"Well you're kind of late aren't you?"

"Huh?" Makoto spun around in the chapel hallway, finding herself not quite face to smirking face with one of Endymion's resurrected Shitennou. She unwillingly felt her stomach flip at the flash of that perfect smile. "What are you doing here, Nephrite?"

"Oh…just finding out that Endy, er, Mamoru had a good reason to need me to check if things were going to be running late. Seems like you'd have made a better effort to be timely, since this is your friend's wedding."

"Bite me!" Makoto fumed crudely, all the while thinking, 'How dare you! I've been prepping things for the wedding since 6:00 AM this morning, jackass.'

"Now that's nice talk, princess, I must say. I suppose this, ahem, charming ensemble is what you'll be wearing? I thought only the bride was supposed to wear white. Of course this isn't exactly a bridal gown so I guess there won't be any confusion."

A flush of anger and embarrassment colored Makoto's cheeks. She was wearing a long white, buttoned tunic that resembled nothing so much more than an oversized lab coat of coarse fabric. It swathed her loosely and came all the way down to mid calf. But it did an excellent job in keeping her clean while she was assembling the wedding cake tiers and putting out the flowers. Not that the grinning idiot before her in his snappy tux would have gotten his hands dirty the way she had. She almost said as much, but then decided it wasn't worth it.

"Don't worry," she sniffed irritated. "We'll be on time, so you can scamper back and report that to your prince like a good lap dog. If there's anything we senshi are good at, it's the quick change." She took a certain satisfaction in the glint of anger darkening his eyes at her crack.

"Good luck. Near as I can tell the only thing you've got ready is your shoes." He glanced at the pink satin slippers that were currently pinching her toes, then looked up and caught the look of disgust on her face. "Don't like them much, hrm? Well, you probably aren't used to anything other than athletic shoes from what I've heard."

Now that was a low blow, in Makoto's opinion. She'd worked damned long and hard to get over her 'femininity' inferiority complex from childhood, and she'd be damned if she was going to let him bring it back.

"Actually, it's just that I usually prefer to go barefoot. It's so much more sensual." She smiled a bit nastily at the way his nostrils flared at that. "Now if you don't mind, I'll slip in and get ready. Wouldn't want anyone to wait for little old me to get dolled up." She opened the door and slipped inside. He just stood there, blocking the door jamb.

"What now?" she demanded.

He cracked a smile and looked her up and down, from the shapeless outfit to her hair which was bound up in a scrunchie. "Little. Riiiiight. Good luck with the dolling up thing. You'll need it."

Hot color welled up in her cheeks, replacing any need for makeup, and a red haze momentarily clouded her gaze. 'He thinks just because he looks good enough to eat that that nobody else can hold a candle to him! Wait! I did NOT just think that about the baka! I'll show him!'

Briefly, Makoto considered punching him in his smug nose and making him look not quite so nice, but decided against it, not wanting to ruin her manicure or bloody her knuckles for Usagi's wedding pictures. So she simply snarled, "Nephrite, kiss my sweet, girly, pink lace-covered ass." His eyes widened, then narrowed dangerously.

And with that, Makoto slammed the door shut with all her strength…right on Nephrite's toes. He yelped in agony, withdrawing his foot fast and cursing under his breath as the door slammed closed again.

"Damned arrogant asshole!"

Makoto stalked into the changing area of the bride's room, stripping off her working whites, to reveal a soft, flowing dress of delicate pink. Contrary to Nephrite's impressions, she was already essentially dressed, needing only to do her hair and add a little lipstick. Her dress sported a sweetheart neckline, delicate spaghetti straps, and a full, empire waist and it fell to just a few inches above her knees. It fluttered gracefully around her legs when she walked. It was exceedingly feminine and delicate and she'd almost not wanted to get it, until Usagi pulled rank and basically ordered her to get it for the wedding.

The dress Makoto wore really looked nothing like any of the others, aside from the innocent pink color selected by Usagi. It had been her idea for dealing with having bridesmaids of such varying heights, shapes and coloring, to just pick a color and let everyone find something in it that worked for them. It was a great idea.

"What's the matter?" Rei asked, flicking a brush through her hair. She too was garbed in pink, though her gown was strapless and slim fitting, emphasizing her tiny waist. A band of roses held back her raven mane of hair.

"Oh, it's that bastard second general of Mamoru's. He just was his usual charming self, so I slammed his foot in the door." She grinned evilly, recalling his yawp of pain with distinct pleasure.

"Way to go, Mako-chan!" cheered Minako, waving a powder puff in the air like a mini pom-pom. "I wish I'd have gotten to see it. Wish even more it had been that stick-up-his-butt, Kunzite. He's such a jerk. He said we were basically refugees, even if we'd been born here this life, and we shouldn't stick our noses in Terran business, but let them handle it. As if they weren't responsible in large part back then for the fall of our kingdoms. He even said he didn't trust us to see to proper security for his prince for the wedding, seeing as we let him get captured and brainwashed in the past. Like we could have done anything about that while we were busy protecting our princess.

"I hope you told him to cram it where the ginzuishou doesn't shine," Rei interjected, fire glinting in her smoky violet eyes.

"I didn't, but I'll have to remember that for the next time he gets on his 'I'm the big boss' kick." With customary Minako speed, she switched on a dime from complaining to wheedling. The beseeching look in her crystal blue eyes was almost heart-rending…and as false as a substituting a cheap cubic zirconia for the fabled ginzuishou. "Hey, Ami, can you help with my sash?"

Ami, who was pinning a cluster of tea roses above her ear, groaned. "If he says something else like that, Minako, just remind him that taking care of the prince wasn't our job. And at least we were around to do ours, instead of expecting other people to take care of it. I already told Zoisite as much when he made a snide crack the other day." Her delicate face contorted in an unusual scowl as she poked a final hairpin into place.

Finished with her primping, Ami moved to tie a neat butterfly bow in Minako's sash. Minako's dress was a frothy mass of lace and ruffles, in decided contrast to her own modest and classic design. She hadn't been able to find one she liked, so she'd gotten the sleek one with the nice neckline and the too short skirt and had a wrap-around overskirt made that didn't show off all of her legs. "All done."

"Where's Usagi," asked Makoto, opening up the cooler which held all the bridal party flowers. She snatched up a hairbrush and fluffed out her russet curls, pushing them back with a half-wreath of roses which she then pinned in place. All the hairpins felt like they were jabbing Makoto in the scalp, which didn't really help her mood, but she couldn't be bothered to change it. It looked great, and that was the important thing. After spritzing her hair with a fine mist of hairspray to hold the style, she grabbed a lipstick, coating her lips with a thin gloss of rosy color.

"I think she's with Luna in the bathroom, throwing up," Rei murmured. "But she'll be alright. It's just jitters." She tossed aside her hairbrush and concentrated on applying a thin layer of mascara. 'Probably the prospect of having to deal with assholes like Jadeite for the next thousand years when she's queen,' she thought, recalling the flirtatious, vexatious blonde man who drove her nuts. 'He just lives to plague me.'

"Jitters?" Makoto glanced at Rei in the mirror, looking confused. "She adores Mamoru and she's been wanting to marry him for years. And he's completely gone over her. Why's she got jitters now and to the point of throwing up?"

Minako sidled up to Makoto on tall spindly heels which put her about equal in height to the taller brunette. She whispered in her ear. "Don't tell anyone I said this, because I'd only deny it, but I'm wondering if it's not so much nerves and more that Chibi-Usa might be on the way…"

Makoto's mouth dropped open and faint color flushed her cheeks. "Minako…"

"Just a theory," the blonde whispered, bouncing away with a grace that should have been unmanageable given her strappy, four inch heels.

"Well, get your flowers," Makoto murmured, nudging the cooler with her toe, "and I'll go check on Usagi. If she's okay, then I think we're about ready to roll."

She rapped on the bathroom door, then pushed it open, sighing in delight as she saw her friend in her wedding dress with her golden blonde hair spilling down her back.

"Oh, Usagi-chan, you look radiant."

While the women were busy dishing, Nephrite hobbled back toward the groom's dressing area, cursing. He shoved open the door and slammed it hard, limping over to sit on the leather couch. "Hey Zoi, can you do something about this?"

A slender yet muscular blonde man with light green eyes moved to his side. "What? What happened?"

"I think my toes are broken. Can you do something?"

"Broken? How the hell did that happen? You were fine ten minutes ago." Zoisite bent down and placed his palm over Nephrite's shoe. His palm began to glow with a green-gold light as he healed the toes, which were indeed broken.

"It was one of those damned women. The tall one with the brown hair. Makoto." He bit out the name as if it were a curse. "She slammed the door on my foot. Green-eyed witch."

The healing spell finished, Zoisite rose. "It's not perfect, but without Mercury to help, it wouldn't be, at least not this fast. Don't tell her I said that, though, since she's arrogant and prissy enough as it is. Too many people told her she was a genius and it obviously went to her head. She needs to loosen up in the worst way."

He paused, examining his handiwork. "Neph, move your toes and see how they feel."

Experimentally, Nephrite wiggled his toes. There was a lingering ache, but he could walk properly, at least.

"What did you do to Makoto to make her so mad?" Mamoru asked, straightening his bow tie and picking up his tuxedo jacket. "She's usually pretty mellow, except when she's taking on the enemy."

"I didn't do anything," protested Nephrite. 'Much,' whispered his conscience sarcastically, refusing to let him off the hook.

A short-haired blonde man smirked, brushing invisible lint off his immaculate tuxedo. "He probably pinched her butt. I've seen him ogling her when he thinks no one's looking, and Neph always was a pervert."

"Oh please, Jadeite. Don't tar me with your brush. And like I'd really want a hothead like that, even if she is attractive. She's vicious. All I did was make a remark about them being late because she wasn't ready yet and she went off on me. Even though she was just getting there when I did, and she wasn't even dressed yet."

Kunzite frowned, turning a stony grey gaze on Nephrite. "She was probably just making a last minute check of the hall. She did the flowers, you know, and I'm told, intended to set up the wedding cake. What exactly did you say?"

Nephrite clammed up fast, simply snorting.

"More than that," said Mamoru. "She made the thing. She refused to let anyone else handle it. She said it was her gift to Usagi and she wanted it perfect. Damn, Nephrite. You're lucky she only broke your toes. In addition to being the senshi voted by SWAN, the Sailor Watchers and Admirers Nippon, as most likely to rend and destroy a youma barehanded…well, tied with Sailor Uranus, she knows karate, and when she gets really riled she's got a temper that's very nearly as formidable as Rei's."

"And that's a helluva temper," griped Jadeite, raking his blond hair into a semblance of order using both hands. "That one is a royal pain in the neck." 'Though it's certainly a gorgeous one. Love to kiss it if she wouldn't kill me. Damn…I think I'm losing my mind.'

"Sometimes I can't believe she's your wife-to-be's best friend, End," Jadeite said, his blue eyes glittering dangerously at the memory of the feisty priestess her siccing her pet ravens on him when he'd complimented her on a particularly nice archery shot. He still didn't understand what had set her off about that, and she'd refused to speak to him since then, which was maddening.

'Still,' he thought with a grin, 'I'll win her yet.' He couldn't explain why the sharp-tongued, fiery miko appealed to him, aside from the obvious, but she did and he wasn't about to let a little thing like her hating him get in his way.

"At least she's someone you can take seriously," Kunzite rumbled, shaking his silver-white head. "I still can't believe someone as flighty as that blonde one is the leader of the senshi. It staggers the imagination. No wonder things happened. She probably couldn't lead her way out of a half-price sale."

"Minako's good when she needs to be. I think that the giddy persona just gives her a way to blow off steam so that she doesn't crack under the strain of command or skin Artemis or something. After all, everyone can't be made of stone, Kunz." Mamoru elbowed his first-in-command, and tucked a rose in his buttonhole.

"How do I look?"

"It's not the same without the mask and cape," Jadeite cracked wise, "but I suppose she'll take you just the same."

"Well then, let's get this show on the road." Mamoru picked up a bunny print envelope and slit it open, reading Usagi's note. He coughed slightly and turned to his Shitennou. "I hope you can all play nice today, guys, even though I know the senshi aren't your favorite people in the world."

"Why?" Kunzite asked, gesturing to the piece of paper Mamoru was holding. "What's that say?"

"Oh…it's just the pairings for walking down the aisle. See for yourselves." Smirking, Mamoru handed over the paper, laughing as his four men groaned aloud, though Jadeite looked a little less than displeased despite his theatrical reaction.

The senshi were no happier to learn of their pairings. "But I thought we were going to walk with some of Mamoru's college buddies," Rei muttered, scowling at learning she'd have to walk with Jadeite. The man made her bristle. 'I swear, if he makes one ecchi comment or if his hands stray, I'll stuff my bouquet up his nose and follow it with a fireball.'

Usagi smiled, adjusting her veil and giving her pearl tiara a final pat. "Well, I did say that but…"

"But what?" Minako demanded, looking appalled. She'd be stuck with that pompous ass Kunzite for the whole wedding and at least through the first duty dance at the reception. It was appalling. So much for her chances to flirting with a cute groomsman. Not that Kunzite wasn't cute…he was, but he was so stodgy. He was an old, old man stuck in the body of a Greek god. What a waste!

"Well, Mamo-chan was so pleased when the Shitennou were revived that he wanted to include them, so we changed things a bit."

"But you didn't tell us," protested Ami, clutching her bouquet and looking quite upset. "You never said a word."

She was flustered to be sure. She was to be paired with Zoisite, a man who was quite nearly enough to drive her to drink, except that she didn't do things like that. She just didn't trust the wicked amusement that always seemed to lurk in his cat-like green eyes. It was like he was always making fun of her, despite the fact that she'd never done a thing to him…at least not since his resurrection. Sometimes she wondered just how hard it had been for Beryl to turn that one evil. Blasted smug, egotistical pretty-boy!

"Well," came the lame reply from Usagi, "I knew you all were uncomfortable with them. But can't you all just deal with it…just for today? For me? Pleeeease…"

"Oh fine," Makoto burst out, snatching up her nosegay of roses with a quick, violent motion. Nephrite's smirking face danced before her eyes and she blinked, banishing it before she could crush the flowers she'd spent so much time arranging. "Just for today. I won't even hurt the wretched man." She pasted on a completely false smile and finished the thought silently. 'Much'.

Makoto stuck her flowers in the air as if they were her henshin wand, beckoning the others to join her. "Forward, the Light Brigade! Into the valley of death rode the…"

Usagi laughed, sounding like the tinkling of bells, as she cut Makoto off. "I'm sure it won't be that bad."

'Not if I can get drunk enough at the reception,' thought four women simultaneously as they exited the dressing room and made their way to the chapel. Ami was shocked that she'd even thought such a thing. 'Drat you, Zoisite.'

The ladies managed well enough. The men endured. Usagi's joy was infectious and made all of her bridesmaids smile for real shortly enough. Usagi had simply glowed as her father, Kenji, handed her off to Mamoru. Tsukino Ikuko dabbed at her eyes with a hankie. When Mamoru and Usagi kissed as husband and wife, the senshi sighed. It was so romantic and beautiful. The only slightly sour note in the elegant dream wedding was generally unnoticed when Makoto 'accidentally on purpose' stepped on Nephrite's foot as they met for the recessional. But if anyone had noticed all they would have seen was a slight stiffness in Nephrite which was immediately overcome by Makoto's brilliant smile.

The reception was a rip-snorting party.

Usagi and Mamoru had gone all out and there was a live band, dancing, flowers everywhere, fabulous food to spare and freely flowing booze. Everyone was having a hell of a time, except for the Shitennou and the Inner Senshi.

"Look at them," Minako said, jerking her champagne flute toward the dance floor, drawing the eyes of the others. Out there Michiru and Haruka whirled, Haruka looking dashing in a tux (she'd refused, point blank, to wear a dress), and Michiru beaming serenely. Gold bands gleamed on their ring fingers, a token, they said, until Usagi ascended the throne and did as she'd promised to, making it possible for them to have a legal union. "They look so sweet together. And so do Usagi and Mamoru…"

"Hai," Makoto sighed wistfully, wondering if she'd ever find someone she could love that much. She'd suffered through her duty dance with Nephrite and then danced some more with Motoki, who'd agreed to be her date to the party since Shinozaki was out of town on business. He was currently off getting her some punch, a task she'd set him when he'd gotten just a bit too smothering.

It was ironic, really, and a bit sad she thought, that she'd spent so much time crushing on Motoki as a girl, only to later realize he wasn't her type, just to have him turn around and notice her after his disastrous breakup with Reika. He was like a sweet but annoying puppy that clung to her, but she didn't have the heart to kick him away. Which was why she was stuck, even though she despised being the 'rebound' girl. 'I wish he'd get a clue, though…'

"It's time," announced the emcee, breaking into Makoto's reverie, "for the bride to toss her bouquet. All eligible women should assemble on the dance floor."

Rei, Makoto, and Ami exchanged glances. There was no way out of it. They went to the dance floor, glaring at Haruka, who smirked at them. Strategically they positioned themselves in the very back. Rei was muttering something to herself about "No way in hell…", as Jadeite shot her a cocky grin. Minako wormed her way right into the thick of things. It suited her dramatic nature and she wanted to catch the bouquet.

Usagi gleefully waved at the crowd and hurled her bouquet of ribbon and roses backward over her shoulder, then spun in a whirl of skirts to watch.

The flowers arced upward and disappeared from sight. The crowd sweatdropped en masse.

"Nani?" Usagi looked puzzled as the band struck up 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?', which had Ami and Rei laughing hysterically. Makoto sighed and hitched herself up on a chair, going up on tiptoe, plucking the bouquet off the ceiling beam where it had landed. She was oblivious to the number of male stares that were admiring the view as her skirt rode high on her thighs as she stretched upward. She offered it back to Usagi, who was met with cheers of, "Again! Again!" from the crowd. Crossing her arms over her chest, Makoto moved off to one side again.

This time there was a drum roll as Usagi prepared to throw it.

Again the flowers took flight. And dropped into Makoto's unsuspecting arms. Her jaw sagged as Usagi squealed and grabbed her around the waist, spinning her around dizzily. "You'll be next, Mako-chan!"

Makoto winced as she realized Motoki was watching her with an odd look in his eye. "Heh…yeah, that'd be…great," she said, lamely trying to work up some enthusiasm. She flushed as she spotted Nephrite smirking at her from where he hung about in the crowd. 'Probably telling them 'Who'd have that one?', the jerk!' Her thoughts unknowingly paralleled Rei's as she thought forcefully introducing the flowers to Nephrite's nose.

She was, in fact, so busy thinking about it and glaring at him that she failed to notice what else was going on until the cheer went up announcing that someone had caught the garter that Mamoru had thrown. She blinked as Usagi grabbed her arm. "Ooooh…you're so lucky, Mako-chan!"


Usagi's face screwed up in a mou of impatience with her clueless friend. "Motoki-kun caught the garter, you baka! Your date. Ooooh…this is so good! You really will be getting married next. Now get out there!"

With surprising strength, she shoved her much taller friend into the spotlight, leaving Makoto to die for a few moments as the ritual of sliding the garter up onto her leg was performed. And she let out a tiny squeak of shock when she felt Motoki's hand pinch her thigh as he slid it higher than strictly necessary before leading her into the duty dance.

'He'd better not be getting any bright ideas,' she thought angrily, as it was clear from the look on his face that he HAD been getting ideas. 'I'm going to have to squash him like a bug,' Makoto thought. 'But I'll do it tomorrow, after Usagi-chan's big day is over. Until then I think I'll just get drunk.'

She wasn't the only woman with that plan. "No, Jadeite," Rei growled, draining her champagne and wondering if there was enough of the bubbly stuff in the world to make the oversexed, brash, blond man tolerable to her. "I will not dance with you. I will not kiss you. I will not date you. And I most certainly will not run away to Aruba and have wild sex with you. Go away and leave me alone, Cornsilk."

"She's a harsh woman," Jadeite said with a theatrical wounded look to Zoisite. "She's stolen my heart and won't give me even the slightest hope. Oh well, at least she cared enough to give me a nickname."

"Drama queen," muttered Rei, turning away and popping up to cut in on Artemis and Luna, who had been cruising the floor, both showing up to the wedding in their human forms. Jadeite's blue eyes, the color of the Caribbean waters he'd been offering to Rei, were glued to her pink-satin covered backside and he all but purred, a cheerfully lecherous expression on his face.

"Damn she looks good."

Zoisite lifted an eyebrow. "Jadeite, my friend, I think you're letting yourself in for a world of hurt with that one. I never knew you were into masochism."

"Aw," said Jadeite, shaking his head and flashing a mischievous grin, "she'll come round. I'm irresistible, after all. And she's worth the trouble. Rrrow!"

Ami muttered something unintelligible into her champagne flute as she took a quick sip.

"What was that, Ice?" Bright grass green eyes locked with hers. Ami choked on her champagne and sputtered.

"No…nothing." She hated that nickname he'd stuck her with. So naturally he used it every chance he got.

"No," he insisted, invading her personal space and standing practically between her knees just so she'd have to look up at him. She did with a glare as he continued. "You said something. Out with it, Ice."

"I said," she sighed, rolling her eyes, "that your irreverent friend's got a better chance of dating Haruka than Rei." She contemplated kicking Zoisite in the ankle to make him get out of her personal space. Her thoughts must have shown in her expression, because he shot her a wary look and stepped back, much to Ami's satisfaction.

"She's cute," Jadeite murmured with an impish twinkle in his eyes, "but I don't need someone who looks more like me than me. And anyway, her partner scares me. My heart's taken anyhow. I guess I'll just have to get Rei the old fashioned way. Get her drunk and let her have her way with me and see where the night takes us."

Minako giggled, draining her glass of champagne. "To the burn ward, I think." When Kunzite shot her a disgusted look, she defiantly sashayed over to the bar and brought back a huge snifter of brandy, which she proceeded to polish off. "Lighten up, Kunzite. It's just a party." She ordered another. Clearly Usagi and Mamoru's bar bill was going to be astronomical.

"Yeah…" Zoisite smirked at his commanding officer, ignoring the stern man's glare. "Lighten up, Kunz. If you don't, you'll end up being as stodgy as Little Miss 'My Body Is A Temple' over here who didn't even touch her champagne until the toasts began. I think she's scared of having a good time."

A very un-Ami like expression crossed the petite woman's face and her grip tightened on the stem of her glass. "Not everyone," she taunted, "is a lush like you, Zoisite."

"You're just afraid is all," he retorted. "God forbid you let down your hair…oh wait, you don't have any to let down. Too feminine, hmmm?"

Ami's face reddened and she had a sudden mental image of herself in a tiara dumping poison from a hollow compartment ring into the man's glass, a la a wicked witch queen from a fairy tale. It was a surprisingly satisfying image. "You're hardly one to talk, Zoisite. How many hours a day and cans of mousse does it take to make yours look like that…" She waved her glass at his rippling curls, caught back in a queue. "It's cute, but it looks like it belongs on Mako-chan."

"Well, she does have good taste," Zoisite said, tugging on his low ponytail. "Especially in her dress. It's got some style and dash, unlike some." His contemptuous look took in her calf-length full skirt. "Didn't have the legs to go with something better, I expect."

'I can't poison him here,' Ami reminded herself, gritting her teeth and tossing back the rest of her champagne. The dutch courage made her impetuous. "My legs are just as nice as anyone's. See for yourself, Goldilocks."

Without warning, she shoved him back and whipped off the overskirt, revealing a dress with a very short, very snug skirt and a pair of very nice, if rather short legs. But they were toned and very shapely. Evidently Ami's swimming agreed with her and kept her very fit. Zoisite's eyes bulged slightly. "Satisfied," she said with a triumphant feminine smile.

Jadeite let out a wolf whistle. "Now this is a party! Maybe I can convince Rei to do a striptease like that for me."

"Dream on," Minako said, cheerily lifting her glass of brandy. Her second large glass.

"Oh I do," the blonde man said, running a hand through his shaggy locks, rumpling them, which detracted not one iota from his good looks. "Every damn night. It's a personal fantasy of mine. Of course that's just for starters."

"That will do, Jadeite," Kunzite said repressively. "There are ladies present."

Minako grimaced, sticking out her tongue childishly. "Prude."

"Who's a prude?" Makoto asked, returning to the table with a small test tube in one hand and Usagi's bouquet in the other. She dumped the bouquet unceremoniously on the table.

"Old Stone Face over here," Minako answered, waving her hand airily in Kunzite's general direction. "What's that you've got, Mako-chan?"

"Cinnamon liqueur." Gold flakes floated, glittering, in clear liquid inside the test tube.

"Ooooh…sounds good."

Makoto took an experimental sip and smiled warmly, licking her lips. "It is…I think I'll have some more after this one. Anything to delay having to go back on the dance floor with Motoki-kun. Oh…Jadeite, Usagi-chan said that Mamoru needed you to drive them to the airport and he wanted you to check the car. They're leaving soon." She grinned at the man. "Rei-chan's going along too," she said with a teasing wink and a knowing smile.

Jadeite scrambled for the exit with comical haste. "Must dash…gotta do what I can for my prince and his bride, after all."

Makoto laughed. "He's so gone over her. Not that he's got a prayer, but still keeps on trying. I wonder if it's as annoying to Rei as…well, you know, is to me."

"You'd be surprised," Minako said. "I sense stuff around Rei and him. You know, being the Senshi of Love and all. She ought to just have the wild Aruba sex with him and get it over with. Then she wouldn't be in such a bad mood. And if worst came to worst, she'd get to be in Aruba. So sayeth the Love Goddess."

She grinned as Ami's and Makoto's faces turned crimson. "Well, she should." Adopting a wise, old woman persona, she leaned closer to Makoto. "You, though, are completely right about Motoki-kun. He's all wrong for you. For one thing you could break him in half WITHOUT transforming."

"Is Furuhata-san still bothering you," Ami inquired, picking up her glass of champagne, which had recently been refilled by one of the plethora of waiters who flitted around the room like spirits, unseen but ever present.

"He won't take a hint," Makoto said, with a shake of her head. "One pity date after his breakup with Reika and he's spinning fantasies of marriage and 3.5 children. I swear, I will never date someone on the rebound ever, ever again." She drained her drink, then signaled a passing waiter for another. "Mmm…sweet."

"You sit tight, Mako-chan, and relax" Minako chirped. "I'll distract Motoki-kun for you for a while. I need to get away from the sourpuss anyway." She shot a challenging look at Kunzite who arched one silver brow at her audacity before she danced off to Makoto's lovelorn would-be swain. He'd never know what him when Hurricane Minako dragged him to the dance floor.

Kunzite growled and stalked away from the table toward the bar, muttering something to Nephrite as he passed him. Whatever he'd said had Nephrite scowling as well and shooting a glare in Makoto's direction, which she pointedly ignored, turning to wave at the recently married Gurio Naru, who'd returned from her own honeymoon just in time to attend Usagi's wedding. Naru grinned and waved back, her wedding band and diamond ring glinting in the light from the chandeliers. 'Wow,' Makoto thought, 'Umino really bought her quite the rock.'

Makoto smiled, swallowing the contents of her second liqueur, feeling more relaxed already.

"You'd better watch it, Mako-chan," Ami warned, concerned. "That stuff's pretty potent."


"Aw, let the girl have some fun, Ice. Who's it going to hurt?"

"But," Ami chewed on her lip anxiously.

"Aw, give over, Ames," Makoto perched daintily on her chair and smiled, swinging her legs like a child. The cinnamon liqueur on top of the champagne was making her feel wonderfully giddy, like she did when she fired off a sizzling attack that just hit the mark. "Anyway, you ought to have some of this stuff. Or something else…Hrm…how about a Blue Virgin." She shot a teasing look at her friend.

"Mako-chan." There was a warning look in Ami's eyes and a muscle ticked in her cheek.

"Gomen…kidding. Just kidding." Makoto held up a hand in apology.

Zoisite smirked again. "Nah…we know she's that. She ought to have a Blue Temptation. Not that she could handle it."

"I could," sputtered Ami, putting her fisted hand on her waist. "I could so."

"Then bring it on," Zoisite said with a playful twinkle in his laughing green eyes. "Drinking contest. Whoever stays sober longest wins. Makoto can judge."

"Wins what?" Makoto inquired, getting interested. She'd never seen this pugnacious side of Ami before. It was fascinating.

"I don't know…bragging rights, I guess." Zoisite seemed unconcerned. "I'll even give Ice a two drink handicap since she's such a little squirt."

"You're on, pretty boy," Ami hissed, spinning off toward the bar to get the drinks for the first round of competition.

Makoto pursed her lips and tsked at Zoisite. "Why do you pick on Ami-chan like that?"

He stared at her, a puzzled look on his face. "Pick on?"

"You know what I mean," Makoto said, frowning slightly. "Calling her that name she hates, insulting her dress and the like. It's kind of mean, and she never did anything to you."

"I was just…" Zoisite looked a little stricken. "I just meant to tease her a little. Get her to talk to me."

"Ami's shy. She doesn't open up easily."

"You teased her too," he accused.

"But it's different. We've known each other for what seems like forever. She knows I was only kidding." Makoto grimaced and mentally completed the thought. 'I hope.'

"Does she really think I'm mean?" His voice was filled with trepidation.

Makoto was stunned to glance up from her drink to see the look on Zoisite's face. "Oh my heavens," she muttered softly as the insight hit her. "You like her, don't you? You're going about it like a second grader, but you've got a crush on her."

The blush that heated the honey blond-haired man's cheeks was as good as a signed confession.

"What are you going to do next? Pull her hair and toss her books in the mud? Jeesh. How someone so smart could act so stupid…?" Makoto drawled, amused. Zoisite was saved from complete humiliation, though, as a glass full of chipped ice and blue liquid slammed down on the table in front of him. Ami's knuckles were white as they clenched an identical glass.

"Okay, Blondie," she growled, her sapphire eyes gleaming with challenge. "The waiter said he'd keep 'em coming. So let's put the liquor where your mouth is and see if you're all talk or not."

The party was well and truly winding down an hour or two later when the call came in. Ami never heard a thing, as she was currently snoozing over the table. Rei had long since left to see Mamoru and Usagi off at the airport, and the Outers had all left too, so that left only Makoto and Minako to handle matters. If the Shitennou wanted to argue about it, as far as Minako and Makoto were concerned, they could kiss Artemis and Luna's normally fuzzy backsides…except that they'd already left too.

The women looked at each other and giggled. It was questionable, actually, if they could stand, let alone fight. And that was soooo funny.

They decided to risk it.

Pushing up from the table they half walked, half staggered out of the hall, clinging to one another for support. They were surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as hard to move as they'd thought, once they were actually up. Grinning a bit sappily, they pulled out their henshin wands and tapped them together as if saluting one another.

Back in the reception hall, two men were looking like they were developing enormous headaches. All hell was breaking loose nearby, the senshi were bombed off their asses, and yet they'd decided to go into battle anyway. How fun.

"We can't just let them go and get killed…"

"Why not?" Kunzite pinched the bridge of his nose. "At least this time it wouldn't be our fault."

Zoisite whapped his superior officer upside the head. He was a little well to live too, and it had the effect of making him more pugnacious than usual, though his sly little brain was still quite capable of making mental leaps with great speed even when it was alcohol soaked. "Cause I don't want to have to 'splain it later. Dead senshi equals pissed off Ser'nty. Pissed off Ser'nty means pissed off prince. Pissed off prince means we're all in for a world o'hurt."

"Good point. I knew there was a reason we kept him around," groaned Nephrite. "So let's do this before they wander off and get killed."

"I think…" slurred Zoisite slightly, leaning back in his chair, "I shall remain here. I'm not 'zactly one hundred percent and someone's gotta keep an eye on Ice here." He made an expansive gesture toward the blue-haired woman who was presently perched on his lap, slumped over on the table and enjoying a quiet little nap care of the staggering number of Blue Temptation cocktails she'd consumed while involved in the drinking contest with Zoisite.

"That just leaves us," Nephrite said, pushing himself to his feet. "Move it, oh fearless leader, or we'll lose them entirely."

Kunzite scowled slightly, but followed his fellow Shitennou out into the corridor. And there they froze, blinking as their jaws dropped just about to their knees.

"Jupiter Eternal Ascendant Power, Make-Up!"

"Venus Eternal Ascendant Power, Make-Up!"

Green and gold light bloomed in the nearly empty corridor.


Nephrite shook himself, though the refrain pounded in the most basic, lizard part of his brain which normally only concerned itself with basic autonomic functions as breathing and circulation. He'd couldn't remember having actually seen the senshi really henshin before and it seemed to be imprinting itself on the deepest parts of his brain. He didn't think he'd ever forget the sight.

One minute the tall, obnoxious, violent brunette bridesmaid had been clothed and the next…oh gods, there definitely had to be gods involved in making those feminine shapes and curves, because ordinary human females did NOT look like that. And then, Dammit! The dazzling green and white lightning had flared up around her like the aurora borealis, making stars dance before his dazzled eyes, and then there was a green and pink sailor suited Sailor Jupiter pirouetting around in the other direction, leaving only a lingering scent of ozone and cinnamon and the memories of the henshin which had seared themselves into Nephrite's brain through his retinas.

Kunzite was in no better shape. He just wasn't showing his shock quite as blatantly as Nephrite. It wasn't his way. But still…


But his tongue had cleaved to the roof of his mouth as the light took over and he caught sight of the golden, oh so golden senshi of love mid-henshin. Before the wash of gold stars and light and ribbon bared her from his sight, he'd gotten an eyeful of Venus' streaming hair, sweet bare curves, and a golden linked waist chain which was the only covering she'd had. And he had a sudden urge to beat the crap out of Nephrite until he realized that the man was occupied with staring at the newly henshined Sailor Jupiter, as riveted as if he'd found a new, previously undiscovered constellation.

For that, Kunzite was grateful as he shut his gaping mouth with a snap. It wouldn't do to have anyone, not even one of his own, see him lose his much vaunted control…or see Venus like that. Some numb part of his brain wondered if the senshi knew exactly how much could be seen in the instant before the light and magic took over, and if they did, did they care?

To the men's shock, the two senshi darted off much faster than should have been possible given the amount of alcohol they knew the pair had consumed. Evidently being drunk didn't mean they couldn't flat out move when they wanted to. The two men were forced to perform their own henshin on the fly.

The two Shitennou pelted after them, cursing the fact that the senshi knew the city so much better than they did. The girls, having grown up there and battled so often, knew every last alley, every conceivable shortcut. They left the men in the dust, which would have amused them, had they had any idea they'd been being followed, that is. Ultimately Kunzite and Nephrite had to follow the sound of thunder and the flashes of light, and by the time they'd gotten there, swords drawn, it had been all over but the shouting.

Well, not shouting, exactly. More like an inebriated Amazonian victory dance.

The youma had been an ugly one, draining to the point of collapse everyone it got its filthy tentacles on before moving on to new victims. They'd had a merry dance avoiding it to be sure. Jupiter had to huck a sizeable chunk of pavement at its squashy, fang-filled head and "Supreme Thunder" it more than a few times before they could maneuver it into a strategically workable position. And Venus was mightily impressed that she'd managed to come up with that phrase, 'strategically workable', under the circumstances. But she'd managed and so had they, working together, gotten the beast into one. Jupiter'd been quite enjoying that part of things. She just pictured Nephrite's smug grin as the target every time she hurled another chunk of asphalt or a Sparkling Wide Pressure at the beast.

Sailor Venus had finally gotten a good grip on the youma with her Love Me Chain and had it trussed up tighter than one of Mako's roasts for the oven. "Fry it, hon," she'd obliged her sister at arms, who'd giddily complied with a lopsided twirl and a strong "Jupiter Oak Evolution," that sprayed leaves of deadly electrical energy through the street. With a boost from Venus' Love and Beauty Shock, the attack took out the ugly creature, rendering it unto dust. Unfortunately Jupiter's aim had been off just a tad, and the leaves also took out an electrical transformer, spraying that part of the street with a shower of sparks before the lights blacked out. There was still plenty of light around the senshi, though, due to their natural inherent glow.

"Oops…" Jupiter blushed as Venus gawked at her unintentional handiwork. She was in for it now, for sure, she thought…until Venus started to laugh, which set her off as well. They slapped hands, whooped and spun around, filled with the absolute natural rush of victory.

Adrenaline, though, could only hold off the bloodstream so long and it was a double crash for Jupiter when it hit. She staggered sideways, done in by a potent mix of champagne, cinnamon liqueur and the natural loss of power she always got after expending her energy violently in battle. "I think…I need…nap now."

Nephrite moved in and caught her before she could fall over and break something important, like her neck. It definitely wouldn't do to have her go through all the trouble of winning the battle against the monster only to lose out to an uneven piece of pavement, especially since, by the look of things, she'd probably been the one who'd made it uneven to start with.

Sailor Venus stared at the pair, her eyes widening slightly as her mouth made a perfect O of surprise. Then she giggled, the sound echoing oddly in her own ears. They were cute together, she thought, him holding Mako bridal-style. Jupiter might not even kill him later. Maybe.

Utter loss of energy was one of the few things that could force a senshi to de-henshin involuntarily, and that was what happened to Sailor Jupiter just then. She felt a strong arm under her back and a second one slip under her knees to draw her against an unfamiliar body. It was male, though, she could tell, from the scent of the nice sandalwood scented aftershave, and oh so warm and comfortable. As her light began to flicker and die, she caught an infinitesimal glimpse of bright blue eyes and mahogany curls.

"Pretty," she mumbled, running a leaden finger through silky, dark chocolate brown waves. Then the de-henshin triggered and she convulsed slightly and then slid into sweet unconsciousness, serene as a sleeping baby.

Nephrite winced. One of his hairs had gotten tangled around the woman's finger and it was tugged out entirely when she went stiff in his arms. The tiny pain, though, had kept him focused on her pretty face, though, when she shifted form. He wasn't sure exactly how he felt about that either, though, since we was pretty sure that it would have been as nice a show as he'd gotten earlier. And what a show that had been. He wouldn't ever look on the Amazonian senshi in quite the same way again after having seen what lay beneath the ridiculous green and pink sailor suit. Everything beneath it.

Still, this wasn't bad either, he thought as she sighed in her sleep, the deep breath lifting her considerable assets for his display in the low neckline of her frivolous pink bridesmaid gown. Her soft, wavy hair, now no longer in a ponytail since her de-henshining, spilled down over his arm, surprising him with how long it was. Now, what was he going to do with her? She wasn't conscious, he had no idea where she lived and even if he had, he had no idea where her keys might be, and he wasn't going to go back and leave her with that date of hers. She'd be easy pickings and he didn't know the guy from Adam, certainly not enough to know whether the man was trustworthy. Her possible wrath certainly couldn't be as bad as Endy's, could it? For a second he pondered the notion. Then he decided to hell with it.

"Later Kunz," he muttered, porting to his home with his soft burden.

Kunzite grunted, shaking his head. That one was likely to kick Nephrite's noble ass when she woke up with a hangover.

The senshi of love giggled again, drawing his attention. She was grinning sappily at the spot where Nephrite and Makoto had disappeared and her crystal blue eyes sported a brilliant liquid sheen that had nothing to do with tears. "Kawaii."

Kunzite snorted.

A bit unsteadily, Sailor Venus turned to him and slurred, "You sound sick. Can' let you get sick, Kunzie. Jus…give me a minute an' Nurse Mina'll take care of you."

She wobbled over and plopped a soft hand on his forehead. "No fev'r. Thas' good."

To his utter astonishment, she started tugging at his uniform, getting the first button undone so that the jacket gaped open revealing his chest before he could break out of his shocked immobility and stop her wayward fingers.

"What do you think you're doing?" he grated, biting the inside of his cheek.

"Gotta check pulse…" she murmured, shooting him a sweet smile and pressing her hand against his throat before her knees buckled slightly and she clutched at his neck to steady herself. Kunzite's pulse tripped, then jack-hammered as her soft body was plastered against his.

"Gomen," she whispered, righting herself by planting her other hand full on his chest. "Gimme a sec…gotta power down, Kunzie."

"Good idea. The civilians will wake up soon. The last thing we need is your identity to get out to the press."

"I'm Sailor V too," she informed him blithely as she lifted a hand to the stone in her tiara. His eyes widened slightly. If she was serious then that was news. He'd only ever heard that she'd ACTED the role for a movie. If true she'd been, in a roundabout way, giving him grief longer than he knew. But who could tell if she was serious right now.

Rigidly he kept his eyes on her face, not allowing himself to give into the strong urge to look down. The golden light washed over her and her hair blew back in an invisible wind before it settled and she stood before him in her lacy, pink bridesmaid gown and ridiculously delicate high-heeled sandals.

"You're going to break your neck in those things," Kunzite muttered.

"I'm fine," she chirped, sounding entirely too pleased with herself.

"Uh huh."

She glomped onto his arm with a strength that surprised him, smiling sunnily, if a trifle too cheerily, and demanded, "Walk me back, Kunzie. You make sure I don' stumble."

Kunzite groaned. He was in hell. Obviously, clearly in hell.

The indefatigably cheerful blonde was annoyingly chipper and voluble normally, but thoroughly loosened up by the alcohol she'd consumed, she was downright irritatingly expansive…in a charming way. She never seemed to take any offense at all that his responses were mostly of the one word variety, if that. It was entirely possible she didn't even notice that he responded at all.

She chattered madly away about nothing of any possible consequence, slurring only about a fourth of her words along the way. She never did let go of his arm and clung to his side like a limpet, pressing her curves into him in such a fashion that he could not help thinking about them being pressed against other parts of him. His much vaunted control was slipping because of a petite golden girl who was barely out of childhood and who couldn't be quiet if her life depended on it. Love goddess indeed. Damn her! He wondered idly if the only thing that would shut her up would be if she lapsed into unconsciousness like her friend had.

'Or if you kissed her,' a little voice whispered in his brain, making him jerk. 'Oh hell! Where did that idea pop up from?' he thought stonily. He was unaware that his usual stoic expression had morphed into a real, genuine scowl.

"Kunzie," Minako had tipped her head to one side and was peering at him with a certain drunken intensity. She patted his silver head as if he was a puppy, then ran the iridescent strands through her fingertips. "All work and no play makes Kunzie a dull…something, something. You've gotta loosen up. Live a lil."

With that she leaned in and planted a passionate, brandy-flavored smooch right on his lips that about took both their heads off.

Back home, Nephrite grumbled under his breath. Now what? His place was not exactly awash in guest rooms these days, what with the rest of the Shitennou taking up residence, the lousy bunch of freeloaders. He supposed he could put her on the couch, but the damned thing was too short and too narrow for anyone larger than say, the Mizuno woman, to be comfortable sleeping on it, which left only one option.

She'd have to keep to her side of the bed and he'd compromise and wear his boxers instead of going raw like he usually did.

After all, it was his house and he wasn't about to sleep on the floor in his own home, for Elysion's sake. That would be pushing gentlemanly right into the realm of stupidity. And no one, with the exception of Zoisite, had ever called Nephrite stupid to his face.

He shifted Makoto's weight in his arms so that he could grab the comforter and sheet and tug them down before setting her on the mattress. It really was amazing, he thought, that she managed to keep sleeping peacefully through his less than graceful juggling act.

Once she was out of his arms, he took stock of her. Shoes had to go first. He thought back to her words about going barefoot most of the time. That at least, would do. He plucked off the low-heeled, sling-back satin slippers and tossed them into a corner. She let out a sigh and wiggled her toes in her sleep, which had him grinning. She certainly hadn't been kidding about that, at least. And there was something oddly charming about the fact that she'd painted her toenails a pretty shade of blush pink, even though they did not show in her shoes. She was more feminine than she liked to admit to.

Her flirty little dress would probably do well enough for a nightgown, he thought. It had spaghetti straps and a full empire waist, so it wouldn't be too uncomfortable. But the hose were another matter. They couldn't be comfortable for anyone. He only prayed she'd see it that way the next day. But he'd be damned if she'd be able to accuse him of being a peeper, at least not for this. Gritting his teeth, he shut his eyes and slid a hand under her skirt.

The first thing he encountered was the satin and lace garter. He grinned as he slid it down her thigh and plucked it off once it reached her toes. He dropped it on the rug. The scarlet color on her face had almost been worth the residual pain in his aching toes. First she'd had the luck or misfortune, depending on her point of view, to catch the bridal bouquet, and then that friend of Endy…er Mamoru's had caught the garter. Momoki, wasn't it? Whatever. There'd been a whole ritual of sliding it onto her leg and Monoki, he'd looked ready to propose to Makoto right then and there, but she certainly hadn't looked ready to commit to him. She actually looked like she'd wanted a nice portable hole to climb into for a few hundred years. Perhaps he could tell Makoto that she owed him for saving her from her date that night. That would be priceless.

But none of these speculations was getting down to the business of getting her put to bed so that he could get some rest as well. Methodically he dealt with her pantyhose and developed a whole new appreciation for the trouble women obviously went to. The things had to be almost as annoying as a necktie and just as uncomfortable. Balling up the sheer things, he dropped them on the floor along with her shoes.

Her head was already on the pillow, but he figured he should remove the flowers she wore. He slid a hand along the edge of the half-wreath of roses that held her hair back as if in a headband. One, two, three, four, five…damn, how many pins did it take? Finally he had eight bobby pins in the palm of his hand and he could pluck loose the band of tea roses and statice and drop it on the bedside table. He debated removing the earrings she wore, but decided not to bother. The damned things were too small and delicate and she'd probably raise unholy havoc if he broke them.

A snarky joke about deflowering popped into his brain and Nephrite growled, biting it back and wondering when Jadeite's juvenile and somewhat perverted sense of humor had taken over his mind. Brusquely he stalked away from the bed to the bathroom to get himself ready for sleep.

When he emerged, scrubbed and teeth brushed, he got quite a shock. Makoto had rolled over on her stomach in his bed, her dress riding up high enough around her waist that he could see that she hadn't been lying about the pink lace earlier. Pink lace which was cupping her firm cheeks like a lover's palms and cut to emphasize her long, coltish legs and to make him think.

Nephrite began to sweat. She might be violent and somewhat bellicose, at least toward him, but it was clear that if nothing else, Makoto had a very, very nice ass. Unfortunately the lizard part of his mind was chiming in at that point to remind him that she definitely had other very attractive assets as well, not the least of which was a very lovely face when she wasn't screwing it up to hurt someone.


Flicking the sheet and coverlet over her, he hightailed it to the far side of the bed and snapped out the command that turned off the lights and plunged the room into darkness. He willed himself to remember that she was the same termagant who'd tried to break his foot with the door, stepped on the same foot during the recessional on purpose, and generally been a nasty witch toward him…she'd been glaring at him all night, for Gaia's sake. The annoyingly fair side of his mind poked him in the conscience, reminding him that he'd been rude and obnoxious and had been responsible for making her lose her temper, and, it reminded him, he could hardly complain then, when after doing what he had, that rather substantial amount of temper she had to lose fell his way.

"Dammit." He ground his fist against his temple and shut his eyes. If he went to sleep he'd stop thinking about how good she smelled, like a mixture of roses and cinnamon with a faint hint of vanilla, which was probably from the damned tasty wedding cake that Endy'd said she'd made.

The old superstition about going to bed with a piece of wedding cake under one's pillow and dreaming of one's future spouse flickered through his brain. Briefly he wondered what one dreamed when one had the actual wedding cake creator among one's pillows. He supposed it depended on what said creator was doing there.

Which, in Mako's case, was presently thrashing around a bit, searching for her lost source of warmth.

Nephrite bit back a curse as she shifted again, twisting the sheets. It almost made him feel sorry for that arcade keeper, if she was always like that. And that thought made him mad for reasons he didn't want to contemplate too closely. Instead he focused on the irritation factor at hand. How he was supposed to get any sleep with her moving around so much was a mystery to him, especially since she hadn't budged an inch until he'd actually put her down on the bed.

Biting back the urge to curse, he finally grabbed her around the waist, pressed his palm firmly against her middle and forced her against him, effectively pinning her in one spot. "Now stay still, damn it," he hissed.

Her response was one final wriggle that tucked her head under his chin. She mumbled something inaudible and slipped back into a deep sleep under the heavy weight of his arm. Nephrite sighed and yanked the comforter over them both, cocooning them both in warmth and nodded off to sleep as Makoto curled against him.

It was more likely a testament to the senshi's unique physiology than to Makoto's personal tolerance for alcohol that she did not wake with a raging headache or sick hangover the next morning. As it was, she just felt rather muzzy, as if her brain had been wrapped up in cotton wool for storage. Impressions, therefore, were slow in filtering into the parts of her mind that usually processed such things.

The first thing she was aware of was that she was warm, very warm and that was quite nice, as she felt like she could lie there forever quite happily. The second item which she was slowly becoming aware of was that she really needed to go, but that was pushed aside as a concern when she became aware of a third fact. That there was an arm wrapped around her waist and a large masculine hand tucked up against her chest, its palm cupping one of her breasts. And she could feel a body spooned up behind hers. Deep, regular breaths were ruffling the hair alongside her ear.

Panic started to set in. Gods, she hoped she hadn't gone and done anything stupid, other than getting drunk which had been pretty stupid in retrospect, which would encourage Motoki in his mad crush. That would be horrifying. But frankly, she didn't remember much after the point at which she'd caught that damnable bouquet of Usagi's, since she'd pretty much set out to make sure she didn't remember by dint of cinnamon schnapps. Moaning, softly, Makoto tried to inch away from the person behind her. She whimpered as his grip tightened, crushing her against a firm, very hard masculine frame.

'Hell! When did Motoki get so strong?'

The sound of a door opening startled Makoto. A loud voice called out.

"Hey Neph, get your lazy ass up. It's your turn to cook lunch and we've got company and I'm certainly not…HOLY SHIT!"

Makoto sat bolt upright, clutching the dark burgundy comforter to her breasts as shocked bottle green eyes locked with horrified emerald. Zoisite's mouth dropped open in a moment of stupefaction as he took in the picture of the very dishabille senshi, a bare-chested, sleeping Nephrite and the discarded shoes, stockings, and garter on the carpet. Color drained out of Zoisite's face as it bloomed scarlet in Makoto's.

There was a groan from Nephrite, who'd been having a very nice, albeit NC-17 rated dream involving cake icing and a woman who smelled like roses and spice, and who was justifiably pissed to have the dream interrupted by the obnoxious blonde man. "Shut it, Zoisite," he barked, sitting up and yawning. It was when he opened his eyes fully that he realized that he had awakened into a nightmare.

Makoto shot an appalled look over her shoulder and locked eyes with the damnable man who'd tormented her all yesterday, the bastard with the too pretty face and star sapphire eyes. It was worse than Motoki…a hundred, thousand, million times worse. Letting out a stifled scream of near-panic, she scrambled out of bed, dragging the comforter with her and bolted for the nearest door, locking herself in the bathroom.

Slowly Zoisite re-hinged his jaw and began to laugh. "Neph, old man," he said, whacking Nephrite on the back and garnering a growl in return, "I didn't know you had it in you."

Threats of incipient mayhem and against Zoisite's future ability to father children had the blond man retreating from Nephrite's room, though he was laughing as he went. Nephrite fought back the urge to hurl a lamp at the door. There was no sense, he reminded himself, in destroying his own possessions just because Zoisite was being an ass. He settled for cursing and raking his hair with both hands.

He stumbled out of bed and quickly shrugged into a pair of pants and a shirt, praying all the while that he hadn't miscalculated his odds the night before when he'd weighed Endymion's wrath against hers. Perhaps the Thunder Senshi would think twice about killing him if he didn't look like he was ready to jump her on the spot when…make that if, he thought, she came out of his bathroom.

'Though if she were willing…' He stomped on the sly traitorous thought before it could get him into trouble. If she found out he was lusting after her, there was no telling how badly she might hurt him.

He was debating whether or not to rap on the bathroom door when it suddenly opened and she stepped out, almost walking into his arms. Looking down, she thrust the comforter into his hands. "Um…thank you," she muttered nearly inaudibly, trying to smooth out the creases in her dress.

"Eh?" Nephrite was dumbfounded. He'd been expecting her to try to rip him a new…something and this was coming completely out of left field. 'Thank me? For what?'

He plopped the comforter down on the bed while she busied herself with picking up her shoes and hose, though she dumped the latter in his wastebasket. He flicked a glance at her when she wasn't looking and fought the urge to laugh. She'd swiped his discarded bow tie, which he vaguely remembered having left in the bathroom the night before, and used it in lieu of a ribbon to tie her tangle of auburn curls back into a sedate ponytail.

"I said, thank you. You know…for looking after me." Makoto had, once she'd calmed down a little, noticed that he clearly hadn't taken advantage of her in any way…otherwise she wouldn't have been dressed, but had looked after her instead, even seeing to her comfort enough to unpin the rose wreath from her hair. A true gentleman. It had been sweet, she thought. Who knew he'd had it in him to be sweet? It was something of a revelation.

She leaned over to brush a kiss across his cheek as a token of her thanks when he whipped around and her lips instead met his. By any standard it was an innocent kiss, but somehow it didn't feel innocent. It felt like a prelude to something more. They both froze, eyes widening, before they jerked apart as if they'd both been struck by one of her signature bolts of lightning.

Makoto blushed to the roots of her hair, brushing her fingertips across her lips. "Oh my…"

'Oh yes!' Nephrite bit back a groan and tried to bring the conversation back to where it had been before 'The Kiss'. "Um…you're welcome."

"Ah…" Makoto bit her lip and tried again. "Did he say something about cooking lunch? 'Cause, you know, I'll do that for you by way of thanks. It's the least I can do. A friendly gesture."

Nephrite's eyes had been glued to that lip she was presently worrying, and he wished she was doing other things with it. "Yeah…a friendly gesture. That'd be great," he muttered, wondering why she was making him feel like a stupid schoolboy. "I'll show you where the kitchen is. I'm not so good at cooking, so if your lunch is half as good as yesterday's cake was, we'll all be grateful."

She smiled slightly at the backhanded compliment and his breath caught at the sparkle in her eyes. He'd never noticed how green they were before…like emeralds or spring forests or something else beautiful and rich and green. She followed him, shoes in hand, her bare toes curling into his plush carpet as he led her down the stairs and through the mansion to the dining room where they both froze in the doorway.

Ami, her bridesmaid dress looking every bit as wrinkled as Makoto's, was seated at the table, reading a newspaper and arguing over a technical point with Zoisite and looking much happier than Mako'd ever seen her look before when in the slender man's presence. Makoto couldn't help but grin, wondering at the change. Maybe Zoisite really was capable of making up for his previous loutish behavior. If so, more power to him, in her opinion. Ami deserved some fun. And Makoto had an idea that the man was capable of being charming if he bent his considerable brain to the task. In fact, she thought as she watched Ami bat at his hand to point out to him a graph in the paper, it seemed like he already had. At least he wasn't acting like a grade-schooler anymore.


"M…Mako-chan!" Ami squeaked, startled into standing up and dropping the newspaper. She stared at her tall and decidedly rumpled looking friend and made a solemn vow that if Makoto didn't ask her how she'd come to be here, she would never, never, never ask the other woman what she was doing here with…was that Nephrite behind her, with his hand on her waist? And she was barefoot?

'She probably slept on a couch like I did', Ami thought, though the unspoken question lingered in her eyes as she knew her friend wasn't likely to look that chipper after spending a night on a too short couch. 'I don't want to know.'

Don't ask, Makoto mouthed, heading for the swinging door at the other end of the room. As she passed Zoisite's chair she leaned over and whispered discretely for his ears only, "Hurt her and I snap you like a twig."

He shot the Senshi of Protection a wary glance and nodded in understanding, getting a curt nod in return. She then disappeared into the kitchen, grateful for the distraction. In fact, she missed the appearance of Kunzite and Minako some ten minutes later, a sight that knocked Ami, Zoisite and Nephrite for even more of a loop than Makoto's earlier appearance had done.

It wasn't so much that Minako was there that caused the stir, but the fact that she was wearing Kunzite's tuxedo jacket around her shoulders, her rosy lipstick was smeared along Kunzite's collar, their hair looked like it had gone through a blender, and neither one looked like they'd been to bed that night…which, in fact, they hadn't. Nephrite thought for a moment of making a comment, then wisely dropped it. He wanted to live. Ami, after a moment to regain her composure, simply rolled her eyes. 'Hurricane Minako strikes again.'

Minako glared at Ami, daring the other woman to say anything. Ami and Zoisite, both geniuses in their own rights, were smart enough to say nothing and bent over different sections of the paper. The delicious smell of brewing coffee wafted out into the dining room.

"I need that," Kunzite growled, striding off toward the kitchen door in search of a very large mug of java and a moment of relative quiet to compose himself. Minako harumphed and tossed herself into a chair, glancing speculatively at Ami and Zoisite. She called out loudly, "Bring me a cup too, Kunzie…"

'Kunzie!' Zoisite choked slightly, and hid behind his section of the paper, making strangling sounds.

"My gods," Makoto groused, sticking her head back out the swinging door and looking at Nephrite with an aggrieved expression as she handed around cups of coffee which were greedily accepted. "How can a house with four men living in it have so little actual edible food in it? Such a waste, since it's a great kitchen too. It's a wonder you haven't all starved to death."

Nephrite smirked as Minako gawked at her friend's rumpled appearance. "I'm an astrologer, hon, not a cook," he answered, sipping at his coffee with unseemly haste and luxuriating in its heady, dark vapor. She made really, REALLY good coffee. It was almost enough to make a strong man weep…or fall in love on the spot. "We mostly order in."

Makoto wrinkled up her nose, making her opinion of that clear. "Yes," she shot back pertly, "I think you've got the number of every take out place in greater downtown Tokyo up on the refrigerator door. You know the refrigerator, right? That stainless steel box in the corner of the room that's supposed to chill and store actual food…not chemicals, meat byproducts and sawdust bonded together with grease."

He flashed her a charmingly boyish smile that she felt clear down to her bare toes. "You'll have to remind me what that is. It's been a while."

"I'll get right on that," she said, gracing him with a saucy wink that made him smile with the knowledge that she was a lot of fun when she wasn't pissed off at him. "It'll be a challenge, though, since it looks like you've mostly got canned soup, equally canned tuna fish and something that once was milk but appears to be well on its way toward cottage cheese now. Maybe you should take your head out of the skies long enough to at least learn survival cooking, though. Man cannot live by ramen alone."

"Maybe I would…if I had the right teacher." He grinned as she flushed attractively and withdrew back into the kitchen mumbling something about omelets.

Her head swiveling back and forth, Minako watched the interplay between the pair and began to smile smugly, kicking up her heels with the giddy delight of a child. 'At least they're finally getting around to meeting their destiny instead of biting each other's heads off.' The grin turned into something more wicked when she thought back to Kunzite. When he forgot to be an old man, he was a hell of a lot of fun. 'He'll take some more convincing…but it'll be fun bringing him round.'

A squawk from the kitchen was followed by the sound of a spatula smacking a hand. "Drop the shaker and get out, Silvertip!" ordered Makoto imperiously. "I'll tell you when it's ready, Kunzite. Then you can over-salt your eggs and die of hypertension, but it won't be on MY watch."

He backed out of the kitchen holding his coffee in front of him protectively like a shield. A reddish imprint of the spatula stood out in stark relief on his left hand. Without realizing it, he took a seat next to Minako, who prodded delicately at the livid mark. "Is she always like that in the kitchen?" he asked Ami, who nodded her blue head sagely.

"Never get between Mako-chan and the stove if you know what's good for you. There have been those who've tried, but it's never pretty."

The notion of their normally indomitable leader done in by a cooking implement and a temperamental cook had both Zoisite and Nephrite laughing out loud. Kunzite speared them with a moody look, but sipped at his coffee and said nothing outright. 'They won't be laughing after the tenth mile of tomorrow's run.' That thought almost brought a smile to the somber man's face.

As if she knew what he was thinking, Minako winked at him then turned to Ami. "They're so dead, aren't they?"

The blue-eyed, blue haired genius considered the matter. "I do believe so."

'Damn!' The thought passed unspoken between Zoisite and Nephrite.

The telephone in the kitchen rang, and Makoto answered it without thinking. The sudden sharp sound of glass hitting the slate floor and shattering had Kunzite and Nephrite jerking out of their seats and the others all looking up in concern.

Mutely, Makoto held out the telephone to Kunzite, who lifted it to his ear and barked out a greeting. Concerned, Nephrite boosted Makoto up on the black granite countertop getting her vulnerable feet away from the vicious little shards of broken glass, and then he placed a hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?" he whispered against her ear. She simply shook her head, looking dazed. Her pan of eggs, forgotten, began to smoke slightly on the burner.

Whatever the caller said had Kunzite's brows drawing together in a fierce scowl and he gripped the handset so hard the plastic cracked slightly under his brutal grip.

"Hey!" protested Nephrite gruffly, trying to wrestle the telephone away, again smacking Kunzite on his hand where Makoto had done so earlier. "That's MY phone you're abusing. Take it easy, man!"

"What's up Kunzite? Was it End…I mean, Mamoru and Usagi?" Zoisite looked at the leader of the Shitennou with a quizzical expression in his cat's green eyes. Ami and Minako exchanged glances and shrugged.

The silver-haired man had an unreadable expression on his face as he replaced the damaged telephone handset carefully in its receiver and rubbed his reddened hand. His voice was carefully toneless as he answered the question on everyone's mind (except Makoto's…she was still trying to process the information).

"That was Jadeite," he murmured as the smell of scorched eggs slowly seeped into the dining room, "He called to say that he and Rei-san are in Aruba…"