Notes and Disclaimers: The characters in this story are the property of Naoko Takeuchi, Toei and Kodansha, bless their hearts. We've just borrowed them for a giggle.
I'd like to thank my coauthor, Sparkle, for her patience and humor - and fof the eerie way her brain works like mine. Let me know if you like this at email@example.com Tell Sparkle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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by E. Friedman and Sparkle
The sun shone through the window of the Crown, casting a rose glow over the seven figures at the table.
Usagi waited until Unazuki had placed her drink on the table before speaking.
"It's my birthday in two days!" Her glee was as contagious as that of a child and her friends grinned at her. She looked at them suspiciously as she sipped at her drink.
"You *are* going to have a party, aren't you?" The six grins widened.
"We don't dare not have one." Makoto giggled.
"But don't think we won't be able to surprise you." Minako was quickly shushed by Ami, Rei and Makoto, which made Usagi's eyebrows rise with curiosity.
Haruka interrupted before a fight could break out among the younger women. "So, Usagi-chan, what would you like for your birthday?"
Usagi's face grew serious as she pondered this all-important question. Michiru and Haruka glanced at one another, grinning, as the young woman placed the tip of her finger in her mouth as an aid to thought.
"I think," Usagi's voice became distant, "I'd like to learn to drive."
"Eh?" Six voices expressed complete surprise at the unexpected answer.
"Yeah," Usagi continued dreamily, "it looks so cool, when Mamo-chan is driving. It looks like so much fun."
"It is fun." Haruka agreed quickly, her own voice a bit distant, her eyes far away. Michiru covered Haruka's hand with her own, smiling at her partner's passion.
Usagi's eyes grew large and round. "Haruka-san - do you think you could teach me?"
Haruka stiffened slightly, but said nothing.
Ami spoke in the awkward silence, "Usagi-chan, Haruka-san's Ferrari isn't like your father's family car."
Usagi stared at Ami, puzzled. "My father doesn't own a car, Ami-chan."
Makoto smoothly intercepted the arm Rei aimed at the back of Usagi's head. Holding Rei's arm in a strong grip she explained, "She means that a Ferrari isn't exactly the best car to learn in." Ami nodded in agreement.
Usagi's face clouded slightly. "I understand."
Haruka felt a fist grip her heart and squeeze, as Usagi fell into a quiet reverie. There was no doubt that Usagi felt that her friends were once again letting her know, subtly, that she wouldn't be able to learn this skill, as she had failed to learn so many others.
To her surprise, Haruka found herself speaking, despite her resolve not to get involved. "Since it *is* your birthday, Usagi-chan, I'll teach you."
Six faces turned towards her incredulously.
"You will?" Usagi's voice was shrill with excitement.
"You will?" Minako was gripping the table edge with poorly concealed envy.
Haruka smiled a little wryly at Michiru. Turning back to Usagi, she shrugged. "Why not?"
"Well," Rei beamed at Usagi, "Usagi, you got your birthday wish!" Just slightly jealous, not more.
The blonde smiled in return and sipped her drink contentedly. Haruka sank back in her seat, trying not to notice Michiru grinning at her, and wondering what she had just gotten herself into.
Usagi sat on the front doorstep, yawning hugely. Her watch said 7:57 AM. Haruka had made this one condition in return for driving lessons.
"I'll be there at 8AM sharp - if you're not there, I'm leaving." Usagi had nodded enthusiastically at the time, but now, with sleep settling heavily on her shoulders, she wondered if it would really be worth it.
A low rumble came from the far end of the street, which resolved itself into the purr of the Ferrari's engine. Pulling up sharply at the curb, Haruka waved at Usagi, who hopped from her perch and came running over to the car.
"Get in - we have a bit of a ride." Haruka leaned over and opened the door.
Usagi noticed the large wicker basket in the back seat and her eyes lit up. Haruka laughed and slapped her hand lightly, as the young woman reached to open the lid. "Michiru's idea - food as an incentive. You don't get any lunch until you learn your first lesson." Haruka laughed again at Usagi's expression, torn between determination and desire.
All further conversation was postponed, however, when Haruka shifted into gear and sped away, leaving Usagi to fumble with the seatbelt.
They rode in silence until they had passed out of Tokyo. Turning to Usagi, Haruka smiled. Usagi grinned back a little nervously. The road lay straight before them, but the rush of wind made it impossible to converse.
Haruka soon exited the highway, heading onto a smaller, much less heavily used road. Usagi found herself wondering where they were going, as the road became full of sharp turns and winding passages. Haruka slowed, but not enough to keep Usagi from careening back and forth in her seat as they switched back and forth around the sharp turns.
Haruka slowed slightly to be heard over the wind. "Relax. Let the car move you just feel the movements of the road beneath you " her voice slowed, softening into a slow drawl. "It's like making love, you relax into your partner, moving with them, getting into the rhythm of their " She cut off abruptly, reddening slightly. "I um sorry I forgot, I mean, I assumed do you know what I mean?" Her voice petered out lamely.
Usagi met her gaze evenly, although there was a definite pinkness to her cheeks. "Yes, I know what you mean." Haruka bit back a nervous laugh.
The younger woman closed her eyes, and relaxed back into her seat. Haruka watched her surreptitiously for a moment, then increased her speed around a particularly sharp turn. This time Usagi let the car move her, conforming herself to its motion, and remained relaxed in her seat. Haruka grinned, shifted into a higher gear and laid the accelerator down.
This was her element; the road before her, a good motor under her hands the wind whipped through her short hair and for a few minutes, Haruka forgot anything but the feel of the road, the connection between her and the wheel under her gloved hands.
When the road had straightened out a little, Haruka turned to watch the woman at her side. Usagi's head was back, her eyes still closed, her lips parted slightly. The flush on her face was gone, replaced instead by a look of tranquility so profound that Haruka stared, transfixed, until the road once again claimed her attention.
Usagi's eyes opened slowly and she turned to see Haruka wrestling the car into a slower pace. The older woman was breathing harder than seemed natural, and she wondered at this, but did not comment.
They had left the sharp turns behind them now, and the road was gentler, winding softly along its length. Usagi listened carefully as Haruka named the major features of the dashboard, dutifully repeating their names. Working slowly, but diligently, Usagi was able to identify the name and function of all the important gauges after some time. It was hard work; all the gauges seemed so similar. And the teacher so...distracting. Usagi had known practically from the start of their acquaintance that Haruka was attracted to her. And she had always found the idea disconcerting, if flattering. But today she felt that there was something different
She had never noticed before how strong and graceful Haruka's fingers were. She tried to imagine them working their way along a piano keyboard. The older woman pointed forward and Usagi noted the economy of motion, the line of her arm. Uninvited, a vision of those hands against her shoulders popped into her head. She shook her head slightly to clear the vision, but it only altered, Haruka's hands against Michiru's back. Usagi jumped at the image, jolting herself back into the present. She was startled to find that Haruka was speaking once again.
"Now " Haruka commented, "the stick shift." She seemed to search within herself for the right words, then heaved a sigh. Reaching over the shift, Haruka lifted one of Usagi's hands and placed it firmly on the knob. Usagi felt the round hardness beneath her palm, and then the warm softness of Haruka's gloved hand on top of her own. Haruka gripped her hand, then pressed as she downshifted. Usagi found her own hand moving underneath Haruka's light touch. She glanced at the older woman, and nodded, trying to feel the car's movements, and understand the timing of the shifts.
Haruka explained about shifting, when and how, and Usagi tried to listen, she really did. But in order to keep her hand on the stick, she had to turn slightly in her seat and lean a little towards the driver. Usagi stared at the gloved hand that covered her own, and thought about her voice moments ago, rich and deep and sexy. Usagi snapped her head up suddenly and stared fixedly out the windshield, trying to concentrate on the *car's* movements.
The road cut into a heavily forested area and the trees cast them into shadow. Usagi turned slightly to watch Haruka drive. Calm, cool, her motions small and deliberate, one gloved hand on the wheel, Haruka was in complete control. Usagi watched as her body shifted with the vehicle's motion, watched as one muscular leg moved back and forth between brake and accelerator.
Without a conscious thought, Usagi found her other hand laid gently on Haruka's thigh, feeling the play of muscles underneath the material of her slacks. It was a long moment before Usagi thought to look up and when she did, she was startled to find dark eyes boring into her own. She started and pulled her hand back, but the gloved hand moved, and placed her hand firmly back where it had been. Haruka said nothing but turned back to watch the road. By the time her breathing eased, Usagi had no desire to move her hand. Her eyes closed and she lost herself in the motion of car and driver.
They drove in silence, the air redolent with summer smells, the rush of wind the only sound. At last, Haruka pulled off the road and onto an unmarked dirt path. The path led them a few hundred meters into the woods, where a large clearing opened up before them.
An oval, smooth and paved, was surrounded by a field of wild flowers. The asphalt was cracked in places, but there was no doubt that this had been, and probably was still, a racetrack. Haruka stopped the car on the edge of the track and removed her hand from the shift, gesturing to the clearing.
"This is where I learned how to drive." Her voice was flat, uninflected and Usagi knew enough not to ask anything further about the statement, although her mind reeled with curiosity. Haruka so rarely mentioned anything about her life before becoming a Senshi, it was always a shock when she did.
"And this is where you'll have you first lesson." Her voice lightened appreciably as she continued. "Do you think you're ready to try?"
Usagi swallowed hard, but nodded, her lips clenched. "I'll do my best."
Haruka patted her hand, still locked over the stick shift and turned the car ignition off. "Switch seats." She eased out of the driver's side and walked around, handing Usagi out with practiced ease. Usagi spent a full breath being insanely jealous of Michiru, then moved around the car to the driver's side. She sat herself in the vacant seat and placed her hands on the steering wheel. She looked at Haruka, standing outside the passenger door and found Haruka staring back.
"What is it?" she asked.
Haruka shook her head. "Nothing." She smiled and peeled the driving gloves off her hands. "Here - you'll want these." She handed them to Usagi, then sat down in the passenger seat. Usagi held the gloves, felt the smooth leather, the warmth from Haruka's hands, and slid them on slowly. She could smell Haruka's scent on them and surreptitiously lifted one to her face. Her eyes closed for a brief moment then she gripped the wheel firmly and looked at the track ahead of her.
Haruka was already leaning over, placing her hands in the strongest position, adjusting her seat, and the wheel. That scent, so distinct, wafted over her. She turned to say something and found herself within inches of Haruka's face. They paused for a moment, then Haruka backed off and faced front.
For the next few minutes there was an awkward silence in the car. Haruka finally cleared her throat and asked "Shall we begin?"
Usagi began to respond, found the words stick in her throat, took a deep breath and spoke. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea, Haruka-san."
Haruka turned to face her, her face dark with color. "Why do you say that, Usagi-chan?"
Usagi opened her mouth, then closed it. "Forget it." She put her hand on the stick shift and took another deep breath. "I'm ready."
Haruka once again placed her hand upon Usagi's, gave it a slight squeeze, then removed it. "Then let's begin."
Haruka sighed as Usagi hesitantly pulled down the gearshift, not quite far enough, and the car sputtered in objection and slipped to a stop. "You need to be a little more...assertive," said Haruka patiently. "I know you're scared of grinding the gears again, but you do need to use a *little* more force than that." Usagi nodded, her mouth tightening in determination. She reached for the key and brought the car back to life.
This time she pulled too hard, too fast, and the gears screeched in protest. Haruka winced involuntarily and the car jerked and shuddered as Usagi whipped her hand away from the shift in a panic. The car stopped and died again.
There was silence in the clearing, except for the distant, peaceful sound of birdsong. Usagi leaned her head against the steering wheel in frustration, refusing to meet the taller woman's eyes until Haruka reached out, took her chin firmly in two fingers, and turned her face to her. Sighing, she noted that tears were collecting in the corners of the smaller girl's eyes, and that she was biting her lip.
"I - I'm sorry, Haruka-san. I'm no good at it; I'm no good at anything. I can't--"
"Usagi." The golden-haired girl blinked and met the other woman's eyes. Haruka reached out and brushed away a tear that had escaped. "I know you can do this," she said quietly. "I believe in you." For a beat their gazes held, a current suddenly coursing between them, and then Usagi pulled away and took a deep breath.
"I'll try," she said softly, but with renewed determination.
"Just remember what I said before...No one learns to drive without grinding the gears a few times, without making mistakes. Driving is a skill, not a talent, and as such it has to be learned," said Haruka, falling back into the relative safety of 'lecture mode'.
"And you are very, very skilled, aren't you, Haruka-san?" asked Usagi, deceptively innocent.
Haruka smirked and glanced at the other girl out of the corner of her eye. "Yes, I am," she said a trifle complacently, "But then, I've had a lot of practice." Usagi giggled a little.
Haruka's voice became a little more serious, "I wasn't born knowing how to drive, either. Even *I've* ground the gears a few times in my life...though not recently, of course." Usagi giggled again, until Haruka once again placed her hand over Usagi's on the stickshift. "You have to trust the car. Trust me." She paused and turned to face the younger girl. "Do you...trust me?" There was only the very faintest hesitation in the question.
Usagi answered without hesitation. "Oh yes," she said, her eyes wide with absolute sincerity. "Completely."
Haruka looked taken aback for a moment, then cleared her throat. "Well, I'll endeavor never to betray that trust..." she clamped her lips shut against the word "again," as she veered too close to an uncomfortable subject .
Usagi smiled at her. "You never have," she said, as if she had not noticed Haruka's reaction.
Haruka opened her mouth to respond and then closed it again, as though finding she had nothing to say. Usagi held her eyes for a breath longer, and then Haruka turned away.
"Anyway," she said, recovering her composure after a moment, "The thing to understand is that this is a very...," she searched her mind for the right word, "...responsive car."
"What do you mean?"
Haruka looked away into the distance. Once again her voice softened, purring as she said, "I mean, it doesn't take much to elicit a...reaction. You need to show her what you want, but it's important to be gentle. A light touch is enough to change direction. A little push to shift gears. But, at the same time, you can't be hesitant." She shot a grin at the younger woman. " I know it's hard for you, but you need to take the lead."
"So...be gentle but firm?" Usagi found herself grinning in return.
"Yes." Haruka agreed, her grin becoming decidedly lopsided. "Gentle but firm."
Usagi smiled and reached for the key once again.
This time the gears moved smoothly, as Usagi reached for - and finally found - the proper rhythm. She blinked for a second in disbelief, then turned to Haruka. "I did it!" she squealed, and promptly stalled the car again. Haruka couldn't help chuckling, and Usagi joined in, confident, now, that she could actually learn to control this sleek, powerful beast. Haruka lay a hand on her shoulder and grinned. "Good job, Usagi," she said. Her voice was warm, and Usagi blushed. She could feel the heat from the hand on her shoulder very keenly.
The car did not seem to resent its earlier mistreatment and moved off slowly down the straightaway. Usagi wrestled with her own fear, trying to unclench her hands, relax her body, and feel the road. But every bump and crack in the pavement seemed an insurmountable obstacle and she was sure she was rattling the Ferrari's suspension to death.
"It's okay, Usagi-chan." Haruka's voice was gentle and her breath blew against Usagi's ear.... Her hand was laid lightly over Usagi's arm. Long fingers brushed absently at the blonde hair that stood up with the contact. "The car can take it - it just feels awkward right now. When you speed up it'll run more smoothly." Haruka kept contact long enough to feel Usagi relax her grip on the wheel. Then her hand was removed, and Usagi put her foot firmly down on the accelerator. The car moved slowly but steadily down the track.
At the first turn, Haruka's hand reappeared, adjusting Usagi's grip once again. Continuing around the track, the hand would again leave, then return to steady her. Usagi made it around the track once and the hand, now on her shoulder in praise, was slowly drawn down her arm before being taken away.
Usagi could feel her heart beating against her ribs after Haruka's hand had so lightly traced that path. Usagi slowed the car and stopped it turning towards the older woman, just as she had leaned in once again. Once more they found themselve barely inches from each other. Usagi looked up into teal eyes, then closed her own. She could feel Haruka draw near, then feel the soft brush of lips against her own. Their kiss was brief, but sweet. Usagi could feel Haruka's strong presence, that intriguing scent, and the gentle softness of lips, so unlike Mamoru's.
Haruka pulled away, smiling down at the younger woman. "I think you've earned your lunch, at least." She reached into the back seat, pulled out the picnic basket and opened the car door. "What do you say to a break?"
Usagi agreed enthusiastically and with more than a little relief. Lunch was delicious, as she knew it would be. She hadn't realized just how hungry driving would make her.
Usagi had stripped off the driving gloves to attack the food, and now she watched as Haruka scooped them up and absently drew them over her long, tapering, pianist's fingers.
Haruka glanced up and caught her eyes, and Usagi blushed and shifted on the blanket, looking away. The blanket suddenly seemed smaller, and in spite of the cool breeze and open air, Usagi felt warm. The air, redolent with the scent of flowers, seemed a little thick. She could feel the taller woman's presence as Haruka crossed the blanket on her knees and began to pack the remains of their lunch (not that there was much left) into the picnic basket. When everything was cleared away, Haruka turned to her and held out a hand. Usagi was happy to see that her own hand trembled only slightly as she slid it into the other woman's grasp.
It happened so quickly, Usagi wasn't quite sure how she had managed it. When Haruka had leaned back to draw the younger woman up from her place on the blanket, Usagi hadn't risen. Instead, she had leaned back herself, drawing Haruka off balance, then stumbling forward, then down to the blanket itself. Usagi found herself underneath the older woman, trapped by Haruka's tall frame.
"Are you...alright...Usagi?" gasped Haruka.
Usagi nodded. "Just had...the wind knocked out of me. I'm all right now.
Usagi looked mildly embarrassed. She grimaced and squirmed, then froze as a dark blush flooded Haruka's cheeks. "Oh!" said Usagi, her own face going pink. "I..." Her face grew even pinker. "I wanted..." Suddenly her face lit up and a mischievious smile crept across her lips. "I was...trying to be gentle, but firm."
Haruka's expression was taken-aback, perhaps even a little shocked. Usagi noted the sudden strain in the other woman's features, and her own smile faded. How could she have thought...? She couldn't do this any more than she could learn to drive. Usagi turned her face away and closed her eyes to hide her chagrin.
Then Usagi felt the soft blanket and hard ground beneath her back, and the soft-hard body of Haruka was above her, pressing against her for a single, ecstatic moment before lifting away from her. She reached up to stop the retreat, and caught hold of a shoulder. Haruka's movement paused.
"Haruka," whispered Usagi softly, huskily...compellingly.
With a small smile, Haruka leaned down and captured her lips.
This time it was much more than just a chaste brush of lips on lips. This time...
It was intense, full of passion and longing, of things that couldn't be expressed with words.
A hand slipped down, as though of its own accord, and under. Leather-clad fingers flickered across one nipple, so gently. Usagi moaned softly into the other woman's mouth.
Haruka broke the kiss first, her face still a breath away. "So...responsive," she murmured, grinning. She sat up, drawing farther away, and traced the line of Usagi's jaw with one gloved finger. The golden-haired girl trembled beneath her touch. "So beautiful," Haruka whispered, the grin gone, replaced by a look of utter intensity.
Usagi's blue eyes widened, a touch of wonder sweeping over her face. Her hand traced Haruka's strong jaw, perfect mouth, then moved to her shoulders - coming to rest, at last, on her arms.
Haruka's eyes darkened, and for a breathless moment Usagi was sure that she was going to lean down and kiss her again. But a minute passed, another breath, and then she lifted her finger and tapped Usagi on the nose. Usagi's eyes crossed as she followed the unexpected motion, and she blinked.
Haruka laughed in spite of herself, breaking the tension.
After lunch, lessons were renewed. The tension between them having been acknowledged, was somewhat less pressing, although always present. Usagi flirted with Haruka boldly, just to watch the older woman blush. When Haruka laid her hand on Usagi's thigh, she didn't ask her to remove it.
But by the end of the day, as the sun set red behind the surrounding trees, Usagi was able to drive, albeit slowly, around the oval in the middle of the clearing.
At last Usagi was able to relinquish the position of driver to its rightful owner and she relaxed gratefully back into the role of passenger, while Haruka headed them back onto the road and to Tokyo.
By the time they reached the city limits, it was completely dark and Usagi lay fast asleep in her seat. Haruka smiled down at the younger girl, amazed at her ability to sleep so unconcernedly, like a child. And yet, she was no child.
When she pulled up in front of Usagi's house, the younger woman stirred, then woke from her nap slowly, stretching like a cat and blinking. She turned to Haruka, who opened the door for her, and leaned down to help her out.
As she assisted Usagi out of her seat, Haruka leaned into the blonde's ear and said softly, "Happy Birthday, Usagi-chan."
Usagi giggled, then pulled back. "Thank you so much, Haruka-san I think maybe I should take my next driving lesson from Mamo-chan, though." Her smile was brilliant, and Haruka laughed.
"Whatever you say. I'll see you tomorrow!" Haruka got back into the driver's seat and lifted a hand in farewell.
"Thank Michiru for the lovely lunch!" Usagi called after her, then turned and entered her house, heading for a hot bath and a long phone call to Minako.
Usagi bounced in late to the Crown, to find her friends waiting impatiently for her. They all sat, drinks in front of them, chatting amiably about the party of the day before, the surprise they had arranged (Mamoru had been very good about that, not even reacting when the cake had, well, exploded all over him) and about the presents she had received.
After a while, Usagi looked around and commented, "Where are Haruka-san and Michiru-san today?"
"Oh, Michiru-san told me yesterday that they wouldn't be here," Ami said.
"Really? Where are they?" Usagi hadn't had a chance to speak to either of them much, as she had been pretty preoccupied with cake and presents.
"Hmmm? I think Michiru-san said that Haruka-san was going to give her driving lessons Usagi-chan? Are you okay?" They all leaned towards the choking girl, wonder what on earth had her spluttering in her soda like that.
"I'm fine, I'm fine." She said at last, when she had gotten her breath back. "Driving lessons, huh?" Usagi grinned. "I hope she's careful. There's some dangerous curves out there."
"I'm sure she will be, Usagi-chan, after all, Haruka-san has had quite a bit of practice." Usagi choked again, then agreed with Ami's serious comment, but the smile would not leave her face, even as the conversation moved on.
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