A/N: Hello! Had a bit of a writers block on this one, but I'm happy with how it developed. This chapter has a bit of Ami x Mako, as I think there are also some implications there, but their interaction was just nice to fill a block in this chapter I thought! On with the show :) Enjoy. Feedback is always welcome and appreciated!
Additionally, later on down the road I'll probably bump this up to M and insert some smut, however...building up to it I believe will make it more worthwhile. So hang in there, you perverts! :)
Ami applied herself even further to her already intense devotion of studies since the meeting with Haruka and Michiru. Knowing so much was entrusted to her was truly a privilege, especially considering Haruka and Michiru's hermit-like nature to avoid the inner soldiers as a plague of sorts. She prided herself knowing her intellectual prowess had drawn the two loners to her group of friends in the attempt of fostering some type of unit cohesion. Knowing this, the blue haired genius calculated no room for failure.
Lives are in the balance, teetering on our success; our teamwork, Ami contemplated, trying to push herself further. She was always consumed with studies, which was hardly anything new. But even more so knowing what was at stake, depended on her unique intelligence and how she applied it.
"What could I possibly offer..." she began speaking aloud, alert to the fact she was the sole occupant of the empty apartment, "to these unfortunate victims?" She questioned sadly. The prevention of more innocent lives being taken, subjective to our enemy's ruthless art. Ami let her moment of despair slide away, letting a renewed sense of empowerment and resolve replace it. We can't fail these people. I can't fail.
A knock at her apartment door gathered her from her distracted thoughts, prompting her to respond to the source of the sound. Opening the front door slightly, revealed a tall lean girl, brunette hair tied up. "Ami!" Makoto cheerfully said, beaming a smile at the smaller bluenette in the doorway. "So you are here."
"Makoto, how are you?" Ami responded happily, surprised yet relieved to see her friend. "Where else would I be if not with you all and here?" Ami inquired, still standing in the doorway.
"We've been calling you all day. I was starting to get worried. I figured you wouldn't mind a visit from me if you really were home."
This took Ami back by surprise. Has the phone been ringing? She mentally considered, thinking on if she had heard any other sounds besides Makoto at the door.
Makoto seemed hesitant in asking next, "Is this...a bad time?"
Ami let a blush rapidly creep on her cheeks, ashamed she had forgotten her typically impeccable manners. "I'm so sorry! No no - it's fine! Please come in." Ami apologetically stuttered, offering a polite bow to her guest, while opening the door to motion the taller woman through.
Makoto quickly observed the apartment, having only been in it a handful of times. She felt a closer connection to this particular blue haired prodigy, yet their individual interaction remained typically minimal; a thought that often bothered her.
Ami motioned to the couch in the living room for Makoto. "Please sit, I'm so scatter brained right now. Completely forgetting my manners."
Mako accepted and sat on one end of the couch, joined by Ami on the other. "What's got you so frazzled?"
The smaller framed woman sighed, a bit of wear from her persistent studies showing through. With Makoto, Ami felt she could be so much more honest with who she was; it was an unusual, but certainly welcomed, connection she seemed to share with only her. "I've been pouring my every ounce of energy into studying."
Makoto laughed softly at this, "How is that any different from your usual routine?"
Realizing the humor in it, Ami smiled slightly. "It doesn't sound any different but...ever since Haruka and Michiru..." she faltered, hesitant in finishing.
Makoto looked solemnly to Ami, knowing how the situation weighed heavily on her. She could see written all over her face. "You're giving it everything you have. For this new fight."
Nodding, Ami sought comfort in seeing Makoto's understanding of her obligation. "I feel as if..." before Ami could finish her thoughts, she was alerted to an incessant ringing noise. Standing quickly, she half-jogged to the origin of the sound, bringing the handset to her ear.
"Mizuno residence." She stated cheerfully, waiting for the other line while glancing apologetically to her guest.
"It's fine, Ami. Probably just Usagi." Makoto softly said, draping an arm across the back of the couch frame.
"Ami! There you are!" An exasperated Usagi could be heard with the echoes of her friends in the background. "We've been calling for the last couple of hours; we were worried."
Ami, recognizing the subtle statement implied of 'where were you?', smiled softly confirming Makoto's statement. "I've been lost in my own studies, I'm sorry. You know how it gets." Ami then laughed, quickly realizing the irony of insisting Usagi knew the consequences of being overly studious. Usagi's marks were the evidence contradicting the very thought. Makoto's laughter, accompanying Ami's own, seemed to support the irony.
"Usagi, studious? OH my god...hahaha!" Makoto doubled over in a fit of laughter, though attempting to suppress the excess noise for Ami's sake.
"Can't say that I do." Usagi muttered sarcastically, with the contagious laughter of Rei and Minako filling the background noise.
Ami attempted to quell her own laughter, instead asking Usagi, "Is there a meeting going on?" She glanced at Makoto for verification, to which the brunette gave a shrug of her shoulders.
"What? No! We're doing a study group but...without you here its kind of..." Usagi hesitated, trying to supplement the most appropriate word.
"Useless!" Rei shouted out, aiding Usagi.
"Boring-!" Minako could also be heard saying.
"HEY! I'm on the phone with Ami; you guys are so rude!" Usagi attempted to muffle her hilarious attempt at being angry with her friends, but to no avail.
Ami simply smiled once more, rolling her eyes at the other side of the conversation.
"Like I was saying, before I was so RUDELY interrupted," Usagi paused, sounding as if she had almost produced a snarl in the direction of the other two, "Why didn't you show up?"
Were we supposed to meet up? Ami thought, feeling suddenly scatterbrained and temporarily misplaced. "Today? at 3:00? But it's not Saturday, right?" Ami searched hurriedly for her planner, but alternatively choosing to look at Makoto in verification of Usagi's statement. To her dismay, Mako nodded.
Sensing this, Usagi asked, "So wait...you missed the study group so you could...study?" Usagi seemed genuinely perplexed about instilling more boredom where boredom and lameness were already present.
Disappointed in herself and again her usually flawless characteristic of being prompt and mindful of adhering to her schedule, Ami sighed out of frustration. "It would appear so, Usagi. But, Makoto is here right now. If you and the others will be there much longer, we'll make our way over there soon."
"We will, I mean if anything we'll just go eat." Usagi offered, not attempting to mask her grumbling stomach sounds at the mention of food. "I think we've given up on studying at this point anyhow!" She assuredly offered.
"We'll be there soon, Usagi. Bye!" Ami replaced the handset, taking a moment to lean against the wall where the phone was positioned.
"Did you want to take a minute?" Makoto concernedly asked. "Like I'm sure she said, they're not really studying. Trust me, I was there."
"I suppose there's not a rush to immediately run off, considering that." Ami concluded, assuming her position on the opposite end of the couch once more. "I'm exhausted, Mako. I don't know how much more is left in me at this point. And there's hardly been any fighting involved at this point." She confessed.
Smiling, Makoto retreated her lounging arm to instead support her face. "Give yourself a break. Pace yourself. There's a reason Haruka and Michiru called you out specifically; because they feel like you're ready. With the knowledge you already have, we're bound to win."
Ami knew there was a reason she liked Makoto, perhaps even more so than any other friend she had. She was honest, blunt, and optimistic; yet realistic at the same. Ami admired her strength, her rationale, and resilience, and even her beauty. The very thought of it all made Ami blush furiously. "Why did you leave the study session, Mako?" She asked, attempting to distract herself from her own thoughts.
"Like I said, we tried studying but it really did seem pointless without you there to put us on track. After a couple of unanswered calls, we were worried; I offered to check on you." Makoto replied intently, though keeping her eyes focused on her lap, which held both her hands fidgeting with one another.
"You were worried?" Ami innocently asked, looking to Mako's face.
In return, the tall brunette nodded; "I was. I mean...we all were, but yeah." Makoto sheepishly said, a blush creeping on to her own cheeks.
She's worried, about me? Ami thought to herself, thinking of the possible implications. "I appreciate your concern, Mako. And I always enjoy a visit from you."
"Ready to head over to Rei's?" Makoto asked, readying herself to stand.
"Yes, thank you for listening Mako. I can always count on you." Ami responded happily while nodding.
"How does she even know where we are?" Usagi peered questioningly at the handset emitting a sound for an ended call.
"Where we are practically every day, Odango...you airhead." Rei said mockingly with a grin, sweeping the entryway to the tiny room they found themselves in often for studies.
Another snarl-like sound could be heard emitting from Usagi's general direction. "Whatever, bimbo..." Usagi muttered partly under her breath. It was audible enough to invoke the fury of the priestess, who took to chasing Usagi around the tiny room with a broom.
"That's not what that's for Rei!" Usagi wailed, running in circles around the low sitting table, with Minako struggling to remain flattened against the walls.
"No, but it'll work just fine! Adapt and overcome!"
Alexander waited in the lab to be summoned; he was most certain his master would want a direct report from him, rather than relying on a summary of their findings from a secondhand source. He stood tall, easily clearing six feet, and lean with muscle. His jet black hair, for what little of it there was, maintained an all around buzz, no more than an inch all around. An angular man with an elongated face and high cheek bones; sought by many, but permitted himself to none. His work, important work, was his only care and concern. His master demanded perfection, flawless in logistics and execution, and Alexander strove to deliver nothing short of it.
He was dressed in militant garb, to accompany the position he held; the arm of war, he thought with a grin. The appearance made him look out of sorts in the lab, but he was here on business; not to be judged. The scientists opinions of him could persuade him to care less or to simply slit their throats in their sleep. The lot of them sensed this, and said nothing of his foreboding presence in their precious work space.
Alexander was certainly curious what it was about these people, such as the specimen who's organs they had collected, that made their vile innards a necessity to the mission.
Is it their blood? Some mutated gene? What makes them so damn special? Alexander was a military man, through and through, and knew better than to question his orders. Yet while his superior informed him of who the victims should be, he would never reveal the nature of why. The relative silence of the scientists in the lab he observed, did little to put him at ease. Their silence confirmed what he suspected. They've found nothing, the man darkly considered.
"Alexander." A woman's voice called to him, beckoning him from his thoughts. She was of considerably shorter stature than he, and of very pale complexion, with intense jade green eyes and brunette hair falling to her shoulders. Like her egg-head counterparts, she donned a lengthy lab coat, seeming to only bring the paleness of her skin out even more.
He said nothing to acknowledge her, seeing her unworthy of anything but eye contact. "He'll see you now. He's not happy." She added the last part in, almost attempting to rub in what he suspected; Alexander had failed. Somehow in between the planning, dispatching, execution, and delivery of his task, he had miscalculated.
The tall man in response glared at the assistant, sweeping past her form quickly to the chambers of his superior. The assistant jogged to catch up with him, looking to speak further.
"Do you know what he's looking for?" She asked, innocently fishing for information.
Gruffly and rather abruptly Alexander responded, "No." His lips forming a tight line to indicate he would remain mute on the subject.
"Don't you think that'd improve your odds," she stopped, distracted by navigating quickly around some incoming traffic. Shifts were changing, they were due to find some more people to crowd the already confined hallway space. "if you knew what he was looking for?"
"Go away, secretary. We'll send for you if we need refreshments." Alexander said curtly, not attempting to look at the woman falling behind him.
She opted to stop, watching the hustle and bustle of traffic in the hallway buzz around her, and Alexander fade into the crowd. You'll regret that, dog of war, she smiled slyly. "Watch your back, comrade." The assistant spoke, not seeming to draw unusual looks for speaking to no one in particular.
Lest you find my knife in it at some point.
"You were too late, it seems." Kali said indifferently, seated at their usual spot in Haruka's dreams.
"That's an understatement. The man was literally mummified. It's a process that takes thousands of years. How is that even possible?" Haurka inquired, suspicion and anger present in her voice. "It's almost as if you set me up to arrive at the scene too late."
"Suspicious, are you?" The specter responded, seemingly amused.
"Rumor has it you're a dog for the Carvers." Haruka said abruptly, crossing her arms across her chest defensively.
Kali laughed at this, going so far as to slap a hand on their leg. "Carvers? Every group creates such interesting nick names for them. Though I suppose it's appropriate given the nature of their work." The figure nodded, letting the humor wash away quickly.
"You're avoiding the accusation of you being in bed with them." The blonde asked once more, unrelenting on an answer. This was the first 'meeting' with Kali in which Haruka had the luxury of engaging in something past receiving a warning. Why she had been summoned to such a premonition was beyond her understanding.
"Don't consider me a friend," Kali cautioned seriously, "nor an enemy." To Haruka, this was the intended message Kali had summoned her for.
"That's garbage. There's black, and there's white. You don't get to wade in the gray area; it doesn't exist in this conflict. You're with us or against us."
"Funny, you seem to contradict yourself in that. When the silence was still an impending threat, you and Neptune constantly placed yourselves in the gray. Never revealing if you were part of the inner soldiers, or against them; interesting." Kali mused, seeming to anger Haruka in the process.
"That was different, and if you know that you must know why it was necessary. If you'll notice, I said for this conflict it doesn't exist. Not to imply it hadn't in other more applicable situations." Haruka defended, steadying her voice to keep from yelling.
"War doesn't change, and neither should the rules, Uranus. I expect you of all people to know this." Not giving the blonde the opportunity to respond, Kali continued,"I've heard you're quite the contender. Is it true?" Kali inquired, rising to their feet and stepping around the table. Haruka assumed a partially defensive stance, anticipating, even in her dreams, Kali may attempt something. Seeing this made the specter laugh, then shake their head. "I suppose it could be true. The Uranus I knew held no equivalent."
"The Uranus you knew...?" Haruka asked, repeating Kali's own words, calculating her thoughts carefully. So it's true. This must be the Kali Setsuna talked about. Which for Haruka translated this Kali to be a known enemy.
"Don't mark me an enemy yet, Uranus. You'd be very unwise to no longer heed my advice." Kali cautioned once more, interpreting the woman's thoughts.
"Pleading for your life a little early, don't you think?" Haruka said narrowing her eyes, accusingly.
Kali emitted no sound, offering only silence at first. "I'm pleading for yours, Sailor Uranus." An layer of contempt edged Kali's words, before they continued. "Yes, I knew another Sailor Uranus. And Neptune."
The mention of her partners name sent chills down her spine, only strengthening her resolve and anger. You're unworthy to even speak her name, Haruka mentally commented, knowing well the other presence would read her thoughts.
This again seemed to entertain Kali. "Always overly defensive of those you love, Uranus. The few that qualify for that exclusive list."
"Any reason I should bother my time with you anymore? Your allegiance is quite obvious, and its not to my team or our efforts." Haruka impatiently questioned.
Kali moved around Haruka, calculating something as they brought a hand to their chin. No skin, no color; just a robe and long gloves. "Late or not, I provided you the link to your enemy. Would you have stumbled upon it otherwise? Would you have brought yourselves back to the place of your demise?" Kali's voice dripped of accusation, seeking to match Haruka's.
Instead, the tall blonde ignored the question, knowing her silence gave the answer Kali sought. "So that's what we can expect? A late arrival to an already harvested victim, every time?" thinking to Usagi's overreaction when Haruka herself had implied the same concept; a twist of irony. Haruka made a mental note to address Usagi on this later. Pointing a finger to Kali accusingly, the racer continued. "You said we had a chance to save people. Not watch as they are continuously one by one mutilated, as you imply." Letting the hand drop gradually back to her defensive stance.
Kali shook their head. "You know as much as I know, Uranus. Though I can see my attempts at persuading you are futile." The figure turned to leave, before offering a final comment. "I'll be in touch, Uranus. In the meantime, let your time guardian know she's in my thoughts; always."
She awoke quickly to the darkness, instantly grasping for something, anything to tell her she was in the comfort of her home once more. Finding no other form in the bed, Haruka grew instantly alarmed. She sat up quickly, readjusting her eyes to the darkness.
"Michiru?" She called out, seeking her partner. Where is she? Haruka looked quickly to her alarm clock, trying to gather where the violinist had gone to. 5:45 on a Sunday? Where is that woman? The racer grabbed her phone, then noticing an unread message on it.
'Back in a bit. Gone for a swim. Love you.'
It worried Haruka to wake up and see the woman she loved wasn't next to her. With the way the war they waged was evolving, it was dangerous to not be together; for Haruka to not be around to protect her love. Quickly, she gathered a pair of running shorts and a simple gray hooded sweater, making her way to the entry. No use in sleeping off the anxiety, she figured. Jogging slightly, she picked up her keys and phone and made her way to the recreation center.
It wasn't easily comparable to swimming alongside the waves of the ocean, but it still held a powerful soothing sensation for Michiru. Even things such as the smell of the chlorine put her at ease, temporarily washing away her woes. She sat on the pools edge towards the deeper end, ready to submerge herself once more.
It was early, and she was fortunate to be the only occupant in the pool at that time. She thought back to what had brought her to the pool so early on a Sunday, what would have otherwise been a lazy sleep-in day for her and Haruka. Worry, stress, anxiety; Michiru saw it all over Haruka. The racer often woke up startled in the night, sometimes screaming, and it was difficult for either of them to go back to sleep after such an episode; the last night of sleep, being no exception.
She gracefully dove into the still water, letting the coolness of it envelope and soothe her. Her body drove her to swim lap after lap, pushing all worries and unsettling thoughts to the sidelines. Am I doing that to Haruka too? She worried, letting a moment of guilt wash over her as she continued with the laps. It was then, she stopped, bringing herself to the edge, laying both arms across one another, then her head. It's not her fault she wakes up as she does.
"Early swim?" a man's voice called out, speaking to Michiru.
She'd thought she'd heard another person enter the large room, as it was an indoor facility, but paid no mind to it. "It would seem so." She responded shortly with a forced smile. Michiru was hardly a person to ever forfeit manners, though she'd find herself being more blunt and even more like Haruka the earlier it was.
He donned a pair of ordinary trunks, though he hardly looked like much of a competitive swimmer; attractive enough, just not developed where a swimmer should be. The fact he opted to wear swimming trunks to speedos was a dead ringer. "Expecting someone?" He suspiciously asked.
The question, and the way he posed it, seemed to set off all kinds of alarms in her head. Be it running or swimming, she was confident she could outrun/swim the man if she needed to. But she had to play it safe; she could be wrong, though she doubted she was.
Another presence entered the room, an immediately identifiable and reassuring one. She pushed herself away from the edge while still in the water, putting distance between herself and the stranger. "Why yes, yes I am. And here they are." Michiru responded, and swam in the direction of Haruka. While the swimmer felt more than capable of dealing with the stranger, were it necessary, Haruka's face was always a welcome sight. Reaching Haruka, she pulled herself out of the water to sitting on the edge.
"Little early, don't you think?" Haruka asked with a smirk, wrapping a towel around Michiru's drenched form. Keeping one arm possessively around her shoulders, and looking to the man walking around the opposite side of the pool. Haruka glared at his form as he walked away, certain were it not for Haruka's timely arrival, he had plans.
"It is." Michiru nodded in agreement, leaning into Haruka's neck. Neither fussing over the fact they were both now wet and smelling lightly of chlorine. "What brought you here?" She asked, turning to face Haruka and delivering a light kiss. "Good morning, by the way."
"I was going to ask you the same, about your early swim here." There was a small smile tugging the blonde's lips, but she let it slip away remembering the unusual stranger and what she perceived of him. "It's dangerous Michiru. I know you can take care of yourself, but..." she faltered, at a temporary loss for words, then remembering an image; the Cathedral. "We don't know if we're immune to indoctrination." Haruka darkly said, clearly referencing the mummified remains of the man they had encountered.
Michiru hadn't considered the early swim would alarm Haruka, especially as she had planned to be back before the blonde even awoke. Yet thinking on the recent events and findings they had come upon, she instantly regretted leaving the blonde to question her disappearance. "I'm sorry, I hadn't intended to be here long. Just long enough to clear my mind a bit."
Haruka nodded in understanding; it's how the racer was when it came to running, or even just a nice drive. The both needed to unwind sometimes, and they had different ways for doing so. "Don't leave me out next time. Someone has to keep the suitors," then thinking on the unusual presence of the man as she walked in the room, "or weirdos, at bay."
The swimmer smirked, "I'm more than capable of fending off the suitors and weirdos by myself, Haruka, please."
The blonde arched an eyebrow at this, bemusedly, "I'm sure you are. But you weren't capable of resisting this suitors charms."
"Or maybe it was you, unable to resist me?" Michiru instead insisted, taking one of her partners hands in her own, weaving them together.
Haruka grinned, shrugging her shoulders, "It's true, you're my only contender. Don't forget that."