The Walk, the Path and Those Who Walk Beside You

or if you think (sensibly) that I'm a pretentious bastard for having such a ridiculously verbose title,

The Walk


Rei had visited this room a million times, possibly with more frequency than she visited her own, even. She inwardly recoiled a little every time. "So pink," she shuddered.

The owner of the room ignored her as always, slipping her pack off her shoulders and flopping onto her bed. She ran a hand through her pale bangs and stretched a little.

Rei sat against the bed and kicked her chucks onto the table in the middle of the room, tossing her head back to smirk at her friend. The blonde just rolled her eyes.

"You have the worst manners ever," she pointed out.

"Whatever. I'm gonna go raid your kitchen. Want anything?" Rei rolled nimbly to her feet.

"See?" The blonde was still stuck on her early assertion. "What kind of guest just does that?"

"Me." Rei grinned. "I practically live here, and your parents like me better anyway."

The blonde pouted, her blue eyes glistening with faux tears.

"Stop that," Rei ordered. "Wait here and I'll make you a sandwich."

Rolling her eyes, the other girl sighed at how easily she was placated. Her attention then returned to the sheet music on her dresser that the dark haired girl had left. Technically, she should have been doing her homework, but she was fairly sure studying only made her confusion worse. Thirteenth grade was pure hell, if such a thing existed, and she only wanted to finish it in order to move on to better things. Thirteen years of grade school and two introductory years for toddlers was just too much school, in Usagi's opinion, but as the mandatory international standard, there was little she could do to protest.

"Why do you never get any solos?" she hollered out her door, flipping through the sheets of guitar riffs and teenage lyrics.

"I do at the beginning," Rei's voice replied from downstairs amidst the clanking of dishes.

"That's just an intro!" she protested.

"I'm bass, dumb blonde. I don't show off, I carry the sound."

The girl upstairs pouted. This was not how things were supposed to go. She had let Rei join the stupid band on the condition that when the black haired bass guitarist got famous, she, Usagi, her bestie best friend, would be invited to every party. Fame did not come to the boring.

"I'll get Minako to look at this."

"She's all the way across the country! What're you gonna do? Mail it?" Rei was skipping up the stairs now, three sandwiches piled on a plate.

"No, dummy. Term ended – she's coming home."

Rei huffed at not knowing this, and then grinned and shook her head. Sometimes she felt as if she really were part of the Tsukino family. "How was I supposed to know that? And besides, she's a singer. I don't see what she can do for a bass line. Here." Rei put the plate down in front of Usagi, who immediately dug in, biting off an enormous mouthful.

"Fee pook a bunf a feowy kwasses an' shuff." Usagi swallowed, ignoring Rei's look of disgust. "So she would know the basics better than you."

This was dismissed casually. "That's just theory." Rei took a dainty bite of her pb and j and crossed her arms.

"Oh, stop posing," Usagi ordered, and tugged one of the guitar player's belt loops to get her to sit.

Rei did, but grumbled while she adjusted her skinny black jeans. "Don't pull my pants. I don't wear them up by my navel like you."

"They are not at my navel!"

"They are. It's painfully lame."

"I'm not lame! Just because I'm not part of some crummy band and don't dress like a wannabe rock star . . ." The blonde snatched the last sandwich off the plate and began to scarf it moodily.

"We're not rock," Rei corrected for the thousandth time. "When does she get home?" she asked disinterestedly.

"Fuhmowo."

"Huh." She finished the last of her sandwich at the same time as Usagi finished her second. "You should bring her to Gig." She grabbed the empty plate and left to take it to the kitchen.

"I guess she hasn't heard you play before," Usagi mused loudly enough for Rei to hear. "What if she doesn't like your music?"

"Too bad for her, I guess," Rei replied, entering the room again. She seemed indifferent, but Usagi, her friend since developmental school, could detect a slight nervousness.

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Gig was the local club for featuring new talent and local groups. Twice a month they invited Flinch to play for the night and stay for a round of free drinks.

The band got there early for set up, though Rei had little to do other than boot her amp into a corner and then lounge around. Flinch, the naming of which she had had no say in, was made up of two guys and one other girl. Rei had been a late addition to replace the bass guitarist who had quit after breaking up with Kia, the singer. Minako had then suggested Rei, and Kia had followed her blonde friend's advice. The two guys, Fots and Marco, played drums and electronic thingy respectively. Rei had no idea what Fots' real name was and neither did Kia, despite having known him for several years. Marco didn't speak much but Spanish. He just showed up at practices and wailed out enjoyably sick sounds on his board of dials and lights, which Rei would never know the name of because Spanish was just incomprehensible to her.

She kicked her legs, idly tapping her heels against the amp she was sitting on. Sometimes it was funny how the band members were so disconnected, but could play with one mind and heart and afterwards sit around for drinks and contemplate new songs and better lyrics like they'd known one another for ages. Rei liked that things didn't have to be personal on all levels for them to have an intimate understanding of each other when it mattered.

Tonight would be good. Rei could feel it. Marco was plugged into his mp3's, hood up, bobbing his head with a content expression. Fots was setting up his drums just-so on stage, arranging them with loving gentleness. Next to her, Kia was slouching comfortably in her seat, pre-show jitters absent.

"Tonight's gonna be good, eh?" Kia asked, a peaceful smile lighting her attractive face.

Rei nodded. And it was.

Their first set finished to applause at eleven, leaving Rei hot, a little sweaty, and very energised. She downed a bottle of water while another band played some techno mix, and swept her eyes over the club.

Minako and Usagi had shown up halfway through and were sitting at the bar, undoubtedly having their drinks paid for by others. Their blonde hair and sparkling eyes drew people in, where they were either won over by Usagi's smile, or pulled under by Minako's grin. Rei smirked to herself and casually flipped her bangs out of her eyes. Minako was much like Usagi, but with a sense of humour and mischief that Rei could appreciate.

Fots sounded the snare, signalling they were ready for their last set. Rei slipped her guitar back into place and they started in.

Usagi's opinion was that Rei looked like she was brooding when she played, eyes dark beneath her bangs, flickering between the crowd and her busy hands. Rei just felt steady in that space – controlled and smooth with her rhythm, occasionally passionate as she sang faint harmony to Kia's chorus, and satisfied when the song ended and the last vibrations blended with cheers.

"We're Flinch," Rei murmured into the mic when their last set finished, using her patented low-sexy voice. Minako feigned fainting dramatically and Rei had to fight not to lose her serious expression to a grin. "So step back."

Usagi cheered obnoxiously as Rei left the little stage and she heard Minako catcalling. A grin stayed on her face the whole time she packed her guitar into its case and into Fots' van. She smiled even while she complained to Kia, "That last line is so corny. We have to think of a new one asap."

Kia rolled her eyes and tugged Fots off to dance even though the burly drummer was more interested in simply getting smashed. Marco said something which Rei guessed meant goodbye, so she smiled and waved to him as he walked off before turning back to the club.

A drink was waiting for Rei at the bar when she returned inside, and so was Minako. "What's this?" she asked loudly above the music, sniffing the fruity concoction.

Minako gave her a pouty, condescending look. "I'm back after a year and all you have to say to me is, what's this?"

Rei grinned and rolled her eyes, stretching out her arms. "What I meant was: you look great! Welcome back! What are you trying to make me drink?"

Minako accepted her hug with a grin and kissed her cheek. "Just drink it, wuss. If you end up dancing on tables later tonight it's not my fault."

They laughed and drank, and then Usagi came bounding over and hooked her arm through Minako's, beaming gleefully. "Isn't it great she's back?"

"Yes. Now you can pester someone else for a change."

Usagi pulled a face. "You love me, you know you do. Let's go!" She dragged the other two away from their drinks and onto the dance floor.

Ever the good friend, Rei complied and resigned herself to half dancing, half supporting her lightweight of a best friend. Usagi would occasionally grow adamant about dancing herself, so Rei would stand back for a bit and then catch her when she stumbled. Minako flitted about like Rei remembered she always had, now dancing with her friends, then taking a turn with whoever happened to come on to her next. She moved naturally, but also enticing and sly like Rei hadn't seen before. She made a note to ask the blonde for some good stories later on what she'd been up to – and caught Usagi by the hip before she could fall over.

"Let's sit, why don't we?"

Affable and flushed, the blonde let herself be steered to a booth where she sprawled across the seat. Rei beckoned for some service and ordered a pop and three highballs. Usagi happily sipped at her non-alcoholic beverage while Rei downed her drinks.

Predictably, the evening blurred after that. She found Minako and they danced again, and then she danced with a few people she didn't know but found passably attractive. More drinks followed with Kia and her squeeze, though she left them alone when the two started playing tonsil hockey. Dancing resumed, this time with a couple of fans that were always at Gig when Flinch played. To Rei's rather drunken embarrassment, they danced with her at once, grinding on either side of her in time to the music and vying for her attention. Her saviour, Fots, stumbled over to dance so Rei extricated herself and pestered him for his real name until he laughed and shook his head no.

Coming back from the washroom, Rei spotted Usagi slumped in a comfy, little booth, grinning in her sleep. She found Minako in the crowd, sweaty and much more alive than her younger sister, and had to submit to one more dance before they collected Usagi and stumbled outside.

The route home was firmly mapped in Rei's subconscious and her feet walked the path easily and confidently. The cool air was comfortably sobering for Rei, but Usagi whined until Rei let her have both her jacket and a piggyback. Minako made little whip noises and tugged Rei's bottom lip, saying in a falsetto, "I'm Rei. I'm in a band and pretend to be tough, but I'm really a great big–"

Rei growled and snapped her teeth at Minako's fingers, making the blonde shriek and giggle.

Haughtily, Rei told her, "You're crazy."

Minako gave a maniacal laugh and grinned when Rei laughed at it. "You missed me." There was no answer to this, save a scoff, which Minako took to be a reluctant acknowledgment and then they were as silent as possible sneaking into Usagi and Minako's house.

Usagi was out cold the second Rei put her on her bed, but the guitarist convinced Minako to have a glass of water with her to ease the impending hangover. They watched each other drink, and then Rei took the empty glasses and put them in the dishwasher. With a grin and a thank you, Minako kissed Rei's cheek and lightly touched her chin before slinking quietly upstairs to her room. The guitarist stood for a moment, blinked, and then crept upstairs as well.

Rei unrolled the sleeping bag of hers that lived in Usagi's closet, kicked her shoes off, and slid in. The room spun a bit when she was on her back, so she rolled onto her side and was asleep within seconds.

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Usagi's pitiful moans were what roused Rei the next morning. She raised her head, read 11:09 on the clock, and flopped back onto her pillow. Her attempt to return to sleep was thwarted by Usagi crawling over and prodding her head with a finger, whining, "Reiii, get up and suffer with meee."

With a growl and the darkest look she could muster, Rei sat up. "You're pathetic, you know?"

Usagi nodded with a pout and big, shiny eyes.

Rei chuckled reluctantly and got out of her sleeping bag.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Usagi's mother was frying bacon and eggs in one pan, and pancakes in another. Minako was already at the table, sipping orange juice and reading the paper.

"Good morning," the Ikuko Tsukino said with a smile upon seeing her youngest daughter and her friend enter the kitchen.

"Morning," Rei replied, pouring herself some tea. Usagi just grumbled and sat down next to Minako.

"You look very un-hungover," she groused to her sister.

Minako answered amusedly, "Last night was nothing compared to parties at res. Just wait until you go away to university." Her eyes were dancing and she grinned at Rei when the dark haired girl took a seat across from her. "This one party at the off-campus res, I woke up squished behind a couch, snuggling a muddy construction sign. I have no idea where the sign came from or whose room it was. It must have been a good night."

They laughed, even the blondes' mother, though she tried to say sternly, "I don't want to hear that, Minako."

Breakfast was served, and ravenous eating ensued. No hangover could dim the Tsukino enthusiasm for food. Rei knew that at some point she'd had much tamer, more polite table manners, but after years of eating dinner with this family, she'd learned to either scarf down her meal or starve. Mrs. Tsukino clucked at their empty plates afterward, asking if they wanted more and shaking her head at how she couldn't manage to fatten them up.

Minako waved her mother off, citing critical mass had been reached and risk of explosion was high.

"Alright then," she sighed.

Rei helped her clear off the table, ignoring Minako's amused expression as she watched. The Tsukino's insisted on treating Rei just like one of their own, but Rei couldn't simply take their kindness for granted. She had reluctantly befriended Usagi in primary school and, in her innocence, let out that she didn't like being alone as often as she was. Her father had a nanny hired to come around to cook, clean and check her homework at meal times, but otherwise Rei had hours to spend by herself in her father's apartment. So Usagi decided to sneak Rei in like a stray dog she wanted to keep, and when her parents found out, instead of taking Rei back to her apartment, they invited her to stay over anytime she wanted.

Ten years later, she knew where things were in the house better than Usagi did. She usually slept at the apartment, but only hung around on those rare occasions when her father was in town and looking to spend time with her. So while Minako and Usagi were content to let their mother spoil them, Rei's immense sense of gratitude would not permit her to take anything for granted.

While Rei scrubbed a pan in the sink, Mrs Tsukino paused, checked her watch and asked, "Usagi, weren't you supposed to meet Naru to go shopping at noon?"

Rei paused and looked over her shoulder at the blonde with an expectant grin. As anticipated, Usagi suddenly flailed about, crying, "Oh nooo!" She had been balancing on the back two legs of her chair, tipped over with a thump and sprinted up to her room. The three downstairs shared a brief chuckle before Usagi came tearing back downstairs with her jacket on howling, "I'm laaaate!" and zoomed out the door.

Minako was the first to break the amused silence that ensued.

"I love being home."

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While Usagi was gone, Minako started unpacking her bags and Rei headed over to Fots' house. He was the one who owned the van they packed their equipment into on the way to and from shows, and lived within walking distance of the Tsukino's. It was another well traveled path between his house and Usagi's – one which, once again, Rei barely had to think of to tread properly. She was at Fot's house in no time. He wasn't in though, so Rei went around back to his garage, took the hidden key out of the birdfeeder, and let herself in.

The garage was a mess of clutter and power tools. The van barely even had room to park, and her guitar was sitting in its case on top of a sawbench. Next to, it a sheet of paper with her name on it caught Rei's eye and she picked it up.

Rei, I put new sheet music in the case. Kia wants you to try and hammer something out for practice Monday. Fots

She checked that the music was there, stuffed the note in her pocket, and locked the garage back up as she left. Slinging the case's strap over her shoulder, Rei marched a couple blocks south and caught a bus going downtown. Her father's apartment was ideally located for his work in the city's business center and twenty minutes away from Usagi's neighbourhood.

More well-traveled paths, she thought to herself, maintaining the train of thought that had been telling her for weeks that she never seemed to walk anywhere new.

On the bus she ended up sitting across from a woman with a baby and a little girl. The girl, who was blonde, wearing pink, and couldn't have been older than five, stared at Rei's guitar case and wondered aloud if Rei would play something. Then she looked pointedly at Rei with large, expectant eyes.

What an annoying kid.

Lips quirking into a grin, the guitarist pulled her instrument out of its case and plucked out Old MacDonald. The girl frowned and turned a surprisingly unimpressed expression on Rei, who made a face back at the child before strumming an imitation of the radio's currently over-played pop song.

She was rewarded with two smiles – the girl's tooth-splitting grin and the mother's gratefully curled lips. Rei suffered a few minutes of playing music she despised and listening to the child try and sing along before her stop approached and she packed her guitar away. The girl whined but Rei just shrugged and got off the bus.

Her dad's apartment was on the twenty-sixth floor and empty as always. Her room was quite a bit warmer in appearance than the rest of the apartment. There, at least, there were pictures and a little clutter as opposed to the bare walls and unused counters and tabletops everywhere else.

Rei stripped, showered, and put on fresh clothes. She checked the phone for messages while towelling off her hair, tied her hair back with an elastic band, grabbed her guitar again, and left.

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Nearly two hours later, she was sitting on the floor in Usagi's bedroom, papers spread out all around and her guitar in hand. One sheet was lyrics, another couple of sheets had a messy approximation of Marco's part on it, and the last few were the song's vocal melody. This was how most of their songs started out – Kia would invent a tune she liked and sing it to Marco. Marco would do his magic with synthesisers and sound inserts, and then Rei would be left to fit something in that complimented both. The last stage was to hold a practice and have Fots listen so the drummer could improv based on what he'd heard.

Most of the time, it worked. Now and then, someone other than Kia would come up with a song idea and the process would have to be modified, but otherwise, Flinch had a couple new songs every month.

Rei's only problem was that the song she was working on didn't seem to want to turn out properly. She rested her guitar in her lap and straightened to crack her back with a groan, looking up to realise she had an audience.

Minako was leaning against the doorframe in jeans and a t-shirt, looking attractively relaxed. As if to add to this casual image, she was munching on a granola bar with a lazy smile.

"Want a bite?"

Rei patted the ground next to her, so Minako settled down cross-legged and let Rei break off a piece of her snack. While she chewed, Minako straightened her dark, mussed hair with her slender fingers.

"How goes it?"

"Wanna help me out?" She pointed the bars that were starting to piss her off. "She's changed key in this bridge and I can't make the transition sound right."

Minako sight read for a moment, and nodded her agreement. "Do you want me to hum it?"

Rei made a positive grunt. "If you could just sing it over and over . . ."

With another nod, the blonde began, and while Minako hummed, Rei ranged between notes that fit within the key, sometimes cringing at unsuitable tones, other times pausing to jot down what she liked or what Minako pointed out. With the other musician's help, it took only ten minutes to defeat the bars she had struggled with and emerge with a bass line she felt good about. She plunked a couple joyous harmonics on the twelfth fret and made to put away the papers.

The music student stopped her. "Here, lemme see for a sec." Minako also plucked the pencil out of Rei's hand. "Here where Marco starts to fade out and Kia's chorus sets up, start stressing these two notes." She put a little mark over both notes. "This will give you a sort of rolling sound that'll drive into the chorus and pump it up. Then you could back Kia's vocals."

Rei thought about it and nodded. "Should I blend or sing harmony?"

"Her voice still gets all edgy and raspy and when she sings low, right?" Rei nodded again and Minako answered, "So just blend with her higher lines, otherwise your voice will stand out strangely. Your own voice is too smooth."

Rei smirked, raised an eyebrow, and said in her sleaziest voice, "I dunno, babe. Is it possible to be too smooth?"

Minako also grinned. "I don't know, Miss-in-a-band. Why don't you tell me? Didn't I see you dancing with groupies last night?"

She tried not to, but Rei ended up blushing. Some of the people who liked the band could be quite insistent about gaining her attention. "Oh yeah? And how many people did you hook up with while you were partying it up at college?" Rei asked haughtily in retaliation.

Minako's only reply was a secretive smile.

Rei chuckled. "What, lost count?"

"None," Minako said simply, and then abruptly switched topics. "Did you know that the music program at the university here is the sixth best in the world?"

"I – what? Um, yeah," Rei tried to see how this sudden change in subject tied into the previous one. "If you remember, I was the one who said you should've just stayed here and gone to school."

"And I said . . ."

"That you needed to get away, or something."

Minako hummed and drew her knees up to her chest to rest her head on top of them, looking sideways at Rei. "I thought the time away might be therapeutic."

Rei looked down at her guitar, tracing her nail long the edge of the pick guard and fingering scratches in the red paint. Minako's gaze was disconcerting, was unwavering, and seemed to hint that she was getting at something Rei ought to be picking up on.

"You were sort of stressed the year before," Rei conceded, trying to see where this was going.

"Stressed?" Minako repeated amusedly. She had studiously avoided her sister and Rei, snapped at them when she couldn't and quietly apologised later, only to repeat the same thing over again. "Yeah, I guess I was stressed."

"Are you going to tell me why?"

Minako smiled mysteriously. "Tell me about your groupies."

Rei put her guitar down and huffed, "There we go with the change of subject again."

"You looked pretty involved with a couple of them," the blonde teased.

"Ehh, I don't even know their names. They tried to tell me once but the music was too loud." Rei casually inspected her fingernails and commented, "But they're not bad to look at."

This prompted Minako to giggle and proclaim, "Oh, how fame has changed you!"

Rei joined in her laughter and recalled, "Usagi thinks so too. I bought a pair of jeans without consulting her and she said being a rockstar was ruining our friendship."

They laughed again about the space cadet they both loved and imagined that Usagi's expression would be extremely indignant if she could hear them just then.

"Have you slept with them?" Minako asked.

Again, Rei reeled at the non-sequitur. "Wha- no! I just told you I don't even know their names!" she cried, stuffing her guitar into its case, blushing furiously. "How could I have-"

"Relax, relax, just checking." Minako lightly waved off her indignation.

"You-"

"Do you like me?"

The angry wind went out of Rei's sails and she tried to calmly explain, "Okay, you really need to pick one topic of conversation and see it through before starting another. Ritalin might help."

Minako lifted her head off her knees. "Who was your first crush?" Her tone was still rife with lazy playfulness, but her eyes were more alert over this question that the last ones.

"No one," Rei lied.

"It was me, wasn't it?"

The guitarist gave a surprised smile. "I never told anyone."

"Your cute little blushes gave you away," Minako goaded with a grin.

Rei absolutely refused to blush and thankfully her pale complexion retained its ivory hue. "I was eight," she defended, "and you were an unbearable flirt even back then."

Blue eyes twinkled impishly. "I wanted you to like me. Remember how Usagi had no friends back then?"

"She was a crybaby," Rei snorted. "And her self-righteous tirades about justice and evildoers scared the other kids. I have no idea why I put up with her."

"Yeah right. She had you completely won over the second she brought you here and tried to build you your own room in her closet."

Minako giggled and Rei grinned, watching her friend's easy laughter and puzzling over what Minako was trying to get at. She had no patience for games like this, and decided to call things into the open.

"If you're trying to say something stop dancing around it."

The blonde twisted her lips. "It's hard getting down to it. You're good at being direct, but I'm still nervous . . ." She settled into a cross-legged pose, mirroring Rei's position. "When you were eight and I was nine I had a crush on you," Minako admitted bluntly.

"Really?" Rei exclaimed, rather pleased. She thought back to third grade and tried to remember signs that Minako had liked her.

Minako struggled to continue. "But you were Usagi's only friend and I didn't want to steal you away from my little sister. You made me feel guilty so I spent the rest of primary school picking on you."

Rei chuckled at the memories of bickering and hair tugging. "Oh, I get it. I thought you just hated me for always being at your house."

"Rei . . ."

Something about the way Minako said her name made the guitarist stop grinning and focus on the blonde in part concern, part curiosity. She was silent, watching her friend fidget and make fleeting eye contact. An ironic, niggling suspicion was forming in Rei's slowly grasping mind. She put a hand on Minako's knee, and when the blonde's head jerked up, a blush on her cheeks, Rei's notion gained credit.

"You don't still have a crush on me, do you?"

"Did Usagi tell you when she was getting back?"

"My god, you do! Why didn't you say anything?" Rei's voice rose incredulously and she got to her feet to stop Minako because the blonde had stood to leave.

Minako frowned at having her way blocked. "It's not a crush, and the fact is you're practically family. You see me as a sister!"

A wave of joy and relief and stupefaction and a million other astounded, happy little emotions rolled through Rei's mind. What emerged was a chuckle. "You idiot." She reached her hand towards Minako's. "I've never thought of you as a sister."

Minako watched Rei's fingers slip through hers and grip, her eyes flickering incredulously between their hands and Rei's face.

Are you serious?

Rei met Minako's questioning gaze honestly.

Very.

She pulled the hand in hers closer and made to lean in . . . when a cheerful voice downstairs proclaimed, "I'm home!"

The door slammed, footsteps sounded up the stairs, and Usagi burst into her room to see Minako sitting on her bed and Rei at her usual spot on the floor, both of them idly reading sheet music.

"New one?" Usagi asked, setting down her shopping bags.

"Yep," Rei answered.

Minako rolled off the bed and made for the bags. "Ooo, what did you get?"

A display of Usagi's purchases then commenced to much oooing and aahing on Minako's part, and exclamations of excitement and satisfaction on Usagi's. Rei just watched their familiar, sisterly interaction, trying to see how hard she had to stare at Minako before the older blonde felt it. Not very hard, as it turned out.

Minako glanced over her shoulder with one eyebrow raised as if to say, Can I help you?

Rei smirked and Usagi caught it, but misinterpreted its meaning. "What? You don't like it, do you?"

Rei glanced at the pink skirt, pink top combo. "Uh, no, no, I like it." She smiled and so did Usagi. "If anyone ever breaks into your room looking for you, you'll be in perfect camouflage. I think it's a very wise outfit."

Usagi rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. "See, this is why I shop with Naru and not you."

"And thank god for that," Rei quipped.

Her best friend had one finger pointed at her and was ready to begin lambasting, when Ikuko Tsukino called from the bottom of the stairs. "Girls, come help with dinner, please."

"I bet Mum'll be impressed by the deal you got on that jacket," Minako commented.

"You think?" Usagi wondered. She skipped out of the room eagerly, leaving her sister and Rei alone once again.

Despite having less people in it, the room seemed to shrink in Usagi's absence, the air between the two occupants growing thick. Rei looked up from where she was still sitting against Usagi's bed, legs stretched out in front of her. "They say you never get over your first crush."

Minako turned to face Rei. "Who's 'they'?" she asked.

"The people I just invented." She smirked and saw Minako's eyes dart to her lips.

The blonde stepped toward the dark haired girl until she was standing above her and knelt. "They're probably right." She hooked her right hand behind Rei's neck and softly pressed their lips together.

Rei responded just as gently, one hand rising to touch Minako's face, the other tugging the older girl closer. She felt dizzy and a little giddy – her stomach felt like it was doing strange flips and her mind was singing Handel's Messiah. They broke apart after a moment, but made no move to separate.

"Why didn't we do this sooner?" Rei wondered at nearly a whisper.

Minako kissed her again, briefly, as if being away from her lips was difficult. "You're too good at hiding your feelings and not good enough at picking up on mine." She framed Rei's face with her hands, thumbs lightly tracing soft lips as her eyes roved the familiar, attractive features. "What else do 'they' say?" she asked.

Rei grinned, catching on right away. "They say one good kiss deserves another."

Their lips met again with slightly greater urgency, knowing this kiss would have to tide them over until they could be alone again. Rei angled her head more insistently, her teeth nipping Minako's bottom lip lightly, soon replaced by the soft stroke of her tongue. Minako sighed in enjoyment at the action, and for all of three glorious seconds more, their mouths moved warmly against each other's, blissfully enjoying the discovery of new sensations and tastes.

"Oi! What's taking you guys?" Usagi's indignant voice from the bottom of the stairs forced them to separate.

"I'm busy making out with your sister, brat," Rei muttered, unenthusiastically getting to her feet after Minako stood.

The blonde gave her a careful glance. "You don't feel bad about this at all?"

Rei gave it a second's thought and concluded, "… Nope."

"Hmm." Minako seemed pleasantly surprised with herself. "Me neither."

"Oooii! If you don't get down here, I'll Vaseline your guitar strings!"

"She would, too," Rei grumped, stomping out of the room. She almost toppled over when Minako jumped on her, latching onto her back. "Waa! Careful!" She stared down the stairs she had nearly fallen victim to.

"Carry me to the kitchen," Minako commanded.

Rei sighed mournfully. "I am officially whipped by both of them."

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"So, girls, any plans for tonight?" Mr Tsukino asked, finally home from a long day of work.

Dinner, for Rei, was turning into a rather arduous affair. She desperately wished she was sitting next to Minako and not across from her because Usagi, sitting with her legs sprawled ungracefully below the table, had effectively severed all possible contact. She was mindful to focus on her food and on conversation as it was far too tempting to just watch Minako's every move and marvel. It was as if all the years Rei had spent not being attracted to the beautiful blonde were now finally exacting their revenge.

"Yes," Minako answered quickly.

Rei looked up from her dinner to glance at her curiously.

"Scary movie marathon at Rei's house."

"What?" Usagi wailed. "Noo!"

Her sister smirked, blue eyes cutting briefly to Rei's.

Rather impressed with this nefarious scheme, Rei was quick to play her part. "Why not?"

"I hate scary movies – you know I hate them! Can't we do something else?" Usagi whined, blue eyes going watery and pleading.

Rei resisted the tremendous power of the puppy-eye-coercion technique. "Nope. I've already rented the movies."

"I'm not coming," Usagi concluded.

Haha! Victory! Rei cheered in her mind.

"But Usagi," Minako cajoled, "don't you want to spend time with me now that I'm home?"

Ack! Noo!

The younger blonde looked torn, extreme fear of scary movies and adoration for her older sister tugging her in opposite directions. She finally crossed her arms. "We'll do something else tomorrow."

Success!

"Alright fine, chicken."

"Oi!"

"Now, Minako, be nice to the little chicken."

"You shut up, Rei."

"Bawkbawk."

"I'm not a chicken!"

"Bawkbawk?"

"Bukawk."

"Stop it! You're-"

"Beckbawkbukawk!"

"both so mean! I-"

"Bawkbawkbawkbawk."

"hate you both!"

"Cluckcluckbukaw!"

"Mum! Make them stop!"

--

---

---

--

"That was risky playing the don't-you-miss-me card."

Minako grinned, casually looking down the street for the bus. "Mmm, but it wouldn't have seemed realistic if I hadn't." She fished her bus pass out of her pocket.

The bus pulled up and they took a seat together at the back. There were only a couple other people onboard, both of them near the front of the bus. Rei didn't even have to look over to tell Minako was already thinking the same thing she was. Her back met the seat with a thump and Minako descended, looking delightfully predatory.

Some time later, Rei managed a glance outside and realised they had missed her stop by several blocks. With some struggle, she pulled her hand away from the warm, smooth skin of Minako's back to grope around for and push the 'next stop' button. Minako shifted in Rei's lap and looked around then, focusing out the window for a moment and catching her breath.

"We missed it, didn't we?" she laughed quietly.

Entranced by the blonde's smile from so close, all flushed cheeks, parted lips, and eyes filled with brightness and mirth, Rei passed by the question in favour of reclaiming the lips that pronounced it. In the end, they had to quickly extricate themselves from their seat and dash for the doors when they nearly missed their stop a second time.

Minako was quick to claim a seat astride Rei's back, arms and legs wrapped firmly around the slim torso that patiently bore her weight. The sun was out of sight, but its rays still painted the sky with the palette of a little girl, all pastel pinks and purples. The air was cool, and there were several blocks to backtrack to Rei's apartment, but Minako amused them both along the ride by pointing out cloud-shaped animals and people, her voice light and warm next to Rei's ear.

Not a new path, she mused, but I've never walked this way with Minako before. It's not the destination – it never is, but perhaps it's not the journey either, but the ones you travel with? Rei almost snorted to herself. Still, unoriginality aside, I'll think about it some more later.

She deposited the blonde at the entrance to the apartment building and once inside, they headed for the elevators. Rei watched Minako hit the eleventh floor button and then tugged the blonde over to stand in her embrace back to front.

"I'm lucky," she murmured, resting her chin on a slender shoulder. "I'm surprised you didn't find someone else at college."

Minako's hands stroked along Rei's arms and the fingers laced at her stomach. "There were a lot of charming people, but none of them was you."

Rei turned to lay a slow kiss against the side of Minako's neck, feeling the pulse under her lips jump a little, and grinned.

Minako felt the smirk, and heaved a mock sigh. "You're going to be smug about this, aren't you?"

The elevator went ding and the doors opened. Rei chuckled, "What's not to be smug about?" The stepped out of the lift and Rei fished out her keys as they walked down the hall to her apartment.

"You really need to decorate," Minako commented upon entering.

"I used to put stuff up." Rei dropped her keys on a table and shrugged her jacket onto a chair. She took Minako's jacket and placed it with her own. "But then I realised it was starting to make him enjoy being at home, so I took it down."

"I thought you didn't hate him anymore." She wandered into the unadorned living room and stretched out on the couch.

Rei followed, locating the remote to flick on the TV. "I don't," she explained. "But I don't want him around, either, because I can't hang much at your place when he's here."

"I get it," Minako grinned, watching Rei approach. The dark haired woman braced two arms on either side of the couch, stepped her feet neatly to the other end and gracefully lowered her torso along the length of Minako's. "It's all about spending time with me." Her nerves lit with pleasure at the warm contact of their bodies.

The phone rang, but its shrill plea for attention went ignored. "It is, actually."

Minako's eyes were hooded, focused solely on the similar look Rei was giving her from inches away. "Good." Her breath puffed soft and warm against Rei's lips, which parted to let the guitarist's tongue dart outward in an unconscious action that was as involuntary as it was seductive. "Perfect." They kissed fleetingly, the moist skin of their lips meeting in delicate strokes until Rei paused, pulling back to watch Minako's blue eyes flutter open again.

Minako flushed and grinned and leaned up to wrap her arms around Rei, her pulse speeding at the look Rei may or may not have known she was giving her. The feelings behind those dark purple eyes intensified just before Rei leaned in and Minako abandoned all coherent thought.

It would be some time before either of them moved from the couch.

--

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---

--

Minako wasn't sure whether it was the phone ringing or Rei shifting which truly woke her, but she moved surprisingly fast for how tired she felt. "Mo," she mumbled into Rei's shoulder blade, arms now loosely wrapped around the other woman.

Rei squirmed a bit and managed to wriggle out of Minako's grasp. She pressed a kiss to the grumbling woman's forehead, drew back, paused, and pressed a longer kiss to the blonde's lips. Satisfied, she murmured, "You can keep sleeping, but I'm getting up. I'll get us breakfast if you want." Something unintelligible was muttered in reply, and Rei just smiled goofily as she got out of bed and threw on a t-shirt and sweatpants.

She meandered into her dining room and over to the phone, pressing the voicemail button listening to the messages while collecting her mail.

I hope you two aren't answering the phone because you've been scared to death – it would serve you right! Leaving me behind to watch dumb old horror movies while I sit around at home, doing laundry and clipping my toena-a-anyway! Tomorrow, you're taking me out for ice cream, and Rei, you're paying, and I'm going to get at least five scoops, so you'd better visit the bank on the way back. Hahaha! Bye!

Rei chuckled and since none of it was addressed to her, she put the new mail with the growing stack of other letters piling up on the kitchen counter. The voicemail beeped and the next message started.

Hey, Rei, it's Kia. You will never guess what happened – our show last night may have been the break we've been waiting for! I know you're not decided between college and committing fulltime to Flinch, but a Righton Records agent was at Gig and fucking saw us own the place! He talked to the club manager, manager gave him my number, he calls me this morning – oh my Christ I had the worst hangover ever – and says get our band down to his studio so he can send a clip to his company executives. Is that sick or what!? I'm stoked and totally impatient, so give me a ring asap and let me know the soonest time you can spend an afternoon at the studio. Peace.

She paused at the end of this message, glazed over and oblivious to the next message playing for her father concerning some credit card offer. Flinch might get signed? The thought blew her away just a bit. Rei had never imagined their quaint little garage band would ever evolve into anything more, though she knew it was Kia's fondest dream.

"What are you thinking?"

Rei looked over her shoulder to Minako leaning against the doorway to her bedroom in her undies and a tank top. Rei's vague notion that satisfying her desires would take the edge off of her intensely distracting attraction to Minako was ruthlessly shot down in flames.

Her mouth ran dry. "I'm so not thinking."

Minako grinned and played with the edge of her top, teasing it up over her lower abdominals a little. "Why is that?"

"I'll show you," Rei muttered hoarsely and crossed the distance between them with long, quick strides.

Minako chuckled lowly as Rei approached, looking predatory, pleased that her simplest teases could spark such a reaction. They kissed heatedly, stumbling back into Rei's bedroom and collapsing onto her unmade bed. Minako pulled the guitarist's shirt over her head and rolled them over, pinning the younger woman beneath her. She trailed her lips downward over the blade of Rei's jaw to her exposed throat, sucking and nipping lightly to draw out the restrained sounds of enjoyment she sought. At her clavicle, Minako paused to smirk, surveying her handiwork from the night before.

"Proud of yourself?" Rei drawled.

"Yes," Minako admitted sheepishly, laying a soft kiss against one of the red marks dotting Rei's upper chest.

Rei's breath caught at the action, though she muttered, "If you try and leave more I'll have to punish you."

"Oh?" Minako looked up, her eyes glinting. She staked out a patch of creamy skin, marking it with light, damp kisses and strokes of her tongue.

"Y-yeah." Rei's threat was somewhat undermined by her obvious struggle against Minako's teasing, but if she thought her dark haired friend wouldn't follow through . . .

Minako grinned. "That doesn't sound so bad." Her lips sealed against the skin just to the left of Rei's sternum and she sucked sharply.

In an instant, her mouth left Rei's chest with a little pop and she was flung onto her back, giggling like crazy.

"You asked for it," Rei growled, her hands working at parting Minako's minimal clothing from her body.

"Yes please," Minako gasped, arching into her touch.

As far as punishments went, this one would prove to have the reverse effect that most reprimands aimed for, though this was arguably exactly what was intended by both parties to begin with.

--

---

---

--

Catching her breath at last, Minako sighed with a grin and flopped into her back. She mimed smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke in Rei's face, who reached up to flick her nose.

"If you take up smoking after sex I will never touch you again," she declared, though it was probably a lie.

Minako quickly mimed stubbing out her invisible cancerstick, even as she chuckled wryly. "What kind of rockstar will that make you?"

Rei wrinkled her nose a bit and draped her arm over her head, unconsciously stretching herself out nicely for Minako's appreciative gaze. "I dunno. What's a rockstar like?"

"Kia said you were thinking of going to college?" Minako recalled a portion of the phone message she'd caught.

"Well . . . I toyed with the idea of getting into the same music program as you. Class together would be kinda cool, you know?" She grinned at how clearly Minako's expression said she liked the idea. "But then if Flinch makes it . . . well that would change things. I mean, I'd have to be an idiot to pass up a break like that."

Rei looked a little stressed now, which Minako hadn't wanted, but she knew the guitarist would have to face this decision soon regardless. "You've got a few days to mull it over," she reassured her. "And we'll sort ourselves out depending on what you choose."

"Yeah," Rei smiled. "Good." She looked at her alarm clock. "Crap. Usagi'll be out for blood by the time we get home. She wanted ice cream."

Minako smiled. "After dinner, maybe?"

"Heheh. We can tell her we're together while she's blissfully stuffing her face. Hopefully, we'll be able to run far enough away before her sugar-haze wears off." Rei was anticipating breaking the news almost gleefully, though there was no small amount of dread as well.

"Hopefully," Minako agreed. "Now, I'm going to go shower."

Rei grinned. "I'll be right there."

Minako scampered merrily off to the bathroom. Rei listened to her turning the water on in the other room and sighed contentedly. A long, unpaved road stretched before her waiting feet, new, untrodden, and leading to places unknown. The first step . . . Rei wriggled her toes, caught up in her metaphor. The first steps would be taken soon. For now, she could stand and enjoy the moment.

"My wet, nubile body won't soap itself, you know," Minako's voice called teasingly.

Rei laughed. A very enjoyable moment.