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.