Anyway movie quotes aside the kitchen smelled wonderful that February morning and I had the place to myself. Neither Cal nor Azure work nine to five jobs but they had this particular sunday free so they had headed off to their hidden gym in the abandoned subway tunnel for a real workout. They both belong to regular gyms for appearances sake but while they use glamour to simulate it there's just no way to work up a sweat without making it obvious they've got superhuman capabilities. So they'd be away another hour at least and turn up badly in need of a shower and probably sporting healing bruises from one of their practice duels. I used to try to get in on those but after they let me watch a few I realized I'm nowhere near ready for that level of ferocity. Not that they don't train me, matter of fact they had promised to work on upgrading my senshi skills this evening, but our regular sessions are done at a different pace. Cal says (and Azure agrees) that there's a big difference between being a heroine and being a warrior. Maybe so but I sometimes wonder if they're just splitting hairs. If they could learn to shed that Dark Kingdom baggage of theirs ...
I shook off the thought, if I kept it up I'd wind up brooding like Cal and (sort of) twin sister or not there are some ways I don't want to be too much like him. Besides I suspected they were already loosening up a bit but unlearning the habits of a lifetime wasn't something that was going to happen overnight. I figured all I had to do was wait. Just give 'em time and let them settle in. After all, it hadn't been much over a year ago that we escaped the Dark Kingdom forever.
The timer pinged and I opened the oven door. The chocolate smelled divine and looked just the right shade of brown. Best of all the two special ones had kept their shape. I breathed a sign of relief, I'd been worried about them. Naturally I couldn't buy any molds the right shape so I'd had to improvise as best I could.
So far so good. Now I just had to get them cooled and hidden before anyone walked in on me. Luckily with the 13th being a Sunday I had plenty of time to get this done in secret. I'd never have been able to pull this off on a weeknight. This morning had worked out perfectly, not only were Cal and Azure out but Pyrite had headed off early to recheck some mana hotspots he'd discovered a little while back. Something called Crystalpoints that had first flared up a few months ago. Probably something to do with whatever the Senshi were up to these days. All we knew for sure was whoever was causing trouble this time used some sort of magical constructs that crumbled to dust and gemstones when they got zapped. Cal and Azure had both had run-ins with them and their controllers. So had Margrave. Sort of anyway as one of the Senshi's battles with the mystery women had covered the ruckus she kicked up with Azurite when they went shopping together. That was just after Margrave moved in, she was still settling into life in Tokyo. She wouldn't do that these days, she's become a lot more comfortable around Azure. Unfortunately that doesn't mean they're any closer to being friends. Just that Margrave's a lot subtler about needling Azurite these days. Anyway the bottom line was whatever the Senshi were mixed up was still going strong. On top of that there were rumours about a new vigilante in town but whoever it was seemed to be a lot more camera-shy than the Senshi and most people think they're just urban myths. Nobody knew if Twilight was a man or a woman, assuming he or she even existed. There was obviously plenty happening but Cal hadn't eased up on staying away from the Senshi. Cal doesn't put many restrictions on me and even then I know I can get away with bending them. Most of them anyway. I could recognize the ones he'd never compromise on and encountering the Senshi other than by pure chance was probably the strongest decree he'd ever issued. To make matters worse everyone backed him up so that was pretty well that. I thought they were all being ... not quite paranoid, more overly cautious but I could also understand why they felt that way and I had no wish to cause them unnecessary grief.
So despite the fact I knew the real names of all the Senshi I hadn't contacted any of them to get the real scoop on whatever was plaguing Tokyo or offered my help. Kind of a shame as Sailor Polaris hadn't really had a chance to shine since that mess in MegaTokyo and nobody around here ever heard of that ... which reminded me we never found out what happened to all the Boomers Cal and Azure, or rather Gray and Sailor Arcturus, wrecked. Hopefully Pyrite was wrong about maybe someone trying a real "Terminator 2" scenario and figuring out how to build biomechs by reverse-engineering the remains and creating another version of GENOM.
I wasn't losing any sleep over it as I don't think Pyr was being too serious. He did say all the organic bits would have been beyond recovery and analysis pretty quickly. Anyway all that aside I'd have loved a chance to work with the Senshi again which I hadn't had a chance to do since our one and only team-up during the ... the Magnesite incident.
Despite the heat from the oven I felt a chill. It still made my skin crawl to think about him. He came far too close to punching everyone's ticket. Luckily, there was a simple solution to the Maggie Blues. I pictured the paperweight on Cal's desk and felt much better. Like Margrave always said you can't be scared of a guy who really got the bird.
Which reminded me that I wasn't alone in the house after all. Luckily it was still morning and Margrave didn't get before noon if she could help it.
I had just thought that when guess who sauntered through the kitchen door. She hadn't bothered dressing, just thrown on one of Cal's shirts and stumbled downstairs. From her smile she also loved the smell of chocolate in the morning. Normally I'd be happy to see our family's other chocoholic but this was very bad timing.
"Uhm ... you're up early. Lunch isn't ready yet."
Margrave's smile grew and she tapped her nose. "Do you really think I could sleep through scents like this? Not that I'd want to. Mmmm, the breakfast of champions."
This could get tricky. "Yeah well normally I'd agree with you but ... 'Grave do you know what tomorrow is?"
She frowned a little. "Monday? Okay that's obviously not the right answer. The fourteenth?"
"That's partially right. But do you know what February the fourteenth means?"
She shrugged, "Some human holiday?" Then brightened up, "Kitten, you don't mean to tell me it's Chocolate Day?"
I shook my head (not that I thought it was a bad idea) and told her, "Unfortunately there isn't a day set aside to celebrate chocolate."
"There should be!"
"I have to agree but there isn't. Tomorrow is actually a holiday called Valentine's Day."
Margrave frowned a little then shrugged. "Sounds vaguely familiar but I don't recall any details. But if it's an excuse to eat chocolate then I'm all for it."
"Yeah well ... (this was going to be the tricky part) ... the thing is Valentine's the patron saint of either love or romance, I forget which and maybe it's both anyway. So it's traditional to show somebody you care about some sign of affection. Cards and flowers are popular though chocolate is also ...
"So Cal's obligated to give me chocolate and he's got you to bake it for him. That's so sweet. Well I'd better sample it to just to make sure it won't go off before tomorrow!"
"WHOA! THOSE AREN'T FOR YOU!"
Margrave pulled up short and looked hurt. Too hurt so she was just overacting again. I tried again, "Look but don't touch, please." She hurumphed but studied the baking tray and nodded.
"Okay, it's pretty obvious who the two big ones are for. But what about those hearts?"
"I was getting to that. See there's this tradition that on Valentine's Day girls give boys chocolate. The main reason is to show a boy you like him though you can also do it out of friendship or because you feel sorry for him or obligated to because of some favour. Of course it's a good idea to specify if it's one of the secondary reasons so they don't get the wrong idea."
Margrave looked miffed and shook her head. "That's backwards! We shouldn't give them chocolate! They should be the ones to give us chocolate and lots of it!"
"Most places it is."
"Well last year I got caught off-guard by this holiday. See all I knew beforehand about this holiday was a brief description I read in a book. Thing is that book was about how the British celebrate Valentine's Day since that's where we're supposed to be from. Over there kids in school usually just exchange cards, if there's gift exchanges it's between boys and girls who are already an item. Also boys tend to be bigger gift givers than girls."
"As it should be."
I had to smile, Margrave has some definite ideas along those lines. "So I spent the day doing my ignorant foreigner act. Fair enough because that's what I was, we'd only been in Tokyo a bit over a month. Still I'd say there were those who thought I was a real jerk. Luckily that was in my old school so nobody in Bunkyo knows about my unintentional blunder."
Margrave shrugged, "Not your fault you didn't know the locals have such an idiotic custom. Especially since you had it right the first time."
I didn't want to start an argument about fitting in so I just said, "By now I've been here long enough to know better so there's no excuse this time. So I've made these."
From the look on her face I should be holding out for boys to give me gifts but she didn't voice her opinion. Instead she just asked, "As I said it's obvious who gets these ones. But what about all the little hearts?"
Before I could get over feeling flustered and answered she cocked her head to the side and engaged her glamour. Before I could ask why she said, "It's your chubby friend." A moment or two later the doorbell rang.
Margrave strode off and I heard her open the front door and tell Meiko I was in the kitchen and to go round to the back door. Followed by the door not quite slamming closed (I don't think it was because she really dislikes Meiko, more that she was just irritated about the chocolate being off-limits) and the creak of the stairs as she headed back to the bedroom. Either get dressed or go back to bed. More likely the latter than the former.
There was a knock at the backdoor and I called, "It's open, Mei-chan." Meiko left her shoes in the porch and walked in with a hearty, "Smells great in here, Ti-chan." From the slightly agonized expression I guessed she was dieting again.
I wish Margrave wouldn't call her chubby. Sure she's stocky but most of its muscle rather than flab. Still she has definitely slimmed down since I've known her and she picked one of my older sisters as a role model.
"Is Azure-sama in?"
Now that's the real reason Margrave doesn't think too highly of Mei-chan. "Not right now, she's out jogging with Cal. It's just me and M... Cathy at the moment." Almost did it again! I had to remember that being on a first name basis with Cal's girlfriend Catherine Margrave meant she's Cathy to me so long as it's not just family. Don't want to sound too formal.
Meiko hadn't noticed. I could almost see her make a mental note to start jogging on sunday mornings. Naturally since Mei-chan idolizes Azure she's picked up on her dislike for Margrave. Though it's fuelled by her belief that Margrave is vain, lazy and a golddigger sponging off Cal. This is kind of hard to deny as it's pretty well dead on but Meiko can't quite see that it doesn't make her a bad person.
Well maybe it does but I like her anyway. Speaking of whom Meiko had that look (much like Azurite's) that meant she was about to say something negative about Margrave.
She nodded towards the ceiling and said, "I don't know what your brother sees in her. Scratch them, it's pretty obvious but he's got to know he could do better." I sometimes think that maybe I've told my friends a bit too much about the romantic tangle we used to have around here. Though I did fudge on the dates and the background details.
We had had this conversation before so once again I answered, "Once upon a time maybe but being childhood buddies he got too used to thinking of her as his best friend. So by the time he finally noticed she'd grown up it was too late and she'd given up and found Pyr."
Meiko frowned a bit, she's never been quite sure what to make of Pyrite, or Piram Troy as she knows him. Which reminds me I found out we screwed up on that name as the Trojan king was named Priam. We should have gone with Hiram and worked on making "Hir" sound like "Pyr". But that's another story and I was talking about Mei-chan's doubts.
Supposedly Pyr is a struggling writer, an unrecognized (and unpublished) genius supported by his faithful girlfriend. We figured it made good cover for him to stay home and work on curing our little geographic limitation. Matter of fact he has written one novel, a Trek book that he was unable to sell but which did receive a personalized and encouraging rejection notice. He's currently working on a fantasy book loosely based on our life in the Dark Kingdom that he dictates to a transcription spell setup he's got hooked to his computer while he's running experiments.
Anyway there are those who figure he's a lot like Margrave, sponging off a successful partner. Others figure if he's the reason she's able to work a punishing schedule without complaints then more power to him. Meiko falls somewhere in the middle but leans towards the pro side. I've mentioned the negative view. On the other hand he obviously makes Azure happy, is always ready to help out and comes across as a pleasant, self-effacing twenty something young man.
Anyway Meiko let the matter drop undisputed and wandered over to look at the baking tray. Then frowned for real.
"What in the world are those things?"
Luckily I'd thought ahead and had an answer. "Valentines."
"The ones in the back sure, they're obviously hearts. But what are these supposed to be? I'd guess they're something that melted except the lines are too clean."
"Don't you recognize Klingon when you see it?"
"Well you know Pyr's a fanatical Trekkie."
"Uh huh." The way she said that reminded me that was a strike against him in her book.
"Well I always make a Valentine's treat for Cal and Pyr but this year I decided to do something different. So I borrowed Pyr's Klingon-English dictionary and worked out how to write their names in Klingon."
She just looked at me for a moment. "You're weird. Creative but definitely weird."
"You have no idea."
I knew Meiko well enough to know she'd bought my story, I also know she wouldn't bother to check it. Which was good because if she had she would have told me I'd got the names wrong. Actually my little white lie was more of a half-truth. It did spell out their names in alien script. Except that the names were Calcite and Pyrite rather than Calvin and Piram and the language wasn't Klingon but Youma'shak, our native tongue. I still write in Kingdom glyphs when I'm absentmindedly jotting down notes which is why I have a bit of a reputation for doodling.
Anyway Mei-chan's curiosity had found a new target. She grinned and asked me, "So who are all these for?"
"Uhm well ... nobody in particular. Except one's for Toji."
From the way she looked at me I might as well have answered Jadeite. Well she'd never actually heard of Jadeite but you get the idea.
"ARE YOU NUTS?!"
"No more than usual and I've no desire to be his girlfriend. But he has helped us out with out little manga project. So I figure he deserves something for all his efforts."
Meiko calmed down and nodded slowly. "Kaori has said he's saved her a lot of time by inking her artwork. So I suppose I owe him one too. Sorry, I wasn't thinking but you know what he's like. If you encourage him ..."
"I'll make sure he understands its friendship slash obligation only."
I shook my head. "If I said that he'd mope for weeks. Besides he's not quite as uhm ..."
"Well yeah but I was avoiding the word. And he is better than he was."
Meiko nodded again. "He's improved since he developed that overblown crush on you, I'll give him that. But let's face it the guy is still a grade A nerd!"
I had to agree with her, I mean I'm a comics and animation fan, so are Kaori and Meiko. But we know where to draw the line between fandom and get-a-life-dom. Still he had definitely helped us out by computer shading Kaori's artwork. Kaori had enough trouble finishing the pencil drafts on top of her schoolwork to worry about inking it too. If all went well with Toji's help Andromeda would be ready for the summer fan-comic fair.
I should backtrack a bit. Magical Princess Andromeda was the first project of the Andromeda Manga Publications or AMP. Which was a rather grandiose name for the little circle of Meiko, Kaori and me. It all started when we realized just how good an artist Kaori was. Which happened once we managed to talk her into showing us her work instead of keeping it squirreled away. Kaori had definite self-esteem problems, she loved to sketch but figured everyone else would laugh at her pictures. If her notebook hadn't fallen open that time ...
Well anyway once we convinced her we liked it me and Meiko came up with a brilliant idea. We'd both toyed with doing our own fan comic but as neither of us could draw that was pretty much that. Kaori changed everything. Of course it took us awhile to get her to agree to putting her art on public view (which still hasn't happened and won't unless we complete the book) but we can be persuasive when we want to be. After all I talked Cal into accepting Sailor Polaris was here to stay, didn't I?
Where was I? Oh right, Andromeda. Well we had an artist so we needed a subject. We all agreed a magical girl story was the way to go so we needed our princess. Of course my first impulse was to do a Sailor Polaris comic but I manage to throttle that particular desire. Far too much of a giveaway but I couldn't resist an astronomical name, hence Andromeda. The others liked it and we got to work designing our own magical princess.
We split up our duties according to our talents. I'm good at bursts of creativity and wheedling the money to finance our venture out of my brother so that made me the publisher. Meiko's the most down to earth of us so she got the job of turning my inspirations into a workable script. So she's the writer and naturally Kaori's the artist. The fourth member to join our little group was a bit of a surprise. Toji Kimua was one of those guys who are good with computers and not so hot on social skills. Anyway he had had a crush on me for months. Which I have to admit I had inadvertently started when I needed to get hold of those out of print Bubblegum Crisis discs in a hurry. Okay, it wasn't exactly inadvertent but I never figured he'd carry a torch for me this long. But he just never seemed to quite comprehend the concept of rejection. Anyway he had taken a few sledgehammer hints (I'm talking metaphorically as I'm still having zero luck with my psychoplasm shaping skills) and wasn't quite as geeky as he had been. Anyway since he did have one hell of a collection of anime we let him hang around us occasionally. Now Toji may be a stereotypical nerd but he isn't dumb. He was pretty quick to figure we'd let him stick around longer if he could make himself useful. So one day he overheard Kaori lamenting the time inking her pencil art took and barged in to offer a solution.
After fast-talking himself out of a pummeling for intruding on a private conversation he managed to convince Kaori to let him give it a try. Sure enough once he had scanned it he was able to try adding the shades by computers. His early efforts were kind of bland but just being pixels he could undo everything and start from scratch without any problems. I guess his scheme sort of backfired as while the three of us dropped by his home occasionally (as I wasn't about to go there alone) Kaori was the artist and she was the who wound up spending the most time with him ironing out the details after Meiko and me called it a night. Matter of fact she had taken to dropping by there on her own to see how he was doing, pick up the latest printouts and red-circle any changes. All this rather delighted Toji's parents who were happy to see their introverted son having friends. Nice folks but they needed to stop confusing solving a problem with throwing money at it.
All of which occasionally had me wondering if maybe Kaori was becoming accustomed to Toji and maybe they were becoming good friends. Or possibly something more. A thought Meiko gave voice to by saying, "So Toji's going to score three valentines, one from each of us. Probably better than he's ever done. And maybe, just maybe one of them won't be pure sympathy."
"Why Meiko, I never knew you felt that way about Toji-kun."
I ducked but she didn't swing her purse like she really meant it. And she seemed good-natured enough when she called me a dimwit. Of course part of the grin was because she was about to get her own back by asking, "So who are you planning to give Valentines to? You've got quite a few fans and nowhere near enough chocolate."
I think I blushed, I certainly felt flustered. Boys and the whole boyfriend concept was a big question mark in my book. Well I mean I understood the concept intellectually. How could I not? I'd seen enough anime and manga on the subject along with living with two couples and witnessing a real love triangle (or whatever you called it when there were four people involved and one was utterly clueless and another didn't know her partner knew about her feelings and ... oh, forget it! That's another long story) but I'd never really been able to see it relating to me personally.
See where I grew up the boys were scum. I'm not doing some Akane Tendo wannabe "I hate boys" riff, I'm being serious. Almost every guy (and girl) in the Dark Kingdom was pure evil! I was related to the only two decent guys in the whole place! Actually, now that I think about it, my father Nephrite was supposed to be loosening up towards the end so that made a possible third likeable guy relative. But the rest of them? Forget it! All of which meant that when we moved I didn't have the right mindset for making anything except friends. But my feelings were changing and I'd had romantic daydreams about plenty of fantasy boys. But fictional guys were easy because I knew there was no way I'd ever meet them. Though come to think of it last summer I'd have said Mackie Stingray wasn't real and I'd met him. Not that he'd ever figured in my fantasies being a bit too hentai but if he was real in another dimension I wondered if they were all real somewhere.
The speculation vanished in a wave of anxiety as I remembered Meiko was waiting for an answer. Since Pyrite was still investigating interdimensional travel we were sticking to this world so even if they were real somewhere the guys I daydreamed about were drawings on paper or cels as far as I was concerned. Which was probably for the best because I still didn't feel up to any sort of real relationship. It was still too ... too I don't know what! Too scary? Too foreign? Too uncertain? Too not me? Nothing seemed to fit because I couldn't define my feelings and until I could it didn't seem wise to get involved in anything except friendship from a guy. And yet ...
"Uhm, I ... well you know ... it's traditional and doesn't ... I mean ... well ..." Real smooth, Ti! I needed to change the subject, fast! "I ..." Inspiration struck. "I think you're overestimating my appeal. Let's face it I'm pretty scrawny."
Meiko shook her head. "Nah, you've got plenty of meat on your bones. You wouldn't be the school's softball star if you weren't and there's plenty of guys who like athletic girls. You're nothing like scrawny. Now Kaori's a bit too much on the slender side ..." Meiko grinned again. "Of course she compensates by having more talent than you do."
I tried not to show it but I seethed. I don't know how that particular euphemism got into circulation but the double meaning made a great way for Meiko to needle me. And yes Kaori is built better than I am though that aura of quiet shyness of hers means guys tend to overlook her. Not that I really think about it as it doesn't matter to me. Except I bet Sailor Polaris would be a lot more popular if she had a bust like Jupiter's. And nobody would be able to deny I've grown up. Not to mention I was sick of hearing the other girls at school bragging how mature they looked while I stayed flat chested.
Okay, I lied. I admit I thought about it quite a bit. Hard to avoid when you lived with Margrave and Azurite. Every time I looked at them it was obvious how far I had to go. No wonder they treated me like a little kid. Compared to them I was a little kid. Maybe I couldn't realistically compare myself to Margrave but Azurite was like me, a female Renegade. When Azure was my age she looked ... well pretty much the same as she does today. It's part of that whole youma-warrior-race breeding program of Beryl's. Rapid maturity following by a prolonged period in physical and (ahem) sexual prime. Think I just blushed again but never mind. Thanks to getting dumped in biostasis for eight years just after I was born I was a late bloomer. Those magics weren't perfect and occasionally things like this happened, possibly exacerbated by my being a Renegade. Pyrite says that biologically it's nothing to worry about, I'm not looking at long term side effects. But he couldn't predict when I'd blossom, so to speak. I think I wasn't the only one embarrassed when we had that conversation a little while ago.
One thing he was right about was that on the whole it's a blessing in disguise. If I had the body of an adult I'd be expected to act like one or be treated as retarded. Either way I wouldn't have liked it. I was more comfortable with those my own biological age so my slowed metabolism was a boon. Most of the time anyway so I suppose I shouldn't grumble. But if I could have just get a hint that changes were coming ... Ah well we didn't live in a perfect world. If we did Sailor Polaris would be officially part of the Sailor Senshi. But compared to the Dark Kingdom it was paradise so I had no right to complain. I wouldn't have traded this world and my friends for anything. Speak of which Meiko was still waiting for an answer. I glanced back at the hearts then shook my head and sighed.
"I don't know. Truth is except for Toji's I made them without anyone really in mind. I had a short list then I started revising it and never stopped. So in the end I decided to just make a bunch and go with whomever seemed like a good idea tomorrow."
Meiko didn't seem too surprised. "Figures. You know in your own way you're as shy as Kaori."
"Well that's not quite the right word but ... I don't know exactly. You're not scared of boys and you've got no problems being nice to them but it's like you're not ready to think of anything more. Unless it's with one of your RayEarth dreamboats."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Come on, I've seen you drooling over Ferrio. Not to mention Zagato."
"Well he's handsome. Evil but handsome."
"Can't deny that." Meiko sighed, "Of course that's manga for you. You're never going to find combination for real."
"Oh I don't know about that."
"Never mind, dumb thought." Another one struck. "Which reminds me. I wouldn't be reading RayEarth if Chrys hadn't turned me onto it. Maybe I should drop by Silkworm and give her one of the hearts."
Meiko shook her head. "That's not the way we do valentines around here. The idea is they all go to potential boyfriends. Even if they're really geeky and basically would have to be the last guy on Earth."
"Well Chrys likes girls so does that count?"
It's funny how people can be big fans of this same sex stuff in manga and think it's terribly romantic then sort of freak when they encounter the real thing. It's also funny what you can say without really thinking about it.
"Easy Mei-chan! She only comes on to those who share her interests and besides we're too young for her. So it doesn't change a thing about liking her a person."
Meiko looked a bit freaked but demanded, "If that's so how did you even find out about this?"
"Margrave figured it out then set her up on a date with Azure. One of her practical jokes, she managed to con them both. Chrys though she was meeting a wallflower just coming out of the closet and Azure thought it was a meeting with a casting director. It all worked out okay and they had a laugh over it once they figured it out they'd been tricked."
Meiko glared up at the ceiling. "That was a rotten thing for her to do!" Before I could try to defend Margrave's (to be very charitable) mischievous nature there was the sound of the front door opening and the rumble of familiar voices. Then two sets of footsteps, one heading upstairs, one heading our way. The ones approaching were the lighter set but just in case I moved to block the view of the baking tray. The door opened and a familiar figure stepped inside.
"Speak of the devil, we were just talking about you."
"Good morning Azure-sama."
"Good morning Meiko, always nice to see you. So what were you saying about me Ti?"
I noticed Azurite didn't protest the "sama" part this time. Looked like she had given up trying to get Meiko to act a bit less deferential and decided moving from Dewitt-sama to Azure-sama was as far as Mei-chan was going to go. "Well we were talking about Chrys and I remembered how Cathy set you two up on a date."
"Ah yes." Azurite frowned a little. "Do I still owe her for that one."
"Nope, remember the feathers?"
The frown disappeared. "Ah yes, she was unlucky wasn't she. Still accidents will happen."
I nodded and said, "Sometimes even by accident."
We both chuckled which must have frustrated Meiko a bit as she'd obviously been hoping for a bit more detail. But since Sailor Arcturus was involved neither of us was about to explain any further. The same as I wasn't going to tell Mei-chan that just after she arrived I'd clicked the pager in my bracelet to signal Cal and Azure that we had company so they wouldn't just materialize in the living room. They'd have checked for messages before returning from what must have been a good workout. Azure had really worked up a sweat but that just made her seem to glow.
Meiko must have been thinking the same thing. "Azure-sama, you had a good run?"
Azurite didn't bat an eye at hearing my cover story. "Excellent, I really feel like I've worked out all the kinks. It does you good to push your limits occasionally." Noticing Meiko's rapt nod she quickly added, "So long as you don't overdo it. That's a good way to turn your body against you. Anyway sorry if I smell a bit ripe but that's the price you pay. Cal reeked worse so I sent him to hit the shower first." Meiko started telling Azure she just smelled healthy but Azure gave her a "don't worry" wave. "The other reason I told Cal to hit the shower first was I suspected you might be up to something in here." She leaned past me and studied the tray. "Thought so. Yohko mentioned the local Valentine customs so I wondered if you'd adopted them. When in Rome and all that." Suddenly looking thoughtful she mused aloud, "I never got Pyr anything when we were growing up. Not our custom. Maybe I should make up for lost time. What do you think Meiko?"
It was Meiko's turn to have an attack of the "uhms" before she managed to answer that it was a decision only Azure-sama could really make. Azure nodded then announced, "Well we'd better get these ..."
"Klingon alphabet valentines!", I interrupted.
Patiently she continued, "I recognized them Ti, I am the one living with a Trekkie." Not even a twitch, I'll bet Azure's as great at poker as Cal. "What I was going to say is if you'd like them to be a surprise is we'd better hide them before the boys barge in. Preferably somewhere Cathy won't find them either."
"Don't worry she's promised not to touch them." Well she hadn't exactly but I knew she knew I didn't want her to eat them. Azure didn't know that but from her expression she didn't put much stock in Margrave's promises. Nor did Meiko so she proposed a solution that we all agreed with. It wouldn't hurt not to have Margrave suffering the temptation so I carefully wrapped and boxed the cooled chocolate and packed them in Meiko's backpack. I'd pick them up from her tomorrow at school and give Cal and Pyr's theirs when I got home. While I was doing that Azure filled Meiko in on what she'd been up to which really made her day. And she looked over the moon when Azure offered to take her out to lunch (once she'd freshened up) as a way of thanking Meiko for helping me out. So Meiko was a little distracted when we got around to talking Andromeda business again while Azure was in the shower. But I didn't mind as it's great to see my friends getting along. Now if I could just convince them both that Margrave's okay everything would be perfect.
The next day at school went better than I'd hoped. I gave Toji his chocolate at the same time as Meiko and Kaori so he didn't get the wrong idea. I still can't decide if Kaori's was given with a bit more than a thanks for the help sentiment. To add to my confusion Kaori took me aside and gave me a valentine to present to Cal and blushed while doing it. So it looks like she's got a definite crush on my big brother. Cal will undoubtedly be gallant and try to sort it out without hurting her feelings. Margrave just sort of snorted when I gave it to him. Which I was glad to see as she obviously doesn't see Kaori as any sort of competition so she won't be getting up to any tricks. As for what I did at school? In the end I asked Kaori to point out the biggest members of my unofficial fanclub, cut anyone who looked a bit suspect and delivered valentines to the rest under the buddies clause. Perhaps next year I'd be ready to pass some out under the potential or actual boyfriend clause. Time would tell. I had one chocolate left over which I dropped off at the Silkworm Bookshoppe on the way home. Chrys seemed rather touched and didn't take it the wrong way. I liked Chrystine Phobos as a friend and the feeling seems mutual so maybe I was acquiring another honourary older sister. The third woman elevated to the post but the first human one. But I'll bet I could get to feeling like Chrys was part of the family very easily.
Anyway after that I got home and gave Cal and Pyr their valentines. I was a little surprised that I wasn't the only one to do that. Margrave handed Cal a hastily wrapped package, which rather surprised all of us. After we got over our astonishment he unwrapped it, looked inside the box and announced, "A half empty box of Belgian chocolates."
Margrave did one of her eye catching shrugs. "They smelled so good that I had to try them. You know I'm not much on resisting temptation."
Cal just sighed. "Does this have something to do with the fact my wallet went a lot thinner this morning?"
Margrave did her innocent look. "I had to get the money to but them from somewhere. Surely you didn't expect me to steal them. Or work so I could afford them. After all there's only one profession I'm any good at and I didn't want to make you jealous on Valentine's day."
Cal sighed and handed over the box. "Like a chocolate?" Margrave almost snatched it and began working her way through it though at a slower pace than usual. They must have been good for her to take her time like that.
I was expecting Azurite to say something cutting but she surprised me by just shaking her head and murmuring, "At least she's consistent."
Pyrite nodded, he had his hands full trying to balance a large chocolate Federation badge that had started life as a solid chocolate heart and been whittled into shape. Azurite had announced that it seemed only fitting to honour local customs and she had quite a few Valentine's Days to make up for. They weren't going to be here much longer, Azure had made reservations for dinner and the rest of the night so except for an emergency we wouldn't be seeing them before tomorrow. I had heard her whisper to Cal that Pyrite was overdoing the experimentation and needed a break so this made a great excuse. Pyrite didn't seem too unhappy at losing working time so it looked like a good evening. As for Margrave I expected her to ... uhm, start distracting Cal from any resentment he felt over her interpretation of gift giving so it was going to be all on my lonesome tonight. Which was fine by me as I'd picked up a new OAV while I was in Silkworm and the guy on the cover looked good enough to inspire a few choice dreams. Which was more than enough for me this Valentine's Day. Maybe next year I'd be ready for more reality but for tonight this was plenty.
Looking back I wonder what I'd have done if I knew that next year would be this year as I'd be living through 1994 again and too busy with a war to worry about Valentines. But that's the thing about the future, it always throws you for a loop. Trying to expect the unexpected never works, which makes sense when you think about it. Although I didn't know it I was going to live through some very interesting times.
Which was fine by means as who would want to live in uninteresting times?
How that ever got to be a curse I'll never understand but that's humans for you. Every time you think you've got it figured out they surprise you.
I wouldn't have it any other way