"Hey, maybe it's Karmic Balance. Since now I know I have much bigger LONG-TERM problems. I'll have less SHORT TERM ones..."

"No, no. Lasers, Aliens. I just flat out have problems."

"But I'm willing to SHARE MY PROBLEMS!"

Sub-Machinegun fire...

"See? Now we ALL have problems!"

- Freeman's Mind


"I think she hates me," I commented.

"What makes you think that?" Luna asked.

"Do you want me to name off the list of everything that's happened around here?" I countered with a question. "Or would you like to just take my word for it?"

"I think you're being hasty," the Felis-Sapien admonished.

"She threatened to beat the shit out of me in cold blood," I pointed out. "In this world, that's either a sign of affection, or unbridled hate. And I can tell you right now that she isn't making me chocolates up there."

No. Naru had not been making idle threats after the issue of her ultimatum. For two hours I made multiple attempts to get to the roof. And for two hours I found myself intercepted each and every time as if she knew exactly what I was thinking.

She said nothing through most of this. But then again, the look on her face as if murder might be on the menu didn't require anything being said. The times she did speak, it was to basically ask me 'What did I say?' and glare at me. Which only worked to piss me off.

Finally, she just started yelling at me any time that she saw me on the second or third floor, or heading for the stairs. It wasn't long after this before I just grabbed Luna and retreated to the teahouse for a strategy session.

I wasn't exactly afraid of Naru. No, there was nothing really scary about her compared to the likes of Hild, or Urd... Or the Numbers... And I didn't feel threatened by her the way I had around Motoko. I was more concerned with my own actions. One slip and my temper would get the better of me, and Naru would be lying next to Keitaro in a hospital bed. With the gear I had at this point, it would be absurdly trivial if I REALLY wanted to. Power-suit, explosives, firearms, antimatter, beam sword... Unlike my last visit, I was armed well enough to take on any given 'normal' human. Hell, I could take on actual military forces with some chance at winning since the suit can't be punctured. Not that I'm stupid enough to try that...

But considering I wasn't quite to the point where I'd be inclined to start solving all my problems with violence, I chose to get away from Naru rather than force a confrontation.

"It certainly didn't help things that you tried to shave in that swordswoman's room," Luna shook her head. "I have to ask, what were you thinking?"

"I was thinking I needed a shave," I shook my head as well. "I'm so used to it being a non-issue at home, that it didn't even cross my mind."

"Even when you're in other people's homes?" Luna asked incredulously.

"Like I said," I pointed out. "Didn't register. The thought never crossed my mind. It might as well be automatic. I didn't think about it. I just did it. I can be rather spontaneous like that at times."

"Ugh... So I noticed," the advisor laid her chin down on the table we were sitting at. "So what are you going to do now?"

"Don't know," I commented. "Whatever it is though, I have to be careful. Remember that initial punch she tried to throw when we appeared?"

"Yeah..." Luna rolled her head to the side. "What about it."

"Probably fatal if it connects," I warned. "Just like Ah My Goddess, there are events that happen to characters here that I can't survive. Naru can throw a move nicknamed the Iron Punch. It's a class of comedy-gag violence often called the Megaton Punch. If only for a second, she has the destructive force of a large truck packed into her fist. It's common for violent tempered females of this world to have a variation of this. Anyone who gets hit goes flying as if thrown by an explosion."

"Anyone who isn't you," Luna sat up seriously.

"Exactly," I nodded. "Back home, if I do something stupid, I might just get yelled at. Around here, even the simplest mistake or lapse in judgement might get me killed. The worst part of it is... As a comedy-gag, it's not controllable. And those doing it seem to have a mental blindness to it. Naru might well never realize that she can spontaneously deliver enough force to stop a car."

"But Washu gave you that suit for that, right?" Luna asked.

"Naru aims for the face," I shrugged. Luna fell silent.

"Hmmm..." Haruka wandered up to the table I had occupied, another cigarette in her mouth. "So it wasn't all in my head after all."

I turned to the teahouse manager with a puzzled look on my face, as did Luna.

"What's not all in your head?" I asked.

"I used to wonder," Haruka began, plucking her cigarette out of her mouth and holding it with two fingers. "Whenever I got angry with Seta, I'd just deck him. It always seemed like the right thing to do. You know, even though they teach us not to be violent with people and all that... It's always bothered me how he'd go bouncing like a rubber ball. Nobody else seemed to pay any mind to it though, so I just let it drop."

"You were aware of it before I appeared?" I asked. Haruka shrugged.

"I guess you could call it that," she then took a puff on her fag before continuing. "It was always a passing feeling. Like something was out of place. Like I said, nobody seemed to notice, so I let it drop."

"I wonder then," Luna piped up. "If that girl is aware of this in the same way..."

"Maybe," I began. "Maybe not. Haruka IS the Straight Man character of a Romantic Comedy. She might notice it because of the focus that comes with the 'job'."

Haruka snorted a laugh.

"I can't help but find it funny when you objectify me like that," she spoke after a puff. "Thinking like I'm a character of some manga just seems so off, but then, so accurate."

"And you don't seem the least bit bothered by it," Luna pointed out. "You're taking it rather well in fact."

"I'm the STRAIGHT MAN character," Haruka deadpanned around her cigarette, then removed it and smirked. "Nothing rattles me."

"Almost nothing..." I corrected, remembering some of the story line she got.

"Pardon?" Haruka asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Never mind," I waved it away rather than having to explain. "There isn't anything you can about Naru is there? I can't get near Motoko while she's acting as guard dog."

"No way," Haruka shook her head. "I told you last time. I'd help you once, but after that, getting along with them was your problem. Not mine."

I stared at her for a few seconds before replying. As usual, Haruka was going to sidestep the entire issue.

"Thanks bunches..." I commented sarcastically in English.

"You're welcome," she responded equally. True to form, Haruka didn't so much as show a crack in her stoic mask when she did.

I turned back to Luna to ignore the unhelpful one. If Haruka wanted to stay out of it, fine. But with the 'balance of power' in Hinata upset as it was, I could only imagine that it was a matter of time before the trickle-down affected her.

"Luna," I began. "You're an advisor... Advise something."

"Er... What?" She asked. "Advise you how?"

"You worked for the queen way back in the day right?" I pried. "Surely you had to play politics around the people in the court. If anything, politics involves mudslinging situations like this."

"Well," she thought for a few seconds. "My memory's still sketchy, but watching the show did a good job jogging it. I'm going to swat Artemis the next time I see him by the way... Now, for the most part, we didn't deal with too much open hostility. Serenity was pretty good about keeping a lid on that kind of thing. There were some of the usual rivalries and clashes of personality and method. But nothing quite this extreme."

"So how'd you handle the minor stuff?" I asked.

"Well," Luna shrugged. "Most rivals avoided each other, except when they were one-upping one another. When they absolutely HAD to interact without it turning into a competition, someone was usually around to act as a go-between."

"No special tricks?" I asked. "No ploys?"

Luna shook her head.

"I'm afraid not," she stated. "Serenity was really good at balancing that kind of thing. And when it actually did get out of hand, she was really good at strong-arming."

"Let me guess," I commented. "Really nice woman, but scary when angered, right?"

"She didn't get angry very often," Luna shrugged. "But I have seen it. That Belldandy girl reminded me a lot of the queen."

Ouch. I could still remember that brief look from Belldandy. The one that makes her more scary than Hild. Not because she'd be stronger than Hild, mind you. But because she'd probably just ignore the escalation of force and skip to full power...

"So does that leave us with anything?" I asked.

"I can try talking to Naru myself," Luna shrugged again. "I can't guarantee that she'll listen to me, but that's about the best advice I can give other than to simply avoid her completely."

I was afraid of that. I hate situations where my options are limited. To be frank, I still couldn't believe how screwed up this whole situation was. In order to help try and 'fix' Motoko, I had to catch her. In order to catch her, I had to get past Naru. Not that this would be hard enough, but Naru knew I was trying to approach Motoko. It's like a game of minesweeper, except the mine moves, you have a time limit, and you don't get any helpful numbers to warn you.

"Let's go," I pushed up off the table. "We'll just have to think as we go. If you can't talk some sense into her, you can always keep her busy."

"I suppose that's better than nothing," Luna nodded, getting up to follow me.

With the morning wearing on, and lunchtime still two hours away, it was rather chilly on the walk back up to Hinata. I hadn't really paid much attention to the climate over my aching body the last time I was here. But this time, I was aware of how nice and cool it was. I was kind of glad it was cool. I hate the heat.

It was strange though. Not just the universe hopping, but the climates. One world, its spring... Another world, its fall... Then it's summer...

That idle thought reminded me. All these seasons, all this weather, and my 'standard' clothing at the moment were a pair of pants and thin shirt. I should have packed a jacket. Especially if I really was going to return to Sailor Moon... I was so busy running and fighting when I was there. And afterwards, so tired that I hadn't even noticed it was cold. But I remember the fall leaves on the ground.

Washu's suit seemed to insulate a little, but the nerve sensations still made it feel cool. I'd at least need a jacket to 'feel' comfortable walking around.

Which again reminded me... In order to get a jacket, I'd either need to acquire one, or buy one. But buying one requires money. I don't have any money.

"Hey!" Luna interrupted my train of thought as we reached the top of the stairs. "Looks like you're in luck."

I followed her gaze and spotted Motoko out near the remains of the tree she took out last time I was here, back to us, looking around puzzled at the grass patch where I had ended up dozing off. I wonder what's going through her head at the moment.

"Hold up," I muttered, sticking my hand out to stop Luna.

We just stood there at the head of the teahouse stairs, observing Motoko as she continued to look around. She must be looking for something.

Her dagger?

Well, so long as I had it, she wouldn't be spilling her intestines, if that were what she was considering.

"Hey," Luna elbowed me in the side. "Instead of staring, why don't you go talk to her?"

"Hold on," I glanced at Luna in annoyance. "Let me make sure Naru's not going to do a flying-tackle out of a second story window or something."

Given Naru's habits today, I wouldn't be surprised. Wherever Motoko was, Naru wouldn't be far behind.

"I don't see or hear anyone else," Luna indicated while I looked around.

"She's got to be around here somewhere," I frowned. "Motoko being in easy reach is too convenient."

"It's not like she's going to be hiding in a bush waiting to ambush you," Luna rolled her eyes. "Stop being so paranoid."

"Paranoia keeps me alive," I pointed out.

"Paranoia also cripples your resolve," Luna countered. "Now go over there, and get this over with."

Cat-girl was right. Paranoia does cripple resolve, and ruins self-confidence. That leads to indecision. Indecision leads to hesitation. Hesitation leads to pain, and hurting, and death. At least, as far as I was concerned.

One last glance around and I started walking forward. About mid-way over, I paused. Motoko had her sword in her right hand. If I startled her, she might still jump and attack violently. Then again, she might run like a coward without thinking. Weighing my options, I decided my best bet would be to approach, but stay a bit outside of striking distance.

Once I got to a few body-lengths away, I was close enough to hear her muttering.

"Where IS it?" she asked nobody in particular.

"Lose something?" I asked to her back.

"Eep-!"

Motoko twirled around as she choked off a startled yelp, grabbing to draw her sword. However, she froze once she realized I was standing there. Naru was right; she's very jumpy.

"What are you looking for?" I asked, trying to break the ice. Motoko continued to stare for a few more seconds. Then she started to back away.

"You don't have to-" I began, stepping forward. But all that did was break her hesitation and she turned and bolted.

"Wait!" I snapped at her back, then growled to myself.

"Dammit..."

"Don't just stand there!" Luna shouted at me. "Go after her!"

Yeah yeah, I hear you! Sheesh, why can't this shit ever be simple?

I bolted after Motoko. Just a minor thing, I'm going to have to start working on my exercise more. After walking up those stairs, I had already drained myself a bit. And given the amount of running I'd been doing as of late, and how exhausted I keep ending up as a result, being out of shape just wasn't going to cut it. With a minor thought, I clicked my watch over to two-X to see what would happen. I almost fell over from the sudden seeming weight change, but managed to catch myself before I hit the ground. Immediately, I felt the results though. My legs didn't feel like they were working nearly as hard as I chased Motoko around the corner of the main annex and up the stairs dividing it from the west building.

"Don't follow me!" She snapped back when she realized I was giving chase, and put on a burst of speed.

Fine! You want to play this game? I can play this game!

I let Motoko round the corner, then spun and doubled back.

If she loses sight of me, she'll slow down. But she'll still head for whatever amounts to her personal sanctuary. That's one of three possible locations. One, her room... Two, the clothesline on the roof of the west annex building. Three, the onsen... Two of those three required her to go up the stairs.

"Now what are you doing?" Luna asked as I came running around the front and bounding into the main entrance.

"Playing TAG!" I replied with just a touch of sarcasm. If I could get to the stairs first, I stood a reasonable chance of intercepting Motoko. Then I could try and force her to talk if she's unable to retreat. I needed to-

"WHAT THE HELL!"

God dammit!

I caught myself and came to a stop just in time to see Naru come out of the kitchen glaring at me. I was forced to Hesitate just long enough to see Motoko come racing around a corner, glance at me for just a brief second as she did so, and then shoot up the stairs.

Naru glanced at the stairs, then looked at me, her eyes narrowing as she put two and two together.

About FACE!

I planted my foot firmly, eliciting a 'tump' from the sound of my boot on the wood. A boot I knew I shouldn't be wearing indoors in a Japanese building. Oh I'm just giving Naru all kinds of excuses aren't I? Screw it, I'm not taking my boots off at this point. Right now, more pressing matters. Such as...

FULL. TACTICAL... RETREAT!

I pushed off and rushed out the front door like my life depended on it.

"WHY YOU! COME BACK HERE!"

"Not a chance in hell!" I snapped, bolting out the front door. I managed to anchor my hand against the frame and came swinging around as Naru dropped what she was doing.

Once again, the familiar routine... Running scared. Well, not so much scared this time as just wanting to avoid the mess. But still, running... The problem of course with running would continue to stem back to my fitness level as I had already pointed out. Motoko was a fit swordswoman, but even Naru had to be decently athletic to some minor extent. In fact, everyone here was probably fit, having to climb the main steps daily. And that alone was a three-story climb.

Either way, I was not fit for extended running, or stair climbing. And Naru would catch me, and beat on me for a while, or force me to fight back. I was trying to avoid that...

But then, I had an idea, I couldn't really outrun Naru in a straight sprint, but I'm sure that if it came to something that took more strength than stamina...

The trick kind of popped into my head about the moment I was chasing Motoko, but in my rushing around, I really hadn't thought about it in more elegant detail. The idea was actually pretty simple. It takes muscle power to climb a staircase on top of the stamina needed to run. When I flipped on my strength enhancement to keep up with Motoko's climbing, I had inadvertently stumbled on a use of strength boosting I hadn't thought about, but had logically put into practice. If I use strength enhancement to help me climb a staircase, I did less work.

Less work means I don't tire out so soon. Not tiring out means I don't have to out-run someone like Naru, I just have to out-last her. And considering all the staircases around Hinata, it would be a cinch.

Like I said though, my mind wasn't that elegant, so all I was really thinking was. 'I can just out climb her'.

In my mad-dash for the corner of the Annex, I reached for the watch-face. I knew I'd be a poorly coordinated mess, but I wasn't really concerned about looking all that silly in a flat out sprint.

I switched it up to Four-X as I ran at the staircase, placed my hand to the side in case I needed to balance and raced up the steps.

Well, that was the plan. Except instead of flying up the steps, I effortlessly cleared eight steps in a bound, and promptly tripped up on my landing, tumbling into the solid lips of several higher steps.

Whoa...

I didn't really stop to think about the full implications right there, as the landing kind of hurt, and Naru was rounding the corner. But in my head, one mischievous thought sprang to mind.

"Catch me if you can..."

Did I just voice that challenge out loud?

"You are DEAD!" she snapped. But I was on my feet again, bounding up the steps three at a time, trying not to stumble. In comparison, Naru was having a dogged time trying to follow. Once I cleared the top, I replicated Motoko's previous course and hung a right, sprinting along the back courtyard toward the far corner of the building. The interesting part is that it didn't FEEL like sprinting. At least, my legs didn't feel like I was sprinting. With Naru just clearing the stairs to tear-out behind me, I reached the building corner and made yet another hard right.

The plan forming in my head was simple. Hang a loop around Hinata; slip down the east stairs to the teahouse, with Naru just far enough behind to stay with me. And rocket up the main stairs. Repeat two, maybe three times, and see who drops dead from exhaustion first.

Unfortunately though, that plan never reached execution. On the eastern side of the annex, just after rounding the corner I tripped and stumbled on the uneven ground, and fell flat on my face when I attempted to compensate. These landings hurt! I'd have to see if Luna could help me with the Four-X routine like she did before.

Sprawled out next to a large bush, I quickly changed from my new evasion plan to a much simpler hiding routine, and rolled myself under it as fast as I could.

Naru came around the corner a few seconds later, huffing as she went past.

"You can't run forever!" she snapped angrily.

Oh but I can hide...

I waited a few minutes until her random violent death threats subsided, being replaced by a loud, angry conversation with someone near the front of the building. After a few more minutes and that too died off, I finally decided to switch off my strength enhancement.

That was kind of cool. I hadn't thought about strength enhancement being useful for improving running stamina. If I could use it to run faster, but you can only cycle your legs so fast... And that jump. Wow. If that was Four-X, I wonder what kind of height I could get with full power?

Landings would be a problem though.

"Hey," a foot suddenly prodded me in the back, making me almost jump out of my skin. Then I recognized Luna's voice. Damn she's so quiet. "You can come out now."

I rolled out of my hiding spot to look up at the cat-girl as she smirked wryly at my predicament.

"You found me rather fast," I pointed out.

"I can hear your breathing," she shrugged.

She still has feline hearing in human form too.

As I pushed myself to my feet. Luna simply sighed.

"Well," she began. "You certainly messed that one up."

"It wasn't a total loss," I smirked. "I learned a new trick."

"Really?" Luna looked surprised.

"Yeah," I grinned. "Strength enhancement makes running easier. Especially stair climbing... Not to mention I get a bit of a power jump out of it. I think I could get ten to twenty feet out of a jump if I used full power."

"That's good," Luna nodded. "Mobility is extremely important."

"No kidding," I smirked, wiping some mud off my clothes. Great, now I have to do laundry.

"What was Naru going on about a minute ago?" I continued. "Was she talking to you?"

"Yeah," Luna sighed. "She got fed up trying to find you and told me to keep you on a tighter leash."

I laughed.

"What's so funny?" Luna asked.

"Think kitty," I answered. "Think REALLY hard..."

Luna furrowed her brow in confusion for several long seconds. Then, finally, her currently human face lit up with the obvious human display of mirth.

"Telling the cat to keep the human on a leash," she laughed. "Priceless."

"Puns are a dime a dozen," I grinned. "Accurate puns out of the blue by the unwitting..."

Luna almost bent over double laughing at the simplicity of it. The universe was a strange place. The last week was living proof that fiction just couldn't match... No. That's night right... Fiction WAS reality right now. Or reality was fiction. It was all so confusing.

"Anyway," Luna recovered after a few more seconds of gasping. Come on, it wasn't THAT funny.

"Anyway, I think I might be able to talk some sense into her. I believe that she seems to think that I can deal with you, just from that comment alone."

"I'm a guy," I raised an eyebrow. "You're a girl, therefor, on 'her' side."

Luna nodded.

"A very basic social bias," she smirked. "She trusts me by default."

"Even though you physically tossed her like a plastic toy," I pointed out.

Luna shrugged.

"I doubt she even realized that happened in her fury," the felis sapien pointed out. "But a bit of leverage is a good start here. Now, if you'll excuse me for about an hour, I'm going to go get washed up."

I blinked as Luna changed subjects without so much as a pause.

"What? Now?"

Luna rounded on me and got right up in my face.

"Yes," she stated curtly, her eyes growing a kind of demented look. "NOW. I haven't had a bath in five days. Do you have any idea what that does to someone like me?"

I took a step back. Okay! No need to tell me twice. I understand. Five days and any normal human would feel dirty. I know I've been concerned with my hygiene enough to get it through my head. For Luna, it must be raw torture.

Still... My brain was having a hard time wrapping itself around one point. What a cat considered a bath...

"Oh don't even THINK it!" Luna snapped, reading the look on my face for sure. "Naru offered me the uses of that onsen. I've never been in one before. I'm not about to pass that up."

Well, that line of reasoning was fair enough, but yet...

"I thought you hated water," I began. "You're at CAT."

"We only hate it when we have to wander around shivering because our entire bodies are covered in soaking wet, matted down, FUR." Luna enunciated for clarity. "And right now, I have a form that I haven't had access to in ages. A form that most certainly won't take two hours to dry off."

And then her face went from harsh to a stupidly surreal smile.

"I plan to enjoy it... Wouldn't you do the same?"

I began making subtle shooing motions with my hands.

"Fine, fine, go get your bath." I shook my head. "Don't let me stop you."

As we rounded the front corner of the annex, Luna turned, and with more bounce in her step, went right in the front entrance.

Add Luna's need for a bath to the list of things that came with having a transforming cat-sidekick. Food, sleep, hygiene...

I hope for the sake of my own sanity, what's left of it, that this doesn't devolve to Pooper-Scooper duty. That mental image was just WRONG. I don't mean funny wrong either. I mean, ' What has been seen cannot be UNSEEN!' wrong...

Then there was Senbei. He was around here somewhere with Su and Sara. What did that guy run on? Was he powered by raw misfortune, or did he need to eat, sleep, wash, and all the biological processes that come with the territory of 'living thing' as well? He could survive being dumped into hard vacuum... But the more I pondered, the more some rather obvious situations popped up.

Those two had their natural abilities, but were both in positions to be provided for by their 'owners' in their worlds concerning the matters of the fundamental basics. Luna by Usagi, Senbei by... Whatever made Senbei tick. Nidhogg?

They weren't just my 'sidekicks'. I was responsible for their well being as much as they were responsible for mine.

Symbiosis...

The more I thought about this, the more it seemed like Team Management rather than Inventory Management.

Luckily, I was saved from any further over thinking by the sight of Kitsune, shit-eating grin plastered on her features, walking directly for me.

"Wow," she began once she got close enough. "I haven't seen Naru that angry since the day Keitaro showed up. If you're trying to out-do him, you're doing a good job. That was hilarious!"

"You don't even want to go there," I shook my head. "Last time I was here, Motoko almost put me in the hospital."

"Well," Kitsune pondered from behind her seeming permanent squint. "I admit I don't know what's really going on, but that whole thing about you testing military technology WAS a pretty good cover up if you'd only just kept up with it. How'd you manage to do that big jump? One of Su's inventions?"

"Wait," I began. "You saw that?"

"I was watching Motoko from the second floor," Kitsune laughed. "You have a lot of guts to approach her after everything that's happened. You like her, don't you?"

That's the second time I've been presented with that conclusion. Short answer, yes, yes I do. But not the way she's thinking.

"I'm just trying to fix the damage I've done..." I pointed out.

"You didn't say no," Kitsune grinned. Oh for the love of- Wait, this is Kitsune. She's looking for any reason to tease me. Well, I'm not going to fall into that trap.

"Yes," I stated in a matter-of-fact tone. "I like her. I like her the way she's supposed to be, not a nervous wreck that I've been told she's been like for the last week. Got a problem with that?"

"You don't have to get snippy," Kitsune's smile faded.

"I've been getting death threats from Naru all morning," I pointed out. "Wouldn't that make you a bit snippy?"

"Okay," Kitsune raised her hands in acceptance. "Point taken. But how exactly do you plan to 'fix' Motoko?"

I shrugged.

"You don't know?" Kitsune's eyes bugged out in disbelief.

"You've got to start somewhere," I pointed out. "I can't figure it out until I can at least talk to her. That's, kind of hard at the moment."

Mitsune Konno placed her hand on her chin in thought, her eyes returning to her trademark squint. It hadn't struck me before just how creepy that looked in real life. She looked barely awake.

"I suppose I could help with that," she began. "Motoko HAS been a bit reclusive the last few days, and without her, Su's been driving us up the wall..."

Any further thought was cut off by several loud sounds. The first of course, being Motoko's now easily recognizable shriek. The second, someone else's shriek...

This was followed by the distinctive thump of a hand grenade. Except nobody here should have any hand grenades... Well, maybe Su...

"What is Motoko doing now?" Kitsune asked in seeming annoyance.

Two and two makes four.

"She didn't go to take a bath when Naru started chasing me, did she?" I snapped.

"Well," Kitsune seemed surprised. "Yeah, it's the best way to relax around here when you're under stress."

Oh god, LUNA!

"Move!" I snapped, partially shoving Kitsune aside. "She thinks Luna's a demon!"

"Oh dear..." Kitsune appraised from behind as I shot in the entrance.

'THUM-CRACK!'

Typical! This is TYPICAL! Where's the onsen entrance? Wait, that's it right there.

I have to break those two up before either Motoko 'exorcises' Luna, or Luna manages to snap the swordswoman like a twig in self-defense.

'BAM!'

A piece of Motoko's signature concussion wind-tunneled through the changing room, popping my ears. Luna's yelp of terror was clear as day this time.

"Luna!" I snapped as bounded for the far do. "Run for it!"

Half a second later, the girl came racing through, look of horror painted on her face.

Outside Context Logic hit like a ton of bricks, freezing me in place.

No... NO! Don't come running to me NAKED!

"She's insane!" Luna snapped as she placed me between herself and the far entrance. "Do something! Anything!"

NO! NO! You're going to set off a gag with me as epicenter!

"Come back here!" Motoko's voice snarled as she came through the entrance.

Oh. SHIT.

Let's review our checklist on this kind of thing.

- Male Protagonist in the wrong place? Check.

- Luna, Naked? Check.

- Motoko, naked? Check.

- Third party, attracted by the commotion and bound to misunderstand? Due any moment now...

Checklist complete.

Please stand by... Perverted gag in progress.

So there I was. Naked catgirl hanging off my shoulder, staring face to face with a naked swordswoman. As soon as she saw me, Motoko froze in place, flushing a shade of crimson.

I should avert my eyes out of courtesy, but I had absolutely no intent of letting them off Motoko's sword. There's no telling what might happen with her in this state, and I need to watch the motion of that weapon.

"She's trying to KILL me!" Luna breathed into my ear. Even I had to admit... That was inappropriately distracting.

"First," I began steadily, lest I shatter the seeming stalemate. "Turn BACK into a cat."

There was a loud pop like a balloon and a rush of air, and the weight Luna had been applying to my shoulders vanished. The sound served partially knock Motoko back to her senses. She began to back up, realizing that she was still fully NOT clothed and was staring down a male.

"Now," I began, trying to pace backwards. "We pretend this never happened."

I bumped into something behind me, and my heart sank. Of course... Why delude myself when I knew the punchline was already too far-gone?

"Caught you..." Naru stated in my ear. Oh, that was cruel irony on top of it. I can't believe I walked right into this one...

Then suddenly, it occurred to me. Clear as day.

No matter how seeming serious a problem might be, for all the grimdark my imagination could cook up with the help of Washu. No matter how hard I tried to fight it, to avoid it, to sidestep and dodge. The conventions would find a way.

A way to make it funny.

This was Hinata. This world is Love Hina.

It's all part of the routine...