DISCLAIMER: Relatively standard stuff. Existing characters are properties of the people who made them up. Mitsuki, and several other characters are mine, and so's the story, hence ownership and copyright of them belongs to me. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want permission to use anything I've written for whatnot purposes.
** No Use For Usagi? **
And lo they did grin mightily when they came down from the roof.
Breakfast was over, and Makoto was cleaning up, Ranma helping out by carrying dirty plates and glasses in and stacking them for washing. She watched him as he moved items around to make room, pile smaller plates on top of larger plates, made a general effort to be clean. Considering he hadn't eaten breakfast with them (but then again, neither had Hotaru - they'd both been up on the roof for the last hour) this was a surprise. But she didn't complain. It was nice to have someone help.
And to spend time with Ranma.
Makoto didn't kid herself. She didn't want Ranma as a boyfriend or anything, she didn't like him that way. But she saw, when he was in one of his quiet, contemplative moods, that side of himself that was struggling to break free from a crysalis, and by all appearances had been trying to do so for a long time.
The sensitive side of him, the responsible side, that part of him which looked out for others. Previously, she guessed, he'd just been that way when things had gotten too bad, or maybe when done to friends. But... he was looking inwards now. His break-up with his fiance proved that, looking to see what would help him best in his own development, not merely swallowing what others said without evidence, but checking through it to see if it was something he could use.
She started washing, and noticed Ranma had picked up a tea-towel to dry them. That was good. He dried while she washed, and they chatted back and forth, quietly, amicably. Halfway through the dishes, Makoto saw Hotaru's reflection appear in a window in front of her. But the young senshi merely nodded, smiled, and ducked back out again, a wistful look in her eyes. That started Makoto. Most girls she'd been around (and, she admitted, being cutting in her truth, her herself as well) were fairly protective of their boyfriends around other girls. And while Ranma and Hotaru weren't an item... Makoto was sure that was only a matter of time.
She smiled at Ranma. "So, how are things with Hotaru?"
"We're just avoiding the subject of Nabiki, aren't we?" Ranma returned.
Makoto paused, then nodded. "We've all talked about you," she admitted, "After you've gone to bed at night. Well, most of us. *Some* of us have more important things to do." She pulled a face as Rei slashed past outside the window with a bokken, working on perfecting offensive technique. "And we've all heard you say at some time or another... that you've got girl troubles. Surely this Nabiki isn't *that* bad..."
Ranma shrugged. "She's a callous manipulative bitch who's only true love is money. You can be sure as soon as she's back in Nerima she'll be selling my location and whatever evil I'm supposed to have done." He paused, and sighed. "No, I'm doing Nabiki a disservice. She does care for her family. I think she might even have considered me family... up until today."
"You think she'll be hurt?"
"Hurt enough to cause us all a lot of pain." Ranma shuddered. "She probably thought the threat could make me go back. And to be honest," he admitted, "I nearly did. Nabiki mad is something you don't want to see. And Kasumi... gah." He shuddered again, and almost dropped a plate.
Makoto took it from his fingers, and then the towel. "Go. Rest. Or eat something. I'll finish up here."
"You don't mind?"
She grinned. "Not at all. I'll do some baking afterwards. Biscuits, cakes, rolls... got a long week at university this week, and a lot of hungry mouths to feed."
Ranma nodded, and headed for the door. He put his hand on the frame, and turned back a moment. "At least we can eat your cooking."
"Yours isn't that bad, Ranma."
He flashed a grin in reply. "I didn't say it was mine I was referring to." And then he was gone.
Usagi set another saucer of milk down for Luna on the bed, while Minako did the same for Artemis. Then they waited while the cats lapped up the milk. They'd only been back a day, and already the food and rest was showing true on them. They were filling out, ribs not so well-pronounced, fur not sticking out at odd angles as skin run directly over any bones, the fur itself looking much cleaner and glossier. What did bother both girls was that the cats were covered in multiple scratches and cuts, some of them having been very deep. Several were encrusted with scabs, and had dried, cracked, flaked, then leaked again, rebuilding the scab, several times in the last three weeks.
"Thank you," Luna said, leaning away from her saucer. "That's very refreshing, thank you Usagi."
"That's okay, Luna. You've had a tough time." Usagi bit her tongue for all of thirty seconds, then opened her mouth to say something, But Luna spoke first.
"You want to know what happened to us."
Usagi nodded, shifting to the floor so she could look into Luna's eyes. "Mmmm hmm."
Luna looked over at Artemis, who nodded. "It's better to tell them, Luna."
The black cat looked directly into Usagi's eyes. "It is a hard story to tell. It's why you, and the other senshi, are here at this dormitory. And why we took so long to get here. You see..."
Sailor Pluto stared at the cats. "I've told the senshi their mission."
Luna stared up at the green-haired woman staring down at her, coldly. "But we've defeated the last -"
"There is never a 'last'," the senshi spat. "There is always more. That is why there are still senshi, and no peace in the universe. Destroy one, more will spring up to take its place."
Luna and Artemis exchanged glances. Artemis spoke. "But Pluto, we've had no indications of anything being spawned. You, yourself, haven't given us any warning of things dire from the future."
Pluto's eyes narrowed. "Because this current evil... the senshi cannot beat. They need to grow up. They need to learn new things. They have to learn how to get by with nothing but their wits."
"This is why you're sending them to Tokyo University?"
"Yes Luna. That's exactly why." Pluto stood upright and folded her arms. "They will learn, or they will die."
"University surely isn't that cutthroat..."
"Artemis, there are things worse than study in this world. They will find that out soon enough." Pluto opened a portal and stepped through it.
The two cats looked at one another, confused. Artemis shrugged. "She still didn't tell us why we got no warning."
"When you girls left us, three weeks ago, we were all prepared to follow a day later, so you could sneak us in, as planned." Luna paused, and looked at he companion again. He took up the story.
"But we didn't count on... something bad."
The hospital wing exploded. A wave of dark energy swept out, faster than thought, and washed over the two cats, who were walking past it at the time. Chips of concrete sliced through them before they could hide behind cover, but their not-quite-normal physiologies started sealing the most major of the wounds before they could become fatal.
A large enough chunk, though, would have killed them.
They huddled, until the debris stopped flying. And then they poked their heads up. Rodents fled the building in terror, heading for somewhere, anywhere, else. One behind them paused. It looked back, why, the cats would never know.
But out of the clouds of dust, a woman in a nurse's uniform carried a shiny black thing . She was bleeding from several wounds that were closing up as the cats watched, and the black thing stared at the rodents. Then it climbed down out of the nurse's arms, and lifted a hand to point at the hesitating rodent. A black blob spurted out of its palm, and smashed into the rat, consuming it. It squealed in pain, agony, then twisted and swelled up to double its normal size. Long, sharp spines pushed from its back, five claws fused into two claws with a rear-facing third. Muscles burst from the creature, and tentacles waved from the snouth of the beast, which had teeth that tripled in size.
The nurse and creature turned, and walked back into the rubble. Luna and Artemis, shocked into immobility, could do nothing but watch as the creature grabbed a person, and sucked them dry of fluids, then ate the meat right off the bones. The nurse followed likewise.
The rodent-thing sniffed the air, then turned to look at the cats. It snarled, and two of the tentacles lashed out at them. They were so fast, Artemis and Luna barely had a chance to avoid them, and the slashes slipped through their fur and sliced them. Thankfully they were only surface wounds, and the two felines leaped towards the rat, intending to inflict some damage of their own on it, but it was too quick. Dodging, the rat then flicked its newly-enhanced bladetail at them. Luna jumped one way, Artemis the other, and the blade sliced into the concrete of the footpath.
It was about then that the cats decided they had best run away.
With a flick of their tails, they leaped and bounded, dodging and sprinting, until the rat was far behind them and around several corners. There, they panted and regained their strength. Both felt something, and looked towards the far end of the alley they hid in - the senshi sailed past the entrance. And moments later, above them, a young man carried the last of the available senshi - Saturn.
Luna called out, but none of the senshi heard. No wonder - she was trying to be quiet, lest she attract the rat-thing stalking them. Artemis turned from the other end of the alley, where he had been cautiously peering out. "It's after us."
He didn't need to say more, and the cats ran off, hearing the skittering of claws on concrete behind them, never gaining, just occasionally giving them time to breathe, as if this was but a game to it...
"And then," Luna finished, "we spent the last three weeks avoiding it."
Artemis filled in the rest of the story. "Every so often, we would wake to find it entering where we had hidden to sleep. Or it would catch up to us to toy with us. We think we finally got away from it, though... it had been herding us away from this place, as if it knew we wanted to come here, and were keeping us away."
Usagi nodded, and glanced at Minako. "Wow. You guys have had almost as exciting a time as we have."
"You've said," Luna replied.
Minako added, "Many times."
Usagi grrred at her friend, then looked back to the cats. "But what makes you think you avoided it? Maybe it let you come back here?"
Luna looked at Artemis. Artemis looked back at Luna. "Crap," both said in unison. Usagi's and Minako's eyes opened wide.
"I didn't know you knew how to use language like that!" Usagi said, surprised.
Luna eyed Usagi warily. "Meow."
Downstairs, and outside, there was a wet squishing sound. Then Rei yelled out, "I've got it!"
Makoto opened the kitchen window, and leaned out to see what Rei was yelling about. On the end of her bokken, she had a huge rat-like thing impaled. It gesticulated for a moment, then the movements subsided, and it finally fell still, eyes growing glassy and dead. Rei lowered her weapon, and the thing slid off it.
Then she gave it a hesitant kick, then a stronger one. Nothing. It didn't stir.
So she picked it up and put it in the dorm's industrial-sized bin.
The cats raised their eyebrows, looking down from the window. "I'm impressed," Artemis muttered.
"She made that look so easy," Luna responded.
"Huh. Must be all that extra training. The three of them are learning so much from Ranma." Usagi sniffed. "We'll find out tomorrow just how good he really is, though."
"Why's that, Usagi?" Minako asked.
"Mamo-chan's arriving for a little stay." Usagi's face lit up, brighter than the sun.
"Uh, Usagi? He can't do martial arts too well..."
Usagi glared. "Who said he was coming to compete in martial arts?"
Ranma lay on his bed, arms folded behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He'd pulled his curtains, so Rei would stop peering in as she went past his window, working on her bokken technique, and it was relatively dark in his room at the moment.
He heard footsteps outside his door, coming from the rear of the dorm - very probably the hot springs. They went into Hotaru's room, and the door closed. There was movement from in there for a few minutes, then the door slid open again. Footsteps across the hall to his door. Hesitation.
Ranma grinned. Just as he heard the whisper of her clothing, as she raised her hand to knock gently on the closed door, he called out, "Yes, Hotaru?"
"May I come in, sempai?"
The door slid open, and Hotaru stepped inside. She was dressed in yellow shorts with rolled-up cuffs, and a button-up short-sleeved white shirt with a sleeveless pale blue vest over the top. Her hair looked damp, and she had slip-on shoes on her feet, a towel in one hand. She used the other to slid the door partway shut behind her. "Sempai? Could I ask you a favour?"
Ranma nodded, waiting.
She looked uncomfortable, and squirmed.
That was all the prompting Hotaru apparently needed. She sucked in a deep breath, and asked, "Sempai would you be able to help me down the stairs and take me for a walk to the park I can understand if you don't want to but I'd like you too if you're not busy and -"
He raised a hand to cut her off. She fell silent like he had pressed a stop button on a cassette deck. "Hotaru, of course I'll go with you."
She smiled, her face brightening. "Perhaps we could even do some practise beside the duck pond?" Ranma nodded. "And eat ice cream?"
Tempting. But no. Ranma shook his head. "Not this time. Let's just get some exercise, huh?"
Hotaru nodded, and stepped outside the room while Ranma changed his clothing. When he stepped out moments later, she stepped out to the side, looked up at him. He took her hand lightly. "Come on, we'll go tell someone where we're going." Hotaru nodded.
The first person they found was Makoto, in the kitchen still. "A walk in the park?" she asked, her eyes twinkling. Hotaru blushed. "Well, take some lunch with you. I've made some..." she looked at the table in front of her, packed with food she had been preparing for university use by the seven girls - as well as making lunches for Ranma. "Uh, sandwiches. Take these." She held up two packets of sandwiches, and both Ranma and Hotaru thanked her before heading out.
The phone rang. Makoto sighed - no one around. Ranma and Hotaru had left only ten minutes earlier, and weren't in the house, so they couldn't answer it. She dried her hands off, and walked out into the front lounge to answer it.
"Hello?" It was a man's voice. She recognised it immediately. "Oh! Mamoru! Uh, hi. Yes, Usagi's here. Do you want me to go get - no? Okay. Yes, that should be fine... I don't think anyone'll worry about it. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. That's it. Just there. Mmm. Okay... see you then." She smiled, and hung up the phone. Mamoru had managed to arrive early, bringing some of Usagi's things from his home she'd forgotten the last time she'd been over there. They hadn't seen each other in three weeks... a little over, Makoto realised, nearer four. And they had to both be itching to get at each other. She smiled again, and headed back into the kitchen.
The park was quiet, green, with sparkling water. The duck pond in the middle of the park was a great place to relax, calm down, focus and concentrate, Hotaru found, as Ranma stepped her through some tai chi moves in warm-up. They stepped through those they usually did in the mornings, then went through some new ones. Ranma noted her form was improving no end, she was flowing from one movement into another with ease now, gracefully. It was when those moves were sped up that she started having problems... but control of that would come with time.
After the tai chi, they moved into the usual tae kwon do katas. He'd picked them for the group because tae kwon do was easier than some of the other martial arts, and was something of a mass movement in certain areas - and groups were always assured anywhere. So if the girls had left him, they could have picked up on their training elsewhere. It was a nice bit of forethought he'd had, he thought, congratulating himself for a moment. But then he was back into the training, assisting Hotaru with comments and demonstrations.
"Will we be sparring today, sensei?" Hotaru asked after a while.
Ranma shook his head. "Let's not spoil it, eh? Just practise some moves."
Hotaru nodded. They worked some more, doing reverse spinning side-thrust kicks, and Ranma wondered if it might be possible to teach Hotaru something the others could already do, but did little of...?
He gestured to her. "Come here." She obediently trotted over to stand next to Ranma, and he stood in a ready pose. "Stand ready." She did. "Now, check your target." She picked a spot out far ahead of her, as did he. "Spin. Weight on the front foot. Weight off the back. Bring the back leg up tight to the body." Hotaru wobbled, Ranma stretched out a hand to steady her - they were doing this slowly, he had expected her to wobble a little. He removed his hand once she had her balance again. He noted with pleasure she hadn't taken her eyes off her focal point. "Complete spin. Twist leg, thrust foot forward. Hit with ball of foot." He paused. "I'm going to say this all at once, then I want you to copy it, okay?" Hotaru nodded. "Jump off high with front foot. Drop back foot down for balance and landing position. Flick front foot up into kick with ball of foot. Then the tricky part. After contact with your target, continue the leg's spin. Bring the other foot up to increase spin. Kick with back foot as it passes target... then flip completely, land on front foot. I'll demonstrate."
And he did, flawlessly. Not a standard technique - heck, not even one in tae kwon do. But a combination of several techniques, which was what he wanted Hotaru thinking about. Moving from block to punch to kick to block was all very well and good - but blocking with two limbs, and kicking, punching and jumping with the other two at the same time were so much better. Speed was of the essence in combat, when it was for blood, for real, and not for show or play. He was taking a chance here. Transformed, he knew Hotaru was capable of the effort with ease. But without her transformation... he just wasn't sure. Even if she were capable of it... there was every chance she might not be capable of doing much else in a fight.
Yet, a move like that, timed at exactly the right moment, could very likely turn the tide in her favour. Enough strength behind the kicks, she could snap her opponent's neck, break a nose, smash a cheek, pop an eye, something drastic. It was such a design flaw of the human body that so many vital and important things were so close together on the face.
He moved to stand directly next to her. "I'll catch you if you can't make it."
Hotaru nodded. "Can I start from the beginning?" Ranma nodded. She moved back into a ready position, and gathered herself. Then, she spun, accurately delivering that first kick with all her strength towards her target point. With barely a hesitation, she then leapt up, kicking. Then spun that leg up further, bringing the other with it. She got the second kick out, flinging her body backwards, feeling the world and her balance spin -
- and with that came the realisation that she was going to hit the ground, head first. She didn't have enough spin, and was dropping -
- but strong arms caught her, swung her around a little so the sudden stop didn't hurt her, slowing until Ranma could stop moving without her feeling pain. He nodded appreciatively at the young senshi.
"That was very good."
"I failed, sensei."
"That's not important, Hotaru," he followed on. "What is important is that you combined moves, like a martial artist in anything other than a demonstration fight should be doing. What is also important is you gave it your best shot. You can't ask more than that of someone. But this training will be doing your body good... I picked this move to test your skill, ability and strength. I want you to think about this move, and when you think you can do it, we'll try again, okay?"
Hotaru thought about that, and nodded. "Yes, sensei."
Ranma smiled. "Come on. Time to eat." They sat and ate their sandwiches, watching the ducks on the pond, silent.
They went home not long after that. And on the way home, Ranma bought Hotaru an ice cream.
There was a man at the top of the stairs. Young, early twenties, Ranma guessed. Still older than him, though. Hotaru dropped off his back, and stepped up beside him. Her eyes opened wide as the young man turned to look at her, and both smiled.
"Hotaru!" he said.
"Mamoru!" she replied. "Usagi will be so glad to see you!"
The man, Mamoru, nodded. "I arrived early." He gestured at two of the three bags at his feet. "I brought some of her stuff with me, too. She left it at my place before you all left for here."
"Ranma-sempai, this is Mamoru. Usagi's boyfriend," Hotaru added. "Mamoru, this is Ranma, our dorm's manager and caretaker."
Ranma stepped forward a little cautiously, but put his hand out. Mamoru took it, and they shook hands. "You're not gonna try and beat me up, are you?" Ranma asked.
Mamoru chuckled. "No. Actually, some of the girls told me about you a week or two back. Said you were a competant martial artist?"
Ranma smiled nervously, and raised his hand behind his head, trying to find somewhere else to look. "Uh, well, yeah, I guess so," he managed to get out before the front door to the dorm opened.
Usagi stepped outside, looking behind her at whomever was pushing her outside. "Really, Makoto, I don't need to come out here and," she turned her head to the front. And froze. And blinked.
"Usagi," her boyfriend replied.
"Mamoru!" Usagi launched herself into his arms, and they spun around. Ranma stepped back.
"I, uh, guess she likes him, eh?" he asked Hotaru.
The girl nodded. "Yes, sempai." And slipped her hand into his.
SAILOR MOON SAYS:
Well, I wanted a nice soppy happy ending for this chapter, sue me :)
Some character development, what happened to the cats, things between Hotaru and Ranma made a little clearer. I'm growing to really like these two as a couple... I can just see it now... scary.
Oh yeah... one pic I did really quickly the other night... http://www.netaccess.com.au/~domino/Hotaru1.JPG (with the capitals in the extension) is a very quick sketch pic of Hotaru, ready for the first date they all went on... just before Mitsuki turned up. Some stuff wrong with it that, if I ever get around to making a proper, decent version of it, I'll fix up. Including the hair. But I thought I'd share :)
Hmm. Next part, I don't know exactly. Mamoru's here, so let the competition begin! The date is finalised. Competition lines are drawn. And all the rest. Expect some other characters turning up, too!