Story: Rapture (all chapters)
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Title: Chapter One
She watched the much smaller blonde lie back on the soft mattress, her skin seeming to glow alabaster white in the little light provided by the lone floor lamp close by. This was like her vision and her dream all rolled into one. Looking unabashedly at her new lover, she knew she should be feeling guilt, considering what they were about to do. If they continued as they were, they would be willfully betraying two people they'd professed to love, bucking their fate, endangering the world.
Haruka had to laugh. The situation sounded like something straight out of a comic book … a world-ending love. And yet, as romantic as it might sound, as ludicrous as it was that the world's future could rest on the shoulders of a few girls still not past their teens, this was real. This was normal in her world -- a world where she donned a costume and fought against evil. Where her future was already set in stone, her duty clearly spelled out, and her hands stained red with the blood shed in the name of the greater good. She felt the weight of her world resting like a stone around her neck, threatening to crush the last breath from her weary body. She was standing at the edge of the abyss and instead of turning around like any sane person, she was contemplating jumping.
Even knowing the overwhelming odds stacked against her by virtue of her lot in life and the role she was born to fulfill, her qualms were whisked aside when her eyes met pleading blue. The compassion and love shining back at her washed over her soul like a healing wind, absolving her of all her sins, allowing her to finally breathe as the yoke of duty was blown from her shoulders. She realized now there was no turning back. Maybe her ill-advised path had already been set on that long ago day when she'd first laid eyes on this exquisite creature lying before her and felt the first stirrings in her heart. In the end, it didn't matter -- she was committed to see this through, side by side with her princess. Her koneko-chan. Guilt was but a fleeting emotion; too weak to stop her from embarking on this course once her lips had tasted the forbidden.
A whimper from the bed brought her back to the present. Her princess raised both arms, reaching for her, summoning her senshi closer. Haruka immediately answered the wordless request, unable to resist this most precious girl anything.
"Haruka … " Usagi delivered her name on a sigh as the lanky senshi slid on top of her. Their skin whispered against each other, leaving little spots of hot pleasure where satiny smooth softness met its mate before passing on.
"Haruka … please," the girl underneath her shamelessly pleaded. Delicate hands wrapped around her shoulders, trying to pull her down with surprising strength. "I need to feel you."
Haruka looked into the eyes of her forbidden love, this person who should be off limits to her and felt an overwhelming tenderness well up in a heart she thought long turned to stone. She lowered herself gently on top of the much smaller girl and immediately felt a rush of sensation like she had never experienced sweeping across her body. It felt like an inferno had ignited inside of her, melting her sinews, setting fire to her muscles; she was being burnt alive from the inside out. The flames devouring her stole her breath and she gasped for air like a drowning man.
Distantly, she heard her name being called. Her Princess. Her Usagi. She would recognize that voice anywhere. As if awaking from a dream, she swam back to reality, urged on by the slightest tinge of panic in her lover's voice. She blinked. Once. Twice. And found herself staring into concerned vibrant blue eyes. She blinked again, trying to clear the cloudiness still lingering in her vision and realized with a start that her eyes were swimming in tears. Embarrassed by what she deemed a show of weakness, Haruka turned her head to the side, unable to stare into those knowing pools any longer.
"Haruka … " That sweet voice; it called to her like a siren's song and her resistance was easily torn down like so much wet paper by that single entreaty. She turned back to her princess, the image of that beautiful face still shimmering because the tears would not stop leaking from her recalcitrant eyes.
She felt once again like that five year old girl she was twelve years ago, waiting for her Papa to dole out her punishment for breaking his pocket watch. But unlike that long ago time, the face that greeted her now was nothing like her father's stern visage. This was unconditional love staring back at her. It shone on her warmly, drying the tears that had dripped down her cheeks. Deep in her heart, Haruka felt a small piece of the bitterness and rage she'd harbored her whole life unravel its grip on the tender organ residing in her chest just a little bit.
The small hands that had been on her shoulders all this time slowly moved down until they were gently cupping her face. An understanding passed between the princess and her senshi as they stared into each other's eyes. Haruka felt the corner of her mouth lift tremulously in a half grin which was returned ten fold in the joyful smile beaming up at her. Usagi wiped the remaining tears from her eyes with the pads of her thumb and lifted her head, engaging the older girl's lips in a kiss that communicated an incandescent passion that would burn bright in the darkest space.
The kiss infused the senshi of Uranus with a deep hunger, begging to sate itself on the body of her beloved. Unwilling to hold back any longer, Haruka broke the kiss only to immediately dip back to taste the addictive sweetness across the expanse of her love's skin. Fleeting kisses rained down on the princess' cheeks, forehead, eyelids, and throat -- a random assault that drew forth a contented sound from Usagi's throat. She couldn't get enough of this angel beneath her; the more she tasted, the more she wanted … the more she needed.
Her senses were filled entirely by this beautiful creature. Her eyes saw nothing but the innocent face in front of hers. Her ears took in nothing but the satisfied sounds from that slender throat. Her skin felt nothing but the all-encompassing warmth of her lover's body. Her nose detected nothing but the beginnings of arousal mixed enchantingly with the flowery perfume forever associated in her mind as the very essence of her odango atama.
Haruka moved down her love's slim body, licking and kissing every exposed inch of skin she could reach as Usagi urged her onwards with frequent sighs and moans. When she was at breast-level, she backed up a little, much to her princess' frustration, intent on studying the perfect mounds she was about to devour. They proudly jutted out, moving with each ragged breath, their perkiness not unlike their owners' personality.
Up and down.
Up and down.
Barely finished developing, they were the epitome of femininity. Coral colored nipples capped the lovely swells, already swollen and painfully erect from Haruka's earlier attentions. They begged to be worshipped like the living jewels they were and Haruka readily obliged, moving her head back down and sucking a teat into her waiting mouth. She felt as well as heard Usagi taking in a deep gasping breath and smiled her enjoyment against the pebbled flesh.
Swirling her tongue over the sensitive nipple, she sucked as much of the breast as she could into her heated mouth while her other hand kept up a continual massage of the other breast. Several minutes passed as Haruka visited this sweet torture on the slim blonde, the escalating moans now filling the air only spurring her onwards. Haruka's mouth finally broke its suction hold on the sweet flesh and she looked on in awe that the once pink nipple had turned a fully satisfied red. Feeling that it wouldn't do to have a mismatched set, she turned her attention to the other nipple. As soon as her lips touched the sensitive nub, her beloved arched, pushing the whole breast into her delighted mouth.
She didn't know how long she spent lavishing her undivided attention on those exquisite breasts -- time held no meaning in this space where lovers dwelled. She only knew that when she started moving down again, her sweet princess was writhing and nearly incoherent, her tiny fists twisting and pulling at the bed sheets beneath her sweat soaked body. Haruka stopped again and placed her hands on top of twin thighs that quivered under her touch. Her tan skin contrasted pleasantly with the creamy whiteness underneath. She looked up, her gaze locking with those of her blue-eyed goddess and easily read the unabashed need within those loving depths.
Giving her odango atama a genuine smile, she parted those inviting thighs to reveal a liquid wellspring that instantly perfumed the air with its musky scent. A sparse patch of blonde fur topped the pink slit which glistened with moisture and Haruka wanted nothing more than to bury her face in the wetness. Moving as if in slow motion, her hands reached out and touched, for the first time, the most intimate region of her princess' body. There was a whimper -- she wasn't sure from whom it issued.
Her thumbs, placed on either side of the vertical slit, parted the outer lips and revealed the hidden pink flesh that dripped arousal. She licked her lips, no longer able to resist the temptation and swooped down, her tongue swiping along the entire length of the glistening flesh. Her princess' hips bucked, a strangled scream ripped from some unknown depth pierced the air as she continued lapping at the flowing juices. She could hardly keep up with the erratic hips bucking under her mouth so she wound one arm around the slender thighs, holding her love steady.
Her other hand moved towards the welcoming opening that swallowed up one, then two fingers in swift succession. She pushed in deeper, wishing she could fit her whole body inside that warm, safe cave, surrounded by the essence of her lover. Unexpectedly, she came against resistance and, after a confused moment where her mind struggled to make sense of this new development, realization suddenly struck her like a thunderbolt. Never even in her wildest dreams had she dare dreamt she would be the first to experience her princess so intimately. She felt gently along the thin membrane, unsure of what to do when the decision was mercifully taken out of her hands. The hips underneath her hands jerked once in a strong thrust, defying the restraining grip still around supple thighs and Haruka's fingers breached the flimsy barrier -- claiming an innocence she never thought she deserved, let alone touch.
A cry of pain snapped the senshi's head up as she frantically searched her beloved's face. Tears had already formed on the corners of warm blue eyes at the sudden breaking of the maidenhead but the blonde beauty was already bestowing on her a tremulous grin, silently imploring her to continue.
Haruka breathed in deeply, taking in her love's heavenly scent mixed with the metallic trace of blood. Her eyes still locked on strained blue, she reached up and took Usagi's hand, feeling a deep sense of peace settle over her as their fingers entwined. This was where she belonged; right here kneeling between her princess' legs, and giving as much pleasure as she could. With a lingering smile, she ducked her head and placed a tender kiss on the sensitive clit that had been straining for attention before sucking the bundle of nerves into her mouth. Simultaneously, her fingers moved deeper and faster, feeling the muscles starting to contract around her long digits. Usagi's body thrashed wildly for several minutes, bliss like she had never known enveloping her body.
With a silent scream, her princess came in a gush of clear liquids, the slender body arching and becoming rigid under her own. Her fingers continued to move in and out as she lapped up all the spilled juices, unwilling to let a single drop escape her. Never had she tasted anything so delicious as this nectar spilling into her mouth and she was determined to savor this feast for as long as possible.
An eternity later, she felt a tug on her hand still in her princess' grasp and reluctantly, afraid she would never get the chance to revisit this paradise again, Haruka moved up to the blonde beauty's side. She took the slender girl in her arms, kissing her with a longing that could not be quenched -- not even now in the aftermath of their lovemaking because, in the back of her mind, she knew this couldn't last. Eternity was a long time and this moment but a flicker.
Forever, her mind screamed. She wanted to hold her, to lie here basking in her radiance, to look into her eyes … forever.
Fate. Destiny. Words she was beginning to loathe. She felt the bitterness return to her heart. Who had set up the rules and why did she have to follow them? Why did anyone, for that matter? Their love was real -- more so than anything written in the stars. She could taste it, touch it, feel it and she would continue on this path she'd embarked on, walking by her princess' side without guilt.
She broke the kiss gently, amused that the bright blue eyes were half-hidden by drooping lids threatening to close at any moment. Sated and swimming in a wave of lethargy, Usagi blinked, looking every bit the cute schoolgirl Haruka remembered from their first meeting.
"Rest, my love," she cooed, gathering her tiny princess in her arms and kissing the top of the blonde head.
A happy smile broke across her face as she watched her dearest sleep and remained so even long after she herself had fallen into slumber's grasp.
Title: Chapter Two
She moved along to the music, her steps automatic, an inherent grace in every well-developed line of her body. Tonight, she was dressed in a black tuxedo to match the occasion -- a formal party thrown by one of Michiru's many patrons. This was the third night in a row she'd been dragged to one of these can't-miss-events by her partner. She glanced down at the aquamarine head resting against her shoulder and a wistful thought floated into her mind.
How much simpler would her life be if she could love the woman in her arms as she surely deserved to be loved? Instead, her heart had forged its own path, yearning for the most unobtainable person on its horizon. Her lips quirked into an involuntary grin as her thoughts turned to a certain odango-haired princess. They had made love all day that Saturday, the first day she'd touched her beloved that way. Her heart ached to take the smaller girl in her arms once again, to bury her face into that fragrant golden hair. Nearly a week had passed and she'd only been able talk to her odango atama in passing -- hurried conversations and yearning looks that only made her miss her princess all the more.
Haruka felt the whole impossible situation crash down on her again; her doubts coalescing into a boulder she had to carry across her back. Every second spent apart from the love of her life only served to deepen her despair and, as much as she wanted to proclaim her love to the world at the top of her lungs, she couldn't … not yet. Maybe not ever. Her arms wrapped tighter around the only source of comfort at close hand -- Michiru. The sea senshi seemed to always be there; her rock, her one steady influence in a world where nothing stayed permanent. Through it all, Michiru had stuck by her, her devotion as unwavering as her belief in her partner.
And therein lay the crux of the problem for the sandy haired senshi. The trust given to her so easily by this marvelous woman had been violated time and again, the precious gift turned to shit in Haruka's hands. If she were a better person, she would have already broken it off with Michiru, saving whatever friendship they might still be able to salvage. As it was, she wasn't a good person; she was a coward -- unable to completely let go because she was afraid to be alone and yet unable to be faithful because her heart demanded someone else. She didn't know how her princess could love a wretch like her but was eternally grateful that the blonde did.
The song ended and the two senshi pulled apart. The green haired woman looked up, giving her partner a brilliant smile that many men around the room no doubt secretly wished were bestowed on them. Many in the room also viewed them as the perfect couple -- young, attractive, successful, and of course heterosexual. No one would suspect the normally masculine attire hid a distinctly female body. No one would question her relationship with the star musician because, to the world, she was a man, the world class race car driver, Haruka Tenoh.
It was ironic that without consciously trying, she could act a better man than most of the 'real' men around her. She chose to wear the clothes that she felt comfortable in. She chose to cut her hair in a style that was practical to her. She chose a profession that she was passionate about. The image she projected was in no way orchestrated; it was just who she was and if people thought she was a man, than so be it. The senshi of the wind didn't care one way or the other. She neither needed nor desired her life to be dictated on other people's terms, explaining, at least partially, her willingness to take on a force as indomitable as fate.
Fate was her shackle, chaining her to the ground when she longed to fly in the sky. But on the flip side of the coin, it had also brought the gentlest soul she'd ever met into her life and for that fact alone, she would not change a thing leading her to this point in her life even if, by some miracle, she had a chance. In the relatively short time they'd known each other, Usagi had become her entire world. She lived for the younger girl, would unconditionally die for her, and would willingly keep secret their affair as long as her love deemed necessary.
She felt a tug on her arm and absently followed her partner off the dance floor towards a group of the green haired senshi's friends. She gave a token effort to follow the conversations around her but quickly lost interest and instead, spent the time staring off into space. She was surrounded by rich people and their rich diversions and she felt nothing for any of it. Given a chance, she would trade it all in right now to spend the night in the garage with her friend Shinji, fixing up her car. For that matter, she would trade a thousand such nights in a heartbeat for one solitary moment in the company of her princess. But instead, she was stuck here with these people she didn't care for with the beginnings of a headache rubbing her last nerve raw.
On impulse, she grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing tray and gulped down the contents in two large mouthfuls, hoping it would dull the pain, if only for a while. An aura of detachment surrounded her lanky figure, its presence as palpable as a stiff wind, warning off several people who thought briefly of speaking with her. Thirty minutes hadn't even elapsed and she already felt like an oft-paraded monkey in a suit. She wanted to leave, to go home but she knew that wouldn't happen for at least a couple of hours.
Suddenly, her field of vision was completely filled by a mass of red-gold curls that seemed to be talking to her. Haruka gave a start, taking a nervous step back before she realized it wasn't the hair talking to her but the woman said hair was attached to. She winced, taking her first good look at the much too colorful woman standing in front of her. From crown to toe, the woman was a riot of color, nearly blinding every eye unfortunate enough to look directly upon her. Dressed in a sequined blue gown that sparkled and refracted light like a cheap cubic zirconia with unruly hair the color of which was not found in nature, the stranger certainly stood out from the crowd.
Haruka brought her hand up to rub her abused eyes but found it quickly snatched in a slightly sweaty grip.
"I've always wanted to meet you Mr. Tenoh," the woman gushed, enthusiastically pumping her hand up and down. Her eyes, Haruka noticed when she finally dared another look, were the only thing without color on her entire body, shining an opaque silver.
"I've admired you for so long," the stranger continued, her grip still firm around the senshi's hand. "I have large posters of you everywhere in my house. That race you won in Osaka, I was in the stands cheering you on the entire way. It was all so exciting; I almost passed out when you crossed the finished line. And let me tell you, my voice was still hoarse two days later from screaming so loud. I've never in my life seen anyone with your skill … why, it's almost supernatural how good you are. My friend says you're lucky but the old fool couldn't find his own behind in the dark. Why, I remember this one time--"
"I'm sorry," the sandy haired tomboy interrupted, retrieving her hand with one strong pull, almost causing the other woman to lose her balance in the process. "I don't believe I know who you are."
The multi-colored woman flushed, her cheeks turning brick red. "Oh, will you look at me," she loudly exclaimed. "So excited to meet you, I even forgot to introduce myself. You must think I'm a total dunce." Haruka started to shake her head in the negative just to be polite but the woman continued on heedless. "My name is Chisuko Yamamoto and like I've said, it is a pleasure to meet one as illustrious as yourself."
Before the gaudy woman could continue to yammer on as she looked bound and determined to do, Michiru walked up to stand next to her partner, letting one elegant hand rest the wind senshi's arm. As polite as ever, she greeted the newcomer before turning to address the taller woman next to her.
"Haruka, I love this song," she said, her expression somewhat strained as an amused grin threatened to pop up on her face. "Can we dance?"
"Absolutely." Haruka barely spared a backwards glance at the long-winded woman, Chisuko as she quickly led her graceful dance partner back onto the dance floor.
"Looks like you have a fan," the green haired woman teased as she placed her head on a strong shoulder.
Haruka scowled. As if having to be at this party wasn't enough, now it seemed she had some fanatic trailing after her.
After a quiet moment between the pair in which only the sound of the band was heard mingling not unpleasantly with the murmur of a hundred different conversations humming through the air, Michiru spoke once again in a voice devoid of her earlier humor.
"Haruka," the senshi of the sea began. "Is something wrong? You seem agitated."
The shorthaired woman answered immediately, her mind still on the annoying fan she'd just met. "Of course I'm agitated, Michi," she exclaimed, using a diminutive name for her elegant partner. "If you hadn't rescued me when you did, that woman would still be talking my ear off … and I don't think my eyes will ever recover." She shuddered, trying valiantly to scour the dreadful image that seemed seared into her brain.
Michiru shook her head, her hand behind Haruka's neck tightening slightly. "No, I don't mean about that woman. You've been agitated all night. I can see it in your eyes as clearly as I can see the moon outside. Your body might be here but your mind isn't." She sighed, pressing herself closer to the taller body. "And it's not just tonight, Haruka. I've noticed it for weeks now, this restlessness in you. I haven't said anything until now. Maybe I should have paid more attention sooner but it's just been so hectic with the performances and the rehearsals--"
"No!" Haruka interrupted vehemently. "This isn't your fault. Don't ever think you're responsible for my problems, Michi."
The wind senshi ground her teeth, unable to explain any further without revealing too much. She hated keeping secrets from her best friend because, despite everything, Michiru was still her confidante -- the woman knew more about her than even Usagi. But to reveal everything now would be betraying her princess' trust -- something she found bitterly ironic since she was already betraying Michiru's trust by not saying anything in the first place. And she had no one to blame but herself because the whole situation was her fault.
She was the one who first initiated the flirting with the moon princess because she loved to see the color rise in her odango atama's cheeks. She initiated the playful touches because she couldn't keep her hands off that silky soft skin. She initiated that first kiss because she wanted the princess' hot breath in her mouth. She had initiated everything … even last Saturday. She was the one who initiated that too. She had wanted to possess the blue-eyed beauty completely.
An awful thought suddenly entered her mind then. What if she'd pushed her beloved into doing something before she was ready? Usagi had been so nervous in the beginning; she'd been trembling. And yet, Haruka hadn't stopped, chalking the trembling up to anticipation. She'd let her libido dictate her actions like some horny man. The tomboy felt a sick nausea grip her gut at even the suggestion that she had hurt the petite blonde in any way. She vowed to speak with her princess the first chance she got and, if it turned out she had any hand in hurting the gentle girl, Haruka would cut her own hands off before she would ever touch her love again.
"Haruka?" Michiru called, snapping the sandy haired woman from her morbid thoughts.
The taller woman looked down into the concerned blue eyes of her best friend, so like the fathomless depths of the sea the graceful senshi controlled, and felt herself mentally recoil. She felt dirty; her very soul unclean. But that wasn't what bothered her. No, it was the fear that she would somehow taint her partner through her very touch. Slipping from the other woman's grasp, her eyes refocused on the floor as she mumbled an excuse about being sick. Fortunately, Michiru didn't try to touch her again, instead suggesting that they should leave early in sedate tone. Even though she knew tonight's gala was important for the violinist's image, she was glad she could finally get out of there.
Mutely, she followed Michiru and stood beside the other woman as she made her good-byes to her friends, feeling some of the existing tension finally beginning to unwind from her muscles. As the couple made their way out, neither noticed the pair of colorless eyes that tracked their progress from the corner of the room nor the garishly red lips that curled into a disturbing smile.
On the drive home, Haruka pushed her car, making the silver convertible fly along the roads, adeptly maneuvering around other slower moving vehicles. Nothing disturbed the strained silence between the two senshi aside from the howling of the wind that blew around them. In no time at all, Haruka was guiding her car into the underground garage of their apartment complex. With Michiru's performance money and her own winnings from the racetrack, they could afford to live very comfortably, considering they were still high school students.
They lived on the eleventh floor of the twelve-floor luxury complex. Not a word was exchanged as they rode up the elevator or when they entered their apartment. Michiru immediately went into the bathroom and a few minutes later, when the sound of the shower sounded from behind the closed door, Haruka picked up the phone, dialing a number she knew by heart.
One ring. Two. And then the voice of her angel came on the line.
"Odango," she said, her voice noticeably more cheerful than it had been the entire night.
She heard a squeal of delight through the receiver followed by her name, "Ruka-chan! It's only … 8:30. Are you still at the party? It must be great, getting dressed up and everything. I bet you look really handsome. Are you wearing your tux? I wish I were there with you; then we could dance. I've been getting better -- remember the last time we danced? I kept stepping on your toes. Did you have dinner yet? Mom made salmon today. It was delicious but the vegetables weren't so good. I had to eat spinach. Yech!"
Haruka would have gladly listened to her love's voice for the rest of the night even if she caught only the occasional word when Usagi launched into one of her monologues. Tonight, however, she was running short of time; Michiru could step out of the shower at any minute.
"Koneko-chan," she cut in, interrupting her love in mid-sentence. "I need to see you tomorrow … can I pick you up after school?"
She could hear the slightest bit of hesitation in her princess' voice but before she could dwell on it, Usagi answered. "Of course, Ruka-chan. We haven't spent any time together since … " Haruka grinned, picturing the adorable blush that was no doubt creeping across her beloved's face. "… since Saturday. I've been thinking about you every second."
"Me too, odango. I wish I could be with you right now. I'd love to give you a good night kiss." A giggle erupted from the phone lines, warming Haruka's heart. "But it'll have to wait until tomorrow. I'll meet you outside your school, all right?"
"I'll be there … I love you Ruka-chan."
"I love you too, my princess. Sweet dreams."
Haruka reluctantly clicked the off button on the phone as she walked to the large picture window and stared out into the dark night with unseeing eyes. She was unaware when the shower finally shut off or when the door to the bathroom opened. Melancholic blue eyes took in her oblivious figure for long seconds before retreating quietly into the bedroom.
Title: Chapter Three
The senshi of the wind approached the unfamiliar green car on silent feet and grinned as she saw the jumpsuit covered legs sticking out from underneath. A popular pop tune played from a nearby radio's tinny speakers and a cringingly awful voice, clearly emanating from some place other than the electronic device, sang along to the words. She stood above the pair of tapping feet for as long as her badly abused ears could stand it.
"Shinji!" She bellowed, emitting a satisfied chuckle when she heard the metallic clang of a dropped tool, followed almost immediately by a muffled string of curses.
Shinji Hideki rolled out from below the car with an exasperated expression plastered on his face. He was a brawny man, used to working with his hands since he was a kid. His black cropped hair and jutting chin made comparisons to a bulldog somewhat inevitable but his easygoing personality quickly put people at ease. Even though he was just a few years older than the sandy haired senshi, he had always acted the part of the wise elder to the tilt if only to tick Haruka off.
"If it isn't the reprobate," he sighed in a melodramatic fashion as he eyed the sandy haired woman up and down.
"It's good to see you too, grease monkey," Haruka sardonically replied, leaning back against the passenger door of the green car.
Shinji got to his feet, brushing off some dust from his dirty uniform. "I was beginning to forget what you looked like. What's it been now? A couple of months already?"
Haruka gave a derisive snort. "Try two weeks … but you'd know that if you ever bothered looking at the calendar once in a while."
"As long as I know the year, that's good enough for me," he replied, dismissively waving off the criticism. "But two weeks is still a long time. I can still remember a time when you couldn't part from my charming company for more than a day."
"Before I realized your idea of charming was leaving the toilet seat down."
Shinji glanced balefully at the grinning senshi. "You've been talking to my ex-girlfriend again, haven't you? I'm telling you, that woman is trying to poison your fragile young mind with bad ideas."
"So are you saying you don't put the toilet seat down?" Haruka asked, twisting away from Shinji's playful swipe with a lighthearted laugh.
She'd desperately needed this easy banter after the emotional roller coaster ride she'd been strapped to for the past few days. Joking and laughing with Shinji, she could almost pretend everything in her life was as it had always been; she was still the Haruka whose dream was to be the best racecar driver in the world. That had always been her dream -- to be the fastest, to be like the wind -- unfettered and free. Lately, that dream had been supplanted as she began spending more and more of her time off the track and pursuing a certain odango atama. She hadn't realized how much she'd missed this place, surrounded by cars and clanging tools and the smell of motor oil. A part of her ached at the comforting familiarity of her environment. She had spent such a large part of her adolescence hanging out in garages that this was almost a second home to her now.
Reaching for a wrench, Shinji carefully studied the younger woman for several long seconds before he voiced his thoughts. "Seriously, Haruka, where have you been? The chief has been giving himself a stomach ulcer over your disappearance and I quote, 'Tenoh better get himself a mop because the only job he'll be doing around here is the janitor's if he ever bothers to show his sorry ass in here again!' Imagine me saying that with foam around my mouth and you'll get the general idea of the man's mood."
Haruka breathed out a troubled sigh, her entire demeanor changing as a result of her friend's words. In place of the teasing, good-humored girl standing in front of him not five seconds before, there now stood a defensive and weary individual.
"I had some personal business," she said, turning to stare pensively at the ground. "I'll speak with the chief later and explain it to him."
She knew she was in big trouble by completely dropping off the face of the earth as far as the chief was concerned. As of late, her time had been stretched precariously thin between her duties as a senshi, her duties as Michiru's girlfriend, and the desire to spend every free moment she could scrape together with Usagi. And this didn't include the extra attention she had been lavishing on her girlfriend out of pure guilt for her selfish actions. All these factors added up to an exhausted young woman too worn out to make even a token appearance.
"If you're going to speak to him, make sure your life insurance payments are up to date," Shinji said, moving next to his friend. "Because if he doesn't bite your head off then I'm not the best mechanic in the Kanto region."
He waited patiently for the sandy haired driver to say something but Haruka's attention seemed entirely focused on the small oil stain on the floor. Shinji observed the tense lines in the youthful face and the black hollows under the unusually dark green eyes with mounting concern. He was used to bouts of moodiness from the high school student, even witnessed an occasional blow up from the temperamental star of Japan's racing circuit from time to time but this was different. Yet he couldn't put a finger on what that that something was.
"Haruka, is there something you want to tell me?" He asked, unsure of how to draw his friend out. "To put it bluntly, you look like you've been dragged through a war zone and then run over by a truck. You haven't been acting like your usual smart mouth self and I'm worried about you -- everyone is. I might not be the best person to ask for advice and normally, I'm not exactly the sharing and caring type but if you ever want to talk to me … about anything, you know I'll always be here for you."
He saw the corner of her lip draw up into a smile but it was far from pleasant.
Still staring at the ground, she whispered, almost as if to herself, "How do you help someone who doesn't want to be saved?"
Shinji wasn't sure what disturbed him more: her cryptic question or the utterly hopeless tone in which it was delivered. He stayed silent, just looking at her, even more unsure of what to do.
The senshi finally looked up at him, her eyes dulled of their usual sparkle. "So how have you been lately?" She asked in a blatant attempt to change the subject away from her. "Tricked anyone gullible enough to actually go out on a date with you yet?"
Although clearly not happy about being shut out, Shinji, much to the senshi's relief, did not try to pursue a topic his friend so clearly did not want to discuss. Subconsciously relaxing his stance, he smiled a rueful grin.
"Not everyone has as handsome a face as you, playboy. If I did, I'd have someone as beautiful as Michiru hanging off my arm too." The quick flicker in steel green eyes was not missed and the stocky mechanic had to restrain himself from not asking if Haruka's distress had anything to do with the driver's girlfriend.
Looking directly into the mechanic's eyes, the young woman asked with a cheerless smirk, "Haven't you ever heard, Shinji? Beauty is on the inside."
"Might be so but it doesn't hurt if some of it leaks outside too," he joked, earning a small laugh from the tall blonde that lasted all of two seconds.
As if a switch had been thrown, Haruka suddenly became agitated and looked down at her watch. "Hey, listen, I've got to go. I'll talk to you later, okay?" Without waiting for a reply, she turned to leave, only to have her arm caught in a restraining grip.
"You'll remember my offer won't you, Haruka?"
She gave the mechanic a quick smile that never quite reached her eyes. "Who knows? I might take you up on it someday, Shinji." Slipping loose, the lanky young woman strode out of the garage, feeling a pair of worried brown eyes on her back each step of the way.
She knew it would never happen; she could never confide that part of her life to her friend no matter how much she would've liked to. A dark secret showered with light didn't grow under the gentle radiance -- it withered and died, spreading its poison to the ones shining the light in a last vindictive act of vengeance. Shinji would not be caught up in that if she could help it. Haruka had hurt enough people as it was.
Walking angrily to her car, she slid into the bucket seats and sat there motionless. She felt so cold inside -- aimless and floating on a stormcloud, dark with rain. Her hands unconsciously tightened on the steering wheel, wanting to break it, as she was surely broken. But she knew it would only be a temporary salve at best. Closing her eyes tightly, she forced her mind to focus and almost on cue, a picture of a golden haired girl with moon kissed eyes swam in front of her mind's eye.
She remembered now why she was putting herself through this pain. All the betrayals, all the hurts, all the lies … it was all worth it if she had her princess' love. Nothing else was as important -- not friendship, not duty, not even the fate of the world. And if the reciprocal was also true -- if her love could make Usagi happy too, she would gladly endure an eternity of pain for the chance to shower her beloved with kisses. Her eyes opening once again, revealing a calm determination in the emerald eyes, the willful senshi started her car, mindful that time was running short. If she didn't want her impatient love to wait, she'd have to step on the gas the entire way -- something she was not averse to doing.
Driving past the large garage, something garishly bright caught the corner of her eye. Turning slightly, the wind senshi saw nothing but a gray cluster of oil drums, yet that brief flash of something nibbled at the edges of her psyche. There was a link there she wasn't making and it maddened her because she sensed that it should be obvious. But, as distracted as she already was, the puzzle was reluctantly pushed back into her subconscious where it would occasionally be prodded and scrutinized until this mystery finally unraveled … or drove her mad.
As opposed to her usual aggressive style, Haruka navigated the streets with a reckless preoccupation. Her turns were sloppier, her control rough but if she was aware of it, she neither showed it nor compensated accordingly. The tires of her car zoomed past blocks and streetlights standing sentinel, going faster, ever faster as if trying to outrun time itself. The asphalt snaked unending through the city, a black ribbon that she followed, whose path she knew led to one person.
She arrived in front of Juuban High School with a squeal of protesting rubber and not a minute to spare as the distinctive tones of the closing bell chimed. Haruka waited as patiently as she could, her fingers drumming an uneven tattoo on the black steering wheel, entirely oblivious to the warmth of the shining sun, to the soft cooling breeze, and to the peaceful silence. Noise abruptly shattered the once tranquil atmosphere as hundreds of teenagers started spewing from the front doors -- a veritable tide of adolescent humanity that was continually chattering, laughing, and playing. The school grounds fairly hummed with energy, its residents at once playful and shrill.
On the periphery of her vision, she blithely registered several students stopping to ogle her but she was indifferent to their stares. The green-eyed senshi scanned the crowd intently, looking for one particular student as all of her senses screamed in anticipation. It seemed forever before her eyes finally landed on the dazzling face of her angel and, like all the times before, she was held in thrall by the delicate figure of her heart's desire. Although hardly unbiased on the subject, to the wind senshi, the sun shone just a little brighter on her golden haired nymph, the rest of the world just a little duller by comparison.
Simultaneously, as if drawn by the passionate stare, Usagi turned, locking eyes with reverential green orbs. With a wide smile ordinarily foreign on her handsome face, Haruka remained mesmerized by her fast approaching love. She didn't remember leaving the car. She didn't recollect closing the short distance separating her from her princess. She was only aware that she was suddenly standing in front of Usagi.
The sandy haired woman nearly reached out, intending to properly kiss her lover but the suddenly panicked blue eyes burning into her own stopped her as surely as a bucket of cold water. The noise and jostling crowds that had been mute before swiftly filled her senses again, making her dizzy as she tried to absorb the jarring transformation. Blinking as if waking from a deep sleep, she noticed for the first time that her golden haired princess was not alone. In fact, the blonde's three constant companions and protectors stood at her side, each one with varying degrees of surprise written across their faces, no doubt inspired by the outer senshi's unexpected presence.
Unsurprisingly, the gregarious senshi of love was the first to break the silence that had descended over the small group. "Hi Haruka!" Minako said, greeting her brightly. In a teasing tone, she asked, "What are you doing here? Don't tell me you're here to pick up some hot girls. What would Michiru think?"
Haruka noticed the rising blush on her princess' face and thought it absolutely adorable. Tearing her eyes away from the captivating sight, she looked at Minako and grinned her trademark half smile. "Michiru would think I have good taste," the green eyed woman answered, arching a delicate eyebrow. "After all, I'm talking to you four, aren't I?"
At her deliberately flattering words, the remaining three senshi blushed almost as beautifully as their princess.
Makoto cleared her throat -- a tall girl with long brown hair held up in a ponytail, she had harbored an admiration for the wind senshi since their first meeting. "It's so good to see you again," she said with her usual straightforward sincerity. "It seems so long since the last time we ran into each other."
"Is Michiru here too?" Ami asked, her short blue hair whipping around as she searched for the other outer senshi.
"No, she's not," Haruka answered shortly, the corners of her mouth tightening ever so slightly. Deliberately trying to lighten her tone, she added, "I'm actually here to pick up the odango atama. We have a date today."
Usagi immediately became completely red, managing to stammer and stutter all at once. However, she somehow conveyed, albeit in the most confusing manner possible, that the two weren't going on an actual date. She never did tell them exactly what they were doing though because by the end of her stunted explanation, she was already halfway to Haruka's car, dragging a very willing sandy haired senshi behind her.
"Goodbye everyone. I'll see you tomorrow," Usagi called back to her dumbfounded friends as she excitedly climbed into the blonde racer's car.
Unable to keep the perpetual smile from her face while in such close proximity to her princess, Haruka jumped into the driver's seat of her car, soon leaving only a cloud of dust where her convertible was once parked. The three remaining senshi continued looking on, still left speechless by the strange display put on by their oftentimes ditzy friend.
"Was that odd to any of you?" Minako asked, finally breaking the lengthy silence.
Makoto shrugged her shoulders. "It's Usagi," she said, the simple explanation apparently enough to satisfy everyone in the group.
Title: Chapter Four
With one hand on a smoothly naked thigh and another adeptly controlling the fast moving vehicle they were riding in, the emerald-eyed racer was positive she was being given a taste of heaven's rapture. It was her two favorite things in the entire world rolled into one: Usagi and speed. They meshed beautifully together into an experience more exhilarating than she could have ever imagined made doubly so as the wind kept them constant companion, raking invisibly playful fingers through their tousled hair.
Haruka's fingers rubbed gentle circles on her princess' creamy white skin, her hand partially hidden under the blue skirt of the younger girl's uniform which had ridden up even higher due to her efforts. She could feel the searing heat tickling the flesh of her hand just a few inches away. Taking a quick peak at her passenger to gauge her beloved's reaction, she could feel her heart constricting almost painfully in her chest. Normally wide innocent blue eyes were closed; head back thrown back against the leather seat as Haruka's hand did some not so innocent things to the younger girl's body.
"I've missed you so much," whispered her golden haired lover. "… so much." No sooner did the words leave those sweet lips then they were swiftly claimed by the wind.
Not wanting the exquisite moment to end in a crash, the wind senshi turned her eyes back to the road. Inexorably, her fingers probed higher as she moved that last little distance to the incredible heat emanating from the apex of silken thighs. A flash of familiar burning warmth washed through Haruka's own lanky form at the first intimate touch. The purr of the motor almost masked the surprised gasp that escaped from her companion's delicate coral colored lips but Haruka heard it all the same.
Grazing an eager finger lightly across the moist panty covered flesh, the wind senshi felt herself let out an equally breathy sigh. Her mouth watered slightly at the remembered sweetness flowing from that endless fount. She longed to bury her tongue deep inside her teenaged lover's body and feel those walls surrounding her like soft velvet. The more she indulged her fantasy, the bolder she became. Eventually maneuvering around the cloth barrier altogether, her fingers trembled as she touched wet heat.
Haruka longed to plunge her fingers inside her princess' warmth, to feel again that moment of completeness when lover shuddered around her. But doubts from yesterday intruded without warning, reminding the emerald-eyed senshi why she'd called this sudden meeting in the first place. With a keen reluctance, she withdrew although unable to leave the inviting spot without lingering for a few guilty moments.
Usagi's eyes instantly flew open at the biting absence. "Ruka-chan," she panted, squirming slightly in her seat. "Please … "
The shorthaired woman winced at the plea, wishing with all her heart that she could give in to her desires -- it would be so easy … but she would be damned if there was even the slimmest chance she was taking advantage of her princess and until she knew for certain, she would go no further. Returning her wayward hand back onto her own lap amidst continued protests from her passenger, she stepped on the gas, gunning the engine in sheer frustration.
Speaking through gritted teeth, Haruka brusquely stated, "We have to talk."
She didn't notice Usagi's expression of alarm, only that her princess was unusually silent on the remainder of the drive. Five minutes later, they arrived at the park and the hush became even more apparent in the absence of the wind's voice and the tick, tick, tick of the cooling engine.
"Did I … did I do something wrong?" The timidly asked question snapped the sandy haired senshi from her thoughts and she turned, a wrinkle of confusion marring her features normally smooth features.
"What?" She sputtered, completely taken aback. Watching horrified as tears began quickly collecting in cherished blue eyes, she reached out on pure instinct, her hands gathering the smaller fine boned pair in a gentle embrace.
"I don't want you to leave me," Usagi cried out as she all but leapt into startled arms, seemingly oblivious to the awkwardness of the new position.
After her initial astonishment, Haruka gently cradled her distressed lover, rubbing soothingly on a shuddering back.
"I'm not," the senshi stated firmly. "I'm not leaving you -- not until you tell me you're tired of me anyway."
Usagi vehemently shook her head as she burrowed her tearstained face deeper into the comforting hug. "Don't ever say that," she muttered. "How could I ever get tired of you when I love you so much? I'm just afraid you'll get tired of me and … "
Petering out in a helpless sob, the golden haired girl nearly climbed onto the senshi's lap, wrapping slender arms around Haruka's neck in a firm grasp. Feeling equally helpless as her princess' tears began soaking through her shirt, Haruka held onto the smaller girl while muttering a continual litany of what she hoped were calming words until the crying lessened to a few sniffles and hiccups. This was not how the wind senshi wanted this discussion to start.
"Do you want to go for a walk?" She asked instead, suddenly feeling suffocated by the car's cramped surroundings.
The golden head against her chest nodded ever so slightly and, Haruka was left with the conundrum of figuring out the technical dynamics of just how to separate them enough to step out of the car without taking a tumble to the ground. It took some maneuvering and every bit of limberness on the racer's behalf to get the both of them standing safely outside of the car, although Usagi continued to tightly cling to her arm as if the princess' very life depended on the contact.
Pointing down a random path, the leggy senshi suggested in a quiet voice, "How about we go that way?"
At her companion's nod of acquiescence, the two started walking slowly across the park: a handsome couple in the eyes of all those they passed. Eventually they approached a more isolated stretch of land that bordered a small pond. Haruka led them to a bench where they sat down in much the same silence that had stretched between them for a better part of the afternoon.
When the racer's question came, the words shattered the previous hush into so many splinters of instantly forgotten calm.
"If I asked you a question," Haruka began, enunciating each word carefully. "Would you answer me truthfully?"
She didn't dare turn to see her princess' face, afraid for reasons her mind couldn't even articulately voice. It was only the gentle pull of delicate hands on her chin that left her no choice in the matter.
"Yes," the answer came, washing across her cheeks on a tremulous breath that she could barely hear. "Ask me."
Haruka's heart beat an erratic tattoo in her chest as she looked into the guileless blue eyes of her beloved -- so close she could see the darker shade of the irises. She didn't want to upset her lover any more than she was already but the sandy haired senshi needed to know. Gently, she lowered her head, bringing their foreheads together in a tender gesture while breathing in the familiarly clean scent.
Deciding she could no longer put it off, the racer asked in a rush, "Last Saturday, did you feel forced in any way to sleep with me? Please koneko-chan, if I did anything that made you think you had to do something you didn't want, please tell me."
There was a moment of stunned silence before Usagi backed up just enough to pin agonized green eyes with a disbelieving look.
"No," Usagi fervently denied while simultaneously shaking her head. "What made you think that, Ruka-chan? I wanted you to … I wanted what happened as much as you did. I wanted you to be my first. How could you think I didn't?"
Haruka let out the breath she hadn't been aware she was holding as the relief washed over her like a priest's benediction but as much as she wanted to just accept this answer and let the whole thing go, a part of her mind continued to worry. Feelings of inadequacy long plaguing her psyche reared up as if just waiting for such an opportunity to cut her hopes off at the knees and as usual, her fears paved the way for her doubts. When it came right down to it, she still couldn't believe how someone as pure and good as Usagi could ever want to be with someone like her.
As if reading her mind, and Haruka would not have been surprised if it really were the case, the blue-eyed girl ran soothing fingers through her short thick hair in a manner reminiscent of petting an agitated puppy.
"You're my heart. No matter what happens, that will always be true." Usagi's voice was unexpectedly laced with steel. It sounded even more incongruous coming from the usually bubbly girl and yet Haruka had heard the tone many times before, only it usually came from her girlfriend's alter ego.
"What about Mamoru?" The question, when it came, surfaced from the darkest depths of the wind senshi's mind; a place not often visited, at least not while still awake.
The once open blue eyes became shuttered in an instant. They had never actually discussed him or the future, for that matter. Haruka was afraid, whether justified or not, that to do so would invite an inevitable ultimatum, and she doubted she would come out the winner in that. No matter how much she wanted to believe otherwise, fate was too heavy a boulder to push aside with a light swat.
Usagi's voice immediately snapped her attention back to her princess. "He's my prince. He's the man I'm supposed to marry. He's the one I'm destined to spend the rest of my life with. It's strange; most days, I can barely remember to brush my hair before going off to school and yet they all expect me to accept that the rest of my eternity has already been planned out by some higher force. I guess I should be happy because I do love him …"
The sandy haired racer winced as she tried bracing herself against the rejection she was sure was coming. Instead of jagged words that would rend her heart to shreds, her princess looked at her instead with absolute adoration.
"… but don't you see?" Usagi continued. "I can't be happy walking through eternity without you by my side. I'm only in love with you … not Mamoru."
Haruka pulled the girl into a crushing embrace, feeling a heady combination of elation and relief. It was finally out in the open -- her princess did love her, even more than the prince and that was saying something considering the many times she'd witnessed the smaller girl pining away for her 'Mamo-chan'. But that was all in the past now; she was positive of it. In the here and now, she knew with a conviction that was sorely lacking before now that her lover's heart was hers and hers alone.
"I love you too, koneko-chan," she said, nibbling softly on a tempting neck. "You're in my heart … woven into my soul."
Usagi emitted a sound halfway between a gasp and a whimper at the unexpectedly welcome touch, pressing closer to the lanky body engulfing her own like a living blanket. Almost a full minute passed as the two lovers continued to receive comfort and give comfort.
"Did I tell you the funny thing that happened to me today?" The muffled question made Haruka chuckle. It was just like the younger girl to bring up totally incongruous subject changes.
Humoring her golden haired angel, she said, "No, but I'd love to hear it."
The two of them stayed there for the remainder of the afternoon, completely wrapped up in each other's presence, frequently exchanging sweet words and sweeter caresses. It was only the purpling shades of sunset that finally urged them up to meander their way slowly back towards the car. Haruka wished again that the day didn't have to end so soon but she comforted herself with the fact that they'd made plans for the weekend. She also knew that this would make the next couple of days drag on interminably. It was always this way when there was some future event to look forward to.
The drive back was pleasant if still a tad bittersweet, the accompanying wind replaced by the continual low jabber of the radio. It seemed like no time at all before Haruka was pulling up in front of the Tsukino residence and it was time for them to part once again.
"Here we are," she said rather unnecessarily as she turned in her seat.
"I'll see you this Saturday," Usagi said, undoing her seatbelt. "Remember, you promised we'll spend the whole day together."
An indulgent smile lit up the senshi's face. "I know and I can't wait."
Looking around as if afraid someone would pop out at any moment, her blue-eyed lover returned the smile with a shy one of her own and then leaned forward to give Haruka a quick kiss on the lips.
"I love you Ruka-chan," she said with an adorable giggle. Quickly leaving the car, Usagi waved goodbye and disappeared inside her house.
The sandy haired racer stayed there as long as she could without the risk of arousing the neighbors' suspicions that she was some kind of stalker. The last thing she wanted were the cops involved -- she could just picture the tabloid headlines now and the image made her shudder. Giving the house one last forlorn look, she pulled out, wondering what she was going to do for the rest of the night. Unable to come up with anything off the top of her head, she decided to just drive around for a while. Michiru wasn't expecting her home for another few hours yet so she had time to kill without anywhere she really needed to be.
The afternoon with her princess played over in her mind and, unconsciously a warm smile appeared on her face. Not necessarily paying attention to where she was going, she soon found herself in a less than savory part of the city: little red riding hood wandering into the wolf's den, only this little girl could throw a mean left hook. Even when she noticed where she was, she wasn't particularly worried. She was, after all, Sailor Uranus. Not only did she possess super powers, she was also supremely confident that she could take care of herself in any situation -- so much so, that her attitude sometimes bordered on the arrogant. However, driving through street after street of boarded up buildings, empty warehouses, and broken streetlights left Haruka with a strong feeling of unease. This sense of disquiet was only exacerbated by the few people she saw along the way who seemed deliberately to avoid any eye contact with the driver in the flashy car.
Although by no means as perceptive as her partner, Sailor Neptune, Haruka could tell there was something unbelievably wrong with the entire situation. The nervous tension in her body manifested in the tightened grip on the steering wheel and the tautness of her jaw. Aside from these small allowances in body posture, if one were objectively observing the senshi, there was nothing else to indicate her increased state of agitation.
She was just debating the best way to get out of that neighborhood when, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flash of showy color under the dim light of a nearby streetlight. Instinctively, she stepped on the brake, causing a screech of protest from her abused tires. The green-eyed senshi had seen that color before -- once might have been coincidence but twice in the same day smelled like the shore at low tide. Haruka's head swiveled around, managing to catch just the barest glimpse of a figure running around the corner half a block behind her car. For the briefest second, the thought of leaving it be and driving on crossed the handsome racer's mind, only to be shoved back in favor of direct confrontation.
Title: Chapter Five
Through dark alleys, over rancid piles of garbage, she ran. Her feet thudded against the hard ground, the shocks not abated in the least by shoes made more for walking through elegant hallways than sprinting along narrow passages. The stink of decomposing garbage assaulted the senshi's nostrils, clinging stubbornly onto her clothes and skin as she followed behind the maddening glimpses of color that would disappear around a corner just when she was closing in.
It seemed more and more that this 'thing' was leading her around in circles but she couldn't be sure -- all the buildings looked alike to her. There were no landmarks, nothing familiar. She was tired of running around like a dog chasing its own tail, never getting any closer to its goal. She was getting mad too and it didn't help either that a flash of lightning had just pierced the sky in an ominous foreboding of rain. In a bit of a tangent, she mentally ranted over the unreliable nature of weather forecasters while hurdling over what appeared to be a bunch of rags lying in the middle of the alley.
More used to short bursts of speed as opposed to long distance running, the wind senshi knew she had to end this chase soon. Forcing her legs to pump even faster, she rounded another corner, determined now more than ever, she would catch whatever this was and make it taste sailor senshi justice if for no other reason than for taking her on this wild goose chase. As she turned the sharp corner on a dead run, her feet nearly skidded out from under her and it was only a testament to her quick reflexes that saved Haruka from slamming into an unforgiving brick wall.
As she regained her tenuous balance, the sandy haired racer saw through drops of stinging perspiration as the 'thing' ducked into what looked like a dark maw on the side of the building. It opened to face a far wider and cleaner space than the tight alleys she'd previously raced through. Haruka hurried to catch up, not wanting to lose it after chasing it over what seemed the whole of Tokyo. As she moved closer to the opening, she realized it was nothing more than a large cargo bay door, minus the doors, that led into a large warehouse.
It was absolutely dark inside and Haruka's instincts screamed as she contemplated entering into this dangerous unknown. And yet, she couldn't leave now -- not when she was so close. She could hear the 'thing' moving inside, and for some reason, she knew this was going to be it; there would be no more running. It was waiting for her and all she had to do was take the first step. Almost as if compelled by some outside force, the lanky young woman stepped into the awaiting darkness which swallowed up her form like a grateful lover.
She was immediately surrounded by all encompassing blackness; what feeble light there was from outside the building did nothing to penetrate the unrelenting gloom inside. It seemed strange though that a building like this wouldn't have at least a few windows that would let in some natural light from outside. She doubted she could see her own hand if she held it in front of her face but now was not a time to test the theory. The noise came again from somewhere to her left -- a coarse whispery sound that reminded the wind senshi of shoes shuffling along a sand covered floor. Allowing a tiny grin to cross her face, Haruka crept stealthily towards what she assumed was the source of her quarry only to not so stealthily trip over something before she'd taken four steps.
She landed hard on the palms of her hands and needles of pain immediately shot through her flesh. Letting out a low grunt, Haruka swiftly got back on her feet and into a low crouch as she examined her palms as well as she could by feel alone. Her fingers touched lightly upon tiny little splinters of wood sticking out of her palms. Realizing she couldn't do much about the injury in her present situation, she continued to prowl slowly, albeit more carefully, towards the direction she'd heard the noise from last. She didn't know from where or when an attack might come and not being able to use one of the senses she relied on so heavily in her daily life, was proving a nerve-racking effort that only grew with each step she took.
Moving forward in her slow prowl, it seemed she'd traversed the entire length of a football stadium without bumping into anything more substantial than empty space and she still couldn't be sure if she was even headed in the right direction, having not heard the noise again since initially walking into this building. Her only frame of reference came from the lighter patch of dark against the backdrop of complete black to her left that was the entrance she'd taken into the building. It was times like this she wished she had Rei's power of fire; in her present frame of mind, Haruka would probably light this infernal place up like a roman candle and watch the whole thing burn.
Unable to see where she was going, ignorant of what she was chasing, unaware of the ultimate purpose in this cat and mouse game, the senshi of the wind was close to blasting a hole into the wall if only to determine where the walls might be. Stifling the impulse, at least for the moment, Haruka inched forward a little faster or as fast as a low crawl-walk-crouch allowed. In a matter of moments, her hand, held slightly in front of her to ward off surprise attacks by stationary objects, brushed across something solid and cold.
The relieved senshi immediately latched on to it as if it were a lifeline and as she felt the object with her hands, she discovered that she was holding onto a metal railing. And right next to the metal railing, she soon realized, was a set of concrete steps, leading up to she knew not what. The other side of the stairs boasted nothing but a rough wall so going further in that direction was not an option. Haruka hesitated, allowing the uneasiness she'd been feeling since the start of her chase to settle like a nauseous stone in the pit of her stomach. She had a choice here: she could either climb up the stairs, not knowing if the creature she was chasing was even up there or not, or she could head back to the entrance of the warehouse and forget this foolish venture. Even as the thought formed in her mind, she knew there was no way she could just drop this. She would finish it and she would finish it now.
Breathing in a fortifying breath that tasted of stale air on the back of her throat, she moved up the stairs in the same deliberate manner employed while traipsing across the building. As she moved steadily up, she couldn't shake the feeling that whatever she had gotten herself into was only going to get worse -- much worse than wandering around aimless in the dark.
Haruka thanked god for small favors, however, that the climb took much less time than the previous walk. Her climb was stopped abruptly at some type of obstruction right above her head. As before, the green-eyed beauty used her hands to try and figure out what was blocking her path, ignoring the small painful hurts that still throbbed on her hands. Five minutes later of careful exploration later, she was fairly certain that the barrier she'd run into was the ceiling. Assuming that no sane person would build stairs, leading directly into the ceiling, Haruka reasoned that there had to be some kind of door above her to justify the stairs, and if that weren't the case, then there would be one very pissed off senshi in the building.
The senshi of the wind crouched low, bracing her feet two steps below the ceiling and gripping the metal railing tightly with both hands. With one hard shove, she rammed her shoulder as hard as she could against the ceiling, her legs extending as fully as possible, hoping that the secret door, if indeed there was one, would give way under her one woman assault. She bit back a groan of pain as soft flesh impacted with unyielding surface, creating an immediate shooting pain across her whole left side.
In a show of sheer obstinacy, she used herself as a battering ram again and again without pausing to register the pain until finally, with a loud pop and clang, a section of the ceiling popped outwards. Haruka barely had time to feel triumphant at her small victory before being deluged by a cold shower falling from above her. The thunderstorm she'd been dreading before had evidently broken, though how she could have missed the pounding rain from inside a building that should have amplified sound like a giant drum, she still wasn't sure.
Shaking her head to rid herself of some of the water running into her eyes, she grasped onto the edges of the opening and, the nearly soaked sailor senshi, hauled herself up. It was readily apparent after she stood there for a few moments, trying to get her bearings, that her new surroundings were fairly well lit as opposed to the complete darkness she'd just emerged from. It was also fairly apparent that she had ended up on the roof of the building. High wattage lights placed in the four corners of the large roof shakily shone through the sheets of rain.
Haruka was completely drenched in no time, her hair plastered against her skin, her clothes grown soggy and uncomfortable. She was just deciding on how to best proceed in this mess when a skittering sound that had nothing to do with water falling from the sky suddenly came from behind her. Before she could fully turn her head around, something barreled into her back, sending her sprawling several feet away. As much as the surprise attack hurt, she was thankful she wasn't standing in front of the hole she'd just crawled out from, otherwise, she would probably have taken a head first dive down a long flight of concrete steps.
Allowing her instincts to take over, Haruka quickly tucked her body, rolling with the hit and hopefully, getting a few feet between her and her attacker as she came up in a defensive crouch. She blinked, trying to see through the heavy rain. All she caught was flashes of colored cloth coming straight at her at incredible speeds. Jumping to her left, just barely evading the cloth, the sandy haired senshi landed on her already bruised side. Barely slowing down even though her body was screaming for a reprieve, Haruka jumped back to her feet and ran towards the edge of the roof. If this 'thing' thought it could take her down so easily, it obviously had no idea who it was dealing with.
Retrieving her henshin pen from her space pocket, she shouted the magic words.
"Uranus Crystal Power Make-Up!"
In a burst of light, a white cylinder of energy engulfed her body; it was a peculiar feeling, not unlike placing ones hand on the third rail, only instead of immediate crispy death, it felt more like a pleasant buzz. As the transformation ended, the famous racecar driver, Haruka Tenoh, was no more. In her place stood one of the outer sailor senshi. Uranus skidded to a stop and spun around, her eyes quickly roaming around the dimly lit roof for any sign of her attacker.
She didn't have to wait long -- two long pieces of cloth flew towards her from out of the wet gloom and it registered in her mind a split second after she leaped to the side that the color of the cloth was an off-white, devoid of all color until it caught the light in just the right way, in which case, it became iridescent, nearly vibrant. It was no wonder she couldn't pin down the exact color before. Flipping back onto her feet, she realized that the cloth had retracted back from whence it had come. She raised her arm, about to deliver an attack of her own when the strips of cloth returned, flying even faster than before, straight at her.
Sailor Uranus attempted to jump backwards but got caught in midair as the cloth wrapped around her torso, somehow holding her up in the air. She gasped, feeling the constricting binds starting to squeeze. It felt like an elephant was sitting right on her chest, refusing to let her take another life giving breath. Black dots soon began swimming in front of her eyes and she could swear she could even hear some of her ribs creaking. A figure emerged slowly from out of the darkness, swathed in the same iridescent material as the cloth currently incapacitating her. The long sleeves of its dress reached nearly down to the knees and, from within those sleeves, the other ends of the cloth disappeared. It came to stand within a foot of the suspended senshi, its blood red lips twisting up into a smile.
A vague memory floated past Uranus' oxygen starved brain as she saw the figure's face. She knew this 'thing' and although the red hair was now straight instead of curly, the eyes were the same -- still the same eerie shade of silver. This was the same annoying woman she'd met at Michiru's party last night, she was sure of it.
"Remember me, Miss Tenoh?" The creature asked, confirming her suspicions with a malicious smile. "I see I'm not the only one keeping secrets. I must say you were handsome before but now you're absolutely divine. I've wanted you for so long, my dear Haruka and now here you are, just dangling there like a ripe little treat for me to pluck … I bet you taste sweet. You aren't going to be difficult and fight me, are you darling?"
Not bothering to answer the rhetorical question, the senshi blocked out her captor's words, and concentrated until she felt the familiar reassuring weight in her hand. With the appearance of her jewel-encrusted sword, Uranus didn't waste any time as she deftly cut off the cloth binding her body, the restraints shredding easily against her sharp blade.
The creature she formerly knew as Chisuko Yamamoto, screeched in agony almost as if its own limbs had been lopped off instead of lifeless pieces of cloth. Now that she had nothing holding her up, Uranus dropped to the ground with a jarring jolt, splashing onto the roof and into a newly formed puddle, her lungs immediately expanding, sucking in each precious breath of air.
She knew there was little time to rest with her enemy so close. Marshalling her reserves, the sandy haired senshi leapt to her feet, simultaneously slashing up diagonally with her sword. With superhuman reflexes, the creature leaned back just far enough that the blade barely skimmed the front of its dress. Before Uranus could bring the sword back down, the tattered remains of the cloth that still trailed from her enemy's sleeves shot out again, this time wrapping tightly around the senshi's face.
The senshi's head was thrown back with enough force to snap the neck of any ordinary human. Instinctively, she clawed at the cloth covering her face. It felt like her head was being held in a vice while some sadistic operator at the controls continued to turn the crank. Dropping to her knees, the oxygen deprived senshi slashed out again with her sword to the accompaniment of another unholy scream of agony. The rent pieces of fabric dropped away from her face, amazingly dry even though the rain continued falling from the sky in heavy fat drops.
Her legs tensed, readying for a mad charge at the murderous creature only to find it gone when the cloth slid from her eyes. Nothing but dark gloom and distant lights met her searching gaze. Uranus stood up, her eyes continually sweeping from one shadowy spot to the next, trying to anticipate the next attack.
Whether graced with the goodwill of some sympathetic god or by sheer luck alone, a flash of jagged lightening split the sky just then, its thin branches of white light, illuminating the area on the roof and exposing that which had wanted to stay hidden. Not one to let a chance opportunity slip through her fingers, Uranus raised her right hand in the air, feeling the growing energy gathering in her palm as it manifested into a glowing yellow orb.
"World Shaking!" She shouted unleashing all that destructive power as she slammed it into the ground. The ball of yellow light ripped through the roof, growing ever larger as it traveled straight towards its wide-eyed target.
Immobilized as if its feet were glued to the floor, the creature watched powerless as impending death rushed towards it, a look of absolute terror on its face as the golden energy swallowed it whole. Its body began a systematic implosion, each of its major organs shutting down, shriveling as if squeezed by invisible hands. An all-consuming hatred for the one responsible for its pain welled up in the part of its mind that was still cognizant. Unwilling to leave this world without exacting its pound of flesh, it drew on every bit of power still at its disposable, roaring in the face of its fate.
Uranus shielded her eyes with one arm as the ball of burning light began growing brighter -- its radiance dwarfing anything from her past experiences, the sheer power in front of her pushing her back and lightly scorching her exposed flesh. An inhuman holler boomed through the night, the sound foretelling nothing but ill to all those who heard it. The senshi gritted her teeth as she dug in her heels but a sudden explosion from within the glowing energy sphere blasted her back as if her weight was inconsequential.
For one solitary moment, she felt like she was flying, weightless and adrift. Her vision was saturated by blinding white; she would have realized it was hurting her retinas if every single part of her body weren't also awash in piercing pain. She was an open wound, raw and bloody, flayed open to her bones -- she could feel each drop of rain like a pinprick stab on her sensitized skin. The solitary moment seemed to propagate and multiply, stretching out towards infinity, leaving her stranded in hell, until finally, blessedly, with a teeth rattling crash, she felt no more.
Title: Chapter Six
She wasn't sure how long she'd been out, completely unaware of the world around her. But the red tinge she could see through her eyelids reminded her of lazy Sunday mornings spent in bed when she was more inclined to sleep the hours away than get up. But her current situation was far from those pleasant memories her mind had oddly conjured up. If she had worked out for seventy-two hours straight and then invited someone to use her as a punching bag for a few rounds, she still doubted she would have felt worse than she did now.
When finally she summoned up the strength to open her eyes, it was to the painful sight of a white-hot blazing ball of light shining into them from high above in the sky. Blearily, she recalled another ball of light that had also hurt her. She remembered it now -- bits and pieces coming together to form a halfway decent roadmap down memory lane.
The chase. The fight. The pain. The reason she could barely breathe without her entire body hurting … it was all starting to make sense again. Letting her eyes drift shut, she felt inexplicably at peace, as if filling in the blank holes to her memory was some kind of anesthesia to her bruised and battered form. Idly, she wondered if she'd killed Chisuko Yamamoto and she surmised, after laboriously connecting the chain of events in her mind, that she must have. Otherwise she'd probably be dead now, wouldn't she?
But she wasn't. She was fine; aside from the fact she couldn't move an inch because it hurt so bad, everything was just fine. She only hoped Michiru wasn't too worried about her whereabouts. Her aqua-haired partner tended to worry when her lover was late by a couple of hours, let alone the entire night.
The next time Haruka opened her eyes, it was to the much more amenable sight of twilight. Her corneas were thankful, not being particularly fond of getting seared on a daily basis. She tested the various other parts of her body, delicately moving sore and tenderized muscles one at a time. It wasn't great and every little moment was still excruciating but she felt incrementally better than before she'd passed out. Even so, trying to sit up took a nearly Herculean effort and by the time the senshi's upper body was in a somewhat vertical position, she was soaked in perspiration, her skin a translucent pale.
A quick glance down to her wrist made her heart plummet down to her stomach. The glinting spider web of cracks on the face of her wrist communicator taunted the senshi, its fragile plastic casing apparently no match for the explosion. She would have tried to use it regardless just to be certain if the keys on the little pad weren't smushed and falling out. Her initial plan for calling one of the other sailor senshi for help had just been flushed down the toilet. Of course, Haruka reflected in rueful resignation, if the thing weren't broken, then that would have been truly surprising, considering the type of day she was having. She didn't know how she was going to make it all the way home or even to the nearest phone booth to call Michiru.
The green eyed young woman opened her mouth as a sudden agonizing pain ripped through her chest, tearing a scream from her throat. Eventually petering out into a pitiable wail as her voice became increasingly scratchy and the pain abated, she slumped forward, the sounds of her own harsh breathing resonating loudly in her ears. She didn't know what had happened, only that it felt like something had drilled itself inside her body and started dining on her insides. Shuddering and lightheaded, the senshi composed herself as best she could even as tears continued slowly dripping unchecked from her eyes. Her hand came up as she unconsciously rubbed her heart, trying to assuage the sharp ache that still lingered.
After long minutes of sucking up many fortifying lungfuls of air, Haruka struggled to her knees, hoping the all over trembling that had started at her hands and progressively spread towards her legs wouldn't drop her face down on the ground because that would no doubt hurt something awful. With agonizingly slow sluggish movements that would put a three-toed sloth to shame, the senshi of the wind got to her feet, dangerously swaying for several seconds before regaining a modicum of her usual balance.
She glanced down at herself and winced at the sight she no doubt made. Her sailor fuku had changed back to her original outfit, which looked like it had been set on fire and run through the mud several times. She was tattered, she smelled acrid, and she probably looked like ten miles of bad road. But, on the bright side, at least she wasn't dead, she thought with no small amount of gallows humor. Now all she had to do was figure out how to get out of here, wherever here was.
For the first time, the disheveled racer looked around at her surroundings, the quickly vanishing natural light making it difficult to make out many details. Since there wasn't any reason to believe otherwise, she figured she'd been flung off the roof of the warehouse she'd chased that creature into and landed in some side alley. Haruka would have thought that with the sheer power of the explosion that night, it would have done a number on the building if not the entire city block but evidently, everything seemed normal -- at least from where she stood. And if she was indeed near the warehouse, there was no way she would be able to find her way back to her car -- not after all those twists and turns she'd been led through.
Wiping some of the moisture from her eyes, the wounded senshi moved at a snail's pace towards the mouth of the alley, every step plodding and awkward as if her feet were strapped with lead weights. She knew there was a good chance of passing out again way before she could get help but the thought of sitting around and waiting for rescue didn't exactly appeal to her, especially now that it was night and a decided chill was seeping into her flesh.
She concentrated solely on putting one foot in front of the other, pushing the pain aside into a tight manageable ball that she could bounce somewhere else. If asked later how long she walked or how far, she wouldn't have been able to say with any amount of certainty. One mile, two, three -- it all blurred together in her weary mind. The only thing she could say for sure was that when she noticed the lonely set of headlights coming towards her from down the street, it was possibly one of the most beautiful sights she'd seen in her life.
It was a small miracle that she wasn't run over when she practically threw herself onto the road and even more amazing that the driver turned out to be a twenty-one year old Haruka Tenoh fan. Sometimes, it was very good to be famous, the racer reflected but after her run in with Chisuko, the blonde was understandably leery of any more coincidental meetings with fans. However, having trudged on shaky limbs for what seemed the greater part of Tokyo, Haruka was frankly too tired and too in need of painkillers to look a gift horse in the mouth so she accepted the offer of a ride when it was given.
As bad as she must look and as much as she must resemble a refugee from some war torn country, she was able to convince the helpful young man that she didn't need to go to the hospital and instead would be just fine if he dropped her off at her apartment. On the thirty-minute ride there, Haruka was grateful that her fan was considerate enough not to ask her a barrage of questions and simply let her rest. She watched the passing buildings, absently noting the gradual but definite shift as the neighborhoods they traveled through became more posh and upscale. It wasn't long after that when the car pulled to a stop in front of a familiar glass and metal façade.
"I really appreciate this," the sandy haired senshi said, working to get the seatbelt off with fingers that had gone stiff.
"Don't mention it," her spiky haired fan replied. "I couldn't believe it when I saw it was you back there. I almost thought I was getting carjacked. Hey, you wouldn't mind signing an autograph for me, would you? Nobody would believe me if I told them this story."
Haruka gave him a weak grin and proceeded to sign her name to a napkin he dug out of the glove box. It was only after he left that she realized she hadn't gotten his name.
Mentally and physically exhausted, the green eyed senshi pulled out a key ring from her pant's pocket, noticing belatedly that her wallet was missing. She couldn't help but chuckle at this perfect ending to a perfectly miserable day although her chuckle came out sounding more like a choked expulsion of air. Placing her head for a second against the cool surface of the glass door, she reflected on how ludicrous it sounded to lose her wallet in a fight -- she bet this kind of thing never happened to Batman.
Pushing off and unlocking the door, she limped into the lobby, never more grateful than now that her building had an elevator. She again wondered, while waiting for the elevator car to get to the ground floor, how Michiru would react on seeing her in her current state. Even though they had fought against youma on numerous occasions and even stopped the end of the world once, it still wasn't every day that one of them came home after disappearing for god knows how long looking like week old roadkill. She should have really asked the guy who had driven her back what day it was but, at the time, she was only concerned with how good it felt to be off her feet.
Usagi would probably be worried too since she was used to Haruka calling her at least once a day, if for nothing else than to listen to the golden haired girl recount her day in her charmingly naive way. She'd have to call her princess as soon as possible and reassure her that everything was all right since the younger girl also had a tendency to fret. Truth be told, Haruka liked the fact that her princess fussed over her and she felt no embarrassment over admitting such a fact. It made her feel special and incredibly loved knowing that the person who owned her heart worried over her well-being.
The ping of the arriving elevator broke the senshi from her pleasant thoughts and she entered with a relieved sigh. She couldn't wait until she was back in her soft bed again. In sleep, she would be free from pain -- hopefully, after a long nap, she would even start feeling halfway human again. Another ping and a whoosh of the opening doors startled Haruka into discovering that falling asleep on the short trip up eleven floors was indeed possible.
She stumbled into the hallway, catching herself on the walls before she could trip over her own feet. The last of her energy had long been used up -- she was running on fumes now. If she didn't get into her apartment soon, Michiru would find a very nice surprise waiting for her outside in the morning. And unwilling to give her best friend a shock equivalent of a horse's head in her bed, Haruka soldiered on, eventually reaching the end of the hallway and the door through which her respite lay.
After fumbling with her keys and growing increasingly frustrated at her inability to execute such a simple task as sticking the little bit of metal in the hole, she finally managed to open the door. The apartment was dark and silent when she entered. She moved jerkily towards the sofa a couple of feet away and sat down heavily on the soft cushions, intending only to rest her eyes for a while. It felt so incredibly good as she finally allowed her body to relax for the first time in hours that it took a couple of minutes for her brain to register the fact that her sofa was gray.
Ordinarily, Haruka had no problem with gray -- as a color, it was too neutral a shade to inspire any kind of strong response either way. But she did have a problem with her sofa being gray when she distinctly remembered the color having been white the last time she'd checked. Fatigue instantly forgotten in light of this strange development, she looked around the living room, noticing other differences large and small that were just now started to steep into her befuddled mind.
The sofa shouldn't be where it was; it should be closer to the far wall. She didn't remember owning that large floral print next to the window and where was the vase of flowers Michiru always kept on the desk. For that matter, where was the desk? There was track lighting where there should have been floor lamps, a wet bar where the wind senshi's grand piano used to stand, and the pervading scent of cigarette smoke in that air. If she didn't know better, she would have thought she'd wandered into the wrong apartment. But if that were true, her key shouldn't have worked and the view out the window wouldn't be the same one she'd looked out of nearly every day for the last year.
It was all too bizarre. Had she really hit her head that hard when she fell? She hadn't encountered any lumps or bumps but maybe she hadn't looked carefully enough. Running a distracted hand through her short blonde locks, Haruka continued to gape like a fish out of water at the strange turn of events that had suddenly ambushed her.
Eventually, she came to realize that sitting on the couch, staring at one strange piece of furniture after another was not going to answer any of the dozen questions that had already formed in her mind over the course of the last five minutes. If she hoped to ease her struggling grasp on reality, there was only one person whose calming influence she could turn to.
She shouted the name at the top of her lungs, unable to keep the tiniest note of fear from creeping into her voice. Even though the senshi had a reputation for remaining cool under pressure, there was only so much one person could take during the course of twenty-four hours and Haruka had just reached her limit on the weird-shit-o'meter.
There was loud rustling from the direction of the bedroom followed by hushed voices and a soft thump of feet on the wooden floor. The sandy haired racer barely had enough time to wonder if she was really hearing more than one voice or if her mind was playing tricks on her when suddenly, the room was flooded with light. A frightened yelp almost immediately followed. Haruka blinked rapidly, trying to adjust her eyes to the brightness. Instead of her best friend standing beside her, there stood a young couple she'd never met before. She didn't know whether to give a yelp herself or just settle for a resigned sigh for the continued shite storm the gods deemed to shower on her head.
"Stay right where you are!" The brown haired man commanded. He stood at the short hallway, leading to the bedrooms, brandishing a bat in one hand. He glanced back at the young woman standing slightly behind him as if to make sure Haruka's mere presence weren't harming her in some way.
"Honey, call the police," he continued, returning his eyes the seated senshi while the woman, presumably his wife, moved back towards the bedroom. "I know two forms of martial arts so don't even think of trying anything." He waved his bat to emphasize the threat.
"Can I ask you just one thing?" Haruka asked, her voice coming out in a near monotone.
He seemed to consider it carefully before he gave her a suspicious nod, complete with narrowed eyes.
"Michiru Kaiou. … Where is she?"
The man's expression blanked for a second and then recognition slowly dawned in his eyes. "Michiru Kaiou, the famous violin player?" Haruka gave a short nod. The man shrugged his shoulders at the strange question and wondered if this intruder weren't some escaped mental patient -- she certainly dressed the part. He gripped his bat tighter. "How would I know? Look buddy. I'm not a tabloid reporter; I don't keep tabs on starlets. So just sit tight and we'll all wait right here 'til the cops get here."
Haruka nodded again and with a burst of speed that came from some unknown source deep inside the senshi, she grabbed the crystal candy dish from off the coffee table in front of her and tossed it like a Frisbee at the startled young man. She didn't wait around to see the aftermath, knowing her aim had been true by the stifled curse and the sound of aluminum hitting the floor. The wind senshi took off out the door, her movements surprisingly fluid considering she could barely move without limping not fifteen minutes before. She focused on getting out of there, not on the mind numbing pain that would no doubt return once the adrenaline rush was over.
Fortunately for her body, the elevator was still at her floor, not having been summoned by any other residents and it saved her a run down eleven flights of stairs. Even so, the ride down seemed to take an extraordinarily long time. When she finally burst out the front door of the building, Haruka consciously slowed down in order to attract as little attention as possible and, given her tattered appearance, it was quite a feat. As soon as she could, she slipped into a side street that had little foot traffic, and rested against a light post. The blonde was already coming off her high and as she had predicted, she was about to crash in a big way. Her vision was starting to waver, her breaths coming in too short and too shallow.
She needed help. Her mind immediately conjured up Usagi's image. If she could get to her princess, she just knew everything would be all right. Usagi would be able to tell her what was going on and where the Michiru was. Haruka filled with renewed hope yet her body was unable to cash the check her will had written. Before she'd even taken two steps, the worn-out racer collapsed unconscious onto the pavement, her head hitting with a dull thud on the hard ground.
Title: Chapter Seven
The bright sunlight filtered in through the open blinds, harshly illuminating the small utilitarian room, bringing out sharp planes and sharper edges. Nothing of value decorated the room save for the small TV bolted into the corner and the even smaller painting someone had thought to hang on a barren white wall, no doubt in a futile attempt to make the place seem less sterile.
Aside from the meager decorations, a narrow bed took up most of the available space in the tiny room. On that bed, a pale figure laid, barely covered with a thin sheet with one arm flung to the side. The shorthaired blonde was as still as death but on more careful examination, one could see the steady rise and fall of her chest and the minute movement of eyes behind closed lids. The silent figure was dreaming, of what, no one could be certain but when quick twitches suddenly evolved into full out thrashing, it was relatively safe to say whatever she was dreaming couldn't be all that pleasant.
Frightened green eyes, dark with fear, suddenly snapped wide open. Her mind, still mired somewhere in between full consciousness and the land of nightmares, the disoriented senshi looked wildly around at her unfamiliar surroundings. After the initial few seconds of panic in which she waited for something to jump out at her from some corner of the inordinately bright room, she started to relax -- her heart slowing from its frantic pace.
She stared up at the tiled ceiling, automatically cataloging the different aches and pains her body was so very clearly communicating to her mind. While taking inventory, the blonde looked around at her strange new surroundings, vaguely aware of the muted noises coming from outside. It was starting to become habit, this perpetual sense of disorientation -- a fact Haruka did not appreciate in the least since every time she woke up, she had no idea how she got where she was. But in her relatively brief career as a racecar driver and her side occupation as a sailor senshi, fighting for truth and justice, Haruka was no stranger to hospitals. And this room had all the classic indicators of being inside a medical facility, tops on that list being the distinctively antiseptic smell that made the senshi's nose wrinkle in distaste.
Through a miasma of fuzzy memories, she recalled that the last thing she remembered doing was going off to find her princess. She couldn't recall anything else after that except for an overwhelming sense of doom that seemed to follow her through her nocturnal travels, only lessening now that she was awake. But the feeling hadn't completely disappeared; it was still there, hiding like a creature of the night, fearful of being revealed. Absently the wind senshi rubbed the flesh above her heart, trying to relieve an ache she felt.
The fact that she was currently lying in some hospital bed with no Usagi in sight probably meant she hadn't finished what she'd set out to do last night. Slowly, Haruka tried to sit up, fully cognizant that the last time she'd tried sitting up from a prone position, her entire body had felt like an exposed nerve ending. Although it wasn't as excruciating an experience, this latest attempt was by no means a walk in the park either.
Her gown was sticking unpleasantly to her lightly perspiring body by the time she finally succeeded in getting upright. A somewhat strained grin of triumph lit up the racer's face. The pain was bearable; she would not faint. As long as that was the case, then she saw no reason why she should even be in this place. After all, hospitals were for the sick and she wasn't sick -- just a little sore. She figured, pain was an unavoidable side effect anytime one gets thrown off a building. Haruka wasn't going to let this small inconvenience take her down for long though. She had a princess to see and questions that needed answers.
Haruka was in the process of swinging her legs over the edge of the bed in her bid for freedom when the door to her room suddenly swung open, revealing a very surprised nurse on the other side. They stared at each other for a few seconds, both assessing what they saw. Haruka saw a petite figure with her red hair in a ponytail -- someone who looked too young to have graduated from school, let alone become a nurse.
The redhead reacted first and broke the silent stare down. With a slight frown on her face, the petite figure stepped into the room, closing the door behind her.
"You shouldn't be out of bed yet," she admonished, moving closer to the seated senshi. "You could end up injuring yourself even further. If you need anything, I'll get it for you."
Haruka gave the girl her most charming smile -- a smile that was adept at getting favors, especially from young women. The sandy haired racer was very aware of her limitations and she was just as aware of her assets. She was born with features that many people considered beautiful and, although not vain, she wasn't beyond using those looks to her advantage when the situation called for it.
"I'm badly in need of some clothes that don't let in drafts," Haruka said with a self-deprecating shrug, indicating her flimsy gown. "If you could get some for me, my backside will be eternally grateful to you, Miss … "
There was the barest flush on soft cheeks. "Takahashi. But you can call me Maru."
"And you can call me Haruka." Another winning smile. "Now, about those clothes … "
"I can probably find you some spare clothes," Maru said hesitantly. "They had to cut off the clothes you were wearing when they brought you in. They're nothing more than rags now. But you're in no condition to leave. You've got two cracked ribs, some mild head trauma, and too many bruises to count. The doctor will give you the complete list when he comes around. I'm kind of surprised you're even awake right now, considering the ordeal your body must have been through."
"Maru, you don't understand. I have to go find a friend of mine. It's very important that I talk with her."
The nurse was unmoved by the senshi's forceful argument. "I doubt you can barely walk the length of this room. How are you going to find anyone in your condition?"
Haruka shook her head, mildly frustrated. It was obvious the nurse didn't understand the gravity of her situation and to reveal the how's and why's behind her reasoning would just make Maru think she needed to be committed.
Seeing the patient's distress, Maru tried another tactic to get the racer to settle down. "How about a phone call? Can you try to call your friend instead?"
Haruka thought about it for a second and realized it was a good idea. For all she knew, Usagi might not even be at home at the moment, or like Michiru, she might have even disappeared. Once she was sure her princess was at home, she could then get out of here, doctor's orders or not.
"All right," the senshi said, allowing Maru to help her back into bed. "Could you get me a phone, please?"
"I'll get you a phone but you stay right here … and absolutely no moving while I'm gone, okay?"
Haruka gave the nurse a brief smile and agreed in her most acquiescent manner, not wanting to make the nurse suspicious of her motives. As soon as Maru was out the door, the senshi's thoughts immediately turned back to her present predicament. As it stood now, she might as well be mired neck deep in quicksand as far as unanswered questions were concerned. She had no idea what was going on and no theories from which to work from -- granted, her ignorance mostly stemmed from the fact that she'd been unconscious for so long but the uncertainty still grated on the normally in control young woman.
She could only hope she could get in touch with Usagi soon to clear up some of this mystery. But there was another reason why she wanted to get in touch with her princess so badly. No doubt there was some kind of evil behind Michiru's absence and their apartment's transformation. And where there was evil, one could usually find Sailor Moon standing smack dab in the middle. It was exactly because of that tendency that Haruka was now worried for her princess' safety as well.
She waited impatiently for Maru to return, her fist clenching and unclenching as her mind brought up ever new and more horrific scenarios of all the things that could have befallen her princess by now while she sat uselessly here. She had gotten herself so worked up that by the time Maru came back, she nearly jumped off the bed, trying to get to the phone from her before the senshi remembered that abrupt movements were not her friend.
"Hey, easy there," the redhead called out, rushing towards the bed. "Are you all right?"
"Never better," Haruka gasped out from her doubled over position.
Much to the sandy haired woman's chagrin, Maru insisted on settling her back onto the bed before the nurse would hand over the phone. Only when everything was to the redhead's satisfaction did Haruka get her hands on the mobile. Disregarding the nurse's presence, the senshi dialed the number by heart, her fingers fumbling over the small buttons in her haste. She waited impatiently as the phone began to ring, her body nearly vibrating along with her nerves.
Finally, after three rings -- an eternity to her -- someone picked up at the other end of the line. Haruka immediately recognized the voice, having heard it on several other occasions when she would call for Usagi. Some of the tension immediately left her body.
"Hello Mrs. Tsukino. This is Haruka. Is your daughter there?"
"Haruka?" There was a clearly puzzled tone to her voice but the senshi disregarded it. "Well … Usagi's at school right now but would you like to leave a message for her?"
The blonde didn't try to hide her disappointment, her face falling at the news. In truth, she hadn't even considered that her princess might be at school. The activity seemed so mundane, so normal, especially compared to the strange sequence of events that had occurred to her over the last few days.
"Could you just tell her when she comes home that Haruka called?" She asked. "And that I'll be by to see her as soon as I can?"
"I can do that. Is there anything else?"
"No, that's it. Thank you Mrs. Tsukino."
Haruka hung up after exchanging a faint goodbye to the woman, her mind already wandering onto something else. Green eyes turned unfocused and stared unseeing off into space. After an interminable length of time, an embarrassed cough broke her from her reverie and the senshi turned her attention to Maru who was still standing beside her bed, looking awkward and unsure.
"I'm sorry," Haruka said, still somewhat distracted. She handed over the phone with a slight smile. "Thank you for indulging me."
Their fingers brushed for the barest second as Maru took the offered phone and the petite figure blushed nearly as red as her hair.
Clutching the small phone to her chest, Maru asked, "Do you think you might be up for some food?" She laughed at the look of distaste that came over Haruka's face. It looked so completely out of place on the racer's beautiful face.
"It's not exactly high cuisine but it's not that bad," the nurse continued. "And of course, if you eat all your vegetables, I might even find you some vanilla ice cream for desert," she said in a teasing voice.
The blonde folded her arms across her chest in an impressive impersonation of a pouting child. "I prefer chocolate."
"I'll keep that in mind," the nurse said indulgently as she walked towards the door. "And remember, if you need to get out of bed or if you need to go the restroom, press the buzzer for a nurse to come help you. I don't want to come back and find you passed out on the floor."
Haruka gave the redhead a playful grin. "It always warms my heart when a pretty young lady worries about me."
The racer watched as the blush returned full force to the other woman's face -- it was cute, she noted dispassionately. The nurse stammered a few unintelligible words before quickly slipping from the room. As soon as she was out the door, Haruka tossed back the bed sheet. As expected, getting out of bed took some effort but she zoned out the worst of the pain. There was some dizziness when she stood up, the kind that occurs when you try to stand up too fast. When she was sure she wasn't going to fall down, she shuffled towards the small bathroom on the other side of her bed. It consisted of nothing more than a sink, a mirror, and a toilet. There was barely enough room for her to turn without bumping into a wall.
The first look she got of herself in the mirror left her openmouthed -- not because she saw something grotesque staring back at her -- quite the opposite. With the way she felt, she was expecting much worse than what she saw. Her skin was paler than normal, there were dark circles under her eyes, and a nice sized cut above her left eyebrow, which would no doubt leave a scar when it was healed. Whoever had put in the stitches had done a good job though so she didn't expect any scarring to be very noticeable. All that aside, Haruka thought she looked pretty good.
Feeling a strange compulsion, she lifted up the front of her gown. Her ribs and arms complained at the strain but that was swiftly forgotten as she got her first good look at her upper body. Although not big, the mirror allowed her a good view of her torso and what she saw made her cringe. Every square inch of her body seemed to be covered in black and blue marks. A particularly ugly looking bruise decorated the left side of her chest, right above her heart. A quick examination of her back revealed the same unsettling damage as her front -- it was no wonder she felt like a walking bruise when she looked like one too. Unable to do much about the injuries, Haruka dropped the gown and turned back around.
The senshi dipped her head, splashing her face with some cold water from the sink. Surprisingly refreshed and feeling much better than just a few seconds before, the senshi made her way to the door, determined to leave the hospital. She now knew that Usagi hadn't disappeared like Michiru and she was going to see to it that it stayed that way. The only way she could make sure of that was if she was by her princess' side.
Poking her head out the door, she looked down both ends of the hallway her room was located. On the left, the hallway led off to a dead end. There were a couple of people walking back and forth across the T-section at the right end of the hall but nobody else aside from that. Haruka eased out the door, trying to look as normal as possible in case someone happened to look her way. She walked towards the T-section, eyes roaming from door to door until she came across one that made a grin pop up on her face.
She was wondering how she would get out of here dressed in a gown that showed off most of her assets when the answer suddenly appeared before her eyes. If not exactly a sign sent from heaven, the sign that announced 'Employee Locker room' was still just as sweet. Pushing past the door, she stepped into the room, listening intently for anyone that might be inside. Satisfied that she was alone, the wind senshi wasted no time in walking towards the nearest locker.
When she'd first received her powers, it seemed that in one fell swoop, not only had she realized her destiny but also the heavy responsibility with which she'd been entrusted. But destiny and responsibility aside, suddenly gaining the ability to blow things up was too much a temptation for a teenager not to do some experimenting. She'd blown up big things, heavy things, small things, and fluffy things. Michiru had been less than impressed when she'd destroyed the sea senshi's crystal vase but it had nonetheless been an impressive explosion.
Now, her past enthusiasm would serve her well as she attempted to break into one of these lockers. Taking out her henshin pen, Haruka recited the familiar words:
"Uranus Crystal Power Make-Up!"
In a bright flash of light, she was once again the sailor senshi, Uranus. Anyone who happened to walk into the room at this moment would probably have to rub their eyes a few times at the incongruous sight. Fortunately, no one did. She reached out for the lock, wrapping her hand around the small piece of metal and letting the energy gather in her fist. If she were facing a youma, she would have let the energy grow exponentially larger but since it was only a tiny lock and not a bank safe, Uranus tempered the power, focusing it in her fist until she heard the telltale pop. As she opened her hand, the twisted piece of metal dropped to the floor and the locker door swung open.
The senshi emitted a frustrated growl after a thorough tossing of the contents revealed nothing but a purse and some sneakers two sizes too small for her. The thought of taking some of the money she found certainly crossed her mind but the idea was summarily rejected almost as soon as it formed. She might be desperate but she wasn't about to stoop that low. The sandy haired senshi had to pop two more lockers before she finally ran across some clothes that would fit her lanky frame.
Quickly de-transforming, Haruka happily changed out of the drafty gown and into the hooded gray sweatshirt, a pair of blue jeans, and what looked like brand new sneakers. She experienced a momentary pang of guilt at taking what wasn't hers but justified it as a necessary evil. How else was she going to get out of here and not draw notice? Whoever had done this to her was the one at fault -- not her. With more anger than she intended, she slammed the metal door closed and headed out of the locker room.
It was only a small matter after that for Haruka to walk out of the hospital, not to say she was completely inconspicuous since she attracted a fair share of wandering eyes but no one questioned the striking young woman with the barely noticeable limp. The senshi had a fairly long way to walk and the blonde had no intention of stopping until she reached her odango atama.
Title: Chapter Eight
It was a nice sunny day, if a bit breezy. As a result, Haruka wasn't completely drenched in sweat as she made the long trek to Usagi's school. Even though she was forced to rest frequently from sudden bouts of lightheadedness, she made good time and, most importantly, didn't black out again. She was focused on one thing and one thing only -- to find her princess and ensure her safety. The senshi took no notice of the scenery around her, nor the people she passed, so intent was she on getting to her destination.
She had already traversed nearly twenty blocks when she came upon an ordinary street. Ironically, it was this single-minded focus that caused her to miss the changing traffic light and subsequently, the car coming directly at her. If it weren't for quick reflexes and the judicious application of antilock brakes, the senshi might have ended up a messy smear on the street. Even though she dodged the ignominious fate of getting creamed by a car, she wasn't fast enough to avoid colliding with the bumper and sent flying into the air like some rag doll, finally skidding to a merciful stop several feet away.
As she lay in the middle of the street, arms flung wide and once again staring up into the glaring sun, she couldn't help but wonder if it was 'Screw Haruka Over' Day and she'd somehow missed the memo. If she knew her life was going to go so horribly wrong in so short a time, she would have locked herself in a bunker with a picture of Usagi, surviving on canned ham and bottled water, until it was safe to come out again.
She didn't know how long she stayed there, contemplating a seemingly endless string of bad luck when suddenly, her clear and unobstructed view of the brightly shining sun was blocked as someone came to stand above her, shouting her name. She didn't understand why he was yelling and became unnerved, particularly since his face was practically hovering right above hers. The ringing in her ears was starting to give her a bad headache and trying to make out his shadowed features against the bright backdrop was an act of futility.
"Haruka! Haruka!" He shouted again. "I didn't see you. Are you all right? Are you hurt? Do you need an ambulance? Someone call for help!"
Finally realizing that this man was using her name and therefore must know her, the blonde tried getting up.
"No, stay down," the man said, panicked. "You might hurt yourself or worse. Just wait until the paramedics get here."
Ignoring his pleas and the stabbing pain running throughout her thoroughly battered body, Haruka struggled to sit up, succeeding only with the helping hand the man extended. Only then did she get a good look at the person that nearly ran her over and astonishment wasn't strong enough a word for the feeling that washed over her.
"Shinji? She asked, dumbfounded, the name falling from her open mouth. If she weren't a believer in serendipity, meeting up with her friend like this would certainly sway her position.
"Yes," her mechanic friend confirmed. "God, I'm so sorry … Haruka … I-I could have killed you." At the mere thought, Shinji's face started turning as green as the polo shirt he was wearing.
"But I'm not dead so don't start puking all over me," she said, trying to lighten his mood. "Shinji, don't just stand there, help me up."
"Shouldn't we wait --"
The senshi interrupted. "No time. I have to get somewhere and since we've already established that you have a car, I think the least you can do is drive me."
The mechanic ran a concerned eye over the slumped over frame of his friend, feeling torn as to what to do. But Haruka didn't wait around for him to make up his mind. In agonizing fashion, she climbed to her feet, each little movement clearly reflecting the effort it took on her expressive face. Watching Haruka's dogged determination and knowing she wasn't going to stay down no matter what he said, Shinji made up his mind and wrapped a supportive arm around the blonde's waist, helping her onto her own two feet.
"Let's get you into the car," he said, noticing the growing crowd of spectators gathering around them.
Like any accident scene, there were bound to be curiosity seekers drawn to the morbidity and neither Shinji nor Haruka wished to be the center of that attention. Awkwardly, Shinji helped his friend open the passenger side door, maneuvering her inside the tight confines of a sports car made more for speed than for legroom. Once the blonde was seated comfortably, he rushed around to the other side, waving in apology to the drivers stuck behind his car, and plopped onto the driver's seat with a panache born from habit.
The mechanic started the car, blowing the horn a couple of times to get some of the remaining spectators out of the road. He kept sneaking quick nervous peeks at his passenger but, as far as he could tell, Haruka looked a little paler than normal but aside from that, she didn't look like someone who was going to drop dead at any moment. But with the way she flew across the pavement, he couldn't rule out internal injuries either.
"Are you sure you don't want me to drive you to the hospital?" He asked, unable to hold his tongue any long. "We should get you checked out -- make sure nothing's broken inside."
The last thing Haruka wanted was to go back to the hospital after she went through so much trouble breaking out the first time.
"No." She shook her head emphatically and regretted it almost immediately as a wave of overpowering nausea washed over her.
Noticing his friend's sudden distress, Shinji asked in a rapid-fire manner, "Are you all right? Are you going to throw up? Do you need me to pull over?"
This time, Haruka shook her hand in lieu of her head, which felt like it was going to float away on a cloud at any second. In truth, even she was becoming concerned about the number of times she'd been getting thrown around in the past few days but she pushed the fear aside, along with the queasiness.
"I'm fine," she grunted out. "Just drive."
A few moments passed in which Shinji's eyes focused directly ahead. "All right but, just so you know, if you die on me, I'll never forgive you. Now, where are you expecting me to drive you?"
The senshi cracked a smile. "Juuban High School, Jeeves. And if you get me there in the next fifteen minutes, I'll even give you a tip."
"This better be a pretty big tip because I don’t play chauffer for just anyone," he said, smiling back, some of his tension easing at the banter. This was Haruka after all, and if anyone could survive a minor collision with a moving vehicle, he had no doubts the racer certainly could.
"A lime green top and tan pants will make you look like a walking bush."
Shinji glanced long and incredulously at his passenger, almost driving them into the other lane in the process.
"That's your tip? That's what you're paying me with? If I wanted an insult to my fashion sense, I'd just go see one of my ex-girlfriends … or even my mom if she's in a bad mood."
"At least this way, I'm saving you the trip," she answered, unrepentant. "And you might want to watch where you're driving. I've already had one near death experience. I'm not really up for another go-around so soon."
Shinji quickly returned his eyes to the road, but not a minute later, he was once again surreptitiously glancing at his friend. Haruka still looked pained but at least some color had come back to her face and although he wasn't a doctor, he took it as a good sign.
The senshi sighed. She'd noticed the glances -- she'd have to be blind not to. "Do you want to ask me something?" She asked, turning her head to face him.
Almost before the question left the racer's lips, Shinji answered, "Yeah. Why are we going to a high school? And why do you want to go there so badly that you're risking death to do it?"
Haruka scoffed. "Stop over exaggerating, Shinji. You make me sound like I purposely jumped into the middle of a busy multi-lane highway. It was a one-way street and I was stupid for not paying enough attention to the light … I had other things on my mind."
"That still doesn't tell me why you want me to drive you to this school."
There was the slightest hesitation before the sandy haired young woman answered. "I have to meet someone there ... I have to make sure she's all right."
Shinji readily noticed the dreamy quality his passenger's voice had acquired, and in all the years he'd known Haruka, he'd heard the tone often enough that he immediately associated its use with one person -- Michiru. He'd never seen a couple more in love than these two and it showed in the way they talked to each other and even when they talked *about* each other as he thought the case was now. It was only confirmed in his mind a second later when he turned and saw the tender expression on the racer's face.
Apparently satisfied with her admittedly short and ambiguous answer, he turned back to the road, allowing a short silence to descend. However, as with many of the silences that Shinji initiated, he was also the first one to break it.
"So when did you get back?" He asked with pointed curiosity. "And why wasn't I the first person you called? As your best friend, I'm feeling slightly hurt here. You'd better have brought me a damn good gift to earn my forgiveness, Tenoh -- none of that T-shirt crap. "
Haruka started at the strange question, staring at the man as if he'd suddenly started speaking tongues and spewing pea soup. Had Shinji taken a hit his head too? How else to explain why he was blithering on like an idiot?
Finally, overcoming her momentary shock, she sputtered, "What? Hideki, have you gone completely off the deep end, breathing in all that diesel fume? What are you talking about? Get back from where?"
"From Europe, of course," Shinji stated, a frown forming on his face. Noticing the completely flabbergasted expression on his friend's face, his own confusion increased exponentially. "You've only been gone a month. I thought the tour was supposed to last for three. Did something happen?"
Growing frustrated with her inability to understand, she banged a fist against the dashboard. "What tour? What are you talking about? I swear to God, Shinji, I'll kick your ass if you don't tell me what the hell's going on."
"All right, all right, calm down," he said, trying to mollify the agitated blonde. Pursing his lips, he thought of the best way to start an explanation when he wasn't sure where the confusion lay. "Well, I'm not sure where to start but the last I time I saw you was last month. You said you and Michiru were going on a tour of Europe and that you wouldn't be back for three months. By the way, what'd you do to your hair … you dye it something?"
"Dye it?" Haruka dully repeated, her eyes fixed on his profile as if staring intently enough would squeeze some sense out of the situation.
"Yeah, dye it," Shinji confirmed with a shrug. "It looks good and everybody says blondes have more fun … is that true, by the way?"
Ignoring the mechanic's usual tendency to go off on tangents, Haruka focused back on the important issue while struggling to pull her scattered thoughts into focus.
"So … as far as you know, I've been gone for the last month?" She asked, phrasing each word carefully as if tasting the weight each individual syllable carried.
Shinji nodded, daring a quick peek at his riled passenger. He was starting to think he should have gone with his first instinct and taken the injured woman to the hospital. He could just imagine the damage that must have been done -- Haruka might have a thick head but bouncing it on the concrete must have really affected her sanity.
"This can't be happening," the senshi muttered to herself. "I must be dreaming because this is too weird to be real."
Haruka continued her mumbling commentary, too quiet for Shinji to pick up anything but the occasional curse and too loud for him to totally tune her out. Finally, fed up with stewing in silence and concerned that his best friend was acting like a lunatic, he blew out a breath, prepared to launch into all the reasons why they should turn around right now and head straight to the nearest hospital when the wind was summarily taken out of his sails by an unexpected question.
"What was I before I was blonde?"
It took a few seconds for him to process the question that came seemingly out of nowhere but as before, he chalked the strangeness up to the head injury Haruka must have suffered when she played bumper cars without a car.
The question shook him from his thoughts and he hastily replied, "I guess your hair was more of a platinum color … damn it, Haruka, I really, really think I should take you to the hospital. You're starting to scare me, okay? You're obviously not doing so good if you can't even remember what color hair you had a month ago."
"If you try to take me to a hospital," the racer stated, her voice laced with resolve, "I'll jump out of this car."
"Are you fucking crazy?!" Shinji blurted out, before fully realizing how his outburst would sound, given the suspicions he already harbored about his friend's mental state.
Green eyes narrowed dangerously and the man unfortunate enough to be the target of that gaze shuddered noticeably. Without having said a work, Haruka had effectively cowed him and he recognized with chagrin that, even back during the first days of their friendship, this had more or less always been the case. Even though he liked to pretend their relationship was modeled on the mentor-student dynamic, he readily recognized there was something about the cool blonde that would always be beyond his reach, beyond his understanding, and, if forced, he would also admit that he was somewhat intimidated by this hidden power.
He had taken it in stride though, dismissing his reservations as unfounded but more often than not deferring to the willful blonde. Only this time, there was something different in her demeanor; he could almost feel the palpable burn of anger devouring his skin like winter frost. For the first time, he felt the stranger behind his friend's face, looking out at him through familiar eyes that held none of the gentle humor, which had always been present even when she had been in the blackest of moods. For the first time, he felt a genuine prickle of fear in her presence.
But as quickly as it had appeared, the disconcerting presence was gone and it was just his old friend Haruka again. A half-smirk graced her lips as she ran a distracted hand through her hair.
"I've been dropped on the head so much lately that going crazy might be a distinct possibility. But if you promise not to cart me off to the hospital just yet, I'll promise to go there myself as soon as I take care of some personal business. Deal?"
Inordinately relieved that Haruka seemed to be back to her old self, Shinji quickly agreed, knowing that this was her way of extending the olive branch. He would also make it his job to see to it that the racer kept her promise after this mysterious 'business' of hers was concluded even if he had to drag her, kicking and screaming.
A few subdued minutes later, the mechanic pulled his car outside of Juuban High School, an intrigued expression on his face as he took in the seemingly tranquil scene.
By this time, Haruka was nearly squirming in her seat with equal parts anticipation and fear. It wouldn't be long now before she could finally see the one person that held her heart. But even as she rejoiced at that prospect, a part of her was apprehensive at the reception she would receive from her beloved. The disturbing new information from Shinji was still fresh on her mind. Would Usagi also think she was somewhere in Europe? Was Michiru then in Europe too? Was any of this related to what happened that night when she battled that creature?
She honestly wasn't sure what to think and the uncertainty frightened her more than anything else.
Shinji turned around to face her. "So we're here. What are we waiting for?"
Almost before he finished the question, the bell chiming the end of school rang clearly in the crisp air. Haruka quirked an eyebrow in answer to her friend's question and returned her attention back to the front doors of the school. She experienced a moment of déjà vu, remembering the last time she'd been here and waited anxiously for her odango atama to come out.
Title: Chapter Nine
Haruka could see the start of surprise on her princess' face as the golden-haired girl turned towards her shout. She walked as fast as she could towards her love, unmindful of the pain shaking her legs and turning them the consistency of rubber. The first glimpse she'd gotten of the younger girl had done wonders to bolster a failing confidence, nearly leveled from her earlier conversation with Shinji. She now had faith everything would work out -- faith borne from watching Sailor Moon face down impossible odds again and again in the past. It followed that if her leader could do it, so could she.
She saw rather than heard her name fall from corral colored lips. Coming to an abrupt stop before the startled girl, she suddenly lost the ability to do anything but stare at the lovely visage in front of her eyes. She could remember with exacting detail the last time they'd been together but memory, as nice as it was, couldn't hold a candle to the real thing.
Usagi, seeming to have gathered her scattered wits and smiled up happily at the senshi, unwittingly making the sandy-haired woman's insides melt into a warm puddle.
"Haruka," she greeted. "What are you doing here? I thought you would still be in Europe."
The senshi's spirits lowered just a little at the question. Her last remaining hopes that Shinji had gotten his facts wrong had just been bluntly dashed. Usagi must have noticed her expression darkening because the girl's own expectant smile began to waver. Mustering a weak grin for her princess' benefit, Haruka placed a hand on the smaller girl's arm, right above the elbow. She could feel the familiar warmth under her touch and longed to pull her beloved into an embrace. Preoccupied with fighting off the surprisingly strong impulse, she missed the nervous glance directed her way.
"I need to speak with you in private."
She began directing Usagi towards Shinji's waiting car without waiting for a reply, assuming the girl wouldn't put up an argument. Seemingly too astonished to react, much less argue, Usagi allowed herself to be guided, but halfway to the car, she suddenly jerked to a stop. Haruka arched an eyebrow in puzzlement as she stopped beside her princess.
"I have to go to Hikawa Shrine," Usagi explained, turning to face the taller woman. "If I'm late for another study session, Rei will never let me hear the end of it."
Haruka smiled reassuringly, hoping to alleviate her lover's distress.
"I'll have my friend drive you there as soon as we're done -- trust me, you shouldn't be late."
At Usagi's continued hesitance, Haruka pulled lightly on the arm she still grasped, watching intently as the smaller girl finally relented, giving in. They walked the rest of the way without incident and when they reached the car, the sandy-haired racer unceremoniously yanked open the driver's side door and 'advised' Shinji to take a walk around the neighborhood for awhile.
"But I thought … " The bewildered mechanic looked back and forth between Haruka and Usagi. He had been so sure that his friend had been talking of the beautiful aqua-haired violinist when she said she needed to see someone. "I mean I thought you were waiting for Michiru."
"I wasn't," Haruka said simply, ushering her golden-haired companion into the car before turning back to face her friend. "Give me a few minutes?"
Shinji hesitated but nodded slow assent and walked away. Haruka knew he would no doubt badger her ceaselessly with questions at the next opportunity but her attention had already moved onto more pressing concerns, namely to the blue-eyed girl waiting so patiently in the car. Walking briskly towards the other side of the car, she climbed into the passenger side door but not without a grunt of pain as she tried to fold her long frame back into the cramped quarters. Her discomfort didn't go unnoticed by her companion.
"Are you all right, Haruka?" Usagi asked, her concern inadvertently warming the other woman.
When she failed to respond, too caught up in the cocoon of tenderness overflowing from the slim figure, her princess reached out, touching her on the arm with a delicate hand. Haruka suppressed a shudder at the firestorm of desire the innocent touch stirred up, taken aback at her body's strong response. She had always desired the blonde beauty, even recognizing the instant lust that had sparked through her system during their first encounter but this was like nothing she had ever felt before -- this felt like a bright blue flame consuming her from the inside, leaving her mouth parched. However, aside from an increased intake in breathing, there was no outward indication of her inner turmoil.
She realized with a start that Usagi was still waiting for a response. Wetting her dry lips, she cleared her throat, trying to remember what the question was.
Finally giving up after futilely racking her memory, she asked, embarrassed, "I'm sorry, what were you asking?"
Usagi only looked more concerned at the usually imperturbable senshi's dazed look.
"You look pale, Haruka. Are you sick?'
"No," the racer answered almost immediately. But at the continued scrutiny under those guileless blue eyes, she reluctantly amended her brusque statement. "Not sick but … it's just a couple of bruises. Nothing that won't heal with time."
She tried downplaying her injuries; they were unimportant. This wasn't what she wanted to talk about with her princess. But Usagi wouldn't be sidetracked, placing a hand over the senshi's forehead, running a light finger across the cut above her eyebrow, and checking for anything else amiss.
"You're not hot," the petite figure mumbled before boldly running a hand along Haruka's body, inspecting for injuries. The older woman allowed the familiar touch unable to squelch the moan that bubbled from her throat as she watched slim hands run across her torso.
Usagi pulled back abruptly at the sound as if burned. She stammered out an apology, an apology that hurt Haruka more deeply than any of the superficial bruises marring her skin. Whether her princess realized it or not, the panicked reaction smacked of rejection to the racer. Her heart felt as if it were being squeezed in an iron fist and it was all she could do to stop the flow of words from pretty pink lips without showing the level of her own distress.
This Usagi didn't know her at all -- the blue-eyed girl might sound like her princess and look like her princess but Haruka realized with growing dismay, there was no love shining from this girl's eyes when they turned her way, only friendly concern.
"It's all right, my princess."
The blonde racer used the personal endearment without thinking as weariness settled over her like a shroud. She could've dealt with anything the gods felt fit to fling at her -- anything but this. Just when she had won Usagi's heart, just when she had everything within her grasp, she was torn from all she knew, from the person she had fallen desperately in love with and flung into this strange new world where nothing was the same. Her dreams had seemingly turned to bitter ash overnight and she couldn't help but wish she were alone right now so she could shout and scream and rail against the injustice of it all without the person at the center of her own personal maelstrom bearing witness.
A light touch on her cheek forced her however reluctantly to lift her face and, once again, she was confronted with the face of an angel -- an angel she had held so gently against herself mere days before. Unable to hold back the biting pain any longer, Haruka let the sob rip straight from her heart, the keening sounding more animal than human in its raw need. Almost immediately, she found herself enfolded by a pair of arms, pulled into a soft chest. The heady scent that surrounded her as she buried her face without hesitation in the warm crook of a neck was a drug to her system and she wished never to leave from this safe haven again. Her arms came up, wrapping around the smaller body and pulling the slight frame against her own.
She willingly lost herself in the sensation of being enveloped even though she knew in the back of her mind this wasn't her beloved. At the moment, she couldn't care less. All she needed, all she wanted was already in her arms. Unaware she was even doing so, she began nuzzling the soft fragrant skin so appealingly close to her face, skimming her lips softly across the expanse of exposed neck. Faintly, she heard the sharp intake of breath. Faintly, she was aware of the tension rippling through the body she held so tenderly.
But it was so faintly … and she was so preoccupied.
Her lips depositing feather light kisses up to the incredible velvet skin to the delicate lobe of an ear, she murmured a sigh of contentment. Not until the tremors running through the small body she held so tightly in her arms finally registered in her unfocused mind that she ceased her actions, frozen in confusion.
What was she doing? What was she *about* to do? Sick to her stomach, Haruka withdrew, her eyes unable to meet the accusing blue she knew would be focused on her. Backing as far away as possible before the painful digging of the door at her back prevented further retreat, she sat very still as if that would make her somehow invisible. Again, she mentally berated herself for her lack of control when it came to this girl, which allowed that moment of weakness. She had to remember this wasn't her princess -- not really.
Yet the more she tried grasping onto that fact, the more it slipped through her fingers, evading her understanding. Because if this wasn't her princess than who was she? Had Haruka somehow been transported to an alternate reality? If so, how did she get back? Most importantly, where was *her* Usagi?
The racer certainly had the questions -- it was the answers that were proving elusive.
And again, when she thought she would surely fall into the dark depths of her own fear and doubt, a hand on her cheek stopped her descent in its tracks, leaving her grateful and frustrated all at once. Grateful that she wasn't alone in her pain, that someone cared enough to reach out to her but frustrated as well that this girl, even for all her compassion, wasn't the one she longed for.
Her name came out as a question on timid lips, tremulous in its pronunciation but like an immutable force, her eyes were drawn upwards to confront a field of confused blue. Forgiveness. Absolution. Empathy. In one look, she received them all. She had always wondered at the unfailing compassion her princess freely bestowed on enemies and friends alike. At first, she'd been appalled at these characteristics in her leader, dismissing it as a weakness suited more for idealists sitting in their ivory towers than as a practical tactic for dealing with forces who would as soon as kill you as look at you. But she was wrong -- so wrong. It took an inner strength she could hardly comprehend to keep those ideals in the face of real evil.
And Usagi was lending her that strength now after Haruka had nearly attacked her. If it was possible, the sandy-haired woman felt worse for the kind gesture and she would have retreated if it weren't for the determined sapphire orbs that refused to release her from their gaze.
"Tell me what's wrong," Usagi implored, taking a larger hand in both of hers.
Like all the other times she'd been confronted with that pleading tone, any resolve she'd built up, crumbled like a shaky deck of cards and she found herself spilling the whole story or as much as she was able, considering she wasn't so clear on some of the details herself. Her younger self would have found the display pathetic, to show any vulnerability in front of another person but she'd learned that knowing when to ask for help was anything but weak. The words tripped over themselves in her sudden fervor to explain and, judging from the perplexed face looking back at her, she doubted she was making much sense. However, once started, she couldn't stop -- didn't want to stop. She felt as if she were finally unburdening herself to the only person she could trust and, in the process, felt her load lighten immeasurably.
When her convoluted explanation finally petered out, she carefully watched Usagi's face, waiting expectantly for the other girl to say something. When after a full minute when nothing was forthcoming, she risked squeezing the hands that held her own.
"Say something," she begged. She just needed to hear that voice, to leech some reassurance from that familiar well of strength.
A fine brow crinkled. A hand released hers and reached out to brush lightly through tendrils of her short sandy hair.
"You're not the Haruka I know," the younger girl muttered as if only now accepting the realization. "Are you?" She asked as an afterthought.
Haruka shook her head, mesmerized by the play of nimble fingers through her hair. She was letting herself get distracted too easily but she couldn't find the willpower to fight against the pleasurable reaction. Her mind might know the difference between this Usagi and her princess but her body apparently couldn't care less.
The fingers stilled but didn't withdraw and she opened her eyes, unaware of having closed them. She wasn't expecting to see the look of utter indulgence on Usagi's face. As if caught with her hand in the cookie jar, the expression dropped from the odango atama's face only to be replaced with guilt. Not able to bear discomfort on this Usagi or on any Usagi for that matter, Haruka attempted a cheerful smile, hoping to alleviate the younger girl's distress. Her attempt was met with a tentative smile that lit up the drearily cramped compartment of the car.
"I think," the blue-eyed girl started to say after a few quiet seconds, "That we should go to the shrine. Everybody will be there and they'll know more about what to do … more than me anyway."
The self-denigrating air with which that statement was delivered didn't sit well with Haruka. She debated with herself whether to say something or not -- it was a very short debate.
"Don't talk about yourself like that, Koneko-chan. You don't know how much you've helped me already -- how much just being here with you is keeping me sane. Nobody else has that effect on me because I lo … "
Haruka trailed off, barely stopping before she said too much. Usagi's blue eyes were wider than ever and no wonder, she'd almost heard a confession of love from one of her senshi. With a thud, the racer banged her head back against the side window, hoping doing so would also bang some sense into there as well.
This. Wasn't. Her. Usagi. This. Wasn't. Her. Usagi. This. Wasn't. Her. Usagi.
How many more times would she have to repeat the mantra to herself before it finally sunk in and she didn't keep saying things that were wholly improper? She didn't think the younger girl could take any more inappropriate remarks, considering the blush that was rapidly spreading across fair skin, making her look like a red tomato. First order of business was definitely to apologize. Haruka opened her mouth to do just that when a loud knocking behind her caused her to jump and once again bang her head, this time on the roof.
She whirled around and stared straight into the face of her friend.
"Shinji!" She yelled, none too pleased at being caught off guard. She opened the door, almost pushing it into the unsuspecting man. "What do you want?"
The mechanic easily shrugged off her anger. "I'm bored," he complained. "I've been walking around for thirty minutes. People are starting to give me some suspicious looks."
"And this is new, how?" Before he could reply, she interrupted. "All right, it's about time we got out of here anyway. Come on, get in."
Shinji looked back and forth between the two girls. "Exactly where am I supposed to sit?"
A look of consternation crossed Haruka's face. She'd forgotten the car only had two seats. Wincing as she looked towards Usagi, she asked in an unexpectedly flustered voice, "Would you … I mean, that is to say … there's only two seats and … would you mind … sitting in my lap?"
If possible, Usagi blushed an even deeper shade of red. Haruka felt like smacking Shinji although she knew the awkward situation wasn't really his fault but what she wouldn't give for a mini-van right now. Just when she was about to rescind the offer and save them both the embarrassment, she watched speechless as the younger girl clumsily climbed over from the driver's seat to settle uneasily in her lap. The pain from the numerous bruises that were getting poked by her unexpected passenger didn't register, nor did the shifting of the car as Shinji sat his bulk into the abandoned seat. She was only aware of the wonderfully pleasant sensations running across the parts of her body in contact with the smaller frame.
"So where am I driving you to now, playboy?" Shinji asked his two oblivious passengers.
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