belongs. I lost her once because I wasn't careful, I won't lose her twice for the same reason." He turned to leave, still holding her beloved in his arms. Home is with me! I don't understand... Then it hit her. Home. His imouto. Tenoh Kenjo! Haruka's older brother! And the girl must have been Reika, her younger sister! Or it might have been Kiaki - that was right, Kiaki was the younger one. Oh Neptune. No wonder. She rose to her feet and yelled after him, "Wait!"
He kept walking. An officer grabbed her arm and asked if she had seen the shooting. She answered a little distractedly, "Yes." I have to go after them! He asked what she had seen. She told him in a rush. If I don't go now, I'll never find them, again! When the officer had finished asking his questions, Michiru turned to look for Kenjo and Haruka - they were gone. In her dismay, Michiru sank to the floor and wept.
Kenjo pulled his imouto closer to his side as he drove. She lay curled in on herself, not responding to anything. Inside he burned with anger, It's all her fault. That girl. Michiru. I'm sure that was her. If it wasn't for her, I never would have lost Haruka in the first place, and now look at what happened! He looked down at Haruka and swore, I'll be damned if I ever let that girl near you again, Haruka. She won't ruin your life a second time. I swear it.
He floored the gas pedal, eager to get home.
For once this week, Usagi felt like skipping. I aced my math test! I still don't believe it! High school had been as much of a let down as junior high, grades-wise. Her mother still couldn't understand how she had been accepted into the local two-year college. Yet she had been, and just now she was more thrilled than she'd ever been about schoolwork. She had gotten her Calculus test back today, and to her utter shock, she had gotten an 'A-' on it! Guess all that studying with Ami-chan finally paid off, ne?
She whistled a little as she skipped down the dark street, lit only by the soft glow of the street lamps. A perfect night for lovers... She sighed, wondering how soon Mamo-chan would be done with his latest work project. I never could understand computers. Oh well, I just hope he's done soon.
Thoughts of lovers eventually brought her mind to dwell on the one couple she knew who were as much in love as she and Mamoru. I wonder what Haruka-san and Michiru-san are doing tonight?
Looking around her, Usagi suddenly realized what part of the city she was in. She hurried her footsteps a bit, That would be all I need - to get caught out at this time of the evening, alone in this part of Tokyo! Kami-sama! Why didn't I leave Mako-chan's apartment earlier? She started to jog.
Soon a familiar voice caused her to stop short - and trip and fall when she couldn't check her forward momentum. She opened her mouth to wail, and then thought better of it. So you tripped and fell on your butt. Big deal - it's not like you got hurt. She turned to face the familiar voice, and would have fallen flat on her face when she saw it's owner (if she hadn't already been sitting on the ground).
"Michiru-san?" she whispered.
"Hai, Usagi-chan," Michiru slurred. She sat, slumped on a bench by the entrance to the park. A bottle, of what was obviously alcohol, sat nearly empty in her hand. She saw Usagi staring at the bottle and giggled a little, "What's'a'matter, 'Sagi? Never seen a Senshi drunk b'fore?"
Usagi felt herself giving way to panic, Michiru-san never drinks! What happened? Then a newly discovered practical side of her mind supplied, "And what happens if she starts spouting about being a Senshi in the middle of the street?" As Usagi stared at Michiru in shock, she realized that this was too big for her to handle alone. She pulled out her communicator and called one of the only people who knew Michiru better than she did. Haruka-san didn't answer her communicator. Desperate, Usagi tried someone else.
Setsuna's face appeared on the screen, looking extremely sleep fogged. She started, "Setsuna-san, I need your help!" She never got to finish. Setsuna cut her off, "I'm on my way! Hang in there, Princess!"
As the channel closed, Usagi wondered if all the Scouts had gone crazy except her. Sailor Pluto appeared in a whirling time vortex straight ahead of her. When she saw Tsukino Usagi, mild-mannered college student, instead of Princess Serenity or Sailor Moon, she blushed furiously. Usagi smiled, "Next time, I'll make sure you're completely awake before I call you for help." Pluto's blush deepened. Then when her eyes tracked slowly to the right, her eyes went wide and her face went white as a sheet, "Michiru?"
Michiru was now staring at the bottle with a disappointed look on her face. "S'all gone?" she mewed, plaintively. Sailor Pluto reached over to pluck the bottle from Michiru's grasp. Michiru stubbornly held onto it. "No! S'mine! Get'yer own!" she yelled.
Usagi walked over to Sailor Pluto, "See what I mean?"
Sailor Pluto nodded slowly, "Michiru, where's Haruka?"
To their surprise Michiru started to laugh hysterically. Finally she picked up her hand and waved a little, "She went Bye-Bye!!"
Pluto, thinking her friend had gone completely mad, went to grab her by the arm to haul her to her feet - when she noticed the endless tear tracks on Michiru's cheeks. Two damp spots on the shoulders of her shirt showed that she'd been crying for quite some time. "Michiru, what's wrong?" Setsuna asked.
Michiru let out a little moan and clutched the bottle a little closer, "She's gone, Setuna... Gone away and I couldn't follow. Why couldn't I follow, Setsuna?" She met the older senshi's eyes for only a brief moment before dissolving into shuddering sobs on the unforgiving bench. She felt herself lifted into a pair of strong arms and then heard a voice, "I'll take her home, Usagi-chan. Hopefully she'll sleep this off and I can find out what happened."
Another voice, "Thank you, Pluto-san. I know you'll take good care of her. Call me if there's anything I can do?"
The first voice, "Of course."
A time vortex whirled around them and Kaioh Michiru knew nothing for quite some time.
Michiru sighed, "Sweet Sixteen and nothing to do."
Her best friend laughed, "You're the one who didn't want a big party, Michiru."
Michiru stuck her tongue out, "Oh Haruka. You know as well as I do that no one would have come."
Haruka frowned, Even after two years she hasn't gotten over that. It's not as if we need other friends. We have each other. And we have... her hand went to her henshin wand where it lay hidden in an interdimensional pocket. She slowly blew out a breath, "Oh, Michiru. You complain too much." With that she grabbed a handful of sand and threw it at her friend.
Michiru squealed and tried to duck - and got a face-full of sand for her efforts. The two were soon engaged in an all-out wrestling-and-sand fight. After much effort they called it a draw and lay panting in the warm sand. Michiru mumbled something.
Haruka leaned closer, "What was that?"
Michiru said, enunciating clearly, "Could you please tell whoever's listening to that gods-awful music to turn it down?"
Haruka listened intently for a moment and then said, "What music?"
Michiru sat up grumbling, "I could have sworn I heard..." Then she swore and jumped to her feet, grabbing her henshin wand. "Neptune Planet Power, make up!"
Trusting her partner's greater experience, Haruka grabbed her own henshin wand, "Uranus Planet Power, make up!"
The two Sailor Senshi turned so they stood back to back in a defensive posture. After a couple of minutes of nothing happening, Uranus turned to Neptune and cleared her throat. Neptune looked sheepish and muttered, "Guess I overreacted..."
Just then a great blast of power sent Neptune flying about ten feet away from Uranus. "Neptune!" she yelled. To her immense relief, Uranus saw Neptune slowly and painfully get to her feet, "I'm all right, Uranus." Then to prove to her partner just how all right she was, Neptune let loose a "Deep Submerge" at the youma. The youma jumped out of harm's way. Neptune yelled, "Hey! You're not supposed to do that!" She cleared her throat angrily and said, "I am Sailor Neptune - sailor warrior of the sea. You've ruined my peaceful birthday at the beach and for that you will pay!"
Uranus chuckled, "Apparently no one told him he's not supposed to move! I am Sailor Uranus, sailor warrior of the sky! Your days are numbered, pal!" She turned to Neptune, "Who is this guy, anyway?"
Neptune frowned, "I have no idea. I think it's a youma, one of the Dark Kingdom's warriors. But my memory of that life is a bit patchy..."
Uranus nodded, "Good enough! Soldiers of the Dark Kingdom were as evil as they come - and you know what we do to evil-doers who would interfere with our quest."
Neptune gave her a thumbs up, "You got it! Double-team him!" She readied another Deep Submerge as Uranus put her hand up to prepare a World Shaking - neither got any further. The youma blasted Neptune with a stronger blast than he had delivered before and said coldly, "You will never reach the Princess! She will fight alone and she will fall! That is the will of Metallia!" He increased the power of the blast and Neptune screamed in pain.
Uranus forgot herself and yelled, "Michiru! NOOOO!!!" She turned to the youma, rage written in every line of her face. She focused all the power she could on one bright spot - and then some. She pulled it together and yelled, "World Shaking!!" The youma actually looked scared - for the two seconds of life it had before it was blasted to smithereens.
Uranus didn't spend another thought on the youma. She ran over to wear Michiru lay - detransformed - on the sand. She powered-down and knelt by her friend. "Michiru?" Michiru didn't answer. Haruka stared up and down the deserted beach searching for help - then smacked her head as she realized that this was the Kaioh's private beach. They were the only ones here. She put a hand to Michiru's neck, feeling for a pulse. It was weak, but getting stronger as she counted each beat.
The neck beneath her fingers suddenly stirred. "Michiru?" Michiru stirred and moaned. Her eyelids fluttered open, "Haruka?"
Haruka nearly cried with relief, "Michiru, you're all right!!"
Michiru groaned as she raised a hand to her forehead, "Define 'all right'."
Haruka laughed and got to her own feet, "Well enough to be making jokes about how unwell you are." She held out a hand to Michiru, who took it. She gave a great pull - and wasn't prepared for Michiru's lack of balance. She found herself standing, embracing Michiru, their faces only inches apart. Not for the first time, Haruka found herself lost in the depths of her friend's eyes. Confused, she blushed and hastily looked away.
A soft hand reached for her cheek and turned her head back to face it's owner. "Haruka..."
Haruka tried to pull herself out of the compromising embrace, and found herself drawn back into those endless eyes. I think I'm in trouble... She found herself unable to look away, unable to break the look between them. She found herself noticing things about her friend's face - things she had never noticed before. Her eyebrows are the same color as her hair, that beautiful aqua-green. Her lips are such a beautiful shade of rose - and I know she's not wearing lipstick. Her cheekbones holding just a hint of color, and those eyes... She found herself allowing herself the luxury of truly searching them for the first time. They were wide open and innocent, as if they were seeing her for the first time.
Haruka allowed herself to be completely drawn in by the power in those eyes. She lowered her head and touched her lips to Michiru's. Michiru's arms tightened around her as she returned the kiss, slowly at first, then with rising passion. They broke away to catch their breath. "Michiru..." Haruka whispered, knowing she should stop this now - and at the same time, totally unwilling to do so.
Michiru leaned her head against Haruka's chest and closed her eyes, "Please, Haruka..."
Haruka placed a finger under Michiru's chin and tilted her head up. She looked, once more, into those eyes. Just now they were shining, with tears and with newly realized love. Haruka felt what was left of her resolve melt under that gaze, and she bent her lips to Michiru's once more. She knew then that she was lost and she didn't care.
I love you. The simple thought encompassed them both, and pulled them even closer together. Never would either be alone again. This was meant to be - they were made for each other, each the missing half to the other's soul. Michiru's last conscious thought was, Oh, Haruka, I love you. Thank you again. Happy birthday to me. She smiled, letting her happiness shine through her eyes where her love would most easily see it.
Kenjo got out of the car and closed the door. Walking around the car, he quietly opened the passenger door and lifted an unresisting Haruka from the passenger seat. He thought he heard something beeping and figured it was just his imagination. He kicked the door shut, locking quickly. He walked up the front path to his family's home, trying desperately to think of a way to explain to his family why he was coming home with the wrong sister. Mother and Father trusted me to keep Kiaki safe, and I failed them. He hung his head in despair and trudged up the front stoop.
A sound reached her fogged brain, Wha? Noise? Beep... Haruka's numbed mind tried to focus on the beeping as it felt her body lifted. The beeping was important, it knew that somehow. Why is the beeping important? It'll go away soon. And it did. Haruka's brain slipped back into it's non-functioning state.
The light pierced her eyelids, yanking them open to stab at the vulnerable optic organs which lay underneath. Until that moment, Michiru had been able to maintain the illusion that she was still on that beach, safe in her lover's arms. Once the light of day shattered the illusion, Michiru started to cry softly with loss and grief. A small form stood in the doorway, hesitating to come in. Hotaru whispered, "Michiru-mama?"
Michiru gasped, ashamed that Hotaru had heard her crying. She tried to swallow the sobs, and couldn't. They just came that much harder. Weakling! What's wrong with you?? Haruka would be ashamed of you! Hotaru shouldn't have to see you cry - not like this. Stop sniveling and talk to her dammit! To her dismay, she was unable to do so.
Hotaru had a look of infinite sadness on her face. She walked over to the bed and climbed into Michiru's lap. She lifted her little arms and wrapped them around Michiru, "It's OK, Michiru-mama. I'm here. I won't let anyone hurt you. You can cry."
Michiru turned wondering eyes on the little girl and, wrapping her arms tightly around her, sobbed into her shoulder. She felt a wave of warmth spread through her body from where Hotaru's hands rested on her back. "Hotaru-chan?" she whispered.
"It's OK, Michiru-mama. I'll make you feel better," Hotaru answered.
It was then that Michiru realized what her daughter was trying to do. She's trying to heal me... Her heart felt like it was going to burst with love for the child. Oh, little one, what did I ever do to deserve you? She began to feel some of the heaviness lift from her spirit. The agonizing grief began to lessen - if only a little.
Hotaru pulled her arms away from Michiru and said, "Do you feel a little bit better now, Michiru-mama?"
Michiru nodded, still somewhat numb with grief. It still hurts, waking up and not having her here. It hurts, but I think I can function, now. She moved to get up and the sudden change in altitude started a terrible pounding in her head. "Ohhh..." she groaned, as she put her aching head in her hands.
A voice spoke from the doorway, "Serves you right, Michiru. You knew what would happen if you overindulged like that. Maybe next time you'll be a bit more sensible."
Michiru looked blearily up at Setsuna and growled, "Oh, go jump in a lake, Setsuna."
Setsuna smirked at her, "Temper, temper." Hotaru jumped off the bed and scampered over to Setsuna. Setsuna rested a hand on the child's head, "Did you try to help her, Hotaru-chan?" she whispered.
Hotaru nodded, as she clung to Setsuna. "And?" Setsuna prompted. Hotaru shrugged and shook her head. That is not good. Setsuna frowned. To Hotaru she said, "Why don't you go downstairs and play? I have to talk to Michiru-mama."
Hotaru smiled and said, "OK!" She ran downstairs.
Setsuna watched her go with a smile that was almost motherly, then remembering the reason for this visit, she turned to Michiru. Michiru had drawn her legs up onto the bed and folded them over each other in an Indian-style position. Her elbows rested on her knees and her head was clutched in her hands. Setsuna slowly approached her bereaved friend.
Michiru looked up at her, her eyes bleak. Setsuna stared at her, Hotaru expended so much Healing energy she practically fell against me! And it didn't even dent Michiru's depression! Great Pluto, what do I do? She had to do something to jolt Michiru out of her depression, she knew that. Unless I want a repeat performance of last night on my hands. She blushed a little, remembering her response to Usagi's call.
Michiru saw the blush and tried to guess at the reason for it, "Let me guess: I embarrassed you greatly last night, and as the eldest of the Outer Senshi you are deeply ashamed. Am I close?"
Setsuna quickly sat next to her friend and put an arm around her shoulders, drawing her close, "Never, Michiru! Never think that! I could never be ashamed of you! None of us could. You're family - family forgives mistakes. And anyway," she looked away slightly, "If any of the Senshi ever had reason to be drunk, I take it you did. You're not the sort of person who would do something like that for kicks. Why don't you tell me what happened?"
Michiru's reaction was not the expected one. Her face crumpled and she drew her knees up to her chest, shaking violently and crying. Setsuna, more than shocked, just held her tighter, "What happened, Michiru? Where's Haruka?"
Michiru shook her head back and forth. "Can't... I can't... tell you... it's... too... t-too horrible..." she sobbed out.
Setsuna shook her a little, "Can't or won't, Michiru? I've lived for over 5000 years - and been totally conscious and active as a Sailor Senshi for all of that time. I am the Guardian of the Gate of Time and I have witnessed the worst atrocities this solar system has ever seen! Are you telling me that you have seen something that I, Sailor Pluto, can not handle? Think again, young lady. Now are you going to tell me about it, or do I have to travel back to yesterday and see for myself what happened?"
Michiru's head jerked up off her knees and she stared at her friend in shock. Setsuna's face was deadly serious, She means it. She'd actually do it. Michiru thought for another moment and slowly decided to spill all, If anyone can handle it, Setsuna can. She's certainly right about that much. And better I tell her now than have Usagi ask me later. She shivered a little, Usagi mustn't find out about this and that would be hard, Yeah, especially since she saw me trashed and ready to pass out in the park last night. Oh Neptune, what kind of an idiot am I? She hung her head and said quietly, "All right Setsuna, I'll tell you." And slowly, haltingly, each word costing her volumes of anguish, Michiru did.
Setsuna stood, her back leaning on Michiru's door, shocked beyond belief. In spite of her brave words to Michiru, earlier, the atrocities that men were capable of doing to each other still disgusted her - and that Haruka had done this to herself was nearly more than she could comprehend. But she remembered a time... Don't think about that! Pulling herself off of the door she laughed bitterly, OK, so I can understand why Haruka did that to herself - I nearly did it myself once. But, I didn't have someone like Michiru-chan depending on me then! Dammit! She stomped down the stairs to check on Hotaru-chan.
After a short search, she found Hotaru curled up on the couch watching Saturday morning cartoons - or so she thought. Another step closer saw Hotaru fast asleep. She pulled a blanket from the closet and settled it over Hotaru's slight frame. Sleep well, child.
She walked into the kitchen and picked up the phone, Who can I tell about this? Someone's going to have to check up on the two of them while I'm out, and I don't think either one of them will be up before noon... She thought quietly to herself, ticking off each of the Senshi on her fingers as she went, Mercury - no. Mars? - Oh, definitely not. Jupiter - maybe. Venus - uh-uh. Moon? - No way. I can't involve her in this anymore. Realizing that she'd neatly boxed herself into a corner, Setsuna swore. She chewed a nail for a bit then smiled in realization. She dialed a phone number.
If a phone could sound impatient, this one does... he got up and padded clumsily up to the phone.
"I'm comin'! I'm comin'!" he mumbled. Finally reaching the phone, he picked it up, "M'shi moshi?"
"Oh good! You are awake! I was beginning to worry that you might be asleep!" came the overly-awake voice from the phone.
When he didn't answer the voice sounded worried, "This is Chiba Mamoru's apartment, right?"
Mamoru, for his part, wanted to hang up the phone when he finally figured out who was calling him at this gods-forsaken hour of the morning, "Setsuna, do you have any idea what time it is?"
He could almost hear Setsuna frowning, "Mamoru, it's nearly 11:00 AM."
Mamoru blushed and stammered, "Oh. I guess I was just up too late debugging that program last night... Not to be rude, but what the heck do you want?"
Setsuna said, "I'm going to make this brief, so try to keep up with me. Michiru went to get Haruka from the airport yesterday. Haruka's sister got shot and died. Haruka went nuts and her older brother dragged her off. Michiru went to the park and got smashed. Hotaru tried to heal her depression and barely dented it. They're both sleeping now. I need to go check on a few things and I need someone to come keep an eye on them. You're the only person I can think of who can handle this other than me. Are you still with me?"
Mamoru's head was spinning, Oh, Michiru! Poor girl... He thought for a minute what he would do if something similar happened to his Usako-chan. He drew in a quick breath of dismay, "Yeah, Setsuna-san. I'm still with you. That's awful. I'll be over as soon as I can get dressed."
Setsuna spoke, "Thank you Mamoru-san. I knew you'd understand. I'll leave the front door unlocked for you. Good luck."
"No problem, Setsuna. Any time," they hung up.
Setsuna slowly put the phone back in its cradle, That's one problem taken care of. Now to figure out how I need to handle this... She held her hand up and pulled her Time Staff down from its eternal resting place. Unlike her fellow Senshi, Setsuna did not need to go through a loud, dazzling light show to transform into Sailor Pluto. Wonder why that is? Maybe because I've been a Senshi for so much longer, I no longer need such a large amount of power to find my alter ego. Maybe... Oh well, that's something to ponder for another day. Sailor Pluto raised the Time Staff and whispered, "Time Portal Open!"
Sailor Pluto stepped out of the Time Vortex and regarded the Gates of Time. Such power contained within these gates. They hold the power to save the universe or destroy it - the Void Between Times is not a thing to be trifled with lightly. Why do I feel that I have the right to do it on such a regular basis? she wondered. Suddenly Pluto gasped - she had felt a presence where none other should be. "Who's there?" she shouted, her heart pounding.
A warm chuckling sound filled the air, ~So much for all that nonsense about not needing as much power as the other Senshi! You're as stupid as the rest, for all that you've been alive for nearly 5000 years longer.~
Pluto blushed and lowered her Staff. Only one being could so humiliate her, even after all these years, "Pluto," she said, "What a pleasant surprise. It's been too long. How've you been?"
Pluto stepped out from behind the gate, ~Oh absolutely dandy. Peachy keen - got a new soul to stick in the Elysian Fields. Life couldn't be better. Persephone said she may even come down early this year - she is gonna have a baby, you know. Doesn't want good ole papa to miss the event,~ he laughed suddenly, ~Not that Demeter was too happy about that, but what can I say?~
"I lost you," Sailor Pluto said, dryly.
~Huh? Oh come on - you know that the Greek and Roman gods are all the same - and who would want to be called by "Proserpine" when you could be called Persephone? And if you said "Ceres" how many people do you think would know who you were talking about? People recognize our Greek names much faster,~ Pluto replied.
Sailor Pluto smiled dryly, "Then why do the main Planet Gods go by their Roman names, Pluto?"
~Uh... All right, minor detail. Big whoop. Who cares, anyway? So, wha' did you want?~ he growled.
Sailor Pluto laughed, it always felt good when you could get your god to contradict himself. Then she sobered, "What purpose did Tenoh Kiaki's death serve?"
Pluto frowned, ~You know, for once, I wasn't glad to see a human soul take up residence with me. And you know how seldom that happens. She was a very sweet girl, and she really shouldn't have died so young. But you know what happens when you let humans have free choice. You were in on that decision all those years ago. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages - except for times like this.~
"Is there any chance that that man might have been some type of youma?" Sailor Pluto asked.
~No. Once Galaxia was defeated, there shouldn't have been any more threats. But you knew that.~ Pluto suddenly muttered under his breath, ~At least not for another week or so...~ Then, remembering his company, he cleared his throat, ~This was exactly what it appeared to be - a random event that had awful consequences. Nothing more,~ Pluto frowned, ~Neptune and Uranus have to work this out on their own, my Avatar. You can not help them in this. If their love can not pull them out of this frying pan, then they will both come to me far sooner than expected. But be that as it may, you still can not interfere.~
Sailor Pluto seethed in anger, "How can I not interfere? They are my family! My very best friends! I can't just stand by and- "
Pluto rounded angrily on her, ~You must! You have no choice! It is the price you pay for the power you wield. You are the only person with nearly absolute knowledge of the future - you can not use it for personal gain! It was not my decision to restrict you so, but it is necessary. If you would support the humans' right to free choice Now as you did Then, then this must be so.~ When he saw the wetness in his Avatar's eyes, Pluto softened his approach, ~I am sorry. Humans, even our Avatars, were not meant to bear such heavy burdens. I would take this one from you if I could. I would have Then as well. But it is not to be. Your path was not meant to be an easy one to walk.~ Then with a hint of his old jauntiness he said, ~Besides, if it were easy - everyone would do it, right?~ With a dramatic flare of his cape, he disappeared in a whirl of darkness.
Sailor Pluto gripped her staff, Oh, I hate that man! Maybe fatherhood will settle him down a little. She turned back to the Gates of Time and called a vision. If Tenoh Kiaki hadn't died, what would the future have been? She watched the vision as it slowly unfolded. Time passed. People were born, and people died. Time went on. Silence fell. It was lifted by the creation of Crystal Tokyo. Time went on. Pluto shut the vision down in anger, Time would have been exactly the same! She called a vision of the future the way it now stood - and for once, Sailor Pluto, Guardian of the Gates of Time, got no clear vision. I guess this is the almost absolute part. Damn. She shut down the vision.
Well that was pointless, she growled. Reaching her Time Staff high into the air she whispered, "Time Portal Open!"
Sailor Pluto stepped out of the Time Vortex and hid her Time Staff, detransforming as she did so. She regarded the modest little house in front of her. Here goes nothing. She straightened her jacket and approached the house. She lifted a finger and rang the doorbell. She waited. A young female voice from inside the house yelled, "I'm coming! I'll be there in a minute!"
Several minutes later the door sprung open. A young girl stood on the other side, an apron tied around her waist, flour dotting her face and hair. "My apologies. I was delayed. How can I help you?"
Setsuna smiled, a mysterious air settling about her like an old, familiar cloak, "The more pertinent question, Tenoh Reika, is how can I help you?"
Reika stared at her, then her face took on an air of distrust, "How do you know my name?"
Setsuna smiled again, "I know many things, Reika. Many. You are the sister of a very dear friend. I received information that she was currently keeping residence here. Is this true?"
Reika clammed up, "I have no idea what you are talking about, miss. I have no sister living here at this time. My elder sister moved out many years ago, and my younger sister has passed beyond this world. If there is nothing else that you need, I would advice that you leave before my father comes home."
Damn, I was afraid of this. Out loud she said, "I feared that this would be your reaction. Know this, Tenoh Reika, your sister forgave Haruka everything before she died. For failing to protect your younger sister, Haruka has lost herself. You will have one chance to help her back to reality - and it will not be your gentle hand that performs this miracle. There are those who love your onee-san desperately and would give their lives for her if they could. One of these will be able to help her. Do not let your onee-san's one chance for recovery slip by unnoticed. That would be a great shame."
Reika appeared mystified, "I will think about what you have said. Will you be visiting again?"
Setsuna shook her head, "No. I have already interfered in this matter far more than I dared. But, I will tell you one more thing. When your sister's savior appears at your door, your family will wish to drive her away. It is up to you to recognize her and fight your family to allow her to help. I know that this will be a difficult task, but you are the only one who can perform it. Good luck, Tenoh Reika."
She turned, slipped her shoes back on and left the house. Reika, realizing she had no idea how she would recognize this stranger, ran out of the house to call her back, I need more information! She reached the street and looked both ways, and saw no sign of the strange young woman with the dark green hair, I don't even know her name...
Sailor Pluto watched Reika enter the house from her perch on a nearby rooftop, Please let this be enough. I dare not interfere any more than this. At least now, Michiru will have a chance, however slim, of convincing Haruka's family to let her help. She offered up a quiet prayer to her Planet God and to the Three Fates and quietly left for home.
Mamoru quickly walked up the garden path to the Outer senshi's house. House, hmph. More like a mansion. He had been more than confused when Setsuna called him that morning - there was no love lost between the two of them, and he couldn't imagine the lofty Sailor Pluto stooping low enough to ask him for help. Not that he didn't like Hotaru and Michiru - he liked them well enough. There was just something about Setsuna and Haruka that set him on edge. Maybe because they always make me feel so inferior... He placed his hand on the doorknob and slowly opened the door.
Peering into the shadows of the front hall, he found the house slippers and light switch. Exchanging his footwear and flipping the switch, he walked into the house. He heard a light breathing and followed it to it's source. The sight that met his eyes filled him with joy and memories. Hotaru lay, covered by a light blanket, quietly sleeping in front of the TV. He walked over and sat down on a footstool. So peaceful. So little. She must be really tuckered out. Oh, Chibi-Usa, I miss you so.
He reached over and pulled the blanket a little closer around her shoulders, then plucked the remote control from her small hand and turned off the TV. He brushed away a lock of hair which had fallen into her eye. For a moment, he wished he could steal her away - he had never realized how desperately that he wanted a child, and he didn't relish the idea of having to wait 1000 years to see his again. He stood up abruptly, I have to check on Michiru.
He walked slowly up the stairs and opened a door. The room was like something out of a fairy tale. A four-poster bed sat in the middle of the room, draped in light bed-curtains. He walked a little further into the room and began to notice things - keepsakes. A golden-hilted dagger, early Renaissance England; a small jewelry chest, late Middle Ages - Gaul; scattered old coins - Italy, France, Russia, Peru; a mask hung on the wall - it seemed to belong to a race long since forgotten, perhaps Aztec, or Native American; a primitive stone tipped spear might have come from the frozen lands of Alaska or Siberia; an ancient kimono from his own homeland of Japan held a place of honor on a peg near the bed; an ornate mirror with a decidedly Romanesque design hung near the jewelry chest. Then he noticed the drawing table - looking extremely out of place in this world of ancient artifacts. He walked over to the table and looked down at the papers - Setsuna's latest designs. He blushed, Oops. Wrong room. He hastened out - not wanting to intrude on Pluto's privacy any further.
He looked around and chose another room. He opened the door and thought to himself, Jackpot! There was Michiru's violin sitting delicately on a chair in the corner in front of a music stand. And there, in the other corner - was that a racing uniform thrown so haphazardly over the love seat? It was. Several landscapes hung from each wall - lovingly painted by the hand of Kaioh Michiru. And the three trophies on the dresser - the awards of recognition of Tenoh Haruka? An easel sported a half-finished portrait, heart-breakingly detailed. I never realized how beautiful Haruka is, Mamoru found himself thinking. Spread over the love seat were sheets of paper from a composition book - a half-formed piano/violin duet scrawled over half of them. Michiru's work? Or maybe Haruka's.
He turned his attention to the king-sized bed in the left-hand back corner of the room, and to his dismay, found it empty. He ran out the door and crashed down the stairs - forgetting that Hotaru was asleep. Damn! You idiot! Where could she have gone? he scolded himself. He frantically searched the house, and still Michiru was nowhere to be found. He opened the back door and ran outside, still desperately looking. "Michiru!" he called. No one answered.
He saw a small path winding through the bushes behind the garden. He ran over there, still calling Michiru's name. "Michiru-san! Are you out here? It's Mamoru! Please answer me!" He followed the path. When the path ended, Mamoru found himself staring around in awe. Kami-sama...
He had walked straight into a sunlit wonderland. The trees grew in huge graceful arcs, nearly blocking all sunlight in parts - and providing sunbathers' heavens in others. Flowers sprang up all around the grotto - orchids, tiger lilies, roses, carnations, bluebells, daffodils, daisies, and many more. The green grass made the softest carpeting he had ever felt. And most beautiful of all, a lake dominated the center of the sunlit clearing - it's sparkling blue water unmarred by algae or pollution. A single figure swam laps back and forth in the water. Finally the figure stopped, stood up and left the lake. She wrung her sea-green hair out and reached for a towel which was draped on a nearby branch.
Turning slowly to face him, Kaioh Michiru said sarcastically, "You screamed?"
Mamoru blushed. Been doing a lot of that lately... He stammered an apology, "I'm sorry, Michiru-san. I didn't see you in the house and I panicked."
Michiru walked stiffly past him, "Afraid I'd gone and done myself in, Mamoru-san?"
Mamoru went a little pale, "Well, uh, no! I just was afraid that maybe- "
"I got lost? In my own home?" Michiru supplied, caustically.
"No," they reached the door, "Setsuna asked me to check up on the two of you, and I didn't see you. I just got worried. That's all."
Michiru walked into the house, leaving Mamoru to close the door. Upon entering the kitchen she put up some water to boil. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the cool cabinet, Please Neptune, I can't deal with him now. Why did Setsuna have to involve him in this?
His soft voice reached her, "Are you all right, Michiru-san?"
She abruptly pulled herself off the cabinet, "I'm fine. There's water for tea, the cups and tea bags are in the cabinet - second shelf from the top. I'm going to grab a shower and get dressed. Help yourself." She spun on her heel and raced up the stairs before he could object.
Nearly an hour later, Michiru came back downstairs. She looked beautiful. A turquoise blue dress hung in soft folds on her slim frame. The spaghetti straps of the sundress served to accentuate the lines of her shoulders and her lightly muscled arms. Her hair was brushed in soft waves and pinned up by a silver dolphin clip on one side. She watched Mamoru, waiting for his reaction. She wasn't disappointed. She chuckled a little as his eyes did a 360 in his head. He gestured for her to join him at the table, but she shook her head.
Upon closer inspection, Mamoru might have noticed the tear tracks on her cheeks that no amount of makeup would erase. She didn't intend to let him get close enough to see. She went out to the hall closet and pulled a phone book down. She flipped through, searching for the number for the airport, Someone must've had to bring the Tenoh's bags home for them, they left them at the airport. If I can just find the man who did, maybe he'll tell me where the Tenoh's live. I'm sure that's where Kenjo took her.
She found what she'd been looking for and dialed up the Tokyo airport, ignoring Mamoru's confused look.
"Moshi moshi," came the polite voice.
"Hello," Michiru answered. "I was on the flight from America the other day and my bags were left at the airport after the gunman situation. I was told that they would be delivered to my home, but have not received them yet. May I have the phone number of the one who was responsible for delivering the bags?"
The voice said, "I'm sorry miss. I can not give you that sort of information. If you give me your name, I can check on the status of your luggage."
Damn! Michiru had to think fast, "Haruka. Tenoh Haruka."
"It says that your luggage was delivered this morning, miss," came the infuriating voice.
"Maybe your delivery boy got the wrong address. Where did he deliver them to?" Michiru answered.
"I'm sorry Tenoh-san, but I can not give out that information without proper authorization. Have a nice day," the lady hung up.
Michiru stood in the kitchen staring at the phone. I don't believe it! Of all the nerve! She stared up at the ceiling, as if reprimanding her God, I sure hope you're having fun, but this is not my idea of a joke! To her dismay, she felt the tears begin to run down her cheeks again.
Mamoru spoke, "It was a good idea."
"Fat lot of good it did me," Michiru said, bitterly. She slammed the phone into the cradle and threw herself down into a chair.
Mamoru said, "Why don't you look up 'Tenoh' in the phone book?"
"Tried that," Michiru mumbled, "Damn people are unlisted."
Mamoru smothered a laugh, "One would almost think that someone's against you in this."
Michiru looked up and glared at him, "I'm not amused, Cape Boy."
Mamoru looked up sharply, "Hey."
"Turnabout's fair play, Cape Boy," Michiru mocked.
"Michiru-mama?" came the voice from the door, "What's going on?"
Michiru jumped off the chair and ran to Hotaru, pulling her close. "I'm so sorry, Hotaru-chan! I didn't mean to wake you up!"
Hotaru put her arms around Michiru, "That's OK, Michiru-mama. I slept enough, anyway. Where's Setsuna-mama?" she asked.
"I don't know, sweetie. She went out earlier. Mamoru-san just came to check on us. Do you need anything?" Michiru asked.
"No, Michiru-mama," she answered, "Can I go play?"
Michiru smiled and nodded. Hotaru ran outside to the swing-set. Mamoru stared after her, "She's a beautiful little girl, Michiru-san. You guys are doing right good by her."
Michiru blushed, "That little girl is going to turn 10 next month." To herself she thought, Too bad Haruka won't be here to see it... Her face crumpled and she sank to the floor, lost in her tears once again. She vaguely sensed Mamoru and Hotaru running to her and embracing her in a group hug, but none of it mattered - neither of them were Haruka. She shook them off and ran outside to the grotto. She heard them yelling after her, "Wait, come back, don't go, Michiru!" She kept running. Some part of her, she vaguely thought it had Haruka's voice, reminded her to stay away from the lake. She kept running.
"Damn!" Mamoru yelled.
Hotaru stared at him, shocked.
"Sorry, Hotaru-chan. I just can't imagine what it was that set her off like that," Mamoru said.
"What's going on in here?" came a voice from the front door.
"Setsuna!" Mamoru yelled. "Michiru ran away! I have no idea where she went, you need to help us find her!"
Setsuna reached them, her face going pale, "I believe I know where she has gone, Mamoru-san. You do not need to chase after her. Stay here with Hotaru. I will get Michiru."
She reached for her Time Staff, becoming Sailor Pluto as she did so. "Time Portal Open!" she whispered.
Pluto stepped out of the whirling Time Vortex onto the large expanse of golden sand. The Kaioh's private beach. It should be interesting to see how long it takes Michiru to get here.
~Do you know she's coming here, or did you guess?~ came the irritating voice of her God.
"Dammit, Pluto - can't you stop interfering in my life?" Setsuna growled, angrily.
~No, as a matter of fact, I can't. As my Avatar, your life is bound to mine. So, your life is my life - that's not interfering,~ he answered, smugly.
"So you say," Setsuna responded.
~I'm just checking to make sure that you're not misusing your powers.~
"If I haven't done it in 5000 years, what makes you think I'm going to do it now?" Setsuna queried.
~You've never been as sorely tempted, before,~ he said.
"Oh yes I have," Setsuna answered, quietly.
Pluto looked down, ~Yes, well, that may be true - but I think that you would be more tempted to act on your knowledge if your family's happiness is at stake than if your own is. True?~
Setsuna acceded the point.
~Just be careful, Setsuna. I don't want to see you get hurt in this - and you might be, if you misuse your powers. This is a dangerous game that you are playing. Don't think we don't know about your detour to the Tenoh's. You said it yourself, "The Void Between Times is not a thing to be trifled with lightly - why do I feel I have the right to do it on such a regular basis?" The easy answer is - you don't. Be careful,~ Pluto's presence faded from the beach.
Sailor Pluto clenched her hands around the Time Staff, If he had chosen to have a physical presence here, I would have whacked him one.
Finally calming her mind, Pluto looked for signs that Michiru had been here. She found none. Damn, I sure hope I didn't guess wrong - that could be very inconvenient, not to mention embarrassing. Finding a convenient boulder, Pluto sat down to wait. She heard a motor and looked up at the street. A taxi was just pulling away from the curb. A green- haired girl in a blue dress was slowly walking down to the beach, looking more than a little bit lost. Pluto got up off of her rock. Meiou Setsuna wasn't able to jolt her out of this, maybe Sailor Pluto can. She waited for Michiru to come to her.
Michiru took her time, slowly staring around at everything she saw. After several minutes, she noticed Pluto. She hung her head, like a recalcitrant child, and trudged over to meet her leader. When she reached Pluto she was shaking.
Pluto put a gentle hand under her chin and raised Michiru's gaze to meet her own. She raised an eyebrow. Michiru broke into tears and sank to the sand. Pluto heard her mumbling something through her sobs and tried to make sense of it.
"Useless...utterly useless...not good f'r anything...I don't know what to do...oh please help me..."
Pluto knelt in the sand, grabbed ahold of Michiru's shoulders and shook her once, hard. Michiru swallowed a sob and stared at her. At least I got her attention. I'm sorry to do this to you Michiru-chan. I know that you want an understanding onee-san - what you're going to get is Sailor Pluto, eldest of the Outer Senshi.
"Now what is this all about?" Pluto demanded.
"I...I...I..." Michiru stuttered.
"Yes, I-I-I. I what, Neptune?" Pluto stated.
"I...Haruka...I can't...Oh Setsuna!" Michiru wailed.
Pluto shook her again, "Enough Michiru. You're hurting. I know that. We all are. You can either fall apart every time someone mentions her name, or you can try to do something about this." At Michiru's hopeful look, Pluto continued, "I have it on fairly good authority that Chaos was not the last enemy we will face before the founding of Crystal Tokyo. This new enemy should be arriving soon, and since Sailor Uranus is currently unavailable," Pluto continued through Michiru's indrawn breath, "And Hotaru has not yet grown enough to reclaim her full powers, you and I will have to work twice as hard to do our job. Do you understand?"
Michiru nodded miserably. Pluto put her fingers under Michiru's chin and again lifted her head, "Take comfort in the fact that Haruka is still alive, Michiru-chan. At least we know that she is physically safe, for now." She stood and looked down at Michiru, "I must go try to think of an explanation to give Usagi for last night. I trust that you can find your way home from here?"
Michiru stood, shakily, and nodded, "I will try, Setsuna. For your sake, and the Princess' sake, I will try. But I'm not guaranteeing that I won't fall apart on you."
Pluto smiled, "That's all that I can ask." The Time Vortex appeared, and Sailor Pluto was gone.
Michiru stared at the after image created by her friend's favorite mode of travel, "A new threat, huh Pluto. Neptune Planet Power, make up!" The wash of the waters cleared away Michiru's indecisiveness, leaving a cool, controlled warrior in her place. Neptune smiled, "Then I'd better start practicing, ne?" She turned to the boulder her friend had occupied on her arrival, "Deep Submerge!" The boulder was reduced to pebbles. Neptune smiled and picked up a pebble, "Yeah, that'll do all right." She gathered herself and leapt onto the nearest rooftop, eager to return home.
Usagi cleared the table, humming contentedly to herself. It's always nice to have the gang over for dinner. She paused and listened to the friendly chatter going on in the next room, But that Rei is probably trying to soil my reputation again. I'd better hurry up and finish this. In her haste to clash minds with Rei, Usagi knocked one of her favorite glasses off of the table. She screamed.
The glass never hit the floor. It froze about halfway down. Usagi reached out a shaking hand and plucked the glass from the air, as the rest of the Inner Senshi ran in to see what had happened. They started babbling all at once:
"Now what'd you go and do, odango atama?" -Rei
"Are you injured?" -Ami
"I hope it wasn't one of your favorite glasses!" -Minako
"I don't see any broken glass!" -Makoto
Usagi rummaged up a smile for her best friends, "It's nothing guys. I knocked into one of my favorite glasses with my elbow. I thought it was gonna fall off the table and break! It didn't fall, though. I didn't mean to make you all get up. Gomen, minna."
They all stared at her for a moment, then sweatdropped. Rei shook her head in disbelief, "Can always count on Usagi-chan to make an evening interesting, huh guys?"
They all laughed. Minako added, "Well, hurry up and finish, Usagi-chan. You're missing all the fun! We're gonna watch the Sailor V movie that just came out on video!" With that, the rest of the Inners turned their attention to poking fun at Minako (formerly known as Sailor V) and quickly filed back into the living room.
Usagi looked once more at the glass in her hands and smiled, "Come in Sailor Pluto - it's not nice to hang about at keyholes."
Pluto entered the kitchen, detransforming as she did so, "What gave me away?"
"The old "falling china that never hits the floor" trick. Gives you away every time!" Usagi answered. Setsuna started to help her clear the table. Once everything was in the sink and being rinsed, Usagi turned to Setsuna, "All right, Setsuna, spill. What was Michiru-san doing, drinking herself into a stupor in public?"
Setsuna pulled up a chair from the dining room, "I wish I could tell you Usagi, but I can't. She made me swear not to."
"Do I need to make this an order?" Usagi replied with an arched eyebrow.
"Usagi-chan, please do not. Accept that there are reasons why I can't tell you some of the things that I know. We will still be there to support you, and this matter is being dealt with. That's all that I can tell you," Setsuna pleaded.
Usagi turned back to the sink and started scrubbing the curry sauce off of the pans. "What about Haruka-san?" she asked quietly.
Setsuna could not think of a good answer. "She went to visit family," she supplied lamely.
Usagi raised an eyebrow, "Family?"
"Usagi-chan, please!" Setsuna was ready to beg at this point. Who would have thought that Tsukino Usagi would develop such a keen mind?
Usagi sighed as she put the dishes in her new dishwasher, "Setsuna-san, because you are older and wiser than me, and because I trust you completely, I will allow you to keep this secret." Setsuna started to heave a sigh of relief, but Usagi wasn't finished, "But if at any time this situation interferes with the smooth operation of the Sailor Senshi as a team, there will be Hell to pay." She closed the door to the dishwasher and turned to face Setsuna, "Have I made myself clear?"
Setsuna nodded, not trusting her voice. Forget the keen mind, where'd she develop the sharp tongue?
Usagi smiled and enveloped the eldest Scout in a hug, "I do trust you Setsuna-san. I just hope that you know that you can ask me for help if you need it."
Setsuna returned the hug, "Hai, Usagi-chan, I do." When Usagi let go of her she stood and gripped her Time Staff, "Go back to your friends. Don't tell them that I was here, or about Michiru. When I can tell you, I will." The Time Vortex appeared and Sailor Pluto was gone.
Usagi shrugged at her friend's elusiveness, then dried her hands and bounded into the living room - the siren song of Sailor V drifting on the air, "Rei, I thought you were gonna wait for me to finish the dishes before you started the movie! WAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!"
Sailor Pluto, watching from the vortex, began to chuckle, "Some things never change."
Reika heard the doorbell ring with a sigh of exasperation, Why can't people show up when my hands aren't covered with cooking supplies? She grabbed a towel from the rack and hurried brushed off her hands, running towards the door as she went. "I'm coming!" she yelled. Finally reaching the door, she unlocked it and pulled it open, "Onii-san!"
Kenjo smiled and gave her a gentle squeeze. He'd been much less openly affectionate with her before Kiaki died. I guess he thinks he might lose me at any time, so he should cherish what time he has with me. Out loud she said, "What's going on? I thought you weren't coming for another visit until this weekend?"
He slowly walked into the house and changed his shoes, "I guess I just wanted to see how you guys were doing. I was in the area, coming home from work and all, so it was convenient. I mean, you're here alone when mom goes out shopping and dad's at work. I thought you could use the company."
Reika smiled, Good old Kenjo. Onee-san isn't exactly great company these days, so I suppose it is nice to have him drop by unannounced, especially... "Oh Kenjo," she began herding him towards the kitchen as she untied her apron, "You've always been better at cooking than I am, so why don't you finish making dinner while I check on Haruka? 'Kay?" She shoved the apron into his hands, "Thanks Kenjo! Bye!" She ran down the hall, only barely missing being hit by the dishtowel that Kenjo threw her way.
She yelled back, "Nice try, Kenjo-san!" and skipped down the hallway. When she reached her imouto's old room, she immediately sobered up. She slowly pushed open the door - the room hadn't changed at all since Kiaki-chan had gone with Kenjo to America. Why, Kiaki-chan? Kami-sama, why her? She felt a tear slip from her eye and irritably brushed it away. She picked up a teddy bear from the bed - a bed full of stuffed animals and pink and white lace. Just like little Kiaki-chan, so innocent. She absently hugged the teddy bear to her as a lump formed in her throat. Irritably brushing at her eyes, she fought the tears that tried to come. Finally getting herself back under control, she left the room and closed the door.
She looked further down the hall, not that eager to go check on her other sister. Haruka was nothing like Reika remembered her. She wouldn't talk, she wouldn't get out of bed, she wouldn't eat unless you force-fed her, she wouldn't do anything for herself. And worst of all, the gloriously long blond hair that Reika had always associated with her only onee-san was gone. It hadn't even reached her shoulders when Kenjo brought her home. Before, she had always looked boyish, but now - now, if you didn't know that Haruka was a girl, you would automatically assume she was male. Her mother had been more upset by that than the fact that Haruka seemed to have the mental capacity of a vegetable. Now, several months later, Haruka's hair had at least grown out to a decent length.
Reika shook herself out of her reverie and squared her shoulders. She took a deep breath and walked down the hall, boldly pushing open her onee-san's door. She'll be standing up, looking out the window, or reading a book, or listening to music, or talking on the phone, or anything! It was a vain hope, one she entertained each time she went to check on her onee. When she opened the door, she knew that her hope was again in vain. Haruka sat, dressed in an old sweatshirt and an old pair of sweatpants, slowly rocking back and forth in the corner of her bed. Her eyes were wide open and staring, as if witnessing some silent horror.
Reika quietly closed the door behind her and turned to her sister. "Onee-san? Haruka? Can you hear me?" There was no response. There never was. Haruka just sat there staring into space. Reika noticed the full food tray sitting on the night table, Haruka hadn't touched it. Reika sat down on Haruka's bed and put a hand on her sister's arm, "Haruka-neesan? Do you want me to do your hair? I could brush it for you." Haruka didn't respond.
Reika pulled out a hairbrush from Haruka's bedside table. It had been a present from their mother on Haruka's 12th birthday. Reika remembered being extremely jealous - she had loved that brush. It was a family heirloom, all inlaid with gold, silver, and onyx. It had been a wedding gift from her mother's mother's mother's mother's father to his First Wife - her great, great, great grandmother. Reika had only been seven years old, and she had tried to take the brush from her sister when she unwrapped it. Haruka had fought her, and in the end their father had intervened. Haruka had promised that on special days she would come and help Reika do her hair - with the brush. Reika had been overjoyed. She had always looked forward to special days, because it meant her own private time with her onee-san. She looked down at the brush, Looks like it's my turn now.
She sat back down on the bed so she could reach her sister's close cropped hair. She slowly started to brush it, amazed at how thick it still was. She thought she heard her onee-san sigh, and she could have sworn that she felt her sister relax into the brushstrokes. Reika felt her heart soar - that was the most response that anyone had gotten out of her in all these weeks. Maybe I'm getting through to her somehow! But Haruka made no more response for the rest of the grooming. She went back to her empty-headed, glazed look. Reika felt a surge of disappointment when she remembered the green haired woman's words, "You will have one chance to help her back to reality - and it will not be your gentle hand that performs this miracle."
Oh what does she know about it, anyway? Reika growled, mentally. She put the brush gently down on the table and picked up the tray, Who could she have been talking about anyway? Her heart chilled when the answer occurred to her, She said she was Haruka's friend - she was probably talking about that bitch that stole her away from us to begin with. Suddenly she noticed that Haruka seemed to be more upset than usual - her eyes were wide in fear and her breathing had quickened considerably. Reika had no idea what to do, so she yelled for Kenjo. He came running. Together, they tried to snap her out of it...
"Sailor Neptune! Duck!" Jupiter yelled.
Neptune just barely managed to get out of the way as the youma- creature threw another blast of ice-cold air her way, "Damn that thing's fast!" she panted. She turned to face the creature, I wish we knew who was sending these things! "Deep Submerge!" The creature jumped out of the way, laughing as it did so.
Neptune screamed in frustration. Venus put a hand on her shoulder, "Easy Neptune. We'll get this guy, don't worry. Come on - let's double team him!" Neptune nodded and pulled out the Aqua Mirror, "Submarine..."
Venus put a hand to her lips and yelled, "Love and Beauty..."
Together they yelled, "Reflection!" "Shock!"
The creature couldn't get out of the way fast enough. From across the clearing they heard a soft whisper, "Dead Scream!", as a cluster of roses embedded itself in the monster's back. Sailor Pluto and Tuxedo Kamen had arrived. Tuxedo Kamen yelled, "Now Sailor Moon!"
Moon yelled, "Right!" She pulled out the Spiral Heart Moon Rod and yelled, "Moon Spiral Heart... Attack!" The monster was blasted to pieces. "All right! Moondusted!" she yelled. Tuxedo Kamen ran over and embraced her, "Good job, Princess."
Venus heard a quickly indrawn breath to her right - it sounded like a strangled sob. She looked over - Neptune had her arms wrapped tightly around her stomach. She looked like she was about to burst into tears or be violently ill. She gasped, "Excuse me!" and ran off into the woods surrounding the clearing. Venus looked at Moon and Kamen, who were completely oblivious to the drama unfolding before them, and ran off after Neptune. She found her leaning against a tree, crying and silently retching. Oh Venus... Neptune was now sobbing violently, collapsed against the tree.
Venus walked around so Neptune could see her, "Do this often, Neptune-san?"
Neptune looked up - her gaze that of a deer caught in headlights. She looked ready to be sick again. Venus held a hand out to her, "Come on, let's go get you cleaned up." Neptune took her hand and allowed herself to be led to Venus' apartment. Halfway there, they detransformed. Minako helped Michiru up the stairs, thanking Venus for the millionth time that she didn't have to worry about roommates or parents.
A voice wound its way down the stairs, "What's up, Minako-chan?"
Damn, forgot about Artemis. She caught his eye when she reached the top of the stairs and shook her head, mouthing, "Later," at him.
When he saw Michiru, and the state she was in, he wisely kept his mouth shut. Minako shot him a look of pure appreciation as he trotted off to take a nap. Minako got Michiru bundled up into a chair and put up a pot of water to boil. She grabbed a blanket from the linen closet and settled it around her friend's chilled frame. She sat down across from Michiru on the low table.
She took a deep breath, "OK, Michiru. You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to, but it's pretty obvious that something's wrong. I understand that you miss Haruka, but she'll be back from her tour soon enough..." her voice trailed off when she realized that Michiru was laughing. "What did I say?" she asked.
Michiru stopped laughing with a sob, "A tour? Is that what Setsuna told you?"
Minako frowned, confused, "What do you mean, Setsuna? Usagi told us that..."
Michiru hung her head, "She's not on a tour, Minako-chan. I wish to Neptune that she was. Oh, how I wish it were that simple."
"Michiru?" Minako prodded.
"OK, OK. Obviously, this is going to come out sooner or later. I just wish it had been later..." She looked up at Minako, her eyes unusually strained, "But you have to swear that you won't tell anyone."
At Minako's restrained look she added, "Please!"
Minako nodded, visibly unhappy. Michiru nodded once, "Just remember, Minako-chan, you asked for this." She took a deep breath, "It all started with a race..."
When Michiru had finished her tale, Minako was ready to throw up, herself. Fortunately for her, the hot water whistled. Michiru gave a hoarse little laugh, "Saved by the bell."
Minako blushed and got up to go prepare the tea. Her mind was whirling and it needed a minute to restructure itself. She grabbed the kettle off the stove and pulled two mugs down from the cupboard. How has she managed so long without losing it like that? she wondered as she poured. It's obvious that this is consuming her completely - she can't manage like this for much longer. She must have tried to block it out, not think about it. Until she saw Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen kissing, that is. Once the tea was the right color, she threw out the tea bags, Well, I've got to do something - obviously Setsuna's in on this. Usagi may or may not be, I guess I'd better not take a chance with that. I don't think she could handle this. In Minako's time as Sailor V, she had witnessed many similar horror stories, seen many innocents die because she had been just a little too slow, a little too late. But she had never had the death of a friend on her head - much less an immediate family member.
She slowly picked up the mugs and walked back into the other room. "OK, Michiru, here's what we're going to do..."
Michiru looked worried as she took the mug from the younger girl's hands. She'd heard those words from Minako before - and they usually spelled disaster of some sort or another. What is she thinking?
Minako sat back down on the table and took a sip of her tea, "The way I figure it, if you can spend time with Haruka - it might make some difference for her. So, all we have to do is find a way to get you into the Tenoh's house without them knowing it's you!"
Michiru winced, I suspected it was something like that... But her unruly heart would not be silenced. The thought of seeing Haruka, after all these weeks of separation, was like a siren's call - and Michiru didn't have a chance in Tartarus of resisting it. She heard herself say, "But how do we find out were the Tenoh's live?"
Minako smiled, "But don't you see? That's the easiest part of the whole thing! You know I go to the University of Tokyo, right? I'm a sociology major. Well, as part of my course of study I've been helping one of my professors do research in the local high schools. We know that the Tenoh's live in the area and Haruka's younger sister is still in high school, so all I have to do is find out which high school, and look up her records!"
Michiru's jaw dropped, "Isn't that dangerous? What if you get caught?"
Minako giggled and flipped her a "V-for-Victory", "I would never get caught! I'm Sailor V, remember?"
Michiru just stared at her. Artemis, who had walked in on the tail end of the conversation said, simply, "I don't believe this..."
Reika quietly closed the door to her sister's room. She turned to Kenjo and said, "What the heck was that all about? And what did we do that finally worked?"
Kenjo, balancing the tray on his arm, said, "I have no idea. To both questions. I just hope it doesn't happen again. What were you doing that set her off like that?"
Reika flushed an angry shade of red, "What was I doing? I was brushing her hair - is that such a problem? She seemed to be doing fine, then she just flipped!"
Kenjo put a hand on Reika's shoulder, "I'm sorry, imouto. I didn't mean that to come out the way it did."
He seems remorseful... "Fine," Reika answered, "But you'd better start watching that tongue of yours. You're just lucky that I'm family - anyone else would have been extremely insulted by what you just implied." She turned on her heel and marched into the kitchen. She plunked herself down on a stool and sulked.
Kenjo walked in, "Better watch it, imouto - your face might get stuck that way!"
Reika got up, walked over to him, grabbed the tray, set it down on the counter - and slapped him. Still seething, she ground out, "I've had about enough of you Tenoh Kenjo. If you can't find a more polite way of addressing me, then I don't need to see you in this house again. I'd rather have my onee-san to keep me company - at least she isn't so disrespectful to me." She walked away from him, barely managing to get out of the room without trying to smack him again. Serves him right! Idiot.
Before Kenjo could say something to try to console his distraught imouto, the doorbell rang. Reika ran to open it, "Mother! Father!" She ran to her mother and threw her arms around her neck.
Tenoh Madori patted her daughter's back, soothingly. This past month had been a true trial to her. She had essentially lost two daughters. Her mother's instincts had told her to help the one who was in more need of her. She now wondered if ignoring Reika had been that wise an idea. She seems strong on the outside, but she hasn't rushed me like this since she was four... she worried.
"There, there, Reika-chan. It's all right. Everything's OK, Mommy's here..." she murmured. To her shock, she heard Reika begin to cry. "Hey, what's this? It's all right... What happened, Reka-chan?"
Reika tried to control her tears, in truth she wasn't really sure why she was crying. She finally got herself under control and pulled away from her mother, "I'm sorry mama, I didn't mean to get your shirt all wet..." She plucked at her mother's blouse, miserably.
Madori swatted her hand away, "Enough, Reka-chan. My wet blouse is hardly the problem here. It'll dry. Now what prompted that splurge of tears? Is Haruka all right?" she asked, suddenly worried.
Now it was Reika's turn to be strong, "She's fine mama. Just fine. I guess, it was just too much, all of a sudden."
Madori frowned at her daughter, You're a terrible liar, Reka- chan. "Oh really?" she raised an eyebrow.
Reika flushed, then mumbled, "And Kenjo-san was being a real-"
Now it was time for Karata to step in, "Reika-chan! That's your onii-san you're slandering!"
Reika flushed an even deeper red, "Gomen nasai, papa. It won't happen again." Kenjo chose that moment to walk into the room. Reika shot him a wicked glare, which Madori caught. "I see..." she commented. "Kenjo, since you're here - go make yourself useful and unload the groceries from my car. Reika, go help your father set the table." Karata made as if to protest, "Karata-kun, you are pushing it. Go set the table," Madori snapped.
Karata shut his mouth. Normally his wife was as meek as a mouse, but this threat to her children had been bringing out the tiger in her. He wasn't sure if he liked that. But he sure didn't want to mess with her when she got that way. He put his arm around his daughter, "Come on Reika-chan, let's go set the table." She smiled up at him, laughter in her eyes.
Madori smiled, "And I'm going to go check on Haruka." She walked off down the hall. Once she reached Haruka's door, her confidence left her, Oh, my poor baby. My little girl. What did you do to deserve this? It isn't fair. She pushed open the door to find Haruka in much the same position she'd been in all month. She sat down on the bed and pulled Haruka to her, slowly stroking her hair and rocking back and forth. Haruka gave no indication that she was aware of her mother's presence. Soon Madori stopped rocking and leaned Haruka back against the wall, "Oh my poor, sweet baby. I'll make you better somehow." She brushed a piece of hair out of Haruka's face, "I have your favorite food, tonight! I made wontan soup last night, too. You didn't eat any - maybe you'll be hungry for it tonight, ne?"
Haruka didn't respond. Madori thought she saw Haruka's lips move, but she wasn't certain. I'm just imagining things. I want to see her wake up and talk to me so badly that my mind is creating mirages for me. She stood up, "I'm going to go get that soup for you, and you see if you can keep some down, OK?" Haruka, as always, made no response.
Huh? Wha'? The confusion that surrounded Haruka's soul wouldn't allow her full contact with the outside world. A hand stroked her hair, Long? Huh? Each coherent thought slipped out of her grasp like a little minnow - ever elusive.
~Haruka! Can you hear me??~
~Dammit, Haruka - I know you're in there! Answer me!~
~It's Uranus, you little idiot! What in all the levels of Pluto's Tartarus did you do to yourself?~
~Oh, great. Just hang in there. We're working on this - just, try not to lose it anymore than you already have, OK?~
Haruka's mind faded out again.
Uranus picked up a vase and threw it against the wall. ~Damn it!! We almost had her, I know we did! Dammit!~
Neptune put his hands down from where they had risen to shield his face, ~Take it easy! I'm sure that we can get through to her again! Just calm down and let's think about this rationally, OK?~
Uranus whirled on his grandson, ~No! I will not calm down, dammit! She's my Avatar! She doesn't deserve this! Damn Pluto! Why couldn't he make an exception, just this once? Kiaki didn't have to die! Not then! If she hadn't, this whole mess would've been avoided!~
~Hey! What makes you think I had a choice?~
Both gods whirled to face Pluto. ~You! How dare you come up here!~ Uranus yelled. ~How dare you!~ Neptune, none too happy, lifted his triton and placed it against Pluto's neck, backing him up against the wall. ~Well?~ he yelled, ~What have you got to say for yourself, you sniveling worm?~
Pluto, backed against the wall said, ~Look! I didn't have a choice! What was I supposed to do? She isn't one of the Senshi! Besides, she's happy in the Elysian fields, she belongs there. What am I supposed to do? Grab her and say, 'Gee sorry. I know you're settled in, but you have to go back to your life which may be full of pain and suffering?' Yeah right!~
Uranus, putting a temporary rein on his temper said, ~What do you mean it wasn't your choice? It's always an option for you to release a soul from the Elysian fields. Neptune, please move your weapon - I don't want you to impale your brother by accident.~
Pluto put a hand to his neck, once the triton was moved and said, ~Thank you. I do appreciate it. And as for it not being my choice - it wasn't! Something similar happened to my own Senshi thousands of years ago, and I wasn't allowed to step in. What makes you think that I would be allowed to step in for yours, if I wasn't allowed to step in for mine?~
~What do you mean?~ Neptune said levelly, ~Who wouldn't let you step in?~
Pluto moved to a chair and sat down, ~There are more powerful forces out there than you can imagine, my brother. Grandfather's father is a powerful force, still. One doesn't go against the wishes of Chaos lightly. Not even me. And believe me, I caught it from my Avatar about this one. I don't think she's going to speak to me for another thousand years, at least not willingly.~
Neptune frowned, ~Are you sure there's nothing that you can do?~
Pluto nodded, then turned to Uranus, ~All right. You know your father better than any of us do. What do you think?~
Uranus had gone pale, ~I think you're right. Chaos' sole purpose these days seems to be to make life difficult for all of us. If he's the one behind this - we don't have a chance of opposing it.~
Suddenly Pluto sat straight up in his chair, ~What????~ He stood up so fast that he knocked the chair over, ~Holy Tartarus! Persephone's in labor!~ He turned to the other two gods, ~Help! What do I do??~
Uranus chuckled, ~Go to her! And don't you dare make her wait. If I remember that little imp correctly, she'll never forgive you if you do. Go on, get out of here! Shoo!~
Pluto, nearly panicking, disappeared. Neptune smiled, ~Life goes on, ne?~
Uranus put a hand on Neptune's arm, ~That's right, Life does indeed go on. And we'll find a way to fix this. Knowing our Avatars, they won't give up quite so easily.~
They both looked up at an unexpected noise. Aphrodite waltzed in and draped herself over a couch. ~Boys, have I got a story for you. You think your Avatars are trouble? Just wait 'til you hear about mine's latest plot...~
Minako walked briskly up the walkway to her professor's office, Just a little further... People nodded to her as she went by, many of the professor's staff recognizing the bright young girl. She smiled back at many of them - a bright smile that spoke of nothing but innocence. One particular young man tried to stop her, "Minako-san! Do you have a moment?"
Oh no! What does he want? Baka! She smiled sweetly, "Yes, Toshio? Is something the matter?"
Toshio ran up to her and stood for a moment, panting for breath, "I just wanted to talk to you!"
Minako tried not to snap at the boy. He was in her year at school, the only other student doing research with Dr. Kazima. He was a sweet boy, only a little bit younger than she - and utterly bedazzled by Aino Minako. She sighed, "Yes, Toshio? What did you want to talk about? I don't mean to be rude, but I am in a bit of a hurry."
He bowed, "Gomen, Minako-san. We can talk as we walk. I do not wish to detain you. I was simply happy to see you!"
She smiled, I needed this, I suppose. Michiru-san got me pretty depressed. She sized Toshio up, Maybe I can get him to help me... "Actually, I was going to the Professor's office - would you like to come?"
His eyes widened a little, "Oh yes, Minako-san! I would like that! What are you looking for?"
"Well, you know the survey that Dr. Kazima is doing of high school students?" He nodded, "The last time he wished me to look over the notes for Mugan Gakuen High School - I left them in a bit of a mess. He wished me to reorganize them." She affected embarrassment, "I fear that I am not as good with files and paperwork as you are."
Toshio puffed up his chest a bit, "Of course I will help you, Minako-san! You can count on me!" He strode off briskly for the office as Minako giggled behind him. He yelled to her to catch up, and she responded, "I'm coming! Gomen!" This is going to be easier than I thought!
Several hours later, Minako found what she was looking for, "Tenoh Reika," she read. "Gotcha!" When Toshio looked up curiously from the files that he was alphabetizing, Minako blushed and giggled nervously. She waved at him. He raised an eyebrow and shook his head. Minako breathed a sigh of relief when he turned back to his work. She quickly grabbed a pen and a piece of scrap paper and wrote down the address, stuffing it into her pocket. She grabbed the pile, "I'm done with these!"
Toshio looked up again, "Oh good! Just this one last pile and we're done! See now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" She managed a genuine smile for her classmate, "No, Toshio, it wasn't. Arigato. I could not have finished as quickly if you didn't help."
He blushed a furious scarlet. He looked as if he were trying to say something, but the words would not come out.
Minako spared him the trouble, "Well, Toshio, I really need to be going now - I'm meeting a friend for lunch. Again, arigato. I'll see you in class on Monday!" She grabbed her purse and rushed out the door, eager to get out of a potentially compromising situation.
Poor Toshio was left alone to lock up. He thought, Ah, Minako-san - my own goddess of love. Too bad you're not interested. He sighed heavily and locked up the office, suddenly eager to be somewhere else.
Michiru paced back and forth, only barely containing her impatience. Now that the chance to see Haruka was so close, so nearly within her grasp, she couldn't wait any longer. She looked at her watch, 1:34 PM. She said she'd be here at 1:30! Where is that girl? She paced back and forth a few more times and then threw herself down onto a bench. She looked up at the clock on the wall - 1:34. She growled and got up and walked into the clothing store. She asked a salesperson what time it was - 1:34. She walked back out into the mall and paced some more. She was beginning to make the surrounding shoppers nervous. A police officer began to stroll her way. She forced herself to sit on the bench and look innocent. The officer walked on. Finally, she saw a blond head running her way from one of the mall entrances.
When Minako reached her, she yelled, "Where have you been?? I've been waiting here forever! What took you so long!??"
Minako, stunned, stuttered, "B-but, it's only 1:34! I'm not that late." When she saw Michiru's wild eyes she cast her eyes down, "Gomen, Michiru-san. I'll try to be more prompt next time." Then she looked up, her eyes sparkling with mischief, "But I got it!" She whipped the paper out of her pocket, "The Tenoh's address! Now all we've got to do is figure out a way to get you into their house!"
Michiru took the paper with fingers now heavy with anticipation. The slightly crinkled piece of scrap paper was like a gift from the gods - salvation. Her eyes flooded with sudden tears, "Arigato, Minako-chan. I can never repay you for this." Minako threw her arms around the older Senshi and gave her a reassuring hug, "It's OK, Michiru-san. It was the least I could do - and you don't have to repay me. I'm just trying to help a friend."
"Oh you have, Minako, you have. Domo arigato," Michiru bowed in her friend's direction. The two plotters sat down on the bench.
Minako crossed her legs and leaned on her knees, "OK, the way I see this, we should have a fairly easy time with this, 'cuz none of the Tenohs know what you look like- "
Michiru interrupted her, "Not true - Kenjo does." At Minako's confused look, Michiru added, "He's her older brother. He was at the airport. He saw me."
Minako chewed on her lip, "Darn. Well, we'll just have to find a way to disguise you, then... I've got it!"
Michiru looked suspicious, "Got what?"
"How we'll disguise you! This is gonna be perfect! Come on," she grabbed Michiru's arm and dragged the suddenly unwilling girl out of the mall.
Usagi turned her face into Mamoru's arm, shaking. Mamoru smiled down at his beloved and wrapped his arms around her. He spoke gently, so as not to startle her, "Usako. It's OK, there's nothing to be afraid of."
She shook her head against his shoulder, and he squeezed her a little closer to him, "I promise you, Maleficent won't hurt you." She stuck her tongue out at him, then cuddled a little closer, "I still think she's scary - she reminds me of Beryl."
Mamoru laughed silently and kissed the top of Usagi's head, right between the two odango, "Oh, my odango atama... It's just a cartoon. But, you know I'll always keep you safe." Usagi smiled up at him, "Mamo-chan..." They leaned towards each other, waiting for the kiss, when the doorbell rang. Usagi shrieked - more from startlement than fear. When she had peeled herself off the ceiling, Usagi got up and stomped towards the door. "Whoever that is they're gonna get a piece of my mind! Of all the nerve! Now who could it- " she opened the door, then finished anticlimactically, " -be?"
Minako burst in and gave her a hug, "Hi Usagi-chan! Great job with that youma, by the way - you really gave him the old one-three!"
Mamoru walked up and put a hand around Usagi's shoulders, "Don't you mean 'the old one-two', Minako-chan?"
She blushed, "Oh yeah, that too."
Usagi tried not to be impatient - she wanted to get back to 'Sleeping Beauty', even if the witch did scare her. But, Minako was her friend... "Was there something you needed Minako-chan?" she asked.
Minako blushed, "Wellll... yeah. You see, I told this producer guy that I'd do some appearances for the new Sailor V movie that's coming out, but I have a little problem. I seem to have misplaced my old Sailor V transformation brooch... Don't laugh!"
Usagi slapped a hand to her mouth to try to smother the escaping giggles. Minako frowned, "Anyway, I can't show up as Sailor Venus - no one would get it. So, I was wondering if maybe I could borrow the Transformation Pen? Just until I'm done with the promotions? Please???"
Usagi looked up at Mamoru, this was something serious and she wanted his opinion. He shrugged, "I don't see how it could do any harm..."
Luna piped up from her perch on the window, "I'm not altogether happy with you using your Senshi equipment for personal gain, Minako."
Minako tossed a vile glare her way, "I'm not! I'm using it to help all those unfortunate little kids who so desperately need a role model!" Silently, she added, And for Haruka and Michiru - who are so desperately in need of help. This is a noble cause Luna, I just can't tell you. Gomen.
Usagi smiled at her, "Well, I can't see how it could do any harm, either - but we should make sure that it'll still work for another Senshi." She pulled the Pen out of her interdimensional pocket and handed it to Minako, "If you want to be able to use your powers, you might want to become Sailor Venus first."
Minako smiled, "Right." She pulled out her henshin stick and yelled, "Venus Power, make up!" At Mamoru's quizzical look, she said, "My old Venus powers match my Sailor V powers more closely than any of my other transformations." He nodded and Usagi handed over the Pen. Usagi said, "Now say, 'Moon Power', then whatever you want to become, then 'ni nare'. Got it?" Venus nodded, "Moon Power 'Sailor V' ni nare!" Within seconds Sailor V proudly flashed them a 'V-for-victory'. She then hugged her friend, "Arigato, Usagi!"
Usagi was surprised when she found tears on Minako's face. She patted her friend's back soothingly, "No problem, Minako. Any time. Just make sure that you return it when you're done."
"I will, Usagi-chan. Domo arigato," with that last, Minako detransformed and left, stowing both pens in her interdimensional pocket. Artemis met her outside Usagi's apartment, "Now what was that supposed to accomplish, Minako-chan? You didn't really lose your old equipment, did you?"
Minako held her arms out for Artemis to jump up, "It's not for me Artemis - you should know that. It's for Michiru, so she can get into Haruka's house without raising her family's suspicions." Artemis let his head droop onto Minako's waiting arm, "I just hope you know what you're doing Minako-chan."
Minako sighed, sounding more serious than she ever had, "So do I, Artemis. So do I."
Michiru anxiously paced the confines of Minako's small apartment. She knew that lying to the Princess and taking the Transformation Pen was wrong - incredibly wrong. But as her heart had done with each new twist of Minako's plan, it allowed her to go along with this one. She was ashamed that when all was said and done, she was so weak. She sat down in the overstuffed armchair by the fireplace and put her knees up to her chin.
Waking slowly to pain. Muscles stretched to their limits, trying to hold my shaking body together. Feeling my arms pressed into a cushiony prison. Opening my eyes, looking up. Eudial! Haruka... No! Knowing, the only way to save Haruka was to sacrifice myself. Pulling at the bonds holding me tight, desperate to reach my partner. Seeing the walls open. Arrows - Pain! Falling, hearing Haruka yelling at me not to move. I'm sorry, beloved. Rising, putting one foot forward.
No! Those arrows again. Falling to the floor, scrabbling to hold air in my lungs. Rising again, they'll never take you Haruka - not while I live. Strength - one last bit of strength. Eudial brings the gun to bare on me - I laugh. Me? A pure heart. Right. Walking forward, barely reaching Eudial, falling again. Feeling a horrible pulling sensation, seeing my heart crystal forcibly yanked from my body. Haruka, screaming my name, anguish in her voice. I'm sorry, beloved. Turning my eyes, looking - what? A Talisman. Mentally laughing - A Talisman. That's funny Neptune, absolutely hysterical. Nothing.
Was that strength? It's been so long, I've almost forgotten. Was that strength, or merely weakness of a different kind? I was so afraid of losing my love, I didn't care what I sacrificed to let her live. So weak.
~Would you snap out of it, damn it??~
Michiru leapt from the chair, muscles tight and ready for battle. "Who's there? What do you want?"
Laughter. A form began to blur and swirl in the center of the room, slowly coalescing to form the shape of a man. A man holding a triton. "Who are you?"
The man looked offended, ~Do you not recognize the face of your god, child? You knew me well, once.~
Michiru's eyes went wide, "Neptune?" she whispered.
Neptune spread his arms wide, ~The one and only! Now, as I was saying, uh - oh dear what was I saying?~
He paused, slowly scratching his head, then snapped his fingers, ~Ah, yes. Now, I remember.~ He turned and pointed the triton at her, ~I have one message for you, Kaioh Michiru - Snap Out Of It! Having Uranus' Senshi lose her mind was bad enough, and we certainly can't afford to have you both go crazy!~ He lowered the triton and began to pace the room.
Michiru, getting over her initial fright, said, "Who's we?"
Neptune turned to her and frowned, ~Uranus and I. But that's not the point.~ He walked over to her and placed his left hand on her shoulder, ~Michiru, you are a wonderful person and a very skilled Senshi. You are brave, and always willing to help out a friend. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and you are not weak. Do you understand what I'm saying?~
Michiru looked up into her god's eyes - eyes of such a startling blue that they almost seemed to glow. Any of the 'absent-minded old man' attitude was gone from his face. She took a deep breath and nodded slowly, "I think I do." Inside, however, her mind was still in turmoil.
Neptune 'tsked' at her, ~All right, little Avatar, I can see I'm not getting through to you. Why don't we take a little trip, ne?~
Before Michiru could protest, Neptune had wrapped his arms around her and begun the teleport. She closed her eyes and hung on for dear life.
Neptune looked down at the young girl in his arms and sighed, Please let me be doing the right thing! She doesn't deserve such pain. He held her closer and kissed the top of her head lightly, ~Michiru. We're here. You can open your eyes, now.~ She did so, and stared around in wonder. "Where are we?"
Neptune let her step away from him, ~Your home. The planet Neptune.~
Michiru's brow came together, "But this place should be nothing but ruins!"
Neptune chuckled, ~In another thousand years, it will be. I've brought us back in time - to the Silver Millenium. There are things you need to see, and here is the only place you can see them.~ A group of young men walked into the courtyard and Michiru gasped, ~Don't worry, little one - they can't see or hear us. We can only observe.~
"Who are they?" Michiru asked.
Neptune stepped up beside her, ~You tell me.~
Michiru glanced up at him and said, "But, I don't remember the Silver Millennium - none of the Senshi do. Well, except Setsuna, that is. All I ever had were brief flashes."
Neptune placed a hand on her head, No wonder she doubts so thoroughly - with no memory of her strength, she can not truly rely on it. I have to give her her memory back.
~Michiru, little Neptune, do you trust me?~ She swallowed and nodded. Neptune closed his eyes and focused downward. He saw Michiru's memories laid out before him. For the most part, they were arranged in a very orderly fashion, but here and there a jumbled pile had occurred - spaces of her life that had strong emotional overtones. He flew deeper into her mind, seeking one particular memory closet that she may have missed. I was right. He found it - the image that presented itself to him was of a closed door - a huge pile of jumbled memories in front of it - the memories of the past couple of months.
Neptune rolled up his mental sleeves and began 'reshelving' Michiru's most recent memories, trying to clear the strong emotions associated with most and tying them together. Once finished, he threw open the door - and just barely avoided being buried alive by the pile that came tumbling out at him. He yelped and dove out of Michiru's mind.
He found Michiru out cold on the ground. He lifted her into his lap and swore, Damn! I knew I should have been more careful - I could have killed her, unloading all of those memories onto her at once. He entered her mind once again - and was amazed at what he saw. The memories which had tumbled out of the closet were neatly stacking themselves on empty shelves interspersed with all the others - never exactly mingling, but no longer apart. Surprisingly, with the old memories back in place, the jumble of Michiru's other memories began to loosen as well. It would be a long time before they were shelved with the others, but the process had been started. Neptune withdrew from Michiru's mind once again.
She blinked groggily up at him, "Neptune?"
He smiled, ~It's me, little one. How do you feel?~
She climbed slowly to her feet, "Like an avalanche just buried me. What did you do to me?"
Neptune smiled, I don't believe that this actually worked. She doesn't even notice. ~I released the block on your memories. Now, look at that group of young men and tell me who you see.~
Michiru peered at the group of young nobles and frowned in concentration. "I don't know most of them, but... There! The one with the green tint to his hair. He looks familiar."
Neptune put a hand on her shoulder, ~I'll help you out - your mind hasn't sorted all the memories yet. The young man is Dolfyn, your younger brother.~
Michiru raised an eyebrow, "Dolphin?"
Neptune shrugged, ~I wasn't there at his naming, I have no idea what went into that one. Your family always was a strange bunch. Now, watch.~
One of the young men had pushed Dolfyn up against a wall. The others were jeering at him. He was trying to fight, but the others were bigger and had the advantage of being in a crowd. Michiru watched with growing anxiety, she felt she should know what was going on here. Suddenly, there was a yell from the other side of the courtyard.
"You leave that boy alone! Only bullies and cowards gang up on people. In the name of the Royal House Uranus, I will make you pay!"
Michiru almost giggled, "Haruka!"
Neptune laughed, ~I see you remember the event.~
"I do, now," Michiru answered. She'd come in at the tag end of the problem. Haruka had later told her what happened, but she'd never seen for herself. She watched as a long-haired Haruka (clothed in a full dress, no less!) took on the entire mob of unruly teenagers. Dolfyn stared on in horror for a moment before joining her in the center of the melee. When both had acquired enough bruises to make anyone wince in pain, the second interruption occurred.
"Hold!" The fighters froze in their places - most of them recognized the voice. A slim figure, clad in a workout unitard of seafoam green, crossed the courtyard. Her sea-green hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Michiru watched as her old self stared down each and every one of the youths, "What have you to say for yourselves?"
Most of the young men swallowed convulsively and started stammering out apologies. "Enough!" Michiru yelled. "I don't want to hear excuses. Dolfyn, what happened here?" Hesitatingly, the boy complied. When he was finished, Michiru turned to the Princess of Uranus and smiled, "I and the Royal House of Neptune owe you a debt of gratitude, Princess Haruka. Please, dine with us tonight." Haruka nodded, looking somewhat tongue-tied.
Michiru turned to the rest of the crowd, "If I ever hear of a repeat performance, you will all forfeit your rights as visitors to this Palace. Is that understood? In the meantime, I will settle for the lack of your presence. If I see any of you before a fortnight from now, it will be your necks on the block. Got it?" she asked sweetly.
The young men nodded and ran for their lives.
Michiru turned to Neptune, "I remember, now. Haruka wasn't a Senshi, then. She became one after this."
Neptune nodded, ~Yes, and it was you who discovered that she was the Senshi of Uranus. And it was you who began her training.~
"I trained Haruka?" was the incredulous response.
~Well, as a Senshi, yes. And to fight in a team, yes. She knew more about the physical fighting arts than you did, so in that she trained you. But, you taught her how to integrate her knowledge with her powers and the other Senshi.~
"I think I know what you wanted me to see here," Michiru walked away from her god, straining for one last glimpse of Haruka. She turned to face Neptune, "You wanted to show me that I need to rely on my judgment and trust my strength, right?"
Neptune walked over to his Avatar, ~Partially, yes. The real problem with you Senshi is that while you remember some of the past, you don't have the feeling of having lived it. It's more like a story that someone told you - something that they say you did. So, you don't have the intimate knowledge of these events as if they happened in the present. In the past, you trusted yourself more because events occurred that gave you that trust in yourself and your instincts. You built that strength brick by brick. In the present, the only foundation you stand on is one of stories a wall of playing cards, not bricks. And when push came to shove, it didn't hold you up - or Haruka.~
Michiru nodded, "So you brought me back here, because...?"
~To show you that that wall of playing cards, doesn't have to be so. It can be brick, if you let it be. You can rely on that strength - and those instincts. And me,~ Neptune held out his arms to Michiru. She raised her eyes to meet his, and stepped into his arms. The air around them shimmered, and when Michiru stepped away from her god, she was clad in her Senshi uniform.
"I understand, Neptune. I do. Domo arigato," she bowed.
Neptune smiled, ~And if you ever feel you need help or additional strength, call on me. I will always be here to support you, if you need me.~ Taking Michiru's hands in his own, he brought them back to Minako's apartment.
~Never fear that your cause is just, Michiru - little Neptune. Haruka needs you. And Love, that is the most just cause of all.~ His form began to waver, and Michiru smiled.
"Arigato, Neptune, domo arigato," she said.
Neptune had one last thing to say, ~Oh, and Michiru, one little favor...~
Michiru raised an eyebrow, "Yes?"
~Call me Poseidon - you always used to,~ with that last message, he disappeared completely.
Michiru looked down at her uniform and laughed, "No problem." She detransformed and sat down by the fire, feeling more at peace than she had since that awful day.
She heard a small click and turned her head to the front door. A moment later, the door swung open. Michiru got up to greet her accomplice, "Mina-chan! How'd it go? Did you get it?"
Minako looked up at her in confusion, "Mina? Where'd that one come from?"
Michiru's eyes widened slightly, Where did that come from? And just as quickly, she knew - it had been her pet name for the younger Senshi in the Silver Millennium. Sailor Venus had been like a younger sister to her back then. I didn't even realize that I had called her that. I think I'd better be careful with what I say now that I have most of my memory back - I might let something slip that has no basis in the here and now. She smiled and shrugged.
Minako decided to let it slide, "Oh well. And before you ask again..." she pulled the Transformation Pen out of her interdimensional pocket and held it out to Michiru, "I did indeed get it." She paused a moment for Michiru to praise her for her powers of persuasion.
Michiru said merely, "Arigato, Minako," and walked back over to the fire.
Artemis jumped down from Minako's shoulder and padded over to the armchair, "Michiru-san, I think we need to talk about this. The Transformation Pen isn't really yours, and we need- "
Michiru cut him off, "My cause is just, Artemis. I have that on very good authority. I'm Haruka's only hope, Artemis," she turned to him, "Surely you see that." Artemis bowed his head, unhappily agreeing.
He looked up to meet Michiru's eyes, "I repeat what I said to Minako, I just hope you know what you're doing, Michiru-san."
Michiru smiled down at him, a strange glow behind her eyes, "I do, Artemis. I truly do. For the first time in 1000 years, I know what I'm doing." She raised the Transformation Pen high over her head and yelled, "Moon Power 'black-haired Home Care Nurse' ni nare!" and in a flash of light, she was.
Minako looked over her white-clad, raven-haired figure as Michiru did a slow twirl. Minako gave her a thumbs up, "You'll do." Michiru giggled, her heart already fluttering in her chest. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a slim piece of paper, "Work orders, and a license to practice." She held them out to Minako.
Minako looked over the fakes and smiled at Michiru, "Thought of everything, didn't you?" Michiru sobered up, "I can't afford to screw up. Haruka's life depends on it."
Minako nodded, "So, do we need anything else?"
Michiru shook her head, "I just need to convince the Tenohs to let me into their house. They may not take this intrusion lightly."
Minako gave her a hug, "It has to work, Michiru-san. It just has to." Artemis jumped onto Michiru shoulder to rub his cheek against hers, "And it will Michiru - just believe in yourself."
Michiru reached up to give Artemis a pat, "I will, Artemis. We'll have Sailor Uranus back before you know it." Giving Minako one last squeeze, Michiru left the apartment.
Once outside, she straightened her skirt and set off briskly for the nearest bus stop. Next stop - Haruka.
Madori stepped back to admire her handiwork. She patted her daughter's hair, making sure it was all in place. The one good thing about the past few months was that Haruka's hair had grown like wildfire - in just a few short months it had grown to the bottom of her shoulder blades. It was long enough to French braid. And with her hair up in that style, Haruka looked every inch like she had when she'd left home - just with shorter hair. But with the way it's been growing, it'll be back to its old length in no time.
Setting the brush on the night table, Madori smoothed a lock of hair out of Haruka's face. Haruka's eyes still stared straight ahead, not taking in anything. Madori felt a lump form in her throat, My poor baby. My first little girl. Why must this family be so sundered? For the first time in six years, Madori wished she hadn't moved her family out of her parents' home. She could have used her sister's support right about now.
She rose off the bed and walked out into the living room, arms wrapped tightly around herself. Reika was in her room working on a paper, and Karata was at work. She needed someone to talk to. She reached for the phone to call her sister, when the doorbell rang. Now who could that be? Quickly wiping her eyes, Madori ran to open the door.
A young woman, who looked to be about Haruka's age, was standing in the doorway. She had waist length, jet-black hair, pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Her nurse's uniform was a gleaming white. She looked up from where she'd been examining the flowers and smiled at Madori.
Madori smiled hesitantly back, "Can I help you?"
The young woman smiled, "No, but I think I can help you, Tenoh- san. My name is Tomoe Hotaru, and I'm a Home Care Nurse. I've been sent to see if I can't help with your daughter."
Madori frowned, "I requested no such help..."
Tomoe-san smiled, "Yes, I know. We received a phone call from a woman who said she was a friend of your family. She said that though you were taking wonderful care of your daughter, that she might benefit from some professional help. I am a certified RN," she held out her license, "And I have a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology," mentally, Michiru asked Neptune to forgive her the lies - though in terms of Haruka's psychology, Michiru was a master. She finished, "I would like to try to help Haruka."
Madori looked into that youthful, smiling face and felt her resolve waver. When her gaze drifted to the young woman's eyes, she saw such compassion that it made her heart melt. And warring with the woman's youth, her eyes seemed to bespeak a great age and experience. Slowly, she nodded, "Won't you come in, Tomoe-san?"
The woman smiled, "I would like that, arigato. And please, call me Hotaru."
Madori shook her hand and smiled, "Then you must call me Madori, Hotaru-san."
Michiru felt her heart soar with that handshake, and sent up a heartfelt prayer to her god, I convinced her mother, now I just need to convince the rest of the family.
As Michiru was exchanging her shoes for slippers, Reika slowly emerged from her room. She eyed the young woman warily. What is this stranger doing in my house? She barely listened as her mother introduced them. She was too busy examining the too-cheerful nurse in front of her. She was barely conscious of Kenjo reaching his hand forward from behind to shake the woman's hand. She could feel his disapproval, though. It fairly radiated from him.
Kenjo and her mother walked into the kitchen to talk. The nurse caught Reika's gaze. Reika found herself trapped in those aquamarine eyes. She felt like she was falling into them - the age and sadness in those pools of green nearly sucked her in. All the while she heard an echo in her thoughts, "You will have one chance to help her back to reality - and it will not be your gentle hand that performs this miracle."
The woman nodded, and in that strange, echo-filled world between them, Reika caught a glimpse of a woman. A woman with olive skin, and long, dark green tresses. She shook herself abruptly out of the half trance she'd fallen into. She stared at the raven-haired woman. "How did you know?" she whispered.
Hotaru spoke softly, so as not to be overheard, "Her name is Setsuna. She sent me." Reika nodded, "I think I understand. I don't like it, but I understand. I'll help you all I can, Tomoe-san." The woman gave her a brilliant smile. Kenjo and Madori walked back into the room and time resumed its normal pace.
Kenjo was still frowning, "With all due respect, Tomoe-san, I don't see why we need a stranger so concerned with our affairs."
Before the young woman could speak, Reika piped up, "I think it's a good idea, Kenjo-oniisan. I mean, obviously we haven't been able to help Haruka on our own, maybe she can. Why can't we swallow our pride a bit? Tomoe-san is more trained than we to handle this sort of thing."
Madori stared at her daughter, she'd been sure she was going to get another argument from her - not this full support. She spoke slowly, "Hotaru-san will stay the day with us and join us for supper, tonight. We will discuss it with your father then." She turned to the young nurse and motioned for her to come closer, "You will want to meet my daughter." The young woman nodded and followed.
Michiru's heart was beating so hard that she was surprised that Haruka's mother couldn't hear it. I'm going to see her - Haruka, my beloved. I'm coming. It took me four months to get here, but I'm here. Just hang in there a little longer. Madori pushed open a door at the end of the hall, while explaining the situation to Michiru.
Michiru didn't hear a word of it. She only had eyes for one thing - Haruka. After four months of waiting, of hoping and praying, begging and pleading - there she was. Sitting in front of her, alive. She only barely avoided rushing to her side that instant. Her mind took in the details and filed them for later reference - the long, French-braided hair, the too thin body, the bags under her eyes. But for now, she saw none of it - Haruka still looked beautiful to her, and she wanted to weep with joy.
Madori watched Hotaru as she opened the door to her daughter's room. When she first saw Haruka, it almost looked as if she might run, but she stood fast. Madori hurried to say, "I know she must look a fright, she doesn't eat much. And she won't talk, or anything..." she trailed off when she realized that she no longer had Hotaru's attention.
She was staring at Haruka, and Madori couldn't even begin to name all the emotions that she saw swimming in Hotaru's eyes. But looking into that rapt gaze, she was sure of one thing - whoever this woman was, and whyever she was here... she loved Haruka. Madori backed away, not quite sure of how to react to this unexpected revelation, How can you love someone you've never met? She left Hotaru in the doorway of Haruka's room, feeling a need to give her some privacy. "I'll come back in a little while."
Michiru heard the words and came back to herself enough to nod and thank Haruka's mother. When Madori had left, she approached Haruka's bed and the empty-eyed waif that was her beloved. She sat down and reached out a hand to touch Haruka's cheek. Haruka closed her eyes and leaned her head into Michiru's touch. Michiru felt tears come to her eyes, She's half-mad, and barely conscious, yet still she knows me.
She took Haruka into her arms, lightly embracing her. Haruka's head dropped to her shoulder as Michiru stroked her back, "I'm here, Haruka, I'm here. I won't let you down. It's going to be OK. I love you."
She lightly kissed the top of Haruka's head, then pulled away from her to stare into her eyes. They were still blank. We've got a long way to go. Haruka resumed her slow rocking.
Slowly, painfully slowly, consciousness began to return. She didn't want it to. Didn't want to go back to the world. It hurt there - that much she remembered. But those words, "I love you." They were a siren song that aimed straight for her heart. She didn't yet know who had spoken them, or why, or where. But she knew that someone out there loved her. It was a tenuous connection, a shaky one at best, but it called her. Reluctantly, the cocoon of unawareness began to dissolve. Only a little, for it would take some time for it to dissolve completely. But for the first time, its occupant began actively trying to help the process. Tenoh Haruka began to awaken.
Madori tried to focus on the vegetable she was cutting, but even she had to admit that it wasn't working. Sighing, she put the knife down and rested her hands on the counter top. Who is Tomoe Hotaru? I admit, I could use help to take care of my daughter, but who is this woman? Why is it that I feel so ready to take her into my home? She raised a hand to her eyes and rubbed them, tiredly. I can't do this alone, and she so obviously wants to help. Maybe that's all it is. She looked at the phone, wanting to call someone. Someone she could ask for advice. She looked away from the phone, not wanting to admit to herself that she couldn't make this decision without help. She went back to chopping vegetables.
Reika walked into the room and sat down on a chair, "Need help, Mother?"
Madori turned to her daughter and smiled, "If you'd like. Why don't you cut up the carrots?" Thank goodness for Reika-chan. I don't know what I'd do without her. She leaned over and pulled her daughter into a hug, "Thank you."
Reika returned the hug, "I know how hard this is for you. All of it. But, if it's any consolation, I think you're doing the right thing. I really think Tomoe-san can help Haruka. I don't know why, but I'm sure of it."
Madori pulled away from her child, "I thought that of everyone here, you'd be most likely to object. I must admit to being confused." She certainly hadn't expected the advice she needed to come from her 18 year old daughter. She settled back to listen to the explanation.
Reika frowned, "I don't really know why I trust her. I just do. I mean, what harm could it do? She is licensed. The worst that could happen is that Haruka will stay the same. But at least we'll know that we tried."
Madori slowly nodded, "That makes a great deal of sense, Reika. A great deal of sense. I must think about this. Why don't you see if they need anything, hmm?" Reika nodded and walked out of the kitchen.
Madori turned her eyes upwards, "Ancestors help me. I hope I'm doing the right thing. Now how do I convince Karata when I'm not even sure myself?"
Reika walked up the hallway to Haruka's room. She heard a soft sounds, like rushing waters. She hastened her steps. Peeking into the room, she saw that the soft sound was nothing more than Hotaru talking to Haruka. She breathed a sigh of relief, unsure of what she thought she'd find. Hotaru heard the sound and turned around, startlement on her face.
Reika stared down at Hotaru's hand, then spoke softly, "You got her to eat?" She ignored Hotaru's nod, if she hadn't been sure that she was right before, she sure was now. Getting Haruka to eat was always a fight and a half. Whoever this woman was, she had gotten Haruka to eat with no problem. She hung her head, finally admitting defeat. "I know you can help her, Tomoe-san. And I thank you for what you are doing. I will do my best to convince my father for you."
When she looked up, Hotaru's face wore a dazzling smile. There were tears in her eyes, "Domo arigato, Reika-san."
For just a moment, Reika saw another image superimposed over Hotaru's body. A woman with sea-green hair in what could only be described as a Sailor Senshi's fuku. She opened her mouth to say something, then shut it. She didn't need any more people thinking she was crazy because she saw visions. She called it her "Truesight", and what it was trying to tell her this time - she had no idea. She shook her head to clear it of the image. Hotaru frowned and Reika hastened to reassure her, "There is no need for you to thank me, Hotaru-san. I should be thanking you."
Hotaru smiled again, and nodded, "You are a very sensitive and caring person, Reika-san. I can see that. Your sister would be proud."
Reika swallowed a lump in her throat, thinking of another sister who would have been proud, "Yes, well, thanks." She stared at her slippers for a while, then looked back up, "My father should be getting home soon, so you should finish up, here. OK?"
Hotaru nodded and placed the fork back on the tray. Picking up the tray, she indicated that Reika should precede her from the room. Reika led her to the kitchen and showed her where to put the tray. Reika's mother looked up from where she was putting food into serving dishes, "Reika, Tomoe-san, arigato. Would you two please set the table?"
Hotaru smiled, "I'd be happy to help."
Reika got the plates and silverware from the cupboard and the two set the table. Just about then, Reika's father came home. Reika ran to him and threw her arms around him, "Father!" He hugged her back, "Well, someone's happy to see me, ne? What's all the fuss about?" He noticed Hotaru standing quietly by the table, "And who's your friend?"
Reika sighed, "It's a long story, papa. A very long story. Can it wait 'til after supper?" He nodded and walked over to the table.
"Madori-chan? Is dinner ready?" he asked into the kitchen.
In response, Madori brought out a tray of food, "Once I've gotten Haruka to eat something, I'll come back and bring out dinner."
Hotaru held a hand up, "Why don't you let me do that? That way you can eat your dinner while it's still hot."
Madori tried to say something, but Hotaru continued, "I ate a fairly late lunch, so I'm not really very hungry."
Reika slipped over to Madori's side and put a hand on her arm. She whispered, "And it will be easier to talk to Father and Kenjo if she isn't here." Madori slowly nodded and handed over the tray. Hotaru took it and slipped down the hall to Haruka's room.
At this point, Karata was silently fuming, "Someone want to tell me what's going on?"
Madori led him to his chair and brought out dinner. When they were all settled, she began, "It's rather complicated, but I'll do my best, Karata-kun..."
Michiru fed her beloved another spoonful of soup while desperately trying to hear what was going on in the other room. She put the bowl of soup down and picked up a fork, spearing a piece of broccoli. She tried to give it to Haruka, but Haruka turned her face away. The movement brought Michiru's full attention to the present situation. "Haruka?"
Haruka had gone back to not moving. Michiru raised the fork and again, Haruka turned her head away. Michiru pleaded with her, "Please, Haruka, you have to eat. Please, love - you need to get your strength back. You have to eat."
Haruka mumbled something. Michiru dropped the fork in shock. She put her hands on Haruka's shoulders and stared into her eyes, "Did you say something, Haruka?"
Haruka mumbled a little more clearly this time, "Don' like broccoli."
Michiru grabbed her into a hug, laughing and crying at the same time, "That's right! How could I forget? I'm sorry, beloved. I promise - no more broccoli." When she pulled away from Haruka, her heart dropped into her stomach. Haruka was once more staring into space, totally unresponsive. Michiru wanted to scream in frustration, but bit her lip on it. I'll fix you yet, Tenoh Haruka. You'll see.
The being who was Haruka felt a strong irritation. There were too many confusing thoughts trying to fight their way through her brain. There was someone outside who was important, but she didn't know why. She knew that the Other cared about her, and she thought that she cared about the Other. She didn't want the Other to go away. So, to keep her there, she ate. But when her nose identified something that she knew she shouldn't like, she fought through the fog to communicate it to the Other. After several tries, she discovered something that made her soar with elation inside her trapped thoughts - speech. She could tell the Other that she didn't like the identified smell. But the effort exhausted her, and after her small breakthrough into the outside world, Haruka collapsed back into the fog.
Michiru finished feeding Haruka her dinner - carefully avoiding the broccoli. Shortly afterwards, Madori and Karata walked in. Karata frowned at her, "She ate?"
Michiru nodded, "Yes. She did. But, I don't think she liked the broccoli - every time I tried to give it to her, she turned her head away."
Madori smiled, "She's never liked broccoli much. Even as a child."
Karata turned to Michiru, "I have decided to let you stay on a trial basis. Both my wife and my daughter seem to think that you can help Haruka, so for her sake, I'm willing to take a chance. But understand that this is a trial basis only. If I don't see some improvement within a few weeks, then I will reevaluate my decision."
Michiru nodded, "I understand."
Karata smiled, "Good. I'll expect a report of your progress every few days."
Madori frowned at her husband's back as he left, then turned back to the woman perched on the edge of Haruka's bed, "He means well, Hotaru-san. He really does. It's just that he's as confused about this as the rest of us."
Michiru smiled, "I understand, Madori-san, and I thank you. Arigato." So that's where you got the attitude, love. Your father.
Madori smiled back, "You can get her ready for bed whenever you like. And there is leftover food in the kitchen. I'm keeping it warm on the stove for you - take whatever you like."
Michiru nodded. Madori spoke again, "I'll set up a cot for you in Haruka's room. That way you can be close to her if she needs something."
The look of pure gratitude in Michiru's eyes was the only thing Madori needed to convince her she was doing the right thing. She left to go get the cot.
Michiru turned back to Haruka who was staring after her mother, her eyes blank. Her mouth worked for a moment, then closed. Michiru took her hand into both of her own, "Take it slowly, love. Try. What do you want to say?"
Haruka's eyes closed, and her mouth worked again, but all that came out was a small sound of frustration. When her eyes opened again, they held a haunted, pained look. Michiru reached a hand up to stroke a lock of hair away from Haruka's face, "It's OK. When you're ready to tell me, you will. I can wait." She kissed Haruka lightly on the forehead, then leaned back. Haruka's eyes still held that haunted look. Michiru helped her into her bedclothes and tucked her into her blankets, "Sleep well, my love."
Several weeks passed with much the same routine, Michiru woke at 7:00 to help Haruka to the bathroom, then into her clothes. She then got herself ready for the day and went into the kitchen to get Haruka's breakfast from her mother. Reika would be in the dining room with her father, discussing the things she planned to do that day. Karata would be sitting at the head of the table eating and reading his newspaper.
Michiru would take Haruka's food to her and help her eat - she could almost do it on her own by this point. She hadn't spoken since that night when she'd made her stunning revelation about the broccoli. Michiru kept waiting for it to happen, but it never did. After breakfast, Michiru helped Haruka take a bath and get dressed. Then she would brush Haruka's hair and French braid it. Then throughout the day, she would try to get Haruka to do things - take a walk outside, watch a movie, draw a picture. She read to her, sang to her, begged, pleaded, and cajoled, but other than an increasing awareness of the world around her, Haruka showed no other signs of improvement. No communication.
Michiru could feel Poseidon's irritation, and through him, she could feel Uranus' growing desperation with the situation. She did her best to hurry. And all this while, Karata's words hung over her like a death sentence. She hurried as fast as she could.
One day, when they were walking in the park, Michiru sensed a youma nearby. Swearing silently, she led Haruka to a nearby tree and told her firmly to stay there. Haruka was trying to say something, but it wouldn't come out. Her eyes glazed with pain and frustration. She settled back against the tree with great reluctance. Michiru dropped the illusion from around her frame and grabbed her henshin wand, "Neptune Planet Power, make up!"
The youma stepped into the clearing and Sailor Neptune sized him up. The youma of their latest enemy seemed to come in three varieties - the masters, the soldiers, and the weak ones that seemed to be some kind of scouts. Sailor Neptune sent up a prayer of thanks to Poseidon when she saw that this youma was one of the latter. One Deep Submerge took care of it. She detransformed and ran back to Haruka, not bothering with the illusion for now.
Haruka's eyes were shining with elation. Michiru put her hands on Haruka's shoulders and asked, "Haruka?"
Haruka smiled and offered her two words like a gift, "World Shaking."
Michiru began to cry.
After that day, Haruka improved rapidly. The incantation of her attack seemed to have opened some sort of floodgate in her mind. Her sentences were halting, stumbling, and simple. And she never spoke in front of her family - only Michiru. It was as if she didn't want her family to know that she was getting better. Michiru felt like banging her head against a wall. Haruka could be extremely stubborn at times. Like right now.
"Haruka, we have to go shopping - don't be so stubborn. If we're going to go out, you need clothing other than sweatsuits!"
Haruka was sitting on her bed with her arms crossed, glaring at Michiru, "Don't like Shopping!"
Michiru put a hand to her head and rubbed her temples, "I know you don't like shopping, love, but you need clothes!"
Haruka turned her head away, "Then you go shopping!"
Reika choose that moment to walk in, "Hey Hotaru, are you talking to someone?" She looked over at her onee-san to find her staring at the hallway in horror. She immediately rushed to Haruka's side, "What's the matter? Is something wrong?" Haruka turned solemn eyes on her sister and shook her head.
Reika turned to Hotaru and raised an eyebrow, "Trying to take her shopping?"
Hotaru let out a snort, "About to give up on trying to take her shopping. She needs clothes, but she's so darn stubborn!"
Reika laughed, "That's 'cause you don't know the trick."
Hotaru frowned, "What trick?"
Reika sat down next to her sister, "Haruka, you remember the racetrack near the shopping mall? We can go watch the races after you get some clothes decent enough to wear."
Haruka's eyes lit up and she jumped to her feet. She was at the front door and into her jacket faster than the other two could get down the hall. She ran back and grabbed them each by a sleeve and started dragging them towards the door. Even thin as she was, Haruka was still awfully strong. Hotaru and Reika dug in their heels and tried to slow Haruka's mad dash to the door. Hotaru finally said, "Haruka! We need our jackets!"
Haruka stopped, let them go and frowned at them, impatiently. She crossed her arms and made a face. Hotaru laughed, "That's some trick - I'll have to remember that." Reika giggled at her as she handed her her jacket, "Mom's the one that figured that one out, from what I hear - I think Haruka was 12 at the time."
Finally getting out to the car, Hotaru strapped Haruka into the front seat and got into the driver's seat. She felt eyes on her and turned to look at Haruka. She had that look in her eyes that meant she was desperately trying to work something out in her mind. Something that she should know, but couldn't remember. Hotaru smiled and squeezed her hand, an idea slowly forming in her mind. She revved the engine and eased her car out of the driveway.
Turning left at the corner, she rolled down the windows and hit the gas. Reika protested from the backseat, "This isn't the way to get to the mall!"
Hotaru laughed, "I have something better in mind. You'll see!"
When they finally reached their destination, Reika was frowning, "The amusement park? I don't get it."
Haruka was also frowning in confusion, but there was a trust in her eyes that wasn't in Reika's. Hotaru smiled, "Just trust me. You gave me an idea earlier - I want to see if it'll work." She helped Haruka out of the car and held her hand. If she remembered correctly, the place should be practically empty at this time of the day - everyone was at the beach. She led the two sisters through the gates and paid for their tickets. After a bit of searching, she found what she was looking for - the race cars.
Haruka was still looking confused, but her eyes were starting to shine with an inner fire. An excitement that she hadn't shown since she spoke Uranus' attack phrase to a bewildered Kaioh Michiru. Hotaru turned to Reika, "I'll sit in her car with her - you can get one of your own. OK?" Reika slowly nodded, "But I'm still not sure what you expect to accomplish."
Hotaru explained, "Tenoh Haruka is an international racing star. I thought maybe that if she could experience some semblance of racing, it might trigger something." And she might finally remember who I am. She knows me, but she calls me Hotaru. I don't think I can take that ambiguity much longer. Please, Poseidon, let this work!
She handed her ticket to the man working the cars and strapped Haruka into the driver's seat of one, then climbed in next to her. She figured that they'd be pretty safe - these cars ran on tracks, after all. She turned to explain the wheel and pedals to her, but Haruka gave her a fierce smile, turned to clash eyes with her sister, and slammed her foot down on the gas.
Michiru laughed with joy. Haruka turned her head at the noise and wrinkled her nose. Just over the roar of the mini-engine she spoke, "I like fast!" Michiru laughed and patted her knee, "I thought you might."
When they crossed the finish line, Michiru turned to look for Reika - she was nowhere in sight. She laughed, No contest. The ticket man was looking bewildered. He mumbled, "I didn't know that those things could go that fast!" Haruka shared a silent smile with Michiru, and whispered, "He never had me drive one before." Michiru put a hand over her mouth to try to prevent the giggles, "I guess not." The young man gave them a token to come back for free. Michiru took it and thanked him, then walked Haruka over to the bench to wait for Reika.
Haruka was still flushed from excitement, "Can we do that again?"
Michiru gave her a hug, "Sometime, Haruka - but now we really do have to go shopping."
Haruka's face assumed a pout, but in her elation over the race, she couldn't hold it. She mumbled, "Oh, alright."
Reika walked over and smiled, "Now I see why she's an international racing star. We going shopping, now?" Michiru nodded and led them out of the park.
The Master youma frowned at the scout kneeling at his feet, "You're certain of this."
The Scout nodded its head vigorously, "Neptune and Uranus - but we only saw Neptune transform. I'm pretty sure the other one is Uranus, though. From all the intelligence reports, they're never apart from each other. And she had the mental signature of a Senshi."
The Master nodded as he thought about this new development, Seperated from the other Senshi as they are, they're vulnerable. I can't waste this opportunity. He fingered a small seashell that hung around his neck, Yes, this should do quite nicely... He removed the seashell from his neck and turned back to the Scout, "Go summon one of our Soldiers. We'll take care of these two right now."
The Scout smiled, evilly and ran to do his Master's bidding.
When Michiru pulled her car into the driveway, she felt something wrong. She put a hand into her purse and felt for the Aqua Mirror, summoning a vision in her mind as she did so. It was startlingly clear - there was a youma in the backyard. She got out of the car and looked over at Reika and Haruka on the other side. She turned to Reika, "Don't leave this car - there's a youma here. When it's taken care of, I'll call you out."
She pulled out her henshin wand as she dropped the illusion. She didn't notice Haruka's eyes following her every move, memorizing every detail. She yelled, "Neptune Planet Power, make up!" She ran into the backyard.
To her horror, she found Haruka's remaining family backed into a corner by a soldier youma, I can't fight this thing myself! But I don't dare call the others. She swallowed, and took a deep breath, "Hey, ugly!" The youma turned her way and raised an eyebrow. Well, I got its attention... "I am Sailor Neptune, Sailor Warrior of the Sea! You are attacking innocent people- "
The youma interrupted, voice dripping with sarcasm, "You noticed."
Neptune flushed and continued, "I will not let you continue!"
"You're gonna stop me?" the youma began to laugh.
Neptune felt her anger growing and fanned the flames, "Deep Submerge!" To her horror, she saw that the attack hadn't even scratched the thing! The Soldier laughed, "That tickled! Now it's my turn." He aimed a blast of power in Neptune's direction. When she slammed into the wall of the house, Neptune could've sworn she heard something crunch, Uh-oh. She turned her head and saw Haruka staring at her - eyes full of pain. Reika was tugging on her sister's arm, fear ablaze on her features. Neptune got up and pulled out the Aqua Mirror.
She turned back to the youma and yelled, "Submarine Reflection!" Again the youma laughed as Neptune screamed in frustration. Then she noticed something hanging from the thing's belt. At first glance it looked like a simple seashell. Then she looked closer. Her eyes went wide. A Sea Marker. He got a hold of one of Poseidon's personal markers. Neptune was now ready to cry, No wonder my powers can't hurt him! Poseidon can't supply power to attack someone with one of his markers. She looked back up at the youma, seeing her death in his eyes. She pulled out her communicator to call the others - it would be too late for her, but at least they might be able to stop this thing. I'm sorry, beloved.
Before she could turn on her communicator, the youma blasted her again. She ended up crashing into Haruka, taking her down, too. Haruka's eyes were blazing now - full of fire, pain, and rage. She gently kissed Neptune's forehead and settled her on the floor. Concentrating on remembering what Neptune had done, Haruka reached for her henshin wand.
When she held it in her hand, she stared at it, not quite sure what to do next. An ancient voice in her head yelled, ~Transform you little twerp! Hold it up and say, "Uranus Planet Power, make up!" Hurry you ninny!~ Haruka finally recognized the voice that had been pestering her for months - her god. Uranus. She raised the henshin wand over her head and spoke, "Uranus Planet Power, make up!"
With her transformation, her mind unlocked itself. As her fuku formed around her body, Uranus screamed. The deluge of memories was too much. When the transformation was complete, she felt tears leaking down her cheeks. She looked down at Michiru - her beloved, How could I have forgotten you? She knelt down and kissed Michiru softly on the lips, gathering her broken body close, "I'm so sorry, beloved, my Michiru."
Michiru's eyes were shining, "Go get 'em, tiger."
Haruka nodded and settled Michiru back onto the grass. She looked down at her fuku, now covered with her partner's blood. She stood slowly and raised her eyes to meet the youma's. She said conversationally, "You are dead, you know." The youma laughed, but faced with the look in this Senshi's eyes, the Soldier felt the first stirrings of fear that he'd ever felt. He took a step back.
Uranus pulled out the Space Sword and ran towards the youma, "Space Sword Blaster!" The youma screamed in pain as the Talisman ripped a ragged line from his right shoulder to his left hip. Uranus turned back around and put away her Sword. She held up a hand and smiled at the youma, "Give Hades my regards, you bastard." Then opening her hand wide, Uranus yelled, "World Shaking!!!" The youma had time for only one last scream.
When it was done, Uranus detransformed and walked over to Michiru. Her transformation had melted away - no strength to support it. She lifted her beloved's broken body into her arms and cradled her close, tears once again streaming down her face, So much pain. Does it never stop? A mist collected in between Haruka and her family. Two shapes formed out of the mist. Haruka recognized one. She lifted her tear-stained face to her god, "Uranus."
He nodded and gestured at the other god, ~Neptune.~
Haruka nodded and turned to Neptune. He held out his hands to take his Avatar, ~May I?~ Haruka felt a moment's panic, not wanting to let go of her love. But seeing the equally pained look in Neptune's eyes, she silently handed her over. She whispered, "You love her, don't you?"
Neptune spoke equally quietly, ~I always have, Haruka. But you need her, and she needs you. I have no right to come between you. I'll just have to settle for good friend and occasional shoulder.~ Haruka smiled, grateful. Neptune let his power fill the yard. When he was finished, he let Michiru back down to the ground. She took a few tottering steps, then fell into Haruka's arms. When they tightened around her, she sobbed in relief.
Haruka rested her cheek on Michiru's sea-green curls, "Beloved."
Michiru buried her face into Haruka's new shirt and seemed to be trying to bury herself in Haruka's arms. Haruka gently tilted her head up to look into her eyes. She lifted a hand to stroke Michiru's cheek, then bent her head for a long, slow kiss. When they parted, Haruka whispered, "I'll never leave you again, Michiru. I swear it. Never again." Michiru nodded, still too choked up to speak.
Someone cleared their throat, the two lovers turned towards the noise, frowns of anger formed on both their faces. Karata blushed, "Sorry, guys. But I'm a little confused. Hotaru is Sailor Neptune and Haruka is Sailor Uranus? Did everyone see that?"
Haruka's eyes narrowed, "No. Hotaru is Sailor Saturn. Michiru is Sailor Neptune."
Kenjo frowned, "But this young lady here said her name was Tomoe Hotaru. And wasn't your hair black?"
Michiru looked like she wanted to run, but Haruka's arm tightened around her shoulders. She looked up at her love. Haruka raised one eyebrow. Michiru blushed, "Yes?" Haruka queried, "Tomoe Hotaru?" Michiru nodded, "It was the only alias I could think of on such short notice!" To her consternation, Haruka threw back her head and laughed. Michiru stepped away from her, "It isn't funny."
Haruka controlled her laughter just enough to say, "Oh yes it is."
Michiru crossed her arms, "Why?"
Haruka looked up at her brother, "Because my dear onii-san has once again proved himself to be the baka moron that I've always thought he could be given half a chance." Kenjo opened his mouth to say something, but Haruka cut him off, "Remember on the plane when I told you that Michiru and I had adopted a daughter? The one whose father died? And remember how I told you that her name was Tomoe Hotaru?" Kenjo's eyes widened and he slapped his head.
Reika stepped up beside her brother, "Well, how did you expect him to remember?? It's been like 6 months, for crying out loud!"
Haruka abruptly stopped laughing. Her eyes showed her shock, "Six months?" she whispered. Michiru stepped over and wrapped her arms around Haruka, "Yes."
Haruka swallowed a lump in her throat, "I missed her birthday. Hotaru's birthday." It suddenly seemed the most important thing in the world - the most evil tragedy. Michiru rested her head against Haruka's shoulder, "She'll understand, Haruka. She always does." Haruka nodded, still not quite convinced. Abruptly she whipped around and dropped into a fighting stance - she'd seen a flash of light out of the corner of her eye.
A warm chuckle sounded from the tree a few feet away. As Haruka looked up to see who was there, a small, black-haired bowling ball slammed into her, knocking her down. She landed hard on the ground and moaned, "Ouch."
She looked up to see Hotaru straddling her waist, "Haruka-papa!!" The imp reached forward to grab Haruka in a choke-hold hug. Haruka returned the hug with every ounce of strength left in her arms, "Easy, Hotaru-chan. It's OK. I'm here." She felt a tingle down all of her limbs and looked down at her daughter, "Hotaru-chan?"
Hotaru looked up and frowned at Haruka, "You had cuts and stuff."
Haruka smiled and kissed the top of Hotaru's head, then put her down. She stood up slowly, "Thank you, Hotaru-chan." She smiled, then scampered over to the other visitor.
Reika yelled, "You! You're the one that came to the house!"
Setsuna nodded, "I was. Don't complain - wasn't I right?"
Reika nodded, miserably. Setsuna smiled and opened her arms. Haruka stepped up and lightly embraced her friend, "Thank you, my friend. I know what you risked to help me." Setsuna patted her back, "Let's just say that I know what it's like to be in that kind of situation." Haruka leaned back to look into her friend's eyes - eyes that always seemed to reflect the weight of her responsibility and age. Until that moment, Haruka had never noticed the age-old pain that companioned that weight.
Setsuna tugged Haruka's waist-length French braid and smiled, "But that's a story for another time."
Haruka's eyes had gone wide when she felt the tug. She immediately stepped away from Setsuna and whipped her braid around to the front. She held the thick rope of braid in her hand like it was some kind of dead rodent. Her face held such a look of disgust on it that Michiru and Setsuna broke into giggles. She exclaimed, "EWW!!!" then suddenly sheepish she added, "Anyone got any scissors?" The rest of the Outer Senshi stared at her in shock. Michiru was the one who said it, "Get her!" Haruka "eeped" and ran out of the backyard, Hotaru, Setsuna, and Michiru hot on her heels.