The temple had been lively since the attack from the futuristic humanoid robot. People filed in looking for charms, scrolls and any other type of spiritual device they could find to secure their homes, children and selves.
Rei and grandpa were accustomed to this sudden influx and expertly coached Duo on the task at hand while simultaneously recruiting Minako and Usagi to help out. Makoto would come by on occasion to assist them when she could, but she was mostly preoccupied with work, or so she claimed.
Duo kept his head down and put himself to work, startling Rei slightly as she eyed him skeptically from time to time. He was uncharacteristically quiet and well behaved. Despite his occasional rapid fire conversations with Minako and Usagi, and his shameless flirtatious gestures directed everywhere but more distinctly towards Usagi, something had been different about him.
"Don't look too long or he'll catch you staring." Minako snickered to Rei's side and patted the cushion next to her before plopping down on it with a soft huff. Working at the shrine served as an effective distraction from her concerns about the robot attack and the police investigation. Luna, so wise and calm, told the girls to lay low and leave the investigation about this new threat to her. Plus, Artemis had come back with good news and a plan, something that the girls were anxious to hear about.
Rei was still carefully studying Duo with narrowed eyes and inexplicable suspicion.
"He doesn't seem off to you?" Rei asked, catching Minako off guard. Usagi was right next to him laughing about something he said. She scooted closer until her elbow touched his, both their heads bowed as they looked at a comic spread across their laps.
"Nope," Minako replied. "Then again, I haven't really been watching him to see if he's been acting weird." She looked over her shoulder, watching as Duo intently read along with Usagi, momentarily catching him glance at the pigtailed blonde in earnest adoration. He looked like a bruised man…jaded eyes, heavy shoulders, a reluctant smile, with a dark history—staring down at a sweet angel sent to help him find salvation. Minako flinched, unknowingly rubbing her arm in a nervous habit as she turned back around to face Rei. "This isn't a jealousy thing, is it?"
Rei shot her a sharp look. "Of course not!"
Minako frowned, uncertain about whether or not she should believe her. "Alright good," she said hastily with her hands up in the air as if to surrender, "in that case he seems fine to me."
Rei frowned. Maybe Minako was right. Maybe he was fine and she was just being too paranoid. Even though Artemis claimed to have a plan, she still couldn't shake the curdling uncertainty festering in her gut. She took one last look back at Usagi and Duo and sighed before returning her attention to sorting the box of scrolls in front of her. Minako eyed her carefully, studying her hard-pressed frown and furrowed brow.
One part of her knew Rei's feelings on subjects should not be ignored. The girl was hardly ever wrong! But another part of Minako wondered if perhaps the raven-haired girl was harboring some hidden crush on the brunette in question but didn't want to admit it for obvious reasons. Rei had been burned by unreciprocated love before and unfortunately, Minako could tell it sometimes hurt her friend to see her crushes fall for none other than sweet, innocent Usagi.
Raucous laughter sounded from Usagi and Duo, echoing through the temple and capturing Minako's attention as she gazed upon them. She couldn't help but smile despite her inner turmoil. Seeing Usagi at ease and humored often brightened her mood. The pigtailed blonde girl leant amorously against Duo's chest, his right arm circling her shoulders as they continued to laugh. The scene was natural, easy and candid, Minako couldn't deny that. Those two had good chemistry.
Rei stood from her seated position on the floor in a gracefully swift upheaval, hands clasped tightly together and shoulders tense. "I'll be in the meditation room if anyone needs me."
Frowning, Minako watched her leave. She wanted to follow after her to make sure she was okay, but experience told her that when Rei needed space it was best to give it to her else risk getting burned (literally and figuratively). She sighed in slight frustration, eyes straying back towards Usagi, only to be stuck locking eyes with Duo.
Minako scrunched her face in scrutiny, spotting something strange about his stare. Was he watching them? His lopsided smile appeared to stave off Minako's more skeptical thoughts as she shook her head clear of what she concluded was paranoia. She should know better. He was just a boy staying in the temple until he figured out what his next move in life would be and Rei's intuition was simply shrouded by undeclared jealousy.
After all, the affairs of the heart weren't always pleasant but the aftermath could be handled so long as there was a determined mediator. With that, Minako heaved herself up from the floor and seamlessly parted Usagi and Duo by walking over and shamelessly plopping down in between them, making sure not to crinkle the comic.
At least for now she would play as an innocent roadblock between whatever was going on between the two (knowingly or unknowingly) until she could be sure that Rei and Usagi were on the up and up. Goodness only knew they didn't need tension among each other, especially not with the grievous events happening around them. The girls needed to avoid inner turmoil at all costs.
"So," Minako said with a broad smile, noting Duo's slight but well-hidden displeasure, "What're we reading this time?"
Due to the injuries sustained from the humanoid robot, Ami had to return to the hospital daily for physical therapy. Her mother oversaw almost every session, which was a surprising sentiment for Ami. She understood her mother was worried, but she didn't expect her to take time away from other, more damaged patients, when the therapist assigned to her was more than capable of writing a detailed report of her progress.
It had been the most she had seen her mother within the span of a few days and she was grateful, yet she felt guilty for taking a skilled doctor away from important work elsewhere.
"Stop feeling guilty for something you can't be blamed for."
Ami blinked wildly with surprise, her sharp gaze turning swiftly towards Wufei. He looked at her knowingly, eyes dark and brows curved as if he was agitated by her actions. Her cheeks flushed red despite her alternative feelings of indignation. As of late Wufei had also been a frequent face in her life, one that she was not yet accustomed to just the same as her mother's.
He picked up quickly on her feelings, not through some empathic superpower but by sheer observation. Direct denial of his statement wouldn't work. He was too smart to fall for that. So Ami did the next thing that came naturally—she ignored him. Or at least she tried to.
"Wufei, if you could just wrap your arm around Ami's waist and help her off the table"—the rest of the physician's orders fell on Ami's deaf ears as she felt Wufei's arm uninhibitedly snake around her waist. He was always so quick to follow orders, not nearly as conscientious of the touching as Ami seemed to be. She would have preferred to keep her distance, but neither her mother, Wufei nor her physician seemed to care what she had to say whenever she insisted she was fine and could stand on her own.
Amidst Dox's terrifying pursuit of her, she never once realized the amount of injury she had actually sustained. She supposed the adrenaline had aided in making her oblivious, but she still struggled with the idea that she acquired so much damage without realizing it. Perhaps her reliance on her transformed capabilities had impaired her rational judgment of the human body's limitations after all.
She started to wonder about the countless times she had seen Makoto fighting with a demon in her human state. She couldn't recall the brunette gaining any outrageous wounds as a result, or even having the slightest bruise. Perhaps that's because Makoto had been fighting hand-to-hand combats long before she had ever come to Juuban. Maybe that's what Ami should consider doing in the near future: learn to fight like her friend so that physical therapy wasn't a consequence of her civilian-state heroics.
"If you would focus more on the task at hand, then your physical therapy sessions would probably be more successful which means fewer appointments in the future," Wufei muttered in her ear.
Ami's cheeks burned red as if she were caught doing something she desperately wanted to hide. She looked to him, which had been a mistake. Seeing him so close reminded her of his arm around her waist, the faint feeling of his fingertips across her hips becoming more pronounced with every second that her mind zeroed in on his actions.
He was right, of course. If she focused more on what the physician was telling her to do then she'd probably be better off. In fact, she had already realized that point long before this moment. The fact that Wufei had to remind her of this was both annoying and slightly embarrassing. She wasn't used to others being more rational than she was, nor was she accustomed to being read so easily.
With a slight scoff and refocused attention, she looked with small contempt towards Wufei then back to the Physician. The session went on successfully with great results, supporting Wufei's assertions about Ami's focus-level and at the same time making Ami cringe that she had supported his claim. Now she was certain he'd be more vocal with his rational but unnecessary observations. She was quite aware of the situation herself. She didn't need another outside source telling her what she already knew.
Ami prepared to leave and frowned in disapproval when seeing Wufei automatically pick up her bag and sling it over his shoulder.
"You know you don't have to be here," she said.
"I know," he replied, eyes stoic and unmoving. "I choose to be here."
Why? It was a question she didn't need to ask because she was confident she knew the answer. He felt responsible for what had happened to her, it was written all over his face. From time to time, she would catch him staring at her bruises in abhorrence, lips pressed together in a fine line and fists clenched. She didn't understand it. After all, she was the one that chose to become bait for that machine. The blame for her predicament was her own to bear entirely! It seemed useless that he'd hold himself responsible for something completely out of his control.
"Stop feeling guilty for something you can't be blamed for," she said suddenly, not even realizing what she was saying. As the irony settled in, she found herself smiling amusedly, eyes glittering as they became transfixed on his grimace. He looked to her in disapproval, an expression distinguishable by his sharp jaw line that twitched with the clench of his teeth and the knotting of his furrowed brows atop a pair of deep black eyes.
Then something strange happened. Slowly, like the creeping crawl of thick sap inching down the side of a tree, his brows rose, the wrinkles from his tensed face faded into smooth, taut skin and his lips softened into a weak smile. Ami had never seen him so lax, not even at the beach. In fact, she couldn't even recall a time that she had ever seen a semblance of a smile on his face. He was always so stern and angry that seeing him now made him seem like a foreign being that she was meeting for the first time.
"You've been around me too long," he said, meeting her gaze for a moment as they shared mutual amusement for a slight glimpse of time. Then, within seconds, a film of ice passed across his eyes, instantaneously spreading to his entire body, returning him to his usual robotic posture. He gripped the sling of her bag that hung over his shoulder and cleared his throat. "I'll wait for you in the hall."
Ami found herself staring after him, the Physician's voice muted by her piquing curiosity for her latest friend, if she could call him that. At this point, labels weren't particularly clear to her but at the very least she could admit to herself that maybe he wasn't all that bad to have around...
Makoto sat on the park bench, staring off into the distance at nothing in particular. In the corner of her vision she could see a group of cyclists, pedaling quickly as the spokes of their bikes spun hypnotically in metallic circles, some spotted with tiny blinking lights and others a pure sleek gray. Across the lawn on the horizon were the silhouetted figures of a small boy with mussed hair, laughing happily as he ran in circles, holding a round Frisbee in the air, a small dog chasing after him with his mouth agape and tongue floppily hanging from the side. The gently swaying branches of tall oak trees framed that scene, a tangerine sun beaming just above the canopies, as the boy and his dog played in the grass.
Makoto sighed, trapped uncomfortably between being at peace and being alert. She wanted so badly to be relaxed, to be forgetful, but the incident with the animalistic machine was still fresh on her mind and her body ached for her to do something about it.
The Cave wouldn't be open for another five hours. Even so, she wasn't convinced there'd be enough of a challenge there to sate her need for action. That machine had unparalleled strength within the Cave. That was a fact she had witnessed firsthand as she struggled to keep him from tearing past her to get to Minako. The grinding metal of his gears churning as his strength increased, echoed between her ears as did the heavy beating of her heart as her body was flooded with that familiar sensation of satisfaction. She was restless. And with every moment spent doing nothing, her drive to act only flourished.
"Is this seat taken?"
Makoto looked up with a start, and stared at the newcomer a while in wonderment. It wasn't until he tilted his head quizzically that she finally realized she was gawking. Feeling clammy, she looked away bashfully towards the walkway to hide her crimson blush.
"Only by you if you want it."
The wooden planks of the bench slowly depressed further as the boy took a seat, assuming the same position as Makoto, staring out into the distance.
"Nice day," he said, leaning back against the bench and resting his elbows atop the wooden strips.
"Yeah," she replied shortly. "It is."
She glanced at him quietly, watching as his hair was ruffled by the wind, eyes a cloudy sky blue, and lips turned upward in a plaintive smile. There was something different about him—something somber. He didn't look as laid-back as he was the night he treated her and her friends at the restaurant, nor did he carry that same kind glimmer in his eyes as he usually did. She wondered briefly if there was a reason behind his subtle change in appearance or if it was simply a face he wore in leisure. After all, he still wasn't quite familiar to her. Everything about him was somewhat foreign and new.
"How is your friend Ami doing?"
"She's going through physical therapy, but she's mostly fine."
"That's good to hear. And how are you doing, Mako-chan?"
Confused, she looked to him with a raised brow and immediately froze when meeting his gaze. She diverted her eyes and disregarded her curiosity for why he would ask such a thing.
"I'm…okay." She didn't want to say more because she was afraid the truth would slip out without her permission. Hardly anyone ever asked her that question—it was so simple but packed such meaning in her eyes. She had friends, great friends, but they were feeling the strain of their shared dilemma, which meant they would scarcely ask how one was doing because they knew what the response would be. They were terrified, paranoid, and antsy. So to save from lying to one another, they avoided the question and stuck to hellos, goodbyes, and light subjects.
Despite her desire to look in his direction, she abstained, her neck tense as she forced herself to look anywhere else. On her left was a young couple laid out on a blanket, laughing. In her periphery she could see a man with his arm over the shoulders of his girlfriend, her head resting in the crook of his underarm as they walked slowly into the horizon. She exhaled in frustration and looked onward, spotting a sweet elderly couple leaning into each other as they sat on a distant park bench. Her stomach did a disorderly flip, making her nauseous as she uncomfortably sat beside the kind, generous and thoughtful blond beside her.
All at once she found herself knotted up in horrible tension. Not out of fear or apprehension, but out of pressure that he might see all these same couples around them and bring it up.
Quatre sighed. "I think I forgot to eat lunch. I'm getting pretty hungry."
Makoto feared for the worst. She liked Quatre. She really did. He was sweet, kind-hearted, handsome, and an entire list full of other adjectives. But now was not a good time. She was not ready for new relationships, platonic or not. She had too much on her plate as it were.
"Would you like to get dinner with me?" Makoto could already imagine the genial smile he must've wore, the dazzling eyes and his lax body position. They were enough to make any girl melt. Even despite herself, she felt her insides tingle with delight. How could she say no when all the voices in her head were screaming yes!
"Sorry pal, her dinner appointment is taken, but perhaps if you're lucky she'll reschedule with you some other time."
Before Makoto could get a word in edgewise, she felt herself being gracefully hoisted up. A lean arm that boasted strength snaked around her waist and tugged her closer so that smooth redirection was made easy as the one in charge led her away from the bench wherein a blond gentleman was left staring after the pair.
Makoto blushed, her cheeks burning as she turned her head to look at Quatre apologetically. When he smiled back in understanding she felt even worse. Now she felt like she owed him something and was already plotting ways to make up for this unexpected save.
"Are you even going to say hello to your charming rescuer?"
Slightly peeved, Makoto returned her attention to the person who shamelessly held onto her hip. She made to say something biting when recognition suddenly hit her and flooded her senses with joyous relief.
"Were you expecting someone else," she replied with playful wink.
"Are you sure you can't stay?" Usagi whined, eyes large as she tugged on Minako's arm, pouting.
"You little minx! You gotta stop doing that to people, one day it might get you into some serious trouble," Minako playfully replied, laughing as she hugged her. "I really can't stay. Four days away from home makes my parents extremely suspicious."
"And what does three days away do?" Rei asked, leaning on her broom beside them with a look of suspicion.
"Three days is their limit. Overnight studying with Dr. Mizuno's genius daughter gets me that kind of leniency ya know?" Minako explained with a thumb up and a wink.
"But Ami wasn't even—"
"Yeah, yeah," Minako said, patting Usagi on the head, "but they don't know that." Before anyone could scold Minako for her deceitful ways, she hastily jogged down the stairs with her farewells. "Have a good night guys! I'll see you in the morning to sell some more charms!"
Usagi waved, smiling. Then she turned to face Rei who hastily transformed her uneasy expression to a neutral one.
"It's still okay if I sleep over, right?" Usagi asked with a nervous laugh.
Before Rei could answer, Duo had appeared seemingly out of nowhere, slinging his arm over Usagi's shoulder with a toothy grin.
"Of course it is!" he said, leading her inside past Rei, who eyed him with a raised brow. He returned her look with a wink that made her roll her eyes.
"Umm, Rei?" Usagi said with uncertainty.
"You can stay," Rei affirmed. Usagi jumped excitedly and happily scurried inside with Duo.
Rei stood alone at the top of the stone stairway, staring into the night solemnly. Deimos and Phobos flapped their wings heavily, each landing on a separate shoulder of the Priestess. A chill breeze swept past them, making her sixth sense tingle with ghastly familiarity.
"Rei, Rei! Come inside before you get sick!" Grandpa cried from the rice-paper doors.
Rei reluctantly looked to him and nodded, petting both Deimos and Phobos on the head before they flew off.
Overall, it had been a good day. Minako had barely even stressed over the obvious questions about the foreign humanoid robot, or the police investigation, or the plan that Artemis had yet share, or Venus, or school for that matter. If anything, she might've been convinced it was a normal day save for Rei's silent brooding that remained even as Minako departed into the night. She tugged on the sling of her messenger bag and sighed. The night wasn't over yet. She still had her parents to face and they sometimes threw her a wildcard in respect to how they would receive her. Hopefully they had as good a day as she did.
Within the next step, Minako's heart leapt uncomfortably when she heard metal clattering against metal in the dark alley to her left. She stopped in her tracks, staring hard into the pitch black space in anticipation, her hand itching to feel the familiar smooth surface of her pen.
"Who's there?" she asked, inching closer to the alley in spite of her instinct to walk away.
There was no response. Her brows knotted together as she mentally prepared herself for anything, a small nearly inaudible sound growing louder her ears with every step she made. It was low and sporadic like an asthmatic beast, haggard and short, shallow and frequent but not rhythmic. Something was hiding in those shadows and Minako had the feeling that it was waiting for her.
She reached the cold brick wall and placed her hand against it, feeling the grain and moist slime from the humidity accumulating against the dried mortar.
"Hello?" She tried again, not quite sure what might happen.
Minako jumped out of her skin and turned around to come face to face with none other than Heero Yuy. A cat sprinted out of the alley, a tumbling of sorts sounding after its plight, eliciting an uninhibited breath of relief from Minako as she frowned at the brunette before her. He looked at her questioningly, noting how her shoulders gradually lowered from their previously tense hike.
"Did I scare you?"
"What do you think?" She replied, exasperated. She turned around and reconvened on the path towards home, not particularly worried about whether or not Heero would follow. He did, which unnerved Minako.
"Um, what're you doing?"
"Walking home," Heero stated, pushing his hands in his pockets as he passed her.
"In the same direction as me?" Minako asked with a raised brow, picking up her pace so she could keep up.
"I live past your house."
"Since I first moved here," he said, eyeing her as if she had asked a stupid question.
"Oh," she said, tugging mindlessly at the lapels of her coat. She stayed planted on the sidewalk, trying to piece together how she could miss something like that. She supposed she was too wrapped up in other events to spend too much time thinking about her stoic history partner.
She looked up with a blush, surprised to see that Heero had been waiting for her. Without a word, she nodded, and hurried to catch up. Small blonde hairs stood up in attention on the back of her neck, which she vigorously rubbed to remove the nervous chill in her spine.
"So where you coming from?" She asked, trying to ward off the awkward silence. She was surprised when he actually answered.
She cringed at his response. The only time she ever liked going to the library was…well, she couldn't say. Studying was better done at home, or the shrine, or Makoto's house, or Ami's, or never.
"How about you?" He asked. Was he actually trying to carry a conversation?
Shocked by his uncharacteristically automatic response, Minako eyed him shamelessly.
"Are you feeling alright?" She asked, catching him off guard. He looked to her strangely and she met his gaze fearlessly. He could see that she genuinely did not think he was himself by the way that she stared.
"What?" It was the only thing he could think to say. Her question and prying eyes were unfamiliar to him and hard to combat. When he dealt with people in earlier experiences, they looked at him strangely because of the great feats he'd accomplished, or because of his incredibly dangerous capabilities and seemingly cold exterior. However, Minako looked at him strangely because he acted as a normal human being would.
She laughed. She could see he was uncomfortable when his pace quickened and expression changed. He looked slightly angered and possibly a bit confused. She wasn't quite sure. His expression never changed much. Usually his face was unreadable, blank. But tonight he had an eyebrow that twitched slightly as he faced her.
"It's just that you're not exactly much of a chatterboxer," she said.
"Is that even a word?"
She shrugged. "Well you got my point didn't you?"
He scoffed. Minako smiled, laughing lightly to herself as she walked alongside him.
"To be honest, I was surprised when you stopped to see if I was coming with you. You don't exactly strike me as the type that likes company."
She was right. It wasn't like him to ask if someone was coming along with him. He preferred being alone for the most part.
"Then why'd you come along?" He looked to her sternly, his Prussian blue eyes well visible in the night. She looked him over again, cheeks reddening as she was reminded of his gifted looks. His unruly chocolate brown hair was ruffled by a small breeze that somehow snapped her out of her diminutive daydream.
"Well, I—" she looked away, scratching the back of her head nervously. He raised an arched eyebrow in question and waited for an answer. "Well clearly I didn't want to walk home alone."
He reminded her of Alan in a way. For one they were both brunettes. Both were taller than her, but Heero was much closer to her in age than Alan. Perhaps that reason in and of itself gave her more hope and fueled her relentless inner-girl that wished desperately for romance in the form of a handsome, rescuing prince. She cringed as her mind spiraled into millions of different scenarios. To her subconscious this was the second time he had saved her—once from the mall thieves and again from a stray cat making eerie noises down a dark alley.
Though it did not please her to admit it, she did get scared walking alone at night. The unseen devastated her. If everything was in clear view, she was confident in her ability to protect herself. But nightfall brought on a new danger that she always loathed: her vivid imagination. Having Heero with her made her feel safer. It gave her mind something else to obsess over.
"Clearly," he muttered, walking silently now that he had given up on conversation.
Minako side-eyed him curiously. He really was handsome behind that stone-cold façade he always wore. She wondered what his story was. She didn't remember hearing anything about his parents, where he came from or even why and how he ended up in Juuban of all places. Perhaps he was a foster child? She thought for a moment on that idea. That would explain why he was so distant from people.
He obviously had some experience with high-anxiety situations. That was displayed clearly the night of the heist. He was so chill and steady-handed. His willingness to help her despite the armed robbers waving their guns around threatening to shoot anyone that moved, proved to her that he cared for more than just himself. She admired how he didn't make a big deal out of it afterwards. If anything, he actively avoided her and that sort of made her want to get to know him even more.
"Hey," she said, catching his attention. He looked to her in his normal monotone expression. "I never thanked you for dressing my wounds that one night."
For a moment he looked surprised. It seemed he really had forgotten about that night which begged the question, what kind of life did he lead to have made that situation such a natural occurrence that it would be forgotten so easily? Minako was dying to know.
"Don't mention it." He really meant it; she could tell.
She smiled broadly, ready to shower him with praise because she had an inkling it would make him uncomfortable. Her mouth opened, but she stopped when a familiar scent wafted towards her noise. It smelt of spoiled meat and mold-infested water, making her heartbeat accelerate. Her ears tingled when she heard a faint rattling coming from ahead. All at once Venus overtook her senses, her body instinctually throwing itself against Heero just in time to push him out of harm's way.
A scaly limb slapped onto her neck, wrapping around it and tightening as it hoisted her into the air. Her feet dangled below, her hands gripping the rough tail of a creature whose body steadily slithered into the light.
"Minako!" she heard Heero yell.
"Get out of here!" she screamed, writhing in the creature's tentacle as she waved at Heero to run. The tips of her fingers burned with a familiar warmth, glowing faintly yellow as she tried to pry off her attacker's limb. The warmth in her hands turned to searing heat and flickering light, but quickly dissipated with the sound of a resonating BANG!
The tentacle released her and she came crashing down on her hands and knees in an instant. She coughed and wheezed upon the pavement, looking up to find Heero firing shots at a Gorgon-like creature: the body of a woman with snakes for hair and five tentacles for legs. It was fast, unearthly so. It hissed after every shot and darted from side to side within the blink of an eye to dodge Heero's bullets.
Heero had a fearless determination in his eyes but the beast was getting closer. Soon he'd be out of bullets and then what would he do? Minako was not too keen on finding out. Despite her instinct to inch away quietly and transform outside of his view, she knew she didn't have the time. She needed to act now!
With steely blue eyes she uninhibitedly grabbed her transformation pen and stuck her hand in the air.
Rei's head snapped to the side when she heard a faint BANG! sound off in the distance. She swiftly found herself rushing out of the temple onto the porch, her ears perked as her sixth sense tingled.
Usagi rushed out after her, concern pasted all over her face. "What is it Rei?"
Rei said nothing. Instead she stood quietly, listening for more telling sounds as the heat of her body rose. Duo popped up on the porch behind Usagi, staring quizzically at their backs.
"SHH!" Rei silenced them both with a hand in the air, her eyes skimming the city skeptically. She couldn't hear anything else. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she tried to pinpoint the cause of the uneven air around them. Consumed with silence, Rei scanned the skyline while Usagi and Duo watched her.
Finally frustrated by the unexplained situation, Duo took a step forward to try and see if he could figure out what was going on. Just a moment ago he was drying his hair and prepping for bed before he saw Rei zoom outside with Usagi directly behind her in concern. As he moved forward, his foot tipped an unseen broomstick off balance and its collision with the wooden porch sounded like an ear-splitting explosion.
Two crows squawked loudly as they retreated from their hidden perch in a nearby tree, triggering Rei's unexpected plight directly after them as they sailed down the temple steps. Once Usagi realized Rei was running, she too broke off into a sprint but was roughly intercepted.
Confused, Usagi looked upward to find Duo staring down at her sternly. "What's going on?" he asked. She looked frantic and tried to wiggle out of his hold but failed.
"I have to make sure she's okay!" Usagi bellowed, now trying to jerk herself from Duo's hands on her shoulders.
He frowned. "I'll follow her."
"What?" Usagi looked bewildered. She fumbled for words and Duo wasn't sure if she was trying to dissuade him or encourage him, but it didn't matter much. He was going to follow Rei no matter what she said.
"Go Duo, I'll look after Usagi." Grandpa appeared out of nowhere, gesturing for Duo to go after Rei while he held onto Usagi. Duo took off with surprising speed, disappearing almost instantly. Grandpa gestured for Usagi to follow him inside and she complied. When he turned fully to the entrance he heard the porch floor creak loudly, signaling him to turn just in time to catch Usagi's fleeting form.
"Usagi!" he cried.
"Sorry grandpa," she yelled back, "but I'm tired of being kept out of everything."
Trowa walked calmly down the street, eyes following a faint trail by the brick walls as it staggered through dust and street dirt. He had been following the path for nearly 20 minutes, curiously examining it as his mind ran through plausible calculations.
From the looks of it, the tracks were human. But there was a tarry substance that spotted the sidewalk in sporadic drips alongside the haggard path he was following. If not for the strange black tar speckling this path, he would have ignored it entirely.
Dr. Khulz's lab had been in terrible condition when he went in to check on it upon Quatre's request. He walked in to find shattered test tubes, leaks, cracks, upturned tables, and dangling lights. He surveyed the lab quickly, noting the damage and skimming the area for a reason which came without much delay. Dr. Khulz was responsible.
It wasn't much of a surprise. He had seen his fair share of upset people destroying their workspace out of anger. If anything, he expected this much. Dr. Khulz didn't seem like the type to leave without making a scene.
Trowa made his way casually to the exit without bothering to lock up. There was nothing harmful or valuable left. Quatre was very thorough in his take over and confiscated anything he deemed necessary. As he passed through the threshold, his left foot slipped slightly on a small puddle of black. Curious, he bent over and dipped his finger in it.
It felt like slime, sticky and thick. As he held it he felt himself grow tired, a small yawn escaping, forcing him to shake his head as grabbed a petri dish off of a lab table and scraped off the unknown substance. He didn't know if it'd be important but he bagged it anyways for curiosity's sake.
He found himself at the entrance once again, scooping more of the black goo into his dish and closing it before stuffing it in his pocket. It was then that he noticed the dragged feet intermingled with heavy steps and the spots of black tar lining the trail that extended from inside the lab.
Night had fallen when Trowa met with a dark alley. The path led into the pitch black space. He entered without hesitation, a cold chill brushing past him as he proceeded to inspect the area. A dim light swung in a distant corner, illuminating a deteriorating dumpster and paper wrappers rolling across the floor. He glanced to the side and squinted. He walked and bent down to dust off dirt from a small Polaroid. He brought it up to the light and raised a quizzical brow. It was a candid of Minako.
Trowa's head jerked to the side when he heard a distinct snap. He inched cautiously towards the sound, picking up faintly on something wheezing. His left hand twitched over his holstered gun, while his heart remained steady. The wheezing grew louder as he neared the rusted old dumpster. As he approached the dingy space, his attention was quickly snatched away by a familiar voice.
"Minako!" it yelled.
Immediately, Trowa abandoned his search and followed the sound of gunfire.
Within the partially illuminated corner of the alley, was a bespectacled beast of a man looming behind the dumpster.
Thank you for reading! I truly appreciate it! Its been a long time coming for this past update, hopefully it goes well. I feel so out of practice that I just might have to take this down and revise it some more x.x
Sunshine Fia: Thank you for your reviews! The original chapter 13 sort of bothered me but I was overcome with excitement and posted it prematurely knowing that it was not quite ready for that. Your original review for that chapter sort of made me kick my laziness aside and revise XD. So for that I thank you! Also, its great to hear your thoughts on both the original and the revised. It was very helpful in terms of character development and pacing! Alas, I hope this chapter was enjoyable!
JoWashington: Thank you for your review! I try to get to every one of the girls but I know my own personal bias sometimes gets in the way of where the spotlight ends up shining XD. I'm glad to hear that you like this story! And you're right, if Chibi-Usa was in this things would be much more difficult!
Feathers: Thank you for your review! I'm glad you like Minako's portrayal. She's a fun character to write but also challenging XD. I hope this chapter matches the integrity of the others!
varee: Thank you for your review! It was fun to get into the thoughts of the pilots. Not much of that was done in this chapter but I'm aiming to do more of that in later chapters. Dr. K's situation is definitely yet to be explained fully XD
SmileyBasis2: Thank you for your review! I've always been fascinated by the girls' family ties and what not so including them is sort of my way of fangirling over them XD. The struggle for Duo and his fellow pilots will hopefully become more strenuous later XD if I ever get to it. But alas, it was good to get some of it out in that last chapter. Hope this update is bearable XD.
Guest: Thank you!
Guest: Thank you for your review! I hope this chapter was good!
Oombala: Thank you for your review! I'm glad you enjoy the story so far! Hopefully you continue to enjoy it!
NightSky: Thank you for your review! I'm relieved to hear that it is believable! My imagination often goes in various fantastical places that I sometimes question whether or not my plot lines are rational XD. I am also flattered that the characters are still themselves and able to grow within reasonable lengths given their personalities. That has been something that is probably the hardest for me to contemplate when attempting to develop them. Nevertheless, thank you for your kind review!
Thanks once more for reviewing! It is always a pleasure to get feedback!