*Wipes sweat off brow* Well, it's about time I got one finished... *Pauses to contemplate what she just said* Goodness gracious! I finished a fic!!! *Jumps around the room, cheering and whooping for joy* I think that this is the very first fic that I've ever finished... Wow... *Finally pulls herself out of her momentary shock to write the disclaimer*
Well, I'm glad that you all stuck with me until the end of this fic - I'm sorry it took so long to finish the Epilogue. See, I took a little detour into Fushigi Yuugi land, and kind of forgot to come back... *blush* But, I got this major guilt trip and starting working on my Sailor Moon fics again. I haven't forgotten them and I do intend to finish them all! Just thought I'd get that out of the way... ^_^
Also, people have been asking about certain fics, and I'm sorry it's taking me a while to get parts out. The truth is, I just don't have as much time to write as I used to. I work 9-5 in my professor's lab, doing research, and that eats up a lot of time - and if it isn't that, I am a full time college student. I write when I can, but that isn't as often as I'd like to - or as often as you'd like me to... I'm sorry for the holdup on everything, I really am.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me, they belong to Naoko Takeuchi-sama and all the other wonderful people that own Sailor Moon. Please don't sue me.
Don't forget to e-mail me and tell me what you thought!
Haruka stepped out of her racecar and waved her hand at the crowd. The cheering went up another notch. She grinned and pulled off her helmet. She swore when her waist-length French braid got caught in the straps. Irritably tucking the helmet under her arm, Haruka marched off the racecourse to claim her trophy. When she heard the volume of the cheers increase, she smiled - it was good to be racing on home soil. It was good to be racing again, period. She bowed to the judge and gave the crowd a salute, then ran off the course, congratulating the other drivers as she went. They all waved at her, smiling and giving her good-natured thumbs up as she went. Even though there had been some mild cursing her name when she returned to the racing circuit, most of her fellow drivers had been quietly relieved when she made her comeback.
Just before she made it to the safety of the locker room, Haruka was intercepted. There was a quiet, reserved clapping sound to her right, and she slowly turned her head to look. What she saw made her smile. The Other stepped up to her, wrapping her arms around Haruka's waist and leaning up for a slow, intimate kiss. Deep blue eyes turned up to meet her own green ones. Michiru gave her a sensual smile, "Congratulations, beloved."
Haruka held her lover close to her heart, inhaling the scent that permeated her being - clear, sweet ocean air. She smiled and said huskily, "You doubted me?"
Michiru laughed as she began to disentangle Haruka's braid from her racing helmet, "Never, my love, never." When the braid refused to give, Michiru's eyes took on a frustrated look. She muttered, "Maybe you should cut it..."
Haruka laughed as she settled back against the wall to watch the green-haired musician work. She tilted her head to the side, as if thinking it over, "You know, I've actually been getting used to it..."
Michiru gave her a sour look, then a brilliant smile as the braid suddenly came loose of her partner's helmet. Solemnly handing the helmet to Haruka, she wrapped an arm around her waist and they began walking to the locker room. She rested her head against Haruka's shoulder, content to just be in her company. It had been a trying time for both of them, these last two months. Haruka's astonishing recovery had not been without it's drawbacks. Michiru leaned a little closer to her partner. How many times had she been awakened by Haruka's nightmares? How often in the past two months had she had minor relapses? How long would it be until Haruka was completely well? These questions plagued her mind, unwilling to let her go. Haruka's family had been reservedly supportive, but never quite approving - especially not once they realized who "Tomoe Hotaru" really was. They had been unhappy to say the least. She gave a little sigh.
Haruka heard it and inquired, "What's the matter, Michiru?"
Michiru leaned her head back to look at Haruka, not wanting to tell her what she had just been thinking about - no need to depress her any more than she already was. She temporized, "Just wondering when we can rejoin the rest of the Senshi, Haruka. They need us, you know."
Haruka's face paled a bit, but she kept her comments to herself. She didn't say anything for the rest of the walk, nor when she showered, or got dressed. Nothing on the way out to the car. She turned the key in the ignition and smiled ferociously. Turning to Michiru, she said, "OK, Michiru - let's go home!"
Michiru laughed as Haruka roared the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. On the drive home they joked around, laughing about things that hadn't seemed funny in far too long. Michiru's heart soared - this was what she had missed - the little moments of laughter, of normalcy. Haruka sensed how content she was, and brightened in response - until she began to think of their younger counterparts. Michiru turned at the sudden silence and raised an eyebrow, "Love?"
Haruka shook her head as she turned off the highway onto a smaller road in Juuban, "What do we tell the Inner Senshi? I've been gone for eight months, you've been gone for at least four. How do we explain that?"
Michiru made a face, "We may need to be more creative than you think. The story that Setsuna and I spread out was that you were on a racing tour, but Mamoru, Minako, and Artemis know what really happened. Usagi suspected, and I'm not really sure what Setsuna told her."
Haruka winced, "Oh great. So, Luna, Ami, Rei, and Makoto are the only ones that don't know anything? Great Uranus, Michiru, why did you even bother trying to keep this a secret?"
Michiru could hear the pain in Haruka's voice, so she ignored the hurtful words. Haruka hated to appear weak - especially in front of the Inner Senshi. Under that pain was fear, fear of being coddled, or treated differently because of a "fragility". She hated the look of sympathy that she got from people because she was a girl - getting sympathy because she'd lost her sanity for 3/4 of a year wouldn't sit well, either. Michiru put a hand on Haruka's knee and tried to sooth her partner. "It'll be OK, Haruka. You'll see." They spent the rest of the drive in silence.
Usagi was ready to throw her books against the wall. She'd been staring at her chemistry homework for about an hour and hadn't gotten anywhere. She stood up and walked into the kitchen, OK, Usagi. Pull yourself together - you handled Calculus for crying out loud! Chemistry should be a breeze! She yanked open the refrigerator, got out the ice tea, and slowly poured herself a glass. Think, Usagi. What did you do when you had trouble in Calculus? Asked Ami for help! Ice tea forgotten on the counter, Usagi ran to the phone to call her friend, but was stopped by the doorbell. She altered her course and went to the call box. She pressed the button, "Konnichi wa. May I help you?"
A very masculine voice answered her query, "Hello, Usako! Hope we're not interrupting anything..."
Usagi shrieked and bounded down the stairs to let her visitors in. She threw the door open and ran straight in the arms of the taller one, "Haruka-san!!! You're back!!!" Her heart was pounding as she squeezed the life out of her friend, "It's so good to see you! I've missed you - both of you." With that, she let go of Haruka and turned to give Michiru a more sedate embrace. Then the excitement was back in her eyes and she started to drag them up the stairs, "Oh, you've got to see what I've done with my apartment! I redecorated! It's so classic! You're going to love it. Just wait 'til you see it!"
Haruka turned to Michiru and gave her a bemused smile which Michiru answered with a giggle. Usagi continued to babble all the way up the stairs and into her apartment. Once there, she proceeded to point out every little change in the place since they'd been there last. Haruka watched the territorial gleam in her eye with amusement - her little odango atama had grown up.
"...and that's everything! So what do you think?" Usagi finished.
Haruka smiled and patted her shoulder, "It's wonderful, Usako. I can see you're taking really good care of the place. Being on your own has really matured you."
Usagi beamed from the praise, "I'm glad you like it. I wanted to ask your opinion when I did it, but you weren't here. How was your visit to your family?"
Haruka could feel the color drain out of her face. She whispered, "What?"
Usagi pretended not to notice as she walked into the kitchen to put the ice tea away, "Your visit to your family - that's where Setsuna-san said you were." She turned and raised an eyebrow, a royal command in her eyes, "Was she mistaken?"
Haruka slowly sat down on the couch and put her head in her hands, "No, Usako. I was with my family - though I wouldn't exactly call it 'visiting my family'. Not nearly as pleasant as that."
Michiru and Usagi sat down on either side of her to lend comfort. Usagi said simply, "Tell me."
Haruka gave a short little laugh, "You want the long version or the short version?"
Usagi looked over at Michiru, who shrugged. Usagi looked into Haruka's haunted eyes and compromised, "Whatever you're most comfortable telling me."
Haruka stared at the wall, as if it could take this burden from her. When it failed to do so, she began, "When I was coming home from America, I discovered that my onii-san and my younger imouto were on the same flight..."
When she finished her story, she expected Usagi to recoil from her in horror. Her friend was silent. Suddenly, Haruka felt Usagi press close to her in a brief hug, and she could ~feel~ Usagi's sorrow - sorrow for her, pain for her. She heard Michiru gasp after Usagi had released her, and she turned to stare at Usagi - no, at the Moon Princess. Serenity was sitting beside the Outer Senshi, tears in her eyes, and the ginzuishou in her hand. Michiru felt a sudden pang of guilt when she remembered the Transformation Pen in her interdimensional pocket. Serenity gave them a wry smile as she looked down at herself, "Sorry - you aren't the only one who's changed somewhat. This transformation is getting harder and harder to control. Sometimes it just happens." She shrugged, resigned to the fact. She returned her attention to the ginzuishou and said quietly, "I can try to Heal you..."
Haruka shook her head, "No, Usako - Serenity. This is something I have to deal with on my own." At Michiru's disapproving look, she amended her statement, "Something I have to deal with - with help from my friends. But it's my pain to carry, it's part of who I am now. Much as I hate to admit it."
Serenity smiled at her friends and kissed Haruka lightly on the cheek, "Whatever you need, my friend - you know that you need but to ask?" At Haruka's nod, Serenity gave her another brilliant smile, "Good. Then that is enough."
Michiru looked around the apartment for another topic of conversation - she found one. "Uh - Serenity? Is that your textbook?" She had pointed at a book that was lying crumpled on the floor next to a wall. The speed with which Serenity became Tsukino Usagi startled both the Outer Senshi. A slow blush spread across Usagi's face, "Well... I just don't understand chemistry..."
Rei looked around the shrine's courtyard and sighed. Everyone would be arriving soon for another meeting. Each meeting seemed more useless than the last. They were undermanned and the enemy was winning. She attacked the floor with a few vicious swipes of her broom, as if that would make the problem go away. With half of the Outer Senshi missing, and the other half unreliable in a fight, the Inner Senshi had been facing the enemy mostly on their own. Not that it was Hotaru and Setsuna's fault. Setsuna was a very busy woman - what with guarding the Gates of Time and all, and Hotaru was still a child, unable to fully control the power of Saturn until she could grow up again.
Rei started to move around the courtyard, sweeping up the dead leaves along with the dirt. Autumn had just begun, and the leaves were just starting to fall off the trees. The dead of winter was but a few months off. Rei couldn't help but shudder at that foreboding thought. For who knew when that Final Winter would settle over the Earth? That Winter which would freeze every living soul on the planet until Neo-Queen Serenity was able to end it.
Even Rei had to admit that Usagi was becoming more and more like her future self every day. Perhaps these people they were fighting now would be the ones to cause the prophecy of the Final Winter to come to pass... Rei shook her head as she moved to another spot. No, it wouldn't end that way - Rei wouldn't let it. Her friends deserved more than that. Rei sighed again. She wished that everyone would just get here. Maybe then they could come up with a plan that would work. Maybe then they could figure out a way to win. Maybe then, she wouldn't feel so damned depressed...
"Rei-san? May I speak with you a moment?"
Rei's eyes jerked up to meet a pair as green as her own. She took in the masculine figure, the jacket casually tossed over one shoulder, the sandy blond hair - which hung to the figure's waist in a braid of some sort, the deceivingly slender build, and dropped her broom with a little gasp, "Haruka-san!" At the Outer Senshi's smile, Rei felt a glimmer of hope begin to beat within her chest. She calmly walked over to Haruka and placed her hands on the taller woman's shoulders, "Haruka-san, you have no idea how much we've all missed you. Welcome back." She smiled.
Haruka stared up into Rei's eyes, a mixture of pain and relief warring in her own. Rei led her over to the temple steps to sit down. Something was wrong, she could tell. She waited for the older woman to speak. Haruka cleared her throat, but the words died on her tongue. She swallowed hard. Rei put a hand on her shoulder again, "I really am glad to see you, Haruka-san. Whatever you have to tell me - it can wait until you're ready."
Haruka shook her head, then blurted the words out in a rush, "I need to know what makes someone a bad person." She blushed, but continued, "What I mean is, if you have an ability, and chose not to use it and an innocent person gets hurt - does that make you a bad person? I thought that since you're a Priestess, you might know..." her voice trailed off.
Rei took a deep breath and mulled over her answer. Obviously this was leading somewhere - she just wished she knew where. And why ask me? Why not ask Michiru-san? Finally, she turned back to Haruka and put on the most serene face she could manage, "Well, I would say - it depends." Haruka stared at her, confusion plain to read on her features. Rei nodded, "It depends on why the person chose not to use their ability. If they wanted the innocent to get hurt, then yes, that would make them a bad person. But, if they were trying to help the innocent person, then that makes them good - even if they failed to help." When Haruka still looked confused, Rei elaborated, "OK, take Setsuna-san for example." Haruka's eyes widened, but she made no comment. "She has all this knowledge about how the future turns out - an ability, if you will. But she doesn't always use it. Sometimes innocent people, sometimes her close friends, get hurt as a result. But that doesn't make her a bad person. Does that make sense?"
Haruka's eyes had taken on a faraway look as Rei spoke and she nodded, "Yes, it does." Her eyes were full of gratitude as she smiled at Rei, "Thank you, Rei-san. That helped quite a bit." She gave a startled Rei a huge grin, "I know we haven't always been the best of friends, and I'm sorry for that. I never really meant to push you away."
Rei stared at the hand that Haruka had held out to her and smiled a little slow smile, feeling that small glimmer of hope grow into a heart-warming flame. She grasped Haruka's hand as she smiled, "Hai, Haruka-san. I'm sorry I treated you as badly as I did. I just had a little trouble accepting--"
Michiru interrupted, "Us?"
Rei grinned up at the self-satisfied look on Michiru's face. So that's where she is... Aloud she said, "Hai, Michiru-san. And I'll readily admit that I still find the idea a little hard to swallow, but I think that I can see past it, now, ne?"
Michiru laughed, "Then that's good enough for me." When Haruka stood up to greet the other two Outer Senshi, Michiru put a restraining hand on Rei's arm. Rei's eyes met her, questioning, as she thought of all the small signals of "something wrong" that Haruka had been sending off. Michiru looked over at Haruka before turning back to Rei, "Arigato, Rei-san. She's been needing to hear that, and she wasn't believing it coming from me. Coming from you, a person that she didn't always get along with, it had more of a ring of truth. Thank you." She gave Rei a little bow. At Rei's curious look, Michiru shook her head, "We're going to wait until everyone else gets here, then explain to everyone at once."
Once everyone had arrived and gotten over the abrupt return of their missing teammates, Usagi turned to Haruka, "Do you think you're ready for this?"
Haruka gave a short, bitter laugh, "No. But I need to do it anyway. You all need to know what happened, where I've been these eight months. It isn't fair of me to keep you in the dark." She stared around at the circle of Senshi. Mamoru and Minako were giving her quiet looks of encouragement - they knew most of the story and were merely awaiting details. Minako gave her a quickly hidden "V-for-Victory" sign and winked. The presence of the Outer Senshi at her back was quietly comforting. Even Rei had a supportive look on her face.
She was surprised when the one who interrupted her halfway through the story was Michiru. She had just gotten to the point where Michiru showed up at her parents' house. When she saw what Michiru was doing, she gave her a genuine smile. Michiru had reached into her interdimensional pocket and pulled out the Transformation Pen. Her cheeks were aflame as she handed it to Usagi. Usagi smiled and shook her finger at Minako, who also blushed. Usagi giggled as she stowed the pen away. In light of Haruka's confessions of the day before, she had guessed Minako's reasons for wanting to borrow the Pen, but had said nothing, figuring that Michiru would return it when she was ready. She again motioned for Haruka to continue.
As her story came to a close, Haruka took one more look at all the faces around the circle. Each one wore a nearly identical expression. Not pity, not disgust, not horror. Support. An eagerness to help, but a willingness to step back and not interfere. A lump formed in her throat as she stared at her friends, her teammates. A single tear tracked its way down her face as she finally let go of her imouto's ghost. Two more words escaped her lips, and they were all that needed to be said...