Makoto faced her adversary, fists up and ready. Her body was taut with tension, and her spirit was singing with the joy of a battle to come. Her bare feet whispered lightly across the floor as she circled her opponent. This time, she whispered, I'll do it. I'll win! Her green eyes searched the other's figure for any sign of movement, and her own breathing was light and steady as she waited. Poised for action, she was in her element.
Suddenly, her opponent lunged forward. Makoto was ready, and charged to intercept. They exchanged a quick flurry of hand chops and kicks, but neither of them succeeded in getting a good hold or blow. Makoto backed away, sweat beading on her forehead. She shook her ponytail back, her eyes never leaving her opponent.
She saw an opening and leapt for it. Her stiffened hand hit the other's stomach solidly, eliciting a pained grunt. Then she suddenly felt herself seized around the shoulders and dumped forcefully onto the practice mat. She was taken completely by surprise, and the landing knocked the breath out of her.
When she could breathe again, she struggled upright and faced her opponent. Haruka was leaning against a nearby wall, a cocky grin on her face. "Still too slow," she taunted.
"At least I lasted a full two minutes this time," Makoto shrugged. "I'm getting better." She set herself in position once more, tying her gi more tightly around herself. "Another match, Haruka-san?" she challenged.
"No," Haruka demurred. "I've got to go. Same time tomorrow?"
"Sure!" Makoto agreed. "I'll get you then!"
Haruka grinned at her. "At least you've the right spirit." Companionably, they changed out of their gi and into everyday clothes. Picking up their things, they left the dojo.
As they emerged into the chilly evening, an airplane roared by above them. Makoto's heart jumped into her throat at the sound, and she flinched.
Haruka looked curiously at her. "Is there a problem?"
"N - Nothing," Makoto said hurriedly, ashamed that Haruka had seen her weakness. She took deep breaths as surreptitiously as she could, trying to still her racing heart.
"Huh," was Haruka's only response. The taller woman looked at the sky, noting the clouds and light. "It's getting late. Would you like a ride?" A long, elegant finger pointed in the direction of the helicopter perched in the lawn. "I could give you a lift home in the Tenou Maru."
Despite herself, Makoto's whole body flinched. "No... No, thank you. It's all right. I'll make my own way home."
"Ne, Makoto..." Haruka's hands gripped her shoulders, steadying her. "What are you so afraid of?"
Gritting her teeth, Makoto regained control of herself. "I'm not afraid of anything!" she declared defiantly.
"Huh," Haruka repeated, releasing her. "I can't believe that you have so little respect for the Princess. I thought you were a true warrior - but I guess I was wrong."
"What?" Makoto cried, stricken.
"Whatever your problem is, get rid of it," Haruka said flatly. "You can't go into battle with this fear inside you. Enemies will exploit your weakness. Every time you fight with this fear inside you, you put the Princess in danger." With that, the sky senshi spun on one heel and stalked off to the waiting helicopter, leaving Makoto wide-eyed in her wake.
As Makoto walked home, the other senshi's words kept ringing through her head. She walked faster, trying to escape them, but the words taunted her and lashed at her until she was almost running. "I am not failing the Princess," she whispered as she sped down the sidewalk. "I am a senshi!"
Tears had gathered at the corners of her eyes by the time she stormed into her apartment. She locked the door and sank down onto the couch, biting back sobs. Haruka's words had hurt her more than she cared to admit. She admired and respected the older senshi; coming from Haruka, the harsh words had torn her to the heart.
"I am a senshi," she whispered again. She would do anything to protect Serenity. She would even give up her life. There was nothing more important to her. How could she not be the perfect warrior? Determined to ignore Haruka's words, she knuckled the tears from her eyes and flipped on the TV.
The television lit up with a commercial. "Fly All Nippon Airways," the speaker coaxed. "ANA Travel will show you the way!" A passenger airplane sped across the screen with a roar of engines. Makoto gasped with terror and dove behind the couch.
"What am I doing? Why?" she cried, getting up angrily. She switched the TV off and watered her plants, trying to find some normality in her life. She gained some comfort from the everyday task, and turned to cooking her dinner.
Soon, a repast fit for a king lay displayed across her table. Makoto regarded it with some pride, inhaling the savory smell. "At least I can cook," she told herself. Eating a couple of bites, she reflected on how pleased Usagi would be to have this dinner.
Sudden despair descended on her. "Oh, wonderful," she cried aloud with despair. "I can't protect my Princess - but I can feed her! Some senshi I am!" Losing all appetite, she flung herself into her bedroom and onto her futon, sobbing. She cried herself into exhaustion and fell asleep without even changing out of her school fuku.
The stewardess smiled down at the small, determined child with the pert brown ponytail. "Can I help you?"
Makoto grinned happily. "My parents are coming home! Flight 58. I've come to meet them!"
The stewardess blinked at her. "You came all by yourself? A little girl like you?"
"I can take care of myself," Makoto said proudly. "I called a taxi and everything! But I don't know where my kaasan and my tousan are going to be. Can you help me please?"
"Of course! I'll take you to meet them." The stewardess knelt down to be on a level with Makoto's gaze.
"What's your name?"
"My name's Kino Makoto, but my kaasan calls me Mako-chan," Makoto confided.
"All right, Mako-chan. My name's Kanemaru Sachie, but you can call me Sat-chan. How's that?"
"Would you like me to carry you?" Sachie asked. "It's an awfully long way."
"I'll walk by myself!" Makoto declared. "But you can hold my hand."
Sachie laughed. "Sure." She looked at her watch. "Actually, we've just enough time to see the flight come in. Would you like to come with me all the way out to the outside of the building? We can watch the plane land, and then you can see your kaasan and tousan even before they get to the gate!"
Makoto's green eyes widened. "That would be great, Sat-chan! Could we? Please?"
"Of course! Come along."
Using her clearance as an airline employee, Sachie led the little girl with the happy green eyes to the outside of the gate. Makoto's legs were short, so progress was slow. They arrived just in time to see the plane appear in the distance.
"See that dot, Mako-chan?" Sachie asked, pointing. "That's your parents' plane!"
"Ooo... can you pick me up, Sat-chan? Please?" Makoto held up her arms. "I can't see!"
"Sure!" Sachie picked Makoto up and put her on her shoulders. "See it?"
"Yeah! Where's it going to land, Sat-chan?"
"See that road?" Sachie pointed to an airstrip some miles from where they stood. "They'll land there, then circle around and come back here to the gate."
"Wow..." The two of them watched raptly as the plane approached.
Then Sachie's eyes narrowed. She'd seen many planes come in for a landing, and something was wrong this time. The incoming plane was wobbling, visibly slipping out of the pilot's control. As Sachie's eyes widened in horrified realization, one of the engines flickered and died. The other engine flickered ominously as the plane went into a dangerously quick dive.
Sachie swiftly swung Makoto off her shoulders and covered the little girl's eyes. "Hey!" Makoto cried, struggling. "Stop that! I want to see my kaasan!"
The little girl was surprisingly strong, and slipped free of Sachie's desperate grasp. Makoto screamed in horror as the plane plowed into the ground and burst into angry flames before her eyes. "Kaasan!" she cried. "Kaasan! Tousan! Get out of the plane! It's burning!"
"Shh," Sachie murmured as firefighters began swarming over the burning plane. "Hush, child. Hush, Mako-chan... don't look..." She managed to get control of the struggling girl, and turned her away from the fiery wreckage. "Shh..."
Wailing, Makoto buried her head against Sachie's shoulder. The stewardess looked up at the flames with horror and despair. The defeated firefighters were backing away from the inferno, and it was obvious that no one had survived the crash. The little girl sobbed into the stewardess' uniform.
"Poor little girl..." Sachie whispered, holding the child close. "Poor little Mako-chan..."
"I want kaasan..." Makoto whimpered. "I want -!"
"Kaasan!" Makoto screamed, jerking upright in bed. She took several deep breaths, clutching the blankets in sweaty hands. Slowly, she realized that she was sitting safe in bed, and that it was nighttime. The moon shone round and full, sending its comforting white glow into the room. Makoto buried her head in her arms and cried, as the pain of the old memory raged through her once more.
The next day, she faced Haruka again across the practice mat. The sky senshi's perceptive eyes looked her over calmly, noting her bloodshot eyes and drawn face. "You don't look up to sparring today," Haruka said.
"I'm fine," Makoto insisted.
"If you insist," Haruka murmured. "Ready to fight, then?"
"Yeah!" Makoto flung herself at the older woman.
Haruka dumped her easily onto the mat. "You're not feeling well."
Makoto rubbed her side where she'd landed. "None of your business." She regained her feet. "Let's try that again!"
She leapt at Haruka, who immediately threw her once more. "You're wrong," Haruka said grimly as Makoto thumped onto the mat. "It is my business. If you can't protect the Princess because of whatever's the matter, then the rest of us have to work harder." The blond woman sank lightly down on the mat beside her. "Tell me what the problem is."
Makoto sat up, cross-legged, and stared at the floor.
"There's no shame in being afraid," Haruka added gently. "The only shame lies in not facing the fear. You mustn't let the fear defeat you."
Makoto stared up at the other senshi. "Aren't you afraid of anything, Haruka-san?" she asked boldly.
"Yes," Haruka answered softly. "I am afraid of many things. I am afraid that I will fail to protect the Princess. I am afraid that I will lose Michiru. I am afraid of my own weaknesses." At Makoto's incredulous stare, the sky senshi grinned sardonically. "But I don't let my fears control me. If I am so honest with you, will you be honest with me?"
Makoto bowed her head. "I am afraid of airplanes," she whispered.
Haruka merely looked at her.
"My parents died in an airplane crash," Makoto said slowly and quietly. The words were almost painful to say, and she had to force them out one by one. "I watched the plane crash to the ground and burst into flames. Every time I see a plane... or hear one... I see my parents die." She stared down at her clenched fists. "I couldn't protect them. And I'm scared... what if my fear strikes during a battle? Will I fail my Princess, too? But there's nothing I can do..."
For a long moment, they sat in silence. Haruka studied Makoto with brooding eyes, while the younger girl closed her eyes against remembered pain.
In one swift, fluid motion, Haruka stood. "Come with me," she said, holding out a hand.
"Come. I feel like running. Will you run with me?"
Makoto blinked at her. "I thought we were going to spar."
"So you think you can't keep up with me?" Haruka taunted.
Makoto's pride leapt to the challenge. "Just try me!" she blazed.
"Come on then!" With that, Haruka was out the door in a flash. Makoto followed.
Haruka ran like the wind, but Makoto kept up easily. They sped away from the dojo and down sidewalks and up hills, running through Tokyo. Breathing hard, Makoto sneaked a look at the other senshi.
Haruka had an enigmatic little smile on her face, and didn't even seem to be exerting herself. "This is how it feels to fly," she said conversationally to Makoto as they raced down a jogging path. They blew past a person on a bicycle; he stared after them. "Racing the wind... I love this feeling as I love my life."
Makoto didn't have the breath to answer, but she understood. Haruka's fierce exhilaration seemed to flow into her, buoyant and wild. Feeling it fill and lift her, she ran more easily, even more swiftly... The wind created by their passing whipped at her hair, and she drove herself faster, faster... Haruka matched her speed, the two of them racing down streets for the sheer joy of running. Makoto felt a wild grin spread over her face.
Glancing over at Haruka, she saw that the other senshi was finally breathing hard; the same grin of manic joy curved Haruka's lips. "Feeling it?" Haruka panted.
"Yeah," Makoto answered breathlessly.
"Then... stay with me!" Haruka suddenly sped ahead, incredibly fast. Makoto pushed herself and caught up. They were running so fast that their surroundings blurred around them. She fought for breath, forcing her body to move faster, faster... and yet she felt no pain. She was conscious only of the wild happiness that surged through her with every step.
Dimly, through the euphoric fog of racing, she understood that this reckless delight was coming from the senshi beside her. The long-legged senshi of the skies ran as if her very life was wrapped up in running, as if just a bit more speed would set her soul free. Her joy in running reached out to the younger senshi beside her, and pulled Makoto up in a vortex of wonder and amazement.
It couldn't last. Although their minds wanted it to go on forever, their bodies tired. Haruka finally slowed their pace to a quick walk, heading back towards the dojo. The two of them walked several laps around the building, letting their hearts slow and gulping deep draughts of cold clean air. Makoto looked at the other senshi in idle curiosity. The crazy grin had faded from Haruka's face, leaving only the usual enigmatic smile.
Makoto suddenly understood the older senshi a little more. Haruka had a permanent restlessness inside of her - the same wild exhilaration that Makoto had shared while they were running like the wind. When Haruka was still, the reckless joy driving her would hide itself under a veneer of sophisticated arrogance, manifesting only as a hint of a smile. But it was always there.
They fetched up near the Tenou Maru, and Haruka flopped down into the long grass near her helicopter. Makoto followed suit, delighted at the cool roughness of the grass stems as they brushed against her skin. She sniffed appreciatively as the aroma of crushed grass rose to surround them, and let all of her muscles relax. For a while, the two young women merely lay still, letting their breathing slow and watching the fluffy clouds drift overhead.
"I take it back," Haruka said softly.
"What I said yesterday." Haruka raked long fingers through her white-blond hair. "I may have been a little harsh. You do have the heart of a true warrior."
Makoto felt her face warming with pleasure. "What changed your mind?"
"You're a fighter," Haruka said. Her voice was quiet, but her words carried clearly. "You kept going. You stayed with me through my run - I admit, I didn't think you could. I was wrong."
"I felt it," Makoto offered. "Your joy... while you were running..."
Haruka raised herself up on one elbow and pinned Makoto with her stormcloud eyes. "Then you cannot truly be afraid."
"But ..." Makoto whispered.
"You shared my joy," Haruka reminded her, as if that mattered.
Sometimes Makoto just didn't understand the sky senshi, and said as much.
Haruka merely rose to her feet with a grin and offered her hand. "Will you share another joy with me?"
Makoto grasped the offered hand and let the taller senshi pull her up. "What?"
Haruka pointed to the Tenou Maru. "Would you like a ride?"
Makoto felt an uncontrollable shudder ripple through her body. "I'm afraid..." she whispered.
"If it makes you feel better, you can transform into Sailorjupiter," Haruka offered. "If you lose control, you can fly free. And almost nothing mundane can harm you as a senshi."
The words appealed to the rational part of Makoto's brain, but she still felt an unreasonable fear welling up inside her. "I don't know if I can..." she said, her words almost a plea.
"You can," Haruka said firmly. "You can keep up with me running, you can throw around lightning bolts - what, you don't think you can ride a little helicopter?"
Makoto's body shook uncontrollably, like a dry leaf in the wind. "I want to!" she wailed. "But I - I don't know..."
"You can," Haruka repeated. "I believe in you. You have a warrior's heart. You are a senshi."
Makoto bit her lip. "I'm a senshi," she repeated to herself. With those words, the fighter's spirit rose inside her, quelling the fear. "I'm a senshi!" Before she could lose her nerve, she took a running leap into the helicopter.
One corner of Haruka's mouth quirked upwards in an approving smile, and the sky senshi climbed into the helicopter beside her. Reaching forwards, she started the rotors whirling.
Makoto gripped the edges of the seat with white-knuckled hands, trying to still her pounding heart. She gritted her teeth against her fear. Finally, she could bear her anguish no longer. She thrust one hand into the air. "Jupiter Planet Power!" she cried. "Make up!"
The energies of her transformation swirled around her, and in a moment, she was wearing her senshi fuku. The added strength and security of her senshi form sank into her, and she was able to breathe easily again. "Whatever happens," she whispered to herself, "I will survive."
Haruka snickered. "You don't trust my flying?"
Makoto blinked. The other senshi had sharp ears. "No, that's not it at all -" she began hastily.
"No worries," Haruka broke in. "I understand." She manipulated the controls, and the Tenou Maru rose smoothly into the air.
Makoto shut her eyes - a mistake. The moment her lids closed, she saw the plane, burning, burning... the little child inside her screamed for her mother, and the flames leapt higher, killing her parents all over again...
"Don't," Haruka said suddenly, her voice loud and abrupt. Makoto's eyes snapped open in surprise, and the brightness of the sky dazzled her.
"Don't concentrate on the past," Haruka said, pitching her voice to carry over the sound of the whirling blades above them. The Tenou Maru swung over Tokyo, affording a gorgeous view of blue sky and buildings. "Concentrate on the present. Feel the wind on your face?"
"Concentrate on that," Haruka advised. "Don't think about anything else. Just blank out everything except the flying. Feel the wind harsh against your cheeks, strong on your hair. Feel the lightness of your body. Drink in the sky, Makoto."
The younger senshi obeyed, taking deep breaths of cold air. Tokyo spun dizzyingly around them as Haruka swung the helicopter around in a tight circle. The beats of the rotors sang loudly in Makoto's ears, somehow a perfect complement to the bright sky above and the bustling city below. She lost herself in the moment, and found to her surprise that she was actually enjoying herself.
"I love flying," Haruka said conversationally. "It's so free. The Tenou Maru's a good way to do it; she's very maneuverable. She can chase the wind. I wish you could feel it."
"Well, you did say I could fly her," Makoto said pertly.
"So why don't you?" Suddenly, Haruka was out of the pilot's seat and crowding beside Makoto. The Tenou Maru flew serenely on.
"Hey!" Makoto clutched desperately at the sides of the helicopter.
"Fly her," Haruka grinned, pushing Makoto into the vacant pilot seat. "Come on! I thought you were brave!"
Makoto buckled herself in. "Of course I am! But I'm not stupid, Haruka-san! I don't know how to fly an airplane!" Panic made her voice shrill.
Haruka laughed at her. "Don't worry. Here, I'll show you. Give me your hands..."
Under Haruka's expert - if impatient - guidance, Makoto slowly gained control of the Tenou Maru. Flying was surprisingly easy; within minutes, she was turning spirals and soaring through the sky. When the Tenou Maru dipped in the wind and banked smoothly just as she'd wished, Makoto laughed aloud, and the past image of a burning plane melted away with the beautiful joy of the present.
Somewhere in the surprised elation of flying, she understood that this feeling too belonged to the senshi next to her. Just as it had when they were running, Haruka's joy expanded to include those around her. Makoto consciously called up the memory of her parents' plane crashing, and let herself accept it - as an accident, a tragedy, but nothing more. The joy of flying that Makoto felt pushed away the terror and fear of the old pain, leaving only a quiet sorrow. The wind caressed Makoto's cheeks as the Tenou Maru flew on, bringing a smile to her lips.
"Glorious, isn't it?" Haruka said with a grin. "Flying. You see what I mean? It's like a beautiful dream."
"Yes," Makoto breathed, guiding the Tenou Maru into another gentle spiral. "It's your dream, isn't it?"
Haruka's grin turned cocky. "Sure of yourself, aren't you?"
Makoto shrugged gaily, sending the Tenou Maru into a sharp curve.
"Would you like to land her now?" Haruka asked. "We're over your house, and it's getting late."
Following Haruka's directions, Makoto brought the helicopter to a gentle landing on the lawn by her apartment building. Then she got out, surprised to find that she was almost reluctant to leave the controls.
"Goodbye," Haruka called as she clambered into the pilot's seat.
"Haruka-san - wait a moment," Makoto said.
"Hai?" The blond senshi turned.
"Thank you, Haruka-san," Makoto said earnestly. "Thank you for helping me face my fear. It was very kind of you."
"It wasn't kindness," Haruka corrected her. "It was my duty. I didn't want to fight next to an ally with a weakness - that's all. Remember, Makoto! Before you can defeat the enemies, your biggest enemy is your own weakness."
Makoto nodded with determination. "I'll remember!" But while she made Haruka's words a part of her self, she also felt a nameless hurt creep into her heart. Some part of her winced with rejection. So, Haruka wasn't being kind, or friendly... just following her duty. Makoto gave the other senshi a perfunctory smile, and turned to walk away.
"Wait," Haruka said suddenly.
Makoto looked back. "Hai?"
"Well, there's more," Haruka amended. "I also wanted to share with you how it felt to fly." She grinned into Makoto's startled eyes. "We share so much, you and I - we're fighters. We want to protect our Princess. And we are both very proud; we want to be the best. We're very similar, Makoto." She held out a hand. "I'd like it if you called me a friend."
Makoto grinned in surprise and joy, and gripped the offered hand firmly. "It would be an honor."
Haruka's hand tightened on hers. "Then I'll see you tomorrow - Mako-chan. And maybe sometime this weekend you'd like to come flying with me."
"I'd like that," Makoto smiled. "It's a deal!"
The blond senshi quirked a smile at her and settled herself into the Tenou Maru. The helicopter blades began whirring, and Haruka lifted into the air with a wave.
Makoto waved back and shaded her eyes with her other hand, watching the helicopter dwindle into the distance. Then she turned to go home, heading across the lawn to her apartment building.
Her steps quickened, and then she broke into a run. She burst into the lobby, and raced up the stairs. The wind of her passing whipped against her face, bringing back the memory of Haruka's pleasure in flying. Her heart sang with that same shared delight.
By the time she reached the door to her apartment, she was laughing breathlessly. She let herself in, and looked out the window at the wide, clear blue sky.
An airplane roared by, bound for the Tokyo airport. Makoto stared fearlessly at it, remembering only the joy-filled flight that Haruka had given her. "How beautiful..." she whispered. She smiled wistfully. "Kaasan, tousan..." she murmured, "I still miss you. But I'm not afraid anymore. You'd be proud of me."
Her bright gaze lingered on the airplane, unshadowed by past pain. The elation of flight filled her once more, warming her to the soul.