The Name of the Game
A/N: This seems to be a new trend for me. Lyric names. Ah, hormones. Anyhow, I bet you all want to know the pairings? Yes, I'm sure you do. MamoruxHaruka (that's a given, isn't it?), JulietxIndia, AlphaxSierra FoxtrotxHaruka—platonically. Slight cross with Beauty Pop. Inspired by Zerosecond's fic "Confectionaries." Credit goes to Rizeru for the idea of a marriage between Mamoru and Haruka being related to a mission of sorts. I don't own Until Death Do Us Part, Kiss From A Rose, and The Name of the Game. But the two songs just fit, don't they? Well, maybe not now they don't, but they will. You'll see. Trust me. Thanks to Marliena for her beta reading.
What's the name of the game?
Does it mean anything to you?
What's the name of the game?
Can you feel it the way I do?
Tell me please,
'cause I have to know
I'm a curious child
Beginning to grow…
The Name of the Game, Mamma Mia movie soundtrack.
Earlier that day…
There were a few minutes before the morning bell. Amamiya Sentarou had made up his mind—it was now or never. Do or die of shame because you're a gutless coward, as the track coach always said. The door to classroom 2-A opened with a loud rattle, but she didn't even look up. When the class representative approached him, he asked to speak to Tachibana.
"Sure, hold on."
He watched as the rep made his way to Tachibana's desk. Sentarou ran a hand through his shaggy black hair and sent up a prayer to the gods that the charm his big sister gave him worked—and that Tachibana said yes to his request. He watched her approach him with a faintly curious expression on her face.
Oh, gods, did she know, he wondered. There were times when Tachibana just knew. It freaked him out a bit, but at the same time, it was fascinating. He usually didn't believe in psychic abilities, but if she were to claim that she was psychic, Sentarou would believe her. He waved absent-mindedly to Itou Hinata, a friend from childhood. She mouthed something to him, but he didn't quite catch or have time to even think about it; Tachibana was already in front of him.
"The class rep said you wanted to see me?" she asked, adjusting her glasses.
"Yes." He grabbed her arm and gave it a brief tug. "Come outside for a second."
"What's this about, Amamiya-kun?" Haruka asked, leaning against the wall. She asked only as a courtesy.
He focused on the ground and tried to quell his nerves. "Tachibana, you know that there's a formal dance coming up, right? This Saturday?"
"Hard to miss," she responded dryly, motioning to one of the many posters advertising the first annual Valentine's Day Formal. She giggled when he blushed.
"A…anyway…" he stuttered, combing a hand through his hair again. "I was wondering if you would be my date for the dance," he said in a rush.
Haruka was silent for a moment. It was blurry either way, she decided—only slightly more clear if she accepted. "Yes," she replied. "I would be glad to accompany you."
Sentarou felt dizzy with relief. "Yes! I mean—great! That's great! So! I'll pick you up? We could go to dinner first? Oh, no we can't, I still have club activities that day. Damn. So I'll just pick you up at your house? You live close, right? I can change at your house, maybe?" he rambled.
"I'll meet you here," Haruka said quickly. If he didn't come to the house, he couldn't be interrogated.
Sentarou looked at her questioningly. "Can't I meet your family?" he asked.
Family. Haruka felt her eyes grow damp at the thought of her dead parents. They had been her family. Her family now consisted of no one blood-related to her. Now she had Igawa-san, a tech-geek with his hair styled into tight rows of braids who acted as her older brother; Juliet-san, beautiful, brassy, and tough-as-nails who treated her like a kid sister. She had Sierra—a passionate and kind woman, also strong and determined, who reminded Haruka of her own mother. She'd come to include Alpha-san as the stern, but doting father; Kilo-san, India-san, and Foxtrot-san as other uncles and older brothers like Igawa-san. And then there was Mamoru-san—her future husband. Her cheeks flushed at the thought. After all this time, that thought still made her heart beat madly. Best if Amamiya-kun didn't meet them, she decided.
Looking up at him she said, "Don't blame me if we miss the dance, then."
"I have five older brothers, one older sister, and a sister-in-law. And since I'm the baby, they take interrogation very seriously."
Sentarou blanched. "Ah. Never mind, then. We'll meet here." He looked at his watch. "Gotta go! Bell's about to ring. I'll see you!"
Well, that was one crisis averted. Now, how was she to tell her odd family? Making her way back to her seat, Haruka narrowed her eyes, trying to coax her vision into clarifying itself. She sighed. Seemed like she'd just have to wait until she got home.
"Something good happen today?" Juliet asked, when she saw the small, lingering smile on the high schooler's lips.
Startled by the infiltrator's sudden appearance, Haruka looked up from the rice she was washing. "W…well…" she stuttered.
"Hmm?" Juliet titled her head to the side, watching a small blush spread across the girl's lovely cheekbones. "Well, what?" she asked, spying Mamoru beginning to make his way towards them with a towel around his neck. He was finally out of the bath. Before she could comment, Sierra joined them.
"Now what are you up to, Juliet? Haruka's beet red. What did you say to her?"
"I didn't do or say anything. Something good happened at school today. I think she should share it."
"What happened, Haruka?" Igawa asked, wiping his hands on a rag.
Haruka wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell of grease. "To the sink with you, Igawa-san. And no supper for you until all the grease is gone," she ordered, pointing to the aforementioned appliance.
"You're avoiding the questions," Mamoru said, finally reaching them. He lifted the end of the towel and rubbed it through his hair.
"I am not!" she huffed. "But that grease smells gross and I'm not eating with that scent."
"What happened?" Mamoru asked, ignoring her outburst.
"There's a formal dance this Saturday at school. They've been advertising it for three weeks now—I know I've mentioned it… I think," she said, uncertainly.
"Oh! A dance! Dress shopping!" Juliet said happily, with a small clap of her hands.
"You're not thinking of going, are you?" Mamoru asked, tossing rain on the parade.
"Actually, one of the boys in class 3-A asked me to go with him." She looked at Mamoru from the corner of her eye. "I told him yes."
"Good for you!" Juliet cheered. "Date, check! Let's see, dress—negative; shoes—negative; jewelry—negative. Hair, makeup, and other miscellaneous preparations, also negative," she said, cataloguing the points on her fingers. "We've got a lot of work to do. Any clue what kind of dress you want?" she asked, going over to Igawa's workstation and grabbing one of the laptops, despite his protests.
"You said 'yes?'" Mamoru asked incredulously. "Are you insane?"
"Oi… Mamoru," Igawa began.
"It's only for a couple of hours," Haruka said calmly, turning on the rice maker.
"A couple of hours? This is you we're talking about. Do you think you can afford to have such a carefree attitude?"
Haruka kept her eyes on the empty cutting board and didn't answer. Her silence made the swordsman even angrier.
"Fine," he said, his voice a low, menacing purr that made the hair on the back of everyone's neck stand on end. Haruka felt her heart begin to palpitate and her breathing become shallow. "Do whatever you damn well please. Don't come crying when things don't go right."
Haruka's mouth dropped in shock and her bottom lip started to tremble; she'd heard that tone of voice so rarely, the one that stated his unequivocal anger at someone or something. She stared at him, unable to keep her eyes from tearing up and unable to reply. The tears started to fall. "I'm sorry," she whispered, unable to understand just why he was so angry. "I'm sorry!" She fled the kitchen before she could make a fool of herself.
"Haruka!" Sierra called, going after the distraught girl.
But Haruka was faster. She was up the stairs and in her room before Sierra reached the second floor. Fuming, Sierra turned and began to walk down the steps with deliberately slow motions.
"You went too far, Mamoru. She's right—it's a few hours, harmless fun. School lasts longer than this dance will," Juliet said.
Mamoru didn't answer. Tossing the towel, he grabbed up his cane and made his way out back to practice.
When Sierra reached the last step, the infiltrator looked up from the laptop she was using. Sierra shook her head at Juliet's inquiring look and asked, "Is Mamoru out back?"
"Where else would he be? Don't kill him!" she called, when the fair-haired woman stalked to the door leading to the backyard. Sierra's progress was impeded by Alpha, India, and Foxtrot who'd come to a halt in front of said door and were discussing something. Sierra's eyes narrowed to slits at the three men; she didn't care what they were talking about, they were in her way. Putting her hands on her hips, she glared at them. "Move!" she snarled.
Surprised by the incensed woman, the three men immediately found themselves moving out of her way and staring at her retreating back as she made her way outside.
Mamoru swung the sword viciously, imagining the boy who'd asked her to the dance as his target. How dare he? How dare she? Grinding his teeth together, he threw himself into katas, using his rage as fuel. She said yes. She has a date. She can't afford to get romantically involved with anyone in high school! She's still a target! Another thought occurred to him as he flowed through the patterns effortlessly. Was she just trying to see how I would react?
That might have been part of it. Since she'd turned sixteen, she'd been trying to get the swordsman to notice her. Mamoru wasn't necessarily out of the loop when it came to women. His only reason for refusing to acknowledge her feelings stemmed from the fact that there was a vast divide between them. He was a criminal and she was a girl that had hired him to protect her. Bodyguards did not fall in love with their charges—this wasn't a shoujo manga. But what an odd contract they had. Protect her until death tore them apart. Whose death, he didn't know. Likely it'd be his, but he had promised. Still, Mamoru wondered if this latest stunt wasn't a ploy on her part to make him acknowledge her and her feelings.
"Maybe she just wants to be normal for one night."
Mamoru didn't even pause. "Go away," he commanded harshly.
"Piss off," Sierra responded, planting her right hand on her hip.
"I'll swing this at you, then. Don't think I won't."
"Fine by me," she said, dropping her hand and stretching a bit. "I need a good workout. And while we're at it, you can tell me why you're really upset about this." She dodged the first swing.
"That carefree attitude that said yes." He swung again, noting with a certain sense of pride that she'd copied his backwards bend to avoid it.
"Did you stop to think that perhaps there's more to it than her carefree attitude?" She dodged again and retaliated.
"Save it! We've established that she can't see everything that's going to happen." Mamoru moved out of the way of Sierra's punch and narrowly evaded her follow up kick. He sprung towards her, sword poised to stab. Sierra ducked to miss it and lashed out with her foot, catching his ankle and yanking him forward. Mamoru found himself careening towards the ground. He caught himself before he hit and swung one long leg out towards her, intending to trip her, instead. Sierra jumped out of the way and the swordsman sprang to his feet. Readying herself again, she darted forward, aiming for his face; he evaded neatly and suddenly found himself on the ground, staring at her smirking outline in surprise. How had that happened? He reviewed. He'd side-stepped her punch and felt her ankle hook around his and on the ground he was. Classic, Mamoru decided, picking himself up and gripping the hilt of his sword.
Sierra started to speak again. "You know, I seem to recall that although it was Igawa's idea, you were supportive of Haruka going to school. I was the one that originally objected. So really, why?" An idea occurred to Sierra. "Or maybe you're jealous? Whoa!" she cried, darting away from an infuriated swordsman. "Ah, bingo. You are jealous."
"Of what? I'm not interested in kids."
Ah. "I hate to break it to you, Mamoru, but Haruka's not a kid anymore. She's a young woman now."
"She's still a kid!"
Sierra stopped and held out her hand to Mamoru indicating that she needed a breather. Putting her hands on her thighs, she leaned over and breathed heavily, eyeing Mamoru enviously. "Maybe I should take up kendo. Why aren't you out of breath?"
He didn't answer. Sierra let out a sigh and straightened her back. "Listen," she said. "I wasn't born looking like this," she said, gesturing to her body. "This came from a growth spurt in middle school, having a child grow inside me, and lots of training with Alpha and the other members of The Wall. Eons ago, when I was twelve, I looked like Haruka did. But Mamoru, she's not twelve anymore; she's going on eighteen. She hasn't been a kid for a long time now. It's a biologically proven fact that girls mature faster than boys. Here," she said, pointing to her head, "and here," she said pointing to her heart, "has been grown up for a long time now; that probably happened the day her parents died and she was kidnapped. All that happened is her body caught up.
"You can't detach yourself from her forever. And if you have such a problem with her having a date, then why not just take her yourself?" She looked him straight in the eye. "I shouldn't need to tell you this, but I'm going to. You're a very important person in Haruka's life. Important enough that when I tried to get her to leave you, she flat out refused. I'm willing to bet that you're the single, most important person in her life— way above me, Igawa, Juliet, and all the others. You keep that in mind, Mamoru."
"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," Fox commented, as they watched Sierra slam the door. It rattled in its frame and he flinched slightly.
"Yeah, what you said," India agreed.
"I second that," Alpha said. He turned to Juliet. "What happened?" he asked.
She didn't answer; she didn't even look up.
She finally turned the laptop around to show them what she was looking at. "What do you think?" she asked.
The three men moved closer to the computer and looked at the strapless, poofy ball gown that was decorated with beads over the entire thing. India could easily picture Juliet in it. "Do you need it?" he asked. "I mean, it's pretty and all and you'll definitely look great in it, but don't you have enough clothes?"
Juliet frowned at India. That was certainly an off-handed compliment. "It's not for me," she told him.
India looked confused. "Then who's it for?"
"Haruka-chan. She has a formal dance this weekend."
The three men shared a look. "She's not thinking of going, is she?" Fox asked.
The infiltrator frowned. "Of course she is. She already said yes to the young man that asked her," Juliet replied, placing the order.
Another look passed between the three men. If Mamoru was upset, that was why. The tension between Haruka and Mamoru was nothing short of phenomenal; Fox personally felt that the swordsman should just confess his feelings for the pre-cog and save the rest of them the drama. And Fox also knew that if Sierra was angry with the swordsman, then Mamoru had done something to upset Haruka.
"Oh! Wow! I need to keep this site book marked! Matching shoes! It's been forty years or so since shoes actually matched. But I'll order a white pair, too, just for grins. It's going to be difficult, you know," Juliet said, ordering the two pairs of shoes.
Yes, India thought. With Blade, that's a given.
Juliet went on. "If it's the young man that I think it is, things could get nasty."
They would just have to keep an eye on Blade, that was all.
"He's popular. It's going to be difficult for Haruka."
"Huh?" India asked, feeling his orderly bubble pop. That hadn't been part of it. From the looks on the faces of his teammates, he wasn't the only one confused. "What are you talking about?"
Juliet slanted him a look. "Must be nice to be that clueless, India. You must have been home-schooled during your high school years. If the boy's popular there's bound to be someone or a fan club to make life miserable for the girls who would want to get him. Whether or not she knows about all this is another question, entirely. But I'm going to prepare."
She tossed a small notepad to Alpha, who caught it easily. He looked at the first page, noticing a chart asking for pant size, belt size, shirt size, and suit jacket size. The first name on the list was Blade and the row was neatly filled out. Juliet flicked a pen next and was sorely disappointed when he caught it, despite being preoccupied with the list.
"Fill it in," she said. "Since I'm ordering formal wear, I might as well order for you all, too."
"I do have suits," Alpha responded.
Juliet ignored him. Sighing, Alpha scribbled down the information and passed the pad to India, who handed it around to Foxtrot after. "Do I want to know how you got Blade's measurements?" India asked.
"I asked him," the infiltrator responded. "M.A.C. or Dior?" she asked.
"M.A.C. or Dior?" she repeated.
"Do you understand what language she's speaking?" Foxtrot asked, handing the pad back to Alpha.
The other two men shook their heads.
"Good. I don't feel so stupid now."
Juliet let out an aggrieved sigh and muttered something under her breath. "Sierra!" she called, looking over at the other woman who'd just walked in with a pleased expression on her face.
"What?" she asked, approaching the small group.
"Is he still alive?"
"Of course. As if I could actually win against him on my own. I did deck him, however."
"You did? Wow. M.A.C. or Dior? And write down your measurements on that notepad," she said, gesturing to the one that Alpha was holding. "I'm ordering formal wear for all of us. I could guess for you, but the bust might be wrong. I think you're bigger than me."
Unbidden, Alpha found his gaze drawn to Sierra's chest as she leaned towards him and took the pen and pad from his unresisting fingers. Juliet smiled as she caught that. So it was true, after all; she'd thought as much.
"M.A.C.," the blonde said, writing down her measurements. "Need panty size, too?" she asked sarcastically.
"Nope," Juliet said, cheerfully. "I already know that. Lipstick or lip gloss?"
"Both. The wet look is in, now. And for your information, Juliet, if you ever decided to wear a bra, we're the same size."
India choked and hastily tried to cover it as a cough—good God what was it with women and them being so good with innuendos and other embarrassing paraphernalia? Was there a class that they took for it? A glance to his left showed that Foxtrot was beet red and to his right, Alpha looked like he seriously wished he were elsewhere—anywhere but where he was. Neither members of The Wall could blame him.
"Smoky or innocent?"
The innuendos were continuing.
"She's already got dark eyes—go for smoky. She's not a kid anymore. Besides, demure doesn't get noticed at dances."
"Who're you two talking about?" Foxtrot finally asked.
"Haruka, whom else? What do you think?" Juliet asked, showing Sierra the dress she'd ordered for the pre-cog.
"Lovely. She'll look like a princess."
"That's what I thought. Diamonds or Cubic Zirconia?"
"Diamonds are out of the question; I can't believe you even suggested it. Cubic zirconia will depend on what stores have. We'll have to go shopping to see. But with that dress, if she wears a necklace, it should be a short-chained one or a chocker."
"I was thinking short-chained. Something with a small stone… how about Moissanite?"
"Cubic Zirconia," Sierra said, slowly. "She's not getting married."
I know how Alice felt when she went from a nice, normal world, to Wonderland, India thought. I feel like I've dropped into another dimension. He looked at the happy faces of Juliet and Sierra and felt the beginnings of a real smile tug at his lips. I can't bring myself to leave, however. Things sure are peaceful, he decided, liking the way peaceful felt.
"But you know," Juliet said, slanting Sierra a look, "if it's the boy that I think it is, things could get difficult—because he's popular." She looked at Mamoru as she said the last part.
He focused on her, saying nothing. Juliet wondered what was going through the swordsman's mind.
Sierra groaned. "I hate high school." She turned to Foxtrot and India. "We need an alternative for dinner." She looked upstairs. "Haruka's not going to finish cooking tonight. I vote for pizza."
Later that night, Mamoru walked up the stairs, intending to sleep. He had the feeling however, that sleep was going to be in short commodity for him. Still, better that he got some than none at all. He stopped suddenly when his nose picked up a pungent scent. Salt, he thought, wrinkling his nose slightly. He sighed; it was coming from Haruka's room. His heart gave a painful beat that he couldn't dismiss or ignore; he'd caused this; it would be up to him to repair it.
Going over to her door, he opened it as quietly as possible. She was lying in bed on her back. One of her hands rested on the pillow next to her face; the other rested against the stucco wall. His glasses showed her outline, despite the dark. He saw her hair fanned out on the pillow. He traced the outlines of her body, noting that Sierra had been correct—she wasn't a child anymore. He felt his stomach tighten as his eyes roamed over her shapely figure. His body moved of its own accord, bending over her and bracing itself with one hand next to her hip. His other hand caressed her wrist lightly before sliding up to her hand, intertwining their fingers, and settling their palms together. He marveled at how much bigger his hand was compared to hers. He bent closer and his free hand slid to support him, stopping close to her thigh. It would be easy to trace his fingers up her leg—they itched to do so—starting from the pad of her foot and up until they ghosted over her thigh and higher to what lay beyond.
He leaned closer again, further to her lips that seemed to beckon his. Suddenly, she sighed and turned her head towards the wall, presenting him with one lovely cheek. He felt her fingers flex forward and grip his hand tightly. "Mamoru-san," she said brokenly, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you, or deceive you. Please don't leave me."
His eyes went wide and he gripped her hand just a bit tighter. Was she having a nightmare? Or did she know that he was in her room? He didn't know and neither would surprise him. He felt something inside him melt. He placed a soft, lingering kiss on her cheek. "I'm right here," he whispered in her ear. "I won't leave you. We promised—until death do us part, right? I didn't mean to upset you. Go to your dance and enjoy."
Letting go of her hand, he straightened and left the room. Haruka slowly surfaced from her nightmare and pressed one hand to where his lips had been moments before.
Darkness answered her.
Haruka's head was in the clouds. For once, her dream had been awful, but not necessarily prophetic; it had been a normal nightmare. Oh, it had started out nice, but along the way, no matter what she did to avoid it, he got angry with her. He picked up his cane and strolled away, never once looking back. He got half way away from her when she jumped up and started to chase after him.
"Don't leave," she pleaded, reaching out to his retreating figure. "I'm sorry!"
It always ended with the scene restarting, like a cinematic loop that kept playing and replaying the same scene all over again. And she would try something different with the same results.
Then it had changed. Two silhouettes of Mamoru were walking away from her in rapid succession unheeding or uncaring of her tears and calls, when all the sudden another Mamoru walked towards her, more vibrant and alive than the ones she'd been dealing with in her dreams. He'd stopped in front of her and she'd stared up at him, completely transfixed, wanting to jump into his arms and alternately wanting to shuffle away… anything to keep the dream from repeating. Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans Mamoru had peered at her with an unreadable expression on his face. His next action had nearly floored her. Leaning forward, he'd kissed her cheek. The feel of his lips had been so very real. They'd been so soft and seemed to carry a heavy sadness. She'd looked up at him, awestruck.
"I'm right here; I'm not leaving. We made a promise—until death do us part."
She'd woken up after that, wondering if it had been all a dream. A lingering pressure on her cheek made the precognitive girl wonder how much of her dream had indeed been a dream.
Blinking Haruka came back to reality and looked up to see Itou Hinata and her two friends gathered around her desk. Something about the situation made her frown. She suddenly saw herself sitting in a room with her eyes closed. As she watched, Itou applied vast amounts of make up, making her look like a camp trollop. Her frown deepened.
"Is it true?" the other girl asked, ignoring Haruka's odd behavior a moment ago.
"Is what true?"
The other girl gave an aggrieved sigh that was echoed by her friends. "Is it true that Amamiya-kun asked you to the dance?"
Haruka hesitated briefly. "Yes," she said.
"But you didn't accept, right? I mean, you never accept invitations," the girl said, picking imaginary lint off her skirt.
"Actually, I did say yes. Is there a problem, Itou-san?" she inquired, looking at the girl's gobsmacked face.
"N…no," she stuttered. Dammit! I wanted to go with Amamiya-kun! Why does she get to go with him? "Hey, Haruna-chan, you know that I want to be a beautician, right?"
Who didn't? Haruka wondered, knowing where this was going. She should just spare the girl the rambling time and agree. She nodded and forced what she hoped was a curious expression on her face.
"Then, would you let me do your hair and makeup?"
Haruka felt her heart beat in steady thumps as she focused on the desk. She couldn't believe she was going to agree. "Yes, that would be nice. Then I don't have to bother my sister or my mother."
"You have a sister?"
"I have five brothers, one sister, and one sister-in-law."
"So that makes you the baby?"
"Yes. And knowing my sister, that would make me an experiment." Oh, Juliet-san was going to have her neck!
"Well, great! So… I'll meet you here at the school, okay? The dance starts at seven, so six?"
"See you then!" She and her cronies left. Haruka looked down at her desk, but peeked up at Itou-san's retreating back. I'll be needing a lot of tissues, I assume.
Hinata smirked as she planned out what she would make Tachibana look like Saturday evening. Well isn't this perfect. I'll make her look so bad that she won't step foot into the party! Poor Amamiya-kun! I won't let you been stood up so easily!
Saturday had come at last. The entire week things had been strained and tense between her and Mamoru and it had affected everyone. India and Foxtrot had helped by distracting her—who knew they were so good at keeping someone occupied? They'd 'kidnapped' her every day after school (earning her some nasty looks from some of the other girls) and taken her for ice cream, to the arcade or the movies; or to the park and just spent time with her, making her laugh; it helped to take her mind off of Mamoru who still seemed angry about the entire situation. Igawa-san had helped immensely as well, by keeping her company while she did her homework and providing invaluable help when she didn't understand something.
Her dress, accessories, and the other formal wear arrived two days after Juliet placed the order. Haruka didn't want to see the enormous bill she must have racked up. The rest of the week, the dark-haired infiltrator along with Sierra had spent time fitting the dress and making any adjustments needed. They'd also taken her shopping for makeup (Juliet and Sierra had agreed on M.A.C., much to Haruka's confusion—what was the difference, again?) and a strapless bra, seeing as she couldn't wear a normal bra with the dress. Juliet's laughter at how red the high school girl's face had turned still echoed in Haruka's mind. So what if she'd been shy about showing them the bra? She wasn't as well endowed as Sierra or Juliet. That had sent Juliet into peals of laughter. 'You're not done growing yet, girl. And you know, your cup size is 'C.' That's not too shabby.' Haruka's face still burned when she thought about that.
Alpha had also pitched in and busied himself with Mamoru, making sure that the swordsman was too occupied with something or the other to bother Haruka about the dance. Igawa, Foxtrot, and India also joined in with keeping Mamoru busy. That didn't seem to help Mamoru's temper—he knew what they were doing, but couldn't exactly get away from it unless he resorted to violence. The only one who hadn't pitched in had been Kilo-san. He'd just sat back and watched the chaos.
Haruka left the house, dress-bag and shoes in tow, and glad to be away. It was a short walk to her school and she'd been on pins and needles all day long with very little to distract her from the stifling atmosphere in the house. The school, in order to get ready for the party, had cancelled classes for the day; outdoor club activities like Track had not been canceled, however. Juliet had been a bit surprised to learn that Haruka had a classmate who would be doing her hair and makeup. She also had a bad feeling about it, which she voiced to Sierra. The two women had come to the agreement that they would show up there and check the progress. Juliet didn't need to be precognitive to know that this could prove troublesome to the gentle girl.
"Umm…Itou-san?" Haruka queried.
"What?" the other girl asked.
"Ah… you've been at this for a long time now, shouldn't I be getting my dress on soon?"
"No, we've still got time. Now hold still," she commanded, putting on more eye makeup. She sent a warning glance to her friends who stood there trying to keep their faces straight. Standing back, she looked over her handiwork. It was terrible. She smiled in satisfaction. "There, all done. Open your eyes."
Taking a deep breath, the precognitive girl steeled herself for what would become reality. She opened her eyes. The mental preparation hadn't prepared her enough for the hideous sight that met her. Her hair had been messily piled atop her head, pulled, and teased until it resembled a rat's nest. The foundation that had been applied was far too dark for Haruka's naturally fair skin and it wasn't even blended, each line was visible. In contrast, her cheeks were a loud shade of red meant for someone who had this type of skin tone naturally and the blush covered her entire cheeks, rather than accenting the cheekbones. But Haruka's eyes were the worst; the lids were covered in oranges and yellows and purple as a highlight; it wasn't even blended to soften the colors. All-in-all, as Itou Hinata had wanted, she looked worse than a camp trollop. The clairvoyant couldn't stop her eyes from blurring as tears made their way down her cheeks.
"Why?" she whispered, peeking at their jeering faces.
"Because Amamiya-kun will be going with me, tonight."
Haruka had to admit that Hinata looked lovely. Her makeup was perfect—little bursts of sparkles here and there added to her already ethereal makeup and the dress completed it. Her friends were a little less dazzling, but Haruka was aware that they weren't ever going to be allowed to look as nice as their leader.
"Why couldn't you just speak up for yourself?" Haruka demanded, glaring at Itou.
Hinata fell silent for a bit. Finally, "Because every time I try, he won't listen. We're childhood friends, nothing more."
"Did you ever stop to think the reason could be because you do things like this?" she asked bitterly, gesturing to her hair and God-awful makeup.
"Maybe," the girl replied airily. "But then again, I do love embarrassing people. So sorry you're unable to make it to the dance, Tachibana-chan. I'll be sure to give Sentarou your deepest and sincerest apologies." Laughing, she and her friends swept out of the classroom and made their way to the gym.
Sitting down again, Haruka couldn't stop the tears any more.
It didn't take Hinata very long to reach the gym. When she did, she looked around for Sentarou. Spotting him, she rushed over to him, hoping that the look on her face was just frantic. "Sentarou-kun!" she cried, grabbing his arm and turning him to face her.
"Itou?" he asked. He gripped her arms and peered at her concernedly. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"What about her?"
"She called me and told me she got sick at the last minute. She can't make it. But she didn't want you to be alone, so she asked me to be your date instead."
"You're not mad, are you?"
"I think I'll go call her and make sure," he said, letting her go and reaching into his pocket for his cell.
Itou grabbed his arm. "But I just heard from her," she said, showing him her cell phone where Tachibana's number was first on the list. "Really. You wouldn't say 'no' to a sick person, would you?"
Against his better judgment, Amamiya sighed and agreed. He ignored the little voice in his mind saying that he shouldn't believe her. Smiling happily, Hinata shoved the cell phone into her reticule and took his hand.
Juliet had been correct in her assumption that the young lady who'd done Haruka's makeup and hair had been out for blood. She'd gotten some pretty good blackmail pictures of that girl trying to be a makeup artist before focusing on the precognitive girl's face. She peered at Haruka's crying face, which was making the bad makeup job even worse. The dress sat inside its bag, unopened, the shoes sat lonely in their carrying case. Juliet frowned. She wasn't about to let all that hard work go to waste. Pulling out her cell phone again, she placed a call to the network where Alpha was standing by keeping watch.
"Everything okay?" he asked, when she logged on.
"No, but it will be. But… we need some help."
"Name it," the man said instantly.
"Your suits are here," Juliet said.
"I tried to tell you. If the boy's popular, things will be difficult. Things haven't changed overly much from when we were in school, you know. Kids are still mean. But, we can make this evening a success. Won't take you four long to get ready, will it?"
"Juliet," Alpha said, sighing. "We're not invited, you know."
"India will get you in. I need knights in shining armor, not a preacher. Get to it or I tell Sierra the truth."
"What truth?" Alpha scoffed.
"That you're sweet on her. I've been in the hospital plenty of times and you've never come to visit me. Much less bring me flowers. Hop to it, because Haruka's crying and I have a lot of work to do." She hung up, satisfied that Alpha would take care of things on his end. That done, she stepped inside the room. Haruka didn't even look up.
"Go away," she said softly.
"Not going to happen," Juliet said, putting her tools down on another desk. "I have a lot of work to do and very little time."
"It's useless, you know," Haruka objected. "I knew this would happen. I'm going to be late and I don't have a date."
"You rhymed," the infiltrator said, rummaging around in her bag and bringing out a small spray bottle, and a makeup removal cloth; spritzing one, she handed it to Haruka. "Here. Take that junk off."
"Didn't you hear me, Juliet-san? I'll be late."
"I can't show up late!"
"Sure you can. In fact, it's okay to be late, so long as you're fashionably late. People will be coming and going to this gig all night long. So what if you're thirty minutes late? Now, take that junk off your face. I'm going to start from scratch."
"No date," Haruka sighed.
"You have one. You've always had one. You just upset him when you said yes to another person."
Haruka's eyes went wide and she gasped. "Mamoru-san?" she asked, disbelieving.
"Of course," Juliet said, smiling and nodding. "Unless you meant Fox—in which case Mamoru will probably maim him."
Wiping away the tears, the precognitive girl felt a real smile tug at her lips. She shook her head at Juliet. "I wouldn't mind dancing with Foxtrot-san, but I'm happier with Mamoru." She took the cloth and wiped her face with it; after, she swapped the soiled cloth with a washcloth and removed the rest.
"Dress first," Juliet said, tugging at Haruka's shirt.
"Juliet-san!" she cried, shoving the woman's hands away.
"What? There's no one else around and trust me, I'm not going to rape you. Put your dress on first. It'll make things easier for me."
Wordlessly, Haruka did as she was asked.
Shaking out a plastic salon cover, Juliet motioned Haruka to sit on the teacher's desk. Tossing it around the girl, Juliet undid the mangled hairstyle and rummaged through her bag again. "Are you ready?" she asked.
"To go from being a cinder girl to a princess, of course. For tonight, and tonight only, I'll be your fairy godmother and I will make you shine like the moon. After that, you're on your own. So you'd better learn quickly."
Haruka nearly started crying again. Wiping away her tears before they could fall, she gave a decisive nod. "I'm ready to turn into a princess."
"Here we go, then. We're going to blow everyone away!" And we're going to make sure that Mamoru tells Haruka how he really feels! Anymore of this drama between them and I might kill him in his sleep!
Taking off the headset, Alpha gave the device to Igawa who took it and responded with a knowing smile. "If Kilo were here, I'd make him take my place and go with you all. Make sure you get pictures of Mamoru and Haruka, right?"
Alpha smirked. "I'll do my best. Foxtrot! India!"
"Sir?" Fox asked, looking up from the television where the news reported about various things, none of which were of any use to The Wall.
Fox looked at India who frowned.
"Don't know. Out back, maybe?"
"Well find him. We've got a young lady to go save."
"Sir?" India asked, wondering if the man had hit his head.
"Juliet was right," Alpha said striding off to Blade's room. "Kids haven't changed. And we're going to play knights in shining armor."
Foxtrot and India sat there staring at the spot where Alpha had been standing. Finally, India spoke. "Hey…Foxtrot."
"Did Alpha just say what I thought he said?"
"I think so," Foxtrot responded, his voice holding the same quality of disbelief as India's.
"Would you shoot me, please?"
"Sorry, not armed. How about the other way around?"
India picked himself up. "I'll check outside."
Foxtrot watched him leave, wondering if this wasn't why Juliet had ordered formal wear for them. Sighing, he turned the T.V. off and decided to check the kitchen. He doubted he'd find Mamoru, but he'd do his part and help look for him. As predicted, the swordsman wasn't in the kitchen. Leaving the room, he went downstairs to Igawa's workstation. He wasn't there, either, not that Fox expected to find him there; he shook his head when the technician looked up at him curiously. Fox looked over to the door to see India come back inside and shake his head. Blade wasn't outside either.
It was Alpha himself who found Blade and woke him by hauling him bodily out of the bed, ruining the swordsman's nap; it had been a pleasant nap, too—one where he and Haruka were happy. India and Foxtrot had just reached the second story when they saw their fair-haired leader car-towing the blind man towards the bathroom.
"No offense, but this is creepy. I don't need your help to bathe. Trust me. Where am I going, anyway? I thought that Charlie and Bravo were crime hunting tonight."
"They are. We are going to help some damsels in distress."
Mamoru was silent for a moment before asking, "Did you hit your head or something?"
"Wouldn't you love it if I did? No—but—"
"Did that boy stand Haruka up?" Mamoru asked, a dangerous note coloring his voice.
Alpha gave a small grin. Ah, Blade wasn't so immune. "I don't think so. Juliet indicated that it was the work of some of the girls that Haruka-chan knows."
Mamoru fell silent again. Pulling away from Alpha, he said, "I can shower on my own." Striding into the bathroom, he closed the door and locked it. His hand lingered on the doorknob and he let out a long sigh. The future was a troublesome thing, indeed. And it wasn't going to get better if he just stood there. Turning around, he stripped off his shirt and jeans; the rest followed and he turned the water on, adjusting the spray, before taking his glasses off and setting them down in easy reaching distance.
"Don't fidget," Juliet commanded. "I'm almost done," she promised, stroking black eyeliner across the girl's lid. She blew gently on it to speed the liquid's drying process. A little bit more under the eye, mascara and then she could paint the girl's lips. She looked over at the bold red and gave a smile. Mamoru might not be able to see, but the others would. And they would react. Her phone rang. Looking at the display screen she grinned a bit. "What's up?" she asked, applying mascara to Haruka's lashes.
"They're just about to walk out the door. Thought you'd like to know."
"I did want to know, thanks."
"How's Haruka looking?"
"Gorgeous, of course. This is me we're talking about."
"You'd better get me pictures."
"By the way, the blue and white corsage for Haruka was a nice touch."
"I try. I'm going to hang up. I need to finish her makeup and then get ready myself."
"Have fun," he said wistfully.
"I'll save you a dance," Juliet replied, applying mascara to Haruka's other set of lashes and hanging up. "All right, lipstick time," she told the girl.
Alpha heard the dance before he saw the gym. When he saw the building, he gave a low whistle of appreciation. All too soon, they came to converted gym doors, which had been decorated with hearts and other Valentine's Day paraphernalia. And there was a teacher standing there with an envelope. Obviously, he was collecting tickets. He eyed the balding teacher, wondering what India would do.
"How do you intend to get us in?" he asked, looking at India.
"Me?" India responded, surprised.
"Juliet said you would."
Damn her, he thought, hoping his superior didn't hear about this.
"Tickets," the teacher said, holding out the manila envelope.
India reached into his breast pocket and withdrew his badge. The teacher looked at it and paled. "It's genuine," he said, before the teacher could comment that it was fake. "Call and check. I'll give you my badge ID."
"What does INTERPOL want here?" the man breathed in a hushed voice; sweat dotted his brow.
"We owe a favor to a detective. He suspects a drug ring here but it's beyond his jurisdiction. Interpol's been looking for this person for a long time. Now you keep quiet about this and say absolutely nothing. If there is something going on here, then your students lives and the rest of the staff could be at stake."
"Yes, sir. Sorry, go right on in," the teacher said, backing away from the door hurriedly.
"Thank you. Well, gentleman, let's go bust some drugs," he said, leading the way into the building.
The noise hit them first. Music blared from the speakers that hung around the room. They stopped just inside and looked around at the brightly colored balloons and streamers. Complete with the multi-colored lights and the strobe, it made India feel like he was back in high school. Refreshments and punch lay off to the side, and some kids were gathered around the table eating at chatting. Dresses ranged from poofy like the one Juliet had showed them, to strapless little numbers with sleek, short-skirts.
"I didn't know you were Interpol," Fox said.
"It's my day job. Don't tell anyone, though; I don't want this getting back to my superiors. I have no clue how Juliet even found out."
Alpha shook his head. "Who knows? That woman scares me, sometimes. Speaking of those three, let's go find them."
"No need," Foxtrot said. "They found us." He pointed to the left.
Following his finger, they saw Juliet, Sierra, and Haruka making their ways towards them. Alpha sucked in his breath at Sierra. Her dress was simple, a strapless column of black. Juliet had pulled half of her hair back into a small bun and decorated it with a pair of barrettes. Resting on the groove of her collarbone was a small necklace with a single stone, matching stones dotted her ears. Juliet was dressed in a similar fashion. Her dress went down to her calves, cinched at her waist, and clung to her breasts. She wasn't wearing a necklace, but pearl drop earrings glinted in the muted lights. Her makeup too, was simple. They'd both done so to allow Haruka to shine. And shine she did. Juliet had chosen well for her. The poofy prom dress fit every curve the girl had perfectly and the beads gave ethereal bursts of sparkles. She wasn't wearing the matching shoes, instead, she wore the white ones. Her makeup was outstanding. The three men from The Wall now understood the concept of 'smoky eyes.' In the dim light, they could see the lighter color--maybe a white, maybe a silver--that blended flawlessly with what could only be black shadow on her lids. There was a hint of peach on her cheeks and her lips were shocking. Painted in a bright, bold red it should have killed the eye shadow, but instead, added to the mystique that had been created. An innocent girl turned vixen-- and Juliet had done a dynamite job. It was a true pity that Blade couldn't see it for himself.
"Well don't you three look lovely?" Alpha asked.
Juliet smirked. "Of course we do. Hey, India, Fox, want a crack at the little bitch who dared to make our princess miserable?" she asked, giving Haruka a push over to Mamoru.
"In good time. Let's have a dance. Remember, we're here looking for drugs," India said, leading her out to the dance floor. "And here. Take it. There's a stiletto in there, I think, so be careful."
Smiling, she slipped the corsage onto her wrists.
"And don't tell me, I know you're not unarmed," he said, joining the slow dance.
"I'm going to check the refreshments and see if I can gather information. Haruna-chan, save me a dance, okay?" Foxtrot asked, making his way over to the table.
"Sure thing," she called after him.
"We'll go scout about too," Alpha said, taking Sierra's elbow and leading her away. Haruka smiled as Alpha handed the blonde a lovely corsage and proceeded to slip it onto her dainty wrist before linking her elbow with her partner's.
Mamoru scowled as he was left all alone with Haruka. He nearly slapped his forehead. They'd really planned this out! But, it wasn't all that bad. She wasn't with that boy, at least. And that was one less person to maim.
"Mamoru-san?" she asked.
He gazed down at her, taking in the outline that was fed into his retinas. She really did look lovely. "Here," he said gruffly, shoving the corsage that had come for her dress towards her.
Taking it, she slipped it on her wrist and smiled up at him. "Thank you," she breathed.
He was sure she wasn't just talking about corsage. He gave her a rare smile. "Don't mention it." He looked at the outline of the person who tried to inconspicuously bustle past him. "What's with him?" he asked. Mamoru knew he was imposing, but that was ridiculous.
"Oh. He's part of the judging."
"The what?" he asked, looking down at her, with a puzzled glance.
"They're a small group that's jotting down couples. They'll choose the best three from that list and they'll get prizes," Haruka said, shrugging. A smile tugged at her lips. "I think we've been entered into the contest, Mamoru-san."
He didn't answer. Haruka tried again. "So… I don't suppose you dance?"
"I can manage a slow one. But there's no way you're getting me to do any fast dances."
Haruka smiled and leaned against him. "Okay. Let's wait until the next one finishes. They alternate; the next one will be a fast dance and the one following it will be a slow one."
"Is she here?" Mamoru asked, wrapping an arm around her waist.
He looked down at her with an unreadable look on his face. "That girl who nearly ruined your evening."
"Yes, she's here," Haruka said, frowning. "She's dancing with Amamiya-kun… oh dear."
"I think Amamiya-kun just figured out her deception. He's headed this way."
Mamoru's hold on her waist tightened just a bit.
Hinata was having a blast. The music this year was songs from both American and Japanese pop artists. She was thankful that they weren't all love ballads and love songs, despite the fact that it was Valentine's Day. Things were only better with Sentarou being her date and not Haruna's. The track star was a very good dancer. When he suddenly stopped in the middle of the dance, bumping into an older couple that Hinata had never seen before, she frowned.
"Sentarou-kun? What's wrong?"
"Let me see your cell phone," he demanded.
"What? Why?" she asked, withdrawing the contraption from her reticule.
"You told me that Tachibana couldn't attend because she's sick."
"That's right," she said, as he scrolled through her phone records.
"Then what's she doing here?" he asked.
"What are you talking about? Tachibana's not here."
"Oh, she's here all right. She's right over there," Amamiya said, gesturing to where she stood smiling lovingly up at an older man whose arm was wrapped around her waist. Finding what he was looking for in her cell phone, he gave a sad sigh and frowned at Hinata. "I should have known," he muttered. "You're never honest. Why can't you just be honest with me for once, Hinata?"
Shoving her cell phone back at her, he whirled and marched off the dance floor. Juliet and India watched him go before looking back at the abandoned girl who stood there looking shocked.
"Serves her right," India said, spinning and dipping the dark-haired infiltrator.
"You're right; it does. But she's going to take this out on Haruka."
"Mamoru won't stand for that."
"True. All the same…" They stopped dancing, hurried off the floor, and over to Foxtrot, who'd also watched the scene.
"Ah, Amamiya-kun," Haruka said, smiling sadly at him.
"I'm sorry!" the boy said, bowing apologetically. "I had no idea Hinata would go to such lengths! Was she very cruel?"
Haruka thought about it. "It could have been worse," she said, shrugging. "I was a bit late, but that's it."
"I really am sorry. Had I known…"
"How could you know the future?" Haruka asked. Mamoru nearly slapped himself on the forehead again. What an ironic question! Indeed— the swordsman should have asked Haruka what the future of this dance would be, instead of taking it for granted that she would be away from him for any length of time on a date. Fool me once shame on me, he lectured.
Sentarou gave her a bleak look. "This isn't the first time Hinata's done something like this."
"If you know she's done this before, why do you put up with it?" Mamoru demanded. "Why don't you say anything to her? If you had, this would never have happened; you'd be dancing right now."
Sentarou shifted nervously under the man's glare. "You're right. I don't know why I put up with her antics," he said finally. "I really don't. I've known Hinata since we were kids. Honestly, I thought she'd grow out of this."
"How naive you are," the swordsman commented.
"I'm sorry, but who—"
"Tachibana," a new voice said, cutting Sentarou off.
Haruka looked up to see Hinata approaching with a venomous look in her eyes; that look was trained solely on Haruka. For a brief moment, the pre-cognitive shrank back against Mamoru, who gave her a puzzled look before ghosting his fingers up her spine and resting one warm hand on her exposed neck. Haruka's eyes widened and she looked up at him. He gave her an encouraging smile and a nod. What was she afraid of, Haruka wondered, watching as Itou came closer and closer. What was Itou going to do with a crowd? No, scratch that. What was she going to do with Mamoru there? The swordsman wouldn't let anything happen to her. Besides, if she couldn't even face the bitch who tried to ruin her evening, then she was a sitting duck for anyone else who wanted to kill her, and she couldn't rely on Mamoru-san for everything. Bring it on, she thought, straightening her spine and squaring her shoulders. She was sorry when Mamoru's hand trailed down her back and settled on her hip once again.
"Itou," Haruka said coolly, nodding at the other girl, when she stopped in front of her.
"Tachibana. What a coincidence, seeing you here. Especially since you said you were sick."
Haruka shook her head. In a show of silent support, she felt Mamoru's hand grope for and grab her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. "I wasn't sick. Just horrified that you did such a bad job with my make up. You want to work for Scissors Project, right? They'll never take you if you do things like purposely making another person look bad."
"What are you talking about? Look at yourself," she said, more to the crowd that gathered than to Haruka. "You're gorgeous. I did a great job."
Haruka could see the crowd agreeing with Itou. Biting her lip, she looked at the girl fiercely, preparing to denounce her as a liar. Before she could, she heard another voice speak for her.
"She does look gorgeous. Of course she does," Juliet said, frowning at Itou and holding out her cell phone. A picture of Itou's badly done makeup job and Itou leaving the classroom sat on the screen. "That's because I did her makeup. Don't go around taking credit that you don't deserve. You should work on your technique. Someone like you shouldn't be in the beautician field, period. You're a disgrace."
"Tachibana, who's this?" Sentarou asked, motioning to Juliet.
"Ah, Amamiya-kun, allow me to introduce you to my sister-in-law, Juliet. That's my brother, Ichigo," she said, pointing to India. "That's my sister Suzume," she said, pointing to Sierra. "And her husband, Akatsuki. And over there," she said, pointing to Foxtrot, "is, Fuuma, the youngest of my older brothers." She frowned at them. "How did you all get in?"
"We bought tickets, of course," Sierra said. "I had to make sure you were okay. Kaa-san was also worried."
"You forgot someone, Tachibana," Hinata said, her voice mocking. "Who's the guy next to you?"
"I didn't forget."
"Oh, you just decided to pretend that he wasn't there?"
"Absolutely not! This is Mamoru-san. He's my…" she trailed off, wondering what she could say about Mamoru.
"Your what?" Hinata demanded.
"Her fiancé," Mamoru said, saving Haruka the trouble of thinking of something. "I'm her fiancé."
"Fiance?" Sentarou spluttered. "You're engaged?"
Haruka nodded, deciding to go along with his explanation. "Yes. I should also apologize," she said, bowing. "I didn't mean to deceive you."
"Well isn't that quaint?" Hinata asked nastily. She looked at Mamoru. "Your fiancée is cheating on you, did you know that?"
Mamoru looked down at Haruka with a frown. "Is it still called cheating when you know that your fiancée is going to a dance with another man?"
Haruka shrugged. "I guess it could be."
"You mean you knew?" Hinata asked Mamoru.
"Of course," he said, as if were common sense. "I'm the one that encouraged her to go. She's still in high school. I'm not going to begrudge her any experiences just because we're engaged."
Sierra buried her face in Alpha's arm and shook her head. What a hypocrite. From the look on Alpha's face, he agreed with her.
"How long have you two been engaged?" asked one of the kids from the crowd. The fact that one of the students was actually engaged was an exciting topic, especially since it was Valentine's Day and he'd showed up to save the day for her.
"Nearly a year."
"How did you two meet?" another asked.
"I have a better question," Hinata said, focusing on Mamoru. "Why are you wearing sunglasses inside a building that's already got muted light?" Her voice was nasty and scathing.
Mamoru looked over at her and frowned. "I don't know," he said, "maybe because I'm blind?"
"Oh, isn't that perfect!" she crowed, giving a small clap of her hands. She turned to Haruka. "The blind man and the ditz! He can't even see your face!" she sneered. "You should have left my makeup on if you knew he was coming. It's not like he can see anyhow, and frankly, it was an improvement."
Mamoru frowned and made to take a step forward. Haruka stopped him. "That's enough, Itou," she warned. "I don't care if you insult me, but don't you dare insult Mamoru-san."
"Why not? Is he going to beat me up? How?"
You'd be surprised, Haruka thought grimly, knowing that if Mamoru decided to get serious and teach Itou a lesson it would last for five seconds flat. She didn't think that Mamoru-san would ever strike a girl, but if that girl was the enemy… then all's fair. If there was one thing she'd learned over the years it was that.
"So now I'm curious," Itou continued, cocking her head to the side and not noticing Haruka's family surrounding her. "I know someone asked this earlier, but let's ask again: how did you two meet."
The pre-cog smiled sweetly. "I ran up to Mamoru-san and asked him to save me from the Yakuza goons chasing me," Haruka said. Mamoru choked.
Itou glared at her. "Seriously now," she responded, rolling her eyes.
If only you knew, Mamoru thought. "Seriously, it was Fuuma over there who introduced us when she was still in middle school," Mamoru said, pointing to Foxtrot. "We'd both just started high school and I lived close to them. Fuuma suggested that Haruka become my aide since she needed something to do over summer break." The swordsman shrugged. "That's how we met. Boring, isn't it?"
"And what, you two fell in love just like that?" she asked, snapping her fingers to emphasize her question.
"No, I wouldn't call it just like that," Mamoru said. "I didn't like the idea of a companion and tried to get her to leave me alone. She wouldn't. You could say that she forced her way into my life. Because in a sense, she did."
"You were the one who told me, however grudgingly, that she made your life a bit easier," Foxtrot said, adding his two cents to the story they were fabricating.
"And it's true." He turned back to Itou. "Any more questions?"
"Doesn't it bother you that you can't see your fiancée?" another student murmured.
Mamoru turned and looked over at that person, pinpointing them with an eerie accuracy. "When I first contemplated asking her to marry me, it did bother me," he said quietly. "But honestly, right now I'm kind of glad that I'm blind. Much as it totally sucks not being able to see a person's face, especially that of a loved one's…" He focused on Haruka as he said that and then turned to Itou and focused on her. "I'm glad that I can't see. I've heard that emotions can change a person's looks. With your black heart, you probably look like a snake. I don't like snakes."
A low murmur broke out amongst the students at Mamoru's statement. Some of the girls looked at Itou before looking at each other and agreeing. Itou's eyes were narrowed down to mere slits and in the dark, the round pupils of her eyes resembled the cleaved shape of a venomous serpent. Her lips were twisted into a bellicose snarl as she glared at the couple. With rage suffusing her face, she did indeed look black and ugly—just like the creature Mamoru had mentioned.
"You… you…!" she spluttered, her voice incoherent and livid.
"Me, what?" Mamoru asked, calmly. "Children who play with fire often get burned, little girl. Remember that."
Haruka looked over to her right and saw that one of the girls from her class had her hand half raised. "What is it?" she asked.
"I'm sorry to pry, Tachibana-san, but I was wondering… when is your wedding?" the girl asked shyly.
Haruka smiled. "We haven't exactly set a formal date yet… but…"
"After she graduates college," Mamoru said, abruptly.
"After I graduate high school," the pre-cog finished.
Realizing that they'd spoken at the exact same time, they looked at each other, frowning.
"College," Mamoru said.
"After high school."
"Your father wants you to wait until after you've gone to college."
"And I've said I don't want to. And seeing as I'm the bride-to-be, it's my choice."
"Oi… Fuuma. You started this mess. Talk some sense into your stupid sister," Mamoru said, looking at Foxtrot.
"Don't you want to experience college, too, before you get married?" Foxtrot asked, not really sure what to say. He hadn't been an older brother for a long time.
"You told me there's nothing to experience. It's just a lot of studying."
"Ah… that's true," Foxtrot said. He shrugged at Mamoru as if to say 'you're on your own, pal.'
"Thanks, onii-san. You did a great job. Bloody brilliant," Mamoru said, sarcasm tinting every word.
Haruka had only been half-paying attention to the parley between Foxtrot and Mamoru. As she watched them, a 'scene' unfolded in front of her eyes. When it disappeared, she blinked and looked up at him, a soft, intimate smile curving her painted lips.
Feeling her eyes on him, Mamoru looked down at her and saw her outline staring at him. Unsure of what to do or say, Mamoru said the first thing that came to mind. "What?"
"High school," she said, her voice sure and carrying with a strong cadence as she pronounced it. "After I graduate." The others in her "family" stared at her, their mouths hanging open in shock.
Mamoru stared at her, protests rising in his throat. He was her guardian, not her husband, not her fiancé; this night was a favor to her because of the bitch that tried to hurt her. And this 'discussion' of theirs was simply a cover story; he would not allow it to become real. She was his charge and he was her guardian. That was the extent of their relationship.
Oh, really, commented a niggling little voice. Seeing as he had no answer for the little voice of reason, he ignored it. "No," he said. "And that's final. We'll wait until you've graduated college like your father wants."
A smile still playing about her lips, she took his hand in both of hers and said nothing.
"Well, then. Now that that's over with, shall we have one last request?" Itou asked, having apparently recovered.
Mamoru tensed. "What?" he hedged.
Hinata draped her arms over her stomach and shrugged dismissively at Mamoru's query. "Oh, nothing massive—really. Seeing as you're both engaged and you obviously love each other to pieces, how about indulging the audience with a kiss? After all, it's Valentine's Day."
Mamoru froze and his hand tightened over Haruka's. Oh, no, absolutely not. He opened his mouth to vehemently protest; he was certainly not going to kiss anyone in front of an audience, especially not Haruka. Things would change between them if he did and he was bound and determined not to let that happen. Whatever he wanted of her, no matter how much he desired, he wouldn't let it be.
Haruka tugged on his hand, effectively stopping him. Mamoru felt dread pool into his stomach and his determination scatter to the winds. "I know you're not a fan of public affection displays, but it's okay, just this once, right?" she asked.
His transmitter beeped and a whisper infiltrated his ears. "Hey Blade—you don't really have a choice. If you don't kiss her, people aren't going to believe that you're engaged to the Princess at all," Foxtrot said, crossing his arms. "So suck it up and do it. And not on her cheek, either. That's not going to suffice."
He sighed. It seemed he had no choice. He could see the walls he'd built crumbling around him just as the walls of Jericho must have. Things were changing and he might as well be brave enough to meet those changes head-on. You might as well enjoy this, he told himself. You've wanted it for so long. "You're right," he said, his voice suddenly tender. "But this once it's all right."
The pitiful thing was, Mamoru still towered over her, even with her heeled shoes. That didn't seem to bother the swordsman, however. In a smooth, fluid motion, he leaned down and sealed his lips to hers. Bringing her body closer to his, he used his free hand to ease her neck back and give him better access to the lips that had beckoned to his all those nights ago when she'd first announced her intentions to go to this dance. They were his, now; she was his. It was ironic that she'd always been his since that day when she'd asked him to save her. He'd been too blind to realize how she would change his life so completely. In all honesty, he hadn't wanted to know; he'd been comfortable as an aloof, anti-social man whose reason to live was to fight with all that he had. Having friends made things complicated, love made things even worse, and someone like him just couldn't afford such a complication. But somewhere between all the fighting and thwarting of criminals and stopping crimes, things had begun to change. A change like this was new and frightening tumult that he wasn't sure he was ready for. Too bad he had no choice any longer. Somewhere in the chaos, Haruka's arms had wrapped themselves around his neck and as she clung to him desperately for support. While it was an innocent action on her part, it brought her body even closer to his and she could have sworn that she heard Mamoru give a satisfied purr in response.
They didn't hear the gym erupt into cheers. They didn't see Juliet stop Hinata from leaving, turn her around, and force her to watch the outcome of her actions; they didn't see India put a comforting hand on a disappointed Sentarou's shoulder and lead the boy away. Mamoru, however, felt Foxtrot grip his shoulder and squeeze it painfully.
"Hey. That's enough. Lay off my sister. You're not married yet."
The swordsman brought the kiss to an abrupt end and gave Haruka a rueful look when she voiced her displeasure at the sudden ending. "Bastard," he called over his shoulder.
"You keep your hands where I can see them," Fox said, dropping his hand from Mamoru's shoulder and glaring at the swordsman's hands that rested on her back and waist.
"You suck, Fuuma-nii," she said, glaring at him.
He looked at Haruka. "I'm your older brother. I have preemptive rights."
Chuckling, Mamrou leaned down again and kissed her briefly before pulling away and letting her go. "I think your brother wants to dance. I can't do fast dances. So save me a slow one, yes?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed, bouncing up to give him one last, lingering kiss.
"Yeah, yeah. We get it already!" Fox said, dragging her away. He cheered inwardly-- success! "Geez, girl. Let's go dance already. I didn't come all this way to watch you two play kissy-face. This is one of my favorite songs," he said, indicating a western-esque sounding song. Haruka followed him to the dance floor, listening to the drums and guitar. The song was unfamiliar to her, but it had a good beat. She didn't really have time to think of much else; Foxtrot grabbed her hands and started them dancing. He was actually a very good dancer and soon had the precognitive girl gasping with laughter.
Sentarou had made his way back when the kiss stopped. Now, he stepped up to Mamoru and observed Haruka dancing with her so-called brother before he turned to the blind man and bowed. "I'm sorry," he said.
Mamoru looked over at him. "For what?"
"For inviting her without knowing the situation."
Mamoru withheld a sigh. "It's cool, man. Really. Like I said, I encouraged her to go, after a fashion."
Mamoru frowned at him. "Why? What do you mean 'why?' Do you have any idea how long I've been the center of her world? A long time, man," he said, when Sentarou shook his head. "Since she was twelve. She was just about to start middle school when that stupid brother of hers suggested that she become my companion over the summer. Ever since that day I've been the center of her world. So when I proposed to her, I was half-hoping she'd refuse on account of high school. That, however, didn't happen, as you've guessed. Elated as I was, I still warned myself that I couldn't dominate her high school life. She needs to experience it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly, just like I did. Of course, I wasn't expecting to have to come to a high school dance."
Sentarou flushed. "I always hope that she'll stop," he muttered.
This time, Mamoru did sigh. Do I have a sign on my forehead that says 'the doctor is in, come tell me all your aches and woes, nominal fee charged?' he wondered. "I'm hardly an expert, however, when young ladies constantly stoop to that level of attention-grabbing, it usually means they're trying to tell you something." I should listen to myself once in a while, he thought, with a cynical smile.
"Any ideas on what I should do?"
The music stopped and so did the dancing. Haruka hurried back to his side and let out a contented sigh when his arm wrapped around her waist again and held her close. "Not a damn clue," Mamoru said. He was cut off from further speech when Haruka stood on tip-toe and kissed him again.
The swordsman ended the kiss abruptly when he felt the glares of his comrades. He frowned at Haruka. "Would you please not incite violence? Your brothers look like they want to kill me."
"Isn't that their role in life, though? At least until we get married?"
Before Mamoru could answer, the music shut-off abruptly along the lights. Conversation stopped and everyone looked around, wondering what was going on. A resounding click turned on one lone spotlight that lit up the center of the dance floor and shined onto a girl that stood inside the circle of light, silent and unmoving, with her face turned down to the ground, and a microphone poised and ready. The entire pose reminded Haruka of a cheesy villain from an anime. Deciding not to dwell on that lest she start laughing, she looked around, puzzled. "What's going on?" she asked Sentarou.
"Ah, they're about to announce the contest winners, I believe. That's what they did last year-- back when this was the spring dance instead of Valentine's Day Dance."
Haruka looked at him curiously. "Who did you go with last year?" she asked.
All around her, whispered conversations started to break out.
"You went with that girl, didn't you?" Mamoru asked.
"Eh? With Itou? Why?"
"Same reason as this time? How long did it take you to catch on?" the swordsman asked, the tiniest of smirks curling his lip.
"A long time," Sentarou said shortly.
All further conversations were cut off as the girl lifted her head and gave everyone a brilliant smile. "Good evening, everyone! I'm you student council president, Itsuki. My, but hasn't this been quite the exciting evening? First I'd like to hand out congratulations to Tachibana-san and her fiancé, Mamoru-san. And let's give him a round of applause for showing up and saving the day—er, evening. Second, it's that time. We, the student council judges, have picked three couples to honor. Let's start with third place! Kitani Megumi-san and her long time boyfriend, Len Tsuchihara! Come on over you two! Fabulous," she said, as they stood next to her. "Next…"
Mamoru heaved a sigh. Really, this was just plain stupid now, he thought, watching the couple that won second place walk into the spotlight. And what does a couple get for winning, he wondered. He gripped Haruka's hand, intending to leave. It was far past time.
"And the last couple—first place! Do I really need to announce it? Tachibana! You and your fiancé get over here! You've won the first place!"
Mamoru froze. Oh, no. No way. This so wasn't happening. But it was. Haruka was leading him to the spotlight where they stood in front of the student council president. He looked at her outline warily. "What now?" he asked.
"Crown?" she responded, standing on tip toes and trying to put a fake coronet on him.
"Hell no," he growled. She backed off, hastily.
"But then your fiancée will be the only one wearing one."
"And?" the swordsman demanded. "There's no way in hell I'm wearing that stupid thing."
"But you'll share a dance with her, right?"
"A slow one, yes," Mamoru said, reluctantly.
"Great!" The president brought the microphone to her mouth again. "Our winning couple will now share the last dance of the evening! A song, please, gentlemen!" she said, turning to the kids working the music center. A melody began to play and they gave her a thumb up sign. Nonsensical vocal sounds began to filter out of the speakers and a mournful melody began to follow the vocals. Taking Haruka's hand, he coaxed her closer with a small tug and wrapped his other arm around her waist. The normal waltz pattern demanded that her free hand rest on his shoulder, but the mismatched heights made that impossible. Her hand came to rest on his upper arm. Mamoru pulled her into a simple dance.
"There used to be a graying tower alone on the sea.
You became the light on the dark side of me.
Love remained a drug that's a high and not the pill."
Someone has a sick idea of a love song, he decided. He was only vaguely familiar with the song, and what he recalled was how depressing it was. Resisting the urge to heave a sigh, Mamoru decided to make the best of it. After all, if memory served him right, it wasn't very long. His main concern was running into someone while they danced. Luckily, the surrounding students had created a wide circle for them.
"But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large
And the light that you shine can be seen?"
Over the years, Mamoru had come to equate dancing with the katas he knew. To his mind, there wasn't much of a difference between a four-step waltz and a basic kata. Of course, dancing just had to include the spins, turns, and dips, if one was daring enough. Dips were out of the question; there was no room for them with this depressing 'love song.' He twirled them both, keeping in-step with the closest martial arts form that could be considered a dance. He didn't concern himself with the whispers around him; he focused solely on Haruka; she was the only thing that mattered. He couldn't have been doing too badly; she was keeping with him, step-by-step and by the looks of it, she was also keeping her attention on him. A bitter smile tinged his face; he wished he could see, just this once.
"Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Oh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
And now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the gray."
Mamoru cringed; he really didn't want to know what the artist who created the song was thinking when he composed it. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, he mused, taking another set of steps and guiding her into another turn. He'd once told Haruka that after a fashion when they'd been dealing with Fang. It wasn't really a bad song; it just didn't strike him as something for the winner's of a Valentine's Dance.
"There is so much a man can tell you,
So much he can say.
You remain, my power, my pleasure, my pain."
Well, now, that was spot on—so much so that it was eerie. She was definitely all those things and more. Turning them again, Mamoru allowed himself to think of the past. Since the day they'd agreed 'until death do us part' he'd been caught up in a whirlwind that was definitely her doing; she empowered him to do the fantastical and to somehow survive the odds. He wouldn't go so far to say that he was helpless without her, but he was helpless against her. He couldn't resist anything that she said; it didn't matter if he resisted or said 'no,' he'd end up doing whatever she wanted one way or another—this dance of her school's was testament. He wondered if she knew that; she probably did, he decided. She was definitely his pleasure—the only thing that was untainted in his shady life. He'd do anything to keep her that way—even play a knight in shining armor—no matter how tarnished that armor might be with deeds of the past. It seemed that she didn't really care about his past much.
She was his eternal torment. When she'd been twelve, he hadn't cared a whit; he had no interest in children, unlike some of the other people that had studied at the various dojos with him. But twelve became thirteen and thirteen became fourteen, and fourteen had become fifteen. By fifteen, he'd noticed a massive amount of change in her. The night he'd first met her, he'd predicted to Igawa that she'd be a real beauty when she was older. He was certain of it. His eyes couldn't see details, but they could see outlines. And from that outline, he could fill in details in his mind. Now that she was older, he imagined daily what she looked like and his heart gave a painful beat every time he did. Guilt followed soon after. What kind of monster was he to have feelings for her? This precious and precocious girl that he'd looked after—he had no business having feelings for her. And yet, despite lecturing himself that it shouldn't be, it was, and it seemed like there was no way out of it. He'd gotten a twelve-year-old charge and raised a wife, it seemed. Oh, well. If he had to think of it somewhat objectively, he'd call their marriage her compensation to him for being her bodyguard.
"Baby—to me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny.
Won't you tell me is that healthy, baby?
But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large
And the light that you shine can be seen?
Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Oh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
And now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the gray.
I've been kissed by a rose on the gray;
I've been kissed by a rose;
I've been kissed by a rose on the gray;
And if I should fall along the way…
I've been kissed by a rose;
Kissed by a rose on the gray.
There is so much a man can tell you
So much he can say.
You remain, my power, my pleasure, my pain.
Baby—to me you're like a growing addiction that I can't deny.
Won't you tell me is that healthy, baby?
But did you know,
That when it snows,
My eyes become large
And the light that you shine can be seen?
Baby, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Oh, the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah.
And now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the gray.
Yes, I compare you to a kiss from a rose on the gray.
Oh, the more I get of you the stranger if feels, yeah,
And now that your rose is in bloom,
A light hits the gloom on the gray."
The song finally came to an end and so did the dance that Haruka and Mamoru shared. Though that was supposed to be the last dance, the wide circle that had been created for the couple was rapidly filled in with people who wanted to continue dancing or talking. The music had started again and teachers were doing their best to break up the party. Mamoru didn't envy them one bit. Without letting her go, Mamoru started to lead Haruka through the crowd, keeping their hands linked. He looked for his other companions as he made their way outside, but frowned when they'd seemingly disappeared from the gym. Shoving the doors open, he lead Haruka outside and gave her a puzzled look when she suddenly took the lead and led him to a spot that seemed to be behind the gym. Wherever they were, it was quiet, private, and away from people, parties, and music. Sighing contentedly, Haruka leaned against the wall.
"Transmitter on. Alpha? Sierra? Foxtrot? India? Hey, where the hell are you guys?" No answer. Sighing he said, "Igawa."
"Don't ask me," came the swift response. "They haven't contacted me at all. I suspect they're still inside somewhere. If you don't find them, walk home."
The transmission went dead. Mamoru turned to Haruka. "I guess we'll have to wait for them to find us," he told her. "Maybe they got caught up dancing."
"Hmm… no, I don't think so. I think they got roped into helping the teachers search the classrooms."
"What for?" he asked. Insofar as he knew, looking for drugs was merely an excuse to get inside.
"For students…umm…" Haruka trailed off, unable to continue.
"Students…?" Mamoru prompted.
Oh, just say it! Haruka lectured herself. "Umm… students like to use the classrooms to… you know… make out… and stuff." Oh, gods, was she ever glad that he was blind!
"Students have upgraded to classrooms, then?" he asked.
That wasn't what she'd expected him to say. "What do you mean?"
"Back in my day, students used storage closets or went to love hotels. They still have those, right?"
Haruka's face turned scarlet. "M…Mamoru-san!" she cried, putting her palms on her burning cheeks.
"What? Did I say something strange?" he asked, innocently. The wicked smile on his face belied his tone.
Haruka huffed and crossed her arms. "You're a horrible tease," she sniffed.
"Then I should become a better tease?"
She grinned and made to respond, but the moon chose that moment to bless them with its face. Blue opalescent light dappled through the trees and onto the ground where Mamoru stood. The words died in her throat and a melancholic smile replaced them. He really was a breath taking man. The first thing that people assuredly noticed was his rugged good looks that the thick scars around his eyes couldn't detract from—instead, they added an exciting element of danger to him. His height was the second thing that girls and women noticed; tall and lean, he was in peak condition; the chiseled muscles he had proved such, and there wasn't anything he couldn't do. His voice usually sent tingles up and down her spine: it was low and had a rough edge to it. All of this was wrapped up into a wonderful package that had girls swooning. She wondered if he knew that about himself. He probably didn't care, she decided. That bothered her, for some reason. He should care about the effect that he was able to have on people. Haruka was certain that Juliet had lusted after Mamoru for precisely those reasons.
Hot on the heels of the awe she felt was regret; her heart gave a painful beat just looking at him with his hands shoved into the pockets of his pants and the suit jacket bunched up around them as he leaned against the tree trunk comfortably. He looked out of place in that suit and at a high school dance of all things. Moreover, she wondered if things would ever be the same between them again. She started. She didn't want things to be the same; she didn't want things to return to her the child and him the adult when she was nearly an adult. But forcing change wasn't always a good idea, as she knew. Still, she'd deliberately allowed for it, damn the consequences. She was sick of being forever a child in his eyes. Her hands flew to her mouth. What a witch she sounded like! As if she'd deliberately planned this! Maybe I didn't, but I certainly made sure that he knows I'm no longer a child.
"I guess I shouldn't become a better tease if you're going to freeze up," he commented idly.
Haruka felt her cheeks flush. How long had she been silent for? She dropped her hands and looked up at him. "No, that's not it."
She shook her head and remained silent. "I'm sorry," she said, after a while. "You were right."
Mamoru quirked a brow at her as if he were trying to figure out what was going through her head. "What are you sorry about?"
"I shouldn't have come to the dance or even contemplated going."
"Little to late for that, don't you think? What brings this on?" he queried, when she didn't respond.
Haruka frowned and looked out over the quiet courtyard. Her eyes landed on the stone bench where she'd often sat to eat lunch, weather permitting. "About a month ago, I had a dream," she began. "You and I were dancing—somewhere. I didn't know exactly where; I couldn't hear any music, nor could I see any people around us. But we were dancing together. I thought it was a random dream—something that my subconscious came up with. A few days later, posters for this dance went up and I had another vision. Well, two. Neither of them deviated very much from my original dream; the outcome of both visions was the two of us dancing. Either way I saw it, we ended up here, at this party. That blurry dream of mine became clearer, sharper. I saw Amamiya-kun ask me to the dance. Then it split. I saw myself agreeing and the events that did happen come to pass; I saw myself refusing and being escorted to the dance by someone else; I don't know who. Now that I think about it, it might very well have been Foxtrot-san. Regardless, the end result was always you and I."
"So if you knew all that, why did you say yes when that boy invited you? Why didn't you just ask me to escort you to this dance?"
Haruka blinked. Why didn't I ask him, she wondered. "I don't know," she answered, perplexed. "I guess I thought you'd have said no."
"I probably would have, at first." He shrugged. "In the end, I would have caved. You know that."
She did know that. No matter how stern he tried to come across as, he never denied her anything. It was a dangerous power that she had over him and she was careful not to abuse it. Approaching him for a second time, Haruka looked up at him. "Dance with me again," she implored softly.
He looked at her skeptically, as if he were trying to decide if she was being facetious or serious.
"Please," she said. "Dance with me."
Mamoru looked at her strangely, but complied. Easing himself away from the tree trunk he'd been leaning against, he took her hand and drew her close. Almost hesitantly, he began to move in the same pattern they'd danced when they were announced the winners of that stupid contest; she matched his steps. As they moved in sync with each other, Haruka noticed that Mamoru was holding her much closer to his body than he had inside the gym. Inside the gym there had been a respectable enough distance between them—a distance that was absent now as they swayed to the nocturnal melody that nature provided them. Inhaling his scent, she allowed her head to fall onto his chest. Now that I think about it, perhaps the reason I went the route I did was because I knew that he couldn't refuse me anything. She smiled bitterly. I forced him to rescue me at a stupid dance; I forced him to kiss me when I know he didn't want to—when did I become so rotten?
"Now what's wrong?" he asked.
"Eh? Nothing's wrong. Why do you ask?"
"There's something else on your mind. Dancing isn't going to take it away."
She stopped their dance abruptly and stepped away—or tried to, at least; he didn't relinquish his hold on her immediately. When he finally did, albeit with extreme reluctance, she stepped back to the wall, but she could feel Mamoru's frown on her no matter how far she went. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself; she really didn't want to embarrass herself by breaking down into the tears that she felt building beneath her eyes and at their corners. "There was something else I wanted to apologize for."
He remained silent, focusing on her.
"I know you didn't want to kiss me earlier and I'm sorry that I forced you into it." She aimed a painful smile at him and swallowed several times to get rid of the lump that had risen into her throat. "I think that perhaps I do know that you'll do anything for me and I think that perhaps that's the reason I chose the path I did. I feel absolutely wretched for it—forcing you to do these things when you didn't want to and aren't interested in me the same way. So…I'll leave you alone from now on, unless it's work related."
"Where do you come up with these things?" he demanded, striding over to her. Where the hell does this come from? If we're going to marry, then how is she going to leave me alone? A horrible thought came to him. What were the circumstances of their marriage? Mamoru decided that he didn't want to know; he just couldn't deal with it right then. Haruka shrank back against the wall as he loomed over her. "Well?"
Haruka focused on the moonlit ground. Looking up at him made her dizzy. "I've… loved you for a very long time," she muttered. "But even though I loved you, you never seemed to reciprocate my feelings, always treating me like I was a kid, barely taking me seriously. I think I finally realized this while we were dancing in the gym. I really wanted to pretend that what we told my classmates was true, but… the truth is… you wouldn't be here if not for Juliet-san."
"You didn't answer my question," he said, his voice dangerously soft. He raised his hands and placed them on the wall near her shoulders and leaned in close. "Just where the hell do you come up with these things? How do you go from saying that we'll marry when you're out of high school, to informing me that you're sorry for forcing me to kiss you and that you're certain I'm not interested in you? You might be a mass of contradictions, but I don't believe I've ever heard one this outrageous."
Haruka didn't answer. She'd said her piece. Mamoru, however, was far from done. "Might I remind you, princess, that you kissed me back and initiated several of you own kisses?" he inquired in that silky voice that made her quake. He was becoming angry.
"I… got caught up in the moment. I'm sorry."
"Really?" he asked, leaning closer and putting his lips right by her ear. He could feel the tremors that snaked up and down her spine as proof that what she was saying wasn't true. "In your world, what does 'desire' look like?" He leaned in closer. "Does it look like that sniveling boy with his psychotic stalker? Tell me."
When she didn't answer, he moved even closer, holding her body prisoner with his own. Breathing became hard for Haruka, every breath she drew was shallow and her lungs demanded more oxygen than she could draw, at present. He was so close--she could feel the heat emanating from him; she wished the wall would move a bit so she could put space between their bodies. "So how would you know what interests me and what doesn't?" he asked.
"But—" she protested, her addled mind trying to make sense of what he was asking.
His hands moved up to her face and cradled it gently. "When you were twelve and up until about fourteen, it was easy to think of you as a child and treat you as such. You were a child. You'd just started middle school and you didn't even act your age. And while I understood why you couldn't, it bothered me. And then fourteen became fifteen. You changed. You grew taller; your body began to mature, little by little. Fifteen became sixteen and you matured a bit more. Everyone started to tell you how lovely you'd become. As I predicted back when you were twelve, you'd become a real beauty. Then you turned seventeen and I had to wonder, why did you still stay near a tarnished person like me? Why not go off on your own? You had plenty of money in savings from your parents, grandmother, the lotteries that you'd won, and ironically enough, Ex-Solid. You could live a very comfortable life if you decided to leave. And if you ever needed money, you could simply buy a lottery ticket or two. I couldn't fathom what kept you attached to our group. When it became apparent to me why you didn't, I expected to find myself flattered, but uninterested—after all, I did tell you years ago that I had no interest in kids; instead, I found that I was… relieved and happy even, to know that I was the reason you didn't leave, and it horrified me that I was starting to return your feelings."
"Why did it horrify you?" she whispered.
"Think for a moment. I'm older than you, for one. Secondly, I'm your guardian. Isn't it a taboo to desire people that you're responsible for? I've lain awake countless times wondering what kind of monster I was to harbor such feelings for you. I remind myself that it was easier to ignore you when you were a kid. Now that you're older, it's impossible. So back to the question at hand, where do you come up with these outrageous notions?"
"I… I don't know. I just thought… I mean you were so upset with me and I wanted to apologize for everything that had happened."
Mamoru resisted the urge to sigh. Truth be told, however, he was really starting to detest her roundabout guilt.
"If you got 'caught up in the moment in the gym' as you claim, then I strongly urge you to get caught up in another moment," he growled, kissing her again and silencing her protests. By the time he brought the kiss to an end, she was holding onto his jacket for support. She needn't have worried though; his arms had wrapped themselves around her waist and held her securely against him.
"What I want from you are not protests," he told her quietly. "If you still love me as much as you claim, then stop protesting about it or trying to reason your way out of it. Things have changed between us—there's no way to go back in time and undo it—so look to the future, instead. That's what you're good at."
Haruka bit her lip. True as it was, that burned. "Only if you stop thinking of yourself as a monster," she responded, her voice tart.
Sighing, he rested his forehead on the crown of her head, and didn't answer. That request would take some doing. "I'll try," he said finally. "There's more than lusting after you that makes me a monster, but I'll try."
Haruka cradled his face in her hands. "Stupid Mamoru-san. You're not a monster. You're my hero."
"Am I now?"
"Yes. And my future husband."
"You're taking that rather well."
"It took time." He focused his sightless eyes on her. "Promise me that you'll never tell me that our marriage is one of convenience or for something like work."
She gasped. "Of course it's not! But I won't tell you why."
He gave her an enigmatic smile in response and pulled her into a dance once again. "Someone I know interrupted us the first time we started to dance out here."
Laying her head on his chest again, she smiled contentedly. "Someone else is going to interrupt us again and soon."
"It's that girl, right?"
"No rest for the weary," he said.
"Or the wicked."
"Hey, I protest."
Haruka giggled. "You don't get to protest. It's not part of your contract."
They stayed that way, swaying together in the moonlight until Itou emerged into the clearing. When the distraught girl called out, they stopped their dance but didn't let go of each other.
"Itou?" Haruka asked.
"What's your secret?" the girl asked, stumbling closer.
In the moonlight, Haruka could see that Itou was a mess. Her face was red and puffy from crying, her nose was running, and her delicate makeup had been ruined by the tear tracks that streaked down her face. In a remote part of her heart, Haruka reveled at the sight, before chastising herself that she shouldn't rejoice in another's misfortune. "What secret?" she asked.
"For getting guys, of course," she said, with a small bark of mirthless laughter.
"Itou-san… maybe it's time for you to be honest with Amamiya-kun. No more lies and no more secrets. No more being supportive when you obviously aren't. Tell him how you feel, how you honestly feel and see what he says."
"And if he still doesn't return my feelings?"
"Then find someone else," Mamoru snapped, his patience with the sniveling child gone. "He's not the only fish in the ocean. Now go home, girl, before I take matters into my own hands. And trust you me, that won't be pleasant for you." He spied the others. "It's about time." He smirked at them. "Did you all have fun searching the classrooms?"
Their collective groans were more than enough for Mamoru; he didn't need to see their expressions. Taking Haruka's hand, he led the way towards home, missing the collective look and grins that Alpha and the others shared at the sight of them together.