Ranma ½ – Happily Ever After

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ is the property of Takahashi Rumiko and all those other large corporations that publish and distribute Ranma ½. No profit is gained from this work, just a great deal of enjoyment writing it.

Chapter 74 – We've Never Been Closer

Morning came far too soon for a number of people in the Tendo household this morning. Akane's and Ranma's cuddling session didn't last all night, but close. The meeting with district police chief didn't break up until almost one in the morning. Soun didn't get home for some time after that. Kasumi had no idea what time the car had dropped her off at the house, but she was suffering from a major hangover. Yoshio arrived at home some time after midnight and Yuka sometime after that.

The only two people who seemed bright and chipper this morning were Una and Fumiko.

Fumiko had seen mornings like this before at the Tendo residence and she and Una quickly began to lend a hand to Kasumi in the kitchen. Una, it turned out, was a pretty good cook and helped with the omelets while Fimiko grilled fish and made the miso and rice. That gave Kasumi a chance to sit down and sip her tea.

"Thank you girls," Kasumi said. "I'm sorry I'm not being more helpful."

"That's OK," Fumiko replied. "I understand. There have been a few mornings at our house, especially after some of our family gatherings, when my parents haven't felt like getting up in the morning. Was it a big party you went to?"

"It was an award ceremony and reception at the University," Kasumi answered. "There were over three hundred people there. Tofu got an award and they made him a professor in the University's Medical School. And I got my scholarship award from when I graduated from high school."

"That's great," Una said. "But why didn't you get the award when you graduated?"

"Because it was a scholarship to the Medical School, but after my mom died, I decided that I couldn't go to school and take care of the family at the same time… But, now that I'm going to be attending Medical School, they awarded me the scholarship."

Kasumi paused and then said, "It's strange… but for some reason, the people who host these parties keep handing you drinks if you don't have one in your hand. I drank far too much last night, and I'm feeling it this morning."

"Is the tea helping?" Fumiko asked.

"Yes it is," Kasumi replied. "Thank you so much for making it for me. Where did you get this?"

"It's a special blend that my dad puts together," Fumiko explained. "He says that, along with the tea, there are seventeen different herbs and spices in it that act as pain relievers and muscle relaxants. I brought some the last time people needed something to take the edge off the after effects of the previous night's festivities."

"Fumiko," Una asked, "do you come here every day?"

"Mostly only on school days," Fumiko replied. "Usually, when Akane-sempai and Ranma-sempai are in a condition to do it, we run before school and then work out in the dojo before breakfast… Although it seems that they were involved with something very late into the night, so they were too tired to run this morning."

"Ranma-sempai and Akane-sempai were talking with me last night," Una said, "But I didn't think I kept them up that late."

"I don't think it was that," Kasumi said. "I think my sister and brother-in-law were spending some quality time together since they won't have the chance to do it again until Sunday night."

"Quality time?" Una asked quizzically.

Fumiko chuckled. "I think 'quality time' is Kasumi's euphemism for having sex."

Una's cheeks turned rosy. "Oh…"

"You didn't have to come to school with me," Yuriko said as walked toward school with Miyuki and Hikari walking behind her.

"We were already up and dressed," Miyuki replied. "There wasn't much point sitting around at home for an hour before we walked to school."

"And you didn't have to get up with me this morning," Yuriko responded, "You could have slept in for another hour… at least."

"Then who would have made breakfast for you?" Hikari answered. "You certainly wouldn't have made anything for yourself."

"I didn't need for you to make breakfast for me," Yuriko said. "They usually provide some kind of breakfast at these early meetings."

"Usually," Hikari said. "… And what do they provide… breakfast sandwiches from some fast food restaurant?"

"Anyway," Miyuki added. "I figured that Hikari and I could help prepare the paperwork you need to take with you to the meeting. I also have a list of questions from the team… like if we can set up our coffee-and-pastry stand like we did at the divisional tournament."

"I'll ask," Yuriko answered, "but I kind of doubt it. The arena has some strange rules about outside vendors coming in and taking away their business. I asked before and the committee said they would look into it, but I haven't heard anything back."

"Fine," Miyuki responded. "Mika wants to know so they can get enough pasties baked in time. I doubt we'll get any help from Akane's sister this time."

Yuriko stopped suddenly and turned toward the trailing Hikari and Miyuki, almost causing a collision.

"And do you have to walk holding hands?" Yuriko bellowed.

"No we don't," Miyuki replied, "but that's how Hikari and I walk most of the time now. We feel comfortable holding hands. I'm sorry if it makes you feel uncomfortable. But just think, I could be walking with my hand under Hikari's skirt. Would that make you feel any more comfortable?"

Yuriko said nothing for quite some time but finally asked, "Do you two always walk around not wearing anything when you're at home?"

"Not all the time," Hikari replied, "but some times."

"I mean, we're all girls," Miyuki said. "It's not like we haven't seen each other naked before. And we wouldn't think of doing it if there were guys in the house… Well, maybe if it were Ranma, when he's a girl, I might consider it."

"You are sick," Yuriko said.

"You just noticed?" Hikari commented.

"Hey, whose side are you on?" Miyuki asked.

"My side," Hikari said. "But I like your kind of sick."

Hikari gave Miyuki a kiss on the cheek.

"And honestly, I'd wouldn't have a problem walking around naked with Ranma around… in either form," Hikari added.

"I don't need this this morning," Yuriko said. Even though she was shaking her head, but there was a smile on her face.

Miyuki started to chuckle. "You're right. This is probably the last thing you need today. But we got you to smile and maybe that was the whole point of this exercise… But, if we don't hurry, you'll miss the train for your meeting. Let's get to school, and then Hikari and I will stop holding hands long enough so we can help you get everything you need to take with you organized. We wouldn't want you late for your meeting."

"So you don't think anything was resolved at last night's meeting?" Akane asked.

"Certainly not the resolution the people who live in the area around the park were looking for," Soun replied as he sipped his tea. "But considering that the district police chief showed up over an hour late, read a prepared statement that he obviously didn't write himself… and was going to leave immediately without answering questions, the only resolution that most of the people at the meeting would have accepted was for him to commit hara-kiri… with a dull knife."

"But the police knew that this guy had been molesting women for a year before he attacked Una?" Yuka asked. "What's their excuse for not going after him?"

"Their original excuse was that no one reported any incidents until Una did," Soun explained, "but at least three women that were at the meeting said that they tried to report being approached by a molester before that, but were told that there wasn't enough evidence to proceed with an investigation. And honestly, I think the only reason Una's case became 'official' was because of her age and because her parents were involved… and because she found a patrolman so quickly."

"Was Sayuri's dad there?" Yoshio asked.

"Yes… thankfully," Soun answered. "I hope he hasn't gotten himself into trouble though. He brought thirty-seven police reports concerning this molester. All of them were labeled 'insufficient evidence' or 'still under investigation', so none of them had ever been turned over to the prosecutor's office."

"Thirty-seven police reports!" Ranma said. "It sounds like someone is trying to cover up for this guy."

"Yes it does," Soun said. "And those are only the reported incidents. From the sound of the crowd last night, there were quite a few more for which no police report was ever written."

"Never written," Kasumi observed, "or never filed."

Soun sighed, "Or never filed…"

"It sounds like the police chief was lucky to make it out of the meeting last night alive," Ranma said. "But why would someone in the police department want to cover up for this guy? He isn't anyone special, is he?"

"Not as far as anyone will say," Soun answered. "He a regular salary man with a wife and three children, who likes to drop his pants in front of women and show off the little assets he has."

"DAD!" Akane exclaimed. "That's gross!"

"Sorry," Soun responded.

"Mister Tendo…" Una asked, "did his wife and children have any idea what was going on?"

"No," Soun replied. "His wife thought he was working late at the office. She said that he was a good husband and father. He never abused her or his children. She said it seemed like there were two completely different people in one body."

There was no comment from anyone at the table for quite some time, but it was Una who finally broke the silence.

"I hope there's something that can be done to help him get better."

It had become the morning ritual (at least on school mornings). Kenji and Rei would stand on the sidewalk outside Aoi's and Suzuko's apartment. Soon after their arrival, Aoi would join them… And then they would wait for Suzuko. Eventually she would come running out of the apartment doorway, still trying to put on her jacket (sometimes over her backpack) with a piece of toast still in her mouth.

Aoi had gotten in the habit of grabbing both of their bento boxes so that Suzuko wouldn't have to run back to the apartment and retrieve it.

"I don't understand why it takes you so much longer than Aoi to get out here in the morning," Rei said as they began walking toward school.

"It would help if I didn't have to go back to our room three times to wake her up in the morning," Aoi replied, "and if it didn't take so long to pick out what she's wearing to school."

"We wear uniforms," Rei said. "It can't be that tough to pick out a uniform to wear."

"Suzu has a tough time picking out the color of panties she's going to flash Kenji with," Aoi responded.

"AOI!" Suzuko exclaimed. "I don't do that and you know it! What happened yesterday was a complete accident."

"But you have to admit you gave Kenji an impressive view," Aoi replied.

"Considering that we've seen both of you completely naked," Rei said, "Suzu's flash yesterday is really anti-climactic… But speaking of which, is the team really serious about running tonight. It's supposed to get colder tonight and the forecast was talking about the possibility of snow."

"And there may be more police patrols in the park than there are molesters," Kenji added.

"Hopefully there aren't any molesters in the park," Aoi replied. "The team is very serious about running tonight, but I think we're going to go running in the school tonight… At least that's the impression I got from what the Coach said."

"But what happens if you get caught?" Kenji asked.

"Miss Nohina thinks we'll be less likely to get caught running in the school than in the park," Suzuko replied. "She said that once the maintenance crew leaves at seven, there isn't anyone in the school. We'll probably run a couple of laps around the first floor and then go to Miyuki's and Hikari's house for our sleep over."

Suzuko paused and then added, "You know… you're always welcome to run with us."

"Yeah," Aoi said. "You'll get to see us naked again… You'll get to see the whole team naked again. Aren't Hikari's and Arisu's boobs impressive?"

"I don't necessarily think that bigger is better," Kenji said. "I think Suzu's and your breasts are perfect."

"Thank you," Suzuko said in a hushed voice. "Did you talk to your parents about going to dinner with the team tonight?"

"My parents don't have a problem with me going to dinner with you and the rest of the team as long as I'm not out too late," Kenji replied. "It is a school night."

"Define 'too late'?" Aoi asked.

"I think my parents would get hyper if I were out too much past ten," Kenji answered.

"By ten the team should all be at Miyuki's and Hikari's for the sleepover," Aoi answered. "You'll be home in plenty of time. Rei, do your parents have a problem with you doing out to dinner with us?"

"Are you kidding?" Rei replied. "When my mom heard that, her eyes lit up. It means that she and dad can go out for dinner and she doesn't have to cook."

"Your mom isn't still using what happened when your dad was working at home to get him to take her out for dinner?" Kenji asked.

"No… she used that as an excuse about as much as she can… at least for now," Rei responded, "but my mom absolutely hates to cook, so she'll use any excuse she can find to go out for dinner… And if dad didn't have to be at work tomorrow and I didn't have school, she'd find an excuse to stay out all night."

Before everyone left for school, Akane reminded Kasumi that the team (and their significant others) had been invited to dinner after the team meeting, so Kasumi only needed to prepare dinner for father and herself.

"This might be a good night for Father, Tofu and me to talk about plans for this weekend and holiday plans," Kasumi said, "and maybe discuss with father birthday, graduation and wedding plans. I hadn't even thought about the upcoming holidays, but I'd like to have a nice celebration this year."

"Please, nothing like that big show you tried to put on a few years back," Akane said.

"I thought that was a lot of fun," Kasumi replied. "… Although I doubt I could convince Nabiki to dress up like that again."

"Right now there's no way Nabiki could fit into the outfit she wore for that show," Akane said.

"She isn't showing that badly yet," Kasumi said. "I'm sure I could alter it around the waste so she could wear it."

"The waste isn't the problem," Akane replied. "She's at least two cup sizes bigger than she was the last time she wore that outfit."

"You really think so?"

"That's what she told me. She said that she had to go out and get all new bras and tops."

"Well then… maybe that won't be such a good idea after all. But I'd still like to have a holiday party for all of our friends."

"That's fine… as long as it doesn't include Ranma and me on stage for anything."

Kasumi smiled mischievously.

"If you and Doctor Tofu are interested," Akane said quietly. "The team is going back to school after dinner for a special training run… and then the girls are all heading to Miyuki's and Hikari's house for a sleep over."

"I don't think so this time," Kasumi replied, "but maybe the next time you have a special training run, Tofu and I will join you. Those are fun."

"Una," Sachiko said, "you shouldn't feel sorry for this guy. He's a creep. He tried to rape you and how many other women. He doesn't deserve anyone's pity… and especially not yours."

"I didn't say I had any pity for him," Una responded. "I hope he gets the punishment he deserves. What I said was I hoped there was something that could be done to help him stop doing what he's doing."

"The best thing to do is to lock him up and throw away the key," Sachiko quickly replied.

The discussion had begun almost as soon as they stepped out on to the sidewalk where Aimi, Kazuko and Sachiko were waiting to walk to school with Fumiko and the rest of the crew. Fumiko and Una had continued the discussion from the breakfast table and Sachiko quickly got involved.

"Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen," Yuka said, joining the discussion. "That molester they caught on the subway last year is already out of jail. They couldn't find anyone to testify against him other than the police woman he groped, so he only went to jail for six months."

"Well, I hope this guy goes to jail for longer than that," Aimi said. "Seeing him without his pants on was just gross beyond description."

"Kazuko," Una asked, "why did you decide to kick him rather than run away?"

"I don't think I made a conscious decision to kick him," Kazuko replied. "It's that when he jumped out in front of me, he startled me. I probably would have kicked him whether he had his pants on or not."

"I really haven't had the opportunity to thank you for what you've done," Una said. "At least that part of the nightmare is over. I haven't been able to go anywhere near the park by myself since it happened."

"Yeah," Sachiko responded. "And once the police find something better to do, we can do our special training runs in the park again."

"Special training runs?" Una asked.

Sachiko began to explain, "The team goes run…"

But Akane cut her off, "The team goes running in the upper park… but we won't be doing that for a while."

"Not at least until the weather warms up," Yuka quickly added. "This weather is far too cold for the team to be running outside… at least for a while."

"What makes you think Una will show up for the meeting this afternoon or want to go to dinner with us… or run with us after dinner?" Miyuki asked.

"That's all she's been talking about since yesterday's practice," Yuka replied. "… She wants to ask the Coach if she can join the Gymnastics' club."

Homeroom was starting to fill in, but it would still be some time before Miss Hinako would arrive. When Akane and Ranma (and Yuka and Hiroshi and Sayuri) arrived, Miyuki and Hikari were already at their seats waiting for them.

Before heading their separate ways, Akane reminded Fumiko that any discussion with Una about the 'special training run' might not be wise. Fumiko understood the reason why and said that she would warn Aimi, Kazuko and Sachiko to be careful about what they said… Although since Una was in a different class than them, that wouldn't prove to be that difficult.

"That's not all she's been talking about," Ranma said, "but that was one of things we talked about last night. She'd like to join the club, even if it's only to help out moving equipment and cheer on the rest of the team."

"But like I said, we aren't sure she'll even show up," Miyuki said. "I know she hasn't asked Yuriko about joining the team… at least not yet."

"But what do we do if she does show up?" Yuka asked.

"So she shows up," Miyuki replied. "No one is going to force her to run naked with us… No one is going to force her to run… period. We'll explain to her that it's become somewhat of a tradition, and if she'd like to join us running, she's welcome to join us… clothed or otherwise."

"But what if she freaks out and tells someone about it," Yuka said. "Think of the trouble we'd get into."

"I don't think that Una will freak out," Akane responded. "She probably won't feel comfortable taking off her clothes… especially with guys around, but, honestly, how comfortable are you taking off your clothes in front of Ranma and Hiroshi and the rest of the guys that run with us."

"At first, I didn't feel comfortable at all," Yuka replied, "but now it doesn't really bother me. But don't you think with Una's experience with the molester, it will bother her all that much more?"

"If we act like it's going to be a problem for her," Ranma replied, "then it will probably be a problem for her. People keep telling Una that she needs to get on with her life and put the whole incident in the park behind her… But how can she do that if we keep making a big deal out of it and reminding her about it and we don't let her get on with her life."

"So… what do we do?" Yuka asked.

"While you have your meeting this afternoon," Ranma said, "I'll explain things to her and let her decide what she wants to do."

"So, what special training do you have that qualifies you to explain things to Una?" Hikari asked.

"Other than being a part-time girl," Ranma answered, "nothing in particular."

"Una's been staying with us the last few nights," Akane explained. "And she and Ranma have had some heart to heart conversations. For some reason, which is beyond my understanding, Una feels comfortable around my husband."

"Hey," Ranma protested, "I'm not the only guy on the list of guys she feels comfortable around. Remember, your dad is on that list too… and so are Hiroshi and Yoshio."

"I feel honored," Hiroshi said, smiling.

"I agree with Ranma," Akane said. "Una's mom says that she doesn't have any friends. And except for the nights Una has self defense class, her mom says that she comes straight home after school and spends most of her time just sitting in her room. Getting involved with a club would be good for her. And why not the gymnastics' club? She already knows some of the team from the self defense class."

"You're probably right," Yuka responded. "But I still have a bad feeling."

"Yuka, I think you're making too big of a thing out of it," Sayuri said. "I agree with Akane and Ranma. I think Una will be fine. I mean… Una seems really resilient. If it weren't for the idiots in her class, she would have been over it a long time ago. I think she'll run with us tonight… She may not right away… And she may not take off her clothes… but I definitely think she'll run with us tonight."

"Speaking of running with us tonight…" Hikari asked, "… is Yoshio going to join us?"

"I don't know," Sayuri replied, tuning to look at Yuka. "I haven't mentioned anything to him about it, but it all depends."

"Don't look at me," Yuka responded. "Everyone, including my dad, seems to think that he can make adult decisions on his own. I'm fine with it as long as you and he don't spend the whole time making out with each other."

"No problem there," Sayuri said. "I'll be on my best behavior… and I'm sure your brother will be too."

Nothing out of the ordinary happened during morning classes… until about fifteen minutes before lunchtime. That was when the principal came to the classroom and with no explanation asked Miyuki and Hikari to accompany her to the office. Considering what happened the last time the principal pulled Hikari out from class, everyone held their collective breaths… until Hikari and Miyuki returned to the classroom, each carrying a box.

"I hope everyone is hungry," Hikari said. "We have lunch… for everyone."

"You never mentioned that your grandmother was back in town," Sayuri said as she, Miyuki, Hikari and Yuka loaded up their plates after setting out the trays of food from the boxes on the desks at the front of the room.

"With everything that was going on this morning, it completely slipped my mind," Hikari explained.

"Yeah," Miyuki added, "She was waiting for us at our house when Yuriko, Hikari and I got there after school. She treated us to some of the best Korean barbeque I think I've ever had."

"And how often do you eat Korean barbeque?" Yuka asked.

"Before my dad started traveling," Miyuki answered, "we used to go out for Korean barbeque about once a month. Even though it wasn't my mom's favorite, it was one night she didn't have to cook… and I didn't have to wash dishes."

"So Miss Nohina stayed overnight with you again?" Sayuri asked.

"It made sense," Miyuki replied. "She had to be to school early this morning to pick up paperwork before she went to the coach's meeting this morning. It didn't make sense for her to go clear across the city only to have to come back to school to get the paperwork and then go back across the city for the meeting."

"Considering how she felt about you this summer," Yuka said, "I can't believe she'd even set foot in your house, let alone stay overnight."

"Last summer, I wouldn't have believed it either," Miyuki said, "but it's amazing. Even two people who despise each other can have a meaningful dialog when they're hammered."

"Enough about your love-hate relationship with the coach," Yuka said as they sat down with Akane, Ranma and Hiroshi. "Hikari how is your grandmother… and how is your aunt?"

"My grandmother is fine," Hikari answered. "She's feeling really good because she got done negotiating her business deal earlier than she expected, so she was able to get here in time for the tournament… And my aunt Chika is doing much better. Grandma says she's going to need a lot of physical therapy before she'll be able to feed herself or walk again… But she can talk and she's starting to remember who people are."

"Has your grandmother told her about her sister and your dad?" Akane asked.

"Yeah… Grandma told her," Hikari replied, "but my aunt is starting to remember things that happened that night… and things may not have happened the way the police thought. Aunt Chika thinks she remembers two other people being there that night who were arguing with my mom and dad."

"So… your dad might not have been the one to kill your mom…" Ranma said.

"My aunt doesn't remember," Hikari responded. "Grandma thinks that might have happened after my aunt was knock unconscious… But it means that there are other possibilities and we may learn more as my aunt remembers more."

"Has your grandmother talked with the police yet?" Hiroshi asked.

"The police don't want to hear anything about it," Hikari responded. "Right now it's a simple domestic argument that turned into a murder-suicide. Case closed. They don't want to deal with anything that will make their lives more complicated."

"Maybe you and your grandmother should talk with my dad," Sayuri said. "He may know how to get the investigation reopened."

"Even if there were a way to re-open the investigation," Hikari replied, "other than what my aunt might possibly remember there isn't any new evidence. And Grandma says that she remembers it one way and then remembers it another way later."

"Well… you should probably still talk to my dad. He can tell you what to do just in case your aunt remembers something earth-shattering."

"Speaking of your dad," Akane said when there was a break in the conversation. "My dad hopes that your dad didn't get into trouble for bringing those files about the molester to the meeting last night. My dad says that district chief didn't look happy when he saw them."

"I don't doubt it," Sayuri replied, "but my dad is used to being in trouble. If it's a choice between getting into trouble and doing the right thing… the choice is pretty obvious for my dad. But even if the district chief tries to make my dad's live miserable, because of the public outcry that would happen because of the case, there wouldn't be anything he could do officially without the possibility of being tarred and feathered… or worse."

"My dad said they were ready to do worse last night when the district chief showed up late, read a prepared statement that didn't say anything and then tried to leave without answering any questions."

"It sounds like this district chief is making some pretty lousy career choices," Sayuri said with a chuckle. "The higher-ups don't like middle management who makes things uncomfortable for them." Sayuri paused and then said, "So my dad was at that meeting last night."

"Yeah," Akane replied. "That's what my dad said. Didn't you know?"

"No… By the time Yoshio and I got home from dinner with Yuka's and Yoshio's dad," Sayuri answered, "dad was already gone and my mom was already asleep. I figured something like that might be up, but…"

"So my brother was alone with you all that time?" Yuka asked.

"Yeah… Sorry…" Sayuri replied. "We were playing video games in the living room and I guess we sort of lost track of what time it was… But when I realized how late it was I sent him straight home."

Yuka didn't respond.

"You know…" Sayuri said uncomfortably, "your brother says that he doesn't play video games that much, but he's a real good player. He kicked my butt almost every single game."

Yuka maintained her silence, glaring at Sayuri.

"Look… I said I was sorry," Sayuri said, responding to Yuka look of disapproval. "We lost track of what time it was playing video games and talking. It's not like we were doing anything… wrong. We were talking about the weekend and your brother listened to me whine about my grandmother's visit."

Yuka's expression remained unchanged.

"Yuka, what do you want from me? I've already apologized for keeping your brother out so late. We were talking… We were playing video games… We weren't making out… What do you want from me?"

"I don't want to see my brother get hurt."

"I would never do anything to hurt your brother… never. I love your brother too much. I love your brother more than any one or anything else in the world and I would rather die than do something that would hurt him."

The coach was late… significantly late. School was over for the day and everyone had already gathered for the team meeting… and they were getting impatient.

"I don't have a clue where she is," Miyuki said to the team (and the supporters like Ranma, Hiroshi, Kenji, Rei, Yoshio and Una) who were sitting in the bleacher seats in the gym. "The coach's meeting was supposed to be done by two and even if she had crappy train connections, she should have been here by now."

"So what are we supposed to do until she gets here?" Miki asked.

"I wouldn't mind running through my floor exercise one more time," Ichino said. "I'm still having a problem with my second tumbling run. I'm still getting too close to the edge."

"I wouldn't mind doing that either," Aoi said. "And the mats are still set up, so all we'd need to do is get changed."

"But once she gets here, she's going to want to have our meeting and then get to dinner," Miyuki responded.

"Do you have any idea where we're eating dinner tonight?" Arisu asked.

"Again… no clue," Miyuki answered. "Yuriko was going to take care of those arrangements after the coach's meeting, but I'm assuming that it's someplace local so that we can back to school after dinner."

"So we are running tonight?" Yuka asked.

"Yuriko didn't say that we weren't," Miyuki answered, "so I'm assuming we are."

Miyuki paused for a second and said, "Look… if you want to do a run through of your floor exercise, go get changed. Just be ready to hear about it when Yuriko shows up."

With the exception of Akane, who was sitting with Ranma and Una, the rest of the team headed for the locker room to change. Arisu, Miki, Suzuko, Aimi, Kazuko and Sachiko headed of to make sure the mats were set up correctly while Hiroshi, Yoshio, Kenji and Rei sat together on the far end of the bleachers away from where Akane, Ranma and Una were sitting.

"Aren't you going to run through your floor exercise?" Ranma asked Akane.

"No," Akane replied. "Every time I run through it I find something that I think needs to be changed. At this point, I'd rather not even think about the floor exercise until I'm on the mat at the tournament. Plus, I think the Coach will get here soon enough and she will want to get the meeting over and done with and get to dinner."

"What will the meeting be about?" Una asked.

"The organizing committee for the tournaments always ends up changing something at the last minute," Akane replied, "and sometimes we have to scramble to accommodate the changes."

"There won't be a problem with me attending the meeting and going to dinner with the team, will there?" Una asked.

"No problem at all," Akane replied, "and once Miss Nohina signs the club application card, you'll be a member of the gymnastics' club."

"And you'll be able to ride with the rest of the club to the tournament tomorrow morning," Ranma added.

"Ranma-sempai, will you ride to the tournament with the gymnastics' club?" Una asked.

"No," Ranma answered. "I'm not actually part of the club, so I'll ride to the tournament with Hiroshi, Yoshio, Kenji and Rei on the bus the school is sending for students and teachers who want to go to the tournament."

"Although, at this point," Akane said, "I don't think Miss Nohina would have a problem is the guys rode on the team bus."

"Probably not," Ranma responded, "but it is one less hassle the coach has to deal with."

"I noticed something," Una said after a brief pause. "Some people call Miss Nohina 'Coach' and some people call her 'Miss Nohina'… but I noticed that Miyuki and Hikari call her by her given name. Won't they get in trouble doing that?"

"Not likely," Akane replied. "If Miss Nohina had her way, everyone would call her Yuriko, but I'm not comfortable doing that… and I think that's the case with most of the team."

"But some of the other members of the team said that Miss Nohina has a problem with Miyuki and Hikari because they're gay," Una said. "I thought that Miyuki and Hikari would be the last people Miss Nohina would want to address her by her given name."

"Miss Nohina and Miyuki and Hikari have worked some things out between them," Akane replied. "Miss Nohina doesn't approve of their life choices, but at least she's willing to talk about it."

"And not run in terror from Miyuki," Ranma added.

"No, she doesn't run in terror any more," Akane said. "And rumor has it that she might be moving in with Miyuki and Hikari sometime after the new year."

"Wow, that really would be something," Ranma said, "but why would she do that?"

"Miyuki says that Miss Nohina lives in a small apartment in a bad neighborhood on the other side of the city," Akane explained. "And her rent uses up most of her paycheck. As far as Miyuki is concerned, it makes sense for the coach to move into her parent's bedroom and live there since it looks like Miyuki's parents won't be coming back to Japan to live for a long time."

"Are they coming back for the holidays?" Ranma asked.

"Miyuki didn't say," Akane replied, "but it sounds like if they do come back, they'll stay at a hotel while they're here."

"Do Miyuki and Hikari sleep together?" Una asked.

"Yeah," Akane replied. "They are very much in love with each other and they don't particularly care who knows it."

"It must be nice to be in love with someone like that," Una said.

"It is," Akane said.

After a few seconds of silence Una said, "I guess I only have one other question to ask. Everyone keeps talking about coming back to school after dinner and running…"

"It's kind of weird," Akane said, "but it's become kind of a tradition for the club members and their boyfriends to go out for a run the night before a tournament. Usually we'd go running in the park, but it's too cold tonight."

"And running in the park wouldn't work out very well with the police patrols," Ranma added, "so we're probably going to run some laps around the halls on the first floor of the school."

"Oh…" Una responded. "It's just that when I asked people about it, no one really gave me an answer. Is it something that, well… the team would prefer that I didn't participate in."

"No, it's not that," Akane replied. "You're welcome to run with the team tonight. It's just that… that…"

"It's that when the team goes running," Ranma said, picking up Akane's stalled explanation, "we don't wear any clothes."

It took a second or two for what Ranma had said to sink in.

"You run not wearing any clothes?" Una asked hesitantly. "Why… why do you do that?"

"It's kind of my fault…" Ranma replied.

"Your fault…" Una said quizzically.

"It's not really anybody's 'fault'," Akane said, not allowing Ranma to say anything further. "One night when Ranma and I were walking home from having some ice cream, Ranma got a little silly about something Fumiko had said… about that if her parents thought that running naked in the streets would improve her gymnastics' scores, she would be running naked in the streets. Well… one thing led to another and Ranma ended up naked on the sidewalk near the entrance to the park… and he refused to put his clothes back on until I took off mine and went running with him. Once he gets an idea like that in his head, there's no reasoning with him."

Akane paused and waited for a reaction from Ranma, but when none came, she continued, "We ran in the park for nearly two hours before we put our clothes back on and went home. It was a really stupid idea… but… I don't know why, but I felt really good afterwards."

Looking at Una's expression, Akane was having a difficult time figuring out what Una might be thinking. She didn't look shocked… or angry… or bewildered… or embarrassed… or really anything.

After taking a moment to take a breath, Akane continued. "The thing is that after that run… I started doing a lot better with my vaults and on the uneven bars… usually my two worst events… and the Coach thinks my floor exercise improved by two or three tenths of a point. I don't have a clue why. It doesn't make any sense to me at all… Then I made the mistake of telling Miyuki and she decided that if running naked was somehow helping me… it might help the rest of the team… So she convinced the whole club to do it. She even convinced the coach. The silly thing is that it seems to be working."

It was some time before anything else was said.

"Ranma-sempai," Una asked, breaking the silence, "do you run with the team?"

"I do," Ranma answered.

"When you run, do you run as a boy or a girl?"

"Usually as a boy… unless it's raining or something happens to change me into a girl."

"And Hiroshi and Yoshio and Kenji and Rei run with the team too?"

"Yoshio hasn't yet," Ranma answered, "but Hiroshi, Kenji and Rei have."

"And the girls don't mind?"

"I think they were a bit embarrassed taking off their clothes with Ranma there the first time," Akane replied, "but I think the guys were more embarrassed the first time they took their clothes off in front of the girls."

"Una," Ranma said, "I don't think anyone would say anything if you decided to run without taking off your clothes. And there wouldn't be any problem if you chose not to run at all. The choice is up to you."

It was nearly six before Yuriko arrived back at the school from the coach's meeting… And even if you were deaf and blind, it would be impossible for you to miss the fact that she was pissed.

"… And the worst part is that they waited until just before the meeting ended at two to tell us," Yuriko vented to the team, who had quickly gathered on the bleachers when she arrived. "Where the hell do they think the teams are going to be able to find an assistant coach the night before the tournament?"

"Why do we need to have an assistant coach?" Yuka asked.

"The committee didn't give a reason," Yuriko answered, "other than it was a requirement set by national committee and that their hands are tied in the matter."

"So what do we do?" Ichino asked.

"We try to find an assistant coach by tomorrow morning," Yuriko replied. "That's where I've been all this time. I talked to several people that I knew from when I was competing in gymnastics, but either they've already been contacted by other schools or they're acting as judges because all of the Prefecture tournaments are being held this weekend and there is a general shortage of judges."

"And if we don't have an assistant coach…" Hikari asked.

"It's an automatic disqualification for the team," Yuriko replied.

"So…," Ranma asked, "what are the qualifications for an assistant coach?"

"Not a heck of a lot," Yuriko answered. "The big item is that an assistant coach has to be eighteen or older."

"Hell," Miyuki said, "I meet that qualification."

"Out of the question," Yuriko said. "If I make you an assistant coach, you can't be an alternate. You're more valuable to the team as an alternate."

"How about Miki?" Miyuki asked.

"Won't work," Miki replied. "I don't turn eighteen until February ninth."

"So… what exactly is an assistant coach supposed to do for the team?" Miyuki asked.

"About the same as you can do as an alternate… except actually compete in the tournament," Yuriko explained. After a moment of thought she added, "Although… an assistant coach could fill in for me at some of the coach's meetings… and could file an official protest if there's a scoring dispute… and I guess it would mean that I'd be able to go to the bathroom during the competition instead of having to wait until the end of the morning and afternoon sessions."

"You mean you're not allowed to go to the bathroom during the competition?" Yuka asked.

"A team's coach or assistant coach has to be in the competition area at all times while the competition is in progress," Yuriko answered. "Technically… I could ask the head judge to suspend the competition while I went to the bathroom… but no one would be happy about that."

"I'd think they'd be a lot less happy if they didn't let you go," Hikari commented.

"You'd think that," Yuriko said with a smile, "but you know these gymnastics' coaches. Some of them have some real issues."

Yuriko cleared her throat and then said, "We aren't going to solve that problem right now, and so let me go over the other changes you'll be seeing."

After taking a moment to look through her notes, she said. "All right… As of this morning, there we're going to be twenty-one schools competing in the tournament… although there may be considerably fewer by morning. We took the top seed, but Saint Hebereke is seeded second… five one-hundredths behind us. That means we get to pick our event order first. We will need to make that decision before morning. It will be the first thing they ask for at the morning coaches meeting. The other thing to note is that because Furinkan and Saint Hebereke placed one-two, we will not face each other head to head in the team all around."

Yuriko shuffled through her notes again. "The twelve girls with the highest total scores in the team all around will compete in the individual all around on Saturday."

"Is there a restriction on how many can compete from each school?" Choko asked.

"No restriction," Yuriko answered. "Technically all eight of you could complete in the individual all around… but don't count on it. You'll be competing against some of the best gymnasts from the entire prefecture. And again on Sunday, the top twelve highest scorers in each individual event in the team all around will compete in the individual events. That means, at the end of the team all around, everyone will know who is competing on Saturday and Sunday."

"Instead of waiting until Sunday to hand out the awards, they will be awarded after each event. Teams need to check in by eight tomorrow morning… Opening ceremonies are at ten. The first round will begin right after the ceremonies… The second and third round will be after lunch and the forth round will begin after dinner. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day, so I suggest we all get a good night's sleep tonight."

"Did you find out if we can have our baked-goods and coffee stand?" Miki asked.

"There may be an issue with that," Yuriko said. "The arena has very strict rules about outside groups coming in and selling things at events. They usually charge very high fees from groups who do it, so it's difficult for a group to use it as a fund raiser."

"You said usually," Miki responded.

"The arena agreed to wave the fee, but for only one booth," Yuriko explained. "So we'd have to share the space with any other schools who would want to use it as a fund raiser."

"Were any other schools interested?" Miyuki asked.

"The only school that voiced any interest was Saint Hebereke," Yuriko said, "but there may be a reason for that. There's a catch… The money raised can only be used to pay for teams to go to the regional tournament. No matter how many schools participate, the money gets split three ways to the teams going to the regionals."

"So we could work our asses off," Sayuri said, "and not get anything out of it."

"That's right," Yuriko responded. "I'm going to leave this one up to you."

"If we don't believe that we're going to the regional tournament," Miyuki said, "then we've already lost. I don't think we'd be working our asses off for nothing. I think we're going to the regionals, so we better have a way of paying our way there."

"I don't know how much we can get baked between now and tomorrow morning to sell?" Miki said.

"Don't worry about it," Hiroshi said. "You tell be what you want to sell and I'll have it for you by the time you get on the bus to go to the arena in the morning."

"Thanks, Uchan," Ranma said. "You're a life saver."

"Glad to help," Ukyo replied as she took a seat at the table with Ranma, Akane and Una. "Especially since your coach is picking up the tab."

"She was supposed to make arrangements for dinner for the team," Akane explained, "but with everything that went wrong for her today, she never got the chance."

"That's what she said," Ukyo replied. "This tournament sounds like a pretty big deal."

"It is," Akane responded. "The top three teams go to the regional tournament and possibly to the national competition.

"Have you three had enough," Ukyo asked. "Your coach is paying for all you can eat."

"I'm stuffed," Akane answered. "I couldn't eat another bite,"

"Same here," Ranma added. "A bowl of Shampoo's house special ramen and two of your okonomiyaki is pretty much my limit."

"You're slipping in your old age," Ukyo laughed. "I remember when you'd complain that six of my okonomiyaki was just taking the edge off your appetite."

"That's when I was a still growing boy," Ranma responded.

"You're still a growing boy," Akane said, "but now if you ate that much the only growing you'd do is out, not up."

Ranma scowled at Akane.

Akane paused for a second and then said, "I'm sorry… I'm being rude… Uchan, this is Una Aimiya… Una, this is Ukyo Kuonji… one of Ranma's former fiancés."

"And now, kind of adopted sister," Ukyo added. "I know Una. She comes in to talk with Mr. Takamizo every now and then."

"Mr. Takamizo is such a nice man," Una said. "He was one of the few people I felt I could sit and talk with after what happened in the park."

"I've had the chance to sit and talk with him a few times," Ranma said. "I've never met a nicer gentleman than him."

"That's what everyone says," Ukyo said. "And he's good for business. People come in to talk with him and usually end up buying something to eat or drink."

"How are plans coming for the wedding?" Ranma asked.

"Not bad," Ukyo answered. "My parents will get here the day after Christmas and Ryoga and I and our parents will got to the Registrar's Office the day after that to take care of all the paperwork… And remember, the shrine ceremony will be the Saturday between Christmas and New Years at two in the afternoon. You and Akane need to be there by one."

"Don't worry," Akane said before Ranma had the chance to open his mouth, "Ranma and I will be there. Kasumi says that she found a matching set of kimono's that will be perfect for a winter wedding."

"Have you worked out things with Ryoga's dad?" Ranma asked.

"I guess… sort of…" Ukyo replied. "He's still not happy that Ryoga didn't continue with school, but at least he's agreed to sign the papers and come to the ceremony… but that may have to do with some of the things Ryoga's mom threatened to do to him if he didn't sign the papers or come to the ceremony. She is something else."

"How is Mizuki handling all of this?" Ranma asked.

"She's our biggest cheerleader," Ukyo said with a smile. "There's a lot she doesn't understand, but she's gotten down the concept that 'Ukyo and Ryoga have baby soon like Shampoo and Mousse'. Ryoga tried to explain to her that there was more to having a baby than just getting married… But the more he tried to explain, the more he began to blush. Finally he just gave up. Now I think Mizuki brings it up just to watch Ryoga blush. And having Shampoo volunteer to explain things to her doesn't help at all."

"I can just imagine," Ranma said, trying his best to stop himself from laughing out loud. "I'll bet Shampoo's solution would be to let Mizuki watch."

"That isn't even funny," Ukyo said, smacking Ranma on the shoulder.

"Is Mizuki a relative of Ryoga?" Una asked.

"Mizuki is kind of Ryoga's adopted sister," Ukyo said after taking a few seconds to try to figure out how to explain it. "You know about the Jusenkyou curse?"

"Ranma-sempai and Akane-sempai tried to explain it to me," Una replied, "but I'm not sure I completely understand."

"But you understand what happens to Ranma when she gets splashed with cold water," Ukyo asked.

"He turns into a girl," Una answered, "until he gets splashed with hot water. Then he turns back to a boy."

"Ryoga and Mizuki have kind of the same curse," Ukyo explained, "but kind of the opposite. When Ryoga gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a small black pig… But Mizuki is really a black pig who ended up in the Pool of the Drowned Ninja Girl… So when she gets splashed with cold water, she turns from a black pig to a girl and when she gets splashed with hot water, she turns back into a black pig… How the two of them got together is a very long story, but she thinks that Ryoga is very special and has decided that she would rather spend as much of the rest of her life as she can as a human girl and live with Ryoga and me."

"I guess I understand," Una said, "but it takes some getting used to."

"Una! Una!"

Una was walking with Ranma and Akane toward the school after dinner.

"Una! Hold up!"

Una, Ranma and Akane stopped and turned toward the source of the call.

Hiroshi, Kenji, Rei and Yoshio quickly caught up.

"Una…" Hiroshi asked, "Are you going to be running with the other members of the Gymnastics' Club tonight?"

"I… uhhh… I was thinking about it," Una replied.

"The guys and I were talking," Hiroshi said, "and if you'd feel more comfortable running with the team if there were no guys there… we'd pass on running with the girls tonight."

"No… you don't have to do that because of me," Una responded as her cheeks turned a rosy red. "I understand that it's part of the tradition for the guys to run with their girl friends… and fiancés… and wives... And if the guys don't run, it might mess up the team's good luck."

"Yuka! Yuka!"

Hiroshi said that there was something that he and the rest of the guys needed to take care of and that he'd catch up with her in a few minutes.

"Yuka! Hold up!"

But the voice that was calling for Yuka wasn't Hiroshi… It was Sayuri. Yuka stopped and let Sayuri catch up.

"Thanks for waiting," Sayuri said.

"No problem," Yuka replied.

"I know I asked before, but are you sure you're OK with you if your brother runs with us tonight?"

"I'm fine with it. Anyway, I don't think there's any way I could stop him. You know, he knows about our late night training runs?"

"How? Did Hiroshi or Ranma tell him?"

"No… He heard Miyuki, Hikari and me talking about it at practice one day."

Yuka laughed quietly to herself, "He's actually been looking forward to running with us… running with you." She paused, took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. "Sayuri, I want to apologize for the way I behaved earlier today."

"No need to apologize," Sayuri replied. "I understand. It's a pretty big responsibility having to take care of your brother and make sure that he doesn't get into trouble. I'm sure that's a full time job on top of everything else you need to worry about… And I really haven't helped the situation."

"No… I really do need to apologize," Yuka said. "The first thing that came to mind when you said that you and he were alone together last night was you and my brother having sex on the floor of your living room."

"You know that wouldn't happen," Sayuri responded. "I'd never let something like that happen… What's more… Yoshio wouldn't let it happen either."

"I know that… but for some reason, that's exactly where my mind went… My dad trusts my brother… and you… Why can't I?"

"Because Yoshio will always be your baby brother… You've always been there to protect him and get him out of trouble… although I seem to remember that you had some hand in getting him into trouble on more than one occasion."

"Yeah… True… Although… You do have to admit that back then he did look good in a skirt and a blouse… especially when his hair was longer."

"I'm sure…" Sayuri said. "I never saw him when you dress him up in your old school uniforms… But someone did. You know… he still carries a spare uniform to school with him."

"I didn't realize that… I really should apologize to him about that."

The conversation stalled for a few seconds until Yuka asked, "Sayuri… Could you do something for me… a really huge favor?"

"Yeah, I suppose so… What do you need?"

Yuka didn't respond immediately.

"Do you think you could suggest to my brother that he might consider buying some condoms? Or maybe you could buy some for him?"


"I mean… just in case."

"Yuka… you know that I'd never have sex with your brother."

"Don't say never. If you love my brother as much as you say you do… and he loves you as much as he says he does… it will happen. Maybe not tonight… Maybe not next week or next month… But it will happen… And when it does, I want both of you to be ready so that neither of you get into trouble."

"Yuka… What brought all this on? What happened?"

Again, Yuka paused before she answered. "Hiroshi and I did it last night. Neither of us intended for it to happen… but it did. And I'm glad that Hiroshi had a condom with him."

"You're sure about this?" Ranma asked Una.

"I'm sure," Una replied.

Most of the Gymnastics' club had already disrobed and doing some stretching exercises before they ran, but Una, Ranma and Akane were off in the corner of the gym. All of them were still fully clothe.

"No one would say anything if you decided not to," Akane said.

"I know that," Una said, smiling. "And maybe that's why I want to do this."

Una paused. "Everyone keeps saying that I have to put what happened to me in the park that night behind me and get on with my life… And I kept thinking, 'How can they expect me to do that? How can people expect me to forget what happened that night and get on with my life?' And then I realized something after talking with Ranma-sempai and you and the rest of the members of the Gymnastics' Club."

Una looked around at the people in the gym. "Hikari-sempai lost both of her parents. Akane-sempai, you lost your mother. Suzu's parents abandoned her. Aimi's father took off before she ever had the chance to know him. Yuka-sempai's mom threw her out of the house because she said yes to Hiroshi-sempai's proposal… and now her mother is in the hospital. Ranma-sempai is a part-time girl. His one friend turns into a pig… another turns into a cat and another turns into a duck. And Ya-ling from the restaurant was cursed to turn into a rabbit so she could escape from being killed. All terrible things… as terrible as, if not more terrible than what happened to me in the park… But one way or another, with the help of the people who love you, you found a way to get over those terrible things and 'Get on with your lives.'"

Una took a deep breath and then said, "And that's what I intend to do tonight."

She began to unbutton her blouse. "I am going to take off my clothes and run naked with my friends… And I'm going to take off what happened to me in the park and leave it behind."

"You're sure about this?" Akane asked Ranma.

"I'm sure," Ranma replied.

Everyone had put their clothing back on and were exiting the school through the main entrance. Ranma and Akane were walking with Yuriko, Hikari and Miyuki (Una was walking with Fumiko, Aimi, Kazuko and Sachiko).

"Look, if you don't have an assistant coach," Ranma said, "the team can't compete… And it doesn't look like one will appear out of thin air before morning. Basically it sounds like the only real duty of an assistant coach is to take up space on the bench… I can do that as well as anyone."

"It's a little more than that," Yuriko said, "The most important part of your job would be knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Words of encouragement during a performance might be mistaken as coaching by the judges… and that could lead to a disqualification."

"That part won't be easy," Ranma said, "but I'll do my best."

"And it's not like Ranma is a complete neophyte to gymnastics," Miyuki said. "Hopefully he's picked up at least some of the basics from watching Akane all this time."

"He's done more than pick up a little," Akane said. "He's actually been using some of my floor exercise rolls and flips when we spar."

"And I'm willing to bet that he'd score well on the balance beam," Hikari said, "considering I've seen him do most of the things we do on the beam while he's balanced on top of a fence."

"When I first met Ranma," Miyuki said, "I wasn't sure he could walk on a flat surface. The only place I ever saw him walking was on top of walls and fences."

"That was part of my training," Ranma said defensively.

"And the fact that he was too stubborn to admit that he liked me enough to walk next to me," Akane added.

"That too…" Ranma said. "But I also remember that someone didn't want to be seen with me walking next to her."

"Yeah… Yeah," Akane replied. "I was just as stubborn as you were."

"I still find it amazing that the two of you stopped arguing long enough to figure out that you actually loved each other," Hikari said.

"I think both of us figured it out right from the very beginning," Akane said, "but we were both too stubborn to admit it."

"And if our fathers weren't always messing things up," Ranma added, "I might have actually proposed sooner."

"Are you sure there won't be a problem because Akane and Ranma are married?" Miyuki asked.

"Not that I can find in my notes," Yuriko replied. "The only requirement they told us about is that an assistant coach has to be eighteen."

"So… what do I need to do?" Ranma asked.

"There's a form you have to fill out," Yuriko replied. Turning to Miyuki, she asked, "Do you think the rest of the team would mind if Ranma came to your house tonight to fill out the paperwork, rather than wait till morning?"

"So you want to get him signed up before he has the chance to change his mind," Miyuki asked. "I don't think any of the girls would mind if he filled out the paperwork tonight. I don't think any of the girls would complain if he, or any of the other guys, stayed overnight."

"If Ranma or any of the other guys stayed overnight," Yuriko responded, "some people wouldn't be getting the sleep they need before the tournament."

"Maybe you should have Ranma fill out two applications," Hikari said. "Then he could be on the bench either as a guy or as a girl."

"So, what did you think about running tonight?" Sachiko asked Una as the members of the club picked out spots to sleep on the futons that had been laid out on the floor of the living room and changed into their pajamas.

"When I was taking off my clothes and got down to the bra and panties," Una said, "I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do it. But once I saw everyone else had, I decided that I could too."

"I had the same problem the first time I went running with the team," Sachiko replied. "But my issue was that was really self conscious about the way I looked. I mean, I could wear a boy's uniform and no one would ever notice that I wasn't a guy. But once everyone took their clothes off and I saw that I really wasn't any different that anyone else, it really didn't bother me any more. Well, I really wasn't any different from anyone else other that Hikari and Arisu. Their boobs are huge… and the coach has a nice looking rack too."

Sachiko's commentary was met with stunned silence.

"Don't worry," Aimi said to Una, "Sachiko's harmless. She has a fixation about other girls' breasts because she's so flat-chested."

"At least she doesn't go around grabbing other girls' breasts… any more," Kazuko added.

"Hey!," Sachiko responded, "I only did that once… and only because someone dared me to do it. That got me into almost as much trouble as starting the fire in the boys' lavatory."

"What did you expect to happen?" Fumiko asked. "Did you think Miss Kagamiya was just going to let you grab her and let you get away with it?"

"Miss Kagamiya… the history teacher at our junior high school… You grabbed her breasts!" Una exclaimed.

"Yeah," Sachiko replied. "It was the first day of our third year… and that was her first day as a teacher at our school. She walked in to our homeroom for class while we were cleaning up from our lunch break and everybody looked at her and couldn't believe her boobs were that big… Anyway… to make a long story short, a couple of the girls in the class dared me to find out if they were real. I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to be feeling for, but I got behind her and grabbed her boobs and gave them a good squeeze. I don't think I ever heard anyone scream that loud… ever. I ended up washing lavatories for a week and I had to apologize to her and the rest of the class. But, by the end of the school year Miss Kagamiya and I became pretty good friends."

"Our class had Miss Kagamiya the period before lunch," Una said. "And that's all everyone talked about… about how big her breasts were and if they were real."

"Sachiko, did you ever find out if they were real?" Aimi asked.

"I asked her after we graduated," Sachiko replied. "According to her they're real… 85E. Although I think Hikari still has her beat."

"So," Una said with a smile, "if someone dared you to grab… the coach's breasts, would you do it?"

"I might," Sachiko replied, "depending on who dared me and what was in it for me."

"I honestly didn't think that they'd get to sleep so quickly," Yuriko said in a hushed voice as she looked over the mass of bodies on the floor of Miyuki's and Hikari's living room, "especially after Sachiko snuck up behind me and grabbed me."

"You should have seen your face," Miyuki said, trying her best not to laugh. "I thought your eyes were going to pop out and your face turned so red I though your head was going to explode."

"She isn't gay, is she? And what did she mean by 'nice rack'?"

"I sincerely doubt that she's gay. Not the way she looks at they guys that run with us. I think she did it on a dare. She has a reputation for doing things like that… And I think the 'nice rack' comment was to compliment your bust line." Miyuki paused for a second and then added, "I have to admit though… you handled that better than I thought you would."

"What, did you think I'd scream and run away?"

"No, but I did expect a little more of a lecture about inappropriate behavior. The 'Please don't do that' response took me a little by surprise."

"Maybe I've grown up a little," Yuriko said after taking a few seconds to reflect. "… Or maybe I've gotten numb to that kind of behavior from being around you and Hikari."

"I honestly hope it's the first reason," Miyuki said. "I think we've all grown up a little this year… Not that some of us wanted too, but we really didn't have much of a choice. Some really terrible things happened this year… but some really wonderful things happened too."

"Where's Hikari?"

"I think she's somewhere in that mass of people out there."

"And what are you still doing up?"

"I promised Hikari that I'd get things ready in the kitchen so that she and Yuka and Akane can cook breakfast in the morning. Would you like something to drink?"

"What have you got?"

"I can make some tea for you… or there's juice or iced coffee… or some shochu if you'd like that."

"No beer?"

"Hikari and I don't like beer… But there are some of bottles of whiskey that we retrieved from Hikari's old house before we sold it."

Yuriko thought for a moment. "Let's save that for after the tournament. Iced coffee will be fine. Is there anything I can help you with?"

"There's not much that needs to be done. Hikari's going to keep it simple… rice, miso, and grilled horse mackerel."

"We won't have much time in the morning."

"I know. That's why she asked me to get all of the utensils they'll need ready tonight."

Miyuki looked out into the living room. "I hope Hikari saved a spot for me. I didn't realize that it would be his crowded."

"Seventeen people take up a lot of floor space," Yuriko replied, "but I'm sure Hikari made sure there's space next to her for you."

Yuriko's response caught Miyuki slightly off guard. Normally any reference about Miyuki's and Hikari's sleeping arrangements would, at least, have a hint of sarcasm attached to it… but there was none.

"Are you sure you don't want to sleep in my parent's room tonight?"

"I'll be fine on the couch," Yuriko replied. "Let's get what you need to get done in the kitchen so you can get some sleep too. There are some people who are depending on you to be at the top of your form when you're spotting for them."

Hikari had indeed reserved a spot next to her for Miyuki and once she and Yuriko had finished in the kitchen, Miyuki found Hikari, cuddled up with Emily, next to the couch under the comforter they normally used on their bed. Hikari was sleeping on her side, so Miyuki slipped in behind her and cuddled up with her. She wrapped her left arm around Hikari, placing her hand in the area around Hikari's rather ample breasts. Hikari moaned ever so slightly and shifted so that Miyuki could cup Hikari's right breast in her hand as she normally did… and that's how the pair fell asleep.

When Miyuki went to bed, Yuriko was still working on her can of iced coffee. She told Miyuki that she'd be to bed as soon as she was done. Miyuki fell asleep long before the light in the kitchen went off.

At first, Miyuki wasn't sure what woke her up. She had no idea what time it was, but she knew it was still too early to get up to get ready for the tournament. With the exception of some quiet snoring from at least one of the members of the gymnastics' club (probably Yuka or Sachiko), the house was quiet.

When she had gone to bed there was no one sleeping on the floor behind her… but there was someone cuddled up behind her now. Even half asleep and without turning to look, Miyuki knew who it was.

There was plenty of comforter to spare. Doing her best not to disturb Hikari or Yuriko (or anyone else), Miyuki adjusted the comforter so that it now covered the three of them. Once under the common covers, Yuriko shifted and placed her arm around Miyuki. Miyuki returned her arm around Hikari and she fell back to sleep.