"Haruka, are you feeling all right?"
Haruka glanced over at the woman sitting beside her in the passenger seat of the yellow convertible as they raced, far beyond normal speeds, down the freeway. "Of course. Why do you ask?"
Michiru indicated the deep gash on Haruka's arm. "You let that happen."
"Oh that." Haruka shrugged the wound off. "It's not serious. You know that with our accelerated senshi healing abilities it will be gone in a couple of days."
"That's not the point. You were distracted out there today, and that's dangerous for both of us. We need total concentration and complete focus when we're facing our enemies. I need to know I can count on you."
"You can, Michiru. What happened today was just…an anomaly. It won't happen again, I promise you."
"Hmm," said Michiru, sounding unconvinced. "When was the last time you got laid?"
Haruka nearly choked on her own tongue and momentarily swerved into the opposite lane, right into the path of an oncoming truck. Fighting the wheel, she only managed to wrench them out of the way at the last moment, amidst a cacophony of angry horns.
"W-what?" she spluttered, when she felt she could speak again.
"Oh really, Haruka," Michiru said, sounding annoyed, "it's nothing to get embarrassed about. And certainly not something worth killing us over. It's just that…we've been friends for a few years now, and I can't help but notice that when you haven't been chasing around after girls for a while you tend to get a little…edgy."
Haruka felt herself going red. "Can we talk about something else," she muttered.
"Of course," said Michiru, continuing as if Haruka hadn't spoken, "I do understand it must be difficult for you. Being a near-immortal being trapped in the body of a nineteen year old girl with a secret destiny to protect the solar system from threats from outer space…well, under those circumstances it would be almost impossible to find a partner and maintain a relationship, so naturally you opt for flings with your groupies."
"I do not have groupies!" Haruka protested, pushing the car just a little faster in her anger, weaving in and out of the traffic around them like a demon.
"Hmm? What about that last girl, then, who you met at the track. Amanda, wasn't it? What happened to her?"
"I think she went home."
"She lived in some other country. America, maybe."
"An American?" Michiru sounded horrified. "Haruka, this really won't do. I think it's time you found a proper girlfriend."
"No, no, I've got it all figured out. I know you well enough to know you could never have a relationship with someone who couldn't understand you, and since the only ones who can understand us are other senshi, I'll just have to find one of the other soldiers you can pair up with."
Haruka groaned. "Michiru, really, this isn't a good idea."
"What are you talking about?" said Michiru impatiently. "This will solve all our problems. You'll be with someone you love, and I'll have a partner who is fully committed to the fight against evil."
Haruka wanted to laugh at the irony of it. Why, she wondered, could Michiru be so very perceptive, except in the one way that it really mattered?
"How about Usagi," Michiru suggested.
"You always thought she was cute, didn't you?"
"Well yeah, but—"
"Fine, that's settled then."
"Michiru, Usagi is destined for Mamoru, who will one day become King Endymion, in case you'd forgotten."
Michiru demolished this objection with a wave of her hand. "That stuffed shirt? Who'd want him when they could have you? Chibiusa's cute, I'll grant you, but in the future, Usagi could always get a sperm donation from Mamoru and have her just the same. The two of you could raise her as your daughter. How does that sound?"
Haruka nearly crashed the car for the third time that evening.
When they got home, they found that Hotaru was still up. Michiu frowned at her. "Hotaru, don't you have school in the morning? You should have been in bed hours ago."
"I was worried about the two of you," Hotaru replied. "You were gone ages." Her eyes lighting on Haruka' injury, she asked in a concerned voice, "bad fight?"
Haruka shrugged. "It's not serious."
"Serious or not, I'm going to see to it," said Michiru, pushing Haruka down onto one of the sofas in the living room. "Wait here while I get the first aid kit."
Showing no signs of going to bed, Hotaru sat down on the carpet, looking up at Haruka with her large violet eyes. "What happened?" she asked.
"I got distracted," Haruka said shortly.
"Oh," Hotaru said. "I see." In human years, Hotaru was only thirteen years old, but her deep violet eyes betrayed her true age, and she looked at Haruka, knowing and sympathetic, in a way that made Haruka feel far too exposed. She was almost glad when Michiru returned from the bathroom with the first aid kit and gently began to clean up her arm.
As Michiru worked, she explained to Hotaru how she planned to make a match between Haruka and Usagi to prevent any other unfortunate accidents of this sort from occurring, and Hotaru's eyes grew wider and wider, flicking between Michiru and Haruka disbelievingly. At last, with Haruka's arm bandaged, Michiru took herself off to bed, warning both Haruka and Hotaru not to be up for much longer.
"You're surely not going to let her do this?" Hotaru asked Haruka once Michiru was gone.
Haruka shrugged helplessly. "You know how Michiru is when she gets these ideas. There's no stopping her."
Hotaru sighed in exasperation. "Haruka, why don't you just tell her how you feel? It's not fair that you're in love with her and she doesn't even know."
"You don't know what you're talking about," said Haruka, flushing. "You're only thirteen."
"In my human form, yes, but I'm also the soldier of ruin with all the knowledge and experience of my immortal senshi self. And I know you should tell Michiru how you feel."
"But I flirt with her all the time! If she was interested she would have responded by now."
"You flirt with everyone all the time. It doesn't mean anything, as Michiru well knows. Flirting with her is just more likely to make her think you're not interested."
"But I do mean it with her. All the rest is just to distract myself, but it's working less and less. I don't know what to do."
"I can't. What if she doesn't feel the same way? Which I'm sure she doesn't, or she would have said something before now. How will we go on working together after she knows? It'll make everything too awkward. It'll ruin our friendship, and our partnership, and then we won't be able to carry out our duties properly and the whole earth will come to ruin."
"Overly-dramatic much?" said Hotaru dryly.
Haruka drew herself up. "I take my destiny very seriously!"
"Sure. Whatever. I'm going to bed. See you tomorrow."
"Goodnight," Haruka said, trying not to let her tone sound depressed. She was still too disturbed by Michiru's idea to go to sleep, so made herself a cup of tea before finally forcing herself upstairs to bed. She paused outside Michiru's door before continuing on to her own room, wondering what it was she had done to deserve this fate; to find an incorporable woman and be able to share her life with her, but never as she wished. To be in constant torment, always wanting to reach out and touch her, always imagining how much richer their love could have been, if only…
You should be grateful for what you have, Haruka told herself, and she was, she was, but it didn't stop her wanting more. Gently, she placed her fingertips against the woodgrain of Michiru's door. "Goodnight Michiru," she whispered, and walked down the hall to her own room, falling asleep with an empty ache in her heart.
"Right Haruka," Michiru said briskly the next morning. "I have classes at the Conservatorium until this afternoon, and you're practicing at the track today, aren't you?"
Haruka grudgingly admitted that she was.
"Okay, why don't you pick me up after class and we'll go get Usagi from her school and then you can ask her out on a date."
"If you're so keen why don't you ask her out," Haruka muttered, scowling into her coffee.
"Well because I'm not the one suffering from…" Seeing the expression on Haruka's face, Michiru quickly modified what she'd been about to say. "A perfectly natural biological ailment."
"And how is it, Michiru, that you don't have exactly the same problem as me? Do you have a boyfriend hidden away somewhere that I don't know about?"
Michiru tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Don't be silly, Haruka. My self control is just a lot better than yours, that's all."
Haruka was still spluttering into her coffee when Michiru left.
"So," Michiru said to Usagi, "what do you think?"
Usagi glanced doubtfully from Michiru to Haruka and back again. "Go on a date with Haruka-san?" she asked. "But I love Mamo-chan."
"Well, Mamoru doesn't have to know about this just yet, does he? Not until you and Haruka get to know each other a little better and we see how things are progressing." Seeing that Usagi was still hesitant, Michiru added coaxingly, "there'll be ice-cream."
Usagi's eyes became dreamy. "Ice-cream?"
"And as much French food as you can eat. And if it will make you feel more comfortable, I can come along too."
"You will?" said Haruka, feeling her first flutter of hope since Michiru had insisted on taking charge of her love life. Having dinner with Michiru in a French restaurant didn't sound so bad, even if it did mean putting up with Usagi.
"Yes," said Michiru. "There's a boy in my music theory class who keeps pestering me to go out with him…We can make it a double date!" She beamed at Haruka, who felt as if the earth had just fallen out from under her feet – as if she had, in fact, performed her World Shaking attack on herself.
"Yeah whatever," Haruka muttered, dropping her eyes. "I don't care."
"Brilliant," said Michiru happily. "Friday night, then?"
"Friday night," Haruka agreed in a despair laden voice, and after another moment, Usagi nodded her consent as well.
Haruka, Michiru, Usagi and Michiru's date Yorishimo met up outside the restaurant on Friday night. Haruka and Yorishimo were both dressed in suits, and Michiru (Haruka thought) was stunning in a shimmering strapless evening gown the colour of her hair. The fabric was tightly moulded to the outline of her figure, and Yorishimo and Haruka were not the only two staring at her; many eyes in the restaurant strayed their way, but Michiru, as always, took the attention calmly in her stride.
All three of them couldn't help looking askance at Usagi, who was dressed in an outfit that consisted of shorts, sandals and a fluffy pink jumper with a bunny rabbit knitted onto it. There were even little pink bows around her buns to match.
"I'm sorry," Usagi said, lip trembling, looking as if she was about to bawl. "You didn't tell me it would be so formal."
"It's okay," said Haruka, putting her arm around the younger girl and determinedly ignoring Michiru's knowing wink. "Why don't we go in?"
Fifteen minutes into dinner, Haruka was ready to kill Yorishimo. He was still staring at Michiru, eyes wide, mouth slightly open, looking as if he couldn't quite believe this was happening, that a goddess of such beauty would deign to associate with a poor humble mortal like himself. "I can't believe someone as beautiful and talented as you doesn't have a boyfriend," he blurted at last, blushing, causing Michiru to glance at him with mild surprise.
"Well, I am very committed to my work," she said thoughtfully. "That's often hard for people to accept."
"But – but," Yorishimo gushed, "I feel so privileged to be in your presence, even just for this one night. I know I could never compare to you, musically or otherwise, and naturally when I am so unworthy I would never expect more than that you would glance my way now and then. But even that from you would be worth more than the worshipping regard of a thousand ordinary women. Michiru, please, I beg of you, if you could but indulge the fantasies of a poor, love-sick fool—"
Haruka decided that this conversation really needed to stop, right now, especially given the amused, nay, intrigued expression on Michiru's face, which indicated she was finding Yorishimo's stupidity far more interesting than she should.
She made a sharp move with her hand, as if reaching for her wineglass, and deliberately knocked the glass over, making sure it tipped all over Yorishimo's dinner. Immediately she leaped up, apologising profusely, offering to replace Yorishimo's meal, calling a waiter over to clean up the spill, asking him if he'd like her to dry clean his suit since a few drops of wine had gotten onto that as well, and when the chaos was finally over and they were all seated quietly again, Haruka immediately began talking, to make sure that Yorishimo would have no further chances with Michiru.
"Yorishimo," she said, "what instrument do you play? I don't think Michiru told me."
"Huh?" Yorishimo stared at Haruka blankly for a moment. Already his eyes had been straying back to Michiru, and he obviously had to focus hard for a moment just to remember who Haruka was, even if she had just spilled her wine all over him minutes before. "Oh – ah – piano."
Haruka narrowed her eyes and sniffed. "That's not very impressive. Anyone can play the piano. Even I can play the piano."
"Actually," said Michiru lightly, "Yorishimo is really very good."
Yorishimo's expression was immediately ecstatic, and Haruka scowled. Clearly more drastic measures needed to be taken. When he rose and excused himself not long after, disappearing in the direction of the bathrooms, Haruka saw her opportunity and followed his example, slipping stealthily into the men's room after him.
Haruka was no stranger to men's washrooms; indeed, she was well used to them since most of the circuits she raced on never thought to cater for women. She leaned against the wall opposite the stalls where Yorishimo was standing and waited, watching his back with cool, angry eyes. Yorishimo jumped when he turned to wash his hands and saw her standing there.
"Haruka?" he said doubtfully.
Haruka grabbed the lapels of his coat and swung him round so that he was pinned tightly against the wall with her forearm pressed against his neck. "I don't like the way you've been eyeing Michiru all night," she said dangerously.
"I'm sorry," Yorishimo squeaked, eyes widening in terror, his pulse speeding beneath Haruka's restraining arm. "My intentions towards her are honourable, I swear!"
"I find it very upsetting that you have intentions towards Michiru at all, honourable or otherwise."
"But – but you're with the fluffy bunny rabbit girl, aren't you?" Yorishimo asked in confusion.
Haruka growled and pressed her arm against Yorishimo's neck more tightly.
"Eek! All right. I'm sorry. I didn't know Michiru already had a…" he trailed off, regarding Haruka's androgynous appearance doubtfully. "…special person," he finally finished carefully.
"She is special to me," Haruka snarled. "Very special. So I'd suggest you leave now, while all your bits are still intact. And make sure you go out by the kitchens so she doesn't see you." With a final threatening squeeze of Yorishimo's neck, Haruka released him, her eyes still flashing dangerously.
Yorishimo backed away from her, slowly and fearfully, until he at last reached the bathroom door, at which point he turned and ran. Haruka returned to Michiru and Usagi feeling much more cheerful, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of dinner.
At last, when Usagi was on her fourth ice-cream, Michiru suggested it might be time to think about leaving. Usagi immediately pulled her sundae into a protective embrace. "I can finish my desert first, can't I?"
Michiru smiled her charming smile. "Of course."
"Hey," Usagi said suddenly, as if the thought had just occurred to her, "whatever happened to Yorishimo? He didn't even come back to eat his meal."
Michiru glanced at the empty seat beside her. She hadn't said a word about Yorishimo's absence since he'd disappeared, and Haruka wondered, hopefully, if she'd only just noticed that he'd gone. "You're right," Michiru said, frowning. "He has been gone a while." Then she shrugged. "He probably went home."
"Halfway through your date?"
"Oh don't worry, this always happens to me. I suppose with all of my talents I'm just too intimidating to handle, and my dates get scared and run away. I really thought Yorishimo was different, but perhaps not." She sighed, sounding more annoyed than regretful, and Haruka kept her expression carefully bland. It must be admitted that Yorishimo was not the first of Michiru's dates to meet an enraged lesbian in the men's toilets, and somehow, Haruka didn't think Michiru would appreciate her solicitude if she knew.
"Anyway," Michiru said, "we shouldn't be talking about me. Usagi, how do you think your date with Haruka went?"
Usagi looked up from spooning the last scoop of ice-cream into her mouth, chocolate glistening on her chin. "Um, okay?" she said, sounding a little wary.
"Great," said Michiru. "So you'd like to do it again, right?"
"Well, um—" Usagi blushed and looked at Haruka. "I'm sorry, Haruka, but I still like Mamo-chan best. In that way, I mean."
"No problem," said Haruka, but Michiru, apparently, was not prepared to give up so easily.
She frowned. "Usagi, you shouldn't be hasty about this. Haruka is a wonderful person with a lot to offer; in many ways she'd be a far superior partner to Mamoru."
"How?" asked Usagi, sounding disbelieving.
"Well, for one thing, what does Mamoru really know about women? He spends all his time with his head buried in fusty old books. I'm sure there are many subjects he has absolutely no idea about. How to please a woman in bed, for example. Whereas Haruka here has a lot of experience in that department, as well as having the added advantage of being a woman herself."
"Michiru, shut up," Haruka muttered, blushing furiously.
With a shade of beetroot no less pronounced than Haruka's own, Usagi stammered, "Well – I really – I mean – of course one day, after Mamo-chan and I are married, but until then I – I want to save myself."
"Usagi." Seeing that Michiru was about to launch into another enthusiastic catalogue of her relationship credentials, Haruka quickly cut her off.
"Leave the poor kid alone," she said. "I don't think she and I are cut out to be an item."
"Of course you are Haruka. Usagi, your dream is admirable, but very naïve. The sort of relationship you're talking about might work in romance novels, but not in real life. It's really much better if two people get to know each other before they commit, physically as well as in every other way. And as for Mamoru, I doubt that he even knows where the clitoris is located."
Usagi blinked slowly, her blue eyes very wide. "What's a clitoris?" she asked.
Haruka and Michiru both fell off their chairs and collapsed onto the floor in shock.
"What?" said Usagi in bewilderment. "What did I say?"
"Nothing," said Michiru quickly. "Never mind. You'll find out all about the clitoris in your own good time, I'm sure. Waiter, could we have the cheque please?"
"I told you Usagi and I weren't suited," Haruka grumbled to Michiru as they were driving home after dropping the younger girl off.
"Yes well," said Michiru grudgingly, "I'll admit I made a slight miscalculation. I knew Usagi was naïve, but I really had no idea…"
"I'm just going to block the whole conversation out of my mind and pretend it never happened," said Haruka feelingly.
"Hmm, that might be best," Michiru agreed. After a short silence she continued, "I see now that I've been coming at this all wrong. You don't need a little girl like Usagi, you need someone worldly, sophisticated. Someone like…"
You? Haruka asked hopefully in her head.
"Pluto," Michiru finished.
"Pluto?" Haruka echoed in disbelief, nearly veering off the road.
"Yes. She's the logical choice. She's smart, she's confident and she even understands all about what it means to be an Outer senshi. I can't believe I didn't think of it before."
Haruka didn't know who she felt more sorry for; herself, or the unsuspecting Pluto.
A week passed with no further mention of Michiru's plans, and Haruka almost began to feel relieved, to think Michiru had forgotten about her determination to find Haruka a girlfriend, what with her studies at the Conservatorium and violin concerts and swimming and their always present duties as sailor soldiers.
It was on Saturday night that the call came.
Haruka's communicator beeped and she answered it immediately, walking out of the movie theatre without a second thought and leaving behind a very annoyed date. Haruka didn't really care, since she was only a straight girl trying to be cool by calling herself bisexual. Normally, Haruka didn't even consider her type worth flirting with, but she'd been so terribly bored one afternoon she started doing it without thinking, and before she knew it, had gotten herself saddled with a date.
"What is it?" she asked, speaking quietly into her device.
"I'm at a warehouse down at the docks," Michiru's voice replied. "I've found a nest of Detonator eggs, too many to take care of by myself. Could you come?
"I'm on my way," Haruka said, jumping onto her motorbike.
Detonators were tricky adversaries at the best of times. They weren't particularly intelligent, but possessed the unfortunate defense mechanism of combusting spontaneously when threatened, and their eggs were the same. Nests of eggs were usually quite large, numbering into the thousands, and in a crumbling old warehouse could pose a considerable threat. Neptune's water attacks were invaluable, of course, but if she attacked before combustion there was no guarantee the eggs would be destroyed. The last time they'd dealt with Detonators, Uranus had provoked them into self-destruction with her World Shaking first, before Neptune extinguished the fires. But they would have to move quickly, before any of the fires could take a hold on the warehouse. Haruka smiled and pushed her bike faster. It sounded like a fun night.
When she reached the warehouse, she pulled up and dismounted cautiously. "Michiru?" she called quietly. There was no answer, and the hairs on the back of Haruka's neck prickled. Something wasn't right. She grabbed a torch, transformed into Uranus, and entered the building.
All was quiet inside. Haruka simply stood for a few moments, trying to sense Michiru as she was sometimes able to do when she was near, but there was nothing. It was too dark to see anything and she decided to turn her torch on, even though that risked alerting the enemy to her presence. It still seemed a better option than stumbling over exploding eggs in the dark. She flashed her torch through the murk, its beam playing over abandoned crates stacked roughly on a dusty floor, cobwebs swaying on the ceiling as a faint draft wafted through the vast building.
The breeze, slight as it was, warned Haruka of danger, and she turned, running back towards the door at the top of her considerable speed, but before she reached it a shimmering wall of energy descended, completely encircling the building and trapping her inside.
"Damn," Haruka whispered, placing her hand close to the barrier. She could sense the power coursing through it, making her palm tingle, and she frowned, for it wasn't dark; it felt familiar. But before she could analyse her hunch, she heard a high-pitched laugh behind her and turned, shining her torch through the gloom, illuminating a distorted female figure dressed in what looked like an abstract painter's impression of a swimsuit.
It moved quickly, weaving in and out of the beam of light, and Haruka was still trying to figure out where it was when it was upon her, knocking her to the ground and capturing her chin in its hand.
"I will steal your pure heart that stays faithful to your love," the creature whispered, leaning down towards Haruka to kiss her and suck out her heart crystal.
"What the hell," Haruka gasped. "A Daimon?"
"Stay still," the Daimon whispered, trailing a sharp fingernail down the side of Haruka's face. "It's not every night I get to taste such a delicious victim."
Pulling her knee up sharply beneath her, Haruka grabbed the Daimon's shoulders and rolled, throwing the creature off her.
"Go to hell," she said coldly. "What have you done with Michiru?"
"Michiru?" said the Daimon, sounding puzzled. "I have seen no one here but you, my sweet. Are you saying there is another like you?" Its eyes gleamed hopefully.
Haruka stared at the Daimon in loathing. She was going to destroy it. "WORLD… SHAKING!"
The Daimon disappeared with a scream as Haruka's golden ball of energy smashed into it and a jagged crack tore open beneath its feet, sucking it down into black depths. Haruka smirked and crossed her arms in satisfaction. She had no time to react when the Daimon exploded out of the earth, slamming into her and knocking her to the ground again. She landed hard, a sharp pain shooting through the right side of her chest as she heard a loud crack.
Broken rib she thought automatically, but her mind was soon occupied with other things. The Daimon was strong, far stronger than it should have been, outstripping any other of its kind she had fought. Haruka wrestled, but she couldn't get it off; her chest was on fire with the creature's weight and she was finding it hard to breathe. She struggled, drawing in shallow, painful gasps, trying to gather herself for a last effort, but slowly, slowly, the Daimon's lips were coming closer to her own, until only a hair's breath separated them and she could see ugly triumph glistening in her enemy's eyes…
"DEAD…SCREAM." The words came from somewhere in front of them, and though the voice that spoke was soft, it was full of strength; the phrase echoing in the vast cavern of the warehouse until every corner rang with a cold, ancient power. A green bolt of energy collided with the Daimon's back and it was immediately obliterated, crying out in fury as it was swallowed in a blinding flare of light.
When Haruka could look again all that remained was a tiny Daimon egg, and as she watched it cracked open, the dark spirit within flying into the air and dissipating into nothingness with the high-pitched scream of a bird she'd heard so many times before.
A tall figure with a mane of long green hair slowly materialised out of the gloom, wearing the uniform of a sailor soldier and carrying a long staff on which rested a glowing orb.
"Glad to see you Pluto," Haruka said, protectively clutching her side as her damaged rib asserted itself.
Seeing she was hurt, the green haired woman knelt down by Haruka quickly. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"I've cracked a rib," said Haruka. "Hurts like hell."
Pluto carefully ran her fingers down the right side of Haruka's chest. "I think you've cracked two."
"Great." Haruka's tone was sour.
"I'll help you get comfortable, and then I'd better do a quick sweep to see if there's anything else here with us."
There were some crates nearby, and Pluto helped Haruka to sit up and lean against them, finding a dusty blanket to prop beneath her back. "Okay?" she asked.
Haruka nodded, and drew in a painful breath. "Keep an eye out for Michiru. She called me here to destroy some Detonator eggs, but I haven't seen her since I arrived, and nor are there any eggs. I'm afraid something might have happened."
"Strange." Pluto frowned. "Michiru called me here, too. Said you might be in trouble and she needed me to stand in for her because she couldn't come. I thought it very uncharacteristic. And I just checked my communicator and it's not working."
Suddenly remembering Michiru's threat to set her up with Pluto, Haruka groaned. She checked her own communicator and sure enough, it was disabled as well. "I think I know what's going on," she said. "Do your sweep first, and take a look at that energy barrier while you're at it. When you get back I'll explain."
Pluto soon returned from her explorations. "The place is deserted. No sign of Detonators or Daimons, and no Michiru. And that energy barrier…there's something strange about it."
"I know," said Haruka. "I couldn't figure out what it was at first, but I have now. It feels like Michiru."
Pluto's eyes widened. "You're right. But how – why would she trap us in here together?"
"With a Daimon," Haruka reminded her.
"Surely that wasn't intentional."
"I think it was. Michiru lures us both here then traps us inside with an enemy who she knows won't be a challenge for us – or at least shouldn't have been, if it was a normal Daimon. I bet she's planning to leave us here for the night, thinking that by tomorrow morning…"
"By tomorrow morning…" prompted Pluto.
"We will have bonded," said Haruka sourly. "What with the charged atmosphere of having our lives in danger and defeating the enemy and being trapped together and everything."
"Bonded," Pluto repeated uncertainly.
"Yes. Fallen in love. Started a relationship. Possibly had sex."
Pluto looked at the filthy floor and wrinkled her nose. "Under these conditions, not very likely. Anyway, why on earth would Michiru want to get us together?"
"Because." Haruka sighed, and then wished she hadn't as a spasm of pain caught in her chest.
Looking concerned, Pluto touched her shoulder gently. "Try to stay still," she cautioned.
"I can't help breathing, can I?" said Haruka wryly. She breathed in, carefully, and continued, "Michiru has decided I need a girlfriend, and appointed herself as my official matchmaker. First of all she tried Usagi, but when that didn't work out she said she was going to get the two of us together. I thought she'd forgotten about it, but obviously not."
"Are you telling me," said Pluto disbelievingly, "that Michiru still doesn't know how you feel about her?"
Haruka went red. "Well – no. I haven't told her."
"Haruka." Pluto sounded exasperated. "You promised me before I left that you would."
"I was going to Pluto, really I was, but then I met this girl…"
"With you it's always some girl."
"Look, do you want to hear what happened or not?"
Rolling her eyes, Pluto nodded.
"Okay. Well, as I said, I met this girl. I took her home and we slept together, and then she started asking about who I lived with, and so I told her about Michiru, how she was a really talented violinist and owned a Stradivarius, and then when I woke up the next morning, the girl was gone, was so was Michiru's Stradivarius."
"I got it back for her," Haruka defended herself. "But…after that I couldn't tell her, could I? Couldn't say, by the way that girl I was with last night means nothing to me and you're everything, but I still let her steal the violin that's been in your family for hundreds of years that you love almost more than your very life."
"Haruka, sometimes I despair of you, I really do," said Pluto in a long-suffering voice.
"She doesn't want me anyway," said Haruka bleakly. "If she ever gets with anyone it will be some guy."
"Yes. Like Yorishimo."
Haruka shook her head. "Never mind."
A short silence descended, in which Haruka sulked at the unfairness of life and Pluto, presumably, tried to think of a way out.
"I should go and see if I can break through Michiru's barrier," Pluto said. "Otherwise we'll be here all night."
"You won't get through. Michiru is too good."
"I'm going to try anyway."
Two hours later, Pluto came back exhausted. "You're right," she admitted. "There's no way I can break through that barrier. Guess we're stuck here until Michiru decides to let us out." She settled down beside Haruka and glanced at her. "How are your ribs?"
"Hurting," said Haruka shortly.
"Seems that way."
"Do you think you'd be more comfortable lying down?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Try lying with your head in my lap. At least that way you might get some sleep."
Haruka gave Pluto a small smile. "Thanks." She carefully maneuvered herself down, lying with her undamaged side against the ground and her head pillowed on Pluto's thighs. She stretched her long legs out and sighed in contentment as she felt Pluto's fingers gently combing through her hair.
"Better?" asked Pluto softly.
"Mmm." Haruka closed her eyes, relaxing as her pain receded into dull throbbing. "I wish you'd come back and live with us again," she whispered. "I miss you."
"I will, one day," Pluto said. "I just have a rather delicate mission to complete right now, and it requires all of my attention."
"You should tell us what it is so we can help you."
Pluto sighed. "It involves a lot of time travel, so much so that right now it's even giving me a headache. I doubt I'd be permitted to bring anyone else along, and besides, you and Michiru need to stay here to protect the present."
"Well," said Haruka, "if you change your mind, you know that we're here for you."
"I know," said Pluto and from her voice, Haruka could tell she was smiling. "By the way, did I mention I've been seeing someone?"
"Considering I haven't seen you for about three months, no," said Haruka, wondering how Pluto thought she was supposed to know. Probably she'd seen this conversation in the future and assumed they'd already had it. Being friends with Pluto was confusing in that respect.
"I like her a lot," said Pluto. "The only complication is that she lives in the time of the Silver Millennium."
"What? But that was thousands of years ago. How can you be seeing someone who's been dead for thousands of years? Is she a ghost?"
"Don't be ridiculous. You already know I can move through time. So can she, and that's a rare ability, believe me. The only thing is that I can't tell her about anything that happens in her future, which is my past. She doesn't even know that the end of the Silver Millennium is coming, and I wish so much that I could warn her…"
"Are you telling me she's going to die in the war?" asked Haruka.
"I don't know. In a sense, she exists both within and without of time, so even if she does die, she should still be all right. I hope."
"Who is she?" asked Haruka curiously.
There was a pause. "I can't really say," said Pluto. "Technically…she's an enemy."
"An enemy? You're dating one of our enemies? Pluto, how could you be so stupid!"
Pluto gave a long-suffering sigh. "See? This was why I didn't want to tell you. You and Michiru always get so heavy about this stuff."
Haruka struggled to sit up. "Yes, Pluto, we do, because, as you have apparently forgotten, it is our destiny to protect the earth from enemies outside the solar system. And it's very difficult to do that when you happen to be DATING ONE OF THEM!" Yelling, she found, was a bad idea. It made pain start pounding through her chest again, and she doubled up, groaning.
"Now look what you've done," said Pluto in exasperation. "Come on, lie back down again. Everything is all right, I promise you. I'm not endangering the earth, now or in the past."
"Fine." Haruka sighed in defeat and allowed Pluto to soothe her back into some semblance of comfort. "I'll trust that you know what you're doing. But I still want to meet her."
"That could be awkward, given the separation of several thousand years."
"You're the guardian of time – find a way to arrange it."
"All right, I will," Pluto promised. "Now try and get some sleep."
"Mmm." Haruka's ribs were still hurting, but Pluto's thighs were soft and comfortable, almost as good as a pillow, and the fight with the Daimohn had tired her out. Before long, she was asleep, dreaming of a very different end to her night, of a Michiru who discovered her, shocked and apologetic for the havoc she'd wreaked, who declared she'd never really wanted Haruka to get with anyone anyway, because, because….
Hearing dream-Michiru's reasons for that, Haruka smiled in her sleep.
"I knew this would work." Haruka opened her eyes to find an ecstatic looking Michiru beaming down at her and Pluto. "You guys are together right?" Her smile widened.
"No," said Pluto firmly. "And Haruka's hurt."
"Hurt?" Michiru's smile wavered. "How? I only left a Daimon in here with you. It shouldn't have posed a problem."
"It was strong," said Haruka, groaning and clutching her ribs as she sat up. "Stronger than any Daimohn we'd met before."
"What I'd like to know," said Pluto coldly, "is where you managed to find it in the first place?"
"Ah – well." Michiru blushed. "I might have borrowed it off Ami."
"And what was Ami doing with a Daimon egg?"
"Look," said Michiru desperately, "can't this wait?" She knelt down in the dust next to Haruka. "We need to get Haruka to a hospital."
"I don't need a hospital," Haruka protested. "Just a few days of rest. Then I'll be fine."
Michiru shook her head. "You need to be checked for internal injuries. Can you walk? I'll help you up." She held out her hand and Haruka took it, stifling a gasp of pain as Michiru pulled her to her feet. She held onto her side tightly and started walking, feeling Michiru rest a hand lightly against her back as she kept pace. The simple touch was like a balm, calming and soothing, and with Pluto flanking Haruka on her other side, the three of them made their way through the dark, filthy warehouse.
"So, this egg," Pluto said as they walked. "Tell me about it."
"I told you," said Michiru, sounding annoyed. "I got it off Ami. She'd kept a few Daimon eggs because she wanted to experiment on them, to find out more about how they worked, in case the Tau Nebula ever tries to invade again. I suppose she must have inadvertently done something to make the Daimon stronger."
They stepped out of the warehouse into the morning, and Haruka gratefully drew in a breath of fresh air, even though it hurt. One of Haruka's cars was parked next to her motorbike, and she supposed Michiru must have driven it over. "I'm sorry," said Michiru miserably. "I owe both of you an apology. If I'd known…"
Pluto sighed. "Just get Haruka to hospital. I'll come by in a few days to see how she's doing, but for now, I need to get back to my mission. I've already been away for too long." Her staff glowed and she leaped, elongating and merging into a shaft of light that evaporated into the atmosphere.
Michiru helped Haruka into the car. "I'm really sorry," she said again as they were driving to the hospital. "I feel terrible. I left you in that warehouse in pain all night, thinking you were having a wonderful time…You must hate me."
"I don't hate you," said Haruka softly, briefly placing her hand over Michiru's where it rested on the gear stick.
Michiru shot her a grateful smile, which soon took on a mischievous edge. "So," she asked teasingly, "why didn't anything happen between you and Pluto? You certainly looked cosy enough when I found you this morning."
Haruka laughed. "Me and Pluto? Come on, Michiru. There's absolutely nothing there. We're close, and I'm comfortable with her, but…we just don't have those kinds of feelings for each other. Besides which, she's already seeing someone."
"She is?" said Michiru, the news as apparently surprising her as much as it had Haruka.
"Someone in the past, who lives in the time of the Silver Millennium, and is technically one of our enemies."
"WHAT? What is she thinking? That's insane."
"That's what I said." Haruka sighed. "She seems happy, though, and I promised her if she introduced us we'd play nice. And she might just be crazy enough to make it work."
Michiru made a non-committal noise, and they drove on for a time in silence.
"You told me once you thought Pluto was beautiful," Michiu said suddenly in a strange tone of voice. Haruka wondered if this was some sort of oblique insight into the reason Michiru had thought she and Pluto would make a good match. She glanced at her, but couldn't read her expression. Perhaps she meant it accusingly, as if Haruka had deliberately tricked her into thinking she liked Pluto when she didn't.
"I think you're beautiful too," said Haruka, her voice going husky in spite of herself. "I love your eyes. I've never met anyone with eyes like yours. As wild and beautiful as the sea in a storm."
Michiru gave her a disapproving look. "I don't think you should be flirting with me when you're injured, Haruka. You should conserve your strength."
"But I mean it," said Haruka helplessly. "I really do think you're beautiful."
"Me and every other girl you see. Right." Michiru pulled up outside the Emergency Entrance of the hospital. "Let's get you seen to, and then we can head home and get some sleep."
"What do you need to sleep for? You didn't break two ribs fighting a Daimon."
"I was maintaining that energy barrier all night," said Michiru with a yawn. "I'm absolutely exhausted."
"Michiru," Haruka admonished, "that was dangerous. What if an enemy comes along and we need to fight? Me injured, you exhausted. We won't fare well, and I couldn't stand it if anything happened to you."
"We'll call the Inners and let them handle it. They won't mind. We can take a few days off, or you can anyway. I'll be fine once I get some sleep."
Haruka and Michiru finally went home several hours later after Haruka had been prodded, poked, scanned and X-rayed to the doctors' satisfaction. Their lengthy procrastination merely confirmed Pluto's original diagnosis; that Haruka had two cracked ribs and a fair amount of bruising, and that, other than painkillers and a lot of rest, there wasn't much that could be done for her.
Michiru insisted Haruka have a long soak in the bathtub to soothe her muscles, and when she got out, she found a complete Japanese breakfast waiting. The food was beautifully presented on the table, each dish set precisely where it should be; rice on the left and miso soup on the right and a choice of garnished side-dishes placed communally in the middle, including grilled fish, omelet, pickles and nori.
"You didn't have to do this," Haruka said as Michiru walked towards her carrying a teapot.
"That's all right." Michiru smiled. "It's nice to have breakfast like this once in a while. Green tea?"
"Please," said Haruka, sitting down with a rare feeling of peace stealing through her. Michiru was right. It was nice to spend time together like this. Normally they were both so busy in the mornings they didn't have time to do anything more than grab a quick snack as they were leaving the house.
"Besides," Michiru said as she placed the teapot down, "I owe it to you. For…" She indicated Haruka's ribs, now securely wrapped up beneath her silk pajamas.
Haruka was about to tell her to forget about it, but she was interrupted by the sound of young footsteps thundering down the stairs as Hotaru came to join them. She quickly exchanged a glance with Michiru, asking her with her eyes not to say anything about her injury. After a moment of doubt, Michiru nodded.
"Awesome!" Hotaru exclaimed, bursting into the room and staring in delight at the array of foods on the table. "You guys made a proper breakfast for once. I'm starving."
"You can start without me," Michiru said as Hotaru sat down. "I'm just going to have a quick shower. I'll be out in a minute."
Michiru had let Hotaru know the night before that she and Haruka wouldn't be back until morning. Knowing it was her guardians' destiny to fight, Hotaru hadn't made a fuss – she never did – but even so, Haruka noticed she had a tendency to check them over anxiously whenever they returned from a battle, as if to see they were still in one piece. And despite her best efforts, it wasn't long before Hotaru noticed Haruka's stiff, careful movements.
"Another injury?" she asked.
"It's my fault this time," Michiru said quickly, coming back to join Haruka and Hotaru fresh from her shower. "I tricked Haruka and Pluto into going into a warehouse, and locked them inside with a Daimon that turned out to be really powerful. That's how Haruka got hurt."
"Michiru!" Hotaru exploded angrily, "how could you be so stupid! How could you endanger my parent's life for no reason like that! As if your lives aren't dangerous enough as it is!"
"I know, I know," Michiru groaned. "I thought I was getting Haruka and Pluto together and it was all in a good cause, but I shouldn't have done it. I've learned my lesson now."
"Good," said Hotaru firmly. "So you'll give up this matchmaking stuff?"
"Well…for now," said Michiru reluctantly.
Seeing the murderous expression on Hotaru's face, Haruka quickly decided a distraction was needed. She rose. "I'm going to bed. Thanks for breakfast, Michiru. Hotaru, will you be all right by yourself for the day?"
Hotaru at last looked away from Michiru. "I'm going out with my friends today," she said.
Hotaru sighed the sigh of the misunderstood adolescent. "I told both of you about it on Wednesday. Don't you guys remember anything?"
"Of course Haruka remembers," said Michiru. "She's just teasing you." She got to her feet and kissed Hotaru's cheek. "Have a lovely time, and call us if you need anything. Haruka, I'm going to join you, if you don't mind."
Haruka and Hotaru both stared at Michiru as if she'd just sprouted a second head.
"Um…Okay," said Haruka, wondering if cracked ribs had ever been known to cause hallucinations, because really, that was the only reasonable explanation.
"Just in case you need anything," clarified Michiru. "If I'm in the other room, and too deeply asleep, I might not hear you."
There was a knock on the front door, breaking the uncomfortable atmosphere that had suddenly descended at Michiru's words.
"That'll be my friends," said Hotaru, sounding relieved. "You two…Have fun." She said it in a doubtful tone, as if she wasn't sure whether she'd return to find them naked and sated or in tears and not speaking to each other.
"Haruka?" said Michiru uncertainly after Hotaru left. "Have I upset you?"
"No, of course not."
"I just want to look after you, to make up for what I did."
"I know. But you don't have to offer to sleep in my bed. That's taking things a little far, don't you think?"
"Is it?" said Michiru, sounding disappointed.
For some reason, that loosened the tight knot of nervousness in Haruka's stomach a little, and she smiled. She had no idea what was going on, but the light, flirtatious tone of Michiru's voice was sparking dreams in her head that were by no means unwelcome.
"You can sleep with me if you want," she said, keeping her tone casual. "I don't mind."
And then she was confused, because just for a moment, she thought she saw disappointment flicker in Michiru's eyes, but the expression was gone too fast for her to be sure.
"All right," said Michiru lightly. "You go upstairs and lie down. I'll just clear up here first."
"I can help."
Michiru shook her head. "That's okay. It won't take long."
She seemed suddenly withdrawn to Haruka, not angry, just distant; and after painfully climbing the stairs, Haruka stretched out on her bed nervously, lying as she had the night before with her uninjured side against the mattress. Did Michiru want her, or not? They had shared a bed together before, but never under what could be called normal circumstances. This time…this time Michiru had asked her, had actually expressed a desire to be with her, in her bed, and that meant…Surely that had to mean…
Starting slightly as Michiru's well known voice whispered so close to her ear, Haruka opened her eyes to find Michiru on the bed beside her, her face only inches from Haruka's own.
"I'm sorry, did I wake you?"
"No. I don't think I was asleep."
Very gently, Michiru smoothed her fingers through Haruka's hair. "Will it hurt if I lay down with you?"
Her heart speeding, Haruka thought briefly about the logistics of sex with broken ribs before deciding, regretfully, that it was hardly practical. "Of course not." She tugged on Michiru's hand. "Lay as close as you like, just don't touch my ribs."
Grabbing a pillow, Michiru snuggled close, and at this point Haruka encountered an unforeseen problem, realising she didn't know what to do with her right arm; it hurt her ribs if she tried to tuck it close to her body, but with Michiru right there, the only other place it could go was around her. She glanced across the short space between them, into Michiru's ocean coloured eyes, and saw that she was watching her, clearly aware of her predicament.
Something flickered in the depths of Michiru's eyes, and with a faint smile she reached out and took Haruka's arm, placing it around her waist, and Haruka's fingers curled automatically around the soft curve of Michiru's hip as if they belonged there.
"It's been so long since we've been together like this," whispered Michiru. "Not since…"
"I know," Haruka replied. Not since Galaxia had killed them. Not since the time before when they'd had their heart crystals stolen. Those were nights when there hadn't even been a question of leaving each other alone, when they'd held on as tightly as if they wanted to climb inside one other's skins, and Haruka had buried her face in the sweetness of Michiru's throat and been surrounded by the scent of the ocean and never wanted it to stop.
But each time, it only lasted one night. And afterwards, it was never referred to again, as if the events belonged to some parallel reality that was not part of the everyday world.
"I'm always wondering about when it's going to happen again," Michiru said softly. "With the kind of life we lead, it's only a matter of time, and—There's no guarantee we'll be brought back a third time. I won't mind as long as we go out together fighting, but…I don't want you to leave me behind, Haruka. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Haruka tightened her arm around Michiru. "I'm not going anywhere."
"But that Daimon could have killed you. I could have killed you, and for nothing."
"Takes more than a Daimon to kill me."
Very gently, Michiru poked Haruka in the ribs.
"Ow." Haruka flinched. "That hurt."
"See," said Michiru quietly. "It could have killed you."
"Michiru, it doesn't matter. We're warriors, and we can't beat ourselves up with self-blame every time one of us gets hurt. It would never stop. I know what you did wasn't intentional. I know that if you'd known what was happening you would have been the first one there to protect me. Let it go."
These last words Haruka spoke with little more than a sigh of breath, bringing her lips to rest against Michiru's throat in the most tentative of kisses. She tasted just as sweet as Haruka remembered, and for one glorious moment she was sure Michiru was going to respond, heard a soft, needy sound escape from her, felt her hands tighten in her hair.
I love you, she nearly said, but before she could, she knew Michiru was drawing away from her again. Not physically; this was far more painful than that. It was as if Michiru was locking her heart away in some place where Haruka could never find it, and it made her want to cry.
"You know," said Michiru in a voice that was full of false brightness, "this morning while I was making breakfast, I thought of the perfect person for you to get with."
Jerking her head back, Haruka stared at Michiru in disbelief. "What do you mean? I thought…"
"That I'd given up? Haruka, I'd never abandon you like that! I promised to find you a girlfriend, and I will. We'll just wait until your ribs heal."
"Michiru, I don't want a girlfriend. I just want to be with you."
"We'll always be together, Haruka. Nothing will ever destroy our friendship."
"That's not—" Haruka began, before stopping herself with a sigh. She could hardly have made her intentions to Michiru any clearer, and if she'd wanted to respond, she would have. But she hadn't, and Haruka had to accept that, no matter how much she wanted her. "Who is it?" she asked in resignation.
"Makoto? Why her?"
"She's sporty and athletic, so you'll have that in common. And she's already well on her way to being a lesbian, unlike poor Usagi. And she has a crush on you."
Which might have been all well and good, except that Haruka most definitely didn't have a crush on Makoto.
"I'm exhausted," said Haruka, trying not to sound irritated. "I need to get some sleep."
Michiru snuggled closer, and if Haruka hadn't known better, she would have thought there was something sad in her expression. "Mmm, me too."
Haruka decided the gods really did hate her.
Six weeks later, when Haruka was fully healed, Michiru revealed her master plan to bring about the blossoming of love between Haruka and Makoto.
"We'll hold a martial arts contest for all the senshi, and you and Makoto can pair off," she explained.
"I'd rather pair off with you," said Haruka glumly. She and Michiru sparred all the time, but it was still something Haruka loved. They knew each other so well that their sessions were battles of intellect and strategy as much as technique. It was rare that either could find a way to break through the other's defenses, but that only made it an achievement that was all the more satisfying when attained.
Haruka broke out of her reverie to the sound of Michiru's annoyed voice. "What?"
Michiru sighed. "Can't you listen to me once in a while? I said how about next Sunday for the martial arts contest. I'll call the other senshi and organise everything."
"Sure," said Haruka, watching the sunlight glinting in Michiru's hair. "That sounds fantastic."
The day of the tournament arrived faster than Haruka liked. Michiru had selected a large nearby park for its location, big enough that it wasn't difficult to find a secluded lawn screened from its surroundings by mature, leafy trees. Also in this park was an ornamental lake that was quite beautiful, but though Haruka suggested hopefully she and Michiru stop by before heading to the competition, Michiru only replied it would make them late.
So, feeling very halfhearted, Haruka soon found herself dressed in her karategi and facing off against Makoto on the practice mats that had been laid down, with all of the other senshi, Inner and Outer, gathered round. Makoto was the only one of the Inner senshi who could hope to provide any challenge to Haruka, and, despite Haruka's reluctance, clearly intended to take their match seriously. Haruka was still faster and stronger, but she did have to put some effort into defending herself against the younger girl's attacks. She couldn't be bothered to do more than that, though, refusing to take the offensive as she normally would.
The others were cheering Makoto on, perhaps under the mistaken impression that she was winning, but Michiru was looking displeased. When Haruka passed by her on the sidelines, she stepped close and hissed into Haruka's ear, "Haruka, you're not even trying."
And Haruka, distracted, was still trying to figure out whether Michiru was referring to the fight or the supposed seduction she was meant to be carrying out when Makoto landed a kick on the side of her head. She saw stars.
"Haruka!" Makoto and Michiru cried out together, both rushing to her side where she lay sprawled unceremoniously on her back.
"Oh Haruka-san," said Makoto, her large green eyes almost brimming with tears. "I'm so sorry. I never thought I'd actually land a hit."
"It's okay," said Haruka, feeling the side of her face gingerly. She managed a grin. "Well done. Want to keep going?"
"Haruka, I don't think that's a good idea when you've just recovered from your broken ribs," said Michiru, but for once, Haruka was only half listening to her, transfixed by the peculiar expression on Makoto's face.
"I don't want to hurt you, Haruka," Makoto whispered. "I never want to hurt you. I—I—"
Haruka's eyes widened in shock as she realized what Makoto was about to do. "Don't—" she began, but she was too late; Makoto's lips were sealed over her own in an awkward kiss that reminded Haruka of long-ago fumblings in the girls' school locker room. She was more aware of Michiru's reaction than anything else; heard her sharp intake of breath, felt her hand close in a tight fist on the fabric of her shirt, and, like bursting out of clouds into sunlight, Haruka could sense Michiru in one of the rare and unpredictable moments of connectivity they shared.
An overwhelming feeling of distress flooded Haruka's senses, so that her own chest was aching with it, and she had no idea what it meant that Michiru was kneeling by her, watching Makoto kiss her, with so much pain inside, but she knew she had to get away and think.
She pushed Makoto off, more roughly than she intended. "I—have to go—" she bit out, and ran away as fast as she could, her head still ringing from Makoto's kick.
It didn't take long for her connection to Michiru to fade, and Haruka was both saddened and relieved by that. Saddened because it was Michiru, and anything that brought her close would never unwelcome; relieved because it was confusing enough trying to sort out her own emotions without feeling someone else's as well.
Haruka kept walking through the vastness of the park until she reached the shores of the ornamental lake. Perhaps it was simply because she'd spent too many years in Michiru's company touring every beach, river and lake Japan had to offer, but she found water could calm her when nothing else did, and sitting down on a nearby bench with a sigh, she watched the sunlight dancing on the surface of the rippling blue lake and tried to figure out what was going on.
Why had Michiru been distressed? She should have been happy; happy because her matchmaking had finally paid off, because, if Haruka had done the unthinkable and kissed Makoto back, she would have been well on the way to having a girlfriend of her very own, which was exactly what Michiru professed to want for her.
It wasn't as if Haruka made any secret of her attraction to Michiru. Michiru couldn't possibly not know that Haruka wanted her. If she had any interest at all, she would have responded long before now. So what was it that had so upset her?"
Haruka looked up to see Michiru standing in front of her. There was a strange expression in her eyes, uncertainty mixed with wariness, as if knowledge she had taken for granted had suddenly been ripped from under her, and wanting to put her at ease, Haruka smiled and took her hand, pulling her down onto the seat beside her.
"Why did you do that?" said Michiru, sounding dazed. "Why did you run away from Makoto?"
"Because she was kissing me," Haruka replied.
"But that's what was supposed to happen! The two of you were meant to get together. It was my brilliant plan!"
"Michiru," said Haruka softly, looking up to fall into sea-blue eyes, "I can't be with Makoto. I'm in love with someone else."
"W-who?" stammered Michiru, delicate brows drawing close in confusion.
Haruka tilted her head forward, so that her lips were almost touching Michiru's ear. "Who do you think?" she whispered.
"Me?" Michiru gave an uncomfortable laugh. "Haruka, you must be joking. You can't be in love with me."
"You don't have to make fun of me for it," said Haruka, stung by Michiru's insensitivity.
"I'm not." Michiru squeezed Haruka's hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. It's just…You're in love with me? When did this happen?"
"I don't know. Not long after we met I suppose."
Michiru looked horrified. "Haruka, that was years ago! Why didn't you say something?"
"I did!" Haruka protested. "I flirted with you all the time, and you never responded. I thought you weren't interested in me."
"You—Flirted? Urgh, Haruka, you're unbelievable!" Leaping to her feet, Michiru began to pace back and forth in agitation, flashing her eyes angrily in Haruka's direction as she spoke. "You flirt with me, and that's supposed to make me think you're interested? When that is what you do with every other girl you see, every other girl you take home and keep for the night, telling her she'd the world, when you can't even remember her name in the morning. Do you think I would have accepted that, Haruka, when I thought all you were offering was that I could mean nothing to you; just like all those other girls?"
"But I meant it with you, Michiru. And I didn't mean it with anyone else, because no one else was you. No one else could ever even come close to you."
Michiru halted abruptly in front of Haruka, her hands balled into fists. "You should have told me!" she yelled. "You shouldn't have let me go on all this time, thinking I that I didn't mean anything to you!"
"Michiru," said Haruka, "how could you possibly think you didn't mean anything to me? After everything we've been through together—"
"That's not the point, Haruka. Of course I know you care about me—I care about you too—It's just that—that—"
"What?" asked Haruka.
"I don't know," Michiru moaned, collapsing onto the bench. "I don't even know what I'm saying any more."
"I felt—what you were feeling before," Haruka admitted haltingly. "When Makoto was kissing me. You felt…distressed."
"I was distressed."
"But I thought that's what you wanted."
Michiru tilted her head forward, her face hidden behind a curtain of falling hair. "It wasn't what I wanted. I was only doing it because I wanted you to be happy."
Reaching out, Haruka tucked Michiru's hair behind her ear, revealing a delicate profile and tear-smudged cheeks. "I'm happy now, Michiru, being with you. I love you." And Haruka realised what a fool she'd been, all this time, because it wasn't difficult to say at all. The words fell smoothly from her tongue, just breaking the quiet ripple of the water on the lake, and she knew everyone was right. Michiru deserved to know how Haruka felt about her, even if she didn't feel the same.
Haruka was more than a little confused when Michiru closed her eyes, giving a strange, hitched hitched sigh that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob, throwing herself into Haruka's arms and burying her face in her chest.
"I love you too, Haruka."
"W-what?" Haruka was so shocked she was sure she felt her heart stop. "Michiru, what are you saying, you don't love me, do you?"
Drawing back to look at her with an exasperated expression, Michiru replied, "Of course I love you, you idiot! Why do you think I was always inviting you on my dates? Do you think I don't know what you did to all those boys in the washroom? But I didn't care because I didn't want them; I just wanted to be with you."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"Why didn't you?"
Haruka hung her head. "Because I thought you didn't feel the same way."
"Exactly. I thought that if I told you, you'd just try and use it to get me into bed."
"I do want you in my bed," said Haruka truthfully.
"Yes, but…" Blushing a little, Michiru placed her hand over Haruka's heart, her fingers lightly brushing Haruka's breast through the fabric of her shirt. "That's all right, as long as you want me in here, too."
"Of course I do," said Haruka softly. She gathered Michiru more tightly into her arms, breathing in the wild ocean scent of her hair. Her blood was pounding with how much she wanted her, with the feel of Michiru's hands on her, and with a slight groan, she trailed a finger down Michiru's spine, murmuring feverishly, "oh, I want to take you home and make love to you until neither of us can move."
Michiru smiled and leaned in close to Haruka, and Haruka's whole world shook as Michiru kissed her. Kissed her as she'd always dreamed of Michiru kissing her; passionate, wanting, sending streaks of longing into the very core of Haruka's being.
"I'd like that," Michiru whispered. "But first." She sighed. "We should apologise to Makoto."
"Oh." Haruka drooped. "Oh yeah."
It was decided in the end that it would be better for Haruka to apologise to Makoto alone, and so temporarily parting ways, Michiru went to inform the other senshi that she and Haruka would not be participating further in the tournament, while Haruka went to find Makoto.
She found her meditating in one of the many shrines scattered throughout the park, kneeling on the floor with her eyes closed and palms pressed together. Her fingers were laced in concentration, all expect the thumb and index finger of each hand, which, pointing upwards side by side, provided a focal point for thought.
The wooden floors of the shrine echoed beneath Haruka's feet as she approached, and she noticed the younger girl turn slightly at the noise. "Makoto," she began.
"It's all right," said Makoto, her eyes still closed. "I know I shouldn't have kissed you. I'm sorry."
"It's not that I don't like you," said Haruka. "It's just that—"
"You're in love with Michiru. I know. I knew that before I kissed you. That's why I shouldn't have done it." She stopped, but Haruka could tell from the tense line of her back there was something more she wanted to say. "Have you told Michiru how you feel?"
Haruka moved forward to stand behind Makoto, gently placing a hand on her shoulder. "Yes."
"And…Does she feel the same way?"
Makoto's shoulder trembled slightly beneath Haruka's hand, but she betrayed no further signs of distress. "I'm glad," she whispered. "The two of you were destined for each other."
"Makoto." Haruka tightened her hand on the girl's shoulder. "What you feel for me…You'll feel it for someone else one day, and when you do, it will be stronger. It will be real."
The ghost of a smile passed over Makoto's lips. "Haruka, don't stand here worrying about me. Go and find Michiru. And tell her she should never attempt matchmaking again as long as she lives."
"Don't worry." Haruka laughed softly. "There will be no more matchmaking after this. I'm afraid I might lose limbs if she ever tries again." She squeezed Makoto's shoulder softly one last time in sympathy, and turned and walked away. And though it shouldn't have been, given Makoto's pain, Haruka's heart was soaring with happiness as she stepped out of the shrine, because Michiru loved her, was waiting for her, and Haruka was going to her and they would meet like sky and sea on the horizon, spiraling into the blue distance of forever, racing with the freedom of the wind and the wildness of the waves, following in the footsteps of destiny.
Late that night, Usagi was roused from bed by an insistent knocking on her front door. "Hotaru?" she asked in confusion when she pulled the door back, finding the young girl standing on the step with an overnight bag slung over her shoulder.
"Hi Usagi," said Hotaru, sounding slightly frazzled. "Do you mind if I stay at your place for a few days? Just until…ah, the first flush of Haruka and Michiru's love passes. I fear that if I stay at home with them any longer I will be scarred for life."
"Of course," said Usagi, pulling the door back and allowing Hotaru to enter. "My brother is away on a school camp right now; you can have his bed if you like. Mum won't mind."
Hotaru dumped her bag down on the pro-offered bed with a relieved sigh. "I love Haruka and Michiru, and I'd never exchange them for a 'normal' family, but sometimes, on rare occasions, I do wish they'd be a little more conventional, and not subject me to sights that no teenager should see their parents doing."
Usagi sat down on Hotaru's bed, looking a little confused. "Hotaru," she said, "it's not that I doubt that Haruka and Michiru love each other, but how do they…I mean, how do things work between two women? How do they decide who gets to be on top?"
"Um," said Hotaru uncomfortably, "with two women, it's not really about tops and bottoms."
Sounding as if she was struggling with a particularly baffling mathematical problem, Usagi said a little desperately, "this is something to do with the clitoris again, isn't it?"
Hotaru blushed. "Well, yeah."
"I still don't know what it is. I wish someone would explain it to me."
Hotaru's colour heightened. "Try the internet," she suggested. "The internet is your friend. It will explain everything. And if it doesn't, ask Mamoru."
"Michiru said he wouldn't know."
"For your sake, I really hope he does," said Hotaru grimly.
Usagi smiled. "Mamo-chan knows everything. I'm sure he will tell me, if the internet doesn't."
She said goodnight and left a flabbergasted Hotaru to go to bed. "I can't believe Michiru thought she'd be a good match for Haruka. Even Chibiusa knows more about sex than Usagi does!" She sighed at the madness of the world, got changed, turned out the light and got into bed.
She was awoken some hours later by a surprised and blissful cry coming from Usagi's room. With a groan, Hotaru pulled her pillow over her head. Was she never to have any peace? This was bad, very bad. Clearly, she'd made a severe miscalculation. She should have told Usagi to hold off on the internet research, at least until she went home.
It was going to be a long night.