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Happily Ever After
It was not that surprising, all in all, when Princess Quistis married Sir Almasy less than a year after her sudden return to the Royal Court. The two of them had been inseparable since her return, and there was also the fact that he was her knight. While the pair might not be quite as obvious about their infatuation as Princess Rinoa and Sir Leonhart were, it was still incredibly clear to everyone just how much they were in love.
The wedding had been rather subdued for a royal wedding. It had been a Centran style ceremony which really had surprised no one. Since her return and the reveal of her Centran heritage, the princess had thrown herself into exploring her Centran roots. The ceremony had been simple and brief, and the guest list had been quite small for a royal function, not more than a hundred people in all. Even so, it was celebrated all across the country. The young sorceress had become quite the popular figure since her reappearance.
Given how romantic their story was, it was no surprise that both the princess and her knight had become very popular public figures. Add to that the fact that her time spent as a servant had made many of the ordinary citizens feel that she was one of them, and it made for her being an extremely popular and influence figure. The princess herself seemed a little bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she got, but she was gracious, and quickly became a well known figure in her own duchy.
So the celebrations there in honor of her wedding were not surprising. Princess Quistis married her knight on a wind and wave swept beach. It was the first Centran wedding ceremony most of the guests had ever witnessed, but it turned out to be not that different from a Galbadian one. The bride was resplendent in white even if her gown was in a foreign style, and no witness could doubt the love and affection between the couple.
The pair settled in Caledonia, and even after their honeymoon, they were the main point of gossip for people with every thing from if Princess Quistis would take over some of the things Princess Rinoa had being doing as a sorceress for the country to when their first child would be born. At least, that was the case until Sir Leonhart's proposal to Princess Rinoa became the event of the year.
Tea in the Garden
Nanao let out a deep sigh and reached for her cup of tea. Given the insanity of the Eighth Division offices as of late, she had taken her paperwork and escaped to the sanctuary of Shunsui's home. It had proved quite effective so far. She had managed to get through two thirds of her paperwork in an hour which was the benefit of not being interrupted every two minutes. She wasn't actually going to blame Shunsui for the craziness this time. He had been out of town for the past two weeks on a mission with Jyuushiro. And unfortunately, that had seemed to signal all of the especially crazy supernatural shenanigans to start.
She had been kept very busy both putting out fires the entire time, and the paperwork had suffered. And while she might have all those fires put out now, that didn't mean the rest of the division wasn't still reeling from it all. Quite honestly, only half of the chaos had been the incidents, the rest of it had been her division members' reactions to the incidents. Still, things were calm enough now that she felt safe to slip away and do her paperwork elsewhere. Nanao was going to be very happy when Shunsui got home from his mission. He was much better with dealing the personnel issues than she was. She dealt with the paperwork, and he dealt with the people. It was one of the reasons they made such an effective team.
Things had quieted down since Stark thankfully. Nanao had been able to settle in to a normal routine with the division, and she was slowly getting used to the world she was now a part of. It still felt strange some times when she was at her job the museum. She'd walk through the museum and wonder just how many items originally had issues that the shinigami needed to deal with. She was finding about two or three a month, so clearly it had been an issue in the past.
Her relationship with Shunsui had also settled into something rather routine. She was no longer living with the man, but she did spend quite a bit of time at his home, and it was rare for them not to share at least one meal a day. To be honest, Nanao was more than a little surprised at how domestic the two of them had become. Not that she minded though. Nanao was more than happy with the way things turned out. She enjoyed quiet evenings spent in Shunsui's kitchen debating favorite books and Saturdays spent on long walks and poking through bookshops. She hadn't been looking for any sort of relationship when all of this started, but she wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Finishing off the last of tea, Nanao picked up another form. At this rate, she would be done in another half hour. Then she would just eventually have to figure out dinner. But that could wait. Nanao zoned out a little as she continued filling out the paperwork. Most of it was repetitive, and at this point she knew many of these forms by heart.
"What do you think about curry for dinner, precious?" Shunsui's voice brought her back to the present.
"Sounds good." She looked up to find him holding out a fresh pot of tea. "When did you get home?"
"About twenty-five minutes ago." He leaned in to kiss her and refill her teacup. "You seemed busy. Almost done?"
She glanced at the pile of remaining forms. "Ten more minutes tops."
"Good." He stole another kiss. "I'm going to start the curry."
Nanao hadn't been looking romance, adventure, or the supernatural when she'd taken Katen Kyokotsu home in an attempt to properly catalog what she thought was an artifact, but she didn't regret that any of it had come her way.
There was silence for exactly one moment, and then the noise in the room was deafening. Seifer used the moment of confusion to link his fingers with Quistis'. As long as they were in physical contact, he shouldn't have to worry about her power breaking out and causing problems. Because was the last thing they needed right now.
"Silence!" King Caraway's command had some effect, though there were still murmurs throughout the hall.
Seifer squeezed his Cariad's hand gently as the king turned his gaze on her.
"That is a very serious claim you are making."
"I wouldn't make it if it was not true," she replied. Seifer could hear the unspoken 'Uncle' at the end of her sentence.
"I see." Caraway seemed to be mulling this over for several moments. "I believe that the truth of this claim must be settled before any thing else about this situation can be. If the inner court, Countess Oriana, Lady Aurelia, and the sorceress will join me in my study."
Seifer smiled grimly. On the one hand, he knew that having less of an audience would make Quistis much more comfortable. She did not like being on display. But if they were in private, Oriana could be much nastier than she could in a public theater. And Seifer didn't know how much Quistis could take right now. This was already a stressful situation, and there was the fact that she really didn't have any training with her powers. With Seifer there, nothing too catastrophic could happen, but he doubted that it would make the coming confrontation any easier.
He kept her hand in his as they entered the study. Seifer wanted to make it perfectly clear where he stood in this mess. His place was at Quistis' side, even if it set him against Caraway and his court. Seifer didn't think that would end up being the case, but one never really knew. He led her over to one of the more comfortable chairs and seated her there before taking up a position standing at her right hand. He left their fingers twined together.
King Caraway took this in with a raised eyebrow as he settled behind his desk. The others took up positions around the room, and it was fairly easy for Seifer to read where they stood. Rinoa had taken a seat close to her father's desk but on the same side of the room as Quistis and Seifer. Squall had taken up a position that mirrored Seifer's own, standing beside Rinoa. Selphie sat down on the rug at Rinoa's feet while Irvine stood on the other side of Rinoa's chair. Zell stood beside Irvine. Edea had seated herself within arm's reach of Quistis, and between her and Oriana. Oriana and Aurelia stood alone on the other side of the room with two of Oriana's personal retainers.
Quistis' nervousness was clear through their bond, but Seifer was pleased to see that she looked calm to the outward eye. Caraway steepled his fingers together, looking at the pair of them.
"As I see it, there are several issues that need to be addressed here. You have made two claims about you identity, young lady, that are both highly controversial. First, there is your claim of being a member of the Llewellyn Clan. My understanding was that the last member of that particular clan disappeared years before your birth."
It was Matron who responded to that. "I would say with certainty that she is a Llewellyn. As you know, I was raised by part of the family, and my foster sister was the only remaining member after the Sorceress War. This young woman is identical to Idalia save for the color of her eyes and the fact that her hair is a darker blond. I can hardly think that a sorceress who looks identical to a Llewellyn Clan member appearing is mere coincidence."
"And you are absolutely sure that this young woman is a sorceress?" the king asked.
Matron just nodded. "Yes. More powerful than Rinoa actually. She's just not been trained, and her magic has been suppressed since adolescence. Quite frankly, we're lucky nothing untoward has happened."
That made Caraway arch an eyebrow. He was well aware of just what could happen when a sorceress was untrained. Rinoa's powers had caused all sorts of trouble when they had first surfaced. And Matron was right. They had been extremely lucky that Quistis' own magic hadn't burst out in a way that had harmed any one. That was probably the only good thing about the gaes she had been under.
"I see. That brings us to your second claim."
Seifer could feel Quistis' fear as she started to speak. "I can tell you the names of all of Selphie's dolls. I can tell you where Rinoa used to hide all of her hair ribbons that she didn't like. I can name every horse that I ever had. What do you need me to answer that will prove to you who I am, Uncle?"
Caraway looked stricken. It was clear that he really hadn't held any hope that his niece was still alive. Or that he might ever find her again. Finally he spoke again.
"What happened when Lord Martine's son cut Selphie's hair?"
Seifer's eyebrows raised. This was a story he hadn't heard before. But he could feel Quistis' smug satisfaction through their bond and his lady's lips had curved in to a grin.
"I broke the little bastard's nose, and you fired the nanny who let it happen. Selphie wouldn't come out of her room for nearly a week, and she ended up wearing her hair short ever since."
He didn't know how to read the look on Caraway's face. At least, until he turned his gaze on Oriana and Aurelia. That was an expression that Seifer had only seen a few times before. All of them had been when some one had put Rinoa or Selphie's lives in danger. Someone had threatened one of his girls, and they were not going to get away with it.
"Countess Oriana, I believe that you informed me that her highness never arrived at your estate. And yet you clearly know this young woman. Don't bother to deny it. You may have leaved some nasty accusations at her, but you have never acted surprised at her existence."
Seifer had to give the woman credit. There was barely a flicker in Oriana's expression as she replied.
"Your Majesty, this is ridiculous. The girl is a servant by the name of Quisty Trepe. She is simply trying to take advantage of you."
"I see. I thank you for your opinion. If you will be so kind as to wait in the antechamber." It was clear from the king's tone that this was not a request, and Seifer was not at all surprised to see that they were escorted out by quite a few guards.
Once they were gone, Caraway turned his attention back to Quistis.
Caraway's voice was gentle when he spoke again. "Quistis, my dear, I need you to tell us what happened to you and where you've been."
All of the relief of establishing who she really was vanished at the idea of having to explain every thing. She didn't want them to know what she'd been through. She didn't want Rinoa and Selphie to the details of the whole ordeal. It was partly her older sister instinct wanting to protect the two younger girls. And it was partly fear. She didn't know how they would react. She didn't know if they changed over the years. If they would blame her for not being able to escape or not realizing just how much trouble she was in. It was one thing to have Seifer know. He hadn't known her before. Her past hadn't mattered to him except in that she had become trapped by Oriana during it. Seifer had no expectations of her based on her past. Rinoa and Selphie and everyone else she had known before might have expected more from her.
She hadn't realized that she was shaking until Seifer's hands came around her and his voice was soft in her ears.
"It's all right, Cariad. The gaes is broken. It won't hurt you to speak."
She hadn't even thought of that aspect. Seifer was kneeling in front of her, blocking out everyone else in the room.
"You're not going to get in trouble for telling us. It doesn't matter what happened. We just need to know so Oriana can be charged with the full extent of her crimes. We're noting going to let her hurt anyone again."
Quistis gripped his hands tightly, trying to let the comfort he was projecting through their bond wash over her. She met Seifer's eyes. Focusing on them, she started to speak, pretending it was just the two of them. It was easier that way. She had known that sooner or later she would have ended up telling him the whole story. Seifer could be persistent when he wanted something as she well knew, and she needed to tell someone.
Slowly, the story began to spill out. Quistis glossed over a few of the details, mostly because she didn't think that her daily routines at the Carrente estate were that important and didn't exactly want to share all the private moments she and Seifer shared. Seifer actually helped tell his side of things since meeting her which was some thing of a relief. Even so, it seemed like ages before she could finally stop talking. For a moment there was silence in the room. Then Quistis found herself nearly knocked over by the force of Rinoa's hug.
Her cousin's embrace seemed to cut the tension in the room. The next thing Quistis knew she'd been pulled out of her chair, so that Selphie and Rinoa could both hug her at the same time. A quick glance around the room showed her Seifer talking softly with Sir Leonhart. Before she could really take in more than that, the young woman found herself wrapped in her uncle's arms. She could hear his voice, though she was rather sure that he hadn't intended to.
"I'm so sorry, dear heart. I'd though we'd lost you. I thought you were gone. If I'd known. We would have come for you. I never would have let them keep you if we had known…"
It took several minutes for everyone to calm down and the emotion in the room to dissipate some what. Quistis' uncle let out a sigh.
"I realize that we have much catching up to do. However, there is the matter of the rest of the court to deal with. We're going to have to go out there and deal with them before anything else can happen."
Rinoa made a face and shook out her skirts. "You're right unfortunately. It's a good thing that it's only Summer Court. Let's get this over with."
It took them a few moments to get organized, and Quistis was thankful that she remembered her etiquette lessons. She and Seifer took up their positions behind Rinoa and Sir Leonhard as the group returned to the main hall. That alone would speak volumes about what had happened behind closed doors. Seifer gently squeezed her arm, and she could feel reassurance and comfort flowing across their bond. He at least was used to this. Quistis was not, and she was nervous. But she had already faced these people once today, and they could not be worse than facing down Oriana.
It could, however, be far more boring. Her uncle had made a brief announcement verifying Quistis' identity and welcoming her home along with a mention of Oriana's arrest. And then he had gone on to conduct business as usual for a Court Session. Which as it turned out was immensely boring when you had to just sit there and listen to it. Quistis had quickly given up on understanding most of it. She was woefully out of date when it came to her political knowledge, and this was probably not the time to try and catch up.
Finally, they were finished, and the group headed back to the king's study. Rinoa sank into one of the chairs and kicked her shoes off.
"Well, that's done with. Now we just have to get Quistis settled and every thing sorted out. I think there's a suite of rooms we can set you up in near mine, and it shouldn't take long for the seamstresses to put together a wardrobe for you. We'll have to have some sort of formal event to reintroduce you to the court and catch you up on current politics."
Quistis blinked, beginning to feel more than a little overwhelmed. Rinoa just kept talking.
"We'll also have to figure out what to do about Seifer since he can't very well remain the Duke of Caledonia when the rightful claimant is alive. And of course there will need to be announcement and celebration of the two of yours betrothal."
"I haven't actually asked Cariad yet, Rinoa," Seifer grumbled. "Don't get ahead of yourself. Besides, I think that both magic lessons and catching up with current events takes precedents right now."
Quistis let out a soft sigh of relief. "He's right. I haven't really interacted with people in years. I'm afraid that I am not going to be up to dealing with more than a few people at once right now."
Rinoa blinked as if that hadn't occurred to her. Quistis didn't care. Facing the court when she did not have to interact with them was bad enough. The idea of being the center of attention and having to talk to all those people was more than a little intimidating right now. Quite honestly, just spending time alone with her cousins was a little intimidating to her. It felt like everything had changed so much that now her once closest companions seemed like strangers. But at least she had Seifer here with her. He was at least one thing that was proving constant.
There were several things that Seifer really hadn't thought about when he'd decided that he needed bring Quistis to the Royal Court's attention. One of those things was the fact that he would no longer be able to have Quistis to himself. In fact, he almost thought he was seeing less of her now than before.
It wasn't his Cariad's fault. In fact, she seemed to seek him out whenever possible. And Seifer was well aware that she frequently felt overwhelmed right now. It was very clear to him that Quistis was struggling to adjust to how things had change. It wasn't just the fact that she was returning to familiar places and people who had changed over the years she had been missing. There was also the fact that she was no longer bound by the gaes. After years of having to work around the restrictions on her and there being things that she just couldn't do, freedom was proving to be a bit of a challenge for her. Not that she didn't want her freedom, it was just that Quistis had the tendency to forget she had it at times.
Not that Seifer minded being her oasis of calm and safety amongst all of the chaos around her. And he really couldn't blame her for wanting to escape session with the seamstresses. It was not every day that a princess and a sorceress needed a complete wardrobe made for her, and the Royal Seamstresses were making the most of the opportunity. Which would explain why he and his lady were currently holed up in the library avoiding people.
Quistis did look far more relaxed than he had ever seen her before in a public place. Her nose was buried in a book and her feet were resting in his lap. Seifer himself was quite content to just sit there with his lady and not have to worry about anything.
"Do you think anyone will notice if we don't show up for lunch?"
Seifer chuckled. "Cariad, if we don't show up for lunch, they are going to send out search parties. I think you are going to have accept the fact that your uncle is at the point where he will call out the army is if you even appear to have gone missing."
She made a face. "It was not his fault."
"You know that. I know that. I think that even he knows that. But that doesn't keep him from feeling guilty that it happened or change the fact that he feels like he could have prevented it from happening in the first place." Seifer sighed. "It will get better with time. But they've only just learned what happened to you. You've dealt with it for years, but they're just getting used to the idea of it all."
Closing her book, Quistis sighed again. "I know. It's just…they look at me differently now. It hurts some times to see them so sad when they look at me. And they don't know me any more. I mean love Rinoa and Selphie to bits, but there are times when they start talking to me and seem complete strangers. We've missed so much of each other over the years and I just don't know how to bridge that gap."
Seifer just shrugged. "I don't know what to tell you, Quistis. I think it just may take time. You two seem to do well enough during your magic lessons."
That made his lady smile. Seifer was well aware that Quistis' lessons with Matron and Rinoa were going very well. He wasn't at all surprised that Quistis was proving a natural when it came to magic or that she already had a lot of the ground work laid by her mother, even if Quistis hadn't realized it at the time. That was at least one place in all of this that Quistis felt on solid ground, and that was important. The more at home that Quistis felt right now, the better.
Because Seifer was well aware that they only had so much time. Summer Court was fairly relaxed and no one was pushing much. But when it was over, things would start getting far more serious. While Quistis' reappearance did have many benefits for the country, that did not mean that every one was happy about it. And she did not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. Sooner or later she would be forced to take part in Court politics and the more comfortable Quistis felt about being here the better. She was a power in more ways than one now, and Rinoa couldn't afford for her to become a pawn. But they weren't to that point yet, and Quistis had some time to readjust and prepare.
"There you are," Rinoa's voice disrupted their little oasis of calm. "I was looking for you two. Selphie and I figured it would be a good time catch Quistis up on the current politics."
Seifer groaned. Rinoa just frowned at him.
"Oh don't give me that. You've had her to yourself most of the summer. It's our turn now."
Seifer made a face. That was hardly fair. He and Quistis had spent most the summer stealing moments, and they deserved some time together that wasn't fraught when one of them looking over their shoulders. He understood that Rinoa wanted to reconnect with her cousin, but he rather doubted that politics was the best way to do that. And he knew for sure that Quistis certainly did not like people dictating what she should be doing. She'd had too much of that in her life. Now, if you gave her a choice or suggested something, she most often would go along with what the other party wanted.
And given the irritation he felt trickling through their bond, he would say that Rinoa had already started off on the wrong foot with this one.
"Do you think that we could wait until after lunch for that?" Quistis asked quietly. "I'd like to finish my reading."
Rinoa blinked slightly. "What are you reading?"
"A basic history of Centra. There is a lot about my heritage that I'm still learning."
Rinoa huffed. "That can wait. We need to get you caught up on current politics sooner rather than later. Summer Court won't last much longer, and I'd like to have you participating in it by the time we leave."
Quistis snapped her book shut. "I'm not sure that will be possible. I'm not up to dealing with more than a handful of people I do know most of the time. Quite frankly, attending a court event sounds like a recipe for giving me a panic attack, and I've been informed that at this point in my studies even with my knight present that would be a very bad thing. I am quite happy to talk about politics after lunch, but until then I'll be reading my book."
And with that Quistis stalked off. Seifer remained behind with a rather stunned looking Rinoa. He could feel his lady's anger and frustration through their bond, but he also knew that she needed some alone time to calm down.
"What was that?" Rinoa clearly didn't understand what had just happened.
"That is what happens when you push your cousin too far." Seifer gave the princess a stern look. "I know you mean well, Rinoa, but Quistis is struggling a great deal as it is. She doesn't need you pushing her. And giving her orders of any sort is going to make things even more awkward. It's a reminder she doesn't need, and I know you don't want to be compared to Oriana."
The Crown Princess looked horrified. "I didn't mean to…"
"I know," Seifer assured her. "And Quistis knows too. But you have to remember that she has spent years following order and being controlled. She's going to react badly to be given orders. And she's not the person you knew nor are you the girl she remembers. You both are going to have to get to know one another again, and I think it is going to have to be on her terms. You're going to have to be patient."
Rinoa sighed. "I don't want to be patient. We got her back. I want things to be like they used to between us."
Seifer sighed and shook his head. "Rinoa, it's never going to be the same as it was. Quistis isn't the same person as when she was younger, and neither are you. And you aren't going to be able to move on and have a relationship with her again unless you accept that."
And that was the real challenge that they really faced. For all that Quistis was home now, everything had changed, and if they couldn't figure out how to put things back together in a way that worked for everyone, it was going to splinter Rinoa's court.
Quistis sat crossed legged on the floor as she brushed out her long hair. Rinoa was perched on her bed, idly twisting the rings on her necklace while Selphie braided her hair. She was really only half listening as her cousin traded the latest court gossip with Selphie. Quistis really didn't care all that much. Admittedly, there were some important tidbits that were rather fascinating like how just about any nobles connected to military has thrown their support behind herself and Seifer. While no one exactly was on Oriana's side of things now that her crimes had become clear, that didn't exactly mean that everyone supported Quistis' return. Her reappearance changed court dynamics quite a bit as did the fact that she was a sorceress and Seifer was her knight.
Quistis was still easing herself into life as a part of the Royal Court. She was not really attending Court events yet, but Seifer had started a small campaign for her to get to know the other members of the Royal Court who weren't part of Rinoa's inner circle. Actually, he seemed to think that it was more important for her to get to know the outsiders. She could understand that actually. She would have time to get to know the new additions to Rinoa's court as well as to reforge her relationships with Rinoa and Selphie; they would be spending a lot of time together. But the rest of the Royal Court was another story.
She was very out of touch with court politics these days, and to be honest, she had just barely begun to participate in court events when she'd been gaesed. She hadn't really known the political lay of the land even then, so she had a lot to catch up on, and knowing both who she could trust and to what extent that she could trust them outside of Rinoa's inner circle was important. For one thing, it would keep her from making the all too easy mistake of saying too much to the wrong person. Quistis wasn't going to be able to keep to herself any more. Like it or not (and right now it was really too overwhelming to like), she was going to be a part of this community, and navigating court politics and relationships was something she was going to have to deal with.
And it wasn't all bad. Seifer had introduced her to a number of the younger nobles who were actually quite pleasant and that Quistis wouldn't mind getting to know better. Seifer seemed to have a knack for choosing people who weren't going to ask questions she didn't want to answer. It still felt like she had entered some sort of foreign country at times, but Quistis was beginning to feel like she understood the lay of the land.
She didn't quite know where she fit in any more. At least with Rinoa's court. She was a part of it, but her role really hadn't been defined. Rinoa and Selphie clearly had already established a system and were used to working together. Selphie was the one who did most of the intelligence gathering, picking up useful bits of gossip and other tidbits of information that might prove valuable. Selphie was the one to go to if you wanted to know who was courting who and how that effected the political situation. Quistis could easily see how that was useful, and it definitely gave Rinoa an edge at times.
What she didn't know was what sort of niche that she could fill. Rinoa didn't need another information gatherer, and anyway, Quistis knew she couldn't fill that role as effectively as Selphie. Rinoa herself was a sorceress and so did not really need Quistis in that capacity, plus Rinoa had more training in magic at this point than Quistis did. There really was not something unique that Quistis could contribute to her cousin's personal court at this point, and other than their blood connection, there was no real reason for her inclusion. While they might have been close once, that wasn't the case any more. And not being able to figure out how she might fit in, what role she might be able to play was bothering her. She didn't like feeling useless.
Quistis knew that she wasn't exactly useless, but she was finding much harder to adjust than she'd expected. Well, to be honest, she hadn't really thought about anything beyond getting home. That alone had seemed like an impossibility, so she hadn't even thought beyond it. But now that she was back where she belonged, Quistis found herself struggling to remember that she did belong here. The only things that really made her feel at home were in her magic lessons and when she was with Seifer. Even the palace had changed enough that it no longer felt like her home. More often than not she felt lost and out of place here.
"Quistis? Are you paying attention?" Rinoa's voice pulled her away from her thoughts. "What do you think about having another Centran style party to close out the Summer Court?"
She paused to consider the idea. "That might actually be a good idea. They are much more informal than our parties, and the one I attended seemed to go very well. Plus the relaxed atmosphere would probably be a good idea right now. Even if they aren't showing it much right now, with everything that has happened lately, people are pretty on edge. It also will show that we are not letting Oriana and her machinations aren't controlling us and our actions now."
Rinoa looked surprised. "That's not a bad point. Oriana certainly has put quite a damper on the Summer Court, and I was thinking that it might be a way of getting things up and rolling again. And if we can get at least the courting couples back to that, I'd count it as a success. This is supposed to be an opportunity for people to fall in love."
Quistis blinked at that. "Is that an issue now?"
Rinoa made a face. "Apparently, having plots to trap people in marriage going on puts a damper on romance."
She could certainly understand that. Oriana's plot had definitely affected her own romance, and she could easily imagine that others would be wary about their own romantic entanglements once Oriana's plot was revealed. Courtship was hard enough without having to second guess the motives of everyone involved.
"So," Selphie grinned, "if we are going to put romance back in the air, then we need to come up with quite a party."
The three of them quickly settled in to a discussion of the plans for the party, and Quistis felt herself relax. Maybe this would work out after all.
Seifer was trying not to feel nervous. Normally, he had no problems interacting with King Caraway. The two men got along just fine, especially since Seifer considered Rinoa to practically be his sister. But that was before Seifer got himself romantically involved with the man's only niece. Now Seifer wasn't sure what to expect.
"So, you're going to marry my niece." It was not a question.
"Yes, sir." Seifer didn't even have to think about his response. "Whenever she wants to."
"Interesting caveat," the king said.
Seifer shrugged. "Quistis has had enough decisions forced upon her or taken away from her. I'm not going to put her in a position where she feels like I'm making that decision for her. When we get married, it will be when we both feel ready to do so."
Caraway nodded. "Good. I am not fool enough to try and keep Quistis from something that she wants, and she has made it very clear that she wants you in her life. That said, I am not about to let anyone else hurt, so considered yourself warned. Understood?"
Seifer nodded. "Perfectly. I'd rather die myself than hurt her."
"I'll hold you to that."
With that settled, the atmosphere seemed to lighten. Most of the conversation revolved around what to do with Oriana. The punishment for her crimes was complicated by the fact that she was both a noble and the head of a noble family with ties to the royal family. Everything was going to have to be done exactly by the book if anything was going to stick. Seifer had no doubt that in the end, Oriana was going to get her comeuppance in the end, but he was frustrated with the amount of time it would take. At least they could make sure that the woman was kept locked up until she could be permanently dealt with.
Caraway also had some questions about just how Seifer had met Quistis and just what they had been up to before Seifer had brought her plight to Edea's attention. He had wanted to know everything that Seifer knew about Oriana and what she had done and any other suspicions about her that Seifer might have. It was very clear to Seifer that King Caraway planned to throw everything that he could at Countess Oriana.
"We do have a minor problem, you realize. Well at least until you marry Quistis."
Seifer blinked at the king. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I originally made you the Duke of Caledonia because we thought that Quistis was dead. Technically speaking, the duchy is still Quistis', which leaves you a duke without any lands."
"Do I need any until I marry Quistis?" Seifer asked. "I don't really need the land, and I have enough on my plate right now without adding the responsibility of running a duchy."
Caraway considered this. "You really should have lands of your own quite frankly before you marry Quistis, but we can worry about that later. I agree that you have bigger priorities right now. Some time after the Summer Court is over we can deal with that."
The man paused then gave Seifer a serious look. "How is Quistis really doing? She's too good at hiding what she feels, and I can't read her well any more."
Seifer sighed. "She's holding her own. It's taking time for her both to reestablish her former relationships, and she still struggling with being around crowds of people she doesn't know. She is happy though, and she is making progress even if it isn't as quickly as she'd like. I think that once Summer Court is over with and she can just be around Rinoa's court for awhile things will go a little smoother."
Sighing, Caraway nodded. "Good. Part of me still can't believe we got her back. She's so different than what I remember and yet at the same time, she's not. I am glad that you found her. I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't found her when you did. We could have been looking at a much bigger mess both for Quistis personally and for us politically."
Seifer was able to make his escape soon after that. He very quickly set off in search of his lady. Where he found her surprised him to some extent. Well, Seifer was not at all surprised to find her on the beach. There was a reason he had gone looking for Quistis there. What did surprise him was to find that Quistis was in the middle of a group of young women. It took him a moment to process what he was looking at. Quistis was perched on a piece of driftwood with something held between her hands. Sitting right by her feet on the sand was Rinoa, who held her hands out about a foot apart from one another with something blue grey wrapped around them. Several of the other ladies, including Selphie, were either seated on other pieces of driftwood or on the sand.
After a moment of staring, Seifer finally realized that Quistis was knitting while Rinoa acted as a yarn holder. Seifer blinked. He hadn't known that Quistis could knit. And he wouldn't have expected her to have the supplies to knit at the moment. Then again, Rinoa had kept talking about taking her cousin shopping. What really did stand out to Seifer was the fact that Quistis was smiling and seemed fairly relaxed. And that hadn't happened when she was in a larger group of people in quite awhile.
"Learning to knit was one of the few benefits of being a servant," Quistis said, her fingers a constant blur of motion. "Though I've never gotten to work with materials as fine as these. Still, it is a useful skill."
"What are you making?" one of the younger ladies asked.
Quistis smiled. "A lace scarf. I'm not that talented compared to some of the women, but lace came naturally enough. Just don't ask me to knit a sweater. My attempts have been laughable to date."
"Is it hard to learn?" a dark haired girl asked.
"Not exactly. It does take quite a bit of practice though."
"Huh. I might want to try that," Lady Kara commented.
Quistis looked up and met his eyes. Her smile seemed to brighten. Kara followed the direction of her gaze and grinned.
"I can see we won't be having your full attention for the rest of the afternoon."
"Can you blame me?" Quistis carefully stowed her needles and the scarf so far in a little pouch. She carefully took the rest of the yarn from Rinoa. "Besides, watching me knit all afternoon can't be that interesting."
Nobody mentioned the fact that it was probably Quistis herself that was interesting to them as the group broke up. And as the others left, Seifer noted that while Quistis was a little more relaxed now, she hadn't been upset or unhappy before. In fact, he would say she had been enjoying herself. Once she'd put the yarn away, Seifer linked arms with her, and the two of them wandered their way down the beach.
In many ways, it was rather reminiscent of their earlier days, though really, that was only a few weeks, at most a month ago. It was rather hard to believe how quickly things had changed for them. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Quistis leaned into Seifer and let her mind drift. She was more than happy to just wander along the shoreline with Seifer. It had been a good day so far, but she was feeling rather drained. First she had gone shopping down in the village with Selphie and Rinoa which had been an experience in itself. The best part of it had been being able to purchase a nice set of knitting needles of her own and some truly lovely yarn. That outing had been followed by the impromptu gathering of some of the court ladies on the beach. Thankfully, the group had mostly consisted of people Quistis already knew a little, and it had ended up being quite fun.
Even so, peace and quiet was nice now. Seifer didn't seem to care about making conversation, and she enjoyed the sound of the waves and his presence. While the two of them no longer had to sneak time together in order to see one another, they did not get to spend as much time alone together as Quistis would have liked. Of everyone, it was only Seifer and oddly enough Edea that she felt most comfortable around. With the two of them, she didn't feel the need to put on a good face if she was struggling.
Seifer wrapped his around her shoulders. "So, Cariad, have you made it home?"
She looked up at him startled, remembering that evening when he'd asked her what she wanted. Seifer smiled down at her. Quistis took a deep breath, considering his question.
"Yes. I think so."
"Good." He pressed a kiss to her temple. "Of course, you do know what that means."
"It means I have to ask you again. What do you want, Quistis?"
She didn't have an immediate reply. Quistis couldn't think of anything that she really wanted with the same burning passion that she'd had about going home. At least, nothing that she didn't already have.
"Besides, you? I don't know."
He smiled at that. "I can work with that."
Seifer leaned in and kissed her.
It started quietly. Minako was used to getting fan mail. She might only be a minor actress, but she did have her fair share of fans. Especially since she had gotten several minor roles in BBC shows. It was not that the letters had started off as being strange or threatening, but there had been some thing about them from the start that disconcerted Mina slightly. It might have been the phrasing and the language. From the start they had been rather possessive tone. And they go more so as time went by.
To be fair, she hadn't really noticed at first. There was maybe one letter a month. She could tell that they came from the same person because they looked the same and the language was similar. But Minako was just coming off of an insanely busy schedule, and she hadn't really paid that much attention to them. At least until they started coming every week. That was new, and it caught Minako's attention. There was nothing really wrong about the letters though. They just sounded like a really obsessed fan. Mina figured that they would get bored with her eventually. That was what usually happened.
She had mentioned it to her manager though, just to be on the safe side. He had just brushed it off though, so she figured it was nothing. After all, he had far more experience with this sort of thing than she did. Even so, the weekly letters bothered Minako more than a little, especially as the language in them began to change. Before the letters had been rather adoring if also a little bit possessive. Now there was a shift in their tone that was really starting to unnerve her. Between that and the frequency of the letters, she was a little creped out.
And that was when she began to notice the pattern in reactions as well. She'd taken the letters once again to her manager, and he had once again blown her off about them. Which hadn't made her feel any better. And the letters did bother her, so she took the matter to her mother. The reaction she got was not the one that she expected.
"Oh, wonderful. That's a sign that your career is really beginning to take off. People who play bit parts don't get crazy fan mail."
Minako blinked. She had never really thought of it that way. She wasn't entirely sure that she agreed with her mother's assessment of the situation. But it was rather clear that she wasn't going to get any sympathy from the woman. After that, Mina just tried to ignore the letters. Tried being the operative word. It was hard to ignore them when they kept coming every week and then twice a week. The tone of the letters had completely changed now too. They were still possessive, but now they were also more demanding and darker.
And they were beginning to creep her out more than just a little. Not that she could convince any one that it was an actual problem. She was used to people dismissing her concerns, but this time it was serious. Both her parents and her manager tended to take her ditziness as lack of intelligence. Mina just wasn't good at keep track of things like where she put her backpack or what time it was. She got caught up in things easily and often got distracted if she wasn't interested in the subject at hand. But she had never forgotten a line on stage, and she could translate the legalese in her contracts to real English with ease. She might be a teenage girl (well, she was almost twenty), but that didn't make her an idiot.
The letters were scaring her, and Minako was starting to jump at shadows. She had noticed just how personal they were. There were details in them now that shouldn't be there, not unless the writer was watching her. And she was beginning to think that that was a very real possibility, and since no one was listening to her concerns, she would have to deal with it herself the best she could. At least she had some resources at her disposal.
Sort of. Well, she was going to have to get Usagi's boyfriend to call in a favor with one of his friends, but at least it was some thing. Thankfully, Mamoru was more than willing to set up a meeting for her with his friend who was a police detective. Minako didn't really know what to expect from Kenzie MacLeod. She didn't really know anything about him except that he was a police detective and that he was Mamoru's friend.
Minako shivered and pulled her coat closer around her as she entered the coffee shop. Hopefully, this would work.
Kenzie wasn't sure what to expect from Mamoru's girlfriend's friend. Mamoru had been vague about what the young woman's problem was, but he had to admit that he was a little curious about it. In his experience, most teenagers did not seek help from law enforcement if they thought they were in trouble. Admittedly, if she was Usagi's age, she would just barely be a teenager, but nineteen really was not the most sensible age. He had to admit that he was rather surprised when the petite blond approached him.
Dressed in a navy blue peacock and will her hair pulled back in a thick braid, she looked more like a college student than an actress, and it took him a moment to place her, but when she smiled, it clicked into place. She'd been on Doctor Who recently.
"Sergeant MacLeod?" Her English was unaccented.
"Miss Aino," he smiled. "Would English or Japanese be easier for you? I'm fluent in both."
She shrugged slightly. "Same here. And Minako is fine."
She slid into the seat opposite him clutching her coffee with a white knuckled grip. Kenzie reevaluated his assumptions on how serious this was. Even if it was only a minor issue, the young woman was extremely tense and afraid. It couldn't be good for her.
"Mamoru didn't give me any details. How about you start from the beginning and tell me everything you can remember abut this?"
She nodded, sipping her coffee. "I can do that."
Slow but surely, she began to relate the entire story from the beginning with far more detail than Kenzie would have expected from a civilian. She included her own reactions to events, and Kenzie found his eyebrows climbing. This was a very sensible young woman, and the fact that her concerns had consistently been dismissed worried him. She was right that it was some thing to be concerned with.
"Do you still have all of the letters and their envelopes?" he asked. "I'd like to have some one take a look at them."
"You believe me? That it is serious I mean." Her relief was palpable.
"It is some thing to be concerned about. Given what we have right now, it would be hard to take any action other than increase whatever security you currently have and take more precautions in your daily routine. Still, I'll look into the letters, and I want you not to hesitate to call the police if your stalker escalates again."
Minako let out a deep sigh and slumped back in her seat. "Thank you. I've got the letters with me. Everything is in individual ziplock bags."
Kenzie nodded. "Good. I'll keep you updated. And don't hesitate to call for help if you think you needed. In cases like these, it is far better to be safe than to be sorry."
She smiled at him. "Thank you. You don't know how good that is to hear."
Minako handed over the letters as well as her contact information. Kenzie gave her his card with his personal cell phone number scrawled on the back. He had the feeling that she would need it. Given what she had told him so far, it would take an actual assault before her parents or her manager actually involved law enforcement. So it would probably be up to Minako to keep the ball rolling.
Once the young woman had left, Kenzie headed immediately for his office. He wanted to take a closer look at the letters and try and get a better feel for the stalker. This would not be the first time that he'd worked on a stalking case, and typically the more they knew about the stalker and their motivations, the easier it was to find them.
Reading the letters, it quickly became easy to see why Minako had quickly become concerned. What Kenzie didn't like was just how quickly her stalker was escalating or the fact that it was pretty clear this person was watching Minako on a regular basis. At this rate, he was going to be escalating in more and more dangerous ways very quickly. Kenzie would not at all be surprised if Minako started getting photos of herself in the letters soon. At least that would allow them to better figure out just how close to Minako this guy was.
Unfortunately, whoever this was, he had been careful. There were no fingerprints that were able to be lifted, no DNA on the envelopes, and no useful trace materials. It wasn't much to go on. Which was frustrating. Kenzie hated being reduced to waiting for the criminal to make the next move, but it was what he was stuck with right now. He had filed the paperwork to make this an official case at least. That was progress. It meant that when the criminal made his next move, they would be able to act immediately.
He was concerned about Minako though. When he'd met her she'd already been tense and strung out, in part because no one was taking her concerns seriously, but Kenzie was also pretty sure that the situation in general was getting to her as well. Having to play the waiting game with the stalker was not going to be easy on her nerves, and the fact that she had very little support from those around her would not make things any easier.
Minako kept him updated on what was going on and sent on any other letters she received. Things kept up with their typical pattern for another three weeks. Then the pattern changed. Kenzie knew something had happened as soon as he walked in to his office to find Minako waiting for him. She looked far more like a teenager than the self-composed starlet Kenzie was used to seeing, and she was close to hysteria.
"We've gotten to the photo stage," her voice was flat and emotionless. "I showed them to both to my parents and my manager. My manager was pleased. He thought it would be a good idea to release pictures of me in my underwear taken by a creepy stalker to the public. He thought it could generate buzz around me and attract some attention."
Not really knowing what to say in response to that, Kenzie just wrapped her in a warm hug. After a few moments, Minako relaxed in to the embrace with a soft sigh. She dropped her head on to his shoulder and shut her eyes.
"There are days when I just want to quit and run away. Go to college and live a normal life. I mean as much as I love acting this whole business is slowly eroding any pleasure I get out of it. Things were tense with both my parents and my manager before, but now it's like we don't even speak the same language. But it feels too much like letting the stalker win if I do that."
"You could always get yourself a new manager," he suggested. "You are old enough now that you don't need your parents to sign off on your contracts any more."
Mina just shrugged. "Trust me. I'm thinking about it."
With a soft sigh, she extricated herself from his embrace and produced a sealed bag with several photos inside. Kenzie took the bag, and the two of them got down to business. It was a fairly familiar routine at this point. Mina tended to bring in any new letters herself and go over any pertinent details with him. He had gotten to know the young woman fairly well over the past couple of weeks, and he'd found he rather like the person behind the public persona. And he was well aware that she was deeply unhappy with more than just the situation with the stalker and how it was being handled by her parents and her manager.
"Remember, call me if you even just think that some thing is wrong," he smiled at her. "I'd rather have false alarms than you getting hurt."
She gave him a half smile. "I know."
Her room wasn't the sanctuary it used to be but at the very least it did give her some alone space. Plus she had her own bathroom, and that did not have any windows. Mina groaned as she turned on the shower. Her back was killing her. Today's photo shoot had been ridiculous, and she was definitely feeling a number of the poses she'd held. Hopefully, the hot shower would make her feel human again.
It did make her feel a little bit better, and she had to admit there really was something comforting about slipping into clothes that you knew you would never wear in public. Her leggings were just about threadbare, her tank top wasn't in much better condition, and the oversized cashmere sweater she pulled on over that had holes in it. The sweater was probably the most comfortable thing that she owned, and Minako adored it even if it was falling apart. Wrapped up in her comfort clothes, Mina was finally beginning to feel herself again.
To be honest, she rather hated most photo shoots. On the rare occasion they could a lot of fun, but most of the time any more they were a chore more than anything else. Reaching for a battered paperback, Mina curled up on her bed and dove back into the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. It was hours before she came up for air.
It was still pouring rain out, and as much as Minako didn't want to get up, she was really craving a cup of tea. It was one of the habits she'd picked up in England that she'd never really shaken. Her mother might tease her about the habit, but Mina found it soothing. She headed downstairs to find that she was the only one home. That was actually a relief. Minako went through the motions of making herself a nice strong pot of tea and perched on one of the bar stools as she waited for the tea to steep. The tattoo of the rain on the windows was almost soothing.
She was enjoying the peace and quiet up until the point she realized that she was very visible where she was sitting given the kitchen's large plate glass windows. And it felt like she was being watched. She stared out into the grey, misty evening trying to find her unseen watcher. She clutched her mug tightly, biting her lip. She did not want to be here any more. Any feeling of safety and comfort she'd had earlier was gone. Frowning, Mina tried to remember where her parents were.
The phone rang before she could come up with the answer. With a sigh, she grabbed the handset.
"Hi, this is Minako."
There was no response. Just breathing on the other end. Minako bit her lip.
She hung up. Minako stared at the phone for a moment, and then it started ringing again. Her instinct was to pick up. But instead she picked up her half full mug and dumped it in the sink. Then she pulled the curtains shut. As much as that made her feel closed in and trapped, she preferred that to the feeling of being watched. For a moment she just stood in the kitchen, listening to the ringing phone and trying not to panic. Her parents would gone overnight. They were attending some party out of town hosted by some one her father worked with. There was no way she was staying here on her own. And she wasn't bringing her stalker any closer to her friends than she had to.
Which didn't really leave her with many options. The phone stopped ringing. There was silence for a few moments, and then it started again. Minako made her decision. Grabbing her cell phone and her purse, she called a cab. Then she grabbed an old pair of tennis shoes and a raincoat. Thirty minutes later she was slipping quietly in to a police station. It said something that none of the officers took much note of her presence. A couple of them even offered her a friendly smile and wave as she head for Kenzie's office.
He looked up from his paperwork and offered her a smile which almost immediately turned in to a worried frown.
"I think he was calling the house. No one answered on the other end, but I could hear breathing. My parents won't be back until tomorrow night, and I couldn't stay in the house knowing that he was watching me."
Kenzie frowned at her, getting up out of his chair to take her coat. "Are you all right?"
She nodded. "Shaken more than anything else. I just couldn't stay there any longer."
Kenzie smiled gently at her. "I've got another hour before I'm off. We can pick up curry from that place you like on our way to my place. You can crash there until your parents get back."
The knot of tension in her chest loosened, and Minako could finally breath easily again. "Thank you."
"It's not a problem, sweetheart." He kissed her forehead.
Minako curled up in the extra chair in his office, snagging the battered paperback copy of The Eyre Affair that she knew Kenzie kept hidden underneath the paperwork in his inbox. They might not have solved the problems with her stalker yet, but at least she wasn't alone in this any more. And for the first time in ages, she finally felt safe.
Out of Habit
The first time he asked her it was admittedly not the best time to ask. It was their one year anniversary, but Retsu had just come off of a sixteen hour shift, and he had spent the day in court. Still, it was their anniversary, and the two of them had been determined to celebrate the date in one way or another. So they had picked up their favorite take out order and gotten a cheesy romantic comedy to watch.
It had been a nice enough evening, though rather short on conversation as neither of them were really up for it. Jyuushiro had pulled out the fortune cookies and said, "Maybe we should get married."
When Retsu had not responded, he'd turned to find her asleep on his shoulder. So Jyuu had set aside the idea for another time.
The second time Jyuushiro asked Retsu he admittedly had not exactly been at his best. He did have a head injury and was high on pain killers. There had been an incident in court that morning, and Jyuu had ended up with four broken ribs and a concussion. He had not been surprised when Retsu had showed up in his hospital room, but he had been rather out of it and rambling. Still, he had been happy to see her.
"Retsu! I like your scrubs. They have ice cream on them. Ice cream would be good right now. You know you're the only one besides myself that I know who likes wasabi ice cream? We should get married. That way we could always have wasabi ice cream in the freezer."
She had smiled and rolled her eyes at him.
The third time that Jyuushiro Ukitake asked Retsu Unohana to marry him he was interrupted. Which was rather unfortunate. Jyuu had it all planned out. Shunsui had helped get this set up. It wasn't the first time he had thought about doing this after all, and he had bought the ring ages ago. This time the proposal was not a spur of the moment thing or an drug induced one. So of course some thing had to ruin it.
Jyuu had smiled at Retsu across the table and reached for her hand. Taking it in his own, Jyuushiro began the speech he had prepared.
"Retsu, we've been friends and lovers for years now, and I know that-"
It was at that moment that a drunken idiot drove his convertible in to the restaurant. Jyuushiro set aside the proposal for another occasion.
The fourth time that Jyuu proposed to Retsu, it was Shunsui's fault, and no one took it seriously. To be fair, all four of them were completely smashed at the time. Jyuushiro had just won a major court case while Shunsui's manuscript had finally been accepted by a publisher. This, of course, called for celebration.
So Shunsui had dragged himself, Retsu, and Nanao Ise, who was Shunsui's new editor, off to a dive bar. Like most of the places that Shunsui found, the food and sake more than made up for its atmosphere. And they were all in a good mood and coming off of a rather crazy week, so several hours in to their little celebration, every one, with perhaps the exception of Nanao, was more than a little bit tipsy. It was not long before Shunsui started needling Jyuu about the fact that he still hadn't managed to propose to Retsu yet.
Jyuushiro had been drunk enough to consider this a challenge. So he'd climbed on to their table and proceeded to spontaneously rap a proposal. Retsu had been too busy laughing afterwards to give an answer. It had not been a very good rap, and he was mortified when he remembered it the next morning. It was really just as well that everyone ignored that one.
The fifth time that Jyuushiro proposed to Retsu, it was not technically a proposal. It was more of a statement of intent to propose to her. He had just been frustrated with the fact that it seemed like every single time he tried to propose to his girlfriend, some thing happened to mess things up. Case in point.
He'd been planning to figure out a proposal today. Unfortunately, their romantic picnic was rather interrupted by a downpour, and Jyuu had just give up.
"Every time. Every time I try to press my luck and do this. It's like the universe is conspiring to keep me from proposing to you."
Retsu laughed and kissed him despite the fact that they were both getting drenched.
She pulled out of the kiss and took his hands in her own. "Marry me, sweetheart?"
For a moment he just stared at her. Then despite the rain and the mess and the fact that he was supposed to be proposing. Jyuu grinned.
Jyuushiro slipped the ring onto her finger, and then they ran for the cover of the trees.
Kitahoshi realized that he had a problem. Unfortunately, doing some thing about it was the problem. Despite having five best selling novels already and having made his living as an author for several years now, novel number six was proving to be a rather large stumbling block. The problem was none of his recent ideas seemed to pan out. He would start writing some thing, and then it would end to quickly, he would get bored with the concept, or he just could not figure out how to make the story work the way he wanted it to. It was very frustrating.
He had tried just about every thing he could to try and break his writer's block. It was the reason why he was trying to write here in a busy coffee shop rather than in his study at home. Kitahoshi actually hated writing in public, but he had been hoping that people watching might help with his story ideas. It hadn't worked so far. So far, Kitahoshi had only gotten annoyed with his fellow coffee shop goers. They were in the least bit interesting, even in a bad way. If they had been truly horrible people, he might have had some thing to work with. But really, they were all just mundane and obnoxious.
Sighing, he sipped at his coffee and regretted getting it real mug instead of a paper one. He'd stay until he'd finished his drink, and then he'd go home and try to write there again. The bell on the door tinkled, but Kitahoshi did not bother to look away from his view out of the window. At least, not until the bell rang again, and the sound of angry footsteps echoed through the coffee shop. That made him look up. A man with white blond hair was stalking towards a pretty blond woman in a madras sundress.
"You can't do this to me," he snarled, grabbing her arm and yanking.
The young woman stood her ground, her face transforming in to stony mask. "It is my career and my choice. You do not get to control every aspect of my life. Let go and leave before some one calls the police."
The man glared at her. The young woman just held her ground. Then without warning he released her, shoving her in the process. The young woman ended up in Kitahoshi's lap, wearing his coffee, as the man stalked out. A pair of wide sapphire eyes met his own, and the young woman blushed, even as she climbed out of his lap.
"I am so sorry. Let me get you another coffee."
Kitahoshi shook head. "Really, that is not necessary."
"I insist." She smoothed down her dress as she stood. "Please?"
Kitahoshi smiled slightly. "All right."
"What would you like?"
"A café au lait, please."
He watched as she walked over to the counter to order, observing the young woman. She was fairly petite, and she moved with a grace that spoke of training in dance at some point. Her clothing was fashionable, if simple and style, and the little jewelry she wore was expensive and understated. Off hand, Kitahoshi would guess she was a model or an actress of some sort. She spoke perfect Japanese, but with her blond hair, he would guess that at least one parent might be European. While she waited for his drink, Kitahoshi played through several various histories for her. The one he liked best ended up being in an urban fantasy setting and gave her a mysterious past and an imperative quest to find a lost fae princess. That actually might work.
Just as he started jotting down notes the character and her world, the young woman returned carrying two paper cups. She held one out to him with an embarrassed smile.
"Minako Aino. I am really sorry about this."
He took the offered cup. "Kitahoshi Ishikawa. It's not your fault. Are you all right?"
Minako sighed softly. "Yes. That could have been a lot worse. Ace has always had a temper, and I'm just glad his little temper tantrum was as restrained as it was."
"I would not have called that restrained, but then you know him better than I do."
She shrugged delicately. "As I said it could have been worse. Things have been very tense at work lately."
"Would you like to talk about it?" he asked.
She made a face. "It's a long story."
"I have time."
Part of Kitahoshi was surprised by his invitation. He tended to prefer his writing to people, and volunteering to spend time with a stranger was very out of character for him. But he found that he was interested in knowing more about Minako Aino, even if it was just to help him figure out a character for his book. She slid in to the seat opposite him.
It was not long before Kitahoshi found himself meeting Minako for coffee on a regular basis. And only part of it was for research on his book. He had been on a roll with writing since meeting Mina. And not only was his sixth novel coming along quite well, but Kitahoshi had found he had material for an entire series. The real truth of the matter was he liked Mina's company.
He had been right about his initial assessment. Minako was an actress. She had also worked as a model and an idol singer as well. In fact, part of the dispute with Ace had been the fact that Mina had lately dropped working as an idol from her resume. She had felt that the image it projected did not match with where she wanted her career to go. Ace, who had basically been riding on her coattails, had taken exception to that. Hence the scene in the coffee shop.
As it turned out, Minako was one of the few people the young bibliophile enjoyed spending time with. He was more than a little surprised to Minako was fairly well read.
"Mostly because I really want to get a part in one of the BBC adaptations, and I want to know what I might be signing up for," she had admitted one day with a grin.
Kitahoshi had admitted that she had inspired his latest novel at about their fourth meeting. Minako had blinked at him and then had asked if she could read the manuscript before it was published then. He'd promised her the first copy of the book. Which he was now holding as he nervously waited for his girlfriend to show up. She had called to tell him that she was running late after an audition.
Minako breezed through the coffee shop door with a bright smile. She made a beeline straight for Kitahoshi.
"I got the part!"
He smiled at her and kissed her cheek. "Congratulations. I guess that makes my present all the more appropriate."
"You didn't have to get me anything."
"Well, it is your book in more ways that one." He handed her the copy of his book. "I don't think that I would have written it without you."
Heard It Through the Grapevine
One of the things you learned very quickly about being a part of the Gotei Thirteen was that gossip spread far and wide. It was not exactly an accurate barometer of what was going on, but it did very often give a basic run down of what might be going on at any one time. It was both useful and supremely frustrating at the same time. Gossip had a way of getting out of hand around here, and Nanao knew better than to pay it much heed unless she was looking for a good laugh.
For example, take the latest hot topic to make the rounds. The word was that Captain Ukitake was passionately in love with some mystery women he had met in a bar. There was quite a bit of effort being put in to trying to figure out who the woman was, where she had come from, and if any one knew her. There were all sort of rumors and speculation flying around about the whole thing, and the interesting part was it this was both true and untrue.
Nanao knew this because she had been there at the bar when they had been spotted by some lower ranked shinigami. Her captain had dragged her along for the anniversary celebration of his and Captain Ukitake's graduation from the academy. Nanao really had not minded much. They had been in a booth, and the shinigami who had spotted them really had not gotten a clear look at the other woman with them. This was in part because Jyuushiro Ukitake had been kissing her senseless.
It was true that Jyuushiro Ukitake was passionately in love with the woman he had been kissing. But, he had not met Retsu Unohana in a bar, and the relationship was in no way new. From the stories that Shunsui had told her, Captain Ukitake and Captain Unohana had been involved with one another romantically for centuries. They had, amazing though, managed to keep the whole thing rather quiet over the years. Nanao could understand that. Some times it was nice not to have your private life the topic of public conversation.
In the end though, the latest round of gossip probably would not matter. It was not one of those things that needed to be nipped in the bud to protect some one's reputation, and clearly, Captain Ukitake and Captain Unohana did not mind. Nanao sighed. Now she could just get her fellow division members to focus on their paperwork instead of the gossip.
Songs You Know By Heart
Kenzie woke to the sound of his girlfriend singing. That didn't surprise him in the slightest. Music was part of Minako, and she often sang to herself. Since she had moved in with him, Kenzie had become used to her voice. He knew its tones and inflections well. What she sang tended to reflect her mood. Right now she was feeling cheerful, which was rather surprising given that it was close to six in the morning on a Saturday. Kenzie normally had to be up at this time in the morning while Mina was dead to the world if she had a choice about it.
He lay in best listening to the sound of running water and the cheery strains of a pop song. For once, he had Saturday off, and he wasn't planning on getting up just yet. Kenzie wracked his brain to figure out what his girlfriend was going up at this hour. Still, there was some thing pleasant about listening to her putter around the apartment singing to herself. Kenzie recognized the music now. It was one of the latest pop hits from some female singer from the States. It wasn't some thing that Kenzie himself would normally listen to, but since Mina had come into his life, he had quickly become familiar with pop music. Though he did find it rather fascinating that one of Mina's favorite things to do was watch bad pop song reviews on the internet. It was an interesting window into her personality.
The sound of her voice, soft, happy, and content, told him that all was right with the world. He'd learned early on that it was what her voice sounded like rather than what she was actually saying that told the real story. Even her silences said something. Though, silence often meant something was truly wrong. Kenzie would take the sound of her voice, even when it was hard and flat with anger, over silence.
He was letting the sound of her voice lull him back to sleep when his girlfriend came bouncing into the room. She was dressed more formally than an early morning shopping trip with the girls called for, so that couldn't be the reason she was up. Minako beamed and him and leaned in to kiss his nose.
"I'm off to a video interview with the BBC. With any luck I can nab that part on Doctor Who. I should be home by lunch."
Kenzie smiled back at her. "Break a leg, Mina mine."
He listened to her voice softly fade as she left the apartment. And he wasn't surprised at all when Mamoru caught him humming the same tune later that day.
There were days when Retsu was tempted to hit her boyfriend over the head with something. Jyuu was a wonderful person, and she was glad that he was as passionate about his work as she was about her. But then there was his habit of getting caught up in his work and forgetting about things like eating and sleeping which really bothered both the doctor in her and the girlfriend in her. Jyuushiro had the tendency to worry about others and forget his own welfare, and there times when that took its toll. But it was a well engrained habit at this point, especially when there was something major like this current case going on.
So she wasn't at all surprised to find her boyfriend hunched over his desk with dozens of papers spread out in front of him. It was the same position he'd been in when she had dropped by this morning. It was now almost nine o'clock at time. Retsu shook her head and sighed. Then she went searching for Jyuu's legal assistant. Well, technically speaking, Nanao Ise was both Shunsui and Jyuushiro's legal assistant. And if one was being completely fair, they would acknowledge that this law firm could basically be run by the young woman.
Retsu found the young woman with her arms full of carryout boxes. She offered Retsu a tired smile.
"Hey, Dr. Unohana. Here to see Mr. Ukitake?"
"Yes. Would you like a hand with that?'
"Thanks," Nanao smiled, shifting the boxes in her arms. "You can take Mr. Ukitake's. I ordered extra for him. I thought you might be by. I'm going to go make Mr. Kyoraku eat something. Would you see if you can convince Mr. Ukitake to go home? I think they could both use some sleep."
"I'll do my best."
The younger woman held out a stack of boxes. "Thanks."
Retsu listened with half an ear to Nanao's conversation with Jyuushiro's best friend. He wasn't happy about being interrupted, but Nanao was just as stubborn as he was. If she had to bet on an outcome, it would be that Shunsui ate his dinner and went home. Retsu could hear Shunsui's voice even as she headed into Jyuu's office. "Don't nag, Nanao-chan."
"All right then, I'll just let you pass out from hunger next time."
Retsu shook her head once again and turned her attention to the silver haired man still hunched over his desk.
"Hey you. Have you eaten?"
Jyuushiro looked up, startled. "Sweetheart. I didn't know you were here."
"That much was clear. Nanao ordered you some dinner."
She began setting out the take out boxes.
"She really deserves a raise."
"She really deserves to run the law firm you and Shunsui keep talking about starting."
Jyuushiro grinned at her. "That too."
The two of them settled down to eat. After a few moments of silence, Retsu finally asked, "How is it going?"
Jyuu sighed. "We're getting there, but there's still a lot to do. The research is killing me though. I think I've read the same paragraph five times in the last ten minutes."
"Maybe you should call it a night and get some sleep then."
"I don't have time for that. The deadline for this is approaching quicker than I like."
"Is it going to get done faster if you have to do it twice since you made mistakes?"
Jyuushiro let out a sigh and nodded.
"You win. Sleep it is." He smiled up at her. "Thank you, Retsu."
She kissed him. "You're welcome. Finish you dinner. I can hear our bed calling us."