Grace suddenly woke up, still feeling dizzy. Some noise disturbed her sleep. Though she didn't mind much, closing her eyes again.
It could be many things, like a ghost, some earthquake, or Chul, her roommate, trying to annoy her.
"Way to go." she muttered, sinking her face on one of her pillows.
However the latter didn't seem likely as Chul, in all the years and couple of months they had lived together, hadn't bothered her at all. Unless it counted that one time when Mark and her had their first date as a couple.
Chul didn't open the door when she forgot her keys. Some rumours would say that she spent the night in Mark's room. It had been her first idea, but she knew how reserved Mark was, so Yumiko's room was a better option.
The korean defender had a daily routine: Wake up, wash face and teeth, put on his sports clothing, do some muscle and cardio at the gym, get back, go to the cafeteria, leave breakfast for Grace on the little table in their small mess hall, take a shower and start reading or watch something on his cell phone sitting in his recliner. Sometimes he went to the workshop to do maintenance on his gadget.
Her morning meal was only a exchange, as her part of the deal was to bring him dinner as well.
It hadn't been always this peaceful. At the beginning one disliked the other to the point that there was an invisible tape splitting their shared room in half. Just in between his bedroom and hers.
She didn't care. His mission was just to keep an eye on her, as far as she knew.
However, as they spent the months living together, with Baker's hard training, and camaraderie in the missions, they became acquaintances, to say the least.
Grace would make a prank or two to Chul on a monthly basis, as she did when many other operators.
They weren't that bad anyway, as her hacking only forced his phone to make weird noises. She could do so much worse, of course. Like playing some metal on the loudspeakers at 2am or Despacito.
She once painted his mask with a yellow marker, making a cat grin and whiskers, but she couldn't resist doing it when she saw him asleep on his recliner.
Chul even sent a complaint to Six and stopped doing his daily favor to her for a month. With that, she knew he wasn't a good target at all. She was too lazy to get her own meal at morning.
It seemed strange when she heard her door being opened.
No one, except for Chul and Mark had entered her room. When her roommate got deployed, some sweet things happened in there.
"Morning, Eun Hye." Chul's voice was low as usual.
He only had gotten into her room twice, and they were extremely necessary. Like leaving her on her bed when drunk.
She turned around on her bed to see what was going on. Her roommate held a wooden tray with both hands. On it were a plate with big cookies, honey in a little jar, a cup of coffee and a triangle handkerchief.
"Breakfast in bed!" She grabbed all her pillows, and put them on the headboard. She sat leaning on them, already waiting. "Wait, you don't think I'm pregnant, do you?"
"Happy Birthday." He wore his black mask, but his expression could be seen through. He walked over, set the tray on her lap and stroked her head. "I trust that Mute and you are taking the necessary precautions." he added. Then he turned and left, surely to continue with his routine.
"Hey, Kyung!" she exclaimed, causing Chul to peek into her room. "Thank you, you saved yourself from today's treat."
"Phew." The korean defender muttered ironically, and left.
Grace giggled. She put a bit of honey in one cookie and brought it to her mouth, while unlocking her phone, which was on her bedside table.
She had several unread messages, most of her fellow operators.
Even Mike had the detail to write: "HBD." And nobody had written to her as much as Elena.
"Happy birthday, Grace! The 30s, huh? What will you do today? Wanna grab a bite? I know a place nearby that serves the best sweets around here. Or Mute's gonna take you somewhere? Whichever the case, the girls wanna take you to a ladies' night, so be sure to be free."
Grace took her word, as the female operators hardly went out, if ever. Sadly, if Mark had something better planned, she'd ditch them, without a doubt.
As always, a small answer like "Ty" or "10q" seemed to be enough. She looked for Mark's message, and then remembered he came personally yesterday to say it. She sighed at just the thought, like a teenager in love.
It was at midnight. She had received Mark's message a couple of minutes ago saying:
"May I go to your place? Please?" He always was that formal.
Grace guessed he was going to give her his gift before anyone else. That's why, at exactly 00:00, she was already at the door, waiting.
Chul apparently was asleep, because their small mess hall was empty and dark. She turned on the light and waited.
Seconds later, as Grace heard some footsteps approaching, she opened the door. Mark was still in his daily clothes, but to her liking, he came without the gas mask on his face.
She had done her best making him stop using it everywhere, but it was nearly impossible like her roommate. Fortunately, Mark had progressed, even if it was a only a bit.
They both looked at each other and remained silent. She was already used to it, he wasn't a very good talker.
Mark took both of Grace's hands, gathered them together and kissed them both at the same time and then muttered, loud enough for her to listen:
"I just wanted to be the first to wish you a happy birthday."
So many feelings swarmed the sweet hacker girl. She let go of him and stepped forward, catching his lips with hers. There was no one in the corridors of the second floor at that time, so there was no problem. Mark lost control as well and, grabbing her arse with force, lifted her to him, causing her to round his back with her legs. Grace embraced his neck, making her safe in place.
As their tongues danced with the rhythm of their heartbeats, the passion increased the size of their desire. He suddenly pulled out and loose his grab, feeling danger in the ambience, but she wasn't satisfied yet, so she bit his lower lip, almost taking it between her teeth, trying to punish him.
Somehow that little expression excited him more, so he, ignoring his alert, attacked this time, with a soft slap on her arse. Grace smirked to him, and gave a lick to Mark's closed mouth, preparing herself for a second make out session.
A loud throat clearing was heard behind them. Both stopped dryly.
Grace released him instantly, and Mark stepped back as well. Both blushed and turned to look at the origin of the sound.
Chul was there, just by the door of their bathroom. He had his black mask off and was staring at them both. The environment became very uncomfortable in the blink of an eye.
"Erm... Good evening, Vigil." Mark gave a small bow quickly. "Bye, Grace." He held her right hand, giving her a quick caress. Then he went off.
Grace looked at Chul and narrowed her eyes, then came back to her room slamming the door. A faint distorted chuckle could be heard from the mess hall.
Even if that laugh were only a lost audio, she was already planning how to take revenge. Suddenly, something vibrated on her pocket. She took it out.
"I'll give you my gift later. Sweet dreams, my dear."
She smiled and blocked her phone. A man of few words, even in chat.
As she could only wait for it, she put on her pajamas and went to sleep.
The rest of the messages she had received were almost the same. Only a few stood out, like the photo of Julien working on his plates with Emma's drone next to him, holding a small sign on it that said "Happy Birthday". With nothing more to see, she sent "Ty" to everyone, and Mark's a message notification automatically came out. She opened his chat and saw a voice message. He never sent voice messages.
A little bit curious, she played it.
"Morning, beautiful. Get on your sexiest outfit 'cause I'm gon-" James' voice was interrupted by a smack that was heard on contact. "Aack!"
"Can you please stop taking others' things without permission?" Seamus' voice scolded him. "Oh, hi, Dokkaebi."
The audio ended there. The korean attacker chuckled and sent a lot of laughing emojis and, leaving her phone aside, began to eat the rest of the cookies.
Last year's February 2nd hadn't been pleasant at all.
On her second mission in Rainbow, five operators including her, were sent for a hostage-extraction at a White Mask complex. It was going to be a walk in the park, as Blitz commented when the team arrived. They had no problem extracting the hostage. Sledge was a specialist in opening holes on the walls, Thatcher and Thermite to open even larger holes on reinforced walls, Blitz to go to the front and terrorize the terrorists just by seeing the word "POLIZEI" on his shield, and Grace was for make hiding impossible for them.
Everything went perfect and stealthy, until the retreat with the helicopter. The old SAS member was carrying the hostage on his back, while everyone was alert. Grace decided to put her pda on her chest, since it had started to malfunction and she couldn't see on the CCTV if more terrorists were coming from the complex. Was her hacking code being jammed? That was impossible.
They were closing the distance to the extraction point when a lost bullet struck Thatcher on his back, but to everyone's luck, didn't touch the hostage. The shot knocked him to the ground, dragging the hostage with.
Grace turned around, drawing her handgun out, as her rifle was on her back, and it'd take several and vital seconds to begin shooting back.
She made a few shots poorly aiming and didn't hit anything. Something told her this was her fault and Thatcher may would die.
In the course of three seconds, she could see how Blitz was reacting with a smoke grenade, Sledge slipping into cover, doing a lot of suppressing fire, and her own calf being pierced by another bullet. The blood came out profusely from it, as she had also fallen to the ground.
"Two operators down! Repeat..."
"I got the hostage! Hold your ground!"
The pain didn't matter as she had trained against it, but she seemed to feel like shit, about to lose consciousness. Grace fought the numbness, as she felt the adrenaline ran through her veins. She grabbed the handgun that casually was dropped near her, as hard as she could do.
Smoke was covering her eyes and nose, so she hold her breath and crawled to the nearest cover.
She only could see Blitz, crouched behind his shield, doing a lot of suppressing fire. The best he could do with his lone pistol. His gadget could be more than useful in close space, but now it wasn't. He couldn't move.
When he ran out of bullets, he used one of his flashes. The smoke he had threw before was clearing, so he used another one immediately, covering his area and reaching her position.
Another shot struck. This one resonated on Blitz's shield bulletproof glass, making it tremble. They couldn't move at all, and his smoke's grenades weren't infinite.
Suddenly, she had an idea. The Logic Bomb. Her eyes went blurry again, but kept typing as quick as she could. She just needed three seconds.
A phone ringed loud and clear from a window, up inside the building.
Just then, forces of the White Masks came out the door, running guns blazing.
Her friendly had protection, but she was exposed like a nerve. Grace put the Logic Bomb back to its place, and fell to the ground as she tried to aim again. She caught a glance of her bleeding, but didn't even flinch.
She bit her lip and started shooting over her cover, to the now known hostile location.
"Sledge! Take Dokkaebi to extraction! Now!" Blitz ordered, while deflecting a lot of shots fired towards them. He slowly got up and now was walking backwards.
Grace wanted to ask about Thatcher, but her voice didn't come out. Her gun started to make the clicks of being emptied, so as a reaction she reached another mag on her vest.
Freeing the empty one, she loaded the gun as quickly as she could, in the third attempt.
"Roger that." She heard, between all shots, another friendly voice on the radio.
Someone approached running behind her.
"Fire in the hole!" A pineapple grenade got thrown on the air, with enough strength to hit the compound.
Some lucky enemies went outside the explosion radius. The ones who didn't, became bloodied, if not dead.
Blitz had stopped himself and started shooting again, taking advantage of the confusion.
Sledge slid just beside Grace, caring of not touching her wound. It was fully covered by blood.
He reloaded his gun. His gask mask made him emotionless. As soon as his quick reload ended, he peeked to his right, just to the sniper's last known location.
An instant later, he saw a silenced long rifle popping out, from the other side of the building. The scotsman smiled briefly, before pulling the trigger once.
"Huh..." She was starting to have a blurry view. Probably adrenaline was wearing off, because she started to feel even more pain.
Sledge with a quick movement, put his weapon on his back and helped her back up on her good leg. Walking like that was harder than she thought.
As she tried to tiptoe with her wounded leg, she clenched her teeth, but couldn't resist a subtle cry of pain.
"Keep up. We're close." Her friendly almost carried her. This wasn't a safe spot.
The chopper was close enough.
In there, Thermite was applying to the downed SAS member the stim injection that Doc had given them before the mission, to use it in case of extreme emergency. Even though that liquid was almost magical, it wasn't going to take out the high-caliber bullet from Thatcher, who was breathing hard, unconscious. The hostage was passed out as well, as he didn't seem to handle fear very good.
Seamus left her inside, as gently as he could. Then got out again, along with Thermite.
Grace looked around, searching for the first aid kit. It was probably beside Thatcher, so she crawled to him.
Really, that liquid was magical. It had stopped his bleeding almost entirely, but, unlike simulations, it didn't make an operator run within seconds.
"Come on, come on!" urged Sledge.
"Twenty seconds, guys." Grace could hear the pilot's voice on the radio. It sounded calm, but the helix started spinning faster.
Sudden worry overwhelmed her and raised her head, just to see what was going on.
Sledge and Thermite were covering Blitz's retreat. His smoke could cover his legs, but he had to go with his shield up to avoid getting shot in the face. The glass was almost broken.
"Argh, got hit here!" Thermite's voice growled. He got backwards a little from his cover, as his balance briefly went off. Then he regained composure and kept shooting, his teeth clenched.
"Quickly, mate, quickly! Flashbang out!" Sledge threw another flash, probably his last one. Far enough to get in front of Blitz's shield.
The two nearer operators went up the chopper. The texan was reloading, and the scotsman was shooting from his secondary. Grace put her head to the ground, as she knew foes would be aiming right there.
The helicopter began to raise up, out of danger. The german attacker dropped to the surface of the cabin, beside his shield, panting. The door closed behind him.
"That was close." he murmured, taking off his helmet.
As she felt air onto her, she started to feel dizzy.
"Not enough. Hey, Grace, don't pass out, okay?" Seamus shook her as she closed her eyes. With Elias help, they carried her to a near seat.
Then, he put on the latex gloves and took the gauze from the first aid kit and began to clean the wound.
As his hand touched her damaged skin, the sudden stinging pain awoke her entirely.
Sledge saw in detail the trajectory of the bullet. Luckily, it didn't touch anything important, but needed medical attention, anyway.
"Hey, Blitz, you have a shoulder wound, in case you haven't noticed." he said, when searching for some bandages in the kit.
"What?" the German examined himself and saw the dark red stain he had there. "Ow, I didn't. I guess my shield isn't big enough." He chuckled.
"How's the old man doing?" the scotsman asked Jordan, after giving Elias the kit to treat himself.
"I'm fine, thanks for asking." He was taking off the bullet he had taken from his kevlar. "Mike'll live, but we need to take him with Doc to get that fucking bullet out of wherever it is." The texan looked at Blitz, who was taking off his vest. "What happened? Were we ambushed?"
"Have no idea, when I reacted, Thatcher was on the floor." Elias was cleaning his own wound, which was only a scratch on his shoulder. "I thought Dokkaebi could see from the cameras."
"Me too, but I dunno, something must have failed. Though that phone call did the mission by itself." Seamus said, applying pressure to stop her bleeding.
Grace was listening to the conversation, but was unable to speak. She felt a little guilty, even though everyone were alive. If she had noticed that sniper seconds before...
After a couple of minutes of awkward silence and some talking between Jordan and Elias, Seamus had covered her wound with some bandages. He threw a blanket on her just after he finished.
Minutes later, she got warmer, just what she needed. As she got deeper into the cosiness of her seat, she fell asleep.
Grace woke up in the infirmary hours later. Gustave was sitting quietly on his swivel office chair, writing notes on the nearby table. She tried to get out of bed quickly, forgetting about her wound.
She whimpered softly.
"Don't move." He turned around with his office chair. "You have a bullet wound on the leg, so I did some sti..."
"Thatcher's fine?" she turned to where her wound was supposed to be. It was covered with bandages, different from the ones Seamus put on it.
"Wow, Grace Nam worrying about someone besides herself?" Gustave looked somewhat incredulous, and raised an eyebrow.
"I'm serious, Doc. Is he alright?"
"Relax. The bullet didn't hurt anything really important, but he will off the field for a couple of weeks. He was really lucky, and you too. Don't move much, your wound could open again. According to this." He took his notepad from his little table. "Vigil will come to pick you up at 8pm. Get some rest, okay?"
"Will do. Thanks." she lied on the bed. On the side table, there was a cup of tea, her fake glasses, her pda and a small chocolate cupcake, with a turned off candle in the center.
Her stomach roared as soon as she saw it. She took a large bite, leaving it half-finished.
"Oh, by the way, happy birthday, Grace." Gustave had already turned around to continue writing.
"What, is it February 2nd already?" she replied, swallowing the piece she had in her mouth.
"You spent almost a whole day asleep. I was about to wake you up bec..." he turned around facing her. "Oh, I see you already ate it. Did you make a wish?"
She shook her head.
"That's bad luck." Gustave chuckled and circled back to his starting position.
She had spent all day of her birthday asleep, and didn't even enjoyed the rest. Besides, the only ones who had remembered were her parents, wishing her a happy birthday by message.
Grace couldn't even thank them, because her device couldn't even pick up the wifi properly.
She had only spent one month there, so didn't even had the thought of her colleagues remembering it. They'd probably even worried about Thatcher.
So, when Chul came for her, she had already a plan: Get over her bad mood, grab some desserts from the kitchen and watch some gore and cliche anime all night. And that's what she did. Loneliness wasn't that bad.
Back in the present, Grace had already finished her breakfast. A lot had happened since that day. Now she had friends, Chul, some confidant to say the least, and Mark, the closest thing to a boyfriend she had in many years. A lot better than expected.
She stood up, placing the tray and plate aside, and made her bed.
Grace got into her bathroom and had a quick shower. Then, washed her teeth and dried herself, focusing on her hair. Finishing, she got out and changed into her daily gray and black clothes.
Her hair needed some work, as combing and making two braids. She liked them enough to do it almost everyday.
She put on her beanie and a hoodie as she knew it was going to be cold outside, and last but not least, her fake glasses. Finally, she grabbed the wooden tray and went out to their mini-hall.
Chul, as always, was sitting in his recliner, this time watching some movie on his own device as well.
"Your birthday present." He said, pausing the video, suddenly looking at her. He pointed at the table they had in the middle.
There was a bag on it. Grace sniffed it, trying to notice whether it was a trap or not. She felt dumb as she remembered Chul wasn't into gags.
"It's nothing dangerous. Just open it."
It was a six-pack of bottles of soju. Grace raised an eyebrow suspiciously. Her roommate more than anyone else knew she didn't handle alcohol very well.
"You are welcome."
"Thanks, I guess. No glass? Then how am I...?"
Chul shook his head, returning his attention to his cell phone.
"I hope you haven't forgotten the show you did the last time you drank vodka."
"I just wanted to show you how korean soju is. The liquor is mine."
Grace stared at him for several seconds, in which Chul didn't even flinch, or she didn't noticed. The mask covered him well. A little bit impatient, she left the wooden tray next to the bottle, took out her laptop and was about to activate the Logic Bomb code on Chul's cell phone.
"That was a joke. We'll drink it later." The korean defender raised one hand, obviously realizing what Grace was going to do.
"Hrm." she grunted, putting her PDA back to its place. Then grabbed her tray again and left the room.
She found herself on the way to the kitchen, finding a few operators, who congratulated her for having a year more / less of life. Something that was an achievement in this job.
However, she didn't find any SAS member, with the exception of Mike, who was drinking a cup of coffee at one of the tables in the cafeteria, reading the newspaper.
She decided not to interrupt him, maybe Mark was busy or something. She looked outside a window behind the old man. It was all covered in snow. Maybe they were playing on it, as was used to in snowy days. Sometimes SAS members had the heart of a ten-year-old child.
When she tried to get into the kitchen to wash the tray and stuff, it was locked. She knocked several times but nobody answered. With no idea of what to do with the tray, she left it by the door, hoping for someone to notice it.
She was about to exit the café, when suddenly Mike called her.
"Happy birthday, Grace." He said, looking up to her. "If you're looking for the guys, they went to play outside with the snow, I think it'd be good if you joined."
"Thanks, Thatcher. Sounds fun." she replied, giving him a genuine smile.
Grace took out her phone on the way out of the building. There was no message from Mark, so she thought maybe he was playing with the others outside. After sending the "Ty" to Lera's message, she put it back in her pocket.
None were at the entrance of Hereford, only the guard watching the news on a tiny TV. She heard a huge battle roar near the training field, just around the corner.
Following the noise, Grace ended up witnessing an Alexsandr's speech, who was on top of a snow pile.
"Remember comrades: Stay calm and don't try to be the hero. Trust your senses not just your tech. And the most important thing: Don't get yourselves killed. You ready?"
"Yes, sir!" the battalion of five in line that was in front of him exclaimed.
The russian turned around and started running. "For the Motherland...!"
The moment they started to follow him, Grace recognized them: Dominic, Marius, Meghan, Ela and Maxim. All were carrying at least six snowballs, and surpassed Alexsandr in a matter of seconds.
Five other operators were running across the field, led by Seamus. She couldn't see them very well, but they also carried snowballs. After the first projectile was fired, Grace noticed Tina was sitting on the field's tribune with Timur, the latter with a sketchbook in possession, probably drawing.
She walked there, caring about misdirected snowballs.
"Hey, Tina. Hi, Timur." she waved at them.
"Hi! Happy Birthday, Grace." the canadian trapper offered her fist as a friendly greeting, a gesture Grace returned.
Timur seemed to be focused, so he just mumbled his birthday greeting, without interrupting his traces. Grace bent down to see his sketch, but there were only scribbles.
"According to him, only an artist would understand." Tina smirked, and then continued watching the snowball fight.
"You're Picasso now? Huh."
Grace sat down next to her and began to appreciate the show.
After a while and some bully headshots to Jäger, only four of them remained on the field. In one side, there were Eliza and Mein Lin, and in the other Maxim and Dominic. According to the rules, the snowball was valid as long as it wasn't destroyed in the air. It took three minutes for everyone to 'die', because they were so willing to win, that they drew out their knives to defend themselves.
Eliza won, because even though Dominic aimed the ball twice to her head it didn't hit anything. It was too frustrating.
"I don't cheat, they're just quick reflexes." she spoke up, at Dominic, when she turned to assemble her team for a new round.
"I must admit, in VR practices I love seeing Eliza fall into one of my Welcome Mats." Tina muttered to the korean girl.
"They're a pain in the ass." replied Grace, who had also fallen a couple of times on them as well.
They spent a long time watching the matches, until Grace herself was called to play as well. Maybe it was her bad luck, as she "died" at the beginning of the round by a ball sent by Lera.
She was aiming it to Maxim, but he dodged it gracefully. She went and sat on the side of the field, to not disturb those who were still "alive" and took her phone out of her pocket. There was nothing about Mark in the chat.
As she put her device back to its place, she saw Seamus coming to her with a half-hearted step. His chest was covered of snow.
"Hi." He sat a short distance away from her. "Mark left with James a while ago, if you're looking for them. They said they were going to be busy until lunch."
"Did they go out to the city?" Grace asked, locking her phone.
"Have no idea. James could have taken Mark anywhere and we would never know."
If they were working together for her gift, it could be something much better or something much worse. She hope the first to be this case.
"Oh, by the way." Seamus started searching through the pockets of his vest and pulled out a strawberry lollipop. "I know you like these. Happy birthday."
He stretched his arm, handing the candy to her.
"Thank you." Grace removed the wrapper and instantly put the lollipop in her mouth. He was right, she loved sweets.
An hour later, the guys got tired and Timur finally had an understandable sketch. Most of them went back to the building to take a hot bath in their rooms, but Grace barely played two rounds, and in both "died" at the beginning, so she didn't feel the need.
In the hallway on the first floor in the distance, Grace saw Elena. She was peeking to the cafeteria.
"Hey, what's up, Mira?" Grace tapped her with a grin when she came closer, making her startle.
"Dios mío. Grace, you almost caused me a heart attack." she gave her a friendly punch on the korean's shoulder.
"The kitchen is still locked, huh?"
"You also tried to get in?"
"Yep. Why are you here for?" Grace peeked briefly. Mike was still there.
"Don't you smell it? Something good's cooking inside."
"AAARGHHH, JAMES!" an angry roar coming from inside the kitchen surprised the two women.
"How nice." Grace smiled, making Mira giggle. Mark's voice was always the same when he scolded James' idiotness.
Smoke, the one in gaseous state, was coming out of the kitchen. The two at the door both looked at Mike again. He didn't even flinched to the sudden noise.
"These fooking kids." he muttered to himself, turning the page.
The kitchen door opened. Mark got out first, putting on his gas mask, then James, jumping forward childishly, and finally Yokai, who hovered silently and stopped just above Mark's head. The two SAS members had an apron and the shorter had a chef hat on his head.
"You're-an-asshat." Mark panted, pushing his annoying roommate.
"It's not my fault, Marky. That skillet is weird!"
"Luckily you burned the appetizers and not the cake, because if... What are you looking at?"
James just noticed Elena and Grace. Quickly, he gave them a silly greeting and returned to the kitchen, dragging Mark with him. They left the door open for Yokai to enter and then locked it again.
"I guess he wanted to surprise you." said the spaniard, shrugging.
"He couldn't have done it better." replied Grace, smiling.
They both sat at a nearby table and waited. However, it wasn't long before lunchtime. A while later, the smoke disappeared and the smell of freshly cooked food swarmed the cafeteria again.
The other operators started arriving. Some greeted her, others ignored her presence. Not everyone were friendly. Ela, passing on her right, left her an inactive Grzmot mine on her table and then winked at her.
"It's always useful to have one as backup. Happy Birthday."
After saying thanks to her, Grace examined it. She had a lot of ideas on how to use it. Most of them were on pranks, and Mark was involved in most of them.
It could also be useful on a mission, so it would be a better idea to keep it.
Once the cafeteria was full, the kitchen door opened again. Yokai entered the cafeteria floating slowly, carrying a cake of chocolate on it, decorated with white frosting and many strawberries on the edges. It had two candles lit in the center, carrying the numbers 3 and 0 together.
At the sight of everyone, it brought the cake to Grace's table and landed. Elena started singing Happy Birthday. Tina, Jordan and Ela joined in, cheering too.
Although some remained seated, most stood up, perhaps because piece of cake was the reward. Grace suddenly caught a glance of Chul, standing at the door. He was there, clapping with his two index fingers. No one seemed to have noticed him.
Seconds later, James left the kitchen, keeping the chef hat and apron on him. Mark followed behind, with his gas mask and normal clothes.
When they approached, James started singing dramatically, and kissed Grace's hand.
"Oh, here's the chef." Mira said, a bit mockingly.
Without hesitation, Grace pushed James out of her way and hugged Mark. She wanted to kiss him but his stupid mask blocked her. So the asian gave him a little tap, right on where it was supposed to be his forehead.
"Hey, Dokkaebi, you have to blow out the candles." Mark said, pointing at the cake.
She felt sudden unease. James called her "baby", "sweetie", "sweetheart" and so on, but Mark kept calling her Dokkaebi in public, even though their relationship was known by everyone there. Perhaps Mark kept almost everything to himself, but sometimes it annoyed her that he seemed to be too serious.
It'd be a nice detail if he just kissed her in front of everyone, just to make it official.
"This time make sure you make a wish!" exclaimed Gustave, behind Lera, who was staring hungrily at the cake.
She gave everyone a quick look. They looked like leopards waiting for the gazelle to be distracted. The korean chuckled and wished for the most cheesy thing she could thought of: "To celebrate another year with all these rare people. My second family."
She blew out the candles, some sincerely cheering, and others just for commitment. The tinkling of plates and spoons were evident and plain, but, to everyone's surprise, Yokai began to hover up with the cake on top, and swiftly returned to the kitchen.
"Noice. It seems that the plan went well." A voice was heard, entering the cafeteria.
Having surprised Chul, who went aside, Yumiko entered with Masaru's device on her wrist and the latter behind her. It seemed he had just woken up.
"I thought Echo was the one helping us." Mark commented, as Yumiko pressed the last button on her device and then let out a tired sigh.
"Me too. I was on the verge to throw a couple of stinky canisters to his room for stunning me so many times." James added, taking one of 'his babes' out of his pocket.
"Because you were doing the wrong thing, asshat. Also there were only two stuns, so don't be a jerk."
"Mark deserved them too! He almost screwed up the yakisoba!"
"You were pouring salt on the cake!"
"It's an ingredient!"
"Shush. Shut up, both of you." Masaru, just went in the middle of them, rubbing his right eye. He was heading to the kitchen.
"Oh, no, you won't, lazy idiot." Yumiko frowned and tried to grab him, but he dodged her. In response she turned on her wrist device again.
"It's useless. He can only blast twice. I thought you already knew." He yawned." Anyway, I'm responsible for the lunch." Masaru looked to everyone, while struggling with Yumiko, who managed to reach him. "Eat at once, fellas."
Almost instantly, most operators went to the kitchen, crowding the door. Yumiko realized that the kitchen could run out of food in matter of minutes, so she joined, forgetting Masaru completely.
"Is she serious?" Grace looked at Mark, raising an eyebrow. He shrugged, as always.
"Well, Marky had the idea of the cake, right?" Seamus appeared from behind and with two quick moves removed Mark's gas mask.
Reacting late, the young brit wanted to get it back, but the scotsman managed to stretch his arm up, where he couldn't reach it.
"As the old man and I are really crap at cooking, we left the job to James to help him. We would try to get you away from the kitchen, but uh... shit happens, and more frequently if James is involved." The shorter brit chuckled. "I planned the snowball battle to distract you, but didn't know you'd die almost instantly. Anyway, it was a surprise, wasn't it? "
Mark tried to let go of Grace just to recover his gas mask, but she tightened her grip.
"The thing about Masaru was unexpected. I thought that japanese guy had no brain for anything other than his drone." Seamus continued playing with the gas mask, looking like an annoying big brother.
"He texted Mark last night and told him about yakisoba, and the recipe from internet. And he also said that he was going to help us. Then, that creepy drone appeared in the morning, so we thought it was him from his room. I thought he was going to be our sensei just for today, but that bloody thing..." James caught his canister exaggeratedly, faking enthusiasm.
"Keep dreaming, Smoke, and Yokai's far less creepy than you." Masaru had already left the tumult, holding a pair of chopsticks, eating noodles from a bowl.
"Anyway, I admit that it was an awesome idea. Good job." Seamus gave him a thumbs up.
"Hm hm." Masaru swallowed his food. "Sledge, I saw Thermite serving himself a lot, so mind about..."
Seamus suddenly sprinted to the crowd, and almost tackled everyone just to get inside.
"Fucking idiot! You know it was MY idea!" Yumiko had returned, having served yakisoba to herself, and gave a punch to Masaru's shoulder.
"Stop complaining, Yokai did the work. By the way, where did you leave him?"
"Oh... I don't know. What happens if you turn off the wrist device?"
"He enters in hibernate mode. Wait, did he have the cake on himself? Oh sh..."
"Hey, Dokkaebi! Can I take a slice?" Dominic yelled from inside the kitchen.
"Is the cake alright?" She replied, glaring at Yumiko, who looked back at her with a little trace of guilt.
"It's on the top of the fridge! IQ tried to take some but... Scheisse!" his voice died.
"Uh, can you put it on Echo's drone please?"
"Already served, birthday girl!" This time was Elias doing the talking. Monika's hits were hard.
Yumiko guided the drone with the cake to the korean operator, and stopped it just in front of her.
"Come on, Grace. Do the cake bite." James grinned, catching his canister in his left hand, and getting suddenly close.
"Oh, now we're talking." Masaru said, and sipped loudly his ramen noodles.
"Nope." Grace shook her head and looked to the cake. It was so perfect. When did Mark learn to cook that well?
"Mark, tell her to do the cake bite. You made it." James tried again.
"What? It's tradition to do the cake bite. Mordida!" Jordan, who had heard everything, stood up from his table not far from them, and started cheering.
In a blink of an eye, almost everyone here were cheering Grace to bite the innocent cake. Of course she knew what was going to happen, having James that close. So she had an idea.
However, she tried one last time, looking at Mark pleadingly, but he nodded to her, with a playful smirk.
Sighing, Grace took her beanie and handed it to the young brit. Then, she got close to the cake and picked up a strawberry with her teeth and tried to move away quickly, but James was faster, and pushed her face onto it. He didn't do it that hard, anyways.
When the korean girl pulled out, she could feel the frosting on her nose, forehead and cheeks and hear the laughs and cheers of everyone else in the cafeteria. But her objective has standing right next to her, already off guard.
She took a step forward him, with a strawberry between her teeth. Mark didn't know what to do. Things happened too fast. Luckily, someone behind pushed him to her. Cough Seamus cough.
With a quick reflex he opened his own mouth a bit, just for the strawberry to get in. Kissing Grace in the process, he could taste the juice of the red fruit. She pulled out after a second, having chewed it in half. Her face was full of the cake's white cream, but she was radiant as always.
"Mate, you have cake on your nose." James pointed at him, whistling.
"Oh, I'll start slicing this pretty thing." Yumiko popped out of nowhere with a knife.
"You guys better get clean." Seamus snickered, with a proud grin.
"Or get a room." Dom spoke up.
"Nice one." Elias bumped his fist to Dom.
Grace and Mark again locked hands. The latter was red as tomato, chewing his part of the strawberry.
"Let's go." She said simply.
"Where to?" Mark asked, after swallowing.
"Bathroom, duh? If you want to lick my face I won't complain though."
He nodded as an answer.
The two left the cafeteria and went straight to their destination, and closed the door.
Fortunately, Mark always carried a handkerchief with him, so he wiped the cream out her face with it. He stared at her for a short while, stunned like the first time a kid seeing his first crush.
"Falling in love with me again, baby?" she smirked and licked his nose. She could take advantage of him now that they were alone.
"Like everyday, dear." He smiled back, but fell back a little. First thing first. Her beautiful face with no frosting on it.
She insisted on cleaning his face, so he let her. It wasn't that much.
When she thought he was clean enough, she threw herself to him, catching his lips. The passion of last night just resumed. He grabbed her arse firmly with one hand, making her moan softly. He was so fond of that part or her body. Even he couldn't do it in public, he'd make sure to touch that place anytime he could.
Her response was pulling out, and started undoing his vest. The korean girl knew this was soon going to be hot, so she locked the door with a swift move. When they finally touched each other skin, they resumed labial contact.
Grace and Mark were too close, so she couldn't help but feel something hard on her belly. She smiled, as she knew his phone was on his discarded vest.
"Do you have a second pda, or you just happy to have me here?" She went back an inch, giving herself room to speak, as she brushed her hand onto his crotch, still covered by his pants.
"Do your worst, love." He answered, as he passed his fingers from her ass to her back. Grace shivered at the expression, and licked her lips, locking her eyes on him.
Almost instantly, someone knocked.
"Eun Hye, you in there?" Chul's voice could be heard through the door.
"Oh shite." Mark muttered. He stopped what he was doing, but his girlfriend didn't even noticed.
He pursed his lips, interrupting her kisses. She pulled out, annoyed.
"What do you want, Kyung?" Grace said and bit her lip, and looking at Mark. Both were blushing.
"Let's drink soju. To be honest, I couldn't wait for the night."
"Uh, can it be later?" She asked, seeing her boyfriend and herself were in a very compromising position.
"Nope. Smoke saw me with the bottle. I estimate he'll get here in three minutes."
"I thought you were always in everyone's blind spot." Grace mocked. Mark let out a silent chuckle.
"Well, not always. Need toilet paper or what? Hurry up."
Grace didn't want to stop this lovey dovey session as she just had cornered Mark. In any case, Grace had him for herself all the afternoon and night to do whatever she wanted to.
"I'm not alone here, Kyung." Grace took a deep breath.
"Oh. Uh, this is awkward."
"Indeed." she replied, grabbing Mark's cheek. Both started doing what they undid.
"Hi, Mute. You're so obvious, partner."
"We were just cleaning each other dirtiness." Grace almost instantly noticed how bad it sounded. However, she didn't care, as long it bought time for them to get dressed.
"That's disgusting. Fortunately I brought three glasses. Can you please get out?" Chul knocked again.
"Yes, 'Fortunately' " Grace opened the door and got out. Mark followed closely. This was very uncomfortable and he wanted his mask back. Fucking Seamus.
Grace crossed her arms, leaning on her boyfriend's shoulder. Chul was there, with a green bottle on his hand and two glasses in the other.
"Do the honors." Chul handed her a glass, and opened the bottle.
"Oh, charming." she said sarcastically, grabbing the glass. "Now serve me, Batman."
"You'll never get bored of it, huh?"
He served only half of its capacity, but Grace's frown made him fill it.
Chul had said the truth. He had a third glass in his vest hidden and served Mark as well. The brit was self-conscious but grabbed the filled glass.
"Cheers." Grace muttered, raising hers.
"For Eun Hye." Mark said out of nowhere, hitting his glass lightly with hers. He was struggling with himself and the urge to run away, but managed to bear it.
Well, that was the reason she fell in love with him. He was very unpredictable, even more than James. Nope, she was exaggerating, not that much. James was almost a psycho.
"For Eun Hye." Chul raised his glass the last, after Grace filled it.
Grace drank it, little by little. Her vision got blurry for a second when she finished. It was sweeter than vodka.
"Another one?" the korean defender offered.
"Nah, I'm fine for now." She knew what was going to happen if she had another.
"Your call. Have a nice day."
"I hope so. Right, Mark?" She looked at her silent boyfriend, who embraced her.
"Hey, not so. I'm still here." Chul turned and started to walk away, in the direction of the café.
Grace was ready to corner Mark again, but something interrupted her.
"Before you return back to your 'duties', mind that you didn't make a lot of food, Mute." the korean defender announced while walking away.
The birthday girl wanted to at least taste her boyfriend's cooking. Grabbing Mark's hand, she followed Chul, as he sped up his pace.
"I've heard some operators will take you out tonight." Mark whispered to her ear.
"Oh, For real?" Grace tried to sound surprised.
"Girls' night I think it's called. No boyfriends, of course. Hope you have fun."
"Aw..." Grace stuck out her tongue and winked. "I'd rather spend the night with you, Mark."
"Don't worry. I'll be here get you get back." Mark smiled at her.
"Haha, if you say so. Thanks for the cake by the way." She gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Don't mention it. I did it for you, Grace."
She couldn't help it. She stopped and stared at his face, curving her lips upwards.
"Hm? What's wro...?"
Grace hugged him more tightly than before. His ribs almost cracked.
"I like to being close to you." She muttered with her ear on his chest, listening to his heartbeat.
"I. Just. Noticed." He panted. "Grace. Air. Please."
She loosened the hug, but didn't let go. Mark returned the embrace, as they shared the warmth.
"Shouldn't we go to get lunch?" he suggested as Grace was still there after two minutes.
"No. You'll feed me later anyways." She answered mischievously.
"You know we can't when Vigil's around."
"Really? I don't believe he's gonna be against about you giving me spoonfuls of cake."
"Oh." He looked away, flustered. "If that's what you want, I can do that."
Grace giggled playfully and tiptoed, planting a quick kiss on him.
"We don't need to wait 'til night to..." She put a finger on his lips, and looked away. She tried to be playful and mischievous as always, but her own nerves were betraying her now. Why?
He returned the gesture, and silenced her.
Mark got back a little, seeming to be encouraging himself. He took out a tiny box from his pocket, and opened it.
It was a silver ring, with a heart-shaped crystal on top.
Grace felt astonished as her finger fell down. That was a proposal? They only had been dating for four months and a half, that couldn't be it. No. She had started a conflict on her mind, a bad one.
"I-it's not a proposal! Uh, I'd like you to have this. It's not much, but I thought this would look good on you. Ahm..."
He shut up, as he thought actions could speak more than words itself. Mark put the box inside his pocket again, but took the ring before on his hand. Grace gave her hand to his reach, with her eyes a little teary.
The ring slipped into her left middle finger. He was starting to feel guilty, as one tear left her right eye, leaving a trail on her cheek.
He remembered his handkerchief was still on the bathroom, forgotten, so he just wiped gently that lone drop off her face with his hand. Mark didn't know what else to do. So far to this moment, this was the first time a girl sincerely cried before him, and he wanted her to stop.
"I'll be by your side. For as long as this bloody job lets me." He added, feeling warmth on his words as he spoke.
Another tear fell from her other eye, as she looked deeply into the crystal heart.
"I'll do my best to be worthy of you." Grace managed to smile, as another trail was formed.
"You don't have to. I love you just the way you are." Mark answered, wiping the other cheek with his thumb.
"You are so cruel, Marky." She clenched her teeth, trying to keep her smile, but two tears came out abruptly.
Grace embraced Mark again, and pushed him to the wall. She sure had learned a lot of techniques to defend herself from anything, but here, right on his chest, she felt safe and cuddler than ever.
He caressed her hair, always ending on a braid. She shivered slightly, every time he brushed her head, like a tickle. Her cheeks had a red tinge, but she kept her eyes closed.
After a while they felt too warm, so she pulled out, grabbing his hand on the way.
"Let's go. I need to wash my face." Grace didn't even wait for him to answer and dragged him anyway. "No one needs to know I've cried."
Mark followed her until the bathroom's door. She let go of him and entered, getting herself out of sight.
"Hurry, Seamus could eat the entire lunch by himself."
She spent a couple of minutes in there. Mark was texting on his phone, when he heard some water flowing.
"Uh, Mark, I need your help with something." She called for him, suddenly, with a playful tone on her last word.
The young brit innocently entered the bathroom, and the door clicked behind him. He saw some vapor, feeling sudden heat on the ambience, besides the temperature from the heater.
He turned around, finding Grace. She had taken off all her upper clothes, only leaving her bra covering her chest. Then, she closed the distance hastily, hungry for his essence.
"Saranghaeyo. Really, really." Grace said a minute and some hickeys later, trying to catch her breath.
Mark kneeled down and hugged her legs, surprising her. Grace expected him to draw her leggings down, but he stayed there, just giving kisses to her belly. She didn't understand, but felt aroused anyway.
"My queen." he whispered.
Damn it. He hit the right spots even not aiming.
Mark didn't kept her waiting for long, and shortly after, met her expectations, letting her thighs and legs feel some warm air.
To be safe and gentle, as it was inevitable, she took out her new ring to a safe place, just beside where she left her clothes.
As they began doing what lovers do, the ring shone, showing some words inscribed. The same Mark said: " 내 여왕 ".
"You ready for tonight?" James was eating noodles with a fork. He never learned how to use chopsticks.
"What do you mean?" Seamus answered, after swallowing the cake he had on his mouth. "I thought ladies' night was just for 'ladies', mate."
"That doesn't mean we can be random guys at the same bar."
"But they'll recognize us. I don't get you."
"They'll draw attention. Less competition, more preys. Easy."
"Huh. Nice thinking. Better to take Marky then."
"He'd join Grace, mate. Hey, there's some food left, right?"
"Just joking. Yeh, I don't think everyone around likes yakisoba. Are you saving some for the sweet couple?"
"Mark texted me. That if he got distracted..."
"Distracted? Are they making love wildly or something?"
"Ding, Ding, Ding! Never thought of Marky being so bold of doing it in broad daylight."
"Me neither. He's much different as the little boy he was years ago."
"Yep, because of Grace. If she hadn't came here, probably we'll still have the same antisocial boring bastard."
"So we need to get her a better birthday present?"
"We prolly don't match Mark's but something better than a lollipop will do." James shrugged.
They kept chatting, making an entire plan of the oncoming afternoon and night, with Mark included.
Far from there, a silver ring moved to one side to another, glittering, as moans echoed from a hot shower across the bathroom. Two names travelling together through the warm breeze, as two lovers became one.
A.N.: Saranghaeyo = I love you. 내 여왕 : My queen.
Thanks for reading!