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"Hey," says Elsa, "you're not really here at all, are you?"

Michiru blinks and draws herself back to the present. "Hm?"

"Hah! I knew it."

Elsa is laughing now, and Michiru smiles mildly at her. "I was daydreaming."

"Mm-hmm," says Elsa. "No kidding."

She leans in against Michiru's shoulder and they sit together quietly again. It's early summer, and the air is warm and damp. Behind them, at a distance, is the sound of running feet and muffled shouting - everyone is on their way home from school. But here they're screened away by trees and bushes, wild spring growth that makes it hard to even see the path they came down. It's one of the safest places to be together near the school.

Michiru breaths in the smell of earth and leaves and the morning's rain.

Beside her, Elsa, never good at sitting still, has begun to fidget, feet tapping against the ground, fingers pulling at clothing that isn't out of place.

"Oh come on," she says. "Are we just going to sit here all day while you drift off wherever it is you go again?"

"Sorry," Michiru murmurs, manages a small smile. "I'm sure you have practice. You should go."

Elsa exhales loudly. "Tell me when you feel like talking then."

She leans over to kiss Michiru, who, still half spaced out, responds a little too slowly. Then she hops to her feet, bag already swinging into place over her shoulder, and runs, tearing along the edge of the embankment they've been sitting on, following the curve of it away and out of sight. She runs beautifully.

Michiru lowers her head to her drawn-up knees, closes her eyes, and sighs. She would love to explain everything to Elsa, but it seems beyond implausible: hey, you know I mentioned that I've been having nightmares? Well, yesterday I found out that they're real. I'm sorry if I seem a little distant, but it looks as though I have to save the world, so...

No.

The whole thing, she tries to tell herself, is just too ridiculous. She would love to be able to disbelieve all of it.

But her attention is pulled back to her bag and the wand tucked carefully into a pocket deep inside it.

 

 

She imagines that in other families there might be some kind of awkwardness associated with this new secret. But dinner-table silence is an entirely expected part of everyday life for hers.

"We got our test results for biology," she says mildly half way through the meal.

"I hope you did well," her mother murmurs.

"Yes," she says. "I'll show you the paper."

Her father nods.

And they lapse back into silence, familial duty done.

Really, no acting skills seem to be needed. It actually makes her bitter, just for a moment, about a situation she'd thought she was entirely resigned to. What would happen if she told them all about her day, the real one? In the same light tone, of course.

That's nice, dear.

Pass the sauce.

"I need to train," she says when they're done and the atmosphere of the house is becoming too much for her already worn down state. "I think I'll go to the pool for an hour, if you don't mind."

Of course they don't.

 

 

Outside she breathes in cool, damp air as steadily as she can and tries to stop thinking in circles. It feels better to be out of the big, echoing house that is meant to be her home, better to be going somewhere, doing something. But it doesn't feel the way it should.

She wonders if anything will now, and gets her answer in the form of an urgent pull on her consciousness directing her towards a threat.

Stepping off the well-lit pavement and into the shadow of an old, thick-stemmed tree is almost reflex; so is reaching out after the source of danger. All day she's been wondering if she'll actually react if destiny or whatever it is calls on her again. Well, now she knows.

She takes a moment to steady herself, to push all the things she's feeling deep down until she has time to deal with them. Transforms, and fights.

 

 

Elsa has always been focused on sport but now she throws herself into it harder than ever. Or perhaps it's just that her priorities are shifting in other ways which makes it seem like that to Michiru.

For her own part Michiru has never surrounded herself with people but now she can feel herself slipping away from the ones she has, going through a mental process of disconnection which she can't seem to stop. She watches Elsa train, standing on the sidelines, and feels as though she's actually somewhere above the scene, watching herself; she is not in her own body. She is not herself.

They haven't kissed since what she has come to think of as the day after, though they go places together still, chat a little. Maybe they're done with the other thing now. Maybe that's for the best. She doesn't know, can't find the energy to think about it with any kind of clear mind.

She does find herself wishing for someone to draw in closer, but Elsa probably can't be it; Elsa has her own future, and Michiru isn't going to mess it up for her. Besides, a part of what she suspects she's really wishing for is someone to talk to who would understand, and although something tugs at her with the hint that that person or those people might exist, she can't reach them yet. She can't see their faces or their forms.

She has no-one who she can tell about the first time she transformed, and how it didn't feel like putting on a costume so much as like tearing out of something, breaking apart her smaller, more human self. How she feels as though being human is now some kind of act of tentative and incompetent reconstruction, and that she's amazed every day when none of her teachers or classmates or family members notice the difference except maybe as a little distraction. But then not many of them were watching closely to begin with.

 

 

Sometimes the monsters she fights become people again.

Sometimes they don't.

The first don't should be a shattering moment, but she experiences it from a long way away, as another person, almost like a dream. It happens in the middle of the day. She's on her way to a class. She carries on after the fight, and sits through all her lessons.

Reality only crashes in much later, and she sits on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor and cries for hours, is sick, cries more.

She still gets up the next morning, puts on makeup - a little more than usual, because she's sure her face is a mess - and leaves the house, smiles at the right moments, and acts like a person.

It takes a while longer before she can eat again.

 

 

Fighting does get easier with time - at least in the moment when she's doing it. One of the few benefits is that it's a mental space in which she gets to shut off everything else and focus on just the thing itself; the only other spaces which can do something similar for her are artistic ones.

Otherwise she lives in a kind of overload, her mind filling with threads of future and past until the present begins to get lost.

To play the violin imposes order and allows her to separate memory from prophecy and reality. Occasionally it even pulls forward a new kind of clarity, a sudden insight into which thread she should follow to find a new piece of herself; to paint is to crystallise those pieces and hold them in a form she can trust not to disappear. To fight allows her to push everything but the most pressing version of reality out of her mind.

Her art changes, and not for the worse. But she begins to feel older, and isn't sure she likes it. No choice, though; there isn't much time left for being a child.

Besides, sometimes she kills people. She doesn't have the right any more.

 

 

"I don't know what you do with your time these days," Elsa says, breaking into one of the awkward, tense moments that have grown into their relationship, weaving their way into the fabric, "but if you want to catch a race at the weekend...?"

"Are you running?" Michiru asks, relieved at the chance to move back into more comfortable territory.

"Nah, I was thinking we could just go and watch. You know, get you out of the house, talking to people who aren't your little fangirls. And boys. It's a bike race. What d'you think?"

Michiru has never had any particular interest in or feelings about motor sports, but she nods. "That would be nice."

Elsa has these bursts of investment still, out of pity or friendship or something more obscure, Michiru isn't sure. She invites Michiru to events, to the cinema, out to a café. Michiru tends to go along with it. She feels that she's playing at being a normal girl whatever she does with Elsa, but sometimes it's nice to play.

 

 

It's at the bike race of all places, standing there by the finish line with Elsa, pressed up against the barriers, that she finds someone entirely unexpected.

"Oh," she says, as the winner of the race takes off their helmet, runs a hand through their short, blonde hair, laughs at something one of the attendants says. She searches after something else to add, and doesn't find anything in her vocabulary that seems appropriate. "Oh my..."

Beside her, Elsa whistles. "Nice."

The girl, tough and androgynous and unbelievably attractive, is swinging herself off her bike. She straightens up, looking elated.

Michiru feels suddenly clear-headed, anchored to her own body and her own humanity again. She's a teenage girl with a brand new crush.

"Who is that?" she asks, fascinated. But Elsa shakes her head.

"Never seen her before," she says.

But they do see her again. It turns out Tenoh Haruka is big news.

 

 

In fact, Haruka seems to be everywhere. She turns up in magazine features. She turns up in classroom gossip. She turns up at all kinds of different sporting events.

There's a rumour that she's started running, and Elsa gets a glint in her eye which means she's eyeing up the competition and finding it of interest.

Michiru wonders if Elsa can see how she feels about Haruka. She wonders what Elsa thinks if she can.

 

 

She keeps magazine clippings in her desk draw at home, deep down under old school assignments and boxes of pens, and worries that someone will have a burst of interest in her life and cross enough boundaries in the process to find them - and then feels ridiculous. They're only magazine articles. She could just as easily be using them for a project, or for reference material.

No-one can actually read her mind. Especially not her parents. If they could she'd have even bigger problems than her sexuality being discovered.

But they're almost entirely disinterested in her life as long as appearances are maintained. She doesn't even have to be a good girl, really; she just has to look like one from a distance.

 

 

Things begin to shift and settle in her mind. The flood of information gets less overwhelming, more organised. A lot of the unnecessary input has been cut away, and her second past is becoming more and more a natural part of her, though she knows she can't see all of it yet. It's not just there, laid out; it's like other memories that can lie forgotten for years. And there's so much of it.

She still dreams about the end of the world.

She also dreams about another warrior who fights alongside her. She can feel them coming closer, though she can't see them properly yet.

And she daydreams about Haruka. Sometimes she imagines that the other warrior has Haruka's face, and then she catches herself, feels horrified. Better to daydream about sitting in Haruka's car as a normal girl than to pull Haruka into her world, even if it's only a game.

 

 

Michiru wakes up abruptly in early morning half-darkness, shocked out of a dream without being able to grasp what the dream was about. She's too aware of her heartbeat. It feels intrusive, a little unnatural, and it takes several deep breaths to reassure herself that her body is still working right. It's only the strangeness that comes from waking up too fast.

She can feel her pulse intensely in different parts of her body. A thudding in her ears. An excited, urgent beat between her legs.

Ah.

She reaches carefully down and inches her hand inside her underwear, fingers sliding through rough, curled hair until they reach her clitoris and slide lower, deeper. She presses a finger into herself, shifts against it, slides in another; grinds the heel of her hand against herself as she moves. Groans faintly, stifles the noise.

The house is so quiet that it's almost impossible to convince herself no-one will hear. But no-one will. She's snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to fight, she's had Elsa home and gone to bed with her - once her mother even slept through their old cat knocking over a glass-topped table.

It's just the silence at this time of night, where everything seems to be held in such perfect stillness that a small movement could destroy everything.

She touches herself slowly, tries not to make even the smallest sound. But it's infuriating, not enough.

A deep breath, a reminder for herself that the house is large, that her bedroom is tucked away at the end of a wing. Her hand moves faster, searches for the spots that will make her whole body react in sudden pleasure.

It's been a long time since she masturbated, and then she was really just trying to understand her body. Then there was Elsa for a while, and it wasn't as important. Then she was busy.

Now she's thinking of someone else entirely. It's not her own fingers curling and shifting there inside her body, not Elsa's with their quick, impatient movements - it's this other girl's, the one in her mind, who is partly Haruka and partly someone she knew a thousand years ago (but she wasn't going to think of that, was she?). She imagines that they pull up the shirt of her pyjamas, lean in close to her breasts, warm breath ghosting over them for a moment before being followed by a warmer mouth, teeth pressing down on a nipple just a little, not too much, not too far - a little thrill that makes the flesh around her fingers - Haruka's fingers - Uranus's fingers - tighten for a moment.

She comes almost too fast, lies there breathing hard with one hand still between her legs, fingers resting lightly against her clit, and one hand cupped over a breast. She opens her eyes to the empty room, stares up at the ceiling, letting the aftershocks of orgasm drift away.

Who was she thinking about? Uranus. A sailor senshi who looks like Haruka.

Oh, great.

 

 

"Guess," Elsa says suddenly, "who else is in my next race."

Michiru looks up sharply from her book. "Tenoh Haruka."

"Got it. The one and only. Think I can take her?"

"Hmm," Michiru murmurs. "I suppose we'll see."

She goes back to her book, and Elsa goes back to her own work. But it's hard to concentrate.

"On Thursday?" she asks after a moment.

"Yeah, that's the one."

"You'll have to introduce me," Michiru says, and laughs. She's only half joking. She has to meet Haruka in person now - to make sure. "She'd make a wonderful model."

"Oh, right, that's what it is," Elsa says, and Michiru feels suddenly and sharply guilty.

But Elsa takes Michiru with her to the track. Michiru tries not to feel apprehensive. She doesn't really want to go - she wants to meet Haruka without ulterior motives and spend time with her like a normal person, and failing that, she'd rather admire her from a distance. But that won't work now.

Still, she could be wrong. Although she doesn't think so.

 

 

Even with suspicions fully formed in her mind it's still hard to stand face to face with Haruka, speak with her directly. She knows immediately that she was right, an overwhelming feeling of familiarity and connection that she wants to embrace and push away, both at once. That kind of conflict is becoming very familiar to her, especially when it comes to Haruka.

She holds her sketchbook in front of her like a barrier, and smiles with determination. This is not the meeting that she wished for, but it's the meeting that they were meant to have.

When Haruka laughs her off and turns away she has no idea what to feel.

Eventually she settles, tentatively, on relief.

 

 

But then Haruka turns up at a performance. Michiru is aware of her from the second she appears, and it's all she can do to hold herself distant and serene throughout her recital. But she is practised. And she certainly doesn't stare.

That would be beyond impolite.

She wonders, though, what Haruka is thinking.

 

 

Haruka recognises the scene in the painting. It's clear in her reaction, her face, the way it holds her.

But she doesn't want to admit it yet. Michiru can't really blame her for that response; after all, it's very much like her own was. Denial is a healthy enough reaction, and so is anger. But it frustrates her. In some way it isn't what she hoped for.

The question is, what did she hope for?

 

 

By the next day Michiru has decided that it's fine if Haruka isn't willing to accept who she is yet or even ever. She will do this by herself. It's just as well to limit the number of people caught by the whole thing.

 

 

It's an uneasy week later and she knows neither of them will be let off so easily. Really she knew it already from the start.

She can't feel particularly surprised by the uncomfortable, tugging sensation that indicates a monster, or by its location; she certainly can't be surprised by arriving at the scene to see Haruka staring up at a wand which very much resembles her own, hanging bright and promising in the air.

But the scene is such a perfect mirror of another that she's seen, even if she's viewing it from a different perspective, that it brings back everything that she's lost in one big rush. For a moment she thinks she'll be sick when she realises what Haruka's about to do.

"Don't take it," she says, her voice as close to level as she can manage. Haruka's hand freezes mid-movement.

She can't look at Haruka as she goes through her own transformation.

 

 

She's lying in Haruka's arms, hazy as to how she got there. Everything is playing itself out like a film, and she's right back at the feeling of being an observer again; this is not something she's in full control of, and it's frightening.

It isn't as though she was going to tell Haruka so much, but more and more things come spilling out, the deep and private ones that she was so sure were secrets she would always keep. Blood is running from her arm and back. The pain is making her babble, she supposes. She's quite possibly in some kind of shock. Something seems to have shut off.

Maybe her sense of discretion.

Haruka's hands are warm. They move her gently, but the pain becomes sharper again anyway as she's lifted from Haruka's knees down to the floor. Haruka kneels over her.

Then she stands, and crosses the room, and closes her hand around the wand in one fast, decisive motion, looking back at Michiru as though daring her to comment.

Sailor Uranus comes back across the room towards her.

Michiru realises that she's crying, and wonders how long she's been doing it, and which bit she's crying over.

 

 

They sit together in the emergency room, and stumble their way through a story about a feral dog.

Haruka takes her home to a silent, empty house. It feels even less lived in than Michiru's; she doesn't dare ask.

The silence stretches, deep and awkward. They know each other intimately well, and also hardly at all. Their history is both thousands of years and three slightly bizarre conversations and one fight long. Michiru has watched Haruka for months, has built up picture after picture of the person she's dealing with, but now she doesn't know how to speak to her.

"So," Haruka says. "Uh..."

"Yes," says Michiru. "Here we are. I suppose."

"Whoever the hell we are," Haruka says, and cracks a smile that she probably doesn't really mean. She's clearly still shaken. Michiru knows too well how it feels.

"But I'm glad..." Michiru says, and hesitates. There doesn't seem to be a way to end that sentence which won't bring up a world of embarrassment for them both again.

"Hey, easy," Haruka says. "I just couldn't stand seeing you look that sad."

"Hm," Michiru murmurs. She's tired, and she hurts all over. She certainly doesn't have the energy to challenge Haruka's claim.

For a moment Haruka looks as though she's going to say something else. Then she sighs. "You're a mess. I can give you a ride home if you like."

What Michiru would like is to fall asleep exactly where she is, but she smiles politely. "Thank you."

 

 

With Sailor Uranus materialised and real, Neptune's past gains new clarity. Things which were just an overwhelming feeling before become specific memories.

Michiru sits at her desk, and stares out of the window into twilight-dark silhouettes of trees, and remembers dying.

 

 

She waits outside Haruka's house, listening to the doorbell echoing through the hall. Actually, she still wonders about the house, and its dusty, stale air - however much she thinks about it, it doesn't seem like it can possibly be Haruka's home. She doesn't remember anything that seemed personal.

But after a few minutes, Haruka opens the door.

"Good afternoon," Michiru says, and steps inside. "How are you feeling?"

Haruka shuts the door ever so slightly too hard behind her. "Guess."

She leads the way through to the kitchen, which looks, if possible, even less used than everything else.

"Tea?" she asks. It's offered from a thermos.

Michiru raises an eyebrow slightly.

"It's my father's house," Haruka explains. "I don't live here. But he's overseas. I'm just here for a couple of nights because it's closer to the track." She pauses. Leaning against the kitchen work surface, she's silhouetted by the light creeping through the kitchen window, her face in shadow. "I don't touch more than I have to when I'm here."

"Ah," Michiru says.

Today Haruka is wearing men's trousers and a loose, light cotton shirt. They're good quality and it suits her wonderfully, although the sizing is perhaps a touch off. She looks tired.

"It settles down," Michiru says, although she doesn't feel very settled today. "After a while it starts to feel almost normal. Although I'm afraid one doesn't get the chance to wait for that to happen in peace."

"I realised," Haruka says drily. "I've been dreaming about nothing but you and the end of the world all year. Relaxation doesn't seem to be a feature."

Michiru sighs. "No. Not really."

She wonders how Haruka will fight, and feels a knot of tension in her chest which is only partly apprehension.

 

 

It's almost another week before she gets to see.

In senshi form, in battle, there is no awkwardness. Uranus and Neptune know each other well, and when there's no time to second-guess and no space to try and be Haruka and Michiru they rarely miscommunicate.

Neptune matches Uranus' pace. It's easy, even with one arm awkward and stiff, skin stretching in strange and uncomfortable ways over half-healed wounds.

 

 

The comedown is harder, with its attempted renegotiation of roles. There is Neptune and Michiru and sometimes it's hard to know which is which, or what belongs to which set of experiences.

It is, for example, not entirely comfortable to think that she might only be attracted to Haruka because of the bond between Neptune and Uranus. So much for having something normal.

 

 

Michiru still thinks about Haruka, though. She'd thought her attraction might fade out, transform into some kind of respect, maybe, when she was faced with Haruka as a reality rather than a fantasy, a regular feature of her life. She doesn't know how she feels about being proved wrong.

She decides that she doesn't have time to wonder much. The supernatural pull of their duty is getting stronger and stronger. She's distracted in class and distracted at breakfast and distracted when she walks through town - and she has more and more dreams that aren't a product of her own subconscious. She wakes up often in the middle of the night reaching after a clue which doesn't quite come to her. She can feel their enemy almost all the time, and the sense of something wrong is focusing more and more often on the same part of town, the same set of buildings.

Compared to this, worrying about who she's attracted to really isn't worth the time. She repeats this to herself, over and over again.

 

 

The monsters that they fight are turning up more frequently too. They're also getting more humanoid.

The first that they can't save since Haruka joined her has something like a face.

It's Haruka who finishes it. There is no reverse transformation. The creature wavers between looking human and looking monstrous, and the expression on its face is full of shock.

Then it vanishes into dust.

Haruka stares in horror. She's gone pale, and her hands, stretched out in front of her from the release of her attack, shake slightly. She doesn't even look at Michiru; it seems as though she has to force herself to look away from the little pile of remains.

She turns with stiff, awkward movements, and begins to walk away, and then to run.

 

 

Michiru finds her down by the harbour, sitting on the edge of the quay, staring out to sea.

"The first time it happened to me, I was sick," she says quietly.

"Right," Haruka says. She doesn't register surprise at Michiru's presence, just shifts her gaze down to her hands.

They've talked about the fact that this happens sometimes. But that doesn't help. Half an hour ago there was a human; now they don't exist any more.

The sun is getting down close to the horizon now.

"This is how it is, I guess," Haruka says. Her hand clenches, slams down onto the rough concrete. "Damn it."

Michiru places a comforting hand on Haruka's knee, and Haruka reaches for it, wraps both her own hands around it, and holds it, just a little too tight. One of her gloves is torn, and the skin underneath is scraped and oozing blood.

Michiru leans in against her.

"Damn it," Haruka says again, more quietly, her voice cracking. "I thought I'd decided it was fine."

"It's never fine," Michiru says. "But it can't be helped."

She coaxes Haruka to her feet, and leads her away through the quiet, half-sleeping town, their senshi uniforms fading away to leave them alone with themselves.

It's late, and the warm night air feels too close - even out in the open Michiru feels half-stifled. Haruka is the quietest she's ever been, and the smallest, too; she seems to have drawn in on herself, and left without her attitude she's more obviously a teenager.

"Come on," Michiru says mildly. "Let's go home."

 

 

It's the first time Haruka has been in her home. The wide, sweeping drive doesn't get much of a reaction from her, though; she's too tired, too wrapped up in her own mind.

Michiru takes them in through the side door, further from her parents' rooms, and they creep up the dark staircase towards her own bedroom. Michiru steps lightly, avoids the boards that creak - as much out of habit as any need.

"In here," she murmurs. "Wait, I'll just fetch some things from the bathroom."

Disinfectant, cotton wool. She doesn't think Haruka hurt her hand badly, but it's an excuse to have taken her here. At least it's a more reasonable sounding explanation than the sudden fear that Haruka might just vanish if left alone.

This sort of fear isn't really like her.

Back in her bedroom, Haruka is leaning against the wall, arms crossed, head bowed.

"I should go home," she mutters.

"Not yet," Michiru says. "And you don't have to at all, you know. I can fetch a futon... here, sit on the bed."

She cleans up Haruka's hand carefully, though Haruka still winces at the sharp alcohol sting of the disinfectant. The smell of it fills the space between them.
"Michiru?" Haruka mumbles. Michiru looks up, finds Haruka's eyes fixed on her. She comes to a standstill, suddenly awkward under the scrutiny.

"What is it?" she asks quietly.

Haruka doesn't answer, but she doesn't look away either. She's tense, her mouth drawn out into a hard, worried line. It's half-dark in the room, too dark to see her eyes properly. They're just shadows.

"What?" Michiru repeats.

"What are we doing?" Haruka asks slowly.

"Saving the world," Michiru says, as brisk and confident as possible. But Haruka is silent, draws back again. It was the wrong thing to say, maybe not even an answer to the question Haruka asked.

What, Michiru wonders, was the real question?

She swallows, unusually nervous, and turns her attention back to Haruka's hand, covering up the broken skin quickly with a bandage that won't be needed by tomorrow. They heal fast - not like people.

She doesn't even have scars from the day when Haruka became Uranus.

Haruka stands up, draws a deep breath. "I meant," she starts, and then glances away, back again. Shakes her head, dismisses whatever she was going to say. "I should go."

"Wait," Michiru says. "You meant... what?"

"I'm not even sure," Haruka admits, but her good hand comes up to rest against Michiru's cheek, fingertips brushing through her hair. She's trying to gather herself, Michiru realises, to be smooth and confident and in charge again - but her hand shakes slightly. Michiru sighs, lets Haruka come a step closer. Draws her in, even.

If Haruka is going to try and kiss her, she realises, she's going to let her. Even if it would probably be for all the wrong reasons, for both of them. But it would be so easy. Much easier than thinking about the fight, and much easier than thinking through all of her feelings.

But Haruka takes a deep breath, manages a crooked smile.

"It's the staircase to the left, yeah?"

And instead of kissing her, instead of telling her to stay, Michiru just nods.

 

 

It's days before they see each other again. Michiru is about to try and see if she can force some kind of connection, twist information about Haruka's position out of thin air, anything to stop herself from pacing and worrying, when Haruka finally rings her.

"OK," she says. "I'm back. Sorry about that." And she laughs as though it really wasn't a big deal at all. As if she was just running a little late.

Michiru thinks that she could kill her if she wasn't so relieved. "You turned off your communicator," she says. She manages at least a little irritation. Most importantly, she doesn't think she sounds scared.

"Yeah," Haruka says, a little bit less breezy. "Hey, we'll talk about it later, OK? I'll meet you in an hour."

 

 

Haruka is so relentlessly upbeat after her period of absence that Michiru wonders if there isn't something else going on behind the flirting and jokes. But she doesn't quite dare bring it up. It may well not be her business at all.

A kind of routine is restored. Between fighting and planning they're spending more and more time together, in restaurants and in cafés and, rarely, at one of their houses. She gets to see other sides of Haruka. The one who flirts shamelessly with all her fans in public, especially the girls - and aren't most of them girls? The one who can sound so awake and alert on the phone at 7am that Michiru wants to hate her, at least a little.

The one who is insecure.

Haruka isn't, strictly speaking, rich. She isn't rich in the way that Michiru is, anyway. Michiru has inheritance and a huge family house and cash that she can get access to without too many questions, if she really needs to. Haruka lives in a small suburban house with her mother, and has a half-estranged father who is almost always overseas. He's rich, but whatever spills over seems to be carefully negotiated for.

Haruka, Michiru has worked out, is extremely good at coming up with elaborate explanations, just plausible enough, to play on her father's sense of guilt about his abandoned family. She doesn't seem to care very much about her father. Possibly she thinks he deserves ever bit if bad conscience she can wring out of him.

She doesn't talk about it much, but sometimes something comes out, suddenly.

"The bike," she says, with a sharp smile, "isn't his. It's mine. He didn't buy it and he can't touch it. So fuck him. Wanna go for a ride?"

She's just put the phone down. She doesn't say what they talked about, but it was a fight, low and tense.

She also doesn't say if she bought the bike herself, or how. Possibly she has some kind of sponsorship; she's an impressive enough racing driver, as far as Michiru can tell.

Possibly there are other answers, entirely shocking to a well-raised girl - which Michiru is, fortunately, only pretending to be.

She does hope, though, that Haruka doesn't get herself into trouble. With her family or with anyone else.

 

 

They only take each other home when there's no chance of running into family members, although they never came to any kind of agreement that it was going to be that way. It's true that neither of them are particularly close to their families, but Michiru isn't quite sure that's the whole explanation.

It feels as though the secret between them is in danger of getting deeper. Sometimes Haruka looks at her in that way which makes Michiru wonder if she's about to be kissed, and she wishes that Haruka would just do it or stop acting as though she wants to.

On the other hand, she doesn't want Haruka to kiss her out of any kind of sense of obligation, or sympathy - or out of some kind of desperation, because they're the only ones who can fully understand the other's situation. It would hardly be much of a compliment; the last girl in the world.

She wants Haruka to want her, as a person. Even if Haruka just thinks she's hot, she'd rather that be because of Kaiou Michiru than because of some kind of destiny. She's accepted, grudgingly, its control over some parts of her life, but she'd rather keep it out of her bed. Not that she's sure how one would tell the difference.

So much for focusing on more important things, anyway.

 

 

There's a light knock on her door.

"Michiru," her mother calls, and then adds, a touch belatedly, "dear?"

She snaps herself back into some version of reality that her family might recognise, and stands up carefully, smoothing down her clothes. She isn't sure how long she's been sitting there, staring out the window and seeing something else entirely. It's definitely darker now than when she started.

"Yes?" she says.

Her mother opens the door slightly and peers in. "Don't you have the light on?" She sighs. "Well, there seems to be a young man here to see you."

 

 

"Haruka, really." Michiru says lightly, several confused conversations with household staff later. "Is this a deliberate attempt to cause a scandal?"

Haruka is standing just outside the gates, leaning against her car, hands in pockets. She's dressed in a tuxedo, with a green carnation as a buttonhole. The whole thing is quite perfectly ridiculous, although it does, admittedly, suit her.

"Not at all," Haruka says. "The opposite. I was considering inviting you to move in with me, but then I thought that perhaps it would be rude to ask before the first date. Some things should be done properly." She stands up straight, and offers one hand with a rather exaggerated bow. "Would you care you join me for dinner?"

"I suspect you're teasing me now," Michiru says, but takes Haruka's hand. "By all means play games. Although I do think it's in slightly bad taste to say these kinds of things when one doesn't mean them."

She doesn't say and by the way, aren't you only sixteen?, because she hasn't felt like a sixteen year old very often lately and has no reason to believe that it's any different for Haruka. Anyway, she hasn't raised a fuss about the flimsy "foreign license" excuse for Haruka getting to drive a car at all, so it's probably a little late to start worrying about eccentric behaviour.

Besides, it's the first time she's sat in Haruka's car while she's been in a state to appreciate it.

Haruka, laughing delightedly, revs the car's engine. "Who says I don't mean them?"

 

 

Serious or not, Haruka certainly means to put on a good show.

"Isn't this overdoing it rather?" Michiru asks as they take their seats in the restaurant. It's one of the better ones in town. It's probably not possible to get a table on short notice, which makes this a more elaborate performance than she'd first supposed.

"Nah, not at all," Haruka says. Her face becomes more serious. "Look, I know where you think we should be looking, and I agree. Don't you think it's time we did something about it?"

"Ah, work," Michiru says with a small smile. "So what did you have in mind? We file for transfer to Mugen Academy, I tell my parents that I'm leaving home to move in with someone they've never met and we have marvellous sex every night and fight evil by day? Or were you not actually hitting on me with the suit and the car and the fancy restaurant?"

She has the satisfaction of seeing Haruka flush slightly. It makes her look her age, if only briefly; another of those rare moments that Michiru finds somehow reassuring. Then she smooths herself over again.

"Doesn't sound like a bad idea to me," Haruka says, and gives Michiru an appreciative look. "If that's what you want."

It sounds wonderful. It also sounds dangerous.

"Haruka," she warns. Haruka glances away, nods.

"Sorry. I'm not trying to..."

They're interrupted by the waiter. Michiru orders with a certain level of distraction, and can't remember, thirty seconds later, what on earth it was she asked for.

They sit in silence for a moment.

"Actually, I had some prize money from that last race and I felt like doing something extravagant with it," Haruka says.

Michiru doesn't point out that this really doesn't rule out the whole thing being one giant pass at her.

A moment later Haruka adds, "and about work. I've found an apartment very close to the academy," she reaches into her bag, rifling through the paperwork inside it. "Here."

Michiru takes the papers she's offered, flicks through them. It's a brand new complex, expensive, state of the art. The property listing states that it's a two bedroom unit. From the window they can probably see the academy.

There's a pool in the basement.

She takes a deep breath. She has questions to ask, but she can already tell that they're only going to be about the practical details. They're going to do this.

"Fine," she says. "But I do have one thing to request."

"What?"

"I don't know if I can deal with this sort of flirting if we're going to be together all the time. If we're going to live together. Could you... please?"

Haruka watches her carefully. "Do you really think I'm messing with you?"

"I don't know," Michiru murmurs. "But there's too much happening right now for me to be able to... that is, even if you aren't..."

She meets Haruka's eyes for a moment and then glances away.

"I'm not," Haruka says softly. Is she a little uncertain? "But I'll lay off."

"Thank you," Michiru says, with feelings which are still more mixed than she'd hoped.

"I certainly find you very attractive," she adds, and smiles a little as Haruka blinks at her. "I imagine that were we two normal girls I would have tried to sleep with you by now. But..."

The end of the world hangs there unmentioned between them.

 

 

"You have of course missed the official application period," the woman says. She's immaculately dressed, all sharp clean lines, pale - light blue suit, white blonde hair.

"We're quite aware," Michiru says apologeticly. They're walking down a long corridor, brightly lit, perfectly clean. Everything here, Michiru feels, is a little too clean.

"But of course," the woman says with a smile, "we're always ready to make exceptions for very bright students. I myself entered the academy half way through a term. And both of you have impressive records."

She turns sharply and gestures towards a door. "This is the music department. I understand you have a particular interest..."

Michiru and Haruka exchange glances, and Haruka gives her a small nod.

This building really could be it.

"I'd be delighted to see the facilities," Michiru says.

 

 

"You're switching schools?" Elsa asks. She looks astonished. "You've hardly spoken to me in months, and now you're suddenly leaving? When?"

"Next week, actually," Michiru says. Now, standing here with Elsa, she can feel guilt catching up with her in a way it hadn't when she spoke with her parents. "They had an opening, and it seemed best to take it immediately... you know it's not easy to get in."

"No," Elsa says. "I guess not."

"I'm sorry," Michiru says, "about, well..."

"You know," Elsa breaks in, "don't. I'm OK. But if you start bringing shit up again I'm probably going to get upset."

"Allright," Michiru says.

"Have a good life or whatever," Elsa says. "Look, I've got to get going, I have a thing."

She puts a hand on Michiru's shoulder quickly, awkwardly, and she's off, running back into the routine of her daily life and taking the rest of Michiru's normality with her.

It's done now, Michiru feels. Basically all of it. She's not sure why now; Elsa faded out of her life almost entirely after Haruka came in, horrible as it is to admit. But now it's real, and final.

The feeling of being cut loose from the last of her moorings doesn't fade until she comes to the end of the road, rounds the corner, sees Haruka standing there, lounging easily against a concrete wall.

"OK?" she asks. "Time to go?"

"Yes," Michiru says. "It seems that way."

 

 

They move in together, into the large, expensive Tokyo apartment - their own, mostly from Michiru's reserves, an easily justifiable expense given how far she lives from the academy.

"I think," Michiru says, standing among their collective boxes and unassembled furniture, "we need some rules."

Her voice echoes slightly in the empty rooms. They haven't taken much with them. This is not a home so much as a base.

"OK," Haruka says.

"For example," Michiru says, "getting this done is more important than either of us."

Haruka looks at her for a long time. "If you're in danger you don't want me to risk my neck for you."

"Exactly. And the same goes if you're in danger."

"That's a lot to ask," Haruka says. "Michiru..."

"It is," Michiru says, more firm than she feels. "But I'm asking it anyway."

"Oh man," Haruka says, and laughs, though without a trace of humour. "You play rough."

"Well?"

"OK. You're right, of course."

"Thank you," Michiru says.

Haruka stands by the window, staring out into the grey city. She's quiet and thoughtful, subdued. Michiru wants to take everything back, and knows that the impulse to make things easier for Haruka, to protect her, is exactly why the rule is needed. She can't protect Haruka, and she doesn't need to, and it isn't her job to. Haruka protects herself. There will be times when going back on a rescue mission could cost everything. Better to draw the line in advance.

Term starts in just a few days.

 

 

Michiru lies in her own bare room and thinks about the fact that Haruka is lying on the other side of a thin partition wall. Between that and the new, unfamiliar place, still smelling of paint and varnish, it's hard to relax.

She wonders if she's being too strict in trying to push all of her focus towards work.

She wonders if it would really matter if they had sex. It would probably be fun. As something casual and enjoyable it couldn't be that much of a problem.

But when she tries to convince herself that she'd be able to treat it as just that she finds herself hesitating.

She closes her eyes on the world and wishes that she could settle on one way of looking at this, that making a decision meant one was actually done with an issue. But of course it doesn't work like that.

It takes her a long time to sleep.

 

 

A hundred small habits that neither of them have ever thought about before become apparent after living together for even a short time. Past life memories of being a warrior at the edge of the galaxy haven't really prepared Michiru for dealing with the vague everyday tension over who is meant to be doing the washing up and where exactly the right place to store plastic bags is.

Michiru, coming home with groceries, catches herself noticing with mild irritation just what a messy pile Haruka always leaves her shoes in, and has to laugh at herself.

"I was about to get angry with you for not being a neat shoe-remover," she tells Haruka, still laughing slightly. "I'm afraid I seem to have become middle-aged."

"I thought one was meant to get to have a bunch of sex before the domestic argument stage," Haruka says, and then frowns. "Sorry, I shouldn't have."

Michiru shrugs.

"I think we need a rota, by the way," she says, and dismisses the vivid new mental image she's just been granted of the two of them stretched out on their sofa, naked, tangled together. Perhaps if she's just matter of fact enough, middle aged enough, she can escape her own wants.

 

 

Michiru dresses slowly, adjusts her new uniform, inspects herself in the mirror. It isn't a bad uniform, all things considered; she likes it rather more than the old one.

Opening the door, she comes face to face with Haruka leaving her own room.

"Very nice," Michiru says. "The skirt wouldn't have suited you nearly as well."

"It suits you, though," Haruka says. "Are you ready to go and be a model student?"

"Always," Michiru says.

They share a smile that's only a little uneasy.

 

 

The building seems more convincingly like a school now than the last time they were inside it, with a steady stream of students making their way through the doors, though only slightly. Really it seems most like some kind of corporate head office, all glass and steel, and Michiru knows that the moment she stops blocking it out she'll be able to feel the sense of wrongness setting off alarms in her head.

There's something deeply strange about the fabric of this place. Not the bones and walls of the building but something far deeper. The main question in her mind is whether it's chance or design.

She smiles and laughs with Haruka, following the flow of students their age up crowded escalators. Starting school again might in other circumstances seem like a step back towards normal life, but not this school, not now.

They go to work.

 

 

It really is so conveniently easy to get lost in a new school.

"No, arts," Michiru explains. "I think I have a theory of music class at..." she fumbles through her bag.

"Well," the janitor says, "there's no classrooms here. I think you'll find the music department is on the third floor, miss. Just go down there and to the right, then take the lift."

Satisfied, he turns away and carries on with his work. Michiru slips along the corridor and then pauses, bending over as if tying her shoe laces, until he's gone. Then she eases open the door marked staff only and slips inside.

There isn't time to check thoroughly now, but it's good to begin to get a sense of where they can go for information. This is obviously a monitoring centre for security feeds, though why the door wasn't locked she really can't imagine. Someone is considerate, or just doesn't care.

She takes a quick mental inventory, and slips out again.

It's time to get to class now. She has a model student to be, or to impersonate, or whatever it is she's doing.

 

 

"How was school?" Haruka asks with a grin.

"It certainly is something," Michiru says. "It might be a remarkable place to study if one wasn't constantly wondering if it was evil."

"Yeah, I know. It's also pretty creepy, though." Haruka shrugs off her school jacket, hangs it over a kitchen chair. "Have you ever seen such a clean school? Do you think they throw people out for dropping food?"

"It is all a little mechanical somehow," Michiru agrees. A model school full of model students. Whichever way one wants to spin that.

Haruka, digging through a drawer in her own room, laughs. She's changing, and the door is open. Michiru turns away towards the window, lets her get on with it.

"And they don't seem to have very good security. I suppose they may not be as worried about the usual problems as about other things." Michiru sighs. "Or we may just be jumping to conclusions."

"We'll see." Haruka steps out of her room, buttoning up a fresh shirt. "I think I'm going to take a ride. Come along?"

 

 

To sit on Haruka's bike, pressed close to the curve of Haruka's back, is as close to feeling like flying as Michiru has come. It feels far closer than sitting in the cabin of an airplane, breathing recycled air and watching the world fall away as though it were just a film. If she closes her eyes now the world might really fall away, and there would just be wind, and the rumble of the engine under them, and Haruka.

Perhaps this is what Haruka likes about it.

 

 

They come to a halt by the sea, pull their helmets off, breathe in the warm wind that carries the sea with it. The high buildings of the city lie behind them, casting their late evening lights out onto the water; in the small harbour waves they don't become a reflection but something more abstract, surreal. Michiru would like, she thinks suddenly, to paint it.

She pulls her hair back from her face, feels the wind tugging it through her fingers, and realises that just here, just in this moment, she feels almost free.

"I always figured," Haruka says, pulling her out of her thoughts, "that if I just drove fast enough, if I kept going far enough, I could get away."

She laughs.

"Stupid, right?"

"Oh, I don't know," Michiru says with a smile. "I suppose that depends on what you wanted to get away from."

"As if I even knew," Haruka says.

She turns, and looks up at the city skyline. Further along the coast, almost by the water, the black star of Mugen academy hangs, a hole ringed in by light.

"Do you still want to run?" Michiru murmurs.

"Hm," Haruka says. She looks away, doesn't meet Michiru's questioning gaze. Her eyes are somewhere on the horizon, and Michiru is suddenly afraid of something she can't even put words on.

But then Haruka exhales, drops her eyes to stare over the harbour wall, down into the sea at their feet.

"Not alone, anyway," she says, so low that Michiru almost misses it.

 

 

The dream slams into her mind with such force that it feels like it knocks her awake. She's on her feet before she knows what's happened, but it's too late to escape from the message; the dream-images still hang there in her mind, fully formed. They don't fade, or unravel, or sink back down into the depths. They demand her full attention.

She knows now where their mission is going to take them.

Making her way quietly out into the living room, she finds Haruka already there, looking tired.

"Did you see?" she asks.

"Yeah."

"People will die."

Haruka's mouth twists. "People are already dying."

"People who are still... people."

"I know that," Haruka says, a little too loud. "Fuck! I know that."

They sit together, side by side, as close as they can get. There is nothing to say that they don't both already know. There are no conversations to have that they haven't already played out. Can we, is it really right, are you OK, you know what this makes us.

"I thought it had gotten too quiet lately," Haruka says.

They are weapons, and they already knew it. They are the ones who do what it takes.

Slowly, it gets lighter outside.

Eventually they sleep, still pressed together.

 

 

In public they have their roles. Haruka and Michiru are very close, a little eccentric; their relationship is ambiguous. They flirt with each other. They flirt with everyone else.

Uranus and Neptune are hard and efficient. Their teamwork only gets better. They don't hesitate to take the necessary actions. Their world hardly contains anyone other than the two of them.

In private the edges haven't been smoothed over yet.

Haruka doesn't sleep well just now. Michiru wakes up sometimes and hears her opening and closing cupboards in the kitchen, hears her footsteps in the hall.

Eventually she gets up too, opening her bedroom door just as Haruka steps out of the kitchen.

"Hey," she says softly. "Would you like to come in for a bit?"

Haruka hesitates, and then she dips her head slightly, expression grateful. "Yeah."

They sit on Michiru's bed, not quite touching.

"It's fine," Haruka says, "until I have time to think. How do you do it? You just vanish. I never know where you go..."

Into the sea, into the past. Michiru sighs, watches Haruka's hands fidgeting. She seems to attract people who can't sit still.

"I don't do any better than you do," she says. "I just hide it. You said it. I hide myself."

It's safest, and it's a habit of her upbringing. It isn't necessarily any better than Haruka's urge to run, though.

Haruka is watching her with an unreadable expression. What is she thinking?

Michiru gives her a small smile. "I come back, though," she says, and wonders if it's true.

But it seems to have been the right thing to say. Haruka's shoulders relax slightly, and Michiru realises just how tense they've been all along.

Maybe she can come back.

"Hey," Haruka says, almost under her breath, "you'd better."

The air between them seems to get thinner - she feels something close to lightheadedness. They're sitting very close, Michiru realises. She could just move a little, so...

"Hey, what... Michiru..." Haruka says, breathlessly. "Are you sure?"

Michiru has no idea if she's sure. It depends, she thinks hazily, what the question was really about. And she doesn't dare ask.

But she knows she wants to kiss Haruka, right now, before it's day time again and everything is polished and decided and all of the edges are hidden again and all she can do is feel an irrational ache when it's other girls that Haruka smiles at even as she makes a joke out of it.

So she nods.

"Yes."

Haruka leans forward, hardly any distance at all, just a little dip of her head. Their mouths meet.

The pit of Michiru's stomach fills with a radiating heat, sending out sparks through her body. She reaches out for Haruka, pulls her closer as they kiss, slides her hands over the muscles of Haruka's back, feels the response. They're body to body, sliding awkwardly down into a horizontal heap on the bed. Michiru finds herself on her back.

Haruka, looking down at her, seems momentarily stunned. Then she laughs, face flushed, shifts over Michiru, gives her a moment to breathe.

"What about you?" Michiru murmurs. She doesn't know what to expect, doesn't know what this is to Haruka. She knows what she should want it to be and isn't sure that the reality of what she wants matches.

"Mm?" Haruka says, bending down to press her lips to Michiru's shoulder where her shirt has slipped.

"What do you--mm--want?"

"I want this," Haruka says. "I want," and Michiru, suddenly afraid to hear too much (or was it too little), to let Haruka say anything that she'd feel awkward about the next day, kisses away the rest of the words. Haruka doesn't object, gasps as Michiru's hands catch in her hair, leans in to press the length of her body against Michiru's again.

"Oh," Michiru says, slides her knee up between Haruka's thighs, her leg pressing against the point where they meet. Haruka lets out a low, urgent noise, shifts her hips closer, and Michiru slides her hands up the back of Haruka's legs, over loose pyjama fabric, feeling the warmth beneath it, settling over her backside, pressing, rubbing. Haruka kisses her again, fiercely, with more urgency than grace. Her hands are on Michiru's sides, slipping under her shirt, curling against skin, dipping down to her hips, teasing along the edge of her underwear. Their breasts are pressed together, and the movements of Haruka's body against hers are enough in themselves to make Michiru flush with pleasure.

They roll sideways, sprawl across the bed, face to face, still close. Their legs seem to have gotten tangled.

Michiru gives Haruka a long, questioning look, slides a hand down between them, hooks a thumb over the waistband of her pants.

Haruka, who might just be blushing, nods, a small, quick movement. If Haruka's fans could see her like this... well, for all she knows, perhaps some of them can. But she doesn't think about that any more. Haruka has moved closer again, is easing a hand under Michiru's pyjamas, unsteady fingers working downward, across sensitive skin, brushing lightly and uncertainly against her clit. Michiru groans, slides Haruka's shirt up, pausing to gasp and brace herself against a flare of pleasure as Haruka does something good, one finger flicking against hypersensitive skin. Then she lifts further, pulls away the white cotton that's been covering Haruka's breasts, bends her head to them. They're gorgeous - Michiru can't resist running her tongue over a nipple, closing her mouth around it.

"Oh, fu..." Haruka gasps.

"Good?"

"Good."

Haruka's hands move a little erratically - she's making small, half-gasped noises, though she's the one with her fingers pressed into Michiru's body. Michiru reaches down, places her hand carefully over Haruka's, guides it. Here, and here - like this.

She's going to come, she can feel it building, spreading through her, tensing her, curling her toes into the sheets and arching her back. "Here," she breathes, leaning back against the bed, and places Haruka's hand just right, shows her how hard, how fast - releases her, and lets Haruka take her gasping and shaking over the edge.

Haruka, lifting herself up on one elbow to bend over her, is breathing hard. Her hand is still resting between Michiru's legs, motionless, and she's watching, lips parted.

Michiru reaches for her, but Haruka shakes her head - nervous?

"Too much?" Michiru murmurs.

"I can just... uhn..." Haruka kisses Michiru, takes her hands, draws them up towards her chest. Michiru runs her fingers over Haruka's breasts, cups them, draws her nails lightly over them. Haruka is touching herself, Michiru realises. She realises that she'd like to watch, too, but that might be for another time. If there's going to be another time.

She leans in to Haruka, presses lips to her mouth, to her throat, kisses her between her breasts, stretches a hand up to comb through Haruka's short, messy hair, to trail fingers down the back of her neck.

Haruka says something Michiru doesn't hear, throws her head back, and it's her turn to come, body jerking against Michiru's, breathing in loud gasps. Michiru holds her, smooths her hair, kisses her forehead.

"Feeling allright?" she murmurs, when Haruka relaxes against the messy sheets.

"Mnn," Haruka says.

They lie together, still tangled, and just breathe. But they can't do that forever.

Michiru rolls over, stares at the ceiling, feels threads of worry beginning to work themselves through her thoughts again. She stopped caring for a while there but now she realises all over again that she doesn't know the rules or even what game they're playing.

She wonders what time it is.

She really needs to shower.

 

 

Michiru sleeps badly, but still isn't sure when Haruka left the room. By the time it's morning, though, she's alone in her bed, and she can hear Haruka moving in the kitchen again.

By the time she actually gets up there's tea and juice waiting for her on the kitchen table, and Haruka is nowhere to be seen.

She sits and stares out the window, lets the tea help her back into the world.

Before she's drunk half of it, Haruka is back, kicking the door shut behind her and shrugging off her bike jacket.

"Good morning," Michiru murmurs, and Haruka flashes her a grin that makes her forget to worry for a moment.

Nothing feels terribly wrong here, she thinks, tentatively. Although that might just be because it's day again, so they know who they're meant to be.

They make their way through the day.

They don't do anything differently, although sometimes a word will sound different, feel different - a gesture that's always been there will stick out, highlighted by the night before.

 

 

It's just after school that they feel a new kind of threat stirring, making Uranus and Neptune restless, and they know that it's started. They follow the pull of it, map out the shape of their dream.

At a temple, a girl is pinned to a wall; her friends are trapped too, just a bunch of schoolgirls anyway, no-one can help her.

It's hard to watch, but that's what they do. Michiru sits behind Haruka, hand resting on her shoulder as a reassurance as much for herself as for her partner. They're well hidden.

They stay that way until the end, move only as much as they have to.

It is impossible to react in a way that seems appropriate to holding someone's heart in your hand, judging it, so they try not to react at all. Uranus examines it, face focused and emotionless, and when she shakes her head, Neptune doesn't let her expression shift an inch either. No irritation, no relief.

 

 

Michiru is reminded of her earlier impulse to dismiss the whole thing as petty - and she's reminded of where that impulse came from. She probably wasn't wrong. Time is still a valid concern; so is distraction.

Everything they have to do has come closer again, is pressing in on them, giving them less and less space.

All the same, when Haruka comes to her room and stands in the doorway, waiting for a signal to take a step forward or back, she smiles, reaches out to her.

They are the closest of partners. Partners help each other out. With their insomnia, their frustration, their fear. They do everything they can.

Perhaps it really is that simple. Or perhaps, for now, there are still things they don't quite dare face head on, to name out loud - not when they mean it.

She does know which it is, but for another night, she's willing to pretend.

 

 

By the time there's another attack, more senshi have caught up with events. Yes, Michiru realises, she did know them; but they've always been at a distance, never this close before. She's watched them from far away, from the edge of everything - but not too closely, even then, because her job was to look outward, not in.

They're a different kind of being, a different kind of warrior, and she is instantly unconvinced of Sailor Moon's ability to let anyone die, however necessary it might be.

Michiru doesn't think she dislikes them, as such; she just isn't sure their worlds can be easily connected, or that they should be.

Neptune and Uranus will be better off doing this their own way. Sailor Moon doesn't change that.

They do their job, and go their way.

There still isn't room for anyone else.

 

 

It's all going faster and fast, Michiru feels. Time is twisting and compressing and tugging them forward. There's really no way to control it.

They lie together, close in the darkness of Michiru's room. It's fast becoming their room - only never out loud.

Haruka's arms hold her a little too tight.

"I wonder how long we have," Haruka says - half a question, but not a real one. There's really no need to ask until what.

Michiru shakes her head, shifts closer, smooths a hand over Haruka's hip. "I don't know."

But they know - can tell by the way their dreams change and clarify themselves.

It's just that it isn't long enough.