THE PATH ONCE TRAVELED
Chapter 1: "Missing Person"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are (c)2009 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is (c)2009 by Bill K.
Noriko Abe walked down the side street in the office district of Tokyo and basked in it being deserted. A street in the Tokyo office district without people on it was a rare thing. Space was always a premium in Tokyo, particularly in the office district. On more than one occasion Noriko had remarked to herself or to her life mate that the office district often resembled a bee hive, and not in a good way. Like worker bees, she and her fellow office workers came to the hive en masse, performed their tasks like dutiful bees, and departed at quitting time - - if they were lucky. Often the "queen" would ask them for overtime and, being dutiful Japanese bees who conformed and did what they were told, they would comply. This was one such evening and the street traffic had thinned considerably. But in a way, that was all right. Noriko enjoyed the peace and freedom of having an entire street to walk down and not have to share.
Her high heels clicked on the cement sidewalk. Noriko was best described as having a quiet beauty. She had very soft skin and almost child-like features, save for the inquisitive violet eyes that peered out cautiously through square black-framed glasses. Her full mane of black hair flowed down her back to her waist, pulled away from her head save for a thick shock of unruly bangs that dangled across her forehead. A champagne colored bow captured her flowing tresses at her shoulders.
Fashion was equally quiet for Noriko Abe. At work, she stuck to a uniform of white long sleeve blouse and knee length charcoal skirt, but her home apparel was hardly more flamboyant. She was constantly teased about it, in a good-natured way, by her house mate and lover. A small smile crossed Noriko's lips as she thought of the bold, flamboyant, athletic hedonist who had captured her heart. Confident where she was quiet, energetic where she was - - quiet - - and an exotic mix of American Welsh, Irish and Hawaiian ancestry to boot, her love had brought sunshine into Noriko's rote, uneventful life. The fact that Noriko seemed to do just as much for her as she did for Noriko only made life even sweeter.
At the end of the street was a small tea shop nestled in the office district. That was Noriko's destination. That was where she bought the imported Hawaiian blend coffee that her lover adored. The shop owner imported a small supply just for her, at her request, and she faithfully visited the shop once a week to pick some up. It was one of the little things Noriko liked to do to show her affection for the woman that had brought such vibrancy and joy into her life. And if nothing happened, she would just be able to pick up the coffee before the shop closed for the night.
But as Noriko passed by a darkened gap between two office buildings, hands lunged out at her. She only had a second to react and, having led a safe, secure little life, she was too slow. A weathered, leathery hand clamped over her mouth while a thin, sickly arm caught her around the waist. Instantly panicked, Noriko struggled to pull away. But despite the seeming frailty of the clutching arms, they resisted her struggles and pulled the woman into the darkness between the buildings. The last sight of Noriko Abe was of her right hand clutching out of the shadow, desperately seeking to grab onto anything and keep from being pulled into the darkness.
A blue Fiat sped through traffic with precision and ease. Though January, the streets were dry, allowing the driver to gun the car a little. While Haruka did it to impress her passenger, she also did it because it was fun. Driving a car at a high rate of speed was one of the few times in her life she was free of all earthly restraints and tethers.
"I wish I could drive like you," her younger sister, Junko, remarked.
"Got your license yet?" Haruka asked.
"Got to learn how, first," Junko replied. She was in her typical "comfort" uniform of baggy beige twill pants, a checked shirt over a light blue blouse, the shirt tied at the waist and the sleeves rolled up, and the latest name brand athletic shoes. Her long blonde hair was tied off midway with a scrunchy.
"I could teach you," Haruka offered.
"Could you?" Junko asked and Haruka got the impression that had been Junko's goal in bringing the subject up. She smothered a smile.
"Sure," Haruka said, then cautioned, "but we'll have to start soon. The Formula-1 circuit starts up in mid-March and I have to start practice for it First of March. But I can give you all of this month and next."
"Great! I'll give you every weekend! I'd give you the weekdays, too, but we both know Mom and Dad will insist I study."
"I insist, too," Haruka shot back. A sound from her cell phone alerted Haruka. She glanced at the text message on it while waiting at a traffic light. "Hey, how about that!"
"Good news?" Junko inquired.
"An acquaintance of mine had a baby boy," Haruka announced. "At this rate, Makoto's going to have ten kids in no time."
"You want to stop off and visit them?" Junko suggested.
"It's probably not a good idea," Haruka replied and Junko could see the pain of past wounds welling up again. Haruka tried, but she had too many scars to successfully conceal them all.
Haruka sighed. "Makoto and me have had - - issues - - in the past. I'm not certain she'd want to see me this close to the birth. I wouldn't want to spoil her happy moment."
"These issues," Junko probed. "It's not because you're lesbian, is it?"
"No. Makoto accepts that. It's just - - well, you know how charming I can be. We kind of got off on the wrong foot and since then it's been a civil distance. If we didn't have overlapping friends, well . . ." She noticed Junko staring impatiently. "OK, maybe in a few days. Boy, you sure know how to nag like Mom does."
"Sore loser," needled Junko.
"Ready for school to start?" Haruka asked, changing the subject.
"No," Junko scowled. "I wish I was done with school. Oh, and thanks for taking me shopping, Haruka."
"No problem," Haruka nodded. "Although I still don't understand why you girls take so long to choose an outfit."
"What do you mean 'you girls'? You're a girl, too!"
"Well it doesn't take me a half hour to buy an outfit."
"Why, does Michiru buy them?" Junko needled slyly.
But Haruka didn't acknowledge the barb. It was then Junko noticed that Haruka seemed to be very far away. It was only at the last moment that Haruka noticed a traffic light turn red and brought the Fiat to a stop.
"Haruka?" Junko inquired. "Are you OK?"
"Hmm?" Haruka asked, seeming still very far away. Then what her sister asked registered. "Oh. Sorry. Spaced for a moment."
"Did you have a premonition?" Junko asked.
"You know, like Mom always has! She says she always knows when someone is talking about her because she can feel it."
Haruka smiled at the familiar memory. "No, nothing like that." Haruka pulled out into traffic and executed a flawless right turn. "I was just staring at a very pretty woman walking down the street," she lied.
"You better not let Michiru hear about that," Junko teased.
"Hey, I'm disaffected, not suicidal," Haruka quipped back. To her relief, for Junko could always be a little more inquisitive than Haruka was comfortable with, Junko's family home appeared in the distance. "Well, here you go, kid. Better get inside before Mom thinks I'm raping you."
"Don't joke about that, Haruka," Junko remonstrated her. Then she brightened. "I'll call you about our driving lessons."
"Sure," Haruka nodded, then thought. "Um, I might get called out of town on racing business. If you don't get an answer, that's probably what it'll be. If that's the case, I'll call you when I get back so we can set up a time for your driving lessons. Meanwhile get a book on traffic regulations from the library and study up."
"Gotcha," Junko said and closed the door. Then she leaned in. "And remember, no looking at other women or Michiru spank."
"You have no idea," Haruka grinned and pulled away from the sidewalk.
Junko watched her go. She wondered if the sudden distraction Haruka suffered late in their drive had anything to do with sailor business. She felt bad sometimes that Haruka didn't know she knew her sister's dual identity. It could be one more thing for them to talk about. But it could also be something that might drive a wedge between them. Until she knew for certain, Junko vowed to keep the secret. She didn't want to risk losing Haruka so soon after finding her.
Haruka pulled the Fiat into the garage at the home she shared with Michiru. It disturbed her that she had to lie to Junko, but the sensation she had disturbed her more. Alien forces were once again in the Milky Way galaxy and she knew she might be needed as Sailor Uranus. If only she dared tell Junko about her dual life. Part of her thought the girl could handle the revelation. It might even enhance her image in Junko's eyes. But she didn't know yet if she could risk it and her growing relationship with Junko had become very important to her.
"Babe, I'm home!" Haruka called out as she entered the home. Michiru called back from her studio. As she headed for the room, Haruka found herself not wanting to disturb the creative mood Michiru must have been in. However, she reasoned, Michiru probably felt the sensation too.
But to her surprise, Haruka found Michiru was not alone in the studio. Setsuna was there as well, as was another person. It was Elza Gray, her old track rival from high school and the woman who had introduced her to Michiru. Elza was still lean and in shape. She seemed capable of running a hundred yard dash right now. Her hair was still short and dyed magenta, her face still a quirky blend of Hawaiian and Welsh-Irish. It seemed like ten years had barely passed since Haruka last saw her. But all of that was quickly forgotten. Elza was in Michiru's arms, crying pitifully. It was several moments before she even realized Haruka was in the room. When she did, her anguish ramped up several notches.
"Haruka!" she cried out, desperate and pleading. "You have to find her! You have to help me find her!"
"Find who?" Haruka asked as Michiru held on to the hysterical woman. "Elza, find who?"
"Noriko!" Elza wailed. "She's gone! She's been missing for four days now! Something's happened to her, I know it!"
"Elza, please. You have to calm down," Michiru told her, trying to sooth her. "Who is Noriko?"
"I'm sorry," Elza whimpered. "Of course you don't know her. Noriko is the woman I'm in love with. We share an apartment over in Minato-Ku. Oh, Michiru, the last four days have been a nightmare!"
"Have you talked to the police?" Haruka questioned.
"Yes," Elza sniffed. "They took a report and - - and they said they'd search for her. It's just the longer it goes, the more I'm afraid I'll never see her again! That's why I came to you, Michiru! I figured that since you're Sailor Neptune, you'd have ways of finding her that the police don't!"
A chill ran through the room, one that Elza was too distraught to notice. Each one of the outer senshi looked to the other, surprised and anxious over Elza's unexpected revelation. At last Elza noticed the silence and looked up.
"Oh," she whimpered, lowering her eyes. "I suppose I should have told you that I know about you, Michiru."
"Perhaps you'd care to tell me how you came to this conclusion," Michiru replied stiffly, her eyebrow arched.
"It was thirteen years ago, back when I was still at Shirakaba High," Elza began. "That time I was attacked by that strange woman and Sailor Moon and the senshi came to my rescue. I recognized you as Sailor Neptune, Michiru." Michiru continued to stare questioningly. "We'd only stopped dating a few months earlier, Michiru. I still knew the way you moved - - the way you carried yourself. Nobody carried herself like you did, Michiru. It was one of the things that initially attracted me to you." Her gaze came up desperately. "I'm sorry if this puts you in a delicate position, Michiru, but I need help! Noriko means everything to me!"
"I understand, Elza," Michiru told her, gripping her hand for support. "Of course we'll do whatever we can to find her. But you've got to be strong for her, Elza. You've got to be there waiting for her. You've got to be ready to nurse her if she's hurt. And," and Michiru paused just a second due to the indelicacy of her next thought, "you've got to be prepared if - - it's already too late."
Elza nearly crumbled with that statement, but kept herself together. "I will, Michiru. I promise. Just find her, even if it is too late. I'd rather be the one to bury her than have it be some stranger who - - who doesn't love her."
Setsuna observed from the far corner of the room, seeing Haruka move in and place a steadying hand on Elza's shoulder. Elza reached up and grasped it gratefully.
"Elza, you're welcomed to stay overnight if you don't feel up to going home," Michiru offered.
"No," Elza shook her head resolutely. "I should be there - - in case . . ." The words trailed off and Elza's sodden tissue returned to her eyes."
"Very well," Michiru nodded. "Haruka?"
"I'll drive her," Haruka nodded and gathered the woman up. After Elza was out of the house, Setsuna moved from her position in the back of the room and sat down near Michiru.
"I was unaware of a history between you and Miss Gray," Setsuna commented.
"We had a brief fling in high school," Michiru mused, distracted by the problem at hand. "It was before I transferred to Infinity Academy. It was - - fairly entertaining, but we quickly realized that we were both looking for something different. Fortunately Elza and I parted friends. She knew what I was looking for and nudged me toward Haruka. I'll be eternally grateful to her for that." Michiru took a solemn breath. "I can't imagine what happened to this Noriko of hers. In a way, I'm hoping the woman just dumped Elza and fled, because the alternative is so much worse."
"There are," Setsuna began cautiously, "other matters that demand our attention."
"The fact that there are unknown alien entities in the Milky Way Galaxy?" Michiru asked. Setsuna nodded. "I felt it, too, Setsuna, even before your visit. You showing up only confirmed what I was feeling."
"And yet, you are torn," Setsuna stated.
"Of course I am," Michiru argued.
"Our mission must take precedence over personal concerns," Setsuna reminded her.
"I realize that," Michiru bristled. "But I owe her, Setsuna."
"I sympathize, but nevertheless . . ."
"Perhaps they're connected?" Michiru offered.
"That is a rationalization," Setsuna countered.
"You don't know!"
"Michiru, it is just as likely that the battle the inners fought in Roppongi today is connected to our premonition. I do sympathize, but you are grasping at straws."
Michiru ran her hand through her hair. Setsuna could see the mighty conflict raging within the gentle artist. It pained her to see her friend like this, but she knew her duty as an outer senshi.
"I'm sorry, Setsuna," Michiru whispered, avoiding her friend's gaze, "but I have to do this. I'll try not to be long. Look into the other problem. If you need help, call me and I'll come, immediately. But - - I have to do this. I owe her."
"As I expected," Setsuna replied inscrutably. "Proceed as you feel you must. I will soldier along. Join me when you are able. Hopefully both of us will complete our missions quickly and without harm."
"Thank you, Setsuna," Michiru said and hugged the taller woman.
As Haruka entered the home again, she saw Michiru had her henshin stick out. Her transformation phrase spoken, Michiru was enveloped in light. When the light died away, Sailor Neptune stood between her and Setsuna. Her hand reached above her and the Deep Aqua Mirror materialized in her hand.
"What's the plan?" Haruka asked, for all three knew that Haruka would follow anywhere Michiru would lead.
"I'm going to see if I can locate Noriko," Michiru said vacantly as she stared into the mirror.
Tense moments passed as Haruka and Setsuna watched. Neptune stared into the mirror, oblivious to everything around her. Finally, after an eternity, Neptune returned to this plane of reality. She let the mirror drop to her side and it faded from view.
"Did you find her?" Haruka asked. "Is she alive?"
"She seems to be," Neptune replied distantly. "I couldn't quite tell where, but her trail seems to start in Akasaka - - which doesn't make any sense, since it seems to be a residence of some kind."
"What is it, Babe?" Haruka inquired.
"Setsuna," Neptune began, still staring quizzically at nothing, "these cases may be linked after all. When I saw her in the mirror - - unless I somehow was looking at the wrong person completely - - I detected an - - an extraterrestrial presence about her."
"Indeed," Setsuna remarked.
Continued in Chapter 2