Shortbread cookies were the key.

When he discovered that the college student's visits lasted longer and tended to frequency whenever the factor of shortbread cookies entered the equation, he made sure that a plate was always ready for her, near the shop entrance with the jingling bell tied on the handle, resting on a thin, tall table and accented with a steaming thermos of coffee and Styrofoam cups.

In the gentle murmur of business, his ears were always alert for the unique chime of the bell, as if the bounce of the guest trotting through the door was so joyous it couldn't help but laugh. Usagi would peek around the neatly arranged glass cases sparkling in the bright sunlight looking for Beruche, or perhaps Cooan, and then her eyes would spot the treats. Her streamers of blond locks swirled when she walked, in an almost humorous delight as she approached the table. Peeking at the cookies like a kitten about to pounce, she would grab one quickly, pop the entire sugared treat into her mouth, and glance around absently, trying to look innocent.

A clever idea occurred to him. He began to inch the plate of treats further and further into the shop. It was just subtle enough a change each visit that she didn't really notice, but her progress into the store improved each day.

Now, he stood in his usual place in the back, with the calculator, and the credit card bills, and his pen and account book, surveying the customers and salespersons alike. Petz was working today, which always threatened uncertainty, especially because Saffir, the brilliant and sophisticated overseer of their private jewelry business, insisted on lecturing her, and that, as anyone well knew concerning Petz, was a bad idea.

He was lecturing her now, moving his right hand in strenuous motions, and Petz, with her arms crossed, narrowed her pretty eyes at him and cocked her head back and forth, further annoying him with her sassy and irrelevant replies.

Perched on a stool behind the jewelry counter, nibbling on an ovular, sandy-colored cookie, and watching the proceedings before her with a contented calmness, Tsukino Usagi swung her legs absently. Her latest treat finished, her fingers inched out to the ceramic plate and plucked another (her second – no – third) and sucked on it a little, cheek resting lightly in her palm. Leaning over the counter, she inspected the jewelry display, following the motions of the store owners as they discussed arrangements and sales tactics.

He determined he wouldn't stare, and he prided himself on his resolve. Still, he couldn't help but glance up at her every few moments, in between stapling and punching the buttons on his calculator. She must have felt his eyes alight on her because her open glance turned to him, and their eyes met briefly.

His heart turned painfully.

But she smiled, a little smile but warm, and his mouth twitched involuntarily before his glance flew back down to the accounts spread out on the desk before him. He was dressed business casually in a white dress shirt and dark slacks, the shirt open around his neck for comfort and ease of breathing. Though the whole jakoshou was long gone and their marks ostensibly missing from their foreheads, the former Nemesian clansmen wore their slivers of the black moon crystal from the soft lobes of their ears in a sort of memorial to their heritage. The purple-black gems flashed light about his white face, and he still wore his hair long and loosely about his jaw and neck.

She hadn't really spoken to him since he and his brother returned, and the Ayakashi sisters made their awkward apologies to their new friends, the Sailor Senshi, and closed down their small business, moved to another section of town, and unswervingly renewed their loyalty to their old monarchs by putting themselves at whatever service was required of them. Without hesitation, Usagi and her friends followed them, rekindling their previous warmth with each other, and after brief hesitation, the Ayakashi seemed to release their uncertainty and invite them back into their lives once more – this time, two unexpected former sovereigns extra.

He remembered the first time she had come into the store with her friends (the somber, short-haired one and the chipper blond), looking around brightly, hope radiating from her in a warm glow. She saw him, kneeling on the slightly straggled carpet, sleeves rolled up sloppily, trying to put together the iron skeleton of a second-hand jewelry case. He marked the brief surprise in her then, evident only in the slight straightening of her posture, the seriousness of her gaze. Then, just as quickly, her eyes creased, and her lips curled gently, and she nodded. To which he could only nod back, fazed. Nor did she notice, as everyone else did, how the rest of the room grew quiet, expectant, and uncomfortable all at once. For a while, there was a catch in the natural rhythm of friendly interaction. Then Beruche had said, "Let me show you the back room," and the others acquiesced gratefully, and time jolted forward again.

Since then, he had seen her in the store briefly, watched as she and her friends met with the sisters after work, and even caught impromptu glimpses of her in the city. He was unsure of the events that had passed since he last encountered the senshi, but he knew that an uncharacteristic calm had settled on the universe – calm enough that the dark-haired rival had felt secure in a decision to return to his studies overseas and leave his beloved in the care of her friends and guardians.