To all who have managed to stick with this story, I have to apologise on two fronts:
1. I AM SO SORRY IT TOOK SO DAMN LONG.
2. I am also sorry that basically this entire chapter is literally just 'drops a load of drama plus cameos of fic-writers I love and adore'. The next one will be better, I promise, and will come sooner. Double promise.
Other than that, THANK YOU LYTTON for being the awesome beta that you are, and for kicking my butt into getting this done. You are the only reason this got finished.
The cameos are of Ellorgast (PLEASE PLEASE go read her stuff if you haven't. She used to go under the name of Spirit-hime), and Verisimilitude (love her work too. Seriously. Go read it and love it.)
Thanks again for checking this chapter out, you're all wonderful people.
There was a light. His eyes were closed and his body was asleep so he could not see it, but he could feel it. Without a shadow of a doubt it was there, beyond the blackness of his lids. It was like a warm golden glow which surrounded and seeped into him, spreading through the intricacies of his system. His veins and arteries carried the feeling to the very tips of every limb, sending comforting honey to coat his entire being. It reminded him of a nap under a summer sun, of a hot drink on a winter's day or the blissful weight of a lover's body draped over his. He'd felt this before, there were no surprises in the sensation, but for the life of him he could not remember from where.
There was a breeze too, a soft breath of air which tickled his skin in short, sweet bursts. The longer he sank into the safe and blissful touch of the light, the happier and better he felt. The ache in his head was lifting, as if it were somehow being sucked out of him. The spiralling pains in his shoulder and back unknotted, even his vague thirst seemed to quench. But there was something else, something at the very back of his mind, like a tiny itch that begged to be scratched, except that he couldn't get to it. At first he tried to ignore it, it started out as something negligible, hardly noticed, but it began to become insistent, demanding his attention. The peaceful aura which had engulfed him began to chip away as he tried to concentrate and remember, but the itch only grew more irritable and the answers seemed just as elusive.
Strands of spun gold… yes, there was something there… contended laughter, deep and unbridled, a soft hand and a ring of metal on metal. When he began to feel frustrated the light brightened and the soothing lotion of warmth flooded through him again, making the annoyance disappear. Maybe I am not ready to see more, he thought to himself, and like that, the itch was gone.
He was completely at peace again, and he felt good, so very good. He hadn't had this much energy in years. All that was left for him now was to open his eyes and actually look at the source of this great light, then, he knew, then somehow everything will be alright.
The heavy lids of his eyes snapped open, and he suddenly wished with all his might that they hadn't, because hovering less than a hair's breadth away from him was his new housemate, Mamoru, and the man was way too close for comfort. Now he knew where the dream bursts of wind were coming from. Mamoru's nose. And the warmth? Mamoru himself, who seemed to be practically lying on top of him. For one awful second Ceithin thought he had woken up in the midst of some sort of devious sexual assault upon his person. "Urm…"
Mamoru jumped backwards like a frog on steroids and, to Ceithin's utter sense of relief, was fully clothed as he did so.
"Kami-sama!" Mamoru yelped, "You're awake!" He had been concentrating so hard on leaking his energy as slowly and discreetly as possible that he'd failed to notice he'd healed Ceithin enough to rouse him. "Uh…" Considering their previous compromising position, he was going to have a lot of explaining to do. "Uh… I was just checking your pulse."
Still suspicious as to why they had practically been touching carrots, Ceithin pressed the issue further. "You were awfully close."
Mamoru resisted the urge to cringe. "I… uh, had to put my ear to your chest directly because I couldn't get your pulse anywhere else." He hoped Ceithin had not noticed that he had brought two stethoscopes with him when he'd moved in (one of which was dangling from the table in the living room) or the large heart-rate monitor exercise watch which was currently strapped to his wrist. He shoved his hands behind his back, looking like a soldier called to attention.
Ceithin frowned and Mamoru thought he was done for. "You couldn't feel my pulse?" he asked, a little worried. "Is it that weak?" He sat up in the bed. "But I feel fine," and he did. Lifting his hand, he gingerly placed it on his head, looking for any sore points. To his significant surprise, he found none. He didn't even have a headache. His brow unfurrowed itself and his white eyebrows lifted. "I feel… pretty good, actually."
"Oh, your pulse was fine, it was because-" He was stopped in mid-sentence by a ringing at the door. Mamoru internally sighed with relief, saved by the bell. I had no idea where I was going with that! "I'll get it."
Ceithin stood up from the bed, "I'll come with you." He made his way to his chest of drawers and pulled out a pair of well-worn denim jeans. "I have a feeling it's for me, anyway," he said, tossing them on over his boxers and then sliding into a pair of ice white Crocs. "I got a text from a friend who said she was coming to visit."
Mamoru lifted an eyebrow, noting Ceithin's choice of footwear.
Mamoru looked down at the plastic holey clogs and then back up again.
Ceithin frowned. "I like Crocs," he said defensively, "they're the only slippers which don't make my feet sweat and I'm not walking around this house barefoot."
He had a point there. "When's the last time anyone actually hoovered this place?"
Ceithin shrugged and Mamoru regretted asking. Once they reached the hallway they found that Noel had already opened the door and had let in a pretty, dark blonde. She was dressed in a chocolate coloured coat, pink mittens, charcoal jeans and was holding a large handbag.
"You're from maple leaf territory, then?" Noel was asking.
She briefly peeked at her bag, which had a large stylised Canadian flag printed onto its glossy surface. "What gave it away?"
"It's good country, Canada," he admitted, "I went up there on a rugby tour with my school, once. There's talent there."
"Well, thank you," she said, smiling. When she turned to look at Ceithin, her oval, peaked glasses shone with rainbow colours from her reflective lenses. She gave him a wave of her hand in greeting. "You look pretty good for a guy who is supposedly bedridden with a concussion."
He cracked a smile. "I'm a fast healer."
Mamoru couldn't help internally grumbling at that. Oh, now that he's feeling great it's his immune system which gets to take all of the credit and I just look like a closet homosexual who tried to touch him in his sleep… He never expected people to thank him for healing them (he didn't really give them the option to) but he had hoped to not have creeped out his housemates, especially by doing good deeds.
"Or," Noel suggested, "he's just a big, poncy whiner who was never actually that badly injured to begin with."
"Don't listen to him, Elle," Ceithin said good-naturedly, "he's jealous because I keep getting visits from women who care about me."
Noel scoffed. "I would too if I ever got sick, which I don't, by the way, because Graham-Asquiths never fall ill."
Remembering the year before where Noel had succumbed to a mild case of the Fresher's Flu and had carried on like his nose had been sawn off, Ceithin simply shook his head. "Would you like some tea?"
"That sounds nice. I brought you my lecture recordings and spare copies of handouts."
"You didn't have to do that," he said, giving her an appreciative smile, "but it'll be really useful, thanks, especially for Normalism. I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around it."
"Well, I know you would have done the same for me," she said as the four of them made their way into the kitchen, "plus I'm Canadian, I can't help but do nice things. We're good folk."
Mamoru thought for a second. "Wasn't there a massive maple syrup robbery in Canada a little while ago?" Despite not being one to make many jokes, neither Noel nor Ceithin took him seriously. "No, there was. I read it in the news," he affirmed, "someone's made off with about thirty million dollars' worth of maple syrup from Quebec."
"Yeah, but they stole from the reserves, so the supply chain shouldn't be too disrupted. I'm Eleanor, by the way, Eleanor Gast. Most people call me Elle."
"Chib- I mean, Mamoru Chiba," he corrected as he began making a cup of coffee for himself. "I've just moved in. It's nice to meet you, Elle. Are you a classmate of Ceithin's?"
She gave him a pleasant smile. "Sort of. I'm an English PhD student and I'm taking a few philosophy modules for my research, so that's how I know him."
"And I'm Noel, if you're curious," piped up the man in question.
"I figured," she said, smiling as she took a seat at the small kitchen table. "Ceithin has told me all about you."
"Good things, I'm sure."
"I don't know about good. Funny things, certainly. You remind me a lot of my friend back home, actually. You even look a little like him." Seeing the questioning look Ceithin gave her as he hovered a spoon over the sugar bowl she put up two fingers. "Two please, and milk."
"This friend of yours is obviously amazing and very attractive."
Elle gave a laugh as Ceithin handed her the tea. "Definitely just like Neil."
"Tell me more."
"Well, umm…" Being put on the spot, her mind began to whir with ways to possibly describe Neil. "He's pretty gross."
Noel frowned, confused. "I don't think I'd like to hear how you describe people you aren't friends with."
"Oh, don't get me wrong, he's got a heart of gold and women will drop their panties for him if he so much as looks at them, but it's a feature about him that can't really be ignored - the man's disgusting. Take, for example, his 'lucky socks'." Elle all but shuddered at the thought. "He uses them for every single one of his hockey games, so they're just drenched in sweat, but he never takes them off, not to shower, not to sleep, and I'm guessing not even to have sex... well definitely not during sex, he'd probably end up knocking out the poor girl out with the smell."
"I see," said Noel, approving, "he's an athlete, then. A committed one."
Ceithin smirked. "Don't get any ideas, it's bad enough that you leave your dirty dishes everywhere, you're not lowering the already minimal line of personal hygiene you barely float above."
"Once," continued Elle, "he injured himself pretty seriously and we had to take off one of the socks," her face scrunched itself involuntarily into disgust, "things got… slimy."
Mamoru, who was used to seeing some rather gruesome things, had to do his best not to go as green as his favourite jacket back home.
"What is your friend doing now?" Noel asked, interested to hear more about his apparent Canadian twin.
Elle shrugged. "Well, I've heard recently that Neil's currently rebuilding a log cabin Mounty outpost somewhere on the Canada/USA border."
"I didn't think Mounties were real," Ceithin said, grinning. "I thought they were just made up by the Americans to take the piss out of you."
"Oh, they're just like any other cop, except sometimes they put on funny red uniforms and ride around on horses."
"I didn't know you had horses either, I thought your only method of transportation was by moose."
Elle narrowed her light eyes. "I'm beginning to think you're only friends with me to make fun of my homeland."
"Well, that and because you invited me to your house last month and let me eat the trial Tardis cake you baked for your Halloween party."
Elle smiled indulgently. "Fair enough."
Noel looked almost upset. "You got Tardis cake?"
"With blue marshmallow frosting and everything," Ceithin said, smugly. "It's not my fault you don't know amazing girls who will feed you the awesome things they bake."
Seeing a chance to engage in banter, Mamoru let a small smile slip. "Surely if a girl is nice enough to bake for you, Ceithin, the very least you could do is to hide your embarrassing footwear.
"There's nothing wrong with my shoes!"
"Sometimes he wears them out of the house," Noel added, purely for the purpose of irritating Ceithin further.
Elle looked down at the Crocs and then grinned. "Oh I know, I've seen him in lectures with them on. It's just so many levels of wrong."
Noel nodded. "Zach goes ballistic on him any time he does."
Mamoru smiled, believing that he'd come up with a zinger of a line. "Even I know it's a taboo, and I'm from the land that created the Ganguro fashion trend of the nineteen nineties!" His exuberance dampened when he realised that neither of his two housemates understood the reference. He cursed internally. It had sounded much funnier in his head.
Out of pity, Elle gave his hand a comforting pat. "Those girls do look pretty silly."
Embarrassed, Mamoru quickly changed the topic. "So, what is a Tardis?"
Elle made to answer but Ceithin stopped her and pulled out his phone to send a text. "Oh don't worry, I'll deal with this."
A few seconds later Mamoru's phone rang. "Hi Jared."
"Dude, how have you not seen Dr Who?!"
"Uh…" Mamoru looked up at Ceithin with suspicion. "Dr what?" he asked.
"Who!" Jared said loud enough for the others in the room to hear. "Not What, Who."
"Ok…" Mamoru said in a way that totally suggested that he had no idea where the conversation was heading. "Aren't you supposed to be in a lecture?"
"We have a five minute break. Now, pay attention, there's a lot to tell you before I even go near describing what a Tardis is…"
Mamoru sent Ceithin an icy blue glare of extreme displeasure at the prospect, suddenly understanding.
"It's much more fun to have it explained to him this way," Ceithin said, clarifying why he had cut Elle off. She laughed and sipped her tea.
"So why was your friend rebuilding a Mounty outpost?" asked Noel going back to their previous topic of conversation. "Was he doing it for commendable, charitable purposes?"
"Well, not exactly. Apparently he was driving a snowmobile under the influence and he happened to crash into it." She smiled prettily at her own story and shook her head with mild disbelief. "Now, bearing in mind these things are usually in the middle of absolutely nowhere and are almost never manned, he had somehow managed to crash into the one cabin where there was actually a special 'Mounted Police conference' going on at the time, so he got arrested, but instead of charging him, they're forcing him to repair it."
"Is drink driving a snowmobile a common problem in Canada?" Ceithin asked half teasing, half genuine.
"Not really, we do have cars like regular people."
"I know, you showed me the picture of your friend's yellow Beaumont. Hell of a beast," Ceithin admitted.
Elle's eyes lit up. "I'd forgotten you'd seen that, it's Neil's." She took out her phone and showed them a few photos she had of the car. "Stunning, isn't it?"
"Good God, he could be my exact twin!" exclaimed Noel, taking in the image of the man leaning on the hood of the vehicle.
Mamoru ended his call with a small, hidden smile and a promise to watch at least two Dr Who episodes that evening with Jared, before re-entering the conversation. "So, why was your friend drink driving a snowmobile?"
"Oh, the Canucks had just beaten the Flames, so he was celebrating." Seeing his confusion she clarified. "Ice hockey. He's a big fan. He tried to argue that he was being chased by a grizzly bear, but they found the Labatt Blues in the storage compartment of the snowmobile and figured it out from there."
"I thought bears hibernate during the winter," Ceithin asked.
"Not always, it depends on the weather, their food source and a few other factors," Elle informed. "Sorry guys, as much as I don't want to interrupt your education in all things Canadian, unfortunately I have to run, I'm teaching in half an hour. Approaches to Poetry with a bunch of hung over first years who haven't done any prep for the topic, yay!" she waved with sarcastic jazz hands. "It's ok, though. I'm taking a second year Intro to Old English seminar straight afterwards and they're usually much more responsive."
"I did some Chaucer back in the day," Noel said. "The Summoner's Tale, I think."
Elle scrunched her face, debating for a second whether she should correct him. "Not quite old enough," she said, her English teacher side winning out. "It's more like the Nowell Codex and the earlier parts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle."
"Ah, I didn't do those in school."
She laughed and stood up. "Not many do, really."
Ceithin got up with her. "I'll walk you out."
"Thanks," she said as she gave Mamoru and Noel a wave. "It was a pleasure to meet you both."
When she made it to the door Ceithin thanked her again for the lecture recordings. "It was really nice of you to bring them here."
"It was no trouble, I was in the area anyway, oh," she said, remembering, "the ones on Realism are divided up into two different files per lecture, the recorder got temperamental on me. So I'll see you next week? Philosophy is not nearly as entertaining when I don't have someone to translate what that lecturer from Manchester is saying."
He nodded. "I knew you were just using me, this friendship means nothing to you, does it?"
"You've got me. I just want you for your ability to understand British regional accents and your impressive muscular physique."
"I do believe you're trying to bed me, you Canadian seductress."
"Oh, of course," she smiled again, "why else would I let you eat my Tardis?"
Just as Jared was about to consider pulling out his mobile phone to text Noel, he managed to spot the familiar dark, curly mop and unusual two-coloured eyes amongst the mass gathering of students. "Hey hombre, what kept you?"
"Triple S and we also had a house guest, well, Ceithin did anyway. Honestly, I don't understand how that man attracts so many bloody women. He's Welsh for God's sake, the land where men are men and sheep are afraid."
"Matthew Rhys is Welsh."
"Phil Jennings from The Americans. He's attractive, right?"
"I wouldn't know, I don't exactly pay attention to that sort of thing. Have you been inside yet?" he asked as he eyed up some of the larger plant displays set up outside the doors.
"No, I figured it'd be nearly impossible for us to find each other once I stepped into that chaos." They had decided to scope out the Hoxtorn Uni annual plant and poster sale, as had most of the student population it seemed. "While we're on the topic of what women here find attractive, I saw this chick a little earlier and I went to talk to her, right?" Jared said as they made their way into the hugely crowded and hideously ugly building known as the Hoxtorn Student Union. "So I said 'hi' and she just kind of stared at me like she couldn't understand what I was saying and then she walked away. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with your women?"
"Maybe it's because you're unattractive."
Jared stopped in the midst of the throng of people to look at Noel. "Dude, not to be vain or anything, but look at me," he gestured to himself. "I'm six foot three with defined abs, a broad upper torso, powerful quads and a behind rounder than any of your flat asses could ever dream of being. If the ladies here think Ceithin is hot, then I should be like, fifty-feet-from-the-sun intense."
"Are you finished?"
"No, I've also been told I have a great smile and boyish charm. What the hell is there not to like? Seriously, back home I used to get at least three numbers a week. Now I'm lucky if I strike out with just one!"
"You got the barmaid's phone number at the Cow and Pebble, which I'm betting you still haven't bloody dialled."
"Dude," Jared said as he joined the crowd in the foyer and started climbing the stairs to the first floor, "I only took it because I didn't want to hurt her feelings."
Still annoyed that Jared may have jeopardised their reputation as being respectable drunks at their local drinking establishment by not calling the girl, Noel came to her defence, hoping he could change Jared's mind. "I thought she was pretty," he said as he followed the blond up the stairs.
"She wasn't that pretty, and she didn't have that much going on up there, either," he said, tapping his head before letting out a frustrated sigh. "None of the women who I want numbers from actually give them to me. It's like over here they think the only way you can pick up a girl is if you're in the VIP section of a nightclub, and even then it's tough. Either that or they have to be completely drunk out of their minds and that's no freaking fun either. It's a horrible catch twenty two, man. You have to already know them before they'll talk to you. That takes ages. Women here are totally missing out on so many other awesome opportunities for inter-gender relations."
Noel surmised that Jared's rant was most likely coming from a bout of sexual frustration (a problem which Noel was not currently suffering from, courtesy of an amazing brunette… even though she wasn't exactly responding to any of his texts, which was a little cold if he were being honest with himself). "I don't think you're being very fair, I talk to girls all of the time in random places."
"Lectures and the polo club back home in Hobbitfootshiretown-"
"Herefordshire," Noel corrected.
"Whatever. They don't count. Have you ever picked up a lady at a supermarket?"
Noel scoffed. "That doesn't really happen."
Jared flicked through a stack of what were essentially soft-core porn posters at one of the stands. "It does," he said knowingly, pausing on one particular black and white image of two girls kissing in a locker room in order to give it an appreciative once over before moving on, "and the fact that you didn't know that just proves my point."
"What about that girl Rei, Mamoru's friend?"
Before Jared could answer him, Noel's phone rang.
"What are you up to?" Zach asked in lieu of greeting. "I've just finished my lab work for today and I'm bored."
"Jared and I are at the plant and poster sale at the HSU, do you want to join us?"
Zach began laughing. "And spoil the romantic shopping trip for flowers between you two flaming homos?"
Noel rolled his eyes. Trust Zach to blow things out of proportion. "There is nothing gay about looking for things to disguise the shittiness of our current living accommodation."
Having heard Noel's end of the conversation, Jared was easily able to guess the rest. "Is Zach being a homophobe again?"
"Zach is being a cock again," Noel corrected. "So I take it you won't be joining us at the plant and poster sale?"
"No. I have enough naked ladies adorning my walls, but thanks anyway," he said instead of a goodbye.
"Hey, let him know we're going to have a Dr Who session this evening with Mamoru."
"You'll have to send him a message. He's already hung up." Two minutes later, Noel got a text. 'On second thought get me a red poinsettia, they're pretty during the winter. Make sure it's a large one with lots of blooms. I don't want anything wilted or broken xx' Zach was the only man Noel knew who ended his texts to his male friends with kisses. In the midst of rolling his eyes he received a second text. 'If it hasn't bloomed then all the better. Make sure there's no yellow pollen because that means they're going to drop their colour soon xx' He went to put his phone back in his pocket when it vibrated a third time. He was almost tempted to not look at it, but then he remembered that Zach had not only saved a missing dissertation of his the previous year, but he had also set Noel up with at least two different backup systems as well as online storage options, ensuring that the near heart-attack Noel had suffered was never to happen again… so really, he owed it to Zach to be tolerable, although the money Zach still owed him for various booze and food purchases should have more than made up for that. The phone vibrated again to remind him that he still had not opened the message. He read the text with reluctance, wondering what other demands Zach could possibly make about the plant he wanted. 'See if they have specialist plant food for it as well. Ensure the soil isn't too dry either, I want a poinsettia that's been well taken care of xx'
Noel shook his head. 'And he calls me the gay one…' he thought to himself.
"Do you reckon they sell bonsai here? I've always wanted one but they're so expensive back home."
"There's a reason for that, Usagi. It's not exactly the ideal student plant, not unless you've got a nice, cool, quiet room and a serious, dedicated owner with plenty of patience. They're incredibly delicate and need a lot of care and attention," Makoto explained, "they can live for hundreds, even thousands of years."
Recalling what little she remembered of her school biology classes, images of ancient, gnarly trees in old gardens and giant red ones the same age as T-Rexes floated through her head. "Don't all plants do that anyway?"
"Well, not all, no."
Usagi thought for a second. Maybe those big red trees weren't as old as dinosaurs, or were they? She couldn't quite remember and made a mental note to ask Ami about it. Ami knew everything. "They can't be that hard to take care of, right?" she asked, going back to the serious issue of bonsai care.
"If you want it to live and grow well then there's a lot you have to consider." Ever tolerant when it came to her dearest friends, Makoto explained further. "Bonsai trees need constant pruning, strict climate regulation, consistent soil moisture levels, defoliation, sometimes clamping and wiring-"
"Alright, I get the point," Usagi said, wrinkling her nose. There were words in that list that she didn't even come close to understanding, "no bonsai, sheesh!" Her keen eyes spotted a stall with terracotta pots. In them were some low, deep purple flowers with yellow centres and dark leaves. "Oooooh! Those look pretty!" she said before shuffling over.
Makoto swivelled around to see where Usagi was headed and then smiled. "African Violets," she said, "that's a much better choice. Even you'll find it hard to kill one of those." She nudged her playfully, teasing.
Usagi cut her eyes at her supposed 'friend'. "I can take care of things, you know. I've owned a cat for over half a decade and she's in perfect health."
"That 'cat' doesn't count," Makoto's smile turned into a grin. "Luna takes more care of you than you do of-" she stopped, all humour draining from her features.
Usagi frowned with worry. "Mako-chan? What is it?"
Makoto's eyes darted around the crowded room. "Hide me," she said, ducking slightly. But it was too late.
Jared's voice caught the blonde's attention and she turned around to see him and Noel fast approaching. "Hi guys!" She grabbed Makoto's hand and pulled her enthusiastically through the mass of browsing students to meet them halfway.
Makoto sighed with disappointment when she realised that she wasn't going to avoid the impending meeting and did her best to muster all of her courage. She looked at Noel for a second, met his brown and blue eyes and then hurriedly shot her gaze down to his white popped collar, which was brushing the areas where she vividly remembered having planted clumsy drunken kisses all over. She looked further down quickly to focus on the little alligator of his navy blue Lacoste V-neck. And then remembered how good that whole area had looked topless. She went red with embarrassment and did her futile best to hide her blush. Her stomach began to churn with nerves and regret and guilt and all the horrible things which had been plaguing her ever since that night.
"What have you got?" Usagi asked as they approached.
"A Chat Noir poster, a Privat-Livemont poster and a few little plants, plus a poinsettia for Zach because the guy is a girly-haired, Christmas fairy."
"Don't get me started," Noel said, agreeing with Jared, "we were practically cyber bullied into buying it for him." He was blatantly looking at Makoto, hoping to get a laugh out of her, or a chuckle, or a smile, or hell, even a two second glance would have been enough, but she didn't seem like she was paying attention.
Usagi frowned. "What's a pray-fat leaf-whatsit?"
"Privat-Livemont," Noel handed one of the white tubes under his arm to Usagi and explained, "he was an artist who did absinthe posters."
"Oh, cool!" she said as she unrolled it and took a look. "Pretty!"
"You gals find anything of interest?" Jared asked when she re-rolled it and handed it back to Noel.
"Well, we were looking for a bonsai, but they don't sell any. Apparently they need a lot of patience to take care of, anyway."
"And that's not your forté?" Jared asked, amused.
"Not really, I was thinking of getting an African Violet, though. Mako-chan thinks it's a good idea and I trust her completely. She's like, the best gardener ever. Aren't you Mako-chan?" she said, turning to look at the brunette. To her surprise, she saw that Makoto was looking awkwardly at anything else that was not Noel and that she hadn't heard a word of the complement. She was also a little pink in the face. A knowing smile spread across Usagi's mouth as she assumed, incorrectly, that she knew what the problem most likely was. Wanting to play match-maker, she tried to excuse Makoto's sudden apparent shyness. "We were supposed to come to the plant and poster sale on Monday but Mako-chan wasn't feeling very well," she said, trying to garner sympathy for her friend, "so we came today instead."
Noel raised his eyebrows at that and tried to initiate contact with her. "You were ill?" he asked, his voice a mix of hope and worry. Was that why she didn't call? Did I give her something? Shit. Did I hurt her? Did I make her ill?
"I'm fine," she said quickly. "It was just a twenty four hour cold. It's been going around." She looked down at Usagi, "I'm going to get the flower before they sell out."
Considering the fact that there was an entire rack filled with African Violets, it didn't look like it was a plausible worry, but Usagi turned it to her advantage. "Oh, well Noel, will you help her?" Makoto tried to protest, her green eyes wide with panic. She was ignored. "Those pots look awfully heavy."
"Yeah, of course." He practically dumped the posters and shopping basket full of plants onto Jared without as much as a second thought.
Makoto did her best to smile and made her way to the stall selling the African Violets, Noel in tow.
"Subtle, Usagi," Jared said when the two brunettes were out of earshot.
"It's a gift," she replied, either not getting Jared's sarcasm, or playing along with it. He wasn't sure which. "I've been successfully matchmaking since I was thirteen years old. I'm an expert," she said, beaming.
"So, how have you been?"
"Fine." The word had to be forcibly wrenched from her mouth. Makoto was incapable of saying any more while her nerves were busy tangling themselves into an undoable knot.
Being met with a one word answer, Noel tried again. "What have you been up to? I haven't seen you in a few days."
"Uni," she said, her lips tight, "I've had a few seminars." She fidgeted with the sleeve of her chunky knit black, cream and red patterned cardigan and then deliberately put her hands to her sides to stop herself from looking nervous.
Noel was beginning to get annoyed. She was blatantly uncomfortable and he'd had no idea what he'd done to make things so awkward between them. As far as he was concerned he'd been a perfect gentleman. He'd invited her to stay the night, he'd bought all of her drinks, he'd texted her the very next morning and once the next day when she hadn't responded (just in case she'd not seen the first text), then he'd checked Mamoru's phone to make sure he'd gotten her number right (he had). He'd have even driven her home in the morning if she'd stayed. He'd also made sure to use a ribbed condom for her pleasu- wait… a horrible thought popped into his head. Did I forget to put on a- He remembered some awkward fumbling to get to his sock drawer, and then some more awkward fumbling as he tried to rip open the packet. Then she'd moaned out his name in that sultry, deep voice of hers - a mix of soft, feminine vulnerability and irresistible sexuality. After that, things became rather hazy. Oh. Shit. "Listen, Mako-"
"An African Violet, please," she said to the cashier quickly before he could begin talking. She paid for it, selected one of the potted flowers at random and did her best not to run away.
Is she worried? If she was worried, he was about to be shitting bricks. Could she be… no, it's been less than a week, he thought, doing his best to reassure himself. Women can't tell that sort of thing for at least a fortnight… Or could they? Now that he'd figured out what was wrong he was beginning to feel a little panicky, but there was no use worrying when he didn't even know. Maybe she's on the pill. "Makoto, we need to talk."
She stopped in her tracks and looked directly at him, freezing for a moment when she met his eyes. "No, we don't," she said when she'd pulled herself together. He frowned at her response, confused, so she clarified for him. "The other night was… Look, it was-" she paused, trying desperately to find the right words. "I just would like to forget it, if that's alright with you." Her shortness with him and the look of pained desperation on her face stopped him from speaking. She began walking away again, and this time he let her go. "We've got a plant, Usagi, let's go home."
"But-" the blonde tried to protest, "the posters!" Her argument did a one eighty the second she saw the expression Makoto was wearing. "Uh, on second thought, the posters on this floor suck, they're all just of girls in bikinis, why don't we go downstairs? I think I saw some Disney ones there." She waved to Jared and Noel. "See you guys around!" she said, giving them the cheeriest grin she could muster before she and Makoto walked over to the stairs. "What's going on? Is everything alright?"
"I just... I don't feel very well. I think I'm coming down with the Norovirus," she lied.
Usagi frowned, not understanding. "Are you talking about your computer? Ami told you not go on that site for downloading movies."
"What?" Makoto paused for a second before she realised the confusion. She shook her head impatiently. "No Usagi," she said rolling her eyes, "not Norton Anti-Virus, do you not watch the news ever? I was talking about the vomit bug-" she gave up, not really caring enough to make an excuse and just headed out as quickly as she could. "Never mind."
"Oh," Usagi seemed more concerned than hurt by Makoto's flippant attitude and became quiet. Most of her concentration was forced onto the task of keeping up with her friend's much longer strides, but as she did her best to trot alongside Makoto she couldn't help sneaking glances at the brunette's unusually closed off features.
Jared stepped deliberately into Noel's line of sight, dragging his friend's focus from the retreating forms of the two women and placing it onto him. "What just happened?"
Noel's thick chocolate eyebrows were scrunched lightly in confusion, and to Jared it sounded like he was worried. He would have dismissed it as nothing, an awkward encounter after a one-night stand but not only had Makoto seemed mortified as she practically ran away with Usagi, Noel had gone a little bit pale too. "She seemed upset. Is everything ok?"
Suddenly Noel's frown deepened and he began walking towards the exit, barely giving any consideration for the masses of other students in his way. "I don't want to talk about it."
Jared followed, shifting the shopping bag of plants to his other arm. "You sure about that?"
Noel stopped to give Jared the full effect of his two-coloured glare. "Of course I'm fucking sure about that. Why the fuck else would I say it?"
"Dude, do you even realise how often you use the word 'fuck'?"
"I have a lecture."
"I thought you were going to skip that."
"Just leave me alone, will you?"
"Well I would, except that you've gone all Dean Winchester from Supernatural on me with your moodiness. Although Dean never says anything worse than 'bullcrap'. It's actually kind of adorable."
Noel frowned, confused. "Supernatural?" he asked. "Isn't that a show for women?"
Jared scoffed. "So? You watched the whole season of Orange is the New Black and you loved it."
"Yeah, for the lesbian sex and female prison fights, of course."
"Hey, don't put down the great character development and interesting storylines. Also, you know we can hear the TV you have in your room through the walls, right? I recognise the theme tune for the Living TV channel blaring out on a more-than-regular basis."
Noel shifted his gaze to his left. "Uh, I have no idea what you're talking about."
Jared rolled his eyes. "It's the equivalent of Lifetime, Miss friggin' Marple," he said, explaining. "My mother thrives on Danielle Steel movie adaptations and Law and Order reruns. I can identify television made for middle-aged stay-at-home moms from the first three notes of the opening for Jennifer Love-Hewitt's Ghost Whisperer. Admit it, you love it."
Having had his love of girly television so ruthlessly exposed, Noel resolutely decided that he could never indulge in it again. He glared at Jared, blaming his friend for ruining his most guilty of pleasures. "Why the fuck am I even friends with you?"
"Because I can tell you're not so much angry as you are shitting your pants about something, and…" here Jared paused and sighed, leaning his head on Noel's shoulder and giving his friend a dreamy stare, "because you know how much I love to make you laugh."
Noel shrugged him off quickly. "Jesus, Jared. Too far."
Jared's grin was a mile wide as he pounced on the opportunity to make Noel uncomfortable. "But you know it's true. I love it when you guffaw in that hoarse Scottish-y voice of yours."
"It sounds like Mel Gibson in Braveheart and Gordon Brown all rolled into one. Now, if we could get back to the real problem, " Jared gave him a look which told Noel to stop avoiding the issue, "what happened back there with Makoto?"
"Nothing, I can't believe Zach even told you about that night, he's such a gossip."
"Uh, if you'll recall, Zach only saw you leave the club with her, I already knew you got laid. It wasn't hard to figure out the truth, no-one had to 'tell me', don't insult my deductive reasoning abilities, I watch Sherlock. Now," he said, getting back to the point, "what happened with Makoto just now?"
Noel's broad shoulders sagged as he gave in and revealed the truth. "She's preggers."
Jared frowned. "What?"
"Yeah," Noel said as he shook his head in disbelief himself, "I know."
"No, I said 'what?' as in 'I didn't understand that'. What the hell is a 'pregger'?"
Noel rolled his eyes. "Pregnant," he said, clarifying, "as in my super sperm fucking fertilised her sexy lady parts and now there's a mini Graham-Asquith growing inside of her."
Jared literally took a step back with shock. "You're shitting me!"
"I wish I was."
"How can she even be sure? It's been like, what? Less than a week?" He narrowed his eyes. "Have you been slipping her the Scottish D for longer than we've been aware?"
It was Noel's turn to be confused. "Slipping her the what?"
Jared put on his (admittedly awful) Scottish accent. "Yer broadsword, yer haggis, yer free Willy. You know, yer Scottish dic-"
"No, obviously not! That was the first day we'd met."
"So how do you know for sure you knocked her up?"
Noel hesitated for a second before speaking. "Well, I can't see what else it could be."
"Wait." Jared stopped walking. He needed this clarified. "Did she actually tell you this?"
"Not in so many words, but it's pretty damn obvious."
Jared hit him with the poster tube. "She's not pregnant, you idiot!"
"Yes she is!" Noel deliberately did not rub at the sore spot, channelling all of his irritation into his scowl instead.
"You're just bad at sex and she's embarrassed because she did the nasty with her friend's housemate and it wasn't worth the awkward after-party. That's what this is about."
To say that Noel was affronted would have been making the understatement of the century. "I beg your fucking pardon?"
"If you're implying what I believe you're im-fucking-plying, then we are fucking duelling with pistols at dawn!"
Jared's grin was a mile wide. "What century are you from? Nobody talks like that anymore, not even in England."
"You've impugned my honour, you fiend. This calls for much more than merely kicking the shit out of you."
"Are pistols even legal here?"
"Of course they are and my family owns a very fine pair which my great grandfather used during the first World War. You may have first choice of them, although it's more than you fucking deserve. Sex is my bitch. I am the king of sex. I am sex personified and to suggest otherwise is a heinous crime!"
"You're terrible." Clearly Jared was choosing not to take Noel's challenge seriously. "You're probably the worst, maybe more than even Ceithin, that guy has no game whatsoever. He gets all these ladies and he has no idea what to do with them, despite his massive erection."
"I am not worse than Ceithin! That is the stupidest comment to have ever come out of your ridiculous American mouth. Just for that statement we should recolonize you all immediately. Who told you people you could leave anyway? Bad at sex, certainly not." He sneered, as if the words had left a bad taste. "I'm way better than you are, that's for bloody sure."
Jared gave a dismissive laugh. "Yeah, ok." Before Noel could argue further, he gave him another possibility. "Of course, she could just have a boyfriend back home and she didn't want the girls to find out that she's cheated."
"I doubt it, she's too nice to be double dealing."
"You've known her for less than a week, hombre, so you don't really know her at all. Which reminds me, why the hell would you venture into unchartered vagina without suitable protective gear? You could have been exposing yourself to all sorts of nasty STIs. I thought you were smarter than that."
Noel couldn't accept any impunity on her honour. "She's not like that, and in any case I thought I had worn a johnny but I'm not sure anymore. I still think she's pregnant."
"For crying out loud, it's like you want her to be your baby mama."
"God no. But it's a very well-known fact, Graham-Asquiths have notoriously potent sperm. I always knew it was bound to happen. I just thought Maxi would be the one to get himself into such trouble first, especially with the way he flashes around his money. It's the only way he can attract female attention, you see, but it gathers the wrong kind. I've tried to tell him, but I suppose he has little other choice, he doesn't really have my charm or physical attributes."
Jared frowned. "Are you trying to compete with your brother right now? He's not even here." He lifted his hand up in the air. "Actually, speaking of jokes on guys not present, are you going to high five me for the 'massive erection' bit I got in before?"
Noel obliged. "Yeah, that was a good one," he said before going back to discussing Makoto's possible pregnancy and its consequences. "Jared, I think I've accidentally gone and made what will inevitably be an incredibly attractive human being, if my athletic build and her fantastic cheekbones are anything to go by." He sighed. "This is going to life changing. I will never be able to live by the same carefree rules again."
Jared snorted at the fact that Noel was being such a drama queen. "It would probably be as freakishly hairy and ridiculous as you. That would really suck if it was a girl. Poor kid."
"If it's a girl," Noel said sharply, "we'll call her Hera, or Poppy, Makoto can choose between the two. If it's a boy we can name him Noel the Second. She'll have to live in the family home-"
"Makoto, of course. At least until I can get myself properly set up."
"What you you mean 'of course'?" Jared frowned. "Why would she be living with you?"
"She's the mother of my child, she'll definitely be living with me. I was hoping to avoid working with my father, but if I have to practice in his chambers then so be it, I am not above using family connections if it means I can support my own sooner rather than later." He breathed out another deep sigh and thought suddenly of Mrs Graham-Asquith and her possible reaction. "My mother will never forgive me for this slip, she had high hopes I would be marrying royalty. There's a Greek princess around my age who is attending Oxford."
Sensing just how much anxiety there was running through his friend (however unwarranted it was) and how it was clouding his judgement, Jared switched gears from ribbing to a (somewhat) more serious approach. "I think you're majorly jumping the gun here, my slightly misogynistic friend. She didn't even call you back after your-" he was going to say 'shitty sexcapade' but the intimidating glare from Noel's two-coloured eyes had him bite his tongue, "-night of 'intimate relations'. Who says she'll have any desire to move in with you? That is already assuming, of course, that she's a super-scientist who can apparently tell if she's pregnant with your kid in less than half a week."
Noel latched on to Jared's use of 'misogyny'. "How on earth is wishing to provide for one's future wife and child a repression of women?"
"Ok, I'm assuming that if you weren't in this crazy panic mode-"
"I am not! Graham-Asquiths never panic."
"Sure. Anyway, like I was saying: if you weren't so worked up about this, I'm pretty sure you'd see the douchy, pretentious backward view you're taking right now. You're adding one and one and getting a chicken flavoured banana. You have no idea if she's pregnant, and if she is and she knows about it already then how the hell can it be yours? And even if by some crazy-ass twist of fate she is pregnant and it is yours who's to say she'll even want to live with you? You're assuming that she'll marry you? She hasn't even called you back, man. And what if she doesn't want to keep it? You can't force her into your decisions. So relax until you've at least got the facts. Use your damn lawyer brain."
Noel shook his head. He understood what Jared was saying, and it would have made sense if there was any other option, but he just couldn't see it. What could he have done which was so wrong? They had had the best time together, they'd clicked immediately and the sex… well, from what he could remember of it, it had been fantastic, or at least very good… well, it was definitely above average… No, no, no. I refuse to entertain Jared's wild accusations about my performance…. unless it was my performance. He shuddered and then thrust the poinsettia into Jared's hands. "I'm off to my lecture. I'll see you and the rest of the lads later."
"You coming for Dr Who?"
"No," he replied, thoroughly put out by his own train of thought. "I'm having dinner with some coursemates," he said and then promptly left, his bushy brown eyebrows scrunched tightly. "I need time to think about this."
Once they arrived it home, Usagi immediately made her way to the plastic orange kitchen chairs, collapsing into one of them while she puffed out air in an attempt to catch her breath. "Well that was more exercise than I thought I would be getting," she tried with a smile. Makoto gave her a weak quirk of her lips in return as she placed the African Violet onto the table and then made to leave. Usagi shot up quickly and touched Makoto on her upper arm, halting her. "You know, you can always talk to me or, well, any of us really, even Mamo-chan," she offered, "you know he'll always have time for you."
"Thanks, Usagi," Makoto looked into Usagi's bright, worried eyes and her whole face softened. The girl had even offered her fiancé as a confidante. Guilt began to overwhelm her. "I don't need to talk to anyone. I didn't mean to worry you, I'm just... feeling a little glum, that's all. I probably really am coming down with something and it's affecting my mood."
"Well, if you're getting sick, I'm sure Ami c-"
"Really," Makoto gently pried Usagi's hand from her arm. She needed to get away from Usagi's soul-piercing gaze. "I'll be fine, I'm just going to go lie down." With that she left the kitchen.
Usagi's lips twisted tightly into thin, pink lines of worry.
"Fuck you, Zach."
Jared popped his head into Ceithin's room only to see him sitting, alone, at his computer desk, fiddling with iTunes on his laptop and wearing a pair of oversized headphones over his ears. Ceithin turned his head, catching the movement at his door and invited him in. "I'd say that you're acting more like your old self, except you seem to be talking to invisible people."
Ceithin removed the Bose headphones, his stony features set to 'unamused'.
"What did French fry do now?" Jared asked, noting the expression.
"He changed the titles of all of my audio files to 'mint sauce makes me horny'. Now I can't tell which is which and I have to re-organise the whole thing. It took me days last time."
Jared shook his head. "You're way too anal about this stuff. Take it as a big potluck mix and let it slide."
Ceithin resisted the urge to sigh. "That's exactly what he expects me to do, but with Zach you have to curb his behaviour from time to time otherwise it can get out of hand. Remember what happened to Noel after the penguin incident last year?"
"That was a pretty deep slice to his hand," Jared acknowledged, recalling the event which had led to Noel getting stitches across his palm at three a.m. from the local hospital's A&E, "although arguably, that was mostly your fault. No one forced you idiots to break into the zoo."
"It was for a bet. Zach owed me a lot of money."
"Which he still hasn't paid back. Dude. You tried to steal a penguin." Jared had no recollection of how the wager had come about - there had been copious amounts of alcohol involved, obviously - but he did remember that he had kept enough of his wits about him to be the only one to refuse taking it on. Noel and Ceithin had not been so clever. "It was insane enough to try it sober, let alone attempting to climb over that ten-foot wall in the state you two were in at the time."
"That's exactly my point. He just had to nudge us and we fell right into his trap. He'll walk all over you if you don't knock him down a few pegs every so often."
Jared saw his point. "So what kind of retaliation are we looking at? Are we talking salt instead of sugar in his coffee or a full scale fake-letter-from-uni-expelling-him-for-drug-use?"
Ceithin sighed. "I'm not sure. Neither of those would work anyway, he doesn't add sugar and he'd spot the forged letter from a mile off, he's done enough of his own to know the difference."
"So... a real letter from the university expelling him for drug use?" Jared suggested, grinning.
Ceithin shook his head, playing along with the joke. "Bad idea, he'd have to change universities and we'd be stuck having to find a new housemate. It was difficult enough finding Mamoru." His stomach gave a growl. "We have to think carefully about this, but I just can't right now."
"The concussion still getting to you?"
"No, actually. I've been absolutely fine since this morning, I'm just starving."
He could relate to that thought. "Yeah, no joke, I could eat an entire herd of horses right now... actually, with this whole horse-meat scandal, I probably have during my time here. I'm going to go do an excavation of the kitchen. See if I can't find us some grub."
"That would be brilliant, thanks mate."
Jared left the room and Ceithin went back to sorting his music.
A few minutes later the blond returned. "Ok so, we have some left over butter in the butter dish-"
"We have a butter dish?"
"Well, technically we have half a butter dish. The cover is missing. The butter looks pretty rancid, actually."
Ceithin visibly grimaced but then his stomach growled and he remembered that he was starving and that in his house, residents could rarely afford to be choosy. "What else?"
"There's an open jar of strawberry jam which I found in the very recesses of Noel's cupboard, some packets of instant Chinese noodle soups without the spice sachets-"
"I think I used those last time I made Sunday dinner."
"-and a can of Tellytubby spaghetti-os. When was the last time you saw the Teletubbies on tv? Seriously, I think this tin was here before we moved in. Oh, and beer, we have plenty of that. And out-of-date milk. Two pints to be precise."
"What about my stash of Penguin chocolate bars?" Ceithin could not quite hide the hint of apprehension in his voice.
"You were concussed for about a week, those things are long gone, and you know what, I think the most guilty culprit is the new guy."
"Mamoru?" Ceithin asked, rather appalled at the idea. He didn't know his housemate very well, but he seemed more polite than the type of jerk who would go into another man's food-cupboard and steal his most prized snack.
"Yeah, but I'm almost positive I heard Zach tell him the other day that they were house property and welcome to all."
"That bastard!" Ceithin became even more determined to put his oldest friend into his well-deserved place.
"So if you can think of a way of turning congealed butter, spaghetti-os, dry noodles, jam and sour milk into a nutritious and filling lunch, then I'm all for it."
"How about we just go to Thalia and plan our strategy there?"
"I like how you think, compadre, I haven't tasted the fine creations of that fiery temptress in a good while," Jared smiled. "We can take Noel's car, he walked into uni today."
"And actually, speaking of Noel, the jackass thinks he got Makoto knocked up."
Ceithin snorted. "Didn't he only sleep with her like, three days ago? How the hell does he know? Is she trying to pull something?"
"The story isn't coming from her, it's purely of his own imagination. I think he's trying to rationalise why she hasn't called him back."
"It explains why he's been such a moody git over the past few days. Are we having a Dr Who session this evening? Mamoru mentioned something along those lines."
"Of course we are. The guy doesn't know what a Tardis is. With his pedigree, you'd think he'd have had the sense to have recognised the genius of Dr Who before today."
"Pedigree?" Ceithin frowned.
Jared smiled, sensing Ceithin's confusion. "He's self-funding a medical degree in a foreign country and he's surrounded by gorgeous women: money, intelligence and an attractive je-ne-sais-quoi element."
"You think he's rich?"
Jared shook his head. "That's not what I mean. The man reeks of authority and it seems legit."
"So you think he's arrogant?" That didn't seem right and Ceithin came quickly to his defence, despite the fact that Mamoru may or may not have eaten his most treasured chocolate bars. "He seems pretty shy to me."
Jared took a few seconds to answer, and when he did, he was looking at Ceithin with more intensity than before. "You're not getting what I'm saying. He's a dark horse, trust me on it, I'm never wrong when it comes to sussing out what a person's really like. Mamoru's important back in Japan. Either that," he said carefully, "or he will be at some point. He matters."
Ceithin went suddenly quiet and for a moment Jared couldn't get a read on what his friend was feeling. All expression dropped from his face and to Jared it looked like he could have been carved out of stone. He didn't like that, it wasn't the first time he was unsure about what was going on with Ceithin, but it always made him uncomfortable when he couldn't tell what emotions were running through a person.
"You think he's different." Ceithin was staring hard at Jared as he said the words, slowly and deliberately.
"I think he's different," Jared confirmed.
A small smile spread onto Ceithin's lips. A tiny quirk upwards which made him human again. "Well then, he should fit right in." With that he walked out into the living room and picked up Noel's car keys. "Coming? I need food."
Jared nodded. "To Thalia!"
- TOKYO, NINETEEN MONTHS PRIOR -
Mamoru stood there for a full minute considering his options before he'd made his decision to approach her. As he moved, he did so hesitantly, reluctant to disturb the scene before him.
He shouldn't have really been there in the first place, it wasn't exactly normal for a young man to walk around, alone, in the gaijin bochi of the Aoyama Cemetery simply for pleasure on a random sunny day, but his air conditioning unit had broken down in his apartment, forcing him to open his windows and let in the cloistering, humid bustle of Tokyo in late spring. The combined assault of noise and heat left him no choice but to leave his apartment and seek blissful silence somewhere else.
The cemetery for foreigners was where his heart and feet had led him.
Usagi was on vacation with her family in Hokkaido, something which he was grateful for since in less than a few days it was going to be the anniversary of his very first memory in this life - the day after the fateful crash which had killed his parents, a day which he had so far managed to keep from the others and one which he preferred to celebrate on his own.
Makoto was sitting on the grass in traditional Japanese form, with her bare shins tucked underneath her, wearing a pretty summer dress: white with a bold floral print of green, yellow and pink. Her hair was in the same ponytail that she wore every single day: high, and tied up using an mint green elastic tie. He couldn't see clearly from where he stood, but he knew without a doubt that she would be wearing the same rose earrings that he had seen her with everytime he met her. Placed next to her was a simple mason jar, filled with fresh flowers which Mamoru recognised as Pansies and Violas from the potted flowers in her apartment. Her forehead was pressed against a tombstone while her arm extended out, clutching a matching one to her right, both charcoal grey, glossy and oblong. Her entire body shook with tears.
His hesitation had been brought on by two warring emotions. Had it been him in Makoto's position, he would have wanted privacy, he would have felt angry and embarrassed to have had someone intrude on such a vulnerable and private moment. But Makoto was not him, and from what he knew about most women, having another's presence during times of high emotion was almost always more comforting than being alone.
He realised at that moment that he didn't know Makoto very well at all. That was to say, he knew a lot about her: her favourite colour, what sort of sense of humour she had, how important her friends were to her, what day her parents had died on and all sorts of other intimate details about her that only those who were counted as her closest friends and pseudo-family knew – but those facts had been garnered through conversations in groups, or through private moments with Usagi in which she had divulged these facts to him under sworn secrecy. Mamoru had never truly had what he considered,a 'real' conversation with her, something which established that intimate connection between people, something which would mean he could be completely relaxed around her, that he would feel comfortable being with her. He wasn't sure how one of those happened, but it hadn't. It should have, really. They had known each other for years, had saved each others' lives more times than he cared to count. They had died together for the person they loved most in the world. She had even taught him how to make a soufflé for Usagi's birthday. And yet, he didn't know if at that moment in time she would want him to go talk to her, or to leave her alone. For any of the others, he would have known what decision to make in a heart beat. Makoto was the best friend of his fiance, but she wasn't his friend. Not like Ami or Rei were. Not like Minako.
A thought flitted through his mind and it made him frown. It occurred to him that out of all of Usagi's Senshi, it should have seemed the most natural for him to relate to Makoto: their personalities may have been completely different, but their pasts meant that they shared a view on life, a common understanding which came from the similar experiences they had of childhood. They had both grown up surrounded by people who had been well-meaning and caring, but they had always been utterly alone, driven only by a need to survive without the love and support of those who should have been there to be there for them.
Perhaps it was his fault for the distance between them. Once he had found his bubbly, vibrant Usagi, his life had transformed. Before her, he had craved and respected the tranquility of silence, but with her, he'd begun to find it depressing, reminding him too much of his lonely, melancholic past. Usagi was not only his great love, but she was his symbol, his reminder that he was no longer alone, and as selfish as it was, he didn't like looking into Makoto's beautifully open, needy eyes, only to see the loneliness that clung to her as desperately as it had once clung and, to a certain extent still clung, to him.
He had almost chosen to leave and to let Makoto grieve in peace – an option which was much safer than approaching her and risk upsetting her further - but as he watched her face, tears racking her so roughly, her hands gripping the stones so tightly her fingers were white, he decided that he couldn't abandon her to fight through whatever pain she was suffering alone. He approached the graves of her parents as silently as he could, kneeling next to her without a word.
She looked up suddenly, the shock of his presence halting her sobs and for a heart-stopping moment he was afraid he'd made the wrong choice. "Mamoru-san…" she whispered her eyes desperately shifting away from him and frantically scanning for anything else to settle on but him. "I didn't know anyone was here." She'd drawn her hands back and clutched them together tightly on her lap. She sniffled lightly, her nose as red and puffy as her the rims of her eyes, and yet, he thought to himself, she still manages to be a vision in her sadness. His heart ached with her pain and he wished he had some way of taking it away.
"I wanted to go for a walk," he said, explaining his presence. "It's very peaceful here." In an attempt to hide his own discomfort his deep coloured gaze settled on the English names written plainly in black on the twin tombstones. "Are these your parents?"
At his question Makoto smiled slightly but she could not help the tears from welling in shining crescents on the lining of her eyes. She let out a choked sob, doing her best to control it but failing. "I… I don't remember what they look like. I can't see their faces any more." When she looked up into his eyes Mamoru saw the guilt which radiated out from her pretty face and it stung as sharply as if she had stabbed him with a knife. He understood it, that familiar look had once settled so comfortably on his own features.
He turned again to the tombstones and spoke out as much to them as to her, the pain he felt just as fresh as on the day he had woken in the hospital, only to realise that he knew nothing of his past. "I don't remember either."
When she reached out and grasped him in a tight hug, soaking his shirt with her sorrow, and when he automatically wrapped his own arms around her, consoling her - his friend - he realised he'd known what decision to make all along.
Minako came out of her room with such perfect timing that she could have almost claimed it as brilliantly pre-planned. Makoto was in the kitchen, squeezing out the oil from a can of tuna fish. The chopping board had already been laid out, there was mayonnaise in a bowl ready to mix and the lettuce was washed and draining. Makoto was far too involved in her sandwich-making endeavour to just abandon it and shuffle back into her room: her hands were covered in fishy oil and she'd have to put everything away first before she could have any excuse to leave. This was what Minako had been waiting for over the past few days: a perfect opportunity to corner Makoto and talk to her. If she played her cards right, she could even snag a decent sandwich as a bonus. She walked out of her room, leaving her door open, and crossed the tiny hallway. She leaned on the kitchen doorframe, both effectively respecting Makoto's privacy by giving her distance yet leaving the brunette little choice but to engage with her by blocking her exit and making her presence known. "Hey there, pretty lady. I don't suppose you'd want to hussy me up some grub?"
Makoto frowned and began flaking the tuna into the bowl of mayonnaise. "There's something wrong with that. I don't think it's 'hussy'. I think you asked me to whore you up some food."
"Really? Oops," she walked in, "maybe then I should stick to a language I'm more familiar with, ne?"
"You get sayings wrong in Japanese too," Makoto said in English, refusing to take Minako's prompt to switch to their mother tongue. The girls had made a pact before arriving in the UK that Japanese would only be used in cases of emergencies or serious discussions and Makoto was in no mood for the latter. "Want a sandwich?" she asked, seeing she wasn't going to get rid of the blonde any time soon.
Minako reached up to one of the cupboards and took out another plate. "Hun, you're going to have to talk to me sometime, you might as well make it now when no-one's here."
Makoto stopped spreading the fish over the bread, fork clutched in her hand, and took in a breath. "There's nothing to say," she said, resuming her work. She looked up once, ensuring she made eye contact to try to prove that she was fine.
Minako watched her place the lettuce on with methodical precision. Every move she was making was deliberate, every action a little too forced. Makoto knew what to do to make it look like she wasn't bothered but she just wasn't doing it very well. Her friend was talented in many things, but she was a lousy actress. "Mako-"
"It's not really something I want to talk about." Her tone was clipped, bordering on aggressive as she shoved the plate of food into Minako's hands. "Here's your sandwich. You can cut it yourself." She finished making hers quickly and began stacking unused ingredients back in their places. It was obvious she wanted to leave.
"Well at least just tell me if it was consensual?" Minako allowed the worry to creep into her voice. "Did he hurt you?"
She got the provoked reaction she was looking for. "What?" Makoto swivelled around from the fridge. "Of course it was consensual! That's not it at all!" She scrunched her face and threw her plate onto the table, resenting Minako for dragging her into a conversation she didn't want to go anywhere near. "How could you think I'd let that happen?" she demanded defensively as she flopped herself onto the plastic chair. "You'd think I'd- I'd let someone do… that? I'm a Senshi! I'd electrocute his balls off!"
Minako shrugged. "It's happened before." At the surprised widening of Makoto's eyes, Minako waved it off. "It wasn't rape," she frowned, "technically… I was thirteen, it was back home in Japan and it was with the producer of the Sailor V show." She went to the utensil drawer, took out a serrated knife and began slicing her sandwich. Makoto watched, riveted, Minako always had a way of grabbing attention when she wanted an audience. "I had already awakened, but I was young and confused and the producer had so much power so I pretended like I wanted it." She put the knife down. "I wasn't ready – I thought I was, but…" she didn't think she needed to finish her sentence. "I didn't do it again, not until Ace came along about a year later." She lifted a triangular half of her sandwich to eat, but Makoto placed a hand on top, lowering it.
"How can you act so casual about it?" Her dark hair curled at her temples, having escaped the confines of her bobby pins, her green eyes were glossed with fatigue and it made her look as tired and upset as she sounded. "You were just a child."
Minako bit into her sandwich and chewed slowly before speaking. "Age of consent is thirteen."
"Not in Tokyo, maybe in some of those backward prefectures. You could have reported him."
The conversation had to change direction, Minako had brought up something very personal to draw Makoto in, but now she was prodding too deeply. "I had made the decision, and maybe it had been the wrong one. Perhaps I should have told someone, but all I had at the time was a talking cat who kept telling me I was destined to save the world. Sailor V wasn't supposed to be a child. I'd already messed up enough as it was in London, before we'd moved to Japan, before I'd found you guys, so there was no one I felt I could talk to, not… not until Ace, and we all know how that turned out." She put down her tuna fish sandwich and grasped Makoto's hands. "Then, to add insult to another insult, I didn't learn and I welcomed him back when he reappeared." She looked deep into Makoto's eyes. "I would have killed to have been able to talk to someone about what I was going through." She let go and began eating again. "I'm ok about it now, I lost my virginity a long time ago, but perhaps if there had been someone to guide me with it," she stopped, flicking her gaze over to Makoto to see if she was taking her point, "not even 'guide'... if there had been someone I could have just talked it out with, maybe I wouldn't have felt so alone all those years ago."
Makoto picked at a sunflower seed in her crust but didn't eat it. "We're all alone, Minako. It's our curse as Senshi."
"But that's what I'm trying to tell you, we're not. We have each other."
Makoto looked up and stared unflinchingly into Minako's ice-blue eyes. "I don't think I was ready either," she admitted finally.
Minako said nothing, waiting patiently. She ate her sandwich, playing at acting normal and doing a much better job than Makoto had earlier.
"I was just- Zach had said some things and…"
The blonde's eyes darkened at the name. "Like what?"
Makoto dismissed it. "They were mean, but they wouldn't have hurt if they weren't true. I was just feeling so terribly lonely, you know?" She pushed the plate away as her heart began to beat faster and words tumbled out. "I mean, she's always there with her sweet smiles and adorable antics and he just falls for it, every single time. He can't help how much he loves her, and they don't hide it, they never try to hide it, ever." Minako did not need to be told who Makoto was talking about, there was only one couple that could be the subject of such emotion, and it wasn't Brangelina. "He can be such an introvert, you'll never know what he's thinking or feeling most of the time, except when it comes to her, then he'll tell me everything, that's how much he loves her, that's what she does to him." Makoto was quickly getting herself worked up as her innermost thoughts spilled from her lips. "She makes him a different person. And they're perfect, you know? They're wonderful together, they bring out the best parts of each other," she blinked rapidly, pushing away the tears which threatened. "They have a connection, a wonderfully, intimate connection, and it hurts." She paused for a second and crossed her arms over her chest. "You know our walls are paper thin, Rei jokes about it, but I hear them - I am so glad he's found that house because now they can do it somewhere else – but do you know what they say? Do you know what they tell each other?"
Minako quirked her lip. "I think we can all hear what Usagi yells out when she's in the throes of squeaky passion."
Makoto ignored the jibe. "He tells her he loves her, 'Aishiterou, Usako' over and over. I got a lazy grunt. I got some guy I barely know and a few awkward… thrusts."
Minako raised her eyebrows, having not expected Makoto to have shared quite so much. "I see." There were a few issues here, she realised. One of those was easily fixable, so Minako dealt with it immediately. "Well, hun, it might help to remember that it was your first time, and he- well I'm guessing he wasn't exactly very sober, was he? When he stopped by to visit Ceithin he'd seemed like he'd had a few."
Makoto bit her lip. "We did drink a lot."
"Well, sex is something which does get better with practice, and when," she looked away for a moment and then back at her friend, pretending it was an awkward conversation to have in order to inject some humour into it, "when done...um, not completely bladdered. Alcohol inhibits a lot, it affects performance if you know what I mean, and if you're not sure yet what you like, then he's not really going to know which buttons to, um, press." She asked her next question delicately. "Did you use protection?"
Makoto gave her a look. "As if it matters anyway. We all know we're never going to be parents, not except for Usagi and Mamoru."
"Our Crystal Tokyo visit did not reveal if we'd contracted gonorrhoea."
"Oh my God, gross! Of course we used protection! He got one from his sock drawer, I think."
"Well that's good, at least he seems sensible." She hedged her bets and suggested an idea. "Would it be so terrible if you saw him again? Perhaps gave him another chance?"
Makoto shook her head immediately.
"Why not? I've spoken to him a few times and he seems quite charming. I'm good at being able to tell who's a good egg and who's a rotten one. He seems pretty fresh."
Makoto snorted. "Maybe you shouldn't try so hard to use idioms in conversation."
Minako nudged her. "Ha! I speak great English! Wait- what's an idiom?" she winked and got another smile out of her friend. "He seems really into you, you know. He could end up being everything you wish for."
"I doubt that."
"Well you don't know if you don't at least try. Nobody's perfect, but it helps when he's nice and handsome and rich. Girl, he even has a castle. He's like a storybook prince… or duke or lord or something. I don't really understand it, but he has some sort of title."
Makoto huffed. "We don't get Prince Charmings and happily ever afters! It won't work. What I want I could never have from someone like him."
"Why not?" Minako noticed the agitation in Makoto's voice. Perhaps she was pushing too hard, but she'd already planted the idea and couldn't abandon it if she was hoping for some form of resolution to the situation.
Makoto stood up and strode over to the cabinet, grabbing herself a glass and filling it with tap water without offering Minako. "Because, we're going to live forever and he's not. Because we fight monsters and zap people with electricity from our fingers. Because we have past lives! We're princesses from other planets with superpowers! Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?! Who is going to believe that? And if he does, how is he not going to freak out and run away? How much more of a reason could there be?!"
"Don't." Makoto was glaring. "Being a Senshi is a curse. There's no room for anything else. There's Usagi, damn, perfect Usagi and there's duty and then nothing else."
Minako straightened her shoulders. "I hope this doesn't affect your friendship, you know you mean the world to her. It would break her heart if she found out you felt this way."
"She's a reminder!" Makoto exploded. "Don't you get it?! She's the reason we're all so alone! You think Ace would have left you if you hadn't been a Sailor Senshi? It drives people away!"
The comment visibly shook the blonde. "You don't think I don't know that?"
"And the worst part is she gets to be blissfully happy! She gets everything I dream about. All of it! She gets the perfect man! Flowers, kisses, romance, dates, someone to share her soul with! Someone who could make her feel whole and complete, someone who understands everything she goes through, who knows what the pain of being so utterly alone feels like…" Makoto was close to sobbing. "And what do we get? Embarrassing, awful, drunken one-night stands with total strangers who snore and... Kami-sama..." she pushed her hair back from her forehead and cradled it with her hands, "what did I do?" At that she did begin to sob.
"Makoto, there's nothing to be ashamed of. You had sex, everybody has sex. It's not like you've gone and committed murder."
"Of course you would see it that way." Minako sat up slightly at the judgemental comment and Makoto's eyes widened immediately. "I'm sorry!" she said, "I- I didn't mean-"
Minako sighed, knowing that Makoto was upset and lashing out. "Yes you did, but I forgive you. You," she reached out and took Makoto's hand into hers, "you see things differently than how I do." What she was saying did not quite ring true, but this discussion was about helping Makoto feel better and not about Minako's personal opinions on the sanctity of sex and love. "There's nothing wrong with seeing love-making as special and significant, but just like everything else in life, it's not exempt from mistakes. You can make mistakes, they happen, and if you regret what you did the other night, that's fine, but don't you dare be ashamed. No-one should ever be ashamed with something like that. It's your body, it's what you thought you needed, or maybe it's what you did need. It's natural and it's personal. What happened was between you and Noel alone. No one, and I mean no one has a right to judge you. You did nothing wrong."
Makoto pulled away. "It doesn't feel that way."
The blonde smiled softly in pity and stroked Makoto's hair. "That's because you had high expectations. I know you, you want flowers and romantic music and a man who loves you as much as your big heart will love him in return."
Makoto looked like she was about to cry again. "All of that's gone."
"No it's not. So you lost your virginity, most people are slightly disillusioned when it first happens anyway, and you're right, it's not something you can get back. There is a certain sadness in that, but that doesn't make you a bad person, and it most certainly doesn't mean that you can't wait for Mr Perfect, and that when you're ready, that you can't make it special."
"We're never going to have what she has."
Minako did her best not to show how sick she felt at the truth of Makoto's words. "What we saw in Crystal Tokyo is not set in stone, and besides, even if it is our future, we don't know what happiness we'll find along the way."
"Sometimes… sometimes I wish I had never been found."
Minako heaved a heavy sigh and pulled on Makoto's fingers, making her sit closer. "You can't mean that."
"I just don't understand what I have done to have deserved such unfairness, to feel so much pain. Why did she have to find me? Why did he have to find her?" She looked up at Minako, genuinely searching her for answers. "Why couldn't it have been me instead?"
As much as her friend's pain made her heart bleed, Minako could not let Makoto air or indulge such feelings, she had seen the beginning of it before Mamoru had left for England to study - something had happened between the two of them, something subtle which had strengthened their friendship and had caused feelings to sprout within Makoto - but of course, Ace had come along and Rei's grandfather had died and Mamoru, who had left for England to study his first year of Medicine, had been there for very little of it, so the potential problem had been pushed to the very recesses of Minako's mind. Now she realised what a mistake that had been. Makoto was now in daily contact with Mamoru and the closeness which had blossomed between them back home was growing - she had to shut it down quickly. "Because," she explained, "Usagi's the best of all of us." Minako wrapped her into a soft hug, her voice lowering slightly and becoming almost motherly. "As cruel as it is, my darling, you know he can't be with you. He will never see you that way, he's Usagi's match and for that reason he is the one man you can never, ever have."
At that Makoto began crying again, silently and with heavily shaking shoulders, she wept into Minako.
Thalia was one of those places that acted as a restaurant in the day and a bar at night. Zach had discovered it during the first night of fresher's week. As Jared and Ceithin stepped into the restaurant the former's face lit up like lights on a Christmas tree. Behind the bar, a dishtowel tossed haphazardly over one delicate shoulder, was a dark haired young woman. She was of medium height and delicately formed, but when she looked up, her almond shaped eyes, a sparkling green, zeroed in on the two approaching males with the intensity of a missile target lock. Her hand rose up and settled on her hip as she glared.
"She doesn't look happy to see us," Ceithin noted.
Jared simply smiled. "There's one way to find out," he said before raising his voice so she could hear him. "Top o' da mornin' to ya!" he cried out exuberantly.
Her reply was to ignore him completely.
"Don't let that fool you," he said, not in the least phased by her attitude. "If she wanted us gone she would have literally tried to kick us out."
"'Literally' would involve her coming over and actually kicking us until we left," Ceithin said, correcting Jared's grammar. "I think you meant 'figuratively'."
"No, no. I used 'literally' in the correct context." The blond grinned. "You don't know her like I know her. Watch this, hey pretty lady! Your ass looks tight enough that I could probably bounce a quarter off of it. Anybody got a quarter?" He looked around the half empty restaurant for effect.
Ceithin was practically glaring daggers at him.
"Relax man, it's a private joke between us," he reassured, despite the grumble in his own stomach. "She's told me all about the dumb-ass pick up lines people have tried on her in the past, so now it's kind of tradition for me to greet her that way. It's cool, don't worry."
As if to confirm his argument, the woman behind the bar smirked and began wiping down the glass top. "No speak Americano here, blondy."
"Then a fifty pence piece, damn… doesn't have the same ring to it. Is it hot in here or is it just you?"
"Urgh…" she rolled her eyes. "Don't quit your day job."
"Baby, I'm a mathematician. Why don't we subtract clothing, divide legs and multiply?" Even saying it, he knew how awful it sounded and he prepared himself for a scathing, thoroughly entertaining and hopefully colourful remark. Instead, he received nothing but a raised eyebrow of disapproval. "Aw, come on, Thals! At least let me get a taste of those blueberry thighs of yours?"
The dark look morphed into a glare with murderous intent. "Get. Out."
At her reaction Jared sat himself carefully at the bar, aware of the fact that he might have crossed a dangerous line from light ribbing to asshole. "I don't know what came over me," he apologised immediately. "Do you have a douchebag jar I can donate money to?" Her intimidating gaze was unrelenting. "I'm just so hungry! And we have this tradition of me getting you mad and you threatening violence and I wanted some blueberry pie and you're wearing blue jeans and- screw it, I can't brain on empty. Please feed me," he begged, both terrified and desperate for something edible, "sweet purveyor of deliciousness, what are you serving?"
"A can of whoop-ass if you try one more line."
"You always take it too far, don't you?" Ceithin said before turning to the eponymous Thalia. "I'm not with him, by the way. You can take our orders separately."
The death glare found a new target. "You think I'm the kind of trashy, petty low-life that would spit in someone's food because they're idiots?"
Ceithin's white eyebrows raised themselves in mild panic. "Uh…no?"
"'No' is the right answer, rugby-boy. You get to stay and eat."
Only very slightly jealous (induced mostly by his ravenous hunger) that Thalia's ire and attention had shifted from him to his housemate, Jared made another attempt at banter. "Well, someone's a little testy today. Has aunt Flow come to visit?"
"You know, aunt Flow? She comes once a month, turns sweet, gentle ladies into deranged emotional wrecks."
Jared beamed. "I will never get used to hearing that from a Chinese person."
"I'm only half Chinese, racist. I sound Irish because I am Irish. Now, you have three minutes to peruse the menus and figure out what you want to eat, or."
Ceithin lifted an eyebrow. "Or?"
Thalia responded in kind. "Do I really need to finish that sentence?"
"Surprise us, my lucky lotus leprechaun," Jared said, elated at the mention of menus and food. "I have complete faith in your culinary talents. Just, please make it quick, Ceithin and I have really fast metabolisms - although if you were to compare, mine is faster, and-"
"No it isn't," Ceithin interrupted, as if Jared was spouting nonsense.
"Yes it is. I have to consume more calories than you do. I swim."
"Not that much more, and I have a lower body-fat percentage."
Jared scoffed. "By like, three per cent."
"Three percent difference is a lot!"
"Shut up, Massive-Erection Man." Jared snapped, too hungry to think of a clever comeback. Ceithin hit him in the thigh, also too famished to reply with actual words.
"Okay, this is getting personal," Thalia cut in, "and I have no desire to explore this little flirtation here any further so I'm going to head into kitchen, let me know when you're ready to order."
Panic hit Jared as he watched her turn around, while Ceithin's stomach growled loudly in protest. "Please, Thalia don't go! If we don't receive nourishment soon, our stomachs will literally begin to eat themselves! And then we will die. And it will be all your fault. And you'll have to bury our bodies out back and then explain what happened to us to our mothers. You don't want to do that, do you? It involves too many shovels and lies."
Thalia rolled her bright green eyes and snapped the menus away from the two men. "Two cheeseburgers it is then," she said as she turned away and headed towards the kitchen door.
Jared pulled an obvious face of disappointment. "Seriously? If we wanted burgers we would have headed over to Burger King."
Thalia swivelled around. "Don't you ever compare what I create to that tripe. Not unless you want your drinks to remain unpoisoned." With that she stalked into the kitchen.
"Is it wrong that I find the violent rage I ignite within her really, really hot?"
Ceithin sighed. "Obviously."
When she returned with two plates piled to the brim with food Ceithin had to practically restrain himself from grabbing one and scraping the whole thing into his mouth with a swipe of his hand. At the rate he began devouring the burger set in front of him, however, he might as well have. Jared would have been laughing at how caveman-like Ceithin appeared at that point if he also had not being doing the exact same thing. After five minutes of nothing more than (barely) chewing, swallowing and the occasional grunt of satisfied bliss, the empty plates were replaced with bowls of rhubarb crumble and custard. "I love food. I love it so much. If food was a woman, and she was, you know, also smokin' hot, I would totally have sex with her."
"I love food more," Ceithin said as his dessert spoon clattered into the empty bowl. "Are you going to finish that?" he asked, eyeing up Jared's crumble.
"Uh, considering the fact that I'm holding the bowl in one hand and shovelling-"(here he stuck a heaped tablespoon into his mouth) "cwumbl n custrd 'nto my mouwf wif de udder hand…" he swallowed. "So yes, I am blatantly going to 'finish that'. I am literally eating it as I speak." He took another large scoop for emphasis.
"I was just checking."
"Stop trying to steal my food, sheep fucker."
Ceithin glared. "You like Jones' ice cream."
Jared shrugged. "And?"
"He's the worst rapper in history. And it's not even a clever nickname."
Jared disagreed. "It is, though. Come on. You make one flavour. Vanilla. Which is just plain and boring, how is it not the perfect nickname for you?"
"Shut up, we do have other - admittedly limited - flavours, but our product is based on the quality and fame of the original-" Ceithin stopped himself, deciding it wasn't worth justifying, "actually, just shut up. Next time I go home, I'm not bringing you back any."
Jared scoffed. "Please, it's your family business, you bring like, a gallon back for Zach every time. I'll just steal from him. Vanilla Ice stays because it suits you." He patted Ceithin on the shoulder and shoved another spoon of crumble and custard into his mouth. "Besides, it's the lesser of two evils. Vanilla Ice or Massive Erection Man, take your pick."
Ceithin simply shook his head mildly and ordered another burger from Thalia, and then added an extra layer of pulled pork on top. And cheese. And sweet potato chips. Then he changed the chips to a large jacket potato, with chili con carne on top.
"Dammit, rugby-boy. Will you just make your mind already? My life doesn't surround you and your indecisive yet apparently bottomless pit of a stomach."
"That's it, thanks. Pulled pork and beef burger with a jacket potato and chili, please."
"Oh hey, and don't put any cayenne pepper in the chili," Jared added in. "He can't handle anything spicy."
"He gets it as it comes."
Ceithin was going to protest against Jared's comment, but Thalia's answer gave him pause. "Urm, could you change the chili to tuna mayo instead then? I'm not very good with spicy things. My face goes red."
Thalia smiled at the mental image and headed into the kitchen. "Sure thing, kiddo."
While they waited for Ceithin's second meal, and since they were no longer under threat from dying of starvation, both men got back to the serious business of discussing Zach's punishment for replacing all of Ceithin's music titles with a sheep joke. "How about we fill his room with cups of water?"
"Too much effort, and the we'll get Noel complaining about how high our water bill will be."
Jared nodded. "For someone who's so rich, he whines a lot about money."
"He does bankroll almost everything we do, though. And we did just use his car to get here."
"Yeah, ok, that was a douchy comment. I take it back, he can whine about the water bill." Jared came up with another idea. "What about freezing Zach's stuff in liquid nitrogen. You do physics, you could get your hands on some, right?"
"I'm not getting expelled for a prank."
Ceithin's food arrived, fuelling Jared with another suggestion. "Put cayenne pepper in his coffee stashes?"
"That might be a good idea... although, would it really be worth the shit Zach would cause?"
Jared agreed. "I suppose not, plus I think he lets Mamoru drink from those."
"Mamoru can learn to love tea."
"I don't know, I've seen him before and after he's had his morning cup of java," Jared said, sceptical. "I think he relied on it a little too strongly to ever replace it with PG Tips."
Ceithin was not dissuaded. "I converted you. And you used to be nuts about it."
"Yeah, but it's not the same. When Zach let him try his Turkish coffee, Mamoru started spouting stuff about 'flowery undertones.' I was never that obsessed."
Ceithin took that as a challenge. "Ye of little faith. You watch, by the time he finishes university, he'll have forgotten all about coffee."
"Well in the meantime, Oxo cube in the shower head?"
"Bad idea. We'll be stuck smelling of chicken stock for weeks afterwards, it'll take ages to scrub the smell out of the bathroom." He thought for a moment, "Speaking of shower… dye in his shampoo."
Jared smiled. "Oh-ho! Oh ho, ho, hooo, man. Yes. That would be worth the shit Zach would cause. Let's make it something ridiculous, like neon green."
Ceithin shook his head. "No, black is the only option. Full on black. There's no way of saving that. It will devastate him."
"I have to admit, you're being particularly vengeful right now."
"He's made one too many sheep jokes. It's justified." Ceithin was just about to crack into his potato when Thalia approached them with a smug look on her face.
"Didn't you come here in a white Audi?"
"Yeah," Jared said, turning around to check on Noel's car through the glass panes of the restaurant. The colour suddenly drained from his face. "Shit snacks."
Ceithin followed suit and then moaned. "We are never going to hear the end of this."
"WHY ARE THEY TOWING IT?!" Jared sprang out of his seat and sprinted through the door. "WAIT! IT'S NOT MY CAR! DON'T TAKE IT AWAY! I CAN'T AFFORD YOU TAKING IT AWAY!"
Ceithin hurriedly stuffed his mouth with as much food as he could fill it with before following the blond out.
(Thanks again for sticking with this and reading! I will give more Ami, Zach, Rei (and others) next chapter, promise!)