Author's Note: Finally! The last chapter. Sorry for the long delay, and thank you to everyone who has hung on and waited so patiently.
Chapter 5: The Outcome
Haruka went to room 14B prepared for a fight, and was almost put out when she didn't find one. What she did find was the inert form of Michiru, strapped to a narrow hospital bed with her hair falling about her like a waterfall, and she was still, so still, that there was only one possibility Haruka really considered.
It was in a kind of desolate stupor that she approached the bed, not surprised, in a way, at this turn of events. She felt as if she had been waiting for it ever since the Marine Cathedral, as if the few beautiful weeks they had enjoyed together since then were only a dream illegally stolen, conjured perhaps by a brain in denial of the fact that its body was already dying.
"Michiru?" she whispered, reaching out to touch a hand she did not expect to find warm.
She almost yelped and jumped back in shock when Michiru responded with a faint moan and a twitch of her fingers. It was only the most uncertain stirring of life, yet it brought into Haruka's mind the remembrance of Michiru once asking her shortly after they'd met what she considered to be the most sublime expression of poetry. Haruka had avoided the question at the time, still too defensive and not entirely sure Michiru wasn't making fun of her, but she knew what her answer would be now.
Better than any symphony ever written or the greatest epic poem history could offer up; simply knowing that the person she loved most was alive.
"Michiru," Haruka repeated more firmly, new determination colouring her voice, "don't worry, I'm going to get you out of here." She worked quickly to loosen her partner's bonds, and once Michiru was free guided her left arm up over her shoulders whilst placing her own arm securely around Michiru's waist.
Michiru was conscious by this time, but only just. She seemed rather oblivious to the fact that Haruka was trying to move her, and didn't help at all when Haruka tried to hoist her off of the bed. Not expecting a fully dead weight Haruka quickly lost her balance, depositing Michiru back on the mattress while she herself stayed upright only because of a last minute hand braced against the bed frame. Somehow she retained her hold on Michiru's waist, instinctively pulling the other woman closer to her so that her head fell forward onto Haruka's shoulder while her legs dangled over the edge of the unusually elevated frame, not quite touching the floor.
There was a moment of silence. Haruka gathered her strength, determined on her next try to successfully get Michiru up and away even if she had to carry her bodily from the room. Her unprotected back was prickling unpleasantly at the thought of likely immanent attacks, yet she couldn't help but linger for a moment, caught up in a sudden hypersensitive wonder that descended upon her without warning. It was something about the feel of Michiru against her, limbs warm and heavy, breath gusting gently onto Haruka's skin, heart beating in time to the blood Haruka could feel pulsing through her own veins. How many times had Haruka held her like this, as she drifted off to sleep, as she lay drowsing and flushed from their lovemaking, and she couldn't stop it coming, the thing she had been trying not to think of, cold and treacherous like a dagger twisting in her gut, I thought I would never touch her like this again.
It made her eyes smart and her throat swell and she heard once more the echo of Eudial's enraged scream as Michiru staggered towards her, saw the gun fire, watched helplessly as Michiru fell, as Michiru fell, in a dying that lasted forever.
Oh God, not now. Tears had no place on a battlefield, pain no time to be indulged, but still Haruka wavered, choked, knew she was perilously close to giving way, because it was too much to nearly lose Michiru twice like this now, to hold her so close and think of her being torn away with a raw agony that felt like losing one of her own limbs.
"Haruka," Michiru murmured indistinctly.
"What is it?" Haruka asked. Her voice was rough and unsteady.
"Is my violin all right?"
"Your violin?" Her tone shook; Haruka couldn't help it. Not when she remembered Michiru falling beneath the onslaught of monsters in the park, so beautiful, so doomed, but never afraid, no, never afraid. Accepting with the unflinching heart of a solider that her life might end that day and asking for no respite, no heroic tales that would make of her an immortal, only that her one beloved possession be spared to remind those who knew of what had passed.
"Oh Michiru," Haruka whispered, "what a thing to say." And then, not realising what was happening until it was too late to stop, she started to cry. Arms tight around her lover, face buried in her hair, she sobbed so hard her shoulders trembled and her soldier's mantle fell in tatters at her feet.
Eyes flaring wide in surprise and bemusement, Michiru returned her embrace, lips moving as she began to speak softly, words of love and reassurance and gentle chiding that Haruka should think five daimons enough to do away with her. She started as she caught a movement, automatically taking over the task of watching for attack as her foggy senses began to clear, but realised she had only seen herself and Haruka, reflected in a large mirror on the far side of the room she hadn't noticed before.
Uneasily, she wondered why the enemy did not approach and how much longer it would be before either she or Haruka were in any fit state to fight. She did not want to linger here.
On the other side of the mirror, five soldiers transformed into the semblance of the Witches Five stared open mouthed at the sight before them.
"Haruka-san…is crying," Usagi said slowly, in the same way she might have said, the sky is falling, meaning: this can't be happening.
"We really should be attacking now," said Minako, but even she, who before had insisted so emphatically on the continuation of the plan at Ami's apartment, sounded reluctant.
The others shifted uncomfortably, glancing at each other and then back at two women still so close together, all of them, perhaps, pricked by the uncomfortable feeling they were watching something that was never supposed to be seen. The sight before them was so intimate, so private, that every girl, in her heart, knew she would never want Haruka and Michiru to know they had been observed thus; expressing, at last, the very emotions Usagi and her friends had sought to verify.
"I would strongly advise all of you against attacking."
A new voice spoke, stern and authoritative, and with gasps of surprise the counterfeit Witches turned to find the tall, stately form of Sailor Pluto watching them with a slight frown of displeasure on her ageless face.
"How did you get here?" Usagi asked, her voice imitating the high, girlish tones of her witch Mimete.
Pluto's eyes flickered. "That is not the question to be asking, Usagi. Rather, you should be wondering why I do not unleash my powers on you; how it is that I can see through your disguises when, as I'm sure you remember, Haruka and Michiru could not. And, perhaps, you should be grateful for it, for otherwise we all now would be engaged in a deadly battle."
She was very fierce, and very serious, as she spoke, and it made all of the younger soldiers draw away from her a little. They had intended, yes, that as the grand climax of Ami's plan there would be a battle, but they had unconsciously envisioned it as a play fight only, where there was no real chance of anyone being hurt. Pluto's words jolted all of them out of that fantasy. Friend against friend, soldier against soldier; such a battle would be a mockery of all that the senshi were, and now, each girl felt slightly sick as she imagined it.
Crossing the room, aware of but ignoring the reaction she had caused, Pluto stopped before the observation window and looked down upon the still entwined forms of Haruka and Michiru, an inscrutable expression on her face. "I hope you realise," she continued in a calm voice that was somehow rather terrible, "that you have all been very cruel."
"Cruel!" cried Usagi. "But…We didn't mean to be! We just – we just wanted to know – about Haruka-san, and Michiru-san, and…you."
Pluto turned swiftly, catching all the girls in a glance that made them wince. "And have you discovered what you wanted to know?" she asked acridly. "Is it clear to you, now, that Haruka and Michiru are lovers? Does this knowledge bring you pleasure, even though your tactics, coming hard on the heels of the Marine Cathedral, has been almost more than either of them could bear?"
She fixed Usagi with a particularly harsh gaze. "They are your soldiers, princess. They would do anything for you. Already, they have died for you. And you have repaid their loyalty by torturing them for sport. It is unworthy of you. Of all of you."
Tears gathered in Usagi's eyes. "I didn't think," she said, words wobbling as her warm heart filled with remorse. "It just seemed like game. A – a challenge." She cast her eyes sorrowfully down towards the two soldiers who still lingered in Room 14B. "But you're right. What we've done – what I've done – is terrible. I should go and apologise to them."
"No!" Pluto's sharp voice stopped her. "Don't be fooled by Haruka's grief. It will turn to anger the moment she sees anyone she believes to be an enemy. Anyone whom she believes has done this harm to Michiru. She could quite easily kill you all. And—" she paused significantly. "Her anger will not be made less if you confess your true identities to her. It might well make things worse. To receive such treatment from the enemy is one thing; to receive it from those she considers to be…well, not friends, but potential allies at least, would shatter what little trust she has in you. The breach that resulted might never be healed, and…I cannot even imagine what the consequences of that would be." As she finished, she seemed to be speaking more to herself than those before her, looking inward at some frightening potential future that only she could see.
"But what should we do then?" asked Ami, still disguised as Viluy.
Pluto refocused her attention. "Nothing," she said firmly. "Just let them go. I will think of something to tell them. But you must all promise me you will never reveal the truth of this incident to them. They must always believe the attack originated from the enemy, not from their fellow soldiers."
"All right," said Usagi slowly. "If you really think that best."
"I do," said Pluto. She turned to go, but Ami's, or rather Viluy's, voice stopped her.
"Wait! I don't understand. Haruka and Michiru – they couldn't sense that it was us using our powers. They really thought we were the enemy. But you…You knew. How?"
"My powers have had far longer to develop than any of yours. I can sense things more subtly and deeply. I could feel it when you transformed beyond your normal senshi selves, and I could feel it when you used your powers in those forms. And at the same time, I could feel that Haruka and Michiru were afraid for their lives. I wasn't sure what it meant, but when Haruka came to me with the story of Michiru's kidnapping…I guessed that you had all been playing a very silly game."
"There is still something I would like to know, as the princess." said Usagi. Despite the continuation of Pluto's scolding, she seemed to have regained some of her natural buoyancy. Perhaps because she was so used to being scolded that its effects on her tended to be short lived.
Pluto raised her eyebrows. "Yes?"
"Okay. Haruka-san and Michiru-san are – are lovers. But you – how do you fit in?"
Below them, Haruka and Michiru had at last risen from the hospital bed. Still holding each other, they made slightly erratic progress across the cold concrete floor of the unused room, Michiru weaving slightly on her feet like a drunk. Pluto and the five Inner senshi watched them silently through the mirror.
"They are my family," Pluto said at last. She looked at the soldiers around her. "The way all of you are family. They don't think of me that way yet, of course; they don't remember me, and that…is very hard to bear. But I hope in time we will reforge our bonds. That things will be as they were, in the past, and as they should be, in the future."
She smiled, slightly wistful, remembering memories that now belonged only to her and a reality that no longer quite was, and turned away from the now empty basement that showed no sign of the turmoil it had so recently witnessed.
It was some hours later that Setsuna knocked, rather nervously, on the door to Haruka and Michiru's apartment.
Footsteps approached. "Who is it?" Haruka's voice asked.
"Setsuna. May I come in?"
After a moment, the door opened. "There's a buzzer located outside the building," Haruka pointed out, her tone not quite friendly. "That is normally how guests announce their presence."
"I came via the roof," said Setsuna lightly. "I didn't think you'd be in the mood for answering the buzzer. Now, may I come in?"
Narrowing her eyes as she considered, Haruka at last nodded and stepped back from the door, allowing Setsuna to enter.
"Coffee?" Haruka asked as Setsuna removed her shoes. Her eyes were still guarded.
Setsuna considered, her eyes drifting towards the elaborate coffee maker that sat in the kitchen. With that thing on, she would never have Haruka's full attention, which might well be why Haruka had suggested it. "No thank you," she said politely. "But I would like some tea."
Haruka didn't invite her to sit down, but Setsuna perched herself anyway on one of the high bar stools located next to the kitchen bench. "How's Michiru?" she asked.
"Sleeping," said Haruka shortly, her face and expression blank as she made the tea.
"Was she hurt at all?"
"She wasn't tortured, if that's what you mean."
Containing her annoyance at Haruka's stubborn insistence on not understanding her, Setsuna pointed out, "not being tortured doesn't amount to not being hurt."
Silence stretched between them. Haruka stared at the teapot with its brewing tea as if it had offended her. Setsuna looked at Haruka. At last, the words dragging reluctantly, Haruka said, "she doesn't remember much. She was sedated most of the time. A few bumps and bruises, a lot of weariness. She's endured worse injury than that. We both have."
"And how is she doing emotionally?"
Setsuna could tell that Haruka was slightly affronted by the question, but she answered it nevertheless, her lips twisted into a slightly sardonic smile. "Michiru says that my emotional state is probably worse than hers right now. After all, she was unconscious most of the time. I was the one who had to worry about what might be happening to her."
By this time, the tea was ready. Haruka placed the pot on the bench near Setsuna's elbow along with two small cups and walked around the bar to take her own stool. She chose to sit one seat over from Setsuna, leaving the empty stool between them like a barrier.
Setsuna poured the tea. Haruka watched her.
"So," Haruka said after they had both taken several distracted sips of tea, "are you going to tell me what you know? Clearly you do know something about this situation. About why the enemy behaved so strangely."
Already Setsuna had considered this; what she could tell Haruka that would not be the truth but not entirely untrue either. She didn't want to lie, but she knew this Haruka wasn't ready to understand the misguided motives of a bunch of girls trying to be her friend. This Haruka knew only a world full of potential enemies, and all actions were judged in that light. Setsuna could try to explain to her, but she knew it wouldn't do any good. Haruka's heart wasn't ready, yet, to believe in anyone other than one particular aqua haired woman.
And so, Setsuna prepared to tell Haruka the story of how it could have been, even though it wasn't, starting with a fact that would anchor the embellishments to reality. "Eudial is dead," she said.
Haruka's eyes widened. "How? Did you fight her?"
"No, Mimete murdered her." And it was true. The car going over the cliff; Haruka didn't need to know when it happened, or that the timing meant Eudial couldn't have possibly been behind Michiru's capture. Feeling the Inner senshi shape shifting, combined with Haruka's story of the dead witch's voice on her answer machine, had been the final clue that suggested to Setsuna what the apparent kidnapping was really all about.
Meanwhile, Haruka had grown contemplative. "I see. So Eudial conceived of the plan to capture Michiru, got the daimons to take her, imprisoned her in that hospital, and then, before she could do anything more, Mimete killed her. And I suppose if she didn't tell her plan to anyone, no one else would have known Michiru was there. And that is why no enemy came."
"Yes," said Setsuna. "It's a reasonable assumption." Which was true, it was a reasonable assumption, it just wasn't correct.
"Did you suspect some of this when we met on the roof?" asked Haruka. "Is that why you didn't want me to go after Michiru right away – you wanted to confirm the status of the enemy?"
"I didn't want there to be any unnecessary fighting," said Setsuna, which was again, the truth.
Haruka smiled, but this time there was a hint of real warmth in it. "You're as cryptic as ever, I see."
Setsuna returned the smile, ruefully. "I'm sorry. I've really told you all I can."
After a considered pause, Haruka nodded. "All right." It still wasn't trust, but it was, at least, the willingness to consider that Setsuna might be someone she could come to trust in the future.
"You know," said Setsuna, noting the exhausted way Haruka's eyes kept trying to drift closed, against her will, "you look like you could do with some sleep too. Why don't you—"
"No," said Haruka, shaking her head, "I'd rather keep watch."
Unspoken was the reason. Michiru had been taken once because Haruka wasn't sufficiently watchful, and she wasn't about to let it happen again.
"It's all right," said Setsuna. "You sleep. I'll watch."
"Are you sure?" There was an edge of surprise in Haruka's voice.
Haruka hesitated, and Setsuna remembered another Haruka hesitating a long time ago, in a difference place, a different situation, but with the same ultimate choice before her, the same possibilities branching out towards the future.
The future that she, Setsuna, was supposed to save.
"There's beer in the fridge."
"What?" said Setsuna blankly.
"There's beer," Haruka repeated. "In the fridge. In case you get thirsty. And takeaway menus in the top drawer. I wouldn't trust any food you find in the house; Michiru and I haven't had the chance to go shopping for weeks."
"I'll see you in a few hours."
"A few hours," Setsuna agreed, her head still spinning a little at Haruka's sudden acceptance of her. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Haruka waved at her before disappearing into what was presumably the bedroom she shared with Michiru.
Left alone in the suddenly quiet apartment, Setsuna blinked. Then she smiled. For the first time since her arrival in this reality, she wasn't sorry she had had to come. She wandered over to a sofa in the living room and picked up a magazine, idly flicking through it. Outside the day was hot and sunny. All day she watched at the apartment. Nothing happened. It was wonderful.