-Neptune: Year One-

Disclaimer: Sailor Moon is the property of Naoko Takeushi, Toei and Kodansha.

Author's Note: Thank you once again for all the kind reviews and constructive criticism. It means a lot to know you guys are appreciating this story.

-0-0-0-

-XVII-

Time seemed to stand still briefly, as if everyone and everything else in the universe disappeared. There was no Earth, no Tokyo, no mission, no apocalyptic Silence or Talismans or schools or daemons. There was just them, here and now, and there was the warmth shared between them as each gave vent to their longing through their shared kiss.

They finally pulled away from each other, both flushed. Michiru, who'd been unconsciously holding her breath during the kiss, suddenly remembered to breathe. She trembled a bit as she looked around self-consciously, hoping no one else at the Crown saw them. They were near the back, true, but it still made her nervous. As she continued to scan the other young faces, she heard Haruka chuckling. "What's so funny?" she asked as she raised an eyebrow.

"You," Haruka said teasingly. "Look, most people's first impression of me is that I'm a handsome young boy. Even if someone did see us kiss just now, chances are they wouldn't be able to put two and two together."

"Maybe so," Michiru answered, her cheeks still flushed, "But from now on, if we're going to do that, let's wait until we're alone."

Haruka smiled, "Fair enough." She moved a little bit away from Michiru, but kept the artist's hand in hers. "In that case, maybe we should get back to business."

"Yes," Michiru nodded, "We should..." her voice died off suddenly, and she closed her eyes and grimaced.

"Michiru-chan?" Haruka asked out of concern, "What is it? Is it your back?"

"Can't you feel it?" she asked, "Can't you feel the storm swelling."

Haruka tried to focus, but shook her head. "I can sense... something. It feels a bit like rushing wind, but I think it's more tied in to your feelings and anxiety than the original source, if that makes any sense."

"It does, actually," Michiru responded thoughtfully. "You're not as intuitive as I am, or as psychic." Leaning closer, she squeezed the racer's hand. "Something's very wrong, Haruka. We have to leave here. Do you have your henshin wand?"

A few minutes later, Motoki returned to their table to see if they were enjoying their meal. Instead he found both girls gone, the food untouched, and a thousand yen tip (roughly U.S. ten dollars). "Weird," he quipped as he pocketed the tip and went about his business.

-0-0-0-

"You shouldn't even be out here in your condition," Haruka admonished as they hurried down the sidewalk, "You're injured, remember?"

Michiru stopped, her body stiffening a bit as she turned to face the blonde. "We have a mission," she said, looking deep into Haruka's teal green eyes as she continued, "I know we just experienced something very… intimate back at the Crown, but I need you to promise me that for the time being you'll forget about my safety and focus on our mission."

"But…"

"The Silence is coming, Haruka," she said forcefully, "It's coming, and only we can stop it. I need you to promise me you'll focus on that, please?"

Haruka stared back at her a second or two before finally nodding. "Alright, I promise."

Michiru stood still a few seconds longer gazing into Haruka's eyes before turning around and once more heading off in the direction where the waves were calling her. She soon spotted a young boy carrying a red balloon with a black five pointed star on it, the waves crashing in her head almost painfully as she motioned the child over. "That's a neat balloon," she said, bending down to get a better view, "Where did you get it?"

"There's a lady clown on the street corner giving away free balloons," the child answered.

"Michiru," Haruka asked somewhat confused, "What's going on?"

"Street corner?" Michiru asked excitedly as she ignored her fellow Senshi's question, "How far away?"

"About two blocks back that way," he said as he pointed.

"Here," Michiru said as she pulled out her purse and frantically searched it, "Here's enough yen to buy yourself ten balloons if you'll give me your's."

"Ten?" the boy asked in disbelief. "I'll take it! Wow!" he exclaimed as he ran past them down the street. Once he was out of sight, Michiru quickly pulled a safety pin out of her purse and popped the balloon.

Haruka was at a loss. "What on earth did you do that for?"

"It's the Death Buster's insignia," she said, pointing to what was left of the black star. "It…" her voice died out at the star on the popped balloon started to glow. "Duck!" she shouted as she threw it towards a nearby garbage can and dived towards the ground, with Haruka following suit. Almost immediately after falling in the garbage can a bright light emanated from the can for several seconds before it finally let up.

Haruka looked over and noted the pain on Michiru's pain. The action had put strain on her injured back and arm. She got up and held out her hand, "Michiru-chan…"

"Come on," the artist said, taking the offered hand and allowing Haruka to help her up, "We have to destroy the rest of the balloons and stop that clown!"

-0-0-0-

The street had come to a complete dead stop. Men, women and children of all ages lay motionless on the sidewalk as a group of balloons slowly rose up into the sky, their owners no longer holding onto them.

Zultan realized she had a short period of time in which to operate. Even now, shop owners and passing motorists were staring at the prone bodies, wondering at the strange heart crystals they saw floating above each of the victims. Zultan pulled a large blue sack out of her clown costume, intent on reaping the harvest of crystals for her master.

-0-0-0-

Haruka rounded the corner first, keeping out of sight of the witch as Michiru caught up.

"Haruka-chan…" Michiru called.

"Kun."

"Huh?"

"Call me kun."

"Very well, Haruka-kun, do you know how to use your henshin wand?"

"Hai. Actually, someone who already seemed to know of the henshin wand's existence explained it to me."

"Nani?" Michiru asked in surprise. "Someone else knew of it?"

"Hai, a tall woman with long emerald green hair who called herself Setsuna."

"Setsuna," Michiru muttered as she put two and two together, "Yes, I see… Come on," she said as she held her wand aloft, "Let's transform and stop that clown!"

Michiru transformed first. Haruka once more watched the process in amazement as the beautiful young artist transformed again into her Senshi form. She then took her own wand and held it aloft, "Uranus planet power, make-up!"

In Michiru's case, a water spout had formed around her. Haruka, however, found herself in the eye of a whirlwind, her own clothes dissolving as she felt new ones weave around her lithe frame. Her body tingled all over, as if a small current was running through her hitting every nerve at once. A tiara formed on her forehead and the whirlwind finally died.

Sailor Uranus looked down at herself in her Senshi form for the first time, and frowned. "A skirt," she groaned, "Why'd it have to be a skirt?"

-0-0-0-

Zultan began to approach one of the fallen civilians, an elderly woman still clutching her granddaughter's hand. She smiled maniacally as she reached out for the woman's heart crystal.

"Not so fast!"

The witch sneered; the fool had shown up after all. If the bones were telling the truth, Sailor Neptune was severely injured in her last encounter. This would hardly be much of a fight. She began to cackle as she turned to face the girl, intent on making the brat's death a slow and painful one.

Her cackling stopped abruptly.

Sailor Neptune was not alone.

"Guided by a new eon, Sailor Uranus acts with elegance."

"Likewise, guided by a new eon, Sailor Neptune acts with grace."

Zultan's jaw momentarily hung open as she stared at the newcomer in shock. "No," she finally managed to utter, "No, no, no, no, no!" As the two Senshi crouched down ready to fight, the witch quickly ran towards the crate she'd been standing on a few minutes before and pulled it up, revealing the Professor's box.

Sailor Uranus looked over to her right and saw her fellow Senshi tense a bit. Something was coming, something bad. She couldn't sense things psychically like her fellow Senshi could, but she somehow had an empathic link with Sailor Neptune herself. She could sense her moods and her emotional states. And right now, as she looked at the exposed bandaging on the Senshi's arm, she was sensing fear.

A button was pushed, and as the heart crystals returned harmlessly to their owners, smoke started to pour out of the box. "Damn it," Zultan hissed as she turned and ran in the opposite direction, tossing away her wig as she pushed through the crowd of curious spectators watching the event, "Now there's two of them!"

Sailor Neptune watched the smoke clear to reveal a metallic woman in a red bathing suit with a white cross on the center of it emerge. It smiled at her and Sailor Uranus, revealing a mouth filled with glistening knife points instead of teeth.

"Swissu," she said as a large knife blade swung out from her wrist to replace her right hand. The other hand was likewise replaced, this time with something that resembled a giant screw-type bottle opener.

Sailor Uranus and Neptune looked at one another briefly, nodded, and then charged at the daemon.

What followed, from Sailor Neptune's perspective at least, was something unique. She wasn't fighting alone this time, but in concert with another. The battle didn't have the same feel as the other fights she'd fought. This wasn't a brawl, it was a duet. Somehow, the two seemed to move in perfect concert with one another as if they'd fought side by side thousands of times before. It was as if something had been missing in all her previous battles, and now she knew what it was.

On her end, Sailor Uranus had never fought as a Senshi before, but she did have two things going for her. First, she was a trained martial artist with a black belt in judo. Second, there was the empathic link she felt between herself and Neptune. While she had no idea that it was a part of her awakening, she did realize that it allowed for a certain non-verbal communication between herself and her fellow Senshi, allowing the two to move as one.

The daemon, seeing them coming, ran towards them swinging her blade. Michiru leapt in the air as Haruka rushed forward to meet the attack. As Neptune landed behind the daemon, Haruka grabbed the daemon's knife and twisted, using the youma's own momentum to flip it over onto its back.

"Deep Submerge!"

The daemon had no hope of avoiding the attack, a blood-curdling scream issuing forth from it as it was hit. Sailor Uranus then stepped forward, the blonde seemingly moving on instinct as she raised her hand up into the air. Bright yellow streaks of kinetic energy streamed down from the sky into her upraised hand, which she then directed down towards the ground as she yelled out the phrase Setsuna had taught her, "World Shaking!"

The energy hit the ground like a missile, blasting cement everywhere as it sped forward. It grew and formed itself into a large yellow sphere, complete with a ring surrounding it. It finally left the pavement and rose into the air, shining brightly and terribly before both Senshi's eyes just before it hit the daemon. With a final agonizing cry the creature disappeared, transforming back into a Swiss army knife. A pod then emerged from the knife and crumbled to dust.

Sailor Uranus looked in awe at the devastation she'd just caused. "Holy…"

"Come on," Sailor Neptune said, "There's no time to lose, we have to get out of here." She leapt into the air and away from the onlookers with Sailor Uranus following close behind.

-0-0-0-

"How does it look?" Michiru asked later at Haruka's dorm room as the blonde peeled back some of the bandages to have a peek at her injuries.

"You're not going to believe this," the racer said, "But your scars are almost completely healed."

"Interesting," Michiru said thoughtfully, "I wonder if the act of transforming into Neptune had something to do with it…"

And in other news, downtown officials are still baffled by the events of earlier today. It seems somebody put on some sort of performance without asking for permission first, and at least eighteen thousand yen worth of property damage took place. So far none of the TV or movie studios are coming forward to admit responsibility for the debacle, but…

Haruka turned off the small radio on her bed stand and began to reapply the bandages to Michiru's back. "We should be getting you back to Saint Agatha's soon."

Michiru nodded, then noticed something as she looked closer around the other girl's room. "Haruka-kun, why do you have all these bags of luggage lying around in here?"

Haruka stopped what she was doing. "I'm… Transferring." Noting the look of surprise on Michiru's face, she continued, "I'm transferring to Mugan Academy. I applied long before we met."

Michiru was silent for a bit as she contemplated the answer. "Right," she finally sighed, "Then I guess there's nothing else for me to do than to transfer as well."

Haruka shook her head, "They only take top students…"

"Then I shouldn't have any trouble getting in."

"But you don't have any idea of what the tuition is."

Michiru smiled. "Thanks to my parents money that shouldn't really be too much of a problem."

"The new school year starts shortly, you'll be coming in partway into the semester. You…"

"My mind's made up," she said, coming over and putting a hand up to Haruka's cheek. "After all this time, I've finally found you. And now that I have you, where you go I'll follow."

Haruka didn't know what to say to that. She came closer, putting her own hand over Michiru's as they kissed.

-0-0-0-

"Two of them," Zultan growled as she inhaled from her cigarette, sweat beading on her forehead. "Damn it, there's two of them now!" She grimaced in pain as she held the bandaging closer, the wound still raw and painful. She could already imagine what would happen. Kaolinite had been telling the professor all along that using the Witches Six was a waste of time, and that she should've been given the assignment instead. Now she would press the issue once again.

Eudial meanwhile had been trying to undermine her authority in the Witches Six for months now. It was an obvious power play; if Zultan were discredited, Eudial would then become leader of the group. She hated the smug little bitch, especially after the incident with the snails in her locker that she just knew Eudial had to be behind.

Then there was the Professor. Of all of them, he was the only one Zultan could say she truly feared.

She tossed the cigarette butt into the overflowing ashtray. If she wanted to remain in her position of authority both within the Witches Six and the Death Busters, she had to start producing results quick.

She reached for her botttle of sake, hoping to get drunk. She reasoned that if she were inebriated the pain wouldn't hurt as much. She was about to re-examin the wound when the phone rang. "Witches Six," she grunted out.

"Zultan, you've failed me again, haven't you?"

Zultan grimaced, "Hai, professor-sama, I've failed you. But I've failed you for the last time."

"He, he, I seem to have heard that one before, Zultan."

Zultan took a drink of sake straight from the bottle. "Professor-sama, did you get my package?"

"Hai, I did. I hardly think trying to mend things with gifts will help though."

"Then you haven't opened it yet?"

"No."

"Open it now," she said as she took another drink. On the other end of the line she heard rustling, followed by a gasp.

"Zultan!" Professor Tomoe said, "This... This is a finger!"

"A pinky, actually," Zultan groaned out as she looked down at the bloody bandages on her left hand, "My pinky, to be precise."

There was silence on the other end, followed by loud laughter. "I see," the Professor chuckled, "The yakuza act of reperation for a botched job, eh? Even for you that seems a bit overly dramatic."

"It's more than reperation."

"Oh?"

"It's a pledge," Zultan said maliciously, "The next time those Sailor Senshi and I meet, only one of us will come out of it alive."

-To Be Continued-