It was early morning, the sun having only just lifted from the horizon, when Zach strode into the house, a large smile plastered on his thin, ruby coloured lips, the sclera of his eyes bleary red, dark circles permanently residing underneath them, and his skin the unearthly pallor of those seriously short-changed on sleep. As he walked in he took care to close the door quietly, but that was where his consideration ended. He slipped off his shoes and left them where he'd taken them off. He whipped off his cardigan, the musty, fetid odours of an intense night out escaping from the confines of the cotton, and tossed it haphazardly on the purple couch, his thin arms, tightly packed with smooth muscle, flexing in the early morning light which streamed through the front window. The sun had risen to an unusually clear November day and shone on his copper hair, highlighting the curls which were not matted from tangles or darkened from a need for washing. His black and white chequered belt came off next, and was dumped unceremoniously on the floor, followed by his socks. The items left an awkward messy trail behind him. He yawned widely, pausing on his way to the kitchen to stretch. The discs in his spine clicked in release, his back having become a little stiff from the awkward positions and hard work he'd endured from the previous evening.
Zach walked into the kitchen, the room next door to Ceithin's, and made a beeline for the cupboard which contained the vital necessities for any and all mornings - especially ones following a night out. Deciding on the large Italian moka pot over the French press and the percolator, he then went to the freezer and spent almost a full minute hovering over five separate brown bags, his hands shifting between his stash of Yemeni Haraazi and Hawaiian Kona in particular before remembering there was currently a war being fought in Yemen - which would soon mean inflated prices for that particular type of luxurious coffee - and therefore it needed to be used more carefully. He selected the Kona and lit the stove.
He was on his second cup of Americano and in the middle of reaching for some bacon from the fridge when he heard the sounds of another conscious being moving around. The pad of footsteps descending the stairs were not the familiar ones of Jared, so Zach could only conclude it was the new house mate's. He dropped the bacon on the counter, pushed aside the pan in which he'd been frying the eggs he'd nicked from Ceithin's shelf in the fridge, and began immediately making another round of coffee, hesitating only to swap the grains to Jamaican Blue Mountain - Mamoru seemed to be the type of man who liked his coffee simple and regular.
Mamoru shuffled into the room in dark slippers, charcoal cotton pyjama pants and a plain black t shirt. "You're up early," Zach smiled as he filled the kettle with hot water.
Mamoru was rubbing his eye with the back of his hand, trying desperately to dispel the heavy sleepiness which refused to lift from his lids. "You are too, I suppose," he mumbled, before giving up and flopping himself onto one of the old wooden chairs at the round kitchen table.
"I haven't been to bed yet." Zach's attention returned to the kettle as it began to boil. Unplugging it just before it finished, he poured at least two cups' worth into his French press (chosen instead because it could hold more coffee than his moka pot) and stirred the grains. He placed the 'Fuck Off and Die' mug in front of Mamoru with a polite smile. "Coffee will be ready in about a minute, just let the grains brew. How strong do you like it?"
Mamoru looked up, still groggy, and blinked a few times to try and adjust to the sunlight. "Wha..?" It seemed to take a few seconds for his mind to process and translate what Zach was saying. "Oh, um, pretty strong I guess? I normally just have it black."
Zach lifted his own mug and took a swig. "Best way to have it, really, that's how I drink mine." He went back to frying the eggs and bacon, opening up a small tin of Heinz Baked Beans and dumping them in the microwave at the same time. "Hungry?" he asked.
Mamoru shook his head as he pushed down on the sieve of the French press, "No, thank you. I couldn't take your food as well as your coffee."
"It's no trouble." Zach was reaching for another egg when Mamoru protested again.
"No, it's really fine, I'm not a big breakfast person anyway. I usually have a small snack mid-morning and a larger lunch," he took a sip of his coffee, "so this is perfect for me, I appreciate it."
Zach shrugged and went back to cooking, popping in four pieces of bread into a toaster which was so old it looked more likely to set the house on fire than warm bread. "Why are you up so early?"
"I'm going in to the hospital to get some of my clerical hours done before lectures start." The cooking pan sizzled, diffusing the tempting scents of frying bacon through the entire kitchen.
"Isn't Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?" Zach transferred the food onto a plate, squirting a generous helping of HP brown sauce over the eggs before pulling out the bowl of baked beans and dumping them onto the plate next to the bacon.
Mamoru frowned. "It's Monday today."
Zach didn't seem to care. "Whatever. Monday, Sunday, it doesn't really matter, after spending most of the night with those crazy fairy medic friends of yours, any day after should be a day of rest."
Zach had been referring to the pub crawling medics who had essentially kidnapped Mamoru and Ami at the club. He had tried to escape their clutches on several occasions, but because there was such a big group of them it had been difficult to give them the slip. He and Ami hadn't been able to leave until closing time, where they'd been forced to leave the club. "They're not friends, they're colleagues," Mamoru corrected and then added with more of a mumble to himself than to Zach, "I have enough 'girl' friends to last me a lifetime."
Zach lifted his eyebrows and gave Mamoru a small smile, as if suggesting that he was open to hearing more, but Mamoru ducked his deep blue eyes back into his dark cup of coffee, slightly embarrassed at the mild gripe.
The toast popped up and Zach shoved two pieces onto a small plate and, to Mamoru's horror, tossed the two others into the still-hot frying pan. "You're frying the bread?" he asked.
Zach put the butter dish and a knife next to Mamoru, "It's an English thing. Here, have some toast at least. You're a doctor, you should know breakfast is the most important meal of the day," he quipped, sliding over the small plate of unfried toast towards the dark haired man. "There's jam in the fridge if you want it, although I think it's Jared's weird grape one from the States. He won't mind you using it, but it might taste odd."
Mamoru was taken aback; he wasn't used to strangers taking care of him. Whenever Makoto cooked she always made sure he had double helpings of everything but that was because she made sure everyone did, not because he was special... this, this was not something which happened often. Mamoru was used to being the carer, and he felt a little uncomfortable. "Thank you," he said, all the same.
Zach let the fried bread drain for a moment before adding it to the messy heap of food. He diluted a few tablespoons of Robinson's Orange and Barley squash in a glass before picking it up with the plate, somehow managing to balance his mug of Americano as well. "Come on," he said, "we can go eat breakfast with Ceithin."
Mamoru was surprised at that. "Ceithin's awake?" Receiving only the back of Zach as he walked away, he hurriedly picked up his plate of toast and the mug, before coming back to bring the French press with him.
"Good morning," Rei said gently as Ami made her way into the communal kitchen, showered and ready for the new day. Nothing, however, could hide the dark circles under her eyes and slight sag of her normally upright shoulders. "Did you have a little too much fun last night?" Rei asked, a small smile on her lips as she got up and took out a tea bowl matching her own. She handed it to Ami, filling it from her pot of green tea before topping up her own bowl.
Ami gave her a grateful smile. "I wouldn't necessarily describe the events of last night using those particular terms," she replied, blowing lightly on the steam before speaking again, "it was eventful, to say the least, although it was a rather large waste of time. Mamoru certainly didn't seem to be enjoying himself and Usagi didn't even make it into the club. They were the reason I went in the first place." She took a sip of the tea and let the flavour sit on her tongue for a moment before swallowing. "Did you see Makoto come back last night? Everyone was asleep by the time I arrived home so I didn't get a chance to ask," she explained. "She stopped by the club for about twenty minutes, but she left to go back on her shift rather abruptly."
Rei frowned. "She did seem a little off, before I had a chance to speak to her she was already in her room," she said, recalling the events of the night before. "It's not like her to avoid speaking to anyone. I assumed that it was because Jared was here and she was too tired to make small talk."
Ami did a quick calculation in her head, "Jared was here when she got home? Did he stay after he dropped off Usagi?"
Rei rolled her eyes, "The odango thought it would be a good idea to insist he stay and drink tea with her," she huffed, "and then she left me to fend for myself while she teleported off to Mamoru's bed."
Ami tried her best to seem interested without showing too much curiosity. It would not do for anyone to know of her more than friendly interest in Jared. She was not denying her feelings for him, but Ami was cautious by nature. She'd known him for two days, which was not nearly enough time to even consider someone an acquaintance, let alone a friend. There was also the matter of her friends and the embarrassing fuss they would make over the situation. "So he was here for an hour, at least," she wasn't sure, but there was something fluttering in her chest, and it wasn't exactly pleasant. She wondered if this was a mild form of jealousy. "Did you... talk a lot?" she asked, feigning disinterest.
"For a little while, but then he just wouldn't leave." Rei tried to make herself look annoyed, but Ami was nothing if not observant and analytical and it was obvious to her that Rei was ever so slightly amused.
"Was he rude?" she asked, prompting the conversation to continue.
Rei leaned back into the chair, the ghastly orange plastic creaking lightly with her delicate movement. "No, I was just furious with Usagi, I suppose. He saw the flash and kept asking if everything was alright." Her thumb idly traced its way along the curve of the bowl, "In the end I had to admit that she was at his house."
Ami thought instantly of at least three plausible explanations she could have given, but her friends were not her. Ami was by no means conceited but she was very aware of the strengths and weaknesses each Senshi possessed, including herself. Rei was not the best of liars, she tended to simply shroud herself in an aura of aloof mysticism and that was usually enough to keep the faint at heart at bay from asking too many questions. But Jared was not one to be shy. He had a kind, easy going manner which encouraged active participation in any conversation. "How did you explain it?" she asked.
"Not very well, I'm afraid." At that, Rei seemed to become genuinely annoyed with herself, her ink dark eyebrows scrunching into a frown. "My excuse was unrealistic, I told him she'd managed to sneak out and take a taxi to his house while we talked." She put her tea bowl down. "He took advantage of the situation, and I am sure he did so deliberately. He saw I wanted to get rid of him and he refused to leave unless I promised to meet him later this week to help him learn how to meditate."
Ami did not have much practical experience with those sorts of situations, but from her extensive reading on the subject it sounded like Jared had managed to 'score a date' with Rei. The uncomfortable fluttering in her heart increased. She tilted her head as if she was only barely interested, took a sip of her tea and then asked as casually as she could manage, "Will you help him?" If Rei wasn't going to, Ami was well versed in the homeopathic arts. If Jared needed help, she was perfectly capable of giving him advice.
Ami's lips tightened at the implication. "Probably not?" she asked, disappointed.
Rei sat forward and poured Ami another cup of tea before refilling her own. "Mamoru seems eager for us to get along with his new housemates, which means Usagi is eager for us to like them too. If I cannot refuse him without being impolite then I will meet up with him. It'll only be to show him some breathing exercises, anyway. I won't have to spend more than an hour with him."
Ami was about to respond when a large bang grabbed their attention. The kitchen door was open so they could see directly across the thin hallway to Minako's door, which was currently swinging on its hinges, and revealing a rather frazzled blonde hopping in one place as she shoved on a low-heeled black leather boot. "I'm up!" she yelled, "I'm totally up!" Once the shoe was on she went for the other. "Don't go, Ami! I'll walk with you to Mamoru's, just give me a minute so I can pack a few things for Usagi!"
Both Ami and Rei couldn't help the smiles which spread across their faces as they watched their supposedly fearless leader struggle - and lose - a battle against her left boot. "I'm not leaving for another fifteen minutes, you can take your time," Ami said, deciding to give Minako a break.
Minako looked up sharply, "Oh," she said, plainly relieved, before diving back into her room, rummaging around the moderate mess. "Where's my phone?"
"Have you checked your Marilyn Monroe bag?" Rei asked, knowing without a doubt where it was. "The one you used yesterday?"
"Of course I have," Minako's reply was laced with irritability as she bent down and searched under her bed.
Rei knew Minako's habits as well as her own. "You didn't check the little zip pocket."
"You could use one of your other Apple devices to locate it," Ami offered, "I could show you how, it's not difficult."
"It is if I can't find any of my other Apple devices." Minako was fully grumbling now as she snatched the bag Rei had suggested and dumped all of its contents onto the bed. When it was empty she whipped open the little zipper on the inner lining and dove her hand into it, pulling out an iPhone in a leopard print case. "Good call, Rei, thanks." Her fingers flew over the screen in a flurry of text-typing before she shoved the phone into the pocket of her dark grey sweats, she then rifled through the mess of paper, pens, highlighters, chewing gum, old cereal bar wrappers and makeup littering her bed, picking up certain objects seemingly at random, and placing them back into the bag. She stepped into the kitchen. "Do I look like an 'on purpose' mess, or a 'just rolled out of bed' mess?"
"The latter," Rei said, without batting an eye. "Your shirt's wrinkled and your hair ends are frizzy."
Ami felt guilty, especially after Rei's brutal honesty, but she felt that had to point something else out as well. "You've also got mascara in your left eyebrow."
Minako huffed and stalked back into her room, dumping her jacket and bag on the kitchen counter as she went. "I don't have any pressed shirts."
"There's an easy solution to that, you know."
"I don't have time to iron it now," came her reply from the bedroom, "I have to get Usagi's clothes and I have to try and make myself not look like a bed ogre."
Remembering the mountain taking up most of the floor space in Usagi's room, Rei knew that Minako had more work cut out for her than she realised. "Give it to me, then," she offered, making her way to the tiny pantry cupboard which contained the vacuum, mop and ironing board. "I'll do it for you."
Ami was frowning lightly. "Minako, what's a 'bed ogre'?"
"Is that not a thing?" Minako pulled off her top as she crossed the tiny hallway into the kitchen, revealing a simple skin-coloured sports bra. She handed it to Rei, "Thank you, dear." Rei simply rolled her eyes, her hand on her hip as she waited for the iron to heat itself to a sufficient temperature.
"Not that I've heard." Ami gathered up the tea bowls and began rinsing them in the sink.
Minako disappeared out of the kitchen again. "Well, I know I must have heard it somewhere. Probably in a movie or something, I don't make up words like Usagi d- oh my God!"
Rei smiled, knowing what caused Minako's sudden distress.
Ami went out into the hallway, to the room in between Minako's and Rei's, in order to see what the problem was. "Oh," she said, instantly spotting the massive heap of clothing in Usagi's bedroom. "Where did it all come from?" Ami hadn't seen so much pastel underwear since the time she'd been forced to go lingerie shopping with Usagi at Peach John's back in Tokyo. From the looks of it, she'd gone and bought out the whole store.
"You're the science-y person, is it even physically possible for all of this stuff to have fit in that tiny cupboard?"
Ami shrugged, "Maybe she used her subspace pocket?" she suggested, not entirely joking. She checked her watch, "I don't mean to rush you, but if possible I'd like to start heading to Mamoru's in a few minutes."
Minako nodded her head in acknowledgement and began sifting through the pile for a suitable outfit. She wrapped a few items into a haphazard bundle and trotted back to the kitchen where she stuffed them into her bag, only managing with some difficulty to zip it shut. "I'll just be a sec," she said, heading into her room to fix her hair and makeup.
She came out less than a minute later, eyebrow unmascara-ed, hair tied into a loose, high, sloppy bun, with a thin gold headband pulling back her fringe. "Now how do I look?" she asked, her stance imitating her Sailor V transformation pose. "Aside from the lack of shirt, of course."
"Much better," Rei acknowledged.
Ami, ever practical, noted the jacket Minako intended to wear, placed next to her Marilyn Monroe bag. It was black faux leather - designer, of course - and only reached the waist, "Aren't you going to be cold?" she asked, buttoning up her bright blue woollen coat.
"Fashionistas are prepared to make sacrifices for the greater look."
"Fashionistas are impossible to live with when they get colds," Rei quipped.
Minako scoffed. "So are cranky mikos, apparently."
"Ex-miko," Rei corrected, "and I can stop ironing your shirt anytime I like."
There was no shift in Rei's voice, but Minako knew it was a sensitive issue. There was pain behind the comment. "You can take the girl out of the shrine, but you'll never take the shrine out of the girl. You'll always be a miko, darling." Before Rei could argue or dwell on the point for too long, Minako changed the subject. "And you've only got the sleeves left to do, I know for a fact you can't stand to leave a job half finished." She felt her pocket vibrate and pulled out her phone to check the message.
It was from Makoto, a reply to the text she'd sent when she'd found her phone: 'thnx i'm fine, really. Xx' From the fact that Makoto had not emerged from her room throughout the entire commotion and had completely ignored Minako when the blonde had knocked on her door the night before, she was blatantly not. Minako said nothing, however, respecting Makoto's privacy for the moment.
"Shirt's done," Rei lifted the white top from the board and passed it to Minako. "You should wear your camel coat instead, it'll give you a classier look. It's also longer and warmer."
"When are you going to stop bossing me around?"
"When you no longer need to be."
Minako huffed. "Crazy, cryptic shrine woman," she mumbled under her breath.
"I heard that."
"Proves my point," Minako sing-songed. Once having changed her jacket for her camel coloured coat, she blew Rei a kiss in thanks and headed out with Ami.
"Rise and shine you sleepy Welsh princess, I've made you food!" Zach bellowed as he slammed the door open with his foot and causing a bang loud enough to wake the dead.
Ceithin all but jumped a mile in the air. "Jesus Christ, Zach!" he half-yelled, half gritted out as he sank his head back into his pillow and pressed his hand onto his undoubtedly pounding skull.
Mamoru's eyes went wide, "I'm very sorry, I thought you were awake," he looked at Zach with disbelief at his lack of consideration for Ceithin. "I'll let you get back to sleep," he began to turn around and shuffle back out of the room, the earth brown coffee swirling in the glass press like a tumultuous sea.
"No, it's alright," Ceithin huffed, "I'm up now," his grey eyes were glaring at Zach before slipping down to the plate in his hand. "Is that for me?" he asked, doing his best to hide the hope in his voice.
Zach sighed. "Of course it's for you. You think I'd enjoy something this greasy and disgusting?"
Ceithin spied the mushrooms which were huddled in between two fried tomato halves and a fat Cumberland sausage; his eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Those aren't the carpet ones, are they?"
"Bitch please, this is fat and cholesterol with an unholy dose of heart disease, if I was going to kill you I wouldn't have to resort to poisoning you with mushrooms, I'd just give you another helping."
Ceithin sat himself up with some difficulty but the irritation was gone from his face at the prospect of a full English breakfast. "For that comment you don't get any of the bacon," he said, taking the plate and glass of orange squash from Zach.
"I don't want your bacon."
Ceithin scoffed, "You always want my bacon."
For a moment Zach said nothing, his eyes, now a little clearer than they were when he'd first arrived home, darted between Ceithin and the plate of food. Both men seem to tense, Ceithin's body taking on the appearance of a protective dog's, his back hunching ever so slightly and his hands tightening their grip on the utensils they were clutching.
Mamoru watched, somewhat curious as to what was happening, and then, quick as lightning, Zach's hand darted on to Ceithin's plate. At the very same moment Ceithin slapped the flat of his knife down with unexpected speed, but he missed his mark, and before Mamoru knew what was happening Zach was smiling through a mouthful of bacon.
"Too slow," he said, grinning as he chewed.
Ceithin grunted. "I'm allowed. I have a concussion, and I haven't had any tea yet," he said in a blatantly obvious hint for Zach to make him some.
Zach ignored it. "Only losers make excuses." Sitting on the bed and taking a sip of his coffee, he pointed to the chair by the desk. "Why don't you bring it over and sit with us?" he asked Mamoru, who was still standing awkwardly, clutching his plate of toast, mug and supply of coffee.
"And have some bacon, if you like," Ceithin offered.
Zach scoffed at the sarcasm in Ceithin's tone. "Stop being such a five year old girl, there's more in the fridge if you want me to make it, it's Noel's anyway, so it's not a big deal."
Ceithin shoved the biggest forkful Mamoru had ever seen into his mouth. "I was wondering where you got all of this from," he said after swallowing. "Is he up yet? His essay is due in at ten thirty." He shovelled in a second massive forkful.
"Hungry?" Mamoru asked, wondering when he'd last performed the Heimlich manoeuvre as he watched Ceithin practically wolf down his breakfast. A third of the plate was already gone.
"Starving. I feel like I haven't eaten for a week."
"You always feel like you haven't eaten for a week. Stop swallowing your food down like a barbarian, we have company."
Zach accompanied his comment with a smile that Mamoru thought was rather indulgent, something which came with familiarity and friendship. For some reason, the prospect of becoming part of that made Mamoru's heart feel just that little bit lighter. "Aren't you going to eat anything?" he asked, biting into his toast and remembering Zach's spiel earlier about how breakfast was the most important meal of the day.
Zach's grin practically turned feral. "I ate enough last night," he looked to Ceithin, "here's a riddle for you. What has two thumbs and had a threesome last night?" Without giving either man a chance to react Zach pointed to himself, "I did, and I'm still full, if you know what I mean."
Mamoru was almost positive he translated the innuendo right, the roll of Ceithin's eyes confirming it. He couldn't help his cheeks blushing a little and looked up at the clock on Ceithin's wall for something else to focus on. "I need to get ready," he stated, realising the time, "or I'll be late for Ami."
The name stopped Zach from beginning what probably would have been a very detailed description of the two women he'd pulled. "Ami's coming here?" he asked, suddenly very interested.
Mamoru shook his head. "No, she's only stopping on her way, we're walking into uni together," he explained. Finishing up his coffee, he gathered up the plate and French press to take back into the kitchen.
"We'll see you later, then," Ceithin said.
"Tell Ami hi from me, and that I hope I get to see her again sometime soon. I had a good time with her last night."
Mamoru stiffened at that and gave Zach a rather insincere smile. "I'll tell her you said hello," he stated simply, having neither approved of Zach's tone, nor having forgotten the invasive and rude treatment his fellow medic had received the night before. With that he left, pulling the door shut lightly with his foot.
Ceithin had been able to feel the tension the second Zach had mentioned the girl, whoever she was. "What happened?" he asked as he put his knife and fork down, his tone of voice losing the slightly tired and dazed quality to it, suddenly becoming all business.
Zach seemed rather dejected, his face taking on a sulky pout. "Nothing," he said, changing to appear nonchalant. "Why?"
Ceithin didn't fall for it for a second. "What's going on?"
Zach sneered, "I don't even know what you're talking about." He stood from the bed and walked away, suddenly on the defensive. When he turned around it was to find that Ceithin's piercing grey eyes had not left him. Making a guttural noise of disgust he flopped himself on to Ceithin's bed and admitted everything. "I am incredibly attracted to Ami, but I might have come on a little strong. I also was derisive and cruel to one of the other girls, and Mamoru noticed." His eyes were shut, his dirty hair sprawled all over Ceithin's sheets. "I think that's what really upsetting, you know? I want to make a good impression on him-" he stopped himself to peek with one tired eye to gauge Ceithin's reaction, but as usual the white-haired man's face was completely impassive. Zach usually thought of it as Ceithin's 'listening face', placed on carefully while he absorbed information. He sighed before continuing, knowing he was not going to get any prompting from his friend. "But I don't feel guilty about it really, I mean, Noel went after Makoto so I have a feeling I ended his dry spell." He smirked, having found a justification for his actions now that he'd had a few minutes to think about the events of the night before. "You should have seen her, I'm not the most appreciative breast-man, but her tits were akin to Nigella Lawson's. They could be boob twins." His hands went out to cup his chest in an illustration of their size. "I could smell the desperation from a mile off, she probably hasn't had any in a while," he paused, "actually, now that I think about it, I wonder if she's gotten any, ever, and when I offered her a solution, the bitch had the audacity to turn me down." He shook his head, as if he still couldn't believe it. "I gave her an earful for it," he glanced over at Ceithin who in turn gave him nothing. "Noel was welcome to her; you know what they say, beggars can't be choosers."
"You seem a little preoccupied with this Makoto," Ceithin said cautiously as he picked up his cutlery and began eating again.
Zach's eyes opened fully and he sat up. "She was friends with Ami and Mamoru, they're the ones I'm interested in."
"Have you met Ami?" Zach asked, incredulous. "No, wait, of course you haven't. You were out most of yesterday and concussed for the rest of it." His eyes, still a little red from lack of sleep, took on a lighter quality. "She's perfect, Ceithin. Honestly now, I mean really perfect. She's got this innocent complexion, flawless skin and rosy cheeks, like a china doll almost, and these gorgeous wide eyes that just scream sexual repression." He bit his bottom lip, moistening the dry cracks with saliva, "And her legs. Putain. Long, lean and with a gap right at the top, maybe enough to fit a penny through..." he fell back onto the bed, "there are things I could do with those legs," he inhaled deeply. He twisted his head and smiled broadly at Ceithin.
"Why do you care so much about impressing Mamoru?" Ceithin asked, completely ignoring Zach's demeaning ode to Ami as he scooped up another heap of eggs, sausage, tomato, beans, mushrooms and fried toast.
The smile was wiped from Zach's face immediately. "That whole fiasco with Will and his girlfriend cost me two month's extra rent. I had to call papa for it," he was glaring at Ceithin, "you know how I hate any form of communication with him. I don't want to have to do it again. I want Mamoru to stay," he wasn't blinking as he spoke, "he cannot leave."
There was something there, Ceithin could see it, a glint in Zach's eyes which spoke of sincerity, and it got him annoyed. He swallowed down his food to scoff. "Yet somehow you thought it would be a good idea to break his friend's spirit and make her do something she'll probably regret for the rest of her life?" He lifted his eyebrows, as if he were telling off a child, "This is how you get people to like you?"
"Regret for the rest of her life? I think you're being a bit harsh on Noel's skills, aren't you?" he joked.
Not taking the bait, Ceithin remained quiet, polishing off his breakfast with unusually deliberate care.
"It's not my fault if she does something stupid and predictable," he said, shifting any and all blame from himself. "If she's gone and slept with him it was her decision." The sneer returned, "Why are we even discussing her? I was talking about Ami and Mamoru."
Ceithin dropped the knife and fork onto the empty plate with a heavy clank. "Stop it."
Zach stood, suddenly managing to look both angry and guilty. "Stop what?"
"Playing with these people." Ceithin paused to squeeze away the headache that was building in pressure. He took in a few deep breaths, giving himself a moment before blinking the pain away and continuing. "If you want to impress them you're going about it the wrong way. They're going to hate you in the end."
Perhaps it was the fact that he saw that his friend was in physical pain but, to Ceithin's surprise, instead of snapping back and storming off, Zach simply flipped him two fingers. "Go fuck yourself, I can do what I like."
It was as close as Ceithin would get for a prompt to continue, and he took it. "Mamoru's not going to like you if his friends don't. If you want him to stay then be nice. Act like a bloody grown up and not a spoilt pre-teen on a Twilight kick and you might find people responding with words other than 'fuck off'."
Zach slumped onto the chair Mamoru had abandoned. "You don't understand," he said, flicking his thumbnail with his finger. "Do you know how false everything sounds? What the fuck does 'be nice' even mean?" He looked up at Ceithin, dead serious. "You have no idea what it's like to be me-"
"I've known you for over half your lifetime," Ceithin said, interrupting him. "I know exactly what it's like to be you."
Zach shook his head. "You're clever, Ceithin, but you're not as clever as me. You don't see the world the way I do, you're not as open, you're not as..." he looked like he was struggling to find the right word. He sighed, as if he'd lost it, "There's the now, the present. The world we live in, where people go about their lives, lying to each other, 'being nice' because they want to feel better about themselves and hide from the horrid truth, but I see the horrid truth. I see it. The way it really is, the way it was before we covered ourselves with lies."
Ceithin's headache began to pound. "Zach, stop doing coke. Seriously, this time I mean it. It's addling an otherwise brilliant mind."
Hearing the response Zach's face changed into something more passive. "I'm never going to be something I'm not. I know who I am, I know what I've done and I know what I deserve. Nothing is going to change that. There is no power in this world that can."
"Just be fucking nice." Ceithin was losing patience, a sure indicator that he was in a lot of pain. "It will not kill you to not be an arsehole once in a while. Here's a helpful suggestion, when something rude or offensive enters your brain, keep your mouth shut."
Zach sat in silence for a little while, and Ceithin hoped he was taking his advice on board. "Would you like your painkillers now?" he eventually asked.
"Will they knock me unconscious again?"
Obviously Ceithin was in more pain than Zach had realised. "It's co-codamol, so yes, but it'll also stop you from being able to take a shit."
"I'll take oblivious sleep over constipation any day."
"Ami's just texted me, she's outside." Mamoru leaned over the bed, his head hovering just above the sleeping blonde's. When he received no reply he kissed her temple. "I'm leaving now, Usako." He walked on the spot, making his steps a little louder than usual.
"Mamo-chan?" she mumbled suddenly, eyes struggling to open through the sting of sleep.
Mamoru smirked, it works every time. He leaned in and accepted a proper kiss from his fiancée. "How's your head?" he asked.
"That's what happens when you drink two pints of cider," he picked up the paracetamol and the glass of water by the bedside table. "Here," he said, forcing her to tilt her head and drink.
"Thank you," she mumbled before burrowing herself deeper into the warmth of the duvet, inhaling deeply and filling her senses with his scent. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too."
Once he'd left the room, Usagi managed to enjoy a few moments of falling back into blissful sleep, but the opening of the door dragged her unwillingly back to throbbing consciousness. "Mamo-chan?" she asked.
At the sound of Minako's voice Usagi groaned and flipped over, turning her back on her friend. "It's not time for school..." she whined, "Mamo-chan said I could sleep for another hour and my head still hurts."
Minako envied the comfortable pocket of warmth Usagi had created for herself amongst the fluffy nest of bedding. She thought about it for a second, she wasn't exactly feeling like her perky self either. They didn't technically have class until noon, but the plan had been to wake Usagi, buy some breakfast and pick up a few books from the library before they went to the seminar. Screw it, books can bloody wait, it's too late to prepare any more for the seminar anyway. "Budge up," she said, mentally apologising to Rei for how she was about to wrinkle the shirt.
Usagi wriggled back to face Minako, looking for all intents and purposes like a fat, navy blue caterpillar. She beamed sleepily - her grin lopsided, her eyes still shut - and lazily lifted up the covers to allow Minako to scoot in.
Zach had just finished washing up the plate in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. "That'll be Robyn," Zach called out into Ceithin's room as he passed it. Remembering that Noel was supposed to hand in his essay that morning, he bashed his hand quickly on his house mate's door on his way. "Wake up, you ridiculously posh Casanova! I doubt the law department will accept 'I finally managed to have sex with someone other than myself' as a reason for over-sleeping and not handing in your essay." There was no response from Noel's end, although that was not unusual: Aretha Franklin could be jumping up and down on his bed while singing at the top of her lungs and she'd probably get no more out of him than a pillow flung at her head and a snore.
Zach threw open the front door to a fiery, long haired redhead with grey eyes as fierce as her younger brother's. Her medium height and build were covered in a conservative yet relaxed outfit, and with her arms crossed she looked every bit of the comprehensive school teacher that she was.
"Robyn!" he greeted jubilantly, "Darling!" Without giving her a chance to react, he grabbed her by the waist and dipped her, planting a long, hard kiss on her lightly rosy lips.
Within seconds of righting her, her left hand sliced through the air and struck his cheek in a ringing slap. "Stop bloody doing that!"
Zach was smiling. "It was worth it."
She was in no mood for games. "Where is he?"
He tilted his head to point at Ceithin's room. "He was just falling asleep. I got him to brush his teeth and everything."
"Move," she commanded, storming past him. "You smell like a pig farm, have you even showered in the past week?"
Zach sighed, having forgotten how disliked he was by her. "It's nice to see you too."
"Rhys!" she called out as she made her way to her brother's room. "Rhys?" She opened his door and stopped in her tracks. "Rhys Ceithin Jones," she announced, staring incredulously at the sight, "what in God's name are you doing on the floor?" She crossed her arms again as she watched him struggle to get up from his hands and knees and make his way back onto the bed.
"I'm fine," he said, trying to using the mattress for leverage, "you didn't have to drive over."
"It obviously seems like I did," she bit back as she lent him a hand. "You look ridiculous."
"I tripped on the bed sheet," he tried to explain.
Robyn was having none of it. "You were trying to run away, that's what you were bloody trying to do," she said as she struggled to help him stand up. "You heard me coming and you knew you were in for it."
Ceithin tried as best as he could to sound like she was completely wrong. "I am notafraid of you."
"Bollocks you aren't," she said, "and don't tell me you weren't trying to crawl your way to the window to escape. You've done it before."
Ceithin huffed. "I was six-"
"-and even then," Robyn interrupted, "you told no-one you'd hurt yourself until Pepper jumped on top of you and you screamed from the pain in your arm." She gave him a rather marked look. "I think I've made my point."
He frowned, defeated, and not liking it at all. "I was not trying to run away then either," he said in a lower voice, trying for one last hurrah.
"No, you were going to chase after the sheep and scare them, which was not much better. Now, Zach said you've taken some painkillers. They weren't from his 'personal' medicine cabinet, were they?"
"Of course not," he said, irritated by the thought. "I'm not stupid, they were prescribed by the doctor."
"It was bad enough for you to go to the hospital?" She looked up at him, matching his annoyed stare with a worried one. "Ceithin, what is wrong with you? Why didn't you call me? You're my brother, for God's sake!"
Zach entered and leaned on the doorway, all smug at Ceithin's obvious distress. "In his defence, he was concussed for most of yesterday afternoon and evening. I don't think he could've picked up his phone even if he'd wanted to."
Ceithin's cloud-coloured eyes shot over to glare at Zach accusingly. "I can't believe you texted my sister." His voice was filled with anger and betrayal.
Zach shrugged, the beam still fixed on his pretty features. "I told her everything was fine."
"No, not the bed," Robyn stated, pulling Ceithin up as he went to sit down, dragging him away from the soft comfort of pillows, and leading him towards his desk and laptop instead. "You can't Skype mum and dad from bed, they'll definitely think something's wrong then."
Ceithin's eyes widened with horror as he looked again, uncomprehendingly this time, to Zach. "You texted my mum?"
"I thought she should know," Zach said, shrugging a second time, "I told her you were fine, though," he elaborated, as if that made everything better.
"I can't," Ceithin tried, desperately looking at Robyn, "the time difference... it's really late over there."
"No it's not, it's about eight o'clock in the evening. Now sit. Phone them," she said, pointing to his computer screen. "Hurry up about it, I've only managed to get the morning off and I have to drive back in a few hours."
He sat down with as much dejection as was possible for a bulky man over six feet with a permanently serious face. "Can I have some tea, at least?" he asked, looking up into matching grey eyes.
Robin quirked her lips into small grin, "If that disgusting kitchen of yours doesn't eat me first," she said, patting him lightly on his arm and making her way out. "Come along, Zach, you can help. The less I touch in there, the less likely I am to die from some horrible mould poisoning."
"It's not that dirty," Zach muttered, but did as he was told, staring at her legs the entire way to the kitchen.
The commotion downstairs was more than enough to rouse Minako, who had not been able to fully fall asleep - Usagi radiated too much heat and the bed smelt of men's cologne. It brought too many memories to the surface for her. She could recall every detail, every item in Ace's apartment back in Tokyo, from the Union Jack bed covers to the multitudes of photographs of him with various famous Japanese actors, directors, artists and singers. There had been a bronze lamp she'd bought for him by his bed; his drawer's contents always spilled over onto the chair in his bedroom, and on the couch in his living room; his bathroom was filled with shampoos, liquid soaps and more hair care products than she owned, a fact which she had found endearing and often made her giggle. He was missing a glass from his set in the kitchen - she had accidentally knocked it to the floor one night when he'd frantically pushed her against the counter, his lips eager to sear her skin with possessive marks. She wondered if his new wife had replaced it.
She got up and checked her phone for the time, dismissing her memories in favour for something much less painful. It just past nine thirty, which was later than she's anticipated, so she turned to Usagi and gently shook her. "Come on, sleepy head, it's time to get up." Seeing her fellow blonde stubbornly tighten the duvet around herself, Minako decided on a different tactic. "If we hurry, we can get a McDonald's breakfast."
Usagi practically bolted out of the bed, leaping over Minako to land with none of the grace supposedly inherent of the former Princess of the Moon. "Did you bring me clothes?" she asked, "I can't leave in my pyjamas!" she began routing through a small plastic set of IKEA drawers next to Mamoru's wardrobe in search of a spare toothbrush.
"Of course. They're in the bag." Minako gave a languid stretch, enjoying being able to spread out in a double bed.
Usagi rifled through Minako's bag, shaking out the jeans, some lilac underwear, a long sleeved V-neck blue top and a lacy vest to wear under it. "This is it?" she asked, frowning, "I'll freeze in this weather."
Minako yawned before answering. "You left your pink hoodie here, I borrowed it last night for a bit. I figured you could wear it today."
Usagi frowned, "Which one?" she asked.
Minako closed one eye in thought. "Hmm..." she said, her lips scrunching together as she struggled to remember.
"One of the Hello Kitty ones?" Usagi suggested. "If it is, I'm not wearing it, they're more house clothes-y than going into uni clothes-y."
"It wasn't," Minako shook her head lightly. "It had a front pocket, no zip."
"Oh, the Pineapple one! The one with big black logo on the front."
"Not that one either, I would have remembered if it was that one."
Usagi frowned, unsure as to which one Minako had used. "What about the Pineapple one with the small white logo in the corner?"
Minako smiled. "It definitely wasn't Pineapple."
"What about the 'I Heart New York' one?"
Usagi clicked her fingers, believing she had the answer. "The Hoxtorn uni one."
"You have way too many pink hoodies."
Usagi paused in thought. "The one with the butterfly on it?" she asked, struggling to think of any more she possibly owned.
"Is that one quite bright?" Minako asked, "Because I think it was more of a watermelon pink rather than a rosy pink."
Usagi's frown deepened. "I don't own a watermelon-coloured hoodie. Are you sure it was in Mamo-chan's room?" All sorts of jealous thoughts began to whizz through her brain. Images quickly flashed of girls she'd seen him with in the past few months as she tried to target the most likely candidate.
Minako recognised the look and realised she had to do something quickly before her princess spiralled down into a state of insecurity and paranoia. She rolled her eyes, dragging herself out of the bed, and made her way to the wardrobe where she'd hung up the hoodie before she'd headed home the previous night. "Here, it was this one," she said as she pulled it out and tossed it at her friend's head.
Usagi's face brightened. "My Roxy one!" She giggled to herself, suddenly feeling silly for her momentary doubt in her soul mate's fidelity. "I suppose it is kind of watermelon-y."
"Go brush your teeth or we won't make it in time."
Usagi frowned again. "Where are my socks?"
Minako grunted lightly, scrunching her face with annoyance as she realised she'd forgotten to bring any. "Borrow a pair from Mamoru?" she suggested.
Usagi rolled her eyes as she made her way to the bathroom, a new toothbrush in hand. "His are so boring, they're all black."
Jared sniffed and cleared his throat, his nose having started to run once he'd stopped jogging. At some point midway he'd lost feeling in his cheeks, but since he'd finished the pain had come back, the numbness of the cold having worn off quickly without the sharp wind to bite at his face. He fumbled in his pocket for his house keys, pulling out his phone to turn off his music at the same time.
Before he turned the lock, he couldn't resist getting a final look up at the blue sky, for once not clouded over with grey misery, and it made him smile. He was almost tempted to take off his beanie hat, but the sudden gust of wind which blew and then died just as quickly told him not to. The thought of his Jamaican-coloured woollen beanie, sitting perfectly on his now damp golden locks, reminded him of the person who had made it. Lytton was one of the hall wardens in Brunel Hall the year before, an English student from Germany doing her Masters. She'd been experimenting in knitting and had ended up with a hat too big for her head, so she'd very generously passed it on to him. After that, and a long discussion about how the Twilight films could be turned into several rather enjoyable drinking games, they had become fast friends.
She was his favourite film buddy in the UK, bar Zach, and it had been a while since he'd seen her so he made a mental note to send her a text and ask if she wanted to go to the cinema at some point. Maybe he'd invite Ceithin, who would probably be grateful to get out of the house and do something non-strenuous. Plus, Lytton seemed to like Ceithin quite a lot, even though he didn't wear glasses. She had a thing for men wearing glasses, apparently, just like it seemed that he had a thing for Japanese girls with haughty expressions and soulful eyes. "Get over it," he whispered to himself, feeling a tad bit ridiculous. Rei was hot, but it was more than that. There was something about the way she could simply look at a person and have them completely entranced.
He shook his head; she was sexy and he hadn't gotten laid since the beginning of the summer when he'd gone to Justin and Lia's anniversary party back home in San Diego and hooked up with one of their dentist friends. That was where all of his feelings were coming from: lack of sexual intercourse. He was definitely not going to pull a Ted Mosby; he'd known her for less than a week.
He took in a few puffs of the cold air, enjoying the rare feel of November sunshine as it pierced through his thin wine-red running jacket and opened the door, grateful for the sudden rush of heat - even if it did sting for a second.
As he entered the house and slipped off his shoes he noticed the trail of clothing left by the only person who was small enough to fit into them. He rolled his bright eyes and unzipped his jacket, hanging it on the banister ready to take upstairs and then began picking up the items. He heard Zach's voice coming from Ceithin's room and went in, intending to toss the smelly booze-stained bundle into his face.
"Mum, as you can plainly see, I'm fine. I've had much worse." Ceithin was talking into his computer, gaze fixed on the screen. His voice held the same steadiness that it always did so Jared took it as a good sign that he was feeling better. He gave an acknowledging wave to the redhead who he recollected as being Ceithin's older sister, having met her briefly once the previous year. She gave him a small, pleasant smile - a copy of her younger brother's - and took a sip of her tea.
"You've got me looking after him," Zach pitched in. Robyn rolled her eyes but said nothing.
"That does make me feel better, but only a little. You don't look like you're taking care of yourself either." Ceithin's mum was frowning as she leaned in and peered closer to get a better look, her grey eyes scrutinising with hawk-like intensity.
"We're eating regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and I make sure I don't push myself too hard," Zach assured her.
"I don't believe a word of it, I can see it in your face, Zachary Lambert, and in my Ceithin's." Her gaze shifted to her son, "You need to have some kind of balance in uni. Your dad heartily regrets not having taken more care of himself during his youth."
"That's not how he seems to remember it," Ceithin said. He was more than familiar with his father's stories, and none of them held an ounce of regret in them.
"What he says and what he means are two different things, don't you go making the same mistakes. I hope you're not ruining yourselves with too much drink and stress. You know what it did to your dad, and now as a consequence I've had to move somewhere which is uncomfortably hot and he forces me to play golf with him. At least back in Swansea he could go off with his mates for the day, but here, oh no." Ceithin sighed with mild exasperation, knowing how much his mother liked to complain about her big move to Australia. Zach, however, was not fazed and pretended to listen, giving nods of sympathy and encouragement as if he hadn't heard it a million times before. "Here," Mrs Jones continued,"he insists I come along with him, and in all good conscience how can I refuse? The whole point of us uprooting ourselves was to get him away from the temptation of working, and I don't want to discourage him from exercise."
"Have you asked him to go swimming with you?" Zach suggested. "I know you like to swim."
Mrs Jones huffed. "He won't. He insists on being outside as much as possible, and to be honest I'm not very fond of the idea of him surrounded by other women in bathers."
"But surely with you there, he won't notice anyone else."
Mrs Jones scoffed. "Flatterer," she said. "Did you hear that, Ian?" she yelled out to someone behind her, out of sight. "Zach says you should come swimming with me and that you're not allowed to stare at the other women."
"I'll stare at who I like!" Mr Jones replied, his voice deep and loud, "Now come make me some tea, woman!"
Mrs Jones shook her head, seeking sympathy from Zach. He obliged with a wink. "You know you love it, really."
"You're incorrigible," she said, and then turned around to yell at her husband again. "It's too hot to make tea! This bloody Australian summer is driving me batty! Why on Earth did we have to move to a country which has its seasons mixed up?!"
While she was distracted, Ceithin took the opportunity to give Zach a look that told him, in no uncertain terms, to stop flirting with his mother.
"It's never too hot make tea." Mr Jones complained, approaching.
"All we can see is your belly, dad," Robyn said. And it was true, because of how the camera was angled all that was visible was Ian Jones' somewhat pudgy, white-haired gut.
"I'm not bending, I'll hurt my back."
"So tilt the camera up," she retorted, "and for God's sake, put some clothes on."
"I have," he said, illustrating his point by putting his hands into his shorts pockets and lifting them slightly to show her. "See? It's too hot for anything more."
"I suppose you're wearing sandals with socks as well, I'm glad I'm not there, it's bloody embarrassing."
"It's not as embarrassing as being knocked out within the first five minutes of your first game as Captain, though, is it?"
Ceithin knew when he was being bated, but he could not resist defending himself. "I'm not embarrassed! I was about to score a brilliant try!" he protested, "And I was spear tackled."
Mr Jones took his hands out of his pockets. "Tilt the camera up, Libby, so I can taunt our son properly."
"I will do no such thing, it's perfectly positioned," she retorted, her eyes sharp again. The reminder of Ceithin's injury erased all her previous humour. "And I'll thank you to stop joking around, he could have really hurt himself." She closed her eyes, as if she couldn't bear the thought. "I don't see why you have to continue playing, you should have learnt from your father's illness that you shouldn't take unnecessary risks."
"Playing sports helps prevent things like heart disease," Ceithin said, his voice patient. "I'm not going to live my life in a bubble."
Mr Jones' hand placed itself gently on her shoulder. "He's fine, cariad, he's a clever boy, he won't do anything stupid."
Zach pitched in, hoping to diffuse her worry. "He'll be well looked after here, we've got a doctor living with us now."
"A doctor?" Mrs Jones pulled back and raised her white eyebrows.
"I found him." The proud glee coming from Zach was palpable. "He'll take good care of us," he said, launching into a rather glowing description of Mamoru.
Seeing that it would be bad form to toss a heap of dirty clothing at his house mate's head while he was talking to his pseudo-family, Jared went into the kitchen to dump the clothes by the washing machine himself. He then set about preparing breakfast.
Usagi was just making her way out of Mamoru's room when she saw a head bobbing up the stairs. She waited briefly to greet him. "I like your hat," she said, noting the black beanie with the Jamaican flag colours as he made it to the top of the stairs.
He smiled in thanks. "Morning sunshine, I'd heard you'd snuck yourself back over here. Missed our company too much?"
Usagi returned his smile with one of her own. "I hope I wasn't too much of a burden last night, it was really nice of you to take me home."
"It's no biggie, just next time, set a location in advance or something, ok? I think you pissed off your roommates."
Usagi bit her lip, "Was Rei really mad?"
Jared shrugged. "She started texting like crazy and kicked me out before I finished my tea."
Usagi's matchmaking demon popped out for a moment. "She's really pretty when she's angry, isn't she?" she said, pretending it was an offhanded comment and not what she believed to be an ingenious ploy to get him to fall in love with Rei. "Her eyes get really shiny and her cheeks go all pink and you just want to squish her into a hug for looking so adorable, except that she's also really scary so you don't," because you'd probably end up being a piece of burnt toast - she added the last part quietly to herself. "She doesn't have a boyfriend, you know," she said, being about as subtle as an infomercial.
Jared removed the beanie in a smooth motion from his head, smiling at her obvious attempts at playing cupid. "I already asked her out."
Usagi clapped her hands in reflexive glee, the toothbrush shooting out of her grip and bouncing off the wall. She was so excited that she didn't even notice. "And?!"
"She said yes."
Usagi was unexpectedly taken aback by that. Rei was not usually (if ever) open to going out on dates. "She said yes?" she asked, not quite believing it.
Noticing that she was surprised, Jared smiled. "You didn't think she would?"
Usagi was rarely one to think before she spoke. "Not really, no." Realising what she was implying she began shaking her hands, as if it would somehow erase what she'd just said. "I mean, I figured she'd say yes eventually, but not the very first time you asked her."
He scratched at the light stubble highlighting his chin. "Well, she didn't exactly accept directly, but I'm taking it as a positive."
Usagi didn't understand. "What did she say?" she asked, frowning and more than a little curious.
"She kind of mumbled in Japanese, glared at me for a little while and then promised that she'd teach me some breathing exercises if I'd leave and stop pestering her with questions about the flash in your room."
Usagi thought about it. "I suppose it's a kind of yes."
"It's good enough for me. What was that flash, by the way?" he asked.
Usagi's baby blues widened in panic. "Uhh..." she wracked her brain frantically for an excuse. She should have been able to come up with something quick, to brush off his mildly curious question with an unimportant answer. "Uh..." She was making a big deal out of this by not responding with actual words. He was getting suspicious; she could tell from the way his eyebrows lifted slowly and his head tilted, as if he were waiting for some kind of response. Salvation came in the form of a Back to the Future poster which hung on the wall between Zach's and Mamoru's room. "Lightning!" she exclaimed.
Jared looked confused. "Really? It wasn't even raining."
Usagi began panicking all over again, her mouth opening and closing a few times as she wracked her brain for something else. "That's urm... that's because it came from downstairs?" She had to physically stop herself from cringing.
Jared blinked. "There was lightning..." he said eventually, speaking slowly just to make sure he was understanding, "...and it was inside your building? Did you mean there was some kind of electrical surge, is that what you're trying to tell me?"
"Yes," Usagi said, automatically, "I mean, NO!" He might have somehow been testing her lie; she wasn't sure so she stuck to her guns. She was terrible at this sort of thing. Her eyes flicked from one side to the other as she avoided looking at him. Then she belatedly remembered to smile. "It was lightning."
"Inside the building?" he asked.
"Yes." Just as she replied Usagi suddenly smacked her forehead with the palm of her hand. "Sorry sorry sorry!" she said, taking her free hand and shaking it as if she were trying to wave the last few minutes away. "I forgot to add, the people downstairs are in MagSoc."
"The magic society?" He seemed interested.
"Yeah, they were, uh, they were probably practicing a new trick." Now that Jared seemed to be less suspicious, she took her idea and ran with it. "They do that sort of thing all the time, they're always making things disappear," she wiggled her fingers for effect, "or do cool card tricks and um, create small explosions with big flashes of light." She gave a small nervous laugh. "So that's what happened. And it scared me, because I'm not really the biggest fan of thunder. Did I tell you that I'm afraid of thunder?" Her nerves were still charged with energy, powering her mouth with a little too much enthusiasm. "Well I am, terrified, actually. Which is a little awkward considering Makoto is so intertwine-" she stopped herself just in time and gave out another forced laugh, "ha ha, what am I saying? I'm not even making sense, but that's neither here nor there. The point was, the flash came from downstairs because the students that live there are magicians. And I ran here- I mean, I took a cab here - because there would be no way I could run here faster than...than you could getting here, of course. Anyway, Mamo-chan always makes me feel better with lightning, so here I am."
A silence hung uncomfortably in the air, with Usagi on tender hooks while she waited for his reaction.
Jared quirked his lips into an amused smile. "Ok then," he said simply.
Usagi wasn't sure if it was simply paranoia, but his reaction over her explanation did not seem quite as genuine as his others. "So," he said, "some magicians scared the shit out of you and then you snuck past Rei and I like a ninja to come get some good lovin' from your man. That's the story you're sticking to?"
Usagi's cheeks went pink. "It wasn't- I mean, we didn't-"
"Kiddo, your answer should be 'shut up, Jared, you don't get my sordid sex details'."
"My details are not sordid!" Usagi wasn't sure what the word meant, but she could guess. She hoped her cheeks cooled soon enough. "So, Rei kind of agreed to a date, when is it happening?" she asked, eager to change the subject.
It seemed to work and the awkward moment quickly passed. "I didn't manage to set a day or time, but I'm in no hurry, I'm from Cali, we know never to rush things." He checked his phone for the time. "I've stuck a few lamb chops in the oven. They should be ready in about fifteen minutes, you want some?"
"Lamb chops for breakfast?" she asked, wondering if it was a western thing.
"My body clock's off, I tend to prefer dinner around now."
"Thanks, but I think I'll pass this time" she said, grinning. "Minako and I are going to get double sausage and egg McMuffins, and McPancakes with maple syrup, and maybe some McDonuts too or a McWrap depending on whether I'm in the mood for sweet or savoury."
Jared chuckled at her overuse of the 'Mc' prefix, finding it absolutely adorable. "You should hurry if you want to make it," he motioned for her to go into the bathroom. "You head in first, take my advice though, I'd wait about twenty seconds before you actually jump in, the hot water takes a little time to heat up."
"Oh, I wasn't going t-" she stopped herself. After thinking about it, a quick shower sounded awfully appealing, but she felt guilty making him wait to use his own utilities. "No, you're all sweaty, you go in first."
"Are you implying I stink?" he asked, feigning surprise.
Usagi giggled. "No," she said, and then wrinkled her nose. "Maybe a little."
"For that you're definitely getting a face full of sweaty B.O." he said, whipping off his drenched shirt and dangling it in her face.
"OH! EWWW!" Usagi screeched in horror and ran away, laughing as he gave chase until she made it to Mamoru's door.
He mussed her hair, a pleasant smile on his face. "I won't take long, promise. Why don't you go say hi to Ceithin while you wait? He was up talking to his folks a few minutes ago, but he should be done by now."
Usagi nodded her head at the idea, and then discreetly took a glance at Jared's upper torso as he turned away and headed into the bathroom. It was not nearly as tanned as he was in his photographs on his door, but he was still a shade or two darker than the others - an advantage of living in the sun for most of his life, evidently. He had straight, angular and strong shoulders, broad pecks, and a narrow waist with a very appealing and well defined six pack. A real swimmer's body. Rei would be pleased...well, any girl would be pleased, really. She blushed at the thought, and then remembered that her Mamo-chan was the handsomest, sexiest man in the entire universe. He had broad shoulders too, but not so big that she felt swallowed by them. Jared's eyes may have sparkled as mischievous a blue as Minako's, but Mamoru's brewed with the deepest of intensities and desires...and he had wonderfully strong and careful hands, perfectly precise in every action. She blushed even deeper, all thoughts of Jared and his wonderful torso forgotten by the time he reached the bathroom door.
"Makoto?" Rei's voice was as light as her knock on the bedroom door. "Are you feeling alright?" She waited for a moment, her head bent slightly to listen for a response. Ordinarily Rei would not have risked bothering her friend. Makoto had done a round of the city, which always deserved a few hours extra sleep, but Rei had noticed that something was amiss when she had come home the night before and gone straight to her room, passing Rei and Jared without so much as a glance in their direction - it was not like Makoto to not exchange pleasantries, even brief ones with people she barely knew. Makoto also hated missing lectures, and if she did not get up soon she would be late for her first one.
Rei sighed and placed a gentle grip onto the door handle, hesitating from twisting as she debated whether it was a good idea to open Makoto's door unannounced to check if all was well. She decided against it, lifting her hand to lay it against the thin plywood, the pads of her fingers tracing their way down the door's smoothness. "Makoto?" she asked again, her voice just a little bit louder than the soft call of before.
This time she got an answer. "I'm alright, thanks." The voice from inside sounded anything but. To Rei it seemed like Makoto was exhausted, maybe even a little bunged up. "I'm just tired. I... I don't think I'm going to go in this morning."
Rei placed her hand on the door, "Can I come in?" she asked, "You sound like you're getting a cold."
"No, don't!" she called out, "You- you'll catch my germs. You should go or you'll miss your philosophy seminar."
"Oh, don't I wish. It's week B, so it's Quantitative Methods. I can do without a maths class, just give me an excuse."
"I'll be better by the afternoon, don't worry."
Rei could hear the tone in Makoto's voice, she wanted her gone. With mild concern and some reluctance, she obliged. "Alright then, give me a call if you need anything." She was about to leave when she remembered something. "Don't forget you promised Usagi you'd get her a house plant from the plant and poster sale at the Student Union, do you want me to find something instead?"
There was a small pause, as if Makoto was considering it. "I'll do it," she said eventually. "I'll see you later."
"Alright. Feel better." Leaving somewhat unsatisfied with the idea of a friend being in pain, Rei did as Makoto wanted and left her alone.
Even though Minako did not seem to be upset about her escapade the night before, there was no telling what was truly in the mind of the Senshi of Venus. For that reason Usagi was wary about bringing it up, but as they descended the stairs to greet Ceithin, Usagi thought it best to inform Minako in order to keep their story uniform. "Jared asked about the teleportation flash, but it's ok," she reassured, "I gave him a good cover story."
Minako stopped on the stairs and grabbed a hold of her fellow blonde's bicep, stopping her too. "Did you tell him you were taking a photograph?" she asked, her eyes serious and invading.
Usagi frowned, her mouth becoming a little drier as she worried she'd done something wrong. "Um, no?" she admitted timidly, her answer in a form of a question to implicitly ask if it was the right answer. "I told him the group living downstairs from us were in the magic society and were practicing a trick."
Minako stared at Usagi for a second and then continued walking downstairs, shaking her head.
"Did I do something bad?" Usagi asked, following Minako eagerly.
"Rei had already told him last night that you were taking a picture with your phone. I told Ceithin that too when you'd teleported here."
"Jared and Ceithin saw it?" Usagi bit her lip. "Anyone else?"
Minako shrugged. "I don't think so, but you can never be sure with these sorts of things." The slight reprimand was not missed.
Usagi began to feel a little guilty about the whole thing. "And both you and Rei came up with the same excuse?"
"We did. They saw a bright white flash, I suppose it was the most obvious explanation."
"Oh," Usagi looked down at her feet, clad in oversized black slippers, and thought she was stupid for not having thought of the excuse herself. "I suck at lying."
"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Minako quirked her lips into a blend of disapproval and sympathy, "If Jared doesn't believe your story he'll probably think it's because you were taking dirty pictures and didn't want anyone to know," she said, teasing.
Usagi blushed. "Hey! Not funny."
Minako laughed a little at her friend's embarrassed reaction, but it didn't last long. With only very mild reproof she added: "You know, you shouldn't have teleported in the first place, then you wouldn't have needed to lie at all."
Usagi looked up guiltily, acknowledging the point. "I'm sorry, I was just so awfully lonely at that moment and all I could think about was my Mamo-chan and how much I missed him and it just...happened."
"As long as you don't let it happen again, it'll be ok. The less people get suspicious about us, the easier my job of protecting you gets."
The comment sparked a flare in Usagi and she frowned. This change in the dynamics of their relationship had been pressing on her mind for some time, but she was still a little hungover and she hadn't felt like she'd deserved to be berated for what she'd done - her patience was thin. Perhaps the timing had been wrong, and maybe she'd been careless, but the Crystal was hers to command, its power was hers to wield and it wasn't like she'd done any harm. Minako had no right to be angry with her. "Why have you become like this?" she snapped, unable to help herself. "Protecting me isn't supposed to be your job. You're not some bodyguard, you're my friend!"
Minako frowned, not liking the sudden shift in Usagi's mood. "I'm both."
It was not the answer Usagi was looking for. "But I don't want you to be both." She wanted things to go back to how they used to be, when she wasn't coddled by her friends and put on a different footing to them. She didn't like how things had changed, but fortunately she knew the root cause, so she believed there was still hope to fix the problem. "I know Ace hurt you," she said in a softened voice. At the mention of her ex's name, Minako visibly balked, but Usagi simply took her hand in a dramatic grip and barrelled on anyway. "He was a big jerk ball who couldn't see what a wonderful person you are, and he must have made your heart so sore, and maybe that's why you've been all bossy and protective or whatever, but I've got so many people taking care of me that I don't need you to stress yourself so much." Usagi was never very good at articulating herself, but her sentiments were heartfelt so she continued on before Minako could get a word in, feeling relieved that she was finally addressing an issue which had been building for the past year. "I know things were different," she stopped, looking for a less obvious way of saying 'the Silver Millennium', "way back in the old days, I mean I don't remember much, but I do remember that I wasn't a Senshi like you all were, so maybe I did need to be protected then. But now... now, well, I'm Sailor Moon," she whispered the name of her alter ego through closed lips, so it came out more like 'saymur noom', "my mother let me have those powers so that I could take care of you, you shouldn't have to be worrying about me all the time and I really wish you'd stop."
Minako tried to diffuse the situation, it was not wise to have their conversation in other people's houses even if they were alone at the bottom of the stairs. She smiled, "Usagi, can we not have this conversation right now?" she asked, keeping her tone of voice light.
"No...I mean yes," she corrected, confused as to which one meant she wanted to continue. "I mean, whichever one is the one to say so that we can keep talking about this."
Minako sighed, this had obviously been something which had been hanging over Usagi's head for a while. "Asking me not to worry about you is like asking Alex Skarsgård not to be a beautiful man: it's just not going to happen. But it's ok, it's what I do, and what I will always do." She tugged lightly on Usagi's hand, still holding hers, in a sign of affection. "That's what happens when people care about you. It's just a fact that you'll have to accept." Her tone was still soft, like a mother's, disguising its authority with sweetness.
Usagi would not let it go. "But I don't want you to worry about me, and it makes me so sad when I see you acting all upset whenever I have to-" she stopped herself, mindful of the fact that anyone could be listening intently to their conversation (despite there being no one around), "whenever I have to do...extra night time inspections of the city, or use my... gift at all, it's like I've done something wrong and I don't like feeling that way." Usagi's blonde eyebrows scrunched as her lips quirked, her mind busy with serious thoughts. "What Ace did was really cruel, and I never want to see or hear from him again because of how he left you for that silly actress-"
"Please stop bringing him up," Minako suddenly interrupted, pulling her hand away from Usagi, her eyes hard and her voice cold compared to how it had been moments before. "He has nothing to do with this."
Usagi bit her lip aware that she had pushed it too far, but she also knew that something had caused Minako to go into protective overdrive. "Well what is it then? What's changed the way we were?"
"Usa nothing has changed-" Minako tried to protest, but she was interrupted.
"Something has," Usagi insisted. "Was it Rei's grandfather?" It was the only other major incident which had happened around a year ago, when Minako first started to treat her differently. "Is it because he died?" she asked rather bluntly.
Minako's face remained impassive, with only an extra blink to show she'd been affected, but Usagi had known her for long enough to look for those sorts of things, and she managed to pick up the blip. "Oh..." So that's what it was. Of course. She was overcompensating. Usagi's eyes lowered for a moment. From the moment her grandfather had died until just a month before they were due to leave for the United Kingdom, Rei had not spoken to any of the Senshi, bar Makoto. She had blamed the others for not having saved her grandfather, and had only just forgiven them as they were about to leave. It seems, Usagi thought to herself, that Minako still blames herself for what happened. "Oh, you silly bird, come here." She pulled her blonde friend into a deep hug. Minako followed obligingly, but her heart was not in it.
"Minako, I love you so much and I don't want to hurt your feelings but this has to stop." Usagi said, finally feeling like she was making headway, her arms still tightly clasped around her friend's body. "The Youma are trickling over one by one. You said it yourself, more and more of them are going to be making their way here from wherever the heck they're coming from, so you're going to need me to do more." She pulled away to stare into fellow blue eyes. "You're not supposed to go around saving everybody, Minako. You can't protect me from everything and anything. I am the owner of the Ginzuishou. That responsibility is mine."
Minako tightened her jaw in an effort to get a hold of herself. "And what do you think my responsibility is?"
Usagi sighed. She had to make Minako understand. "You couldn't protect me from my destiny then, and you can't protect me from my destiny now, whatever it is 'destined' to be. That's not what you're meant to do." She kissed Minako's hand and gave her warmest smile. "You're not my boss, you're my best friend. What I need is your support and caring, not your worry and protection."
Usagi's sincere speech stung at Minako's heart like a wasp and it took all of her strength not to collapse on the floor into a weeping mess. Why bring this all up now? It had been something which had been hanging over Usagi's head, that was plain to see. She had understood what Usagi was trying to tell her, and it surprised her how easily the girl had pinpointed the problem, but the underlying message was clear and it hurt. It hurt like hell. You fail, Aino Minako, you fail at everything you do. You are cursed to never love and you cannot save the people you care about. You can't keep me safe, you couldn't then and now I have to protect myself.
Minako's self-loathing was interrupted by a loud thud, followed simultaneously by what could only be described oxymoronically as a deep, manly yelp. Curious, the two blondes made their way into Ceithin's room to investigate, pushing open the ajar door to poke their heads in.
What they found was both Zach and a pretty redheaded woman laughing their hearts out as Ceithin looked up from the floor, his face sour.
"Fine," he said as he lifted his arm for help. "So I can't get out of the chair on my own."
"You're hopped up on a high dose of co-codamol. Of course you can't, you idiot," Zach said affectionately.
Ceithin caught sight briefly of the newcomers but had to do a double take before he registered who they were. On seeing Minako, he averted his eyes almost immediately. "Get me up," he mumbled, speaking directly to Zach.
Robyn, still smiling, acknowledged the two girls. "Hello?" she said, prompting them to introduce themselves.
Minako dragged her eyes quickly back from watching the man on the floor to answer, feeling a little awkward for intruding. "Sorry, we just came to check in on Ceithin. This is Usagi, Mamoru's fiancée, and I'm a friend of theirs. Minako," she approached with a smile, offering a handshake.
The redhead took it warmly. "I'm Robyn, his older sister," she said before glancing over at Zach. "Is this the one who..."
Zach nodded, winking once as he pulled up his friend and led him carefully back to the bed, a smile still on his face.
"Oh dear," Minako said, understanding the exchange. "I hope you told her that I apologised about the scarf."
Robyn chuckled. "Water under the bridge, as long as he's alright then I don't mind; a few knocks from time to time are good for him. You're an awfully pretty thing, aren't you?" she said, changing up the subject.
"Don't start," Ceithin warned from his place under the covers. He knew how his sister liked to tease, especially when it involved him, and he understood very well what she was hinting at.
"How are you?" Usagi asked, still by her place at the door.
"You can come in, you know," Zach offered, amused at how the rambunctious blonde had suddenly gotten a case of Japanese shyness, just like Mamoru had when he'd walked in that morning.
At the invitation Usagi shuffled in and made her way towards Ceithin. "Are you feeling any better?" She approached timidly and sat at the edge of the bed, her soft, yellow-duck, pink pyjamas rustling against his bed sheet.
The sound triggered something in Ceithin's memory. A dream. The frantic movement of skin and cloth, a flash of blonde hair, a hushed laugh, wonderfully deep ocean eyes and the taste of sweet rain on her lips...
The image disappeared as quickly as it came, but it was enough to fluster him completely. "Pardon?" he asked, his grey eyes wide as he tried to understand what had just happened.
Usagi frowned in concern. "Maybe I didn't say it right. My English is always terrible in the morning," she suggested, looking to Minako for help.
"No, I'm sure you asked right, I just didn't hear the question," Ceithin said, attempting to smile as his eyes followed Usagi's line of conversation and focused on Minako. Upon contact the images flared again. They were, unfortunately, much more explicit this time around. His eyes widened with panic as his body began to...react to all of the moaning and the thrusting and the feel of... of.. whatever the hell it was, dream, fantasy, he had no bloody clue. "Um, Usagi... could you be so kind as to pass me the pillow on the floor?"
"Oh, sure!" She obliged him and he placed it, discreetly as possible, onto his lap. Zach snorted with laughter at the sight and did nothing at all to hide it. It attracted the attention of everyone in the room, something Ceithin would have been incredibly grateful for, had he not been terrified of what Zach would say.
"What's funny?" Usagi asked.
Mercifully, Zach brushed his reaction off, "Oh, nothing. I gave him some pain medication a little while ago, so that's why he's a little spaced out," he explained.
"Maybe we should let you get some rest," Minako offered as she looked at him.
At the sound of her voice, honeyed and deep as it was, the vision went into overdrive and Ceithin was assaulted on all senses. The blonde was Minako, no mistaking it, in a room made out of marble. The air held a chill, but the heat from their bodies kept them sweating. The bed was large and plush, but he noted little more than that since his attention was... otherwise occupied. His lips were tracing their way along her delicate collar bone and dipped lower along the silky expanse of her skin. He could taste her; he could hear the soft, sharp intakes of her breath; he could feel her: warm and smooth except for when his eager mouth reached her heart. There, just above her left breast, her skin puckered as if it were scarred. He made out the shape briefly and he tried to focus on it, but apparently his dream self knew of its existence already and moved on to much... plumper areas.
A skin tattoo of sorts, in the shape of a crescent.
He was abruptly shaken out of it by his sister's awfully intrusive voice. "Ceithin, oi, space cadet!"
"What? Sorry," he shook his head lightly, clearing his thoughts as he blinked. This time there was no mistaking it. Ceithin realised it must have been a dream he'd had the night before and it must have just been coming back to him. He blamed the prescribed drugs given to him by the doctor at the hospital, that had to have been it. That and the co-codamol he'd taken earlier. And the impact of the injury. And Minako's incredibly beautiful eyes. And the fact that she was very sexually attractive.
He'd had a sex dream, he decided. A completely normal human action. Unfortunately it left him digging his elbows into a pillow in his lap as he sat up in bed, desperately trying to hide the erection which was springing up like a tent pole any time Minako so much as looked at him with those eyes, or smiled at him with those luscious lips of hers, or just about moved in any way at all. "I don't mean to be rude, but could you all, um, leave?" he asked, doing his very best to keep his voice calm and level.
Zach was close to bursting. Ceithin wanted to glare at him, but he was too busy turning a bright shade of red and hoping desperately that no one except for his supposed best friend really knew what was going on. Minako, he noticed, looked horribly guilty, she evidently still felt terrible for her part in the whole concussion incident. Usagi looked worried. He did not think the situation could get any worse than it already was.
Apparently, he was wrong.
"Come along then," Robyn took the hint that her brother needed privacy and began to usher everyone out. "Let's go people, he probably needs to fart or something," she said, "and trust me, when he lets one of those go, you do not want to be within a ten foot radius of ground zero."
There was no hole deep enough to swallow up the poor man's embarrassment... At least Zach didn't shout out 'YOU HAVE A MASSIVE ERECTION' to the whole room, he thought to himself. That would have been too cruel, even for Zach.
Minako and Zach had retreated into the living room, and with the mediating presence of Robyn, conversation had been moderately civil. Usagi had showered and now Minako was simply waiting for her friend to dress and dry her hair. Jared had joined them at some point with a mug of steaming hot tea (which, disturbingly for Minako, was labelled as 'Jizz Cup' ) along with a full plate of lamb chops, roasted potatoes and vegetables. The meat was drenched in mint sauce and was fast disappearing. She was beginning to understand why most of these men were so bulky.
"Ami and Usagi told me how nice you were yesterday. Walking Usa home was very sweet, she's really grateful," Minako said, striking up a conversation with Jared while Robyn and Zach caught up with each other.
"But not Rei?" he asked, wiping his mouth with a napkin and taking a sip of his tea.
Minako gave him a polite smile. "What do you mean?" she asked, knowing exactly what he meant but using the opportunity to gain some intel.
"She didn't say anything about me?"
"She said a few things."
"Good things?" he tried, fishing for information.
"I wouldn't go that far."
Her grin told him not to take her too seriously. "I don't know if I offended her last night."
Knowing from the way Rei had behaved that morning, Minako was sure of her answer. "You didn't. And even if you did, as long as it isn't one of her cardinal sins that you've broken, she forgives and forgets very easily."
"And what are they?" he asked, now curious as he polished off his forkful of lamb chop and carrots.
Minako smiled knowingly, "They're not my business to say," she said. "But one thing I will mention is don't mess around with her. You'll have a horde of powerfully angry friends to contend with if you do. Treat her delicately."
He lifted his eyebrows at that. "You know who else is delicate?" he asked, taking her mild threat in his stride. "Ceithin. Dude gets a love tap on the field and ends up concussed," he said. "Ami suggested last night that you seem to be blaming yourself over that."
Minako shook her head. There are other, bigger things that are my fault, she thought to herself, recalling the conversation she'd had with Usagi. Her mood plummeted but she did her best not to show it. "I'm alright."
He began looking at her as if he were searching for something. "I've always thought that everything happens for a reason," he said eventually. "Even the shitty things. It's all taking you down a certain track, the only things you can do about it are not to worry and to try your best, despite what Yoda says."
Jared was about to sip his tea but stopped. "You know who Yoda is, right?"
"Isn't he the gremlin from Star Trek?" she asked, giving her best guess.
He set his mug down and shook his head, as if he were pitying her. "Oh Minako, you haven't lived if you haven't at least seen the first Star Wars film. The original, not the shitty one with 'midi-dumb assed-chlorians'," he clarified, taking another bite of his breakfast/dinner.
Minako did not understand any of the things he was saying. "Can I download it off of the internet?"
"No." He looked very serious. "You will borrow it off of me. George Lucas might be a money grabbing dork with almost no story-telling skills, but the original Star Wars films are pure genius. They deserve respect. There is to be no pirating of Star Wars." He stopped himself, remembering something. "Actually, you'll have to borrow them off of Ceithin, because I left mine back home in the States for my nieces to watch."
"Them?" she asked.
"It's a trilogy," he explained.
Her reaction was swift and immediate. "No thanks." She had been bored the first time Makoto had put on the DVD back home in Japan, when they were still using films and television to improve their English. That evening had quickly turned into a makeup and ice cream party, with the outdated, plastic-toys-for-special-effects movie long forgotten in the background. She did not think she'd be able to cope with three whole films.
"You don't know what you're missing." He looked up at Zach and demanded backup, "Zach, tell her what she's missing."
"Rip roaring adventure, classic humour, Harrison Ford, Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel with Guinness and the sexiest Danish pastry hair ever put on screen," Zach said before grabbing the remote and turning on the TV as Robyn made her way into kitchen with her empty cup.
Minako had even less understanding than before. "That's an unusual breakfast choice," she commented in an attempt to get him to change the topic.
As his mouth was full, Jared pointed to his plate and then to her in a silent gesture for her to help herself if she wanted to. She waved his offer away with a smile in thanks.
"Oh yeah, Usagi said you were heading to McDonalds," he said eventually. "She'd better get moving or they'll switch the hotplates over."
There was a sudden and terrifying boom which halted all conversation. A quick investigation revealed the origin of the sound to be Noel's door, which had apparently been slammed open, if its violent swinging back and forth on its hinges was anything to go by. The man himself bolted out with all the grace of a bull in a china shop, his dark hair hilariously askew and his hands frantically trying to pull up his charcoal jeans without dropping the precious document in their possession. "WHY DIDN'T ANYONE FUCKING WAKE ME?!" he yelled out before shoving his essay into his mouth so that he could do up his fly. Without another word he ran back into his room and sprinted out, toothbrush in hand, a dark green Ralph Lauren Polo Hoodie thrown on.
"I tried, but nobody can wake the dead," Zach yelled from his place on the orange couch in the living room, his eyes still glued to the flat screened television, but his answer was drowned out by the slamming of the bathroom door.
"Ooh! Is Noel going into uni?" Usagi asked, hair braided and placed on one side. She stood at the top of the stairs very much not ready: she'd didn't have her earrings or ring on and had only done one eye up with makeup, using my eye shadow, Minako noted, but she didn't bother to ask for it back. It suited Usagi better anyway, and she'd gotten more than enough pots of the stuff for free after a shoot she'd done in Paris the previous year.
"We'll walk in with him, will you ask him to wait for us?" Usagi suggested and jogged out of sight.
Minako watched her go, her stuff already in hand and her coat on. "Well," she said, looking at Robyn, who was just coming out of the kitchen, "it was a pleasure to meet you."
The redhead took her outstretched hand and grinned. "It was nice to meet you too, although I would appreciate it if next time we do, I don't have a concussed brother to tend to."
Minako gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry about that."
Robyn smiled back and then made her way to her brother's room. "Ceithin! Are you asleep?" she asked, knocking on the door and waiting for an answer. When she got none she opened it and smiled. "Oh Rhys, you silly boy, pam na wnewch chi cysgu fel rhywun arferol?" she said, and walked in to fix his sleeping form.
Noel bolted out of the bathroom, hair now slicked back properly and face freshly washed. He smelt strongly of baby powder and cologne, but even the quick clean up couldn't disguise what a mess he was.
"We'll walk with you," Minako said as he barrelled past her.
"I'm taking the car!" he called out as things began to get kicked around in his room. "But I'll give you a lift in," he said amid muttered cursing and more kicking over of clothes and heavy legal textbooks. "It'll actually work out better for me, you can watch the car while I run in..." his hands now joined in the fray as he desperately searched the mess of his room for something. "Where the fuck are they? Fucking fuckers of fuckendom!"
Given his current hysterical anger, Minako wasn't so sure it was a wise idea to get into several tonnes of speeding metal with him at the helm. "Um... ok..."
"Did you bring me two shoes?"
Minako whirled around to see Usagi at the top of the stairs again wearing only one lonely trainer on her foot. "Of course I did."
"Are you sure? I can't find the other one."
"It must have fallen out of the bag when you tipped everything out. Why don't you check under the bed?"
Usagi's face lightened up. "Good idea!"
"Fucking, fuck! Why is life trying to fuck me over?!"
Jared had come out of the kitchen where he had put his plate away and was now, along with everyone else, watching Noel panic. "Dude, what are you looking for?" he asked as walked down the stairs.
"My keys! My motherfucking keys!"
"You mean the ones you left in the door last night? I found them when I came home and put them on the little mail-holding table."
Noel bolted upright, his thick, brown brows scrunched in thought as he tried to remember exactly what happened when the taxi had dropped him and Makoto off at the house. And then he could not help the enormous self-congratulating grin which spread across his broad lips, reaching all the way up to his ears. He had shoved his keys into the lock and then forgotten about them because he'd been busy shoving somethingelse (or someone else, rather) against the door while he opened it. If it were possible, his smile would have broadened. He'd texted her as soon as he'd woken up that morning, lounging in his bed with a self-satisfied smile plastered to his face afterwards, feeling for all intents and purposes like the most suave and coolest man to have ever lived...that was, until he had realised the time. "Oh yeah, I'd forgotten. Sorry about that."
Jared dispensed with berating his house mate for jeopardising the safety of their home in favour of his curiosity. "What did you get up to last night?"
Noel shook his head, his smile still there on his face, "Nothing," he said, unwilling to divulge to the crowd watching him. "I just had a good time, that's all."
Zach's scoff could be heard despite him being in a room across the hallway. "Yeah, I bet you did."
Jared began to smile and nod his head knowingly. "You got laid, brah..." he said, having worked it out.
Minako waited on tender hooks for what Noel was about to say. She was about to interrupt the conversation, to distract the men in front of her before details about Makoto could be revealed, but she found there was no need.
"It was just a really nice night." Noel shook his head in denial, his smile mellowing into something warmer than its previous incarnation and Jared got the hint. "Is Usagi coming with us?" he asked, looking at Minako as he picked up his keys from the table by the door.
"She's just putting on her shoe upstairs."
"USAGI!" Noel bellowed, loud enough to rock the entire household. "Get yourself downstairs now or you can bloody walk in to uni while Minako rides there in chauffeured luxury!"
Minako almost did a double take. No one ever bellowed at Usagi, with the one exception of her mother. Rei had yelled, everyone had argued, but nobody bellowed. Especially not at the volume Noel was capable of, teasing or not. Minako was about to cut into him with a biting remark, but once again he was saved from her comments when Usagi came rushing down the stairs, shoe in hand, bag tossed haphazardly over her shoulder while she desperately tried to put her pink hoodie on. She was practically a mirror image of Noel a few moments before. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" she shouted back, equally forcefully. "And stop yelling! There are sick people in this house!"
Seeing that Usagi was not upset, Minako calmed considerably. For Usagi to have fired back must have meant that she knew Noel was teasing, and that she was very comfortable around him. She looked at the burly man carefully. He had somehow very quickly managed to charm the pants off of two Senshi... literally in the case of one of them. How the hell did I miss all of this in one night?! Then again, his short conversation with her the night before had left her with a very good impression of him as well...up until the point she'd caught Makoto stumbling out of his room upset and panicking. It appeared he had a talent for getting people to like him.
Noel waved off Usagi's concern for Ceithin. "He's asleep, a bomb could go off and he wouldn't budge." He watched her dump her bag and throw her hoodie on the floor as she struggled to slip her foot into her trainer.
"You ever thought about undoing the shoelace?" Jared asked with a smile on his face.
"She doesn't have the time." Without waiting for any sort of answer, Noel scooped up Usagi's junk, catching her in the same grip and tossing her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry, making it look like all he'd done was pick up a pillow.
Usagi squeaked in surprise, delight and a little bit of fear. "OH MY GOSH! PUT ME DOWN! PUT ME DOWN!"
"You're a bit heavy, aren't you?" he said, grinning as he carried her towards the door.
Usagi stopped squirming and screaming suddenly, her bright eyes narrowing to slits. "I should knee you in the chest for that comment!"
"You could, but then you won't be getting into my car. Minako, help me with the door, will you?"
Making no attempt to hide her smile as she passed Usagi, Minako did as she was asked, wondering about this hulk of a man next to her.
"Bye kids." Jared gave a brief wave and then made his way back into the living room.
"THIS HOUSE IS INSANE! PEOPLE CHASE ME WITH THEIR STINKY SHIRTS AND PICK ME UP LIKE A SACK OF POTATOES AND CALL ME FAT AND..." Usagi's complaints could be heard all the way down the street.
"I know you said you had to get there quickly, but we do have to get there alive as wELL-OH MY STARS!" Minako practically screamed as she held onto the oh shit handle with all the strength gifted to Sailor Venus. "THAT'S A PERSON IN THE ROAD! THAT'S A PERSON IN THE ROAD!"
"I know, Minako. I bloody well have eyes." Noel wasn't panicking, he wasn't even yelling. In fact, at most he seemed mildly annoyed.
"Are we there yet?!" Usagi kept asking that question because she couldn't see anything. And she couldn't see anything because she'd shut her eyes in terror the second Noel's foot had hit the accelerator. She hadn't opened them since.
"No! And from the looks of things, we'll probably never make it there alive! WATCH OUT FOR THE CYCLIST!"
Noel honked his horn, swerving just enough to keep out of the way of the poor, innocent man on a bike, and continued to speed through the narrow lanes, made even narrower by the steady lines of cars parked on both sides of the road. Sometimes there would be less than two inches of space between his side mirrors and the ones of the parked vehicles. Minako concluded that either Noel's spacial awareness was phenomenal or he was just insane.
"I don't need a backseat driver. I've been driving perfectly since the day I obtained my licence."
"You're going to get us all killed!"
"Are we there yet?!"
This time both Minako and Noel answered. "NO!"
"I would appreciate it if you girls could shut up and let me concentrate. I have three minutes to make a ten minute journey and your mindless girl chatter is distracting."
If Minako wasn't praying to every deity she knew for dear life, she would have been contemplating all the different ways she could have ended his existence. The mocking smile he wore, like he somehow found this all very funny, was not helping his situation.
"Don't worry, my darlings," he said, taking a corner like he was Lewis Hamilton, "You're safe with me."
Minako blamed Makoto for this, really. His smugness evidently came from his having had sex the night before. She could see it radiating off of him as he sped through the streets, acting as if he were some kind of gift to the world of women. Men... she thought.
Usagi kept her eyes steadfastly closed. "I think my brain is being squished into the back of my skull."
When they finally made it to the outside of the law department, Noel slammed on the brakes, thrust open the door and whipped his essay out of Minako's lap. "Usagi, park the car! I'll be back in about five minutes."
And just like that he was gone.
The engine was still running, the car was hot and they had stopped in the middle of the two way street, essentially blocking both lanes of traffic.
"He said to do what?" Usagi looked like someone had just told her to step in front of a firing squad.
Minako shifted in her seat to peer into the back. She seemed equally confused. "I think he wants you to park the car," she said. A red Ford Focus turned the corner and was approaching them from behind. "You'd better hurry."
"No!" She shook her blonde head vehemently, like it was some horrible nightmare. "I can't! You do it!"
Minako lifted her hands in an indication that she was not going to go near the steering wheel, "Not a chance. He asked you to do it. You don't touch a guy's car unless they let you, they go all... weird and angry if you do."
Usagi's mouth tightened. "Oh thanks, that's really reassuring!"
Movement caught Minako's eye. "Hurry up, there's a car coming up behind us."
As if to confirm her statement, the red Ford beeped its horn lightly at them.
Usagi squeaked out in surprise. "No!" she yelled ou. "Go away!"
Another car, this time from the front, was heading towards them and began flashing their headlights. "Usagi, come on!"
She huddled as far back into the corner of the backseat as she could, as if she somehow hoped it would make her disappear. "But I've never driven a car here before!" she tried reasoning.
"Well now's your chance to practice!"
"Eek!" Usagi jumped and shut her eyes again.
"USAGI! Pull yourself together! It's just a car for crying out loud, you've faced much worse!"
"Alright!" With a frantic pull on the door lock she scrambled out of the back seat. "Sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry! Oh my gosh, I'm sorry!" she screamed out in hysteria. Her apologies were met with more honking. She was panicking so badly that she couldn't manage to work the driver's door handle, so with dramatic desperation she banged her fists in rapid succession on the window instead. "Minako! Let me in! Pleeeeease!"
Sympathising with her friend's distress, Minako reached over and opened it for her from the inside as quickly as she was able.
Once Usagi flopped herself into the driver's seat the first thing she did was slam the door shut in order to block out the noise of complaints and honking coming from both sides. "What do we do now?!" she asked, practically begging for direction.
HONK! "Get out of the fucking road!"
Minako was almost as clueless as Usagi - she had rarely ever needed to drive. Technically, Rei, Ami and Usagi were the only ones who had a licence (Usagi's parents had insisted that if she were going to move to a foreign country that it was important for her to learn, for cases of emergency), but Minako had learnt from Ace, and she was now wracking her brain to recall those few lessons where she'd unfortunately been paying more attention to the location of hands than what he was saying about gearboxes and stick shifts. "We need to move, there's a space right there, see?" Minako pointed to a gap just ahead of them on the other side of the road. "It's not far at all, let's put it there."
Usagi looked at her wide eyed. "Can we do that?" sounding nervous.
"We have to, we're blocking everybody."
Usagi shook her head, "No, I mean is it legal? Isn't it the wrong direction?"
"Who cares? Just park!"
"Ok! Ok!" Usagi began searching the dashboard and around the steering wheel. "Um..."
Minako frowned. "What are you doing?!" she asked, not understanding why they hadn't started moving.
Usagi squeaked in surprise and balled her hands into fists, shaking them. "I DON'T KNOOOW!" she wailed.
Minako realised that she was going to have to give some detailed instructions if they were going to get anywhere. "Indicate!"
"What?" Usagi looked at her like she was speaking in German.
Minako pointed at the dashboard. "Put your indicator on!"
"What the hell is going on?! Move your fucking car!"
Usagi looked completely lost. "What's an indicator?!"
"Seriously?!" Minako exclaimed, not believing what she was hearing. "How did you even pass?!"
"It was a really long time ago!"
"It was three months ago!"
"That still doesn't answer my question!"
Usagi squeaked again.
There was a long line which had built up behind them and the cars which were the furthest away began to try turning around.
"Has there been some sort of accident?"
"That guy's a fucking idiot!"
Minako took in a breath. They had to stop panicking or they wouldn't get anywhere. "It's the clickety light thingy that tells people which direction you're going."
"Oh!" Usagi's face brightened. "I know that thing!" Her blue eyes flicked between the two sticks behind the steering wheel and she became less sure again. "Now... which one is it?" She pulled on one of them, her eyebrows scrunched in thought.
The wipers sprang into frenzied life. "Gyahh!" The sound of the rubber lining rubbing against the dry windshield screeched horribly, echoing throughout the vehicle.
"Make them stop!"
"How?!" Usagi hesitated afraid of making things worse, and then twisted desperately on the same stick. The beam lights flashed directly at the car in front. "That's not it, either..." she said, her eyes filling up with tears. She started butting the stick with the palm of her hand until the wipers finally stopped their squeaky swishing and the light disappeared.
She didn't dare try touching the other stick. Instead she pressed on the big button with the red triangle on it. As the emergency lights began blinking she received more honks and swearing.
The girls did their best to ignore the abuse.
"Let's try moving," Minako said, releasing the handbrake for her. Usagi seemed to be struggling with something.
"This car is too big."
"I can't reach the pedals."
"So move the seat forward."
"Oh, right. Of course," she searched around, ducking her head into places where Minako feared she wouldn't be able to get out of again until she found the seat adjuster. Pulling it forward almost all the way up to the dashboard with her nose practically touching the horn, she noted how tall Noel was. "Wow, he's got to be like, two meters at least!"
"Put your foot on the brake and the clutch-"
"The clutch?" she asked interrupting Minako's instructions.
"And shift into first gear."
The car stalled.
Usagi began to panic again. "Did I break Noel's car?!"
Minako placed her head in her hands and cursed herself for being stupid enough to get out of bed that morning, while Usagi began to cry in hopeless despair.
The slam of a car door informed Minako that someone was approaching, and a glance in the side mirror told her it was the guy from the red Ford Focus. From the looks of him he was a student, probably a foreign language one if his popped collar, aviators, ridiculously gelled hair and ripped jeans were anything to go by. She watched him lean over and then turn back to the other cars behind him. "Women drivers, mate. What do you expect?" he had his arms open wide like he was begging for sympathy from the others.
Minako's eyes narrowed, her blue gaze turning cold. "Usagi, start the engine," she said, her voice commanding and confident. "Park this damn car."
"But I don't know how!" she wailed and then sniffled.
"I'll help you." Minako checked the side mirror again, but the man was moving into her blind spot, which meant he was approaching them. "Just do exactly as I say."
Usagi could tell Minako was in one of those moods, her voice brokered no argument, her gaze unflinching, and that helped her feel a little less forlorn. Minako had never failed her when she was in that sort of mind-set. She turned the key and put her feet on the correct pedals, still sniffling, but ready for another attempt.
"That's it, now shift it into first."
The stranger leaned on the bonnet and peered in. Usagi looked up at him with surprised since she hadn't seen him coming and his sudden appearance had ruffled her.
"Have you broken down?" he asked.
"Umm... no?" Usagi's hands were gripped tightly onto the steering wheel, her knuckles whitening.
"So what are you doing, then?" He took a glance at Minako over his sunglasses and smirked.
"Well this isn't my car it's my friend's and he was really late and we were rushing so-"
"We're trying to park," Minako interrupted, keeping her voice polite. "We just had a little problem."
He said nothing, staring at Minako and peeking ever so quickly at her tits. "Do you want me to do it for you?"
There was something in his attitude, something about his smirk, which Minako did not appreciate. "We're fine. If you'll just be patient for another few seconds, we'll get out of your way."
By now most of the vehicles which had been waiting had sensibly turned around and headed in the other direction. He looked back at the remaining cars and then at the potential spaces for the girls to park in. "I don't think she can do it."
Usagi opened her mouth to agree with him.
"She can. Please move out of the way."
Usagi closed her mouth with an audible click and then looked at her friend like the girl had gone nuts. "I can?"
"Please step away from our car," Minako said, being carefully polite.
The man stared at Minako for a second longer and then shrugged his shoulders, walking away, mumbling what Minako distinctly heard as 'bitch' as he went. She rolled her eyes, unphased and willing to let the matter drop, knowing he wasn't worth her energy, but Usagi had heard it too, and she had other ideas.
"Hey!" she yelled, sticking her head out of the window to glare at him. "She's not a... a 'b' word! You leave her alone, jerkwad!"
"So park your fucking car, then!"
Usagi's nostrils flared at his horribly smug misogyny. "My boyfriend has sunglasses too and he looks way better in them than you do!" She brought her head back in. Minako had to hide the laugh which escaped at Usagi's absolutely useless insult-material. "Tell me how to park this car," she said, having become determined.
Minako couldn't have been prouder. "Ok, let's get it into first again." Usagi did as she was told and then put her foot on the accelerator. The car jolted forward. Usagi and Minako both screamed.
All in all, Usagi managed to move the vehicle out of most of the way relatively quickly, mercifully establishing the flow of traffic again. The red Ford Focus had sped away with an overly dramatic roar of its engine, progressive house booming out if its speakers as it went. Usagi gave the driver her best scowl as she watched it disappear.
"Don't worry about him. Something about driving can make people act like douche-nozzles."
Usagi frowned. "What's a douche-nozzle?"
Minako explained it in Japanese.
"So," Minako said, "we've done the easy part. We've gotten the car to the space, now you just have to get it in there."
Usagi took in a deep breath and nodded her head vehemently. "Right," she said, steeling herself. "I'm going to park it. I am going to park this car into that space."
Both girls waited, as if expecting something magical to happen. "You don't remember how to parallel park, do you?"
Usagi heaved a sigh in defeat. "YouTube?" she asked.
Minako pulled out her iPhone and flipped open the leopard print case. "YouTube," she confirmed.
After finding a rather helpful video (which had been preceded by some rather unhelpful ones... although the stunt driver trick of doing a three-sixty turn straight into a space had been re-watched twice just because it was so cool), and after some very slow, very careful manoeuvring (and stalling only once more), Usagi managed to fit the Audi A3 Sportback into position.
She switched off the engine with a palpable sense of relief. The whole ordeal had taken nearly twenty minutes. Noel had promised to be back in less than five, but she didn't mind because she had been faced with a frightening hurdle and she had overcome it, just like she always did, with her friend by her side. A sudden rush of joy began to spread through her at her achievement and she turned to Minako with a beam on her face. "We did it..." she practically whispered, "We really did it."
Minako smiled back, "You did really well, Usagi. That was some really impressive parking."
Usagi couldn't help patting herself on the back. "It was, wasn't it? I didn't bump any of the other cars when I was reversing and I didn't scratch anything, and I didn't hit the curb..."
"Not even once."
Usagi threw her hands up and stamped her feet lightly on the floor, giddy with her victory. "Yaaay! I parked a car! I parked a real life car! Wait until I tell Mamo-chan about it! He'll be so proud of me!" she said happily. "Now let's go get something to eat!"
With thoughts of all the salty, wonderfully tasty things which were waiting for them at the restaurant with the golden arches whizzing through her head, Usagi excitedly pulled on the inside driver's door handle...and promptly smacked it against a streetlight.
There was an almighty crunch of metal on metal, the sound freezing Usagi like a deer in headlights. "Oh no..."
Minako whipped off her seatbelt, her bright eyes wide with trepidation as rushed out and around to Usagi's side of the vehicle.
"Well, shit," she said as she saw the damage.
Usagi didn't need any more confirmation than that to begin sobbing.
The tower clock started chiming, ringing out like a bell of doom. It was eleven in the morning. Usagi's tears turned suddenly to wails. "And now we've missed McDonald's breakfast menu tooooooooo!"
Really, Minako thought, why did I even bother to get out of bed at all...
They were sitting comfortably in the Aussie Pie Shop, a suggestion of Noel's. It wasn't a large store, about the size of a typical cafe, with a few booths and tables, and a glass front so customers could watch the people walk by along the main high street. Overall it was light and airy, with a few bold pieces of aboriginal art and a map of Australia interspersed to fit in with the restaurant's theme.
The three of them were sitting to the left, Usagi and Minako on one end of the booth and Noel sitting opposite. He was currently staring rather intensely with his two coloured eyes as Usagi gobbled down a breakfast pie. It was not McDonald's, but all the main ingredients were there: egg, sausage, cheese and short crust pastry (which, in a way, was a sort of bread); and it was tasty, so Usagi's tears had dispersed and he was even able to spot a ghost of a smile on her lips in between the all scoffing. That made him feel much better.
His gaze flicked over to Minako, who was also eating, although at a much more human pace. "You... um, you're a little scary when you're angry," he said, daring to give her a grin.
She took a bite of her lemon peppered chicken pie and deliberately took her time in pulling out the white plastic fork from her lips - it was just enough time to almost make him sweat, to almost make him think that she was still upset - and then she indulged him with a smile. "I suppose I am. You're pretty loud when you're angry."
"I have a short fuse, but it never lasts long."
"I really will pay for it, I promise!" Usagi said, crumbly pastry stuck to her cheek and lips. "I'm really sorry."
Noel shook his head. "Don't worry about it, it's not that big a dent. More than likely the garage will just pop it out, so it probably won't cost more than about twenty quid."
Minako lifted her eyebrow at the price, not believing him for a second, but he was trying to be nice so she really couldn't complain. Noel had returned to his vehicle after a full twenty minutes and at first had not even noticed the weeping Usagi, having been blindsided by the massive dent in his car door. He had, understandably, flipped, but Minako's breaking point had come when he had turned his high-volumed yelling in Usagi's direction.
It hadn't been much, something akin to "YOU DENTED MY FUCKING CAR? YOU HAD TO MOVE IT LESS THAN TWENTY FUCKING FEET!" but it had been enough to raise Minako's hackles.
She had started with a loud and commanding "HEY!" to get his attention and then her voice had dropped to a dangerously careful level, designed specifically to intimidate.
She had put him in his place in under a minute flat and had him apologising just a few seconds after. Very few people were allowed to yell at Usagi, and Noel was not one of them, especially when he had left her- without having given her any choice in the matter - to do something which she had been extremely uncomfortable doing.
"So what took you so long to hand in your essay?" she asked in an attempt to play nice.
"I got there at ten thirty three and I had to convince the secretary not to note down that it was late. They penalise you by five per cent for that."
"Foh fmwee mimuwes?!" Usagi exclaimed through a full mouth (although she had the decency to do so behind her hand). At Noel's confused look she hurriedly swallowed down her food. "Three minutes isn't very late," she clarified. "That's not very fair of her."
"She's a little cranky, I don't think she likes students very much."
"Well, it's pretty dumb of her to be working in a university, then, isn't it?" Usagi shook her head and began sipping at her orange juice.
Minako took another bite of her pie. "Did she mark it as late?"
Noel scoffed, like the idea was ludicrous. "No."
"Why not? How did you convince her?"
He smiled, that smug king-of-the-world look of his from that morning returning in all its glory as he sat back in the booth. "I have my ways."
"You paid her?" Minako asked, grinning back, unwilling to play his game.
He chuckled and then said: "No, I used my dashing good looks and formidable powers of persuasion."
"I don't see the appeal," Usagi teased. Now with food in her belly, her panicked weeping had been all but forgotten.
"What are you implying?"
Usagi shook her head. "I'm not implying anything. I'm just saying that my Mamo-chan is handsomer."
"That's purely a subjective matter of opinion, wouldn't you say?" Noel said, only partially pretending to be affronted, "and not one that I'm sure you'll find is shared by most women."
"I wouldn't bother trying to argue with her. If your name isn't Mamoru Chiba, you might as well walk around with a paper bag on your head."
"It's kind of true," Usagi acknowledged.
Noel pushed up the sleeve of his polo shirt and flexed his arm muscles. His large biceps bulged very nicely. "But what about these?" he asked, grinning from ear to ear.
Minako rolled her eyes, having seen him do it before. Usagi gave him an appreciative glance before shrugging. "Meh," she said, nonchalant.
"I'll have you know that plenty of women have reacted in much more powerful ways than a simple 'meh'."
That got Minako's attention. Oh Makoto, please don't tell me you only slept with him because he flashed you a bit of arm meat...
Usagi, being completely oblivious to the dramatic events the night before, gave no further thought to Noel's impressive physique, concentrating on much tastier things instead. "These breakfast pies are really good!"
"Better than McDonald's?" Noel asked, as he took a sip of his coffee.
Usagi thought about it for a second; when it came to food, she took all questions seriously. "It's different. You can't compare them." She shook her head, scrunching her face briefly as she watched Noel. "How can you have coffee with no sugar in it? Actually, how can you have coffee at all?"
"Sugar makes it taste tangy," he said, "and I'm not a huge fan of sweet drinks."
"But it's so bitter and blegh..."
"I didn't know 'blegh' was an adjective."
Usagi rolled her eyes, "Sorry, Mr English-speaking police force man."
Minako laughed while Noel sat clueless, unsure how to respond to her answer.
"So, do you always drive fast like that?"
"Only when I'm late," he said, his eyes lifting when he caught movement coming from the restaurant's kitchen area. A young man was bringing in a tray of fresh baked pies and the smell had hit Noel square in the nose. One pie, even a steak one, had not been enough to satisfy his hunger. There had not been time last night to stop for a late night kebab or chips or burger or any of those nasty things which for some reason tasted like Heaven on earth after considerable consumption of alcoholic beverages; not that he regretted why there had been no time, but it meant that his stomach was well and truly empty. And Noel Graham-Asquith did not function well on empty. "Would you like something else?" he asked the table, "I'm still hungry. I think I'll get another one."
Usagi's eyes couldn't help brightening just a little bit. The idea of another pie sounded tempting. "Do they have anymore breakfast ones?" she asked.
"I'll get you one if there is." As he got up from the table he pulled out his phone, not seeing any new activity, he replaced it quickly and made his way to the ordering counter. From the slightly disappointed look on his face, Minako wondered if he was waiting for something from Makoto. If he was, that gave him bonus points.
Usagi gave him a smile in thanks and then turned to Minako. "He's really nice," she said, having seemingly forgotten the yelling and stress-inducing car parking fiasco from earlier. "And," she whispered, making sure Noel wasn't looking. "I think he's really rich!"
Minako quirked her lips. "You already have a boyfriend," she said.
Usagi nudged her playfully. "I mean for Makoto! He was totally looking at her when Mamo-chan was moving in. And you saw how she dressed up for him at the game."
Minako almost frowned but she kept her face in check. "I don't know," she said, casually, trying to keep Usagi from barrelling into a delicate situation when she didn't have several key points of information, "maybe we shouldn't interfere. We don't know him very well."
Usagi waved her off. "Oh please, since when has the Senshi of Love said no to a challenge?" She began to smile, an idea obviously forming in her head. "We could do some spying! I can get intel from Mamo-chan about him and-"
"Usagi, no," Minako interrupted, doing her best to keep the firmness out of her voice. "We're not in high school anymore. Both he and Makoto are adults, if they want to get together, they'll do it in their own time."
"And there's another thing too," Minako said, preventing Usagi from making her point. "That day on the rugby field, when you asked Ami to get a reading on Ceithin to make sure he was alright?" she asked, reminding Usagi of the event. "Well, she picked up something a little odd from the others too. She was telling me about it as we were walking over this morning."
"You mean she found something on Noel and Jared and Zach?"
Minako shook her head to clarify. "Just Jared and Zach, but it still means we should be careful."
Usagi twisted her lips to one side. "What kind of readings?"
"She said it was nothing necessarily dangerous, just unusual."
"So what's the problem?" If there was no danger, Usagi didn't see why they needed to be suspicious.
Minako sighed, knowing how much Usagi hated not being free to trust people wholeheartedly. "I would just rather be safe than sorry."
Usagi harrumphed. "Fine," she said, "but that shouldn't stop us from finding out a little bit about him, in fact, it'll be for our benefit!"
Minako wrinkled her nose and tossed a pea at Usagi's head. "Nosey," she said, laughing as the little round vegetable landed in the blonde's hair.
"One breakfast pie for Usagi, and one for me, too."
Noel placed the dishes in on the table and sat himself down again, looking up at Usagi briefly to give her a smile.
"Your eyes are really pretty," she commented. "Were you born like that?" she asked, digging into the second pie like she hadn't had her first.
Noel nodded. "It's called heterochromia."
"Does it affect your sight?" Minako asked.
"It's only my irises," he said, "I have twenty/twenty vision."
Usagi nodded, as if she were listening very intently. "So," she said, "do you have a girlfriend?"
Minako wanted to plant her head on the table. It was a damn good thing Usagi didn't know about the sex. If she did, she might have well made him fill out a questionnaire...