-Neptune: Year One-

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

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-Interlude I-

The two students walked across the tatami mat, both dressed in their gi and both trying just as hard not to let their nervousness show. They both turned to their sensei and bowed respectfully. Their sensei stood up from the midst of the others in his judo class and bowed back. He had hoped that it wouldn't come to this, that somehow the choice would be made somewhat easier for him, but unfortunately both pupils were equally talented, and there was only one opening this season for a promotion to black belt.

Thus the two students now found themselves this afternoon ready to spar, the winner would be promoted while the loser would have to wait until next season. They turned to each other, bowed, and assumed fighting stances.

The brown-haired boy attacked first, attempting to sweep his opponent's legs out from underneath. His opponent managed to block and attempted an arm lock. He grabbed the other student's wrist before they could fasten the lock though and, turning quickly, was able to flip his opponent over. Thinking the match over, he went for a lock of his own, but was caught quickly by surprise when his opponent pulled him down and grappled him into a choke hold, one which very quickly forced him to tap.

The actual match lasted less than a minute, but the decision was final.

The two students stood up, bowed to one another and to their sensei. The winner reached up and undid the small band that had kept her long shoulder-length blonde hair back in a ponytail as she made her way to her sensei.

"Well done," the sensei said with a smile. "You have displayed true skill in defeating Kenji. You have truly earned your black belt, Tenoh-san."

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"So wait," Hironari said as he spoke to the young teen underneath the racecar they were working on, "You had to duel someone to earn the belt?"

"No, we didn't duel," Haruka laughed as she slid her creeper out from underneath the car. She wore a mechanic's uniform and had her long hair pulled up underneath a gray cap. "We sparred. You only duel if you're trying to kill somebody."

"Still, that's so neat," her fellow mechanic said as he struck an action pose, "Just like Bruce Lee!"

Haruka laughed harder. "Baka…"

"Hey now," Hironari said as he pointed his wrench at her, "Watch it or I'll tell everyone what I caught you doing to that older girl in the back."

"Threatening a black belt can be dangerous," she said with a smirk. "Incidentally though, exactly why didn't you turn me in last week when you caught us?"

"Two reasons. One, we're pals, and pals stick together."

"And two?"

"Two, I have a thing for hentai, remember?"

Haruka shook her head. "Two girls kissing and tentacle rape are two completely different things, Hironari-kun."

Hironari was about to make another comment when he caught sight of the clock. "Uh-oh. Isn't it nearly time for your curfew?"

Haruka looked up at the clock as well, and let out a sigh. "Hai, it is. I guess it's just about time to get out of these greasy mechanic's rags and put that thing back on."

"That 'thing'?"

Haruka frowned as she got up from the creeper. "The school uniform, the dress," she said with evident distaste.

"Wow," Hironari said with a smirk, "You really don't like dresses, do you?" Instead of answering, the blonde simply gave him a dirty look. "Well, look on the bright side. Tomorrow's the big track meet, so you'll be in a pair of running shorts for a little while at least, right?"

"Hurray for me," she said acerbically as she left the garage and headed for the locker room.

A short time later, she returned to her school. The classes were over now, and the sun was setting over the horizon as she reached the students' apartments. Before going to her room, she made a quick side trip to the post office boxes by the administration building, hoping to find the packet she'd sent away for from Mugen Academy. She knew they only accepted the top-tier students academically, which for her wouldn't be a problem at all. She also knew that Mugen Academy carried a certain level of prestige within academic circles, but that wasn't what attracted the freshman.

It was the chance to start new, with a clean slate.

Her track coach said it best when she'd said she seemed to run not just for the sport of it, but with a purpose. But whether she was running towards or from something was what her coach never could seem to figure out. Haruka knew though. At first she'd run toward her dreams of Formula 1 racing and martial arts. Then she'd tried to run from her confusing feelings towards other girls (she'd lost that race). But mainly, she ran away from her parents.

Her parents didn't understand her, and so they tried to "cure" their tomboy with piano lessons. They made her wear dresses at home, and enrolled her in a school with a strict dress code for female students. They brought her to a minister in order to have her "exorcised" of her rebelliousness. She took to the piano, but from then on she began to run from her parents control over her. She wanted desperately to live her own life as she wanted to live it. But she didn't know how.

Mugen Academy was on the other side of Tokyo. It was far away from parental control, but it was also prestigious enough that if she got in her parents wouldn't be able to deny her wishes.

The package from Mugen wasn't there. With a sigh, she turned and headed towards her student apartment.

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It was the day of the race. All the racers were lined up on the starting line, including her. A light warm breeze blew behind her as the starter raised his gun and fired. Haruka bolted up into a run, leaving the others far behind her. The light breeze suddenly picked up, pushing the racer as she struggled suddenly to move her legs fast enough to keep up. Looking around, the blonde could see trees and buildings whizzing by as she left the school behind. She was now on a freeway, weaving her way past cars and motorcycles as the wind at her back pushed her faster and faster.

She ran past the city, past telephone lines and small rural towns, until at last she began to see the beach coming up in front of her, the crest of the waves of the ocean gently flowing to shore past the large finish line held up by two black poles in the surf. Haruka ran across the beach, into the water, and across the finish line before she collapsed.

She was on all fours, trying to catch her breath as the waves caressed her arms and legs. She drank in the scent of the ocean as sweat poured down her forehead and her hair clung in sweaty locks to her shoulder and back.

"This isn't you."

Haruka looked around, confused. "What?"

"You grow your hair long to please others. You wear dresses to please others. You aren't the girl I remember."

"Girl you remember?" Haruka asked as she stood up in the ankle-deep surf and looked around. "What are you talking about? Who…"

"The girl I remembered was brave to the last. She'd defy the devil himself to the face when it came to those things that were most important and precious to her, including her self-identity." The tide seemed to swell slightly as the voice continued, "My soul cries out to you my love, but not like this. Become the person you truly are, on the inside. Shed off the costume, remove the layers and reveal yourself."

Haruka became increasingly frustrated. "Enough! Who are you?"

"I am the hidden depths, coursing and swirling deep within the oceans of being."

Haruka's eyes widened. "Oceans of being?"

"Remember me," the voice whispered as the tide quickly receded, "Remember…"

-0-0-0-

Haruka opened her eyes and looked around her room. It was still dark outside. A quick check of the clock told her that it was twelve past five.

"Shed off the costume," the blonde repeated as she thought of the dream, "Remove the layers." Getting out of bed in her pajamas, she went into the bathroom. Opening the medicine chest, she pulled out the scissors and stared at them as she closed the chest back up.

She stared at the scissors for a while longer before looking at herself in the mirror.

Remove the layers.

She knew what her parents reaction would be. She also had a good idea of what her instructors and fellow students would think and gossip behind her back. But after the dream none of it seemed to matter anymore to Haruka. She held the scissors with one hand as she grabbed a lock of her hair with the other.

Clip.

She grabbed another, larger lock.

Clip, clip.

She began to chuckle as the sandy-blonde hair fell into small piles around her. It was a sensation beyond simple catharsis, beyond a weight being removed from her shoulder. She was peeling back a mask, removing an alias forced upon her by others. Her hands seemed to take on a life of their own as she continued cutting.

Clip, clip, clip.

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The next morning, as she emerged out onto the track, she could hear the gasps (and some laughter) from her fellow classmen. Looking over to one of her school's cheerleaders, she felt bold enough to give the girl a smile and a wink of her teal eyes, noting with a bit of surprised satisfaction that the girl blushed and looked away.

Taking her place on the starting line, one of her fellow runners gave her a look. "Haruka-chan? What's with the haircut? You look like a guy."

"Streamlining," the blonde answered with a smirk. "Cuts down on wind resistance."

The other runner just shook her head, causing Haruka to grin even more as she thought of what the reaction would be when she showed up for school Monday in a boys uniform.

"On your mark," the starter announced as he held the gun up in the air. Pulling the trigger, Haruka shot up and ran. She had the wind at her back, but she now knew she was no longer running away.

-End Interlude-