A/N: This is something new for me – a serial! I usually like to finish my stories before posting them, but, well, I'm moving to England in three weeks time, and, as I've discovered, moving to the other side of the world involves a lot of work, so I don't know how much time I'll have for writing in the next little while. So I will leave you all with this until I can return.
Chapter 1: The Mission
"It's no good!" Usagi exclaimed in a frustrated voice, slamming her half-finished soda down on the desk and causing fizzy liquid to slosh all over her maths homework. "I have to know!"
"Know what, Usagi-chan?" Ami asked patiently, her head still buried in the advanced problems she'd set herself for no reason that Usagi could see besides, possibly, being an unbalanced masochist.
Usagi blinked. "Whether Haruka-san and Michiru-san are together, of course."
"Does it matter?" said Ami, still obviously concentrating more on the maths than on Usagi.
"Of course it matters," Usagi snapped. "I'm the Moon Princess and they are my soldiers and I need to know these things!"
"Why? Because, because…" Usagi stalled, unable to think of anything besides her own curiosity. "Well, because of Setsuna-san for one thing."
"Setsuna-san? How does she fit into it?"
Usagi crossed her arms. "I don't know. That's just it. How does she fit into their relationship?"
Ami at last looked up from her homework, a blush staining her cheeks. "You're not suggesting that the three of them…"
"I don't know," said Usagi. "That's the point. And – with things being the way they are now, can we really afford not to know what's going on? Can we afford to have a rift develop between the Outer Senshi because of a twisted love triangle? I've heard about these open relationships before, and they never end well. Someone always ends up getting hurt. So, it is our duty to discover the truth and take whatever steps are necessary in order to ensure that everyone stays friends and keeps fighting."
"That logic almost makes sense, Usagi-chan, but I still think you're just trying to justify your own nosiness."
"Fine." Usagi surged to her feet. "If you won't help me, I'll go and find someone who will! Minako-chan will get it. And Mako-chan. And Rei-chan. They understand the importance of matters of the heart. And, since you don't care so much, we won't even tell you what we find out, so there!"
With a final fling of her pigtails, Usagi turned and stormed out of Ami's room, and not long after, Ami heard the door of her apartment being wrenched open and then slammed shut again. An almost unnatural silence followed the tumultuous departure, when it was so still Ami could hear the ticking of the clock in the living room and the happy burbling bubbles that her fish were blowing in their fish tank. She broke the stillness with a sigh and put her pencil down, looking up from her maths homework and allowing her eyes to drift over to the window, staring out at the familiar city skyline with a troubled expression as she thought about what had just happened.
It wasn't that Ami was angry over the outburst; she understood Usagi too well for that, but she was worried about her. It was only two days since the Marine Cathedral, and Ami knew that her own memory of the sick fear she'd felt when she'd seen Haruka and Michiru's bodies was only a fraction of what Usagi was feeling about it.
More than any of the rest of them, Usagi over the past several months had kept on tirelessly trying to break down the distance and reserve of the two Outer Soldiers, defending them when others criticised, believing in the them others did not. Some, those who knew Usagi less well than her friends did, would have called it naivety, but Ami knew better than that.
What Usagi felt for Haruka and Michiru was what she felt for all of them – kinship, love, and, though she thought she hid it well, responsibility. Usagi was the one who held them all together. She was the one they loved, she was the one they believed in. She was the one they would die protecting if they had to, and Usagi knew that. Ami thought it must be awful for her sometimes, knowing the people she loved most were most endangered precisely because of the strength of their feelings for her. The burden, the guilt, that went with such a position must at times be almost unbearable, but Usagi bore it, and did the only thing she could. She loved them. She loved them all.
Two days ago, Haruka and Michiru had laid down their lives in the line of duty, to fulfil their mission, to save the world, and this, Usagi's sudden determination to find out about them and understand their lives, this was her response to that. Haruka and Michiru didn't believe in Usagi's power, not yet, but Usagi believed in them. Usagi would keep on believing in them, and helping them, whether they wanted it or not, because she knew the cost of being a soldier, and she wouldn't let them bear it alone.
Ami wasn't surprised when four very disheartened soldiers and two disapproving cats all turned up at her apartment about five o'clock that evening. She didn't mind. Her mother was working late again at the hospital, and it was lonely being by herself all the time. She ushered her friends into the living room and raided the kitchen for an assortment of snacks and refreshments before joining them to listen to what she guessed was going to be a long, sorry story of failure.
"We came up with a plan," Usagi explained, methodically loading up her plate up with food, "but it didn't work."
"Plan?" inquired Ami innocently.
"Yes," said Usagi, sounding a little put out. "A plan to find out what Haruka-san and Michiru-san mean to each other, and how Setsuna-san fits in. Don't you remember what we were talking about earlier today?"
"I do," Ami admitted. Frowning slightly as she thought of something, she momentarily looked away from Usagi to address the two cats. "What about you and Artemis, Luna? Surely the two of you must know something about the Outer Senshi?"
"No, we don't," said Luna. "During the time of the Silver Millennium, the Outer Soldiers were only legends. Neither Artemis or I ever even saw them, or were certain of their existence. The Queen set them apart, to guard from afar, and I suppose she was the one who knew them best, if anyone did. But that knowledge is long lost to us now."
Ami sighed. "A pity," she murmured, referring as much to the lonely destiny of the Outers as the cats' lack of information. She glanced once more at Usagi. "So, what did you try?"
All four girls looked very guilty.
"Oh dear," said Ami, "was it that bad?"
"No, not really," Rei chimed in, a little defensively. "It's just that…" The four exchanged a moment of wordless communication.
"We don't think you'll approve," Minako muttered.
"Just tell me," said Ami, settling more comfortably into her spot on the couch next to Makoto.
Usagi, obviously eager to share her story, didn't need any further prompting. "Well," she began authoritatively, "we decided that if Haruka-san and Michiru-san really are a couple, then they'd get jealous if anyone else was interested in either of them, so we…um…got one of Mamo-chan's friends they haven't met to flirt with Michiru-san."
"A boy or a girl?" asked Ami.
"Eh?" All four stared at her.
"What do you mean?" said Rei. "A boy of course."
"That was your first mistake then," said Ami calmly. "If Michiru-san is with Haruka-san, that means she likes girls. Surely you should have found a girl to—"
"But Haruka-san looks like a boy," interrupted Usagi, blinking wide blue eyes.
"And yet," said Ami, before stopping with a blush as she tried to think of how to phrase her next statement. "Well, I'm sure that Michiru-san has noticed that Haruka-san is a girl," she finally finished.
The others stared at her, obviously not knowing what she meant.
"Eh?" said Usagi.
Ami's blush deepened. "Well, if they're together, they must kiss and – and – so on, so presumably Michiru-san likes doing that sort of thing with other girls, and thus, sending a boy after her when both she and Haruka-san know perfectly well that she wouldn't be interested on account of him being the wrong gender doesn't seem a very effective way to cause jealousy."
The others stared at Ami in dumbfounded silence.
"But anyway," said Ami hurriedly, "tell me what happened."
"Well," Usagi continued, "we sent Mamo-chan's friend, Peter-san—"
"Named after a character in some English children's book his parents like. They're a little eccentric."
"We sent Peter-san along to flirt with Michiru, but of course she was with Haruka, and he had to trail them all over town for two hours before they finally separated. Eventually though, Michiru-san went into a music shop and Haruka-san drove off in her car, so Peter-san walked into the music shop—"
"And so did all of you, no doubt," said Ami.
"Well of course," said Usagi, quite matter-of-factly, while Ami shook her head, thinking that two people as smart as Haruka and Michiru could hardly have failed to notice after two hours that they were being trailed.
"Anyway," said Usagi. "Michiru-san was buying some new violin strings, and as she was leaving, Peter-san went up and talked to her. He asked her if she was Kaioh Michiru, the violinist, and she said yes, and he said he loved her music and had all her CDs."
"Because," added Minako, "we figured every girl loves to be complimented."
"Go on," said Ami.
"Well, Michiru-san walked out of the store and Peter-san followed her and asked her if she was doing anything and would she like to go and have something to drink with him in a café so they could talk about music. Michiru-san said no, she couldn't, she was waiting for someone. Peter-san said 'maybe later?' but Michiru-san said she was busy. By this time, he was getting a bit desperate, because he could see Haruka-san coming back in her car, so he decided to try a more direct approach. He said—"
"Yes?" asked Ami, quite drawn into the story by this time and annoyed when Usagi suddenly paused.
"Understand," interjected Rei, "that if we'd known Peter-san was going to do this last bit, we never would have allowed him to approach Michiru-san. We don't approve of what he did at all."
"What did he do?" said Ami, having an inkling of where this was going.
Usagi, however, wouldn't continue, only going red and twisting her hands in her lap.
"Urgh, fine, I'll tell her," said Minako impatiently. She looked at Ami. "He told Michiru-san that he'd heard she and Haruka were an item, and asked if they'd both be interested in…er…having some fun with him."
"What happened next?"
"Michiru-san turned to face him, very swiftly, and kneed him…somewhere very painful."
"That was about the time Haruka-san was pulling up to the pavement. She looked at Peter-san, and then at Michiru-san and asked her if everything was all right. Michiru-san said it was, quite calmly, and Haruka-san said okay then, and Michiru-san got into the car and they drove away together."
"It was so scary," said Makoto. "Michiru-san always has an aura of calm and grace, even when she fights. I didn't expect she'd be able to do something so violent, and so quickly. And then afterwards, she just went straight back to normal, like nothing happened." She shivered. "I really hope they're not our enemies. I wouldn't want to be in a serious fight against them."
"None of this is good at all," said Ami, looking severely at her friends. "Not only did you choose an idea that was never going to work, but you were probably far too obvious. I'm sure Haruka-san and Michiru-san knew they were being trailed long before Peter-san approached them. They might also have seen you, in which case they have most likely guessed that you want to find out more about them, and will be doubly on their guard now."
"So, what do we do?" asked Usagi miserably.
Ami thought. "I think I have an idea," she said.