THE PRICE OF FREEDOM,

Part Twelve: "The Family Reunited"

By Bill K.

Everyone had been too preoccupied with the confrontation between guard and newly freed slave to notice it. Only when one of them looked up and saw Cloud City descending upon them did anyone notice.

"The support pillars for the city have vanished!" Mercury gasped. Instantly she brought her visor out and scanned the region for an energy signature or some residual particulate matter.

The rest of the people down on the ground were less concerned with where the pillars went. They were too busy running for cover.

"COME ON, AMI!" bellowed Sailor Jupiter, grabbing her fellow senshi and hauling her to her feet. "STUDY IT FROM A SAFE DISTANCE!"

"This is Serenity's energy signature!" gasped Mercury. "She caused the supports to disappear!"

"Are you sure?" marveled Venus.

"I recognize the Silver Crystal's energy signature," Mercury responded. "I've seen it often enough!"

"What do you suppose happened?" Vesta asked. Unspoken was her worry over the safety of Sailor Ceres and, yes, even Sailor Moon.

"It's not falling very fast," Sailor Pallas said. "Pallas estimates it at," and she took a moment to think, "less than a meter per second. That's not very fast, is it?"

Everyone looked at Pallas except for Juno and Vesta. They were used to her doing complex math equations in her head. Juno focused on the descending city.

"It isn't falling very fast," she confirmed. "Almost like it's being - - lowered." Venus and Jupiter glanced at each other.

"Serenity," they nodded in unison. Mercury continued to study the phenomenon.

"I can't wait to hear this," grinned Venus.

The city came to within five meters of the ground. Then the entire city, a twelve-mile long complex built upon a metallic bed, miraculously hovered in the sky until the last of those on the ground could get out from under it. When it was clear, the metallic bed came to a gentle rest on the surface of the planet. The ex-slaves, having never seen the pristine metallic spires of Cloud City, gathered around in wonder. The planet-side guards all seemed dispirited by the collapse of their way of life and sat listlessly to one side.

"I see something," Jupiter said, pointing to several shadowy figures emerging from the city. The area was already teaming with former residents of the city out to look at their new environment, for many black hairs of the city of the clouds had never witnessed the planet surface. Amid the city residents were six figures. It was hard to make them out at first.

"It's the Queen!" Juno shouted.

"And Ceres and The Princess?" Pallas asked excitedly. Juno nodded.

"Is Haruka with them?" Neptune gasped out, climbing doggedly to shaky legs. Mercury offered to support her, but she pushed the woman away. Venus and Jupiter parted to give her a better look.

Breaking through the other five gathered around her, between Sailor Mars and a strange woman with milky white skin and hair, was Sailor Uranus. Neptune let loose a strangled sob that was half-joyous and half-pitiful. She staggered several steps forward on legs still not that strong. Uranus covered far more ground than she could, so Neptune waited with outstretched arms and let her long lost lover and life mate engulf her like an ocean wave. The lanky blonde gathered her green-tressed goddess into her arms and their mouths locked in an embrace of passion and longing years denied. They crushed to one another, tears streaming down their faces, while Sailor Saturn looked on happily.

The others noticed Queen Serenity being supported by both Sailor Mars and Sailor Moon. Naturally Mercury sprang into action.

"Serenity, what is it?" she gasped as she ran up. "Are you injured?"

"No, she just nearly fainted from doing too much," Mars said crossly, "because she INSISTS on turning a deaf ear to the people who love her and care about her welfare and who REPEATEDLY TELL HER WHEN SHE'S PUSHING HERSELF TOO FAR!"

"Rei," Serenity sighed. She sounded very tired.

"QUIET, DITZ! The next time I tell you that you're doing too much, maybe you'll listen! BUT I DOUBT IT!"

"I'm sorry, Rei," Serenity moaned.

"How many times does this have to happen, Mom?" Sailor Moon chimed in. "And you have the nerve to talk about me being stubborn and impetuous!"

"I thought people had to be respectful when you were a queen," Serenity pouted. Sailor Moon transferred her half of Serenity to Mercury and the two senshi eased their charge down onto a rock.

"You still haven't told us why you felt it was necessary to do that," Mars continued.

"Because these people can't live in harmony if they're separated by such a distance," Serenity replied. Mercury was examining her bio-signs with her visor while Sailor Moon rubbed her shoulders. "All the people have on this planet is hatred and class division, and having part of the population living so far above the other only reinforces the division. Now they have to live together."

"Yeah, or kill each other," Jupiter added.

Serenity looked up to her and Jupiter motioned her over to a scene about fifty meters away. A black haired guard and a green haired ex-slave were fighting.

"Michiru," Uranus choked out through her tears as she nuzzled Neptune's face with hers. "I - - they told me you were dead."

"They tried," Neptune said, her own voice besotted with emotion, "but they couldn't do it. Not as long as I had one chance to be reunited with you." They kissed hungrily once again.

"Michiru, you look so bad!" Uranus said when their lips parted again. "What did they do?"

"Nothing that matters now. I'm back in your arms and that's all that matters." She looked up at Uranus. Her face grew grave as she looked into the mirrors of her mate's soul. "Haruka - - what did they do to you?"

Uranus flinched and turned her face away.

"Oh, Haruka, no," sobbed Neptune. She caught her lover's face in her shaky hands and caressed it, easing the woman's gaze back to hers. Unnoticed, Saturn's tiny face registered her shock as the gears of her mind turned and she added up the unspoken equation.

"That's not important now," Uranus choked out. "We're back together again. I can beat it again. I can beat anything as long as you're with me."

A flash of black hair caught Uranus's attention. A stray thought turned Pallas around. A momentary glimpse of purple out of the corner of her eye made Jupiter stop and look. The gleam of light on the point of a metal glaive attracted Vesta. They each saw Sailor Saturn march toward the city at an even, determined pace. Those natives who saw her approach fell away, for though they nearly all dwarfed her in size and weight, there was a look in her eye that made the blood of all who saw it run cold.

"Hotaru?" Sailor Moon called out, looking up from her mother with concern.

The violet senshi came to a stop within the shadow of the capitol city of Ravenheim. The afternoon sun cast shadows from the gleaming spires, shadows that seem to point accusingly at the slight girl with the big glaive. Saturn, though, was having none of it.

Gripping the glaive with both hands, she raised the blade up over her head.

The blade began its descent, "SILENCE GLAIVE SURP. . .!" Saturn's voice ringing out, the emotion in it betraying her smoldering rage and anguish. However, a gloved hand clamped around the handle and halted its fall. Saturn whirled around angrily and found Sailor Uranus had hold of her weapon.

"Why did you do that?" demanded Saturn, her anguish rapidly overcoming her. "None of them deserve to live! NONE OF THEM! After what they did to you," she howled as sobs caused her upper body to tremor, "after what they did to Michiru-Mama? None of them deserve to see another day! NONE OF THEM!"

Uranus sank to one knee and grasped Saturn around her upper arms. Everyone could see the pain she felt over Saturn's anguish. Behind them, Neptune was hobbling up as best she could.

"Maybe not," Uranus said softly, tenderly, her compassion for Saturn almost a thing alive. "I'm not going to insult you by defending them. And I won't lie to you. I don't feel very charitable towards them right now. But please, Firefly, please don't do it."

"Why?" Saturn sobbed.

"Because," Uranus choked, "because I want something better for you, Firefly. It's too late for me. I've done too many things - - things that had to be done because I couldn't see any other way to accomplish the-the greater good I had to do. But I'm not proud of those things! I try to look at the people I saved and the evil I stopped and rationalize that it was all for the better, but some nights those things come back and they haunt me."

Saturn looked at her, tearfully astounded.

"I don't want that to happen to you!" Uranus cried. "You're still pristine! You can still have a better life than I had! But if you do this, no matter how much they deserve it, there'll be nights when you won't know any peace. I don't want that for you!"

Saturn stared at the earnest fear in her adoptive 'father's' face. Suddenly she crumpled up into the anguished young girl that sometimes hid behind the sailor fuku and collapsed into Uranus' arms. Saturn cried on Uranus' shoulder while the elder senshi hugged her and comforted her, and while Neptune stroked her hair. And in the distance, Queen Serenity and Sailor Moon both wore identical grateful smiles, though neither noticed the other's expression.

"I'm glad they were able to stop her," Sailor Moon whispered.

"I'm glad they were able to learn it was necessary," Serenity mused. "There was a time when they wouldn't have stopped her."

"DEMON!"

The call echoed through the area, resonating against the metal of the black hairs' homes and the rock of the green hairs' shelters. Everyone turned. Atop a rock outcropping about thirty feet up was the deposed Queen Desiree. Her fine gown was tattered and ragged. Her hair was mussed and unkempt. Some of her fine jewelry was missing. But she stood defiantly on the rock, angrily glaring down at the people below. It seemed to many that she glared at Queen Serenity in particular. In response Serenity rose to her feet under the watchful eyes of Mercury and Mars.

"Foul villain!" she roared. Everyone could see a metal device in one hand and a blade crudely chipped from rock in the other. "You have destroyed everything! You have taken paradise and cast it into the mire! Set back my people and my civilization a hundred summers! Are you happy, demon?"

"I told you before, misery and hatred are not the blocks on which to build a paradise," Serenity said calmly. "All you create is a festering pool where hatred and cruelty breed and grow. That's what destroyed your 'paradise'. All I've done is given you the means to live together as one people. Please take that chance. Set aside your differences and live together in peace and respect. A person of your power and grandeur could work miracles to bring that about."

"Live side by side with them?" spat Desiree. "Never! I'll wipe every last one of them off the face of this planet first!" As she yelled, Desiree shook the device in her hand.

"Mercury, can you get an analysis of what that device is?" Mars asked.

Mercury scanned it. "It seems to be a central processing core from a computerized device - - perhaps the processor from the device that controlled the collars. However it's not showing any power activity. The device is inert at the moment."

"Genocide, Desiree?" Serenity asked. "Is this your 'paradise'? Abducting innocents from space to keep as playthings? Does this define 'paradise' in your mind?"

"Why am I trying to reason with a half-breed like you?" Desiree snarled. "Take your traitors and your green hairs and your half breeds with you and go! GO! For if you stay, I vow to slit your throat with this very knife!" Desiree shook the crude knife at her.

Dismissing Serenity, Desiree turned to the others.

"Black hairs unite! We do not have to accept being cast down into the slime with inferiors! Rise up! Kill them! Kill them all! Tear them apart with your bare hands if you must! Leave none . . .!"

Suddenly a shadow lunged up at Desiree from behind her. The deposed queen turned around and met the attack, the processing core falling to the rock and then tumbling down the side of the mountain. As the pair struggled, they twisted into the light. Serenity saw it was the scullery maid from the queen's chambers, the former ruler when the green hairs had been in power and the owner of Desiree's mother. One hand was locked around the wrist Desiree held the knife in, while the other locked around Desiree's throat.

"Skulking black hair!" the old woman snarled like a wounded animal. "For years you held me in your foul chains and lorded it over me! For years you forced me to grovel to my inferiors! No more! Never again! Die!"

As the crowd watched below, the two women struggled for advantage atop the precarious outcropping above and to the right of the mine entrance. Heedless of her own exhaustion, Serenity cast her hand out, trying to grab hold of the two and lower them to the ground. However her power wouldn't focus and she kept missing them. A small grunt of frustration escaped from her and alerted Mars to what she was doing.

And then it was too late. The combatants pitched over the side of the outcropping and fell. Before Serenity could act, before Pallas could shout her phrase, before anyone could move, they fell against the side of the mountain. Bouncing away, their broken bodies prisoners of gravity, the two tumbled further. They glanced limply off the side of the mountain two more times before striking the ground with a soft thud. Mercury was about to go to them, but Serenity held her back.

"There's nothing you can do, Mercury," Serenity said softly, sadly, when Mercury turned to inquire.

Sadly she turned and walked over to Uranus and Neptune.

"You'll both need a place to recover," Serenity told them. She smiled meekly. "I still have your quarters at the palace in Crystal Tokyo. Nothing's been disturbed."

Uranus glanced at Saturn. "That sounds like a good idea."

"I can only imagine the mental anguish and humiliation you both went through during your time here," she continued. "I can help you with that - - but only if you want me to. I won't force you."

Neptune smiled. "Certainly, Serenity. The less I remember about being on this evil planet, the better. It's kind of you to offer."

"But we can wait," Uranus interjected. She glanced at Vontrell. "There are about five or so off-worlders here that Desiree made slaves. When you're up to it, we need to send them back home."

"Of course," smiled Serenity. Vontrell came up to Uranus.

"Home?" she gasped, not daring to hope. "Can you really make this happen, Ha-Ruh-Ka?"

"She can," Uranus replied.

"I had given up hope," Vontrell began, then sobered. "Thank you. Even after my earlier words, you chose to help me."

"Earlier words?"

"Of my shame at being forced to become what you were all along. Of the condemnation the words of the Blessed Mokt has for females who lay with females. Please forgive me, Ha-Ruh-Ka. You are a fine person and generous and I gave you no reason."

"It's all right," Uranus grinned. "I've heard worse."

"Surely the condemnation of the Blessed Mokt can't be for someone like you and your Me-Che-Ru. No god so enlightened as the Blessed Mokt could condemn such devotion and passion as you and your mate have." Vontrell looked down. "I have much to think about when I return home."

Uranus lifted Vontrell's chin with her hand.

"Think about it later," Uranus told her. "Celebrate first. You lived through it. That calls for a party." Vontrell smiled. "Thanks for all your help. You did more for me than you know."

Serenity was lost in concentration. Mars eased up next to her.

"Are you up for this? Maybe you should rest a little . . ."

"Oh, Rei, hush!" fussed Serenity. She walked up to Vontrell and touched the woman on the forehead. Vontrell was enveloped in a silvery glow and slowly faded away.

"And just how much did this woman do for you?" Neptune asked. Her tone was neutral, but Uranus knew how good she was at controlling her tone.

"Not nearly as much as you do for me," Uranus said, looking her love directly in the eye.

Neptune examined Uranus as she digested the answer, then nodded and turned to Serenity. "We can leave whenever you're up to it, Serenity," Neptune told her. "I don't mean to push you, but I admit I'm eager to leave this hellhole."

Serenity hesitated. She looked around. Black hairs and green hairs that weren't openly fighting were looking at each other with suspicion or naked loathing. Mercury sensed what she was thinking.

"Is that ethical?" Mercury asked. "We've destroyed their entire system of government. Should we just pick up and leave them in anarchy?"

"What do you suggest?" Neptune countered. "We stay and rule them until they can rule themselves? We'd be here for years. I know these people better than you do. The racial tensions and divisions on this world are deep-seeded. They're not going to disappear overnight."

"All the more reason not to abandon them," Mercury argued. "The moment we leave, the tensions are going to explode, resulting in genocide or war."

"You want to stay here, that's your choice. But don't forget, Earth needs you, too. The more time you spend here, the longer Earth is exposed and vulnerable."

"But without someone to show them a peaceful way, they'll just fall backwards into war and oppression again. What will that accomplish?"

They both turned to Serenity for a decision. Serenity was silent and thoughtful.

"Neptune's right, Mercury. I hate the thought of abandoning them, but Earth does need us, too." She agonized some more. "Perhaps if there was someone to show them the way," Serenity mused.

With that she glided over to Veda, the young green hair they'd met when they first arrived. Veda's eyes grew wide and she shrank back, but Serenity's aura calmed her.

"Of everyone here, I sense you are the most likely candidate," Serenity said.

She closed her eyes and let her head fall back. Serenity's chest began to glow. To the amazement of Veda and everybody watching, a crystal appeared from her chest and hovered in mid-air, the crystal glowing pristine silver. Veda stared at it in wonder.

Then Serenity grimaced and the crystal cracked along one edge. She flinched and a sliver broke off. The sliver slowly floated over to Veda until it was inches from her. Bathed in its glow, the girl reached up almost like the sliver was commanding her, and touched it.

The area exploded with a silver burst of light. When it dissipated, Veda wore a sailor fuku with a light green skirt, boots and kerchief, and a yellow bow. Her eyes slowly opened and gazed at nothing for a moment. Then she realized her transformation and gazed down at her costume in shock. Serenity seized her hands and she looked up in confusion.

"You are now Sailor Ravenheim," Serenity told her. "Within you is the power of miracles. The choice is now yours. You can continue along the path of anger and hatred. Should you do that, though, your power will fade away to nothing. Or you can choose the path of peace and love for your fellow beings, black hair and green and all in between. Should you choose that path, the power within you will shine like a brilliant sun and provide many blessings upon you and your people - - all of your people." She squeezed Sailor Ravenheim's hands. "But the choice is yours. Choose wisely."

With that, Serenity turned and glided back to her friends.

"We've done all we can here," she told them. "Let's go home and mend our wounded."

- - -

Serenity was in her study. It was a small room set off from the royal chambers where she could be alone with her thoughts. At the moment she was in front of her drawing table, a computerized screen that held images drawn on it with a crystal stylus. Serenity was drawing a page of her current manga, "Crystal Girls Five". A computer would store the page on crystal until it was ready to be electronically distributed to everyone who wished to see it. Until then, she could correct the drawing electronically at any time. The computer even added lettering, which was a godsend to the still calligraphy challenged queen.

"Ami Mizuno desires entry," proclaimed the computer door sensor.

"Come in, Ami," Serenity smiled. She knew Ami was here with a report on the health of all the participants in the last mission. Ami was still very thorough.

"I have the medical reports from the away mission to Ravenheim," Ami said, peering down her glasses at what Serenity was drawing. "Um, Serenity, don't you think you drew 'Crystal Blue' a little - - fat?"

"That's the way I always draw her," Serenity replied, looking the character over.

"Well she should be thinner. You did base the character on me."

"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" Serenity said, smothering a grin.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means Makoto is a very good cook."

"I'm STILL 45.5 kilos, YOUR MAJESTY, and I can provide verification if you'd like," Ami growled. Adjusting her glasses as Serenity smirked, Ami pulled up the medical reports on her personal hand-held computer.

"And how is Haruka doing?" Serenity asked.

"Physically she suffered no permanent injuries," Ami reported. "She'll need a month or so to firm up her muscle tone again, is all. Psychologically there doesn't seem to be any lasting trauma, thanks to you."

"And Michiru?"

"She'll still need several months of physical therapy and some tissue regeneration - - but not nearly as much as I first thought, thanks apparently to Hotaru. And you've cured any mental trauma she may have had as you did with Haruka. Between the two of you, you're threatening to put medical science out of business."

"I didn't mean to step on your toes, Ami," Serenity replied calmly.

"That's all right. The patient's welfare is the most important thing. We treated Palla-Palla for a mild concussion and Minako for a small abdominal wound. They'll be fine by tomorrow. How are you doing?"

"Rested and relaxed." She noticed Ami was staring. "What are you worrying about now?"

"Serenity, you chipped off a piece of the Silver Crystal. Isn't that going to affect you?"

"Perhaps it will reduce the amount of power I can summon, but only to a very small degree. And it only hurt momentarily. I'm fine. Really."

"OK," Ami replied doubtfully.

"How's Hotaru?"

"Showing no ill effects," Ami sighed, "which puzzles me. The amount of energy she expended and the rate I measured in her vital signs should have left some sort of physical trauma. Yet there's no sign of any damage, which leads me to suspect Hotaru has a reserve of untapped psychic potential that could be very large."

"How large?" Serenity asked, looking up from her comic page.

"Approaching the level you and Endymion are on."

Serenity nodded and turned back to her page.

"You don't seem very concerned," Ami said.

"I'm not. If it manifests, I'll teach her how to control it."

"You're not worried that it could be a potentially destructive force?"

"No," Serenity smiled. "Hotaru's our friend. I trust her."

Ami nodded and left. The part of her that had known Serenity for a thousand years wanted to trust her judgment of the situation, because Serenity had rarely been wrong over those thousand years. But no matter how sweet and innocent she knew Hotaru to be, the girl was still fifteen and the scientist in her couldn't dismiss the possibility of drastic consequences if something went wrong.

"Thank goodness Haruka and Michiru are here now to give her some family structure," Ami mused.

She was in her office downloading case files when Ves-Ves walked in. Ami glanced at her chronometer and realized the girl was here for her scheduled session.

"I'm sorry," Ami apologized. "Give me a few more seconds to finish with these files." As the download finished, she glanced at Ves-Ves. "You seem more upbeat than you've been lately."

"Yeah," Ves-Ves shrugged self-consciously. "It was good to get into some action again. I was kind of - - scared - - about what might happen. But it turned out OK."

"That you were able to use your powers for good?"

"Yeah. And I tried real hard to keep my head, you know? And I was able to, except for when I felt Pallas get knocked out."

"No one's going to blame you for being upset over an injured innocent or teammate - - particularly given your close relationship with Palla-Palla."

"Yeah. Venus told me that. Um, she said I could call her that now! I-I wasn't being disrespectful!"

"You and Minako are on good terms again?"

"Well, she's still pretty demanding - - but it's better. It's a lot better! And it doesn't seem like as many people are staring at me as they did."

"That's good to hear," Ami smiled. "Now let's get back to your relationship with your father."

Ves-Ves frowned at the notion of more digging into her past. But enduring this was a test of her strength. She'd been weak before and almost screwed everything up. She wasn't going to be weak again, no matter what.

- - -

Michiru leaned on her cane as she peered into Hotaru's bedroom. She despised needing the cane, but it wouldn't be forever so she tolerated it. Living quarters had been reconfigured so Hotaru could rejoin her adoptive parents. Already the relationship was comfortable for the girl. Michiru could see her curled up in bed, sleeping peacefully and contentedly. Seeing that made everything - - the thousand year separation, the decades of seeking out adventure and astral wonder to replace the unfulfilled wanting in her heart, even the time spend enslaved on Ravenheim - - that much easier to take. Having Hotaru back with her made her feel different. The woman pushed back a lock of green hair and searched her feelings.

"It feels like home now," Michiru whispered. Her mouth pulled into a wistful smile even as her eyes misted.

Easing away, Michiru hobbled out to the balcony, joining Haruka out there. Haruka was looking at the night's starry sky.

"Miss it already?" Michiru asked.

"Miss what? Ravenheim?" Haruka asked, askance.

"No. Space. Traveling through space, dodging danger, making new discoveries, being a vagabond in the most open expanse there is?"

"You know, listening to you sometimes is almost better than sex," Haruka grinned. Michiru gave her a petulant smirk and nudged her arm. "No, I don't miss it. I've kind of gotten my fill for a while." She looked back up at the stars. "Maybe someday I'll want to go back - - but not now. Besides, Hotaru needs a dad and I guess I'm as close as she's ever going to get. I can't leave my little firefly in the lurch."

"Sounds like you're all the dad she's ever going to need," Michiru replied, snuggling up to Haruka's arm.

"There's a lot to be said for exploring space," Haruka mused. "But there's a lot to be said for curling up at home with the two most important women in the world."

They gazed at the stars for a few minutes. Then Haruka turned to Michiru with a sly look on her face.

"What?" Michiru asked warily.

"You know the old saying," Haruka grinned. "When you're under the stars, you have to kiss the person you're next to."

"That's mistletummmpph!" Michiru started to say until Haruka captured her lips. She giggled into Haruka's mouth, then surrendered to a long, luxurious kiss.

- - -

"So how is it having Haruka-san and Michiru-san back in your life?" Usa queried Hotaru at breakfast the next morning. The pair was sitting with Jun-Jun and her sensible breakfast, and Palla-Palla and her huge bowl of frosted cereal.

"Everything I dreamed it would be," beamed Hotaru. "I knew I missed them, but I didn't realize how much until now."

"Are they here?" Jun-Jun asked.

"They're at another table. I offered to sit with them, but they told me to sit with my friends. They're so understanding! I'm so glad to have them back!"

Hotaru noticed Usa motioning behind her with her eyes. Then Hotaru noticed Palla-Palla trying to suppress a giggle. Mystified, she turned around.

"H-Hi, Hotaru," Yutaka smiled hopefully.

"H-Hi, Yutaka," Hotaru responded, feeling her cheeks flush.

"I heard you were back from your mission. If I had known when you were arriving, I would have met you at the aero-pad. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, thank you," Hotaru sighed happily.

"Good," grinned Yutaka. "I was kind of worried. Um, are you doing anything tonight? I thought maybe we could go out again. There's this new holo-vid playing and I think you'll like it."

Hotaru was about to respond. Suddenly Haruka and Michiru appeared behind Yutaka. Haruka looked very stern, while Michiru seemed quite bemused.

"Hotaru, you didn't tell us you were dating now," gasped Michiru joyfully.

"Don't you think you'd better introduce us?" Haruka said menacingly.

"Papa!" Hotaru hissed. "Yutaka, these are my parents, Haruka Tenou and Michiru Kaioh. This is Yutaka Mitsusuki. He lives in the palace with his family."

"Um, pleased to meet you, Ma'am," Yutaka bowed to Michiru. She nodded sweetly. "Pleased to meet you, um - - Sir?" he said to Haruka, thrown both by her sex and Haruka's withering stare.

Haruka turned to Hotaru. "I want to know EVERYTHING about him."

"Haruka, you're scaring the poor boy to death," Michiru said, amused by the situation. She began to lead the woman away.

"So why couldn't she find a nice GIRL to date?" Haruka demanded.

Hotaru rolled her eyes and turned to Usa. "Maybe I'm not so glad they're back after all," she huffed, folding her arms over her chest. Usa smothered a laugh.

THE END