Mina & Kunzite

Heart Strings

Title: Heart Strings
Rating: PG
Fandom: Sailor Moon
Spoilers/Warnings: AU
Pairing: Kunzite x Minako
Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon or its characters.
Theme: #27 - Hope/Despair
Summery: Mina does some matchmaking.

Heart Strings

Once Makoto had fallen asleep, Minako decided to do something. This was not the first time she had comforted one of her girlfriends after she'd gotten her heart broken by some guy. She'd been doing it since they were in high school. But Minako had decided that she was getting tired of it. She was fed up with the losers who kept hurting her friends, and she was going to do something about. Someone clearly needed to take matters into hand anyway. Usagi was blissfully happy with Mamoru, and really, she had enough on her plate right now without dealing with her friends' romantic woes.

And it really was more of her prevue anyway. Minako might not have had a long term relationship herself, but that was more due to the fact that had yet to meet anyone who she was interested in that with. And that didn't stop her from being able to see what her friends needed. Rei needed someone who would challenge her. Ami needed someone who could bring her out of her shell. Makoto needed someone who would support her. And the truth of the matter was that all three of them were far more mature than most boys their age. So, decent boyfriends for her closest friends; she could do that.

Mina decided to start with Rei, mostly because she had a feeling that was going to be a long term project. Rei didn't trust easily and getting past her walls was a task and a half. Thankfully, the person Mina had in mind was almost as stubborn as Rei, and he already liked her, even if he hadn't done anything about it yet. Jaden Kinoshita was a martial artist and oddly enough working a doctorate in religion and philosophy. While he was a friend of Mamoru's, he and Mina had actually met when she was in England. In fact, he'd been one of her tutor's when she'd been acting in a BBC production. That had actually been one of the better child acting parts her parents had roped her into. Anyway, Jaden already like Rei, so what Mina really need was a reason for the two of them to spend time together.

Rei ended up providing that herself. She needed help at the temple during a week long festival, and that was just up Jaden's alley. So Mina volunteered him. She figured that a week in each other's company would either kill one another or at least start moving in the right direction. The festival would give the two of them to see what they had in common at least, and Rei wouldn't be quite as bored when he went off on long winded explanations of various philosophical disciplines.

With that set in motion, Mina moved on to the next stage of her plan. The festival was actually a great excuse. The girls would all be going, and it was a great opportunity to toss them together with a few people Mina knew. Okay, technically speaking, they already knew most of the guys that Mina want to set them up with. Mamoru had some really great friends. Mina actually knew them more through Jaden than through Mamoru, but still they were decent guys who weren't going to break her friends' hearts.

So when the festival rolled around, Minako meddled. It really wasn't all that hard. A few nudges in the right direction had Ami and Zach discussing some recent breakthrough in the medical profession with Makoto and Nathan abandoned them for food. Mamoru and Usagi had already wandered off hand in hand, and Rei and Jaden were busy with running the temple's booth. That just left herself and Kenzie MacLeod at lose ends. Still, it was a good start.

"You're up to something." Kenzie's low voice shook her out of her thoughts.

Minako shrugged. "Just a nudge or two in the right direction."

He quirked an eyebrow at her. "So you're meddling."

Like Jaden, Mina knew Kenzie from her time in England. The young police officer had actually dealt with several minor cases on set during the filming of a soap opera she had been in. The two of them had struck up an odd friendship after she had helped him solve a string a petty thefts. He might take things far too seriously in Mina's mind, but he was a good friend to have.

"I wouldn't call it meddling exactly." She smiled at Kenzie and linked her arm with his. "I'm giving them a window of opportunity to make some thing happen. It's entirely up to them what they make of the opportunities. But at least I know this way that my friends aren't going to get their hearts broken by uncaring jerks."

"And you're not worried about the potential consequences?"

"What? You mean Rei quite possibly killing Jaden? That was going to happen whether or not I did anything. You all are Mamoru's friends, the girls' are Usagi's, we were going to spend time together whether we liked it or not. This way we get more hope than despair, and you all don't have to hear about more douchey boyfriends."

Kenzie sighed and shook his head. "I just hope you know what you're doing."

"Trust me. Give them a few years, and we'll be attending four wedding. Or at least three weddings and funeral depending how Rei and Jaden take to one another." She laughed and kissed his cheek. "Now come on. I saw a booth making shaved ice."

Arm in arm, the pair of them headed off to enjoy the festival themselves. Mina considered it a good evening of work.

Ukitake & Unohana

Not His Day

Title: Not His Day
Rating: PG
Fandom: Bleach
Spoilers/Warnings: None
Pairing: Jyuushiro Ukitake x Retsu Unohana
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
Theme: #08 - Don't Gossip
Summery: Jyuushiro is having a really bad day.

Not His Day

Jyuu had already been having a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day. Nothing seemed to be going right for him, and he was glad that it was almost over. It certainly hadn't started well. He'd overslept and had to go without breakfast. His car was in the shop, and Jyuu had missed his first train and then found himself squished in a corner of the train car for the forty-five minutes of his commute, and the day had not gotten any better.

Everything that could go wrong did from dropped cups of coffee to misplacing files. Everything that just couldn't go wrong also did from last minute changes in judges on delicate court cases to his best legal assistant getting food poising and being hospitalized when he needed her to finish the research for a major upcoming court case. By lunch, Jyuu was tearing out his hair. By the time he finally left work, almost an hour and half after he'd planned to go home, all he wanted to do was go home and go to sleep. Tomorrow had to be better.

But first he had to pick up his girlfriend from work. Retsu at least he was looking forward to seeing. He was looking forward to picking up his girlfriend and going home. Knowing Retsu, she would find some way to make the day end well at least. And Jyuushiro kept believing that right up until he walked into Retsu's department of the hospital. It hadn't mattered that he'd had to park three blocks away or that it had started pouring rain, and he didn't have an umbrella, a hat, or even a newspaper to keep the rain off him.

So bedraggled and wet, Jyuu arrived at Retsu's floor only to find a rather odd scene. Retsu was standing at the nurse's station, pressed back against the desk. In front of her was a man in a three piece suit down on one knee. There was a bouquet of red roses on the floor beside him, and he was holding one of the largest diamond rings that Jyuushiro had ever seen. Over the man's head, Retsu's horrified eyes met his. It was rather clear that he had just interrupted a proposal. To his girlfriend.

In all honesty, he didn't know how to react. He was just stuck there in shock while whoever this idiot was proceeded to announce in the most purple prose imaginable that he wanted to marry Jyuushiro's girlfriend. It did not help in the slightest that this man, whoever he was, looked like he'd walked out of a GQ ad while Jyuu felt like crap and probably looked like it as well. Today could not get any worse.

Then Retsu lost her temper. Which Jyuushiro hadn't expected. While he might adore his longtime girlfriend, she was frankly terrifying when she got truly mad. And it sound like she hadn't had that great a day either. Then the cordless phone she was holding slipped out of her wildly gesturing hand, and Jyuushiro didn't remember anything else.

When he opened his eyes, Retsu was smiling down at him, though there was a worried furrow in her brow.

"Retsu?"

"Hey, you're back with me. How to the head feel?"

"Sore. What happened? The last thing I remember was someone proposing to you?"

She sighed. "I was hoping you weren't going to remember that. Still, it will probably be all over the hospital no matter I how much I tell people not to gossip. I, uh, accidentally beaned you in the head while yelling at the idiot."

Jyuushiro sighed. Still, it was about par for the course for today.

"Don't feel too bad, sweetheart. Can I just go back to sleep until tomorrow?"

That made her laugh and kiss his forehead. "As long as you don't mind me waking you up every hour to make sure your concussion isn't too bad, sure."

Jyuushiro sighed. Still, at least the night was already half over. And on the up side, tomorrow had to be a better day.

Bleach - 8th Division

Delicate and Deadly

Title: Delicate and Deadly
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: Bleach
Spoilers/Warnings: AU. I am not very familiar with the Bleach anime, and Katen Kyokotsu's personality is based on the manga and my own suppositions.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
Summery:
A mysterious pair of swords draws Nanao into the shadows, and she finds that just maybe she belongs there as well.


Delicate and Deadly

Nanao would never really remember more than vague impressions and emotions of what followed. And both Shunsui and Jyuushiro seemed to delight in describing her attack as 'the glowing pink kidou cloud of doom'. What Nanao did know was this: when the battle haze finally faded, Shunsui was pressing a scarf to his bleeding side, there were several more shinigami present, and Stark appeared to have been reduced to a pile of fine, grey ash. At least, Nanao hoped that was Stark. If he had gotten away, she was going to be very put out.

Rangiku was hovering near her, close enough to touch her. The other woman's lips curved up in a smile.

"Are you back with us now?"

At Nanao's nod, the quirk of Rangiku's lips became a full blown smile. "Good. That will make dealing with Shunsui much easier. He did not want to leave you until he was sure you might not attack some one trying to help thinking you were protecting him."

Nanao blinked. "Surely I wasn't that much of a threat to the others?"

Rangiku smiled slightly. "Nanao, you pretty much vaporized Stark with that last kidou spell. We didn't want to take any chances."

"Oh."

Rangiku shook her head. "Now don't look so worried. You would not be the first shinigami who has reacted with unexpected force when some one they loved was in danger. Besides, I have it on fairly good authority that it wasn't just your power that you were channeling there."

Before Nanao could really think about that, she found herself being debriefed by a shinigami she did not recognize, but who was clearly a captain. Then she was whisked off to the Eighth Division headquarters. There Nanao soon found herself relegated to a quiet corner of Shunsui's office with a cup of tea. That was just as well to her mind. She found herself both exhausted and overwhelmed and her concern for Shunsui kept her from really resting. That and a sense of duty.

No one could tell her just how injured Shunsui was or where exactly he was. But it was clear that he wasn't currently running the Eighth. So that task fell to Nanao. Not that there was much to do at the moment other than reassure the division members who wandered into the room that everything was fine. Of course, Nanao didn't know that for sure, but it seemed that she was good at faking confidence. She was hoping that someone would eventually come and tell her what was going on.

She didn't know how many cups of tea later, Rangiku swept into the office and frowned at her.

"What are you doing here? Never mind, I can guess. Byakuya's an idiot who didn't realize that you should have been sent over to Shunsui's once he was done with you rather than cooling your heels here. We've been wondering where you were." Rangiku then smiled. "Shunsui is just fine. Retsu got him patched up easily. Both he and Jyuushiro are a little weak on their pins, so Retsu's insisting on them both getting some rest. I'm supposed to bring you back to Shunsui's along with take out for dinner."

Nanao breathed a sigh of relief. "Are you sure I don't need to be here to run things?"

Rangiku raised her eyebrows. "In the past twenty-four hours you've been kidnapped, rescued, fought an opponent who should have outclassed you, managed an attack that you should have been years away from handling, and then had to deal with bureaucracy, not to mention your boyfriend getting injured. I think you've earned a night off. Besides, if I don't bring you with me, Shunsui going to spend the whole night worrying about you."

The two of them picked up enough food to feed a small army before heading back to Shunsui's home. They had gone with simple comfort food. By the time they reached the house, Nanao was more than happy to curl up on the couch beside Shunsui and watch British TV shows while they ate. Rangiku didn't stay long, just dropping Nanao and the food off, so it was just Retsu, Jyuushiro, Nanao, and Shunsui. It was a relief to see Shunsui alert and joking with his friends, even if she clearly see that he was tired and weaker than normal. Nanao was content to half doze, her head resting against Shunsui's chest and his heartbeat thudding in her ear. She had a feeling it was comforting for them both.

"Some how I think that you are going to be written up as one of the most surprising new recruits we've had in a long time, Nanao."

"Hmmm?" She hadn't really been paying attention to what Jyuushiro had been saying.

"You surprised just about everyone, you know. I mean, being delicate looking and yet extremely powerful is pretty common amongst female shinigami, but you've had one of the most eventful starts to a career as one. Even Rangiku didn't have quite so much happen quite so quickly as you did. Let's see. You found Katen Kyokotsu at work by accident, get attacked for the sword, have us drop in on that fight, become a shinigami yourself, rise in ranks at a meteoric pace, get stalked by one of the most dangerous enemies Shunsui has, get kidnapped, escape, manage a captain level spell that vaporizes a powerful enemy while using borrowed power from two sword spirits, all within one year. And you're still sane."

Shunsui's rumbling laughter jostled her. "I told you she was something special."

He pressed a kiss to her temple. Nanao just smiled and cuddled closer, feeling really and truly safe for the first time in ages and very much at home.

Mina & Kunzite

Minako Aino Diary

Title: Dazzling Blue
Rating: PG
Fandom: Sailor Moon
Spoilers/Warnings: AU
Pairing: Kunzite x Minako
Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon or its characters.
Theme: #02 - Spilling Shadows
Summery: The story was true even if people got the details wrong.

Minako Aino Diary

Dear Diary,

I find it rather ridiculous that Ami gave me a diary for my birthday, but I suppose there are worse gifts to get. I promised her that I would attempt to write in you on a regular basis, but I make no promises.

Minako

Dear Diary,

I just got a new job. At this point, I'm thrilled to get any job, but this one seems pretty interesting. I'm going to be the personal assistant for an editor at a major publishing house. Maybe I'll get to meet famous authors. My parents are of course upset. They've been wanting me to go back into modeling, and the fact that I haven't been able to get a job until now has just fueled their fire. They were hoping I would give up on having a career outside of entertainment. But I want to at least get through college without having to deal with all of that added pressure. Of course, my parents would have preferred I just skip college all together, but I insisted on going. I refuse to have nothing to fall back on if acting and modeling ever fails me.

Minako

Dear Diary,

Well, my new boss is an absolute rock. If it weren't for the fact that I actually have seen him move, he could be a statue. A good looking statue for sure. He's actually really cute, though it would be better if he smiled more. Six feet tall in immaculately tailored suits, grey-green eyes, and silver white hair pulled back in a neat tail. Kitahoshi Ishi might be nice to look at, but I've yet to see him display any emotion. He really has mastered the art of being stoic. I'll give him that.

Other than that, my job is really boring. I got a tour of the office building, and then I spent my day filing paperwork and keeping track of my boss' upcoming appointments. Not that he really needs me to. I swear that he already knows every thing I told him about on his schedule.  And the man really is organized. He reminds me of Ami that way. So, boring job, boring if hot boss. This is not off to a great start.

Minako

Dear Diary,

Work is still boring. Today I got to pull files for my boss. Who is grumpy and doesn't seem to have a sense of humor. Oh joy. I don't think his expression changed all day. Well, at least I'm getting paid for not doing much. Still, this is hardly what I thought I was signing up for.

Mina

Dear Diary,

I really don't know what to say. I realize that it's been a few weeks since I've last written. Nothing much has really happened. At least until today. Work has pretty much been the same, though I have to admit that I finally made some friends with the other people at the office. Not the other Pas. They don't really like me all that much. But a couple of the other editors are nice, and there's this friend of Mr. Ishi who drops by on a regular basis whose lots of fun to chat with. He's a doctor of some sort.

But anyway, today was odd to say the least. A woman came in without an appointment. Which happens on occasion. But even I could tell that this lady was bad news. And she wasn't taking no for an answer when she wanted to see Mr. Ishi. She got pretty nasty about it too. I was on the verge of being nasty back when Mr. Ishi came out of his office. I'd never seen the expression on his face before. What happened next was impressive.

Without even raising his voice, he reamed the woman out (apparently her name was Beryl Metallica) and threatened her with legal action. She left soon after that. By itself that had been rather startling, but then he turned to me and asked if I was all right. Then he told me to ignore anything that she had said to me and to take twenty minutes if I thought I needed to. I'm really not sure what to make of that.

Mina

Dear Diary,

WhenI came back with their drinks (and one for me, they had given me extra money for that), I found them huddled around Mr. Ishi's desk looking atsome thing on his computer. The four of them looked startled when I entered with their drinks. I handed around the coffee and that wouldhave been the end of it except, one of the blonds asked me what I thought an appropriate apology gift when someone's stalker ex-girlfriend starts harassing the girl you are now interested in.

That is something I know something about. Having spent my life in show business since I was a toddler, I've seen stalking and its aftermath. And I know how to deal with it. I've actually been stalked myself a couple times. It's one of the reasons I wanted to have some job experience outside of being a model or an actress. It took a little investigating on my part to get to the heart of the matter.

As it turned out, none of the men present were the guy with the stalker. It was a mutual friend of theirs who was in the fix. She was younger than him, and this was her first serious relationship, and now he was worried that the fact that he hadn't told her about Beryl and their past was jeopardizing the future of their relationship. I appreciate that they wanted to protect their friend, but if they wanted advice, I need details.

In the end, I suggested that their friend go with a combination of things. Honesty, for one, because the girl really needed to know just what the situation was and what she was getting into with this. Also, if there was anything that that could ruin a relationship it was having on party being left out of the loop. I also suggested that he do something really nice for her as well, like watching the entire Lizzie Bennet Dairies with her.  Something that involved his time because more than that showed more than anything what was important to him.

After that, I went back to work, and the day went back to normal. At least until the end of the day when Mr. Ishi came out of his office, thanked me, and told me to go home early, that I'd earned it. So today was interesting. And my boss isn't quite as hard-hearted as I thought he way.

Mina

Dear Diary,

Well, I think I might be dating my boss. To tell the truth, I'm not sure. Things have changed since I helped him and his friends out that afternoon. Though I have to admit that that whole mess turned out well. The weirdest part is I didn't find out how it turned out from Kitahoshi.  I heard about it from Usagi. As it turned out, she was the new girlfriend in the situation. I guess I can see Mamoru with a crazy stalker ex. He is a cute doctor in training after all. Still, it's kind of weird the way that worked out.

Anyway, since that afternoon Kitahoshi actually started talking to me about things other than my tasks for the day. I'm not sure how we got on to the topic of popular movies based on books, but we spent my entire lunch break talking about it. After that, Kitahoshi joined me for lunch on a regular basis. And when we went out to lunch last week, he paid. So maybe we're dating?

I have to admit that I like him great deal now that I've gotten to know him. He does not give a very good first impression, but I can forgive him that I suppose. It's not exactly easy to throw a first impression out the window, but I am trying as I get to know him better. And he always has treated me like I'm a thinking human being, which is more than I can say for some people. So, that's really the only major thing to happen as of late.

Mina

Dear Diary,

So I am definitely dating Kitahoshi Ishi. Given that we spent the evening at publishing event avoiding people and stealing kisses when no one was looking, I'd be a little annoyed if we weren't. That's the good news. The bad news is I'm no longer his PA. Well, it's not exactly bad news.  I'm not Kitahoshi's PA anymore because I have a new job. One that's much better. I'm now working with the team that handles movie adaptations of this publisher's books. It's pretty good so far.

Like everything else with this place, the job change came about in a slightly convoluted way. Kitahoshi's friend, Zach Kawatani, had dropped by and the three of us were discussing the latest bestseller turned into a movie which had gotten a horrible reaction from the fans. I was in the middle of explaining exactly where they went wrong with the casting when this older woman comes over to my desk where we were talking. She asked me a couple of questions about some movie and mini-series adaptations. And admittedly, if I know any thing, it's the entertainment industry. After another few minutes of conversation, the woman turns to Kitahoshi and asks.

"And she's working as your PA why?"

And with a completely straight face he replies, "Because HR doesn't know what else to do with former actresses?"

Half an hour I had a job offer and Kitahoshi had kissed me in front of his boss. I can't say I'll really miss being a PA, but I think I'll miss being in the same office as my boyfriend. Over all, though I have to say that this venture into the normal working world has been a good one so far, and I've proved my parents wrong. I'm pretty please with that. And I some how met a decent guy who actually interested in me, not my fame.
So, go me. I knew that this was the right choice.

Mina

Ukitake & Unohana

Children Will Listen

Title: Children Will Listen
Rating: PG
Fandom: Bleach
Spoilers/Warnings: None
Pairing: Jyuushiro Ukitake x Retsu Unohana
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
Theme: #15 - Call Your Mother
Summery: Jyuushiro is completely wrapped around his daughter's finger.

Children Will Listen

Jyuushiro might be one of the oldest captains in the Seireitei, but he was a push over when it came to his daughter. Kiyomi Ukitake was one of the few people in his life that could get away with just about anything. His little girl had him wrapped around her finger. And she was only three years old; they had no idea just how much more besotted the man might get in the future. So it was probably a good thing that Retsu was largely immune to her daughter's charm. She might love her daughter a great deal, but that didn't mean that Kiyomi was going to get her way with everything. And while she was very well behaved, she was also a clever little girl who liked getting her way most of the time and knew how to get around instructions.

Still, Retsu smiled at the picture they made together. Kiyomi climbed into her father's lap with a book about five minutes ago, and they were now reading it together. They were adorable, especially with Jyuushiro doing the voices of the various characters.

"Papa?" Kiyomi piped up.

Jyuu kissed the top of her head. "Yes, sweetheart?"

"Papa, can I have a kitten?"

Jyuushiro looked mildly panicked. "Maybe we should call your mother and ask her."

Retsu smiled and decided it was time for her to make an entrance before they ended up with more livestock than just a kitten.

Mina & Kunzite

Dazzling Blue

Title: Dazzling Blue
Rating: PG
Fandom: Sailor Moon
Spoilers/Warnings: AU
Pairing: Kunzite x Minako
Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon or its characters.
Theme: #02 - Spilling Shadows
Summery: The story was true even if people got the details wrong.

Dazzling Blue

The story had traveled far and wide over the years, which didn't surprise Minako. It did have every element of an epic romance. It also didn't surprise her that as the story was spread, people kept getting the details wrong. Now it was true that Princess Serenity, the daughter of the greatest queen of the merpeople, had fallen in love with a human prince. It was also true that she had been so in love with this man that she had been willing to seek out Nehelenia, a sea witch, for a solution.

And that was where things started to get off track. Serenity hadn't gone to see Nehelenia by herself. While Minako and the other senshi might have thought that this was a bad idea, that didn't mean that they were going to stop her. Serenity was one of the stubbornest people in the seas, and they all knew it. No, the best course of action was to go along with it and try to mitigate the damage along the way. So while Serenity might have met with Nehelenia on her own, there was back up near by, and when Nehelenia had given Serenity the potion, Minako had stuck her fin in it.

Her princess was not taking any potion that Minako had not tested first. She would take the potion and go amongst the humans to see if it was even possible for Serenity to fulfill the conditions of the potions. Because not only would the potion take Serenity's voice for the three days it was effective for, if Serenity did not manage to get an offer of marriage from her human in three days, she would turn into sea foam and die at sunset of the third day. And given the Serenity was Selenity's only heir, there was no way that Minako was going to let her risk her life in an impossible quest.

So it was Minako who swam to the surface and took the potion.

"If it works, in four days I'll be waiting at the rocks here," she told Rei, who had come to the surface with her. "If not, you'll just have to figure out another way for Serenity to be with her human."

Rei made a face. "Are you sure you don't want me to stay?"

Minako shook her head. "No. Let's not risk anyone else just yet."

Rei nodded and then ducked beneath the waves. Minako had waited until there was no sign of the raven haired mermaid. Then she dragged herself onto the shore, unstoppered the vial from Beryl, and downed the entire thing in one gulp. It only took moments for pain like knives slicing through her fin to start. Minako was grateful when she passed out.


Kunzite trailed along after his prince and the other shittenou. He was not quite in the mood to humor his prince at the moment, and so lagged behind the group rather than interact with them. Endymion had been moody and impossible ever since he had caught sight of some girl during a storm a few weeks ago. He swore that he had seen a girl with silver blond hair and she'd helped him stay afloat until a boat had been close enough to reach him. Endymion had been crazy about her ever since, and Kunzite was beginning to be sick of hearing about it.

A flash of gold caught his eye, and Kunzite wandered over to the rocks to investigate. When he saw what it was, he yelled for the others, hurrying over himself. The young woman lay unconscious at the waterline, her long golden hair fanned out around her. The waves lapped over her feet and legs, and she was completely naked. By the time the others had reached him, Kunzite had moved her away from the waterline and wrapped her in his cape.

"Is she alive?" Zoisite asked, pushing forward to check the girl's pulse and breathing himself.

"Yes. Her body is still warm as well," Kunzite reported. He shifted his grip on her so that Zoisite could better check her over. "She had no visible injuries, but she could have hit her head."

"Let's get her back to the palace."

As Kunzite got to his feet, her eyes blinked revealing dazzling sapphire eyes.

"Are you all right, little one?" he asked.

She peered up at him and opened her mouth. When no sound came out, she frowned and shrugged her shoulders. Zoisite caught the exchange.

"You can't speak?" he asked.

She nodded.

"But you can understand us?"

She nodded again. Zoisite and Kunzite shared a look. Endymion spoke up then.

"Let's her back to the palace first, then we can worry about the rest of it."


Minako counted herself lucky that Serenity's human and his companions had been the ones to find her. She had to admit that when she had opened her eyes to meet a pair of concerned grey green ones, something in her chest had fluttered. However, she found that she was soon distracted by the attendants who descended on the group when the arrived at the palace. Minako found herself pulled away from the man who had been carrying her and before she could really process what was happening, she found herself sitting in a tub of warm water while the attendants scrubbed her. Once she'd been dried and dressed, Minako was lead on unsteady legs to a little room where the five men were waiting for her.

The dark haired one whom Serenity had described to came and took her hand, leading her to a chair and gesturing for her to sit.

"Are you feeling all right?" he asked.

Minako simply shrugged her shoulders and offered a half smile. She had not realized just how frustrating it would be to be without her voice. But at least she had managed to end up in the right place.

"You may stay here as long as you need to," the dark haired man continued. "Will any one be looking for you?"

Minako shook her head. The five young men traded looks with one another.

"Right then. Introductions first, and then we'll worry about the rest it. I'm Endymion of Elysium." He smiled and sketched a bow in her direction. "The others present are my shittenou: Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite, and Kunzite."

Minako fixed each name with a face. The tall blond was Jadeite. Nephrite was the brunette with the dreamy expression. Zoisite had reddish-blond hair, and he had been the once to check her for injuries. It had been Kunzite who had found her. She met the man's grey eyes and smiled.


Part of Kunzite was startled by how quickly they had adopted the girl from the beach, but it did feel like she fit in with them. After quickly determining that not only could she not speak, she could not write their language, though it was clear she understood what they were saying, the shittenou christened her Aina. Endymion insisted that she was not the girl he had seen at sea earlier, but he liked her all the same. Though it was not the same sort of like.

Aina was far more like a little sister to them all. Or at least to most of them. Despite knowing the young woman only for a day, Kunzite felt quite drawn to Aina. Of course, he had felt drawn to Aina from the moment he found her unconscious. And it had not escaped Kunzite's notice that he seemed to be her favorite out of all of them. Which meant that more often than not, he was the one that was assigned to escort her.

She was curious about just about everything, especially the Royal Court. Kunzite couldn't help feeling that she was taking in everything and analyzing it. She had quickly taken in the dynamics of the court and been able to move amongst the others with ease, almost as if she had been used to dealing with this sort of thing. Kunzite rather thought that she was searching for some thing, even if he didn't know what. Communication with Aina was frustrating. She clearly understood everything they said, but she was limited to facial expressions and gestures. Even so, they managed.

Every so often, Kunzite caught Aina watching Endymion with an intent look. It was enough for the leader of the shittenou to be slightly concerned. He truly did not think that Aina was a threat to Endymion, but it often felt like she was weighing and judging him. It was just another piece of the mystery of the young woman. She had not been able to show them on a map where she was from. No one at the palace, either courtier or servant recognized her. It was like Aina had just washed up on shore from no where.

But in the end, Kunzite found that it didn't really matter to him. Aina belonged with them just as the other shittenou did. She might not exactly be their brother in arms, but she fit into the little family the five of them had carved out for themselves. And Kunzite knew that he personally didn't want Aina to return to wherever she had come from.


Minako was feeling quite pleased with herself. Serenity's prince (and it was a little ironic that of all of the humans Serenity had fallen for she had fallen for a prince) was just as smitten with her as she was with him. She had no doubts that if Serenity appeared here, Endymion would most definitely marry her. And she liked what she saw of Endymion and his shittenou. The Royal Court here was no worse than the one Serenity faced beneath the waves. In fact, it might be better for Serenity to face the court here where she would have a partner in Endymion.

To tell the truth, Endymion and his shittenou reminded Minako very much of Serenity and the other senshi. They were not a mirror image of the girls but more like their compliments. In fact, should the ten of them ever team up together, Minako had the feeling that they would be quite formidable. She just knew that Ami and Zoisite would get along swimmingly, if they ever got over their shyness and managed to talk to one another. Rei and Jadeite would likely argue a great deal, but Minako rather thought that Jadeite would understand the priestess much better than most folk. Nephrite and Makoto shared the same romantic outlook. And as for Kunzite, well, Minako knew herself well enough to know that she was falling in love with him.

Kunzite might project a cold, stoic exterior, but when you actually looked at what he did and how he treated those around him, that was what really told the tale. It was so very clear from his actions that he cared for his men and his prince deeply, and the way that Kunzite had gone out of his way to make sure that she was both taken care of and protected in a rather alien environment. There really was no need for Kunzite or any of the others really to spend so much time with her once they had seen that she was uninjured and that there was really nothing they could do to return her where she came from. But they had taken her in and made her a part of their little circle.

She'd learned what she needed to about these people. Her princess would be in good hands when she came here. Minako only hoped that she could be there to help for Minako had forgotten that for her to survive, she would need to gain a proposal of marriage of her own. And the problem became, she only wanted it from one person.


He was slightly worried about Aina. Kunzite had noticed that she was worried about some thing, but with their communication barrier, it was hard to tell what. Still, he had caught her several times staring out a window at the water with a pensive look on her face. Kunzite couldn't quite figure out what was going on with her. But before he had a chance to try and get an idea of what was wrong, Kunzite spotted Beryl once again stalking Endymion. The woman could not seem to get the hint that Endymion was not interested in her in the slightest.

And it seemed like Beryl had chosen tonight to be especially troublesome. He was not close enough to hear what Beryl was saying to his prince, but Aina clearly could. The pensive look was gone replaced first with concern and then with anger as she rose to her feet and made her way to Endymion and Beryl. Kunzite scanned the room for the other shittenou. It looked like this was going to get ugly, and none of them were close enough to Endymion to prevent a confrontation. They had known that bringing any female into their inner circle would upset Beryl, even if the woman was not Endymion's bride, but they had been hoping that she wouldn't make a public scene.

It looks like those hopes had been in vain. Kunzite arrived within earshot just in time to hear: "You will be mine even if I have to destroy your mind to accomplish it."

Before he could shout a warning, Aina had reacted, knocking a dark vial out of Beryl's hands. It broke on the floor, emitting foul smelling smoke. Endymion took a step back even as Beryl whirled around to face Aina. With a venomous expression, she shoved Aina hard, forcing her back against the low window sill where Aina had been sitting earlier. And in almost slow motion, Kunzite saw her wobble as her legs hit the sill, and Aina tipped backwards.

He watched in horror as she tumbled out the open window. The ballroom was built right upon the cliffs. It was highly likely that Aina would hit the rocks below if she couldn't control her descent, and even then, he had no idea if she could swim. Trapped by shock, Kunzite watched as Aina turned her tumble into a more controlled dive. Then she disappeared beneath the waves and did not reappear. That broke him out of shock and into action.

"Nephrite, Jadeite, stay with the prince. Zoisite, you're with me."

He didn't know if they could save her, but Kunzite wasn't about to let that stop him from trying.


Hitting the water was a shock. It was only then that Minako realized she wasn't sure how to swim without her fin. It had been instinct to protect Endymion. A threat to him was a threat to Serenity at this point. But she hadn't expected the attack from the woman had been caught off guard. But at least she'd managed to turn her fall into a dive.

The water closed over her head, and Minako quickly realized that she could no longer breathe beneath the water any longer. But before she could panic, arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her up. Her head broke the surface, and Minako gasped for air. Then she realized just how she'd survived. Serenity supported her on one side and Rei on the other. Minako glared at her princess. Serenity just smiled.

"At least this time you can't scold me. And we weren't about to let you drown."

"Do I need to teach those humans a lesson?" Makoto asked.

Minako shook her head. She started looking for a place where she could climb back on shore.

"Aina!"

She searched for Kunzite, finally spotting him on a small pier beneath the ballroom. He looked ready to jump in the water after her. She waved at him.

"Do you trust him?" Rei asked quietly.

Minako nodded.

"All right."

With Serenity and Rei's help, Minako made it to the pier, and Kunzite lifted her out of the water. He frowned slightly at Serenity and the others.

"Thank you for your assistance. You are more than welcome to come ashore here and dry off."

Serenity let out a pealing laugh and flipped her tail so Kunzite could see it. "We're just fine, thanks. But take care of my cousin."

Minako buried her face in Kunzite's shoulder. Of course, Serenity would decide that embarrassing her was the best course of action.


Kunzite was startled to find that mermaids had rescued Aina. He was even more startled to find the mermaids claiming her as kin. It also did not escape his notice that the mermaid who spoke matched perfectly the description of the girl Endymion had seen in the water. He dealt with all of this information by acting as if it was perfectly normal. A stoic façade was good for some thing.

"I will. We have become quite fond of her."

"Good. Then I won't be worried about her survival."

That made Kunzite frowned. "What-"

"Kunzite! Did you find her?" Endymion's arrival interrupted him. "Is Aina all…"

His voice trailed off when he spotted the mermaid. Kunzite bit back a smile.

"She's just fine thanks to her cousins here. Though I rather doubt that Aina is her real name."

"It's Minako." The one mermaid provided, blushing a little as she looked at Endymion. "She's normally the leader of my personal guard. That's why she insisted on taking the potion first."

The mermaid seemed to think that she had said too much for she clapped a hand over her mouth and blushed a bright red. But Kunzite could put the pieces together easily enough. If he had been in Minako's shoes, he would have done the same thing.

"So you wished to become human, but your guardian insisted on trying the potion to do so first. Sensible of her. What was the price?"

It was the raven haired mermaid who spoke up. "Loss of her voice for the three days it was effective and death if she doesn't receive a proposal of marriage. If she survives, she gets her voice back. We didn't want to risk Serenity's life if her affections weren't returned."

Kunzite glanced at his prince who looked rather stunned and smiled. "Well you needn't worry about that. Should Serenity arrive on my prince's shores, I rather think she will be proposed to immediately. However, I would like to get Minako inside and warmed up. She's no longer a mermaid, and a dip like that could easily harm a human."

And Kunzite had a proposal to make that he did not want an audience for. Minako only had a day left after all, and he was not about to lose her now.

Serenity nodded. "Of course. If you come to the beach in the morning, we will be waiting. Minako knows the place."


Minako was not surprised when she was quickly dumped into a tub of warm water. It seemed to be the humans' way of dealing with any sort of dunking in water. Still, within twenty minutes, Minako was warm, dry, and dressed in a soft robe. She was not at all surprised to find that Kunzite was waiting for her in the sitting area of the rooms she had been given. The man smiled at her and stepped forward.

"Are you feeling all right? I am sorry that we couldn't protect you from Beryl. She's been taken care of, but I wanted to make sure you were unharmed, Minako."

She smiled at him in response and nodded. She liked the way her real name sounded on his lips. Kunzite smiled and stepped closer, invading her space.

"I hadn't realized that we were on such a tight schedule. I wanted to court you properly, but clearly we don't have time for that."

She wasn't entirely sure what he was talking about. Kunzite took another step toward her, cupped her face in his hand, and then kissed her. Minako couldn't do anything but kiss him back, wondering if this was a dream. Then Kunzite pulled away and smiled at her.

"Marry me."

She nodded. She could feel a little tingle travel down her spine, most likely the magic recognizing that the final condition had been met. To test that, she opened her mouth.

"Kunzite?"

He blinked at her. Minako laughed. It felt lovely to be able to speak again. She smiled up at him.

"Well, I'd say we don't have to worry about me turning into sea foam anymore, and I would be quite pleased to marry you."

He smiled back. "Good."

Serenity's own path was far less eventful. She showed up on the shore where Aina was waiting with clothes. Once she had transformed into a human and dressed, the young women joined Endymion and his shittenou who were waiting for them, and Serenity got proposed to. And it didn't surprise Minako that over the next few months, the process was repeated with the rest of the senshi as well. The tale that was spread far and wide was rather different than the reality of things, but Minako really couldn't complain. She was pleased with the ending of her story, and that was enough for her.

Ukitake & Unohana

Popping the Question

Title: Popping the Question
Rating: PG
Fandom: Bleach
Spoilers/Warnings: AU.
Pairing: Jyuushiro Ukitake x Retsu Unohana
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
Theme: #25 - Do It Right the First Time.
Summery: This wasn't how she had imagined it.

Popping the Question

Retsu had to admit that she was a romantic at heart. For all that she was very practical when it came to everything else, in her love life, she liked more than a little romance. Which meant that she had given more than a little thought to what she wanted in a proposal. Her actual proposal was turning out to be nothing like any of those imaginings.

For one thing, she had expected a proposal to come in a quiet moment between herself and Jyuushiro. It didn't matter to her if it was during a fancy evening out on the town or a quiet night in, but she had expected it to be just the two of them. It would be a moment just for them with nothing else going on. There would a romantic mood, and Jyuushiro would have a ring picked out. She trusted him to pick out some thing that she would like. Jyuushiro had good taste in jewelry, so she was not worried about him picking out a ring that she would hate. It would be simply, lovely, and romantic. There would be no need for romantic comedy antics or do overs.

The actual proposal was nothing like she had imagined. And to be completely honest, she still did not know entirely how it had happened. It had been in the heat of the moment that it had al come out. Sitting in the back of an ambulance while emergency workers scurried around them, feeling Jyuushiro's pulse steadily thrum against her fingers, Retsu found that she very much needed to be engaged to this man. The two of them had just been throw two and a half hours of hell. They still did not know what had caused the fire at one of the clinics where Retsu worked. Jyuu had been there to pick her up for dinner.

They had been very lucky all in all. Every one had been evacuated safely from the building, and there had only been minor injuries. But Retsu had spent nearly two hours after the fire alarm had first been pulled not knowing what had happened to him. They had gone in different directions to make sure that everyone got safely out of the building, and in the chaos afterwards, it had taken them forever to find one another again. And then they had to deal with reporting to the police and making sure that everyone else was all right.

Neither of them had been given permission to leave yet, so they were waiting for the officer in charge to let them leave. Jyuushiro had a shock blanket around his shoulders, and there was oxygen ready if he needed it. The smoke inhalation had not been good for his lungs, and while he had not yet had an episode, Retsu was still worried that it would trigger his illness.

"What are you thinking about, love?" Jyuu asked. "You seemed kind of far away."

She shook her head and smiled at him. "Just thinking about expectations and plans, and how while what really happens might not match, but it works out for the best anyway."

"Oh?"

Retsu shifted her grip so she was holding his had instead of measuring his pulse. "Marry me, Jyuushiro."

He kissed her. Retsu was going to call that a yes.

Moments Like This

Storms and Waves

Title: Storms and Waves
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII
Spoilers/Warnings: AU Pairing: Seiftis
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII or its characters.
Summery: A lost princess, a knight without a lady, intrigue, and a quest to return home.

Storms and Waves


Storms and Waves

Seifer paced. He couldn't help it. He absolutely hated this. What he wanted to do was storm into Oriana Carrente's rooms and demand that she produce Quistis. That probably wouldn't work, and it could put Quistis in more danger, but that didn't prevent Seifer from wanted to do something. But he didn't know what Oriana had done with Quistis, and this was a battle he probably could not win by force. This was more of a battle of wits and cunning.

And Seifer had to admit that it was not perhaps his best arena. Matron watched him with concern. They had not told anyone else about this yet for several reasons. For one, Seifer could not prove much of it without Quistis present, and given that Quistis being alive at all was likely to be a rather emotional subject for the Galbadian royals, it seemed prudent to try and get Quistis back before bringing in Rinoa and the others.

The message from Oriana had arrived just before the evening meal. Her demands were simple enough. She wanted him to marry Aurelia Carrente. In return, Quistis would be "safe". Though there were no details on just what that safety would mean. At the very least though, it was clear from Oriana's message that she had no idea that Seifer knew who Quisty Trepe really was. That would at least offer Quistis some protection. Seifer had the feeling that Oriana would have a very different reaction if she knew that Seifer was well aware of Quistis' identity. The woman could be tried for a number of crimes due to what she'd done to Quistis, and the fact that Quistis herself was royalty made one of those crimes treason.

"Seifer," Matron's voice made him pause.

He turned to her. "Matron?"

"You're wearing yourself out, Seifer. You won't do your lady any good that way. Sit. We need to discuss our options here."

With a sigh he slumped into a chair. Matron met his eyes with a steady gaze.

"You said that Quistis could reach some of her magic."

"When we were in physical contact. Yes."

Edea nodded. "That's good actually. What we need to do is get the two of you in the same room. With the two of you together, I can disrupt the gaes spell at least temporarily if not permanently. From what you've told me, Oriana is not going to bring Quistis any place where she could be easily noticed or that she could escape from. And she certainly isn't going to want me around. I should ask, does your Quistis seem to have any affinities at all?"

It wasn't a surprising question. Most sorceresses had some sort of affinity. But he'd never really seen Quistis work magic, and the only thing he could think of was the fact that she was always drawn to the sea. That didn't necessarily have anything to do with her magic though.

"I don't know."

"Pity." Edea pursed her lips. "Well, that's one thing we can't use. Now, what sort of reply do you think we need to make to get them to bring Quistis with them when you meet, and what are they expecting from you? I'd like to surprise them at least."

They spent several hours making and discarding any number of plans. This was a battlefield that Seifer was not familiar with, but at least the act of making battle plans was familiar. And focusing on that kept his mind from completely running wild with thoughts of what the Carrentes might have done to Quistis in the meantime. The biggest problem was one of timing. Matron needed some time to put together a few things, and Seifer did not want this to wait too long. For one thing, he was afraid that if he waited too long, the Carrentes might decide that he wasn't that interested in Quistis and do something else with her.

"Seifer."

Matron's gentle voice made him look up. She caught his eyes, holding his gaze with her own.

"We will get her back. It just may take some time. Now write the note."

He nodded and sat down at the table. It took Seifer several drafts before he came up with something that both he and Matron agreed would do the trick. It was sent off to Oriana via a page, and all that was left was to wait for the appointed time. The gist of the note had been that Seifer wanted both to hash out the details of the deal in person and to see Quisty in person to assure that she was unharmed. He had set up the meeting for this evening; Seifer hadn't wanted to wait any longer than that. Besides, there was something about the timing that felt right. It was more of a gut feeling than anything else, but Seifer was going to trust it.

So after being ordered by Matron to stop pacing, Seifer found himself perched in one of the windows, watching as a storm rolled it. It looked like it was going to be a bad one, but Seifer couldn't bring himself to care. The storm fit his mood. Watching it approach was a decent enough distraction from waiting. Matron had disappeared back to her own rooms; she had wanted to prepare a few things. Seifer didn't entirely know what she had planned, but he trusted to her to have some sort of plan. It wasn't long before lightening and thunder could be seen and heard. A downpour started soon after. Seifer stared out the window, not really seeing what was in front of him.

"Seifer?"

Matron had returned. She held something in her hands.

"These will have to do for now. What we really need to do is get the two of you together long enough to properly form your bond. Once that bond is sealed, I'm not sure anything could really separate you. It will definitely disrupt her gaes to some extent. It could possibly completely break it as well." She held out a pair of simple pendants, struck on silk cords. "Shielding spells. Between those and you two in physical contact, it should disrupt things long enough to get her away from the Carrentes. I don't know enough about the gaes to figure out a permanent shield right now, but once you get her to me, I should be able to put together something more permanent."

"Thank you, Matron." He took the two amulets.

"I want you to be happy, Seifer." She kissed his forehead. "You have an hour before it's time. Get some rest. I think you are going to need your strength."

He sighed. He rather doubted that he was going to get any rest between now and then. Matron gave him a look.

"You won't do anyone any good if you're not at the top of your game. I don't think we're going to get second chances in this."

Seifer sighed again. Matron was right as usual. Still, he had the feeling that this was going to be the longest hour of his life.


Quistis was ready when they came for her. She didn't actually know why they'd come to get her, but she'd made plans of her own. She couldn't stay here. Not when she knew she was going to be used to blackmail Seifer into something. So she had made plans of her own. There just might be a window of opportunity when Oriana's guards came to get her. As long as none of them were Carrentes themselves, they could not use her gaes against her. Which meant if she could get away from them, she would be free for at least a little while. Maybe long enough to do something.

So she waited. It was something she was good at. When she heard the tread of feet outside her little cell, Quistis was ready. She let the two men pull her to her feet and take her out of the room. She let them lead her down the corridors without any resistance. The heavy rain outside the building was not something that Quistis was really expecting; she had heard the sound of rain earlier when it started, but she hadn't realized it was a storm in full force. Not that it really mattered. In fact, in some ways it made things easier for her.

She waited until they were out in the rain, crossing towards the servants' entrance. Then Quistis attacked. Her guards were not expecting that at all. Their surprise worked in her favor. And once Quistis was free of them, she ran. There was not a destination in mind. She just needed to get away and to lose her pursuers. Thankfully, between the fact that she had grown up around this particular palace and she had been working here for the past few weeks, she knew how to disappear amidst the various halls and corridors very well. She did not venture inside the palace though, sticking to the outer walk ways and corridors. A soaking wet servant girl would attack attention inside.

Her plan was to head to the beach. Given the storm that was going on, it was not the safest place to be, but that was its advantage. She knew that bit of coastline well enough to stay out of trouble, and she didn't think that her pursuers would risk it. Once she had lost them, she could make her way inside the palace and find Seifer. The stone of the terrace and stairs down to the beach were slippery, and she slid and nearly lost her balance several times before falling the last few feet to the beach.

Quistis' hands scrabbled at the wet sand as she struggled to her feet. She was bruised, but she couldn't stop now. She could still hear footsteps following her. Taking off across the sand, Quistis kept as far away from the water as possible. The waves were wild and far larger than normal. Spotting a stand of driftwood close to the bluff, Quistis made for it, ducking behind the wood and crouching down to be out of sight. Between the dark from the storm and the wild waves, she did not like that her pursuers would make a through search. With any luck, they would believe she had killed herself.

She didn't know how long she crouched on the cold, wet sand. She knew she had to be completely soaked to the bone, but she could not risk being caught when she tried to make her way back to the palace. Finally, long after the last of the footsteps had disappeared, she carefully crept out of hiding. The beach was empty. Quistis let out a soft sigh of relief and made her way towards the staircase. She was limping and sore all over, but she knew she couldn't give up now. Not when she was close.

It took her far longer than normal to climb up the staircase to the castle. The wind was working against her, and it hurt to move. But Quistis knew if she stopped now, she would never get to her destination. Oriana probably had some way to tell that she was still alive, and that meant there would still be people looking for her. Finally making it the castle, Quistis slipped inside into one of the servants' corridors. She took a moment to catch her breath and tried to make up her mind about what to do next. She could either run, try to get as far away from Oriana as she could and see if that would let her truly escape. Or she could go to Seifer and trust that he had figured out a way to break the gaes and risk failure and being used as a weapon against him.

Her head told her it would be safer to run. To keep going and not look back. It would be safer for Seifer as well. She could not be used against him if Oriana did not have her. Even if she was captured again, it would probably be too late to force Seifer into anything then. But that would also mean giving up Seifer as well. Because if she got cleanly away from Oriana, Quistis did not think it would be safe to come back. At least not until she found a way to break the geas herself. If she ever found a way to do so. Quistis hesitated. Running might be the smart thing to do, but she wasn't sure that she could bring herself to do so. Besides, if she ran, Oriana won.

And Quistis was not willing to let Oriana win this time. So once she caught her breath, she limped towards the Royal Wing. She was shivering now and had to bite her lip in order to keep her teeth from chattering. She was lucky not to run into any other servants. That definitely would have caused questions that she really did not want to answer. Her hand hesitated as she grasped the doorknob to Seifer's suite. She really should knock. She did not even know if he was in there. But she was afraid if she stopped now, she would run. Opening the door, she slipped inside.

"Oh."

Quistis started at the soft voice, her hands scrabbling for the doorknob. But the dark haired women sitting at the table in Seifer's sitting area was one her feet and reaching out for her before Quistis could get the door open.

"What have they done to you, sweetheart? Never mind," she shook her head. "Into the bath with you. You have to be freezing. Seifer should be back soon enough, and we can deal with things then. I'll find something for you to change into. The bath is just through there."

The next thing she knew Quistis had been hustled into the bathtub and was up to her neck in hot water. Seifer's foster mother, because Quistis didn't think that the woman could be anyone else, drifted in and out of the room. She was almost a soothing presence. Almost since while Quistis knew the woman wasn't going to hurt her, she was Seifer's foster mother, and she might very well decide that she did not approve of Quistis as a proper partner for Seifer. She seemed willing to help Quistis now, but that did not mean she approved of Quistis.

Warm and clean and wrapped in a warm robe that smelled like Seifer, Quistis found herself ensconced in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea in her hands. With a warm little fire burning in the hearth beside, Quistis was finally feeling warm. Edea had fussed over her quite a bit, and while Quistis did not exactly feel safe yet, she was no longer on edge and panicking. She was a little disconcerted by just how closely Edea Kramer was studying her. Finally, the older woman just shook her head.

"You look so much like your mother. Except for your eyes. You must have gotten those from your father." The woman sighed. "I wish I could have met him. It's good to know Idalia was happy though.'

Quistis started. "You knew my mother?"

Edea nodded. "We grew up together. When she disappeared, I was the last to give up searching for her. I always believed she was still alive some where."

She opened her mouth to ask another question about her mother when Seifer came storming in the door.


Furious at Oriana's stalling, Seifer practically threw the door to his chambers open. The first thing he saw was Quistis seated by the fire wrapped up in his robe. Without even thinking about, he crossed the room and pulled her into his arms, holding her tight.

"You're safe. I knew she had to be lying." He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I'm not letting you go again."

"Right then," Matron's voice cut through the moment. "We need to get to work on that gaes. Do you still have the talismans?"

He nodded, pulling them out of his pocket.

"Good. Put them on. Now."

It only took a moment to slip the silk cord over Quistis' head. He put the other one on himself. Seifer still wasn't sure why he needed to be shielded as well, but he wasn't going to question Matron on this. She nodded at them.

"Good. I'll have something hot sent up for the two of you. Quistis is clearly exhausted, and she'll need to be rested if we're going to try and break the gaes. With the shielding spells, you two should be fine for at least the evening."

Edea swept out the room before he could even respond to that. Then he was alone with Quistis. She leaned into his embrace, hiding her face against his shoulder.

"Cariad?"

"I'm all right." Her voice was muffled by his shoulder.

Seifer freed one of his hands so he could tip her face up. It looked like she'd been crying, but her smile was real. He leaned in to kiss her.

"How did you get away?"

Quistis' smile grew. "Oriana's guards aren't very intelligent."

Seifer steered the two of them over towards the couch. He tugged Quistis into his lap. He rather doubted he'd be willing to let her out of arm's reach for awhile. Quistis didn't seem to mind though. She snuggled into his arms and rest her head against his chest. Seifer couldn't think of anything to say. He had questions, yes, and any number of things that he wanted to tell her, but it seemed like none of that was important now. He just wanted to stay here in this little bubble where his Cariad was safe in his arms and they had nothing to worry about. At least for the moment.

Quistis let out a soft little sigh, but before Seifer could ask what was wrong, a servant arrived with a tray bearing dinner. The servant quickly departed, and the two of them separated and settled in to eat. It was a simple meal, a hearty stew and bread, but it was both warm and soothing. Seifer watched almost amused as Quistis practically attacked her food. He wasn't entirely sure what she'd been through since he'd last seen her, but he could tell it had been at least a bit of an ordeal. And the bruises on her skin worried him.

Once the meal was finished, Seifer decided that they weren't going to be able to accomplish anything more tonight. The storm outside was still raging full force, and his lady looked like she was about to fall over.

"Come on, Cariad. Bed time. We'll deal with the rest of this tomorrow."

Without thinking about it, she let him lead her to his bed and crawled in. It didn't take Seifer long to change into a night shirt and join her in bed. Quistis curled up beside him, cuddled up against his side her head resting on his shoulder. He slid his arm around her shoulders and closed his eyes. With his lady snuggled beside him safe and sound, sleep wasn't hard to find.

He woke to Matron standing over him with a worried smile on her face. Quistis was still fast asleep.

"Seifer? I need you to wake up. We haven't got much time.'

"Matron?"

Beside him, Quistis began to stir.

"Oriana's changed her plan of attack. We need to start working on the gaes now."

That got his attention. Quistis made a sleepy noise.

"Seifer?"

He smiled at her and pressed a kiss to her temple. "Wake up, Cariad. We've got to get to work."

She sat up, frowning. "Oriana?"

"Yes."

"Right."

It didn't take long for the three of them to assembling in the sitting area of the suite. Matron looked at the two of them.

"I don't know quite how complicated this will be. Gaes spells are rare, and I've never heard of a sorceress under one who wasn't already bonded. I am pretty sure that completing the sorceress-knight bond will at least lessen the gaes if not break it all together."

Quistis blinked slightly. "What do we need to do in order to complete this bond?"

Matron smiled. "Actually, it is simple enough. What takes time is having the bond settle between the pair of you. There really are no formalized words or set elements. It is mostly just an acknowledgement between the pair of you of the bond and your acceptance of that. The larger issue is that once the bond is accepted by both of you, it does take some time to, well, set is the best word to describe the process I suppose. And until that happens, you both are rather vulnerable to magical attacks."

Seifer nodded. "Right. Let's get this done, and then you can tell us what Oriana had done now."

He took both of Quistis' hands in his own and calmly met her eyes. He had known that this was coming sooner or later in their future. And he knew what he wanted to say.

"Quistis Cariad Serian, I pledge to you my services as your knight, your sword and shield. You have held my heart safe in your hands, and I pledge to do the same for you. I love you, Cariad, and I will not let you go."

Her grip on his hands tightened as she held his gaze. Quistis voice was soft, and Seifer doubted that anyone save himself could hear it. But it was steady and confident as she spoke.

"You won my trust and gave me back hope. You were the first person in years to actually see me not just the servant who I was supposed to be. You did not steal my heart, Seifer, I gave it to you, and I trust you enough to protect both it and me. And I'm stubborn enough to insist on protecting you just the same."

Seifer really did not know what exactly he was expecting. This was not anything like the time when Ultimecia had had tried to force him to become her knight. But there was a sense of rightness and an awareness of Quistis that had not been there before. A soft startled noise escaped Quistis' lips. Matron sighed softly.

"I would love to let you two bask in this for a while, but we simply do not have time. Quistis, could you take off the shielding talisman please?"

Quistis pulled the pendant over her head and handed it to Matron.

"How do you feel?"

His lady paused a moment before answering. "Better than normal. I can't feel the pressure of the gaes like a normally do, but my magic feels weak and sluggish. I can touch it though."

"Good. That's what I was expecting." Matron smiled. "I don't think you'll be completely free of the gaes' effects until your bond with Seifer is completely formed. Now, about Oriana."

Seifer had a sinking feeling. "What has she done now?"

Matron pursed her lips and looked at him worriedly. I do not completely know. I know that she is bringing a complaint at court today. I think we will need you both there."

Quistis looked pale. "She's going to try and force Seifer to marry Aurelia. She's got something she's going to use to make Uncle Caraway enforce that."

Seifer reached for her hand, holding it tightly. "That's not going to happen. I won't let it."

"I think we can prevent it," Matron said. "I need you both to wash and dress for court. I'll send my maid to help Quistis. Be as quick as possible. I don't think we have much time. If need be, Quistis can join us later, but you have to be there at the start of the court session, Seifer."

As she began to sweep out of the room Matron paused and looked at Quistis.

"Can you tell me your name? Your real name."

Quistis opened her mouth but then shook her head. "No. But I almost could."

Matron sighed. "We'll have to hope that the as your bond sets, you will be able to do more. I don't know how long we can stall today."


Seifer bathed first. He was quicker than she was, and if need be, that way he could leave for court before her. He left the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.

"Your turn. There's a pair of court dresses hanging up in my closet for you." He leaned in a kissed her. "Don't look so worried, Cariad. Oriana is not going to win this time."

She wished she felt so confident. Not even the luxury of the bathroom could make her stop worrying so much. She had never fought Oriana and won. Her defiances had always been small things, won mostly because Oriana did not know about them. Even her relationship with Seifer had happened mostly because Quistis had managed to keep it a secret until recently. She did not know that she could do this. She was feeling better and freer now. That much was true, but she could not yet speak her true name out loud, and that seemed to be a distinct disadvantage. So she worried her way through her washing. It took some time, despite her efforts to hurry, but she was not about to face the Royal Court without feeling completely clean.

When Quistis left the bathroom, wrapped in Seifer's robe once again, she found Seifer dressed in formal court attire and looking far more imposing than she had ever seen before. But there was a familiar light in his eyes and he smiled when he saw her. He leaned in to kiss her once again.

"I've been summoned, so I have to go. But Matron's maid is here to help you. There's a court dress for you laid out on the bed and some jewelry. It's your mother's. I hope you don't mind." He held her gaze with his. "I love you, Quistis Cariad Serian, and I will never give you up. Remember that."

And with that he was gone, and she was left at the mercy of the maid. The woman was brisk and efficient, and she clearly knew what she was doing. It was just as well. She had frozen when she saw the beautiful dress laid out for her. The court gown was of a pale blue grey silk and was in the latest style. She had to blink back tears when she saw the gold and opal jewelry. She remembered her mother wearing it for the most formal of occasions. Before Quistis really knew what was happening, she found herself wearing the gown and the jewelry, with only her hands bare of any ornament. Her long hair had been dried and combed out straight, falling down past her waist and her mother's diadem sat atop her head. The woman who stared back at her in the mirror looked like a princess save for the expression on her face.

Quistis shook her head in disbelief. Now she could see why Edea had been so reminded of her mother. She had not realized just how much she looked like her mother. Edea's maid smiled at her.

"Now you look like a proper Centran sorceress, miss. No wonder Lady Edea and Sir Seifer were fussed over a proper introduction at court." The woman gave a satisfied nod. "Now, off you go. Sir Seifer was in a flap about making sure that you got to court on time."

The maid flapped a hand at her. Quistis gathered herself and then set off. At least she knew where she was going. She did her best to remember how to walk like a lady. If they were to succeed, she needed to present herself to the Royal Court as a princess, rather than the servant girl she had spent the past years being. It was harder to refute her claims when she looked and acted like a princess as well as claimed to be one. Her fingers crept up to grip the opal pendant that she wore. Her mother's pendant.

Quistis straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was Princess Quistis Cariad Serian, and it was about time that she acted like it. She was through with letting Oriana Carrente dictate her life for her, and for the first time in years, Quistis had the ability to fight Oriana in a meaningful way.

Despite all of this, Quistis still hesitated when she came to the doors that lead to the Great Hall. Once she stepped in to that room, there was no going back. Quistis had no doubt that even if she made a discreet entrance, her presence was going to attract attention. But she was more afraid of backing down now. So she slipped into the room doing her best not to attract too much attention. Not yet.

She wished she and Seifer had had a chance to discuss a strategy of some sort. She did not know what Seifer had planned, and he knew this court far better than she did. She did not want to make things more difficult unintentionally. Then again, for all she knew, Seifer expected her to make an unforgettable entrance. She just didn't know.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Quistis did her best to blend in with the crowd as she made her way towards the dais where her uncle and cousin sat. They were not alone on the dais either. Selphie stood at Rinoa's side, looking concerned. A tall man stood behind her, Sir Kinneas if Quistis remembered correctly. Sir Leonhart stood at Rinoa's left, looking stoic and imposing. Seifer stood on the other side of her uncle and slightly in front of him. Seifer did not look relaxed, but he did not look all that defensive either. She took that as a good sign.

It took a little work, but Quistis managed to find a place where she was close to the dais and could see and hear everything, but so she was not standing in front of everything. Nor could she be easily seen by those on the dais which was just as well for Oriana and Aurelia stood there as well. She was not ready for them to see her yet. Oriana was speaking.

"Your Majesty, Sir Almasy has been sneaking around with Lady Aurelia ever since the Summer Court started without so much as a work to her family or any sort of promise on his part. I demand that he formally make an offer for her hand. He has already tarnished her reputation badly enough."

Uncle Caraway gave Seifer a serious look. "Do you deny these accusations, Sir Almasy?"

Seifer shrugged slightly. "I do not deny that I have been seeing a lady without a chaperone or observing proper courting behavior. However, the lady in question is not Lady Aurelia Carrente, and I have every intention of marrying her, though it is true that I have not proposed to my lady as of yet."

"Is there a particular reason for your lack of proposal at this time?" Her uncle wanted to know.

Seifer met the king's gaze steadily. "Yes. There are a few obstacles yet to work out before I can properly ask for her hand, and had I mentioned my intentions earlier, it is very likely I would have scared her off."

"I see." King Caraway steepled his fingers together.

"Lies!" Exclaimed Oriana, who sounded every inch the hysterical matron; Quistis knew it was an act. "You note how he does not give this lady's name or produce her. One of my house magicians has proved a truth potion. I demand that Sir Almasy take and speak the truth. See if his story stays the same then."

Quistis' mind immediately flashed to when she had been bound by the gaes spell. The idea of Seifer anywhere near one of Oriana's magicians or anything they made sent her into a panic. She did not know what the potion that Oriana had might do to Seifer, but she was not about to risk it, and she acted without thinking first.

"There is no need for that," her voice rang out in the room, causing those closest to her to look in her direction. "I am the lady in question."

Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward. The people in between her and the dais moved away as she walked toward it. Quistis had locked eyes with Seifer and was holding his gaze with her own. She was afraid to look at any one else. It would not take much at this point to send her in to a panic. Because once every eye had turned on her, Quistis had realized what she had just done and there was no taking it back. Seifer's eyes were warm and steady, which helped calm her, and the bond between them thrummed with reassurance. Those were the only things that kept her from bolting.

As she stepped on to the dais, there was complete silence in the room.


Seifer had barely arrived in the antechamber where Rinoa's court had gathered before he was set upon by his friends. All of them were concerned, and Seifer finally got a better picture of just why Matron had been in such a flap this morning. Oriana was accusing him of sneaking with Aurelia. She had not outright said that Seifer had been tumbling Oriana, but it was very clearly implied. She was going to force a marriage between the two of them by making a public outcry over Aurelia's ruined reputation and marriagability.

There were, of course, several problems with this plan of Oriana's. One of them was he could truthfully say that he had never spent time alone with Aurelia. Another issue was the fact that if she tried to force him to speak under a truth spell about what he had been doing, the results would be very badly in her favor. There were mages at court capable of casting a truth spell if Oriana insisted on an impartial party rather than Matron or Rinoa, and so either way, he was not all that concerned.

His main concerns about all of this were for Quistis. This was going to be very public and very messy most likely. His lady had been through enough without the added pressure of returning to her home and family with an audience. Seifer had no doubt that there would be quite a bit of uproar over her reappearance. There were going to be people that didn't believe she was who she claimed to be. There were going to be questions and long answers, and she would relay not have any sort of proper homecoming with her family until later. And throughout it all, Quistis was going to have to keep her composure. With the Royal Court, the front that she presented would make a large difference in how she was perceived.

It did not help that Seifer was well aware that his lady was still rather terrified of Oriana Carrente. He could not exactly blame her. The woman had controlled just about every aspect of his Cariad's life for years. And it was clear that she was not above using physical force in order to control Quistis either. She hid it well, but Seifer knew that she was bruised almost head to toe from her recent beating, though he did have the sneaking suspicion that Matron might have cast a slow healing on her. Quistis might be ready to fight her captor, but that did not mean that she was over her fear of the woman. And if Oriana caught on to that, she might be able to use it against Quistis.

As they entered the Great Hall, Seifer scanned the crowd of nobles, looking for his lady. He was fairly certain she would chose to blend in amongst the other nobles as best she could rather than making a grand entrance. He did not spot her immediately, which worried him. While Seifer knew that it took time to dress for court sessions, he would feel better once she was here. He did not like being separated from her, and while he could sense her slightly through their strengthening bond, it was not quite the same as being able to see that she was there in front of him and safe.

And unfortunately, Seifer was not given the opportunity to wait until she arrived before dealing with Countess Oriana Carrente of Aviemore. It seemed that she was not even going to give him the courtesy of letting court get under way before kicking up a fuss. She was going to make this issue the only thing that anyone at court was going to talk about today. Seifer bit back a sigh. But it was a battle he had been willing to take on from the start, so Seifer squared his shoulders and faced it head on.

He was not terribly surprised by the accusations thrown at him by Oriana, thanks to Matron's warnings, and he faced them with cool aplomb. He gave vague answers on purpose. For one thing, he was not going to out Quistis until she was there to speak for himself. For another, Oriana would know who he was talking about, but no one else did, and Seifer wanted Oriana to be very clear just where he stood on the matter, but they really did not need to air all of the dirty laundry publically. Some of that would be happening soon enough.

Oriana's truth potion came as a surprise. Seifer very much doubted that it really a truth potion, and he was not about to drink it until a mage he trusted had verified it was what she claimed it was, but Quistis herself decided to interfere at that point.

"There is no need for that," her voice rang out, calm and clear. "I am the lady in question."

Nearly every eye in the room turned on Quistis, with people craning their heads and jostling for a view of who had spoken. People were openly staring at her. Seifer didn't exactly blame them. Quistis looked every inch the princess she was and every inch the sorceress. At this point, the Galbadian Court knew what her diadem and pendant signified. They were probably all wracking their brains in order to try and figure out who she was. There were not that many sorceresses in the world after all and even fewer young sorceresses. Seifer caught Quistis' gaze and held it. He tried to send reassurance across their bond to sooth the nervousness he saw there.

The crowd parted and there was silence as Quistis walked towards him. Part of it was that everyone was curious as to who could have attracted Seifer's attention like this. But he also was fairly certain that older members of the court were remembering another young sorceress, one who had married Prince Derek all those years ago and whose daughter looked remarkably like her.

Oriana was barely keeping her composure. Her eyes were dark with anger, and Seifer had no doubt that things were about to get ugly.

"And just who are you?" Oriana demanded. "A common trollop dressed up in fancy clothes most likely."

Quistis gave Oriana a look that was cool and disdainful. "We both know that to be untrue, but I will indulge you. Not that it matters one way or the other. Sir Almasy is my knight, and being a sorceress confers its own rank. Especially being a Centran sorceress from the Llewellyn Clan."

And that was when Seifer realized just how dangerous a situation they were in. Quistis was an untrained or barely trained sorceress coming into her full powers for the first time in years in a situation where she would most likely feel threatened. It probably was not a question of if her magic broke out but when. And at this point, Seifer still needed physical contact with Quistis in order to help her control the magic when it broke out. And everyone here knew just how devastating the power of an out of control sorceress could be.

Seifer shifted a little closer to Quistis. Oriana was between them at this point, and he wanted to rectify that before the power that he could feel building. There were some soft murmurs amongst the rest of the nobles. Everyone here had heard of the Llewellyn Clan, though it was commonly believed that the line had died out with the disappearance of Idalia Llewellyn. Then again, the Galbadians had never realized that Princess Idalia was Idalia Llewellyn. Oriana glared at his lady.

"That does not tell us who exactly you are."

Seifer could see what Oriana was trying to do. She was trying to goad Quistis into trying to say her own name. It was clear that she believed that Quistis was still bound by the gaes. And there was the chance that she was. While their bond was growing stronger by the moment, Seifer was aware that it was not fully formed yet, and he did not know just how much Quistis could do until it was at full strength.

But Quistis smiled triumphantly at the woman. "I am Quistis Cariad Serian, daughter of Prince Derek Serian of Galbadia and his lady wife, Princess Idalia Llewellyn Serian."

There had been a catch in her voice when she spoke, and she had almost sounded breathless at times, but she had said. And that was what broke open the storm that had been brewing all this time.

Mina & Kunzite

Companion

Title: Companion
Rating: PG
Fandom: Sailor Moon
Spoilers/Warnings: AU
Pairing: Kunzite x Minako
Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon or its characters.
Theme: #13 - Spilling Shadows
Summery: Minako has always dreamed of him.

Companion

He had always been in her dreams. Ever since she was little girl. Minako had never asked what he had dreamed of before she came along. She knew he was older than she was, so he had to have dreamed of some thing else before she was born. She didn't always dream of him, but he was in her dreams at least once a week.

The dreams were odd. Minako did not always remember all of their details, but she did remember the important things. At first they had just been companions in the dreamscape, but as she grew older, he began to train her. He trained her to protect herself. How to fight with everything from a sword to her bare hands. He trained her how to be aware of her surroundings without giving that fact away. He taught her how to find escape routes no matter where she went.

All it came in useful, no matter how vaguely remembered, especially once she becomes Sailor V. She knows it is thanks to him that she has succeeded and is still alive. And once she becomes Sailor V, he starts to teach her other things. Things that don't seem important at the time like diplomacy and negotiation. But at least he still remained in her dreams. He was her constant, her aide and confidant. She could tell him anything, all of the little petty things as well as the big ones. She could tell him all the doubts that she couldn't tell Artemis about.

But even as she prepared to leave to return to Japan, he appeared in her dreams with sadness in his grey-green eyes.

"This is the last time I'll see you like this, Mina mine. Our window of opportunity is closing."

She blinks, startled by this revelation. "But you can't go. I need you."

His smile is gentle. "No, you don't. You have everything you need. And even if you don't, you will have your sisters and your princess."

"But I want you."

He kissed her forehead gently, then unclasped the kunzite pendant he always wore. He fastened it around her neck, where it glowed, making the shadows spilling around them fade away for just a moment.

"This isn't goodbye. We'll meet again, love. In person this next time. But it's time for you to use what I've taught you, and for you to stand on
your own."

He kisses her again, on the lips this time, and the dream fades away. When she wakes, Minako finds a kunzite pendant on a silver chain around her neck.

Ukitake & Unohana

Coaxing

Title: Coaxing
Rating: PG
Fandom: Bleach
Spoilers/Warnings: AU.
Pairing: Jyuushiro Ukitake x Retsu Unohana
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or its characters.
Theme: #18 - Seek Out the Good In People.
Summery: It was one of Jyuushiro's greatest talents.

Coaxing

Retsu smiled to herself as she watched Jyuushiro work with some of his newest recruits.  They were supposed to be meeting for lunch, but Jyuushiro was running late. Given why, Retsu couldn't bring herself to mind. The Thirteenth had just acquired half a dozen very new recruits, and Jyuushiro had already singled several of them out.

Jyuushiro had always had a talent for inspiring people and helping them gain confidence. There were reasons the Thirteenth had a high turnover rate. Probably two thirds of the recruits that they got were only there until Jyuushiro and his  division had helped them gain the confidence and skills they needed. For all that the Academy did a good job of training new shinigami, there were some things that required real life experience. And Jyuushiro had a deft hand at nurturing nervous young shinigami into talented individuals. He had this way of seeking out people's talents and turning them from good to great.

He knew how to bring out the best in people, and he could work wonders with new recruits. It was one of the things that Retsu most admired about her partner. Jyuu's patience and quiet confidence made the difference to any number of young shinigami over the years. With a few last words, Jyuushiro dismissed his recruits and made his way over to her.

"I'm sorry that took so long," he started to apologize, "but they needed some advice-"

"It's fine." She kissed his cheek. "What did you have in mind for lunch?"