-Neptune: Year One-

Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon or Sailor Neptune. Both are the property of Naoko Takeushi.

-0-0-0-

-VI-

She put out another cigarette in the already overflowing ashtray, blowing dark grey smoke out her nostrils as she turned on the computer screen. She hated computers. Sitting back from the now flashing screen with her arms crossed, she remembered the good old days of rune stones, tarot cards and scrying crystals. The druids of old used to divine the answers to their questions by slitting the throats of ritual victims caught in battle and reading the blood spatters. Ah, those were the good old days.

She took a drink of her coffee. It was just the way she liked it, with no cream and no sugar. She liked her coffee the same way she liked her men; bitter. She'd taken out another cigarette and lit it when the phone rang. "Hello, professor," she answered, the cigarette still clutched between her teeth, "What's up?"

"Zultan-san, have you found the talismans yet?"

Zultan took a long drag on her cigarette and exhaled. "Not yet Professor, but I think this computer of yours might've found something."

"Good," the maniacal voice on the other end said, "I have a new daemon ready for you. And is there any information on that sailor person?"

"None professor, I…"

"Sama."

"Professor?"

"Let's get one thing straight now," the voice on the other end said, "We are not now, nor will we ever be, on first name only basis. When you address me you will address me as professor-sama, understand?"

Something in the professor's voice unnerved her. "Very well, 'professor-sama.' No, I can't find anything about this 'Sailor Neptune.' It's like she just popped out of nowhere."

"I see. If she should show her face again and try to get in your way, you know what to do."

Zultan took another puff on her cigarette. "Hai, professor-sama."

-0-0-0-

The first Saturday in November was unusually cold. The repairs to the library were still ongoing, but luckily the greenhouse was repaired in time to save the many plants. There were seasonal and perennial flowering plants of every shape and color, their fragrances mixing and clashing with one another in the heavy humidity of the greenhouse. There were also exotic leafy plants, and a section set aside for a small vegetable garden.

In a small room in the back of the greenhouse, a kettle started to whistle. Sister Claire turned the diminutive burner stove off and poured out two cups, one for herself and one for her guest. She then went out, past the evergreen bush and to the left of the tomatoes, and set the cup next to her guest's easel on a small tray she'd set up for her not five minutes ago. "I wasn't sure how you liked your tea," the nun explained, "So I chanced one lump with cream. Did you want two lumps?"

Michiru turned to Sister Claire, her long aqua colored locks were pulled back into a pony tail, save for a stray hair or two that seemed to frame her attractive young face. She held a pallet of paint in one hand and a medium sized flat headed brush in the other. The painting of the sunflowers she'd chosen as her subject was three-quarters done, its colors unusually subdued for one of her paintings. "Arigato," she said, placing her brush in the large container of paint thinner before carefully setting her pallet down and taking the cup. "One lump will be fine."

Sister Claire looked from Michiru to the painting. "Michiru-chan, is something wrong?"

Michiru took a sip of tea. "Wrong?" she asked with raised eyebrow.

"Your painting, it looks so... somber. I've seen some of your other paintings, and this one's different somehow."

The young artist set her cup back down. "Claire-sama, have you ever..."

"Ever what?"

"Have you ever been told to do something you didn't want to do? Something that you had to do, no matter how much you objected to or resented it?"

Sister Claire was silent for a moment. "Come with me for a second," she finally said, turning to go back into her small room in the back. Michiru followed, surprised by how small the accommodations were. Most of the other nun's offices were at least twice as big. That was nothing compared to the surprise that awaited her when she saw the books on the first of two bookshelves in the room.

"Applied Quantum Physics, Analytical Algebra, Chaos Theory..." Michiru's voice died off as she saw the framed document on the wall. "A diploma in Applied Sciences from Harvard?" Looking back over at Sister Claire, she saw the nun in a new light. "Forgive me for asking, but why aren't you teaching? If you have a Harvard diploma, why are you tending to a green house?"

Sister Claire smiled sadly as she motioned to the other bookshelf. Michiru looked at the new titles, "The Case for Women in the Priesthood, A Defense of Liberation Theology, The Search for the Historical Jesus..."

"Ideas are a funny thing, Michiru-chan," Sister Claire said, "Sometimes, ideas can win you acclaim and honor, other times they can be seen as dangerous and in need of suppression. I'm here tending this greenhouse because both the bishop and Mother Superior Ichi figure I'm less dangerous here than if I were in a classroom, allowed to 'infect young minds with my radicalism.'" Meeting Michiru's gaze, the nun smiled. "Come on," she said, "Let's get back out there before your tea goes cold."

"Then wait," Michiru said as she followed after the nun, "Do you mean to say you're here as some sort of punishment?"

"I suppose you could say that, yes," Sister Claire answered as she sipped her tea. "Mmm, should've had biscuits with this."

"But... But couldn't you just agree not to discuss any radical ideas in the classroom? You're a Harvard graduate, surely you..."

"Michiru-chan," the nun said as she set her teacup down on its saucer, "You asked me if there was ever something I had to do, something I didn't necessarily agree with, but felt compelled to do anyways. There are certain things about the church which I love a great deal, but many others which I feel are wrong both as a nun and as a woman, and so I feel compelled to object to and protest. I am here because there's a price to be paid for such convictions. There's always a price to be paid for doing such things. It goes with the territory."

Turning her back to Michiru as she looked at one of the larger leafy plants, she continued. "Once in every person's lifetime, a man or woman will encounter something bigger than themselves that they feel compelled to fight. Why?" Sister Claire asked as she turned back to Michiru, "Have you found yourself in such a battle?"

Michiru was silent as she pondered what to say next. "Claire-sama," she finally said, "What if... What if I have found myself in such a battle, but it's not a battle I want to fight? What if it's one I'd rather not have to, but I feel like I have to anyways?"

Sister Claire simply smiled. "Those are the kinds of battles we most need to fight, Michiru-chan."

A short time later, after finishing her painting, Michiru began to pack up her easel and paints. Takayo came into the greenhouse building looking for her roommate, her red hair tussled by the wind outside. She brushed a fallen leaf off her light brown jacket as she came over. "Michiru-chan, are you almost ready? Our sempai are waiting for us."

"Hai," Michiru said. She then took the painting she'd just finished and carefully handed it to Sister Claire. "For you," she said, "Maybe it'll brighten up your small room."

"Arigato," the nun answered, "Come back to talk any time."

As the two girls left the greenhouse, the chilly November wind swept around them. "Brrr," Takayo shuddered as she stuck her hands deep in her coat pocket, "Come on, let's hurry before our sempai give up and leave without us, I... Michiru-chan?" she asked, turning around to see her roommate standing facing the breeze with her arms outstretched, her hair flowing wildly behind her like an ocean current.

"The wind," she whispered as the cold wind currents encircled and enclosed her like a lover's embrace, "Remember..."

"Michiru-chan, what are you doing?"

"Hmm?" the teal-haired artist asked as she opened her eyes.

"The fall festival, remember?" Takayo said exasperatedly, "Chieko-sama and Miyuki-sama invited us to go with them to the fall festival."

"Oh… Oh right," Michiru said, shaking her head to clear herself.

"What's with you anyways? You don't normally space out."

Michiru sighed as she pushed her bangs back with her hand. "We all have our moments it would seem, ne?" she asked as she quickly walked up to and past her roommate, heading for the area of the parking lot in front of the cafeteria where both girls agreed to meet their sempai. Takayo watched her with a puzzled expression before shaking her own head and following after her.

-0-0-0-

The fair was packed with children and adults from the three nearby boroughs, all looking forward to the fair rides and amusements such as the tunnel of love and house of mirrors. There were also vendors of food and the games area filled with men of all ages trying to win stuffed presents for their girlfriends. Takayo and her sempai Chieko looked around happily as they both discussed which amusement to go to first.

Behind them, Michiru and her sempai were having quite a different conversation.

"Onee-sama, are you still going on about that play?"

"It's not just any play, Michiru-chan," Miyuki explained as she tried to sell Michiru on the idea. "Imagine it; Joan's in the hands of the enemy, on trial for her life. She's persecuted and eventually burned at the stake for her beliefs."

"I know Joan's story, onee-sama. And I'm more than willing to contribute my time to painting and designing the background scenery, or playing my violin in the orchestra during the play's performance. But as for actually being the lead, I'm no actor."

"Then don't think of it as acting," Miyuki suggested with a grin, "Think of it as performance art."

Michiru put her hand over her mouth as she giggled at the remark. "Be serious."

"I am being seious," Miyuki answered. "You're one of the most popular freshman at St. Agatha's, as well as being one of the most talented and most looked up to. Besides," she added, "you're also the most beautiful girl in your freshman class."

Michiru smirked. "Anybody listening in on this conversation who didn't know better would think you were flirting with me."

Miyuki's smirk faded as she looked at her more seriously. "If I was, Michiru-chan, would that really be so bad?"

Michiru froze on the spot, her cheeks flushing red as she processed what her sempai just said. "Onee-sama?"

"Heh, nothing," Miyuki said quickly, "Forget I said anything."

"Ah, good afternoon young ladies."

Both girls turned their attention to a jovial looking middle-aged man with a thick black mustache and his hair combed over an obvious bald spot. "And how are you two enjoying my fair?"

"Your fair?" Miyuki asked.

"Hai," he answered, beaming with pride as he bowed to the girls. "My name's Toru Enomoto, and I've been working for the last eleven months contacting vendors and rides operators, haggling with local polititians and advertisers, all to make sure this year's fair would be the best ever."

"You certainly seem to have succeeded," Michiru managed to say, her blush still present from Miyuki's remark, "Everyone seems to be having a wonderful time."

"Glad to hear it," Toru said with a smile, bowing to the two girls cordially before he went off to welcome others to the Fall Fair.

As he was talking to a mother with her young son, a woman in a yellow and orange dress with light blue hair came up to him. "Excuse me," she said, "But are you Enomoto Toru-sama, the gentleman behind this fair?"

"Hai, that's me," he answered, "How can I help you?"

"Well," Zultan answered in a worried tone, "I'm afraid there's something wrong with one of the rides."

"What?" Toru asked in shock. "Which one?"

"The tunnel of love," she said, "Come with me, I'll show you…"

-0-0-0-

"Michiru-chan," Miyuki began hesitantly, "I… I want to apologize for my stupid little remark."

"No, don't," Michiru said, putting her hand over her sempai's. Both girls looked down at their joined hands, then into each other's eyes. "Onee-sama…"

"Please," her sempai interrupted, "We don't need to be so formal outside of school. Call me Miyuki."

"Alright, Miyuki-chan," Michiru responded, her throat going dry as she searched for the right words. "You don't have to apologize for what you said, you…" Michiru stopped mid-sentence as eyes suddenly widened and she drew in a sharp breath.

"Michiru-chan?" Miyuki asked in alarm as a look of fear spread over the younger girl's face. "Michiru-chan, what's wrong?"

She could sense it again, the storm suddenly rising out of a calm sea without warning. Looking around with a frantic look in her eyes, she saw the tunnel of love and felt as if the pounding surf would sweep her away.

"Michiru…"

"Stay here," the Senshi said in an authoritative tone that took the older girl by surprise. "I'll be right back." She ran off towards the tunnel of love, her anger over having the moment between herself and Miyuki interrupted momentarily overcoming her fear of what might be waiting for her.

-To Be Continued-