Title: Intermingled Gazes
Disclaimer: All original characters belong to me. Haruka, Michiru and the show all belong to Naoko Takeuchi. The story contains implied love between two women, so if such things offend you, read something else.
Author's Notes: Alternate universe. Haruka/Michiru/Usagi story. Takes place in the future (pick a year). Although not required, a healthy suspension of belief is encouraged.This is also my first Sailor Moon fic but please don't let that scare you away.
The room's sole occupant sat in the high backed leather chair, leaning slightly forward with his chin resting on the palm of one hand. His face was lit by the fireplace to his right which crackled from time to time as the dry wood was consumed in the cheery blaze that tried its level best to spread its warmth to the rest of the room.
But the room remained obstinately drafty, indifferent to the fire as it always had before and would probably always remain. The man seemed not to notice the cool, dry air that seemed to come out of nowhere to ruffle some papers on a small desk to his left as he stared intensely into space, his mind far from the temperate war going on around him.
His steel gray eyes immediately snapped to attention though as they focused on the door as it hesitantly swung open with the slightest creak. Aside from his eyes, not a part of him moved to acknowledge the figure now standing uncertainly at the entrance.
The shock of unruly, blond hair with green eyes that held an intensity in their own right graced the gangly features of the fourteen year old as she continued to stand with one hand on the doorknob as if ready to bolt at the slightest provocation. She couldn't be called feminine in any way, shape or form of the word. If one were to quickly glance at her, the overriding impression left in one's mind would be that of a young man on the cusp of adulthood. Her attire didn't give her true gender away either as she favored pants and dress shirts to frilly skirts with ruffles. She stood now, clothed in black pants and a simple white shirt that hung elegantly on her already tall frame. Naturally lithe and athletic, she carried herself with a graceful air rarely displayed by one so young.
"Father, you wished to see me?" The question seemed to die towards the end, its speaker cowed by the unwavering stare of the seated man.
After a brief pause that seemed like agonizing minutes, a slight hand signal granted her permission to walk fully into the room, her Father's private study --- the one room in the whole house that she considered off limits.
"Haruka," her Father began, the name rumbling off his tongue like a command. "You're going to America in two days. Pack your bags."
The abrupt pronouncement left her in a state of muted shock as she stared into her Father's eyes, hoping to find some sort of explanation in their grey depths. "Why?" She finally asked, allowing a note of strained desperation to run through that one simple word.
Her Father continued to stare, his gaze unrelenting, his demeanor set. "You'll be staying with your aunt," he said, ignoring her question and finally averting his eyes, fixing them instead on the roaring fire.
The rest of her questions were left strangled in her throat as she gave a last lingering glance towards him before spinning on her heels and walking out the door. If her Father wanted her to leave then she would. If he wanted her to leave and go a half a world away to 'America' she thought, mentally spatting the word out, then she would do that as well. Her hands involuntarily curled up into fists, not so much at the impending trip but at the abrupt way in which her Father had told her about it and then dismissed her afterwards without so much as a parting glance.
She walked through the lengthy hallways, her mind still preoccupied by angry, half formed emotions that boiled and festered just below the surface, refusing to unhook its grip from her chaotic thoughts.
What had she done wrong, she wondered as she wandered into her room like a tired refugee and promptly flopped onto the bed to stare blankly up at the ceiling. Did her Father detest her so much that he would need an entire ocean to separate them? In the back of her mind, a voice loudly screamed 'yes' in answer to the unspoken question. She shuddered as she closed her eyes, willing the voice to be quiet but it refused her plea. Your Father can't even stand the sight of you, it said, its imaginary tone filled with scorn. Were you really that surprised that he wants to send you away?
Her whole life she had tried to please her Father, to eek out even the barest hint of a smile or a kind word from his mouth. But it always seemed like nothing she did was good enough --- that *she* was never good enough. Even from her earliest childhood memories, her Father's often cold, disapproving stare still echoed clearly in her mind. If she thought about it, nothing much had changed. Aside from the fact that he was gone more and more often on business trips, her life remained unchanged in its monotony. Wake up, go to school, inevitably get in a fight with various boys who had a problem with the way she dressed, get back home, wait for dinner, sleep and then start the whole routine all over again.
Her Father never said anything about the bruises or the torn and muddy clothing she sometimes came home in. Sometimes, she would wonder if he thought she was a freak too like so many of the other kids in her school. But he never said anything so what was she to think? Boys clothes were what she was brought up wearing --- what she was comfortable wearing. They suited her more in a fight than a delicate dress could ever afford. Of course, she probably wouldn't get into so many fights if she were just to wear a dress but the point was moot, at least in her mind.
Getting up slowly, she walked with heavy steps to her closet, lugging out the suitcase from the back and blowing off the fine layer of fine dust that had collected on its surface from disuse. Even if her life here was in no way 'happy', the prospect of going off to face an entirely foreign land, a land she had never set foot on before nor wanted to for that matter, held absolutely no appeal either. She was to live with her aunt her Father had said. She vaguely remembered an aunt that had come to visit when she was not much older than six but aside from a flaming head of red hair, she couldn't recall much about the woman.
She spent a few minutes tossing in clothes haphazardly before slamming the lid closed with a finality that made her wince. She bit back a curse and a strong compulsion to slam the closet door shut, instead opting to close it firmly. There was nothing she would miss here, she thought bitterly to herself. This was a new start and she'd treat it as such. If her Father was so set on getting rid of her then so be it. Unbidden, tears started to mist over her eyes despite the harshness she tried to inject into her thoughts. Running a trembling hand through her soft hair, she wondered not for the first time if her Father didn't hate her.
The two days flew by in a rush and before she knew it, Haruka was standing on the deck of the ship that would take her to New York, suitcase held in a firm grip and eyes still on the car that held her Father as it slowly drove away. She was surprised he'd even deigned to see her off, not that he'd said two words to her the entire drive over. Not even to bid her good-bye as she got out of the car. Maybe he'd just wanted to make doubly sure that she was out of his hair once and for all.
Turning away from the sight of the laughing, cheering crowd standing on the docks sending the ship off, she muscled her way past the people leaning around the railings and walked towards the entrance that led down to the cabins. She'd never left England before, at least not that she recalled. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this --- to be cast off on her own, away from the country she'd called home for fourteen years to live with someone she barely even remembered.
She barely noticed the people she passed in the cramped hallways of the ship as she made her way towards her room, counting down the numbers printed on the doors until she finally stood in front of the right one. Her hand was barely on the doorknob when something ... no, make that *someone* bumped into her side, effectively knocking down her suitcase.
"Sorry," A small voice immediately said in apology as Haruka turned her head to stare down at the small child that had evidently just ran right into her. She looked down at a pair of large brown eyes that held a hint of fear as she backed away a step, her pigtails bobbing in time with her movements.
Before Haruka could open her mouth to say anything, someone ran up behind the kid, putting two hands reassuringly on her small, thin shoulders. Haruka looked up into a pair of enchantingly blue eyes that seemed to steal her breath as well as her thoughts away. Standing before her was a girl that seemed about the same age as she was, soft aqua green curls framing an angelic face, falling past delicate shoulders. Flawless skin that seemed to glow in the muted light of the corridor and a gentle smile curving the corners of a mouth that was moving.
Haruka mentally shook herself, finally becoming aware that this girl was speaking to her. "Wh - What?" She stuttered, wanting very much to slap herself right then for acting so stupidly. She started blushing, feeling even more out of sorts when the girl hid a chuckle behind one hand, studying her through her lashes.
"I said I'm sorry for my cousin," she repeated with a grin. "She gets ... rambunctious at times."
"It's all right," Haruka replied, bending down to right her suitcase, deftly moving aside as the little girl in questionran past her legs and up the hallway. Her cousin gave an apologetic glance as she started to go after the little tyke but Haruka held her back with a hand to the arm which she immediately retracted when the other girl turned to look at her questioningly. "Um, I don't even know your name," she said, trying desperately to think of something that would keep the green haired girl from leaving so quickly.
"Michiru Kaioh," the girl said with another grin that lit up her face.
"Haruka Tenoh," Haruka said faintly as she watched the girl give her one last glance before turning back once more to go after her cousin. She stood there for several more minutes, frozen to the spot before shaking out of her stupor to open the door to her cabin. Flicking on the lights, she took a quick look around the cramped interior before depositing her suitcase by the closed door before sitting on the bed. Her mind was still engrossed by her encounter with the beautiful green haired girl, so much so that a soft smile began forming on her face without her conscious knowledge.
Ruefully shaking her head, she laid back on the bed, staring up at the blank ceiling and let her thoughts flitter where they would. For some reason, all her thoughts seemed to lead back to Michiru --- not that she was begrudging that fact. It was certainly better than thinking about her future or the uncertainties surrounding it. Closing her eyes briefly, she idly wondered if she would run into the other girl again.
Another soft smile began playing at the corners of her mouth.
Michiru had finally managed to catch up with her boisterous cousin, delivering the little girl back to the capable hands of her mother. Much as she loved her little cousin, she could be a handful at times. Once that was done, she wandered up to the upper decks, going to stand at a railing as far away from the other people gathered there as possible. It wasn't that she was antisocial so much as she'd always felt most comfortable staring out at the deep blue ocean waters. It was her own personal private moment. One that she had never shared with anyone else before.
Communing with the ocean, she thought wryly to herself. That's what her mom had always called her peculiar habit of staring for endless hours out into the fathomless waters. Thinking about her mom brought a sad tinge to her eyes. It seemed like just yesterday that the two of them had been laughing and talking together. But now, there was nothing left of it but memories. Sweet ones that always managed to make her feel not so very much alone but memories were nonetheless still nothing compared to the real thing.
She blew out a soft sigh, wrapping her arms around herself as the wind picked up, blowing her dress gently behind her as if commiserating with her melancholy thoughts. She would've stayed there longer, letting the wind and the sea wash away her worries but it was already getting dark and she'd promised her aunt that she would meet her for dinner. Sparing one last yearning glance towards the dark waters she loved so much, Michiru smiled faintly before retiring back inside the ship to the dining hall.
The hall was busy by the time she came down ... and loud. Sounds of clattering plates and silverware, people talking, some boisterous, some subdued, she looked around and finally spotted her aunt and little cousin sitting in a far off corner. Making her way over, careful not to disturb anybody in the crowded room, a smile came to her face at the sight of her cousin shaking her head furiously at the proffered piece of broccoli her aunt was pushing towards her mouth.
"Aunt Mai," she called out in greeting as she came closer to their table.
"Michiru," her aunt said with a smile on her own face. "Come sit down. Maybe you can talk some sense into this stubborn child of mine who refuses to eat her vegetables."
"They're yucky," her cousin said, making a face and sticking her tongue out briefly before folding her tiny arms across her chest in defiance.
"Ami," Aunt Mai admonished with an exasperated frown. "Must we go through this every night?"
Ami didn't answer, her eyes were fixed in the direction of the door. Michiru turned her head around to see what had captivated her so and her eyes widened slightly as her gaze fell upon the lanky figure of the tall blonde boy from earlier. He stood there, looking with a detached air around the room, his eyes roaming across the tables until they happened to cross Michiru's own. Then the cool facade slipped ever so slightly only to be covered up a mere second later. But in that moment, Michiru thought she saw surprise and a frank joy light up those teal green eyes.
"Do you know him?" The question startled her as she turned back to her aunt who was observing her curiously.
She blushed under the gaze but recovered enough to say "We bumped into each other today."
"Well then, he looks like a nice enough young man ... and he doesn't seem to have anyone to sit with ... " A mischievous glint entered her aunt's eyes as she suddenly raised her hand, waving over the young man that her young charge had been unabashedly staring at. Haruka hesitated only a second before starting forward towards their table. His eyes were latched onto Michiru but as he came closer, he took in the rest of the table's occupants as well. Bowing slightly, he greeted them all, a tentative smile moving across his lips.
"Please join us," Aunt Mai said, gesturing to an empty seat next to Michiru.
Haruka sat down with an easy grace as the waiter finally came over to take their order. During the remainder of the meal, conversation flowed soothingly around and between them. Michiru found out with not a small bit of shock that Haruka was traveling all alone. When she voiced her concern, Haruka bit back a smirk and would only say that it was indeed a new experience for him.
"We're going to be staying in New York also," Aunt Mai said with delight when Haruka mentioned where he would be staying when they got to America. "We might even be neighbors."
Haruka looked up, his eyes flitting briefly to Michiru before smiling. "I would like that."
When dinner ended, Aunt Mai took little Ami back to their cabin despite protests by the five year old that she wanted to stay and play some more with Haruka and Michiru. "Don't stay up too late," Aunt Mai said with a knowing look on her face as she ushered her reluctant daughter down below.
Haruka turned with her own smile to look down at the green haired girl. "Do you want to walk around a bit?" She asked, running a hand nervously through soft blond locks.
"I'd like that," Michiru answered with a grin, trying to put her companion at ease. Haruka did have a very wonderful voice, she thought suddenly, giving him a sidelong glance as they walked slowly around the deck. Low, sensuous ... like a warm quilt you wrap around yourself on a cold winter's day. The thought caused her to chuckle a bit, drawing a questioning look from Haruka. "I was just thinking about something funny," she said by way of explanation. Haruka nodded uncertainly as they continued to walk in a comfortable silence.
They ended up at the part of the ship where Michiru had been standing earlier in the day and she drew in a contented sigh as she once again stared out into the inky dark waters of the sea.
"You like it here." It was more a statement than a question and Michiru nodded in agreement, her gaze still fixed ahead.
"I like the sea --- I always have." She paused a second, wondering how to explain the connection she felt. "It might sound strange but I've always felt linked to the water. It calls to me, comforts me ... sometimes, I think it *is* me."
"I know what you mean," the soft voice said next to her. She turned to see the contemplative look on Haruka's face as he stared out into the ocean, apparently lost in his own thoughts. He turned slowly to look down at her, a look of naked pain written in his expressive eyes.
"Haruka?" Michiru asked with a note of concern in her voice as she reached out a warm hand to grasp Haruka's own.
He looked back out to the sea again as if nothing had happened, continuing in a soft voice, "I was left home by myself alot. Sometimes, when I couldn't stand the silence anymore, I'd go up to the top of my roof and listen to the wind." He closed his eyes briefly as if the memories were too much to bear. "I know that as long as the wind blows, I won't ever be alone. So you see? Compared to me, you're not strange at all."
The two talked some more --- about inconsequential things, about private things, it really didn't matter because it seemed like the longer they spent in each other's company, the more comfortable they felt. So it was with apparent reluctance that Michiru finally took her leave of this boy who seemed so warm and distant at the same time.
"Will I see you for breakfast tomorrow?" She asked, turning back suddenly after taking a few steps away.
Haruka smiled as he leaned back against the railing. "I'll make sure to wake up on time."
Four days had passed.
They still didn't know, she thought, agonizing over the problem in her head. They still thought her a boy. Of course, Haruka had never done a thing to disabuse them of the lie and she started feeling guiltier with each passing day that it went on because she liked these people. And in Michiru's case ... well, liking wasn't an adequate word for the feelings she was starting to develop for this girl. And to continually put up a false front whenever they were together was putting a huge strain on her conscience.
Today, she thought grimly. Today she would tell Michiru the truth. Her friend deserved that much from her. Hopefully she wouldn't be that mad, Haruka thought, acquiring a sheepish expression on her face that was halfway between a wince and a grimace. Once again, she was in the familiar position of lying prone on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. It seemed that whenever things were going wrong, the first thing she'd do was stare unblinking at the roof of the room, wishing that it would disappear so she could see the sky --- eternally distant, timeless and unending.
So engrossed was she in her second favorite past time that she didn't hear the knock at her cabin door resulting in a catastrophic near fall off the bed in surprise when a mass of green curls peeked in through the partially opened doorway. More embarrassed than hurt, Haruka could feel her ears reddening as she watched the amused expression entering Michiru's face. Slowly getting back on her feet, she aimed a lopsided grin at her friend.
"Is that the usual way you greet your visitors?" Michiru teased.
Haruka's face reddened even more but she managed a convincing shake of her head as the other girl came closer, looking up into her face with a slightly playful expression. "Did you need anything?" She blurted out before the words could be properly filtered through her brain. At the risk of looking even more stupid, Haruka would have slapped herself on the forehead but Michiru's words were distracting enough to stay her hand.
"I wanted to see you ... before everything went hectic," she was saying, the playfulness in her eyes fast replaced by a growing wistfulness.
Haruka's eyes softened also, reminded of the fact that their time together was shrinking to less than a day. She didn't know why her Father had decided on a ship to get her to America and not some more expedient mode of travel but she was glad for the decision. If not for this one puzzling decision, she wouldn't have gotten to meet Michiru. She wouldn't have gotten to know this amazing girl that had so effortlessly brightened up her life by just being *her*.
"Let's go get some breakfast," Haruka said, abruptly changing the subject. Dwelling on it was only going to bring both their moods down further and that wasn't how she wanted to spend their remaining time together.
The rest of the day passed by much too fast and by late afternoon, they were pulling into dock. Much like the atmosphere when they'd departed from England, there was a crowd of people waiting on the boardwalk, many of them happy and boisterous as they waited for their loved ones to disembark. Haruka was standing off to the side, gazing sourly at the people leaning over the railings as if they were to blame for the pain in her chest. A delicate hand on her arm drew her attention and as she looked down at Michiru, most of the anger dissipated like so much smoke.
"You act as if we're never going to see each other again," the green haired beauty said, her tone light.
"We might not." The statement came out gruffly as she tried to hold back her emotions. "I don't even know where I'll end up when I get off this stupid boat," she said with a scowl.
Michiru paused thoughtfully as she studied the lanky figure in front of her who was starting to squirm under the attention. Finally, she shook her head, green curls bouncing softly on her shoulders. "You might not know where you'll end up Haruka but, this way, at least you'll know where I'll be."
Scrunching up her brow, Haruka was just about to utter a very confused "Huh?" when a piece of paper was thrust into her hands. Focusing on the words clearly written on the lined surface, she took a breath before looking back up at her friend.
"It's my address," Michiru said, the first notes of apprehension entering her voice as she studiously brought her hands behind her back to await a reaction.
Finally finding her tongue, Haruka sputtered, "Uh, thank you" before hurriedly shoving the paper into her pants' pocket as if this precious information would disappear if she showed any moment of delay.
Before they could say another word to one another, a loud chorus of cheers and whistles spontaneously erupted from the crowd. In their own private world, the two of them stood, entranced in each other's gaze before hurtling rudely back down to earth when Michiru's Aunt came and took her away. Haruka was left alone, a state in which she was usually accustomed but nevertheless, it still felt harsh in light of the close camaraderie she'd experienced in the recent days.
Snap out of it, you idiot, she thought, trying to shake out of her melancholy. Putting her mind how to disembark from the ship without being trampled in the process, she successfully made it off without the loss of life or limbs although someone did stomp on her toes. Limping to a safer distance away from the ship, she looked around, trying to spot red hair or someone that 'might' look familiar.
At the shout, Haruka whipped her head around, her eyes immediately focusing on the smaller woman rushing towards her. Mentally checking off the items on her list, her eyes ran over the figure. Red unruly hair, check. Tiny frame, check. The hint of freckles on her cheeks, check. Hideous sundress, check. Bone crushing hug ... check. She was let go only long enough for her aunt to check her over and comment on how much she'd grown before being crushed in another hug.
Not accustomed to such overt displays of physical affection, and experiencing it all at the same time no less, she didn't quite know how to react. Her arms hung limply at her sides as she debated on the pros and cons of hugging back. Before she could make up her mind either way, her aunt released her, this time for good although she did still keep a grip on her arms.
"Aunt Joy?" Haruka asked as if it could be anyone else.
Her aunt nodded with a wide grin on her face and Haruka couldn't help but think that her aunt's name really suited her well. As she collected herself enough to take in the woman's features, the first thing she focused on was the obvious delight exuding from her. She briefly wondered how that was possible since most members of the Tenoh family tree she'd met resembled her Father --- cold, aloof and taciturn.
But this woman ... this woman seemed to have sprouted from a different branch altogether. But her enthusiasm was infectious as a half grin started to form on Haruka's own face. Pulled towards a waiting car, her eyes widened slightly as she took in the smooth lines and soft curves of the blue beauty of a sport's car crouched on the pavement like some sinewy jungle cat about to pounce. The car was absolutely a work of art, she mused, her eyes roaming worshipfully from front to back.
Cars had always been an unabashed passion with her. A passion she'd never been able to fulfill to her satisfaction before because her Father had never allowed her to get a car, arguing that she was still too young for such a huge responsibility. So it was with envious eyes that she watched her aunt get into the driver's seat after motioning her to the passenger side. But if she couldn't drive it, riding in it wasn't such a bad consolation prize, she thought.
The leather of the bucket seat moulded to fit her body perfectly and she took a moment to revel in the soft contours before pulling the seatbelt across her chest. An actual shiver ran down her spine when the car roared to life, its engine turning into a soothing purr as it was put into drive. She was so preoccupied with taking every little thing in that she almost missed the question posed by her aunt.
"Pardon?" She asked, turning to look at Joy's profile. The wind whipped through her hair and she reached up a hand, brushing the stray strands away from her eyes.
"I asked how your trip was," Joy repeated simultaneously pressing down on the accelerator, making the car shoot forward, expertly weaving through the sparse traffic and pedestrians.
"It was fine," Haruka said distractedly as she watched the scenery fly by. This was her first glimpse of her new home and, truth be told, she wasn't very impressed. True, this was just a first impression but they counted for something, didn't they? An air of decay and washed out hope permeated the air. Warehouses, boarded up buildings, garbage piling up in the streets --- she took it all in and tried not to feel overwhelmed by this new situation she was thrust into.
Her aunt prattled on but she only listened with half an ear as she leaned back, letting the wind soothe her frazzled nerves. "Where are we going?" She asked, interrupting her aunt in the middle of a sentence as a sudden tightness in her chest made her remember that this was a very important question she needed to ask.
"We're just going into the city," her aunt said, flashing her a toothy grin before resuming what she was saying earlier without missing a beat.
The notes of the violin filled the small room as her fingers danced over the fingerboard, the bow in her other hand drawing forth the haunting melody from the instrument as it moved back and forth. Nothing in her life moved her so much, affected her so profoundly than this finely crafted piece of wood that she now held lovingly in her hand, she thought as the last sweet sounds faded into the air.
A brisk clapping at the door brought her eyes up to see her cousin Ami with a big grin on her face as she did her own version of a standing ovation before scampering out of the room. Smiling at her 'audience' of one, she put her violin carefully back in its case before putting that in its customary spot on the seat at the bay window.
Standing there, looking outside, a wistfulness entered her eyes, clouding them for a moment before she dragged her mind away from the much tread over thoughts. It was close to the first anniversary of her mother's death. It was only natural for her to feel out of sorts, she half muttered to herself. But her trip had been a respite from that, especially the return trip on the cruise. It had been good to laugh again, to truly enjoy herself.
She'd been against it at first when her aunt had suggested a vacation for them. If it were up to her, she'd have stayed home, hiding from the world in her room like she'd done for so many months already but her aunt's persistence finally won out and, in hindsight, it was probably the best thing that could've happened to her. She was taken away from all the gloom she'd purposefully wrapped around herself like a protective shawl and in so doing, found that life still existed outside these walls and if she were of a mind to, she could participate in it again.
Going downstairs into the living room, she sat down on the couch next to Ami who was utterly engrossed by the television screen, staring at the antics of some sort of fuzzy pink 3-D monster. Just watching its tireless jumping made Michiru queasy and she wondered how her cousin could stand the garish colors beaming into her eyes from the bright screen.
Suddenly, the obnoxiously cute children's program was interrupted, a blue screen flashing before the image of a news anchorman filled the screen. Looking with calm authority into the camera, he informed his audience that a state of emergency had been called and that a curfew would be enforced from 8:00 tonight to 6:00 tomorrow due to "unrest" in the downtown area. Abruptly after the announcement, the blue screen flashed again before the show resumed.
Neither one of the cousins blinked from their respective places on the couch for this was, if not a common occurrence, at least not a rare one. State of emergencies, curfews, and the like were par for course in this city where social and political stability were a virtual house of cards resting on top of a kinderbox. It seemed like the smallest flare could be the spark that led to all out violence and chaos but for the ordinary citizens living in this city, it was still business as usual.
Most were resigned to the situation by now anyway and had managed to convince themselves that nothing really bad would or could happen, adopting the 'if they can't see me, they can't hurt me' mentality with the ease of putting on a well worn jacket. Michiru glanced over at her little cousin and saw that the child was as engrossed as ever before by the images on the screen as if no interruption had taken place at all. Of course, her cousin had grown up most of her life in this perpetual state of unease so nothing so small as the governor calling a state of emergency could faze her.
Allowing her mind to wander where it would, Michiru inevitably thought back to the boy she'd met on the ship. A soft smile unconsciously touched her lips, thinking about the time they'd spent together. But she had to wonder why he hadn't contacted her yet --- not even a phone call. She thought up all sorts of excuses for why he hadn't called yet even as five days had passed and some of them, she had to admit, were downright outlandish. The simplest and probably the true reason was that he'd forgotten all about her but somehow, Michiru couldn't bring herself to believe that.
Haruka wasn't that type of person. She didn't know why she believed that so strongly but her emotions seemed to override her sensibility where he was concerned.
Haruka adjusted her tie, more for something to do with her hands than because of any real discomfort with the neckwear. She was dressed in the blue uniform of her new school. The fact that it was the boy's uniform didn't concern her. Actually, she had insisted on it, citing that her old school had allowed her the eccentricity. According to Joy, St. Mary's was one of the most exclusive prep schools in the city but she could have cared less as she stood in front of twenty pairs of curious eyes, waiting for the teacher to assign her a seat.
The old fart was taking forever to read a simple note written by the headmaster. All it said was that she was new here. You'd think he was trying to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls by the studious expression on his face. Finally, handing back the piece of paper, he pointed to a seat near a boy with dark hair, roguishly framing his face. She walked over, ignoring the smirk that had appeared on his face and sat down.
Casually taking a look around, she couldn't help but notice some of the expressions on the girls of the class. A frown creased her brows as she realized what it was that she found so familiar about their gazes. She'd often seen it before on the faces of the love struck --- only they'd never been turned towards her before. At least not that she remembered.
Frowning some more, she tried focusing on the open notebook in front of her but her mind was still mired in confusion. And she remained in that most uncomfortable of states till the very end of class when she quickly packed up all her books, hoping to make a quick getaway. But someone suddenly stepped in front of her path of escape, almost colliding into her before she regained her equilibrium.
"Hi," the brown haired girl exclaimed, looking up at her with a large grin. "Do you need anyone to show you around the school?"
"I'll show you around," another girl cut in, shoving the brunette aside as she looked at Haruka with an adoring expression. "It would be my pleasure."
Yet another girl came up, this one a blonde. As all three surrounded Haruka, arguing in progressively loud voices over which one of them would have the privilege of escorting the handsome new boy around, Haruka herself began to feel closed in. Fortunately someone snagged her arm, drawing her away from the circle that had formed around her. Looking up with a grateful look, Haruka saw that it was the boy who had sat next to her in class that had come to her rescue.
"Thank you," she whispered as the two of them walked out of the room, leaving behind the girls who were totally oblivious to the fact that their prize had just disappeared out the door.
The boy glanced at her, giving another smirk. "Same thing happened to me when I first came here," he said. "I only wish someone had helped me out that day." He shuddered suddenly. "I still have nightmares."
Haruka looked at him, not sure if he was joking or not but she chuckled anyway. She debated on whether to tell him that she wasn't really a boy but dismissed it cause it wasn't that important.
"My name's Manny by the way," he said, running a hand through his unruly raven hair which still managed to look stylish despite the odd hair sticking out at all angles..
"Haruka Tenoh. Nice to meet you."
"So Haruka, where did you come from? I only ask cause you've got this accent and I don't think it's from Brooklyn."
Haruka chuckled a little, feeling herself being put at ease by Manny's dry humor. "No, not Brooklyn. More like England."
"Oh, our neighbor from across the pond. Well, it must be some kind of culture shock switching from Jolly Old England to the city that never sleeps. But don't worry, if you got any problems ... adjusting or whatever, let me know." He stopped in front of a classroom and waved before slipping inside.
Haruka walked on, feeling the tension that had been building up all day starting to dissipate just that little bit after the friendly reception she'd just gotten. Maybe, just maybe, New York wouldn't turn out that bad, she thought walking into her next class and stopping dead in her tracks when a gaggle of giggling girls immediately surrounded her. Spoke too soon, she thought warily, attempting to back away but having her route of escape cut off by more girls.
"Haruka, you're so cute."
"Will you have lunch with me, Haruka?"
"I'd love to show you around, Haruka."
The high pitched voices all ran together and she wanted to slap her hands over her ears to shut out the noise. Fortunately, she was saved again, this time by the teacher who shooed everybody back into their seats. Was this how it was going to be all day, she wondered, sedately taking her own seat, still feeling the eyes on her.
It was flattering in a way --- she couldn't deny that but come on, being constantly surrounded, constantly watched, constantly feeling like you're on display --- this, Haruka thought, flushing under the intense gazes, she could live without.
"Hey! Watch where you're ... " The small blonde girl Haruka had just bumped into stood there with her mouth agape and half formed words sputtering out of her mouth.
"Sorry," Haruka said, rubbing her side. Even though all she'd done was stand there minding her own business when the other girl had walked right into her, she still felt a need to apologize. "Are you all right?" She watched as the blonde head bobbed up and down in an exaggerated simulation of a nod and couldn't help but chuckle. This girl's hairstyle was definitely in the unique category, she thought, eyeballing the two small buns on top of her head which split the long hair into two skinny ponytails, reaching almost to the back of the knees.
The girl suddenly seemed to snap out of whatever monosyllabic void she'd been drawn into and smiled a wide, genuine smile that shone to the very depths of her bright blue eyes. "Yes, I'm fine. I should be the one apologizing though ... I wasn't looking where I was going," she said, blushing prettily and clasping her books even more tightly to her chest.
Haruka returned the smile and was just about to turn away when her arm was snatched up. "Did you want something else?" Haruka asked uncertainly while simultaneously trying to extricate herself as delicately as possible.
The girl looked just as uncertain as she slipped her hand off of Haruka's arm. "No, I mean, that is --- Usagi. My name is Usagi," she said all in one breath.
"Oh, Usagi. Nice to meet you. My name is Haruka and I'm new here."
"I know," she said a little too quickly before blushing again. Haruka decided suddenly that she liked this girl, if for nothing else than her open manner. "I mean, I wouldn't forget someone like you," she continued, looking up, her eyes shining with something Haruka wasn't entirely comfortable with.
She fingered the collar of her shirt and reflexively swallowed. "Uh, right ... well, I'll see you around." She turned away, quickly moving down the hall, glad that at least school was finally over. All day, she'd been bombarded left and right. Everywhere she turned, there was another girl wanting to not so much talk to her as openly stare at her and she was a few hours past getting sick of it.
She didn't realize someone was actually walking with her until she was almost at the school exit. "Usagi?" She asked, slowing down enough for the other girl to catch up with her shorter legs.
She stopped, drawing in a deep breath. "Since you're new here, I was wondering if you'd like me to show you around --- you know, act like your unofficial official tour guide."
Haruka was on the verge of saying no to the idea but the hopeful expression on Usagi's face stopped her words from spilling out. It was as if some other person was speaking through her as the words, "I'd love that" came out instead. Wondering at her own behavior, she nonetheless caught Usagi's expression change to one of utter delight as the other girl took her arm again, almost dragging her with unabashed enthusiasm towards the exit.
They walked all over the neighborhood, stopping in several stores along the way for some candy and other junk which Usagi happily stuffed in her mouth when Haruka politely declined the offered treats. They spent most of their time together in the local arcade where Haruka discovered a natural talent at beating the pants off everybody in a car racing game. And she couldn't deny that it stroked her ego when Usagi would cheer her on from the sidelines, praising her each time an opponent was turned away in complete and utter defeat.
"Haruka, you're so good at this," Usagi gushed as yet another competitor left muttering under his breath.
Haruka smiled as she got up off the seat. "You must be bored, standing there just watching me. What would you like to do now?" Slowly but surely, she'd found herself actually starting to enjoy the other girl's company and the prospect that it would end soon didn't sit well with her.
Usagi looked distracted for a second. "Well, I'm supposed to have gone home already," she admitted slowly, watching Haruka's face carefully for any changes. What she saw there quickly made her decide that going home was simply not an option right now. "But I'd really like to go to the park ... if you're not too busy ... " Haruka's face instantly lit up again, causing a similar reaction to Usagi's own.
"What are we waiting for?" This time, it was Haruka doing the dragging.
Michiru liked her school. Her friends were all there. The teachers were nice. The classes were challenging. So it was with a sense of sorrow that she watched as the police and fire fighters circled the wreckage of the burnt out shell of her school. The air still smelled strongly of smoke, acrid and harsh on her lungs. Water dripped everywhere over smoky remains of plaster and wood.
Her two friends standing by her side finally broke from their shocked state as they wondered aloud what had happened. Nobody knew what had caused the fire and everybody was looking to each other for answers that were just not forthcoming. "What do we do now?" was the most frequent question asked and the most frequent question answered with a helpless shrug.
Some of the faculty eventually started gathering the students into a loose group on orders from the Principal. Michiru and her friends stood near the front, looking expectantly for someone to take charge and their eyes turned to Mr. Doyle as he cleared his throat. His clothing was askew, smudges of ash covered various parts of his body as he wiped a handkerchief across his sweating brow.
He hesitated as if unsure of what he wanted to say but finally seemed to focus his thoughts and get the words out of his mouth. "A tragedy has occurred today," he began, his eyes roaming over the crowd. "As you can see, our school has been burnt down ... " He swallowed and had to compose himself again. "And ... and the police will be conducting a full investigation into the matter but in the meantime, please return home. The Board will start contacting your parents about alternate schools you can attend until we get this all sorted out."
The group started disbanding soon after. Michiru said good-bye to her friends as they all left one by one until she was nearly alone with the Principal. He looked so distraught that she was tempted to offer some sort of solace but before she could even take a step towards him, he had spun around, walking briskly off in the general direction of some detectives. She stood watching for a little while longer before turning to go home.
Were she stunned, it might have been better than feeling this --- this feeling of overwhelming resignation.
Resigned to the fact that this city, her home was coming apart at the seams and the idea that it was just a matter of time before somebody came along and ripped it apart altogether was not a particularly nice thought. It just needed one big event, happening at the right time and at the right place and everything would come tumbling down. Everyone knew this but nobody had any ideas for stopping it from happening.
The walk back to her house was uneventful. It still seemed impossible, the events of this morning --- almost surreal like in a dream. But unlike a dream, the changes would still be there the next morning, forcing her to deal with them. Putting her key into the lock on her front door, she turned the knob and walked into the empty house. Ami was still in daycare while her Aunt wouldn't be home until later in the afternoon. She toyed briefly with the idea of calling up Aunt Mai but dismissed it just as quickly. Even if she were to call, there wasn't anything her Aunt could do for her today and, anyway, it would only end up worrying the older woman for the rest of the day. Better that she hear it tonight and then they could both sit down together and figure out what to do next.
With that decided, Michiru walked towards the kitchen, intent on fixing herself something to eat.
"Usa -- " Her shoulder almost dislocated as the short blonde girl latched onto her arm. "-- gi?" She finished in a gasp, surreptitiously trying not to tip over in pain. She'd just been answering some question Manny had asked when, completely out of nowhere as far as she was concerned, Usagi had come rushing up and pulling on her arm like she was a life preserver. "What's the matter?" She asked, staring in concern as tears started forming in the other girl's eyes.
Usagi buried her face into the sleeve of Haruka's uniform, unable to answer in any form of coherent communication besides an occasional sniffling. Haruka turned, looking over at Manny who could only shrug. "I'll see you later," he said quietly, retreating up the hall with a small wave.
"See you," Haruka said absentmindedly, her attention already wandering back to the hapless girl leaning into her side. She slowly freed her arm from Usagi's surprisingly strong grasp and tilted the girl's chin up so she could look into the watery blue eyes that stared back at her with a heartbreaking candor. "Tell me what's wrong," she whispered, her thumb brushing away the stray tears.
"It's ... it's ... " Pulling a piece of paper from out of her bookbag, she handed it over before seeming to shrink in front of Haruka's eyes.
The taller girl glanced over the rumpled paper, noting the excess of red marks and the rather prominent 15 on top. "This wouldn't happen to be a 15 out of 20, would it?" She asked in an attempt to cheer the other girl up which backfired as soul shattering sobs started wracking the tiny body of her friend. "No! Don't cry!" Haruka was frantic, desperately wishing someone would come along and make the situation better. In a last ditch effort, she pulled Usagi into a hug, soothingly running a hand up and down the other girl's back.
What was I thinking, she angrily wondered to herself. How could she have made such a big mess of things and with such a flourish? Continuing to rub Usagi's back, she kept mentally berating herself until the sobs started to die down to a soft sniffling and an occasional hiccup as the body in her arms finally stopped its trembling.
"I'm sorry," Haruka said as soon as she thought it was safe. "I was a jerk for saying that." Usagi mumbled something into her chest that sounded halfway between an affirmation and a retort. "And I'm sure that it isn't *that* bad," Haruka continued, wisely ignoring the muttered comment. "I have faith that you'll do better next time, Usagi."
Usagi nodded as she looked up, staring into Haruka's eyes, a smile already beginning to shine through the tears. For her part, the tall blonde couldn't quite believe the ease with which the younger girl was able to shed her worries --- one moment, crying her her very soul out and the next ... the next she was accompanying Haruka to her next class, a bright, cheery smile on her face. Right before she went into the room, Usagi pulled her back and planted a chaste kiss on her cheek.
Haruka barely had the chance to react before the other girl turned in a twirl of skirt and hair, running down the hall. She stared after her, a hand unconsciously raising to touch the spot where Usagi's lips had brushed. A cough interrupted her musings, making her turn around to reveal the surreal tableau unveiled before her eyes. The attention of the whole class was focused on her, including the reproachful gaze of the teacher who motioned her to sit down.
Haruka could feel the blush burning its way onto her face as she ducked her head, shuffling as quickly as she could to her chair. From time to time, humiliating dreams would visit her where she'd find herself naked or unprepared in front of an audience who would inevitably end up laughing at her. The only thing missing now, she thought in a state of distress, is the laughter and the alarm clock going off.
Instead of laughter, she could hear whispering behind her which was just as bad, if not worse. She studiously kept her eyes on the notebook in front of her and on the teacher's voice. An hour. One whole hour she sat in that class, enduring the urge to get up and run out the door. But when that bell finally ran, she was up and ready to make good on that very urge when someone walked directly into her path ... several someones in fact.
"Haruka, say it isn't true," a brunette said, her hands clasped in front of her chest like she was praying.
"What?" She asked, confused and starting to get not a little irritated. "What are you saying?" All she'd wanted to do was get away from this place. Why couldn't these girls leave her alone for one minute?
"Was that your girlfriend?" Another one asked, this one with red hair cut in a cute bob.
"G - g - girlfriend?" She stuttered.
A short girl with long sandy hair spoke up. "The girl that kissed you --- please tell us that wasn't your girlfriend."
Words had abandoned Haruka, leaving her to stand there at the mercy of these girls and their questions. A part of her was perversely enjoying their assumption that Usagi was her girlfriend. Another part was repulsed with the simpering attitudes most of these girls displayed while in front of her, all because they thought she was a boy. And yet another part wished to melt into a puddle of mindless, sticky goo on the floor.
Just then Usagi waltzed in, took one look at all the girls surrounding a mute Haruka and started elbowing her way inside the tight circle. One by one, the girls quieted down as they saw who was invading their ranks until Usagi was standing next to Haruka, one arm wrapped possessively around the other girl. She glared at the rest of the assembled crowd until they dispersed, some not going without muttering a few choice words under their breaths but they all left nonetheless --- they all knew the look of a jealous girlfriend.
It was only after they'd all left and she was alone with Usagi that Haruka shook out of her paralysis to gaze down into the girl's earnest blue eyes. She couldn't lie about this anymore, she resolved to herself. Even if she weren't outright telling Usagi that she was a boy, leading her on was just as bad.
"Usagi, I need to talk to you about something."
At the nod from the other girl, she led them out the door.
The blonde glanced nervously around, sure in her belief that someone would burst in at any moment. It wouldn't have been so bad, in her opinion, if she weren't currently standing awkwardly in the girl's bathroom, directly in front of Haruka.
"Sh-should we really be in here, Haruka?" She asked, blushing slightly under the close scrutiny of her companion who looked as if he had something very important to say but just wasn't sure how to phrase it.
Haruka seemed not to hear her or at least he didn't answer the softly spoken question. Finally seeming to come to some sort of decision, he opened his mouth, the words seeming to flow and tumble out like a torrent once he did. As the explanation came out, bit by bit, Usagi's eyes grew incrementally wider until they seemed to engulf her whole face like two huge saucers.
"You're a --- you're a -- you're a -- " she stammered like a broken record.
"I'm a girl," Haruka finished for her, seeming at once embarrassed and relieved at the same time. They both began to shift uneasily, not quite sure what to do now. For Usagi, Haruka's revelation had come as an utter and complete shock, coming out of the blue like it did. Just a few minutes ago, she had thought she'd finally found her Prince ... the perfect 'boy' of her dreams.
Did fairy tales truly exist only in stories?
Usagi turned away, unable to look at the other girl any longer. Her feelings were just too raw and exposed at the moment and if she stood here any longer, she knew she'd probably end up bawling her eyes out. Haruka didn't try to stop her when she turned around and walked out the door and for some reason, that only made her feel worse.
For her part, throughout the whole convoluted telling, Haruka wanted to just run and hide from Usagi's gaze. It would have been easier if there was contempt instead of hurt directed her way. Contempt and disgust, she was pretty used to handling but the feeling that she'd just let someone down --- someone who had placed their trust in her ...
By the time, Usagi walked away, she felt like slapping herself just to get it over with --- after all, someone had to do it. But this was probably for the best, she reasoned, her eyes focusing on a stain on the tiled floor. Usagi was better off knowing now than later and if the other girl hated her for what she'd done... well, Haruka had no one to blame but herself for this sad state of affairs.
Making her way disconsolately out of the room, she loped down the hall, giving no more than a glance to Manny as he walked past with a wave. What would he think if he knew? The thought did nothing to cheer her up, seeming to drag her even deeper into depression. Thankfully, it was the end of school so she didn't have any more classes to attend and furthermore, Aunt Joy was out of town on a work assignment for her magazine so she'd have the house all to herself. In the state she was in, she didn't think she would've been able to be in the company of her ever cheerful aunt who would probably say something like 'Everything will look much better in the morning' or some such other nonsense if she knew what had happened.
Of course that was *if* Haruka told her anything at all which she had no intention of doing. Her aunt was a nice enough lady but she expected too much of her. Haruka just wasn't the share and care type of person. Her feelings and thoughts were hers and hers alone, to be shared with no one. And sometimes, it was hard to get that point across to Joy.
Sighing, she pushed through the doors of the school and squinted into the afternoon sun. If she were lucky, maybe she'd be struck down by the flu or something in the next twelve hours so she wouldn't have to come back here tomorrow.
A girl could only hope.
Michiru looked up towards the unfamiliar structure, taking a moment to orient herself. After several days of phone calls back and forth, her aunt had somehow managed to enroll her into this school which was both exclusive and private. She didn't know how her aunt had managed it but here she was.
This was her first day.
This was her new school.
Despite her best intentions, she felt the first anxious flutterings beginning in her stomach. But collecting herself with a firm resolve, she squared her shoulders like a knight going into battle and walked towards the imposing building that loomed above her. It looked like it might have been a church at one time. The gothic crenelades and decorations didn't serve to relax her anymore than the chattering of the various students going on all around.
Wiping the palms of her hands nervously on the front of her skirt, Michiru headed into the building, deftly dodging several people who were running to get in as well.
She threw another surreptitious glance towards Usagi. The other girl had pointedly avoided any and all contact with Haruka of late, immediately walking the other way whenever she saw the tall blonde even come in her direction. The only reason she was still in her range of sight now was because their lockers happened to lie in proximity to each other. With an internal wince, Haruka noticed that Usagi was in such a hurry to get away that she dropped a large textbook on the floor as she was trying to stuff it into the locker.
She decided right then and there that this couldn't go on. She hated that this distance had developed between them and quickly walking towards Usagi before the other girl could move away, Haruka placed a restraining hand on one slender arm. Ignoring the look of surprise she received, she pulled Usagi towards a relatively quiet corner of the school, hoping they could clear up whatever problems had developed between them.
Because even though she'd seen Usagi as no more than another among a countless number of girls glomping onto her when they'd first met, slowly but surely, things had changed. She wasn't sure exactly when Usagi had become more than just another annoying face in the crowd but the fact was, it didn't really matter. All that was important now was to regain some of that trust she'd taken for granted.
"Haruka, I'm going to be late for class," Usagi muttered uncertainly, still refusing to glance up into the other girl's eyes.
"Look," Haruka started to say, brushing a hand through her hair in an uncharacteristically nervous manner. "I'm ... sorry about not telling you sooner. It's just that ... " She trailed off, not entirely certain herself why she hadn't said anything sooner. It just never seemed to come up as a topic of conversation, she reasoned --- although if she were to say that out loud, it'd probably come out sounding real lame or something. "I'm *really* sorry." Normally, under far less stressful circumstances, Haruka would actually be much more articulate but, in this particular case, words completely escaped her.
She carefully watched Usagi's face as a myriad of emotions seemed to wash through the other girl. It was all there --- all her feelings on display for the world to see and Haruka wasn't sure if it weren't appropriate to turn away from something that looked so personal. But before she could avert her eyes, Usagi opened her mouth as if to say something. It only took a few false starts before the words finally came out in an uneven rush. And with each uttered syllable, Haruka found herself becoming more and more confused.
"Pardon?" She finally managed to ask once the other girl seemed to have finished.
Usagi lowered her gaze, scuffing the toe of her shoe across the tiles on the floor. "I said ... I still like you, Haruka." Her cheeks turned a rosy red as she finally lifted her eyes, hesitantly meeting the taller blondes nervous gaze. "I still like you --- in *that* way." The blush had turned a fiery crimson as the last few syllables fell from her mouth.
"I ... you ..." Closing her mouth and shaking her head as if to clear the fog, she finally settled on "Huh?"
"Haruka! I know you heard me the first time so don't make me repeat it," Usagi said, placing her hands upon her hips and staring at the other girl in irritation. You'd think after such a mind-blowing confession, she could at least come up with something more intelligent to say, Usagi thought to herself.
"I'm sorry ..." she apologized, "You really do?" Haruka couldn't really make herself believe what Usagi had said and as such, she felt the compulsion to ask the question which would no doubt annoy the other girl even more.
As if to prove her point beyond a shadow of a doubt, Usagi grabbed Haruka's face, pulling her down to plant a chaste kiss on her lips. When she'd set out from home today, she would never have guessed her day would end so bizarrely. And the thought was shared by the taller girl whose eyes had widened considerably in shock by the time Usagi pulled back.
"U-U-Usagi?" Haruka stammered, not quite sure what to make of this. There were so many conflicting emotions flaring up that she didn't know which to focus on until a shrill voice announced itself, letting them know they weren't alone anymore.
Their heads immediately turned in unison, finding the stern visage of a hall monitor staring back at them. They quickly separated, each going their own way, each desperately needing time to think and sort through the ramifications of what had taken place.
Haruka went through the rest of the day in a complete daze as her brain tried its best to reconcile Usagi's words and her own feelings towards the other girl's confession. 'I like you --- in *that* way.' The sentence echoed in her ears, making her pause again as she tried to examine it from every angle.
Was she being played with? Would Usagi do that to her? No. The answer came back resoundingly firm. Even though she'd only known the other girl for awhile, there was no way in her mind that Usagi could be that cruel. A soft smile flickered across her face as she thought back on the other girl. Yes, Usagi was by far the sweetest, most innocent person she'd ever met and the thought of her hurting anyone was inconceivable.
So that left her with the only other possibility --- that the words were genuine. If that was indeed the case then her life had just grown even more complicated than it already was. Dressing up as a boy and doing a damn good job of it, she'd found herself the center of some unwanted attention as what seemed like the entire female student body stepped out of their way in fawning over her. But if any one of them were to ever find out she was a girl, that attention would most certainly turn caustic.
She knew she was partially to blame for her current predicament --- after all, she never actively dissuaded them from their false impressions. It was too late now anyway. She always thought she'd make a better boy than girl and now she had proven herself right, she thought somewhat bitterly. But that bought her back to Usagi who, after finding out the truth, had still wanted her.
... Wanted *her*.
Something inside her warmed at the thought and a wider smile began making its way across her face.
Her head jerked up at the sudden exclamation and she realized a bit too late that she was the center of attention once again.
"If you find the class so boring that you find yourself daydreaming," the teacher began, "Maybe I should send you to the Headmaster so he can have a talk with you."
"I'm sorry, sir," she answered meekly, casting her eyes downward.
Classes continued on in that vein and she was only too glad when the final bell rang, signaling the day's end. She walked down the hall, backpack slung across one shoulder, occasionally returning a greeting to some of the girl's that waved at her as she made her way to her locker. She found Manny leaning beside it and she smiled as he did