A/N: I'm in New Jersey, USA, and as such, we got smacked by the big blizzard pretty hard. So I was indoors most of the weekend except for shoveling my car out. Needless to say, it's a time for hot drinks, and I had myself a mug of peppermint tea earlier.

That's when it hit me. The tea was a little bit oversteeped, so when I breathed in the vapors, it was heavy and heady, like a glass of creme de menthe.

I'd been wanting a reason to write a regular FMP! fanfic for ages, and that just sparked my creativity right on out.

So here's my little one-shot. It's completely unbeta-ed, so any mistakes are all my own. I just wanted to get it up and out so everyone would have a nice little vignette to read as I work on The Hollow Men. I think this also proves that at some point, I can write romantic comedy just as well as I can write action and suspense.

Reviews and criticisms are always more than welcome.

On with the show!

Creme de Menthe

This is the best time of day, I think.

My school uniform is hanging up, ready to go in the morning... well, even if I'm not always ready to go in the morning. Done.

Dinner's been eaten and the dishes are all washed. They're drying. For all intents and purposes, they're done, since I'll probably just pull them off the rack and use them again tomorrow night. Yeah, done there, too.

Laundry? Thankfully, it doesn't need to be done. After that wonderful encounter between Sousuke, Shinji, and the Louisville Slugger my dad brought back from New York, I've taken to supervising my delicates as they dry. I swear, life cursed me with a dryer unable to handle the gentle cycle. I found this out the hard way with the sacrifice of a wonderful new black satin bra...

Too much information, Kaname.

In any case, it's still the best time of day for a day like this. It's the dead of winter, just enough snow on the ground to make the air smell really clean and the cityscape seem a little more human. This would be a night for tea, normally. Yeah, I like tea like any other Japanese. I keep a little corner of a cabinet reserved for some pretty common stuff... the usual green, herbal, black, oolong... nothing too fantabulous.

However... there's a little corner of the cabinet that I keep reserved for something else.

Fuwa-sempai gave this bottle to me as a "housewarming" gift when my father left for America. Needless to say, since our parting at the amusement park, I sorta look on it differently nowadays. I wish I could put my finger on it, but just like the way it is outside... it's just different. I feel it. But it's not bad in the least.

I always feel a little bit rebellious when I drink this stuff. I even have a special glass that I keep for it. A classic little highball glass from Tokyu Hands, just really quality crystal. It has a wonderful clink to it when I drop in a couple of ice cubes. That's just the lead-up, though.

It's not a particularly large bottle; just your standard 750ml. Like wine or something like that. Except this doesn't need to be chilled. It's just room temperature, nothing too remarkable, but the weight and feel of the glass, the curve and the nubs on the neck... just seeing it and opening the corked top make me feel comfortable.

This is how a perfect evening goes. No homework left, no chores left, no cares left. Just me and two fingers of creme de menthe on the rocks. My favorite chair is always nice and fluffed to the perfect feel of leaning back and sinking in, so it's logically the first place I go. Just flumping back into it, kicking my legs up, toying with my hamster in his little pink ball, and taking that first sip of perfect, heady mint liqueur is such a wonderful capstone.

I love the smell of it, too. It's as minty as mint gets, and coupled with the alcohol, it really makes my head feel so much lighter with the first sip and a long, strong sniff. I'd say it was like a drug, but... well... okay, alcohol is technically a drug, and I'm sure as hell underage (So was Fuwa-sempai, but I didn't ask where he got it from) so I guess I'm just thinking things up as I normally do.

I can't help myself but chuckle as I take another slow sip. What? You mean Chidori drinks alone in her apartment at night? I already hear 'em talking. Not even Kyoko knows about this little indulgence that I've got going. I couldn't tell which they'd react more to: Kaname Chidori, an infrequent drinker, or Kaname Chidori, capable of curling up and putting so much value in a glass of creme de menthe.

No, it's the combination that makes me react so happily to this. The cool flavor of the liqueur, the actual cooling temperature of the ice, and the warming effect of the drink itself. All those together just make me not want to think about the day... they just conspire, breathe together to make me breathe easier.

Today wasn't even "one of those days," either. It was pretty typical. Kunamoto in 2-D just got himself unwillingly used as a practice dummy for submission holds, Kyoko got her camera banged up in a sudden "evacuation drill" that turned out to be a certain somebody pulling a fire alarm...

Uch. Thanks, but no thanks, Sousuke, but I'd rather not be driven to drink.

No, not even you will intrude on this time of day.

At least, not consciously.

That's when the doorbell rang. This I did not expect.

Okay, hide the glass. Time to be civilized. Hair okay? No stains from dinner? Who could it be at 8:47 on a Wednesday night...

"Yes?" I asked, peeking through the opened door.

"Good evening," the suit-clad man on the other side said, smiling at me and extending his card. "I'm Nishimori from the Provisional IRA. May I ask you a few questions?"

"Oh, of course. Come on in, won't you?" I accepted his card, making sure that he was indeed from the Provisional Independent Resident's Association, our building's little tenant union. Nothing too special, just a sounding board for what was going on in the apartments. They did this from time to time.

"Can I get you some tea, Nishimori-san?"

"I won't be long... Chidori-san, is it?" He stepped out of his well-polished shoes and into the blue guest slippers in the foyer. "I'm just inquiring as to the recent changes in the complex."

I gestured him into a small, second-hand couch. Oh boy. The creme de menthe is right on the end table next to him. Let's hope he's not a youth morals crusader. "All in all, things seem pretty well around here..."

Just as I shook out the tea leaves into two of the more-decent mugs (That is, the ones that weren't from the Kanto Aquarium Park or anything else emblazoned with a logo), I heard him mention something about a revised trash pickup schedule and thud.

"Oh boy."

I don't even know why I went out there with two mugs of tea, because I already had it pictured in my mind.

"In through the window this time, Sousuke?" I growled, seeing the patio doors securely closed.

Sousuke Sagara, the cause of and solution to all my troubles, looked up from hog-tying the gagged, unconscious man. "Chidori, you may be in danger. We must evacuate this building immediately. I have a ropeline set up on the roof."

"I'm sure you do," I sighed, setting the tea down on a table and setting myself down on an opposite couch, as far from him as I could get. "I'm sure you also have jetpacks, motorcycles, a helicopter, a speedboat, and maybe if we're lucky, a hovercraft to take us on an exciting chase through canals, side streets, and mountains until we get to safety, right?"

"Negative," he responded, not missing a beat or a knot. "All that we can hope for to fend off any attacks is calling in for support."

The good old paper fan was out and impacting him upside the head in moments. "Sousuke, he is not a terrorist!" I shouted, stomping into the kitchen for a knife. I only wanted to cut Nishimori-san's ropes, but I figured if I brought out a huge meat cleaver, Sousuke might calm down a little. Or at least flee for his life. Now that would be wonderful.

"But I heard him say it himself," Sousuke objected, that ever-present half-frown on his face. "He said he was from the Provisional IRA, a radical splinter faction of the Irish Republican Army. Although they have been involved in peaceable activities with the British government, there's no telling when and where splinter factions would come up..."

This time, the fan knocked him all the way across the room. This was even more satisfying than the booze. "What would an Irish terrorist group be doing in JAPAN?!"

"We cannot know for sure until we interrogate him."

That resulted in another harisen slap.

I was able to get the gag off of Nishimori-san's mouth just as he started coming to. "Are you all right?" I asked, helping him back to his feet.

"My head..." he groaned, feeling at the back of it where Sousuke had doubtless employed some esoteric knockout technique or another. "I was just sitting on the couch, and then..."

"Oh, yes, then you slipped on a wet patch of the floor!" I laughed a bit too much, delivering a comradely pat on the back. "I was so worried, but it looks like you're okay."

"Is he all right?" Nishimori had suddenly noticed the heap of tangled limbs and torso, clad in urban camouflage, at the other end of the room.

"Oh, that's just a classmate of mine," I replied as innocently as possible. "He's here to study, isn't that right, Sousuke?" I really, REALLY wanted to growl that last part at him.

"I see..." Nishimori replied, making note of the "wet spot" on the hardwood floor. "If there's no problems with the trash collection and the fumigation schedule, Chidori-san, I'll take my leave, if you don't mind."

"Oh, no problem!" I stood up as he rose, being the good hostess. "I have your card, so I'll let you know if there's anything else."

"Thank you. I would appreciate it." He bowed, I returned it, and he stepped back into his shoes and out the door.

There was a brief stir from back in the living room as Sousuke came back to the land of the living, or at least, the land of the awake, in his case. It didn't take much to bring him back and get him going, though, and just as I came back in, he was walking around the room, pointing an electronic device this way and that.

"What is it now?"

"Bugs. I must conduct a full sweep of your residence to ensure that the Provisional IRA terrorist did not plant any listening devices or other eavesdropping equipment."

I marched him over to the couch and sat him down. "Sousuke, you moron otaku, he didn't leave any bugs in my apartment, so just be a good boy for once and relax, all right?" I sighed, maybe a little too deeply.

"What is that smell?" he asked, an eyebrow raised.

I turned back to him, meeting his hazel eyes. "What smell?" I asked, maybe a little too late. My eyes went wide and involuntarily looked at the half-empty glass of creme de menthe.

Oh boy. I'm sure that our soldier boy really loves to tie one on and talk about his old times on the battlefield...

"Chidori? Are you all right? He didn't attempt to use some sort of biological irritant agent on you?"

"You are an irritant agent," I shot back, tossing myself into the other end of the couch. Why I didn't just go to another chair, I don't know, but yet there I was, scowling as hard at him as I could. "It's just creme de menthe."

"Creme de menthe?"

"Yeah, you drink it. It's minty. It's alcoholic. It's my little secret, and it's the cause of your immediate demise if anyone else finds out."

He tiled his head, curious. "Alcoholic? Isn't the drinking age in this country twenty?"

"It is, but nobody really enforces it. Besides, this isn't so bad. I only have it once in a while."

"I see," he nodded, setting aside his bug detector. "Does it have any beneficial effects on you?"

That was the question I never thought I'd hear. Since when does my resident military otaku care about my well-being aside from the very fact that I wasn't dead or kidnapped?

"Well... not really, but it just feels nice. It's not even about drinking, but..."

That's where I caught myself. Here I was, trying to describe something about myself to him... trying to put it in the right words, trying to find the best thing to say, and trying not to sound like a total ditz in the process. There had to be a better way to do this.

"Wait here. I'll be right back," I said as I got up. He sat at near-attention, hands on his knees, and gave a firm nod in reply, as if I'd ordered him. He's such a puppy sometimes.

I wonder if he'll like it. Maybe it's too strong for him... no, maybe it's not strong enough? I mean, I thought all soldiers were hard drinkers. In the movies, the British ones always have a flask of gin or Scotch hidden on them, the Americans have Jack Daniel's, and the Russians have vodka... but did Sousuke even touch the stuff?

I put the same one together for him. Two cubes and two fingers in a decent glass. Fortunately, I'd gotten a set of the highballs.

"Here," I placed the glass down on the glass table in front of him, making sure to use a coaster. "Try some yourself. It's my favorite, so maybe it won't kill you."

He picked up the glass of the clear liquid and ice cubes, swirling it around a few times, getting an eye for the texture and flow of the drink "It smells minty," his incredible analysis reported.

"Well, of course it does," I smiled wryly back at him. "What else would the 'menthe' in 'creme de menthe' mean?"

"I see..." he saw. He cupped the glass in his hands and took one slow, tentative sip.

The look in his eyes gave it away. The raised eyebrow, the slight opening of his eyelids... I had to catch myself, what with the fact that I was just watching him drink. At least he didn't spit it out, though. Now that was a good sign.

"This is your favorite drink, Chidori?" he asked, a little of the edge out of his eyes.

"Remember, keep it quiet," I curled up, tucking my knees up as I reached for my own glass, inadvertently moving a little closer to Sousuke in the process. "It's a nice change of pace from tea."

"It's nice indeed," Sousuke affirmed, taking another sip, exhaling deeply. "I'm not used to sweet drinks in general, and the only alcohol I've been exposed to is the beer that Sergeant Weber and Sergeant Major Mao drink on more than one occasion."

"I knew you weren't a drinker," I said, smiling as I took a sip of my own.

"This is very good," he said rather critically after another sip. "It's very fresh, very soothing. It almost seems warm..."

Yeah. It seems warm even though everything I know or sense about it is cold...

"Here, let's have a little toast," I slid a bit closer to him, holding up my glass."

"A toast?"

"Yeah, a toast. When you drink with other people, it's good to have a reason to drink. Something to celebrate. So you toast to that celebration."

Sousuke nodded. "Some of my ex-Soviet comrades in Helmajistan often did that. They would shout indescriminate Russian and fight each other for a while before they laughed, yelled some more Russian, and drank."

"Something like that..." I said, leery. Part of me knew that deep down, Sousuke wouldn't engage in fighting just for drinking, but I had no clue how much of him was tactically evaluating the situation under the effect of alcohol. He was a first-timer. I had to be careful.

"It's more like for health or happiness. 'Here's wishing you a thousand blooming flowers,'" I paraphrased a Lao-tze poem.

"I understand," Sousuke nodded, the elements of a grin starting to form on his face. "Should I try it?"

"Sure, go ahead." This should get interesting.

Sousuke held up his glass, maybe a little too theatrically, and cleared his throat. "May our days be secure and our nights filled with creme de menthe in such safety," he spoke, surprisingly clearly and deeply. Wow. Now that was a baritone if I ever heard one.

I didn't know if I was smiling to myself or at Sousuke, but the grin spread across my face as I clinked my glass to his.