[Disaster and a Why? question]
"I make mistakes, I'm out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best" (Marilyn Monroe)
_It's his birthday! What am I supposed to do, Mako-chan? - Mina whined to her cell phone, easily picturing her friend in an apron making dinner.
_Have you tried shopping? As far as I know Ken could really use a new shirt for a change, Nate told me he had worn that black T-shirt for like eternity, - Makoto patiently replied. It was times like this that she really appreciated her ability of doing two things at once; otherwise her anniversary cake for her boyfriend would have burned to a crisp ages ago.
_I can handle that, - Mina took a deep breath, and Makoto prepared to end the two-hour consultation when she suddenly heard the blonde's voice raised more than ten octaves, as if that was even humanly possible, the brunette thought to herself, distancing from the cell phone as far as she could to avoid instantaneous hearing impairment.
_Yes? - Makoto prompted.
_That takes a wardrobe revolution, Mako-chan, he's coming home in half an hour and even a helicopter can't take me to the mall that fast!
_Right, - Makoto drawled – because it takes more than that for you to bring home a new wardrobe for yourself and another for him, am I correct?
_Look, Mina, - Makoto sighed – Nate is coming home in half an hour, too; and I need to at least take a bath; I don't want myself reeking of flour, cocoa and whatnot on our anniversary.
_Gods, is it really that late? - Mina sounded genuinely shocked.
_Yep, lemme check – Makoto paused to look at the display screen – two hours, twenty minutes and thirty-five seconds for a consultation session that is going nowhere. Oh wait, it's actually thirty-nine seconds now.
_Alright, I'll let you go now, - Mina shook her head – I'll think of something. Happy Anniversary to you guys, - she added as an afterthought.
_Thanks – Makoto prepared to hang up when an idea occurred to her; in retrospect, that smelled less of a genius thought and more of an impending disaster – Hey, why don't you cook him something? I know you guys can easily afford a night out, but he has always seemed like a family guy kind of to me.
Mina hung up, her head hung over in defeat. Obviously in her celebratory mood Makoto had forgotten that it was Mina she was talking to, and not a legendary cook like herself.
She eyed the clock that was ticking to two in the morning. She knew he would get off his night shift in a few minutes, probably already, and would proceed to head home only to be surprised by her and whatever she could think of as a birthday present. She hoped he would not be too tired or hungry to appreciate that she had remembered his birthday, and had stayed up to share with him a special moment.
It might be better if he was exhausted, she thought to herself mischievously, that way he wouldn't notice I had lost the key to his apartment on my way back and had to break down the door as a result.
Wait... night shift... hungry...
She smiled to herself. An early breakfast would not be a bad option...
She turned up the cooker, poured some oil in a saucepan and went to the living room, situated next to the kitchen to wait for everything to heat up. She threw herself onto the sofa, snatching a nearby pillow and pulled it close to her body for comfort.
They had only been together for a few months, when he finally opened up to her on her birthday, asking her to be his girlfriend when they were out together stargazing on a hill near city outskirt. She had gotten used to the idea more quickly than she thought. After all that they had been through together, she knew that day would come. And when it finally did, they both knew the wait was well worth it.
She went to the fridge to fetch some eggs and began breaking them one by one into a bowl she had nearby, her mind still occupied with the "grand confession day" as her friends jokingly referred to it. She knew the feelings were genuine. Yet, she could not understand, no matter how much time her mind spent mulling it over, the reason he had chosen her, instead of anyone else, with a past that even she shuddered to recall.
He had told her once, back when they had yet become a couple, that he had had an unhappy, prolonged marriage, with neither children nor happiness. He knew he was foolish even as he kept hanging in there, trying to find a trace of the woman he had fallen in love with before he took her to the altar. It was hardly his first love – hell, even Zois was not that naïve before he met Ami – but it was his first serious commitment, "his first big relationship" as he called it, and he had thought it was to be steady for life. Boy was he wrong. The woman had taken advantage of him in the worst ways any woman could possibly think of, and employed little, devastating, devilish tricks that even Mina herself, the one-time femme fatale, could never bear to use on a fellow human being. The day he finally resolved, at the pressure his best friends put on him to end the unhealthy connection, his wife had laughed, thinking it was all a big joke. She had literally exploded when she saw the divorce papers, with his unmistakable signature on it, and proceeded to accuse him of infidelity when she herself had been in and out the backdoor of Gods-know-how-many influential persons to acquire her current social standing. He had turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to it all, leaving to meet his friends at a nearby bar only to come back running when he heard the sirens. The woman had left the papers, signed, with a neighbor before lighting the entire house on fire. All his life spending, all his hard work, all his hopes for a better future were reduced to ash in a matter of minutes.
She shook her head, trying to get rid of the uncertainty. They had gone through that conversation once; when he was helping her move in his apartment, that act itself was a signal of how serious he had meant it when he told her he loved her. After all, they were both firm believers in private spaces. She had asked him why he had not pressed charge when his ex-wife went berserk. He replied simply, she was a child that refused to grow up, that he did not want anything to do with her any more, and she understood unspoken, that included facing his ex-wife in court, where all the evidences leading up to the incident would be laid out before his eyes, unnecessarily deepening the hurt.
She had half-jokingly added that humans had so many sides to themselves they might not even know, and that maybe she, Mina, could go berserk someday and her unfortunate boyfriend would not even know what had hit him.
He had looked her squarely in the eye, his expression solemn when he recognized deep in her amber eyes tears held back for eternity, looks drown with guilt over her past actions; and suddenly pulled her into his arms.
_I'm certain those days are behind you now. And even if the nightmare returns, I'd be there holding your hands even if the world itself collapsed.
For a stoic man like him, such words were rarer than diamond and spoke of his feelings for her, clearer than crystal. She had broken down into sobs in his arms, while he gently patted her back, reassuringly; she remembered even when tears fell from her eyes, that that was the second time she had cried that way even since she was accepted into Usagi's team, the only home she deserved.
Her nose suddenly picked up a strange scent, and she bolted into the kitchen to find the saucepan near the point of smoking. Panicking, she poured a spoonful of the mixture of egg and salt into it, and jumped back more than ten steps when the oil almost roared, trying to avoid getting the little drops that were flying everywhere. Her entire body collided with the dining table behind her, knocking over the glass container of the chocolate milk she just bought, and the whole thing fell to pieces on the floor, spilling milk everywhere.
Kenneth Taylor had just put his keys in the keyhole when he noticed two things out of place: one, his door moved when he had not even done as much as touching it; and two, a breaking sound in his supposedly empty apartment. He cautiously withdrew the keys when he noticed his door was only held to its proper place by tapes, and moving it aside as noiselessly as possible, he approached the kitchen, where he was certain the sound had originated.
What he saw divided him between shock and the urge to laugh out loud. There was his girlfriend Mina, who stood frozen as she heard and then saw him approach, her slippers stained with chocolate milk – her favorite drink, which was spilled all over his usually spotless kitchen, a burning saucepan and a bowl of something placed nearby. Noticing that was one of his plastic bowls, he quickly stepped in, dismissing the spilled milk that was already beginning to stain his shoes – hell, he did not have time to take them off when he suspected there was an intruder in his place – and moved the bowl aside so the heat would not melt it, then turned to Mina with a questioning look.
She flew into his arms, and he barely had enough time to catch her on the slippery floor. With great effort he led her to the living room, mainly because a milk-stained kitchen was not very fitting for a chat. Or for walking with a blonde in your arms, for that matter.
_I'm sorry! - she broke – I was planning to cook you something for your birthday, but then I was lost in thought, and I forgot I had that saucepan on the stove, and...
_It's alright, - he said soothingly. I'm glad you remembered.
_No it's not, - she protested, the sound came out half-muffled as she was still burying her head in the front of his shirt. You came in through the door, right? You must have noticed...
_... that it's glued to its place by tapes? - he finished the sentence for her, trying to cheer her up. Mina usually did not let little things get to her... they both knew they had more to be concerned about... or to be hysterical over, for that matter. Surely spilled milk was not the last straw was it?
_You know, - he held her closer – I have superglue in my drawer, if you insist on bringing down my door as a surprise birthday present. And personally, I prefer you breaking in through my bedroom window. Less effort, and more of a lovely surprise.
She punched him lightly at the insinuation.
_Hey, no one said I couldn't dream, after all you have been living in my apartment officially for a few months now, - he laughed.
That brought her back to what had taken her mind off the boiling saucepan, and she sobered up immediately.
_Ken, - she looked up at him then, her eyes sincere.
_Yes? - he lovingly stroke her hair.
_Say again? - her boyfriend looked at her puzzled.
_Why did you ask me out? You could have done a millionth time better...
He cut her off, his gaze stern:
_We've talked this over before.
_I don't understand. Still, - she added indignantly as she saw him raise an eyebrow, a pout already forming on her lips.
_I'm not worthy – she continued – Not that your ex-wife would, anyway, - she narrowed her eyes for a moment. But me neither. Why me? You could have gotten someone like Mako-chan, and every night after work you would come home with a decent meal awaits. You could have gotten someone like Ami-chan, and you would have someone to discuss tactics with, instead of a yawning girlfriend with puppy eyes practically begging you to change the subject. You could have gotten Rei, and at least you can trust her to keep the house clean! - she hissed the last word, gesturing toward the kitchen.
_Mina, are you telling me I should have had a chef, a strategist, or a cleaning lady for a girlfriend instead?
_Rei'd kill you if she found out you called her that. Even though I suppose she's a bit of a neat freak, - Mina commented thoughtfully. Hey, don't you dare change the subject! - she tugged at his sleeve, frustrated at the gentle smile which she perceived as patience toward a little child at that moment.
He let go of her then, just enough so he could look her in the eye. Mina was not one to show her weaknesses, and he understood at that time she really needed his arms around her, just to indicate that everything would turn out alright.
_Everyone makes mistakes. I understand that much. Everyone deserves a second chance. I...
She cut him off.
_You've used that argument before.
_Well, it hasn't worn out yet, - he countered, placing a finger lightly over her lips. Let me finish. When she burned the house down and left the divorce papers with my neighbor – his eyes were half-closed at that, and Mina threw her arms around him to relieve him, as much as she hoped she could, of the still raw wound when he talked of his ex-wife – I told my friends I was liberated. I told them that's how I felt. They didn't buy it, not even Jermaine, the most insensitive idiot I have met in this world. They knew that house was my lifetime dream. Mina, all five of us friends were raised in an orphanage. We always dreamed of a place we could call home, a real home, not some shelter with half-burned food and bitter guardians. They knew I worked so hard so I could have that house, just for a few idle afternoons with my friends, trying for once not to bear the world's safety on our shoulders. And she just lit it on fire, as simple as that... as if it was some worthless scrap paper.
Mina gently rubbed his back, maintaining the silence. As talkative as she was, Ken was a guy with whom she could enjoy not talking and still not feeling awkward or restless like some words were on the tip of her tongue waiting to jump out.
_And... you didn't make a good impression on me, the first time your files were on my table. A fourteen-year-old with a fairly decent family, a loving mother, running off with a psychopathic serial killer? As Zois puts it, that was the worst mistake humanity ever witnesses.
He felt her wince, and cursed inwardly for bringing up Kaitou Aces, her eternal regret. He held her closer, and she buried her nose in his shirt, inhaling his personal scent, trying desperately to calm herself down.
_When I met you in disguise as a cab driver... only three times, I was convinced something was wrong with me. I found myself driving around when I'm off-duty, circling the places you were known to frequent, and I tried to tell myself that I was doing it for duty, duty and nothing else. I knew as I was doing it, that I was fooling myself. That I was in denial, as simple as that.
Her eyes widened, and she snuggled closer to him. He had never told her that.
Perhaps it was about time.
_I got in a serious argument with Mamoru, a fight with Nate, all because they were telling me it was wrong to fall for your charms – to fall for you, after that hell I had gotten out of. And I insisted they were wrong. At first I did not want to admit it. Then when everything came to light, when the mission was finally over, I just had to go and punch Jermaine because he said to my face that I was a fool not running after you.
_He should really watch his mouth sometimes, - she muttered.
He smiled, continuing:
_I still did not want to admit it. To me, it sounded totally stupid – falling in love on duty, like in a romantic movie. When I met you again at Mamoru and Usagi's reunion party, I was hoping you would acknowledge it, somehow, that you felt the same way.
_And I didn't – she shook her head with difficulties as it was still buried in his chest.
_Not exactly. You just treated me formally... like a friend of a mutual friend, sort of. Courtesy of Usagi, I got a cut on the tip of my finger, and the next thing I knew you were bandaging it, without prompting.
He inhaled deeply the scent of her hair, and the silence went on in comfort until she looked up at him in pure curiosity.
_That's why you asked me to be your girlfriend? Because of a band-aid?
_Not quite. But I just need a sign... a signal... Look, Mina, I don't know how to phrase this... I've thought I could – that I should – never fall for anyone again because that last time burned me so badly. And I saw that in you, I noticed... when all became clearer, you would flinch every time you heard of his name. I noticed you tried a millionth time harder, to the point of injuring yourself, on any assignment concerning him; and I understood things you never talked about. Sometimes I thought it was pure willpower. Some other times, I thought it was denial of what could not be undone. And all the time, I came back to the conclusion that you were just closing your heart.
He leaned down to kiss her forehead.
_And that's why.
_It doesn't make sense, - she poked his chest, but he was glad the sorrow had disappeared from her voice, as quickly as it appeared.
_Doesn't matter, - he smiled – You're here. You're with me. That's what matters.
She smiled back until her nose picked up a strange scent again.
And she bolted off his lap, dashing to the kitchen in a vain attempt to save what was left of the early breakfast.
The next thing he heard was a loud thud.
Ken ran after her into the kitchen, and found Mina on the milk-stained floor, the saucepan nearing the point of smoking. Again.
Their eyes met, and a moment later laughter erupted from him as he tiptoed to where she was, bending down to pick her up bridal style, while she pouted and turned to turn off the stove.
_You'll get milk all over you, - she protested, trying to get back on her feet.
And courtesy of the slippery floor as well as her slight struggling, he lost balance and they both fell onto the muddy slough that used to be chocolate milk.
_See, told you – she sighed, pointing at the front of his shirt. He raised an eyebrow at her and their facing position; and she burst out laughing at his face, stained with milk, messy with strands of his own silver hair, which was also stained with milk.
Ken narrowed his eyes. No one deserved to be laughed at on their own birthday, on a dirty kitchen floor, no less.
In response, he reached out to her, pulling her closer; and before she could protest about being gently slid on spilled milk, he planted a soft kiss on her lips.
She returned his affection, a contented smile tugging at the corner of her lips. He did not mind.
Whether it was her making a mess out of his kitchen, or making irreversible mistakes - no spilling milk on his floor was not a mistake, mind you, it was an accident; it did not matter to him at all. What mattered was that it was her, being there, meaning no malice.
Their lips parted, and still holding her close, he struggled to get up on his own feet, succeeded; and headed toward the bathroom with her in his arms.
_Taking down an opponent is easier than making breakfast, - she complained.
_I would love a debate but we have a bubble bath waiting, - he winked to her, and his smile told her that was probably the best birthday he ever had, a birthday spent alongside someone with whom he could afford to show some weakness and who could savor the moment with him, dismissing reality itself.
A/N: Yes, I know I should finish "Operation Mix" before writing a post-series fic, but this plot bunny was bouncing on my head as I burned the last egg I had in my fridge. I'm a worse cook than Mina *sweatdrops*
The surname "Taylor" was borrowed with permission from Before Dawn's "Amnesia".
My thanks to Lesalanna, LadyElaiza13, MenaHennah, angelic . aquarian and Minako-chan4 for placing "Operation Mix" on their alert list. As you can tell that's meant to be a rather long story: my thanks in advance for your patience *hugs*. And I'm really sorry, ShihoShVG, but "Masks" is currently on hiatus. Thank you all for reading!
And sorry for changing Mina's eye color, I thought it would suit her more. Tell me if you disagree!
Disclaimer: Almost forgot but everything belongs to Naoko Takeuchi, I own nothing, just borrowing, you know the drill.
Looking forward to your review,