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Before Sailor Uranus awoke

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It was easier to pretend when Michiru was 14 and didn't know that Haruka existed. When a boy in her music class asked her to be his girlfriend Michiru did the heteronormative thing that she knew was expected from her by her peers and parents and accepted.

 

 Michiru had been dreaming vividly lately, dreaming that she was underwater swimming. In the dream, she broke through the surface and her eyes found the eyes of a blonde girl sat far away from her on a sandy shore. The blonde waved and smiled earnestly. Although Michiru was too far away to make out the details of her face, she could tell the smile was genuine and when she awoke she felt more comforted and calm than she had in months. The stranger appeared more often in her dreams from then on, sitting, or standing far away from her. The frustrated violinist wanted to approach this elusive stranger and communicate with her but every time she tried to approach her, the dream would get fuzzy and change and Michiru would wake up feeling restless and interrupted. 

 

The frequency of the dreams seemed to parallel the relationship she had with the boy from music class. When Michiru went on a mediocre date with him to the park, that night she dreamed she was in a lush and beautiful garden full of exotic plants and flowers she didn't recognize, holding a single rose. In the dream, Michiru could tell that the blonde girl was nearby. She didn't know how, but she could sense her energy like a soothing flame. Sure enough, some noise to the left of her alerted her of the other girl's presence. Through a flowering bush of yellow blossoms, Michiru peered at the stranger on the other side of the thick vegetation. The blonde caught her eye and winked at her and Michiru found herself blushing. 

 

In the music room after school, the boyfriend eagerly sat down in front of Michiru cradling a guitar on his lap. ''I wrote this song for you.'' 

 

Michiru felt a twinge of annoyance and immediately was surprised with herself. She wasn't usually this irritable when people did nice things, even if it didn't impress her. Maybe she was just tired. It had been a long day full of exams and petty gossip and she just wanted to go home. 

The boy started playing and Michiru slipped on a pleasant smile to disguise the fact she was cringing internally. It's not that it was bad... it just felt too performative. Too fake. It gave her the impression she was acting out the role of the love interest in the world's most depressing theatre performance. It felt like she was taking cues from a director off-stage. Hold hands now. Okay, now kiss him goodbye. Smile and thank him when he compliments you. Tell him his haircut looks good (it doesn't). Praise him for writing a song for you. Be grateful. Michiru could only pray he wouldn't start singing. There was only so much cheesiness she could take. 

 

It wasn't that the boy was bad but she found herself getting overly drained in his presence even for an introvert like her. Keeping up the pretense that she liked him back was exhausting. His fumbling attempts to flirt with her. The gifts that missed the mark. The pre-planned romantic actions. It felt like it went on forever. How could she concentrate when girls just looked so beautiful. So smooth and soft and lean and muscular. Girls with short hair. Blonde girls. When Michiru turned 15 she decided she couldn't continue the farce. It wasn't fair for either of them. Yes, this boy was nice, but kissing him felt like pressing your lips against a brick wall, and at this point, dating him was like owning a burdensome puppy dog she had to drag around to the movies, to her art exhibitions, to her concerts. So she went to his home one Friday evening after school and broke it off. Michiru left her reasoning vague and blameless. The boy, confused by this sudden development teared up and asked her what he could do to make her stay. Michiru was honest. "I'm afraid there is nothing you can do. I will always value you as a person but you deserve someone who wants the same things as you. Good luck.'' 

 

As she was leaving to make her way down the stairs he cried out by the front door: "You will always be my first love! I will never forget you. Thank you for everything." 

 

Sometimes being kind was better than being truthful.

 

"Likewise." 

 

/////

 

Michiru knew she was perceived as cold and aloof. In many ways, they weren't wrong. It didn't bother her too much when strangers thought it, but she was almost 16 and when her friend told her in amusement at lunch that she "would never find another boyfriend'' if she kept acting like such an "unattainable bitch". Other friends laughed and confirmed the statement with similar comments. "Yeah Michiru, when I first met you I was scared of you. You seemed so serious and angry all the time." It stung. Michiru knew she was misunderstood by the majority of people in her life, her parents especially, but she hadn't expected this from the people she considered her friends. Although the comments probably weren't made with cruel intentions, Michiru left the lunch with a bad taste in her mouth and a desire to distance herself from her classmates even more. 

 

Coincidentally, this was how she ended up meeting Elsa Gray, track team champion at their fancy, prestigious school and one of the only out lesbians. They had Japanese and gym together and after school when Michiru passed by the sports field to get the swimming pool, they would chat briefly and amiably. Michiru liked Elsa's toned arms and her short, bold hair and her confidence and Elsa liked Michiru's dedication to being authentic and her knowing smile. As the only two queer girls that they knew of, they owed it to themselves to try. Try they did and while the relationship was significantly better than Michiru's relationship with the boy in middle school, it ended as quickly as it started. Michiru would makeout with Elsa on her soft, plushy couch and then fall asleep that night and dream about making out with the blonde with a blurry face. Her sex dreams weren't of the dark-skinned woman she was dating no matter how much she willed herself to push the stranger out of her mind. Although she knew it was stupid, it felt almost like she was cheating. The catch was that Michiru couldn't decide if she was cheating on Elsa or the recurring blonde in her dreams from the past 2 years. Along with the intimate dreams, she had started having recurring, apocalyptic-like nightmares involving large waves of crashing darkness, glowing rods and women in colorful uniforms. At first, Michiru wondered if the dreams represented her anxiety around the island's history of tsunamis and natural disasters. But the destruction in her dreams felt much more sinister. Elsa noticed her change in mood and low spirits. Since Michiru couldn't express her internal conflict or discomfort without sounding crazy they decided to break it off. It was mutual and a relief.

 

 They appreciated one another's company regardless and remained good friends despite their lack of chemistry and romantic potential. It was good enough to have someone Michiru could talk to about things she cared about without having to constantly censor herself. This was why when Michiru first saw Haruka on the field, late September during the first competition with their neighboring schools, she didn't waste any time asking Elsa who she was. 

 

''Haruka Tenoh? Oh, she goes to Fuchu Nishi High School, she transferred here recently. I haven't spoken to her much but I've heard she was living in America before which is where she got a driver's license." Michiru raised her eyebrows in surprise. There weren't many 16-year-olds who had a driver's license in Tokyo. Elsa continued: "She's part of her school's track and field team. Apparently, she broke the school record when she tried out. I haven't seen her race yet but everyone says she's really fast."

 

"America huh?" Michiru thought about this new girl and the one in her dreams. 

 

''Yes, but she's Japanese and intends to stay here for a long time... although I doubt she'll stay single for a long time if you don't make a move soon,'' Elsa answered with a smirk.

Michiru blushed and protested but Elsa could see right through her.

 

"I can introduce her to you if you want." She suggested, excited at the prospect of setting up her talented and interesting friend with an equally talented and interesting individual. 

 

 "You don't even know that she likes girls..." Michiru countered half-heartedly.

 

 Elsa gave her an unimpressed look. "That's your best argument?''

 

Michiru threw her hands up in defeat. "What would I even say? I'm sure she meets loads of people every day. Especially if she's new and already this popular. She won't care, we don't even go to the same school."

 

"Suggest. To. Draw. Her." Elsa said poking Michiru's hand after each word for emphasis. Michiru raised an eyebrow at her match-making friend skeptically. "Come on! Who wouldn't want a free portrait from a beautiful girl? Athletes know they look good. Stroke her ego.'' 

 

Michiru couldn't disagree with that and therefore it was settled that she would approach her during the next multi-school competitions. In the meantime, Michiru would sit in the bleachers at a school she didn't go to, watching the unknown girl run. Haruka had never even spoken to her or made eye-contact and yet she seemed so familiar. She felt like a flustered preteen in the presence of an attractive lifeguard, not the overly-mature young adult everyone told her she was.

 

Since she had become aware of Haruka, the dreams of the tall blonde girl had abruptly ended. Michiru missed them. She missed her. The lucid dreams almost felt like being able to live a double life and having a constant reassuring presence by her side. Now she was alone during the oppressive waking hours and alone in the destruction and violence that filled her unconscious mind at night. Her only solace was watching Haruka race with melancholy. The blonde girl was fast and attractive. Even with her teeth gritted and her muscles tense she was a sight to behold. Michiru didn't want to objectify the runner, but her unbeatable speed and sharp, troubled eyes were magnetic. Michiru longed to cup her jaw and look at her up close to ask her what she was running from. Why did she look so agitated even after beating her teammates at practice? My intrigue is a product from my lack of romance, she told herself. Daydreaming about Haruka was innocent enough, wasn't it? She didn't expect anything from the blonde and it made her unfulfilling existence more bearable.

 

Everything radically changed when Michiru came home from school one day and found the bodies of her parents ravaged in the usually pristine living room. Horrified Michiru stared in shock before slowly reaching for her cellphone to call the police. She was unable to make a move before an indescribable creature dive-bombed towards her from the chandelier hanging above them. As the teen gaped speechlessly, a rod similar to the ones she had seen in her dreams appeared floating in front of her, glowing with a dazzling aqua aura. Instinctively she reached out and grasped it. As she did, a feeling of security and purpose blossomed within her.

 

Something, somewhere deep inside her had awoken and with the innate behavior of someone whose DNA was built around this, whose body and mind had been programmed to move through the actions and who had repeated the ancient words many, many times before, she confidently cried out: "Neptune Planet Power, Make Up!"

 

The large monster stared at her curiously. Without taking a moment to analyze her change in attire as a result of the whirlwind of water and sea spray, Sailor Neptune thrust her hands forward "Deep..." from within the same place that had unlocked her ability to transform she felt the tug of connection to her guardian planet and was able to call forth its power and strength. As easily as breathing she formed a large sphere of spinning water and Neptunian energy. Concentrating for maximum damage she lifted it above her head watching as ribbons of water swirled around her and raised to form protective sheets of water on either side of her. "Submerge!"' She heaved the sphere at the monster where it traveled forward like a funnel of explosive water from her palms and hit the monster squarely in the chest.

 

Upon impact, the monster disintegrated into multiple shards of light and all that was left of the fight was the wet floor beneath her. Michiru, finally absorbing what had happened, dropped to the floor and sobbed as her sailor outfit transformed back into her school uniform. That night her parents were taken away and the now orphaned teen dreamed once again of the blonde girl.

 

This time she was also wearing a sailor guardian uniform, and now Michiru could properly see her face.

 

///

 

Since the tragedy, a few important things happened. One: Michiru was now living by herself in the large family mansion. Her parents (who always planned ahead) had left wills and the house along with everything in it was to belong to their only daughter if anything were to happen to them.

 

Two: After defeating the monster in her house, monsters began appearing everywhere. Luckily most didn't target her or anyone around her during school hours but she kept the lip-rod near her at all times. She could tell when there was one nearby by the crashing of waves she heard in her ears that only seemed to get louder the closer she got to it until the release of her energy through the water attack alleviated her anxiety and sense of urgency.  

 

Three: Michiru had learned a lot from her dreams. She knew the wand-like item was called a lip-rod and the powers it possessed. She knew about the existence of evil in the galaxy and she knew about an approaching Silence she was meant to prevent with the help of three talismans by finding the Messiah as well as an unearthly princess she was meant to protect. The most important thing she had learned, however, was that she was not meant to be fighting alone. After that terrifying night her parents died she could see the face of her partner clearly.

 

It was Haruka. 

 

Although in her dreams Haruka was Sailor Uranus and she was fighting alongside her. During the day Michiru would watch her run around the field and try to imagine the androgynous woman fighting in a leotard and miniskirt. She watched her walk casually through the streets near her school and try to imagine them talking and kissing and fucking like it was the most natural thing in the world. Although she had seen it in her dreams, things she could only now assume were memories and premonitions. It felt hard to believe.

 

Michiru understood now the origin of her fascination for the tall blonde and with this revelation, her admiration and desire for her only grew, as did her willingness to protect her. She wasn't afraid of dying. She wasn't even too afraid of killing. She was afraid of the Silence. She was afraid she wouldn't be able to complete their mission of finding the elusive talismans and protecting the princess. She was afraid of allowing Earth-lovely precious Earth- to be destroyed because she hadn't acted fast enough or desperate enough. Ethics and feelings couldn't slow her down. She couldn't risk any distraction to get in the way of her mission. If she had ever wondered before if she had a destiny in life, her question had been answered. No longer was she to dream of becoming a world-famous violinist or a renowned fine artist. Her passions could wait. There was no time for dreaming. There was no point in dreaming if her universe ended up perishing in the hands of an evil being. She took to avoiding her destined partner. Even if she knew ultimately they would be reunited. By keeping a distance she could keep Haruka out of danger and keep her feelings in check.

 

Somehow though through the cosmic ties of fate, she would find herself near the blonde frequently. Almost as if her body and soul longed to be near her. It felt the strongest when Michiru was Sailor Neptune, unhappy that her other half was missing and her skin buzzed with the absence of the other guardian that didn't go away no matter how many times she tried convincing herself that she could do it by herself. Haruka made it worth it though. The way she would help her track teammates. Her easy-going manner when talking and flirting with other girls. The fact that she casually picked up other people's trash she found around the bleachers before leaving. The times where she sometimes sat alone on a bench after school and looked tense and worried but still managed to smile and greet her friends and acquaintances when they passed by her. During practice, she would always beat her teammates but she never gloated and would congratulate them when they beat their personal records. The rare times Michiru had caught the athlete training alone, Haruka didn't hold back. She ran much faster and with much more passion than with her teammates. What's curious was that she wouldn't time herself or set limits. It seemed that she just ran until she got tired. She ran with a frown, her eyebrows furrowed. When she did stop it seemed like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, but despite the release, the sadness never quite left her eyes. Michiru wondered briefly if her own mask was as transparent as Haruka's was.

 

The end of semester multi-school races were coming up and Michiru was going to ''meet'' Haruka for the first time. It would be difficult feigning casual interest when there was nothing she longed for more than to hold her hand and pull her into her arms and kiss her face to melt away the frown and concerned forehead. How she longed to step inside her shiny convertible and drive with Haruka by the ocean, with the wind in her face. Haruka was so authentically herself, so effortlessly cool in her subversion of gender roles and expectations. Both in school and sports, Michiru admired her kindness and the way she always seemed in control and perceptive. Michiru admired her charisma and laidback attitude. Unlike Michiru, Haruka made friends easily and didn't intimidate others with her talent. Michiru wasn't envious but proud instead. If this was the woman with whom she was meant to save Earth, she could handle any monster.

 

Elsa who had been very worried about Michiru since the death of her parents was relieved to see a revived passion ignited in her friend and a strong sense of direction. Although Michiru seemed tired and quiet, she also seemed more determined and busy. Elsa didn't take Michiru canceling their plans as personal. She understood she was mourning and if extra violin and painting classes were her way of coping with the trauma, she could only be relieved that her distractions were not destructive.

 

Of course, Michiru wasn't taking extra lessons or at the pool, but these days she found little leisure time and the time she did have to herself she wanted to spend resting. How could she answer the questions of fast-fading bruises and angry scratches that belonged to a creature with more claws than any animal on this planet? Or the burn wounds that had sizzled through her glove, like acid and left her arm a frightening color? All she could do was try to bandage herself up and use the basic first-aid tricks she knew to dull the pain while she waited for her guardian powers to heal her. Even so, the exhaustion in her joints from the hard impact of jumping from building to the concrete never seemed to disappear entirely.

 

///

 

It was the day of the race. The first time Haruka and Michiru would have a conversation. From now on she wouldn't be able to pretend that she didn't know her or didn't care to know her. There wasn't much she could do to mentally prepare herself for the inevitable meeting that was to happen that day but she could ensure she felt prepared physically. Methodically the anxious teen combed her wavy hair, still damp from her early morning shower and applied mascara and a subtle shade of lipstick. She put on her uniform and collected her drawing supplies: a large drawing pad, multiple charcoal sticks, and a kneadable eraser. After peering at herself in the mirror once more she sighed, picked up her school bag, and left the house. 

 

///

 

Michiru unlocked the door of her house, shuffled into the living room and flopped onto the nearest piece of furniture. The room reminded her of her dead parents and her stressful awakening as a sailor guardian but she didn't have the energy to drag herself up to her room and mope on her bed. An overly expensive leather couch that served as a replacement for the damaged furniture that had been thrown out would have to do. She felt tears well up in her eyes and swiped them away in frustration. She refused to cry over this. She melded her hurt into anger and huffed angrily instead. 

 

''So rude! How dare she!? Such a lack of manners!" But the anger petered out quickly and the usually graceful and composed teen became a woeful teary-eyed mess. ''She rejected me. She rejected me.''

 

Michiru spent the rest of the evening replaying the afternoon's events in her mind. She knew it wasn't productive and she was only tormenting herself but she couldn't help it. It was embarrassing how such a small, passive comment had ruined her day. 

 

''I'll pass... You're weird.'' 

 

The response had felt like a blow to the chest. I'll pass. Elsa wasn't wrong to suggest drawing her. Everyone liked to have a self-portrait done! Everyone except Haruka Tenoh it seemed. Michiru's bitter thoughts were interrupted by the flash of recognition in Haruka's eyes when Michiru had greeted her. She knew Haruka knew who she was. She wondered if that look of recognition was because she had seen her in her dreams or if it was recognition on a subconscious level. Maybe Haruka was also having the same dreams she had. Were they positive or negative? If they were positive why would she turn her away? She wasn't awake yet. She knew it from the way her heart crystal still yearned for Sailor Uranus and the emptiness she felt when she was Sailor Neptune and fighting alone felt like fighting with only one arm. So what had caused her to act like that? Of all the possible reactions Michiru had envisioned, turning away passively was not one she had anticipated from the passionate athlete.

 

Elsa had been just as surprised as Michiru and after Haruka walked away, apologized profusely upon seeing Michiru's downcast expression. "Shit Michiru wow. I had no idea she would say that. I can't believe she just blew you off like that-what the fuck-She must be having personal issues or something...sorry... do you want me to go talk to her?" 

 

Michiru was aware that to some extent she had been humiliated in front of her friend. It wasn't the fact that she had made herself vulnerable by offering to draw her (and to some extent expressing her interest), that bothered her about the interaction. It was the fact that she knew everything Elsa said was true. She knew that Haruka was usually friendly and kind to strangers and friends alike. She had seen her tease blushing girls and play with the younger siblings of her teammates. Yes, Haruka could be cocky and arrogant sometimes but it never seemed malicious. And although the refusal to pose for her painting could be a matter of low self-esteem or disinterest in the arts, Michiru couldn't help but feel that the rejection was personal.

 

But how could it be? Haruka didn't even know her. Well, she may know Sailor Neptune, but she didn't know Michiru Kaioh...If she had been dreaming about her, most of the dreams were positive, at least the ones of their romantic memories were. Michiru laughed humourlessly and masked her hurt with an expression of neutral amusement. "It's okay Elsa. You heard her, she doesn't "care for that kind of thing"...Perhaps she just dislikes art...or posing for a long time. It's okay." She repeated upon seeing her friend's doubtful look. 

 

"If you say so, but she still could have said it more nicely," Elsa replied. Michiru could only agree. If her destined lover and fellow fighter wasn't interested in getting to know her, there was even more incentive to prevent her from waking up as a sailor guardian. The one thing more excruciating than fighting alone would be fighting with someone who resented her and their mission. For the first time after the night her parents had died, Michiru allowed herself to feel the sharp pain of loneliness and wished desperately for the strength to continue moving forward, even if she was alone. 

 

Too discouraged to make herself dinner or even change out of her school uniform, she squeezed one of the couches leather cushions to her chest and tried to ignore the eerie silence of a house too large for one person. 

 

///

 

Michiru had accepted the paper reluctantly after the headmaster had told her what it meant. The paper in question was a draft for a student showcase event on a cruise ship. The best students were invited to represent their many talents and abilities in front of recruiters and officials for future scholarships as well as parents and other students considering joining the cohort of private schools within the district. It was both an advertisement of herself and her school and usually, Michiru wouldn't hesitate to get the opportunity to play her violin and display her art. It was the only way she knew how to express herself and criticism didn't phase her. It had been a long time since someone had heard her play. It had been a long time since she had allowed herself to play. She knew every student from every school that had a partnership with their school would be invited. Hope ignited in her chest at the thought of seeing Haruka again and then hesitance, derived from the knowledge that Haruka might not want anything to do with her. It wasn't that she didn't want to see the woman, her soulmate...she did. But the rejection still sat heavily on her chest. There were so many things they needed to talk about. She couldn't pass up this opportunity regardless of her pride. 

 

Michiru morosely tied the silk sash around her floaty white dress and slipped on her formal shoes. For a superficial moment, she wished she could ask someone how she looked. Her house felt like a tomb. It didn't matter. Most people would agree she was beautiful and privately she enjoyed being able to draw people to her. It's easy to manipulate people when they're attracted to you or at the very least, admire you. It helped prevent unfavorable consequences when she had to miss class because she was fighting evil. It also prevented people from talking too much shit. Michiru was well-known but she knew she wasn't exactly well-liked. If she was in the shoes of another she could easily have become a victim of bullying. Lucky for her, her glacial beauty and unreadable eyes that shone through the intensity within her stopped people in their tracks. Even rumors of her queerness were swept away with respect. Yes, it was convenient but it didn't mean anything if Haruka wouldn't even spare her 10 minutes of her time. Michiru picked up the violin laying on her bed and tuned it, affectionately adjusting the pegs and letting the reassuring pressure of the chin rest comfort her. She practiced the piece she had composed for the school concert absentmindedly and when she felt sufficiently prepared she placed the instrument back in its case and left.

 

Michiru was undeniably a woman of sophistication, but a school event on a cruise ship was pretentious, even for her. Everyone seemed so excited and nervous. Michiru couldn't care less. The names of recruits and scouts and agents floated around her all evening, her classmates desperate to make a good impression. The concert was the first event on the night's program and Michiru was third to perform. When the second performer (a very skilled saxophone player) left the stage, she paused to give the audience a moment to finish clapping before stepping onto the stage to stand next to the woman presenting each performer. The usual nerves she got when performing in front of an audience had been replaced with longing and anxiety to see Haruka. As the presenter introduced the young violinist she scanned the room looking for the only reason she had come at all. She could feel the energy of the other woman nearby and her heartbeat increased when she spotted the athlete sat at a table alone, a few meters away from the stage. She was wearing a black suit and Michiru felt herself swooning over the effortlessly attractive woman. God how she longed to wrap her arms around the tall blonde and never let go. Her parents had never been particularly affectionate but they showed their love with little gestures and praise. Elsa was lovely but after their awkward dating period, they didn't touch each other much.

 

It had been a long time since she had been hugged. 

 

Michiru scrambled together her thoughts as the presenter left the stage and lifted the violin to her chin. She wasted no time playing the opening crystal piercing notes then lowered her lids and let herself get swept into the music. It was a melancholy tune. Beautiful but achingly sorrowful. She had composed the piece the day after her conversation with Haruka. More often than not Michiru found it easier to express herself creatively using art or music as a vessel instead of words. She couldn't verbalize everything she felt at least this way there was proof she had felt anything at all. It was a vulnerable piece that exposed her hopes, her disappointment, longing, and desperation. As she neared the end of the piece she sensed a change in energy and through half-lidded eyes watched as Haruka stood up and left the room. Michiru watched her leave sadly and finished playing the last few bars left of her song. Barely processing the impressed applause from the audience and polite words of congratulations from her classmates she put her violin away and slipped away from the concert room with a sense of growing pressure. She had to get to Haruka. She couldn't let the night end without speaking to her. 

 

Her instincts guided her through some empty hallways and she found herself in the section of the ship reserved for the student art exhibit later on. The hall was still dark and probably off-limits to the public but Michiru was a musician on a mission. Not a mission to impress some bigwigs, a mission to talk to Haruka. She had wandered down the hall of the makeshift gallery and judged the art of the other students. Everything paled in comparison to her dramatic and emotive paintings. Automatically Michiru walked up a staircase where her main piece hung, unavoidable. Without the artificial lights illuminating the painting, the scenery appeared even more ominous. Dark and threatening, the rapid, urgent brush strokes gave away her fear. Michiru sat down on the staircase landing, her soft dress cushioning her from the cold marble around her and waited impatiently. When Michiru painted the large-scale apocalyptic scene she had been thinking about her partner. She knew she needed to create something that demanded the attention of the viewer. Haruka wouldn't be able to look away this time. She knew just as well as Michiru that the canvas in front of them depicted a possible future.

 

Moments later she watched as the racer made her way down the stairs looking distracted. She stopped in front of the large painting and inspected it with a tight jaw. She read the placard stiffly Michiru couldn't bear it any longer. 

 

"Do you find it to your liking? Thank you for coming here tonight. Tenoh Haruka-san, the prodigious racer." 

 

Haruka barely looked at her "You seem to know quite a bit about me. This piece... did you paint it?" Michiru bit the inside of her cheek desperate to push past the formalities and unnecessary small talk.

 

"You're rather famous. There are a lot of big fans of yours at my school. One of them is a girl, who wants to go cruising along the beach in your car." She said this to gauge her reaction. She didn't intend to be subtle but maybe appeasing to Haruka's hobbies would bode better than having suggested she model for her. 

 

Haruka still didn't look at her. Instead, she continued to study the painting. "The End of the World, huh? I'm surprised that a girl who looks like she can't even kill one bug can draw such a tragic fantasy. " 

 

Michiru stood up frustrated. She knew her use of the word ''fantasy'' was intentional and it stung. It was one thing to not want to get involved in their cosmic responsibility. It was another to deny it completely. "It's not a fantasy!'' Michiru snapped. Her translucent mask slipped off. There was no going back now. The desperation must have surprised Haruka because finally, she looked at her. Michiru tried to curb her frustration. "I can see that scene clearly! Just like you can..."

 

Haruka standing on the stairs above her felt like a metaphor for the situation. They couldn't see things eye to eye and the space between them felt infinite as Haruka replied equally frustrated.  "This is stupid. I'm Tenoh Haruka, the first junior racer in Japan. Memories of my previous life or the end of the world have nothing to do with me. If someone has to do it, then you can do it! Stop digging up information about me without my permission."

 

Anger and hurt slashed into her like a whip. Once again Haruka was telling her to get lost. How did she end up with such an inconsiderate partner?! Was her life really that unlucky that she couldn't even get the person who was meant to be by her side to do just that?! She clenched her hands into fists and spoke freely. "Don't say such selfish things like that!" She chided harshly. Then looking down, admitted regretfully: "I don't want to do this either... I also have a dream, to become a violinist. I don't want to do outrageous things like saving the world from destruction." She didn't really think saving the world was "outrageous" but having spat it out of her mouth so vehemently she realized with surprise that she meant it. Of course, she didn't want to save the world. She didn't want there to be a world that needed saving. She already had to carry the pressure of being a brilliant creator expected to wow and astound the public every time and uphold the reputation of her family's name as the only living Kaioh left. And now this? Being the only one able to find the Messiah. It wasn't how the sixteen-year-old had anticipated her life to become and not having the choice to turn down the crushing responsibility made her eyes tear up in resentment at the girl in front of her. Haruka had a choice, Michiru didn't. Couldn't she see how alone she was? How frightened she was? If she died there would be nobody left who could save the world. If she died it would all have been for nothing. Her parents being killed, throwing away her dreams of becoming a world-famous violinist...

 

Michiru wanted to cry from the unfairness of it all. Haruka didn't respond so instead she forced herself to calm down and look the taller girl in the eye. ''I must get back to my classmates now. Enjoy the rest of the night." She added with curt civility before turning away to walk down the stairs back the way she came, to the concert room where she knew they would be looking for her. Haruka still didn't say anything. Good Michiru thought to herself. She didn't need a response. She had said everything that needed to be said. 

 

Despite her bitterness, she couldn't help look back when she was at the end of the corridor to where the stubborn racer stood immobile. Sill looking at the painting. The End of the World.

 

///

 

The next passing weeks became a blur of homework and exams. Michiru tried to push Haruka out of her mind but somehow she would find herself awoken from a passionate dream where she was kissing Haruka or making love, or even just smiling, content in her presence and Michiru's heart would squeeze and she would coil in on herself because the unflinching guardian couldn't tell what was old memories and what was her imagination, ignited with desire and longing to be close to the other girl. She felt too depressed to play the violin, images of the suited woman leaving clouded her mind. But she painted and swam more than ever. Frantically she would swim laps from side to side like she was racing some invisible foe. Like she was racing time itself. Her paintings had also become increasingly abstract and surreal to those who didn't carry the weight of the universe's destiny on their shoulders. She kept her eye on the blonde. She couldn't help it. Haruka had told her not to, but it was impossible. The craving to be near her only grew when she was in her Sailor Neptune form and somehow keeping tabs on her, watching the runner start car racing and consistently winning in the newspapers and TV quieted the part of her soul that wailed in loneliness. 

 

The days were getting longer and the monsters seemed easier to fight. Michiru consistently dyed her hair the color of seafoam, a habit that had been adopted after the death of her parents with the help of Elsa who had dyed her own hair magenta to support her newly orphaned friend with a spontaneous makeover. Sometimes the only way to feel in control of your own life was to grab a bright shade of box dye and make impulsive decisions. Which was exactly what Michiru was doing now. That night was the national car race and because she didn't trust herself to watch Haruka compete in person, she decided to dye her hair, get drunk, and watch the competition in her living room on the TV. Haruka was racing in the first heat because she was still young and despite her unquestionable skill, a beginner compared to the men who had been racing for decades. 

 

Michiru cradled the restaurant bought sashimi bento box in her lap and took two consecutive shots of whiskey that she had poured from her parent's alcohol cabinet. She knew she probably made a depressing sight, an old towel around her shoulders to protect her pajamas from her wet, newly dyed hair, a bottle of whiskey leaning against the arm of the overpriced sofa and delivered dinner but she didn't care much. She had fought a monster two days ago and it was unlikely for there to be another attack so soon. She watched the race with concentration and felt herself grin as Haruka's car pulled ahead, beating the cars behind her. Haruka managed to stay ahead for the three laps and Michiru took a shot in celebration.

 

During the advertisement break before the next round, the teen left to pee and dispose of the empty bento box. She felt herself sway a little when she stood and giggled. She didn't drink often and got tipsy even rarely. The floaty, carefree sensation was welcomed with open arms. She ran her fingers through her damp hair, relishing that it was still silky and soft despite it's monthly dyeing. She cracked a smile and giggled again. Definitely the effects of the alcohol. She wandered back to the couch and tucked her legs under one of the large pillows. She watched sleepily as Haruka moved on to the next round. She couldn't really see her as most of the shots were filmed aerially and Haruka was in a car most of the time. Even when she exited the car to rest or wait, she wore a helmet, rendering her unrecognizable. It was nice nonetheless. 

 

Michiru awoke a few hours later. I must have fallen asleep. She thought with surprise as she sat up and noticed that through the window, outside the sky was faded blue and the room was dark. The image of the monster the aqua haired teen had first fought came to mind and she shivered. The tell-tale sound of waves and feeling of urgency alerted her to the present. Of course, I am called to battle the one night I try to self indulge a little. Michiru thought tiredly. She turned off the TV and stood up with a sigh, at least her Senshi abilities had neutralized the alcohol in her system. No longer did she feel tipsy and she could appreciate the lack of hangover. She looked at the majestic clock on the wall and saw that it was already past 5 am. The sun would start rising soon and she had school in a few hours. It would be smart to put on her uniform in case she didn't manage to get home in time to change for class. Michiru quickly changed into her school uniform, splashed water on her face, brushed her teeth and left without hesitation. 

 

  I am strong. I am powerful. I have defeated many and I will defeat many more. I can handle this. She thought to herself feeling more alert as she stepped into the crisp morning air. She imagined the self-pity rolling off her skin and apathy taking its place. She didn't need anyone. She could do this by herself. She was Michiru Kaioh, artistic prodigy, and musical genius after all, wasn't she? Straight A student and an excellent swimmer. Kind, sophisticated, and untouchable. Michiru straightened her back and when she heard the roaring of waves get louder in her ears she welcomed it like a dare she knew she could conquer.

 

How strange that there's a monster already. Usually, they're smart enough to avoid striking twice so soon... She couldn't help think as she sprinted in her school shoes through the dark streets of her neighborhood full of impressive houses and apartments. She had fought under worse circumstances; in the rain, in the middle of the night after being jarred awake by the signs of danger lurking, but early morning fighting seemed to be the most unpleasant. Especially during the week when she was already exhausted from her rigorous schedule. 

 

The signals of the monster radiated from inside the racetrack where only a few hours ago many of Japan's successful racers had been competing. The sports garage was near one of the neighboring high schools. She didn't like fighting monsters in enclosed spaces. The ocean warrior preferred to use the element of surprise to her advantage instead of facing them head-on if she could help it. There was too much risk, especially if she had to place herself between an involved civilian and the callous creature. Only a street away was a gaggle of bars and clubs that would probably be closing and kicking out its patrons right about now. The sun was rapidly rising and by now the sky was a youthful yellow and blue color. The last thing she wanted was to be seen by some drunk party-goers. Aware that she was on a time crunch she effortlessly leaped over the fence surrounding the racetrack without bothering to find a gate. Near the ominous energy was the group of racers from the competition they were playing loud music and enthusiastically drinking into the early morning. Most even had their race suit still on. Luckily they seemed very engaged in their celebrating and Michiru was glad she was still in her civilian clothing. "Fate is really testing me today" she muttered as she ran past some bleachers that reminded her of when her optimism had been promptly squashed like a bug by the one person she was willing and desperate to worship with the fervor of a religious fanatic. 

 

Any thoughts of time or irony of location disappeared from her head the moment she stepped into the garage where she saw Haruka, still in her red racing suit, sat back on her elbows in front of a monster, larger and more vicious than usual. Its multiple rows of sharp teeth were frightening but the usual fear and disgust she felt towards the monster were nothing compared to the fear and concern she felt for Haruka. What astonished her was the shinning lip rod that floated near Haruka. Haruka was mesmerized and reaching out, her fingers nearly touching the magical stick. Michiru realized with a jolt what was happening. "Don't touch it!" she cried surprising herself. Despite her want for companionship, if Haruka wanted to avoid the dreadful path her life would take, Michiru would do everything in her power to ensure that the woman she loved was protected.

 

Haruka's head turned to look at her in bewilderment and placed the reaching hand on the rough concrete instead. To her relief, the rod stopped glowing and dropped to the ground unceremoniously. "If you do, you'll never be able to return to your normal life!" She emphasized.

 

Then, as if to prove her point she pulled her own lip rod from her skirt pocket and raised her arm in determination, shouting the five powerful words that activated her transformation. Haruka was the only person who had seen her transform. She wondered what it looked like from an outsider's perspective. The protective tunnel of water rushed around her and she emerged from the potent light in her fighting uniform. Haruka's stunned expression gave her little satisfaction because soon the monster turned it's attention to Sailor Neptune, sensing her destructive energy and lashed out. Without pausing, Sailor Neptune jumped away from the opening of the garage and ran towards the strong wall of the interior. Playing into her plans as she had hoped, the guardian watched as the disgusting worm-like creature crashed into a metal shelf full of tools and sports gear. The shelf then fell on top of the creature, causing it howled in pain. 

 

Haruka lept up and to go stand in front of the shelf where the monster was recovering. In a panicked voice, she expressed Michiru's worst fear. "You can't! He was human until just a few minutes ago! Are you all right doing this? This is murder!" Sailor Neptune's instincts drove her in different directions and it was hard for the guardian to concentrate. As much as she'd love to converse about ethics with her past lover, she can't afford to let her guard down. The monster still hadn't been defeated. 

 

"The silence is approaching... If I don't do this, there will be even more victims!" She responded coldly, keeping an eye on the monster that seemed to be recuperating its strength. She had reasoned this by herself many months ago. It was the only way she would be able to live guilt-free when the inevitable time came that an innocent bystander's life was lost. 

Haruka didn't seem pleased by the answer judging by her tone of voice. "Are you saying that the ends justify the means?!" Frustratedly, Sailor Neptune turned to look Haruka who was watching her with wide eyes. 

 

 "That's right!" Sailor Neptune bit back, "I don't care what means I use!" The Messiah, the princess, the talismans, planet Earth. There were too many factors. Too many things at stake to change her entire philosophy for the sake of some random human who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She wished things could be different, but she didn't see how she would be able to prevent the Silence with zero casualties. As long as it wasn't Haruka...she could live with herself and her questionable fighting tactics.

 

 Haruka didn't seem convinced "Are you really okay with--" she countered before being cut off abruptly by the metal shelf flipping into the air as the monster heaved itself free. 

"LOOK OUT!" Knowing Haruka wouldn't have the time to move, Neptune used her extraordinary reflexes and speed, to spring between the monster and Haruka and shoved her out of harm's way from the malicious creature using her body as a shield against its sharp claws. Involuntarily she yelped out in pain. She knew her actions didn't match what she had just stated, but her relief at having protected the other girl provided her with great gratification. She fell on top of a dazed but unscratched Haruka and wasted no time getting up. She had felt the claws rip through her leotard and the blood crawling down her back and arm, turning the pristine fabric red but she didn't register the pain. Instead, she felt fueled and buzzing with energy. 

 

Since the initial shock had worn off a little, Sailor Neptune felt rage plummeting through her veins like stormy seas. How DARE it try to harm...try to KILL Haruka! With a sudden rush of strength, she summoned her planet power with more intention than usual. The globe of water and sparkling energy materialized above her head and with a purposeful shout of "Deep submerge!" The Neptunian guardian angled the planetary weapon at the monster and let it loose.

It crashed upon impact, the spray of water fading around them as the monster roared in anguish. Thankfully its fury was short-lived because then there was silence. Neptune dropped to her knees- her head spinning from the sharp, excruciating pain- and closed her eyes momentarily. When she reopened them Haruka was supporting her back with her strong arms.

 

Everything seemed a bit blurry but the tough fabric of Haruka's racing uniform and the pressure of her gentle hand on her shoulder grounded her. The cuts were deeper than she realized but she was conscious enough to ask where the monster had gone. Haruka assured her that as it was hit, it disappeared and the boy came back unharmed. Sailor Neptune exhaled shakily in relief and admitted aloud the other outcome that could have been. Death. Murder. It wasn't what she wanted but she had come to terms with the fact that one day it could...would happen. 

 

Haruka rebutted her remark with a question and a statement. "Then why did you cover for me just now? If you hurt your hand, you wouldn't be able to become a violinist." Haruka lifted Neptune's arm from the ground to inspect the deep wounds. Neptune looked away feeling herself growing warm with happiness at both her concern and her remembrance of the personal piece of information she had mentioned during their conversation on the cruise ship. Maybe she was delirious from the pain that continued to rake into her skin in waves, maybe it was the effect of being so close to Haruka that made her logic shut up and her heart start talking. Whatever it was, she can't stop herself from interpreting the statement as a drop of hope and she found herself opening up to the woman, once again. 

 

"I.. I didn't investigate you because you were another soldier. I've known who you were for a long time... I was nearby watching you during your first race." Neptune knew she was entering risky territory by appearing as the ultimate stalker but she couldn't help it. If Haruka was never going to fight alongside her, she should at least know what she meant to her. "I wanted to go for a ride by the sea in your car... just once..." Sailor Neptune finally turned to lock eyes with Haruka whose concentrated expression changed to a wide-eyed one of realization. 

 

Sailor Neptune continued, now smiling sadly. "You don't rely on anyone at all and you're always honest with your feelings." She could feel her unruly hair streaked around her face in sweaty strands and knew she looked like a bloody, damaged mess but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered now that she was so close to Haruka. She could feel the warmth of her skin through her clothing. Their faces were so close...

 

Haruka also didn't seem to care. Unease was painted on her face and she looked at Sailor Neptune with shameful, guilty eyes. 

 

"I'm not honest at all... I keep running away."

 

Neptune wanted to wipe the sullen expression from the woman's face. "I know about you better than you know yourself." It's a bold statement but Neptune's eternal faith in her was unwavering. Time and time again she'd seen Haruka live up to the wonderfully endearing qualities she had been subconsciously seeking. Haruka was different from Sailor Uranus of the Moon Kingdom, she was different now, but her essence was the same. Her passion and bravery and compassion remained.  "I've been watching you for a long time. I don't want you to walk the same path as me..." Sailor Neptune smiled and her eyes stung. It's true. The side of Neptune that wanted to protect and keep her lover safe outweighed the selfish side of her that wanted Haruka to wake up and claim her rightful position once more.

 But when I realized that you were the one... I was happy."

 

The injured guardian shifted and felt pain shoot through her arm, provoking her eyes to well up in tears and a distracting static sound in her ears. Haruka squeezed her hand in silent comfort and Neptune blinks and blushes. She tried to convince herself it's just the scratches that were causing the display of pain and not the unexpected release of emotions. "I'm sorry... I wasn't planning on telling you all this. I'm sorry..." Haruka was still frowning but she didn't look mad. She was looking over her shoulder and Sailor Neptune didn't know what to say. 

 

"I've been selfish. Being a guardian is my destiny, I must accept it." Haruka finally said, breaking the silence. Sailor Neptune wondered if her choice of adjective was a response to her earlier accusation on the cruise. The racer's face was determined and Neptune doesn't get a chance to reply because Haruka is reaching out once more and unhesitatingly grabbing the lip rod that is just within reach.

 

 Immediately a bright light filled the garage once more and strong, capable currents of energy thrummed and vibrated around Haruka. Their energies complemented one another naturally and suddenly, Neptune didn't feel so incomplete anymore. The planets and their powers had aligned effortlessly and when the newly awoken guardian looked down to smile at her, Sailor Neptune felt her heart bursting with joy. Sailor Uranus was back. She had awoken. She'd chosen her. She'd chosen them. The vibrant, electric aura of her partner warmed her skin like sunlight and Sailor Neptune can't tell if it's the galactic energy or her blood loss that was making Haruka appear blurry. The static ringing in her ears became too loud and abruptly her vision was shrouded in darkness.

 

///

 

Michiru blinked awake. She was lying on a sofa in a room she didn't recognize. Anxiety seized her and she tried to sit up only to notice a sharp pain in her arm and back. Unable to hold back a yelp, someone was alerted in another room and she heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Michiru opened her mouth to speak but decided on silence when it was Haruka who walked into the room holding two cups of tea. The pieces of that morning's events wove back together and rose to the surface of Michiru's memories and she found herself blushing at the confession she had made in her wound inflicted state. She didn't know what to say or where to begin. She hoped Haruka didn't regret taking the lip rod. Thankfully Haruka spoke first.

 

"Uh. Here." She held out the mug awkwardly.

 

Michiru accepted the mug with her uninjured arm. ''Thank you." She said gratefully and took a sip. It was soothing.

 

"After I transformed... you passed out. I made sure the boy was alright and then I took you to my apartment- which is where we are right now. I don't know where you live and I didn't know what else to do. I hope that's okay. Your guardian outfit got pretty badly damaged but I don't know where it went. Before you fainted it changed into your school uniform." She seemed apologetic and Michiru couldn't help but feel sympathy towards the blonde. Her sailor uniform would be fine, it always appeared good as new no matter how permanent the rips and tears seemed. One of the many perks of being a crime-fighting hero. 

 

"Thank you." Michiru repeated, her eyes fixed on the woman crouched in front of her. She set the cup down and noticed that her arm had been wrapped in a small towel. She wondered if it had been done to prevent staining the couch. 

 

Haruka seemed to have noticed Michiru's silent question because she quickly added. "You were bleeding quite a lot so I wrapped a towel around your arm to add some pressure, It's what I remember learning in health class. I didn't know what to do but I think it's stopped because it hasn't bled through." 

 

"You did the right thing, Haruka. I don't usually pass out from bloody injuries but I guess tonight was different." She blushed remembering the proximity with which they had spoken and found herself hopeful. The double meaning hung in the air. Michiru cleared her throat

 

"Do you mind if I take my top off? I would like to clean the cuts on my back..." She had already transformed in front of her, admitted her attraction, and bled on her towel, possibly ruining it- so she figured they had a certain level of trust by now.

 

As expected Haruka nodded awkwardly and stood up. "I think I have some first aid stuff in the bathroom, I can go get that." Michiru smiled in agreement and Haruka left the room.

 

With some difficulty, Michiru managed to slide herself out of her white blouse. Restricting her movement to only one arm was rather challenging and she winced as the bunched up fabric rubbed uncomfortably against the cuts on her back. Finally, she managed to wiggle her head out of it as Haruka came back holding some medical supplies. She held the bloody blouse scrunched up in her hands, unsure where to put it. Haruka set the damp washcloth, cream, and gauze on the ground and crouched down in front of Michiru once more. To Michiru's amusement and surprise, the taller girl was blushing. Surely girls stripped in front of Haruka all the time, and for much sexier things than tending to injuries, she was aware of the blonde's flirtatious tendencies.

 

Michiru smiled back and then looked down at her arm to gently unwrap the towel from her arm. She grimaced and Haruka leaned forward. With Haruka now kneeling in front of her and Michiru elevated on the couch, they were nearly at the same level. "Do you want me to help you?" 

 

"Yes please, I think that would be useful." Michiru didn't feel as anxious as she thought she might have, being half-naked and alone with her crush. Just like her clothing, her skin would heal quickly and without a mark. Of course, if Haruka wanted to help treat her cuts she wasn't going to stop her. 

 

Michiru angled her body in an easier position so her back was easier to reach. "It takes guts to clean a wound. Usually, I do it by myself, so I appreciate it." She meant it, cleaning the cuts on her back would have been difficult to do alone. It was in a place that was difficult to reach and Haruka could be more precise with the placement of the antibiotic cream.

 

For the first time, Haruka seemed to notice the ruined blouse and gestured at it "I can put that in the wash for you if you'd like." Haruka offered and Michiru felt her chest tighten. The blonde was already doing so much for her. She didn't want to feel like a burden. She diverted the offer by bringing up Haruka's living situation, something she had just now realized and was curious about. 

 

"Oh, you don't have to...I wouldn't want to wake up your parents."

 

Haruka ran her hand through her shaggy hair. "This is my parent's apartment, but they aren't here. They're in New York. My dad's a diplomat and I was living with them for some time but they sent me back to continue my secondary education in Tokyo. They said I was... "distracted"."' She said this factually but not without a slight bitterness.

 

Michiru wanted to ask what Haruka meant by ''distracted.'' Car racing? Girls? She didn't want to pry though as it didn't seem like a happy situation. Michiru decided to explain her living circumstance as it seemed only fair.

 

"Well it's cool you have such a nice space for yourself. I also live alone, my parents were killed," she usually left it at that, most people unaware of the dangers that plagued the city. But Haruka knew now. She could be honest, "...by a monster. It doesn't feel like home anymore."

 

Haruka frowned at her sympathetically but not pityingly. "I'm sorry to hear that. That's awful."

 

"Yes, It is."

 

"This apartment doesn't feel like home either. I'm saving up to get my own place. So far the sponsorships and prize money from racing seem like enough." Michiru was impressed with Haruka's ambition and wondered what it would be like to leave her family's mansion. It was too big for one person, the silence was crushing her and she didn't want to live there for the rest of her life, surrounded by memories of her parents and their naive and peaceful life. 

 

As they spoke Haruka raised a washcloth to gently wipe the dry blood from the cuts and Michiru's arm and back. The water was room temperature but she found herself getting goosebumps. She hoped Haruka couldn't tell that every time her fingers brushed her skin it felt like a thousand sparklers were fizzling under the surface. 

 

"That's amazing. I hope you find your dream place." 

 

Haruka smiled  but it didn't quite reach her eyes.

 

They sat in silence for a few more minutes as Haruka continued to clean and dress her wounds. The blood had stopped thankfully and with her gentle touches and dabs, Michiru hardly noticed any pain. Finally, Haruka wrapped her arm in gauze and covered her back with a large bandage. She was careful but confident. The taller woman leaned back and analyzed the work in front of her."I think that should do it."

 

"Yes, I'm sure of it. By tomorrow they'll already be practically invisible. Thank you again, Haruka."

 

Haruka looked bashful yet pained after hearing the injured woman say her name. "I want to apologize." Michiru said nothing. She was interested to hear what the taller woman had to say.

 

"It wasn't fair the way I spoke to you at the competition that day. And on the cruise. I knew you weren't just some fangirl. I remembered you from my dreams. Your aura was so strong and intimidating. Of course, I know you aren't evil, but," Haruka hesitated. "I didn't want my normal life to end yet. I still had so much stuff I wanted to do." Haruka's voice seemed to get weaker as it continued and Michiru almost felt remorseful. Almost. She too had given up many worldly dreams and pleasures but that didn't mean she couldn't continue playing and creating. It was the early grief of realizing that life wasn't going the way you expected or wanted it to go. But there was no other option. She knew Haruka would understand soon enough but she was gentle with her nonetheless. 

 

"I know and I'm sorry, I truly am. You didn't have to grab the lip rod but I'm glad that you did. You have incredible endurance Haruka, endurance that will become vital to us. Only we can find the Messiah." She looked Haruka in the eye earnestly, her own eyes honest and pleading. "Our sacrifices will not be in vain. I will not allow it. We have already lost too much. If this is the way our destiny is to unfold then so be it. I am confident that we will make a great team."

Haruka nodded seriously, holding her gaze. Michiru pushed her hair off her shoulder and looked away, insecure under the scrutiny of the tomboy. She wiggled her arm experimentally pulling her attention away from the woman who sat no further than a foot away from her. From the pressure of the skillfully wrapped gauze, Michiru could tell this wasn't the first time Haruka had treated an injury.

 

"When did you become such an expert treating wounds?" She couldn't help ask with a teasing smile.

 

Haruka smiled back, some of the tension dissipating. "You'd be surprised at the number of injuries a runner can encounter. And before running I did basketball and football and well, as you can imagine, any contact sport produces a lot of scrapes and bruises. " 

 

"Haha, yes, that does make sense."

 

Michiru didn't know Haruka had played team sports. It made sense knowing her competitiveness, but it made more sense that she had been drawn to running and racing. They were solo sports that required no dependency on others. 

 

"Do you play any sports?" 

 

"Well I swim and jog frequently and when I was a child my parents made me learn how to dance for debutante balls," Michiru said with a roll of eyes, silently giving the other girl permission to laugh at the pretentiousness of it all. "But I've never played for any sports team. When we have to for gym class I don't enjoy it very much." She admitted thinking back to when she was obligated to play volleyball. 

 

This time Haruka laughed and Michiru smiled. Haruka was irresistible. She found herself wondering how she had managed to hold back for so many months. They spoke freely, asking one another questions to get comfortable in this new arrangement until Michiru asked with sudden concern about the time. Today was a school day after all and fortifying sunlight was streaming in through the large window in the living room. Haruka replied with alarm that it was already 8:15 am. 

 

"We have 15 minutes to get to school-if you're up for it-I can drive us..." 

 

Michiru accepted shyly, remembering their earlier conversation when she mentioned wanting to drive along the ocean in her car. They hadn't discussed it since and she wondered if Haruka was just going to pretend it hadn't happened. She could wait if Haruka wanted to take things slow. Simply being in her presence and being able to speak with her satisfied Neptune, with whom she shared her soul.

 

This was how Michiru found herself shotgun of Haruka's car, wearing one of Haruka's extra uniform blouses. The wind rushing around her face and body was exquisite and the view of the sea along the side of the road which sparkled in the bright sunlight produced a profound sense of tranquility that Michiru hadn't felt in a long time. Somehow she knew that this was where she was meant to be and that things would get better from here. 

 

The breeze was loud and cool and the radio played a bass-heavy beat, but it didn't deter Haruka from trying to speak to Michiru. Michiru thought she heard her say that she was glad to have met her, but considered that maybe it was just wishful thinking.

 

"What?" She asked, turning to look at her with a smile.

 

"Let's keep driving. I'm not letting you go home tonight." She said with a flirtatious, teasing grin, catching Michiru off-guard. Thoughts of school and class were swept aside as Michiru reacted, pleased by the unexpected comment. They both laughed, a little self-consciously, a little hopeful. When the two girls had arrived at the beach and were sat on the sand with their shoulders almost touching, Haruka told her quietly, as if revealing a secret, that she would be willing to model for her.

 

Touched, Michiru reached down to squeeze Haruka's hand, a gesture reminiscent of the earlier events that day. "I would be honored." She responded earnestly, hoping she didn't sound too eager although her fingers already tingled with the longing to hold charcoal and make dramatic, sweeping lines.

 

 Haruka squeezed Michiru's hand back and added with a blush. "Just for your eyes only though. " Michiru had no qualms to the request, not only because she was a responsible artist who respected the boundaries of her models, but also because the idea of having a beautiful drawing of Haruka, vulnerable and natural, not to be shared with anyone, foreshadowed and represented more than any of her paintings of destruction. The permission thrilled and inspired Michiru. She could see clearly how the prospect of being able to admire the flat and curved planes of Haruka's body would be her personal destruction. 

 

 ///

 

From afar it would seem like Haruka and Michiru didn't have much in common, and maybe they didn't, but maybe it didn't matter.  

 

Whether they did or didn't was irrelevant. The women's fascination for one another overrode any desire for commonality or sharing of hobbies. They were able to appreciate one anothers passions, skills, and traits. Their morals and political views aligned more often than not and any juxtaposing opinions only made life more interesting. There were many things they shared, the most important thing being their love and devotion for one another. The two women were unapologetically and undeniably tied together by the bonds of fate. Despite the pact that they would complete their mission no matter what- even if the other was dead or in the danger, the survivor would continue forth- both guardians knew it would be easier said than done. Especially when Michiru was sprawled on top of Haruka naked, caressing her face tenderly and whispering, "even if we hadn't been past lovers, or guardians, even if the world didn't need saving...I would still want you." In those early morning moments, Haruka would only be able to nod and smile back but her intentions were clear. Her feelings for Michiru couldn't be contained. They couldn't be verbalized. Like Haruka, her expression of love was explosive and intense and impulsive. Her kisses, deep and sweet. Her touches, confident and intentional. Her vulnerable statements of affection, broken by stutters or embarrassment held as much weight and importance as the world. Despite their pact, despite their promise that their duties came before their relationship, privately, the lovers knew that if the moment were to arrive, they would selfishly choose one another over the world. Again and again and again.   

 

///

 

終わり