IssaLee: Muchos excitemundos, mine pallys. My friends Eelie and Nikki-chan are back, which means all my fics will go crazy. Thanks V.V. much for all the perfect reviews!

Eelie: Yes, very much. And to that reviewer who said that Draco/Ginny pairings are crazy, well, it's her own opinion! And mine too.

Nikki-chan: Yes, and we all just happen to love Harry/Hermione and Ron/Luna. Not everything has to go in canon, you know. It's more fun that way.

Disclaimer: Well…I disclaim, I guess.


the challenge

issalee


Serena sipped absently at her milkshake, pretending to ignore the boy looking intensely at her and Rei, who was idly twirling a lock of hair around her finger. Makoto was trying to stifle a laugh as she, Minako and Ami crouched under the booth, hidden by Serena and Rei's bags.

Minako had explained that it was essential that only the ones that had been antagonized the most should announce the whole thing, so that it wouldn't seem like the plot had been carefully orchestrated; which it had.

Serena watched as Rei stiffened and heard footsteps. A shadow loomed over her, and she bristled until she heard the voice.

"Ohayo, Sere. Rei. What's up?" Justin smiled down at them, his blue eyes glittering mischievously. Rei scowled, but Minako kicked her under the table and she tried to change it quickly to a smile.

Serena choked on her milkshake.

Justin eyed her oddly as she scrambled for napkins, and looked to Rei. "Not doing much burning today, Pyro. Would you like some matches?"

Rei mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like "Yeah, to torch you" but she let out a muted grunt as someone hit her in the shin again. "No thanks." She gritted out. Serena's face turned a bright shade of red, but she passed off her laughter as a coughing fit.

She and probably only she could tell that Rei was probably dying inside from having to speak to Justin. To save her friend anymore embarrassment, she smiled shyly at her cousin. "Justin, could you please not tease Rei? She and I are here to proposition you."

"Ooh, big word, Sere." He teased. "But what's this about?" The odangoed blonde shook her head. "Oh, no, we're not talking until you and all your pals are here. So call them over from behind outside where they are with the water balloons so we can start."

Justin, stunned, obeyed. Serena grinned and thanked Sailor Mercury's computer mentally. "Part One's going by very well. You guys can pop up now."

Minako appeared first; ignoring the mutinous glares was sending her way, followed closely by Ami and Makoto.

"You kick me again," Rei hissed, "And you may just find your leg to be nothing but ashes." Minako shrugged.

"I know that's what you really want to say to Justin," she teased lightly. "Maybe I should tell Auntie Kayao. She'd sure want to know if there was a girl Justin was interested in…"

Minako let out a squeal of unsuppressed horror as Rei snapped and lunged for her across the table, knocking Serena's milkshake over as she did so. Patrons of the arcade didn't even look over; skirmishes between Minako and Rei were just as common as between Serena and Darien or Rei and Justin.

Minako ducked and let out a shriek as waves of milky liquid fell onto her head from the cup. Makoto leapt up to try and restrain Rei, but lost her footing and fell onto the table. Ami (she had planned this all out) ducked under the table and crawled out, then situated herself across the room in another booth and watched closely lest someone get hurt.

Serena blinked in surprise before she looked at the seething Rei, fists clenched. The blond stood up and laid a hand on one of the fists. "Hey. You spilled my milkshake." Rei looked at her in shock, before another expression washed over her face.

Amusement.

She let out a derisive snort, about to make some scathing comment maybe, before she started giggling helplessly, but attempted to stop it. Then, from under the table, there came a quiet voice.

"Do you guys think I could find a shampoo that smells just like this shake?" Rei burst into laughter, as did Serena and Makoto, who had managed to remove herself from the table, although her shirt was sticky all down the front. Minako emerged from under the counter, smiling sheepishly, and Ami couldn't keep a small smile off her face.

So when Justin walked in, four other guys behind them, that's how they found the girls. Doubled over in laughter and with tears streaming down their eyes, although most of them were covered in sticky pink goo.

"Kami, Odango," Darien said, taking in the scene. "You can't tell me that you're that much of a messy eater." Oddly enough, this made Serena burst into even more laughter. He looked at her weirdly and walked over, then placed a hand on her forehead.

"Are you feeling ok, Odango?" Serena shivered, all of the hilarity of the situation forgotten. This was probably the first time Darien had touched her in any way other than when he was blocking her attacks. It was reminiscent of something—someone.

Her mind drifted to someone with a mask, and a deep velvety mask, and a cape that she felt could wrap her up and keep her safe for all eternity. But then Darien's hand was gone and she managed to shake her head and straighten up.

"No," she gasped. "We're fine, Shields. No need to get so worried about me." She batted her eyelashes outrageously and Darien stopped, shocked into silence. This proved too much for the girls, who all were now unable to breath and clutching at her stomachs.

Darien colored, something Serena had never seen him do, until Keith stepped up. The older boy looked Serena over, a hint of a smile in his eyes, but nothing on his face. "I heard Justin say quite clearly that there were only two of you here."

There were only a few people who knew about Serena's middle name, Usagi. It had become a sort of running joke between the girls, and anything reminiscent of rabbits had something to do with it. So when Minako clapped her hand on her cousin's back and said quite loudly, "Well, you know how certain species enjoy multiplying." It was a wonder none of them keeled over and died from lack of air.

Keith had cocked an eyebrow in an imitation of Darien (the black-haired boy had socked him for it) and said in a clear, crisp tone. "Well, Serena, how do you feel about this?"

Tears still brimming at the corner of her eyes, the blond stood and shook her head. "Stop that, you guys. This is getting to be a nuisance. We're here to have a Council of War and if we can't stop laughing then how are we supposed to be doing anything?"

Nathaniel Adams slid smoothly up to the booth and leaned over, to inspect the stuff in Minako's hair. "Gods, Aino, is that strawberry milkshake I smell?"

Minako stuck her tongue out at him. "Go and find something to kill, Adams. I'm sure you'll enjoy exercising exactly what you know on those poor, defenseless animals your little sisters keep."

"Ah, Nat, leave them alone." The final boy, Zachary Lee, stepped up and sat across from Ami, who blushed considerably. "Howsabout we just get this whole thing over with. What exactly are you planning on doing?"

"We would like to challenge you to a war of sorts," Minako said, trying her best to look regal. (Which wasn't easy when you were also trying to pick strawberry milkshake from your eyes and ears.)

Darien waggled his eyebrows. "And what would you little girls know about councils of war?" It was a big mistake.

If there was one thing Minako and Serena (as did the other girls, but not so much as these two) hated, it was a guy who thought he was better than a girl, especially seeing as they were sailor senshi, damnit! They could blast these two boys to oblivion right now.

"Take that back, Shields." Serena said, her voice low. Keith sighed.

"He didn't mean anything by it, Serena, it's just hard to imagine you and say, Aino-san as people who could actually do much besides giggle and gossip about boys."

"Boys like us," Justin added in a whisper, but only the boys caught it, and they all grew smiles (save for Keith, who merely let his lips twitch).

"We do not!" said Minako hotly. "We probably could spend ages without even talking about guys! It's not like it would be hard, especially if we imagined every guy to be one of you two!"

"Oh, that hurt Aino-san." Darien clutched at his chest, where his heart was. "Right here. Besides, I bet you you guys couldn't last a whole school year without dating, talking, hitting on or flirting about or to any guy for the rest of this school year."

"And we take that bet!" Minako said angrily. "I can't stand to be here with you guys! Urgh!" And she stalked out. Serena stood still for a moment.

"I take the bet too." She said quietly, all of her usually bouncy self faded. But her eyes suddenly glimmered with something. "And while they explain to you about our Prank War, I'm going to make sure I don't have to clean up a mess outside of Aunt Misayo's house tomorrow."

She left the girls to it, following her cousin outside. Minako was standing by a tree across the street, looking miserable. Serena quickly crossed the street, ignoring the red buckets filled with water balloons on either side of the store, and grabbed onto her cousin's arm.

"Mina-chan, you do realize that we've just about given up any hope of finding boyfriends this year?" Minako shook her head.

"Oh, I know. Can you see it? The Goddess of Love, without any love. This is just great." Serena, sensing her friend's sadness, wrapped an arm around Minako's shoulders.

"Listen, Mina-chan, we'll make it like a club, and others can join if they want. We'll call it—Blondes Against Boys! Come on, Mina-chan, we've managed to have fun so far this year, let's keep it this way."

"Yeah." Minako said quietly. "Yeah, sure." She looked up quite suddenly and smiled at her cousin. "Thanks, Serena. I don't know how I could do any of this without you. The sailor senshi don't know how they could do any of this without you. You're awesome!"

Minako hugged her, and Serena, smiling happily, pulled on her arm gently. "Now, Mina-chan, we're going to the salon. You have to get all of that gunk out of your hair!" The two giggled and moved on down the road.


Inside the arcade, Darien surveyed the three girls in front of him. Ami had just finished outlining the basic plan for them. "This isn't a joke?"

"Not at all." Rei said, eyes blazing. "You win, you can do whatever you want with us. If we win, then you have to leave us alone. And we're oh so certain we'll win."

There was silence, before Justin spoke up. "Any rules?"

Makoto nodded. "Yeah. We've already chosen targets—Ami-chan will give you a list—and those are the only people you can go after. You can help your friends, but unless you thought up the plan and executed most of it and are there, it doesn't count."

"How do we know what pranks count as enough to take a person out?" Zach asked, intrigued. Ami reached into one of the bags by the booth and came up with a piece of paper.

"We've come up with a list of words or phrases you have to say if you've had enough, a different one for each of you. They are things you would otherwise never say and I daresay, quite—" she paused, blushing a little. "Quite hilarious. You are to think up your own and then hand them in to one of us on Monday."

Nathaniel took the list, and instantly, his face colored. "Holy—I'm not saying that!" But then he scanned the rest of the list, and a snort of laughter escaped him. "But I would like to see them say this."

The boys crowded around, reading the list with mixed expressions of glee and horror. Shaking her head, Makoto slung her rucksack over her shoulder.

"So do you accept?"

There was no hesitation. They all nodded, and with satisfied smiles, the girls walked out. Rei lingered behind slightly, and caught Justin's eye. She gave him a wicked grin, and said loudly enough for them all to hear:

"Let the games begin."