"I'm surprised you managed to get here in time. Only one bridge has been finished and it's been mobbed by people going both ways," Martha commented good-naturedly. She sat comfortably at the head of her dining table, the sun at her back, and smiling at the faces of those she still considered her kids.
"Lise and I chose the nontraditional path," Fish explained, a huge grin splitting her face. She snagged another cookie from the plate Martha had set out.
"Yep, they left us in the dusty traffic," Crow complained with a smile. "The jerks." Fish grinned at him, not ashamed in the slightest.
"Still, it's good to see all of you," Martha's smile dropped slightly. "Where are you staying right now if you don't mind me asking? It's been at least two weeks since you defeated the Dark Signers and I find it hard to believe you're all in that subway again."
"Oh, we're not," Lise said immediately. "I'm staying at Akiza's home, and so is Luna because the guys are at the Twins' mansion and Luna got fed up with them after a day. Leo's excited to be having a sleepover with his heroes though-"
"And I'm with my grandparents again," Fish finished for her.
"We're trying to find a place for the five of us," Jack explained grumpily. "We want a place with at least two rooms, so we can have some separation."
"And a kitchen," Yusei added, tearing his eyes away from Lise for a moment, and then after a little hesitation; "And a garage for our runners."
"And wi-fi," Lise said, her smile increased dramatically as Yusei slid his fingers in between hers under the table. "I can't live without it anymore."
Martha chuckled and stood up. "I have water boiling for tea. Anyone want some?"
Jack, Lise, and Fish raised their hands instantly.
Martha nodded and came back with four no handled mugs and a steaming teapot. She made a long show of pouring the tea, handing out the mugs, tea leaves and pouring the water. She regarded the five of them coolly over her mug and took a long sip as if she were mulling over something she was mentally debating whether to tell them or not. "I might have a solution for you," she finally spoke when the tension in the room had become palpable.
"We can stay here?!" Jack asked hopefully, rising and knocking over his chair.
"No, we don't have any available rooms with Crow's additional rug rats here." Jack stuck out his bottom lip sulkily and earned several laughs when he tried to seat himself again and failed.
"They're being good right?" Crow demanded.
"Yes, and behaving better than the five of the Enforcers ever did," Martha raised a purposeful eyebrow.
"It's a wonder we didn't kill each other by the time we were teenagers," Lise laughed.
"You grew up just fine," Martha said. "Anyway, I have a friend who lives by the waterfront in New Domino. She might agree to let you live in the back of her clock shop."
"What's her place like?" Yusei asked.
"Like a three story loft in the back of the shop. It has a garage, kitchen and either three or four bedrooms. I can't remember. It's empty because her three sons moved out a few years ago."
"We'll take it! It sounds perfect! I could get my own room," Fish decided, wolfing down the last few cookies.
"I'll call Zora to tell her you're coming, and here's her address," Martha slid over a piece of paper after she'd finished scribbling the address. "But be warned, she's a stubborn old thing on good days and downright unreasonable on bad. Hopefully today is a good day."
"Thank you so much, Martha, we really appreciate it," Lise told her, trying to lace her voice with all the sincerity she felt.
"Don't thank me yet," Martha's lip twitched into a reluctant half smile. She watched the others go. Her smile became genuine when she saw Yusei and Lise holding hands. "So you're officially together? Dating? Going steady?"
"Martha!" Lise burst out, embarrassment obvious in her red cheeks.
"Yes…" Yusei murmured, his face glowing red too.
Their foster mother laughed and shook her head. "You two are too cute. Go catch up with the others so I can call Zora."
"Okay, so how do we wanna do this?" Yuseis asked, braking a short distance from the clock shop.
"Whattaya mean?" Crow furrowed his brow. "We go in, ask her how much she's renting and take it."
"Exactly!" Jack agreed, and without another word strode into the shop. Yusei and Crow were right behind him.
Lise and Fish stayed outside. They had a funny feeling this strategy wasn't going to work.
"I give them three minutes," Fish smirked.
"They'll be thrown out by then for sure," Lise smiled crookedly.
They watched Zora's eyes narrow suspiciously at the sight of three boys entering her shop. She was a small woman with brown eyes, graying hair pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head, a washed out blue dress, and enormous glasses with a chain falling around her neck. All three boys were a good foot or so taller than her, but Zara was no pushover as they'd soon find out.
"Hello, Zora, my name is Crow. How much are you charging for your place?"
"You're going to have to be a little more specific, sonny."
"Aren't you renting out your spare rooms?" Yusei said, cocking his head in confusion.
"Yes, but not to three nosy boys like you. Unless you're going to buy a watch or clock, get out!"
"Shoo!" Zora chased them out with her broom to Lise and Fish's laughter.
"You should see your faces!" Fish squealed with laughter.
"Did you even mention Martha at all? That would've helped," Lise shook her head. "Just sit tight," she said. "We'll handle this." She and Fish shoved the door open and went inside.
"Hi Zora," Lise said as friendly as she could, trying to ignore her sweating palms.
"Did Martha call?"
"Yes, she did." Zora admitted reluctantly.
"Oh good. I'm her foster daughter, Lise, and this is Fish. Nice to meet you."
Zora's hard expression dampened slightly and she shook both girls' hands. "I'm glad someone has manners. Those boys mobbing me like that," she shook her head and scowled. "Anyway, I do have space since my sons moved out and my husband has passed. Are you interested as well?"
"The five of us are, yes. Is that all right?"
"There isn't enough rooms for you all to have your own."
"We'll share," Fish waved that concern away with her hand easily. She pulled out her wallet as she spoke. "What do we owe you for our first month of rent?"
"As long as you two girls are there to keep those unruly boys in line, there's no charge," Zora told them with a smile. It made her face appear ten times friendlier.
"Free! Oh no we couldn't!" Lise's eyes grew wide. "We can pay and keep paying when we get jobs, I promise!"
"Martha said you were all goods kids and I believe her," she threw a dirty look at the boys staring curiously inside. They immediately whipped around, not subtle in the slightest. "Mostly. I'll have the place cleaned today so you can move in tomorrow."
"Perfect!" Fish grinned and exited to tell the guys the good news.
"Thank you so much, we really appreciate it," Lise bowed respectfully and followed Fish out. "We're in!"
"Why do you have to live on the very top floor?" Jack grumbled to Leo as the two of them attempted to put as many boxes in the elevator as possible.
"Hey, we just live here. Mom and dad pay for it."
"And don't knock the place, Jack, you liked the Jacuzzi too," Fish scolded him.
"I will miss that," Jack admitted.
"It'll be nice to have our own beds though. I don't think my back could take another night on the couch," Yusei said, stretching out said back.
"That's the last of it," Lisa said with finality, tossing the last two boxes into the elevator.
"Good, now I can stop holding the doors open. Most boring job ever," Luna complained, massaging her sore thumb.
"Leo gets to do it when we unload the damn thing downstairs," Crow slumped onto the couch, cracking his knuckles. "I didn't know we had so much junk."
Lise flushed crimson. They hadn't grabbed any of her things at Akiza's yet, and her art supplies alone was a lot. "Hopefully we can fit everything. We'll buy anything else we might need."
"Okay," Fish reentered the room with a surprisingly empty elevator. "All the stuff is packed into Akiza's dad's car. Next stop is Zora's to unload, then Akiza's for Lise's stuff, then mine for my stuff."
"Wow, how did you load it so fast?"
Fish winked at Crow. "I used my secret skills. Oh, and Akiza's driving."
"Let's meet her there."
"Race you!" Lise challenged, rising into the air.
"You're on!" Yusei accepted, dashing into the elevator.
"Okay guys," Akiza groaned. "I think that's the last of all of your shit."
"It isn't shit!" Jack glared at her.
"Hey, it ain't hers, so its shit," Fish barked. She pulled a list out of her pocket. "Zora said there are three twin beds, one for each of the upper rooms. That means Lise and I have to grab new beds."
"You two can have two of the beds. You shouldn't have to go out and get new ones," Crow said.
Lise gave him an are-you-fucking-serious look. "Please, we want new beds. Three sweaty dudes we don't know used those things before us. Also, there are three bedrooms but five of us. How are we divvying this up?"
"I figured we could all share the third room as like a hang out space?" Jack suggested quietly.
The others chewed on the idea for a minute.
"That actually seems fair," Akiza amended, nodding. "You could get a couch with a pull out bed in case anyone decided to visit."
"Who would visit us?"
Luna rolled her eyes. "We would. Leo loves having all night dueling sleepovers."
"We did have a few pretty spectacular nights," Lise smiled. She peered over Fish's shoulder at her list. "The three guys can work on pushing the three twin beds into the largest bedroom. Fish and I will share the middle room and the smallest room can be our media room."
"We're on it!" Yusei saluted the girls, and Leo, and lead the way upstairs.
"Awesome. I already did a quick look through and unless you guys have your own dishes you're sunk. So I went out and grabbed a few sets of silverware, bowls, plates, mixing bowls, the works for you."
"Wow, shopaholic," Leo commented.
"Akiza, you didn't have to do that. You already helped by letting me stay with your family and carting all our stuff over," Lise said, she twisted her hair nervously.
"Hey, anything for you and Fish. The boys are lucky to have a place with you or they'd all be homeless. That still leaves a lot to buy, I'm sure," she regarded Fish's list. "Let's check out the room's size before we get two queen size beds, Fish. We also have to unpack all the dishes and silverware."
"Then let's get started," Lise heaved two boxes of her stuff onto her shoulder and ascended the stairs to her and Fish's room.
Fish and Akiza came in behind her with more stuff. The boys had already moved the twin bed out of the room, but they could still hear Jack's swearing, Crow arguing with him, and Yusei trying to get them to work together.
"Yeah, two queen beds won't fit in here, much less get through the door," Akiza sighed.
"At least you have a window," Luna pointed out.
"Twin beds are fine," Fish snapped, clearly unhappy with the conclusion, and making a note on her list. "That still leaves bed-making shit like mattress pads, sheets, comforters, pillows, lamps, and…I was gonna say desk but Zora left us desks and tables in the garage and kitchen so we should be good there."
"Then let's go shopping. If the guys wonder where we are they can page me or something," Akiza held up her cell phone. "Luna, can you help Leo set up the kitchen?"
"All right," Fish settled onto their new, grey, and very cheap couch in the garage. "We should be set for at least the next month, food wise. Luckily we were able to find simple and cheap bedspreads with all your favorite colors. "We'll do more when we all have jobs, but I think we're okay. I saved just enough. Now…we're totally broke."
"We'll fix that as soon as we can. Right now let's just eat and go to sleep. It's been a long day."
"A long but good day. We have to pay Akiza and Zora back as soon as possible," Lise said, slurping down her noodles.
"No, you don't, and I'm sure Zora will say the same," Akiza said firmly. "You guys became my friends when no one else did so it's the least I can do."
"Well, on that note, thanks for letting us stay in your apartment, Leo and Luna," Yusei smiled at the twins. "It was nice of you."
"We're just lucky our parents didn't stop by while you were there," Leo blurted.
Luna gave him a reproachful look and stirred her noodles awkwardly. "Our parents don't really like…"
"People with marks," Leo finished. He stared at his shoes.
Yusei scowled darkly. He opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it, and kept his mouth shut.
Crow sighed. "That sucks, but it doesn't surprise me. I've already run into that plenty just in Satellite." His gaze shifted pointedly to Yusei, and he put his fingers up to one of his many marks. "We're going to see a lot more of it living here in the city."
"Joy," Lise said sarcastically, slurping down the last of her noodles.
"Maybe someday we can change your parents' minds. I know I changed your minds."
"You betcha!" Leo's grin returned with renewed fervor.
"If they ever come home longer than three days," Luna glared at a point somewhere near her shoes.
"Well," Lise stood up. "I'm gonna go to bed. Akiza, Luna, Leo, you're welcome to stay the night." She kissed Yusei briefly and went up the stairs.
"You're smiling like an idiot," Fish snarled at Yusei.
"Oh, leave him alone. Crow and I waited two years for those two to get together. That and it's the most we've ever seen him smile in a long time."
"And it's cute," Crow added, strategically avoiding Fish's death glare.
"I volunteer for breakfast duty tomorrow. Thanks again for the dishes, Akiza," Crow yawned. "Time for some shut eye in the new place."
"I have some extra pillows and blankets so you guys should be comfortable no matter where you sleep."
"Good morning!" Lise yawned as she jumped down into the kitchen in her pajamas.
"An hour later and it'd be afternoon," Crow scolded. He brandished their spatula at her. "You're lucky we eat a lot."
"Thanks," Lise sat next to Yusei, saving him from half of Fish's scrutiny. No doubt she would have fried Yusei with her eyes through Lise if she could. Lise started gobbling up scrambled eggs the second Crow placed the fresh plate before her.
"So what's the plan for today?" Jack demanded, pulling a pen and a piece of paper out.
"Switch your shampoo with blue hair dye," Fish suggested immediately with a sly grin.
"You do that, I kill you."
"We'll think of something safer," Crow interrupted.
"We're still pranking him right?"
Fish and Crow high fived. Jack's disgusted frown was priceless, and Lise and Yusei couldn't help but crack smiles.
"Anyway," Jack growled. "Crow suggested…working."
"Finding a job will not cramp your style, man."
"You have to have style for that to actually occur," Fish snapped, earning her another high five from Crow.
"If you're making a list, Jack, put Yusei's birthday on the list."
Yusei immediately reddened. "It isn't for another month and it isn't a big deal," he said.
"It's in three weeks and yes it is a big deal. It's your birthday. Speaking of which, Fish, what do you and Akiza want to do the next month? If you haven't worked that out you should probably call and figure something out."
"Ew…" Fish groaned, lying dramatically across the table. "Communication and maintaining social skills!"
"Yeah it's terrible but there's a reason we're friends and texting and calling helps with that."
"Wait, wait, wait," Yusei interrupted them. "I never agreed to celebrating my birthday."
"No worries cuz I sure as hell won't be."
"Then no cake for you," Lise smiled bitterly at Fish and polished off her eggs.
"Why not? Martha always made us cakes," Lise got up to begin washing the dishes. "Not saying I will, since I can't bake for shit, but cakes are mandatory for birthdays."
"Okay," Yusei acquiesced quietly. He drew awkward circles in the table with his fingertips, trying to keep his head down to hide his red face and pleased smile.
"You're so weird. Your girlfriend," Fish dry heaved after 'girlfriend.' "Wants to celebrate your birthday and you're all stone-faced and unimportant about it." Fish sniffed and crossed her arms.
"I've never had a girlfriend before…" Yusei murmured. "I just don't wanna mess it up."
"Just don't become more of an asshole than you already are and you're good," Lise smiled and saluted him playfully.
Crow and Jack dissolved into laughter. Fish made gagging sounds, and fell out of her chair to dramatically finish dying on the kitchen floor. Both Lise and Yusei blushed a brilliant pink.
"Okay," Crow slumped onto the garage couch, his chin resting grumpily in his hand. "Getting jobs is a lot more exhausting and hard than I thought."
"It's because we're unqualified teenagers," Lise sighed. "Our education consists of home schooling and the re-education center's bullshit. We might have to consider getting GEDs."
"I still went to school," Fish said. "I graduated and I've had job experience, so if you guys need help, let me know. I can ask my former coworkers to see if they have spots available."
"Thanks, we might need it at this point."
"Anything to keep my pseudo baby from going back to the hell hole known as education," Fish dragged Lise into a bone crushing hug. "The rest of you can rot in unemployed hell."
Jack rolled his eyes. Crow chuckled and stretched.
"You know she really means it right?" Yusei told Jack.
Jack sniffed indignantly. "Jack Atlas does not need to work, and I can get a job any time I want."
"You know what?" Lise said when she'd managed to extract herself from Fish's grip. "I'd say we deserve a vacation."
"Vacation? But we have absolutely nothing to pay for a vacation."
"We can go to the beach near here that my mom always took me to. It doesn't cost a thing, one, and two we just saved the whole damn world. I think we deserve some down time."
Yusei frowned, considering the idea. "Relaxing sounds nice, and it beats waiting around for potential employers to call."
"That's two for the beach!" Crow held up two fingers.
"Three," Fish added.
"Well of course I have to come too," Jack said.
"I'll call Akiza, the twins, and Rally," Lise grinned and left to ask Zora to borrow her phone.
"BEACH PARTY!" Leo screamed at the top of his lungs. He raced for the waves with Luna and Rally right on his tail.
Akiza and Crow spread out the biggest blanket she could bring from home. Jack and Yusei settled all their extra supplies atop the blanket.
"Thanks for inviting us out here with you," Nervin inhaled and exhaled deeply, breathing in the sandy/salty air.
"Sure. I always wanted to show this place to you guys, and now I can," Lise smiled widely.
"And I hear more bridges are on their way!" Tank exclaimed.
"Now I feel kinda bad about teasing your mysterious man story, Crow," Blitz admitted.
"Don't worry about it. I'm just glad we're on the way to a better, more diverse and accepting, New Domino."
"Not entirely," Fish frowned at a family walking a further distance away from the group's blanket. They had spotted Crow and Yusei's markings. "But it's a start."
"Well, I'm gonna walk along the water. Don't eat everything," Lise got up and headed towards where Rally was trying to steal Leo's dinosaur floaty.
"Do you think we could build a sand castle?" Yusei asked. He sidled up next to Lise and slid his fingers in between hers.
"We could try, but I doubt we'd get very far. I was gonna look for shells."
"I'll help as long as Fish doesn't drown me."
Lise looked back at their blanket and laughed. Both Crow and Akiza were holding Fish back and conversing with the others. "Hopefully she won't break free for at least an hour." She squeezed Yusei's hand and smiled. Her heart fluttered when Yusei responded with a smile of his own.
"Give it a rest, Fish," Crow was saying. "They're a new couple. Of course they wanna spend a lot of time together."
"Have something to eat. My mom and I packed a shit ton of food," Akiza pulled out sandwiches and passed them around. "So how goes the job search?"
"Not very good," Blitz and Crow reported.
"We're residents of Satellite, so even though we don't have marks, or if we moved to the city, people would still be reluctant to hire us," Nervin explained patiently.
Akiza frowned. "But that's just stupid. You're excellent workers and people, all of you."
"Doesn't matter," Tank hung his head. His half eaten sandwich was suddenly less delicious.
"People don't want former scum or criminals making them food or selling them anything," Blitz said in a low voice.
Jack crossed his arms. His brow furrowed in confusion. "But I thought Lazar was going to fix some of those problems. Have the police gotten better?"
Blitz lifted a shoulder. "Sort of. I think Trudge is trying to make a difference, and so is the new chief Mina Simington, but too many of the officers continue to chuck Satellite residents in the facility more than New Domino residents."
"That's…that's just…" Akiza petered off, unable to verbally express her anger and indignant feelings about such an injustice. She watched Leo and Luna playing with Rally like they had been friends forever.
"I know, Akiza, it really fucking sucks," Crow crammed the rest of his sandwich into his mouth.
"Guys," Fish finally spoke up. "I promise, as the Oracle of the Sea, not to murder Yusei today if we all forget our problems just for today and have fun."
Tank frowned in confusion. "Why would you murder Yusei?"
"Why does Fish do literally anything?" Jack pointed out.
"Good point," Crow nodded.
"Deal," Akiza and Fish shook hands.
Fish stood up and brushed crumbs off her person, grabbing her camera. "Last one down to the water gets eaten by my kraken!"