The Lady Moon Rabbit had received her daughter home with a hug, her favorite mochi, and no questions asked.
It was the little things in her daughter which had given it away.
The matter that she had left mere moments after filling out the catering order for Rosabella Beauty's wedding-party, supposedly the celebration of the year. That she had simply called one day, with no advance notice, and said, "Mother, I want to come home." The way she began to follow a particular series of trials very, very closely, using their home MirrorNet router to check the news every day, watching the reports that came in on their black-and-white television.
And, in spite of village tradition, the elder Mochigome was no stranger to the MirrorNet herself. It took mere moments for her to discover that Celes, too, had testified in those trials. No further details were disclosed, but it was said that she had sealed the sentence of three particularly handsome men. It was said that she had been closely acquainted with one of them.
She might be getting old, but the Lady Mochigome was far from blind.
It was lucky, the Lady supposed, that the Lunar Council of their village hadn't discovered the nature of Celes' return home. Either lucky, or merely fortunate that they had the only MirrorNet router in town, but the Lady Moon Rabbit did like to think she had rather lucky feet.
Still... Celes had seemed despondent these past few weeks, and her mother-- in her own meddling way-- sought to lighten her mood. Or, at the very least, hasten her energy.
"The gods themselves have placed an exceptionally large order this year," the Lady Mochigome thudded away at yet another batch of mochi, pounding the sticky rice into an even stickier sweet. "And I am getting to be too old to complete so much work myself... it is lucky, Celes, that you should be here at this time of year, so close to the Celestial New Year celebration."
"I am not yet fit to make the mochi of the gods themselves," Celes replied, glaring downcast at her own mortar. It was oversticky, she thought, not quite like her mother's. She added just a touch more moonrice-flour and kept at her work. "And I... fear I will bring shame to our village."
I fear I have already brought shame to our village, the Lady heard instead, and o! How badly she wished to say that she had already discerned the truth, that there was no shame in having fallen in love.
Instead, she replied, "You are ready... and though it is true that your mochi is not quite the same as mine, it is another entity unto itself. You are not me, Celes, and you are not your grandmother, nor your great-grandmother before her."
"The gods will smite us all if I displease them," Celes pounded her mochi all the more forcefully. "I cannot."
"The gods will be delighted at the variety of the work, I think," her mother gently lifted a hand off the pestle, ceasing in her labors for a moment. She touched Celes' cheek, and felt the wetness there. "Never before have two Moon Rabbits catered the same event. And is the New Year not a time for a passing of the baton, a time for tradition and innovation both? Your desserts are delicious, the perfect representation of a new generation of Mochigome. Help me cater the event. Please?"
Celes sniffled a little. She let go of the pestle, sobbing, afraid that she would ruin the batch of mochi with the bitter-salt of tears.
"O-okay," her lower-lip wobbled. "Fine, mom... I'll help you cater it. But only because the order is so big this year! And only because... because I don't want you to get too tired."
"Oh, Celes, my daughter," the Lady Moon Rabbit pulled her in for a hug. "I would not work myself to death. I just want you to be yourself again... to love catering, the way you always have."
"I do, mom," Celes wept, and unspoken between them were the words: But I have found someone I love just as much.
"Perhaps we should take a break for tea," the Lady Mochigome hugged her close. "Maybe turn on the news for a while. I will get the kettle?"
"And I will find the channel," Celes agreed, grateful for the opportunity to re-compose herself.
She wiped her tears away with her sleeve, gently turning the television on and adjusting the bunny-ear-shaped antennae at the top. Lunar television did indeed have cable, but unfortunately, broadcasting was limited to local news. For the Mochigomes, mere moon-cable could not connect them to the rest of the realms with quite the appropriate haste-- they held to a tradition of catering in Ever After until it was time to take up their predecessors' mantle. It had been the topic of much horrified gossip when great-great-grandmother had done it first.
It had been another village scandal when grandmother, too, had brought home the television, that amount of technology completely unheard of back in her day. It had been an even bigger scandal when her mother had brought home the MirrorNet.
(Celes, at least, had left her scandal back on Ever After. Her scandal, whom she knew would have adored being called by such a name, her scandal whom she had condemned to a lifetime in prison. It was better this way, she assured herself, trying to pretend that Percy might someday get out on parole. It was better, she asserted, though she hated the thought of him caged.)
And so, carefully adjusting one of the wires, Celes at last connected to a clear picture of the Ever After news, Blondie Lockes' perpetually-present image commanding the screen.
Her mother came in with a tray of tea. "Rose tea with milk... I know it is your favorite."
"You didn't have to," Celes frowned, stirring her tea. "But... thanks."
Blondie Lockes began to blather on about such-and-such celebrity whose story had begun, such-and-such celebrity who had successfully rebelled and avoided retelling the story. It was the sort of comforting, background nonsense that one got used to on Ever After... the sort of soothing meaninglessness that made Celes understand just why her grandmother had brought the television here, above all else.
But then, suddenly, Blondie grasped her earpiece and her expression grew alarmed. The entire screen layout changed in that moment, a header reading 'Breaking News!' spooling endlessly beneath where the anchor spoke.
"A report has just come in that there has been a breach in security on Antilla Isle!" Blondie announced. "We repeat, a breach in security on Antilla Isle! Sources confirm that early this morning, three unknown prisoners made their escape. Authorities state that the identities of the escapees are the notorious agents from the Golden Gun Syndicate, famous now for the secrecy of their long-running operation of theft and murder! We are awaiting further press releases from the Fairytale Bureau of Investigation to confirm further details."
Images of the three criminals in police line-up began to scroll across the screen.
"Oh, my, that's certainly a surprise," Celes' mother commented, carefully watching her daughter's reaction.
"What of it?" Celes crossed her arms and shifted, her hackles raised by the seemingly innocuous comment. "I mean... of course they escaped. It's not like they were office-desk criminals, or anything..."
"Ryusei Arctic, Percy Boots, and Romeo V. Cupid only served three months of their life sentences before making their escape!" Blondie informed the general public, as if there had been anyone who hadn't kept track of this case. "If you see anyone bearing resemblance to these highly trained secret agents, please call the national hero guard at..."
Celes' mother seemed to take the matter in stride. "Ah, I see. Highly trained secret agents... I am afraid I have not been keeping very good track of just who had been on trial. It seems my memory isn't quite what it used to be... can you remind me who they might be, again?"
"Mom, you're like, not even sixty," Celes rolled her eyes. "That's way too early to start losing your memory!"
"I haven't been quite the same since menopause, dear," Lady Mochigome patted her daughter's shoulder. "Please?"
"Ugh, all right, fine," Celes pointed to the screen. "That's Romeo Cupid. I guess he's their ringleader, or something. Do you really not recognize him? Don't you regularly cater Eros' tea parties??"
The Lady adjusted her glasses, "Oh, you know the God of Love... he has too many sons to keep track of. I suppose I might have seen this one around once or twice, in passing. Poor Eros... I suppose this'll be the gossip of the Celestial New Years' celebration."
"Yeah, I guess..." Celes shook her head, returning back to her explanations. She pointed when the slide switched, talking over Blondie's blathering. "That one's Ryusei Arctic, the son of the Yuki-Onna. Apparently he was charged with hacking into classified files."
"Ah, I see," Celes' mother nodded. "I went to high-school with a Yuki-Onna... the last time I heard of her children, the twins were scarcely waist-high! He seems to have grown up quite handsomely. My, how time flies!"
Celes groaned. "Do you seriously know all of their parents?"
"I moved in very varied society when I lived in Ever After," Lady Mochigome chuckled. She turned her head and glanced at the screen. "Now, who might that be? I do not think I have ever met any cats."
A pause. A critical moment of hesitation, and that was when Lady Mochigome knew that this was the one, the man whom Celes had been pining after all these long, foreboding months.
"He's nobody. Just some other agent who was dumb enough to get caught, and lucky enough to escape," Celes said at last, crossing her arms over her chest. "I finished my tea. We should get back to work-- New Year's is in less than two weeks. We don't want to make the gods angry with us if we're not finished by then."
"Ah, of course you are right. I must have lost track of the time," Celes' mother agreed, a twinkle in her eye. "Won't you clean up the tea for us?"
"Of course, mom," Celes took the tea tray and departed the room as quickly as she could, unable to bear the sight of so handsome a grin, even in colorless black-and-white.
The Lady Mochigome removed her reading-glasses, and set them into her apron. She read the words upon the screen, quite visible so long as she did not wear her spectacles for effect.
Percy Boots, she thought, son of the Puss in Boots.
She made a note to remember that name for when Celes finally brought him home.
And that very same week saw a mere handful of figures slip into the Golden Gun Syndicate's lunar base, a carefully-disguised warehouse.
"It is fortunate," Ryusei began, "That our offshore accounts had not been frozen. The false accounts opened under Fraylight Manufacturing Incorporated were particularly useful, as they constitute 78% of our total remaining funding. Though our headquarters' contents have been repossessed, we have retained roughly 82% of the net value previous."
"That just means we lost twenty-eight percent too much," Percy snorted, crossing his arms.
"You mean eighteen percent," Ryusei corrected.
"Percy Boots doesn't miscount," he gestured to himself. "We should have finished that last heist with 110% of what we had before. I'm no mathematician, but I know how to count money."
"Romeo prohibited you from executing that last heist," Ryusei stated.
"You say that like you thought he'd even listen to me," Romeo barked out a laugh, leaning against the nearest wall. "What the hell did you wanted us in here for, Ryusei? We're laying low, right? I've got a date with a whetstone and half a dozen daggers to get to."
"Not him," West swept in, the artificial gravity of the room seeming to grow heavier as he took a step. He tossed a dossier onto the desk. "Me. I called you here."
Romeo narrowed his eyes, "Who died and made you director?"
"Nobody died, Director M," the professor tisked. "I just thought you might like to know about an obscure law I discovered the other evening."
"I'm not reading some pretentious lawmaker's subscripts," Percy snorted. "Can't you just tell us?"
"Interrealm Peace Agreement section 33-B, revision II," Ryusei announced, flipping over the front page of the dossier. "De-Villainization law?"
"A legal loophole," West confirmed. "A criminal who is de-villainized by one locale is considered de-villainized by all locales. I am sure you've all taken the General Villainy classes offered by the well-known and heavily regulated locale of Ever After High?"
"I didn't pass General Villainy, sweetheart," Romeo simpered, falsely saccharine. "Can you explain it for me, teach?"
West pressed his lips together. "Doing a good deed constitutes an automatically failing grade of 'do-gooder,' DG, in all Ever After High villainy classes. It marks a would-be villain as de-villainized until they show improvement, and it has been passed into law by the Book of Entirely Reasonable School Rules. One good deed-- and your entire criminal record gets wiped from all the realms."
"No," Percy shook his head. "It can't be that simple."
"It is," Ryusei confirmed, flipping back and forth between the pages, inspecting them closely. "If we complete a good deed, then our entire criminal records will be removed. Panna will no longer be implicated in possibly keeping my secrets..."
"You could re-form under a new name, using your remaining funds and connections," West mentioned. He pointedly added, "Or you could become civilians... and join the lives of others who live in the eyes of the law."
Percy swallowed and looked down at his hands. He wore his bravado like a cloak, "Not gonna happen. We're thieves and murderers, through and through."
Romeo jerked his head in Percy's direction. "You heard the man. What's really in it for us if we do this... good deed thing? Eugh."
"I suppose it isn't really about you," West glanced at them mildly. "But Chariclo's criminal record would be wiped, since she would have been helping non-criminals. I thought that might interest you."
"Dammit!" Romeo promptly hurled a dagger at him, "I hate it when you're right."
"Thank you," West answered politely, not even bothering to flinch or sidestep the blade that skimmed past his cheek. "Coincidentally, there happens to be an opportunity to do a good deed not so very far from here. Ryusei, what do you know about... Silver Kiss?"
"My latest hacking project," Ryusei reported solemnly. "Silver Kiss Escorts is presently the known cover of an agency that seeks to provide a supply for the marketable demand in the espionage and assassination niche, caused by Golden Gun's present absence."
"Maybe say that again," Percy snorted, "Except in English this time."
"They are a spy agency disguised as an escort service," Ryusei frowned. "They are trying to replace the Golden Gun Syndicate, and they have an assassination of an unknown target planned for tonight. There were records of a fund transfer to the shuttle transport company. From a purely logical standpoint, the only place they could possibly be is at the Celestial New Year celebration, which is always hosted here on the moon. Thirty-nine miles from our present location, in fact."
"So that's it? We prevent the assassination, maybe capture or kill the assassin, and we get off scot-free?" Percy raised his eyebrows. "Sounds easy... too easy."
"They'll never let us in," Romeo pushed past the professor and yanked his dagger from the wall. He pointed it in West's direction. "We'll be recognized. My dad's gonna be there-- he fucking loves this celebration."
"As a celebration hosted between the gods, one of the major rules is that nobody can kill, capture, or injure the representative or guest of another god," Ryusei flipped through another page in the dossier. "It was a rule created after Tsukuyomi killed the Oketsuhime at a dinner party."
"I happen to know the High Priestess of Bastet, Egyptian Goddess of War and Queen of Cats... we met at a seminar on cursed objects," West mentioned offhandedly. He lifted a ticket, "She likes the idea of Percy Boots being her plus-one. You're very popular among the population of undead cats."
"Well," Percy grinned smugly, starting to feel significantly more confident about his evening plans. "Really, who can blame 'em? I'm your quintessential feline-- and damn good-lookin' to boot."
"I couldn't find any other invitations, so I suppose it's just Percy," West turned to Ryusei. "You successfully completed the devices I mentioned?"
"Wait a sec, there," Romeo scowled. "What do you mean it's just Percy?"
"I could only obtain one invitation."
"Hello?" Romeo gestured to himself. "Actual son of Eros, the God of Love? He goes here every year!"
"Your father already has a plus-one. Your youngest sister Amoris, if you must know," West shrugged lightly. "Mirriah asked her if she would be willing to give you the ticket... but she said no."
"But I'm her favorite brother!"
"You're also a wanted criminal," Percy elbowed him.
Ryusei looked up from reading for a moment. "And you still have blood on your left wing."
Romeo muttered and began picking the bits of blood out.
"I did construct new communications devices," Ryusei began slowly. "As well as a fair deal of weaponry. I do not understand why you wrote down the specifications for two sets."
"Oh, well, Amoris said she would let Mirriah have her invitation," West mentioned, checking the dossier to conceal his small smile. "But Mirriah refused to come out of her room until she's completely sure 'River Loxias' won't 'find out about her' if she leaves it."
"She offered her invite to Mirriah instead?" Percy gave a low whistle, "Damn, Cupid. Your sister must be pissed at you."
"Or upset because of childhood disillusionment," Ryusei remarked unhelpfully.
"... I'm leaving," Romeo growled, his silks and coattails sweeping behind behind him as he left the room.
A moment passed, brief, in silence.
"He's gonna go call his sister?" Percy arched an eyebrow.
"He's going to go call his sister," Ryusei agreed. "Chances of resolving the disagreement are extremely high. I'll make sure the equipment is sized appropriately for Romeo's usage."
"More importantly," West hesitated for a second. "The Moon Rabbit always caters the occasion. New Years' mochi is what the entire Moon Rabbit legend is about. It would be... strange... for the Moon Rabbit's daughter to be anywhere else that night."
Percy's eyes widened. "Oh."
"Make sure your tuxedo has been dry-cleaned," Ryusei mentioned aside, already tinkering with a few bands and gears.
"Yeah," Percy stood, uncharacteristically quiet. "I'm gonna... go steal a new pair of cufflinks. Or something."
In the end, however, Percy supposed that it all came down to shoes. Specifically, Tranquility's custom shoe store-- the very same Celes had recommended on the night they met.
Percy pushed away that unbidden thought as best as he could, glancing up at the building before sliding in, secretive.
The Moon was usually pretty behind on news, he figured. His disguise was minimal-- some make-up here, some temporary hair color, some swapped-out piercings and covered-up tattoos. He'd left his heirloom boots back at the base, by far the most identifiable article of clothing he owned.
It had pained him, then, to leave those shoes behind during his incarceration, but good ol' dad had stolen them back from the authorities as a getting-out-of-jail gift. He'd even thumped him on the back and recounted his own escape from Antilla Isle several dozen years ago. Still, it would be unwise to wear that pair into the storefront of an entire team of shoe enthusiasts. It was as good as a picture ID, as far as Percy was concerned.
He tried not to scowl at the entirely-too-dull brown leather, but it was the only backup pair he'd been able to salvage from his belongings.
"Welcome to Tranquility's," came the voice of the rabbit-born secretary, scarcely glancing twice at him, quite accustomed to doing business with foreign personnel. "Do you have an appointment?"
"I called in this morning," Percy answered. He lied smoothly, "Should be under Tainn Montague."
"Please have a seat. One of our fitters will be with you in a moment."
"Yeah, okay," Percy slung himself into a chair, casually flipping through a pile of design books.
Every page he turned, he found himself becoming increasingly impressed by the variety of the design, some of the decidedly flashier shoes catching his eye. The recommendation, though he'd only asked for it to get Celes' name... it seemed way more than well-warranted.
He'd been waiting for a few minutes when the bells attached to the front door chimed again, the secretary's voice quickly following: "Welcome to Tranquility's. Do you have an appointment?"
Percy hadn't thought it worth looking away from the truly spectacular shoe designs until he heard the customer's reply: "Of course. It ought to be under Celes Mochigome."
Percy's ears couldn't help but perk upwards by that, and he hurriedly assumed a... less Percy-like posture, straightening his back and holding the latest in a series of design booklets before his face. He peeked slyly over the pages, unable to stifle the way his heart leapt into his throat.
An older lady, her hair tied up into a bun, appeared to be physically dragging a much younger woman into the doorway.
"Mom!" cried an all-too familiar voice. "Mom, I've told you, I don't need a new pair of shoes! The pair you gave me is fine."
"Oh, nonsense, Celes! You very nearly have holes worn in them," Lady Mochigome scolded, yanking her daughter into the store with a jerk that seemed particularly strong for such a tiny woman of her age.
And when Celes fell in, spilling past the doorway, it was like the moonlight itself had arrived.
She was as beautiful as ever, Percy thought, her white hair disheveled from having fought her mother's decision the entire way there. She was dressed more traditionally than he'd seen her before, a flower-print yukata of the sort that lunar folk seemed to like wearing on casual occasions.
Stunning, Percy thought, and licked his lower lip. That was when the second thought occurred to him.
Shit. Shit. If Celes were here, she'd recognize him. There was no way she could have forgotten his face so quickly, and there was no way she hadn't already heard of his escape from Antilla Isle. Perhaps worse than the possibility she might turn him in was the thought that she might think he had followed her here.
That his words that day when she'd left had meant nothing.
There was only one possible course of action. He pretended not to notice them, returning to looking at the designs, somehow feeling that they were the lesser of two stunning sights.
"Mom, I told you, I don't want new shoes," Celes' voice complained. Then, as if something had broken in her: "My current pair has... sentimental value to me."
Percy swallowed from behind the magazine. Yeah, me too, he thought, and recalled the way she'd danced that night, the way she'd danced every night since.
"You current pair can have sentimental value in your closet," Celes' mother tisked. "They won't hold out much longer, you know. It almost seems as if they've been danced down to the point of nearly breaking... not even Tranquility herself could manage a seamless repair on them."
Silently, Percy added an eulogy for those shoes. He'd been less than gentle with removing them from Celes' feet on more than one occasion.
"I know, mom," Celes sighed, attempting to fix her hair for a moment. "I... can't wear them anymore. But it still feels wrong to just... get a new pair, like the shoes I wore before didn't even matter."
"I am sure you made many happy memories with those shoes," replied her mother. "But it is a new year, a clean slate to make many happy memories more. Perhaps with a new pair of shoes, hm?"
Celes' ears seemed to drop from their aggressive stance. "I... all right, mom."
Suddenly, a woman in almost excessive, voluminous robes burst into the room. "CELES MOCHIGOME! Ah, the last time I saw you, you were scarcely up to my waist!"
Percy discreetly eyed the woman in question, and decided that Celes was still scarcely up to her waist. And that was saying something, as he wasn't exactly short himself.
Celes smiled weakly. "Auntie Tranquility..."
"Well, you know all the Mochigome ladies simply must have their shoes made, start to finish, by the head shoemaker-- myself, of course-- and I sent you straightaway to the head of the line!" Tranquility huffed, seeming fit to burst from excitement. "I'll make you a pair of shoes truly fit for the Moon Rabbit herself! Now, I haven't slept at all in the past three days because I was just simply so taken by the aspect of design-- but, well, we'll have to see which among them you favor. I'm sure you can hardly wait, dear!"
"Mom," Celes began, trying to protest, but the elder Lady Mochigome merely waved at them politely and took her own seat as Tranquility, far from fitting her namesake, bustled Celes into a back room.
Awkwardly, Percy realized that Lady Mochigome-- Celes' mother-- had taken the seat next to him.
He had never believed in the concept of faith before, but in that moment, he prayed that she wouldn't try to strike up a conversation with him. Faith did not suit him well.
"Ah, hello there," the Lady Mochigome smiled pleasantly. "Just here to be fitted for a new pair of shoes?"
"Boots, actually," he replied, feigning a sort of easy charm. He quickly squashed the notion that he was nervous-- the famous Puss in Boots didn't get nervous, he reminded himself. He added conversationally, "A friend of mine recommended this place. Is the owner a friend of yours, ma'am?"
"I cannot imagine what could have given you such an idea," the Lady chuckled, seeming altogether charmed. "But yes, we are old friends. Now, then, let us dispense of all formalities. You are Celes' mysterious new boyfriend, yes?"
Something almost like surprise flickered in Percy's expression, gone like a trick of the light. More suavely, "Perhaps it's more accurate to say... I'm a former friend."
"Oh, nonsense," Lady Mochigome scoffed. "She won't let me throw away her shoes-- I presume those are the same she met you in. Even if neither of you will acknowledge it, you are her boyfriend."
Percy winced, but grinned back. "I can see where she gets the straightforwardness."
"You flatter me," Lady Mochigome smiled pleasantly. "If only she could be so straightforward with herself! That girl, I tell you... even if she'll never say it, she misses you."
"Maybe. I can tell pretty well when she's trying to lie to herself about something," Percy shrugged a little. "She does this thing with her ears. I don't think she notices."
"And here I thought that I was the only who noticed," Lady Mochigome chuckled faintly.
"Yeah, well... that's how I knew she meant it when she left me," Percy set the magazine down at last. "Look, Mrs. Mochigome-- not that I don't appreciate what you're tryin' to do here, but I don't think she really wants to see me right now. Least of all here... on the moon... barely outside the limits of her hometown."
"Well, if you insist," Lady Mochigome's lip curved upwards knowingly. "I won't tell her you were here. The poor girl was struggling so much, even though she adores Auntie Tranquility... I doubt she noticed who was in the waiting room."
"I appreciate it," Percy rubbed the back of his neck, uncannily bothered by how genuine those words felt. "I just... I've got one question for you."
"I would be pleased to answer as best as I can," the Moon Rabbit nodded politely.
"How did you know it was me?"
"I may be old, dear, but I'm not blind," she grinned. "You were not at all subtle about watching my daughter when she made her 'grand entrance.' You were also looking at a magazine of ladies' stilettos. It was upside-down."
"I've been known to wear a pair of stilettos every now and then," Percy tried to shrug it off, unable to prevent himself from thinking that it was such a rookie mistake to hold your cover book upside-down.
"Tainn Montague?" announced the next available fitting specialist.
"Well, it was very nice to meet you, Tainn," Lady Mochigome closed pointedly. She winked, "I suppose Celes wouldn't be terribly interested in my conversation with just another customer at Tranquility's."
"Thanks," Percy stood, more slowly than usual. He looked at her curiously, and found himself surprised by how much he really meant it. "It was nice to meet you too, Lady Mochigome."
Celes had been right about the place, Percy thought-- fittings done in half an hour, shoes done in less than a week. Excellent service. Excellent clientele.
He'd had the new boots done in his customary gold, the heel made atypically tall for a pair of men's shoes. Perhaps, in a fit of irrationality, he'd had the toe fashioned in the image of a bunny-rabbit, the ears trailing up the vamp, the instep.
He blamed the Lady Mochigome.
Still, there was no time to assess the matter further-- now, tonight, there was a celebration. An essential assassination to stop in order to earn their freedom. Percy removed one of his earrings and put in its place the stud-communication device Ryusei had designed, scritching just below it to test the connectivity.
"Hey, Ryusei, how's tech support?" Percy muttered. "You bored yet?"
"Romeo's spent the last 28 minutes watching himself in the mirror and doing his make-up," Ryusei reported, watching the cameras on each commlink. "The foundation at his jawline should be further blended."
"That bad, huh?" Percy smirked.
"It's better than the previous 28 minutes," Ryusei commented. "Those were spent largely on making his eyeliner even."
"I can hear you," Romeo announced. "And it doesn't take twenty-eight minutes for me to do my eyeliner. What the hell do you think I am? An amateur?"
"I used the word 'largely,' not 'entirely,'" Ryusei corrected. "Of course it doesn't take you 28 minutes to do your eyeliner. It takes you 18 minutes and 32 seconds on average, though today you spent an above-average 21 minutes and 9 seconds. I timed it."
"Of fuckin' course you did," Romeo spat. Then, simperingly sweet, "West, darling, are you on the other line? Ryusei's being demoted, you're head of IT now."
"That would be a mistake, Director, as I am a mage who knows less about technology than the actual programmer." West snorted. " However... your eyeliner is what my students are calling 'on fleek' these days."
A growl. "Can you not? It's not exactly easy to sweet-talk a guy who's trying to sound like he's seventy."
"Thank you, I'm flattered," West drawled. "And twenty-seven, by the way."
"Ryusei, please tell me we're not going to be listening to that all night," Percy groaned.
"I am disengaging you from Romeo's headset," Ryusei agreed.
"Good riddance!" Romeo yelled before that particular connection was cut off.
"I'll reconnect you later tonight," Ryusei promised. "You know what to do."
"Find the assassin, find out who's the target, kill the assassin before they find the target," Percy cracked his knuckles. "Escort mission. More anonymous than usual... but Percy Boots can handle a challenge."
A moment's pause, and then: "Romeo says that he can get the kill before you."
"Ha!" Percy barked out a laugh. "Over my dead body!"
"I will convey the sentiment to him," Ryusei agreed. "Do you have your weapons?"
"Check," Percy flicked out his claws.
"Your grappling hook?"
"Um, duh, check."
"You're talkin' to me on it, Ryusei," Percy rolled his eyes.
"You can never be completely sure," Ryusei's voice rang marginally irate. "Since the first time we got caught was because you had misplaced your comm."
"Yeah, well, it's literally stuck in my ear, now," Percy gestured to the piercing. "It's not coming off unless, like, half my ear is coming off with it."
Ryusei seemed assuaged by the comment. "See to it that it doesn't."
"Percy Boots does not make rookie mistakes like that," he snorted. "It's not gonna happen again. It only happened in the first place on a fluke."
"A fluke who happens to be named Celes Mochigome," Ryusei reminded him. "You should focus tonight."
"I am focused," Percy lifted his hands as if in surrender. "But hey, if a Lady Rabbit wants a dance with me... it'd be suspicious to say no, yeah?"
"Unfortunately," Ryusei replied tersely. "You are correct. Your transportation vehicle has arrived. Good luck, Agent Boots."
"Luck?" Percy smirked and strode out of his room.
A grin. "Luck has nothin' to do with it."
Unease settled into Celes that evening, her ears twitching upwards, alert.
It wasn't as if Celes was completely unused to the matter of observing those who would be tasting her desserts. It wasn't even the matter that these were the gods that she was destined to someday cater for, although the matter hardly helped things. No, the source of Celes' anxiety was a wholly other feeling-- a premonition, almost. The sensation that this party, the first gathering of the gods which Celes had ever catered for, was going to go horribly, horribly wrong in one way or another.
She knew she should have added a last dusting of powdered sugar to her mochi. Maybe that would make them less of a choking hazard.
"You are worrying, my daughter," her mother chided, patting her shoulder. "If you continue to fiddle with your sleeves, they'll fall right off!"
"They're already halfway off my shoulders and practically transparent," Celes scowled, but released her diaphanous, flowing sleeve from between her fingertips. "I told you, I should have just worn my winter kimono."
"Your winter kimono has been in storage for nearly six years, and could not be repaired in time," replied the Lady Mochigome, never missing a beat. "Besides... one does not simply wear an old dress to the gods' own New Year!"
Celes looked down at her plunging neckline, the flowing, slitted skirts. It was clear what she thought of the new dress her mother had insisted she wear.
Instead, she complained, "The shoes are pinching my toes."
"They are not the ones you are used to," the Lady answered easily, knowing that the issue extended far, far past footwear, and perhaps even further past clothing. "Give them time, and perhaps they shall surprise you."
Celes sighed, aggrieved. "Sure, mom."
She glanced down at her shoes and marveled a little at Tranquility's craftsmanship, at least, the toe cut with tiny cat-ears at the top, the heel arcing down to the floor and painted, quite specifically, like the tail of a cat. It was one of the more daring designs-- one that Celes herself would have never chosen, even if only because cats were stupid anyways-- but her mother had insisted unrelentingly that Celes would look best in these.
Tranquility had gone overboard and made two extra pairs, as was her wont. At least they were comfortable.
Suddenly, the doorman and announcer seemed to get into place once more, and the doors swung open wide.
"Presenting the representatives of Bastet, Egyptian Goddess of War and Queen of Cats!"
"What are they doing?" Celes whispered. "The party started an hour ago!"
"Oh, you know how cats are," Lady Mochigome chuckled. "They come and go when they please. One year, the representative showed up an hour early."
Celes scoffed and turned away, perhaps with a knowing bitterness: "Cats."
The announcer continued, "High Priestess Ubasti of Bastet's domain, former winner of the Nospell Peace Prize in Curse-Breaking, and guest."
"Hmmm," Lady Mochigome lifted a pair of spectacles to her face. "Celes, haven't we seen that young gentleman on the television?"
"What?" Celes snapped, turning her head towards the doorway.
And, sure enough, there he was-- looking unreasonably handsome in a tuxedo, almost effortlessly attractive. The feline High Priestess grinned beside him, wearing less clothing than Celes had ever seen on any priestess of any god. Then, when he took his first step in... the gold of his boots clicked against the tile floor, and though they were not his heirlooms, the style, the color more or less screamed it aloud for all to hear: Percy Boots.
Then, he turned his face towards her, and had the audacity to wink.
Celes could feel her cheeks go bright red, and desperately begged her pounding heart to shut up, because she definitely wasn't going to fall for him again. They were worlds, lives apart. Celes could no more join his world of criminalism and espionage than Percy could be satisfied with something so ordinary as being a pastry chef. They should not-- nay, could not-- reconcile the differences between them.
He casually swung the High Priestess into a dance. The tango. Their dance.
"Excuse me," Celes muttered. "I have to go."
"Celes?" Her mother turned around, but the daughter of the Moon Rabbit had already fled.
Foolish, foolish, foolish, she thought, of course he was not still interested. Hadn't it been she who'd walked away from him, then? She who had turned him into the authorities in order to preserve the lifestyle she had once held? She who had refused to yield?
"Where do you think you're going, Lady Rabbit?" came a voice from out left, startling her.
Celes glanced up and narrowed her eyes at what she saw. "You can't just climb that tapestry! It's an ancient and essential part of the entire Lunar New Year celebration!"
"Oops," Romeo grinned roguishly, and slid back down the tapestry as easily as if it were one of his aerial silks.
"What are you doing here?" Celes growled. "You're-- you're a criminal! I'll call the authorities!"
"There's no higher authorities than the gods, and they already know I'm here," Romeo crossed his arms. "I've got an invitation. I'm looking for my dad."
"Then go away!" Celes shouted. "Why are you bothering me? Go look for your dad!"
"Cute," Romeo snorted. "I can really tell what Percy sees in you."
"Hmph," Celes refused to make eye contact. "It's not like I care what he thinks."
"Whatever," Romeo rolled his eyes. "Look, I've... never done this before, so I'm not saying it again. Percy fuckin' changed after you left him. And I want my best agent back. I want my best friend back."
"You can have him," Celes scowled. "I don't have anything to do with him... not anymore."
Romeo ran his hand through his hair and scoffed. "Yeah, sweetheart, things don't exactly work like that. He misses you, you miss him, just get back together and screw already. It doesn't have to be complicated."
Celes seemed utterly offended by the insinuation. "Are you trying to give me love advice?"
"I'm a Cupid, it's what we're destined to do. Get used to it," he walked past her and flicked her ear.
Celes slapped his hand away, "Don't touch me!"
"I'm not gonna repeat this, so you better listen up," Romeo turned around for half a second. "I can put up with it if you get back together. But if you break his heart again, you're not gonna live long enough to do it a third time."
That gave Celes a moment's pause. "I broke his heart?"
"Don't try to kid yourself, sweetheart," Romeo snorted, not even turning back as he walked away. "You broke your own, too."
"What makes you think that I did?" Celes huffed, hurrying to catch up with Percy's inexplicably rude friend. "You don't know me!"
"Son of Eros. I can see these things," Romeo shrugged. "It's a sad, sad day when Romeo V. ends up as the voice of reason, let me tell you."
"Ugh!" Celes spat, spinning on her heel and running back to the ballroom.
Romeo looked faintly disgusted with himself at the prospect of having served as matchmaker-- the worst part of a Cupid's destiny, in his opinion. Still... he'd promised Amoris that he'd reconcile with their father in exchange for the ticket. That he'd start living a life on the straight-and-narrow. That he would really be the role model Amoris had thought he'd been.
The whole prospect made him want to gag, but Chariclo had supported it wholeheartedly. He never could say no to her.
And so, Romeo forced a grimace onto his face when his father dropped down from his perch at the end of the hall, and told him, "You did good."
Redemption, he thought. Disgusting.
"Who was that you were just dancing with?" Ryusei's voice, faintly static, chimed into his earpiece just as soon as they separated in their dance.
(The High Priestess wasn't so terrible a dancer, he thought, but she was nothing, nothing like Celes.)
"Uh, my date?" Percy answered, trying not to look like a crazy guy muttering to himself at the buffet table. The representatives of the gods were already giving him a wide enough berth, considering his current criminal charges. "You know. The Bastet girl with the extra ticket?"
"That's not Ubasti. Priestess Ubasti has three brown stripes in her hair-- not four. Didn't you read the dossier?" Ryusei's frown was so clear, it could practically be heard.
"I looked at the pictures," Percy replied. "I figured she was just wearing extensions."
"Her eyes are the wrong color, too," Ryusei reported. "Too cyan. Not blue enough."
"They looked blue to me," Percy muttered beneath a bite of food. "You sure there's nothing wrong with the comm camera?"
"There's nothing wrong with the comm camera. Your image is precisely color-accurate to your regular appearance," Ryusei reported. "Also, her clothing is off-regulation for High Priestesses."
"So what? She's not a prude," Percy winked at a couple of passing waiters, and relished the fact that he was still as charming as ever.
"The cut of her clothing is not exceptionally irregular for her cult. However, didn't you notice her cartouche?"
"Her necklace," Ryusei reported. "It's on backwards. She's wearing a necklace that's supposed to show the prayer carved into it, and it's on backwards."
Percy casually walked away from his stance, lasciviously licking bits of the sticky-soft mochi from his fingertips. A diversion-- someone fainted. "I'm going to go find her."
"I'm hacking her hotel room and shuttle security cameras as we speak," Ryusei agreed. "Let's just see if we can find out what happened to the real priestess..."
With a casual but quick-paced stride, Percy headed towards the hall his supposed date had vanished down. He was getting fairly close to the sitting-room near the end when at last, a too-familiar voice called out to him, a voice that he had hoped not to hear now, of all times, when there was a dangerous assassin on the loose.
"Percy!" cried Celes. Her fists were clenched, and her ears lay back against her hair, recalcitrant. "I'm here to talk."
"You know I'd never turn down a chat with a stunning Lady Rabbit," Percy pinned his lower lip between his teeth. "But maybe can we reschedule? Later tonight? Tomorrow morning?"
"No!" Celes exclaimed, her eyes seeming to widen, hard, as if in an effort to hold back some unspoken emotion. "No, we cannot reschedule! You can't just walk in here on the night of my culinary debut before the gods and just... refuse to explain anything!"
"I'm not refusing to explain anything," Percy's eyes glanced into the sitting room, quickly canvassing the people there. Almost all mortals, he thought, swallowing. "I'm just kind of... a little busy now."
Celes' eyes suddenly narrowed, "With her? The Priestess?"
"... Priestess?" Percy's ears seemed to perk at that, brief surprise crossing his face. He smiled a little, "You're jealous... I'm touched. I didn't think you still cared."
"I don't still care!" Celes flushed, turning red nearly up to her ears. She glared pointedly at a spot on the floor. "I just don't want your whole... weird syndicate thing... to ruin our lunar tradition. What are you doing here, Percy? And don't say that you're here for me, because I know that's a lie!"
"I'm trying to save this damn party," Percy glanced towards the doorway once more, deciding that Romeo would just have to get there soon. "What makes you think I can't be here because of you?"
"Because I left you? Because I turned you in?" Celes snapped her gaze up for a moment. And then, it softened. "Because we can't be together, Percy, that's why. You run around, stealing things and seducing things and listening to other people’s conversations. I'm a pastry chef."
"Well, yeah," Percy rubbed the back of his neck. "But you're a damn good pastry chef."
"That's not the point," Celes' arms crossed and she diverted her eyes to the side. "I can't stand the thought of living a life as crazy as yours... and I would never in a million years want you working beside me as a regular caterer. You would be sick of it within minutes. Just... for once in your life, Percy, be honest with yourself. Can you really see a future there?"
"I... you know, forget the future for a moment," Percy took her hands in his, leaning down so that his chin rested upon her head. "All I know is right now, it's driving me completely crazy to be away from you."
"That's not what I asked, Percy," Celes sniffled, and forget the dry cleaning, Percy let her sob into his shirt. "I asked if you could see a future for us."
Percy swallowed, feeling like there was cotton in his mouth. As suavely as he could possibly manage, "Two kids, a successful catering shop on main street? I'll... take up being a locksmith or a dance teacher or something."
"I hate you, Percy," Celes thudded a fist into his chest ineffectually. "I hate you, you big, fat liar, and I hate it!"
"Hate what?" Percy exhaled against her hair, soft.
"I hate how much I want that," she whispered, before pushing him away. She wiped away the tears from her cheeks and lifted her chin, "The truth, Percy. Now. Do you see a future for us?"
He thought about the pastry shop and the two kids and, perhaps, the kind of life he might be able to build with Celes. He thought about how happy it would make her, maybe, to be like that.
He thought about hunching over a pile of tiny tools, day after day, the same old, monotonous locksmith-shop until he grew old and gray. He thought about what it might be like to have to teach dancers, slowly watching students get older, slowly watching the excitement of the world outside pass him by. He thought about Antilla Isle, and remembered what it was like to feel completely, utterly trapped.
All the bravado seemed to seep from Percy's chest. "No. I don't."
"That's all you had to say," Celes turned around, and that was when Percy's eye caught on a tiny, tiny glittering button that lay on the floor.
The revelation hit Percy like a speeding car, punching all the breath from his lungs and ripping his stomach from within him. The Priestess of Bastet hadn't been targeted just because their chosen agent happened to be a cat, or because her security was unusually bad-- she had been targeted because Percy Boots, her plus-one, was free rabbit bait.
And Percy, like a damn fool, hadn't seen it coming until it was too late.
"Celes!" he shouted, and quickly yanked her into the sitting room just as the detonator went off, spewing flames that seemed impossibly, impossibly hot down the halls and into every doorway of the venue. He hid her against the flames, though the ends licked hot at his back, singed his tail.
"Oh my Grimm," Celes grit her teeth. "Percy, what even--"
"Here's the thing," Percy hastily put out the fire on his tail. "We're trying to prevent an assassination. That explosion? It's because you're the target. I was looking for my date because she's our suspect."
"I don't understand!" Celes shouted. "Why would someone even--?"
Another explosion shook the building, Percy quickly propped open the window. He glanced down. Only two stories, easy.
"Doesn't matter why, sweetheart," he swung her over his back, leaning past the window-frame, careful not to bump her head. "We've got to get you out of here."
"Percy, I hate you!" Celes clung to his back, tightening her grip as he jumped.
"Now, that's no way to talk to the guy who's saving your life," Percy grinned roguishly, tearing off across the courtyard. "Do me a favor... scratch my left ear?"
"Seriously? Now?" Celes hissed. "This is not the time for that!"
"That's not a pick-up line, babe, but it's nice to know I've still got it," Percy laughed. "Scratch my ear, my communication device is in it."
"Oh," Celes blushed, embarrassed that her mind had immediately gone in that direction. She quickly did so, crossing her arms back around him.
"Ryusei, if there's any time to comm Romeo back in, it's gonna be now," Percy announced.
"Been waiting on you for ten damn minutes, Boots," Romeo's voice crackled through. "I found your date."
"You shoot her yet?" Percy ducked into a hallway that had been spared from the blazing explosions, seeking to make a quick exit out the other side.
"Can't shoot her. She was legally announced as the rep of Bastet," Romeo's scowl was nearly audible. "You think my sister would forgive me if I brought the wrath of all the other gods down on Dad?"
"Dammit," Percy cursed.
"Language!" Celes rebuffed.
"Fuck, you're with your girlfriend?" Romeo bit, a couple of gunshots ringing in the background. "Look, just get to the Rose Room quick. I can't do shit... blah blah, nobody can kill guest of another god."
"Fortunately," Ryusei interjected. "There's no rule against killing a guest of the same god."
"All right, I'm on it." Percy held open a door and looked back at Celes, "Run."
"Excuse me?" Celes stumbled off of his back. "There is an assassin on the loose, and you're telling me to run?"
"Safer for you," Percy suggested.
"Better the enemy I know than one I don't," Celes unstrapped her heels and left them at the door. "This place could be surrounded by more of them!"
"She has a point," Ryusei chimed in unhelpfully.
Percy ran a hand through his hair. "All right. Fine. Just... stay close."
Suddenly, gunshots went off and Celes, on instinct, tackled Percy out of the doorway. The wall opposite crumbled, filled with bullets, the steel doors riddled with empty shells and dents.
"I think I can handle myself, thanks," Celes breathed, her ears twitching.
Percy grinned. "Pastry chef, my ass."
In the next half-second, Romeo ducked behind the corner of a crumbling wall, glancing up at Percy as he re-loaded his guns without looking. "Glad you could make it, Boots."
"Glad to be here, Cupid," Percy grinned, flicking out his own claws. "You ready to do this?"
"Hell yeah," he wickedly grinned.
And, in the next half-second, they leapt over the wall.
She didn't stand a chance.
"Blondie Lockes here from the highly prestigious Celestial New Year's celebration, where an assassin from the crime group known only as Silver Kiss has just been apprehended... by none other than the recent Golden Gun escapees!" the newscaster announced, turning her MirrorPad towards the miles of yellow tape and do-not-cross lines. "After rescuing the then-missing High Priestess Ubasti of Cat-Goddess Bastet, all three members of the former crime syndicate have earned a Do-Gooder grade that almost completely erases their criminal backgrounds! What's next for these boys? Only the Fairytale Bureau of Investigation knows."
Percy lazily flicked off the television. "Mirriah did good... Blondie doesn't know nothin'."
Celes smacked his shoulder. "Stop talking like that, you sound like a scoundrel!"
"Scoundrel," Percy paused. He grinned, "Yeah, sounds about right. Don't deny that you love me for it."
"Ugh," Celes rolled her eyes, but didn't deny it. "So... what are you doing now?"
"Well," Percy dipped a claw into his tea and stirred it. "Right now, I'm making sure none of those Silver Kiss girls come to finish the job. The target's a real big deal this time... caterer to the gods themselves, world's best pastry chef. Gorgeous, too."
"Future caterer," Celes frowned. "Though the gods were not displeased with my work... I still have a long way to go until I am my mother's equal."
"Oh, nonsense!" the Lady Mochigome scoffed, bustling in with another tray of tea. "You're the future of gods' peace-gatherings, Celes... they're just too polite to say that they're waiting on tenterhooks for me to retire. My vision isn't what it used to be, you know... I can't quite get all the lumps out anymore."
"Mama, you have 20/20 vision," Celes lifted an eyebrow. "I don't know why you insist on wearing those reading glasses!"
"Maybe she likes the element of surprise," Percy winked.
"Oh, Celes, I like this one," the Lady Moon Rabbit sat down, looking very self-satisfied. "Very handsome... very clever. Not to mention the stable income."
"He's a professional thief, mom," Celes took a resentful sip of her tea. "You just like scandalizing the town."
"Ah, the scandal is a nice bonus," Lady Mochigome smiled pleasantly. "This old town could stand to be a little more progressive. Why, there hasn't been this much talk since I came back home with the MirrorNet router!"
"Scandal," Percy grinned. "I like that word. You hear that, Celes? I'm your scandal."
"Hmph," Celes scoffed. "Fine, then, scandal. But only because I would never agree to call you anything like boyfriend."
Her ear twitched. Percy exchanged a knowing look with her mother for a moment.
He smiled easily, "All right, I'm honored to be your scandal."
"Good," Celes mumbled, turning bright red. "Anyways, mom, I don't know why you want me to go back to Ever After!"
"Because it is tradition to do your catering work in Ever After until you feel ready to take on the Moon Rabbit's full duties," the Lady Mochigome beamed, cupping her cheek in her hand. "Besides... if you go back to Ever After, I have legal leave to go with you for personal safety reasons. This time, I'm going to bring back a second husband!"
"Mom!" Celes exclaimed, horrified.
Percy muffled some laughter in his sleeve, preparing to open his mouth and say something about how his dad would probably be happy to introduce her to some of his cohorts. However, in that moment, his MirrorPhone went off-- the caller ID reading "Romeo."
"Sorry, gotta take this call," Percy excused himself. He winked roguishly, "It's my boss. Probably jealous that I get to spend time with two such lovely ladies."
"How very flattering!"
Celes rolled her eyes, but couldn't suppress a smile. "Go away, Percy."
"I'll be back soon, ladies," he smirked back, quickly excusing himself into the next room. He answered the call on his phone, Romeo's image popping up on the screen. "Sup, Ro? Managed to escape from your dad's house yet?"
"Yeah," Romeo crossed his arms. "I'm crashing at the Professor's for a few days."
"You're moving in?" Percy raised his eyebrows. "He's letting you move in?"
"Nah. I have to go back to dad's eventually, or else Amoris'll freak out about me 'returning to a life of crime' or something," Romeo made a disgusted face. "I had to be here anyways, for case reasons. I can't believe that the fuckin' FBI hired Golden Gun for our first job after the acquittal."
"I get to steal things, you get to stab things, and it's all legal because the government decided we were worth hiring," Percy leaned casually against a wall. "We're a legitimate business-- privatized espionage contractors. Your sisters are happy, Celes is happy. What's the problem?"
"The problem is with Silver Kiss," Romeo growled. "The assassin escaped from prison this morning. They barely got anything out of interrogation."
"It's been maybe a week, tops," Percy seemed dubious. "It took the three of us three months to get off Antilla."
"Yeah," scowled Romeo. "That's the problem-- they beat our time. They think they're better than us."
"Nuh-uh. Nobody's better than Golden Gun," Percy narrowed his eyes. "What's West saying about the evidence we picked up?"
"We got an ID on the agent. Her name's Domino Mittens," Romeo snorted. "As in, one of the identical triplets from the Three Little Kittens rhyme. She could be anywhere by now, using one of her sisters' aliases."
"The dress? The necklace?"
"Stolen from the real Priestess Ubasti," Romeo shook his head. "All we got as far as weapons are three unmodded Hickory Dickory Glocks. No comms, no trackers... nothin'."
"Except a tube of lipstick," a voice resonated in the background of Romeo's call.
Romeo turned around in his chair, "It's just regular fuckin' lipstick!"
"It's poisoned lipstick," West confirmed, ducking into the frame. "Tests turned up for Pixinium hydrochloride... better known by its common name, Fairies' Lullaby. Found in things like Ny-quill and other sleep aids."
"So what? It's full of sparkly sleep medicine," Percy shrugged, glancing back at where Celes and her mother were arguing without him. "What's the big deal?"
"When used in conjunction with certain chemicals found in the Elixir of Life, it can create an extremely toxic compound," West pointed the lipstick at the screen. "Someone knew in advance what was going to be served-- not too hard, since it's the same thing every year."
"Shit," Romeo cursed. "They knew there was gonna be a chance to poison her. They gave themselves a back-up plan."
"Luckily," West reported, rolling up the tube. "Research shows that this particular shade of silver lipstick happens to have been a limited-edition version sold by Spellfora roughly two years ago. Only one-hundred tubes were ever sold, and less than thirty-seven tubes remain... counting the one I'm holding. It should be theoretically impossible to get your hands on it... save for at one place."
"Stop with the backstory and just give me the location already," Percy rolled his eyes. "Where?"
"Les Marches Noirs of Marseilles, in Fairytale France," West replied. "The hidden cosmetician."
"Black market," Romeo snorted. "Clever name."
"Not the black market. That's marché noir, with an accent," West pulled his hat down over his face. "Marches noirs. The black steps. It's at the top of a 100-foot vertical incline. Rumor has it that the private security is almost impossible to get into."
"Only almost impossible?" Percy smirked. "Almost impossible is a walk in the park for Percy Boots."
"Meet you in Marseilles, then," Romeo fanned his fingers out over his cheek. "I could use some new highlighter."
"I'll check with Celes and her mom," Percy muffled a snort at that expression. Typical Romeo. "I'll get back to you on that, loverboy."
Romeo winked, "Right back at you, catass."
Percy tucked his phone back into his pants. He peered into the sitting room of Celes' home on the moon, where both she and the elder Lady Mochigome had turned to analyzing the popularity of their sweets from the night prior, and arguing over how much they ought to charge for similar events.
"So," he slid in smoothly, wearing his most charming grin. "My boss wants me in Marseilles as soon as I can go. How do you feel about authentically French macaroons?"
"It's pronounced macarons," Celes huffed, glancing away from him. Still, one of her ears twitched in his direction. "But... maybe, if it would help me improve my own..."
"I'll book the next shuttle," Percy slid in next to her, snuggling into her side.
"Percy!" Celes exclaimed, flushing exasperatedly. She glanced between her mother and her scandal. "We're not alone here!"
"Your mom can cuddle, too, if she wants," he offered.
"Oh, no, I'd better not," the elder Mochigome winked, standing and dusting off her skirts. "I know when I'm not wanted. Have fun, you two."
"Mom!" Celes cried, even further embarrassed.
And Percy, for once, just held his tongue and grinned like that cat who'd gotten the cream.
He did not miss it when Mrs. Mochigome gave him a subtle thumbs-up.