Hyperventilating was as unnatural to Ami as breathing in air was for a fish. As she paced across the small area of sand just behind a rocky ledge, she felt her chest rise in a rapid pace as short breaths escaped when manageable. If she kept this up, she would be passed out in no time.
Distressed, she brought a red-knuckled hand to her head against the matted blue bangs that were darker than usual. Against her pale skin, the red looked ghastly but that was the least of her concerns as she hid along the shore in her private attempt to compose herself. Normally she wouldn't act so brashly. As a matter of fact, she had trouble believing that she had actually done it. It was as if she had suddenly awoken from a demonic possession in which she was present but she wasn't physically in control of her body.
She bit on her thumb in contemplation as she continued to pace. Why she rushed here, she wasn't completely sure. She was just so angry, so beside herself that she felt if she stayed longer something even more destructive might've happened. The water did such funny things to her, but never before had she been so close to it while angry.
Sure, the occasional tiff with monsters provoked a bit of her anger from her reserves but she had never quite felt it to the magnitude that it was felt today. As soon as she returned to shore and assured that her job was done, her soul boiled with fire undefined. She blazed with animosity and pure hatred along with an indescribable passion of rage. She wanted to hurt the one responsible, wanted to actively wring her hands around their neck until they realized just how much they had infuriated her.
Such a normally peaceful girl wanted the exact opposite of peace and she couldn't resist her urges. But the guilt plaguing her after acting on such raw emotion was mystifying. Was it really guilt? Or had she been disappointed that she had stopped herself before she could more?
She jumped at the sound, spinning quickly in the sand with her barefooted heels. Her bright blue eyes spoke volumes, casting an expression of uncertainty across like a neon sign. Her Chinese peer looked amused, an expression that he didn't oft display.
She gulped when she realized who it was and quickly cast her eyes to the ground in shame.
"I-," she paused. "Is he—"
"He'll live," Wufei stated as he stepped around the rock to get closer. He immediately noticed the reddening around her knuckles and couldn't keep himself from smirking.
At another glance he realized she had been pacing so much that her feet had already beaten a path in the sand as evidence. It was clear then that she was bothered by something and Wufei was curious to see what.
"What's wrong?" They weren't words that often came out of his mouth to females but he reasoned she could be the exception given her prior actions. He honestly would have never thought it was in her to do something so justified.
She gulped, looking to him with her brightly confused eyes and unconsciously reminding him he was amongst civilians. Her blue locks were drenched in seawater with trails of water riding against the smooth grooves of her pale skin until being stopped by her royal blue bathing suit.
"One of the kids nearly drowned." She let out, raising a hand to her shoulder and rubbing mindlessly.
She looked away. She had forgotten how delicate the subject of life had been for her. That is after all, the reason why she valued her duties so much. It was even the key factor in her drive to pursue medicine. Life. It was perplexing, though, how willing she was to give up her own life in exchange for someone else's. But that was beside the point.
She shouldn't have let herself lose control. Simply saving the boy would've sufficed. She didn't need to act out her dissatisfaction by charging at the chaperone that was supposed to be watching him. Besides, there was a life guard on duty so why didn't she attack him too?
Clearly this situation was inexcusable. She should have never gone off on such a violent rampage and that was the real reason she had been hiding away pacing. She was self-analyzing and trying to find the reason why she acted so out of character so she could fix it and ensure it didn't happen again.
"If you weren't there, he may have," Wufei pointed out. "I don't understand why you'd still be caught up on that. You seem like a rational person."
She turned to him when he said that and watched as he laxly leant against the vertical peak of smoothed out rock.
"What's really bothering you?" He asked with arms folded across his bare chest.
She was somewhat surprised by his question. For someone who hadn't really known much about her, he was certainly astute. Most people would be satisfied by her response and fill in the blanks with their own assumptions. At most, they would try to comfort her with words or a hug but she had a feeling that wasn't something Wufei would do. Still, she had wondered how she could overlook his perceptive nature.
"I shouldn't have hit him," she claimed.
It was simple, honest and surprisingly, she felt somewhat relieved to have said it out loud.
However, the loud scoff she heard distracted her from her feelings of fleeting guilt and relief.
"You're kidding, right?" Wufei replied with a self-righteous frown. "He deserved it for skirting his responsibilities and deciding to flirt instead."
At this, Ami was appalled. Ethics debates weren't brewed around her often, but they sure made her stand up straight in rebuttal when a point was expressed that she didn't particularly agree with.
"He did not deserve to be blindsided like that," Ami reasoned.
For a brief moment she felt her heart lurch in disgust at her words and she winced as she was forced to rethink her statement. Yet stubbornness prevailed and she concluded that violence in all forms (save it be in defense of the planet and people you loved) was unnecessary.
Wufei groaned. He learned a long time ago that arguing with women tended to be pointless, especially when they got that look in their eyes that screamed they would be right at all costs. It was the expression that was broadcasted in Ami's body language as she stood with hands on her hips and eyes directly staring back into his own. He certainly wasn't going to get mixed up with something as tiresome as an ethics battle so he rolled his eyes and looked away as if he was suddenly uninterested in conversation.
"I'm going to go apologize."
"You are not," Wufei retorted.
Her words spurred a reaction in him far greater than he expected and he was somewhat surprised to see himself standing upright with a hand gripped around her wrist. She turned to respond but was a bit flustered at the realization that she was mere centimeters from being completely flush against him.
His bottomless charcoal gaze bore down on her as a growl rumbled from his chest to his frowning lips.
"If you apologize to that bastard then he'll never think twice about ditching the kid when he should've been looking out for him."
Ami shivered. She didn't really know Wufei had taken this situation so seriously. While she was comforted that his refusal to accept her motivation to apologize came from a concrete reason, she was concerned by the strength in his grip that might possibly leave a bruise.
She looked at him questioningly and he must've noticed because he quickly retracted his hand.
"I'm sorry," he said, looking away hastily.
Justice was such an active part of his life that it was difficult to allow injustice to happen in front of him and frankly, Ami apologizing to a man that didn't deserve it just irked him. She was far too kind and it was frustrating.
"It's fine," Ami mumbled with a gulp.
She lightly touched her wrist where he had grabbed her and silently deducted that no harm had been done despite his strength. She brushed stray strands of hair from her eyes and awkwardly shifted her feet as though the motion would pull her from this extremely awkward situation.
She was still determined to apologize for her "juvenile" actions but the idea of vexing Wufei was alarmingly disturbing. Since when had she been partial to what Wufei had to say? They weren't exactly friends, right?
With a huff of breath and newfound determination, Ami abruptly cleared her constantly racing mind and stepped past Wufei without another word. She was going to apologize because apologizing was what she deemed was right.
Disappointment was clear on Wufei's face as he watched her march across the beach towards the small crowd that had accumulated around their spot in the sand. With a sigh and a mental note to let it go, Wufei followed soon afterward to help pack up the towels and blankets. Women were always such a taxing topic and he hated himself every time he made the mistake of believing he had found one that was almost decent. He just despised how they could overlook obvious faults in favor of perceiving "goodness" in people that didn't exist.
"Quatre, you're here?"
The startled blond turned swiftly to face the tall brunette that had spoken. In his true fashion, his chocolate brown hair wisped across nearly half his face to leave one clearly visible emerald eye. The surprise in his friend's voice was muffled by his monotonous expression.
"I," Quatre stammered slightly before clearing his throat and running a hand through his blond mane. "I needed air."
Trowa seemed to understand without explanation.
"So he showed you."
"Yes," Quatre responded, loosening the tie around his neck. He looked something like a grown man in his professional attire and to any bystander it was difficult to believe that he had only been in high school. "And it's not something that should be used, senshi or not."
Trowa nodded, the two walking in stride as they traveled along the sidewalk. In a maroon knitted turtle-neck sweater with blue jeans, Trowa seemed to match his friend in sophistication and maturity. It was no wonder why grown women had been ogling them as they passed by.
"I doubt that thought will be mutual," Trowa remarked with his hands in his pockets.
"I agree," Quatre groaned, rubbing the back of his neck as his mind raced with possibilities. Something so sinister should not be in the hands of such unpredictable scientists blinded by the excitement of discovering the unseen. For all he knew, they might be harvesting global chaos and he had only witnessed the specimen in its infant stages. While the energy signal may have use as a promising lure for the senshi, it was still yet to be known what else it was capable of.
This case had been taxing enough already. Leads on the prized identities of the senshi were dismal and Minako hadn't shown a single crack in her façade since they had arrived. She was so convincing that they were beginning to believe there was nothing to be found here. The only unnatural part about this city was the fact that quite a large number of people were convinced that the senshi truly did exist, but whether or not that was enough to keep this investigation going was wildly debatable.
The blond blinked before looking to Trowa with a weak smile.
"I'm sorry," he sighed. "I'm just at a loss."
"So it is more dangerous than I thought," Trowa commented with a slight frown. Quatre was strong by nature, so seeing him deeply concerned about a potential threat was disconcerting. "I suppose we may have involuntarily absorbed another mission to pile on top of this one…"
Quatre gulped, shoving his hands into his pockets as he mindlessly kept walking.
"That's only if the specimen gets stronger. So far they've been unsuccessful in discovering how to nourish it. Hopefully it'll remain that way until I can find a concrete method to shut down that entire operation," Quatre said. "Unfortunately the contract that we signed when we agreed to this job is limiting."
"We've jumped into this quicker than we should have."
"Maybe," Quatre replied with a heavy exhale. "But on the Brightside, if we hadn't joined in on this investigation we may have never even known such a specimen existed," he said with a smile. "That has to count for something."
That was Quatre, always looking for the silver lining. Trowa couldn't help but give an optimistic smile back.
"I suppose it does."
His next train of thought was quickly discarded when he caught sight of a familiar pair of blonde pigtails bobbing through the crowds along the sidewalk. He mindlessly smiled, suddenly lightened by her appearance alone. She was smiling, as she always was, with another blonde companion that had linked arms with her. They had waffle cones filled with ice cream in their free hands but Usagi had already forgotten that fact when she spotted Trowa.
She waved excitedly, cone in hand, and he watched as the pink ice cream flew out of the cone and splattered atop her and Minako. They both yelped in horror as they split apart to observe the damage. Mild bickering ensued and Quatre amusedly observed before walking with Trowa to meet them.
"You could wear my jacket, if you'd like," Quatre offered to Minako who had received the worst of Usagi's blunder.
She looked up in surprise, blushing slightly as she saw him take off his navy blue suit jacket.
"Th-thank you," she stammered. It wasn't often that she had met real live gentleman and quite honestly, that was the first time she had ever seen someone take off their jacket without hesitation for a girl they hardly even met. What was even more amazing was the fact that she hadn't felt like he did it as a lure to gain her favor. It seemed this guy was genuinely kind and she sort of liked that about him.
His lean muscle mass was suddenly evident through his white shirt and she was shocked. He was a nice guy with what looked to be a firm body. Now she wasn't opposed to the thinner (okay scrawny) boys but she did have an affinity for men that looked like they could take care of themselves if ever they got in a fight and Quatre certainly fit the bill. And he smelled good!
She groaned to herself. It seemed her boy crazy self was starting to resurface but the worst part of it was that she was fairly certain this was the guy Makoto had been crushing on.
"What're you guys up to?" Usagi asked, now spared from having to apologize to Minako for her senselessness.
"Just out for a walk," Trowa responded first, which a surprise for Quatre. Usually Trowa was the last to speak and it only happened when it was necessary.
"Mind if we join you?" Usagi inquired with bright eyes.
Quatre couldn't help but laugh in good spirits. Such innocence was a rarity and he always appreciated it when he found it.
"Not at all," he replied.
Without pause, Usagi rammed into Trowa's side, linking her arm with his and tossing her empty cone into the trashcan.
"Usagi—" Minako awkwardly said as Usagi and Trowa walked ahead without them.
She looked to Quatre whose blue eyes sparkled like diamonds with the sunset behind him. Minako bit down on her lip with anxiety. He looked so much like her in some ways and she always swore she preferred brunettes but he was so sweet, so handsome, so comfortable to be around and not to mention limber.
"She's a sweet girl," Quatre mentioned in reference to Usagi.
Minako huffed, not completely convinced that Quatre's observation was a correct one.
"Some would agree with that," she mumbled as she hastily took to catching up to her friend and the first boy of her infatuation from that group of five.
With the way things were going, she wouldn't be surprised if she ended up liking the whole lot of them by the end of the school year. Well, with the exception of Heero. She paused.
Shrugging in frustration, she dropped the subject entirely and walked alongside Quatre through Juuban.
Ami was anxious as she approached the chaperones that hovered around a lean boy just three months her senior. He sat with his head tilted backwards while holding a red-stained towel to his nose. Guilt was now ridiculing her as she noticed the slight bruising at the base of his eyes, but deeply buried in her fortress of repressed thoughts was a truly impressed self. She hadn't known that she could hit so hard. She supposed watching Makoto as she trained and even Rei in her karate classes had somehow rubbed off on her.
Nevertheless, she came to a fidgety halt in front of him as the other female chaperones clustered to his sides to continue nurturing him. He was a handsome boy with his naturally feathered blond hair that fanned around his tan face. His chiseled abs were impressive but not quite as impressive as a certain Chinese man's…
Ami's eyes momentarily strayed from her victim to the Chinese boy that had taken up the task of packing the children's things. His hair was lost from its usual tight ponytail and jet black blew in the wind like silk. Then her eyes traveled to sight those chiseled abs…
She gulped, flushing to herself and quickly diverting her gaze. The water certainly did do things to her because never would she allow her inhibitions such a large release. Thankfully though, the children were being loaded onto the bus so none of them were there to catch her straying eyes.
She cleared her throat to get attention, and felt her anxiety return as the chaperones all turned to face her. The girls glared darkly at her and she wished she could retreat back and forget about this whole thing but she knew it needed to be done. Shinji, who had been assaulted by Ami, stood up with a raised brow.
"I wanted to apologize," she stated loudly so she would be heard above the waves. "I'm sorry."
She released a large exhale at the conclusion of her statement and nearly turned on her heels to leave before Shinji had made a sound.
"That's it?" He snapped.
Ami blinked incredulously. Was there more to say? She wasn't quite sure but it appeared that Shinji had thought so.
"I believe so…" Ami drifted with uncertainty.
He scoffed as the girls around him each started to roll their eyes at Ami and glare even harder. Ami hadn't known that such cold stares were capable of getting colder.
"You broke my nose!" He retorted.
Ami winced. She certainly didn't like being such a violent person and she regretted her actions entirely.
"I'm truly sorry," she added. "If it's any consolation, your nose isn't quite broken. But regardless, you didn't deserve it."
"Damn straight, I didn't," he shot back.
Reserved, Ami had withheld her slight feeling of annoyance and opted for the feeling of self-loathing. It was a poor habit that her friends would often scold her about, but truthfully she disbelieved their diagnosis that this was a severe habit. She believed that she controlled it quite well and that excessive self-loathing wasn't possible. Besides it often kept her from lashing out and incurring multiple criminal offenses. After all, she wasn't exactly foreign to the bitter end of teasing and gossip. If she got angry every time someone offended her, she'd likely be in jail. Then again, blaming herself for their actions against her wasn't necessarily healthy.
She cast her eyes to the ground, watching as her toes mingled with the golden brown sand. Soon this would be over and she'd be able to reinforce her mental note to never again allow herself to get into another predicament such as this.
"Please forgive me," Ami meekly stated.
There was a moment of pause before she was given a response and she was elated to have finally heard him speak.
"Yeah, whatever," he murmured.
It was enough for her. She was ready to leave, completely satisfied with her apology and prepared to continue her lecture to herself to never act so impulsively again. That is until a single word was released and somehow carried in echoes to her ears.
Her spine shivered and the hairs at the back of her neck stood straighter than they had when Minako and Usagi came up with the brilliant idea to spike her hair into a Mohawk using super glue as a sleepover prank. An inner voice told her just to ignore it but the ocean was so loud that it drowned out that plea.
"Excuse me?" Ami said as she returned her attention to the group of chaperones that groaned at the sound of her voice. She could feel herself shaking, partly from reluctance and partly from rage.
Shinji scoffed in annoyance.
"You heard me, bitch," he said with added emphasis on his last word.
Ami's fists tightened at her sides and she could feel her blood literally ice over. She didn't say anything, as her lips were pressed into a stubborn line. Half of her wanted to drop it but the other half was too offended to walk away.
"What?" Shinji taunted. "You gonna punch me again?"
He stepped closer to her, leering as his face neared hers. She tried to ignore him, tried to urge her feet to move but she was stuck in some territorial battle where her body refused to move as he came in closer.
"Com'on Shinji, she's just looking for more attention," one of his female fans had said.
Ami was perplexed by the logic in that statement, which only added to her discontent.
Shinji hadn't listened. He pressed his head forward, butting roughly with Ami's on purpose. In a gritty tone he lowered his voice and snarled as he spoke. Ami kept her eyes away from his to keep from losing her temper that was teetering on pins and needles.
"You're lucky you're a girl, else I would've beat your ass earlier. Try that again and you'll have to give me more than just a stupid apology."
He laughed, his grin spreading as a hand greedily grabbed her rear end. She jumped, feeling sickly enraged as he left her with a degrading scoff. She could smell the clear scent of blood in her nostrils mixed with the pungent stench of his breath. It was like inhaling a grungy towel that had been drenched in sewage and stained with blood.
"Gah, you're a pig," one of the girls said with a laugh as he went to rejoin his groupies.
He smiled, his nose finally clear from bleeding, and tossed the bloodied towel to the ground. Engrossed in his erroneous success, he was completely oblivious to impending danger. There was a small tap on his shoulder and mindlessly he turned around only to be greeted by an ice cold fist to his already red nose. His body crumpled to the ground and standing over him for a second time was an infuriated blue-haired genius.
"Now your nose is broken," Ami quipped with a stern frown. "And I recant my apology. You deserved everything you got, bitch!"
Angered, Shinji ungracefully leapt to his feet to retaliate. With blood already trickling from his deformed nose, he balled his fists and swung with full force. Ami blinked in surprise to find his fist just in front of her eyes, jet black hair catching her attention before her vision zoomed out to capture the entire scene.
Wufei had caught Shinji's wrist in a matter of seconds with a speed that was all together incredible. Then with a single shift in his hand, Wufei had Shinji cowering to his knees in pain.
"Com'on man, it was just a joke. I wasn't gonna do anything to her," Shinji cried.
Wufei scoffed in disbelief, increasing his pressure on Shinji's wrist in a threat to break it. Ami was starting to look concerned and Wufei was smart enough to realize that she would try to intervene soon if he didn't end it. So he took the initiative, before she could, and glowered in Shinji's direction.
"If you even so much as look at her wrong I swear I'll kill you," Wufei growled in a low voice.
The other chaperones were too shocked to move and upon hearing Wufei's threat, they reasoned he was good for it given their current situation.
"Understood," he grunted as he added even more pressure to Shinji's cracking wrist.
Shinji howled in pain, nodding his head frantically as he replied. "I understand! Please! I won't do anything to her, I swear!"
"Good." Wufei released him and scoffed when he saw Shinji cradle his wrist in his lap as though it were a baby.
When he looked up, the other chaperones avoided eye contact, a move that made him indifferent. It wasn't like he actually cared. He walked off, grabbing Ami in his plight and heading to the bus.
"You are not apologizing for that," he said as he dragged her along the beach. "And neither am I."
Ami nodded in response, a timid smile gracing her lips as she replayed the scene from just moments ago in her mind.
"Thank you," she said, causing Wufei to momentarily cease his haul.
He looked to her sincere blue eyes and nodded before smirking and continuing on.
"You were doing a decent job taking care of it yourself," he admitted. "But you deserved everything you got, bitch". I didn't know you talked like that. "He quoted in amusement.
Ami flushed red, her pale skin turning pink from embarrassment.
"Please don't tell my mother I said that," she begged. "She would be so disappointed in my choice of words."
Wufei couldn't hold back the urge to laugh at the innocence of it all. His fury dissipated immediately as he recalled the many instances where Ami had surprised him. He rather liked this violent side of her. He honestly never would've guessed it had even existed. Plus, she was quite a fish when it came to swimming, which was another remarkable trait that he would've overlooked had it not been for this trip.
By now he had stopped dragging her and they walked in tandem. As they neared the bus, Ami's foot had accidentally rammed into his own and he knew without saying what was coming next.
"I'm s—" Ami paused in surprise when she felt a rough hand on her mouth.
Wufei looked squarely into her eyes as he held his index finger over her lips.
"Stop," he said with a frown. "Not every unintended action needs an apology."
He hadn't said anything more, instead choosing to board the bus and leave her to ponder his words. She gulped as she steadily tried to regain her usual heart rate and huffed to herself. He was an interesting character, that Wufei. But somehow he had become a character that she was learning to respect.
Lately she had been so naïve, so easy to manipulate and downright soft. Though she knew she probably shouldn't act out her frustration through a physical median, she couldn't resist the temptation as her pent up anxiety kept pounding desperately at her reserves for a much needed release.
Cooking was often a good tool but she had done enough of that and it was evident by the array of delectable treats cluttering her countertops. She must've spent hours looking at all those trays of food in wonderment because she knew she couldn't eat it all on her own. With a notepad and pen she tried to write down names of people she might be able to deliver all this impromptu food but the list was finished faster than it had taken to grab a pen.
Usagi was the first, then of course the girls came in right after. Then Motoki was scribbled in followed by a long pause. She scratched in a name in idleness afterwards and stared hard at it before decidedly blotting it out with a frown. She tossed the notepad onto the table, the first letter of the blacked out name looking suspiciously close to a Q…
All her normal benefactors had already received more than enough from her cooking tangent, her neighbors included, so she was stuck with all this food and no one to eat it. What she should've done was send it all with Ami to feed the orphans she had volunteered to supervise at the beach. Then her problem would've been solved.
Nevertheless, with a groan she packaged the food neatly into containers and froze what she could before filling her fridge with the rest. Eventually someone had to be hungry and when they were, she'd be ready to feed them.
As soon as she packed away everything, she washed her hands, changed her clothes, and took to the streets. She paged Usagi with her communicator but received no answer. Then after a bit of solo reflection, she deduced that she hadn't really wanted company this evening so she desisted going down her list of friends to see who was free.
The cool evening breeze was refreshing as it ruffled through her hooded jacket and jeans. It was a nice contrast to the warm, aroma-filled apartment she had just left. Outside felt as though the wind had blown away all those small concerns that had piled up into a bundle of stress.
There was the impending lawsuit against her, the police's investigation, Risa's deception, the plan to throw off the police, school, work, a potential love interest. She sighed, pushing a strand of auburn hair behind her ear as she thought deeper. This was her last year in school, and quite honestly, that fact alone had scared her the most.
Griping and complaining about school was a genuine practice for her but now that it was so close to ending, she was suddenly consumed with apprehension about what she would do afterwards. For most people, life after high school was meant to be revolutionary! They'd go off to college to taste their first experiences of freedom and study, party, drink, fail, recommit and the list went on. But what would Makoto be doing?
Her grades were decent. They weren't as horrible as Minako and Usagi's but they weren't as outstanding as Ami and Rei's either. She was easily the median of the group, academic wise, but she doubted that would stand out on a university application. Her extra-curriculars only included flower arranging and Judo club, which weren't very lucrative on someone's transcript. So she could make flowers look pretty in a bouquet and hit a few people, it wasn't exactly a firm platform for a person bound to succeed in the future.
Of course, her life as the senshi of Jupiter might have been impressive but she often wondered how someone could put something like that on an application or resume without getting laughed at.
Occupation: Sailor Jupiter
Pay Rate: I did not get paid so I suppose it was/is a voluntary position.
Job Description: I spent about 4 years of my teenage years warding off evil for the sake of mankind. The position required the ability to work well in a team setting, a positive attitude, self-sacrifice, complete commitment to the cause, remedial first-aid knowledge, CPR, ability to run in heels, good listening skills, the ability to follow directions, some logic skill, combat training, an understanding that you might die, willingness to die and so forth.
Some opponents faced include but are not limited to aliens, deadly plants, evil scientists, bitter queens, faceless shadow creatures, centaurs, lions and other variations of cat monsters, demons, mirrors, and many more. Some powers that they possessed are mind-control, poison, fire balls, electricity, strong wind, beams, etc.
Why do you think you'd be a good fit at –Insert organization name here- ?
Well, being as I've faced all the aforementioned enemies and more while enduring puberty at the same time gives me reason to believe that perhaps there is nothing else out there that I cannot handle (save it be another evil threat to Earth. Evil dictators tend to get stronger and stronger whenever they show up). Besides, I have died many times and returned. If that isn't persistence then I don't know what is. In short, I believe I'd be a great addition to –Insert organization name here- because I'm brave, persistent and will never give up when it comes to doing what's right. In this case, doing what is right would be succeeding in all that is expected of me. That is what I have to offer without fault.
Makoto smirked to herself. She would love to see the reaction to an application like that. More than likely she'd be laughed off and denied but at least she couldn't be ridiculed as a liar. She exhaled.
Thoughts like these always led her down paths that redirected her to self-pity and frankly, she was tired of it. She needed something to clear her mind and though she knew she should probably avoid this particular place at all costs, she couldn't keep away.
Feeling vulnerable wasn't something she enjoyed so she needed a pick-me-up that could remind her that she wasn't helpless and that all those years of training weren't for naught. She crossed the street quickly, glancing behind her to make sure there were no followers. There never was. Especially for a girl with no family that lived alone as a waitress. She grunted.
There was a place she often visited without the knowledge of her friends. After all, it wasn't exactly legal per say so she didn't think her defending-justice-friends would appreciate it properly. Though her physical strength and combat skills were hardly the traits she wanted to be remembered by, Makoto still enjoyed the occasional opportunity to flex her talents in a raw setting. When senshi business was slow and she felt antsy, she would always come here to relieve stress and stay sharp.
Goodness only knew that evil was always coming so she found no liberation in playing a civilian with the idea that she may be needed as Sailor Jupiter again in the future.
She came to a desolate alley and found herself at a large metal door. With a sigh she rapped against it with her fist and shoved her hands in her jacket pockets. She could hear the concealed security cameras zooming in on her as she patiently waited. In no time the door had swung open, a robust guard appearing at the entranceway with a broad grin.
"Well look at what we have here," he greeted. "The little school girl's back."
Makoto couldn't help but smile. She knew she shouldn't have felt so at ease in a setting such as this, but she did. Which was even more reason to why she excluded the girls from this secret. They'd disapprove, she was certain. Hell, even she sometimes had her moments of disapproval. She wasn't a violent person, or a raging girl well trained in mixed martial arts, but this place gave others reason to doubt all that. So naturally you would think she'd stay away.
"Haven't seen you around here in a long time," the bouncer announced as he stepped aside to let her in. "Thought you might've left this heap for good."
"I've been busy," she explained.
"So I've heard."
He gave a hearty laugh and patted her on the back. He stood two full heads above her with broad shoulders and bulging muscles that made his collared black shirt look like it was about to burst. Spike had been the guard ever since she was first directed here.
Somehow word of her skills with hand-to-hand combat had spread around town when she came and some interested investors had sent out their recruiters after hearing she was having money troubles along with issues finding a place to stay. Motel rooms were getting expensive but apartment owners wouldn't rent out a room to someone so young, it was bad practice. Makoto had come here as a last resort, not knowing what to expect. The brief note she received barely had any information on it, save for the address, which she later understood why.
It was an underground fight club and from her first win, anonymous sponsors were more than happy to pull some strings to make sure she had a place to live around here. Luckily, they had been good sports that didn't chase her down after her appearances had decreased. Then again, most of the jockeys they sent to threaten her were usually made obsolete.
She figured those threats had stopped after Spike, the guard, had spoken to his boss that had taken a shining to Makoto. He relocated her to a nicer apartment away from the Cave (as this place was so eloquently named) where she wouldn't be bothered. And though pay at the Cave was exceptionally high, she eventually left for the meager pay at a local diner. Makoto didn't like living off of illegal wages and made an effort to get out of that type of life early.
If ever she showed up to the Cave, it was understood that she didn't do so for money. Which was fine by the owner. Him and his associates made much more profit when fighters fought for free, which gave Makoto more freedom than she originally anticipated. She was one of the few that could come and go as she pleased.
"What's this?" Makoto asked as she raised an eyebrow. The sparkling leotard hurt her eyes with the shining gold glitter that rimmed the bodice in its center to divide the parts of blue, red and white. White stars covered the blue expanse of the bottom half as red covered the top. To add even more "flare" to the outfit was a deep red cape and a pair of thick gold bracelets.
Spike laughed in amusement.
"You didn't come to watch, did you?" He asked.
"No," Makoto answered.
"Well then, this is your uniform."
"Uniform?" Makoto queried. "Since when did you-"
"Fighters have been getting cornered outside of here by angry investors lately so the boss requires all participants to conceal their identities," Spike interrupted. "At first contestants just had to wear a mask with whatever else they pleased but with the recent thrill around here about this senshi business, we've taken advantage of the trend and now require that fighters come dressed in superhero attire."
"So this place is buzzing about the senshi too, huh?" She groaned. "I thought for sure it wouldn't make a difference here."
Spike's grin broadened. "We may have a savage business," he said. "But that does not make us poor businessmen. Profits have quadrupled since we've changed the dress code."
"I'm sure it has," Makoto laughed with a hand ruffling her hair. "Anyone come as one of the senshi yet?"
Spike shook his head. "There aren't many female fighters and most of them dress up as male heroes to make a statement. Serious male fighters just wouldn't do that to themselves but someone did come in as Tuxedo Mask. Why do you ask?"
"Just curious," Makoto inconspicuously answered.
"Are you volunteering to be the first?" He grinned. "We do have a costume for Sailor V with a wig and all if you want it."
She laughed, briefly envisioning herself in Minako's uniform.
"I better not," she said. "Wouldn't want the feds knocking on your door to arrest me, ya know?"
"Yeah," he agreed. "Not with the way you fight. Good call."
She nodded. "So is this the only other option I've got here?" Makoto asked as she observed the ironic Amazon heroine's leotard.
"I'm afraid so," he nodded.
"It's kinda skimpy," Makoto complained. Never mind kind of, it was completely scandalous!
"Yeah, investors are tired of seeing modest female contenders."
"I'm not surprised," Makoto scoffed, as she stood with arms folded across her chest in contemplation. Did she really need to do this? It was late in the evening. The chances of finding a drunken brawl outside a bar were pretty good right now.
"If it's any consolation," Spike started to say. "It comes with gold boots."
Amusement was hard to ignore for Makoto as she reluctantly grabbed the uniform.
"What the hell, why not? No one's gonna know it's me, right?" She said as she grabbed a glittery gold mask in the shape of an eagle that had large wings and two holes for eyes.
"No one but me and the boss," he said.
She shrugged. "Alright then."
"So do you want to be in the Women's pool or the—"
"Seriously, Spike? Women's?" Makoto griped.
A guttural-filled laugh escaped from Spike as he nodded, scratching out his previous writing to satisfy his young friend.
"Men's pool it is," he muttered before handing her the ticket. "Listen out for your name, Wonder Woman. You're likely to be the first match after the Women's final."
"Will do," Makoto nodded, placing the mask over eyes with a salute.
She turned to leave but paused when a group of people flocking behind a man dressed proudly in a Superman outfit had walked by. Superman, with his Elvis-like curl at the front of his hairdo, winked suggestively in her direction during his passing, earning a scoff from the brunette. As the crowd disappeared, Makoto turned to Spike.
"Put me against that guy first," she said.
"You sure, kid?" Spike replied. "He's been our running champion for the past two weeks. It might be tough."
"That's exactly what I need," Makoto replied as her eyes trailed to follow him.
Spike shrugged, unable to argue further. Makoto was never one to disappoint and he was certain the boss would be happy to reap the benefits should she win. Whenever Makoto stepped into that rink it was immediately felt that she was there for business. She didn't flaunt and call out to the crowd for encouragement like the others, she simply stepped in to take down whoever was standing across from her.
Most fighters like that weren't very well liked by fans but she had been an exception for the fact that she was a girl. She was tall, yes, but limber and not one of those women bulging with muscles so people were interested to see just what she was capable of. It was especially entertaining when she was put against brawny men that had names like The Iron Crusher or Barbarian Joe. They were corny, but their strength was not fabricated. They could punch craters into stage but Makoto would always surprise them.
Spike chuckled as he thought back to her most memorable matches. Even when she showed up bruised from other unknown causes, she always brought a good fight win or lose.
"What?" Makoto asked when she heard him chuckling.
"Nothing," he said. "I'm just really looking forward to the fight."
She gave a short grin. "I'll try not to disappoint you."
"You never do," Spike replied with a smile. His aged charcoal eyes were self-assured and Makoto was inexplicably comforted to know that someone other than the girls had confidence in her abilities when she didn't.
With a wave she finally made her way to the dressing stalls with the ridiculous costume in hand and a heart racing with anticipation.
A genuine smile was so hard to come by. Especially upon the stern lips of Juuban's most talented priestess whose amethyst eyes froze numerous onlookers dead in their tracks just by its fiery magnitude alone. If her rumored third eye wasn't intimidating enough, there was her flawless appearance paired with her famed temper that easily kept people cautiously at bay.
Of course she had admirers but none of them had courage enough to actually try and befriend her. They believed that to be an impossible task despite the fact that four girls had frequently visited her like they had actually known her personally. Some said that they were temple employees since they had been seen at the shrine selling charms alongside Rei and others said that they were friends for hire (by her father's doing). Hardly anyone actually believed that they had truly been her confidants and not just a front to make her appear normal like the rest of the girls her age. Some were still vehemently active in believing she was a witch because no girl should be as perfect as she presented herself to be.
Regardless, that didn't keep her from laughing as she spoke with Heero whom she had learned was fortunate to experience an entertaining moment with Usagi.
"That rabbit knows no bounds," Rei remarked with a smirk. "One of these days it's going to get her into trouble."
Scratch that. It had already gotten her into trouble before today. Perhaps what should've been said was that Usagi's lack for boundaries would lead her into more trouble.
Rei's eyes briefly shimmered with that thought as she hastily pushed it away.
"You seem to be good friends with her."
Rei looked up, catching sight of his fascinating Prussian blue eyes and nodding.
"She's a handful," Rei admitted. "But she's a good friend to have."
"I guess I could see that," he replied whilst sipping his tea. Rei was nothing like Usagi nor Minako which led him to wonder how it is they had met in the first place.
Duo had informed him prior to then how each of the girls met and how four of them had been friends already before Minako's arrival. But actually getting into this group of friends and dissecting each individual elicited some room for suspicion.
Rei sighed, leaning back into her seat with what looked to be contentment. It had been a while since she sat down and had a casual conversation with a male that wasn't constantly professing to her how beautiful she was or how successful she could be in the future. Those things were nice, yes, but above all that she preferred candid moments where people forgot about shallow assumptions and talked about normal topics like school, hobbies, interests and so forth.
Heero watched as she was momentarily caught in her own thoughts. Though she and Minako contrasted greatly, there was still something in there that they both shared. Some unseen trait that he couldn't pinpoint exactly but could feel by intuition. There was a sense of solitude in their aura. One that somehow reminded him of the other pilots and even himself.
"Well," Rei said, pulling him from his thoughts as she looked to him. "I should probably get going."
"So soon," Heero replied.
She smiled at the inference that she was wanted longer, a notion that didn't refer to her often.
"I'm afraid so," she sighed as she stood from her seat. "If I leave those two alone for too long, there's no telling what'll happen."
Heero laughed. Though he hadn't really known Rei's grandfather, he did know Duo, and that man was a troublemaker by nature.
Without asking, Heero grabbed Rei's coat and mindlessly helped her into it. She was taken aback slightly but hid it when he hadn't appeared to be bothered by the task.
"Thank you," she murmured.
He nodded in response.
"Can I walk you—"
"That won't be necessary," Rei interrupted with a flinch.
It was that secondary reaction in full flare again. The one where she pushed people away before they could learn more about her.
"I live right down the street," she started to explain to take away from the sharp tone of her previous statement. "It would be selfish of me to take up more of your time for something so tedious."
Heero had a mind to walk her anyways but after a moment of pause he nodded. Fortresses weren't overrun in one day. That took time and patience.
"Perhaps some other time," he said.
Rei bobbed her head, suddenly pressured to leave the stifling café before she got even more uncomfortable.
"Thank you for the tea," she said awkwardly stepping by him to leave.
Heero smirked sensing that awkwardness wasn't something oft worn by the sophisticated Rei Hino.
He watched as she scurried down the sidewalk to the shrine but what he hadn't seen was the discreet smile that Rei hid beneath her scarf.
Duo yawned as he shuffled through the shrine to make sure everything was orderly and clean before Rei returned. He learnt from an early start that if even a single object was misplaced Rei would be breathing down his back like an angry dragon until it was fixed. So, to keep himself safe from harm, he regularly performed these sweeps before sleep so that he'd be able to have an uninterrupted resting period.
Plus, it was good to sweep through the shrine to make sure his bugs were well concealed and far from discovery. They hadn't been worth anything thus far but Duo had a feeling that the tides of luck were about to change…
As he slid the door open to the study where Rei and her friends often met, he walked carelessly inside to inspect the room. The bugs were in place, no items were out of place, and just like that his job had been done.
Relieved, he was in route to his bedroom until an annoying red light had flashed in his periphery. He halted immediately, a heel partially lifted from the floor in evidence that he had frozen in place. He turned curiously to find a small bead of light flashing beneath a cushion by the table.
Inquisitively, he knelt to lift the cushion that revealed a sugar-pink hand-sized calculator that had three sharp edges and one rounded edge with a small circular screen inside. The buttons were shaped like yellow stars, marked with numbers and operation signs while a small red light bulb flashed just below the tiny circular monitor in the corner.
"How cute," he smiled, still captivated by the little device. It was nothing spectacular but sometimes Duo just couldn't help his tinker self whenever he found any form of technology.
What was peculiar, however, was the fact that the engineer of this sweet little device had placed a flashing light bulb on a calculator. Why?
From experience he knew that nothing was added to an instrument unless it served a purpose for economic reasons. Besides, no good mechanic ever liked to put in parts that had no use. It was unnecessary work that wasted time and money so why then was there a flashing light on a calculator?
He was ready to discard his inquiry but something inside him wouldn't let it go. If it were a phone and it was flashing then he'd understand. Even if it was a pen and it was flashing, he'd understand, but a calculator?
"Hn," he huffed to himself as he scratched his head.
Was this his paranoia at work now or did this whole thing seem strange? She wasn't too sure. Maybe he needed sleep, or perhaps he just needed to stop being so paranoid either way he wasn't dropping this calculator anytime soon.
As the light flashed, he randomly pressed buttons to try and see if it could get it to stop. As he pushed 2, 3 and even 1, he saw the numbers on the rectangular monitor and further scolded himself for suspecting this calculator was guilty of more than being just that. He groaned, nearly tossing the device aside before accidentally pushing barely noticeable button along the side that made the light stop.
His breath held as he yanked the calculator back into sight and watched as the circular screen brightened like a television screen before it fizzled out within the blink of an eye. Aghast, he shook it, trying to find how he could get the screen to light up again.
But the light was no longer flashing and when he pushed the side button, nothing would happen to bring back the red light or the flicker of the screen. Now eager to find out what this was, he was fully engaged in research as he tried different sequences of buttons and shook the calculator in his hand. It wasn't until he heard the front door slide open, that he had ceased and shoved the device into his pocket.
He placed the cushion down neatly before standing and walked to the entrance with a smile.
"What're you doing in there?" Rei asked suspiciously.
Duo shrugged with his lopsided grin.
"Just making sure things are clean," he said. He could see her suspicion clear in her eyes as she tried to peek in around him as though she hadn't believed him. That sixth sense of hers was fairly deadly and Duo had no mind to get caught now. Not with that peculiar calculator that he had found at risk. This very well might've been a break that he had been looking for. Actually, he could feel that it was even without knowing what he had stumbled upon.
"Did you have fun on your date?" He asked with a smirk.
Rei stiffened at his query and Duo was glad to see that her suspicion was now clouded by her need to clamp up.
"Good night, Duo," she replied with a stern frown.
"It was that good, huh? Who knew the He-man had it in him to sweep up a babe like you," he taunted as she marched to her room.
Silence was his reward as she disappeared into her room and with a grim scoff, Duo squeezed the pink calculator in his pocket before walking to his own room. The tides of luck were definitely changing.
Artemis needed some fresh air and by the way Minako had been acting, he thought that she would do well with some space of her own for a few more days too. She had a tendency to obsess over every single detail of upcoming operations when he was around so to keep her from micromanaging when it wasn't necessary, Artemis had volunteered to be the one to go to the outers.
The trip was a long one to cover on foot and as he ran, his belly whined at the exercise which reminded him that perhaps he shouldn't have indulged so much on vacation. Nevertheless, he pushed those thoughts aside and easily snuck onto a freight train that carried him along the coast of Japan where he found a boat that could carry him to Europe.
The outers were away at their vacation house in Italy, a place that had been the perfect median for Michiru and Haruka. There was art, foreign cars and plenty of pasta, a food that they both enjoyed. Artemis himself was looking forward to visiting for the food alone. Goodness only knew that Italian was a severe weakness for him. Hopefully, though, he'd be able to control his cravings.
He pranced through Italy, nostalgic about the cobblestone streets and rustic landscape and trying hard to stay on task. He supposed Luna was somewhat right about the idea that he might be developing an attention disorder because more than once he had forgotten that he was in Europe on business alone.
Constantly ridiculing himself for his weak self-control, he continued through Italy in search for at least of the outers. Alas, it didn't take long before he stumbled upon a famous restaurant that he had seen on Food Network and had been longing to visit. With wide eyes he stared at the restaurant front, battling himself for whether or not it was acceptable to stop in for a visit. If not for that succulent looking Portobello mushroom dish that used the ingredient in fifty-seven different ways on just one plate then his mind would've been easy for him to reclaim!
Regrettably, such a distraction was not simple enough for Artemis to ignore. Thus, he walked in a haze towards the entrance, completely forgetting that perhaps he would not be as well received as he had imagined in his dreams.
"Ah! Un gatto bianco sporco! Uccidere!" He heard a woman screech as she pointed a gloved hand in his direction.
"Huh?" Artemis grumbled, suddenly running around as he was being chased by a waiter.
"Venire qui kitty," the waiter called with a broom in his hands.
Not with that moustache, Artemis thought to himself. He was only able to translate the bit of Italian that the waiter had been saying, the woman who kept screaming bloody murder was another story. Artemis scoffed. This was certainly not the greeting he had imagined.
His whole body stiffened when he felt himself being lifted from his feet. The waiter came to a breathless halt, looking as though he was ready to cuss out the person that had picked up the "filthy white cat" as the first Italian woman called him.
Artemis picked up immediately on the familiar sent of his rescuer, whose face he had yet to see and eased slightly in her hands as she stood in a crisp white button up shirt with sleeves folded to her elbows. Her long legs were donned with an ironed dress pant that was a light shade of khaki.
"Quello che sembra essere il problema?" Artemis heard her ask in that velvety tone that spoke volumes to her alluring charm. He could already picture the calm expression that she must've been wearing as she spoke to the disheveled busboy.
Such was the appeal of the outers. They were beautiful, talented, mature, calm and dangerous, a vision that Artemis imagined the inners would someday match.
"Bastava che il cat era un cliente molto importante!" The busboy angrily spat. He was so enraged while speaking that Artemis had silently winced. And here he thought Italian was a language of love…
He blinked. Wait, isn't French the language of love? He huffed to himself. It seemed his time with Minako had affected him after all.
"Le mie scuse," Artemis heard her say with her handsome blue eyes casting their soothing spell alongside her perfectly tousled sandy blonde mane.
The rest of the conversation fell on deaf ears as Artemis watched with amazement how his blonde friend was able mend whatever had been broken in a matter of minutes. The woman whose screech had awakened the whole neighborhood was laughing bashfully by the time Haruka had stopped to apologize to her for Artemis' interference with her evening.
To describe how alluring Haruka had been, the high-class woman had even started to stroke Artemis affectionately as though she had loved felines her whole life despite the small pink poodle in her purse. Artemis inwardly laughed. Even the small pink poodle was vying for Haruka's attention as it groveled from the bag and threatened to jump out towards her.
To sate the pooch, Haruka gave a brief pet on its head before walking off with the woman's business card that had been forced into the blonde's hand incessantly throughout the conversation. She tucked it away in her pocket to avoid being rude and walked into the restaurant without trouble from the staff that had previously endeavored to chase Artemis away.
"Already stirring up trouble, huh Artemis?" Haruka mused as she wove through the tables.
Artemis was so excited to have made it into the restaurant that he almost didn't hear her.
"You know me," he said as he bore holes into the platters, trays and carts of food.
Haruka scoffed, seating herself at a booth that had three other occupants.
"Look what I found on my way in," she said as she placed him on the cushions.
The white feline looked up to observe three more familiar faces who smiled towards him.
"Artemis," a green-haired woman with ruby eyes acknowledged first. "What a pleasant surprise."
Artemis nodded in agreement. It was definitely a surprise that not only would he be able to fulfill his fantasy and taste that delectable Portobello dish but he would also be able to find the outers in one shot. He should've known beforehand that they would be privy to such fine dining. They were, after all, the most driven people he had ever met.
"You're all looking great," Artemis stated before snapping his mouth shut.
It seemed he had forgotten he was in a public place.
"You can speak freely," Michiru said sweetly. "The sound in this booth is well secluded."
Artemis sighed in relief.
"Dinner and a meeting," he said. "Can't beat that."
"We heard that you'd be coming," the young dark-haired girl had said from her seat next to Setsuna.
"Have you?" He replied.
"Luna was worried you might get into some trouble here," Haruka informed in amusement. "So she asked us to be on the lookout for you. I didn't think she was actually right…"
A small shade of pink rushed across Artemis' cheeks as he scratched the back of his neck.
"She knows me well," he admitted.
"In deed," Setsuna nodded.
In remembrance of his more serious responsibilities, Artemis cleared his throat as he successfully rid his tourist nostalgia to address the business at hand.
"Did she happen to mention what I'd be coming for?" he asked.
In his periphery he could see Haruka ease back into her seat with a glass of wine while Michiru and Setsuna subconsciously straightened their shoulders. Hotaru continued to casually pick at her food and it was clear by their natural reaction that Luna had told them everything.
"So," Artemis quietly started, his paws tingling with anticipation as his tail swayed behind him. "What have you four decided?"
Thank you for reading. This was longer than I expected XD. But I am so excited to have brought in the outers. I love them so much! Anyhow I hope you enjoyed it.
varee: Thank you for your review! Rei and Heero will definitely be interesting to develop. Don't exactly know quite yet what that will mean but I'm still excited nonetheless XD. Also everyone else's friendships are going to be fun. I'm really looking forward to all of that. And I'm relieved to see that I'm getting better at writing. Improvement is always a plus! Again, thank you so much for your review!
Sunshine Fia: Thank you for your review! Luna is definitely onto something and I hope the outers' scene, though brief, was interesting! Also, it is good to see Heero acting more human. I quite like that color on him though I don't know how much I can go on with that without completely altering his character. Seems this story may take longer than I originally thought XD.
TopazDragon: You are seriously too kind! I am always so flattered by your reviews and they always get me excited to write more lol. I'm glad Quatre has been characterized well enough so far and I thank you greatly for your words of advice and encouragement. We haven't quite gotten the outers' plan yet for this investigation but I'll get right on that XD. Thank you again for your review! It is much appreciated.
angelicmayuka: Thank you for your review! Rei/Heero is one of my favorites too along with Minako/Trowa but pairing possibilities are still up in the air with me. Also, I'm ecstatic that you are enjoying the story so far! And that you thought Ami and Wufei's scene was adorable! I hope you continue to enjoy the story and thank you so much for your review!
Sadekuuro: Thank you for your review! Ami and Wufei's part with Ichi was one of my favorites to write and I'm happy the experiment at the end has caught your interest. That is definitely going to be one of my most favorite aspects of this story that I look forward to working with ^^. Again, thank you kindly for your review!
MegaKat: Thank you for reviewing! And yeah I agree that song is pretty awesome XD. I loved singing it on the bus as a child and those days will forever live on in my heart! lol It is a relief to see that my grammar and such have gotten better heh hopefully I can keep it up to par and not let laziness get the best of me XD. Thank you again for reviewing! It is much appreciated.
ROF: Thank you for reviewing! I'm glad someone thought Duo's conversation was hilarious. I'm always skeptical about my own humor so I'm eased by the fact that someone else enjoyed it too XD. There is much potential for many different pairings (except for anything that does not include Ami/Wufei lol), so I've discovered, because I once thought I knew what I wanted and now things have changed. lol Anyhow, hopefully it all turns out for the better ^^ Thank you again for reviewing!