"Tsukino Usagi-san, please stay after class. The rest of you are dismissed." Fujita-sensei glared imperiously at her students. Ami and Naru sent Usagi commiserating glances as they joined the herd leaving the classroom. Usagi smiled brightly at them, but her legs were twisting rather painfully around themselves. She thought they were possibly wrapped around themselves 3 times! She idly wondered if that was some kind of record, but was jolted out her reverie by mocking male laughter. She glanced up to see one of her classmates with her older boyfriend. He met her glance with a superior one. His laugh had sounded familiar and she was well accustomed to that mocking glance. Funny how it only stung when it came from one Chiba Mamoru. She merely gave her sempai a cold look before the door swung shut gently.
Fujita-sensei, however, had caught the look and had overheard Usagi's classmate laughing about how "Usagi-baka" had gotten herself into trouble once again. She frowned deeply, wondering how Usagi kept from taking it personally. But she remembered the counseling she had received from Sakurada-sensei, the English teacher the students had nicknamed "Haruda". She was Fujita-sensei's mentor teacher and had said in all concern and supportiveness, "You mustn't get caught up in the students' lives. They will manipulate you and distract you from the task of preparing the good students for their futures." Although Fujita-sensei had been tempted to ask what she was supposed to prepare the "not-so-good" students for, she knew Sakurada-sensei wouldn't be much help. Not that Fujita-sensei thought Sakurada-sensei was a bad teacher; she just thought she had been burned badly by both administration and difficult students. None of this reflection, however, she reminded herself mentally, was getting her message across to one "not-so-good" student, namely, Tsukino Usagi.
"Tsukino-san," she began gently, wanting to enter this conversation in as positive a way as possible, "I'm a bit worried about your grades this semester." Usagi hung her head. "You've always had a lot to say when I ask you to write a paper; although, your use of kanji is sporadic at best." Usagi flushed. "However, this semester, you've hardly done any of your assigned journal writing, which is very unlike you. Further, you have turned in only two of your ten assigned three-page essay weekly homeworks. I know you enjoy writing, Usagi-san, and I understand that there are a lot of demands on your time, now that you are preparing for tests to get into high school. But your grades in class are just as important as your grades on tests."
Usagi looked up at her miserably. She couldn't possibly tell Fujita-sensei that she wasn't studying for tests or that she couldn't write journal entries about her activities as Sailor Moon! And, she thought miserably, all there is to write about in my journals are youmas and arguments with Mamoru-baka. For some reason, Usagi had never written in her journals about him. She poured her soul out about how unhappy she sometimes was at home, or about the fun things she and Naru had been up to, or . . . well, just about everything really. Until the day she stepped on Luna. The previous day had been her last journal entry. She didn't even feel comfortable writing about hanging out with Ami and Rei, for fear a connection between them might be made. A pang of guilt went through her when she realized how long it had been since she'd last hung out with Naru.
Fujita-sensei pulled a piece of paper out from the folder she was holding. "I don't usually do this, you understand. But I know there is something that is interfering with your homework. I want to give you a chance to save your grade." Usagi tried to see the paper, holding her breath in disbelief. Her teacher held it slightly away, but Usagi could see only two paragraphs of text on the page. "If you complete this extra credit assignment, Usagi, I will weight the score so that it covers the same credit as all the holes in your grades right now. But, I will score it with rigorous criteria in mind, all of which are outlined on this paper." Usagi's legs untangled quickly, pins and needles zinging through them, but she ignored the queasy feeling they caused. Her mouth was open slightly and her eyes showed a desperation to have this chance. She just couldn't take another bad mark home! "Tsukino-san," Fujita-sensei said sternly, "if you accept this opportunity, I expect a high-quality effort." Usagi nodded. Fujita-sensei caught her gaze and held it, her deep brown eyes very serious. "Do not accept this offer if you do not intend to take full advantage of this opportunity."
Usagi found her voice. "I'm very sorry, Fujita-sensei. I fully appreciate your generosity and I will do my utmost best to complete this assignment, if you will be so kind as to let me try." Both seemed shocked at the formalness of Usagi's words, mainly because most students were so casual with their teachers nowadays. She smiled, pleased by Usagi's politeness and Usagi smiled, pleased she'd pronounced all those big, formal words correctly. She despised formal Japanese, with all those difficult word endings. But her parents had taught her well, and internally, she thanked them for expecting her to be polite to her elders and teachers.
"Very well. The due date is two weeks from Friday." She passed the paper over to Usagi, who grabbed it eagerly, bounced up from her seat, tripped on her still numb legs, bowed repeatedly, grabbed her bag and raced out of the room, calling out her fifth and final thank you as she went. Fujita-sensei held back her laughter until her classroom door shut again, but if anyone had peeked in, they would have wondered about the large, highly amused grin on the stern teacher's face.
Usagi held the paper tightly, reading it quickly as she hurried toward Crown Arcade to meet Ami and Rei. Slowly, the enormity of the challenge sank in. A few sentences stood out to her like sharp points on a rusty iron gate. "At least one fully developed character." "High or low fantasy." "Short story, well developed and written as fully in kanji as possible." "Rough drafts must be included with the story." This wasn't a cakewalk extra credit assignment, she thought glumly. This was an assignment bigger than the assignments she had skipped. Which made sense, she knew, since Fujita-sensei was willing to count it as worth all those other grades. Yet still, she wailed internally, how was she supposed to complete this? And that warning on Fujita-sensei's face told her if she didn't complete this assignment and complete it well, she had just better not go back to school . . . ever. Eyes sad, shoulders slumped, she turned to face the automatic doors of the arcade. They hissed open and she slouched her way inside, paper dangling from her free hand and even her pigtails drooping.
Mamoru was sitting with his back against the counter, amusing himself by counting the minutes between Ami and Rei's arrivals and Usagi's eventual one. He even had placed a bet with Motoki about how she would come in. Motoki, knowing a new Sailor V game had just arrived, had bet she would come in happy, even hyper. Mamoru had bet she would come in grumpy. He refused to explain why he thought she would; he just had a feeling. She'd been very happy yesterday. For some reason, he felt it was time for a gloomy Usagi day. She proved him right when the doors opened. Although she was only a little later than her friends were, she was downcast and sad. Motoki silently slipped 5,000 yen into Mamoru's outstretched hand as Mamoru's eyes scanned the trudging blonde. They lighted on the paper in her hand and, with more than a little glee, he practically sang out, "Fail another test, Odango Atama?"
Usagi visibly flinched, his barb far too close to home for her tastes. She raised dull eyes to his, conveying without words that she was in no mood for their little sparring match today. But, as she slowly made her way to the table, she sent him a little zinger of her own, turning her head and quickly sticking her tongue out at him. He laughed in relief, that shadow-eyed Usagi hadn't seemed human. She ignored him and plopped dramatically down on the bench next to Ami.
"What's wrong, Usagi-chan?" Ami inquired worriedly. Usagi passed her the paper.
"Not another F, Odango!" Rei snapped, frustrated with her leader's perpetually lousy grades. She glanced at Ami for confirmation and was nearly deafened by Usagi's growl of response.
"Chigau wa yo!" Rei jerked her ringing head away from the girl before her hearing was permanently damaged and gave her a death glare. Mamoru and Motoki exchanged wry glances and a few customers gave Usagi awed glances. "It's an extra credit assignment, Rei-chan," she explained in softer tones. She gave her friend a wounded glare, but Rei was too busy admiring Mamoru to notice, her attention having wandered quite quickly once she'd learned it wasn't a bad mark. She loved Usagi dearly, but for some reason, she was far more interested in Usagi's failures than in the little events of her leader's days. Especially when there was such a yummy guy to drool over. As such, Ami bore the next brunt of Usagi's impressive decibel range as she wailed directly into the poor girl's ear. "But it's hard!"
Ami winced as she finished scanning the paragraphs. "Not really, Usagi-chan," Ami comforted. "I'll help you. It should only require five drafts or so." Ami sounded like she thought this would be fun.
"Five drafts?" Usagi wailed in horror.
"Keep it down, Odango Atama!" Mamoru snapped in irritation, having earned his coffee and snack money and returned to his studies.
Usagi glared at the indifferent jerk lounging at the counter. Sniffing, she lowered her voice, "It's due two weeks from Friday." She pointed this out to Ami, clearly expecting Ami to agree that it was impossible to do all that in the next two weeks and three days. Far too short a deadline, she waited for Ami to say.
"That's plenty of time, Odango," Rei contributed, having taken a look at the assignment herself to conceal her study of Mamoru. "Today's Wednesday. That gives you 17 days."
"Actually, Rei-chan," Ami corrected, "it gives her 15 days and 16 nights to work on it." Rei stared at Ami in utter disbelief. Ami sometimes said the oddest, most unpredictable things! Why bother to count the days and nights? Ami continued, blissfully unaware of Rei's incredulity. "Besides, you know we don't have many nights to ourselves." She made sure to keep her voice low.
Rei cast a look around the Arcade, "Fine. Usagi-chan can work on it at study group and both of us can keep her working on it." To Usagi's dismay, Ami happily agreed. They even decided to leave the Arcade immediately to return to Rei's shrine to begin study group early! She grumbled unhappily, but followed her suddenly energized friends out of the Arcade.
"Well, there's something you don't see everyday," Mamoru commented dryly to Motoki.
"Odango Atama leaving here before the sun has set."
"Hmmm," was all Motoki would comment. Poor Usagi had really seemed upset and it looked like her friends were dragging her out of the arcade. He hoped she wasn't in any real trouble. She was such a sweet kid, even if she did do lousy in school.
Usagi dawdled all the way to the shrine, but nothing short of an act of God was going to slow Rei down. At several points during the walk, she grabbed Usagi's arm mercilessly and pulled her along, forcing the stubborn blonde to keep up. Only once they'd climbed every last step of the huge staircase leading to Rei's home did she slow down. Usagi pouted, arms crossed, a belligerent look on her face.
"Here, Usagi-chan," Ami offered up a fresh notebook sweetly. "I always find it easiest to write in a clean notebook." Usagi mumbled her thanks, pulled out her favorite pink pencil with dancing bunnies on it, and sat down.
Usagi stared at the paper for five minutes. She squinted her eyes to make the blue and red inked lines blur together. She tilted her head and tried to find a pattern in the paper's weave. Then, she began looking around Rei's room, as if seeking inspiration. That lasted another eight minutes. Then she began to twiddle with the pencil. She twirled it, she tapped it on her chin, she even caught herself just about to chew on it. Rei finally snapped at her when she looked up to see Usagi sitting absolutely still, staring into space, with her pencil caught between her upcurled top lip and the end of her nose.
Usagi jumped violently, bumping the table. "Sorry," she apologized sheepishly. Rei groaned and looked at Ami for support.
"Usagi-chan, the best stories are about what you know," Ami advised gently, before returning to her math.
"But Ami-chan! The assignment is supposed to be fantasy!" Usagi protested.
"There are elements of fantasy in everyday life," Ami intoned, as she launched into a lecture about taking an ordinary event or thing and viewing it through different eyes.
Oh, great. Wonderful advice there, Ami-chan, Usagi wanted to say. What do I know? I know that I'm a terrible student, Rei's a grouch, and my cat is going to chew me out. I know that sometime tonight, I'll be rudely awakened to deal with some stupid, ugly monster and . . .
She vaguely registered Ami concluding her little speech. , "So you see, even something as simple as a peach can have fantasy potential." A silly grin crossed Usagi's features as a daydream stole across her mind as she thought about her favorite part of every battle; the part where Tuxedo Kamen rescued her.
She was caught firmly in his embrace after he'd saved her from yet another youma's deadly attack. As she gazed up at him, trying to see his eyes behind his domino mask, she realized he was leaning towards her. His lips were coming closer and she stopped breathing, her every thought bent on those lips that seemed about to touch hers. She tilted her head and he smiled softly, his hands sliding up her back to hold her in place. Her heart thundered and her eyes fluttered closed. Her fists were curled in the lapels of his tuxedo. His rose scent teased her senses and she dragged in a deep, ragged breath, anticipating his kiss. Her blood thrummed excitedly and a voice in her head was singing out with joy that her first kiss was going to be from Tuxedo Kamen! A hero, her hero, her ultimate fantasy come to life. Tuxedo Kamen wanted to kiss her! Any second now, his lips would touch hers. She could feel his breath on her skin, knew he was but a fraction of an inch away from her.
"Earth to Odango!"
Usagi started violently yet again, looking up to see Rei yelling at her, enraged. She glanced guiltily at Ami and saw her shaking her head. "What?" she sputtered.
"Oh," Usagi sighed, then grabbed Ami's notebook and jotted down one thought, "It was a dark and boring night. A night you could throw tantrums on and steal cookies." She grinned, then ran after her friends. A wicked grin crossed her face.
Maybe this time, she'd get that kiss!
AN: Okay, this story is unfinished, but has 12 chapters already written. I am going for a technique here that I have never tried before. Instead of one story, this is a story-within-a-story structure with Usagi writing a story as the central part of the plot. It's hard because I want the story to sound like Usagi wrote, yet it still has to live up to my expectations lol. Fun info: The Fujita-sensei and in a later chapter Yabe-sensei are my last two Japanese professors from uni. I couldn't resist writing them in. Thank yous to Comet Moon, Connie, Yasaboo, OoOSakuraOoO, Anjirika, serenity11287, Goddess Usagi, SmTwilight, Butterfle, meatballheadedprincess14, and Maroon Potato for reviewing TPP 3!