"THE PERSPECTIVE OF AGES"

A Sailor Moon fanfic

By Bill K.

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Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2003 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2003 by Bill K.

As always, for those only familiar with the English dub:

Usagi=Serena

Ami=Amy

Rei=Raye

Makoto=Lita

Minako=Mina

Haruka=Amara

Michiru=Michelle

Setsuna=Trista

Mamoru=Darien

Chibi-Usa=Rini

Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.

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The back yard was alive with the mid-morning sun, casting everything with a glow that spoke of life and energy. Michiru Kaioh, camera in hand, was taking photographs from the porch of the two-story she shared with her love and life's mate. The camera was cradled in her left hand, her right on the shutter button, while she studied the area for something interesting to photograph.

A slight breeze disturbed the green hair that fell past her shoulders. It caught the hem of the sleeveless sun dress she wore and lifted it just enough, like a naughty child peeking. Her lithe body turned so she could peer into the living room through the sliding glass doors. Perhaps there was some facet of the room that the bright sunlight gave a new texture to, something that she hadn't seen before. Her eye searched for inspiration. Suddenly she spied her inspiration and pulled the camera to her eye. With a second given to focus, she framed her shot and snapped a picture.

"Will you quit taking pictures of me," groused Haruka.

"I'm sorry, but you're the perfect subject," Michiru grinned impishly.

"You're just prejudiced," Haruka quipped.

Michiru watched her as she moved to the closet for her jacket with that long, insouciant grace she had.

"Guilty. But I can't help it! Oh, Haruka, you don't know all the avenues of expression this has opened up for me! I don't know why I didn't think to try photography a long time ago! It's just so wonderful!"

"I can tell," Haruka said. She slipped her lanky body into a white leather jacket with blue shoulder panels and various sponsor patches sewn on. It covered a light blue polo shirt, which paired with beige twill slacks and white leather athletic shoes was Haruka's idea of upscale attire.

"You're wearing that?" Michiru asked, trying to sound concerned and at the same time uncritical.

"Michiru," Haruka smiled, taking her hand, "they won't be there to see how I'm dressed."

"OK," she sighed, unconvinced. "Are you sure you don't want me to come?"

"You can come," Haruka shrugged. "I just figure it'd be boring for you. It'll be three hours of gear-heads getting my autograph, telling me how important I am to their life and talking about auto racing." Haruka grew a cynical leer. "Of course, if you're afraid I'll get lured by some nubile young groupie."

Michiru's face scrunched up into the beady-eyed pout she always got when Haruka teased her. Then the edge of her mouth curled.

"I'm not worried," Michiru said with an evil smirk. "You can look all you want. Just don't touch, because you know what'll happen if you do."

"I do," Haruka grinned back, "and I like the use of my hands."

The two women, in a move they'd done so many times that it was a reflex, each pressed two fingers to her lips, then extended the fingers and pressed it to the lips of her mate. It was so harmonious and on cue that it spoke eloquently of just how in sync they were. Haruka turned and walked to the front door. Michiru watched her leave. Then at the last second, she pulled up her camera and shot a picture of Haruka's backside. As the door closed, she smirked in triumph.

"That one's for me," she leered.

Two hours passed. In those two hours, Michiru amused herself with a pad and pencil, sketching ideas for her next painting. By the amount of crumpled paper in the basket near the coffee table, it was obvious inspiration was hard coming to the perfectionist artist. Blessedly, relief came in the form of the buzzer sounding. Michiru got up and opened the front door. She found a pleasant surprise behind it.

"Usagi!" she gasped happily. Usagi was at the door, dressed in a pink pullover wool top, plaid knee length skirt and a pink windbreaker. The vivacious seventeen-year-old gazed up at Michiru hopefully. "Did we have a lesson planned for today?"

"Well, no," Usagi said nervously. "But Ami's got cram school and Rei's got chores and Minako's got an audition and Mako-chan's visiting her grandmother and, well, I thought I might come over and get a painting lesson - - um, if you're not busy. Are you?"

Michiru struggled not to laugh. "No, I'm not. Come on in." She ushered Usagi into the house. "Do you have your equipment?"

"Um, no. It was kind of an impulse."

"Then we'll have to use mine."

"Is Haruka around?" Usagi asked hopefully, looking around as surreptitiously as she could manage.

"No," Michiru grinned. "A local car dealer booked her for an autograph session. She'll be gone at least another hour."

"OK," scowled Usagi. But she brightened immediately. "What are you going to show me this time?"

Michiru looked around the room. Walking over to a vase of flowers, she picked it up and placed it centered on the coffee table.

"Paint that," Michiru told her.

"Do I have to?" Usagi asked. "I'd rather do portraits."

"You're not ready to do portraits."

"But . . ."

"It'll be a good exercise for you. You can learn hue, texture and shadow."

"But . . ."

"And it will train you in creating from scratch, without working from a sketch."

"But . . ."

"Who's the teacher here?"

"You are," Usagi sighed.

"Then paint that. I'll give you advice as you go."

With Michiru looking over her shoulder and guiding her as she went, Usagi had an impressionistic portrayal of the vase of flowers. But after about thirty minutes the girl's shoulders suddenly slumped and her hand, still holding the brush, dropped between her legs.

"Usagi?" Michiru asked.

"Ohhhhhh!" the girl groaned.

"What's wrong?"

"It's rotten! I'm no good at all!"

"Why do you say it's rotten?"

"Because it is! It doesn't look anything like the flowers!"

Michiru smiled knowingly. "Usagi, painting the flowers doesn't mean you have to recreate the flowers in exact, minute detail. If you wanted to do that, you could just use a camera. What you're trying to do is tell the world how you see the flowers. And if that's your impression of how the flowers look, then that's a valid piece of artwork."

"You really think people will like it?" Usagi whimpered.

"Well, I don't try to predict what the public will like. I paint what I like - - if the public likes it too, so much the better. But you can only please one person and that's you."

"But I don't like it."

"Then you either have to keep working on it until you do like it, or abandon it. But as an artist, you're the first one you have to please. Everyone else comes second."

The door opened. Michiru and Usagi turned and saw Haruka enter. One look was all they needed to see that the tall blonde was in a smoldering rage.

"Haruka?" Michiru said, rising up and quickly cutting the distance between them. "What happened?"

Haruka continued on to the closet, pulling her jacket off, deliberately ignoring Michiru and Usagi. She kept her back to them, not wanting to look at them.

"Haruka, what is it?" Michiru persisted.

"Nothing!" was the curt response.

Undaunted, Michiru stood her ground. Haruka was about to retreat to the bedroom, but Michiru cut her off. The lanky blonde turned away from her, but Michiru wasn't about to be defeated that easily.

Haruka turned to her when she felt Michiru's arms around her. The look in her eye was one of pure, naked rage and hatred that only dimmed when she realized it was Michiru touching her and speaking to her. For her part, Michiru felt an urgent concern for her love, concern mixed with a hint of fear.

"Haruka," she continued to prod. "What is it? What happened?" She sensed Usagi just behind her, but didn't take her eyes from Haruka. "Please stop internalizing. Whatever happened, it's OK to tell me. I won't judge you."

"He was there," Haruka said. Her voice was weak and breathy, like her entire body was clenched and she could barely spare the muscle control to talk lest her emotions get away from her.

"Who was there?" Michiru asked frantically.

Haruka just stared at her, like she'd momentarily forgotten how to speak. Michiru had seen Haruka in many states, not all of them pleasant. But this scared her to the bone.

"Haruka, calm down," she pleaded. "Who was there?"

Several loud panting breaths later, Haruka gained enough control to speak.

"From junior high," Haruka drew out. Rage wracked her body, seeking escape.

"Junior high?" Michiru asked in confusion.

"HIM!" Haruka hissed through clenched teeth. Michiru's hand flew to her mouth.

"Not the one who. . ." she gasped, cut off by Haruka's terse nod.

"Michiru, what is it?" Usagi gasped, on the verge of tears.

"Sit down," she said, keeping her arms around Haruka the entire time. "Sit down," she reiterated when Haruka wouldn't obey. With gentle force she led Haruka to the sofa and the pair sat together. "You're safe now, Haruka. Nothing's going to hurt you here. Now tell me what happened."

"I was at the dealership," Haruka replied, terse and clipped. She still quaked with suppressed rage. "Signing autographs. Then," and her fists clenched, "I saw him."

"He was there?"

"Worked there," Haruka continued. "It was him. I know it was him! I'll never forget those eyes!"

"What happened then?"

"Our eyes met - - just for an instant across the room. Then he went in the back."

"What did you do?"

"NOTHING!" Haruka roared angrily. "I wanted to pound him into the floor! I wanted to grab him by the throat and wring him by his dirty neck! I wanted to poke his eyes out with the pen I had and then STAB HIM IN THE HEART WITH IT! BUT I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING! I JUST - - SAT THERE!"

Michiru gathered her love in her arms and held the woman's head to her chest. She stroked the sandy blonde hair with soothing strokes.

"You did the right thing, Haruka," Michiru whispered. "Don't feel bad."

"Haruka?" they heard Usagi gasp. Haruka was in tears and Usagi had never seen Haruka cry. "Haruka, please don't say such things. You could never do anything like that."

"Guess you're right, Dumpling," Haruka whispered between sobs.

"Usagi, could you excuse us, please?" Michiru said tersely.

Taking the hint, Usagi got up and headed for the door. At the door, she paused and looked back. Michiru was cradling Haruka as the woman sobbed into her breast. Her own tears dribbling down her cheeks, Usagi exited the house and closed the door behind her.

Morning found Michiru sitting in the kitchen - - alone - - absently nursing a cup of coffee and staring at the chrome on the refrigerator without seeing anything. She wore hastily thrown on jeans and a cream knit blouse and her hair was unkempt. None of that mattered.

The evening had been hard. Haruka had been a handful all night. That one glimpse had brought all the old memories flooding back, along with the attending regrets, recriminations, anger and guilt. She would get Haruka calmed for a while, but it would build again until Haruka couldn't keep it pent up any longer and out it would spill. She soothed Haruka, she hugged her and did everything she could to make the woman feel safe. She listened when Haruka spoke and showered her with gentle absolutions when she couldn't. She even encouraged Haruka to use her as the brunt of her rage, to vent on her and expel it. But there was too much rage stored up from too long ago and all Michiru got from it was ringing ears.

Bed was little better. Haruka tossed and turned, her unresolved anger keeping her from sleep for the longest time. Michiru tried cuddling, but Haruka resisted. That hurt, but Michiru set it aside because she knew Haruka hurt more. Finally, with Haruka's head nestled on her chest and Haruka's hand clinging to her hip, her love found sleep. It was a while after that before she found it.

Haruka was still sleeping and Michiru let her. They didn't have to be anyplace. Michiru had already called her music publisher and told them to cancel their meeting. Sleep would be good for Haruka. Right now, anything would be good for Haruka as long as it didn't involve remembering.

The front door buzzer sounded. Michiru decided at first not to answer it. She didn't feel like talking to anyone right now. However, it buzzed again. Sighing, Michiru hauled herself up and trudged to the door. Better to answer it than to have it disturb Haruka. The door opened and she peered out.

"Usagi?" she asked, surprised and slightly annoyed.

"I'm sorry for disturbing you so early," Usagi said meekly, giving Michiru a penitent bow. "Is Haruka all right? Because I was up practically all night worrying about her."

Gratitude flooded through Michiru. She realized that it was nice to know someone else cared about Haruka's welfare. It eased the burden a little.

"Please, come in," Michiru smiled and ushered Usagi in. "I guess I was a little brusque yesterday. I apologize."

"There's no need to, considering what was happening," Usagi told her. "Is she all right?"

"She's - - trying to cope," Michiru answered. "Right now that's as much as can be expected."

"What happened? Is there anything I can do?"

"That's very nice of you, but no there isn't."

"Maybe if I knew what was wrong . . ."

"Usagi," Michiru said painfully, "it's - - personal."

"Oh," Usagi whispered, looking down in dejection.

"Go ahead and tell her," they heard Haruka say. Turning, they both saw her emerging from the bedroom. She wore a blue nylon jogging suit and white leather running shoes. Her expression said the most: depressed and just a little ashamed. "She's the princess. I guess we can trust her with - - something like that."

"Haruka, how are you?" Michiru asked, coming over to her.

Haruka shrugged.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"Down to the high school stadium," Haruka murmured, looking away. "I've been neglecting my running. I'll be back in an hour."

She turned back and pressed her lips to Michiru's. Michiru kissed back urgently, trying to communicate that everything was all right, but Haruka's kiss was timid and shamed. The blonde broke away and slipped out the door with Michiru staring after her on the verge of tears. Usagi immediately closed on Michiru.

"She'll get over it," Usagi whispered encouragingly. "Haruka's strong."

"Will she?" Michiru replied. "Granted she's strong, but it's a lot to overcome. It's if she can get over it that has me worried - - that and how she gets over it." Michiru took a moment to gather her strength, then turned to Usagi with strained gentleness. "Do you really want to know what happened?"

"If it'll help Haruka, yes."

"All right. Can I get you something? What you're about to hear isn't going to be - - pleasant."

They sat at the kitchen table. Michiru stared into her coffee while Usagi nervously sipped at a glass of apple juice. Though she wanted to ask a million questions, Usagi kept still.

"There's something you have to understand first," Michiru began, "about Haruka. Not everyone accepts homosexuals and the concept of homosexuality - - sometimes not even the person who's the homosexual. That was Haruka. When she first realized that she was attracted to women, she had a hard time dealing with it. It goes against everything we're taught as children. Being twelve and thirteen and experiencing the onset of sexuality can be confusing and intimidating enough, but when you have the added burden of gender identity confusion, it can make it that much worse. That was Haruka at thirteen - - from what she's told me."

"I guess I never thought of that," Usagi said.

"And Haruka didn't have a lot of support from family and friends. You already know about her parents. And Haruka was always a loner and a rebel and didn't have many friends either. When she started dressing in boy's uniforms at school, she had even fewer. The last thing anyone, even a rebel, wants to be thought of as at thirteen is odd. So she was having a tough enough time as it was."

Michiru absently stirred the coffee with a spoon while Usagi watched her silently. The artist had almost separated herself from reality and was living temporarily in memories.

"Then," Michiru began slowly, like she was pulling a bandage from a wound, "one night three boys from her class caught her by herself in an isolated place. They tied her up. . ."

"Oh no," Usagi whispered.

". . .and ripped her jacket and slacks off," Michiru continued, eyes glistening.

"Michiru. . ."

"She fought back as much as she could. She managed to injure the leader of the boys. So he raped her . . . with a beer bottle."

Usagi let out a soft gasp.

"Then they left her, naked and bleeding. The leader warned her," and Michiru let out a strained little laugh, "warned her to stay away from his sister."

"Why would they do something like that?" Usagi whimpered.

"I don't know. They were boys, as old as Haruka was. Maybe they were scared of what they didn't understand. Maybe they just wanted to feel big and powerful. Maybe they actually thought, in their primitive way, that they were protecting the boy's sister from the 'big bad lesbian'. Haruka told me she wasn't even interested in the boy's sister - - that she was helping Haruka with her math homework."

Michiru noticed tears were on her cheeks. She glanced over and saw Usagi was crying too.

"Haruka saw the boy who was the leader of the group - - the boy with the sister - - the one who raped her with the bottle. He's an adult now. He works at the auto dealership she was at yesterday. That's what yesterday was all about, Usagi. I'm sorry you had to see it."

"What's she going to do?"

"I don't know. That's what worries me. Haruka's always had such anger over what happened, anger she's never been able to properly heal. It was a terrible thing to have to experience - - but even worse, for the longest time Haruka thought - - it was her punishment for being lesbian. It took her a long time to get over that attitude. But the feelings of helplessness and shame are still there, inside of her. She's had it repressed for so long it became second nature to her. And now it's all back on the surface again."

"Do you think she'll try to get revenge?"

"I hope not," Michiru said. "Not for his sake - - he could drop dead this second and I wouldn't shed a tear - - because of what he did to her. But she's come so far. Usagi, you just don't know what the early days were like. She'd already come so far when I first met her, and that was on her own. But she was still just a wounded little dove hiding behind this harsh, tough mask. She'd built such a wall of fatalism around her that I barely got through. And she's come so much farther since then. She's actually begun to believe that she's entitled to a little happiness. I don't want to see her destroy that in a futile act of vengeance. He's not worth her happiness!"

Embarrassed, Michiru wiped the tears from her eyes as Usagi looked on helplessly. She'd wanted desperately to help, but this was beyond her.

"I'm embarrassing myself," Michiru said sheepishly.

"No you're not. You love Haruka and you hurt for her. Heck, I'm hurting for her, so I can only imagine how bad you feel. It's nothing to be embarrassed about."

A small smile colored Michiru's lips.

"Have you always had this talent to make people feel better?" Michiru asked. Usagi shrugged. "Maybe you'd be better qualified to help Haruka than I am."

"No," Usagi said quickly. "No one else loves her like you do, so no one else is better qualified. I wouldn't ask you to help Mamo-chan unless I couldn't."

"Right you are," Michiru said, covering Usagi's hand with hers. She seemed to consider something for a moment. "Mind if we walk to the high school? Just to check on how Haruka is?"

"Sure!" beamed Usagi.

At the high school stadium, Michiru and Usagi leaned against a chain link fence. Haruka was jogging around the cinder track at an even pace. She was a powerful sight. Her gait was strong and sure, perfectly paced for distance but with a sense that she could break into a blinding sprint at any moment. But the thing that struck Usagi the most was she seemed at peace. None of what troubled her earlier was in her head. Her mind was focused on her body, how it felt, how it moved, and how much energy she had in relation to the goal she was striving for. The world was completely shut out.

Then Usagi glanced at Michiru. The woman's eyes were fixed on Haruka, absorbing every movement. Her expression was so tender. All a person had to do was look at the way Michiru looked at Haruka to know how she felt, to know the passion Haruka inspired in her. But if you really looked, you could see more. You could see the fierce protective bent, that mother tiger in the bushes ready to do anything - - anything - - in order to protect the most precious thing in her life. At times Usagi found Michiru intimidating. Sometimes it was because of her sophistication and worldliness.

Other times it was because of this.

Suddenly Haruka broke into a sprint. Racing down the track's straightaway like a blur, arms and legs pumping like pistons in an engine, Haruka stormed down the track. She circled at the turn at full speed and flew down the far straightaway. Taking the turn at full speed, Haruka sped down the track as hard and as fast as she could, leaning forward at the end to break the imaginary line at the finish. She jogged to a stop, then bent over and sucked in air, her hands on her knees.

"You haven't lost very much of your form," Michiru said, clapping as she approached, "for someone who spends most of her time riding around in cars these days."

Haruka shot her a smirk, but didn't respond.

"Haruka, you're so fast!" marveled Usagi. "You could be a champion!"

"I was, remember?" Haruka gasped. "I'm a little out of practice - - but I can still - - do pretty good time. Running's always been second nature to me." They noticed Haruka's features cloud. "Always wondered if I was running towards something or running away."

"Haruka, you stop that!" Usagi demanded. Her vehemence startled Haruka. "Stop putting yourself down! You're a nice, wonderful person! What happened to you wasn't your fault! So stop acting like you're not the beautiful, strong, wonderful person you are!"

"Is that a royal command, Princess?" Haruka grinned.

Usagi flushed. "I-I'm sorry for being so forward," she said, looking down. Then she looked up at Haruka again. "But I just want you to stop being so depressed!"

"Don't let her tease you, Usagi," Michiru smiled.

"Yeah, Dumpling, what you said means a lot to me. It's nice to know you feel that strongly. Sorry if I'm worrying you." She glanced over at Michiru. Her hand reached up and caressed Michiru's cheek. "Sorry I'm worrying you, too."

"I know," Michiru replied, catching the hand in hers.

"I know you went through something terrible," Usagi told her. "I can't begin to imagine how horrible it was, but you got through it and you became the person you are now. And I like that person. Don't think less of yourself because of what happened. Think about the wonderful person you became in spite of it."

Haruka grinned at her. "We ought to bottle you. OK, Dumpling, you win. No more frowns and no more regrets."

Impulsively, Usagi jumped up and hugged Haruka. Haruka caught her and hugged her back.

"Careful," she whispered in Usagi's ear. "Michiru's watching."

Instantly Usagi released and stepped back. Her cheeks burned crimson.

"She's teasing you again, Usagi," Michiru smiled. "Honestly, Haruka, you are incorrigible."

"Maybe I better go just the same," Usagi mumbled. Then she pointed at Haruka. "But you remember what I said!"

"I will," Haruka replied.

As Usagi walked off in one direction, Haruka and Michiru linked arms and headed off for home. Michiru allowed herself a moment's hope that, in that almost supernatural way Usagi had, she'd managed to lift Haruka out of her crisis. Then she glanced at her love's face.

It had all been an act. It fooled Usagi, but it couldn't fool her. Michiru tightened her grip around Haruka's torso. What was she going to do?

That night, Michiru waited in bed while Haruka sat on the back porch and stared up into the October night sky. Never had a bed seemed so barren before. She'd slept without Haruka in the past, usually when she was on a concert date and Haruka was racing in another city or country. But their connection was stable, even hundreds of miles apart. Now Haruka was maybe fifty feet away and she may as well have been on the other side of the planet.

"Haruka?" Michiru ventured, sliding the glass patio door open. "Come to bed."

"Not sleepy," Haruka whispered and stared at the sky.

Bare feet padded over the wooden deck to Haruka. Michiru, clad only in a black chemise, sat beside her.

"Then I'll keep you company," Michiru replied.

"Dressed like that?" Haruka wondered. "You'll catch cold."

"Then come in and keep me warm," Michiru softly pleaded.

Haruka's eyes sought the ground.

"Haruka, please stop tearing yourself up like this," Michiru sobbed.

"You don't know what it was like," Haruka replied hoarsely.

"Maybe not. Maybe I can only imagine it. I know it was horrible. I know it was something no one should experience, certainly not a thirteen-year-old girl. But Haruka, you've come so far since then. You've climbed up from the absolute depths of degradation and made something wonderful of yourself. You're a gentle lover and a fierce fighter and as loyal a companion as anyone could ever hope to find. You're not that helpless little girl anymore."

"I should have done something," Haruka whispered.

"What? Beaten them up? They were three against one. Not been in that spot; that boy was gunning for you. He would have found you no matter where you went. Not been a lesbian? Not been alive? Not been you? What?"

"Then I should have done something yesterday."

"What?" Michiru asked, softly running her fingers through Haruka's sandy hair. "Thrown away everything you have, everything you've accomplished for an act of simple-minded vengeance? Drag yourself down to his level? I guess you weren't listening to Usagi."

Haruka looked at her, puzzled.

"Usagi is naïve about a lot of things," Michiru said, looking Haruka earnestly in the eye, "but there are some subjects in which she has an uncanny wisdom. One of the things she's right about is vengeance solves nothing."

Scowling, Haruka looked away.

"Suppose you went marching down to that dealership and confronted Toshiro. What if you gave him back every ounce of agony he gave you, with interest? What would it do? Is transferring your pain back onto him going to erase what happened? Is it going to make you stop hurting? Is it going to ease the guilt you feel over letting it happen, as if you could have prevented it?"

"It'll make me feel good," murmured Haruka.

"And how long will that last?" Michiru demanded. "Up until the moment you realize that it didn't change anything? And then you'll just feel even more frustrated and helpless."

Haruka's head moved slightly, like she wanted to look at her love, but stopped.

"Haruka, let it go!" Michiru pleaded, pressing her forehead to Haruka's shoulder. "Stop feeling guilty about something you couldn't help and come back to me! Be the woman I fell in love with again."

Michiru began shuddering with sobs. Choked up herself, Haruka turned and cradled her green-haired goddess against her body.

"I'm sorry," Haruka rumbled, her face stricken with sadness and guilt. "I've really been putting you through the wringer through all of this, haven't I?"

"I don't care!" sobbed Michiru. "I'll go through it a hundred times if it brings you back to me! I can't stand seeing you in pain like this, Haruka! And I can't cure you! Only you can do that! But I swear I won't stop loving you no matter how long it takes you to find the strength to do it!"

Haruka rocked her gently, trying to calm her.

"How did I ever manage to deserve you?" Haruka whispered.

"How could you ever think you didn't?" Michiru squeaked.

The pair sat cradled against each other for a few moments.

"It's getting chilly out here," Haruka said softly. "Maybe we better go inside."

"I'll go anywhere you want as long as it's 'we'," Michiru whispered back.

The couple got up and went inside, Michiru still clinging to her love.

* * * *

A sharp movement woke Michiru. She took a moment to collect her senses, then felt it again. It was Haruka. She was tossing in her sleep. The woman was very agitated and Michiru had a feeling she knew why. Turning slightly, she glanced at the clock by the bed. It said four fifty-seven a.m.

"At least she got most of a night's sleep," Michiru murmured to herself.

She felt a particularly violent shudder and heard Haruka gasp softly. The woman was still for a few seconds. Michiru reached over and gently caressed her partner's shoulder.

"You're in bed," Michiru whispered. "You're safe."

She felt Haruka sag against her.

"Did you have the dream again?"

"Must have," Haruka sighed. "Yes. Some of the details were different. I think I was in feudal times - - bandits this time. But it was the same dream. I couldn't get away," and she sighed again, this time a helpless, almost defeated sigh, "and they just kept coming."

Michiru drew her mate's head to her breast.

"How long had it been since I had that dream?" Haruka asked in frustration. "And here it is, back again."

Michiru stroked Haruka's hair.

"I hate feeling helpless," Haruka said and Michiru could feel wetness on her chest. "I hated it then and I hate it even more now!"

"Haruka," Michiru began hesitantly, "I'm only saying this because I care about you . . ."

"Michiru, I love you with all my heart," Haruka interrupted, "but if one of the next words out of your mouth is counseling, please don't finish."

"You can't go on like this!" Michiru pleaded. "This is eating you alive! Haruka, you're the strongest person I've ever known, but everyone meets a foe they can't beat alone. Please don't let your pride be your downfall."

"I'm not alone," whispered Haruka. "I've got you."

"But I don't know how to help you!"

"You don't have to," Haruka responded, then kissed her breastbone. "Just love me. That's all I'm asking for."

Michiru kissed the top of Haruka's head.

"You're so stubborn," Michiru lamented softly. But she didn't relinquish her hold on Haruka.

At breakfast, they both ate silently. Michiru would surreptitiously glance at Haruka from time to time, measuring her mood. It seemed to her that Haruka had made a decision about something, probably her situation.

"What are your plans for today?" she asked, hoping that Haruka's reluctance to lie to her hadn't vanished.

"Thought I'd just drive around," Haruka answered. Evasion wasn't a good sign, but it wasn't lying.

"Anyplace special?"

Haruka hesitated.

"You're going to the dealership, aren't you?"

Haruka sighed. "I have to."

"No you don't."

"Yes I do. I've got to confront him. I've got to face him. I ran away last time - - dropped out of school, ran away from home, nearly screwed my whole life up. I've got to stop running, Michiru. I've got to face him."

Michiru's face betrayed her anxiety.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to shoot him or beat him up or whatever you're afraid I'm going to do to him." She reached over and caressed Michiru's cheek with her hand. "You reminded me that I've got a life now - - something to live for. Something I can't mess up, not for anything."

A grateful smile curled Michiru's mouth.

"But I've got to face him," Haruka continued. "I've got to face him down. I've got to show him that he didn't beat me. He hurt me, but he didn't beat me. I've got to show him, Michiru. You said I'm the only one who can cure me ultimately. I think this is how I do it. I have to show him that he didn't win, and that way maybe I'll be showing me. I have to do it, Michiru. I think I'll go nuts if I don't. I think it's the only way I can get a tiny little bit of peace."

Haruka stared at Michiru as she silently digested this.

"I'll drive you," she whispered.

"You don't trust my driving?" Haruka asked, her mouth skewed with irony.

"Please, Haruka," Michiru replied earnestly. "I want to be there - - just in case."

Haruka felt her heart melt.

"All right," Haruka agreed reluctantly. "But I have to face him alone."

"I promise I'll wait in the car."

Haruka walked into the dealership with calm defiance, an outer aura of practiced indifference belying the turmoil in her stomach and heart. Like a reflex, her adrenaline began pumping as memories of that night and what she suffered raced through her mind. It was all she could do not to turn and run out the way she came. When the general manager caught sight of her, he raced over.

"Tenoh-san!" he exclaimed, bowing deferentially. "We're honored to have you back so soon! How may I assist you?"

"Toshiro Hanako," Haruka said through a mask of granite. "Where is he?"

"Um," the general manager stammered, shaken by her grave expression, "he's in the back - - cleaning up the service bays. Did he do something?"

"I'd like to speak with him," she replied, heading for the back, "in private, please."

The general manager nodded, mystified and uneasy.

He was sweeping up under a hydraulic lift with a push broom. Haruka closed the door behind her and felt her hatred welling up again. With some difficulty, she pushed it back down. Would she be able to control herself if he said the wrong thing? Focusing on Michiru helped her keep control.

The click of the door alerted him to the presence in the room. Toshiro looked up, saw Haruka and went pale. His shoulders slumped as his eyes sought the floor. Putting the broom aside, he squared his shoulders and faced her.

"I've been expecting this," he said, still unable to look at her, "ever since Tuesday. Have you come to take your revenge?"

Haruka didn't have the strength to answer calmly, so she didn't.

"Maybe some good will come from it," he continued, his brow furrowed. "Maybe it'll ease the pain."

"What do you know about my pain?" Haruka rumbled.

"I know I inflicted it," Toshiro replied. "I remember that night and - - and I still can't believe it was me. I can't believe now how proud I was then, seeing you humbled and beaten. It seems like another person did it now."

Haruka glared at him.

"But it was me," he continued, almost oblivious to her now. "I know because I remember the pain when you kicked me in the groin. And I remember the look in your eyes when we left and I just had to turn around and see you - - one last time." Toshiro's eyes grew haunted. "Do you know how you looked then? I'd never seen eyes like that. I saw eyes that wanted me dead that moment. I saw eyes that suddenly made me not so tough and proud. They wouldn't go away. You dropped out of school. I heard you'd run away and I wanted to be happy. But I couldn't forget those eyes."

Toshiro backed against the wall to support himself while Haruka looked on, wanting to hate him. Why was he telling her this? Was he trying for sympathy?

"I wasn't talking about your pain, Tenoh-san," he said suddenly, after a few moments pause. "I'm sure you have it and for that I'm very, very sorry - - now." He snorted. "Now that I'm an adult and not an ignorant little pup of a boy who had more arrogance than intelligence. I was talking about mine." He seemed embarrassed by the last admission and Haruka didn't know what to think now. "I'm sure you've suffered. If it makes you feel better, so have I. I told my sister what I'd done. She was horrified. She looked at me like I was an animal. We don't talk - - anymore."

Silence filled the room. Toshiro was lost in his misery and Haruka was too stunned to think of anything to fill the void with.

"I haven't amounted to much," he offered up. "Certainly not a world famous race car driver. I'm not married, like you are. I-I - - every time I get interested in a woman, I see you - - and things fall apart. And the dreams . . ."

Toshiro shuddered to a halt, his thought unfinished, emotion choking his voice away.

"Am I supposed to feel sorry for you now?" Haruka asked.

"No. I don't deserve sympathy. If you've come to laugh or gloat, do it. I hope it helps you. If you've come - - to kill me - - maybe the guilt will end then." For the first time, Toshiro raised his eyes up and looked Haruka squarely in the eye. "Have you ever wished you could go back in time and change one day, one moment of your life? Yeah, probably. So have I, and I think it might be the same moment. That's when my life started going wrong. That's when everything - - and every time I think I've managed to forget what I did, I see you on the news or in the paper, or I see a woman with short blonde hair and it all comes rushing back until I think I'm going to smother." He sighed loudly, a heavy defeated sigh. Then he sank to his knees and prostrated himself before Haruka, pressing his face to the floor in the ultimate Japanese bow of penitence. "Do whatever you want. I just pray it ends both our pain."

He waited for Haruka to make the next move.

"I came here," Haruka began, "to show you that you hadn't destroyed me."

"I know," he nodded numbly, not looking up. "I've known that for years. I destroyed me."

Haruka looked at him silently waiting for whatever she planned. She wanted to despise this pathetic little wretch, but it seemed such a waste of effort now. There was nothing more to accomplish here - - nothing that wouldn't upset Michiru. And she realized again that nothing was more important than not upsetting Michiru - - certainly not him. Turning, she left. As she entered the showroom, the general manager scurried up to her.

"Please accept my deepest apologies for anything Hanako has done!" the man said desperately. Haruka turned to him.

"Don't apologize for things you had no connection to," Haruka told him, her mood sympathetic. "I just had - - old business with him."

"You knew Hanako before?" he asked as Haruka headed for the door.

"We," she began, turning slightly as she pressed the door handle with her palm, "went to school together."

Outside, Haruka saw Michiru waiting in the car. She noticed Michiru had been turned to gaze into the dealership, then turned back when she saw Haruka exit. Haruka's mouth curled. Ambling over, she opened the passenger side door and slid in.

Michiru looked at her, but said nothing.

"I didn't kill him," Haruka said.

"I believed you when you said you wouldn't," Michiru replied. Haruka smiled. She knew better.

"For a time there, I wanted to."

"It's good you didn't."

Haruka lapsed into thought.

"How did it go?" Michiru asked pensively.

"Not like I expected," Haruka replied, genuinely surprised. "Not nearly like I expected." Michiru looked at her curiously. "Tell you about it on the way home."

The car pulled up to the modest two-story. Haruka got out, angling her long frame out of the car with practiced caution, then glanced at Michiru. She was exiting the car from the other side.

"So all this time he was consumed with guilt over what he did to you?" Michiru wondered aloud.

"Yeah," Haruka said, ambling over to the deck and sitting down on the top step. "From the sound of it, what he did kind of wrecked his life." Haruka sobered. "I wanted to hate him so bad for what he did. I've hated him for years, because of what he did and because I always thought he'd gotten away with it. Now I know he didn't, that he screwed up his life even more than he screwed up mine. Knowing that - - kind of changes some things. Do I forgive him: no. But he's inflicted more pain on himself than I ever could." She glanced over at Michiru sheepishly. "Am I a bad person for feeling satisfaction over that?"

Michiru sat down next to her. "Not in my book," she said, draping her arms around Haruka's neck.

"Yeah, but you're prejudiced," smirked Haruka. The taunt brought a warm smile from Michiru.

"I'm glad you didn't lose control," Michiru said, clutching Haruka's hand.

"Seemed kind of pointless at the end," Haruka shrugged. "Plus I remembered what Usagi told me - - about what I'd made of myself. And I remembered a lot of what you told me, about pointless vengeance. He made me a victim, but I didn't have to stay a victim. I think I sensed that somehow when I was younger, even if I didn't actually think of it. And I didn't have to become a victim again. You made me realize that."

"You were doing a good enough job on your own," added Michiru.

"Well," Haruka said, bowing her head like an embarrassed little boy, "you helped - - a lot."

Impulsively Haruka leaned in and pressed her lips to Michiru's. Startled at first, Michiru quickly warmed up to the kiss, sighing into Haruka's mouth when she felt her lover's hand on the back of her neck. When they finally parted, Michiru felt a little giddy.

"Thanks for standing by me," Haruka whispered. "I put you through a lot, but you're the only thing that got me through this."

"Are you finally through it?" Michiru asked hopefully.

"Well," Haruka sobered, "I'll probably never be completely through with it. But facing him helped. Knowing that I don't have to be afraid of him or anyone, that I have the strength to face things like that and not run away, and knowing he didn't get away with it, that he was punished for it - - makes some of the anger go away. Not all of it - - but I think maybe I can finally begin to put it behind me." She grasped Michiru's hand. "And I wouldn't have gotten to that point without you. I would have done something stupid and just made a tragedy worse. What did I ever do to deserve you?"

"You were just you," Michiru smiled. She leaned in and they embraced again.

THE END