Mamoru glanced at his watch and put the paper down, folding it neatly and tucking it inside his school bag. He stood and walked into the kitchen, placing the bag in a chair as he refilled the kettle and put his dried dishes away. He turned and picked up the bag again, walking to the door and pausing to put his shoes on. "Are you coming?" he asked over his shoulder of the white Pegasus standing on his table.
"I'll meet you there later," he replied without concern.
As Mamoru left the building, bag in hand, and was quickly joined by a stranger. While he had never seen the guy before, the familiarity of his presence was overwhelming. They walked together for over a block before either of them spoke. Mamoru didn't know how to start; he didn't actually know the guy, but his affiliation with the annoying little fairy didn't create any warm feelings between them. Detransformed he seemed very similar to his alter ego; the silver-colored hair was the same, which was surprising, but useful, he supposed, if they went through with the charade. How many high-school-aged guys had silver shoulder-length hair? If Venus was looking, she wouldn't have to look very hard to find their supposed Prince. With thoughts of the discussion from the other night and what he had heard from Helios in mind, he finally asked, "Shouldn't you be with Midori?"
The man shrugged, "We thought it would work better this way."
Mamoru raised a brow, looking at him sideways as they walked. "Yeah?" he asked. Had Midori tired of this guy already and passed him off?
"Yeah," he replied, "If I'm supposed to be the Prince, then shouldn't I be sticking around the Prince's primary protector?"
Primary protector? Rather than ask, he considered the phrase, thinking through what he knew, and almost immediately the reasoning surfaced: their names. West King, North King, South King – he was Cardinal King. The centerpiece of the directions. It wasn't entirely unreasonable to believe that his title was honorary based upon a leadership position. He paused, wondering if he had been slacking in that department lately; should he have been personally escorting Midori around? … No, he finally decided. They had been taking turns, and Helios had been with Midori when he or the others couldn't have been. Nothing had happened, so their previous protective duty seemed adequate enough.
He shrugged as a response and they continued walking.
"Midori is with Moegi," West offered.
Mamoru nodded. That would've been his guess; Moegi's parents were thrilled with his friendship with the influential Midori family, so his mother drove him out to the mansion whenever he requested. Midori usually preferred to walk into town and had his chauffer drop him off near Moegi's neighborhood since it was within walking distance to the districts he liked to visit and was closest to his manse.
"I'm Kobai," the man said, half a block later.
"Chiba." Mamoru replied. They continued walking.
Half an hour later they paused to speak to the doorman and waited for Hanada to okay them before entering the apartment's lobby and boarding an elevator. They got off on his floor and Hanada greeted them at the door; only then did Mamoru and Kobai actually form a conversation. Entering Hanada's house they found Midori and Moegi spread out on a table, their homework before them. Mamoru took out the morning paper and for the next half hour they poured over various news sources so see if there were any connections drawn to them, and to get a general feel for the city's thoughts about the mysterious happenings around the city. By far Hanada had the most sources, taking his online forums and websites into the discussion as he broke apart every story and discussed the subtleties in the writing, even going so far as making suggestions as to how much the police department had been asked to keep confidential.
The jewelry store robberies were attributed to mob mentality, and while many citizens had been arrested on Friday night, the majority of them had been released, starting with the children and teenagers. The papers reported that no commonalities had been found between the people, but if the cops hadn't made the connection they would shortly.
They strategized their activities; Midori and Kobai wouldn't be left alone any time in the near future: until Venus showed herself, they had to prepare for any possibility. Kobai's school was a good distance away from theirs, but he said he could lay low until connecting with one of them, specifically Mamoru. Mamoru objected at first, citing Kobai's experience and expertise with his weapon as reason for him to be with Midori, but Midori flat-out refused, using Kobai's earlier reasoning to cement the decision. If they had to split, Kobai would go with Mamoru, Moegi and Hanada with Midori. Beryl would keep completely out of sight – much to Mamoru's relief – and Helios's would permanently return to Mamoru's apartment.
The plan was clear; now they just had to wait.
Over the next couple of weeks, Mamoru saw more of Kobai than he ever could have imagined; the foreigner had a strong sense of duty – that much was for sure – and was consistently punctual and stubborn about keeping close from the time that school ended until they retired for the day. Eventually, though Mamoru's was the absolute smallest of all of their homes, the guys started having dinner there and hanging out with Helios before calling it a night. Though it was annoying at times – especially with Midori's habit of lounging over absolutely everything and leaving a mess wherever he went – Mamoru enjoyed the feeling of his place when they were around; their companionship, even with the occasional bickering or not-so-subtle ribs, reminded him of families on television, and made him feel a strangely nostalgic.
Calls with Usagi were like clockwork; every night around eight she would call from her 'unforgiving prison' and whine about her day or enthuse him about the latest video games and sweet treats she was missing out on and would have to catch up on when she was released. She could have talked about anything, really; he was happy just hearing her voice. It was odd, but with her he felt both relaxed and on-edge, and on occasion he would just wonder when she would realize how boring he was and hang up. It was always a little fear of his, a fear that she would make him completely forget while they were talking, but would hit him little by little when they said goodnight. But, while he had become generally comfortable speaking with her over the phone, when her punishment finally ended he was nervous all over again when faced with the possibility of actually seeing her.
… especially with Kobai and crew in tow.
"Hey," Mamoru attempted, pausing before entering the arcade, "I'll catch you guys later; I've got something to do." It was a rare day without soccer practice, a day usually used to catch up on homework and get ahead in class, but he felt confident enough in his studies to do without a day of classwork; and maybe… well, he felt confident that he might be able to sit down and have an actual face-to-face conversation with Usagi. Treat her to one of the sundaes she had mentioned a couple times over the phone, or do something else she enjoyed.
They all paused, Kobai, Midori, everyone. Midori raised a brow, "What do you have to do?" he asked, skeptical disbelief in his tone.
"Something," he replied immediately, a little flustered; he had hoped they would just shrug and let it go, as they usually did when Moegi had to go for a debate team meet or Hanada left to work on his newspaper. He hadn't exactly worked up a solid reason, and now his mind raced for a reasonable excuse.
"Well that's specific," Hanada replied, rolling his eyes as he pushed past Kobai to go through the door Mamoru held open for them. "See you later, Chiba."
Mamoru felt some relief at Hanada's easy acceptance and the weird look Hanada was giving the others, but while Moegi was making a move forward, the others seemed unaffected. … which meant that they were all right there and in full view when a cheerful voice cried from behind him, "Mamo-chan!" and Usagi Tsukino came up next to him, a dazzling smile on her face. Her bright blue eyes caught his with a look of utter happiness and excitement. She slid to a stop beside him, her winter school uniform looking a little unkempt, it was clear she had come straight from school, without detention: in one hand was her schoolbag, the other held a crumpled-up piece of paper. He couldn't help the slight smile on his face, but he wiped it away quickly and looked over at his friends, just waiting for their reaction. She followed his gaze and he could see her mind working as she surveyed at the four of them, Hanada now hanging out in the doorway, and glanced back at him. She had put it together. "Oh, sorry. Am I interrupting something?" she asked hesitantly.
As he could have expected, Midori had a sly grin on his face, a look echoed by Moegi behind him. "Not at all. So, Mamo-chan, who is this lovely young woman?" Midori asked, his voice changed to the 'charming' tone he used around girls. He stepped forward and offered her his hand.
She looked at the offered hand with some confusion, and started to reach forward when Mamoru spoke to stop the inane ploy Midori was attempting. He'd seen the brunet use it before – rather than a handshake, Midori would kiss the back of the girl's hand and say something about how nice it was to meet them. It worked on some girls (Mamoru personally liked it better when the girl rejected him outright), but he didn't relish the idea of Midori trying that particular trick on Usagi. "This is Tsukino-san," he stated as a matter of fact, looking from the hand to Midori until he dropped it.
Unfortunately, while Midori had dropped the hand, he apparently wasn't ready to drop the conversation. He smiled brightly, "Tsuki-san, eh? How would you like to join us for a milkshake? My treat."
Mamoru prepared a refusal, but Usagi's quick, "Okay!" made him swallow it immediately. Instead he settled for a glare as Midori made a grand sweeping gesture to the Crown Fruit Parlor near the arcade and followed along. Hanada kept with him as they walked; Usagi walked between Midori and Moegi, laughing as one of them made a joke. He liked seeing her laugh, though part of him wished that he had caused it rather than they.
"So, Tsukino-san?" Hanada asked unobtrusively, the words an invitation for a better explanation than one he had offered the others.
Mamoru shrugged, "She used to throw her bad grades at me."
"Grade Eight you say?" Moegi repeated loudly, looking back at Mamoru and raising his eyebrows and smirking as Midori held the door and Usagi disappeared inside, her eyes catching his and smiling again before walking up the short set of stairs. Mamoru just glared, shoving his hands in the pockets of his uniform. It wasn't that strange, right? She was 14, he was 17; the difference was just three years. That wasn't creepy.
When he and Hanada made it upstairs after them, they had already claimed a six person round table; Usagi waved at him and motioned to the empty seat beside her. He did, and tried to ignore the thrill he got when her hand accidently brushed him. Hanging out with Usagi and the guys was a lot less stressful and embarrassing than Mamoru would have originally thought; no one even asked about the specifics of their relationship, instead they mostly asked Usagi questions about herself and used her answers to launch into amusing stories or to tease someone else about a similarity. Usagi laughed a lot – they all did, really – and he learned new things about nearly everyone there.
"So, Tsukino-san –"
"You can call me Usagi-chan!" Usagi assured them happily, taking another spoonful of her second chocolate sundae.
Kobai smiled, "Usagi-chan, then; what do you want to be when you grow up?"
She sputtered, then swallowed the mouthful of ice cream, her cheeks flushing. Finally, she put her spoon down and looked up, away from them all, crossed her arms and declared, "I haven't decided yet." Moegi snickered and she turned the question on him, "What do you want to be, Moegi-kun?"
The blonde shrugged, then straightened in his seat. "Prime Minister."
"Big surprise there," Midori commented. Usagi looked to him and he stretched, putting his hands behind his head as he answered, "My future's already set – I've got a business to run. Or oodles of money to spend; either really."
"How terrible for you," Mamoru commented flatly, smiling so they knew he didn't mean anything by the statement. The group chuckled appreciatively as Midori made a big show of sighing.
"It's tiring being me," he complained good-naturedly.
"What would you do if you didn't have to run your family's business?" Usagi asked.
Midori looked thoughtful before answering, "I don't know. Travel, maybe. Or run an arcade."
"And by 'run' he really means 'loaf around in'," Hanada commented, "And I'd have someone cover the story in one of the lesser news columns – 'Local Millionaire Squanders Fortune on Video Games.'"
"Kobai? What about you?" Hanada continued without giving Midori any attention.
"I'd like to be an archaeologist," Kobai replied, "with a concentrations in the Middle Eastern region centering on ancient Mesopotamia, specifically Babylonia."
Mamoru's eyebrows raised; it was an impressive goal, one that he hadn't really considered for Kobai. With his general demeanor and serious nature, he had him pegged for a business position. Beside him, Usagi's mouth hung open a bit, her wide-eyed expression one of awed disbelief. "Like Indiana Jones?!"
Everyone laughed at her outburst; Kobai actually cracked a smile, "I guess so."
"Do you think you'll take a university position?" Hanada inquired.
Kobai nodded, "I would try; teaching at a university is the surest way of securing funding for digs and provides a good launch point for scientific papers."
"And an unending supply of graduate students to do the grunt work," Moegi added with a wry smile.
The tanned man shrugged, "True."
"So what do you want to be, Mamo-chan?" Usagi asked, turning to him.
"A doctor," he replied easily. While physics was his favorite subject in school and he had an interest in astronomy, he had wanted to be a doctor in the medical profession for as long as he could remember. Saving lives, helping those who needed it; it was a calling that he couldn't ignore. And with certain natural gifts, he believed he could do rather well.
They were quiet for a moment; Usagi had a soft smile on her face that he found curious – why had his profession caused such a reaction? It wasn't nearly as outlandish or exciting as an archaeologist; in fact, nowadays there was a great number of people who wanted to be doctors, so why then the pensive mood? "I could see that," Hanada commented at last; and finally he made the connection.
"Me, too," Midori added with a smile.
They had probably been thinking about the that night, when Sailor Mercury had really hurt Hanada, and how he stepped forward and took care of things. He had looked back on that time on occasion, and was proud of his reaction – he had been quick and he had known what to do. It was true that in the future he wouldn't be so able to openly display his healing abilities, but that he had reacted calmly and kept his head despite the intensity of the situation made him feel as though he could handle any medical emergency he was up against and stay cool and confident enough to lead the team as a doctor should.
The revelation of his healing abilities to the team at large had gone well; it was treated as he had hoped it would be – with more of a "Huh, well that's cool," as opposed to reacting as though he was an anomaly in a bad way, as some of the children in the children's home had done. Moegi had crossly asked why he hadn't told them about it before, but, honestly, he just didn't think about it until it was necessary. … just as he hadn't really considered that it had been the reason for their reactions until it became obvious.
The conversation changed topic from there, but as the sun started setting some time later Usagi slid her chair back and stood. "Thank you for the sundaes!" she bowed slightly to Midori.
Midori leaned forward, the front two legs of his chair hitting the floor loudly as he replied, "Anytime, Usagi-chan. It was nice to meet you."
Kobai, Hanada and Moegi repeated the sentiment and she smiled, "It was nice meeting all of you, too! But I have to get home before I get grounded again." She reached down and picked up her book bag, then turned to Mamoru with a sweet smile, "Mamo-chan, could you walk me home?"
He stood up immediately, "Sure," he replied, glad for the excuse to spend some time alone with her. Picking up his own school bag he turned to the table of guys, "See you later."
"Bye Mamo-chan," Moegi replied with a wave. They turned to leave as Midori echoed and Hanada and Kobai resisted the urge. As they walked away he thought he heard them talking about whether or not it'd be strange to go back to his place anyway and bug Helios for a while; Mamoru was pretty confident that they would be there when he got back and they wouldn't just be bothering Helios.
Walking home with Usagi was nice; he was a little nervous, and so, it seemed, was she. But as they started talking and she started laughing they both relaxed. They talked about school at first, and then she spun around a bit, excited to be 'free at last!' and how she would never again be caught leaving the house when grounded, which brought the conversation to their other lives. She checked her earlier assumption, "So, your friends, Midori and Moegi and them, they're the other Kings, aren't they?" He nodded, and she paused, "Did they know about me?"
"Do they know you're Jewel Tiara?" he clarified; she didn't look bothered either way, and he answered, "No; that's your secret. And remember that new ally we have? She still doesn't trust you with the senshi's soul gems, so I thought it best to keep my knowledge of you in any capacity a secret."
She nodded, looking thoughtful, then changed the subject to more normal things for the rest of the walk. When they reached her house they said goodnight and Mamoru walked home. At one point as he left Usagi's neighborhood he felt as though he were being followed, but as he paused, looked and listened, nothing presented itself as extraordinary so he continued on. When finally he reached his apartment, he found his guess had been right; they were all there, ready and waiting with embarrassing questions or assumptions about his relationship with Usagi. He weathered it all well, letting all the ribbing slide off his shoulders and only answering any question that seemed like an actual question, which pretty much meant he only responded to Kobai and Hanada.
It continued that way for the next couple of days – between practices and meets and homework, when they were just hanging around Crown Arcade or Fruit Parlor, Usagi would occasionally join them. He thought that the nervous excitement he felt whenever he saw her would fade away, but, for the first week at least, it only intensified. Whenever she was around all he wanted to do was be close and closer to her, to make her smile or tease her until she exploded in an energetic display of frustration. Still, no matter how nuts he drove her, if she stayed with them until after dark he would walk her home.
On one such occasion, after saying goodnight, as he was walking back from her house alone the lights around him suddenly went out. Not just the street lights, but the lights in the surrounding houses, as well; both up and down the street not a single light was on, and an eerie feeling crept through Mamoru. Gripping his bag he walked a little faster, needing to get to a cross street and see if the impossible were true; as he stood in the middle of the street, he saw it clearly: from skyscrapers to car headlights, all of Tokyo was dark. A regular blackout wouldn't go that far.
His watch's alarm went off and he quickly answered the summons. Immediately Hanada appeared on screen. "We need all of you back here! The top of Tokyo Tower is glowing – it's Venus!"
Sailor Venus was showing her face at last; after so long she was finally playing her cards. "I'm on my way," he replied, cancelling the transmission. He took two steps forward and paused, wondering if he should go back. Usagi was on their side; as Jewel Tiara she had powers and abilities that could help them, and when facing Sailor Venus there was something for her in this battle. This was the last senshi; this was the last soul gem. After this, maybe she would know why she was collecting them, why they had such an emotional connection with her. But… he couldn't help remember the danger Hanada was in in the fight against Sailor Mercury, and the last thing he wanted was to put her in that danger. If anything happened to her…
Footsteps on the road beside him made him turn; in a split second he had grabbed his pendant and transformed, a rose held threateningly in his hand as he glared into the darkness. "Hold it, 'King," Kobai's voice cautioned from the darkness. As his eyes adjusted to the faint moonlight he saw them –both West King and Midori transformed, approaching quickly.
"What are you two doing here?!" Mamoru demanded in a shout, not knowing what he was angrier about: that they had followed him to Usagi's house (and who knew how many other times they had done so!) or that they were both there! If Venus had found them the Prince charade would have been for nothing and they both could have died!
"Let's go; she's probably got something huge in store," Kobai replied, completely ignoring his question as he and Midori moved past him, striding forward purposefully, if watchfully, both of their heads moving left and right as they scanned their surroundings. Filled with frustration, he followed, frowning but keeping watchful, too. Later he would berate them; if he really were the leader of the Kings and it was his job to make sure Midori was safe, there had to be some form of punishment for their disobeying the agreed-upon arrangements and placing them both in danger.
They started to run then, keeping together in a loose 'v' formation as they increased their speed, then jumped onto lower buildings and up onto rooftops as they sped through the city, the Tokyo Tower a glowing beacon before them.
Thank you for following Cardinal King! :D Your reviews have kept me going and I'm so excited to get to the really juicy parts~ But I wanted to explain a few things before we continue:
Up until now, things have kept pretty close to the manga story line, just reversed and with a few little extras peppered in; I'd say the first major change was Nephrite being believed to be the Prince based on his modern-day background (hahaha I couldn't help it. Originally Nephrite was still going to transform unexpectedly without the help of Helios and would have been the false-prince either way, but I thought it be fun to throw even more fuel into that fire with the fake golden crystal), but I'm afraid that isn't the only major change to this story – others are coming.
It will start with Mamoru's awakening, and continue from there. There is one major change that will influence the rest of the story, a change I felt was absolutely necessary to keep this reversal possible and feasible given what we know about Naoko's world (and what you will find out about what I'm doing!). I'm considering making an alternative timeline for this story where the change doesn't happen and it's an exact mirror, but I want to play with my intended version first! So excited!****
Thank you again for your continued interest and I hope you can stick with me the whole way!
Love and cupcakes,
***Edit! In the end I decided to mirror the manga and have Usagi kidnapped XD My original intention was for her not to be kidnapped and have some fun there, poking grumpy-guilty-angsty Mamoru until he couldn't take it anymore (bwaahahahahaa), which I may still throw in as an alternate story at some point. ^^ ANYWAY