A/N: Ack! I'm so sorry that it took us so long to update this… how long has it been? Twenty days… /boggles/ My god that's the longest between Kakera updates evarr! Hope we make it up to you with… nothing, actually, or something… but we aren't allowed to tell. /winks/.

And now… we're hoping for a review count of two hundred and ninety, or even three hundred after this chapter, actually. A faint hope, but perhaps you might oblige? It took us a little while to get out of the writing rut, and it was quite difficult right up until last night or so.

290 reviews! Our aim, please help/begs/ Thankee… and end the babble, start the chapter.

Kakera ni Tsukiakari

A Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon fanstory by Arashinobara Jikkankakyoku

IX – Enrai no Sasayaki

The Whisper of Thunder

'Water reflects light, whether it be murky or clear, and in one's reflection one sees Truth – Truth, which is ugly and hateful; Truth, which is kind and nurturing; Truth, which is angry and twisted; Truth, which is loving and gentle. In Truth is Knowledge, and in Knowledge is Power, and in Power is Corruption – and in Corruption's demise is Truth. So spins the Wheel of Destiny, and so flows the River of Time. There are times of Truth and Enlightenment. There are times of Knowledge and Advancement. There are times of Power and Greatness… and there are times of Corruption and Darkness. So spins the wheel, so weaves the tapestry – none can see what the True Tapestry holds, save perhaps the Fates and the Father, and the Mother. But this I know: my Princess and her Prince lie at the heart of Darkness, and in the Soul of Light.'

– Sailorneptune of the Outer Senshi

There was someone staring at him, Motoki was certain.

There was also an orchestra playing the punk-rock cover of Carol of the Bells in his head, with his brainpan the star instrument and his mind the captive audience, but Motoki preferred to disregard that, perhaps out of the hope that if he ignored it, it would ignore him.

No, Motoki found it more productive to concentrate on the foreign gaze that was raising the hairs on the back of his neck, and the foreign surface underneath him.

It was a couch, he was pretty certain; maybe even one he knew.

Motoki inhaled deeply. A fresh breeze met his nose; rainfall, fresh topsoil, roses —

Roses! He was still in Mamoru's flat!

But what on earth was he doing here? He was supposed to call Reika and Naru — Usagi might have been put in the hospital…

'But wait, there was that guy —'

— that brat with the silver hair and green eyes who'd broken into Mamoru's flat by his balcony!

The bastard must've cold-cocked him! But why put him on the sofa and stare at him as if waiting for him to develop pink and lavender spots…?

Motoki snarled and sat up. Just let him get his hands on that little bastard and – he'd promptly mewl weakly and tumble off the sofa, clutching at his head and begging Kami-sama to let him die, or at least have let him had any alcohol before cursing him with the hangover.

Somewhere over his head, the stranger let loose a quiet chuckle.

He chuckled. He was laughing at him, the bastard.

Motoki hauled himself upright by trying to climb up the coffee table and levered open his eyes. "Yarou," he began heatedly —

— only to be arrested by the sight of Mamoru, sprawled in his favourite easy chair and staring at him as if he were the next big thing in comedy, a sleeping Usagi (who looked miles better than the last time he'd laid eyes on her) resting her head on his chest, her legs draped across his lap.

"Now, Motoki-kun, there's no call for such language," his best friend reprimanded cheerfully.

"Ma-Ma-Mamoru!" Motoki stuttered, and entirely failed to care; they were here, Usagi was well, Mamoru was home… Words tumbled over themselves in their haste to get out of his mouth. "My keys! I forgot them — came back — empty! You were gone — and when I went to the balcony — green eyes —"

"Slow down, Motoki-kun," Mamoru coaxed, though his mouth twitched suspiciously at the stream of near-incomprehensible babble coming out of the older blond's mouth. "Quietly, though; you'll wake her up."

Motoki took a deep breath and rolled his eyes, seating himself on the couch more properly. "I forgot my keys at your house," he said carefully. "I came back, and found the front door unlocked. I came in, and the place was empty: you and Usagi were gone. I heard a noise on the balcony, and thought it might be you — and then there was this punk about your height with green eyes who thought he could break into your flat by your balcony. Little bastard laid me out before I could react," he admitted with ill grace.

Mamoru was frowning darkly, the blond saw — the dark-haired boy's fists were clenched; the veins on the back stood out stark from his skin.

Usagi whimpered in her sleep, and the tension fled from Mamoru's frame as he soothed her hair and rocked her gently, prompting a smile from the watching soda jerk. 'Like a mother and her child,' he thought, before something occurred to him. 'No,' he decided, 'a man and his wife.'

When at last the sleeping girl was calmed, Mamoru began to speak, very softly. His voice faltered in places, but otherwise filled the room for the next several minutes as he unwillingly related to Motoki the occurrences of the last couple of weeks — the unexplained blackouts, Usagi and her injury, the strange healing powers, the black streaks which had so mysteriously vanished — and the youma. Motoki, sensing his friend's reluctance to speak at all, prompted him gently, and added to what Mamoru knew by relating his and Naru's hunches.

"Without Naru-chan, I wouldn't have noticed a lot, or else just thought that if you really needed something, you'd come to me to talk," Motoki admitted as Mamoru finally ran out of words. "But there she was, in the arcade, grabbing me and shoving me into a broom closet —" the blond laughed sheepishly. "I actually reminded her I had Reika already — thought she'd almost explode from the frustration.

"Demo … she said that Usagi-chan had blacked out, and that she couldn't remember how or what was going on — that there'd been a monster at her mother's store and that Usagi-chan locked herself in with the monster — and she didn't seem to be harmed…. Yesterday, though, Naru noticed that Usagi-chan's eyes had turned dark, and then she was walking out, as if she were in a dream. Then you followed her, and I started thinking about the time you didn't know what had happened…" Realising he was rambling again, Motoki took a deep breath and exhaled noisily. "Naru couldn't find Usagi-chan, but she saw you duck into an alley, and tried to follow you — but you were gone.

"And when it happened before at school…" Motoki continued, wary of Mamoru's silence, "Both of you turn up unconscious —"

"Naru-chan knows?" Mamoru interrupted. "Or she knows a little…"

Motoki leaned back into the couch cushions and contemplated the ceiling. "You are going to tell her all this, aren't you?" he asked pointedly.

"You can tell her," Mamoru muttered. "I wish you hadn't gotten involved… Tenshiko and I are neck-deep, and that's bad enough. Besides, Tenshiko would have a fit if one of you got hurt." Hastily, "so would I, for that matter."

Motoki looked up to see the expression on Mamoru's face and promptly hated it. "We'll be safe," he snapped uncharacteristically, seeing the dead expression melt into surprise, the dark-haired boy clutching even more tightly at the girl in his lap.

"You can't be sure of that!" came the expected response, and Motoki actually threw his hands upwards in a gesture of supplication.

"Kami-sama," the blond growled back, "You're so bloody stubborn! There are monsters —"

"Youma," Mamoru corrected absently, his dark eyes drifting closed in weariness.

"Demo… youma, and you and Usagi-chan…"

Usagi was stirring; Mamoru shot Motoki a warning glance and the blond nodded wearily; he would talk to Naru himself, and it was time to take his leave. "What will you tell Ikuko-mama?" he wanted to know.

"She won't be home today; I'll bring Tenshiko home myself. Kenji-papa should still be awake."

Motoki glanced at the time on the cassette player; it read ten minutes to eight. He had returned to the appointment sometime after five.

As Motoki left the apartment complex, two things occurred to him — the first being that, if he didn't hurry, he was going to be very, very late for his movie date with Reika, which was scheduled to begin at eight-thirty.

The second item came as he was sprinting down the sidewalk, almost knocking over a slender, white-haired girl rounding the corner.

'How did that brat get up ten stories and onto Mamoru-kun's apartment balcony, anyway?'

"See?" a boy popped up directly next to the albino girl, who was rubbing her arm where the manic blond had crashed into just heartbeats ago. "He is not all that harmed for the knock on his head. Ol' Toki-jisan always had a skull hard enough to split marble."

Red Eyes spat a rude curse at her brother, to which he replied in kind; just as they were making as if to lunge at the other, a pair of strong hands grabbed them both by the collars of their shirts and shook them roughly. "Enough, you two!" Blue Eyes hissed, rolling her eyes. "Why did hahaue and chichiue not take up vows of celibacy right after I was conceived? Tenkaichi's Balls –"

"Hey!" yelped Green Eyes, and was shaken again. "Anyway, I should be the one complaining – you weren't the one who walked in on them –"

"Shut up," his older sister ordered, and turned to walk down the street, a sibling apiece still swinging from each hand. "Now, you were saying about that flat…?"

"Getting some kind of residence close to either would be good –" Red Eyes ventured seriously, ignoring the fact that her sandals were dangling a good half-foot off the ground.

"Bakas, remember how much you two look like them!" the boy hissed, and his elder sister gave him a threatening look. "…and me, too, but that's not the point! Just choose somewhere neutral… attend the schools…"

A sigh. "I was only supposed to come back, grab the two of you, and present your prostrate forms to the King. By his order, of course," Blue Eyes added the last comment wryly.

"We're already going to be fried for coming back; staying for a little while won't change the fact that we're all going to be dangling by our ankles from the ceiling of the throne room," the boy muttered.

Red Eyes spoke now, her tone timid. "How is she?" Her twin's cheerful disposition vanished as he too waited Blue Eyes' response.

The young woman was silent for several long moments before she spoke. "Not good," she said lowly. "I saw her just before I went to the Gates – she's getting worse. We might not even be in the right time…"

Immediately, there were protests from the twins. "Cronus promised us this!" Green Eyes whispered angrily. "And since she's cured now, she should be fine…"

"The illness was supposed to happen, and Tuxedo Kamen was supposed to gain knowledge of Sailormoon's soul – the Queen is ailing because there are circumstances unforeseen that have endangered her," the younger girl pointed out, tucking a curl of pink-streaked white hair behind an ear.

"She's right," Blue Eyes sighed. "And we still may be in the wrong time."

Green Eyes began to bristle before he too exhaled in resignation. "Let us stay for a few days," he begged, "so that we may be sure…"

Blue Eyes hesitated and stopped walking to let them down, absently shaking the tension from her hands. "I don't see why not," she agreed, "considering if we stay here, we will eventually encounter the threat." A groan. "He's going to have my head…"

"Puu will put in a good word for us, you know she will," her younger sister pointed out, skipping a few times before falling into a sedate pace next to her brother. He slung an arm around her obligingly, though his face still held unease. "Don't you worry about her – she'll pull through."

She has to.

All three knew the unspoken thought, but they continued to smile and laugh at other things, knowing that if they spoke of it, the tentative shield of normalcy they had just woven would fall, and despair was hardly the best way to start a new life in the past.

Mamoru tried not to jar the sleeping Usagi awake as he unbuckled her safety belt, but knew he had failed when crystal-blue eyes blinked sleepily up at his midnight ones. "Mamo-chan?" she asked drowsily.

"Gomen ne, Tenshiko," he apologised quietly, but as he made as if to lift her out of her seat, she drew back, her chin tilting up obstinately.

"I can walk myself," Usagi muttered, and at her friend's hesitation, she nudged him gently and he allowed her to step out, steadying her as she stumbled.

"Stubborn," he chided, and Usagi could hear the amusement and reproach in his voice.

"Maybe a little help," she conceded, and accepted Mamoru's assistance. By the time they reached the front porch, however, her legs were trembling, and Usagi sighed in relief as Mamoru rang the doorbell. "I just need practicing again," she insisted. "If I can't walk, I can't dance, now, can I?"

"You're not still thinking about going to the dance, are you?" Mamoru exclaimed, aghast. "Your parents would never allow it, not after that fever… it's only a few days away –"

"Papa will let me," Usagi said, but didn't sound as convinced as she wanted to. "…If I ask nicely."

Her father answered the door, ushering them both in and pushing a bowl of lukewarm chicken broth into Usagi's hands as he bade them sit at the table. Mamoru offered to leave, but was begged to stay by both Kenji and Usagi, and nibbled at some of Ikuko's left-over cookies as he watched with some trepidation while Usagi – true to her word – brought up the subject of the dance.

"Absolutely not!" Tsukino Kenji exploded. "A dance? After that scare you gave us? Aijou, you were running a one hundred and four point four degree temperature! And then you ask to go to a dance! Your immune system will be tired from fighting the fever; you'll catch all sorts of bugs from other people!"

Usagi sighed, and resorted to her most pleading expression, something that had never failed her before. "Demo… Papa, we – Ami-chan and Mina-chan and I – we made plans to go together, and with Naru-chan and even Saori is going, and Mamo-chan will look after me, you know he will and I promise I won't dance with any strange boys!"

"Tenshiko, don't exert yourself," the upperclassman in question cautioned. "You were very sick –"

Usagi's shoulders slumped miserably. "Demo –" she tried, and her face fell as her father's expression firmed and the brunet shook his head firmly.

"Iie," he said softly, "I don't think so. Aijou-chan – Usagi, onegai –"

Usagi gave her father a wan smile and a hug. "Gomen for acting like a spoiled child," she apologised quietly. "It's just… I wanted to have some fun, you know?"

Kenji smiled fondly at his daughter. "Of course – no matter how long ago it was, I was once your age. Now, go to sleep – you're staying in bed tomorrow, too."

"Demo –"

"Iie. Sleep now and maybe we'll move you up from liquids to solids."

Usagi cast Mamoru a terrified expression. "My fever is broken! Ask Mamo-chan –"

Mamoru lifted Usagi easily, nudging the hallway door open as he made his way carefully up the stairs. Leaning in close so that Kenji would not hear, he whispered an assurance into her ear: "don't worry, Tenshiko – I'll smuggle in some of the leftover sushi when I stop by tomorrow during my double-hour study block."

She cheered up considerably at that. "What about some chocolate – you know that chocolate gives you the most energy –"

"We need to give you proper nutrition, Usa, not get you hyper so that you burn all your calories and waste away in bed…"

Usagi gave her best friend a confused look. "Nani? Mamo-chan, that made no sense…"

Mamoru merely chuckled softly and lowered her onto her bed, tucking the light blue comforter snugly about her slender form. "Dream sweet, Tenshiko," he bid her goodnight, and rose to leave; she clutched desperately at his sleeve. "Hmmm?"

"Stay with me, onegai?" she pleaded. "I don't want to… not on my own –"

He understood – even before the blackouts and youma, she had never liked sleeping alone, which would explain the large collection of plushies and soft toys arranged haphazardly about her pillows. Glancing at his watch, which read quarter to nine, Mamoru decided he could stay a little longer and retrieved his reading glasses from a pocket before striding over to her bookshelf.

When they had first met, they often read aloud to one another, Usagi because she needed practice yet, and Mamoru because Usagi liked to listen to his voice. As they aged, The Boy who Drew Cats, a famous Japanese folk tale, became a stumbling read of the classic Heidi in English. Smiling softly, Mamoru picked a book at random and dusted the cover with a brisk pat before sitting down beside a beaming Usagi.

Flicking open The Boy and the Samurai to the first chapter, he began: "The exact date I came into the world I do not know. It was in the spring, five years before the great Takeda Shingen, the ruler of the province of Kai, died. I seem to have…"

It was perhaps thirty pages into the story when he realised that her half-drowse had become a peaceful slumber. Marking the book and placing it on her beside table, he removed the pins from her buns and placed a soft kiss on her cheek before turning to go, leaving a tiny crack in the door so that the light from the hallway filtered in.

In her sleep, Usagi smiled, and Mamoru allowed himself to fix the image in his head before he left the doorway, nodding respectfully to Kenji and ruffling Shingo's hair before he exited the house.

For a moment, all that was heard in the living room was the sound of the weather forecast and Shingo's Sailor V game piping a quiet tune as he skilfully manipulated the buttons on his gameboy.

Shingo was the first to break the quasi-silence, watching Sailor V's tiny image making a triumphant 'V' sign with her hand as he entered in his high score. "So, when are they getting married?"

Kenji snorted softly. "When they get past the illusory platonic stage."

"What's that?"

"You'll understand when you're older, I'm sure."

Shingo sighed and switched off his gameboy. He got that a lot.

Ami gazed absently at her notes, her mind absently picking up the important points of the lecture as her hand scribed them onto the lined paper. However, the bluenette's mind was as far from the relevance of Japan's role in the First World War as Mercury was from Pluto – all her thoughts were firmly fixated on the revelations of the last forty-eight hours.

Sailormoon was Princess Serenity.

Tsukino Usagi was Sailormoon.

The first revelation was something she knew from Minako's and her first conversation, and though that was a surprise, the second one had been even more staggering. When Luna and Artemis had returned from Central Control several hours after the bluenette and blonde had left Mamoru's apartment, Minako had reported the civilian identity Sailormoon passed under, which she had discerned during the aforementioned visit.

'Sailormoon is Princess Serenity.'

It had been almost shockingly easy to think of Sailormoon as the Princess – after the initial shock at just how straightforward and simple it had been to locate her, that is. Sailormoon had yet been an unknown, and though Ami's affections for her were surprisingly strong, it was difficult to place a true face behind the domino mask and civilian glamour.

"It isn't our senshi forms that are disguised," Minako had said with a broad wink. "We look little like our 'parents', really, save for colouring – your mother in this life shares a similar shade of blue eyes, for instance," she had remarked casually to Ami, "but the glamour supplies the rest of the world with an appearance in which you resemble your maternal grandmother. In your true form, your eyes are slanted, and your nose has a distinct saucy tilt. You favour the True Trickster, with your laughing gaze and cheeky nose."

'Tsukino Usagi is Sailormoon.'

That was harder to swallow. The ferocity with which the petite senshi battled was… Ami could not see any of Usagi-chan in the cold-eyed warrior who destroyed the Dark Kingdom youma with anything less than satisfaction of a job well done – a tiara well-thrown.

Then the bluenette witnessed a vision of Sailormoon's expression, full of fierce joy as she looked upon Tuxedo Kamen, and another flash of Usagi's ever-wondering gaze as she watched her best friend.

Ami remembered the almost savage-looking emotion on Sailormoon's face as she drew her tiara and embraced the magic, and compared it to the exhilarated flush on Usagi's as she ran on the track, much like her namesake, fleet of foot and sure-stepping.

How could she ever have missed it?

The same beauty, the same quiet strength, the same eyes… the same hairstyle!

Beautiful and graceful though they were, Sailormoon and Usagi bore only passing resemblance to the crystal-haired girl that had pulled the bluenette to her feet and bade her never to kneel to anyone merely for decorum.

Minako had explained that Serenity was the most protected of all in this life – she had been reborn into a family of once-Lunarians; the Tsukinos of Terra that had raised Gaia, Endymion's mother, so long ago.

'A beautiful tale Artemis tells,' Ami reflected idly, with some amusement at the image of the stern, one-time general being more of a yarnspinner than a gruff veteran. His sleep in Knowledge had surely gained him much wisdom and insight.

Adding another detail about the Russo-Japanese War and highlighting the subject title as 'important', Ami sighed and propped her head up with a hand, gaze turning wistful.

Minako, who shared the desk with her, directly behind the one Usagi usually sat at with Naru, elbowed Ami gently and smiled. She leaned over to write on a spare piece of discarded notepaper. Are we going to sit with your group today? The blond inquired.

The bluenette couldn't help but smile. They've all but adopted you after seeing you with Usagi-chan yesterday, she replied.

It's good to see that her highness is so revered, even in this life, and Ami was unable to discern if there was sarcasm in the black-inked words. She spared a moment to take another set of notes before replying.

Serenity, Sailormoon and Usagi-chan have that in common. You do realise now that we're going to have to destroy this note? It's evidence!

Calm down, Ami-ko, did you honestly think I'd leave any loose ends tied up? The golden-haired girl winked audaciously.

Ami muttered something to herself and sighed. Sailormoon and Tuxedo Kamen were summoned last night – Artemis watched the fight, it turns out, and they were saved by a stranger bearing uncanny resemblance to –

Realising that the teacher was approaching them with a frown on his face, Ami stopped writing and tried to hide the note under her desk when it was grabbed by Minako.

"Mina-chan, what are you doin –"

"Crescent Beam!" her friend interrupted, and there was a muted surge of light that vaporised the piece of paper. As they had chosen a back desk in the farthest corner of the classroom, no one noticed the sudden flash of heat.

It was only ten minutes later – safely ensconced in Geography – that Ami allowed herself to breathe a little easier at the near-miss. "I thought for a moment that we'd get detention!" she breathed, bending over a map of Japan and already inking in the various regions.

Minako chuckled softly, looking at the textbook for reference as her pen scratched busily away on several doodles. "I loved the look on his face when he saw you'd been taking notes all along and not just daydreaming."

"I think it's lucky that he didn't bother to check your notes, Minako-chan," Ami chided under her breath as she rescued the textbook from defilation at the blonde's hands.

"Ah well… you were going to say something earlier? Or, rather, write something before I barbecued your efforts?" Sparkling cobalt winked at afternoon sky, and Ami blushed.

"Perhaps it should wait until later," the bluenette murmured, before her voice lowered further. "And… how did you do that? I thought we couldn't use our powers out of costume?"

"Ami-ko, think of it this way—" Minako drawled softly, and quieted as Kamome-sensei stalked by, "—does a costume change who we are?" Not waiting for an answer, the blonde ploughed onwards. "The fuku supplies us with the obvious: distraction, as well as freedom of movement and a tough, blessed material that will turn aside mortal blades and keep our bodies at a constant, comfortable temperature. The henshin itself makes it so that some of the glamour – which blocks your magical potential as well as your true appearance – is momentarily lowered."

"So… we didn't need the henshin before?" Ami flinched as the teacher's rod made a sort of thwip-slam sound on his desk, jerking a daydreaming student two columns to the right of them out of his pleasant daze.

"Iie – and we will need one until we break free of this glamour. With training, however, you might be able to wear a tiny hole in the block through which you can draw upon the power of your respective deity and planet. I've been working at this ever since Artemis gave me my henshin wand; before, I had memories but no real power."

"So… with enough practice, I can take off the block?"

"If you had a thousand years to waste, perhaps," Minako answered, idly adding a pair of angel-wings to the heart she had just sketched.

Ami sighed in disappointment. "Demo –"

"Iie, Mercury-chan," Minako's grin was gentle. "Even now, my attacks are a tiny fraction of their potential – I might burn paper, set things alight, maybe even focus the energy enough to cut through a thin sheet of metal, but it is very, very subtle. I can draw on the energy to heal quicker, run faster, jump higher – you might be able to lower the temperatures in a certain radius, form a small ice crystal." The blonde chuckled slightly. "I'm working at the block now, actually – class time is convenient that way."

Ami's amusement turned to reproach. Though well-aware that Minako outranked her, she scolded her leader quietly, her hand fumbling for a highlighter to colour-code her notes. "Minako-chan –"

Minako's expression was what halted her – the blonde looked surprisingly grim. "Our powers can be our life or our death, Ami-chan – school and education is important to you, and I admire that. Demo… to me, I think of what would happen, and what good all the education and learning would do us when we are facing a youma. Learn your notes, ace your tests – but in the meantime, do not forget how to survive."

She had been dreaming again.

There was pain, though little fear and unhappiness with Endymion by her side. Her mouth opened silently to whisper into the bright chasm of Dream a vow.

Soon, she promised, and allowed her eyes to slide shut as midnight blue eyes watched her carefully, a callused hand sweeping the hair back from her face. I'm coming, koishii, she repeated.

His reply came, borne on a wave of quiet desperation. Soon, he begged, and Serenity smiled wistfully in her sleep as a warrior in red and blue bent worriedly over her, crystal gaze concerned. Taking Serenity's hand, Sailormoon blinked, and a smile graced pink lips as she brought fingers that were still and slender to them.

We promise, she replied, and for a moment her eyes were not crystal blue, but dusky lavender. It will be soon, my love.

She woke to feel large hands smoothing down the sheets about her body and smiled instinctively as she recognised Mamoru's touch. "What time is it, Mamo-chan?" she mumbled into the pillow before removing it from her face to blink owlishly at the sunlight.

Mamoru looked chagrined. "Did I wake you up, Tenshiko?" he asked sheepishly, and Usagi reached up to place a kiss on his cheek before beginning to wrestle with the blankets.

"Hai – demo, it's about time. I've been snoozing on and off since breakfast," the blonde replied cheerfully, and Mamoru had to catch her as she tumbled herself out of bed in her attempt to dislodge the bedsheets. "Oops! Gomen ne!"

Mamoru had to laugh, and he set his friend right side up, unravelling the blankets from her tiny frame until they pooled at her feet and she stepped out of them. "Where is Ikuko-mama? Oh, and I put the sushi in the fridge for you. You better eat it soon before it spoils."

"Domo, Mamo-chan! And I don't know – I think she went to another meeting," Usagi mumbled, stumbling towards her closet and rummaging about. As she began to change, Mamoru turned from fiddling with the small abacus on her desk, blinked at the sight of her bare back and turned quickly away, a deep flush suffusing his features. Each had been relatively comfortable with the other in various stages of undress before, but ever since the rather harrowing encounter with Usagi's bra clasp…

Usagi turned around, grinning widely, and her face was confused as she witnessed her best friend's hunched shoulders and tense posture. "Anou… gomen," she apologised again, with a nervous giggle. "You can turn around now."

Mamoru obeyed and exhaled, feeling his cheeks heat up again. More to spare himself further embarrassment than anything else, Mamoru pulled out a large sheaf of notes on which Naru and Ami's writing could be discerned. "For the lessons you missed today," he explained, spreading them out on her desk. "English, Geography, History and Science –"

"Who took the science ones?" Usagi asked idly, now nosing about for hairpins. "Neither Ami-chan nor Naru-chan are in that class."

"Aino-san did," Mamoru answered distractedly. He seemed to realise at last that Usagi had no intention of studying after being cooped up all day with nothing better to do than catch the odd nap. An odd expression crossed his face and he steeled himself as he felt her wrap slender arms about his shoulders. 'Do not give in, do not give in, do not –'

Usagi nuzzled his neck affectionately, and Mamoru's resolve melted instantly, the mantra now thistledown on the wind. "Just one quick go around the park, Tenshiko," he sighed, and was rewarded with a squeal of delight and an enthusiastic hug and kiss combination that left the dark-haired upperclassman disoriented as he found his best friend just about wrapped around his body.

After disentangling themselves (during which an amused Tsukino Shingo dropped in to chant obscene rhymes), they left the house hand in hand, Usagi tugging the taller boy along as she began a loping run, glad for the opportunity to stretch her legs.

"Slow down, Tenshiko," Mamoru winced as he felt at a stitch in his side. This was what he got for not stretching before being towed by the blonde, Japanese equivalent to the American Energizer Bunny down the thirty-minute walk to the park at breakneck pace. "Watch for cars, onegai," he begged as they narrowly missed being flattened by a cement-mixer truck.

"Oh ye of little faith, Mamo-chan," Usagi pouted playfully at him, eyes sparkling vivaciously they slowed to a brisk walk, she turning so that she walked backwards, still facing him. "Shall I slip and inform Coach Umidori that his star swimmer is out of shape?"

"Try that, Tenshiko, and I will… I will…" Mamoru trailed off and his steps became noticeably heavier as he began to sulk.

Usagi ruffled his hair and he tucked an arm about her waist to steer her out of the way of a telephone pole, pulling her protectively to his side as a flood of tourists streamed out of the double doors of a hotel they were passing. "Domo," she said, unfazed.

Mamoru merely grinned down at her and opened his mouth to reply when a loud shriek issued down the street. Amusement painted itself across the blonde's face as Mamoru flinched, taking several steps back so that he stood behind his friend in a clear – and decidedly pathetic – attempt to hide.

"Chiba-senpai!" a giddy call preceded the arrival of another blonde, her back-length curls bobbing as she dimpled prettily at a stoic-looking Mamoru. "Chiba-senpai, I was so worried when I didn't see you in Chemistry the other day! Oh, and I took notes for you!" In her exuberance to give him the worksheets and papers, they fluttered haphazardly to the ground and she let out a little yelp of dismay. "Oh, shimat – I mean –"

"It's okay, Aikousha-san," Mamoru said politely, bending to assist her. "I can do it mysel –"

"Oh, but I feel so awful about it!" she winked at him and busied herself with patting the dirt off his trousers before straightening herself. "At least allow me to –"

"Matte!" It was Usagi's voice, and she sounded furious and angry and frightened. Mamoru's face went from expressionless to alarmed in less than a heartbeat; he did not even care to excuse himself from an indignant Aikousha as he sprinted towards where he had heard his best friend. She was chasing after a trio of boys carrying a heavily pregnant cat; the silver and white queen's yowl of distress added to Usagi's. "Leave her alone!" she called furiously.

Muttering darkly beneath his breath about foolish girls who thought they could right every wrong in the world, Mamoru nonetheless sprinted after her, his long stride favouring him as he neared the quartet of runners…

…and then the cat launched itself from the redhead's arms; one of his friends tripped, bringing the other two down with him, and a panicked streak of silver-grey bolted towards the empty road. Usagi, sparing only a cursory glance to her right as she ran after the cat, did not see how the lights had turned, and did not hear the hoarse yell torn from Mamoru's throat as he ran still faster. The blonde, catching the pregnant feline, finally turned, and Mamoru's vision greyed until he could only see the way her eyes widened ever-so-slightly and how she tripped as she attempted to stumble away from the truck's path –

– and tears of relief and lingering terror brightened the eighteen-year-old's eyes as a blur of tan leathers and pale arms dove, yanking the blonde's crumpled form in what looked to be a painful grip as they both tumbled out of harm's way.

Blinking hard, Mamoru realised he was almost there, and Usagi was thanking her rescuer enthusiastically, and – yes, there was that damnable cat purring contentedly in the younger girl's arms. Mamoru felt an irrational surge of anger at both the foolish animal and the foolish girl. 'May you burn in Bast's hell,' he thought viciously at the oblivious feline, 'a pox on you, your kittens, and… and whatever kitty litter you'll be using in the near future.'

Usagi had turned around to see him – Mamoru could tell that she had almost forgotten how close she had been to… 'No.' He looked about for something to distract him from the near-disaster and his eyes fell on the cat. He saw, much to his surprise, that she was not a tabby as he had first thought, but possessed a marbled coat of silver and grey, the patterns winding in a sinuous pattern of incomprehensible complexity. 'A Bengal!' he blinked in surprise – there had been an article about them some months back… and she called his name again, drawing his eyes and his attention.

Her gaze sparkled up at him as he drew near, and for the first time he was aware of how cold he still felt inside. "Mamo-chan! This is Kino Makoto, she goes to –" Usagi's words died on her tongue and the tall brunette let out an indignant yelp and ineffectual kick as the wild-eyed boy picked her up bodily. Makoto found herself two paces to the left of where she had been, and Usagi gasped as Mamoru's hands came up and she was held in an unshakeable grip of something stronger than iron, midnight fire burning into startled azure.

"You –" For a moment, Usagi almost thought her friend would actually shake her senseless; the grip on her shoulders was so tense. Mamoru searched her face for any indication she might have been truly hurt – her tumble must have looked rather nasty – and a strange-but-familiar expression flitted across his face. "Tenshiko…"

"Mamo-chan?" she asked tentatively. Mamoru blinked hard and his furious air melted into a confused one as he stammered. Neither teen noticed that 'Kino Makoto' had disappeared, nor that the cat was mewling for attention.

"You…" he exhaled and pulled her close; Usagi had only time enough for surprise to register as his mouth claimed hers roughly in a kiss that was warm, albeit clumsy.

Usagi's mind blanked. The kiss was a little wet, a little awkward, and their noses bumped as they attempted to accommodate one another, but then a large hand was tangled in her hair, tilting her head upwards even as her arms went about Mamoru's neck and the kiss gentled.

'Mmmm, nice…' she thought fuzzily, trembling helplessly as the heat tingled and oh, but it was lovely Usagi pressed herself closer and felt one of his hands cup her face to angle it a little more comfortably. Mamoru was the source of the warmth, therefore getting closer to the source could only be good. Her mind rambled incoherently until she sensed Mamoru beginning to pull away. 'No!'

They broke the kiss reluctantly, and blinked uncertainly at one another, her hands falling from his neck to rest familiarly on his forearms as his thumb stroked her cheek absently. Usagi licked her lips uncertainly, tasting a smooth, bitter texture that she knew was Mamo-chan. His pupils dilated visibly as he watched her, and Usagi tilted her head up for another kiss –

– and was promptly disappointed.

"I cannot believe this of you!" he roared suddenly, breaking all body contact and recoiling from her. Usagi would have been insulted had she not realised that she should have expected this. The blonde noted with smug interest that his expression was almost feverish; his eyes constantly flitting to her faintly-parted mouth and back to a fixed point somewhere six inches above her head. 'Men,' she thought half-acidly, half-fondly as her voice rose to match his.

"Well I cannot believe this of you!" she retorted shrilly, and Mamoru flinched. By now, a sizeable crowd had amassed, and the upperclassman was feeling a little more than mild irritation at several admiring glances being directed at the defiant blonde before him. They were male, and hopeful, and there was a half-growl rumbling in the dark-haired boy's chest already. Grabbing Usagi's wrist in a firm, but delicate grip, he mowed his way through the amused onlookers and stepped none-too-accidentally on a few of Usagi's admirers' toes.

Usagi had obviously seen his childish display of vindictive revenge, because he could feel her half-amused, half-annoyed gaze boring into the side of his head. "You can be so young in the head, Mamo-chan," she murmured, and he pretended not to hear. Instead, he launched into a new diatribe at her carelessness as the queen who had been the cause of the entire incident waddled briskly after them, occasionally brushing herself up against one of Mamoru's trouser legs and receiving several scathing glares for her trouble.

It was only when they stood on the porch, faces bronzed by sunset, that they lapsed into silence, all anger and fear fading with the day. Both tried not to show how they now understood the faint tingle that warmed them when the familiar act of holding hands became a subtle caress. At last Mamoru sighed and made as if to continue on – he was only half-surprised when small hands grabbed fistfuls of his shirt. He leaned down automatically and something stirred in him at the sight of her small face, long lashes sooty against pale cheeks as she touched her lips to his.

It was not so clumsy this time, and they remained entwined, like two vines on a trellis, for several long minutes before a shriek of boyish laughter filtered through the pleasant haze and they separated reluctantly. They watched one another with solemn eyes for a few more moments until Usagi turned to go into the house – Mamoru almost made as if to stop her, but stilled his hand before it could do more than twitch uncertainly.

When he saw her inside, he stayed until he could see the light of her window wink on, filtering through the foliage of the friendly oak growing near…

Something had changed, Mamoru knew, and only turned to go when he saw the silhouette of a petite girl outlined in the warm glow of the bedside lamp. He couldn't justify his actions beyond the pure terror and the way his chest clenched so painfully when he realised she was alive, and well

Would he have kissed her, he wondered, almost forgetting to glower at the thrice-blasted cat as her purr shook his ankle, if what happened today had not happened? If she hadn't almost died, or if –

'I don't know,' he admitted, 'and I don't think so… demo, she was so warm…'

Mamoru missed the dirty look the heavily pregnant Bengal queen shot him as he, lost in contemplations of the past and dreams of the future, trod carelessly on her tail. 'We will have to talk,' he decided, 'later, and later… but she cannot tease me about never having been kissed now.' He smiled a little, and his feet took him home as he lapsed into an uncharacteristic daydream, his head full of Tenshiko's smile and Tenshiko's touch.

She didn't know if the feeling in her was disappointment or relief, but concluded that it must be a little of both.

Usagi turned from the window only when she could no longer see Mamoru's retreating form. She understood that denial was useless; things would be different now. Mamo-chan had loved her long before this, though she was now unsure whether that love was truly platonic, and he had often kissed her and protected to show his trust and his devotion.

She understood that; it was like how she often crept into his bed to cuddle and hug, his warm presence keeping the frequent nightmares of blood and shouting and screaming away even as she banished the demons that put the oft-present dark circles beneath his eyes.

She had always accepted that she loved him. She loved her Mama and Papa very much, too, and even bratty Shingo inspired the surge of sudden warmth in her breast. She loved her friends, and the people around her, and the sun and the moon and the earth beneath her feet. She just loved Chiba Mamoru – Mamo-chan – differently.

Usagi had a great many good friends that were boys – 'Toki, 'Numa and 'Yashi-kun were all such examples, but Mamo-chan was her best friend. Ever. So why shouldn't she have felt differently about him?

Life is not clear-cut that way, a phantom's caress, the thought was in her mind, and it was not Usagi's. Emotions are what make us human…

The blond started violently, and realised she was already wishing for Mamo-chan's reassuring hug. She shook her head, hearing her mother call her for supper, and undressed quickly, reaching for her new pyjama top and encountering worn material. She drew it reverently to her and inhaled roses and fresh topsoil, feeling tears well up. It was all so confusing! She should be matter-of-fact and accept that their relationship would be different. If only she knew if it was a good different or a bad different…

'Nothing can ever be bad,' she told her self fiercely as she donned the old t-shirt, nose still buried in the baggy folds; it was large even for Mamoru, and fell almost past her knees. 'Not with Mamo-chan…'

She was only talking herself in circles, now. She would enjoy his kisses, and she would know if and when she loved him, and perhaps she would know if he loved her that way…

For the first time, Usagi examined her appearance critically. She was too skinny though over-endowed for her age. She was short, and her eyes were at times too limpid and at others too bright. Her hair was long and easily-tangled, and her legs were long enough that it was difficult to find jeans or trousers down to her ankles.

And this was what would impress him! Mamo-chan, who had never really liked any of the gorgeous girlfriends in his short attempts at dating… he had found them all lacking, and they were his age and did not chatter as she, Usagi did.

He never gave them nicknames, the voice whispered again. He never tucked them into bed and kissed them and…

Usagi's expression firmed and she laughed at her own absurdity. What was she doing? This was Mamo-chan! Mamo-chan would not kiss her if he did not at least feel attraction or think her pretty, and if he only did it because he was frightened for her, then he would have told her so and not kissed her back like he had only minutes before.

She laughed and put her hair in a long braid, finally answering her mother's summons and exiting the room with a spring in her step. They would have to talk, and soon, but for now she would dream of the 'good different'.

A/N: The Boy and the Samurai is by Erik C. Haugaard, Heidi is by Johanna Spyri and The Boy who Drew Cats is a Japanese folk tale, as mentioned above.

Also, Arashinobara now has a livejournal account with daily chapter progress updates, previews and spoilers, all clearly labelled. Our username is arashinokakyoku, but if you click on 'homepage' in our Fanfiction userprofile, then you'll find us just as easily that way. Add us, watch us, adding would be fun – we like friends! But there's how you can monitor our… activities. /winks/


Queen – no, I'm not talking about the Neo-Queen or Selenity… x.x;;. It's a common name for a female cat.

Bengal – a peculiarly-patterned breed of cat, relatively new and still very rare at this point; they've got marbled or spotted coats, and resemble little leopards. In fact, they were created by breeding the Asian Leopard Cat with an American or British Short-hair. I find them pretty mainly for their patterns, but it's a little disconcerting seeing a cat-sized snow leopard or tiger stalking about your house, ne? If you want to find out about them, go to google and type in 'Bengal', or to google images to do the same.

Now, REVIEW! Remember, goal of two-ninety… we gave you romance, you give us reviews… /winks/.